On Inverness

Sun, Jun 5, 2016

Two weeks ago, I was in the Scottish Highlands - soaking in the beauty of the city of Inverness, hiking through the South Loch Ness trail and traveling across the Black Isle. It was a wonderful trip - one that I wish was longer. This was a trip that invoked so many memories in me - among other things, of a man whose voice was part of growing up. A voice that traveled from the BBC Studios in the United Kingdom halfway across the globe and into a radio set in South Malabar.

You see, as far as I can remember, I have always wanted to go to Inverness. That may sound crazy, but the name Inverness had been irreversibly etched in my mind when I was a small kid.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have access to a television. Initially it was because my family couldn’t afford one and later when we could, my mom felt that it would have bad influence on her kids. My portal to the world was a Sony radio that my father had brought us from Jeddah where he was working at that time. It had the ability to receive both AM and FM signals and you could listen to the BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle Radio, Voice of America and many many more stations in languages that I did not understand. Not that I understood English well.

"Sunset in Inverness" A sunset in Inverness

The BBC World Service had a Premier League program on Saturdays and Sundays. The program was a multi-cast of games around England, switching from stadium to stadium as goals were being scored, fouls were being awarded and referees were raising very late offside flags. Occasionally, they will switch to a stadium in Scotland when the Glasgow derby was in play. So many of my early memories of being a football fan happened around that radio.

When the matches were finally over and the spectators headed home or to the pub or to curry houses in England and Scotland and people went to sleep in the Indian Sub-continent, a man’s very distinct voice would come out of the radio - carried by electromagnetic waves across the Indian Ocean. James Alexander Gordon 1 started announcing the final scores in the games of that evening across England, Scotland, Wales and occasionally Ireland in his methodical, deliberate voice. And there I would lay in a mattress made of coconut leaves boiled and interwoven by mother’s tenacious hands topped with sheets, listening to the melody announcing the results of a recreational activity played thousands of miles away. Of course, I would not learn that this was Gordon until much later in my life.

Gordon always started with England - all 6 divisions of it starting from the Premier League and moved on to Scotland. And somewhere in the middle of the Scottish scores depending on their fortunes at that time, would come the name “Inverness Caledonian Thistle …”. “Inverness Caledonian Thistle” - what a beautiful name, I will tell myself. Even better than Hearts of Midlothian and Queen of the South. After weeks of falling in love with the name, I wondered where Inverness was. The maps I had access to did not show Scotland.

But eventually I had access to maps-of all kinds of places. I read a lot about Inverness in the pages of the World Book Encyclopedia in my school’s library. And once I had figured out where it was, I started wishing to go there one day. That was a foolish dream if there was one - international trips were not exactly at the top of the ladder of things my family and I needed or wanted.

And yet, two weeks ago, there I was. Staring at the Thistle’s Caledonian Stadium. I had made it, almost 16 years later.

  1. James Alexander Gordon was a legendary BBC broadcaster responsible for reading the results of football. He read results for nearly 40 years from 1974 to 2013. Gordon had a very distinctive style. Gordon explains his style in this video. [return]