Saturday, June 24, 2006

Surreal Moments in Sport

So the Socceroos made it throught to the last 16 in what sounds like a bizarre match, conducted with [*ahem*] aplomb by our very own Graham Poll. Hmm, so how proud am I?

I had to work that morning, so the 5 AM kick-off and 7 AM start meant that I didn't catch the exciting last 20 minutes when it all happened...

I found out it was 2-2 as Claud had texted me, and the radio on the bus had excitedly announced it too. I was walking through a car park at the hospital adjacent to a construction site for a new building when I had a bizarre flashback moment: a cheer followed by a loud male chorus of " 'Ere we go, 'ere we go, 'ere we go!!! 'Ere we go, 'ere we go, 'ere we go-ooo! "

Suddenly I was transported back to England circa 1985 with that o-so-irrepressible [and not a little banal] chant, not heard in the UK since the late 80s... hazy recollections of Everton v Rapid Vienna in the Cup Winners Cup Final, somewhere in Holland.

A very odd start to the day.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Midnight Rambler... The World Cup, and England

Well, it's not midnight in Melbourne, but it is in the UK , so... in the absence of any inspiration for a pithy, witty heading, the above will have to do.

Lots of talk here about Lazy [sorry, Harry - I still keep remembering his first few years in English football] Kewell's tirade at the ref at the end of the Brazil game, and much relief that he didn't end up getting suspended as a result. Everything else seems to have faded into insignificance Down Under. It's amazing that this was the major news item on all but one of the TV channels here. The Aussies do really seem to have taken the game to their hearts after all, although should they fail against Croatia in 20 hours time, I think the World Cup will again slip away from the Aussie psyche and news schedule. They love winners here, but if you're not, weeeell...

Talking of which... another frustrating display by England.
And you should really try watching that at 5 in the morning, and without the aid of a fizzy beverage or 6. But, it's Ecuador next, and we can only do better, surely? I thought it was a fine first half against Sweden, but oh so disastrously bad in the second half. Anyway, thank goodness we're not playing one of the World powers in the Last 16, and if we get through this next one, who knows? We can beat [or lose to...] just about anyone in a one-off game, I reckon. I live in hope...

I've been trying to keep up with things by listening to Simon Mayo's daily World Cup podcast ["The Daily Mayo"]... aaah, a sweet taste of home! Nice to hear that the England fans are behaving themselves too. Just as long as we don't lose...

Segueing nicely from talking about England and of England, to our current plans. We have contacted a number of you out there to say that we were coming back briefly in September for Paul & Kathleen's wedding. Well, sadly, we've had to change our plans and won't be returning just yet, after all.

Claud's job remains temporary, which means she's not accruing holidays, although I'm slowly doing so [very slowly, it seems], so any time we take off means less than halving our income for that time period. Add to that the limited amount of time we can take off at this point anyway, and the fact that we are absolutely knackered and in need of a holiday, England wouldn't be the ideal thing to do just now.

We know from past visits to Oz that the mad dash around to visit friends and family "back home" wasn't very relaxing at all, and we always came back exhausted and hanging out for another break. Usually, we ended up booking another holiday within a week of returning home, just so we'd have something to look forward to! And the next break never would come soon enough, believe me...

As I've wittered on both here and in emails to some of you, it's been a bloody stressful transition since we seriously started planning to up sticks n' move in September last year [nine months ago - as they say here, croiiikey! OK, as some of them... well, OK, as one of them says]. The organisation involved in leaving, along with the emotional aspect of the process [for both of us, remember - Claud had 6 years of relationships and her new life in England to deal with] was prolonged agony.

Then we arrived here, sunny and optimistic [yes, even me], struggling with the heat and bugs, but happy to have touched down at last. Then there was the small matter of finding jobs, overcoming homesickness [repeat ad nauseum], finding somewhere to live, furnishing the house, saving to buy our own place etc. Most of all, there was the pressing situation of finding ourselves and our sense of place here in Melbourne.

And I think that that is the main reason we've decided to put the return on hold for now. We hadn't planned to come back for 12 months plus in order to give us a chance to settle into our new lives here, but the fact that 2 lots of friends [hello too, Jammy and Clare!] suddenly declared that they'd to tie their respective knots, and soon, threw us into a bit of a spin. Not that we didn't see it coming, but just didn't think it was going to happen quite so quickly, and within such a short period of each other! Those crazy reckless kids!

So, we felt to some extent obliged; but also felt that it would be lovely to go home again for a bit [largely a consequence of the dreaded homesickness], to catch up with our UK loved ones again. Actually, it was a bit of a rose-coloured specs moment in hindsight, but we went ahead with the idea. Until we started making firmer plans... We both independently came to the decision over this last week that we couldn't do it, not just now. It was too much too soon. We'd already told people, got their hopes up, and our brains wrestled some more with the decision. But thankfully, those we've told have understood, and eased our angst. Thanks, guys!

So there we have it. Staying for the time being. We will return sooner or later to see you all, but not just yet. In the meantime, we're talking about a cheap weekend break somewhere in Victoria [down the coast somewhere - Claud's plans always involve the sea, of course!] next month, just to get away. After that, probably late August, we'll head north somewhere - Claud will no doubt provide some links to places we're considering, making you most likely green with envy.

For me, just now, just about anywhere to kick back, chill and relax will do very nicely. I feel like I've been running a marathon for 9 months and still can't see the end clearly, nor know quite where I am in the race - have I gone one mile or 25? Metaphorically out of breath, oh so tired, but just plodding along regardless, taking whatever sustenance I can whenever I can... Listen, throw some water over me, will you?

Ahhhhh, now, that's better.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jobs for the Boy [Part 2]

I emailed a few of you last week to say that I was going for a promotion at work, having been encouraged by a number of colleagues, both junior and senior, to do so. There was a sense of foregone conclusion from a few of you, particularly my ex-colleagues who know just how fabulous I am, darlings.


Although I applied, I withdrew my application on the day of the interview. It's a bit complicated [and this is a public forum, after all], but I decided to spend some more time getting myself settled into the ward, used to the procedures and policies etc. At the end of the day [Brian], I'd have the responsibility for the well-being of 20-odd acutely ill patients. half a dozen staff etc., and I feel that confidence is a crucial factor in that.

If I didn't feel confident in my decision-making [which, I actually do, most of the time], that rubs off and gets picked up on, particularly on non-regular staff or the more vulnerable or potentially aggressive patients. And that's not something that I can fix without being there and learning some more.

The thing is, they're still happy to put me in charge; the vibe is very positive; and I'm more confident already, given that I'm simply acting-up to a role that is not my normal one, which somehow relieves the pressure. Yes, it's all about my head and where I'm at [maaaaan], but I'm happy that I've done the right thing here. Shoulda kept more schtum about the job app, maybe, but that's my only regret.

And... thank you all for your encouragement... it meant a lot, and I really appreciate it.

Aussie Rules... The World Cup?

Well... it was quite a night here in Melbourne last night. The media here is full of the World Cup, every other ad is for some Socceroo-linked product [Rexona deodorant in gold 'n green, anyone?], but it's struggling to convince everybody.

1 AM in the morning and World Cup fever finally struck. I managed to stay up to watch it, and ended up feeling like I'd been struck with a case of deja vu - long-ball tactics, bereft of any real imagination or ideas... England v Paraguay - again?!? But then... a not terribly-exciting-match suddenly turned on its head into 8 minutes of exhilaration and excitement, and suddenly I remember why this is The Best Game In The World...

The Aussie media types [the ones who give a stuff - more of the other types shortly] have been scathing in their view of England's performance in their first match, just about stopping short of crying en masse "booooring, booooring England!" whilst moistening collective trouserage over the excitement produced by Argentina v Ivory Coast, for instance. Never mind that Paraguay played a poor game, stifling tactically and largely uninventive in attack. England weren't at their best, of course, but it's certainly not the worst game I've ever seen. But, nope, as ever, it was all England's fault, of course... croikey, Bruce, if only those bloody Poms were Saaath American.

Was there a hint of the same critical nonsense regarding the Socceroos' tired and largely guileless performance last night? Noooo... Mind you, when one of the pundits on SBS TV is the infamous-in-West-London footballer Ned Zelić [need I say, ex-QPR?] , should I really be surprised? He's the only Aussie who could make Harry Kewell and Cartman look consistently industrious in the English game. He was clearly too good for our country, which is evidently why he left so quickly without making any sort of mark...

BELOW: Mark Viduka, after 83 minutes, yesterday

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm really really happy for my adoptive nation's team and its supporters [and let out a past-midnight type cheer-cum-squeak for each of the three goals], and I they deserved to get something put of the game, particularly as their opposition were super-negative and ven more unimaginative than Paraguay and England. I particularly disliked Japan's amateur dramatics, which accompanied the slighted hint of physical contact by the bullying Aussies [who, heavens! had the added audacity to be both strong and tall].

I even had some sympathy with humour-free sourpuss Guus after his hissy fit at the suggestion that the Aussies were over-physical [read: dirty fouling bastards] by certain areas of the media. i.e. All the non-Antipodean areas that may be playing them in the World Cup. Hello, Holland!

I've taken to the Aussie "soccer" [sic... as a parrot to be using the "S" word] evangelists, particularly as the game has taken so much stick in the Newspapers, TV and Radio here in Victoria. Now, Victoria is Footy Country, by which I mean AFL or Australian Rules Football, that bizarre mix of rugby, Gaelic Football and the High Jump. The game that non-Aussies think of as "Aussie No-Rules", remembering mass brawls, too-tight shorts, four goalposts and little chaps in white coats and pork-pie hats waving big white flags to signal a goal.

The quadruple posts and scrotum-crushing skimpies still exist, but the butchers outfits and communal fighting have been [largely] consigned to history. And I've really taken to it, to be honest. I go to games whenever I can. It's a great game, and I've now got a much better grasp of the rules, subtleties and nuances than when I first landed. I no longer just stand up and shout "BAAAAALLLLL!!!!" whenever I'm not sure what's going on. Just because that's seemingly what everyone else does, doesn't make it big or clever.

As I alluded above, the AFL ruling body have been getting pretty twitchy about the impact of [proper] football as the World Cup approaches, especially as 95000 people turned out at the MCG for a friendly against Greece [for which I had a ticket but saw a band instead]. Around 60,000 Aussies have gone to Germany, too, which is a pretty impressive turn out for what is universally regarded as a non-footballing nation.

The AFL are countering the threat with plenty of spin, e.g. here; the newspapers are full of letters and leaders about the "true Victorian sport" and "soccer is boring, nil-nil, one-nil, hooligans" cliche cliche blah blah etc. etc. One guy used the defence that you see more variety in Aussie Rules, given that there are twelve different ways you can move the ball. Yeah, right, excellent point, Sherlock.

Anyway... I reckon soccer may well remain a well-supported National-team game, much like the cricket but where the local and non-Test crowds appear almost as piddlingly crap as the UK.

There's clearly room for both as this is a sport-mad Nation and State [though they remain largely ambivalent about both rugby codes in Vic], with the State League soccer system still playing through winter [still largely divided on ethnic heritage grounds despite losing their previous "Hellas" and "Croatia" suffixes] and the successful new inter-state team set-up, which I've previously mentioned at length here.

Many of the soccer fans of ethnic South European, Balkan and South American heritage here appear to be still following their home countries, though this may change if the Socceroos' success continues. The English expats will probably always follow England, of course. How ashamed are you that we just can't fit in, Mr Tebbitt?

My team, Carlton are excelling [insert your own ironic tone here], have won 2 out of 11 games so far, and only just off the bottom spot, having suffered inconsistency and the obligatory spankings along the way. Just like my beloved QPR, Carlton are under-achieving, financially screwed and with a complicated and troubled management structure. Hmmm. My life is destined to repeat itself even ten thousand miles away, it seems.

As an aside, I'm really very happy for Peter Crouch [ex-QPR] having his 15 minutes of fame, particularly as he's fondly remembered for having given QPR1st [a QPR fans' players fund-raising organisation in the darkest hours of near-administration a few years back] ten grand. Not the normal sort of altruism you see from footballers when they can spend 10K on a nasty piece of "artistic" furniture or a new blingbasstic sound system for their top-of-the-range Mercedes or Hummer.

I know the nice-touch-for-a-tall-man type quotes are predominating, and his robot dancing have been the main content of the headlines, but I've never met anyone from a club he's played for who speaks of him in anything but positive terms. And well, he does have a nice touch...

Finally... as we're on sport-type stuff, I should mention the fact [non-gloatingly, you understand] that we've got tickets for 3 of the 4 days of the Ashes Melbourne Test released so far, along with the 2 one-dayers to be played here. I think we'll struggle next Summer, but I just HAVE to go... couldn't not do, living here, just in case we happen to do something a bit special. We have general admission tickets, so we'll probably end up sitting poles apart rather than prompting the rubbing of hands from potential divorce lawyers...

Football, Soccer, round ball, 10 men ... you know the drill.

I don't know why I didn't stay up to watch Australia play Japan last night. I guess I have tried to ignore the fact that the Socceroos qualified really. Ian and I only just scraped through the Ashes series with our marriage intact, then the flamin' Socceroos go and qualify. Ending up in the same group as England, I suspect, would have signalled the death knell!

So I watched England play Paraguay in a pretty bland match over the weekend. I had not even made a note of when Australia's first game was. Surprised? I was. Not as much as Ian last night when I said I was going to bed just as the Australian anthem was being sung by thousands of Australians in that stadium in Kaiserslautern.

I admit I popped out when I heard Ian shout after Japan's first goal. He said Mark Schwarzer (goalkeeper) got clattered by 2 Japan defenders. I figured that was pretty much it for the brave Socceroos and went to bed to read.

When Ian climbed into bed just after 1am I asked him how much we'd lost by. He replied that we had actually won 3-1! I nearly fell out of bed.

I can hear people in the office effusing about how amazing the win was. Something about Australian's that irks me - win or die - I find that side of our nation's make-up hard to take. Especially when I see that in myself but that is a whole other post.

I won't go on about it. Really. What I wanted to do was post a few differing views, shall we say, on the game, certain aspects of it and the outcome. Just to set the scene... As I mentioned above, Ian's view of Japan's first goal was that our goalkeep, Schwarzer, was impeded in his defence by 2 Japanese players. When I read The Age this morning, it reported pretty much the same;

Socceroo goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer says the referee apologised for a dreadful blunder that cost Australia a goal against Japan and for 74 minutes looked like derailing Australia's World Cup campaign.

Egyptian whistleman Essam Abd El Fatah spoke to both goalie Mark Schwarzer and captain Mark Viduka for getting it horribly wrong, and thanked God his howler did not decide the match.

The episode had a happy ending, with Australia winning its opening World Cup match 3-1 after a rousing finish in Kaiserslautern, and the Aussies praising the referee's honesty.

But the error could so easily have torpedoed Australia's 2006 campaign, and certainly looked like doing so with just minutes left on the clock and Australia trailing 1-0.

The referee's booboo came midway through the first half when Japanese playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura floated over a cross from the right wing.

As Schwarzer rose to collect it, he was barrelled by not one but two attackers - Atsushi Yanagisawa and Naohiro Takahara - and the ball lobbed into the net untouched.

Schwarzer looked dumbfounded as he sat on the turf and the referee signalled a goal.

I always like reading what the British newspapers write about things like this, just to get another perspective. So I hopped over to The Guardian;

Or rather, they punished themselves. Shunsuke Nakamura lofted a floating ball into the area, where Schwarzer tried to push the Japanese frontline out of the way and succeeded only in knocking himself off balance. The ball dropped into the net above his shaking head.

Now I do not know who Georgina Turner is but if you read the whole article, she seems to have a rather big chip on her shoulder.

The BBC website reported this;

Japan took the lead when Socceroos keeper Mark Schwarzer appeared to be impeded as Shunsuke Nakamura's intended cross sailed over his head.

As with most BBC coverage is spelled out the facts and left the lily un-gilded.

And finally, The Times reporter was a little more passionate!

26mins GOAL! Nakamura dinks in the most unlikely of goals from nothing more than a cross. Schwarzer comes for a regulation catch but is shoved out of the way by Yanagisawa, who has himself been pushed by Moore. The ball sails over everybody and into the empty net.

I skimmed the Guardian's minute-by-minute report as I thought it may have been written by the the inimitable, Georgina Turner however it seems an even more bitter and twisted Barry Glendenning trotted out every cliche about Australians / Earls Court and bar work without an ounce of flair or humour.

My brother just called, yelling down the phone, I'm Aussie till I die, I'm Aussie till I die ad nauseum. He can't believe I didn't stay up to watch the game. How do I explain that after watching England play in every international since 2000 has meant I know every England player's name, rank and serial number? How do I explain that I am more interested in Rooney's foot than I am Kewell's groin? How do I paint a picture of my life in England in colours other than red and white?

All those questions remain unanswered. The only pertinent question remaining however is ... What in God's name do I do if England and Australia both qualify in the group stage!?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Yeah, I guess...

In response to Claud's post below, funnily enough I saw Diane, who works on nights on my old ward in Manchester, walking down the street towards me this morning. Only it wasn't. In fact, it was nothing like her in stature, facially or even hairstyle. But, for a second, I swear it was her. Till it turned into a 17-year old girl with blonde hair and only one leg [not really, but it wasn't much closer than that].

I also saw a bloke who had Jammy's mouth the other day, heard someone who sounded remarkably like a consultant at Wivvy Hospital, turned a corner and for a split-second saw something in the brickwork that made me think I was back home in Withington, etc. etc. etc. I could go on [and usually do].

So, it's not just you, honey. We both have the dis-ease. It's spelt h-o-m-e-s-i-c-k-n-e-s-s...


I've been meaning to post this for ages but when I start to write it in my head (which I tend to do before I hit the keyboard) it has always sounded ridiculous.

For a while now I have been seeing people I know well back in the UK, on the streets of Melbourne. (See, told you it sounds mental) Obviously I know these people are not my friends and erstwhile colleagues however, for that first split second I catch sight of someone in my peripheral, for all intents and purposes, they are that person.

It happens at least once a day. For instance, today in the lift well down stairs I saw Brian that used to do all the AV stuff in our meeting rooms at work. I looked again and of course it wasn't him but he stood the same way, he was about the same height and his hair was similar. The thing I have found with these shadowy copies of my life in England is that as soon as I see their face, I instantly know they are not who I initally think they are. (I'm sure I've confused my tenses here!)

The thing is, when you think recognise someone you know it is usually confirmed when you catch sight of their face. Before that however, the thing that draws you to believe you know the person you have only caught a glimpse of is, say, something about the way they carry themselves, their walk or even what they are wearing.

I'm sure this happens to other people. It must. The reason I think it has happened to me so often is because, essentially, I am missing my life in Manchester. I miss the people, the way those people made me feel and the strong sense of belonging that held me in there, helping to make me feel so much like I fit.

I had dinner with two erstwhile Manchester colleagues last week. They are on secondment here and both a little new to the country. I thought I'd be able to word them up on life in Oz and hopefully give them a few tips to help them navigate the strangeness of their new home. However after an hour or so I realised, to my dismay, that I felt as displaced and far from home as they did. Not a great revelation to have almost 5 months on...

I know this will get better. This sense of not fitting in, of feeling like an outsider. I know that for a fact because I overcame it on the other side and that gives me hope that both Ian and I will, soon I hope, feel as much a part of life here as the people around us want us to be.

So for the moment I will make do with sidelong glimpses of the people I left behind, of thoughts of friendships that are separated by at least 2 oceans and of some of my favorite people in the universe.