Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Chiang Mai Province

Wed 28th May: Chiang Mai.

I am currently in Chiang Mai. It's fascinating city, lots of temples, they are called Wat's. There's this one (Buddist) temple called 'Wat U Mong', hehe, the culture isn't lost on me!

Oh yes, and to be polite, if you are a bloke, you have to say 'krap' on the end of every sentence. Marvellous, krap.

Have been to a rather good Thai cooking class, first we went to the market and had all the weird and wonderful fruit veg and meat explained to us. Then we made stuff Thai style, spring rolls, deep fried banana (surprisingly tasty), Thai noodles, , Tom Yum (hot prawn) soup, and green curry from scratch. Naturally being a 5th Dan in Wok Wielding I had to correct some of the instructors techniques but by and large they knew what they were doing.

Did the 'DH' mountain biking which actually had some cheeky uphill bits. Dominated it, some fairly technical sections, only one big jump which was optional. It was swelteringly hot under all the protective gear tho. Pushing a 3 tonne bike up a hill in that humidity is not fun.

Over the last few days I've been doing day rides on a dirt bike from Chiang Mai to places such as Samoeng, Pai (via Wat Chan, some good offroad stuff), the Doi Inthanon national park with huge waterfalls and the odd wandering elephant and so on. I've stumbled upon many a hill tribe village and actually had to enlist the help of a whole village to get me home after breaking down in a tropical storm 5 hours from home. We loaded the bike into the back of a pickup truck (see pic) already full of radish and farmers wives and then made the open air journey to Chiang Mai where they would hopefully sell their radish and I would return my poorly bike.

Going to Chiang Rai on Friday via a bus then we'll cross the border into Loas and follow the Mekong river via slow boat as it winds to Luang Prabang.

I have extended my flights so my return date is July 6th (just in time for the An v SA Test matches I hope!) not June 8th, this gives me time to see a little more of this fascinating place.

The Shand

Friday 16th May

Riverside then excellent Blues @ The Brasserie. Hardly appreciated but the guy looked and sounded like Sir James Marshall Hendrix.
Fashion night club (haha, brilliant) then ended up talking to 2 US dudes who were spot on, Pete and Alan - who defo abides. Talked about the need for balanced agricultural systems, the use of GM crops and so on outside in the warm night by the VW campervan bar next door to the infamous Spicey's nightclub. Enter at your peril. In fact I did, to go to the loo ofcourse. Tis a little alarming. You walk on in there and unzip and just when your defenses are down and you have your hands full, or nearly empty, some white shirt wearing Thai boy will come up and start rubbing your back/neck/anything else. A little perturbed I enquired as to the meaning of this surprise attack. A fellow 'farang' (foreigner) suggested I just rolled with it and after I'd finished I had my neck and back cracked within about 2 seconds. Excellent work. The other farang lobbed in a couple of bhat on my behalf to the massage boys, well, men, well, it's hard to know around here.

Thursday 15th May

Woke early and after a shower I went to my local market stall and ordered my 50p breakfast of fresh mango, pineapple, banana, papayo, guava, yoghurt and muesli.
The plan was to have a swim at my hotel pool then hire a bike and do a ride on the east of the river away from the madding crowd. As thing turned out the pool didn't open til 10am and so I made enquiries about getting a train to Chiang Mai, the cultural capital of Thailand up in the NW of the country. Five minutes later I'm in there and booked on the 19:35 Special Express overnighter. Rek oG nize. Tis an 11 hour journey and costs about 12 pounds but includes a bed in an air conditioned sleeper unit. That'll do.

Spent the remainder of the day writing my blog (I got pretty slack in Straya) whilst sipping coconut juice and eating Thai green curry and all manner of other dishes which for a whole day of eating and drinking in a restaurant came to about five quid. I reckon I could retire here right now and still have enough money for a decent burial, although having said that given the Thai penchant for eating anything that moves they might eat me so I'd save money there too.

Wed 14th May

Quiet day, wanted away from the hustle and bustle so after a brief trip down the infamous Khao San road I headed to a park by the river and played my guitar along with a couple of bongo players and three didgerydoo artists. We sounded good. I had some young Thai school boy watching me like a little hawk. He sat and listened from a distance at first and gradually made his way closer and closer until he was sat next to me on the bench. At first I was a bit perturbed by this unnatural proximity and the fact that he couldn't speak a word of English nor I Thai. He began playing air guitar. At this point I was unsure whether he was going to ask for money or something like that. In the end it seems he just wanted to listen to the guitar and was genuinely interested. It was a shame that I felt he was after something, but having been here 48 hour it seems that most of his elders are inclined to make money from westerners in preference to making friends. Not sure who's fault this is but is certainly is uncomfortable as you walk the streets and get constantly pestered to spend the white mans money. It certainly is an eye opener wandering the streets.

A night in, somehow I managed to get addicted to Crack-Attack (no jokes please) a tetris-like game on my computer whilst watching Lindsey Lohan on Herbie Fully Loaded. Walt Disney hang your heads in shame, you've raped and pillaged a childhood hero of mine.

Tuesday 13th May

Rambuttri Village Inn - the room, air con, Thai TV and BBC World News, sparse walls, just plaster.
Fruit, muesli and yoghurt at a market stall for less than a pound.

Got templed-out at Wat Pho (sp?), saw the massive reclining Buddha.
Enquired about getting a Thai-UK power adaptor. The tourist info girl looked blank at first then drew on my map after nodding and indicating she knew what I wanted. I followed the map instructions and it led me to a doctors surgery. Adapter, doctor, same difference.
Toilet hunting. Where the hell do these people go for a wee?!
Smells; good and bad. Fish sauce, fresh spices, rancid meat, sewer waftages, fresh flowers, the lot.
Caught my first river boat, it took me in the opposite direction to where I wanted to go which was fairly made me chuckle. Not very 007.
Sniffed out a Blues club around the corner from my gaffe, indulged in < 2 pound White Russians!

Monday 13th May

Chilled out in Syders then caught a mid afternoon flight to Thailand, a nine hour trip that passed pretty rapidly thanks to an airing of Fear an Loathing in Las Vegas. Terry Gilliam, genius.

Upon arriving at the noticably hot and humid Bangkok airport I checked my bank account and was pleased to see that my worldly funds have swollen in value, or at least they occupied more real estate on the ATM screen. I have never seen as many comma's in one ATM readout in my life. Result. Probably only about a hundred quid in there but it looks a lot in Thai bhat (62 bhat to the GP).

Rocked up at some backpackers guest house at 1am-ish on Soi Rambuttri and happily they had an aircon room spare for well under a tenner.

Sunday 11th May

Botanical Gardens with Chris from Manchester. Cockatoo's, fruit bats and spiders.
Met up with Ummmmm Michael.
Back to base to watch Man U seal up the Premiership.

Saturday 10th May

Did this day actually exist? I wouldn't know. Good old real ales.

Friday 9th May

Syders sightseeing. Met a French/Spanish girl called Lauriane who ha just arrived and wanted to go sightseeing too so we headed with cameras and maps and Lonely Planets to Darling Harbour, Chinatown markets, and best of all the Admiral Lord Nelson pub microbrewery.

Thursday 8th May

All day drive to Sydney, stayed @ The Blue Parrot in Kings Cross. It's 800-odd kilometers of Roo dodging (I still haven't seen one). It took me about 9 hours to get to Sydney and then two hours to find where to dump my car in rush hour city centre traffic and a map so detailed it had one house per page. Useless!

Wed 7th May

Surfed all day with Kev just S of Byron Bay. Made good progress and actually did manage to stand for a good while on the board on an unbroken wave.

Tuesday 6th May

Headache induced lie in.

Monday 5th May

Coco-something or others, the champagne incident.

Sunday 4th May

Flanders cooked us bacon and eggs, on the barbie of course, and then it was time to say goodbye to my adopted family. It was hugs and kisses all round before jumping in the Night Tida and cranking up the air con.
Drove to Byron Bay, tis about 3.5 hours drive south along the coast, it's at the top of the Gold Coast.
Sunset under the lighthouse

Met Kev over a cup o cha.
Middle Reef Backpackers - great little place

Saturday 3rd May

Up at a decent hour and met Surfer Dave for another couple of hours of getting smashed by mother nature. Today the surf was more kindly and I reckon I managed to get on my board on an unbroken wave for the first time in my life. Not for long, but Dave said I managed it so that's good enough for me. Well in.

Dave and I had a barbie.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Friday 2nd May

After a leisurely morning in the garden Surfer Dave took me surfing on Sunshine Beach. He scanned the horizon for somewhere suitable to take a surfing numpty like myself, ie. where the surf was friendly and where we wouldn't be in anyone elses' way. We'd borrowed a board from one of Dave's mates and it became quickly apparent that it was an experts board, so perfect for me then. I caught a bit of white wash then progressed onto catching waves that were just breaking. There was a strong rip along the beach. I got smashed pretty hard for a good couple of hours, one of the waves proper dumped me onto my head and shoulder and finally I had a surf wound, a grazed shoulder, get in! The waves were big and 'heavy' for a novice and I just kept getting dumped. I barely made it onto the board and found it difficult to power myself out through the breaking waves to a quiet spot where the waves form, known as 'out the back'. The pro's make paddling on a board easy but there's a lot of technique invoved - using muscles that the gym doesn't really touch. Dave taught me to duck-dive which involves shoving the nose of your board down as an unbroken wave comes towards you to and then ducking into the base of the wave. He said my technique was abominable afterwards! Running low on energy and not knowing it I found myself way 'out the back', and after a brief chit-chat on the finer points of nailing a big wave Dave said we were being pulled out to sea in a rip. Error. Panic levels notched up from 1 (for the sharks) to 2.5 as the human figures on the beach began to look more and more ant-like by the second. Dave informed me afterwards that he was bricking it a bit having such a noddy way out in the South Pacific on a board with no energy and no skill to get back in. No worries I thought, let's paddle back in led down on the boards. After about two minutes my arms were absolutely knackered and all but refused to paddle anymore. This was not good. Dave, who is the most laidback dude in the world told me I *had* to paddle or we'd end up in Figi. My arms and upper body were knackered from the previous couple of hours of paddling and generally getting smashed and my ribs and stomach were pretty raw as the hardened wax on the board had gradually been eating away at my abs of steel, so every stroke was painful and labour intensive. Now I know how people feel when I take 'em on a bike ride when they are not used to it. They want to do it but just can't. So my mind was willing but the body weak and so Dave came to my rescue and talked me through the situation and we paddled together, with Dave pushing my board onto forming waves from time to time. I was glad to get back into the smash-zone of the breaking waves and finally we were within reach of the beach. A lesson learned for the Shandy: always keep an eye out for sneaky rips taking you out to sea and learn when enough is enough, don't go out the back if you are tired. I was thankful for Dave helping me in, without him it would have been an helicopter job, or worse.

We drove back to Neils and headed, the three of us (Neil, Dave and me), to the local golf course which has 27 holes, all of which are par threes. We played the middle nine holes, I beat the other two pretty convincingly racking up twice the number of points as the next nearest competitor. The golf carts are great, they have little stubbie holders on 'em so we bought a few VBs and cracked on. Twas great just to be able to show up and play with no airs and graces.

Tonight was Big Tone night, I met the Manchester born all-Australian hero at the Eumundi hotel where we had a couple of jars and a meal then rocked on back to Tony's and discussed all sorts of things whilst watching rugby, Riddick and finally IPL. We were both cream-crackered and so a quiet night in was the order of the day.

Thursday 1st May

A slow start, I had the best lie in I've had in ages, I vaguely remember the girls setting off for school but apart from that I was out for the count until midday.
Today is a momentous day as it's the first day in a decade since I have officially not had a job.

Surfer Dave took me on a sightseeing tour of Noosa, we went swimming near 'A Bay' (Alexander Bay) the best spot in Noosa to catch a wave. Dave promised me we'd see dolphins, lizard dragon things, koala's, fruit bats and 'roos. Needless to say we didn't see any of the above and Dave declared me a wildlife jinx.

Surf Rage
We ate at Mr Fu's again, no sooner had we sat down than an oldish dude and his mate staggered down the street and proceeded to abuse myself and Dave as we sat outside the restaurant minding our own business. I'm not sure what sparked this incident, it might have been me grinning at the chump's inability to walk in a straight line, or any line, but he rocked on over and delivered a stinging message to me and me mate Dave. His pal was wisely motioning him to leave us alone. I was quietly enjoying the bloke making a complete div of himself. Anyways after we had gained the attention of everyone in the restaurant (most of whom were cowering or looking into their food like it was some sort of crystal ball - they were Europeans after all and thought this was a local dispute), the gangly old digger slurs his last. I'm sat there grinning at Dave and ask for a translation of the man's ramblings, I don't know whether he had the strongest Aussie accent ever or he was super-drunk or both, but I really didn't understand a word of what he said, he might as well have been talking in Swaheli. Dave wasn't too sure either, he couldn't figure out who the guy wanted a piece of, but did say that the bloke thought we were amateurs and that we could only talk to him once we'd stared down the face of a 'Fifteen footer(wave) in Indo(nesia)'. Fair play mate. As luck would have it we saw this goon the next day checking out of his hotel, he looked a little sheepish. A 15 footer in Indo ... put that on your 'Todo' list Me Shand!

Mr Fu then arrived like the British police, always conveniently five minutes behind the action, armed with a machette matched only in size by his grin.

A quiet night back at Chateaux Flanders, thank goodness.

Wed 30th April

Woke up nice and early and made asmuch noise as posssible but last nights all action hero was still slumped pretty much where I'd dropped him.

Drove 10 minutes inland (west)to Eumundi, an interesting little town founded by European settlers - tree fellers, back in the early 1800's. The town's history is recorded and displayed in the old church which now acts as a museum. Bullock trains were used to pull the huge sawn-down Kauri trees to the Eumundi saw mill, a blade of which was on display here in the museum. Kauri trees are massive, big enough to drive a car through and about 5 times taller than a normal tree, infact they are indeed the same species as those in the Kauri forests of the NW of the NZ North island. Unlike the Maori who worshiped and revered the ancient trees, the European settlers in Oz adopted a more pragmatic approach and set about chopping them all down for use in various industries. The town has a park named after it's most prominent tree feller. Interestingly they used to use a sort of primitive scaffolding to cut sections of the huge trees down. The scaffolding was really just a wooden plank with a wedge shaped end that would be hammered into the tree trunk somewhere near the top of the tree. The tree feller would then stand on the plank and saw off the top section, and then move five or six metres down and repeat the process until the whole tree was safely on the ground. At this point a singe section would be loaded on a cart and hauled along dirt tracks by teams of bullocks pulling in pairs of six or seven. It looked hard graft so hats off to the settlers, bearing in mind the place is like a jungle and probably crawling with nasties. Some time after the sawmill's hay day gold was found in these here hills and mine shafts were built as Australia competed with California and the rest of the US to out-do each other in the gold mining stakes. Then the war came and Galipolli kicked off and subsequently Eumundi has become something of an 'alternative lifestyle' base. Free minded children of the 1960's moved in and pretty much turned the place into a haven for peace, love and 'erbal remedies. Oh, and there are well stocked markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. After ambling around the market and resisting the temptation to buy a didge' I had a little nap in my car (hey, I'm allowed now I hit the big three-oh!), then called in at Neil and Martine's shop on the high street. It's called the Hemp Hut and sells things made from hemp funnily enough. I hadn't realised how versatile hemp was, apart from rolling it up and smoking it the only other use I knew of was to make rope, and this I learned in Mrs Dalgleish's history classes when discussing what people did in the workhouses (bring 'em back I say!).

Hemp Hut
Neil 'Flanders' a friend of Jez's I'd met at the wedding run the Hemp Hut in the middle of town. I tentatively peeked my head around the door and received a warm welcome. Not long later we were sat in the conveniently next-door hotel bar having a Coopers IPA. In fact we had a couple of schooners and then I drove us to Neil's house on the outskirts of town. He and Martine have a really nice place, in just over an acre of grounds with a pool and plenty of room for Isabelle (a theatrical 8 3/4 year old) and Hannah (a studious 6 year old) to play with Sally the dog and Dave the surfer-lodger who lives in the garage.

After waving off Martine's son Tyson (who was heading to Darwin to make his way as a chef catering for the miners), big Tone turned up with Chloe and we tucked into a proper Aussie barbeque. There was plenty to go around and it felt like being in Australia proper, away from the backpackers and mayhem of Brizy. It turned into quite a late night as Tone insisted we cracked open a couple of bottles of red left over from Jezza's wedding. Here's to the happy couple! Twas just me and Flanders by the end of the night, we stayed up and talked 'til late.

Tuesday 29th April

Couldn't have felt much worse this morning if I'd tried.

Hokey Cokey
Comedy situation with the Banana Benders cleaning staff. At 9:30 a French girl who I kinda knew came in to tell me to get up. I ignored this first request as is traditional. Ten minutes later the lass was at it again, this time I got out of my sleeping bag as if to show willing. With a drum beat rocking through my skull I drifted back to sleep. 10am came and she was back again letting me know I'd probably miss out on claiming back my $10 key deposit because of my tardiness. In this state I'd pay for another nights acommodation just to sleep for another couple of hours. So the girl rocks back up at 10:30 and tells me she needs my sheets, no worries, take 'em mon amie. She obliges and jiggers off to the laundry with said bedlinen, which afforded me another opportunity to get some shut eye, genius. I crashed out yet again, this time on a fully stripped mattress, being horizontal has never felt so good, well, nearly never! Finally I'm allowed to rest in peace (death would have been more comfortable right now), but what is this, zut alors et quelle domage all rolled into one, the hussy is back at 11am, by this time I'm feeling like one of those poor fellas who's drug trail went wrong a couple of years back. The Shandy's head feels like it's metamorphosising into John Merrick's. Anyway, the bint, who has just about twigged that she is dealing with a complete basketcase asks me to vacate the matress area. To her credit she was very tolerant, I watched her put new linen on the matress and then she looked at me and said in a very motherly voice (if your ma' was Gallic) 'you won't get back in there now will you?', I'd pushed it enough and even managed a grin as it dawned on me how patient she'd been. Allez les Blues! All this hokey-cokey meant that yet again circumstances (or a complete lack of self control) had conspired against me and lo' I had missed out on my $10 key deposit due to a late check out. I'm probably the only person ever to check out of the same hostel twice and miss out on my deposit both times. I could almost smell the sense of incredulity as I staggered out of the hostel with all my worldly possessions. The geez at reception just looked at me with a mixture of horror, concern and a sneaky glint of repsect.

Car Nage
A taxi whisked me to the Europcar centre and I picked up my car, another Nissan (get in, it'll never graduate to a ShandyKopter tho', it's no Pulsar), this time a white Tida, which rhymes with Night Rida. I pretended to read the small print on the 'sign your life away' form in a vain attempt to convince the manageress that I was with it enough to take charge of a gleaming new car. I've never felt so bad whilst sat behind a wheel, and somehow I had to cruise on up the coast to Noosa. 'Ropey' doesn't come close. I stopped off half way up to the Sunshine Coasts most exclusive town to procure some water and a watermelon (my secret hangover cure) both of which would hopefully help me stay awake, reduce my hangover to manageable proportions and with a bit of luck help me drive in a straight line. Upon nearing the Sunshine Coast I turned off before Noosa to find a beach where I could hopefully have a nap and sleep off the effects of last night. Sure enough a beach was located, infact I was so rough I sought out several beaches in succession (Peregrin, Sunrise, Sunshine), progressively feeling less death-like on each beach. I slept in the sun for a good couple of hours before launching into an angry looking hot dog from the nearby surf cafe. Why does a hangover induce cravings for junk food? Job done, hangover almost exorcised, and so a quick dip in the sea was in order. The beaches were populated by surfers, kiddies swimming inside the lifesaver-protected yellow flags and kite-surfers. Ooh, I wanted a dabble at the kitesurfing. The water was as warm as I've ever felt sea water, the locals though insisted on wearing wetsuits due to the chilly temperatures, the water was a tropical 20+ degrees. It was like bath water. The locals looked at me like I was some sort of freak for braving the autumnal waters. It was no Lake Windermere in March (The Rear!). I guess it's all relative.

Drove into Hastings St which is the main drag at Noosa Heads, the poshest of the three Noosa areas (Heads, Village, Junction). I sat on the banks of the river in the Nature Reserve and watched the boats gently chug by. The sunset was typically stunning and made a good accompanyment to the music flowing ad liberatum from the Shandyman's fingers. Dined at the 'Wok on In' where Mr Fu (a Malaysian expat. with long greying hair and a broad smile) treated me to a rollickingly hot thai green curry which caused me to use a whole box of tissues just do stop myself drowning in my own perspiration. Anymore sweating and Mr Fu was about to call the lifeguards. By comparison to Noosa Heads and the opulance of Hastings St. Noosa Junction is a little more down to earth, but still pricey all the same. After checking in at The Junction Backpackers I headed to an Irish pub across the way and watched a collection of Irish folk players play some uplifting jigs. Fiddles, accoustic guitars and tambourines (played by a stroking action from a sort of paint brush) worked in harmony to lift the atmosphere and distract me from the fact that the pub had the rather annoying policy of increasing it's beer prices as the evening progressed. After a short discussion with the barmaid (who acknowledged it was a daft policy) I asked what time they opened the next morning. 'Ten am' was the quickfire reply, 'Right' says the Shand sharp as a razor, 'I'll be waiting for you at ten for the cheapest beer this side of Thailand'. She giggled as I handed over the gross GDP of Ethopia for a beer that half an hour ago had been semi-reasonably priced.

Had an early night and chatted to yet another English girl, this one from 'a place no one has ever heard of... Hertfordshire'. The lights went out as a bloke in the corner bed lay snoring and the adjoining backpackers bar pumped out the same music as every other backpackers, catering for the drunken-monkey european market.

Good Night Vienna
Sleep ... interupted! Some people have respect and manners and some don't, with various shades of grey inbetween ofcourse. And then there are Complete Arseholes. Sometime during the wee small hours of the night a young man bowled into our shared dorm room and rather than quietly slinking into bed, he put the lights on and began telling us all via a mobile phone conversation what a good night he'd had and how rozzered he was feeling and how much beer he'd had, which girls he'd leched over but not had the balls to talk to and how much pot he'd managed to smoke. Now I am a pacifist (not in 'Nam ofcourse), but this behaviour struck me as a little rude. There are many things that the Shandyman can tolerate but there's a line, man. So the girl (I can't remember her name) asks him to quieten down and switch the lights out. She was ignored at first and upon a second request received some garbled verbals in an annoying whiny accent. This charming young man was about to receive a two minute warning. The Dude politely requested he ceased and disisted or in two minutes I would insist he was deceased. Fair warning had been given and two minutes later, after convincing all present that he was indeed worthy of tasting the 33.5mm, The Dude decided that this aggression could not stand. I hauled myself from my sleeping bag, totally unnoticed by the hoodie who was engrossed in his tales of nearly-ism. 33.5 millimeters later there was silence at last.

Monday 28th April

Boarded the Straddie Ferry back to the mainland. Got a train to Roma station and rocked up at the Banana Benders Backpackers - home from home, well for one night only. Went to the library again and chilled out on the South Bank with me guitar then forgot to eat and well, we all know where this is going ...

Sunday 27th April

A very slow start for me, missed the barbie on the beach for breakfast - gutted, and most of the beach cricket, a Category 4 white wine hangover had just hit Shandy HQ. More craziness this evening as the hardcore made a valiant effort of polishing off the copious bottles of beers, wines and spirits that had not been consumed during the previous week. The Shand, Big Tone, Glen, Caz and Lisa were the last few standing.

Saturday 26th April

The Day of the Wedding
Woke up to the sight of Jez and Steve making preparations in their party froks by the pool. They were looking quite dapper in their white cotton shirt and boardies. The Shand went for a boogie board and a little walk then it was time to put on my jandals and get dressed down for the most laid back wedding imaginable. We all gathered on the beach, sure enough a couple of oriental types descended like blood starved mosquitoes and began clicking furiously. As is traditional the bride kept us waiting a bit which amped up the tension on the beach. Myself and a couple of other unscrupulous reprobates were taking bets on Jezza having a blub during the ceremony. The Shandyman almost began to feel nervous as the expectant crowed milled about. The Western Australian comedy duo of Glen and Ian kept the throbbing masses in order rather like well trained sheepdogs. Fortunately there had been a media black-out for the wedding and so the paparazzi were nowhere to be seen, apart from the aforementioned orientals who took more photo's the wedding ceremony than all the rest of us put together, what is it with these freaks?

If Music be the Food of Love
The Shandyman had the honour of playing Cazza down the isle, well, the boardwalk and beach to be precise. Time of Your Life by Green Day, good choice.
The actual wedding ceremony was bang on, idyllic wouldn't be too strong a description. Jez had ordered in some fine weather for the weekend. Before long the knot was tied and the sun was making suggestions of disappearing gentle towards the western end of the beach. The Shand took time out to take it all in, it was one of those 'How lucky am I?' moments, sat alone amongst some new friends and some old, on the other side of the world from home, with a gorgeous white-sand beach softly glowing in the warm sunset, a turquoise blue ocean, without a care in the world and a cold VB freshly cracked open. The gathered throngs slowly moved from the beach back to the hotel for the speeches, food and drinks.

Let the Festivities Commence
By now we had the whole resort to ourselves and the owner of the resort had gone to Brisbane for the weekend. The vino flowed, I duly launched into the Champers and a very nice Sav. Blanc as supplied by Neil from Birmingham. Neil from Eumundi did a sterling job serving up the bevvies then it was speech time, followed by pony hitting (erm, not sure what the significance of this custom is) then the food arrived. I was too merry to engage in that sort of cheating.

Big Tone and Stevie evicted a couple of gate crashers and then the sing songs began. To my immense credit I brought a small piece of Preston North End to the island and rather gratifyingly the whole resort reverberated to the sound of Elvis' 'Wise Men Say'. Ahh happy days. I spared them a Nigel Spink.

Friday 25th April

A rather subdued day today, unsurprising given last nights frivolity.
I went on a walk around Point Lookout and the gorge. Didn't see any whales or dolphins though which is disappointing. Still, it was a gradely walk and gave me at least a couple of hours beverage respite. A relatively quiet night in preparation for the main event tomorrow. When I say relatively quiet I mean inbbed before sunrise.

Thurday 24th April

Cricket and touch rugby on the park as the bulk of the bucks and hen night crew had arrived forming an unlikely band of weekend warriors.

Get Your Socks Off Sally
As requested by the groom, and mainly for reasons of posterity rather than an unusual fascination with mass male public nudity, a Red Hot Chilli Peppers style photo of all the blokes who were on the buck night was arranged on the beach was organised to kick start the bucks night. About 30 or 40 of is lined up at sunset wearing nothing but a strategically placed sock. Some of the lads had garnered the biggest footy sock they could find and strapped it in place, it was quiet a funny sight, naturally I had to use a sleeping bag to cover my self up. We all just got on with it despite the beach being fully open to the public. No doubt that picture will be placed loud and proud on many a mantle piece. I wouldn't be surprised if it was to be published as a a calendar by Cosmo. The best part was that Carolines father Les who is arguably past the bloom of youth arrived dead last for the photo session. After stripping off and donning a moducum of modesty he gamely skipped across the beach The going-out part of the bucks night started off serenly enough with Team Socks engaging in the rather gentrified activity of bowls.

Bowls, Vegemite and WWF
After a good few 'ends' and several 'good woods', some on 'thumb peg' (backhand), some on 'finger peg' (forehand) things suddenly got messy. A surprise attack caught the groom unawares and before he knew it his muti-coloured frock and hat were, lets say, a little dishevelled. I won't even mention the Vegemite Incident. As mentioned above Jez was sporting a rather fetching, multi-coloured dress that was kind of a mixture of glam and earth mother. Needless to say the big fella pulled it off beautifully and with a large rimmed pink hat and makeup really looked the part in the land that puts the mens toilets before ladies. Large quantities of cocktails were imbibed, enough to kill a small elephant, I certainly would have been absolutely ruined if I'd have drunk that much, but Jez is a pro, followed by some Kiwi-on-Aussie smashing. It was interesting to see how quickly things had degenerated. At first we weren't allowed to take drinks across the bowling green and had to go bear foot. Just a couple of short hours later the green had turned into an oversized WWF ring with people slamming each other left right and centre. Needless to say Jez got more than his fair share of treatment. At one stage Caz's youngest brother Jason spear-tackled Jez and he landed on the artificial surface with a thud that could be felt in mainland China, infact haven't they just had a massive earthquake?! Ouch. Still, where there is no sense there is no feeling.

I Bring You Fire
Made a fire on the beach and got rumbled by the fire police. Not to worry, we were more than capable of making our own pyrotechnics and so it proved as the bucks night migrated into the swimming pool where the Kiwi's played Drown The Groom. That's where coverage of this event ends thanks folks.

Wed 23rd April

Boogie boarding with Ian in the morning to blow away a few cobwebs.
I cooked a thai sweet chilli chicken stir fry. I'm not sure when the rest of the crew manage to eat but The Shandyman needs to keep plenty of fuel in the system.
Ate at the bowls club in the evening yet again and generally kept up the training regieme of all night beverages followed in no small measure by watching umpteen hours of Indian Premier League cricket until sunrise.

Tuesday 22nd April

Chilling out on my balcony playing me Mini Maton.
Swim in the sea, 'tis 22 degrees. You soon forget about the sharks when you're bobbing around in the ocean catching waves on the way in. Steve showed me how to body surf (you just dive with a breaking wave and it carries you to the beach if you timed it right), we played like kids in the water for a good hour before donning the sunnies and suncream.
Jez and Steve had procured an industrial quantity of locally caught prawns which were by British standards massive. We BBQ'd 'em up (how else?!) and served 'em on the beach with a little butter, pepper and salt. Delish.
We ambled for five minutes to the Point Lookout Bowling club which was our local-local. After signing in we tucked into a couple of jugs of beer and decent sized portions of food served up by a wisened middle aged lady who was perhaps having a ba day. The girls soon started getting friendly with a group of builders (the same crew who'd woken half of us up at 08:30 this morning - five minutes after we'd gone to bed) and before we knew it they were back at the girls room (which for now has been designated the party room). Despite hitting on 'our' ladies - who to be fair are encouragable - these fella did have their uses; they hooked up a spoon to one of their power drills and created a cocktail stirrer that any bartender would be proud of. I think we should have patented the contraption, it would have caused quite a stir in the bars of Britain.

The Box Game
Now it was time for the Box Game (BG) in which everyone is compelled to partake yet it's obvious from the start who the eventual winner will be - one of the BG veteran kiwi girls who have bent and flexed many a macho bloke into submission. The rules of the game are simple; a cardboard box, say a ceraal box is placed in the middle of the room and each person in turn has to bend down and pick it up, using only their teeth and not putting anything else put their feet on the ground. After everyone has had a go then the box is reduced in size by a centimetre or two. Everone has another go and those that fail to flex are knocked out. Enter The Man - Glen from WA, all round top bloke with a hidden competitive streak. After about 12 rounds Glen had seen off all the opposition including the reigning world champion Nickers and ex-Russian gymnast Pip. He wa duly crowned as World Box Game Champion as the crowds went wild.

When The Rain Comes They Run and Hide Away (The Beatles: Rain)
After receiving many a polite phonecall from the owner of the resort asking us to simmer down a bit we took ourselves off to the beach with an Esky full of beer. For those that don't know, an Esky is the tradename for a big icebox, it has become so widespread that now Esky is the name given to all iceboxes, a bit like the way sellotape started off as a tradename and now has become the universal descriptor for sticky tape. After some time and no small amount of revellry the heavens opened. Lightening had been flashing all around and finally it was our turn to experience the tropical downpour. As people scattered like rats leaving a sinking ship, Jezza and I stood chatting. We were getting absolutely soacked to the bone in our t-shirts but this was warm rain, this was refreshing rain. We hadn't experienced this sort of thing for years, it was fantastic to stand there as the heavens took its turn to display it's power - flashing lightening all around us and thudding large warm rain drops into our faces. It was quite a liberating feeling, neither of us could understand why people would miss an opportunity like this, we'd both arrived here via a chilly English winterland, so to get a warm celestial greeting was just perfect.
After the rain abaited we skipped back through the bush and upto Ian and Glens room where an impromtu photo session took place before I headed to Jez's and we sat out on his balcony watching the storm move off into the distance.

Monday 21st April

To Straddie
Drove us to the wine warehouse, the beer warehouse and was in danger of snapping the Ford Falcon station wagon in half. Getting on and off the Straddie car ferry was a bit touch and go!

Night Swimming
Jez and Caz were chuffed to bits with our Anchorage resort at Point Lookout. Each room looks over the bush which in a few short yards gives way to a beautiful white sand beach; Home Beach. The sand has a peculiar property in that as you walk on it it squeaks beneath your feet, I've never encountered that before. Needless to say Home Beach was in prestine condition and being inbetween the main beach towns of Amity and Point Lookout is hardly frequented by other holiday makers. Having grown up on the beach in Freemantle, WA, and having not been swimming in the sea for a personal record (I've heard of PB's, is it possible to have a personal worst?) eight months, Jez was dying to jump in the sea. After unloading 12 million litres of alcohol he and Caz dived into the sea with gusto. Two minutes later a rather concerned local came running across to us advising that they get out of the water immediately as this stretch of beach was infested with Bull sharks and that they come out to feed around about now (dusk). That warning was duly ignored and The small band of early-adopters headed to the pub at Point Lookout which was an unexpectedly posh affair.

It's a Mans World
The trip to the pub involves a 15 minute stroll along Home Beach. We entered the pub and immediately clocked an outdoor pool table. We'd all had a 'traveler' enroute (a beer brought with you specifically for the journey) and so on reaching the pub we made a bee line for the loo. As Jez and I walked in he pointed to the layout of the loo's and proudly proclaimed 'Only in a country as great as Straya would you have the mens toilets closer to the baaaa than the womens'. Think about it.

Sunday 20th April

  • Met Jezza and Caz and Pip and Buzz
  • Storey Bridge
  • Singing at the pub
  • Jezza got mangoed!
  • Finished up in Caxton St

Saturday 19th April

  • More library and free internet abuse
  • The Lions Den
  • My first game of Aussie Rules, Brisbane Lions ('Go Lions') versus the Hawthorne Hawks at The Gabba, yes, THE Gabba.
  • The Late One

Friday 18th April

  • Internet @ the State Library of Queensland
  • Music night headlined by The Gin Club @ The Globe, Fortitude Valley and including a young Bob Dylan sound alike and his band The Gentlemen of Fortune.