Friday, April 29, 2011

Part the XXX: Where Nick reports on the Royal Wedding

In the interest of documenting this historic event, I kept a kind of minute by minute diary of what was going on today here in Bath.  So, without further ado, here is a taste of life in Bath on the day of the Royal Wedding.
7:00AM:  Okay, I'm up.  I have to say, this is the earliest I have been up on a Friday in quite a while.  Check my emails, take a quick look at the morning news and get cleaned up for the day.

9:40AM: By this point, I have had a good breakfast and I am getting ready to go to Royal Victoria Park where much of the City of Bath is going in order to watch a simulcast of the wedding on the big screens.  Weather forecasts call for clouds and possibly some rain.  The clouds are there but, for now, it remains dry.

9:45AM:  We arrive at the park and meet up with some other students from our program.  From there we walk into the main park proper.  This allows me to get my first look at the crowd forming up for the day.
It looks small now but by 10:15, things have picked up.

10:30AM: Harry and William have arrived at the holding area of Westminster Abbey.  Soon, Kate will be getting in her car along with the rest of her part of the cartage.  People have really packed together now.  There is a stage with two giant screens on either side of it with the wedding on.  People have packed lunch picnics and are bringing out the champagne, beer, cider and wine that they brought with them.  I begin talking to some of the locals about the lead up to the wedding.  Many seem to not care to much about it.  For most, it seems that, coupled with last weeks St. George's Day, this is just an excuse for two 3-day weekends in a row.  On guy mentions that he just got back from the Ladbrokes (Like an OTB back home, basically a bookmaker).  He had placed a five pound bet that unchained melody will be their first dance song.  That gives me inspiration for a future article: Here in England, they will bet on anything.  

10:40AM:  Kate Middleton gets in her car to the Abbey.  People are sneaking their first looks at her dress.  There still hasn't been a good view of it.

10:50AM:  Kate arrives at the Abbey, she takes a while to get out of the car.  As this is happening, the screens are unplugged and fade to black.  Immediately, I can feel the malice in the crowd and people start booing.  I begin, for the first time since I moved here to fear for my life and look to the edges to find swift exits should I need them.  Luckily, just as she gets out of the car, the screens are fixed.  The boos turn to cheers as people applaud the dress and the future wife of William of Wales.  By this point there had been moments of cheering, namely when Harry and William appeared and, most importantly, when the Queen appeared.

11:00AM:  I realize that back home, it is 6:00AM and that mom is just getting up for work.  Luckily, she will be tuning in just as Kate walks through the West Door of the Abbey.  From here on out the wedding occurs.  Funny things occur throughout the crowd.  The second hymn is "Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer" which sounds familiar to me at first.  I then realize that it is commonly sung on the terraces of all football grounds with the lyrics changed to "You're not singing anymore" and is directed at the other fans.  Some fellows wearing England National jerseys begin singing football chant lyrics to it instead of the traditional.  Someone gets a huge payout because the first celebrity shown during the ceremony isn't Posh and Becks but is instead Rowan Atkinson at 100/1.  Thats right:  Mr. Bean and Blackadder just made some people in England very rich.

12:20PM: The main thrust of the wedding is over and the couple has reached the carriage.  They start to get in when the screen goes blue with an advertisement welcoming the Bath Philharmonia to the stage to play wedding music.  As the announcement to welcome the orchestra to the stage is made, the crowd again turns rowdy.  For the first time ever, the Bath Philharmonia is openly booed as they take the stage.  Again, I am looking nervously for exits.  Luckily, sensing tension, someone turns the wedding back on while the group plays.

1:00PM:  From here on, the orchestra plays with a small intermission as the couple is presented on the Buckingham Palace Balcony and share their first kiss as a married couple.  Throughout the rest of the day, the park will be filled with bands and dancing.  An interesting note is Tony Moore who is set to appear at 2:10 to sing one song "(I just) Died in your Arms Tonight".  I'm sorry...what?!  Really?!  Your going to play that on a wedding day.  Turns out, Tony is the former keyboard player for both Iron Maiden and Cutting Crew (who's only real hit was the aforementioned song).  Still, seems kind of odd.

By the evening, I have returned to the house and a few of us have gone out and tossed the cricket ball around in the backyard.  It was certainly a once in a lifetime experience for someone like me to see the Royal Wedding in England.  Who knows, if things go well and the couple has a child in 2013, maybe I will be returning to collect on a bet I place two years before.  Cheers to the Royal Couple!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Part the XXIX: Where Nick goes to the Home of Cricket

People who have known me for a while will know that I have an odd obsession with the sport of Cricket.  When  I was younger, my father and I caught an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus that had a cricket sketch.
As an American and factoring in that I was about six at the time, I was naturally intrigued by this odd sport that resembled a combination between baseball and golf.  Then again, my family was still without internet at the time and a lack of info about the sport led to me forgetting about it.  Fast forward about eight years and Fox Sports World (now the Fox Soccer Channel) started showing older one day international (ODI) cricket matches.  By this time, I had purchased a book that had the rules of every major sport of the world in it.  Slowly but surely I began to watch and teach myself the game.  Further help came when I got to know a friend of mine of Indian descent who taught me more about the sport including how to bat and field.  By the end of the summer, I was a cricket fan.  By the end of my first year, fall semester at Gettysburg, I was passing boring classes watching cricket on ESPN 3 during breaks and trying to figure out where to get my hands on bats and balls in order to introduce the sport to my friends.  

Well, if you have been reading the blog since the beginning, you know that my first major purchase when I moved to England was a set of bats, wickets and balls.  Some of us in the program began playing pickup games at the Royal Crescent here in Bath.  During the recent ODI World Cup, I could be found in a pub watching live or at home late at night watching highlights on the BBC.  But still, I hadn't been to a match live.  That changed on Thursday the 21st.  

I left Bath at seven in the morning and arrived at Lord's Cricket Ground just in time for the start of the 50 over  one day match between the local Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Select XI against Scotland's National Team.  
Founded by Thomas Lord in 1787, the current ground's location and layout dates back to 1814.  One of the few things to survive this original set up is the famous Victorian Pavilion that lends the Pavilion End of the ground its name.  
By the time the match had started, I realized that people don't really watch the cricket.  Considering that a match takes about 8 and a half hours with a lunch break and a tea break at 4 in the afternoon, you can do just about anything and not miss too much.  In my time at the match, I sampled a few different ciders, read the day's issue of the times, and even worked on a rough draft of a 1500 word paper due Monday.  
At the other end, known as the Nursery Ground for the old tree farm that used to be there, looms the famous media center that was added for the 99 World Cup.

Looking Down on the pitch from my seat.

MCC at bat.

I had trouble finding the scorecard stand and had to wait until after the lunch break to get one.  When I did though, they actually gave me one that already had MCC's stats for the match printed on it.  Imagine getting to a baseball game late but when you go to get a program with a scorecard, they give you one filled out up to the point you arrived.  Yeah, its kind of like that.

These fellows struck me as good examples of the fans at the cricket match.  At the start of the match, they were dressed nicely.  Most had button-down shirts or polos.  By the second hour, each man was bringing back quite a few beers for themselves from the refreshment stand.  By the second hour of the match, it was becoming quite hot.  Most of the men, no matter their age or build, had their shirts off.  These boys as well as everyone else continued drinking.  By this point, I too had had a pint of cider.  By the end of the match, one of these fellows was dancing the cha cha tohis ringtone and another had been warned about being thrown out after accidentally throwing in shoes off the balcony onto the pitch.

Stuart Chalmers of the Scottish Team celebrates his first career century (100+ runs in a match) at Lord's

In the end, Scotland won the match by four wickets and basically completed a hell of a comeback.  They started their innings less than stellar and lost a few early wickets.  They were nowhere near the run rate required to win for much of the match.  As MCC's bowlers tired though, Scotland took over and garnered a much deserved win.  I can honestly say that Lord's was a great experiences.  It is one of the few places in the world where you can see people multitasking while watching a live sporting event.  The stadium is also famous for basically being Cricket's Yankee Stadium and to go there was a bit of a dream come true for me.  In the Museum after lunch break, I also got to see some interesting pieces of cricket history.
This Sparrow was famously "bowled out" (read:killed) when it was hit by a ball during a match at Lord's in 1936.  For some reason, they decided to stuff it and display it at the grounds.
Perhaps the most important item at the museum.  The famous Ashes Urn that England just won back from Australia in a test series that took place in the weeks leading up to my moving to England.  The story dates back to 1882 when Australia beat England on English soil.  One paper wrote an obituary for English cricket saying it died that day and that the body would be buried.  Later on, a bail (a small piece of wood placed on a wicket stump) and perhaps a whole stump from the match were burned and the ashes put in this small urn.  Since then, England and Australia have contested each other for this tiny trophy every few years.  This is important as it is one of the few examples where the most important trophy in a sport is also one of its smallest.

I must say, Live cricket is quite interesting, if not an exercise in patience.  On the bright side, at least I got a good tan while I was there!  Plus, lets face it, the cricket style in pretty awesome if I do say so myself.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Part the XXVIII: Allez, Allez, Allez, Bath, Bath, Bath! or: Where Nick goes to a Rugby Match

So if there is one thing any sports fan should know about the city of Bath, it is that Rugby is King.  Don't get me wrong, personally I think more people should go to Bath City football matches.  I will go so far as to say that I still prefer standing on the terraces at Twerton Park.  But if you want sell out crowds and international team representatives, you have to go to the Rec.  Todays match saw Bath Rugby take on the Harlequins from London.  There was a lot riding on this match.  At the start of the day, the Quins were sitting in sixth, just one point ahead of the seventh place Bath.  A win would propel Bath up a spot and give them a run at the playoffs.

First off, a bit of history for the teams: Founded 1865, Bath Rugby is the second oldest team in the Aviva Premiership for English Rugby.  They traditionally wear classic horizontal hooped uniforms of blue, black and white and their shirt sponsor is local computer repair group, IPL.  One month ago, a dozen of their players were representing England in the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament.  They also have internationals from South Africa, Argentina, and the USA.

The Harlequins are the third oldest club, only one year younger than Bath.  Sponsored by Etihad Airways, they are famous for their multicoloured, quartered uniforms.
The Recreation Ground, known as the Rec to locals has been home to Bath Rugby for a number of years although recent attempts to upgrade the grounds has been heavily opposed by locals and has recently become bogged down with the county and city council.

Pre-match outside the Huntsmen.

Spandex Fans!

The Wadsworth 6X stand.


The Harlequins have started selling dress jackets striped in their colors.  This fellow, who I had a drink with earlier, had the matching Bow Tie.  He was actually pretty cool.  I kind of want this outfit now.

Bath won 19-15 in a close match that came down to the 'Quins final possession.  All in all, it was a great day and definitely an experience I will never forget.  Next Saturday, it is off to the Bath City v. Histon football match at Twerton Park.  But first, on Thursday, it is off to London and the famous Lord's Cricket Ground as Local Marylebone Cricket Club take on the Scottish National team in one-day limited overs action! 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Part the XXVII: Goodnight Irene or: Where Nick goes to Bristol.

The final day of my rail tour of the UK takes me to the harbor city of Bristol.  Chartered in 1155, it was the home to Isambard Kingdom Brunel of Great Western Railroad fame.  Many of his inventions and designs are still on display throughout the city.  It was one of these, the S.S. Great Britain, that I visited immediately upon arriving in the City.  Launched in 1843, these hybrid steam/sail vessel was the largest of its time and is widely considered the world's first ocean liner.  It set a world speed record to transatlantic travel making the trip from London to New York in only 14 days.

Dropping below into the dry dock to view the hull close up.

The propeller and rudder.

This women is a volunteer worker who comes in everyday to play music popular to the time of the ship on the piano in the main saloon.


Of course, the main reason for my trip was in order to view my first League Football Match.  For those of you who remember my stories of Bath City, you will remember that they are a non-league premier club just one step below the full-time professional Football League 2.  Today's match takes me to League 1, just two steps below the English Premier League.  This takes me to Memorial Stadium, home to the Bristol Rovers Football Club as they took on Exeter City.  If you are curious about the title of my article, there is a reason for it.  The higher one gets in the leagues, the more vocal the fans are.  In the case of Bristol Rovers, the fans often sing "Goodnight Irene" before, during and after the match.  

Yeah, this is what 10,000 of the faithful sound like.  Today was no different.  The songs and chants range from the odd (10,000 fans singing the guitar line of the White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army), to the downright brilliant (singing "We Forgot You Were Here" to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance when the opposing fans start singing after a long period of being quiet.

Rovers ended up losing 2-nil after going to the halftime break tied nil-nil.  They are now only one spot out of the relegation zone of being sent down to league two. If their fans stay behind them like they were today though, they will probably still succeed in staying up.  I, for one, believe in the Rovers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Part the XXVI: Where Nick goes to Caerdydd, Cymru.

"Ding dong ding: Your attention please, I am sorry to announce that the 11:40 train to Cardiff Central is cancelled..."
Well, thats problematic but at least the recording is polite...
"...due to a fatality via train strike".
Alright, thats not good.  Seriously, I know that this a serious matter in all, but how do you get killed on the British Rail System near Bath.  The rails are nowhere near street level.  There are no grade crossings near roads for 30 miles until you get out into really rural areas.  They say this is one of the first fatalities in this area for years.  I end up talking to the station master who gets me passage on a train to Bristol Temple Meads.  From there I am to connect 10 minutes to Bristol Parkway.  There I can catch the train to Cardiff.

I arrive in Wales a little after 3.  Much later than I would have like but so it goes.  I know that I won't be able to see much so I move fast in order to see as much as possible.
Everything is written in Welsh first, then English.  Even the train announcements occur in Welsh first.  1 in 5 people use Welsh as their first language and classes are often not taught in English until middle school.

Old Cardiff Central Station

Millennium Stadium: The home of Welsh National Rugby.  It will also be home to the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament. 

Cardiff Castle

Detail of its Clock Tower

The Keep at Cardiff Castle.  The castle itself is over 2000 years old and dates back to the Romans, then the Saxons, and then the Medieval Period.

These fellows saw me taking photos of Pub Signs and wanted a photo of themselves.  They were actually quite nice and I ended up having a drink with them before dinner.

Brains Beer.  Weird name, great taste.  The local in Cardiff, the brewery is just down the road and it is delivered fresh everyday.  

I am sad I wasn't able to see more but the accident today put a damper on my original schedule.  If I get a chance, I will try to make a return to Wales.  Cardiff is an amazing city that has gone from a market town in the 1300s to an industrial dynamo 600 years later.  By 2000, it was a cosmopolitan European Capital.  It is amazing what a millenia can do.

Tomorrow: My Rail Tour of the UK comes to a close 15 minutes down the line in Bristol to see the famous Suspension Bridge, S.S. Great Britain, and the Bristol Rovers fight against Exeter City in an attempt to stave of relegation in League 1.

Part the XXV: Where Nick goes to Portsmouth to see the Historic Dockyards

The second day of my rail journey around the Southern UK takes me to the port city of Portsmouth better known as Pompey, a name derived from the fact that ship's masters would put Pom. P. for Portsmouth Point in their ship's logs upon arrival.  The town in currently the home of the Historic Dockyards district of England and is home to the HMS Warrior 1860, Mary Rose (famously built by Henry VIII to serve as a gun boat, although the weight of its masts and guns capsized it), and most importantly, HMS Victory, the flagship of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.  The best part about a visit to Pompey is that as soon as you get off the train, you are basically at the ticket office to see the dockyards.  It is a bit pricy (costing a little under 20 pounds) but it gives you access to the two museum ships, the Royal Navy Museum, Mary Rose center, a few ships on external display, as well as other exhibits.  Thus, it is very much worth the money.  The docents at all of the museums have studied up on the subjects of their ships and are always happy to be of assistance.

First up was the Warrior 1860.  The Warrior was built as an Ironclad by England in order to reply to the French who were building Ironclads of their own.  The ship is armed with 68 pound smoothbore and 110 pound rifled Armstrong guns.  It largely inspired the design of later US and CS ironclads.

Each group of men on the ship served a specific gun.  They messed next to their gun.  Thus we can see here the dinner table of the men with their 68 pound gun in the background.

1858 2-band Enfields to use in case of boarders.
I would have wanted this room.  Everything I need is here.  A bed, a dresser, a bookshelf...and a 68 pounder gun.

From here we move on to the HMS Victory.  It was on this very ship that Lord Nelson died during the battle of Trafalgar.

The Victory
The Mary Rose center is still under construction.  You could see some objects brought up from the wreck on display.  The wreck itself, which was recovered largely intact, is in a room constantly kept wet in order to keep the deterioration of the wood down until it can be put on display.  They believe that by 2012, the public will be able to go and see the wreck on display in a pool.  By 2020, it will be able to be seen in dry dock.  By 2025, people may even be able to go aboard it.  

Portsmouth is a brilliant little city to visit.  The dockyards are great and their is a shopping mall nearby for those not interested in seeing the ships.  The best part of my trip had to be being on the Victory with a group of students from the Royal Naval College and a school group from France.  There was a moment that went something like this:
(French group walks by generally bored with the tour of the ship)
Naval Student: (nudges his friend) Mate, I have this odd need to get in their faces and say "SCOREBOARD!"  How did the Battle of Trafalgar taste!?
Me: (Begins laughing hysterically)

It was a day to remember.  That is for sure.
Tomorrow: My journey takes me to Cardiff, the capital city of Wales.  This will be my fourth country to visit during this week.