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!    

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The Oval and red buses on the Harleyford Road, my dear old thing!
August 23, 2010

Congratulations to Pakistan for winning the 3rd Test at the Oval. It would have been easy for them to have given up on the series following England’s relatively straight forward victories at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston; both played of course at a time of traumatic devastation and loss of life resulting from the terrible floods back in their homeland.

Now a revitalised Pakistan team probably fancy their chances of levelling the series, with the final test being played at Lords (starting on Thursday) where, with the exception of last year’s Ashes test, the home side have invariably struggled in recent series. 

This defeat for England, who appear to be in danger of believing they are a better team than they actually are, has probably provided a timely wake up call ahead of this winter’s Ashes series down under.  

It was good to see Alistair Cook battling his way back into some kind of form and reaching a somewhat fortuitous but confidence boosting century. However if we are to mount a realistic challenge against Australia and retain the Ashes, Peterson, Collingwood and Strauss need to follow suit and rediscover their batting touch at Lords

I always look forward to the Oval Test Match, traditionally the last in an English summer – but why not so this year? This seems to be yet another strange decision by the ECB, hard on the heels of playing a test match on a building site at Edgbaston!      

The Brit Oval, as it is currently called (for sponsorship purposes), has been sympathetically developed in recent years, whilst maintaining its original pavilion, and is still overlooked by the  gasometer, an iconic landmark at this south London sporting venue.

It was the Oval, not Lords, that staged the first ever test match in England 130 years ago. In September 1880 a 3 day match was staged against the men from down under which England won by 5 wickets with Gloucestershire’s, legendary, Dr WG Grace making a top score of 152 in the first innings.       

The Oval will forever, in my mind, be associated with the image of red London buses shuttling up and down the adjacent Harleyford Rd, as regularly referred to by veteran Test Match Special commentator, the bespectacled, cravat wearing, and claret quaffing Henry Blofeld.  

Sadly, forgetful, eccentric old Etonian, Blowers with his trade mark catch phrases such as, “My dear old thing”, doesn’t get too much air time these days, in the ‘new look’ TMS commentary box, more is the pity.

To go off at a tangent, it was Henry’s father, an old school friend of author Ian Fleming, who is said to have been the source for the name of James Bond’s adversary and head of SMERSH, Blofeld, seen here played by actor Donald Pleasance who bears an uncanny resemblance to Blowers!         

Meanwhile back at the cricket, the first test match I recall following with any degree of interest was at the Oval in 1964; the final match in an Ashes series. I watched on TV, in black and white, enthralled as the late great Yorkshire fast bowler FS (Freddie) Trueman had Neil Hawke caught at slip by Colin Cowdrey to become the first English bowler to take 300 test wickets.   

A year later, during a family break in Surrey, my late uncle took me to the Oval for an afternoon to watch England play the final test of a three match series against South Africa. It turned out, due to the anti apartheid sporting ban which shortly followed, to be the last time South Africa would play a test on English soil for 29 years.

A few weeks earlier in Nottingham, I had excitedly visited my local Trent Bridge cricket ground to watch a live test cricket encounter for the first time. The sun beat down as I sat, full of anticipation, perched on a hard slatted wooden bench in the unreserved seating area, at the boundary’s edge, on the Fox Road side of the ground. On any other day splinters in a numb bum might have been all I recalled, but on this occasion I was lucky enough to witness one of the best ever test innings.

South African batsman Graham Pollock strolled to the wicket and treated the crowd to a display of elegant left-handed stroke play which lifted him into the pantheon of all time cricketing greats. He caressed the ball to the boundary 21 times in an innings of 125 off 145 balls in 138 minutes. I was memerised (as were the English bowlers and fielders) and have never seen anything to better it since.