Sydney, Christmas Eve

For my friends in the UK:

“It’ll be a blue Christmas without you,
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you.
You’ll be doing alright
With your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.. “

Actually, the weather here is cloudy and muggy, been like that 2 days now. Trying not to feel cheated. Experienced my first bona fide Aussie bbq last night, and pretty fine it was too. Killed my first mosquito as well.

Today I took a train into the city and am wandering down George Street heading for the Rocks. Christmas seems incongruous over here – at Manly I was confronted with the sight of tinsel wrapped around palm trees. Reminds me of the time at school when a couple of boys (prefects, actually) in my sister’s year stole a palm tree from the school foyer to use as a Christmas tree in the prefect’s common room. They weren’t prefects for too much longer as it turned out.

As I was mid-purchase in a store on George Street, the drought in Sydney ended rather abruptly.

Although I feel privileged to have been here to witness this event, I am now rather wet and taking refuge in Starbucks (any port in a storm, after all). Prior to this I was sheltering under an inadequately-sized piece of roof outside the store wherein I made my purchase (a rather fetching Billabong hat). Co-sheltering with me was a lady, with whom I struck up a conversation. She proved to be American, which wasn’t an altogether promising start, especially when I mentioned I had come over for the cricket.

“Oh, you’ve come over to watch the CRICKET?”
I nodded an enthusiastic assent, encouraged that she seemed to have heard of cricket and was able to pronounce it properly.
“And do you know, they LOST.”
“Yep, I know”
“So, do you play? You must do.”
I replied that I did.
“So, are you in DEfense?”
I looked confused.
“You’re not a fieldsman, are you?”
I explained, patiently I hope, that everyone was a fieldsman at some point.

I decided this might be a good time to don my new Billabong hat and make a run for it. She took one look at me in my Billabong hat and burst out laughing.

I ran for it.

Australia, part I

Arrived in Sydney last night. Skies were grey and overcast. Considered asking for my money back, but today has dawned bright and sunny. Not sure of the temperature but it feels like mid-high twenties, with a slight breeze, which is nice.

Am staying with the Coy family in Denistone, NSW – a suburb of Sydney. Managed to edge out the eldest son (Andrew) in a game of Fifa 06 last night, although the teams were heavily weighted in my favour. Am going to need to continue to fix a team ‘handicap’ to have any hope of competing with these young upstarts. Phil and I reminisced on the Subbuteo contests of ‘86 and how technology had moved on somewhat. I assured him that the Subbuteo flame was still lit, at least on Boxing Day between myself and Slid. Although not this year, alas, as I have another Boxing Day fixture to attend.

Discovered that my Aunt Dulcie phoned this morning to welcome me to Australia. Embarrassingly, I was still in bed. The problem was I woke up early (good old jetlag), checked the time, which was 1am. This was a little disappointing. Woke up at periodic intervals thereafter to find the time still depressingly early. Was confused by the obvious sounds of the younger Coy boys playing in the house from about 5am. Eventually checked my watch to find it was 10.30am. I had been checking the clock on my mobile phone prior to this, and only now did I realise I had left it on Singapore time (-3 hours). D’oh. My aunt rang again this evening, so mercifully I was able to explain that I wasn’t being a sluggard and how I am normally up really early with a cheery wave and friendly greeting ready for anyone in earshot.

Ok, so I have noticed some important differences between life here in Oz and the UK.

• The house numbers are painted on the kerb
• The light switches are labelled (light, heat, fan etc)
• Pedestrian crossings – when the green man comes on it makes a sound like aliens shooting ultra-laser-stun-molecular-disintegrator weapons (I imagine)
• The (sun)light is definitely different here. I fumbled my first few tennis-ball catches on the beach today before putting my shades back on

Y’know how in Scotland, on a summer’s evening after the sun has gone down, it can get a bit chilly, even though the day has been gloriously warm? Apparently that’s what happened today. My hosts starting shivering and reaching for their jumpers. I reassured them that it wasn’t cold at all, oh no.

During lunch today, one of the boys noticed a spider, fairly big by UK standards, on the ceiling. Mrs Coy calmly announced that it was only a baby tarantula. Tarantulas are not considered particularly dangerous, according to Mrs Coy. There are much more lethal spiders to worry about. This is good, as where there’s a baby tarantula there must be a mummy tarantula nearby. I was just considering this, the baby tarantula, and its larger, hairier mother, when the Coys’ pet rabbit brushed up against my leg. It was at this point that I lost forever the illusion of macho masculinity that I try so hard to convey to people who don’t know me very well.

As I write, the baby spider has not yet migrated into my room, but hey, it’s got the whole night to do that. And I’ve got the whole night to think about it.

Night night, sleep tight, don’t let the… yeah yeah


Back home, very near to where I grew up, there is a road called Orchard Road. It’s the narrow, twisty, hilly road that took us to church on Sunday mornings, and on the way back, as we crested a rise, we could see our house framed against the Mourne Mountains. My sister once crashed the car on this road.

Here in Singapore, they also have an Orchard Road. It’s a bit wider than the one I grew up near to, and has a few more shops. But I would tip my sister to crash the car here too.

Singapore has been warm and humid, and has been mostly raining since I arrived. Our Aussie pilot came on the PA about 2 hours out from Changi airport, with confident predictions that we were about to be thrown about in a storm on our approach, complete with detailed explanations of how he would abort the landing at the last possible moment, if required. But this was ok because he’s been flying for Qantas since 1967 and let us know this at least 3 times. Naturally, we flew straight in and landed without any problems. Favourite comment from the same pilot, before we took off from Heathrow: “We’ll be taking off and heading east, aw look folks, we’ll be heading that way all night.”

Have now spent a wonderful day in Singapore with Koji, Hwee Sng, and their gorgeous children. Koji hasn’t really changed in 10 years, apart from putting on a little more weight, and losing a little more hair. He still retains a wonderfully positive outlook and smiles a lot. And he still has a BB gun. Hwee Sng, I think, despairs of him ever growing up.

After a morning building Lego houses and crashing racing cars with Isabella (5) and Ethan (2), Koji rescues his kids from further punishment by taking me off on a whirlwind tour of Singapore’s tourist attractions, including, all-importantly, the Singapore Cricket Club. Have posted some photos on my photo page (link on the right). As Koji drives me (efficiently) around I fall asleep in the car a few times. Am not good at overcoming jet lag – having my meals knocked out of sequence is never a problem, as I seem to be ready to eat whenever the opportunity arises, but the sleep pattern really suffers.

Singapore proves to be just as clean and efficient as Jones warned me it would be. And a lot greener than I expected. What’s more, they use British power sockets! I like it a lot here. The heavy rain makes me feel right at home, although thankfully we had a dry day for the sightseeing. Now, sitting at the gate waiting for my Sydney flight to leave, I regret I didn’t have more time here, but that’s just how it goes.

So, onwards to Australia.

In October 1986, I remember coming home from school one day to discover a couple of Australian visitors staying with us. It was my first experience of Australians, and I remember disliking them immediately for their self-confidence and assertiveness! I can also remember being in tears when they left us a week later. Growing up in rural N Ireland, with my friends literally miles away, and a non-sporty sister for company, the arrival of two sport-loving Aussies turned out to be an absolute dream. They taught me 3-man Aussie rules, came and watched me play for my football team on Saturday morning, gave me hope that going to church could be fun and didn’t have to require wearing a suit, and, crucially, represented Crystal Palace and Liverpool in three-way Subbuteo tournaments.

Eight hours from now, and a mere twenty years later, Phil, one of those globetrotters, will pick me up from Sydney airport. I hope I recognise him…

London, Day 3 and the Losing of the Ashes

This is a poster up in my sister’s kitchen, espousing the good old British spirit which carried us through the war years.

Spent most of Saturday setting my a wireless network and generally tidying up my sister’s laptop. IT literacy, like most things in life, is a relative measure. To my sister and her partner Angela I am fully qualified technical support. To someone like Jones I am a technical disaster waiting to strike. He knows the latter is a more accurate appraisal of my IT abilities because he has to field the panicky calls from me whenever I blow something up. However, this time all appears to be working ok after my tinkering.

This weekend I also had the chance to meet Jo and Stewart, friends of my sister, who will be in Melbourne at the same time as me. They are heading over there for a wedding in Airlie Beach, and are very sensibly only attending one day of the 4th Test at the MCG. Rather less sensibly, they are taking their baby son Lewis with them on the trip. Although Jo, like my sister, is a nanny by profession, so if she can’t handle it, I’m not sure who can.

Looking forward to seeing them again in Melbourne, it will be nice to have a couple of familiar faces there.

Last night, I joined my friends Tom and Joy at a carol service at St Paul’s Hammersmith. Tom was one of three flatmates who put up with me for my final two years at university.

All three of my ex-flatmates from that flat are now married. Probably the first to go (my chronology of these matters is a little vague) was Koji – who married Hwee-Sng when he returned to Singapore after graduating. Hwee-Sng was also studying in Edinburgh with us. Tonight I fly out to Singapore for 2 nights – sometime tomorrow I will see them again for the first time in over 10 years.

My sister, with her customary sensitivity, stops outside my door this morning, and announces “I think you’ve lost the Ashes.” Like I lost them myself, personally.

“I know” I reply, gruffly. I had, at some point during the night, switched on Radio 4 LW on the little radio I put beside the bed last night for precisely this purpose. Mercifully I missed the denouement itself, but I got the gist of the way things had turned out, even in a semi-conscious state.

Mornings are not a time when I like people telling me things I’d rather not hear, especially if I already know them. Tom and Koji, I imagine, both learned this. But Alison sounds positively cheery about England’s capitulation. Having recently opined that “There’s too much cricket chat on your blog”, perhaps she thinks this will reduce it.

Ha! Little does she know. Plenty of cricket left in this series. Still time for England to win two Test matches, and cast a gloriously artificial sheen on the series result.

Come on England. Keep calm and carry on.

London, Day 1

Now arrived in London on the first leg of journey Down Under. Mum gave me a lift to Edinburgh airport. At least that’s the most traumatic part of the trip over now.

Some months ago BA emailed me (that’s British Airways, rather than Mr T) to say that the flight departure time had been changed from 7.30am to 7.20am. I mused on this as we sat on the tarmac well beyond 7.20am, waiting for something. Personally, I was waiting for the temperature in the cabin to rise above zero, and found time to congratulate myself on bringing my ski hat and gloves.

At check-in I discovered to my chagrin that my suitcase weighs 22kg, which is 10kg under the limit for this flight (phew) but 2kg OVER the limit for my flights to Singapore/Australia. Am going to have to jettison some items here in London, I fear. Suspect that the underwear may have to go, it’s either that or the baseball mitt and miniature cricket bats. And we all know what’s more important.

Was reminded of my recent stomach bug when the stewardess remarked over the tannoy that they would be disembarking the aircraft by both the front and rear doors.

I’ll leave you with that thought.

Trying not to think about cricket too much right now… too depressing.

Second Test, the (slightly delayed) Aftermath

Well, that’s the Christmas shopping just about done, following my annual visit to the Frasers cosmetics department. Confronted by an overly-made up girl who asks if can she help me, I present the Christmas Shopping Male Panic Look, which combines unspeakable fear and an obvious need to go to the toilet, urgently. The Look does work, I can recommend it. I was out the door in five minutes.

Speaking of urgently needing to visit the bathroom, the last 24 hours or so has seen me in there rather more than I would have liked. Good old stomach bugs, eh. I can provide further, colourful details, including angles of projection etc, but only on request.

But back to Christmas shopping. The only present that remains to be bought is Wiseman’s tin opener. I have tried numerous outlets without finding the specific model I was after, but am confident I can still get him one that even he can use. But not in Habitat, which surprised me with its apparently total lack of avant garde tin openers, until I remembered that people who shop in Habitat simply don’t eat tinned food, darling.

Cricket: It has been a somewhat depressing week. Am going to refrain from making statements about the imminent demise of anyone’s careers. Even Damien Martyn’s. In fact, am quite probably not going to comment on cricket at all until Boxing Day. However, will try to update the blog more frequently until then, if only to prevent a build-up of terribly witty humour-at-my-expense in the comments section, as per the last post.

Finally, a quick thank you to Mr and Mrs Friendy for hosting a little soirée on Sunday night to mark my leaving. I had thought I was only going on holiday, but it would appear some people consider it more permanent than that… anyway it was a lot of fun. Perhaps not for the hosts as they were stuffed with the cold.

I shall miss my Edinburgh friends over Christmas and New Year, not to mention my family. But it won’t be long until I see them all again.

Contrary to some rumours, I have every intention of coming back!

Pietersen, and the demise of McGrath and Warne

A couple of late night cricket-viewing sessions later, things are looking decidedly rosier for England. Which must be an enormous relief to my work colleagues, since my mood seems to be index-linked to England’s cricketing fortunes at present.

Last night, after a party at my church to mark the forthcoming return to Oz of Diana (she of the pro-Aussie comments and threats on these pages), a whole gaggle of folk descended on Mr and Mrs Robbo’s to see if Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood could carry on the good work from the previous night. Leading dignitaries such as Wiseman and Kenny D were present, as were many others with a less pronounced interest in cricket, and many explanations were required to facilitate informed viewing. Mercifully there were no lbw decisions to explain – indeed, there were no wickets to explain at all, as Pietersen and Collingwood established a new record partnership for the 4th wicket.

Those without a pronounced interest having faded early, I managed to stay up until KP completed his century, retiring to bed at 2am-ish somewhat mindful of the fact that I would be required at work in a little over six hours. I was outdone by most of the gathering, who only left after Robbo had accidentally fallen asleep on the sofa. Robbo’s endurance has to be called into question, as on the second night of the First Test I caught him snoozing after approximately 5 minutes’ play.

But back to Pietersen. Definitely an interesting character. I am not especially drawn to him as a person, he strikes me as someone who does a lot of talking without prior engagement of his brain, but I can’t deny it’s exhilarating watching him bat. I would contend that he has been an absolutely pivotal figure in England’s cricketing resurgence over the last few years. I understand that England were going along nicely in the period immediately before his Test debut, with series wins over the West Indies (home and away), New Zealand, South Africa and Bangladesh. However, I believe it was his aggressive assault on the bowling of both Warne and McGrath, in the opening defeat at Lord’s, that helped infuse the rest of the team with the beginnings of real belief; belief that Warne and McGrath, such bowling champions for so long, could be attacked successfully. This confidence found its initial expression in the first innings run-fest at Edgbaston, (where McGrath wasn’t playing) and grew and grew through the matches at Old Trafford and Trent Bridge. Pietersen, if anything, has stepped up his aggression against McGrath, who I still maintain will not see out the series. I had originally made that assertion on the basis that his 36-year-old body would not cope with the rigours of five intense Test matches, and this may still prove correct, but if he continues to take a pounding from Pietersen et al, he might well be dropped! Almost unthinkable for such a great bowler as McGrath, but I suspect he can’t be objective enough about it to withdraw from the team himself. England’s task will be even easier if Ponting continues to under-bowl Stuart Clark, who, in this match at least, has been more dangerous and effective than McGrath and Warne put together.

Only two weeks now until I head for Sydney, via London and Singapore. Somehow it’s easier to cheerfully battle along Princes St in the face of biting wind and rain, when you’re clutching a bag containing SPF50+ sun lotion. It may be useless in the current situation, but it holds much promise for better days around the corner. Or at least warmer ones.

It helps, of course, that England have now played well for two days on the trot, which all increases the possibility of the series still being alive come Boxing Day.

I’ll drink to that.

First Test, the Aftermath

Today’s text comes from Psalm 127: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, eating the bread of anxious toil…” Or in my case, eating chocolates, anxiously. Have now spent two fruitless late nights/early mornings watching England’s miserable performance in the First Test. Followed that with a late night showing of the new Bond film, in Glasgow, which was great fun, but another late night… naturally I was working the next morning, so no respite there either.

But here I am, after a few days’ intensive sleep therapy, ready for my enthusiasm to take another battering at the hands of the Aussies in the Second Test. Starts Friday. Empirical research* has shown that the Aussies are susceptible to Mingles, so they will be the sweet of choice.

Michael Vaughan, out injured for a year now, is making noises about being fit to play before the Ashes series is out.. question: with the series tied at 2-2 going into Sydney (humour me here), would you play Vaughan if he was fit? He played a warm-up game today against some 2nd XI in Perth, and scored…. 0. Ashes-winning captain he may be, but am unsure how many runs he would contribute, so the primary attraction of fast-tracking him back into the side would be for his captaincy. And if Freddie has skippered England to two victories at that stage (humour me here) would you dump him as captain to accommodate Vaughan? If he hasn’t managed to win or draw a game by that stage, it will all be academic anyway…

Sigh. Come on England. Restore our faith in you (well, mine and Friendy’s faith anyway) and give the Aussies a good pummelling this weekend. I’ve got a box of Mingles in specially.

* Outcome of trials indicates that the more Mingles consumed during a session, the more emphatic the beating taken by the Aussies. Research only undertaken on the PS2, but extrapolation of these results to real Test matches is surely a reasonable approach.

First Test, Day 1

So, it hasn’t been a great start for England. Australia 346/3, with Ponting unbeaten on one hundred and thirty-something overnight, and Mike Hussey looking ominous as well.

There are two clear reasons why Australia dominated the first day so easily.

(1) I didn’t manage to finish reading the Times Ashes supplement, which threw my whole Ashes buildup into disarray

(2) I was eating the wrong chocolates for the first hour and a half of the first session. Big packet of Aero things, green packet. GREEN packet, I ask you. It’s Maltesers tonight, red and white packet, can’t go wrong. And Empire Biscuits (thanks Neebs) – more red and white.

So I think I’ve put (2) right, although the Malteser supply has been significantly depleted by Mrs Robbo. However, despite some speed-reading, I haven’t quite finished that jolly supplement yet. Been a busy evening. Mr Robbo is installed on the sofa sous duvet and ready for the cricket to recommence. Time for me to sign off and join him. In watching the cricket, not under the duvet.

Duvet? It’s not often I prefer American terms to British, but I think ‘comforter’ might be more appropriate.

Come ON the Poms 🙂

Ashes predictions pt II

Well, the hour is fast approaching. In a little over 3 hours as I write, the first ball will be bowled in Brisbane in the most eagerly anticipated Ashes series since, um, the last one.

As someone who likes to read cricket articles most days on, I have to say I have been almost suffocated in potential reading material. Every newspaper has had a special pull-out supplement on the Ashes, and the aforementioned website has been creaking under the weight of online articles about Anglo-Australian cricket, from every conceivable angle. Everyone from Tony Blair to Johnny Borrell, lead singer of Razorlight, has been interviewed.

So the first session of the First Test is approaching fast, and I am still desperately trying to wade through the last supplement, as I confess I will feel underprepared for the series without consuming every word written on the subject.

However, I have taken some time out from my busy special-supplement-reading schedule to share some more specific predictions, bear with me and try to show some interest.

(1) Glenn McGrath will not last the 5 Tests

(2) Andrew Strauss will reprise Michael Vaughan’s excellent tour 4 years ago and plunder a lot of runs

(3) Ian Bell will do ok, better than last time. Alastair Cook I am not so sure about, I think he might struggle. KP and Flintoff will score big when it comes off for them, and get out cheaply when it doesn’t

(4) Warnie will take another 40 or so wickets in the series

(5) Hayden and Langer will get the Aussies off to much better starts than they did in England. But I think Flintoff will still have the wood on Gilchrist

(6) Harmison. Aaaaaaaaaggh. If Harmison bowls as he can in 4 out of 5 Tests, England will win the series. Otherwise Australia will take the honours. Which means I think Australia will take the honours.

I realise number (6) there contradicts my series result prediction in my previous post, but to be honest that one was more hopeful than expectant…

Come on the Poms