TOUR WATCH
Steve Weir
Racing Club de Blackheath in MYANMAR 2016

Day 2 Sunday 23/10/16 - Yangon

It Could Be You

The hotel beds turned out to be well designed. They didn’t, at least, deny sleep to a group of people who hadn’t slept for 20 hours, so the group was looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at breakfast. I was still at the wary stage with the food, so stuck to things like egg and toast.

The toaster was one of those that you feed like a photocopier, then go away to fetch some coffee while it’s toasting, only to find on your return that some half-toasted bread has popped out of the other end, and somebody else has taken it. Mrs Foster told me she had been tempted by the various bowls of fruit that were on display on the food counter, until she saw a cockroach intrepidly exploring the melon. But she was careful to keep her voice down, as Bastard Lang was next to me, tucking into some melon.

A group of us headed off to the Bokyoke Aung San market (presumably named after Aung San Suu Kyi’s dad), which was about 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel. Enough time, therefore, to be drenched in sweat three times before exploring the market stalls and shops. The winning products turned out to be coasters (of the kind you put your cup of tea on) and women’s baggy trousers. Enough baggy trousers were bought by the WaGs to clothe the entire cast of The King and I, while the men stood in groups outside the shop, wondering if they could move a limb without feeling that a bucket of water had been poured over them, and looking around to see if there might be a coffee shop offering respite from the heat.

Back at the hotel, we performed the languid and indeterminate Racing Club Muster (which ends not by some pre-determined signal, such as an appointed time, but when everybody simultaneously decides they’ve done enough milling around), and boarded the bus to visit a local school. A large sign boasted that it specialized in “Brain Centred Learning”, which I approved of (having never been much of an advocate for the kind of Learning that is centred around other parts of the body).

It was a private school, which the students attended of a weekend in order to top up their school-week with some extra English, and there was an uncomfortable suspicion that the students might have been called in on a Sunday just to meet us. But it turned out that they hadn’t, and that they did indeed spend their Sunday mornings learning English.

We sat around at the front of one class, awkwardly trying to think of something to say, and being met by puzzled stares. Bastard Knight told them that Bastard Lang was in fact James Bond, but the humour was lost on them, and it didn’t break the ice. To be honest, it was lost on me, too.

The situation was rescued when the WaGs arrived, and started employing interpersonal skills, and other such arcane and mysterious arts. The students were soon engaged in lively conversation with Mrs West, Mrs Lea, Mrs Hanning, etc., and revealed that they had been learning some Katy Perry lyrics. (I wondered what they made of: “I hope you hang yourself with your H & M Scarf/While jacking off and listening to Mozart”).

We men were left sitting at the front of the class: now it was our turn to look hapless and lost. The charming and hard-working young Daughters’ group (consisting of JoJo, Eleanor and Alice) had been busy blowing up some footballs we had brought as presents, so we went back outside to the corridor and languidly kicked them around the school. The students were charming, and it was touching to see how motivated they were.

It was time for the Curry Lottery again, but by now we were bullish and confident. So confident, in fact, that we airily dismissed the strong smell of poo that greeted us as we walked in to the restaurant. Mrs Hanning correctly deduced that this was not an auspicious feature in a restaurant, and that this might be the best time to forgo the Lottery ticket, and sit this one out. I had already decided that I was going to forgo lunch anyway, having learned on many Racing Club tours that it is not always the best preparation for a game of football, even when the restaurant doesn’t smell of poo. But for some reason which I now find inexplicable, I was persuaded to change my mind, and “gave it a try” with the fish soup and the ubiquitous curry.

The food worked its magic with unseemly haste, and I could feel things stirring pretty much immediately. A roll-call later in the day revealed that we were already five men down before we had left the restaurant. It turned out that the smell of poo wasn’t a good indicator of fine-dining after all. If only we’d been as prescient as Mrs Hanning. On the stairwell, on leaving the restaurant, there was a large piece of Agitprop art, depicting a soldier standing proudly with his arms across his chest, and below it the words:

“Myanmar, renaissance of a new, modern developed world, full of dignity, reverence, and victory for all.”

What was going on in my bowels was certainly some kind of renaissance, but it wasn’t full of dignity, and I crossed my arms like the soldier, in the hope that it offered some kind of relief.

We arrived at what the guide called “the playground”, more in hope than in anticipation that the changing facilities might include a serviceable toilet, but with the experience of many previous tours, a reconnaissance party was sent out, and returned disconsolately with the familiar advice: “Not even if you’re desperate”. We changed on the bus, to the alarm of the Daughters’ Group, who hadn’t realized that the pre-match ritual was already underway, and asked us to suspend it for a minute while they exited with a look of terror on their faces. Getting changed on the bus proved to be an arduous task with a digestive system in such turmoil, and left me pouring with sweat, and glad to get out into the rain.

The pitch was of good quality Astroturf, at an out-of-town sports complex, so might have looked inviting if I hadn’t had a chest infection, a heart condition, and a dose of the Chindits. It was heavily waterlogged (the pitch, rather than my stomach), but that turned out to be a blessing, because the opposition turned out to be young and nippy, so anything that slowed the ball down was met with a kind of exhausted relief.

My first pass was wind-assisted, and for a scary moment, I paused to check that it wasn’t liquid-fuelled as well, but I hadn’t done a Lineker, and managed to get through a half, before despondently calling it a day. By that time we were 2-1 down, and the game had adopted the pattern that all three of our games were to adopt. The opposition kept the ball for what seemed like hours on end, playing nippy little triangles around us, while we slogged around in the humidity.

But we had a secret weapon which kept us in the game, at least in terms of the scoreline. Every so often, we’d manage to get the ball to the feet of our Youth Policy (Ollie Watson and the two Junior Hoff bastards), and they would power down the pitch, knocking down the opposition’s nippy little players like a man playing Subutteo with a boxing-glove…and score. We lost 4-2, a respectable scoreline suggesting a close game, thanks to the Youth Policy.

It wasn’t a game-plan that was unknown to us (having famously won 3-1 in Latvia to a strong team who had been left wondering how we had managed to win the game without touching the ball for 90 minutes)

In spite of all their possession, the opposition didn’t have the kind of power that we had in our forward-line, so weren’t able to capitalise on it as much as they might have. They barely used the wings, and hit few balls over the top (perhaps because we were playing so deep, we needed miners’ helmets and a canary), so almost all of their goals came from playing the nippy little triangles through the middle. The post-match analysis concluded that we had defended well, perhaps an eccentric conclusion for a team that had just conceded four goals that had all come through the centre, but not an eccentric conclusion for us, and we nodded sagely at each other as we later “put it to bed” with a few beers on the steamy little hotel roof-terrace.

Disappointed with my own contribution, for which I think I’m going to be dependent on the NHS to rectify, I was nonetheless pleased that the game was a respectable match-up, a feat which is difficult to achieve when you are blindly arranging games for a Tour, but which had been achieved on the vast majority of Racing Club tours. Hats off, yet again, to Bastard Hoff.

I wasn’t dependent on the NHS for my stomach condition, though. I discovered on the roof-terrace that Mrs West had a large green box from which she dispensed medicaments of all kinds, legal and illegal, and she persuaded me to take some Immodium, promising that things would quickly be firmed up. The green medicine-box was so large, I wondered if she might be able to produce some equipment for administering cardioversion for my heart, but for the moment, I just concentrated on one thing at a time. Bastard West smirked, with the knowledge of experience, and told me I wouldn’t be seeing the inside of a khazi for a while.

That night, at the restaurant, I resorted to a burger, the first time I had ever done so on a Tour, but I wasn’t in the mood for playing the Curry Lottery again. Once you’ve shored up an avalanche, you don’t want to risk disturbing it again. We did another roll-call. It wasn’t clear whether Junior Bastard Alex Hoff had been floored by the Curry Lottery, or by the skinful he’d had at a function at the British Embassy the night before with his brother Ben, but Bastard Vigne was certainly walking funny, and I recommended Mrs West’s big green medicine-box to him.

Back on the steamy roof terrace after the meal, I was introduced to another quirky hotel design feature. Behind a glass wall at the back of the roof-terrace was a dank-smelling, uninviting little gym, featuring a sorry-looking running machine, and beyond that, another glass wall overlooking a balcony at the back of the hotel. It wasn’t until you went out onto this balcony that you noticed three urinals fixed to the balcony wall, so that you could enjoy a pleasant view of downtown Yangon while siphoning off the excess beer. Bastard Lea and I tried it out, and chatted amicably while surveying the rooftop city-scape. It was most satisfying, but perhaps a little less satisfying for any unsuspecting woman who sees the balcony from inside, and decides to step out for some fresh air and a view of the skyline, as the balcony had been perfectly designed so that the urinals were not visible from inside. Having expressed our admiration, we left another big collection of Myanmar beer bottles on the table, and retired to bed. We were to be up at 5:30 the following morning, for a 30-minute flight to Bagan.

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