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Published: October 18th 2010
Ok, first, just quickly: www.sportisglobal.blogspot.com - there was one last week and there'll be another on Thursday, you know the drill. Please keep reading, follow it, link to it, share it, however it all works, and without the aid of any technology whatsoever, tell all your friends. Thank you!
Guilty as charged. In my last entry, I set out to pick and choose some contrasting elements of the Australian experience, but instead produced an entirely negative diatribe about all that has irked me since touching down 11 months ago. Perhaps I was in a bad mood that day; I forget. While I take back not one word of what I wrote, I must thank Jon Clemson and others for their advice, and act accordingly by accentuating the positive. Therefore, here are Five Things I Love About Australia. N.B. I love Sarah, of course, but a) You don't want to hear all about that again, and b) I don't love her because she's Australian, indeed I learnt to love her in England, therefore she is not a Thing That I Love About Australia. Is that ok, honey?
Let's get this one out of the way, shall we? Australia is a sport mad nation, and even by Australian standards Melbourne is a sport mad city. From our bedroom window I can see the sports precinct: The MCG, AAMI Park, Rod Laver Arena, Flinders Park, Hisense Arena, Olympic Park and the Lexus Centre. In an area the size of Hyde Park (that's a complete guess) you have more national and international facilities than can be found in the whole of London. There's more throughout the city: Albert Park, Etihad Stadium, Parkville and Altona host elite motorsport, AFL, hockey/netball/basketball and baseball respectively. Since I've been here I've watched all of those, plus tennis, cricket, football, cycling and athletics, with swimming and ice hockey at national venues still to come. Down the road is Phillip Island, motorcycle Mecca; I didn't make it yesterday but that's a long weekend for the diary, with penguins too!
I don't JUST watch though. I've just completed the hockey season with Knox, and summer league starts soon. I'm now a qualified tennis line judge (and trainee chair umpire) and will be working at The Open in January - nowhere else on the planet is such a short route to elite officiating available. And, AND... Sarah and I have taken up lawn bowls! We've got our second lesson on Wednesday, and the club are VERY excited about such young new members. Did I mention that a group of us took a crash course in curling last month? Curling! Awesome.
You see, it's not just the quantity of sport, it's the accessibility. Distance and cost are largely taken out of the equation, but I think it's something about the ethos of the city that inspires you to get involved. In 30 years as a sports fan in England I never went to Wimbledon or Silverstone. I did the tennis at Birmingham and Nottingham, and enjoyed a few motoring events, but the nation's flagship sporting moments seemed the preserve of the very rich in suits and bow ties, or the borderline insane in sleeping bags and woolly hats. In Melbourne, though, I'd attended grand slam tennis and grand prix racing before I'd completely unpacked. As for test cricket, the price discrepancy between the 100,000-capacity 'G and Edgbaston, let alone Lord's, is simply laughable.
We ate out last night with Sarah's folks. Excellent, it was, and I'd've expected nothing less. We even got chatting with our Welsh waitress about the quality of Melbourne's restaurants compared to those back home - if my scribble on the back of our receipt was remotely legible, she may even be reading this. Essentially the conclusion was that, while in England excellent dining is a privilege, achieved through dumb luck or significant financial outlay, in Melbourne it's seen as a basic human right. The reason that there are few bad restaurants in Melbourne is that, when one opens, nobody goes - why would they? In England we sometimes accept crap food in the name of economy and necessity.
Of course, my taste buds abandoned hope of a discerning education around the time that I learnt to crack an egg directly into a toasted sandwich maker, so I'm taking a lot of this on trust, but the quality of food round here really is excellent. I'll put it down to two things. First you've got your multiculturalism: from the Italians and Greeks 50 years ago to the mass immigration from East Asia more recently, we're surrounded by families cooking just how their mothers did back home, and often charging us less than McDonald's to share it with them; by the same token, different nations have different immigrant blends and Melbourne will never offer me a curry to match those to be found up The Lye. The other reason is produce: Australia is basically one vast farm (with some pretty big mines to pay the bills) so everything you eat is locally grown. There's no shortage of coastline either, so seafood here is as rich in variety as it is in flavour.
The epitomy of all this goodness is Innocent Bystander in Healesville. It's a winery with cellar door (i.e. free tasting area and shop) that's typical of the 100 or so fantastic wineries in Victoria's Yarra Valley alone (Dad, you will LOVE it here...) except that it also has a stunning in house restaurant set among the vats and barrels, with sumptuous cuts of meat that need to be as good as they are to cut the mustard alongside vegetable dishes that even I can enjoy. Oh, and it adjoins the Giant Steps brewery, which makes proper beer with flavour to be enjoyed at room temperature. This is your Sunday to do before you die: winery, farmers market, Coldstream brewery (cider!), winery, Immerse Café for lunch; winery, Giant Steps brewery, winery, Innocent Bystander for dinner. Winery.
In a way, Australia isn't as big it looks. With apologies to Perth, the five main cities are retained if you cut off one corner of the country and ignore the rest. These cities will boast of the '10 hours, minimum' that it takes to drive from one to its neighbour, but if you borrowed the M6 and laid it over the dirt tracks they're using you'd cut that nearly in half. That's fair enough: if there were nothing between London and Edinburgh, then given that both have airports, why build a good road?
In many ways though, to be fair, Australia IS big. Golly, it's big. Let's put Perth back on the map: it's the most isolated city in the world. That's how far it is from Perth to The Rest Of Australia. Somewhere in the middle of all that is Alice Springs, and across the top from left to right are Broome, Darwin and Cairns and these places are just so far from anywhere else at all that I can't wait to go there and see what it feels like to be literally in the middle of nowhere. When I get there I'll see some pretty beautiful stuff, from deserts and oceans to jungle tropics and that big red rock Uluru. Brisbane was great and we're back in Canberra this weekend; I've seen three great Aussie cities and Sydney Opera House still awaits. Great Ocean Road, done; Great Barrier Reef, still to come.
That's what's in Australia covered, but what about what Australia's in? Basically a vast ocean spreading from Africa to America, with Asia to the north and a million islands in between. Life's pretty English here on the whole but then I stop to think about what surrounds us and it's intoxicatingly exotic. Sooner or later I'm going to Fiji, Japan, Malaysia - I feel like Charlotte Church in that advert... Even a simple belated honeymoon on skis in New Zealand seems an impossible dream for now, but did you know that even Wellington isn't the closest capital to Canberra? That's Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. If you've read my other blog (if not, why the hell not?) you'll know how exciting all this map talk is to me, and living here makes that whole topic brand new again.
On top of all that, you've got to love the time difference: I'm relaxing at home right now, and for you it's Monday morning, hahaha!
Let's not get carried away here, ok? Some Like It Hot, but I sure as hell ain't one of 'em, and that hasn't suddenly changed. To quote an earlier blog (which I'll allow myself to do because my friend Nico quoted the line back at me, so it must've been good): "I pretty much cease to function as a human being when the mercury hits 22." Admittedly the reason I'm even here is that Sarah's complaint-to-usefulness ratio tips into negative at anything below 21, but the fact remains: heat is not designed for working hard, for sitting in a stuffy office, or for removing your socks and trainers in the company of loved ones.
But neither is Australia. Summer's on its way, and already I'm looking forward to resuming my ongoing battle with the impossible task of Running In Thongs: at worst I fall over; at best I look like an albino cowboy on hot coals. It's all great fun though, and the alternative is foot odour that make Stilton seem like Babybel. Offices, or any buildings for that matter, aren't stuffy. They're airy, open plan glass affairs with first rate air conditioning; if only opinions as to when it should be switched on weren't three months behind mine. As for working hard: well in one sense it's what Australians are all about - an honest day's labour makes you a modern Aussie knight, your hammer a sword and your ute a trusty steed. This nation knows what heat is really for though, and that's relaxation: swimming in the heat, sitting in the heat, just being in the heat; one part beach cricket to four parts soaking up the rays, an eski of cold stubbies soothing that healthy sweat and a wide brim hat and sunnies making the scorching heat your friend.
I wish I'd been home for that awesomely cold winter last year, but I can't have it both ways. Give it another few weeks and, but for the unpredictable Melburnian torrents that are welcome when they arrive anyway, I'll be spending every day in short sleeves, every evening in short trousers and every weekend in short supply of energy but with a long time to enjoy doing nothing at all.
I left a lot of good people behind in England and it still hurts. I miss my little nephew Ben (another one on the way! go Karen!), my parents (who'd've thought?!), Nana, Granny and all my family. I miss my best mate Ben, and the whole crew that I've known for so long, from Fyfe and Robbie to Mark and Chris. I miss the relentlessly fun army of friends who've filled my life since I rediscovered Clent and Stourbridge in 2005: Ben, again, Si and Jess, Mike, Laura and Katie, Chloë, Siân and Megan ("Too many girls names! Sort it out!") Matt and Adam, Erin, Ash, Haz, Squidge, Scott, Scout, Stokesy, Pete, Nico... I miss the Vine. I miss Greg.
There's no way I'd be sitting here now with my gorgeous fiancé, in our spacious flat, publishing my two proud blogs, feeling healthy and powerful, and with a perfectly acceptable job for the time being at least, were it not for all the people over here who've helped to make Melbourne feel a bit like home.
First there was a ready made family. Neill and Alison have been so welcoming both in personality and sheer tolerant hospitality - we finally moved out on Saturday! Holly and fellow Pommy boyfriend (these Sheldon girls know what they like) Christian were great fun to have around, and now I miss them godamit, after Christian won the argument that I'd lost and they moved to England. It was great to hear of those four meeting my parents over there recently. Then there's young Tom and Mads who are great fun when we get to catch up, and I love being the oldest rocker at Tom's gigs.
Sarah's friends are great, and seem to have condoned the wedding to my not inconsiderable relief. Little Sarah just announced her own nuptials, to Farmer John, a true blue Aussie if ever I saw one, and they might sneakily tie the knot before we do. Jasmine's return from England was a new dawn in fun and laughter, and so far she's an ace housemate. Iole and Nino are going to be my VIP football pals, and Jess and Graham, our Brisbane buddies... well I've been accused of exhibiting a little bit of man love when we get together. Jordan and Amy are a perfect Anglo-Aussie match for enjoying Melbourne while talking about Clent, and were ideal for double dates until they went and got knocked up.
I've made some friends of my own though, too - well I can't watch all that sport alone, can I? Callum is another classic Aussie bloke, and Brett's knowledge of Aussie Rules knows no bounds. Pat shares my passion for sport and beer, and indulges to the last drop. Sof and Seamus bring international flair to this new social landscape, and Jimmy, Tom, Lindsay, Liam and Cale make Boys Night an event well worth regretting. That leaves the two couples who've welcomed us into their exclusive social set, filling my diary with dates and my belly with booze - there's even a pub quiz! Carl and Vicky, and Stuart and Lisa are our go to guys for good old Melbourne fun, and even open their doors so that I can watch cable sport at 3am. Thanks guys.
Carl's from Chesterfield and Stu's from Grimsby. What? Aussies are great, but Poms are better!
Tot: 1.368s; Tpl: 0.077s; cc: 12; qc: 58; dbt: 0.0293s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.5mb