Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Blagging our way round Australia

"Yes, my drink is quite camp isn't it?" I later drank a couple of jugs of it myself, good stuff.

Four people who all went to Fryern Junior School at the same time. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Nick now demands to be surrounded by a hareem of women at all times


The MCG, Melbourne. Capacity 100'000 (14285 x the population of Cook)

Flintoff throws down another ball which was probably thumped for 4 by them damn Aussies



I hope everyone is feeling festively plump after Christmas? I am, because me and Nick were fed like kings, courtesy of our Aussie friend Amy's family who took us in like english orphans, straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. We will be repaying the favour grandly next year when Amy comes over to Europe. We will probably even be able to match the weather as Melbourne decided this was to be it's coldest Christmas for about 150 years. It was probably warmer than England but then that's never really saying much is it?
For Christmas eve, we went to the Portsea Hotel, basically a massive pub/club about 2 hours south of Melbourne, near the Mornington Peninsula. The nearest thing I have experienced to this day was a university 'drink the bar dry' as it carries the same drinking-all-day-until-falling-down ethic. We were there by 5.30 and it was already pretty full, i'm guessing with anywhere between 1000-2000 Australians. (Waterman's worst nightmare?) So a lot of people had been there much earlier than us. So, as you can imagine, by midnight, carnage. Broken glass all over the place, and walking from one place to another taking twice as long because your feet seem to be sticking to the floor. Nick says he saw at least one projectile vomitter. Possibly the best thing about the event though, was that while guys all turn up in the usual shorts/trousers & t-shirt, the girls all look like they thought they were being taken to a classy dinner dance and somehow took a wrong turn.
After Christmas dinner with our adopted family for the day, we headed back to the hostel only to be told by our old Fryern Junior School classmate Craig, that there was another guy from the same school here now. Having had a few Christmas drinks, this seemed in no way implausible. We've only gone about 14000 miles, and having never really bumped into many people I went to junior school with back home, why shouldn't I meet 2 in 2 days here? So Rob Gasson, was in the year above us at junior school, also went to Toynbee and Barton Peveril. Nick and him did athletics together. Maybe we'll meet our old headmaster next Mr Johnson, maybe he'll be a barman or a croupier in the casino we're going to later? (As long as they don't have any kind of dress code which we have no way of adhering to).
So today we went to the Ashes with Rob. It all started quite well, my hopelessly optimistic prediction of possibly getting them down to 5-100 actually happened. But then the pressure of doing well must have got the England bowlers because they crumbled like the bitches they have so far proved themselves to be. Apart from Monty Panesar because everyone loves him here, the other day there was a big feature in the paper - '20 things you didn't know about Monty'. So I can't say anything bad about him. Apparently, his unusually large hands allow him to get more spin on the ball. I'm sure there's a cheap joke in there somewhere but my grandparents may read this so you'll have to invent one yourselves.
On Friday we're off to Sydney for New Years Eve and a couple weeks more. Having not managed to get anywhere to stay for the 30th and the 31st, we've come up smelling of roses once again as we now have the floor of a friend of a friend's flat to collapse onto. Like a cat dropped from a window, we keep landing on our feet. Having said that, would a cat land on it's feet if you dropped it out of a 20th floor window? I imagine you wouldn't be able to tell from the cat-shaped splat on the ground. As I've now drifted into rambling I shall end here.




Thursday, 21 December 2006

Our day out with Mike Atherton


A Chinese, hairless crested puppy. And me.



We hunt for food these days

Nick 'Danger' Horton


A small fairground in St Kilda


There was a sign that said no photography on the rides but, being the renegades we are, we took a cheeky photo anyway. We laugh in the face of the law.

Mmm...cake


Well it wasn't quite a day out but he did ask us for directions. If you don't know who Mike Atherton is he used to be England's cricket team captain when they were rubbish and no-one paid any attention. Surely he's been to Melbourne, losing at cricket, more than we have? And why was he looking for the free train, the cheapskate? So many questions, so few answers...
Well, Nick's relatives were great hosts, they fed us, let us play with the dogs AND gave us an archery lesson. I was surprised how often I hit the target, while Nick on the other hand caught the inside of his arm a couple of times with the bowstring, resulting in his arm looking like that of a heroine addict for a few days. It's like Trainspotting down under.
Brilliantly, the area they live in is sort of set up by the council for it to be really easy to get animal breeding permits and kennel building permits etc. All the council members breed animals and so create a community that serves their best interests. It's a cross between Crufts and the mafia, but with considerably fewer mobsters with names like Jimmy Four Fingers wandering about threatening to make you 'sleep with the fishes'.
On Wednesday we went all arty and went to go see an exhibition of the work of Osamu Tezuka, the man generally considered the godfather of Manga. It was stunning, they reckon he created about 150'000 pages of manga during his lifetime. I have an urge to ramble on about him some more but it is something I would probably gloss over if someone else wrote it so I'll spare you.
The picture of Nick holding on to a zip wire type of thing is from an amazing adventure playground for kids that we had a look at/ran around excitedly the other day. It was set up partly by the council and partly by some hippies for the children of the community and I've never seen a playground so good. Back home you would probably be charged entry and even then it would have been vandalised. Which is the case with several aspects of life over here. For example, in a lot of places there are gas bbq's provided by the local council for public use whenever you like, for free. They are usually next to some picnic benches in a scenic area. Can you seriously imagine something like that lasting more than a few days in England without it getting destroyed or a small child being cooked on it? I'm not trying to paint a rose-tinted picture, Australia has it's problems too, but there are some noticeable differences here and there.
Last night, we were in the hostel bar next door playing pool. A guy we're chatting to says he recognises me from somewhere. His name is Craig Proudley. Turns out he's from Southampton. Nothing unusual there. Went to Tauntons College and knew Tom Farmer, quite a big coincidence but Farmer is an international playboy these days. But that didn't explain why he knew me. Anyway, turns out he went to Fryern Infants school and junior school with me and Nick, was in our class quite a few years and once we figured that out we both remembered him straight away. His mum is going to email him some old school photos so we can see that we're probably sat next to each other when we were 8 years old. Bizarre.

Have a good Christmas and a fun new year although it's not allowed to be more fun that ours in Sydney. We're not going all this way to be upstaged by any of you back home, no way.
Mark









Friday, 15 December 2006

Welcome to Cook. Population: 7

Our home for a few days


The view for about a day

Cook's state of the art transport systems
Best way to remedy boredom on a train? Drink cheap wine

A big sand sculpture I whipped up in Adelaide today.



Well, we made it through the 3 day train journey, to arrive in Adelaide this morning. After 72 hours of wearing the same boxers I think they may have started to make a radioactive humming noise. Just so you know, I could have changed them, but somehow that felt like cheating. I did have a shower though.

If you're still mildly shocked/disgusted/excited at the thought of my underwear I'll give you a minute to compose yourself...

...There you go. The first stop on our train ride was the town of Kalgoorlie. As it was about 10.30pm when we got off the train, we naturally headed to a bar for a cheeky drink. The bar we found was called The Exchange and it was gloriously seedy. The kind of place that Tom "sex pest" Farmer would enjoy a great deal I should think. Basically, the first thing you notice on entering is that the barmaids are just wearing underwear. It was kind of like walking into the film 'From Dusk til Dawn', only the population didn't turn into vampires halfway through and try to eat us.

The second day, we stopped at Cook. Once a small mining town, it now features a population of 7 people, all something to do with the railway. I was disappointed to discover such a thriving population though, as the train magazine said it was 4, probably almost halving the number for dramatic effect. (Because there are loads of towns with only 7 people in them...) In it's glory days the town had a hospital and a school but you could tell they were long gone. I'm imagining it was because Cook is in the middle of the Nullarboor desert and there is nothing around it for at least 500 miles in any direction. When we arrived there were buzzards circling overhead, possibly waiting for an over enthusiastic backpacker to wander out into the desert and become food. You get the picture. Bleaker than the prospect of an intelligent conversation with a reality tv star.

Today we arrived in Adelaide, we're only here for the weekend. Tonight we are staying in a hostel with a bunch of Irish guys and a couple of girls we met on the train whilst mildly innebriated on cheap white wine. (Boxes of cheap wine are lovingly referred to as Goon. Don't know why but it seems apt somehow). I don't think there's anyone left in Ireland between the ages of 18 and 30, judging by the number we've met here. They're everywhere. Some people say China will be the next global superpower but the Irish are contenders if you ask me because there are secretly about 2 billion Irish backpackers. If you gathered them all in one place and kept them sober long enough who knows what could be achieved?

Tomorrow we are staying with some of Nick's distant relatives, his great aunt I think. They live 40km outside of Adelaide and the main reason I'm excited by this is that they breed small, Chinese, hairless, crested dogs. I don't even know what crested means on dogs but my hope is that when we turn up there will be an Aussie in a tall spinning chair who slowly turns to greet us whilst stroking one of the small dogs (Blofeld-style). When I say my hope, I actually mean my dream.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

I'm not a hat person

Cottisloe Beach and a face of joy


Perth from Kings Park
Leppard's dream restaurant

This man hated Fremantle. A lot.




Every day is a struggle

Anyone feeling christmassy yet? I see christmas trees everywhere and I hear carols but it all just seems a bit surreal when it's so sunny. (Haha) Where's the snow and cold? Or is it more like where's the constant rain and tornadoes these days? (Haha again).

We got to our hostel in Perth at about 2am last sunday and both got next to no sleep that night. However, monday is backpackers and students night at a big pub/club called The Deen, at which our hostel is given something like a $200 bar which means a lot of free beer for everyone! So I more or less had the cheapest night out of my whole life. At one point there were about 15 jugs of beer on the table beside me. Waaaaheeeey......

The most difficult thing I've had to do so far is buy a damned hat. My head is too big for most hats and then when I do find one that fits, like 99.5% of all hats, makes me look like I've just stepped off the bus for special kids. Nick will vouch for this. I could see the look on his face that said 'just hurry up and buy a hat or I am going to tear my own arm off so i have something to beat you with'.

Yesterday we got our train tickets on the Indian Pacific to Melbourne (via Adeliade) sorted. We had planned to drive it on a cheap campervan deal but once we did the maths on the deal we did find, it was far too costly for our meagre means. But just to give you an idea of the 3-day train journey we are about to make, it's roughly the width of America or at least 3x Lands End to John O Groats. And yes, we had planned to drive it in about 5 days.

We've already got ourselves two authentic Aussie guides to Melbourne, one being a girl called Kate who will be there for chritsmas and the other being a guy called Justin, an electro-music fiend who promises to take us to some clubs that will play proper "sleazy-electro". Score.

Went to a club on friday that brings new meaning to the word grimey. It smelt of a thousand split pints and as many cigarette ends stubbed out into the floor. However, the band that was on did play No One Knows so I naturally jumped about like I had a pogo stick up my arse.

Today we went to a town south of Perth called Fremantle, or Freo in the traditional Aussie vein of shortening any words they can. I thought Perth was a laid back city until we went to Freo, but Freo has that small town relaxed atmosphere about it that even Perth can't manage. We sampled some of the best beer I have ever had in a brewery/bar called Little Creatures and went to an old prison called the roundhouse which featured a series of increasingly pissed-off letters from a sea captain who had been sent to Fremantle about 110 yrs ago (see above picture for the final letter in which he cracks).

Ho hum, that's it for now I think. I'll probably be out of touch for several days as we undertake our marathon train journey. Did I mention that we don't have beds or owt, just reclining Aeroplane style seats? Why do we do this? Because we are men, men who laugh in the face of adversity and drink cheap supermarket rip offs of brand-name spirits out of a hipflask. Yes, I brought my hipflask with me. I probably look, to some, like an alcoholic. This week: Old Kentucky.... mmm
Also, I spoke to a guy the other day who's mate lost count of the number of Thai 'ladies of the night' he'd slept with at around 37. Classy.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Fook Hing Coffin Shop

The most exciting sign in the world

The "black hole"

Nick's let himself go a bit

Hello hello, roll up roll up and gather round. Today I am feeling quite lazy after spending today lounging on a Perth beach so I shall round up our Kuala Lumpur adventures by largely copying out of my journal. Also, the computer I am using seems to have no usb socket for pictures so you'll just have to wait, if the anticipation doesn't kill you...

Thursday 30th November
In between the Petronas Towers there is a shopping mall that we walked through. I hate the way that shopping malls are so bland that if you've been in one, you've been in them all. There we were, in the centre of Kuala Lumpur and not one sign, not one hint of cultural diversity to suggest that i'm not strolling through any old English shopping complex. Grrr.

Nick's ladyboy-ometer: 4

Racking up the kilometres, walking an average of about 10 a day!!! That's like proper exercise.

Sat 2nd December
Yesterday we saw the planetarium, whihc was pretty damn good as it goes, especially 'Threats from Space', a film which was a bizarre concoction of lasers and documentary style info-tainment. We also had a look at the Orchid Gardens on the way past but they weren't manly enough for us so we took our leave.

Later, after walking past the Fook Hing Coffin Shop, we went to the press launch of a Busking festival, tied in with the KL Year End Sale. It featured the worst speech ever by the deputy minister for tourism and the whole thing was laughably bad. And almost all spoken in English which we found odd as the audience was vastly Malaysian. Why does everyone make such an effort to speak our language when we make so little effor to speak theirs?






Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Hey mate, you want movies?

Petaling Street (Where we are staying)

The Petronas Towers (taken from the KL Tower)

Just about to climb a lot of steps


Who looks more stylish?


Chow Kit Market

It's a rude word tee hee hee


Selamat from Malaysia! (That's hello just incase your Malaysian isn't what it should be). Firstly, I have to treat you to a brief but brilliant Malaysian history lesson, something I discovered at the National History Museum on Tuesday.

About 500 years ago, Malaysia was called the Malaysian Empire. Before that it was called Malacca. The name Malacca came from an incident in which the first Prince of the region, Paremeswara was resting under a Melaka tree watching his dog play. Sitting there, Paremeswara saw his dog get kicked into a stream by a mouse deer. Taking this as a good omen, he decided to name his new country after the tree he was sat under. In the museum, there was also a painting to illustrate this. It was, as you might guess, a painting of a man watching his dog get hoofed into a stream by a deer.

Isn't history fun? Anyway, Kuala Lumpur is a pretty interesting city, while it's the capital city of Malaysia, it is still growing and so in the centre there are a lot of big, flashy buildings but there are also a lot of cranes and half built structures. There is also a pretty vast difference between the city centre, where the Petronas Towers stand, and many of it's surrounding areas, in that you can see where most of the money goes.

Food here is brilliant, compared to how I see us over the next 6 months we are currently eating like kings but for ridiculously cheap prices. Within 2 minutes of where we are staying (Petaling Street, Chinatown) you can try mucho tasty Malaysian, Chinese or Indian food. The other day we both had bowls of a salty soup called Pan Mee, filled with stuff i couldn't even identify but it was damn tasty.
Our hotel is surrounded by markets, each time we leave everyone wants to sell us DVD's or watches. I wonder whether all the market vendors speak fluent english or whether they just learn a stock of phrases like "Hey handsome man, you want movies? Action... comedy... pornography?" Maybe I'll never know...
The best market we've been to so far is Chow Kit. We trekked there in the hope that it sold animal brains, Nick had read this somewhere. Alas, no brains were to be found but they did sell fish so fresh that it was still wriggling about. The market was a labyrinth of stalls, my sense of direction gave up on me pretty quickly and I just followed Nick on our search for brains. In fact, it is a good job that one of us can navigate as I generally like to wander in the vague direction of a place whereas Nick will actually look at a map. We get to destinations a lot quicker that way.
The picture with both of us in was taken just before we climbed the 272 steps to the Batu Caves, a kind of hollowed out limestone cliff/hindu temple. Here we were asked to be in the family snapshots of an Indian family. I initially thought that they just wanted me to take their picture but then the kids and the mother crowded round me and Nick and we waved and smiled. Maybe it was because we looked like pasty giants compared to them?
We've been doing a hell of a lot of walking about, yesterday we went to KL Tower and probably clocked up 10-12 km over the course of the day. As you might expect, I was knackered. But walking to places is the best way to see a city as a whole, had we taken buses everywhere we might never have seen the BUM equipment sign (hee hee hee) or the stylish man carrying the steering wheel of a boat. All worthwhile, I think you'll agree.
So, with all this walking about seeing stuff, we're obviously going to need a rest soon. Which is why we plan to spend a lot of time in Perth lazing around on a beach, maybe making the occasional effort to learn to surf.
Oh yeah, and the other night we accidentally walked along what, with hindsight, was probably a gay cruising spot. When I say with hindsight, it perhaps didn't need a great deal of hindsight when men are whistling at you and making cat noises in your direction. Hmmm.