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

About Me

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

It's raining in Manchester & other sporting cliches

My folks often tell the tale of how, as a youngster, I used to while away the long trip on the Underground from Tooting Broadway to Colindale to see my nan by reading the sports pages of The Guardian.  My little legs sticking out from underneath the huge broadsheet as we travelled from one end of the Northern Line to the other.

I wanted to be a sports journalist from an early age and looking back I suppose I had unwittingly started my training early.  Thoroughly researching my chosen subject while learning how to make best use of my time on long waits.

At times it seems like I spend nearly as much time hanging around on my own as that football 'scout' who used to watch us play on the common when we were kids.  I doubt any industry involves as much hanging around as mine.  Apart from that scientist drip guy, that is.  

Any press conference scheduled to start at 1pm is 100% guaranteed to start at any time of the day other than 1pm.  And then when it actually happens you'll wonder why you bothered in the first place.  Then there are the weather delays, the airport delays, the traffic jams and the cancelled trains. All played out against the backdrop or ticking clock of a looming deadline to file copy, send audio or appear on air.

By far the most infuriating reason to wait though is following a technological fail.  All the other reasons detailed have to their credit at least one form of logical or physical happening that has led to the situation being what it is.  Somehow that makes things more manageable.  

However there's little more infuriating then when a piece of equipment you have been using successfully for years decides it can't be arsed any more.  Or when you turn up at a venue with your broadcasting kit, you plug it in, dial it up and then instead of the welcoming click & flashing green light there's nothing more than dead air and you know any hopes of a relaxing afternoon have been scuppered.

And so it came to pass today on my first ever visit to Manchester's premier cricket ground.  Arriving at Old Trafford at 1.20pm I made Australian captain Michael Clarke's 1.15pm press conference with time to spare. However that was as good as it got.  

Technical problems mean that as as it stands I cannot broadcast from the stadium & I can't go anywhere until the problem is fixed.  It's not something I can do anything about myself, I can't attack anything with a screwdriver, plug something in, check & change a cable or find a quick fix on the internet.  I can't share my woes with a colleague because I am the only one experiencing it. All I can do is sit and wait & stare out the window.

Needless to say as the clock approaches 5pm the view that raised my spirits three hours ago is starting to look a little samey. 

photo (8)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A question of sport?

It’s to her continual annoyance that when I recount to friends how it was that my wife and I came to meet it isn’t the stars aligning that I thank, nor a wondrous one-in-a-million against all odds chance that we met in a country neither of us hold a passport for.  Instead I put the thanks squarely at the feet of cricket.  Cricket, luvly cricket.

I pitched up in Sydney to witness the final throws of England’s disastrous 5-0 defeat in early 2007 & soon after cast eyes on her at a BBQ – where else?  Such was her insouciance towards sport that despite having lived in Australia for two years she didn’t know who Shane Warne was.  She does now.  Albeit begrudgingly.  

She's about as interested in sport as she is in reading my 'blog.  As hard as she tries to escape games as easily as she did as a teenager marrying a sports journalist has put paid to that.  It has invaded her life in ways she could never have imagined as she made her way to a party in the south west of Sydney on a balmy night; unaware of what life changing event was about to unfold.

In our first four years together she drew sympathy from all quarters as I travelled off for weeks on end to ‘work’ on the cricket.  I missed her birthday in Auckland to watch England lose in Hamilton & the following year opted for five weeks in the Caribbean rather than being by her side for another birthday, our anniversary & Valentine’s Day.  She got me back by burning down our kitchen.

While she put the final touches to our wedding preparations (which coincidentally took place in New Zealand ten days after the 2010/11 Ashes) I spent it on a two month stag do in Australia as England atoned for that 5-0 defeat with a thoroughly enjoyable 3-1 win.  And then we got married.

Payback began that same year.   While I knuckled down to my new job producing Keys & Gray she landed a five month singing gig in Macau.  KAPOW!  A twelve hour flight just to be able to see her!  BANG!  This was followed up the following winter with a four month stint on a Musical in Frankfurt.  KABOOM!  At least I didn’t have to move back to the folks this time.  BLAAAAAM!!!!

However after a hiatus of two and half years (feel free to skate over the three weeks I spent in Poland for Euro 2012 and the six Champions League trips to Europe) where I’ve been on the UK receiving end of the Skype phone calls I’ve re-joined cricket’s media circus for the Ashes summer.  

It may be 12 hour days & weekend breaks rather than month long excursions but it’s nice to be back on the road getting paid to watch something live that I would only be watching on TV anyway.

I’m earning my money though.  Following cricket at your own leisure allows you to dip in and out depending on whether England is getting battered or not. Working in cricket is rather different. 

The days are long with 6am alarm calls the norm & re-appearances back at the hotel rarely before 9pm.  Like the game itself it’s a bit of a slog at times.  And they say nurses have it hard.

Not that the opening test of the summer at Trent Bridge required any diversion.  It was perhaps the greatest test I’ve ever seen. Five days of action in its true sense. Wickets, runs, controversy, record breaking, astounding feats, dramatic collapses with the lead switching hands repeatedly.  It was a game that had simply everything apart from a comedy run out involving Shane Watson.  You can’t have it all.

It is the first test I have ever seen without a passage of play following its expected path.  A game that’s only consistency was its ability to confound.  I was spellbound for its entirety & so rooted to my chair that I trapped a small nerve in my back which has left me hobbling around ever since.


The second test started off in the same fashion with twenty three wickets falling in the first two days, more DRS incidents, another epic Ian Bell hundred and even a comedy run out.  And then?  Snooooooze.   

Day two was the day the Aussies lost the Ashes.  Day three was the day England gave them time to think about it.  Day four when they rammed it home.  After seven frenetic days of topsy-turvy cricket the last two offered no deviation from the script.  For the first time since the tour started I needed something to keep me entertained.
Test cricket is a sport that takes up six hours a day, five of them in a week, meaning at times there is a skill to watching it.  There are similarities between seeing off a particularly dull session & getting through a health & safety meeting. 

During particularly painful sessions patience, an active imagination & the ability to take an interest in life’s minutiae is crucial.  Two flies having sex will see you right for an hour or so, a plane writing a message in the sky as excellent excuse as any to avoid watching Ricky Ponting move inexorably towards his double hundred.  

Not that it’s always this bad.  The morning session usually zips by regardless of score or incident.  The novelty of a new day, the day’s first drops of caffeine, fresh articles to consume, emails, Twitter & Facebook to peruse mean that even the more turgid Paul Collingwood innings can be assessed with a pleasant frame of mind. 

The first 45 minutes after lunch is normally a pleasant experience as food settles & you get re-introduced to the game.  And then it can get difficult. The coffee stops working as the oxygen in your brain heads towards the stomach in a bid to break down the tasty yet sometimes stodgy luncheon.

It's around this time I usually venture away from the press corps to submerge within the fans.  To get a reminder of what it means to those who have taken time off work and spent a lot of money to attend.  To soak up the conversations in the stands, take in the smells, the sights, the sounds of the Barmy Army singing their familiar songs.  Then there’s the sun a constant companion overseas & for one summer only a visitor to these shores as well. 

There is no better place to let the mind pleasantly wander, to strike up a chat with a stranger (cricket fans are an approachable & amusing bunch) to cheer loudly at an England four or the fall of an opponent’s wicket.  In essence to be a fan again.

And then when it gets a little too sweaty & the songs a little too repetitive it is back to the coolness of the press room sated, inspired and deeply satisfied.  Sometimes accompanied with plenty of fresh material for another of my other constant travelling companion; my old trusty ‘blog.

For it was while staring at my pasty reflection on the black backdrop of a tube window on the way back from Lord’s that my mind drifted to this ‘blog.  From 2006 to 2010 I updated it regularly while on my travels & every now and again while at home.  Maybe now was the time to get it back up and running.  

As the cricket slowed down, England began to dominate and the action started following a path well worn (albeit in reverse) it gave me time to contemplate writing again.  It was just a question of what?  

I’m following this tour alone and in a far more professional capacity than in tours gone by when all I had to do was look to my left for inspiration.  And as interesting as Nottingham & London are they are far too familiar to get that excited by.  A tube ride to Lord's doesn't conjure quite the inspiration a ferry trip to the SCG.

However there is a real sense of achievement writing a ‘blog and creating the tiniest little slice of something that didn’t exist before.  While it sure is enjoyable having all my memories of over the last six years so readily to hand.  Being able to dip in and out of moments that I could otherwise forget.

As soon as an article is posted there is a temporary feeling of calm (almost relief) that an idea that has been squirreling around in my head for the past few days has been put to bed.  That feeling lasts for a while before the desire or urge to write again begins anew.  Or something happens that just leads itself immediately to being described.

I’m not the fastest writer but pieces like these can be done and dusted within half an hour. Others can take forever to complete with re-writes, re-jigging of paragraphs & ripping up of the introduction.  I began this article on day two of the Lord’s test now it’s the night before I head up to Manchester.  I’m a little rusty.  

However when in the zone, with an idea that wouldn't look out of place as a glint in the eye, then writing a 'blog is an absolute pleasure.  And while the words haven’t flowed as I know they can do with this entry, while I’ve crunched through the gears rather than clicked I know once I get this one out there the next will be easier to produce.  All of which just leaves the question of what to write about and will my wife read it?