Gabriel Webber and the British Umpire

My very latest batch of photos can be viewed here. If you have any trouble, then try again while logged out of Facebook.

There’s an I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue game where the players have to say words which have absolutely no connection with each other. And I’m sorry to disappoint them, but the words ‘Gabriel Webber cricket reporter‘ have, in the past week, been given a coherent meaning.

As the sole Brit on the staff of the Madurai Messenger, I naturally ended up with the job of writing about the local feverish obsession accompanying the Cricket World Cup. I may not be able to write well about cricket, but I’ve been writing for some time now about Indians getting excited, so I agreed to give it a go.

After discovering from Wikipedia that cricket is some sort of team game involving a ball and a long wooden thing called a bat, I started out by touring all the sports shops in Madurai, all of which predicted huge surges in business as the sporting spirit grips the townsfolk, though I didn’t encounter a single customer in any of them. One in particular was really sweet, rather 1940s: very much like a converted gym changing room, I sat on a bench and looked over dusty boxes of trainers, whistles, badminton equipment and other miscellaneous sporting materials of which I know mercifully little, while the elderly owner explained that he opened the store in 1955, and its silver jubilee was celebrated 25 years later with a ceremony conducted by the Superintendent of Police.  No corruption there, obviously.

The next day, a semi-professional cricket coach refused me an interview! “Do you have intimation that you are from newspaper, that you go to English university? Show me intimation from your university! Or how can I believe you?” Damn… should have brought my UCAS papers with me to India.

This image of me looking uniquely unpleasant was one of several test-shots the man in the camera shop took of me to show how my new Kodak worked. He deleted all the others but kept this one "because of nice smile." Oh dear.

Live at the Apollo

Madurai has only one ‘hip’ bar, and it is utterly bizarre. One enters via the Hotel Supreme’s grotty underground car-park, then walks through a door supposedly shaped like a sci-fi airlock, and ends up in an absurd darkened room lit only by rows of LED lights set at angles to the ceiling. The place is apparently reminiscent of the Apollo spacecraft, though I’m not convinced myself. It was full of middle-class Indian men who looked as though they were planning organised crime.

It also had an absolutely hysterical menu-card, the best bits of which were:

  • Bar to have world’s performed lights and sounds; have a happy flight to Venus in Apollo 96.
  • Customers are kindly requested to co-operate for the inconvenience.
  • First one hour: free. Next every consecutive 30 minutes, 50 Rupees will be collected as table-charges for using the bar. The closer of time is measured irrespective of pending order, delayed supply or consumption. [That’s an interesting marketing ploy, trying to get people out as quickly as possible, considering that the place was by no means packed out!]
  • Music hour: 19-22 HR’s. Music closed: 22-00 Hr’s. Silent hour: 11-19 HR’S. [The music was random sci-fi-space-adventure soundtracky stuff.]

Queen Elizabeth Taylor

I’ve somehow got onto embracing terms with a random man who owns a coffee-shop in the city. He accosted me and asked me my name. Bored of having to repeat ‘Gabriel’ seven or eight times to aid pronounciation, I took the middle-name route with ‘Sam’. This then prompted a whole series of memories of his father, Samuel. I eventually extricated myself and fled.

The next day, I bumped into him again. He started out by explaining, “My second language is Greek. I speak very very Greek. But it is useless.” He went on to give his views on corruption and Britain’s royal family: “The rich mother f***ers take all the money. Like Queen Elizabeth Taylor, and Charles. But Diana… Diana was a different person. I sometimes think that if Charles did not marry her, I would have married her. If I lived in England, and it were not for the political reasons, perhaps.”

It’s a very rare occasion when the excuse, “Sorry, I can’t stay to talk, I’ve got to go to the Gandhi museum,” is remotely plausible, so I used it this time with gusto. And then politely declined his offer to take me there! Fortunately the streets are crowded enough that I didn’t feel particularly unsafe conversing with lunatics like this!

‘Next time on the blog’ teaser-trailer…

Elephant rides, langurs, leeches, baby monkeys, beer-bottles wrapped in newspaper, tax checkposts masquerading as bars, and a disclaimer form in which I had to state that I didn’t mind getting savaged by tigers.

This week’s competition…

…is simply entitled, “Spot the largely fraudulent newspaper advert in the picture below.” The winner will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Clapham Junction.

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One Response to Gabriel Webber and the British Umpire

  1. michelle wagman says:

    hi gabriel
    enjoying ur blog soo much..,.hope youre having as much fun as it sounds like you are having! lots of love…wagmans xxxx

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