Australia & New Zealand Tour 2017/18
So, where are we up to? I must admit we have been away so long now, I am beginning to forget myself.
Ah, yes. A journey to Christchurch to watch the Under-19 World Cup semifinals - whose line up unexpectedly does not include England, New Zealand or South Africa.
The distance between Queenstown and Christchurch is just short of 500 km, so an intermediate overnight stop was called for.
"Experience Geraldine!" said the roadside flyers, so that is just what we did.
Geraldine Motel to be more exact. If you like your accommodation old-fashioned, this is the place to stay. Nonperforming WiFi, nonperforming hot water in the shower, and a triumvirate of nonperforming staff who seemed to have the ability to disappear at will whenever required.
Dodging the tumbleweed blowing down the Geraldine main street on a Saturday evening, we decided to sample the local hostelries. The beer was okay, but in the first pub there was just nobody about except a grey haired old landlady, who looked suspiciously like the grandma junkie in French Connection II. The second pub was livelier due to the presence of the village idiot, who was surprisingly young but had been drinking all day, judging by his ludicrous behaviour.
A swift exit from Geraldine in the morning then, you might expect.
But no. We decided to visit the local motor museum first as we had a relatively easy drive later on to Christchurch. The old chap on the admission desk was fast asleep, bless him, when Lofty rocked up to pay us in. I am not normally a devotee of such exhibitions, but I must admit there were several valuable and well preserved old cars on display.
My favourite exhibit was a motor cycle / sidecar hearse which had actually been used in the Nelson region some years previously. To demonstrate the usage, a full size wooden coffin had been slotted neatly into the sidecar. Incredible.
I found myself wondering if the old admission guy used the coffin for a crafty kip when business was slow - which I expect is just about every day.
Our arrival in Christchurch was without incident.
My first visit to the City since 2008, prior to the earthquakes, and the scars are easily visible still almost everywhere you look. We did not venture into the red zone, but even on the Riccarton outskirts we saw ripples and holes in the road, and fenced off areas where buildings once stood.
A lovely old church, surrounded by metal fencing, with its rear end supported by huge timber buttresses. Awaiting an uncertain future.
The large pub that stood on the south west corner of Hagley Park has now closed, the building now occupied in part by a Thai restaurant.
I really wish the residents of Christchurch all the luck in the world in repairing their once beautiful city, but I expect this may take very many years.
It isn't all doom and gloom though. Our motel is in between a great curry house - called Arjee Bhajee - and a splendid little sports bar named 'Wilson's'. There is a 'Cast Away' Wilson basketball sitting proudly behind the counter, and at just $11 for a jug of quality ale, this is not a pub to walk on by.
Cricket the next day, and we met up once again with pal Stewart from Lancashire, who very kindly brought some small deck chairs for us to use - the Hagley Park ground where the Test match will take place in April is almost exclusively grass banking.
Monday's game between Australia and Afghanistan ended as expected, although the Afghans did not disgrace themselves in defeat.
Some unexpected fun with young ICC steward Andrew sat close to us on the boundary. As he explained what a doddle his temporary job was (and how rewarding, at $18.50 an hour!) we took great delight in winding him up about how he would earn his dollars next day - when volatile India are due to play even more volatile Pakistan in the other semi-final.
We painted various scenarios based on our experience in the UK, ranging from full scale violent race riots to the outbreak of World War III, and I'm sure the poor lad must have had all kind of nightmares on the back of our banter.
In addition, the ICC have supplied the stewards with a tasteless blue and orange uniform to wear (returnable after the match). We all thought the hat made him look like Bill or Ben the Flowerpot Men, which Andrew readily conceded, having recently seen this programme as a new primetime Kiwi tv viewing import from the UK.
Tuesday and time for the big grudge match between the subcontinental rivals.
A large crowd gathered, consisting almost entirely of noisy and excitable Indians.
The weather was exceedingly hot, as it has been for several days now. We managed to secure covered seats in front of the pavilion, which of course was where most people headed for, and in the end it was impossible to leave your seat for a pee without some cheeky Indian jumping in there uninvited. The Indian fans really do take the chapatti for arrogance and I found myself siding with underdogs Pakistan, who unfortunately subsided to 69 all out chasing about 270 in one of the worst batting displays I have seen - since England U-19's last week.
Lofty did a sterling job in retaining our seats and repelling all boarders, with his trademark combination of transparent, bad tempered annoyance and casual insults, but my favourite moment of the day came from two elderly Kiwi ladies sat right in the midst of the Indian contingent. Whether they had been drinking beforehand I know not, but as Pakistan hit one of their few boundaries, the pair belted out:
"PAKISTAN - ZINDABAD!" to the horror and astonishment of their Indian neighbours.
Bravo, ladies. Live dangerously. A great chuckle, thank you.
One very contentious decision in the match involving a disputed run out, which I am sure Lofty will cover so I won't steal his thunder. However, many thanks to West Indian paceman and commentator Ian Bishop, for explaining what had gone on in the third umpires room, and for posing with me for a picture!
Meanwhile over in Queenstown the England U-19's were involved in a vital play off game against New Zealand - to decide seventh and eighth place in the competition.
England were without their posh-boy Yorkshire captain, Harry Cherrington Brook, who was suspended for 'undisclosed disciplinary reasons'. Hmm. He sounds like a future shoe in for the full England team in every way, doesn't he?
Despite this massive handicap England won, and I'm sure the seventh place attained fully justifies the massive outlay spent in developing the players....only joking, Mr Strauss. The word 'underachieving' does not even begin to do their hapless tournament performance justice. Yes, I'm harsh. So is life.
The final of the U-19 Cricket World Cup between India and Australia is in Tauranga, North Island next Saturday and as we shall still be on South Island, that particular book is now closed. A big thank you to Jonathan Trott and Nick Knight for agreeing to Addis Army interviews while over here and I'm sure you will be reading these in an upcoming newsletter.
The intention for the next couple of days was drive back to Omarama to hike Mount Cook on the second day.
Our plans were spiked to a degree by an exceedingly poor weather forecast, with non stop rain predicted for the second day, so we attempted to drive from Christchurch straight to the mountain, so I could at least have a couple of hours in the foothills on day one before the really poor weather set in.
Arriving at 2.45pm I arranged to rendezvous with Lofty in two hours and set off on the mountain track up Hooker Valley. As the weather worsened it became easy to see how so many people have died mountaineering on the faces of Mount Cook, and I had to abort even my own modest trek after about an hour. Visibility next to nil and worsening, with scudding, vicious rain showers every few minutes. On my return I reached the climbers hut just in time before the heavens opened, when I was treated to the hilarious sight of whole families of inadequately clad Chinese and Japanese tourists scurrying for cover as they returned from the track totally drenched.
An American couple had set up their primus stove in the hut, and were busy preparing their evening meal of 'Backpackers Pantry' Dried Louisiana Red Beans and Rice in a pot of boiling water. We got talking, but thankfully Lofty arrived on time in the car before I was invited to partake in this feast. Lofty's mountaineering days are behind him after a teenage climbing accident seventy years ago on K2, and instead he had visited the Sir Edmund Hillary centre and donned special glasses to watch a 3D film. He sounded impressed by 'all the things flying out of the screen' and the way he described the experience it sounded like a drug trip!
Driving away from the mountain, the weather quickly normalised, and we arrived in Omarama at about 7pm. To the pub. A heavily - bandaged tour group of cyclists from various countries and their guide were sat at an adjacent table, drinking and talking voluminously. It turned out they were all staying at our motel.
The guide was filling them with bullshit about there being 'minimal rain in the morning - we will be on the road at 7.30am.' Needless to say, when I pulled the curtains back next morning, it was pissing with rain as predicted and neither their vehicle or cycles had moved. Judging by the injuries some of them were already sporting, maybe that is just as well.
So here we are, stranded in the pouring rain in the middle of nowhere for the day. Never mind, a chance to recharge the batteries and plan our onward journey. To Dunedin tomorrow, where the weather forecast is improving for a serious birthday event this weekend......