Matthew's News and Gossip: 02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Saturday, February 22, 2003

So after a late dinner after the ride on the beach, David dumped me off at the Launceston airport. I called Bettina in Melbourne and found that I had been traded to the Norbury team for my season in Melbourne. Joanne Norbury, who I hadn't seen for a while, came and got me at the airport. She'd just moved back from Sydney and was missing her true love Joe Gatto (or at least I think that's what she told me). Paul (Norbury) is now living with the lovely (even though she's German) Annabel. I spent the first night in Melbourne drinking with the Norbury twins, discussing who slept with who 10 years before.

I then went off to Castlemaine to meet up with my old friend Phil Larwill. Phil met me when I was one - so he claims - although I don't remember. I saw him again in 1982 (in Aus). He came to England in 1985 managing to get in on the last and most drunken week of my Cambridge University career. He was also responsible for thousands of Aussies living on my couch in London. He was back in 1988 with his then girlfriend Cate Kennedy who was the most argumentative and strong willed person I've ever met! I saw them again in 1992 but lost touch after that. They'd been to Mexico in the late 1990s to do volunteer work but had come back to Aus in 2000. Somewhere around then they broke up. I found Phil via Googling Cate, who's now a well known author!

In 2001 Phil moved in with and then started going out with the lovely Deb (getting the usual order mixed up, of course). My two days up in Castlemaine consisted of catching up on the past with Phil & Deb and hanging out with them (and Deb's kids) and explaining to the two of them why I could oppose an attack on Iraqi civilians while approving of the privatization of British Telecom (both equally heinous crimes in their view). Phil took me on a long drive out to see some land he and a group of like-minded worthies (and I mean that) were starting to restore back into bush. We also stopped off at the most over the top railway station any small town (Marlborough) ever had, ate lunch in Victoria's best pie shop (I had roo, buffalo and alligator pies) and managed to do a bit of wine tasting at near-by vineyards even though rustling up staff to sell us the wine appeared to be difficult. We eventually ended up buying several crates from the accounts payable lady from India who had been press-ganged into service. Overall the countryside was very dry, as thereā€™d been no real rain for two years. These foxes didn't think much of it either!

The next day, a day that will live in infamy, Phil woke me up at 7 am to see England get stuffed by Australia not at cricket or tennis but football! You can be sure that I heard plenty about that over the next few days! There was just time for brekkie and some heavy drinking (and this walk onto the train tracks), and a strange but well attended lecture on building a house that required no energy or no sunlight, before I had to leave back to refreshingly unaware Melbourne. The full set of Castlemaine and country Victoria photos are here.

I went back to Melbourne on the rather whizzy train. A friend of Deb's was on the train going to the anti-war rally. Rita is a yoga instructor with an English man problem (1 is a mistake, 2 careless, 3 an addiction!) Instead of going to face down Bush, Blair & Howard with 500,000 other Melbourners (and Burke and Wills, Australia's Lewis and Clark) and maybe compounding Rita's problem, I went off with Paul to go lawn bowling, which was remarkably good fun. I am an old man!

After surviving an afghan restaurant and losing several games of pool and (I was later reminded) space invaders to Paul, I eventually crawled out of bed the next day to go to dinner with Tony and Bettina's friends Nick and Andrew (and others who's names are lost in the mists of my brain!). I was being exceptionally social in Melbourne as the next day we went up to the Yarra Valley to a big organized Grape Grazing at several wineries. Given that it was a hot day and most Melbournian females dressed respondingly "Tit Gazing" would have been a more apt moniker. The gang was me, Paul, Tony and Bettina again and a random English woman called Lucy(not from Essex, though). My Cambridge friend Hugh who had just moved to Melbourne also showed up with wife Maryse and his 97 children. Really avid readers of my News and Gossip may remember that they were in Singapore on the way to Australia last October. They were living in a trailer park in Melbourne and were most relieved to be moving to decent house now that Hugh has a job. Anyway it was a great day, other than the line for the coffee was the longest and slowest of all time. That night Paul (with a little help from Joanne who had just got back from rescuing her stuff from her ex-man's house in Sydney) cooked an excellent dinner that night. All the Melbourne photos are here.

With one day left in Melbourne I realized that I'd never seen the Great Ocean Road. So I sent the entire next day as a proper tourist on a backpacker minibus seeing all the sights such as Bells Beach (allegedly as seen in "Point Break" although I never saw Kenau or Patrick Swayze), the London Bridge, the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard shipwreck site, a bunch of Koalas and lots of coastline that reminded me of home. A long day on a bus seeing lots of great sights but it would be better to spend a few days down there. (Here's the whole Ocean Road set). Paul very kindly drove me to the airport not before I'd extracted an agreement from Bettina to take my suitcase back to California. I assume she won't tell customs about my trip to Laos or what the white powder in those packets is!

Arriving in Sydney the wine I'd bought arrived unbroken, rendering irrelevant the grumpy fit I'd had with the check-in babe at Virgin Blue when she wouldn't let me carry it on. I staggered into Stephen Burley's office looking like one of his criminal defendants (he's a barrister). After abusing his net connection for a few minutes his wife Annabel came to collect me in her 1974 beetle and we took off over the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

I had dinner that night with Sam Lloyd and her husband Ray's retinue of friends just in from England. Dinner at a restaurant called Brio next to Bronte beach was delicious but at $50Aus (approx $30 US) per head I realized that I'm no longer in Asia! I had bug meat risotto, but that's actually lobster.

I haven't been much of a tourist in Sydney. I nipped by the Opera House and the Bridge, but mostly I've been eating drinking and catching up with Stephen and Annabelle Burley, and having dinner with Nick and Chris Forster, Mick Gibbons and even Chris Cuthbert and Sally. I did however set a new record for worst babysitting performance, I was supposed to be reading Harry Potter to George (3), David (6) and Philippa (8) while their mum ran out for 25 minutes, but after 4 words my incompetence was rumbled, and soon there was a huge pillow fight that I lost about 6 - nil! Stephen came home and read the riot act and it was officially revealed that I wasn't up to the job!

Friday night should have been a goodie. Sam Lloyd set me up with a friend. We arranged to meet at a revolving bar on high-rise. But I got blown out and ended up wondering around a strangely empty Sydney. Kings Cross where I ended up is very strange in that it manages to be both the backpacker/internet cafe zone and the girly bar/hooker area. I ate a donner kebab and fled for the safety of the northern suburbs.

Most of the Sydney set is here, but there's a whole set of Sydney people here which is probably only worth a look if you are one or know them and want to laugh at how much they've aged!

posted by matthew  # 12:31 AM 

Monday, February 17, 2003

So I've escaped from Tasmania and a very hectic few days in Melbourne....I'm now sitting in Sydney in Stephen Burley's barrister's chambers clogging up his office Internet connection by uploarding all my photos from Tassy (without bothering to reduce the size as the connection is so fast!).

So where was I when last I left you a few weeks back? Oh yeah. Singapore. City of rest and idleness, for me. Other people though had other things to do than just get drunk out of their mind. These other people didn't include JB, but did include his wife Rebecca who decided that the perfect way to celebrate my arrival and departure (I was only there a few days) was to bring Skye into the world. Skye is the one on the left in this photo. Rebecca is the one on the top in this one. Skye is the only one in this photo. JB tried hard to avoid being with Rebecca while she was in labor, but to get to the birth he eventually left the dinner Peter Simpson (Simmo) was having before he left Singapore to go skiing for the season in Val d'Isere. Nice work (work?) if you can get it!. However given that Simmo paid for dinner AND my taxi home, I can't exactly complain!

I also caught up with MunKew Leung for a quick lunch. Munkew was haveing a hectic time as his nanny had to go home to look after her son who'd been in a road accident, his wife May was working flat out and he had just got "promoted" and had to do three months work in a week. But he still found time to buy me a lunch which I owed him....this will get expensive when I get back to the US!

After a not up to scratch flight in business class on Qantas (stick with Cathay if you get the choice!) in which I sat next to a British hydrology professor working in Singapore who told me that desalination was cheaper and easier than finding fresh water, I arrived (via a $4 intra airport transfer), in Tasmania. This was a decided chage of pace from Asia.

Joanna Ellison was/is one of my best friends at Cambridge but she has lived quite an exciting life while the rest of you (well, me) have been boring humanity. She spent most of the late 1980s and 1990s wondering around tropical islands checking out the mangrove swamps and the last time I saw her (which was 1997!) she was having a wild affair with a boat captain in Queensland and sailing off to Papua New Guinea whenever she got the chance. However, she's put all that behind her, gone to Tasmania, where developed a list of what she wanted in a man (various) and a life (lots of horses) and has stuck to it! She now has a husband called David who is pretty much a wild mountain man with hair and beard to match, and three, four or five horses depending on the week. As soon as I arrived we put the horses in the back of the "float" (Australian for horse trailer) and headed to the Mountain Cattleman's Gathering in the middle of very rural Tasmania (near the number 5 in the very center of this map). Like it sounds, this is pretty much a collection of Aussie cowboys showing their stuff.

At the Mountain Cattleman's lots of people and gee-gees went on a long ride. I hadn't been on a horse for several years but Punter ,despite being a racehorse only 6 months before, behaved very well. Stopping for lunch with about 300 horses was quite a sight. Later that day I watched the whipcracking festival, in which a rider rides by a piece of newspaper stretched between two clips and tries to slice it in half with a bull whip. After a very cold evening in which a lot of drunken Aussies kept bumping into me as we watched a rather fun band playing Travis Tritt and AC/DC covers (they were all wearing T- shirts while I was wearing a big coat!), I staggered out of the rather comfortable camp bed that David had arranged. This day was devoted to watching Joanna in a couple of competitions, and seeing some stockhandling and barrel racing. The most fun was the relay race in which the last section had two riders galloping into the finish on one horse bareback. Almost all of them fell off as they tried to stop!

All the pics from the Mountain Cattlemans' are here

For the rest of the week I nursed my very sore bottom, hung out with Joanna and David, watched TV in a language that I understood and ate lots of interesting meat. In fact the distance between production and consumption was very short. I went wildlife spotting one night; that meant I shone a big light until I found wallabies in a field and David shot 'em. He actually bagged two, but after driving around for a while we couldn't find the second one. David gutted the one we did find and sliced it up right there in the field. He threw the fur, guts and bones away. "What'll happen to that?" I asked. "It'll all be gone by morning" he said. "The Devils will take care of that an dhte one we can't find!" We took care of the one we did find the next night for dinner and very good it was too! In fact all the Australians that I met who know about it said that Australia would be better off farming Kangeroos rather than sheep or cows. I also spent a fun day looking at rivers with David (he's a river engineer), spotting one platypus, and helping him survey some swampland--proving that I can hold a pole as well as the next man (shades of Yosser Hughes in Boys from the Blackstuff).

The second set of Tassy photos are here

I also had dinner with Amanda who I met in Vietnam. Her dad runs an opium plantation, or something similar, but this one is owned by J&J (Tasmanian Alkaloids) and is a little more legal than the ones I saw in Laos. Still like the kids in Laos, Amanda's summer job was picking poppies! I did some other minor tourism to an old and now reopened gold mine, to the Launceston Gorge, and a couple of long drives; one to Ben Lomond, a ski resort with a dramatic road called Jacob's Ladder going up to it, and the other out to the Cradle Mountain National Park in the west of Tasmania. All of those photos are here

The most fun was the ride Joanna took me onto the beach in Narawantapu national park. This was a long ride ending up on a 5 kilometer long beach which we galloped down, Joanna rode Punter (as she was rightly scared that I wouldnt be able to stop him as he galloped off) and I rode her steady old friend Vinny. This was one of the most beautiful days I had on my trip, and on the way back we got very close to some Forester kangaroos. But a 26 mile ride for an inexperienced unfit old man, meant that I ached for three days afterwards!!

Herea are the beach ride photos. Off to Melbourne in the next episode.

posted by matthew  # 8:33 PM 

Monday, February 03, 2003

So I've made it to Tasmania and got to see Jo Ellison and her new-ish husband David. David has a beard and hair of a real mountain man and the language to go with it. Quite how as demure a person as Joanna ended up with him I dont know but they seem to fit very well together! They live on a 43 acre property in rural northern Tasmania surrounded by horses, cows and wallabies (or dinner, as I'll report later)
posted by matthew  # 5:03 PM 


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