Watch this space

Ah. Now before you accuse me of crumbling like an Empire Biscuit in the face of so much opposition to my intended cessation of blogging activites, I really have stopped. This post is merely an interim measure to warn you that the blog might restart, unexpectedly, like Windows is prone to do when you’re in the middle of something important, during the next couple of weeks. In the not-too-distant future, quite a significant proportion of the chatroom membership are going to be spending a week holed up in a chalet in France, not far from n’importe quoi territory, in fact.

With so many loonies under one roof, including but not limited to the Haxtonmeister and his wife Mental Mo, there is simply too much potential for humorous reportage to hang up the typewriter just yet. It’s in the public interest. However, in order to preserve my integrity, and in fact increase your literary delectation, I have approached a particularly erudite member of the party with a view to them becoming OHFTC’s first guest blogger. So, provided we can find a wireless hotspot somewhere near Méribel, it may not be the end just yet.

But briefly… biscuits. Diana, that was a most unwise statement to make. I can accept being called a whingeing Pom, but “Tim Tams.. nothing comes close” needs closer scrutiny. I, like DC, have downed a Tim Tam or two (I find one has to sample at least a packet of biscuits before one can make a qualitative judgement) and would concur with DC’s assessment. And if Tunnocks wafers and teacakes leave them floundering in their wake, Empire Biscuits kick sand in their face and take their dinner money. Not that one wishes to appear to be condoning bullying in any shape or form.

Must go. Check back in during the first week in February. A bientôt…

Back in Edinburgh’s chilly embrace

And I’ve missed it. Not so much the chilly embrace (although any embrace these days is a bonus, ha ha) as Edinburgh itself. I walked to work yesterday (my car was back with Edinburgh Audi recovering from 4 weeks in the custody of my colleague Matt), and it was a crisp Edinburgh winter morning. The sky was a dusky pre-sunrise blue, and I loved it. I would miss days like this if I lived somewhere hot like Australia, although by all accounts I haven’t missed very many of them over the last month. And it has been toe-pinchingly cold and damp today, which makes me gaze in wonder at my bottle of Factor 40 suncream. Only a week ago my right leg, having not been sufficiently introduced to the same bottle of Factor 40, was getting sunburned through the non-existent door of a Mini Moke on Magnetic Island.

My apologies in taking so long with this post. I have been meaning to write the final chapter since I arrived in London on Saturday, but it hasn’t happened. People, you have to realise that delectable prose like this takes a bit of crafting and can’t be rushed. And what’s more, I have been jetlagged to the point of falling asleep straight after dinner the last few evenings. Although I confess I’m not sure whether to blame that on jetlag or age.

It is, genuinely, good to be back. I really enjoyed Australia, with its blazing sun and irreverent attitude. I enjoyed a whole new take on Christmas Day, having lunch outside in balmy temperatures, and going to the park afterwards to play cricket. Especially the cricket bit, which also featured on New Year’s Day and other days in between. I loved coming back from a hot day in the city and jumping in my cousin’s pool to cool off. My family over there were more than kind to me, and I very much appreciated their kinship and hospitality. I went to a carol service wearing shorts, and had ice-pops afterwards. I even ate some fruit when I was over there – mango, strawberries, nectarine, watermelon. And others, believe it or not. The food in general was really high quality.

On my last afternoon in Sydney I climbed the harbour bridge, which was a fantastic experience, and the luxury of a beautiful clear day brought home to me just how much of Sydney (never mind Australia) I haven’t yet seen. Maybe one day I’ll go back and see more of the sights, and revisit my old friends the mosquitos, cockroaches, lizards and spiders. And the ants. Everywhere there were ants.

On my last day in Sydney my Powerbook, faithful friend for over 3 years now, died. I feared heat exhaustion, but in fact it was only a minor problem, so minor I was able to fix it myself and not have to phone Jones in a panic.

Just one or two thank yous and personal comments.

The Australia trip was made possible by Mrs Robbo’s suitcase, and the generosity of my employer and my Australian cousins. I am grateful to them all.

DC, I fear that my blog assumed chatroom status some time ago. My posts have long since become a sideline to the main event… I suspect that all this unseemly clamouring for another update is to present you all with a fresh canvas on which to air your comments 😉

Kenny D, I am flattered by your comments on behalf of the ‘Public’, but I regret to say this is my last blog post, unless I weaken and decide to dip my toe back in during my ski trip in three weeks’ time. I have enjoyed blogging immensely, and am very grateful for everyone’s comments.

Must be time for an Empire Biscuit.

Magnetic Island

Arrived on Magnetic Island (so named by Captain Cook when his compass went a little wonky near it) last night, to be confronted with the disappointing realisation that I would not be able to make it to the Barrier Reef after all. I apologise for the title of my blog entry from Sunday which is now misleading. It transpires that there are only a couple of companies running daytrips to the Reef from these parts, one of which had a trip today which was already overbooked (next one Saturday); the other had no trip until Thursday, by which time I will be back in Sydney.

The girl on reception at my resort seemed quite enthused that I was staying in one of their apartments which backed on to an area of bush/jungle. The Aussies seem to call any area containing more than one tree ‘the bush’. I would, she said, be able to entertain rock wallabies and other Australian wildlife delights on my terrace, of an evening. However, the only wildlife I have seen so far have been the lizard and spider (probably just a baby tarantula or something equally harmless) in my bathroom. And the lizards constantly scooting across the paths which join up the different buildings in the resort. These paths are very narrow, with dense ‘bush’ on either side. Walking through them after darkness falls (and it falls quickly, 0-to-total darkness in about 25 minutes shortly after 7pm) gives one the overwhelming feeling that a giant lizard/snake/spider à la Lord of the Rings is about to emerge and take one hostage. Realistically, it probably doesn’t give anyone else such feelings – I AM a little jumpy when it comes to insects and such like. Drying myself after a shower last night, with my eyes firmly fixed on the lizard on the wall, I let out a strangled yelp and almost did a somersault when I caught, out of the corner of my eye, something large and black swinging towards my leg. Reassuringly it was only the hairdryer, swinging on a hook underneath the sink unit.

There’s a slightly strange feeling about this place. I understand it’s technically the wet season up here in Queensland, and so I guess this is probably off-season tourist-wise. Not that it’s been wet since I’ve arrived – been hot and sunny (and humid). There are people here alright, although the place certainly isn’t jam-packed, and most of them seem to be sitting around looking relatively bored.

Perhaps that is why these companies are only running trips one or two days per week out to the Reef, rather than daily, as I expected. Or perhaps the number of trips they can run out there is restricted for conservation reasons, I’m not sure. It all comes across as a bit contradictory – after missing out on the Reef trip due to it being too popular, I phoned up a place that runs sailing/snorkelling day trips around the island – searching for something to do in lieu of going out to the Reef. They need four people to make it worthwhile, and I was only the third person – so will have to phone back tonight to see if it’s on. I phoned a place that organises snorkelling tours early this morning, and they weren’t running a tour today, but kindly supplied me with my own tall blonde Dutch girl. For snorkelling guide purposes only, I should add. So I snorkelled a bit around the edge of Geoffrey Bay, taking in the colourful fish, coral, and a bit of a wreck in the bay. My Dutch guide pointed out a fast-moving ray at one point, but without my glasses or contacts in I’m afraid I saw nothing. However, this has provided me with a good strategy for avoiding the lizards on my path. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that. Until I squash one with my size 12s, I suppose, but they’re a bit too fleet of foot for that to happen.

I confess I’ve been feeling pretty despondent today. I had my heart set on getting out to the Reef, which is why I’m here on the island at all, and that’s not been possible. I should have booked on a trip via the internet prior to coming up here, but I was trying not to be too anal about it all, booking everything in advance, which can work against you if you arrive somewhere and find you’ve booked on a naff trip and there are other much better ones around. However, I haven’t really had enough time to do it the way I did – arriving Monday late afternoon and leaving early Thursday morning. My solo traveller despondency has kicked in strongly today – being on an idyllic island with golden beaches, palm trees and warm blue-green ocean to swim in doesn’t seem so great on your own. Cities are more fun, somehow.

However, tomorrow is a new day. If the sailing trip doesn’t come off, I’m going to hire a ‘Moke’ – a little 4-seater buggy – and go cruising for chicks. Maybe go kayaking and jet-skiing as well. And who knows, maybe England will win the Twenty20 match against Australia tonight. Frankly, there’s probably more chance of me bonding with Australian wildlife.

PS Posted this sitting outside the locked reception area (it closes at 7pm) which contains the internet access and wireless network. Thankfully wireless networks transcend doors and locks 🙂

Sydney and the Barmy Army

Arrived back in Sydney on New Year’s Eve, and caught a train to some random destination in North Sydney to watch the fireworks with the Coys and some family friends. The fireworks were spectacular, although once you’ve seen a few fireworks displays they begin to lose some of their lustre. The Sydney fireworks scored in that they were being launched from several (4?) different points around the harbour, including some barges on the water itself. Quite a show.

The cricketing adventure continued on 2 January at the SCG. England put up a good-ish fight for a couple of days before losing ground badly on Day 3, and eventually crumbling on Day 4, their chances of a result being finally ground into the dust with Pietersen’s early dismissal. Nonetheless, there were a few highlights – for starters I was able to catch up with a couple of old friends. John Nicholls, an old friend and occasional co-cricketer from his time in Edinburgh, was in town for a few days before heading to New Zealand on the next leg of his epic 7 week trip. John clearly benefits from annual leave on a Local Government scale. And Lewis, my current host Phil’s companion on their round the world trip 20 years ago, was there with his son Ben. Cricket sceptics can surely at least acknowledge the sport’s superior capacity for sharing 20 years of news while watching the game. If had been a football match we might only have got up to 1992 or so. Not to mention that it might have been harder to hear each other in a football crowd. Although we were, really, as we were sitting directly behind the main bulk of the Barmy Army ranks, which was a noisy and exercising experience. We were up and down like a Church of Ireland congregation, simply to see what was happening on the field. The Aussie reaction to the Barmy Army’s antics was more receptive than I had anticipated. Mostly they found them hilarious. In fact, my own attitude has changed towards them having now been at such close quarters. At matches I’ve been to in England, they’ve been a bit of a pest, singing their signature tune ‘Everywhere we go’ followed by mindless chants of ‘Barmy Army’ ad nauseam. However, the BA in Australia have a much more diverse range of chants and songs, some of which, frankly, are genuinely funny. Not all of which I can share here bearing in mind the sensitivity of some of the readership. However, I liked how the standard ‘God save your gracious Queen’ was followed up with (to the tune of Yellow Submarine) ‘Your next Queen is Camilla Parker-Bowles, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Camilla Parker-Bowles…’ This is not to say that ‘Everywhere we go’ didn’t get a regular airing – it did – with Barmy Army general ‘Jimmy Savile’ marching up and down the aisles marshalling his troops and orchestrating the singing.

The Aussies are jealous of the Barmy Army, and those around me generally laughed long and hard at their more amusing songs. They, I suspect, wish they could respond in kind, but there simply isn’t the deep-rooted football terrace culture present here that has been around in Britain for generations. They have a bunch of Barmy Army wannabes, the Fanatics, who had a strong presence on Day 1, and regaled us, in the main, with fairly banal chants, none of which I can repeat, but you’re not missing much. Oh, apart from ‘Four-nil, four-nil, four-nil…’ etc (it was only 4-0 then remember), which, while somewhat lacking in invention, was hard to argue with content-wise.

The match ended just before lunch on Day 4, after which Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne made their exits from the Test arena for good. It was a privilege to be at their last ever Test match. England, to their credit (having just been thumped again), formed a guard of honour on the edge of the square to welcome Langer to the crease for the last time, as he and Hayden came out to polish off the 46 runs Australia needed for victory. During that final session, while play was going on, the Barmy Army had managed to elicit a wave from almost everyone on the field, including the two umpires and Langer himself. The Aussie players also came over to the Barmy Army and applauded them after the game for their support in the series. As did the England team, obviously.

So, apart from the cricket, I’ve had a busy week – eating out with Diana and her slightly insane friends, followed by dinner with two different sets of relatives, and Diana again at Darling Harbour. On Day 4, after the cricket finished at lunchtime, I walked back to Darling Harbour, partly because it was such a nice spot, but mainly because I’d left my New Years Test commemorative baseball cap. A senior moment, I’m afraid. And not for the first or last time on this trip – last night Phil had to drive me back to Wendy’s (another relative – who hosted a meet-the-family barbeque at her swish house in Mosman yesterday afternoon) so that I could retrieve my camera.

Walking down from Central Station, towards Chinatown and Darling Harbour, Diana remarked that she used to work ‘just along here’, pointing vaguely in the direction of Club X, an ‘Adult Entertainment Complex’. Full of surprises, is Diana. On Saturday, on the way to Paddington Markets and Watsons Bay, she insisted we stop at a picturesque cricket ground to take some photos and watch a few overs. As chance would have it, it was Drummoyne Oval, where a distant relative (they’re all fairly distant over here, second cousins are the closest it gets, but this was my dad’s second cousin’s husband’s uncle) took 10-1 for Drummoyne in November 1911. For non-cricketers, that’s quite good bowling. Anyway, the match we were watching turned out to be a first grade match (two levels below Test standard) and Stuart MacGill and Greg Matthews were playing.

Last night Phil, being the beleaguered Financial Controller of Sydney FC, organised a ticket for me to watch their fixture against the NZ Knights at Aussie Stadium. It is, I’m slightly ashamed to say, the first football match I’ve been to for over two years. The Sydney fans behind the goal were impressive, and if the still embryonic A-League takes hold here then perhaps the football terrace culture will develop in time. The visiting support was mostly comprised of about 100 members of the Barmy Army, who threw their not inconsiderable vocal weight behind the Kiwis, and appeared to take great pleasure in finally seeing the Aussies beaten (Sydney lost 1-0).

Weather has generally been really good here recently, with the odd shower. Temperature has not gone above 31C, which I’m grateful for, and there has nearly always been a pleasant breeze. We do get weather like this in the UK, however it is usually met with ‘IT’S A SCORCHER’ tabloid headlines, and is considered a ‘heat wave’, whereas here it is considered normal, perhaps even on the cool side of normal.

No idea what it will be like on Magnetic Island the next few days – a forecast I saw on the web looks good, so here’s hoping. Although if the cyclones don’t get me the box jellyfish and sharks might…

En route to the Great Barrier Reef

Well, my apologies for going off the radar for so long, but this holidaymaking lark is proving quite time-consuming. I now understand why Jones seems to update his blog from various airports, as that sometimes is the only ‘dead time’ you get a on a trip. And dead time, as we all know, is the enemy of productivity. My flight to Townsville leaves at 11.10am, which is an awkward time, and I’ve had to bring forward elevenses to half past ten. So so here I am, fortified by a pre-flight doughnut, in Terminal 2 of Sydney Airport.

The last time I was here, on my way down to Melbourne, things were a little tight, as I arrived about 25 minutes before the plane was due to leave. I got ushered to the ‘Priority’ desk and whisked through to catch the flight (in plenty of time, obviously). Today I got here early to avoid the stress of running late, and found myself waiting in a queue for at least half an hour, while anyone who was waiting to check in for a flight which was departing imminently got whisked through to ‘Priority’. Strikes me that it pays to be late and take the Priority route.

I’m off to Townsville for two and a bit days, in an attempt to see some of the Great Barrier Reef. Whether I see any of it at all (and indeed, my family again) depends on whether my Aussie relatives’ doom-mongering forecasts of cyclones, heavy rain, and general natural disasters in Queensland come true. But being on my own up there, there’s a fair chance I will get a chance to give you all a blow by blow account of my adventures, and my demise, should it come to that.

But let’s hope not, eh. Otherwise Diana would need to find another blog to post her gloating comments on.

I think this is my shortest blog entry ever, but just wanted to get back in touch briefly and assure you all that I haven’t given up blogging, or been eaten alive by sharks. I have however, killed a cockroach.

Time to catch a plane, will talk more soon.