Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Aussies

In general, I didn't find the people as annoying (or backward) as I thought I would. I expected the Melburnians to be a more sophisticated lot, and they were, but the rest of them weren't too bad. Not too much of the inherent racism I was expecting, either; although a police chief recently responded to recent racist attacks in rougher suburbs of Melbourne by suggesting the minorities "avoid displying signs of wealth, or speaking loudly in foreign languages". Nice to see a tough reaction to the thugs.

Bob, Grant's (my sister's husband) dad, was an amsing character. He was what I'd expect a typical older Aussie bloke to be like. He was the first person I heard say "Fair dinkum", for example. But he summed up the insular attitude of most Australians, who aren't great travellers, despite your thoughts when ordering a pint in London, when he said to me "Why would I need to travel, when I have paradise on earth here?" He's been to Sydney once. He even thought the beer was the best in the world, despite me saying that's because he'd tried nothing else. A nice bloke, though...with a fascinating collection of old bakelite radios from the turn of the century onwards. Sadly, I didn't get chance to take a few photos...some of them were beautiful. He also has a mint 1970s MGB GT which he's never driven, on stilts in his garage. Looks like new, I can't understand it? But that's where Grant gets it from, he has two Dodge Chargers in his garage which he never drives. Insane.

I lost count of the people I met who had never been outside of Adelaide. I couldn't get my head around that. One bloke even asked me "So...why are you travelling?" That just reminds me of the late Bill Hicks being asked What You Reading For?

Australian Media

The TV here is truly awful. They have a few decent shows, most notably Underbelly, which is about a high profile gang war in Melbourne. The trouble is, there are adverts every 5 minutes, much like in the States. And it's usually the same ads. Over and over again. So you have to watch cable, or rent DVDs.

The ads are pretty sexist at times, though quite amusing. Women would be burning their bras at home at the sight of them. Car hire companies joke at the skills of women drivers, and the like. One amusing ad I wish I'd taken a shot of was for a mobile phone network. Split in two, the ad showed a grinning teenage couple checking their phones. The strapline was "Booty Call?" Brilliant.

Listening to the radio in Adelaide made me chuckle. One show had a competition, with two callers. The DJ warmed them up with the usual questions, but then included ones like "What's your favourite bunk-off excuse when you wake up still pissed?" and "What's the worst shit you've ever landed yourself in with your girlfriend?" Aunty Beeb would be mortified. Makes that fat blob off Radio One look tame.

The worst aspect of the media concerned the handling of the bushfires in Victoria. The incident was pretty horrific, and 200-odd people died. But they dragged it on and on, the papers just full of it. The news interviews were set to melancholy music which made me gag. Why do that? There was much criticism that the press were homing in on people who had just lost everything, for those tearful and vulnerable interviews. Surely there was a more tasteful way to do it. 400 Chinese miners died in a gas explosion recently, and I can imagine there wasn't the same hand-wringing. They'd just get on with it. The services at the Melbourne Cricket Ground were not well-attended...and featured the same melancholy tunes and even chiming bells in the background to the speeches. The sight of the PM's (crocodile?) tears at one service seemed a little too much... It all seems a little too Americanized, and even Australians I spoke to were concerned about the standard of their media. Seems I have to go away to appreciate ours.

Where's The Humanity?

Two stories struck me, while in Australia, about selfish human beings. The first was one my sister had told me, about a nurse she knows at one of the hospitals she works at. This woman had run over another woman a few months previously, in a pretty horrific case of Driving With Undue Care and attention. She died instantly, caught up in the wheels of the car. The case was still ongoing, when she was overheard complaining to her son about the inquest "If only this bloody woman realised the inconvenience she's causing me?" To which her son caustically replied "I'd have thought, Mum, that running over and killing someone would have made you a better person." Well said.

The other case was that of a Kiwi climber who fell to his death on a mountain. His partner was obviously distraught, and it was going to take some time for the authorities to recover his body. The dead climber had the rental car's keys in his backpack, and the other climber had to find another way home. The rental company, bless them, saw fit to charge for the vehicle for each day it was over the hire period. To cap it all, the woman who ran the guest house they were due to stay at that weekend wanted paying for the two days they'd booked.

Isn't the world a lovely place? Makes you feel all warm inside, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Joel's Dad's Boat

By far my best day out in Adelaide was on the abovementioned catamaran. A morning start down at the marina, and off into the blue. Dad and Joel's old fella were boring each other with Boat Stuff (well, boring myself and Joel, anyway). Joel and myself just enjoyed the view.

The sails got caught at one point, and I scrambled up to sort it out. The sea was a bit choppy, and that, coupled with the strong wind, made it a little hairy. As I started to stand down, I nearly lost my balance. I wasn't worried about falling in, as we'd seen a pod of dolphins alongside the boat ten minutes earlier. I said they usually keep sharks away from people, so there would be no danger. Then Joel's dad told me that wherever dolphins are, sharks follow...they're after the same fish. Ah. Jolly glad I didn't fall in, then. A shark had killed a bloke a few weeks before I arrived. 20 metres from shore, and it took him in front of his son. Nasty way to go.

We went a fair old way out, and it was a few hours before we landed back at the marina. I'd not put any sunscreen on, and had some nice sunglasses marks on my face. Schoolboy error.

The next incident backs up my opinion of this city. When back at the berth, Dad's hat got blown into the water. We had to cross the bridge so he could wait for the current to return it to shore. So he's there, balancing on some rocks and then up to his knees in water trying to retrieve said hat. A group of lads sat down to watch, thinking they were about to see a 60-year-old man make a tit of himself (me, too) by going in the drink. Alas, not...hat was grabbed without a splash. The spectators got up to go.

"He'll go in next time, hopefully" I said to one of them.
"Ah, no worries mate" he grinned "it was a good watch, anyway."


Want Some Culture?

Then don't go to Hahndorf in South Australia. Myself and Jocky went to check it out. It's a little German village in the sticks. And it's about as authentic as a pair of sneakers on the Kho San Road in Bangkok. There's no Germans here (why am I complaining?) and I didn't see so much as a mullet, a pair of sandals with socks, or lederhosen, all day. Jocky remarked that the whole street looked like the one in Blazing Saddles which is just fake shopfronts with nothing behind them. We ate, drank (beer was nice, though...I'm not a complete miserablist)...and got the fuck out of there.

Adelaide: The City That Always Sleeps

Arriving at Adelaide just after New Year, it was lovely to be greeted at the airport by the family. Mum and Dad are out visiting my sister, Emma, who is marrying an Aussie named Grant. I didn't know they were getting married while I was there, but suspected she would. My nephews Max (9) and Lewis (18) were there, as well as my niece, Eryn (6). Lewis had brought his girlfeiend Elisha along, too. After getting over the initial shock of Max now speaking with an Australian twang (he'd held out for years) we headed for the car. Just Eryn and our Emma flying the flag aurally, then.

Adelaide should be renamed Aridaide. It's dry as a bone. Driving through the valley to the slightly less yellow hills, I thought it looks how I'd imagine the drier areas of California. It's a bit greener in Flagstaff where Emma lives, though.

There's not much to do in Adelaide; its a place famed for churches and vineyards. I'm interested in the latter. Lewis took me to a few bars in town, but there's no hip area the likes of which you'd find in UK cities of the same size. I mean, even Preston's had the odd cool bar over the years. Adelaide just feels like a hick American town on the drinking front, just lots of sports bars and the like. And some of the time there's No Trainers rules at them. Sorry, forgot to bring trousers and shoes to backpack around the globe. The pool halls were just full of strutting youths with their chest out giving you their best menacing stare. I'm not a fan, as you can probably see.

My best days were spent down the beach with my parents, and Jocky when he turned up later. Glenelg's is not too clever, full of teenagers giving it the large one. But Brighton, Seacliff and Christies (a little further out of town) are pretty enough. The fish and chips at Brighton are excellent, too. On some days, the water was nearly as tepid as Thailand. Especially on the days it hit 47 degrees.

Another place to visit is McClaren Vale; a huge swathe of vineyards and olive groves. I bought some delicious wines here, along with a bottle of cold-pressed olive oil infused with lime. Made short work of those. You can drink at every vineyard, and there's no pressure to buy. I bought a few too many. Always preferred the Old World wines, but the Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs I tried were great. Apparently a few of them use Italian vines; that's probably why.

As the doctor had ordered me to lay up and not leave for 6 weeks, the afternoons could drag sometimes. Anything you want to see around the area is a fair old drive. The city itself and suburbs can soon start boring you to tears. I was happy when the occassional thing turned up, like the open air cinema (even if the film, "Two Hands" with Heath Ledger was just about the worst flick I've seen. They wouldn't be lamenting him passing if that had been his last movie).

Helping the days pass was Joel, Emma's neighbour. A top bloke with a mad passion for model aeroplanes. The flying type, that is. And he'd potter round his garage with these while I drank beer and smoked weed. It was a haven from Em's when the family started bickering occasionally. Not that they did much, but Mum and Dad had been there 3 months visiting, and everyone spending a lot of time together led to the odd raised word. It happens, eh? Like a long Christmas Day.

Despite that, seeing them all together was great. Home cooking, and a few drinks round the BBQ with the neighbours. It certainly was lucky for me I was due there, what with the broken ribs. Nice to be nursed back by family.

Catching Up With An Old Friend In Sydney

Well, escaping Singapore after a great time in Asia (on the whole), it was time to head for the relative calm of Australia. Starting in Sydney with a nice unpacking session with some dour Customs types. I'd admitted I had some shells from various countries; the regulations are strict on bringing in anything organic, and the fines are huge if items are not declared. The chap didn't seem too impressed with these, and decided to have a look at my dirty Calvin Kleins along with the rest of my belongings. He wasn't the first to nonchalantly cast them aside. The staff of Ko Samui International Hospital beat him to that privilege. "Diver, are you?" he quizzed, while pulling my mask and regulator octopus out of the bag. I resisted the almost overpowering urge to compliment him on his Sherlock Holmes-like qualities, and suggest a career change...but I limited my response to a simple Yes. My brother had been through Aussie Customs once, and got a full strip-search. If they didn't like the look of him (and he's better-looking than me), I wasn't going to tempt Fate. Only had a finger up my bum once, and didn't really like it that time to be honest.

Australia's greatest living detective out of the way, I made my way to the train. Museum stop was next, south of St James's Park in the city. My old mate Bruce lives here; I worked with him in London; lunchtime boozing and afternoons staring at a monitor and not getting much done. So I was expecting more of the same behaviour. Without the work element.

Bruce's flat is amazing. A penthouse on Goulbourn with a huge L-shaped roof terrace (on which he was to have a party I'd be missing) and officially the best shower in the world. Well it certainly felt like it after 3 months of cold or inefficient ones (sometimes both). Suitably refreshed, we headed out to the nearest decent pub. Fish and chips and a few pints in a nicely-designed boozer round the corner. Sorted.

Sydney's OK. I don't think I could live there, though. Didn't really inspire me on a cultural or architectural level. I was only there for 4 days, it'll get a second chance on the way back through. The Opera House left me cold...looks better on TV. I still love the honeycomb surfaces of its sail-shaped roof, but the concrete looks dirty and tired. The rest of that side of the harbour doesn't hold anything of interest. The bridge is impressive, though; looked particularly good at New Year when we went down for the fireworks. And the harbour bar would be nice on a hot day. Aside from that, the city doesn't have too many modern buildings to catch the eye.

Paddington is by far the best place to go for a drink, and it's a little bit more stylish than the rest of it; a few good shops and boutiques. The houses are very pretty, and there were a fair few decent pubs. Like I say, the jury's out...we'll see in May. I expect more of Melbourne, as the best of the Aussies I met in London gravitated from there.

The beaches are lovely, though. So if you can make do with a lack of anything to stimulate the culture nerves and like the outdoor lifestyle, you'd like it here. Bronte Beach was the best of the ones I saw, and myself and The Jock had a great afternoon being battered by big waves crashing in. And the view on the sand isn't bad, either. Sexier bodies than you see down in Brighton, in the main.

A mate of Jocky's told me about a taxi driver who'd quizzed him when he arrived in Sydney. Where are you from? Where are you going? Who with? On informing him that he'd arrived with his girlfriend, the driver told him "Awwww, mate! That's like taking a hamburger to a barbecue..."

Very amusing...

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Rubbing It In

Far be it from me to look smug when I read the weather forecasts for Dear Old Blighty. Far from it, old chap. Perish the thought. Speaking of perishing, I don't half laugh when watching the football: that's when it really sinks in, the temperatures I'm avoiding. I'm watching Liverpool v Chelsea right now, at 2.45am local time. It's been 40+ degrees of dry heat all day. I've been to the beach. Again. The remnants of a fine Shiraz lingers, not for much longer, and I've just smoked some nice bit of homegrown. So to see Benitez and Scolari wandering up and down the touchline at a freezing Anfield in their big coats; every other head in the crowd sporting a woolly hat; the beer belches hanging in the air as clouds, the steaming does tickle me a bit. Especially when Garfield reports they had snow in Hackney last night. Be cold on the way to sign on tomorrow, mate? Enjoy!