Friday, 19 October 2018

Sunburnt Pom's News from the Old Country 05

This week's news is a little late and a little rushed. I have just been on a short trip to Belgium, our little friend across the North Sea. It is just a nice overnight voyage from the Port of Hull and you arrive in the Port of Zeebrugge just after your on-board full English breakfast or your croissants and coffee if you have already switched to a continental mindset. I always opt for the latter to leave room for lots of 'frittess & mayo' not to mention the moules for which the area is famous. And of course you need to sample the local brews – and I'm not talking PG tips here you understand. Do not confuse the Province of Flanders with the rest of Belgium and the EU. I have many friends in Bruges who would like to see wealthy Flanders leave Belgium and the awful European Union. The return to Hull two days later was marked by strong winds and high tides, delaying our arrival somewhat. It is a reminder that the UK, like Australia, is an island and this gives its peoples a wider outlook on the world.

My cousin Pam in Hervey Bay, QLD is dead envious that we can make such a trip almost at the drop of a hat – something you just can't do in Oz. Overseas hols for Aussies involve planning and thousands of miles of travel but I nearly always manage to chat to Aussies in Bruges. Just across the border in the Dutch town of Sluys there is even an 'Oz ice-cream shop!'

Well the UK is leaving the EU in five months time and two and a half years after the people voted to leave the British Government still hasn't negotiated the terms of departure. Just what are these 'pollies' paid to do? It makes you weep. And why does the UK have to buy a departure ticket anyway? The reason, of course, is that without the UK's money, the EU will almost certainly go bust.

The beluga whale spotted in the Thames estuary seems to have departed for its more favoured colder climes but it gave a lot of pleasure to 'whale watchers' during its short visit. In the meantime most of us Poms are thumbing through winter sun brochures. Malta is my favourite 'warm' destination but as soon as time and money allow I will be trying out the new non-stop Qantas flight from London to Perth. What an incredible achievement that is and what would the early pioneers like Charles Kingsford Smith be thinking.

Until next time.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Sunburnt Pom's News from the Old Country 04

I am not sure if 'Oz TV' showed you any of the Conservative Party Conference this week. Emulating UKIP, who had shown them the way to Britain's second city a week earlier, the Tory faithful gathered to worship their political idols. The Prime Minister tried her best to audition for next year's Strictly Come Dancing by prancing onto the stage towards the lectern to the tune of ABBA's Dancing Queen, a hit from 1976. If she succeeds she will be the latest 'pollie' to join the show but she should have taken note that they were either retired or failed 'pollies' so is the 'writing on the subway wall for Theresa?  One person who hopes so is Boris Johnson. The blond beluga whale of British politics surfaced for air in Birmingham with plumes of spray as whales do. He addressed his fringe meeting in the same hall as the UKIP conference, an irony that was probably lost on him. Such is the state of politics in Britain today – one long rudderless game show if you ask me.

And speaking of beluga whales, one was spotted last week swimming merrily in the Thames estuary several thousand miles south of its normal home in the freezing Arctic. Surely this is the first natural sign that global warming is at an end and that we are now entering the first phase of global cooling. The eco-warriors have said absolutely nothing. Funny that.

Closer to home the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has announced his retirement well in advance of the actual date. Whatever your faith or creed. the No. 2 in the Church of England pecking order has made many friends in his tenure of office. The search for his replacement will already have started behind the scenes. No doubt the hunt will be on for a trans-gender, ethnic from an asylum seeking refugee Christian family washed up on a Mediterranean beach. I jest of course but don't laugh too loudly – it could happen.

The days are shortening fast now and I have only three weeks left of walks in the evening twilight. Then it's 'clocks back' an hour to GMT and five months of dark misery. It makes you want to reach for the Qantas timetable. Do you know what? I might just do that!

Until next time.

Friday, 28 September 2018

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It was my pleasure to attend the 25th anniversary Conference of UKIP in Birmingham last week. I was keen to have a chat with Nigel Farage following his very recent tour Down Under which I believe was his first visit. Sadly we only managed a very short conversation at the Gala Dinner that was full to capacity. I did however promise him a signed copy of my 'Sunburnt Pom's Tales of Oz' which I think he might enjoy.

Birmingham city centre (or CBD as you call it Down Under) is just booming with stunning new office buildings, banks and convention centres springing up everywhere. The city has however taken great care to preserve it's own history and the Hall of Memory, the City Hall and the now immaculately clean canals nestle comfortably alongside the gleaming steel and glass superstructures of the 21st century. Once known only for the automotive and arms industries, England's second city is setting a stunning example to others. New Street Station looks like something out of a Bond movie with a massive glass dome over the whole complex.

Talking of Birmingham reminds me that the next series of Peaky Blinders will be back on our TV screens soon. Set in 'Brum' in the 20's it's all about a gangster family turning respectable. It is fabulous entertainment  and I hope it hits your screens in Oz soon – if it hasn't done already. Keep your eyes skinned for it. It is tremendous. Travelling in the opposite direction I hope the latest series of A Place to call Home set in NSW in the 50's arrives on our shores soon. Beautifully written and filmed it will, I'm sure, become prime-time TV here in UK.

Autumn rains have arrived and returned England's green and pleasant land to its normal hue but the affects on farmers will be long felt – not to mention the knock-on affect on food prices. Yet another reason for Brexit when the British consumer can take advantage of cheaper and better food sources outside the protectionist EU. Roll on the day.

Until next time.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Sunburnt Pom's News from the Old Country 02

Firstly a big thank you to those of you who responded to my first 'News from the Old Country.'
I was asked what my target audience is? The answer is I don't have one as such. I would like this column to appeal to all ages, young and old and of both sexes, who would like to hear a little bit more about what's happening in Britain today. You might be a newly arrived Pom, a Pom on holiday Down Under or even a second or third generation Australian with blood links to the Old Country. I hope there is something for everyone every week. In any event tell me what you would like to hear about and I will do my best to oblige.

Robo-Trousers that help infirm people stand up and walk about are being developed by the University of Bristol. A 'great leap forward' (my words) for the disabled you might think. If this enables a person to get up from a chair to go and make a cuppa that is wonderful. Wickedly, I could also imagine them being sold down at the Dog & Duck just before closing time on a Saturday night. It could be the biggest market of them all!

And speaking of pubs I am blessed that there are no less than three of them in my Yorkshire village, including the oldest one in the county, the Londesborough Arms, first built in 1086. Can you believe that – just twenty years after the Battle of Hastings? In England we take history for granted – to our shame. In 'new' countries like Australia and the USA much greater care is taken of buildings to preserve them for future generations. Rumour has it that the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where was slain King Richard III in 1485, is about to be turned into a race-track for testing new cars. Can you believe it? I just don't think that would happen Down Under. What would Richard the Turd himself have made of that? We did, after all, give him a state funeral after his body had been discovered under a council car park in Leicester.

I am beginning to wonder if 'sports news' has overtaken all other news here in Britain. The Brexit negotiations are a mess and the nation is currently direction-less. No wonder ordinary folk turn to football and cycling news, perhaps as a diversion from the real world. Success in cycling is a fairly recent phenomenon here in the UK with Brits taking the three major titles in Spain, Italy and France in the same year. The sport has come from nowhere twenty years ago yet today the names of Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton roll off the tongue as easily as Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney. Let's hope it does something for the UK bicycle industry too. I know Katie Melua reminded us that there are  'nine million bicycles in Beijing' but do we really have to import most of them over here?

There are reports of new forthcoming laws obliging cafe and restaurant owners to indicate the number of calories in a meal that a customer purchases. Have you ever heard anything so daft? The State Health Police, along with the PC Brigade, have been allowed to dictate the agenda for far too long here. If it's not stopped in its tracks before long there'll be a state-funded dietician in every restaurant doing a calorie count at every table. There will be 'calorie books' with photo ID issued to all citizens with hefty 'on the spot' fines for breaching weekly limits. The fines will no doubt go to pay the salaries of the jobs-worths that dreamt up the whole thing. There will be a black market for fake 'calorie books' just like fake passports. Don't laugh. In PC riddled Britain it could happen.

Anyway, I'm off for a curry at my favourite Asian restaurant – the 'Cinnamon' – tonight before these new Rules come in. As a pal of mine once said ' One of the very few advantages of having conquered half the globe is the sheer diversity of ethnic restaurants in one's High Street. How right he was. He now lives on the Gold Coast where Asian restaurants outnumber Aussie steak joints by a margin of umpteen to one.

Until next time.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Sunburnt Pom's News from the Old Country 01

Welcome to my first News from the Old Country weekly blog. I hope it will bring all you Aussies and expatriate Poms currently down Under, some snippets of news and views that you don't get on Oz TV or the Press. Knowing the Aussie's love of humour I will try to chuck in a few humorous anecdotes from time to time, probably at the expense of us Poms but let's see how it goes eh?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Britain is now the third fattest nation in Europe and it is fuelled by excessive boozing. Apparently only Malta and Turkey are fatter. Well you could have fooled me! I would have put Britain top of the tree judging by the sights you see on Britain's High Streets every day. I often wonder if there's something in the water. As a visiting mate from Canberra observed a while ago – 'the last time I saw animals this fat they had harpoons in them. I thought they'd banned whaling!' And as for Malta, to where I am a regular visitor, I cannot recall seeing a single obese person in years. That is a good ad for the Mediterranean Diet if ever there was one. Maybe the WHO should visit the George Cross Island and take notes.

There are reports circulating that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is considering upping fuel duty. Are our politicians crazy? This would add costs to almost everything as 75% of goods are transported by road. Maybe if we all had a ministerial car paid for by the tax-payer then we too would live in an opaque bubble, immune from reality. Sometimes I think our 'pollies' live on the Moon. Come to think of it I wish most of them did!

Sad news this week both relating to the deaths of two of my favourite actresses. Firstly, the 'Carry On' actress Fenella Fielding who starred in Carry On Regardless and Carry on Screaming, died aged ninety. They just don't make either Carry Ons or Fenellas these days. Less well known to the wider world the death was also announced at the age of seventy-five of Jacqueline Pearce who played the intergalactic maniac Servalan in the budget sci-fi series Blakes Seven made in the 70's. With her short jet-black hair and tight, white dresses that accentuated her every and ample curves she was a pin-up of many a red-blooded male – myself included. To my mind no female sci-fi character since has eclipsed Servalan for raw sexuality which is saying something as Blakes Seven is now over four decades ago and was made in less liberal times than today.

Our long hot summer is coming to an end and autumn is almost upon us. With prolonged periods of dryness the leaves are turning gold a little earlier than normal and soon the hottest summer on record will be but a distant memory. Our farmers have suffered but not, it must be said, as much as those of you in NSW. Dying livestock are heartbreaking for farmers wherever they are in the world. Forty-two years after our last great drought in 1976 the British Government is no further forward with a national water grid than it was then. Is the same scenario in Australia?

Lastly some good news. Heard in our village pub here in North Yorkshire last week were the clipped tones of a young Aussie bartender in his early twenties. The conversation was easy. Young Sam, who hails from Newcastle NSW, is over here on a long working holiday and getting to see the Old Country and some of the natives. Let's hope that, post Brexit, more Aussies young and not so young, find their way over here. You're all welcome – as long as you don't drink ALL our beer!

Until next time.

Mark Harland