Before I begin my objective and balanced argument on international football and the place of Scottish team within that, first progress regarding La Rectoria.  Intermittent rain has prevented much progress on putting on the new roof of the dining area.  Meanwhile, work on replacing the stairway between our accommodation and the main floor is well underway and the concrete steps are all but in place.  The entire floor of the basement is to be finished in concrete and along with the stone walls and arches this space will provide a striking counterpoint to the traditional finishes of the floors and walls of the guest accommodation. Personally, I have long had an eye for ‘industrial minimalism’ in a domestic context – the use of concrete, stone, bear timber and stone.  We managed to get some of these elements into the extension we built at Ferry Road, Edinburgh and I loved it in friends ‘live-work’ warehouse space in Hackney, London. 

The basement of the La Rectoria has always been largely non-residential housing cattle, chickens, rabbits, probably a horse or two and perhaps even a donkey.  In the peripheral rooms of  the basement the detail of the stone arches will be retained, displaying one of the finest features of the house.  In what will be our living and dining areas the wooden beams will be hidden by a false ceiling, necessitated to hide steel and concrete reinforcing beams. Thus, the basement floor will appear as a steely grey sea of concrete, set below white arches (or false ceiling) and largely bear stone walls.  Cool, fresh and stripped bear.

And so to football.  As I write this, Engerland are being held to a 1-1 draw with the United States in the first round of matches in the World Cup final,  Green (the England keeper) having committed a goalkeeping howler of the magnitude of which many a Scottish goalkeeper has been crucified in the English press over the years.  I do enjoy watching a good game on the telly, and now find myself living in a part of the world where the local big club, Barcelona F.C.  are something of a living legend and where at times the game is played as an art form, a statement that cannot be contested.

But what of the Scottish game?  Well, what of it?  The best is behind it, some great victories won and countless opportunities of greatness squandered – Germany 1974, Argentina 1978 and Spain 1982.   I’ll spare you the detail.  I will lay part of the blame of Scotland’s international demise firstly on the ‘Old Firm’ and its persistent purchasing of  largely second rate European players (Henrik Larsson being probably the singular exception).  This action itself inhibited the development of good domestic talent.  If supporters of these clubs try to counter that argument well where are the Macari’s, Dalglish’s, Jordan’s of today?  I did state to a somewhat naïve and over exuberant chef colleague some years ago that I will never see another Scottish team competing in the world cup again in my life time and I see no reason to change that point of view now.

But, hang on I hear you say.  In 1974 Scotland narrowly failed to reach the quarter finals when only a total of 16 teams competed in the finals.  Now 32 teams are playing in the finals.  Surely  Scotland’s chances of qualifying have been enhanced?  No, no and no, my son.   The world has changed somewhat in the last 36 years.   Take a look at a globe and a whole raft on countries have been invented in the Post Soviet world…..half a dozen or so ending in ‘stan’ (nothing to do with Laurel and Hardy)  for starters, Yugoslavia has spawned five or six – two of which are in the current tournament (Slovenia and Serbia) and Czechoslovakia is yes The Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Even less politically correctly, since when was Israel part of Europe?  Answers on a postcard please.  So part two of my argument is that  Europe (and Asia) has probably ‘doubled’ in size in the last four decades with bunch of countries that would make likely candidates for a remake of the ‘Prisoner of Zenda’.

Secondly, among this years world cup finalists are America.  I would hazard a bet that they had not even heard of ‘saccer’ (as they pronounce it), back in ’74.  The next guilty parties are New Zealand and Australia…..corrblimey shiela I was always led to believe that they considered football a game played by fairies, preferring more manly past-times such as rugby, ozzy rules and sheep farming.

That only leaves the far east to be picked on  – Japan, North and South Korea all appear in this years finals, the last two would provide a match worth watching I bet…but playing football, give me break.  So there you have it, a well balanced argument for an Anti-Jock conspiracy.

Scotland can lay claim to being World Champions in Elephant Pol0 in 2004 and 2005.  So maybe we should just play to our strengths and submit an application for drinking to be considered as an international sport.   At least I will always carry the memory of Archie Gemmill’s celestial goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup.  But in first place will be Aberdeen F.C.’s 2-1 victory over Real Madrid in the final of the 1983 Cup Winners Cup –  a little known Alex Ferguson, Willie Miller et al.  Suck on that on Sr. José Mourinho!

Patron Saints.  So What!  In Scotland Saint Andrew’s Day passes most people by and at best it is celebrated as a ‘dinner, dance’ or has been hijacked by Scots politicians to enable them to go on junkets to the US in an attempt to sell tartan and scotch.   Hardly the stuff of mass participation and inclusion. 

Every year England on the other hand celebrates Saint George’s Day like a visit to your New York shrink.  “Why is it not a national holiday? “Why aren’t there more flags flying?”  “Are we ashamed to be English?” “What does it mean to be English in Europe?”and more…..I can only guess at the collective angst and psychosis.  Our Irish cousins meanwhile have transformed the holiday of their patron, Saint Patrick, into one of their finest exports and in doing so succeed in getting a significant percentage of the world’s population bladdered every March 17th.

Little did I know when I started going out with my now Catalan wife ten years ago that Catalunya and England share the same Saint; along with Greece, Georgia and Russia among others.   Since when did the Vatican start to franchise Saints?   But here the Catalan’s have been very shrewd.  A small state flanked by bigger neighbours.  Having lost its independence in a very violent civil war and having had its language and thus much of its identity stifled for the subsequent  40 years, has since democracy found a clever and pleasureable way in which to rejoice Sant Jordi and bolster both its culture and identity. 

Sant Jordi is celebrated as the day of the Rose and the Book.  Generally, but not exclusively, a man gives his partner a rose and a woman gives the man a book.  An equal exchange?  That is open to debate, although one that is of little or no relevance here.  The success of the collective celebration of the day, however, cannot be argued. 

As I got off the train from Cardedeu at Passeig de Gracia yesterday morning and stepped out onto the same said street I could hardly move.  Up and down the street as far as you could see the pavement was lined with stands selling books or roses.  Tables decked in the red and yellow stripped flag of Catalunya.  The enthusiasm of the people was palpable.  Books being bought for young and old.  Roses too.  It was a picture to see octogenarian gentlemen buying red roses for their loved ones.  Gypsies trying to flog roses, blaring out “Una rosa por tres euros!”

I suggest the great success is the simple fact that the Catalans have married the celebration of Sant Jordi with the joy of the written word and most importantly Catalan.  What better way to foster your aural tradition and language.  Days before the 23rd April publishers are marketing their wears on radio and TV and on the day you can seek out your Catalan writer of choice to buy your own personally signed copy. 

As for me.  Well, I have yet to get passed the stage of reading TEO…a collection of stories for early readers.    In these days of cynicism it gives one heart to witness the energy of a nation spent in a simple act of national pride which is both benign but yet binds its people together with a type of epoxy super glue.

La Rectoria.  Much as ever, more foundations, with the added excitment today of having witnessed the first internal down pipes installed for the euphemistically named ‘grey waters’.  Also, piping from our bathroom for the shower, loo and sink.  And the arches on the north facing side of the house are being opened up.  

Finally.  Today the Carril Bici (cycle path that runs in front of La Rectoria) was very busy, conveying a steady stream of cyclists up and down the route.  Bellies full in many cases with breakfasts of butifarras, pastries and coffee.