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

About Me

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Thailand

I'd only been back in England for a week or so before I handed in another holiday request form. As I'm freelance I can pretty much decide when and for how long I am away. But there were still raised eyebrows when I opted out of another fortnights work so I could jet off to Thailand and meet up with Fe. Our plan being that we'd recunite for ten days in the sun before heading back to London together.


So much had happened since we'd last seen each other. She'd given up work, recorded a demo CD, moved out of her Sydney apartment, left Australia and gone back to New Zealand for three weeks, back-packed around Thailand on her own for another three weeks and was now waiting for me in Bangkok. While I'd worked a lot and got depressed watching my tan fade. We'd both changed so much maaaaaaaaaan.



So after three months of mentally ticking off the days until I'd see her again I found myself working the talkSPORT Breakfast Show shift at 4am. In a bid to combat my continual fear of flying I figured by having no sleep, working from 03.45am to midday, spending the afternoon nosing around town, securing an exit seat by getting to the airport nice and early, supping a few pre-flight drinkies and dropping a tab or two of valium would see me sleep for much of my 12 hour flight.



It was a great plan that required very little on my part save that I avoid the pub in the afternoon. So I was cursing myself as I crawled into Heathrow later that day 8 pints to the worse, slightly sunburnt & dehydrated from an afternoon sitting in a pub garden, wiping sleep from my eyes after passing out on the tube and completely not in the mood for a flight across a quarter of the planet.



After checking in without an exit seat I settled for a position by the bar where I cursed my stupidity and tried to drink myself back into insobriety. I was finding it difficult and as my stress levels started to rise I decided to take my mind off my own woes by dipping into someone else's by chatting to a fellow drinker at the bar.



To my left was a 60-year old man who was travelling to meet his 27-year old wife. Can you guess where he was heading? They'd been together for seven years and he told me he'd spent most of the money she believed he had stockpiled. He didn't rate his chances of staying alive much longer and told me that if she was in the relationship for the cash she was going to be disappointed. This made him cackle and wheeze quite forcibly. But romance lovers need not fear that the cupid is dead. As he also told me that he definitely treated her better than many of his other mates did with their Thai brides. So that's okay then.



As I left he handed me his business card and I stuffed it in my pocket (before leaving it in the tip tray of the toilet attendant) and scuttled off to my plane. I'd never travelled Thai airlines before and I'm not in a rush to do so again. As despite intricate planning and the subsequent flawless execution my seat ended up being in the worst possible position.



Situated on the nearest row to the toilet it couldn't fully extend back. So when the person in front of me decided to push back their chair it left precious little room to breath. Being by the toilets meant I was surrounded by talkative souls queuing for lavatory action the entire flight. I was so cramped I lay with my feet sticking out into the aisle for much of the journey. And at headrest level it didn't even have those flaps you can lean your tired head against. But the final straw, apart from the lack of fit stewardesses hanging on your every request for free alcohol, was the lack of TV screens.



The only TV was situated way at the front of the cabin and was obstructed by a sea of dotted heads, stretching arms and stewards reaching across to pour various beverages. Not good.



A poor journey was capped off when an unknown gentleman fainted whilst walking down the aisle to the toilet behind me. In the darkness I wasn't at first sure what had happened but I awoke to the sound of him hitting the floor. I only realised something was awry when the bloke in front of me hurdled over his sleeping companion to aid the stricken traveller. Hurrah for the hero! My involvement comprised of peering through the gloom at this mysterious figure huddling inches from my outstretched and aching feet before using him as a footrest for the remainder of the journey.



The 3-month wait and the 12 hour flight were soon a thing of the past however as Fe was waiting for me at the airport. Well actually she was stuck in traffic being chatted up by a big camp taxi driver but for the purposes of this 'blog we can pretend she was the first person I saw as I staggered through arrivals.



Considering how long we'd been apart and the fact we were in one of the craziest cities on earth we fell back into the swing of things pretty quickly. I'm not sure what this says about our relationship.



In part any pressure surrounding us was lifted by the camp taxi man who lightened the mood by hiding behind the boot of his car when he saw me approach him. I think he thought I was going to attack him after the comments he'd made to Fe demanding she ditch me for him and his boasts that he could satisfy a woman for up to 12 hours at a go.



Half an hour later we waved goodbye to the first of many admirers Fe would attract and stood outside our hotel. It was situated next to a huge mall in the centre of town. In this respect it was similar to the hotel I stayed at in Malaysia. We spent some time checking the shopping out and eating some amazing Japanese food. Because of my jet lag we retired to the bar in the hotel fairly early and had a couple of glasses of wine.



Because we had left the hotel to walk to the mall we had to head back through the front entrance to get back in. Both of us were a little surprised by the amount of security that now greeted us. We both had to enter through those metal detectors you get at a passport control at the airport as we were checked for weapons. Burly guards loitered around the front desk and the place was noticeably busier than it had been an hour earlier.



Soon we'd forgotten all about it as we sat and relaxed at the bar with a few glasses of wine. We were kept amused by the hotel singer who sang songs in our honour and kept asking us whether we planned to get married soon. No pressure or anything.



However our bliss was soon cut short by the sound of screaming coming from the foyet. The waitresses immediately ran over to the balcony and as we looked over there was a scrum of activity. Security guards surrounded a well-dressed guy, and appeared to be bundling him along, while girls yelled in his general direction whilst holding their head in their hands. For a split second it looked as though someone was going to get all terrorist on our asses. But before I could hurl myself into the action it became apparent all the fuss was because a top Malaysian singer by the name of Rain was also staying at our hotel.



http://events-thailand.blogspot.com/2007/05/rains-coming-thailand-concert-world.html



It was a surreal start to my Bangkok experience. And I'm sure I'm not the first person to say that.



The next day we awoke and hailed a taxi to take us to our coach. And in doing so stumbled upon another of the more annoying aspects of life in Thailand. No, not the child prostitution, murderous drug trade, insufferable pollution & dodgy Man City buying presidents but that the Taxi drivers will pretend they know where they are going even when they patently don't. And so after waving our arms around the back of the cab and pointing to where we wanted to go on a map we found ourselves standing by the side of a busy road with all our bags desperately trying to reach our rendezvous point.



We were looking like we were going to miss the coach to drive us six hours north where we'd catch a ferry to the island of Ko Chang. Thankfully our next cab could actually do the job he was employed to do. And apart from ten minutes spent watching two roosters fight and an uncomfortable journey where I tried and failed to sleep off my jetlag the next leg of our journey was uneventful. However the further north we went the clouds started to gather and by the time we boarded the ferry my weather curse appeared to be raising its head once more.

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What have Croatia, Malaysia, Australia and now Thailand got in common? All greeted my arrival by absolutely pissing it down. Okay, so Bangkok gave me one day of grace, but I couldn't help but note this fact as our boat pulled into Ko Chang. With trips to New Zealand and South Korea on the horizon it will be interesting to see if this unwelcome coincidence continues.

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I was also wondering what I'd done in a past life when we arrived at our destination. A sleepy set of huts on the north side of the Island looked out over the Gulf of Thailand. It was an extremely romantic setting. At least it would have been if the sun had been out and the swimming pool at the centre of the complex, not ten metres from our hut, hadn't been emptied a week or so before.



Other problems were that the place was totally deserted. We were literally the only guests. We were also either so unimportant or not drinking enough as we were ordered to bed at 9.30pm because the owner got tired.



The bloke who ran the joint was of course a fat old Englishman who chain-smoked and had something funky going on with his front teeth. He reminded me of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. While with depressing predictability, the lady of the manor was a beautiful woman in her thirties. On the walls were posters of her in her heyday and she had obviously been a bit of a catch. How she ended up with this bloated monster nobody knows. But somehow they'd both spawned a cute little five-year old boy who firmly admonished us whenever Fe and I got even slightly close. Apparently kissing or any kind of affectionate contact was only allowed in the bedroom. Unless you paid for it of course and then you could do pretty much whatever you wanted.



The following morning we decided to move on to the other side of the island. The weather was still horrible and we figured that we should really stay somewhere where there was something to do other than sunbathe in the rain. The discovery of rat faeces on the bed sheets only sought to strengthen our resolve and by midday Fe was in a travel agent and I was walking up the beach checking out the various hotels.



Within an hour or so, and with the sun beating down on my burning bonce, I collected Fe and all our things and took her back to the hotel I'd found. It was a lovely place, costing about £30 a night, situated right on the beach. We chilled out by the pool for most of the day, spotting Thai brides, gay cruisers and general weirdos frolicking alongside German families. Then at night we ate the first of many amazing seafood meals before strolling along the beach and drinking cocktails at a beach bar playing Bob Marley.



As relaxing and enjoyable as our night had been with the weather as bad as it was we decided it was time to move on the following day. While making plans over a substandard breakfast there was a commotion at the table directly behind Fe but straight in my eye-line. I couldn't at first work out what was going on as all I could see was five or six terrified people aged between 30 and 40. One of the people at their table was lying on the floor in an awkward position with his feet on the seat and his head buried at an angle in the floor.



His companions were beside themselves and were frantic in their attempts to help him. But then as quickly as it happened it appeared that the situation resolved itself and people started to laugh in that hysterical kind of way that people do when they're still quite scared. I couldn't tell from where I was sitting but he must have either started breathing again, opened his eyes or started snoring. I guess he'd had an epileptic fit or some kind of seizure.



Either way, shortly after someone had put a pillow under his head, he got up, joked with those at the table next to his and carried on eating his breakfast. Which was quite a feat as I wasn't able to eat a bite after witnessing all that.



After spending 12 hours on a plane not two days beforehand I couldn't face another flight quite so soon and so we decided to catch a coach back to Bangkok. After spending another night in the capital we planned to fly on from there. Air travel in Thailand is ridiculously cheap and we wanted to get down to where the sun promised to shine. Prior to the holiday I'd overheard Annabelle saying that the Island of Ko Phi Phi was the most picture perfect paradise she's ever seen. Considering how widely travelled she is I made a note of this and convinced Fe that we should journey there.



We weren't disappointed. After spending the evening in Bangkok checking out the markets and eating traditional Thai Burger King we awoke early and caught another cab which didn't know which way to go before flying to Krabbe. As soon as we touched down we knew we were in the right place - for the sole reason that the sun was out.



After meeting a German couple called Jochan and Steffi at the airport and sharing a cab we ate some lunch whilst waiting for our boat to arrive. The meal itself was perfectly adequate for me. I ordered a lovely Green Curry. But the others were not so lucky. Fe ordered the most disgusting looking soup I've ever seen while Jochan found an elastic band in the middle of his burger bun. Mmmmmmmm.



It was a bit of an ice-breaker moment as we all collapsed with laughter and not long after we crashed out on a boat taking us to the Island. And what a sight we had when we awoke.

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The Island we were on was so amazing and idyllic that it resembled a film set.

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We booked into our hotel and arranged to meet up with our German friends that night. The place was approaching the end of season so wasn't that busy. But after eating another beautiful meal we started drinking the local whiskey and cocktails at one of the bars. We were entertained by the fire dancers and appalled by the young Thai women being picked up by gross old Western men.



The night itself was one of the best we had. We got totally hammered and danced into the early hours and as the as night wore on both Fe and I swapped dance tricks with our new German friends.

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The next day we woke with a stinking hangover and so decided to stay at our hotel another night. Our only exercise for the day involved trekking to the island's other main beach to book accommodation for the following two nights. Those responsible had obviously taken from the Australian school of naming places. The difference being that the unimaginatively named 'long beach' wasn't even that long.

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One strange thing that kept happening involved the reaction Fe and I kept getting from fellow holidaymakers. People kept thinking she was my Thai bride. Every time she smiled at someone in a friendly manner she'd be greeted with the kind of embarrassed or uncomfortable frown blokes give a prostitute when offered services on Bedford Hill. Or so I've heard.



It got to a point where we were so offended by people thinking Fe was a hooker and even worse, that I was a desperate Westerner needing to pay for her services, that every time we got dubious stares Fe would start speaking loudly in her Kiwi accent whilst I made comments about being a media darling. This is what we do normally so it didn't take much effort. And although it led to even stranger stares we got the message across.



Our third day on Ko Phi Phi saw us move to our residency on Long Beach. And in doing so we stayed in the most luxurious of settings. It was slightly more than our German friends apartment but still a snip at £35 a night.

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Our two days there consisted of sunbathing yards from our swimming pool and metres from the beach, dining on amazing seafood and relaxing in the sea. It was exactly what we needed. We also met up with Steffi and Jochan for meals and more drinks.

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In some ways our stay was almost frustrating. We were due to go back to England in two days via another night in Bangkok. And we both couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that we hadn't got to this island sooner.



After jealously leaving the Germans to another few days of bliss we flew back to Bangkok and another stay at the hotel we stayed at on our first night. Thankfully this time there was no sight of Rain. And we spent the evening cramming in as much shopping as we could manage. Fe proved particularly adept at the haggling. Nearly reducing the staff to tears at every opportunity we walked away with many bargains. Our best deal came after we were offered one pair of sunglasses for £10. A few stern words from Fe and we managed to get two pairs for £2. This country rocks.



I can now count myself as a bit of a Thailand convert. Before I went several good friends couldn't speak highly enough of the place. But it had always been one of those countries I've never had much of an inclination to visit. But after spending a bit of time there I'm sure I'll one day return.



As I mentioned to Tomson, in an e-mail the other week, if you like a country where the sun shines brightly, the beaches are idyllic, the people friendly, the shopping extremely cheap, the food delicious and the alcohol a steal then this is the country for you.

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Monday, 23 April 2007

Top Ten Photographs 06/07

Writing my 'blog was a really enjoyable experience and judging by the feedback I've received since coming home it appears it made for a welcome respite when bored at work. I think the main reason it worked so well was because whenever I couldn't explain something properly I would just stick in a photo instead.

I took around 1,500 snaps on my trip. A lot of them are random moments at the cricket that I'll probably never look at again. Some of them are of people I've already forgotten the names of. And many will remain unseen and forgotten on my photobucket account until the end of the Internet.

But a few of them bring back such great memories, or just picture a point in time that sum up the moment so perfectly that I thought I'd put them together in one end of tour post. And so here are my top ten photographs from my Aussie Tour 06/07.

Surf crew, Coffs Harbour
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Seems like such a long time ago now but this is where my trip really started off. This was Day Four of my Surf Tour with Tom, Rand, Gigi, Joyce, Dustin & Eva showing the form and poise that enabled us all to surf waves by the end of the trip.


Day 2 scoreboard, Adelaide Oval

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We didn't have much reason to cheer but when things did go our way we made the most of it. It's fair to say that this was as good, or as close, as it ever got.

Barmy Army, Adelaide Oval

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When you're watching cricket in such picture perfect surroundings under beautiful blue skies it's hard not to maintain England's reputation as having the World's best cricket fans.


Falling asleep at the MCG, Melbourne

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Okay, okay, even the 'Barmy Army' has its limits. Both mental and physical. This was on Day Three at the MCG, by far the most miserable of the five Test matches.


The MCG, Melbourne

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This photo taken in the 100,000 capacity MCG was pretty much the only good thing to come out of the Test.

'Geoffrey Boycott!' Sydney

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The only time the Aussies were ever on the losing side as Danny, Dougie, Martin, Mark, Joe, Nathan & I taught them a lesson in the art of the drinking game.


Indian Head, Fraser Island

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Possibly my favourite photograph

Beach cricket, Jervis Bay
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Lick a shot! Viv Richards, eat your heart out!


Matrix Tom, Manly

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This photo is impressive enough as it is. But not only is Tom doing a passable impression of a Praying Mantis he also managed to connect so well with the ball that it flew out of the pool, over the protective fence and slammed into an apartment wall a good ten metres away.

Fe and I, Sydney

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The perfect ending to a wonderful holiday.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

A view from the bridge

Sydney, so good they named it after a character from the Bash Street Kids.

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And so, after two months of travel, I had finally come home, or at least that's how it felt. My stay in Australia was based around the cricket but the other major reason I'd made the trip was to spend some quality time with my old mates Tom, Rachelle and Newkster Jon.

I was staying in Manly, a pleasant (when the water was calm) ferry ride from Circular Quay. Tom and Rachelle (or T&R as they will now be known) had put me up in their spare bedroom. I was more than looking forward to sleeping in a comfy double bed for the first time in six weeks, safe in the knowledge that any uncovered dubious stains were of my own making.

I couldn't wait to have a shower all to myself, a clean kitchen, not to mention a washing machine that didn't require $3 every time I needed clean boxers. While the swimming pool, tennis court and numerous beaches a stone's throw from the apartment didn't exactly put me off. In short, the plan was to spend a month relaxing by the pool, playing loads of beach cricket and continuing my reckless drinking.

What actually happened was that I spent TWO months relaxing by the pool, played a bit of beach cricket, made my liver hurt (shut up liver) snorkelled, kayaked, shark evaded and just when I was gearing myself up to leave met the most amazing girl, and somehow convinced her that I wasn't so bad either.

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During my four months in Oz I saw nothing


0 = Ducktailed Platypus
0 = Koala Bears
0 = Wild Dingos
0 = homesick Brits
0 = Steve Irwin/Crocodile Dundee types
0 = England victories
0 = huge fuck off spiders
0 = snakes
0 = people drinking Fosters


Out of all the many places in Australia, Sydney really stood out. It was quite unlike any of the other Australian cities I'd visited in all but one way.

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I got the contractually obliged thumping out of the way by the 6th Jan so I had loads of time to forget all about that cricket nonsense and concentrate on making the most of my time in Australia before I had to leave. And all of a sudden leaving was really on my mind.

As soon as I touched down in Sydney I was immediately pre-occupied with thoughts of going back to England. I couldn't help but mentally tick off the days until my departure. Although I had a month remaining I was constantly thinking that I was going to have to return soon. I wanted to stay longer but my bro was turning 30 on the 2nd February and I wanted to be back in London for his party. On the other hand I knew that this could be my only chance to spend time in Australia. I was really unsure of what to do.

Before I'd left Dave had repeatedly told me that I should not return solely on his behalf. My sister had stayed in Oz and New Zealand for 18 months and she was adamant that I remain as long as I could. My finances could afford another month and T&R were happy for me to stay at theirs. So in the end I made the call to talkSPORT and TWI to tell them I would be back at the end of February rather than the start. As it turned out the 2nd February would be special for reasons I hadn't considered when deciding to stay.

Although I felt guilty about missing Dave's birthday as soon as I made the decision the pressure lifted. It meant I could plan a trip to Uluru, I could spend more time chilling out and spending time with T&R, and I wasn't constantly working out how many days I had left. It also meant me and Tom had plenty of time to do stuff like this.

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5 Reasons why Australia is better than England

1. Food – better quality, range and freshness. Portions are bigger, variation healthier and above all you get a lot more for less money
2. The outdoor lifestyle – fantastic weather, plenty of space, beautiful scenery and world class facilities everywhere means the emphasis is always on getting out of bed, shaking off the hangover and doing something active
3. Safety – One night in Sydney I went for a midnight stroll on my own. Not something I'd advise anyone to do in London. I loved the fact that I always felt safe in Australia no matter the time or the place
4. Size – Such a vast country with so many natural wonders to witness. You could spent a year doing what I did and still have more to appreciate
5. Scenery – You know you're spoilt when you look back at your photos and can't remember the name of places that would be national treasures in England. Like these that I took on a beautiful coastal walk from Sydney's Coogee to Bondi beaches

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Much is made of the rivalry between the citizens of planets Melbourne and Sydney. Both sets believe theirs is a city far superior. And they spend too much time and effort attempting to rubbish the accomplishments of the other. But as much as I loved Melbourne you cannot compare it to Sydney. Culturally, Melbourne may have the edge, architecturally, Opera House and Harbour Bridge aside, it can compete, and I dare say the man on the Melbourne street is the equal to anyone you'd find swanning around Sydney.

But Sydney is a proper city. Big, brash, seedy and stylish, rich and poor, it is moneyed and full of itself, and it's got a skyline to die for. And without sounding hackneyed or clichéd, walking around town it feels like the kind of place a city kid could be happy to live. You can lose yourself there. Though in fairness I can get lost in a one street town.

However for the first month of my stay I hardly saw any of that. I was hiding away in Manly, which is the kind of place that's so attractive, chilled and comfortable the only real danger is that you never ever leave.

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As mentioned before it's a 40-minute ferry ride to the centre of Sydney and more often than not it's easier to spend the day at one of the many Manly pubs rather than trekking all the way into town. The beaches are amongst the very best in Sydney and every weekend the place gets rammed with city types making the journey across. It's an idyllic place and I can totally see why T&R decided to settle here.

Trips to Fraser Island and Uluru aside I quickly settled into a routine of getting up with a hangover around 11am, eating lunch on the balcony, sunbathing and reading by the pool, eating dinner with T&R and then either getting drunk, playing poker, taking part in pub quizzes or a mishmash of all three. Things were pretty damn good.

But for some reason T&R weren't satisfied and keen that I got to see some more of New South Wales than their swimming pool and sample something other than the local $10 steak. So one weekend we packed up our stuff and made our way 3 hours north to a spot called Jervis Bay.

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It boasted whiter than white sands, surfing opportunities, a beach voted the best in NSW in 2006 and as we'd invited several friends and Rachelle's family members and bought plenty of booze it promised to be an eventful weekend. And so it proved.

Our first night's residence was a lovely house situated close to the beach. Despite my single status meaning having to sleep in a bunk-bed for the night; sparking flashbacks to my backpacker tour, it was another sublime weekend away.

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We ate well, drank plenty and played poker until late in the night. As is the norm in Australia the weekend couldn't get by without a life or death situation rearing its head.

Newkster and Andy had gone out surfing and we were watching them from the apartment balcony blissfully unaware that Andy was caught in a rip and rapidly losing strength. He was stupidly close to being swept out to his doom. "Go Andy!!!!!" we yelled with big grins on our faces oblivious to Jonny's expression of horror as he paddled helplessly a few metres away from Andy.

At this point I should probably explain that a rip is a fast flow of water heading away from the shore. When trapped it's impossible to swim against and people drown every year by making the mistake of attempting to. Instead you need to either let it carry you out, or swim across it, before heading back to the shore. Not panicking is also helpful.

At the time we didn't realise any of this and when they staggered back to the house I assured Jonny I would definitely surf the next day. Then I heard what had happened to Andy and immediately regretted it. Thankfully he'd managed to swim across the rip and saved himself.

I awoke the next morning trying to work out how I could get out of surfing without once again looking like a complete pussy. And thankfully two occurrences came to my aid.

For those of you who have never been on a beach when a shark turns up this is how people react.

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Not very impressive, I know. All that happens is that someone shouts "Shark!" Everyone calmly gets out of the water, checks to see the kids are safe, stares at the blue expanse while a spotter plane flies above and then eats a pie.

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Then after a while everyone gets bored and goes back into the water. Yeah!!!!!!!

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After the initial excitement I stood back and took in our surroundings. The beach itself was one of the most amazing I'd seen on my journey. Amazing white sand, the view stretching off into the distance and lovely calm water totally unsuited to surfing. Yeah x 2!!!!!!!!

I just about managed to hide my disappointment as a subdued Newkster attached the boards back to the top of his car. Instead of tackling rips and sharks for the rest of the day I played with an American football and then drove to the nearest town to pick up my cricket tour buddy Nathan who'd come to stay for the night.

That evening we stayed in another spacious residence and once again got stuck into the beers, drinking games, poker and 8 large pizzas from a local takeaway. I can't remember who won poker that night but I do remember getting knocked out by Victoria, who had moaned all evening that she never won anything and then produced the king and ten in this ridiculous hand.

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We didn't have to return to Sydney til late afternoon the following day. So we had enough time to return to the beach and play a spot of beach cricket. And on the drive back to Sydney we stopped off at the best beach in NSW.

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5 Reasons why Australia is worse than England

1. Humour and humility – Most English people are well aware of our countries flaws; so much so that sometimes we forget to talk ourselves up. Our self-depreciation and unwillingness to take ourselves or anything else too seriously is one of the reasons why we make such bloody good company. Don't ever believe this shite that we're 'wingeing Poms'. As Danny said about the Aussies 'Bodyline was 60 years ago and they're still moaning about it'
2. Music – Do you realise how spoilt we are for live music in England? Nobody tours without playing here. The same cannot be said for Australia. England also produces bands that piss on Australia's efforts. One of the sole benefits of not having an outdoors lifestyle is that instead of spending the days becoming supreme athletes our kids are cooped up inside, smoking weed, moaning about stuff and making music.
3. History – I love the way that Australians embrace the present and the future. And I sometimes think England's 'glorious' history weighs us down somewhat. But I also love the way you can walk around and get constant reminders of the importance, history and influence this city has had for the past 2,000 years. As Eddie Izzard once said, "Europe, that's where history comes from."
4. Multi-cultural diversity – It's what I'm used to and I feel like my life has benefited so much because of it. For all the great things about Australia its desire to close its doors to immigrants and those it deems unworthy is abhorrent and holds the place back.
5. Location, location, location – it's just too damn far away from England and that's no good when you've got an amazing family, brilliant friends and a struggling football club to support. Although if it was nearer, every fucker would live there, and it wouldn't be as good.

If I thought I'd met my fair share of Poms on the cricket tour I hadn't seen anything yet. Manly was full of unmistakable Brits, not as pasty as back home but the teeth as bad as ever. Tom told me the recent Australian census revealed nearly as many British live there as 'natives'. And nearly everyone he introduced to me turned out to be English.

One of the things I enjoyed about meeting the friends of Tom and Rachelle and nearly every other Brit was how welcoming and open they are. Most of them have made so many sacrifices to move to Australia and had to encounter the kind of difficulties you can easily associate with transporting yourself to the other side of the globe. On arrival they must have been welcomed like I, and in return are ever so happy to extend the same courtesy to anyone visiting.

And so I was immediately welcomed into a cosy friendship group consisting of Rachelle's family members, neighbours and other mates. It didn't take very long to feel quite at home.

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As January drew to a close I arranged to meet up with a couple of talkSPORT mates who were travelling separately but flying into Sydney at the same time. Originally I'd have missed them as they arrived in town the day after my initial flight back home. But instead I was able to meet up for a spot of much needed sight seeing and also to go out on the mighty lash.

Dave was on holiday with his mum and sister and they were staying with a relation just outside the city. As I'd still to check out large parts of Sydney I jumped at the chance of meeting up with them and having a nosy around.

Up until this point I has steadfastly refused to take my camera out unless the sun was fully present. I figured I might as well wait for optimum conditions. Unfortunately Dave's visit coincided with dreary skies. So after trekking around the Opera House and Circular Quay we did what any Brit does in such a situation and sat in a pub for a while.

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The fact that it's one of the oldest in Sydney made it justifiable and after having a look around we found this photo taken inside the pub at the turn of the century. And I'd like to think that if any of the South London crew actually live that long, the first five to get past 80 years of age have to pose in similar fashion in The Manor Arms.

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The next day we met up again at Sydney's most famous beach, Bondi. Again it was gloomy and unremarkable. A little blasé by now I wasn't overly taken by Bondi. But we amused ourselves by watching the various surf dudes wipe out.

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Dave was so taken by it all he caught a wave of his very own.

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That night we all met up in Circular Quay with our other talkSPORT drinking buddy, Lucy. You can guess how our night panned out. Drinking games, pool, lots of alcohol, confrontation with two racist Aussies, Dave trying it on with various Australian girls, his sister looking on unimpressed, hot and sweaty club, cocktails, expensive cab ride home.

The following afternoon I awoke feeling rough with a stinking hangover. But as wretched as I felt, as I lay there staring at my bedroom ceiling, with the sun streaming in through the curtains, I knew I was the lucky one. Dave and his sister had a 6am start as they had to catch a flight to New Zealand at 9am that morning while Lucy had to go on a 6k walk with her dad. Ha ha!!!!

Another night out was planned for the Friday. A friend of Rachelle's called Natalie was celebrating her birthday by hosting a BBQ. Natalie is one of those people who people immediately draw to. Rachelle went on about her in such glowing terms Tom and I began thinking they had something going on. Well I thought it, Tom was dreaming it.

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Originally from Essex, Nat had been living in Australia for a few years. She's funny, attractive and up for a laugh. We'd met up the week before when she'd stayed over at T&R's. It was a Monday night but that didn't stop us all getting plastered on vodka, wine and drinking games til 4am.

And so despite feeling truly terrible, and with the knowledge that another big night was planned for Saturday, I dragged myself into town to meet T&R, who were well on the way by the time I met them at 5pm.

Aside from my self-induced poor health, I was feeling a little weird as the night coincided with Dave's 30th birthday and I was guilty that I wasn't back in London. But as I rocked up at the party we immediately got chatting to two friendly girls called Felicity and Mariesa.

Felicity, or Fe, is a Kiwi and had been in Oz for a year. We clicked pretty much straight away. Not just because she is gorgeous but also because she is funny, quick witted, kind and has a spark that is immediately attractive. We spoke for ages about our hopes for our careers and she told me how she had been trying to make it as a musical singer but was finding opportunities hard to come by in Sydney and was planning to move to London later in the year. I'm always a complete gentleman when it comes to assisting beautiful single women so I offered to help her out in any way I could.

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Her partner in crime, Mariesa was originally from Leicester and had been in Australia for about 18 months. Like most of Fe's friends she was also a bit of a stunner. And her boyfriend was a professional footballer who turned out for Sydney FC and had played for Australia 30 odd times. He'd also played in the UK for Aberdeen and Walsall as well as a couple of German clubs. As you can imagine my interest was immediately roused and I spent a while asking Mariesa intricate football questions about his career that she had no clue how to answer.

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In between interrogating Mariesa we all started drinking and T&R and I introduced them both to the beauty of 'Higher Lower' and 'One Dollar Poker' and various other drinking games. By this point Tom was pretty mashed, Rachelle wasn't too far off but I was still struggling to drink away the hangover.

Despite the bright start a couple of hours into the party I was starting to flake out. Like my attempts to charm Fe, the food was a little slow in coming forward. I was standing with Tom telling him that if the food didn't turn up soon I was going to have to make tracks. I wasn't feeling too hot.

As life changing moments go it was right up there. Just as I was working out the best route back to Manly a plate of kebabs was plonked on the table I was leaning on. Thankfully it was getting dark by this point so nobody saw me attempt to devour the whole plate in one go and the end result was a fresh burst of energy. I looked around the table, saw a seat next to Fe, and clambered over the table to sit down next to her. I'm quite sure we're the only couple in history who can thank the humble kebab for starting a relationship.

T&R departed a couple of hours later, while me, Fe and Mariesa continued on late into the night. Natalie kept popping back to play 'Higher Lower' in a bid to escape a random bloke who was pursuing her. She kept losing on purpose so she didn't have to go back to him. One of Tom's workmates decided to bite my shoulder so hard that I could see her teeth marks a week later. And Fe and I romantically chatted long into the night. So engrossed were we that it was only when we decided to call it a night that we realised another random weirdo, sitting a yard away, was studiously studying our every move. Then he started telling Fe how beautiful she was. Hmmmmmm. Bit late for that line, buster……

……The following Tuesday I spent most of the day nervously checking out the dark clouds that were gathering above Manly. I was going on my first 'date' with Fe. Actually I was going on my first date for quite a while and as I waited for her text to confirm where we'd be meeting I kept checking the skyline for a break in the clouds.

At around 6pm I got the text that I should meet near Darling Harbour. Of course, as I trod masterfully out of the apartment, the heavens opened and it proceeded to bucket it down all the way to the ferry. Upon boarding drenched I parked myself down next to the window and as I stared out across the rolling bay I felt slightly apprehensive.

As it was I need not have worried. Our evening turned into a mini classic. It was one of those nights where so many funny things happened. It also helps that Fe talks more than I do. So dealing with uncomfortable silences or struggling for something to talk about was never going to be a problem.

It was still pissing down by the time we met up and another of the similarities between us was immediately exposed as she proved by her lack of geographical know how. So we spent a good ten minutes getting rained on while Fe rang her mate trying to work out where the restaurant was.

Once we actually found the place we enjoyed sharing some good food and a couple of bottles of red wine. The restaurant was run by this hilarious Chinese woman who ushered diners to their tables, ordered staff around and made amusing small talk whenever she felt the urge. After eating, Fe and I went outside for a smoke. When we returned we realised that the bill for our food had disappeared. We joked that the staff there would think we were trying one on and that we were about to do a runner. At this point the woman appeared and the spotted the bill on the floor next to our table.

Boss woman (holding bottle of red wine) – Ah ha! Your bill is on the floor!
Fe – Oh yeah, we couldn't find it. We thought you might think we were going to do a runner
Boss woman – No way! I would hunt you down! (brandishing bottle) Would chase after you and stick bottle up you ass! (looking at me whilst furiously enacting how to ram a bottle up someone's backside) But maybe you like that, huh? Maybe that's what you want to happen! Ha ha!!!

Crazy. But more was to follow. We made our way to a pub near where Fe lives. After ordering drinks we were joined by a slightly overweight man and a woman of around 40-45 years old who looked like she'd been round the block a few times. They were obviously shag buddies and slightly worse for wear. The bloke had won $600 on the slot machines (or, Pokies as they're called In Oz) and he started shouting us our drinks. While he was at the bar his chain smoking shag for the night studiously studied Fe and I as we shared a private chat about something before blurting out 'do you two do group sex?'

Ha ha ha!!!!!! I spluttered something about being English and not really into that kind of thing while Fe replied to the negative. The bar shut soon after and the last we saw of them was as they drunkenly hailed a cab on the search for a late night drinking establishment. They had asked us to join them but we just about managed to turn their kind offer down.

For the remainder of my time in Sydney I became a regular sight in Surry Hills, which is where Fe lived with two housemates, Constance and Cole. The first night I met them was at a fancy dress party at a flat perched by the side of Bondi beach. Any blasé attitude I had about the place disappeared that night as I overlooked waves crashing against the rocks below the apartment, stared out at the busy street lighting up the beach and marvelled at the completely manic outfits everyone was wearing.

It seems they do fancy dress a bit differently in Bondi than they do in Tooting. Whereas my bro's infamous fancy dress nights involve a fair amount of humour, a last minute dash to pick up items of clothing and Luke dressing as a pimp no matter the theme, these guys did it properly. It appeared that I'd dropped right into the middle of a proper party loving Aussie crew.

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And it wasn't just at the weekend that they suspended reality. One afternoon Fe and I returned to her house to be welcomed by Cole standing in the living room, with full make up on, sporting nothing but purple shorts so small they brought a tear to my eye, let alone his, all the while playing a saxamaphone accompaniment.

Constance, or Choochy, was yet another attractive friend who spent her time wearing crazy get ups, buying expensive blenders and partying like the best of them. Try as hard as I might I couldn't find a single below average looking specimen all the time I was around these guys. I was immediately endeared to Chooch as the first time I met her I arrived at the door and she knew who I was immediately; before whisking me past the queue and into the club chattering excitedly all the while.

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For the remainder of February I spent much of my time in the city centre with Fe and her friends. One Sunday evening Fe, Mariesa, Constance and I went to this event I still do not know the name of. It was something like 'Trottfest' or something. It was a film festival held in one of the cities big parks and it boasted quite the most amazing cameo performance I've ever seen.

The premise is that 12 short films are shown on 3 giant screens to a crowd of around 90,000 and it's beamed live across the country to similar venues before judges vote for the best one. Everyone turns up with blankets, wine and food and watches the films as day turns to night. It's a pretty cool idea and we arrived in the nick of time. The place was heaving but a friend from the girls acting class had saved us some space.

About three films into proceedings a slightly overweight girl of about 22 stumbled past and joined a group sitting just behind us. Nobody paid her much attention until she started screaming and swearing at the people we thought were her friends.

Nothing too untoward at this point until she singled out one unlucky chap whose name was lost on me. "You fucking arsehole, why don't you fuck off? You're a fucking c*nt!" She screamed. "Do you know that everyone here thinks you're gay?!!?!? Why don't you just admit it or fuck off!!!!"

At this point 90,000 people turned round to look at this poor chap who was stuck between trying to laugh it off, desperately trying to work out an escape route, figuring whether this was the only time in his life when it would be acceptable to hit a girl and at the same time wondering whether now was the time to come out of the closet.

All this was going on at the same time as the films so various people were shouting out helpful things like "Shut the fuck up you piss head", "sit down you fat bitch" and, "I'd rather be gay than fuck you". Whereas I was convinced it was actually a piece of improvised theatre where actors enact a scene in the midst of the unsuspecting public.

The catcalls and insults provoked the madwoman, who was either extremely drunk, on drugs or in need of one big hug, to turn on the faceless voices in the crowd. Then bizarrely, after insulting her entire friendship group, and the audience, she tried to convince everyone that if someone gave her a drink she'd do as they say and shut the fuck up. It's surprising to think now that nobody even tried this avenue of negotiation.

By now nobody was watching the screens, which is a shame as the eventual winner was at this point being aired, instead we watched aghast as the girl's friends tried to make her sit down and be quiet. The poor bloke from earlier beat a hasty retreat but couldn't be spared another forked tongue lashing "You fucker! You're ageing quicker than me!" We all agreed this was the strangest insult we'd heard that night but it did the trick as the poor sod disappeared into the night.

With her gay friend gone, an angry mob starting to bay for blood and small peanut shaped items zipping through the air in the general direction of the monster, one of her female friends tried to physically force her to put an end to this intriguing, highly original and engaging monologue. But all that happened was that the lunatic thumped her in the face and they both came crashing down in a heap into the lap of a couple they didn't know and who up to this point had been sitting quite happily enjoying a French stick and a tub of fine olives.

It was all getting too much for some, as the heckling rose, one bloke decided to jump on top of both girls, and subsequently nearly got into a fight with two guys who actually knew the sparring duo. Moments later someone went to get security and for a good five minutes all that could be heard over the sound of an unknown film was loud wailing sobs.

It truly was a fantastic evening, one of my best in Sydney……

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…….Upon my return from Uluru I had two weeks to cram as much sightseeing, Fe seeing, sunbathing and general enjoyment as I could. I also had to make sure I saw as much of T&R as possible. And help in this matter came in the form of a ridiculous and horrific accident.

One Saturday morning Rachelle managed to suffer third degree burns to her hands. In attempting to carry some boiling hot wax from the microwave she managed to pour the lot all over herself. Tom was awoken by her cries and ran into the kitchen to see her doing a passable impression of the bloke from Robocop who falls into a vat of acid moments before walking in front of cop car. "Heeeeellllpppp meeee"

I don't mean to make light of what was a terrible situation but there was an upside.

Firstly, they were both forced to take the last two weeks of my stay off work meaning we could spend the day hanging out. Secondly, it meant we could take photos of Rachelle's 'Elephant Man' hands while we were standing outside the hospital.

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She needed a skin graft from her hip onto her right hand and was forced to wear a single glove, which means she's now stuck with the nickname 'Michael'. She took all this with her usual good grace and it won't be long before she's beating Tom up again. But it was a shame that she couldn't join in the drinking festivities to mark my departure in quite the same way that she would have normally.

With a few days remaining I once again got off my arse and actually checked out parts of Sydney that up to now I'd been too lazy to bother with. Everyone tries to get that magical shot of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and themselves. It's quite difficult when you're on your own but I just about managed it.

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I also strolled round the Botanical Gardens for a while taking snapshots of the setting for the ultimate pond jump.

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Whilst imagining a drunken South Londoner attempting this death defying leap I was alerted to a chattering in the trees above me. In my time in Australia I've been amazed by the sight of the large bats that inhabit the cities. And now above me they slept.

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But a photo of a sleeping bat would not suffice. And so I waited for bloody ages to try and get a snap of one of them flying. And somehow I managed it.

I then trekked round to get a few snaps of the skyline and that of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

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Then I set out to scale the Sydney Tower. But on reaching it I decided that I really couldn't be arsed. So instead of going up here

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I went here instead and maxed out my credit card on clothes.

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With my final weekend now very much in sight I was experiencing a range of emotions. On the one hand it did now feel right to go home. My bank balance reminded me of my student days, I had done pretty much everything I wanted to do and I missed my friends and family.

But on the other hand I was living a dreamlike existence. I didn't want to leave Fe, T&R, Newkster and all the Sydney friends I had made and I certainly didn't want to fly for an entire day. There's only so much valium and alcohol one man can take.

If it didn't take so bloody long to get back to England I'd have taken any other mode of transport possible. And when the QE2 turned up in Circular Quay I could only feel slightly jealous that I couldn't travel in this manner. But then I remembered I don't like the sea either and six months riding mini-Tsunamis didn't really appeal.

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But worrying about my impending flight was pointless. And before I knew it I was experiencing my final weekend in Australia. Can you guess how it was spent?

After spending the weekend with Fe, T&R, Newkster, and all the other good mates I'd made over the last two months I was left a couple of days to chill out in Sydney.

On my last night I took T&R and Fe out to a restaurant called 'Rump and Ribs' where I ate one of the finest steaks I've ever eaten. It was so good I haven't bothered to eat steak since. Tom quite enjoyed his food too.

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We finished the evening drinking red wine, listening to music and enjoying each other's company. It was a great end to my holiday. And Rachelle got drunk for the first time since she hurt her hands.

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The next day we all awoke, and I spent a few hours with T&R before meeting up with Fe. Tom and I spent a few hours playing pool and the pokies. It came down to a win or bust moment for Tom who staked all his winnings on red or black. He went for black.

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And that was about it. After an extremely painful goodbye at Fe's house I spent the next 26 hours flying to Malaysia, sleeping in the airport, consuming vast quantities of valium and alcohol, going stir crazy, watching 'Rocky VI', switching off 'Fantastic Four', chatting to bored passengers, feeling queasy, imagining the plane crashing into the ground, landing in England, catching a tube, walking through my front door, saying hello to my brother…………

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Epilogue

It's a bit difficult summing up my stay in Australia in one neat end of 'blog paragraph. You all know how amazing a time I had. I spent 4 months doing whatever took my fancy, I chilled out in glorious weather, had countless ridiculous encounters, met some truly amazing people, had pure fun throughout the trip, gorged myself on cricket, travelled an amazing sunburnt country, laughed a hell of a lot, caught up with old friends, made plenty of new ones and met Fe.

I had the best time of my life and so I'd like to thank all of those who made this happen. And I can't wait to return in 2010 and go through it all over again as England bid to win the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 22 years………yadda yadda yadda.