Simon and Belinda visit New York and Florida

In November Belinda and I visited America. My cousin Edward was getting married in Fort Myers, and we were lucky enough to combine Florida with a trip to New York.
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Our holiday began with an early morning alarm for a 9.30am flight. The first meal we had on the plane was chicken and pesto, a strange breakfast but when I washed it down with a double vodka orange I felt fully in the holiday spirit. It was early evening by the time we got to Fort Myers and after eating some pizza we were grateful to get some sleep.

For our first proper day in America we spent the morning by the pool before going for a walk around Downtown Fort Myers. It was really nice being somewhere permanently sunny and wearing shorts in November; the weather turned out to be more reliable than the England batting order. The next day we went to the idyllic and picturesque Captiva Island. With white sandy beaches and blazing sunshine it was a beautiful place to spend the day. On the drive back we had to stop as there was a tortoise crossing the road in front of us. Luckily a lady from a different car got out to pick it up and move it along. Given it was crossing at the speed of Brexit negotiations if she hadn’t helped we’d probably still be there now.
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The following night, with the whole family in America for the wedding, we all went for a big family meal. The restaurant was in an incredible location by the water with cinematic views of the sunset. It was a lovely time for all of us, although the waiter may have wanted a lie down in a dark room afterwards.


Saturday the 18th was the day of the Wedding. We woke up to watch the Arsenal v Spurs match and followed that with a pre match swim before watching Manchester United v Newcastle. I don’t know if the Premier League have considered 10am kick-offs but having football on Saturday morning really suited me, freeing me up to enjoy the afternoon. The wedding itself was in a beautiful location and a great day was had by all. It was all in the same location, after the ceremony and meal we drank and danced the night away. I think my brother Christopher had to be peeled off the dance floor at the end of the night, he could give Debbie McGee a run for her money.
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Weddings always fill me with feelings of joy and hope but I felt like death warmed up when the alarm sounded at 3am for us to get a taxi to the airport. With my body collapsing like opposition defences when playing against Manchester City. The flight from Fort Myers was particularly bumpy but eventually we landed in New York and made it to the hotel. After a nap and a doughnut we were feeling a lot better and went for a walk round in the evening. Our hotel was ideally placed for some iconic landmarks and it felt surreal seeing incredible buildings such as Grand Central Station and The Empire State Building in the flesh. To add to it I also bought a pretzel bigger than my head to munch on as I was perusing some of the most famous architecture in the world. We walked down to Time Square afterwards, which felt like the epicentre of global neon lighting.

On the way back we got a massive slice of cheesecake from a place called Juniors near Time Square (the best cheesecake I’ve ever eaten). A long and surreal day, given it started at 3am in a different part of America, but also a brilliant one and perfect start to our week in New York.


The following morning we went to do the Top Of The Rock where you take in the views from the top of the Rockefeller building. We found New York to be very accessible on foot, with the wide pavements and logical grid system on the roads making it easy to get about. The Rockefellar building was a 25 minute walk from Hotel and we had already booked tickets online. The queue to get to the top passes quite quickly, they have a photo booth and video about the buildings history as you wait to distract you from the fact your queuing. At the top the view was spectacular, it really showcases the enormity of New York and the views of Central Park and Empire State Building are breathtaking. There are a few levels to view the city from and the highest one while having brilliant views was a bit windy. We were lucky it was such a clear day and it felt like could see forever. We spent about an hour at the top of the tower before going to walk the High Line about 30 minutes away. The High Line is a rail line converted into a park and walkway free to stroll along. The relative tranquillity of the High Line was a nice contrast after the enormity of Top of the Rock. The walk culminates at Chelsea market, an indoor market full of independent food vendors where we stopped for food. It had more culinary variety than Bury market but sometimes quality trumps quantity and sadly there was none of Bury Market’s trademark black pudding.


In the evening we got a couple of slices of $1 takeaway pizza before heading to Madison Square Garden to watch the New York Knicks play basketball. It was brilliant to go to such a globally renowned sporting venue and I bought a t-shirt commemorating Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s 1971 fight in the stadium. The match itself between (Knicks v L.A. Clippers) was a little flat with the home side running out comfortable winners. I often feel basketball is a sport where 45min of entertainment is stretched out over two and a half hours but it was worth going to take in the spectacle.

On Tuesday Belinda and I walked along Brooklyn Bridge. Rammed with people I found it a bit stressful although it was all worth it when we got to the other side. We got lunch from Grimaldi’s pizzeria. There was a big queue but they were pretty efficient and it went down quickly. We got a small pizza to take away (and by small they meant massive!) it was quite expensive for a pizza but did taste delicious. We walked down to the Riverside and ate it while overlooking Manhattan. It was a magical view that I will always remember.
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Afterwards we walked back across the bridge and down to Wall St. It was a strange place and very easy to tell the difference between ambling tourist like myself pottering about taking selfies, and the hard nose business people scything through the crowds in sharp suits to conclude their business deals. In the evening we went to a restaurant called Club A Steakhouse to have what I’m pretty sure is the best meal I’ve ever eaten. After the meal I hailed a New York taxi (got one first time, only been there 3 days but I felt a natural) and we went for some drinks. We ended up in a bar called Groove which had a really good band on. Initially we intended on staying for 1 drink but we ended up spending whole night there.

Wednesday was our first rainy day. In the morning we went to the site of the 9/11 memorial. They have built some water fountains where the Twin Towers once stood and it felt very tasteful. We then went in the museum next to the fountains, it was $24 to get in and you can pay extra for a formal tour but it is quite easy to follow it round and walk at your own pace. The first three quarters are mainly about how the building physically collapsed and the wall which holds back the Hudson river stands along one side of the museum. The last quarter focuses on the people who tragically lost their lives in the attack.

We spent about an hour and a half in the museum and by the time we walked out the weather had brightened up. We got the subway back uptown and grabbed some street food from place called The Halal Guys which we then ate in Central Park (something I’d advise anyone visiting New York to do). The two hours that followed were a bit of a blur as Belinda entered an almost trance like state make-up shopping in Sephora on 5th avenue.

In the evening we met up with my friend Laura. After some food and a few drinks we went to a midnight show at the Comedy Cellar, they had 6 acts that were all very funny before ending with a surprise slot from Dave Chappelle. Chappelle was brilliant and had the entire room eating out of the palm of his hand. It was 3am by the time it finished and as well as it being lovely to see Laura for the first time in a while it was also nice to experience why the song refers to New York as the city that doesn’t sleep ahead of my first Thanksgiving.
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Although I didn’t feel too thankful a few hours later when my alarm went off. Belinda and I dragged ourselves out of bed to go and see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was completely worth the sleep deprivation and great to see the massive inflatables that made up the parade. Although we didn’t get there early, so were a few rows back, much of the parade was so big and high up it didn’t really matter and we were able to find a good spot to enjoy it. It is strange that such a massive and famous parade is effectively a marketing tool for a department store. I don’t know if Debenhams have ever thought about doing the same.

That evening we went for Thanksgiving dinner at The Smith in East Village, and were confronted by more food than any two people should have on a table in front of them. It was an ideal informal and friendly atmosphere for our first Thanksgiving but I did need a big lie down afterwards.


We started our final day by getting the subway to South Ferry and from there it is a short walk through a gauntlet of sales people trying to sell their private tour but past them is the free commuter ferry to Staten Island. The ferry goes right past the Statue Of Liberty and was definitely worth doing. As there are more tourists than commuters it is quite funny at the end as we all exit the boat and head straight back onto the return trip. That afternoon we got the subway to North Central Park and meandered our way through one of the most famous parks in the world. Stopping along the way to get a cookie from Levain Bakery, it was nice to stretch our legs ahead of the flight back home.
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We both loved New York, it is an incredible vibrant culturally rich city packed full of things to see and do. It is so easy to get about on foot and with a lot of the street food vendors reasonably priced you can definitely do the daytime activities on a budget. Paula Radcliffe won the 2007 New York marathon running round the city in an impressive 2hr 23. It took me and Belinda a week to get around although we stopped to take in the sites a bit more. Our whole holiday was a joy from start to finish, although America doesn’t share my taste in Presidents I am fully on board with their approach to portion sizes and tourism. Much more fun than partaking in a bushtucker trial.

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Simon and Belinda Visit Dublin

Despite zero demand I have decided to make a comeback to blogging following a weekend get away me and my girlfriend Belinda took to Dublin. I would love to start by listing my top 5 pubs in Dublin but a city with so many great places to drink it would be impossible to whittle it down to just 5. If David Cameron was to take a trip there, given he’s quit his job he should have some free time, he would almost certainly end up losing a child in one of them.

We flew in to Dublin from Gatwick on Friday afternoon, there was a bus strike that day but we were able to get on a coach that took us to a bridge on the River Liffey in the centre of Dublin.

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The coach into the city centre had free WiFi on it and we had taken some screen shots of the route we needed to take to find our Airbnb. Actually following these maps wasn’t quite as easy as expected and while I would never admit to being lost we were definitely off the beaten track  when walking past a ginnel in an uncelebrated part of the city we stumbled across a fascinating wall of Irish sport. It was a wonderful collage to Irish sporting history  with everyone from Barry McGuigan to Sonia O’Sullivan celebrated along it.

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Eventually we worked out where we were and found our way to the Airbnb flat we were renting for the weekend where we were met by our warm and welcoming hosts Eileen and Chris who showed us around and pointed out some places/things to do in Dublin before taking their leave. The flat was ideally situated seemingly walking distance from many major attractions like the Guinness factory & Temple bar.

That first evening me and Belinda decided to go to one of Eileen’s advised pubs along South William Street for a quite one to sample the atmosphere. It was many hours later before we got back to the flat as we went from pub to pub and the night seemed to disappear. We were having such a good time that we were struggling to keep track of time even more than American swimmer Ryan Lochte does when giving statements to Rio police (Although given my body I’m even less likely to get a sponsorship contract with Speedo’s).

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When in Rome…

In one pub we went to, O’Donoghue’s, Belinda went to the bar and while waiting to be served she overheard some young American girls asking the barman if they did any good snacks. The barman apparently replied by just turning to the girls and saying Guinness, an idea I very much hope catches on although when I fancy an afternoon snack next time I’m in work I fear a pint of the Black Stuff by my desk may well be frowned upon!

The next day was fairly hectic one for us. With only a weekend to spend in the Irish capital we were eager to pack as much into it as possible and headed off for a tour around the Guinness factory in late morning.

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I’d been really looking forward to the tour before we got to Dublin but when we got there I thought it was good but not spectacular. There isn’t a tour guide so you just wander around slightly unaware of what your seeing which has more of an emphasis in the early part of it on how Guinness is made and less on the history of the place (Arthur Guinness signed a 9000 year lease on the factory when he started). The tour does get better as it goes along though with a taster section and lesson on how to properly pour/drink a Guinness. It all culminates in a skyline bar at the top of the factory where you get a complimentary Pint and the chance to enjoy some spectacular 360 degree views of the city and the Wicklow Mountains beyond it.

img_0837I have worked in bars before and was slightly jealous of how easy it must be for those working in this one given that everyone gets the same drink. They were handing out Guinness at a faster rate than Olympic/ Paralympic officials have been handing out Gold medals to British athletes over the last month (Although my Guinness consumption does receive considerably less Lottery funding!).

From the Guinness factory we got on a 20 minute bus journey to the impressive and imposing Croke Park Stadium. A lot of modern mega stadiums are built out of town with what can at times feel like a cold disconnect from the fans however Croke Park is a refreshing throwback, like headphone leads would be in an Apple store, in the way it is situated right in the heart of a housing estate and so close to the city centre.

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We had booked onto a tour of the Stadium which was brilliant and I would fully advise for any fans of sport or Irish history as the excellent guide took us around and explained both the history and the modern relevance of the 3rd largest stadium in Europe.

The tour ends with a trip to the brilliant museum inside the stadium which features amongst other things the shorts Muhammad Ali wore when he fought at Croke Park.

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I am the Greatest

After the tour we got the bus back to the flat before quickly getting changed and heading out for some food and drinking in the Temple Bar area.

We had a great night, every bar seemed to have live music on and the whole area seems to be fuelled by a an infectious sense of raucous bonhomie as we drank and danced the night away.

img_0871With our last day in the city we wandered around firstly Dublin castle and then Trinity College which counts Oscar Wilde amongst its alumni (If he was to write a comeback blog there would be a lot more demand).

We both loved our time in Dublin and definitely hope to go again one day in the future. There seems to be free Wifi everywhere in Dublin so even once your there it is easy to research and look up things to do with your trip if you have some spare time. From Trinity College we strolled along the River Liffey before getting the bus back to the airport where we had already checked in online for our flight and had no baggage to check in, to that extent we had nothing to declare but our genius itself.

 

Final Ever Australia Blog!!

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My incredible year away has come to an end and I am back in good old Blighty. Its great to be back in the land of Greggs, Match of the Day and reasonably priced Cashew Nuts! Although I do miss the Koala Bears and will forever be envious of a nation that has double decker trains.

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I had one more week in Australia after my trip to Fiji which I spent with my Australian family in Newcastle (2 hours north of Sydney). The journey from Fiji back to Australia was a long and laborious one not helped by my flight being delayed by 4 hours. An announcement about as popular as a gay rights march through Vladimir Putin’s back garden. Consequently it was late at night by the time I arrived at my Aunty’s house and I was very appreciative of a warm bed to crash out on.

I had quite a chilled out last week in Australia, mainly going for nice walks meeting up with as many of my extended family as possible.

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One afternoon I went down to the Central Coast with my Aunty Denise and Uncle Tian. Even in the middle of winter Australia looks nice and although it was chilly it wasn’t nearly as cold as the atmosphere would be if Jose Mourinho and Eva Caneiro were to be locked in a room together.

On the Saturday we had a family get together and on the Sunday I went to go and watch my cousin Jason playing rugby league.

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I sat in the stand with my uncle Stephen expecting a tight game however that prediction quickly faded away as Jason’s team got trounced, showing the sort of form even Cricket Australia would have been ashamed of for most of the summer.

On my penultimate day Down Under Ryan came up from Sydney, it was really good to see him before I left. In life I think it is often a lot less about what you do and much more about who you do it with and I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed my travels half as much if I hadn’t had him to share it with.

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Ryan has been the perfect travel partner and a joy to spend the last 12 months with. That evening we went for some food with my Aunty Debbie and Uncle Peter. Me and Ryan got the same train back and as I got off at my stop and waived him goodbye for the final time as he stayed on to go back to Sydney it felt slightly surreal knowing that after seeing him pretty much every day for a year it was going to be the last time I’d see him for a while. As it happens I’m to masculine to cry or show any form of emotion but I could see how many would in that situation.

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On my final day in Auss I woke up early to finish my Australian tax return (really is one of life’s certainties) packed my bags and went to a wildlife sanctuary to catch a final look at a Koala bear.

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After that I went to catch the train down to Sydney. I felt a certain sense of symmetry a year on from eating my sandwiches on the train down to London to start my adventure to be eating my sandwiches on the train down to Sydney to end it, having seen and experienced so much inbetween.

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When I arrived in Sydney I had a little bit of time to spare so got the train from Central to Circular Key so that I could check out the Harbour Bridge and Opera House for one final time. Even after living in Sydney for 4 months I never got use to that view and it still felt breathtaking every time I saw them.

From the I got the train to the airport and my first flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi. The plane was a double decker and the biggest I’ve ever been on. Although I wasn’t on an aisle my seat was pretty comfy and I had just about enough space. For my second flight I was awarded the sort of space the Sunderland defense has been offering opposition strikers this season as I had a row of 3 seats to myself from Abu Dhabi to Manchester so was able stretch out a bit more before my family met me at the airport, welcome home balloon in hand.

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Going travelling is the best decision I have ever made and I would always advise anyone to go travelling, it is brilliant, but travelling also helps you realise how brilliant home is. Having a new place to explore and discover is fantastic but I missed knowing your way around and not having to constantly be creating new short term friendships with people for a day before moving onto to somewhere new. Its been a good changing from that lifestyle and moving in with my girlfriend and the ensuing domestic bliss! I adored Australia but couldn’t move out there permanently as although I love Australia the people I love are in England.

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Simon Visits Fiji

Simon Travels Australia

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With my trip nearing towards its end I decided to go on one last adventure while I was on this side of the world and booked a flight to Fiji. I had an incredible time and saw loads of brilliant things. The morning of my flight from Sydney I knew I should have felt excited but I actually felt really apprehensive. It was my first time going on a trip on my own without Ryan with me. I’d gotten comfortable living in Sydney for 4 months and think I lost my bottle a bit. I had to constantly remind myself that its good to do things that scare you. The day I flew it was mid-afternoon by the time I arrived in Fiji’s second biggest city, Nadi. Tired from traveling once I got to my hostel I spent the early part of the evening sat in a hammock reading my…

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Simon Visits Fiji

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With my trip nearing towards its end I decided to go on one last adventure while I was on this side of the world and booked a flight to Fiji. I had an incredible time and saw loads of brilliant things. The morning of my flight from Sydney I knew I should have felt excited but I actually felt really apprehensive. It was my first time going on a trip on my own without Ryan with me. I’d gotten comfortable living in Sydney for 4 months and think I lost my bottle a bit. I had to constantly remind myself that its good to do things that scare you. The day I flew it was mid-afternoon by the time I arrived in Fiji’s second biggest city, Nadi. Tired from traveling once I got to my hostel I spent the early part of the evening sat in a hammock reading my book and watching the sunset.

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That first night I had my first experience of a Kava ceremony. A key part of Fijian culture everyone sits around in a circle and takes it in turns to drink Kava (mix of water and plant root) from the bowl in the centre. image Its a great way of getting everyone in the hostel together and socialising and its not long before someone whips out a guitar. The local man who mixed the Kava was smoking constantly throughout and it was only from subsequent Kava ceremonies that I realised the taste of fag ash isn’t actually a normal part of the drink. The next day I went into city on a bus which extraordinarily had no windows. You know your in a hot country if they don’t need windows on the buses.

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Wouldn’t Work in Bury In November

The centre of Nadi is pretty small with little to see and I just walked around the busy markets for a few hours mixing and chatting to locals, rugby is by far the biggest sport in Fiji and it seemed lots of people had jerseys from various sides on leaving me constantly surrounded by people better at rugby than myself, I now know what it must feel like to be a Scotland player every year at the 6 nations. As I was only going to be in Fiji for 2 weeks I didn’t want to lose any time while I was there working out what to do so I pre-booked onto tour around the Yasawa Islands with a company called ‘Awesome Adventures Fiji’. The 12 day tour involved me getting to spend 2 days at 6 different islands. The next day I caught a ferry from Denarau Port to start my tour of the islands. First up was South Sea Island, the smallest island on my trip, I not even sure it would even be able to hold Greece’s cash reserves, you could easily walk round it in15 min. It had plenty of activities on offer though and after I’d put my stuff in my room I went on a boat ride in a vessel with a glass bottom that went around some coral. image We all filed in 2 by 2 (think it was captained by Noah) and sat at the bottom as it sailed around. Most of the coral was dead but it still had plenty of vibrant fish to see and an abundance of really bright purple star fish which i found fascinating as they lay like beacons surrounded by grey dieing coral. My meals were included in my tour and after the boat ride they put on an impressive bbq lunch accompanied by wonderful entertainment. This was a theme throughout my time on the islands where meals often came singing and dancing. image In the afternoon it started raining very heavily very suddenly. As i scampered from my hammock to find some cover I didn’t feel annoyed, I felt relief as i thought thank god im not on that bus! My 2nd day I didn’t really spend on the island. There were 3 girls that had booked the exact same tour as me and 1 of the girls (Polly) had some family friends who were on holiday sailing round the islands at the time. They offered to pick us up and take us for a trip out on their yacht. We had a fabulous day, they took us to a really secluded bay where the water was really clear, calm and the fish mesmorisingly plentiful. image

We spent hours just snorkling round, it was probably the best snorkling experience I’ve had apart from the Great Barrier Reef. image

When we finally climbed back on the boat we had steak sandwiches, sconanas (scones made with banana and topped with cinnamon, absolutely dreamy) and more sunburn than Gary Ballance has gotten runs this Ashes series. It was a real gem of a day in a stunningly beautiful location. The next day i got back on the ferry and went to my second island called Waya Lailai

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He Only Had 2 teeth

After lunch and an afternoon reading and listening to podcasts I agreed to walk up to the summit of the massive rock that stood at the eye catching centre of the island. We had a guide to show us the way along the fairly ropey terrain. He was clearly an old hand at climbing the rock and set off at a heavy pace up the sort of steap gradient that would bring tears to Chris Froome’s eyes. The walk took about an hour, I was gasping for breath and sweating buckets from about 10 minutes in but when we got to the top it felt completely worth it. It was a stunning view and really hard to comprehend just how high we were as we looked over the sheer drop. image The next day was a Sunday and a pretty chilled out day. In the evening I decided to grab a coconut. I’d love to write about how I climbed the tree and plucked one out but sadly after a few embarrassingly bad attempts a local offered to help. I thought he was gonna shimmy up it with ease and show me up but instead he just went and got a massive pole and knocked some out.

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I could have done that

Then with a little help cut into them and enjoyed the juices of our work. image

Final morning on Waya Lailai I went out on a boat trip to snorkle with Reef Sharks. It was an incredible experience as we were surrounded by 7 of them, all about the same size as me. In Australia you only ever hear about sharks in reference to attacks (and surf competitions) but these ones were so peaceful and playful. Happy to swim amongst us and I was able to stroke a few. It is probably the perfect way to start your day. I spent the next two days on an island called Korovou. It was by far the dullest island that I visited and the only memorable thing was when i was sat by the pool and Ronan Keating started playing from the speakers (‘You say it best’ sadly not ‘rollercoaster’ ) Coral View was the next island I went to and that was a very impressive place and true to its name with the coral right on the beachfront. image The evening I got there I went on an organised hill top hike to see the sunset. It was a tough walk (although nothing on the Waya Lailai one) but totally worth it for the stunning 360 view of all the neighbouring islands. image The next day I went snorkling during the morning out on the coral. There were loads of colourful fish and the coral itself was a fascinating mixture of colours and texture, much more vibrant than a lot of the dark dead coral you often encounter. My final morning on Coral View I took a 30 min boat ride to a different island where you could explore some caves. We had to swim into a cave that was dark, erry and echoey, once you got to the end of the first cave you had to hold your breath and duck under the water and through a passage into the second slightly more claustrophobic 2nd cave. It was a really enjoyable experience and I was glad that I went on the trip. When I’d booked my trip I’d gotten a free upgrade to a full monty package that meant all of the activities were free so when i got back to the island I indulged in a back massage. image It was quite painful at first as the girl seemed to force her thumb into nooks and crannies along my back that I didn’t previously know existed but by the end I was enjoying it nearly as much as I imagine David Cameron is enjoying the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Leadership contest. My next stopoff was called Mantaray Island. Much more like a holiday resort than any of the previous islands there was a lot of families and older couples milling around. The best thing about the island was that you could swim with Mantarays near by. They had a guy on constant lookout and when the Mantarays were spotted the guy would bang a drum. The next morning I was awoken by the drum at 7:30am. I clambered out of bed, grabbing a snorkel and making my way down to the boats to go out to the spot. It was well worth getting out of bed for as 10 minutes later they were swimming and barrel rolling metres in front of me. image

I hadn’t been that bothered about seeing them beforehand but it was so much better than i was anticipating. One of the best things I’ve ever done, they were so big and graceful as they looped around infront of me. I did a lot of snorkling in Fiji and given that this time next week I’ll be closer to Fallowfield than Fiji I’m not sure when I’ll do it again, unless they really clear up the Irwell! If it is to be the last time for a while then Mantaray swimming seemed good note to leave snorkling on. That evening I went tubing. We sailed round to the other side of the island, jump into some rubber rings and bobbed about watching the sun set. There is always something memorizing and hypnotic about a sunset and on a clear cloudless evening it was particularly beautiful. The last island I visited was called Beachcomer. It was quite late in the evening when I arrived there and just spent the one day on it. That day was an insanely hot day (probably the hottest I had in Fiji) too hot to do anything other than sway in a hammock watching the world go by. image I really enjoyed my time in Fiji. It was full of sunshine and smiling people and I would love to go there again, but I will need to buy a thesaurus first as I ran out of adjectives about 3 paragraphs ago to describe all the brilliant things I’ve experienced. I’m back staying with family in Newcastle now with less than a week of my year away to go.

Simon Works in Sydney

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Every Saturday evening they put on a firework display in Darling Harbour in the centre of Sydney. I’m a massive fan of a fireworks and went down with some friends from my hostel one week. It was a really impressive show and I particularly loved it as we got ice cream beforehand. I like fireworks and ice cream nearly as much as FIFA officials enjoy a bribe.

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The fireworks lasted about 15 minutes but as the crowd were dispersing afterwards there was a street performer setting up. Instead of joining the oversized crowd heading for the train we decided to hang around to watch his show.

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He dazzled a sizeable audience juggling knives and fire in increasingly precarious ways for about 20 minutes. It was very impressive and if he can just work out a way of incorporating some cute dogs into his act then he’d definitely be a Britain’s Got Talent contender.

Given I struggle eating anything with a more adventurous heat than a Chicken Korma becoming a fire breathing street performer isn’t really much of an option for me as a money maker. With that in mind I decided instead to hand my CV into a few pubs to try get some bar work. I got myself a trial shift at a place near Martin Place and apart from smashing a wine glass half an hour in it went pretty well. My broken wine glass paled into insignificance however during my second shift there though when the roof collapsed midway through Friday afternoon!

http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/05/15/13/47/three-injured-in-nsw-roof-collapse

Luckily no one was seriously hurt and the pub was up and running again by the middle of the following week. They haven’t subsequently replaced the ceiling tiles and I now trust the roof about as much as I will trust the opinion polls leading upto the next general election. Having said that they do let me take a bottle of beer home with me at the end of my shifts so its not all bad.

Although Australia may be better than us at Eurovision (strikes me as slight contradiction for Australia to fully embrace Eurovision but be against Gay marriage) they are much inferior to us when it comes to a fry-up. Whenever you order one from a cafe there never quite as good as from home. To address this problem me and a few lads from the hostel chipped in a few weekends ago to make our own uber fry up (I was more involved in the washing-up than the cooking). No expense was spared and I can’t remember the last time I have felt so full. We even had black pudding which is a very rare treat in Australia.

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Admittedly taste value far exceeded nutritional with the meal being about as health and safety conscious as new rides at Alton Towers.

One thing that you can always be confident of health wise is a coastal walk. One of the most famous ones in Sydney is to walk along from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. Sydney weather has really cooled recently and it was ideal conditions for it. It was my second time doing the walk after first doing it when my girlfriend Belinda was over. Me and Belinda had walked it on a much sunnier day and ended up drowning in sweat but with the cool breeze and armed with a book and a cricket podcast I set about it a second time and had very peaceful and serene time.

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In the last month I’ve been able to indulge my sport obsession even more than usual by checking out some of the remnants from the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The Olympic pool is now open to the public so I went for a swim one afternoon.

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Sydney 2000 was a medal-less nadir for British swimming so when I overtook a pensioner in the slow lane I proudly became the first Brit to win in the Olympic pool.

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The Olympic Pool is next to what was the Olympic Stadium (now called the ANZ Stadium) and about a week after I went there with a big bunch of friends from my hostel to go watch the State of Origin game (New South Wales vs Queensland). Its a massive occasion and was the only thing any Australians were talking about in the days leading upto it. I had a great evening out and the sense of excitement and nervous energy beforehand was brilliant. Although when the game actually started there was nowhere near the sort of atmosphere you would get at a major football match back home. I was disapointed at the lack of chanting as people mainly sat concentrating on the game.

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I'm not sure about the side effects of this new shampoo though

One thing that really impressed me was how in use and active these big stadiums still are. 15 years on there is no sense of big expensive white elephants that have been left to rot once the Olympic Jamborree has moved out and hopefully it will be the same with London.

When not burying myself in Olympic parafonailia I’ve been able to pick up various bits of extra work from chatting to people in the hostel. Although I’m not the worlds strongest guy I always like to think of myself as being better at grafting than John Carver is at football management and I managed to get a couple of days working on a building site of a house renovation.

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so tiring I Literally hit a brick wall at one stage

It was tiring with the 6:20 alarm clock being a shock to the system but it was a good few days mainly carrying bricks around.

I was also able to find some work as a professional chandelier installer.

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It was a fascinating job transporting and installing chandeliers and candelarbres for wedding functions. It all turns into somewhat of a shambles as everybody involved races around trying to set there specific part of the reception room up correctly. There’s a lot of disagreements and moving various tables and things 5m one way only to be told half an hour later to move it 5m back. The trouble being that every single company think that they’re the most important. The head chandelier guy wants set-up to best showcase chandeliers, flower women wanted it a certain way for her stuff to star, some people intalling fake trees wanted things to revolve around their masterpieces and ultimately the people whose opinion actually counted are busy getting married. I was sure it wasn’t all going to be done before the guests turned up but in the last half an hour it all seemed to come together and the room did look spectacular at the end.

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Although tight on time given that the roof didn’t collapse in on us at anystage working with Chandeliers is definitely not as stressful as some of my other days at work in the last month.

Simon in Sydney and Cairns

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I waited absolutely ages for the Giraffe to line up for this selfie. Giraffes do have a noble majesty about them but when it comes to cooperating in a photo opportunity they are a law unto themselves. A refusal to cooperate and stay still will be a major obstacle if any Giraffe’s ever wish to become models. I on the other hand have no such problems.

I’ve participated in a lot of amazing adventures and activities while in Australia that will stay with me for the rest of my life but chief amongst them will be the fact I can now forever tell people about how I once worked as a professional portrait model.

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It all came about after I saw an advert up in a supermarket seeking potential models. I text the number and a week later found myself sat infront of an art class trying to stay as still as possible in return for $50. It was a very pleasant morning, the class was mainly made up of retired people and as well as the money there was also a cupcake in it for me (caramel and apple flavored, intriguing combo that worked very well).

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I had to sit for 2 hours although it was interrupted by me sneezing at one point which wasn’t met with much approval. If you have some spare time its a very nice way to spend a morning, I must remember to forward on the address to Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband.

The following Saturday my girlfriend Belinda flew in from the UK. I went to meet her at the airport and felt slightly awkward as everyone else in arrivals seemed to have brought balloons for their loved ones.

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In a sea of ‘welcome’ balloons there was one with a happy birthday slogan across it. Personally I was convinced that it wasn’t the persons birthday but that the balloon shop must have sold out of ‘welcome home’ balloons and that the family had reasoned the wrong balloon was better than non at all.

Belinda’s first day was a lovely sunny Sydney day, we got $3 Chinese food from Bondi Junction before getting the train to Central Station. From Central we walked down to Darling Harbour where we caught the ferry under the bridge to the Opera House.

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While we were there we had a drink in a bar outside the Opera House before walking through to the Botanical Gardens.

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After sitting in the gardens for a bit we got the train from Martin Place back to the flat in Bondi where we were staying and Belinda made lasagna. Pretty much my blueprint for an ideal day in Sydney and after being here for so long it was lovely sharing it with someone seeing it all for the first time.

After that though the weather turned quite dramatically with the wind and rain for the next couple of days possibly the worst I’ve experienced in Australia. On the Wednesday we had booked to climb the bridge. You normally walk up it in groups of 14 but as a result of the weather all the other people booked to climb with our trip had cancelled leaving just me and Belinda which was ideal (All the Lib Dem MPs could have joined our climb and there would still have been spare spots)

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It was a fantastic and fascinating experience and we both really enjoyed it. Our guide was really knowledgeable about the bridge and how it was made and after the weather being so bad it had scared all our fellow climbers off it stopped raining just as we began the climb and the sun even came out as we were midway up.

After we’d finished we went to get some lunch from a nearby pub which had a quirky menu. I ordered the Crocodile pizza and told them to make it snappy.

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On the way back we stopped off at a bottle shop to get a bottle of wine. The lad behind the counter asked if we liked shiraz and when we said yes presented us with 2 free bottles. 3 bottles for the price of 1 we were happier than Floyd Mayweather’s accountant.

On the Saturday we met up with Ryan and caught the train upto Newcastle where my extended family were having a bbq for Anzac day. It was really good to see them all again and we had a really good day.

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I’m a massive fan of going to the zoo and on the Monday me and Belinda went to Taronga Zoo, situated a 5 minute ferry from Circular Quay with Opera House and Bridge in the background it must have one of the better backdrops of any zoo in the world.

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All the animals were amazing although there was an inquisitive Gorilla that I particularly enjoyed.

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That evening we went to go and see a Mozart recital in the Opera House. On top of the fact I was seeing a show in one of the worlds iconic venues it was very enjoyable and they have a special rate for people under30 so it was reasonably priced.

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All in all it was a very cultured evening as after listening to the classical music we had a Burger King on the way home. If there are 2 things I like in life then its Beethoven and burgers.

On the Tuesday we had to get up super early to fly upto Cairns. It was good going back up North again and with Summer having faded to Spring in Sydney it was nice being confronted by the intense heat that Cairns offers all year round. It was weird and slightly surreal being back where it had all started back in August which seems so long ago.

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We arrived in Cairns at around midday and we spent the afternoon just lounging around the lagoon. With our second day we went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef for what has now been a twice in a lifetime opportunity for me.

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It was as spectacular and overwhelmingly visually stunning as last time and although the fish and general sealife out on the reef will have me forgotten quicker than the British public forget Natalie Bennett its an experience that will stay with me forever.

After Belinda went back home I’ve had to go back onto the job hunt. I’ve already emailed all the life drawing classes of Sydney and I reckon if I get another modelling gig then I can call it a career. Having said that Princess Charlotte has probably had more pictures taken in the last week than me and the Sydney Giraffes will pose for in a lifetime.

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A Month in Sydney

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I’ve always liked walking, as well as being cheaper I think its a much better way to discover a new city than getting trains from one place to another.

Walking back-fired on me the other week though as when walking from Bondi Junction to Kings Cross I took a turn off the beaten track for what I naively thought might be a short cut. As it turned out I seemed to enter a labyrinth of intertwining streets, completely bamboozeling my sense of direction. At one point even walking through a dog competition! With them all yapping at me (that was just owners) and given my fear of dogs it was a pretty uncomfortable experience. Eventually I accepted I was lost in this maize of streets and stopped at a bus stop, asking a local (only guy I’d seen for 40min not walking a dog) which bus would get me home. The bus I got on took me back through the the dog show on the way back.

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Watching big games can be tough at times over here but Ryan had previously watched a game at the Casino and enjoyed it so we decided to go there to watch the Manchester United vs Liverpool game. The last time on this trip we went to a casino was up in Cairns where the casino had a zoo attached. Sydney casino was also full of untrained wildlife, or Liverpool fans to give them their correct title. The place was rammed full of United and Liverpool fans giving it a really good atmosphere and giving us a really good time, much better than Steven Gerrard’s but not as happy as Anh Do!

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A few days after the United win I had a successful job interview so had a much better week than Gerrard and Jeremy Clarkson who was at the height of his controversy at the time (of all racist, homophobic bullies he’s definitely my favourite).

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That Friday I went down to Shelley Beach for a barbecue with some friends from my hostel. We got the Manly ferry there and back and although I’ve seen the Opera House loads now it still amazes me everytime and particularly so in the evening on the way back.

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The following Monday I had my first day working as a Charity Fundraiser (that annoying person who stops you in the street) in what turned out to be a profound moment pathetic fallacy it started torrential raining on my way to where I had to meet them.

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I started off OK but the constant stream of rejection got me down as the day progressed and a few disheartening dressing downs from my overly energetic American boss lead to her eventually telling me that I am ‘uncoachable’ and not to come back for a second day.

The following day I was hanging out at the hostel with my fellow members of ‘job club’ and playing card games. There were a bunch of Germans with us who wanted to teach us one of their games. It turns out German card games are very much high on rules low on fun, when you need a pen and paper to write down the rules to try follow the game you know its too complicated. The Germans seemed to enjoy Brits been rubbish, confused and pained by the game, if only they had a word for that.

A few days later I did manage to get a days work in a warehouse moving Christmas decorations around. It was surreal being surrounded by tinsel in early April and at one point I did find myself carrying a nativity scene.

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Everyone there was pretty sound and I was grateful for a days pay, even if I’m not sure if it would be enough to get Raheem Sterling out of bed.

Although Sterling earns more than me he does have to work bank holidays so wouldn’t have been free on Easter Monday when everyone at the hostel went down to Coogee Beach for a barbecue. It had been sunny in the morning but suddenly started raining in the afternoon making it like the British bank holidays I’m used to. A  previously busy beach soon cleared but for hearty British people who know more about sticking out a disappointing day in the rain than the fair weather Aussies. Food wise I sacked off the barbecue for a McDonald’s but some people felt like they’d been promised al fresco dining and were determined to have it!

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I’ve discovered a swimming pool 10 minute walk from where I am staying and went there the other day. In general I did enjoy it although had to deal with the always uncomfortable communal changing room situation. I never really understood the point of communal changing rooms, how hard is it to get a bit of MDF in and cubicle it off? When confronted by these situations I prefer to be exposed for as little time possible and don’t faff about when fully naked. I realised not all males think the same way though as I was tying my shoelases while guys fully naked in the vicinity of me stood there leisurely drying their hair. You can just be grateful that I don’t have a picture to illustrate my point but be sympathetic to the fact it’ll take a lot of walking across many cities before I can remove those images from my head.

Simon Living in Sydney

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Its been a few weeks since my last post, that was mainly down to me not really doing to much as I settled into the working routine with what turned out to be a brief return to the world of employment.
I never enjoyed working in the Call Centre although it was nice to be earning again (HSBC couldn’t set that Swiss bank account up for me in time so I did have to pay tax). While always turning up for work, at the time I longed to get out of it more than David Cameron wanting to avoid a leaders debate. That however was taken out of my hands though as last Friday the company let a bunch of people, including myself, go. Losing my job on Friday 13th acting as conclusive proof in my opinion that the day is cursed.

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There has been time for some fun in the last month though. Last weekend I went to the horse races in Randwick with a bunch of mates. I’ve only ever been to see the dogs at Bell Vue before and this was a very different experience. I have no future as a betting tipster but did have a lovely day.

I walked home afterwards and that took me past the Mardi Gra parade that was snaking its way through Sydney at the time.

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When I was up north in Queensland it felt like homophobia rivalled racism when it came to Australian past times but as I’ve come further south the Major Cities have been much more accepting and libertarian. It was wonderful to see such a colourful and expressive celebration.

The day after I went to go and pay my rent and was just chatting to the guy behind the desk about the Cricket World Cup when he mentioned that Australia were playing Sri Lanka in Sydney that day and that the ground was only a 15 minute walk away.

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I decided to go see if I could get in and despite it being a last minute decision to go I had a fantastic day. There were lots of Sri Lankan fans which created a brilliant atmosphere. One stand in particular was packed with Sri Lankans, creating a kalaidoscopicly vibrant fanfare for a neutral like myself to enjoy. I was stung on the entrance price though as $90 was the cheapest tickets left, it was well worth it though to see Glen Maxwell’s explosive century (I feel Jos Butler could play similar innings for us but we never let him bat before 45th over).

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It was a pretty close game with Sangakarra’s sublime century keeping Sri Lanka in it for most of game but really they needed him and Jayawardene to bat another 10 overs really. All in all though I got to see a competitive game with passionate fans and nearly 700 runs so it will definitely go down as a good spontaneous day.

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The walk back turned into an adventure all of its own as after coming out of the stadium from a different gate to the one I’d entered from I mistakenly thought I knew how to work my way back. I ended up well off the beaten track and 45 minutes later arrived back at my hostel from the opposite direction to which I had left it.

My sense of direction is a comparative strength of mine compared to my receding hairline though. As my hairline has become weaker and weaker in recent years I have grown accustomed to the stream of jokes and digs about it from my friends although I had a particularly low point this week when Facebook started mocking me through suggesting posts I may find appropriate.

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Luckily for the people at Facebook I am more mild mannered than Jeremy Clarkson although if I do end up in a room with Mark Zuckerburg then it’ll be more tense than a ‘Top Gear’ production meeting.

Me and Ryan have hardly seen each other recently with him working nights and me days but with him being off on Friday we went on a night out with some people in our hostel.

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I sort of believe nights out are pretty much the same wherever in the world you are. A room filled with loud music, young people and alcohol you could be in Sydney or Southport is my general feeling. Although to be fair to Sydney the bar we went to did have a scooter in it.

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On the Saturday me and some friends walked down to the botanical gardens, opposite the opera house, and spent our afternoon sat drinking goon.

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it was an idyllic chilled out afternoon and by the time the gardens closed at about 7pm we were all slightly tipsy and struggled to find an exit. For consecutive weekends I found myself either ‘off the beaten track’ or plain old lost depending on your outlook on life. Eventually we did manage to find an exit but unsure of where we were as we wandered round we stumbled across a fenced off area for a festival that was taking place. Fueled by an uninhibited sense of adventure we decided to try climb over the fence and have a look around. We landed on the other side and had a quick walk around only to discover that the festival was actually free to enter and our anarchic entry technique had been a complete waste of time as it we could of just walked in.

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The festival had loads of little tented sections and we decided to check out the free samples in the pop-up 1950’s style gin house. Although at $11 a drink after the free samples dried up we made our excuses and left.

There was no danger of me bumping into the England Cricket team however as they would have been busy drowning there sorrows in the last chance saloon given they can only stay in a World Cup as long as I can keep hold of a job for.

Simon In Sydney

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My writing may not be of the quality of Harper Lee but given she waits 55 years between novels I am comfortably surpassing her on quantity.

One of the main perks of being in a major city like Sydney is its abundance of late night bars making it easier to find places showing the football. So with nothing planned for the Sunday me and Ryan fueled up on coffee to go watch Manchester United beat Leicester City a few weeks ago. United winning comfortably is such a rare event these days that it was worth staying up for,

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and I managed to purloin some Australian parafonailia (lucky escape that we didn’t bother for the Swansea match).

Travelling has been a wonderful experience but sometimes you just want to spend your evening curled on a sofa watching tv and that has been one of the perks of staying with family and friends for the last few months. While we’ve been staying at Frank and Aoifa’s me and Ryan have gotten fully amongst trashy tv and can report back that Australian Ant and Dec look very different.

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The Australian version of I’m a Celeb is set in South Africa with wild animals more prevalent than creepy crawlies. They have to ramp up the Australian version as what we call ‘I’m a Celeb’ Aussies call camping. In a plot twist they shook it up mid-series by sending in Lancashires very own Freddie Flintoff, the Aussies don’t seem to have a clue what he’s saying but he’s the only one I understand.

After a couple of weeks looking I’ve managed to find a job working in a Call Centre. It’s a shame I accepted before Harry Redknapp stepped down from his, given I can over spend and fail to deliver results I would be ideal for the next QPR manager. Although I feel like I’ve missed the routine and normality of having a regular job I’m sure the novelty will soon wear off. Working can causes me pain, anguish and humiliation but it has less happy endings than 50 Shades of Grey.

The need to work again was brought on in part by the high cost of living in Sydney. I decided to have Chippy Tea last weekend and for the first time in my life had to pay on card in a fish and chip shop as the girl behind the counter asked me for $22

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not since United signed Falcao has someone been so badly over charged.

If I was shocked at the cost of fish and chips I was more alarmed at hearing Eurovision is following me with Australia joining. If this starts happening everytime I go somewhere then future travelling maybe stunted by countries refusing to let me in.

Now me and Ryan are both working we’ve moved out of Frank and Aoifa’s and are back in the land of hostels.

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Have to wait and see if the garish orange decor grows on me. If not then I can always apply to enter the I’m a Celebrity Jungle. At least with Flintoff there they’ll be someone who can understand me.
Whatever he does on the show he’ll struggle to match our cricket team for Brits embarrassing themselves on Auss TV at the moment.