Location: London, England
Weather: Grey skies, occasional rain, 15ºc
Status: Excited but also a little apprehensive
If you'd like to follow my adventures then click on the Triptracker
image belowto see a route and the pictures I took along the way
image belowto see a route and the pictures I took along the way
Well here we go then, the adventure commences….firstly I must say it feels amazing to be writing a blog again, I loved trying to summarise my experiences, feelings and emotions as I drove around Africa last year and from the feedback I received from viewers of my Afritrex site they enjoyed reading them – something that’s obviously of utmost importance!
After a fairly late night packing the final things into an already over-filled suitcase I read through my jack-rabbit plan for the final time on English soil and headed to bed.
As appears to happen all the time at the moment, I woke well before my alarm clock! This must be due to the truly awful ship’s-claxon-like sound my phone makes shocking my body into gear every time I am awoken by it!
Throwing the last few items into my well used trusty travel bag I headed downstairs to see mum and dad on my final morning with them for a while, scoffed the usual breakfast down and packed my life for the next few days into the back of the car.
We hit the road at 6.30am filtering into the early morning traffic passing probably the same commuters I’d headed to London with a few years previous when I worked in Richmond for the Royal Star & Garter Home, but this time my mission was very different – I was off to compete in Australia!
As we pulled into the grey, concrete monstrosity that is the multi-story car park at Heathrow Terminal 3 my phone rang as planned on the dot of 07:30hrs with a call from Julian Clegg at BBC Radio Solent. I’ve done a few chats with him live on the air since coming back from Afritrex so felt relaxed and confident and had a good chuckle taking about what was to come in the next few days, as the departing aircraft roared overhead adding a realistic background to the ‘just about to depart’ scene we were trying to set.
The usual planning and efficiency of the Southall machine ensured we arrived at our destination hours before we needed to be there and we made our way to a café to while away the hours before George, the Irish finalist, and the BBC crew arrived. As the clock struck 09:00hrs Vari and Agnieskza toddled around the corner laden with bags and accessories ready for their equally hectic two weeks away as they attempt to film the last movements of the competition.
This would be the first time I’d met George, the other UK Top 50 entrants had a chance to back when the initial announcements were made back in March but I’d been in Canada so as he arrived up the escalator it was my first chance to see him in the flesh. A one minute video really doesn’t summarise a person that well!
We instantly got on, had a good bit of finalists banter and grabbed a drink as we attempted to hold some unstaged conversation in front of the cameras, particularly hard to do really! Time was pressing on so we headed downstairs to the Singapore Air check in desk and handed over the relevant documents to the assistant all the time hoping that our request for an upgrade had fallen on some slightly receptive ears. No chance.
‘It is not company policy to offer any economy passengers an upgrade’ came the well-practised response so the efforts which the team at Hill Balfour (PR company for Tourism Queensland), the BBC and myself had gone to had no effect whatsoever!
We made our way to the exit said another staged farewell to mum & dad before advancing to our departure gate with time advancing fast ready to jump onboard the new Airbus A380…oooo how exciting in itself!
With minutes to go we’d all made it onboard to a plane which was less than half full, brilliant news; George and I changed seats and moved forward to take advantage of the extended leg room in front of us…sleep may even be a possibility here!
The Airbus A380 is a fantastic experience with wide aisles, comfortable seats, very little cabin noise and the sort of in-flight entertainment you’d be happy to use at home with a huge range of things to choose from to speed the lengthy 12 hour flight along.
Given the better seats I thought sleep would be a dead certainty as the flight drew on, maybe the films were too good, maybe I was just that little bit excited about going to Australia but the end result was staying awake for virtually the entire journey and arriving in Singapore feeling a little less than well rested.
As the group of us wandered through the immaculately clean, state of the art terminal building we passed another group of travellers when one of them asked “Are you Ben?”
It was Greg, the American who lives and teaches in Singapore and was in the final for the Best Job as well, well spotted Sir! Feeling shattered George and I weren’t on top form but made our way to the transfer lounge and sat down for a much needed leg stretch and coffee before subjecting ourselves to the next leg of the journey.
So three finalists all here at once and how alike we all are, all relaxed, friendly individuals who seem quite relaxed about the coming two weeks of chaos and media scrum that’s bound to follow.
Singapore to Brisbane was a much more relaxing flight; after the body had got used to the fact I was trying to stuff dinner down at a time when I ‘d be expecting breakfast. Back to the
entertainment system and I found Slumdog Millionaire – the last time I’d tried to watch it whilst out in Canada I’d fallen asleep and was determined to make it through to the end this time. By all reports its a superb film but I dropped off again just after the opening credits and awoke a few hours later to the start screen….oh well!
Our flight swept in low over Brisbane and through a clear sky giving us a view of the city from above, one we’d be fully immersed in within an hour or so and after another near-perfect landing made our way into the terminal building. The increasing threat of Swine Fever has meant that health security has increased at all airports and we had to all walk past a heat seeking camera on the way to passport control just in case our body temperature was higher than expected due to flu symptoms….we all passed thankfully.
Kerri Anderson, Tourism Queensland’s representative, met us in the arrivals area and once the BBC girls had cleared customs we all jumped into our coach and headed to the Stamford Plaza; our rather fancy hotel for the first two nights of the adventure. Passing through the streets of Queensland’s capital on a Friday night gave me some great initial thoughts on the city – as clean as Vancouver, as modern as London and as cosmopolitan a Cape Town. I think I’m going to enjoy it here.
I’m writing the concluding part to this first day perched 20 stories up overlooking the Brisbane River with the sunrise about to happen on the horizon in the distance, yes there’s a few clouds in the sky and it looks like so monster rain in the distance but for now the day is starting off perfectly. I dropped off to sleep easily enough, but awoke at 4am and couldn’t get back to the land of zzz’s and with our first big press conference this morning at 06:45hrs (yikes!) an early start can’t be too bad an idea. and this blog is the result....
Saturday 2nd May 09
Not as bad as I thought...or at last not as hectic as tomorrow could potentially be really! The promised media scrum was nothing more than a live link up to Channel 9 in Australia and a single still photographer but what a great morning it turned out to be.
We assembled en masse in the reception donned our 'Best Job' tshirts and
slowly but surely the entire group of relatively new faces mingled and socialised all finding out a little more about each other than our initial one minute videos had allowed.
A real boiling pot of cultures and people which is fantastic, the opportunity to meet new faces, find out about their likes and dislikes and see how each other weigh up for the 'interview' ahead. We have since been told that it is actually an interview and not a competition!
Once we'd got the initial press photos out of the way we met Anthony Hayes, the TQ boss who would end end being my boss should I go on and take the job, and all sat down for a well earnt breakfast of fruit and yoghurt with all the trimmings - its amazing to be eating such good fruit again after Africa last year and the abundance we were lucky enough to have out there!
The effects of the previous 24hrs travel were starting to take their toll of all the long haul travellers so we slowly sloped off once our committments were satisfied and headed back to our rooms. I chatted with Greg and Clarke on the way and instead of giving into the desire we thought we'd head out to explore the great city which was all around.
Half an hour ater we'd massed in reception, headed down the jetty and onto the City Taxi boat which smoothly whisked us down stream towards Southbank, an area of the city with an artificial beach and perfectly clear if a little chlorinated water lapping at the edges.
It was a perfect morning to visit with clear skies, sunshine and the Buddhist Festival taking place in the park with all manner of activities and festivities taking place. We meandered through the early morning crowds and eventually plonked ourselves down on the beach to soak up the atmoshere and sun's rays....all the time protecting myself with the obligatory Aussie suncream as has been instilled in generations of the locals and the lesson of which had already rubbed off (sorry for the pun) on me!
Once we'd had a out fill we walked the route north out of the park, across the Goodwill Bridge and back into the CBD of the city for a bite of lunch before heading straight upstairs to the room where I then crashed out almost instantly for a few hours.
It's a great city with simple public transport, friendly helpful people and the sort of climate I could easily get used to....Oh the UK seems so far away now!