Poll Star's Wonderings

Friday, December 29, 2006

Lost for Words

Not much to say really (hurrah you say); have been at the cricket; Helen has been marvellous-couple of pre-cricket champagne breakfasts were quite the ticket; the Parishes have reached Melbourne; I fly to Sydney tomorrow.

So here is some of Melbourne in pictures:



The MCG



Fed Square



Practice makes perfect? Er, no.



A Barmy Xmas day.



MCG Boxing Day



Smurfs at the MCG



Quite something



Warney's sponsor.



Kate's lot have just won



Fire over Melbourne



Wobbly night

If I don't get back on beforehand, Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bonus Photo Time!

Control your excitement.

I have gone a bit post potty, so you may need to work your way down to get up to date (that's for the person who cares).

Rich sent me this. This is the best picture to demonstrate my extraordinary bravery going up the Gloucester tree.



Since my original post on this, I discovered that Laura didn't make it either. So that's John, Mik and Laura. Is there anyone out there who climbed the tree?

I can see clearly now the rain has gone

Many readers of this rubbish may feel the tone of this blog has been rather smug. There has been an unnecessary number of references to fine weather, what a great time I’m having, how I’m not getting hangovers (till yesterday’s shocker), how dark and rainy it was in England and so on.

Well in an attempt to redress the balance, here’s some edited highlights from Xmas day in Melbourne.
It was the coldest Xmas day on record.
There was snow in Victoria, where a week ago there were bush fires.
I was at the bar at the Barmy Army lunch and suddenly got crushed-everyone was running in from the rain.
I heard someone say ‘It’s gonna get like Glastonbury here.’ It didn’t, but my trainers are very muddy.
Oh yeah, and it hailed on us. 2,500 people at the Barmy Army Xmas BBQ and it fucking hailed on us (sorry, no other word for it).
So, you could say that Xmas day on the beach didn’t quite come off.
I don’t expect any sympathy.
I called it quits, went back to the hostel to warm up, and really rather enjoyed Love Actually, which was on. So I clearly deserve no sympathy at all.

I have a photo of the deluge that I’ll post another day.

Odd as it was to spend Xmas day in this way, I did feel it must have been a lot weirder to have spent your Xmas flipping burgers for the Barmy Army.

So the Boxing day test. At the MCG. Something I’ve wanted to go to for as long as I can remember. Did it live up to that build up? Essentially yes. England were poor. They rode their luck and got thumped today. I do love to see England win, but I am essentially a cricket fan. Test match cricket at its best is simply is the greatest sport there is: during a break I was flicking at last year’s Wisden and saw this line from Oliver Holt (on the 2005 series): “Take each of these tests on its own and perhaps you could argue that Liverpool’s miracle comeback in the European Cup Final was its equal. But put them together and they have no rival. They have lit up this summer like a burning sun.”
Key word there-‘perhaps’.
Key point-Oliver Holt was a football correspondent last time I checked (i.e. before he went to write for a Tab).
My point-I enjoyed that the Aussies were magnificent and what ebb and flow there was. As a cricket fan, I can enjoy another Warne showpiece; I can enjoy Gilchrist carting us to all parts of the WACA: I can admire Ponting running out the hapless Geraint Jones while everyone else is appealing (Warne had no idea what was going on); I can respect Hayden obvious disapproval of Warne’s excessive appealing and theatrics. As a cricket fan, I also hope to see Glenn McGrath finish without taking another wicket, and hopefully sustaining a lasting injury to his big mouth.

There were just under 90,000 people there. It was special. I have some photos I’ll have to post another day.

Shane Warne provided the pantomime for Xmas this year: he used every trick in the book to build the crowd up for his entry into the action. He went off the field (presumably for a massage), started bowling the ball back rather than throwing it, went through elaborate stretching routines, pretended he was going to start bowling when he wasn’t (the biggest cheer to that point of the day). Each bit of acting got a huge crowd response and reduced the rest of the game to the sideshow. When he finally did come on, it was a surprise that England resisted as long as they did. The build up would have got him a victim first ball against a lot of teams. The fact that Warne’s celebration of his 700th test wicket was pure Monty Panesar means we’re doing something right.

So, I’ve now got Augusta, Wimbledon and Eden Gardens on the sporting ‘places to go before I snuff it’. Great stuff today.

I’m pleased to say that Helen’s having a champagne breakfast before tomorrow’s play-I expect I’ll need some fortification.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And so this is Christmas

and what have you done,
another year over,
and a new one just begun."

Whatever words of wisdom I may have had for the festive season, I used them on the message I sent to the Juxon Street Xmas party. So, I'm stealing from other people. I think John Lennon and Mike from Spaced are pretty good sources.

So, cobbers, have a bonza Xmas with all your fair dinkum rellies. I'm off for lunch with the Barmy Army. Whatever partying you're doing in the next few days, make sure that you're

'Having it large,
having it major,
only for the hard core UK raver.
Rewind.'

Just watch Spaced, alright.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My brain hurts

I meant to stay in the Melbourne museum till lunch before moving on to other distractions. Due to a miscalculation on my part I was there a bit before it opened. I left 15 mins before it shut (7 hours later), because it felt like my brain was bleeding. It was superb.

The Ashes display was well done, but comic-firstly as it clearly showed that for decades no one considered the urn to be the trophy and it was pretty much forgotten. All of which makes a mockery of the Australians whinging about how they should be given it just for winning a cricket match or two-the MCC own it. What had me nearly laughing out load was that they'd given the urn a good clean for its Australian holiday, so it looks identical to the replica I have back home. And, yes I do know that's the idea of a replica, but it was still funny. Ok, you had to be there, it just was. Maybe it was the glass case it was in, the steel barrier it was behind and the security guard watching me. Anyway.....

Phar lap was the Australian Seabiscuit and was stuffed to be there-no photos allowed. I'm not sure how Phar stands up as his skeleton is in New Zealand. He won a lot in Oz, including a Melbourne Cup, went to the states, won a big race and died. Many aussies, including the one next to me, think the septics poisoned him.

There was an excellent natural history section, including a walk through forest and a great bit on the history of Melbourne, which managed to include someone's kitchen from Neighbours.

There was a temporary display on Apple that seemed to eloquently describe the rate of technological change in the last 20 years. It wasn't quite as striking as seeing the 4th oldest computer in the world, which is only just over 50 years old.



This comparison is stunning.



Life moves pretty fast.

The biggest impact came from the large area on indigenous peoples. I certainly don't pretend to really understand what happened; in fact I'm quite bewildered, but it was far worse than I thought.

Like the gas chambers, stories of massacre only hit home when they are specific and concerned with individuals. There's no way to process the idea of millions dying in Auschwitz, which is why Schindler's List is such an affecting story-the millions, a number, become people and you can emote. Likewise, I needed to be told about the British hunting the Aborigines, roasting a child on a fire, giving arsenic laced food to them and the man who was well known for beating the brains out of children before it really hit home. There were many similarities with the plight of the bushman in Africa.

The story follows that up with the White Australia policy and the lost generation-children were still being taken from their parents in the 1970s, that's my generation. Truly harrowing.

There's also the disturbing thought of what would I have done as a settler. Would I have stood up for what is patently obviously right, with the benefit of today's hindsight? Or would I have allowed self-interest and the general thinking

British colonial history really is mankind at its very worst: it's a tale of rape, imperialism, genocide, theft, supreme arrogance and total ignorance of alternative cultures. I've been embarrassed before when travelling in India, but this was a new low. Some people still think that put the Great in Great Britain.

Combined with the ecological disaster the British created here and that man continues to heap on the whole world, it reminded what someone wiser than me recently said. The planet resets itself periodically (the dinosaurs, ice age, supervolcano) and before man succeeds in destroying the world, the world will probably destroy man. Mightn't be a bad thing.

That's me off to live in a tree.

I'm now sitting in Federation square, they're playing Christmas carols (tho the DJ has just threatened us with Wham). People are wearing tinsel and santa hats. I can see the biggest advent calendar ever. There's smiling everywhere, but it's just not Christmas. It's light, warm and I've got mosquito bites, but that's not the problem. (DJ now playing Bing and Bowie!). Sitting here, I realise it's not Christmas because I haven't heard Fairytale of New York yet this year.

'You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, Happy Christmas you arse, I pray god it's our last.'

Now that's what says it's Christmas to me. I'll be getting the iPod out when I get back to the hostel.

Have a good one.

Postscript. I owe the cheesey Aussie DJ a HUGE apology. He was wiser than he looked, and knew to close with the greatest Christmas record of all time.

'The boys in the NYPD choir still singing Galway Bay,
And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day.'

Ahhh. Warm fuzzy feeling inside. Feels like Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Reunited

I have a confession to make. It's Xmas, so I hope you'll all be able to forgive me. I've been living in Macclesfield since October and have been using Photoshop and a sunbed to pretend I've been travelling.

That's not it-I'm sat on the banks of the Yarra just now. Actually, it's worse than that. This is a bit of an Oliver moment: I'm not sure I ever told this story, as I never understood it. In Vic Falls, on the river cruise (the one where I was plied with alcohol and that resulted in my hair getting braided), Oliver announced he had a wife and 3 kids. Which was a surprise to everyone as it was the first he mentioned of it in 3 weeks; he never said he wasn't married, but you kinda thought it might have come up by then. (Oliver, apologies if you're still reading this nonsense-I'm assuming you gave up ages ago or the cricket finished you off).

Fortunately, my burst of honesty is a little less full on. I've mentioned a couple of times that I was given a lot of luverly presents before I left England. Most of these were shirts predicting an England rout in the Ashes; these are now a joy to wear. I carefully packed everything I'd been given. Then I weighed my bag. I had to leave a lot of things behind, but only one gift. I'm not sure how I got this far without it; I had anticipated 'Making Waves', the autobiography of David Hasslehoff, to be a source of comfort in the difficult times, a problem solver in tricky situations, a life guide, a bible in these godless times. But it was hardback, so I left it behind.

I guess Ems and Sean will never forgive me and my dream of seeing their first born christened John Stanford is surely over.

But why bring this painful truth out now? Even if it is a 'time for giving, a time for sharing' (please tell me Cliff Richard's dead). By the miracle of a new fangled thing called the postal service, the Hoff has joined me in Melbourne.



As it's Xmas, I think another sing-a-long is called for:
'Together, forever, you'll stay in my heart.'

Now there's an evil earworm. The Hoff and I will not be separated again; or at least until excess baggage raises its ugly head.

So, aside from getting in touch with my Hoff side, what have I been doing? I found that, for me at least, it's not possible to be in Melbourne and ignore sport. I go for a stroll, and end up in Olympic Park; I saunter past the MCG, England are practising (no jokes)



I'm wandering round the top of town, pass the Post Office museum and they've got an exhibition on the Melbourne Olympics. It's not my fault! Spent a cracking 2 hours in the Post Office museum-something else I never expected to say.

This place may be more sport bonkers than me.

I have so far resisted the Aussie rules, horse racing and National Sport museums so I've been able to do some other stuff. Tho, I haven't managed the Neighbours tour yet.

So far I've visited:

The centre for the moving image, which has a mad mixture of cinema and pre-cinema stuff. Gave me a great idea of how to hide a map for some Indiana Jones style action.

The aquarium. I'm always a bit wary about this sort of thing-sea living animals usually have a LOT of space to move about in. I reckon they did as good a job as you could. There were some small tanks for the smaller fish, but the sharks (nurse) and rays were in a whopper: 2.2 million litres that's more than a bathful. And you could walk through it:



I'd forgotten how much I love rays. I swam with one (and a nurse shark) while snorkelling a few years ago. They seem like something from a sci-fi movie-their movement is so beautiful, yet other worldly. I looked at the barb more closely this time and found the description very poignant.



And boy can they eat:



I've just had to relocate; it's throwing it down with rain. Hopefully, it's doing the same on the bushfires elsewhere in the state. Promising news for the cricket too.

The immigration museum has a 'ship' you can potter through to give you an idea of what it was like sailing to Oz in the 19th century to the 1950s. The privy from the former came complete with some full on sound effects (happily they'd decided against Yorvik Viking Centre style smells). The best bit was the stories of real immigrants: the most moving were the recent ones about the displaced and political refugees, whose journeys were far worse than 4 months below the deck of a sailing ship.

The main art gallery was impressive and so large that I need to go back. From what I did see, it appears to be an interesting collection. They have a number of big name painters-Gainsbrough, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Titian, Rubens etc., but often have quite unusual and atypical works. I suppose this is due to it being a relatively young collection. The Met and the National Gallery got in there first, Melbourne got to choose from what was left. Rather than this making it a weak collection, I found it gave an alternative perspective on some familiar names. I guess I'm talking to myself by now.

Melbourne's also a great city for just wandering about-there are plenty of parks and interesting buildings, which more than make up for the American-style wide roads and no jaywalking culture that makes crossing the road a bit tedious. I've spent some enjoyable time just being aimless.

I met up with Helen and her mate Andrew the other night and we went to a gig (after dinner, accompanied by mojitos you understand). Like me, Helen used to live in Pulloxhill and her parents still do. We don't know each other, but the traumas of village life have left us with a lot in common. Andrew also likes to talk, so it was a noisy table.

After the support (a sort of Australian Joy Division), everyone stood up for the main event Augie March. I'd never heard of them, but enjoyed them for a gig where I knew none of the songs (including the Dylan cover). I was a bit distracted by some uncanny physical resemblances in the band. The lead singer looked like Johnny Elliott about 12 years ago; the bassist looked like Pakistani cricket skipper Inzaman-ul-haq and I swear the lead guitarist was Eddie from Friends (for snooker fans-looks like the Robin Hood of snooker, Anthony Hamilton). All a bit disconcerting, but a top night.

I'd been planning to go to a Carol concert on Christmas Eve, but Helen's persuaded me to go to a rooftop screening of Life of Brian (it might be the Holy Grail). There may be alcohol involved. No need for mulled wine I reckon.

Tomorrow I'm going to the Museum of Victoria. It's a very large and varied museum. And the Ashes will be on display; there's just no escaping sport!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Good news, bad news

I think the bad news is kinda obvious. England lost the Ashes. I'm still going to the last 2 tests-the cricket was good, even if the result went against us.

The good news is for my non-sport fan reader. There's no cricket till boxing day, so this will be the last sport dominated post for a week.

There is a lot of sport in this one tho!

I gave the WACA a rest on Sunday and went to the 'park' (small piece of grass on corner of 2 streets), where the big screen and gazebo type things were. Jolly nice it was too. I left when England were going well to have a very nice dinner with family Withers. We said our farewells, but I think I may return to Perth-I have a vague notion of travelling from Drawin(ish) south across the North of Western Autralia and back down to Perth. At some point. In the future.

Having paid my $30 entrance to the WACA, I finally saw the point of the Barmy army yesterday (Day 5). Early on they were singing 'Living on a prayer' (before Fred gave us some hope, albeit briefly); I think the English outnumbered the Aussies on the day we LOST the Ashes; the Barmy Army made the most noise; they were there long after most of the crowd had gone and the Aussie team had finished their aimless wandering round the ground (I think it was meant to be a lap of honour, but most of them were on their own). If there was a supporters Ashes, then it would be no contest.

After the cricket I wandered back across town and spent the rest of the day in the Western Australia art gallery; it was pretty good, if lacking a mass of big names and had a very exhibition on William Blake's Book of Job engravings.

This morning I flew to Melbourne: I hadn't given any thought to who else might be doing the very same thing. As I pottered over to the gate, I stood right behind Mark Pougatch (in a hialrious white jacket). No sooner had I clocked him, than I discovered that there is someone who leaves getting onto a plane even later than I do. His name is Shane Warne and he currently has taken 699 more test wickets than me (I hope to close the gap at the MCG). He looked pretty good-he certainly hadn't been Freddied. There were a number of blokes in Cricket Australia tops in business class, but I didn't recognise any of them as players-so Simon Katich was probably there.

I am pleased to report that the BBC only pay for Poug to fly economuy and that Warney carries his own bags (and he has plenty of gear). Felt sorry for the poor sod as all the cameras were thrust in his face as he went through the standard tedious ritual of leaving the airport.

My hostel, which is so much nicer than the hole in Perth that's left me with about 100 mossie bites, is 30 mins from the MCG. That's the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the unlikely event that anyone is still reading and doesn't know. Having dumped my bags, it 4.15 in a new city. What to do? Go and look at the sports stadia of course.

I headed straight out and was very excited. I cannot put into words just how cool the MCG looks from the outside. Peering through the gates, it looks to me as if a good view is guarenteed-for me and the other 99,999 spectators. Melbourne Park (home of the Autralian Open tennis) is just across the rail lines from the MCG. Anyone who remmebers my itinerary may recall that I'm watching a little tenis there next month. Melbourne is city that is centred on two international sporting meccas. Finally a place that has its priorities right. It's like I was the architect. Apparently it's got museums, places to eat and buy stuff as well. Who cares!

If I'm honest, I'm liking it more than Perth already.

Back to the MCG. The G, as it fondly called is much more than just cricket. It hosted this year's Commonwealth games (Scat and Rich will remember that well); is the spritual home of Aussie rules (the Wembley, if we must sully such a place with lesser sports); AND it hosted the 1956 Olympic games. Many of you will know of my obsessive lunacy when it comes to visiting the cities and stadia that have hosted the Summer Games. Today ticked another off the list. As I have already updated you with the number of countries I have visiteid (after Kenya, it's now 41 according to the Stanford method), I thought that the Games deserved the same courtesy. So here we go.

1896 Athens, Greece: Visited the city and watched the 2004 marathon in the 1896 stadium. Nice.
1900 Paris, France. Got the city, shamefully no stadium visit yet
1904 St. Louis, Missouri, United States Least likely one that I will ever visit. If I need it to complete the set I may make the pilgirmage.
1908 London, United Kingdom. Done it.
1912 Stockholm, Sweden City Yes. Er, Stadium. John-did we go? Had it been demloished? (It was a boozy weekend, where I wowed the Swedes with my salsa dancing. Nuff said).
1920 Antwerp, Belgium Got em both
1924 Paris, France As above
1928 Amsterdam, Netherlands Must find the stadium next I go.
1932 Los Angeles, California, United States As Amsterdam
1936 Berlin, Germany And again
1948 London, United Kingdom Wembley, don't you know.
1952 Helsinki, Finland City, yes; stadium, yes; Olympic Museum, yes; unnecessarily high tower; yeeees.
1956 Melbourne, Australia / Stockholm, Sweden (Equestrian events) Double whammy.
1960 Rome, Italy Not done the stadium
1964 Tokyo, Japan Finally a reason to visit Japan
1968 Mexico City, Mexico In transit through the airport.
1972 Munich, West Germany Stadium to do.
1976 Montréal, Quebec, Canada Not been
1980 Moscow, Soviet Union Stayed in the Olympic village!
1984 Los Angeles, California, United States Need to do stadium
1988 Seoul, South Korea Most recent gap in my Olympic CV
1992 Barcelona, Spain Yes and yes
1996 Atlanta, Georgia, United States Stadium wasn't built when I was there
2000 Sydney, Australia Stadium wasn't built when I was last there. Will rectify that gap very soon.
2004 Athens, Greece Just a bit
25 staging, got some work to do on the stadia, but just 4 cities to go. BTW has anyone looked into Beijing tickets yet?

Apologies for being a trainspotter there.

On the way back from excitedly looking at empty sporting venues, I stopped off at a very nice open air concert by a folk group called the sweet cheeks. They's on myspace apparently.

Here's why not to buy a Ford


I have just received news that I may have a very, very special guest joining me in the New Year. Until I know more, that's all I'm saying.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Booger

I don't think England are going to get out of this. I've decided that given the state of play and the 3 days of monster heat I have endured at the WACA that I shall watch today's play on the big screen in the park, where I hope to find some shade.

I think the BBC and the rest can cover most of the cricketing side of things, so here are some things I observed at the WACA.

The Boony Army-David Boon's legendary status continues. VB are doing a massive promotion based around Boony v Beefy and the importance of the tasche (or Mo in Boony language). Lots of Aussie fans are in Boony army tops. At tea there's a Boony army vs Beefy army relay race. There are cartoon Boony and Beefys and even an advert pointing out the total absence of Aussie tasches in the last series, which concludes with Ponting putting on a fake tasche. Can't argue with that.

There are in fact a huge number of adverts, played during breaks in play, which are focussed on the Aussie team. It's defintely a much bigger deal out here than in England. Some are (unintentionally) hilarious-especially the one which calls Ricky Ponting 'the tactician'. And he looks more like George Bush every day. There's an enormous amount of endorsements for the Aussies, most of which seem to have gone to Hayden for some reason.

Every time the Aussies get a boundary, this graphic comes up with Tonked. This is part of a wider 'Tonk a Pom' promotion form Ford (won't be buying one of them); I've been unable to locate the Pom Tonking game on the web. Anyway, even a streaky edge through the slips for 4 get the Tonked graphic going, with a Pom's head on the tonked ball and then Hayden looking to the distance to see where it's gone.

When we hit a four, there's just and LG Electronics graphic comes up.

This flag



I thought the power of the Roses and the Mondays would see England safe. I only saw the flag on Thursday.

There are a lot of arrests at cricket at the WACA.

I'm sure all the newspapers will say it was hot yesterday; this will be mentioned in passing and will not be an excuse for England's professional sportsmen. The media sit inside in the air con. On the radio commentary, they said it 53 degrees C at one point. I was only sitting watching-I drank 5 litres of water by tea (after which it was a bit better as there was some cloud cover and a little breeze). England created a lot of chances yesterday and had no luck; they really stuck at it in brutal conditions. It was a class performance that they got little reward for. When they go 3-0 down, as surely they must, it will be pretty harsh. The Aussies would have completely steamrollered a lesser team.

You get free sunscreen.

Footy (as in Aussie rules) is more expensive to watch than test cricket.

A lot more people leave early. Many missed Gilchrist's innings, leaving when Clarke got to 100.

It was funny on Friday when I sat down and thought I've never done anything like this on my own before. It's a long day at the cricket, and I was looking forward to a long day of concentration and reflection. Just as I thought this someone asked me to pass a pint down the row; the recipient was Al from our Southern Curl tour, who was sat with Steve about 5 seats away; just after that Phil (again from the tour) texted me that he was in the Eastern grass bank and wanted to meet for a beer at lunch; and then I spent most of the day talking cricket with the Aussie next to me. I shall have to work harder on being anti-social if I'm going to get reflective.

Yesterday, in the mental heat, there was an Elvis army. Full Elvis fancy dress, combined with George crosses. They had adapted all the barmy army songs to Elvis 'We are the Elvis, the Elvis army, and we are fat and we are dead, we are the richest dead rock stars that the world has ever seen.' There were actually pretty funny (bending 'I can't help falling in love with you' into an ode to Monty); they inspired a lot of respoect for wearing all that in the heat. They did only last one session, but it was a bloody good effort (better than doing Santa at Trent Bridge on a 'hot' summer's day).

So I saw 3 days of cricket; England's fortunes see-sawed, but essentially wosrsened as time went on; I saw 3 centuries in a day, including the second fastest ever (at one point I thought Gilchrist was going to kill me as he smashed another into the crowd); I saw Monty take 8 wickets and bat; I saw what looks like a Harmo resurgence. But more, much more than this, I saw this man:




It is, isn't it? He was bowling to the Aussies in the nets. Now there's a legend.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What the Quokka's that?

NB This was written and meant to be posted the day before the test began (Wednesday).

I wanted to try and do a post before the cricket starts. Thus allowing the depressed, emotionally vulnerable and non cricket lovers to skip the next post or 2.

Yesterday Rich, who I met on the Southern Curl tour, and I took the ferry the 20 or so kms out to Rottnest Island. Can you guess what the locals call it? That's right, rotto; your Australian's coming on nicely.

The island gets its name from the Dutch mistaking the native Quokkas for some big arse rats. As Rich and I rode our gearless hire bikes up hill and past a small wooded area, Rich remarked 'this looks like Quokka territory'. No sooner were the words hanging on the air, than



I thought they were pretty cool and friendly. It's hardly surprising the Quokkas sought us out, the bike boys were damn impressive.



Like much of WA, there weren't many specific sights to see, it was just a beautiful place.



Today, I left Gwyn and Andy's. They've been wonderful hosts and even enjoyed eating veggie for a few days. I hope to be back to impose myself on them, I mean visit them, again next year.



They headed off to Adelaide, while I headed off to my hostel in central Perth to be in striking distance of the WACA.

In the afternoon I headed up to King's Park, which has phenomenal views over the city.




A hidden gem and we bumped into the geordie lads from our trip, who've cricket tickets for the same days as myself.

RIP

This won't mean much to those who haven't been travelling with me; in fact this may be the most boring thing I've written (we should have a poll on that), but it's very important to me and it's my blog.

The coffin has passed.



You may remember me banging on about struggling with the luggage restrictions set on my Africa trip. Now I'm free to have what I want, I've got this bad boy.



It totally rules; it's got all sorts of hidey holes-including 2 main sections and it has wheels and it converts into a back pack for rough terrain. I'm very pleased and I don't care if no one else is interested.

I come to you at the turning of the tide

Right. This isn't working quite as I had hoped. I have a post to load up that covers what's happened until the cricket started today. Sadly the USB's here won't let me upload anything.

But what a day's cricket. Rich and I headed down the WACA to scalp some tickets; met a bloke called Duncan; the 3 of us beat the tout down from $150 each to $100; spent a lovely day in the sun on the grass bank, cheering on a mighty effort from England. Brilliant way to spend a day, and I'm back again tomorrow and Saturday.

England did so well, there were Aussie fans fighting each other to our left. Top drawer.

Only screw-up was not to get a photo of me at the WACA-will resolve tomorrow.

Set your alarm clocks, cricket fans in England.

All together now:
'Oh Monty, Monty.
Monty, Monty, Monty, Monty Panesar.'

Monday, December 11, 2006

Back on the bus

I think I'm going to enjoy this. Wes our driver sounds cool-we can plug in our iPods and play anything we like; put on Sealion Dion, Britney or a boy band and Wes'll chuck you off the bus. Wes doesn't say 'etc', he uses 'and that sort of shit'. Wes is Australian.

I'm feeling quite quiet and a little antisocial at the moment. The combination of Africa and staying with people I know has left me with a contented glow and I'm none too bothered about meeting people at the moment.

After an hour we stop at a bakery for breakfast and Wes announces there's a small drama with the bus. The gears aren't playing ball. Not wanting to be the bore who's been to Africa, I resisted for as long as I could (11 mins 43 secs) before saying 'I travelled 10,000 ks across Africa without breaking down'. Louise from Abingdon did half my trip and broke down, so we immediately blame her (I've started talking to everyone by now). Swiftly work out that we've got a good crew on the trip-several of whom I may be meeting up with at the WACA, MCG & SCG.

The RAC man comes and sorts us out and we're back on out way. No dramas.

The day unfurls as a very pleasant trip down the beautiful coast of Western Australia, with regular stops at gorgeous beaches to see surfers and dolphins, or to just reflect on the lack of dramas.



Bonza night down the pub (my first beers since Mill last led me astray).



That's my first beer in Australia for more than 14 years. I had a very tasty veggie spaghetti and a few local ales. A band played and we met Milton, who's riding a motorbike around Oz. He's on the home straight-just back to Sydney. Or about 4,000 ks. This is a large country don't you know. He's had some bad luck; meeting us may not have helped-every tale of disaster was greeted with roars of laughter. Milton was supposed to have a companion and a support driver, but both let him down comically. Shame really, as it seems certain one of them would have noticed Milton's left pannier was on fire before it melted. There were plenty more, including the koala v kangaroo fight. The man's a menace.

I was still fairly quiet in the pub, but that's cool-it's one of the nice things about travelling that I can be 'that quiet bloke' on this trip and return to being 'that bloody loony' at the next place.

The pub even managed a fight in front of us-bloke walks up, smacks 2 blokes, legs it pursued by Lleyton Hewitt lookalike, first bloke gets up and turns out to be a woman-shocking, had it nor been so surreal. The band was so loud, we had no idea what it was about, but I have a feeling Lleyton got hiis man.

Back at the hostel, I called in to the Juxon street Xmas party (I think this should count as a technical attendance)-they should still be going as I write this, if someone's enforcing the 'no sleeping on tour' rule. A few hours later I knew I was back in hostel land when some confused soul mistook my top bunk for theirs and nearly joined me.

Saw Milton the next morning as I put my bag in the bus-he'd been putting his bags on the bike when he lost control of one of those oversized rubber bands with hooks on the end and put it through a window. Just another Milton morning.

Wes gave us a quick overview of today's itinerary as we headed off-'today's a bloody good day'.

After a spot of tree hugging (lots of tree action today) and a pie for breakfast, we went to Cape Leuwin, where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. Two months ago and thousands of miles away, I was where the Atlantic met the Indian Ocean. So I officially declared the Indian Ocean a Big Bugger.

Saw my first kangaroos; everyone has told me they're everywhere, are practically vermin and I'll get bored of them. I'm not so sure: every sighting of Ostrich or Guinea fowl in Africa made me totally overexcited, I reckon roos will have the same effect. So too the Emus.



Off to wine tasting now, before climbing big trees (61m). As you may have realised, I can write on the bus again.

Surprise, surprise at the wine tasting it's just the Brits who get tasty; there are some nice drops and some shockers. We buy a few supplies for the evening, where Wes becomes the first non-Brit that I've really had a drink with. I think we'd do well in a booze Olympics.

The brilliantly named 'big trees' are the real reason that I've come on this trip. This will also give me the chance to conquer heights beyond Scat and Mik.

As many of you know I have travelled extensively with (now former) housemate John (Scat, Scatman John, Mr A, Statue John, Quiet John-he has many false identities). We have been to dozens of places since our first trip to Barcelona set the tone in 1999. John has taken every opportunity to make me go up tall stuff (for a reminder of just how much I love heights, see my early post when I lose the plot up Table Mountain). It usually goes a bit like this:
'Christ, that's a long way up.'
'Mmmm.'
'I really don't want to go up there.'
'You know you're going to.'
'Do I have to?'
'It's one of the great sites of the world/continent/city/this poxy village in the arse end of nowhere' (delete as applicable).
Hand over rather damp note out of my sweaty paw-you always have to pay.
Get in lift/climb unfeasibly narrow stairs, far too open to the outside, praying no one's coming down.
Get a bad feeling about it all.
Think about turning back (I think I only did this once, when forced off the stairs into a turret with just an 18 inch parapet going up the cathedral in Barcelona).
Reach summit.
Find something solid that I can hold onto, while edging my way round the viewing area.
Glance at view I've been through hell to see.
Concentrate on not throwing up.
Feel wobbly.
Descend.
Swear not to go up the next high thing.

There must be an album of photos of me looking pale and sweaty at heights that are only suitable for birds.

Here's another.



The Gloucester tree's 61m presented me with a unique opportunity: some lunatic has created this bizarre spiral staircase by sticking pins in the tree.




When John and Mik were here, they started up the tree, got hardly anywhere, were overtaken by a CHILD and promptly BOTTLED IT. This was my chance for some sort of bizarre redemption. And I took it, as the above photo shows. I shit myself, mind. And it was only at the top that I realised that while you can ascend without looking down, you have to look down continually on the way down.

Felt wobbly when I finished. So fed the birds.



40/50 ks down the road was the treetop walk.



That's me, that is.

They're not as big as the California redwoods, but majestic none the less. You can fit a tour group in a Tingle tree.



And you can see for miles from the top of one.



We've had some Rolf music on the bus-I have indeed tethered his kangaroo as requested. Sadly I discovered Stairway to Heaven, with wobble board, is missing off my iPod. Technology hasn't really been my friend these last few months.

Been reading French Revolutions (Dave Gorman style journo rides the Tour de France route), partly as it's not bad, but mainly because my Dad slipped it in my bag so I could pass it on to my current hosts, who are big Tour fans. My brain is so feeble that I read a bit, look out the window, forget I'm in Australia, think I'm in France and wonder what the bloody hell a kangaroo is doing in the Loire valley. Oddly enough, it wil soon be the first book I've finished; evidence that I've either been too otherwise engaged to read, or my eyesight's shot.

The last day of the tour was largely travelling back to Perth, but we managed to get in one last vineyard and some final glimpses of that wonderful coastline.



Who'd have thought that 3 days before the test, the WACA would find another 200 tickets a day? What were the odds of me seeing the footnote in Wes' newspaper? The chances of getting through to Ticketmaster must have been negligable? Of course, by the time you speak to the operator, they're bound to have sold out.

They had.

For Thursday.

I shall be sat in the WACA's concrete majesty on Friday and Saturday, wearing t-shirts appropriate to the crushing nature of the hammering England are going to be doling out to the Australian pensioners cricket XI. All for 40 quid. Having a mobile phone has finally paid off.

All together now, 'Barmy Army, Barmy Army, Barmy Army...' ad infinitum et nauseam.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Disaster

One of the worst things that could have happened, barring permanent physical injury or serious robbery, seems to have happened. It seems half my Africa photos have gone; this happened 2 days ago, but it's taken me till now to feel up to writing about it.

Sequence of events was something like this.

Buy 5 CDs to put my photos on (one to send back to the UK, copies for Mill, Didi and Roger and one for me to keep with me as insurance-I am paranoid about digital camera disaster).
Go to internet cafe that promises CD burning.
Be told I can't do it myself-no, that would be too easy.
Give CDs and memory card to 'computer expert', who knows how to burn CDs unlike me.
Return and pick them up.
Decide to check them.
Find every CD is about 300 photos short.
Shrug shoulders, I'll just tell him to fix it.
Check memory card.
Find memory card about 600 photos short.
Freak out.

There are a couple of things that are giving me a vague hope, but in essence I think I've lost the first 3-4 weeks of the overland tour. Not using the memory card again till I get back to the UK-just in case. You can insert whatever language you reserve for the occasion when you discover your boyfriend/girlfriend is cheating on you with Jordan/Peter Andre and you sever your big toe by dropping your favourite possession on it, which then shatters. That's about how I feel.

So, trying to move on, Perth. I haven't been quite as sight-seeing mad yet as I was in Cape Town, but have enjoyed the place. Compared to Africa, it's a nice temperature-I've even been wearing trousers and had a long sleeve t-shirt (Olympics) one day. I think if I'd come straight here from England, I'd have melted. I had a walk round the city on Wednesday, which is compact and pleasant. I shall head up to Kings Park when I get the chance to get the proper view over the Murray River and the city (was distracted by the photos).

I spent yesterday in Freo (if you're local), or Freemantle (if you're looking at signposts). This is where Australia failed to defend the America's Cup they won in the '80s. It's also where the British built a brutal prison, which I took a tour round. It took a riot in 88 to accelerate the prison's eventual closure 15 years ago. It looked very much from the 18th century and you can understand why the inmates were unhappy with conditions. The chapel was really quite lovely, and I was amused by the prominence of 10 commandments.



Notice that killing is OK, it's just murder that isn't. 44 people were executed here. They have about 10 or so wedding here a year-a mixture of former inmates, guides and people who think marriage is a life sentence, so you might as well start it in a jail.

I also went to the Maritime museum, which hosts the America's Cup winning boat Australia II and was quite diverting. The most interesting part was a temporary exhibition on Australia under attack. This focussed on the Japanese attacks on Australia in the second world war (air, sub and boat) that I didn't even know had occurred. It's pretty awful what I don't know sometimes. The attacks were numerous and killed many people-250 in the first and worst air strike; later a destroyer with 465 on board disappeared after a fight with a Japanese boat that sank. The government is still dragging its heels over looking into this properly-they went to exhume an unidentified body presumed to come from the boat and couldn't find the body.

Rather than the home of great sights, Freo was mostly a nice place to wander round, which is what I did before heading back to David's. Last night was my last night in Gen Forrest with the family Withers:




I didn't even have to get David and Skye to dress up, they just did it as Lesley looked on and I got the camera. This one is very cute:



And for those who know David, there's definitely some Aussie mashed into his accent now. I was leaving David and Lesley's marvelous hospitality, as today I have ventured across town into the suburb of Attadale to stay with my Dad's cousin Gwyneth and her husband Andy. this is the view from the living room!




People are being ridiculously kind-I have offers of places to stay in Melbourne and Brisbane too and these are people who've met me! I am very humbled and grateful-hence my knee jerk reaction to make embarrassed jokes. It's almost like being complimented.

Tomorrow I head off to tour the SW corner of the state on a 3 day tour to see the dolphins, tall trees and Albany. This was on the list of Stanford recommendations, which I am still treasuring; everyone I've spoken to says they're some great spots. After that, it's back for another couple of nights with Gwyneth and Andy before they head to Adelaide and I head to a hostel. I expect to spend most of the time in the hostel crying, as that's when England play Australia at the WACA and I'm going to give touts too much money to see what unfurls. I've got a bad feeling about it.

My VIP backpacker card is proving a very wise investment-so far I've counted as a concession everywhere I've been and have already saved the price of buying it.

Oh, and a special message to those attending the Juxon street Xmas party tomorrow. Have a bloody good time. Or you'll have me to answer to.

And those not attending, already have me to answer to.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

G'day Brad, say G'day to Brad, Brad

Ah, the eternal classic that is the Neighbours drinking game. I hope to squeeze in a game or two and perhaps reach the rank of Karl Kennedy.

I'm off to Australia, don't you know and I'm wearing the Ian Botham shirt John gave me. I've had the Rough Guide out, but it's pretty manic with cricket and tennis until the end of Jan, so there's not too much to think about. I'm already thinking I'm short of time in and around Perth: despite shocking communication from me, I should be meeting the mighty David Withers at Perth's terminal 1 on arrival (I'm over the Indian Ocean just now). It's a few years since I last saw him, but since working with me at Past Times, David's moved to Perth, got married and has a 4 year old daughter-I have this effect on people. I'm also staying with my Dad's cousin, who's just moved to Perth for a while with her husband and I'm in a hostel for the test before flying to Melbourne on the 19th. I also want to do a 3 day trip to the South. So another postponement for the chilling out and slobbing around.

The flight is just under 9 hours; like all my flights it's pleasingly direct. All but about 30 mins is over water, so when the turbulence kicked in half an hour ago, the spectre of this being an Oceanic flight sprang to mind (just bloody watch Lost if you don't know what I'm talking about). Just as well I charged everything's batteries last night.

POSTSCRIPT
Realise I have gone a bit post crazy, but thought it made sense to separate my Africa refelections (below) from the last days of the overland tour (below, below) and my looking forward to Australia. I am now in Perth and deciding not to do another separate post to say I've arrived and David and his family are being lovely to me. I will say one thing though.

Bloody cricket.

Africa reflections

After leaving Roger and Milly at the Mall, my taxi dropped me off at Nairobi airport and my final day or so in Africa was quite uneventful. The airport hotel did the job, even if it didn't have coverage of the Ashes to keep me up all night. I can't believe that's my first blog Ashes mention. It seemed a stroke of luck that my phone was back in action as things were getting underway at the Gabba. Then I started getting updates on England's mullering and started wondering why I was spending my first month in Oz following England around. At least we're looking good in Adelaide. (By the way my travel mobile should be fully functional henceforth and primed for your wise texts and calls).

As is my wont, I found time for some reflections; much of which I've already mused on. I'd done little preparation for the overland tour-I was reading the Lonely Planet country sections on the truck, so my expectations were limited. Some of the things that surprised me were just a result of me not thinking clearly. So here goes.

Endless people have trotted out the cliché 'In Europe you have watches, in Africa, we have time'. The easiest way isn't necessarily the African way and boy do they love bureacracy. Arguably this a bad environment for a project manager with a 'Do it right, do it now' philosophy. Yet I loved it.

I only scratched the surface-to even call this an African tour is silly. I went to 8 countries in 7 weeks and didn't get North of the equator. I want to come back and I want to go to Madagascar especially.

A trip so focused on wildlife is very, very different to most travelling.

You do feel removed from the people of the countries; this is a fundamental issue I've found when travelling in developping countries. Like the girl in Common People, westerners always have an out-our travel insurance will pay for the doctors, most locals can't afford; we can fly home etc. I've always laughed at those on gap years and in Kula Shaker, who say they've experienced the 'real' India. I think the gap between some cultures is too great.

To camp, overland and travel in Africa, you need the right attitude-I reckon half my travelling companions didn't.

The key reflection is that it's been bloody brilliant.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Au revoir Africa, Calisto, Milly and all


Day 24-25
321 km
South Luangwa National Park

So the blogging has gone down the toilet for a lot of reasons (I'm writing most of this in Nairobi airport).

The roads were much worse (as was the truck) and I couldn't write while travelling, as it was too bumpy.

Milly and I spent the rest of the time together. So I didn't write off the truck.

This was partly due to terrible relations with the 2 Canadian couples leaving us few folk to talk to. In turn this made me less excitable and eager to write.

The early part of the tour was less inspiring than the early weeks.

I was more run down and couldn't be arsed.

Don’t be fooled-I still had a great time, but the tour had a very different feel after Vic Falls.

So this is more from memory-I hope it is still quite complete and accurate; I know Mill will read it and set me straight.

We arrived at the camp very late in a swarm of bugs after spending 3 hours stationery at some roadworks: this prompted many people to discuss how the situation could have been better managed; it prompted Milly and me to plug the speakers into the iPod and play poker.

The national park was the true reason for visiting Zambia and it was very impressive, mostly down to the actual camp site itself. The camp was between a kind of grazing area and the river across which animals would cross to enter the main area of the park. We were welcomed and warned not to have food in our tents and that Hippos and Elephants visited the camp. This was a touch disconcerting, as the advice with hippos is don’t get between them and the water, that’s when they freak out and kill you. I made a mental note to avoid a night time trip to the toilet.

Of course the first thing we saw was a snake at dinner. It was quite small and scared off easily (it had probably heard that Mill might prod it with a stick) and didn’t bother me; it also tunred out to be the last African snake.

I wish I had a photo of the scene that greeted me as I returned from the showers to breakfast the next morning; there was a family of elephants in the camp who were taking an interest in breakfast. I later discovered that Roger had excited particular elephant interest and had a trunk running over his tent. Seeing as I’d slept with my windows open all night and sat up in bed about 20 times to see what was about (each time looking through all 4 windows and seeing nothing), I felt a little disappointed nothing had come to see me.

Encouraged by the elephant sighting, Milly and I decided to stake out the camp on our klast night and try and spot some nocturnal visitors. I’m not sure if the platforms in the trees were designed for people to clamber up with a box of wine, and then sweep the camp with torches when they heard noise, but they served the purpose well. We heard a lot of noise, but saw nothing until we came from the tree and heard some hippo noise. We crept forward and sure enough, there was a big boy 15-20 metres away. We did not get between him and the water.

We also went on a couple of game drives, which were great and added a whole heap of new photos. We saw a great new way of carrying your young (even better than those cool looking racing prams).



We got nearly as close to elephants as Roger did.



And saw just how fun being a young elephant can be.



I could upload a lot more!

We also went on a night drive, with our crazy driver. This was mainly to spot lions with a spotlight, but before the sunset (when we had a beer looking over the river), he had time to get far too close to some elephants and a sick hippo as well as revving his engine at a few animals. There were strict instructions to guests in the camp, asking them not to ask drivers to do this-we ended up asking ours to stay back (not for our safety, but out of respect). I was quite pleased my photos of all this didn’t come out well; I’d taken them while feeling we were far too intrusive.

When the sun set, we followed a couple of male lions for about 15 mins, but then the monsoon came and everyone disappeared, as we disappeared under ponchos. Still got some fairly mad shots of lions wandering about (oblivious to the trucks rushing around with their spotlights).



Day 26-27
186 km
Lake Malawi-Senga Bay

Day 28
290 km
Lake Malawi-Chintheche

Day 29
223 km
Lake Malawi-Chiweta

Malawi was a bit odd. We camped 4 nights by the lake, which was beautiful. It was essentially a chill out time, as there were not much to do beyond swim in the lake (so I’ll need a test for Bilhazia), chill in the bars, sunbathe a bit (brave for me), talk and eat. I took no photos at all, though I was going to get the view from my tent across the lake, which was beautiful when I went to bed on the first night. Sadly the great view was spoiled in the morning when I was awoken by Canadians sweeping the sand and moving their tent right in my view. So I shall have to paint a mental picture of clear beautiful waters and waves that make you think it’s the sea.

I would like to revisit Malawi in a different way. I felt very removed from the country (much more so than in the other countries): we spent our time in the truck or in camps by the lake, complete with razor wire and guards (although they weren’t armed as they were at Arusha). It made me a bit uncomfortable that we were living in a total bubble-Malawi is one of the world’s 10 poorest countries, yet it felt like paradise. Perhaps this is a reflection that it has the second biggest divide between rich and poor in the world.

So what did we manage to do? Milly beat me at pool (I was told to put that in; it may be worth mentioning here that she deserved to and did it twice more in Zanzibar at a bar where we’d seen the Masai playing). Roger and I introduced Milly to darts and had some good games of killer (we also got Didi in on the act in Arusha). We could have gone diving, but decided to leave it to Zanzibar.

I think one thing from Malawi will epitomise the trip for me: when we arrived at the camp (late and in the dark-we set our tents up in the dark a lot on this trip) Calisto came into the truck and said ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we have had a disaster’. I immediately thought we were homeless. He continued, ‘there’s an all night disco’, there was much whooping approval from the back of the bus. Partly because some of us wanted a dance, partly to show some solidarity with Calisto against the four people who would moan about it. I loved the moment at about 8.30, when one of them said ‘it’ll quieten down soon’. Half an hour later the volume soared.

The occasion was the Bank of Malawi’s annual conference; the CEO awarded prizes and people were asked to come up dance-a name would be read out followed by ‘and your wife’, which cracked me up. We headed to the bar and later Karen and I invaded the sandy dancefloor, where we quite a hit. After being too energetic to Shakira (seemingly the theme tune of Africa) and a.n.other song, we had to go for a rest. Dancing on sand is tiring. After reacquainting ourselves with cane spirit (simply lethal) Milly and I went for a very late night paddle in the lake and scramble over the rocks (which in the dark looked like a sphinx/lion hybrid).

The four days felt like a hiatus.

Day 30
743 km! Ouch
Kisolanza Farm, Iringa

So. This is the big one-over 7OO km, including a border crossing and our first change of time zone. We leave Malawi behind and head as far across Tanzania as we can in the light before camping for the night and heading for Zanzibar. This is the 40th country in the world that I've visited according to the Stanley method of reckoning, which oddly allows me to count both Wales and USA. Reckon that's about 20 percent-nice stat.

Catching people sleeping on the bus became quite an art form. I know there are plenty of me, but this one of Karen is the best I got.



Day 31
450 km
Dar es Salaam

Turns out Wildlife Adventures gave Calisto the wrong distances; today was a bitch. It was a long was and we needed a ferry to cross the river in Dar to get to the camp site. After tents in the dark, followed immediately by dinner in the bar, where there was an uncomfortable discussion about ‘how early some people are getting up and ‘noise made by people coming back from the bar late’, there was little option but to stay in the bar and play pool by torchlight (Tanzania has regular power outages).

All this meant we forgot insect repellent. Milly got the crap bitten out of her by mossies (I won’t post the photos of her feet); I was invaded by ants-picking about 20 out of my hair like a monkey. When Vincent the crazy Aussie from Perth latched onto us, it was time for bed.

Days 32-34
0km
Zanzibar

Didi had been looking forward to Zan from the outset; I didn’t know much but expected it to be good. We took the ferry over (leaving Stanford and the truck behind). And I guess this image sets the scene for Zanzibar’s beautiful location in the Indian Ocean, and it’s historic roots.



Many of the streets were really narrow and I did wonder how we’d find the hotel again (3 days off from the tents). We were subjected to an appalling presentation from the hotel tour guy and against my better judgement I agreed to go on the spice tour the next day. We headed into town (old stone and quite lovely, but full of touts) and booked ourselves in for diving/snorkelling: Millie had her Padi, but Didi and I had to do a pool course before going out on the boat as we were beginners; Karen and Roger went for the snorkel option. Roger and I had been put off the swimming with dolphins option after the lonely planet criticised a lot of the operators for hassling the dolphins. So as the sun started to set for our first night in Zanzibar, we had sorted out what we doing for the remaining days. Time for a night out then.

We had some cocktails in the touristy Mercury bar (named for Freddie), which was good and then had dinner in the Old Fort. You need to be a bit careful, especially at night, so we walked Roger back to the hotel before heading out to the club we’d been promised; I hope Milly doesn’t mind me saying that she looked 3 months pregnant (her bladder was so full)-this amused me almost as much as I amused her later when I stepped in the drain the locals use; for you know what; wearing my action sandals.

From here it was downhill fast. The Bwani hotel club hadn’t yet opened, so we headed to the open air bar upstairs (if memory serves, it was covered in prison bars and your drinks came out of narrow slots). Some bloke thought Karen was a prostitute, so Didi went into the she’s Austrian and speaks no English routine and pointed out Karen was fully booked. Karen did bring a number of comedy blokes into our lives. Milly and I missed most of this as we were getting stuck into the Conyagi; we’d had Conyagi before (local fire water, half the price of any other spirit), but for some reason we were given half a bottle for about a quid in the bar. Milly made sure we finished and it nearly finished us. We heard some thumping and rightly guessed that the bar was now open. I know there was a lot of energetic dancing; I suspect the rhythm of the dancing was a bit off; I know Milly and I did most of the dancing, as every time we came back to our tables there would be another two guys talking to Karen and Didi, who were still Austrian (code for not interested); oddly they all always disappeared the moment I arrived (I must have been looking toned); I accused some locals of stealing my moves on the dancefloor (this meant me copying any really stupid dance moves out there); we ran out of money; we got home somehow. The next two nights were quite early to bed.

The spice tour was really good I will happily admit. I was not. At one point there was some papaya wine we were meant to taste; I took one sniff, did a full body retch and passed it on untouched. We spent 4 hours in searing heat, wandering round, eating stuff, seeing what nutmeg looks like, learning about soap berries (rub them together and they are soap, it was mad). Some of the kinds also made us a lot of stuff out of vines.



After that I think everyone went to bed aside from Didi and I who went to do out training dive in the swimming pool. I had a bad start-gagging when trying to breathe underwater for the first time, but after that got to grips with what we needed to know and was pleased how calm I felt. Cured the hangover too. Have to say swimming round a hotel pool, complete with regular punters, did feel a but pervy.

The next day was diving. We went out on a big wooden and did a couple of dives. Mill went off with an English girl, who was studying on the island. When I had a chat it turned out she had camped pretty next me to at Glasto last year had seen the dancing two nights before. Small world.

The dive was great; I had no idea most of the time what I was looking at, but the reefs were beautiful and there were colourful fish everywhere. I fully intend to get my Padi in Oz (these dives should count), and I think I’ll look into one of those things that converts your camera to work underwater. Funnily, Didi and I had problems with our buoyancy-alternately floating off or sinking like a stone, so we had to hold hands most of the time. Slept well that night.

Day 35
0 km
Dar es Salaam

Today was basically returning to the camp at Dar before moving on to Arusha, which is our point for exploring the Serengeti. The excitement of braids has waned (and they’re falling out and are getting gross); taking out Mill's braids took a sweaty hour in the bar. Most of mine had already gone, I don’t think there are photos of the mad day after Mill sat on one side of me at dinner and took most of that side out, while leaving the rest. I had a kind of half corn row, which was even weirder. Didi's also given up: hers went on Zan. Playing pool later the girls finally put my hair out of its misery and the braided posse passed into memory.

Day 36
600 km
Arusha
Essentially a travelling day with a really good bar at the end and more pool and darts late into the evening. There’s been a growing trend for us to camp closer and closer to the bar, which I thoroughly approve of. I should point out that I am not in an advanced state of alcoholism, but at 8.30/9 at night there’s not a lot to do in camp aside from go to bed (as if), or head to the bar for pool/darts/cards.

There was one fantastic moment on the bus. Unusually Milly and I weren’t sharing an iPod, but listening to our own. She waved to grab my attention, said ‘I love this song, it’s one of my favourites’ and held up her iPod, which showed she was listening to Trouble by Coldplay. My jaw dropped a little as I held up my iPod. I was listening to Trouble by Coldplay. Seems we were just wasting batteries.

Days 37-9
450 km
Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater
Defintely the highlight of the second trip; the Serengetio is awesome and the wildebest migration was beginning.



As for the crater, it’s pretty mad. Essentially the volcano blew millions of years ago covering the Serengeti in an ash, which still prevents tall trees growing-hence the open plains. The crater left from the volcano is a kind of garden of Eden and is full of animals.



The back seat of the bus



was the place to see the animals. Rather than odd giraffes, we were now seeing herds. Maybe 20 or 30 at a time.



We saw vultures drying off



And evidence that sometimes, things get silly



I guess the rains down in Africa

Or whatever nonsense Toto sang. The rainy season had definitely begun:


And when we returned from the Serengeti a number of tents had been hit-Didi and Karen had 5 cups of water to bail out of theirs. Fortunately, our bags were on the four by fours. Altho some got wet there too.

I decided to get some photos round the camp. Mill told me look to like I wanted to escape; she found this so funny, it may be worth posting. I actually hurt my head pushing so hard on the sign.



This is just rank


But does demonstrate how good the flash on my new camera is.

After dinner that night



I had 3 massive highlights back to back. In the final game we played of the mighty President and Arsehole, I went from Arsehole to president; aficionados will know this is no mean feat. When your best cards are 3 kings (Aces, Twos and Jokers as over cards), I felt this was Hall of Fame stuff.

Then as Mill and I approached the toilets, Roger emerged and up to the knee of his right leg was just brown; the rest of his trousers were beige. He proclaimed ‘that’s the biggest one ever’ and we lost it; the rest of the camp heard the laughter. It turned out he’d stepped in a load of mud BEFORE entering the toilet, but it just looked like he was covered in shit. After 40 days camping, that is the funniest thing on earth.

Best of all was back at the tents. As background, Mill and I usually have our tents pretty close together:



This means we can talk to each other and fool ourselves into believing that the entire camp site can’t hear. It doesn’t leave much room for things to pass in between. About 5 mins after getting in the tent, there’s a great noise of grass being chewed. I asked Milly is she knew what it was, cue zip opening and her looking out ‘It’s a cow’ (you see a lot of cows with the Masai), as I’m sticking my head she reassess ‘it’s fucking buffalo’. 6 feet from where we are. Buffalos are big buggers.



At one point he was staring right at me, he did a circle of Mill’s tent, we had 3 later and saw some guy who was clearly somewhat surprised to see a buffalo as he headed to the toilet. It was class, if a little scary as the buffalo is the size of a tent.

In the crater and Serngeti we did have technical sightings of leopard and rhino to complete the big 5, but they were a long way away. Did see cheetah up close, albeit briefly.

In the crater drive we got very close to some frisky lions:





And saw the last elephant of the trip



As we ascended back out of the crater, it felt a little like the trip’s end-although 2 days remained it was really travelling from here. We had a good crew though:



Day 40-41
200 km
Nairobi

So, journey's ends. The end of the tour has been on my mind for the past week, which has flown by much faster than any other week. The Ultimate Olympian will be speechless to learn I'm finding it quite emotional. But before my Oscar speech goes all Gwyneth Paltrow.......

True to form Mill and I had the last night of the tour party a day early: the camp had a top bar with Conyagi and a lot of locals. It was our best effort at an all-nighter. Even tho the bar was still rocking when we left, it was only 2 hours till we got up. Roger said it was the quietest we'd been on the bus in 6 weeks as we tried to sleep the bumpy road to Nairobi.

Our final trip was to a Giraffe sanctuary just before I left for the airport. You can feed the giraffes here.



Or even put the food in your mouth.





We travelled so far overland (over 10,000 Km) that my flight to Jo'burg takes nearly 4 hours.

I'm not much cop at goodbyes, so maybe this will redress the balance a little. I'm really going to miss the Nairobi Four (Karen's been great too)-we've eaten together pretty much every time on the second half and Didi and Roger are diamonds. Roger is a class guy and proof you can be Canadian and middle aged and have people love you; I hope that the obvious tension between the couples and the younger 4 didn't spoil his enjoyment, he spent the vast majority of his time with us (yes I count as young in this context), so I guess it was ok. I also think he laughed and smiled more than anyone else. Top bloke.

As for Milly, I don't know what I'm going to feel; without wishing to be melodramatic I think I'll be a little bereaved. It took 2 or 3 days at the start of the trip for us to really gel. After that we were pretty much inseparable, spending almost every waking hour together, as well as a fair few sleeping on the bus or in the cosy bars or each other’s tents after a few ales. Over 6 weeks that's a touch intense, and it's going to be some void now. The tour brochure talked about making friends for life-I think we managed that. I'll miss putting the tents up and down, sharing iPods and dancing on the truck, chuntering about our braids and how bad we smell, sharing the Carmex, failing to see the sunset again, making orange tea, being told off for saying shades not sunglasses, remembering to take malaria pills, being last to bed, saying the same thing at the same time, heading to the bar and playing pool. Above all I'll miss laughing and thinking I'll never stop laughing. Love ya Mill, you're boss.