Posts from the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Cricket Caveat

I am representing my country in the Auckland International Back Yard Cricket Championships today which means I won’t be at the cricket until the afternoon today. Which means I won’t be able to do the lucky handshake with Lucky Paul prior to the start of play.

Which means we’re probably doomed.

I am truly, very sorry everyone.

Pie Fidelity

Lunchtime on the first day of the Third Test at Eden Park. My decision is made for me at the catering stands. There’s only one option available. I’m sure England wished they’d have had their decision made for them two hours earlier as well, I muse as I hand over my six dollars.

Beef, bacon & mushroom pie. My last Pie-Day Friday of the tour.

My first New Zealand pie on this visit, back in Northland, was pleasingly ovular in shape. This one, however, is sadly, squarely square. Except for the lid. Which looks like its been rolled by a work experience kid. In a sweatshop. The pastry is far too pernickety as a result and the colour looks over-egged while the whole thing has been finished with a sprinkle of black pepper, possibly to distract the eater from the shoddy pastrymanship.
There is a salty inevitability to the flavour of the filling, owing to the generous use of, what appears to be, decent quality bacon. The beef is the right side of under-done and the mushrooms, always a welcome addition to most meals, are similarly enjoyable. It’s hard, saltiness not withstanding, to fault the contents of the pie. It is good, and the pie is pleasingly packed with the meat and mushrooms.
However, that pastry again spoils things. There is too much of it and it is too thick. The pie feels and looks smaller as a result.

It feels like a sad way to end my latest pie odyssey in this great country. Yet as “Two Metre” Peter Fulton peerlessly powered to his maiden Test century with his country only one wicket down for 250 runs at the close of play, I fear my last few days here could end similarly badly.

Postscript. As I went to pay for my lunch the helpful, harmless assistant enquired, “Just the pie?”

I took a deep breath.

“Madam, it is not just a pie. It is an institution.”

Playing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Played 2, Drawn 0, Lost 0, Won 2

With The Rashes in the bag following victories in Dunedin and Wellington, the matter of The BeigeWash was still up for grabs going into the last of the three match series at The Domain, a beautiful, supersized Bedford Park of a venue, in Auckland. The Barmy Army, batting first, totalled a healthy looking 180 from their twenty overs. It had been a chastening time for the England fans’ team with the bat in previous games but here, spurred on by their captain Jock, the Barmies, after losing three early wickets, finally came good with the bat.
Following Elstow legend Alistair Milne and the late, great Tony Greig, Jock has to be the third best Scottish batsman ever to have played the game. Jock’s unbeaten half century was the first of two retirements in the English total.
A huge six off my bowling over square leg came in between two authoritative pulls for four through mid wicket. The injured Daryl Tuffey wouldn’t have bowled this bad. Neither would Daryl Hannah, come to think of it.
The Beiges fielding wasn’t as sharp as it had been in previous matches, nor the bowling as tight. The Barmies ended their innings strongly, bullying the ball to the short boundaries of The Domain and giving a possible clue as to how the Test proper at Eden Park will unfold.

The Beige Brigade’s response was predictably powerful, from the off the opening pair carried on from where the Barmies left off. The introduction of Billy the Trumpet into the attack with his deceptively slow medium pace arrested the New Zealanders progress and a flurry of wickets caused a murmur of panic in the ranks. Billy took three wickets but after Muzzy and Willy’s strong opening stance and Locky’s brilliant unbeaten 50 it was left to Jezzy and Bozzy to see their team home. Jezzy’s huge pull over square leg sealed the win, the ball settling in the adjacent woodlands. Laney, Dessy, Bobby, Jezzy, Bozzy, Muzzy, Willy, Locky, Petey, Bashful and Dopey (me) sealed the battle of the fans with this historic six wicket victory. Black Caps supporters will be hoping for something similar as attentions switch for the Test Match series decider at Eden Park over the next few days.

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A big tree at The Domain, yesterday. Beauty isn’t it?

Marm Offensive

“Don’t go without your freebie”, the cheerful shop assistant chimed, popping a red labelled brown tub into the carrier bag. Little did I realise the significance in this seemingly mundane, yet unexpectedly welcome, transaction.

“Mate, you know what this is?” Enquired Kiwi Geoff’s mate Dean excitedly. “It’s the end of Marmageddon!”

The end? What? Marmageddon? What the blazes?

One of the more bizarre offshoots of the cataclysmic Christchurch earthquake of two years ago was the loss of New Zealand’s sole Marmite factory. Subsequently, Kiwis have been starved of their yeasty breakfast feast for over two years, hence Marmageddon. Rations of this divisive delicacy have been in short supply, with jars selling for extortionate prices on TradeMe plus the creation of Corporal Walker from Dad’s Army types stealthily preying on the weaker of the Marmite dependants. Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key lambasted the company, Sanitarium Foods, for not getting their act together quick enough as yesterday’s reintroduction came six months later than originally planned.

Once it was announced Marmite was coming back, fans have been counting the days. Online chat rooms and social media have been awash with the most revered comeback in the Land of the Long White Cloud since Martin Crowe announced he was returning to cricket. For their sake, let’s hope this ends happier than that one. Keen to find out what the fuss is all about, I thought I’d give it a whirl.

I remember, vaguely, trying Vegemite, once, for something to do and being underwhelmed by it all. For me, the original is the best. I am a big fan of the British version, enjoying a love affair with Marmite from indulgent tea time treat as a kid to morning hangover cure as an even bigger kid. Loosely spread over finger-smarting toast while the butter obediently melts and washed down with a strong cup of Rosie simultaneously while poring over the Telegraph, simply, is one of life’s great pleasures.

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Taking my cue from the label’s boisterous exhortation I go ahead and dig in. The knife plunges through the tar thick substance coating half the blade. Re-emerging from the all-black stickiness, a pliable lump spreads all too easily over the bread. Half the fun of eating the British version is taming the unpredictable brown trail that trickles in the knife’s wake over kitchen tops, tables, plates and clothing before ensnaring the Marmite, via your fingers, in between your lips.

Splayed cumbersomely over the golden toast, the colour is the unmistakeable shade of the last big oil slick disaster. I half expect Michael Buerk’s serious voice to provide the VoiceOver to my breakfast and hope to high heaven I don’t come across the remnants of a cormorant somewhere within the dark goo.

The spread’s inherent bitterness sticks to my palate. My goodness, it actually tastes like the Exxon Valdez too.

Good Lord, no. This will not do. Awful stuff.

Thankfully the Yorkshire Tea comes to the rescue, dutifully dispersing the rancid flavours from my grateful mouth. I take several more restorative glugs before quickly moving on to haven of the fruit bowl.
Marmageddon indeed. You’d have thought with two years off, Sanitarium Foods would have learned to make some decent Marmite for their misguided countrymen.
As thoughts turn to my return to Blighty, I’m looking forward to seeing My Mate again next weekend.

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Haere Ra Wellington

Not another gratuitous photo of me nursing a beer beside a fire, surely?

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Well yes, but it was a cold day yesterday. The first of my farewell pints and thanks to Lucky Paul’s knowledge of the area’s proper pubs they were all good ones. Sharky, Woofy, Jay, Paul and Mike from the Beige Brigade, Guy, Keith and Paul were all good company.
The pub is Little Beer Quarter and the ale is from the Liberty brewery. It was hand-pulled, room temperature and full of character.

Very much like this great city and its great people I leave today. Wellington, thank you.
So, ok, you’ve wiped me out financially and emotionally (sport-wise anyway) but, as one of my musical heroes has been known on occasion to say;

The pleasure, the privilege, was mine.

Auckland and the final leg of my world trip beckons. Can we get five days of cricket in please?

Playing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Played 1, Drawn 0, Lost 0, Won 1

As the rain continues to cascade down here in Wellington, the range of hill tops hidden by a never ending blanket of impenetrable mist it’s hard to remember this city ever seeing sun this time last week. Some photos arrive in my inbox that jolt the memory. Dear reader, I forgot to inform you…

A life time ambition was finally realised on Wednesday 13th March, Anderson Park, Wellington. New Zealand vs England. Sort of.
Ok, I’m not a fully fledged international you realise, but an international nonetheless and I was due to play in the second of three Twenty20 matches between New Zealand’s Beige Brigade and the Barmy Army from England. At stake was international cricket’s newest prize, The Rashes.

The call up came from the Godfather of the Beige Brigade, an esteemed gentleman by the name of Paul Ford. That you see people at cricket matches in NZ dressed in beige shirts is all down to this man and his good chum Mike Lane.
Next time the camera next pans round the spectators and various visions of beige apparel leap out of the screen at you, it will be down, in some part, to the hard work of Kiwi cricket obsessives Paul and Mike.
Having seen cricket supporters from other nations collectively and pointedly align themselves with their heroes (the most obvious example of this being the aforementioned Barmy Army) Paul and Mike decided to join in with their take on things. Drawing heavily from the late Seventies Kerry Packer-era World Series Cricket and their nation’s first foray into coloured clothing (back when I would imagine beige and brown was clearly the obvious choice of clothing to people then), the lads decided there was a market for both retro and showing support for your team.
That so many others have bought into the ethos of the Beige Brigade shows Kiwis heartily agree with them. It is about passion, not fashion after all.

But it is also about friendliness and a shared love of cricket with these upstanding fellows too. Which explains how my mate Phil and I have remained in contact with Paul ever since our first encounter with them at the Test Match in Wellington three years ago.

When the call came through I answered in the affirmative immediately. Split loyalties or lack of patriotism didn’t come into it. As I see it, it I’d been given an opportunity to play cricket, err, internationally, with some top blokes in a lovely location. It’s not as though ‘Baz’ McCullum and Mike Hesson had been in contact through a series of coded messages offering me the option of enlisting in the cricketing equivalent of the Cambridge Spies. Inevitably though I did cop a lot of stick from among my compatriots in the travelling contingent when I rocked up in my whites, sorry, beiges.

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The teams line up at Anderson Park before the anthems. I’m fourth from the right, stood between Woofy and Kevin. Great lads both.

Having convincingly won the first encounter down in Dunedin, hopes were high from the home side going into the next game at the Beige Brigade stronghold. To further add to the atmosphere, Paul recruited Simon Christie, a local tenor, to sing God Defend New Zealand and Jerusalem while the ever affable, ever reliable Billy The Trumpeter from the Barmy Army affably and reliably accompanied him. As the away team comfortably won the battle of the singers, I adopted the listless, uncaring demeanour usually seen in those clueless Man United players (having been told beforehand by Fergie to not betray any kind of positive emotion) when God Save The Queen plays at Wembley.

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Simon Christie (no relation to Tony) and Billy Cooper (no relation to Tommy) do their thing. Very well too, it should be said.

After a couple of looseners, our captain, Brent Coffey set the tone with a decent opening over, he followed this up shortly after with a sharp one-handed slip catch at square leg. The Beige XI dominated for the following thirteen of the Barmy XI’s twenty overs. Athletic run outs by Brett Wooffindin and John Hill underpinned the fielding performance. In the last five overs, the English finally got their act together and registered something like a competitive total. Their eighth wicket partnership decided to throw the bat at everything and being charged with bowling the penultimate over I was directly in the firing line.
Following a viciously struck four through deep midwicket, a booming six over square leg was met with huge cheers for the endeavour and jeers for me. Worse was that it was in front of the England captain and his lovely wife Alice who had popped in for a stroll around the adjoining Botanical Gardens. I gloomily took my hat back from the umpire and plodded off to long off to silently have a stern word with myself.
The big hitters had pugnaciously dragged the Barmies back into the match. Credit here should also go to one of my travelling muckers, Charlie, who also batted well. To win The Rashes, the Beige XI would have to score 131 from twenty overs.

Which they did rather easily to be honest. As with the devastating effort at Dunedin,the Beige batters got amongst the opposition, emptying car parks and sending bystanders scurrying for cover. The Falconhawks trio of Nicko, Duffy and Mann did the damage, captain Coffey also enjoyed himself leading from the front as retiring out turned out to be the main method of dismissal. The Beige XI won by five wickets with an over or two to spare. Barmies captain Giles Wellington presented his opposite number, Paul The Godfather, with The Rashes trophy to great applause in the Wellington Collegians club house.

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A gracious Giles presents a rather delighted looking Paul with The Rashes tub. Despite having earlier taken his first international wicket, Trumpeter Billy, in the background appears somewhat crestfallen.

Thoughts now turn to Thursday’s clash at Auckland where the home team, under Mike Lane, will be hoping to make it three from three and with it an unprecedented Beige-wash. Their ruthless pursuit of this honour will seemingly stop at nothing as my place in the team has gone to ex-Test bowler Daryl Tuffey.
I’m quite honoured to be stood down in these circumstances, to be fair. You should see the likes I’m usually dropped for at Elstow.

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 9, Drawn 5, Lost 2, Won 2

Ok, so I may be typing this a touch prematurely but there is no prospect of play at The Basin Reserve today. Cricket New Zealand have made a stern announcement that the match will not be called off until late this afternoon but look….

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So it’s still nil-nil in terms of the series score as thoughts turn towards the third Test that begins in Auckland on Friday. A match that will be played at a rugby ground.

Cricket New Zealand have been widely panned by many for their decision to host the Test at Eden Park. The weather has put paid to the Wellington match as it did at Dunedin, so Cricket New Zealand will cop yet more abuse for scheduling the Tests after the shorter forms of the games this summer but the call on the rugby ground could prove to be a master stroke.

With the shorter boundaries at long on and long off, both teams could be tempted to chance their arm in this winner-takes-all encounter. A dream scenario for CNZ would be Baz, Roscoe, Rudders and company go crazy with the bat in the Kiwis’ first innings and they pile on something silly like 600-8 declared. England have another bad day at the office (remember that Thursday in Dunedin) and all of a sudden the unthinkable starts to happen.

The famously fickle local crowd start to trickle in, Bruce Martin, the new (albeit Kiwi) Stuart MacGill, prays on England’s bewilderment stricken collapse and all of a sudden Test cricket, in front of a packed Eden Park, is alive and well.

I don’t want this bleak fantastical foreboding to come true but, if it reignites this country’s love affair with their summer game then it will have been worth it. I’ve said it before and will do again, cricket supporters in this country here are a marvellous bunch.

They need something to inspire the next generation of Kane Williamsons and Tim Southees. Would it really be the end of the world if it came with an unlikely series win against my beloved England?

Trisha

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Tradition dictates no trip to Wellington is complete without a visit to Trisha’s Pies on Cambridge Terrace, a Steven Finn run up away from the Basin Reserve. A picture next to the Queen Victoria statue across the road with your purchase is considered to be the done thing.

Sadly, due to technical issues or through not having enough hands, I can’t do the second part. I can, however, give you a resume of my breakfast. In readiness for the day’s play at the Test Match, a hearty repast is recommended.

They don’t get much heartier than a Steak & Cheese Pie from Trisha’s.

Sizeable, thick chunks of steak are crammed in under the flaky white pastry like commuters on the Churchgate to Andheri line. In rush hour. On Monday morning.
A joyous gloop of rich, thick sauce covers the beef, while a less generous smattering of cheese adds to the flavour. The pastry won’t win any awards except for sturdiness. Its job here is as short crust shop container for the delicious contents within.

It’s gravity defying stuff, it really is. Part of the fun of a Trisha’s pie is the wrestling with the ingredients within. Shoes, pavements and chins to name but a few are all in danger of being scattered with meaty gravy loveliness as you get further and further in. Mercifully, I complete mine without spilling a drop.

Had I failed to do so in front of my esteemed dining companion, there’s a decent chance ma’am would not have been amused….

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More Reasons For Moving To New Zealand….

They have Brian Blessed in their bank adverts.

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The Places Inbetween

Ok, ok, ok. I’m sorry I’m having such a great time over here. I’m sorry it’s snowing and it’s cold with you. I’m sorry over here and in this beautiful country. I’m even sorry I moaned when it rained last week. You can get your own back now though.

This week is my favourite week of the year.

Best mate Eats’s birthday, Cheltenham Festival, the final Six Nations weekend, St.Patrick’s Day and the Paddy O’13 nights out.

And this year, in anticipation of the marriage between my great friend Gary and his beautiful fiancé Sinead, the lads are off to Hamburg for a Stag Weekend.

Stag Weekend? Auf Deutschland? Ohne mich? Das ist nicht güt!

Word reaches me from another cherished chum, Jim lad, that they’re really upping the fancy dress outfits as well. Salt in the wound.

Salt in the wound.

I mean what am I supposed to do? Away from the action. All this way over here on the other side of the world.

Here in Wellington.

My third favourite city. Of all time. With its harbour. And mountains. And culture. And pubs. And its women.

And memories.

My third visit to the capital of New Zealand and its like visiting an old friend. Breezing through the busy streets in contemplative mood, echoes from my previous visits here call out like siren songs.

The Irish pub on Cuba street where Johnno and I taught some German girls how to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day, the restaurant where Will, Sian and I tucked into delicious NZ lamb, the open air bar with the huge Maori doorman, biceps like pistons and his friendly un-bouncer like hospitality.

And the Basin Reserve the spiritual home of Kiwi cricket, my third favourite cricket ground behind The Warren and Lords’. Meeting Merv Hughes. Being intimidated by Merv Hughes. Styling a ‘tache like Merv Hughes. Being glared at by Merv Hughes while sporting the impromptu hairy tribute. Being intimidated by Merv Hughes.

Trisha’s pies. Mr Bun’s pies. Hell’s pizza. The lass from Mermaids who ended up sharing a dorm with us in the hostel. Breaking into the Cake Tin. Johnno’s purple fleece.

Shuddering at the thoughts of Jaegers downed with Big Red. Shuddering more because I know there’ll be one or two recurrences of that coming this week. Smiling at the big man’s rendition of Footloose on the Karaoke. Taking pride in my rendition of Delilah next to the water feature in fond retaliation.

I could go on. And probably will should you be unfortunate enough to encounter me over the next few days.

Eats, Rob, Andy, Gary, Jim, Mark, Steve. Will, Sian. Phil. I’ll miss you this week chaps I really will. Thank you for Paddy’s weeks past. It’s time to get stuck into this year. This week.

My favourite week of the year.