Team VA's Wonderings

Friday, March 30, 2007

Australia Reflections

When I left Africa, I did a post where I had a jolly good ruminate. Well, I'm going to do the same here. I'm going to try to stick to a couple of points, so I don't ramble on and, wonderful as Australia is, it was obviously less surprising and alien than Africa. And in any case, the flight from Sydney to Christchurch is a lot shorter than Johannesburg-Perth.

No country is perfect, it's almost as if every country has to have at least one major flaw. I'll hardly be the first to observe that Australia's is the mess that's been made of aboriginal relations and perhaps more significantly the government initiatives with an aboriginal focus, which include policies of near genocide, the lost generation and the creation of the welfare dependent urban aboriginee. Some of this was done with good intentions, but all seems to have been a disaster.

Many are apparently still living a relatively traditional life, but those in the cities seem to live a strange ghost life. Although white and black share the same space, they appear to inhabit different dimensions as neither black nor white seem to see each other. In all the hostels and services I've been to in 4 months, Jo on Fraser was the only aboriginee I encountered outside an aboriginal craft centre. I don't have any answers, but there's still a lot needs to be done.

There is a generally racist attitude, especially in the older set: I had a long chat with one guy, basically telling him I thought his statements on the 'crisis' of illegal immigration in Europe was a load of bollocks. The world's wealthy countries have a responsibility to the others-where you are born is pot luck, and is the single biggest determining factor in the course your life. In my opinion, this is thrown into sharper relief in Australia: from a certain point of view, in addition to immigration, Australia also has to deal with the fact the current state is the result of the occupation of someone else's country.

Kick out the racism and this place will have it made.

So how do I feel on leaving Australia? When you leave somewhere as far away as Australia, I tend to wonder if I'll ever return. There are of course places I hope I never go back to-Tenerife, Denver, Middlesborough. Obviously at some point it's the last visit to any place, but I'm sure I'll visit Paris again, even though I haven't been there since the world's most famous car crash. I don't think I'm good enough to die young, but a trip to Oz is a big undertaking, so who knows, I may not be back. I hope I will; 15 years ago, I spent 1 week in Australia and left feeling I had unfinished business in the country and wanted to come back one day. 15 years on, I've been in Oz 4 months and leave feeling much the same.

I couldn't think of a better way to spend my last night in Australia than to take an hour walking round the Opera House. As it turned out, after walking past the harbourside bars and restaurants, I had the place almost to myself. I've not been to the pyramids, but I don't think I've been to a human creation more wondrous and inspiring. I savoured every moment and view, making a mental note to remember the spirit of equanimity the evening gave me. All this in a country, where the country is the real star. It puts Man firmly in perspective.

From a purely rational perspective it's a folly: the Opera house was something like 10 times over budget, the external structure is much more complex than the interior needs and it provides venues for the sort of cultural activities that engage a minority at best. However, a building like this transcends balance sheets and is for the soul as much as its function. If humans can make something like the Opera House, can create something so unlikely and marvellous, then we sure as hell ought to be able to solve the world's problems.

It seems trite that the Opera House and Uluru look like being the two enduring images in my mind, but they're really pegs on which to hang my memories of city and country, man and nature.

The Opera House left me with a beautiful melancholy; I walked away and it felt like leaving a friend. I know I said before that I thought Melbourne more liveable, but if I could go to Circular Quay every day, I think I could spend many lifetimes in Sydney. I may learn to drive a ferry. Or dress up as Captain Cook and sell harbour cruises.

Oz. Good on ya.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Sydney

OK. So I may have lied a little in the last post. No, the surfing photos weren't fake. However, when I said that my Australia leg had no highlights left, I was conveniently ignoring the Blue Mountains-for the sake of good copy, you understand.

I'm sitting on the 7.25 to Katoomba, glad to have escaped my slightly crazy new room mate. So glad I was 30 mins early for the train. I'm sorry (and I have been helpful and sympathetic), but he landed in Sydney yesterday, went to bed after lunch, seems to have no idea what he wants to see, feels homesick, has already worked out (from his bed) that 'no one cares about him here, unlike home', doesn't know how to fill 6 months in Australia........ I don't need that at 6.15 a.m.

In the Rough Guide's 45 things not to miss in Australia, the Blue Mountains come in at no 41. They will be the 22nd and last I do of the 45 (though I basically did 2 more and covered 3 in Africa). There are at least 10 more I wanted to do. Australia is a big country you see.

There are lots of trips to the Blue Mountains, but I think getting the train and then using the bus was a great idea. I got to do exactly what I fancied. Since most of this was walking, it was great to have the flexibility as I did my usual thing of setting off walking from A to B and then doing 17 detours. Also one of the great things on the trains, in NSW at least, is that the seats are a bit like Transformers (I hear you singing 'robots in disguise'). I always like to sit facing forwards (especially on a scenic ride) and my heart sinks when I see only backward facing seats available. If this happens to you in NSW, just push your backward facing double seat and the chair back moves slickly across to become a forward facing double seat. Brilliant-why doesn't everyone do that in their trains. As the trains are also double decker, I got a very good seat!

The Blue Mountains are blue because of the Eucalypt haze and are canyons not mountains. They took the British explorers forever to find a way through and there used to be coalmining there. That's the history. Your key site/photo op is the 3 sisters

but the whole place is just magical. The big lookouts are full of people, but even a five minute walk can get you to a place with breathtaking views, where you cannot see or hear another living soul. It seems most people take the cable car and the train up and down, while their coach tour takes them to 3 or 4 main lookouts. They spent a lot more money and missed out. Big time. In my humble opinion!

I went on a selection of walks and, apart from a second train ride and a brief sarnie stop, walked from 10 till 3.30. More so I remember-I went down into the canyon from the East side of the Skyway (something I missed-a sort of cable car whose floor goes transparent as it crosses the canyon), then ascended up the world's steepest railway

Mum-you would not have liked this. I then grabbed the bus and took the Prince Henry cliff walk from Echo Point to Gordon Falls via the Giant Stairway to one of the sisters, Leura Falls, the Olympian and a dozen other lookouts. It was all fantastic, but I don't think I can write much that's very interesting about it. There was lots of up and down and it was most tiring! If you go to Sydney, do it; if you can stay over, do it.

I was running low on time, light and stamina, but had a masterstroke. If I got on the 4.00 train, I could get to Wentworth Falls in 10 minutes and do the walk there. I wanted to do it for two reasons-firstly it was called Darwin's walk after Charles did it a couple of years back and declared the view one of the most stupendous he'd seen. And with NZ coming up and what looks like a whole lot of walking to do, I wanted to do another one when my mind and body had pretty much had enough. Just to up the ante, I really wanted to get the 5.30 train back (the next one was another hour), it took me 10 minutes to find the walk, which was 2 hours return. I was going to have to push it.

At one point I was running, which was a bit keen. At the end of the walk the lookouts were poorly (i.e. not) signposted, so I had to run in 3 different directions to cover the ones I could spot. It was well worth it

On the way back I thought I was making good time and relaxed. This was something of a mistake as I promptly got lost, using up the time I had in hand. I made it back to the station and had just enough time to go to the toilet (NSW trains may have cool seats, but no toilets) and hop on the train. Glorious day.

Oz Revoir
So. My last day in Sydney; my last day in Australia. What to do? Well I thought I had a pretty good plan-get up rather before the crack of dawn, cross the harbour bridge for some cracking sunrise photos, wander through the Rocks back to the Opera House and head down to the SCG for a tour. It's turned into a total shambles, which I feel is somehow appropriate-I just hope that I've got it out of my system and get back on track in NZ.

First up, I couldn't get up that early. Yesterday's walking was pretty full on and followed the usual assortment of late nights, drinking and early mornings. When I emerged from the hostel at 8.30, I was fairly pleased to see a lot of cloud overhead-it meant I wouldn't have got the photos I'd been after.

To walk up to the bridge, across it and down to Milson's point is a fair hike. Or at least my aching legs felt so, and it did take a good hour and some. It felt good to cross the bridge by foot-I'd been across it on bus, train and car already. It's really quite high and has folk patrolling who are trained to dissuade jumpers, so I was pleased I didn't feel too wobbly as I went across. Then I started to lose it-I was meant to find two lookouts points on the other side; Milson's point is easy-it's the pointy bit stuck out in the water, so I started with the other one. I call it the other one as I forgot what it was called, what street it was in and whether it was in a park, or not. So I wandered up and down hills in deserted suburbia for 20 minutes until I could see Milson's point again and abandon the search for the lookout with no name. At Milson's point, the views were special and I tried to get some more arty photos of the opera house. I took one from a graffitied gazebo thingy.

As I was taking it, I was gagging on the stench of urine; I thought this was unusual, as the structure was open on all 4 sides. Then I discovered the very fresh urine. That I was now standing in. Lovely.

Moving a little further round Milson's Point I found a camera crew and a couple of police boats that seemed to be blocking the exit from the harbour. I had visions of some sort of Miami Vice chase, but nothing much happened so I moved on. I later discovered the grisly news that there had been a collision in the harbour last night and at least 3 people were dead. It seems the police boats were searching for bodies. The harbour is seriously dangerous-someone died in a collision near the Opera House when I was here in January.

I grabbed a brief rest on a convenient park bench and a quick flick at the Rough Guide made me realise that I had been labouring under a misapprehension for 2 and a bit months; I had always had it in my mind that I needed to go back to the Rocks for something. Turns out I didn't, which put a little hole in the masterplan. Anyway, Opera House next, always good, even if it is now a long way away.

Actually, this was the highlight. I've seen a number of echoes while I've been back in Sydney, and as I walked up to the Opera House, my mind was back to New Year's Eve. The sun was burning, there were security checkpoints and people everywhere, some camping, all trying for the best views of the fireworks. So much for the vision in my mind's eye; with my actual eyes, it was pretty dark, drizzling with large drops of rain and there weren't many people about. I nearly slipped over my arse, but I guess the surf training helped me keep my balance. I loved it though. There was something appropriate about the difference to 3 months ago, as if the two images of Australia's ultimate icon were bookending my trip here-even though I'd been in the country for 4 weeks by New Year's Eve. In the novel, it'll be the first and last port of call. It was so much better that it looked as it did today, rather than a facsimile of the end of last year. I'm going back tonight, just for a last look in the dark. I can't recall another place that's kept bringing me back like this. At least not a place that doesn't serve alcohol or host sporting events.

Speaking of sporting events, it was time for the SCG. I was aiming for the day's last tour and my incompetence and Opera House gazing meant I was struggling to make it. So, as with last night's Darwin walk, it was time to push it. As I did my best to power along the wet streets, I had another very stong echo of January when I passed the railing where a depressed tout had been selling half price tickets for the 20-20 match. When I rocked up with 5 mins to spare, I was dripping. I hoped everyone else would think it was the rain, but I knew the real reason. Still at least I was in time, this was the very last tour of the old ground that I would be able to go on. If they hadn't cancelled it that is. Some sort of event is on tonight, to which I hadn't even been invited. Bugger. Should have called ahead.

I sauntered back out into the rain and made the 'it's time to give up now' mistake. Well, since I'd come all the way out here, I thought I may as well walk round the Aussie stadium/SCG complex. Anyone who's been to cricket with me (and probably anyone who's been to cricket) will know that walking round the ground at one of the meal breaks is part of the experience. I'd discovered at the WACA, MCG and SCG that the Australians don't let you do this: for reasons best known to themselves they section the stadium and keep the member's areas separate, so you can't do a circuit inside. At the SCG and WACA, you could only get half way round. I had extended this notion to walking around the outside of grounds-to get a good view. Perfectly possible at Adelaide and Melbourne, but a total waste of time at Brisbane and Perth as the grounds were part of complexes and had other buildings and just all sorts of concrete crap driving you away from the ground. Let me tell you, the SCG is far, far worse.

About 50m past the entrance Jamie and I had use in January is Fox studios, a sort of Universal Studios kind of thing, but something you can wander into as the attractions are independent and there are lots of shops and stuff. Ducking in here seems to the be the way to follow the SCG perimeter. Construction teams, cinemas, empty bars and car parks all conspired to cut me off from the ground and deny me any exit. It took 15 mins for me to find a way out-in fairness this may be a record, as it's one of those pieces of retail architecture where nothing is in a straight line and you're pretty sure has been designed to hold you prisoner until your wallet's empty. And your card's maxed out. Back on a new street, in the strengthening rain, I have no idea where I am, can't see the stadia, which seat about 100,000 between them and know only one thing-I'm not going back in Fox studios. Realising this is all hopeless, I chuck on my iPod and decide to potter until I recognise something. Just 20 mins later I see a bit of the roof of Aussie stadium and another 10 mins gets me back to where I started. In all I walked 2 hours in the rain. For nothing really. I must be mad, because I quite enjoyed it.

Flight to Christchurch is at 8.20 tomorrow. Morning. So let's hope I don't make an arse of getting the train to the airport.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Tomorrow, my first day in Brisbane, I shall take the train out of the city for an hour and a half to the Australia Zoo. So, would I have visited Australia Zoo were it not for the world's most famous stingn ray? I really couldn't say. Zoos haven't really been my thing and I have seen a lot of wildlife in the wild. However, there is something intriguing about the Steve Irwin approach and I expected his personlaity to be reflected in the way the zoo presented it's 'collection'. I wasn't sure how they would reflect Steve Irwin's death in what was essentially his zoo. Shrines would seem rather maudlin for someone so full of life. If he had time after the sting ray hit, I feel sure he'd have said (or thought) 'my fault'. I noticed that the admission is now $46; it was $29 in my rough guide, which came out at the end of 2005. There's been quite a lot of inflation for tourists between that guide and my visit, but this is certainly on the high side. I hope the price hasn't risen too much in the last 6 months.

Before I get going, the DJ in the Surfers Paradise transit station is playing a song that has reminded me of the most marvellous thing that the American girls told me on Fraser. Apparently, the bars in New Jersey don't actually tell you it's time to leave; the accepted practice is that the last song played before closing is Livin' on a Prayer. How cool is that? And how much better than New York, New York, which serves a similar role in dire provincial British clubs? The Jovi, it seems, still own New Jersey. While I'm on music, has there been a global revival in the fortunes of Arrested Development, or is just an Australian aberration? If they hadn't been so appalling, I could at least have admired them for acknowledging the state of their musical ability in the band's name. I thought they and their Everyday People had been flushed away with Boyz II Men years ago. I really proper hate them-I'd forgotten how much.


As I got on the courtesy bus to take me from Beerwah train station to the zoo, I sensed Australia Zoo might not be immune to the general tone of tourism in Queensland.

It was quite different inside.

Actually it was relentlessly commercial. I know Steve was big in the US, so maybe he picked up some tricks there. There's merchandising everywhere-Steve and Terri both have their own clothing labels, and a host of add-on activities (photos with animals, feeding animals) are available at an extra cost.

I find the near cult of their daughter Bindi especially strange-she has her own clothing label, kids' fitness DVD and she's toured America, doing stuff like Letterman. She even had her own burger in the food court. She's a big star-she's to be seen on the covers of the seemingly endless racks of Aussie celebrity gossip rags. She's something like 8 years old.

The public feeding the elephants was like a production line, I left almost immediately. I then saw a Tasmanian Devil running endlessly in circles-disturbing behaviour in any captive animal, but far worse in a nocturnal one. At this stage, I was starting to get very disappointed and concerned as to just what I was supporting with my $41 entrance fee. Slowly the place started to win me over, oddly the process started at the Crocoseum.

I suppose I should have guessed they'd remember Steve by having a Crikey shouting contest between the 2 halves of the crowd. The Crocoseum seats 5,000 and hosts the twice daily main show. At this stage it still sounds horrendous. Although the show is funny and entertaining, it is not about making animals jump through hoops. Rather it seeks to educate the audience so they can understand animal behaviour (I don't think the Sea World shows Sozz and I saw had that goal). We saw elephants, snakes, birds and crocs: after each segment there was a message on how we should treat the animals and how we could help ensure their survival. It was poignant when the message was delivered by Steve on the video screen. Some of it was as simple as stop cutting down forests, but it still needs to be in people's minds.

The handling of crocs is impressive and certainly dangerous. As this emphasised

Inevitably, what won me over was the strength of the environmental message. A message that was heard by a lot of kids. I feel the influence on the thinking of so many people is the true legacy of Steve Irwin. That and the substantial number of local projects the zoo supports across the world.

The state of that Tasmanian Devil still concerns me. I do believe that in an ideal world there would be no zoos-I seem to remember one of the aims of Gerald Durrell's Jersey Zoo was to become redundant. Humans aren't much good at creating an ideal world. Captivity isn't consistent in the penalty it imposes-crocs don't move so much, so birds, fish and large mammals seem much worse off. Also the crocs have mostly been relocated-essentially they have 'troubled' humans; luckily they're protected so they don't just get shot. In order that humans can understand, care about and be sufficently engaged to protect animals, it seems a necessary evil that some animals will suffer for the greater good like that Tasmanian Devil. Another example of nature suffering for human failings.

With so many people on the site, I was surprised how easy it was to find a quiet corner to myself: I spent some reflective time with crocs, giant turtles, roos and big lizards. However, the most moving part of the place was unpublicised and tucked away under the Crocoseum.

This was the public's tribute to Steve. There were a few flags, clippings and a surf board, but overwhelmingly Steve's khaki croc hunting shirts dominated. Each one was covered in messages. It was apparent from the messages that a good proportion of the people had met him. There must have been thousands of messages. I've no idea how spontaneous or otherwise it was, but, chancing upon it as I did, it made a very powerful statement.

Crocs do appropriately dominate Australia Zoo and that in itself is important-it's much easier to get the public on side for the conservation of animals that don't scare the bejesus out of them. For my money, the Zoo is dead right in taking an approach that by getting people to understand crocs, they'll be less likely to harm crocs and and their environment. As one guy said, 'there's no excuse for being eaten by a croc' (man, I hope that's not tempting fate). Or as Steve put it-crocs rule.

The understated nature of the tributes to Steve combined with his pictures, voice and video still being in evidence throughout the zoo almost create an illusion that he's still here. The only life after death I believe in is living on in the thoughts and hearts of those you knew or inspired. There's so much affection for the man in this country that he's going to have a very full afterlife.

Few double letters there-try spelling it out loud.

After my day with the spirit of Steve, I set off on a tour of Brisbane. From the guide and talking to people, I'd worked out there wasn't an enormous amount to see, but I worked out a pretty good route, culminating with a tour of the Gabba.

St. John's cathedral was a touch underwhelming, closed and covered in scaffolding-like most of the world's cathedrals. The ensuing walk through the botanical gardens was the morning's highlight: it was beautifully cool and I followed the river so I had a breeze as I ambled through parkland, rainforest and mangrove swamp.

The walk of historic buildings was pleasant but hardly awe inspiring-in part because to a European, they're historic in the American sense. With the obvious exceptions in Sydney harbour, I haven't seen much in the way of architectural gems. Still, you can't be good at everything or there'd be no point going anywhere else.

I crossed over the river to go to the city's cultural centre-a complex including theatre, state library, museum and art gallery. Visually it reminded me of South Bank (hope I've got my London right there); I always assumed the site of the South Bank was bombed in the war-I'm not sure what the excuse is for Brisbane's cultural centre being similarly concrete and ugly.

I went to an interesting exhibition on Sport and War at the state library. This was not the first time I'd seen the hypothesis that these were the two fields where Australia had made an impact on the international arena. Maybe it's because of the musea I've visited, maybe it's because Australia has waged so many fewer wars than Britain, but I feel there's more interest and pride in the military history here. I saw photos of surf parades at Gaza, the first overseas Aussie rules game, Aussies trying baseball and basketball against the Yanks and cricket played in POW camps and to cover the Gallipoli retreat. Once again I found inspiration in Keith Miller and his attitude-'I'll tell you what pressure is. Pressure's a Messerschmitt up your arse. Cricket is not'. The Don didn't share Miller's sense of perspective; I must find a good biography.

The State museum was mostly a natural history museum and I was once again impressed with the strength of the environmental message and what YOU can do.

So to the Gabba; as Queensland failed to reach the Pura Cup Final, I had to settle for a stadium tour. As this was the fifth and final venue I was visiting where England had lost a test match in the last four months, I was a little disappointed that it was the only one where I wouldn't see any cricket. After the poor food offerings at the SCG, MCG and especially the WACA, I found this sign particularly galling.

All of the circular stadium that is the new Gabba has been built since 1990; no stand is named after a player; there are no statues. It lacks history. More accurately, it does next to nothing to honour it's history. Botham played for Queensland and, if memory serves me, caused a lot of trouble. The Gabba's most famous cricket moment was the first tied test, which was at least recognised in the members dining room. There was a big photo of the concluding run out and this photo of the skipper and chairman of selectors.

The mafia guy is Don Bradman and the young 'un is Richie Benaud. I found it interesting to reflect that there have only been 2 ties in Test history, both involving Australia; only 3 times has a side enforced the follow on and lost-all Australia. It's an odd game and you could dedicate a lifetime to documenting its peculiarities and strange occurences, as Bill Frindall has. One of the nice things about the Gabba, aside from Ken who showed us round, is that they let you out in the middle.

And if the cricket goes wrong, you could always pick up some porn as you left the ground.

I've been to something in the region of 10 wineries on this trip, but no breweries. As I had the morning before getting the bus to Surfer's Paradise, I walked up past the SunCorp stadium (where the Rugby's played) and went on the XXXX tour. Before I reached Queensland, I thought XXXX was like Foster's-heavily marketed to the UK as being true blue Aussie, but scarcely drunk in Australia. While I barely saw XXXX in the other states, they've a stranglehold on Queensland-it's everywhere and you often have the 'choice' of XXXX or VB.

I've been on a few brewery tours and this was definitely the most fun. We had a waxwork and XXXX ad with AB, a video on the history of beer (civilisation and cultivation's cornerstone apparently) and a lot of guidance from Mr XXXX, who they don't use in England.

As much of the brewing is now computer controlled, you don't see much of the actual brewing, save the size of the operation-they can store 20 million litres before bottling. What really got me was the bottling operation, especially the cans, which went at an incredible pace. There's beer flying everywhere in a production line that's a mix of Mousetrap and those crazy domino world record attempts they had every other week on Record Breakers. After the tour we had 4 included beers in the XXXX bar. How typical of our age that they make a really great beer, imaginatively named XXX, which you can only get in the brewery as it was deemed uncommercial. Sadly no photos allowed in the brewery-odd considering the makeup of the yeast is the 'secret' ingredient and I'm not aware a photo of yeast reveals a great deal.

And so to Surfers Paradise. Psychologically I think it's been a good thing for me that my last week in Oz looks so devoid of highlights-it will send me to NZ looking forward rather than back and diminish my Australian regrets: missing Kangaroo Island, Darwin & the Top End, insufficient time in Western Australia and the Ashes. You may have guessed Surfers was not a highlight.

I think I can sum up Surfers with one anecdote. Surfers Paradise was the name of a long since defunct hotel in a small coastal town. The town council met to discuss changing the town's name to make it more exciting and appealing to tourists. Pretty much by default Surfers Paradise won. Ludicrously, depressingly and predictably, the council's gambit paid off. Massively. With millions flocking in, high rises spewed up along the coast. Greedily built too high and close to the beach, they now block out much of the beach's afternoon sun.

So in an eagerness to provide for ever increasing numbers of visitors, they've messed up their main attraction.

I reckon I'm one of the few people here who thinks the place is boring and there's nothing to see or do: they've theme parks (been there, done that), shops, bars, night markets, clubs, a Ripley's Believe it or Not (always a bad sign), lots of neon and a beach. It's all so anywhere like McDonalds, multiplex cinemas, Starbucks and Cape Town's V&A Waterfront.

I've tried a day on the beach again today (my second one), but the appeal of sand and sun still fails to hold my interest for any extended period of time. I think Australia is a marvellous country, but much of the East coast and Queensland's approach to tourism just isn't very interesting. Ironic that I've enjoyed Oz so much and its no 1 tourist destination leaves me cold.

More succinct would be that I'm told the surf's not much cop-Surfers is a triumph of marketing over substance. Aside from all that, it's a shame John's not here-there's a couple of tasty looking crazy golf courses.

Oh, and after the number of Spaced references I've made, I simply must encourage you all to go to the flicks and see Hot Fuzz. Helen-I think it's set in Pulloxhill.

And I've found a Keith Miller biography; here's a bit from it that explains my interest.
"Glendinning [Miller's big wartime buddy].....was playing snooker with Miller when a ball from a table tennis match two metres away flew towards their table. Miller was lining up to pot a red. He raised the cue, and with its tip hit the flying ball back to the other table, saying: 'Would you mind keeping the ball in your area, chaps?' He then potted the red without changing his stance."

Legend. It's full of stuff like that.

Dudes and Dudetts
Byron Bay is meant to be a gem; I couldn't tell you. I arrived at 6.30 (these days it's dark by then-summertime finished at the weekend) and left at 8 the following morning-I'm out of time. I had a very pleasant dinner with Leanne, bumped into a couple of Irish guys from Krombit, listened to the band and went to bed. Sorry Byron.

I thought the next 2 days were just going to be busing it the thousand K's to Sydney, with an overnight stop at Surf Camp. I had assumed that you needed to hop off at Surf Camp to learn to surf. Learn to surf was something I had wanted to do in Oz, but, like getting my PADI, I'd abandoned the idea as time ran out. Turns out we get to Surf Camp at midday and have an afternoon lesson. As a double Brucie bonus, this is included in my ticket. Mental note-don't go booking things when hungover, you don't find out all about them.

We had a lesson on what the bits of the board are called, how to put on our leg strap (keeps the board nearby when you wipe out), how to lie on the board and paddle, how to get up and how to starfish-fall into shallow water once the wave's run its course.

Given the size of the waves and my low level of comfort in water, I had no great expectations-not drowning and avoiding concussion were my twin aims. I surprised myself by being actually quite good and not doing a Bryson on Bondi (physics defying sinking like a stone). From talking to other travellers, I understood that standing up was the difficult bit-I was mostly successful in this and did several runs where I then stayed up and even controlled the direction (this gets your instructor whooping, giving a stupid hand signal and calling you dude). Where I need to improve is getting onto the board (the lying down on your gut bit) and keeping the board facing the right way. I'd get on and could be up to 45 degrees off course as a result of my movement. This is unhelpful with a wave coming in, it can lead to dunk time. Overall, it was fun and I was very pleased with how I got on with it, despite drinking a lot of Ocean.

I'm not sure I'd ever get really into it. Firstly the process of getting through the waves and in position to catch a wave-it seemed a whole lot of effort. It made me think of sand boarding-struggle your way up a sand dune in the heat to board down: just go snowboarding for heaven's sake-they have lifts. I'm getting a touch sedantry in my adrenalin sports!

More significantly I just can't cope wih being called dude twice a minute and all the whooping and 'craziness'. I've never reacted well to 'we having a good time?' cheerleading and it seems 33 will be remembered as when I became a complete Old Fart.

For the first time I paid for the rip-off photos ($30 inc 'free' t-shirt), so as this may the only surfing by SuperPoll, I'm going to post plenty of them.

So I guess now I’ve done the surf dude thing, it’s time for a haircut. Maybe.

Ultimate Olympian-I'll coach you if surfing's crept into the games, while I wasn't looking. You'll love the getting dunked bit.

Sydney here I come.

Boomerang-back to Sydney
Finally got the Boomerang thing in.

I'm feeling quite emotional. I've just visited what will surely be my last Big Thing. (Forgot to say we did the Big Prawn yesterday, which 'British Comedian' Ross Noble had visited). Still it was the original. Dating from 1964, I give you the Big Banana.

If you look closely you'll see a second Big Banana in my hand; this one is frozen, coated in chocolate and nuts (without the nuts, it just looks like a turd on a stick). A very tasty snack, especially after another night on the Stanley wine.

Inevitably, the Big Banana is not that big. Being the first Big Thing, it started the ball rolling and the 120 or so Big Things that followed upped the ante in the size stakes.

After that excitement, we saw a candy making demonstration-rock to me and you. I could go into details, but essentially they turn this

into this

And one of the candy makers was a big trannie! Gotta love Coff's harbour.

I’m back in Sydney. As you can probably tell this post was written in a number of different sittings, and I’m uploading the pictures and checking my e-mail. It’s really very odd to be back in Sydney, I’m staying at the same hostel as 3 months ago-just booking that was freaky enough. As we drove in I remembered old haunts (even though I spent less than 2 weeks here) and remembered things I did when I was last here. It seems ages ago, I guess I have done so much since then.

I’m also finding it really emotional-a word used by a couple of people on the bus. Yes, I am an old softie, but unlike the others it wasn’t so much leaving the people behind that was affecting me. I’ve met some great people on the East Coast and it was lovely to come into Sydney with 3 particularly good folk, who will in time be in NZ, where I reckon I shall bump into them again. On Fraser it was ridiculous, I could barely stop without bumping into people I’d met and that’s always a special moment, even when the ‘Hi, how you going?’ conversation is a touch banal. The people you’ve met become a touching point, almost some kind of roots.

I’ve met a few really special people, some of whom I’m still in touch with, but I’ve become lazier with getting e-mails and numbers off people-I’ve been travelling a while and have become a touch cynical about when I think it’s worthwhile.

So, lovely as many of you have been, I’m used to leaving you behind and moving on. It’s leaving Australia that’s choking me up. I love this place.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Let's off road

Well I guess you can't be up for it the whole time. Last night was pretty lame and rather dull and was in an out of town place, where the shuttle bus meant staying 4 and a bit hours. I struggle to get the party spirit when I'm not inspired, and I was not inspired.

In turn, this frayed my confidence for the remainder of the East coast jaunt; I've met plenty of interesting 18-22 year olds on my travels, and been on the piss with many of them. There is the world of difference between travelling and partying when the mood or place takes you and flying somewhere on a mission to party and do little else. If you're on a gap year and the East coast is your only Australian destination, it seems to me that you probably fall into the latter camp. And you'll probably bore the arse off me.

When I saw the passengers for our new larger bus, my spirits weren't exactly raised. With my help, the average age may have touched 20. Having said that, all misgivings were soon set aside; there were a couple of dullards sat behind me listing their party exploits, but the Johns were back and there were a good number of sound folk. I think it was the first time I hung out almost exclusively with blokes, at least till later in the evening. Anyway a few conversations later, the spring was back in my step.

I guess it was a very Australian day; it was certainly a very competitive day. Our long drive and evening were punctuated by chances to beat people.

After a few hours, we made a stop at a lawn bowls club; there were 2 rinks with very welcome awnings. It seemed to be ladies day on rink 1, where a platoon of ladies of a certain age played, resplendent in their whites. We played nextdoor, barefoot in t-shirts and baseball caps. The 3 of us held an inter-John tournament that I didn't win.

To me there is something fundamentally unAustralian about bowls, but it seems to thrive. There are bowls clubs everywhere. Our driver, who used to work at a bowls club, told me towns often get a bowls club before getting a school. Hell, we even watched an Australian bowls movie on the bus. I was rubbish.

We spent the evening at the Kroombit cattle ranch, which I was delighted catered for veggo's. After dinner, the games began. We learned to crack a whip, as any aspiring Indiana Jones must. I started off well, but was ultimately a bit crap.

Then onto the mechanical bull. I was about average for the group, which was essentially pathetic.

John prepares his exit from the mechanical bull.

After we'd all risked our chances of becoming fathers (it can leave you with a groin strain, or bleeding), a local went on, sat on the wrong end, with both hands in the air, got bored after a few bucks and turned round and went to the other end. Bloody showoff, if you ask me.

We then had some non-drinking party games. We burst some balloons amusingly, passed a little red bull round a circle and played a strange musical chairs variant (to country music).

Then we had a game I'd not seen before-pick up the carton of XXXX. You start off with an empty carton of XXXX, taking it in turns you try to pick up the box-using only your mouth. Only your feet can touch the ground before the lift (no knees, heads, hands touching down). Fail and you're out; succeed and you rip a piece off the box before the next person tries. I was bloody brilliant at this, surprisingly. After about 3 rounds, teeth were no longer any use and all that was left was a flat piece of card about 5cm square, which 6 or 7 of us had lifted with our tongues (this needed regular replacement of soggy bits of cardboard). To decide the winner, we were each given a flat bit of card; the first one to lift it and then hold it above their head would be the winner.

I dead heated with one of the girls from the farm, so we went head to head. I got my piece up first, but having got gravel on my tongue in the original final, I was low on tongue stickability. My piece fell to the floor and I knew the XXXX cup was gone. Why I have no photos of it is a bit of a mystery; it's a definite event for International King of Sports. Another very late night ensued.

I had been meaning to ride since going on a camel safari with Mik in 2001 and jumped at the chance, despite it meaning yet another early start. I think it may have been 20 years since I'd been on a horse and my mother had memorably described me as 'looking like a sack of potatoes'. I thoroughly enjoyed herding goats from my seat in Pipsie's saddle. This is another thing I should learn to do properly.

Although we reached no great speeds, I reckon I was pretty good-I was at the forefront of the herding and most of the others said their horse basically did as it pleased. I even had to give Pipsie some TLC as she had uneven hips, which led to a limp if she started off on the wrong foot-that's just what I was told.

We then had a goat rodeo (basically catch the goat), before heading off to Hervey Bay with lunch en route. I'm going to Hervey Bay to do a self-drive 4x4 tour of Fraser Island (maximum 11 people, which sounds cosy).

Hervey Bay and I got off to a bad start, it has no pavements and I don't like that. Especially when I look at a map with no scale, decide I fancy the walk to my hostel and it takes 50 very sweaty minutes to get there. And then the woman in the internet café is unreasonable. I've basically got tomorrow to look round Hervey Bay-I may stay in bed, doesn't look like there's much here.

Still Dutch Ivo in my dorm seems very nice, as does the Spanish guy whose name I've already forgotten-he walked in while I was writing this. They'll both be in the landcruiser with me. As you need to be 21 to drive, I may be doing quite a bit.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world; it has more sand than the Sahara desert; it has the finest sand on earth, so put your camera in an airtight bag; the sand is blown from Sydney, well over 1,000kms away; it is 75 miles long; it is Australia's 3rd largest Island; the speed limit on the beach is somewhere between 70 and 100 km per hour; it is yet another Australian UNESCO World heritage site (I read today that the opera house is to apply). It's also been the scene of some pretty horrific car accidents-at speed when you hit holes, bumps or turn sharply, it's easy to roll. When most passengers are in the back, sat on benches, that hurts. Sand is the most taxing surface on which to drive a 4x4; most of Fraser's visitors are 4x4 novices on a self-drive. There are a number of the ingredients in a recipe for trouble.

I gleaned all this from Fraser Escape's two introductory talks, the second of which was fire and brimstone in tone. Pops was meant to talk to us about driving the car and getting round the island safely. He was a cliché ridden bore, addicted to hyperbole-no one knew more about Fraser Island than he did, he talked of body bags, you kids, quadraplegics, finishing your holiday in hospital, coming off the island on a tow truck/emergency helicopter, paraplegics, dickheads and dead Australians, who, being Australian, should have known better. Clearly his favourite expression was 'world of pain'; if we didn't listen to him, Fraser had countless dramatic ways of sending us there. The most useful information he imparted came in response to questions-what to do if we got stuck, how do we spot the 2 creeks of death (one of which Pops described as 'the bitch of Fraser') and how the eskies worked.

He was accompanied by his 12 year old side kick of a grandson, who'd clearly learnt his delivery from Pops-'this is your return ticket for the barge; without it, you will NOT get off the Island'. (Unless in a helicopter, tow truck or body bag). He was dubbed The Kid, and loomed over everything we did on Fraser; on numerous occasions before we left, he popped up out of thin air and it seemed as if he was always about. There were those whose dark suspicions extended to him being a shapeshifter and, amongst other things, assuming the body of the bird we saw on Lake McKenzie that Ivo described as a 'fucking weird duck'.

Don't get me wrong, Fraser is dangerous and people do behave like dickheads, but there are ways to speak to people that ensure they absorb your message rather than marvel/laugh at your ludicrous, melodramatic delivery. Still, Pops provided a lot of laughs, long after we waved him goodbye.

Despite being a group of ten, all the driving was down to Curro (Spanish guy) and me. The five American girls weren't licensed to drive a manual, while Ivo and the Danish girls, Mia and Ditte, were under 21. I had a feeling of African deja vu: we travelled in a LandCruiser; Didi in Africa was Danish and her name was actually Ditte; Danish Mia wanted to get into psychology, focussing in schizophrenics, just as Slovenian Mia did.

We rolled off the barge and started out on one of the tracks across the island-only the east beach is designated as 'highway'. En route we had one stop. When Belinda Carlisle sang 'Ooh, Heaven is a place on earth', it's pretty obvious she was inspired by Lake Mckenzie

You can drink the water as you swim in it (no sunscreen allowed, so I did get a bit burnt). We filled up our 45 litre water container, which lasted us the trip, although it weighed a bit as I took it up to the car.

We continued the drive across the island on narrow and often bumpy tracks. Ivo jumped in the passenger seat after Lake Mckenzie and promptly proclaimed that 'this is some real off roading'. I was taking it fairly steady, as we were travelling through what can only be described as forest; I have no idea how so many trees, often big trees, grow in sand without falling over.

From the beach, we headed North, passing the Maheno shipwreck on our way to the night's aboriginal camp.

Jo was very affable as he welcomed us and showed us the camp's layout, only later did I discover what a top bloke he was. We needed a fire to cook the potatoes, so I went to find Jo and ask for some wood. I guess I was expecting to be presented with a neat bundle of firewood. Instead, Jo said 'No worries bro, see if I can get me truck started and we'll go for a burn up. Once I managed to get my door shut, Jo coaxed the rickety old truck to life and we hurtled off into the woods. We stopped twice and loaded the back of his truck with a mixture of kindling, logs and chunks of tree 12 foot tall. I'm not sure if any of this was legal.

Later he took a bunch of to the beach for a moonwalk. With only the majestic stars for illumination, 6 of us moonwalked on the sand. Our feet momentarily a mass of fluorescence. It was a neat trick. I rode up front on the way back and discovered that as the truck's headlights didn't work, I needed to lean out the window and light the way with Jo's headtorch. Not easy when you've a tin cup of wine in the other hand. Jo's a legend.

A number of us did the early rise to watch the sun do likewise on the beach. Cloud and rain denied us any great photos, but it was a lovely walk on the deserted beach.

Later we took a swim in Eli creek (number 1 death creek), where it seems the latest fashion was the refugee look.

From there we had another substantial hike to the champagne pools, which are basically a pair of natural saltwater swimming pools.

Then it was onto the night's camp. Camp rules stated that you had to be quiet between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., which was another odd piece of Australian over-regulation. Still no one bothered us and we had a bit of a party. It seems even the most beautiful of ladies gurn after a few tooheys

One for the Scatman there. Incidentally, he's off the train after three days and in Perth. It sounds like he could make a fortune renting himself out as a magnet for shit weather-the Nullaboor had half it's annual rainful while John hoped for a good sunset.

Next morning, the walk to Lake Wabby was reasonably taxing and demonstrated that Fraser is indeed a sandy place.

The lake itself was another curious mixture of sand, trees and fresh water.

One quick last stop at Lake Mckenzie and we set off to catch the barge. We hoped.

It turned out that the barge guys has misread the tides, which meant they couldn't land, which meant we were stranded for a couple of hours. This was less than an ideal, as this was my tightest connection of all-plan was back to the hostel at 3.30/4.00, catch bus at 5. Apart from Ivo, everyone had flights or buses that night. Cue a burst of frantic phone calls, which resulted in us tearing across the island to catch an alternative barge. 'Tree John' said Ivo casually as we tore through through the forest on a brief collision course. Despite some true bandit driving from yours truly, we missed ther 4 O'clock, which after more frantic calls and running around proved to be the last vehicle barge of the night. Julie had been running the show to try and get us right, so there was no argument with the executive decision to abandon the car and get on the last passenger ferry for the night.

Despite the foretellings of doom from Pops we all got off the Island in one piece. There was a lot of death all the same: the March flies (big, biting bastards that I hadn't seen since Western Australia) were out in force. As were some shockers with green eyes. These were very different from the flies of the outback (want nothing more than to get into your eye/nose/ear/mouth), this lot were after your arms and especially legs. Tho they'd bite you through the t-shirt if they could. Like an Australian cricketer I was focussed, ruthless and devastating. I killed a lot of them, and I wasn't the only one. It was one of those times when you look forward to sunset as much for the fact that it is flies' bedtime as the views. It was a top drawer trip: the group was brilliant. It was fun, we shared a lot of laughs, the food was good, we all liked the same mix of seeing the island and having a few beers and everyone chipped in-it's worth bearing in mind that we were essentially taken to a supermwarket to do 3 days food shopping, given a big bastard truck, a map and itinerary and left to get on with it. That leaves a lot of scope for moaning and argument.

Were time on my side, I'd have idled the extra day in Hervey Bay and pushed everything back a day or two. Since I've only 1 night in Byron Bay (where Mia and Ditte managed to spend 2 and a half of their 7 weeks) and just 10 more nights in Australia, time is not on my side. So I skipped my pre-booked, pre-paid bus and I'm now sitting on what appears to be the retirement special to Brisbane, where I will complete the set of state capitals. After a free night in the Hervey Bay hostel, my impatience has only cost me 30 bucks, which I can live with.

I hear Freddie's been on the piss; I hope the press haven't stuck the knife in, but I doubt it.

On a sad note, my thongs (flip flops, action sandals) have finally fallen apart as they've been threatening since my arrival in Oz. I couldn't tell you how far I walked in them, but my zebra feet are a testament to their sterling service. Looks like an expensive day in Brisbane as my watch battery has also gone and I have got to buy a shirt or two.

Thong update-the Nike ones I got for 15 quid before going to Athens cost $150 to replace. Oops, should have looked after them a bit better, Here's hoping the $40 bargain basement pair I found are some good.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

All the way down the East Coast

Before leaving Cairns I bumped into Myriam, who I travelled with in the Red Centre. We chatted for a couple of hours before I had to go and book my executive backpacker flights. We reconvened for dinner at the Woolshed, which provided a striking piece of Australiana; or at least Cairns tourist tat.

First we got the goldfish racing World Cup; essentially it was straight knockout from the last 8, with a 2 lap final. One's goldfish was encouraged by blowing bubbles through a straw-some of them could really shift. I'm pleased to say victory went to the Oranje who triumphed over the Canadian, which meant Myriam and I both had a horse to cheer in the final.

To race a fish, you had to bid-highest bidder racing the fish in question; after the Dutch celebrations had died down, it was announced that the auction proceeds would be put towards the second part of the evening's entertainment-the wet t-shirt competition. We left, but I guess it must be popular as John and I fled amateur pole dancing (guys and gals) in a different bar the night before. As I walked home, ruminating a la Bryson on what an extraordinary country this is, I was cheered to pass a bar blaring out Johnny Cash's (definitive) version of Hurt; I was soon a touch perturbed, as the DJ saw fit to mix it into Dancing Queen. It really is an extraordinary country.

Pretty long journey today to Magnetic Island-7 a.m. start on the bus, with a ferry and second bus to follow. Stringer's driving and has been the usual font of knowledge: for instance, I have learnt that Slim Dusty is the Chuck Norris of country music-I can't make it up.

It seems John and I were very lucky to see 2 Cassowaries in the wild; Stringer was just explaining he'd only ever seen two, when the bus screeched to a shuddering halt and the air was pierced by a cry of 'Jesus fucking Christ' (I believe this is Australian for 'Oh my goodness, I can scarcely believe what I'm seeing'). Cassowary's wandering about on the verge; we saw another an hour later. I always had ambitions to be a babe magnet; looks like I'll have to settle for being a Cassowary magnet.

Our first stop was at a crocodile farm, it was a bit of a zoo and the style of presentation was definitely Queensland cheesey. The farmers went into a croc enclosure with some chicken (after all, these are Australian crocs), announce their presence, look around for the croc and encourage them to strike. It's truly terrifying the way they move: they fly out of the water, jaws open then snapping, at a great pace. They do this from a frequently invisible starting point-seemingly they can conceal themselves in just a few inches of slightly off colour water. It was sobering to think how close to the water's edge they could be. I understood why it was that in most croc attacks the victim doesn't even get time to scream. The farmers looked frequently unprepared for the croc pounce and backpedalled expertly; they had plastic rakes to protect themselves. Bit of a zoo, but it made a point.

Notice how I have a clear shot of the open gate? The others fled after the farmer threw chicken out of it.

Most of what we saw were full grown crocs that had been relocated after causing a 'nuisance'. From what I saw, it seems croc farming is very like having a James Bond baddie's lair.

After the crocs they got the snakes out and I found Leah-fellow veggie and snake lover. I'm a lot better about snakes than I was 6 months ago, but I was still damn careful no one put one on me. Leah was not so lucky. One guy ended up with one down his trousers. But I did made a new friend

He's probably called John, like the first two fellas I met on the bus. Bloody nice blokes.

Magnetic Island
This was my first stop of real note-2 nights on Magnetic Island. It was named by Captain Cook; like everything else on the East coast. He felt it did something funny to his compass.

We missed the ferry we wanted and ended up arriving for sunset, happy hour and some dinner. Fair result I reckon. It was an amazing hostel, according to Carl Hooper, it's the only one in Australia on the beach.

As for the rest of the evening, let's just say the Australian Army joined us for beers.

A bunch of us from the bus spent a very enjoyable day kayaking and walking. After the boats and lunch, the plan had been to go on an easy walk before something more strenuous around twilight. It would be fair to say the easy walk went wrong

and included off road, rocky bits, steep bits, lost bits and a housing area, where a lovely bloke came out of his house to point us in the right direction; at this stage, we weren't lost-just looking at the cockatoo in someone's tree. It was in short, enough for one day.

More drinks promotions sucked us into another messy night. So much so that the following morning, I had to have fried breakfast as some bugger had nicked my food. I had some good cheese too.

Back on the ferry and back on the bus. My, I've seen a lot of sugar cane, which has allowed me to stop looking out of the window and start reading the NZ Lonely Planet. Judging by the book, it's the best place on earth.

You pick up some nice titbits on the bus. Karrie Webb built the cinema in her home town of Ayr-good on ya. In case the Ultimate Olympian doesn't know, she's the top Aussie lady golfer.

I've worked out I'll be leaving my little posse of new friends as we're on different sail boats and I'm moving on before them; hopefully they'll catch me up.

A sailor's life for me
I'm feeling a little nervous about my sailing trip; it was something of an impulse booking and I didn't really do my research. I'm picking up the vibe that I'm on a bargain basement party boat. On the East coast that might turn into an 18-30 brit-fest. Here's hoping not. I've bought a box of wine, just in case.

There are 74 islands in the Whitsundays. Guess who named them? Captain Cook. For a bonus point, guess when he sailed through here.

They're quite interesting topographically-here's hoping that's the correct word. Long ago when sea levels were a lot lower, the Whitsundays were a mountain range on the Australian mainland. Now the former mountain tops are islands; they mostly looked hilly, sometimes rocky and covered in rainforest.

Pretty sure I was granddad of the passengers (2 days on a boat proved insufficient for us to get round to a game of finding out how old everyone was), but there were no under twenties and the other two English were mid-twenties. I did need the box of wine, tho.

Home tonight

was where the dinner was

I really love the magic of arriving in the dark and only seeing the land the next morning; the imagination creates an image that you get to reality check 12 hours later. Due to the isolation the stars were phenomenonal-up there with the Red Centre.

After dinner and stars, T (the only girl in an Irish quartet, kinda like an inverted Corrs) made us play Ring of Fire. This proved to be an evil drinking game that should carry a health warning; it made a large dent in the box of wine. The numbers of Irish have increased to levels I've not seen since Sydney; they do love a party, or at least those who've made it out here. T told me Bondi's been dubbed County Bondi, due to the number of Irish. I couldn't help but think of the sunburn that must be on show.

Not a lot of sailing was done by our boat, or the others I saw. The engine was the real worker rather than the elements. I did get to raise and lower the mainsail on the last day.

That said, I could quite get into this sailing lark. It's a marvellous way to travel, I think time and cost are its only cons in comparison to air travel.

Unfortunately, on several occasions when I was alone with my thoughts, looking out to sea or sitting on the thing at the front of the boat, the theme tune from Howard's Way popped into my head. Rather loudly. I'm sure if I spend more time on boats, I'll learn some sea shanties to drown it out.

The other very odd earworm that I was subjected to was 'Mistletoe and Wine', when drenched in sweat, walking through a rainforest to Whitehaven Beach, which is a pretty big bit of heaven.

I don't think I want to hear the psychologist's explanation of that one. On the beach we waded round the water in our stinger suits; Yandell saw sharks, but I had to 'settle' for a lot of Sting Rays. Whitehaven was the definite highlight of the trip. The only slight letdown was the dive, where I felt the visibility was poor and it wasn't very well done. Although I still enjoyed the essential fact of diving, I wasn't sufficently inspired to take up the option of a second dive, but I must get certified. I think NZ will do the job. By the looks of the Lonely Planet, rather cheaper than Oz!

On the last night, after the kind of sunset I never shared with John,

the skipper of another boat introduced us to Ride the Train, which was vicious. In my considered opinion only the Withnail drinking game is a more likely carnage creator. We only played it once.

Another beautiful bay and another reef, it was back to shore-after a quick round of jumping off the boat.

And I changed the orientation on my camera. Before new improved Google-arse-blogger that did the trick. Morons.

Post trip party tonight; 6.50 bus in the morning; I'm feeling old.