South Africa Tour 2015/16
The Barmy Army Go Missing
Why is it you always find the best places on your last night?
Before we left Pietermaritzburg, Lofty and I risked a 65 rand, thirty minute taxi ride to the Keg And Hedgehog in Montrose. Sharp eyed readers will remember this is the pub recommended to us by Dylan Campbell at the warm-up game. Well, Dylan, you are off the hook. We had a great meal comprising prawn starters, pork chops, t-bone steak, desserts and two bottles of quality Shiraz for the princely sum of £17-50 each. I'd love to say "I'll come again!"
Unlike the verdict on our Pietermaritzburg hotel, The Protea Imperial, whose service standards made Fawlty Towers seem like The Dorchester in comparison. It must be the only place that we've ever stayed at where we preferred to go out for a fifteen minute walk in sweltering heat to the Wimpy Bar for breakfast just before check-out rather than use the hotels facilities. Still, the trek was worth it. As seems normal now, breakfast cost f*ck all, and as a bonus all the Wimpy waiters were wearing Five - O shirts! Maybe our Cornish jazz hippy can get a part time job out here now that he has finally jettisoned the nursing home!
I won't be able to complain about our next lodgings even if I wanted to.
Freddie wouldn't publish me, because we are staying at the wonderfully named Addis Bed and Breakfast in Umhlanga Rocks until New Years Eve. An allegedly teetotal 'Dark Lord' Herbie and hopefully 'making up for dad now I'm 23 years old' son Jack are expected to arrive in Umhlanga on Christmas Eve.
Our 70km taxi minibus journey to Umhlanga was an adventure. I asked our driver to make a detour down the Valley of 1000 Hills tourist route towards Durban instead of using the motorway.
This was fine, until we noticed that the scenic road seemed strewn with scenic boulders.
Our driver Danzika explained. "The municipal workers have been on strike."
Fair enough, but to assist their industrial dispute they had also littered the road with additional rocks and boulders, fallen trees, and generous helpings of broken bottles and glass to help make their point. The Rainbow Nation seemed more 'Zippy' than 'George' at this point in time.
Our journey became ever more hazardous until we came to a foot-wide trench deliberately carved through the middle of the road.
"We must not stop here, we will be robbed!" muttered Danzika darkly, as he carefully negotiated our vehicle around the trap. By this time, Lofty was turning a whiter shade of pale.
The Valley of 1000 Boulders was eventually circumnavigated and we washed up at our accommodation in Umhlanga, the playground of the rich, without further incident.
The Addis Bed and Breakfast is worthy of the superior, independant English cricket fraternity that it must be named after. Managed by the lovely Heidi and her staff, the property features large comfortable rooms, exquisitely manicured gardens and fabulous views of the Indian Ocean from the patio and pool area.
A Chinese meal for myself and Lofty followed that evening in Umhlanga and as it has now been nearly ten years since the 'Chicken skin' incident in Sydney, another Chinese comedy gold moment was well overdue.
We made our way down to the Ming Boh restaurant which is situated on the right at the main junction going down the hill towards the sea. It soon became apparent that three generations of the family were in attendance at the restaurant, consisting of grandad, who looked like a frail but venerable Chinese Mandela, a surly teenage daughter who was doing most of the work, and mum - who was very evidently three sheets to the wind. When our second bottle of wine appeared, mum - whose name was, apparently, "Year of the Monkey, April Fool" - insisted on helping us drink it. To which we readily agreed.
Next, she sat on Lofty's lap, and by this time we had drank enough wine ourselves to be close to her wavelength. "Just stay there and see what pops up!" I helpfully advised her, and it was conclusive that Lofty had pulled when mum also insisted on having her photo taken with him.
Unfortunately for Lofty, the Chinese lady was far too pissed for any sort of consummation, so instead we took our taxi back up the hill to Addis, giggling all the way that a six course meal with two bottles of wine had cost us the princely sum of £8 each.
Christmas Eve morning was spent shopping for necessities at the fabulous Gateway shopping mall at the top of Umhlanga Ridge.
Some decent wine was required, as clearly we won't be able to afford the rip-off restaurant prices here for the duration of our stay. Three nice bottles of Robertson Shiraz and some bottled water cost 127-92 Rand (£6) which seemed reasonable, but the cheeky blighters at the liquor shop also charged me an extra 0.49 Rand for a plastic bag to carry the grog home , which soured my Xmas shopping experience somewhat.
Lofty also called into Specsavers to buy a new pair of glasses as his old ones were falling apart on a regular basis.
In the afternoon, we heard to our horror that Jimmy Anderson had been ruled out of the Durban test, and as the day wore on there was still no communication from Herbie.
I must confess I had started 'preloading' early on Robertson Shiraz before Herbie finally texted to indicate that he truly had given up the demon drink and would pick us up in his hire car at 7.30 pm.
Lofty and I dutifully stood outside the Addis gates waiting for our pick-up but Herbie and Jack were perhaps understandably a little tardy after their long journey.
Then, in the dark, a car drew up and stopped outside our B & B. Even with my poor eyesight, I had already spotted that the occupants were black Africans, but Lofty rushed to greet them like long lost friends before, too late, he realised his mistake.
Clearly, his new glasses do not aid colour blindness.
Eventually Herbie and Jack rocked up, both in good form, and we all enjoyed one of the best meals so far on tour in a Thai restaurant in Umhlanga. We were joined by Herbie's ex-wife Julie, her partner Bolton Steve and also by Jack's half brother Ted, now recruited into the Addis Army under the nickname of "Sheringham".
It looks as if our South Africa trip just got cheaper still, as teetotal Herbie's hire car now means we aren't even able to pay for taxis!
On the way back to the car park at 11pm we bumped into West Ham Dave and his Essex pals on a pub search, as the town seemed to be closing early. As if to prove what a small pond the East End of London is, it became clear that Dave and Herbie knew the same people from their petanque hobby. In particular Michelle, who has kindly facilitated Durban match tickets for Herbie and Jack. I bet they all owe fealty to the same Pearly King and Queen.
Christmas Day was a sumptuous affair with our afternoon meal taken at the splendid Lord Prawn fish restaurant. Herbie, Lofty and myself ate like Lords for next to nothing and it must be the first time I have ever had lobster, crayfish and prawn for Xmas dinner.
Our meal was of course accompanied by copious amounts of white wine, followed by an evening tiffin session in the Oyster Box, the poshest hotel in the resort. The ECB were holding an afternoon junket in an upstairs suite that FIFA would probably not be able to afford, so later on the England players started to meander into the bar.
Woakes and Root were wearing Xmas sweaters, Finn was wearing his England top, and Stuart Broad was attired in a white tee shirt with white tailored shorts and looked like a very tall version of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
After several very large bloody Marys we called it a day and retired to the Addis B & B at about 10.30pm. To give the reader an insight into what kind of a day it had been, our last discussion was a critical analysis of the lyrics of the Petula Clark classic, "Don't sleep in the subway" in which Herbie tried to rationalise why anyone would want to sleep in the London Underground.
The Barmy Army Christmas dinner was served about two hours before we called it a day, at around 8pm so I gather. More of a Barmy Christmas supper!
In the morning, the forecasted rain appeared and for that reason and that reason alone, we were late for the delayed start of the test match.
I don't usually make excuses for England, but today they were unlucky with the weather, with losing the toss and with Root's lbw dismissal which contained two 'Umpires call' elements when reviewed under DRS. The rock that is Compton however held firm more or less all day. Taylor also compiled a fine innings scoring 70, and whilst it was disappointing that he got out just before play was brought to a premature close by bad light, we were satisfied with a closing score of 179-4 after being put in.
Several Addis pals were present at Kingsmead including Posh Margaret, Bob, Nigel and Helen in addition to our group.
There was no discernible prescence from the Barmy Army, and this seemed to encourage several leery and disgustingly drunken specimens from the south of England sat near us to 'impersonate' them.
The old Jimmy Savile song 'Everywhere we go' does not exactly carry a Wagnerian ring - cycle degree of difficulty, but these clowns persisted in singing it dreadfully all afternoon with incorrect words and verses. Later, we were also treated to the 'German Bomber' song by the little Englanders - you know, the one where 'The RAF from England shot them down'. Another glaring lyrical error - no mention of the Czech, Polish, Free French and even South African pilots who were no doubt involved.
I suspect this particular group will collectively be voting 'NO' in the EU Referendum!
Out of sheer curiosity I asked one of the spangled muppets, who were old enough to know how to behave better, where he was from.
"All over the place" was the reply. You can say that again!
Just to prove that I am not bigoted against the South of England and to balance the books, I had a very nice chat in the afternoon with two knowledgeable and pleasant cricket fans, James and Laura (this seems a popular relationship combination!) who are Surrey members albeit Laura hailed originally from sunny Swinton, Manchester before she was tempted to the golden pavements of London.
The overall crowd behaviour at Kingsmead on Boxing Day was amongst the most feral I have ever witnessed, and eventually all the bars at the ground were closed late afternoon : "Due to crowd misconduct - By Order of The South African Police!"
Play started early at 9.30 am on day two in an attempt to make up lost game time from the first day so it was just as well we had not gone overboard on the drinking last night.
Today our seats were right behind the bowlers arm in the front of the 'Howzat Travel' group, numbering several hundred. The Barmy Army Eastern Terrace, which had contained thousands of English fans on our first visit in 2004, was virtually deserted.
I gather there has been adverse comment about this notable absence on the Sky Sports cricket coverage, but certainly there was none of the usual singing or support as far as I could see.
We were hoping for an England run fest when we arrived but it turned out to be Morne Morkel's morning and although the run rate stayed healthy throughout, wickets fell at regular intervals. England were bowled out just before lunch in just short of three hours for 303, but a special mention for Broad and Finn with their frustrating last wicket partnership.
As the wind at the ground got up, a large fixed umbrella came free and cartwheeled right across the pitch, nearly decapitating the TV cameraman in front of us. This may sound funny, but I'm sure for him, it wasn't.
When the Saffers batted, Broad bowled Van Zyl before a run had been scored, but then Jonny Bairstow put down a relatively easy chance from Amla off the unlucky Woakes.
Much muttering about the need for a 'proper keeper' amongst Howzat, even from Yorkshire member Redcar Derek sat next to me.
Bairstow got away with his error a few overs later when Amla nicked another, this time off Stuart Broad, and he safely pouched it.
As Broad was getting ready to bowl to the new batsman De Villiers, he gestured to the crowd to back him up and fair play to the Howzat group who got behind him with supportive and sustained clapping as he motored in.
Not a squeak from the other side of the ground.
Another first - Howzat Travel louder than the Barmy Army.
De Villiers played a quality knock for 49 but was then also caught behind off Broad, who was by now quite glaringly lacking a strike partner out of our other bowlers.
Moeen Ali was leaking runs, and Finn was economical without really looking like taking a wicket. Woakes was unlucky but did not threaten consistently. Stokes did not bowl much at all, leading us to guess he had been injured, until finally he bowled a short spell at the end of the day.
Elgar, who had batted from the start, and Bavuma steadied the South African ship towards stumps and they finished on 137-4 meaning the game was tantalizingly poised with a result almost certain given the excellent weather forecast for the remaining days.
Will England win? Will the real Barmy Army turn up? Will Herbie be tempted by a beer?
I'll wager you cannot wait for the answers, but alas you will have to read the next blog for the conclusion, as tonight we are busy taking young Jack to meet a tipsy Chinese Lady at the Ming Boh Restaurant.
"Serve you long time......" but who cares about crap service when your night out is costing eight quid?