Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Knights who say "Ni"

Drive south on I35 through Dallas and you cannot miss Medieval Times. An imposing but patently faux castle set between the gas stations and office buildings. Not quite as kitschy as a Renaissance Faire (but a close second), the good people at MT run as many as three shows per day and generally seem to sell out. Scripted battles with little historical context with more in common with Brothers Grimm than anything. But good entertainment none-the-less, squeaky voiced damsel in distress aside. And the food was actually not all that bad! "Would m'laud care to pay another visit?". Maybe, if only for the paper crown...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fair Park

Set about a mile or so southeast of Dallas is Fair Park, a 277 acre urban park that is home to the Cotton Bowl, the Texas State Fair amongst other sights and events. It is a bit like a poor man's version of Balboa Park in San Diego.

Fair Park has been around since 1886 but most of present structures date from the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and are heavily influenced by the Art Deco style of architecture. There are several different museums (Science, Natural History, Hall of State, etc.) which we had fun visiting on Saturday. Apparently the Ferris Wheel is the largest in North America... As they say in Texas "it ain't bragging if it's true"

The Cotton Bowl was mothballed until the next Red River Shootout, when the University of Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners face off in an annual rite of fall. It is a tough ticket to get but one day we will attend. The boys very much enjoyed the swan paddleboats which seem to be from an other era. They insisted that we get the only duck and were disappointed when we could not ram into the other swans...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Downward Spiral - Five Weeks of Arsenal Misery

It is one of the rites of Spring. Arsenal competing on all fronts, threatening a clean sweep, only to nosedive and have Captain Wenger announce over the intercom "maybe next year".

This current crop of players is not good enough and lack the nous to win. Only Van Persie and Fabregas are world class and they are usually at about 70% due to injury. The rest will give you one good game out of four. The defensive unit are unreliable and prone to making outrageous gaffe's. In midfield, Diaby, Denilson and Rosicky are not starting XI material. And up front, Chamakh and Bendtner cannot be trusted to score on a regular basis... and that is what it boils down to with this squad - they are simply unreliable.

The frustrations of this season started later than usual and have been compressed into a five week period from early Feb until yesterday but show no sign of abating. What was once a far fetched Quadruple, is now a Single... and even that is a long shot.

Feb 5: Arsenal took a 4-0 half time lead at Newcastle (Premier League) and through a combination of injury (Djourou) and a red card to Diaby for reacting to Joey Barton and awful officiating, the Arse held on for a 4-4 draw but could have lost. It was an epic collapse and portent of things to come.

Feb 12: The team actually played well at home against Wolves and with almost everyone bar Vermaelen off the treatment table, played a solid game to beat Barca 2-1 at home (the game I went to, Feb 16). Then the injury crisis started in the home win over Stoke on Feb 23. Fabregas and Walcott went down.

The Carling Cup Final was Feb 27 and Arsenal were heavy favorites to beat Birmingham. Instead Arsenal played in a stupor and were lucky to lose only 2-1. Birmingham had a clear penalty denied in the first minute and Szczesny could have been sent off. Keystone Kops defending gifted Brum an 87th minute winner. And for the icing, Van Persie and Song got injured.

Mar 5: Back in the Premier League, Arshavin decided to show up against Sunderland but was denied both a penalty when pushed over by Bramble and later a goal when incorrectly ruled offside.

In the Champions Leage retun leg at the Nou Camp on March 8th, Van Persie and Fabregas returned from injury but clearly they were far from their best. Again, a poor referee did not help the cause when he gave Van Persie a red card for kicking the ball after the whistle had gone for offside. Arsenal failed to get a single shot on target and could have lost by more than 3-1, although near the end Mr. Confident Bendtner had a chance to score the goal that would sent Arsenal through on away goals - but he mis-controlled the ball. Of course there were more injuries. Szczesny, who was begining to look like a true heir to Lehmann or Seaman, dislocated a finger on an innocuous shot and is done for the season.

Somewhere in this time frame, we drew with Leyton Orient 1-1 in The FA Cup and won the replay 5-0 with a Bendtner hat trick. This result put us through to face Man Utd at Old Trafford in the Quarter Finals.

March 12: I knew when both Diaby and Denilson were in the starting XI, we would lose. Arshavin seemed not be bothered and RvP was isolated. Man U played only two recognized attacking players (Rooney and "Little Pea") and still outscored us 2-0. Mind you Edwin Van Der Saar made some great saves and Vidic was immense. And of course we had another bad injury. This time it was Djourou. He has had a good season coming off what seems like years of injuries and is now out for the rest of the campaign with a dislocated shoulder after a collision with one of his team mates. Keystone Kops. The only bright spot - the return of Aaron Ramsey after a broken leg.

So there it is. The worst five weeks imaginable for Arsenal and it shows no end. The injuries are unreal. Some of the officiating has been awful. But the bottom line is that some of the players are simply not good enough. Others lack belief and commitment to each other. Some serious rebuilding needs to be done. There are not enough seasoned pro's in the team. Wilshere and Walcott are still prospects. The back four of Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci and Clichy will be severely tested in the coming weeks and I for one, do not have faith in them.

At the end of the day it is just a game and in the grand scheme matters little. Football is unimportant compared to the loss of life and destruction in northern Japan...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Man's Best Friend(s)

Happiness is a Beagle that has just had a long walk and is ready for a four hour nap.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: Life by Keith Richards

I broke my own unwritten rule and bought "Keef's" autobiography brand spanking new. It was worth it, not that Keef needs the money. The man has had more escapes than a tomcat but based on recent photos, he does not look very healthy and may not get to enjoy my $25.

Born in Dartford in 1943, he grew up poor and was introduced to American music by his mother at an early age. He met Mick Jagger in 1959 and the rest is history. Most interesting is his take on the demise of Brian Jones (delusional, misogynist) and the scheming / conniving antics of Jagger (secret record deals, playing Stones songs on solo tour). Richards pulls no punches, yet is very reverential towards drummer Charlie Watts but oddly has very little to say about Bill Wyman.

There are several funny anecdotes. My favorite: the time he was in a French recording studio and had passed out under the console with a stash of drugs. When he came to, the local police brass band were in the studio recording their music. Keef somehow eluded the gendarmes and escaped the studio unmolested... Other episodes involve the time he stayed awake for a week... his fathers ashes... and all the car crashes.

Guitar fans will no doubt be enthralled by some of his insights on five string blues and song construction. Reading the book inspired me to listen to Exile on Main Street over and over for about five days straight. Great album, great book, Keef.