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

About Me

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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