Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two Weekends and a Full Weekdays - Can’t Get Enough of England

No, that is not Papa’s lamenting of England’s premature exit in the 2010 World Cup. When England’s wobbly group matches ended with a couple of draws and a mediocre win over Slovenia, her fate was sealed really, despite a plethora of optimistic headlines crafted by deluded sports correspondents on the eve of the last 16 clash with arch rival Germany. The Sunday Times screams “Our cunning plan on how to beat the Germans” and “Manager pledges: Rooney will be back to his best … and he’ll score”.

On the other hand, two weeks prior to the Sunday’s knock out duel, The Economist (June 12th) acknowledged the writings on the wall and was spot on in predicting four more years of hurt. The bankable Bagehot column forthrightly states that the England football team for World Cup 2010 is no better than the previous one, made up of the “golden generation” of superstar English footballers. Beckham-Owen-Lampard-Gerrard and the gang float in “a bubble of hubris and unearned kudos” and collectively exemplifies form over substance, or “swagger over authentic talent”.

As it turned out, England suffered the worst of the worst defeat, and the tone of the fawning media took a drastic 360 degree turn. Brutal words, some gratuitous, cram the pages: “lack of pace”, “lack of guile”, “fragile little minds”, “brainless, naïve, indiscipline performance” and “a fire engine going to the wrong fire” describes England’s woeful defence. Ouch! Notwithstanding all that, do Malaysians still can’t get enough of the English Premier League, going forward?

Actually, the title of this post sums up the splendid two weekends and a full weekdays we spent in England, which coincided with the 2010 World Cup group tussles. Thanks to Facebook, when friends got wind of our impending trip, they invited us to stay with them or at their unoccupied house. Welcoming their generous offers, we ended up not staying at a single hotel/travelodge/B&B during our sojourn in England.

Before arriving at London Heathrow, we had a 20 hour stopover in Doha, home to the Al-Jazeera Network, and took the opportunity to see the sparkling capital with its picturesque bay and wander around the grand 19th century Souq Waqif. The magnificent souq underwent bold restoration in 2004 to recapture its original glory. New but tatty buildings were pulled down and replaced with reconstructed people's market of yesteryear.

It is a huge market to explore by foot, and we spent most of our time crawling from one alfresco café to another, enjoying decent Qatari food and copious amount of sweet mint tea, and watching the Gulf world goes by. There is a Malaysian restaurant with a weird name, Sri Kebaya, which we understandably kept at bay. We loitered around the customer-friendly open-air pet shops. The pet shop boys did not mind when I fondled their disctinctively black rabbits and irresistable kittens.

Oh, needless to say, the hip souq has free wifi too, which Papa did not take advantage of, as there is a host of other more interesting distractions vying for his attention. All around us, we saw people were just happy standing for hours and hours to watch the World Cup matches on ubiquitous big screens.

Close by is a handsome hotel by the same name and the stunning Fanar Islamic Cultural Centre with its unique spiraling minaret.

The 15-hour (in total) flight to London gave Papa ample opportunities to watch delicious movies and TV series over and over again. Papa was rooted to Casablanca, The Devil Wears Prada and Glee. Papa is so impressed with Qatar Airways and following the unqualified success of the England trip, he has caught the travel bug. He is now plotting for the next trip away to Casablanca. Qatar Airways will get one there in October 2010 for less than RM2,600. So incredible. No wonder the airline is a conversation piece.