Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Swan Song - the novice guide to Aussie Rules

Sunday night was the end of a glorious day in Sydney.  We’re talking huge blue sky untainted by clouds, sun warm enough to bask in during the day and to shed a couple of layers and a sunset to warm the cockles of amateur painters’ hearts everywhere.  It was also a first for us – somehow despite living in Sydney for almost 12 years on and off, we have never managed to catch a game of AFL or Aussie Rules as it is alternatively known and so Sunday evening we headed off to watch the Sydney Swans in action against the Richmond Tigers.

AFL is fanatically popular in Victoria and South Australia – and I do mean fanatically, it is not uncommon for teams in Melbourne to get crowds of 30,000 to a routine game, and in fact looking at the statistics, the Collingwood Magpies got a whopping average of 53,440 spectators per game.  AFL is still a relatively new concept in New South Wales and consequently Sydney,  the Sydney Swans were formed when South Melbourne Football Club relocated to Sydney in 1982.  

As a game it seems to me that as Hungarian is to language so AFL is to the rest of the footie/rugby world in that its closest relative is probably Gaelic football.  My grasp on the rules etc. is very slim and I am bracing myself for a flood of emails from enraged aficionados but here goes on what I have picked up so far:

Played by 18 a side
Played by men in tight shorts and sleeveless vests
Played by very fit men – it is a game of constant running and apparently when they fitted GPS trackers to players it wasn’t uncommon for them to run 16km during the course of the game.
The field of play is oval– and indeed we went to see the Sydney Swans play at their homeground the SCG – the Sydney Cricket Ground

The ball goes forward, backwards, inside, outside, upside down so far as I could see
You can kick or hand punch the ball but not pass, and spectators shout “ball” a lot
If you run with the ball you must bounce it every 15 m or so
To score you kick it through some posts with different scores for which posts it goes through, put me in mind of Quidditch to be honest
You can tackle but not below the knee or above the shoulder
If you take a mark the opposing side are not allowed to tackle you but tend to dance around in front of you windmilling their arms
The umpire starts play by hurling the ball at the ground and it then rebounds or bounces back up into the air
Throws ins are by umpires who throw the ball over their shoulder with an enviable vigour
Offside doesn’t seem to exist as a concept
The game is four quarters

At the end of the game , which happily in this particular case ended in victory for the Swans, everyone sings the team song – very rousing. if you want to sing along and they then open up the field to an event called Kick to Kick, where supporters come on the pitch and have a kick about once the teams have left.  Lots of small children and their parents kicking balls around in a general melee of celebration.

I really enjoyed the game, and I particularly liked what a family atmosphere it was, Swans supporters draped in red and white came in all shapes and sizes from Grannies to infants sporting bobble hats in the Swans’ colours of red and white.  The play on the field was incredibly fast and exciting – the ball moves up and down the pitch at an amazing speed with relatively few interruptions for things like rule infringements so play really flows.  So I’m off to buy my red and white scarf, learn the words to the song and enthuse the Drama Queens on the joys of Aussie Rules – and mental note to self, must learn the right moment to shout ‘BALL’.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Rule of Three - Post holiday Laws of the Universe

I think I may have discovered a new rule governing the universe – in particular the holidaying part of the universe.  I am unsure whether I should be applying to the Nobel Prize committee for Chemistry, Biology or Physics for  basically the Rule of Three seems to touch on most of post holiday life and body.
The Rule of Three holds that:
1.     It takes three months of holiday run up to build a reasonable level of fitness (and bear in mind we are not talking Olympic level fitness here merely the ability to walk up the hill from the beach without turning puce and catching at my chest) – and approximately three days of holiday to loose that residual fitness and return to couch potato level, albeit clad in a bikini and was there ever a more attractive garment for a potato than a bikini?  (NB at this point just have to draw attention to the Australian manufacturer called AussieBum who market their exceedingly brief and tight swimming ‘briefs’  and underwear under the slogan, “If you doubt yourself, wear something else” – good job it’s aimed at men  not women!)
2.     It takes three weeks to lose a kilo – and note here I mean to lose it properly rather than temporarily mislay it on a 24 hour basis owing to a nil by mouth type diet and conversely roughly three hours to gain it – but actually possibly worth it in terms of groans of greed as the Italian notion of a light lunch slips down.
3.     It generally takes us three whole days as a family to relax into life on holiday, to start sleeping in, slopping around, reading ancient copies of Agatha Christie novels, playing cards and charades and just generally behaving like characters from “Five have a Great Time” and conversely approximately three hours and a large washing pile before pre holiday stress and snappiness returns.
4. The three week pile of mail that awaits on the doorstep looks three times as interesting as it actually is - reminders for pet vaccination having after all a limited fascination factor.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

50 Shades of Green

The Green Green Grass of Home

We have just come to the end of the winter school holidays in Australia.   These holidays could be billed as  ‘Three weeks to hit Europe’ as that seems to sum up the general holiday exodus from our leafy enclave on the Lower North Shore.  This part of Sydney is packed with both expat families and also those with the resources that mean a family trip to Europe is on the radar – and frankly given the strength of the Australian dollar everywhere looks cheap compared to daily life in Sydney.

Being complete Lemmings by nature, we followed the trend and were on the plane as soon as the school bell went. 

I so loved being back in Europe.  In a deliberate change of policy, we managed to avoid the usual expat rat race where you spend the entire holiday belting from one relative or friend to another with meals and conversations rationed out and no matter how long you have, somehow you never have time to see everyone properly and instead engage in a maddened speed dating routine, trying not to wince when friends say “so when are you off?  We must catch you before you go.” And you feel a complete louse having to break the news they’ve had their allocated half hour.

We spent ten days in Italy and fell in love with Tuscany, romped through Rome, and indulged in the most fabulous food. Pasta funghi e tartufi, just the words are enough to make me drool, my Italian may be non- existent but it’s amazing what an incentive mouth watering smells are in translating a menu, though I did have to resort to a ‘Harry met Sally’ moment, declaring I’ll have one of what she’s having” in one restaurant.  Rome was a revelation as we walked in Roman footsteps, danced our way through galleries crammed with works of art and guzzled gelato.

By the time we hit the UK, still admittedly part of Europe, but clearly different in most European minds, not to mention British ones, the sun had come out and the world was transformed – to put this in perspective in the 11 years since we last lived in the UK, each time we have visited the mother ship as it were, the heavens have opened, we have frozen and half drowned and wondered why British people don’t have dryers and turn on their central heating regardless of season as it strikes us as bloody freezing in July .

But this year we struck lucky and landed just as the heat wave began.   After what had been an appalling Spring as we were reliably informed by everyone we met, there is nothing as lush as the British countryside.   We’re talking  ‘Jerusalem’ country here with “England’s mountains green”, verdant hillsides, billowing hedgerows, green on green creating vistas that calm the soul and call for a Pimms in the hand whilst watching the amazing sight of a Scot winning Wimbledon.  Add in four days with 17 of my relatives (I come from a largeish family) and a Golden Wedding celebration and it was hard to say how the trip could have got more idyllic.

The Australian countryside is mindbendingly stunning in a completely different way to that of the UK, but though I find myself equally blown away by the space and emptiness of Australian landscapes, and the colours, less of a vibrant green and more of a subtle shadings of grey, yellow, Australia is in the end a dry country and in contrast there is something very soothing in luxuriating in layer upon layer of green in the UK.  50 shades of green in fact. and I came to the conclusion this layering is what Europe (and the UK) is all about.  Layer upon layer of history, landscape layered in a living reminder of prior existences whether it be the Roman roads still visible in their lines across the countryside, or the ancient Via Francigena that crosses Tuscany, layer upon layer of buildings and activities that have shaped every part of the land, and of course layers of sophistication in the streets of Rome and London, where everyone jostles shoulders from nuns to definite sinners.  I do have to note that though I am not Catholic, I did take to crossing myself on pedestrian crossings in Rome and generally tried to find a nun to attach myself to  as I stepped onto the road as the scooters seem to give the religious a slightly wider berth than the hairsbreadth margin that they allow to tourists.

I came home feeling I could easily have done three months in Europe and am quelling firmly any yearnings for the ‘green green grass of home’ with the realisation that actually home for us is now Sydney and frankly it’s a heck of a nice place to have as home base – blue sky day today and a seemingly huge moon floating over a pewter night time sea.