The North Stand Gang aren't, as you may think, a bunch of football casuals forever rooted in the 80s and still wearing Lacoste and Gazelles. In point of fact they are the regular and plentiful occupants of the third tier of the Sachin Tendulkar Stand at our favourite snigger-inducing stadium, the Wankhede. More of them later.
So after yet another breeze through the world class Chatrapati Shivaji Airport in Mumbai it was off to Goa for six nights of much needed rest and recuperation. After three hard Tests and a few thousand miles of flights it was just what an army should do. Though it was on offer, a bash around the Golden Triangle did not appeal as an alternative.
Four years earlier we had stayed at the Dona Sylvia resort in Cavelossim and the four survivors (pic) of the last trip were looking forward to revisiting the old haunts. This part of Goa is quieter than the party central Northern resorts of Baga and Calangute but not quite as laid back as Palolem further south. Perfect for our needs. Goa is predominantly Christian and Henry, our Bolton born Perth domiciled septuagenarian, was expectantly looking forward to his first steak in weeks. For obvious reasons beef hadn't appeared on menus in our previous destinations.
After the half board discovery in Chandigarh (link to previous report) another unexpected surprise was soon to follow. As we checked in we were fitted with wristbands denoting we were all inclusive guests! As I hurriedly made a call to our agents in Delhi to confirm this was the case everyone else shot straight upstairs to the bar and started making hay with the Kingfisher. They hadn't even seen their bags off to their rooms! It turned out we were indeed on an all-inclusive package - nothing keeping the Tour Manager in the loop.
An extremely restful few days followed whilst I busied myself getting my tour accounts up to date, answering emails and writing some blah. Since our last visit the Dona Sylvia had undergone extensive renovations in preparation to join the Novotel brand. This meant our cabana style rooms in the large grounds adjoining a long stretch of beach (pic) were first rate, as was the service. Our only gripe was the wine, in common with many similar establishments around the world, was virtually undrinkable. It is also the custom in this part of the world to charge for internet access which didn't go down at all well. Fortunately I successfully persuaded the hotel to makes ours complimentary.
The undoubted highlight was a sunset cruise on the Sal River, another all-inclusive affair costing less than £20 a head. Captain Jack set out a large table on the upper deck for us and we spent the next few hours sipping cold Kingfisher before dining on the most succulent (and massive) sea bass I have ever had (pic). The night finished with the despatch of copious amounts of Honeybee, the notorious local brandy by all but one of the group. He had abstained from the trip on the grounds in order to watch his beloved football team on TV (yes I know).
It seems that Goa is now quite popular with Russians, with lots of signage on display to attract them into the beach bars and restaurants. Interestingly we also discovered that the locals provide two types of ice for drinks. It seems that ice for the English is made with filtered water whereas Russian ice, well, isn't.
I bailed out a day early leaving the group in the capable hands of our 100 away Test veteran and Barmy Army merchandiser Paul 'Boz' Bozward. This not before I had sent the clients a letter with the transfer details and a plea to them to bombard him with SFQs. If you don't know what an SFQ is, you generally get an SFA in response. I found out later that the most obscure one was "what species of bird is that, Boz?"
So, back to Mumbai and the Fariyas Hotel (nicknamed Furry Ass as an aide memoire) in the centre of Colaba a short bus drive or gentle 40 minute stroll along Marine Drive to the Wankhede. I had personally chosen the hotel because I liked its boutique style, well-appointed rooms and central location. However a room inspection can only tell you so much. The service was laughably dire and the bar managed to run out of our preferred beer three out of seven nights! We even ended up drinking, god forbid, Fosters as you can see from the bemused expression on Steve 'The Hat's' face (link to Steve's piece) in the photo (pic).
At the Test Match hordes of Mumbaites flocked in to watch their heroes hand out an innings drubbing to our boys. The only real highlight was Keaton Jennings 100 on debut, emulating a certain A.N Cook in 2006. At times the atmosphere was close to a one day international with incessant drumming and never ending chants of Kohleeee, Kohli (clap, clap, clap). Another masterful innings from him was not really what the doctor ordered but you have to take your hat off to him. We did think James Anderson was only saying what we thought by pointing out he hasn't yet made runs in England so cannot yet be termed 'great'. It seemed R Ashwin took exception to this comment as when Jimmy came out to bat he followed him along the pitch in full on sledge mode (without reprimand we understand). Someone remarked that was the nearest thing to a punch up you'll ever see on a Test cricket field.
On Day 3 Aggers again joined us, this time for a formal Q & A. The hotel initially wanted to charge £120 for an hour in the function room but soon saw sense when I threatened a boycott of the bar. I discovered that Aggers doesn't even know his own England cap number (508 if you are interested) and he rounded off a very pleasant hour with the very scary account of his recent near death experience. He had been flying his light aircraft home after walking Tino the family cocker on a Skegness beach when his aircraft hit a "brick wall' of turbulence.
Day 5 was over as quickly as it started, lasting a mere 25 minutes of play. We scrapped the traditional trip to the pub before heading back home as even us Barmies didn't fancy beers at 10am!
That evening saw an end of Test Party at the wonderful Mockingbird Bar near the ground. For the usual charity auction Barmy favourite Joe Root generously donated a round of golf for two playing along with him which sold for £1K and then our own Trevor bagged himself a bargain signed Barmy Army Shirt for £300. We were also joined by members of the previously mentioned North Stand Gang. They had kindly presented us with one of their shirts during the match so we returned the favour by giving them a Barmy Army flag signed by the party goers. Of course the obligatory sing song followed with Anish from the NSG promising that on our return they will have nicked our songs and put their own word to them, much like the Hashim Amlas had done at. Cape Town earlier this year. Good luck with that and great to meet you guys.
We had one last 'day of leisure' in Mumbai before flying South. Here's what regular Barmy Travel tourists Elaine and Bob Robbins got up to on theirs:
"One of the more entertaining things of a Barmy Travel Tour is the subtle (or not so subtle) one-upmanship of experiences. The bars you drink in, the restaurants you eat in, the trips you take. We've been quite conservative but...
We just went for a quiet walk around Mumbai, strolled past the High Court buildings and then Elaine announces it’s a when you've got to go, you've got to go moment. There is a public toilet and off she trots. This is quite brave: it’s probably a squatter, there won't be any paper just a hose and the facilities may not be pristine, but needs must. I hang around outside trying to look like a tourist not a lurker. Eventually Elaine emerges. Facilities met expectations (it’s easy if you set the bar low) what wasn't expected was to be greeted by the friendly, smiling faces of two stark-naked women sitting washing their clothes by hosing them down and rubbing them on the tiled floor. The cubicle doors were being used as makeshift washing lines and the locals seemed to be treating all this as normal. I'm waiting to see what her Chennai adventure is going to be."
So its to farewell to Mumbai. Everyone last one of us agreed what a marvellous city it is, ranking right up with London, Paris and New York as a must visit destination, cricket or not.
We can't wait to come back, but first it's down to Chennai for the last instalment of this epic trip.