Archive for the ‘Rugby’ Category

The Wintersmith takes grip in the Shire
December 20, 2010

The Wintersmith has well and truly taken a grip in the Shire, with an overnight temperature of minus 19˚C recorded in Pershore during the weekend.

Yesterday, as I trudged across the blanketed  fields down by the river, I half expected to catch sight of the Nac Mac Feegles,  with their  angry blue faces emerging from beneath the big snow, grumbling “Ach crivens!” and  “Oh waily, waily, waily!” .

All of which will mean absolutely nothing to you unless you are au fait with the wonderful Wee Free Men from Terry Pratchett’s stories of Discworld!

As I made my way via the footbridge over the frozen marina and eventually skated along the treacherous footpaths of Upton to pick up a few essential supplies from So Near so Spar, I couldn’t help wondering what my African friends would have made of it all.

I also admit to feeling just a little envious of my VSO Rwanda colleagues, who anytime soon will be setting off for their Christmas break on the spice island of Zanzibar. Even their 36 hour coach journey from Kigali to Dar es Salaam suddenly seems quite appealing!  

Early on Saturday morning I had risen early and watched as England’s bid to wrap up the Ashes, as an early Christmas present for a nation embarking on a winter of discontent, had been derailed down in Perth. It was bizarre watching the players toiling in temperatures of around 30˚C while snow flakes tumbled down outside the window.

It was never likely to happen for England at Perth, given England’s poor track at the WACA, and once a paper like the Guardian (who should have known better) began to indulge in premature gloating, having variously described the leading Aussie fast bowler as shocking, awful, mediocre and a malfunctioning liability, then he was virtually guaranteed to come back with a vengeance!

Mitchell Johnson, in that kind of form, and particularly on that wicket, is capable of dismantling any team in the world. His match winning performance has certainly lifted the Aussies and revitalised the series.

Although there is less between the teams than appeared to be the case in the first two Tests I’m still confident England can do enough at Melbourne and Sydney to retain the urn and I look forward to spending the early hours of Boxing Day morning watching, wrapped up in my dressing gown with a hot water bottle, watching the opening throws of the next instalment.   

On Saturday afternoon I had intended to make my first visit to the City Ground since the end of August but cried off due to the icy road conditions and forecasts of further snow.

The match survived the freezing conditions and Forest, playing their first game in three weeks, secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, with new signing Marcus Tudgay scoring a brilliant debut goal, lobbing the keeper from 30 yards out. Let’s hope there will be more to come and, weather permitting, that the Tricky Trees can get their promotion push back on track over the Christmas and New Year period.

I did manage to catch the Cherry & Whites on Sky TV last night. Despite sub-zero temperatures at Kingsholm the  Amlin Cup game against La Rochelle went ahead, but Gloucester will wish it hadn’t. I’m still not quite sure how they contrived to lose a game (18-24) where they enjoyed 75% possession and territory.

Unfortunately their lack of precision at key moments lost them the game and  puts paid to any hopes of European success this season. 

It was also a game the players were desperate to win as a tribute to club owner and motor sports legend, Tom Walkinshaw, who sadly lost his battle with cancer last week.

All eyes will now be turning towards the eagerly awaited Boxing Day Aviva League clash with high-flying Northampton Saints. An ideal opportunity to bounce back in front of a sell-out crowd.   

Saturday was also Chris’s birthday. Like me she has reached that stage where she is less than enthusiastic about celebrating the annual reminder that she isn’t getting any younger.

 But she was somewhat cheered to find that she has the same birthday as Brad Pitt. I was more impressed that she shares the date with Christina Aguilera!

The 18th December also marked the 67th birthday of Rolling Stone, Keith Richard. Unfortunately time has not been too kind to the oldest rocker in town, who looks about 87, but then again he’s packed a bit in.

It was also a year to the day of two famous retirements; Sir Terry Wogan’s and mine, both of us having spent a lifetime in the entertainment business!   

The last year has absolutely flown by, particularly with spending five months in Africa, and that old cliché of the newly retired, “I don’t know how I found time to go to work,”  has certainly been true in my case.

FC at UTC and breakfast with the Lion King
November 29, 2010

On Saturday, with December still a few days hence, I unexpectedly had my first encounter with Christmas at the sparkling UTC (United Trade Centre) shopping mall, home to the 24 hr Nakumatt super store, part of a Kenyan chain, which essentially serves Kigali’s expat community.   

The Nakumatt logo is an African elephant and to underline the point a large but undistinguished model stands guard outside the entrance to the store. It has now been joined   by two robotic Santas issuing jovial yuletide greetings as they rock backwards and forwards to the rhythm of a Bing Crosby sound alike version of Jingle Bells!

The Christmas welcome is completed by a somewhat tawdry looking artificial Christmas tree ordained with a few under inflated balloons and limp crepe paper decorations. In summary, nice try but no cigar!

Anyhow, having attended to a shopping list of luxury items such as Rwandan gouda, peanut butter and tinned sardines I returned to the Isimbi and settled down to watch the live Premiership action with a chilled Tusker beer (another elephant logo!) and a packet of Bellini Croustilles.

It turned out to be something of a goal-fest with Arsenal hanging on for a 4-2 away win at Villa Park, after looking like they were going to throw a comfortable lead away again, and a Man U demolition of Big Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn by 7-1, in which Dimitar Berbatov equalled the Premiership record of five goals in a game!     

Elsewhere in the sporting world Glawster dogged it out against Saracens to maintain their lofty fourth place position in the Rugby Premiership whilst Martin Johnsons’ resurgent national team received a reality check from the Springboks at Twickenham, but  down at the Gabba England’s cricketers were embarking on what would turn out to be an improbable recovery*.     

On Sunday morning I was woken by the familiar call to prayer at the nearby Kigali mosque  closely followed by choral harmony from its Christian neighbours. CNN was headlining ‘war games’ in Korea, a cargo plane crash in Karachi and winter wonderland scenes from across Europe. It seems back home everyone is bracing themselves for the earliest significant snowfall since November ’93!

Enough of that, it was pleasantly warm and the sun was shining as I set off for my final breakfast in Kigali, a tomato and avocado croissant with a large Americano, in the Simba café ,  Nakumatt’s only serious rival, which interestingly seems to be favoured as much by the black middle class as well as expats.

Simba, as the name suggests carries a lion’s head logo and the store is guarded at pavement level by two concrete felines whose design features, although scaled down, owe a lot to Landseer’s lions in Trafalgar Square. ‘Paw prints’ with the slogan ‘make your mark’ are set into the steps that lead into Simba’s dimly lit den.    

Some time later as I stood at the International bus depot, taking in the sights and sounds of Rwanda’s bustling capital for one last time, watched over by the circling kites and a low flying pelican, I marvelled at the speed with which the Kigali Tower centrepiece has been erected over the last three months and reflected that this young, clean, safe and upwardly mobile city has made great strides in the last fourteen years and is well on the way to fulfilling Paul Kagame’s vision of a hi-tech hub for the continent of Africa.

*The first glad tidings  I heard from the World Service this morning was ‘mission accomplished’; an astonishing Ashes comeback with Alistair Cook and Jonathon Trott breaking batting records left right and centre!    

‘High Noon’ at Nyakarambi & Glaws gun down Tigers in Kingsholm showdown!
October 31, 2010

Weekends are the quietest part of the week in Nyakarambi. On Saturday a number of businesses are closed because the owners are Seventh Day Adventists and similarly a lot are also closed on Sunday due to the call of church.  

This Saturday, being the final one of the month, was umuganda so it was even quieter than normal and I had to wait until 12.30 for the first Kigali bound bus of the day.

As I hauled my suitcase up the main street it did occur to me, not for the first time, how similar Nyakarambi is to those out posts of the old wild-west depicted in Hollywood movies.

As the midday sun bore down I had a sudden flash back to the Gary Cooper character in the classic western High Noon (which really shows my age!).

Shop fronts line the main street with their covered walkways, the Auberge Ikirezi does a good impression of a saloon bar, with its fair share of all day drinkers, while the moto drivers coral their machines in the shade of a tree at the edge of the town or cruise around, like latter-day cowboys. There are even, off stage sound effects, with the occasional long-horned steer lowing in the background.

In fact all that was missing, as I waited for the International ‘stage coach’ to pull in, was a piece of tumbleweed cart-wheeling along the road!

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, it was a tight squeeze on the bus. My suitcase caused a bit of a problem and had to be wedged under a seat whilst I was show horned between a guy snoozing in a window seat and a sister of generous proportions who spread over most of  my seat as well as her own.

The sun soon dissolved into pouring rain and for three hair-raising hours the driver had one hand on the horn and the other clasping a mobile to his ear.

I knew Rwanda had joined the Commonwealth but I hadn’t realised they had switched to driving on the left hand side of the road, which is where we spent most of our time – swerving back to the right at the last-minute to avoid on coming traffic!     

Luckily the rain had abated by the time we reached Kigali and I was soon ensconced in the bar at my hotel of choice, the Isimbi  (where I’m becoming recognised as a bit of a regular) settling my nerves with a much-needed beer whilst watching a similarly edgy Gunners sneak a 1-0 win over the lowly Hammers at the Emirates.   

Game over and I went straight on-line to find that Forest’s recent recovery had stalled as they suffered a touch of the blues with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Pompey, apparently conceding two soft goals and converting just one of 13 chances that came their way!

However in the ‘egg catching’ game Gloucester, who seem to be going from strength to strength, tweaked the Tiger’s tail, to steal the points with a last gasp try from Lesley ‘the Volcano’ Vanikolo.

This type of final flourish is usually reserved for the likes of Leicester, not Glaws, particularly in televised games, but this young Cherry & Whites side seems to have a bit more steel about them than last year and just maybe they might surprise a few people, come the end of the season!

News & Views from the UK
October 3, 2010

Thanks to all of you who have been keeping in touch either by email or posting messages on the blog. It is very much appreciated.

I did temporarily have an email virus so apologies to any of you who received unsolicited messages from my address advertising Viagra and the like! I seem to have resolved the problem now.

Although I have got regular internet access via the MTN dongle it can be terribly slow and it takes up most of my spare time accessing and responding to emails, keeping the blog up to date and keeping tabs on Forest and Gloucester.  

It’s a waste of time trying to get on the BBC website as it takes forever to download, so I’m feeling rather out of touch with regard to current affairs, which is rather frustrating.

I did receive a chatty email from Gem the other day informing me that Geeky (Ed Miliband ) had won the Labour leadership contest, surprised but pleased about that, and that the Pope’s visit had been annoyingly controversial, not surprised about that!

Gem also tells me she got the double page lead in last week’s Love It, plus a couple of smaller features inside – good girl, well done!

The tom toms were beating in deepest Rwanda with news of Gloucester’s 18-3 victory over Baarf at  ‘the Wreck’. Thanks for that Keith. I think that’s only their second league win there since the Rugby Premiership began and even better it was in front of the Sky cameras. I bet Stuart Barnes was full of praise for the Cherry and Whites! Interestingly no news from Solihull on this one, Steve!  

Forest continued their unbeaten run with an apparently hard-fought draw at Donny Rovers yesterday following their mid-week point at home to the Blades. I’m not quite sure where we currently stand in the Championship but if we could turn a few more draws into wins I’m sure we wouldn’t be too far off a top six place.       

Msafiri  tells me he’s showing Chelsea v Arsenal  this afternoon so I might settle myself down with a bottle of Primus in front of his giant screen.

Hotel Des Mille Collines & ‘Mancini City’!
September 25, 2010

Officially, Umuganda finishes at 11.00am on the last Saturday of each month but it seems like a lot of businesses don’t think it’s worth opening for the afternoon only. Unfortunately I drew a blank at both Volcanoes Safaris and Primate Safaris, so will have to try again next time I’m in Kigali.

Volcanoes Safaris travel agency is based at the Hotel Des Mille Collines which has gained international recognition as the subject of the Hollywood blockbuster Hotel Rwanda. However the movie was actually filmed on location in Uganda!

The hotel is a Kigali institution and following recent refurbishment it is now very firmly in the up-market establishment category. I popped in to give it the once over and as I’d had no breakfast ordered a croque monsieur and a flask of coffee.

The croque was in fact a ham toastie topped with a Kraft cheese slice (or similar) but it came with frites and salad which filled a whole. Given that Rwanda is a coffee producing nation the standard café fare is often disappointing but today it was okay.

The hotel is only a five-minute hike up hill from Nakumatt, very close to the city centre and although a typical ‘70s looking box like design it is set in pleasant grounds and has a large pool. I sat in the pool side bar surrounded by Americans, French, Belgians and Brits and have to say I only saw four black guests and they were in mixed groups!

On the way back I browsed in a couple of craft shops that had bothered to open and picked up a largish carved wooden giraffe to add to my African collection. Hopefully  it won’t look too tacky when I get it home!

I arrived back at the Isimbi to find Mancini City v Chelsea was being shown live in the bar. Just what the doctored ordered. I settled down with a bottle of Mutzig and my packet of cashew nuts and watched the game with a handful of locals.

Carlos Tevez won the game with a well taken goal to seal Chelsea’s first defeat of the season. I have a passing interest in Roberto Mancini, the City manager, through an Italian friend, Renata, who Chris happens to be visiting in Jesi this weekend.

Renata went to school with Mancini in Jesi and his parents still live there. She summed him up as being a good footballer but very conceited and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Her final comment was confirmed when I saw, this afternoon, that he now has David Platt sitting on the City bench as one of his backroom staff.

All Nottingham Forest fans will know that Platty was single-handedly responsible for a rapid decline, from which we still haven’t quite recovered, by squandering a reasonably healthy transfer budget on ageing Italians who never cut the mustard in English Championship. 

He’s also ‘fondly’ remembered for adopting a brand of football that was total anathema to Forest purists!

Forest v Swansea is under way as I’m posting this and surely we must pick up three points today!

23.30: Just back from the Indian meal, at Zaaffrans, to find Forest muted the Swans with a convincing 3-1 win and Glaws took the sting out of Wasps with a 22-20 victory – a double whammy!

Intore Dancers and Kimironko Market
September 12, 2010

VSO family dinner was arranged for Saturday evening. It provided an opportunity for the new recruits to meet serving volunteers already well into their placements.

There are currently 43 VSO volunteers in Rwanda and everyone enjoyed the evening. There was an extensive melanje and a bar, with two free drinks per volunteer!

However the highlight of the occasion was the performance of the Intore dancers. This type of traditional dancing stretches back centuries, before the arrival of the Europeans.

Selected young men at the royal court received a privileged education and choreographic training in order to entertain their master s and perform at special court occasions.    

The name intore means ‘best’, as only the best of them were chosen for this honour. Traditionally they performed warlike dances with spears (ikuma) and shields (ingabo). Both of these were on show last night.

Towards the end of the evening, after a few drinks, there was an opportunity for some enthusiastic audience participation!   

Today, Sunday, was a day off after a very intensive six days of training. An optional outing to Kimironko Market was on offer. We made our way by matatu (mini bus taxi) out past the Amahoro Stadium, scene of the presidential inauguration earlier this week, to this large covered market.

It was all very orderly with stalls set out in rank and file order, and well defined areas for meat (including live chickens), fish, vegetables, fruit, hardware, fabrics, handicrafts etc.

The locals were very friendly and it was an opportunity for us to put our Kinyrwanda lessons into practice by exchanging greetings and rehearsing the vocabulary for common fruit and vegetables.

Bananas (imineke) are very plentiful out here, as are Irish potatoes (ibirayi) and sweet potatoes (ikirayi). In fact the range, quality and quantity of the produce on sale was very high and the market was also very clean and tidy, in keeping with everything we have seen to date.  

Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda as part of their environmental policy and it has had the desired effect. On the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans are also expected to spend time doing jobs to help improve their community, such as litter picking, and general land and property maintenance work.

It has been overcast all day today, with regular sharp downpours. This afternoon I took a short walk around the local district taking some photographs and meeting a few locals! 

It was great to be able to log on first thing this morning and catch up with the football and rugby results. It seems Forest snatched a last gasp equaliser against Milwall, in a game they dominated (again). A win would be nice, any time soon!

Coincidently, I found out last night that the VSO country director, Mike, is also a Forest enthusiast!  

Gloucester nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a game they had bossed from the early stages but they let Leeds Carnegie back into the game and had to rely on the last kick of the game by Nicky Robinson to see them home by one point!