Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

I am the god of hell-fire and I give you

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

The smell of smoke pervades absolutely everything in my house. Nowhere is safe from the cloying, sickening stench of burnt plastic that has been my properties unwelcome new resident since the fire.

It is all encompassing in the way the cold is inescapable when you open all the windows during a gale. Unfortunately, allowing freezing wind to blow through is the only way to mask the smell. Closing the door to the kitchen the only way to mask the sight.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

And so it came to pass..........

..............that after being snowed in on the way to Gatwick, missing the entire Jamaica Test, after the Sir Viv Richards stadium fiasco, my dad snapping his achilles in a successful bid to score the winning runs at beach cricket, being charged £1,000 for tickets we had already bought and then given the runaround by Caribbean Airlines, watching five days of tedium at the Kensington Oval, suffering a house fire back in London and sitting through four days of tepid cricket at the Queens Park Oval, I found myself watching the best days cricket of the entire tour on the television in an empty hotel bar in Antigua.

Photobucket

Come on England!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, 9 March 2009

More rootin' than Tootin'

There is an uneasy feeling in the air when the sun goes down over Trinidad. The very real threat of violence is scourge to a part of the Caribbean whose rich natural resources mean they have no need to sell their soul attracting tourists. But the big money here is owned by the few and poverty bleeds onto the streets. Gun and gang crime is rife, no go areas commonplace and the drug and poverty problem starkly visibile. Unlike the safe tourist haven of Barbados or the accepting charm of Antigua, Trinidad is a place most foreigners avoid unless cricket, carnival or the Tobago beaches are calling. Port-of-Spain is certainly more rootin' than Tootin'.

Walking through Independence Square in the centre of the capital it's hard not to notice the partially ragged crack addicts lying comotose on pavements while shoppers and workers sidestep them without a second glance. The close proximity to the South American cocaine trail and the subsequent drug problem is more than apparent here. While the violence that's always in accompanyment is compounded by one of the worst poverty problems in the West Indies.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Even away from the centre and in the more residential areas where guest houses, small businesses and restaurants make for a traditionally safer environment a recent spate of gun attacks has led to many shopfronts locking themselves into their stores. To enter you have to press a buzzer before a shop worker sizes you up and a steel gate unlocked. Security guards line streets where walking alone at night is ill advised. The day before the cricket started a shoot out took place during daylight on the street that links my apartment with the stadium.

Photobucket

For a city that boasts 600,000 inhabitants few, it seems, walk the streets, most opt for the permanent traffic jam that snakes in and around the centre. Whether this is in part due to a murder rate that has increased from around 50 a year in the 1980's to 360 in 2006 is not for me to say. But for the first time since I left England I'm quite happy that Fe isn't with me.

But before you start fearing for my health and safety and anxiously scouring the news for incidents from T&T it should be said that my stay here has so far been serious incident free. My dealings with the locals positive and friendly. The weather changeable in the build up to the Test but roasting hot ever since. I've been able to top up my tan, have eaten well, and drunk far too much rum and coke.

Heavy drinking has coincided with a welcome return of Danny to the Barmy Army fold for the first time since January 2007. He rolled into town the same day we did. He was half crashed out in Trinidad airport when we arrived from Barbados. He opted to save £150 and fly via New York. A decision he looked to be regretting by the way he half slid half rose off his chair to greet us as we made our way through customs following an interesting flight on board a propellor plane where I sat next to West Indian fast bowling legend Colin Croft. A man, legend has it, that was such a fearsome foe that one cricket journo was wrote he'd bounce his own grandmother if she was batting against him.

Another welcome bonus was that I also managed to resolve my differences with Caribbean Airlines within an hour of touching down. They agreed to a complete refund. So that's the best part of a £1,000 winging its way back to my credit card anytime between now and June.

An early flight on Tuesday meant that after meeting Danny we spent the day walking round Port-Of-Spain. It was an interesting experience. It's not a pretty place but it's busy, crowded, dirty and............alive, real and definitely foreign, which is what I wanted after the somewhat false feel of Barbados. We were also the only white faces which was unusual but at no point did we feel threatened. Poor Danny was forced to traipse around for a few hours while Mark and I tried to find something nice to bring back to our girlfriends. Unsurprisingly the high street shopping on offer wasn't really up to standard. And after walking the half an hour walk back to our apartments we took it easy in the evening in a local sports bar.

After our second day in town was washed out due to rain we once again sought shelter in the sports bar and watched three games of footy at the same time. It's the way forward. We also embarked on a eleven hour drinking session which ended up with us playing a lot of darts in a nearby bar and staggering around a bit.

I also found out that drink driving is legal in Trinidad. I chatted to an Irish guy who's lived in the island for four years. He told me - and I quote - how it is obviously a bad thing that drink-driving isn't illegal but it sure makes getting home easier. He then told me about a guy who ploughed into three German tourists whilst plastered. When he went in front of the judge he was told how to plead. So when the judge asked him why he'd nearly killed three Germans he replied 'I was drunk'. Apparently he would have got a stiffer sentence if he was sober! Crazy days.

All of which didn't really prepare me for another run out with the Barmy Army. The pitch was on the Queens Park Savannah which is another no-go area at night but fine during the day. Rugby, cricket and football pitches cover a stretch of grassland that measures around 3 and a half kilometres. It was a cloudy day which was a shame as it spoiled a pleasant view of nearby hillside.

I don't need to offer much in a way of a report of the match as my contribution lasted approximately four point one overs and one run. But it was good to add Trinidad to Barbados and Adelaide as places I've represented the Barmy Army XI. Still to experience a win though. I wonder what far off country (and decade) it'll occur?

Photobucket

Photobucket

Since then I've spent my time at the cricket hoping upon hope that I might actually watch a competitive game of cricket. Four days in and it's not looking likely.

And in the last couple of days as the long flight home to England looms large on the horizon my mood has started to dip and my mind started to wander. The sheer amount of alcohol consumed seems to be taking its toll and yesterday things came to a head.

Early in the morning I got a call from Fe saying that there had been a fire in our flat back home. Everyone got out fine and nobody was hurt. Thanks to quick thinking Fe, her sister and a friend from Fe's college contained the blaze, got out of the flat and called the fire brigade. In their panic they locked themselves out of the house so the front door had to be forced but the fire was soon put out and the damage limited to a small part of the kitchen. It was a horrible situation for her and my guilt at leaving her on her own for so long resurfaced as it means she'll be dealing with the fallout when she should be celebrating her birthday.

As I write it's Monday and the fourth days play of the last Test. I return home on Thursday morning but it seems like I'm heading home tomorrow. For the events that wrecked the start of my trip are still being felt as while the fifth and final days play of the tour will be starting on schedule at 10am tomorrow at the Queens Park Oval in Trinidad I will not be present. Rather I will be in the air somewhere over Barbados and Antigua where I'm hopeful of watching the game (my third consecutive draw) on a TV set in Sir Allen Stanford's restaurant. The following day I then fly home to London. To be honest. I wish I was there now.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Hold the back page

There's something oddly satisfying about watching sport on your own. I'm not sure what, or why, it is but there are times whilst at The Oval, Craven Cottage or at a cricket ground somewhere glorious when I wonder whether it's possible to be more at peace with oneself, the world and life in general. It's sometimes wise not to scrutinise the why's and whereforths of this. Who wants to delve into the root of life's pleasures or dissect the bare bones of enjoyment too much? You might not like what you find i.e. that you're actually a sad bastard who needs to get a life or a cheaper pastime.

Yesterday was one of those days. With the Barbados Test drifting towards a draw and the League Cup final on the TV I found myself all alone at the cricket. Not alone in that I was the only one there. Far from it. After a worrying lack of home support for the first two days of the game the stadium had really come to life over the weekend with a huge presence of local fans cheering on the exploits of Ramneresh Sarwan and the Windies batting line up. But by batting so well they ruled out any chance of an England win. Which meant the lure of the beach and League Cup action was too great for Mark and the Bristol contingent that we've been hanging around with for the past week.

I can understand why they stayed away yesterday and after glancing at the scorecard they felt they made the right decision. England failed to take a wicket until just before tea, Sarwan failed to reach 300 and the Windies batted themselves from a position of safety to one where they could almost dream of winning the match. I think most people would take a day on a Barbadian beach over that. But not me.

I spent the day working hard. Really hard. My T-Shirt tan is a bit of a problem and I needed to spend some serious time with my top off facing the sun. So after dropping my computer gear off at the press centre I walked round the ground to the Worrell Weekes and Walcott Stand with some suntan cream, a bottle of water, a copy of 'The Damned United' and my camera. A couple of the lads were actually present for the first half an hour or so. But by the time I returned after lunch (with yet another portion of chicken, rice and peas in my stomach) they were nowhere to be seen.

And thus began a truly memorable day. A chilled out day. A day where I was able to take in and appreciate all that surrounded me. The West Indian spectators constant banter. Poking fun at the English spectators and team alike. The sun beating down out of the sky. It's rays pouring onto the English while the locals took shield further back in the shade of the stands. The calm, regular almost clockwork batting throughout. Sarwan ticking off the runs. The crowd getting anxious as Ramdin approached his maiden Test century then loudly chastising him, screaming out in frustration at his recklessness as he almost loses his wicket with a rash swipe before unfurling banners and flags, the noise deafening as he reaches the milestone.

Later in the day, after the disappointment that Sarwan didn't reach the first triple century I've ever seen, there are explosions from the bat of Jerome Taylor, and from the mouth of Graeme Swann as Ryan Sidebottom completes a desperate display by making a hash of a regulation catch. It's the only point in the day when tempers flare.

As I leave the ground at just before six, with the sun fast dipping towards the horizon, I briefly walk alongside perhaps the only West Indian glad that Sarwan departed when he did. Brian Charles Lara, the only member of the 400 club, walks casually along the street with a smile for those who cheer, wave and bow in his direction.

The following morning. On the way back to the ground. Accompanied by Mark and Martini we stop for refreshment. Idly I flick through a discarded newspaper on the counter. The Barbados Advocate, no less. I turn to the back pages and see two familar faces. The first Ramneresh Sarwan. The second, mine!

Photobucket