New Zealand Tour 2019
Kia Ora all
With some sadness, we left Whangarei. Our motel there, the Kensington, has been the most comfortable on our journey thus far and hosts Sandra and Paul exceedingly helpful.
Sharing the driving, Five-O and I travelled in a southerly direction heading for Thames, on the Coromandel peninsula - which is a much nicer town than the image its name might convey. An ex-gold mining settlement now given over largely to tourism and our midway stop on the road to Tauranga.
We had time for a return visit to the Wellsford bakery for breakfast - a final couple of Great Pies. I wish my diabetes nurse would class their steak & kidney pies as a superfood breakfast, because Five-O and I agree they are fabulous and taste a lot better than bloody muesli or porridge.
The weather wasn't up to much when we arrived in Thames at 3pm, so we went on a walking tour of the main street shops. Five-O, as usual, headed for the second hand bookshop to buy yet another poetry book - Skip, I suspect you will not suffer from a shortage of rhyming couplets in Port Elizabeth.
I meanwhile went for a haircut, attracted mainly by the price list on a chalkboard outside the barber shop.
Men's haircut - $30
Boys haircut - $25
Balding/Pensioner buzz cut - $15
I needed a trim and rarely has $15 been better spent, but I tackled the hairdresser about the product description.
"Yeah, nah, we get a lot of comments about that, bro!"
"Well, it's no wonder. In PC Britain, that product description would probably be classed as a Hate Crime. Might I suggest 'follically challenged' might be a nicer way to express it?"
Needless to say, he studied me as if I had just landed at Thames in a polka-dot painted flying saucer. "Sweet As!" The clippers descended.
A lovely meal in the evening at the Junction Hotel with several glasses of light ale.
When we returned to the motel, horror of horrors. Five-O's door was swinging wide open.
Intruders, or worse? Nothing so dramatic, he had just forgotten to close the door on his way out - it is THAT relaxed here.
Tuesday, a treat. A trip up the coast to Coromandel Town and Driving Creek Railway.
With Five-O in the drivers seat the arrangement was, he had choice of music. Accordingly, I was subjected to a CD of Big Bill Broonzy, a blues musician from the 1950's. Come back Lofty, all is forgiven mate. The music had the aural punch of a damp fart in a rust-corroded baked bean tin, and furthermore it sounded to me that Big Bill was making it up as he went along. By the time we had travelled 30km and with the coast looming next to my passenger window, I was tempted to eject the disk and see if it was any good for skimming over the waves.
The Driving Creek Railway is the brainchild of Barry Brickell and is a 3km narrow gauge track running uphill eventually to a stunning structure called 'The Eye Full Tower'.
From a viewing platform up here wonderful vistas of the peninsula can be observed.
Brickells many talents also include pottery, and the track uphill is liberally decorated with eccentric statues and other examples of his personality - at least three of the embankments are composed entirely of empty wine bottles! Barry started the project in 1973 and it has been a life's work, sadly he died in 2015.
The whole trip - and that is a very appropriate description - reminded me of the set of 'Apocalypse Now' and I half expected Dennis Hopper to be waiting to meet & greet us at the top. I reckon whole forests of dope must have been smoked up here during construction, and as you might imagine the whole vibe was right up Five-O's street!
Before we left for Mount Maunganui and the much-awaited first Test, we had to call in the Thames Gold Mining Experience. This is a defunct mine with some of its machinery still in working order. The mine was founded by Cornishmen, so this visit was a must for Five-O, who was anxious to demonstrate to our guide Carl his own expertise regarding all Cornish things underground.
First, we had to watch an old black and white video made just after the war showing gold miners at work & play.
"Why did they make this film in 1949?" asked Five-O.
"Yeah, nah, to give 'em something to do, I guess" replied Carl.
Glad we cleared that up!
The tour continued through some underground workings which were tunnelled for short people many years ago. Six-foot four Five-O's hard hat collected a few bumps and scrapes on the way through! All in all, a very enjoyable tour actually and the noise when Carl turned on the stamper at the end required ear protectors to be worn by everyone.
A two hour drive to MM/Tauranga next. On reaching the outskirts we turned on the satnav and somewhat to Five-O's dismay he realised that he had booked a place 10km away from the cricket ground. The house is in the middle of bloody nowhere.
Having said all this, when we reached my accommodation, we found that it was also at least 5km away from the cricket ground and 14km away from Five-O's gaff. At least, I have a bus service along the main road, even if the buses only run every Preston Guild.
In summary, neither of us are in line for Orienteer of the Year 2019.
My pal Nick from NaeNae has rearranged his work schedule to be in Mount Maunganui tonight and for Day one of the Test, so at 5pm we head out to the Fat Cow for some strong craft beer. Pretty soon we are joined in the bar by half the NZ team - Southee, Latham, Henry, Santner to name a few. I offer to take Mitch Santner on a tour of Manchester pubs when he becomes an 'Original'. He was lukewarm about that, but had a good chat with Nick, who he knows.
At the next table, Ashley Giles and Collingwood are drinking. We chat briefly. If you have followed Addis Army Twitter you will probably be aware of my new position on returning to the UK as England's fitness/nutritional coach. Thanks, Gilo, the lads will love my pie & peas diet.
A white mini van is circling, and we notice that the driver is none other than Ben Stokes with a few of the England team in tow.
Soon, Stokes, Root, Denly and Burns are also eating in the Fat Cow. Cricket celebrity overload, which is made complete by the appearance of Higgy and Robbo, newly arrived.
Needless to say the night gets very messy quickly after this and by the time I arrive back in my digs in a taxi at midnight (how apt) I am wasted.
Five-O meanwhile has possession of the car, and retires early to his distant suburb over the hill somewhat grumpily after about 2 pints. From the gloomy chunnering he has done today, I get the distinct impression that the car will imminently be replaced by Mr Uber and will not be moving too much once the game starts due to an alcohol shortage - Five-O's rather than the car engine. The 'harsh' 24 point deduction for Somerset deliberately preparing shit pitches has clearly not helped matters.
I rise early. Breakfast at 7am. A late arrival from England last night called Keith makes an appearance at the table. A young, skinny vegan Southerner, he looks fresh out of Uni.
"Can I get you a drink Keith, tea, coffee or juice?" says genial kiwi host Bob.
"Peppermint tea please" says Keith.
"Hmmm. Let me check the larder. We have Lipton's, Green Tea, Earl Grey - but no peppermint."
"Oh, don't worry then. I have some of my own peppermint tea bags upstairs in the rucksack" and off Keith pops to get them.
Arrival at the ground at 9am on day one. Nae Nae Nick has kindly given me a lift in, and also driven over to pick Five-O up. Far beyond the call of duty, thank you Nick.
The large queues evident outside, plus the weight of English fans on the banks, seems to imply that many people have made this trip despite the relative unimportance of the series as outlined by Tractor in her latest blog.
Maybe we all just enjoy having some fun in the sun, eh?
Different strokes, for different folks. Test Championship points are all well and good, but clearly the Addis Army were cricket touring long before such 'points' existed : and no doubt still will be if and when another harebrained ICC gimmick replaces them.
So, time for an Addis Army roll call. The two of us obviously. Nick from NaeNae, latterly Huddersfield. Posh Margaret and pals Sharon and Martin. Howzat Richard and his scorebook. Nigel and Helen, newly arrived. Andy and Beanhead, pals of Nigel.
Last but not least Duncan, Harry and non-vegan Keith who were with us in Whangarei.
Beanhead is from my part of the world and sports a Gallagheresque Manc accent.
He looks and sounds familiar and I spend all day trying to place him, finally working out that we did Jury Service together at Manchester Crown Court more than 20 years ago!
The Barmy Army also have a large presence here and deliver a stirring rendition of 'Jerusalem' from the grass bank opposite. This is shown in close up on the big screen with the usual suspects leading the vocals.
Shy, aren't they.
The match ball is delivered by a skydiver and off we go. England win a crucial toss and bat. The pace is slow, but Sibley and Burns do openers jobs and put on fifty before they are parted.
Nick and I get talking earthquakes and he tells me about the time a serious quake afflicted his vicinity in the middle of the night and he had to evacuate his wife and two children into the street as their house shook. When the tremors subsided, one of Nick's neighbours sidled up for a quiet word.
"Don't you think you should put some clothes on now?"
In all the panic, Nick had forgotten he was starkers!
After lunch we continue the slow but steady theme. My god, our batsmen are batting properly, in fact as if the game mattered. There are fifties for Burns and Denly, although Joe Root takes forever to get off the mark and is then dismissed for 2. Stokes takes his time to get going, but once he is in, the tiring New Zealand attack is caned. Pope adds good support. England 241- 4 at stumps, a good platform .
Using the word 'caned' in a different context some of the new arrivals have discovered that yes, beer is indeed sold in New Zealand. Higgy spends all afternoon in the nearby Mount Club with Nigel and Billy the Trumpeter. Nigel gets a second wind on returning to the ground and then goes on the sauce with Andy, Wayne and Five-O, who is making up for all that lost time yesterday. Our area of the bank is alcohol free, and Five-O suspects there may be a conspiracy afoot to stop him getting pissed!
Early night#1 for me.
I rise refreshed and go down for breakfast at 7am.
Today Keith has brought down his own 'healthy' cereal from his room to use instead of the delicious supply served by our hosts for free. He pours a huge portion of what look like Rice Krispies into a bowl and fearing this will overflow, Marion our landlady intervenes.
"Would you like a bigger bowl for that Keith?" She says.
"No thanks Marion , its okay. This stuff contracts when you pour milk on it!"
Then Marion asks what Keith got up to last night.
"Well, I walked home from the cricket but I made a stop on the way to buy vegetables. I'm going to cook a meal here tonight."
Just as I leave for the bus, I catch: "Would you like a lift to the cricket in about ten minutes, Keith?"
"No thanks, Marion. I'm not going yet. I'm going to peel my vegetables before I go to save time tonight!"
I walk to the bus stop seriously considering giving this lad the phone numbers of Saint, Son Of and Mr Blade so he can go on a purists cricket tour next time.
A cute blag on the bus. I show the driver my match ticket.
"I understand that this week public transport is free with a Test match ticket."
The poor guy is very confused and starts reading the 'refund scheme in the event of no play' on the back of the ticket to see if this will provide guidance. Obviously not.
"Yeah, nah, well I've not heard about that. But I can see you are a guest of our country. So hop on - its okay!"
At the ground I meet Robbo and ask if Higgy is feeling ok after his marathon stint in the pub yesterday.
"Oh he's fine" says Robbo. "He's been and bought a chair. I don't know why. He won't be fucking using it, he didn't come back from the club till six o' clock yesterday after he disappeared at lunch!"
Sure enough I see Higgy soon afterwards and he confirms that he intends to lease his $30 chair on a daily basis from 12.50pm to 5.50 pm while he is watching the Test in the pub.
The morning goes smoothly until Stokes is stunningly caught by Taylor for 91.
Then, the usual witless collapse. Four wickets fall for just 18 runs.
The worst of these is Pope, who plays a stupid, brainless waft outside off stump to a ball he could have easily left.
That's another fine mess you've got us into, Ollie.......!
Thanks to a stubborn knock by Buttler, together with the usual defiance from Leach, England make a half decent score of 353. Before the end, I prove that gambling never pays.
We had a little sweep on how many runs Broad would make, and guessing first I thought I was onto a sure fire winner with 'none'. Foiled again. Our Stuart scored a stylish 1 before being bowled neck and crop.
At midwicket next to this ground is a large salt works which has been erroneously described by TMS as a brewery. It is not. The wind today is strong and blowing fumes direct from the process chimneys onto the populated grass banks.
"Five-O, look. I hope those salt fumes aren't toxic, they are blowing right over the Barmy Army."
"Well, whatever they are, the smell can't be as bad as the fucking odours that lot give off!"
Five-O's only kidding lads but....is this the one liner of the tour so far?
New Zealand batted in the same early vein as England. Watchful. Wickets seem hard earned on this track, which I still maintain is a road. Archer looked ineffectual and nondescript. Broad toiled hard for no result. Curran was our best bowler, and he snared the vital wicket of Kane Williamson before stumps. NZ 144-4.
England have their noses in front. What can possibly go wrong?
I return to the digs a very hot and tired old man. Early night#2. The plan tonight is to get some fish and chips and vamoosh upstairs before vegan Keith gets cracking in the kitchen. Due to a very large queue of very large people at the local chippy, I miss my target, and on my return Keith is stood over the stove stirring a huge pan of vegetables.
I cannot help myself.
"Fuck me, how much are you cooking up, lad? That bloody lot would last me a week!"
"Well, it's only got to last me four days" says Keith, as hosts Bob and Marion sit in stunned silence watching TV and smelling their lovely house filling with pungent onion fumes.
Day three and no hi jinks at breakfast today, just cricket chat.
What were once vices are now habits, and a casual show of my match ticket gains another free bus journey to the ground.
Outside in the queue at 8.50 am with Sharon, Margaret, Five-O, Richard and Martin.
There is a much larger crowd anticipated today and this is evidenced by the long snaking lines before the gates have even opened.
When we get in, our bank is now being patrolled by a new steward from the fun police, Gestapo or in this case maybe Hitler Youth. A young lad who is thin as a pipecleaner and looks about 16, kitted out with the largest pair of black bovver boots known to man. Our bank is 'alcohol free' and he is on the lookout for naughty beer drinkers having no doubt heard all about Five-O's proclivities. We all find his booze patrols irresistibly funny.
Nigel and Helen turn up. Nigel is wearing his 'Hundred Fan' outfit which is extremely colourful and completely tasteless, probably much like the type of cricket the Hundred promises to bring.
The English cricket is uninspired and lacklustre. Archer is completely ineffectual with the ball. There is sloppy fielding. Dropped catches. Bad bowling. Ill-judged reviewing. Worst of all, lack of leadership.
Lunch prompts a wander for food and the offering now is much better than the first time we toured NZ in 2008, when the only food available was a battered sausage lolly covered in tomato sauce.
One stall is even selling Shitake mushrooms. I didn't even realise these actually existed, I thought they were just a crude joke in an Austin Powers film! One for the England diet sheet, I think.
De Grandhomme flays the bowling in the afternoon. BJ Watling is his usual obdurate self and goes to a hundred just after tea as New Zealand go into the lead with four wickets still in hand.
Thankfully I do not see this, having bailed at tea for a shower and change of clothes.
I have had two nights off the beer and do not intend to make it three.
Higgy is a good ally if you are in the mood for beer. Once again he has spent most of the day in the pub while his chair on the bank is occupied by a tenant. I calculate Higgy will be in profit on that chair by tea on day four, but I have some misgivings regarding his potential state later as I prepare to go out!
The traditional tour curry tonight at Smart India. Five-O and I are joined by Higgy, Robbo, Daz, Craig and Janet.
Higgy very kindly foots the bill from projected chair profits.
After the meal Higgy and I are not Smart English as we embark upon a binge drinking session.
As far as I can remember, my count was four pints of Speights, a bottle of Riesling, half a bottle of red wine and a further three large glasses of red wine in the Mount Social.
The morning after is rather trippy and I get the distinct impression that I may have slightly breached the alcohol unit ceiling imposed by my diabetic nurse.
In a haze I wander round the grass bank to find Higgy, who is suffering no Ill effects at all and tells me he will be going to the pub as usual at lunch. Higgy, if I ever need a liver transplant, I don't want yours, mate!
The good thing about watching England is, if anyone asks "What is the worst day you have ever had watching cricket?" it is almost impossible to forget, as the England roll call of dire performances keeps updating, repeating and refreshing itself so the answer is invariably "today".
New Zealand batted and batted. Then batted some more.
There were more broken records than a second hand music shop. BJ Watling got his maiden Test double hundred: Manchester Originals Mitch Santner his maiden Test century.
Fill your boots lads, useless, overrated England are in town!
There were centuries for Archer, Leach and Curran with the ball too. Our new 'all Yorkshire' bowling coaches must be doing a great job.
No wickets until after 3.15 pm by which time Watling and Santner had put on a stand of 261 runs for the 7th wicket.
The Barmy Army had already trudged disconsolately out to the pub at lunchtime, resembling Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, and like the French Grande Armee before them, many of these lads would not be coming back.
New Zealand carried on more aggressively after lunch, finally declaring on 615 - 9.
At tea I saw Dean Wilson the journalist and had a little chat.
"Well, Deano, just what are you going to write about this performance?"
"Dunno yet mate. But it won't be pretty!"
England had a mountain to climb starting with a tricky 28 overs to survive after the declaration.
Sibley and Burns managed to negotiate 18 of these before Sibley edged a wide ball he had no need to play at.
Next, Burns played a ludicrous slog sweep up into the air.
Leach bagged a duck as night watchman which to be fair looked a poor decision, but he chose not to review it and walked. 55-3 and certain, embarrassing defeat looms large tomorrow. I wonder why when the opposition bats, the pitch is a road, but when England bat, it turns into a spitting, hissing pit of snakes?
Santner had the ball spinning sideways from his first over!
I have seen all this many times before as regular readers will know and one of my favourite evening pastimes is reading the meaningless, media-coached drivel and platitudes that the players come out with afterwards to try and mitigate their abject performances. How about this pearl from non-playing Lancashire legend Jos Buttler?
"We need high skill levels and a lot of character (tomorrow) and this side has got that in abundance."
Well I'm sorry, matey-boy, but I saw precious little fucking evidence of either of those qualities today. Much of the bowling was absolute dross, Stuart Broad excepted, and the captaincy was even worse - Joe Root just waits for something to happen - he seems totally lacking in original thought and ideas.
A surprisingly large crowd on day five, augmented by the attendance of my landlord Bob and Marion, his wife. Bob is a cheeky chappie and has been giving vegan Keith and I plenty of stick as we return downcast from the Test for the last couple of evenings.
Now he has decided to attend, in order to dance on England's grave, drawn also no doubt by today's free admission!
Only one wicket has fallen at lunch. Captain Root, who cannot buy a run and whose ship is holed & rapidly sinking.
It is fair to say the morning has not been the most thrilling. Bob and Marion have had enough, and pack up their chairs for an early departure.
If only our accursed lot was as simple.
Stokes and Denly continue to bat solidly but once the former chops on to his stumps the writing is on the wall.
The remains of the Barmy Army are sullen and silent and if I didn't know better, it might be possible to believe that their supply of blind faith has just run out. There are only nominal numbers now in their section and I can only assume the majority have taken root in the pub.
Denly is perhaps a bit unlucky to get out, but Pope plays the stupidest ever shot kneeling to chase a slow full toss from Wagner a yard outside off stump and is caught.
I am not repeating the Laurel and Hardy joke, that shot doesn't deserve humour. I will simply say that by the poor judgement he has shown in this game Ollie Pope should not be playing in Test matches.
Buttler comes in to face the new ball and after reading yesterdays interview I am expecting high skill levels and a lot of character. What I get instead is the running up of the surrender flag as Buttler leaves a straight ball and is bowled for a duck. He should not be playing in Test matches either.
I have seen enough. Packing up my chair early to go, I attract a certain amount of good natured catcalling from the many locals on the bank behind us. They have been slowly gathering during the afternoon waiting for the final twitch of the England corpse.
"Leaving early then, pom? Too much for ya?"
"Oh yes. Sorry but I'm busy. I've got more important things to do than hang around here. The Cricket World Cup needs polishing every Monday afternoon, and that's my job!"
This does create a certain amount of laughter, to be fair!
I depart for the delightful thermal pools at the foot of the Mount using my final free bus ride for a relaxing soak. Concessionary Local Pensioner price of $5 of course!
The advice of Jonathan Agnew given to Lofty & myself during the 2015 World Cup to forget the cricket results and concentrate instead on having a great holiday in lovely places is well remembered.
I purchase a cream cake from Countdown on the way home, which I share with Bob and Marion, and I offer vegan Keith a slice which he declines, as he will not consume dairy products.
Eeeeh, you don't know what you're missing lad.
Bob is tired and emotional after the wonderful kiwi win. The beers are broken out for all and as he says, this is what its all about.
For England, a crushing, humiliating innings defeat.
I read an idiotic tweet by Michael Vaughan along the lines that no-one really cares about winning a Test if there are no 'Test Championship' points at stake. If you really believe that, supercilious Mr Vaughan, then it truly shows how low your stock has fallen. Go play Hundred in your Northern Supercharger pyjamas.
You can change the coach. You can change the support staff. You can change the players. However, Test Championship points or not, with England, the result is usually exactly the same old shite, and I have been saying this to anyone who will listen since our 2010/2011 win in Australia. Since that time, bar a few notable blips, we have been in steady Test decline away from home and the latest shambles represents a new low.
Having watched cricket at Hamilton in all formats since 2008 and never seen an England win, I simply cannot wait for Friday.
Hopefully it will rain. For five days.