Home New Zealand 2019 A message to the Hamilton Tourist Board

A message to the Hamilton Tourist Board

by Midnight

Kia Ora all

Off up the Coromandel Peninsula again after the Mount Maunganui debacle, this time to the east, Whitianga. Sad to leave my hosts at the Seaside B & B, Bob and Marion, who felt like old friends after just a week at their place. Many thanks to you both for all your help – until we next visit the Mount!

Five-O had the first drive. We estimated that if by the time we reached Waihi we filled up, we would be able to insert forty dollars worth of petrol to take advantage of our Mobil Smiles Discount Card. As Five-O filled up and the pump stopped, a loud cry of “BASTARD!” told me that we had miscalculated. Only $37-98.

Somehow Five-O managed to drip the bill up to $40. Hooray, six cents off the petrol!

From there I took the wheel. I have stayed at our next venue before and to some degree have saved the best till last – Aqua Soleil Villas, Whitianga. A large, well equipped house literally across the road from a lovely bay with warm sea and spectacular sunrises.

From consulting various people at the cricket, we are by no means the only Brits to choose Whitianga as a option between Tests rather than spend more time than we need to in grotty Hamilton.

In vain I looked for a great little curry house enjoyed on a previous visit here in 2017.

It wasn’t there any more, and the waitress in the posh restaurant Five-O chose for the night, ‘Salt’, told me it had been closed down by Health and Safety for serving undercooked chicken.

A lucky escape two years ago, I thought, until the six oysters I had eaten at ‘Salt’ at 8pm came back for an encore two hours later. The sluices were well and truly opened at both ends by these slimy critters and this may be the last time that I stray from my staple steak pie / curry variant for the remainder of our trip!

Up early next morning and this time prepared with our cameras for the most wonderful sunrise over the headland to the east at around 6am. This also meant we got a headstart on the ‘normal’ tourists that don’t budge until after double bacon and egg, as there is such a lot to do and see here.

At 7.45am I dropped Five-O at the top of Cathedral Cove so he could do the cliff walk down to the spectacular beach and rock formations.

The silly sod took our non-contact car ignition key with him and by the time I realised, he was way down the path. I spent the next hour and a half babying the car around to stop the engine overheating – had I turned it off, we would have both been up Shit Cove and unable to drive.

Next stop, Hahei Beach, which is a stunning area of pristine sand with Koh Samui type rock formations out in the bay. A soaking up to the goolies by a breaker convinced me the water was not yet warm enough to swim, so we headed early to Hot Water Beach. This beach is quite novel. Dig a hole with a hired spade, watch it fill with water, then sit in there and sample the scalding results flowing from local thermal vents. Five-O had a great time at this, sharing his hole with a lonely Swiss guy like you do. When he came to get out I was unable to decide between lobster and beetroot but the colour was definitely red! Nigel and Helen called at Hot Water Beach during the low tide peak period slightly later than ourselves and Nigel’s toe now looks like a prop from ‘Hostel’ after inadvertent immersion in boiling hot water.

Our final trip of the day was supposed to be an hour long coastal path to the finest beach in New Zealand, Chums Bay. Wearing wet canvas shoes and sandals, we only made it half way along the rocky ‘path’ which most Sherpas in hiking gear would have baulked at, and which was probably sponsored by the local A & E.

During the first few hundred yards I managed to crack my head on an overhanging branch which for a few minutes at least, had me feeling dizzier than a hangover from a drinking session with Higgy.

“Fuck this!” was the joint statement as we aborted the mission!

Guts thankfully recovered, we enjoyed a great curry at Sangam later and I don’t suppose I will be able to persuade my local equivalent at home the Chutney Massala to put duck and apricot bhuna on the menu any time soon.

Five-O has been sending a great many postcards to the people in his life back in the UK, but I suspect the flow may be stemmed somewhat when we reach Hamilton.

An inland industrial/agricultural centre which has few, if any redeeming features.

Rumours have reached us that the Barmy Army have already arrived in Hamilton en masse, and have been gathered in their base pub, The Quadrant, since yesterday lunchtime. It is hard to be critical of their strategy in this place as there is literally fuck all else to do. This pub is a huge affair on a busy corner bedecked with England flags, looking like a branch of ‘Empire Reclaimed’.

I’m sure the redneck locals will be delighted with that!

Finally the day came to leave beautiful Whitianga. Up at 5.30am for another stunning sunrise, then off on the road. Once again, Five-O’s lady satnav came up trumps, guiding us along nice straight country lanes to avoid the war zone of road works around Paeroa and before we knew it we were strolling down Victoria Street into downtown Hamilton.

Spotting Beanhead sat outside a local hostelry, we decided to sample a few light ales with him and were soon joined by Harry from Cheltenham.

As we walked back up Ulster Street back to our motel at around 7pm, Five-O gave me his view so far:

“Well, Hamilton’s no Whitianga for sure but it seems all right so far Midnight, I can’t see why you have got such a downer on the place.”

Right on cue, a local idiot drove past at about 80kmph, dragging a yelping, screaming dog on a lead out of the passenger side window along the tarmac on its back for about a hundred yards before hauling it in as he turned right off the main road.

Five-O’s face was ashen. I think he’s getting it now.

In the morning. “I had nightmares about that poor dog, what kind of people could do that?” said Five-O. “The pricks that live here.” was my short but not so sweet reply.

On arrival at Seddon Park half the gates were shut, meaning we had to walk right round the ground to get in. On the way to the entrance, I met Scyld Berry, who was full of the joys of New Zealand spring.

“England have won the toss and put New Zealand in. Expect a good morning lads, the pitch looks green and lively.”

Upon entering the ground I read a long notice which, translated into the vernacular, meant:

“We haven’t sold many tickets for today so you can put your deck chairs etc where the fuck you like.”

In many ways, this situation illustrates the wisdom of many cricket fans in deciding not to travel to this fixture. Hamilton is anything but a tourist destination, and the cricket ground, whilst still having a nice aspect, has not moved with the times.

It is impossible to walk round the ground. An old scoreboard on the blink with no video screen and no DRS or other replays. Antiquated toilets – the ones at Derbyshire are superior.

Long queues at the bar and even longer ones if you want coffee, which in the morning many of our senior supporters prefer.

Play started and England didn’t take a wicket for half an hour until Jeet Raval, who isn’t very good in reality, nicked off. 16-1.

Williamson was a much more valuable scalp, caught in the slips by Root for just 4.

39 – 2. Some hope.

Conversation in our group turns to the Hundred. Nigel:

“Hey Five-O, can I see that Welsh Fire dragon tattoo that you’ve had done on your arm?”

“Is the dragon holding a pot of scrumpy and juggling apples with it’s tail?” I add.

Duncan, who (according to Five-O) can be a touch pedantic sometimes:

“But how are you going to work Gloucestershire into this?”

Five – O is not amused, and I think he will be mighty relieved when he picks up his hire car in the morning and heads down to Taupo.

After another days grind at the Test I am beginning to envy Five-O to some degree.

Tom Latham scored an impressive century, although he was dropped by Stokes on 66.

Batsmen were twice given out , and the decision overturned by the third umpire.

As we were unable to see the TV coverage in the ground, it was left to those returning from the pub to inform us that the call to overturn the Ross Taylor lbw was simply a piece of utter nonsense from Bruce Oxenford.

Technology improving elite sport? No. Just absolute bollocks.

Thankfully play was washed out just after tea with New Zealand on 173-3 and just 54 overs bowled.

The torrential rain appeared after a day’s baking hot sun as if in a biblical plague, and I cannot think of a nicer town in New Zealand to benefit from a biblical plague than Hamilton.

A quick trip down the Londoner for a pint or two with Five-O who is saying ta-ta to the lads he has met while indulging in his daily beers on the grass bank.

As I leave, I issue a friendly warning about the likelihood of Friday-night moodiness down town later.

This is pooh-poohed by a big guy at another table wearing a Barmy Army shirt.

“Wat’s fackin’ wrong wiv it den? Ah live dahn fackin’ Landan mate ahm fackin’ used to all dat!”

Ok big guy. You gah dahn dere latah den.

The police sirens have already started and its only 8.30pm. I’m off for a bit of peace and quiet in the motel.

The police sirens continued nearly all night, meaning precious little peace, quiet or sleep.

In the morning I have agreed to taxi Five-O to the local Avis to pick up his hire car for the journey to Taupo. As I motor round to his side of the motel, a group of young Polynesians are already partying in an adjacent unit. It is precisely 8.20am.

“Oh, those fuckers have been going at it all night” says Five-O. “And now they’re already on the piss again.”

Five-O might have joined them at some stage I fear, from the state he is in, and I hope Avis do not breathalise their customers before they let them drive off. When I ask about his night, all I get is:

“Well, we went for a Thai meal and it was very nice. But Duncan was pissed!”

After safely depositing Five-O at Avis, a walk to the cricket ground past fly-tipped rubbish piles and hallejuh, some of the criticisms yesterday have been acted upon. The entrance next to our stand, Gate D, is now open. Maybe Gandalf finally spoke the correct Elvish words during the night. There is coffee, ice cream and a bar just behind us as well now. The scoreboard has been jerked into life and is now showing replays.

Even on the pitch, things look up at first as Broad bowls Latham straight away and soon after, catches Nicholls in the deep off Sam Curran.

That’s the good news out of the way. The Barmy Army ‘Jerusalem’ opener was the most insipid I have ever heard, with the lack of interest and enthusiasm there for all to see and hear. Clearly, the BA are badly missing Billy Cooper and his trumpet.

After the first two wickets, BJ Watling and debutant Mitchell batted steadily till lunch then deep into the afternoon and put on 142 for the sixth wicket.

I chat briefly to Beanhead, who sampled Hamilton’s late Friday night downtown. It looks like I was wrong about the strong possibility of moodiness.

The only untoward thing that he saw was a group of local gang members gathering outside the Quadrant for a ‘ruck with the Poms’. They were forcibly and violently removed by the police, so no harm at all, there, then.

The main amusement in the afternoon during the long stand was watching Sam Curran, who was fielding right in front of us, deal with the hordes of kids both English and Kiwi who arrived every other over asking for things to be signed.

One grown-up kid (he was about 35) even arrived with a white cricket box to sign, and without knowing where this box had been, our Sam didn’t hesitate.

Curran managed to balance his marathon autograph stint with concentrating properly on events on the pitch. I suppose it helped that there weren’t any of the latter.

Someone should tell Jofra Archer that our substitute wicketkeeper, Ollie Pope, is only 5ft 9 in tall. Yet more wides and byes went sailing over his head for boundaries. The last thing we need or can afford. I dread to think how many byes we will concede bowling like this on the bouncier South African wickets. A long stop will be needed. Get a grip, Jofra!

Mercifully, BJ Watling was out last ball before tea but that wasn’t enough to keep me in the ground and I followed Nigel and Beanhead to the Hamilton Workingmen’s Club, which is a huge hangar-like bar in the middle of an industrial estate five minutes from the ground. How do the Barmy Army find these places?

The more canny, experienced BA lads were all there, in preference to the ‘official’ Barmy Army Headquarters and with a great beer choice at just $6-50 per ice cold pint it is little wonder.

Of course the Club had the obligatory big sports screens and although the cricket was on, the interest level seemed pretty low. New Zealand were finally bowled out for 375.

There were four wickets for Stuart Broad and I am pleased for him because he is the one bowler on this short tour who has consistently given his all, now with some reward to show for the effort.

As usual when England’s turn to bat came the pitch was doing all sorts. Sibley was worked over by the NZ quicks, being hit on the head, and then flush on his box – ouch , I don’t think he will be asking Sam Curran to sign that one – before getting out for 4. Denly was out for a similar score.

England finally laboured to 39-2 at the close thanks to a streaky 24 from Burns, who was dropped twice.

After quite a few pints, and a chat with Higgy and his Barmy Army pals, I returned knackered back to the motel with my opinion of Hamilton having improved a notch.

At least I now know where I will be going tomorrow for Sunday dinner.

Tonight’s Working Men’s Club meal was an excellent plate of ‘help yourself to as much as you can eat’ cottage pie and veg. On returning to our table with my serving, Big Graham, of ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight ‘ fame, said:

“That’s a LARGE plateful? I would have got twice as much cottage pie on that plate for my $20!”

Summoning up what remained of my enthusiasm I arrived on day three at 10.15am for a prompt start. At least, there is no rain on the radar today. Not that the forecast means much with the fickle weather in Hamilton.

A quiet start in the first session with Burns and Root accumulating. Burns looks the more fluent of the two, much better than the previous evening. Both go to fifty – and then Burns converts to a century – at last something to cheer!

During the afternoon Burns is given out to a marginal run out call by Oxenford off what was, let’s face it, a silly second run. This brings Stokes to the crease and he is hitting it well. Nearly all his runs come off boundaries until sadly for the England cause, he is caught in the slips for 26.

Captain Root meanwhile has plodded on at the other end to record his first Test century in Australasia, and his slowest thus far. Never mind, this is what both he and the team needed and hopefully he has got himself into some kind of nick for South Africa on this docile pitch.

Zak Crawley comes to the crease. Although he is 21, the baby-faced Crawley looks more like 16 up close, at 6ft 5in that would probably make him the tallest teenager ever to bat number 6 for England.

Not a brilliant debut. He pushes a risky single to get off the mark and is almost run out, saved only by a full length dive. His sixth ball in Test cricket results in his downfall, caught behind off the pugnacious Wagner.

Close of play – 269 for 5, suggesting an interesting day tomorrow. Root will need to shepherd the younger lads carefully if we are to lead New Zealand.

Off to the Working Mens Club and tonight there is a carvery, at least for some. Big Graham arrives later than the others, and everyone looks askance when he returns grim-faced from the restaurant section with a plate of cheesy pasta.

“They’ve sold out of meat! You greedy fuckers have eaten all the carvery!”

Ha, ha, ha!

Day four found me sitting at the top of the stand in order to obtain shade, mainly in the company of Beanhead, Posh Margaret, Richard, Sharon and a travelling fan called Gus, who immediately signed up for the Addis Army newsletter. He was being bothered by a persistent bee, which kept returning to land on his blue shirt – I explained that Lofty had suffered in a similar way in New Zealand in the past, and if he trawled through the Addis tour diary archive the remedy would be found. It was only an hour later that Gus revealed he had showered with Manuka Honey bath gel.

A walk round the bank found Higgy, actually in the ground for once – well, it was only 11am. It looked like the rest of the Barmy Army had bedecked him in tinsel to celebrate.

The morning was all England, in fact all Joe Root. He recorded his third Test double century and in doing so made the highest ever individual Test score at Seddon Park. No wickets fell before lunch and as the score accelerated during the afternoon, one silly bugger (me) was even talking about a 200 lead declaration, with the ‘firepower’ of Curran, Woakes, Archer and Broad to come.

Once Root holed out trying to hit a legside six, the ‘firepower’ proved as effective as a soggy box of matches. Woakes nicked off for nought, Archer was clean bowled after one huge slog for six, and Broad added to his quickly growing string of Cantonese ducks. Having four balls of Wagner’s over to survive, he was bowled by the final one, leaving Curran stranded at the non strikers end. Five wickets for Wagner.

All of which left England with a lead of 101.

We all predicted Jeet ‘not very good’ Raval would be the first NZ wicket, but his mode of dismissal was rather odd.

Out lbw without requesting a review, despite having hit it.

Richard explained thus:

“Well, he probably decided to save us all some time. He would have been out in the next ten minutes anyway!”

Yorkshiremen have long memories when it comes to non performing overseas players!

Despite Latham being well caught in the slips, Taylor and Williamson survived a tricky last 90 minutes to bring the scores virtually level and all money is now on the draw.

Day five got off to a low key start with the players probably aware of the approaching storm.

Sat next to me today, a Blue Mancunian called Alastair, who remembered me from my last tour of India, Calcutta 2012: “Yeah, we were going to watch the Manchester Derby together in the pub, but you were indisposed!”

‘Indisposed’ being a polite way of saying Fireball XL5 was taking off for Delhi via my intestines, which reminds me I must thank Five-O personally for his superb choice of Calcutta restaurant that made me ill in 2012. Combined with the Five-O ‘Salt’ experience in Whitianga, maybe I should also check whether Five-O holds any insurance policies on my life.

Alastair and Beanhead were out on the town with Higgy and Big Graham last night in the Casino, and Higgy’s time of departure was officially recorded at 4am. Higgy therefore wins the Addis Army New Zealand Tour 2019 prize for consistent liver abuse.

The cricket team might have been doing a bit of crafty night crawling as well, judging by the morning’s fielding. Pope dropped a chance behind the stumps. Denly dropped a sitter off a disconsolate Archer that Posh Margaret said she could have pouched. All the while, the dark clouds were massing to the south-west.

Torrential rain finally arrived just after lunch allowing Taylor and Williamson just enough time to complete centuries. The wicket remained docile to the last, so not playing a full time spinner didn’t hurt England in the final analysis. An honourable draw.

So that’s it for another tour. I will be kind to Hamilton for once and say only that there are hundreds of places in New Zealand that offer a much more pleasant stay.

The cricket has not been of the best, but in the second Test we have at least seen an improvement and I hope this carries on towards South Africa.

Thanks to all the lovely people mentioned in the diaries who have made this a wonderful, memorable tour, especially Five-O for his great company, but not great choice of restaurants!

Regards

Midnight

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