Archive for January, 2011

28
Jan
11

when in rome (or hoi an)

As you can probably tell, I haven’t really got into my travels since leaving Australia. There’s been several hangovers which I’ve already gone into detail about that have held me back in terms of enjoying Vietnam for what Vietnam is. I’ve been preoccupied by a trail of thoughts that have been confusing, frustrating and at times upsetting and as such simply haven’t found myself in a particularly happy place. I’ve also been pretty exhausted from what was a long Ashes tour plus the crazy nature of the ‘check in, check out’ nature of the pre cricket travels across South East Asia at the start of the trip. Basically, Vietnam just hasn’t been given a chance because of my mental state.

I left Hue a few days ago and got lucky in stumbling upon an Irish girl on the bus to Hoi An. Every now and again when travelling on your lonesome you tend to meet someone for a few hours, chat about everything and anything to do with life and never see or speak to them again. We were even staying at the same hotel, but never did get round to bumping into each other again. Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that she didn’t bother drinking in the evenings ‘just for the sake of it’ and I most certainly do; even so our little chat got my travel juices flowing again. It wasn’t because I found another single traveller (there’s not many in Vietnam from what I see) it was the mere fact that for the first time in a couple of weeks I had a proper chat with someone. Sure, I’ve had brief banter with people in bars and restaurants while smashing random strangers at pool, but it isn’t quite the same as a good heart to heart that most of you back will have on a daily occurrence with a family member or a mate down the pub. This was a bit of release for me, and I got the impression it was for her too. She had been travelling alone for a month after being with close friends for over a year and admitting to having the same troubles that I had been experiencing in adapting to life on the road as a single traveller again.

With her help I located my hotel that wasn’t called the hotel sunshine as I thought it was, but the hotel sunflower instead! I thought that it must have the the Oasis I had been listening to on the first half of the four hour bus trip that had confused my brain into bringing the word ‘sunshineeeeee’ into the mix – however my schoolboy error was confirmed when I noticed I had even written the words ‘sunshine hotel’ in my guidebook. At least the street address was correct….I told you I wasn’t worried about simple things like getting lost in a new city anymore. It seems I can’t even write simple things like where I have booked to stay down correctly at this stage.

Anyway, I arrived in Hoi An to a more pleasant clime than the one found in Hue. I quite enjoyed the cold, wind and rain for a few days, but that was enough. Hoi An is famous for clothing, and tailored clothing in particular. I would suggest that 80% of shops here are involved in offering tourists some form of apparel at knock down prices. I thought about getting something made up, then realised that this was a pretty pointless exercise as I don’t have any room left in my backpack. So, that was one thing in Hoi An that I couldn’t get into. The other thing that was noticeable here after an afternoon stroll round the market and ancient old town was the sheer volume of tourists here. As I mentioned above, they are not single travellers like most backpackers tend to be, but families or older couples on holiday. I expected Vietnam to be touristy, I had several warnings from mates that had been before, but I didn’t expect such a percentage of foreign visitors to be made up of geriatrics in socks and sandals or middle class parents with babies strapped to their chests. Quite why anyone would cross the crazy roads here with a baby in such a precarious position is beyond me.

To ensure my rediscovered travel juices were not drained faster than Rupert Murdoch (sorry, I mean Sky) sacked Andy Gray, I decided it was time to do something irresponsible. The kind of irresponsible behaviour that would make a mother or a travel insurance broker cringe with worry. The kind of irresponsible behaviour that a tour group would look at, tut, then shake their heads and comment on ‘what has become of the youth of today’. If Hoi An is famous for tailored clothes then Vietnam itself is famous for scooters and motorbikes. They are literally everywhere you look. People live on these things, sleep on them, get to work on them, go to see friends on them and no doubt take families on days out on them. They are a way of life here. If you don’t own a mode of transport with only two wheels then you are a social misfit in Vietnam. Cars simply do not work here. They are third class citizens, even behind buses. If you own a car you get stuck in traffic jams, get clipped by bikes and frustrated by pedestrians who walk out in front of you because it seems safer to walk out in front of one car than a dozen bikes or a fifty two seater bus. It was clear to me, I simply had to have ago.

Now, some people reading this will not know my driving record. I have a provisional driving license that I last used in about 2005 where I was seen walking out of a driving lesson after a spat with a fairly obnoxious, short tempered oaf of a driving instructor. I’ve never got behind the wheel of a car since; mainly because I didn’t really need to drive on a day by day basis and also because it’s an expense that I saw far better spent on saving for cricket tours and this here trip. My record on two wheels is much better. I am infamous at turning up for work sweating and swearing after some moron cut me up at the bottom of Holmer Road on a pedal powered bike ride in. Yes, that’s right – pedal power. I’ve never rode a bike with any form of engine attached, even an automatic scooter. So, with that in mind out I went to my bike rent shop that was nothing more than a lady stood under an umbrella who sold various food items such as ‘Mr Potato’ (Pringles to you at home), Laughing Cow cheese spread and Mars bars. Her side line was renting out scooters and bikes out to idiots abroad without the necessary paperwork. I asked her where the automatic scooter had gone which I’d asked her the previous afternoon to keep for me. ‘No, no that is gone’ she said in very broken English, ‘This one better anyway!’ pointing at the manual geared, more powerful looking number. ‘But I’ve never ridden a scooter before, let alone one with gea…’ Before I could could say the word gears she had jumped onto the scooter, handed me a helmet and told me to get on the back. Off we went round to a side street where she gave me a crash lesson (pardon the pun) in how to start the bike and work the gears. After several failed attempts and a grazed left shin I finally got it going, nearly crashing into a passing bike followed by the inexcusable bump into a stationary hedge during a failed U-turn. ‘Slowly, slowly!’ came her advice, shouting at me from the other end of the road. After a successful U-turn and the hand over of 100,000 Dong (£3) I was away.

Straight away I turned onto a reasonably busy road. Sure, it wasn’t Ho Chi standard but there were still bikes passing every five seconds either side of me. I was feeling pretty confident though, as long as I didn’t have to stop at lights or for a group of school kids who were coming out of class for lunch. After stopping at a standard Vietnamese petrol station (see below pic) I was off, bombing my way through the countryside, trying to concentrate on the road as opposed to taking in the views that surrounded me. Paddy fields with straw hatted women working away, flowing rivers full of traditional fishing boats and countless amounts of people going about their daily business. I ended up on a highway that I later found out took you up to a city called Danang. By now the weather had taken a turn for the worse as the rain started to reach Hue proportions. I was getting into it now, feeling confident enough to get my speed cranked up a touch on the long, straight and clear of traffic highway. After stopping for a quick bite for lunch at a random beach café, I headed back to Hoi An, handing my keys over to my rent a bike lady.

I got such a taste for it I did exactly the same yesterday. Getting out of the tourist trap that is Hoi An and exploring some more of this fascinating country. It was quite noticeable on my second, longer and more explorative ride that there are still untapped parts of Vietnam. I started off back on that same road to Danang where I discovered the marble mountains were nothing more than a few big rocks that I had passed on the bus ride in from Hue. Oh well, it was still great to be on the open road so I decided to bomb all the way up to Danang. As you know, this is winter in this part of Vietnam, but even so Danang was dead. There was nobody around – this well designed, modern promenade had hardly any signs of human life apart from a couple of fellow scooter riders from China who kindly took a picture of me looking smug at my new found favourite thing to do in Vietnam. After a rather embarrassing lunch at a Vietnamese seafront restaurant, where I caused great amusement at my failure to eat hardly any of the food prepared, I disappeared back up to Hoi An, stopping off at random side roads to ride through the many villages that littered the area. This was like being back in Kep in Cambodia or Pekenbaru in Sumatra, off the beaten track somewhat with locals shouting ‘Hello’ at me from all directions as opposed to the usual ‘Hello, come and look in my shop’ which has become all to frequent of late.

The good news is that I have started to make the most of where I am again and appreciate Vietnam for what it is as opposed to pining for things that are currently out of reach. Tonight is a long night bus south to the seaside town of Nha Trang where I plan on going on more bike adventures before heading to Dalat where I will be for the forthcoming Vietnamese festival ‘Tet’. I’m still getting used to time alone again, even after nearly three weeks since I last had a ‘play buddy’. The one thing that I have discovered on this trip is that experiences with other people tend to be more enjoyable than ones alone. Of course, they have to be with the right person but fortunately for me they always have been.

In other news my excitement is building at the upcoming visit of a special guest who will be joining me in Malaysia for a holiday……to say I’m looking forward to having a play buddy again is a fairly large understatement, especially one so cool 🙂

24
Jan
11

predictable – part 3

Ah yes, in a continuation of my need to lighten the mood on here somewhat it’s time for another predictable league ranking system style thingy. This one is based around what I tend to do every single day – no, not whining or moaning about something or even an activity one can do in his spare time that is somewhat ruder (shut up at the back) I’m talking about drinking alcohol! Even with the shocking exchange rate I think I managed at least one drink every single day of the Australia tour and could count the number of ‘dry’ days I have had since the start of this trip on one hand. It’s not that I’m a pisshead, but to quote my good friend Union Dave, ‘I only have a drink when there is a y in the day’ – Amen brother.

1 – Chang Beer
The best thing about Thailand. At 6.4% it manages to slide down without fail time and time again. My favourite beer so far, drunk in 600ml bottles surrounded by like minded travellers just out for the ‘craic’. Never has a beer tasted better after the Khao Sok jungle escape.

2 – Kingfisher Beer
But you haven’t been to India on this trip yet, I hear some wise arse shout. Well, true. Technically my favourite sub continental drop will have to wait till mid February, but I had a lovely bottle in an Indian curry house in Rose Bay, Sydney. It may of cost $8, but worth every cent.

3 – Tiger Beer
Found across Asia as standard. A Singapore drop originally, drunk memorably in ‘Little India’ in the said country alongside a chicken biryani and Basingstoke Pat. Our first night out together before our assault on Sumatra.

4 – Bintang Beer
No, I don’t own a singlet (vest) with the named beer quoted on it like every single Australian in the world, but I certainly drunk many bottles on Gili Trawangan. Many tales shared while supping this Indonesian pilsner. Best drunk at the sunset bar watching, believe or not, the sun go down.

5 – 5 Seeds Cider
I discovered 5 seeds cider when we’d drunk our local in Perth out of Stowford’s Press cider. A decent tipple in all fairness, best sampled from a jug, or as we call them a pitcher. Drunk in relief at England not taking the last three wickets late on day four in Sydney which would have meant we’d of had to slip back into the ground after our early escape to the pub.

6 – Angkor Beer
Cambodia’s finest, not to be confused with it’s gassier sister beer, Anchor. Dirt cheap in happy hour, in fact dirt cheap during any hour of the day or night. Best drunk in the FCC in Phnom Penh overlooking the riverside. The slogan ‘My Country, My Beer’ is quite good as well.

7 – Saigon Beer
Can you guess where this is brewed? My friend last week in Ho Chi Minh, shared with fellow pool players and a scouse bloke called John on an all day session at various street side bars whilst talking about all things life. At 25p a bottle in places, it would be rude not to.

8 – Bulmers Cider
OK, I would never drink this back home but it was on offer at a place in Adelaide called the Little Pub off Hindley Street. Any drink on special offer in Australia is worth getting on, as keen followers will know from my virgin Guinness sessions in Durty Nellys. I also met Loz in this bar while lubricated from this drop, which was nice.

9 – Carlsberg Export Beer
I know, a boring choice but I’ve got nothing interesting to say about Hudda or Larue beer (my most recent discoveries) I had my best non-cricket session on this stuff with a couple of nurses from Manchester in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. Again, carnage on the 600ml bottles as we smashed up the dance floor to a number of standard night club tunes.

10 – VB Bitter
A truly terrible drop, so not surprisingly very popular amongst our Australian friends. It makes the top ten because I was at the end of tour Barmy Army party in Sydney where we were invited to drink cans of this awful beer for free in the company of mates and a few of the players. Needs must.

21
Jan
11

in the bleak mid winter

Nearly a fortnight in Vietnam has passed and I have realised that I have hardly given you any insights into my experience of the country so far. Well, I’ve let you know about the brilliance of the cheap beer, the joys of the Indian curry houses plus the amount of time I have spent wasting my days in bed before playing pool and darts – but none of that gives you a feel for the place. Sure, this was never going to be a travel blog as such, reporting on what amazing places I had visited or tourist sites that I had ticked off, but still, needs must. You’ve also probably had enough of me using this as a release for my thoughts and feelings (of which I thank the people muchly for their emails and comments on, much appreciated) Seeing as I am in my second Vietnamese town, Hue, I feel it’s time to do some travel writing again.

I arrived in this centrally located city last night after my sixteenth on time flight of the trip. That’s right, sixteen flights since leaving Gatwick back at the very start of October. My carbon footprint has certainly grown to big foot status as this trip has progressed. The reason I mention that it was on time is because the fortunate nature of it – several flights on different airlines were delayed by hours on my travel day from Ho Chi because of ‘adverse weather conditions’ That’s right, it’s winter here in Hue. About 10c according to the locals, and it has done nothing but piss down since I touched down at the optimistically titled ‘International Airport’. Any airport that has just one baggage carousal and zero security cannot be classed as ‘International’. I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t deal with flights to and from other countries…..Sorry, Hue – back in your box.

It’s quite ironic that the weather is as cold and miserable as it is as I had a day yesterday where I woke up and just fancied being back in the UK. A round of golf, a home cooked meal with the family or even a night on the town with mates – just something basic like that would have been perfect. Arriving in pitch black conditions, with a howling gale and driving rain reminded me just how shit a UK winter can be. Staying with current mindset of doing very little has been made even easier because the weather has been so dire. I went out for a rather cold and damp walk along the river front this morning, got hassled by several locals trying to sell me various objects and tours (with varying success, check out the 75p poncho picture) and retired happily to my latest ‘flashpacker’ room to watch England lose another one day international on my laptop. It’s been just like a winters day back in England and the funny thing is I have quite enjoyed it! I’m not saying for one minute that I’ve discovered a love for crap weather, no way. But it has been quite a nice change for me, who has only felt cold on about four occasions (two of which were in Melbourne) since that first flight took me to Bangkok.

Anyway, back to Vietnam. Well, first thoughts on the people here are that they are a friendly enough bunch who sadly, are almost all involved somewhere on the ‘would you like to go for a ride or tour/ take some marijuana/ have sex with a prostitute’ sales pitch. Within two minutes of leaving my hotel last night to find a restaurant I was offered all three. It’s quiet here in Hue and perhaps that’s what you have to do to stay sane here during the winter months. The thing is it was no different in the much busier, cosmopolitan and warmer clime of Ho Chi Minh. I was becoming tired of this near the midway way point of my time in Ho Chi, so during one walk back from Mamtuz curry house I decided to count the times I was offered ‘boom boom’ or ‘marijuana’ from a bloke on a scooter. See by night the boys who offer their services as a chauffeur or tour guide by day, become drug dealers and pimps by sunset. This particular walk I was offered illegal substances six times and sex four times. Now granted, for my own amusement I took the more scenic route past the two main Western drinking establishments, but still, this was only a five minute stroll. The highlight was undoubtedly a young lady in an all in one short skirt and high heels who hoped off the back of a passing moped and gave me a quote without even asking if I was interested! For the record she didn’t offer me a smoke, and I most definitely declined what she did give a price for. Quick as a flash she jumped back on the moped and went speeding off looking for her new potential client.

The service here has been fantastic though. The lads and lasses that work in the guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and bars seem genuinely happy to serve you and will often go beyond the minimum I’d expect from such places. My hotel here in Hue called me up twice this morning to first of all check that I was OK in my room (they didn’t understand me when I said I was happy watching the cricket) and then to invite me down to a party at midday. When I later popped down to go out for lunch the lady behind reception asked me where I was and that the party had been waiting for me to come down before they started eating! I apologised for the confusion saying I didn’t realise that by taking the phone call, I had inadvertently accepted her kind offer. In Ho Chi, the guesthouse provided me with a travel adapter for my western plugs and wouldn’t accept any money when I tried to pay. Now, OK a cynic would say that some other British muppet left it behind and it came from lost property, but still, they could have easily charged me. My only local transport so far was a minibus from Hue Airport, sorry Hue International Airport, where I shared the half hour ride into town with a group of Vietnamese. The lads on the back seats were all university students who were very chatty, interested in where I had been and where I was from, plus keen to offer any help when the inevitable scrum of taxi and moped drivers surrounded the bus on our arrival in town. I’ve also been drinking alone quite a bit here, and the staff are keen to spend time with you for no other reason than to spend time in your company while no doubt homing their English skills. I’ve tipped more as a percentage here in Vietnam than I have anywhere else in the world.

Other than crazy traffic, that’s pretty much it for Vietnam so far. A bit of a no show in terms of events, but I’m more than happy with that. Now it’s time to wrap up in three layers of clothing, put on scarf and a pair of socks and head out into the cold, winters night. Come on, 10c is cold!

Postscript – The statistics part of this blog is always an interesting read. One part of it tells you the data people type into search engines, such as google, in order to track down your web address. Now, whenever I meet someone on the road I tell them just to type ‘Hereford Rich’ into a search engine and lo and behold they will track me down. This one yesterday made me laugh.

‘hereford admag coach trip to see bon jovi concerts’

Lets hope the local rag delivers for them!

18
Jan
11

familiar to millions

If you ignore the last scribblings that were effectively me practising some sports journalism, then the last update was me using this wonderful tool of writing as means to get my scrambled brain back to it’s usual, reasonably grounded state. In a way it has worked as one week on from there I have reached a much more relaxed state of mind, even starting to enjoy my own space and time alone once more.

I’ve spent the week that I have been in Ho Chi sorting my head out while rediscovering the beauty that is doing nothing. Well not exactly nothing, but you get my drift. I haven’t bothered doing any of the touristy things that are on offer everywhere here because I just can’t be arsed. Most mornings I haven’t got out of bed until way past midday. When I have finally crawled out of my rather comfy pit that is the Thanh Thoung guest house, I haven’t ventured any further than my two or three newly found local pubs. Here I have whittled away the afternoons and evenings drinking 30p beers while beating random Vietnamese girls at darts and German men at pool. Then, when the beer has done it’s job I’ve stumbled quite happily to one of three newly found local curry houses and feasted upon samosas, naans, curries and rice before retiring back to bed.

It’s turned out to be everything that I needed. Acting almost like a local, going to the same bars and restaurants that I did the previous day and the day before that. The barmaids remember my face when I walk into these places, while the curry houses almost have my favourite green label Saigon beer on the table before I have sat down. They ask me how I am, rather than the usual ‘Can I take your money, sorry I mean order’ that can become very tiresome when visiting a different place every other day. The young family that run Thanh Thoung have been so welcoming, it has almost felt like a home. My own space, my own room and plenty of familiar people to chat to if and when I choose to stop playing computer games or watching England lose to Australia on a dodgy stream website. It may sound like I’m not getting the most out of Vietnam – or at least as much as the average backpacker or tourist may do. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. The time here that I have been forced to spend whilst waiting for the Indian Embassy to issue me a double entry visa has been good to me.

So, have I come up with any answers to those many questions that were buzzing round in my head? Well in the short, yes. Just one or two, of which one it is probably the most important one in terms of my life in the next twelve months or so. I briefly mentioned that one of the questions that I had started to ask myself was whether or not I felt I could return to the UK and slip straight back into life as I knew it before heading off on this adventure. Well, after a week soul searching and doing what I have done here in Ho Chi, I’ve come to realise that it is partly the lack of stability in my life that is causing me to have all these irrational thoughts. I was happy with life in the UK prior to leaving, so certainly have no reason not to go back. I like Hereford – I have seen enough shit holes in the world now to have reconfirmed yet again that it is a decent place to live. For the first time since this trip started I have started to look seriously at lettings on the internet, looking forward to making a fresh start in a new pad. I’m delighted that this question I asked myself has seemingly been untangled.

Without a doubt watching people go home to friends and family after the cricket upset me. All I was doing was leaving someone I cared for deeply in Australia in Loz. I wouldn’t be seeing Mum and Martin at the airport and nor would I be catching up with my mates on the golf course or in the pub. There would be no gossip or ‘school night’ piss ups with Steph. I was moving into the unknown once again in travelling to Vietnam and without a doubt I was just not ready for that.

A week on and the second question that I have answered partly solves the unknown that was Vietnam. With all that was going on in the Ashes, and then with Loz, I had done no research into Vietnam other than a booking for three nights in Thanh Thoung. After clearing my head through the realisation that I was more than happy for the time being to go back to Blighty, I started to work out what I wanted out of Vietnam. I’m nearly at the end of my ‘do nothing’ stage here in Ho Chi, and I was getting to the point where I needed to make decisions. My lack of planning into Vietnam became an issue when I saw the distance between Ho Chi and Hanoi, of which I was naïve enough to think that I could travel overland comfortably enough in just under three weeks. It isn’t. Not without a mammoth thirty hour train ride at some point, or several stupidly long overnight bus journeys. This would also mean that I’d be doing what I did in those first seven or eight weeks on the road, which was spending nothing more than a couple of nights here and a couple of nights there. Fuck that, I’m still mentally exhausted from the Australia experience and the after effects it has had on me to put myself though that. So, all being well with the passport tomorrow I’ll be on my way from the airport to Hue on Thursday for the start of three weeks of reasonably easy travel. I’ll be heading back south overland to Ho Chi, stopping at several towns and cities on the way before flying back to KL on February 7th. I considered going up to Hanoi from Hue, which would mean I would get to see Halong Bay. But with the weather there being a rather chilly 10c at the moment, plus a longer more expensive flight to KL from Hanoi, I reckon I’ve made a good decision..

There are still some unanswered questions in my mind but I am determined to start fully enjoying Vietnam once I get up to Hue. Seeing as it is 2.10pm here I really should get out of bed and play some pool and darts while drinking dirt cheap beer.

It isn’t all bad.

14
Jan
11

and finally, some cricket musings…..

About time too, I hear several readers of this blog shout out at me. Time to stop writing about all of life’s issues that have sprung up from nowhere in the past week or so and concentrate on telling you all just how awesome it was to watch England smash Australia in their own back garden for the first time in twenty four years.

My build up the Ashes (if you have forgot) was spent in the company of Basingstoke Pat and Winslow in Bali. Sat in my new guest house here in Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon as the locals refer to it) seems a world away from those long chats we shared about how the series in Australia would pan out. Although the three of us had been travelling for differing periods of time and for no doubt different reasons, all of us were there for one common goal of flying into Brisbane to hopefully watch us lift the urn. Those long winded discussions we had, while supping gallons of Bintang in our favourite beach front hangouts, were nearly all based around how confident we were of seeing the boys achieve the goal of a series win.

Now, unsurprisingly, all three of us had differing opinions. Winslow was stupidly confident, Pat was the opposite and I was somewhere in the middle. Some would say hedging my bets slightly or sitting upon a rather large fence, waiting for the end result to occur before I placed my bet. This would be harsh though, as in all truth I just didn’t want to get too excited by the prospect of a series win in case it never occurred. Stayed grounded and all that…..what’s gone wrong since?! One particular chat I do remember clearly was us discussing the individuals that both sides had and agreeing that England would probably win up to eight or nine spots in a joined eleven. When was the last time you could say that about an English side going into a series against the convicts?

I suppose we had every right to be so openly confident. Our preparation, both in the build up after landing in Australia and the eighteen months previous, had been next to perfect. A series draw in South Africa, a settled squad of players playing in their ‘pomp’, a habit of winning in all formats of the game plus a team not scarred by previous Ashes defeats down under. The guys that were part of that now forgotten 5-0 whitewash four years previous had still tasted Ashes success at some point in their careers. Meanwhile Australia had rumours of unrest in the camp (proven when Hauritz was ridiculously overlooked), a captain under fire from the press, a batting line up whose age was comparable to that of Dad’s Army and had arrived back in Australia on the back of three test defeats in a row. Everything pointed in our favour.

So why did I choose to sit on the fence? Why did Pat choose to be slightly negative in his series predictions? Well, I can only talk for myself, and I’ve already given my reason above. I didn’t want to be left disappointed if we failed in our task. I did speak about the importance of taking a lead in the series, which we did in Adelaide on the back of the brilliant rear guard action in Brisbane from our top three. From there on in, even after the defeat in Perth that levelled the series, I always felt we would take the urn home with us. We were just too good for them. I did expect more fight from the Australians though. To beat them three times by an innings is an extraordinary feat, and one I would suggest will never be repeated by an English side down under. Apart from Mike Hussey, none of their batsman looked capable of hurting us through prolonged periods of play that you need to bat for in Australia. Meanwhile our whole top order of Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell and Prior all scored heavily at points in the series – all registering at least one hundred a piece.

My two biggest concerns about us failing to beat Australia were us not scoring enough hundreds (which was never a problem as the above tells you) plus our ability to take twenty wickets on flat surfaces. After all, you can score all the six hundred-plus innings scores in the world but you still need to take twenty wickets in order to win a test match. We had a gun bowler in Swann, who would always prove a threat; though he was nullified somewhat at times in the series by some unresponsive pitches to his off spinners. The worry was how would the pace bowlers go if and when the ball stopped swinging? Well, I need not have worried. The ball did swing, both conventionally and reverse through long parts of the series. Even when it stopped moving we found ways of taking wickets. The most crucial times were not when it was hooping around massively, such as that wonderful 98 all out boxing day at Melbourne, but when the ball was just doing enough. See, when a wicket is flat a bowler earns his keep. We all know that Jimmy Anderson is arguably the worlds best when the ball is swinging, but what he did in Australia that impressed me was his ability to subtly get the ball to move around when no other bowler could do. Whether it be reverse swing or just sheer accuracy, he seemed to have the ability to draw the Aussie batsman into errors, so often getting the vital outside edge. His improvement over the past two to three years has been nothing shy of remarkable.

One of my dark horses for the series was Chris Tremlett. He had all the ‘tools’ too upset any batsman, especially on the bouncier pitches that you get in Australia. He’s a massive unit, about 6ft 8′ at a guess and bowls at a decent enough lick. Never likely to start the series, I had a feeling that he would be required at some stage due to the likelihood of a bowler getting injured, such as Broad at Adelaide, or a bowler needing a rest, such as Finn after the Perth defeat. I had quite a heated chat in Glenelg with Pat, and his mate Chris, both Hampshire fans (where Tremmers used to ply his trade) about his qualities prior to his inclusion in Perth. They were adamant that he was weak, but luckily he proved them wrong as he took sackfuls of wickets in the three games he played. I know from my own infamous ‘I think Strauss should be left out for Owais Shah’ comment prior to the Chennai test match in 2008 that it is sometimes very good to be wrong – Strauss went on to score two hundreds in that very test match and has gone on to lead England to two Ashes victories since!
One recognisable figure from touring, the now married Crouchy, is still getting hammered left, right and centre for his even more inaccurate campaign on the Barmy Army forum, titled ‘COOK OUT!’ Cook has just scored three Ashes hundreds and ended the series as third highest run scorer of all time in a five match Ashes series. Not bad for a bloke with no technique for test cricket.

And that’s the beauty of the game. It’s all about opinions, we all have so many. Everyone who tours independently is a pretty strong character, so we all like our voice to be heard. I like mine so much that I’m even writing as well as talking! The good thing is the majority of us are all delighted to be proved wrong when a player comes good. Many of us have got it wrong over the years about Ian Bell – not questioning for one moment his abilities with the willow, but quick to jump upon a perceived mental weakness that many ex-pro’s and journalists like to write about. For me he turned a huge corner in South Africa last winter, helping save the test in Cape Town. He just looks the part now, strutting around like he owns the place. I love watching him bat now, though not quite as much as I did Michael Vaughan….The other guy who struggled last winter in South Africa was Jon Trott. After a brilliant summer he has just continued to plunder runs against the Aussies all series. He might not be the most exciting bat in the world, but he is just what you want in a test number three. If he continues the way he is, he could break all batting average records for a modern day English test player. I suggested last winter that he may struggle towards the end of long test match series due to the intense mental side of his game. His match winning ton in the 4th test proved me wrong – again!

The other player that has to get a mention is Matty Prior, a new crowd favourite. More and more tourists, both old and new, are soon going to join the ever expanding ‘We love Matty Prior’ fan club. In fact, I’m not sure there is an official one yet…..maybe Deco could start one, naturally as founder member. Here is a bloke that has just worked hard at his game. He got left out for some pretty average wicket keeping after the Sri Lanka tour in 2007 but has bounced back to be our best wicket keeper bat since Alec Stewart. His banter with the England fans is first class, telling us at Melbourne to get on Ponting’s case while he was at the crease. He has a first rate song that everyone knows and even joins in with himself while both on the pitch and in the bar, drinking countless Jager Bombs while celebrating the Melbourne win with us.

And so we come to Ricky Ponting. A much loathed man by both English and Australian fans. Personally I find it a shame that the Convicts don’t treat one of their own with a little more respect. Thirty nine test hundreds and second on the all time run scorers list should command that. But the thing is, Australians just don’t like losers. And despite all his run scoring exploits, Ricky will always be known as the man that lost the Ashes three times during his captaincy. I’ve never quite understood the full hatred many have towards him, as I always liked his stance that test cricket is proper cricket whereas twenty20 is nothing more than a flash in the pan. He does himself no favours though, his behaviour towards the umpires after a referral was confirmed as not out was disgraceful. If there was an obvious candidate to take over, I think I’d have seen his last test innings when he was cleaned up by Tim Bresnan at the MCG. That said, I’m not sure he’ll return to England in two summers time.

The final player to get a mention is Paul Collingwood. Statistically our worst performer, memorably one of our richest. He may have had a poor last series with the bat, but as ever with Colly, he still contributed was some brilliant catching at times in the series. If you haven’t seen the catch he took to get rid of Ponting at Perth, then go to youtube. In fact, while you’re there just type his name in and gasp in awe of some of the catches he has taken over the years. I’ve been lucky to witness a couple of Colly’s ten test match hundreds, but they are not what I will remember him for. He was the guy in the England team that you would want to bat for you if your life depended on it. I was at Cardiff on day five where he blunted the Aussie attack for hours, playing a huge role in us winning that series in 2009. He did the same last winter with Bell, in Cape Town. I was delighted he went out of test cricket on such a high.

With such a solid, confident looking side, the future is looking bright. I get the impression that under Strauss and Flower this England team could go on to be world number one. After we first won the Ashes back in 2005 we took our foot off the pedal. Where that was the beginning of the end for the Vaughan/Fletcher combination, I’m hoping this England set up and it’s hungry group of players will go on and achieve more great feats over the coming years.

If they do, it will be a pleasure to witness.

12
Jan
11

confused at being confused

When you travel you don’t tend to have too many days that are a blur – unless you spend all afternoon and evening in a bar, of course. Your senses are on red alert because you are trying to take in all the sights, smells and experiences that a new location can give you. Everything is new and exciting. Peoples faces change from country to country or province to province. You just want to remember everything that a place can throw at you and shove it in the memory bank for future reference. Yesterday’s trip back to South East Asia was an odd one. I left the apartment I had been sitting in Sydney in the morning and arrived in Vietnam some fourteen hours later. I caught a bus, a train, took an eight and a half hour flight before jumping in a taxi through rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City. All of it was a bit of a blur. I took hardly anything in as my mind is unsurprisingly a little clouded at present, no doubt bought on by the reasons I mentioned in the previous rather emotive update. I’ve been back on my own again, which gave me and my brain some time to try and digest just what I have been through since leaving Gilly T in Bali prior to the Ashes starting in Brisbane in late November. It has left me asking some pretty big questions to myself.

One of the biggest drawbacks about ‘living the dream’ as so many people quote (including myself after the events in Melbourne) is that you have to eventually come back down to planet earth. I agree that coming to a fascinating new country such as Vietnam isn’t quite the same return to the earth’s surface that a twenty six hour flight back to the UK just to go back to work is, but it’s still a huge come down for me so soon after ‘the best week of my life’ that I gushed about so recently. It’s not that I don’t want to be here, but it’s just not on the same scale as drinking free beer in the VIP section of the Retro Hotel, surrounded by my mates, Loz and Alistair Cook. Yes, that’s right, the bloke that scored three hundreds in five matches and is now held in the same Ashes run scoring regard as Sir Don Bradman and Wally Hammond was stood next to me laughing at my drunken attempts at witty comments made towards anyone who stuttered their request to have a picture with the great man. Which was everyone except Loz, who just told him she was Australian and wanted him to sign her free Barmy Army shirt.

Anyway, I digress. Coming back down to earth has been pretty hard. I kind of knew that I’d feel slightly down about leaving Australia, no doubt finding it strange getting used to having some me time again. It’s stupid, as it’s not as if I don’t have large amounts of experience of doing things alone, but everything seemed to hit me hard yesterday on that rather blurry journey from Sydney. My mind started asking silly questions – Am I happy doing what I am doing? Do I want to fly back to the UK to the same town and the same job? Should I fly home to spend a few weeks with my family instead of visiting another new country that I only chose because I can get an Indian visa here? Should I bin off the Asian part of the trip and go back to Australia to spend more time with Loz? What about the cost issue? What about…..OK, you get the picture. All pretty irrational stuff that I started to forget the moment I got through customs and jumped into that unmarked taxi. Fourteen hours doing nothing but thinking is a long time after the crazy two months I’ve had living in the pockets of others. The mind can play tricks, especially when going from such a high to a low. Luckily my guest house here in Ho Chi Minh is fantastically comfy, so I crashed out knackered within an hour of checking in last night.

I pride myself on staying grounded where possible, so this harsh come down has taken me aback. I’m sure it is still a hangover from the farewells; maybe even watching people go back to the UK to rejoin friends and family has left me sub consciously wanting the same – I can only think that’s what has bought on this crazy notion of questioning everything and anything again, from nowhere. As I said to Loz when I left her, I’ll start coming up with answers when the dust settles in a few weeks. At the moment it’s all a little scrambled, to say the least, which is probably coming across to you! (It certainly is to me reading it back)

There’s no doubt that my mindset has shifted though. I’m no longer worried about getting temporarily lost in a new city any more, or feeling I have to visit a certain location or visit a tourist site because ‘you should do’. I’m more concerned with giving my head some time off to rationally decide what to do over the coming months and years with my life. Writing this certainly helps me clear my mind somewhat, in the same way that chatting to a close friend or family member can do. I wrote at the very start of ‘what is kemp doing’ that this blog may just act as an agony aunt at some point on the trip. It seems that it has found that role recently, big time, in the absence of someone close. I apologise for the lack of funny stories and anecdotes recently, but I’m writing this very much for me at present. Luckily for many they won’t read this as I can’t post it to facebook – Vietnam blocks it. God knows what everyone does here for socialising then…..

In the mean time if I do come up with any grand answers to the many questions I have posed then you will be the first to know!

Postscript – Cricket musings will follow soon, I promise. To lighten the mood, I have attached a few photos of our win in Sydney. Many more on facebook (not that I can see them)

10
Jan
11

so long, farewell

November 5th. That was the last time I had my own space when it came to bedtime. Not that I have been sleeping around for the last two and a bit months, oh no. It’s just that I’ve been sleeping in hostel dormitories, hotel rooms and guest houses in the company of other people in that time. Granted, I’ve had my own room since arriving at the apartment of a friend of my sisters here in Sydney, but I’ve still been in the company of Dave who has quite often fallen asleep on the sofa watching television just outside my bedroom door. As great as it has been to have this fantastic apartment, it’s still not given me any time by myself. Until now.

It’s been a non stop roller coaster ride of socialising since touch down Brisbane some fifty or so days ago. Even before flying out down under I spent a few weeks getting to know my travel buddy, Basingstoke Pat, properly. What I’m trying to get across is that since that November 5th date where I had a room of my own at base camp on Kinabalu, I haven’t stopped talking! For someone that admitted right back at the start of the trip that I enjoyed my own company from time to time, this has been a hell of an experience sharing my life so closely with people. The only restbite from chin-wagging about life, cricket, travel, the past and the future plus every other topic you can think of, has been when I’ve been sleeping. The thing that has surprised me is that, minus the odd restless night from a dorm mate snoring, I’ve loved every single bit of it.

The reason I am surprised that I’ve enjoyed it so much is because where I was at before I left the UK back in October. I had my own flat where I lived and fended for myself alone for three and a half years. I’ve been single for a similar period of time, quite happily enjoying the sense of freedom that not being tied down in a relationships gives you. I would always socialise hard with my mates around the football, or say a day playing golf. It would nearly always be me looking to arrange a spontaneous night out on the piss or a weekend away. But after all of that work hard, play hard mentality, I’d still love the feeling of turning my phone off and chilling in my own space for a period of time. Getting back in the swing of being ‘by myself’ again will no doubt be strange at first, but I’m intrigued to see how I find it after that original shock period.

I’ve spent the last few days doing something that I seem to do a lot of – saying farewell to people. These farewells have bought many mixed emotions. Through experience it’s safe to say I’m getting used to doing ‘bon voyages’ now. All I seem to have done since my last few weeks in the UK back in Hereford is meet up with people, spend some time with them before having a hug goodbye before saying something along the lines of ‘see you soon’. Like in any walk of life, some are harder than others. If you just meet someone in a hostel in the middle of Asia and spend a day or two in their company visiting some tourist site or share a beer or two down a local bar, then the farewell is simple. If you got upset over these types of farewells then you’d never spend anything more than a fortnight away from what you consider home. There are some people you know you will see again soon. Dave has booked a trip into Bombay the same day as me for the cricket world cup that begins in just over six weeks time. When you know you are seeing someone again that soon, a farewell is hardly that emotional. There are others that I may not see for years or others that I may never see again – several regular cricket tourists that I have spent a number of weeks and months with over the years touring have said that this may be their last. For them beating Australia in the manner we have is the pinnacle of following England abroad. One of the problems of the international cricket world is only nine teams play test cricket. Tours come round again and for some, they just don’t fancy revisiting places they already have happy memories of. All of which is cool. Having a common interest such as the cricket means that we’ll always stay in contact, no matter how often we tour together in future. Interestingly some of the most supportive people of me and this blog are people that I have met on cricket tours but haven’t seen for years face to face….the joys of facebook and email.

I was too pissed to get emotional about saying goodbye to Steph back in Play nightclub, likewise several of my mates earlier that night in the pub. I can’t actually remember the details of saying goodbye to some people thanks to the effects of mixing springbok shots and Stowfords Press cider. The only one that really got me ‘started’ was my Mum at Gatwick. To be honest I’d be a bit worried if I didn’t get a bit upset about saying farewell to the best Mother a boy could ask for. Today though I had another one that has taken me by surprise.

I’m not going to go into too much detail for private reasons, but saying goodbye to Loz today was heart wrenching. Yes that’s right, the girl I first met up with back in Adelaide that went on to put me up over Christmas in her home town of Melbourne, booked a flight to spend a few days with me here in Sydney. I’m going to write a shit load about the cricket side of Australia when I get to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow; but for now I feel the need to write about this as she has played a huge part in my experience of Australia. It also ties in with what is at the forefront of my mind at the moment, which should be obvious by now from reading this entry. I thought I could deal with saying goodbyes to practically anybody now without getting upset. After all, as I have explained above it’s something I deal with on the road on a day to day basis. But there was something today more than just your average goodbye. It hurt, and still does writing this now. At least it proves to myself that I’ve still got a proper heart and haven’t become detached from the feelings that you sometimes forget exist whilst visiting some of the amazing places while living out of a backpack.

For now I’m going to pour a glass of white wine and reflect some more on the past seven weeks before telling you all about it over the next few weeks whilst dosing round Vietnam.




Sign up here for email alerts for updates.....perfect for the fellow lazy office worker!

Join 25 other followers