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


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!