Film Review – The Three Musketeers

From time to time I like to go to the cinema and watch a movie for its effects or because I have seen a trailer that is particularly exciting. The trailer of the Three Musketeers amused me, and some of the scenes and effects looked promising. Thus, I decided to see the film one evening to see whether the funny trailer would keep up with its promises.

The movie could be put into the same genre as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and with that opinion and expectation I went to see it.

The cast looked promising. Orlando Bloom, Logan Lerman (as Percy in the Lightning Thief), Milla Jovovich (known from the Reident Evil films) and Matthew Macfadyen (known from the last Robin Hood movie) seemed to attract quite a lot of people to the cinema. With that spirit I sat through the adverts with anticipation.

The plot was relatively simple. The Three Musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis with the help of Athos’ lover, Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), steal some blueprints of an airship blueprints made by Leonardo Da Vinci. Arthos’ lover however betrays the three Musketeers and is in fact a double agent, giving the plans of the airship to the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). Cardinal Richelieu, who really holds the power in France, disbands the musketeers and the three heroes end up drinking their way to bliss.

As it turns out, the Cardinal has plans to overthrow the king of France and risks putting the entire continent at the brink of war. The double agent Milady de Winter plays an central role liaising with the Cardinal as well as with Buckingham in England at the same time.

In the meantime the young D’Artagnan makes his way to Paris to become a musketeer. He soon meets the three musketeers in a battle and at the same falls in love with one of the maids of the queen. The maid discovers an evil plot by the cardinal to overthrow the king and begs the musketeers and  D’Artagnan for help. In the meantime, Buckingham builds powerful airships threatening the entirety of Europe.

Do the musketeers succeed in thwarting the cardinal’s plot or is Europe going to fall into the hands of a tyrant? This is for you to find out when you see the film in the cinema….

The film is full of action scenes and special effects. Some of them are funny, some of them impressive, but at most times they are completely ridiculous. The film itself has not much in common with Alexandre Dumas’ novel, apart from the title maybe. Although I did not go to watch this film to get an education in European history, I found the story a little too far-fetched and too removed from the truth. Also, despite the fact that it was more of a steam-punk movie, the historic inaccuracy was so horrendous that I was scared that the film could cause some serious damage in the education of some younger people. Also, the film portrayed a completely wrong picture of 17th century Europe and technological inaccuracies which were ludicrous.

Nevertheless, some of the effects make this film worthwhile watching, just for the entertainment value.

It is one of those films one can watch to have a laugh and relax, without much of a message.

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Quotations That May Change Your Way of Living

One of the beauties of life is that everybody has to live their own; your life will not be lived for you by anybody else. Many philosophies exist that people have adopted to guide themselves or get guidance through life. This week City Connect lists some quotations which may stimulate your mind and maybe change the way you look at life. We would like to present you with some famous quotations in order to inspire your thinking. We have also categorised them into the three topics: self motivation, helping others and coping with hard times.

(1) Self motivation and attitude towards oneself

If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right. Henry Ford

The definition of Insanity… Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

It is never too late to be what you might have been. George Elliot

All the masterpieces of art contain both light and shadow. A happy life is not one filled with only sunshine, but one which uses both light and shadow to produce beauty. Billy Graham

A man can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(2) Coping with hard times

All comes at the proper time to him who knows how to wait. St Vincent de Paul

If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again. Flavia Weedn

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope. Martin Luther King

The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail. Nelson Mandela

(3) Helping others

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path. Buddhist saying

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody. Chinese proverb

If a friend is in trouble, don’t annoy him by asking him if there’s anything you can do. Think of something appropriate and do it. E.W. Howe

Sometimes fewer words are better than long stories. Whatever philosophy guides your life and works for you, we hope that you have been inspired by some of the people and sayings here to help you improve your way of living for the better. 

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Film Preview – Dream House

A film with a star cast such as Dream House easily catches the eye of many. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts, all very well known and good actors, seemed to promise a thriller that one might remember for a long time.

I went to see the film with high expectations and the trailer also looked very exciting. With a budget of over $50 million dollars, the film also promised to be quite a treat.

The film starts with the main character, Will Atenten (Daniel Craig), quitting his job as an editor. He chooses to live outside the city with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and his two daughters. However, what seems to be a nice country home and idyll turns out to be a house with a rather gory history. Will and Libby find out that an entire family was murdered in the house a few years ago and also the neighbours behave rather strangely. Alarmed by all of this, Will decides to investigate about the house with the local police only finding that they are of little help. Finally, he visits a mental institution to find out more about the murderer, Peter Ward, who is kept in confinement there.

As it turns out, in a rather predictive manner, Will is actually Peter Ward and he allegedly killed his own family in their house 5 years ago. Libby and his kids are indeed only a fragment of his imagination and during his stay at the mental institution he gave himself another name and was released, as there was not enough evidence to press charges.

Returning home he struggles to accept that his wife is dead and still sees her and her kids in front of him as being alive. He slowly realises that he lives in a dream world and his neighbour Ann (Naomi Watts) helps him understand his past and who he really is.

Will, aka Peter, now tries to find out who killed his family, even if it was himself. Finally the mystery is resolved and you should go and watch the movie to find out…

The plot is disappointingly predictable and the film is also not really scary or intimidating, as would be expected by a thriller. The ending is particularly weak.

Rachel Weisz is playing a great role, but both Daniel Craig and Naomi Watts fall a bit too short in their performance in my opinion.

However, the film very well portrays how every one of us creates their own world inside his/ her head. The philosophical question arises whether such a thing as an objective reality actually exits. Do we all live in a bubble comparable to that of Peter Ward? Maybe not to such an extreme, but it is scary how each one of us creates our own reality.

I really enjoyed the movie from that philosophical perspective and the idea of the film was great. However, it does fall short behind other films of this genre such as Shutter Island or Inception. Way too short also considering the cast.

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Ashley Provides Safety Net For Alan’s High Flying Birds

With 11 games of the season gone, Alan Pardew’s high flying magpies remain unbeaten in the Premier League and sit snugly between Manchester United and Chelsea in third place. A terrific 3-1 win at Stoke City on Monday night was followed by Saturday’s hard-fought victory over Everton. Both performances were characterised by a team-spirit and organised resolve that we don’t usually associate with Newcastle United. Pardew has instilled a previously unseen togetherness into a team freshly shorn of its established stars.

As a Sunderland fan, this is difficult to concede. If there’s anything I’ve been able to rely on in the past, it’s Newcastle’s remarkable capacity for self-destruction. At least two or three times a season an incident will unravel that undermines everything they are trying to achieve. Whether it be a player punch-up or a porky owner spilling lager over his spammy belly on television, it has provided a pleasing antidote to the infinite toils of supporting Sunderland. So far this season however, things have gone insufferably smoothly for Pardew and his players. The reasons for this deserve deeper exploration. It’s proving so painful that I need a diagnosis.

Enough has been said about matters on the pitch. As we know, Pardew has coped admirably with the dissolution of the old, powerful, players’ committee and responded by establishing an ego-free dressing room, determined to prove a point. He is an ambitious, meticulous manager who trusts in training ground detail. Under his guidance Newcastle are developing into a team capable of monopolising possession and seeing out games they are winning by keeping the ball; a prerequisite for clubs with regular European qualification as their ambition.

Off the pitch, however, the club’s chairman, Mike Ashley, has made a legitimate contribution to the upturn in his club’s fortunes. It was only until about a year ago that I was calling for him to be awarded an OBE for his services to Sunderland Football Club. He appeared fixed on muddying the name of Newcastle United FC with his ill-advised beer swilling and penchant for gambling. Although this hasn’t stopped altogether (, he has still somehow managed to transform the club’s prospects entirely and give Newcastle a financial stability they haven’t had in years.

The road to this period of tranquillity has been bumpy, yet throughout, Ashley has remained focussed on assuring the club’s long-term financial security. He has made a number of critical judgements that have affirmed the acumen of a businessman who enjoys a net worth of nearly £1bn. Refusing to appoint Alan Shearer as manager is the perfect example of his savvy. He was berated for this at the time, Newcastle had just been relegated under Shearer’s catastrophic short term stewardship but the supporters were still clamouring for his permanent appointment. Ashley had other ideas however and, despite knowing it would make him ‘persona non grata’ (Joey7Barton, 2011…) he opted to employ Chris Hughton as a cheaper but more experienced alternative. Consequently, he was subjected to the type of cut-throat vitriol that only north-easterners can mete out, yet his decision proved financially astute and paid off spectacularly with Newcastle’s immediate promotion back up from the Championship.

Once in the Premier League, Ashley’s decision to dismiss Hughton was a little more confusing however, it is widely acknowledged that he feared the alliance that Hughton was forming with Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton might jeopardise his grip on the club as well as his attempt to cut the wage bill. Both players were critical of the way Ashley was conducting business and so a clash was unavoidable. The pair were bundled rather unceremoniously out of the door during the summer along with Spanish left-back Jose Enrique; unsurprisingly three of the club’s biggest earners.

Newcastle’s transfer policy is now one based around finding value for money. They are no longer a club spending beyond their means. The £35m sale of Andy Carroll was terrific business. Ashley deserves credit for not bowing to the pressure of the fans and squandering the fee giddily on a big name replacement as is usually the habit at St James’. Instead he has demonstrated sagacity and, following the recommendations of Chief Scout Graham Carr, approved the signings of Tiote, Cabaye, Obertan, Marveux, Santon, Ben Arfa and Ba for a combined £22.5m whilst simultaneously reducing the wage bill. Newcastle have become ‘Nouveauchateau’ and, as yet, haven’t looked back.

Owning Newcastle United FC has cost Mike Ashley a huge amount of money and much of his credibility. Many of the grievances directed his way have been legitimate, yet – if you can get past all of the unbearable blunders – the debt-laden, loss-making, Championship-bound club he purchased in 2007 appears transformed. Ashley has worked hard to ensure that Newcastle are a lucrative proposition to potential investors. Whether this is in his own interest is largely irrelevant, the fact that he has just about managed to balance the books at Newcastle is an effort fans should appreciate, if not be thankful for. It remains to be seen if Newcastle can maintain their fantastic start to the season, the club’s financial future, however, would seem in safe hands…

Geordie Hero


The Look For Less

Living in beautifully styled home that looks like it’s off the page of a magazine doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Take a look at these designers’ digs and the tips on how you can get the same look for your home for much less!

Liza Sherman’s Eclectic Bedroom

This celebrated antiques dealer from NYC knows what she likes and how she likes it. If you don’t get it, she can’t explain it. Her taste and style shines through in this sunny yellow bedroom that radiates warmth and shows off her cool eclectic style.

Get this look for less by starting with paint. Giving your room a fresh coat is an instant transformer. Sherman’s room uses the same color on the wood floors for added interest. Leaving the ceiling and molding white keeps the color from overwhelming. No need for expensive bedding here. Simple white pillow cases and inexpensive batik throws will recreate the look. For the art, stencil some portraits on thin plywood with spray paint and frame a few of your favorite tees. Eclectic style is all about mixing pieces from different eras and styles, so have fun with it!

Robert Couturier’s French-inspired Entry

Couturier’s work has been featured in Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New York Times. His designs can be seen worldwide and his stylistic instincts are legendary. This entry way was designed with a nod to French design. Rich texture and bold color combine to make this space subtle and glamorous.

Again, a fresh coat of paint does wonders for a space. White will also make a room seem larger, so if you’re living in a small flat this is a great option. The most unique part of this space is the antler chandeliers, but don’t need to purchase a $900.00 chandelier to get the look. You can get a good faux antler wall mount for under $200 online. Same effect, easier on the wallet. Another way to replicate the look of this room is to hang velvety curtains. The texture is luxurious but they’re really inexpensive. If you have time, reupholster some seat cushions in the velvet fabric in a different jewel tone color.

Stolman & Young’s Contemporary Palm Beach Living Room

These interior designers know how to work with bright colors without overwhelming a room. Shades of yellow and aqua mix perfectly to capture the airy atmosphere of Palm Beach. The colors keep it cool while the accessories bring everything down to earth.

Keep things looking lively in your home by recreating this look by Stolman & Young. Keep the color on the walls and in accessories. By leaving the big furniture neutral, the room looks soft and relaxing rather than too bright. Recovering throw pillows with bright fabric is an easy way to update your living room. Paint a few items to match. In this case the lamps on either side of the sofa match the pillows. Pull the whole room together by framing a painting (or poster) that complements the colors you’ve chosen for the accessories in the room.

Adam Lippes’s Chic Dining Room

Sportswear designer Adam Lippes’s dining room is chic and uncomplicated much like his philosophy on clothing design. No need to clutter up the place, streamlined is the way to go. Grey walls and a decorative floral design keeps this minimalist room looking soft and pretty.

Recreate the look of Lippes’s dining room on a dime with these tips. Clear out any clutter in the room, the key here to keep it simple. A coat of grey paint paired with a vinyl sticker makes the same impression as hand painted wallpaper for much less! Add an organic shaped chandelier to echo the wall. Rouge Living offers a beautiful flower chandelier for under $100.00. Mix and match chairs from other rooms of your house for added interest to your dining room table. Complete the look with short vases of fresh flowers.

Jason Wu’s Cheerful Studio

Fashionistas like Ivana Trump, January Jones and First Lady Michelle Obama have been dressed by designer Jason Wu. Here, in the entrance to his cheerful NYC studio he allows art to shine through with an all-white palette. Pops of color on a blank canvas give make this a refreshing, inspirational space.

Wu’s space is easy to replicate because in this case, less is more. Start with a blank canvas. Keep color to an absolute minimum, using mostly metallics and neutrals. Get the look by neatly hanging some of your most treasured wardrobe pieces as art and to add color to the room. Add a graphic throw pillow for a punch of color on an otherwise muted couch. A lovely bunch of hydrangeas keeps the room feeling extra fresh and softens the stark white walls.


This article was written by Erie Construction. Follow Erie Construction on Twitter for updates on home improvement.

Photo Credit: Elle Decor

Alex Ruffell Memorial Fund

Looking out from my seat into the African bush I can see Buffalo, Zebra and too many Impala to count. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for all day; the breathtaking experience earlier of viewing Victoria Falls for the first time drained all the energy out of me not to mention the six-kilometre walk in 40°C heat.

Now leaning back into my chair at the Stanley and Livingston hotel, rubbing my sunburn and watching African wildlife with my mosquito repellant and a bottle of local lager, I look back over my Zimbabwean experience with a smile.

One of the main reasons for me visiting Zimbabwe was to observe the charity work that has gone on in Chidobe primary school which was founded eleven years ago, after the sad and sudden death of Alex Ruffell, by his mother Sue Ford and step father Graham Ford. Alex died in 1998 at the age of 16 and was 2 years older than me at Friends School Saffron Walden, although I didn’t know him well at school, I know he was much loved by his friends and family, and the amazing results of this charity keeps Alex’s name alive for ever and helps hundreds of the Chidobe people. Everyone in this rural community will speak of Alex almost everyday, as there is a classroom built in his memory as well as the outdoor sports centre. The charity has provided drinking water, toilets, school uniforms, books and electricity which is not only used by the school but the rest of the community, this is to name but a few as the list seems to go on and on.

At Alex’s funeral, £5,000 of donations was kindly given to Sue and Graham; this was used to build the classroom in his memory. Since then more people have donated to the Alex Ruffell memorial fund, many of which from the Saffron Walden area, these generous people are kept informed of any development at the school.

Alfred Mpofu, the village head was diagnosed with HIV 4 years ago and certainly would have died if the charity didn’t supply the drugs he needed. Rural communities in Africa have very complicated politics, and rely on influential figures such as Alfred.

Graham and Sue Ford organize the charity back in the UK, which involves the time consuming role of collecting all the generously donated money, clothes, shoes and other items back to their family home. Once everything has been collected their container makes the long sea voyage to Durban in South Africa, and then the slow journey by rail to the city of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, then on to Victoria Falls, before being loaded onto a truck and then delivered to the school. This can sometimes take months as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) can be very difficult, everything in the shipment has to be proven that it has come from a donated charity or duty has to be paid on every item. Graham and Sue visit the country twice a year making sure that the shipment has reached its final destination and distributed correctly.

When I visited the school I witnessed the shipment being delivered, and was amazed at the number of people who turned up, 500 in total, 350 of which were school children and the rest were teachers, village heads, friends and family. It was a huge party with lots of singing and dancing, the charity supplied food and drink for every person.

Chidobe village football team with Sue Ford, Alfred Mpofu & William

After everyone had eaten and the entertainment finished, a game of football started on the school pitch. Brand new kit and boots were supplied to Ford United the local Chidobe football team, (this is another reminder of the respect Sue and Graham receive here). Previously I’d mentioned that I’d played football for my school team at Friends and was immediately placed at left midfield, I think more out of politeness me being a visitor than my ability to play. The whistle blew after the longest 90 minutes I’d ever experienced; it was time for the clothes to be distributed to the village. As I limped over to the queue of people I noticed young children wearing a very familiar school blazer with huge smiles on their faces, I couldn’t help but put one on and have my photo taken with them. The whole day was a complete success and everyone seemed very happy.

The people of Chidobe have really shown me this amazing will to survive, as every day can be a struggle, especially over the last four years. It didn’t take long for me to be accepted into the community, and they were keen to show me their way of life, smiling faces are everywhere you look. This African hospitality is evident all over the country.

I want to thank the people of Chidobe village who I’ll remember forever.

Image courtesy of William Addison-Atkinson

Film Review: The Help

There is a tendency for the film versions of popular and successful books to be disappointing.  The Harry Potter series, The Time Traveller’s Wife and One Day all come to mind.  I was therefore slightly sceptical before going to see The Help, the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s number one bestseller.  After all, how was a book that deals so sensitively with the lives and emotions of both black and white women in 1960s Mississippi going to translate effectively onto the screen?  The trailers didn’t fill me with much hope: chick flick-esque music and a series of shots that showed little of the book’s intelligence.  So it’s fair to say that I sat down in the cinema with a certain amount of trepidation.

But, to my surprise and relief, The Help had nothing of the schmaltzy Hollywood vibe that had been advertised.  Most of this was due to impeccable casting: Emma Stone as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, the idealistic journalist who decides to write a book about the stories of the African American maids; Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, a maid who has raised the children of rich white families all her life, and is the first to help Skeeter with her book; and Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, Aibileen’s best friend and also a maid, complete with a dynamite temper and a wit so quick it leaves you reeling.  Indeed, one of the main praises of this film has been its use of little-known actresses to play some of the main characters.  Spencer’s eyes are the most expressive I have ever seen, and the inner turmoil she experiences in the book when confronted with an employer who has no concept of racial divides are portrayed beautifully in the film.  Viola Davis’s Aibileen is the calm to Minny Jackson’s storm, and Davis’s interpretation of her character’s grief, loyalty, integrity and bravery makes for a magnificent performance.

Also worthy of mention are Bryce Dallas-Howard and Jessica Chastain, the former playing Hilly Holbrook (the film’s ‘villain’ with extreme racial prejudices and ignorance) and the latter playing Celia Foote (Minny’s boozy and breasty employer who is the only character apart from Skeeter to treat the maids as anything other than lower beings).  Dallas-Howard plays her detestable character to perfection, right down to the smug smile that is never far away from her lips, and Chastain is endearing as a 1960s Barbie from the wrong side of the tracks.

The Help is not all serious racial tension: there are some brilliantly comedic moments that lighten what could otherwise turn into a rather sombre film.  The scene where Minny reveals the secret ingredient to the pie that her former employer just ate (I won’t give it away) is one that had the whole audience in fits of laughter, especially as it was a reference point for the remainder of the film.  Then there are the moments between Skeeter and her mother that any daughter can relate to: hiding in a cupboard to make a secret phone call, having your mother force you into something pretty to wear for a ‘suitable’ young man…

Speaking of men, how refreshing to watch a film where the men play almost no role at all.  There is a small love interest for Skeeter, but apart from that The Help is about women and women only.  Even the men in the film seem to realise this: when one maid begins to ask her employer about a loan, the husband scarpers in double-quick time.  This is a story that focuses on the 1960s woman’s world of the home and the family, and everything that comes under that label.

So, did the film live up to the book?  In my opinion, an unequivocal yes.  It did not make light of the poor treatment of the maids, nor did it shy away from showing some of the more racist behaviour of the employers.  This is not a happy-ever-after film, as not all of the story lines turn out the way you hope they might.  But it does leave you with the sense that some people got their just desserts, either literally or metaphorically.

Overall: 8/10

Film Preview – Another Earth

Recently, a film premiered in the United States with a rather obscure title: Another Earth. Intrigued by this name, I decided to look into this film and find out what it was all about.

Mike Cahill and Brit Marling wrote the film. Brit also played the main character, Rhoda Williams. The film only had a budget of $200,000 and that combined with the weird title made me walk into the cinema rather skeptical.

Rhoda Williams, a very high-flying high school student interested in astronomy, drives home intoxicated and causes a car accident killing the wife and child of John Burroughs, a famous composer and university professor. Just before the accident she hears on the news that another planet is approaching earth.

After four years in prison she is released as she was under age when the accident happened. She is full of remorse and guilt for what she has done and finally comes to John Burrough’s house to apologise after working in a high school as a cleaner for a couple of months. He never found out who killed his family as he let his brother deal with all the judiciary details after coming out of a coma after the accident.

The other planet is now high up on the sky and mirrors the earth in every detail. However, when Rhoda arrives at John’s house, instead of apologising, she looses her nerves and pretends to be a cleaner visiting from another village offering a free trial cleaning session. Over the next few weeks she becomes John Burrow’s cleaner and helps him turn his life around again, as he had fallen into an emotional and physical abyss after the incident four years ago. In the meantime Rhoda, with her passion for astronomy, participates in an assay competition to fly to the other earth in a civilian spacecraft. It is now clear that the other planet is indeed a complete mirror image of ours and it becomes clear that every person has another self on this other planet.

Finally Rhoda tells John who she really is. I do not want to spoil it for you, so you better go and watch the ending yourself …

This film very positively surprised me. The acting is good and the story as well as the characters really evoked emotions in me. The story is captivating and the film opens a bunch of philosophical questions:

“Who are we really?”

“What would I look like if I saw myself from the outside?”

“Would I like me the way I am if I see myself as another person sees me?”

“What would you do in life if you had a second chance?”

Another interesting notion with me was the following: Kopernikus discovered that the earth evolves around the sun and thus we do not think we are the centre of the universe anymore. But do we really? In the film they call the other planet Earth 2 and  in the film the question is asked: Do you really think on this other planet the call themselves Earth 2 and us Earth 1? No, they will call themselves Earth 1 and us Earth 2. Have we really lost our belief that we indeed ARE the centre of the universe?

The film puts all these questions in a beautiful science fantasy narrative. It is a great example of how a film does not have to have huge budgets to be portray a message and captivate the audience.

I can only recommend going and seeing it.

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I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here 2011 – The Line-Up

So the line-up has been revealed for ITV’s C-List celebrity vehicle – I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here 2011. The “celebrities” – note the speech marks as I use the term loosely – will be all clamouring for air time and column inches now that the show has hit our screens once again.

Amongst the has-beens and “rising” stars who will be braving the creepy crawlies in the jungle are TOWIE’s Mark Wright (24) – who has perhaps taken extreme lengths to avoid his turmultuous Essex love life by travelling to the other side of the world! 

Fighting Mark for the title of Jungle Stud is Mcfly bass player Dougie Poynter (23) who is sure to have the girls swooning during those shirtless scenes that are bound to happen over the coming weeks.

Coronation Street’s happy chappy Anthony Cotton (36) will also be on the show and will have to face his fears of flying, heights, claustrophobia and arguments. Cotton also has said he has a mild form of OCD. Thankfully for him, ITV bosses have ensured he has had hypnotherapy as part of his preparation to go to the jungle.

Joining funny man Cotton will be not-so-funny man Freddie Starr (don’t mention hamsters!). Starr (68) has no qualms admitting his real reason to be on the show… he admits he’s there to get his profile up. It will be interesting to see what antics Freddie Starr gets up to during his stint in the Australian jungle as he’s known for his “quirky” behaviour on and off screen.

Horse racing legend, Willie Carson OBE is the final chap making his debut on I’m A Celebrity. Although he’s the same age as Freddie Starr, Carson says that his reasons for being on the show are very different – he wants to enjoy the experience and also impress his grandchildren who are massive fans of the show.

And so on to the female “celebrities” of the show…

This year’s obligatory Jungle Babe is Jessica-Jane Clement (26) who some of you may have seen in The Real Hustle. Jessica-Jane also has worked as a glamour model and has appeared in Playboy. Unfortunately for Jungle Lothario Mark, Jessica-Jane has recently become engaged so there be no hanky panky in the hammocks. Shame!

Adding some impressive muscle to the proceedings is world champion javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread MBE. Fatima (50) says that as well as being competitive, she is also looking forward to the bushtucker trials. Really?! I know that I’d not be relishing the opportunity to chew on a certain part of a kangaroo’s anatomy!

Joining Fatima and Jessica-Jane in the jungle is 53-year old Benidorm actress Crissy Rock. It has been revealed that Crissy is no stranger to sleeping rough as she has been homeless before in her life. They say that this revealation means she has a better chance of lasting the distance during her time in the no-frills camp.

The fourth woman to swing into the jungle will be Lorraine Chase, the 60-year old model and actress who rose to fame as the star of the Campari adverts during the 70s. Since then she has also appeared in Emmerdale swapping cocktails for the countryside. Lorraine sees the show as a test of her bravery and says it will challenge her to stretch herself and get braver.

Finally, American actress Stefanie Powers will star in the show and is doing it for all the right reasons. The 69-year old was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago and wants to show people that it is possible to beat the disease and prove there is life after cancer. The star of Hart To Hart says that having survived cancer she is now going to try and survive I’m a Celebrity.

I wish Stefanie and the other contestants all the best and look forward to watching their trials and tribulations over the coming weeks. Who is your favourite to win?

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Alvear PX Solera 1927 Montilla – Cambridge Wine Merchants

With autumn well and truly upon us, it’s time for big, hearty, warming wines with seasonal food to match. For mains, that means seasonal game dishes and stews - but spare a thought for filling, indulgent puddings with some bonfire night smoke, spice and warmth. If you need a wine to match to a sticky toffee pudding, treacle sponge or spotted dick, this unusual but delicious Pedro Ximénez might just might be the thing – I chose it as a match for a sticky toffee cheesecake recipe given to me by local Masterchef Finalist, Alex Rushmer who now runs The Hole in The Wall in Wilbraham (pictured left).

Alvear PX Solera 1927 Montilla , £12.99 (37.5cl) Cambridge Wine Merchants

Dessert wines are some of my favourites and the trick to matching with a pudding is that the wine should be sweeter than the food, otherwise it will taste tart and thin.

Wines from Spain’s Pedro Ximénez (“PX”) grapes are about as sweet as they come and this one will stand up to the autumnal richness a treacle toffee cheesecake.

PX is most commonly used to add sweetness to dry oloroso to produce a sweet sherry but, as here, is occasionally made into a dessert wine in its own right.

It is made from superripe grapes that have then been dried out on straw mats to intensify the flavours; more unusually, it is also made in a solera, like a dry sherry, that in this case dates back to 1927.

It is a dark mahogany, thick and treacly on pouring – you really won’t need much of this – and has aromas of cooked mixed fruit, dried figs, dates and prunes with hints of dark chocolate, molasses and roasted nuts on the nose.

On the palate it is concentrated and mouthfilling with raisiny fruit and enough fresh acidity to match the sweetness.

The long finish adds hints of bitter aromatics and dark spices from aging in oak.


Cambridge Wine Merchants –

The Hole in the Wall –

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

Aaron Allard Wins Big Brother 2011

After nine weeks of watching the antics unfold in the Big Brother 2011 house, Friday saw the Big Brother finale with the four remaining housemates up for the title of Big Brother winner of 2011. Alex Rose Lee, Louise Cliffe, Jay McKray and Aaron Allard had all made it to Day 64 and now it was time for the final evictions from the Big Brother house.

Louise Cliffe was the first to be evicted. She wore a beautiful ruffled dress with sequinned corset and sported her new fringe haircut. During her interview with Brian Dowling, Louise spoke of her relationship with Jay, saying: “‘Nine weeks equals ten years in here. Jay is just so normal and he reminds me of the people I know back home.” She added enthusiatically, “I love him to bits I do, I do, I do.”

Louise Cliffe - the model housemate?

Alex Rose Lee, the last remaining female housemate, was the next to leave the Big Brother house. The fast food worker and ex air hostess was dressed in a short figure-hugging dress in her signature pink colour and it was no surprise that she was wearing her new Jimmy Choo shoes given to her as a birthday present from Jay & Louise. Alex had avoided the public vote every single week of the competition. Speaking to Brian, she said that being herself was what she thhinks got her through the show.

Alex left the house dressed in pink - no surprises there then!

The time had come for the winner of Big Brother 2011 to be announced. As Brian Dowling revealed it was Aaron Allard, the crowd erupted into a chorus of boos. Jay McKray was therefore in second place and exited the Big Brother house fighting back tears. He was always popular with the public having been saved from eviction in previous weeks. Jay confessed in his interview that he was in love with Louise and that she had kept him sane during the hard times he experienced in the Big Brother house. He went on to say that the hardest moment in the show was when there was only bananas to eat thanks to Harry’s food shopping prank and Jay said that he “will never eat a banana again.”

Jay McKray came second in the competition

And so it was time for Aaron Allard to leave the Big Brother house as the 2011 winner of the fly-on-the-wall reality TV show. Aaron had been up for eviction four times during Big Brother 2011 and had been saved by the public each time. It was thus a big surprise and a first in the history of Big Brother that on leaving the Big Brother house Aaron was welcomed by boos from the crowds outside rather than cheers. During his interview with Brian, he said that he had found the last 7 days difficult as he had missed Faye. He went on to say that he definitely wanted them to be a couple and that he “really liked her”. Aaron also said that he couldn’t understand why people had booed him.

Aaron Allard - the winner of Big Brother 2011

Perhaps it was his sulking that the crowds didn’t like? Or the on-off-on relationship he had with Faye Palmer? Or maybe it was just that this 30-something contract manager was more thoughtful and mature than the other housemates making him look patronising? Whatever the reasons behind the boos, Aaron Allard survived the nine weeks of scrutiny by the Big Brother cameras and some may say he also managed to survive the editing of the show where 24 hours is reduced to a few snippets of “good television”. Below are Aaron’s best bits from the show… enjoy!

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

In the peak of summer, where would you most likely spend your holidays? For a lot of people, skiing in the Alps or sunning on a beach in the Caribbean has a lot of appeal. However for over 20,000 people, it is the capital of Scotland has the biggest drawing point.

Edinburgh. A city of history, a city of culture and for twenty-four days a year, a city of eclectic artistic talent, as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe comes to town. Filled with varying music, dance and comedy acts, the festival lives up to it’s reputation as the largest arts festival in the world.

Growing in size each year and averaging an intake of just under £300,000 the festival is the place to be for a breakthrough act. Predecessors including Eddie Izzard (comedy), Gabriel Byrne (writing) and UK beatbox champion Beardyman (music) have all had their say at the festival and in doing so, have left big shoes to be filled. Now it is the turn of new acts and fresh faces to leave their mark on their respective artistic world.

The festival gives plenty of support for any act trying to make their name. From debutants, such as the Mugging Chickens comedy troop, to seasoned professionals such as Dizzee Rascal headlining the festival’s musical strand, everyone has a place in the line-ups.

With the festival, boasting 259 venues last year, made way for an astounding 2,453 shows, 1,206 of which were world debuts. And it could be this festival that makes or breaks an act. The multitude of festival awards, prestigious in their nature, can give you that extra credit needed to become a more recognized talent.

If you are looking to attend the festival, fear not, as it will not cost you an arm and a leg to have a good time. Ticket prices will set you back an average of ten pounds for a better known act, the guarantee being that they hopefully know what they are doing.  However there are many fantastic performers which have free, live shows (558 in 2010) and in a lot of these cases, it is the intimacy of these acts makes them all the more enjoyable.

Absolutely Legless - Irish Dancers

This year, remember to look out for some groundbreaking acts: Paco Erhard, the world’s funniest German; Abandoman, a Radio 1 smash-hit hip-hop act; or Irish music, song and dance extravaganza Absolutely Legless. Several acts, debutants and returners alike, have a potential to not only shine but to progress on to greater, vaster plains.

Now in to its 65th year, the festival has a lot to live up to. But with acts travelling from as far as Japan, New Zealand and the United States to try and expand their fan-base, this year’s festival looks set to be bigger, better and bolder than ever before. So don’t miss out, book your tickets early and make your way to Edinburgh for August 5th, for a month’s worth of diverse artistic events you will be sure to never forget.

Image reproduced from and

Wine Of The Month – November

The clocks have gone back, Halloween is out of the way, and once bonfire night is past, there’s not much to look forward to during this last month of autumn except more damp and cold.

And yet, for those of a melancholy bent, those who can see in nature’s riotous panoply of autumnal russet, gold and burnt ochre hues a last hurrah before inevitable decline and decay set in, for those of us in whom the season brings about a sense of introspection and melancholy, late autumn is a stirring, moving, soulful time of the year – a season for Romantic Poets and armchair philosophers alike.

The Romantic or Philosophical amongst us, then, must choose wines and food that feed the melancholy of our souls and speak to our inner wistfulness through their aromas and flavours.

If wine is poetry bottled, then there are few more poetic terroirs than Burgundy whose indulgent, decadent, hedonistic oenology and gastronomy convey a sense of autumnal decay perhaps like no other, and so we start with a white Burgundy.

Macon-Bussieres Dom du Vieux Puits 2008, Domaine Drouin, Maconnais, Burgundy – £12.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants

Made from old vines, the nose is toasty with hints of tropical fruit, white flowers and vanilla.

On the palate, there is ripe pear fruit and rounded acidity; the wine feels full and rich from aging in mainly large, old oak barrels with 25% new oak for a hint of toasty vanilla sweetness, whilst time spent on the lees gives a savouriness to the finish.

Neither a blockbuster New World Chardie nor a tropically fruity unoaked version, this is a classic food wine to match with straightforward dishes like plain roast chicken and lighter game such as partridge and quail.

Alternately, match with pasta and wild mushrooms in a creamy sauce.

Tenuta Monticello ‘Operetta’ Rosso delle Venezie IGT – £8.99 Noel Young Wines

A Ripasso-style wine made from 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% of the grapes are ‘appassimento’- dried in small crates in a drying room, with the two parts of the wine vinified seperately and then aged 12 months in French and American oak barriques.

The nose is full of blackcurrant and elderberry aromas with a hint of prunes, cherries, spice and a mushroomy woodsiness. On the palate, there is concentrated fruit sweetness, more elderberry fruit, liquorice, vanilla musk and a sour cherry acidity with soft tannins.

Match with either roast lamb or darker game, such as pigeon or pheasant.

Pinna Fidelis, Roble 2009, Ribera del Duero, £7.99 Bacchanalia

From Spain’s prestigious Ribera del Duero region, this one has a big nose of bramble fruit, tarriness, liquorice, loganberries and vanilla spice with a touch of funky, vegetal forest floor.

The palate feels full, soft and sweet with velvety dark berry and prune fruit, mintiness, vanilla and dark spice, whilst there is plenty of lively sour-cherry acidity.

On the finish, there is more mintiness and some gentle grip.

With air, the decaying, vegetal aromas and sour cherry acidity become more pronounced giving this a Pinot-esque feel; match, therefore, with typical Pinot Noir food such as pheasant, duck and other dark game or meaty casseroles with some clove spice.

These are all good wines, but this month’s winner is the Macon-Bussieres from Cambridge Wine Merchants on a number of counts – the most classical, it matches well with the kind of seasonal autumnal food that brings to mind images of rooting for truffles in the mist and half-darkness.

But more than that, should we find a day this month when the sun shines and the temperatures rise to moderately warm, we need a white wine, albeit a Big White, to match with lighter game or creamy pasta with wild mushrooms and truffles and leaven our diet of Hearty, Spicy Reds, bringing a life-affirming touch of levity, the freshness of a morning mist and the golden hue of a turning leaf.


Bacchanalia –

Cambridge Wine Merchants –

Noel Young Wines –

Drouin –

Image credit –

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

Farmers’ Market at Cambridge Hotel du Vin

At the weekend, I stopped by Cambridge’s Hotel du Vin for their farmers’ market and barbecue event, organised by the hotel to showcase some of their various food and drink suppliers with both samples and produce to buy.

We were greeted at the entrance by roasting chestnuts and an array of fresh produce from Lenards of Covent Garden, the hotel’s greengrocer, from which we were encouraged to help ourselves; our haul included, amongst other things, a punnet of delicious strawberries which we had on a picnic the following day.

The hotel, a conversion of four townhouses, has a somewhat quirky, if not labyrinthine, layout but this made the experience all the more intriguing as we walked from room.

In the library was Radwinter Wild Game, whose excellent sausages I have reviewed previously at a Cambridge Food and Wine Society event; they were selling a mixture of game, including muntjac, rabbit, hare and squirrel for which there is no closed season as they are pests.

October marked the start of the pheasant season but Radwinter’s spiced pheasant sausages are so popular with customers that they keep frozen stocks to be able to sell them all year round and the ones we sampled were lovely.

Moving past the Kandula Tea Company from Ely who have a range of bespoke and classic whole-leaf teas and infusions as well as being Great Taste Award winners, we met La Cave a Fromage / Premier Cheese Ltd – both essentially the same businesses, the former its retail outlet and the latter a trade supplier – and sampled a 2-year-old Comte which was utterly delicious.

Nicholson’s Herb Farm supplies the hotels herbs, but also had a range of seasonal chutneys and jellies for sale.

Glebe Farm from Huntingdon, which provides the hotel’s flour and sells their range (all stone ground at local windmills) at Cambridge Farmers’ Outlet, had cakes and crunchy granola for sampling.

Grasmere Farm, not actually from Grasmere at all but based in Lincolnshire, supplies sausages, bacon and black puddings had a range of sausages to try – a delicious smoked Rutland, a sharp cider and apple, a herby Lincolnshire as well as a fruity apricot and some haslet.

Moving outside, Bar Manager Stefan had a range of real ales and ciders to sample, all supplied by local wine merchant and beer enthusiasts, Bacchanalia.

We started with a Kipling from Thornbridge Brewery in Derbyshire – called a South Pacific pale ale due to the use of New Zealand hop variety Nelson Sauvin, it was fresh with tropical fruit and pronounced bitter aromatics.

The Jaipur IPA was felt light, despite its higher 5.9% abv, clean and hoppy. Next was a Southwold Bitter from Suffolk brewer Adnams – heavier and darker than the previous beers, it was malty and crisp. Finally, a beer from Cambridge’s newest micro-brewery and one I had not heard of before – Cambridge Moonshine Brewery. Their dark Night Watch Porter was like Bonfire Night in a bottle with smokey, treacley, toffee aromas and is made with honey and wheat as well as the more usual malt and hops.

Picking our way downstairs, we found Head Sommelier Nicolas whom I had met at a cigar dinner a few months ago with a range of wines to try.

First was an English Chardonnay 2010 from Hush Heath Estate – very pale in the glass, it has a touch of oak on the nose. However, the palate provides quite a surprise as it is full of ripe, tropical fruits and feels surprisingly lush after the much more restrained first impression.

Giving the wine a bit of aeration allowed the primary fruit to die down a little revealing good acidity and a minerality on the finish, suggesting that with a bit more bottle age it will improve significantly and become more balanced.

Next up was their rose; with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay in the blend, it was essentially a flat Champagne and proved to be much more as expected, with red berries, some stone fruit, focused acidity and a clean, pure-fruit feel.

The final wine was a Bauduc 2008 Clos de Quinze red Bordeaux. With mostly Merlot in the blend, it was light and perfumed with aromas of bramble fruit, prunes and coffee. On the palate there is sweet vanilla and a gentle grip on the finish, but, personally, I would have liked a little more texture.

Of the three, the rose showed best on the day for its clear, focused acidity, but the Chardonnay has the potential to improve.

Details of future events at Cambridge Hotel du Vin are available on their website – – or by calling the hotel on 01223 227 330.

Selected links

Hotel du Vin –

Bacchanalia –

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

Colour Shock – Go Big or Go Home!

Who said your walls have to be taupe, eggshell or tan? Neutrals are great, but a little colour won’t hurt. In fact, a lot of colour won’t hurt either! Colour is the easiest way to revamp your space. There are unlimited colours to choose from and not a single one is off-limits. There is a big bold world of colour out there just waiting for you, don’t be afraid of it! Check out these tips on working with bold colours for your home.

When you’re ready to leave your dreary world of beige behind, find colour inspiration in the things and places you love. Take a stroll through the museum and have a look at the famous paintings and their colour stories. Flip through a fashion magazine and see what colours you’re most drawn to. One of my favorite places to find colour inspiration is at the market; specifically the produce section. There are so many vibrant colours there that I often find myself bringing home veggies I don’t even like because the colour is so lovely. Don’t be afraid to use a non-traditional colour like tangerine, lime green, or even black. Bold colour isn’t just for kids’ rooms anymore. With the right accessories and secondary colours, you can make any colour look simply chic.

When you’ve been sufficiently inspired and have chosen your colour, run out and buy samples. Most paint brands offer small sample cans of their colours. Paint a small section of your wall and live with it for a week or so. If you’re not in love with it, you can try another colour. Also, keep in mind that if you decide to go with high gloss paint it will be less kind in disguising any painting mistakes or imperfections on the wall. Matte colour will do a better job masking flaws.

Painting the entire space with bold colour is going to make a big impact. They key is to keep the space balanced to prevent it from looking over-the-top. Keep your space looking sophisticated by using a tried and true colour story. It’s very simple to do, just consult the colour wheel.

Bold colour + Neutrals – If you’re not ready to abandon all of your beige, it’s ok. Bold + Beige (or neutrals) is an easy combination to work with. Using a soft backdrop for a bold colour makes your colour choice stand out.

Complementary Colours – When you’re looking at a colour wheel, complementary colours are directly opposite each other. For example, yellow is opposite violet and they are complementary. These colour combinations bring out the best in each other. It works best if one colour is slightly subdued to bring out the richness in the other.

Related Colours – Related colours are located right next to one another on the wheel. For example, green and yellow-green are related.

Monochromatic Colour – A monochromatic colour story uses different tones of the same hue. Subtle variations of a single colour are not difficult to find. The best way to determine the additional colours to use is to check the swatch from your wall paint. Each swatch card has several different tones of the same colour.

Take a look at these amazing colourful rooms for inspiration for your next room colour overhaul. And remember, bold is definitely beautiful.


This article was written by Erie Construction. Follow Erie Construction on Twitter.

Behind the Scenes: Kim Kardashian‘s Fairytale Wedding

Kris & Kim on the Jay Leno Show on 4 October 2011

Two months after what some folks call the marriage of the year between Reality Star Kim Kardashian and Basketballer Kris Humphries, viewers finally got a look behind the scenes to spicy footage leading up to the couple’s big day. The 2 part series aired on The E Channel on Sunday and Monday nights appropriately called Kim’s Kardashian’s Fairytale Wedding.

From the onset, it was evident that things aren’t always what they seem when we’re standing on the outside looking in. Sadly, the prelude to a wedding drama overshadowed the happy go lucky sound bytes viewers watched as Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries said their I dos. What unfolded on the ‘pre show’ to a Kardashian Wedding was a bit disturbing.

First, the younger of the three adult Kardashian sisters, Khloe and soon to be brother-in-law, Kris Humphries kept saying inappropriate things to one up the other.

Khloe thinks Kris sees Kim as a beautiful trophy wife and If she marries him, he has nothing to lose. She calls Kris “opportunistic” telling him that he has “come up off of Kim.”

Kris Humphries to Khloe Kardashian “How dare you question someone else’s marriage?” “Are you sure you’re not using Lamar?” referring to basketball player Lamar Odom whom Khloe hastily married, causing reports to surface in the media that the nuptials were a sham.

At some point Kris feels his input as the groom is being overlooked and undervalued by the women in the Kardashian household, leaving him frustrated and feeling like a non factor. He tells Kim how he’s afraid of becoming like Bruce Jenner and Scott Dusic, “ living life in the passenger seat.”

Seemingly controlling women, Kim Kardashian and her mom, Kris Jenner plans the wedding venue without the soon to be groom. Of course, Kris feels slighted . When he confronts Kim, she tells him she’s been dreaming of her fairytale wedding every since she was a little girl. An angry Kris tells Kim she could just as easily slide any guy into the grooms’ slot. There’s so much tension and drama in Kim Kardashian’s Fairytale Wedding, a viewer might begin to wonder when the director will call “cut!”

Shortly after the two part series aired, there were more reports about the couple in the media and it was not very encouraging. On Friday October 14th, Wendy Williams , a former radio host and now queen of daytime gossip , recently got wind of some interesting and hopefully untruths about the newlyweds.

According to Wendy Williams, Life And Style Magazine quotes Kim Kardashian saying she needs a break because she didn’t realize marriage was going to be so hard! At this posting Kim has taken off for Dubai, leaving her basketball lockout and new hubby home to fend for himself. Some things that seemed to stress the betrothed Kim Kardashian out?

Dogs sleeping in her bed (Kris’s)

Splattering the bathroom mirror while brushing (Kris)

Kris Humphries ‘Price Is Right’ bedroom in his Minnesota home!

Kris Humphries loves:

Dogs sleeping in his bed

Splatttering the bathroom mirrors when he’s brushing his teeth

His bedroom in his Minnesota home!

Love & Marriage goes together like a horse and carriage, so can’t they all just get along?

72 days after Kim & Kris tied the knot, Kim Kardashian filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences for the reason for the split. Before they married, Kim and Kris signed a prenuptial agreement so that their respective assets would be protected in the case of a
divorce. Just as well eh?!

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Some Perspective Before Poland Please…

As I write, journalists across the country are frantically sharpening their pencils. The back pages of our papers will soon be awash with column upon column of conjecture, forecasting the fate of the England team at next year’s European Championship. What we will witness from the media over the coming months is what we always see as England prepare for a major tournament: an endless, contradictory stream of negativity, hype, sniping, hysteria, support, rhetoric and anything else that will undermine any hope Fabio Capello and his team have of success. Amidst all of this drivel, the press will still strive to ensure that the players board the plane for Poland buckling beneath the burden of expectation weighing heavily on their shoulders.

It is irresponsible, inconsistent journalism that has put me right off supporting England. The media circus that surrounds the national team is not only embarrassing but also damaging to our chances of ever winning another international tournament. It’s difficult to forget the absurd emphasis the press placed on Gareth Barry’s battle for fitness at last year’s World Cup, for example. Or the subsequent clamour for the inclusion of Joe Cole that proved so divisive and destabilised England’s entire campaign. Predictably, the majority of English journalists were left a little red-faced when Mesut Ozil sashayed past Barry (who looked like he was running in wet trousers) to set up Germany’s sublime fourth goal and dump England out of the competition.

I can only imagine the extent to which Rooney’s three-match international ban will be covered in the media. How on earth will we cope without our only genuine match-winner? Should Capello even include him in the squad? Every possible scenario will be mulled, chewed and presided over to the point of pre-tournament exhaustion.

Such coverage is confusing and unnecessary but above all, teeth-gnashingly annoying. It fuels the hysteria now synonymous with most England games: the chest-thumping jingoism, the painted faces, the flag-waving, the insufferable ‘England band’ parping plaintively on their bugles as if to salute the death of English football. I find it all quite difficult to stomach if I’m honest. It’s axiomatic that, as an Englishman I want England to win rather than lose. However, there is a callous side to me that is quietly satisfied when we’re beaten and the thousands of fans who were foolish enough to buy into the notion that England are any good, trudge away from Wembley crestfallen. Their face paint smudged and their tails firmly between their legs.

Following an unspeakably depressing World Cup last year, England’s qualification for the European Championships was achieved surprisingly smoothly. I certainly wouldn’t say that we scraped through (as reported on Sky Sports). Despite being a team in transition, performances were, in general, as steady as Fabio Capello’s granite jaw. He even proved flexible enough to alter the formation and introduce new personnel. All that we can ask of the Italian is that he establishes a philosophy that gives us the best chance of success in the future. His attempt to replace the leaden-legged England of Bloemfontein with a more imaginative, nimble side has resulted in some promising displays. Though it is still clearly a work in progress, the performances have at times involved an incisiveness and fluidity that we haven’t seen for many years. It would appear that we are finally taking tentative steps in the right direction.

But please let’s not get carried away. It is imperative that perspective is maintained. As we have seen, reckless journalism can unravel much of the good work we have seen at times during qualification. Whilst the players must believe they can win the tournament, it is still important that we as supporters understand that they probably won’t. As it stands, England don’t have a team good enough to challenge Spain or Germany or Holland and win the European Championships. Well, not without a huge slice of luck anyway. The nucleus of the team that failed so dramatically in South Africa still remains, so expectation of anything more than the Quarter Finals is unwarranted. Just look at the history books – I’m not being pessimistic; I’m being realistic.

It is also important that such equanimity is applied when England suffer setback. The point that secured unbeaten qualification in Montenegro last Friday night was greeted with derision and frustration, more so I suppose because of the manner in which Wayne Rooney was dismissed and England let a two goal lead slip away, yet it was reported in the media as if it were a loss. I think this is unfair. Apparently nobody took the time to consider the possibility that Montenegro might dare to be a well-organised side, with good players playing for qualification to the European Championships.

As the reaction to the point in Podgorica shows, the football press in this country uphold an almost xenophobic ignorance when it comes to acknowledging the footballing capacity of other nations. They made a huge deal of the fact there are only 625,000 people living in Montenegro. So what? A country’s population is irrelevant when it’s 11 vs 11. I don’t understand what is to be gained from such pointless reporting. The truth is, the level of professionalism in football has improved globally meaning the number of truly dreadful international teams is falling year-on-year. Most teams have made themselves very difficult to beat and consequently the vast chasm of quality that used to exist between the best and worst teams is slowly being bridged. As Montenegro demonstrated, the less renowned international teams won’t yield to higher-ranking opposition just because they have the most televised domestic leagues.

I think we all need to concede that English football isn’t necessarily ‘where it’s at’. To think otherwise is old-fashioned. What we must acknowledge is that, though our domestic league is sparkling with superstars, very few of them are actually English. Only Rooney, and possibly Ashley Cole would make my Premier League eleven. You might be able to make an argument for one of our centre halves and possibly Joe Hart, but that’s it. How good can we expect our national team to be when the best players in our own domestic league aren’t English?

What I would like to see before the team depart for Poland is some rational, pragmatic journalism. The type of speculation that pursues the England team is unhealthy and whips up a level of expectation that is naïve and ungrounded. In victory or defeat it is important to maintain perspective and remain logical. We’re not the best team in Europe but we’re far from being the worst. It is the responsibility of the press to provide balanced coverage and help to convert the average England fan from fanatical manic–depressive to philosophical aficionado. You never know though, with a bit of luck we might find ourselves in the Semi-Finals… where’s that face paint…?

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