South Africa Tour 2015/16
The lunatics have taken over the asylum
Autumn has been rather a depressing season in Europe thus far for your writer.
Atrocities in Paris. Air strikes in Syria. All manner of planes dropping from the sky at regular intervals.
Terrible weather causing flooding in the North of England, in fact coming far too close to my house for comfort.
The Red Rose Hat supporter from Old Trafford winning the £1,000 first prize in the Lancashire CCC Foundation lottery. Boo, hiss.
My beloved Manchester United knocked out of the Champions League.
Continual tactical blunders and risible press conferences by Louis Van Gaal (maybe that last word would express my feelings better if it were spelt 'Gall').
And Manchester City resurgent, despite rubbish defending and the falling oil price.
Most traumatic of all, Gary Ballance finds himself in the England test squad once more.
The machinations of the Chief Selector, James Whitaker, never cease to amaze and perplex me. With a host of talented young batsmen to choose from - Vince, Hales, Taylor, Roy et all - we return to a player whose lack of foot movement has already been found out against pace bowling and who will now have to face the smarting Steyn, Morkel and co on the fast African wickets. No danger of the Saffers preparing turning tracks, I suspect, after their recent experiences in India.
Vince especially must wonder what he has to do to get into the test squad having now been trialled in limited overs games very successfully.
While all this seriously depressing stuff is going on, our UK media choose instead to concentrate on the following:
A futile furore over the opinions of Tyson Fury, Manchester's own World Heavyweight Champion and potential future poet laureate.
As if anyone apart from the terminally PC really cares!
Donald Trump and his ridiculous, Midwest vote - catching racist offerings - although I must confess it is hard to dislike anyone who falls out with Alex Salmond!!
"Donald, you have been stripped from your post of Ambassador for Scotland!" bravely announced Nicola Sturgeon.
"Let's conveniently forget the Scottish Nationalist Party has already allowed Donald to invest billions of his own money into the Scottish leisure industry, funding hotels and golf courses."
That last bit was mine, of course, not Nicola's.
The internal squabbles of the Labour Party, although I'm sure Jeremy Corbyn will have mended many a rift by singing Christmas carols on TV with a weeping woman in Cumbria whose house had been flooded.
Bet she would have preferred him to help with the mopping out, but hey, no manual tasks for the big boss, eh?
Jeremy, if my house floods while I am away in South Africa, please keep yourself nice and dry in Islington.
I'm sorry if all this makes me sound like a northern Alf Garnett, but this type of bloody nonsense does make me rather cross, and therefore in view of the nature of the most recent 'news coverage' I make no apologies for commencing yet another series of trivial cricket diaries as we make our way to South Africa from of all places, Charles De Gaulle airport - in Paris.
Yes, you guessed it - Lofty was in charge of our flight arrangements.
Before we left the UK, Christmas dinner was taken in my local, The Wellington, with our similarly - retired friends Julie and Silver Dave (Addis Nae Nae Wellington branch).
By commencing the afternoon at 12.30pm and winding up at 9pm I think we proved that whilst none of us are now able to work, thankfully we still posess the ability to drink.
On sessions like this secrets will out, so prepare yourselves for a shock, regular readers.
Q. Which is the odd one out of Strauss, Pietersen, Prior, Greig, Lamb, D'Oliviera and Lofty?
A. None of the above.
They are all saffers!
Lofty has now confessed that he was born in South Africa just after the Boer War whilst his father was serving in the British Navy aboard an armed tea clipper.
Despite seeing his passport many times I have completely missed this nugget, as his place of birth was - get this - George, and of course I have always read this as his name!
Knowing the generosity of the members of the Addis Army that will be joining us later on tour I am sure that any ribbing about this confession will be kept to an absolute minimum, but I do feel we need to think about an extraordinary general meeting to change his nickname.
My suggestion would be 'Bushvelt Lofty the Guernsey Voortrekker'.
Rolls nicely off the tongue, doesn't it?
Our flight from Manchester to Paris was uneventful although we had been allocated separate seats. I was sat next to a very nice young Chilean student, doing a doctorate in Physics at Manchester University. We had been given free food and drink vouchers by Fly-Be to cover the first leg of our journey. Lofty ordered a can of 'London Pride' with his voucher and seemed to take exception when I suggested that in view of his heritage, he should be drinking 'East London Pride'.
"That's enough of that!" he barked. Somehow, I doubt it!
Whilst I used my drinks token on a lovely bottle of Shiraz I did not feel hungry and donated my food token to the young student. She ordered a 'Christmas Sandwich' packed with turkey and stuffing, which she polished off with relish. Now I don't know what Fly-Be put in the stuffing mix, but it must be potent, as she fell down the disembarkation stairs at CDG Airport and sprained her ankle.
Our flight to Johannesburg with Air France was disappointing, featuring average food, and a poor entertainment offering (although Lofty found 'The Great Escape' and watched a film all the way through for the first time). Furthermore turbulence made the flight quite bumpy more or less the whole way. However, we arrived on time and descended into the chaos that is Johannesburg Airport Customs and Passport Control.
As we joined a huge queue with about three uncontrolled converging streams of humanity a young British couple behind us were getting anxious.
"Have you been here before? Is it always this bad? We've got to catch a flight to Cape Town in fifty minutes!"
On clearing customs and collecting our luggage we were immediately pounced upon by two mercenary airport stewards, who insisted on taking our bags and leading us to a less crowded Domestic check-in for our flight to Pietermaritzburg.
As we followed the two Africans, I was having misgivings. "They are gonna want some money for this...." being the main misgiving. Without the Africans seeing, I pulled two fifty rand notes out of my wallet to give them. This equates to about a fiver.
When we got to the check-in, the African lads were rather scornful of my gratuity.
"Fifty rand each? That's not enough to buy us a soft drink! Give us some foreign money!"
Before I could do or say anything, Lofty reached into his pocket and as usual, a dollop of twenty pound notes appeared.
"That'll do!" said the lead African. "Give us one of those each. When are you due back at Johannesburg Airport? I'll look out for you guys then!"
I bet he will - not only have they got a soft drink, but Christmas dinner is now covered for their entire families for the next ten years! Good old Lofty, looking after his countrymen like that at Xmas.
Arrival at the small airport at Pietermaritzburg was disconcerting. Everyone apart from ourselves getting off the plane seemed to have family and friends with cars to greet them. "Taxis don't come out here" we were helpfully told, but fortunately for us we bumped into a friendly chap called Danzika Williams (not Welsh, I suspect) who runs a tour company out of the airport building and he agreed to ferry us to our hotel for 200 rand.
We are staying at the Protea Imperial opposite the main police station in the centre of town. Despite this there is a permanent internal guard presence.
Although it was Friday the bar was deserted, but with night now having fallen we agreed to have dinner at the hotel, which took place in a cavernous but empty function room. A splendid meal, but the stock of wines seemed rather depleted and after several aborted choices we ended up with effectively the best of what little was left.
During the evening I received a message from Tremers about our new Addis Army shirts along the lines that he is worried about exceeding his luggage allowance when he brings these out to Cape Town, which surely must be a first.
Saturday morning arrived with the cricket show on TV, featuring NZ v Sri Lanka from Hamilton - followed by a trailer for the upcoming Test series in South Africa which showed Thomas Blade jumping out of his seat in his England kit.
Paul Harris the presenter was asked for his opinion of England.
"Good side but I don't know why they brought Ballance on this tour. He doesn't seem to have any balance when he bats to me!"
Not very witty but at least it proves he's been watching England play earlier this year.
A walk around Pietermaritzburg town centre that morning revealed many iconic statues - Queen Victoria and Sir Theophilus Shepstone (who?) being just two - and grand buildings with the British "Dieu et Mon Droit" lion and unicorn crest, but alas that time has long passed, and now the town is rapidly falling into decay. Think Calcutta, but in Pietermaritzburg the decaying process seems much faster.
People were pleasant and we did not feel intimidated but clearly, for today at least, we were 'the only whites in the village.'
Breakfast was taken at a Wimpy bar - remember them? The cheapest fry up on the menu costs just over a quid here, and we enjoyed a full English + coffee each for about £7 in total.
Lofty enquired of me how much he should tip.
"Just give him forty quid!" I helpfully added, guffawing like a coyote. I must make a mental note to stop doing this.
The temperature outside is approaching 40 %.
Apparently drought conditions have been suffered in this area for three months now and President Zuma is attributing this to 'the sins of his people'. I bet he went down a storm at the recent global warming summit!
Whatever, it is far too hot for Lofty and I also had to admit defeat after a couple of hours and we retired to the sanctuary of our hotel and its air conditioning.
I am already feeling sorry for the cricketers tomorrow.