Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas in Australia

A Pre-Christmas Ramble

Christmas in Australia is, well, unique.
For a start, we pretend it's cold, when it very obviously is not.

Each year we all sweat our way through every kind of roast meat you can think of, with roast potatoes, pumpkin, hot corn, peas, carrots, cheesy cauliflower and broccoli, piping hot gravy then finish up with a steaming hot bowl of Christmas pudding with heart warming custard.
Yep, it's hot outside and we're pretending not to notice.

But what makes Australia unique when it comes to Christmas traditions is not the actual day of December 25, but what comes the following day; Boxing Day, or more importantly, The Boxing Day Test Match.

The Boxing Day Test is not a competition between you and your spouse/significant other to see who can put empty boxes on both their hands and get all that built-up pre-Christmas angst out of your system by punching each other until someone loses consciousness, the Boxing Day Test is a Cricket Match.

"Cricke-wa?" I hear you say.

I could explain what Cricket is for hours and it still won't make sense, so let's just go with some of the basics.

Cricket is made up of two teams of 11, with some poor sod being called the 12th Man who only gets to play if someone gets injured, but he still has to dress up for the occasion. His job is to hand out the drinks to the other 11 players when not looking incredibly bored in the stands.

One team bats - you have two guys at each end of the pitch who run up and down it until they go out by either:
1. Having the ball hit their wickets directly (the three sticks at each end of the pitch with bails on top) while being bowled at with a very red, very hard ball,
2. They don't make it back behind the line (called a crease) before the opposition knocks off the bail of their wickets,
3. You put your body in front of the wickets to stop the ball from hitting them (sometimes intentionally, other times not),
4. Or you hit a ball and the opposition catches it.

Once 10 of the 11 of your team go out (because you can't play with one person unless it's Backyard Cricket) you swap over and you now go out and chase around the red ball while the opposition tries not to go out.

Did that make ANY sense at all?

Generally come cricket time in Australia it's the hottest time of the year. A perfect time to have 11 guys standing out in the pelting sun with no shade wearing long pants, collared shirt and oft a neat little woollen knit vest, all in the shade of cream. Perfect colour for sliding along grass and rubbing a red ball on your pants.
Here's one of our Aussie Cricketers and also body double for Jason Momoa, Andrew Symonds.
Google him, he must have been pipped at the post for the part of Ronon Dex.

So not only do you have long pants, socks, shoes and shirt, you also have a helmet, leg pads, gloves and other such protection in sweaty regions to go with your 40 degree day with no shade.

Did I mention this game goes for 5 days?
Not just a few hours a day for 5 days, but from around 11am to somewhere around 7pm, for 5 days. There's no stop watches to decide when to finish the day. All comes down to how many overs have been bowled (I'm not going to explain how that works) and the amount of light left. Very vague in this "every second counts" society we now live in, but hey, it's cricket.

To give you the complete picture, imagine the beating down sun with no shade, standing in attire suitable for Winter in England, chasing a red ball around a field for 8 hours a day until someone either wins or you just run out of time. Yes, after 5 days there can still be no result.

Right now, the cricketers are puffing their chests out with pride as to the extreme conditions in which they play this game, but guys, I'd like to point one thing out, you run like a bunch of girls at the first sign of rain!

Oppressive heat; no worries.
Excessive clothing in oppressive heat; bring it on.
Excessive clothing in oppressive heat while having someone run at you and bowl a hard red ball at you as fast as possible with only a piece of wood to defend yourself; yep, it's a manly game...
Precipitation; are you kidding man?!

The Boxing Day Test is played at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) in Melbourne - hence the imaginative name.But as an Australian living in Melbourne, what does the Boxing Day Test mean?

It means that your Boxing Day will be spent doing one, two or even all three of the following:
1. Invite everyone over to your place for a BBQ to watch the game which no one really watches except when you hear "Got him!"

2. Go to someone else's house for a BBQ and watch the game without really watching it because you are catching up on the past year of people's lives that you haven't seen since last Boxing Day.

3. Head off to the MCG and be one of the 100,000 other people who have decided to sit in a hot plastic seat, without shade, quite often wearing a hollowed out watermelon as a hat and hoping that the last bit of wetness that fell on you during the Mexican Wave was water.

Which of the 3 options above you decide to do usually depends on the heat factor and which of your friends possesses an MCG membership, pool, spa or child's wading pool with a good view of the TV and/or bar fridge.

If you are a tourist to Australia at this time of year I can highly recommend any of the three options above. The crowd and atmosphere at the MCG on the first day of the test match is fantastic, but it's always great to catch up with a small group of friends as well.

Whatever you decide to do, it's always a great way to wind down from the chaos that Christmas has become and share some stories and drinks with those you only get to see on Boxing Day.

Cheers! Enjoy everyone!

Monday, December 8, 2008

International Creepy Crawly Survey

This is going to be a bit of a ramble to give you some back story, but I'm hoping to get some feedback from those living in other parts of the world and also locals to see if they have seen similar changes.

Growing up in Melbourne, Australia in the 80's meant hot, hot Summers, thunderstorms, lady bugs, earwigs, blue tongue lizards, skinks, kangaroos on the school oval, dust storms and bush fires.

It's interesting how as you grow up you don't notice certain parts of your childhood disappearing. Yes, I remember when Greatest American Hero and MacGyver went off air, but I didn't notice the lady bugs disappear, that is until this year.

The only reason I noticed that they disappeared is because they've re-appeared!

About 2 months ago Hubby called out for me to "Come and check this out!".

He had on a leaf two lady bugs mating. So either it was a gentleman bug and a lady bug or the bugs have gone all new age.

We hadn't seen lady bugs since we were 8 or 9 years of age. I was going to get footage of the two, but felt that it was a breach of their privacy and just felt kind of wrong so we left them to be and thought no more of the matter.

In case there is a lost in translation issue, here's a dinky little picture of a lady bug courtesy of Wikipedia.Look familiar?

Thinking our mating bugs was a one off it was not thought of again.
Until I found another lady bug on my windscreen, then on the lemon tree, the deck chair, they're everywhere! I asked my Mum if she had noticed them at her house. Turns out she had noticed them around again too.

Following the discovery of the cute bug plague, one day I heard a rustling noise at the front door. I went to inspect and found this guy...

For those of you that haven't seen one of these guys before, it's a blue tongued lizard. Extremely pre-historic looking, but they are gentle giants, until they latch onto your finger.

This one would have been a foot and a half long and a real chubber! He had a bit of a wander around, teased the dogs at the front door then went back into his hole. I've been lucky to see one blue tongue lizard every couple of years for the last 15 years.

Back in the mid-80's we would continually be rescuing them from the backyard in Summer and releasing them back into the bush. I've seen 2 more since this guy.. and no they weren't the same one.

So, strange re-appearnace Number 2 - blue tongue lizards.

Next on my list - grasses.
It's at about now you are wondering if I have a life?

I always had budgies growing up. Budgies, or budgerigars, are a native bird that love to eat grasses with seeds. They grew in abundance in our backyard in the 80's. The seeds, not the budgies.

Budgies... not be mistaken for

budgie smugglers..

This year, our back and front yard has been taken over by these same grasses I haven't seen since I last owned a budgie. And wouldn't you know it, they itch!

Strange re-appearance Number 4 - Earwigs.Earwigs always look like something that has crawled out of the primordial goo. And this one looks like it could crawl off the page. Eeek! Don't spray your screen please.

Also to add to the list, but you are probably bored out your brains by now are dragon flies, millipedes, butterflies and trees are flowering that don't usually flower.

The only other insect I'm waiting to see again are these ones...

I'm sure you will be holding your breath to hear an update if I find them re-appearing. Oh sarcasm font, how I seek thee.

With hardly any rain this year and all of these little beasties making a re-appearance, does it mean to expect bushfires and dust storms this Summer as well? Only time will tell.

For those not from Australia, a lot of our native flora requires fire to release their seeds from the pods and germinate. So as catastrophic as fire is, it is natural and required in this land. That means it is also cyclical and should be expected.

Unfortunately we live in a suburb that doesn't like you disturbing any fallen logs or cut down trees so we are in an extremely dangerous area for bush fires. On one hand we get told to be "fire ready" and to clear any debris, but if we attempt to move fallen debris we get fined. **shakes head**

So now I ask you, have you noticed anything re-appearing after a long absence in your neck of the woods?