Our hotel in Manaus is a maze of long, long corridors. You have to walk at least half a mile from the room to get anywhere near reception. I have to negotiate 3 such massive corridors before I see any signs of life...it seems to take longer than it took Brackett the butler in Chigley to walk up the hall to Lord Belborough and tell him to get the train out again to rescue a cat stuck up a tree in Trumpton before the whistle went at the biscuit factory at 6pm. Or something. Time indeed does fly by...
(One for the teenagers, as Paul Hawksbee would say)
Most of the England press pack stayed in the hotel last night after we'd all reported on the state of the pitch, and most ended up eating in the grill restaurant. This necessitated a 50 yard walk outside across a courtyard to access the place. Thing is, we're all so paranoid about mozzies riddled with malaria lying in wait for us, that our party effected the sort of excited walk a 9-year old does walking up to Toys R Us with his birthday money burning a hole in his pocket. Or at least I did.
The Brazilians love their meat. It's all protein-tastic on a menu here. But this was like a scratch and sniff Harvester, where you picked out what meat you wanted grilling and the chef would slam it into the oven and incinerate it right in front of you. Ribs, steak, sausages, chicken, you name it...I risked a couple of sausages but they were incredibly salty - that in turn made the beer go down a bit swifter.
I spent some time today with England supporters at one of the Vauxhall Fan Hubs here in Manaus. A really good atmosphere of relaxed positivity was in evidence. It was lovely to see a friendly face almost immediately, as Mick Dennis from the Express arrived fresh off the plane with his wife Sarah to take in Brazil 2014 as a punter - with a little bit of work thrown in. As he said 'for someone of my generation, a World Cup in Brazil is something I just cannot miss'. Mick is a lovely guy, who was my radio co-host for a time on TalkSPORT in mid-morning current affairs days, and his devotion and defence of Norwich City is admirable - the approach of a true fan.
That passion of his extends to the national side, as with us all. Was great to see him, and for Sarah, there was a clear & genuine joy at being with her husband taking in a major tournament that before now was his working domain and therefore unavailable to her to share in.
I've never known a hotel to have its own private zoo until now. The Tropical in Manaus is home to a jaguar (who looked very bored, poor thing), squirrel monkeys, parrots and a kind of coot (not quite Crash Bandicoot but close) in its grounds. Will try and have a proper look tomorrow as I only had 5 minutes before the bus arrived to take us to the stadium for Roy's press conference.
The grass miraculously looked greener when we inspected the pitch after Roy and Steven Gerrard had spoken. I had visions of Bob Ross from 'The Joy Of Painting' getting busy overnight with his 2-inch brush and a shedload of sap green on his pallet - and then washing his brush in odourless paint thinner, shaking off the excess and then beating the devil out of it ;) God I love that show - so therapeutic. Someone told me Bob Ross was a sergeant in the US Army and shouted all the time. You could've fooled me watching him make his 'happy little clouds' and observing that 'every tree should have a friend'. But I digress.
As I suspected Roy refused to condemn the playing surface, saying it was 'flat' and he had no problem with it. Nor did he have a problem with potential temperatures well into the 30's tomorrow when pressed on the matter. The apparent mantra of 'no excuses' would appear to be persisting into the tournament - quite right too. Preparations high, expectations low - as it should be in my opinion.
One more sleep then, and the World Cup becomes a reality for 23 Englishmen and their vastly experienced manager. Here's to courage in all aspects; in attack, defence, in making changes and in making key decisions. Let's be partisan and encouraging without overdoing it and overhyping ourselves.
Good Luck England