Monday, July 27, 2009

27 July 2009: Meatballs

Actually, that title is just to make McDougal happy.

As I've been following Le Tour fairly closely this year, I thought I should mention a few pertinent points that the mainstream media may have missed.

Firstly, the fact that Mark Cavendish won six stages and yet didn't win the Green Jersey (although without his somewhat harsh points deduction on that middle stage, he would have won it)... shows that Cavendish may well be, as he himself claims, the best sprinter in the world, but being the best sprinter in the world doesn't necessarily equate to the Tour De France Green Jersey. I suspect he's learned a lot from this experience, most notably the importance of tactical riding on days that are not sprinter-friendly in order to minimize losses to Green Jersey rivals. In other words, I think he's going to learn from this and come back next year to win Green simply by being more tactically astute.

Secondly, there have been notably few references to drugs in this years Tour. Is that because they're all clean?

Right, that's what I thought too. This thought-provoking article in the Guardian delves a little deeper into the question of third-generation EPO and blood doping, and asks some very key questions, including how it could be that Contador could climb the mountains so hard, so fast - in fact, harder and faster than anyone in the history of the Tour, with Greg LeMond (who should know) feeling that there has to be more going on with Contador than meets the eye.

Key quote:

Greg LeMond, the Tour champion of 1986, 1989 and 1990 and a noted critic of doping, used his French newspaper column to examine the implications of the statistics of the climb in which Contador soared away from his rivals, covering 8.5km of road with an average slope of 7.5% in 20min 55sec, averaging just over 30kph up a series of steep ramps linked by hairpins.

"No one in the Tour has ever climbed as fast as that," LeMond wrote, going on to talk about the findings published recently in LibĂ©ration, in which Antoine Vayer, a performance expert and former trainer with the defunct Festina team, estimated that, judging by his results, Contador must have a VO2 max figure – the measurement of a body's ability to take in and use oxygen – so high that, in LeMond's view, it would have to be superior to that of any athlete who ever lived.

Cynical? It's hard not to be, that's the thing. Bradley Wiggins going from track star to mountain expert and team leader in a little under a year? Hmm.

The fact that Armstrong can come out of retirement and hang with the best implies perhaps that simply the standards aren't as high as they used to be. OK, but the absolute stats are that Contador was out-of-this-world this year. He was unstoppable and even the mountain specialist Schleck brothers couldn't shake him on the highest of the Alps. Those standards are very high. And Contador was unbeatable.

Presumably, if he's that good, we should expect another Indurain/Armstrong-esque domination of the Tour for the next few years.


Postscript: This is the sixteenth blog this month, thereby surpassing all previous months since I began this lark in 2004. Didn't expect that.

Post-post-script: The "Markus Liebherr" Google News count stands today at 331, down from over 400 at its peak.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

24 July 2009: Lump

Please read this entry on Rob's blog. Better than any movie plot in the last ten years.

Meantime, been a weird week here. Discovered a lump where there shouldn't be a lump and if you don't like clinical language, look away now.

Looking away yet?

OK. The lump is on my right testicle. And it wasn't there before.

I know that it wasn't there before because a couple of years ago Plymouth Argyle fans were exposed to the risks of testicular cancer: both goalkeeper Romain Larrieu and commentator Gordon Sparks were diagnosed with it at similar times. Both have made recoveries (indeed Larrieu is possibly in the form of his life now and has been appointed club captain) and, in ways smaller than Lance Armstrong, have done their best to raise awareness.

One thing I always remember was shortly after they both recovered, Sparksy posted on Pasoti, saying the advice he had for all men was to examine regularly, and if they didn't fancy doing the job themselves, then they should ask their wives to do it for them. Additionally, it's Biblical: 1 Corinthians 11v28a: "A man ought to examine himself". And so, I've been a regular examiner ever since. And now, on Tuesday night, a lump was found, maybe a centimetre in diameter.

As much as I've sometimes been in shock and awe at how poor the private health networks are over here compared to the NHS (seriously? Yes - in terms of performance as well as ridiculous complexity), they pulled through in fine - astonishing - style this week. Tuesday morning we called for an appointment, a doctor (not our usual one, but that's fine) was available Wednesday morning. Went in for initial examination, referral for an ultrasound was the result and that ultrasound took place little over an hour later at the same location.

Results came through this morning. Apparently I have a number of cysts on my testicles: three on the left and two on the right. All quite small - much smaller than the lump. And they also found something called a hydrocele, which I'd never heard of before. So what is the lump? They're not sure, the nurse suggesting that it was one of the cysts with fluid collected around it - the nurse was a vague as to whether it was related to the hydrocele or not.

And what to do? It should go away, said the nurse. If it's growing, or if it's still there in two to three weeks, I'm to go back and they'll see if anything else needs to be done. But it sounds as if it were something heavy and sinister like cancer or pregnancy then the ultrasound would have picked it up.

Still, something to keep an eye on. Well, for me, anyway. You can keep your eyes to yourself.

And if you don't like clinical language, you can look back now.

Footnote: The term 'hydrocele' is seemingly not only new to me, but also to Blogger's spellchecker. No surprise there.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

18 July 2009: Stuffer

We got a sausage stuffer and made these sausages.

Following our earlier successfulle experimente with sausage recipes, it was now time to get hold of some sausage skins and see if we could make the real thing.

For those who missed the earlier excitement (or saw it get lost in the Saints melee that was this blog for three months), the story is that you can't get British-style sausages in the USA, except for some reasonably-close imitations from a pub in Indianapolis. However, a very nice man (and award-winning sausage guru) named Simon at Uptons of Bassett butcher shop in Southampton was kind enough to suggest a couple of recipes while we were there in April. Following his advice we put together a basic Lincolnshire recipe and tried them out, and deemed the recipe as successful and genuine.

So now it was time to get some skins and stuff our mixture into them. To do this, we needed an additional attachment for the mixer (acquired in Texas last week) and, of course, some sausage skins.

Phoned up the local butcher shop (well, phoned all three of them but only one would help) and he said we should use natural casings rather than artificial, as artificial tends to be a little chewy. Fair enough, until you realise that 'natural casings' means pig intestine, doesn't it? Yum.

So, assuming you have pork shoulder ground up and mixed with bread, salt, pepper and sage in the previously-stated quantities, along with a stuffing attachment and some intestine, here's what you do to make sausages.

First, run water through the intestine about three or four times:

Next, put the stuffer onto the grinding attachment, grease the stuffer and feed about four feet of intestine (sorry, casing) on there:

Then it's time to tie the end - either using string or just a careful, tight knot in the end of the casing - and begin putting the sausage mix into the top of the grinder/stuffer attachment:

Now the fun begins. Push the mix down into the grinder (using a tool, not your fingers) and it'll start coming out into the sausages:

Make sure that you don't over-stuff the casing, since it'll need a little expansion room when you twist them into links:

Once you're done, you'll have four feet of glorious-looking sausages:

If you're doing Cumberland Ring, just curl it up. We're doing individual Lincolnshire sausages, so it's time to twist:

We weren't hugely successful first time round with making them the same length, but they look pretty authentic:

Then we cut them up to put in the fridge, which is the photo at the top of this blog. Final stage of the process (aside from washing up and decontaminating the entire kitchen - and the camera - after getting raw pork everywhere) was phoning up some other British people in town and inviting them over for a barbecue this evening.

However, it might be wise just to cook one up now and check it's ok... just to avoid disappointing our guests, you know...?

Thanks again to Simon from Uptons for supplying both the basic recipe and the encouragement to make sausages in this far distant land.

Friday, July 17, 2009

17 July 2009: Definition

Today's Tour stage was interesting with that German/Aussie guy going way out the front and weeping as he crossed the line in first.

Further back down, Lance looked very strong in a reasonably-mountainous stage, but in the green jersey fight the battle seems to be twofold: one battle between Cavendish and Hushovd, and a secondary battle for the definition of the green jersey - is it for the "best sprinter" or "most consistent daily finisher"?

Back when I started following the race, there was a red jersey more purely for the sprinters, and the green jersey would usually be won by Sean Kelly. Since 1989, there's been no red jersey, and they upped the points in the flat stages and intermediate sprints for the green jersey. So it's a battle of definitions...

So today, up in the mountains, we saw that Hushovd is strong enough to remain there or thereabouts, at least when there aren't the absolute toughest mountains. Today he finished in the first main bunch (alongside Lance, Contador and the rest) and takes the green jersey back off Cavendish by five points. Tomorrow is flat-ish again, and Cavendish might take it back again. Sunday we're in the mountains, so...

There's no question that Cavendish is the fastest man in the race. But Hushovd is probably the most consistent sprint-and-hang in there guy. So which category will win green when it comes to Paris?

Hard to say, but with more mountains than flat stages left, the smart money might just have to be on Hushovd, even if Cavendish wins on the Champs-Elysees in nine days' time.

17 July 2009: Pardew

As McDougal reported, Alan Pardew is confirmed as Saints manager.

Fair enough. Good manager for this level of football (third tier in the English game). Unexciting. Will probably get promotion with some good investment.

Means I can stop talking about Saints on this blog since they now seem to be a little more stable than back on April Fool's Day, when the whole thing kicked off. There'll be a few signings before the transfer window closes at the end of August, some of which may be surprising and exciting, and Plymouth Argyle will also look to put some serious moves together as part of their newly-expressed five-year plan to get to the Premiership.

So, what else to talk about? Sausages? Scottish castles? Le Tour? The Semantic Web??

That last one is what this blog was supposed to be about in the first place. Ironic that now, over five years after starting this blog, the blog has developed more than the Semantic Web...

Or has it?

Addendum: Bradley Wright-Phillips has left Saints to join Argyle, news largely buried by the ongoing managerial turmoil and the fact that he's generally regarded as being a rubbish player. Saints fans opined that he'd been seen attempting to take the train down to Plymouth. Apparently he was right there with plenty of time to spare but still somehow managed to miss it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

16 July 2009: Mundane

Next Saints manager? Hot tip today seems to be Alan Pardew.

Which seems very mundane after all the Strachan talk, but there we are. Strachan rumours continue, as do Dennis Wise rumours and 'Director of Football' rumours, but Pardew seems to have come from nowhere yesterday to being odds-on favourite today.

Rumours continue to suggest a Saturday announcement of the new manager, although the new man won't take charge of the team until next week. Assuming, of course, that it is a man...

Now there's a thought. Anyone remember 'The Manageress'?

Update 8.09pm eastern: BBC website now reporting Pardew is to be appointed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

15 July 2009: Cavendish

Update to earlier post: Cavendish fought very hard on an uphill finish, and yet again beat all the rest. Hushovd finished about fifth, meaning Cav gets the Green Jersey back again.

But does he care?

"There's only one thing that matters now," he said in the immediate post-race interview, still out of breath and revealing what seems an increasingly strong scouse accent, "and Paris is in sight."

He wants to win on the Champs Elysees. The Green Jersey is just decoration.

15 July 2009: Versus

Speculation mounts that the new Saints manager (along with the new owner and possibly a new player or two, although that seems less likely given the lack of managerial appointment yet) will be revealed at or immediately before the pre-season friendly against Ajax on Saturday.

Rumours continue to circulate that the man in question is none other than Gordon Strachan, and that the reason there have been far fewer leaks than previous appointments is that the new regime is smaller, tighter and far less prone to give information away. Secondary rumours point to Dennis Wise, and Tony Adams refuses to go away (no jokes here about "going away" and his prison term in 1989 please), and in fact remains the current bookie favourite.

Meantime life outside the Saints bubble continues with the Tour De France and "Versus" (US TV network formally known as OLN) giving not only audio but low-bandwidth video (not sure how that link renders outside the US); alongside that the BBC Sport website are providing Simon Brotherton's live commentary on the final hour or so of the stages and of course they're doing live text commentary too. Very exciting, especially compared to previous years in the UK.

As for the race itself, Mr Lance is going ok - third, eight seconds back - with Contador his team "mate" (like they're friends, right?) two seconds ahead in second place. Alps to come this weekend, which should determine who wins. Of at least as much interest to me is Mark Cavendish, who keeps winning stages but still bizarrely is struggling to get hold of the Green Jersey due to Thor Hushovd's tactical planning and marginally better ability to get over the mountains. Cavendish is comfortably the best sprinter in the field - McDougal tells me it's due to aerodynamics trumping sheer strength at high sprint speeds - so we'll keep an eye on that. As I write this, Cavendish is six points behind so if yesterday's result is repeated (Cavendish first, Hushovd second) then Cav will be just one point behind. But... the Alps still to come... along with the usual British sporting tactic of blowing a great opportunity...

Postscript: Nostalgic YouTube link for those in the UK who remember Stephen Roche, Malcolm Elliot and the Tours of the late 1980s.

Monday, July 13, 2009

13 July 2009: Managers

Some things never change with Saints, such as the constant need to change managers.

I mean, I go away to Texas for a few days with next-to-no internet and bam, Saints new owners sack the manager. So the next appointment will be the eighteenth manager in fifteeen years, and the eleventh in the last five-and-a-bit years (Strachan (left early 2004), Sturrock, Wigley, Redknapp, Bassett/Wise, Burley, Gorman/Dodd, Pearson, Poortvliet, Wotte and New Manager).

The weird thing is, three hours prior to being dismissed, Mark Wotte was talking to the media about how positive he's feeling about the new owners.

Next thing he knows, "Here's your P45. Is that job in Egypt still open for you?"

So, rumours abound as to the next manager. Early favourite (by a country mile) was Gordon Strachan, who was a fantastic manager while at Saints who left essentially because of Rupert Lowe. Except he's since been a very successful manager at Celtic and could probably get any job he wants right now, so he probably won't be back.

More recent rumours focus heavily on Nigel Pearson, who had a brief but relatively successful stint at Saints a little over a year ago (ie, he kept Saints from relegation in the Championship). Rumour is he's unhappy with former Pompey bailer Milan Mandarin at Leicester, and might be willing to do something with Saints.

Further rumours suggest a Director-of-Football and Team Manager combination, possibly even bringing back Strachan, Le Tiss or Keegan as DoF with Pearson, Tony Adams or Micky Adams as team manager. A little far-fetched perhaps, but not as far-fetched as Saints being taken over by a Swiss billionaire.

Incidentally, the Echo has published a full and frank interview with the Administrator, Mark Fry, about the whole process. Very revealing stuff, and shows just how on-the-brink Saints really were.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

8 July 2009: Complete

As reported on this blog yesterday, the deal is now complete.

Sky Sports, the Echo, Solent and the rest are now carrying official statements from the Administrator and the club, which includes the following interesting statement:

Markus Liebherr was attracted to Southampton by a number of qualities which include the Club's rich sporting heritage, loyal fan base, first class stadium and training facilities and the potential for the Saints to regain their rightful place at the higher echelons of English football.

Maybe he thinks he's buying someone else? Anyway, the money is currently being transferred and rumours that he asked to pay for the club using Tesco vouchers are completely unfounded: he's paying in cash money. The only problem might be actually getting the dosh up from the docks to the bank...

Anyway, time to break out the Toblerone. Saints are saved!

Footnote: "Markus Liebherr" count on Google news was up to seven by earlier this morning. As I write this, we're up to forty-one.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

7 July 2009: Liebherr

That's Markus Liebherr, the new owner of Saints. He's very rich and has bought the club for 12.5 million pounds, or one of Christiano Ronaldo's knees.

He is leaning on a small tank, which is what he used to destroy Rupert Lowe and all his works.

We just have to speak very quietly and don't let on that 'League One' is not actually the top division in English football...

Footnote: As of right now, Google News has zero articles if you search on "Markus Liebherr". Wonder what it will reach in a day or two?

7 July 2009: Waitrose

Away from Saints, we were in Chicago last weekend.

And while I don't have time to go into the whole Taste Of Chicago debacle (but let's just say if we'd have known that the 2008 event featured four people being shot, one fatally, we might have not gone and thus avoided the stampede when a Saints-like rumour of 'THEY'RE SHOOTING GUNS" was being loudly dispensed from the mouths of hundreds of people running full-pelt away from the event, combined with the police advising "get out of town now"), it was certainly a time of ups and downs.

Ups included seeing a show by the wonderful, and I mean fantastic, Improvised Shakespeare Company, who are based in Chicago and who improvise a Shakespeare-style play based on audience suggestions (and on any props that happen to break during the performance); seeing Moody Bible College campus; eating at Giordano's (of course!). Downs included having to wait for ages for the commuter train out of town after the Taste debacle, getting a little ill after eating too much Giordano's, and the frozen chicken they served me at IHOP.

But as the photo above shows, if you go to Borders in Michigan Avenue in central Chicago, you can get an interesting selection of magazines to peruse while enjoying your peppermint tea and Rice Krispie square. In particular, a wide-ranging selection of BBC magazines and several well-known UK football periodicals led to an extended stay, but the most interesting is the one almost clipped out of the photo above. Let me give you another photo:

Yes, it's Waitrose Food Illustrated. Included an article on a guy in China who made his own bacon (yes, it's going to happen in Kokomo as well, as soon as we source some decent organic pork). I had no idea it had any kind of circulation outside the UK. In fact, I had no idea it had any kind of circulation outside of Waitrose.

Interestingly, I have a cousin-in-law who's something of a somebody within Waitrose/John Lewis, and the two photos above have as a result now made their way within the Waitrose organisation, along with a suggestion that they should do a story on me making sausages. Sounds a little unexciting to me, but I'll happily trade them my story for a supply of those yellow corn-fed chickens and made a Gressingham duck.

7 July 2009: Expectation

Yesterday, today was tomorrow. That means that today, tomorrow is today. So the takeover of Saints should happen today. Right?

Well, actually, maybe yes. The latest Daily Echo report states that today is, most likely, the day and that an announcement should come later. The report also adds what amounts to a disclaimer:

There always remains the chance of last-minute complications but the remaining couple of glitches are expected to be ironed out this morning so that a formal announcement of the club’s new ownership can be made later in the day.

Always the chance of last-minute complications? What, with Saints, where everything runs so smoothly and always to plan?

Update 10.05am eastern: BBC Radio Solent report in their 3pm news bulletin that the deal is "on the brink of being completed", along with news that "all issues have been resolved" and "contracts are now being drawn up". BBC Sport website also reporting the same thing. Expect the SaintsWeb forum to crash.

Update 11.13 eastern: Solent in their 4pm bulletin report that essentially the deal is done and that funds are being transferred, but that transfer may not be complete until tomorrow morning. Nothing new from the Echo or other sources, but as Radio Solent is aimed mainly at listeners over the age of 200, they tend to keep excitement to a minimum and are the least likely of any media to sensationalise a story... still, it's never over until the fat lady sings, as they say...

Update 1.08 eastern: The Echo continues to state other bidders are still in the running, but concede all details have now been ironed out with the Swiss bid. Meantime, Solent's 5.15 sports bulletin featured their Sports Editor reiterating the earlier news, stating that all that remains is for the contracts to be signed and the money transferred. He said that he had thought it might happen this afternoon but it was now more likely to finally happen tomorrow.

Tomorrow? Should have seen that coming...

Update 1.50pm eastern: Solent just reported that one Markus Liebherr is the money-man behind the takeover. Not his company, nor his family, nor his family's company - doing it himself. Everything on course to complete tomorrow, state Solent.

Update 2.15pm eastern: Daily Echo article states it'll be done tomorrow. Always tomorrow. Always tomorrow. BBC article also updated with details of Markus Liebherr as the name behind the takeover.

Monday, July 06, 2009

6 July 2009: Cheesemakers

Blessed are the Cheesemakers. The Swiss ones, anyway.

BBC Radio Solent reporting (3pm UK time, 10am eastern) that the Swiss bid for Saints are awaiting a contract from the Football League (what contract? That's another story, I'm sure) to close out the deal. They're expecting it to all be wrapped up today or tomorrow.

Hang on, "close it out today or tomorrow"? Sounds like Pinnacle... surely that can't happen again...

Update 1.17pm eastern: The relevant thread on the Saints web forum has now reached a hundred pages, equating to five thousand messages posted on it (since it began on 19 June) and has had (as I write this) 241,518 views. And don't forget, to view it you have to be a registered user so that number doesn't include casual Pompey scummers looking for a classy football club, nor does it include Google's many crawlerbots. Oh, actual news? No, nothing new, the buyer is a member of the Liebherr family, but (it seems) not the Liebherr Holdings company itself. So: not today then, maybe tomorrow?

It's always tomorrow with Saints.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

2 July 2009: Takeover

No, not that one.

Plymouth Argyle were today taken over by a consortium of Japanese and local Plymouth businessmen. Yasuaki Kagami (he's the Japanese one, by the way) now owns 38% of the club, while a couple of others, including new chairman Sir Roy Gardner, own 13%, thus adding up to 51% and overall control. Gardner becomes chairman with Paul Stapleton stepping down to vice-chairman, and existing directors Tony Wrathall and Robert Dennerly also remain on the board.

Gardner, interestingly, used to be the Manchester United chairman. Not sure what that means for Argyle, but it sounds good.

Meantime Saints fans watch on in awe as a simple takeover is performed without any arguments with the Football League, fake consortiums, firesales (and now giveaways) of best players, points deductions, administration and now doubts over whether there will be enough players to put out a team for the new season. Latest rumours include Pinnacle thinking of coming back into it, the "overseas bid" being completed sometime next week and even Rupert Lowe pretending to be Dan McCauley and riding in on his white horse in shining armour to save the day.

Sounds unlikely, but then so does Plymouth Argyle attracting major interest from Japan.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

1 July 2009: Manager

False rumours of Press Conference at St Mary's. Speculation anyway was that it was just to confirm that Mark Wotte is remaining as manager with Killer as his assistant (presumably unpaid for now, and also without contract, but hey someone has to pick the team for Saturday's friendly against Eastleigh).

But it had been hoped that it might be news that the Swiss or "other overseas consortium" have made it.

Update: Daily Echo Twitter feed states: "Questions are flooding in again, but as is usually the case, no press conference at #saintsfc". So that's that then.