Did you notice that the world got smaller?
As I am working away in Australia for a couple of months it gave me pause to think about how much smaller the world has come in just one generation. Traveling over long distance is more affordable and quicker than it has ever been. Maintaining contact with people in across time zones and distance is also much, much easier.
When I was a kid I lived in Birmingham in the UK. I lived with mom, dad, my sister, and my nan. I lived on the same street as my dad’s eldest sister and her husband, who lived in the house where my dad was born. I lived on the same street as my mom’s elder sister and her husband and my three cousins, until they moved round the corner – literally five doors away – into the home where my uncle’s parents had lived until they died. And my own grandma and granddad (mom’s parents) moved into the house that they vacated. My dad had been best friends growing up with my uncle who married my mom’s sister.
Are you keeping up? Despite how it seems, we came from a fairly diverse gene pool, and were not accustomed to the sound of a banjo playing in the background…..
But, suffice to say that the world I lived in was fairly small back then. The rest of the world was much bigger and far, far away. My dad and my uncle (the best friend) worked at the factory at the bottom of the road. Junior school was walking distance and grammar school was a bus ride away. The only time we left Birmingham was to go on holiday. Holidays were spent in the UK and we often went with my nan, my grandma and granddad, my aunt, uncle and cousins and the odd other (or should that be “other odd”?) relative along for the ride. The much bigger world was unattainable and unaffordable. It was a long way away.
Australia was much further away back in the day. On Sunday mornings there used to be a radio phone-in show on BRMB radio where the prize was that the station would pay for a phone call to a relative that had emigrated to Oz or New Zealand or some other far-flung vestige of the Empire. And, now we have Skype, Face Time, email, etc.
But the world has shrunk. Everywhere is much closer and getting there is much quicker.
And so now, one of those cousins who had lived in the street where I grew up lives in Auckland. And, one of his daughters – a Kiwi – works as an au pair in London. I have another cousin in Perth. My baby sister-in-law lived in Vienna for a year. My mother-in-law is spending Christmas with another daughter who now lives in Doha having recently been in Bangkok for six months (we suspect her husband is running away from a dark secret!).
By the time I leave Australia I will have, over the last thirteen months, spent one hundred and thirty days outside of the UK and fifty five days working away from home in the UK.
There are certain aspects of the good old bigger world that I miss – my wife, the cat, my bed…..
My sister on the other hand lives within walking distance of the house we grew up in as children and holidays in Tenby every year……..
As I sit here in my shades, shorts, thongs (it’s an Aussie thing….) and my factor fifty, I am struggling to feel festive. No matter how many inflatable Santas, and despite the “Winter Wonderland” which seems to be playing in a loop down in reception, the bright blue skies, long shadows, and twenty six degrees Celsius belie the fact that the goose is getting fat .
And so, it was the lack of context – the missing cold, snow, damp, and grey skies of home; the lack of X-Factor and the final of I’m A Celebrity; of huddling around a warm mince pie for warmth – which led to the schoolboy error when heading out last night, for a Saturday evening in Sydney.
Two of my colleagues (Jana and Tim) had clearly spent the days hitting the bars and fleshpots ( )……. and cried off from dinner, leaving Carl and I on our own. I found Carl nursing a beer in his hotel bar, not knowing where to look as he was surrounded by a bevy of nurses all glammed up for their Christmas party.
There were short skirts, high heels, long legs, sequins, and Santa Hats in abundance. This was not the night to need the accident and emergency department of the Sydney Liverpool Hospital and so, as Carl looked as if he was going to have a coronary if we stayed with the sexy nurses, I dragged him out in the direction of Darling Harbour.
The whole of Sydney seemed to be attired in the same manner of the nurses. And those that weren’t, seemed to be in 70s fancy dress (and no, Jana, they were not wearing Tuxedos…..). There were Afros, gold medals and flares in abundance. It is a shame that Tim had been too wasted to head out as this would have suited him down to the ground, being the 70s throw back that he is.
We needed a beer so headed for the familiarity of the Helm Bar. We were met at the door by a mountain of a man who wanted to know what we had been doing all day. Now I know that this is the gay capital of the Southern Hemisphere but this seemed a rather direct and unwarranted pick up. It was a relief when he explained that he was security and he was just checking if we were “intoxicated”. I am not sure that was the best question to ask. Perhaps he could have sniffed our breath, or asked us to walk a straight line, to stand on one leg, or simply have asked us if we knew what “intoxicated” meant……
It was about this point that the penny dropped. Darling Harbour was heaving. It was Christmas in a nation which prioritises a positive work-life balance and on a Saturday night at the heart of the city, just a couple of hours ahead of a firework display and carol singing.
And, it seems that the first Saturday in December is when all offices decide to have their Chrimbo Party…..and they have it in Darling Harbour….
We should have booked!
Everywhere was rammed. We spent the next half hour or so being turned away from many a restaurant in Darling Harbour. People were even queuing to get into the pancake shop! We gave up and headed in the general direction of Chinatown. But by this time we were disoriented as a result of hunger, a couple of beers and the heady aroma of perfume and aftershave which hung like a fog above the many a party reveller.
Hunger was gnawing at us to the extent that we briefly contemplated eating in an unlicensed Japanese restaurant just because they had a table. Briefly. But eventually, we found ourselves in the bosom of the Chinese community and settled down for a pork Szechuan and garlic beef and made a mental note that we rally do need to book in advance next weekend……
After eating, Carl and I resisted the temptation to have another beer. He was claiming he was tired after an early start and a (I kid you not) ten hour sight-seeing tour of the city. But, I suspect the prospect of dozens of scantily-clad nurses who had been drinking for two hours solid and who were partying at his hotel might have had something to do with his eagerness to return to base…..
You can feel it in the air. The tension is growing. There is a distinct whiff of gloating and the sweet, sickly smell of smugness in the Sydney air. And, all of a sudden Australians are attempting to engage me in conversations about sport. As you can imagine, they are not talking to me about the 2014 Football (soccer) World Cup draw, from which Australia was suspiciously absent. No. They want to talk cricket. They want to talk about the Ashes. They want to talk specifically about England’s abysmal performance in the first two Australian tests. They are queuing up to bash this Pom.
It is sometimes hard in times of adversity such as this to retain aloof. It seems a little cruel to prick the Australian pride with a reality check. On balance, I think the gloating rights for 2013 still sit with the old colonial Motherland. Let us not forget, in this time of darkness, that if you look at the combined results of the earlier Ashes series together with this one, then England still has a lead of three victories to one (OK……one and a half). Nor have we forgotten that England followed a two – one series victory by the British and Irish Lions in Sydney in July with a 20-13 victory over the Wallabies at Twickenham. And, despite the boasting and confidence of Australian champion, Daniel Geale, it was the Brit – Darren Baker – who became the IBF Middleweight champion back in August. And, remember, Rugby League is just a minority sport played by northern pub teams (sorry Tunny)……..
I do hope though that our lads show some of the old Dunkirk spirit and launch a fight back – otherwise these two months down under are going to drag a little more slowly.
However, while my Antipodean ”friends” amuse themselves with minor sporting aberrations, I distract myself watching the head of my American colleague swell to the point of exploding as we try to teach her the rules of cricket. For a nation which struggles to get its head around the intricacies of the Infield Fly Rule (baseball,) the sight of men dressed like Morris dancers, wielding “oars” in the middle of a field can be a tad confusing.
And so, over a cleansing ale at the end of the working week we edificated my poor colleague, Jana, into the world in which a nightwatchman falls prey to a ubiquitous maiden, causing him to nervously adjust his box at the crease while the gully amuses himself by sledging and appealing for a leg before. We have had to introduce the topic carefully. I suspect she will threaten me with her boyfriend if I follow up on my offer to show her an educational video of an Australian doing a full toss followed by a googly……
Oh the joys of jet lag.
I arrived in Australia at 10.30pm on Saturday evening after a mere 24 hours of travelling, several in-flight movies, very little sleep, an eleven hour shift in time zone, a twenty degree shift in temperature, a two month stint away from home, and a new and daunting role at work.
And, for the last three nights I have gone out like a light and have slept like a baby – albeit a rather too portly, ageing, and grey-haired baby.
I have slept like a baby for four straight hours. Each night. And, thereafter I have been wide awake and unable to sleep, with my brain working overtime, constantly reminding me of things I still have to do and work still to be completed.
Try as I may, I have been unable to get back to sleep, except for the last ten minutes or so before the alarm rang out and dragged me kicking and screaming from those ten minutes of deep, deep sleep, leaving me groggy, grumpy and relishing a day of detail and monotony….not.
Fortunately I have survived the work sessions….so far. But, I haven’t been at my best in the evenings. Fortunately my inability to party has heavily curtailed my evening consumption of alcohol – I haven’t had the need to return to the bottle shop since Sunday.
But, last night was a new low. After an early dinner and just a couple of beers with a colleague I returned to my apartment to try to catch up with the mounting workload that people on the other side of the planet keep throwing my way……only to awake abruptly at 10.30pm having fallen asleep at my desk!
I immediately took myself to bed, went out like a light and slept like a baby…..for four hours.
Oh, the joys of jet lag.
(View from my balcony)
And so, after a mere 26 hours of travelling I have arrived for my two months adventure living, working, and holidaying in Sydney, Australia. Although a long trip, the flight was comfortable and distracting. Fortunately, surprisingly, my company had funded business class tickets so I had ready access to space, entertainment, booze and anything else one might need.
It started with a chauffeur to drive me from home to the airport. He was punctual and found us – my main two must-haves in any taxi service. The driver was pleasantly chatty and explained that Emirates had 68 cars picking up first and business class passengers for that day’s flight from Manchester to Dubai and that this fleet of cars was picking up as far away as Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and Hull. It made me think that there must still be pretty healthy margins for flight operators these days…..
Check-in was efficient and for the first time in my life I checked two bags in. Two bags! This is the most luggage I have ever travelled with. Two months is a long time after all.
And so, after a failed attempt to purchase the specific suntan lotion for my sensitive skin and rosacea-inflicted face as diligently researched by my lovely wife, I took refuge in the Emirates lounge. It was busy. And, I must admit that as I surveyed the lounge and its inhabitants I could not help feeling rather young, quite slim, and confident in my full head of hair and rather well dressed. The inhabitants of the lounge today were of a certain age and weight. This was clearly a holiday flight rather than one dominated by business travellers. It was full of couples – men who travel regularly and their wives, who don’t. The men were comfortable in the familiarity of the lounge and uncomfortable in the unfamiliarity of having their wives with them and the subsequent need to curb their natural drinking tendencies. The wives were looking less than impressed with or grateful for their hubbies’ sacrifice of spending all of those hard-earned airmiles on a shared lounge and business class experience, it finally dawning on them that they were seeing the reality of their partners’ travel experience – an experience which their husbands have moaned and griped and claimed great hardship about for the previous twelve months. Husbands and wives sipped champagne and struggled to maintain conversations.
Once on board, my assessment of my fellow passengers on the top flight of the Airbus 380 confirmed that this flight to Dubai was a holiday flight for those of a certain age with enough airmiles or money to do it in style. By ”style” I mean in the bar at the back of an A380 business class cabin. I have never witnessed the bar quite so full. Many couples made their way to the bar as soon as the meal service had finished (and some before) and stayed there. This was the cause of much raucous laughter at points during the flight and over-friendly departures on landing. Couples who had never met before that flight had bonded and become somewhat “over-friendly” over copious amounts of Veuve Cliquot and a toasted almond. Emirates will have to start decorating the bar with pampas grass methinks.
We had been slightly delayed leaving Manchester and arriving at Dubai. Consequently there was no time for shopping or the business lounge but straight to the gate where I met with my travelling colleague and made our way on board the flight to Sydney.
The Sydney leg was much more subdued. Emirates tend to force you into sleep mode when leaving Dubai, turning the lights off as soon as they have finished serving breakfast – the ultimate confusion for one’s body clock. I put the quietness of the plane down to the fact that it was largely full of Australians still in a state of shock after their first Ashes victory. More likely though it was due to hangovers from their first leg and overdosing on episodes of Family Guy. There were, however, far too many paunches in PJs or tracky bottoms on view. And consequently, sleep did not come easily to your truly.
And so I binged on movies – Wolverine, Olympus Has Fallen, Star Trek into Darkness, Elysium, and Killing Season interspersed with Victoria Wood singing about the EECs plans to eradicate the word wanker.
I did close my eyes and rested for a couple of hours. I rested despite the snorers, the talkers, the man with something akin to Tourette’s syndrome who shouted loudly in his sleep. I rested despite the one or two who always insist on opening their windows and flooding the sleepy gloom with sunlight and despite the one or two moms and dads who constantly walked their small children up and down the aisle.
We landed on time, got fast-tracked through security, and were collected by another Emirates chauffeur who deposited efficiently at my apartment – my new home-away-from-home for the next 62 days and nights. And so to sleep……..hopefully.
My journey back from London (in the South) to Crewe (in the North) last evening made me an advocate of the proposed High Speed Two (HS2) railway link from London to Birmingham, Manchester and beyond. Not because I am in a hurry to get to my office thirty minutes quicker – although getting home thirty minutes quicker does have a certain appeal – but because the intention is to use new, modern infrastructure and not the old Victorian rails and routes which we have been using for the last one hundred and fifty years or so.
Despite the best attempts of my taxi driver who seemed intent on showing me all of the sights of London and the bright Christmas lights of Oxford and Regent Street on a very circuitous route from the office to Euston station, I just made it onto the 16.40 to Manchester before the doors shut. As ever finding a seat was less than easy. I am sure that everyone with a reserved seat doesn’t sit in their reserved seat. No, instead they sit in the “available” seat next to their reserved seat so as to acquire more space. They then place their handbag/manbag, jacket, coat, suitcase/laptop case onto any other “available” space to ensure that their personal space is maximised and proceed to cover all available table space with computers, iPads, phones, newspapers, etc. to make it difficult for those of a braver demeanour to say “excuse me but can I sit there”. And, they develop an off-putting scowl or a distracted-I’m-avoiding-eye-contact-distant-stare. It is just a theory of course – it could be that all of the people with reservations for the 16.40 from Euston to Manchester had missed their train as a result of taxi drivers insisting on taking the scenic route to the station via the bright lights……. but I doubt it.
Virgin really should do something about their reservation system!
Nevertheless, I evicted a jacket and pair of feet – the man opposite had his feet up – from a “Reserved for Travellers Club” seat and settled in. We left on time. The tea and coffee was served. I took tea. The cold drinks and alcoholic beverages were served. I stuck with tea – I was driving at the other end. The sandwiches, cake and fruit were served. I took a tangerine – C was cooking me a lovely hot meal for my return home. I struggled with a few emails – the Wi-Fi on Virgin trains is slow and continuously dropping out – before settling into an episode of Storyville which I had downloaded to my iPad. And we sped along.
We sped along as far as Tamworth where we stopped. After a few minutes there was an announcement that the route north was blocked due to a track-side fire but that the emergency services were dealing with it. I Googled and discovered that it was a blaze at a plastics factory and they had already been fighting the fire for two hours. What? If the fire had been raging for two hours why on Earth had Virgin and Network Rail let us get as far as Tamworth? Why hadn’t they diverted us around the problem?
We began moving. In the wrong direction! Virgin and Network Rail had decided that they would divert us around the problem. And, given the antiquated Victorian infrastructure this meant heading back to Rugby and working our way through Birmingham. The problem was that all local and northern heading trains had also been diverted. We limped along. We limped along through wonderful places such as Spark Hill, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton and Walsall. We limped all the way to Crewe. We arrived at Crewe four hours late! And, throughout this delay we had no food and no more refreshment due to the fact that that service had been concluded before we had stopped.
I was late, hungry and grumpy as I arrived at Crewe station at 10pm…..and I was sober. My mood was not helped at all by the fact that only one car park ticket machine was working and there was a long queue. It was 10.30pm before I got home. It was too late to eat, so I fell into a glass of wine instead……
So Ant and his wife Dick (that trailer made me chuckle….) are back in the jungle. Hooray. I have to admit that I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! is one of the (few) TV highlights of the year, despite the clash with Homeland – although I must admit that a Sunday evening off from Claire Danes looking puzzled in her manic-depression was a bit of a relief.
And, this year ITV seem to have matched the “celebrities” to the formula very well.
David Emanuel fills the role for likeable camp pantomime dame – the Biggins role – with the advantage that he can make his own frocks. Kian Egan – faded pop star. Steve Davis – faded sports star (and in there to give teenage kids everywhere the message that there IS someone more boring than their dad out there). Amy Willerton - one for the dads. Lucy Pargeter - faded soap star
star this year’s stark reminder to all women out there that there are real dangers in sticking needles in your face. Step away from the botox ladies…..
This year’s Vanessa Feltz award has already gone to Matthew Wright who has sought to break all records for the fastest meltdown on any celebrity reality show. Surely he must know the he who blubs first is in for at least a week of being voted in for the Bush Tucker Trials…….
bimbo pretty boy of the year award has gone to Joey Essex, who is also in there to make Dec look macho. And, Alfonso Riberio fulfils the role of token American who has clearly never seen the show before and will be desperate to get to a phone as soon as he is able in order to sack his agent. I am also suspicious that he – Alfonso – may also be a God botherer and look to evangelise us all. He has that rather smug” I’m better than you all” look of one who has been saved. Praise be to God. Or, it might just be the fact that he is American.
For me the early favourites are Rebecca Adlington OBE and Laila Morse. Rebecca is just nice, inoffensive and a good team player, giving up her tampax as kindling without a moment’s hesitation or embarrassment. Laila - Big Mo from EastEnders - is the doughty old’un and resident sage.
She is rather unusual looking though and, therefore, also serves to divert attention from Rebecca’s rather large nose – I suspect that the bow wave generated by Adlington’s konk was the main reason for most of her Olympic success in the pool. Incidentally, Laila is Gary Oldman’s sister. Boy they must have had ugly parents.
Bring on the shower scene, Amy…….