Ahoy me hearties. If the tour to Sri Lanka is half as much fun as the weekends jolly to the People’s Republic of Southsea, then the Quokkas are in for a real treat. It might perhaps be a surprise to many of you that there are some great similarities between the two venues, not least the deep harbours and long histories. I’m not sure Portsmouth has prehistoric settlements dating back 125,000 years, as can be found near Bundala, but we certainly have dinosaur fossils turning up right left and centre. Also, what Portsea Island lacks in Buddhist temples it more than makes up for in the way of two cathedrals, maritime history, high quality cricketing opposition, culinary delights and beautiful beachside facilities, though I suspect neither Galle or Candy will be quite as humid as Scandals nightclub. More of that later.
It’s funny, whenever I speak with my American or Russian friends especially, I’m always amazed at how extremely proud and passionate they are about where they come from. Probably because I have never felt that way about Pompey, despite living here for almost 20 years. However, as I sat on the beach soaking up the Saturday afternoon sun with half the Quokkas touring party and offering just a small slice of its deep history I started to feel a little attached to the old place. The city has not only been England’s first line of defence since before the French invasion in the 16th century and by the 19th century was the most fortified city in the world, but as England’s largest Royal Naval port has been a pivotal embarkation point for the D-Day landings and the Falklands War. There’s a lot to see and do for all the family, it’s certainly an interesting place, but it’s very much a fighting city, well, they certainly like a fight.
I didn’t tell you this before the mini tour, but the last time I invited a large group of friends from London to visit Portsmouth I took them to a popular nightspot whereupon they witnessed a mass brawl as they queued to get in. They joked about it for years afterwards, but at the time I think they wished they’d never left the confines of the M25. An island, the most densely populated city in the UK and home to two thirds of the Royal Navy’s entire surface fleet contribute to making this a rough and ready place at times, but as with all ports the 200,000 population is very fluid and as a result we hardly ever see ten women battering the shit out of each other before they have got in the club these days.
It’s a fair fight
In cricketing terms, we had a fight on our hands ourselves. You’ve heard of David and Goliath? Well this fixture turned out to be David’s hungover and out of shape older brother against the guy Goliath wants to be when he grows up. We were so much out of our depth, we could have been dropped into the middle of the Atlantic with only a pair of budgie smugglers and a robin hood costume and still had more chance of success, but that’s never stopped us before…
To be honest I always thought we might be up against it, this is The City of Portsmouth’s Cricket Club we are talking about here, but when their skipper revealed that “due to our under 19s having a rearranged game the team is just a little bit stronger than I’d hoped” I wondered if a side that failed to chase 93 last week was going to be quite strong enough. Actually, I think the phrase I used rhymes with clucking bell.
The detail behind their skippers’ remark was that their overseas professional Fraser Hay (coming to an Australian test side soon), yes that’s right overseas professional, was playing and fresh from scoring 159 from 120 balls the previous day against Bournemouth in the British Gas Southern League division one. Thankfully “he’d only be fielding at slip and practicing his switch hitting if called upon to bat”. Fortunately for us he had to travel to Nottingham to play for the Hampshire County Cricket Club second XI against Nottingham, so we missed out on his slip catching, but sadly we did get to see him bat wrong handed better than most of England’s middle order.
Crucially we prepared well for the game, with just about the right amount of Naval Rum to seriously not give a fuck if we lived or died, never mind win a game of cricket. The pre-for-mentioned Scandals did most of the damage. For all aging rockers and over the hill break-dancers like me it’s very sad news that this truly dreadful former wine bar, but fantastic after hours drinking establishment, is closing down. You have got to love a place that asks The Verger for photo ID.
Portsmouth bouncers are a bit wary of outsiders (having more than three teeth tends to give you away) coming onto the city and draining our resources of Sambuca, as only a man-o-man-o champion of his reputation can, but Mrs Ches vouched for him and the bouncers don’t tend to cross the fairer sex, especially those having consumed their fair share of Merlot. Once inside we do our best to offset the loss of bodily fluids caused by the 45-degree heat and dance moves to Morrisey, The Roses and Joy Division. We are first in, first to the bar, first to the dancefloor, last to bed. G&Ts at Chez Ches round off a valuable night of team bonding, which began much, much earlier with beers on the beach, beers at The Eastfield, beers at Spice Island and beers as we dined…I digress.
Match made in heaven?
As you would expect, we put them in to bat. Skip making a wise choice to field first to ensure that we had enough time to sober up before the long drive (ahem) or walk home, that despite being two short – Satan and Fudger probably delayed due to the long queue of traffic entering into the city hopeful of seeing a semi-professional cricket side in full flow. The Yak steamed in from the Southsea beach end, but with gaps in the field the home team cruised to 90-1 from the first 10 overs, that despite skip bowling a wicket maiden. Having joined the fold Fudger and then Fruiti stemmed the flow of runs and for a short spell we look like a reasonable side. We even take a few wickets, which is a mistake as with every one taken, the batting partnerships strengthen and the ball goes to the boundary that little bit quicker. Mind you we do our best to offset this by dropping numerous chances in the field. “Good drop that one Ches” remarked Skip without any hint of sarcasm whatsoever.
Evil Dave, fresh from one hours sleep and a two-hour drive bowled well and took several wickets (the crazy fool), but crucially we dropped both star batsman before they had got going. Once they did only the sea wall and a 20-foot fence could stop them, although both Anand and The Egg served just enough mystery to keep things respectable. That said 259 for 7 from their 35 hours was a decent haul, fast outfield or not. Time to refuel.
At lunch we are disappointed to hear that we are a day late for the home made cakes, but a cream tea helps us overcome that and we take the opportunity to discuss The Verger’s appearance on the Naked Dating Show, Australia’s imminent disappearance from the upper echelons of the Test rankings, turning Spit Bank Forts into luxury hotels and Ben Ainsley’s chances in the Americas cup. Fascinating stuff, but some of us have homes to walk back to, so we end our banyan with Anand pressganged into opening the batting with Locky.
Blast. I’ve just remembered that I was going to give this report a nautical feel. I got distracted by the fighting city stuff I inserted at the start. I’ll subtly shoehorn some of that in now, you’ll hardly notice. An early wicket – Locky unluckily playing on – meant we need to batten down the hatches, but Quokkas batsman are overly keen to splice the mainbrace, Fudger for example was a Booby, a seabird with little fear and therefore particularly easy to catch, and at 23 for 3 we are all at sea and seem to be up the poop deck without any bonded jackey.
`Eagle’ Dave isn’t keen to `kiss the gunners daughter’ though and takes a different tack, smashing anything short into the neighbouring pitch-n-put course, and in doing so scoring a very credible 3 under par. It’s a lovely innings, effortless and brutal in many respects, but just as it looks like he is going to bail us out, Evil is caught and the ship looked sunk. To be fair both Shub and Fruiti offered decent support, Fruit playing one or two lovely shots off his legs and they managed to get us up to 150. But in all honesty we are land lubbers here and they have buoyed (I’m sorry I’ve taken things too far now) with us long enough and with the light going they put us out of our misery, bringing their top class first team spinner on and cleaning up our cat and nine tail in emphatic style. The pitch on leg, take off peg ball being far too good for any of us, me especially.
So a crushing defeat and I feel a little guilty at my terrible matching making, but I guess every now and then it’s good to be taught a lesson and at least maybe one day we’ll be able to say we had bowled at a test batsman, all-be-it one batting wrong handed. In the end we certainly didn’t disgrace ourselves, fighting hard, as all good skates do, especially in the field, but on this occasion I have to admit that Goliath was in a different league to us, fighting blindfold yet still having little problem crushing a groggy David’s fat brother. C’est la vie or as those from Pompey say `whatever mush’.
Let me take this opportunity to thank you all for making the long journey down to the South Coast. I much appreciate your efforts and I hope you enjoyed yourselves and got a flavour for the place. If you are ever visiting Southsea please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Ches Portsea Island tours and Chez Ches are always open for business. For those off to Sri Lanka have a great time and see you all at the annual dinner.