I went to my first grand prix last weekend, and what an experience it was.
I wouldn't swap a holiday in Cornwall for one in Abu Dhabi or Dubai myself, but for young sun worshippers it must be an ideal place to relax. It certainly has some spectacular hotels. From my room I could see two good stretches of the Formula One circuit. I could have watched the race from my room, but thanks to the chairman I had super tickets, the sort you cannot buy.
On race day I was walking through the grid about three or four minutes from the start of the race. It was something I will never forget. You could smell the excitement, with all the sheikhs walking about the atmosphere was amazing.
Having taken in a match on Friday, to have a look at a player, I was able to get to the circuit on Saturday for the final day's qualifying. I met up with Tony Fernandes, QPR's chairman, and his Team Lotus crew, and was shown around the pits and the cars. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jay Bothroyd and Heidar Helguson, who brought his lad along too, also took up the opportunity. They had a fantastic time.
I had a good chat with the team manager, Riad Asmat. We are in similar situations, both striving to get to the top end of our sport. Considering they have not been going long, they have come a long way already. It was obvious they have a great team spirit, which can't be easy given the size of our team. They are allowed "only" 45 staff at the GP, but have another 200 working remotely back at their base in Norfolk. We have less than 10 on a match day. We are going to try and get to the factory shortly. It's not far from Norwich, where we play next weekend, but a lot of the team will be in Brazil then preparing for the GP so we'll have to go another time.
They have computers for everything and I wasn't surprised when I saw the times in qualifying. At one stage there were four cars with between 1min 39.1sec and 1min 39.6sec. That's four cars within half a second. You see how important technology is to give them that extra push.
It was amazing to see the cockpit, and how the seats are moulded to the drivers' bodies. I was amazed how light the body work is, and the tyres – you could pick them up with your fingers. I had a good chat with Mark Webber, a smashing lad who's been to a few of our games this season. It was interesting talking to him about the fitness levels drivers need with the G-forces they encounter going round bends. There's a real distortion of their body, especially in the neck and shoulders. It's nothing like what you see on TV. I also managed to have a photo with Lewis Hamilton. I was convinced he would win, it was made to measure for someone of his guts and determination.
Halfway through practice we went off to one of the yachts in the marina to see how the other half live. The boats are certainly nothing like ones I see at Looe. Then on the evening before the race Eddie Jordan and his band played in the hotel in front of about 100 people. They were really good. Eddie told me he hated me, but he added that was because he is a Chelsea supporter, so I think he was joking.
Come the race, the noise is just deafening, even with earplugs on. Standing on the grid you can feel vibrations coming up through your body from the track.
I bumped into Roberto Mancini during qualifying. He was looking immaculate in a lightweight grey suit and silk tie. I was in shorts and did feel a little underdressed. Patrick Vieira was with him and we had a good chat. He's such a sensible lad, the ideal club ambassador. I'm surprised Arsenal didn't use him in such a capacity.
2. Wounded Stoke will be even more dangerous
It was back to work on Monday for a week building up to our match at Stoke today. As everyone knows, that's one of the hardest away games you can get and it'll be even tougher after they lost 5-0 at Bolton in their last game. They've had two weeks to live with that result and I know they will be desperate to get it out of their system.
Stoke are a blueprint for all us promoted clubs. Tony Pulis and I have had our run-ins now and then, but I really admire what he's done in the last few seasons. I also think they play a lot more football than people give them credit for.
They've had a raw deal being given away matches after every Europa League game. To have to go to Bolton, having played Newcastle on the Monday, then been to Israel and back, was ridiculous.
3. Latest in a long line of questions I can't answer
I went into the Nationwide to ask about junior ISAs for William and Amy. The lady took all our details, then because we have a mortgage with them she asked me in a lovely voice, "Can you tell me when you are likely to retire?" Sharon and I looked at each other, then burst out laughing. I said, "I'm sorry darling, I'm not being rude, but in my job it could be tomorrow, or could be in a few years." Someone must have informed her who I was as she apologised later, not that she needed to.
I couldn't take the family with me to Abu Dhabi as William had exams this week. I used to hate exams. When Sharon wasn't listening I told him I used to write the answers on my arms, you name it. I still didn't pass much. He's much more conscientious and revised hard. It worked too as the first result back is Latin and he got 82 per cent! I asked whose paper he copied. He said, 'Nobody's, Dad'. Sharon added, 'He's not like you were'.
4. We'll take a little bit of credit for Walker's rise
I'm delighted for Kyle Walker and Jamie Mackie. A year ago Kyle was playing for us in the Championship. Now he's an England international. He's done brilliantly, but I'd like to think we played a role in his progress. Jamie scored the winner for Scotland in Cyprus in his first international since he came back from injury. He's worked so hard and I was pleased for him.
I let another of the lads who did so well in our Championship season, Hogan Ephraim, go to Charlton on loan this week. He's one of the players we had to omit when we named Premier League squad. He should be playing first-team football, as should Danny Shittu, Patrick Agyemang, Rob Hulse and Petter Vaagan Moen. Finance is so tight at clubs it's been hard to find them somewhere, but with the loan deadline on Thursday I'm expecting some inquiries.
Gianni Paladini, my former chairman, left the club this week by mutual consent. I have to thank him for all his help while I have been there. I don't know what I would have done last year without him, especially at the latter end of the season, without his support and his knowledge of Italian, which didn't half come in handy. We had some great laughs together and I will dearly miss him. I'm sure he will be back in football sooner rather than later and I wish him well.
5. Always good to talk – unless Sepp's involved
I did wonder whether to spare any breath on Sepp Blatter's daft "handshake" comment, but then Mick Jones said he thought all black players should boycott the next round of international matches unless he was sacked. I thought that was such a good idea I told the press about it.
I had to change my press day to yesterday as I had two teeth out on Wednesday night and couldn't open my mouth on Thursday. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking...Reuse content