It would be fair to say that the months of June and July left me a little shattered. In a phenomenon that occurs every four years for an entire month, I chose sleeplessness, potty-mouthedness, euphoria, delirium, outrage, a certain oneness with my television, an uncanny ability to follow the whereabouts of a round ball in 45 minutes chunks of time at 2 and 4 and 6 a.m., and to listen to the musings of Les Murray, Craig Foster, Martin Tyler and co. Yes – this phenomenon was the football World Cup. Like previous World Cups, it hit me hard and then left me cold at its conclusion, wondering what on earth I did with my life before its month-long hold over me.
This World Cup was to be my first as a solo occupant of the Lady Pad. In the past, a long-suffering housemate would have to endure my odd hours and neglectful behaviour during this time. Or trips to my father’s house at 3.30 a.m. to watch games with him. I had no trouble motivating myself to awaken at unnatural hours. And living alone meant that I could be even more unruly, more bag lady-esque, and dish out foul words in several languages to convey the depths of my feelings to the television. Sometimes in the middle of the night, when wide awake and fuelled by outrage at a ref, or exhilaration from a goal scored, I would open my blinds a little to see if any other lights were on in my apartment block. But, no. Knowing that billions of people were watching any given game at the same time at the same time as me, the silence and darkness in my own world felt very strange indeed. It was in these moments that I rang my dad for D&Ms about the tactics of the Dutch, or a woeful Spanish performance (of which there were two), or the unwavering spirit of the Aussies. Or, I shudder now with the thought, I took to spacebook to see if anyone else was as excited as me that Greece had progressed past the first round – an amazing feat!
When an email went around Publishing House X one morning about a company World Cup competition that would span its global branches, I was a bit excited. Now here was a corporation embracing the international spirit of the World Cup, I had thought. Then I opened up the email, read a whole lot of hogwash about having to instagram pictures of ourselves in strange get-up, with a heap of corporate jargon swirling around the fact that one lucky winner would be awarded a scarf, and immediately hit ‘delete’.
The demise of our coffee machine on Level 5 that morning saw a few of us take to the streets in search of caffenation. It was on this walk that I declared that I would start my own World Cup sweep, with one winner collecting all of the money in the pool. Simple. No malarkey about dressing up, doing a dance and making a fool of oneself. Mine was to be a proper gambling ring. The idea thrilled me.
And so on my return to Level 5, I set about enlisting the help of my associates, the Sarahs, and constructed the first of what would be many an email about the World Cup. We devised a list of ‘cool people’, a.k.a. those that wouldn’t tell HR we were running an underground sweep with cash winnings. The first 32 takers would draw a team from a bowl, and once their team was out of the competition, so were they. My email contained a picture of this guy:
What they didn’t know, was that in showing my colleagues an image of a football-obsessed nutter, it would deem any nuttery I displayed far more palatable.
As soon as I hit ‘send’, I had punters lining up. My associates and I were unprepared. I was given an empty pot plant pot and after some Excel troubles (I was new to being a bookie after all), World Cup teams were printed on bits of paper, carefully folded and then thrown into what I christened ‘Pot Luck’ (proud of that one). And so they came, one by one, with their money and silent prayers that Brazil would be theirs (in hindsight, not a good wish).
‘Can I have Spain?’, my boss asked. ‘No’, I promptly said. ‘You get what you get. It’s pot luck (pointing firmly to the pot). But you need to hand over the money before you draw’. In this moment, Danielle the Bookie was born.
Once my spreadsheet was filled with 32 names and the World Cup 2014 chart was hung outside my pod, with a red pen ready by its side, business was closed. But there was still a whole month to go before a winner could be declared. I needed to create excitement among these people. I could NOT be the only one in the office suffering sleep deprivation and enduring the highs and lows of this once in a four-year-moon event!
My first interim competition was a Pod Decoration Extravaganza, or the Copa del Decoratión. The winner would receive the national dish of their country, cooked by moi. You can probably now guess that the winner was Honduras. The representative of Honduras, Mr G., set the bar very high. Residing on another floor of Publishing House X, he had much to prove. He created a Honduran Neverland in the Multimedia zone, complete with two archways covered with balloons in the Honduran colours. In the centre of Honduran Neverland was a Honduran information table, with 3D images, the base of the table wrapped in the flag. Upon entry into Neverland, I was given 3D glasses to wear, then guided through a lesson in the whereabouts, flora and fauna of Honduras.
Second to this amazing entry was Australia, with the construction of ‘Tom Cohill’ (I may have named this character too), a rather sad-looking fan man (this was after they exited the competition).
Besides these entries, there was the Portuguese adaption of a particular App (don’t ask me to name it), cleverly configured by our UX Designer, whereby his iPad could be held up to a Portuguese flag then promptly display all manner of links to information about Portugal.
Our esteemed Managing Editor was delighted to draw Ecuador from Pot Luck. After hours of research, he discovered Ecuador laid claim to one of the worst serial killers the world had seen. We all learnt a lot about Pedro Lopez in that month. Even Robyn, a notorious anti work-socialiser, joined in, putting a picture of the magnetic Croatian boy and his charming family on the outside of her pod. As with all of the entrants, I offered a suggestion for improvement. ‘The father must be called ‘Vojtek’’, I exclaimed, after which she promptly labelled said father ‘Vojtek’, my favourite Croatian name. Pronounced ‘Voy-tek’, this has always sounded like the perfect name for a turbo vacuum cleaner to me. The ‘Vojtek 2000’ just rolls off the tongue. Anyway.
As with all good bookies, I also had a team in the draw: Greece. Besides decorating my pod with Publishing House X books with blue and white covers, I had raided Yiayia’s house for ‘Greek things’ (‘everything in this house is Greek’, she had said when I asked if I could borrow a couple of Greek collectables) and proudly displayed a lovely black and gold plate from Rhodes that did not depict mythological porn, as well as a very twee Greek coffee cup from Paros. My own evil eye key ring, also from Greece, took pride of place next to the World Cup chart to ward away jealous spirits and bad omens – much nicer than spitting at people. In the spirit of Greece’s glory days of 5o million years ago, I announced a democratic vote would take place. They were thrilled, so much that I had to hunt some of them down after voting had closed for their votes. And so Honduras was declared the winner. And so I had to keep my word, and create a traditional Honduran dish. What the bloody hell had I been thinking!!
I gave myself a couple of weeks to mull over this cuisine, and in the meantime there were two further events: ‘For all the teams I’ve loved before – a commiseration morning tea’, a nod to the Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson gem of the 80s whereby my football minions were asked to bring a food representing one of the sadly departed teams; and the ‘Finalmente Evente … the Football Fiesta’, where I did actually ask people to dress up for a prize. I had officially betrayed my edgy status as hard-nosed underground bookie, in favour of office clown/deliverer of far too many ridiculous emails about football. There was no turning back, though, as by this point I had officially lost it and had to follow through.
Much to my surprise, my little ring of gamblers wholeheartedly embraced every single event. There were dress ups, there was a piñata filled with lollies for the Fiesta, their pods where decorated beyond recognition, and level 5 became a sort of left-field United Nations filled with pictures of magnetic people, criminal people, happy people (the Costa Ricans), toothless people (the English), pretty people (the Italians) and a Hadron Collider (Switzerland). At the Finalmente Evente, my heart swelled with pride at the fanaticism I had helped to instil in my poor co-workers. I was overjoyed that some who had never watched a game, were suddenly watching, and that when I came into work bleary-eyed and either thrilled (the Greece win) or utterly speechless (the Spain losses), there were co-celebrators/sympathisers at the ready.
On Monday 14 July, our German winner was given her cash and pods were stripped of their World Cup vibrancy. It was all over, and it was back to work and green, Spartan office pods. A suggestion was thrown my way about organising an underground Christmas event, or heaven-forbid, joining the work social committee, but my work was done. A week later, Mr G. was awarded with my interpretation of a classic Honduran street food, Baleadas. With someone whose notion of Mexican food was ‘Taco Bill’ , and understandably was therefore less than thrilled by ‘Mexican’ food, I was nervous. Baleadas, consisting of tortillas, refried beans, avocado and cheese, were pretty close to what we know as being Mexican. Mr G. kindly invited me to share his winnings with him – and much to my relief he ate them up with pleasure.
In my heart I’d like to believe that the people of Publishing House X miss the plague of football madness that gripped level 5 in particular, despite the sharp decrease in productivity during this month. And if not, well, there will always be tortillas.
4 cups white flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ¼ cups or more warm water
Red beans and chorizo
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 fresh chorizo, casing removed, finely chopped
2 x 440 g cans kidney beans, drained, rinsed
1 ½ cups water
sea salt and black pepper
100 g feta cheese
fresh or dried chilli (optional)
fresh coriander (optional)
In a large bowl, whisk together flour with salt and baking powder. Drizzle in vegetable oil and warm water with a fork until a dough forms. Empty onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Once ready, cover it with cling wrap and let it rest for 1 hour.
In the meantime, begin making the beans and chorizo mix. Heat a large, heavy-based pot over a medium heat. Add the oil once warm, then the onions, chorizo and garlic. Stir for a few minutes or until the chorizo has some colour and the onion is translucent. Add the spices, garlic and seasoning, and stir until fragrant. Add the drained kidney beans and stir the mixture well to combine the flavours. Add the water and bring to the boil, then lower the heat to simmer the mixture. After about 20 minutes, when the mixture has thickened, use a potato masher to mash most of the kidney beans, leaving some whole. Give the mixture a good stir and check for taste, adjusting as necessary. Set aside once tasty, thick and to your liking.
Heat a dry cast-iron comal (a smooth, flat griddle pan used in Mexico and Central America) or pan over moderately low heat until hot. Cut the dough into 12-15 equal pieces and form into balls. Roll out each ball one at a time on a floured surface, using enough dough to keep it from sticking. At the same time you don’t want these too floury, otherwise the flour will burn in the pan and therefore the tortillas. Roll out each ball into a 7- or 8-inch round, ensuring thickness is even. Cook one tortilla in the pan as you roll the next. The tortilla will bubble a little, with the bottom browning in spot after 30 seconds. After this time, turn the tortilla and cook for another 30-45 seconds. Place the cooked tortilla on a tea towel, and stack and then cover the tortillas as cooked.
For a wonderfully comforting snack, serve with the refried beans, slices of avocado, crumbled feta, chilli and coriander, as this popular Honduran street snack is most commonly served, or for a hearty breakfast, add scrambled eggs. Share with your very own clan of impressionables, or eat all on your lonesome, night after night when watching your favourite sport at an ungodly hour!
Herzlichen Glückwunsch Germany!