Tour Report: Kent Ramblas in Bristol (31/08-02/09)

Ah, Bristol. With its Clifton Suspension Bridge. Umpteen museums. Three half-decent sports teams. And glorious sights. Alas, the Kent Ramblas couldn’t tell you much about any of them. But, if you want to know about the bars of Clifton… (Well, we can’t help you there either as it goes as we collectively kept a few of them in business.)

Still, it was with plenty of optimism and anticipation for the weekend that, in three separate parties, the 10 brave souls travelled down to the city of Bristol on Friday. Those on the train were treated to a feast of football trivia (and one or two ‘liveners’) before rocking up at the fine hotel organised for the trip.

Luckily for us, but not our livers, attached to the hotel was a very nice bar in the shape of Racks (not a strip club, as some had ‘wondered’) and with the England-South Africa ODI on the box and beers on hand, there really wasn’t anywhere else to be as we awaited the arrival of our three remaining members. And Racks proved a constant, friendly shoulder for us to lean on throughout our stay.

Soon enough we were up to our full complement, but received our first bit of bad news of a weekend full of highs and lows as the opposition for Saturday’s game called at 8PM to inform us they could not fulfil the fixture (some, quite frankly bullshit, excuse about a rugby tour being on meaning they couldn’t get enough players).

Onwards and upwards

After some tactful phone work by organiser-in-chief Michael Cooper had ensured the Ramblas would get at least get some practice time at Bristol & North Somerset Cricket Club and the tourists refused to let the news get in the way of a good time.

Thanks to some pointers from a friendly face, Racks was vacated and the bright lights of Clifton were headed to where the beers flowed freely and the single fellas of the party had the opportunity to work their magic. Alas, the magic on show was – on the whole – more Tommy Cooper than Derren Brown; but it at least made for entertaining viewing for the rest of us.

The more refined setting of Browns provided a good platform for the rest of the evening, before we opted for one of the best/worst* clubs ever visited (* there may have been ‘some’ division amongst us on this point; before a splinter group headed off in search of songs with guitars and a floor so sticky it may have been made of Pritt Stick).

A serendipitous meeting of some of us post-club led to some disappointing grub (including a distraught Geoff Parrett at the lack of pizza action) and potentially the best ever name for a food van: Jason’s Doner Van.

Post-match analysis

After varying levels of sleep (and a poor showing of 20% of the touring party at breakfast), it was time to piece together the previous night before heading out for some practice with bat and ball. As it turned out, three of our number had gotten in some late-night cricketing training in their hotel room that led to an orange through a window (just don’t tell the hotel, please).

A quick bit of sustenance (or, in the case of G. Parrett, yet more disappointment on the pizza front) and hair of the dog got the Ramblas ready for what should’ve been 15-minute cab ride to finally bat on ball. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple task proved the opposite and it wasn’t until a huge detour and over an hour later that we finally reached our destination – at an eye-watering total over just shy of £100 to boot.

Again refusing to get downheartened by another bit of bad luck, the Ramblas manfully got on with the task of limbering up for their game on the Sunday. Pairing up to post the highest total in eight overs, it proved a useful workout in the glorious Bristolian sunshine.

Some interesting bowling and even more interesting running between the wickets proved the highlights, but sharp fielding at times and some fine stroke play meant the few hours in the field was worth it.

That said, with more cab-induced troubles blighting the attempts to return to the hotel, a few heads were beginning to drop. Thankfully, a quick shower (not all together…) and it was back down to Racks for a quick drink before heading back to the surprisingly lively heart of Clifton for a bite and – just maybe – one or two more beers.

Finally, some ‘proper’ cricket

Come Sunday morning, there were increasing numbers of broken men among the Ramblas (although a slight improvement on the numbers who made it down for breakfast), with the skipper and his brother looking particularly worse for wears (the former opting for the corner of his room over the bathroom for a chunder). The latter, meanwhile, decided the best way to escape a hangover was to simply keep drinking.

As admirable as L. Stocks’s decision was, it was not quite the preparation needed as he sought to deliver the half-century he had confidently predicted the night before.

Indeed, once another minor cab kerfuffle was averted and the cricket finally got underway, the sight of all but two Ramblas heading to the field with pints suggested it could be a long day. Pitting their wits against a mix of first teamers, second teamers and ‘academy’ products, it was clear from the start that the opposition really was a cut above.

Opening the bowling, Mark Loughlin and Ian Dacre were not really showing any signs of their weekend’s exertions and tested the batters with the odd ball, but were also often seeing the ball hit into the gaps.

A breakthrough that, even so early on, looked unlikely did come in the form of a cleverly disguised slower ball from Loughlin that hit off stump. However, this only served to bring in an even bigger-hitting batsman who confidently dispatched deliveries from the opening pair and giving the same treatment to Chris Thomas.

“Got him. Yeah!”

Despite being placed in the right spot on the boundary, newcomer Rich Simpson was twice unable to extend his full frame the requisite 10 feet or so to take a catch at long on as the number three hit sixes for fun. With a few wide-eyed and, to be perfectly honest, petrified looks among the fielders, it was Thomas who snaffled the new batsman with a caught and bowled.

That brought in one of the host’s more experienced players and he raced to a 60 with some belting hits – including one that whacked into the leg of a passerby who failed to heed the shout of “HEADS UP!”. Thankfully, no casualties reported… other than the Ramblas bowling figures.

Seeking a breakthrough, Steve Fitch managed that rare commodity of a maiden but a knee injury restricted his impact and it was down to the skipper to take the wicket with one that raced through and shattered the timbers as the batsman looked to up the ante even further.

A quick look around the field indicated the efforts of the previous two nights were beginning to take their toll, with one or two uncharacteristically slack bits of groundwork giving away just how much we’d boosted the pub industry in Clifton. However, Parrett was particularly unlucky not to be among the wickets with eight overs of expert slow bowling.

Seeking a change, Laurie Stocks came in for a steady two-over spell, but he, the skipper and Dacre we unable to make any further headway as Almondsbury CC looked set for an imposing total. With Fitch injured, Thomas came back into the attack despite his own ailments and took the wicket of the big-hitting Almondsbury skipper with a slower ball that cramped him for space.

A couple of big strikes from his replacement didn’t do anything for Thomas’s figures, but a breath-taking run out from the deep by Loughlin meant the batsman wasn’t around long enough to do any lasting damage and the hosts closed on 207 for 8.

The chase

After a disappointing (and-not-even-remotely-worth-£40) tea, it was left to the brothers Stocks to build on their excellent century partnership the week before. And, after all, with the self-professed best batsman at the crease promising that he wasn’t going to leave until he got a 50, what could go wrong?

It quickly became apparent that opening with two of our three biggest drinkers “may” have been a mistake, with the captain’s head doing somersaults every time he took his guard and, at the other end, his elder sibling unable to see straight. The pair battled on, but the painful – if amusing – viewing came to an end when L. Stocks offered up a soft catch to depart for just three. A game effort for someone with around 70.6% alcohol in his bloodstream.

This, though, only brought in the third of our biggest alcohol consumers of the weekend. With beer in tow, Jon Goss looked to play a few shots as he stuck around with to help his skipper reach an impressive 29 given the circumstances.

Captain Stocks was replaced by vice-skipper Michael Cooper who, after a fit of pique last week, was determined to prove his worth to the team by getting amongst the runs. And he did just that, finding his favourite spot in cow corner for a fine boundary and looking well set.

A comical attempt at a run that was never there by Goss brought about his own demise (following a few near-misses before that) to bring Thomas to the crease in search of the two runs he needed to reach 50 for the season. Having falling agonisingly short last year, the desperate play and misses underlined his eagerness to secure that landmark.

At the other end, Cooper was continuing to look in fine form before one attacking shot too many cost him his wicket. The very next ball saw Loughlin depart as he misjudged a short delivery and the requisite Ramblas middle order collapse was well and truly in full swing.

New boy Rich Simpson came out next with the intention of “getting after the bowlers”, but he wouldn’t get to do it in tandem with Thomas as the latter offered up a dolly after hitting 10 leg-side runs. At least the dressing room was saved from his wrath by him passing 50.

Simpson bided his time but left without scoring and although a trademark four saw Parrett get off the mark, he was soon back in the hutch too, leaving Dacre and Fitch to drag the visitors above 100 and towards some form of respectability (something that was in short supply for most of the weekend…).

And the pair did it with gusto, including an audacious six from Dacre who hit a career-best 22, while Fitch posted 14 in their 42-run partnership before getting out. The kind loan of one of the visitors did little for the score as the Ramblas finished on 147 for 9.

The final leg

A quick pint and then eight of our number were back to the centre of Bristol to return to the greatest city in the world (oh, and Rich went back to Milton Keynes).

In a fitting finale, though, the six train-travelling members of the party were greeted at Bristol Temple Meads station by the news their 9PM train was cancelled and they would have to wait until 10:10PM for the next one.

By now used to these little road bumps, a hotel bar was found for refuge (and food and watering) before – finally – the train was boarded. At just gone midnight and after some quite horrific ’emissions’ by one of the party en route, they were back to the motherland.

After two and a half days of laughter, drinking, trivia, drinking, drinking – oh, and some cricket, it was all over. Just like the 2012 Ramblas season. We’ll see you next year!

Men of the tour: It would be nigh on impossible to single out one Rambla, as everyone brought something unique to the table. With that in mind, it’s a shared honour (in alphabetical order): Michael Cooper, Ian Dacre, Steve Fitch, Jon Goss, Mark Loughlin, Geoff Parrett, Rich Simpson, Jonny Stocks, Laurie Stocks and Chris Thomas.

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