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

About Me

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The 27 hour red eye route

**This is a blog I started writing on the way to New Zealand but life got in the way and I never got round to posting it.  So here it is.  Four months late but hopefully worth ten minutes of your time.  Eat a biscuit or two while reading it.  Drink a cup of tea.  I like tea.**

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Well here I am. On the way to the other side of the world. My fourth time to the antipodeans. Flying alone. Which is how I like it and how Fe demands it. She left the UK on Sunday. The day afterwards a 6.5 earthquake hit New Zealand's North Island.  When she landed it was in 100 kph winds. I wonder what awaits me? Sunshine and blue skies I hope.

The build up to a big trip is one I usually approach with dread. For while I love planning a massive holiday nearly as much as I love being on a massive holiday when it comes to the bit when I actually have to get there I am forced to seek solace in alcohol and Valium. So I hit upon an idea. Twenty seven hours until I reach New Zealand. How about I write a little 'blog along the way? Maybe it will distract me. Maybe it will make time go faster, maybe it will be something I neglect as the drugs take hold and the sheer boredom and futility take over.  We shall see. 

Hours 1-2 (four hours to Dubai, one day to Auckland)

Well, approaching two hours into my journey I am still up for it. Have just eaten a surprisingly tasty yoghurt chicken curry concoction. Have had a couple of beers and half a tablet. Had a chat with the woman one along, we have an unused seat between us, and I'm feeling okay.

I am flying in an A380 for the first time. Apart from the fact it has two floors (the double decker bus of the air world) I don't know too much about it.  After flying to New Zealand for my wedding my bro said it was the smoothest flight he'd ever encountered. He said he didn't even realise he'd taken off which I'm not so sure I believe but so far so good. It is strange to see a stairwell right in front of me. But it's so spacious it almost feels like you're on a very smooth ferry crossing. Long may that continue.

Right. I'm going to read some print outs from Cricinfo which I have saved especially for this flight. Rock and roll.

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Hours 2-6 (fourteen hours to Melbourne, 20 to Auckland)

I didn't end up reading them. I started working out some financial stuff and that was enough to send me to sleep. I thought it would be wise to take advantage of the spare seat between me and Janice who is flying even further than I am. She is going to Whangerai. Or in other words an additional three hour wait and 30 minute flight from my destination, Auckland. All of which seems pretty far off as I sit in departures in Dubai.

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In the end I got a few hours intermittent sleep and now find myself bleary eyed in a far too bright airport lounge. Catching a glimpse of my face in one of the many mirrors here reminds me it has been far too long since my skin had a bit of sun colouring.

There is only 90 mins stopover and I spent 40 of them walking around the airport reminding myself of the following mantra. "Thirteen hours until I am in Australia". "I will be in New Zealand tomorrow". Both of which sound pretty good. Whether that alone will be enough to get me through the next 14 hour flight remains to be seen. I am just praying the next leg is also on a A380. I already know I don't have a spare seat next to me.

10 and a half hours to go to Melbourne

This is tough now. Cramped. Still managed to sleep on and off for an hour. Have had something to eat. Felt pretty ropey when I got on the plane and have had a couple of panic surges but my chill out message and half a diazepam have calmed me slightly. Currently a bit of turbulence is adding to the wonderful world I am currently existing. Hopefully it doesn't last too long.

First time I've ever failed to find a single film on the in flight entertainment that I want to watch. So I'm going through the first series of Friends as I wait for the time left on this flight to dip below the ten hour mark. It's all about breaking it down. So with that in mind I'm still reminding myself that when I get off this flight I will actually be in Australia. It still helps. Also that I'm almost at the half way point between England and Australia. I'm ignoring the other three hour flight I've still got to take. Turbulence starting to kick in now. Not enjoying this. But I will get through.

8 and a half hours to go to Melbourne (14 to Auckland)

A baby has been crying since we took off. About five hours and five rows in front. So it could be worse. Oh, it's just stopped.....No, it's started again. Looking forward to being over land. Now it's screaming. Actually feel sorry rather than annoyed. Sorry for the kid, its parents and anyone sitting nearer than I am. Also relieved I can block it out by watching a Steve Coogan video. Is it still called a video?

8.05 hours remaining (still pretty much 14 to Auckland)

I've just worked out that If I pay $20 I can get 100mb of internet access. I can check out the NZ v India score, read the match report from West Ham v Man City! Check out the papers and a whole host more.

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Unfortunately I made the decision to put my wallet in the case that's in my overhead locker. And I'm sitting by the window and my two neighbours are fast asleep.

Denied!

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And I need a wee.

In more positive news I've just checked out the time in New Zealand and technically I arrive TODAY!!!!!  It's those kind of little things that get you through.  That and my third small bottle of red wine.

Baby is still crying.

7 hours and four minutes remaining 

REALLY NEED A WEE!!!

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I ended up hurdling the guy next to me. I saw the woman on his left stir and took my opportunity.

Just under four hours remaining now.

...............and I'm clinging on a bit.

However being able to access the internet helps. Tweeting and facebooking people allows me to escape this fart smelling capsule momentarily. Also allows me to take my mind off my impending hangover which is starting to creep in. Dark outside but Perth is on the horizon. Despite having a window seat I'm on the wrong side of the plane to see it though. Shame. Knowing land is close by and that I've technically reached Australia is good for the spirits. Mind starting to turn to my last flight now but no complaints. In the last eighteen hours of my life I have spent 16 in the air. Seven remain with an hour or so stop off. Stay on target! Baby still crying.

Less than two hours to Melbourne

Thank god for the internet. Been chatting to Fe and also reading the thirty-odd emails my football team have sent trying to find a player so we aren't one short tonight.

Melbourne

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Auckland ahoy! 

Staring out the window at the reason why New Zealand is known as the land of the long white cloud.

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In reflective mood and feeling pretty wide eyed and clear headed considering the length of journey. Remembered that while I may only have 90 minutes left of this journey I should probably make one final entry. So this is it.

Lack of sleep, too much alcohol and a handful of prescription drugs aren't exactly great bed fellows for insightful commentary. But hopefully alongside the photos I have taken it all comes together to make a worthwhile blog. We will see. But first I've got to get to NZ. Fe is waiting at the airport. Or at least she should be. I couldn't text her from Australia. I'll find out shortly.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Salvador

One of the many advantages a job like mine provides is the opportunity to visit places you wouldn't pay your own money to see.  My four week sojourn around Brazil takes in several exotic sounding destinations.  Fortaleza, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte could well be the Birmingham, Sheffield and Hull of South America for all I know.  However at the moment they seem as magical and far flung as a ride on Aladdin's magic carpet.

My first trip away has been to visit Salvador.  One hundred and five minutes flying time up the coast.  The name initially conjured up an image of a country that may or may not be in Central America.  Now, having been, I know it's actually a Brazilian state and it will forever be associated with the land of the strange.

The rulebook was quietly discarded as soon as I landed.  Our cab hadn't turned up at the airport leading to confused conversations in pigeon Portuguese and a long wait at a taxi rank.  I don't speak a word of the native language and so have become quite the expert in mime.  Since arriving I have successfully ordered chicken, bought stamps and even a pair of tweezers thanks to my Theatre Studies A-Level. 

The journey to the hotel would take some explaining in any language.  In short it was 45 minutes of madness. Our cabby drove in gloves with the steely stare of someone who knows the dice will one day fall the way of another motorist.  I now understand why Brazil has provided so many world class racing drivers.

The road from the airport consisted of two lanes of traffic heading in the same direction separated by a grass verge.  While cars rattled along at frightening pace on our lane the other was completely blocked.  Drivers and passengers had long since given up and had left their cars parked, doors open, idling away their time by chatting to fellow passengers.

We however careered along from one near miss to another our driver instinctively knowing which lane was clear.  We couldn't work out what the hold up was on the other side but would soon come across the answer. 

The flashing lights at first made us think there had been an accident.  The emergency services were certainly at the heart of the hold up.  However when we zoomed past (on two wheels) we realised there had been no collision.  Instead twenty to thirty moped drivers sat idle with vehicles parked behind them.  The reason?  A lone policeman standing in the middle of the road facing the traffic.  A look of intense fury etched onto his face he stood shoulders pushed forward with his hand hovering over a pistol. It was a pose Clint Eastwood would be proud of.  It was quite clear.  He wanted to shoot someone.  No driver moved an inch.

I thought I was seeing things but exactly the same incident occurred ten minutes later.  We had weaved our way onto the other lane by this point and once again avoided a hold up of mammoth proportions.  Sure enough the same scene played its way out.  The only difference being that this policeman had smoke coming out of his nostrils.

After all that excitement I opted for a relaxing evening in and so watched the opening game of the World Cup much like everyone else back home.  On TV with a few beers.  In Stuart Pearce's bedroom.  With fire crackers going off every time Brazil scored.  And ten thousand people outside the window.

The following morning we opted for a stroll around Salvador.  The game we were in town to see was the small matter of Spain v Holland.  A re-run of the last World Cup game I had seen.  The 2010 final in Johannesburg.  A personal career highlight.  And a pleasant scene awaited us as long as we looked in this direction.

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And not this.

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And here lies one of the problems with Salvador.  Like most of the cities hosting football in this country it's about six months away from completion.  Which is a shame because the World Cup started last Thursday.

But back to the beach which itself contained much of what I have seen already in Rio and some which I had not.  Blokes in tight pants playing football.  Four nuns strolling around the headlands, three of the smelliest loos outside of Glastonbury and a woman Oscar Wilde would struggle to describe.  All of seventy (all of those years spent in the sun), fag in mouth, wearing the smallest bikini on the beach, she lay on a mound of sand which pushed her crinkly ass in the air for all to see.  *shudder*

And as for the weather.  I've never experienced anything like it.  As we flew into land I had been looking out my window and seen nothing but bright sunshine, billowing white clouds and blue sea.  The spontaneous applause from the back of the plane upon touch down seemed totally at odds with a routine flight.  However they must have been locals who knew something I did not.  Within seconds the plane was lashed by rain and the skies became murderously grey.  Visibility became so poor I wondered whether we would have been able to have land in it.

Getting ready for the game back at the hotel there was a knock at the door. I opened and had these thrust into my hands.  A woman said something to me in Portuguese and walked off.   

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I figured they were being given to all the guests but after speaking to the others it became apparent I was the only beneficiary of the phantom flip-flop giver.

And as for the game.  Well, where to begin.  One of the most incredible matches I will ever see.  The disbelief on fans and pundits alike as the goals rained in said it all. We were watching history unfold.  Not only was it an end of an era for the Spanish and world football it was a match Dutch fans will be speaking about for thirty years.  I doubt I'll see a more momentous match for the rest of the tournament.

And to think it had all started so well for the Spanish.

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The evening was spent sheltering from monsoon conditions at a local restaurant.  Chile v Australia on the TV.  The locals supporting the Aussies.  The Dutch fans with a look of golden bewilderment on their faces.  Almost in a daze at what they had witnessed.  The Spaniards were left alone.  We stayed later than intended.  We thought we'd wait for the rain to cease but it beat us in the end.  We ran out of the restaurant past a group of five Americans smoking under a giant table umbrella. 

The next morning as I waited to fly back to Rio the weather continued to mystify.  Incessant rain one minute bright skies the next.  Then out of my window I got one final strange sight to remember Salvador by.  In hindsight, I would have paid money for this last 48 hours.

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Where were you?

Where were you when England got knocked out of the World Cup?  Maybe you were in the car on the way home from work.  Maybe you resurfaced from the tube blinking into the light to find out via your phone that Costa Rica had beaten Italy.  Maybe you were following it on radio, TV or the Internet.  Your frustration growing as the clock ticked towards the ninety.  I was here.  Waiting for the IT guy to turn up to sort out a technical problem. 


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Ah the glamorous world of the media. 

Although when you look at the photo upside down it looks more interesting. 


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I'd like to think I was actually in space when Bryan Ruiz scored. A futuristic scene would add a touch of colour to the reality. Maybe I'm on a intergalactic cruiser a billion miles from home.  Transporting industrial sized weaponry to a satellite service station on Alpha Omega Three. I wonder if Alpha Omega Three have a football team? 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Uruguay 2 England 1

How many times in my life am I going to have to watch England disappoint at a major tournament? Every two years it's the same thing.  We score from a set piece, we win ugly, we get out of the group then lose beautifully to the first good team we meet.  Or on penalties.  This time we haven't even managed that.

"This time will be different", we were told.  "We are just pleased to be there".  "Getting out of the group will be an achievement".  Well if that is the case why do I feel like this?

Twenty minutes into the game and the warning signs were there.  Nervy play.  No continuity.  Couldn't string a pass together.  Pressed high up the pitch we were reverting to knocking it long.  Not that Uruguay were much better.  It was always going to be a game where the team that took their chances progressed.  Rooney headed against the bar.  Suarez headed it into the net.

Half-time.  The writing well and truly on the wall.  England should have been dead and buried within ten minutes of the restart.  Uruguay then tried to play the game out.  Rooney missed another chance.  A snatched effort straight at the keeper.  He would have scored in a Man Utd shirt.  The pressure.  The pressure.

We were watching in a corporate suite at a plush hotel.  Free beer and snacks.  With kick off approaching the place was half full so the organisers invited fans in off the street.  Not sure they thought that through.  The atmosphere darkened. "Fuck the foreigners" someone shouted at the screen.  We moved outside. 

I started to pace and put my hands to my brow.  The clock ticked along.  I puffed out my cheeks. The Uruguay players developed cramp. I looked to the heavens.  Every hold up or mis-controlled pass would lead to me swearing at the screen.  "Fucking hell, ref!"

And then finally we scored.  Blissful relief.  I danced alone and then with my colleagues.  Punched the air.  "Come on!"  Could we snatch this?  I would still take a point.

I was looking away from the screen when Gerrard flicked the ball to Suarez.  How many times was the last part of that sentence said last season?  I turned back just in time to see Suarez running in on goal.  Joe Hart was never going to save that.  And he didn't.

And that was it.  Back to where we started.  Effectively knocked out of another tournament before it's really got going.  Now for the recriminations.  "It's Roy's fault", "it's the players fault", "it's the systems fault", "it's that cheating Uruguayan's fault".  Who knows who's fault it is.  Ultimately it's my fault for putting myself in this position time and time again when I know exactly what is going to happen. 

Off to Fortaleza in the morning to watch Germany show us how it's done.  A nation famous for long-term forward thinking both politically and on the sports field.  Maybe one day we will start listening.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Copacabana

Before I came to Brazil I had to sit through a five hour security briefing which left me so on edge I jumped out of my seat when a cleaner appeared at the window.  Murder, corruption, riots, pick-pockets, car-jacking, malaria and dangerous drivers.  For the second World Cup in a row it seemed I was heading into a war zone.  A week in and I'm still alive and while the dangers are clear and present the real risk to my health here is the food.

My diet has been terrible.  I'm averaging about a meal and a half a day.  I've eaten more processed meat in Rio than in the six months since I was last, um, in Rio.  Big Bob's Burgers.  Twice.  All you can eat pizza.  Steak(s) and chips.  Too much coffee.  Not enough water.  I haven't eaten a single vegetable and I've drunk beer every night.  It's a teenage boy's wet dream.

And it's not just the lack of food that leaves me light-headed.  Copacabana is a dizzying place. Western rules governing colour, creed and class need not apply here.  Poverty is not the sole preserve of the ethnic minority.  Religious fervour omnipresent but not overpowering.  Rich, poor, the young and the dying are all pieces of the same jigsaw. 

Beachside is populated by people who pound the pavement with intent.  This is an area where the locals strut their stuff.  And you do not have to be a perfect 10 to flaunt tings.  Massive backsides in tiger print Lycra jostle for position on the seafront. Old men go through energetic exercise routines in the morning sun as the traffic snakes by. Both sexes bathe in skimpy swimwear leaving little to the imagination no matter their size. 

Meanwhile across the street the homeless & the addicts congregate.  Doorways near million dollar apartments house drug addicts at night who then seek the shade of the trees during the day. 

All of this takes place under the same sun but against two backdrops.  To the East the waves crash in from the ocean in a typical beach scene.  Surfers, bathers, posers, beach footballers.  To the West a darker presence.  Mountainous favelas, at times shrouded in cloud, peer down onto the faded grandeur of the beachfront hotels.  A reminder of Rio's present day poverty and its long since departed 1930's heyday.

The sun goes down early and quickly here.  Bake on the beach at 5pm if you like but you will be in complete darkness by 6pm.  It's winter and the weather conditions can change in a blink of an eye.  It's not uncommon to see startled holidaymakers dashing through hotel lobbies wrapped in a towel wondering aloud where the rain had come from. 

Copacabana adopts a different feel when it turns dark.  Tourists are warned away from the beach at night but at times it seems this may just be so the locals can reclaim it for themselves.  Small children play beach football late into the evening, middle aged folk exercise, people sit, talk, smoke, relax.  Men holding hands roller skate past hawkers holding Brazil shirts with cocaine in their shorts. 

Away from the beachfront small bars open out onto the streets.  Cheap beer, live music, dangerous cocktails and prostitutes.  Lots of prostitutes. The congregation continues long into the night. It's so busy and the alcohol flows so freely that the area feels safe although this can change quickly.  A wrong turn or sobriety can suddenly make a 1.30am walk to pick up a presenter a hairy one.  The beggars approach or shout out aggressively as you pass.  This isn't the time nor the place for a romantic stroll.

It's a real eye-opener being here.  Pre-tournament fears over safety have been replaced by a marvelling of a country and a people that do not appear to be following the same rules that we live our lives by.  Make no mistake.  Whether you find yourself football-watching or people-watching there's no better place in the world to be right now.