My colleague Sid Lowe and I decide to take a leisurely stroll to nearby Al Bidda Park. Good news: it’s only 15 minutes away. Bad news: you have to dodge a six lane dual carriageway to get there. The park is practically deserted and the view of the sparkling sea is only slightly marred by the huge sewage pipe that flows into it. A timely and poignant reminder that in Qatar every beauty is fatally tinged with ugliness. Later draw Spain 1-1 with Germany.
Portugal vs Uruguay feels like a game that calls for a heavy drink. So I find a sports bar in West Bay, order a pint of Stella Artois (other waters are available for £12) and munch on a chicken burger so gristly I have to search through it for feathers. I ponder the choices that have brought us to this point, the various production lines of suffering and humiliation that have brought this chicken and I face to face, one of us smothering in mock mayonnaise, the other smothering in shame. Portugal wins 2-0.
French broadcaster Julien Laurens has organized a friendly six-way kickabout between ESPN and a team of English journalists. At least that was our broad understanding. The first sign that the opposition might be taking this a little too seriously comes when they arrive a) with a camera crew and b) ex-Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha. As poor, sweating Englishmen toil in the brutal heat, every ESPN goal is greeted with wild cheers, aggressive slaps and even the occasional taunt (not from Onuoha, of course, who seems slightly confused by the whole experience). From the other side of the chain link fence, a group of migrant workers look at us with a mixture of envy, pity and curiosity. England beat Wales 3-0.
Sid will try to use the washing machine for the first time. Don’t do it, I’m warning him. You know what happened at Barney Ronay and Jonathan Wilson’s apartment. The thing whirred for five hours, flooding the kitchen and her clothes came out dry. Jacob Steinberg couldn’t even get it to turn on. But I’m out of pants, he begs. And so he loads the drum. The next two hours dripped with tension. Finally, the machine plays a merry jingle, Sid opens the door and triumphantly announces that his clothes are clean. It is pure joy that we have experienced in all tournaments. Do we shed a tear? That, I fear, must be kept between us. Argentina beat Poland 2-0.
The fridge is practically empty except for a block of halloumi, so I cut it up and eat it for breakfast while I watch the Pakistan-England friendly. That’s nice, I think to myself, and immediately blame myself. In a way we are cursed. Every good feeling is fringed with guilt. Every moment of enjoyment in a stadium is burdened with the knowledge of its price. Every misfortune is framed by the fact that we are actually the lucky ones. There is no real happiness to be found here, and that is exactly how it was intended. Germany defeats Costa Rica 4-2 but goes out on goal difference. My kids left me a voice note asking when I’ll be home.
I’ll be back from the Germany game at 4:30. Sleep until early afternoon. There is a problem with the microchip in my accreditation badge, so I go to the media center to have it replaced and miss the last shuttle bus to Al Janoub Stadium. I arrive just in time to see Uruguay beat Ghana 2-0. After that, the Uruguayans are furious that they are eliminated and have to go home. From the press box, I look at her with a mixture of pity, envy and curiosity. What have we all become?
“Everything OK for the diary?” asks Jon at the Guardian editor’s desk. “It’s fine,” I reply, “I just don’t have an end.” “There’s no end,” he says. “Nothing really ends. Things happen and then we just move on to the next one.” Maybe he’s right. I hit send on the schedule, put on my accreditation, grab my bag, and take the subway to Argentina vs. Australia.