François Lelord took Hector on a journey around the world in search for happiness, but I had a feeling a short trip to Corfu, it’s sun, sea, sand and a few games of cricket thrown in would do just the trick. I didn’t quite find time on the tour to finish Lelord’s book and discover what Hector learns, but should he have failed to find an answer by its end I can suggest a Quokka tour might be a good place to look. With a 40th birthday to celebrate this promises to be the best trip yet.
My own happiness commences at the Hotel de Bradley the night before we depart with a Mrs Zoolander-cooked curry, a cheeky bottle of Chateaux du Chesney and the usual question of when Mrs Ches will be put out of her misery with a proposal of marriage. This wonderful hospitality saves me from a 3am alarm call, but the 6am rendezvous at Luton airport still feels a tad too early for the `breakfast of champions’, but it doesn’t stop the majority of the touring party. Guinness it is then and we were are off and running on the 2014 Quokkas tour of Corfu.
I check in and immediately realise that my Quokkas blazer has still to be reclaimed from the local Help the Aged charity shop – an over enthusiastic Mrs Ches having no appreciation of an XXL burgundy coach driver’s blazer’s place in a man’s wardrobe. A fine obviously awaits me. Perhaps the new lime green Quokkas beach towel will have more chance of surviving the next clothes cull. Talking of clothes, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Binman has come dressed as The Fonz. He assures us that shiny PVC bomber jackets are what all the bin men are wearing these days. That might be true, but there seemed to be a missing high visibility vest to his outfit.
The Quokkas blazers are great because they make us very recognisable, but that doesn’t seem have extended to Quokkas Top Trumps. As we plough our way through the first game I can see that my card has a photo of Mantis on it. Perhaps The Egg felt one of the three groins above Mantis’ head in the photo were mine, but when questioned he suggested I needed to bat for longer, that way he’d have a chance to photograph me in action. Touché.
I digress. For once an Easyjet flight departs on time (yet more happiness) with a huge and excited squad of Quokkas on board hoping to be a little more successful than the last International sports side departing from Luton. An uneventful flight has us arrive in Corfu Old Town just as the heavens well and truly open. Plans of going to the beach are therefore thwarted. Mind you, if we had known at that point that the new Quokkas towels were in fact water-resistant, we may have ventured to the coast anyway. Instead we wet our whistles on the local brew.
Fed and watered (mostly watered) we search for some afternoon entertainment and following Zoolander’s first (and last) recommendation we opt for the `fifth ranked thing to do in Corfu according to TripAdvisor’, a Victorian museum. Our guide Maria does her best to ignore the comments about all the working manikins all making hand job movements and gives us some insight into Victorian life in Corfu before cricket. Generally speaking, lacking in happiness seems to be the answer. We therefore quickly depart, but not before suggesting in the visitor book for future visitors to drink lots of Ouzo before taking the museum tour.
Our next stop is a strange pet shop that encourages you to torture the fish by putting your feet in their tanks. No one buys any fish, but I think I will pass on the white bait in future. For those against cruelty to animals it was time to sit down for a `quiet’ game of 21s, some cumquat nibbles and pretty much every cock-related double entendre ever heard. As the cumquat liqueur becomes Ouzo and then turns into brine, Zoolander provides the best of these, informing the party that he will “put as much cock in his mouth as you want, but he won’t put that in it.” We don’t argue.
Having drunk the bar dry, we help the Falklands Islands economy by consuming half our own body weight in calamari. Several courses, bottles of local rose and thumb games later we join the ‘in crowd’ at The Bristol, taking the tone of the place down a peg or two as we drink long into the night.
Having discovered that ear plugs and two pillows are simply not enough to drown out the Gymnast’s snoring, I’m thankful that the sun breaks and I have a genuine reason to get out of bed. Collectively we visit the UNESCO World Heritage cricket ground that we are due to play on. With its short square-leg boundaries, Conan, Evil Dave and Tom the Yak are salivating at the potential runs coming their way. For those more used to park pitches, the underprepared outfield helped to make them feel right at home.
But this is a rest day, so we take the opportunity to ferry across to the `Corfu Alcatraz’, the isolated island of Vidos, where we are assured of finding beautiful secluded beaches. We share three different beaches with just two Germans, but a missing taverna threatens to ruin the day for the thirsty Quokkas. Thankfully the late arriving Slick comes to the rescue, bringing with him a well-stocked bar and nibbles and giving us our first opportunity to taste Vagina beer. Taverna eventually found, we get our daily dose of calamari before catching the last ferry back just as the sun starts to come down.
With the touring party boosted by new addition, Tom2 – Gymnast’s new roommate and my saviour – we are serenaded by a Jethro (the Cornish comedian) lookalike as we dine. During the break Jethro asks whether we were aware of his non-glove-wearing Corfu wicket keeping great grandfather who appears in Wisden? We weren’t. He then proceeds to ask if we were aware that Corfu once beat England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and were the number one cricket team in the world? Again we weren’t, which is hardly surprising because its bollocks. A quick Google revealed that Corfu’s first international was only in 1997 and despite Australia being pretty crap in the late 90’s, I don’t think Corfu has turned them over since then. I start to get a feeling that Corfiots like to tell the odd porky or two.
With our new friend Goldie-Looking-Chain leading the way, we all squeeze into the world’s smallest heavy metal club, which to our surprise has its very own MCC plaque on the wall. As good as it is to see cricket finding its way into every part of Corfu life, Sepultura and Pantera (EGG note: If only the music was that good) are not to everyone’s taste, so we make our way to the bright lights of Club 54. Here Corfu’s best-dressed revellers poor scorn at the site of Skippy and flip-flops, but they can’t prevent the Quokkas taking over the dance floor to strike their best `blue steel’ poses until the taste for magical potatoes becomes too much to bear.
It is match day at last and boy is it warm, perhaps hot enough to make Satan feel at home, strange then that every second shop we pass on the way to the cricket ground seems to be selling fur coats. A 3pm start gives us plenty of time to eat all day breakfasts and soak away hangovers in the marina pool. Sadly our much anticipated appearance at the UNESCO World Heritage cricket ground didn’t materialise. Something about parked cars being in danger from Conan smashes. The marina cricket ground is the new venue and it is aptly named as you could sail boats in the outfield – it’s that waterlogged! Thankfully a plastic pitch ensures the batsmen and bowlers won’t drown, so a game of water cricket is on.
The home team – Byron – mostly originate from Pakistan and as we were to find out to our cost many of them may have represented their test side in the recent past. They are a friendly bunch, although something is lost in translation when they offered Camp (formerly known as Skip) the option to bat or bowl, only to rescind the offer when he chose to bat. With the toss lost, we are asked to bowl.
The Quokkas make a surprisingly decent start with Tom2 skidding the ball and himself down the pitch at a decent pace, Blue Steel (formerly known as Faggie) bowling some genuine in-swingers that don’t get nearly enough reward (Ed: that’s enough praise for one season), and Evil Dave using the puddles to his advantage. A nice slip catch from Camp apart, the fielding is of the usual Quokkas standard, but several trips to recover sixes do give the Egg and The Verger time to sow more rice in the outfield.
Just as we start to get on top, Phil Scolari enters the fray and takes the Quokkas attack apart with a range of powerful blows aimed mostly to cow corner. He eventually takes pity on us and retires. I put that down to boredom as I attempt to take Slick’s most wides in an over Guinness world record set on the previous tour. But the general consensus is that he just got tired of attempting to hit the ball over to Albania.
Smarter spin bowling from The Egg and Snoop and some top notch straight stuff from Tom the Yak keep the score a fraction below 220, but nevertheless 217 for 7, off just 29 overs, is a pretty sizeable total, especially when taking into account there was not much value for your shots with the outfield requiring fielders to wear life jackets.
Concerns about the failing light threaten tea completely, but umpire Zoolander doesn’t go without meals so knocks an immediate turnaround on the head, besides the Quokkas destroy their solitary ham and thousand island dressing sandwich in no time at all. Where is the bloody cake Nikos?
In to bat we go and Satan gets us off to a solid start, demonstrating both of his shots to full effect in his innings of 18. He is ably supported by the likes of Slick and Snoop, but inevitably the run rate creeps up as Snoop and Blue Steel attempt to Plan-F each other. Eventually both fall on their Gunn and Moores, but their departures allow Conan and Camp to demonstrate how to run between the wickets. They put on a rapid 60. As the `chainsaw war’ in the neighbouring field threatens go into overdrive, the game is on!
And then it is off as Camp holes out. With the light fading the home team sportingly turn to pace and this ensures the game will run away from us. However, there was still time for Tom2 to show us his county cricketing credentials, helping us make a respectable 169 for 6, but sadly there is no time for Binman to put his elbow back into place or a Verger cameo.
We drown our sorrows at the marina poolside bar and I find knew happiness in learning of a Saints victory and a Pompey defeat, before we catch the official team bus back to the hotel.
A roof top terrace bar, strawberry daiquiris and rusty nails beckon, along with Wiggy, our honorary Quokka for the night. Calamari and fried cheese consumed aplenty at the official team dinner, we take our fines for understated attire like men, and then head into town. Almost immediately we must take shelter in The Bristol from a tremendous storm – there are worse places to be holed up. With almost every spirit known to man consumed, we go back to the hotel and dream of wallowing in mud at the marina ground again.
It’s not really a surprise when we discover the marina pitch is totally waterlogged and with no alternative available, the second tour match is sadly cancelled. An insistence on a match fee irked the Quokkas somewhat and threatened to derail the planned coach trip to the west coast to get some much needed sun, sea and surf. With blackmail notes delivered, ransoms agreed and hostages recovered, the Quokkas do get to go and have a game of cricket by the sea’s edge. At which Slick showed improved balance with a beer in hand, making several catches in deep water without seawater ingress into can.
Suitably sunburned and with copious amounts of calamari eaten, it’s time to return to Corfu to drink Greece’s finest red, consume pizza and be eaten alive by real bloodsuckers.
The night concludes at the nearby Casino, where we must provide professions and fathers names on application forms (professional rally driver and Wendlespaswick if you are asking), before witnessing Binman lose almost exactly the same amount of money as that won by all of the other Quokkas combined. Cheers Binman. €2 White Russians reduce the pain for Binman and keep a smile on the face of the rest of us happy gamblers.
A working lift, just about eatable breakfast and a 12pm check out – there is happiness right there – I really must applaud the logistics manager on his hotel choice. The extra time before we are kicked out of the hotel allows us to stock up on Vagina beer, put on our budgie smugglers and once again take to the west coast for more beach cricket.
On the sand, in addition to endangering local sunbathers, we discuss our top five all-time favourite things (food, beer, food, beer and food seemed to be the general consensus) and the quality of championship football (about league 1 standard if you are watching Birmingham City) before eventually partaking in at least two of our favourite things at the charming Stevens Hotel that overlooks the bay.
Having thanked the Greek cricketing gods for what we are about to eat, we do our utmost to make squid an endangered species and then watch the sun go down on both Corfu and the tour whilst discussing the merits of Afghanistan, Israel and the West Indies for the next jaunt.
Perhaps for once cricket wasn’t really the winner, but with or without bat on willow, happiness can be found on tour. My thanks go to Camp and any other unsung heroes that helped to organise yet another truly fantastic trip. Hopefully I will see you all at the awards dinner, but until then, dock you later.
P.S. With the tour over, my kidneys are much happier.