Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 14, Drawn 6, Lost 5, Won 3

Then, a cesspit of smugness, over priced rubbish beer, anguish and despair. Now, a sea of happiness, under priced rubbish beer, amiability and pride. Bursting pride. January 2014 to April 2015 has been something of a roller coaster ride for England cricket fans. Then, another right good hiding from the Aussies in the culmination of an Ashes series too far, now a first away victory in nearly two and a half years. Ask anyone who was present at the Grenada National Stadium on Day 5 or swilling rum and Carib in the full-to-bursting bars afterwards if it was worth the wait, and they will probably concur. Everyone connected with English cricket has had the pain, now it’s time, hopefully, to enjoy the gain.


Gary Ballance made an unspectacular entrance into the cauldron of Test cricket at the SCG fifteen months ago, but since his inconspicuous debut, this Zimbabwean Yorkshireman has been one of the catalysts for England’s recovery. In fact, everything Gary Ballance has ever done has been unspectacular, which is possibly his finest attribute. Two solid half centuries helped set up victory here, two more solid half centuries added to the vast amount of runs he already has to his name in England colours. His swept four to bring up victory yesterday, as well as starting the party for the thousands of England fans, helped put to bed the misery of the last away trip. Those who picked this Test as the venue for their Caribbean adventure will enjoy this moment now but are aware of the tough months ahead. 


And there’s much to enjoy, so let’s deal with the present. Watching cricket in Grenada has been an absolute joy (although there were one or two slower moments earlier in the match that tried the patience somewhat). Getting tickets has been simple. Getting to the ground has been easy. Getting in the ground has been child’s play. Getting your choice of seat has been pipsqueak. In short, from a customer’s perspective, my experience watching cricket here has been little short of outstanding. As the locals will tell you, the West Indies Cricket Board get a lot wrong, but they must be praised for their involvement here, as must the Grenadian authorities. Great views of the hills littered with precariously placed shacks, the sea and the pitch mean the ground itself gets into my top six cricket venues too.

  

Day 5 was incredible. Jimmy Anderson in the morning session was sensational. His wickets, catches and a sharp run out effectively won the match for England and put some much needed life into a game that looked to be loafing off into dozy obscurity. Joe Root enjoyed another terrific Test match, and is simply a pleasure to watch. Alastair Cook had a good game with the bat and tried everything to get the result. That England prevailed is down to their skipper as well as the stellar performances of Anderson, Ballance and Root. 

So, that’s the present. An excellent, unexpected win in beautiful surroundings among beautiful people. The future? We’ll deal with that another day. There’s still some celebrating to be done on this beautiful island. To the beach…

Breakfast at Doltrice’s

The Grand Anse Craft & Spice Market. Another Grenadan day lopes leisurely into life. The excitable chatter of stall holders discussing nothing in particular brings to mind the gathering storm of the Election back home. A pair of brazen blackbirds mimic this scene as they flit in and out of the multi-coloured picnic benches on the search for scraps. On the beach, senior citizens stroll purposefully up and down for their early morning work out, fishermen wrestle with the tide, American students pound the sand at pace, brimming full of determination as locals, looking on in bewilderment, loll gently in the surf. A kindly looking gentleman, known to all as Doctor, does his rounds. Patrols of English cricket fans wobble up and down waiting for the bars to open and the Test Match to start.

I settle in at my favourite breakfast haunt, Doltrice’s. Doltrice does the best coffee on the Island. Instant coffee and condensed milk.

And that’s it. None of your Frappo-Maccha-Chocco-Cino-like nonsense so beloved of the big coffee corporations. Instant coffee and condensed milk. It’s the Blitz spirit here on the Spice Island, and despite its humble ingredients, the coffee is simply magnificent. A formidable woman, who by her deportment could only ever have been a cook, Doltrice has been running her roti shop in this prime spot for some time. As the lady herself tells us, no one does coffee like Doltrice.  

The problem, as I’ve discovered since Wednesday, is that it’s a job to know when our host is actually doing coffee like Doltrice. For, once again, Doltrice has taken the day off.

So, once again, Big Ralph in the hut next door comes to the rescue with the heartiest of welcomes but a lesser cup of coffee. A glutton for punishment, and a over-subscriber to the Hope That Kills You theory, I guess I’ll traipse loyally back to Doltrice’s tomorrow in search of this most mercurial of hosts and that most elusive of cups of coffee.

After all, the view’s not too bad….

 

Rolling With It

“Are you looking for a ticket mate?” Well, of course I was. Now then, if, as Samuel Johnson asserts, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then flogging event tickets for a dirty great mark-up on the black market must come a very close second. Mind you, they didn’t have Seatwave and Viagogo back in the good doctor’s day. Had they have done, I dare say he would rethink his famous pronouncement.

I’m stood outside the Ancienne Belgique, the centrally located venue for the latest leg of Noel Gallagher’s tour on a chilly Sunday evening in Brussels. In this city noted for its fabulous beers, I am drinking in the last chance saloon. Swallowing my pride, and draining my metaphorical glass of the last bittersweet drops of common-sense, I nod in hesitant resignation.

“€100 alright mate?” Well, frankly, it’s a bally outrage, but, I’ve got no choice. It gets worse. A cursory glance at the ticket reveals I have just bought a freebie ticket. The penny drops, the seller’s voice is pure Burnage. 

“You know Noel then?”

“Yeah, he’s an old mate. He looks after me.”

Clearly. Everybody’s on the make.

“So, you’ve not paid for this then?”

“Ha ha! No, Noel’s a good lad, always looking after his mates.”

I laugh at the perverse nature of this transaction. Then I swore at the bloke. Which, I reckon, I was fully entitled to do at this juncture.

  

 

 Once inside the venue’s foyer, you can’t move for boozed, up coiffured types in Fred Perry shirts, skinny jeans and mock-Manchester accents. It’s like being in the away end at a football match. Stepping into the hall itself, there’s a capacity crowd in jammed into this intimate little venue. It’s standing room only and it is absolutely magical. “Manchester La La La” is interspersed with “Bedfordshire La La La”. A bemused local joins in with the Bedfordshire chants, he doesn’t understand but he looks happy to be part of it all. The place is rocking before our hero makes it to the stage.

 

Classic Oasis standards Champagne SuperNova and Digsy’s Dinner are served to the masses who lap them up. Recent hits are lustily roared back by the crowd, who, although lacking in lyrical know-how make up for it through pure gusto. The concert ends with Masterplan. I take the time to make some sense of what I have been privileged to be part of this evening. He’s still got it.

  

“€100 alright mate?” All things considered, it is an absolute steal.

Picky Brugge 

I’d backed the wrong horse once again. There, grim, grey skies stretching for as far as the eye could see, that dank, damp, hoodie-infiltrating cold which I assumed dear old Blighty had the naming rights to, prevalent. The Sunday streets full of hum drum folk in a hum drum town going nowhere in the rain. Hustle and bustle in Brussels.
Here, sun. And silence. Glorious sun. Glorious silence. Save for the soft pounding of my Sambas on these beautiful cobbled streets and the many labyrinths that stretch around this atmospheric city. I lap it up, the soul stirs & the morning head finally shakes itself free of the previous night’s sour Six Nations supping.
Bruges is quite something.

I’m smitten instantly. Canals, cathedrals, courtyards. And a pervading sense of peace. It is, in short, just what I need.

Sunday lunch is a liquid lunch as I discover a terrific little bar in the Bruges backstreets. Cutting short another alcoholic afternoon, I reemerge to find the streets busying nicely in shades of black and blue. It’s the Belgian FA Cup final and the locals are descending on Bruges in their thousands. The town square has been given over to a makeshift fan park as those supporters not fortunate to get tickets for the Anderlecht v FC Bruges game swell the bars. 
Meanwhile, a local band digs into the local band song book and starts to whip the crowd up. There’s a good three hours until kick off and the Bruges fans are tucking into the local firewater with gusto. Regardless of the cup final result, they will be dancing in the streets of Bruges tonight.
Sadly though, I must exit this party early. Just as I take my leave, the band’s lead guitarist rips into an elongated riff on an old Steppenwolff tune. For all I know, he may still be going. I have to get back to Brussels and a gig that I haven’t got a ticket or, a hope, for.

Chasing Yesterday

My name is Henry Wisson. And I am a fuckwit. 

There. There’s no easy way of saying these things, but, if you’ll forgive me the first-up f-bomb, that was something, I feel, that desperately needed saying. This morning at half past four in the morning I found myself and my bag packed for Brussels on a deserted platform station in mid-Bedfordshire with nothing but the pre-dawn chorus and the gentle hum of the motorway for company. Plus the cold, enveloping gloom of an early spring day. And the cold, enveloping gloom of a desolation I know only too well.

“I say, he’s being a bit harsh there, what? I mean, Brussels? There are worse places to spend the weekend.”

Dear reader, I’d imagine those kind of thoughts, or something to that effect are going through your head right about now. If you’ll allow me some Ian Brown indulgence here; Let me put you in the picture, let me show you what I mean.

In this gargantuan year for English rugby I should be heading for the heart of the action on this, the climax of an eventful Six Nations tournament in an eventful year for English rugby. I held those self-same tickets in my own hands. I should be picnicking with the car park picnickers of South West London, I should be revelling with the revellers, singing loud, swinging low and roaring on Chris Robshaw and the boys in the cathedral of rugby alongside my precious family, valued friends and all those boozy acquaintances I am yet to meet in an action-packed end to England’s first dress-rehearsal for the World Cup. 

I should be there, but I’m not. You see, owing to a monumental error of judgement, I am instead plunging through the early morning pain into Central Europe. The pleasant chitter-chatter of birdsong has been replaced by the odious self-important small talk of gap-year fashion student types liberally spraying the quiet carriage with the banal and the boastful. Out of my brain on the train, I am heading across the channel in the vain hope of catching one of my heroes, Noel Gallagher, in concert in the Belgian capital on Sunday night. At the expense of a brought and paid for ticket at Twickers.

Sadly, I forgot to check this most salient of points as I hurriedly booked the Eurostar fare and the two nights worth of accommodation for Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March 2015. Sorry, the non-refundable Eurostar fare and the two nights worth of accommodation for Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March.

And, ah yes, once again dear reader, you are absolutely correct. I don’t have a ticket for the aforementioned gig. 

In my defence, I can say only this… I’m not sure how it has happened, but, to this day, music plays a huge part in my life. I cannot strum a chord, read a bar, or sing a note yet, I revere the likes of Paul Weller and Morrissey, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley with something bordering on the fanatical. I am, just about, a child of the seventies. I missed most of my musical heroes in their prime, so, for me, a Noel Gallagher gig represents a wonderful opportunity to live out my addiction. It’s something to tell the nephews; “Yeah, these old buggers you’re watching on YouTube right now, I was there when they were at their peak.” Because, twenty years ago, Noel Gallagher and Oasis did just that. They and their Britpop peers ruled the world. Judge me as you will, friend, but, I am still captivated by their spell.

Although, having said that… It’s England. Versus France. At Twickenham.

A ticket any rugby fan, any England rugby fan, would give their high-teeth for. And I’m seemingly half a world away from it all.

Because of my incredible imbecility, my sensational stupidity, my breathtaking buffoonery, I am en route to the most remarkable of unremarkable places on the wildest of wild goose chases. And, to boot, I have forgone the magic of an unforgettable day out with my brothers, cousins, uncles and chums at the home of rugby too. Sometimes, I ache from just how much of an idiot I am.

They say acceptance is the first step.

My name is Henry Wisson. And I am a fuckwit.

  Brussels. Enough said.

Magic Moments

He’s quite the sage is Uncle Ben. I’m talking here about my dad’s youngest brother and not the old bloke who does the savoury rice dishes. Not for the first time, I’m very pleased I took his advice.

‘Lake Como, chap. You don’t need too long in Milan, boy, get yourself up there for a bit.’

He’s right. Alan Partridge’s über-glib put down of London; ‘go there and be stabbed or under-appreciated’ could apply equally to Milan. More so, if anything.

In the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the one of the world’s couture capitals, I concurred with Steve Coogan’s character’s first point. Thankfully, the second even more tangible point doesn’t happen.
I spend much of my time in the city seemingly swimming against the wash of the immaculately sculpted and impeccably groomed. Frankly, if style’s not your thing (And with my hair and dress-sense, it’s fair to say it’s never been mine…) there’s little reward for spending much time there.
And, if money’s not your thing either (again, something I’m not great at…), then there’s much to see but little to do here too. Don’t get me wrong, Milan is well worth a visit, but I had hoped for more from the first stop on my maiden Italian adventure*.

Como, on the other hand, is a treat. Walking down from the station through the city’s walls, an instant calmness becomes the visitor. Alpine vistas stretch into the distance, the greenery pockmarked by the hill top residencies of the savvy Savoys. Stowed boats lol passively**. The autumn colours and bright sunshine make for a transfixing blend with the serene skies. The gentle lapping of the lake upon the shore and the boastful fly pasts of the local sea-planes all add to the peaceful scene.

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A stroll by the lake soothes the soul. A walk through the labyrinths of stone clad courtyards likewise. All in all, Como is a very acceptable choice for a lazy Sunday morning.

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Admittedly, by the time I choose to take my leave, Milanistas and visitors from further afield have cottoned on to the majesty of the Southern Alps. I climb the steps back to the station and get ready for my second big night of the weekend…

*Not a euphemism. Sadly.
**Hello Nasher!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

It did. Kind of. As I disembarked the Metro at Assago Forum, I bumped into a bloke who looked like Bernard Cribbins.

But if we’re using ‘funny’ as in a ‘bit odd’ as opposed to Eric & Ernie funny then, yes, there were one or two things to relay. Mind, I doubt you’ve ever seen a blog post, or indeed anything else, dedicated to the Lads from Les-tah with a Frankie Howerd inspired title before? Witter ye not!

Assago, situated to the south west of Milan is industrial with a capital ind. Charmless swathes of neon-noon lighting illuminate the Lombardy dusk. No bewildering gothic architecture and pleasantly cobbled streets.
Just lines of faceless international conglomerates and identikit factories, hulking, sulking hotels and enough roundabouts to keep the by-now-doddery planners of Britain’s 70s new towns happy in their retirement homes.

I reel as I take in my new surroundings, and not just because of my brush with the Cribbins clone. Right said Fredo, hang on uno momento!
I’ve come all the way over here, me plus no-one, hundreds of miles away just to see my favourite band play in Mil….

…ton Keynes.

Really?

Only the Italian signage gives the game away. Then the unmistakable sound of a mighty-agh Tom Meighan cry-agh at an early soundcheck splits the Assagoan air to remind me why I’m here. It’s not Eaglestone. It’s not Conniburrow. It’s not even Downs Barn. Thank goodness.

What it is, is Kasabian. The greatest British band of their- ok, my- generation. In Milan. The Mediolanum Forum, Assago.

A quick shufti of the local surroundings reveal no pre-match boozer to catch the Empoli-Juve game in. Because ersatz English pubs full of football and foreboding pop up everywhere. Yes they do. I even glimpsed one in the heart of Milan’s fashion district earlier. Clearly, nothing is sacred. Clinging to this flight of fancy, I reasoned there might be one close to tonight’s venue too.

There isn’t.

There are, however, two enterprising local blokes with a coolbox roped to a sackbarrow standing by the Metro exit selling knocked off bottles of warm lager and water. Grinning in deference both at their daftness and of great memories of tucking into similar bootlegged bevies on the Galle fort while watching England play cricket, I pass up this unique opportunity to ‘keep it real’, and repair to the only place selling liquid refreshment of an interesting nature near the venue.

A Pret-A-Manger/Costa/Starbucks type homogenised eaterie throbbing with good-looking plastic types (there’s not really any other ‘types’ over here, in all honesty) deliberating over rows and rows of plastic-looking paninis and piling into plastic pint pots of Pilsner Urquell. And, bless the hosts, for all their brain-drain deco faults, they’ve not watered any of this Czech champ down. It is a very decent pint.

Ah, the plastic pint pot. The preserve of any gig worth it’s salt. I stroll into the venue head held high. Thoughts that I could be the only other English representative here, at the home of Italian basketball, are proved incorrect by the sight of a phalanx of middle aged Brits stood around at the back of the auditorium in rugby shirts and silly hats. The Great British Stag Do: ragazzi will be ragazzi. The stands swell as the crowds begin to pour in. Even the Slipknot cast-off God-awful crap-ness of the warm up act (“This song’s all about high-fives!” Really? Jog on, wuck-fits.) takes nothing away from the build up. The atmosphere of heightened expectation goes up notch by notch.

Can you feel it coming? It’s time to do this. Forza Milano! Forza Kasabian!

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