Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

Redcar Athletic v Esh Winning, Saturday 21st September 2019, 3pm

January 26, 2020

The main plan for this day was a hike along the cliff tops in the area between Skinningrove and Skelton. Jen and I parked up at Boulby, a place that that surely only exists for parking up, and took my daughter’s beagle up through the fields to join the Cleveland Way.

It was ideal weather for a coastal walk and by doubling back when getting near to anywhere inhabited we managed to spend a few hours in the middle of nowhere.

The downside was that the dog appeared to have a death wish. Or at least minimal understanding of how cliffs work. He got a lot closer to the edge than I was comfortable with and all it would have taken was a bird or a butterfly to have flown by him and he would have jumped off after it without a second thought.

I’d kept in mind the possibility of calling in at Redcar on the way back to take in some football and as we made it back to the car it looked possible that we could make the second half of Redcar Athletic’s Northern League Division Two game with Esh Winning. That was good enough for me. Most ground hoppers have their own rules and mine allow me to tick off a ground if I’ve watched any part of a proper game there. Even if I don’t arrive until the ref is moving his hand towards his mouth to blow the final whistle, it counts.

We didn’t cut it quite that fine, but it was around ten minutes into the second half before we found their Green Lane ground and made our way in. The bloke on the gate had long departed and so we saved at least a fiver a head. Dogs get in for free anyway, regardless of what time they arrive.

I asked how things were going and one fella told me that Redcar were three-nil up. A few moments later I overheard someone else asking the same question only to be told the score was three-one. Somebody wasn’t paying attention. Possibly me. As it was more likely that someone had missed a goal rather than invented one I worked on the basis that Redcar were ahead by two.

There was a small covered seating area that held about fifty and with a few wags in residence. There was also a covered standing area, but with the weather being pretty good most people just lined the perimeter railing for a closer view.

It wasn’t long before Redcar had a chance to kill the game off when one of their strikers ran on to a long ball. It was just out of his reach though and he took an unwarranted tumble in a desperate attempt at picking up a penalty. All he got for his efforts was a volley of abuse from the visiting defence.

The striker had still to get up when Esh Winning broke to the other end and had a penalty shout of their own. This one was given and converted to reduce the deficit to a single goal. The efforts of the visitors to get back on level terms weren’t helped by their lack of discipline. They had a player who I thought had been sin binned but who might have actually just received a second yellow. At that point I noticed that they only had nine players on the pitch so had either suffered an injury after using their subs or had already had someone sent off.

The Esh Winning charge sheet grew in the final minutes after a fracas where the home manager claimed to have been racially abused by an opposition player and one of the players on the visitors bench was subsequently shown a red and sent packing to the changies despite the ref not appearing to be anywhere within earshot.

All the excitement on the sidelines overshadowed the remaining on-field activities with Redcar holding on for the win.

Gosforth v Moor Row, Saturday 7th September 2019, 2pm

November 29, 2019

Ticking off this ground was a bit unexpected in that I’d no idea that there was a game taking place until I noticed the players running around as we drove past on the way to a different match. We had plenty of time though and I pulled in and parked up to take a few photos.

Jen and I were staying down the road at Muncaster for British Sea Power’s Krankenhaus festival and had spent the morning walking up on Muncaster Fell. It’s somewhere that I‘ve been to before and we had decent views both inland and out to sea. Further up the coast we could see Sellafield which was somewhere that I first worked at nearly thirty years ago.

Back in those days I stayed just outside of Gosforth and would regularly drink in all of the three pubs that are within a few feet of each other in the village. Sometimes the sessions would go on a bit longer than I’d consider wise these days and on more than one occasion I ended up going straight to work without ever making it back to my digs.

It wasn’t all drinking though, sometimes we had a kick about after work on the same field as where this game was taking place. Although we would usually then end up in the pub anyway so perhaps it was all about the drinking after all.

I learned from one of the home coaching team that this was a cup game against Moor Row, which is a few miles to the north. I’ve no idea what level the teams play at but it looked to be lower than Wearside League standard so maybe 12th or 13th tier. Anyway, I later found out that the cup was the Conway Cup and despite me hanging about for a good ten minutes I didn’t see any of the seven goals that Gosforth subsequently put past the visitors.

Still, it’s another ground, number three hundred and thirty to be precise, and it gave me a chance to reminisce about the times when concluding an evening at seven o’clock meant the next morning rather than early that same evening.

Memphis Redbirds v Nashville Sounds, Tuesday 25th June 2019, 6.35pm

August 4, 2019

After Lynchburg we headed back into the mountains and along the Blue Ridge Highway. We stayed a couple of nights in a hut at the Fancy Gap campground which was close enough to a music place for us to nip up and listen to old people paying bluegrass on fiddles and banjoes. I doubt that they were paid for their efforts but it seemed a great way of getting them out of their wilderness cabins.

We moved further south along the highway, breaking the journey to Newlands with a stop at some museum. I didn’t really have much interest in its contents but that didn’t matter because we stumbled across a snake on the pathway up to it. It was just crossing from one grassy area to another and so we were able to stalk it. Jen reckoned that the shape of its head meant that it probably wasn’t venomous. It was moving slowly enough for me to have caught it but as I doubt that my medical insurance covers me for Steve Irwin-style mishaps we limited ourselves to photographing it in the undergrowth.

We had three nights at Newlands where it rained for much of the time. It was a decent place to be holed up though and with a creek running by the back of the house I was able to pass some time fishing for trout. I didn’t get as much of a bite with any of the flies that I was using but I didn’t break any rods either. It was enjoyable just being down by the river

Newlands was the last stop on the Blue Ridge Highway before the Smoky Mountains. We camped for three nights inside the national park at Big Creek Campground. Once again we were lucky enough to be next to a river and one afternoon I cooled off after an Appalachian trail hike by sitting up to my shoulders in the fast flowing water. I watched a humming bird hover a foot above the water looking for fish and it occurred to me that life rarely gets much better than this.

One morning I’d been cooking sausages and an orange spider appeared from under the table and started to eat some of the grease that was on the knife I’d used to prick them. I’m not usually scared of spiders but a spider with a knife cranks things up a level. He was a leg short, no doubt due to some past cutlery-related mishap but seemed friendly enough. If I’d known how much he was going to enjoy the sausage fat I’d have saved him some of my breakfast.

Big Creek signalled the end of the camping part of our trip and was followed by a couple of nights in each of Nashville and Memphis. We are heading back to Nashville on the return leg of the journey so I’ll describe that then and move on to Memphis now.

We were staying in an area described as ‘historically hip’ which to me just means ‘likely to be murdered’.  We got away with it though and were able to pay a visit to the Civil Rights museum which is based around the motel where Martin Luther King hadn’t been quite so lucky. We also did a tour of the Sun Studio where we stood in the small room where so many of those early rock’n’roll classics were recorded. It’s not really my kind of music, but I sort of wished it was.

Being in Memphis meant that we could take in a third baseball game of the trip. I think Memphis Redbirds are a triple A team, and so their contest with localish rivals Nashville Sounds was just one tier below the Major League. From what I understand that would mean that most, if not all, of the players involved would be contracted to a top tier team but were currently judged to be not quite up to the top flight and so were farmed out to one of their affiliates. I’m also told that an injury or form crisis in the MLB side means that players turning out for the Redbirds or Sounds can suddenly receive a top-tier call up, with their places at this level then being filled by some fella from a double AA team.

The Uber car that took us to the game had a small hole in the windscreen which I assessed to be about the size of a bullet. However our driver assured us that it had been caused by nothing more serious than someone throwing a rock at the car. That’s ok then.

We had pre-booked tickets at Autozone Park and after a cursory bag search we were up on the second tier beyond third base but not quite beyond the netting. There wasn’t a big crowd though, maybe a thousand in a ten thousand seater ball park and so it was easy enough to move a few seats along for an unobstructed view.

A lot of the people on our tier seemed to be on work trips out and as such many of them had little real interest in the baseball. I did wonder how such a low crowd would make the team viable but I suppose with the amount of money kicking around at the top level, funding an affiliate team is just seen as one more Major League expense.

There were some decent craft beer options at $8.75 which you could pretty much consider to be a tenner once you’d added the tip. Whilst it was cheaper than the Mets it’s still an expensive do. At those prices I doubt many people in the US get shitfaced in the way that I did when I attended baseball games in Korea.

There was a hint of rain in the air and so we moved downstairs after the first couple of innings to increase our chances of staying dry.

Both sides were quickly off the mark and as we reached the end of the third visitors Nashville had an 8-4 lead with the home pitcher having already been hooked for being too easy to hit. It slowed down somewhat after that with the main entertainment coming from a catch that one fella dropped only for a teammate to scoop it up before it it the turf.

Three hours is enough for me at these games and after getting the circulation going doing the seventh innings stretch, we kept moving all the way out of the gate. We didn’t miss much with Nashville adding a further two runs in the ninth for a 10-4 victory.

Lynchburg Hillcats v Wilmington Blue Rocks , Friday 14th June 2019, 6pm

June 24, 2019

After the Mets game it was time to start what I regarded as the proper holiday. The plan was to drive down to Louisiana and Mississippi to see Jen’s family and then get back up to New York for the boat trip back. We had thirty days before embarkation and had plotted a route that took us along the Blue Ridge Highway to the Smoky  Mountains, then on to Nashville and Memphis before heading south for a few days  prior to a mad dash back for the boat.

We started with a couple of nights in Shenandoah National Park, staying in the nineteenth century paymasters cabin. Bedding must have been in short supply in the olden days as we had to use the sleeping bags that we’d brought for the nights when we’d be camping.

The big advantage of the park though was that the Appalachian Trail went past our cabin and so we had easy hiking options that didn’t require us to find a starting point. First day we hiked north and didn’t see very much at all in the woods. Second day we started earlier for the southern option and were rewarded with a deer, a few chipmunks and something in the undergrowth that was probably a groundhog.

After a drive along the skyline we spent the next two nights camping at Big Meadows in Virginia. This was also on the Appalachian trail and we hiked a circular route that detoured to Hollow Falls before rejoining the trail for the last section back to the campground.

Jen was walking in front as we turned a corner to discover a mid-sized black bear stretched out in the sun on a rock no more than about six feet ahead of us. It had probably been asleep but was quickly wide awake, frantically crashing through the bushes to get away from us. I’m not sure which of the three of us got the biggest shock but I now know that Jen’s go to expletive in times of high stress is “Holy Fuck!”.

I’m pleased to say that over the past nine years, I don’t recall doing anything to trigger that particular response. The bear paused briefly about fifteen yards away to stare at us, no doubt muttering something similar to itself, before ambling off into the woods.

Back at the campground we discovered a second bear wandering around close to our tent. This one was much smaller and probably less than two years old. It didn’t seem interested in us, preferring to spend its time digging up roots. If we got close it would move away, occasionally grabbing a tree trunk but never bothering to climb up. At one point it halfheartedly chased a deer that got too close but I think they both knew that the gesture was more for show. After an hour or so a warden turned up with an air horn and what looked like a paintball gun to chase the bear away into the woods.

Our next stop took us out of the mountains for a couple of days and into Lynchburg. This gave us the opportunity to take in a minor league baseball game at the City Stadium.

I’d booked the seats online a few months earlier, opting for the $8 unreserved ‘bleacher’ seating mainly for the flexibility of being able to choose who I sat near to. If I’d wanted, I could have had a seat behind the plate for $15, but I’m not overly keen on looking through netting. It’s like those sensors or what ever in a car windscreen. Once you’ve noticed it, it’s hard to filter it back out again.

Our tickets were easily collected from the ‘Will Call’ line at the ticket office. I didn’t even need to show ID, just told them who I was and the bloke behind the counter readily handed them over.  As we made our way into the stadium we were given pink tee shirts as part of a mammogram awareness campaign and then a bag each for putting them in. It all seemed a lot for an $8 dollar ticket.

Once inside, we chose ‘bleacher’ seats at third base, just beyond the netting and in the shade. Best seats in the house in my opinion. There were plenty of bars selling beer at less than half the price than at the Mets the previous week, but I was driving this time so wasn’t able to take advantage.

Local side Hillcats were supporting the mammogram campaign with one-off pink player jerseys that were being auctioned off after the game. This fixture was the sixth in a run of eight consecutive daily meetings in the Carolina League between the two sides. The visitors, Wilmington Blue Rocks, had been having the better season but had struggled in the recent head-to heads.

A lot of the crowd seemed to know each other, although I’d expect exactly that in the UK at a lower level football game with a smallish attendance. There were a few college kids in who gave the impression that it might have been their first night ever on the drink, but we’ve all been there.

As we reached the sixth innings Jen and I moved around to the seats at first base for a different vantage point. This coincided with the sunning starting to set and for a while, until the full benefit of the floodlights kicked in, I thought the twilight conditions were a significant disadvantage to everyone other than the pitcher.

Our move coincided with the opening of the scoring, with the Blue Rocks scoring two runs in the sixth, before the Hillcats countered with one of their own.  A third run for the visitors in the eighth was enough to clinch the win.

Overall it was a much better evening out than the Mets game had been. Warmer weather, cheaper prices and a smaller, more traditional ground all outweighed the drop in playing standards that I’m not experienced enough to notice anyway.

Gimnastica Segoviana v La Granja, Sunday 24th February 2019, 5pm

May 9, 2019

Whilst we’d flown into Madrid on this break, I’m much happier staying somewhere less busy and so Jen and I spent five nights about an hour away in Segovia. It’s just like most other Spanish towns in that the historic centre remains intact, with the usual castle and cathedral, but it has the added attraction of a Roman aquaduct. Apparently there is no mortar between the blocks and all of them are held in place by nothing more than gravity. I’ve worked on plenty of construction projects that skimped on materials like that too.

A further benefit of basing ourselves in Segovia was that it was on the route of the Madrid to Santiago de Compostela Camino. Never heard of it? Me neither, I’d thought it started in France, but it turns out that there are loads of different pilgrim trails to Santiago de Compostela.

This meant that we had two easy options for going for a walk. On the morning of the match we struck out in the direction of Madrid, walked along the route for a couple of hours and then retraced our steps back into town. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, unless cows count, but there was a decent mountain in view for the outward stretch.

Next day we walked towards Santiago de Compostela. We cheated a bit by driving to Zamarramala and starting from there but it cut out the urban section of the walk and a big hill. We walked for a few hours to Los Huertos and back, stopping in the same cafe for breakfast on the way out and then lunch on the way back.

This time we had views of fields, with the track stretching out in front of us into the distance and the odd hawk hovering overhead.

Having exhausted the easy Camino options we decided to our next walk should be at the snow covered mountain that we’d had as the backdrop. It was a few miles away in the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park and peaked at around 1800m. It seemed a good idea initially but without spikes it was fairly treacherous underfoot. After a series of slips we drove back down the hill a couple of hundred metres until we got below the snow line and then did a few miles along a forest track instead.

So, Segovia has some decent historical features and it’s a great base for a walking holiday. It’s also famous for suckling pig, although I thought the ones that we had were too old at six weeks. I prefer the two week old ones with the thinner skin that we get in KL. Segovia has some decent bars too and we visited just about all of them.

Fortunately it also has a football team, Gimnastica Segoviana, that plays in the fourth-tier Tercera Division. Just as fortunately, they were playing at home during our stay, although good planning on my part in selecting Segovia as our destination might actually have had more to do with it.

The six and a half thousand capacity Estadio La Albuera is on the edge of town and as four hours walking earlier in the day was enough we took the car. There wasn’t much of a queue at the hole in the wall ticket window and we picked up a couple of eight euro tickets for the stand on the far side.

I’ve no idea how well attended Segoviana’s games usually are or whether the fact that their opponents, La Granja, are from just a few minutes drive away had made a difference, but there was a lengthy queue to get through the gates.

Once inside we walked around the back of the goal which, just like the other end, had no seats or terracing. There were barriers though, so anyone wanting to stand could get close up to the action.

Our stand seemed to be the popular one and we had to walk the full length of it, passing the counter that was serving alcohol free beer and low strength Radler shandy, to find an area with few people in it. To our left we had the local ultras, some of whom preferred to face away from the pitch so that they could better coordinate the singing.

I didn’t notice any La Granja fans, but even with the traditional reluctance of Spanish fans to travel away, you’d think some would have made the effort to make the short trip.

The main stand opposite us looked a lot older than our section and I think is the one original stand remaining, which dates it to the stadium opening in 1978. It holds around about 600 and from what I could hear it had the benefit of a lack of drums.

Anyway, enough about the ground. It’s the shirts that made my afternoon. Not so much Gimnastica, who were turned out in an unimaginative Barcelona style kit, brightened up with a Burger King logo.

La Granja, though, had oddest shirt I’d ever seen. At first glance I thought it featured peanuts or maybe potatoes. After a closer look I concluded that it was probably baked beans. Eventually, after some zoomed in photography I spotted small morsels of pork among the beans, so presumably it was some sort of stew, possibly a dish that their village regards as their local speciality. No doubt there will be a parmo shirt somewhere in the Boro’s future.

La Granja’s play was as bad as their kit. Their defence didn’t have much confidence in their keeper and panicked whenever they thought he might be given something to do. Further upfield was a diminutive number ten with a temper as short as his stature and who looked unlikely to go the distance. Somewhat surprisingly, Segoviana failed to take advantage and the teams went in level at the end of a goalless first half.

With the sun getting lower and in our eyes, we took the opportunity to switch to the opposite side of the ground for some second half shade. As we made the move we got a decent view of the hills from the steps at the end of the stand.

We started off inside the barrier, leaning back against it but were soon moved behind the railings by someone dressed up as if he were on the coaching staff but who was actually turned out to be little more than a fifty year old ball boy. The change of location gave us frequent close ups of the right back for La Granja being given the runaround.

The game remained goalless until twenty minutes from the end when an indirect free kick missed everything but the visiting keeper‘s fingertips. If he’d been just that little bit more hapless then he would have got away with it.

The goal seemed to intensify the bad feeling between the keeper and his defence. One fella was in a constant state of fury because the goalie would never play it short to him. Bizarrely, the first time the keeper did throw him the ball was from a goal kick. The defender just blasted the ball back at him in frustration. On taking the goal kick correctly, the keeper found his man again only for Mr. Angry to let it roll under his foot and out for a throw in.

There was some quality from the home side though in the final moments as one of their strikers ran from deep leaving at least three La Granja defenders floundering. He rode their increasingly wilder lunges, kept his feet and then twatted the ball home with the keeper getting his fingers nowhere near this time. The two-nil win for Segoviana and the stew on the visitor’s shirts will have given the headline writers an easy caption.

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.