Australia & New Zealand Tour 2017/18
How to lose without really trying
It is early Sunday morning. Very early, in fact. Having watched England's thrilling win in Wellington on Saturday night, we are booked on the 9am ferry to Picton. A 6am alarm call, shower, pack....wait....it is Lofty's 71st birthday today.
The door to his room is sealed tighter than Tutenkhamun's tomb as usual.
So I whip out my phone and send a Whatsapp birthday greeting.
A minute later the following comes back:
"Thank you. We are up early as we have to catch a ferry at 9. Hope to have one or two beers later."
Glad to see there are no signs of senility kicking in!
It is later explained that the message should have gone to Hayling Island (Where the f*ck is that again? Ed.) rather than the room next door!
Off to the ferry then along with, it seems, most of the population of Wellington.
Hundreds of backpackers are on board. When an announcement is made over the tannoy about payment methods acceptable at the buffet, an American girl of Japanese extraction struggles to understand.
"What the f*ck is EFTPOS?" She asks her boyfriend.
Unsurprisingly, he doesn't know either.
I knew my career in finance would come in useful some day. I am always anxious to assist our colonial cousins, and I explain.
"It's an abbreviation for Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale" I say.
"It means you can use your plastic cards to buy breakfast!"
My helpfulness is rewarded by a withering look that would sink the Arizona.
We meet the Howzat crew on board. They are headed towards Greymouth on arrival.
I think part of their strategy must be avoiding the State Highway 1 war zone, but they also intend to take a helicopter flight over Mount Cook.
As we walk off with our luggage, Tremers and his group are revving up on the start line in their vehicle ready to disembark and drive to Hanmer Springs.
We, however, have yet to pick up our hire car from Omega, and when we reach their office, some good tidings. The car I dented has been repaired within budget, and I am due a refund of $1200.
Hooray! Like a 'bank error in your favour'. If it wasn't Loftys birthday, and I didn't live in Yorkshire, the drinks would be on me.
The man behind the car hire counter is a real character. Wise cracking and joking all day is his modus operandi, he seems to think my denting the previous car is hilarious, and we have some good banter.
Unfortunately, his humour seems to be lost on most of the po-faced foreign backpackers also present in the office.
A rather attractive French-Canadian girl and her drippy boyfriend are anxiously scanning the rental agreement before they sign it. They have just found out that living in Quebec and refusing to learn English has its downsides after all.
As laughing boy behind the counter cracks joke after joke, Madamoiselle's frown increases - all the humour is sailing over her tête.
"Excuse moi. What ees an een-freenge-ment?"
"Its a speeding ticket lady. Or drunk driving. Or drug driving. Whatever. Unfortunately we don't pay those for you!" Lofty and I start chuckling, and are given the evil eye.
I make a mental note not to attempt further engagement with backpackers.
Our plan is to drive south on State Highway 1 to Kaikoura. This is the road that was obliterated by the Christchurch earthquakes, but we are assured it has recently opened again for business, albeit only between the hours of 7-30am to 7-30pm.
In a battle between man and his planet, there can only be one winner. The level of devastation and new earthworks we see during the three hour drive is staggering, and I make no apologies for including a number of photos with this report.
It is no wonder it has taken several years to get the road open and I expect it will take several more before any sort of normality is resumed.
Lofty has chosen a pub called The Whaler in Kaikoura to celebrate his birthday and it is a good choice. An excellent meal followed by copious amounts of white wine were probably not the best preparation for our 340km drive to Timaru next day. The road conditions south of Kaikoura were not quite as demanding but there were a multitude of road works accompanied by the usual delays.
Way behind schedule then we stop in a small village called Cheviot for elevenses. As we walk into the cafe, the music changes, and 'Jerusalem' booms out. I can only think this must be an omen for an England series win on Wednesday!
Timaru, arriving eventually at about 4pm. We are staying in rooms above a large old pub called The Grosvenor. This was once a very stately building. The information states that HRH The Queen herself stayed here once in 1954. I can see why, the beer is only $6-50 a pint. I wonder if she had a play on the Pokies?
Hard to know what to make of Timaru on my first visit. It advertises itself as a holiday destination, but I would probably describe it as Barrow-In-Furness with a beach. The centrepiece is the old port and harbour, which has seen busier and better days. That all said, there seem to be plenty of thriving shops and a large selection of pubs, curiously mainly Irish bars. I've enjoyed our brief visit.
A drive down to Dunedin the next morning in pouring rain and as usual by the time we get there, the temperature has dropped by ten degrees.
We check in at the very expensive Alexis Motel (a strange choice by the Manchester United hating Lofty, this) to find that the New Zealand Government have got wind of the length of our stay.
We have to join in their Census!!
Lofty has a little difficulty filling in the form, as there is no bullet point ethnicity option for 'Saffer Gurn'. Instead, he lies blatantly and quotes his nationality as 'New Zealand European!'
An interesting night in Dunedin awaits. First, a visit to Bransons, Home of the $10 Jug, where we meet Paul and Steve, two cricket fans from the North East. Paul supports Sunderland - Steve, Newcastle.
They come from the same village, but apparently Paul "Was born on the wrong side of the street".
The fact that these lads are touring together must be a major inspiration for all peace processes throughout the world. Several $10 jugs are polished off to celebrate the Geordie / Mackem truce - who needs politicians when you've got cricket?
Then Les, the barman, has a confession. "I'm sorry lads. The Speights Black has run out. I should have ordered more yesterday, but well....I f*cked up. You will have to drink Black & Tan!" As by now it is our fourth jug, who cares?
Next, a visit to our friends at Wong Gok, where we enjoy a brilliant Chinese meal despite increasing stages of inebriation. Mine is brilliant, anyway. Loftys curry is liberally sprinkled with the despised parboiled cauliflower and broccoli, which ends up scraped in a mound on one side of his plate.
"Why didn't you tell them no broccoli?" I suggested. Mind you, he'd probably have got a double helping of cauliflower instead! A further bottle of wine is also quickly despatched.
Lofty has had enough by the time we near our lodgings, but as we pass 'The Bog' Irish Bar, I cannot resist a nightcap. It is open mike night, and I sit at the bar with an elderly chap, Clive from Gloucester. We are treated to a large Maori lady singing 'Bus Stop' by Manc group The Hollies, accompanied by the resident guitarist. Cue manic Manc applause from yours truly.
Shortly afterwards we are joined at the bar by Chloe and Vanessa, Brit girls over from Queenstown who will be in attendance at the cricket tomorrow.
As we all enjoy the various local talents it transpires that Clive, Chloe and Vanessa are all staying at the same backpackers. In the same dormitory. I didnt dare ask about the bunk arrangements! All sounds very cosy, but that's Dunedin.
A lovely sunrise on Wednesday and it looks as if we have been lucky with the weather once again. An early start in order to position our newly-purchased collapsible chairs on the grass bank at the University Oval - the match is a sellout.
So then. The best start I have ever witnessed. England are put in, which soon looks like a massive error as the score reaches 267-1, with Bairstow smashing so many sixes, the local roofing company are rubbing their hands. The Kiwis are in despair. Most have already given up the game. How can we fail to get 400 from this position?
Well, as the film title suggests This Is England, and as I have been saying for years we can f*ck up from almost any position.
Buttler 0. Morgan 5. Stokes 1. Ali 3. Woakes 3. Joe Root is watching all this from the other end as he compiles a calm century. If only I could lip read.
Thanks mainly to a splendid 22 at the end by Tom Curran, most of which were scored from Southee's final over, England reached a respectable 335-9. But it should have been far more.
England even got a second chance. New Zealand crawled to 2-2, with both potentially lethal openers out for ducks. However England had reckoned without Ross Taylor. After starting sensibly, he raised the tempo by degrees, and in one of the best one day innings I have ever seen, cracked 181 not out to bring home the bacon. He was hit and floored so many times that the physio must have spent about a cumulative hour on the field.
Then he did his hamstring, and was limping every run.
As to comparisons - think Arnold Schwarzenegger, with every functioning part smashed, but with one red eye gleaming, crawling along determinedly to Terminate England.
Superb by Taylor, then. But what of England?
Well, all the usual flaws were exposed. The after match comments were of the usual standard ie total bollocks....
Morgan "Our skill level wasn't up to scratch, which is disappointing....etc"
No. The correct verdict is you bottled it again, mate.
Nevertheless for a neutral observer a simply superb game to watch and it was a privilege to be in Dunedin to see it.
The series is set up perfectly at 2-2 now, with Christchurch another sell - out so I'll be in touch again after the series is decided.