John Walsh: Tales of the City

'The team's demands for Yazoo and Benecol call to mind a six-year-old's requirements at school breaktime'
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The Independent Online

The litany of comfort-food and other requirements ordered by the England football squad during their stay in Germany makes entertaining reading. The line-up of edibles deemed vital to the national team's success are mostly indistinguishable from the wish list of a 12-year-boy in a motorway service station: heavy on Jaffa Cakes, Walkers crisps, Ribena and Rice Krispies bars, light on the sensible fruit and veg, the apples and celery sticks that the Germans will be permitting their lean and hungry players. The huge variety of breakfast cereals in the England list, from Coco Pops to Alpen (Alpen? Which nancy boy ordered Alpen?), suggests the presence of a pre-pubertal kid who's unable to decide which cereal has the best free gift inside, and who finally persuaded his dad to buy the lot.

I detect the hand of Theo Walcott in this. The demands for lots of Yazoo and Benecol milky and yoghurty drinks call to mind a six-year-old's requirements at school breaktime ("Can I have a Wagon Wheel as well?"). I was charmed to see salad cream on the list, that uniquely fake English dressing that children love until they hit the age of 15 and discover the existence of mayonnaise.

The slightly frantic inclusion of scores of cans and jars of insect repellent and anti-sting cream make you wonder about the players' ignorance of their destination: this is Baden-Baden, for gawd's sake, a scrupulously clean and tidy spa town where English people used to come for the Teutonic therapy of the waters. It's not some flyblown, insect-crawling, sun-bleached hell-town in the arse end of Almeria.

I liked the inclusion of 24 "vibrating razors", as if the callow young men of the England squad couldn't be trusted with the dangerous blade variety. The miscellaneous selection of household objects was rather yoof-oriented, too. The players want "couches" and "two-way radios" (why not some toy walkie-talkies thrown in as well?) and a trouser press so they can look well turned out on speech day. In the England boys' "chill-out" rooms at Baden-Baden, the organisers have fixed up a "car-race simulation" game to keep their minds occupied between matches and stave off boredom and introspection. Yes, I believe I know the kind of thing. It's a PlayStation game called Need For Speed: Underground and every just-pubertal kid in Dulwich has got one and has worn out his thumbs playing with it.

When did we get to be so childish and provincial? Can you imagine what footballers from other countries would ask for in their lists? Instead of cereals and Jaffa Cakes, they'd require huge supplies of real coffee, acres of wholemeal pitta bread with organic hummus or terrine de campagne, tons of kumquats and passion fruit, oceans of balsamic vinegar. You probably couldn't move for mayonnaise in the French team's hotel suites. Their razors would be old-fashioned cut-throat ones; instead of couches, they'd demand some chaises longues, and they'd spit on the very idea of a trouser press ("we are zer French premier onze football team; we decide what ees cool to wear..."). In the French chill-out rooms, the players will stave off boredom by watching first-run showings of Brazilian avant-garde cinema on their DVDs. Team spirit will be encouraged by getting the squad to debate whether free will and predestination are mutually exclusive categories in a post-Heidegger universe.

Instead of requesting ping-pong tables, the Argentinians have probably demanded proper "backstage riders" that include lap-dancers, cocaine dispensers and some pampas cattle, to ensure that the after-match steaks are really rare.

Of course, we are the best team in the tournament, and, of course, we're going to win it. It's a just a pity that our national comfort requirements make us sound like William Brown and the Outlaws.


"By all accounts, he was a drug user, and not the sort of person we should be celebrating here," sniffed Ms Jean Boulton of Freshwater Bay in the Isle of Wight, explaining why she objects to the installation of a statue of the rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix outside Dimbola Lodge. The Lodge was once home to Julia Margaret Cameron, the Victorian photographer who took moody snaps of eminent figures of the day, including Darwin, Browning and Thackeray (she once left Tennyson and Gladstone sheltering from the rain together under a tree, desperately searching for something they could both talk about, as she bustled off to find some filters). It also houses a permanent exhibition to the Isle of Wight music festival, which Hendrix so memorably graced in 1970. Hence this charming summer row, in which a shrine to Victorian heritage, to whiskery achievement and spade-bearded propriety, is invaded by a blast of druggy Sixties wildness.

Ms Boulton's disapproval, she says, is provoked not by the appearance, among the manicured hedges of Freshwater Bay, of a sculpted foreign black Johnnie playing the guitar, but that, "If the statue attracts large numbers of visitors, there is nowhere for them to park." Priceless. I like the way this dispute has created a new debate about the relative merits of artists from different eras. Once people used to debate whether Keats or Dylan was the better poet. Now, in academies all over the nation, it'll be, "Is Hendrix as important as Lord Tennyson?" Of course, Hendrix could play the US national anthem with enough distortion and feedback to evoke the Vietnam War, but could he have written "The Charge of the Light Brigade"? I don't think so. Yes, Tennyson could compose hundreds of verses about the death of a friend in "In Memoriam", but could he have written "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky", while playing the guitar upside down and round the back of his neck?