This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Down under revisited - The End

The celebrations lasted long in to the night (and some into the morning) as
thousands of sun burnt poms celebrated this rare win at packed boozers
around the city. We celebrated at a pub just across the road - which was
just as well - and joined others in re-enacting the highlights of the days
events on the pitch. Exact details are, unsurprisingly, hard to recall but
I do remember that at one point it was my turn to be Devon Malcolm and I
started my run up from the pavement across the other side of the road, much
to the amusement of several onlookers - but not to the taxis that had to
brake to avoid yet another drunken pom!

The win had really ignited enthusiasm and soon everyone's attention turned
to the fifth and final test in Perth - a few days and 1,700 miles away. We
had already booked a flight back in Sydney, so were ok, but apparently there
was now not a seat to be had. Greyhound had put on extra coaches but they
were full up too. The Indian-Pacific train which runs across from Sydney to
Perth via Adelaide was also sold out. Tim Rice, big cricket fan and
lyricist, famous for his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber, paid Australia Rail
to put on an extra carriage. Everyone it seemed, wanted to go to Perth.

Our accommodation of choice was the usual self catering affair and was
spacious and cheap. And hot. An enclosed balcony absorbed the scorching
southern sun all day sending the temperature into triple figures (in old
money anyway). Sure, you could open the windows but then you were deafened
by the noise of the eight lane highway just below. Still, as I said, it was
cheap, and it was close to the cricket ground too.

The cricket. Hmm. After the excitement of Adelaide there were high hopes of
an England victory and in levelling the series at 2-2. By the end of the
first day however it was clear that the game was only going one way. England
couldn't hold their catches and the Aussies piled on the runs. We stuck with
it until the fourth day but it was pretty depressing to watch England
capitulate again. Our time in Perth was limited and we had plenty of
sightseeing to do.

One of our days was taken up with a visit to Rottnest Island about 12 miles
off the coast of Fremantle which is again about 12 miles from Perth.
Discovered and named originally by the Dutch, the name translates to Rats
Nest. Now the Island is not inhabited, as the Dutch thought, by rats but by
Quokkas, small cat sized creatures not unlike a Kangaroo. Rottnest Island is
one of the very few places in the world where they are plentiful. They are
very friendly and not at all camera shy as you can see.

There is a bus service and essential service vehicles but the island is car
free. The humble bike is the method of transport for visitors to the island
and the island is manageable this way. At the time, in true skinflint style
we went for the single speed option. If you ever get over here, pay a little
extra and get bikes with gears - there are a few inclines and your legs will
appreciate it.

It was incredibly hot too, at least 40 degrees and our water supply soon ran
out. Predictably we were about as far away from the shops as was possible so
desperate measures were called for. Toilets were dotted round the islands
but all had notices warning us not to drink the water from the taps. Well,
we ignored that but soon discovered the reason for the notice - it was salt
water. Eugh! Fortunately, the shops were not as far away as first feared.

The rest of our time was spent doing the usual touristy things - a visit to
the Perth Mint, the old Fremantle Gaol, and day trips to the scorching
beaches along the coast where the sand was almost too hot to touch.

It was time for our flight back to Adelaide, then to join the Indian Pacific
railway for the 27 hour trip back to Sydney. We'd booked a shuttle bus to
take us too the airport and he got us there with literally minutes to spare
- no kidding, they were ready to pull the air bridge back. Thankfully they
still let us on - just as well it wasn't sleazy jet!

We overnighted in Adelaide, then boarded the Indian Pacific the next
morning. Economy class was the choice of carriage and the set up was much
the same as the Ghan. We got talking to one of the crew who told us that
when the train went over to Perth, prior to the cricket, the England fans
drunk it dry - there wasn't an alcoholic beverage to be had apparently!

We saw our first wild Kangaroos whilst on the train, the highlight though
was probably the following morning as we climbed slowly through the Blue
Mountains, ambling past lots of little picture postcard stations on the way.

If I recall right, we had just over a week left in Sydney before our time in
Oz was at an end. The weather wasn't great - as you will see from the photos
it was grey and dull for most of the time - except ironically on the day we
were to fly home.

We spent a lot of time on the ferries in Sydney harbour. Armed with a weekly
travel pass you could get to all the nooks and crannies in the harbour
without worrying about the cost. We went over to Taronga Zoo on the North
Shore, Manly Beach, also on the North Shore, which, had the sun been out it
would have looked fantastic (particularly with some fit tanned torsos to
ogle!). Ditto Bondi Beach as well, although at the time it did look a little
run down. We found a delightful little area called Cremorne Point, again
over on the North Shore. You can sit or lie on a grassy bank overlooking the
harbour and watch the comings and goings of the various cruise and cargo
ships set against the backdrop of the city centre and the opera house.
Fantastic, but all the time there was this nagging feeling that shortly all
this would be over and we would be going home.

Our last night was spent, predictably in a boozer - the Midnight Shift in
Oxford Street, where our journey had kicked off so many weeks ago. The music
was still pounding, the beer was still flowing and the guys were still good
looking (well some of 'em).

I am not ashamed to admit, I shed a tear or two as we got back to the motel
that night. We had had a fantastic trip, eye opening, character defining and
damn good fun. Knowing that it had (as all good things do) come to an end
made us both feel pretty hollow. We vowed though that night that we would
come back again and see more of this wonderful country.

And we did.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Down under revisited - Pt 6

As was becoming the norm, we had pre-booked a couple of nights accommodation

to get us started. The taxi (no expense spared - for once!) deposited us at
the door of a Best Western in Hindley Street. Hindley St is Adelaide's
central entertainment strip with a plethora of bars, clubs, fast food
joints, strip joints and hotels and B & B's of all shapes, sizes and star
The Best Western, if I recall correctly was the equivalent of about thirty
five quid a night and whilst hardly the Ritz was still too expensive for our
meagre budget - particularly considering the cost of the aforementioned
taxi! We were to be here for ten days or so having dumped our gear in the
room we set off to find something cheaper.
Our search took us literally just down the road to the Plaza Hotel. You
would have to cut stars in half to give it a rating but they done us a deal
for our remaining time in Adelaide forking out the equivalent of about
fifteen quid a night, room only.
Two days later we hauled our bags down Hindley St and grabbed our keys from
the reception. It had clearly seen better days and now accommodated a lot of
long term residents but was certainly once a grand place to stay. The rooms
were arranged around a courtyard in which grew a massive palm tree. Our
accommodation actually comprised of a large double bedroom, a sitting room
with another bed and a massive bathroom. For the money it was a bargain. I
had a quick Google whilst typing this and someone has spent a serious amount
of money as it has been done up and now looks very nice indeed.
There was a few days to kill before the start of the cricket. We took the
opportunity to check out the Adelaide Oval, where the test match would be in
a couple of days time and recalled our conversation with the skipper of the
boat up in Cairns. The Oval was indeed a beautiful ground. Two covered
stands, an open seating area and, roughly at either end grass banks
separated from the playing area by a quaint white fence. An old fashioned
manual scoreboard completed the idyllic picture postcard scene.
Adelaide is not quite on the coast, but Glenelg is and the best way to get
there was an old fashioned tram running through the suburbs. A pleasant ride
of half an hour or so, unless you happened to be sitting above the brake
compressor, then it was still pleasant, just deafening!
The Australian Formula One Grand Prix, now in Melbourne used to be in
Adelaide. It was a street circuit and, having stumbled upon it by accident,
we took the chance to walk the length of the circuit. Near the start line
could be seen the hand prints of many of the F1 drivers of the day,
including the late, great Ayrton Senna. Interestingly, 1995 was the last
year of the Adelaide Grand Prix. Traditionally one of the last races of the
season, Melbourne became one of the first and is also a street circuit.
Finally though, the day of the start of the cricket had arrived. The fourth
test between England & Australia. Oz led the series 2-0 (with the one draw
in Sydney) to no ones surprise and if the pundits were to be believed it
would soon be 3-0. The England team had suffered a number of injuries and a
number of the best players were out. The local rags christened the team 'The
Bare Bones Eleven' - no one game them a chance. It was Australia day too, a
public holiday and a big crowd was expected.
The first day was for the most part pretty dull cricket wise. England went
into bat but the scoring was slow, however Australia did not take many
wickets. The heavy grey sky did little to lift anyone's spirits. It was
after the afternoon 'tea' interval when things started to get interesting
however. Not on the field, that was still as dull as ditchwater. I'm talking
about the weather. From apparently nowhere, the wind suddenly got up, the
heavens opened and soon everyone was drenched. We ran for cover and were
buffeted by hurricane strength winds. Trees were being blown over, signs
ripped from street corners. We learnt later that aircraft had overturned at
the airport. By the time we back to the hotel we were wet through, windswept
and bloody freezing. The storm soon passed though and within an hour or so
the sun was out. They even resumed play but we didn't bother to go back -
food was the only thing on our minds.
As mentioned before it was Australia Day. The Aussies love any excuse to set
off a few fireworks and this was one of them, so with seemingly the rest of
Adelaide we set off to the park after dinner to watch them. I have to say,
it was stunning - strategically placed loudspeakers throughout the park
pumped out a classical accompaniment which the fireworks exploded in perfect
time to. Very clever and very effective.
The next morning was still grey but with the promise from the permatanned
Persil toothed weatherman on Channel Nine of sun later we packed the sun
cream in our bag and made to set off for the ground.
Something else that was ever present in our 'day bag' was a video camera
kindly loaned to us by Trev's sister. It was a VHSC format and quiet compact
for the day although would be considered unwieldy by today's standards. We
had already used it a fair bit and was one of the reasons I don't have many
photos of this trip - that and running a roll of film through the camera
Although it was good to be able to record memories to tape, I did spend
rather a lot of time looking through a black and white viewfinder rather
than the various scenes in front of us and for that reason I now just take a
small point and shoot camera whenever we go away. The video camera did
however capture one of those moments that could have easily made it on to
one of the home movies shows on TV like You've Been Framed (and made me a
few quid as well) as I shall now explain.
Up the road from us was a much much grander hotel, complete with doormen in
long coats (Christ they must have been hot) and parked outside was a coach.
Both of the teams were staying at the hotel, and the coach was waiting to
transport the England players to the ground. The players soon started to
leave the hotel to board the coach so I reached for the camera and started
In between our hotel and the one the cricketers were staying at was a sex
shop and massage parlour. Although it was early the shop was already open
for business; an A-board on the pavement giving a rundown of the delights to
be found inside. From the angle I was standing it looked as if the team were
coming and going from the sex shop. The captured footage looked superb and I
always regret not sending it in to see if they would show it. Sadly, the
footage no longer remains. A while back I transferred everything to DVD,
ironically to preserve it and I foolishly binned the tapes. I pulled the
DVD out when I started this blog in the hope of putting some of the footage
online but the DVD wouldn't play at all, so it seems those memories are
lost, at least electronically.
Anyway, back to the cricket. Day two continued much the same as day one, the
weather was better though and the sun cream was certainly required. It could
have been a lot worse, lying in the sun, the occasional smack of willow on
leather and the periodic sortie to the bar for some liquid refreshment.
We'd heard, on our of our weekly phone calls home - no mobiles for us then,
just a phone box and a pocket full of dollar coins - that Trevor's cousins
from the midlands were also here. During the lunch interval Trev located
them on the far side of the ground and we agreed to meet up for a beer or
two. Hmm.
The next day we were fine, well, no worse than usual anyway, however the
cousins were clearly not as used to the amber fluid as us. There was no sign
of them at the ground and in fact it was only on the last day that they both
appeared again.
Day three (or four, I can't remember, look up Wisden if you are interested)
brought a tentative century from one of the old guard brought in to make up
the numbers - namely Mike Gatting, it was to be his last test match century
and even the Aussies applauded appreciatively if a little grudgingly.
Finally, the last day was upon us and it was still evenly balanced. England
had a few wickets remaining of their innings, then the Aussies would go into
bat and try get the required number of runs to win the match - and the
series. Phil de Freitas was in bat and early on took a blow in the groin
which left him writing on the pitch in agony. This seemed to galvanise him
and the team though. The next over he threw the bat at the ball and hit the
boundary with every delivery, at least one even went over the stand and he
knocked up twenty something in just six balls.
England may have declared their innings, or Australia bowled them out, I
can't remember exactly but soon after lunch, the Aussies went into bat. The
required total was realistically out of their reach. The real question was
whether England could bowl them out in the time left available and win the
Devon Malcolm was England's main strike bowler and needed to be on form if
England were gonna get a result, and Christ, he was. The Aussie wickets fell
with joyful regularity - it was fabulous to watch. It seemed in no time at
all that the Aussies were eight wickets down and only two more were needed
for an England victory but their resolve stiffened and it looked as if a
draw was on the cards. The Aussies in the crowd that had left early were
being replaced as the gates were opened for free admission after tea.
Eventually, the ninth wicket fell and we knew were only moments away from a
historic victory once the last incoming batsmen was on strike and facing
'Big Dev'.
"Malcolm trudges back to his mark, turns and begins his run up. McIntyre
looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights as he prepares to face Malcolm.
Malcolm reaches the crease and bowls, that's lBW surely, but will the Umpire
give it? Yes, Yes, England have, against all the odds, and all the
predictions won this incredible test match!"
The radio commentary said it all really. Beating Australia in their own
backyard. Brilliant.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Down under revisited - Pt 5

The original Ghan railway came into service in 1929 and ran between Alice Springs and Port Augusta, north of Adelaide on narrow gauge rails. In it's early days the service was notoriously unreliable and it wasn't unknown for it to take weeks if not months to complete the journey thanks to poorly laid tracks and washouts. The driver on the bus tour - mentioned in the previous chapter - told us an amusing story about the early days of the Ghan:
A young lady boards at Alice. The train begins its journey south but stops several times as repairs are made to sections of track. It was several weeks into the journey when the young lady enquires of the guard as to when they might be expected to reach their destination. "Could be a while yet Miss, I'm afraid" he says, "The rain has washed away a large part of the track". "Oh dear" says the young lady, "I am expecting my first baby soon and don't want to have it on the train". "Well Miss" says the guard, "You know the perils of this train. It perhaps wasn't the best idea to embark on the journey when pregnant". "Well that's the strange thing" says the young lady, "when I got on the train I wasn't!" True or not, it's a good story.
A new standard gauge track was laid in 1980 and since 2004 the service now continues north to Darwin, travelling a total of 1,852 miles between Adelaide and Darwin taking a mere 48 hours!
It was nearing midday and the train was expected at any moment, even though she wasn't due to depart until 2.30pm. Soon, the single headlight of the engine could be seen gleaming in the distance despite the glare of the relentless southern sun. As the rest of the train rounded the bend and came in to view the size of the train became apparent. It was massive. The front of the train approached the single platform and still the end of the train could not be seen. As the engine came closer you could feel and hear the growl of the massive engine as the driver feathered the controls and eased the train into the station. At least half an hour after our first sighting of the Ghan did the train finally halt. I gotta tell you - it was impressive. The loco was at the front obviously, then behind that was another power unit providing all the electricity required for the rest of the train. Behind that, in no particular order were a number of goods carriages including multiple vehicle carriers, first class accommodation with a separate dining car complete with white linen table cloths, tourist class; where you still get your own sleeper but have to use the buffet car finally and finally coach class where you get a reclining seat and showers and toilets at the end of the carriage. Guess where we were!
A little while later we were on board and trundling out of the station. We crossed the Todd River again on the outskirts of the town which was again now virtually dry. The train soon reached it's top speed of nearly 50 miles per hour and the landscape changed to the arid scorched earth of the 'red centre' seen in so many travel agents brochures and tv clips. We settled back and watched the stark yet stunning landscape.
The train was by no means full but there were a number of others travelling 'coach'. Opposite us were some Aborigine guys who, with some dexterity pushed and pulled a couple of levers and soon had their seats swivelled round to face their companions. More knob pulling (!) resulted in the appearance of a table between them. This manoeuvre completed, the playing cards came out and soon cents and occasionally dollars passed to and fro across the table.
Further down the carriage a group of hells angels/ZZ Top lookalikes took it in turns to head to the buffet carriage for solid and liquid refreshment. If I tell you that, after our own sortie, the healthiest thing to be found on the menu was hotdogs, you get an idea of the quality of the catering for the peasants in 'coach'.
Any gripes about the food though were soon forgotten by the scenery outside. The view of the gradually setting sun over the desert was absolutely stunning. Satisfied visually (though still not nutritiously) we attempted sleep.
Well we slept little but it was certainly worth waking up early as the sun rise was equally as spectacular. We decided to forgo breakfast, as neither of us could face another hot dog and instead settled for coffee. Ablutions completed we prepared for our arrival in Adelaide.
Twenty two hours after leaving Alice, the train came to a halt in Adelaide Central. The ZZ top boys, almost in formation whipped out their mobiles and informed their various 'Mums' of their arrival. The doors open and we jumped out. Although it was still about 22 degrees it felt bloody freezing being nearly half the temperature that we had got used to in Alice. For the first time since Heathrow I rummaged for a sweater.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Down under revisited - Pt 4

It was a relatively short coach ride to our next destination - a mere four hours or so to Townsville. We were to stop overnight then join another coach for the long slog to Alice Springs in the morning. It was Saturday afternoon when we arrived and everything was shut - well all the shops in town anyway. Saturday afternoon in Australia is devoted entirely to sport - whether you are participating or a spectator. Shops close up because there is no point staying open. The pubs and bars do however. Funny that. We did however find the aquarium open which was excellent - the long tunnel with sharks swimming above you being particularly memorable.
We overnighted at some boozer by the coach station. We grabbed a bite to eat, had a few games of pool and had an early night - it was to be a very early start in the morning but really we shouldn't have bothered. The room was hot, stuffy and pretty grubby too. The air con unit in the window didn't help much either, just added to the increasingly raucous noise from the occupants of the bars below. We'd have been better off joining 'em. Still the landlord was kind enough to provide us with some company. Every so often, a gecko, or little lizard could be spotted racing up the walls in search of an stray spider or fly. They were usually rewarded for their efforts.
Across to Alice and the last of the epic coach journeys. If I recall correctly it was about 27 hours or so, heading west more or less all the way and incorporating a time change, such was the distance. It was an early start as I said, so early in fact that we had to wake up the landlord of the pub to get our key deposit back. He wasn't amused even though we had already told him of our early start. I was more prepared this time - an unread book, batteries and cassettes (yes, them) for the walkman for me. 100 cigarettes for Trev. You couldn't smoke on the coach but he sure as hell made up for it on the frequent stops!
Six hours or so into the journey and we stopped for lunch at one of Australia's many road houses which were basically a petrol station, café and shop combined. The food was, well, just edible. Mostly. Anyhow, not wishing to blow the budget in the café we opted instead for sarnies and crisps from the shop and found some shade away from the searing heat to sit down and eat. A young lad ambled over and asked if he could join us. He was travelling on the same coach and had got on with us at Townsville. He asked us about our trip and we told him, seeing again that smile unique to the Aussies when we mentioned the cricket. Git. We asked him what his trip was for and he explained that his parents were divorced and that he had spent the summer holidays with his Mum near Townsville and was now going back to his Dad - somewhere in the middle, I forget where. But get this - He was just nine years old, yet full of confidence, happy to be on a long journey all on his own and to talk to fellow passengers. Good on him.
The journey continued, deeper in to the red centre. We stopped at a number of places such as Conclurry, Mt Isa and Tennant Creek where more or less, you turn left for Alice, or right for Darwin. These places really are in the back of beyond and there appeared to be nothing here for the casual tourist at all. Many words popped into my mind whilst looking round, but I can categorically assure you that cannibalistic and incestuous weren't among them, honest! We appreciated the chance to stretch our legs for a few minutes though.
As the light faded, the driver (or Coach Captain, to give them their official title) came on the radio. We were advised that we would be travelling on unfenced roads and that there is a chance that he may have to brake suddenly to avoid Kangaroos etc. He suggested that we should remain in our seats as much as possible as standing in the aisle may result in a painful assignation with the dashboard, should a creature of the night suddenly appear. Worthy advice without doubt but most of us were planning on sleep anyway.
The coach trundled on west through the night and as it became light it was clear the weather had changed - it was now seriously raining and the roads were getting flooded. Fortunately, Alice was soon in sight and it was with some relief that we soon be off the coach. We learnt later that we were the last coach to get through for a while - the roads, not used to the wet simply crumble and wash away. At first glance Alice looked a pretty miserable place, not helped by the torrential rain. Situation considered and cash reserves counted, we jumped in a taxi and went to the motel.
It continued to rain heavily for the rest of the day so we just chilled out. Literally actually, thanks to a very quiet and very efficient air-con unit. The rain had not lowered the temperature at all, just raised the humidity level.
The following day it was still raining but much less so. We boarded that tourists favourite, the hop on, hop off bus tour to see some of the local sights. I forget all of the stops but do remember the date farm, the transport museum with it's beautifully preserved old cars and number plates from every corner of the earth. Also on route was the old Telegraph Station and Flying Doctor service - both of particular importance ago when you consider how remote Alice is and Anzac Hill which would have afforded a fine view if it had only stopped raining. We crossed the fast flowing Todd River and the driver informed us that this was so rare, that if you were to see the river flowing twice, you could be considered a local. This was the first rain they had had for five years. The banks of the river are normally as dry as a Nun's **cough** the driver told us! Last, but most definitely least was the, er shopping centre. At least it was dry though.
The following morning was bright and sunny. And hot. Very. Normal service had been resumed and the mercury was pushing 40. It was our last full day in Alice and those of you who have been paying attention (what both of you?!) will know that I recalled this day in my blog from Puerto de Mogan (pt 6) back in February. Anyway, we made full use of the bird bath that was masquerading as the motel pool. All this jumping in and out of the pool had worked up a thirst so we ambled over to the bottle shop to buy a six pack (if only 'twere that easy to get a real six pack!). A short while latter we went for another. And Another. And Another. Then we decided I needed a haircut. My hair at the time wasn't long but a bit wavy and no amount of gel, wax or hairspray could reign it in. So Trev set to work, first with the clipper attachment on his ageing Phillishave then with a Bic and eventually I had my new look - and it weren't bad either although it did look a little odd. We'd been in Oz for about three weeks by now and had gotten quite substantial tans - so my head looked something like a reverse fried egg! As most will know, I don't keep it quite that short now, but apart from the once or twice when I've decided to let it grow a little, I've had essentially the same haircut ever since - there was no grey in them days though!
Anyway, the following morning we got a taxi to the train station in readiness for our trip on the Ghan Railway down to Adelaide. Two surprises here. First, the cabbie was a Scot and despite being in Oz for the last twenty years still had a very broad accent. Secondly, he rounded the fare down. Yes, you read it right. Down. So you see it's not true what they say about Scots - or cabbies. Not always anyway!
Soon we were on the platform and anticipating the arrival of the mighty Ghan for the overnight journey down to Adelaide...

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Down under revisited - Pt 3

Ok, here was the plan: train up to Surfers Paradise for a few days then on northwards to Cairns before nipping across to Alice Springs, then back down south via the Ghan railway to Adelaide for the start of the next test match. However anyone with experience of travelling Australia will know that you don't 'nip' anywhere here. And that's for two reasons; one, it's too bloody hot and two, it's too bloody big. It may be the smallest continent but it's the biggest country in the world.
So, our first leg was to be by train, a nice gentle 14 hours or so up to Surfers. Australian trains maybe many things but fast isn't one of them. Anyhow it wasn't to be. Think of two words that strike fear and dread into the hearts of commuters everywhere. Yep, that's it; engineering works! Great. We were directed to a manky looking coach around the corner and found our seats.
There was nothing memorable about the journey other than it seemed to go on for ever, the occasional smoke break and food stops for passengers and drivers alike briefly suspending the monotony.
I think we had about three whole days up in Surfers. Trev, still suffering from the effects of sunstroke sweated copiously for over 24 hours having at last imbibed something other than beer. We had a mini bus trip up Green Mountain with a very informative Aboriginal driver and guide. He told us a bit of his life history including the fact that he was married to a white Australian which even in 1995 was unusual. He told us as well, on the way up the mountain, about the number of kids from the little villages around that go down into the 'big city' at weekends to party and never return. Coming from remote out of the way places, Surfers just blows their mind he said. Some are never found again.
We went through the some of the area ravaged by forest fires only a few months previously. You could already see the green shoots of recovery (real ones not political ones!) sprouting from the tree trunks. The trip continued on up to the top where you could stop for lunch and go walking through the forest. We just did lunch but enjoyed the stunning views and the beautiful green and red parrots. The return journey took us back through Surfers and along a portion of the road used for the Indy Car race, the driver commenting mischievously about 'all the tourists'!
The next leg of our journey was a mere hop skip and jump to Brisbane. We weren't stopping here as such, but our connecting coach for the very long ride to Cairns was not leaving until late afternoon so we knocked off most of the time in the nearby science museum which was quite good fun. When you have plenty of time you play with every single little gadget. I remember too that I had my first 'sugar free' cuppa in the café opposite. The waistline was expanding seemingly by the minute so something had to give (except beer, obviously).
The next bit wasn't fun. Twenty nine hours to Cairns. On a bloody coach. On a bloody coach with a leaking window. By my seat. When it was raining. It's fair to say that when we eventually got there neither of us were in a particularly good mood. It's amazing how tired you get 'travelling', when in reality you're just sitting there doing very little.
As was becoming the norm, we'd pre booked a night at a motel outside town, so the first task was to sort out accommodation for the rest of the time we were here (I think it was about a week or so). We had a bit of a wander round but to be honest it was too hot and steamy to do much, and the owner of the motel where we spent our first night done us a good deal anyway. It was a mother and son affair, both very helpful and accommodating, the mother was constantly berating us for not using enough sun cream and the son, seemingly craving a bit of male company was full of advice for things to do whilst we were here. The best way to get into town was on the bus which could be caught from the main road just a minutes walk away. "You could walk back along the promenade by the seafront" he said, "although it's far to bloody hot really, only tough pommies or bloody idiots would do it this time of year. I'm sure you guys will though." He didn't elaborate as to which category we were in!.
The motel had a free laundry and we took the opportunity to freshen up our stuff. Someone, who shall remain nameless (but t'wernt me) decided that it would be ok to put a brand new bright red t-shirt in with everything. Yep, everything came out with a pink tinge - appropriate I suppose. Anyway, the aforementioned mother, still muttering about sun cream came to the rescue with some bleach and colour catcher however and most stuff was returned to it's original colour. Sort of.
We had a trip out on a boat to Green Island, from where we would be able to have a look at the great barrier reef. We were near wheelhouse of the boat as we pulled away from the quayside and soon heard the skipper mutter something about not enough ballast. It wasn't long the boat was heaving, pitching and rolling all over the place. The Japanese tourists almost as one, put down their Nikons and Canons and picked up their sick bags.
We changed boats at the island to go out to the reef, this one was a smaller glass bottomed thing for viewing the reef below. What we saw was impressive, but given the weather and sea conditions we didn't see the best of it. Someone on the boat asked the skipper about sharks in the area. "There's probably more sharks ON the boat than under it mate" came the deadpan reply.
Finding good cheap food when travelling is all part of the fun. Across the road from us was a bar called Dunwoody's. They offered a steak and chips for $5 with a pot of beer thrown in as well. For the uninitiated a pot is about a third of a pint. That's not to say Aussies can't drink, because they can. They just like their beer cold. Very. It was the first time I had seen glasses kept in the freezer. We got talking to the barman as he (frequently) dispensed our pots. He said he was coming over to Europe later in the year to travel with his girlfriend. We gave him a card with our number on, not really expecting to hear from him again. We did however and Ross & Julie became great friends. We would always go and see them when we were over there and were always made very welcome. The friendship continues to this day.
A couple of days later we done a paddle boat ride around the everglades. There was a faint hope of seeing crocodiles though it was really the wrong time of year. Tea and scones were served which was very nice. We got talking to the skipper, who on learning of the purpose of our trip, smiled sympathetically and made some friendly jibe about a wasted journey. (As An English sports fan in Oz, you get a lot of that!). He told us he was originally from South Australia and that the Adelaide Oval was one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in Australia. We took him at his word and he turned out to be right.
There was along way to go before we would see it though.......

Monday, 2 August 2010

Down under revisited - Pt 2

The 1st January 1995, another scorcher and the start of the 3rd cricket test between England and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, predictably shortened to the SCG.
We'd pre booked match tickets over the phone before leaving the UK to allay any worries about the match selling out. Now, watching cricket in Oz was and for good while after still was, considerably cheaper than in the UK. A couple of years previous to this trip we had gone to see the fourth day of the last test between England and South Africa at the Oval. The previous day, Devon Malcolm had ripped through the South African batting line up with some devastating bowling leaving England only a small target for victory. Anyhow, we witnessed the expected (and rare) England victory, which was great, but it was all over in a little over an hour and a half, which wasn't so great (they did let everyone eat their picnics on the Oval outfield though) and all for thirty five quid. In contrast, the three day pass which we bought for the match at the SCG cost the equivalent of about twenty five quid.
Anyhow, as we stood outside waiting for the gates to open we considered England's chances in the imminent match. They had gone 2-0 down in the series after a miserable display in Melbourne and no-one was giving them much hope here either. The three day pass was ideal - it was unlikely that the match would last any longer!
Now, the SCG is located in the huge Moore park, south east of the city. Also on the site was the national football stadium, and accompanying these two venues, the old showground (at the time leased to Fox studios) and Horden pavilion. We weren't aware at the time but all night dance parties were held at 'The Horden' a number of times a year, one of those occasions being New Years Eve. Almost exclusively gay in clientele the parties ran from about 10pm to 10am, or whenever the party smarties wear off. So imagine our surprise (and delight) when hundreds of fit shirtless young things start streaming out of the adjacent Horden to a line of waiting taxis. The Aussies fans who had seen all this before largely ignored it - apart from one feral arsehole who loudly decried the lack of shotgun. The waiting poms merely looked on in bemusement.
We were soon in the ground and awaiting the start of play. There is no segregation is such but the majority of the poms congregated at one end, oddly enough close to one of the bars. Funny that.
We, like many others had come equipped with our St Georges flag, bearing the name of our local at the time - The King Bill, Histon. There were a number of banners around the ground too - all competing for Channel Nine's 'banner of the match' competition. One in particular I remember said 'If the poms bat first, tell the taxis to wait!'. Not bad advice considering!
The first session was pretty steady and well, boring to be honest. England couldn't score and Australia couldn't take wickets. Much the same could be said of the second session after lunch although the score moved on a little. This didn't deter the crowd who, thanks to a hot day and plentiful cold beer were getting more raucous. The booze flowed and the chants and songs got ruder and ruder. There were numerous songs from the poms, most casting some doubt on Aussie spinner Shane Warne's sexual preferences. The Aussies responded with a similar comment about the Queen Mum, the poms jeered that Captain Cook had only discovered Australia because he wanted to stop for a s**t! The Aussies respond with another ditty suggesting that her Majesty likes to do certain things erm, a certain way if you know what I mean. There was a second break - supposedly for 'tea' although there was very little tea drunk, certainly by the spectators, then play resumed at about 4.00pm for the final two hour session of the day. And it was here that England performed another spectacular batting collapse. I tell you, it was awful to watch, yet another humiliation at the hands of the Aussies was on the cards - and you can only imagine the crowd reaction. The day closed with England on something like 120 for the lost of 7 wickets and staring another defeat firmly in the face.
Day 2 of the test match and as we headed towards the ground we wondered what magnitude of sporting disaster we were going to witness in the coming hours. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Darren Gough was in bat and decided to take the attack to the Aussies. With some thoughtful and yet adventurous batting he launched the ball into the stands many times and had soon knocked up a decent total though I forget exactly how many. Last in bat was Devon Malcolm who couldn't normally swat a fly, but this time took the same attacking yet much less measured approach than Goughie and soon knocked up a similar score. By the close of the innings England were back in the game. Things got even better as the Aussies went into bat. Very soon their top order was knocked over and by the close of the days play, England were (just about) on top for the first time in the whole series.
Day 3, if I recall correctly was more even score wise but they did have to finish early as the rain came in. It is a measure of the power of the sun down under that even on a cloudy day you can still get sunburnt quite badly - as Trev found out somewhat painfully.
Day 4 was disappointing - play was almost totally wiped out due to rain and with it England's chances of winning.
The 5th January 1995 and the final day of the cricket - which we didn't bother with. A draw was the only likely result so we headed into town to plan the rest of our trip. Trev was feeling distinctly below par thanks to a spot of sun stroke - really you gotta be so careful here, it can soon catch you out - so with our travel plans more our less sorted we headed back to the motel and the news that the game had been abandoned and a draw declared. The next test was in Adelaide in about three weeks time - and we would be there, but before that there was an awful lot of travelling to do.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Down under revisited - Pt 1

Since its gonna be a while before our next jaunt(to Italy, in October), I thought I would try and fill in the gap a little by recalling our first trip to Australia way back in 1995. Okay, it's a fair way back and some memories are somewhat hazy (nothing changes eh!), but I'll do my best to remember or, if not, make it up at least!
The seeds of an idea to go travelling were first sown early in 1994. It was February and the England cricket team were on tour in the West Indies - they were also, predictably getting a hammering though that's another matter. I was still living at home with Mum & Dad at the time and Sky Sports was still under a fiver a month - yes it was that long ago.
It looked a much better way to spend a few weeks of the winter, and, having done a bit of research - remember this was fifteen years ago, so research meant actually doing something other than Googling - I discovered that the following winter tour would be in Australia. Nice.
Fast forward to Boxing Day and we are at Heathrow awaiting the boarding announcement for our flight. My only previous experience of travelling was a couple of day trips to Boulogne as a kid and a week in Corfu a few years later. I had never been away from home for more than a week and we had planned on six weeks for this, so not surprisingly, saying goodbye to the parents, who even then were not enjoying the best of health, was not easy.
Actually, even then, and on subsequent trips I used to keep a diary - no little laptop in them days but that funny paper stuff. It's one of my regrets that, when clearing out my parent's house a few years ago all my diaries went in the skip. Still at least the photos survived – well some of them. It wasn't until we got home and had the films developed that we discovered that one roll had been through the camera twice – thank god for digital now!
We had booked on Olympic Airways, Greece's national carrier mainly because they were the cheapest, but also because they were one of the few airlines that still allowed smoking. In them days, Trev still smoked whilst I was yet to start. The Greeks puffed away on their big cigars, while Trev puffed away on his Embassy Filter. Honestly, the tar was almost dripping off the ceiling. . Our first stop was at Athens with something like a seven hour wait for the 'connecting flight' but thankfully a chance for some fresh air. As we sat around waiting I managed to pick up the sports news on the World Service. England had already got hammered in the first test at Brisbane and the news from Melbourne wasn't good either. We were getting a pasting.
Our next much briefer stop was at Bangkok, and then it was on to the final leg to Oz, except that we were to stop at Melbourne first before our eventual arrival at Sydney's Kingsford Smith airport. It was in Melbourne that we got our first taste of Aussie beer too, and that coupled with the rigours of a very long series of flights ensured we slept for all of the last leg.
Our first stop was to be the delightfully seedy red light district of Kings Cross where we had booked three nights in a hotel to get us started. The plan was to have a look around and find somewhere cheaper for the rest of our stay in Sydney. We would be here until after the test match and then head off somewhere else, ending up in Adelaide towards the end of January for the 4th Test.
Our first walk out at night was, to be honest, a little unnerving. Bouncers would almost assault you in an effort to drag you into their strip clubs, whilst scantily dressed young women would enquire as to whether you would like a good time. Seems funny now, but at the time I was a naive 23 years old village boy and weren't used to that sort of carry on! It was all fairly good natured though.
Anyhow, a couple of beers laid the dust and we headed wearily off to bed.
It was already the 29th December thanks to 20+ hours on a plane flying east, however the cricket was not starting until 1st January so we had a bit of time to do some sightseeing – and sort out the accommodation.
It was another blisteringly hot day, so it was a relief to find that the tour bus was air conditioned. It was one of these hop on, hop off things that deposits and collects you from what the operators deem to be the areas major sights.
The bus took us around the expected (though no less impressive) sights including the Rocks, Sydney's historic centre, Circular Quay, from where you can catch little ferries to all corners of the beautiful harbour, Darling Harbour, Potts Point and Macquarie's chair, a promontory from which you can absorb the iconic view of the Opera House with the harbour bridge in the background.
The next day was seemingly even hotter, not helped by a rather substantial hangover. The night before we'd had a cheap meal somewhere making the most of the Bring Your Own or BYO option, before ending up at a bar across the road from the hotel entering into a long and increasingly drunken discussion into the failings of the England cricket team with a chap who said he was local but turned out to be from Millwall. Our ales of choice (and indeed most Aussie beers) were a good twenty percent stronger than anything I regularly drank at home – that was my excuse and I shall forever stick to it. So, with an easy day on the cards (we were on holiday after all) we just set off for a supposedly short walk.
Well, it was mid afternoon and we were starting to wilt when we rounded a bend and happened upon Oxford St. The Golden Mile as it is sometimes called was mentioned briefly yesterday on the tour bus and we were keen to have a proper look. Oxford St, to the uninitiated is home to all things Gay, from bars, clubs, and restaurants to cafes, shops and hairdressers. There were lots of good looking guys about too, very nice.
It was New Years Eve 2004 and we rose feeling considerably better this morning. We moved from Kings Cross to a pleasant little motel one block back from Oxford St. It was a bit closer to the cricket ground and we would be here until the cricket finished. I think too that we probably had a stroll to the cricket ground to get our bearings and know where we were heading tomorrow.

We arrived back at the motel late afternoon and soon succumbed to the effects of jet lag again and fell asleep. It was after 10pm when we woke but were determined not to see in our first new year in Australia so we hurriedly showered, tarted ourselves up and headed out.

The next few hours were, whilst not exactly life changing, certainly a sort of defining moment in my life and undoubtedly made me more comfortable with who I am as a person. Because on this night we paid our first ever visit to a gay bar!
Okay, hardly an earth shattering revelation but just remember – I was a very naïve 23 year old whose social life centred around the village local – a big night out was a later lock in than usual! This was simply awesome. Lots of guys like us (although almost entirely better looking!) drinking, dancing and having fun – and not a limp wristed, mincing Mr Humphries in sight either. The music surprised me though. Although, predictably at ear splitting levels, it was not some hip, trendy underground techno vibe but get this, 10,000 miles away and the DJ was knocking out Take bloody That! Who said the Aussies hated poms! We did two more bars that night, catching the midnight celebrations on the big screen in the Midnight Shift on Oxford St before heading over to the Oxford Bar for the final tastings of the night. The next day was the start of the cricket and what was to become another memorable experience.......