Archive for November, 2012

Photos From The Frontline (Bit OTT there, possibly?): Ahmedabad




1st Photo: Praying for an England win or that my guts don’t explode after all those raw chillies.
Toni is the lady with me and Peter took the photo. This was at Vishalla, after our epic tour of the National Utensil Museum of India
What a lovely couple, they were great company.

2nd Photo: Taken some day during the first day’s play. Or was it the second day? Or third?
Not the fourth, we did ok that day.
Maybe it’s the fifth?

3rd Photo: Dispensing some lessons in the art of conjuring to a gentleman just before the grand final of Gujurat’s Tribute to Tommy Cooper.
Here I am offering tips on the “spoon-jar-jar-spoon” part of his act. A staple of any Tommy Cooper show, the judges will have been looking for top marks there and I’m doing my best to ensure our boy nails it.

Away From The Numbers

A feature of this world tour, and indeed the previous one, was the ability of your correspondent to take off, at will, on a random walkabout of my current location and its surrounding area. Half Alan Partridge visits the BP Garage for tungsten screw tips singing Goldfinger, half fitful Ron Burgundy, searching for himself and an ill suited lactose based isotonic; the walk usually begins with plenty of one and ends with plenty of the other.

Today’s bucked the trend (Hello Eats!). Setting out with every intention of discovering Gandhi’s Mumbai base from 1917-34, the Mani Bhavan. I fell out, once again, with my taxi driver and found myself at the peacefully ornate Kamala Nehru Park in the midst of one of the city’s more well to do spots, Malabar Hill. It transpired that, once again, the driver had misunderstood me and, once again, I was miles from where I should’ve been.

I don’t know what Maharastri for ‘wanker’ is, so I called him it in English instead. Now, I appreciate there is something of the pot and the kettle to this shouty aside having worked in banking for over ten years, but seriously, in my experience the world over (well for the most part) taxi drivers really are the absolute pits.

Determined not to lapse into Burgundy territory, I summoned the reserves of my inner Partridge and had a stroll around this eminent area of Mumbai instead. Set overlooking Chowpatty Beach and the smog smothered skyline, this leafy, lofty area of the city is a breath of almost fresh air, a relatively tranquil spot perched on high.
I began my descent back towards Churchgate and Colaba taking in the many facets of Mumbaikar life. From the Malabar mansions, to the poverty battered beachcombers, you don’t need telling this city of immense contrasts has it all.

Needing respite from the melting pot and the melting heat I repaired briefly to the acceptable face of chainstore coffee franchises, a branch of Coffee Cafe Day. The Eskimo Iced Coffee (with matching air conditioning) was not a bad choice.
With the inner Burgundy still at bay, I headed down the promenade, past the maidens and Maidans, the hardy swimmers and paddlers, the more refined club bathers, the passive fishermen, the Gymkhana players, the coy canoodlers and the gora greeters and back towards the madding crowd…

Dust on the Ground

Journeys to gigs are usually not straightforward, in fact, the more complicated the journey, the better the gig. Yesterday’s experience added to this generalisation.

Moving up to Bandra, through the exotically monikered Mahalaxmi, the imperial Grant Road and the slightly silly Dadar on the early evening train, then on into the district itself. Taxi drivers wouldn’t take my money, tuk-tuk drivers less so. An occurrence in India as rare as an England cricketer at home on a raging turner. So I stumbled on through Bandra, with its famed nightlife and contemporary bars as well hidden among the rubble, mess and poverty as subtlety in a Little Britain sketch until I reached my destination; Bonobo Bandra.
One of my favourite bands from the UK, the aptly named Bombay Bicycle Club were due to end their Indian Tour on Sunday. Owing to the expiration of controversial politician Bal Thackeray on Saturday evening, this gig was cancelled as (most of) a city mourned. With the rest of the band flying home to fulfil prior engagements, lead singer Jack Steadman stoically stayed behind to headline a hastily convened acoustic session that took place on Tuesday night.

Bonobo Bandra was well primed for its brush with greatness, owing to the numbers queuing for entry and service, to pay tribute to one of the current greats of Britain’s indie scene. Or it could be like this every night. Overpriced drinks served by overfamiliar bar staff in an over flouncy setting.The consumer base consisting of Mumbai’s beautiful (and rich) people; the spoilt city kids, Shantaram tragics and Gap Yahs. I feared it was probably like this every night and headed to the adjoining room to where the music was.

The support act were five local lads, Something Relevant. They were good. Drawing on inspiration from Sly & The Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and Marouane Fellaini, these youngsters breezed through their act and were cheered on by family and friends throughout. They reappeared to a chirpy ovation and finished the evening alongside Jack to take part in a rapturously received Always Like This.
Steadman himself was superb. Strumming on manfully despite the lack of support, the bass section in the end was formed of the audiences’ loudest clappers, he gave an assured performance and took them through the band’s growing back catalogue as well as taking on a couple of specially selected Blues standards for himself. Listening to him it’s clear that he owes not just Bombay Bicycle Club’s name to his love of India, Leaving Blues, it transpires was written in tribute to his first visit here. It’s also clear he revels in the kind of über-geek indie minstrel persona that so turns people away from this genre. Each of the songs were performed with the rough n’ ready touch associated with an acoustic set, yet with the confidence of a musician at the very top of his game.

The journey home was less frenetic. Indeed, almost alone among the carriages, peering out across the Mumbai nightscape, I thought of the beautiful ending to the album, Flaws and Swansea. I was among the trains, pawing into the wild, wild night…

Bathrooms of Bombay: A DWC Special (Number one of a series*)


One for the plumbers, especially Cousin Tommy and his mate John, both avid subscribers to Dances With Chazzwazzers.

I know what you’re thinking. The designer’s taken his inspiration from Noel’s House Party there. I knew that programme had to be good for something, but I didn’t expect to find its legacy right here in India’s fourth biggest city.

Also, as you can see, for the busy Mumbaikar, the feature that lets you combine the act of two of the ‘The Three S’s’ simultaneously. Time for one extra methi paratha in the morning, maybe?

I’ll have a word and see if they can put a shaving mirror in somewhere to enable the user to do all three.

Meanwhile, the cistern of choice is an “Egret Commander Watertech”, offering residents of this great city, “The Seal of Trust since 1961.” Apparently.

Give me a Dudley Duoflo any day, eh fellas?

*…..of one, probably.

One Nation

In dear old Blighty, the Health & Safety chaps would have a fit with their collective legs in the air; “Britney-Jade, don’t touch that! I know your bruvva’s annoying you but there’s no need to scald his ears on that hot grill….” Welcome to family dining, Indian style.

No messing about here. Order food. Get food. Grill food (on your own grill). Eat.

Yes, your own grill. Marvel, as like a Frankie N’ Benny’s style Tracey Island, the middle bit of your table comes out and your very own grill slots seamlessly into its place. Marvel again as your waiting staff, perversely dressed in the yellow and green of World Series Cricket Australia or Justin Fashanu era Norwich City, place sharp skewers laden with warming meat and vegetables on to your own personal furnace. Then, for good measure, apply your own baste with the brushes and drizzles and sauces provided.

At least, that’s what I presume they are. Following on (that was really harsh typing that- today of all days…) from our dining experience last week at Vishalla and the National Museum of Utensils, they could be put to use for a quick impromptu Impressionist composition of your fellow diners as you wait for your paneer angara or jhinga lahsooni.

Barbeque Nation. We’ll never see its like in the UK, which is a bally shame, because as dining experiences go, it is thoroughly recommended. It’s as random as a Reeves & Mortimer duologue, and as welcoming as an England middle order to an Indian spin bowling attack. I was left feeling very impressed by my first visit.

Sadly though, you just couldn’t get it past Health & Safety. There’s more chance of England winning the next Test Match (Sorry non-cricket fans, this is a really bitter post, you’ll understand one day. Maybe.).

Essentially; you rock up, have your barbecued starters finished on your grill (the faultlessly enthusiastic waiters will keep refreshing your grill, unless, via the medium of table-mounted flag, you specify otherwise), take in the Indian staple main courses buffet before returning later for dessert. All this is washed down by one of the restaurant’s mock-tails (in other states, alcoholic drinks are available) and accompanied by copious amounts of loud Beatles or Jerry Lee Lewis tracks over the jukebox.
Families are seduced by the ‘Early Bird’ offer (we sat outside, obliviously, for ten minutes on the plastic patio chairs with other patrons waiting for the doors to open) and all the other stuff that goes with a trip to India’s improved take on The Harvester.

In fact, we’d still be there now if we hadn’t joined in with singing Happy Birthday. Apparently, ‘Why Was She Born So Beautiful?‘ doesn’t translate to well into Gujurati….

Viewing Record for England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 4, Drawn 2, Lost 2

Made a note in my diary on the way back from the Sardar Patel Gujurat Stadium. Simply says: “Bugger.”*

*With the fondest of acknowledgments to Messrs Curtis, Elton & McInnerny.

The Thoughts of Secretary H

As I while away the time waiting for Peter & Toni to finish their Amdavad Sunset Tuk-tuk Tour, sitting in my room swilling Masala Chai and listening to an old Weller album; here’s some reflections from today in Motera. In no particular order….

Chocobars, while not the most nutritious or filling, are probably the most value for money lunches in the world cricket. Two for thirty rupees, anyone?

Met the ghostwriter for Ian Bell’s newspaper column earlier. A nice chap with a great line in fedoras. He’s going to earn his money tonight….

The Sports Personality of the Year list should be re-jiggled to include the England skipper. As if today’s Herculean knock isn’t enough to justify his inclusion on the list, I bet Andy Murray doesn’t have to put up with “strong personalities in the dressing room” in his conquest to be the world’s best.

For the uninitiated, Ahmedabad is called the ‘Manchester of India’. In a surreal twist, I sat next to a bloke who sounds like he’s spent all his years living in Eccles. He hasn’t. He just loves The Beatles and Oasis and his mum’s from London originally. Mad fer it!

I haven’t given Matt Prior any credit yet. His innings was also superb. Keep going stout yeoman.

My cricket club, the mighty Elstow C.C., would absolutely destroy the Indian national team in a fielding competition. And that’s just our Under 14s.

Indian fans, for all their enthusiasm, can surely come up with some songs for their team or players rather than just shouting Sachin, Sachin, Yuvi, Yuvi, Zaheer, Zaheer etc etc. They’re almost as uninventive as The Fanatics.

Aleem Dar got another decision wrong today. Sadly. Despite this, he still has the best hair in world cricket.

Test Cricket is a funny ol’ game. I came away from the ground today almost skipping. Tomorrow I may traipse out forlornly like I did after Day Two. It is the hope that kills you, damn that hope. Still, at least……

I absolutely do not have to go on the Amdavad City Sights tour now!

On The Buses?

Like the balloon in The Prisoner or the rubbish car lying ominously in wait for the losing competitor in a Top Gear three car challenge, something in my hotel room steadfastly refuses to go away. A tomato soup-red tourist leaflet advertising Amdavad City Sights.
I’ve told myself I’ll sign up for this when I run out of things to do in Gujurat’s second city.

Ahmedabad is a nice enough city. I like its people, its restaurants, its traffic jams, its endearingly shambolic fusion of old and new world architecture. Its tuk-tuk drivers are probably the most obliging and least argumentative I’ve come across anywhere in Asia.
I just don’t have the urge to immerse myself in it like I do other cities in this marvellous nation.

At lunch on the third day of the Test Match, there was a good chance I was going to be taking in the BRTS Bus Route, the Nirma University and the Rani Sipri (Didn’t he do the original version of It Must Be Love?*) Mosque among the other highlights of the aforementioned city tour. At tea, I was going to be doing this twice. Plus revisiting the National Utensil Museum of India for good measure.

I have come to India to watch cricket. Thanks to the tenacity and temperament of Messrs Cook and Compton, there’s a good chance I’ll get my wish of five days cricket at the Sardar Patel Gujurati Stadium rather than taking part in the Indian equivalent of The Stevenage Experience.

My attitude is probably appalling. The Rough Guide writers will be lining up to chastise me for my cynical viewpoint. Thing is, and all due to respect to The Gurjar Tourism Development Society and the upstanding citizens of this upstanding city, I’m quite happy to go through life having never had a dip in the Kankaria Lake or found out what the Adalaj Step Well is.

So bat on, my brave lads, bat on. I want to be sharing my thoughts with you all on the first game of A. N. Cook’s glorious England reign come blog-time Monday evening rather than giving you an inexhaustible account of the IIM, whatever one of those is.

England need a day’s worth of what they produced in the last session today. Two day’s worth really. We know the pitch is going to break up, that India’s spinners will want to have this sewn up tomorrow having completely dominated for the first half of this encounter. We know England have played very poorly for most of this Test, but they have two days to sort this mess out.
They have the ability and the players to do this, plus a new captain desperate to lay down a positive marker in his first match in charge.

There’s about two hundred people here, plus several million back home who hope they can achieve this. Otherwise your correspondent will have to change his name to Number Six….

Or Blakey.

*Hello Will! Hello Sian! X

Masala Chai, Fish & Chips. And Hope.

It was at my Leaving Do last week (Well, one of them. The one at the Jalori. “How nice. Acclimatisation?”said I. “Sphincter Conditioning” came the retort.) when conversation turned to the nature of my travels. The real raison d’être, the sitting on my arse watching cricket bit.

“But surely, you can just sit at home watching it on the sofa instead. What’s the point going all that way?” At stumps on Day Two of the first England v India Test Match, I found myself wholly concurring with that statement.

But then after a soothing pot of Masala Chai (Hello Ravi! Hello Kamal!) I came to my senses. You don’t follow your team anywhere and expect to do well, well, I don’t. It’s everything that goes with it.

One of my most chastening moments as a Hatters fan, and this as an impressionable, gawky teenager, was a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Grimsby. We were terrible. Really bad. And it was cold. Bitter. And on certain days, when the wind is in the wrong direction, I swear I can still smell the disused haddock.
Yet on the way home, the detour to the fish & chip shop proved inspirational. Those fish & chips were probably the best I’ve ever tasted. It didn’t take away the bitter taste of defeat (that seems to be inbuilt in my taste buds ever since coming second in the egg & spoon race at lower school) but it certainly took the edge off it.

My fish and chips moment today came courtesy of my companions Peter & Toni. Peter’s mindless optimism and Toni’s deferential cheer. From RTW Tony and In The Know Toby (He’s found beer in Ahmedabad….) and their accompanying me in the Swanny chant. From Paul & Hannah, a delightful young couple who escape this morass of a match to head to Kerala. From hotel-mate Andy and his Northern stoicism. From Rohan, the helpful tuk-tuk co-driver and cricket student (Tonight’s homework; Which international team does Geraint Jones currently play for?).

To be here. The bigger picture.

Yes, England have made a right ol’ mess of this so far. Yes, I’ve come a long ol’ way to see this right ol’ mess.
However…. It’s not quite 7-1 at Grimsby yet.

Probably ‘4-1 at home to Portsmouth, despite leading, on my birthday, I was violently sick the next day after eating dodgy prawns’ territory but there is still hope.*

So, absolutely. I’m loving this. I’d much rather be here at the sharp end than on my sofa. And I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow and The Miracle of Motera…..

*Yes, yes. I know, it’s the hope that kills us. Hello Welsh Andy!

Got Bored. Wrote Match Report. Long ‘ol Slog. Back To Silly Pictures & Donkey Smut I Think….

1st Day, 1st Test, Motera, Ahmedabad, India vs England

Tuk-tuking to the ground, two signs resonated as we chugged along the Ahmedabad backstreets. Firstly a melancholic daub on a decaying wall, The Youth Alliance vs Corruption, then further on a tired, more official exhibit marking the headquarters of The Gujurati Board of Pollution Control.
I wondered who had the more insurmountable task ahead of them.
Then I saw Virender Sehwag help give his team a massive lead at lunch on the first day and a more intimidating challenge than the two statements from my journey earlier confronted England’s new skipper Alastair Cook.
Sehwag’s innings, a mighty run a ball 117, was an innings typical of the man. It gives me great pleasure to write that because it’s been too long since we saw an innings of bullying brilliance from him. Sadly for England’s bowlers they were on the receiving end of this potentially match defining knock. Yet they did not help themselves. The bowling was too short, too wide. The fielding indolent. If ever a side need a route back into winning ways it is the home team and first Sehwag, then Cheteshwar Pujara benefitted from England’s malaise.
If Sehwag was the shot gun wielding hit man then Pujara proved to be India’s silent assassin. He stealthily compiled his runs, turning England’s attack over and delighting the locals with some delightful stroke play. The heir apparent to the recently retired Dravid, the young Gujurati looks to have the temperament and touch to be The Wall’s long term replacement, he ended the day two short of what promises to be an special century on his return to Test cricket.
Also making his return to the longer format of the game was Yuvraj Singh, the cheers that greeted his arrival eclipsed those even of Sachin Tendulkar, for a change. This popular cricketer finished on 24 and his every run was enthusiastically heralded by the swelling crowd. Singh’s recovery from cancer is one of the game’s more uplifting stories and surely no one could begrudge him a century on comeback….
Doing his best to stop him, and someone sadly and pertinently all too familiar with the workings of a hospital recently is Graeme Swann. Swann’s efforts with the ball was the only real high point for England and but for some sluggish catching from Jonathan Trott, who’s ill considered appeal compounded his error, the Notts bowler would have ended the first day with five wickets. Swann will have to contend himself with the title of being his country’s leading off spinner, his haul today taking him past Jim Laker’s tally of 193, for now.
England ended the day better than they started it, credit to Cook for finding some much needed fight among his team, and will look to the new ball and the fired-up Swann as a way of getting back into the match. Something they’ll need to do quickly if they are to get back in this match and ahead in the series. Otherwise, there’s a job going sorting out pollution or corruption in Gujurat to anyone who feels brave enough.