Monday, 28 March 2011

Sydney Dec 30th 2010 - Jan 8th 2011

The 2nd part of my Austrlian trip was centred around Sydney. This was my 4th visit there. I must admit that in 1996 I didn't really get Sydney. Adam and I stayed in Glebe and had a great time but I never really felt as though I got beneath the surface of the place. In 2003 I travelled back there to meet up with my brother Noel  to celebrate his 40th birthday and we house sat on ther North Side. Noel has spent a lot of time in Australia and on this visit I really got to know and love Sydney. My third visit in 2006/07 was fantastic as myself, Noel, Lewis and Adam went to The Ashes, celebrated New Years Eve on Sydney Harbour and made the most of every single minute we were there.

So on December 30th I landed in Sydney where I was met by my cousin Alicia and her daughter Lexie. We went back to her house in Mosman on the north shore and I spent a very pleasant evening catching up with Alicia. They were travelling up to Queensland on New Years Eve and so it was a very brief getting together.


On New Years Eve morning I was to move to Glenhaven to stay for the rest of the trip with Andrew, Kellie and their two children Zac and Maddie. This friendship was formed from one of those bizarre moments in life 4 years earlier. We were sitting in the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2007 watching The Ashes and Lewis had his QPR shirt on. The 4 people in front were chatting to us and Andrew told Lewis he used to play for QPR. It turned out Lewis had seen Andrew score for QPR against Norwich. Well after that the rest of the day was just laughter all the way and we had such a fantastic day with them. I stayed in touch with Kellie on Facebook and when I said I was thinking of coming back down to Sydney to see The Ashes this time around she immediately asked me to stay with them . This is typical of the wonderful people of Australia and although our paths had crossed for just one day 4 years earlier they were kind and generous enough to invite me into their home. Andrew and Zac picked me up from Alicia's and we drove the 30 minutes or so to Glenhaven and then I was welcomed in by Kellie and Maddie.

Unfortunetly bareley had I put my bags down was Andrew very kindly driving me back into Sydney for New Years Eve. I was booked on a boat on the harbour to see the fireworks with the Bondys and Andrew and Kellie weren't coming on that. The evening didn't disappoint and it was a lovely summer's evening so it was perfect. The boat trip gave us amazing views of the harbour and the fireworks at midnight. Seeing the Sydney fireworks is something I have been lucky to do 3 times now and it's something you simply will treasure forever.





The challenge I had at the end of the evening was to get back to Glenhaven. It's not on a train line, there were no buses running and getting a cab to go out there from the city centre was impossible. Fortunately I had stayed sober and had already got a plan ready if getting a cab proved impossble. I ended up getting a train  at 03:15am out of Sydney to Hornsby which was about half way and from there I got a taxi back to Glenhaven finally getting back shorly before 5 in the morning.

On New Years Day I set off for an over night trip to the Hunter Valley wine region with Andrew and Kellie. We had a late breakfast at Pie In The Sky which did the best pies ever and many an English football ground could learn a lesson or two here. We had to get a small car ferry across Berowra Creek which was just the most beautiful setting and we then joined the main freeway and headed for the Hunter Valley.



I have never been wine tasting before and we stopped off at two vineyards on out way to our hotel. At Tempus Two I learned the art of spitting out wine and also discovered I really don't like dessert wine. At Brokenwood the fun continued and I discovered Brokenwood Pinot Gris which disappointingly is not sold in the UK. At this point Kellie reckoned I had missed a chance with the young lady serving us, although I begged to differ especially when she was mentioning her partner. We shall never know!


We stayed at the Cypress Lakes Resort which was stunning. We had our own gorgeous apartment and the hotel is part of a golf complex. We sat outside and had a cold beer before heading to our rooms to get ready for the evening.


We then spent a lovely couple of hours with the Thinius family on a neighbouring complex. Sipping champagne, watching the kangaroos and having an impromptu tour of a  few holes on the golf course on a buggy with a cold beer getting great pictures of kangaroos. We then went to MUSE restaurant for a fantastic evening meal and each course was accompanied by a different wine and it was just so nice and I couldn't have spent a better first full day with Andrew and Kellie. I think the behaviour slightly deterioated as the evening went on and we never did get to meet the chef.



The following morning we were all a little tender after the night before. Andrew took me out for a tour of the golf course at Cyress Lakes and we then met Kellie for breakfast.


We then headed back towards Sydney taking in fantastic views and stopped off for beer tasting at the Blue Tongue Brewery which was a challenge after the previous night and then on for one more wine tasting session at Petersons Champagne House where I had my first chilled red wine which was interesting. We then went back to Sydney and stopped off to meet Damien & Kellie. Damien was to play a big part over the next few days at the cricket. And once it was sipping champagne in the sunshine, a habit I could easily get used too.

And so we came to the cricket. On January 3rd the last test began at Sydney. We started early that day on the mini bus. I was somewhat taken a back at the 8:15 beer start in the morning, and managed to hold off until 8:40 or so. We got to the Captain Cook pub at 9:00 where I was reacquainted with Andrew's brother Greg who had been one of the 4 in front 4 years earlier.


The cricket was pretty amazing and Andrew successfully negoitade a few seat changes to enable us all to sit together. The beers were flowing all day and the unofficial rule was to get the maximum 4 beers everytime you went to the toilet.


England had a pretty good day on a rain affected day and had Australia at 134/4 at the end of the day. Having had a few more beers we went to the Golden Century Chinese restaurant which the guys had booked knowing it was one of the few places in the city that would let us in after the cricket. Damien took me and Bondy to look at the lobsters in the tank we were about to consume. The food was fantastic and we were in party mode with singing and standing on chairs and the Mitchell Johnson "bowls to the left" song was sung with great harmonies and arm movements. Unsurprisingly we were asked to leave about 4 times before they finally managed to get us out of the door and one of my best days in Australia ever came to an end.


January 4th was a day off and a quiet day watching the cricket on TV. A couple of beers and a nice take-away meant we were nicely set up for another day at the cricket on Jan 5th. Day 3 at the cricket was the McGrath  Foundation day to raise money for cancer founded by Glenn McGrath and his late wife Jane. The theme of the day is pink and the crowd is encouraged to dress in pink. Damien's wife had sorted out tops for us, although I later invested in a Barmy Army pink shirt, and myself and Andrew had dyed our shorts the previous day.


The cricket was another good day for the English and by the close England were 488/7 leading by 208. The beers were flowing once again and during the lunch interval Andrew down by the pitch and myself and the Bondys along with Bondy's brother-in-law Giles up by a bar were both interviewed by Channel 9 and we made it into a clip about the Pink Day on national TV that evening. We hit the Barmy Army pub after the cricket and had a brilliant evening with the only down side being Kellie having a nasty fall on the stairs. We met many people in the pub including the lovely Inga from Germany, and the singing was in full flow all eveing with poor old Mitchell Johnson not only being the main subject of the doings but also having a T-Shirt sold with the lyrics printed on it. The final funny part of the night was our taxi breaking down so we left the poor driver to it and wandered the last few hundred yards to the house.


January 6th was a day of watching England on TV turning the screw at the cricket and then heading out to meet Andrew's folks for a roast dinner. And what a fantastic spread they did put on, Roast Beef with all the trimmings and even getting in some horseradish sauce. I was made to feel so welcome once again. And whilst we were eating a fabulous roast the fun at the cricket continued...

video

January 7th was my final full day in Australia. We went to the Blue Mountains for the day and listened to the end of the cricket on radio as we drove up. England won by an innings and 83 runs and took the series 3-1. It was an amazing experience to be there to witness the event. The Blue Mountains is aplace I absolutely love and find it just awesome. The weather was a bit misty when we got there so we went to Lillianfels for high tea which was a lovely treat to start the day.


The weather then broke allowing us to see the 3 sisters and do all the scary viewing rides. The scenic railway, the cable car and skyway were all pretty daunting for someone like myself with a fear of heights, but well worth as the views are simply amazing. It was a lovely way to end the trip and my time in OZ.




On January 8th Andrew heading in to work and Kellie and the kids took me to the airport for my flight back to the UK. I took home memories that I will treasure for ever and made friendships that will truely be lifelong friendships. I could never thank everyone who made my trip so special, but especially Kerrie-Anne and Joey in Melbourne and Kellie and Andrew in Sydney and forgetting Andy and Julie Bond my friends from Reading of course.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Melbourne Dec 27th - 30th 2010

My story of 2011 really starts back in the final few days of 2010 when I flew out to Australia for 2 weeks. I hadn’t really had had any time off work in the 4 years since my last to trip to Australia so I was more than ready for a break. Melbourne is a city that I love. It doesn’t have the spectacular sights maybe that Sydney has, but it is a wonderful lively working city offering much to the visitor. I first travelled there in 1996 with Adam on my first trip to Australia. On that first trip we did the mandatory visit to Ramsey Street, had a wonderful tour around the Melbourne Cricket Ground, went to Ned Kelly’s gaol and spend much time in the numerous bars discovering the city.

I returned in 2006 with Adam along with Lewis and my brother to watch The Ashes. We flew in to get to the cricket for days 3 and 4, but unfortunately England’s capitulation meant the game finished on day so we had a day to ourselves. However we seemed to cram an enormous amount into the 60 hours or so we were there mainly involving drinking and socialising. It was on this trip that I met Kerrie-Anne who was a great host taking us to some great bars and making sure we got to the airport out in the sticks for our flight to Sydney admittedly almost killing us in the process when she almost went down the freeway in the wrong direction. The beauty of Kerrie-Anne and every Australian that I have met is the genuine warm hand of friendship that is extended unconditionally.

And so on the most recent trip to Australia Kerrie-Anne offered to put me up for my visit to Melbourne and was just the most amazing hostess. I was a weary traveller when I landed in Melbourne. The wretched weather in the UK leading up to Christmas had put the flight in real jeopardy until a slight thaw in the days leading up to the flight allowed flights to start flying out of Heathrow once again. I flew via Hong Kong so that was a first for me. I must admit when I landed in Hong Kong airport I had to find a chemist to get something for an upset stomach. A lovely Chinese lady overcame the language barrier and gave me the most horrendous smelling tablets, but true to her word they worked and I was able to settle into the last leg of the flight to Melbourne in reasonable shape.

I finally arrived in Melbourne at 9:45pm on December 27th and Kerrie-Anne picked me up and took me to her place in Mernda where she lives with partner Joey and gorgeous young son Joshy. I could not have been made more welcome. Kerrie-Anne even had to brave coming to the cricket where this time it was the English side handing out the battering. I was able to keep up to date with cricketing events in Melbourne during the flight from the UK, and we arrived at the ground on day 3 to meet up with the Bondys, and Dr Nige and wife Claire and had a great time.


At the start of play on day 3 England were on 444-5 piling on the agony having bowled Australia out for 98 in their first innings. It was nice to be supping Australian beer in the sunshine and seeing England rampant on the pitch.


By the close of play England had been bowled out for 513 and then reduced Australia to 169-6 and facing certain defeat and allowing England to retain The Ashes. After day 3 we rediscovered The London Tavern from 4 years earlier and had a great evening getting reacquainted with Australian beer. It was a lovely evening and it’s a great place to have a few beers having been to the MSG.


Kerrie-Anne did not accompany us to see the final rights of the cricket on day 4 and sure enough the game was all over before lunch on day 4 with England bowling Australia out for 258 and winning by an innings and 157 runs.





I went back to The London Tavern with the Bondys to celebrate with afternoon beers in the sunshine but left them to it at 5:00pm as Joey and Kerrie-Anne were doing a BBQ  and so I had a wonderful feast back at their place with a few new beers to try.

On the next day, December 30th and  my final day in Melbourne Kerrie-Anne drove me out with Joshy to see Rupertswood the birthplace of The Ashes in 1882 and Mount Macedon. Rupertswood was a little bizarre as you drive into this beautiful mansion estate expecting to see a spectacular ground, but the ground itself was rather disappointing with even an artificial wicket. But in spite of that its a ground that plays such a significant part in the history of The Ashes it was a wonderful experience to see the birth place of one of sport's greatest rivalries.


We then carried onto Mount Macedon and stopped at the Holgate Brewhouse for lunch. This pub brews its own beer on site and so it was rude not to try out a couple of them.


As always the time went by all too quickly and I was soon on my way to airport to fly down to Sydney for the new year. I cannot thank Kerrie-Anne, Joey and Joshy for their hospitality and long lasting friendships were certainly cemented and I look forward to returning to Melbourne to see them all again one day soon.

Radio

This little box otherwise known as a radio continues to give me hours of pleasure and is a huge connection to the outside world for me. Today I have been listening to the cricket world cup whilst doing various bits and pieces at work, but over the years it has brought countless moments from the outside world to me. I saw the images on 9/11 on TV, but as it unfolded live it was radio that brought the events to me in no less a dramatic fashion. In my childhood in the days before SKY TV I would listen to endless football matches on the radio and there was something magical about night time matches being broadcast on the radio whilst doing my homework. Music such an important part of my life has always been brought to me first and foremost by the radio. My tastes in music were shaped by radio and continue to be done so. Radio can paint such a wonderful picture with the descriptions allowing viewers to form an image of what is happening in their mind. In this environment I prefer radio to television as I can get on with that I am doing. It is a tiny little box, but what an ingenious invention and how lucky we are in 2011 to have such amazing technology at our fingertips.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The View From Work

A final bonus shot of snow in winter...


The scene in winter is still pretty stunning. A mild winter has meant opportunities to photograph a more harsh landscape just haven't arisen this year. Having taken pictures of all the four seasons I think autumn gets my vote as the best view...


The view in autumn is full of vibrant colours particularly  helped by the Indian summer we have enjoyed this year. The backdrop of a recent rain shower gives a great contrast of the trees against the skyline and shows how the leaves are beginning to turn gold and getting ready to fall.


As we move into high summer the view from work has subtly changed. The trees are now in full bloom and the wheat is growing in the fields. It is such a glorious view I can enjoy on a hot sunny day.


It is the most glorious Spring day and many of us will be enjoying this beautiful weather. I have been based in Medmenham for over 10 years now with work, and days like today remind me what a stunning location I work in. I probably never really appreciated the English countryside until we relocated here in November 2000, but ever since then I have really started to appreciate how wonderful the English countryside can be. This is the view I look out onto every single day at work and today of all days it is a fantastic view.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Magnolia

It's a sure sign that Spring is in the air once Magnolias appear in the garden centres. This particular Magnolia "Susan" planted today in mum's front garden was something we have wanted to do for a year or so now. The front lawn has remained largely unaltered since the house was built 50 years ago. In our childhood days the garden was used to play many games mostly sporty and the divots that were left during these times would earn us endless tellings off from dad. In his own wonderful way I am sure he would no doubt give us a ticking off for planting a Magnolia smack bang in the middle of the lawn today. However the work that we continue to put into the garden would also make him proud of that there is no doubt. The Magnolia will soon grow and blossom into a central feature piece, and mum will be able to look onto the front garden and enjoy this wonderful plant.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Levellers / The Wonder Stuff - Birmingham 17/03/2011

The popularity of bands from yesteryear never ceases to surprise me. These days bands such as The Levellers and The Wonderstuff get very little commercial radio plays with "younger" radio stations not entertaining the idea of playing such bands. And yet The Birmingham O2 was packed for this amazing show last night to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Levellers album "Levelling The Land". In fact I can't remember when I was last in a venue where it was so rammed from the front right to the back. It is a great sign that in spite of the lack of commercial outlets these bands are still thriving on the live circuit with large loyal followings. 6 music is probably the only radio station I have listened to where such bands still get a fair crack. For The Wonderstuff last night it was pretty much a home town show and they got a great reaction mainly because they were as tight as... Their set consisted mainly the crowd pleasing singles, but the energy and enthusiasm in which they were played was a sure winner. The gauntlet was laid down to The Levellers who came on and went straight in to "One Way". They were more than up to the task and blazed their way through the album in its full glory plus some B sides from that era and then the encores was a greatest hits set finishing off with "Beautiful Day". I can't believe that it is about 18 years since I last saw them as they were awesome! It was a late night as I had to get back to Reading afterwards but the 1:15am bed time was a small price to pay for a wonderful show.