Australia Tour 2017/18
After my nightmare experience earlier this year flying to Auckland with Qatar Airways in cattle class, the decision this time to go Business class with Cathay Pacific and break the journey to Australia in Hong Kong really paid dividends.
Folks, Business class really is worth all the extra money. Unlimited fine wines and spirits, infinitely better food, and best of all the ability to lie down after the meal service and fart with impunity, in comfort. In fact as I approach the grand old age of sixty on this trip, little perks like that become increasingly precious.
When my plane landed at 6.45am at the impressive Hong Kong airport it was comforting to see the familiar sight of Lofty bearing down on me with all his luggage. The poor man has already been in transit for two days, having needed to spend a night in a Gatwick air-hotel in order to escape from Guernsey in time to catch his morning flight to the Far East.
From the way Lofty described his journey, I suspect it might have been easier to escape from Guernsey during the German Occupation.
Lofty was also keen to tell me about the cost of his travel insurance. I thought what I had to pay was exorbitant, but having now reached the age of 70, Lofty is truly being ripped off. He told me that he has paid a one-off premium of £870 to cover this trip. I know people who could live for a year in Benidorm getting pissed every night on that. Its almost as expensive as Barmy Army Travel's single room supplement!
Mind you, Loftys travel policy does cover him for 'funeral expenses and repatriation'. Don't ever call me negative again Freddie....all day I have thought of nothing else apart from brass-handled teak caskets and a State funeral at the Drunken Duck, St Peter Port as Lofty laboured around Hong Kong bemoaning the inability of his legs to move. Needless expense if you ask me. I'm certain that if anything drastic happens to Lofty on tour, Boris Johnson will move heaven and earth to bring his corpse back home.
Lofty only had himself to blame for today. Acting as my tour guide based upon his previous visits to the ex-colony, he insisted on dragging us both to the Peak Tram in order to climb the funicular and take in the view of the city and harbour.
This pilgrimage is supposed to be Hong Kong's premier tourist attraction but I can only compare it to going up Table Mountain on a bank holiday, but using a Wellington tram instead of a cable car!
Massive queues at every juncture which made the whole thing a chore in the heat, in all honesty. The view wasn't bad, but it isn't a patch on Saddleworth.
Our first shock of the Ashes. Today we learn that Tim Paine has been recalled to the Australian team as keeper after a seven year gap.
Like a certain other cricketer recently in the spotlight, young Mr Paine also has form for drink-related incidents, being involved in a drink driving accident (with James Faulkner allegedly behind the wheel) in Manchester during the latter's last stint with Lancashire. So some hope for England with this selection......!
Later that evening our first, memorable ethnic Chinese meal. Guided only by the pigeon English subtitles such as 'Steamed Croaker Fish with Chickens Feet' we place our order with the grumpy waitress, who speaks only Chinese. Lofty makes a sensible choice of satay skewers and chicken curry.
When my meal arrives, it turns out to be spare ribs floating on a sea of soup and noodles, in a bowl similar in size to the one my mother used to use to inhale Vic with a towel over her head. Impossible to finish. A tenner each down the drain including a large tip.
Saturday morning and more great news from Australia. The convicts Ashes squad appears to be getting a little bit of criticism. "The selectors are morons masquerading as mentors!" squeals bitter ex-spinner and Warne stand-in Stuart MacGill. I would never criticise the England selectors like that!
The choice of selectors son Shaun Marsh 'stinks to high heaven' says Brett Geeves. I presume Brett is inferring nepotism with that comment. Again, that could never happen with England, I'm sure Gary Ballance is in our squad because of his superb technique and recent Test batting averages rather than any relationship with a county colleague who also happens to be the England captain....!
On the pitch, centuries in the warm up game at Townsville for Stoneman and Malan, which can only cement their places for The Gabba and boost their confidence.
Hmmm. Maybe my 3-1 forecast was too pessimistic. We will see next week.
Now if you haven't had a chuckle yet, please persevere while I relate possibly the worst Saturday on tour I've ever had.
The day started badly, as we were chased out of the posh hotel restaurant area for refusing to sign a payment chit for our breakfast. As we had already paid upfront for this, I didn't think our stance was totally unreasonable.
Next, we went to Kowloon on the famous Star Ferry.
We thought the fare for this was covered by the transport cards we bought at the airport.
An unsmiling jobs worth on the pier thought otherwise and we were made to pay again, missing the boat in the process. On reaching Kowloon, Loftys camera packed in and we spent the next two hours at an electrical appliance shop. They couldn't fix his camera, but they could fleece £200+ out of him for a new one. Surprise, surprise.
Next we went on the train to Tung Chung to ride the cable cars - a journey of about an hour each way. On arrival, the queue for the cable cars stretched virtually to Mongolia, and we both agreed to give it a miss.
Returning to Kowloon we both tired of the seemingly endless treks through shopping malls to escape each Metro station and eventually settled down at a bar to quaff a few jugs of Somersby cider - this cost £7 a pint even during happy hour, but even so the bar was a welcome air conditioned refuge from the millions of gadget-obsessed locals wandering about outside in a trance looking at their mobile phones and waving selfie sticks.
At 7pm we returned to the waterfront to witness the 'Spectacle of Light', a nightly phenomenon at 8pm where the skyscrapers all illuminate interesting light displays-a firework display without the squibs. Every oriental in the vicinity seemed to be on the viewing promenade, so you can imagine the stampede at 7.45pm when cloud and rain suddenly arrived, removing any prospect of a light show.
After a day like that all that was left was a visit to KFC to cheer the evening up, but when we got there at first we were told that they had no chicken, which seemed rather odd.
Finally we got served a basket of crap unlike anything I have experienced elsewhere in the world-a sample of the menu is here for posterity. Why is a fried chicken franchise selling beef with mushroom rice? Answers on a postcard to Mr C Sanders please.
Not KFC but HKFC.
Sunday morning started with a smile as I persuaded Lofty to join me in the hotel pool area for a jacuzzi. He has a morbid fear of water and his terror as he climbed into the small bubbling tub was a sheer joy to behold. Swimming was of course out of the question.
Further humour when we checked the price of the Nikon camera Lofty purchased yesterday for £200 from Shark Electronics (HK) Pty Ltd online. This retails for about £80 in the UK, sounds like a bargain!
Our last full day here proved to be the best of the three. A bus trip to quirky seaside resort Stanley was enjoyable and after this we decided to have a pub session in the 'seedy' red light district of Wan Chai. We could have ventured into a lap dancing bar or worse, but what we ended up with that night was probably even seedier!
In the White Stag pub, incredibly and completely randomly, we met three brothers and their wives who hail from my small home town, here in Hong Kong to celebrate a 70th birthday. These people had been drinking all day at the races and were a little worse for wear, but a great night nevertheless resulting in a mammoth hangover next day. Thanks to Alan, Steve, Neil and their patient and tolerant ladies for putting up with our nonsense all night.
So what then to make of Hong Kong? The overcrowding on transport is uncomfortable and claustrophobic, and the feeling of unease is compounded by the humidity. There are things to do and see, but from our experience you would need to get up at 5am to beat the queues and see them. The ubiquitous shopping malls at every turn are a bloody nuisance. That all having been said, I'm glad we did it. We are only eight hours flight away from more serious business in Brisbane so the journey has been broken nicely.
A further diary after the Brisbane Test, first a weather warning....rain is forecast.
That will suit me fine!