Transcript: Couch Talk with Peter Chismon

Couch Talk Episode 73 (play)

Guest: Peter Chismon

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and welcome to CouchTalk. Today’s guest is a cricket fan who has been travelling across the world to watch Tests and domestic matches, Peter Chismon. Peter talks about how he got into globe-trotting hobby of this, his experiences in various places, the dos and don’ts of cricket travelling, etc.

Welcome to the show, Peter!

Peter Chismon– Good afternoon, in England.

SJ– So, you are back in the not-so-warm confines of the UK after the trip to India, aren’t you?

PC– Correct. I came back on the 7th of March and I had the lunch next day courtesy the Sussex benefit year, this year. Feels good to be back to the reality again.

SJ– To give a little bit of background on what you have been doing- you are now 70 years young and you started on the wonderful path of following cricket along the world about 20 odd years ago? Give us a bit about your life background, and how you got into all this.

PC– When I left the Army in ’82, I hadn’t watched cricket match in 20 years from when I was a boy to when I was 40 when I left the army because I was here, there and everywhere, throughout the world, kids to bring up and all that life business. Then I started at about ’80-’82. I used to follow here and there- at Essex, because it was near to where I lived in Ipswich, and then at Sussex, I got used to that.

Then I had an illness in 1994, and I had 6 weeks’ leave left at the end of the year. Instead of being in West London, I thought,” Ah, I will go to Australia for 3 weeks and take off my holiday.” I started touring in 1994. I went with Barmy Army, I still got the hat from 1994-95. That must cost a fortune in an auction. I usually go on my own. I meet a couple of people, I meet friends here and there. A fellow I met in Australia, Luke, who waved his flag, told me that he has been to 30-odd Test grounds with Australia in the world.

My journey goes, not with England, but with Test grounds, and now I have gone to 56. I have gone the half way mark now. If I am at the half way mark, I am happy. I won’t chase Test grounds any more. I will just go to where I want to.

SJ– Personally, for me, I only recently started doing this. You are my inspiration, something I look up to. In the last 2 years, I have had the tremendous opportunity to go to 9 different Test venues, and I still try to maintain my 9-5 job here in the States. So, how much time of the year are you spending away from home going to watch cricket at these different grounds, and how much time do you spend at home?

PC– I spent 176 days in 2011 and 183 in 2012. My wife asks “When are you going?” and not “When are you coming back?” My Test matches, I want to see the whole Test match, not just a day in and a day out. I want to see all five days. I have been to a lot since 1994, to Test grounds. But, I don’t go to One Dayers and Twenty20s. I don’t mind them, but the longer event is for me. I’m a bit paranoid about it. I’m going to the home Tests in England this year with Sussex, new grounds here, and with minor counties.

Then, Rugby League World Cup comes to England in October-November. I would like to do that. A few international grounds in the Rugby League too. I plan to go to Sri Lanka next year for their domestic season, which is usually February or March. I’ll probably book a flight soon, because I can get in for a reasonable price right now, for under 500 quid to Colombo and back. Then, I can go out there and do the tour. Hopefully, I get the itinerary back within the 9 months between today and then, and then I will work out what I want to do.

Sri Lanka is easy. India is hard. it took me 4 times to work out my itinerary this year, November-January to India

SJ– Why was that?

PC– They changed their fixtures. We found out where the itinerary goes on. There is this website – . That is nearly as accurate as you can get it. Then I popped into the BCCI office in Mumbai when I got there. They said “Yes, we are alright.” They didn’t change much, but I didn’t get to see them at Dharamsala because they didn’t play there. They switched it to another ground. I have got to do that again. Maybe in the end of 2014, in December, get out there when it is warm, like in November. I don’t want to be there in January.

SJ– You mentioned how you preferred Tests and you have nothing against ODIs and T20s. It is interesting. I have very open mind too. And, I liked all formats, and I still do. But, in terms of watching the sport, once you go to the stadium and watch 5 days of a Test match, it becomes a day job, say, Monday to Friday or Thursday to Monday, where you are watching cricket from 9 to 5 and you have observed all these different things, it is hard to watch ODIs and T20s. Isn’t it?

PC– I think ODIs are boring and T20s are good for the youngsters in my mind. They want results. It gets over in a day. If you are working, and can take a day off, that is the way to start it. In England, you will see in a County Championship- where I am most of the summer, along with just one or two Test matches as they are too expensive – you go to a County Championship match and you get 4 days of fluctuations. Every session fluctuates. It draws your attention. You can walk around the ground, chat with people, but still keep an eye on the cricket. I go to one or two ODIs, because I am an MCC member. I can hence go to the Lords, with my wife, once a year. When you have already paid to go, you might as well go, fit it in. I have done all the Test grounds in England. If I want to go to a County Championship match happening at Trent Bridge, I might take a day off and go there.

It depends on, in England, where Sussex are playing. And, go to Test match apart from The Lords, because that is on the other side of the city, about 75 miles away. I planned to be an MCC member when I retired and that worked out absolutely superbly. I became a member 2 years before I retired, because the older I get, the less trouble I have to go through.

When I get an idea, I look it up. Two days ago, I tried to book a ticket to when we are playing the Middlesex at The Lords because Scotland are playing a match at the Grange in Edinburgh, and I think it is the first time they played a first class game there. It is a new ground, a first class ground. A first class match is more important than a One Dayer. That is a pleasure. First class ground, when it happens, you have to do it.

SJ– I want your inputs on the ebb and flow of a first class match, where you can sit for 4 or 5 days. I have read that you don’t miss even a single delivery, even when people are coming in and going out. You take all of the match in without leaving the stadium.

PC– I go in the beginning if I can and I leave in the end. It is up to me. If it is a Test match and a new ground, I score it. I have got 56 Test scores in my scorebook, in the old fashioned pencil one. Dots and dashes, not the Frindall scoresheet, I am of the old fashioned one. I can also hence concentrate on the game it doesn’t get boring when you are watching every ball from the right position to see the two umpires and the scoreboard, if you make a hiccup and go wrong.

You don’t want to be right behind the bowler’s arm, you want to be behind the second slip, probably, or that way around, so you can see both umpires because you are a long way away. Especially in India, you will sit in the shades in the back of the stands and you don’t want people around you. If people come and chat with me, i ask them “Would you mind not talking to me, I am doing the scoring?” I like to do it in matches when I first started, but I don’t now. We have a little group in Sussex, and we fluctuate between 4 and 10 people. We are always there, and the banter is deep, the verbal are a really high power. People are never bored at the cricket. When you are at a cricket match, when you go around the world, I bet I will see someone I know in one way or the other, or who I have bumped into before. Like this Test match in Auckland in New Zealand- NZ are on a high at the moment, [at the time of recording] but the Test is not over yet. That is what I like about Test matches.

SJ– You mentioned earlier that going to Test grounds in England are too expensive, which made me think that you watch most of your cricket these days in the subcontinent because, 1. it is cheaper, and 2. you have 4 countries which have Test venues close by.

PC– I have done all the Test grounds in Australia, 8 of them, including Darwin and Hobart. I’ve done all the grounds in Australia. There are a lot in India. There are about 12 Test grounds in India. I’ve done about 7 or 8 now. I can plan at least 2 grounds in the domestic season. It’s the West Indies that I look forward to do. The new Antiguan ground, the new Guyanese ground, and Grenada and St Vincent, which I missed out because Bangladesh played West Indies about 2 years ago. I should have gone there in the summer. I don’t think that happens too often. That, I missed.

Two or three, I missed in Sri Lanka. I don’t know if they will have Test matches there when I go there in February and March in 2014. They always play around that time of the year, and that is the best time to go there to Sri Lanka, before the monsoon and the rain.

SJ– How do you fund your trips?

PC– I have got my army pension, my work pension, which is pretty good to look after my house. I’ve got my old age pension that I use to put me on the way. The flight is the main thing. [Match] Ticket wise, not a problem when you go abroad. I have stopped smoking, I don’t drink and I don’t drive any more. So, I don’t have any big tax items. I will probably say that I make nearly a 1000 pounds before I go if I am gone for 2 months. When I went to India, I didn’t spend any money because it is very reasonable in the subcontinent. Sri Lanka- the same. Australia is expensive. I couldn’t do Australia again.

SJ– One of my friends is South Africa, covering the Pakistan tour of South Africa. He has been there for about a month or so there, and he has been mugged twice at gunpoint. He lost his cell phone, kindle and all that stuff. You have done this for twenty years now. Have you had some unsavoury experiences?

PC– No. What you must do, especially in South Africa, you must act like a local. Don’t be a tourist. All I had with me is probably a pair of binoculars. That is inexpensive. I don’t carry money around me, I don’t have a camera. I didn’t have anything else like that.

SJ– Is there a list of do’s and don’t‘s that you follow and might be put as “if I am in this country, I wouldn’t do this…”?

PC– When you go to place where it is tricky, don’t act like you are a tourist. Get a sun tan before you go [Laughs]. Don’t dress posh. Wear a pair of shorts. In India, nobody wears shorts. In South Africa, all wear it. Act like you belong to the place. Don’t go out at nights, that is asking for trouble in South Africa. Depends on where you go to, where you are.

Always, when I go to a place, I don’t book a hotel unless I know where I am going. If it is a strange place, I get to the airport or station, or the bus station and if it is my first day, I get the map of the city. Ask the cab to take you to the ground. You find out where the ground is. You look it up on the internet, and you roughly know where you are going. You go to the ground the day before the match, or two days before. See around. I want the nearest hotel or guest house, at a walking distance from the ground. Tell him your nationality, I am English, and how much you want to pay him. You get into a hotel. If the man know what he wants, he doesn’t go to the four starred hotel, he goes to the nearest one so that he can walk to the ground and back.

Then find some place to eat. Now, you can sit and watch the game for all five days. I am not a tourist, after cricket, unless there is something to see. Then, I plan that accordingly. But, I don’t go to the museums and churches and all that unless I am really bored. There are other things to do. I am usually on my own these days because sometimes the people I know are working. There is always somebody there. You go to the ground and see people who accommodate you, you pick your friends.

SJ– You spent quite a bit of time in India. What is your preferred mode of transportation? You knew you had to go to Test matches as well as Ranji Trophy matches. How flexible was your itinerary?

PC– This time, I went in the first week of November, two weeks before the Ranji season started. I saw England in Mumbai, in the other ground, not the Wankhede. I hadn’t been to that ground before. I booked  flight to Jammu, to the North – North-West. Then, I went to Dharamsala. But, it turned out that the day after I reached there, they weren’t playing there. I even booked a taxi for Rs 4000 to take me there, it is a 6 hour journey because there is no train to there. There is an overnight bus, but it was a bit unreliable. That was the only hiccup. When the league stages of the Ranji Trophy had finished, the quarter finals and semi-finals stage came, I was so lucky that the ground that I wanted to be at, Rajkot in Saurashtra, there was the quarter finals! And the ODI was there two days after it finished. And the semi-final was there at the same stadium. I saw three new grounds all in the same city. I didn’t go to the finals because I had booked my flight. And I was lucky I didn’t, because the finals was a disaster. It got over in 3 days. That is how it worked out.

When I was planning, I was trying to do a lot. I wanted to go to Assam to Guwahati, or to Tripura to Agartala, which is just the other side of Dhaka on the map. I was going to do that over Christmas. But, I chickened out and changed my plans. I went to Chennai and then to Hyderabad. But, I booked my rail tickets when I sorted out the next four weeks, and I followed them.

People find it hard, but once you get used to it, you can get to anywhere on the train. There are 3 to 4 days between the Ranji Trophy games, and you and get to anywhere in the country within that time. Or, you can fly. The trouble with flying in India is that you have to go through the major hubs like Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta. You might cost yourself a 120 quids and wasting some travelling time that you could have spent on train. It takes you the same amount of time hanging by the airport for 8 hours, and you still needs a bed for the night that might cost you another 20 pounds.

SJ– When you set out on a trip to anywhere, you set up a budget for travel, accommodation, food and tickets?

PC– With all these experience, I know what I am going to pay. Let’s say that I don’t go over a 1000 pounds a month. My old age pension is worth 800 pounds a month. I book my travel early. In India, you can exist on 300 pounds a month, including travel, hotel and food. Even lesser. I saved 500 pounds when I came back from India. I didn’t spend, if you get what I mean.

If you are going to be at the cricket all the time- the cricket finishes in India at, let’s say, half past five. You go to the hotel, you get a shower, you go to a place to eat. I found a reasonable restaurant everywhere I stated, within walking distance, within half a mile from where I stayed. You can take your time. It would be 8 or 9 pm by then. I walk, and go to the  cyber café. Afterwards, you have time for the bits and pieces. It depends on what you want. In my age, I would probably by asleep by 10 pm, and wake up by 6 am daylight.

SJ– You mentioned about the Barmy Army, who travel only for the English games. How easy is it, the mental transformation from “I am watching cricket just for the sake of watching cricket”, rather than watching it for any particular team loyalty?

PC– Not too hard at all. I’m a big fan of India now. I went to two Test matches. I went to Chennai and Hyderabad. I’ve seen Australia more times. England are the ones i have seen most in my 56 grounds. Australia is next, India second after that. Bangladesh has cropped up a few times there. They play at some strange grounds, and you have to get those tickets. I remember sitting in a ground in New Zealand. I have a friend in Dunedin, who used to work for me when in London. I stayed with him for 10 days in Dunedin. That was the first Test match in Dunedin Oval, against Bangladesh. There were a few showers and the game finished in 3 days. That is how it goes sometimes. Before I went to New Zealand, not once have I seen 5 days in a New Zealand Test match. And it rained t 12 o’clock on the 5th day. Otherwise, that is 6 Test matches in New Zealand. All of them finished in 3 days, and New Zealand won them all – against India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and was South Africa last year? All 3 days matches, would you believe it? In New Zealand.

SJ– You mentioned your plans for Sri Lanka next year. You are 70. How long do you intend to continue this?

PC– Throughout next year. Probably, if I can go to India for the Ranji Trophy in 2014. I want to do Namibia, coupled with South Africa, and domestic cricket in Zimbabwe all at once. If I can plan an itinerary for 2 months, that is reasonable. Maybe in 2015. England are going to the West Indies in 2015 for 4 or 5 Test matches. I’ll probably get to go to Antigua and Guyana then. I’ll put in a mark on 75 years, and say that’s it. I don’t know. It depends on how I feel physically and if the plan is still up.

SJ– You haven’t been to the cricket ground in Antigua?

PC– I’ve been to the Recreation Ground. I have seen West Indies score 418 and beat Australia there. But, not the new one yet. It is outside, the Viv Richards one. Where England went and lasted about 2.3 overs. I will do that once.

SJ– So, I have been to one cricket ground that you have not been to. The Vivian Richards Stadium. I’ve been there a couple of times.

PC– The new one? It is a bit far out from the city, isn’t it?

SJ– It is. It is out in the middle of nowhere, which is why nobody comes to the cricket ground.

Alright, then! Thanks a lot for coming on the show, Peter. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you! You know, some day, I hope I can go past your number of Test venues.

PC– Where do you live at the moment?

SJ– I live in Pennsylvania in the USA at the moment. I’m originally from Chennai.

PC– Chennai is beautiful. Depending on the itinerary, I might go to Toronto in last September, where Canada is playing Netherlands in a 4 day first class match, I think. So, I’ll give you a call when I am there and we will meet in Toronto.

SJ– Yes. Absolutely.

PC– OK. Thank you very much for calling.

SJ– Thank you so much, Peter.

PC– Good bye!

SJ– Cheers!

Download the full episode here.

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman