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Sunday, July 14, 2013

7th July - Take me home, Country Roads - Olivia Newton John (of course - she's an Aussie!)

Jaded is the understatement. Why did i think it was a good idea, to see the blue Mountains on the day after the last test? 12 hours sleep in 72. At 5.50 the alarm woke me after about 3 and a half hours sleep I was glad I hadn't been drinking as this would have been hell. I'd paid to see the Blue Mountains, so I was going, but I was less than enthusiastic. The rest of the bus were similar. One guy went straight to the back seat to sleep, but was told to pu his seat belt on. A woman ad to sit in the front to calm her nausea.

The day was clear and the Blue Mountains were so beautiful, it would be mean to say that my bed was a more beautiful site, but sadly it was true. As clear as the air was, I couldn't wake up properly, until lunchtime, and several diet cokes and mints, I began to feel alive again.

As has happened on the last day of previous trips, I was ready to go home, so wanted the day over. I had achieved the Holy Grail of a winning tour. Even though I finished it on the Rocks, enjoying an ordinary Sunday night out, home was calling.

On the final morning I felt sad. I don't know if life will give me the money/opportunity to revisit Australia, so I walked round to Mrs Macquairie's  to say goodbye and thank you.

If Carlsberg made touring destinations, it would be Australia. Tomorrow the long grind home. My thoughts on the tour:

1. Nicest story I heard: An old man with a younger companion - yes I thought he was a rent boy but it was his son, told me that he had a lifelong dream to go on a Lions tour. His son had paid for both of them to go for his 70th birthday. Dreams do come true, and a winning tour was the cherry on the icing on the cake.
2. Melbourne is a nicer, more happening place than Sydney.
3. For the welcomes I've received in the other locations, Australians win heads down for friendliness matched with good natured competitiveness and a great sense of humour.
4. It is not a holiday. Expect to come home tired, broke and with an inevitable cold. Playing or not, drinking or not, everything has to be 100% all the time.
5. Sleeping's cheating.
6. Halfpenny player of the series, but game changer was Corbisero. He made me believe.
7. Hibberd's head is made of Welsh Coal.
8. Referees - manage scrums properly - as they make space, alter the psychology of the game. This is only done by northern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere's not the only ones who play the game properly.
9. Mix an Australian holiday with countryside/beach and city.
10. Contact with a head on the floor is unacceptable not accidental.

Thank you Australia. And thank you Lions. Maybe just maybe, you will see me again supporting you........

6 July The final match

The song title today, just has to be one from all four union's countries, played at full time, after all the ceremonies.
Chelsea Tractor - Fratellis
Beautiful Day - U2
Delilah - Tom Jones - couldn't they have chosen something by the Stereophonics?
Wonderwall - Oasis - the hairs went up on the back of my neck, as the Lions fans sang the team's tour song from 1997. This moment I will take to my dying day.

I got up at 3.50am this morning, having woken every 30 minutes at least to check the time. It was after midnight when I got into bed as the opera finished late and taxis seemed to be few and far between. I have never overslept when I've needed to get up early, my alarms have never let me down, yet I still live in fear of not waking up when I have something special going on. This morning I was climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge at dawn. This meant climbing the bridge at 5.30am to be at the top as the sun came over the horizon at Manly. The sun seemed to oversleep this morning, however and we had to wait on top of the Bridge for 30 minutes. Normally, once the photo is taken at the top, its down you go. A cruise ship docked in front of us at Circular Quay. Before the climb, we were all asked who would win the game. I hoped 2 points. No one went for a big score, with the exception of one woman who thought Wales would win by 15. (silly woman).

From then on, the rest of the day was spent kicking around waiting for the kick off. I didn't feel at all confident that a win was on the cards, but was really nervous. All routes to the ground were free, as they are when major events are on in Australia - whether sporting or Rihanna. One of the routes was a leisurely ferry up to Parramatta and the Olympic Park. On a tense day, this seemed the most relaxing way up there.

The stadium looms large at the ground, and around it are different stadia that are still in use, although the venues haven't quite got the aura and of Melbourne, although of course 22 November 2003 and 6 July 2013 are beginning to write that history.

Because catering is a bit limited at the Park, a variety of concessions set themselves up in tents on the walkway to the ground, there are sponsors tents, tented shops etc, and the two bars opposite the stadium extend out into he square in front - covering areas as big as the pitch itself. Aussie food is geared to protein, I asked for for chicken and chips and was given chicken chips - we'd call them nuggets, and no carbs!

The Brewery bar was taken over by Lions fans, which was attached to the Novotel, which was where the Lions players would be having a nap. In true Aussie fashion, (noise to create sleep depravation), and also to get things going,  there was a disco blaring out rock music, an Aussie Scottish bagpipes band. Everyone knew the plan - smash the Aussie scrum - no Plan B. Gatland had put everything on red, but did the Aussies have the answer?

I went to the final Lions Den in the badminton arena - it lacked a bit of atmosphere after last week. It could be because of the huge size, but I also think it was because of nervousness. One of the guests tonight was Donal Lenihan. He was negative saying that the Lions would lose (a dropped Irishman was the reason why). No wonder his team were known as Donal's Donuts', he could cause Tiger to want Prozac. Ickle Shane was nervous, and tried to be funny, but wasn't - it could have been tension rather than dumbness, although you never can be sure. Andy Nichol tried to break a superstition by wearing a different shirt to break a losing habit. The Manic Street Preachers came on again and pumped the crowd up. We could win. I left believing.

Yet again the stadium record was broken, (it had been remodelled since 2003). The Lions support had grown from last week, and this time we wee in bigger blocks, so could make more noise. Corbs' try set the tone and volume in the first minutes, and I began to believe. All 4 nations songs were sung willingly, even though the rest of the years it was the song for the opposition. The Aussie PA was so loud, there was feedback, but it didn't drown us out. This was Lions history in the making, and boy did the team deliver.
After the formalities, the crowd went wild, running down to the front to get closer to their heroes on their lap of honour. The four songs mentioned at the start were the party music with players and fans singing. We were all one big pride, singing and dancing late into the night. As for the rest of the night.... What goes on tour, stays on tour......

5 July Forza del Destino (Overture) - Verdi

With so little time in Sydney, I had to do it in a day. Beyond the shoreline, the city is very much like any other city - lots of shop signs, cars, buses, a grid system and just couldn't get my bearings. I am usually really good - find a few landmarks, yet I couldn't find them to get myself going, and this remained the case whilst I was there. Eventually I found Hyde Park, walked through the Domain and Botanic Gardens to the view of Sydney from Mrs Macquairie's Chair. this is the view that everyone has seen in travel brochures, and thinks of Australia. A jogger takes my photo. She asks me to return the favour and tells me that she can never get enough of the view and has loads of photos of it on her phone. Her friends think that she is mad.

As I round the corner of the Opera House, I see the tide coming in (Sea of Red). Everywhere is red on Circular Quay, the bars and cafes, the pavements, the ferries. The Opera House itself is a beautiful building - inside it is even more remarkable, as the angles and lines make what could be quite harsh exposed concrete, funky. Tonight I am going to my first opera. It will have sur-titles (titles above the stage), and I've researched the storylines, so I will know what is going on - I hope. All the main characters die in the end. It also has a reputation like Macbeth, the Scottish play - unlucky. Those involved have something horrible happen to them. I hope that the final twist of fate is not an Aussie win. The story tells us that whatever life throws at us, we all suffer the same fate in the end. I justify this as a reason to have gone on all my expensive mad rugby trips.

The Rocks is like a living museum. Famous for English sports fans, as the place to party after 2003 World Cup win, and Ashes wins - more frequent in recent times, it is also the first settlement of Sydney, with a range of Victorian buildings, including traditional pubs and restaurants, some converted from the warehouse, when Britain traded with the world. It bustled with a street market, and interesting street food. It was crowded with workers looking for lunch, and Lions tourists preparing for the big match with a beer or two outside.

4 July Leaving on a jet plane - Peter Paul and Mary

I just had to see the sunrise one last time. Thank goodness everything on view is free. Australia is a really expensive place. the poor exchange rate doesn't help, but even so, 2 dollars for a bottle of water 4.50 dollars for coke, is frightening, it doesn't matter where you drink it, supermarkets are no cheaper. refilling from the tap is part of the morning routine.

One last walk around and then off to the airport. 180 Lions tourists on one plane, all arriving at the same time, we had to queue outside. These numbers are unknown, and it was also the first time the equivalent of Ryan Air had flown the route. (Jetstar) The first passenger went through at 12.20 and the last at 2.20. The flight was delayed by half an hour. I didn't get my passport out the whole time - just like it used to be when you flew internally pre 2001. The bar and cafe sold out of refreshments - obviously drink, but also food -only crisps were left. With a four hour flight to follow, I thought that there would be a meal and a drink, but no, asper Ryanair - a captive audience leads to even more breathtaking prices - I remained thirsty and hungry.

I was summoned to meet my Welsh friends in Darling Harbour, Sydney. They had been drinking, so conversation was quite repetitive, as my short term memory remains good. We awaited another friend. She had managed to take and collect the right baggage this time, but unfortunately not the right passport. The gift of the gab, managed to get her to and from Cairns, and the other friend up from Melbourne. I got to Darling Harbour through a shopping centre, and the row of bars felt plastic and new, not my scene, but lively enough. It could have been anywhere by water. My initial thoughts were disappointing.

3 July River Deep Mountain High - Ike and Tina Turner

As I was awake before dawn, I wallked up to  a sand dune to watch the sun rise over Uluru. The colours of the sky changed over the hour that I was there, from dark blue tinged with orange at the skyline, through orangey pink and violet eventually blue, with the sun turning Uluru orange. It was easy to understand why the Aboriginals consider it such a spiritual place.

I went on a Bush Tucker Tour this morning to learn about Aboriginal food. Three miles away from the hotel, mand it fel like we were in the middle of the desert, flat and nothingness around. It is incorrect to think that deserts are barren, it was teeming with life and vegetation. I saw a bulldog ant that was an inch long. Women suck nectar ants' abdomens for the sweetness within. Me, I prefer a Worther.

The previous week's rain, had brought quite a bot of greenness to the landscape. With it come the flies, damn flies. They buzz around your head incessantly, and no amount of waving them away frightens them, Insect repellent doesn't work. How Aussies manage to stay sane I don't know.

In the afternoon I walked the Olgas. These are not one piece of rock like Uluru, but a conglomerate. Burton is built on Bunter conglomerate - small gravel held together by clay/sandstone, but this conglomerate contains huge boulders. Its less of a tourist attraction than Uluru. IT is a sacred place where Aboriginal men go for rights of passage, away from women, so there is a conflict with modern society, where women, who should be banned are allowed to walk them.

On the way back, remember I am here for the rugby, news broke that O Driscoll had been dropped for the final test. With Warburton out, I had expected him to captain the side, although, I thought his form had been poor pre-tour and he was lucky to be there. It would have been his last international game, but sport is about winning, and Gatland had gambled everything on the core of Welsh players he had taken, so he had to put his money where his mouth was. The side was possibly too Welsh, Youngs (hooker) unlucky, and I'd have had a back row of Croft, OBrien, Heaslip. Lydiate hasn't done a lot wrong, but there's no X Factor. He tackles players, that's it. Phillips owed the fans a big game so has to deliver. Gatlands Strategy is easy to see - smash 'em in the scrum and then smash em again. But all the same - Go Lions!!

I ate in the hotel restaurant - the best in town. Price £70ish (Kerching), and no wine.....
Starter: Smoked Kangaroo Wattleseed Crepe, ith Thyme scented mushrooms and Kolkadi Plums.
Mains: Fillet of Kingfish with Pak Choi, ginger and carrot emulsion and reduced orange glaze with rocket, pine nut and parmesan salad.
Dessert: Drambuie chocolate mousse with wild rosella flower dacquiose (biscuit), almond curd, and pistachio fondue.
Pepeermint tea to finish, made with actual leaves, and a diffuser.
Blimey what are Sydney prices going to be like - I'll find out tomorrow.

2nd July - Road to Nowhere - Talking Heads

I was up early this morning to travel by Alice Springs to Ayres Rock (Uluru). Just 450km to travel on straight roads that stretch far into the horizon. Even the hill ranges are few and far between. Just miles and miles of sand and shrubbery. The coach driver informed us not to worry about the weird noise - the mechanics had ensured that there were no problems with the suspension - 450 km with one side of the coach lower than the other, and nothing in between the two destinations. Hmmmmm. Our first break was 90 minutes in at a camel farm. Camels were used to cross Australia before the railway, and once built, the Afghan handlers were told to shoot them. They didn't and now there's a million of the things eating their way through the vegetation, causing kangaroos etc. to starve. It was the first building we had seen in the meantime. Actually in the 5 and a half hours we were travelling, we'd only passed six cattle stations, each over 1 millions acres, and the driver knew the names of the managers of everyone. Last week it had rained, but he told us the story of one of the station manager's 8 year old son. He saw rain for the first tie when he was 8, and he was so traumatised by the experience that he fainted.

We came round a corner (or should \I say, the corner) and into sight came a large red monolith. I got excited - there was Ayres Rock. In fact it was Mount Connor. There are miles and miles of nothingness with huge red hills every now and then. There was a lookout here and a toilet. The other thing you noticce, are the flies, the bloody flies. They don't bite, just buzz around your head incessantly.

 When Ayres Rock finally does come into site it's the colours that strike you. Deep red against a blue sky. Nothingness around it, no foothills, no lead in, no background, just a gigantic rock. nearby, maybe 20 miles away, are the Kaja Tjutu or Olgas. There are globe like mountains, almost like a pile of horse manure in shape. They look like from another world, perhaps they are - the shock that split Godwana.

In the early evening, we were picked up for the Sounds of Silence dinner. This is world famous and has featured in all the travel magazines as the 'thing' to do before you die. We were driven to a spot with a perfect view of Uluru and the Olgas to watch the sunset change the rocks to different colours. This was close to he wild, but we were served canapes and wine, (lemon lime and bitters in my case). Crocodile was one of the flavours I tried, along with kanga

roo, barramundi and desert rat (tastes like chicken), followed by lemon myrtle sponge.

In the meantime, the stars had come out in the night sky, with the Southern Cross, Scorpio and the Milky Way in full view. There were two telescopes set up, one on Saturn, with its rings and moons, and one on a black nothingness, that through a telescope looked like diamonds on velvet - another galaxy beyond our own.

Monday, July 1, 2013

1 July- Tequila Sunrise-The Eagles

The sunrise this morning was stunning. A clear blue sky, with an orange base turned the local MacDonnell hills pink. With a dry day promised, as the sun rose in the sky, these hills turned back to their orange colour.

Yesterday, I booked a bicycle to ride over to the Alice Springs Desert Park. It was about four miles outside Alice, and no easy route to get there by public transport. I expected to be there for the morning, but it was so good, I spent the day there. David Attenborough rated it as the best desert wildlife centre in the world.

The flora was planted in themes, a salt bowl, gypsum bowl, dry river bed, desert woodland etc. the animals and birds, were placed in situ, so that you could imagine what it was like in the Outback. There were two bird displays. At 10am, I sat next to an English woman, and all of a sudden, a variety of birds flew or ran in. There were these pigeon with quiffs, that looked like punk pigeons, as they had attitude, as they scuttled in, spoling

. Above a variety of birds of prey flew in, including a kite, a barn owl, a falcon, to be hand fed by the park ranger, who was so knowledgable he could well have been an professional ornithologist. He led the birds by flight or walking through the audience whilst explaining how they hunted or fed.

The woman suggested that we go together as a family, so that we could see the eagle, and have pictures taken with it, as it would be cheaper for both of us. Again an amazing experience, as we shuffled closer to the eagle. No jerky movements.

She invited me to lunch, in her campervan, whilst I  downloaded the photos onto her computer. I felt quite nostalgic, as it was the same sort as I'd lived in for seven weeks in New Zealand. After lunch we went around the rest of the park, seeing endangered marsupials, which seemed to be crosses of rats squirrels and mice. It did make me wonder if they started as the same animal, but evolved differently.

After being on my feet all day, I cycled the five miles home.  Don't think I will be up much longer!!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

30 June - Town Like Malice - The Jam

(I had to have that tune didn't I?)

After a major rugby game that finished at 10pm, I was up this morning at 4.30am to catch the coach to the airport. Talk about 'No sleep on Tour!' I have no idea of the actual time, as flying from Melbourne to Alice means that Alice is half an hour behind - I think that means I don't get to bed until later. My phone has a different time to Facebook on the iPad which has a different time to the Internet. I guess it won't matter until Tuesday when we move on to Uluru desert resort.

When I was at School, we read 'A Town like Alice-Neville Shute. I remember enjoying it at that time, and if you have read the book, the heroine, Jean Paget, opens an ice cream parlour. Although its in the middle of nowhere, because of this book, I've always wanted to visit, and have an Ice cream in a parlour here. Weird bucket list job, I re-read the book on the two plane trips I've taken in Australia, and the ice cream wasn't in Alice, it was in a town LIKE Alice called Willstown. Perhaps, I should have stopped looking out the window at school. Anyway, I was still determined to do it, and I found Eddy's Ice Cream Parlour, so it was still a job to be done.  I had Fig and Almond, and Salty Caramel, as these seemed the most unusual flavours. The salty caramel was well worth it- it really works if you see it, try it.

Alice is the capital of the Outback, the red centre of Australia. It is also an important centre for the Aborigines, and there is some fantastic art shops selling the best of Aborignial art. Alongside these shops, poor Aboringines try to sell one piece of work. I've never come across the culture before, and it made me feel uncomfortable, and guilty, as seeing poverty always does. Some didn't have shoes on, and they had these really thin ankles, and I noticed that one or two have plaster casts on them. I don't know if this is a genetic thing, as they were not thin as such. They also walked around with shoulders that stooped, this made them look beaten. I need to understand more.

Alice is not a massive city, probably around 20-30 thousand, so I've done it in an afternoon, the most significant thing I saw was the Flying Doctor Base. Returning to the hotel, it was time for tea...

('What's that Skippy, you were for tea tonight?) kangaroo meat is dark, low in fat, and best eaten medium rare, perhaps our closest meat is venison.

29 June- You stole the sun from my heart- Manic Street Preachers

The whole day seemed to revolve around the match. I couldn't get away from it. I went on the tram down to St Kilda, the seaside suburb of Melbourne, there were Lions fans on the tram. I walked on the pier at St Kilda. There were Lions fans on there. I went to the public toilet, there were Lions fans in the queue. I went to Melbourne Museum. There were Lions fans examining the minerals in the geology section. I went ona tour of World Heritage site, it was with Lions fans. Melbourne really was painted red.

In the late afternoon, I went down to the Lion's Den bar, provided by the tour companies. There were three and a half thousand red shirts in there. It rocked. Free beer, free food, 'patriotic' songs , if you can call  songs such as Delilah that. Andy Nichol, tour leader, interviewed Jeremy 'Persil' Guscott. I met the match manager of Western Force, one of only four Australian fans in there. She had been given tickets by the Lions for the hospitality they had been showed. (If I ever want Western Force tickets, I'm set.) Andy Nichol kept us in anticipation of some legends who were going to appear. It was the Manic Street Preachers came on, and did an acoustic set. It really was good. They performed about 40 minutes and the fans sang and danced with them. They have headed Gastonbury, and I have seen them at a small gig in a warehouse. All the signs were good.

The Etihad Stadium is an Aussie rules stadium, permanently under cover. Not ideally for rugby, as the fansk are far away from the Action. The noise with the roof was immense, even so, the players  must have heard. Whether it was the anticipation of the win, too much expectation, too many red shirts, far more than last week, I don't know. It was a stuttering performance, and the ref can't be blamed this week, as the Lions slipped to the inevitable drawer, the crowd was immense again, probably two thirds Lions fans, and the stadium attendence record was broken for the second week running.

In the end, it wasn't to be, and the Aussies nicked the win from a late try, so the series goes onto the deciding game in Sydney. In the meantime, the players are going to Noosra, and I'm going to Alice Springs and Uluru .

Friday, June 28, 2013

28 June - Go Buddy Go -The Stranglers

Tomorrow's a big day. Tomorrow could be the day I finally nail a series win. In honour of that potential situation, I have spent the day in Sport Heaven. I started at Flamington, onto the MCG, round the Melbourne Grand Prix Track, ending up in the Etihad, followed by a big Sportsman's evening.

Flamington is home to the Melbourne Cup, and in honour of a great rugby stakwart, has a bar called 'Buster's Bar. This was situated right next to the Bookie's Tic Tac area, alongside the ring. I wonder if he's smiling at that? The morning was crisp, as we walked from the start point down to the winning post. It is lined with yellow roses, many of which have yet to be pruned. The view from the stand is back towards the city. As with most grounds there are famous horses, including one that won the Melbourne Cup 4 times - Tulloch. This then went onto race in the States, where it died suddenly, after winning races there. It was just too good, and too expensive for bookies. The course is sited in the Newmarket area of the city, where else? We were early enough to see some horses training on the course, galloping around, which gave a feel for the occasion. Later at the Australian Museum of Sport, there was an exhibition of the style and fashion of the meet. Of course there were no blokes in that, just wives bored by the stats., cups, programmes etc. in the rest of the museum.

From Flamington, we went to the MCG or the 'G' as it is known locally. It is huge. It looms up above the Olympic Park around. It's floodlights are the highest of any in the world, towering above the ground. If they were a building, they would be 24 stories high. The ground is 175 years old, almost as old as the country, or at least the country where people went voluntarily as opposed to on the convict ships. When you enter the ground it looms high above you, so big it has artificial lights to re create the sun. It has the biggest sporting library in the world. It is believed that the Aussie fans will learn to read in there this coming winter, (their summer), when us Poms retain the Ashes. I best say I hope we do, there. I wouldn't want to be accused of Aussie arrogance. Around the ground is the Rod Laver Arena, and Margaret Court Arena, the Centre and Court 1 of the Australian open, with 20 tennis courts around. Alongside is the AAMI Stadium, the Australian Swimming Institue, several AFL Ovals, ,the Victorian Institute of Sport on the site of the original Olympics. Over 50 years since the Melbourne Olympics, the legacy is still there. I hope that London's legacy is the same,.

The Melbourne Grand Prix track runs around Albert Park to the south of the city. During most of the year, you would never know it was there, but for 1 month, they convert it into a race track. It costs the local Government $Aus 17 million to do this. All this while that greedy midget Ecclestone gets richer and richer. I still have yet to understand why he has been allowed to get such control of a sport, and how he remains there. Soccer and Rugby beware. By the way I wouldn't class it's as a sport, more a moving advertisement break.

Then lunch at the Etihad - purely by co-incidence the Lions kickers were practising, so watched Halfpenny, Farrell, Sexton and Hogg. On the way out David Campese was being interviewed for tv. It's not the number one sport here, but it's getting huge coverage on tv. Walking around Melbourne, there's players and people everywhere.

In the evening I went to a gala dinner, paying silly money for it, and it was worth every silly penny, even if I did have to wear a dress- a red one of course. The first people I bumped into were Joe Roff, Jeremy Guscott, Andy Nichol and Scott Quinnell. Had to have their picture taken with me. During the  meal each of them telling stories about touring. Scott Quinnell's favourite moment was when BOD was sparring with Austin Healey, who had invited him to box, and hit him several times. Turns out he was an Irish schoolboy boxing champion! Guscott was his usual arrogant self, playing up to the image. We lost in 1993 because he didn't play well. Then Gatland and O'Connell came in for a chat. last Saturday's referee put in his report that he was surprised by the intensity of the experience. (And he understands rugby?) Gatland hinted that this was an indication that he was out of his depth.

Melbourne is the food capital of the Southern Hemisphere. There are cafes, street food and restaurants everywhere. Gatland told the story of Thursday night when he took his wife, daughter and boyfriend, parents, in-laws out for a meal in a restaurant. On the next table was Robbie Deans, Aussie coach. He asked him how his week had been. Apparently his week had been 'shit'.

The real passion of the evening came when Gerald Davies spoke. As an Arts graduate of Aberystwyth University, he is obviously well educated, just like me! He talked about the Magic of the Lions, and his dream of playing for them, in lands with palm trees and sun and dry grounds, as opposed to Llanelli, rain, and mud. He is quietly spoke, but his passion came over strongly, as he quoted a poem by Browning, which I will mis-quote: " A man who  aches for things that are beyond his grasp and gets them, then what is heaven for? If I was playing tomorrow, I would be walking over hot coals for the team, after his speech.

The frustration is on a night like this, it's impossible to get all the questions down. I hope that from time to time I remember them, but what a night!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

27 June Volare - Dean Martin

This morning I received a text from two friends who landed today, and I knew things were about to change. It went along the lines of 'G'Day Oz here we come'. From my organised tour, not just the one I'm on, but my own organisation, I entered the realm of disorganisation. I tried to arrange coffee with them in Federation Square and got a text back saying 'L picked up the wrong bag at the airport and has gone back to the airport to sort it out and I'm going to bed'. OK I thought, back to plan A to walk around the Royal Botanic Gardens- it was a lovely bright sunny, but cold, morning.

It turns out that my mate had lent her boyfriend's bag and had picked up a bag that looked like one she used to have. Chaos was back! We were all going to meet up with an old College friend, who I'd not seen for 30 years at 2. That took most of the morning to get the message, then that changed to Fed  Square at 1.30, and I was in charge of finding a bar- but what one? How we all met up, I will never know and it was good to see l2 again. Even though we had not spoken for 30 years, it was as though we hadn't spoken for 30 minutes, and the four of us had a lovely afternoon, even though the two whirlwinds left the bar in the wrong direction.

I left to go for a meal on a tram, and left the three of them to say their goodbyes, before going back to clean up in their rooms, only somehow they got diverted to the bar that they had been recommended to go to. Apparently it was called Ernst and Young, and it was actually the bar that hosted Chloe - Young and Jackson. How they ever found me I will never know.

I returned after the meal to meet up with them in a bar, to find them eating fish and chips and worrying about the vinegar, which wasn't brown, but clear. They returned to Young and Jackson, for ease of meeting me. In there, we found a Lions supporter who was suffering from repetitive story syndrome, caused by jet lag and alcohol, and two couples from their home village that they didn't know we're going there.

Somehow my organised tour is about to become disorganised, but I've laughed more in the three hours I was with them than I did on the whole of the holiday so far.

The Colonial Tram Restaurant was a lovely experience. I booked it on 23 March, and knew what I was going to be eating, I knew that it was like the Orient Express and the music was thirties, and Rat Pack classics.. Safe or OCD?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

25 June- Steppimg Out -Joe Jackson

Melbourne is seen as the sporting, culture and food capital of Australia, (what else is there in the world?) it has a varied architecture built on the back of a gold rush in the 1850s. The majority of all this is within a 1 mile radius, a very walkable city that makes life easier with an efficient tram service. Even the two train stations reflect the variety. flinders Street station is the iconic station on many tourism brochures, and Southbank station, the gateway to Australia, with its wave like roof.

Today I had a go at hitting all the sport, culture, food and history all in one day. A relentless pace, but got to be done with such a short time here. I started off with a Monet exhibition at the Art Gallery. There were one or two quirks in it, it was supposed to be about his garden, yet managed to feature Norway and London? Big garden that. There were some stunning pictures, although it would have been more vibrant had it been hung on dark walls, in the French style, rather than the light grey chosen.

The onto a tram for the circular tour. This was free and came with a basic commentary, explaining the city. I really enjoyed this, when four of the naughtiest out of control children got on. With their mother and grandmother, they took up 9 seats, possibly more as people tried to move away. 'Don't do that' constantly didn't work, and I got off by the largest building in Melbourne called Skydeck 88. I had no intention of jumping off to get away from the kids from hell, but to see the city from a different angle. From the top of thee I saw heaven. Not the one with harps and angels, but the one with sports facilities. In the Sports precinct in Melbourne, there is the MCG, Rod Laver Centre, AAMI, Olympic Park, Australian Institute of sport and a sport Museum. Heaven! No wonder the Aussies were so good at sport, and probably taught the world how to be fit and professional. Oh I forgot to mention the three rowing clubs on the other side of the river.

At lunchtime, I sat outside in a fish restaurant to have barramundi wrapped in pancotta ham, with lychee and coriander salad. Fantastic. Om the next table, Mark Regan and Graham Dawe were sat, eating steak. Is it something about hookers that means that they have to be awkward?

The match was being played at the AAMI Stadium, a short walk from the restaurant. The stadium in the dark looked like a giant sparkling slug, again an iconic design. Whilst the Lions won 35-0, the game never really got going, and the atmosphere strangely quiet after Saturday. The only incident of note was a Rebels fan, who was trying to encourage his team with singing. No one was following his lead. He tried several songs and eventually started singing, 'If you all hate the Lions, clap your hands' He was in his 40s not 4. This was to the great amusement of a group of Lions fans who started singing, The wheels on the bus go round and round' touché.

26 June. Peaceful East Feeling - Eagles

Another stupid o'clock awakening to go on a bus trip along one of the Top 10 drivers in the world - The Great Ocean Road. We had a driver who looked like Mike Myers from Wayne's World and he acted like him as we'll, being able to talk on a microphone, drink, steer around hairpin bends and change gear all at the same time. He told us serval entertaining quirky stories that entertained on a 600km drive ( in one day).  His first started when we went past a pub called Young and Jackson. Apparently Victorian Melbourne residents ( no pun intended ), were prudes an insisted that a portrait of a naked woman was taken down from the Art Gallery. A local publican bought it and hung it in his pub. Her name was Chloe and when sailors and soldiers left for foreign fields, they came to say goodbye. If they didn't have wives, girlfriends, or significant others, they wrote to her instead.

The next story is about the awful bush fires that hit Victoria from time to time. In a town called Lorne, only 3 buildings survived an horrific bush fire in 1983. Only three buildings were saved, the lighthouse, which was a stone building, a house built on a huge metal stilt, and a building that, all the residents took the decision to save whilst their houses burnt down- the pub!

The Great Ocean Road was built by soldiers returning after World War 1. The Government  could not afford to pay them, but in a recession the offer of three meals a day and a tent, were better than they would have normally got, so 3000 signed up to build it. It took 14 years but a ship called the casino was wrecked and its cargo of 150 barrels and 75 crates of spirits were washed ashore to be destroyed by 3000 road workers on the piss. Work was delayed by two weeks. The Aussies love a beer!

On our way we went over a huge suspension bridge crossing the docklands area of Melbourne. Its known locally as the Bridge of Doom. The bridge was built in the late 60s early 70s. As with most bridges being built, they meet in the middle. Only this bridge missed by 4 metres, so they decided to bend one side to join the other. There was a rumble and 160m of bridge collapsed killing 35 people. 7 Ps anyone? The sides have large fences put on them. This is the result of 3 suicides a month, as it was a quick and tidy way of killing yourself.

The Ocean Road itself is stunning. The cliffs and arches, and other features such as coves are a golden sandstone in the sun, the day having a clear blue sky. The sea really was turquoise moving into deep waters where it became a dark blue. The forests come down to the sea, throwing shimmering shadows on everything. We saw wild koalas and parrots and saw the lighthouse Cape Otway, the first sight that welcomes all émigrés to the new land. And what a beautiful land it is. As we drove back the sunset was orange, and the red silhouetting the Eucalyptus trees against the sky. Days don't get much better than this.

Monday, June 24, 2013

11.59- Blondie

Considering the time I got in last night, I got up at stupid o'clock to catch a bus, to catch a train, to catch a bus to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It was a bit of a logistical challenge to even find the bus stop in the first place, but I got there nearly four hours after I started-if I had found the right bus stop, I have saved two hours but  I am a tourist! I got a major tick in the box, and cuddled a koala. It pressed all my maternal instincts and I wanted to stay and play. They do smell of eucalyptus, and are likely to poo or wee at any time, but I missed that experience. I also fed Skippy, ready to eat him later in the week.....

From there it was back to the bus to Brisbane to work out how to get to the Gabba for an AFL game between the Brisabne Lions and the Geelong Cats. The ground has happy memories for Lions fans, as it was probably where the sea of red first came to prominence in the media in 2001. The Australian papers claim that was where their fans learnt to support the team, wearing colours etc. the Gabba wasn't chosen as a venue for the match for that reason. It is still fantastic to visit the stadium. The Aussies make a great deal of effort to get their supporters to and from the ground free of charge, even as far out as Surfers Paradise. This keeps the cot of the day down. The fares came to 17 dollars one way and the ticket was 25, making it easy for a family to afford a day out more often. The Brisbane Tourist office were short on detail whenI asked them where to catch the bus to the ground, so I asked a local family how to get there. They invited me to walk with them to the ground, to sit with them, and also bought me tea, a fantastic gesture. The bloke was a really big Geelong fan, and was happy to answer my questions about the game. I thought it was just a bunch of well toned men in tight shorts and big biceps jumping about. well it is , but ther is a game around that. Geelong are top of the table, and Brisbane are bumping along at the bottom, so a big win was expected by Geelong, and by the end of the third quarter, with Geelong leading by 52 points. But nothing is certain in sport and steadily in the fourth quarter, Brisbane started to come back, reducing the lead. For some reason Geelong started to panic,. What was sleepily bumping along to a win was changing. The Brisbane fans had started to leave at the end of the fourth quarter. The masochists that stayed saw something remarkable, ad in the second minute of injury time, they kicked a goal to win by five points. Somehow, for the second time in two days, the Lions had scraped a win, and I had watched two significant sporting events. It ain't over until its over.

Sweet Dreams - Eurythmics

On the morning of the Test, I always have to smile to myself as the old people come down to breakfast, all in their Strawberry red, cuddly toys, hats etc. people who think that M and S are the height of fashion suddenly start dressing like teenagers, none of them pulling it off with any degree of confidence. It doesn't matter, getting the support does. You may have thought that the sea of red wasn't in the stadium. As expected the Aussies have a trick or two up their sleeve, making sure that where their players run out, where the anthems were played was a sea of banana yellow courtesy of the ARU. They also 'split' the Lions support into smaller pockets so that they could stop the effects of the singing. Higher in the stands out of tv shot the red was there in blocks. It didn't stop the chanting though- Lions, Lions, Lions.

Brisbane during the day is a lovely city, combining a vibrant business district, river and cafe / beach culture. By the river is an area called Southside, with a beach and 'seashore', where children could paddle, teenagers swim and do the first stages of attracting the opposite sex, ( boys push girl into water, girl screams and giggles.) Grassy banks where you coul watch the world go by. Through the centre of the park was a 1km sculpture that was covered in a purple flowering vine that linked a snow park to a dock, running through an equatorial forest park, with a giant wheel to look at Brisbane and its river from high above.  Some Lions fans were enjoying ice- creams soaking up for most of us, the first days of sun we"d seen for a lifetime, or so it felt. This is the height of winter.

Parallel to this there was Alan's of bars, cafes, restaurants, some with a river view, others facing along the Victorian street, where there was a street, one of the first streets in Australia. There was also a market selling food such as chocolate filled bananas, corn on the cob, ice cream, burritos etc. along with the usual candles, new age crap that is no use to anyone other than a prize at a WI raffle. Locals mingled with Lions fans " monkey parading" up and down. In envy bar and restaurant there was the sea of red. On the corner of the road was a Plough Inn, a two storey building with a verandah that was completely red. Every now and then you could here the Lions fans singing. It put the hairs up on the back of my neck.

I managed to meet up with friends in a bar on Caxton Street by the ground. This street is full of bars, again very much 'outside' full of rugby fans wearing red and yellow mingling and drinking together. The road had been shut as people walked through the masses to get to the ground. Ironically in the Suncorp the seats are red and yellow, adding to the clour as the ground filled up. The closest to the Caxton Road experience would be the Millenium, but whether it was th distance from home, the excitement, the weather, it felt more friendly and upbeat.

Inside the ground was chaos, as I walked to my seat, I had to walk through a standing area, where people were congregating, drinking, queuing for beer or food, or loos, along with trying to find the seats. Magic.

I was lucky. I was in an area of the ground which did have quite a few Lions fans. You could feel something special was going to happen. The Aussies, fair play to them, had given it their all, found the singer of Men at Work to ramp up the crowd with a version of 'Down Under", and importantly they had allowed the Lions Male Voice choir to sing a medley of songs associated with the four home nations. This was something that the Boks and the All Blacks had stopped. A sign of the confidence Aussies have, that they can match the best.

The previous night, Richard Hill had called the referee a midget, he didn't rate him. Ironic that they are sponsored by Spec savers as he seemed to miss Aussie breakdown infringements but spotted the Lions ones. The Aussies collapsed scrums and they were re-set. Mmmmmm. Luckily they didn't have their kicking boots on, but were playing in the Uggs that Australia is famous for.

I hope the noise of the ground came over on tv. It was as intense as I have ever experienced. I reckon the Lions won that battle, but with the tricks of tv, that may not have been the perception at home.

The Aussie took the defeat gracefully, although they should have won. The stadium attendance was broken, by the Lions roar.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

24.June - Driving in my car-Madness

The hotel in Surfers Paradise has been surrounded by roadworks by the construction of a light rail system, (tram in old money). Every time I've left the hotel, it's meant a different route around the hotel, for pedestrians and road traffic. The coach came today to move us to the airport for the flight to Melbourne. We were asked to get on as the coach driver couldn't pull in due to cars parked under the loading canopy.

Fully loaded, he drove to the end of the road ready to turn right into the traffic. The traffic warden told him that he couldn't turn right in the coach.
'But I did yesterday' the driver protested.
'Ive had my instructions - you can't today. You will have to reverse down the road and turn around.'

The driver pulled back so far. The other end of the road was a duel carriageway so he would have to reverse. It would be too dangerous to do anything else. He decided to reverse into the hotel canopy and '3 point' turn his way around.

He pulled in and out more times than the Okey Cokey will all the Lions limbs involved.
'I can't pull round, he said, that red car is parked and I will hit it.'

The tour rep. went into the hotel to find the owner. I've noticed one thing about Australian drivers over here. They have less patience than an Audi driver in the outside lane of the motorway behind someone over taking doing the speed limit.

The hotel manager came out and had a look. With 30 ex rugby plays on the bus, one of them suggested that they'd bump in out of the way. 'I wouldn't mind' the driver said, 'but he's parked illegally.'

All of a sudden, the warden turned round to see the chaos he'd caused. He walked down the road and the Hotel Manager explained that the red car was parked illegally, and it was stopping the coach from turning around.

Sheepishly, the Warden got in the car and drove it away. Consensus was that the best word to sum him up was Tosser.

We continued with our journey.

Friday, June 21, 2013

21 June Part 2

For some reason, I must have hit a word limit as it wouldn't let me complete the post.

Here' the rest of the stories.

Mick Galway felt that Gatland had cheapened the name of the Lions by picking Shane Williams as it is supposed to be about players at their peak rather than players past their peak. Interesting comment, that no one disagreed with.

Richard Hill was asked who the ref was tomorrow - when told he said what that dwarf? Mind you England have a problem with dwarves that goes beyond 2011, they had Austin Healey. well Andy Nichol said, he is a tosser.

Richard Hill went into his history when he was taken out by putting his chin on Nathan Gray's elbow. He had to be XRayed, and his brain was twice as thick as a normal man. He made the mistake of telling West who told Johnno who called him a Neanderthal!!  He had to buy the doctor beer so that he could have one or two. Cost him a fortune.

Elton Flatley felt that the key to tomorrow's game was two dads - Adam Ashkey Cooper. He mentioned how scared he was to have to play against the Lions. Not as scared as I am says Joe Roth, I'm playing outside you.

The final story is they were asked who was going to win tomorrows game. All plumped for the Lions. Richard Hill had asked Warren Gatland if he should put money on Lions winning 3-0. Gatland said not, as if they were 2-0 up, they may go drinking and not be on top form for the final game.......

21 June Moloko The Time is Now

When I was a kid, I supported the Baggies, (still do). My hero was Jeff Astle, a no nonsense centre forward, one of the best headers of a ball ever, and understood that he represented the hopes and dreams of the Black Country, when he pulled on the shirt. Years later I met him and he became a mate. He still went to the Baggies, still supported them, wasn't jealous of the silly money paid to players with half the ability he had, because he understood that he had lived the dream.

Whilst I've had my photo taken with Richard Hill before, I've never had chance to really talk to him. Again I would say that he is one of the best back row players, ever to play for England, because he could play 6, 7, 8 and was never dropped by Clive Woodward and had the Lions had never lost whilst he was on the pitch. He wasn't flashy or ever really in the spotlight, but teams didn't function properly without him. He has just had his contract ended by Saracens, and faces an uncertain future, probably similar to Jeff when he was surplus to requirements at the Baggies. Loyalty only goes so far. He wasn't bitter and hoped that he could stay in rugby in some way. He told me that rugby had given him so much. Both never forgot the fans, but both sadly paid a high price. Jeff lost his life with brain damage, Richardu limps from knee damage,

Back to Australia and today's adventure. I went on a bus trip to Lamerton National Park, a World Heritage site. I went up two mountains Tamborine Mountain, named after an Aborigine tribe which somehow has manifested itself as a tourist trap selling fudge and jam. The weather was imported from the UK, cold grey anddrizzly to visit a sub-Tropical rain forest. A real yin and yan place. From a distance green and verdant but up close it destroys itself, with vines strangling the trees until the rot from inside, trees that grow as quickly as possible to get above the canopy and stay so thin that they become top heavy and break. Up to 20 different ferns, fungi, and even orchids are parasites that live off them. In the heart of the forest the only colour is green at this time of the year. This made the multi-coloured parrots quite striking as they flew in, completely tame to land on people to see what they had to eat.

The second half of today's post involves an Eve of Test event. Andy Nichol was the host, with the
panel being Mick Galway, Richard Hill and Elton Flatley. All top blokes and really funny. Nichol geared the questioning to get the laughs and rugby stories. They were nearly upstaged by a woman who fainted next to me. Shiny new wedding ring suggested that this was her honeymoon, no doubt combined with jet lag, beer, and a hot room and over she went. A doctor was called who managed the situation allowing her to sit on a chair. Mmm brave girl being able to sit down on her honeymoon.

Any way I'm sure my rugby mates would like some of the stories. Hopefully they are still funny when I relate them here.

Andy Nichol told his story of his aliens caps. Twice he was called up as an injury replacement. The first time he played 6 minutes against Taranaki in 93. The second time, he was on the piss as part of the Lions tour package. Richard Hill reminded him that he was on the piss with him in Sydney after he was ruled out on thenThursday before the final test. Austin Healey was ruled out with a back
injury and Henry tried to find a replacement. The only other one was Gareth Edwards who was 55
and so he was called into action. Nichol had sobered up on the Friday as he wanted to domthenHarbour bridge walk and you have to be sober, so he was declared to fit be on the bench. His dad, watching from the rugby club in Dundee was surprised to see his blood shot eyes son, thinking he was the mascot. He didn't get on, but when he got home, he received a check for £4.5k win bonus. This was for the win in the first test, when he was in the crowd watching the win at the Gabba.

He also said when he roomed with Mick Galway on a supporters tour, where they didn't actually see each other for 4 days as Galway was still on BST, drinking all night and sleeping all day so wasn't jet lagged at all. Galway also asked Flatley why Aussie beer was so shit, and he hadn't had a pint of Guinness since he got there.

Richard Hill was asked about the 97 success and what was behind it. He said that the English were really quickly attuned to professionalism, and the Celts knew how to drink. They swooped ideas.

20 June No room for doubt- Leanne Le Havas

I think posting may be a little sporadic due to access to the Internet in the right place and time and photos may be added at any random point.

Although this is my first day in Australia, I feel as though I've been travelling forever, we'll at least for 36 hours, (how does Kylie do it?) I'm trying hard to be top dork, having lost a pin badge in the X Ray machine at Heathrow. 3 Customs officials and a random traveller went looking for it in the detector.At the other end of the journey, I struggled to get my case off the carousel, and a true gent helped, but when he picked it up, he smashed the suitcase into a woman's chin as she bent down to collect hers.

Qantas have a base at Dubai, and so when you think that you are halfway, you're nowhere near. It's only 8 hours into a 22 hour flight. The stop off involved walking through customs, and upstairs to the debarture lounge, via an X Ray check, body scanner and full bag search to get back on the plane I just got off. In the next 14 hours I watched 3 films. I slept though Marley, not the Labrador, the singer, ate a meal watching Django Unchained - just glad it wasn't liver, and finished off with Lincoln, expecting the history of a county town in the East of England, I got a bloke with a big chin, dodgy beard, who abolished slavery 100 years after the British did.

My hotel is funky and modern, and I was delighted to be greeted by Andy Nicholl, the token Scot in the 6 Nations BBC coverage. later Simon Shaw, the man mountain, was enjoying a coffee in the lobby, and when I read the noticeboard, Richard Hill, the greatest player ever, someone who has never been on the losing side while he was on the pitch playing for the Lions, plays for the mighty Sarries and features on my debit card, is at the welcome event on Friday - ans staying in the hotel ! Result!!

Surfer's Paradise isn't for me I'm afraid. Culture passed it by. The are loads of recently arrived Lions fans fighting off jet lag by walking around looking for something to do. I had a pleasant enough walk along the strand, but the beach is closed with diggers relaying it. There are lots of 50 something Lions fans, married couples, also trying to find something to do. It's too early to shop for fudge for couple even managed a smile to look as though they might be enjoying themself. Each couple has at least 4 boobs, 2 of them contained by a bra, a bald shaved head, and the female of the species uncomfortable in sports gear and silver wedges. The problem is, Surfers Paradise is for 20 something's, there's Nandos, (chicken and chips in old money), a sex shop with a 6 foot condom outside (if only girls), 3 Irish bars, one called Waxys, and variety of surf ships such as Billabong, Ugg shops are everywhere, and of course several tat shops that grace the old British seaside places. So after a stroll around the couples end up in Waxys, and I return to the room to write the blog, whilst fighting sleep. if I can last until 7 or 8 before my body gives up, I should crack the jet lag.

Today's choice of song came on the radio on the plane, and the title seems quite apt, as indeed the subsequent song, which is tomorrow's choice. The lions really do have to perform on Saturday. No surprises for me in the test team, but all these injuries.....I have a theory that all the hamstring injuries are caused by the cryogenic recovery techniques list includes North, Cuthbert, Roberts, Sexton and Farrell.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Lean on me Bill Withers

In the sixties and seventies Government policy was very anti-sport. The Notting Hill dinner parties decided that it was wrong for children to be competitive and an opportunity was spotted to sell off school fields for soulless housing estates where the gardens weren't big enough to play in and the streets had shiny cars from 2 car families with 2 jobs, 2 children and mortgages that meant that they ate jam sandwiches for tea. The kids weren't allowed to play on the streets and the parents kept up with the Jones's for their competition.

Forty years later and Desperate Dave came up with his idea about Big Society. This was where people were going to give back their time to support the community. This was along with trying to payback huge mortgages that bankers sold on commission much bigger than people could afford to pay back, so they worked harder and longer bought shinier cars and kidded themselves that they were richer had a better quality of life than their neighbours.

On Tuesday I get on a plane to Australia to go on a sporting adventure that many don't get the chance to do once, and I shall be doing for the third time. It is thought that 40,000 are making the trip down under, the biggest travelling sporting fan support in the world. There is no guarantee of a winning series, no Cups for the winners anyway. Yet people still do it for the sense of adventure, experience, and pride in the shirt. It evokes the Empire, with the red shirts matching those of the soldiers uniform of the Jingoism of the 19th century. It involves 4 nations knocking lumps out of each other and three of them desperate to beat England. And it will generate £10 million for the home nation.

This is sport at the top level, and yet locally the Corinthian spirit will manifest itself in a local team just as easy, games played with similar pride in the shirt. Both groups understand the value of sport goes much beyond the weedy kid who's left until last.

A new President about to be elected at the club and there is sense of changing of the guard. To demonstrate the desire to build teamwork beyond the playing sides, and to drive income. So the clubhouse is knocked about gutted, plastered painted all by volunteers. Sadly this year two legends of the club passed on. To support the families, pay respects saw ex players, players, club members from 9 to 90 filled the churches, chapels, and clubhouse. Moving beyond words.

As I contemplate professional and local sport today, as I prepare to go, I realise that maybe we don't need to create community or society by making a Policy, we just need to look in the right places.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello

On a balmy Brummie evening I sat out eating my Tesco's tea, waiting for the doors to open at the Elvis Costello concert, contemplating my loyalty to the real Elvis. Here they are:
1. Baritone voice, no squeaky tenor or breathy alto voice that Simon Cowell considers to be 'soulful'.
2. Musical intellect: being able to write songs in the style of Motown (Get Happy), Blues (Imperial Bedroom), or writing with Burt Bacharach (God Give me Strength, ) and the Brodski Quartet (Juliet Letters).
3. Clever wordplay in the lyrics: compare 'I know that you're loving some body, I only know it isn't mine', with 'Imagine there's no Heaven,' - why John- I'd rather imagine no faux hippy intellect?
4. Catchy Tunes that get you dancing 'Pump It Up'.

The sterile Symphony Hall, in comparison to the Hammersmith Palais where I first saw Elvis, does not lend itself to a rock concert. Steep shallow balconies, high ceilings make people self-conscious, so very little 'dad dancing'. With the lights on, the bald heads dazzled under the lights, the unifrom for gents seemed to be check Rohan shirts, the women new hair do and new shoes for their big night out. What?!*?! Where is the denim, plastic, leather and black?

A flower arrangement outside the Symphony Hall
In the mid 80's I saw Elvis on the Revolving Songbook Tour. A giant Roulette wheel, with song titles around the edge. He invited the audience to spin the wheel, and there was a degree of jiggery pokery to get the wheel to stop on Alison. Twenty five years on, technology and fickle fate meant that on the last two occasions the wheel did not stop there. Is this a marketing con to keep it on my Bucket List? I'm going to have to see him again, as its one of the few songs where when you hear it live, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Yes that good.

 Awaiting Napoleon Dynamite to take the Stage......
 The Wheel of Fortune did throw up a couple of old songs that remain topical: Shipbuilding, and Tramp the Dirt Down'. RIP Lee Rigby and Margaret Thatcher. At 60 years old he did over 2 and a half hours - some of his contemporaries are no longer with us: Ian Drury, Joe Strummer, which shows his staying power.

I don't want to go to Chelsea......
On the way home, I got away quickly. Great I thought, in bed for midnight. Oh how times change. Even 10 years ago, it would have been I'm buzzing, where can I go onto? And Oh how I wish I hadn't thought it. Why don't I learn. At 11.10 I was at the second Lichfield turn-off. At that time of night, I am 10 minutes from home. Instead I got in to bed at 12.20. The A38 was shut for about 7 miles for road works. Had they got evry road worker in the country working on it? But in true disorganised fashion, we were diverted at the last moment. If I had been warned on the Matrix lights in Birmingham or even on the A38, I could have gone a different way and been 5-10 minutes later not 50. Still we know that Matrix lights always tell us to watch out for fog on blazing sunshine don't they? The road through Lichfield had also undergone recent repair. Well if that is what you call throwing gravel on potholes, in the hope that the traffic will seal it, are roadworks. Perfect. I have to drive behind all the freight traffic on its way to Tescopolis at Fradley. I had 'Incontinence Radio' on, listening to the self-styled 'King of Music Pete Waterman's idea of Music. The genius who took the edgi-ness from Bananarama. (No I am not joking. Sing with Terry Hall and Fun Boy Three and London School of Fashion. to 'Venus' in 5 years). No wonder my musical taste in the 80's became weird and wonderful - remember Half man, Half Biscuit, Frank Chickens, Frank Sidebottom and Jesus and Mary Chain?

I could stand the tic-tacking of the gravel hitting my paintwork no longer and took a short cut at Curborough to re-join the A38 and guess what? That junction was shut as well. I was then stuck behind freight lorries who couldn't pass each other without slowing down to a crawl because of the narrowness of the road. After station switching, I gave up on Waterman's S(H)it Factory and in the darkness tried to find Jake Bugg to save my sanity.  Aaah, that's better, open countryside, clear roads and Jake Bugg - my bed awaits one more sleep before the Lions tour starts (tv only at this stage).

Music today just had to be 'Oliver's Army' - probably Elvis's biggest commercial hit, and as the British and Irish Lions return to two former colonies of the Empire wearing the red of the British soldier's tunic, a song about expanding imperialism. If I still have readers at this point, apologies if 'my mind goes sleepwalking, while I'm putting the world to rights' in this blog. Also apologies to my son for his middle name, (Oliver). It could have been so much worse. I could have liked Elton John and then it would have been Nikita (how the hell do you spell that?  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Careless Whisper - George Michael

I should have known that the tickets were jinxed when they were kindly given to me by my brother –in – law, an avid cricket fan who had been summoned onto a holiday in the sun, by my sister, (and his boss) who needed heat. Wanting to do it properly, I ordered a hamper – the choice being a traditional English one, created by Jamie Oliver, but was full of the Devil’s vegetable, Beetroot, and a Tamarind one – a Michelin starred curry house in London. I chose the latter, but more of that later.
The night before, my son asked what time we were leaving and I said the normal time for work (just before 7), as I expected the traffic to be bad. The next morning, my alarm went off, and I got up excited that I was going to tick something else off my bucket list – a Test match at the Home of Cricket, Lords. Half an hour later, I heard G’s alarm go off, but I had to call him half an hour later when he still hadn’t come downstairs. He came down in T shirt, shorts and zip-up hoody. As a typical mum, I said, “Are you going to be warm enough? He disappeared upstairs and came down with a slightly thicker hoody on.. He’ll learn, I thought.
Eventually, we got going, and I used the M6Toll Road to get past the traffic I would have missed had we left half an hour earlier. We made good time until we got to Bedford when the speed restriction signs got slower and slower. Eventually we ground to a halt and my Traffic Jam Terrett’s kicked in. After a delay of about 15 minutes whilst a red Astra who had stayed 2 chevrons back from a white van was removed from the carriage way, we got going again and arrived at Stanmore at 9.45 to find the Underground car park full.  After driving around for 15 minutes to try and find anywhere to park that wasn’t time limited, I gave up and found the next station down, Canon Park and parked up. Relieved I said to G., “I get really stressed if I think I’m going to be late for something,” “ I noticed,”  he smiled.

Pressure was now on to get there in time to see Cook and Compton walk out of the most famous Pavillion in the World, bats swinging like windmills as they walked to the centre where the New Zealand team waited. We got in the ground after a bag and body search at 10.45am, I just might make it. We went to pick up the Hamper and the queue was massive. Being a martyr I said, “You go and sit down, this may take some time”. I hoped that G would say that he would do it – no such luck,  but luckily my dislike of the Devil’s vegetable, meant that queue for the Tamarind Hamper was, well me, and I picked up a lovely new cool bag rammed with excellent food, and walked round to my seat in time to see the batsmen walk to the middle.
The cricket started slowly in the first session, ending up at lunch at 56-1. It was nearly an hour before a ball rolled fast enough to get to the boundary rope. The strategies of both teams seems to be containment, as New Zealand set up a defensive field and England demonstrated their defensive stroke play. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t McGrath and Warne, or the fearsome West Indian attack of the 80’s, as the game continued to ground on with each side determined to bore each other into mistakes.

I didn’t mind about that and time flew by people watching, cloud spotting and smiling to myself as G put his hoodie up to try to stay warm. There was an old couple in front of us, who had coats done up, flask and a score sheet. I wondered how many they had completed over the years. They sat in quiet contentment all day. Behind us were four public schoolboys, floppy hair, jackets and club ties, who cracked a bottle of Bolly as the first over was bowled, followed by several English lagers (“We don’t want any of that Aussie rubbish”.)
After lunch (56 for 1) I said to G., “We’ll see some runs this session, it always opens up second session.” How wrong I was. Trott began to score, but was out to a ball that carried to slip when it shouldn’t have done, as it barely got off the ground. Out walked Bell. A player that my brother- in law tells me a technically a very gifted batsman, but hardly a man for a crisis. In rugby he would be classed as a flat track bully. Looks great when the team are on top, but unable to change the course of a game. The lads behind me discussed the merits of his style, coming to the conclusion that they would pay 'not to watch him'. The game continued at 2 runs an over. Loads of low scoring overs when Bell was on strike – and that was too often as he scraped a run on the 6th ball of the over to face the bowling in the next over, and when Trott finally got his chance, the run rate went up to between 4 and 7 an over. The lads retired to the bar to await Bell’s wicket to fall. Unfortunately Trott’s fell instead and the game continued slowly, with another group of cricket fans standing up and applauding Bell when he offered a stroke, and when finally he succumbed, cheering as thought they were from the colonies. 113 – 3. Finally, I thought the game will open up, when the clouds darkened lights came on, and the rain came.

Returning to the car, we started up the M1. I pointed out a long dark grey cloud in the sky. Trying to impress my son with my geographical knowledge I said, “Look at that Front, there will be really heavy rainfall there” and saw the overhead gantry state that the M1 was closed at Junction 6-6A. What it didn't say is that George Michael was Careless with his Range Rover - fame at last caught up in an accident with a guy who probably wasn't Awake when he was on the Go Go. It didn't give me the Freedom to use the road. But back to the story before the puns get any worse. Why don’t they tell you before you get on the road - Do they think we've got Faith in the road to cope? I could’ve gone a different route and avoided the jam or should that be Wham? Instead I came off at junction 5 to fail to impress my son with my knowledge of Hertfordshire and we drove around Watford trying to find a way to the M25 to go up the M40 home. We drove through the village on the edge of Ricksmansworth, Croxley – a surreal experience to see a Tube Station in the middle of a village with a flint church, and cosy pub. Eventually we got on the M40 to drive into the weather Front that I’d impressed my son?! with. Still, the road was relatively quiet, and the radio on BBC5 Live for the Rugby Chat show with Brian Ashton and Stuart Lancaster to discuss the forthcoming Lions and Argentina tours. So the obvious first question was: “What do you think about Beckham retiring? I couldn’t see their faces but could sense their look of incredualty as they answered. Dear media, not everyone shares your adoration of a media created legend, who’s footballing skills barely stretched beyond a great pass, running around like a headless chicken (commitment and leadership according to the papers) and smiling proudly when leading the team out. For me, Beckham generates the same sort of response as the ex-miners had recently for the death of Margaret Thatcher. Ironically THE footballer of that generation also retired this week. Scholes kept him and his family out of the limelight and allowed his footballing skills to do the talking. Ferguson hung onto him and got rid of Beckham. Says it all to me. As George Michael would say about Scholes - I'm your Man.......(although he probably fancied Beckham)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Restarting my Blog

‘Down Under’ – Men at Work
For my ‘new’ reader, my blog is about what I’m thinking when I visit places, a couple of pictures for you to get a flavour of what I’m seeing, and doing, and a song which seems to sum up the day, the thoughts, or one that has been played to death in bars, clubs, radio etc. I will then have three readers, you, me on my return and my mum.

Well, it’s time to start my blog off again, as I am on my travels to my last Lions Tour. I will have done all three major destinations (Hong Kong doesn’t count in my book), and am finishing off in the sporting nation of the Universe – Australia. In my mind, Aussies are not only sports mad, and damn good at it, but also realised years before our Olympics that being successful at sport gives you a ‘feel good factor’ and oneness that no Government can ever achieve even if they did away with Income Tax, and gave us every Monday off. I would go as far as saying that they are also the most sporting. Yes they invented sledging – courtesy of their cricket team, and media, but beat them fair and square, and they will show real respect. Think of 2003, (us poor English rugby fans have to hold on to something), David Campese, the Aussie winder with mercurial talent, thought that the ‘White Orcs on Steroids’ would lose to Australia in the Final. Well they didn’t, and Campese saw through his bet to walk along Oxford Street, with a sandwich board telling the world he was wrong. Fair Play Dinkum.

As to the Lions Squad, I think Gatland has it about right. There are one or two ‘lucky’ players – Jenkins, Stevens, Croft, and one or two ‘unlucky players – Robshaw, Wood and Zebo. Owen Farrell continues to be the second best Fly Half in whatever team he plays – second to Charlie at Sarries, 2nd to Burns for England (yes, watch this space), and now second to ‘Jonny’ - of the Irish variety. He was second last Sunday to the old Jonny, (ooh er Missus). I just hope that there are not too many Welsh in the team, definitely the back bone of the side, but any more and it just won’t feel like a Lions team. Recent successful teams have had a good mix, although the backbone (89, 97,) have been English rather than Welsh, and the Lions were very nearly there on the last tour, with an Irish backbone.
Anyway, this morning, I paid the last part of the Tour which includes:
·         3 Tests
·         Cuddling a Koala
·         1 mid-week game
·         Walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge
·         Dinner with the Lions Coaches
·         Opera at the Opera House
·         Melbourne’s Sports Venues
·         The Blue Mountains
·         An Aussie Rules game (hopefully)
·         Uluru
·         Evening reception with Ex-Players
·         The Great Ocean Road
I am going on an over-priced organised Tour, because that gives it a feel of a real Rugby Tour, where things go wrong, camaraderie builds, and there will be some real characters to write about, as on my previous tours.
To quote the guy I kept meeting from Heathrow on the way out through to party time when the Lions won the last Test (7 English Dirt trackers in the side folks) last time:
‘If you don’t know who the Tour Tw4t is Karen, it’s probably you.’