South Africa Tour 2019/20
A cricket idiot abroad
Thank you first and foremost to Nadima and her helpful staff at the Lord Nelson for making my stay in Simons Town such a pleasant one. I'm still buzzing from the Cape Town Test, if Port Elizabeth is half as good, most of us will be happy. Four day Tests, my arse.
When there is a sizeable gap between Tests, if staying on tour, what to do with the time is always the dilemma.
The various tour groups offer a range of alternatives: Posh Margaret has gone all the way to Namibia to receive her latest upgrade, so I understand. Others are visiting Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls, which involves obtaining a visa and extra innoculations. Safaris and big game options are always a popular choice.
Lofty has opted for a two day trip on the world-famous Blue Train up to Pretoria. In his own private cabin, of course.The catering aboard this train is the last word in luxury, and priced accordingly.
One downside though - Lofty will be required to dress up in a dinner jacket and bow tie for meals. I have asked him to send me a selfie in his tuxedo so hopefully that will arrive before this diary is posted. Lofty tells me he has packed not one, but two pairs of dressy trousers, in case he spills his Lobster Bisque into his lap and is left with nothing clean to wear!
For myself, hiring a car and driving the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth was an easy choice. Having been to South Africa several times now, my problem would be finding somewhere new and different to stay along the road.
After picking up my VW Polo 1.6 from central Cape Town the day after our Test victory I took the N2 to Swellendam, about a three hour drive to the east. I have never driven a Volkswagen before, but I think I know now why the German vehicles ground to a halt at the Battle Of The Bulge.
The petrol cap release is impossible to locate without reference to the owners manual.
I will have to ask a petrol pump attendant with the appropriate technical knowhow when the need arises.
I now feel sorry for those poor Wehrmacht squaddies at Bastogne, scratching their heads, trying vainly to fill up before the American Sherman tanks caught up with them.
Having had a little go at Maori drivers when I was in New Zealand, I cannot let South African drivers escape without a little criticism.
Their ability and attitude is on a sliding scale, with 'Arrogant cock in a ute' at the best axis and 'Complete lunatic driving a clapped out heap of shit' at the worst.
Speed limits are totally disregarded and pointless, and patience is a virtue notable only by its absence. Given I was still receiving emailed speeding fines myself SIX MONTHS after leaving this country on my last visit in February 2019, I do not say this lightly.
The motorway out of Cape Town was subject to major road works, with large stretches of temporary surfaces without line markings, but this did not prevent the locals from zooming dangerously along at double the maximum speed limit.
The searing heat of the Cape turned to darkness and thunderstorms as I reached my accommodation in Swellendam just after 2pm.
"We have had no rain for months, we are so happy!" Wilma, my hostess, gleefully greeted me from under her umbrella.
Coming as I do from soggy Saddleworth, I regret that I did not share her enthusiasm for the downpour.
My lazy afternoon sunbathing by the pool has just gone for a Burton!
A lovely meal at Powell House that evening, which was so good, I immediately made a repeat reservation for the following night. Three courses, a bottle of Excelsior merlot and a large tip came to about thirty quid. We all need to splash the cash occasionally. Most of the people coming into the restaurant seemed to be English or Welsh cricket fans travelling east to Port Elizabeth so despite eating alone, it turned into quite a convivial evening.
My exploratory stroll around Swellendam had to wait until next morning due to the weather.
A typically Old Dutch town with some curious influences at work.
The Church is called a 'Kerk' - say it in scouse - and there are references to the Kop everywhere, so I can only assume that Liverpool's title is already being celebrated here.
This impression was reinforced by the contents of a street vendors stall, which contained a splendid array of 'knock off' counterfeit Liverpool FC merchandise.
"It's our year, Sir!" the lad said, as he tried to entice me into buying a fake shirt.
It was very hard to resist making a purchase, but somehow I managed to keep my Rands in my pockets!
Further down the main road another strange find off to the left.
Gareth Berg, the Cape Town born Hampshire and Northants all rounder, appears to have a whole street named after him.
I strolled up Berg Street, and even the buildings there were similarly named.
Berg Lodge. Berg House. Berg Hotel. Berg Villa. Berg View Bed & Breakfast!
I didn't realise Gareth Berg was so famous, although to be fair he does usually take shedloads of wickets against Lancashire. My walk was also rewarded by a pretty view of a big mountain, which opens up when you get to the top of the road.
Finally, some unusual shops. A supermarket where Freddie Mercury is said to have shopped in 1975, and an over - familiar courier!
There isn't too much to do in Swellendam, but the weather picked up, and I was at least able to have a sunny, relaxing afternoon by the pool on my second day.
Another meal at Powell House. The company wasn't quite so convivial tonight.
A pair of newly weds from Armagh on honeymoon whispering sweet nothings to each other.
Four burly gay guys from Sweden who openly discussed the bacchanalian delights of Manchester's Gay Village in English for several minutes, whilst completely unaware of the domicile of their 'audience'!
The food in this little restaurant was simply superb. The best Durban lamb curry I have ever tasted. It is operated by Alan, a native Glaswegian who has lived in South Africa most of his life, but every so often the Scots accent emerges.
I would honestly return to Swellendam just for the pleasure of eating at Powell House again.
Thank you Alan and the lovely Jackie for your friendliness and fine cooking.
Time to hit the road in the morning, destination Knysna.
The road surface was good, the traffic not so bad, and I made the trip in just under three hours without a stop, but probably with a couple more speeding fines pending for my overworked credit card.
Most of the guest houses in Knysna are clinging to the hill facing the sea, with stupendous views of the Harbour, Lagoon and Heads. Mine, Hamilton Manor, was pretty typical and the view from my balcony was to die for. The district I am staying in is called Paradise, for some inexplicable reason.
My first errand was a walk into town to the excellent mall there looking for a birthday present.
It is easier going down the hill than the tortuous upward return journey, but fortified by a Castle Milk Stout in the Liquid Lounge, I attempted the latter on foot - in thirty degree heat.
Near heart attack, and an immediate requirement for an oxygen mask, were the result.
Just as I was settling down to attend to emails and reply to a few texts, the days 'load shedding' started. This term is simply technical jargon for a wholesale daily power cut, normally lasting two and a half hours.
This is inconvenient to say the least, especially given the obliteration of the WiFi signal, unless you are lucky enough to be staying in a place with its own generator.
This amenity isn't normally identified on Booking.com, and I'm not.
The Thai Eatery is in my opinion the best place for dinner in Knysna. On a previous holiday visit we virtually lived in there, and so I happily returned for both nights of my current stay. The walk downhill takes ten minutes : the taxi back with 'Angelo' about five, and this is well worth the 70 Rand fare, especially after darkness has fallen.
The sad news about Jimmy Anderson's latest injury causes an interesting selection issue for England. Return to the profligate Jofra? Or try Overton, or Wood , if fit?
No such selection problems for Lancashire CCC, whose latest e-mail actually made me guffaw out loud. Firstly, the announcement of a new 'Hall of Fame' featuring legendary players, such as Washbrook, Statham, Engineer and Clive Lloyd. Fair enough.
Secondly, Lancashire have appointed Steve Davies as the new Operations Director.
No, not the Somerset and England wicketkeeper.
This Steve Davies has been head hunted from - wait for it - Madame Tussaud's, in London.
What that role has in common with running a Test cricket ground is anyone's guess, and I'm sure the 'Pit Of Hate' and the Action Group will be suitably aghast at this announcement. Though to be sure, certain of the more familiar Lancashire members do remind me of horror style waxworks, although probably exhibiting less colour and animation.
I spent the whole night after reading about this latest appointment having nightmares about an Old Trafford 'Hall of Fame', managed by a horribly disfigured Vincent Price called 'Lancashire's House of Wax'.
My suggestion for Mr Davies' first task would be to create a swearing waxwork effigy of Jos Buttler in the Pavilion. After all, at Lancashire we never see the real one!
A bit more shopping on Saturday morning, which is essentially what I came to Knysna for. All the togs and shoes I brought with me from home are going in the bin, except of course for my lucky Lancashire shirt - Freddie would play hell with me if I chucked that.
I had so many bags, I needed to call 'Angelo' to ferry me back up the hill in his taxi, which added another 70 Rand to my already bank-breaking shopping spree. That's nearly a hundred quid I've squandered this morning on a pair of shoes, two pairs of Vans trainers and a warm fleecy coat for the first three months of the cricket season back home.
To balance the books a very cheap and lazy afternoon watching live Premiership football and catching up with people via electronic communication devices. Thankfully, no load shedding today so far.
At 7pm I returned for the final time to the Thai Eatery and in an uncanny twist of fate was joined at the next table by Neil and Vicky, two Lancashire CCC members from Newton-Le-Willows - home of Rick Astley!
The world is now a small place but when the England cricket team are in town, it seems to shrink even further. We discussed our splendid new Old Trafford waxwork Hall of Fame at great length and agreed that if we ever signed Gary Ballance, he would be an instant inductee.
During the evening, a couple of excellent photos of Lofty getting ready for high tea on the Blue Train arrived. Did anyone used to watch 'Pot Black' on Tuesday nights, BBC2 ?
All that was missing was the snooker cue and chalk!
Very smart mate, but put your bow tie straight, eh? Good sport, Lofty.
So, my final breakfast at Hamilton Manor.
For the past couple of days I have been joined at this meal by a French family, who insist on conversing together in French just to be awkward - I know Son Of will totally agree with my point of view here.
They have a teenage son who has worn a salmon coloured Manchester City shirt ever since I arrived at Hamilton Manor. He must sleep in it.
This finally explodes the myth about all City fans coming from Manchester - Marseilles, more like.
Calm down Midnight, pretend he's not really here.
Some better conversation today though with an old couple from Preston, who went to the Cape Town test.
Martin, our Hamilton Manor host, is multilingual, and takes great pride and care in slowly explaining the breakfast menu.
The house speciality is omelette, with a choice of one or more of the following fillings:
Ham. Cheese. Onion. Bacon. Green Peppers. Red Peppers. Mushrooms. Tomato.
After carefully going through all the possible ingredients with the old fellow from Preston, Martin gets a question in return that he didn't expect.
"Before ah choose, 'ow many eggs are thur in't omelette?"
My own omelette is by this time being coughed upwards again in fits of laughter.
The drive today was the best of the three. About 200 km along the Tsitsikamma Toll Road. This costs 53 Rand, but for the great road surface and time saved, is well worth it.
I arrive in Jeffreys Bay just after lunchtime still with a quarter of a tank of petrol to take me the remaining 60km to Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.
I really must try and work out opening that petrol cap before I drop the car off!
J-Bay, as it is known, is famous for it's 70 miles of beach, with exquisite shells to be found on a beachcombing walk - a little hobby of mine that has remained a secret (until now) amongst the butch, hard - drinking Addis Army cricket fraternity that I mix with.
The town reminds me of a Californian boardwalk resort like say, Santa Cruz, where time has somehow stood still since the sixties.
Surfer dudes predominate and brands like Rip Curl and Billabong have factory shops on Da Gama Street, the main drag.
The beach front is quite a sprawl, and there appear to be two distinct and very different areas to the place which may be a legacy from the bad old apartheid days - although I am only speculating here. Having walked both ends of the beach, one thing is certain, after reading the following notice, I shall be confining my swimming strictly to the pool:
"LIFEGUARDS ON DUTY 7-30 TO 18-00
FLAGS CROSSED 17-30
SHARK SPOTTER 7-30 TO 18-00
SPONSORED BY PRIVATE CARE AMBULANCE SERVICES 0422911911"
As this is my first visit to Jeffreys Bay, when I booked I couldn't decide whether to plump for an accommodation option by the beach (Uys Street) or something further away with a pool (Stone Olive). Having now seen both at first hand, I am glad I chose Stone Olive.
The beach front property reminds me of one of the grim Nazi concrete installations on Guernsey, probably with crime defences to match. Where I have ended up is actually quite a climb from the beach but after surviving the Knysna hill, I should be able to cope.
Talking of the Channel Islands, I asked Lofty to send me a photo of the Blue Train dinner menu. I suspected this would not be chicken nuggets and chips, and sure enough, I was not disappointed. Take a peek.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this cricket - lite travelogue before the serious stuff starts, as much as I know Lofty will have relished his garlic snail starter on the Blue Train.
And thank you for all the kind feedback relating to my Cape Town post!
Next stop - Port Elizabeth.