Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Last night of the Poms 2

Desperately seeking inspiration is how I’d best sum up my thoughts at the moment. I’m currently four and a half hours into an eight hour coach journey taking me from Napier in the East of the North Island through to Auckland in the North. And I am suffering the mental and physical fallout following possibly the biggest night Napier has ever been witness to, although that isn’t saying much.

It’s hard to sum up Napier. One of the problems with this tour being squeezed into three weeks is that it didn’t allow for nearly enough time between Tests to get to know the surroundings. I turned up the evening before the cricket started and I’m currently leaving the day after it finished.

I won’t have too many fond memories of Napier as a town. Sure, it was pleasant enough, the people friendly, the weather warm and the cricket won. But it’s just so damn quiet and even on the weekend’s there’s few places to go.

However last night more than made up for that. It’s one of the joys of following cricket abroad in that you get to mingle with the players in a way that would never be possible in football.

I, Mark and Nathan began our final evening in New Zealand with a quiet few drinks in the local social club. We shot some pool, ate some very cheap food and sank five or six even cheaper pints. Around 9pm we hailed a cab to the West Quay which is the 'trendy' place to drink in town.

Not that we had a particularly good first impression of the place. On the first night in town we'd gone to the Quay for food. After waiting an hour and a half for our meal it turned up burnt, soggy, tasteless and lacking the fries we'd ordered. By far the worst service I’ve experienced in New Zealand.

When the bill arrived for $120 we decided not to pay. Instead we left $20 each and walked out. Only later did we remember that when we’d arrived, in far higher spirits, we’d told the waiter where we were staying. But nothing came of it.

And we weren’t concerned when we arrived to find the Barmy Army converged in another pub a little further down the strip. We sat about drinking and then at around 11pm a good evening was turned into an exceptional one as most of the England team turned up.

And the next couple of hours were a joy as they took it turns to sing songs with the fans, pose for numerous photos and celebrate the series victory by getting smashed. I’m not sure what was more surprising, hearing Steve Harmison belting out the Barmy Army signature tune ‘Everywhere we go’ or the sight of Peter Moores, the England coach, getting involved in the action. Most of the players were there including Michael Vaughan and a teetotal Monty Panesar. And I’m not going to say who it was but there was one player who pretty much had to be carried out of the bar.

And it brought the curtain down on a fantastic tour. One that was nowhere near as hectic and exciting as the Australia series. But one that was no less enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to take in the beauty that New Zealand offers in terms of landscape and even more so in terms of hospitality and welcome.

However all good things must come to an end and this morning I awoke at 7am and staggered around getting myself ready for my 8.30am coach. Surprisingly Chung was in bed and asleep. He’d drifted in at 7.30am the previous two mornings. And as Mark and Nathan have one more day in Napier they were also dead to the world.

Our goodbyes had been said the night before but I bid them farewell as I left the room. We’re planning on going to the West Indies this time next year. It might be that our paths do not cross before then. But I hope that isn’t the case.

And so I was gone and am still going. The clock at the front of the coach says two hours before I’m back in Auckland where I stay until Saturday. Upon which I embark on a 2,000 mile dash to try and catch the Smashing Pumpkins in Sydney.

I managed to change my flight ($120) and bought a ticket for the V-Festival ($136) in the hope I get to see the Pumpkins play a couple of classics with Tomson. He’s been texting me all week in the build up getting more and more excited about it. I’m trying to keep things in check. As I said to him on the phone ‘so much can go wrong’.

And that was before he texted me saying the Pumpkins are due to play at 8.15pm. This was news to me as I thought they were headlining and wouldn’t be on until about 10pm. My flight gets into Sydney at 6.20pm. So in less than two hours I’ve got to land safely, get through customs, get my luggage, put it in storage, get a cab to Centennial Park, buy a pint, meet up with Tom and be there for the opening bars of the first song. I am pushing it.

The other fear is that the Pumpkins either cancel or play most of the stuff from their new album which I haven’t heard and is apparently pretty damn shit. The whole situation reminds me slightly of the Glastonbury washout a group of us experienced in 2005. With our tents under water me, Gabe, Luke, Mary and Ollie had driven to Bristol to buy new camping stuff, washed and dried ourselves at our friend Louisa’s, then driven back to the campsite and trekked all the way back in through the mud.

It was horrible at times but the light at the end of the very wet and muddy tunnel was that after all the stress and hassle of the day we’d make it back in time to see The Whites Stripes play ‘Seven Nation Army’. It’s not like it’s our favourite song in the world but as the day went on it became more and more important that we made it. And, in the end we did. Just.

And so this is what awaits me on Saturday, a mad dash from one country to another to try and see 45 minutes of a band play in the company of good mates. Will I make it? I bloody hope so.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Who hates all the pies?

Man, I feel guilty. Had another chat with Chung last night, it’s the only time I get to see him as he sleeps during the day and I’m out at the cricket. Then in the evening I’m out on the town and he’s wandering around the hostel. Then during the night I’m asleep, Mark’s snoring, and Chung’s staring out the window. Until 5am when he retires to bed.

But for a couple of brief minutes our paths crossed yesterday evening and we had a little chat. He asked me how the cricket is going, good, and I asked him what he’d been up to during the day, nothing. He told me he did leave the building though only to buy some groceries from the supermarket. He said he was planning to stay in Napier for another couple of months. He really likes this place. By that I guess he means this hostel.

He also asked me what my plans are after Napier and when I told him I was going to stay in Seoul for a night his face lit up. He’s from north of the city and he was so pleased I was going to visit I immediately felt ashamed that I have coined him ‘The Night Watchman’. And I’ve decided I will write about him no more, unless he does something seriously freaky.

Or makes a faux pas of the kind I did the other night. Nathan and Mark met two German girls in Hamilton and they are in Napier at the moment. I only met them briefly on the day I got into town but they were in my dorm when I got back from the cricket two days ago. All was going well as we chatted away and then the subject of getting ready to go out came up.

I asked the lads if they were going to bother getting changed. I was in shorts and thongs (flip flops or jandals as they’re called here) and said I couldn’t be arsed to get changed. It’s a lot more relaxed here than in Australia as there you can’t go into most bars unless you’re wearing shoes. As I started to explain.

Germans: Do you have to wear shoes when you go out here?
Me: I’m not sure. I don’t think so. Last night there were loads of blokes out in thongs. I can’t be bothered to put jeans and boots on. I’m going to go as I am.
Germans: Okay
Me: It’s not like in Australia. Man, the door staff there are like Nazi’s the..…way…..they…..

I trailed off as I saw there reaction and my face was an absolute picture as I realized what I’d said. But the worst thing about it was that I immediately felt like apologising. But that confused me even more. Should I apologise? And if so, what for? It all got too much and as they collapsed laughing at my obvious discomfort I looked for somewhere to hide.

Another man who looked like he was searching for refuge last night was the bloke who Nathan and Mark shared a dorm with in Wellington. The man who managed to keep them both awake all night all the time they were staying in the same YHA. He’s staying at the same hostel as us although in a different room. Mark overheard the bloke’s roommates talking to him while we were having dinner. It went like this.

Roommates: I’m going to punch you tonight. I’m going to punch you. Well, not literally, but I’m going to throw something at you if you snore like that again tonight.
Bloke: Ulp.

I wonder if we’ll ever see him again as the chances he’ll ever have a quiet night are pretty slim. Slim being one thing I am not. I am determined to lose some weight when I get back to the UK. I noticed I own a pair of love handles the other day. Not in the reflection in the mirror but on my shadow on the wall after having a shower. Not good.

Eating and drinking too much is part of the course for most sports fans on tour but it’s something only half witnessed this weekend. I wish I’d had my camera with me as it was one of the strangest sights I’ve seen on this trip and it came about because of the curious licensing laws in New Zealand.

During Easter the rules concerning the buying of alcohol are changed. On religious holidays it’s illegal to buy alcohol unless you are buying a full meal to go with it. And you can’t order a meal make it last all night and keep topping up at the bar. You can only buy one drink per serving. So unless you have worms or a lot of money drinking more than a pint is extremely difficult.

But in similar fashion to the sorely missed ‘G***n L**f’ café in South London which tried to throw a smokescreen over their marijuana selling practices by forcing customers to buy a carton of apple juice to deflect attention away from the bags of weed being bought at the same time. The landlord at the Barmy Army pub bent the rules somewhat (and was splashed over the front page of the newspaper after getting caught) and allowed us to buy a drink every time we bought a pie.

And this led to a pub full of boozed up patrons with pints in one hand and hundreds of half eaten or completely untouched pies everywhere you could see. Tables were covered with the bloody things. Towering plates of pies as far as the eye can see, the pool table with pies resting over the pockets, a TV remote stuffed in a pie, pies being trodden into the carpet, pies on the bar, pies on the dartboard and display cabinets.

And because the police were doing random checks and would demand to know where your food was if they caught you with a drink. Everyone had to keep a vigilant eye out at all times on where their most recent hot pie was. People were carrying them around like pets. In handbags, under the arm, on the shoulder, on a dog lead. It was bizarre.

Nearly as bizarre as the T-Shirt tan Nathan is carefully cultivating. He’s been here for three months now. He spent the first two working on a farm in the South Island before journeying up to see the cricket with me and Mark. And for some reason he’s kept his top on throughout the tour. Last night we found out why.

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You could almost tell the time on that wrist. He should strap a mini sundial to it.

And one last thing before I go, I’ve got to give a big shout out to Nathan’s dad, Mike. He was directed to my ‘blog by Nathan one evening and he texted Nathan the following day. It went like this.

‘Just read Jon’s excellent ‘blog, mind you, yours is good’

Thanks for the vote of confidence, eh? Nathan’s been put out ever since! Ha ha!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Night Watchman

*****CRICKET UPDATE*****Good old Ryan Sidebottom. From out of nowhere he took seven wickets and England are now somehow favourites to win the game and the series*****

One of the pros and cons of back packing with Nathan and Mark is that it cuts out the chances of rooming with the kind of freaks I encountered in Perth and Adelaide last year. And while on the one hand it’s great that I don’t have to put up with unstable Dutchmen on the other it deprives me of some highly hilarious moments.

In Hamilton we were joined in our four man dorm by Mark’s mate Jane. In Wellington I stayed in a hotel with Fe. But in Napier I’ve struck gold. I suspect I might by rooming alongside a delightfully off the wall character. A South Korean chap called Chung who shouldn’t disappoint in the quest for the weird and wonderful in the world of budget travelling.

Chung is an extremely polite young man with a wispy black beard that looks like he’s stuck his armpit hair onto his chin. He has a penchant for staying up all night and sleeping during the day. Not that he’s a party animal. Not in the slightest. He never leaves the hostel. He seems to live here 24/7 and is always caught at curious times of the night eating soup or noodles while staring out the window.

He’s also been in Napier for over a month which is about a month too long in my opinion. But he likes it here he says. And who can blame him? It seems like a nice town. Not that he ever seems to see it. In the time I’ve been here he’s spent every day inside the hostel. His sleeping pattern so awry that he has woken me up every night at 5am as he creeps into the room and into his bed.

Not that I was asleep at 5am this morning. As I’ve mentioned before Mark is a snorer. Not in the bracket of my Uni mate Jez who snores so loudly that it made my bed vibrate. I should mention that I was in a room above him at the time. Another time Jez stayed at my parent’s house and the noises he was making in his sleep were so loud and raucous that my dad thought someone was having sex in the room he was sleeping in.

Mark doesn’t come close to that. Nor does he come close to a Barmy Army member that he and Nathan shared a room with in Wellington. Nathan is normally such a relaxed laid back guy. But after three nights without sleep he was close to breaking point. I’d never seen him come close to a frown but the guy they were dorming with snored so loudly that Nathan spent one sleepless evening recording the noise he made. Finally, the Sunday of the Test, and with the offender out for the night, the two of them took full advantage by sleeping from 7pm through to morning.

So maybe I shouldn’t complain too much. Mark isn’t anywhere near that league. And usually if you can get to sleep before he starts it’s not loud enough to wake you up. That was until last night when his nasal activities reached such a crescendo that I was forced to try and sleep with one finger in my ear. Which doesn’t work I can tell you.

The good thing with Mark though is that he’s such an accommodating and conscientious bloke that he’ll do anything for you whether awake or not. It was around half past four when his snoring reached such a decibel that I started to question my own sanity and it led me to telling his lifeless body to shut up. I did so more in hope than expectancy but somehow it worked. For a few blissful minutes his sub-conscious would kick into gear and he’d stop snoring. But never long enough to allow me to fall asleep again.

It led to an exchange during the night where I told Mark to shut up, he ceased snoring immediately, then started again and I said something along the lines of ‘I said shut up not snore louder!” At which point a distressed, confused and slightly hurt voice piped up ‘I’m awake!” In the dark of the night I contemplated whether he was actually snoring whilst roused. But didn’t stay awake long enough to find out nor reply.

I felt a little guilty in the morning and after I met up with the lads on the hill in the Barmy Army section I broached the subject. And found out that while it appears I am incapable of sleeping through low level snoring I can sleep quite happily while someone bangs on the door all night.

Mark had awoken for the first of his nightly trips to the toilet at around 2am and managed to lock himself out. As we’d been out for a few drinks Nathan and I slept happily through the desperate banging at the door. Our South Korean friend was of course absent and so couldn’t let him in. So Mark went to find him but after searching the entire hostel Chung was for once not to be found. So Mark was forced to walk round to the window and break in. The fact that we still didn’t wake up is slightly worrying especially when considering Mark isn’t exactly the most catlike of individuals.

He remembered to take his key a few hours later when his bladder once again awoke him from his slumber. And on the way back from the toilet he stumbled past Chung who was still awake, sitting on a chair near our room and staring silently out the window into the street and away into the distance over the Pacific Ocean. Mark tiptoed past him made his way into our room and was waking us up with his snoring before long.

I’m going to be extremely upset if Chung doesn’t continue to enliven our stay at the YHA. I’m also going to try and get a photo of him. But he’s so damn elusive. And I don’t want him waking to find my camera lens peering at him from within the gloom. Otherwise I could find myself characterised in his ‘blog.

It'll still end in tears, Kevin.

Another day another Fulham defeat and by the looks of it England could go the same way. Sitting here in the press box on an overcast morning in Napier and I’m feeling fairly phlegmatic about things. It’s Sunday, I’m slightly hungover and I’ve got a cup of tea in hand which always puts me in a reflective mood. A time for daydreaming and contemplation about where you are in the world and where you’re going to be and this time next week I will be in Australia. My holiday in New Zealand is officially drawing to a close.

With Fulham due to play Derby and with my recently changed plane ticket delivering me to Sydney in time for the Pumpkins gig this time next week I could be basking in the memories of another greatest day moment or, if Fulham lose and my plane delayed, an experience at the other end of the scale.

Big cheer at the MaClean Stadium as I write. Monty Panesar has his middle stump uprooted. England are really on the back foot here and staring at yet another defeat. The seventh I’ve witnessed and possibly the most damaging considering this was supposed to be a flat batting wicket against an inexperienced Kiwi attack.

And another big cheer here signals the end of the England innings. Really poor effort by our lot but fair play to New Zealand and Tim Southee who took five wickets on his debut and he’s only 19 years old.

All of which raises me out of my slumber a little. Nathan and Mark should be out of bed by now and sitting within the Barmy Army section. So I’d better go and join them. See if England can bowl themselves out of the mess the batsmen got themselves into.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

It really was the greatest day!

I always knew that the day I finally saw England win a cricket match would be a special one. What I didn’t expect was for it to be part of an occasion where it felt like all my lottery tickets had come in at once.

Everyone has had so many times in our lives where everything that could fuck up does and it’s not often that the reverse happens. But as I sit back on my bed in the house I’m staying in Wellington (my favourite city in New Zealand) I can’t help but smile at the sheer reckless good fortune that was bestowed upon me today.

I don’t need to mention again how many miles I’ve travelled in the pursuit of English cricketing happiness. That’s a well trodden and hopefully well told story. And I’m nowhere near close to racking up the sort of mileage some of the guys within the Barmy Army have. No, this isn’t just about the cricket.

In the last year it seemed at times like I was inadvertently travelling thousands of miles to avoid seeing something else very close to my heart and one of the few things that still connects me to my youth. Something I came face to face with in the most unlikely of places today.

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I know the Smashing Pumpkins aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for me they were an integral part of growing up. In the nineties I saw them play in Brixton a couple of times and also the London Astoria two nights running. I also broke into the Reading Festival in 1995 to watch them play. And so when they reformed a couple of years back I was suitably excited. Not excited enough to buy the new album. Apparently it's terrible but I was still more than keen to see them for the seventh time.

But luck was against me. When they released tickets for their gig at the O2 Arena I was in Thailand and therefore couldn’t get them in time. When they announced they were playing at Reading I couldn’t find anyone to go with. I would have paid this time too.

Fast forward a few months and they announce more tour dates. And again my luck was out. This time they would play in London two days after I had booked my flight to leave the UK for Australia.

And the pattern continued. When I arrived in Sydney I found out they were following up the UK tour by touring this part of the world. Tom already had his ticket for the 29th March. Fe and I had scheduled one night back in Sydney on the way home at the end of our holiday in New Zealand. That date? The 30th March.

I didn’t even bother to look at the New Zealand dates. Sure enough when Tom sent them to me they were playing in Wellington two days after I left town, in Auckland while I was in Wellington and in Christchurch where the cricket tour didn’t go to.

So I was faced with a dilemma. Tom had floated the idea that I should change my flight back to Sydney a day early so we could watch the gig together. But when I looked into this it seemed to difficult. There was only one plane I could get on the Saturday and that didn’t get into Sydney until 6.30pm. If it was late or cancelled I’d miss the gig. Also I didn’t know what I’d do with all my baggage. And the cost of a ticket to the gig and that of changing my flights were around $300. It just didn’t seem feasible.

Fast forward again. This time to last Sunday night and I’m out with Fe in town. We’re having a few drinks, England are one day away from victory in the cricket and Fulham are a couple of hours away from playing Everton in their latest must win game of the season. For some reason the topic turned to the Pumpkins.

Maybe it was the wine or the good mood or the fact that I’d had one of those nagging feelings in the back of my mind for a few weeks but I started floating the idea that I should throw caution to the wind and try and make the gig.

If it was anyone but Tom going in any other country I don’t think I’d have bothered. But if there is one person on this earth who enjoys the Pumpkins more than even I do it’s him. And we have shared so many drunken evenings over the last 16 years together listening to them that taking the opportunity to watch them live on the other side of the planet together was too good to pass up. It literally is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

And thankfully Fe agreed. She thought I should go for it. And so I resolved to chase it up in the morning. A morning that started with a text at around 3am informing me that Fulham had won only their fourth game of the season. A lifeline to safety! The text had roused me from an alcohol induced comatose state but I enjoyed going back to sleep having happy football thoughts for once.

A few hours later and bleary eyed I was at the cricket eagerly awaiting victory. In only the second over of the day New Zealand lost the first of the four wickets we needed to win. Half an hour later the second went down so I walked back round to the press box to await the conclusion and record the interviews. It was slightly disappointing to be walking away from the Barmy Army just as our hour of glory approached. I’d been in there for so many bad times now I wanted to experience the good stuff. But as I’m getting paid to be here I’m not going to complain.

No further wickets had fallen by the time I got round to the press box and I sat on the steps near the top of the stand with another journo called Graham watching the action unfold below. For ten minutes of so we chatted about general stuff. And under a golden sun the players reached the halfway point of the middle session which signaled the drinks break. We carried on our conversation as the PA started on another announcement.

“……that’s the drinks break now ladies and gentlemen. And let me take this opportunity to remind you that the Smashing Pumpkins and Queens of the Stone Age are playing in Wellington on Friday evening”

“Yes, I am aware of that” I thought to myself “I leave town tomorrow and my favourite band play two days later”

“……Unfortunately tickets have sold out”

This made me feel a little better about things

“………But fortunately for us, Billy Corgan, lead singer of The Smashing Pumpkins is a keen cricket fan and is here watching the game”

At which point ‘1979’ started playing out over the PA system.

“What?!!!!!” I was aware that Graham was talking but I’m not sure what about. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. As the oh-so familiar opening bars of ‘1979’ played out, the cricketers on the field supped their water unawares, the Barmy Army stretched their legs and I stood there in shock. “Billy Corgan is here? Where the fuck?”



“You’re a fan are you mate?” Came a voice from my right. “He’s only over to the right of the stand in the hospitality tent” I swiveled my head to see a bloke who’d helped me with my computer on the first day. It was just by chance that he was standing there.

Within a second I was gone. I raced down the steps, past the blue shorts and white T-Shirt brigade members eating their sandwiches and dashed along the walkway at the front of the stand. As I reached the end I looked over and saw four figures chatting on the balcony of the hospitality tent next to where I was. Amongst them the unmistakable figure of Billy Corgan.

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Although I’m sure he was unaware of my presence I still felt slightly awkward as I stood there. It was all so bloody surreal. Of all the places in the world and all the times to see Billy Corgan, 11.30 on a Monday morning at the Wellington Cricket Ground in New Zealand is by far the least likely. It was crazy. Especially considering the conversation I’d only had with Fe the night before. As signs that I should make the gig go you couldn’t get much more obvious.

I walked back up to the top of the steps in a bit of a daze and immediately tried to call Tom to tell him the news. He wasn’t answering and when I got back to the press box I thanked Peter for alerting me to where Billy was and then pushed it by asking him if he could arrange for me to meet him. He agreed to try and after texting someone in the know and receiving no reply he said he’d go down and find out.

As I watched him walk off down those steps and disappear from view my attention returned to the cricket. England still needed two wickets for victory and all of a sudden I was starting to hope they didn’t get them. At least not right now. It was crazy. I’d waited for this moment for so long and now not only had my attention been taken away I was actively hoping it didn’t happen. The problem being that I knew as soon as England won I’d have to get my recording equipment and go to the press conference. And if that happened any chance of meeting Billy Corgan would go straight out the window as he’d no doubt leave the ground after the game finished.

Ten minutes later New Zealand were hanging on and Peter still hadn’t returned. Hundreds of imaginary conversations were running through my mind about what I’d say. Last night’s conversation with Fe about taking the chance to see them, missing them play in the UK, Sydney and NZ. All those nights listening to their music during the 90’s. What tune I’d say if he asked what I’d most like to hear played live. ‘Starla’, ‘Rocket’, 'Obscured’? I was getting a little ahead of myself by this point.

With thirtyfive minutes to go before lunch New Zealand lost their ninth wicket and there was still no sign of Peter. Almost fifteen minutes had passed since he’d left me standing on those steps. My imaginary conversations had run dry and my attention was once again fully back with the cricket as Monty Panesar came on to bowl.

Camera at the ready, but with very little battery left, I was aware that as much as I wanted to capture the final moments of the Test I also wanted to leave myself enough power to take a possible photo with Billy Corgan. The flashing indicator told me I had less than 15 minutes left. Cricket it was, for now. One ball in. Nothing happened. Second ball. Again nothing. I was guessing now. Who could tell when the last wicket would fall? I could be wasting my battery videoing nothing at all. Third ball.

(For some reason my blog will only post videos if I post them separately. So I'll have to point you in the direction of the video above at this point)

I had to keep my professional hat on as the final wicket fell but I allowed myself a broad smile as the players converged on the field and the Barmy Army roared their approval. The Kiwi spectators near me applauded gamely and the journos started to finish off positive copy for the first time in 9 months. Meanwhile I’d spotted Peter at the foot of the stairs.

“Sorry mate, TV have got him now, they’re not letting anyone else get a look in”

Ah well, probably for the best.

“He’s still down in the hospitality bit but they’re not letting us near him”

Hmmmmm. I looked out onto the ground and saw the New Zealand captain being interviewed. I realised that I had a little more time than usual. It wouldn’t hurt to go down and see if I could get another photo. And so I paced it to the hospitality tent. I walked round the back and saw a security guard barring the way. She greeted me with a smile that said ‘don’t even ask’.

It was now the turn of Michael Vaughan to be interviewed on the pitch. So I knew I had very little time to get my recording equipment from the press box at the top of the pavilion and back into its basement where the press conference would take place. I was starting to think I should give up when I spotted Billy. Dressed in black, with a panama hat and much smaller than I’d have thought he looked as though he was about to leave.

I was almost hopping around as the sounds of Michael Vaughan’s interview drew to a close. It was now or never. Either Billy walked out now or I had to leave. It was in the lap of the gods. And for the third time in the day they smiled down upon me. He started walking towards me and as he passed the security guard I introduced myself, asked for a photograph, told him something he’d heard a million times (big fan, seen them loads, loved the band, was hoping to see them in Sydney, recently took a picture behind a tree in a mock up of one of their early posters etc etc) and tried to remember what he said in return.

It wasn’t a great deal but he was obviously experienced in dealing with the star struck maniacs that hang around the entrances to hospitality tents. He was really pleasant, agreed to the photo, pulled a weird pose and then he was gone. Leaving me to dash excitedly to the press box and ring Tom to tell him the news. I don’t think my voice has ever been more high-pitched than it was throughout that phone call.

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All of which meant that I got to record the post match interviews without a problem and toasted England’s victory all the while. Soon after I met up with Fe and we shopped our way round Wellington while she got bored of me telling her the same three stories over and over again.

We were staying at Fe’s relations that night so I popped into town to see Mark and Nathan for the first time as winners and the last time before we meet up again in Napier for the third and final Test match.

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But the good luck didn’t stop there. For a while now Fe and I had been trying to get our stay in Australia on the way back home extended by a few days. All the flights were booked up and despite calling three or four times a week since leaving Australia we hadn’t been able to change them. But if my luck was ever going to change it was going to be today. And so it proved as we were informed two people had cancelled their flights and that we could now head back on the 4th April rather than the 31st March. All in all it was quite a day. And it capped off an amazing stay in Wellington. A fantastic city and place with a real buzz about it.

Sadly my luck wasn’t set to last past the night. We were scheduled to fly back to Auckland the next day. And we got up early to catch our 8.25am flight because that’s what our itinerary said. But when we got to the checking in desk we were informed that our plane was already on the runway. Our flight had been moved forward but they hadn’t felt the need to tell us. A five hour wait loomed until the next plane and they even tried to charge us $50 each. Tried to.

And we’ll just have to wait and see whether the final piece of the jigsaw falls into place. I still have to find out whether I can bring my flight to Australia forward by one day so I can attempt the 2,000 mile dash to see The Smashing Pumpkins headline the V Festival in Sydney on the 29th March. But even if I can't I'll always have the memories of one ridiculous day in Wellington. A day that coincided with one other thing. Billy Corgan's birthday!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

View from the boundary

Watching cricket in New Zealand is very different from Australia. At times in the first Test in Hamilton the pace of the match and the relaxed atmosphere on the grass banks resembled that at weekend games played out all over the English countryside throughout lazy summer days.

The stadiums here are nowhere near the size of their Aussie counterparts and lack the imposition those old famous grounds impart on proceedings. And of course the crowds are tiny compared to those at the 98,000 seater MCG or 40,000+ grounds of the SCG or Gabba.

But though they may lack punch and power it’s more than made up for in charm. And I’m not just talking about the lack of idiot Aussies, although that is a definite plus point.

One aspect of the game here that fans will miss about the cricket in England is that they allow you to play on the outfield during the lunch break. This used to happen back home and may still well do at some grounds. But it’s not something I’ve been able to enjoy since I was a kid.

There’s something strangely liberating about walking around a cricket field moments after the players have trooped off. Most people casually approach the wicket before studying the state of the track and pretending they know what they’re looking at. Others get in a bit of batting practice on the sides. While the kids usually run riot with parents looking on fearful that one of them will drop an ice cream midway through the bowlers run up.

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Enjoyable stuff but not quite as entertaining as when, a few years back, on a mate’s birthday to watch Tranmere we stole out onto the field some hours after the match had been played out. Full of beer and with the sponsors bar about to close we made our way away from inside the stadium to head into town.

A few of us needed to relieve ourselves, took a wrong turning inside the ground and suddenly found ourselves staring at an unguarded Prenton Park pitch. Inebriated, we jumped over the seating, ran onto the pitch and proceeded to play a game of football on the actual pitch. I seem to remember scoring a sublime header to finish off an exquisite counter attacking move although as it was played out in darkness and without a ball few will be able to confirm this take on events.

The only crime I committed this time round was on the last day of the Test. Nathan and I took a tennis ball onto the pitch and went through a gentle throw and catch routine. As the lunch break drew to a close and with the PA asking us to leave the field of play our throwing and catching had got more daring. Where we had started just a few paces from each other tamely throwing the ball to and fro now we were some distance away hurling the ball and diving around on the grass. And while our catching was more than up to the task sadly my shorts were not as I came to realize just why they cost so little when I bought them in Thailand last year. After diving full length to snaffle an Ashes winning chance in the deep I felt something go in the bottom area. I was thus forced to watch the final four hours of play with huge tears along the front and back of my shorts.

Thankfully I’d been invited to a rugby game in the evening and had brought some jeans along to the cricket. Otherwise I’d have had to interview Kevin Pietersen after the game with my pants on full view.

Another enjoyable slant to proceedings over here is the choice of music on offer. Obviously in Test cricket there is a respectful silence whenever the action is halted on the field of play. In One Day cricket substandard chart and dance music is pumped out to the enjoyment of no-one. But here they choose their music carefully. Have you ever lazed back on a grass bank, cricket being played out in the background with a drink in hand, people milling about and the sun beating down whilst Vivaldi sweetly serenades you? I highly recommend it. And if it isn’t classical it’s a bit of Nina Simone, or one of the various Kiwi dub bands. Now that’s how you should watch cricket.

And then there’s the PA. In England all you get is a muffled announcement five minutes before play starts and an unintelligible message that someone somewhere needs to ring home because the cat is on fire.

Here they bring the art of the personal announcement to unheralded new highs. Not only are they informative about each and every new bowler or batsmen.

“Next in to bowl, with a career average of 31.93, 113 days short of his 23rd birthday and born as Mars crossed into the path of Jupiter……Chris Martin”

They’re funny with it.

“Coming into bat now, breast fed until he was 8 years old……Andrew Strauss”

“Cycling to the wicket on his new pedal bike and sporting a outsized red beret……Stephen Fleming”

“And the fielder who executed that run out, a man still incapable of looking Kevin Pietersen in the eye after being caught staring at him in the showers……Michael Vaughan.”

I am of course exaggerating slightly there. But that’s not to say that when presented with an opportunity to have a laugh they don’t take it. During one lunch break, as any shepherds in the crowd led their sheep onto the outfield for a free feed, the English squad players were put through their paces. Under a beating sun they were forced to run round and round the outfield. Suddenly the PA started to loudly chastise the fitness coach demanding him to give the players a beer.

It all makes for a much more laid back manner in which the cricket is played out. Helped by the friendly and self-depreciating Kiwi fans who shun the Mexican wave and have about as much faith in their team and we have in ours. While the security, so heavy handed last year in their treatment of anyone having fun, is almost non-existent here. Those that do parade the stands are approachable and friendly and don’t feel the need to pat their guns and evict people for the smallest indiscretion. And this mindset was all too evident on day three of the Wellington Test when two local fans next to me pulled out a bag of skunk from their bag and proceeded to smoke a small pipe throughout the tea break. Brilliant.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Return of the Numbers Game

Distance in miles

10,280 = London to Brisbane
852 = Brisbane to Melbourne
406 = Melbourne to Adelaide
1,327 = Adelaide to Perth
1,695 = Perth to Melbourne
443 = Melbourne to Sydney
10,570 = Sydney to London
11,473 = London to Hamilton

37,046 = miles covered watching England lose (so far)

19.593 = tonnes of C02 emissions caused by my air travel
27 = number of trees I need to plant in Kenya to offset my carbon footprint
0 = number of trees I’ll actually plant in Kenya to offset my carbon footprint

100 = percent of games seen that England have lost

10 = wickets taken by Ryan Sidebottom in the first Test
0 = runs scored by Ryan Sidebottom in England’s second innings.
1 = photos taken of Sidebottom’s dismissal (you’ll have to trust me on this one)

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244 = distance in miles from Hamilton to Wellington

It’s just one hour by plane to Wellington for the second Test and for some weird reason I'm confident of an England victory!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Return of the Mark

In the build up to my trip there were so many different things I was looking forward to. The opening madness in Sydney, meeting Fe’s huge family, discovering and exploring a new country in New Zealand, watching England lose in the cricket and reacquainting myself with a suntan again were all top of the agenda as was meeting up with old cricketing buddies from my last winter tour.

Sadly not everyone could make the journey over to NZ. Danny had his career to think of. No wonder as his last trip abroad took in four continents and 9 months. So he had some payback to attend to. The Pro was missing in action. We haven’t been able to locate him since Oz. And Chris opted for watching England get battered by Sri Lanka rather than the Kiwis.

So that left able deputies in Nathan and Mark. And it was with great expectation that I boarded the coach from Auckland to Hamilton where we were to share backpacker quarters just like the good old days.

As I sat in the coach I started daydreaming about some of the highlights of our Aussie trip. Me and Mark sharing a dorm in Brisbane for a week with a faulty air con that started working immediately the minute two Swedes moved in and plugged it in. Nathan and I, plucking up the courage to go on the ‘Neighbours Tour’ and then watching ‘The Dame Edna Experience’ in Melbourne. Experiencing the extreme highs and lows in Adelaide. They were good times and I was looking forward to more of the same.

Nathan picked me up at the bus depot and together with Mark and his friend Jane we spent the evening reminiscing together over a couple of beers and watching India beat Australia in a pub packed with Brits and Kiwis. The highlight was a resounding Indian victory although this came close to trumping it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTWOk6slU_Y

An enjoyable evening indeed. However it didn’t take long to remember stuff that I had managed to conveniently forget about one of my buddies. Namely, that when he wants to be Mark is a complete numpty at times……In the best possible way of course.

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The alarm bells should have been ringing whilst watching the cricket as he kept referring to Harbajan Singh as Azerbaijan Singh. And when we sat down to eat on the second night. Upon perusing the menu he asked us what ‘salsa’ was?

By the time he ordered a roast lamb and potato pizza I was back in the world of Mark. I of course remembered his strange eating habits. He happily orders pizzas without cheese or tomato.

And then there’s the luncheon meat. Mark moved to Germany four years ago. Land of the Bavarian sausage. Yet he happily eats food that you buy in the same section as the dog food. It reminds me of my Uni days when I used to live with Manky Jon and his ‘loaf of meat.’ A sliced loaf of mechanically recovered meat that he’d bought to see him through a particularly hard week towards the end of term. Nice.

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And then there are the conversational and behavioural gems. It will come as no surprise that not Mark snores. But it’s his inability to breath through one of his nostrils that leads to some of the more unusual sounding noises emanating throughout the darkness.

On the second night I was awoken by what sounded like Jane falling out of bed. But was in fact the sound of her foot as it repeatedly crashed against the bottom of Mark’s bed at about four in the morning. Of course after waking up to her swearing loudly in a thick Mancunian accent I couldn’t nod off again because the noises from Mark’s side of the room increased. It appeared the deep sleep pounding he was experiencing from Jane’s boot had metamorposised into anxiety snores. Which make a right din I can tell you.

But let us not forget that Mark is one of the most caring blokes you could hope to meet. And as he was so concerned that he was keeping us awake he moved bunks with Jane so that he could sleep on the bottom and her on the top. This was so he wouldn’t wake her up as he clambered out of bed on his thrice nightly trips to the lavatory. And on the third day was keen to find out if it had made any difference.

Mark: Did you guys sleep okay last night?
Us: Yeah, pretty well.
Nathan: What about you?
Mark: I didn’t sleep well at all.
Nathan: Why not?
Mark: Because I spent most of my time trying not to fall asleep.
Us: ????????

Not only was that bizarre but he’d spent a good five minutes the night before ‘practicing’ how to get out of his bed without making too much noise. I really should have videoed that one.

Another gem he came out with was on the subject of England’s slow batting in the first Test.

Mark: Ian Botham must be turning in his grave at this
Nathan: Mark, Ian Botham isn’t dead
Mark: Oh yeah.

And he’s also trying his hand at slapstick comedy. Whilst walking into town one evening he was trailing his hand across a nearby picket fence. In much the same manner schoolkids do with stick in hand outside the school railings. Note to Mark: even children have worked out that you shouldn’t use your own body parts. But Mark was using his finger and naturally managed to get it trapped in one of the gaps. I’m not sure what was funnier. The sight of him jumping around whilst wincing in pain or the way he tried to style it out and pretend it nothing had happened.

And I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come. We’re just one Test in so I’m looking forward to some more gaffes before Napier.

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Sunday, 9 March 2008

I've always hated cricket.

Bloody hell. England suck.

I've always loved cricket

Okay. So maybe I was a little hasty in my damnation of the cricket on Friday. But as David Gower said to me during the break of the Super 14’s rugby match I was a guest at last night. Nobody could have predicted what happened in that stunning evening session.

There is a warning at the top of the page about shameless name dropping. Anyway, with the game drifting towards a New Zealand declaration they suddenly lost six wickets for only 20 runs in 11 reckless and wonderful overs. And that included the first hat-trick I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. Ryan Sidebottom somehow conjured up a magic show. While some of the catching was a joy to behold.

It’s a shame that while Sidebottom was achieving only the 11th hat-trick in England’s Test history I wasn’t capable of recording it properly. The umpire took so long to raise his finger when he did I reacted by hitting ‘stop’. But I quickly regained my composure to take a jumpy shot of various people celebrating. Great stuff.

But in a cruel twist the New Zealand collapse coincided with one of our party’s departure. Jane, a friend of Mark’s from back in the days when he lived in Manchester rather than Germany, had sat through the tepid first three and a half days. She had to get back to Sydney and therefore wasn’t present when the wickets started tumbling. Neither, for that case, was Mark. Who managed to miss four dismissals in the fifteen minutes it took to walk Jane to the bus station. He then looked away during the fifth to complain to me that he’d missed the previous four.

It’s unlikely that if Jane had stayed the joyousness of the last session would have made much difference. This being her first ever Test match it is also certainly to be her last. After the third day she declared that she would never ever watch Test cricket again in her life. She had a glint of madness and more than a little anger in her eyes as she said it. I felt it best not to try and change her mind. We can't all be devoted to followers to such a marvellously entertaining sport.

Ryan Sidebottom hat-trick (part two)

Ryan Sidebottom hat-trick(part one)

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Two flies having sex

This is the most interesting thing that happened on day three. Although having two flies going at it on the arm rest of your chair is always fairly remarkable. Even when you're not being bored senseless by the cricket.

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Extremely frustrating

New Zealand is the undisputed home of Extreme Sports. Base or bungee jumping? Take your pick. Sky-diving, kite surfing or running off the side of a cliff, you name it, if there’s more than a 50% chance that you will die doing it, then it’s on offer here.

But then there’s the cricket. Before today no matter where you come from and how you pronounce tomato when it comes to watching cricket in New Zealand I would have described it as relaxing with a capital ‘R’ and you would have said "BORING!" But after today I’m almost ready to agree with you.

As you will know by now I am no daredevil. Walking the streets of South London after midnight with more than a fiver in my pocket is as reckless as I’ll ever get. But after sitting through seven hours of today's installment of the thrilling 'First Test between New Zealand and England'. Or 'England versus England' as it’s fast becoming. I am just about ready to set my gonads on fire and hurl myself off the top of the nearest high-rise. No doubt passing several Kiwis on the way (who paid $100 for the privilege).

Don’t get me wrong. I was enjoying myself. The first two days were a joy. As relaxing as cricket can possibly get. The match had enough going for it, there were no annoying Aussies getting escorted from the premises, and after four solid days of rain leading up to the game the sun neatly made a welcome re-appearance at the start of the first day. All was well with the world except for one minor problem. I was already clock-watching.

After spending the first two and a half weeks of our holiday together since leaving England I had left Fe in Auckland and travelled the two hours to Hamilton on my own to report on the match scheduled to finish on Sunday. I had gambled it wouldn’t last the duration. I figured that if the weather was good it would all be over inside four days enabling me to finish the work I need doing and catch a bus back to the huge party Fe’s mum is hosting for her birthday.

After the first days play it was all to play for and I was confident I'd be back in time. After the second I was relying on a bit of magic from either side but still in with a shout. And then came along day three. A day so lacking in excitement that it’s a surprise there wasn’t a David Koresh style group suicide session between innings.

Fuck me it was bad. For seven hours straight hardly a run was scored nor a wicket taken. The only excitement in the ground happened just after lunch when a group of youths started blowing whistles and a burly woman bounded over and started lecturing them. She didn't care about the shrill noises emanating from that side of the ground. She just wanted something to take her mind off the mind-numbing fare on offer. Good, young people with so much to offer were passing out all over the place.

And all the while I was gnashing my teeth, swearing under my breath and getting more and more stressed. Didn’t these players know I had a very important birthday to attend? Couldn’t they do something about the desperately poor run rate? Were they really paid so much to do so little?

Apparently so as after the days play Kevin Pietersen described his 131 ball innings, where he scored just 42 sodding runs, as one of the best he’d ever played. I’ll beg to differ on that one. I’ve never seen so many eyebrows simultaneously hit a ceiling as they did in the press conference following those comments.

So we go into the fourth day with me almost hoping New Zealand win as it’s the only way I’m going to get back to Auckland in time to celebrate Fe’s birthday. Almost, as after I spent all last winter watching England lose five matches in a row, I’m fairly keen to shake the ‘Jonah’ tag that is starting to stick.

So if anyone can think of a way that I can make it back in one piece and without memories of England losing another game of cricket in the Southern Hemisphere I’d love to hear from you.