Parkrun #2 – Brockwell Park, London

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Deciding to do a Park Run every month was easy when I knew my first run was going to be in the warm climate of summer-in-Melbourne. Maintaining any kind of running routine when I returned to hovering-above-zero London temperatures and what feels like permanent darkness has suggested the next couple of months might be a bit more challenging. I can confirm I am officially not a fan of running in the cold!

Still, Michael Johnson is helping me out and I completed my second Park Run this morning at Brockwell Park, my local Park Run located about 20 minutes walk from my flat in Brixton. And guess what? I got a PB! I couldn’t quite believe it when the results came in: I achieved a time of 34:33. That’s more than 10 minutes off the time of my last run. My friend Susie joined for the adventure – for some reason getting up at 07:45 on a snowy Saturday morning appealed to her – and we both felt incredibly chuffed with ourselves at the end. However, despite the drastic improvement on time, I stopped twice on this run (those Brockwell hills are no fun) so my March aim is a non-stop-run. Let’s do this!

A Postcard from Melbourne

Hello from Down Under! This is your favourite daughter writing. Somehow I failed to buy a postcard during my time in Australia so I thought I’d send you an alternative: a blog-shaped postcard. Mum, I know you’ve signed up to this blog meaning you’ll get an e-mail alert, so it’s almost like it’s being delivered directly to you… it’s just the rest of the world can read it too. Please inform Dad. And feel free to print this post out and stick it on the fridge alongside Kenneth’s boring conventional postcards.

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So, how was Australia? Aw, I’m glad you asked. The night I arrived in Melbourne, I wrote that blog post about how it didn’t matter that Andy Murray had gone out of the Australian Open because there were so many other things to look forward to on my trip. I think part of me was just saying that because that was the grown-up, mature approach to take. But my mature sensibilities were right: I had such a good trip!

My Airbnb hosts were very cool. On the first day I arrived, Phil said he’d show me round the area. I envisioned a walk around the neighbourhood for like, 10 minutes. No, no. We got into his BMW and he drove me around the city centre of Melbourne, showing me where the tennis was taking place, pointing out cafés, and then he drove me across the West Gate Bridge (a sizeable bridge) so we could cross back again and I could see the cityscape of Melbourne! Almost every evening, I’d come home and watch the tennis with Phil and/or his wife Lucy. It was random in the sense that I don’t usually expect to hang out so much with my Airbnb hosts but I loved having the company, especially on the days when I wasn’t meeting up with anyone else.

Speaking of other people, I met up with my friend Beni, who worked with me at Chevening in London, and we went to the tennis on the Tuesday. Such a different experience from Wimbledon! No queuing required – we literally rocked up at 11.30am and strolled on in. We watched a number of doubles matches on the smaller courts and then other matches on the numerous screens that are dotted around the grounds. I was impressed with the Australian Open in general – the (lack of) queue, the facilities, the screenage, the additional entertainment in the grounds  – they do everything very well.

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I also met up with Mairi for an afternoon in St Kilda. Mairi’s been here on the working holiday visa for the last year and is loving life. Moving to Australia did cross my mind during my week in Melbourne – I like the idea of living abroad again and apparently I have until my 31st birthday to apply for the working holiday visa! However, you’ll be reassured to know that your favourite daughter is probably too lazy to pursue this. Also, that journey is just way too long.

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I had some of the best brunches of my life in Melbourne. Check out this smoothie bowl I had at Matcha Mylkbar, an uber hipster café in St Kilda. I copied the description from the menu because I wanted to remember it forever: Amazebowl of matcha and coconut, avocado, spinach, coconut oil, coconut mil, strawberry, banana, coconut shavings, lime and coconut granola. Delish.

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You would have both loved the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. I wandered through them to get to the Shrine of Remembrance, in the south of the city, built as a memorial to those who fought in the first world war. The weather was just perfect and I seemed to have the gardens to myself. I’ve never really been that excited about botanic gardens in cities before but this visit really sold it to me.

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I’d been told by multiple people to try to get out to the Great Ocean Road while I was in Melbourne. Always keen to get out of the city, I scoured multiple tour company websites, searching for the best deal, before bizarrely opting for the most expensive day trip on offer with tour company Go West.

The Great Ocean Road is an Australian Heritage Site, renowned for its 243km stretch of beautiful coastline, with limestone cliffs, sea stacks, beaches and gorges making for a stunning route. The day trip was a bit of a beast – I met the bus at 7am and returned home about 9pm – but it was worth the commitment. We went koala spotting, had lunch on the beach, ventured through a rainforest, took a million photos at the 12 Apostles before finishing the day at a road-side McDonalds. Don’t worry, it was my only Macca’s of the trip. I made friends with a girl from Argentina who was around my age and whose dream it had been since a child to travel around Australia. There were also two girls from Fife in my tour group who had the ultimate Scottish accents – apparently I’m never too far away from home!

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The highlight of Melbourne was undoubtedly the Australian Open final which I’d timed so it would coincide with my last night in the city. What a way to end one of my favourite-ever city breaks! As hoped, post the Murray exit, it was a Federer vs. Nadal final and the atmosphere was incredible, unsurprisingly as they are probably two of the most popular tennis players of all time. I was enjoying the trending of #fedal, demonstrating how much equal love there is in the world for the two players.

I went into the match not supporting either player but supporting the concept of a 5-set match. My wishes were granted and I felt the £300-odd financial commitment for my finals ticket paid off. The quality of tennis was insane, with lengthy rallies and points played where we were just in disbelief that either player had been able to make the shot. It was so fun to watch the match alongside such a large and enthusiastic crowd, and to not have the pressure and stress of watching my favourite player. Still, I better see Andy Murray at one of the grand slams this year!

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Now isn’t this the most informative postcard you’ve ever received?

Until next time!

Catmac X

Parkrun #1 – Studley Park, Melbourne

“This is one of the more difficult Park Runs in Melbourne”, a fellow runner explained to me as she went on to describe the hilly, zig-zag trail which would make up my first ever Park Run route. Typical, I thought, trust me to choose a challenging route for my first ever 5K, in 20 degree Melbourne morning heat, no less!

Ok, Cat, we’re confused, you’re not a runner?

You are right, I am not. But I am a huge fan of Park Run. What’s not to love about a community coming together every Saturday morning to run, jog, walk together, simply to encourage healthy living? I’ve been chatting about how much I love this concept since like 2014. It was about time I actually got involved.

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Deciding on a whim just after Christmas that in 2017 I would do a Park Run slam, as well as the tennis slam, I then proceeded to buy some fun sports clothes. You have to look good to feel good, no?! (she says having gone on a morning run without having had a shower/without any make-up on; I am actually a new person). I had heard about the ‘Sofa to 5K’ apps you could get on your phone so downloaded an app, introduced myself to my trainer Michael Johnson (“Does he phone you when you want to go for a run?”, my air bnb host asked me, believing that somehow I have connections to the legends of athletics) and began my nightly runs around the block in south London’s baltic temperatures. Considerably less fun than running around a park in Melbourne, I can confirm!

The ‘Sofa to 5K’ concept is an eight-week programme, designed to gradually build up your stamina and fitness levels to enable you to run a 5K. I had three weeks to complete the programme and needless to say, my fitness levels did not allow me to complete the run without stopping. However, I did run about 3K without a break which I considered to be a personal achievement. Did I mention it started at 8am? It’s weird how time becomes a different concept when you’re on holiday – I’m almost certain I will struggle a lot more with a 9am Park Run start when I return to London.

When you register with Park Run, you get a unique barcode which is scanned after every run to give you your time. My time today, and hence my PB was 45:57. My sister, a legit runner, has a PB of 20:48. So: I know what I want to have achieved come December 2017!

Cheers Park Run Australia, see your British counterpart in Feb!

Blue is the Magic Colour

I am quite proud of my birthday slam t-shirt, made by the very patient and talented designers at Logopress in London. Though it’s one t-shirt for the year, i.e. all four grand slam tournaments, I chose the colour, a mediterranean blue, with the Australian Open logo in mind. Never will I be so coordinated with a grand slam tournament.

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Not forgetting my incredible nails as well, courtesy of Wah Nails, a nail salon specialising in nail art in Soho, London. The girl who did my nails had seen the brief about what I wanted as my design and had gone out specially to buy some grass-like material in order to create some 3D tennis balls on my nails. Wowee! I’m really not sure if I’ll be able to cope when it comes to taking these amazing designs off my nails. Can’t we make them permanent?

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Watching the Tennis When You’re Not At the Tennis

Much like London during Wimbledon, there are an abundance of screens dotted around Melbourne, enabling you to watch the tennis, even when you’re not at the tennis. Although I had googled where to find the screens, I didn’t attempt to seek out a specific screen, partially because I quickly learned: there are screens everywhere. Here are my favs:

(1) Federation Square
Federation Square, situated beside the famous Flinders Street Station, is the beating heart of the city centre, and provides a central, public space which is used for multiple cultural and touristic purposes throughout the year. Interestingly, it was recently named the 6th Best Public Square in the world; not a shabby claim to fame at all. This is where you can find not one, not two, but three screens all in close proximity: two outside in the square itself (literally facing each other) and one inside the cafe area of ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (a museum like no other). Between the two screens, I camped out to watch Jo Konta take on Serena Williams. Unfortunately, the match did not go in British favour, but basking in the sun, surrounded by a majority British-supporting crowd, made for a very enjoyable experience. FYI, this square was not named after Roger Federer but there is a huge placard with his face on it beside the square because, why wouldn’t you? Everyone loves Roger Federer.

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(2) Crown
If in doubt about the names of streets and areas in Melbourne, choose your favourite London location and chances are, you’ll find it in the Australian city (no but really, I’m staying in Richmond, I saw a bus to Camberwell, just waiting for Brixton to pop up). A friend had advised me to go to the Southbank area, south of the Yarra, and right enough, when I arrived in the area, I felt like I stumbled back onto the Southbank in London. Either Southbank wins my heart. It was here that I stumbled across the intimate outdoor screening beside the Crown, a very posh hotel/restaurant/casino complex, with deckchairs aplenty and a Pimms stand at the back. I watched the last couple of games of the Dimitrov vs. Goffin match here and was pretty gutted I hadn’t found the venue sooner. Who doesn’t want to sit beside a river on a summer’s afternoon watching tennis and drinking Pimms?

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(3) Home
Every evening since arriving, I’ve returned back to my Air bnb apartment and watched whatever tennis is going with my Air bnb hosts. It was Nadal vs. Monfils on Monday, the end of Federer vs. Zverev on Tuesday, Nadal vs. Raonic on Wednesday. Tonight I’m off to Fed Square to watch Federer’s semi final against fellow countryman Wawrinka. I’m not gonna lie, I’m getting pretty psyched up about the idea of a Nadal vs. Federer final. Wawrinka, Dimitrov, can you just stand back and let that happen? The world will be forever grateful.

I love being able to watch tennis where ever I am, whenever I like: being in the right time zone is the best. I am seriously considering how I can give up my day job and become a groupie, following the tennis players as they travel the world on tour. Andy Murray, what can I do for you?

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When Andy is Knocked Out Before You Get to Australia

It was just after 22:35 when our plane touched down in Melbourne. Copying the woman next to me, I got out my phone and took it off flight mode, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to check anything until I had Wi-Fi. That’s when a text message from my sister popped up: “Awwww nawww”, I read. Oh no, I thought. There was no way of knowing for sure at the time but I knew deep down my worst fears were true: Andy had gone out.

It’s now an hour later and I am lying on my bed in my hotel room beside the airport in Melbourne. “You’ve got friends and family here right?”, the jovial pick-up-bus driver asked me, after I’d explained the scenario. “You didn’t just come here to see Andy Murray, did you?”.

Thankfully, no. This is really disappointing, of course it is, but it does not mean that this trip has lost its purpose. First of all, it is a very lovely 20 degrees outside and I am so excited about embracing summer. Secondly, I am seeing a number of friends while I’m here who I never see so that’s always fun. Thirdly, I love tennis, and there are so many amazing players still in the tournament; Federer for the win? Fourthly, I’m still on holiday! This beats going to work any day. And however disappointed I might be, I’m pretty sure Andy Murray is feeling a lot worse right now.

Still, I hope he sticks around for the tennis banter cos otherwise my pitch doesn’t make sense. Two Scots, Andy; we’re in this together!

The Buzz of the Unfamiliar

I never sleep on overnight flights which is unfortunate, considering I seem to be on one every couple of months at the moment. Knowing this, and also not being the biggest fan of long-haul flights, I purposefully broke up my journey to Australia by stopping off in Hong Kong on both legs.

Last night I arrived at the airport, checked-in to the Regal Airport Hotel (literally 2 minutes walk from Terminal 1) and mooched about a bit before getting some much needed sleep. This morning I realised how much of a daze I’d been in yesterday because it suddenly hit me as I walked back to the airport: I’m in Hong Kong! You know that buzz of excitement you feel when you’re somewhere new and unfamiliar? Though I’ve been to Hong Kong before, that was only for a week back in 2011, and to be honest, that feels like a completely different part of my life.

In the same way that we have this idea that children are fearless, I wonder if I was a braver person and more adaptable to the unknown when I was in my early 20s. I think back to that time I lived in Japan, roaming about rural Kagoshima, a region that Japanese people are unfamiliar with, never mind anyone else, and wonder, could I really do that now? I think the answer is yes but I guess my life is so familiar and comfortable now, living in London, that I fear I’m becoming allergic to the challenge of living abroad.

Oh man, Australia is so far away. Having survived an 11-hour flight yesterday, I am now gobbling down some pancakes in the airport, before embarking on a 9-hour flight to Melbourne. Again, though I’ve been to Australia before (the return to unfamiliar yet familiar destinations is a common theme in my life), I’d travelled from Japan the last time (also via Hong Kong) which meant the journey was somewhat shorter. Roll on getting to the other end and embarking on my one-week residency at the Australian Open!