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Guest: Portsmouth
Travels with “Jane-Jane” -
Sporting in Portsmouth

By Frank Mazer

location map of Portsmouth
’m on the edge. It’s a January night in the U.K. It’s a dark mass I see ahead of me. A few lights twinkle in the distance. I’m at the edge of the sea staring through the windshield over the bonnet (hood) of my little red car. A small stone wall and a sudden dose of human sense is all that provoked me to hit the brakes rather than find myself briefly becoming part of the Royal Navy. Not that I lack any respect for the Royal Navy. As a Yank, I’m aware of its heroism throughout World War 2 and have all due admiration for Admiral Nelson, Trafalgar and much more. It’s just that I’d rather not attempt to do an imitation of a British submarine, or an American spy sub for that matter, while seated in a Fiat near the great harbor of Portsmouth.

the road on the way to Portsmouth

I arrived here on the simplest of missions. I’m working for a British basketball league team. I’m here to help coach their “B” level team at an important game to take place in a large Leisure Center (sports hall to Americans) located in the harbor town of Portsmouth. I’ve driven here, to my near launching point by the sea, from Kingston-upon-Thames, located to the southwest of London town. As is often the case in my months here, the drive has been an interesting one along motorways, often through suburban areas and then past hilly tree lined fields and various towns. The wheels of the “team vehicle” have taken me rolling along smaller highways toward Portsmouth with forests lining roadsides and dusk descending as my headlamps (headlights) stab small beams into the big darkness of unfamiliar winding road space ahead. The car and I proceed slowly through patches of fog. It’s as if I’m smelling my way to the gymnasium like a bloodhound. I feel certain of my path because I’m well equipped. The latest technology is my friendly guide.

Cleeve Hill

My team has kindly given me a GPS motorway device which I shall refer to as a “Jane-Jane.” This is in honor of the lilting, smooth, female voice with what we Yanks call an “English accent” firmly guiding me along. She pulls me along gently with her hands of road wisdom taking me by the hips. Oh she has much to teach me. She knows the way. So it is that I throw myself into her arms as she intones to me gently and confidently “turn left 200 meters” or “enter the round-a-bout and turn at the second right.” My team members have kindly explained to me the name and address of the sport hall in Portsmouth where I’m to meet them at 8:00 p.m. for the start of the game. My day has been filled with presentations to several schools in the Surrey area. Now I’m following my “Jane-Jane” to the Portsmouth gym. I’ve been to Portsmouth a year before as a tourist and I know it’s a fine harbor city possessed of fascinating history and many an interesting ship - both old and new.

In the dark, which comes early on the winter evening, I find myself being directed along a busy street with my companion sweetly telling me to turn at the next left. It seems odd to me to be turning into what appears to be an area of three and four story apartments and small shops on the corners. I proceed slowly along the two lane road. This is a rather typical road of this sort, thus I’ve grown familiar with the vehicles parked blocking my lane as if they’re part of a driving test to see if I can discern decoys from the real objects only temporarily stationed in my path. I sweep around one small parked lorry (truck) and then wait for the car coming from the opposite direction to grin its way past me. The voice of certainty and direction instructs me to turn left 100 meters. As I reach the turning point and follow her directions I begin to wonder if this is a shortcut of some sort. It appears to me to be an alleyway which is narrowing ahead as it proceeds along a darkened path only lit by my conspicuous rays of light which bounce off of the sides of the back of old apartment house abodes connected without separation to the left and right.

aerial view of Portsmouth Harbor

Within 30 meters along glistening pavement it becomes a further test of skill involving “don’t remove the wing mirror.” My sweet friendly guide coos to me to proceed ahead 100 meters and then turn right. I have choice words to share with her as I slow to measure the inches between my mirror and that of a parked blue Mini-Cooper. My trust is beginning to run on fumes and I slow the car to a crawl while, with the voice telling me to continue on, instinct tells me to hit the brake. It also may have been the low wall directly ahead glowing in the headlamp beams. I’ve learned from previous fascinating trips with my “Jane-Jane” that built up suburbs of London with odd dead-end streets or multiple construction sites can include more than Jane knows even as she directs her instruction to me. In the past “Jane-Jane” may have taken me to places I had never been before, but on this night we’re struggling.

I stop, seated in my red car with the team name and logo emblazoned on its side. I need to refer to my good old paper road atlas which is lying here somewhere on the passenger side floor. After I plunge my hand into the darkness feeling for the road atlas I hear “Jane-Jane” telling me to proceed. I’m now telling her that our relationship has come to an abrupt end on this night. She ignores me. I fumble for the atlas and then, being once upon a time an athlete, my peripheral vision takes over and I notice that there is someone standing to my left. In fact, this causes a shot of adrenalin and a rapid reaction to sit up and look.

historic picture of Portsmouth sea wall and watchtower

an old photo of Clarence Pier, Southsea, Portsmouth

I see more than one person. I see four. They are young men in a small group. It’s clear that I’ve just interrupted some sort of transaction. Two of them stand there with their hoodies drawn up over their head. They do not look pleased as they look at me. Two others stand with black leather jackets on and something in their hands. They are looking at me with a confounded look which shouts suspicion. Not being of completely dense material I realize I may not have interrupted practice for the church choir. I decide upon my best course of action. Just then, the sweet voice of useless map direction begins to tell me to go forward. With a wave of my hand not meant to alarm my new friends who are watching, I push the button to quiet her. I hit the switch to put the window down and lean over to acknowledge the gathering. I lean towards them as two of them shuffle towards me with a look which says, “This guy must be more dangerous than he is acting or he is really stupid.” I nod and I figure my best hope is that maybe one of these fellows is a hoops fan of some sort. I figure the course of action is to reveal my true identity as a coach. A lost coach. They are getting closer and are waiting for me to say something.

British Basketball logo

“Hi, I’m a pro basketball coach and I’m looking for the Portsmouth Arena. Can you help me out?” There is a moment of awkward hesitation. They take a look at the car and me and then at each other. Now they are fixed on me. A deep, very unfeminine voice speaks to me now, “Shit mate, you almost went for a swim. This ain’t the way.” A leather jacket steps forward and explains the directions to the arena. The instructions begin with me backing the car up the alleyway nautical launching pad. I’m feeling a wave of relief in my being. My new mates tell me they like basketball. They nod. They turn their backs on me and get back to business. I back up, whispering to myself that I am one lucky sucker.

After a journey through the obstacle course and back to the main street I turn right and in 15 minutes, thanks to the reliable directions from my high tech hoodie navigators I’m coming to a stop in the large parking area and hurrying my way in through the doors of the leisure center. I can hear the sounds of loud voices and cheering. Most of all I can hear the bouncing of the ball on the court. The game has begun. I enter on court level and stand at the corner of the court. I see the bench across the way and the other coach of the team watching the fast action rushing down the court. Two of the seated players nod at me and wave. A third comes sliding on the court landing at my feet as he dives for a loose ball going out of bounds. Jon, sweat dripping down his face, looks up at me. “Good to see you Coach, we need you,” he shares with me as he lies there, rolls over and heads back on court.

Following the game we all share a victory snack at the arena and some good discussion of directions on the court. All are wondering what made me arrive late. They’re not surprised when I relate the result of this night with my “Jane-Jane”. By golly, they share, these are the streets of England man, carry your atlas and trust to your vision or directions from some friendly folks.

On the return drive I listen…to the radio. My technological queen is present but silent. I follow the team bus, our lights spraying the edge of the mystery of the forests on the roadsides. Thoughts of the next game expedition in the beautiful UK are dancing in the head. Perhaps she’ll be in a better mood. I’ll keep my maps handy.

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FEEDBACK FOR PATTI

I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK

FEEDBACK FOR JULIO

The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.

Julio

* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!

Julio

FEEDBACK FOR WENDY

For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!

Cheers

--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in responding...you had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy

FEEDBACK FOR NINO

I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA

FEEDBACK FOR RUSH & CHUCK

Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA



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