Archive for December, 2012

2012: Thank You

Two or three or four beers in to Symo’s New Year’s Eve Extraganza and my thoughts turn to the last twelve months. I am still a spectacularly poor human being, but thanks to the outstanding experiences this year has foisted upon me, my life has been further enriched.

My two favourite things this year have been the onset of proud uncle-hood and my country. They thought it couldn’t be done, they poured scorn upon its credentials but we did it.
We smashed it. The Olympic and Paralympic Games of London 2012.

I am always immensely proud of being English and British but not everyone is. I hope the events of our summer will change this perception. We showed that nobody does it better. What follows is a personal account of my two favourite things of 2012, one with reason to fondly remember, the other to hope for the best for our future.

Earnestly, 2012. Thank you.

2013? No pressure….

Dear Alfie,
Well you just about got to the party, and like the best Wissons at the best parties, you won’t remember a thing about it. You were born a month shy of the greatest event to hit these shores for over seventy, maybe 150, years. Like your mother you were born in an Olympic year. Like your father, your birth year will always be synonymous with British sporting excellence. For him, the party he never got to was Botham’s Ashes. Then it was all about one man. Now it’s all about one team. Team GB. And one city. London.
You’ll learn us Brits are a funny ol’ lot. There was more resigned trepidation than fevered expectation leading up to the start of London 2012. Thankfully, the events of the next six weeks saw ‘daring to dream’ replacing ‘doing ourselves down’ as the nation’s default disposition. Danny Boyle’s wonderful Opening Ceremony helped set this mood. I slept through this, however in readiness for my first Games Maker shift at Lord’s Cricket Ground for the Archery event the next day.
I am proud to write that I was part of London 2012. And I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it. And the trousers, trainers, jacket, cap, socks, brolly, flask, watch, even the man-bag. All dutifully put by for you to appreciate- or profit from- when you’re older. And if you like purple, red and beige, you’ll definitely appreciate it.
Ah, appreciation. It gladdens the soul, emboldens the heart. At the end of my last shift, as I funnelled my way behind my team of fellow Games Makers for a congratulatory demobbing and closing ceremony of our own I noticed we were being applauded by some of the spectators. Emboldened and gladdened, I sought out one of their number. A charming English rose, Laura, who looked every inch the Royal Box dweller in summer dress and Ascot hat. ‘I just think you’re all so brilliant’ she gushed. ‘This is amazing.’
In between the nervy beginnings and that triumphant finish was four days of utter bliss. My role at the Olympics was in the Printed Results Distribution team. I had to get the results of the matches out to the people who needed to know. In effect it was a minor role in the grand scheme of things. But in my mind I was at the centre of the action as I walked, mooched and slalomed my way among and around the thousands of fans within the magisterial surrounds of the Home of Cricket. I was helping deliver this epic footnote to Great Britain’s recent history along with those important documents clasped tightly in my excited hands.
Walking smartly along the corridors of power(in this instance the home of Judges and Technical Officials) in the Grand Stand or climbing to the best seat in the house, the top of the Pavilion roof to the media’s base, to the athletes’ area at the back of the Nursery Ground, I roamed Lord’s like it was a personal fiefdom. That I spent one of my lunch breaks giving an interview on the hallowed turf to the host broadcaster television crew reinforced this view. But the fact of the matter is everyone looked as I did. That ten foot high tall walk, those wide smiles, the tangible feeling you were part of something very special indeed.
Those treasured tinnies and words of congratulation in the Coronation Garden was the end of my London 2012 experience, so I thought. My line manager had other ideas.
So thanks then to Omar Ahmed, a prince among men, I find myself zipping along the banks of the Thames in the DLR against the cool August dawn. Past the rejuvenated East End, through those Tube Stations referencing the past of this proud city; East India Dock, Prince Regent, George V then the steadfast industries, present for hundreds of years, will remain here to see Empire evolve into legacy. It’s my first Paralympic Games shift at The Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich and I’ve no idea what to expect from my next involvement in London 2012.
Pulling, changing faces, rotating the boss; so many new phrases, so little time. Unlike my outsider’s role at Lords I’m away from the public and in among the athletes. I’m stationed on the Practice Range, attending to stray arrows and even more stray media types. Being among the Paralympians is a fascinating experience. According to my colleagues in the FOP team (It stands for Field of Play. There was I thinking I was going to be lounging around all day in a big shirt reciting Keats.) the atmosphere is more chilled out than it was at Lord’s and so this proves to be the case as Games Maker and Paralympian happily coexist.
I get to be on nodding terms with these wonderful athletes and I chart their progress from afar as the competition hots up. One of the archers is taken to the hearts of the London crowd in particular. Matt Stutzman, an armless archer from the USA, captivates audiences with his unique style and charming personality and finishes with a silver medal in the Compound Open Final. The strains of Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’ reverberate evocatively around the arena at the end of the medals ceremony and with a lump in my throat I know my time at London 2012 is coming to an end.
The memories will live on however. What a summer it was dear nephew. Never mind all that rainfall from May to July you’ll doubtless be told about, 2012 was a golden summer; Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott, Sarah Storey, David Weir, Joe Strummer, Ben Ainslie, Ellie Simmonds, Victoria Pendleton, Sebastian Coe, Greg Rutherford are but a few who are proof of that.
Here’s to your future. Here’s to our future.

Much love,

Uncle H x

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A Day At The Races

The Saturday afternoon sporting fix. The cricket finished a day or two early and all the local league matches are taking the traditional seasonal two week break. Melbourne Victory beat Emile Heskey’s Newcastle Jets last night and there’s no football until Monday.
Not the weather for rugby. Aussie Rules doesn’t start until March.
Golf? China’s keen but I tell him it’s probably best we don’t. I love the sport, but nothing brings on weeks of savage self-loathing more than a bad round of golf, which, as we’re technically still in the season of being jolly, is not ideal this time of year.

Hang on. Horse Racing? Cracked it.
Moonee Valley Racecourse, situated in Moonee Ponds twenty minutes outside Melbourne city centre is the venue for our excursion. It seems we’re not the only sport famished folk who’ve decided to go from the ‘G to the gee-gees as the train empties scores of Victorians into this quiet satellite town. We follow the crowd into the impressive looking grandstand and hit upon the idea of a couple of Caaaaald Ones while China gets his well-trained racing brain around the scorecard.

If Channel 4 still haven’t found a replacement for John McCrirrick, our man could be up there. He knows his stuff does China and routinely picks the winners and places out going using his tried and tested formula. My methods are less scientific, Billy Ocean’s When The Going Gets Tough sounds out over the PA while the name ‘Primitive Man’ in the card tells me all I need to know.
Amazingly, mine wins by a head in a field of eleven over 1600 metres. I then correctly place the next race.

Hope, damn hope. A familiar theme here (Hello Welsh Andy!).

Couldn’t it have been the other way round? Lose first, give up completely, then enjoy watching China and Rebecca getting rich. I start unwisely chasing the races like an errant Sri Lankan batsman after an Aussie quick. The inevitables begin to pile up. The sun gets hotter, the beer tastes better, the bookies get richer.
The standard of racing is good, as are the MVRC’s facilities and we are treated to an impromptu tour of the place by an obliging receptionist. My luck worsens and I end the afternoon only seven dollars down.

One less Caaaaald One for later then? You’d have thought so. The day does not end well however and alcohol will be off the menu for me until at least the end of January.

Tomorrow night excepted, of course.

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Fully Stacked

Sri Lanka’s timid capitulation brings about an early end to the Boxing Day Test. Our choice of afternoon plans is between sitting in Federation Square topping up the tan or contracting chilblains, depending on the mood of the schizo Melbournian weather, or heckling the bloke who gave us the city tour yesterday as today’s victims gather around, eager and unknowing.
Despite struggling to put days to dates in the Christmas to New Year week, I remember it’s Friday and that means one thing. Leading China past St. Paul’s Cathedral and up through Flinders Lane we take in one of the many CBD based branches of Pie Face, a franchise that joyfully capitalises on the Aussie love of one of its signature dishes and seems to outnumber, in Melbourne anyway, the by now traditional but unwelcome fast food joints that engulf other cities worldwide.

The menu is fairly extensive, and the counter is rammed with enticing pies that gurn temptingly back at you from beneath the glass. Plumping for the deal of the day with full coke and cookie accompaniment, the snappily monikered The Stack. Grabbing an outside table we settle down, underneath the dive bombing pigeons and alongside the trams heaving with Boxing Day Sales shoppers, to a late lunch.

The pie-tender brings out the spoils. Seductively slathered in piped mashed potato, an e-number filled pea-based equivalent and topped with gravy thicker than the Sri Lankan opening batsmen’s second innings run out, today’s selection lives up to its name.

Where to begin? I press down with my plastic cutlery on pastry that billows as delightfully as a Melbourne maiden’s summer skirt in a playful south easterly breeze. The knife hacks at the pie top as forlornly as a hapless golfer in the rough. Spotting a way in through the spray-on veg, I hit the steak and cheese. The meat is chunky and tender while the cheese sauce tasked with guarding it from praying plastic forks lacks sharpness. Meanwhile, the gravy tastes like its come from the stockpot of heaven after someone’s enterprisingly added extra Worcester Sauce on the way down. The potato and peas are as anaemic as the cheese yet, combined with the steak and gravy, make for a fine Friday fix.

The nuisance birds would be reminded to not stray too close. Today’s successful trip and the extensive menu mean I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Pie Face. Today’s Steak & Cheese could be next week’s Thai Chicken, or Peppered Steak. Or the week after’s Pigeon Pie.

Think on, Speckled Jim.

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Shameless

There’s not really a lot for us Poms to whinge about over here, despite the locals bleating to the contrary. It really is a rather wonderful place to spend some time. One thing that does get our collective British gander up is that everything is so ridiculously overpriced.
Take yesterday’s activity for example. Following a recommendation in the guide book, China books us up for a tour of the city, by foot. Excellent work, I thought, a chance to immerse myself in the cultural heart of Victoria and a good walk in the bargain too.

Bargain.

What a horribly cataclysmic choice of word that is.
Our tour guide asks for his money up front. I reticently hand over my money, for the price I’ve paid this is going to be absolutely the greatest, most thorough piece of bespoke tourism undertaking ever. It has to be.

$35 for a walking tour of Melbourne.

Yes, you read that correctly, no I’m not re typing it because it hurts too much. The bloke didn’t even look embarrassed when I handed him over my money.
So then, what did this tour involve? Unrivalled access to this marvellous city’s famous points of interest, to the corridors of power atop the Eureka Building, to Kylie’s Summer House even?
Sadly, none of the above. It did, however, feature a lot of this.

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Which is brilliant if you like that sort of thing. Well I don’t.
China isn’t helping. “Just think mate, we could be sat in Fed Square on deck chairs nursing A Caaaaald One watching the cricket on the big screen and the girls go by.”
It’ll improve. It has too. There’s all that history to go through. Ah, yeah, hang on, there’s not all that much history here to go through is there.
We pause for a drink. Now then, a chance to bring it back. Our tour guide’s getting the beers in, surely?
No, no he isn’t.
We repair to a run-of-the-mill Melbourne cafe for orange juices. “This has got to be the best orange juice in all of the Antipodes”, I suggest hopefully to China. “Sweeter than an England away victory, squeezed ‘twixt the thighs of skint, buxom Swedish backpackers and served in glass frosted directly from the Antarctic.”
I’m wrong. But it is a welcome break from the graffiti at least.
The tour resumes and we head towards the financial district and some old buildings, which I enjoy. Then we go to the Banking Museum of Australia, which, surprisingly and almost ironically, is free entry, so I guess we’ve got two tours for the price of one, right? However, the museum’s closed, so we have a look at the ornate foyer and the portraits of ANZ directors past and present.
Then it’s a shopping mall and a look round the coffee shops before a stroll next to the Yarra wraps the tour up almost exactly three hours since we set out from Federation Square. I couldn’t have felt more short-changed if I’d have bought tickets for Day Four of the Boxing Day Test.
“Just think about it,” says China resignedly, “that tour guide’s made $400 for three hours work. Times that by a week, that’s obscenely overinflated Chelsea player levels of ill-deserved remuneration.” The Caaaaald One tastes bitter, but it’s probably just me.

Then this bloke turns up.

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By way of introduction to China he opens with “Yeah, I’ve kinda lost it recently….” Brilliant.
It’s great to see him, six years on, he’s not changed a bit. Elstow CC’s original shambolic genius, Browny. Back in Australia.
A quick catch up later, some fond reminiscences of his time in Bedfordshire and we’re off on another tour. Browny’s Tour of Melbourne. We head to his current cricketing home, Emerald Hill CC based at St.Kilda Bowls Club for a few Happy Hour drinks then on to Acland Street for steak and chips. On hearing of our afternoon’s misadventure, Browny sagely pipes up, “aw look fellas, for seventy bucks I could’ve just talked shit at you for three hours and got ya pissed….”

I decide tomorrow’s a dry day and to not bother with Lonely Planet recommendations for the rest of my time in Australia.

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Thank you to China for the photos. Top work mate.

Boxing Day At The MCG. Dream Realised.

As Boxing Day traditions go, it’s a bit of an odd one. Since the installation of satellite telly in our house a few years ago, my Boxing Day begins earlier than most people’s. A four-in-the-morning start. Downstairs, light fire, brew tea, sneaky bit of pâté on toast (with maybe some blue cheese and cranberry sauce) from yesterday’s festive spread, put on telly.
The imported broadcast from Channel 9. Australia versus whoever. A time to savour one of the marquee days in world cricket, a world away, from my living room.

Why? Indefensibly, I’m a Test Cricket tragic. One of my objectives as part of my current world tour was to get to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 26th December for a day doing what I love doing most.

Sometimes my cricket fix works out really rather beautifully (2010- got downstairs just as our brave lads had skittled out the home team) and other times it doesn’t (2006- Bill Lawry nearly spontaneously combusting through paroxysms of high-pitched pleasure as Shane Warne took his 700th Test Wicket and our brave lads took a bit of a beating).

If I’d been back in Bedfordshire yesterday rather than in person at the ‘Greatest Sports Stadium Ever Built. In The World. Ever’ as a friendly local (Hello Rebecca!) keeps referring to it, I’d have probably gone back to bed.

Sri Lanka all out for 156. An inspired display by Australia’s pace bowlers and some horrid, horrid batting by the Sri Lankans meant The G was on a roll.

Yep, I’d have definitely put the half-done toast back in the bread bin, let the tea stew and trudged disconsolately and dozily back upstairs. As it was, I was there, so I had to endure all the Aussie grandstanding from close up. They bowled well, so they deserved it.

Tier 4, Bay Q18, Row D, Seat 10. An outstanding vantage point (Thank you again Gooders!) for an outstanding exhibition of pace bowling. Mitchell Johnson had one of his good days so we didn’t bother with the song. Jackson Bird showed great promise on debut and Peter Siddle loves playing in front of his home crowd as much they love him.
Sri Lanka were terrible though, Kumar Sangakkara excepted. The openers both got out stupidly. And early. Mahela Jayawardena had an off day. There was no tail to wag.

In reply, a rather dim-witted half hour from Australia almost made things interesting for the visitors, them being three wickets down but only six runs behind at the close. Michael Clarke and Shane Watson look in the mood against Sri Lanka’s pop gun attack. One of the travesties of our wonderful sport is that the preening, lazy but very talented Lasith Malinga isn’t out there giving his all for his country with his hooping, Yorking deliveries. Instead, he’s happy getting more money for less work playing in Australia’s Twenty20 competition. (I can understand it to a point, but it’s not right really is it?) The Melbourne crowd are being denied through Malinga’s greed, as are his rather forlorn looking Sri Lankan teammates.

This time next year, England are back at the MCG. My Boxing Day experience lived up to all expectations, a real highlight of what has been a rather wonderful year for me in one way or another.

Will I be sat beside the fire, remote control in hand, Richie Benaud’s unmistakable tones as mellifluous as any birdsong clearing away the sleepiness? Or, will I be among the Barmy Army, on to my sixth ‘Caaaaald One’ and halfway through the Doritos and Smoked Salmon & Avocado dip, roaring our brave lads on?

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Yuletide Felicitations

Dear friends,

It’s usually about this time of the day, probably earlier, that I’m thumbing out my annual Festive Text. As I’m looking to keep my spending down to a minimum (I am, just don’t mention the Dim Sum selection I bought for tomorrow’s Boxing Day Test Match picnic) and because I’m not over keen on giving my English mobile phone provider a great bulk of my Travelling Expenditure War Chest, for one year only, it’s Season’s Greetings via the medium of blog post.

Which means today’s offering is a bit on the tame side again. Sorry about that.

However, China is en route via a three day train journey from Perth, with his hands gaffer-taped round a wine bottle and sharing his cabin with an over-amorous pensioner (male) so there could be one or two stories to relay there.

Plus there’s Boxing Day at The G tomorrow.

And it’s nearly Friday, and I think I’ve found the stereotypical Aussie pie to tell you all about. Looking forward to getting stuck in and reporting back to all you lovely people.

There’s a Games Maker’s view of the Olympics to come too.

Before all that, it is Christmas Day. Thank you all for your wonderful generosity and valued friendship over the last year.

Have an absolutely marvellous Christmas one and all.

That’s usually the gist of my text message. Now then; enjoy.

Huzzah!!!

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

(Hello Auntie Daphne x)

H

Tiffin Mad….

Peter Butterworth’s character, the disbelieving missionary in Carry On Up The Khyber would have empathised. Close on 40 degrees outside and I’m part of a dozen or so Brits sitting down steadfastly to Roast Turkey and Roast Pork with all the trimmings.

All that’s missing is the walls caving in and the band playing on.

With typical British resolve we plough on through the delicious, if untypical middle of Aussie summer fayre, with gusto. Then someone hits the iPod and Fairytale of New York (Hello Chris!) fills the room with cynical yet seasonal cheer.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….