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

About Me

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Stuck in the middle with you

I was sixteen when I first heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit'.  After struggling with my mate's heavy metal record collection I finally had music I could identify with.  I became obsessed with all things Sub Pop.  Decked in army surplus and with badly dyed hair I would hop on the 333 up Streatham High Road to Brixton Academy to watch the likes of Sonic Youth, Faith No More and Smashing Pumpkins.  Spare time spent scouring the TV for rare appearances, assembling vinyl collections and reading Melody Maker.

Brixton Academy and London Astoria became as important landmarks as the House of Parliament and Tower Bridge. A ticket to a concert allowing more than just entry to watch a band.  Getting past the bouncers like walking through a portal into a world where the biggest, stinkiest and ugliest sat atop the evolutionary tree and nowhere was this more true than within the mosh pit.

Nothing prepares you for your first mosh pit.  The moment your legs are swept from underneath and you find yourself swimming against the tide in an urban ocean rip.  Vast, chaotic, violent and safer than an evening at The Manor Arms.  The best bit was being able to recount the tales on a Monday morning at the local café thankful to have survived the event.  For some it was too much.  The mosh pit at Rage Against The Machine's 1993 concert led to two of my mates refusing to go anywhere near the front of a gig again.    

At weekends when money didn’t stretch to watching a band my friends would recreate mosh pits at house parties throughout South London.  One evening we were kicked out of a third floor flat after our energetic moshing led to the ceiling of the room below to cave in.  I still remember us trooping down the stairs with the owner shrieking and pointing at us “Look at your boots!  Look at your boots!  And yours, and yours!” as a steady stream of Doc Martin wearing Indie kids filed down the stairs.  Each of us taking a quick glance into the poor woman's room where large chunks of plaster covered her bed.

For something so archaic it was relatively ordered event to get a mosh started.  Two people would link arms and throw themselves onto a floor with other party goers invited to launch themselves on top.  Before long an island of limbs would be writhing away.  Darkened bodies would fling themselves off nearby tables, chairs and large pieces of furniture.  While the same characters every week would hang back to make sure they got the largest pile of bodies to jump on and avoid getting crushed or injured.  These sneaky types wouldn’t be allowed to get away with it for long though and would be collared and forced to start the whole process off again.

Any participation event that combines alcohol with wild youthful abandonment against a backdrop of heavy rock led more often than not to calamity and malady.  Chipped chairs, smashed family heirlooms and that broken ceiling I already mentioned.  Then there was the day I launched myself off a sofa only to find half way through my dive there was nobody waiting to catch my fall.  My parents were none too thrilled to find on their return from their weekend away not only had I hosted a party in their absence I’d broken my arm. 

I had also got my ear pierced and watching them walk up the front path I figured while I couldn’t do anything about the plaster cast that covered my entire arm I could do something about the two bits of cheap silver in my ear and hurriedly took them out as their key was put in the lock.
The worst bit about mosh pits weren’t the cracked bones or having to answer to angry parents demanding to know why there were footprints on the ceiling.  It was the claustrophobia that engulfed me whenever I was trapped amid the bodies.  Even after a couple of litres of Olde English I couldn’t stay in that position for long.  The fear would rise up to my throat and I’d start clambering out as quickly as possible.

I can remember the first time I ever experienced claustrophobia.  It was in the days before duvets and I burrowed to the bottom of my bed only for my dad to sit on the end trapping me inside.  The swell of panic was immediate.  It is the same for my brother and it used to be a frequent sight for one of us to be frantically hauling bodies off the mosh-pile to free the other when it all got a bit too much.

It’s been 20 years since my last house party mosh pit but alcohol still plays a part in my phobia.  I’ve long since learned to avoid certain situations while struggling with the after effects of an evening out.  Hangovers and rush hour on The London Underground do not make for excellent bed fellows.  And even now - every now and again - when my tube is stuck in a tunnel - I have to fight the fear.

Time slows down when you're stuck in a situation you cannot get out of.  Be it in a tunnel, under a pile of teenage bodies or after you've just called your teacher 'mum' in front of the whole class.  However there are no hard and fast rules.  Sometimes it's possible to shrug these situations off with a laugh.  Sometimes not.

And so it came to pass at just before tea on day three of the Lord’s test when I decided to take a walk little knowing I was about to test this theory out. I intended a quick stroll around the ground to a little vantage point I'd found on day one.  Instead I ended up getting properly stuck.

The Lord's media box is a famous sight in cricket.  From the outside it resembles something from Space Odyssey and it draws admiring glances from those inside the ground who bother to stick around after lunch to watch the cricket.  Inside though you'll find few in agreement.  It's difficult to feel connected to the action when you're locked away in a soundless environment so far from the paying spectator.  And however good the Lord's lunches are they are more than matched by how bad the lifts are.

Riding the Lord's lift is never a pleasant experience.  It is less reliable than an over by Steven Kerrigan.  It’s broken down more times than Ryan Harris and has even trapped Ian Botham in the past.  It also has a disconcerting way of wobbling up and down when it reaches the top floor.  

There were already six people in it as I entered and just as the door started to shut Michael Vaughan jumped in.  There were a few mock groans as a tight squeeze became a group hug but nobody minded too much.    

A moment later though this changed as seconds after the doors shut and the lift started to descend everything shuddered to a halt.  

We all looked stupidly at each other and there was a momentary silence before Vaughan started pressing buttons. There were three on offer.  The doors open option.  Nothing.  The doors close option.  Nothing.  The press in emergency option.  The opposite of nothing.  Immediately a high pitched wailing sound reverberated around the lift.  It was the kind of sound that meant if you hadn’t initially been fearing the worse you now would be. 

With the buzzer booming out I pictured the sight of the media floor slowly putting their cutlery down and staring at the closed lift door.  I could hear the collective sigh of relief that this mishap hadn’t befallen those about to tuck into tea. Meanwhile those inside the lift were beginning to understand the position they had found themselves in.

There was the sound of activity not far above our heads and we realised we were far nearer the top of the lift shaft than the bottom and soon a voice came through on the intercom checking we were alright and informing us an engineer had been called.  Oh and asking whether anyone had started freaking out yet.  Did they know I was in there?

The answer to both of those was no, we were all relatively calm.  Even me.  However every five minutes or so there would be a lull in the conversation and I would think to myself "am I going to freak out now?"  I would wait a second and after deciding there was no sign of a rise of imminent fear decide I wasn’t and carry on.

It was also handy that I wasn’t in desperate need of the loo.  Or that the cable didn’t snap while we were stranded twenty metres in the air.  Or that the air didn’t run out.  Or that the sounds of Mudhoney weren’t pumped down the lift shaft sparking off an impromptu mosh.

Lack of hangover aside the reason I didn’t start scrabbling at the doors and sucking in air was the sheer surreal nature of what was happening.  It’s not often you are trapped in a lift and it’s even rarer to be with two Ashes winners.  So I just stood there, chatting, sweating, unbuttoning my shirt and every now and again returning back to the question "am I going to start panicking yet?"  Nope, not yet.  So far so good.

One of guys worked for Lord's and he told us we were lucky the engineer on site. I mentioned Beefy had been stuck for a good half an hour before help came.  We weren't going anywhere for a while. 

Small talk became the order of the day.  There wasn't enough space to sit down or move around so we all stood there as the temperature began to rise.  We talked about the cricket, we complained about the heat and then we heard the crowd celebrate Peter Siddle's wicket.

The guy standing closest to the lift door kept coming up with helpful phrases like “well if any of us were actually claustrophobic we would know about it by now”, or “they are going to have to come and get us because there’s not even an escape hatch at the top of the lift” and the best one “we should have enough air to last us”.

Throughout all of this I was carrying my TalkSPORT microphone and recording device.  The thought did cross my mind to do some interviews with those present but it really wouldn’t have gone down well. In the end the only use I could find for my microphone was to wedge open the lift door to let in a little air.


A quick tweet was all I permitted myself as well as a call to the TalkSPORT control room to alert them to my plight. 

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Twentyfive minutes in and a voice from above shouted they were going to winch us down.  We were to be delayed even more and again the thought crossed my mind that it was time to start weeping. The mood was lightened seconds later by another shout.  This time that an ambulance was waiting for us at the bottom.  I shouted back “why?  What’s going to happen?”

And then finally after nearly a half of football the lift began to move.  Inch by inch it edged downwards before suddenly speeding up - the end was in sight.  There were cheers (mostly mine) as the light at the bottom of the lift shaft came into view.  And then suddenly the doors were hoisted open, a great hulk stood at the door and we all stepped blinking into the bright daylight where four or five St John’s staff were waiting with wheelchairs and three or four of our fellow journalists stood with pencils and notepads at the ready.  I think they were all a little disappointed that the scene that greeted them all was so ordered.  

I will never take the Lord's lift again.  Well not the one on the left hand side.  Later that evening after I'd packed up my broadcasting equipment I figured I'd better get back on the horse.  I've got too many phobias as it is.  So I pressed the button and waited for the doors of the right hand side lift to open.  I stepped inside, alone this time, and watched as the doors closed.  There was a frisson of fear as the lift went through its worrying top floor wobble before starting it's descent.  I turned and looked at myself in the mirror thought about how surreal an afternoon it had been and less than thirty seconds I was at the bottom.  I wonder if I'll ever write so many words about an elevator ride again.

Friday, 2 August 2013

The confession box

Okay, I admit it.  I want Australia to win this test. 

It might be sleep deprivation or the first sign of lunacy following two days of waiting for my sodding ISDN to work.  Maybe it’s because this English team is just a little too methodical to get that excited about or that the Aussies are made up of guys I kind of feel sorry for.  Hell it might just be the fact I can’t be bothered to sit here for three days watching a bore draw. 

Whatever the reason it’s not something that sits right.  My teenage self would be horrified to hear this.  I can imagine him now, smoking a Silk Cut, listening to The Orb & shaking his head in disappointment.  “Don’t judge me!”  I feel like telling him.  That and that maybe he should consider washing his clothes a bit more regularly.

I blame my job.  Working in sport warps you in much the same way betting on it does.  I remember one Fulham game in the season we were coasting our way to the Championship title & a bloke on the Hammersmith End had wagered money Fulham would win 3-0.  At half time we were 3-0 up meaning for the rest of the match he didn’t want Fulham to score.  It was at this moment I stopped betting on my team.

It doesn’t need money to change perception.  For years my mates would spend a good hour at the pub every Saturday dissecting fantasy football teams before then spending the next hour talking about real football teams.    It became such an important part of our lives that I still know exactly how many mini-league victories I have even though I stopped doing it years ago:  Three, one Premier League, one World Cup and Euro 2004.

Our group’s obsession with fantasy football got so ridiculous that I would be celebrating a Fulham goal only to turn to my mate who (sporting a stupid grin) would be shouting ‘Dream Team!’ signalling he had the player in his side.  I remember being disappointed Clint Dempsey had scored because my mate was going to get seven points for the goal.  It really doesn’t take much for lifelong loyalties to be forgotten. 

Eventually I realised it was time to give fantasy football a rest when I went an entire season hoping Chelsea wouldn’t concede a goal because I had John Terry & Ricardo Calvalho in my team.  That really is wrong & so is supporting Australia in an Ashes test.

With three days to go Australia have scored 527 and have set themselves the target of bowling out England twice.  England, big outsiders for anything other than a battling draw are under way and currently without loss.  Moments ago the captain Cook edged behind and the ball just dropped short of his opposite number Michael Clark and part of me wanted him to be out.  A long period of soul searching awaits.

Or does it?  For while the fan in me who trudged around Australia watching England lose 5-0 would disagree it makes sense to want an Aussie win as it keeps this series alive.  With two tests remaining in Durham and London it would be a struggle to keep momentum going over ten days with the outcome decided.  The only outstanding question whether England could complete the same whitewash.  Even that isn’t looking likely now.

A defeat for England would also inject something that has been noticeably lacking in this test. Tension.  This is the first Ashes test match I can ever remember watching lacking fear factor.  Fear of defeat, fear we won’t win, that we can’t save the match, that the other team will, that the rain will come, that it won’t arrive, that my favourite player won’t score any runs, that Ponting/Hayden/Waugh will. 

At 2-0 up against the worst Australian side in living memory & nearly a decade of home Ashes series wins in the memory bank it’s almost become a formality.  And there’s nothing worse than watching a formality especially when spread out over two or three days or one or two tests.  This must be what it was like to be an Aussie cricket fan for so long.  In the end fans got so tired watching them churn out victories they realised the only way their own team could be beaten was to turn against them.

So, yes teenage self, I do want Australia to win this test so that this series can come alive once more.  So I can travel to Durham fearful that these words will come back to haunt me.   So that I can get a bit of this back in my system, and that so when England win I can celebrate & marvel at the magic.  So that we can give the Aussies a sniff of hope and then just when they think they’re within touching distance of the greatest come from behind series win in history England hit straight back and DESTROY THEM AGAIN MAKING PHIL HUGHES AND STEVEN SMITH CRY AND MICHAEL CLARKE RETIRE AND SHANE WATSON BECOME A MONK AND AUSTRALIA SINKS INTO THE SEA IN SHAME.

And then Joe Root got out and I felt a bit guilty writing this article.  I like Joe Root.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The waiting game

Shortly after I finished writing yesterday's post I received news that the technological problem I'd been waiting patiently to be resolved would not happen.  So I snapped shut my laptop, packed up my things and texted my friend that I was ready to be picked up.  He replied that he would be twenty minutes or so.  

An hour later I was still seeking shelter next to the Old Trafford Car Park.  It was still raining, I hadn't eaten for ten hours and pretty soon started seeing things.

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Eventually he did show up and an enjoyable evening was spent sampling the finest tapas food Manchester has to offer.  Although by the time I came to eat I was so ravenous I could have carved a slice out of my imaginary zebra.  It brought to mind an old Eddie Murphy 'crackers' sketch.

And technology continues to thwart every move today.  DRS on the field ISDN off it.  What is it with acronyms and their ability to get in the way of cricket?  I have now been hanging on for BT to fix their own ISDN line for over 24 hours now.  The wait goes on......