Posts from the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Beet It

It is as embedded in the modern New Zealander’s make up as being mistaken for an Australian or having to acquiesce politely when a wide eyed tourist brings up just how cool it must be to live where the Lord of the Rings films were made. Beetroot.

In burgers, salads, smoothies, cakes, soups and sandwiches, the crimson prime root is the omnipresent supplementary foodstuff of Kiwi choice. Yes, the Aussies enjoy their fair share of the ol’ beta vulgaris but their neighbours from across the Tasman take their devotion to a new level. I lost count of the times I discovered it brazenly lurking in dishes while I was visiting that magnificent country earlier this year. Each time my enquiring glances were met with the kind of dismissive ‘get on with it’ looks you see on TV that follow being on the wrong end of a bone-shaking Richie McCaw tackle. Resignedly, I’d just pop it in and get on with the next mouthful. By the end of my stay in the land of the long white cloud, my dislike had gone past tolerance to a kind of appreciation of the sainted vegetable.

But never love. Appreciation was as far as I was prepared to take it.

A day off and a cursory sortie into my local Tesco brought about a chance encounter. Seeking something snacky in the deli, a cerise topped offering among the savouries caught my attention. Initially I dismissed it as a gimmicky pre-Christmas promo. Pork pie topped with cranberries? I let it linger.

Then I looked again. Beetroot. A pork pie topped with beetroot. So it’s not just their rugby players we’re after these days then? It transpires, for all those dreadful reality based TV shows we’ve sent over there, we are getting beetroot-laden cuisine in return.

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It turns out this is one of those deals where no one wins. Not in this instance anyway. The beetroot was a clear sugary mush atop the pies that didn’t obviously make the Melton Mowbray first draft. The beetroot did nothing for the pie and vice versa. A piccalilli sharpness or a brown sauce tang topping may have been a better complement for the fatty tasting pastry and incongruous tasting pork.

Maybe this Kiwi-inspired food fad needs a better vehicle on which to launch itself on the British palate. In fact I was pleased, in a way, to finish and get on to dessert, the bag of doughnuts I’d subliminally purchased earlier.

Beetroot doughnuts? Now there’s a idea.

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Reach For The Pie

A call from Kiwi Geoff yesterday afternoon. “Hello mate. I’ve just got the club a sponsored pie warmer.”

I nearly dropped the phone.

He’d done it again. When the far-sighted Kiwi Geoff pitched up in the late summer of 2006 little did we know how seismic the great man’s impact would be on Elstow Cricket Club. Not for us a wailing, soothsaying, messianic figure, heavy of Biblical beard, Puritanical robes brandishing scorching scriptures. Instead a mild mannered, bespectacled genial chap in accountancy slacks and sweater, a laid back exterior belying a fiercely driven character and someone who continues to give his all. This, here, is the very vision of the thinking man’s visionary.

That the club are in the great shape we are is mainly down to Geoff. He has done more than anyone else to advance the cause of Elstow CC. The youth structure he put in place continues to pay great dividends, from the tiniest tots starting out on their life’s cricket adventures to the talented teens starting out in first team cricket who will be this generation’s Matt Stevens and Dave Riddle. Through his tireless fundraising we have a terrific nets facility well used by the club and community and an AstroTurf pitch for our junior cricketers. Thanks to Geoff the club have attained ECB Club Mark status, as well as heaps of new equipment and loads of other stuff besides.

But this tops the lot.

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A pie warmer, yesterday.

Legacy, certainly in a sporting sense, has been oft discussed in this country since last Autumn. While the politicians and activists continue to use the topic for political gain, less than a year on from the Olympic Summer it is far too early, surely, to properly quantify this. At The Warren, however, we are already benefitting from the legacy of our visionary.

The Elstow Pie Emporium will be open for business soon. The start of our season is just over a week away. Dear reader, I implore you, if you haven’t already made the journey to Bedfordshire to enjoy an afternoon’s cricket with us, please do so. The cricket may not be up to much, but you’re guaranteed your welcome will be as warm as our pies.

The Lunch Break

I found this among my emails the other day. If ever I needed even more motivation for heading off again, then this is it.

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The photo was taken, courtesy of Erica (Thank you!) four weeks ago today on the bonny banks of the Basin Reserve. A warm day in Wellington; England were very handily placed on Day Two of the Test Match, despite the departure of both over-night centurions Cleggy & Trotty in the morning session. We’d just returned from playing on the outfield, as New Zealand cricket protocol encourages, over the course of the Lunch Break. KP was beginning to get stuck in to the Black Caps attack. We thought we’d do likewise.

We’d decided beforehand to mark Friday lunch with a picnic. We’d all signed up to contribute various items to the meal. Charlie provided the picnic blanket (a spare sheet from his hostel if memory serves) and three cheeses, Jackie contributed the highlight of any cricket picnic, the pretentious foodstuff, in this case some kumara & pumpkin seed hummus as well as the olives and a quiche, Lucky Paul brought the French stick and Chups, Keith got the pizza (not pictured), Greg Tredwell added some robust local red wine he’d managed to sneak in and I, naturally, sorted out the pork pies and an additional quiche following a quick, hungover sortie into the local supermarket fifteen minutes prior to the start of play.

It was, as the photo captures perfectly, a marvellous occasion. Another of the highlights of my time away and of my third visit to one of my favourite ever cities.

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What A Difference A Month Makes

Then…

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Now…

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Why, Why, Why?

A busy car park at the start of another chilly day at Heathrow. An early morning after a long, long night flight. The bad tempers and bullying of the drivers of the jostling cabs and too important by half executive carriages did nothing for the sense of mind. Loading our bags into the back of the taxi my friend turned to me and said; “Have you heard about Jesse Ryder? He’s in hospital. Badly beaten up outside a nightclub. He’s in a coma in a critical condition.” The news hit me like the icy morning air after five months in the sun.

Jesse Ryder. Beloved of New Zealand cricket fans on account of his precocious ability with the bat. A once-in-a-generation type player who can turn cricket matches on their head as a result of his brilliance. Ryder will never go on to score the hatful of runs of heroes of previous Kiwi cricketing favourites like Glenn Turner or Martin Crowe but, nonetheless, he is a cult hero to this generation.

Ryder is a hero with a darker edge. The darkness of which, probably we’ll never really know or, even less, understand. Thursday’s sickening attack on him hints at, as NZ Prime Minister John Key says, something quite sinister. Perhaps now is the time to stop laughing off the Falstaffian accompaniments to Ryder’s life, the drunkenness, the list of other indiscretions and, for the sake of cricket and for the sake of Jesse too, get him properly rehabilitated.

The fact is, we love our heroes like this. As I read the news of Ryder’s latest difficulties my gaze was drawn to an article on the same web page about footballer Robin Friday, a legend to all who saw him play. The original man who didn’t give a flying one. A life tragically cut short at the relatively tender age of 38, Friday’s genius on the pitch was overshadowed by his life away from the game. Jesse Ryder is 28 and for a man of his unquestioned ability hasn’t, and even more pointedly, is unlikely to, achieve what he should’ve done in cricket.

If the right support isn’t in place for Ryder, there is every chance he might meet the same fate as befell Friday. Films, video clips, t-shirts and records dedicated to him long after his death. Great for fans of tomorrow’s nostalgia and those seeking a paladin for the self-destructive rebel but of scant use to the man himself or his family and friends.

New Zealand cricket, no, world cricket needs Jesse Ryder. Speaking to Kiwi cricket fans at various points over the last month or so, Ryder is held in great esteem there. His inclusion in the Black Caps line up could have spelt even more trouble for England in the recently completed Test Series because there are few like him on the global stage with the powers to take a game away as quickly and as ruthlessly from the opposition as Jesse Ryder. The upcoming Indian Premier League will be a poorer place for his absence too.

Reports this morning feature heartening news on Ryder’s condition. It is expected he will make a recovery. The recuperation process begins now. And it is up to Cricket New Zealand to get properly behind one of its heroes as cricket fans, local and worldwide, undoubtedly will.

Get well soon Jesse.

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 10, Drawn 6, Lost 2, Won 2

Ian Bell. Ian Ronald Bell. I spoke at length with one of Her Majesty’s press men with regards to your lack of testicles in big game situations about a month or so. Having seen your stoicism on the last day at Nagpur three months ago and having witnessed something equally heroic yesterday I must concede, happily, I was wrong.

You, sir, are a man of testicles the size of elephants’ and ones made of steel too. If I ever criticise you again in public I will undertake a heinous forfeit as a result of my treachery. Your series-saving innings was quite wonderful. The patience and resolve mixed in with the trademark class in your five hour, 75 run stand was of the highest order.

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If I’m ever lucky enough to become a father, had you stayed there until the end, I would have named my first born after you. As it is, that honour instead befalls another hero of Eden Park.

Matthew James Prior. The world’s best, an inspiration. Yesterday’s unbeaten 102 is one of the best innings I’ve ever seen. Your arms-aloft celebration as you turned to the dressing room having blocked the last ball will stay with me for ever. Thank you, sincerely. I am naming my first child after you.

Even if it is a girl.

Celebrity Juiced: The Singer Of Songs

Drinks were taken early on Day Four of the deciding Test Match. At lunchtime in fact.
Kevin from the Beige Brigade, sensing my growing sulkiness at England’s impending defeat, thought it wold be a good idea to take me away from the nightmare that was unfolding before my eyes.
The Kingslander on New North Road, a ‘Two Metre Peter’ lofted smash away from Eden Park. Other Englishmen were in there, similarly counting their chickens and drowning their sorrows. More New Zealand runs. It didn’t get any better. Moodiness abounded. Late in the afternoon Kevin pipes up, ‘jeez, look, it’s Wayne Anderson.’ My response was a blank look of incredulity. ‘You know, Wayne Anderson? The Singer Of Songs. Aw, he was in New Zealand Pop Idol six years ago.’

“Wayne, Wayne, how’s it going Wayne? Can you give us a song?”

A fat, bald man with long greying hair in a jade shirt opened just above the navel revealing a plastic cross and strands of grey hair wearing black Sta-Prest trousers and battered old trainers looked over his bulky black sunglasses and began to murder It’s Not Unusual.
“That’s enough mate, thank you” shouted Kevin. Wayne looked crestfallen. Even more crestfallen than he appeared a minute or two earlier. “Err, I normally get paid for these things” he said, sadly.
I gave him twenty cents. He seemed genuinely delighted before sloping away to catch the bus home.

On the television, England continued to labour. Then worse. Kevin could see me entering the depths of despair. Putting his own feelings aside, with his team closing in on a series victory, he acted magnanimously. “Is Wayne still there? Get him back. Tell him we’ll buy him a drink, I don’t like seeing you this unhappy.”
I bounded up to the bus stop. “Wayne, sir, come with me, can we have a few moments of your time? We’ll get you a drink.” Our man perked up and escorted me back towards the Kingslander. The obliging bar staff, aware of this unscheduled brush with fame, greeted him like a conquering hero. Wayne held court for a while before heading over to our table.

An audience with reality TV personality Wayne Anderson, for the price of a whisky and soda that I hadn’t paid for. I normally hate anything to do with reality television but England were getting properly gubbed and I just couldn’t face it anymore. I swallowed my pride and momentarily forgot my snobbishness. With the cricket an absolute mess I decided to indulge a man I normally wouldn’t have given the time of day for. Like Michael Parkinson quizzing Tony Bennett, I was deferential in the extreme. At strategic intervals he burst into song. Avenues and Alleyways and Love Me Tender were similarly butchered through warble and wail before he returned to my questioning.
“I only hang out with artistic types and people who get me”, Wayne went on. “You get me”. He said, those sullen eyes peering out from behind his shades. “You understand.”

I think I understand. Wayne, bless him, is an unloved by-product of the horrible cult of celebrity. A sad, deluded soul who clings on to a fading dream. As I continued to indulge him for the amusement of my fellow drinkers I helped further destroy him through spoon feeding him morsels of hope for half an hour. Knowing what I was doing was wrong, I began to wind it down. He ended our chat by telling me his top five singers, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink, John Rolls, Tony Christie and, I forget the other one. It was probably him.

All that was left was for me to accompany him in a duet of Roy Orbison’s Crying. I couldn’t work out which of us was KD Lang.

Then Kevin and the rest of the group’s heckling got louder before he resignedly ceased singing and plodded off on his sorry way. I couldn’t decide for whom my heart bled more, England’s hapless cricketers or this flacid, washed up tragic figure before me.

As one of my musical heroes memorably sang: Fame, fame, fatal fame. It can play hideous tricks on the brain.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7jZsGyk7gs

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Wayne Anderson. The Singer of Songs. In happier times.