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

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Monday, 29 November 2010

The foursome

My sixth match in Australia has just finished and for the first time I'm not looking back at a loss. The match may have petered out in the end but there were enough twists and turns to keep us on the edge of our seats. With bowlers taking five-fors and batsmen making centuries the result swung in the balance for four days with the victor in doubt until the first hour had passed without incident on day five.

And as good as these last couple of days have been there have been a couple of reminders that things could be even better. When last here in 2006/07 it was as part of a fantastic four. Four singleton strangers who'd toured alone yet ended up meeting in Brisbane and by the end of the 5-0 whitewash had become firm friends who would turn up four years later at my stag do or engagement parties.

And though they aren't all here in physical form both Nathan and I have been reminded of their presence. Whether it be supportive texts from Danny

"Fucking hell Strauss! I'm going to bed"

or just watching someone fall over a'la Mark the boys are here in spirit. Although I've yet to see anyone practising how to get out of bed yet.

And there have been other incidents that have made me think of them sitting alongside us as we've chewed our fingernails and watched a beachball sail past our heads. Crap tattoos it seems aren't only the preserve of Manchester born German residing postmen.

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While it doesn't take too much of a leap of imagination to think that Nathan could have transported to the Ashes in the year 2032 and is actually sitting next to beanie-less Danny who seemed today to be sleeping nearly as much as he did four years ago. Although for slightly different reasons.

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Looking at the game from all angles

Another day, another view from the stands and another reason to celebrate as Alastair Cook scores his double hundred.

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And there were more similarities with yesterday as this photo shows. It's another of Michael Clarke wondering how he fluffed such a simple catch. If he needed reminding he need only have turned around to look at the big screen showing a replay.

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And I suppose it's also another reminder of Adelaide as it was there that I saw the last Englishman to hit a double ton against the Aussies. And it's Adelaide coming up next. But before the stresses and strains of that. It's time to kick back, relax and enjoy England grinding the Aussies into the dirt.

The record stand (reprising the reprise)

Anyone ask for England's largest ever 2nd wicket stand at The Gabba?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Enjoy the good times (another reprise)

For the first evening in four I didn't daydream on the walk back from the Gabba. It was dusk when I left the ground & overhead in single-file big brown bats followed me on their nightly journey across the city. Early evening diners were lined up along the riverfront bars and restaurants next to the Yarra which runs through Brisbane. I'm sure it was a similar scene to that which I'd walked past every evening but on this occasion I took it all in.

There was no point dreaming about the what if's last night because I'd just seen it happen. The evening before for perhaps the thousandth time in my life I had imagined a brave England rearguard action. But for the first time ever what actually occurred surpassed what I had dared to dream. I'd hoped for six wickets at the end of play and we ended up with nine. I'd hoped to win two sessions we'd won three. I'd hoped we land a couple of blows to the Aussies and at the end it looked as though we'd knocked them out.

As the clock ticked past seven pm in Australia and across the world in chilly England people started to wake up deliriously happy texts started arriving in my phone. They were from excited family members who'd approached Ceefax or the internet with trepidation. As I slowly made my way back to my hostel I basked in my surroundings & in the glow of contention. I might have been feeling crabby last week, I might have been questioning my desire this week but now I was feeling damn fine.

Captain Cook

You gotta love Alastair Cook. He took charge against Bangladesh earlier in the year so that Andrew Strauss would be fresh for the Ashes. A gamble that looks to have paid off so far. He then struggled through the summer and even had some doubting whether he should start against the Aussies. But he hit a half century in the first innings and look. here he is celebrating his second Ashes century earlier today.

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And here's the crowd on their feet applauding his accomplishments. Can't see too many complaining that he shouldn't have played.

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And it says a lot about the man that he took time out to come up and pose for photos with the fans shortly afterwards. What a great guy.

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Oh and in case you missed it here's a photo of Michael Clarke looking at his arm accusingly after he dropped Jonathan Trott late in the day.

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The record stand

To appreciate the highs you need first to have experienced the lows. And today has more than made up for the stresses and strains I've put myself under over the last three days. At times I wonder if the importance I place on sport is too high that I simply care too much. Actually, I know I care too much, but sometimes I wonder whether it's actually worth it.

When England were 125 for 4 in the first innings and throughout yesterdays two opening sessions I underwent a fair amount of soul-searching. Sitting in the stands looking down on the action for hours on end allows plenty of time for reflection. At times I even wondered if this is really what I want to be doing with my life. Apart from family and friends for months on end with the highs and lows of emotion linked to events on a cricket field. Sure it's nice to be in the sun, yes, I'm lucky to be paid to do what I do but do I really want to travel thousands upon thousands of miles to watch England lose another Ashes series 5-0? Well, after watching a miraculous days play unfold I can confidently say that I won't have to.

To wax lyrical about a day where England fought their way back into a position of parity rather than domination may appear to lose the point slightly. But it is the manner in which they have battled back on four separate occasions that has inspired me. Firstly to come back from Strauss's third ball duck in the first innings and two quick wickets to get themselves to 194 for 4. Then to haul Australia back twice in their innings from 78 for 0 to 143 for 5 & again from 450 for 5 to 481 all out. Coming through the final hour last night unscathed and then today's performance. It sends out the message to the Aussies that no matter how many times you knock us down we're going to come right back at you. It speaks volumes for us and says just as much about them. To pick yourself up off the canvass once against the Aussies of four years ago would have been impressive to do it four times would never have happened.

But back to the present and after spending the first two sessions in exactly the same spot I finally ventured up to the stands to watch the final passage of play with Nathan. He'd tipped us to score 550 and win the game last night and England are closer to his prediction than mine. It was stirring stuff to sit in the gods, one eye on the action, one eye on the scoreboard as Trott and Cook made merry. Despite the gloom that covered the Gabba all day today and forced the players off for bad light the future looks bright. This series is well and truly alive and I'm happy to be following it!

But one word of warning as I wait for Ricky Ponting to stop shouting at his players and allow one of them to attend the end of play press conference. Today has been my third greatest day of Ashes cricket in Australia. At one and two were the first two days at Adelaide where we racked up 550 and had the wicket of Justin Langer at close. The Aussies battled back though and going into day five I went to the Adelaide Oval with a book under my arm awaiting the certain draw. Like today England were leading by less than one hundred with 9 wickets in hand and the only batsmen dismissed then as now was Strauss. I don't need to go over what happened on that final days play because I still can't really talk about it. But rest assured the paperback will be left behind in the hostel when I make my way to the ground tomorrow.

I'm still standing

Due to the location of my computer I have to stand if I want to watch the action on the pitch. It means I've been on my feet for the last four hours. I'm glad that's the only thing I have to complain about today!

Before play I figured England would need to win two sessions and draw one at the very least if they were to come out of the day with any chance of saving the game. I've just been listening to Shane Warne and Tony Greig discuss the highest 4th innings totals a team has reached to win at the Gabba. As turnarounds go it's been one of the most astounding and if you're an Aussie unexpected. Even if we do draw this last session we'll have a 100 lead and will only need to bat for another session and a half.

Not that I'm going to start leaving through the record books just yet. With the new ball available after tea it's make or break time for both sides. It's the last one England will have to face unless they bat through for another 80 overs. And if they do that they'll be safe. I can't believe the Aussies are going to bow out without any fight. Although as I speak the sun appears to be coming out for the first time today. And that's not a sight that Ricky Ponting will want. They'll be some big questions at the end of play today and some even bigger answers in this last session of play. Now Strauss is out I'm going to venture out to sit with Nathan. I'm still standing.

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Stand up if you still believe!

Anyone call for England's largest opening stand at the Gabba?

Superstition plays a huge part in cricket. My mate Graham who is working here for Aussie radio has brought about the downfall of three batsmen by complementing them moments before they departed. And seconds before Xavier Doherty grassed Alastair Cook in the first innings praised him for the size of his hands. With England going along nicely in the opening session I've refused to speak to him.

The other unwritten rule is that when things are going well you don't move from the spot you are watching from. I had intended to join Nathan in the stands for the opening session but felt obliged to stick it out in the press room once Strauss and Cook got going. I'm not sure of the rules and whether I am allowed to move seats during a lunch or tea interval. But I'm not taking any chances.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Looking for lady luck

By the time I had made my way back to my hostel last night I had once again convinced myself of England's valiant rearguard action to save this Test. After a soul destroying first two sessions which once again left me considering my life options five quick Aussies wickets and a six-for Finn gave us a glimmer. Then surviving a nail-biting final hour when Strauss came within an inch of registering a pair at least gave me the opportunity to enjoy my evening entertainment.

Though the comeback (of sorts) was a case of 'after the horse has bolted' by restricting the lead to around 200 we've got a chance to make them bat again and maybe even use up enough time to salvage an unlikely draw. But for that to happen we're going to have to have more than our fair share of the luck that the Aussies enjoyed yesterday.

And last night's good spirits were also fuelled by a few VB's last night as I met up with my Shanks team mate Damo and alongside him and Nathan we dissected the days play. Nathan has become Mr Optimistic and was even talking about going for the win. But we're all realistic to know that unless we can get to the end of play with a minimum of five wickets still in the bag this is going to be Australia's Test.

Today's play is going to be one of two things nerve-wracking or depressing. What a choice. Throughout yesterday's first two sessions it did occur to me that I don't actually have to put myself through all this.

Only rain can save Australia now (a reprise)

You know things are bad when you make the decision to catch up on all the errands you have been putting off for ages rather than watch the cricket. By the way, I would now happily take 550 and unremitting rain for the next two and a half days.

I’ve just spent the last two hours sitting in the gods with Nathan pondering life and working out whether I really want to travel around Australia watching us getting stuffed again. I think the answer to that is no. I have now been waiting for a wicket for over a day.

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The Aussies talk about making their opponents suffer mental disintegration. As I write Haddin & Hussey are striding out to bat for the third time today and I am close to reaching it.

The worm has turned

I would just like to clarify that I would still happily take 350.

After we were blitzed by Siddle on day one I tried to look at the picture rationally. Figuring we still had to bowl and until we did that it was tough to know just how good a batting surface this Gabba pitch is a score of 260 was perhaps not too far short of par. I also knew that it was two or three inspired bowling spells in the last Ashes that swung it our way. And our response the following day justified my way of thinking.

It’s now lunch on day three following a session where Hussey & Haddin somehow got through unscathed and it’s tough to see a way back into this Test for England. Quick afternoon wickets and getting to stumps only one or two wickets down is the best I can think of. Surely we can make the Aussies bat again?

The other aspect in every sporting encounter is the way luck is evened out throughout a series. And biased though I am it was incredible how much of it the Aussies had in that session. Hussey was given out when he shouldn’t then reprieved when he shouldn’t. Haddin was dropped, nearly chopped on and drove airily past or in front of cover fielders on three separate occasions. While the spell of bowling by Jimmy Anderson was one of the best I’ve ever seen from him on an unremarkable bowling surface. Time after time he went past the outside of the bat or jagged it through the gate. It’s tough to take but I feel our time will come, maybe not in this game but at some point. Let’s hope it’s not too late before luck swings back our way.

And fair play to the two Aussies who strode out at the start of play and who batted their team into what should be a winning position. Hussey’s reaction to his century reminded me of David Beckham’s against Argentina in the 2006 World Cup. It was almost as though he was celebrating winning the damn thing. But considering the amount of stick he’s received out here it’s not surprising. The outpouring of emotion was touching. I hope his is the only Aussie whose smiling image adorns the papers tomorrow.

Frustration Street

It’s the hope that kills you. I walked back from the Gabba last night daydreaming of Ian Bell & Kevin Pietersen stretching England’s lead past the 250-mark. How Australia had been knocked over in the morning session with a small first innings lead that had been quickly overturned by lunch. I think I should get out more.

There can be nothing more frustrating than watching a game being taken away from you. Run by run & minute by minute it moves further away step-by-step. You can see it disappearing over the horizon. And while the hope & interest remains I know it will soon be replaced by resignation and acceptance of fate.

It’s been compounded this morning by a first half an hour where England deserved to take two or wickets with Jimmy Anderson bowling a spell reminiscent of the one Dale Steyn hurled down at Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell last winter. Somehow they survived that onslaught and went on to save the game. Australia will be hoping to go one better.

As the Aussies go past our score of 260 and with Brad Haddin starting to free his arms it’s a case of how long and how many. Before their innings an Aussie total of 350 seemed as good as we could hope for. And I think I’d still take that now.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Udders

Before last years Ashes I confidently stated the case that England could only beat Australia if Kevin Pietersen had a good series. He limped out after two games without a telling contribution. But by late August I was celebrating watching England win the Ashes at the Oval.

Before this series I pointed to the implementation of UDRS as a key factor in our chances of winning on Aussie soil. For now there would be no homer decisions by Rudi Koertzen to add impotent rage to the misery of defeat.

However if it wasn't for UDRS Anderson would be one short of a five-for now and Australia six down. And if England hadn't lost a referral when Michael Clarke edged behind (picked up on snicko but as it's not part of the decision making process it couldn't be used) they'd have no doubt referred the plumb LBW decision turned down by Aleem Dar against Michael Hussey.

We'll know by lunch how crucial these two decisions were.

History doesn't always repeat itself

People who don’t like cricket often make the mistake in assuming that the worst thing that can happen in the game is for it to last five days and still up in a draw. They are wrong. For while watching a five day batting-fest can test the sanity of anyone the worst thing about cricket is when two completely uneven teams face each other in a three of five-match series.

For the weaker nation survival is the only result possible while for stronger a heavy victory is expected and the accomplishments that help achieve it are devalued. Matches often end up featuring long passages of play where the dominant team bats itself into dominance (usually in their second innings on day three) and the drudgery of the spectacle and the inevitability of the result is played out for hours on end in front of listless crowds.

Watching England lose 5-0 against Australia last time around was a well documented affair. But only the pain of watching their remarkable win on day five in Adelaide unfold compares with the sheer bloody boredom and frustration I felt watching them plunder easy runs on days one, two and four at the Gabba, of the ease that they knocked us over in Melbourne and the way they batted us out the game in Perth. That was pain of an entirely different kind. It was morale sapping, draining and bloody boring.

Two days into this series and you could argue that Australia are only one and a half sessions up. It’s been the type of cricket where you don’t want to stop watching for a second with so much going on and with the pressure unrelenting. I’ve lost count of the amount of people who’ve mentioned the twists and turns that are sure to arrive between now and Sydney.

England have proven today, and at times even yesterday, that they are up for the fight. After blowing us away last night England’s bowlers have fought back extremely well. Of all the statistics that leap out from the scorecard the one that reads Jimmy Anderson as having bowled nine maidens out of his 21 overs says much about the way England have gone about their task today.

Even in the morning session when Australia lost just the one wicket England refused to let them get away. The openers scored slowly and at times uncertainly. Then from the 2nd ball of the middle session it was payback for the England bowlers. Sitting up in the stands with Nathan (who finally cracked into a smile) it was the most enjoyable display of Ashes bowling I’ve seen by England away from home. Although admittedly this isn’t saying much.

An even a strong rearguard action from Michael Hussey in the final hours play and a sudden downpour couldn’t dampen spirits. Although Strauss would have loved a crack with the new ball in fading light it might be a good thing that the English can rest up ahead of taking the new ball tomorrow. They put in a real shift today. The Ashes looked a long way away this time yesterday but even if England do go on to lose this Test. They’ve shown enough to prove they have enough about them to make Australia’s aim of regaining the Urn a tough prospect indeed.

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Sweet Pete (but not from Tooting Beec)

It’s lunch on day two and I’m back in the hutch. Spent the morning with Nathan who is still refusing to let positivity enter his life and that’s despite his view changing from this yesterday.

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To this today.

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“All I asked for was for this Test not to be decided at the end of the first day and that doesn’t look like it’s happened” he groaned. I tried to rally him promising a wicket after the first drinks spell and was immediately rewarded as Billy Doctrove gave Simon Katich out LBW. He looked like he was going to walk then decided to refer it and he’s still in now. A four off the next ball and my mood had darkened to that of Nathan’s. A sloppy misfield in the next over which granted the Aussies two free runs and got the crowd on the English backs and I feared the wheels were about to come off.

But they didn’t and a tight spell from Jimmy was eventually rewarded when Watson edged to Strauss at slip who can be applauded for the catch and the decision to keep with Anderson despite him appearing to tire.

The first session was the third tight one of the game and it’s only due to sweet Pete that the game is so heavily in Australia’s favour. But we’ll need another if we’re to keep in it and I’m more than aware that the last time I was here I saw Ricky Ponting fall four short of a double hundred. I pray he doesn’t come close to emulating that today else it’ll be 1-0 down heading to Adelaide.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Welcome to the Gabbatoir

I walked away from my 23rd consecutive day of Ashes cricket in Australia with the thought that very little changes. Another day in the sun another day under the cosh. Considering how the day had panned out though I was in surprisingly chipper mood as I walked the 45-minute journey back to my hostel with laptop, camera, recording equipment and broken sunglasses weighing me down. No wonder I end up losing weight on these trips. By the time I’m posing for my wedding snaps I’ll have shed at least a stone.

No matter how you look at it - it had been an exceptional day of cricket. England won the toss to spark wild scenes of abandon in the press box by the Aussie journalists. After Nasser Hussain’s Brisbane moment in 2002 & Ricky Ponting’s Edgbaston nightmare in 2005 they knew full well that whichever captain called correctly would have no choice but to bat first. And with the overcast conditions this could backfire.

The hoots of derision re-appeared minutes later when once again England’s unremarkable start to Ashes campaigns began with Strauss departing third ball to stun us all. It was a moment that saw us playing catch up for the first two sessions. Although I think we did so admirably. There’s a lot of mental toughness within this set up. And we’re going to need it if we’re going to win a Test let alone the series. But a stunning piece of bowling in the final session a’la Broad at The Oval last year swung the contest decidedly Australia’s way.

Up until Siddle’s divine intervention the game was still in the balance and England in as good a position as I fear they will be in again in this match. After lunch I’d joined my mate Nathan in the stands and with the sun burning down on the Gabbatoir it looked as though we’d survived what is usually a testing first session and could almost dream about a decent total around the 350-mark. I then made the mistake of saying that KP looked in ominous form shortly before he airily drove at a full ball from Peter Siddle.

The following over and Collingwood also departed and my mood flattened. For the first time I seriously contemplated having to trawl round Australia watching another England whitewash. It was deflating stuff.

Chewing my knuckles back to the bone I fidgeted in my seat under both sun & rain as beach balls bounced about us from all angles. I’d forgotten how the Aussies amused themselves when the action was slow pitch side. And as tea approached England seemed to gain some control as Cook and Bell appeared comfortable. However it was the birthday boy who’d have the final say.

I have to say that as Siddle walked back to his mark and Matt Prior back to his dressing room part of me wanted to see him take a hat-trick. The crowd had generated an atmosphere that had even managed to perforate the enclosed, air-conditioned press room. 35,000 fans were on their feet, clapping, shouting and demanding a third wicket. There wasn’t a beachball in sight as Siddle turned on his marker and began running in.

Afterwards he admitted he was aiming for the top of off he ended up hitting Stuart Broad flush on the toe and the subsequent referral only gave the Ausssies a second chance to celebrate a breathtaking piece of bowling.

And a bumper day of action meant I had much to muse on as I strode home amongst some serious pissed people. It seems hat-tricks have a positive effect on you it seems even when they’re against you. And as I finally made it back to my hostel with aching back I expected to find Nathan in similar spirits.

When I’d left him he was waxing lyrical about Ian Bell and how only a lack of partners would prevent him getting a century. He was nearly right on that one. But the Nathan I now found was crestfallen and dare I say it, ready to chuck the towel in? On his long walk home he’d already decided not to bother with the £300 fare to Perth. He’s only been in the country two days and is already thinking of going home. That’s the effect watching England play cricket in Australia can have on you.

Feeling crabby

Have you ever wanted something so badly that it possessed your body and your soul through the night and through the day. Until you finally get it and then you realise it wasn't what you wanted after all. And those selfsame, sickly little thoughts now go and attach themselves to something or somebody new and the whole goddam thing starts all over again. 'True happiness this way lies' by The The

I had been away for ten days when it happened. I was on my own, caught up in my own world, busily trying to take a photograph of a small crab as it scuttled over a rock in Gordon’s Bay when it finally happened. I relaxed. It was a nice moment on a nice day and it had been an unusually long time coming.



Last year Fe & I spent a week in Cyprus to celebrate/recover from her MA completion and to reward ourselves after an incredibly tough year. After arriving at our hotel in the evening we woke early the following morning and spent our first day on a sun-lounger by a pool with a book and a beer.

For one hour it was great, for two hours it was great, but by hour three I started getting edgy. I just found it impossible to stop my brain whizzing along at ten-to-the-dozen. Despite the surroundings & the fact I'd been longing for a lounging for months I found myself getting stressed, really stressed. As you can imagine Fe was delighted by this turn of events.

It ended up taking me two days of wall climbing before I finally unwound. And of course, before I knew it I was sitting on the plane homeward bound wondering what all the fuss was.

This time around it’s taken even longer and I’m still not where I want to be. I thought I’d be right back in the swing of things by now. Up until a day ago the Aussies were seemingly on their knees awaiting the cry “Orf with their heads!” I’ve a week in Sydney fresh in the memory banks and apart from the showers that greeted my arrival in Auckland, Sydney and Brisbane the weather has been everything it isn’t back home. But just like back in Cyprus I’m still struggling.

Casting an eye over the itinerary I have compiled for my three month trip the only free time before I get married has just gone. When I’m up watching the Aussies win the Ashes, against a deadline or dragging my kit around Perth in the blazing heat I know full well I will look back at that week and wonder what the hell I was up to.

Things did start well, for after spending a couple of days in Auckland with my mother-in-law to be I arrived in Sydney a week last Sunday to be greeted by my old schoolmate and former partner in grime Tomson. Since we’d last seen each other back in February, 2008 he’d undergone some changes in his life. He’s moved from the beaches of Manly to the suburbs of Summer Hill where he now lived with his new girlfriend, Michelle. A woman famed for her liberal use of the 'c' word and a born & bred Aussie.

It quickly became apparent that through a mixture of beauty, charm and an iron will (and possibly blackmail) she’d somehow managed to transform Tom into a metrosexual – albeit one with the start of what will one day be a hugely impressive pot belly. For Tom had quit smoking, gambling and didn’t even moan that much anymore. While in the seven days I stayed with them I’ve never seen a South Londoner do so much cleaning & washing up.

And then there was the devotion to his recently acquired cat. Jeez, that took some getting used to. Public shows of emotion & kindness were never something I’d associated with Tom before. And why should I? He is an Englishman after all. But now, he was forever kissing, hugging & petting either the cat or Michelle. He used to be known as ‘Rude Rees’ for goodness sake. I don’t know what mystical magic Michelle had weaved on him but I decided I would lock my door at night.

Not that everything had changed for while a cat may have nine lives we only have the one and Tom could still knock the drinks back. And there can’t be too many better cities on the planet to conjure up reasons to do just that than in Sydney. For when it wasn’t raining time was spent taking the ferry over to Manly, revisiting Circular Quay, strolling round the Botanical Gardens & Darling Harbour and even popping along to the SCG to take in a bit of State cricket.

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But for some reason I was struggling to let myself go. In the past two trips to Sydney the mere sight of one of its iconic structures would have been enough for me to exhale deeply, slow my pace to a crawl and live in the present rather than furiously plot for tomorrow. Please god, don't tell me I'm turning into one of those people who need to be doing something at every hour of the day to be content.

Actually no, I'm just as laxy as the next person. Unless that next person is Tomson!No, rather it's that I needed more than a week to clear my mind following a year that has involved two new jobs, a South African World Cup, wedding organisations, two trips to Germany, one to Ireland & two stag dos to participate and arrange.

And being apart from Fe in the city that we met has also been difficult. It’s hard not to have constant reminders that she isn’t with me. ‘Oh look, the restaurant where we went on our first date, or the house that she lived in the month we started seeing each other, or her old office where I used to wait for her to finish work, even the bloody SCG made me think of the time we went to the nearby cinema together rather than watch England win a One Day International against Australia in the final of the Commonwealth Bank Series. I think it was at that point back then that I realised we had something serious.

So the chance to get out of Sydney was actually one I welcomed. Come the Friday and the return of the bad weather and me, Tom & Michelle went off on a road trip to Scotland Island. It was a chance to go somewhere new and a place that would definitely not remind me of Fe! Hurrah! And more importantly it was my first visit to my old University friend Newkster Jon’s family home which he shared with his wife Maria and two kids Jasmine & Joey.

The weather on the way up to Scotland Island was pretty bleak (for Sydney) and wouldn’t have been out of place in the Outer Hebrides and it ended up taking us the best part of four hours to get there. It was also a place as far removed from the one I’d met Jonny 16 long years ago.

Cut off from the mainland by a short boat ride, Scotland Ireland as it registered in my brain, is inhabited by less than 300 families. All houses look outwards over the bay and are perched on the side of the hill. There are no shops, little in way of roads, the tap water is collected from the roof, and funnel web spiders lurk outside. But when the view from your bedroom is as good as this then that seems pretty unimportant.

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When the sun shines it's a beautiful island setting and Jonny seems pretty damn content with his lot. He may have to get his feet wet everytime he takes the kids to school or goes to work but he doesn't seem to mind.

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Awaking early the next day after an evening spent playing with the kids, eating $100 worth of BBQ meat and drinking ale I found I’d been savagely attacked in the night. Mosquito’s had descended and my legs, arms and even forehead been targeted. I immediately started treating my wounds but even as I did so a lone chancer caught me unawares and started feasting on the inside of my knee. My leg immediately started to swell up and I felt it go numb all down the front. All of which was fairly disturbing.

I hadn’t mentioned any of this to the others as I stoically got on with applying ointment to my various lumps, bumps and bites. But unfortunately for my excitable mind, Maria chose this moment to mention how her youngest daughter had suffered an anaphylactic shock after a tick bite. Apparently the only symptom she failed to experience was her heart stopping. I immediately added two and two to make the Greek number for PANIC.

Maria continued on saying that since then she now stocked syringes in case it
happened again and how the thigh was the best place to aim for. Part of me thought, hmmm stabbing myself in the thigh wouldn’t be that bad, and the other part of me thought of that scene in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta has to plunge a needle into Uma Thurman’s heart, white frothy puke and all.

Thankfully for everyone concerned there was no need for any life saving measures and after needlessly fretting for a bit I realised that nothing untoward was going to happen and that their was no need for any undue 1990’s messiness which would have left everyone present (and my thigh) scarred for life.

Before long it was time to leave the island and head back to Manly. The sun was out, the kids had a party to go to and we had a date with my favourite beach in all the world.

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And so my final few days in town ended pleasantly, sun-bathing and swimming on Shelly Beach in Manly, snorkelling off Clovelly beach, learning how to use my new camera by pursuing crabs around rock pools and finally another top BBQ with Tom & Michelle & their neighbours.

And while it’s true that my Sydney experience this time around didn’t quite match the relaxation stakes of years gone by. Considering the next time I’ll be in town is when the 5th and final Ashes Test takes place and all that entails. It could be that I find myself longing for the simpler days when all I had to worry about was my knee ballooning to twice its size and whether my heart was about to explode.

Here we go again.......

Four years ago I was in Brisbane on the evening before the start of the Ashes. With my drinking buddies on the main strip in the centre of town I bade them an early farewell so excited was I about what was to come the following day. I didn't want to wake up hungover so left proceedings early after just a couple of beers and I pretty much danced my way back to the hostel.

Fast forward to 2010 and the scene has been a familiar one. But that kid on the night before Christmas feeling just wasn't present. Every text I got from the UK asking about my levels of excitement only served to highlight the fact that I wasn't as beside myself with nervous glee as I had been four years previous.

I mentally ticked off the miriad of reasons why this should be, the lack of novelty aspect, the absence of Fe, the mental scars of that 5-0 drubbing and the fact that this is now my fourth tour. All of which made sense but didn't really sit right. Maybe I'll get that flush of joy when I awake I reasoned. But I didn't. In fact my intial thought upon waking was that I could do with a bit more sleep.

I got to the ground early noting the queues that had snaked up the road in 06/07 were noticeably shorter. I set my equipment up in the press box, got a cup of tea and watched the opening ceremony. I felt removed from the action.

And then in the third delivery of the day, the Test and the series, Andrew Strauss cut Ben Hilfenhaus straight to Michael Hussey in the gulley. I was standing in line with both players and couldn't have had a more perfect view. Watching it made me feel physically sick. Now that's more like it.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The age old question

Unwanted experiences in youth hostelling no.464 – Last night I walked into my room and the first thing I saw was a naked, pale elderly bottom which peered up at me from the underneath of a far too short sleeping gown. “Ooh” remarked its 60 year old owner. Apparently surprised that I had walked in at precisely the moment he was leaning forward to study himself in the bathroom mirror.

Unwanted experiences in youth hostelling no.465 – “Have you ever seen the film A Clockwork Orange?” He asked me as I was leaving the room this morning. I replied that I had wondering why he was bringing it up and trying to work out if he had intended the menacing tone in which he had posed the question. His chin was covered in shaving foam and he brandished a razor. “Kinda disturbing in a profoundly violent & wicked way, don’t ya think?” He said, eye-balling me as I passed him on the way out.

I love youth hostels. Without them I wouldn’t have remembered how fucking weird old people can be.