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

About Me

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

He's scored! Not by car, not by train but by Kanu!*

Have you ever run 100 metres in a sub ten second time? No, I didn't think so. Well, I have. It may come as a surprise to those who witnessed my short lived attempt to run the London marathon last year. But in the early hours of the morning, on a balmy night in South West London back in 1993, I easily clocked seven seconds.

Unfortunately, Norris McWhirter wasn't on hand to proclaim me the fastest man on the planet. But this fact is tempered with the knowledge that even if he were there to support my claim I'd have no doubt failed the subsequent drugs test as I'd smoked a fair amount of the dreaded weed that fateful night.

Human beings will do pretty much anything if the incentive is strong enough. In my case the incentive to run at a pace approaching the speed of light was to avoid the crowbar being swung at my head from causing me extreme pain and an unsightly lump. In this respect I succeeded.

More recently it's also made me think that maybe athletes don't need to risk it all by taking drugs in a bid to gain an infinitesimal advantage. Based on my experiences the fear of an impending kicking would cause a natural high; therefore enabling astonishing results. I suggest we start beating the shit out of any
UK runner who finishes out of the top three. I bet you if British athletic coaches were to employ such forward thinking techniques we'd quadruple our gold turnover at the next big tournament. Attendances at such events would also skyrocket.

And the threat doesn't have to be physical in nature. How much faster would Ben Johnson have ran at the '88 Olympics if he'd been pursued down the home straight by a doping controller? Surely it's about time the top coaches start employing similar training methods to get the best times out of young sprinters. Scared of spiders? Stick a Funnel web on the starting block. Cheating on the missus? I'm sure anyone would find that extra yard of pace if the bit on the side turned up with news of pregnancy, seconds before the starting gun.

Back in 1993, after Nicky B and I had made it back to his house unscathed (but panting heavily with mud on our clothes from where we'd jumped over a neighbours fence and hid by the dustbins,) I figured I would never, ever need to reach such speed again. Nick earnestly promised me he'd never again put me in a position where I would have to run for my life from two very angry Turkish men. And the proceeding decade proved him to be a man of his word. But last week I once again felt what it was like to hit Mach-7.

I've learnt a few things since I've been in
Australia. One of them is this. It is possible to drink solidly for over three months and not class yourself as an alcoholic.

Another more relevant lesson is this. When you see several large fish jumping out of the water it isn't because a pissed South Londoner is attempting another ill-advised pond jump. Rather it is that somewhere in the vicinity is a much bigger fish in pursuit. Similarly, if you are snorkeling clear waters when suddenly a school of fish flash past you screaming 'shiiiiiiiiittttttt' it's wise to get out of the water. Because where I earlier wrote 'much bigger fish' you should have actually read 'motherfucking shark.'

So it came to pass that in re-enacting that night back in '93 it was on water rather than dry land. Tom and I had hired a couple of kayaks and had spent a couple of hours paddling around Manly harbour.

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I'd originally thought the biggest danger I faced was the shipping lane from Manly to
Sydney Harbour. And once this was safely navigated I started to relax and enjoy myself. With the sun beating down on our backs and with our snorkeling gear tucked away we were free to approach several small beaches inaccessible by land and investigate.

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It's tiring work kayaking in the sea and both Tom and I were fairly knackered by the time we'd worked our way through 90 minutes of exploration. But we'd seen an old sailing boat that we wanted to check out on the other side of the Harbour and so made our way across against the current.

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As we approached the boat, with Tom about 10 feet behind me, to our left, a further 10 feet away, something caught our eye. At first it looked like a single creature jumping out of the water and for a glorious moment I thought we were to be joined by a dolphin. But almost immediately in a patch of water adjacent to the initial incident five or six big fish began leaping out of the water. My fears were at once realised as Tom stopped rowing and muttered something along the lines of "Um, that ain't good."

It's at moments like these that you feel very alone. For when you fear a shark may be close you don't want to be sitting in a flimsy kayak, with very little in the way of upper body strength, the tide working against you and next to no experience of Great White wrestling. But that's exactly where we were.

"What the fuck do we do now?" I spluttered. Tom was unforthcoming on the subject but you didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out why he was suddenly flailing his oar about his head and back into the water as he desperately tried to prevent his kayak getting any nearer to the source of concern. I duly noted that we needed to get the fuck out of there.

And so with my heart beating furiously, water splashing everywhere and the thought that we were causing exactly the kind of disturbance that would attract a deep sea predator we turned tail and attempted to get as far away as quickly as possible.

Every bump to the kayak, dubious shadow in the water or underlying clump of seaweed suddenly took on a far more sinister edge. As we raced from the scene, hearts pumping, arms straining and a look of controlled panic on Tom's face, slightly less controlled on my own, we both broke several water speed records, en-route to the safety of dry land.

Well I say 'we' but in truth Tom stopped rowing for his life fairly quickly. It's not that his legendary laziness stops the moment he clocks off from his office job for the Australian government, because it doesn't. It's just that he'd seen a 2-metre long shark swim under our kayaks not an hour previously. He hadn't panicked then and he hadn't said anything at the time because he didn't want to scare me. I think that was good of him.

I guess the 5-years he's spent over here has changed Tom. People here treat the threat of a shark attack with the similar blasé attitude you or I treat the threat of street crime yards from our front doors. We know it's a possibility but it's not something we can let rule our lives. The moment it does is the moment you have to leave.

And so as Tom decided to take a breather and check out the scenery I did a passable impression of a human windmill in fast forward. But with the wind whistling past my ears, my face resembling an inexperienced pilot doing a loop the loop, I realised sadly that Tom's turning into an Aussie.

I pretty much lived with Tom for a year at University and also for a while in Streatham. We've been friends for nearly 15 years and it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that Tom's desire to not do anything too strenuous once led him to stay indoors for an entire year. But since arriving in
Australia he's embraced the outdoor culture they have out here.

For while the English spend far too many weekends inside the house, nursing the hangovers from the previous nights drunken activities, Aussies will force themselves out of bed in the knowledge that a quick dip in the pool, some hearty food and some time in the sun will cure any self-afflicted ailment. I've followed this lead since I got here and will therefore return to England with not only tales involving outlandish alcohol abuse and hilarious new drinking games but also of snorkeling, kayaking, dolphins, manta rays, sharks, surfing, swimming, rock climbing, tree top views and who knows what else.

It's one of the many great things about this country and one area where you can see the effect it has is by watching TV. It sucks so bad, there's hardly any money in it and for good reason. Nobody watches it. Would you when there's so much else to do? Who would stay inside during the day when it's so amazing outside? And with the high standard, wide variety and low cost of food over here its part of the culture to eat out. If you do stay in then poker nights, DVD time or sport on the box to keep you entertained. I do like this country after all.

And it's in celebration of these kinds of opportunities that we found ourselves sitting outside the Sydney Opera House, in the baking sun, in celebration of Australia Day, or Invasion Day if you're an Aborigine. It's a public holiday at the end of January where everyone stops working, meets up with friends and gets royally trashed. I love immersing myself in strange foreign cultures so I didn't need asking twice.


The day started with a trip on the Manly ferry over to Circular Quay. It's a tradition that everyone with a boat in
Sydney takes to the water on this day and as we rode the ferry we were afforded a fantastic view. True, the ferry had to continually stop in its tracks to avoid hitting the various smaller boats whizzing by. But this didn't dampen anyone's spirits.

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By the time we reached the Opera Bar and weaseled ourselves some seats by using the age-old Manor Arms trick, whereby a big group of people stand menacingly by a table until those already sitting there feel so uncomfortable they are forced to leave. We amused ourselves by watching the various flybys.

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This was followed by a parachute jump into the Harbour.

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And then all the boats stopped trying to ram each other and sailed under the
Harbour Bridge.

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Amazing stuff and we gave our bit back to the festivities by playing even more drinking games and numerous rounds of one dollar poker.

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As we caught the ferry back to Manly, on the way to the Wharf Bar for more fun in the sun I saw two characters straight out of 'Little Britain'. So Tom posed alongside them and I pretended I was taking a snap of him to capture these creatures of the wild grazing by the water.

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And it was this snap of
England life that made me realise my destiny for another month lay in Australia. I may never get the chance to spend time in this country and so another month in Sydney awaits and also gives me the opportunity to visit Uluru which is exactly what I'll be doing next week.




*The title for my 'blog was lifted from a real life football commentary I heard a few years back. Jonathan Pearce at his very worst.