98 ways to avoid France '98

Enough football, already. There are so many better things to do with one's time, so many alternatives. Why not, for example, visit one of the many countries that are (a) fascinating destinations, and (b) have not qualified for France '98. Countries like

1 Ireland, whose attractions include Guinness, rain ... and 10% added peace.

2 Russia: a lousy economy, too many crooks, but fascinating ... and big!

3 Australia: fond of barbecued prawns, apparently.

4 New Zealand: home of Cloudy Bay, the world's finest Sauvignon Blanc.

5 Portugal: far better beaches and surf than Spain, plus they let the bulls live.

6 Zimbabwe: spectacular wildlife, scenery, exchange-rate.

7 Kenya: as per Zimbabwe, but more dangerous.

8 Thailand: but for God's sake don't buy a souvenir bride.

9 Bali: the Indonesian crisis has left it completely empty of tourists, even prawn-loving Aussies.

10 Canada: not at all boring ... honestly.

Trouble is, all these nations will be taking World Cup TV broadcasts, despite their evident failings. There is, however, one nation whose team will be in France, but whose interest in football - sorry, sarccer , is negligible, viz ...

11 USA: no footy on telly, radio, or in the papers. They've qualified, and they just don't care.

Then again there is a domestic option, to wit ...

12 The Huntsham Court Hotel, near Tiverton, Devon (01398 361 365) is both a delightfully eccentric country house (with a superb cellar) and also an entirely TV-free zone.

Still not certain enough of escaping? Okay try these ...

13 The Mapimi Desert in Mexico has a mysterious 300 square-mile Zona del Silencio in which radio waves can neither be received, nor sent. So no World Cup telly there, either.

14 The two territories with the lowest population densities (and thus least footy-related chat per square mile) are Antarctica and Greenland.

15 The longest explored cave in the world is the 77,000-foot Nohoch na Chich system in Quintana Roo, mexico. You should be safe at the far end of that.

16 The deepest cave is the 5,256-foot Gouffre Jean Bernard. But watch out ... it's in France.

17 But there's always Ogof Ffynnon Ddu in Wales (1,010 feet) - and the Welsh, sadly, have no World Cup interest.

18 Or climb Kankar Punsum, the world's highest unconquered peak, speaking of which ...

19 The country in which it stands, Bhutan, excludes corrupting Western culture ... like football. Still too risky? How about ...

20 Bouvet Island, an uninhabited Norwegian dependency 1,700 miles from the coast of Anatarctica and officially the most remote place on earth.

But maybe places don't turn you on. Perhaps you're a people person. People who need people are, allegedly, the happiest people on earth. So why not get to know ...

21 Gazza: the World Cup is the last thing he'll want to talk about.

22 Jamie Redknapp: another England discard, who's spending his World Cup in the Caribbean. Then again, he's also marrying the pert pop singer Louise, so he probably won't welcome the interruption.

23 Rupert Murdoch: he'll need consoling having been deprived of the chance to buy the Cup for Sky Sports and thus sell yet more subs and pay-per- view to frenzied footie addicts.

24 The Queen: standing up for her female subjects Her Maj will not be joining Princes Phil, Andy, Ed, Chuck and Hal in France and so will be in need of amusing company (might make a change).

Combine your socialising with missionary work among Tory pundits like ...

25 Simon Heffer ...

26 Frank Johnson and

27 Dominic Lawson, all of whom have publicly expressed their loathing of football, out of solidarity, perhaps with ...

28 Mrs Thatcher: so refreshingly anti-soccer she tried to make all fans carry ID cards.

Prefer somone a tad more liberal? Try ...

29 John Mortimer: came out against footy-mania on the day England played Germany in the Italia '90 semi-final. Or ...

30 Gordon Brown: way sporting in his youth. But if Tony loves football, Gordon must surely now be agin it.

For all the propaganda linking New Ladettes with men in shorts, most women still fail to see the significance of overpaid idiots kicking a ball around. So lads, why not invest in ...

31 ... Viagra? This could be your big chance. Unless your would-be partners have something better to do with their time. Such as ...

32 Complete their take-over of the world while all the men are distracted. Or, more specifically ..

33 Learn to fly. Over 33 days there will be 64 World Cup games of 90 minutes each. That's a minimum 94.5 hours, more than enough for the 50 hours (and c.pounds 5,000 + VAT) it takes to get a Private Pilot's License.

34 Try helicopters: 40 hours flying-time, but pounds 8,000-plus.

35 Linguaphone language courses (pounds 180-pounds 300) assume around 90 hours of study. Apparently Spanish and Dutch are the easiest to learn - and good outside tips for the World Cup too.

36 That same time devoted to computer training would make you a PC expert at basic programming.

37 A four-part Microsoft Office course at Pitmans (pounds 680) would get you up to advanced level - a handy job-qualifiation.

But since it is young men who are under-skilled these days, why don't they swallow their sexist pride and do ...

38 ... a secretarial course? With 60 hours training and 36 practice, you could reach 60 words-per-minute typing or shorthand. And your potential income would rise by c.pounds 2,000 p.a.

And since young men, say the Army, are underfit ...

39 Go to the gym. Why swallow six-packs when 96 hours of weights should make your stomach look like one?

40 Learn to programme a video. Someone has to.

Still got time to spare?

41 Go on, write that novel: 2,000 words a day for 34 days will result in a slim, but significant volume ...

42 ... Or three film scripts.

43 Design a better Millennium logo. Shouldn't be difficult.

44 Invent a more persuasive Diana conspiracy.

45 Stop flicking over the foreign pages and work out what's really going on in Kosovo ...

46 Or Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, The Spratley Islands etc...

47 Get on a Virgin train from London to Manchester. By the time you arrive the World Cup will all be over!

48 Read Proust ...

49 ... and Underworld, the Book of the Year that wasn't

50 ... and that new paperback edition of Satanic Verses.

Bear in mind, too, the effect of daytime games involving England or Scotland. So ...

51 Enjoy the pleasures of empty shops and museums

52 Catch up on work in a peaceful, empty office ...

53 Irritate colleagues by inviting them to crucial meetings/job interviews/ salary reviews at 4.30 today, 4.30 next Tuesday (if Scots), or 1.30 on Monday (if English).

Normally snooty maitre d's at trendy restaurants will be desperate for custom, so ...

54 Make June 22 and 26 your nights for dining out.

Of course, there are other cultural events. For example ...

55 The Rolling Stones start the tour that isn't coming to England in Nuremberg on Saturday. Check out the dates at Milan's San Siro Stadium (June 16) or the Estadio San Mames, Bilbao (June 18) ...

56 ... and visit Frank Gehry's wild new museum while you're there.

57 The new Lloyd Webber musical Whistle Down the Wind starts previews from June 17, opening night July 1. It's meant to be not bad ... No, really.

58 Ozzy Osbourne's Ozfest Festival at the Milton Keynes Bowl (June 20) is a must for all metalheads.

59 Glastonbury (June 26-28) is perfect for rock-loving merchant bankers.

60 Great news for eccentric, chubby curmudgeons! Bob Dylan and Van Morrison are touring Britain throughout the World Cup period.

61 Even better news for insomniac Brummies! Mark Knopfler's Notting Hillbillies are at Ronnie Scott's, Birmingham, from July 10.

62 And - please try to contain your excitement - Van Halen play the NEC the same night.

63 Scots can go to T in the Park on July 11 and 12 (day of the Final). It's no shame to be knocked out in the opening round, honestly ...

But enough low culture. Serious music lovers can rejoice in ...

64 The Hampton Court Festival, starring Bryn Terfel, Jose Carreras, Paco Pena and Nigel Kennedy (premiering his Hendrix Concerto with full 12-piece band): June 11 -20.

65 The Four Seasons by Candlelight (well, okay, not that serious) at the Royal Albert Hall, July 12.

66 Balletomanes will flock to Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall (June 18-30), or ...

67 ... The Royal Ballet's summer season, opening at the Coliseum on July 7 (semi-finals day, incidentally) with La Bayadere.

68 Lovers of faded glory, bathos, displays of extraordinary but somehow irrrelevant accomplishments - plus parents of small children - should try The Moscow State Circus in Manchester (till Sunday) and Blackburn (June 16-21)

69 People who want to hear Julie Andrews provide the voice of a talking parrot are in luck, too: Dr Doolittle begins previews at Labatt's Apollo,Hammersmith, from June 29.

70 Want sensitive, female-friendly, who-needs-men-anyway-style films? Try Object of My Affection (opens end June): Friends' Jennifer Aniston is an expectant Mum who kicks Dad out of the house and moves in with a gay pal.

71 Or Soul Food (June 12): George Tillman's warm, funny tale of a black Chicago family gathering for grub and emotion with their matriarch Big Mama

72 Or even Mimic (June 26): Mira Sorvino battles mutant cockroaches (an obvious metaphor, surely) in the New York Subway.

And let's not forget, there are still other sports being played, apart from football. Cricket, for example, hence ...

73 The 2nd and 3rd Tests against South Africa at Lord's (June 18-22) and Old Trafford (July 2-6), plus the very last ...

74 Benson and Hedges Cup Final, at Lord's, July 11th.

Sporting masochists, too, should not miss the opportunities provided by tours of the southern hemisphere by Britain's rugby teams. Look out for ...

75 Two rugby Tests against the All Blacks ...

76 ... and one against South Africa.

But what about those events which a Brit might win?

77 Scotsman David Coulthard could possibly triumph at the French Grand Prix (July 5th), or even ...

78 The British Grand Prix at Silverstone (July 12th)

And let's not forget the beefy, John Bull-esque figure of Greg Rusedski (a not rempotely Ukranian/Canadian individual, obviously), who may just, possibly, conceivably win ...

79 Wimbledon. Assuming Tim Henman doesn't.

80 Go fishing - they're the animals you can kill between meals, and not worry about being banned.

And speaking of politics, why not ...

81 Be the first on your block to memorise the names of William Hague's exciting new Shadow Cabinet. Only one on your block, too ...

82 Join an Air France picket-line.

83 Cycle around Paris pretending to be a striking plain-clothes detective: who's to know?

84 Get on the Internet: by July 12 you may just have (a) figured out how to surf, (b) found something interesting and (c) downloaded it.

85 Turn off the box and talk to your friends, family, lover. Go on, just try it.

86 Avoid the arguments inevitably caused by 85 by going into the garden: all that rain is making it super-fertile at the moment.

87 Boycott Sainsbury's ... it's the World Cup supermarket.

88 Break down. Don't call Green Flag - they're the England sponsors.

89 Turn your back on McDonalds, Walkers Crisps, Lucozade, adidas, Pizza Hut and any companies who use footballers in their ads.

90 Sulk.

91 Write rambling, incoherent letters in green ink, to all the TV companies, complaining about their ludicrously excessive World Cup coverage. Insist on a reply.

92 If reply does not arrive within five working days, compose more letters, increasing levels of abuse and irrationality.

93 Smoke lots of dope ... Oh, hang on, wrong editor ...

94 Hit anyone who repeats that hackneyed Shankly quote about football not being a matter of life and death because, "It's more important than that". No, it isn't.

95 Ditto anyone theorising about Fever Pitch.

96 Or ayone beginning a dinner-party conversation, "I only started liking football a couple of years ago, but I'm really into it now."

97 Spend the World Cup in jail, by following advice in 92-6 (above)

Or, follow my personal tip ...

98 Devote all your waking hours to writing daft articles about avoiding France '98.

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