Half-Time: a journey through the memories of the first half
by Steve Devereaux
||Gringo Latino Books
Hospitalized after a near-fatal car crash in the Canary Islands, a young man travels through the memories of a world of backpacking adventures.
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It starts with a football match but it’s not a football story. Emerging from two weeks of post-traumatic delirium, Steve finds himself in hospital on the Spanish island of Lanzarote with his father at his bedside and absolutely no idea why he’s there or what has happened. Nevertheless, what subsequently begins is a worldwide journey through the first half of the life of a man from the first generation of backpackers, a fascinating story that not only illustrates how confronting death often forces one to reflect on life, but also how those memories can become the perfect ‘medicine’ to combat the pain, fear and despair of a major trauma. Moreover, it presents the love between a father and a son as the inspiration to write what developed into a collection of travel tales intricately connected by one moving, pivotal story: the desperate struggle to recover from a near-fatal accident.
Half-Time includes a myriad of backpacking adventures ranging from the simple problems encountered when travelling on a shoestring budget to some bizarre tales that seem out of place in the diaries of a man who wanted nothing more than to see a bit of the world. Walking into a war zone in Nicaragua; being arrested in a small, isolated village on the Mosquito Coast of the Caribbean; witnessing a disturbing ceremony of witchcraft in South America; all these and many more varied and unexpected experiences become part and parcel of backpacking.
However, these picturesque travel scenes are only the flesh on the backbone of the book: the central hospital story. This revealing narrative shows how the support of a loved one is essential when trying to overcome a major trauma, and is also a modern day portrayal of father-son male bonding that ultimately transmits a very positive message.
Half-Time reflects on the game of life and unwittingly inspires the will to achieve one’s goals before the final whistle is blown.
Chapter 1: Offside
I went to a football match once. It was a pleasant evening at the tail end of summer, that time of year when the sunscreen has been safely stored away in the bathroom cabinet while the woolly hat and gloves still lie hidden beneath folded T-shirts in the bottom drawer. The kind of day that could pass by almost unnoticed, yet one that remains in my mind as a day when I did something a bit different. You see, I’m not really a football fan.
However, when I say I went to a football match, it wasn’t just a start-of-season provincial game. It was a friendly international at Wembley Stadium: England versus Colombia. To be honest, I simply couldn’t imagine attending anything as mundane as an everyday football match. It had to be at least a little out of the ordinary. I mean, I never do things by halves.
My reason for going was also far from usual. Although it was that back-to-school time of year, I’d spent all summer at a school teaching English to foreigners, a job I had been doing for several years and a profession that put me among people of many different nationalities. But in addition to my cosmopolitan environment at work, I often mixed socially with my students because after spending a large part of my adult life abroad, I now felt most at home when in the company of foreigners. I soon began to look upon some of these students as friends, and due to my weekend job as a salsa DJ the majority of my new companions were South American.
Consequently, through a summer of socializing with a great many Colombians I’d learned all about their lifestyle, customs and Latin American passion for football. So when they had told me about the forthcoming fixture, I’d thought it might be fun to accompany them. As the only Englishman in our group, I also offered to arrange tickets and transport to my nation’s capital, and on the big day we set off in two rental cars, tickets in hand, having planned exactly where we would park before boarding the London Underground to complete our journey to the famed stadium.
Even so, in spite of my thorough planning of transportation and ticketing, I had given very little thought to the game itself. In fact, I only show a limited interest in this sport for two weeks every four years – the World Cup holds the same inescapable appeal for me as I imagine it does for many people – though back in 1986 I became noticeably more attentive during the Mexico World Cup. But it wasn’t the football that had caught my attention; it was the fans. This was due to my interest in Latin American percussion, an obsession my father had instilled in me at a very early age, and ever since the 1986 World Cup the thought of football has always filled my mind with many fond memories of those rhythmic Mexican spectators. As a result, when we packed the cars for our trip, I had believed it appropriate to take my surdo, an enormous hand-held bass drum used by Brazilian samba bands.
Upon arrival in London, we met a few more Colombian friends at a pub and took the tube to Wembley Stadium. It was a journey I found somewhat troublesome, since it wasn’t that easy to travel on an overcrowded train hugging an oversized drum, but I considered this burden to be more than worthwhile. I fully expected to be surrounded by Latinos with similar rhythm-making apparatus once we’d arrived, yet when we eventually reached the turnstiles of the stadium, my path became blocked by a heavy-set security guard.
‘I’m sorry, sir, I cannot allow you to enter with that, er, thing,’ he politely announced. ‘It’s too dangerous.’
‘What? It’s only a drum! And don’t worry, I promise not to hit anyone with it,’ I joked in the hope of easing the situation with a bit of humour.
‘I know you won’t, sir,’ he replied indifferently, ‘because you will leave it in our office.’ Then he proceeded to request backup on his radio while I waited with my Colombian entourage, feeling rather bewildered by this unforeseen outcome.
Just at that moment a female security officer arrived and asked our disobliging ‘doorman’ what he was doing. He explained the problem but her immediate response caught everyone by surprise: ‘What do you mean?’ she exclaimed. ‘Of course he can come in with a drum. He’s Colombian!’
Well, it appeared there was someone else who still remembered the Mexico World Cup. She truly believed me to be a passionate South American football fan, here to support my nation in the only way I knew how. And I wasn’t about to correct her misconception. To tell the truth, the love I had of Latin America played such an important part in my life that I almost felt privileged to be perceived as a citizen of the country whose team I had come here to watch.
We were subsequently permitted entry (with the drum) and made our way to the Colombian end. Once we had taken our seats and got comfortable, I looked across the immense stadium before me and found myself momentarily enthralled by this enchanting vista. Illuminated in blazing floodlights, row upon row of bright red chairs surrounded a pitch as green as a billiard-table, creating a view very remote from my own associations with the game of football. It was really quite beautiful.
Finally, the players came on to the pitch, the referee blew the whistle and the game began. His whistle was also the cue to start beating my drum, and even though the official attendance for this match was the lowest ever recorded at Wembley Stadium, that night the Colombian end was crowded with several thousand South Americans, all clapping in time to my rhythms. On the evening of September 6th 1995, I started to think that I might have actually found a good reason for going to a football match.
The high point of the game came in the first half. It was when the charismatic Colombian goalkeeper Higuita did an extraordinary trick that had earned him the nickname ‘The Scorpion’. The English forwards managed to slip past the offside trap, making a creative attack that climaxed with a powerful, 25-yard shot on goal. Higuita took a half-step backwards, then launched himself into the air, diving forwards with outstretched arms, an arched back and legs curled up behind him, and made an unbelievable save by striking the ball with the soles of his boots. It was so gracefully and masterfully executed that there was a brief moment of silence before the spectators could react to his unexpected display of dexterity. Then the stadium filled with deafening applause and this remarkable incident was repeatedly shown on television as the highlight of the nil-nil draw.
I never actually saw it happen. At that time I was too preoccupied with percussion. Nevertheless, several months later my memories of that day returned whilst I was walking down a street in the Colombian city of Medellín and I happened to bump into the acclaimed goalkeeper.
‘Wow! You’re Higuita!’ I exclaimed in broken Spanish. ‘I was at Wembley Stadium last year when you did the Scorpion!’
He seemed at a loss for words, perhaps through the surprise of being recognized by someone who clearly wasn’t from his part of the world. Even so, he still went ahead and shook my hand, gave me a bemused smile and then continued on his way.
Higuita’s magnificent save was the high point of an otherwise uneventful first half, and when the 45 minutes were up ...
... the referee blew the whistle for half-time. Then Miguel turned to me and asked, ‘Do you mind if I change the channel?’
‘No, you go ahead. I wasn’t watching it anyway,’ I replied in effortless Spanish.
No, I wasn’t watching the game. I wasn’t even sure who was playing. In fact, I didn’t even know where I was. I appeared to be in a small, two-bedded, hospital ward with a Spanish lad in the adjacent bed and a man seated at my side, but I felt so confused that nothing made any sense. Was it half-time?
Island Connections, Tenerife
Promising nothing, it begins in a rather strange way but grips within ten minutes and I read it at a single sitting. How anyone Steve’s age could have packed in such an interesting life one cannot tell, but it’s all there and I don’t doubt one word.
It’s written in a way that films sometimes work, part flashback and part dealing with the present. In short, Steve wakes up in hospital on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, not a clue as to how or why, with his father at his bedside and having lost a couple of weeks. Gradually the reader realises, at the same time as Steve, what has happened, and through a set of triggers his past life unfolds before him and before the reader too. His father is an integral part of the whole scenario in a way that is endearing and natural, an experience that was obviously great for both of them.
Most of the book, set around the world in largely Spanish-speaking countries, tells the tale of an ordinary man and his passion, backpacking, that takes him on adventures and experiences that put many of us to shame because we haven’t got off our backsides and done anything. The other part of the book shows how sheer determination can overcome physical obstacles, how someone with dreadful injuries can come back and resume a worthwhile life and above all, how familial love can help when difficulties strike. This book is for anyone who’s ever thought they haven’t done enough with their life; it will be an inspiration to reach any goal before it’s too late. It’s a book that is surprising in its capacity to grip and enthral and I cannot recommend it enough.
Lanzarote Gazette, Spain
Half-Time starts with Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita’s audacious ‘Scorpion Save’ at Wembley in 1995, then quickly shifts to the author’s hospital room on Lanzarote, where he’s recovering from a near-fatal accident in January 1999. At this time he’s just coming out of two weeks of post-traumatic delirium and his father, who dropped everything and flew from England to be at his bedside the moment he got news of the accident, humours his ramblings as he slowly regains lucidity. The following pages cover Steve’s recuperation with events, comments and objects triggering the memories of years spent travelling the world, taking the reader from the hospital to many exotic and fascinating places around the globe.
As one of the first generation of backpackers, Steve left Britain at 19 and travelled across the USA before moving on to the Caribbean, Latin America, the South Seas, Australia and Thailand. His travel stories are funny, frightening and moving, featuring a huge cast of larger-than-life characters – the people he meets are as memorable as the countries he visits.
But the backbone of Half-Time is his relationship with his father over the two months they spent together in hospital. I think writing this book was a form of therapy that allowed him to evaluate his past, come to terms with the accident and realise that the most valuable things in life are closer to home. As he says of his father in the book: ‘Despite my world of experience, he was my north, my south, my east and west, the sun of my skies, he was the best.’
New Milton Advertiser, UK
Despite the title, Half-Time is not about football but concerns the autobiographical experiences of a young man’s backpacking adventures in what could be described as the ‘Game of Life’. Steve Devereaux set out wanting nothing more than to see a bit of the world, and while some of the book recounts the usual adventures and problems encountered by young people attempting to travel on a very limited budget, much of it has a far deeper meaning conveyed by mature, reflective insights.
It is written in a refreshingly honest style and includes lively encounters between the author and people he met en route, as well as details of Steve’s thoughts about the life that was opening up before him. His adventures include walking into a war zone in Nicaragua, being arrested in an isolated village in the Caribbean, and witnessing a disturbing ceremony of witchcraft in Venezuela. Yet more than anything, Half-Time is concerned with the author’s relationship with his father, the man who, from Steve’s ninth year, was relegated to the position of ‘weekend dad’ following his parents’ divorce.
Much of the story is centred around the aftermath of a near-fatal accident involving the author on Lanzarote, which left him hospitalised with his father at his bedside. It was during this time that Steve found contemplating death not only forced him to reflect on life, but that his memories also helped him come to terms with the pain, fear and despair of a major trauma. Consequently, this is not just a book about travel, but also the realisation of the enduring love between a father and his son.
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