Once upon a time

A few months back, someone sent me this “pixar format” of storytelling.

While it makes sense, I have deep-seated insecurities regarding this format, going back to when I was in “upper kindergarten” (about 5 years old).

Until I was 14 or so, I had a pronounced stutter. It was very rare until then that I would win any prizes in speaking events even though I was comfortably the class topper in academics – basically I couldn’t speak. The mystery got unlocked when some teacher wondered if I stuttered because I “thought faster than I could speak”. That one remark made me conscious, and helped me slow down, and I remember pretty much cleaning up the speaking events prizes in school the following year.

Anyways, ten years before that I couldn’t speak. On top of that I couldn’t remember. I mean I could remember obscure things (for a five year old) such as the capital of Angola or the inventor of the telescope, but I couldn’t remember a coherent passage of text.

And one such passage of text that I first needed to mug up (and remember) and then speak it out (double nightmare) happened to be in the above (Pixar) format. There was a storytelling session in school for which we had to mug up stories and then tell it out in class.

I don’t exactly remember the text of the story (well I couldn’t remember it in 1987-88, so what chance do I have of remembering it now?), but it went something like this.

Once upon a time, there were four cows who lived in the jungle.

Every day, they grazed together. So if a tiger attacked, they could get together and chase it away.

One day, the cows quarrelled among one another.

Because of that, they started grazing separately.

Because of that, it was now possible for the tiger to take them on one-on-one.

Until finally, one day, the tiger attacked the cows one by one and ate up all of them.

Don’t ask me how a tiger could eat four cows in a day. I remember struggling like crazy to remember this story and speak it out. I remember that my father tried to make me mug it up several times during one weekend, after which I was supposed to speak it out in school.

I don’t remember how well or badly I spoke it out. However, what lasted was that this kind of stories started giving me nightmares. From then on, I developed a fear of the phrase “once upon a time”. Any story that started with “once upon a time” were scary to me.

I remember this one day in school when one classmate was asked to narrate a story. He went up to the front of the class and started with “one day … “. That was liberating – that not every story needed to start with once upon a time was a massive relief to me.

It’s funny the kind of things we remember from childhood, and the kind of seemingly innocuous things that have a long-term impact on us.

Back to the gym

Late last month, the Indian government permitted gyms and yoga centres to open from August 5th, with sufficient social distancing and safety precautions. The Karnataka government immediately notified the order. Perhaps to take time to prepare, and give coaches who had gone out of state to return and complete their home quarantines, my gym began only yesterday.

And I went today.

Initially I was a bit sceptical. Not from the safety perspective – the gym had put in place several safety measures such as limiting the number of members in the gym at the same time. I was sceptical more from the perspective of the safety measures which could have been restrictive.

To cut a long story short, I managed to deadlift while wearing latex gloves. I had been highly sceptical of whether I would be able to do this. Usage of disposable latex gloves in the gym was a regulation that the gym had enforced, and justified saying that the government regulations now mandated it.

I had to use an app that the gym asked me to install to book a session. Since I’m not interested in their classes, and don’t want to go there when too many people are around, I booked an “open gym” session for this afternoon.

Before I got there I had to print out a declaration form saying that I don’t have covid (and basically indemnifying the gym if I caught it there). So I went to this shop close to the gym, printed it out and then headed to the gym. I had bought some cloth masks over the weekend since I wanted something “breathable” (I didn’t want to take off the mask at the gym). Compared to my usual wildcraft mask, this seemed so peaceful that it sort of felt “illegal”.

I was welcomed at the gym by Abhijit, the housekeeping guy. He took my printout, asked me to sanitise my hands, took my temperature and oxygen readings, and then sprayed me with some disinfectant. He explained the rules. There were boxes drawn all over the gym. I was supposed to keep all my belongings in one such box. Any equipment I used was to also go into that box – it would later be sanitised.

I warmed up with some dead hangs (and got reminded of that pull up bar that I’ve spectacularly failed to install in my balcony – after two attempts). And some leg raises. And then got down to business.

This is among the longest gaps I’ve taken in terms of lifting weights after I seriously started in 2014. My left shoulder hurt as I gripped the empty bar on my shoulder for my squat. I went through with the motion.

So there is this theory about force behaviour change – when there as a series of London Tube strikes in 2014, people were forced to change the way they travelled – involving alternate routes and connections, and even some alternate modes of transport. What the study found was that once the strike was over, some people stuck to the new alternatives they had found during the strikes. In other words, the forced  behaviour change led people to discover more optimal  behaviours.

I think that might have happened to me to some extent. Having been denied the use of the gym for the last five months, I’ve experimented with other exercises I could do from home. Having read Convict Conditioning, I started doing the progressions of pushups, squats, (sleeping) leg raises and bridges.

Prior to this, for the last six years I had stuck to a standard regimen of parallel back squats, shoulder press, bench press and deadlifts (in the last year or so I had added sumo deadlifts and front squats to my repertoire). This had allowed me to significantly improve lower body strength but my upper body strength had stalled.

The bodyweight exercises at home have had some interesting results – I now “naturally” squat deep (calves touching hamstrings), and I did the same today even with loaded squats. And my upper body finally shows signs of improvement, with all those pushups (though inability to install my pullup bar means my upper body might be growing weirdly).

So for the first time ever, with a barbell on my shoulders, I squatted deep. It was comfortable. I progressively increased the weights but didn’t go too heavy (don’t want to start my comeback with an injury). And then it was time for some deadlifts. My earlier fear of whether it could be safely done with latex gloves proved unfounded. However, again I stuck to lower weights (I have this problem with deadlifts that at lower weights my form is sometimes imperfect. The weight doesn’t “Force me to do it correctly” like higher weights do).

I must say I seriously missed this. This evening I felt the hungriest I have ever felt in the last six months. I’m sure to be going back regularly, at least once a week (possibly two). I’m going to continue with my bodyweight exercises, not wanting to give up the “alternate gains” I’ve had over the last six months.

By the time I was done this evening my mask was soaked, as were my clothes. I hope I wake up up tomorrow in a position to move.

Coming back to life

On Sunday, I met a friend for coffee. In normal times that would be nothing extraordinary. What made this extraordinary was that this was the first time since the lockdown started that I was actually meeting a non-family member casually, for a long in-person conversation.

I’m so tired of the three pairs of shorts and five T-shirts that I’ve been wearing every day since the lockdown started that I actually decided to dress up that day. And bothered to take a photo at a signal on the way to meeting him.

We met at a coffee shop in Koramangala, from where we took away coffees and walked around the area for nearly an hour, talking. No handshakes. No other touches. Masks on for most of the time. And outdoors (I’m glad I live in Bangalore whose weather allows you to be outdoors most of the year). Only issue was that wearing a mask and walking and talking for an hour can tire you out a bit.

The next bit of resurrection happened yesterday when I had an in-person business meeting for the first time in three months. Parking the car near these people’s office was easier than usual (less business activity I guess?), though later I found that my windshield was full of bird shit (I had parked under a tree).

For the first time ever while going into this office, I got accosted by a security guard at the entrance, asking where I was headed, taking my temperature and offering me hand sanitiser. Being a first time, I was paranoid enough to use the umbrella I was carrying to operate the lift buttons, and my mask was always on.

There were no handshakes. The room was a bit stuffy and I wasn’t sure if they were using the AC, so I asked for the windows to be opened (later they turned on the AC saying it’s standard practice there nowadays). Again, no handshakes or anything. We kept our masks on for a long time. They offered water in a bottle which I didn’t touch for a long time.

Until one of them suggested we could order in dosas from a rather famous restaurant close to their office (and one that I absolutely love). The dosas presently arrived, and then all masks were off. For the next half hour as the dosas went down it was like we were back in “normal times” again, eating together and talking loudly without masks. I must say I missed it.

I took the stairs down to avoid touching the lift. Walked back to the car (and birdshit-laden windshield) and quickly used hand sanitiser. I hadn’t carried my laptop or notebook for the meeting, and I quickly made notes using the voice notes app of my phone.

Yes, in normal times, a lot of this might appear mundane. But given that we’re now sort of “coming back to life” after a long and brutal lockdown, a lot of this deserves documentation.

Oh, and I’m super happy to meet people now. Given a choice, I prefer outdoors. Write in if you want to meet me.

A trip to the supermarket

Normally even I wouldn’t write about a trip to a supermarket, but these aren’t normal times. With the shutdown scheduled to go on for another two weeks, and with some “essential commodities” emptying, I decided to go stock up.

I might just have postponed my trip by a few more days, but then I saw tweets by the top cop of Bangalore saying they’re starting to seize personal vehicles out on the road during the lockdown. I needed to get some heavy stuff (rice, lentils, oils, etc.) so decided to brave it with the car.

Having taken stock of inventory and made a longlist of things we need, I drove out using “back roads” to the very nearby Simpli Namdhari store. While I expected lines at the large-format store, I expected that it would be compensated for by the variety of stuff I could find there.

I got there at 230 only to be told the store was “closed for lunch” and it would reopen at 3. “All counters are open”, the security guard told me. I saw inside that the store was being cleaned. Since it’s a 3 minute drive away, I headed back home and reached there at 3:15.

There was a small line (10-15 people long) when I got there. I must mention I was super impressed by the store at the outset. Lines had been drawn outside to ensure queueing at a safe distance. Deeper in the queue, chairs had been placed (again at a safe distance from each other) to queue in comfort. They were letting in people about 10 at a time, waiting for an equal number to exit the store each time.

It was around 335 by the time I got in (20 minute wait). From the entrance most shelves seemed full.

The thing with Namdhari’s is that they control the supplies of a large number of things they sell (fruits, vegetables, dairy, bread, etc.), and all of them were well stocked. In times like this (I can’t believe I’m using this phrase!), some sort of vertical integration helps, since you can produce the stuff because you know the downstream demand.

(in any case, for things like vegetables and milk, where there is a large gap between “sowing” and “reaping”, production hasn’t fallen at all. It’s a massive supply chain problem and plenty of stuff is getting wasted while people don’t have enough. Stuff like bread is where vertical integration helps)

In any case I took two trips round the supermarket with my trolley, checking items off my checklist as I put items into the trolley (unusual times mean even disorganised people like me make checklists). Again the vertical integration showed.

Stuff that Namdhari’s owns upstream of, like staples and oils, were well stocked. High demand stuff for which Namdhari’s is only a reseller, like Maggi or crisps or biscuits were poorly stocked. Interestingly, “exotic stuff” (like peanut butter or cheeses, around which Namdhari’s has partly built its reputation) was reasonably well stocked, for which I was really thankful (we consume far more of these than the average Indian household).

How much to buy was a dilemma I had in my head through the shopping trip. For one, there was the instinct to hoard, since I was clear I didn’t want another shopping trip like this until the shutdown ends (milk, vegetables and eggs are reasonably easily available close to home, but I wasn’t there for that).

On the other hand, I was “mindful” of “fair usage policy”, to not take more than what I needed, since you didn’t want stockouts if you could help it.

The other thing that shortages do to you is that you buy stuff you don’t normally buy. Like the other day at another shop I’d bought rice bran oil because groundnut oil wasn’t available. While you might buy something as “backup”, you are cognisant that if you get through the lockdown without needing this backup, this backup will never get used.

So even though we’re running short of sambar powder, I ignored it since the only sambar powder on offer looked pretty sad. On the other hand, I bought Haldiram’s Mixture since no “local mixtures” are available nowadays, and mixture is something I love having with my curd rice.

I was a little more “liberal” with stuff that I know won’t go bad such as dry fruits or staples, but then again that’s standard inventory management – you are willing to hold higher inventories of  items with longer shelf life.

I might have taken a bit longer there to make sure I’d got everything on my list, but then my “mask” made out of a hanky and two rubberbands had started to hurt. So, with half my list unfulfilled, I left.

Even at the checkout line, people stood a metre away from each other. You had to bag your own groceries, which isn’t a standard thing in India, but enforced now since you don’t want too many hands touching your stuff.

Oh, and plenty of people had come by car to the store. There were cops around, but they didn’t bother anyone.

iPhone

For a long time I eschewed iPhones. The form factor didn’t appeal to me. They were too fat for their size. And so I went with a series of Androids that started slowing down insanely after one OS update. And then the iPhone 6 changed that.

This had a remarkably different form factor to its predecessors. It was thin. It was big (not even the Max version). I saw some relatives using it at a family function and knew that it was the right time to try an iPhone. I bought an iPhone 6S, and still continue to use it, and have no problems with it at all.

My wife had bought an iPhone 6S at the same time as me, and that was doing well as well, until a freak accident a couple of months back. That meant she needed a new phone, and having never used an Android (she jumped “directly” from a cheap Nokia to iPhone 4), decided to get an iPhone.

The iPhone 11 arrived on Friday, brought to us by the sister-in-law. It’s big. Much bigger than my 6S. It has many cameras, and very evidently there is a significant amount of software processing that goes into shooting each photo.

And the photos are brilliant. Through the long weekend (Friday was a state holiday) we were at a wedding, and I kept borrowing this phone from my wife to take pictures (even the sister-in-law, who uses its predecessor XR, kept borrowing the 11 to take pictures)  – often enough to annoy the wife.

But I don’t know what it is with this iPhone, but it seems to “look like an Android”. Maybe it’s the case that we got in a hurry (cheapest on on Amazon). Maybe it’s that we haven’t yet removed the film covering the front. Maybe it’s the size. Maybe it’s the Wi-Fi indicator on the top right rather than top left. But for now I’m yet to “accept” it as an iPhone.

As things stand now, I intend to continue with my 6S for as long as it goes. Hopefully this won’t have a freak accident like my wife’s 6S.

PS: I also treated myself to a pair of AirPods. So far they’re decent, but I find them less effective in shutting off outside noise than some random earphones I used earlier. Maybe they aren’t optimised for my ear?

But I love the technology, though! And the product design.

Moon mode for home

Whenever I’m in a meeting I put my phone on “moon mode”, where all notifications are turned off. If someone has to get in touch with me, they need to call twice in quick succession for my phone to buzz and alert me. The moon mode is automatically switched on every night at 10pm, and notifications are turned off until 6 am.

In fact, in the night, another mode called “screen time” is operational, where I’m not allowed to open any apps apart from the ones I’ve explicitly permitted. This includes the clock (for alarm), Google Maps (in case I’m out) and Spotify and Amazon Music (for my lullabies).

In fact, Screen Time is so strict that any notifications I might have got (overnight mails or messages) are not displayed on the home screen until 6am. This way, in case I wake up in the middle of the night and look at my phone to see the time, I don’t end up seeing something that might cause anxiety.

This is all good in the virtual world, but I need to install something like this for home. Again the purposes are similar to the moon mode that I use on my phone.

Firstly, the wife and I use the home as our offices, and don’t want to be disturbed here. Sundry people, including relatives and friends, assume that since we’re at home all the time we are unemployed and they can drop in any time. And when we’re working, we want the “home moon mode” on so that the doorbell doesn’t ring.

Secondly, in our two years in London, we got enamoured by the Western practice of putting kids to bed early, and despite massive difficulties, we’ve been attempting to do the same here. Like last night the daughter was asleep by 7:20.

And it is critical that (especially) while we are putting her to bed, and when she is asleep, the doorbell doesn’t ring. And since 7pm is an unusual time for kids to be put to bed in India, the doorbell continues to buzz. And of course we don’t want the doorbell to buzz after we’ve gone to bed either.

In short, we need a “moon mode” for home. The simplest solution would be to get a doorbell that can be turned on and off at will (right now it’s a bit high up and out of reach, but should be able to manage that). That works for the time when we’re in meetings or working at home or other wise busy, but it might be a pain to remember to turn it off every night (and turn it on in the morning).

So I’m wondering if we should get a doorbell that is connected to an app, where we can set times of day when it is automatically on and off (with the ability to override).

Then again I don’t want to give my data to some random company (and I’m a bit spooked by hacking of random internet-connected devices), so I might end up going for a simpler solution – an “offline device” which I can hopefully program to go on and off at certain times, and maybe change tune for the night!

Now to find such a device.

Beach holiday

I can’t believe I waited I was until 36 to take a beach resort vacation. Well, given my experience with beaches during my early life you can’t really blame me – the mental model of the beach I had in my head was an urban beach, something of the sort of Chennai’s Elliots Beach, where all the action happens outside of the water.

At best you would roll up your pants a bit (or wear shorts) and wade a foot or two deep into the water, and let the waves hit you. The water was too dirty to let it touch the rest of you. You would instead spend time on the sand, talking and eating random things – stuff you couldn’t imagine doing an entire holiday doing.

My first “proper” visit to Goa in 2007 also left me underwhelmed. Again the water wasn’t worth getting into, and I didn’t understand why you needed to go so far to just sit in one place and eat and drink all day – that could be achieved in just about any bar in Bangalore.

And so in 2008 or so when the wife (then an “online friend” – we’d never met) asked me if I’m a beach types or a river and mountain types, I instantly chose the latter. Mountains gave you something to “do” – climb and walk around. My memories from bathing in streams in childhood were also rather pleasant.

Since then we’ve together visited two beach resorts, though both were as part of larger “sight seeing” trips of Sri Lanka. Once we went to Bentota, where we spent two days. We got bored enough after a day to spend the second evening watching inane stuff on TV. That Bentota experience had meant that on our next trip to Sri Lanka we had scheduled only a day for ourselves at Trincomalee, in one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to.

Two and two years (first in Barcelona; then in London) in Europe meant that most of our vacations in that time were “urban” – visiting cities and walking around them and taking in the historic sights and eating interesting food. It got a bit boring after a while, so when we got back to Asia earlier this year we decided it was time for a luxury “relaxing” vacation.

We went to this resort called Kurumba in Maldives, just a 10 minute boat ride away from the Maldives airport. It was among the quickest “get down to business” vacations I’ve ever been on. Our Air India flight touched down in Maldives around 4pm. By 5:30, we had been shown our rooms, changed and already hit the beach!

The next two days were spent there. While the image you have of a beach resort is that it’s a “passive” vacation (where you do nothing) this wasn’t so. I spent most of the time in water, mostly at the beach but also some time in the swimming pool (which the daughter found more fun – another post on that coming up).

We hadn’t taken along snorkelling equipment but that didn’t deter me. I put on my swimming goggles, waded close to coral reefs and just dived into the water. I saw lots of marine life in there – colourful fish and plants and all that. There were many more such reefs within 100 meters of the shore, and the shore was 200 metres from our room.

Wednesday typified our vacation. It was a bright and sunny day, which meant it was hot outside water, and that I now have massive sunburns all over my shoulders and back and arms. At 7am we had hit the beach. An hour and half of wading and dunking in water, looking at fish and chasing after one really beautiful turtle, we showered and went for breakfast.

After a long leisurely breakfast we were by the swimming pool, and due to the heat we were soon inside the water. Most of the morning was spent inside the water, and a drink and lunch were had at the poolside bar. Then we returned to our room and when the daughter refused to fall asleep, we hit the beach once again, for an hour or two. And then in the evening we went for a dolphin boat tour, before settling for a two hour long dinner.

It was a short vacation – only three days long, but it was a highly effective one. I think the volume of activity, even if it were in one place, meant that it helped take our minds completely off life as usual. Now I’m trying to slowly work my way back to life, and this post is part of that.

I’ll be back here again and again soon, to put more pertinent observations about this awesome vacation.

Trip To Indiranagar

The first time I recall going to Indiranagar was in 1992, when we purchased a used car from someone who used to live there. While walking from the nearest bus stop to the house of the previous owner of our car, we had taken a longish route, as my parents admired all the “beautiful houses” in the area.

Six years later I went to school in that part of town. The “beautiful houses” were still there, and I used to walk past them on my way to school from the bus stop every morning. While I found the culture of the place to be quite different from that of Jayanagar (where I lived), I found the part of town to be nice, and liked going there (though not necessarily for school).

And it was another 6-year gap after school before I resumed my visits to Indiranagar. This time round, it wasn’t as regular as going to school, and most of the time the agenda was eating. Indiranagar by the mid 2000s had a lot of wonderful restaurants serving a nice variety of cuisines. Some of these restaurants were also rather fancy, and so when I met up with college friends living in Bangalore from time to time, it was usually in one place of another in Indiranagar. I continued to find the place nice.

Marriage and child and change in profession have all meant that visits to Indiranagar have become less frequent, and most of them nowadays are work-related. I spend time in coffee shops there. I take the metro to go there. I occasionally walk around a bit from meeting to meeting, but don’t notice the surroundings around. Some eateries there continue to be nice, though there are a lot more of them nowadays than before.

Something snapped today when we went there for lunch.

Lunch was at “Burma Burma” which the wife had rather hyped up over the years, and where it is reportedly incredibly hard to find a table. The drive to there was smooth, the car was handed over to the valet, and off we went inside to our table. The service was excellent, but the food was so-so. I’ve never eaten burmese food in my life so I don’t know if Burmese food is supposed to taste that way, but it tasted extremely Indian. Moreover the food was “low density” – I ate until my stomach was full but still didn’t feel like I’d gotten sufficient energy.

It was after the meal that I realised how much Indiranagar has changed, and not for the better. Immediately after we got out of the restaurant, I ran after the valet to tell him to leave my car where it was (on a side road) since I had “other business on the road”.

I wanted to check out the newly opened Blue Tokai Coffee Shop, also on 12th main. The walk to get there was horrendous. It was only 200 metres from Burma Burma (made a bit longer by our walking for a bit in the wrong direction), but it was impossible to walk anywhere but in the middle of the road. Footpaths were fully occupied by trees, dug up drains and parked vehicles. And there was a continuous line of parked vehicles right next to the footpath.

It was as if the 12th Main (the same road on which I would walk to school) area has been redesigned such that you drive from shop to shop, giving your car to valets who will then proceed to park it in some side road.

Oh, and Blue Tokai is a non-starter. It’s a small space on the first floor with acoustics so bad that one loud group in the place can render the whole place unbearable. It didn’t help that they took forever to take our order, and we decided to decamp to the (tried and trusted, for me) Third Wave Coffee Roasters on CMH Road.

And that meant another walk, though we eschewed 12th main this time, and then a short drive. Both of us noticed that the roads of Indiranagar seemed narrower than what we remembered – maybe the multitude of restaurants there means valets keep parking all through the inside roads, and double parked roads can be narrow indeed. And the area around CMH where Third Wave is located isn’t particularly nice either.

It seems to me that Indiranagar is not posh any more. In a way it was so posh at one point in time that everyone sought to set up shop there, and all the shops meant that the area has lost its character. The “beautiful houses” are being torn down one by one, replaced by commercial buildings full of restaurants, cars parked by whose valets will flood more and more of the inner roads, and make the entire area unwalkable.

I’m pretty sure most of the posh people in the area have left, having sold their houses into the real estate boom. I just wonder where they have moved to!

PS: The coffee at Third Wave was incredibly bad as well. It’s not usually so – I keep saying that they’re the best coffee shop in Bangalore. The milk today was scalding hot, and the barista poured so much of it in our cups, and without any of the finesse you associate with flat white, that it was completely tasteless.

 

 

Mixing groups at parties

I normally don’t like mixing groups at parties I host – that sometimes leaves me as a “cut vertex” meaning that I have to personally take it upon myself to entertain one or more guests and can’t leave them to be “self-sufficient”. You might recall that a bit over two years ago, I had tried to use social network analysis to decide who to call for my birthday party.

However, for unavoidable reasons, we had to call a mixed set of friends to a party yesterday. We’re “putting BRexit” later this week (moving back to Bangalore), and considering that there were so many people we wanted to meet and say goodbye to, we decided that the best way of doing so was to call them all together to one place.

And so we ended up with a bit of a mixed crowd. The social network at yesterday’s party looked like this. For the sake of convenience, I’ve collapsed all the “guest families” into one point each. The idea is that while a guest family can “hang out among themselves”, they needn’t have come to the party to do that, and so it fell upon us hosts to talk to them. 

So the question is – with three hosts, one of whom was rather little, how should we have dealt with this assortment of guests?

Note that pretty much everyone who RSVPd in the affirmative came to the party, so the graph is unlikely to have been more connected than this – remove my family and you would have a few islands, including a couple of singletons.

Should we have spent more time with the families that would’ve been singletons than with those who knew other guests to interact with? Or was it only fair that we spent an equal amount of time with all guests? And considering that we could deal with guests on the right side of the graph “in twos”, did that mean we should have proportionately spent more time with those guys?

In any case, we took the easy way out. Little Berry had an easy time since there were two entities she knew, and she spent all her time (apart from when she wanted parental attention) with them. The wife and I were taking turns to buy drinks for freshly arrived guests whenever they arrived, and on each occasion we helped ourselves to a drink each. So we didn’t have to worry about things like social network dynamics when we had more important things to do such as saying goodbye.

I just hope that our guests yesterday had a good time.

Oh, and way too many conversations in the last two weeks have ended with “I don’t know when I’ll see you next”. It wasn’t like this when we were moving the other way.

 

This is Anfield

 

I had a massive fanboy time this morning, as I went on my long-awaited (nearly 14 years) pilgrimage to Anfield, home of the Liverpool Football Club. As I had mentioned in my post last night, this was the explicit purpose of my visit to Liverpool, and I had left home with only three bookings – train to Liverpool, hotel in Liverpool and the Anfield tour.

So after having polished off a “large Full English” (in hindsight, I’m thankful for that) at a local cafe close to my hotel, I took an Uber to Anfield. The driver was also a Liverpool fan and we spent time chatting about last afternoon’s game, when Liverpool played insipidly to draw across Stanley Park with Everton. I was in good time for the tour (that was to start at 11), and spent the time walking along the outside of the Main Stand.

There are benches dedicated to Liverpool’s greatest players of all time, and the floor is tiled with names of members (not all members I think – perhaps those that made contributions to rebuild the Main Stand 3 years ago). I paid my respects at the Hillsborough Memorial and walked back to the Kop end where the entrance to the Stadium Tour is situated.

The tour started on the sixth floor of the newly redeveloped Main Stand (if you’ve wondered why TV broadcasts of Liverpool games suddenly started showing a very high angle, this is the reason). Our guide Terry first took us to the hall where there were photos of “Liverpool’s six great managers”.

The choices were interesting – Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish, Houllier and Benitez. As the Elo ratings show, these were all definitely managers who improved Liverpool, sometimes in a significant way (though the last two also let things slip considerably towards the end of their reigns.

I sensed some sort of discomfort in the group. Evidently, a majority were Liverpool fans, but talks about “the purpose of the club being to win trophies” and talking up of the number of trophies won so far brought up the painful reality that we’ve “AJMd” on a league, a europa league and a champions league in the last five years itself, and look on course to AJM the league once again. Nobody really wanted to point out that things aren’t going as well as we would like.

In any case, the tour moved on and our guide Terry was excellent, though sometimes he went back to familiar cliches. Describing the miracle of Istanbul, for example, he made the familiar joke of “Milan had Kaka, and we had Djimi Traore, and yet we managed to win”.

We moved on to a view of the pitch from the highest tier of the main stand, my first impression was that this is a rather “cosy” stadium. Now, the only other stadiums I’ve been to are the behemoths Camp Nou and Wembley, and in comparison to them, Anfield looked rather intimate. That also suggested why the crowd at Anfield is sometimes like “Liverpool’s 12th man”, as a poster outside the away dressing room claimed.

The small stadium means the crowd noise can reverberate easily around the stadium. The Anfield Road End is yet to be redeveloped, and once that happens the stadium will become “taller”, meaning the noise levels might get higher. Looking at the pitch from up the Main Stand gave me another regret – that I haven’t watched a game at Anfield (though I did watch Liverpool play at Wembley). Hopefully sometime in this lifetime I’ll fulfil that!

There were cutouts of various players placed near the dressing rooms. Salah’s was the most popular as everyone lined up to take a selfie with him. Rather than waiting there, I managed selfies with cutouts of all of Firmino, van Dijk and Alisson. The dressing rooms were impressive (especially the Home dressing room). I also found the differences between home and away dressing rooms interesting – the home room is soundproof while the away room isn’t. The home room has lighting control to adjust the lighting to the pitch. The away room has no such facilities. These are subtle differences we don’t appreciate as TV viewers, but can have a profound impact on the game.

And based on this, I don’t mind the draws at Manchester United and Everton that much!