Have yourself a merry little Christmas….

“Let your heart be light… Next year all your troubles will be out of s-i-i-ight…”

Every frickin year Jane McDonald promises me that all my troubles will be out of sight. Next year. Every year.

Clearly Jane McDonald has not invested any time and money in watching England play cricket, or she wouldn’t be making such rash predictions.

A shade under one month ago I sat down in front of my laptop, all excited that I had managed to secure a way of watching the Ashes online from Australia. My happiness was only enhanced by the time difference, which meant that the day’s play in Oz didn’t start at midnight (as it does in the UK), but at 6pm. Perfect tea-time viewing.

My American room-mates observed my nightly rituals with mild amusement, and gradually absorbed that each day’s play was not a match in itself, but a continuation of a single match stretching over five days.

And aside from the occasional question along the lines of “Wait, what now? They’re taking lunch?” we all got along just fine, until I lost the appetite for watching (usually around Day 3), and by extension the desire to explain what was going on.

“This isn’t going so well, is it?” would be met by a defiant explanation of how, if England’s batters were to perform to an acceptable international standard, England could still be in the game here.. and then within a few hours the same question would be met with a shake of my head, and a resigned grimace.

Within a couple of weeks my joy at being able to watch the Ashes had been severely dampened by actually watching said Ashes.

Well done Mitchell Johnson. I didn’t think you had it in you to perform consistently for more than one match in every five. Apparently you now do. If you had discovered the secret to bowling that well earlier, I suspect the results in the 2009, 2010/11 and 2013 series would have been different.

Anyway, on to cheerier subjects. Like my car, which has been in for repair three times since I bought it in September, and quite separately from those issues, fails to start some mornings. All these failings I could live with, if the horn didn’t sound like a toy bugle, thus rendering me utterly incapable of expressing my displeasure of others’ driving habits in any meaningful way.

Last week, we had a significant snowfall in Nashville. It fell late on Monday night/early Tuesday morning. Probably a whole inch. Immediately the schools closed. The program at Grace Center that I help out with cancelled the morning’s activities. What else was I to do but head to the Jam? The Jam is my favourite coffee shop in Nashville. It’s run by a lady and her three daughters who moved here from California a few years ago. They serve great coffee, and what’s more they’re so close to my house that I can actually walk there when I come over all European, or (more commonly) when my car doesn’t start. Walking there provokes great astonishment in the Jam Girls, roughly equivalent to the dismay they experience when the sun momentarily disappears behind a cloud, or the temperature drops below 75F.

The place has become a regular hangout for me and several friends. Much along the lines of the Central Perk in Friends, I am informed by younger friends who are more in touch with popular culture. They started making a flat white for me at my request, and have even added it to their menu. Apart from that they regularly heap abuse on me for spending so much time in there.

So, imagine my disappointment when around 8.30am I pulled into the parking lot to find the Jam closed. Clearly Momma Jam and the Jam girls were so dismayed by the snow and the cold that they had not ventured beyond their comforters that morning. Sometimes I don’t wish they all could be California Girls… 😉


It’s been a surreal week.  The snow in Edinburgh has been deeper than anyone can remember.  The Forth Road Bridge was closed, and avalanche warnings were issued for the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat, of all places.  It feels like the only difference between Edinburgh and an Alpine ski resort right now is the lack of big mountains nearby.  And perhaps the fact that ski resorts don’t always have this much snow.

Even more surreal has been England’s dominance in the Ashes down under.  Bob Willis, possibly the grumpiest man in cricket, tonight described England’s performance in the Second Test as “absolutely first-rate”.

I don’t know whether it was the bat-dominated last two days of the First Test, and the promise of more to follow at Adelaide, but I didn’t bother to stay up to watch any of the first day’s play live.  And so it was only natural that it would be “the most exciting start to an Ashes Test in history (D Gower)” with three wickets falling in the first three overs.

Perhaps my lack of Ashes-watching stamina was just down to the Tests being back-to-back, and not having recovered fully from the late nights watching the First Test.  This staying up into the early hours lark is proving tricky.  The BBC very helpfully posted an article on how to stay up through the night, including such advisory gems as “One way to stay awake is to drink coffee intermittently.”  Thanks for that one, Auntie.  And for the important safety message. “Anybody going without sleep and then trying to go to work should not do anything like driving or other tasks where an accident could be dangerous.”  Presumably falling asleep in front of a client won’t lose me my job, then.  Excellent news.

So accustomed to touring England teams being in disarray, it’s frankly confusing to witness Australia in trouble during a home series.  It appears to be a commonly-held view that this Ashes series is pitting two mediocre teams against each other, lest we should get carried away.  I’m not about to get carried away, but I think England are better than that.  Anderson has always been rated as a high-class bowler, but has been dogged by the damning caveat “when he fires”, or “when the ball swings”.  He now bowls brilliantly, regularly, on all manner of pitches.  Strauss is a class player at the top of the order, although he’s done his best to hide this in two out of his three innings so far.  Trott is a solid number 3, KP now has runs under his belt (and a wicket!) and the strut has accordingly returned, and Bell, critically, now no longer needs to put on a show of confident body language, as the confidence is already there from some high-quality knocks in pressure situations.  Swann is world-class and can bat, Broad is ever-improving, although now sadly lost to this series through injury, and Finn is the real deal.  What cannot be coincidental to all of this individual success is that the core of the team has been together for a decent time, they are clearly well-managed, and they play as a unit.

Australia, by contrast, have some very good players, but are desperately short of confidence, unity and direction.  And no wonder, with their trigger-happy selectors.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for players like Marcus North – trudging off after another low score knowing that their international career might well be over.  Granted, North has had his chance, but Xavier Doherty?  It’s been hard not to feel sympathy for him, preferred as Australia’s spinner to Hauritz by the selectors, apparently only to buy Pietersen’s wicket.  Which he did in the Second Test, but not until KP had racked up a double-ton.  Doherty will now surely be dropped for Perth.  He has experienced the kind of morale-shattering selectorial caprice that so undermined England in the nineties.

England now go to Perth knowing they can effectively wrap up the series with a win there.  Just like Australia did in 2006

Just like Christmas Eve

It was the 24th, it was freezing, there was a palpable sense of excitement building as midnight approached… it must be the Ashes.

Four years ago I sat on Robbo’s sofa, full of apprehension, waiting, as it turned out, for Sky to duff up their coverage of the most anticipated toss in recent history (they missed it completely), and then watching Harmy bowl the most anticipated first ball in recent history (he missed the cut strip completely).  Poor old Harmy.  There he was last Sunday, sat uncomfortably in the Sky studio, appearing on a guest panel for the Ashes preview, not, presumably, for his insightful comments, and what did they do but show THAT delivery.  Eight times in all.  Poor old Harmy – briefly the best bowler in the world; bounced out the West Indies in their own backyard; but now immortalised in the phrase “doing a Harmy”, which means bowling the ball direct to second slip.

With the First Test beginning in the early hours of Thursday morning, Wednesday evening’s preparations were crucial.  A visit to my newly refurbished local gym was probably not ideal in terms of energy retention, but a ski holiday is looming just beyond the Fifth Test, and some fitness must be regained before then. The sign on the gym wall made me smile – “Please restrict yourself to 15 minutes on the CV machines at peak times”. Frankly, an unnecessary instruction for the likes of me, who would fall off any machine after more than 15 minutes of use.

A quick pizza to restore some of the calories carelessly burned off in the gym, and then a visit to my friend Slid, where we blew up his coffee machine in a quite entertaining fashion, but nevertheless managed to generate some liquid caffeine to aid the Ashes-watching effort.

Back home, settled down with some biscuits and a (glass) bottle of Coke, the hype finally ended, the cricket began.  And three balls later the familiar watching-England-in-Australia pose was adopted – slumped forward, head in hands, disbelieving.  England captain Strauss cut straight to Hussey in the gully, England 0/1.

Woke up early, out of necessity, to catch a flight to London. England four down but Bell and Cook sounding in control.  Mum was driving me to the airport, so headed the few hundred yards down the road to her house.  By the time I had sat down in her car, England were seven wickets down, and Siddle had an Ashes hat-trick (Australian Daily Telegraph headline: Pom Disposal Expert).  Cue a certain, familiar despondent feeling.

Still, all not lost just yet. Bookended the flight with an espresso in each airport, keeping me awake through a course on social networking, and now in London, staying with the family.  Sebastian, not yet two years old, was left under my care for part of the morning today.  A touch of recklessness on my sister’s part, I thought, but we got on rather well, and never more so than when catching up on the second day’s play at the Gabba.  Sebastian, unaware of his obligations to support the Poms, sportingly applauded all the boundaries and wickets with equal vigour.  In a post-highlights-watching discussion, he agreed with me that Graeme Swann was guilty of dropping it a little short at times, and noted that Michael Hussey was particularly adept at rocking on to the back foot and pulling through midwicket.  I explained that his Uncle Andrew is very like Hussey in many ways, perhaps especially in the art of smearing suncream on one’s face.

In other news, Nasty Jen can now add The Sprinkler to Reversing the Bus, Lightbulbs and Shopping Trolley on her list of classic dance moves.  Check it out on Graeme Swann’s Ashes video diary at the ECB website here.  Starts about 7 mins 30 seconds in – although the whole thing very entertaining and worth a watch in my objective not-remotely-cricket-obsessed opinion.

Must have a nap – third day’s play starts in 8 hours.  First session crucial, England must make inroads with the new ball, Sebastian reckons.  I reckon he’s right.

September on the wane

There’s a nip in the air now, even in the South of England it would seem, as even there the cricket season has drawn to close.  Nasty Jen and F… have looked a little wistful of late, and are wondering how they are going to get through the winter evenings without the gentle cadences of Aggers’ voice describing the floodlit scene at The Rose Bowl, or Lord’s, as England complete another successful run chase.

Now there’s a thing.  England successfully completing a run chase in an ODI. Again.  Two or three years ago, who’d have thought we could say that.

But NJ and F… need not fear.  One of the joys of being a cricket supporter is that the season never really ends, it just has a short break.  And then Test Match Special returns, only at different times of the day, sometimes in the middle of the night.  The forthcoming Ashes series will return me to a series of familiar experiences… waking up to the radio… shaking off the early morning torpor… feverishly wishing CMJ would hurry up and give a score update… realising that Ponting is at the crease… clocking that Australia are 290-1… groaning, slumping under the duvet, welcoming the torpor back with open arms…

It’s not all good news though.  Frijj chocolate milkshakes, so good they should really be illegal, are no longer 2-for-1 at Tesco.  Bah.

Summer of Hope

“What’s the time?” asked Wiseman, nibbling the last morsel on his plate.

“Seven thirty” I replied, and grimaced. “Could totally have made the 7.30 showing.”

He nodded.

“Shops shut at eight, though,” I said. “Could go for a browse?”

We were having dinner in Ocean Terminal, last Saturday evening. Cricket had been cancelled due to the inclement Scottish weather, and Wiseman and I had landed upon a film that both of us would conceivably enjoy (Star Trek). We had bought tickets for the 8.30 showing to allow us plenty of time to eat, but the eating hadn’t taken us as long as we thought it might. We paid the bill and headed off for a mosey around the shops. They were all shut, obviously. Apart from Starbucks. We decided to do laps of the shopping centre instead. Is it not about time Starbucks went bust? Do people not forgo their overpriced cups of bitter-tasting ridiculously-named coffee in a recession? Apparently not.

I found myself at the doctor’s last week. Rushing in, slightly late, I made use of their hi-tech touchscreen self-check-in system, and took a seat in the waiting room. I resisted the seductive delights of Trout & Salmon magazine, and pondered instead on who thought it would be a good idea to install a touchscreen in a GP practice. Probably got swine flu now.

Today is Saturday again, and I would be playing cricket, but am en route to London for a week’s holiday. Have had an utterly seamless journey so far, no doubt due at least in part to having chosen to fly BA rather than easyjet. No queues at check-in, no mad scrum to get on the plane, no paying for your food on the flight (puréed breakfast comes as part of the package). Love it.

Sitting on the plane, looking out at England’s green and pleasant land bathed in sunshine, the summer is stretching out in front of me, full of optimism. Buoyed by a decent batting performance for the Holy Cross 3rd XI in my opening game, I’m actually looking forward to the forthcoming season. That’s if I can get my availability and a sunny day to coincide. The British and Irish Lions are about to depart for an eagerly-anticipated tour to South Africa, and the Aussies arrive soon for the Ashes. It’s beginning to bug me (now, four years on) that Sky have the exclusive rights to England’s home Test matches. Scandalous. With this kind of summer ahead, it would almost be worth getting Sky myself. Oh, and a TV.

Maybe not. My Sky Sports-subscribed friends have been warned…

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…

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.