New Zealand Tour 2013
A Waitangi Day to Remember
We are now in Whangarei, some three hours drive north of Auckland.
We have found a great motel called the Kensington, run by Mike and Elaine Sharrock, which contains everything we need including three bedrooms - enough to accommodate the ever-complaining Herbie when he arrives, so we have rebooked here for after the Auckland Test as our base for The Bay of Islands.
Today is my birthday! Or at least I think it will be at Midnight tonight.
I'm a bit worried about this one, as the combination of numbers is a sort of 'Nelson' but I don't fancy standing on one leg for the next twelve months!
I was reluctant to leave South Island and must make mention of our last few days in this paradise.
Lofty and I based ourselves down at Bluff, which is New Zealand's John O'Groats equivalent, thinking upside down, in a lovely guest house called the 'Lands End' run by Rob & Mary McIntosh.
Rob kept us supplied with ale and Mary made us some delicious home cooked dinners, so 'Lands End' is highly recommended to anyone visiting this distant part of the world.
The 'Lands End' is situated opposite the iconic sign showing the distances to the various world capitals and tourists turn up at regular intervals to have photos taken next to it.
Lofty and I decided we would have our turn and ventured down there with our cameras.
Little did we know the danger we were in.
After about thirty seconds we were attacked by swarms of trained sand flies, and made a mad dash up the steps back into the hotel to safety.
We then spent the next hour behind the hotel windows watching cars roll up, people getting out, and then suffering the same fate as ourselves as they frantically tried to get back into their vehicles as the sand flies attacked.
Actually, despite being on the wrong end of several severe sand fly bites ourselves, this performance was hilarious, and it has been dubbed " The Dance of the Sand flies."
We only saw two people who appeared unaffected - a couple of Chinese girls, who stuck around there for at least fifteen minutes without so much as a twitch - I can only surmise that sand flies do not enjoy Chinese food.
Whilst in Bluff we took the ferry to Stewart Island, which is as far south as you can go without reaching Antarctica.
Most people were there to spot penguins, seabirds and seals.
Bugger the penguins - Lofty and myself played golf on the most southerly course in the world, Ringaringa, and I am ashamed to admit that Lofty beat me by two holes, costing me ten dollars.
The course was a six-hole affair played three times, featuring a huge slope on the fourth hole called "Heart attack hill" by the locals.
After this particular round, beer has never tasted so good, and we spent the rest of the afternoon in the local pub rehydrating.
Back on the road again the next day to Oamaru.
Here, we stayed above a pub, The Criterion Hotel.
I selected a modest single room with communal bathroom facilities - $60.
Lofty selected a king-size en-suite double room with a street view - $110.
It must be marvellous to be a wealthy tax exile and have money to burn.
I'm thinking of going into production of a "Lofty" cricket doll for the Xmas 2013 market - dressed in khaki shorts and a cricket shirt with a big fat wallet.
When you pull a string in its back, it moans all day, then after a nightly feed of beer & whisky, snores all night. I expect bumper sales on Guernsey!
Whilst drinking with the locals after we arrived in Oamaru, Lofty found a soul mate in a kiwi guy called Colin, who was rally car mad, and the pair of them spent about two hours discussing carburettors, suspensions and other boring car-related trivia, whilst drinking pint after pint of the locally brewed strong cider.
After three or four pints of this stuff, Lofty was beginning to sound like Delia at half-time, so I took my opportunity to whisk him away for a cheap meal at KFC instead of the usual $100 sit down restaurant affairs he normally insists upon.
Colin managed to escape from the pub before we returned at 10pm without buying a round.
But then again, he had told us he was of Scottish ancestry.
Some other locals were still there including a scruffy, vagrant-like version of Hamish Marshall who had been gulping down the cider since early evening.
Disgustingly spangled, he verbally assaulted Lofty on the merits or otherwise of New Zealand selecting Jesse Ryder - and I'm pleased to report that Lofty bloody well gave him back as good as he got.
The journey to Christchurch airport was punctuated by a stop at Geraldine for another round of golf which this time I won, relieving Lofty's wallet of twenty dollars in a four hole victory.
Our first troubles started after our flight to North Island on arrival at Auckland airport.
Lofty duly rang the hire-car company, Ezi-Rent, who promised they would pick us up in "five or ten minutes" and shuttle us to our hire car.
Half an hour later, we were still standing there in the heat with all our luggage, hanging about like a couple of old prostitutes.
Lofty rang them again. This time, we got: "Oh, the drivers picking someone else up now. We will be there in a while."
Being a cynical sort, I concluded from this blatant time-wasting trickery that our car was either not ready, or worse, not there.
I said to Lofty "how long do you think it takes to wash a car?"
Sure enough, when we eventually arrived at the rental office, even after a further thirty minutes filling in paperwork, our car had still not arrived.
"Its just being washed", said the speciously 'helpful' lady behind the counter.
What a load of bollocks!
Just goes to prove the old maxim - you get what you pay for.
On my birthday the cricket started - a T20 warm up game at the Cobham Oval, Whangarei.
A nice little ground modelled, I guess, on the Wellington design, but on a much smaller scale.
The usual rule prohibiting the import of alcohol applied and at $7 for a small bottle of Tui beer bought in the ground, I dread to think what the prices will be like at the full International games.
The weather was frustrating, but there were a couple of humorous moments.
Firstly, I got bitten by a leech, which attached itself to my chest and drew blood - this made a pleasant change from the usual suspects.
We were all out of leech repellent, but fortunately for me, Lofty had not given up smoking yet, so we were able to use his lighter to burn the little f*cker off, Burma style.
After the first rain delay, the ground staff came on with a tractor with a long piece of maritime rope attached full of knots, that looked as if it had recently been detached from a couple of tugboats at the harbour.
The clueless driver did not have any idea of the correct procedure, and drove his tractor towards the wicket in a straight line.
We were propped against the bar - a giant beer can on its side, with a side flap to serve the beer through.
"What's he trying to do?" the lady in the beer can asked us.
Some groundsmen might say, a good question!
"He's not got the hang of it yet love. He's supposed to steer it round the boundary to clear the surface water!" I said.
A local teenager was present on the grass bank dressed in full batting regalia, including helmet, pads, white cricket pants and a yellow plastic cricket bat.
During the rain delay he nipped out of the ground with three mates for 15 minutes and on his return, it was noticeable that he was walking much more slowly and carefully and the bottoms of his pants were sagging.
The local police must have been wise to his dodge and felt his collar immediately.
As the cans of cheap grog purchased outside the ground tumbled out of the bottom of his pants behind the cricket pads, the dialogue was hilarious:
" Where did they come from? Honest, Officer, I don't drink beer etc etc."
He was ejected from the stadium, accompanied by much mirth from all in the vicinity.
Unfortunately, the game was called off after only 9 overs, but the powers that be announced that it would be replayed in full on Tuesday afternoon - meaning three days of consecutive T20 cricket for myself and Lofty.
The following day we rocked up once again for the cricket and were rewarded by an easy England win, including a three wicket maiden - with a hat trick - by Stuart Broad.
Phew, I'm happy about that hat trick!
In the evening we returned to our town local, the 'Judges House of Ales', for a little beer session, to be greeted by the surprising sight of an England player in the pub on his own, supposedly incognito, furtively spending too much time at the betting TAB.
As what goes on tour stays on tour, I am naming no names here, but suffice it to say that one addiction cured may easily be replaced by another.
After leaving 'Judges' we repaired to the 'Killer Prawn' and were delighted to see Broad, Buttler, Bairstow, Hales and Dernbach enjoying a meal here, shortly afterwards joined by Giles, Thorpe, Saker and most of the England coaching team.
The England team had annexed this restaurant for the duration of their stay it seems, attracted no doubt by the large wooden logo over the bar, which simply read "KP".
As our beer count increased, we talked to some of the players, who were in a carefree mood, perhaps being thankful to escape from the confines of the January Indian tour.
I encountered Alex Hales in the gents having a pee, bringing back memories of SP and Matthew Hoggard in Mumbai, 2006.
We discussed India and Hales was greatly amused to hear about Five-O's crowd pleasing act at Calcutta when Tendulkar got out.
At this point I must issue an apology and retraction regarding Stuart Broad's bowling performance in the recent 2012 Mumbai Test.
Readers may remember my rather critical comments previously.
I asked Stuart Broad what had gone wrong in Mumbai and he explained that he had an infected intestine that only materialised on Day two of the Test - so under these circumstances, his listless performance in the rest of that game is understandable.
We also engaged with Bumble and Paul Allott, who were enjoying a gigantic prawn meal with Nick Knight, Mike Selvey and another journalist.
When the waiter brought Bumble and Allott large paper bibs to wear for their meal, I do not think they took too kindly to my banter request to "send for Matron" but nevertheless, after the meal, Bumble at least spent a bit of time talking with Lofty and myself.
Believe it or not Bumble and I use the same pension adviser in the money honeypot that is Accrington, Lancashire.
Bumble seemed very interested in Lofty's tax exile status on Guernsey and there was some discussion as to whether this tax-break heaven could be extended to Accrington.
He also shared with us his views of the abilities or otherwise of some of the other Sky commentators, and one of these was quite critical, to say the least.
A superb evening was capped off in 'Judges' with a few more beers, and we were given a lift back to our Motel by Ross, the pub owner.
What a truly fantasic day and night. As we have found out previously, sometimes these warm-up games offer a more intimate access to the players than any Test match.
The 6th of February is not a day I normally celebrate - quite the opposite in fact - but here in New Zealand it is a public holiday called Waitangi Day, celebrating the signing of the historic treaty between the British and the Maori. Most of the non-Maori people in the pub we talked to were pretty scathing about the whole affair - all the shops and most of the pubs ( not 'Judges'! ) will be closed and there is no public transport.
This particular Waitangi Day will also be remembered as the day Lofty officially gave up smoking - he puffed on his last fag in 'Judges' at 11pm last night and I expect him to be even grumpier than usual today. I saw what happened to Gene Hackman in 'French Connection 2' and am fearing the worst - does anyone know where to buy Hershey Bars in Whangarei?
A massive crowd turned up for the second warm up game and the atmosphere was great, similar to a Scarborough Festival type match I suspect.
"This is just so intinse!" exclaimed a young kiwi lad as Dernbach steamed in for the final over.
Unfortunately, due to some duff bowling and fielding by England, New Zealand won the game on the final ball.
Still, as it was their National Day, I think it was only right that we let them win one!
Down to Auckland next for when the serious stuff begins, until then...
Love, Midnight xxx