Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hotpot like Corrie's Betty used to make (with chillies)

CARDIFF is planning to launch a Walk of Fame in the Bay area. It got us thinking in the Yard yesterday - who should be included in this Hollywoodesque venture?
I can hardly envisage Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones et al flocking back home to have their footprints immortalised in Butetown cement. Which means it will probably be confined to Wales' massive list of B list celebs.
Lisa Jeynes can expect to be there (you know that girl from Penarth who lasted two weeks in Big Brother), plus the Wales soccer manager John Toshack and the bloke who used to be the lead singer with 70s rockers Man (Deke Leonard, anyone?)
I've got a better idea. I think The Yard should have a pavement of fame to record our time there. You could have the hand and knee prints of the Prince of Darkness after he has crawled home following another Tuesday sesh on the Krony. Likewise I imagine the print of my face might emerge there, too, having fallen headlong over my shoes which have, somehow, becoming detached from my person. Also included as a wall exhibit could be Rosey's dating diary and an upturned Smiley face to remind us of the joyful presence of Withers.
Added to it all, of course, we have our own Posh and Becks, whose handprints would bring the crowds flocking. And an announcement to visitors could be recorded by The Voice.
I reckon it would be every bit as popular as the London Dungeon.

Withers and I experienced our first pub "smoking section" last night. After a brief visit to nearly every hostelry in Cardiff we ended up at the Old Scroat and asked for directions to the ciggy area. We had to go right through to the back of the pub where a few tables have been sited and a large gaping hole in the wall ensures that it's not enclosed. This morning I am still recovering from Frostbite.

Enjoyed a good weekend but am still recovering. Friday night I told myself I would have to be home early, but instead danced into the wee small hours with the MD's sec, Champy and their mate Pete (how many Pete's do I know?).
Next day I had to be at my old school pal Haydn's in Bristol by 9.30 so that we could drive up and see the Gas take on Derby County in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
After a good cooked breakfast from Haydn's lovely wife Sian, we set off with his 10-year-old boy Liam in tow. We made good progress to Derby, passing all the Rovers' coaches, minibuses and cars up the motorway, then found a convenient place to park and walked the rest of the way to Pride Park, a very impressive all-seater stadium.
Once inside we availed ourselves of the bar under the stand, where the Gashead masses were gathering. By the time the game started there were a good 6,000 of us cheering on our heroes.
To be fair they put up a great performance and with a bit more luck - and without the sending off of our full back 12 minutes from time - we could have won. As it was super sub Pesky-solido (you know that bloke married to Karren Brady) came off the bench to score the winner eight minutes from time.
Still, not too disappointed and a great day out.

That night Haydn showed me the delights of Chipping Sodbury. It's got some great boozers and I particularly liked The George. I met some of Haydn's mates, but more importantly bumped into Guy Howells, one of the old gang that used to go out on the lash every weekend.
Once he realised the bloke in front of him was me (sans hair, of course) he crushed me in a bearhug and ranted: "You're the sod who got us locked up in Sodbury nick all night".
All the wonderful things I have done in my life and this is what my legacy really means. I suppose smashing a saucer belonging to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary over my head (value 25p) wasn't one of my better ideas.

Monday night I had a go at a Jamie Oliver's Lancashire hotpot out of the Sainsbury's mag, and very nice it was, too. I didn't have any Celeriac, which probably would have made it even better, and I was a bit short of fresh herbs, but I improvised with use of Mooli (which looks like a giant white carrot but is actually White Radish used in a lot of Chinese Cooking) and four dried red chillies.
This is what you need:
3 large lamp steaks, chopped into 2cm pieces
One whole onion, chopped
Two sliced garlic cloves
One sliced carrot
Two sliced celery sticks
Six slices of Mooli or slices of Celeriac
3/4 potatoes, peeled and sliced
4 ozs melted butter or marg
cooking oil
Thyme, fresh if poss but I used dried mixed herbs
A sprig of Rosemary (but I used dried Rosemary)
4 dried red chillies
3/4 pint beef stock

Pre-heat oven to gas mark 5 or equivalent.
Put the sliced potatoes in a bowl and sprinkle Thyme over, then pour over melted butter and stir around with a spoon. Leave to stand.
Heat up some oil in a saucepan, then when it is hot cook the lamb, perhaps in two batches, until it is brown. Remove from pan and set aside. I added a small amount of flour during the cooking process to thicken the lamb juices.
Add the butter to the remaining oil and then add the onion, garlic and other veggies. Leave sweating on a low heat for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Return lamb to the pot and stir around. Also add the dried chillies. Cook for a further 3/4 mins.
Layer some of the lamb and veggie mixture into a casserole dish. Then add a layer of potato and some of the Mooli slices, or Celeriac, if you have it.
Repeat this again, ending with a layer of Potatoes on top. Dot with butter, put on lid and then put into the oven.
Cook for an hour, Remove lid and cook for an extra 30 mins.
Serve with some nice, crusty bread. I'd advise you to remove the chillies at this stage or it might be hotter than you think.
I don't think Betty Turpin in the Rovers Return could have done a better job.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Free coffee at the Kismet

ONE card. One bloody card. That's all I received as the mileometer clicked over to 47 on Tuesday. Thanks a lot, Dad and Jean.
Of course, the Fat Kid was full of apologies and excuses like: "I forgot your address" and "I couldn't find anything suitable" and "The big boy ate my child benefit", but I'm afraid that's not good enough. And she wants me to buy her a new car. It will take a darn sight more grovelling than normal (before I will inevitably give in, as she sees it).
To be fair, her card and a separate one from the Vin Man and the Big Boy, arrived a couple of days later - it's the thought that counts and she obviously thought she could get away with it. I also had a card the following day from my childhood mate Laurie up in Milton Keynes who, to be fair, only found out about my birthday on the actual day.
Withers and I had a practice booze run on Monday afternoon. Damn his eyes, he was right about Funny Girl. She now tells me she has a boyfriend. She's also doing an NVQ in food and drink, suggesting that she is probably a couple of years younger than my daughter - still, worth a try.
We ended up getting mashed and moving on to Bar Izit where we bumped into The Boss and The Prince of Darkness, who were off to wallow in the misery of some old alcoholic singer-guitarist (yeh, there are so many I can get away with that description without fear of a libel action).
A few Bloody Mary's left me feeling pretty messed up the next day, when I woke to open my card, which took all of five seconds. Spent the rest of the day trying to resist going into town to get drunk on Booze Day Tuesday on the basis many people weren't around and that I wanted to meet up with my mates Scooby, Gareth and Pete in the evening.
Good old Pete. He ALWAYS forgets my birthday. How do I know? Because he always decided that he will Fast in January, abstaining from drink and cigarettes for the whole month. That's before I remind him my big day is on the 23rd. "Oh b*ll**ks," he says, knowing his willpower will not survive.
Nevertheless, he was in a great mood when we met up. He came around the house about 4 and I offered him a cup of tea. "I had a beer in mind," he replied.
We ended up in the Wetherspoons at the bottom of City Road where Pete immediately proceeded in "lapping" me ie having two pints in the time it took me to drink one. And he never let his pace drop. He had obviously been greatly missing alcohol.
While there we bumped into my guru, who was immediately dragged into a conversation about alternative medicines with Scooby, who is really into that sort of thing. Pete was pretty dismissive of all that, as he slurped down another brew in record time.
Unfortunately it didn't help him on the pool table. I teamed up with Gareth to beat the other two 4-0. Poor Scooby, he hadn't realised Pete was so bladdered. During this period the man had fallen off the waggon so badly that he had also confessed to cheating at scrabble against his girlfriend, a heinous crime which I dobbed him in for when she rang later that evening.
The night finished in the Kismet curry house where a very enjoyable meal was rounded off when the owner kindly gave us all a free coffee on the basis that not only was it my birthday but that I had also endured the pain of the Ashes whitewash (he was a Bangladesh supporter - even THEY managed to beat Australia in a one-day game in Cardiff not that long ago. I envisage them leapfrogging us in the battle to be bottom of the ODI ratings before long).

MET up with Celtic Liz on Thursday. I call her Celtic Liz because her name is Liz and she used to work for Celtic Newspapers. I was trying to advise her on all things Bristol as she has landed a staff sub-editing job on the Bristol Evening Post and Western Daily Press and is considering moving lock, stock and barrel to God's own Land.
It was during our chat in the Copa that I suddenly realised how bad my eyes have got. Liz was showing me a list of house adverts. Not only could I not read the ad, I couldn't even read the headline to tell me which area it was in. Oh, the shame. Another eye check when I get back to work I reckon. At this age it seems everything is starting to fall apart.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Roast beef with thick red wine gravy

FUNNY girl is now No 1 on my long list of favourite members of the opposite sex. Sorry girls (Agatha, Evans, what's-her-name-I-met-in-the-doctor's-surgery...), but when I see Funny Girl in the Yard I go weak at the knees. Well, admittedly that may be because I have spent the previous four hours drinking and have just got onto the Bloody Mary's, but I assure you she has a big effect on me.
Meeting up with my work colleagues again after such a long time away, inevitably a p*ss up ensued. Withers, bless him, was in charge of the news desk for the week, but he was in no way going to let that interfere with his drinking. The Voice boomed his way back into my senses while Marc proudly displayed the absence of "the Wart" and Rosey spoke enthusiastically about his latest freebie skiing holiday.
There's also a new girl having to fight her corner in the testerone fuelled world of WoS - Catherine, who has been taken under the highly dubious charge of reprobates Withers and Marc. Apparently she was not particularly well after her first encounter with the Yard and copious amounts of white wine, much to the whole-hearted admiration of the boys.
As everyone disappeared it inevitably finished with Withers, Catherine and I - and this was when I rekindled my love for Funny Girl. So much so I asked her out and got a really positive reply (by my reckoning, anyway).
Talking to Withers about this later he insisted that I was dreaming if that was considered an answer in the affirmative. He also offered this considerate response to why she had given me such positive signs.
"Rippers, you had her in a bear hug - she was scared to death. What else was she going to say?"
I like to think the hugging was mutual, but I have a nagging suspicion he may be right, a feeling enforced by something that happened as we left the pub.
Removing my copy of the Melbourne Herald Sun I waved it in Funny Girl's face and said: "You must see the picture of me as Yoda."
"I know: you've shown it to me already," she replied.
I think I'm going to have to start tatooing things on my body so I remember them, like the Guy Pearce character in that great film Memento. He had no short-term memory - I suffer from drunken amnesia, obviously.

SPENT the rest of the week recovering at home, though did have a good night out on Friday at Matt's pal Natalie's leaving do. She's so enjoyed her time on Celtic that she has decided to move to Carlisle after just six months or so in Cardiff. Who can blame her?
Ended up in the City Arms enjoying a brilliant set by my DJ, Withers and I burning up the dance floor to "Senses working overtime" by that great 70s and early 80s band XTC. Also met Abby, a 6ft 8ins student type with flowing locks who didn't stop dancing. She didn't appreciate the suggestion that she might have had some outside stimulants to keep up her energy levels.
Unsure what time I got home and settled for a bag of peanuts before bed.

VISITED the parents at the weekend and went to see the Gas fight out a dismal 0-0 draw with Chester. It's difficult to imagine the contrast between the crumbling Memorial Ground and the previous sports stadium I had attended, the SCG in Sydney. And the weather was pretty different, too. By the time I got home I was virtually welded to the steering wheel. Decided I had earned a House Special Curry for Yow's famous Chinese in Albany Road, next to the Claude public house. I guess that's the reason it's famous - at least, Yow has managed to buy a Mercedes from the proceeds so it can't be doing too badly. It's been there for years now, while other takeaways in chip shop mile (or Roath as it is better known) have come and gone. In fact, I remember my first spring roll at Yow's way back in 1978. Yes, I know, sad bastard. Maybe I do have short-term memory loss but there's nothing wrong with my distant recollections.
Which reminds me. My Dad and stepmum are moving into a more manageable smaller flat, so he ceremonially handed me over some photo albums. Pictures of me as a baby. There are some things you just don't remember.

Quiet day, Sunday. Spent most of it watching sport. Arsenal came from behind to beat Manchester United 2-1 in a totally Sky-overhyped Premiership clash, Thierry Henry scoring a last minute winner. I also cooked a nice Sunday lunch and decided to have a crack at my own red wine gravy. Try this:
Roughly chop 3 shallots, 3 carrots and 2 celery sticks. Put them in a baking tray, coat with some cooking oil and cook in oven until they start to brown. (about 20 mins on Gas Mark 5).
Transfer the shallots and a bit of the oil to a large stovetop pan.
Heat and add some plain flour. Stir around so that you have a thick, gooey, shallot and wine mess.
Add about a pint of beef vegetable stock and put in the carrots and celery sticks.
Bring to the boil, stirring continuously.
Then keep on a fairly high heat with lid on and cook for about two hours or however long the roast joint takes.
Just before serving, strain through a sieve and bring the gravy back to the boil.
Poor over roast beef, roast potatoes and your choice of veg, including the carrots and celery if you wish.

The new series of 24 began last night. Doesn't Jack Bauer ever take holidays (apart, that is, from the ones he spends in Chinese prisons).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Homemade Chilli and rice (mmmm)

AS you may have guessed, I'm back! It took more than 27 hours and brief visits to the airports of Bangkok and Dubai and I am still feeling jetlagged five days later.
The plane journey back was torturous, and there was so little room in Emirates Economy Class that it was fairly uncomfortable. I did manage to see a few films that I wouldn't have otherwise, however, and the choice was quite amazing. The Designer will not be surprised to hear that I also watched seven consecutive episodes of The Simpsons.
Best of the films, for my money, was The Devil wears Prada which may sound like a chick flick but is actually very good. Meryl Streep as boss of a fashion newspaper magazine named Runway, makes my Management technique appear very touchy, feely. Also saw Little Miss Sunshine with Toni Collette and the bloke who plays the boss in The American Office, which was funny, and The Da Vinci code, which was pretty poor when compared to the book.

The Fat Kid and the Vin Man picked me up from the airport - though they nearly missed me - and were delighted to have me back. Cannot help thinking the Fat Kid knew I had bought her a Gucci bag from a shop in Perth for her Christmas present. The Vin Man kept asking about his presents - and was a little disappointed when he realised they amounted to a jar of sweets and two T-shirts (well I AM skint and no pay for another month - ouch!) Got something for the Big Boy, too - a giant Koala that sings a rather modern version of Waltzing Matilda - and NOT the one the Barmy Army sing which involves the said Matilda being wooed by a number of Englishmen and then receiving something "Up the Billabong".
When we got back to the Fat Kid's house in Southend it turns out her little sis, Lotty, has moved in with her and is in the process of starting at a new school. It means the house is now pretty full and I had to make do with the sofa, falling asleep by about 5.30 in the early evening.
Next day could be best termed Bad Car day. Having taken the Fat Kid's to the garage on the basis it cuts out every two minutes I then drove her around to do some chores. When she returned from paying her bills I turned the ignition key - nothing. It was pouring with rain and I didn't have my AA card with me - welcome back to Blighty. In the end managed to get through to them from a telephone kiosk in the street and, fair play, they turned up within 30 minutes, only to tell me that my alternator was b*ggered.
Back to the garage for it to be replaced, leaving the Fat Kid and I carless. We decided to catch a train home (one stop) and bought our tickets, only to find that no train had been sighted at Rochford station for two hours. Something had wrapped itself around the electric overhead cables, apparently. In the end it resulted in more expense, getting a taxi back to her house.

We picked the cars up the next day - another £500 on the new credit card, or near enough. God, I'll be pleading to return to work soon. That night I met up with the lovely Evans and her work colleague Matt in the posh part of Southend known as Leigh-on-Sea. We went to a pub called the Mariners which was absolutely chock-a-bloc, and the Fat Kid accompanied me, for no other reason than to show off the Gucci bag.
At the end of the night there was a bit of a dispute over taxis between us, a Yankee lad and his mate, and the compromise was we would share a cab and they would pay. Fair deal, as the Fat Kid would say.

Returned to Cardiff in the newly-fixed car, which handled beautifully, on Saturday, listening to the footie on the radio on the way back. The Gas, by the way, have somehow sneaked into the League Two play-off positions since I've been away. Perhaps I should leave the country more often.
Had a quiet night in but delighted to find out they are screening "An Aussie goes Barmy" on ITV4. In Sunday's episode myself and the Designer were clearly pictured standing on the Adelaide Hill. Oh, how I love fame.
Sunday afternoon I went for a quick drink with Scooby to catch up on things and there in my local, fresh from his starring performance for Liverpool at Watford, was Craig Bellamy, quietly enjoying a pint with some of his Cardiff mates. Wonder if Rafa knows.
It was great to get back to cooking last night. I made a quick trip to Sainsbury's and cooked up a standard chilli with rice, but it still tasted great.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A madras curry from curry junction

Did I mention I had become a bit of a media whore out here? The other day myself, the Designer and some of the other guys were playing beach cricket on Bondi when a camera crew miraculously appeared from nowhere. They were filming a new series called Bondi Rescue and were keen to film some of the Barmy Army taking a day off from the cricket. This was, basically, because England had lost in four days again and we had spare time on our hands.
The programme is a kind of reality TV about lifeguards (Baywatch without Pammy Anderson) and the Designer, Watford Pete and I were soon confronted by some bloke with a boom microphone. He was keen to know what we thought of the cricket and we managed to tell him with the minimum amount of swearwords), then he asked us to gather some of the lads around to give him a bit of a sing-song on the beach: "We are the army, the barmy army etc..." The fact I had virtually lost my voice made little difference as I conducted the orchestra with a yellow plastic cricket bat.
Later a girl came up and started talking to us. Lo and behold she was the first female lifeguard ever to be employed at Bondi. A lady then appeared with another mic asking us how we would feel to be rescued by her. They were all loaded questions, suggesting we fancied the pants off her, but with the Designer remaining true to his sweetheart and me confessing that I would like to be rescued by the first person who turned up, man or woman, I don't really think she got the answer she wanted. Nor did she explain why Bondi had been a male-only preserve until now. Ask me, it all smacks of tokenism.

Said goodbye to the designer and the Blackburn twins and Liane yesterday, still unsure whether I was going to have a room for the night. Even when I re-entered the hotel at 10pm they were suggesting I would have to pay for the room for the night and claim it back from the Army. I was having none of it.
Seems there has been some mix up between npower, who now seem to be bailing the army out, and the hotel reservations company, mainly because when npower are working it is night time in Aussie, and vice versa.
Luckily there was a guy on reception called Anthony who helped me out and here I am at Sydney airport waiting for my flight back to the UK. On the bus I met some guys who worked for the Beeb in Lincoln. I didn't tell them I was the Beeb's mortal enemy for obvious reasons, though I did inform them I was a journalist and threw Nick "Smashy" Machin's name into the mix on the basis he supports Lincoln City. Well, here's hoping the flight goes well. Signing off from the most Barmy experience of my life. Can't wait to get back to Blighty and show off my "sort of" tan.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Minted lamb dinner

THE Barmy Army farewell party took place at the Bristol Hotel on Sussex Street and was a pretty mad occasion. It began with Chippenham Ben leading us on a merry dance around half of Sydney thanks to a map that I am sure he was holding upside down. When we got there the fun really began. Many of the Five Testers were there, along with Harry, our former work experience lad, Watford mascot Harry the Hornet and girlfriend Vicky. It was an occasion for getting heavily drunk, saying farewells, exchanging phone numbers and e-mail addresses and taking lots of photos.
At last I managed to track down tour rep Katie, who made good on her promise by providing me with two free shirts, including a little Barmy Army top for the Vin Man, who will get that as a late Christmas present.
We also played a game dreamed up by the Designer where everyone gets a number and has to dance solo to whatever song is on when their number comes up. Quite a laugh.
There was a little bit of shenanighans involving an Aussie who decided to throw a punch at the Designer, but when it was all sorted out we decided it was time to call it a night.

Yesterday was a do-nothing day. The Designer and I spent most of the time lazing around our apartment watching The Simpsons and anything else that came on. I took the opportunity to visit our favourite eatery, Flamez, and returned with a Minted Lamb dinner, including honey roasted veggies and roast spuds. Lovely. Later in the evening the Blackburn twins Howard and Mark popped in with Liane, Scouse Grant and Watford Pete for a last farewell.
Many, including the Blackburn contingent and the Designer, leave today but I am here another night.
That's fine but as of now the Barmy Army has still to confirm that they have kept my room on for an extra night. This on-going saga is just about doing my head in.
Apparently Npower are now involved with the bookings. Let's hope there are no more cock-ups and delays, but I wouldn't like to bet on it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Irish curry sauce (imported from tipperary!)

WELL it's all over, and I've witnessed the worst English Ashes performance of all time. At least I can say I saw the international cricket farewells of two of the greatest bowlers of all time, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath. And Justin Langer, that gritty little opener who has often been a pain in the backside, has finished too.
The Sydney Test was another game where England flattered to deceive, and the fact that their batting virtually finishes at six (and five when Freddie is not in the mood) has proved extremely costly.
The Barmy Army, however, have endeared themselves to many - even though there is the odd humbug letter of complaint in the paper (it's just not cricket, don't you know). And I find suggestions that the Barmies don't know anything about the game as totally offensive. None of us would have spent in excess of 6,000 pounds to come out here if we knew nothing about what happens on the field.
It's about time these people learnt that if it wasn't for support like that of the Barmies then Test cricket would inevitably die. If it is not what you grew up with then tough, because to me it is still the best form of the game and far better than the one-day thrills and spills which are forgotten the day after they happen.
Certainly some of the columnists have changed their tune over here. One of them, writing in the paper today, wishes that Australia had some kind of support ... at least, the kind that can come up with something a little more witty and inventive than "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi".
On the final day of the Test, the Barmy Army went around the field imploring various people to "give us a wave". All the England players obliged, even though they were on the verge of a 5-0 whitewash, and so did Justin Langer. Then came the funniest moment when umpires Billy Bowden and Aleem Dar also acknowledged the banks of England support. The only miserable sod not to join in was Matthew Hayden.
We stood and saluted the Aussies, particularly the wonderful Warne, as they toured the ground with their prizes and they clapped us too, while Freddie Flintoff, Ricky Ponting and one of the top members of Cricket Australia saluted us in their speeches. We stayed to the end, standing on our chairs to clap the victors and commiserate with the vanquished. At the end of the day, we weren't in their league.

I am now proudly sporting an emergency crown that cost me $200 following the great tooth disaster of New Year's Day. The local medical centre at Bondi Junction sorted me out and hopefully I can reclaim the money on travel insurance.
At least it means I haven't had to hide away in the hotel. In fact, I've suddenly realised there are just a couple of days to go and have stepped up my nights-out quota.
Highlight for me happened on Thursday night when the Barmy Army headquarters at the Henry, Henry bar by the Central Station was heaving with England supporters. There were about eight Monty Panesars among them who remembered me from my Yoda performance in the pub after the Boxing Day Test. I also met some lads from Bristol, including one who lives in the same village, Winterborne, where I went to school. Small world.
Pretty soon there was a big sing song, including that pretty repetitive ditty "We're the right side, we're the right side, we're the right side over here" followed by "We're the middle..." "We're the left side"... "You're the convicts over there."
It got around to the stage where people were asking each "side" to give them a song. And when it got to the middle I led a packed pub in "The Finger Song". This is normally orchestrated by a guy called Beefy in the grounds, but I decided to give it a go... and only forgot the words once.
It begins with a kind of Billy Bowden tribute, where the "conductor" shouts "Today is Monday..." and the crowd repeat it.
From there it goes:
"Monday is a finger day" and everyone raises a crooked finger in the manner of Bowden giving a dismissal. Then the "conductor" implores "Are we happy?" (which the crowd repeats).
"You bet your life we are" And everyone spins around on the spot with their finger on the top of their bonce going "De do de do de do". Quite amusing when it's done by 200 odd people.
That goes through the whole week with things that have happened, mainly in cricket, although Saturday is reserved for England beating Australia in the World Cup final - just to annoy the Aussies.
So what you have at the end is:
"Today is Sunday... Sunday is for Harmison... 47 all out, 47 all out (repeated as many times as you feel, and referring to his staggering performance in Jamaica a few years ago)
"Saturday's for rugby... 20 points to 17 (millions of repeats plus a chorus of Championes, Championes".
"Friday Hayden's out three times (referring to the ludicrously bad umpiring of Rudi Koertzen in Melbourne)"
"Thursday is for Panesar (his five wickets at the WACA)"
"Wednesday Lee's in hospital (referring back to the last series in England)"
"Tuesday in Trafalgar Square" (The 2005 Ashes party)
"Monday is a finger day"
"Are we happy?"
"You Bet your life we are!"
And that is despite all the cock ups, the hotel clangers, the lack of money and the dreadful cricket results.
Still, it's been a blast and I've met so many good people. There are, for instance, the Three Brummies who start drinking at midday and don't let anything interrupt them until about 4 the next morning. Including the cricket. All of them are a cracking laugh and nicer, more down to earth blokes, you couldn't meet.
There's Jerry the Scouse and Watford Pete, Mal the anaestheologist, Chewie (who sold his house in Hull to come out here and is now staying on for another six weeks or so - I can see him living here permanently), Paul, the Macc lad with a heart of gold who insisted on me sharing his taxi even though my hotel was in the opposite direction, and loads of others along the way like Stormin' Norman, Paul from Cardiff and the like. Probably too many to mention but most get a mention in this blog elsewhere.
And last of all, of course, the Designer. We've shared some good times and some pretty crap times but we've struggled through, mostly with a smile on our faces.

We'll probably have a last meal on Sunday before he departs on Monday and we've found a great place (despite the pork crackling and the great tooth disaster). It's called Flamez in Bondi Junction and it sells a full roast dinner for a fiver and lots more besides. I got speaking to the owner the other day - just to inquire when the Irish invented curry. He had Irish Curry Sauce on the menu.
He explained that when his son was in Ireland he came back waxing lyrical about the stuff and since then they have been importing it from Tipperary.
I must say, it didn't disappoint.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The great pork crackling disaster

HAPPY new bloody year. And I hope the beginning of 2007 is going to be a whole lot better than the end of the last one. The whole thing has been a Barmy cock-up.
When we got up in time for a 4.15am coach ride to Melbourne airport on New Year's Eve, there was some doubt as to which hotel we would be staying in, amid rumours that the travel company employed by the Barmy Army were experiencing "cash flow difficulties".
Still, the Designer and I aren't moaners like some of the people here, who have decided to let small logistical problems ruin their enjoyment of the experience.
So far, it must be said, that we have only stayed in one of the hotels originally allocated to us, and that was the first in Brisbane. To be fair, though, Melbourne was an upgrade that we didn't expect and a great apartment.
The day before we flew we thought we were staying in the Gemini. Then we were informed it was the Mercure. Just before leaving, though, Chewy got a message... we were now in the Metro Central. C'est la Vie.
Arriving in Sydney, no one seemed to know what was going on. No one around from the travel company or Barmy Army apart from one bloke who had a list of passengers and their hotels dating back two days. Nevertheless, Chewy, the chief (as we now call Olly because of his remarkable resemblance to Chief Wiggum in the Simpsons!), the Designer and myself climbed on board the bus for the Metro on Pitt, which we assumed was the Metro Central.
A very helpful lady called Sue informed us that none of us were booked at the hotel but she would make some quick calls. It being New Year's Eve, albeit 9am, we decided there was nothing for it but to sit in the restaurant and order some alcoholic beverages. This involved one of the worst bloody Mary's I've ever tasted but beggers certainly couldn't be choosers in our position.
We then heard there was a SECOND Metro hotel just down the road. But we weren't booked there either.
As we sat quietly waiting for the efficient Sue to sort us out, more and more Barmy Army customers were turning up to find they had no rooms. People had spent all morning walking the streets of Sydney trying to find their hotels. It was like an influx of dazed and confused refugees.
Some were quite rude, mistakenly taking Sue for someone employed by the Army when, in fact, she was just the manager of the hotel on Pitt. She kept her cool better than I would have done.
Finally, Sue informed us that she though all four of us were in the Cameo apartments in Wellington, near the Sydney Cricket Ground. Result.
We piled into a taxi and got out there for around noon, expecting our problems to be over.
They weren't. While Chewy and the Chief DID have a room, we did not. We were then informed that we were back at the Metro Central.
I spoke to Nick Bligh, one of the Barmy Army travel people, on the telephone. He said that they had changed all the lists late that night but we were definitely in the Central.
Back into town we went, lugging about our cases as we did. I went up to the counter, through a lobby of fellow irate travellers. On the counter was a list. Our names were on it. Great! I thought. Nick had even told me we were in twin room 1.
Umm, no, the receptionist said. "I won't allocate you a room until I see a Barmy Army rep. I've never known anything like this in 30 years in the hotel business."
Chewy and the Chief had changed in their apartment and come back with us. We decided to ease the lobby congestion we would go across the road to a bar. For the next two hours the Designer and I took turns returning to the hotel to see if anything had been sorted.

Finally Paul Burman, head honcho of the Army, turned up and tried to explain away the problems that had occured. Cricket Australia came in for a lot of stick, as did the travel company... not the army's fault, he said. "We just want people to muck in."
Well, we had mucked in all the way through, and where had it got us? Without a room on New Year's Eve - Sydney's biggest night of the year. I thought people were going to swing for the reps. Ingrid, a work experience for the travel company who was in charge of the computer with everyone's hotels supposedly on it, had left it back in Melbourne. Lummy Days! She was in tears. The Designer and I were about the only ones keeping our cool.
It was at about 7.30pm that we finally got the news through. We were heading out to Bondi Junction to the Tiffany Apartments. And Ingrid's boyfriend David, nothing to do with any of this, was driving us out there.
Result. We got into our apartment, and wonderful it was, too, with swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, washing machine, cooker, dishwasher and microwave. But we couldn't stop to enjoy it, just did a quick change, a quick squirt of something smelling relatively ok to mask the odor of 16 hours on the road, and back to the car for a lift back to the pub where we have left Chewy and the Chief. By then Mark, one half of the Blackburn twins, had joined us and we bought them all a strong cocktail for their support. Then off we headed into town.

The others were keen on the fireworks... I just wanted to get very drunk. Mission Accomplished. I ended up in the Fortunes of War, a pub on the Rocks where, 12 years ago, I spent New Year's on my last visit to Sydney.
There I somehow once again became a choirmaster for the Barmy Army fans in the bar as we taunted Aussies well into the new year with songs about Glenn McGrath, his pension book and his zimmer frame. Aah, bliss.
I got back to the apartment at 4am. Fortunately a train ran straight from the centre of Sydney out to Bondi Junction and the railway station was right next to our apartments. All's well that ends well.

Not quite. We decided to have a relaxing day on New Year's Day, even though the quaintly named Tea Gardens Hotel over the road was rocking all day with queues outside from morning to midnight. Unbelievable. Some people in Sydney just celebrate for two days solid.
For our part, we found possibly the best takeaway/cafe in the world. Sitting dow to eat I had a huge roast pork dinner with crackling for around 5 quid. Gorgeous. But it did have its repercussions.
It was so filling I plonked half of it in a takeaway box and took it back to my room, heating it later in the microwave for tea.
Lying in bed that night reading my book I felt what I assumed was a bit of crackling stuck in my teeth and tried to remove it. Suddenly there was a gaping hole in my mouth and two halves of the crown I have had since I fell off my mate's shoulders when I was 19. Oh Lord, I now have a gappy grin and a little stump of tooth. Perfect for impressing the ladies.
This morning I am in search of an emergency dentist.
As I said, Happy New Bloody Year!