Sunday, 26 September 2010

Oh when the Saints...

The last Saturday in September is an important date in the Australian calendar. It is the date on which the Australian Football League Grand Final match is held. The whole of Victoria, the home state of AFL, stops for this event and visitors to the city would be forgiven for thinking that a 2.30pm curfew had banned local residents from leaving their homes (or a pub). When Tom and I arrived in Melbourne in October last year, many people expressed their sympathy that we were three weeks too late to catch the infamous ‘Grand Final weekend’. To me, at that point, having to endure a weekend of anything connect to the word ‘football’ sounded like torture, and I was really rather pleased with myself that our timing had worked out to fortuitously.

That was then. One year on however, I have been officially enchanted by the WONDER that is Aussie Rules football and Grand Final weekend is all of a sudden a rather more attractive event than I ever thought it could be. I’ll forgive you if you have fallen off your chair at reading this news, and if you had placed a bet 12 months ago on me ever enjoying a sport with the word ‘foot’ in the title, you would now be very rich. There are just some things about the AFL that I find so much more captivating than the British ‘soccer’ equivalent – and no, it’s not (just) the very short shorts worn by the muscular males.

Here are eight reasons why I think that AFL (Australian Football League) is better than EPL (English Premier League):

1. The scoreboard – in AFL a team scores 6 points for kicking the ball between two central posts (a ‘goal’), and 1 point for kicking the ball between two outer posts (a ‘behind’). In any game you can expect between 10 and 20 goals, and the scores frequently enter triple figures. I’ll take that over a nil-nil draw any day!

2. No acting – an AFL sportsman is tough. The tackles are fast and hard and yet the players always get up and keep playing – none of the diving and acting that you see in football. We have watched an AFL player get stretchered off in a neck brace with concussion, only to rejoin the game 25 minutes later – how about that Ronaldo?

3. The seven umpires – the most respected people on the pitch, especially by the players. How novel is that? I personally find the umpires very amusing to watch as well – from the hand gestures and semaphore flag waving used to indicate a goal, to the backwards sprinting to keep up with the game.

4. The draft system of giving the lowest finishing team in the league the first pick of the best new players means that a Manchester United equivalent will never occur in the AFL – fairness rules, and I like it!

5. Watching an AFL game at the stadium is a family friendly event. Supporters for opposing teams can sit together without threat of violence and there are signs kindly asking patrons to mind their language. Now that’s what I call civilised – not a football hooligan in sight!

6. On the topic of civilised match watching – it is easy to park at an AFL stadium, there is healthy food available (as well as the traditional Aussie meat pie, if desired), the tickets are reasonably priced and readily available, and one of the stadiums even has a roof in case of rain!

7. The players are true all-rounders – athletic, talented and articulate! They can all give brilliant post-match interviews and you never get that sinking feeling that happens when a fit soccer player actually opens his mouth to speak...

8. And finally, I have no choice – EVERYONE in Australia has an opinion on AFL and a team that they support. In the UK I can ignore football and still be respected as an individual, but here in Melbourne that is just not possible – either in social situations or the workplace.
(Please note I have tried to avoid offending all of my family and in-laws favourite teams by drawing my comparison against the EPL and not any leagues inhabited by Southampton, Bournemouth, Norwich City, Ipswich or Coventry.)

Anyway, that’s enough rambling – what I really wanted to blog about was Grand Final weekend 2010!

So to recent events – yesterday was our first GRAND FINAL WEEKEND (GFW hereafter), and it was extra special as our team, St Kilda (affectionately known as The Saints) were competing in the final against the Marmite team of the AFL, Collingwood (ie you love them (as 90,000 people do), or you hate them). Tom and I have become very passionate about St Kilda, which most locals find quite hard to believe. We are constantly ribbed for jumping on the bandwagon of a team that is doing well, as well as being accused of being fair weather supporters. When asked in the run up to the GFW if we’d ever been to a Saints match, I was proud to be able to confirm quite the opposite!

Tickets for such a hallowed sporting event are few and far between, despite the stadium holding 100,000. Unless you are a fifth generation Aussie descended from convicts, or have a spare $10,000 to spend on eBay, you don’t really stand a chance. So instead we took up an early position in our local Pub (appropriately named ‘The Local’), along with a couple of hundred other Saints fans and 3 or 4 lonely Collingwood outcasts.

With Collingwood (the Magpies) as the firm favourites, the Saints had a tough game on their hands, and after a strong start from the Pies, Saints trailed throughout the game. We always remained in contention, but were consistently 2 or 3 goals behind. Tom was a ball of nerves the whole time, and he was shouting so loud at the screen I think the players could potentially have heard his words of encouragement 5km’s away in the stadium! With 6 minutes to go (context: in a 100 minute long game), Saints FINALLY took the lead, but it was short lived and with 90 seconds on the clock the Pies scored again to regain the lead by just one point. In a last ditch shot on goal the Saints could only secure a behind, which made it a tie at 68-68! We all watched the final seconds tick away in what was to ultimately become what was the first Grand Final draw in 33 years.

I was exhausted, Tom was gutted, and everyone else was drunk!

Instead of playing extra time like ANY other sport, both St Kilda and Collingwood now face a rematch next weekend – GFW2! What a money making machine for the TV networks, league and stadium – they must be laughing. The players certainly weren’t, with both teams visibly angered by their failure to secure a win in a match full of opportunities. Tom and I will be back next week for more of course – how lucky to get two grand finals in our first year in Melbourne.

Next week we might even get a shot at parting with hundreds of dollars to watch the game first hand, as fewer tickets are allocated to corporates and more to the REAL FANS... I will report back in due course!

Here are some pictures from the weekend:

Tamara was the only person game enough to join me with the facepaint!

Jordan and Amanda

Tamara and Richard

Pat and Tamara

Even Baby Ben joined in (the son of my colleague Sam and his wife Lou)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Wedding preparations from afar...

It is now less than two years until TomKat will be united in holy matrimony! Actually, it won't be very holy because we are going to have a civil ceremony, but I imagine it will be marginally more holy than our current 'living in sin' arrangement.

With only 709 days left to prepare (panic!), I have been keen to lock down the essential plans to make sure we get our preferred suppliers on the big day. After finding a venue, my next stop was looking for a photographer. Although Grandma Papparazi is appropriately nicknamed for the role (my dad's mother *loves* to take photos), I didn't think she'd relish the role of official photographer, so I was lucky when someone that I follow on Twitter mentioned Mister Phill. Phill is a Dorset based photographer who specialises in 'reportage' photography, or as his tagline reads 'I compose stories of wedding days'.

I've been reading his blog for a couple of months now, and if you ever get tired of our blog (surely that will never happen, but just in case), then I'd recommend that you pay a visit to for some light reading and stunning wedding photography. Hopefully in two years time you can return to that same link and and read Phill's story of our wedding day.....

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Muffin Time

This afternoon I made chocolate truffle muffins, inspired by a recipe in one of the Aussie food magazines that we read. Tom photographed me with one of them as we both resisted the temptation to tuck in!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Photo Blog: Millie, Rosie and Jamie at Phillip Island

August 8th 2010, Phillip Island, VIC, Australia

Winter with the Woods

"My name is Nab Nab. I'm a little penguin from the Melbourne and I've got a twin brother who goes by the same name and lives in Northwich, Cheshire. We were purchased by the Wood family during their month-long trip to Melbourne, and now whilst I'm living here with Tom and Katie, my much-loved twin has flown home with 5 year old Jamie and his sisters Rosie, 7 and Millie, 10. They had an incredible Australian adventure during their school summer holidays, seeing sunny Cairns, the glorious Great Barrier Reef and the spectacular Sydney. After a touring route that encompassed Koala cuddles, a sighting of Migaloo (the world's only white whale) and multiple kangaroo sightings, they then ended up in rainy, cold and wintery Melbourne for 2 weeks! That's how Jamie found me and my brother, during a trip to the Melbourne Aquarium to shelter from the rain. Keep your eyes peeled for me and my brother in the photos below, and in future blogs!"

Millie, Rosie and Jamie in front of Port Melbourne beach, with our apartment marked

Melbourne might have been wet and cold this August, but luckily for our visitors, they had two very important people to visit! Tom and I were delighted that his sister Anna and brother-in-law Kev made the brave decision to spend 24 hours on a plane with three young children in order to come and visit us in Australia. Of course it was a no-brainer for Kev, because he left after 3 weeks and had a peaceful flight back on his own. Anna had to make the return journey as a single-parent, but thanks to the in-flight entertainment the children had plenty to occupy them, even if it was 'Alvin and the Chipmunks : The Squeakwal' on repeat!

Our visitors arrived tired and hungry late one Saturday night in July. They had been on the go for over a day by the time they arrived, but it was only then that Anna discovered that Jamie had been wearing his trousers back to front with no pants for the entire journey! All of our friends (yes, all two of them) here in Melbourne were amazed that we managed to sleep everyone in our 2 bedroom apartment, but this was only thanks to Radio Rentals, who loaned us a set of bunk beds for a month. All five family members slept in one bedroom, which I didn't think was too different to their caravan really?!

After a long sleep they woke up to Christmas in July. It is traditional for the Poms in Oz to celebrate Christmas during the winter time, so 6 months on from December 25th, we decorated the tree, had a traditional roast dinner, and even a visit from a Secret Santa. Also in true British form, it rained all day and we were pretty much stuck in the apartment. Anticipating this situation, Tom and I had purchased a new Wii game to provide some entertainment - Wii Sing! The children loved doing karaoke, but I don't think our neighbours appreciated the talent that they heard, and the next day we had a note under the door asking us to kindly call the building manager. I conveniently 'forgot' to call and we haven't heard anything more - nor have we turned the karaoke back on....

Jamie decorates the tree

Immediately after 'Christmas' the Wood family left for travels around Australia, and Tom and I reverted back to normal life in Melbourne. Two weeks later they arrived back, and Kev had one more week with us before he flew home and left Anna and the children for 2 additional weeks. If we were in the UK, Tom and I would only ever spend a weekend at the most with the Woods, so it was really nice to have their company for a longer period of time. I got to know the children a lot better, and Tom's Uncle credentials increased to new heights, and he was renamed 'Uncle T' - infinately cooler than 'Uncle Tom'!!

The Woods can now claim to have done every tourist attraction in Melbourne, apart from the “Twelve Apossums”, to quote Millie(!). On weekends Tom and I joined them in their sightseeing adventures, and for my birthday weekend we went to Phillip Island to see the little penguins. We were blessed with sunshine (unusual for August in Melbourne) and as well as seeing the penguins we spotted koalas, visited the chocolate factory and played on the beach. Jamie took Nab Nab everywhere and was very keen to show him all of his Little Penguin cousins. All day he asked, 'where are the penguins?', even at Phillip Island race track!

Letting off steam at the beach on Phillip Island

At the koala park

Where's Nab Nab?

Birthday cards and rice krispie cake

The lesser-spotted koala

Oh and a real one!

Another weekend we hired a huge 8-seater mini bus and all piled in to drive to the Dandenongs. Initially rather intimidated by the size of the vehicle, I soon got used to driving it and now quite fancy trading in the Focus! The main focus of the day was intended to be a ride on the Puffing Billy steam train, but the stop en route at Grants Picnic Ground to feed the parrots inadvertently became the main attraction. This is the third time I’ve blogged about these parrots, so regulars to the blog will be familiar with the format. For newcomers and the less attentive of you out there, Grants is a clearing in the forest with lots of well trained parrots and cockatoos who love to eat bird feed from tourists’. We anticipated that Rosie might not be too keen on the birds, as she is famously rather timid when it comes to animals, but none of us predicted the amusement it would bring to watch her run scared from the cockatoos, which she referred to as ‘the eagles’! After nearly an hour, when it was time to leave, Rosie plucked up the courage to hold a parrot – well done Rosie. We videod the whole thing, and the 3 minute edit is on YouTube if you wish to have a chuckle - click here!

Move over Nab Nab, Jamie has a new friend

Rosie was reluctant to say the least..

And my other car is... a bus!

Flamin' gallah!

Millie didn't mind the 'eagles'...

.. until this!

For the reference of future visitors, Hotel TomKat operates rather like a self catering apartment at times, and with Tom and I maxed out at work, Anna was left to keep house for most of the time. She was a fantastic support to us during our busy times at work, and we would come home every night to find dinner on the table and the children ready for bed after playtime with Uncle T. Having the children around was a great way to switch off after a long day, and we are now lost without Anna to cook for us! Our take-away consumption has spiked to an all time high... (thanks for those meals in the freezer though Anna, perhaps you could send over a few more?).

The children were also really keen to understand what Tom and I did for a living, and how things were going at work. Explaining audit to a 7 year old isn't easy (having said that, explaining my job to an adult isn't that easy either), but Tom's definition that he goes to work 'to solve problems' was understood by all! I had a few important meetings during their stay, and Millie always asked whether or not I'd lose my job if I didn't do well at each one! Thanks Millie - luckily I'm still employed!

The final big event of the trip was Millie’s tenth birthday, which we celebrated with an Aussie cake, some helium balloons and a few presents. We also made a trip to Scienceworks, a local science museum which Millie had picked as her chosen entertainment for the day. I got a present too – a flat tyre! Anna spotted it as we were about to leave the museum and together we managed to change for the spare wheel in no time at all – girl power!

Australian themed cake, created by Anna, myself and Tom

Happy 10th birthday Millie!

Tom turned Jamie into Spiderman with the face paints

While Anna and I made a more artistic attempt for Rosie!

When the time came to drive the Woods to the airport, Anna, Tom and I were all really sad. With tears welling, little Jamie cut the tension by asking as we pulled up to Melbourne Airport whether or not we were still in Australia! With the family safely dispatched, Tom and I returned to an empty apartment and collapsed exhausted.. having family in town reminds us of how much we value spending time with them, and when family leave time the distance to the UK always seems the greatest. We now are now settled back into normal Melbourne life again, and look forward to our next set of visitors.... for reservations and rates see ;-)