Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Aussie Rules OK

Sydney Swans (red) take on the woeful Hawthorn Hawks at the SCG

I've lost count of how many different sporting events I've been to since I got to Sydney. Australians take their sport very seriously, and thanks to the climate there are plenty of options available. I love living in Edinburgh, don't get me wrong, but when you have a choice of either watching the Scottish rugby team in the driving rain or watching Hearts or Hibs in the driving rain, your sporting enthusiasm tends to dampen like a heavy drizzle seeping into your pockets.

So it was on Sunday I found myself in unfamiliar surroundings once again, this time at an Australian Rules Football game - or football, as I was talking about earlier. Thankfully, this code is usually referred to as footy (pronounced 'fuddie'). The Sydney Swans play at the Sydney Cricket Ground, so it was a shock for me to arrive to find massive crowds and a near total sellout - on my previous trips there to watch cricket I had entire grandstands practically to myself.

Footy is very odd, a sporting hodge-podge of rugby and football - but it's played at a frantic pace and moves from end to end. It looks exhausting, particularly as Sunday was very hot - but then Australians routinely play sports in temperatures that would kill most Scottish athletes. Sydney won in the end, easily defeating the Melbourne side Hawthorn. After the game you could go onto the pitch, which was great - although extremely dangerous as there were footballs flying in every direction, and I saw a few people take one on the back of the head.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Easter weekend

A Happy Easter

On the one hand, it's great to get a four-day break at Easter - but on the other I don't get paid as I'm a humble temp. But I worked longer during the week to make up for it, so I shouldn't miss out too much. On Friday night I went to Annandale to another gig - this one more performance than anything, as it involved lots of pouting and screaming, sparklers, cameras and even inflatable dogs. But it was certainly entertaining, and made a change from things I usually listen to (or ever have before).

On Easter Saturday I went out to the Olympic Stadium to watch an international football friendly between Australia and Iraq, which was good fun, as the game was full of crazy mistakes. There were 30,000 there - again dwarfed in the huge stadium - but by my estimate there were 5,000 Iraqi fans waving flags and chanting. Of course the PM John Howard was there, and various other dignitaries showing how the new Iraq means their teams can play in the West. There was a great deal of ceremony and subtle politicising going on (if that's a word). But the match was good, Iraq scored first (they are above Australia in the FIFA rankings) but then the 'Socceroos' scored twice to win 2-1. The Iraqi-Australian fans certainly enjoyed it, and waved their flags for the entire game - apart from the poor bloke in front of us who was told to take his flag down after an Australian fan complained to the stewards, which was utterly needless. Maybe because of that I cheered extra-loudly when the Iraq goal went in...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Search for a flatmate

Hopewell Street or Ramsey Street?

Things move very quickly in the flatshare market in Sydney. I found this out when I was looking for a place back in November and everywhere I rang had gone. The listings come out in the Saturday paper and flats are usually gone by Monday. So when it was time to replace Pen I wasn't really surprised with the amount of calls on Saturday morning. Because Gerard works on the weekend at an art shop, I had to stay in all day Saturday and interview prospective candidates. It wasn't too bad though, there weren't any wierdos, and I invited most of them back on Monday night to meet Gerard.

Eventually we made a decision, but it was tough. You can usually sift most people out for some reason or other - but in the end you get two or three you can't separate. We had a final two - a 22 year old girl from Canberra and an older girl from France. Seeing as I'll be moving out in a few months, I gave Gerard the overall pick, and he went for the French girl, Geraldine. So we called her back and she was delighted. As I stayed in all Saturday Gerard phoned the unlucky few to let them know, something I hate doing. All this happened two weeks ago, and this Sunday Geraldine moved in. Pen has also moved in up the road at number 14a - but her flatmates haven't seen her since she arrived...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Run Rabbitoh Run...

Let's Go Rabbit-ohs...

Sydneysiders are really keen on sports, and for them one sport is king - rugby league. The Australian league (the NRL) consists of 14 teams, and 9 of them are based here. Confusingly for me, they call it football - in fact 'football' also refers to rugby union and Aussie Rules. Recently the Australian Soccer Federation renamed the game football to fit in with the rest of the world, and then there's the American version of football that I watch too - so going to watch the 'football' can mean almost anything.

One of the Blackburn supporters here is a fan of football and football (see?), so when I asked if he was going to the first NRL game for his team I asked if I could come along. The South Sydney Rabbitohs are a rugby league team named after a baby rabbit - and they play like it. The perennial losers, they finished bottom again last year. On Sunday they were playing the Parramatta Eels (Parramatta is aboriginal for 'where the eels lie down') and were expected to lose handsomly.

Imagine the surpise when they ran in eight tries to thump the Eels 49-26, their first win over Parramatta in ten attempts. Although there were only 11,500 in a 40,000 capacity stadium, the atmosphere was still great - mainly due to the fanatic section of Souths fans called (predictably) The Burrow. They sang knock-off football chants ('Walking in a Bunny Wonderland' was a favourite of mine) and started a lot of good-natured banter with the Eels fans mingled in the crowd. The only chant that went unrewarded was the 'We want 50' as the Rabbitohs finished on 49 points...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Luna Park/The Pickled Possum

Three Sydney landmarks

My flatmate Gerard has more birthday celebrations than the Queen, for some reason. We already had one, and there's another one next week, but this weekend it was celebration number 2. Now I'm not a singer at all - I have a serious aversion to Karaoke - and I also don't particularly like fairgrounds, so it came as a surprise to me when I agreed to go along to the Luna Park fairground on the Harbour and then a Karaoke bar in Northern Sydney.

Luna Park can be seen from most parts of the harbour, thanks to the huge gaudy entrance which is shaped like a face - you enter the park by walking through the mouth. You have to exchange money for 'Lunas' to use on the rides - one set of colourful money for another, although the Lunas come in electronic format as a barcoded ticket. There are several old-style rides and attractions, a ferris wheel, dodgems etc. For a Saturday night, it was eerily quiet - it seems fairgrounds aren't as popular as they used to be.

After the fairground and a quick pit-stop for a curry, it was on to the 'infamous' (apparently) Pickled Possum in Neutral Bay. The 'Possum is a Karaoke bar of the old-school, small and very narrow it had a large ramshackle PA system at the end, and a stage consisting of two wooden boards supported by a milk crate at each corner. Run by two old blokes, the tiny size meant it was busy and there was a great atmosphere - in fact it got so popular that the singers were having trouble reading the words off the monitor as there were too many people dancing in the way. But did I get up and sing?.......what do you think?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Musical chairs at 28a

My flat - that's my room with the balcony

I met my flatmate Pen for the fourth time the other day, which is odd when you consider I've been living with her for over four months. I first met her when I looked around the place - initially I'd been told it had gone, but the girl chosen changed her mind and backed out, so I got the room as second choice. Almost immediately after I arrived, Pen started staying with her boyfriend in Surry Hills - I've been assured this is purely a co-incidence, as she had been doing it a bit before I arrived too. She works long hours, and her work is in Surry Hills, so she spent more and more time there - the result being I saw her twice after I moved in (before this week) and not since Christmas.

It's a bit strange to spend rent on a flat and live somewhere else, and after four months, Pen decided to move out. It's a shame because she seemed like a nice enough person, but of course four ten-minute chats don't give you much time to find out. So the fourth time I saw her was when she came to start moving her things out. The twist here is that she's not moving in with her boyfriend - she's moving in with a new set of people - and seven doors up the road, still in our street. So maybe I'll end up seeing more of her after she moves out. Maybe that's the way things are done over here - anyway, it's now time to advertise for another flatmate...

Monday, March 14, 2005

Sunday by the beach(es)

Curl Curl beach, with a memorial to drowned swimmers

Here's a coincidence - I was attempting the crossword in Saturday's Herald when I came across this clue for 17 down - 'Insurance Statistician (7)'. So now I know what the word Actuary means, thanks to a crossword puzzle. The irony is that I wouldn't have known the answer if I hadn't spoken to an Actuary the day before. How mysterious.

On Sunday I caught the ferry to Manly and went for a walk Northwards, up the coast to have a look at a few of the surf beaches there. That part of the NSW coast is made up of sandy inlets punctuated by rocky headlands every kilometre or so. The first of these inlets was Queenscliff, and Freshwater beach, which had an amazing amount of spiders in the dunes, hanging in huge billowing webs between the bushes.

After scrambling around the rocky headland, the next beach was the long curve of Curl Curl, backed by a large blue lagoon. Here I witnessed an unfortunate freak accident, where a man sunbathing was hit in the face by a parasol, which had blown free and was tumbling along the beach. The girl who it belonged to was running after it, and got there just in time to see this bloke smacked in the jaw by the end of the handle, like a javelin with an umbrella attached. I was going to help, but the surf lifesavers were there and wrapped his head in a towel to stop the bleeding.

The next headland had a path, optimistically signposted as a 'Nature Walk'. It took about 30 minutes to get through this to the next beach at Dee Why, and the only nature I saw were a few seagulls. In places the path was so overgrown the bushes had almost joined together, so it was hard going. Plus of course it was pushing 30C, but the odd pockets of shade helped. On one side of the bushes was a row of expensive-looking houses with large seaview windows, and on the other a long drop from the cliff to the Pacific. Eventually I managed to reach Dee Why, and crashed out of the undergrowth into a picnic area by the beach.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Return of the Actuaries

We take them for granted...

We had something of a mini re-shuffle the other week, with half a dozen new employees turning up. Apparently they are actuaries, which means absolutely nothing to me - I'm not even sure if that's the correct spelling. From what I can make out, they are involved with hefty financial calculations and a fair bit of scheming. It seems important work, as they produce plenty of sheets of number-covered paper for me to sort into piles, or something equally vital and rewarding.

One thing that's not hard to notice is that all of the new numerical boffins are Asian, so there's been a bit of unconscious 'them and us' stuff going on. None of it serious of course, it's just the way with new people in a busy office. Being the unifying sort, I took time out from my paper sorting duties and talked to one of them, who turned out to be from Malaysia. And guess where she got her degree in Actuarial Studies? Edinburgh. So we had a chat about the weather (of course), and the particular Western invention that helped her through the winter of 1982 when she was over there - the wall-mounted 'metal pipes with hot water in them'. So let's hear it for the humble radiator!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Thunder and Lightening


As we move into Autumn over here, one thing I've noticed is we're getting more thunderstorms. Since I got here in October I've seen and heard more thunder and lightening than I have done for years back in the UK. Not sure why this is, but I guess the combination of warmer weather and being nearer to the sea has something to do with it.

There were two large storms that passed through this week, and they were certainly spectacular. The first one happened on Wednesday morning when I was at work - but I got home to find one excited flatmate and one beeping dishwasher. Apparently our flat had been struck by lightening, and the power surge had fried the dishwasher, which sat there making various distressed electronic noises. But miraculously it recovered and is now working fine. My flatmate had been only yards from it when it went bang, sitting in the kitchen eating a bowl of Wheaties. A lucky escape.

The second storm came through last night, and I got a close view on the way home from work. It wasn't raining, but the storm was building up and the sky was that strange orangey/brown colour (or that could just be my colourblindness), and it got very humid. I just came out of a newsagent when a massive lightening bolt came down just where I was looking at the sky. It was amazing, a blinding blue jagged streak forking into the ground - it must only have been half a mile away or so - and as exciting as it was, it made me walk home all the quicker.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Edge of the seat stuff

Here's a word of advice - when surreptitiously following a football match on the internet whilst at work, don't say in a loud voice 'Come on!' when your team scores the winner with ten minutes to go. Fortunately thanks to the time difference the goal went in at 8am Sydney time, and my office was almost deserted. I was watching the live updates of the Blackburn FA Cup match against bitter local rivals Burnley, which took the form of sentences of text describing any major occurence in the game. Every two minutes the screen would refresh with thrilling edge-of-the-seat stuff like "58mins - Lucas Neill (Blackburn) Attacking throw-in" or "64mins - Henri Camara (Burnley) fouled by Gary Flitcroft (Blackburn). Free kick Burnley. Defended." You can understand my excitement when the page flicked over to reveal "85mins - GOAL - Blackburn - Morten Gamst Pedersen, right foot, drilled 20yds - Blackburn 2 Burnley 1" Come on indeed.

It's hard to explain to non-football fans the sheer tension of watching matches in word format. Until the page updates/refreshes, you can only imagine what's going on. Take Ceefax, for instance. In the time it takes two pages to pass over, you have to wait almost a full minute before the score of your team is shown. But at least you can look at other game updates in that minute, and you end up saying things like "Oh, I see Charlton have equalised". Of course this all can be traced back to the old radio days when plucky BBC types would try to inform fans what Nat Lofthouse and colleagues were up to, and to aid them they divided the pitch into imaginary squares so the listener would have an idea of where the ball was. Every time it went out for a goal kick the keeper picked it up and hence the ball was 'back to square one', which is where we get that saying from.

But the king of football text updates is without doubt the mighty Grandstand vidiprinter. I have fond memories of watching that flickering asterisk and the accompanying electronic rattling sound as another score came in from around the country - "SC2: Alloa 0 East Fife.........0". The confusion when it would broadcast rugby results "Blimey! Leicester have scored 24 goals!", the tension as the time of each update moved towards - and then past 4:45pm, the excitement of the GOAL FLASH..."Oh, is it Rovers?......no", the confusion of the acronyms for each league "What league is DML then?" - and the classic moment where the vidiprinter kept repeating the line "There is a fire", dismissed with a suave remark by Desmond Lynam. Ahh, happy days.