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Ethiopian delights and Colombo evenings

What's a World Cup tour writer's life like? All about recording podcasts in cemeteries and being mistaken for a taxi driver, of course

People watch the World Cup in Durham's Market Square  •  Andrew Fidel Fernando/ESPNcricinfo Ltd

People watch the World Cup in Durham's Market Square  •  Andrew Fidel Fernando/ESPNcricinfo Ltd

June 23
Look, I don't remember what happened on June 23. I think this was when I made my way back to London after covering Afghanistan v India in Southampton the previous day. I'm sure it was a perfectly acceptable day. I probably had a coffee at Southampton station, took a train to London, checked into a tiny hotel room (all London hotel rooms are tiny), wrote a story, and possibly recorded a podcast.
I don't fully remember because during long tournaments like this, it all becomes a blur. It can sometimes feel like you're on a treadmill, bouncing from venue to venue. But I promise this diary is not all bad. I actually do start enjoying myself at some point. Please keep reading.
June 25
The weather in the UK has been terrible for almost an entire month. It's been so gloomy in Southampton and Bristol and Cardiff and London that all through the day, it seems like 5pm in Colombo. Then, suddenly, the skies open up at 7:30pm and the sun breaks through, and it feels like 2pm in Colombo. Coming from the tropics, this feels highly disorienting.
But weirdly, the moment I get to Newcastle - the north of England - a heat wave hits Western Europe. Suddenly the sun shines during the actual day, like it is supposed to in the summer. I can walk around without a jacket.
Best of all, there is a big screen set up in the middle of Durham's Market Square, where people are genuinely interested in cricket happening in other parts of the country.
June 27
I've come to realise a few things after a few days in Newcastle. Many people here are in some state of inebriation right through the weekend. (If you were to take a drink every time you saw a stag or hens' party, you might be as drunk as they are, which is to say nearly unconscious.)
The trains in the north are often late, sometimes by as many as 40 minutes. Some northerners speak with such thick accents, they are pretty much impossible to understand.
These sound like insults. They are not. They are all genuinely wonderful. I need chaos in my life. Aside from London, which is a law unto itself, the south of England was stifling. Up here, people are a little more straightforward. The vast majority are overtly friendly. Some are overtly not. But at least you know where you stand.
June 29
"I've got ten miles to travel, but I don't have enough for the bus fare." So says a seemingly one-legged dude on crutches near the beautiful Millennium Bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle. I give him a few pounds on my way to the supermarket, but when I pass him again, I notice that he clearly has both legs, and that he has just tucked one up behind the other in baggy sweatpants, to create an illusion.
Still, our man smiled as he asked me for money, and was incredibly polite through it all, and those are both things I truly appreciate in people who are fleecing me.
June 30
Lumley Castle, near the Chester-le-Street ground, is famously haunted - Shane Watson was so spooked by ghosts there that Darren Gough made fun of him during an Ashes Test. I don't make it to the castle, but Sharda Ugra and I nevertheless find what is apparently one of the oldest haunted pubs in England, in Durham's beautiful town. The ghosts there don't jump out at you from corners, nor do they haunt your dreams. But I'm certain they withdraw more from your credit card than you remember spending.
July 2
Still in Newcastle, colleague Sidharth Monga and I come upon a tiny Ethiopian restaurant that serves delicious, lightly spiced vegetable curries and rich meat dishes on rolls of mildly sour injera bread. With Ethiopian pop music videos playing on a TV in the corner of the room, and the walls decked out with African art, you are properly transported out of Newcastle for the duration of your meal. We eat here twice over the course of the week, and are the only non-Africans in the joint both times. Instagrammers haven't got here yet.
July 4
Monga and I have been asked to do a podcast together while we are in Newcastle, but typically, we've left it to the last day of our stay. I wake up late in the morning, hoping to record my bit in the apartment I am staying at, but discover to my horror that the cleaners have already got to work and are yelling at me to get out - the check-out time having apparently been an obscenely early 9:30am.
Monga is kicked out of his room too, so we decamp with our bags to a café, only to realise we can't record there, because Elton John is playing over the speakers, which is potentially a copyright violation. We try a public park next, but there are so many cars and buses on its periphery, that doesn't work either. We look at the map of Newcastle for an acceptably quiet location, and decide eventually that a cemetery is our best bet. Thoughtful folks that we are, we make our way to the oldest part of the cemetery, and record amidst people who have died way back in the 19th century, so as to not disturb the recently dead.
Still, we were two bearded men, lugging big bags, talking animatedly in the middle of a cemetery in the middle of the day. If I'd seen that in my neighbourhood, I'd have definitely called the cops, and it is to the great credit of the good people of Newcastle that we were not taken in for questioning.
July 6
I am in Leeds for the third time in my life, the other two trips having been endlessly eventful. In 2014, Sri Lanka famously won a Test here. Another time, the people staying in the hotel room next to mine repeatedly had the loudest sex in history, driving me to the hotel lobby several times during my stay. This visit to Leeds is different. I'm on the designated "quiet floor" of my hotel. Sri Lanka predictably lose their match to India. It's almost boring.
July 7
The same can't be said of my first night ever in Manchester. I've linked up with Monga again, and following another late Ethiopian dinner, we decide to have a drink at a bar before we head back to our apartment. Almost as soon as we sit down with our drinks, a man of middling years approaches us.
Man: Do you mind if I sit here and keep you company?
Monga and I: Sure.
Man: So what are you, then? Sikh or Muslim?
Me: Neither of us are either.
Man: So what do you do for work?
Us: We're writers.
Man: What?
Us: We're cricket writers.
Man: Pardon me?
Man: Oh, taxi drivers!
What follows is a half hour of astonishing race relations. At one point Monga and I decide to play along and pretend to be drivers and convenience-store clerks. At another point we are both told, very sincerely, that we are both actually English, and that we shouldn't think of ourselves as being "from being back from wherever". Before long even the bartender joins in. The conversation strays to the topic of racial epithets, and Monga and I are told very sternly that we are not to use the term P**i, not even endearingly on each other, because it is a hate crime, and as such, illegal in this country.
We are both clutching our sides laughing through the majority of this exchange, until eventually our companions realise we are not being serious, and leave us alone.
July 10
It's my last day of proper cricket coverage for this World Cup. Often last days of tours are tinged with sadness. You don't know when you will see certain friends from South Africa or India or England or Bangladesh again, because people change jobs, or publications decide not to send journalists on tours.
There is a slight wistfulness, but personally, also joy. It has been a long six weeks away from family. I need a long break from pre-match press conferences. Having eaten several times my body weight in them over the World Cup, I never want to see a press-box sandwich again.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf