Tag Archives: culture

Two-Up Gambling with the Aussies on ANZAC Day

The crowd get ready for the result at a two-up game in AustraliaI lost it all. All the money in my wallet went in the time that it might take to make and drink a cup of tea. All I’d been trying to do was join in, to be part of a rowdy Aussie crowd, to feel and immerse myself in this annual event.

So I didn’t lose it, as such, I just gambled it away in a game where skill, poker face and celebration style are unimportant. Thankfully.

Known as two-up, this game sees people bet against each other on a heads or tails majority of a two or three-coin throw. Using a wooden coin cradle AKA a kip, the spinner stands in the middle of a 3-metre circle and flips the coins out of their paddle onto the ground. The ringkeeper announces the result and the crowd goes wild, swears, shouts.

Someone always wins. The tails better – the person who has held the money throughout the action – either hands over the cash or pockets it, depending on the game outcome.

Then it all repeats. Again and again. Hours of it, apparently.

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Originally played by the soldiers in the trenches of Gallapoli during the First World War, two-up is now legally only allowed to be played on the 25th of April every year – ANZAC day  – which ‘marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War‘.

But why only play two-up one day a year?

It does make some sense. With patrons of the places where the games take place betting each other and not the house, there is little to no commercial profit, other than the income from extra drinks. But this doesn’t address the legal issue.

More likely, though, is that Australia wants to be responsible in keeping problems associated with alcohol and gambling to a minimum. Two-up certainly offers the opportunity to win and then lose a lot of money, very quickly.

Back to the game. Every now and then the ringer would hand out freebies and call for a charity shower, and the ring would get pummeled by silvers. I imagined that later in the day the donations would be more generous as drinks flowed and spirits were charged in an ebb and flow of energy and excitement.

A flawlessly made up woman dressed in a silver summer dress hung with one arm to the metal barriers surrounding the game circle and waved banknotes around with the other, tipping them to her forehead. Her eyes struggled to focus yet each time they opened the game up to the next round of betting, she was in, waving those notes. First she collected a few wins but then I saw her starting to hand it back. Finally she slunk away, all spent up, I assumed, or otherwise in need of a friend or a glass of water.

After observing others place bets with neighbours and people across the room I felt ready to test-drive a bet. I played D-man $5, and I lost. ‘I’ll give you it as a test run,’ he teased and gave me back my note. I tried it against another guy close to me. The coins were flung in the air and fell to the ground. I lost. Only $5 again, but I lost and someone else was up $5. It all adds up.

‘One more go,’ I told D-man and I found myself another opponent and upped the bet. $10 this time. Third time lucky, right?

Wrong. The coins fell and I walked away a loser. A very un-Australian loser, at that.

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Travel Word Play on World Poetry Day 2014

The Greek philosopher Aristotle reckoned that ‘adventure is worthwhile’, thus giving travelling the thumbs up, while Edgar Allen Poe is quoted as saying that ‘to elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.’ Both are worthwhile and both are necessary, in my books, so to give a nod to World Poetry Day 2014, I’ll share some of my favourite poems that I relate to travel.

I want to start with one that takes me back to my life in England, to a time when I’d catch myself in moments of routine and yearn for a different life, one that I hadn’t yet figured out. It’s sometimes difficult to put your finger on what you want, but reading this is a good reminder of how to feel alive, whether that be through travel or otherwise:

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

This poem, Die Slowly, reminds me of my own need to drink in as much of life as possible. I’m not sure that it is actually by Pablo Neruda, as suggested by some online sources, but nonetheless it reminds me of Neruda and takes me back some years to when I was studying Spanish, ideas of travel forming in my mind. I would read Neruda’s poems slowly in Spanish, trying to make sense of their meaning, and then look to the mirroring page of the book that my godmother had given me and read the English translation.

And this poem?  Neruda or not, I hear it. I chose to mix it up and live a little. And that included making the decision to travel and leave everything I knew behind. 

Throughout my travels I – like any traveller – have had to make choices about the howswhyswhens and with whos, and  so often I’ve had moments when I’ve thought: have I made the right decision? Robert Frost plays with this idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem speaks to me about making decisions that are right for you. Have I made the right decisions on my journey? Yes, apparently. Whoever I ask says the same thing: whatever path you chose was the right one. Or neither was the right one. Or something like that.

And so during my travels I’ve immersed myself in places and experiences that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and  I’ve connected with people and situations that I might not otherwise have come across. Like with any traveller, these interactions and experiences have left deep imprints. When I take a minute, such as now, to contemplate my own journey, I can relate elements of my experience to this classic poem by William Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The theme, one study source states is about the importance of connecting with nature in order to understand oneself and one’s place in the universe. For me, that has often been through travel.

And those daffodils? Those moments on my journey? Each time I remember them, meditate on them, I am back there, surrounded by sight, smell, sound and sensation. Each time, I feel life. 

Have any recommendations? I’d love to hear from you. Feel like reading over a few more? Have a glance over some of these travel poems.

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5 Benefits of Family Holidays

Family group hug

Family are the people in your life who want you in theirs, the ones who accept you for who you            are, the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what…

I consider myself extremely lucky. I love spending time with my family, particularly when I can steal them away for at least a few days so that it’s just us, where work and day-to-day distractions are wholly removed. As a grown up family, it’s as precious.

But sure, having all gotten used to living our own adult lives, we have our moments when our plans don’t align, when our ideas clash, when my way of making coffee just doesn’t fit with your way. Something strange also happens, at times, a return to childhood identities, with bossiness and awkwardness and moods from twenty years ago emerging unexpectedly.

Ultimately, though, there are benefits to holidaying together, something I realised again in 2013 when I spent a  week in a beautiful cottage in Linton, Herefordshire, with my parents, my sister and her husband, my ten week old nephew and my D-man.

Now based in Australia, about 17,000km from my childhood home, this was the first time in nearly two years that I’d caught up with my family, and I cherished moments of chatting late into the night with my mother, catching up on our lives, picking up on snippets of wisdom and life learning, of observing my dad scout the garden of our holiday house, searching for edible goodness to bring to the table, of walking and talking in the countryside with my sister and sleeping, swaddled nephew, of getting to really meet her husband and hear a little of his story, of introducing D-man to my clan.

In trying to understand what makes a family holiday so special and important, I’ve come to the conclusion that these are some of the key benefits:

  1. You are able to relax. Totally. Unlike within certain professional and friendship groups, there’s no need to put up appearances, there’s no pretense. You all know each other pretty well, the life journey that you’ve been on, the struggles that you’ve met and overcome, the joys you’ve experienced. There is something incredibly comforting about not needing to explain yourself, to just be fully understood and accepted. It helps you to deeply relax.
  2. You can really spend quality time together. Away from our usual environment, we are less likely to be distracted and more able to be present, in the moment, with our family. Things that are deemed time wasting and unimportant in the rush of normal life can again surface, like ice creams and lazy wanders around quaint English villages, like board games, puzzles and creativity, whatever your craft.
  3. You make space to nurture family relationships. Skype and phone conversations have their place, but nothing beats sitting around the dinner table sharing stories and recalling family moments that leave you laughing so hard that tears roll down your cheeks, of warming around a fire after a drizzly hillside walk, of collectively observing the next generation of your family wriggle their toes, grab their feet and gurgle in their cot.
  4. You create moments and memories that bring you closer. When it’s time to leave your holiday house and say goodbye to the family reunion, it’s often back to a world where technology is the tool that keeps us connected. While phone chats maintain connections and photos can remind us of certain times during the holiday, memories in their broader sense of sight, smell, touch and sound can help transport us back to that time of feeling relaxed and surrounded by those closest to us.
  5. You learn more about each other and the wider family. Catching up on the events of the last year or two, noticing new laughter lines and grey hairs, discovering things about your grandparents, finding out which aunt is going through difficulties, which cousin is doing incredibly well at college, all these create a feeling of understanding, connection and ultimately, belonging. And isn’t that essentially what we all want?

All of these assume you actually like your family – at least a little – and that you get on well enough to make time together a positive experience, rather than one you leave with a few extra frown lines.

Wishing you all happy holidays in 2014, with successful, nurturing unions between you and your family, blood tied or otherwise.   

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Back in England and still on the Banksy trail, this time in Bristol

Art goes technical with a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Modern art: art that requires a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Back in England, the pursuit of Banksy continued. Whilst London appeared to be a bit too much of a widespread maze in which to get lost, Bristol – Banksy’s hometown – seemed the better option to seek out some of his work. Real life work in real life places. No prints this time.

It was to be a trip centered on technology. There are benefits, apparently.

D-man, a long time fan of Banksy’s work, downloaded the Banksy Tour iPhone app. We wove in and out of city traffic, up dead-end streets and down bustling suburb highstreets in our hire car, tapping coordinates and street names into the sat nav and scanning sides of buildings as we drove by.

Some works no longer existed, others were carefully preserved. It felt a little like a grown-up treasure hunt.  Each time that we finally found a piece I was filled with an indescribable bubble of something, not too dissimilar to joy or satisfaction, maybe, and we’d park up and go and stand and stare for a few moments, occasionally muttering critiques too insignificant to report.

Maybe the most gratifying part of this urban adventure was spotting unknown works that may or may not have been anything to do with Banksy, pieces that acknowledged his style, themes and timing.

Because in amongst a sea of scribbles and expressions, there are some conscious pieces, pieces that are angry and articulate and beautiful, and they’re not all by Banksy.

Heavy weaponry - original Banksy work given a chance to fade

Heavy weaponry – original Banksy work given a chance to fade

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it's back

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it’s back

Early Banksy contributions

Early Banksy contributions

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

Rose in a rat trap

Rose in a rat trap

The mild mild west

The mild mild west

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across... courtesy of Banksy?

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across… courtesy of Banksy?

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Wordless Wednesday #9: Happiness, however you look at it

A sign seen outside a pub in Herefordshire that reads: Everyone who passes through this door brings happiness. Some by entering. Some by leaving.

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Wordless Wednesday #7: Tourists lost in time

Tourists looking at a map in a square in Hereford, in front of a 17th century black and white building.

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On the Banksy trail in some random little art town in the Netherlands

Banksy-meets-Basquiat-Exhibition-Holland-2013

Welcome to the small town of Laren in Holland, where you apparently stumble across big names.

It’s early Saturday afternoon and I’m in Laren, an old, affluent arty town some 30km southeast of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

I’m here to attend a Banksy exhibition, something that I find a little absurd. How can you take a street artist and put them indoors, restrained and commercialised? It seems almost to be bad form. And yet, here I am supporting it, kinda.

It just so happens that the day I’ve chosen to visit is the day that the Lionel Gallery have spread out the red carpet, trayed up the champagne flutes and parked a Maserati and a Ferrari on the driveway. It’s some sort of open day.

I am sporting a black hoodie and scuffed shoes. I have seen better days. In terms of dress code, I am definitely not the one expected to walk down the red carpet and part with big money, but not wishing to judge (or more likely, not wishing to miss out on a sale should I just happen to be one of the rich who likes to look like a scruff) the gallery staff treat me with the same niceties as all the suited and trendy media types who are mingling around me.

Prints for sale. Genuine ones. Not the $12 ones you might have seen in your local bookstore.

Prints for sale. Genuine ones. Not the $12 ones you might have seen in your local bookstore.

Banksy prints are dotted around this small gallery. The Bristol legend is sharing the stage predominantly with Basquiat, but I also notice gilded butterflies by Damien Hirst and some typically lavish LaChapelle prints added to the mix. There’s even a solo Picasso piece, tucked around the corner. An unexpected treat.

Basquiat, LaChapelle and Hirst

Basquiat, LaChapelle and Hirst

The pièce de résistance is an original Banksy, a spray can depiction, stenciled Fragile and framed. Banksy captured. There’s blind bidding taking place for this modern art piece, and some chats later I realise that:

  1. There is a whole different breed out there who collect art purely for investment;
  2. I would kinda love to hang a Banksy, but even original prints without a signature start at over US$8,500 and I’m really not that bothered about the spray can; and
  3. I’m not really sure how I feel about Banksy being commodified, put INSIDE and made exclusive. Street art? High art?  Money art?
Banksy captured.

Banksy captured.

Months later, other than the fact that I like some of Banksy’s social commentary, I’m still not sure what to think.

And, to make matters worse, I never did get a glass of that champagne.

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Wordless Wednesday #5: Cosy graffiti

Yarn bombing in Amersfoort, Holland

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Wordless Wednesday #3: Love all the way

#3 incredible-grave-plaque-Whitby

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Is cheese chasing just good British fun or something more serious?

The hill, if you look closely

The hill, if you look closely

Dangerous, stupid or just a bit of English fun? It’s definitely one of the more bizarre British customs that I’ve come across.

Bad press surrounding the cheese rolling competition held annually in Gloucestershire had seemingly promoted the event. Any publicity is, well, publicity, I guess. Local and international competitors gathered, ready to run a race down a near vertical strip of pitted farmland and claim victory in front of an adoring – and somewhat tipsy – crowd.

Take Kenny Rackers, for example, a 27 year old who travelled over from the US with only one thing on his mind: to win. ‘I came 3,000 or 4,000 miles just for this race,’ he told journalists. ‘I trained a long time for this and got hurt on the hill practising. I came three days early and I took a bad spill, but I came to win.’

Having ambled up along a winding road into what felt like private farmland, I just made it in time for the end of the first race. I nestled my way in to the front of the crowds and there stood Kenny, clad in stars and stripes and holding high the mighty cheese. ‘I came over specially for this and I did what I had to do to win,’ he said. People queued to get pictures. Celebrity cheese chaser. Nice work.

...closer...

…closer…

...and finally... Cooper's Hill...

…and finally… Cooper’s Hill…

...and crowds.

…and crowds.

A moment of celebrity

A moment of celebrity

I looked up at the top of the hill, some 200 metres away. Clustered with squatting people, it looked as though they were having to hold on to tufts of grass to avoid falling down. Occasionally someone did. The photos, quite frankly, do not do the steepness justice. Coopers Hill has become infamous for this one day, once a year. The rest of the year, though? Pah. Mountain goats, maybe?

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

I watched the next race, a flurry of tumbling bodies, bouncing bodies. The cheese, replaced this year by a foam replica, hit a chunk of earth and split off to the side. Legs struggled to keep up with downhill momentum, tumbles followed tumbles and tripped others up. At the finish line men walked around dazed, a blend of naked torsos and smudged mud make-up.

And so it repeated and repeated until I watched a man flip and then stop still. He tried to shuffle, but then lifted his leg. His foot stuck out sideways, and a sea of people groaned.

And it's all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

And it’s all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

The free for all downhill scramble

The free for all downhill scramble

Home time?

Home time?

The crowd, revved on a good dose of bystander adrenaline and cider blur, started to disperse to the tune of an ambulance siren. Paramedics brought out the stretcher and the health and safety boohoos rubbed their hands in delight with the ammunition newly granted to them.

Another victory for sensibility over tradition? Let’s hope not. At least the grandmother who had until this year provided the cheese could rest assured that the police wouldn’t be knocking on her door, again. ‘They threatened me, saying I would be wholly responsible if anyone got injured,’ she told the Telegraph days before the event.

Yet the appeal of the event doesn’t seem to be fading. Thousands of people still climbed up to Coopers Hill to watch the somersaults, and plenty of people still entered the competition knowing full well the dangers involved. Like the running of the tar barrels in Ottery St Mary, this event has associated risks. What’s wrong with the competitors taking some responsibility for themselves?

So is it dangerous, stupid or just a bit of fun? Quirky, sure. I’ll go with that.

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