Archive for January, 2014

Friday Morning, Coming Down

So it ended where it all began. The WACA, Perth.

Four weeks on from the beginning of the end for England’s men, I was back watching the start of the Women’s Ashes. Thirty degrees heat, the CBD dominating the backdrop, the Doctor on overtime blowing through an empty stadium, the field like fresh sheets, the anthem lustily sung (It was just me & Big G. The acoustics in a sparse stadium are rather wonderful, especially if it’s just you singing.), the players look pristine in the middle. The tension is at its most taut. The talk, talked. New beginnings.

I cannot get away from the fact that the opening moment of a Test Match is the most thrilling in thing in the world. But then, I guess, that also says everything you need to know about me. Till next time….


I Hear The Train A Coming….

There used to be a donkey in the field next to our house. Jacob was his name. On summer mornings, before the SatNav sycophants and M1 detour merchants ruined the early countryside idyll with their relentless rush hour racing, as the gentle breeze shimmered in through the open window on the welcome dawn air, Jacob would wind up, like a high jumper at the top of his routine (all that was missing was the clapping crowd getting behind him) and just absolutely go for it in the most sonorous, yet almost breathless manner.


He’d do this a lot. Sometimes it annoyed me, but old Jacob’s wheezy rallying cry was infinitely preferable to the sound of the soul-jarring traffic.

Perth. Second time around. It seemed a good idea when I was booking it. I figured it would break me in for the longer leg of the journey between Australia and Blighty. I also planned to ‘go big’ for the last night and actually get a proper hotel room, you know, with tea and coffee making facilities, a TV to watch re-runs of Midsomer Murders, iron, trouser press, flailing room and the like. However, me being me, these funds were absorbed into the aftermath of the SCG defeat.

So I’m back in the hostel. Not the sweat box as referenced here a month ago. But another one. The YHA, a plush looking facility next to the hospital on Perth’s Wellington Street. Settling down to some sleep, a persistent hiss begins to boar into my skull. The hiss grows louder. Louder. It’s joined by a screech. Metal on metal. The shushing shush of metal on metal. And then the sound of the a pooh stick being carried by a child, dragged back and forth along the railings. All this is the friendly warm up to the main feature which is hurrying, unstoppable, to centre stage.


Oh wow. That’s loud. That’s Jacob with a megaphone. With Coldplay’s stadium sound system for support.

My grandfather always used to love the railways. Right now, I have to say, I’m not a fan.

This continues, gratingly, on a loop for as long as I can remember. And it’s still there when I wake up an hour later. I’m transported to Chicago as I tiredly sculpt the hopeless pillow around my head and search for sleep.

Which is hard. Because, typically, there’s no air conditioning.

I really should’ve titled this post, ‘And So Say All Of Us…. The Return Of The Jolly Good Fellow’, but, bored of the whole nonsense, you might have sloped past it in a trance of ennui. Also, it seems a great opportunity to crowbar this little beauty in.

Now then, do any of these trains run to the airport I wonder?

Jacking It In

The Rony Giuliano Ground, on a wet Wednesday in New South Wales. As may have been reported before, it hadn’t been an overly successful tour sport-wise up to this point. However, the chance for victory, any kind of victory, even this late in the holiday still beckoned. Not on the cricket fields, or the beaches, but on the bowling greens of Clovelly.

The battle of Room 702, a beer match in its finest traditions, was to unfold at Clovelly Beach Bowls Club, a tranquil spot for a tranquil sport. With views of Tamarama, Bondi and Coogee Beaches, the Tasman Sea as well as some dramatic cliff top scenery, the bowls club milks this for all it’s worth and for very good reason. The rinks were packed with beginners and old pros ambling about their business, the young and the old taking part in this rather fogeyish pastime which has, in recent years, risen in popularity over here.

I partnered Rex to form Team Wedges while the other Henry combined with James to become The Dogs of Shaw. The rules were laid down and the beers bought. Invoking the spirit of Sir Francis Drake, David Gourlay and, err, my Uncle Tom, we duly got out the mat and played to the west.

Gentlemen in waiting: Rex, as he has with such élan and regularity this holiday, cradles a beer. James, meanwhile, performs something he has done with similar distinction in recent weeks.

El Matador: Henry rehearses getting out of the way of a Mitchell Johnson bouncer. Or gets a glimpse of a blonde jogger running up the hill. Or checks the progress of his last bowl. Or something. Bless.

All in the wrist: The sound you can hear in the background is of a nephew being disowned. The invitation to join the prestigious Wilstead Bowls Club must have got lost in the post. Again.

And the winner of this hastily-convened clash of the sporting heavyweights?

It certainly wasn’t bowls.

Pie Can’t Help Myself

Back in July, when all was rosy in the garden of English cricket, I booked the extra day just in case. Well, I reckoned, we’d have run up a hard-fought victory on the 5th Day at the SCG. A run-crammed epic Test Match culminating in one of the all time great England performances, with our vaunted middle-order taking it in turns to larrup and thwack those pesky Aussie bowlers all over the famous old ground in pursuit of a mammoth run chase.
I reckoned I’d need a night to take in the celebrations, a third straight Ashes victory and all this, wrapped up in the most dramatic way possible, would demand, nay insist, upon it. Endless toasts, shared stories, jugs, jeroboams, and jigs of delight.
I reckoned a lie-in of John & Yoko proportions would surely follow the previous night of Hogarth-ian hell-fire excess. Yes, an extra day would be the sensible thing here, definitely.

As it was, we got buried calamitously in three days instead.

Ashes Wednesday was a dashed Wednesday. Even the sun stopped working. My tan, the most ludicrous since the bloke who’s currently doing his best to ruin Cardiff City, would have one or two siennas stripped back by the gathered grey in the Sydney sky. The spring in my step was downgraded to a skulk. It poured with rain too.

Some gain assuagement from drink. Some chocolate. Others God. For me it’s pies.

Traipsing around The Rocks, an upmarket (ok, even-more-upmarket, it’s all a bit la-di-da in these parts) area of the city etched, like the legends of Cook, MacQuarie and Phillip, into Sydney’s legacy, I made for a traditional hotel for a spot of tiffin. Now, hotels here tend to be split into two categories. There’s the big chain hotels that you find festooned over the fashionable parts of any given metropolis and there’s the old style ones that you’ll find the next time Crocodile Dundee is repeated on telly. A lot of them don’t look like they do accommodation. Many more of them look like they really shouldn’t.

What they do do is uphold the Spirit of Donk. Beer, pokies (fruit machines as we know them in the UK), blokes and TVs that show an endless line of betting opportunities for the bored, the blasé and the believers.

This being The Rocks, the hotel in question was, naturally, a cut above the type Mr Dundee and his mates might hang out in. Cold, hungry, underwhelmed, I needed a pie to bring me back to life.

The Beef & Bock Pie did just that. Persistent pastry that clung on like a chugger sensing a sucker, unleashed a wondrous beery steam when finally prised open. Mushrooms surrounded tender chunks of thick beef in a rich, Bock lager steeped gravy. The odd garden vegetable popped in for a cameo too. It was melt in the mouth delicious, and the English mustard, in plentiful supply, added stardust to a very enjoyable meal.

The spirit started to soar again. I finished the accompanying over-flowery Hot Hog Pale Ale with a flourish. So the holiday’s sport had fallen quicker, flatter and harder than a pigeon from a farmer’s gun, it was time to make the best of the holiday’s last day with my roomies. Three top lads who’d been there with me through an eventful four weeks.


To Clovelly Beach. And the bowling green…

Nanny Knows Best (Part Two)

State interference. A new low.



Giving citizens advice on how to use the khazi? Literally, that’s taking the p…..

Young Bones Groan and the Rocks Below Say “Throw Your Skinny Body Down, Son”

Watson’s Bay is a pleasant coastal location a brisk and breezy ferry ride away from the heaving CBD. As well as being home to the famous Doyle’s Seafood Restaurants and picturesque coastline it is also renowned for being Sydney’s premier suicide spot. Which, owing to the cricket’s early finish, seems an appropriate destination for what should have been Day 4 of the Test Match.

A hill climb away from the bay’s main drag, the cliff tops are lined by a busy Orwellian network of security cameras, steel wire fencing and the obligatory Aussie government severe signage that helpfully warn of the dangers below as orange placards of placation do their best to deter any would-be jumpers. For all this place’s sad associations, while the cooling sea breeze vies for control of my senses with the Sydney sun and as I stare across the serene ocean scene, it strikes me as being one of the most life affirming places I’ve been to in Australia.





It’s an absolute delight. And a blessed relief from the cricket, to be honest. The cliff top walking builds up a near unquenchable thirst and so we repair to one of the seafront bars for a sundowner or two.


Several hours in the company of some fantastic people brings home to me, finally, that there are more things to life than cricket. For once I regret the swift passing of my time in Australia.

Viewing Record For England Matches (Away) Stands At: Seen 13, Drawn 6, Lost 5, Won 2

What a mess. What absolute carnage.

Thank goodness, then, for Bumble.

Start the Airbus 380!

Nanny Knows Best

So I’m late up. The bus for the SCG leaves soon. Not much time to get a blog out prior to the last rites that will surely be issued later. Here’s a talking point from yesterday and one of the reasons that, should the electorate go left next year, dear old Blighty could be as much of a Nanny State as sunny ‘Straya.



Go to the booths. Stop this thing happening back home before it’s too late. You have been warned.

“Yes, I Think You’re Entering In To The Realms Of Fantasy There….”



Taking my cue from the latest AnchorMan film where they report what people just want to hear rather than the actual news, and with another Haddin-ruined day for English cricket yesterday, I’m struggling with another vaguely hopeful or gritty critique for yesterday’s play. So I’m just going to put anything here for the next day or so.


‘Hatters No To Barca For £30 Million Plus Player Deal For Andre Gray

Or something like that.

It’s Day Two. The sun’s out.

To the SCG! Come on boys, dig in!

Give Me A Hat-Trick From The SCG, Give Me A Test Match Special. And Set Me Free.

The first morning of a Test Match. One of life’s great pleasures. Be it the first or the the last Test in the series, that opening morning, regardless of the situation, regardless of what has happened before, is always a fresh start.

Today, once I can rouse this remiss rabble of rural roomies, we’re off to the Sydney Cricket Ground. For me, Sydney is not a patch on Melbourne, for reasons I will doubtlessly go in to another time. However, one thing the New South Wales capital has on its Victorian counterpart is that it has the better cricket ground. Sure, the iconic G, Melbourne Cricket Ground is impressive enough. A feat of enterprise and engineering, it’s modern coliseum-like structure is the pride if the city and quite rightly so. But, for me, despite its name, it’s not really a cricket ground.

The SCG? Now we’re talking. This is a proper cricket ground.


With the recent restructuring, it will look a different ground to the place I visited last year. A different, but everything else is the same. It’s the same quirks and customs the world over; the excited chatter, the over-zealous security checks, the first glimpse of the turf, the looking for clues as to the starting XI, the getting-to-know-you with the strangers around you, working out how much of the day you’re likely to be frying or freezing, the establishment of the proximity of the nearest bar.

It’s one of the reasons I do what I do. A raison d’être. Yet, due to the scheduling of the ICC’s future Tours fixtures programme, despite it being so early in the calendar year, this is the last away Test Match for England for the best part of fifteen months.

Which is fantastic for my career progression, for getting money put away for a house, for all the things a chap in his mid-thirties should be doing. Except, well, let’s be honest I’ll be counting the days until I get to do this all again, probably at Sabina Park in Jamaica in April 2015.

I’ll grow up one day. I will, honestly.