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.

New Year’s Eve, Melbourne

One of the first quandaries facing the solo traveller in a new city is: where to eat? Now, I had a guidebook to Melbourne, or at least a section of the Official Cricket Australia guide to the 2006-7 Ashes, which recommended a few places. But I tend to find that the places recommended in these books are (1) quite often on the other side of the city from where my hotel is, and at this early stage I don’t have too much faith in my knowledge of the local public transport system; and (2) frequently full of similarly discombobulated travellers, which may or may not be a bad thing. Also, I can’t shake the cynical suspicion that places in these books have paid to have their establishments named and reviewed thus. Again, this doesn’t in itself make them bad places in which to eat, but all in all I tend to be of the wander-around-the-centre-of-town-until-you-find-somewhere school of thought. This, somewhat ironically, means I inevitably end up in some touristy street paying over the odds for ordinary food. Such was my experience when in Barcelona with my trusty football companion Slid. Strolling down La Ramblas on our first evening, we made the mistake of stopping for a Coke at one of the street cafés with seating right down the middle of the street. And we paid a heavy price, what amounted to about £5 per Coke, as I remember.

In Melbourne on my first evening, I wandered down Swanston St, which appeared to be a bit of a hub of activity in the centre of town. Ducking into a side street, I found what looked like a great little place to eat, and it probably was, as it was jam-packed. Moving on, I found little to appeal food-wise, eventually venturing into a little place called Claypot King. I think it may have been the Chinese equivalent of Burger King, but it was decent, reasonably-priced, and I was the only Caucasian diner there the whole time I was there.

Searching for somewhere serving ‘typical local food’ is even more of a cross-cultural experience than it might be these days. In Berlin earlier this year, I was surprised to discover that an authentic local delicacy was … the kebab … courtesy of huge numbers of Turkish immigrants to the city. In Melbourne, typical local food seemed to be either Mediterranean or Chinese/Thai/Korean. For lunch today I stumbled on a great restaurant called CA de vin, on Bourke St (I think). It was neither indoor nor outdoor – the seats and tables were pitched in the alleyway between two buildings, with what looked like fabric roofing slung across overhead. The menu was Mediterranean, which is to say I could understand about 40% of the description of each dish. A bottle of extra virgin olive oil from the family olive grove in Greece was on each table. The whole eating experience was really top-notch, right down to the waitresses, whose uniform appeared to be black clothes and body-piercing. And DC would approve of their ability to deliver coffee after the dessert. Doubtless he would approve of their aesthetic qualities as well, being a man of much appreciation in such matters.

The unique location of the restaurant spurred me to wild entrepreneurial thoughts of how something similar might work in Edinburgh – imagine such an eatery in one of the closes off the Royal Mile – although reality kicked in when I remembered our beloved City of Edinburgh Council and their apparent mission to make the city as un-visitor-friendly as possible. They’d never allow it. Perhaps more pertinently, while Melbourne has a reputation for bad weather from time to time, outdoor heaters would surely make the place a viable proposition even in winter, whereas in Edinburgh…

The standing joke about Melbourne’s weather is that it can have four seasons in one day, and my own experience bears this out, although on Boxing Day we seemed to miss out summer altogether. Every morning bar yesterday I woke up to clouds, and it was even raining this morning. The forecast for Sydney, mind, is not much better for the next few days, which might be England’s best chance of not losing the Fifth Test.

British place names were evoked in streets and suburbs all over Melbourne. I emerged from an underground station to see a street called Ulster Lane, and also spotted Linlithgow something-or-other. There is even a suburb called Armadale, which I didn’t visit, on the off chance that the similarity extended to more than just the name… whoops, apologies to any readers from Armadale West Lothian.

Melburnians and Sydneysiders, much like Weegies and Edinburghers, are in constant conflict over whose city is better. I have not seen enough of Sydney just yet to make a fair comparison, but what I can say is that in six days in Melbourne I didn’t see a SINGLE spider. Or cockroach. Probably too cold for them…

PS I would like to formally apologise for posting this originally in its unedited state. I have now rectified matters, and included the paternal editorial amendment suggested by my anonymous mother

The Great Ocean Roadtrip

Decided to take a bus daytour down to the Great Ocean Road today. Considered hiring a car and driving down there myself, but it would have made for a lonely trip and besides, it’s hard to enjoy the scenery properly when you’re driving. One can find oneself rather closer to the scenery and rather further from the road than is comfortable when one gets too distracted.

So it was that I found myself on a coach with 40 other daytrippers, mostly Poms (surprise), a bit disgruntled at having to fill two days with non-cricketing activities rather than the expected one. However, spirits were lifted considerably (well, mine were, at any rate) by the announcement that the first stop would be for morning tea, which sounded like a very civilised thing to do first up. And it was, albeit from a billy can, Aussie style.

My principal companion on the trip was a chap called Phil, who had the misfortune of sitting next to me for the whole day. Phil, like most of us had only been here for the cricket, but had to diversify somewhat after the Poms’ capitulation within three days. He had come out to Oz via an official tour package, which is the low-hassle, high-cost way of doing these things – his outlay was well over twice mine. But then he doesn’t have some very accommodating relatives in Sydney to impose upon, and I daresay his hotel in Melbourne is a little more plush than mine. Over lunch and a reassuringly expensive beer, we ruminated on England’s woes, and concurred that Flintoff should not have been captain, and Giles being picked ahead of Monty was a terribly negative move, as were Freddie’s tactics when Australia were in trouble at 84/5 on the second day in Melbourne. Which was basically a facsimile of every cricket conversation I’ve had recently, with Aussies and Poms alike. The Aussies are pretty disgusted with England’s showing in the series. The papers here (and back home, I believe) have had a go at KP today, labelling him ‘selfish’ and ‘not a team player’. Allegations which are quite possibly accurate, and I confess that I haven’t read the articles in question, but Pietersen has generally played well in the series and I suspect the press have simply latched on to the easy target his sizeable ego presents.

But back to the bus trip. In between lunch and tea (the afternoon session, in other words) we visited the 12 Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge – spectacular limestone rock formations spearing up from the South Pacific just off the cliffs. I opted in on a helicopter ride over the cliffs (in for a penny, in for a pound) and it was brilliant – photos will be in the usual place before long. After the tea break we stopped briefly at London Bridge – not the actual London Bridge – another rock formation framed by golden sandy beaches – before conceding defeat to the omnipresent flies and heading back to Melbourne.

Melbourne is a vibrant city, with bags of bars and restaurants and quite a buzz in the evenings. I walked down Chapel Street yesterday on my way to St Kilda, and passed every conceivable type of shop in one street – clothes, art, groceries, cafés, restaurants, bars, furniture and many, many more. A real mixing pot. And the restaurants came in every flavour too.

St Kilda had a laid back feel to it, with multiple cafés and bars sitting alongside quirky bookshops. I stopped for ‘lunch’ at a juice bar run by a Scot from Argyll, before heading down to the beach, which appeared to be (and probably was) populated entirely by Poms. On the grassy area just back from the beach I counted seven separate games of beach cricket going on, with a couple more on the beach itself. I sat down for a bit at square leg, but none of the batsmen appeared too adept at flicking off their pads, and so I got bored and wandered on. Found a bar with free wireless, which was a bonus, so I sat there and typed for a bit before catching a tram home.

So, tomorrow it’s goodbye to Melbourne, and later, goodbye to 2006. Have a great New Year’s Eve if I’m not in touch before then!

PS Techie note: my apologies for all the missing/incorrect links in profiles etc. Those of you with the inclination to point these out, please feel free to do so by sending me an email, rather than making comments for my public humiliation… then again perhaps I deserve it ;-0

PPS Thanks to all the commenters, yes, even DC

Melbourne, Day 4

Got up after 9 today, and it felt good. Yet ANOTHER cloudy day in Melbourne, although it cleared yesterday in the afternoon and was quite warm. I have the receding-hairline pommy sunburn to prove it.

Am currently in a café, with a frustratingly wonky internet connection, digesting an enormous breakfast, and considering my next move. Have booked the Great Ocean Road trip for tomorrow, so will probably just head down to St Kilda today and hang out.

My experiences of Australia so far have all been good. Melbourne seems like a curious hodge-podge of different buildings and architecture, but at least the cities I’ve been in so far look a bit different… the usual suspects – McDonalds, Starbucks et al are all here, of course, but not as prominent as they seem (to me) to be in UK cities, which all seem to look the same these days. All the Aussies I’ve spoken to, while pleased to have regained the Ashes, have been disappointed in England’s lack of fight this series. Sat next to a guy from Melbourne yesterday at the MCG who applauded England’s attacking shots (almost) as much as the Aussies taking wickets. They like a good contest here, and unfortunately England have fallen woefully short of providing it. Naturally the Barmy Army have been in good voice regardless, which may be confusing/amusing Diana’s gran, but shows a loyalty to their team the Aussies (and many other nations) would be hard-pressed to match. Although there were Pommies dotted all around the ground, the official Barmy Army were diagonally opposite me in the ground, which significantly reduced the irritation of hearing “Everywhere we goooo…” so often. In fact, I found the BA considerably less annoying here than they were at the Old Trafford Test this year. The trumpeter was allowed in and tootled away from time to time, treating us to everything from ‘The Great Escape’ to the theme from Jim’ll fixit, with the Grandstand theme somewhere along the way.

There were England flags everywhere in the MCG, and what’s more I spotted an Ulster flag (amen to that) and even a Republic of Ireland tricolour… was less pleased about the latter, obviously, but was intriguing to see, especially if they were supporting England. It’s hard to imagine anyone (other than, perhaps, a Scot) travelling all that distance to cheer on whoever’s-playing-England.

So a couple more days in Melbourne, and then back to Sydney for New Year’s Eve (weather forecast: rain). Was planning on heading back to Denistone to stay with the Coys, but with news just breaking that Diana is dangerously near by I might have to take evasive action…

Melbourne, Day 3

One of my friends at Holy Cross CC, during the (northern) summer, expressed some surprise that I was planning to go to all five days of the Tests in Melbourne and Sydney. He remarked that he himself had only managed 3 consecutive days at a Test match. This concerned me somewhat as Jon is a big cricket fan, and I wondered if I would last the pace, having only ever been to 2 days myself. I needn’t have worried however, as England haven’t lasted 3 days, falling to defeat late this afternoon. I skipped the moment of triumph for the Aussies, leaving the ground a couple of overs after Monty’s wicket fell, as I had a convenient dinner date with yet another cousin and her family. We ate in Chinatown, in a restaurant which didn’t seem to know if it was Malaysian, Chinese or Thai, but it mattered little as the food was great.

The cricket has also been great – watching cricket at the MCG is an awesome experience. I should confess that I found myself quite dismayed at the end of Day 1, after England had opted to bat on a day and pitch made for bowling, and getting out cheaply for 159. The problem with only being here for the cricket is that when the cricket lets you down it can be a bit disheartening. Add in that I find travelling on holiday alone a bit depressing at the best of times, and a day of weather which wouldn’t have been out of place in Manchester in April, and it doesn’t really add up to a good time. However, my cricketing spirits were lifted by Flintoff’s two wickets in two balls on Tuesday evening, and 3 more cheap wickets on Wednesday morning (including Ponting and Hussey), before the England skipper inexplicably decided to release the pressure on Symonds and Hayden by giving them easy singles, which built their confidence and ultimately their huge match-winning partnership.

Somewhere in all this I realised that the best way forward was to give up on England success and simply enjoy watching the cricket, which I did. It has to be said that this is an outstanding Australian team, and there is no question that even now, with the series already in the bag, their hunger to win is much greater than England’s. It can be seen in everything from their running between the wickets to their attacking in the field.

Enough on cricket for the time being. My solo-travelling spirits have also improved, and I now have 2.5 days to enjoy in Melbourne, with the weather getting gradually better. My thoughts at this point are to explore the city a bit, and possibly take a trip down to the Great Ocean Road. We’ll see what transpires. Suggestions involving the words “Neighbours” and “official tour” will not be well received. I will endeavour to update the blog more frequently, but have been stymied so far by a lack of internet connections and a lack of time.

Time should not be a problem for the next little while, and once I get back to Sydney I will have regular internet access again. But will certainly try to post before then.

Ciao for now.

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