Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Soc...uhh...Football and the Brentford Festival

Since we don't have a car and since we don't know where we're going half the time, finding places  when they are off the beaten tracks can be challenging. Case in point: finding football clubs for kids in the area. Benedict last serious encounter with a soccer ball was at soccer camp before he and Erika left for Germany in June. His soccer team in Georgetown has been practicing seriously for several weeks already (congratulations, boys, on your victory at the Lonestar Tournament!), and it's time to find a place for Benedict to practice and improve his skills.

We found the Acton & Ealing Whistler's Football Club online. We live in south Ealing and the club practices in north Ealing, perhaps 4-5 miles away. The online travel planner for the London tube and bus systems did poor a job of finding a bus stop near the park where they practice on Saturdays, so Benedict and I went looking for the park on Thursday. Though the map on the club's web site was fairly clear, we are unable to print it out as there is no printer in the house despite its having an excellent router for the internet.

We found the park, which took some doing as we tramped through one of Ealing's finest neighborhoods. The park is on Hillcrest Road, and as the name suggests its on the crest of a hill. As is often the case, the wealthiest families live on such hills. The homes are larger; the cars are shinier, newer, and German (and we're not talking VWs here); and a few driveways even had locked gates. Two private--meaning they charge tuition--Catholic schools were in the general neighborhood: St. Benedict's for boys and St. Augustine's for girls.

We found a bus stop convenient to the field. A bus drove us down a hill on a traffic-snarled road--due to bridge repair-work over the tube tracks--to downtown Ealing where we boarded another bus that dropped us off near our home. Only two buses required and the trip takes about 30 or so minutes, depending on traffic. Not too bad.

The Whistler's football practice starts at 9:30am on Saturday. Because of Benedict's birth date he is eligible to play for the under 13 team. So that's team he practiced with. In Georgetown he plays on an under 12 team; the eligibility dates in each country are different. Some of the boys on this team are bigger and stronger than he's used to playing with. This is also his first extended contact with English children since we moved here 3 weeks ago.

He ran.
And he ran.
The first hour or so, however, was spent on fitness training. Their physical trainer, a different bloke than the manager who does the football training, made them run a lap (while not as large as the Georgetown Soccer Association field, it's pretty big); do push ups and sit ups; run another lap; do some more strength exercises; run another lap; do some more push ups; teams of two compete in strength building exercise and then everyone but the victors runs another lap. By the time the kids got around to kicking the football, I was exhausted.

Benedict was able to hold his own in the scrimmages. The skill level of the boys seemed to vary quite a bit, and Benedict seemed a good fit, somewhere in the middle. The boys practiced until noon. The team's manager, Nick, gave us a couple of options. Benedict could join the team for a fee of 65 pounds and play in the games on Sundays  (boys in this age group play 11 vs. 11 instead of the 8 vs. 8 as Benedict's Georgetown plays; younger English teams play 7 vs. 7). Or he can just come to the weekly practices and work out with the boys for a couple of quid (pounds). We took an application (2 passport photos and a passport for proof of age are required) and said we'd think about it.

There are a couple of sources of concern. One is that we expect to be out of London for at least 3 weekends in the next few months. In that case is it worthwhile for Benedict to be on the team or for the team to have a sometime-absent member? Another is that Whistler practices are only once a week the day before the weekly games. Aside from walking miles at a time in the last few months, Benedict has had relatively little strenuous cardiac or strength-building exercises. He was very, very sore for a couple of days. He was unfit to play football the day after practice. Had there been a game it would have been difficult for him to participate.

It wasn't the football that wore him out. The hour of fitness training did him in. He had no desire to return even though he seemed to enjoy being around the boys. Certainly his body will get used to the strenuous training and there is certainly a great deal of importance and value in that. At the same time, Georgetown Soccer Association's approach makes more sense: build stamina by playing and drilling constantly during the practices, keeping the boys interested and running by always doing something with the ball. And we're not in London to get him into peak physical condition or to train to eventually play for Chelsea FC (one of the two local favorite Premier League teams, the other being Fulham). The goal is to get to hang out with other boys and maintain his football skills without overly straining his body.

Getting around town to play games at other locations is only a minor concern as other boys live in our general area and their parents could give him a lift to the games. But this may not be the best fit. We'll keep our eyes open for other football playing opportunities.

After consuming a large plate of chips (fries to us Yanks) at the Whistler FC snack bar, we headed for the bus stop. Glancing north I saw something that had to be part of some kind a structure in the distance. Walking a few more feet revealed what must have been the top of the shrine of English football sitting like a crown atop the green trees. From studying city maps I knew that Wembley Stadium was nearby. Apparently it sits upon another hill no more than a few miles distant. It appeared that early afternoon like a mystical apparition, startling in size and dramatic in visage. Had I been a more devoted aficionado of the English game I might have been struck with emotion by Wembley's magical suspension in the heavens.

Of course the best thing that happened on Saturday is that Erika came back that evening from her conference in Bath. It was a very good conference. The conference brought people from all over the world to share and discuss how to integrate concerns about changes in the environment with literature. The paper she presented went very well, as did the panel she moderated. I hope I can persuade her to write about it.

Unfortunately the lard, as it were, was empty and we were forced to take dinner off the premises. There are many restaurants within walking distance Northfield Avenue, so we strolled down the street looking for a Thai restaurant. There is a Thai cooking school that in which Erika has unsuccessfully tried to coerce me to enroll, but no restaraunt is attached to it. At the end of the neighborhood business district a block off Northfield Avenue we found a Thai restaurant in a place where we would never have guessed to look if we hadn't seen the menu outside: the Forrester, an Edwardian pub. One would never have guessed from looking at the
Both photos from Pubs Galore web site.
exterior that such a classic pub would house a very good Thai restaurant. According to the reviewer at the link, who visited in the spring, there was no evidence of any dining. The restaurant must be a recent addition.

A group of people were enjoying a boisterous wake in the pub area. Some unfortunate's funeral occurred that day, and her friends gathered at the pub to celebrate what must have been a very full life. Because celebrate they did with full-throated singing, enthusiastically belting
out--and I mean really belting out--the choruses of Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline ("Sweeeet, ba, ba! Good time never seemed so go-od!!") and Sinatra's New York, New York. Their dearly departed friend must have been a fine character. I drank a pint of Courage to that soul's memory and hoped she found a peaceful spot in paradise.

After attending late morning Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul, a Catholic church within walking distance of our house, we caught a south-bound bus and rode on it for a couple of stops. Following a brief walk past Gunnersbury School we quickly landed at the annual Brentford Festival. Boston Manor Park serves as the venue for this event and is is in an area called Brentford in Hounslow borough just over the border from Ealing. Boston Manor anchors the park at its northeaster corner, a house built in the 17th century and occupied by an ancestor of the late Princess of Wales, Diana. We were unable to tour the house, unfortunately, because of damages requiring repairs which will keep the house closed to the public for at least 14 months.

A high brick wall separates the park from Boston Manor Road, hiding its large expanse. The park contains gardens and large meadows, a pond, and a canal connected to the Brent River. The M4, the equivalent of an interstate highway, ran over the park on tall columns. We discovered that a youth football team uses the park for
its league games and resolved to investigate its suitability for Benedict's participation. Numerous local artisans, non-profits, businesses, environmental advocacy groups, and political parties manned booths to sell and inform. A stage in the main meadow featured some pretty good rock bands, and behind the wall of the Secret Garden acoustic musicians performed. Many local ethnic restaurants provided the food, even German sausages (overpriced, BTW). At one tent the proprietors sold beer. A dog show gave dog owners the chance to compete in categories such as the dog who looks most like his owner and the dog with the waggiest tail. The local kayak club gave demonstrations and rides in their kayaks. The younger kids played on various air-pumped slides and the like.

We wandered around for more than two hours, examining every booth, choosing what to eat for lunch, dodging raindrops, watching the dogs. By the time we left the rain had stopped for the day and the festival really got under way as more and more people arrived. The park became pretty packed. We were within walking distance of home, but we decided to get on a bus on Boston Manor Road for the short ride to Boston Manor Underground Station. From there we walked less than 10 minutes to our house.

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