Woo, Olympics! Boo, Olympics!

That’s the most eloquent way I can express my feelings towards the 30th Olympiad of the Modern Era. I’ve tried for something more poignant or at least less crap. It hasn’t happened. The point is, the Olympics confuses me more than trying to find the cat in this picture.

There’s quite a lot that I love about the games in truth. First and foremost, I’m a sports fan. I really enjoy few things more in life than hurling encouragement or abuse at people I’ve never met from the safety of my own pyjamas, generally with a pizza balanced on my ever-expanding stomach. I relish the delicious contradiction that I can be watching men and women compete against each other who have trained for the vast majority of their lives, have put themselves through physical and mental torture to squeeze an extra ten percent out of themselves, whilst I myself am completing the Olympian task of getting through a large box of shortbread.

I admire the dedication and will to win, as well as the beach volleyball and really anything involving Jess Ennis or my new favourite-based-on-certainly-nothing-more-than-sporting-prowess athlete, Zara Dampney. (‘Unrelated’ fact: a Google search for ‘Zara Dampney’ is second to ‘Zara Dampney Bikini’ in popularity. What do you mean objectification?)

Most of all, I think the best part of the Olympics is the sense of community it creates. I’m not talking about the ‘Olympic Spirit’, that weird ethereal presence that everybody is talking about but nobody can define or provide an example of, least of all the ridiculous commentator who sincerely suggested that maybe the Olympic Spirit could end violent conflict in Tajikistan. The cynic in me doubts this is the case unless Olympic Spirit has roughly the same effect as napalm, in which case I might be able to see his point.

What I’m more on about is being able to stand outside on a sunny day in Ealing with about 500 complete strangers and have a whale of a time watching somebody I’ve never met carry some fire down the road, whilst policeman roll past and high five small children. The opening ceremony, too, was a timely reminder of some of the unique brilliance we are capable in the UK. Obviously none of us remember anything past the half way mark of the ceremony, as evidenced by the fact that everyone remembers the Queen and Rowan Atkinson but then nods sagely at details of the rest and half suspects that the Paul McCartney bit was actually some kind of gin-induced nightmare.

But we can all agree that it was excellent. Probably. The bits we saw were.

Anyway, enough of the positives, you’re only here because I get shouty, right?

Here goes.

1. Horses don’t get medals. Not only is this grossly unfair on the partner doing all of the hard work, it also robs us of the chance to see horses on a podium. That would be fun. There are also not enough animal events. I propose cat-herding, with the cats starting in a large sack. That way, commentators could use the line ‘The cat is out of the bag’ every few minutes. What’s not to love?

2. Jacques Rogge. About a week ago, Jacques Rogge sat for an interview with David Bond, a man I am convinced does not sleep, to discuss his role in the Olympics and why this should require his own personal section of the M4. After peddling out simply the worst response I’ve ever seen from a figurehead ever, which involved the line “we sit on committees, we give out medals…” as a reason for special lanes, he was asked if perhaps hiring out the Hilton at our expense for him and his buddies might put him a bit out of touch with the commonfolk.

The baffled Rogge, realising that the interviewer was not in fact bringing the bowl of pastries he had requested, responded as if hurt. “Out of touch? But this is just accomodation!” he retorted from the comfort of the divan, neatly showing himself to be wildly out of touch with the commonfolk.

He also looks a bit like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, who was a bad egg.

Known as ‘Sexy J’ at the IOC

3. Money. It seems to me that whoever designed London 2012, perhaps even the modern Olympics, had a brilliant idea. And people were quietly impressed. And all was well. And then somebody leapt from their seat and screamed “AND THEN WE’LL SELL IT ALL!!”, and everybody else said “Oh yeah, let’s do that”.

I have never felt more bombarded by advertising and sponsor messages than in the last month or so. And I’m not even a mum, so I don’t have to bear the weight of being ‘sponsored’ by P&G, who win gold for patronisation.

Not only is it the fact that you cannot hear anything about the Games without somebody trying to force a hamburger down your throat, it’s the way that brands, the IOC and LOCOG are complicit in suppressing any brand or business or thought that hasn’t been ‘approved’, i.e. bought at outrageous cost.

The overwhelming message I’m getting from Olympic Partners is halfway between religious fanaticism and childish greed:

“THEY ARE THE EVIL ONES, DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. DRINK COKE!” mixed with “THIS IS MY OLYMPICS, MY DADDY BOUGHT IT AND YOU CAN’T HAVE IT.”

There is also some kind of terrifying Olympic Secret Police unit trudging round banning traders from cashing in on the Olympic message, as if British businesses could have the temerity to profit from the Olympics after being told that Britain could profit from the Olympics…

It’s an absolutely damning indictment of the Games that the Olympic Spirit demanded of the athletes and nations, the cornerstone of the IOC’s mission statement, is having such a strong showing in the event but is completely cast aside when the great Olympic Money Grab gets underway. Fair play? Openness? Bullshit. This kind of approach taints the image of the Games for a lot of people, but the folk getting rich at the top simply don’t see it. Hence the good seats are empty when the ‘accredited sponsors’ don’t show up. Hence you can’t use words like ‘gold’ or ‘London’ without a whacking great fine. Hence McDonald’s have the exclusive right to sell chips in Stratford.

Read that last sentence again. That, my friends, goes against everything this nation stands for. Take your fries and shove them up your arse, I want a battered sausage and chips. 

It’s so un-British it hurts. And the horses don’t even get medals.

 

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An Englishman’s Guide: Mallorca Pt 2

Thinking about it, this section is going to be largely based around alcohol, and accurately recalling experiences involving copious amounts of the stuff is an inherently difficult thing to do. So this could be quite short. Sorry.

Amendment: It’s not! It’s really long! Sorry.

Uno mas?

Pleasingly, Mallorcans seem to view casual drinking as a way of life. Not in the same way that we view hardcore drinking as an essential pillar of life, but in a more sedate, refined way. A small, ice-cold beer with your lunch is standard fare. Every cafe and tapas bar, and I imagine many churches and playschools as well, have some kind of delicious brew on tap. Generally it’s Estrella, the delicious gold nectar out of Barcelona. This can only be a good thing.

If a beer at lunch and dinner just isn’t going to cut it for you, there’s a handful of good bars in Palma town. One of these is certainly not Shamrock’s, or pretty much any place on the waterfront. Shamrock’s is a little slice of Southend on a Saturday night. It smells a bit like vomit, even outside. Whilst enduring my beer, we witnessed a man run past who’d had so much coke that he was clutching his shoes in one hand and his heart in the other. After pausing to scream wide-eyed at a lamppost he sprinted off down the road. About an hour later he ran back the other way. He didn’t have his shoes any more.

Try and check out Lorien, which is a tidy little beer cave just up from the waterfront, near-ish the Cathedral. Aficionados will note the mind-boggling range of heady brews, as well as the terrifying man that serves them. Gibson, which is more in the centre of town, is also a good watering hole, especially if you are on a date or have money, because it’s also crazy expensive. Another of its plus points is that you can hide in the corner and play ‘would you rather’, with a focus firmly on the rest of Gibson’s clientele, with 3 Finns, an English girl and a wonderfully angry American.

Top Tip: Finns do not understand ‘would you rather’. They get the concept, but will spend a long time forlornly muttering “but this is not how it works reeeeally” in a very Finnish accent. Pretend you don’t understand their concern, it only adds to the amusement.

Anyway. Wine.

One must in Mallorca is a wine-tasting experience/bender in Santa Maria. Take the excessively-developed-for-a-tiny-island train network from Palma towards Inca and you’ll wind up in Santa Maria in about 20 minutes. Don’t get the stop wrong, because the majority of other stations on the island are helpfully located in the middle of vast fields, miles from anything.

Head towards the Macia Batle Bodega first of all; it’s Mallorca’s biggest and most famous winery. I think. Take the self-guided tour, i.e. wander aimlessly through the cellars nodding sagely but not quite understanding, until you reach the tasting room. Unfortunately we couldn’t do the proper tasting as there were 60 Russians having a private gathering, but eventually a sturdy German girl took pity on us and gave us a mini tasting, which still consisted of a good 7 or 8 wines in about 20 minutes. Their top whack red is a hefty 15 Euros a bottle, but is admittedly delicious; a mellow and fruity explosion of happy.

Don’t stop there. Wander out, half cut, into the blazing 6pm heat and then stalk the town looking for free wine. We only managed to find one more that was open, maybe they saw us coming, but that was a surreal treat too. The Sebastia Pastor Bodega, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where it is, was a tiny little family run concern. We were given a rambling 15 minute verbal ‘tour’ of the bodega, some of which I understood (which is odd given that I don’t speak any Spanish, must have been the wine), by the absolute boss on the far left. Check out his bloody moustache! One of the main things I noted about this family was that every man, literally every man, is called Sebastia Pastor. All I could think was, “That must make the post a very difficult time.”

Angry American politely listened to all of this before cracking out something to the effect of “Great. Where’s the free wine?”, at which point Sebastia Pastor went on a one man crusade to get us monumentally drunk. A couple of large glasses of his finest Crianza, or 10 minutes, later and we were all fucked, slumped against wine tanks or leaning a little too casually against walls.

It was great.

We also saw a woman come in and buy some wine and produce, all the while with a small parrot clutching on to her shirt and squawking. Nobody batted an eyelid. I bloody love Mallorca.

One quick tip: Santa Maria has an amazing public toilet shaped like a wicker basket (for some reason). Locate it and remember it early on, you will need it.

rantraverelax Phrasebook

I promised activities and exciting adventures with tour buses. I lied, that stuff got covered off in Part 1. Ille Cabrera and the Caves at Porte Cristo. That’s two activities. Happy? Good. Time for some filthy language!

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t speak Spanish, but with the help of Spanish-speaking Americans I now know some useful phrases and quite a lot of sleazy lines, which I’m happy to share here. Family members should probably go and do something else now. Put the kettle on, have a nice cuppa. For everyone else, master these lines and you’ll be as successful with the ladies as I was…

“Si” – Yes.   Use this a lot, even if you don’t have a clue what’s happening.

“Claro” – Clear/Understood/Ahhh OK.   Ditto.

“Vale” – OK (pronounced like ‘ballet’).   Ditto Ditto.

“Hace calor, o eres tu?” – Is it hot in here, or is it you?

“Hace calor, o eres mi polla?” (ll pronounced like y) – Is it hot in here, or is it my penis?

“Hace calor, o eres ti concha?” – Is it hot in here, or is it your…you get the picture.

“Tu me pon es” – You turn/are turning me on.

“Me voy a carrer” – I’m going to come.   Strangely, given the sure-fire-winning nature of the previous lines, I didn’t get to use this one.

And no, I didn’t learn anything actually useful.

In Summary

In the format of potential tourist information slogans:

“Mallorca – The rock that rocks”

“100 quid return on Ryanair – what the fuck are you waiting for?”

“Hace calor, o eres Mallorca?”

Fin.

An Englishman’s Guide: Mallorca Pt 1

Bought to you by me! An idiot in a jaunty hat.

So, Mallorca.

Those of you with a passing knowledge of European geography will be aware that Mallorca is one of the Balearics, a small group of islands that sit off the east coast of Spain. Balearics sounds a little like bollocks, and as a youth I certainly thought of Mallorca as such. In Essex at least, the kind of people who generally want to go to Mallorca are the kind of people who have nicknames like Jizzy Pete and hang around outside terrible clubs looking for ‘fanny’. Amongst the Brits, Mallorca is probably best known for Magaluf, or Rashtown as I like to call it. It’s the kind of place you can find Jizzy Pete looking for fanny.

Don’t be fooled, however, because the island is actually an absolute gem. Whether it’s beaches, mountains, good food, good wine, or just a massive piss-up you’re after, then Mallorca is probably the right place.

Go Mobile

Hire a car. I really can’t stress that one enough. You can have a great time without one, but you’ll have an unbelievable time with some wheels at your disposal. Public transport on the island is very good, but the best it has to offer is well off the beaten track. We booked and picked up our brand spanking new Peugeot 208 on the same day, and 3 days of use came to about 160 euros. We went with Goldcar and they were pretty good, and I’ve also heard good things about RecordGO.

Sun, Sea, Psicobloc

The last time I visited Mallorca, a two day jaunt at the end of a long month travelling, we stuck strictly to Palma beach. This is a perfectly nice beach, and a bit of a tourist hub, but there are some absolute stunners out there that you really shouldn’t miss. First and foremost amongst them in my mind is the magnificent Cala Varques on the eastern side of Mallorca.

This unbelievable little cove is a must see for any visitor, and almost makes the car hire worth the cost in itself. Drive towards Manacor, noted for producing Rafa Nadal and absolutely nothing else, then head for Porto Cristo. You need to take a right onto the Ma-2015 and follow it to the end, then left onto the Ma-2014 and right after about 100m. To my knowledge it isn’t signposted at all, but is worth a little head-scratching to get to. You’ll find yourself on a dirt track, which you should park on. Follow the trickle of locals for what seems like 10 miles through the forest and scrub, before emerging in a little piece of paradise.

I was too busy avoiding weeping to take any pictures, but luckily Google has come to my aid:

Not even a good picture

Apparently every now and then you’ll be greeted by a cow on the beach being herded by a naked elderly man. This can only be a good thing. We managed to plonk ourselves down behind a group of girls, one of whom kept standing up, facing towards us, and tweaking her nipples. This can only be a good thing. I had to resist the urge to applaud loudly.

Over to the left of the bay is a little covered outcrop where an elderly lady and middle aged man, who I can only hope are lovers, serve cold drinks, cocktails and fresh sandwiches. I was driving so stayed off the hard stuff, but elderly lady made me an awesome homemade lemonade, and the girl next to me squeaked a bit when she tried her caipirinha, so I think it was quite good.

The real pleasure at Varques is up and over the rocks to the left. If you follow the trail up and over you come to one of the world’s premier psicobloc sites. For the uninitiated, Psicobloc (aka deep water soloing), is a form of rock climbing where you mill about with absolutely no ropes above a suitably deep bit of ocean. If you fall off, you only hit crystal clear blue coolness. It’s incredible, and I’d urge anyone to try it. There are also a couple of big caves around there; try swimming to the back of the left-hand one and putting your face against the hole.

Sa Rapita is another tidy little beach, this time on the south of the island; it runs into the famous Es Trenc beach but is a little quieter, and seriously beautiful. The water seems to run as a little shelf for about 50 metres out to sea, it’s only about two feet deep and like a bath, before plunging into proper, glass-clear water. Something about the length of the beach gives it a really great atmosphere; you get a feeling that you’re just a tiny speck in a vast paradise. It’s quite pleasant.

The beach at Sa Rapita.

Finally, there is Sa Calobra.

Sa Colobra is brilliant for two reasons. One is that it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The beach is formed as the Torrent de Pareis tumbles headlong out of the mountains between two vast rock walls; the result is an unusual arrangement that feels a bit like the scene in Star Wars where they almost get squished by slow-moving walls. (Quite why they jumped down that trash chute has always puzzled me. Surely any self-respecting Death Star would have had a fire exit they could have fled through? Less dramatic I suppose…)

“Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level!”

The second plus point to Sa Colobra is that you have to navigate a bum-puckeringly tight set of mountain roads to get there. This is excellent if you are driving with a mortal enemy with a heart complaint: they won’t make it half way. I managed to terrify a Texan and an Essex girl with what I called my precision and they called “fucking insanity”. This can only be a good thing.

Eating. Drinking. More drinking.

There are many culinary and bacchanalian delights to be found on Mallorca, as long as you are prepared to accept that serrano ham and cheese are classed as necessities in every meal. This can only be a good thing.

Being Spain, tapas is pretty popular, and every Tuesday and Wednesday night Palma holds la Ruta. Smack bang in the centre of town you’ll find a load of tapas bars that have clubbed together to make this event successful. 2 Euros will get you a little bite to eat, there’s always a healthy selection, and a canya (small beer) or glass of wine. Not only is this dirt cheap, and good food, and an acceptable way of getting trollied, but it’s also a good way to meet people as half the town seems to come out and play. Expect the revelry to go on until at least 2, although the tapas is usually gone by 12.

Staying in Palma, the Can Juan de S’Aigo has to be checked out too. It’s been about since the early 18th Century and serves up ice cream you’ll struggle to beat anywhere. The Almendra (almond) and Fresones (strawberry, more like a sorbet) are particularly good, but at 2 Euros a pop you could eat your way through the whole selection and not feel hard done by. Half chocolate, half strawberry is a definite winner. While you’re there, pick up a freshly baked ensaimada, a local pastry which is gorgeously light and perfect for dipping into the dribbly remains of your ice cream.

I don’t know what flavour this was but it tasted like happy.

Veering out of Palma is worthwhile for some good eats. Get up into the mountains just to the west of Palma and there are some real treats. There’s a sleepy but beautiful little village called Puigpunyent. A small bar on your right as you head into town serves a great Pa amb Oli with typically Catalan service; the woman seemed genuinely affronted that we wanted to order food and drinks. I like that. Pa amb Oli is a simple yet delicious plate of lightly grilled bread doused in fine olive oil and a suggestion of fresh tomato, then topped with your choice of ham, cheese or any combination of those two. It’s a world of choice. There’s also a handful of fresh local olives and some spicy pickles to go with it. In a swelteringly hot place, it makes for a pretty perfect meal.

If you want something more substantial head up to Genova, a short trip from Palma. The place seriously enjoys meat. The most famous establishment is Can Pedro, where roast lamb in a hundred different ways is the order of the day. Make sure you’re hungry, when you order roast lamb that is literally what you get. Beware the meat sweats. There would be a picture but I was too busy struggling to breathe. One note of caution, expect to pay 20 Euros for food and drink there. It’s good, but probably touches the margins of good value.

Finally on the food front, get up to Valdemossa and enjoy a coca de patata (cake made from potata. Not as weird as it sounds) with a big bowl of dipping chocolate (chocolate a la taza or  similar). It’s a good way to spend an afternoon.

Potato and cake, together at last

On that sweet thought I’m going to leave it for now. In the next episode, alcohol, activities and how to alienate friends you only just made with the help of a Peugeot 208 and a Portuguese tour bus.

Stay tuned!

P.S. I have shamelessly pilfered most of the pics in the above from my travel and drinking companion on account of being woefully inept at cameras and stuff and she is in touch with the social world whereas I still regularly forget my phone has a camera on it. Check her out! @katie_jane_rose