The 44th Meeting of TOFC – The Old House at Home, Havant

old_house_at_homeThis was our third visit to The Old House at Home and it remains a firm favourite for many.  We booked for fifteen in advance, but as often happens these days we ended up being a larger gathering – 19 in this case.  We were setup near the back of the pub (near the kitchen) where we were last time and this area allows some expansion if necessary and we made good use of that capability.  In effect we used the lower long tables and three tall tables, which meant we were broken into smaller groups, but I think that helps conversations.

We had one new face at this meeting and a few who we haven’t seen for a while, which is always good for the atmosphere.  I certainly has a few good chats and a slightly political debate (ah well!), but all very enjoyable!  It looked to me like everyone else also enjoyed the day.

We were slightly late starting to order the food – we were delayed when Southern Trains cancelled the 11:13 and then pulled the 11:35 onto the wrong platform (which was already occupied) and consequently took several minutes just to unload the passengers through the one door on the ne carriage that was at the platform!  Still, once the order went in it didn’t seem to take too long for the meals to be served and as far as I could tell everyone got the meal they ordered.  My own personal view about Fuller’s pubs is that they are quite expensive and the food, on particular, is expensive for what you get.  that is certainly the situation here and my fish and chips were nice enough, but at £8.95 not cheap.  The beer that I had was HSB and that was good, but also not cheap.

All in all I still like this pub, but I think it doesn’t quite work for us as such a large group – not so much a space problem as an organisation problem – it is quite a drain on the kitty and makes it difficult to ensure fair access to the funds for everyone.  I think we may have to make more frequent visits to Wetherspoons in order to boost the kitty if we are to keep this gathering going along the current lines!

The 42nd Meeting of TOFC – back to The Lord Palmerston

The Lord PalmerstonThis meeting of TOFC is the first of the New Year and consequently the one where we spend the excess funds in the kitty.  For that reason we always choose a Wetherspoons as they provide best value for money and The Lord Palmerston in Southsea is a good size to accommodate a sizable group.  Unfortunately, they don’t take table booking (apparently too many people fail to turn up) so we had to grab some tables early.  In fact, we managed to get a couple of long table down near the food serving area, which allowed us to expand easily and was handy for the food when it arrived.

For my wife and me, the journey was a train through to Portsmouth harbour, which ran perfectly on time, and then the No 1 bus that dropped us of at the top of Palmerston Road – so a relatively easy journey from Southampton.

As usual with this “free” event, we had a good turn-out (19 eventually) and there was already a good crowd in the pub by the time we got there with the kitty!  We quickly settled in and paid back those who has bought a round (that always goes down well) and then started to order food.  In between food orders there were a few different beers bought at the bar and, as usual for this pub, there was a good choice of different real ales.  The food order went in about 20 min after we arrived and the food was served very quickly afterwards.  I was not alone in saying how well Wetherspoons manage big food orders these days and everyone seemed to get there food quickly and without problem.

Once again there was good mix of people and, this time, we even found a new recruit in the pub – he mentioned to me that he remembered our Friday meeting from when we were all at work, lol!  Everyone seemed in good spirits and we chatted about everything from The Ashes (a bit depressing) to memories from work (distant!) and there was a good amount of mixing of people to improve this chatting.  All in all a good day and still some kitty left over!

Prague – Czech Republic and my favourite city

I think one of my earliest memories of “The News and Politics” involves the uprising in Prague and tanks in Wencelas Square, but what I didn’t expect was to visit this most beautiful of cities.  We first visited Prague in October 1991 as part of the development of a three-way research collaboration with Russia, The Czech republic and The UK.  It rained really heavily and all I remember was rushing across town in what seemed a maze of streets to a wonderful cheap bar, where we spent all afternoon drinking and eating with a Russian colleague.  The bill came to £10, which made me reaslise this city was going to something special for me, haha!

The funding for the collaboration with The Czech Republic was successful, as were several other grants, and I was able to visit Prague almost every year between 1991 and 2009.  I fell in love with this city and I must remember I am writing a Blog and not a book!  So, where do I start?  I suppose my first thing must be to thank everyone who I met and who made my viisits so pleasent.  I better apologise to all those who attended my seminars and didn’t quite follow my Geordie accent, or my arm waving approach to lecturing!  If you recognise yourself in the picture thanks for attending!

The city of Prague came through the second world war almost unscathed, despite an American bombing campaign and has something in common with Paris in that respect; although, I think it is more beautiful!  It sits on the Vltava river, which provides a beautiful centrepiece for the city, with the castle sitting at the top of the hill over-looking the whole of the city.  In turn, the centrepiece to the river is Charles Bridge, which dates back to the 14th Century and is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever walked across.  However, this also provides a rapid introoduction to the biggest problem that Prague faces – its own popularity!  Charles Bridge is always a river of tourists, with local artists and sovenier sellers lining the edges of the bridge, it has lost some of its early appeal during that first visit in 1991.  But every visitor must stroll across Charles Bridge (early in the morning is a good idea) and into Malá Strana (“the Lesser Quarter”), which is full of bars and good restaurants.  A challenge is to find the restaurant with two hearts on the door, worth a visit for good Czech food if it is still there – they got badly damaged during the floods of 2002, but I believe it is still there.  Sadly the bar we ate in during our first visit has long disappeared, but there are so many other places to visit for good food.  My own preference is to try some the hospodas as these simple bar/restaurants are much more authentic.  The Institute, where I gave my seminars, is lucky enough to have two close by (the “Green House” and “The Black Swan”), but in the city centre near the Old Town Square there is “Futball”, which serves good food and genuine Czech cuisine.

I remember the first few times we walked around the city we soon became aware that an important part of “seeing” Prague is to look up at the buildings, the architecture is always magnificent, but also varied and is also accompanied by beautiful paintings and illustrations.  Hidden away from the city across one of the bridges near the island is one of the most beautiful café/restaurants, which is typical of the type of architecture that is common in Prague.

I could write about so many places around the city, but this will become boring eventually, so, instead a few thoughts about what makes the city special for me (apart from the architecture).  I think the first point is that you can sit in The Old Time Square (either at a bar, or just around the statue) and people watch – the city is always busy, there are jazz bands coming and going, or just the variety in people from all nations.  I have spent many a day sketching out a scientific paper while also people watching!  Tram hoping is one of my favourite ways to see a city and Prague is very good for this.  You can buy a ticket that lasts all week, which allows travel throughout the city and just swap from tram to tram.  You can occasionally jump off to visit the castle or some other passing landmark, but if you do this outside of the rush hour you really get a feel for the Hotel Europalayout of the city.  Live music is the other thing I really like in Prague – usually this means visits to various jazz clubs, but also other types of music are played all over the city.  One example I liked from early visits was The Hotel Europa, which has a very Bohemian bar/restaurant at the front entrance, and we used to sit listening to a violin and piano entertaining the restaurant clientele – very pleasant!

If you have never been to Prague you must go, avoid the weekend if you don’t like crowds and hen/batchelor-parties, but visit the traditional Czech bars and restaurants.

One test down, four to go!

AshesWhat a dramatic and controversial start to the Ashes tour for England!  However, despite my love of test cricket, I cannot help but feel that this is too much cricket against Australia, in too short a time – I certainly have not got the enthusiasm that I would normally expect to have.  I always thought that it would be tougher for England in Australia, but even I was surprised by the level of aggression being used in the media to undermine England’s confidence.  I think this hype is what has led to the “over the top” sledging both on the field and in the press sessions after play.  Whether this has also contributed to the depression affecting Jonathan Trott is another matter and only Trott himself would know.

Stuart-Broad-and-Mitchell-001For England, the first test was a disaster after what seemed like a good start for the England bowlers.  A quick summary would be that England were simply out bowled and this was a result of Mitchell Johnson hitting some form (he is quite variable in his ability to bowl accurately), but I am not sure it is that simple (sport rarely is).  I wonder how well England were prepared for the level of aggression they would face in Australia, it has been known for years that sledging on the field and aggressive reporting are an important part of a successful Australian cricket team (it is also true for other successful sports such as rugby).  But, this is the first time I have seen it used, to such a high degree, by a less than successful team, which may reflect the unusual situation of a back-to-back Ashes series.  Aggression is a key part of sport at any level and I have used it myself to gain advantage, but you have to be ready for it and not let it dominate how you play – I think this might be England’s problem and the batsmen were not ready for the verbal and physical battering they were about to receive.

For me what I found interesting was the way Australia were able to continue to exploit the well described weaknesses of the England batsmen – Cook flashing outside of the off stump, Trott with the short ball etc. – England only managed to get one Australian batsmen out based on a well known weakness; although it was their captain.  What I am suggesting is that England’s batsmen have not been able to overcome their problems associated with a known weakness (e.g Trott always playing through the leg side for any ball on the stumps) and it has been this batting frailty that has caused the downfall.  I also think this knowledge has played on the mind of the batsmen (often seen as a slow sown in runs as the Australian bowlers begin to exploit the weakness) and this has got into their mind set.  Of course, no one may agree with me, but that is my view.

What is next?  Well, no matter how many fines are put in place, the Australians will not stop sledging, barracking or being aggressive so England will face all of that again.  The only way to counter the problems is for the top-level batsmen, with the most experience, to stand up and demonstrate they can bat through the aggression – kevin_pietersen_paPietersen, Cook (who showed some of this metal in the second innings), Bell and Prior (who maybe has the biggest problem.  Carberry was unlucky in the second innings and I hope his luck is better in the next test, but Pietersen has a major role to play as he may find himself having two types of game to play – a defensive role to sop a fall of wickets, or an attacking role to move the game along at a key time.  He has done both and is very capable of doing this again, but he must concentrate and get past the flack that will come his way.  Are there any positives for England – well, tongue in cheek, they are better than Australia at reading DRS decisions!

Okay, that is my rant after just one test, but let’s not get too down.  England have done this often and can recover, just make sure the games are not lost because of a lack of sports psychology in the dressing room, but are won or lost through sheer sporting ability.  Everyone knows the ability of the England batsmen, but it is hard to know their mind set.

Update as of 14/12/2013:

The second test was not the England batting success I hoped for and there seemed to be some real fear of fast bowling in the eyes of the middle order batsmen.  A few bright sparks that might signal a recovery, but my main concern was the ability of Australian bowlers to slow England’s run rate and then take wickets.  This was continued in the first innings of the third test, where England started to show some fighting grit at last, but are still behind after two days play – they need to get the thoughts of failure out of their heads and start to attach back.  Put the Australian bowlers under some pressure, they do not look that solid when forced into long unsuccessful sessions!

18/12/2013:

Well, the Ashes have gone, but we have ben Stokes to thank for some entertainment and for at least attempting what I suggested above – interesting that the Aussies looked less than solid when he was batting.  The sad aspect of the game was the way all of the senior, experienced batsmen once again crumbled, playing poor-choice shots yet again!  That was compounded by some woeful fielding by England – we gifted Australia the Ashes.  I am in total agreement with Sir Ian Botham when he says England have been bullied out of this series – maybe there is a place for a new Sports Psychologist in the England setup (I never thought I would have to suggest that)!

02/01/2014:

The title of this blog should now be four down and whitewash imminent!  The 2nd innings  batting by England in the fourth test was the worst performance I have ever seen by professional cricketers.  I have just read Alec Stewart’s views on this and I agree with his views, but I find it sad that Michael Carberry is struggling to score freely – I have always know his defensive leave was suspect, but he seems to have completely withdrawn his shots.  It will be interesting to see how England approach the final test of the series, but I do not hold out a lot of hope.  Changes to the batting line-up are likely to be more important than to the bowlers, who have done okay.  However, my view remains unchanged – there is a problem with the mind-set of the England batsmen, who have lost the ability to make good shot selection when the bowling gets tight and runs dry up.  The question for me is “who can sort that out and how”?

05/01/2014:

So that is it – 5-0 a white wash!  Introduction of new blood made very little difference to the performance of the senior players, all of whom played terrible shots – the leaves being two of the worst since Gatting vs Warne – and showed no resilience.  There is very little to take from this series and I simply will go back to my opening comments about a ten match series being too much for everyone.  I think it has been for England as it was clear during Australia’s time in England that they were beginning to get the measure of England and it is clear to me that they gained an upper hand in Australia through psychological pressure (both in the media and on the field) and by changing tactics to attach the recognised weaknesses of the England top batsmen.  In contrast, England’s tactics did not vary much and they stubbornly stuck to what they have been successful with before – but that was never going to win in Australia.  Bowler’s lengths, fielding close to the bat and the positioning of fielders all need to improve in pressure situations!

The next real test of England comes from India in the summer!

The 40th Meeting of TOFC – The Golden Lion, Bedhampton

 

The Golden LionThe Golden Lion, Bedhampton was a new venue for TOFC and also for me, in fact I have not been to Bedhampton before, but I am happy to report that the journey was worthwhile.

The train journey from Southampton was about one hour, changing at Havant, but the journey went quite smoothly.  For many of the other TOFC members the journey was a bus ride from Portsmouth, but no one complained about problems getting to Bedhampton, which is good.  I had thought we might only have a few members for this meeting, and I had booked a table for 12, but in fact it was one of the best attended meetings of the year with 17 turning up!  This also meant it was a good mix of people, most of whom were able to sit around a big round table in the main window of the lounge area of the pub.  The rest of us grabbed a couple of tables nearby.

The pub was very welcoming and they had no objection to us moving tables and taking over most the lounge area.  The bar itself is fairly short and a couple of locals were sat at it, facing the bar was what I would describe as a bar area, while the lounge area, where we were, was off to the right of the bar.  There were three real ales and most of us drank jail Ale, which was very good.  The food menu was very reasonably priced (main meals were £5) and the food order was processed quickly and the food arrived very quickly.  In fact the service was both friendly and efficient and there were no problems at all.  In fact, it was a very enjoyable afternoon out and the pub is definitely worth a visit.

The 38th TOFC Meeting – The White Horse, Southsea

The White HorseThe September saw us return to this old favourite in Southsea and, of course, this was the host pub for the most recent retirees (including me), but this visit was for a different reason – the Golden Wedding Anniversary of one of our long standing members (CONGRATULATIONS J & A).  It was nice to see both of them again and I am sure they had a wonderful weekend with their family over the weekend.

The White Swan is a good sized pub and they had set us up an area to the left as you go through the door – a little moving of tables and we were settled – they even provided a small menu just for us, which was handy and the food came quite quickly (we could also choose from the main menu which is typical pub fayre and always good food).  My only slight complaint against this pub is the choice of real ales is a little limited (we get spoilt by Wetherspoons I guess), but the available ale was very good.  Fifteen members eventually turned up and there were a few people that we don’t see so often, which is always good to see.  I have mentioned it a few times now, but it is good to see a good turn out of female members – stops too much chat about sport!

So, TOFC continues to be popular and still attracts a good mix of people.  Thanks very much to everyone.

The 35th TOFC Meeting – Emsworth

railwayy-innLast month we decided to revisit Emsworth, with the opportunity for a short walk around town (pub crawl) if the weather was nice.  The lunchtime meet was to be, once again, in The Railway Inn where we have been three times before!  Sadly, the weather was atrocious when I got up and gradually got worse – it turned into the heaviest rain I have seen since we moved to Southampton!  However, it stopped just as we were leaving the house and it gradually dried up.

The train journey was uneventful, no delays, and we arrived at Emsworth on time.  The advantage of this pub is its location just across the road from the station, which makes getting there easy; although, some did arrive by bus, but that is also only a short walk.  I was surprised to be the first to arrive (the other usual suspects were down town!), but that gave me a chance to check if the staff were okay about me moving two tables – they were, which was great.  I quickly realised that the pub had new management and staff from when I last visited, so it would be interesting to see how the food turned out.  The beers were good enough and I drank Old Speckled Hen on draught, others were drinking Doombar.

DSC00504The turn out was smaller than I expected with only eight, but the early rain storm may have been a major contributing factor, often a smaller turn out means a more lively chat and everyone seemed to join the various discussions, which is what TOFC is all about, so that was good.  The food was okay, but not as spectacular as it was at our first visit (less food, slightly higher prices0, but that is what happens, sadly.  One popular observation about this pub is the TV display of train times, which makes the pub an ideal waiting room for the trains – an excellent idea everyone agreed!  Mind you I did think that after a couple of ales it might be possible to make a mistake about train destinations as the first list of place names was NOT destinations and I imagine it would be easy to get the wrong train.

blue-bell-inn-emsworth-606x455We stayed at The Railway Inn for a couple of hours then a few of us moved down town.  We didn’t partake of a pub crawl, instead we went to The Blue Bell for a few drinks.  This is an excellent old-worldy pub down near the waterfront.  I stayed on Old Speckled Hen and the beer was excellent again.  Emsworth is a great little town for pubs and restaurants and well worth a visit.  The welcome at this pub was friendly and we debated a possible visit for TOFC at a future date – the staff said they could accommodate us, so something to think about.

Next month we are making a first ever visit to Portchester, which will be interesting.