Grounds for optimism?

Essex v Kent – Bob Willis Trophy – Aug 1, 2020

Saturday August 1, 2020 marks the start of the County Cricket season of first class cricket in England…close to 200 days later than planned; and we all know the reason why!

As ever, the start of the cricket season is one of optimism and excitement – the restoration of life as we know it but not quite today. The County Championship has been cancelled this year and replaced by the Bob Willis Trophy (perhaps a format for the future and one Bob often discussed or proposed at length!). Three ‘conferences’ of six teams, each playing each other once with the top two teams (from three conferences…yes, I can’t work it out either) contesting a final at Lord’s in late September/early October (should be interesting in terms of temperature and hours of daylight!) but we cricket followers know this.

Two games were due to be pilots for wider opening of sports venues and I was lucky to get a ticket for Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval but the pilot was withdrawn just under 24 hours before the start…so the match, like all the others would be played behind closed doors. Optimism and excitement dashed before we even start! But I had a plan to see some live cricket this season.

All of Essex’s games are behind closed doors but there could be a chance of glimpsing something from the top floor of the multi-storey car park across the dual carriageway which passes the ground. How much could I see and would it start a trend? How many other Essex members or cricket ‘nuts’ would gather in a car park to watch cricket from a distance? Would any be tempted to climb the parapet and end it all if it got too much? No worries on that score – the City Council have made the top floor jump-proof!

Taking a few long lens photos helped a bit but it wasn’t until I come to review them in relative comfort that I realise what’s going on – hardly ideal but better than the other prospect of seeing nothing at all this season which seemed likely at one stage during the Spring and early Summer.

So, apart from the ‘this is the closest you can get view’ at the start of this blog, here’s a couple of close ups of Jamie Porter in full flight and flow – it’s almost as if nothing has changed!

Porter on the point of delivery – have no idea who the batsman is as he’s out of sight!
And here, next ball, in full flight – literally!

And it gave me food for thought…what other grounds could offer this ‘free but very restricted’ view and feel for a match? I’ve watched cricket on many grounds – ranging from the splendour of the Lord’s Pavilion to the delightful local ‘ovals’ in Australia – but where could you find a space or two to watch a ‘behind closed doors’ match?

The one which springs to mind is from the top of the Old Fort in Galle (as experienced by the BBC several tours ago and the Barmy Army in 2018 – each for reasons we all know) but you’re so far away everyone is so small and the basics of the game (the score, current batsman and bowler etc) are at best guesses and as for the nuances of play…well, that’s not what you can expect!

Here are a few shots of other grounds from afar – fortunately for me, no play was in progress or planned when I took these photos!

The SCG (on the right) from the Sydney tower – not that you can see what’s happening!
Mount Manganui ground from Mount Manganui – again you wouldn’t see much!
Seating at the Old Fort, Galle
And just how close you are to the action!

But for all this, it’s been a great effort by all concerned to get the first class trophy up and running as it is and to provide as good remote access and information as possible.

There are grounds for optimism – The Oval, Arundel, Edgbaston, Bristol, Taunton, Trent Bridge, Riverside, New Road, Hove and ‘Fortress’ Chelmsford – to name a few but can we hope that the optimism the ‘new’ season brings can spread to other aspects of life as soon as we can.

So, if you hear of a cricket ‘nut’ on the top of a multi-storey car park trying to watch the match…he’s just renewing his love of the game and trying to bring some sense of ‘normal’ back to his life!

‘New normal’ watching – Eng v WI 1st Test

It’s been a while since I posted anything since this blog covers my travels and live cricket watching – neither of which have been possible in lockdown. By now you should have been regaled with up to 37 days of my blogging on County and Test cricket in England – to say nothing of the two tests (and a sneak at the MCC v Essex game) in Sri Lanka in March which went for a Burton too! But life is slowly returning to a new normal and we’ve had live cricket!

Ok, it’s behind closed doors in a bio-secure bubble and only TV or radio to convey pictures – actual and those from words respectively, but anything is better than nothing, re-runs of old matches and series on TV or radio, or whatever.

And it was clear from the first couple of days that I was about as match-fit as the rest – players, umpires and the press – lockdown was the longest period since WW2 without cricket and it showed. It took time to settle into the routine, watching and listening; planning when to get drinks, lunch etc – the ‘normal’ of lockdown routines had become too embedded and this new ‘normal’ would take time to settle down.

But it didn’t take long! The annoying commentators (or rather the ones I find annoying!) soon began to grate with (what I regard) their inanities, attempts at humour, lack of the wider perspective and so forth – but I didn’t need a long innings to resurrect the custom of shouting at the TV or radio! Generally they talk sense, with style and expertise but some are just too ridiculous for words! But then other listeners/viewers like them – the old adage of trying to please everyone I suppose!

Clearly I just needed net practice! But wasn’t helped by the hokey-cokey cricket of the first day (and less so on the second) and once the rhythm came back, it was as if it had never stopped! Everyone is able to captain a side better than the job-holder and with social media we’re all experts/opinion holders – so here’s my take.

Gratitude and thanks should know no bounds for the WI squad – how many Brits would have had the courage to visit a country with a higher risk of catching the virus when you could stay at home with less risk?

Everyone was rusty – the local umpires especially – but also the English selectors who seem to have misread the pitch and the weather for the early part of the match; WI showed England how to exploit English conditions, bowling with intelligence and skill unlike the English ‘super-quicks’ who thought short pitched and bouncers were the way (1 for 135 in the first innings…says it all!).

Would Broad have done any better? If you believe his publicity and ego he could have done everything single-handed! In terms of self-belief he’s up there with Boycott, Pietersen and a few others! Cricket is a team game and I’m surprised the ECB allowed him off their normal tight rein!

England seemed not to have learnt from the Windies quicks when it was their turn and really let the batsmen get away from them – the pitch was inconsistent but if you persevered as the weather improved, so did the pitch as it dried out and became more batting-friendly! To his credit, Stokes was an excellent deputy for captain Root (albeit that he had to almost single-handedly be the best batsman and bowler early on!); he didn’t seem to put a foot wrong other than the policy of the super-quicks (inherited from Root it seems!).

As the weather improved, so did the pitch and the watching rhythms (practice does make perfect!). Batting became easier and the Windies bowling could not repeat its success of the first innings – albeit they held their discipline early on in England’s second innings – but it began to get away from them as the day progressed. I was expecting an England collapse at some point on Day 4 and I wasn’t disappointed – it just came at the end of the day when I was expecting Sibley, Denly and Crawley to go quite cheaply but it was the lower middle order which collapsed this time. So, the match was set up nicely for Day 5 with all four results possible.

Incidentally, my lockdown research shows that test matches over the last 15 months, on average lasted 70% of their allotted time/overs – so matches getting into the end of Day 4 and into Day 5 are rare! I know I need to get out more but couldn’t in lockdown! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

So what does hindsight tell us? The English super-quicks weren’t as impressive as they should have been; Windies had more incidents of loss of pressure/focus; bursts of wickets emanating from ‘this is a new ball pitch’ – all clearly expounded and discussed by ‘experts’ professional and otherwise but an intriguing game nonetheless – the balance swinging frequently.

What are the changes for Thursday? – Root for Denly (sorry but your time’s up), Foakes for Buttler and Broad or Woakes for…? And as I’ve blogged before, we could have Stokes, Woakes and Foakes all in the England team at the same time! When was the last time we had three rhyming surnames in the same eleven? 

The differences of ‘bio-secure’ cricket are quite stark – no crowd noise or reaction is I suppose the most noticeable; the beer snakes, fancy dress and inane chanting/shouting are things I don’t miss! But the intensity of Test cricket is still there! This was some match from ball one!

And it’s only a matter of time before someone says ‘we lost because there was no crowd to cheer us on’ – if you need the crowd to inspire you when you play for your country, I suggest you look at the three lions on your chest and count the hundreds of thousands of people who would gladly take your place (if only we had the talent!)

So…I’m back in rhythm and am match fit, ready for the next five Tests of this summer and any other live cricket – but it will be interesting to see how socially distanced live watching will be – if I see any at all this season!

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Socially distanced cricket watching (2019) – before it was fashionable!

What am I to do in lockdown?

Life in lockdown for a ‘self-employed cricket watcher’ – in other words a ‘retired oldie who’s off to watch cricket wherever and whenever he can!’ What am I to do?

By this point in the 2020 season I should have watched a maximum of 10 days first class cricket spread between Lord’s, The Oval and Chelmsford and the prospect of loads more before the crash/bang/wallop stuff starts later on.

Also by this time I should have tried out my new battery powered heated bodywarmer, my (new) Kiwi beanie hat (I’ve promised to wear it in the Pavilion at Lord’s – seems you’re not allowed them at the Adelaide Oval!), retrieved my winter coat from its Spring hideout, plus gloves and scarves and packed my poncho just to be safe as the weather would take a distinctly cold turn as the cricket season starts – but this year no! We’re heading for the warmest and driest April on record/since time began. Sun-screen would have been the order of the day!

What are the odds that as soon as the cricket season does start, we’ll have the wettest and coldest July and August on record? With talk of the season being extended in October – assuming social distancing/bio-security allows – I reckon my beanie and poncho will be overused!

Incidentally, social distancing is nothing new for County Cricket watchers – you’re probably 10 metres from the nearest other spectator anyway!

So…what to do? Well, like most other people I’ve communicated with…we’ve collectively spring cleaned our houses to within an inch of their lives, prepared the garden as never before and so early in the year before, started DIY but then had to leave it as you needed more paint/brushes/paper/tools etc and DIY stores are not ‘essential’ (but it seems that they are self-proclaiming themselves as essential at the moment). Unfinished DIY doesn’t matter as no one is coming round to see you anytime soon!

The only ‘refurbishing’ is to make sure that the background in any video call or conference you do looks either as plain as possible, or has all the erudite books on display (admit it…you’ve read none of them!) and that the alcohol is out of sight! And you need to make sure you’re properly dressed and know how to ‘mute’ your microphone!

And then there’s your daily exercise! Given the obesity levels in the UK have done nothing for our general health, it’s surprising how much exercise is now being done by those who’ve never seen the outside of a house/car before!

And the constant worry is ‘am I over the time limit allowed? Will I be reported?’ – all very ‘1984’ stuff but at least Orwell was right – the animals are beginning to take over parts of the urban areas that used to be theirs! At least it’s a reminder that we’re all equal!

My exercise of choice for many years has been cycling – and yes, I’m one of the legion of mamils crowding the streets or more likely the lanes of Essex as we speed along; each of us thinking we’re Tour de France winners or Olympic champions as we squeeze every each ounce into what is ever-shrinking lyrca! I’m telling myself that muscle weighs more than fat!

And increasingly during these times, it seems there’s an unwritten code of conduct between cyclists as more take to this as a form of exercise. Mamils will not acknowledge any cyclist without a crash helmet; those wearing helmets earn a smile but no more; those in lycra earn different acknowledgements (and these come naturally after you’ve learnt the ‘laws’) – novices do a (hands off the handle bar) wave, the more experienced  nod as you speed along and the true experts wiggle the fingers of the right hand (in other words…I’m too busy and much faster than you to be bothered with anything else but I’ll acknowledge you anyway). I imagine secret societies may have similar idiosyncrasies! All strange stuff! But let’s hope that we do learn from this lockdown and we all do more exercise and we get fitter as a nation!

But what about cricket I hear you ask? Well, there’s loads to watch on TV if you’re still paying your sub…but that doesn’t compare to the real thing. Simulation games abound – I’ve mislaid my ‘Owzthat’ from my childhood – so what am I to do? The Times today has published an alternative using books and authors and imaginary teams. I’ve tried it and I can safely say that (here) Middlesex are 94-3 at lunch on Day 1 against Derbyshire. If only!

My cricket reading has been voracious – I’ve never read so many pages of the latest Wisden so early in the season – I could be on for 1,000 pages by the end of May! And I learn from the latest Surrey members handbook that Aiden Markram is the only test cricketer whose name is a palindrome! All useful/useless stuff should I ever enter MasterMind or Millionaire!

I must dig out my copy of CLR James Beyond a Boundary since I need to move on beyond cricket for a while. New hobbies and skills? Well, I’ve started to learn how to do some trick photography and with the legion of photos I’ve already got, some fun could be had!

Already I’ve photographed a light bulb that needs no power, turned a ring into a heart, managed to photo my hand inside my laptop and been amazed at how water can turn straight lines into curves.

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IMG_3069 (Edited)

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Perhaps I need to get out more? Yes please!  But in the interim, it’s time for the afternoon session of the (imaginary) Middlesex/Derbyshire game!

 

 

There will be cricket again…always look on the bright side!

The aim of my blogging has always been twofold – firstly to comment on my cricket watching and secondly to share a few tourist photos from my various travels.

Clearly neither of these is happening now or fairly soon. So, what to do? Rehashing old photos may bring back memories (but we’ve been there before) and there are only so many photos of my garden I can take whilst in lockdown!

NZ v E 2019 Mt Tauranga Raval just fails to catch Burns

So, for today…some thoughts on where we are and some trick photos I’ve taken recently (seems this could develop into a hobby during lockdown and beyond!).

Last weekend the nation’s granny (or great-granny) spoke directly to her ‘people’ here and across the world and reminded everyone that we ‘will meet again’  – and so we shall and there will be cricket again! (She didn’t say that last bit – she wanted to but there wasn’t time!)

For me there are two days in the year which are more special than any others – birthdays, anniversaries and so forth – and they both fall in April (usually!). And this year will be more poignant than most.

First there is the arrival of the new Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack with its pristine saffron cover – and the chance to revisit and remember the exploits of last season, read the biogs of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year, the fortunes of the game across both here and across the world  (and why didn’t my photo win the annual ‘Photograph of the Year’?) and so forth in its 1500-plus pages. Sheer bliss!

Then…just a matter of days later, the first class season begins in earnest.

You just know that the weather will now take a turn for the worse, it will get colder and windier and you’ll freeze to death in the biting cold wind that rushes through the gaps in the ground and however well you wrap up against the elements, it will still feel like November in the Arctic! (I defy anyone to find a colder place in April/May than the top of the Lord’s pavilion but am open to suggestions!).

So today I should have negotiated the (probable) rail replacement bus service and rocked up to Lord’s for Middlesex v Worcestershire – the eager anticipation of the first ball of the season – will it be Finn, Roland-Jones or Murtagh to carve their way through the Worcester top order like a Sunday roast or will it be Gubbins or Robson to claim the first century of the Middlesex summer – or will they collapse like the proverbial pack of cards? Have they wintered well? Have things changed? Have we turned a corner? All questions to scramble the mind as 11.00 am approaches – but no!

Not this year…or rather not quite yet!

What will the season be like? At some point, club cricketers and others will be searching for the kit they so loving packed away last Autumn and asking themselves the same questions they ask – literally or metaphorically each year. Where did I put my kit? Do I need a new bat? How about pads/boots/whites? (I’m sure these whites have shrunk during the winter!) And – and it comes to everyone – ‘Should I make this my last season? (“Well, you said that last year didn’t you?” comes the reply from the voice in your head).

And you’ve been looking forward to these days since the end of last season, counting the weeks and days until life and sanity are restored but this year we just need to count for a bit longer – how much longer? Who knows?

We cricket lovers can take solace in that we are not alone – every sport has been closed down, half the people on the planet are in some kind of ‘enforced quarantine’ – and we all now appreciate how large a role in our lives sport plays – all sport plays. But it will return and the ache that we feel now of having such a large part of our ‘daily lives/routines’ ripped away from us will subside.

So, we need to keep believing that life will soon be restored to normal, the sun will shine (at some point in June, July or August but not for long!), cricketers of all ages and abilities will soon be crossing the boundary ropes, spectators will gather in numbers from dozens to tens of thousands, the camaraderie of the season will come back even stronger than before as we each become more forgiving (even when you drop a sitter which would have won you the match!) and thankful for each other and, of course, remembering those we have known who didn’t make it to the start of the season for whatever reason.

It won’t be long now – just hang in there! There’s light at the end of the tunnel as you can see below!

If water does this to straight lines, what does it do when we drink it?

At the moment everything seems out of focus, upside down, you’re not quite sure what you’re seeing or hearing or experiencing – just like a trick photo?

 

And water can turn diagonal lines into horizontal ones!

The light at the end of the tunnel!

The things you see!

In these troubled and worrying days, I’ve been trying to cheer everyone (and myself) up in looking on the bright side – the signs of Spring, even on the dullest of days and so forth. And whilst feedback has been positive in the main, there is a risk that this blog turns into “Gardeners World” or “Flowers we have loved” but this blog is about cricket and travel – and neither are going to be possible for some time as yet so…what do I do?

As an advanced practitioner of social distancing (County Championship followers have been doing it for years!), I’m taking the opportunity of the current sd requirement to look back through my photographs and to try and find the ‘odd’ or ‘unusual’ or the photo or two which didn’t make it to the original post – either because I had too much to say (Editors comment…surely not!) or there were better and more apt photos.

So, here are a few snaps looking at the crowd reaction to the action (or not). And it’s surprising what you see if you look close enough!

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It’s not often that leprechauns have been spotted at Lord’s but 2019 saw the first England v Ireland test at Lord’s (and was it hot! Remember those 37C degree days?) and, in essence, no one took too much notice of him! Just look at what some in the crowd are doing – and the guy holding his nose?

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The latest in head-wear from New Zealand?

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Again, the latest in Kiwi fashion

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The sheer intensity from the Essex faithful at ‘Fortress’ Chelmsford!

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition (young readers search ‘Monty Python’).

Royal London one day cup final 2019. A stunning catch on the boundary and ‘the crowd go…’ Well, some do, some don’t!

Crowd humour – Aussie style, Sydney 2018

In amongst the Barmies 2019

Even royals turn up for the Ashes! Brissie…2017

And finally…

Championship cricket can get just too intense to watch! Either sleep through it, go on your mobile or simply hide! Essex v Hampshire 2019

There were always going to be ducks today

Today should have been the first day of the first test in Galle, Sri Lanka. And at any cricket match there are always ducks by one or more batsmen. So today’s countryside walk was lucky in finding a couple!

But there’s more to see and photograph than you think…and there’s s lot more colour around you than you think. So here’s a few snaps of some colourful things I came across on another day of depressing news.

To help everyone cheer up….

And finally…it looks a little damp from this end of the pitch!

There is life beyond the C-word!

My plans all along were to start writing my blog from today showing some of the tourist delights of Southern Sri Lanka before moving on to some cricket later this week. But they have been blown away, so I’ve turned today to life beyond the C-word!

I know my reader was very keen to see more tourist snaps of warm, sunny climes and the delights of Sri Lanka – to say nothing of the cricket – but hopefully my new approach will keep my reader happy!

With no sport to follow now and for the foreseeable future, priorities have had to change and whilst the risk of self-isolation increases, I’m taking the opportunity to keep my exercise regime in place (if not enhanced…since in self-isolation, cycling is still allowed – at the moment) and to intersperse that with long country walks (again keeping distance from others – except dogs it seems!). Indulging in a little photography will also help and will help keep my reader entertained!

The photos may be centred in sunny Essex but today’s expedition shows that Spring is in the air, life is still going on and nature is taking her course.

So…a few sights of Spring, no media hype or feeding frenzy, no panic-demic warnings of the end of civilisation as we know it…just Mother Nature telling us that’s all’s well – just take a few minutes to sit back, peruse and enjoy! And if my plans go according to plan, there will be similar offerings in the coming days and weeks (if not months) as I wait for the cricket season to start!

 

Practicing self-isolating!

Buds are shooting!

Yes – a ladybird (or Bishee Barnaby as I knew it when I was growing up!) in March!

Collection of fallen trees – looks more poignant in monochrome!

Stripped bark

May flowers are out!

How does it cling on?

Even at an exposure of 1/4000th of a second, the wings are a blur!

Spring colours!

 

Did you miss me?

Did you miss me over the past few weeks?

Well, I’m back but I’m going!

I’m back blogging as I’m going to Sri Lanka next week for a bit of tourist time, two tests and hopefully sight of the MCC v Essex game in Galle which can only mean that Spring is almost here, Summer not far behind and equilibrium restored to the northern hemisphere in the arrival of the cricket season! Did I mention that Essex are the champion county?

What bliss! Brexit, Covid19 (what happened to Covids 1 to 18?), floods and all the other gloom and doom perpetuated by the non-stop screaming media consigned to the back burner whilst civilisation is renewed and restored!

So, you may ask what have I been up to?

As well as self-isolating with man-flu in January for a week or so and before it became fashionable, the health service has been interested in what goes into my body, what comes out, my heart, my bone strength…to say nothing of my dentist having some fun with my teeth. It’s all prevention and not cure which is reassuring!

My voluntary/charity work has had a change of focus…much more towards pure trusteeship rather than hands on/operational trusteeship. Much better and less stress!

I’ve been squeezing myself into my winter Lycra and cycling the lanes of Essex when the weather has been kind and generally keeping fit and healthy. And I’m still one of the youngest of all those I meet clad in their Lycra!

And…there’s been a bit of cricket to follow on the box, so life’s been quite civilised!

What do the next few weeks bring? Warm if not hot, weather, test cricket, more tourist sites and experiences to have and the prospect of a new cricket season when I return…although by then sporting events in the U.K. may well be cancelled and ‘old folk’ not allowed out – all I say is ‘never upset those with the grey pound’ – their retribution will be long and painful!

And to whet the appetite – a few photos from SL which didn’t make it to the 2018 blogs!

‘Proper’ tourist stuff starts next week!

Ps…those of you who’ve ever had man flu will know that self-isolation is the best cure and respite from the pain!

Thoughts from abroad – Kiwi style!

This is my last blog of my latest Southern Hemisphere journey. The next planned is Sri Lanka in March 2020 but who knows…?

I have had the MOST marvellous and wondrous time over the last six weeks or so. The people I’ve met in Oz and in NZ be they friends, rellies, fellow cricket nuts – old and new – or hoteliers, shopkeepers and restaurant teams, they have each and everyone of them made me feel welcome (after all it’s a bloody long way from anywhere) and some have even taken pity of a confused Pom as I wandered about clearly looking bewildered!

The welcome everywhere has been fantastic, the scenery and views just amazing and ever changing with each corner but what has impressed me the most is the warmth of the human spirit. Things can be done with the right attitude and being away from Brexit and the GE has been so refreshing as the U.K. seems to have spent since time began gazing at its navel and getting increasingly bitter and annoying with each passing hour. There is a lovely world out there – we Brits need to stop our infighting, decide what we want to do and get out there!

What’s impressed me about NZ is a range of things – it’s no longer the ‘UK in the 1950s’ which seemed to be a prevalent view some time ago. It’s not as fast as it’s Aussie cousin but it knows what it wants. Tourism and agriculture are the big things here; environmental issues and first-nation concerns are also important but there seems to be less of a disconnect between Maori people and the ‘interlopers’. But that may just be me and my impression.

On the lighter side, everything seems to close down early in the evening – it’s not been unusual for a pub to close or take last orders at 9.00 pm but if anyone wants to carry on, then it’s ok – for a little while anyway! Early closing hasn’t helped my liver – the range of beers here is astounding and the wines are great so, my liver could do with a rest!

Incidentally, shopping trolleys are called trundlers, skimmed milk is trim milk (couldn’t find any semi-skimmed), roads are sealed and not tarmac’d, a dairy is a local shop, a superette a small supermarket not much larger than a dairy.

An off-licence is a ‘Bottle-o’, spring water – natural water (as opposed to artificial) and hot dogs come on sticks with no bread roll!

In the past three weeks or so, I’ve seen the most wonderful scenery, natural phenomena, been processed like a tourist but also been off the beaten track – walking up mountains/hills, falling over on the flat bits, conquered my irrational fear of infrastructure held up by ‘string’, thrown myself down a tourist luge track over a dozen times, seen two tests – ok, the cricket was not the ‘crash bang wallop’ of what tests have become but more true to the meaning of the word ‘test’ – a test of character, skills, application, tenacity, method, technique, strategy and that’s just the spectators! And also watched long periods from grassy banks with the most stunning views (well, not perhaps in Hamilton – a city I would venture, put together at a town planners Christmas party when everyone had been at the sherry! I’m not impressed)

As in Oz, the approach to cricket is more relaxed than in England; it’s more family orientated, a much more relaxed experience overall and everyone – including the stewards – was most welcoming! Ok, there’s space to make cricket watching such an event but they have their stadia too! But it seems so much more pleasant.

So what’s the best bit I can hear my readers ask (well done, if you’ve reached this point)? Well, the answer is…come and see for yourself and you can decide!

I’ve taken over 2,000 photos on this trip so I hope the selection which follows gives a flavour of NZ and if I invite you round to see my holiday snaps and to talk about each one…I understand if you have a life!