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.

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 na├»ve 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.......

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