Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Qld Holiday Day 2 - Glen Innes to The Gap - NYE

Terrible news this morning, as Simon Whitlock was beaten in the semi-final of the PDC World Championship by Peter Wright. For goodness sakes, how the hell do you get beaten by a guy who dresses up like that?!? Lots of disappointed Australians this morning after The Wizard's departure.

We all had a bit of a lay in this morning, meaning that we were getting a hurry-up knock on the door at 9.55am to remind us of check out time. We'd have been fine, except for the discovery of head lice in the kids hair, especially Maddi's, which meant an hour of washing and treating and combing and cleaning all three kids hair by Helen - just what you want when you are on holidays! Anyway, once that whole process was completed, it was back into the car and off to Queensland!

The Big Apple. Or is it The Big Cherry? Or perhaps the Big Toffee Apple?
We drove through Tenterfield, where the kids' new principal at school was transferred from, and sang snatches of "Tenterfield Saddler" and "I Still Call Australia Home" and "I Go to Rio" as we passed the Peter Allen Inn. Not long after we crossed the border for the kids first time journeying into Queensland.

We stopped for lunch at Warwick, at the aptly named Warwick Pie Shop, which had been advertised on a number of large billboards as we approached the town. We were not disappointed with the food, and luckily found a table in the shade of the 35 degree heat we were welcomed by.

I'd forgotten about the fact that due to daylight savings not being in place in Queensland we actually gained an hour when we crossed the border, which meant that instead of the 5-6.00pm arrival time I had given Linda when we messaged yesterday, we actually showed up at 3.30pm at The Gap. Good work Bill. However, given that Martin was not only out at the docs, he was also out at the dentists (interesting idea given the date), I ducked down the street to find some juice for the kids and some scotch for me. Back in residence by 4.00pm it was time to crack the bottle and get New Years Eve underway!
Martin and Bub's kids were with their other respective parents, so while our kids amused themselves (mostly in the pool) us elder people put some music on and had many happy drinks, catching up on all of the local and non-local gossip (in the girls' case, anyway).

I even managed my first game of Cane Toad Golf, though by the time I was swinging a club I was in a less than autonomous state, and really only managed to top most of my shots.
After another very long day, we managed to make it to the New Year in New South Wales time (11.00pm in The Gap), though I was in bed reading by the time the local 12.00am arrived.

So ended 2013, a year that, for our little Peters family conglomerate, was probably as busy and happy as any that we had previously experienced. All in all, we could only hope that 2014 would be the equal of its predecessor.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Qld Holiday Day 1 - Newcastle to Glen Innes

I still woke up early this morning, but that allowed me to see the kids and lie in bed with them and hear all about what they have done for the past few days. We then had breakfast before packing up the car and wishing the Wades adieu, and heading off on the real beginning of our holiday together.
Because I had never been any further than Muswellbrook before, I had decided that we'd take the inland New England Highway route on our way up to Brisbane, and we will come back down the Pacific Highway coastal route on the way home. Everyone was in good spirits, and we had the trip set up in perfect blocks. before we left home, I got everyone to choose twenty of their favourite songs. I then made sure there were no repeats, and put all of these songs on a playlist on my iPod. We also had a full collection of Roald Dahl books on CD, read by such people as Stephen Fry and Simon Callow. So we started with a Roald Dahl audiobook on CD, all of us enjoying "The Witches", as the countryside passed us by.

After just over three hours we reached Tamworth, where none of us had been. Obviously there was a photo opportunity with the Big Guitar on the outskirts of the town.


We stopped for lunch at the pub, the Longyard Hotel, behind the Big Guitar. Not cheap, but I couldn't argue with my steak 'sandwich' on Turkish bread with chips. Here I've already sliced off a hunk and devoured it before I thought to take a photo.

Off on the road again, and we stopped at Moonbi Lookout to check out the scenery that we had just driven through. Not bad countryside.

We pulled into Glen Innes at about 5.00pm, to the Rest Point Motel where we had booked for the night. The family room worked out well, with the kids having one room with their own TV, and Helen and I our own room with our own TV as well.
The kids and Helen wanted to immediately check out the pool, and given it had reached over 35 degrees during the day it was probably a sensible option. We had it all to ourselves for the half hour or so we were in there, and from my point of view I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't had three kids hanging off me for the entire time.

The pool had been one of the reasons I had booked this place. The other was the Hereford Steakhouse restaurant that was attached to the motel. We were booked in for 7pm, and everyone enjoyed their meals. My steak was another beauty as well.

After a long first day's journey in the car, everyone seemed to settle down fairly quickly (considering the fact that the kids could get Nickelodeon on their TV) and the overhead fans were a great asset in aiding us to get to sleep in the still warm atmosphere.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Melbourne Boxing Day Test Trip - Day 4

On Mum's birthday - the first of Mum's birthdays that I haven't seen her in living memory - it was time to head to the MCG to see if Australia could finish what they had started yesterday.
While the other three still have another night in Melbourne to celebrate Australia's (probable) victory in the cricket today, I was flying out this evening for Newcastle, to meet up with my long-lost family to begin our Queensland expedition. As a result, I walked up to the bus station this morning to put my luggage in a locker, so that if I had to come straight from the cricket or pub to the bus, my bag would be waiting for me, and I wouldn't have to carry it around all day, which had been my first option. From here I walked down to the Yarra's Southbank to meet up with my fellow tourists for breakfast. 

And yes - our shirts had been laundered after yesterday's play, so we all smelled apple fresh.
Rocket proved to be the target for the day, given his comment to Sam and myself in the taxi home last night (rather, this morning) from the casino. It was an off-the-cuff comment, which basically went "If Australia win the Test tomorrow before tea, I'll get a tattoo". Well done Daniel. Once this was passed on to Jason, both he and Sam expressed their pleasure at being able to watch the pain that would occur later that evening.

We arrived at the M.C.G to find the Australian squad all in a huddle in the nets, discussing the likely outcomes for Day 4. Given that in Sydney you can't see the nets unless you area Member, this was a fascinating insight, and a welcome one to all of the fans gathered around to hear a little bit of what was being said.

Me and Dennis Lillee. And a couple of photo bombers.

Sam was a little worse for wear after last night's shenanigans.
Today's seats were further around to the right of yesterday's, and right on the fence in Row 1. Good job Jase.

Like our first day, the temperature was back to freezing again - only in Melbourne. What warmed us up was the first half hour of cricket. Chris Rogers edged between keeper and 1st slip, with Bairstow not moving an inch towards the ball, while Warner was dropped by Cook not long after. During this the score was ticking over at 5 an over, and the day appeared ours. By lunch Australia was only one wicket down, and requiring only 90-odd to win the match. The Milo cricketers during the lunch break looked more capable of taking wickets than the Poms by this stage.

After lunch Rogers kept punching, and brought up his second Test century. Though he fell soon after, Watson and Clarke held firm, until the final runs were score just after 2pm, and the crowd went wild. And Rocket had to get a tattoo.

We headed back to our room after all of the post-match awards were done. Just before 5pm I took my leave to head up for the bus station. It was disappointing to leave. The four of us had had such a great time together. Not a harsh word was said between us, we all stuck together for the greater majority of the time, and enjoyed each other's company. It was easily the best trip away I have ever been on, and I really hope the four of us can do it again on a regular basis.

I caught the bus to Tullamarine, and the plane left bang on 8pm, and arrived about 10 minutes early in Newcastle. Helen picked me up and drove me to Phil and Leaf's home, where she and the kids had been for a couple of days.
One holiday was over, and the next one was about to begin.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Melbourne Boxing Day Test Trip - Day 3

Ross had departed by the time the rest of us had risen, and it was time to start thinking about how we would attack the day ahead. Time to slip into the Day Two uniform.

We sensibly made the decision to take in breakfast this morning, and so another roundabout route from our fearless leader saw us down a dark alleyway to another of his favourite haunts... only to find they had no power. We backtracked two store frontages instead and partook eggs and bacon with two cups of coffee to get that heart started.
When we arrived at the G, we found the stall where Jason had been the day before, where you could get a photo with the ICC World Cup, the tournament which is taking place in Australia in early 2015. Having convinced the guys there that the four of us could fit (a tight squeeze to be sure) we had the following photo taken to keep forever of our trip.

Back into the stadium, and today we were at Ground Zero, second row off the fence and right in the lions den. Great seats again, Jase.

Kevin Pietersen wasn't willing to converse with us on the boundary.

We had better company today, but perhaps mainly because the cricket turned our way.

In front of us, in row 1 seat 1, was an old bloke we dubbed "Skip". He told us the story of how he had a mate who was unwell and not capable of travelling on his lonesome, but who wanted to travel and see world sporting events. He ended up convincing Skip to go with him on the recent Ashes tour of England on the ASC hosted tour. Then, two days before they left, Skip's mate passed away. Obviously he didn't want to go, but his mate's wife convinced him to go on the tour anyway (missing his mate's funeral in the process). Then, a couple of weeks ago, his mate's wife rang him up, and told him that, before he moved on, his mate had bought himself and Skip tickets to every day of the Melbourne Test, just to show his appreciation for going with him to England. Wow. How do you take that? So here was Skip, at the M.C.G in seats bought by his dead mate, and having a great time. A wonderful story. I think he had a great day with us, joining in our catcalls and comments, and each time he did he was encouraged further by both Jason and Sam.

Next to Skip turned up a couple and their mate. The bloke and his mate were both Poms, and his wife was Australian. Both the blokes were in the England shirts with their Union jack flags at the ready for any chance to cheer their team on. We all mentioned how we thought his wife should be standing up to these two dressed up Poms. An hour later she went off to get some beer, but she did seem to be taking a while (which of course was mentioned by us - "has she gone home?!"). Some time after she returned with the beer - as well as now being completely decked out in the Australian green and gold shirt, Australian cap and waving an Australian flag. She got a great cheer from us. And of course, as the day wore on, and Australia reasserted their dominance, it was she who was loudly enjoying herself, while her husband became quite muted.

One of the Beer Snakes that often had the participants ejected.
By lunch it was a devastating scenario. For a start, the forecast maximum was 39 degrees, and whereas yesterday we had been crying out for the shadow of the stands to be lifted from us so we could warm up, today we were dreading it. When the sun hit us at 11.00am the temperature rose about 15 degrees. Madness. Also, despite Haddin and Lyon adding 40 for the last wicket, England still had a lead of 51 on the first innings, and at lunch they were 0/54 in their second innings, though Carberry had done little to effect that by crawling to 5 not out off 50 balls. Effectively the Poms were 0/105, and I mentioned to Sam that if something didn't happen quickly after lunch it could be a long two days for us.

It took until five over after lunch for the breakthrough to come, with Mitch getting through Cook, who had made pretty much all of England's runs. At 1/65, with England 116 runs in front, it was the beginning of two very satisfying sessions of cricket to be at the ground, watching it all live. Either side of drinks three wickets fell in six balls to bring the crowd to life. Carberry was finally executed for 12 off 81 balls, before Joe Root ran himself out by hitting the ball straight to Mitch at Mid off and he threw down the stumps at the bowlers end. Pietersen took a single before Bell chipped his first ball to Mitch again at mid-off, and he was out for a golden duck. Just beautiful. Does it get any better than seeing Bell get a golden duck?... and with the score on 87...

England lasted until tea with no further damage, which brought The Wave out in force, which comes across pretty well in the video below. There is also a little chat by Jason and Sam to resident deep mid-wicket George Bailey at the end.

After tea it was getting hotter, but not as hot as it was for England. From 5/173 they collapsed in the final session to be all out for 179 in a rollicking exhibition where the crowd really came to life. Broad's dismissal for a third ball duck and Pietersen trying to hit his way to heroism and falling to a great outfield catch by Ryan Harris were the absolute highlights, and they were given a massive send of by the Cavalier boys in the Aussie Army. Fantastic stuff. Australia even raced to 0/31 at stumps, and left the tantalising thought that we would see and Australian Test victory tomorrow.

38 degrees, but still only one of us taking off their shirts

Our mate, Nathan Lyon. It took us 20 minutes to convince him to give this kid an autograph.
The England innings come to it's conclusion with Monty reviewing a plumb LBW.

Welcome to the bowling crease... Stuart Broad... heh heh heh...

60,000+ head back into the city after the third day's play

Jason and Sam were adamant that a return bout with the casino was a must for the evening, so after our usual wind-down ritual of a couple of beers in front of the BBL, that's where we headed. First point of call was the downstairs eateries, where I picked up tandoori chicken and beef vindaloo with rice and naan bread for just $14.00. That's just ridiculous, and though I have enjoyed everywhere and everything we have eaten on this trip, if I wanted to save $150 I could have had this every night.

Then it was upstairs to the tables once again, and to watch the three players in action (no, I did not gamble one cent at the casino on our stay. I was on a strict budget with our upcoming Queensland holiday, and survived the temptation to have a flutter). I watched as Jason continued his dominance of the Caribbean Stud poker table. I laughed as Rocket seemed to pick it up extremely quickly, and then jagged a few hands that increased his wealth immensely. I laughed harder as Sam decided he wanted in on this, and lost as heavily as Rocket was winning. Then the three of them headed back to High Card Draw, and as Sam slowly fell in a hole, and Jason held his own, Rocket had eight straight winning hands - until the new dealer arrived. The dealer changed his winning chips (which had been sitting on the table throughout his winning streak) and immediately the whole table went down in flames.
While Sam and Jason continued to plough on, Dan and I retreated to the Sports Bar, where a kindly barman, when asked for two scotch & cokes, poured us Johnnie Label Black Label, and only charged $5 each. GOLD!! It was a pity we couldn't track him down again, as the next few rounds were back to house scotch, and at $10 each. Oh well, that first one was savoured I can tell you.
Our arrival back at the room corresponded with 2.15am ticking by on the clock, and so it was to bed to prepare for the final day of the cricket.

Two legends morphed into one.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Melbourne Boxing Day Test Trip - Day 2

It was an early morning rise for all, but at least some of us managed five hours sleep, as apart from the two or so that our weary travellers faced.
After a cup of coffee, and some having some cereal (not me - breakfast at the G!) it was time to don the day's uniform and head off for the cricket.

Jason's shirt design for Day 1

The Cavaliers are coming to the M.C.G

Rocket makes the first of a dozen trips to the ATMs of Melbourne

Rowing Clubs along the Yarra

On our way to the G
I hadn't been to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for 15 years or so, back when there was the old stands and the rickety wooden seating. So that first glimpse of the coliseum it has become when I first walked into the stadium was quite amazing. So much for the suburban cricket ground it had been in 1877 when the first ever Test match was played. It now truly is an amazing ground.

We had a little bit of a wander, and even though the seats Jason had procured for us were stunning - second level of the very right hand edge of the Great Southern Stand, up against the railing - Rocket and I managed to find a place that perhaps, should he feel the need, could perhaps gain for us on our next visit?...

Breakfast of Champions. Three pies at the M.C.G
Of course, this is Melbourne, and although the forecast was for a pleasant 22 degrees, well, sitting in the stands in the shadow of the great stadium it was anything but that at 9.30am. In fact, it was bloody freezing! Isn't this supposed to be summer? However, those of us who have been to Melbourne before at least came prepared for this eventuality. Rocket dubbed me "The Experienced Melbourne Traveller" as he sat there in his polo shirt and shorts, while the three burning hot pies helped to warm my insides as well.

The number of people on the field during the preliminaries is quite amazing. Both sides warming up with full support crews involved, all the TV and radio crews and commentators, as well as those providing "entertainment" on the big screen. How more people don't get hit by stray cricket balls and the like is beyond me.

When play did start for the day, with England 6/226, it was with a bang. Ryan Harris' first over was negotiated by Kevin Pietersen, but it was the second over of the day that brought the crowd to life. Mitchell Johnson's first ball was a screamer. All night, you can imagine that Tim Bresnan would have been playing over in his mind how he was going to approach this innings. then he had taken about forty minutes of nets and throwdowns in preparation for his innings. And then, first ball, from out of nowhere, Mitch delivers him a thunderbolt as he lent forward on his front foot, finding a 145kph bouncer coming straight at his head. He barely had time to get his bat and gloves in front of his face before the ball careered into them, popping to George Bailey at short leg. A rip-snorter, an impossible ball to try and handle first up. It was awesome, one of the best balls I've seen at a cricket ground.
Stuart Broad entered to a cacophony of boos that echoed all around the ground. His leg bye first ball brought Pietersen back on strike, and he obviously didn't want to have anything to do with the bullets Mitch was sending down. First ball he backed away, and tried to pull him over mid-wicket only to miss. The crowd began to give him some, insinuating he didn't want to be out there. Next ball went down leg, but the next was a perfectly pitched ball that swung back into the stumps. KP inexplicably almost charged, and tried to swing it over mid-wicket again, this time losing the top of middle stump in the process, at real pace. The crowd erupted. It was magnificent theatre, and a brilliant way to start the day.

Once England was dismissed, we were hoping for a Dave Warner Show, but unfortunately this was not to come. In fact, it turned out to be England's day, as apart from Chris Rogers gritty 61 the Australians collapsed to be 9/169 at stumps, almost 100 behind England's first innings. The afternoon's entertainment came more from the crowd below us in the Aussie Army section (where we would be seated for the next two day's play). Plenty of drinking and chanting going on, with firstly gentlemen encouraged by the crowd to "SKOLL! SKOLL! SKOLL!", and greeted by cheers when it was done, and jeers when it was not. Before long however, this was not enough, and they were now encouraged to "DO THE TRAY! DO THE TRAY!", meaning downing four drinks one after the other. This inevitably led to the participant being escorted from the venue. Soon enough, the crowd began to get rowdier as the cricket began to tail off, and even closing down the bars for the last session didn't stop it. A few fights broke out, and the constructors of plastic up snakes also found their way to an early shower. By the end of play, we estimated that a hundred people had to have been ejected. Guess it is fortunate in this way that they only serve mid-strength alcohol. this probably also saved the three Poms who were sitting next to us all day, as their vigor grew with each passing wicket from Australia. That's all fine, but when they started shouting out about Australians not being walkers (when it was simply Ryan Harris being asked to wait by the umpires to see if it was a no ball), or Australians using reviews when they KNEW they were out (when George Bailey was sure he hadn't hit it, and Hot Spot showed no edge, and Snicko the tiniest noise that quite honestly could have been anything), or just general carry-on for the last hour... well... let's just say that I kept my mouth firmly shut (most of the time), but if we hadn't been drinking mid-strength beer there could have been at least a couple of Poms flying over the second tier of the stand.

We walked back to our room with the masses of over 78,000 people, to find our air conditioning on five degrees. Now - this situation could have been easily fixed by resetting the air conditioning unit. However, we instead proceeded to spend the next hour in a frigid atmosphere (from my point of view, it was refreshing). However, some of our elder statesmen (well, one) decided that it was just a little too cold to bear.

Having taken in an hour of the evening's BBL match, we finally got ourselves together and headed out for dinner. Jason was adamant that we had to go to a restaurant up on Lygon Street, which was a hefty walk away. Of course, this didn't account for the fact that, once again, our fearless leader managed to get us lost, and the trip took twice as long as it probably had to. I thought it was pretty funny. Daniel was "literally dying of hunger", Ross found he was desperate to take a leak, and eventually headed off into a road construction hut on the side of the road to complete his business, and Sam was just over the walking aspect. Might have taken us an hour, but it was pretty amusing from my side.

We finally fell into the place that Jason just HAD to get us to. Inside... well, to probably everyone's disbelief, we ran into the Timbs' and Thistlethwaite clans, just finishing up their own dinner. Who would have thought - travel a thousand kilometres, and from a couple of thousand restaurants in Melbourne we just happen to choose the same place. Funny.
The walk was worth it. We got cheap specials, and I had the black angus rump again (this time a 400g instead of 300g) which was spectacular. Dan followed me, but also partook in the risotto for starter. Despite his "literally dying of hunger" monotone on the way, he was unable to get more than halfway through his main after this.

While Rocket and Sam chose a taxi to return to the room, the elder statesmen decided to stroll back, one that took a considerably shorter space of time that the walk on the way up. By the time we arrived it was closing in on midnight, and everyone decided to turn in, as Ross was leaving our troop early for his plane trip home. Still, I found Tin Cup playing on the TV, and couldn't resist watching it again, and thus sacrificed the extra hour's sleep I may have gotten in the process.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Melbourne Boxing Day Test Trip - Day 1

Since this was first brought up - and then booked - back in August, this has been a day I had been looking forward to. It was a bucket list moment, something I had wanted to do for as long as I can remember - attend a Boxing Day Test at Melbourne against England. Having been conceived by Sam Wolf and Daniel Reilly, and then orchestrated by Jason Wills, Helen had convinced me that I should go, and the day had arrived. Also coming along was Ross Wolf, for the first day's cricket, before leaving The Wolfpack to fend for themselves.

Jason's bus picked me up from my front door, courtesy of Geoff Wills, whose displeasure at not coming on the trip itself was plainly evident. Love it Geoff, maybe next time your son will think of you! Jason had provided beers for the trip up, which felt like a perfectly normal thing to do at 7.00am. Unusually there was no great scramble to get off at Engadine Pub for a pit stop. Probably a good thing given that it was too early for opening.

I have no memory of what I was trying to explain to Sam here
Having checked in at Sydney airport we had another couple of beers while watching the preamble to the Test on TV before boarding the plane for Melbourne at 10.30am, just as the first ball was sent down at Melbourne. Clarkey winning the toss and sending England in?! Amazing.
We arrived safely at Tullamarine (with our Facebook followers having had an hour's peace while our phone's were turned off in-flight), and caught the Skybus into the centre of Melbourne.
One of the quirks of our accommodation, at Plum Apartments in Collins Street, was that their admin centre was a couple of kilometres away from the actual place we stayed at. By unanimous vote (yep, even he agreed to it) Jason was carried on to the admin centre by our mini-bus transfer, while we sat inside the lobby waiting for the keys to arrive.

Arrival at Tullamarine
After about an hour of waiting the room was made available to us. Big enough for all of us, and centrally located, Jason was to be commended for his efforts.

The room. Cricket about to return after drinks.
We spent the second session of the cricket watching in our room, having some lunch and a few room-christening beers. Then it was time to put on the togs, and we headed down to the Transport Bar on the banks of the Yarra for more beer and watching of the cricket.

"The Wolfpack" - with two Wolfs.
It was a warm day, and the cricket had been somewhat slow by the English, and for the couple of hours we were on premises, there was a steady stream of spectators that had been at the M.C.G but had left early, citing the slow play and the huge queues as their reasoning. Fair enough, as the crowd eventually broke the record for the biggest one day crowd to attend a Test match. The last session seemed more exciting, as Australia snared late wickets, although the steady influx of alcohol and the sighting of rugby league pin-up boy Brad Fittler probably helped.

Beers at the Transport Bar
Once play had concluded at 6.00pm, we walked down to Crown casino, where Jason insisted there was an Italian place to die for to eat at. The fact that it took an hour to find our way through the crowds and Jason's direction to make this place should surely be left aside at this point.

"I'm high on the hill. Looking over the bridge. To the M.C.G"
To Jason's credit, the food was great. The black angus rump I had that was one of the specials of the day was great, apart from the lack of sides. Still, I rarely complain too loudly about things like that.

From here it was into the gambling areas themselves, and there was a parting of the ways from this point. Sam and Jason were quickly taken in by the high card table. What a fantastic way to lose a lot of money very quickly. Such simple rules. You get a card, the dealer gets a card. Highest card wins. Table minimum bet $15. Just terrific. I thought two-up was the easiest way to lose money, but I have been proven wrong. Jason soon disappeared, and while Ross stayed with Sam, Rocket and I headed for the Sports Bar, not only for another drink, but to check out how Will Sheridan was faring in the Renegades BBL clash with the Scorchers. Answer - he did OK, Renegades got done.

Tables were at a premium, but we eventually waited long enough to get one. Sam and Ross returned, with Sam having made a windfall and started buying drinks. Then Jason returned, having found the Caribbean Stud table and also won a sizable portion of the stakes, and began buying more drinks. Yes, more than any of us needed.

We walked back to our room, though it did appear that we got hopelessly lost along the way - although that could perhaps just have been the alcohol confusing me about that. It did seem that the walk back was a lot longer that the walk there, and it had been a long walk. Two of our party thought it was a little bit early to call an end to the night, and they broke away within sight of Collins Street. Those of us not so inclined headed in, and by 1.30am I was discovering how comfortable my bed was.