Thursday, March 31, 2005

National Jockeys Day

While home in Brisbane, mum told me about a national memorial raceday, to commemorate those horse racing jockey's killed in the sport in Australia. As well as being the second year of the annual event (which is an initiative of the Australian Racing Board and the Australian Jockeys Association), mum had heard in a media report that the Victorian Racing Association had unveiled a permanant memorial, named Fallen Jockey, at Caulfield racecourse in Melbourne, to honour the 298 jockeys who have died in training or at the races between 1847 and 2004.

This article from The Age newspaper discusses the launch day, where some of the families of those named on the memorial were there for the unveiling.

Mum and I wanted to find out more, so a quick search through the web, and we had found the offical website, and to our surprise and pride the same listing that appears on the memorial right there in front of us. Click here to see the website, and click here to see the listing of the names in alphabetical order, including my father, John Spargo.

We also came across a media release from the Victorian Government Minister for Racing, the text of which i've copied in below:

State Government of Victoria Logo - link to Victorian Government Home


DATE: Saturday, March 5, 2005


The memory of 298 Australian jockeys killed doing the job they love will now live on, thanks to a commemorative statue at Caulfield Racecourse unveiled today by Racing Minister John Pandazopoulos.

The new statue, named Fallen Jockey, is adorned with the names of jockeys who lost their lives on the racetrack since racing began in Australia 160 years ago.

The statue depicts a bronze figure of Hughie Cairns, a jockey who died in the 1920s in a fall at Moonee Valley. Cairns was 40 at the time of his death and was on the eve of retirement.

“This statue will remind race goers of the passion and determination displayed by our jockeys, both past and present, for many years to come,” Mr Pandazopoulos said.

Today is the second National Jockey Celebration Day. It aims to formally recognise and celebrate the role of jockeys, and raise funds for the National Jockeys’ Fund.

Mr Pandazopoulos said the National Jockey Celebration Day stems from a study commissioned by the State Government and Victorian Jockeys Association in 2001.

Mr Pandazopoulos said the statue and the National Jockey Celebration Day were two of the initiatives put in place as a result of the Research Study into the Welfare of Retired Jockeys commissioned by the Bracks Government and the Victorian Jockey Association.

“The second National Jockey Celebration Day will see 23 racetracks across Australia formally celebrate and recognise the contribution of our jockeys. This includes a simultaneous one minute silence to honour fallen jockeys.

“The Bracks Government is committed to the ongoing welfare of our jockeys and has this year committed more than $300,000 from the $8 million Racing Community Development Fund for the ongoing financial, educational and welfare support programs for jockeys.

“Furthermore, under the Racing Community Development fund, we’ve contributed $250,000 towards occupational health and safety training programs at country clubs and racetracks as well as $110,000 for good practice programs for horse trainers, Racing Victoria Limited and club employees.”

I plan to go and see this the first time i am back in Melbourne in 2007. I just wanted to post about it here so people can read it.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Back to Brisbane for Conan and Sharleen’s Wedding

Having arrived into Brisbane on Friday at 7am, we spent the day at my parents place, and then headed into Spring Hill for dinner with both our families at the Smith's place. A very long night ensued, and in the end we had to hit the hay because the next day we were attending one of the two big events we had flown across the world for - the wedding of our friends Sharlene & Conan.

Conan's bucks night which I missed as I was still in Singapore

We travelled out to Ipswich courtesy of Gav and Angela, and joined up with Dale and Laura at the Motel we were staying at that night. After catching up for a bit we hurriedly got dressed and headed to a beautiful gardens area where the service would be, and met a nervous looking Conan, and best man Daniel who'd also made the trip from the UK. All of our friends were there (with the exception of Brett who'd been called to China for work) for this the first of the Bracken Ridge guys to get married!

Daniel, with Conan the groom; and all of the boys together again

Gav, Ang, Elise, Carly, Laura

The ceremony

Sharlene arrived a little later with her father and sister and the beautiful ceremony went off without a hitch. After the usual congratulations we headed back to the Motel for the first of many drinks that night, and for me to get ready for my gig that night - Conan had asked me to play the music for the reception, so I had to pull together a few playlists for the night - we all met back at the reception (held at the RSL) later on, and with the arrival of the bride and groom the evening got started.

Todd and I being gooses with the laptop and headphones; and And & Gav

Daniel as Best Man delivered his speech, and with the music getting louder and the drinks coming faster we started getting out on the dancefloor. The night seemed to fly by, perhaps partly due to my stressing about what to play next every 5 minutes or so, but the music seemed to all go well. By the time last drinks were called and the reception began to wind up, i'm not so sure anyone could remember what i'd played!

Dan's best man speech

Conan and his mum; Carly and me

Conan and Mrs Coxen

Everyone being stupid; and Daniel collecting his 'last drinks'

The guests began to file out of the place, and despite our best efforts to get packed up in time, we missed the last courtesy bus back to the hotel - we were almost pushed out the door by the RSL staff, and to top it off Conan and Sharlene as husband and wife were the very last to leave!!

We went outside and waited for our ordered taxis, only to find out that bride Sharlene's parents had taken her handbag with them, which contained the keys to their B&B for their wedding night! What a nightmare!!

And so at midnight, the rest of the guests piled into their taxis, and we left the bride and groom waiting on the side of an Ipswich street waiting for their room keys to arrive! The only people we know who could pull this off with grace are these two, even while wearing a their wedding suit and wedding dress!!

We all headed back to our Motel rooms, where the night continued with an impromptue party, a few games of backgammon, a 'free' box of champagne we were meant to look after for the bride's parents (but accidently drank!) and various other eventful moments which certain people won't forget for awhile (eh Buse!?)..

Back at the Motel 'after-party'

Everyone met up for a breakfast the next day before heading back to Brisbane to fully recover, and trade photos from the great day before. We also had to fess up about the consumed box of champagne!!

Conan and his now father-in-law turn up to breakfast in the same clothes and watch!!


Friday, March 18, 2005

Raffles Hotel, the Singapore Sling, Singapore food, and plenty of Shopping

Well the departure from Heathrow was quite exciting, as I stupidly decided to escort Carly and her luggage to her Singapore Air check-in desk in Terminal 3, and once we'd said goodbye dash back over to Terminal 4 via the unreliable Heathrow Express train to check into my Qantas flight - but I left it a bit late and on arrival I found out that the reason that there is no queue is not because they knew it was me coming.. but rather that i am the last person to check-in and that i am lucky I wsn't any later - Note to self: When taking different flights from different terminals, let Carly check-in herself next time!!

We've been crusing around steamy Singapore for two days now, after what I can definitely claim to be the shittiest Qantas flight i've ever been on. And it sounds like Carly had one that was just as bad on her Singapore Air flight at almost the same time, for similar reasons: Turbulence, and crap staff!

After leaving Heathrow, my flight began hitting mild turbulence which delayed the serving of the first meal/refreshment. Not to worry, they eventually got round to everyone before anyone wanted to sleep - but unlike the usual excellent Qantas in-flight service, I had the crew from hell! These guys were absolute tossers, standing around chatting all flight, ignoring buzzer calls, abusing passengers for little or no reason.. the list goes on! If we weren't in transit and weren't up for such a busy time when we got to Brisbane I'd be drafting my complaint letter right now! Amnd to make matters worse, the turbulence got worse as we crossed over India and approached Singapore, and as such the second meal got cancelled because it wasn't safe for the crew to serve it! Absolutely shithouse, and no drinks either!!

I was not a happy camper when we landed in Singapore.

We met up in Carly's arrival terminal, and after collecting bags we booked ourselves a hotel in the city from the accommodation desk at the airport (which is an excellent way to do things last minute I should add!!), and then caught the amazing rail system from Changi to Orchid Road. The walk from the station to the hotel was terrible - not long, just terribly hot and with large packs on and extra hand luggage I nearly watched Carly collapse before I had to take most of her gear for the rest of the walk. We'd arrived at 7pm at night, so the first night nvolved not much beyond getting some noodles at a bar down the street, and a good nights sleep. The hotel here has been great - reasonably priced, small, but nice, and with a typical asian 'english breakfast' included! (would you like a cup of coppee!?) - and it is right in the centre of the shopping area, and not far from the central sights.

Yesterday I got all of my Apple computer accessory buying out of the way in the huge IT shopping malls, and with a very patient Carly by my side during the experience we now have an extra bag of toys to complete my home-office setup when we return to London. Later that day we went to the Orchid Road strip and went through the malls and boutiques, and were quite amazed to find most big brands to be more expensive than London, and pretty much on par with Australia.

Last night we walked down to the famous Raffles Hotel, and took a seat in the Long Bar to have the obligatory Singapore Sling cocktail. Despite the rediculous price it was a great experience, the bar has apparently changed little since colonial days, with the old ceiling fans still combating the tropical heat and humidity, and timber window louveres blocking out all but the few necessary slithers of sunlight which pierce through the warm air catching the dust, and the rich timber floor covered in crushed peanut shells - the product of the bowl of them you receive from the excellent bar service as soon as you take a seat.. I didn't want to take any photos of the scene, but it sticks well in my memory as a great hour or so of me and my girl just sitting there soaking it all in.

We then walked on to the CBD area, over the river and past a whole row of touristy-looking restuarants and bars, but that wasn't what we were after - so we continued on into Chinatown and came across this big restuarant full of locals, so we went on in. We sat down and picked up a menu, which had absolutely nothing written in english, and therefore no prices we could read!!! Oh shit!!! and by this stage the whole restuarant of families etc is just staring at us as we're the only non-asians in the place!! We must have looked a sight!! But we couldn't walk out!! You just can't I said to Carly!!

Stuff it we thought, lets just give it a crack based on the pictures! - so we ordered some bugs and a few other things, and we pretty much got what we were after! Which was a good thing as we'd have been stuffed if we had to complain. At the end we paid and said goodbye to the waitresses and the smiling guys who looked like the owners (just like we would back in Asian House), and walked through the rest of the historic chinatown district on the way back to the train back to the hotel.

Today we made an early-ish start and headed out of the city to the Singapore Zoo. Having been to Taronga Park and a few other smaller ones, this is another of the big ones that we've been wanting to go to. It was a great day, and it was good to see a different range of animals than the usual because of the different tropical climate here. We saw the large tiger display they have which is very impressive, and also a few of my favourites - the Red Panda's which i'd first seen in Sydney.

Carly in front of one of the amazing primate displays they have there

After we were all Zoo'd out out we travelled back into town and packed our bags ready for the second leg of our trips that night. We returned to Changi Airport on the train again (this time with less weight in Carly's backpack), said our goodbyes before our seperate flights, and checked in at our respective terminals. That is where I am sitting now - in the very same spot where I posted the very first spargoblog entry.

So tomorrow morning, exactly 6 months after we left to start this adventure, we'll be landing just after each other in Brisbane, with some very excited family members waiting for us to come out those arrival exit doors!


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Travelling back to Brisbane via Singapore

Well the ski trip is over, and we're again back at our perpetual boarding house at Karen W's place at Putney (thanks Karen!). This morning we are re-packing our clothes yet again, and storing our winter gear into Karen's already packed cupboards (thanks again to Karen!). But as is our style we've still got a list of things to get done today before we make our way to the Piccadilly Line, such as shopping for a few last minute items in the West End, and collecting some promised Chelsea Football club souvenirs at Fulham for Bill and Justine from QR. Tonight we head back out to Heathrow, for our flights back to Brisbane via a 2 day stopover in Singapore to recover from the ski trip. We'll be making the most of the rest stop to prepare ourselves for what will be a big first weekend back in Brisbane, with Conan's wedding on the Saturday morning the day after we arrive. Although it will have only been six months almost to the day since we left, there'll be plenty of catching up with family and friends to do.

Because of a Qantas embargo, Carly has had to book a full-priced return fare on Singapore Air to get us both home and back to London for the two weddings. This means that on both trips, we will be on seperate planes, getting in at nearly identical times. Doing this hasn't played well for our budget at the moment, but we'll have to take it on the chin to be home for these two big events.. We both fly out of different terminals at Heathrow at almost the same time, and arrive into Singapore early in the evening to different terminals at similar times where we'll meet up again - the plan is to just book a hotel at the Changi airport when we arrive, and then spend a few days relaxing around the city just shopping and eating, visiting Raffles Hotel and the famous Long Bar and we're also planning to see the Singapore Zoo. After the chaos of the week of skiing, sleeping in is also high on the list!

After the two days break, we arrive into Brisbane from Singapore early on Friday morning (again on different flights but at almost the same time), and we've already been warned about a welcoming party at the arrivals gate at Brisbane International.

Back to the packing..


Monday, March 14, 2005

Les Duex Alpes – Skiing the French Alps

Putting this entry together after the trip proved to be an absolute nightmare..! We have just had the most action-packed week of skiing I could have ever hoped for, and there's sure to be a few more trips to be had while we are over here.

For months now we'd all been talking about this trip, had already met the other members of the LDA Ski Team at an earlier gathering, and the e-mail banter had been endless with all of the ski reports and resort information each of us could find. Expectations were high, and I think were definitely met by the week that just was.

I'll go all the way back to the start of the week, when we moved out of our place at Barnes with most of our belongings, to stay the night at Darren and Alison's place at Putney. Instead of doing the sensible thing and staying in that night to rest up for the big week ahead - Darren, John W, Carly and I headed to the ol' faithful Spotted Horse pub in Putney High Street for a cheeky pint or two. Carly left the pub early to get some rest, but us lads continued on. Needless to say, when we left the pub lock-in at 1:30am (or thereabouts, the exact time is uncertain), we were well and truly flogged and absolutely fired up for the ski trip.

Problem being, the ski trip started in 2.5 hours time, when the alarm clock went off at around 4am for us to get up, get ready, and pile into a taxi for the trip out to Gatwick!! Darren and still very much under the influence as we travelled southwards, and by the time we'd made it to the check-in queue it was obvious to the others in the group who met us there that it had been a big night!

In the departure lounge at London Gatwick - Darren W. and I don't feel too flash

We were all checked in and boarded a very jam-packed Monarch charter flight to Lyon, where we boarded buses and travelled the 2.5 hours to the resort - Les Deux Alpes. On landing at Lyon we were treated to a snow-covered field, with brown rabbits seen dashing across the taxiways as we exited the jet via ice-covered staircases.

Snow on the ground at Lyon Airport!

The bus trip to the resort was through even more falling snow, which only abated as we climbed into the Alpes and through the most impressive Alpine scenary i've ever seen - unfortunately the trip to Falls Creek just doesn't cut it when you compare the small villages and amazing passes, tunnels, hairpin turns, and cuttings along this narrow road. I later found out from a ski instructor that the road to the resort is used as part of the Tour de France, and forms part of the mountain stages with the race stopping at the resort during the summer.

We arrived at the resort, and were taken first to our chalet to meet our hosts and to find out how to get out ski gear from the hire stores. The chalet we had booked purely based on the description on the website was brilliant.. Quite traditional looking, and very large for our group which weas big enough to allow us to have it exclusively. The living area was massive and would be the scene for plenty of big nights in after dinner.. We were certainly on-snow, and there had been sufficient falls to allow us to ski in and out of the front door from the adjacent run and chair lift which took us up to another run and across to the centre of the front valley of the resort. From there you took a real European gondola (a first for me!) up and over the front valley, and over a series of huge skiing areas on the way up to 2600m.

We left the chalet and got organised with our ski's at the hire shop, and then returned to the chalet for our first amazing dinner prepared by our hosts - a pair of English women who were nearing the end of their season of work, and were certainly keen for a few drinks with our outgoing group. Every night we'd get a three course meal and all the wine we could drink while we ate - it sounded like, and was, the best way to finish a long day's skiing.

To get a feel for the resort, the lads headed up to the nearby Irish Bar (yes, at a French Alps ski resort) for a Guinness or Kronnenberg, and a game of pool.

The boys up at the Irish Pub; and the main street of the village

We headed back in time for dinner and a few settling in drinks that night around the lounge. Of course, being the first night, a few team challenges were set - the first being who would be the first one to climb onto the ceiling rafters & beams above the living area. Later that night Darren met the challenge, and we made sure a camera was on to record the stupid bastard up as he climed up there!

With a few of us (such as yours truely) sporting the first of many successive hangovers the next morning, the next day was an early start as we rose to our first cooked breakfast, cup of brewed coffee, and got our gear on for the first runs of the week. While several of us headed to lessons, the boys (of course, not needing lessons!) headed to some challenging blue and black runs half way up the mountain. I quickly found my ski legs, although I was to discover just as quick that these boys were serious skiers - most of them probably had 10+ trips, and although I was quietly terrified about where they were going to take me, I knew I would benefit greatly if I kept up.

Heading up in the gondola; and our skiing group high up at 3200m

First stop, a black run which was covered in drifting snow andice all over the face, and a damn steep slope which levelled out approaching the lift boarding area. So, with memories of black runs in Falls Creek amongst the gum trees flooding back, I hesitently leaned forward and began my turns with some sliding on the ice and some rather fast moments sliding on the edge between confidence and no control! I still vividly remember this run weeks later, simply because of the relief I felt when I made my final braking turn and stopped at the end after a long straight run over the bottom turn. I was absolutely out of breath, both from exhaustion and exhilaration, and feeling emotions of panic as I looked back and saw what i'd just covered on one of my first runs of the trip!!! Brilliant!

For the next few days our group of lads traversed all over the various mountain of the relatively small resort (by European standards), picking out our favourites and perfecting them with ever increasing ego-fuelled speed. The skiing was just nothing short of brilliant.. Each day we would stop for lunch at one of the on-snow restuarants, and get a gourmet toasted sandwich grill, always with french fries of course! Not the healthiest food, but a great energy shot to get you back out there for the rest of the day.

Stopping for lunch - look at that view!

After just a day getting back her ski legs following her first trip a few years earlier back in Australia, Carly was into it again and having her daily lessons on the green and blue runs up the mountain. It wasn't so much the skiing that was causing her problems on this trip though. On our 9 year anniversay day (3rd March), we spent the day skiing together up between 2600 and 3200m. In normal weather this provides for the most amazing scneary and the best runs because the snow is at its freshest, but not this day - once we got about 3000m, a very cold blizzard-style wind buffetted us as we started the runs, and Carly's very cold hands could not take it. It was a very slow run back down to lunch at the restuarant at 2600m, and although she bravely skiied the whole way - there were some hairy moments on tricky sections of this red run as she skidded off the side of the piste and for seconds I thought she'd gone off the edge of a cliff. I raced over to find her lying on her back laughing at herself - apparently finding the falling over a lot more fun tham the difficult skiing! I just had the best day togother with her, doing one of my favourite things with my favourite girl - we stopped and had a beer and hot chocolate at lunch, sitting in the deck chairs looking out across the alps. We went out together for dinner that night and it topped off a fantastic anniversary day together on the snow. I am constantly reminded of a promise I made at about 2800m, which was caught on video - 'We are going to Egypt for our next anniversary!!'

Carly and I skiing together on our anniversary day; and stopping for a celebratory drink

Night time after dinner became a regular pattern of drinking as much wine as the hosts would allow, and then me trying to convince the exhausted souls around me that it was time to hit the bars up-town.. Some nights I succeded, other nights we'd just hang around the chalet, enjoying more of the "von rouge" or the fridge shelf full of local beers, and laughing (or crying) over the days skiing. Each night there was always the review of the days photos and small videos on one of the Notebooks brought with us, and by the end of the trip we'd amassed between us some 400+ images and a whole stack of hilarious videos of people skiing very well, and some not so well.

The usual antics sitting around the chalet living room

One of the last nights out with the chalet staff before we head home

On one other night, our tour company held a short pub crawl around a few of the local bars and clubs, and so a few of us opted for fancy dress gear claimed from the hallway cupboard of the chalet, and hit the town. The pub crawl was great fun, and with a whole stack of complimentary shots to stomach as we trekked from pub to pub, the next morning's breakfast table was somewhat quiet as the chalet was a bit slow to wake up and get moving. One memorable moment at the very first bar, was a drinking game where poor Simon (one of Andy's English mates) got stiched up and made to drink a pint of spirits, which was the equvilent of 8-10 drinks in one hit - Simon decided to pull stumps a bit earlier than the rest of us, and was not a well boy the next day!! We all kicked on that night, with the photos below saying it all. At one stage I was found walking the street outside one of the clubs, having lost most of my clothes to some Engligh girls inside. I remember very little of this and similar events discussed the next morning at breakfast.

Photos from the pub crawl

Skiing the next day at 3000m - with the wig yet again..

The day after the pub crawl ended up being more about the scenary and relaxing on holidays, than the skiing. A small group of us ventured up the other side of the resort, and found ourselves an outdoor bar area which had a small DJ setup with speakers, cranking out some dance/house tunes while the punters who'd stopped by for some lunch and a beer just chilled out in some deck chairs on the snow. It was possibly the best afternoon of the whole trip. The few of us who'd ventured out that day after the craziness of the night before were rewarded with a few hours sitting back in deckchairs sitting on the snow, sunglasses on, dozing off, enjoying the alps. Brilliant stuff I won't forget. Sitting there you had to say that the French know how to do this best - who else would think to put a bar halfway down a run at about 2000m, and serve up cold Kronenberg and a BBQ on the snow while playing tunes for the patrons and skiing flying past.

Relaxing in deck chairs at the bar we found - the day AFTER the pub crawl

As the week went on the skiing for me just got better and better. I was progressively being pushed along by Chris T. - another of Andy's mates on the trip - who is an excellent advanced skiier who is amazing to watch. By the end of the week it was just the two of us taking to some of the more challenging black runs at some decent speed, and with the Twitch pushing me along I could definitely feel that my skiing had advanced in the week despite not having lessons during this trip.

Twitchell and I around the mountain (the photo at the top-right has Mont Blanc in the background)

But before the week was over, and considering some of the stupid stuff that we'd been doing, there was a major injury. Andy, doing what could be regarded as a simply jump just off-piste, fell awkwardly into some soft snow and did damage to an already aggrevated back injury. Not being able to ski down the rest of the run to the Ski Patrol, the Ski Patrol had to come to him. And because the resort is so large, there was no way for him to be taken down the mountain in a stretcher/sled, so he was airlifted off in a helicopter, much to the amusement of all of the boys who were with him at the time (I was skiing with Carly that day on our anniversary day). See the brilliant photos of the mountain rescue below!!

Andy being rescued and airlifted off the mountain; and checking his x-rays that night with the lads

At the end of the week we packed up all our gear and boarded the transfer bus early on Saturday morning for the long downhill drive back to Lyon airport, and the biggest queue i'd ever seen at an airport!! - after 2hrs of standing in line dealing with incompetant French check-in staff, and delays to the flight, we boarded the plane and returned to London Gatwick and then a trian back to Karen's place at Putney. And in just two days after being in the French Alps we'll be heading to Heathrow and homeward-bound to Australia for the wedding trip.

Having amazing snow the quality of which i've never seen or skiied on, excellent on-snow accommodation, and a great group of people; this trip was the best thing i'd done since moving to the UK - I only hope I can manage another trip skiing in Europe next winter.