Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

Family Days v Family Days, Sunday 13th November 2016, 9am

December 3, 2016

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Jen and I haven’t really done any hiking since we were in England last May. The climate in Malaysia, whilst better than our last location of Darwin, Australia, is just that little bit too hot and humid to make going for a walk a tempting prospect.

That all changed when I read about the Cameron Highlands. The region is about four hours drive north of where we live and as it is a minimum of 1,500 metres above sea-level, the temperature tends to hover around sixteen degrees. That’s perfect really and so we went for the weekend.

The last hour or so of the drive took us up winding narrow roads that were flanked by stray dogs. I doubt many make it to old-age. Every now and then there would be an attraction such as a waterfall or a tea-room that would be marked by cars parked along both sides of the road for a hundred yards each way and supplemented by a few tour-buses.

We stayed in Tanah Rata. The mix of day trippers and slightly longer-term visitors, the cafes and attraction booking offices reminded me a little of some of the towns in the Lake District.

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I was tired from the concentration needed to avoid running over the dogs or driving off a cliff edge and so we didn’t do much on the Saturday night. We were up early on the Sunday though and went for a walk up to a waterfall and then into the forest. It’s the rainy season in Malaysia at the moment and a combination of a wet path and fallen leaves made it quite slippy underfoot. Sufficiently so that I ended up flat on my back at one point. Fortunately there weren’t any other people around to witness my senior moment.

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There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife either. A few lizards, one of those flightless birds, a chipmunk up a tree and a large red caterpillar. The highlight was probably a butterfly that when it spread its wings looked uncannily like a snake’s head.

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To get back into Tanah Rata we had to pass a football pitch and as we approached I heard a whistle and some shouting. Once in sight it was clear that there was a game going on. It looked pretty low-level but I counted the players and it was 11 a side.  There was also a ref and two linesman and so by my ground hopping rules it counted as a proper match.

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I took a few photos then wandered into the main and only stand. There were about fifty people watching, which isn’t a bad turnout at all. Next to the stand were a group of women in a tent. Most of them were preparing food but a couple were sorting out medals ready for a post-game presentation.

The standard of play was such that even at my age and not having kicked a ball for six years I reckon I could have shone. My Dad, at 83, would have made less of a shambles of things than both keepers were managing to do.

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Five minutes after we got there, the full-time whistle blew and in that time we’d seen three goals. I didn’t ask the score but I suspect that both sides were probably into double figures by some distance.

I did have a chat with a couple of players at the end. Apparently both sides were drawn from company employees on a team building exercise. They all worked for Family Days, a company from Ipoh, some eighty kilometres away.

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We chatted about Ipoh’s team Perak and, after I mentioned that I’d seen them in their Malaysian Cup game against Selangor, their excellent travelling support. At that point it was time for the medal presentation and so we left them to their team-building.

Stokesley Sports Club v Thornaby, Monday 2nd May 2016, 11am

August 13, 2016

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The Bank Holiday games in the Northern League tend to start a bit earlier than the regular three o’clock kick-offs. It makes a lot of sense as it still leaves enough of the day to do other things afterwards.

A quick scan of fixtures revealed that Stokesley were at home to Thornaby and as Jen and I were staying just down the road in a cottage at Ingleby Greenhow it seemed an ideal choice.

We’ve stayed at Ingleby a couple of times now. It’s quiet, but close enough to Norton to make doing the family stuff easy enough. Being out in the countryside makes it interesting for the grandkids too and they revelled in talking to the sheep and horses, poking a dead pheasant and chasing rabbits down the long driveway.

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It was also handy enough for Jen and I to do a bit more of the Cleveland Way and we hiked from Clay Bank to Osmotherley and back over a couple of days.

The weather was fine and whilst I tend to prefer the coastal sections of the trail, the mix of woodland and open moors, together with the views of Teesside made both days decent walks.

Mind you, we probably could have done with an earlier start on the second day as we ended up coming down off the moors in darkness.

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The weather was less impressive for the game at Stokesley’s ground, with strong winds and the odd spot of rain. It was five quid to get in and the bloke on the gate apologised for being sold out of programmes. He generously offered to post one to me, but as I’m trying to give up accumulating stuff that will never see the light of day again I very politely fucked him off.

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I made my way around to the far side of the ground just as the game began, passing a dog with a burst football in its mouth. I’m not sure that it’s particularly wise to bring to a dog with that sort of hobby to a match.

I’m not a fan of Banning Orders, mainly on the basis that we have sufficient proper laws to deal with football-related skullduggery, but I’d find it hard to oppose one for the owner if Fido decided to add to his popped Mitre Multiplex collection.

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Thornaby were in blue shirts that were way too big for most of their players. The blustery conditions meant that the wind kept getting trapped inside of them. Part of me wanted the wind to pick up further on the off-chance that some of the lighter members of the visiting team might get literally carried away.

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Spurred on by the presence of a bumper bank holiday crowd of forty-seven (and a dog), Stokesley took the lead on the half-hour. I was quite surprised as they hadn’t been doing at all well this year and weekly hammerings had left them well adrift at the foot of the table and long-since relegated.

In fact, in what I’d assumed to be a reasonable form guide, they’d suffered at nine-one defeat to Thornaby in the reverse fixture, just the previous week.

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Normality was restored before the break with two Thornaby goals and with the rain getting heavier I took my eighty pence cup of coffee into the covered stand for the second half.

A few visiting fans with their blue and white scarves had made the trip from Thornaby and they were rewarded as the visitors extended their lead to an eventual four-two victory.

That was it for the for the season for those two teams. That was also it for the Northern League as far as Stokesley are concerned as they will start next season in the not quite so prestigious Wearside League. I doubt it will make much difference to the dog.

Horse Racing at Alice Springs, Saturday 23rd April 2016

July 10, 2016

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When I decided to take the job in Australia there was one trip that I wanted to do more than any other and that was to visit Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it’s more commonly known among English folks of my generation.

A little bit of research suggested that the best way to do it was by way of a road trip from Alice Springs and so that’s what we did, taking a flight there from Darwin to save fifteen hundred kilometres of driving each way and then making the journey from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock and back in a camper van over a five day period.

There’s not a great deal goes on at Alice Springs. If I mention that, horse racing aside, the highlights of our time there were visits to museums celebrating the School of the Air and the Postal Service respectively, you’d probably conclude and quite rightly in my opinion, that Alice Springs is fine for a night or two whilst on the way to somewhere else.

We picked up the camper van with the intention of driving the five hundred kilometres to Ayers Rock in one day. However, a later than planned start meant that I wasn’t sure that we’d be there before dark. With that in mind we called it a day at the Curtin Springs Campground, about an hour and a half short of our original plan.

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It was a good decision. The campground had electric hook ups so that we could crank the air-conditioning up and an outdoor restaurant with a couple of small dogs that we could discreetly feed with sausages.

Best of all we had a view in the distance of the ‘fake Ayers Rock’, Mount Conner. To my untrained eye it didn’t look any different from its more famous rival. Perhaps it’s all about marketing.

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Next morning we drove the remaining one hundred and forty kilometres to Ayers Rock, arriving at around 9am. It was already busy with coachloads of tourists listening to their guides telling them about rock art, whilst others were taking the path to the top.

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The traditional owners, the Anangu people, don’t approve of visitors walking on the rock and request that visitors don’t do it. It looked quite steep to us and so we were happy to comply with their wishes, choosing instead to take the eleven kilometre trail that went around it.

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A small part of the walk was in the shade but our late start meant that most of it was in the sun. It was ok, as rocks go, but if I’m honest a bit on the dull side. The flies were a nuisance too. We’d bought head nets but who wants to walk around with a net on your head?

Jen’s net came attached to her hat which she thought made it ideal for a wedding.

The next morning we called in at Ayers Rock to catch the sunrise, or at least we would have done if we’d managed to arrive three or four minutes earlier. We then drove on to Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as it was previously known.

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This was a much more interesting place and we walked the Valley of the Winds trail. It was as windy at times as its name would suggest and there were more flies than at Ayers Rock but we had our nets so it wasn’t a big deal. The scenery though was fantastic, like nothing I’d seen anywhere else.

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The Valley of the Winds is a circular, eight kilometre walk with a steepish descent, then a climb up to the sort of place that would have worked well for holding up Simba in the Lion King. Or at least it would have done if Australia had lions.

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It was less busy than Ayers Rock and that’s another reason why I preferred it. The park authorities only let you walk if it’s below a certain temperature so it’s definitely worth setting off early.

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The next day we drove to King’s Canyon. I suppose what we should have done was just set off once we’d finished our Olgas hike. There’s not a lot to do in these places once you’ve finished walking and if you are keen, like me, to be somewhere with air-conditioning then you might as well be driving rather than just sitting about in the camper van.

The campsite at King’s Canyon is notorious for dingoes and we were fortunate enough to spot some wandering around. We barbecued some sausages that evening in the hope of tempting them in but it didn’t happen. I reckon I could have trained them to sit up and beg if I’d had some of Blackwell’s finest.

Despite the scenery at the Olgas, King’s Canyon turned out to be the best walk of the trip. We did the route around the rim that has an initial steep ascent but then takes you around both sides of the canyon before making a gradual decent into the valley.

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A lot of the rocks reminded me of those in Africa as we’d seen similar on the various farms that we’d stayed at in Gauteng or Mpumalanga, although not many of those places had as impressive a canyon.

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The rim walk was about seven kilometres from start to finish and then we extended our hike by adding in a couple more kilometres along the less strenuous valley walk inside the canyon.

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I’d learned my lesson the previous day and despite having a campsite booking for two nights we made better use of our time by driving back to Alice Springs that afternoon. It meant that we didn’t have to rush the next day to get the camper van back before the office shut and it also freed enough time to be able to go to the races.

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I suspect the race meetings at Pioneer Park are the highlights of life in Alice Springs. After all, there’s only so many times that you can spend your weekends at the Postal Museum.

Everyone seemed much more dressed up than I’d have expected them to be, or at least they were much more dressed up than we were. Mind you, that’s not unusual, even in Darwin. Maybe Jen should have worn her fly-net hat.

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A quick scan through the race card showed that most of the horses were trained in Alice Springs. That’s not surprising I suppose, as it’s a couple of days drive minimum to anywhere of note. It means that the same horses will run against each other throughout the season though.

As with a lot of country courses there was a decent backdrop. I like that. Hexham is probably my favourite UK racecourse and it’s as much for the scenery as anything else.

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As in Darwin, there were proper bookmakers. I like that too. It’s always good to be able to shop around for the best price rather than having to take the tote return.

If I remember rightly we had one winner, although once we’d taken the ten dollar admission, the racecard, the pie and chips and ice creams into account we were probably down on the day.

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That day at the races brought the Ayers Rock road trip to an end. It brought the Australian adventure to an end too. My job had finished a month or so earlier and after spending some time seeing the places that we hadn’t yet gotten around to it was time to fly back to the UK to catch the climax of the Boro’s promotion campaign.

There were some great places to visit in Australia; Sydney and Brisbane were good, whilst I’m pleased we made it to Litchfield, Kakadu and managed the outback trip. We’ve watched dingoes, koalas and kangaroos in the wild and seen enough spiders to fill a bath. The Darwin climate wasn’t for me though and I feel as if I spent most of the seven months that we were there in an air-conditioned bubble.

My next job is in Malaysia where it looks to be a few degrees cooler than Darwin. I’ll settle for that.

Football Without Borders v Congolese Community FC, Saturday 2nd April 2016, 3pm

July 6, 2016

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Six months after arriving in Darwin, the local football season was finally about to start and with the pitches freshly mown and the nets up a local charity or two took the opportunity to hold a fund-raising game at the Gray Football Stadium in Palmerston.

The game fell in a busy weekend. We’d been to the baseball the previous night and spent the following day at the Litchfield National Park. Litchfield is definitely worth a visit if you are in the Darwin area. It’s about an hour’s drive and there are three or four decent waterfalls that have walking trails up to and around them.

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One of the waterfalls had a trail that didn’t appear to be as well used as the others and so even on a busy Sunday it was possible to wander around as if we had the park to ourselves.

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We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife. The highlight was probably a six-inch long lizard of some sort. I’m rubbish at lizard identification, maybe it’s a gecko. Who knows? Not me, I’m sorry to say.

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We also saw plenty of spiders and fortunately for identification purposes there were numerous boards dotted around to give me some assistance. The one in the photo is a female Golden Orb spider.

We saw a few females, often with half a dozen much smaller males sharing the same web. Apparently the fellas were just biding their time and waiting for a chance to get one or more of their legs over, after which they were likely to end up as a post-coital snack. I’m sure we’ve all been in relationships like that at one time or another.

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The game at Gray Stadium was quite well attended with probably a hundred or so people turning out to raise awareness and hopefully some funds to be shared between the refugee and asylum seeker charity Football Without Borders and for community facilities for immigrants from Congo.

I only tend to listen to Australian radio if a taxi driver has it on and recently heard a phone-in where just about everyone was complaining that the country ‘was full’ and that immigration should be halted. Talk about pulling up the drawbridge. Back in the real world though, it was heartening to see the people of Darwin doing their bit for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

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Football-wise, the standard was mixed. The Congo select had a decent defender at the back who swept up most of the Football Without Borders attacking moves. Elsewhere, there was a mix of triers and a few blokes who looked like they might have played regularly for teams in the past.

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The catering was good though and I had a chicken curry that went down well. I don’t recall seeing any beer for sale, but it was more of a family-style occasion with bouncy castles and the like for the kids. I was driving anyway, so it didn’t really matter.

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There were a few goals, but I wasn’t counting. If I recall correctly most of them were at the Football Without Borders end. I doubt that the refugees and asylum seekers in their team were too bothered. When your life takes that sort of turn then I imagine you develop a decent sense of perspective.

 

Pint Green Sox v Tracy Village Rebels, Friday 1st April 2016, 7pm

July 3, 2016

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Baseball! In Australia!

I developed a liking for baseball when I lived in Seoul. I can’t claim to be an expert, it was more the relaxing in the cheap seats as the sun went down that I enjoyed. I’d drink some beers, eat some cheese and wait for someone to twat the ball hard enough for it to clear the fence.

It’s doubtful that baseball has much of a following in Australia, it’s a country where rugby league and ‘Aussie Rules’ football tend to dominate, but I thought a game in the local league would be worth a look.

It had been a pretty good week leading up to the game as Jen and I had spent the four-day Easter weekend at Kakadu National Park. It’s probably the highlight of the Northern Territories and features on the itineraries of most Australian tours. We only live a couple of hours away from the park but a combination of working six days a week and the lack of a car meant that it had taken us six months to get around to paying it a visit.

We went for a walk on the first evening along the Angaardabal Billabong trail and were rewarded with the sight of three dingoes crossing the path in front of us. Seeing dingoes in the wild was something that was on my Australian ‘wish list’ and something that we hadn’t managed previously. If only we’d had a few snacks with us to tempt them over.

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Next morning we followed the same path in the hope of seeing them again but our luck was out. We did see a wallaby sat watching us from the long grass and even though I’m sure it would have been a decent snack for a pack of dingoes, it wasn’t enough to tempt them in.

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The highlight of that morning walk was a big spider. I’m not sure what type so I resisted the urge to poke it. Our five-year old grandson Harry has a liking for spiders at the moment and seems convinced that almost all Australian spiders are Huntsman spiders. I’m not knowledgeable enough to contradict him.

We recently bought Harry a real stuffed tarantula. I’m not sure how easy it is to stuff a tarantula, not very easy at all I suspect, but it looks very impressive. He was very pleased with it, although I think his mother was less impressed. Soph rolled her eyes on seeing it, no doubt anticipating the future panic at school during ‘Show and Tell’.

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Whilst in Kakadu we hiked up Nourlangie Rock. It was hard work, not so much because of the distance or the gradient, but more due to the heat and humidity. There were good views once we got above the trees but the bit I enjoyed the most was just lying down on a flat shaded rock and letting the breeze cool me down in a way that I suspect people have been doing at that very spot for thousands of years.

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Coming down was easier and after almost walking into the web of a spider similar to the one we’d seen a couple of days earlier, we paused for a while to watch a lizard sunning itself.

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On the road to Nourlangie we spotted a bush pig. Not a live one, but a road-kill one. I doubt it had been dead for very long, but it was already starting to swell in the heat. The photo isn’t too good because of some condensation on the lens, but it gives you an idea of the size of the creature. I doubt the car that hit it came out of the collision well.

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Whilst driving back to Darwin at the end of the weekend we stopped at a crocodile jumping place. They take you out onto a river in a boat and then dangle pieces of meat over the side to tempt the crocodiles to jump up and take them. I’m not sure how ethical that sort of thing is conservation-wise, but we enjoyed it and I’d bet that the crocs did too.

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And so to the baseball. It was a pre-season opener at Tracy Village between the previous year’s Grand Finalists Pint Green Sox and Tracy Village Rebels. A sort of Community Shield if you like, for those of you that appreciate an English football comparison, but a Community Shield for pub sides in a local league.

Entry was free. I’ve no idea if this was because it wasn’t a league game, or whether it’s always free. Perhaps it was because both teams were missing most of their first team players as a consequence of holidays, work commitments or something decent being on the telly.

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Most people had brought their own camping chairs and were socialising over a picnic with fellow fans that they may not have seen since the Grand Final. I reckon that there were probably around a hundred and twenty spectators dotted around the field enjoying the catch-up.

We were less well prepared seating-wise, but fortunately there was a small three-row covered seating area where we could watch from behind the plate.

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It must have been the first visit to Australian baseball for the Korean couple sat next to us. They grumbled at the poor standard for a while before clearing off. I sympathised with them, as I’d seen Sunday morning games between friends down by the River Han that were of much higher quality than this effort.

The Aussie bloke in front of us commented that the first pitcher had “an arm like my Nanna” and I doubt he was exaggerating. On the rare occasions when the ball didn’t hit the ground before reaching the batter it was just as likely to bounce off his helmet.

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None of the innings lasted for long, despite all of the bases being occupied on occasions by batters who had been walked. We stuck it out for an hour with the Rebels well in front, but as there wasn’t a scoreboard  I couldn’t tell you by how many. Sorry Eric.

It was a world away from watching Doosan Bears or LG Twins at Jamsil.

Middlesbrough v Blackburn Rovers, Saturday 6th February 2016, 3pm

May 29, 2016

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The home game against Blackburn was my first Boro game for a few months and for a change Tom and I sat in the South West corner. Thirty quid for a ticket would usually have struck me as expensive but as I’d been to see Peppa Pig with the grandkids that morning and with that costing fourteen quid for a three year old and sixteen quid for the accompanying adult, thirty quid for football seemed like a bargain.

I reckon adults should get in free to stuff like Peppa Pig, in the way that carers do with wheelchair fans at football. They do three shows a day, no doubt using aspiring Equity members on minimum wage. Somebody, somewhere is raking it in. Daddy Pig probably.  Still, the grandkids enjoyed it.

Earlier in the week Jen and I had done another thirty miles of the Cleveland Way, including the section with the Roseberry Topping detour in it. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve been up there but it’s always good to look down on Teesside from the top.

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Anyway, the game. We had a pint in The Central, but it was a bit crowded and with rain in the air we took a taxi up to the ground to do our pre-match drinking there. I was surprised to see that new signing Jordan Rhodes was only on the bench against his old club, but I suppose at least it meant that he wouldn’t be scoring against us.

We weren’t very good and it was only after Blackburn took the lead twenty minutes from the end that we showed any real intent to try to score. Rhodes came on and put himself about a bit, before Nugent equalised ten minutes from time.

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The draw took us level on points at the top with Hull.  I suppose with Burnley and Brighton still trailing us despite having played more games, it’s a good position to be in.

After the the successive defeats to Bristol City and Forest though, I can’t help feeling that we needed a win to get back on track.

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Tom and I hung about afterwards to watch Final Score before heading into town to catch the back end of the rugby in Dr Browns.

Sydney FC v Newcastle Jets, Friday 4th December 2015, 7.40pm

February 20, 2016

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We chose Sydney as the location for our second trip in Australia on the basis that there’s plenty of famous stuff to see and that the Blue Mountains were close enough for some hiking. There were also a couple of A-League fixtures scheduled for the week we were there.

First up was a walk from Bondi beach to Coogee. It’s a well-marked route, although if it weren’t then simply keeping the sea to the left would have been sufficient to avoid getting lost. Bondi was virtually empty, a world apart from the crowded Christmas Day scenes that I’m more familiar with.

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Later in the week we spent a couple of nights in the Blue Mountains and hiked around the Three Sisters. A longer walk the next day into the Leura Forest proved to be a lot quieter, with few people wanting to stray too far from the visitor centre.

I’d recommend the Blue Mountains. We stayed in a cottage on the outskirts of Leura and on the evenings could sit in the garden and watch cockatoos flying from tree to tree in the way that the sparrows do in Teesside.

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First game of the trip was the Friday night fixture between Sydney and Newcastle at the Allianz Stadium . I’d pre-booked tickets, which we collected from the box office, although it’s a game that probably wouldn’t ever have been in danger of selling out.

We were offered santa hats outside, although in blue. I’m not really one for head gear as I’ve got this theory about baldness, and so turned it down, although when it got chillier later on I partially regretted my decision.

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The tickets cost $28.50 each, which is about thirteen quid at the current exchange rate. Not too bad really, considering that Sydney and Australia in general has a higher cost of living than the UK.

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We had seats in the corner that looked as if it were housing the Sydney hardcore and so moved further along that stand to sit at the other end. There was plenty of room with less than ten thousand fans in a ground that holds four to five times that amount.

As the teams were announced, one fella’s name stood out. It was ex-Boro midfielder Micky Tavares.

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I hadn’t seen much of Tavares in his season with us as I’d spent most of it in Korea. In fact, I think I may have seen just one of his appearances, Preston away over Christmas 2010. That game was a drinking occasion though and so I have no recollection of his performance. Or indeed, much else of the day. The photo proves he was there though, wearing the number 37 shirt.

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The presence of an ex-Boro player was sufficient to give me an allegiance to one of the sides, although, in truth, one of the teams being named Newcastle was more than enough.

Tavares was popular with the home support. I imagine that him having played for the Boro was part of it, but I’d also suspect that they recognised his selflessness when, as the holding midfielder, he would sit tight whilst three of the four Sydney defenders went sprinting past him to join the attack as if they were overdue their turn for a spell up front.

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In the second half we moved to the diagonally opposite side of the stadium for a change of view. Unexpectedly the view was that of a spider, wandering around on the back of the seat in front.

I’m ok with spiders. In the past I’ve allowed them to live in my houses on the basis that I’m less ok with flies. In Australia though that all seems a bit risky as they have any number of spiders with fatal bites. I’m no expert at identifying the good from the bad and so there have been times where I regret to say that I’ve flattened them with a newspaper just to be on the safe side.

I might have let this fella go, but he made one sudden move towards us too many and Jen ground him into the terracing to bring the stand-off to an end. She’s ex-military and I suppose sometimes the training just takes over.

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Sydney were probably the better of the two teams. Not surprising I suppose, considering the pedigree of their midfield. They also created the majority of the chances.

The home fans were quite enthusiastic despite the game having been boycotted by some of what are described in Australia as ‘active fans’. Those that had decided to attend were at their loudest whenever they sang their ‘Sydney’ song, to the tune of Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’. It seemed as popular with the kids as the original version was forty years or so ago.

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Sydney took a deserved lead just before the hour when Alex Brosque was allowed as much space as he liked to run into the Newcastle box before drilling the ball into the corner. Newcastle upped their game in the final half hour but it wasn’t enough to prevent Sydney taking the points.

Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United, Sunday 1st November 2015, 2pm

January 28, 2016

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Brisbane is a decent place to spend a week or so, with plenty of options for getting out of the city and going for a walk. In addition to the earlier trip to Lamington, Jen and I also managed to fit in hikes at Noosa and Tambourine.

Noosa was a coastal walk where we were able to watch a couple of giant turtles been buffeted by the waves in a cove. They didn’t seem too bothered, so I imagine that there was enough of whatever turtles eat to make braving the waves and rocks worthwhile. There were also sharks or dolphins. Or maybe tuna. Whatever they were, they had fins.

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We also saw a koala sat high in a tree, although it didn’t do much of interest. I understand that they sleep for most of the day and I suppose that being wedged between a couple of branches twenty feet up in the air makes being disturbed that much less likely.

I doubt we would have spotted the koala if it hadn’t been for other people pointing upwards. We probably see only a small proportion of the wildlife that we pass by.

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The trip to Tambourine was a different type of walk, mainly on tracks that at times reminded me of the forest at the start of the E.T ride at Disney. There was a short trail to a waterfall that seemed to be the most popular route for visitors and then a longer loop that wasn’t so busy or as well signposted. It was only when we found ourselves peering into a hole in a tree trunk that we’d looked into half an hour earlier that we realised we’d taken a wrong turning and repeated a loop.

If it hadn’t been for that tree we might very well have just lapped that particular part of the circuit for the rest of the day. There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife. I think the best we saw was a dragonfly. Pretty to look at but no doubt, like most things seem to be over here, deadly poisonous to Teessiders.

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As for football, we were able to see a second game, again featuring Brisbane Roar against Adelaide United, but this time in the Womens League.

The fixture took place at the Cleveland Showgrounds, which was a short drive out of the city. It was five dollars to get in, or free if you were a Brisbane Roar member, which just about everyone apart from Jen and I seemed to be. The Showgrounds wasn’t really a stadium, more a pitch with a clubhouse at one end and then six small temporary stands dotted around the two long sides of the pitch.

1-P1260853The place was supposed to hold a thousand and I’d say that would be about right. We were too late to get a seat in any of the stands and so just leaned against the railing that surrounded the pitch. I reckon that there were probably five or six hundred people watching but with enough gaps on the rail to accommodate up to the capacity.

Brisbane had started the season well winning their first two games, but Adelaide were quicker out of the blocks in this one with an opening goal after ten minutes. The home side pulled level midway through the half with a cracking shot from Katrina Gorry that the American keeper in the Adelaide goal did well to get a hand to.

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Gorry was probably the stand-out player for Brisbane and there wasn’t much that went on that she wasn’t involved in. Her teammate at left back looked decent as well, particularly going forward, although her defensive work came in from some criticism from the bloke stood next to me. I politely agreed with him that she was crap, only for him to reveal himself as her father.

Adelaide regained the lead in the second half after yet more poor home defending. This time though I kept quiet in case I upset any other family members in attendance. Elsewhere on the pitch Brisbane brought on their new Kiwi signing who looked pretty good, as did their left winger who had a trick or two.

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The flashes of quality weren’t enough to compensate for the slack defending though and Adelaide deserved the win. As with the previous days A-League game, I wasn’t overly impressed with the standard. There were too many players who struggled to control even the tamest of passes and it certainly wasn’t of the level that I’d seen at women’s games in Germany or even Iceland.

In fact, as the game petered out I found myself paying more attention to the tiny birds that were flying close to the surface of the pitch at high speed, swooping every now and then to eat bugs that had been unearthed by the stud marks. That’s worth five dollars of anyone’s money.

Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United, Saturday 31st October 2015, 6.30pm

January 1, 2016

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Five weeks after arriving in Australia, I finally got around to seeing my first A-League game whilst spending a week in Brisbane.  The previous day Jen and I had taken a river cruise from the city centre to a koala sanctuary and had passed the Suncorp Stadium along the way. I didn’t get a photo of it but I did get one of a snake that appeared to be up to no good on the riverbank. I’ve a feeling that snakes are invariably up to no good.

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Inside the sanctuary we posed with koalas and hand-fed kangaroos. There wasn’t the same sense of danger as there had been when we’d fed bananas by hand to wild warthogs in South Africa, but I noticed afterwards some skin-breaking scratches from one kangaroo that insisted on gripping my arm as I fed him.

I got to ruffle the hair of a couple of dingoes too. They like that sort of thing, as do I.

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On the morning of the game we headed out of town to Lamington National Park and did some hiking. I’d been hoping for plenty of wildlife along the way, but after seeing a wallaby or two in the undergrowth early on, there wasn’t much else to see during the ten miles or so that we covered.

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I did encounter a couple of leeches, which turns out to be one of the hazards of walking through a forest with shorts and sandals on. The advice seems to be that you should just let them feed and then when they are full they will clear off. I’m not that patient or generous though and I picked them off as soon as I noticed them, leaving a dribble of blood each time. They pulled away easily enough, unlike a tick that lodged itself in my shoulder a couple of years ago. I had to rely on Jen and her tweezers on that occasion.

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We were back in Brisbane in plenty of time for the game and I walked the half hour or so from our hotel to the stadium. It seemed as if most of the home support was gathered in the Lord Alfred pub near the ground and I could hear them from a distance away.

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Suncorp Stadium, or Lang Park as it was formerly known, dates back around a hundred years. There’s not much that’s original though after a mid-eighties redevelopment. I had a thirty-five dollar ticket for along one side of the pitch in the East Stand that I’d bought in advance, but it would have been no trouble to pick one up on the day with only a small queue at the ticket office.

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I could have bought a cheaper ticket if I’d wanted, as once inside I realised that I could have sat in whatever area of the ground that I’d fancied. The food was pretty good and we were trusted to collect it from the serving areas and fridges and pay for it at tills. I can’t see that ever happening in England, which, I suppose, is quite sad.

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Roar had around three hundred or so fans to my right, who I suspect were the ones making all the noise in the Lord Alfred earlier. They kept up the support all of the way through the game, with a couple of fellas at the front leading things through megaphones.

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Elsewhere in the stadium there were another ten thousand fans with around forty of them supporting Adelaide. Everything seems such a distance in Australia that I doubt that there will be many travelling fans anywhere. The lack of away support amazed me when I lived in Spain, but here I can understand it.

There were plenty of chances in the first half, but the Roar’s Brandon Borello was the only fella to find the net.

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There was still just the one goal in it was we entered the final ten minutes. By that time I’d moved to the south-west corner for a different vantage point and I was perfectly placed to see Jamie Maclaren cut inside and curl one into the top corner.

The goal sparked a bit of aggro between the fans, who didn’t seem to have anything segregating them and the police were happy to let it peter out before intervening and then making a couple of token ejections. Brisbane went on to add an injury time third.

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My overall impression was that the standard wasn’t too high. But that’s ok, I’ve watched much worse in recent years in the lower reaches of the Korean leagues and in Africa. Come to think of it, I might have watched worse under Strachan at the Boro. It certainly felt like it at times.

On the plus side, the weather was warm and the beer was cold. That’s good enough for me.

Middlesbrough v Wolves, Tuesday 22nd September 2015, 7.45pm

October 18, 2015

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I’d planned to go to a couple of Northern League games whilst we were in the UK. I’d actually planned to do a lot of things, more I suppose than was realistic, but in the end as far as the football was concerned my second visit of the trip (and season) to the Riverside was as much as I could manage.

Whilst we missed out on the lower-league action, Jen and I did get around to doing another section of the Cleveland Way, this time from Battersby Moor to Clay Bank and back again. It raised a few eyebrows amongst other hikers when after descending Clay Bank we turned straight around and went back up it again, but I like doing these trails in both directions and it would have been cheating if we’d missed a couple of hundred yards out to avoid the steep bits.

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The walk was pretty good, with grouse breaking cover as we passed by. Unfortunately for them there was a shooting party out for the day and so they’d have probably been better sitting quietly.

After some light rain early on it cleared up nicely and by the time we got back to the car at Battersby Moor just after lunch we’d managed fourteen miles, our longest walk of the year so far.

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In other news, we celebrated my Mam and Dad’s diamond wedding anniversary whilst we were in the UK. Sixty years. I’ll need to live to be 108 if Jen and I are to reach that milestone.

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And so to the match.

If I mention Boro v Wolves in the cup what do you think of? That’s right, 1981 and John Neal’s team going out in a quarter-final replay at Molineux. As we waited for the teams to come out I cast my mind back to the home tie nearly thirty-five years ago.  George Berry and Billy Ashcroft with their afros, Craig Johnston and his straight-backed running style, similar, come to think of it, to that of Diego Fabbrini.

We’d arrived three hours early on that occasion so that we could be in the centre of a packed Holgate. Ever the fashionista, I was wearing an afghan coat and by half-time I was close to needing an intravenous drip to re-hydrate.

Andy Gray headed them into an early lead, before Terry Cochrane and his rolled down socks started and finished the move that drew us level and earned the replay.

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This occasion in the Carling Cup third round was a lot less of an ordeal. A goal from Adomah close to half-time set us on our way before two more goals early in the second half made it a relaxing last thirty minutes.

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That was it, UK-wise, or at least it will be for the next few months anyway. Two days later we flew out to Australia. Next stop, the A-League.