May 30, 2008

Oxford in pictures

After the horror that was the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival (see post below), we made our way about and hour and a half east to the city of Oxford. Home to the famed Oxford University, this town is jam-packed with stunning architecture that makes you feel like you're back in ye olde England... well, cars, McDonald's and the 'doof doof' of the clubs aside.

Our trip to Oxford heralded a landmark occasion for the two of us — our very first stay in a hostel. A 12-bed dorm would be our home for the next two days, it set us back £16 pounds ($AUD33) each and actually wasn't as bad as we had anticipated...

Worn out from our chilly Cheese-Rolling experience, we hung out in the hostel for most of the arvo — watching Sky TV and making the most of the free internet facilities. Once night rolled 'round, our guts had other ideas, and we hit the streets in search of some grub...

After sharing some nachos at a local pub, we hot-footed it across the street for a hot chocolate before heading back the hostel. I took charge of the remote and proved to be a show-picking legend, clicking out crowd-pleasing favourites like Friends and American Dad before we called it a night.

Luckily, the main part of Oxford can easily be covered by foot, so the next day we put on whatever clothes we had that weren't wet from the Cheese Rolling, and did some serious pavement hitting while checking out the sights.

The main Oxford attraction is Christ Church, a college of the university. The college is so magnificent it was the location of the Harry Potter films and 13 British Prime Ministers have studied there... it also means they charge £4.90 ($AUD10) just to go in and have a sticky beak! Rather than fork out 20% of our daily budget, we decided to do the free Broad Walk which takes you around the outside of the grounds, and up to the river...

One thing we did fork out for, was a climb up the Carfax Tower (admission £2.10). The 23-metre-tall tower is all that remains of the 13th century St Martin's Church. So we made our way up the winding 100 odd stairs, in hopes of a decent view of the city...

...before getting the giggles on the way down...

We also checked out the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe. With 8 million items on 117 miles of shelving, we had visions of towering bookcases with ladders to climb up them, but yet again, you had to pay to get in, so we took a stroll around the grounds instead.

That evening, it was off to chow down some flavour-packed burritos... Craig crashed as soon as we got pack to Oxford Backpackers, while I enjoyed an evening of Shrek with my fellow hostelmates.

Next stop: Bath

May 26, 2008

Say 'cheese'

It was 7am, it was hammering down rain and Punts' newly-fitted stereo system — er, that'd be the £5 portable radio we bought from Woolworths and blu-tacked to the dashboard — was pumping out tunes like Wonderwall, Mustang Sally and Two Princes... That's right folks, we were finally trippin'.

Making the most of the half-term school holidays (when Craig gets a week off from coaching), we decided to jump in Punts and see a bit more of the country we call the Motherland. A couple of days in Oxford, followed by a couple in Bath would do the trick, but first, we had our first weird and wacky festival to attend...

The Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival is said to be around 200 years old, and basically involves a massive roll of cheese, an insanely steep hill (which the cheese is rolled down) and some dead-set maniacs who race to the bottom (absolutely caning themselves while tumbling down the super-steep and and uneven descent) — the winner gets the cheese. We first heard of the festival while watching Backpackers, a show which helped inspire our very own trip, and quickly put it on our to-do list.

With the first race at 12 noon, we were one of the first to arrive at 9.30am. While we were a little apprehensive about the weather situation, we weren't about to let a bit of drizzle stop us from doing something we had been dreaming of doing for yonks. So, there we were, parked in a slippery-wet field in the middle of England, rugged up in the warmest clothes we had in our backpack (yes, backpack, we are sharing one for the week), and about to begin our ascent up Cooper's Hill.

We mindlessly followed some fellow Cheese-Rolling enthusiasts up some very-steep winding trails, and found ourselves at the top of the hill — it was so steep at the top, that you couldn't actually see the hill below — trying to figure out which would be the best possie to watch the races. We figured about halfway would be our best bet — you'd get a good view of the start, middle and finish — the only problem was, after inching our way down the muddy and slippery surface, we realised that, thanks to a rather-large, uneven mound in front of us, we couldn't actually see the middle of the race that well.

After debating whether we should stay put, or risk ending up covered in mud by first painstakingly making our way down our side of the hill, then trying to climb up the other side, we decided it was way to risky and stayed put, our feet awkwardly placed on some of the only small bits of compact mud we could find, that's exactly where we waited for two hours until the first cheese roll of the day.
It wasn't too bad to start off with, we were warm from all the climbing and there was only a light drizzle. Then, at about 11am, the crowds started to roll in, and so did the wind and rain! With the rain coming at us horizontally, and the wind at times almost knocking us over, we persevered. Slowly, the rain started to seep through our jackets, and the ground became muddier, making it harder and harder to stay on our feet. It was official, this was the coldest I have ever been in my life. To make matters worse, a young boy covered in mud, who I could only use a word starting with c and rhyming with stunt to describe, had positioned himself directly next to Craig, and was constantly losing his footing and sliding into us, causing us to fear a domino-like human avalanche should he knock Craig off his feet.

Relief filled the crowd when the first contestants took their places at the top of the hill — finally, some action to take our minds off the current conditions. The Cheese Master strolled out and the crowd cheered, the cheese started rolling and so did the contestants, some tumbling head first the entire way down. The winner of the race ended up surrounded by paramedics, and eventually put in a neck brace and stretchered off, but don't worry, he still got his cheese — a fellow contestant proudly followed the winner to the ambulance, cheese held proudly in the air.

We managed to endure the extreme conditions for two more races (including a women's race), before our bodies couldn't handle any more pain and we decided to pack 'em. Getting out was no easy feat, the grass that once covered the hill had now turned completely to mud, there was about 10 metres of muddy hill between us and freedom. This mere 10 metres took around 15 minutes to cross. Carefully making our way across, baby step by baby step, we used tree branches, weeds and various spectators to hold us up, we were at the home stretch when the inevitable happened — I fell over. With my feet losing grip, my body hit the mud, a massive 'aawww' was heard from the crowd as I slid about four metres before I grabbed a tree branch, hoisted myself up and made my way off the hill with little dignity in tact. There are no photos of our heroic escape, our fingers were simply to frozen to operate the camera.
Reaching the walking paths was pure freedom, our jelly legs went as fast as the could down the winding, muddy tracks, through the wet parking field and to Punts, I never thought I'd be so happy to see her! Covered in mud, we jumped in the car and turned on the heater immediately — I never thought I would feel warm again. Of course simply driving out would've been too easy, Punts' tyres couldn't grip the rain-soaked grass, we were stuck. After a few attempts at trying to get her our (I even tried pushing her!), I managed to find a official-looking guy in a fluoro yellow jumpsuit, and him and a mate pushed Punts to safety.

Finally on the open road, our bodies started to thaw out. Still in our wet clothes, we pulled over to a parking bay at the side of the road and changed out of our soaked clothes and into some dry, clean clothes... heaven. As much as we just wanted to go home, have a hot bath and jump into bed, our journey was not yet complete, it was now off to experience hostel life for the first time in Oxford...

To see footage from this year's event, click below...

May 19, 2008

Hitting headlines with a hat-trick

Unedited extract from the Bournemouth Daily Echo
Monday May 19, 2008

Aussie Craig gives Hook a real Dishing
By Neil Perrett

AUSSIE import Craig O'Shannessy starred with bat and ball as Lymington kick-started their Division Two campaign with a tense two-wicket win over Hook and Newnham Basics.
The 24-year-old Sydneysider, who is nicknamed Dish, plundered five wickets in just nine balls - including an explosive hat-trick - to mop up the visitors' tail at the Sports Ground.
O'Shannessy's exploits (5-34), coupled with Christian Pain's three for 22, helped Lymington restrict Hook to 171 in a clash reduced to 44 overs per side due to a delayed start.
The same pair then contributed crucial middle order runs after Lymington had threatened to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Although Martin Hunt's intelligent 48 laid the foundations for a solid start to their reply, Keith Lovelock's nagging medium pacers began to cause a few anxious moments in the home camp.
But after the portly Hook man (4-21) had seen off Hunt, O'Shannessy (22) and Pain (30) temporarily steadied the ship before their respective demises ensured another uneasy period for the hosts.
However, a canny ninth-wicket partnership between Mark Newton and 15-year-old Tommy Barton eventually saw Lymington home in the gathering gloom.
Lymington captain Adie Hunt told the Daily Echo: "Craig always leads from the front with the ball and is very aggressive with it. He hits the deck hard and puts the opposition on the back foot.
"It makes such a difference to have somebody like him as the spearhead of the attack. He stopped them getting a bigger score and accounted for the two guys who had started to look dangerous."
The skipper also had words of praise for his elder brother Martin Hunt and hailed teenager Barton whose towering six over mid-wicket at the death proved vital.
Hunt added: "Martin batted very well. I put him at the top of the order to be aggressive and then we lost two early wickets so he had to curb his aggression and bat sensibly.
"For a 15-year-old, Tommy showed great judgement and maturity. He took his time and waited for the bad ball and, when he hit it, it stayed hit. It was a lusty blow at an important time.
"I was happy with the way we played; we just tend to make things more difficult than they need to be. But it was good to win and good to get off the mark."

May 12, 2008

Food, glorious food

It's no secret that we (especially Craig) share a love of all things edible — a delicious meal can send Craig into a three-hour rant on exactly how delicious the said meal was, while I think the fact that I have put on two kilograms in the past three weeks says it all!

In the planning stages of this trip, food was a big talking point — from pizza in Italy to giant schnitzels in Germany, we were ready and raring to consume it all! Unfortunately, England is not exactly known for its culinary delights, there are a lot of fried things, and all of them are served with baked beans (you can even get baked beans at KFC!). Nonetheless, we have managed to find a few redeeming morsels on the British eating scene (aside from Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay), that we would like to see back Down Under when we return... Are you listening Mr Rudd?

Indian curry
Curry has now overtaken the traditional fish'n'chips as England's 'national dish', so you'd assume with that much curry being eaten in this part of the world, it'd be pretty bloody good. We've consumed our fair share of currys, naan and papadums since we've arrived (see the new curry counter on the sidebar), and yes, it is pretty bloody good. We still have a soft spot for our local Indian Kitchen in Drummoyne, but with people from the Indian subcontinent accounting for two-thirds of immigrants in Britain, the Australian curry scene simply just can't compete!

Doritos Chilli Heatwave
If anyone knows chips (or crisps as they call them here), it's Craig, and with corn chips being his dominant vice, it's really saying something when he become obsessed with one particular flavour. A mix between Craig's favourite Aussie flavours, Sweet Chili and Mexicana, it's almost like these bad boys were made just for him — packed with flavour and a spicy punch.

Orange squash
Now don't get us wrong, we'll always be lovers of good ol' Cottee's (especially the raspberry and lime flavours), but right now, we're kinda diggin' what the Poms call squash, especially orange. While cordial is quite syrupy and sweet, squash is just that bit more fruitier (well it does contain 50% fruit juice, so go figure) — I personally put this down to the fact that actual fruit juice can be quite hard to find, there seems to be a lot of sickeningly-sweet crap that's 'from concentrate' around here.

Angel Slices
Angel Slices are such a fitting name for these delicious treats, as they really are morsels of heaven. If Chilli Heatwaves were made for Craig, I couldn't have come up with a more perfect treat for me than these soft, spongy delights if I tried. Let me run you through it: Two layers of melt-in-your-mouth sponge cake (one vanilla, one strawberry), with a thin layer of cream between the two for added moistness (sorry to all those 'moist' haters out there. Moist, moist, moist, moist, moist), covered in a sweet layer of icing, all in a snack-sized finger — though I usually just eat the whole pack of six in a binge-fest.

Why drink a schooner when you can have a pint? Trumping schooners by 143ml, downing a few pints can be quite deceptive, and will also have you running for the loos all night! While we are on the topic of beer, the options here are almost endless — bitters, ales, lagers — and Craig's got quite a task ahead of him to get through them all!

A refreshing alternative for non-beer drinkers (ahem, me), cider sure goes down a treat! Made from the fermented juice of apples (and sometimes pears), cider has an alcohol content of about 8.5% and tastes like, um, apple cider, with a hint of bitterness (think beer). Served with ice, we are told that it's a summer fave (the UK consumes the most cider per capita in the world), and I sure plan on downing a few myself this summer!

Waitrose egg sandwiches
Who knew a humble egg sandwich could become such an obsession? Thanks to the surprisingly-edible range of sandwiches available at the UK supermarkets (Waitrose, in particular), we have rediscovered the joy that is hard-boiled egg mixed with mayo and put between two pieces of bread. (Warning: side rant ahead) Though it's not just the supermarket sambos that rule over here, it's supermarkets in general, from the cheap-as-chips Tesco to upmarket Waitrose to the way-out-of-our-league Marks & Spencer, there's something here for everyone. I say screw the mediocre Coles/Woolworths monopoly, Australia needs some real choice when it comes to supermarkets, beyond that of IGA.

May 07, 2008

A day in the life of... Lisa

Tuesday May 6, 2008

7.23am - Wake up with an aching arm, the type of pain you get from exercising for the first time in yonks, though I haven't been exercising — this pain is Wii-induced. I've spent the whole weekend bowling, playing tennis, trampolining and hammer-throwing on the Hunt's new Nintendo Wii. Roll over and look at my clock, 7.23am — still at least two hours of sleep left in me. Swear myself off Wii for a few days and go back to sleep.

9.13am - Wake up and try to talk my body into getting out of bed.

9.32am - Finally manage to get out of bed. Make my way downstairs and make breakfast (Cornflakes and Vegemite on toast). Turn on the TV only to be met with some crappy English show called Sweet Sixteen. This can't be right, where is my usual morning dose of Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, The OC and Smallville (in that order)? Check TV guide, bloody Channel Four has changed the line-up. Settle for an episode of Top Gear on Sky instead.

9.52am - Put linen in the washing machine.

9.59am - Watch Grounded for Life while Craig hogs the internet, checking boring stuff like rugby league news — Darren Lockyer is injured again, or so I'm told. Craig leaves for a day of cricket coaching in the local schools.

10.24am - Shower and get dressed. Pick out a denim skirt. The weather is warm today, my first bare-legged day since we arrived, I thought the day would never come!

10.53am - Do a washing load of woolens. -Put fresh linen on the bed.

11.23am - Get on the net. Check Facebook (write Lucy half a massive Facebook email before accidently losing it, abandon mission), Hotmail (email a couple of newspapers about freelance subbing, life is getting a little too Desperate Housewife for my liking), Girl with a Satchel, 4 Inch Heels Only, Perez Hilton, search for camping options during Oktoberfest.

12.23pm - Phone home. Speak to Dad and Megan, catch up on all the Parkes goss.

12.38pm - Eat lunch (a cheese sandwich and a glass of 'squash', in Oz speak that's cordial), while stalking a few people on Facebook, get a reply email from the Southern Daily Echo about freelancing work, sounds promising.

1.19pm - Get lost while walking to library. Goosebumps on my legs indicate it's not quite as warm as I thought. Finally find the library, reserve Long Way Down (we just finished watching Long Way Round, was brilliant. Dad, you would like it) and The Alchemist. Spot The Lovely Bones on the shelf and grab it (been wanting to read it for ages), also nab a copy of The Rough Guide to England before making my way home via Waitrose. Grab some sausages and ingredients for potato bake.

2.42pm - Arrive home and start cooking the potato bake and sausages to reheat for tonight's dinner. Catch a few episodes of Two and a Half Men ('Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men') while potato bake is baking. Craig comes home from work.

4pm - Go to the bank when the potato bake is finished. Because the Oz dollar is going so well at the moment, we are withdrawing money from our NAB accounts and putting it into our English HSBC one, so if and when the Aussie dollar drops, we'll have some pounds to fall back on.

4.16pm - Half watch TV while Craig investigates ticket prices and travel options for the British Open.

5.02pm - Watch TV. Can't remember what, was obviously exciting. Craig leaves for cricket training.

6.30pm - Watch two episodes of Hollyoaks while eating my sausages and potato bake. Pot bake coulda used a bit more cheese. Starting to get to know the characters and story lines a bit now, it's a pretty bad show — production-values, acting and storyline-wise — but when in Rome Lymington...

7.30pm - Catch an old episode of America's Next Top Model, before researching more Oktoberfest accommodation options while watching How to Look Good Naked. Stumble across, looks like a good (economical) option.

8.27pm - Craig comes home. Sit with him while he eats his dinner and tell him about The Tent.

8.56pm - Go to bed and start reading The Lovely Bones.

10pm - Flick to Channel Four to watch the eagerly-anticipated (by me, anyway) Amy Winehouse: What Really Happened (I watched the Heather Mills one a few weeks ago and it was quite intriguing). Didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, went back to reading.

12.35am - Finally put The Lovely Bones down, I hate having to stop reading a book, especially a really good one!

May 01, 2008

Told ya there were horses on the field!

FYI, there won't be horses on the field every week, Craig was playing a friendly for another team (Ellingham or something?).