As I get older and become more of a creature of habit, one thing I increasingly dislike is change. So the other evening in Colombo I got a shock. I finished work and made my way to the Cricket Club, a well-known eating and drinking establishment close to my workplace, to unwind with a beer. This is something I do regularly.
I walked along the street beside the Cricket Club and turned around a corner to where its entrance was… and discovered that its big green gates were fastened shut across the entrance. Then, peering over the top of its perimeter wall, I saw that the charming old colonial-type bungalow that contains the Cricket Club was in darkness.
It was closed. And a newly hung-up banner told me that the Cricket Club, in this neighbourhood at least, was closed for good.
Change had come. “Eeeek!” I went.
I’ll be honest. The Cricket Club wasn’t my all-time favourite place in Colombo to hang out in and have a meal or drink. I sometimes found the food a bit stodgy. It could get uncomfortably busy with crowds of holiday makers who were shuttled there on tour-coaches. I didn’t think the bar area was particularly cosy or atmospheric, although it was definitely an improvement on the phoney, sanitised faux-old-style-British pubs that you get in the city’s upmarket hotels like the Cinnamon Grand. And the music played there was very often ghastly. I’m sorry, Cricket Club, but if I want to chill out with a beer and a bite to eat, the very last thing I want to hear is a loud Hi NRG version of The Final Countdown by Europe.
And the place’s big gimmick left me cold. Yes, the Cricket Club was a place dedicated to the sport of cricket. The walls were covered with cricketing memorabilia – with pictures of players, teams and matches, with bats, balls and stumps, with sweaters, banners and flags. And the dishes on the menu were named after famous cricket players. Thus, you could order Imran Khan pumpkin soup, Graham Gooch fish and chips, Mike Gatting garlic prawns, a Viv Richards veggie bake, an Allan Lamb stir-fry, a Dickie Bird burger and inevitably a ‘David Shepherd’ pie. Now this is great if you’re a fan of cricket. Unfortunately, I’m somebody who considers cricket to be the most tedious sport ever devised by humankind. It doesn’t surprise me that only about ten countries on the planet are deluded enough to play it. (Though admittedly one of those ten, India, does contain 17% of the world’s population.)
But the Cricket Club had its positive features too. For one thing, the waiting staff seemed a welcoming and decent bunch of blokes. And there was one part of it that I found heavenly – its veranda.
Ah, how I loved that veranda! I’d struggle onto it following a hectic and wearying day’s work and sit at one of its tables, and order a beer, and spend my time under a creaking ceiling fan watching the light outside affect a series of ever-darkening shades as evening gave way to night. Cats would prowl and crows would hop across the open area in front of the veranda. And at a certain point a big gecko would appear on the wall next to me and entertain me for hours as he scurried to and fro searching for bugs to pounce on. After a few evenings I’d christened him – not very originally – ‘Gordon’.
Me, a beer and Gordon the Gecko on the Cricket Club veranda. How could I possibly spend a more blissful evening?
Incidentally, that area before the veranda included the Cricket Club’s most photographed feature. This was a tall white signpost with a curious-looking figure on top, half-cricketer and half-Old Father Time. It also had eight or so signs pointing off in different directions, towards different famous cricket-grounds in different cricket-playing countries, and it displayed the distances from Colombo to each one. It was 15,829 km to Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad, 10,910 km to Basin Reserve in New Zealand and so on.
With hindsight, I suppose it was no surprise that the Cricket Club, housed in that old bungalow, was living on borrowed time. The structure was showing its age and maintaining it must have been a drain on resources. Back in May, when unusually violent rain pounded Sri Lanka, its roof couldn’t cope. At the time I went there for a meal with my better half, Mrs Blood and Porridge, and I soon discovered that water was dribbling through the ceiling in the main men’s toilet. Later, as we were finishing our meal in the place’s lobby area, the lobby-roof started leaking too. By bad luck, Mrs Blood and Porridge was sitting directly under the leak and huge cold drops of water came smacking down onto the crown of her head.
It seems sadly inevitable that rumours are already circulating about the site where the Cricket Club operated – old bungalow and all – being cleared to make way for a new, costly apartment block. Several of these have sprouted up in the district in recent years. Indeed, at the other end of the street, an architecturally handsome outlet of the boutique / gift-shop Paradise Road was levelled a short time ago, presumably to allow the construction of yet another apartment block.
However, the Cricket Club itself isn’t dead – for the banner above the gates announces that in the near future it will be reopening at a new address on Flower Road. I’ve heard that its staff are busy transferring everything (including, no doubt, all the cricketing memorabilia) to Flower Road at this very moment. It’s probably too much to hope for, but it would be nice if they could dismantle the veranda and then reassemble it, brick-by-brick and plank-by-plank, at the new premises. Oh, and they’d better bring Gordon the Gecko with them.
Oh, and guys – while you’re at it, get some f***ing decent music in. Please!