Posts from the ‘India’ Category

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 6, Drawn 2, Lost 2, Won 2

Every so often, in life, you do things you’d much rather not for the greater good.

Like not handing back your pint when the clueless round-buyer unwittingly gets you a lager. Or pretending not to notice baked beans have been put in the chilli in place of their kidney counterparts (Hello Mum. Love you! X). Or putting up with horrible, horrible dance music when you’re a passenger in someone else’s car.

Earlier today brought about such an example.

Despite being outrageously talented, one of the finest batsmen of his generation and most probably a really nice chap as well, I’ve never had the time of day for Ian Bell. All the ability in the world, yet no ticker, guts, cojones etc when the going gets tough, which usually means on any turning track or against opposition in the sub continent.

The ‘atters used to have such a player. Jean Louis Valois. A magician from across The Channel. He had opposition defenders in his pocket, a wonderful ability to ghost past players, put crosses on to the head of Big Stevie Howard and a shot like Napoleon’s best Carabinier. He also had the propensity to go missing when it got a bit physical. Especially on a cold Tuesday in the dark North West or on other such challenging weather and well ‘ard full back based situations. For all his shortcomings, I still loved him.

I don’t think I’ll ever love Ian Bell.

But at 8-3 and the slightest threat (or ruddy great big threat, if you’re a natural worrier like me) to England wrapping up a potentially series deciding win in Kolkata with Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott & Kevin Pietersen all out, I R Bell stepped up to the plate and, making short work of a potential banana skin, deployed all the aforementioned class to see his team home, quite comfortably in the end, by seven wickets. Cue delirium among the travelling faithful.

Today England sealed a memorable victory on one of cricket’s greatest stages. It had been a long time coming. Cook (outstanding), Trott, Steve Finn, James Anderson and Graeme Swann helped set this up, yet it was the much maligned (by me and a few others within Eden Gardens anyway) Bell who took us home.

Respect to you sir. Grudgingly or otherwise.

Now go and do it again in Nagpur. Please.

Very Superstitious. Writing’s On The Wall?

The minutes are counting down before the start of play. Nervous, I’m passing the time by talking to a delightful lady about her experience with the police today (they banned her glasses case because they thought it was a missile….) and Mackem Rob about his team’s prospects against Chelsea.

Still no sign of him.

Seconds before the players take the field, Matt turns up. He’s on his own.

Shit!

There follows a salient mixture of James Corden and Karl Pilkington. The features amiably the former, the delivery starkly the latter.

“Err, Paul couldn’t make it….”

Since Day One of the Mumbai Test my pre-play handshake with our mutual friend has formed the cornerstone of my match day routine.

Couldn’t make it?

“Err, no, he’s come down with a fever or bug. Thinks it might be too much sun or summat.”

Bad portents, bad, bad.

No bounding, grinning, ginger Yorkie, hand outstretched, smile resplendent under the type of beard you could hide a series of Last of the Summer Wine scripts.

The handshake that extols assurance. Have no fear. We’ll be reet lad, thar knows.

I puff my cheeks out and take my seat. Two balls later Graeme Swann edges behind to leave England seven down for 294. They’ll soon be all out for not many more.

Lucky Paul? Where are you? Get off your sick bed fella. We need you.

Then Virender Sehwag tucks into England’s attack in that way if his. Flashbacks. Ahmedabad. Howl! Monty Panesar gets the treatment. The lunch break can’t come quick enough. Neither can the return of Lucky Paul.

Matt treats me to his lunch time staple, Bhel Puri. A snack concocted of baked rice, spuds, chillies, onions and deep fried bits. I’m not very keen on it but Matt is really quite sad at having to leave this obscure hors d’ouvres on his return to Blighty next weekend. So much so that he’s considering making his own recipe using Rice Crispies and selling it to the unsuspecting people of Cheshire.

Swann gets Sehwag first ball after lunch. Then the rest of this rather unloveable Indian team get in a bit of a pickle against our lads. Steve Finn is rampant. Ian Bell reminds us he has something to offer English cricket still by running out Cheteshwar Pujara. Jimmy Anderson splatters Yuvraj Singh’s stumps. Tendulkar and Dhoni are back in the hutch too at tea. England sniff victory. The Barmy Army give it some in response.

Lucky Paul, schlucky Paul. Silly comfort blanket superstitious nonsense. Still, shame the ol’ boy can’t be here to see it though.

Play resumes, no-one tells Zaheer Khan and Virat Kohli. Then comes R Ashwin.

Resilient. Redoubtable. Really, really annoying.

Slowly the momentum drains from England towards India’s unsung number eight, who has been better value with bat than his main role with the ball in this series. So it proves again. England plug away. Ashwin resists. And how. The boundary count goes up as the deficit comes down. As it becomes clear England will need to bat again to win the Test the Indian support goes up several decibels. Fever pitch stuff. They’ve made England bat again, judging by the ferocity of the celebrations you’d have thought they’d reclaimed the Number One World Ranking spot. Every shot, whether there’s a run from it or not, is cheered boisterously.
Either Bengalis have taken the concept of irony to new levels or, as most of the travelling support tend to believe, these people really are mad. A mother next to me who has been jabbering on in Hindi throughout Ashwin’s heroics suddenly switches tongues and knowingly tells her brood, “For India, Nothing Is Impossible.”

Time stands still. The balmy, hazy dusk is replaced by an Arctic chill.

Forget Ivor Emmanuel in Zulu, forget Russell Osman in Escape To Victory, this shit just got real. England come back tomorrow needing one wicket plus however many runs.

All three results are still possible. Looking for sanity, for salvation, I glance round to Matt….

I don’t care what state he’s in tomorrow. For the love of God, we need Lucky Paul.

The Eye Of The Storm

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“Four-more-to-the-Ingerlund, four-more-to-the-Ingerlund, four-more-to-the-Ingerlund, four-more-to-the-In-ger-lund. Four more…..”

Day Two, Eden Gardens, Kolkata, Third Airtel Test Match. Sometime near the close of play.

Left to right: HW, Vicky, James and Lucky Paul.
Photo credit: P.T.Johnson Esq (Hello Phil! Thanks very much for the photo fella.)

For Tomorrow

Towards the close of play at Eden Gardens, the stadium’s big screen zoomed in on England’s new captain standing in his usual languid style at the non-striker’s end. His face both contemplative and determined. Another Test Match century, his 23rd. The record books continue to be rewritten.
The stadiums watchful hawks performed their last swoop of this famous old arena. The cooling westerly breeze and the ever present smog and drawing dusk doused the last of the Bengal sun’s power. Billy the Trumpeter played Rule Britannia.

Am I doing the right thing? Quitting my steady if soporific job in the middle of a recession to gallivant un-worriedly around the world? How the hell am I going to get a job when I get back? How long before the money runs out?

It didn’t matter. That moment. My raison d’être.

England are still one hundred runs behind with nine wickets in hand and three days to play. All three results still possible. As an England fan, I’ve been here before. Hope, damn hope.

A moment to savour though.

Water Farce

The queue for the eagerly anticipated Third Airtel Test Match stretched around the walls of this iconic old ground. The promise of a day’s play at the home of Indian Cricket, the redoubtable Eden Gardens.
Rather than looking contemplative, the emotions etched on the faces of the gathering crowds was of collective resignation. What was it going to be today?

Every morning of every Test has been the same. A farcical inspection of your possessions and a full-on frisk of your person, rigidly carried out by at least four gopherish police officers, one after the other, each with their own take on the rules of confiscation, as their overbearing, weasel faced Colonel Blimp-like superiors look on, and occasionally join in (especially the frisking). Next in line to the BCCI come the Indian Police Force.
Utterly loathsome. Together they form a horribly tyrannous alliance.

Cameras? No, you’ll sell your pictures to unaccredited sources who will print them thus undercutting any BCCI profits. Bottles of water? No, you’ll use them as missiles. Insect repellant? No, could be used as missiles and you could spray people with it, thus inciting a riot. Barely read copies of The Times of India? No, you’ll set light to them and use them as missiles. Bottles of suntan lotion? No, you could use them as missiles and inadvertently slather someone with it, thus inciting a riot, albeit a nicely bronzed one. Bananas? No, sorry sir, missiles etc etc.

Yes, really.

Everyday, the same scene. According to Lucky Paul’s mate Mark, the police in Mumbai, to their great amusement and his great embarrassment, made him eat a samosa he was cunningly trying to secrete into the ground in his pants in front of them.
What next, as one tour veteran opined in Ahmedabad, shoes?

So imagine my thoughts when I see a gargantuan stash of these being sold in the ground earlier today…..

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So, we’ve got the idea here. Missiles are out. Right?

And, presumably, water bombs are definitely ok then?

Will the last sane person at the BCCI please turn out the lights?

Post Script: They tasted foul. The blue dye that came off on your hands as you drank made it worse.

Having said that, there are a few thousand England fans who would happily drink them all day for the next four days in return for more days like today. Superb start to a big, big game.

Down In The Tubestation At Midnight

Plucking at the great daisy of travelling thus;

I love India, I love India not, I love India, I love India not, I love India, I love India not, I love India, I love India not….

Today was one of the latter. A day of endless asphyxiating bureaucracy, of maddening misdirection. Straight, straight, left. Left, straight. Straight, straight, straight, left. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

No.

A day of no. A day of pointless queuing. Of getting nowhere supersonically quickly. Up and down Park Street and Chowringhee Road and the corridor of uncertainty that passes for the tranche of tat-shifting market stalls stuck immovably over the pavement. In among the chasing gutter kids and the hounding stall holders wanting their pound of foreign flesh.

A day that ended among the thousands of thousands of Kolkatan commuters on their way home in darkness. Midnight? Early evening. The smog leads in the night quickly out east. The Metro carriage is packed to its last square inch. And the next one. And the next one.

I’ll get the next one.

My stop. For the only time in India no one wants my money. Tuk tuk and taxi drivers both refuse to take me the relatively short distance home. Honour among thieves? So I take a ragged stroll back through the busy back streets to my hotel. The gutter kids and stall holders aren’t as persistent out in the suburbs but they’re an ever present reminder of India’s great disparity. I wipe the turd from my shoe on an angry jeweller’s door step. I fist pump a well wisher. I shake my head through disbelief at the never ending cacophony of horns and ponder, just, why? Its always worse on days like these.

I love India, I love India not, I love India, I love India not, I love India, I love India not, I love India, I love India not….

Hotel. Supper. Elbow. Bed.

A day tomorrow watching the cricket.

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Out Of My Brain On The Train (Part 2)

Third Tier A/C, it sounded slightly different, but I expected similar to my previous experiences on Indian Railways. Rock up, get your bunk, wobble your head at your compartment travellers (a little less wobble for the other passengers and their curious gawping, you don’t want to get too friendly too early and you certainly don’t want to share bunk space). Cling on to the surface, try and get comfortable. Take it in turns to hang out the open door. Try again to get comfortable. Press your face up against the window rails for a view if you can’t get near the door. Regret never ever having been to Pilates in preparation for this type of carry-on. Try once again to get comfortable.

As soon as we entered Coach B-2 for the De-Mille-esque journey ahead of us, everything looked the same, but different. The carriages from the outside looked as I remembered them, a sort of sky blue and darker blue appearance that once upon a time Coventry City may have used for their home kit, with a tinge of yellow that they probably wouldn’t. The bunks with their gloomily unwelcoming chains, the fans set at rakish angles (Hello Michael!).

Then it struck me.
Tinted windows. Sheets? Pillows? Blankets? Sockets.
And yer actual A/C Unit.
This wasn’t exactly how I remembered it.

How naive. I presumed A/C meant doors and windows open 24/7, dust on demand, get your fresh air when you can. I’d lost something in translation, or, as is often here, application of the translation.
A kindly Merchant Seaman, on his way back to ship for another voyage (and we thought Mumbai- Kolkata by train was a bit of a wrench) to wherever work next took him, corrected me on my assumption. Explaining that Third Tier A/C meant a modicum of comfort we bunkered down for the 34 hours journey ahead of us.

Smart arse me, feeling over qualified (knob) through my extensive (knob) adventures of this wonderful country, I took it upon myself to explain to my fellow travellers exactly (knob) what would happen on these over night excursions. Turns out I got things a bit wrong. What James and Vicky (an absolutely delightful couple who I’d spent the last day or so with) did get was two nights of reasonable sleep and enough A/C to hoodwink a Polar Bear into putting another layer on. And reasonable food for a very reasonable price. They got somewhere to plug in the IPad to watch Borat (thanks James) and somewhere to stoically, and relatively untroubled, finish the latest Marion Keyes novel (kudos Vicky). They also got to play I Spy (see below).

What they didn’t get was the thrill of hanging on outside a train while it powers through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, through Jharakand and on into West Bengal and the exhilarating sights, sounds and smells this experience allows. The wailing eunuchs, the cherubic tat salesmen, the suspicious looking vendors all will have to wait for another day.

Like buying a ticket for an Iron Maiden concert and getting Crowded House instead. Tedium rather than tangible, India through a tinted window rather than the in your face, roller coaster thriller a joyride in Sleeper Class* provides.
Out of my brain alright. Through boredom sadly.

*All these years thinking A/C and Sleeper were the same thing. That’s another great thing about India, just when you think you’ve got the place sussed, it turns round and bites you on the arse.

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Bathrooms of Bombay: The Busted Flush

Spent ages doing a video clip to upload showcasing my latest digs in Mumbai.

Blog providers want £40 for the privilege. Have tried to Tweet it.

That doesn’t look promising either.

So it’ll have to wait till I get home. Sorry folks.

33* hour train journey to Kolkata ahead, so no posting now till Monday. Have a great weekend all.

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*Yes, 33. T-H-I-R-T-Y-T-H-R-E-E.

Spare a Rupee For An Old Ex-Leper?

The busy market stalls around Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Lunchtime. In search of some bargain bric-a-brac on my way to the station. It is a smorgasbord of the obscure.
Screwdriver selections, alarm clocks, Abibas clothing, Goochi purses, scrubbing brushes, rings, bangles, fake Chelsea shirts, mobile phone chargers, headphone sets, pants, sandals. So much tat. So little time.
I settle for a miniature wind up plastic elephant….

Henry: How much? Quick!
Stall Holder: What?
Henry: It’s for my nephew….
Stall Holder: Oh. Fifty Rupees.
Henry: Right.
Stall Holder: What?
Henry: (putting the money down) There you are…
Stall Holder: Wait a moment.
Henry: What?
Stall Holder: We’re supposed to haggle.
Henry: No, no — I’ve got to get to the ticket office…
Stall Holder: What do you mean, ‘no’?
Henry: I haven’t time — I’ve got to get…
Stall Holder: Give it back then.
Henry: No, no — I paid you.
Stall Holder: (calls) Bert!

Bert, a massive man, appears.

Bert: Yeah?
Stall Holder: This bloke won’t haggle.
Bert: (looks around) Wont haggle?
Henry: Oh all right — I mean, do we have to…
Stall Holder: Now I want fifty for that…
Henry: I gave you fifty!
Stall Holder: Now are you telling me that’s not worth fifty?
Henry: No.
Stall Holder: Feel the quality, that’s genuine local sweat shop right there…
Henry: Oh — I’ll give you forty five , then…
Stall Holder: No, no. Do it properly.
Henry: What?
Stall Holder: Haggle properly. This isn’t worth forty five.
Henry: You just said it was worth fifty!
Stall Holder: Bert!
Henry: I’ll give you thirty.
Stall Holder: That’s more like it (angrily). Thirty?Are you trying to insult me? Me? With a poor dying grandmother…? Thirty?!
Henry: Thirty two.
Stall Holder: Now you’re getting it. Thirty two? Did I hear you right? Thirty two?? This cost me thirty four— d’you want to ruin me?
Henry: Forty two?
Stall Holder: Forty Two?!
Henry: Forty five?
Stall Holder: No, no, no — you go to thirty seven now!
Henry: Thirty seven?
Stall Holder: Thirty Seven? Are you joking?
Henry: That’s what you told me to say! (desperate) Tell me what to say, please!
Stall Holder: Offer me forty one.
Henry: I’ll give you forty one.
Stall Holder: (to the onlookers) He’s offering me forty one for this!
Henry: Forty one?
Stall Holder: Forty one. My last word. I won’t take a rupee less, or strike me dead.
Henry: Forty!
Stall Holder: Done! (shaking Henry’s hand) Nice to do business with you. Tell you what, I’ll throw in this as well. (Gives Henry a pair of socks)
Henry: I don’t want them, but thanks.
Stall Holder: Bert!
Bert: (appearing rapidly) Yes?
Henry: All right! All right!! Thank you.
Stall Holder: Where’s the forty then?
Henry: I already gave you fifty.
Stall Holder: Oh yes … that’s ten I owe you then. (starts looking for change)
Henry: … It’s all right, it doesn’t matter.
Stall Holder: Hang on.

A pause while the Stall Holder tries to find change.

Henry: It’s all right, that’s ten for the socks — that’s fine!
Stall Holder: Ten for the Socks? !! Look at them, they’re worth twenty if they’re worth a rupee.
Henry: You just gave them to me for nothing!
Stall Holder: Yes, but they’re worth twenty.
Henry: All right, all right.
Stall Holder: No, no, no. They’re not worth twenty.
You’re supposed to argue. ‘What? Twenty for those? You must be mad!’

Exasperated, Henry pays twenty and walks off hurriedly with the socks

Stall Holder: Ah well, there’s one born every minute.

N.B. Reproduced and reworked with an earnest doff of the panama to Idle, Chapman and the others. Thank you.
Heroes all. You continue to inspire.

Communication Problems

Windsor. An evocative name to most Englishman. Our Gracious Queen. Davies. Babs. Knot. Soup.

Sadly my current digs simply do not do the name justice. One example at breakfast mixes hotels California and Fawlty Towers.
Taking my place at breakfast next to Tim, a monosyllabic Swede on a spiritual journey, and Sailesh, an Indo-Finnish physician, and careful not to place my elbow in the left overs from the previous diner’s visit, I take a moment to get my bearings. I order breakfast.

Sailesh isn’t short of a word or too. Tim is. I’m treated to the former’s views on everything from Sai Bibi to Angry Birds, Steve Jobs to Swedish women, gurus, ice hockey, Finland, Finland, Finland. The nutty professor is in his element and none more so than in his intermittent admonishment of our waiter.
Yes, he is a complete moron. But there’s no need to remonstrate quite so pointedly and dramatically.
Then Kevin, a Londoner, and a veteran of more than one of such morning matinees, informs me he is the worst waiter in the world.

Paratha? No, omelette. Chai? Yes, where is it?

Minutes later. More talking. I scan the room and the punters. Remembering, I tiptoed through these very facilities about eight hours ago to the fridge for a bottle of water and in the process woke up a dozen or so kitchen staff scattered around the dining room floor…..

Coffee? No chai. Please. Omelette? Yes, where is it?

The chef’s dog makes a nuisance of itself in the passageway between dining room and kitchen….

The omelette eventually arrives. Chai? Yes, where is it?

The fixtures and fittings of the dining room are, in keeping with the rest of this squalid place, awful. Shit beige and shit shit coloured walls, the chairs are the the same colour. The tables are the like the ones you keep meaning to take down the tip but always find a reason not too.

Coffee? No, chai. Oh for, fu….

I’ve got coffee.

Meanwhile, seemingly having exhausted his repertoire of soliloquies, Sailesh has left the waiter alone and turned his interrogation on Tim. “So you have family?” “Yes, a brother.” “You must fight a bit, yes?” “It is hard to do when he is disabled.”

Silence.

Time to shampoo the cat. Or stick pins in my eyes. Or see if they can rename the hotel something more appropriate.

Like Bon Jovi. Or Ronaldo. Or Balls.