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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Xmas Vacation

I'd thought I'd make a start to what will be my last blog entry for 2013. It'll probably take a couple of days to get it done though.

27 December

I must say, a few days away in Tamworth was definitely a good idea. Very nice outside today. An improvement on the day when I arrived up here (24 Dec) when it was horribly overcast and warm. Xmas day was overcast and wet (and at times chilly) but Boxing Day and today has been rather nice. Yesterday and today the skies have been cloudy, mild, and a good time for a walk. I ventured up to the main road, strolled down it until it turned into a dirt road, then headed back to my brother's place. All up a stroll of 1.75 km according to the pedometer.

Photographs? Naturally. I've taken shots every day that I've been here, but yesterday's batch was quite good. Beautiful countryside with cloudy blue skies as a backdrop, sheds on hills, and quite possibly three more birds for the collection. One a trio of (what appear to be) parrots, another of what I think is a zebra finch, and the third being a flocks (of varying sizes) of what look like starlings, hovering around the family's chook pen feeding on the scraps. I could even be tempted to go for one more stroll this afternoon, unless I get a better offer. The finches were quite difficult to capture, seeing they're so tiny. Trying to get close to them for a better shot is tricky, especially when I'm wearing thongs. They just flutter away so quickly at the slightest disturbance.

Photographs aside, I managed to catch up with most of my old gaming group. I was invited to go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug by one of the group and his family, then was pleasantly surprised to catch up with three more before and after the film. Even found the time to have a couple of games of Elder Scrolls this afternoon. It has already been a good trip up, and I'm thinking I should take advantage of my DP status and take another trip up during the year, where I'm not pre-occupied with football, work and gaming.

And my opinion of the film? Well, it was alright. Quite enjoyable, some very amusing bits (dwarves in barrels going down rapids for starters... ) and the dragon was rather well done. The sort of thing you wouldn't mind watching on Boxing Day when there's not much else to do. If you haven't yet seen it, keep an eye out for Stephen Fry's guest appearance in it.

Xmas. Well, it wasn't too bad. It was a good day for a roast lunch, which we didn't have until after 1pm, but it was worth the wait. My brother's wife's family was there as well, and whilst lunch was being cooked, drinks were being had outside, where it had turned rather chilly. (Seeing most of the conversation didn't involve me I spent a lot of the time reading and sending SMS messages to friends and checking Facebook. The questions directed at me by the extended family usually go no further than 'How are you?', 'When did you get here?', 'When are you going back?' and 'Did you have a good trip?'. Most of the conversation centered around bagged ice, and how good my brother's lawn was coming along.) Around 3pm when the opportunity presented itself to have a Xmas nap, I took it. After dinner (left-overs), there was TV (and rain outside), the highlight being the screening of a very unusual Xmas movie, Jaws. I actually quite appreciated seeing it again and watched it (mostly) with my brother. After that I called it a night, but had trouble staying asleep because of my earlier nap.

Cricket. Yup, enjoying seeing the Australians give the Poms a good thrashing in the Ashes at the moment. Didn't catch much of the coverage yesterday, just an hour or so before heading off to the flicks, and an even shorter amount of time today. With the visitors all out for 255 in the first session, it appears that the home side is looking at making it (at least) 4-0. However, with the locals collapsing during the afternoon I may have to revise that assessment.

And now, time for a rant. I haven't had one for a while (well, a decent one anyway) and I figured seeing that we are in summer here, I might as well utter my fifty cents worth about cricket.

I should say, one thing that is really pissing me off about the commentary at the moment is the constant referring of a six as a 'maximum'. It's a TV thing mostly (20/20 cricket has a lot to be unthankful for), but one or two ABC radio commentators have been sneaking it into their on-air vocabulary as well. I have heard some of the commentators bemoan the extensive modernisation of the game such as numerous referrals to the third umpire, especially when a wicket has fallen and they want to check to see if it's a no-ball. One good place to start reversing it is by calling the scoring shot that clears the boundary fence/rope on the full by it's proper name – a six. Because technically speaking, a six in cricket isn't exactly a 'maximum'. For example, a batsman could play a shot where the batsmen run three, as the ball is thrown waywardly back in, and it is missed completely by whomever is backing up behind the stumps, and goes to the boundary for four overthrows. 3 + 4 = 7, which is clearly one more than the 'maximum'. So what would that be called? A maximum plus one? What if, for example, the batsman plays a shot, the pair at the crease runs four, the ball is poorly thrown back in and missed once again and goes all the way to the fence for four more runs. 4 + 4 = 8, two more than the 'maximum'.

I think, from memory, the record amount of runs scored off a single ball is 286. The 'record' was set in the 1880's in Australia. The batsmen, you can imagine, were rather exhausted after running all those runs. The story associated with the record is rather amusing and involves a rather sturdy tree and a shotgun. Of course, as the article suggests, the story itself may be a fairytale, and a more realistic figure of 17 may be closer to the mark. 

But, as the article suggests, a 'maximum', dear sirs, is definitely not six.

Nitpicking I know, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that way. Then there's the sponsors. A certain fast food restaurant chain (American in origin) currently sponsors the national side. Can I ask, if a game is on at the time, how come said outlets of said chain don't have the cricket on inside their store on the TV or the radio? Also, who came up with this stupid idea of putting a fast food bucket on their head and encouraging people to do likewise? What has been in the bucket? Greasy take-away chicken. If you put the bucket on your head after eating said food, what's going to happen to your hair and scalp? And I'm sure the fast food chain in question isn't just going to hand out free unused buckets to everybody that asks for one. Haven't seen anybody wandering around the Central Coast with a used take-away bucket on their head. Don't really see too many of them in the crowd shots on the TV coverage either.

I also see nine's coverage has become more 'busier' than usual. Between every ball, a replay. Could be the ball just bowled, a shot the batsman played two overs ago, one of the TV commentators reliving a catch they took ten years ago, etc. Then there's the aerial camera that flies across the sky. Do I really need to see that camera angle? What happens when the ball hits it? Is it a dead ball? Is it a five run bonus to the batting side? Then every over, something flashes up on the screen, be it an ad, or a link to a site, a promotional offer for sports memorabilia, or an invitation to participate in an ongoing survey as to who you think will score the most runs in the innings, or take the most wickets, or will get hit the most times by bouncers, etc. You can also download apps for your phone, or buy/get a portable scoreboard to keep track of the score (which, I have been reliably informed, needs to be linked to the internet for it to work), or even keep track of the game on a live blog (oh, wait, that's just the ABC, I think). Then there's these rather 'poignant' close-up shots of the scoreboard when a certain milestone has been reached, which then goes out of focus. (Guys, they're really only interesting, say, from an artistic or historical point of view if they're done in sepia or black and white, you can see the whole scoreboard and there are names on them like 'Bradman', 'Trumper', 'Grace' or 'Bannerman'.)

Haven't finished yet. I'm not forgetting the super analysis of dismissals, which has the picture frozen, the batsman in an awkward pose, then the scene is whirled around, lines drawn on it showing where the ball is going, a circle as to which fielder takes the catch, then sped up to when the fielder actually takes the catch. Like, seriously? Who needs this? Then there's graphs of run-rates, how fast is every ball the bowler has bowled today, scoring rates by the side at hourly rates, etc. and then the visuals, such as the one that shows you where every ball bowled has landed on the pitch, where the ball goes through to the keeper (or is hit by a batsman), and how many runs the batter has scored on the offside, onside, leg-side, etc. Oh man I could go on and on....

Call me old-fashioned, but the stats I generally need is a) batsman 1's score, b) batsman 2's score, c) the team's current score (with wickets), d) how many runs the batting side is ahead or behind (if applicable), e) overs bowled, f) the bowler's figures at the end of the over (optional), g) current amount of runs in the partnership or when the last wicket fell (optional). At the end of the day, give me a complete scoresheet, perhaps with the number of balls faced by the batsmen in neat little brackets beside his score. That's all I really need.

Sigh. Radio commentary. Much easier, straight to the point, and more entertaining, especially if Kerry O'Keefe is on. If a wicket falls whilst I'm listening to it, I can easily turn on the set to see it for I know it'll be replayed dozens of times in the next five minutes.

28 December

So, apart from catching up with people, going to movies, and taking photographs, I have also found the time to do some reading. I have finished reading Richard Guilliat and Peter Hohnen's rather excellent book The Wolf, which is a rather engrossing account of the voyage of the SMS Wolf, a merchant vessel which was converted into an auxiliary cruiser, that terrorized three oceans on a cruise lasting from November 1916 to February 1918. Armed with several 5.9 inch cannons (which out-gunned many of the ships tasked to find her), four single torpedo tubes, and hundreds of mines, as well as being fitted with state of the art wireless transmitters, a retractable funnel, telescopic masts and a two-man seaplane, this ship embarrassed the British and dominion navies, and those of their allies in the region, showing just how vulnerable Australia and New Zealand were to a naval attack, and how naive the various commonwealth governments and military commanders, who were just simply living in denial, unable to admit (and not willing to announce) that German surface raiders were at large in their own backyard (the Wolf wasn't the only cruising around the Indian and Pacific oceans at that time, there was the Seeadler as well), and more ready to promote the fact that their ships were sinking as a result of sabotage and underwater seismic activities. One gentleman in particular, a fisherman of German origin, living in an isolated area in the bottom easterly corner of Victoria with his rather large family, was interrogated three times by military personnel, spied upon, arrested and then interned in a camp for prisoners of war and people of German ancestry that the Australian government deemed necessary to lock up, because of his 'suspicious' activities, which were on the whole made up by locals jealous of his success as a fisherman. He was accused of laying the minefield off Gabo Island in which the Australian freighter, the Cumberland, struck.

It's an incredible tale. A determined captain, gentlemanly officers, narrow escapes, nerve-wracking nights of mine-laying outside enemy ports, accidents, disease and death at sea, a near mutiny, fights amongst the prisoners, racism (the Brits weren't too fond of their Japanese counterparts, despite being allied), harsh living conditions, living off plunder, a suicide, drinking binges, escapees (which were never seen again), messages in bottles, bad weather, and dozens of men vying for the attention of female prisoners. I found it hard to put it down at times. I should say that one of the more poignant stories in the book was that of the antics of a small child aboard the ship that treated the ship as her playground and befriended most of the German crew, and one of the officers pet dachshunds.

To be honest, I had never heard of the Wolf before, but had always had an interest in the surface raiders of the world wars and bought the book on sale when I visited the Maritime Museum in Sydney last year. (Yes, more often than not, I take some considerable time to read books that I have bought. I'd swear there a books that I have owned for a decade that I have never read.) It's very well researched, and I appreciated the fact that the authors acquired points of view from both sides (the German crew and their prisoners), and how the antics of the vessel weighed up in the greater scheme of things. (It was more than just tonnage sunk. There were major disruptions to supply runs, political turmoil, and because of Australia's naval forces being utilized in the Atlantic, and around Singapore, it was left to the Japanese government to provide vessels to search for the raider, and protect Australia's eastern coastline as well as New Zealand.) Towards the rear of the book, are detailed lists of the Wolf's victims, mine incidents related to the devices the vessel left behind, the ship's entire crew, and those taken aboard as prisoner. At the front, there are two very convenient maps which plots the journey and the minefields laid.

Novels aside, I must say that I had a tear in my eye when I left Tamworth this morning. Seeing me off was my brother, and the youngest of my four nephews, Luke, whom I discovered during my three days (and four nights) there has quite a personality. I didn't see much of his older siblings, Connor and Blake, as they spent most of the time playing games on the Wii or the computer. But all-in-all, it was an enjoyable stay.

I wonder, at times, how my life would've turned out had I'd stayed up there. But for the most part, I feel that I wouldn't be in the position that I'm now in. Yes, I've made plenty of mistakes, but I'm still here, and at least trying to do something with my life.

And on that note, I'll finish this post. Ciao!

P.S: Train is only half-full today, if that. It arrived on time, and so far, it looks like I'll get home on time. We're currently stopped at Scone, which means I'm less than three hours away from Gosford. It's really been a pretty uneventful trip, so far.

P.P.S: Train was barely five minutes late getting into Gosford. Just as I'm walking down the stairs, I see a bus that's heading my way pull in. Nice. Back at home and now listening to the cricket. Feel a little sorry for the people continuing to Sydney. There's trackwork, and the CountryLink service will be diverted to Olympic Park before heading to Central, which means their trip is extended by 30 minutes.

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