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!

All according to plan – Day 5, NZ v E

And so, the end is near…the final days play on this tour and heading back to the UK tomorrow.

Rain is forecast for most of the afternoon so England need lots of quick wickets if they’re to force a win. As I write on the approach to lunch, that hasn’t happened and nor has the forecast rain (yet). NZ reach 201/2 with Taylor 82 and Williamson 88. And the prospect of a wicket looks remote. Taylor and Williamson both exude class – the latter just has so much time. He’s a pleasure to watch and to travel the world to do so.

If the match peters out into a draw then England can look at two errors – not selecting a front line spinner and not batting when they won the toss. It would have given them a better chance but I suspect the pitch would have still come out on top.

Both pitches in NZ have been too dry and favoured batting too much but we are where we are but it was down to both sides to make something of it and NZ clearly did!

Five overs after lunch see both batsmen make their centuries – Root really bowled some filth to Taylor who dispatched him with disdain. The promised storm then came and washed the game away at 241/2 – eventually called off but as I write this (nominally in the last session but back at the hotel near the ground) its a fine sunny afternoon- but that’s life!

So…to conclude a few action shots from the morning session whilst I’ve time tomorrow and on the flight back home to compose a retrospective blog of the NZ part of the tour.

It’s a shame the match petered out but that’s the game!

Broad bowling from beside the wicket! New approach!

Stokes brings up some dust

This made their day! This has been a feature of both sides in the field every day – just connecting with the fans to make them feel ‘special’

And some question my fashion sense

Cloudy from ball one today

NZ v E Day 4 – the things you see!

There’s always things to see at a cricket match; be it the latest fashion, an interloper or even a spectator scoring. This is often a joy, is where art meets science – the art in a neat scoresheet, the science in the maths. Those who can do both are a rare breed.

Art or science or both?

Kiwi haute couture

Kiwi head gear

Spot the interloper

A morning of class – pure class from Pope and Root. Ok, it’s not the prime Kiwi attack and they didn’t look like taking a wicket but nonetheless you can only play the team presented.

Root progressed like a ship in full sail to 178 at lunch, Pope follows with 46 as England gain a lead of 4 off 138 overs.

The game is heading for a draw as rain is forecast for most of tomorrow but nonetheless the cricket is gripping. If anything, to my mind Pope is the classier player of the two!

From Root, pure class rather than graft as yesterday was but still as enjoyable. When I think about it, how lucky am I to be able to live the dream of test cricket in NZ…just unbelievable

Manhood practicing at lunch time. Looks a bit quick!

Drinks mid afternoon see England at 435/5 Pope 66 and Root 214 – the best individual test score ever at Seddon Park. Looking at the pitch at lunch, we could still be here in a weeks time and still no result. There’s nothing in the pitch to suggest otherwise.

Celebrating a double hundred

Slightly tangled up in a reverse sweep

Kiwi bowling is about as effective as England’s was but the scoring rate is increasing – a lead of 60 and with a bit of oomph could be 130/150 at tea which could cause some Kiwi embarrassment. Rain is forecast for tomorrow at about this time so England need to force the pace to stand any chance of winning.

Tea arrives with the departure of Broad and a total of 476 – lead of 101; Wagner 5/124 after (1 for probably a lot). England lose 5/21 in trying to set a decent target to put pressure on the Kiwis. If England can get among them by the end of the day…?

In forcing the pace, Pope goes for 75, Root 226 and the rest fold. The prospect of a result has increased but draw must still be the likely result.

After losing two quick wickets Williamson and Taylor restore order and by the end of the day are almost level. These two are sheer class too – NZ will need some succession planning!

Bouncers still fly tho’

The forecast infers a draw but…a few quick wickets tomorrow morning, a small score to chase before it rains? Who knows? What I do know is that there’ll be things to see!

SPOTY?

Pope – doing a creditable job as stand in keeper

Tons for Burns and Root – 2nd test 3rd day NZ v E

Sunday dawned a fresher day than of late; warm early summer sunshine but a stronger breeze to reduce heat levels.

Another early start to catch up for the overs lost on Friday see England progress to 113/2 after 90 minutes – Burns reaching his 50 and Root nears his.

The locals are turning up in good numbers and with the touring parties, there’s a good crowd.

Kiwi haute couture not seen since the days of Bubbles de Vere

This is an ‘engine room’ session for England – build the foundation for power later on whilst NZ need to take wickets to sink the England boat. The track looks flatter and flatter and a Kiwi pundit call of England making 600 looks ridiculous but you never know.

Lunch 142/2 – Root 50 Burns 76 partnership 118; off 53 overs. Has all the hallmarks of a one innings ‘shoot out’ on day 5 if weather allows. Both look well set; Root needs to convert to silence critics, pitch looks close up v flat; indentation as expected.

Ask 100 people to stand in a field and watch grass grow…their reaction would be?

NZ bowlers struggling this morning as England did. All they need to do is draw to take the series!

By mid-afternoon, I’m annoyed- in fact very annoyed. I’ve travelled half way round the world to watch cricket and this afternoon session has seen Joe Root take a drink at 2.20pm, we had drinks at 2.40pm he then had another at 3.00pm and now it’s 3.30pm he’s had another and tea is 10 minutes away. If I’d wanted to watch people drink I’d have gone to the pub! And the umpires do nothing! If I’m shortchanged of overs at the end of the day…then Root owes everyone here a drink!

In the interim we’ve seen some fine strokes by Burns – cuts and drives a delight – and some gritty batting by Root as he reaches the 80s before tea. Burns went for 101 after an endless deliberation by the 3rd umpire and excellent fielding by NZ. England reach 215/3 as tea approaches.

Rory reaches his 100

Stokes goes for 26 and Crawley for 1 (v nervous) as England reach 266/5 at drinks. Root is 113no – not one of his finest innings but one of grit and grind and should help silence his critics for a while. However he still needed drinks at 4.45 pm, 4.50 pm and again now! Everyone was waiting each time just for him – this is not acceptable!

Creepy’s first ball!

Increasing cloud cover and a chill in the air all add to the Englishness of the situation.

Lights have just been switched on…we should get through the day! But no…as soon as the lights are on, it starts to rain (not forecast) and after 30 minutes or so, play for the day is abandoned with England 269/5 – 106 behind.

Draw seems most likely but who knows?

And finally…some action shots:

Kiwi bowling efforts

One of Root’s best shots

Mitchell and Santner…first ever in 140+ years of test cricket?

Today’s a day when pictures speak louder than words since, in essence, England were dire and NZ did what they had to do and are dominating this match.

What I hoped would happen did in that Darren Mitchell and Mitchell Santner batted together. That may sound nondescript but I think it’s the first time that the surname of one batsman is the first name of the batsman immediately following on the scoreboard. I know I need to get out more but this is just crazy! A first in over 140 years of test cricket!

But…in the meantime England were trying…in every sense of the word. There was no plan other than bowl five seamers in rotation. Unless plans change, England will be slaughtered in the next Ashes…if not before!

Mitchell and Santner and Mitchell Santner

In full flight

And what you can do…I can do

Santner hooks for a boundary

Miscues this one…

And a split second later Woakes takes the catch (eyes closed)

Burns…just gets away with it!

NZ v E 2nd test day 1 – England blushes, rain and guano

The day dawned in Hamilton sunny and dry but with a forecast of afternoon showers so we could be seeing a curtailed days play. The prospect of test debuts for NZ and England whet the appetite as does the prospect of Pope keeping wicket for England – there’s little evidence of him keeping in any first class game so this could be a test.

Whether any other religiously named wicketkeepers have ever played for England is a delightful prospect to ponder over on a dark December afternoon (potentially as early as next week).

One interesting aside – and I have been hit once this tour – is the news that a power outage in NZ this week was caused by the volume of bird quango hitting power lines. This requires a) significant volume and b) marksmanship! It’s given the main TV news great consternation in how to describe it without offending their audience!

Seddon Park is small- almost a village green type ground in the middle of the city of Hamilton. Numbers attending are expected to be small as there’s only one coffee concession stall and two toilet blocks!

England win the toss and bowl (!); the theory of five seaners and no spinners seems odd but Root reckons on getting lots of wickets today and before lunch! He says history dictates this – sounds more like the stats man had a loud voice in the management meetings this week!

NZ lose two by lunch – Raval who hasn’t done anything like a bolero and Williamson for 4 – and reach 86 off 28. Broad is getting the odd one to nip, Archer bowling within himself and not try the bouncer every ball, Woakes (in for Leach) strives as he always does and Curran is workmanlike. No sign of Stokes bowling yet. Latham and Taylor have rallied NZ with the former reaching his 50 on the stroke of lunch.

The ground is not that well appointed in terms of facilities and the more I see of Hamilton as I head off for lunch – food, any food! – the less it impresses me but there we are.

Clouds gather and the wind freshens as tea approaches at 173/3. Taylor went immediately after his 50 but Latham is giving England another lesson in how to grind out an innings and is 101no at tea. It’s almost weatherwise what I expected NZ to be – cool/warm with shade and sun.

England’s plan of ‘loads of wickets’ is looking a bit thin at the moment but there’s another 2 and a half hours to go – nominally 36 overs but the way that England treat the paying public with distain I don’t expect these to be bowled!

Three balls after tea and pollen/dust/leaves from the trees start to drop down, the lights come on instantly and then it rains…and rains…and rains.

And on a ground where there is no shelter other than a few trees, concession gazebos, tv towers and metal stands, the risk of lightning increases as the thunder clouds roll in and somehow what looked like a reasonable crowd suddenly becomes small – albeit that the locals and their knowledge have headed for home.

After an hour and a bit play for the day is abandoned but will start 30 minutes early tomorrow.

England were saved by the rain today from any further embarrassment but what will tomorrow bring?

And the cause of the next power cut?

Williamson – too far from his body, and he’s gone!

Latham survived this appeal on his was to 100

Stokes managed to miss the ball and fell flat!

Sibley…chased by autograph hunters

Root – our only spin option

Several no balls went uncalled!

And then the rain came…

Hamilton…there won’t be a musical about this place!

Another transfer day as the tour heads for its final destination of Hamilton before heading home from Auckland this time next week.

There’s very little to say about Hamilton – it’s ok as cities go acting as a centre for the surrounding areas but it’s clearly not renowned for its tourist attractions; adding 5,000 or so England fans should bring it to life in what should be its overcrowded centre.

However the journey from Rotorua was uneventful in pleasant countryside apart from a short stop in Tirau renowned for its quaint signs and antiques. What interested me the most was the ‘home kill service’ which I took to be either a pest control service or at worse a firm of hit-men given the nature of the employees sitting outside! Turns out to be a mobile abattoir and butchering service for the local farmers etc.!

So…a few more tourist photos today before we concentrate on the cricket tomorrow.

Not quite sure about this coffee shop!

Some of the quirky advertising in Tirau

Sheep are clearly big here – the look in their eyes is worrying

Maori ‘totem’ pole Hamilton

And finally…the best of downtown Hamilton

Rotorua – a must for the bucket list

Today is a full tourist day spent in Rotorua; renowned for its geothermal action of geysers, mud pools, hot springs and so forth. A town built around these features with most of them within a reasonable travelling distance and coupled with Maori villages, it’s a tourist hit.

The town itself is somewhat nondescript but surrounding the low rise shops, malls and eateries are more hotel rooms than you can probably shake a stick at.

So very few words from me in this blog – other than you must come and see for yourself – and I’m going to let the photos do all the talking. There are loads more I could upload but then what would I have to show people when I show them my holiday snaps?

One of the world famous geysers of Rotorua- the power needed is immense

Day started with a Maori cultural show

Audience participation in learning the Haka

This weeks spellings to learn are…

Steam vent used as an oven

Mud pools – my video camera work needs attention I know!

And finally…Donald Trump appears in steam from geyser in Rotorua

Rotorua – a farter’s delight

Today was another transfer day – Tauranga to Rotorua so there are very few photos so far.

En route we stopped at a Kiwi Fruit Farm (that’s not a NZ farm selling or growing fruit but growing and selling Kiwi fruit).

There’s not much excitement in watching Kiwi fruit grow but it was fascinating to learn how they are a key agricultural product. I always thought they grew in low bushes but they are more akin to grape vines.

Kiwi fruit ‘vines’

On arrival we left our bags at the hotel and en masse rocked up at the Rotorua Skyline for a gondola ride up to the luge runs – longer than Queenstown – and the first in the world and also offers three grades of runs. After the first lesson we took the basic run but we lads weren’t content with that so went straight to the advance run for the next five runs before a final basic run.

The most amazing fun and I can confirm that in the private contest between the TM and myself (4-0 to the TM after the Queenstown leg), the final score was 7-4 to the TM; and hence a worthy winner of the inaugural Hoke Poke Ice Cream Cup for Kiwi lugeing 2019.

Hoke Poke Ice Cream Cup winner 2019

Back to the hotel and a short wander around Rotorua’s CBD.

Rotorua is renowned for its Maori history and culture as well as geothermal activity, geysers and mud pools etc. One product of this volcanic activity is the smell of bad eggs (Hydrogen Sulphide) in the air at all times. This fart-like smell or odour is a farter’s delight – I’m sure the more genteel readers I have will not understand what farts are but I guarantee every man does!

Rotorua race course (as seen from hotel balcony)

Rotorua Skyline