Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Here I go again on my own

..Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I've ever known..

Of all the loony tunes the Barmy Army sing throughout a days play at the cricket the one that never ceases to crack me up is the rendition of Bon Jovi's ..Living on a Prayer... I'll write the lyrics another day but can you imagine the thoughts of the Aussie bowler patrolling the boundary when he's comes face to face with 200 odd sun blotched English blokes playing the air guitar and screaming out this soft rock classic?

Sometimes it feels like you're in the friendliest mental asylum in town. There's always something going on in the crowd even when nothing is happening on the pitch. And the festivities outside of the ground are often equally as entertaining.

Since arriving in Adelaide, (think Kent, with sun) I've spent my time lazily strolling around town, whilst taking the chance to top up my tan in the plus 30 degree heat.

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Today, however, was set aside for a spot of competitive cricket action with the Australian equivalent of the Barmy Army.

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Most of us have grown up associated with a failing football team. Those that haven't have usually chosen to support Manchester United. But regardless of who you follow we're all familiar with terrace banter and singing when we're winning. The Aussies aren't like us. They are so used to being top dog they don't bother showing up when it starts to go tits up.

But we're a different breed and although they wouldn't swap their medal hauls they are definitely intrigued by who we are and why we're spending a fortune doing it. In 1994 the Barmy Army were coined as thus after their unstinting support of another cricket failure in Australia. And since then they've become almost god like in their celebrity status. Think I'm exaggerating? The main party were greeted at Adelaide airport and interviewed on national TV when they touched down.

Today's game was a twenty over affair and took place at a lovely little ground in Henley, about a 15 minute bus ride out of town. We turned up in a big red London bus.

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they turned up in a specially designed coach, full of Aussie cheerleader types. But more about them later.

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Although I used to play a lot of cricket I've only managed 3 games in the last ten years or so. The crowad was also bigger than I was used to.  About 350 or so English and Australian fans turned up.

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  As well as an assortment of TV crews ready to take live footage and interview those fielding near the boundary.

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But the occasion was so uplifting I didn't feel any real nerves. We were put into field and spent an hour or so running around trying to cut off boundaries and dropping catches. I'm pleased to report that although I didn't catch one, more importantly, I didn't drop one either. And the Fanatics duly knocked off 200 off their 20 overs.

Storm clouds gathered as we went into bat. Which in no way excuses the fact that after 6 overs we were 40 for 3. I was going in at number 6 which meant that only one more wicket had to fall before I was in. At this point the skies went black, rain started to come down and there was even a brief lightning interlude which forced everyone off the pitch.

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Any thoughts the rain might save the team's blushes (and prevent me from having to face a pack of Aussie quicks) was soon diminished by the locals who assured us it would pass quickly. And so it proved. And two balls into the restart I was in.

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To say I approached the game in a slip shod manner would be an understatement. I had to dash to the shops moments before the bus turned up to buy the cheapest trainers I could lay my hands on. I wouldn't have thought about it if Mark hadn't remarked it might be a bit unwise to face the fast bowling with flip flops on. So as I walked into bat with pads on, took the gloves from the batsman out I had a horrible few moments as he fished out his box and handed it to me. Nice.

But my problems didn't end there as I was wearing totally inappropriate underwear. Any thoughts of quick singles went out the window as I was forced to run with one hand on my box to stop it falling down my trouser leg! What a sight I must have been after a gazelle like sprinted two ended with me frantically trying to rearrange my box which not only had travelled halfway down my leg it had turned upside down.

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Anyway, to cut a long and painful story slightly shorter, I scratched around for a bit. I couldn't lay the bat on the ball throughout my first two overs. The closest I got to a scoring shot was when I tried to pull a short one and it slapped my unguarded thigh. Yaroo! However I sorted things out, scored 17 and even hit a boundary. I also averted ever lasting shame when the Aussie cheerleader type who was positioned at first slip dropped a catch as I sliced it straight to her. Considering there was about 4 cameras filming the action I was more than relieved.

With a few overs to go I finally succumbed to the bowling, managing to step so far forward in the crease I yorked myself and sent the wicket all over the place. But as I walked off, with one hand on my box, I felt pretty pleased with my efforts.

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The second Test starts tomorrow and I'm hoping England can adopt the same kind of no nonsense approach to the game that I showed today.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Fun times with the fun police

Well that didn't go exactly to plan.  After all the traveling, Ashes DVD Box Set watching and 2-hour national television program participation it all went a bit tits up.  As you will all know by now we lost the first Test by a mammoth 277,000 runs.  But as disappointed as I am, I'm still feeling a lot better about things than I did after Saturdays play.

I have honestly never seen a worse day's cricket in my entire life.  When Ricky Ponting decided not to enforce the follow on and bring an end to the agony he indirectly caused a mini-riot.  Because so boring was that final session, for Aussies and Brits alike, all anyone had to do to keep themselves amused was drink.

A few months before this Test started the organizers announced that they were going to stop the sale of the top strength beer within the ground.  It led to widespread protests.  In its place they sell this piss water that's about 2%.  How anyone gets drunk on this stuff is anyone's guess, although the Aussies seem to manage it.

It's precautions like this, plus the banning of musical instruments, backpacks, alcohol from outside the ground and the decision not to let the English fans sit together en masse that were brought in to stop the crowd getting too vocal in their support of the English.  There were roughly 7,000 Brits in the stadium but apart from our section they were mainly dispersed around the ground. 

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The low point was on Friday when they ejected Billy The Trumpet from the ground.  He's one of the mainstays of the Barmy army support and the decision provoked an angry response from both sets of fans.

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Now, if the cricket on show had at any stage on that Saturday been any good it wouldn't really have mattered.  As it was it stunk real bad.  Nobody was the slightest bit interested in watching Australia pile on another 200 pointless runs.  So they tried to do what all normal people do when they're bored and have fun.

Now I should let you know something about the Aussie security at these grounds.  They are nicknamed the 'Fun Police'.  All these little Hitlers do is retrieve blow up balls being knocked around the crowd and stick a knife through them.  They prevent people wearing water melons on their heads (it's an Aussie thing) from entering the ground as the fruit casing is deemed an 'offensive weapon'.  Or they chuck people out for the temerity of having a good time.  All the while they turn a blind eye to racist chants outside the ground.

It's no exaggeration that I must have seen roughly 100 people ejected from the ground in the evening session on Saturday.  Mostly Aussies, they were kicked out for the heinous crimes of standing up, taking exception to the heavy handed approach of the fun police and, oh yeah, the best of the lot.  One bloke was kicked out for trying to start a Mexican wave.

I'm not the biggest fan of the Mexican wave but to throw a 19 year old out of the ground because he's trying to spark a bit of life into proceedings struck me as pretty odd.  I also heard a story that a 6-year old Aussie kid was admonished by two burly officers for throwing a blow up ball in the air.  The sign that we read on leaving the ground today 'No ball games permitted inside the stadium' pretty much summed it up.  I'm surprised these fun police didn't chuck the English and Aussie cricketers out the ground.  Although thinking about it, it might not have been such a bad thing if they did.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

We're going to win 4-1

In 2002, I was working for Channel 4's cricket website.  India were the summer visitors and I watched the whole series (every Test went to the fifth day) from the offices in Camden.  Afterwards I worked out that Rahul Dravid (notorious go-slow merchant) had batted 26 hours in the series.  A whole day of my life had been spent watching 'The Wall'.  And to think that at the time I thought that was hard going.

I've never watched an entire five day Test match live before.  After three days of the opening test in Brisbane I wondered whether I wanted to ever watch another five seconds.  As Australia ground us into the floor I could almost hear the TV screens being turned off back in England while the phrase 'sod this, I'm going to bed' was deafening.

I couldn't think of a single positive to take from the game.  Even Freddie Flintoff's bowling in the first innings was tempered by the thought that as he's just come back from injury it is unwise for him to bowl too much.  I'm not sure what was worse.  The bowling (Freddie aside) or the batting (Freddie included).  If Ponting had put us back in I'd probably be sitting here thinking my Ashes dream is over.

But he didn't.  And time will tell if he's made an absolute ricket.  For not only did he cause himself and McGrath injury he gave our team a bit of confidence back.  Pietersen and Collingwood brought some of the belief back to the team.  And they gave the Barmy Army something to cheer about after ten tepid sessions.

It was always far too much to ask that we'd do the impossible and bat out two days.  But it didn't stop the English taking over the Gabba for the final days session.  It was a game that memory and history will say had few highlights for the Brits.  But here are my personal top moments.

Brett Lee. 

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Before he came to England last year, Lee had a reputation as a bit of a brat.  It couldn't be further from the truth.  Not only is he a fine fast bowler he's also not afraid to have some banter with the crowd.  His interaction with the Barmy Army gave us some much needed cheer over the weekend.

The Aussie fans.

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  They still come up with terrible chants, laugh at our songs when they clearly don't understand them and they get pissed on 2% beer, but you couldn't fault their effort on the Sunday afternoon when England were actually performing on the pitch.  The highlight was when a good 200 of them were ridiculing one of the fun police for looking like Chuck Norris.

Hijack advertising. 

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I've never been to Donut King.  But the fact they paid to have a plane fly over the stadium and write 'Donut King Wins Ashes' in the sky kept us amused for about 30 minutes.

Us lot. 

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Despite having nothing to cheer about for the first three days it didn't stop us reminding everyone who were are and where we come from.

Brisbane. 

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Lovely city, relaxed people, great food, superb weather.  Pity it didn't rain on the final day though.

The lads. 

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Thankfully the room I stayed in was bug free and full of good lads.  All four of us are traveling the entire tour.  Nearly everyone I've met has been good company.  Here's a picture of Ian (one of the Hull lads I met in Surfers), Mark (Manchester born, now is a postman in Germany), Danny (Essex boy & Millwall fan – don't let it put you off) and Jamie (Swindon lad).

This is my final day in Brisbane.  I'm flying off to Adelaide tomorrow for more pain and sunshine.  I'm going to be playing for the Barmy Army cricket team on Thursday against our Australian equivalents.  Then the second Test starts on Friday.  Hopefully England will come out and play this time and not leave it til it's too late. 

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Brisbane

1 = Australians I've met called Shane


1 = times I've seen Westlife perform


16 = hours until The Ashes start


1 = number of Southerners I've met since Sunday


6 = number of people from Hull that I've been hanging around with

So it comes to this.  After all the expense, drunkenness, plush pads, broken ribs and flying into ceiling fans the day is almost upon me.  The reason I am here, let's not forget, is to watch England's attempt to retain The Ashes.  In less than 16 hours I'll be sitting in a packed Gabba, in Brisbane, alongside 40,000 spectators.  It's so close.

It's a bit like when you were a kid on Christmas Eve when all you wanted was to get to sleep so that you can wake up on Xmas Day.  Except for one thing.  The stuffing on Christmas is usually reserved for the turkey.  And that's the risk I've taken shelling out a million, billion pounds and traveling 12,000 miles to watch this.  Although England won last year, the task facing them over the next six weeks is a monumental one.

Australians, as we know, are pretty damn good at sport.  They don't lose very often.  And when they do, they make damn sure it doesn't happen again.  They haven't lost at home since 1992 and we haven't beaten them here since 1987.  Last years Ashes win was the first for nearly 20 years.  Plus we're missing some key players.  The odds on us keeping hold of the urn aren't good.
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But the optimist in me knows that all of this will make winning that much sweeter.  I have had so many e-mails from mates back home (most of them at talkSPORT) who are sick with envy that I'm out here.  And that's what I'll be reminding myself as I make the 30 minute walk to the ground tomorrow.

Okay non-cricket fans.  Are you still with me?  I'll bring you up to date with what's been going on since I left Surfers and got to Brisbane.  We arrived at around midday after a convoluted journey that took a lot longer and more modes of transport than it should have done.  After yet another big night on the town the previous night I was determined to get to at least 8pm without starting on the booze again.  Unfortunately, Tom and our host for the evening had other plans.

We were staying at Tom's mates house for the evening.  Tim and Alex are ex-pats and had recently upped sticks and moved to Brisbane after spending the previous four years in Sydney.  I can't think why.

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The house they were living in wouldn't buy you a garage in Brixton.  I know this for a fact.  About a year ago Gabe and I got excited when we found a property we thought we could afford.  We didn't realize it housed cars rather than humans.  The place that Tim and Alex were staying would set you back about a hundred grand.  Nice.  Think about that the next time you're being offered a 2-bed terraced in Colliers Wood.

We awoke the next morning following another night on the sauce, coupled with BBQ and an 8-hour poker session.  It was the last day of Tom's holiday and I felt pretty damn sad when the cab came to pick him up for the airport.  But not as sad as Tom.  For he had work the next day to fly back to.  We'd had a fantastic couple of weeks and I wasn't sure what I was going to do without my travel partner.

I was staying in a hostel in town and I got dropped off there in the early hours of the afternoon.  Apart from a couple of nights in Boston with Dave, I haven't really done the hostel thing.  And my fears weren't allayed by the conversation I listened into whilst waiting to book in.

Disgruntled backpacker: my bed is infested with some form of creature.  I've got bites all over me and I can see them crawling around my sheets.


Stereotypical 45-year old stoner who runs the place: See if you can change beds.

Disgruntled backpacker:  My rooms full


Stereotypical 45-year old stoner who runs the place:  Look I can't do anything about it today.  Try another room and we'll fumigate it tomorrow


Disgruntled backpacker:  Okay


Stereotypical 45-year old stoner who runs the place: Oh and one other thing.


Disgruntled backpacker: Yep?


Stereotypical 45-year old stoner who runs the place: Try and get a top bunk.  The bastards find it more difficult to get up there.

I'm pretty damn sure that if I went and found the aforementioned bed it would still be infested.  Yuk.

Somehow I resisted the urge to turn round and walk away from the place.  I was being paid to be inside the Barmy Army camp and it wouldn't sound good if I'd rung Tim and asked if I could crash at his place for the week.  So I've been there all week and I'm pleased to say am yet to find the missing link between my bedsheets.

Since then I've spent a few days chilling out, checking out the town and meeting up with fellow cricket fans.  It's been fantastic.  I feel really relaxed.  The city of Brisbane is very modern and with the constant 30 degree heat nobody seems in much of a rush.  I went on a river cruise and took about 100 photos which I intended to put up on this site.  But somehow I managed to delete them all.  So this blog entry may be a little sparse on the photo front.

With 10,000 English expected to be in town for the first Test it's been pretty difficult to meet anyone without a recognizable accent.  But I did spent part of Sunday night, or rather Monday morning, attempting to explain the intricacies of the googly and reverse swing to a couple of frencies..  But I don't think I had much joy.

I also met up with the two Hull lads that I'd spent some time with in Surfers.  They were with another big group of Hull boys.  Thank god I went to University there or I wouldn't have had anything to say to them.  In fact I probably wouldn't understand what they were going on about anyway.

Last night I took them to a televised event on Brisbane's South Bank.  It was a 2-hour Ashes spectacular.  It included appearances from some of the cricket greats like Ian Botham, Geoffrey Boycott, Ricky Ponting, Michael Vaughan and Richie Benaud.  It was great fun.  I've never been in the audience for a live TV show like this before.  And because we were part of the Barmy army they put us in the second row.  I must have been on TV every time they came back from a break.

About an hour in they went to a music act.  And in trouped four sheepish looking Irish guys.  I'm not sure who was more unimpressed.  The 200 pasty faced Englishmen staring up at the stage from the first row or Westlife.  They got through their song in double quick time, accepted the half-hearted applause with disdain before they buggered off.  It was all pretty surreal.

Okay.  That's it for now.  The next time I write I'll have a pretty good idea how this tour is going to pan out.  Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Byron Bay to Surfers Paradise

"The thing is, if we came here ten years ago.  We'd still have been too old" Tom Rees, 5.10pm, Wednesday evening

Several times this holiday I've become uncomfortably aware of my advancing years.  'Not before long', I can hear some of you saying.  On the last night of our surf tour we were driving back to camp and we were being encouraged to take turns on the beer bong by an 18 year old surfer whose vocabulary consisted of little more than using the word 'sick' a lot whilst grabbing his johnson.

As entertaining as it was to watch our driver straining his neck round to see the action (while paying little heed to the oncoming traffic), I did wonder to myself whether it was time to put the drinking game days behind me and start acting responsibly.  As the driver starting bellowing into the microphone that it was time to play coach surfing I was counting the number of EU directives it would probably contravene back home.  I'm getting old.

Three days into my stay at Surfers Paradise I was once again forced to confront the fact that I'm not as young as I usually behave.  Tom and I were walking through town on the Wednesday when we were jumped upon by a very persuasive salesman outside the Hard Rock Café.  For reasons I still cannot fathom he persuaded us to part with $55 each on the promise of a wet and wild evening in town.

We arrived back at the pub for the start of the drinking tour at 5pm.  And our initial fears were quickly realized when we walked into a bar full of teenaged drinkers.  Some of them were still wearing braces!  This might be a turn on for some but certainly isn't what I look for in a lady.

We probably would have bolted there and then if not for the fact we had some free drinks to get through.  And as we sat and surveyed the scene Tom came out with the quote at the top of this page.

Anyone who has been on a 18-30 package tour will know the types of drinking games that went on throughout the night.  We didn't get involved in any of those but had a good laugh at the ones that did.  Instead we bumped into a couple of lads from Hull (where both Tom and I went to Uni) who were more our age group and we settled into a night of pool and booze.

It ended up being a funny old evening with plenty of drunken youngsters going crazy around us.  It also featured a 45 year old bald bloke who was the ringmaster.  He carried with him a large megaphone which he kept screaming 'CAN I GET A HELL YEAH!'  I somehow resisted the urge to throw a pool cue at him.

Surfers Paradise was quite a wake up call after our 4 days in Byron Bay.  I can't speak highly enough of Byron and I'm heading back there tomorrow for a day trip.  It has the obligatory beautiful beach, some great pubs and clubs (with the exception of Cheeky Monkeys) and is a really relaxed place to stay.

As I write I'm still nursing various bruises, scabs and cuts from the surfing trip.  So to end up there for a long weekend break was exactly what we required.  We did very little apart from relax by the pool, eat loads, drink in Paul Hogans pub (we managed not to get kicked out again) and meet up with the friends we'd made that week.

We also bumped into a guy from the camp who managed to come third in my injuries list.  He had a deep cut above his right eye.  We thought he might have come a cropper at Cheeky Monkeys.  But what he'd managed to do was jump from his top bunk at his hostel and go head first into the ceiling fan.  Ha ha ha!!!!!!!

By the time Monday came around we were really gutted to be leaving.  Not only were we leaving a part of Australia we'd come to love, we were parting company with Rand, Gigi, Joyce, Eva and Dustin.  We'd got to know these guys pretty well and it seemed strange that we were all heading off to different parts of the world.  None more so than Rand who was heading back to Afghanistan to continue fighting a war.

The journey to Surfers Paradise only takes an hour from Byron but the difference between the two places couldn't be more obvious.  Where Byron was a homely, traditional back to your roots kinda place, Surfers reminded me of Vegas.  Huge skyscrapers dominate the skyline and from our position on the beach a couple of kilometers away almost look like they built up from the sea.

In our entire time at Surfers we met about two people who actually live there.  There is no industry there and the only business comes from the tourist trade.  It's full of cheap motels, backpackers and hotels.  It's also a neon city with very little culture, class or personality.  In short it's a party town.  And that's exactly what we did there.  It was great.

On the last day there we went along to SeaWorld.  Again, I've never been to one of these places before.  But we were keen to go snorkeling.  Tom goes all the time in Manly and he wanted me to experience it.  It was fantastic.  We were snorkeling with sharks, manta rays, Hammerheads, all manner of weird and wonderful fish.  I'm definitely doing it again.

The best thing was that the large pool you could snorkel in was next to an even bigger pool with huge man-eating sharks swimming in.  It was separated by a pane of glass which you could swim up to and peer through.  It was quite an experience.  It was also the perfect way to end our last full day in Surfers.  As the next day we were heading up the coast to Brisbane.   

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

The 4-day surfers (part two)

Top three injuries

1 – Tom breaking his rib

2 – Rand's bald bonce beach bounce

3 – The flying bat

(Honourable mention to Gigi's knees which became a more and more painful sight every day)

Thursday

Without doubt the toughest day of the trip.  For despite having a solid 7 hours sleep most of us awoke aching, tired and in the mood for anything but an all day surf session.  Especially as it was once again pissing it down.

We were supposedly staying in tents on the Thursday night but as the weather turned out so bad the idea got shelved.  It was just a shame that the organisers hadn't bothered to put in place a back up plan.

We got to our destination and were all pretty horrified to see the conditions that we were expected to surf in. 

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Huge waves crashed onto the shore and the panoply of skull crushing rocks on display did nothing to dispel our fears. 

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Thankfully, Dylan (our surf instructor) agreed and we moved beach.  But as the wind lashed in, the rain soaked us and we stood in under some inadequate shelter I couldn't help but be reminded of my Glastonbury washout the previous year.

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Bizarrely, there was no mention of the shark when we finally made it into the water.  Tom was expecting people to refuse to surf considering how close we'd been to fish food the day before.  And despite numbers of people bailing out due to injury and sickness most of us made a good go of it on the Thursday.

For me it was the best days surfing of the trip.  I was making some real headway and managing to surf into shore about 40% of the time.  At the same time those people who'd picked it up quickly were starting to get frustrated with their progress.  But the standout person from our 4-day group was still Leesa, the Finnish girl.

While we were surfing away a couple of the instructors were desperately trying to find us accommodation for the night.  The fact that they hadn't even considered the fact that we might not be able to camp was pretty astounding.  In the end it worked out okay as they booked us into this brilliant pub for the night.  But this wasn't before some of us started to take matters into our own hands to try and secure a place to stay.

I'll not bore you with the details of what turned out to be yet another huge piss up.  But there was no mistaking the city types as I took over the pool table and Tom won $100 on the slot machines.  Then, after kicking out time, we all went back upstairs for more alcohol, drunken high jinks, while those inclined took advantage of the locked showers.

Friday

Friday was the final day of the tour and took us up the coast to Byron Bay.  It was also 'competition day' when everyone got to show exactly what had been learnt that week.  More importantly the sun finally came out.  After two days of doom and gloom everything suddenly took on a brighter outlook.

Needless to say I won't be returning to England in a blaze of glory, dripping with gold medals, fully expecting a ticket tape welcome.  But I did okay.  The eventual winner of the entire tournament was Leesa, from our 4-day tour.  And considering the group we'd joined on the first night were on a 5-day surfing she'd done exceptionally well.

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Friday also contained one of the funniest sporting injuries of the week when Rand managed to cut his head and scalp himself at the same time.  'I've never bounced on my head like that before' was how he described it afterwards. 



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An experienced surfer Rand had spent much of the time surfing the deep waves while we messed about in the white water.  We'd seen him wipe out a couple of times in impressively painful looking fashion.  But with this injury he'd managed it in about a foot of water.  He'd run in to the surf at top speed, attempted to jump on his board but it got stuck in the sand, so he'd gone head first into the ground. 

As he made his way back to the side I checked his head and saw that he was bleeding.  It was nothing more than a graze and he thought he'd got away with it until Tom noticed that he'd also managed to shave a section of his head.  It was about the size of a 50p piece.  Ha ha!!!  He spent the rest of his holiday trying to comb over it.

Friday night in Byron Bay

That evening we went out in Byron Bay for the first time.  I'll describe Byron Bay another day, but as I write in an internet café in Surfers Paradise I almost feel homesick for the place.  I'd recommend anyone to stop by for a couple of days.  And that's despite our initial impression.

We rolled into town on the Friday evening and while everyone else on the tour had booked into a hostel this was where Tom and I planned to luxuriate.  We'd booked a plush apartment two minutes from the centre of town. 

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So while our fellow surfers were dealing with soggy clothing, cramped conditions, dangerously low ceiling fans and weirdo backpackers, Tom and I were trying to work out how to use our 42-inch plasma screen.

This place had it all.  Swimming pool, hot tub, 2 showers, living room, balcony, washing machine, it even had a dishwasher.  It was so nice.  I wish I was still there now.  It also had enough room for four people to stay in so we invited Rand to come and stay with us for a couple of nights.

Rand is definitely a guy that some of you London lot will meet one day.  When I first met him, standing outside the coach stop for the surf tour, I thought he might just be a stereotypical US soldier.  How wrong could I be?  He is funny as fuck, political and great company.  He also loves old zombie movies which is good as Tom is exactly the same.  He's due to come to London in March so you'll get to find out for yourself then.

Anyway, we got into Byron at about 5pm and went to our apartment to get ready.  We met up with the tour group at 7.30pm at Paul Hogan's pub.  Then went and had some great Mexican food.  The night was going well until we were ushered into an establishment called 'Cheeky Monkeys'.  The surf instructors must have been on the take to bring us here.  It was as rough as old boot.  It made Caesers nightclub look like a Members Only club.

We stood there for about the time it takes to drink half a pint and left.  The place was awful.  It wasn't intimidating just crap.  Groups of fat men roamed around,  'orrible local girls tried there best to make themselves look as unappealing as possible and in the middle of it all a heavily pregnant woman danced on the table.  Nice.

We decided to head back to Paul Hogan's pub and were immediately pleased with our decision.  Spacious with a great atmosphere and a live band that were actually pretty good we'd struck it lucky.  It was just a shame that we got kicked out within 30 minutes of getting there.

Some of the girls had followed us and as they got to the door at 12.05 weren't allowed in.  So we helped them jump the fence.  Which wasn't the best of ideas as we were immediately seen by the security and booted out.  Great.

So we tried a last roll of the dice and went in a club that our tour bus driver had described as 'a piece of shit' as he drove us through town.

After spending four days in isolation on beaches up and down the coast we shouldn't have been surprised to find the place quite so overwhelming.  A death-metal band finished up as we entered.  And the place looked ready to kick off at any point.  We'd probably have been able to deal with it better if we hadn't run into two of the town's many Friday night freaks.

As soon as Rand walked into this place this girl of about 22 started running round him.  She wouldn't stop.  She just kept running round him whilst asking him weird questions like 'do you live in Hollywood city?' and 'are you going to shoot me?'

Because the music was so loud we couldn't make out what she was saying.  But just by watching the look on Rand's face we knew he was getting freaked out.  He looked like he was seeing the horrors of war.  And considering he has actually seen the horrors of war that's saying something. 

Rand made his excuses and left but not before getting started on by another dude.  The anti-American feeling here is very obvious.  I also had a weird run in with a 50 year old woman who started off by telling me I reminded her of her nephew 'please don't be a come on, please don't be a come on' and ended up by accusing me of wanting to spit on her cigarette.  It was a disappointing and freakish end to the week. 

*****A list of all the injuries picked up on our surfing tour would go something like this broken rib, cut feet, sliced finger webbing, bald bonce, scarred knees, bruised ribs, grazed everything, bad back*****

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

The 4 day surfers (part one)

The numbers game

1 = sharks seen


4 = gloriously sunny days


65 = beers drunk since landing in Oz (Tom and I worked it out)


2 = dolphins spotted


1= American Blackhawk pilots befriended

1 Portsmouth 1 Fulham

Well the fact that you're reading this blog is proof I made it through my surfing week alive.  I'm bruised and bloodied but I've had an incredible few days since I left Sydney.  I've learnt to surf (which did look unlikely at one point) and once my many, many injuries heal I'll definitely be testing my skills in Surfers Paradise, our next stop.  Hope everyone is well.

Tuesday


 


After our three day Sydney bender (which you'll hear about this week sometime) it was a bleary eyed start to our surfing adventure.  We caught the Manly ferry to the centre of Sydney and waited for our coach.  Tom and I were wondering what kind of crew we'd be accompanied by.  Our thoughts ranged from a bus load of Swedish cheerleader types (good) to 30 northern Brit blokes on a stag week (bad).  As it was we were greeted by just 6 other people.  An American helicopter pilot called Rand who was on a 2-week break from flying missions for the US military in Afghanistan, two pretty Dutch girls, Joyce and Eva, an classic English girl called Gigi (as it was Melbourne Cup day when we met this name couldn't have been more appropriate) a smart Canadian dude called Dustin and Leesa, a Finnish girl who played American football.

I'd never even thought about surfing before and didn't really know what to expect.  But as I sat on the coach I cast a gaze around and thought to myself, 'please let me be better than some of these people.' 

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As it turned out, I wasn't!  The first session took place that afternoon in beautiful surroundings and I sucked so bad.  Man, I was rubbish.  Whilst everyone else started standing up and doing handstands I was still trying to balance properly.  Despite the fantastic beach, blue skies and fine company I walked away from my first session decidedly underwhelmed by my own ability.

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The other side of surfing I hadn't realized was just how much it hurts.  It look so graceful and easy on tv.  But one of the problems we all encountered on the trip was how physically and mentally challenging it is.  We were all up at 7am every day, usually hungover, we were ferried around on a coach for hours on end, the food was pretty good but limited in range, the accommodation was basic and on the Wednesday and Thursday the weather was terrible.  Oh yeah, and on day one, whilst attempting to surf his third wave of the trip, Tom broke his rib.

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Now, not all of you reading this will know who Tom is.  He's a good mate of mine from back in the day.  We were in the 6th form together, we listened to Pumpkins, Orbital and a whole host of tunes alongside each other, we spent a year at Uni together before Tom's lax attitude to studying led to his premature departure.  He's a great bloke, funny and on the ball.  But he also likes a bit of a moan.  I mean, he loves a good 30 minute moan.  Loves it.  Absolutely LOVES to moan.  But fair play to him on this one.  He was an absolute legend.

He had been in a fight a few months earlier and bust his rib then.  So when he heard it crack he knew what he'd done.  But despite being in constant pain he firmed it for nearly two days of surfing before he had to sit back and admit defeat.  And what's more he didn't explode in a ball of pent up fury about it.  Instead he sat back, drank a lot of beer and amused us all as we lay on the beach struggling for breath after another painful session.  Well done mate.

Anyone who has ever played football with me on a Thursday evening will not be too surprised by my struggles to impose myself on the surf.  But all thoughts of negativity were dispelled once we got back to the camp we were staying at.  We met up with a whole host of other surfers and proceeded to get royally fu*ked up.  Crazy drinking games, fancy dress, sangria, people shagging in the showers, the night had it all.  Needless to say there was a pretty high English contingent and for the first time since I left home I felt like I was on holiday.

Wednesday

Waking up at stupid o'clock in the morning we all realized the folly of our actions the previous night.  As we dragged ourselves out of bed, the couple who'd been doing it doggy doggy near the swimming pool avoided eye contact, and as we boarded the bus, five people forgot to bring their wet-suits.  Which meant they had to surf without for the following three days.

And this brings us to another point about this trip.  It was run by surfers for wannabe surfers.  And these were your stereo-typical surfer dudes.  Tanned, built, mashed all night, laid back during the day.  Co-ordination, structure and forward planning aren't exactly what these people are famous for.  And as the holiday progressed we noticed it more and more.  What was funny at first and quite amusing quickly became annoying.  And even dangerous.

So, people were allowed to leave camp without their wet-suits because nobody had thought it a good idea to prevent it from happening.  Thankfully I was not one of them.  But if I can give you all a piece of advice right now, if your surfing instructor can't decide whether you're a medium or a large, go with the large.  Those suits are tight.  In all areas.

As I mentioned earlier, it was pissing it down.  And as I struggled with my hangover on the coach, not for the first time, I wondered what the hell I was doing.  The last thing your brain tells you to do when you're hungover and it's raining hard is spend the day in the sea.  And the fact that I'd sucked so bad at surfing the day before was also on my mind.

So it was definitely a lesson learned at the end of the day when I finally left the sea.  Firstly, I had worked out how to stand on my board.  The problem was that I'd got my stance wrong.  There's two ways of standing, with your left foot forward (known as regular) or with your right foot forward (goofy).  It turns out I was actually goofy (I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere).  And once I'd changed this I found the going much easier.


 


Secondly, I'd learned that when it's pissing down with rain it's actually better to be in the sea than on land.  And thirdly, I'd worked out that sometimes you need to go against what your body and mind are telling you to do and screaming at you not to do.  And then there was the shark.

Most of us had finished our session when it turned up about 10 metres from the shore.  When surfing everyone reaches a point when they simply cannot carry on.  You need to hit the beach and recuperate.  And as we sat there looking out at those strong enough to continue we spotted a dolphin approaching where our group were.  We'd seen it earlier.  Itself a pretty magical experience.  But then we realized there were two things swimming in the water.  And that's when we saw the fin and tail of one big shark.

Immediately the guys started whistling and shouting at the surfers still practising.  And it would be fair to say that they didn't waste much time getting out of the water.  Once on safe and sound shoreline we all stood there and marveled as the shark cut in and out of the water.  Apparently it was feeding on the scraps of food that the dolphin was leaving.  Although some suggested the dolphin was ill (hence so close to the shore) and the shark was stalking it.  All I knew was that I was watching something you don't get to see every day.

I went to bed that evening sober (only 6 beers), tired and much happier.  When the lights went out in our dorm I attempted to convince my fellow surfers that I suffered from night terrors.  But I was asleep soon after I'd uttered my first tentative screams.


 


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And that's where I'm going to have to leave it.  The following two days ended up being just as much fun and I'll try and write about it in the next couple of days. 

Tom and I are on the way to Surfers Paradise tomorrow where I'll locate a internet cafe.  So, until then, I hope you've enjoyed this latest installement of my blog.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Malaysia

****Welcome to my blog. It's the first time I've written one so go easy on me. Please feel free to laugh wildly in the right places and post congratulatory comments on myspace page for everyone else to read.

Due to Tom's computer being rubbish I have had to journey into town to write this. I hope you appreciate the sacrifice. It also means that I'll have to add some of the photos at a later date.****


Sydney figures


0 = Times I've seen the sun since arriving in Australia
1 = Occasions I've worn sunglasses. And this was in an attempt to be ironic


2 many = Times people have 'joked' about me bringing the weather with me
1 = Times I've got into an argument with a Canadian about cricket
87 = alcohol units consumed
1 Fulham 0 Everton

I've been in Sydney for four days now and I have yet to see the bloody sun. Does anyone else struggle to conjur up an image of Australia lacking obligatory sun drenched cheeriness or without Madge Bishop? I did. Until now. I wouldn't mind so much but it's the third time I've landed in a country this year to be greeted by thunder (and hysterical toothless women demanding I leave at once).

Croatia in June. Lashing it doon. Malaysia in October? Monsoon time. Sydney in November is currently five for five in the opened heaven stakes.

Despite the poor weather situation I've had a great start to my holiday. I am a terrible flyer and couldn't really get excited about my 3-month excursion whilst still back in England. I'm always convinced the wings are going to fall off in front of my eyes or that I'm going to press the wrong button on my tv remote and eject myself from the plane. Hearing Dave Blurton's horror stories about his 30 hour flight back from Greece just days before I left town didn't help.

For the record, his plane started to take off seconds before the engines failed. And this was after the initial flight had to be aborted minutes after
take off.

Anyway, as it was I got exit seats on both my flights. And due to the amount of valium and alcohol I'd stuffed down my fat neck I actually managed to sleep/pass out for large amounts of the flying time, and neither of my planes crashed into the sea. Which was a bit of a result.

I also snored so much that the woman next to me was forced to swap seats with her older (and more hard of hearing) husband. I took her pained grimace as evidence that she saw the funny side of things.

I got into Kuala Lumpar the day after Fulham lost to Wigan. That's a week last Sunday to you. I was staying for four nights at this plush hotel perched alongside a ridiculous shopping mall. It was roughly the size of Streatham. But without the ice rink. Or rookery. It had a MegaBowl though. But as it lacked large groups of rude boys hanging around outside demanding fags and cash I opted against visiting.

Strangely, one of the shops had a huge photo of the N159 to Streatham Garage. I shed a small tear when I saw that. I'm still crying a little inside as I write.

Kuala Lumpar itself is interesting enough. It has a China Town. Which struck me as a bit of an oxymoron considering the population of Malaysia is so mixed and has such a large Chinese contingent. It's a bit like London having an English quarter. Except it isn't. But you know what I'm getting at.

Sian and I checked it out anyway. She'd been the day before and seen a dead dog in a cage in one of the shops. Classy. Buoyed by the thought of this and hoping I'd be offered a fake Fulham shirt I hot-stepped it into town.

Unfortunately I saw neither. Though I did note that nowhere is safe from the moped riders. Not only do they ignore the rules of the road they pretty much ignore the rules of gravity, physics, the sidewalk, off-side rule etc etc. They sure love their bikes over there. I wouldn't be surprised if they take a shower whilst sitting atop these 2-wheeled death machines.

As it was, I learned very quickly that you had to keep your wits about you no matter where you were. Which also reminded me of back home.

The main reason I was in Malaysia was to see Sian and watch Pluck play. I watched them the first night I arrived and thoroughly enjoyed the ten minutes of the performance I witnessed before a power cut brought a premature end to the evenings entertainment.

This meant that we could all go out and sample some Malaysian cuisine for the first time. Being quite jet-lagged and also completely crap at trying new foods I was a little wary about this. We were taken to this local Chinese place and my initial fears were immediately realised when the girl sitting next to me started to tuck into some dubious looking weak looking gruel. I'll avoid the obvious Indiana Jones eyeball stew comparisons. But I did pass out when she started chewing on a chicken foot.

I was brought round just in time to see Adrian, one of the Pluck crew, pulling half a fish jaw out of his mouth. Mmmm nice. I've never dreamt more longingly of a McDonalds in my life. Okay, I have. Several times. But you get the point.

The next day we travelled to the other side of Malaysia to a place whose name I have already forgotten. But a quick look on the net tells me it's called Kuantan. As mentioned earlier it was monsoon time so it didn't seem too wise to head to the coast. But as luck would have it the weather was pretty decent. Sydney, take note.

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We were taken to a waterfall and enjoyed mucking around in the water and sitting in natural jacuzzis for most of the day.

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However the news that you could come along and catch sight of Western women in bikinis obviously had spread like wildfire and by about 4pm the ladies got tired of being gawked at (and having their photos taken) by the local yoofs, so we called it a day.

The remaining time spent in Malaysia was back in the capital. On my last day Sian and I checked out the Petronas Towers. They're also called the Twin Towers. You can't actually go to the top so we went up the KL Tower which is also fairly tall. At the top I had my customary 'oh my god, it's going to crash to the floor, I'll be dead inside 30 seconds' moment. But instead of bolting for the lift like James Carey and I did at the top of Chicago's Sears Tower I plugged myself into one of those portable guide books and had a good look round. Unfortunately the smog was quite bad and it restricted the view.

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The next day took me to the second installment of my holiday. Australia. It was where I was going to meet up with my old school mate Tom 'not quite as rude as he used to be' Rees, his girlfriend, Rachelle and my uni mate, Newkster Jon.

And you would be reading all about that crazy first weekend in Sydney right now if this stupid internet cafe computer hadn't decided to delete it all. So, as Tom is beside me right now and I can't be arsed to write it all over again I'll have to leave it til next time.

Tomorrow, Tom and I will be embarking on a trip up the coast to Byron Bay. We're on a learning to surf holiday. One of the beaches where we'll be taught is where they filmed the live shark footage for 'Jaws'. I kid you not. So if we survive that I'll be sure to post another blog next weekend.

Hope everyone is well.

Take it easy,

Jonno