Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Singapore Slung Out

We have taken a couple of days out in Singapore in order to break up the long haul back to England. From what we've seen so far the Singaporean people seem to be a cosmopolitan mix of races and beliefs who happily get along, love their technology and are happy to make a dollar. They have also embraced many elements of their collonial past, none moreso than the Raffles Hotel and the Singapore Cricket Club.

The SCC occupies a prime chunk of riverside real estate (the original planners obviously had clear priorities) and the typical English pavillion looks strangely out of place amongst the exotic, creeper covered trees. As we passed we saw a game was about to start so we entered through a side gate, by-passed the members' area and took a seat in the 'public' area with the players and spectators.

It was pretty busy but we found a spot next to a lunching ex-pat and set about arranging a couple of cold drinks. A short time passed before we attracted a waiter who, on taking our order, asked us for our coupons. Naturally, we had none but were told we could get them from reception. I was pointed to the members' bar, which was located in the late 19th century. I could have looked more out of place walking through in my shorts and flip flops but unfortunately I'd left my suit of armour at the hotel.

On reaching reception it was made very clear that the Singapore Cricket Club was members only and that it would be best for all concerned if we abandonned our hopes of watching today's game. I said I'd break the news to Vic and made my walk of shame back through the G&T-sipping retired Majors. How I longed for the anonimity that a good suit of armour brings...

Plan B became to get the hell out of there before we got thrown out. Little did I know that in my absence Vic had been chatting to our table made and our non-status had been identified as a problem. Luckily Mary was an SCC member and was happy to sign us in. We made our way together on the now familiar journey to main reception. The look on the receptionist's face was a treat; a rapid flux of deference and confusion with a hint of thwarted malevolence thrown in. (Go on, try to picture it.) My new friend quickly put the phone down (I dread to think) and with Mary's help set about signing me in and arranging some coupons.

Over drinks we discovered that Mary has been in Singapore for 30 years and we picked up a few sight-seeing tips and must see locations. In return we offered accommodation tips for Mary's next destination, Brisbane. We settled in for a few drinks in the cool shade and spent a happy hour chatting away.

And for those who were wondering, the cricket we saw wasn't up to much.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Stop Press

We've updated the Galleries.

The latest updates are -

Farewells in London

Farewell to the Jaflong

Farewell to Work

Boro Winning the Carling Cup - Build-Up

Boro Actually Winning the Cup

Thailand

Mackay, Australia

and more to come!

View from the train

The Sunlander train, with its small but large enough air-conditioned compartments, rattles through the North Queensland countryside. Sometimes tiptoing through the one-street towns, sometimes bounding through the lush green pasture and sugar cane on its way down to Brisbane.

The sugar cane is grown almost defiantly these days, at odds with economic reality. The families who for generations have grown, harvested and refined it seem unwilling - or unable - to come to terms with the fact that sugar production abroad is cheaper and their export share is shrinking. What happened in the coalfields and shipyards of the Northeast of England seems to be happening on the cane farms of Northern Queensland.

Australia's vastness seems almost manageable by train. The miles of bush are regularly broken by small habitations and the view is frequently punctuated by signs of human life; a telegraph pole, a dirt road, a water pump or a barbed wire fence. It's worth remembering though that the majority of the population lives within a (powerful) stone's throw of the ocean and the train naturally follows this path.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Catch the action at the backyard cricket

We are now in Oz after a brief stopover in the world's most highly rated airport (Changi, Singapore) and after a night in Brisbane we headed once more to the airport for the one and half hour flight up the coast to Mackay to visit Vic's family.

The highlight of the visit so far has to be the thrilling game of backyard cricket which was played out in front of a sadly indifferent crowd. A few warmup knocks saw honours even between our nephew Connor (age 9, Australia's hope for the future) and me (age 27 (ish), English sometime golden-armed plodder). Who could have guessed what was to follow...?

With the light fading the Aussie youngster launched a brutal attack on the bowling and plundered boundary after boundary on his way to a quickfire fifty. But he was not finished there and, once this first milestone was reached, seemed to go up a gear as the assault continued. After 2 consecutive straight sixes it was difficult to know if the bowler or the woman whose garden was being peppered was praying harder for a wicket. He was nerveless in the nineties and stole a quick single to bring up three figures. Connor was offered the light on 106, declined it and then fell shortly after.

Bansey strode to the crease needing 111 to win. The advancing gloom was frequently illuminated by the tourist's flashing blade as the ball was scorched to all parts. Boundaries were recognised by sound rather than sight as the light disappeared completely. There was a palpable buzz among the crowd which by now consisted solely of mosquitos. Bansey reached fifty and then, with an exquisitely timed push through long off, to his maiden century. With the victory in sight Bansey then contrived to top edge a viciously seaming ball and the bowler made no mistake. The youngster had prevailed and once again an English touring side leaves this sun drenched country with a broken heart.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

5 things we learnt in Thailand...

1) I am XXL in shorts
2) Original Oakley sunglasses are expensive; original Orly ones are not
3) There's only one bloke in the whole of Bangkok selling Boro shirts. And he watched the cup final as well.
4) Thai taxi drivers are forbidden by law to stay in a lane that isn't moving
5) The resident guitarist in the Silom Road Mexican restaurant knows all the words to "Waltzing Matilda"

Monday, March 08, 2004

Random (sleep) patterns

This blog comes to you from the Land of Smiles where we are on a week stopover on the way to Oz. Our body clocks seem to be as reliable as the Patpong Ronexes at the moment but we are ever hopeful of beating jet lag. So far we have managed a 6:30am start, two 4 hour afternoon naps and an audacious 1pm sleep-in on the day we checked out of our hotel. I think the Singha brewery may be partly responsible for the last one though.

Seeing the locals driving around Bangkok has given a few moments of concern and we'll definitely need to be on our toes. From what we can gather, the road markings are more a suggestion than something to be slavishly adhered to. If you think you can squeeze 5 cars across the road then go for it...feel free to use the hard shoulder and don't worry about those chevrons. For all that, the average Thai seems to have a better attitude to motoring and all incidents are met with a smile, a shrug or, at the most, a reluctant peep from the horn. It'd be interesting to see that approach in London...

From Bangkok we persuaded a taxi driver to take us the 2 hours or so to Pattaya where we are visiting friends for a couple of days. His fare home was taken care of when a guy on a scooter pulled alongside, tapped on the window and asked if he was going back to Bangkok.

From here it's off to Oz where my visa will get a chance to strut its stuff - only 9 months since its first appearence in my passport.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

So...who won then?



Well it finally happened and Boro won a trophy. I'll leave the post-match analysis to the professionals with their 128-years-of -hurt, disallowed/not given penalties, popping champagne corks and sour grapes.

For us the weekend started properly when we pitched out tent, laid our our whizzy -8c rated sleeping bags and headed to the pub for liquid insulation. A couple of hours later we were in our thermals, ski socks and woolly hats and prepared for a good night's sleep. The cold had an ally in keeping us awake in the shape of some fellow campers who mistakenly thought we all wanted to listen to their music till the small hours.

When peace was finally restored we discovered how cold it was. Perched on the thin foam strip of the insulated mat made me feel a bit like a penguin's egg being carried by a less than careful parent. To say we were warm would be a gross overstatement but we are still alive and only bits that were exposed to the cold air suffered any frostbite. Still, we managed to snatch a couple of hours of shivery sleep before the sun chased Jack Frost away.

The matchday plan was to head to the Fly Me To The Moon rendez-vous and pick up our ticket. While there we would see if there was a spare and if not head out among the market forces to see what we could procure. One ticket was duly obtained via legitimate means so off we went in search of another. There followed a fair amount of approaching likely looking characters, furtive whispers and price conferences. We eventually found our man who had a mate who knew a bloke who had a ticket. Our connection was down a sidestreet away from the police and was not generally the sort of place you'd be comfortable peeling a wad of twenties from your wallet. But what can you do?

Once I had a ticket it was time to split up and take our seats. Vic was among the MSS faithful and I was up the slightly pricier seats with what was rumoured to be Joseph Job's family (pic to follow). And then the game. Early goals. Goal-keeping howler. Brilliant saves. End to end action. Golden opportunities spurned. Time passing slowly. The final whistle.

It all had a slightly unreal feel about it in the end. Seeing Boro clearly fired up but still able to play proper, uninhibited football was more proof than the result that we have come a long way under Steve Gibson, Bryan Robson and now Steve McClaren. Boro, like the Banseys, are planning a foray into Europe!

So how was the second night under canvas? Better ask the people who didn't decamp to the Cathedral Hotel for real beds and a TV showing extended highlights of some game played earlier.