Not long after I moved to London, almost twenty years ago, I had some friends around to watch the FA Cup Final. (The idea of the Cup Final being a big deal dates this
story; today, hardly anyone I know even bothers to watch it.) About an
hour before everyone was supposed to turn up, I switched on the tv, and
it exploded. Not like one of those famous imploding Russian tvs, but
there was a bang and an electric flash and a smell of burnt plastic and
soldering. Oops. After a worried few minutes, I managed, via the yellow
pages, to find someone who could come and fix it—another period detail,
since the practise of fixing broken electronic devices is now seen as
belonging to the distant past. The electrician fixed the tv and pointed
out that what had caused it to blow up was a leak in the roof directly
above the set, so that water was dripping down into the wiring. I tried to look
as if that wasn’t even a teeny bit my fault. He left just as the first
people came to watch the game. As for the match, I don’t remember a
thing about it.
I had a flashback to that on Sunday night, when, having retreated to
our hotel room to watch the England v Ecuador game, I switched on the
tv and got the contemporary equivalent of the bang, flash and puff of
smoke: a message saying ‘video service temporarily unavailable’. So I
burst into tears, rang the front desk, begged for a repairman, let him
in, and dragged my son to a bar to watch the first half. Then at half
time we went back to the room, where the tv guy was still struggling
with the modem—apparently the problem was that it was being ‘upgraded’,
a wonderful IT guy phrase for ‘we broke it on purpose’—and managed to
get it working just as the second half kicked off.
Add to this the fact that the commentary was in French and what we had
was the perfect Brechtian alienation device. Or nearly perfect: it
lacked someone marching up and down in front of the set wearing nothing
but underpants and carrying a banner saying ‘It’s only a game’. Still,
I was so preoccupied with trying to get things set up so I could watch
the game, that I barely took in a thing of what happened. England
looked pedestrian, and highly unlike a team going to progress any
further in the World Cup. Ecuador looked passive. The French
commentators seemed to regard Gerrard with particular reverence.
Er...that’s about it.
The format adopted for these last two World Cups, with only two teams
going through from the group stages, and drawn matches settled by
penalty shoot-outs, seems to lead to lively group stages followed by a
less gripping round of 16. In the knock-out stage the weaker teams have
a strong incentive to hang on and wait for the coin-flip of penalties,
and the stronger teams are worried about leaking a goal and then having
to play 11 defenders. Let’s hope for great things from Brazil v Ghana
and France v Spain.
As for Disneyland, there’s lots to say, but the thing that’s relevant
here is that it was like travelling to a parallel reality in which the
World Cup isn’t taking place. And where people walk around dressed as cartoon characters. And where all the coffee is made by Nescafe.