Wednesday, June 25, 2014


While most of the world reacted in horror and disgust after Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez appeared to bite Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini, a handful of gamblers in Scandinavia were celebrating as their unlikely bet was paid out on.
 The online bookmaker Betsafe had been offering odds of 175-1 that the Uruguayan, twice banned for biting, would sink his teeth into an opponent during the World Cup in Brazil. Sure enough, more than 100 gamblers decided that it was worth a punt. And when Suarez did just that near the end of their Group D clash in Natal, it was time to celebrate.
 One winner, Jonathan Braeck from Stenungssund in Sweden, bet 80 Swedish krona (£7) that Suárez would bite, and the 23-year-old substitute teacher is now set for a payout of 14,000 krona (£1,225) for his wager.
“First I thought I’d bet a little more, but a friend said I was just wasting my money,” a delighted Braeck told the SportExpressen newspaper. “When Italy took over the game you knew that he could go a little crazy,” he added. “I didn’t think that he would bite, but that he’d do something stupid. Then he did the best stupid thing that he could do.”
 Braeck said he intends to spend some of his winnings on travelling to a Premier League game in England, but he will not be visiting Liverpool to see the man who helped fund his trip. “It will be a trip to Manchester. I’m going to try to find someone to go with me to Manchester United,” he said. “If I had [Suárez’s] home address I’d send him a thank-you card. It was very nice of him to bite and give me a trip to Manchester.”


Thursday, June 19, 2014


 So it's all over for England for another four years. Beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in weather more resembling Manchester than Sao Paulo, and condemned to the bottom of the group by Costa Rica's surprise win over Italy, the England squad will be heading home before they've even finished their course of anti-malaria pills.
  Roy Hodgson spoke for every England fan when he said afterwards: "We came with such high's a major sadness. The mood at the moment is very low. It's hard to know what to say."
 It is only the second time in their World Cup history England have lost two games in a row---the last time was in 1950.
  And it's not only the English fans, 20,000 of whom made the trip to Brazil, who are heartbroken: English pubs owners around the world are bemoaning the fact that for the rest of the tournament many hard-drinking, big-spending English fans who would have crowded into their pubs to watch the England games will no longer be there.      
 It's worth remembering that despite all the high hopes and great expectations, the satirical magazine Private Eye got it dead right before the tournament began when it devoted its cover to a picture of the England squad leaving the plane on arrival at Rio and the pilot asking : "Shall I keep the engines running?"

Sunday, June 15, 2014


An anxious England supporter
  While thousands of English fans braved the snakes, humidity and bugs of the Amazonian jungle to watch England's opening World Cup game against Italy, hundreds of others who ventured to the King's Head in Santa Monica had to contend with spilled beer, crowds at the bar and lines at the toilet.

   The crowd reached capacity long before the game started and late arrivals had to wait outside or if they were lucky, be confined to the back bar.

   While the 2-1 win for Italy was a disappointing and dispiriting result, there were positives to be taken from England's performance and doubtless the regulars will be back on Thursday for England's must-win tussle with Uruguay.
  If they fail to win that, the squad will be on the plane home and the King's Head's profits will slump.   

Friday, June 6, 2014


The comic book Ant-Man
What's going on at Marvel Studios? Sure, the Disney-owned company has a reputation for churning out hit after hit based on their near-inexhaustible supply of superhero comic books: the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers franchises have grossed billions of dollars.   
    But it is also becoming known for being one of the most difficult studios to work for.
    The recent departure of easy-going and irreverent British filmmaker Edgar Wright from its long-in-the-works Ant-Man movie has highlighted the studio's reputation for regularly clashing with its creative filmmakers.
   According to sources Marvel had become unhappy with Wright's quirky tone for the movie and, without telling him, ordered rewrites of his script. When Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End, received the revised script he left the project, prompting a joint statement announcing his exit "due to differences in their visions of the film."
   He is by no means the only one. The company's desire to "Marvelise" its projects has led to differences of opinion with several of its stars and directors who have strong points of view of their own. Kenneth Branagh discovered that during the making of Thor and he did not return for the sequel, nor did Joe Johnston for Captain America. Patty Jenkins was hired to direct Thor 2 then fired, while Edward Norton clashed with Marvel during post-production on The Incredible Hulk and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the character's return in The Avengers. Terrence Howard similarly was replaced by Don Cheadle in the Iron Man sequels.
   But Edgar Wright's departure came as a particular shock because he had been working on Ant-Man---about a scientist who can shrink to the size of an ant---since 2006.
   He has declined to talk about it but James Gunn, director of Marvel's space adventure Guardians of the Galaxy, might have said it best.
   He wrote on Facebook that Wright and Marvel "just don't have personalities that mesh in a comfortable way."

Sunday, June 1, 2014


  Just back from a couple of days in Pismo Beach, a funky surf town on California's Central Coast where the City Council has just changed its rules to allow a trio of surfing goats---yes, surfing goats!---to stay in the town.
 While the goats were allowed on the beach itself, they were not permitted to live in town. As a result, Dana McGregor, owner of the gnarly nanny Goatee and her two kids, Pismo and Grover, received four $400 tickets for keeping goats within city limits.
  But now, with a 4-1 vote the council directed city staff to change an ordinance to allow McGregor to keep his goats in the town. 
  "I do have them registered as service animals, and they're actually emotional support animals, so they emotionally support me," McGregor said.

  McGregor got his first goat, Goatee, three years ago to clear poison oak from the yard he shares with his mother. Then Goatee had two kids and McGregor was too attached to give them up.
 He regularly takes the
m to the beach where he has been teaching them to surf for the past three years and the three wooly surf stars have become media sensations.
  "The city loves seeing them," says McGregor. "I pretty much take them everywhere."
 But not everyone is happy seeing the goats catch a wave.  
  "These are not 'surfing' goats," Shelley Petlansky Watkins wrote in the local newspaper, the Tribune. "They are animals that have been forced to balance on a board in the ocean to avoid falling into the water which I'm sure they do. They don't have a choice, and I'm sure if they did, they wouldn't want to be used in this way: for sad attention-seekers."


  It's always a pleasure seeing Nicole Kidman, whom I first met 21 years ago on Batman Forever. A lot of water under the bridge si...