You’re a typical middle-aged, white male when it comes to racism

… And that’s when she lit the blue touch paper.

It was Nigeria’s fault for playing so poorly in the World Cup.

Ironically we both wanted Nigeria to beat Argentina but as the game progressed our paths took different directions.

Where I saw Nigeria underperforming. She saw injustice and prejudice… fuelled by sniping comments on the Twitter feed she was watching more than the match.

“Ah, I see what’s going on here,” was uttered more than once.

I knew exactly what she was suggesting. But all I could see on the screen was a team in self-destruct mode.

The flash point came during a call for a penalty to Nigeria which, quite rightly, the referee waved away.

“The referee is racist,” came the instant accusation. “I can spot all the signs.”

She went on to read out similarly accusatory comments from her Twitter stream.

“Unless those are from Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand, or anyone who knows anything at all about football I’m not really interested,” my patience had worn thin. “It wasn’t a penalty. And, anyway, how can you say the ref is racist?”

“He’s making decisions based on subconscious prejudice.”

“No he isn’t. He’s making decisions based on the laws of the game. Nigeria aren’t losing this game due to prejudice, they’re losing because they’ve played shite. They don’t deserve to win.”

“He’s racist.”

“How can you say that? You’ve no evidence at all.”

“I’ve years of experience in this area and I can spot it.”

We disagreed some more, heatedly, before she hit me square in the jaw with “Yours is a typically defensive and argumentative reaction by middle-aged white men when the question of racism is brought up.”

At that point what had been a heated debate turned personal… ugly… into something far more serious.

Many times during the week we’d talked of instances of gross injustices, prejudice, racism  and had been in accord every time. Insisting Nigeria’s downfall had not been caused by a racist ref but by themselves was the first time I’d disagreed.

“Oh, come on.” I was furious. “That’s bullshit. If you view this match without labels, without seeing colour, then the team which has played better is winning. It’s as simple as that. There’s only one person in this room who’s allowing prejudice to influence their judgement.”

I was hurt and angered by her barbed accusation. In my mind anger jostled with the slightest niggle of self doubt. I firmly believed Nigeria had lost because they weren’t good enough and there was no way she could know if the referee was racist, subconsciously or otherwise. But then again, there was no way I could know for sure he wasn’t.

There was one thing I was 100% sure about. I wouldn’t be watching a football match with this particular friend again. The match had been totally ruined. Hopefully our friendship wouldn’t meet the same fate.

Thanks for that Nigeria.

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Just leave the dog alone

“My mother would have phoned the police by now.”

“What?”

“She would have phoned the police or, at least, have rescued that dog.”

“Why?” I looked at the forlorn face of the mutt peering past us and into the restaurant. It had a hang-dog expression for sure as, and this was an assumption on my part based on years of amateur dog psychiatry, it was missing its owner who was clearly scoffing food somewhere in the depths of the same restaurant. But it was absolutely fine, its leash wrapped around a fire hydrant on the opposite side of the narrow, cobbled street.

“Because it’s in distress.” replied my concerned friend.

I looked at the dog again. “No it isn’t, it’s just feeling sorry for itself… as dogs are prone to do when they’re excluded from the social scene.”

“I think it’s been abandoned.”

“What? It has not. It’s just been tied up outside whilst its owner has dinner. I’ve seen similar plenty of times.”

“Well I have never seen a dog left outside a restaurant. In London the RSPCA would have rescued it by now.”

“Well, I have seen plenty of dogs waiting for owners outside bars, shops and restaurants, and if anyone took that dog now it would be a really shitty thing to do.”

At this juncture I have to point out my friend is from London whereas I grew up on a Scottish island where if a dog was left outside a bar nobody would think twice about it. I have seen it in many other small places… which were not London. This time was in an area of Lisbon where there’s still a strong feeling of community. I had no doubt the dog was ‘waiting’ rather than having been abandoned. But London is apparently the centre of the universe and whatever happens in England’s capital city is what dictates… even if you happen to be in a different country.

“Why did that guy duck out of the way?” Inquired an American man of his family on the table next to us. There was a World Cup penalty shoot out taking place on the TV on the other side of our table and the Americans had been giving a running, and quite surreall uninformed commentary throughout the football match. The ‘ducking’ man was a goalkeeper who had just dived the wrong way. Combined with my friend’s insistent and misplaced concern for the dog, I was not having the most enjoyable of dining experiences. Maybe this was also partly to do with the fado musicians, the singer’s soulful voice filling the place with an infectious melancholic saudade. I felt as depressed as the dog looked.

“I’m really worried about that dog.” She wasn’t going to let it lie even though at this point a pair of pugs entered the scene and the dog brightened considerably. His tail perked up and he forgot his owner as he bopped about trying to attract the pugs’ attention. “I think I’ll call the police.”

By this point I was exasperated. I didn’t want to, and it was embarrassing, but there was only one way to knock this nonsense on its head. I stood up and walked over to the barman.

“My friend…” I was making it crystal clear who was responsible for my question. “… is worried that dog has been abandoned.”

The barman looked at me like I was an idiot tourist sticking my nose in… which of course I was.

“It’s a local dog, everyone knows it around here,” he nodded toward a room where the fado musicians were. “The owner is in there. In Portuguese law the dog isn’t allowed in the restaurant. But the dog is fine.”

“Yeah, I know that,” I responded like a particularly sheepish sheep, my travel cred in shreds thanks to my friend. “But my friend’s from London.” I added, as though that explained it.

I fed back the barman’s response which, finally put paid to most of the worries about the dog’s welfare (she still didn’t approve of it being left on its own).

The irony of this little exchange is this is someone who is vehemently and vociferously opposed to the idea of Brits attempting to impose their culture on different nationalities. Apparently there’s an exception when it comes to how other nationalities treat their dogs.

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The authentic travellers

Two savvy British travellers who both refused to eat in restaurants where there were British tourists turned up at an off the beaten track restaurant supposedly only known to locals in Novara, Italy at exactly the same time. One held the door open for the other who smiled and said “Thank you,” to which the door-holder replied “You’re welcome.”

Both, on hearing the other speak with an obvious English accent, stopped in their tracks and stared briefly at one another with barely concealed distaste before turning and storming out of the restaurant.

Sometimes labels only exist in the minds of those who like to apply them.

Why don’t you go to the beach more?

“Why don’t you go to the beach more?”

“Well, we’re working, we’re not on holiday.”

“But why don’t you go to the beach more?”

“When you live in a warm climate and you’re in sun a lot just walking around, the beach isn’t as important.”

“But still, why don’t you go to the beach more?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess we’re just freaks.”

A lot of people only see abroad as the place you go for a holiday.

I’m married to Jill from Home Improvement

There’s a scene in the TV show Home Improvement where Tool Time Tim’s wife Jill insists on talking to him as she walks into another room, her words becoming increasingly harder to make out.

This is a scenario which is played out at least once a week in our house.

“By the way, did you remember to…” A’s voice trails away as she leaves the room we’re both in and walks into another.

“What? I didn’t catch that last bit.” I raise my head slightly higher, straining to hear anything over a spinning washing machine and noisy kettle about to reach boiling point.

“I said, did you remember…” A’s voice rises but as she’s still walking in the opposite direction from where I stand I can’t make out the rest of the sentence.

“I still can’t hear you,” frustration creeps into my voice and I add. “I can’t hear you because I’m standing in a room full of noise and you’re three rooms away.”

“Well I can hear you,” comes the equally vexed reply. “The real issue is you’re a bit deaf.”

The real issue is I struggle to make out words spoken from the other side of a series of barriers consisting of thick, stone walls.

Departure

It’s a ferry which feels like a cruise ship. A DJ plays loud Latino music; a troupe of dancers twirl, swirl and wave at passengers from their stage, a swimming pool barely bigger than the average bath tub. People stock up on plastic cups of amber lager. Beyond the stern, Tenerife’s hooded Auditorium recedes into the distance under typically blue skies.

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Departure.

It feels surreal. The party atmosphere makes it feel like a celebration of our time, more than a decade, on the island.

The cabin we’ve booked for the next 36 hours is cosy enough, the sea is calm and the sunset spectacular. All feels good with the world. Tomorrow a new and exciting day dawns.

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Dinner on the Naviera Armas ferry pops the party balloon. The buffet meal is cheap and the selection is… is what exactly? Not depressing at best. But it’s not even lukewarm. It’s cold.

Tellingly there is a microwave in the dining room. It’s a classy ship where you have to heat up your own food. A rough looking extended Spanish family are wise to the ferry’s culinary flaws, they’ve brought their own food stash and hog the microwave. We muscle our way in and one of them, illustrating how we shouldn’t make judgements based on appearances, helpfully shows us how to use it (we’re microwave virgins). It makes the food edible… just.

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Overnight we sail into rough seas and it sounds as though Poseidon himself is tearing at the hull with a can opener. The metal screams in pain. It’s unnerving. Our cabin is near the prow, right at the highest point of the arc where the ship pauses briefly after rising into the air before crashing back into the sea.

It’s not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever enjoyed.

The stormy weather doesn’t let up the next day. Getting from our cabin to the less violent rear of the ship involves a bruise-inducing journey of silly walks.

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There are far fewer voyagers in the lounge than the previous day. Many passengers are ill and stay in their cabins. Maybe many passengers are ill because they stay in their cabins.

It’s a long day. Only the ever-enthusiastic entertainment team provide relief from the irritated sea and limited selection of mediocre food. Still we will be on terra firma later, with food in proper restaurants to fuel deflated spirits.

However, an hour from docking and there’s no land at all in sight. There have been no announcements about any delays, but something clearly isn’t right. We should be halfway along an estuary by my reckoning.

I stagger to the information desk.

“Rough weather has delayed us four hours,” I’m told when I ask why there’s no dry land outside the portholes.

I’m not sure when they planned on sharing this quite important piece of information.

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I’m gutted. The sea has calmed but the delay means instead of dining in a restaurant in Huelva we have another meal on board to not look forward to.

We agree the food was so poor we can’t go through another dinner. Instead, I head outside to the the pool bar, the domain of serious drinkers and heavy smokers, to check what snacks they might have.

They have more than snacks, they have burgers and pizza. They have food which looks far, far, far more appetising than the tired offerings in the main dining room. The person in front of me is served with a generous sized, good looking beefy burger. If only I’d ventured outside before we may have ate if not like kings at least not like paupers. I order two burgers and try to avoid drooling.

“Sorry, that was the last one,” the barman informs me.

My misery is complete.