Les Mills Filming

Sydney, 11th-12th October 2019

As someone who only uses the group fitness studio in a gym that means I do a lot of Les Mills classes.  And have continued to do so for a dozen years.  I like them because of the variety, the consistently high quality, and their ability to make you feel happy to be there without quite realising you are working out reasonably hard.  All their dozen-plus programmes are pre-choreographed to specific music tracks with the moves linked to the beat, flow, and intensity of the tracks.  The instructors receive a new set of tracks along with an associated video and choreography notes every three months which they learn and then teach at the gym.  The filming of the video is called a masterclass and is usually presented by the programme directors themselves.  It’s a chance to see behind the scenes, view a preview of the release that will be out six months from now, and join a lot of your fellow fitness friends in doing the same thing.

For the first time in almost thirty years of making these videos there was one being held in Sydney.  Anyone was allowed to buy tickets which was ideal for someone like me who wasn’t an instructor but a keen participant.  Tickets went on sale at 8pm on a Saturday evening.  I was on the site three seconds later.  Within 55 seconds all the tickets for the RPM (cycling) class had gone.  I wasn’t interested in that but I did end up with tickets for the remaining seven filmings.  The 600 tickets for the most popular programme – BODYPUMP – went within four minutes which left a lot of people non too pleased.

Day One

The tickets were purchased through Eventbrite which gave very specific instructions on what could be brought along – a small bag to hold phone, wallet, and keys which could be taken into the filming room.  Those instructions were very quietly changed later (although the original could still be seen on Google) to ban pretty much anything.  It was also very specific on tickets not being transferred as it warned ID would be checked.  It also strongly suggested keeping your tickets electronically on your phone.  You can probably guess what’s going to happen.

On the Friday I arrived, walking past the gap that is the no-longer present Sydney Football Stadium and the still-present Sydney Cricket Ground.  A left turn into Fox Studios and past many the barriers partitioning off the big top of the Cirque du Soleil and the registration area appeared.  I walked up to the counter and started to bring out my phone to show the tickets.  “No need for that”, was the reply.  “What’s your name?”.  Providing that was enough for me to be given a selection of bands. 

You can’t argue with the simplicity of that approach but it did indicate a disconnect between what people had been told to prepare for and the reality.  The next step was being told that the small bag I had wasn’t small enough despite my attempts to cram a change of clothes and some snack food into as small a space as possible.  Fortunately they had a cloak room – despite the original instructions saying there would not be one.  Spotting a pattern yet?  I slipped my keys, wallet, and phone into the small hard plastic container I use during classes (it amazes me that people leave their phones on the floor next to them when doing a BODYPUMP class.  All those weights coming down from a height…) and walked through the herding area waiting for BODYBALANCE.  Since I was late getting there the line was non-existent so I walked through the door to see… a road.  I had to cross that and then another one before a long ramp up to the actual building. 

“No phones”

“No phones”, I was informed at the entrance.  Too late for me to go back and there was no way I was going to leave it out of my sight.  “OK”, I said, and walked in, the plastic container held with the towel draped over it.  Phones are expensive and contain a lot of personal data.  Even though it’s securely locked down I want to minimise the chance others have to access it.  Which means keeping it nearby.

The inside was big.  Old industrial.  That meant a hard black concrete floor.  My knees were already aching at the thought.  The lighting rigs were obviously more modern as were the two cameras pivoting on large beams and swooping around.  I found a spot at the back and rolled out my mat.  Taking off shoes and socks and then steeping on to the mat showed that the concrete floor wasn’t black only from paint – there was a lot of dirt on it.

There were around 300 people in there and they tried to listen to the MC but the acoustics weren’t great.  A bit muffled and a touch of echo.  But they cheered when the presenters came on stage.  They ran through two versions of the introduction, one for the video that will go out to instructors and another for the version that will be used in their streaming on-demand product.  There was no Jackie Mills – the usual presenter – as we were informed she’d just been in hospital.  Also, her daughter didn’t appear as she was back in NZ playing a dutiful caring role to her mother.

I hadn’t done BODYBALANCE for a while and quite enjoyed this.  The music was generally good (even though I barely knew any of it; I don’t listen to the radio) and the moves seemed a bit simpler and less frenetic than in previous releases.  I won’t give a description of the individual moves or music because:

There were a couple of retakes which necessitated doing the last thirty seconds of the previous track and then continuing on.  The annoying part for me was one of them involved the Balance track which is my least favourite given that my ankles have all the stability of an Italian Coalition government.  But this was brightened by one stoppage after a boom camera moved towards the stage while the presenters were holding a pose of legs wide apart.  “Is it my crotch?”, asked Kylie Gates. 

At the end there were a few people taking selfies with the phones that no-one had taken into the place.

To me this seemed fine.  People want to take pictures with their friends.  I can also understand Les Mills wanting to keep the surprise.  However, their business is built on a heavily social aspect of life – group fitness – and trying to stop that at certain times is going to cause some resentment and problems.  I think most people are happy to do the right thing and would be more than willing to bring in their phones to take a picture at the start, put them to the side during the class, then pick them up to take snaps afterwards.  That seems to me to be the more sensible compromise.  If we get airport-style metal detectors at the next filming they probably haven’t listened to me.

I’m starting to see Les Mills as a bit like the rock legends AC/DC.  When they started they were exciting and brash with a lot of attitude.  But with massive success a touch of the larrikin attitude was lost.  It’s still fun, brilliantly produced, and massively successful but all that polish seems to smooth out the quirks that so enraptured people in the first place.  Or perhaps that’s me just getting old.

I ran into one of my instructors afterwards who was delighted to have ended up in the front row so she should be able to spot herself when the video comes out.

Everyone had to exit the room and head back to the corralling area.  The line was already longer this time as BODYCOMBAT was obviously more popular.  I ran into a few more of my instructors and we chatted away while waiting.  The same walk back to the hall and this time we ended up closer to the stage.  As did everyone else.  Out came the presenters and Rachel informed us that Dan wouldn’t be there as he was home for the birth of his third child.  A slight disappointment but she and her team soon removed that.  With the first shuffle forward and back the tightly-packed group dispersed enough to give everyone a sensible distance in which to punch and kick.  I liked this release.  There seems to be a trend away from the drills of doing 32 reps of a kick and that makes the programme far more enjoyable.  I’m still not keen on the training with sprawls used in track five even though I do concede it’s effective in boosting fitness quickly.  The one thing I was thankful for on that surface was no jump kicks.  Having to do the bonus track five after a cool down seems somewhat unusual but it’s probably better than the alternative of doing both of them in a row.

Rinse, repeat, and we’re back in for BODYATTACK.  And my Saturday morning instructor is next to me.  Again, I liked the release (“the short abs track” was liked most by some instructors) although it’s hard to truly appreciate the running track with 600 people slowing to a trickle as they funnel around the side of the hall.  The power track started and then stopped for five minutes as we were all instructed on the amount of space that should be left at the front.  It won’t be an issue for most classes but when you’ve got such a large crowd and not been able to do a dress rehearsal with them it leads to these problems.  The annoying part is by the time you’re ready to go again you’ve cooled down.  But these are the issues faced when you’re an audience member.

Day one now over.  I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I would.  Sort of like on the night before Xmas where you keep waking up just to see if the day has arrived.

Day Two

On the Saturday I had a mere four filmings to attend.  However, I usually go to a morning BODYATTACK  class on that day.  When originally booking tickets I had informed my instructor, Sara, that I may not be attending that day due to the fact I had booked into four other classes that day.  “I’m also doing those filmings”, she said, “so what’s your excuse for not turning up to my class?”.  Sara and I started at the gym around the same time about twelve years ago.  She once said “at that time I was the shy fat one hiding in the back row”.  She’s none of those things now as she’s taught me in at least four of the six programmes she does.  Thats another reason I like Les Mills; it empowers so many people, especially women.

So I went and did Sara’s class that morning because (a) she’s brilliant and (b) I’m a bit stupid.  A quick walk home, an even quicker shower, and then a train off to Fox Studios again.  Amazingly the trains were vaguely on time for once.  I guess the idiot Transport Minister must have taken the day off and mistakenly given the job to someone competent.

Even though I was there about 45 minutes before the scheduled start the line was incredibly long.  If you ever needed confirmation that BODYPUMP was the most popular programme it was there in all of its red-wearing mass of humanity snaking around the entrance area.  I’d decided to travel light that day by keeping only a couple of keys, ID and credit card in a pocket with the phone in an internal money belt travelling wallet.  I’m not taking photos but I’m also not letting others possibly get hold of it.  Apart from a couple of moves it was reasonably comfortable there.  Certainly more than when I had it in my pocket the previous day and the wide-legged bouncing jumps in the agility track in BODYATTACK had it thudding into two particularly sensitive areas.

“There will be less faffing around”

The BODYPUMP filming was a concern as I was feeling a little bit leggy.  However weight selection was made easier by the fact that everyone was allocated the same weights – 2x 5kg, 2x 2.5kg, and 2x 1.25kg.  So if you wondered why no-one in the videos ever appeared to be struggling in squats now you know.  It didn’t start auspiciously as Glen got someone’s name wrong as he was introducing the presenters.  Then the  music system failed before squats and we had a long, long wait.  “At least we’ve got the warm-up done”, quipped Glen 20 minutes into the filming.  There was a retake for the chest track as the lead presenter called himself out for doing the wrong chorey.  Then his cap fell off at the start of the next take.  You’ll see him deliberately take it off on the third take.  In another delay before the back track Glen talked about the increasing focus in the programme on keeping the heart rate up, having clean lifting and “less faffing around” which seems to indicate that they’re taking feedback onboard and returning to a simpler, intense approach.  That was reflected in most of the tracks with the shoulders being the standout of the release.  The only real bad track was the combined lunges/shoulders which seemed a bit overly-fiddly and messy.  There were a few choreography mistakes on stage during that one but seeing as we were nearly two hours into the filming at that point I think the director decided to let them slide and probably do a zoom shot or audience cutaway in post.

Since so many people had turned up they’d had to open a second cloak room.  Which consisted of a set of tables right next to the lining up area.  So as you walked past there were bags, purses, phones, etc lying there open to the world.  Just pointing out that non-indigenous Australia was founded as a colony of convicts.

Next up was BODYSTEP.  Step was the first group fitness class I ever attended.  That was in the mid-Nineties.  I’ve kept doing various forms of Step over the years depending on availability and the state of my ankles.  I picked BODYSTEP up again when I had a contract working in the city and had a wonderful instructor called Patty.  After the contract ended I didn’t do it for over a year before deciding that I needed to do a couple of classes before the filming so at least I had some idea.  I found a gym that had a Saturday afternoon class and went along to that and found the instructor was Patty again.  Then she informed us that she’d been picked to present at the filming.  Pretty much all of her regular attendees were there so we all squealed like fangirls/fanboys when her name was announced on stage.

As I said I haven’t been doing BODYSTEP regularly so it’s difficult for me to say how it’s changed but I enjoyed it.  Simple moves with opportunity to add your own intensity and flavour.  The second conditioning track was interesting and really effective.  I wouldn’t mind seeing some of those moves in the abs components of other programmes.  Patty presented her speciality of the speed step and – as expected – she was absolutely brilliant and wonderful.

Let’s dance. Put on your red shoes.

Next up were the dance programmes.  SH’BAM was the appetiser.  It’s not a programme that’s seen often in Australia.  The chain I’m at seems to grudgingly accept group fitness but won’t touch Sh’bam.  I’ve only ever done three classes of it.  Two were at Les Mills events and the other was because an instructor needed to do an assessment video and I was roped in to being a participant for that.  She passed, by the way.  I suspect the assessor thought “if she can teach him she’s qualified to teach anyone”.

I enjoyed it apart from one dud track.  It was helped by having one of my former BODYJAM instructors presenting (hello the other Rachel).  It’s surprising to me that it isn’t a bigger programme after almost a decade given how much fun it is.  It was also done in a single take – the first programme which had achieved that.

Then there was BODYJAM.  I’d originally booked for that along with most of the instructors I knew and  fair chunk of the participants.  A number of them came along in specially-designed shirts so if you’re looking at the stage on the video and you see a number of people to the right of it wearing yellow with “Hills Jammers” on the back then you’ve found them.  If you see someone nearby them in a flouro green top looking like he’s about to drop after doing five classes then you’ve found me.

Presented solely by Gandalf with two shadowing I’d rank it as a middling release.   The first half was hip-hop.  Not my favourite genre but I can tolerate it.  The second block was more housey.   It didn’t hit the heights of some but it’s simple enough to pick up the basics while still leaving room to refine the moves in later classes.  There’s one move that will take a while to perfect but most of the others can be done first time.  I suspect hitting the off-beat timing will be the biggest challenge for some.  I’m saying this as someone who required eight classes to get ‘liquid hands’ properly and still hasn’t got the clap/stomp quite right in BJ90 after a couple of weeks.

After that we all streamed out into the increasingly cold night (where did our warm Spring go?) and I trudged off to the train station, reached my stop, carried my aching limbs up too many stairs, then finally went to bed having given the fitness tracker a more than decent workout:

Everything was still aching the next morning when I awoke early and went to BODYJAM because my name is Graham and I’m a Les Mills addict.

Speeding up your Mac

My parents have a 21” iMac from 2015.  It was getting sluggish with an ever-increasing number of beachballs.  Ideally they didn’t want to buy another one and given their requirements they didn’t need to.  But the machine was becoming frustrating to use.  As their tech person (it’s their return on putting me through university) I looked at various options.  The obvious one was to install an SSD into their machine.  That version of their Mac uses a laptop drive which is limited to a mere 5,400 RPM.  Add a few years of wear and tear on that mechanism and no wonder it’s starting to be slow.

They asked at their local repair store (nearest Apple store is 80km distant) the cost of installing an SSD.  It came out at $250 but that would mean replacing the existing disk which would reduce their overall storage space.  So I decided on an alternative.  Since we live in different states I needed to test out the process first before I accessed their machine.  I have a 27” Mac – and I thought it was also getting a bit slow.  I write iOS apps and the fusion drive didn’t seem to help that much when compiling in Xcode.  Opening storyboards ground everything to a halt.  Opening Excel could take 15+ bounces in the dock.  It was simply unacceptable.

So I did the following simple process.

The Mac disk disk is 1TB so I headed to Officeworks and picked up a Samsung T5 1TB portable SSD.  That came to $296.  It is powered via a USB port so I plugged it in to the iMac, opened Disk Utility and reformatted it as an APFS volume.  I then opened Carbon Copy Cloner.  

This simply clones one disk to another.  I’ve used it for years to automatically clone my iMac disk to an external drive every night.  When my internal disk died a few years ago it meant I lost nothing more than a couple of hours work - and could continue using the machine.  If it saves you once it has paid for itself many times over.  Even if you never need to recover a disk the cost is worth the peace of mind.

I closed all applications then cloned the internal disk to the SSD drive.  That took a few hours.  When it was done we start getting to the fun bit.  I rebooted the iMac and as soon as the boot chime sounded held down the option key on the keyboard.  That causes the Mac to bring up a simple display asking which disk it should boot from.  A tap of the cursor key and it starts from the SSD.  A lot quicker than from the internal disk.

Once logged in go to the System Preferences, select the Startup Disk item, click on the padlock if necessary, then select the SSD and set it as the boot disk.  If you then restart it should always boot immediately from that disk.

Once that was done I created a new scheduled task in Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the SSD to an external drive every night.  As someone who has worked in IT for over three decades I’m aware that there are only two types of data storage: those which have failed and those which are going to fail.  Hence make automated backups at all times.

Once that had run through I reformatted the internal disk and now use it for my iTunes library.  My Xcode compiles now run far quicker as does almost everything else.  For cost reasons I don’t see Apple making SSD the only disk storage so this is the most cost-effective way I’ve found to improve the performance and lifespan of an older machine.

It means you lose one USB port as the SSD always has to be plugged in.  However, it has the added benefit that if I need to work elsewhere I can simply take the disk, plug it into another iMac, and boot off my SSD.  And in the rare event the SSD does fail I can simply boot off the external disk I clone it to every night and continue working until I get another SSD and clone that external disk back to that.

I did the same process for my parent’s machine (and they could get away with only needing a 500GB SSD).  They think it now runs quicker than when they first bought it.  They’ll get at least another 5 years use from it – all for a bit of simple work and about 12% of what it would have cost for a new machine.

I got asked if I wanted to interview as a developer for Uber

A couple of days ago this email turned up in my inbox.  Obviously it was a mass send-out as I’m nowhere near the cream of the crop that these companies usually target.

I saw who it came from.  My parents brought me up to have good manners so I consider it a basic courtesy to respond civilly.  I couldn’t possibly work for a company like that so I told them why.  Perhaps it will nudge them in the direction of change so they could become a company I’d be comfortable working for.  I remain the eternal optimist so sent them the following response:

Hi, Gerry

Thanks for the offer to connect.  I feel honoured in being one of only a probable few hundred who received this email via LinkedIn.

I’m happy to learn my background is a fit for some of your engineering needs.  As with most developers I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ and so can’t quite believe that people are actually paying me money to do what I do.  So to be informed I fit “senior engineering needs” does give me some validation that I might actually be vaguely decent at what I do.  Thank you for that.

Then I discover that a large international corporation is possibly interested in my skills. That’s nice for the ego.  I tried doing my own thing for a while – didn’t quite work out because creating a business is very hard.  A job at a big corporation came up recently and thanks to the old girl’s network of which I’m a part they helped me get it.  I’m reasonably happy there.  The work keeps me interested, the people are decent human beings, and they pay me on a regular basis.

So to your offer to request an interview.  Let’s be blunt: Uber doesn’t have good press.  And I say this from a position of experience as someone who has spent a lot of his career working for large banks.  I’m one of the very fortunate people: I’m white; I’m male; I live in a first world country; and I received a free university education (thanks, Gough).  That’s Willy Wonka golden ticket winner.  And all due to factors entirely beyond my control.  I had no say over my sex or skin colour; where I was born (or parents emigrated to); or government decisions about education in my youth.

Having had this knowledge of the sheer luck that informs where I find myself in the world today I have always tried to pay it back in some way.  Or at least feel I can justify to myself that there is some ethical aspect in the jobs I take that do not conflict with my beliefs.  I have ignored jobs with any Rupert Murdoch company for this reason.  I have taken jobs with banks because while there are aspects of their business I disagree with the areas in which I work don’t rub against my beliefs too much.  As with most things in life it’s a balancing act between beliefs and reality.  The reality of needing to pay a mortgage can be balanced against working for a large bank even though I believe a Royal Commission into the banks would be a very good thing.

Then there is Uber.  We’ve all read the Susan Fowler piece.  And that Travis Kalanick resigned over ‘issues’.  And the attempt to screw drivers over pay.  And how surge pricing takes advantage of people when they are most in need.  And the alleged theft of Waymo software.  In short Uber seems somewhat toxic.  Which is a kind way of saying it has a reputation as a misogynistic and abusive culture desperately hoping that will be covered by it promoting itself as something beneficial to the public.  Even the hiring of Bozoma Saint John seems purely tokenistic for marketing reasons rather than a fundamental shift in company culture.

Then there’s the requirement to work in the US.  It does not appear to be a friendly place even though I am male and white.  We have long been aware of the inequality that resides there and which seems to have become even worse since the recent presidential election.  Not that we in Australia can cast too many stones given the increasing level of abuse we exhibit towards refugees, the poor, women, and anyone of colour from Australian governments in the last five years.  Hmmmm, I’m starting to see from where Uber may have got its company culture.

The exceedingly high cost of rents in California for anyone who wishes to live there, the antipathy of the US government to anyone from overseas, the ‘joys’ of dealing with the TSA, the probability you’ll get shot (if Australian by a US police officer), and the knowledge that you’d be working for Uber – the Donald Trump of the tech world – means that this is not an offer I would contemplate.  No doubt some will but I suspect they’ll be saying to friends “don’t tell my mother I work for Uber – she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse”.

Thank you for thinking I may be a suitable candidate but you are not a company in your current form which in all conscience I could ever be associated with.


Stockport (Sunday 6th May 2001)

”It was the best of times it was the worst of times”. When Charles Dickens wrote those words I doubt he was thinking that one day they would probably apply to all Crystal Palace supporters who went to Stockport for this game. There was pain there was joy there was ecstasy there was agony and all of these came within a single 15 minute period.

After the Wolves game of the previous week (from which I had walked out after 47 minutes) the season seemed almost over. With it being obvious that Alan Smith had no idea whatsoever it finally became apparent even to Simon Jordan that he was no where near to being up for the task. In most cases when Palace sack the manager they replace him with someone called Steve.  In this case Coppell was not around and so the job instead fell to Mr Kember. The new caretaker manager introduced a radical system of playing his best players in the positions they are most comfortable in. Because of this and losing the oppressive nature of Nosferatu Smith the team was able to rip apart Portsmouth on a Wednesday. It did set things up for a nail-biting final weekend, however for the first time in five games Palace were out of the relegation places and stood some chance of remaining in Division one.

Due to a mixture of it being the final game of the season and an unwillingness to trust Virgin trains on the Sunday many of us decided to stay in Manchester overnight. This first required us to get out of London. This proved a little more difficult than expected because Virgin managed to outdo even themselves by ensuring that we were sat on the train at Euston station for an hour before they kindly informed us that due to signalling problems on the line there would be no trains running at all that day. This forced us and a few hundred other people to make a quick run for King’s Cross St Pancras station where we were informed that our tickets would be valid for a train up to Sheffield. After sensibly deciding to hit the pub we then had to run (along with half the population of London) to end up on this now massively overcrowded train. Fortunately Gareth and I managed to find seats, opposite one bloke and his girlfriend. It turned out that he was also a Palace fan on his way to the game. She wasn’t very happy about it anyway so when she discovered she was sat opposite a couple more of them she was even less impressed. Despite the train being overcrowded to an extent that even Indian safety officers would blush it finally trundled its way out of the station and we, a mere 90 minutes after we expected to, were on our way to Lancashire (well, Yorkshire actually because we had to get a connection from there through to Manchester).

Once we got to Sheffield (which is starting to seem like a second home because we have been there so often this season) we had to pile on to a small regional train. I used a term small advisedly because the train company, in its infinite wisdom, decided to only attach two carriages. I’ve seen sardines that have had more room than we had in that train. The highlight of that trip was probably the very large person trying to get on while answering his mobile phone with “I am on the train . Well , partly on” . Most people on the train seemed in fairly good spirits considering the condition although the woman who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant did give us a little cause for concern. Mind you, so long had the journey taken she hadn’t even conceived when she got on the train in London. Eventually we crawled into Manchester, a mere three hours after our expected arrival time. A quick taxi ride to the hotel and then we had to decide on the most important issue of the weekend; where were we going out at night.

After a few beers and a meal at a place on the Curry Mile (guess what we had), we ended up in a cafe F.A.B. This was a place that had a science fiction theme. The place contained both a Dalek and an Ice Warrior which although large and lumbering probably would have had more speed and movement that our current back four. Due to a mixture of the smoke, the crap music, and the antibiotics I was on I left at a fairly early time. This got me back to the hotel just in time to catch the end of match of the day and to see the images of the Crying Coventry supporters as their team was relegated. Not the happiest of images on which to go to sleep.

Waking up next morning, I was greeted with a repeat of the crying Coventry supporters. As omens go this one was named Damien and had 666 tattooed on its forehead. After a very hearty breakfast (which was going to be more than needed considering the amount of alcohol I was going to have to imbibe to get me through the game) we booked a taxi to take us to Edgeley Park. We then had to wait an extra half hour because someone else pinched our taxi (for a minute there I thought we were back in Liverpool). We arrived at the ground at eleven- thirty and were amazed to see the official supporters’ coaches pulling up at that time. Usually you expect to see them arrive at least 10 minutes after the kick-off so for them to arrive a mere two hours before was completely amazing. With plenty of time before the game we did it the only sensible thing available, we headed for the nearest pub. If I thought the train journey up was crowded it was nothing compared to the crush from the number of people trying to get into each hostelry. It was such an impossible task that instead we just nipped around the corner to the nearest off-licence grabbed a few bottles of whatever and then returned to stand on the street outside the pub.

The mood of the crowd was fairly upbeat although there were definitely undercurrents of worry. They were quite a few songs being sung and a very large Palace flag which someone attempted to drape over a nearby shed. It quickly fell down (the flag!) so someone decided to jump up on the shed and arrange the flag in all its glory. He achieved this to great applause from the crowd who then laughed as the whole thing slid to the ground as he enjoyed his moment of triumph. But then the happy moments were over because we suddenly became aware that it was almost time for kick off and so, fairly reluctantly, we set off for the turnstiles.

Travelling the whole two minutes caused us to think about what tactics we would use to get the bags full of alcohol into the ground. We settled on the tactically ingenious plan of sticking everything under the previous day’s dirty clothes and hoping no one would notice. I was stopped first and it took the stewards quite a few seconds to search my rather large bag. There was nothing untoward in it. Jane was next and lost her alcopops. They then asked Paul if he had any bottles in his bag. He said “no” so they waved him through. A truthful answer but one that hid the fact that there were two dozen cans instead.

The first thing to notice was that we were on a terrace. The second thing was that the terrace was very full. The third was that there was very little room for our bags. However, we managed to make more than enough by barging our way through. With our hopes piled as high as the bags we all wished for one thing – over with as soon as possible and that the agony of this season would finally end.

I was going to produce a special edition, a 10,000 word epic that would chart the progress of the entire day and highlight the Crystal Palace Phoenix as it rose from the ashes of Division one. However, there was one small problem with this. My voice recorder used for taking notes broke down. On the plus side this allowed me to watch the entire game uninterrupted by needing to speak the action. On the downside this meant I had to watch the entire game uninterrupted without the distraction of being able to speak into my recorder.

The game started in the usual Palace fashion of pushing forward quite early, earning quite a few corners, and then being unable to make anything out of them. We also appeared to lack the fluency that we had at Portsmouth. As a result Stockport weren’t unduly troubled by our attack although, as some form of compensation our defence wasn’t overly troubled by theirs. They did have a couple of half chances early on, a through ball being slightly overhit and being grabbed by Kolinko. Of bigger concern was the only cross that our keeper missed which fell on to the head of an unmarked Stockport player but thankfully he managed to put it wide. Their only other real chance of note came from one of the very few mistakes made by Austin during the game when he allowed the ball to drop behind him and then suddenly discovered that the Stockport player was a lot closer than he originally thought. Kolinko ran forward and punched the ball way and managed to take out both other players as well.

On the Palace attacking side there was a half chance for Clinton from a through ball from Thomson too close to the keeper and he managed to parry it away with his legs quite easily. A long range Berhalter drive at least had the advantage of being on target. The best chance of all fell to Forssell who was fed running in on the left-hand side but dragged the shot across the keeper and beyond the far post. It ended scoreless at half-time with Palace probably just shading the game and having nothing to show for it. The other results had been trickling in and showed that Portsmouth were one up against Barnsley but that Huddersfield were 2-1 down to Birmingham. As things stood Palace were still sitting in the last relegation place.

There was only one way of getting through the second half and that lay in the pile of bags in front of us. With a lot of people on the terrace between us and the watching stewards it was nothing to squat down and have a few surreptitious slurps of beer. This almost came to a premature end when Jane returned to her place and, on being asked if she wanted a can, grabbed one and stood there drinking in full view of the stewards.

The second half started and continued to follow the pattern of the first, Palace trying to get forward but not getting any solid result. On the bright side Stockport weren’t really troubling the defence but that wasn’t much consolation. Neither was the news from the radio or the text messages being received. Portsmouth had extended their lead thanks to Kevin Miller conceding, yet again, a lot of goals when playing a relegation threatened team on the last day of the season. Let’s just use the word ‘coincidence’.

As the game went on the Palace crowd become quieter and more dispirited. At times it was even possible to hear the Stockport crowd although their rendition of “play up Pompey” was slightly less welcome than anything by Celine Dion. Clinton had a chance he possibly should have done more with and Forssell elected to shoot from a tight angle when a pull-back would have found Morrison in plenty of space. But nothing was looking too likely even though a rather rotund Tommy Black, brought on for the last ten minutes, had started causing a few problems by running at players on the right.

In the end the best chance came from the left. After Stockport had managed to hit the stanchion outside Kolinko’s goal Palace worked a nice move that saw Berhalter cleverly hold up the ball on the edge of the area and tap it into Freedman’s path. He struck it low and past the diving keeper. From our vantage point we were already in the air but those behind the goal had the much better view as it skidded past the post and came back off the advertising hoardings. With only four minutes left the spectre of being in the third tier of the league started to solidify. It was at that point that the general feeling in the crowd changed from vain hope to a solemnity that was almost funereal; standing by the grave just waiting for the coffin to be laid to rest.

Down the other end Stockport tried to take advantage by putting in a cross that went to the edge of the area. Hopkin and a Stockport player jumped for but Hopkin led with his hand. Much in the same way as Maradonna’s ‘Hand of God’. This should have been either a free kick on the edge of the area or a penalty to Stockport. Instead we were refereed by officials who turned out to be the only three people in the entire crowd and television viewing audience who couldn’t see that it was a handball. Hopkin had a quick look at the referee after the offence and hoofed the ball upfield. It fell to Morrison and then bounced into the path of Freedman. He ran to the left corner of the area with the defender in between him and the goal. He dummied to go left and then pulled the ball back onto his right foot and got a fortuitous deflection off the heel of the defender. With only the keeper to beat he forced the Stockport custodian to start to go down to cover the near post and then lifted the ball over him into the back of the net. Three seconds later there were 500 Palace supporters partaking in a celebratory pitch invasion while the rest of us were just going absolutely mental, jumping around and hugging everyone and, in my case, falling over the pile of bags in front of us.

The goal commentary

Now all we had to do was hope we could either score again which would have put us ahead of Portsmouth on goal difference or hope that we didn’t let in one and also have fingers crossed that Huddersfield didn’t equalise. This should have been easy as we only had three minutes to go. Which was extended by five minutes time added on thanks, in no small part, to the pitch invasion. As that time disappeared with no change to the score we were still just nudging ahead of Huddersfield in avoiding the last relegation place. With seconds left the Stockport keeper punted the ball upfield. Jamie Smith, out on the touchline in the Palace half went to head the ball forward. It was slightly mis-directed and instead went back in a looping manner to Kolinko. Who would have easily caught it had he been nearer his goal-line. Instead he had to turn, take a few steps backwards and catch it. Which would have been fine had he not slipped when he turned. It seemed like an eternity before he finally got traction and managed to grab the ball scant feet from the line. It would have been so typical of Palace to concede an own-goal in that manner. With Kolinko’s punt to put the ball back into play the final whistle went and we could do no more than wait.

It seems a bit weird but even with five minutes time added on we still had to wait for the Huddersfield game to finish. This was spent gathered around anyone with a radio and listening to them as they relayed a running commentary as if we were priests gathered around the Oracle and waiting for a sign that our earthly suffering would soon be over. After two minutes Gareth announced that it was all over at the other game. So we celebrated. Then he announced that he’d made a mistake and they were still playing. I think it was when I told him that I’d kill him if we were relegated that he started moving away. But he hadn’t travelled far before the official confirmation came through that the Huddersfield score was the final one and that we were safe. At that point I couldn’t do anything apart from feel a sense of relief that one of the most emotionally draining of seasons had come to an end and that we were still in the First Division.

After refusing to leave the ground until the team had made an appearance we finally traipsed out half an hour after the final whistle. A stop in the first pub brought forward quite a few congratulations from the Stockport fans who were not only impressed by the Palace support but also happy that it had given them their biggest crowd for the season. I even got to talk with that rarest of all creatures – a Manchester United fan who lived in Manchester. With the pint supped quickly on police advice that some lads in a nearby pub sometimes get silly we made our way back to the railway station. There we ran into a load of Birmingham fans who we were more than happy to buy drinks for. So once on the train everything was fine until the conductor told us that our sing-a-longs had upset one of the other passengers. And we were singing the clean ones! He said the person in question was demanding a free move to first class. Instead he told us there was a free compartment available and instead of moving a single person to it all the Palace supporters could have it for no extra charge. Top bloke and a top result. So we could sing the not so clean songs to the Watford fan we acquired from somewhere and to any Brighton supporters we could ring up.

The day was enjoyable only for the exhaustive relief that came four minutes after the game had finished. A lot of luck went our way during the game and I don’t think anyone can claim otherwise. But the celebrations came not only from avoiding relegation but from having survived the damage of Alan Smith and regaining our club. And regardless of the result that was so important.

BBC radio end-of-day summary


Not the Alan Smith Interview

Written after the first run of six consecutive losses that (2000-2001) season and inspired by our (then) manager’s ability to provide non-stop soundbites it first appeared in the ‘One More Point’ fanzine.

Rather than go for a career in journalism which seems too much like hard work I went to work for ‘The Sun’. My first assignment was to start at the bottom and gain a World Exclusive interview with the Crystal Palace manager, Alan Smith. Since that would have cut into important drinking time I just cobbled a few phrases together from other interviews, re-arranged all the words into an entirely different order and got my World Exclusive. Watch for my forthcoming World Exclusive interviews with world leaders Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, Anthea Turner, Ghandi and Winston Churchill.

Q: Hello, Alan. You were born in the late 1940’s?
A: Yes. I would’ve liked to have been born a few years later to avoid rationing but my parents obviously couldn’t control themselves. Still, after a start like that in life I think I’ve done quite well.

Q: Can we start with that infamous secretarial incident?
A: Nature has invested a lot of evolutionary time in the mating game. I was just moved by genetic drives imprinted deep upon every living tissue. I hardly think I can be blamed for that.

Q: You first became Palace manager when Steve Coppell resigned.
A: Yes. I was on the coaching staff then and we were doing a blinding job but the players didn’t follow what we wanted and the long ball tactics used by Coppell left a lot to be desired. When things started going wrong Emperor Noades said to me “Brutus, always stand by Steve and support him from this knife’s edge all the way up to the hilt”. Despite my continual protestations that Steve wasn’t responsible for absolutely everything wrong with the club (the ballboys were truly terrible) he was still pushed out.

Q: And that next season saw promotion?
A: That was because the players listened to what I said.

Q: Did it have something to do with still having good players who had been in the Premiership the previous season?
A: Yes. I’d suggested a lot of them to Steve. If he’d listened to me for all of them we wouldn’t have been relegated. It was his bad choices that saw us go down.

Q: That next season saw relegation but two cup semi-finals. Was that due to your inability to motivate the team week in, week out?
A: Not at all. It was obviously the player’s fault. Next question please.

Q: You publicly outed Chris Armstrong for smoking marijuana. Why?
A: I don’t agree with a professional athlete abusing their body like that. It is best to make an example of them so all the children can understand how bad it is to do this to their body. Fortunately others have realised this and I must give special mention to Neil Ruddock who only sticks to alcohol and keeps his body free from performance impairing drugs.

Q: But shouldn’t things like the Armstrong incident remain within the dressing room?
A: Yes, I have learned that now. That’s why I’ll never mention the three punch-ups, the dressing downs I’ve had to give Hayden and Clinton, why Andy punched Simon and why we call him ‘little’ Tommy.

Q: You have changed your tune then. Is this an admission you were wrong about Armstrong?
A: Of course not! It was a different time and what I did then was entirely correct and appropriate.

Q: You had rather a bad spell afterwards at Wycombe.
A: Actually, I had a great spell. The tactics were spot on and the coaching was excellent. I’ve always said there is a lot of value in the long ball game but the players refused to do what was asked of them and started to pass it around on the floor. Of all the stupid things. It was solely their fault what happened in the end.

Q: Surely it can’t have been entirely the fault of the players?
A: You’re right. The supporters weren’t good enough either and must shoulder the rest of the blame. Of course, if new supporters has been brought in like at Fulham then they would’ve done much better.

Q: A question still causing interest is what happened in Spain?
A: We took the players there to get away from all the unfair comments that were being made against them and to understand each other in an open, equal, non-judgemental environment. But the lazy, useless bastards just acted like the idiotic fools they are.

Q: What about Linighan?
A: He criticised the team. That’s disruptive to team spirit so we sacked him.

Q : Why did you appoint Houghton and Cockerill as coaches?
A: Ray has already had experience of a relegation campaign at Palace so I felt we could make great use of him this year. Considering our current position I think this shows once again my qualities for picking the right people for the job. As for Glenn, well, with everyone laughing at someone that old putting highlights in his hair no-one comments on mine anymore (which is hereditary so it’s not my fault).

Q: This season. It’s the end of October. What’s gone wrong.
A: The players. I’ve inherited a lot of them. I didn’t choose them but I have to try and get something useful out of them.

Q: But the starting team consists of at least six of your signings and the ink on the contracts of Ruddock, Black and Gray was barely dry before you came in.
A: The players are young and inexperienced.

Q: Kolinko, Fan, Staunton, Rubins and Forssell are all internationals. Ruddock, Austin and Rodger have all played in the Premiership and are no longer in the first flush of youth, Pollock has been around for years and this is Morrison’s third full year as a first team player. The most inexperienced is Tommy Black and he’s been our best player so far!
A: Yes, but their average age is a good decade below that of Middlesbrough and just look at how well they’re doing.

Q: Thank you for your time, Alan. Any last words.
A: It’s not my fault.
The author would like to point out that his belief system and writing has been shaped by society, his parents, friends and acquaintances. Therefore he cannot in anyway be held responsible for the above text as it is obviously the fault of everyone else.

Scummy in-app purchase practices

I write software for a living.  I also go to the pub.  There’s probably a strong correlation between those two things.  On a recent visit to my local one of the bar staff there spotted the MacBook I was carrying and asked if I ‘knew about computers’.  Anyone with any computer knowledge has suffered this from their family over the years.  I’ve trained mine by writing really detailed manuals so when I say “open the System Preferences” they no longer need to ask ‘what’s the little picture on it?’.  I switched them to Hushmail from Gmail which slashed their support calls.  Teach them a little bit and give them the confidence to be able to go out and find the answers themselves.  In an example of the cycle of life I’m doing for my parents exactly what they did for me as an infant when I was struggling with the ability to stand and place one foot in front of another without crashing to the ground.

It turns out that – we shall call her Phoebe – was playing an iOS game on Tuesday, got asked for her TouchID verification, and suddenly found AUD$160 charge on her credit card.  She asked me about this later that afternoon when I had stopped in.  She showed me the game.  I wasn’t familiar with it as I don’t play computer games (it’s enough that I work all day on them) but it seemed to involve adding clothes to a model and then some form of gamification with other people.  I’m far too old to be a Millennial so wouldn’t understand it anyway.

She went through the process of how it happened and I captured it on video (a whole 17 seconds long):

Note the complete lack of a dialog box asking if she wishes to complete the purchase of an item for AUD$160.  If you are scrolling though and iOS mistakenly treats a scroll flick as a tap and you get a request to verify your security you may well authorise using TouchID.  Especially if you are one of the hundreds of millions who don’t expect app developers to pull scummy tricks which seem very similar to those used by various advertisers including spammers.

Coincidentally the previous week I’d taken a lead out of (indie developer legend) (underscore) David Smith’s book and added a tip jar to my app (in the three subsequent weeks since I’ve earned about AUD$5 – so not a money-earning option to take unless your first name is Marco).  I’d actually needed to read the Apple Developer documentation on StoreKit and best practises for in-app purchase.  The app I was shown did not provide that.

So on Wednesday I wrote an email to the company (click on it to expand):

covet1It pointed out that they had ignored the highlighted part of the Apple requirements.  They hadn’t even provided a verification dialog box to ask the user if they wished to part with over $150 (the phrase “appallingly dangerous UI” may have been used).  There’s a lot of words to describe people who implement those practices: most of those are only four letters long (six with the ‘er’ suffix).

The reply I received on Thursday consisted of this (click on it to expand):


That’s corporate speak for ‘screw you, we already have your money’.  I am actually tempted to email again and ask her what her developers said.

So on Saturday (when Phoebe was again on shift) I wrote a response and sent it to Apple via this which is the best option to use in these cases.

It basically pointed out what had happened and linked to the relevant documents (screenshots, the above video, and PDFs of emails saved to Dropbox and public links added help immensely).  Be warned it has a character limit.

I dropped in to the pub on Sunday afternoon.  Phoebe had received a response from Apple.  A full refund.  That’s something pretty rare for a consumable item on an in-app purchase.  But I think Apple had recognised that the developer had performed a pretty scummy set of actions where they had taken advantage of the ignorance of the user to gain more income.   Phoebe did say she’d emailed her thanks to Apple and had received a somewhat surprised response to that – apparently people expressing gratitude for services rendered doesn’t happen too often.

Send documents to Kindle

Out of all the devices available for reading I find the Kindle Paperwhite the best.  It’s a good size to carry and the non-reflective screen means it can be read in broad sunlight.  The iPad has many benefits but the way it reflects bright light means it’s not really good for long sessions of reading.

The Kindle is excellent if you are getting content from Amazon but sometimes you want to use it so you can read things from other sources.  Sometimes it’s a really long article from the web, an email or other document you wish to keep on the Kindle, or a PDF that contains what you want.  In all cases you should convert them to a PDF as save them to you local storage on your computer.

Then we need to get a piece of software called ‘Send to Kindle’.  Unsurprisingly this is obtained from Amazon.  Download the relevant item for your needs at www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle.  For this article it will use the desktop Mac version.  I find it easiest to drag the application into the Dock so that it’s easily accessible.



Open the application to see the main screen.



Select the ‘Options’ button at the top-right and set the following values:


Then select the ‘Registration’ item from the menu on the left and add your Amazon account details.  That completes the setup.


To add a document select a PDF in the Finder and drag it on to the ‘Send to Kindle’ item.  That will bring up this dialog box (obviously with different names unless you’ve hacked my Amazon account).


Note that it will convert it to Kindle format as it sends.  The less formatting in the PDF the better the conversion will be.  In most cases the resulting output is quite good.  Hit the ‘Send’ button then check your Kindle and the document will have been delivered to it.

Download your data from Facebook

Sometimes you may want a copy of all of the data you have added into Facebook.  This will include all the posts you have made as well as the photos and videos you uploaded.  Below is the easy way of getting a copy of that data.

Step 1:

Open your Facebook account in a desktop web browser.  Click on the down arrow in the top-right and select the ‘Settings’ menu item.


Step 2:

This will take you to the general account settings.  At the bottom of the panel listing your basic details will be a links that states ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’.  Click on it.



Step 3:

This will display the download panel.  Click  on the ‘Start My Archive’ button.


Step 4:

You’ll be asked to re-enter your Facebook password.  Do so then click on the ‘Submit’ button.


Step 5:

A notification will appear.  How long it will take to generate your data will depend on how prolific a poster you have been.  If it takes longer than five minutes then you probably need to get out more.  Click on the ‘Start My Archive’ button.


Step 6:

You’ll get another notification about the email address to which the link from which you can download your data has been sent.



Step 7:

A short while later (ninety seconds in my case) an email will turn up.  Click on the link at the bottom of it and download a ZIP file containing all of your data.


Home-brewed Guinness

My dad has been making home-brewed beer for a number of years.  He’s quite good at now*.  In a lot of cases people tend to prefer his lagers over the commercially available brews.  That no doubt has a lot to do with the fact that he is not only the maker but also the barman and drinking company.  And he’s good at all three roles.

He makes a stout which is about the closest to a Guinness you can make in a kitchen.  My Irish friend Paul spent a week sampling it and afterwards asked how to make his own.  This is how.

I won’t go into the whole process of home brewing as there’s lots of information around on how to do that.  This is only for the additional steps to make this particular brew.

There are five constituent parts to making the brew:

  • The powder base
  • The beer concentrate
  • Liquid malt
  • Liquorice extract
  • Yeast


Step 1:

Mangrove Jack'sTake the powder base – Mangrove Jack’s is a good choice.  The Irish Stout No. 74 as shown in the picture.  Put the 1 kilogram of powder in 3 litres of water and bring to the boil.  Leave boiling for 1 minute then stand for 20 mins.

[fruitful_sep]Step 2:

Sterilise the barrel that will be used for brewing with boiling water.  This will remove any contaminants that may be present.

[fruitful_sep]Step 3:


Pour the water from the barrel into two smaller bowls.  Place the beer concentrate and liquid malt into them.  The heat from the water will help soften them up.

[fruitful_sep]Step 4:

IMG_0820Take 10ml of liquorice extract and put it into the barrel.  This adds a slightly heavier flavour to the final brew.


[fruitful_sep]Step 5:

IMG_0817Pour a kettle’s worth of boiling water into the barrel and then add the liquid malt.  If it looks like dirty dishwater then you’re on the right track.


[fruitful_sep]Step 6:

Open the can of beer concentrate and add it to the barrel.  Add in a litre or so of cold water and stir.


If you’re in a hot climate then add a block of ice into the barrel.  What’s added in the next step will heat it up again but the ice will ensure the yeast (added later) doesn’t get killed from excessive heat.  Since yeast is a live organism it can’t take too much heat otherwise it will die and sour the taste.

[fruitful_sep]Step 7:

Strain the by-now-cooled powder base (from step 1) into the barrel and top it up to a total of 15 litres with cold water.  Most beers recommend you go to 20 litres but here we limit it to 15 litres to help approach the thicker Guinness-like consistency.

IMG_0818 IMG_0823 IMG_0824

[fruitful_sep]Step 8:

After throwing away the residue from the boiled powder base (it makes a good garden fertiliser) add the packet of yeast to the barrel.

IMG_0825 IMG_0826

[fruitful_sep]Step 9:

IMG_0827Put the lid on to the barrel and insert the airlock.  Add water into the airlock.  This will permit the barrel to remain sealed while allowing the gas produced from fermentation to escape.


[fruitful_sep]Step 10:

IMG_0828The most difficult phase.  Leave it for 4-5 days to bubble away and try to ignore its siren call.  Buy a density-checking widget (that’s the technical term) from the local home-brew store and see what values it gives.  If it produces the same density result two days in a row then has finished fermenting and you can get on with bottling it.

[fruitful_sep]Step 11:

Best served with enjoyable company.



[fruitful_sep]* apparently in the early days – 40+ years ago – quite a few of his ‘interesting’ attempts were surreptitiously tipped by guests into a nearby pot plant when he wasn’t looking.

Play-Off Final in Sydney

This was written for ‘Palace Echo’ about how we watched the Crystal Palace / West Ham United play-off final in 2004 on the other side of the world.

It’s a pub rammed to the rafters, there’s more cockney accents than you can shake a jellied eel at and the majority are there to watch the big screen and cheer on West Ham as they return to the Premiership. It could be any place in Britain. But this isn’t. The time is midnight and the place is Sydney, Australia.

The game is on, the tickets are clasped close and Palace fans, drawn by messages on the BBS and Holmesdale Online, are gathering at the aptly named Palisade. Given that we will be severely outnumbered at the game we are fortifying ourselves with a few ales beforehand.

I arrive at 6pm and am immediately hailed by the resident Cardiff fan. We usually use the pub as a starting point when the Sydney Palace fans meet and therefore frequently run into this gentleman. He wishes Palace luck and leaves – but him being there has already provided it. I’ve now met him five times in that pub and Palace have won every game that weekend. The first time we met we’d just beaten, erm, Cardiff.

A few others start to drift in. Some are known from previous gatherings but others are not. That doesn’t remain the case for long as Palace stories are swapped between locals, expats and visitors; tall tales and true. There’s even that most traditional event of English pub culture – the dodgy video being passed under the table. I’ve droolingly watched that tape on slo-mo many a time since, especially when Darren Powell heads in the injury time goal in the semi-final against Sunderland. Paul hasn’t joined us since he recently moved north but calls to let us know he’s at the venue in Brisbane. “I’m so fucking nervous!”, is about all he can get out. 10pm, two hours before kick-off, it’s time to head for the venue where the game is being shown.

We pass back into the city centre, down George Street and watch all the young dudes, six to a clapped-out car, leer and holler at any woman passing by. It’s as if the Seventies never ended. Our goal is Scruffy Murphy’s which, despite the name, is actually an Irish theme bar. We dive into the mass and fight our way to the bar where we meet with a few other Palace fans who seem as surprised as we are that they’re not the only ones. Everywhere else is a palette of claret and blue and quite a few of them inform us that it’s a shame our evening will soon be spoiled. We just smile on the outside while our stomachs continue to churn (although that may have been due to the Guinness which isn’t very good).

The Palace fans are the usual mixed bag. Dave, a London boy spending a couple of years working in Sydney; Dan, an Aussie who started following Palace after the 4-3 semi-final; Scott, who met an Aussie girl he couldn’t leave behind; Julian and Renee, like myself, Aussies who found themselves drawn into the Palace whirlpool when over in London; Joe, who moved to Australia decades before; Neil, a supporter since 1969 when he used to walk to the ground but exiled for thirteen years; and Steve and Pat whose stories echoed Neil’s.

We ascend to the main viewing room and find that Julian has grabbed a section for the Palace fans. A few chairs in front of one of the big screens and, most importantly, right next to the bar. That’s enough to hold a group of eighteen Palace fans. There’s six more isolated on a table in the middle of the room. The other one hundred and twenty-six people are West Ham fans. They’re loud, they’re confident, they’re singing about doing something to Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee. There’s a huge cheer when the screen lights up and Pardew appears on it and a few mystified looks when a small chorus of “who put the ball in the scousers net” starts. Then the game begins.

I hate watching Palace games on TV. It’s not as bad as listening to them on radio and that’s normally all we have these days. Tonight it’s made a bit easier because there’s an atmosphere although it’s generally subdued as both sets of supporters realise what is at stake. The oohs and aahs from near misses fill the air while the groan as Zamora fluffs a clear chance is music to our ears. His dying swan attempt to con a penalty brings aggrieved howls from most of the room and a pithy and erudite response of “piss off you ex-seaweed scum” from our area.

Half-time and the confident bluster of the West Ham fans has lessened as they realise that perhaps their script of – (1) turn up and (2) win – may not be so indelibly inked in. But they become very loud and vocal as their team flexes its abilities and starts to shift the balance of the game in their favour after the restart. When Lomas hammers the ball for Vasaen to make a flying save they are on their feet sensing that a goal is to soon arrive. And so it does. When Shipperley waddles the ball over the line my first reaction is to jump up, my second is (force of habit) to check that a linesman hasn’t flagged an offside, my third is to catch Joe who has hurled his 50 year old body across six feet of floor into my arms, and the fourth is to jump up and down like an idiot. A very, very happy idiot. For about a minute all I can hear is delighted screaming and see twenty-three other people experiencing the same. I have no idea what the West Ham fans were doing at the time – I completely forgot about them. I finally remembered them when they cheered Connolly for scoring and then groaned at the linesman for flagging it offside. It was actually funny when they did it even louder the second time.

With seventy minutes gone the reality of the occasion hit and I spent most of the time glancing between the game and the clock ticking over so s-l-o-w-l-y as it, like our goalscorer, limped arthritically towards ninety minutes. When Leigertwood and Carrick collided the Hammers erupted while we held our breath. The referee waved play on and we exhaled, Julian and I exchanging raised disbelieving eyebrows and suddenly becoming sure this was our day. Then the final whistle went. Renee jumped into my arms ahead of Joe so he grabbed us both and the rest joined in with a Palace group hug. By the time we’d finished that and watching the ten minutes of post-match celebrations in joyous and bewildered glee we suddenly noticed that the room was almost empty. There were a couple of Hammers who remained to shake hands and then departed to leave twenty-four people – all the Palace fans – in the entire room. Those of us who had watched Palace when in England had a slight pang at this time because we would have been at Cardiff had we still been resident in that country.   The feeling was intensified when my phone rang. “Can you hear it?”, Nicola yelled down the line and the sound of thirty thousand celebrating with her in the Millennium Stadium came through. Life is bittersweet as a Palace supporter and even more so for the long-distance ones.

At 3am, drained yet blissful, we exited and headed for home. The city centre was almost quiet – the young dudes had garaged their cars and were dreaming of orange Datsuns and furry dice – while I had just missed my bus and had to wait an hour for another one. It didn’t really matter and I arrived home after 5am just as the sun was rising. The long night had ended and a new dawn had arrived. How appropriate.