Just a word

A word, it may be the sound of it, the way it rolls off your tongue, the way the letters look together visually, the fact people misspell, mispronounce, misuse or overuse it. It’s interesting how there are many amongst us that have such a passionate issue with a particular word for a reason we feel is highly valid.

Over the past few years I’ve noticed the rapid increase in the number of people who not only use the word ‘essentially’ – but overuse it. To the point where it is now used in every sentence they utter, multiple times in fact and even where it’s used when it’s no longer necessary! It’s almost as though the English speaking world held a global meeting and made a wager to discover who would be able to jam the highest number of “essentially’s” into the one sentence.  Did I miss this meeting?

This has unfortunately lead me to the quiet distain of the word essentially, which I otherwise suspect, would not have surfaced. If you know you are one of the culprits ask yourself these questions:

  • When did u start over using?
  • Why did you start?
  • Have you always been a user?
  • Do you spend time with other users?

Imagine, now if your boss asked you to omit the word from your vocabulary or else you’d lose your job, could you stop using the word? If no, I essentially think you have a problem.

It is almost as though “essentially” is the sophisticated, academic overused equivalent of the word “like”. I dare say some overuses started using to position themselves at the opposite spectrum to those who suffer from overusing ‘like’.  We are judged after all on the words we utter. Are people so conscious of the words that exit their mouth, that instead of adding their own personal flair and twist to the english language they much prefer to speak similarly to those that they want to be judged along side? Or is using the word “essentially” merely contagious? Personally, I’ve consciously made the decision to omit ‘essentially’ from my vocabulary.  The most interesting aspect for me is the segment of ‘essentially’ users. Next time you notice people at work, friends, partners, family members who overuse the word look for the commonalities of this collection of people. You may be surprised at how alike this segment of our population really is or would like to be based on this one word. Afterall, the words people use in everyday speech, reflect who they are, right?

***Disclaimer: Many of my friends, former colleagues and family members use the word ‘essentially’, no insult is intended.  Merely an observation. Ohh and they use it in a very non pretentious way.

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The Great Melbourne Coffee Challenge

Inspired by finding myself in Melbourne’s CBD, caught in the rain, I realised that due to a three year absence in my home city, I no longer felt confident in my choice of a café (on any given street in Melbourne) that would guarantee a good latte. For those of you who might not be familiar with Melbourne’s status in the coffee stakes, it is fair to say that Melbourne is Australia’s coffee mecca (pipe down Sydney-siders you have nothing on us). To solve this issue, I reached into my handbag for my mobile, only to suddenly and horribly realise I was without it. Unable to call a friend, text, use an app or any www. means at all for help I began to feel uneasy. I tried to recall what I would do in the “good ol’ days” – unfortunately, my recollection was hazy, which lead to my decision to ensure nobody suffers this same fate. At that moment, The Great Melbourne Coffee Challenge was born.

To start this challenge, I figured, there was no better day than the very first day of winter. Australians have encountered a rough summer. With floods and all the natural disasters we have suffered, the first day of winter bore an extra hint of gloominess. With wintery Melbourne days ahead, it was the perfect time to embark on this little journey to Melbourne’s most heavenly latte. Or perhaps more accurately, this little latte heaven/hell journey (with so many cafés in Melbourne there are bound to be many bad experiences along the way). This coffee challenge is further inspired by the wet summer not long behind us. Nothing pains me more than a bitterly cold day and the disappointment in purchasing a latte that holds a ND (Non-Drinkable) status. Keeping in mind that it probably comes with a $5 price tag.

Rules of this challenge, if a suburb does not have a latte that reaches a certain criteria I promise that this particular suburb will not be included merely to provide a blogpost titled, A perfect latte for every Melbourne suburb. If I drink a particularly bad latte, I’ll be sure to share this with you, somewhere along the journey, to help you avoid the same disappointment (despite how desperate you might be for a coffee hit). Please remember, there is large number of cafés in Melbourne – with so much choice, you should never feel the disappoint of a bad latte. Let me help you make the right choice, irrespective of what corner of Melbourne you are found craving a latte.

I refuse to have a pre-commitment to a Top 10 or a Top 5, not due to lack of capacity to commit or laziness towards the project. Many food and beverage writers, bloggers, critics alike fall into the trap of creating Top 10 or Top 5 lists, of restaurants, bars, desserts and so on. Due to their pre-commitment, it is highly possible to be backed into a corner and include a particular place that might not have otherwise made the cut. This leads the general public into a false sense of security when selecting another ‘great’ pick from a Top 10 list, only to be left disillusioned and lacking faith in Top 10’s or Top 5’s of any form.

So, what can I promise?  I pledge I will at least consume one coffee per day and avoid exceeding three. Simply, as I will never be able to sleep otherwise (I’m currently sticking to a ‘no coffee after 5pm’ policy). Plus, it is probably not an overly healthy step for me to be overdosing on lattes, as much as I love them.

Finally, there will be a criteria. Since I have found inconsistency to be an issue with even some well renown coffee spots around this city, that will definitely come into play. Once, down to the finals, a panel of four fellow Melbournian Coffee Connoisseurs (a different type of M.C.C), will weigh in with their votes. This will help avoid any biases and will help to consider a variety of palette preferences when it comes to Melbourne’s most delicious latte.

More details to come.

Melbourne’s Coffee Challenge – Day 1 of 365

Let the hunt begin!


Bye, bye Borders

I recall the day I read about the trouble Borders and Angus & Robertson bookstores were in, that many of their doors would be closed. I was disappointed when I heard that REDgroup Retail, parent of the Borders and Angus & Robertson chains, were suffering a bleak period, and were unable to deliver what they needed in order to stay afloat. It’s particularly disappointing knowing that the retailer accounts for more than a quarter of Australia’s $1.5 billion book industry. But nothing prepared me for the way I felt when I walked into the Borders in Westfield Doncaster Shopping Centre.

Despite expecting and hearing that there wasn’t much left, in terms of actual stock on shelves. Walking in and seeing the typically orderly bookstore in the sad and sorry state it was in left me depressed and completely unexcited about the potential of finding a “bargain”. I love books, non-fiction, fiction, coffee table books, reference books, you name it. I have quite the collection myself, and need to think of a new way to display and store all my books to really do them justice. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing like wandering into a little old bookstore, or any independent bookstore for that matter, and picking up some pre-loved books, with each page carrying double the story, in particular classics. There’s a special place those independent bookstores hold for me, and while travelling in particular I could spend hours in a book store and be swept away in it’s architecture, the way the books are arranged, the range of books in stock and the stories that unfold with each turn of a page. On the other hand, there’s something special about purchasing a brand new book. That crisp feel of the pages as you turn them, and the mint condition of the cover.

Borders computer catalogue system

Borders carries a wide range of books from all over the world, and was a go to when I struggled to find a particular book elsewhere. I must admit as I mentioned, I do love independent bookstores and was actually not a fan of Borders when it first opened up in Australia. However, the choice and range it is able to offer from all over the world has been fantastic and will be missed. Sure it’s online presence will continue to exist. But what about strolling into the double storey store, being swept away with the new books that have just arrived. Grabbing a coffee and sitting down and having a read, or smelling that coffee while you browsed for the books you were purchasing. Walking from genre to genre with ease. Maybe picking up a little trinket along the way – probably something you didn’t need, no, always something you didn’t need. Sure, maybe a bit overpriced, but that clock, notebook or mousepad just had such a cool design you couldn’t resist.

The damage for now, 16 stores will close and 9 will remain open in the whole of Australia. It disappoints me that the REDgroup is attempting to blame all their troubles on Australia’s sudden rise to purchasing online. Yes, we do love to purchase online, but this did not just start happening now. There are plenty of independent bookstores that are scathing about their claims and are still successful themselves. Unfortunately, I believe the Borders Bookstores could have avoided this from occurring. It’s plain and simple, they started off strong, but somewhere along the line their business model has been woeful and has lead to their demise. A Franchise owner who used to own an Angus & Robertson franchise for 25 years but chose not to renew mirrored my views on the REDgroup business model. He further went on to say that a lot of what he has seen and read so far refers to the situation with REDgroup being due to “…e-books, downloading, parallel importation, publisher’s prices. It’s really not. It’s the way they ran their business.”

As the Australian dollar is continuing to rise, there has not been an adjustment in pricing. That goes across the board for all products, not just books. I understand why Borders stores are closing their doors, but knowing why did not make any difference to how I felt walking into that store and seeing shelves upon shelves in different areas and genres, empty, completely empty. In some areas there would be some sad books left by themselves or in the wrong section or just piled up horizontally in a messy fashion on the shelf. Their homeware, gift section, DVD, CD, cards and magazines had also been pillaged. Things everywhere, out of boxes, upside down, sideways, scratched some damaged and in bad condition. Upstairs, well there was no upstairs. As I headed towards the stairs, the only thing that greeted me was some tape and a sign that informed customers that the upstairs section was now closed and any remaining books had been relocated on the ground floor, the only floor remaining. Sadly, this from a Borders store that would see perhaps the most traffic out of many of the others that are closing down in Melbourne.

I struggled to find something to purchase, but didn’t want to leave empty handed and finally found a cool mouse pad with an old school TV and walked up to the register. I was shocked with the final price I paid and did not feel good about this “bargain”, I actually felt guilty handing over such a small amount of money. I definitely didn’t find the design books I was looking for, and went on to share my feelings on the sorry state of the store with the lady at the register who reflected the feeling the store was omitting. Walking out the doors, I encountered something new, I left Borders with the polar opposite feeling I typically encounter after leaving a bookstore.


Calling all Aussie creatives – Japan needs you

Close your eyes. Remember the place where you grew up. All your childhood memories, with friends, siblings, neighbors and family. The laughter, the tears, the freedom of being a kid and not having a care in the world. Now imagine, suddenly, dramatically and tragically all of this is ripped away from you. You still have the memories, but that place, the place you recall all those memories being created, the place you call home, vanished.

The catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami swallowed up entire villages on the coast – one of those being Ofunato. My friend Kimie was brought to tears as she watched footage of her home town, Ofunato, northeast of Tokyo, completely disappear. A very strong, proud woman of Samurai decent.

Ofunato is rarely reported outside of Iwate prefecture, which is known as the Tibet of Japan. Not lucky enough to have visited this area of Japan when I was living there, my friend Kimie provides me with distinct imagery by describing her hometown as “sparsely populated, sleepy, little hamlets and towns with beautiful sea views scattered from north to south along the coast.” The area is best known for it’s beautiful coastline. Kimie attempts to put into words the loss of her home town, “it is so heartbreaking to see the places you grew up in, and fondly remember, disappear so suddenly. All the familiar places are no longer there, only distant memories of the places where we played laughed and cried.”

Ofunato, Japan

Kimie probably isn’t aware of this, but I’ve always viewed her somewhat as this savior. It could be weeks or even months since touching base, and when I do, she’s always helping me regain my faith and hope in humankind. Whether it’s with her outrageous advice, anecdotes on life, or her interesting and entertaining past escapades, or the pureness of her helpful hand. At times of crisis, somehow she always pops up to offer that helpfulness that only she can. She’s always thought-provoking, brutally honest and raw. I think that’s what I love most about her, only she can get away with the sentences that exit her mouth. Aside from this I’ve always looked at her as an inspiration, constantly pushing herself to be fitter and fitter and if I’m in half her shape when my 60’s roll on, I’ll be pretty pleased with my efforts. Ever so reliable, strong and fit both mentally and physically, reduced to tears for days on end, unable to function as normal. Unable to reach some family members, including her sister and husband, she feared the worst. Luckily, they’re both still alive but those harrowing days of waiting, and living with the “unknown” status of their lives and the disappearance of her hometown will be dark days that stay with her forever.

Kimie’s sister was found alive, she now has nothing but the clothes she wore on March 11. Along with the majority of those in Ofunato, she was made to be homeless and totally dependent on relief goods. Even now, over a month after the Earthquake and tsunami she still needs the daily necessities to get by. It doesn’t help that it has been a very cold and snowy spring year. At the moment she is left with not much other than overwhelming sadness, with sight of recovery being a very long way off.

I have a true love, deep understanding and respect for Japan, Japanese people, and their culture. Never did I believe that in my lifetime would I see Japan appearing like a war-torn country. After spending some time living, learning and attending university in Japan, I have many good friends who live there and my immediate concern was for them, their families and a very close friend who was back visiting at the time. For me, much like many others, the images of the events from March 11 are burned in my memory forever, along with that horrible feeling of not knowing whether friends are alright. We’ve all heard the tragic realities, a whole town of 10,000 people disappeared, the total number deceased believed to be more than 25,000 people, radiation 20 times the normal level, the number of victims reaching so high that there was not enough fuel for traditional cremations.

It has been estimated by the Japanese government that the damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is around 25 trillion Yen ($US 309 billion). What scares me more than this figure is knowing how the Japanese government and leaders work, I’m expecting that this figure is much higher than publicly stated.

On the 1 month anniversary of the first devastating and major earthquake and tsunami, Japan was dealt another cruel blow as they were again hit with another earthquake. A few weeks on from that and Japan needs our help now more than ever. With other events now emerging and the media focusing less and less on Japan, it’s easy for everyone to “forget” about just how much they still really need our help.

Everyday since the tragedy I have seen opportunities for creatives and brands to use their creative powers to raise much needed money for Japan and their people. I know us Aussie’s have been hit with our own natural disasters this year and we have all been digging deep. We have been involved in raising much needed money for the Red Cross Relief for Japan which is fantastic, however there has been something missing.As great as it is that the likes of Sandra Bullock and Gwen Stefani amongst others have donated $1 million (USD) to the Red Cross Relief for Japan, and as much as many more of us would have liked to, not many of us have a handy million dollars laying around to donate.

Japan’s economic prowess has seemingly worked against it in terms of individual donations. According to an early tally by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, donations to nonprofit Japanese relief organizations reached about $25 million within the first four days post the crisis, a total far below the more than $150 million raised to assist Haiti for the same period last year.

I’m calling out to all creatives, whatever your craft. Lead from the front, use your creative minds, artistic abilities, your brands equity to get Australia excited and pumped up to take action to help Japan in whatever way they can. Everyone can help, let’s make it fun for them to do so. As months pass and the media frenzy quiets down further, that’s when Japan and their amazing people will arguably need the most support. It’s a long, very slow road back. We know Aussie’s are generous with the support and relief aid we provide and many of us have helped already.

In response to the disaster, people from all over the world, organisations and companies have stepped up in all kinds of ways. With fundraisers, relief efforts, charitable projects and using their creative powers in interesting ways to not only help but get the people in their country helping. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lack of the visible efforts for the public to get involved in here in Australia. It’s the large movements that are lacking in Australia, the big brands aren’t getting involved in the ways they should be and getting the Australian public involved, the greater use of this sporting nation should be utlised further to raise funds. Sure some creatives are creating fantastic initiatives, but most Australians are unaware of it and are therefore not getting involved. There are plenty of creatives who are helping quietly, which is great also. But we need some loud calls to take action in order to get Australian’s involved.

It’s fair to say 2011 has been a year of devastating natural disasters. Here in our own backyard, we’ve had our own battles and have been digging deep to help. I know there are some people who have openly voiced that they’re tired of the “guilt trip”, the donation can shakers, and there are those who are struggling themselves.

There’s a time where Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong” wristbands were purchased, sold out and worn proudly by millions globally. This initiative, by Nike and their ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, not only gained global popularity, but sold 70 million wristbands globally to raise funds for Cancer research. Not surprisingly the wristbands were particularly adopted by athletes. There was a time where I would not be able to spot an athlete or athletic person not sporting one. Sure, it helps that Olympians were sporting the wristbands during the Athens Olympics at the time. Presidential candidates were onboard and the yellow wristband was a visible contrasting item against their typically dark suits and it helps that celebrities, musicians, the acting world and Oprah were all onboard also. Perhaps the success of this initiative is what encouraged Lady Gaga to design ‘Pray for Japan’ bracelets with all proceeds going to relief efforts.
in Australia we are missing those big movements in response to tragedies and that’s where I believe all us creative people can enter and make a difference. I’m hoping to see more creative strategies here in Australia to motivate giving.

Australian creatives have copped their fair share of criticism for being too ‘safe’ with creative executions (regardless of the origin of the true cause of this). This is a chance where the client, Red Cross Relief for Japan, will not interfere with your creative execution and your target audience, the Australian people are looking for and open to being part of a movement to help. Just give them something to respond to, get excited to be a part of and proud of their contribution.

Take a moment. Get thinking. Be creative and find new strategies to inject everyone with the desire to be compelled to take action and help.

For inspiration, interest or to offer aid, take a look at some initiatives included below (there are plenty more globally and many are ongoing).

Momentum's 'Rebuild Japan, Pixel by Pixel Facebook initiative

Josh Duhamel's Relief Run at Santa Monica beach provided an opportunity for youth to help contribute to the relief efforts in Japan

Poster created by Advertising Agency Wieden+Kennedy

BMF Ad Agency (Australia)

BMF Ad Agency (Australia)

 


The Magpies Master & his apprentice

Mick Malthouse & Nathan Buckley talk tactics

Supporting the Magpies from a young age, my father should have disowned me. Little did I understand when dad “accidentally” bought me a navy blue & white Carlton scarf, instead of my teams black & white scarf the true extent of his pain in the fact that his sports engaged youngster supported his team’s arch rival. Only when I was older did I realise this was no accident (don’t worry I picked out a black & white scarf shortly after and went scarfless watching my first live footy match at the G). Riding the lows and feeling constantly disappointed & frustrated with the lack of success of my team my mother often questioned my strong seemingly unfounded loyalty from such an early age. After another bad loss she offered me an out, “It’s not too late to change” (my team). It posed an interesting question to me as a youngster. Perhaps it was ok to jump ship by a certain age and not be a “traitor”. A few years later mum again questioned my loyalty after witnessing how deeply disappointed I was with a bad loss, “why do you support Collingwood?” I answered simply and emphatically, “because they’re my team & I can’t just change.” I never contemplated leaving them, even as I watched other “supporters”, even friends of mine, jump ship during my school years. I knew I could never dissert the black and white & felt angered that they could so easily do so. Despite their performance throughout history, the Pies have retained their reputation in the AFL as the team everyone loves to hate.

Footy season is back, the wait is over & Round 1 is just behind us. Since the season opener was last Thursday night, Saturday could not come quick enough for me. Finally, my chance to get out there and see my beloved Magpies in action again. Nothing like that feeling and excitement pumping into my veins before a game. Nervous, yet excited in anticipation before every game, whether it’s Round 1 or the last game I attended, the 2010 Grand Final replay, it’s the same pre-game feeling I always get. Proudly sporting my black & white guernsey, scarf & membership card around my neck I walk down to Etihad Stadium, with the smell of Autumn in the air, to watch the Pies take on Port Adelaide. As I’m approaching the stadium my thoughts of the 2011 season start racing through my mind. I know this season will be like no other. I hope that we stay injury free, are able to make the finals & go all the way once again. Back-to-back, wouldn’t that be amazing. But there is a larger thought overaching all my thoughts, there is no doubt that our amazing coach will no longer be head coach in 2012 despite being in the best form of his long & successful career. This is something I have been thinking about ever since mid 2009, when the controversial and “innovative” deal was made. Buckley would take over as head coach in 2012 after serving as an assistant coach in the interim and Malthouse’s days as head coach would be numbered as he would then move onto an undefined role as “Director of coaching” for 3 years, including and beyond the 2012 season.

The problem is Malthouse looks like and sounds like he has the passion to coach beyond 2011 and everybody knows he still has the talent, expertise & experience to successfully do so. He is undoubtedly the best coach in the AFL. Based on this it’s unlikely that the Buckley-Malthouse coaching set-up in 2012 is likely to work and keep both parties truly happy with their respective roles.

Collingwood President Eddie has come out and confirmed that regardless of a Premiership for the Pies under Malthouses leadership, the contract will stand and Buckley will be coach in 2012.

Are we afraid Bucks will walk away from the club if he’s not given the reigns in 2012? Forget contracts for a moment. Will Eddie feel that he is going back on his promise to his most publicly open favourite ‘son’? – everyone is aware of the extent of his special affection towards Bucks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bucks. He is framed in my house, he has been brilliant for us for so long, Captained us, won a record Copeland trophy count, not to mention a Brownlow & Norm Smith Medal. And, after winning every individual honour the game has to offer, the footy Gods were so very cruel to him, denying him the ultimate, team success and the highly chased premiership that alluded him.

Let’s take a look at the other side. Could Eddie be so cruel to deny Micky Malthouse the chance to potentially beat Lethal Leigh’s record of 3 back-to-back-to-back premierships? Given that, the Pies contributed to Brisbane’s winning record, since two of those premiership wins were against the Pies. If ever we were going to do it, 3 in a row, surely this moment now looked the most conceivable.

I respect Malthouse so much. Every club he has taken over as Senior coach has been on the bottom half of the ladder, Foostcray back in the day, West Coast & then Collingwood, my very own team was on the bottom of the ladder when he agreed to take over. A huge challenge ahead of him, he would have it no other way. He has put in the hard yards and the club would not be where it is today without Mick. So finally when we are successful and he can accept and see some reward for all the hard effort over the years it’s time to say goodbye and for him to gracefully hand over the reigns to a player he coached? Is that the best way to reward a coach at the peak of his coaching career for all the years of service he has provided? Doesn’t seem fair.

How did we get to this point? Why do the Pies find themselves in this position? Seemed straight forward at the time. The pies didn’t want to lose one of our greatest players, ex Captain Buckley to a rival club. Should the club have let Bucks go to North Melbourne or Richmond in a Senior Coaching role to further his coaching education? I believe they should have. Gavin Brown (would not be at rival club Carlton) it’s fair to say he would have stayed at the club and when Malthouse was ready to retire either Browny or Bucks could have taken over the reigns at that stage. Both would have a good depth of experience at that point, and would be in a great position to continue the newfound winning culture at the club, and future success beyond this decade. Perhaps Eddie’s deal back in 2009 was a bit premature. Maybe he should have taken it “week by week”, as everyone knows a week is a long time in football, & 2 years is an eternity. However, the decision was made.

Before Malthouse’s appointment, we had not played finals footy for so long and since 2002 till now we have played more finals footy than any other club. Not a bad little stat for Mick’s coaching resume.

He believes he is at the height of his coaching mastery at this moment. From the great man himself “I believe I have never coached better than I’m coaching right now.” Considering his knowledge, experience and games coached this is a huge statement from Mick.

Is Buckley ready after his 2 year apprenticeship, or is the better question does Malthouse still have the desire and something important to offer and give the club after 12 years at the reign, and over 27  years of AFL Head coaching experience? Absolutely. Would Buckley benefit from another few years working under Master Mick? I believe he would.

Buckley could find himself in an unenviable position of taking over the reigns from a back-to-back premiership side. There’s no doubt that Buckley is a former champion and that he will take coaching head on & demand everything out of the players. He will do everything in his power to grow in the role and be a successful coach, everyone knows coaching is a hard caper, and many great players have failed at the task. I hope this isn’t the case with Bucks. I’ll never forget watching him walk off the G in the 5 point pre-liminary final loss to the Cats in 2007. Knowing that he would never be a premiership player, watching his body language, it was more than a disappointed walk off the ground, it was clear he knew this also. The injustice of it all sunk in, and my heart bled black and white for him. Hopefully, this will be his chance to lead his beloved Magpies to a Premiership. I still do not believe it is the right time for the transition, but of course when the time comes I will support him 100% in his new role.

My thoughts wander back to our current Coach Mick. I can’t help to wonder how any club’s board of directors and President could dispose of such a coach when he’s demonstrating that he’s at the height of his coaching powers.

Only the start of the season & the drama of the coaching situation has already been built. The 2011 season will definitely be an interesting one for my mighty magpies for more than one reason. In true Malthouse fashion, I’ll take the poetic route on this one. A quote from a Robert Burns poem that perhaps became most famous for its use in the novel by John Steinbeck, entitled ‘Of Mice & Men’. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men, Gang aft agley.” Even the best constructed elaborate plans that men make often go awry.


Airline Industry: Time to fly higher

Prelude: After being a swimmer as a  youngster, all those early starts had a negative impact on me. As much as I love mornings, working out in that fresh crisp morning air, getting up and starting my day with additional hours up my sleeve, it’s fair to say I’m not a morning person.

 Knowing my International flight departs at 9am, I was preparing  myself for an early rise, much as I would mentally prepare myself for  a big competition or tournament. Things to consider –  the run to the  airport (either route) at any given time of day can be very  unpredictable – making it tough to predict exactly how much time is a  ‘safe’ allowance for the journey. I decided to go with 1 hour – a decent  amount of time and given a good run I may make it well within that  length of time. Although considering I had work traffic to contend with,  that probably wouldn’t be highly likely.

 For some people I know travelling can be quite nerve racking. If we’re  not one ourselves, most of us will all know at least one cautious  traveller to the point of being a lil’ paranoid I think, almost about  everything – ride to airport, delays, the actual flight, turbulance,  crashes – you name it. I however, do not share any of these fears. I’m  a seasoned traveller, who despite all the drama of prior flights, from  every aspect of the journey, (whatever you can think of) the odds are stacked very high that I’ve already experienced it. Despite this, I go into every flight with a relaxed demeanour. The only explanation for this is like many others I love almost nothing more than the adventure, experiences & new discoveries that travelling delivers. So much so that regardless of bad previous experiences (including a near death experience) I remain 100% optimisitc and don’t even let the thought of a possible negative experience enter my mind. I’m typically a realist, all things considered it’s fair to say, when it comes to travelling I’m probably a bit of an optimist.

According to my booking and travel itinerary, I am flying with V Australia – so I head up to the V Australia counter, which I could not seem to find. After asking 4 different airport staff members, we were all left oddly confused. Finally, another airline ground staff member pointed me to the other side of the airport, and I headed towards their weird set up there. I arrived at the airport with plenty of time, I wasn’t too concerned with the delay in finding the V Australia check-in desk. After pleasantries, I notice the screwed up face the V Australia staff member was making – hmm obviously a problem with my booking I thought. Of course she kept staring at the screen in front of her and didn’t say anything to me. I thought I’d break the silence with, “Is there a problem with my booking?”

“Yes. This flight number does not exist, but it says here that you’re flying with V Australia. When you booked did it say V Australia?”

“Sure did.”

After a wait and conferring with several other workmates, finally someone picked up that my flight number matched a flight number with their new partner Etihad. I walk towards the big board, displaying all departures and notice there is no Etihad flight departing Melbourne that exists. Hmm, strange. V Australia, who else could I be flying with? Maybe my first leg is with Virgin Blue? I wondered. Before I trek out to the Virgin Blue check-in I decide to head back to the V Australia counter. “I realise I’m not actually flying with you, even though it says I am and that’s the ticket I purchased. Is my first leg with Virgin Blue? Should I head over there to check-in then?” I was told to do so and headed over. Some serious time had now lapsed since I had first entered the airport. I wasn’t panicked, I was just pissed off. Luckily, I did not need to check-in any luggage. I only had carry on, or so I thought. As I checked in I was told that my bag was slightly too large for the domestic Virgin Blue flight. Wait a minute, when I packed my bag, I was packing for an international V Australia flight (I had travelled with the same bag on board without any problems in the past), my bag didn’t weigh much either & was clearly only half full, for shopping purposes which I demonstrated. You could literally push the bag in and make it smaller. The Virgin staff member didn’t want a bar of anything I was saying. Despite the fact that I pleaded that I was only away for a short trip and I did not want to be without my luggage for the entire trip. I was forced to check my luggage, much to my annoyance (as Virgin Blue on the same route to Brisbane had not once, but four times lost my luggage en-route of an international flight). Once my bag headed to three other countries, another time nobody could locate my bag at any given time and my fav stuff up of all time would probably be the time I didn’t have my luggage for six weeks and was promised to be reimbursed for the essentials I went out and purchased, which of course never occurred. Not to mention the inconvenience of landing in Brisbane and now having to wait for my bags, collect them, before heading to their seperate international terminal(via train or bus) for apparently my Etihad flight. The V brand was being tarnished beyond repair at this moment. I can’t imagine that Richard Branson would be impressed with his brands performance.

 

After the Virgin Blue staff member handed me my boarding pass she told me to head to the international gates right away, I did think that was odd but didn’t question it at the time due to the lingering annoyance of being forced to check my luggage. I headed to the international gates & my lack of trust of the “experts” when it comes to flights & travel lead me to double check that I was in fact heading through the right security gates. I asked security at the door, after asking me the necessary questions he in fact confirmed I was in the right place. Once I was waiting in the line to head through security I found myself in an unfamiliar surrounding. Michael Jackson music was blarring out of stereos & up front on a mic was the ‘Security Concierge’ introducing himself and providing information – helpful, sure. The manner in which he did this was very comical (in a bad way). Think circus act gone wrong merging with infomercial salesman with MJ music blaring in the background juxtaposed with the stern security guards, who in this environment felt more like extras in a low budget movie. I was seriously beginning to think that it was a real possibility that my mental alarm had not woken me up this morning (al la Kramer from Seinfeld) & that I was sleeping through the entire morning travel process. 

Finally, I was at the head of the line. I’d hit the autopilot switch & was getting ready to hand over my passport & boarding pass and head through the metal detector. Not one person asked for or checked my passport or boarding pass. I actually had it out, waving it around, almost as a reminder for them, ready to hand it over. This doesn’t make sense – I figured surely that I was still asleep, dreaming away. By the time I had gone through the security check point I’d already asked two security staff if I was in fact in the correct place. Yes, I know. I’d been told I was in the correct spot, it just didn’t feel right. Maybe that was partly due to the weirdness created by the ‘Security Concierge’ and MJ’s greatest hits on repeat, at a volume way too high for first thing in the morning.

Next, I was due to fill out my forms and line up for customs. Time was ticking increasingly closer to my boarding time. Call me crazy, but before I lined up again in a monster of a line I thought I’d ask one last person if I was in the right place, another security guard who was standing closeby. I just had this strong suspicion I was in the wrong place & I was starting to get annoyed with myself since I hadn’t backed my own instincts and listened to the airline & security guards instead. “Shouldn’t I be at the domestic security check point?” This security guard looked alarmed.

“Yes, how did you even get in here?”

 “Good question! I was told to come through here.”

“By who?”

“Airline staff, security, ground staff, airport staff. How do I get out of here?”

It’s probably a good time to mention that I now sit at the 100% rate for having to sprint at airports regardless of how early I arrive. Yet, I still wasn’t panicked somehow – however I did know that I didn’t have much time. Especially if there was any type of hold up at domestic security. I start sprinting and finally some joy at the fact that I didn’t have my carry on. Made it through security, I was told boarding time was almost over, now, a sprint to the gate and I was there. I made it! Great. I immediately realise that boarding was not complete – passengers are still seated. I sit down and look up at the screen and see that dreaded seven letter word that no traveller wants to see on the first leg of a connecting flight. Delayed – in bold type displayed on the screen next to my flight number.

Epilogue: As I waited to board my delayed flight (since my book was now in my checked luggage) I was  looking around & I noticed three other people who had much larger bags then my so called prohibited carry on bag that was forced to be checked (despite originally booking a V Australia international flight from point of departure).

 

To coach or not to coach?

There’s been talk about the rule in the WTA Tour (Womens Pro Tennis Tour) that allows a player’s coach to be called on-court at a change of ends, at the time of an opponent’s medical time out or change of attire. This rule went through an experiential trial phase prior to being permanently implemented in 2009 for all WTA tournaments, interestingly, excluding Grand Slam Events. In contrast to the ATP Tour, a coach of a male tennis player is at no time allowed on court during matches.

This rule is found to be polarizing. The debate has largely been around the ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ aspect. The WTA Tour have however, included limits, one coaching request per set is allowed only at a change of ends or at a conclusion of a set. For me there’s a greater issue than this argument, I will be taking a look at this from an alternative viewpoint.

Let’s start by putting everything into perspective. If you take a look at other professional sports, coaches are on the sidelines, up in coaches boxes in the stands, continuously coaching their players, changing strategies and tactics to gain the upper hand and ultimately win the game.  In almost all cases, however, those are team sports. Tennis is different. It’s a unique sport, when it comes to singles it is the ultimate individual sport. During Davis Cup or Fed Cup where you represent your country as a team, coaching is allowed on-court. In line with all other sports, it makes sense to use a coach on-court in a team environment. Ok, let’s say this rule must exist in some fashion, why not only allow the option for on-court coaching in doubles (for BOTH men and women) and mixed doubles matches, if anything. Or better still, let’s just leave tennis as the unique sport that it is, leave the coaching all in the lead up to tournaments and not during matches themselves. Allow the players to have their opportunity to test themselves, push themselves and most importantly work it out for themselves.

Caroline Wozniacki gets some advice from her father & coach during a change of ends.

I’ve always believed that tennis is the most mentally challenging sport that exists. Sure physical strength, natural raw talent, conditioning, consistency and flair are all important components in tennis as with other sports. Nonetheless, many players have shown us time and time again that it takes so much more than this to beat your opponent in any given match and so much more to actually be successful and win Grand Slams – the ultimate in the sport.

How many times during a match have you thought or has a commentator stated that a particular point is a critical point or game to test the mental strength of a player? How many times have you loved watching the tennis as you can see each player’s mind at work? Neither player wanting their opponent to get on top mentally, because they know how quickly things can turn around if that does occur. For tennis lovers including myself, we love watching two players out there physically and mentally fighting it out in the ultimate battle. The swings in momentum, the composure, the emotion, the skill to be able to fight on, change their strategy and execute their skills successfully when they’re seemingly down and out. I believe the WTA Tour should allow the players to grow, learn and work out what it takes in terms of mental toughness to get through those tough points, the points they should have won, could have won and will win. Afterall, isn’t this what seperates the greatest from the greats?

For a moment I tried to see it from a different perspective. What about the players who typically play in the Challenger Tour who are only now entering more WTA matches, the younger inexperienced players playing more experienced counterparts, those who are struggling to break-even (travel costs etc V prize winnings) or make a living. Would this help them get another pay check under their belt? Improve their ranking? Maybe even help them break through? Sure, maybe. Then think about the players that don’t have a full time coach while travelling or can’t afford one but would like to use the on-court coach option? What happens to them? So, maybe not.

It’s been argued that the main motivation behind the rule is based around having the players show a commitment for innovation. Innovate to improve the sport, overcome any issues and look towards the future, but don’t tamper with the fundamentals of the sport of tennis.

Makes you wonder if the motivation for the rule change is geared towards aiding spectators at home on the couch. Bringing another element to the game in terms of ‘entertainment’ value. As the coaches are actually mic’ed up and as long as they’re speaking a language you understand the viewers at home gain some insight into the player/coach relationship to a certain extent. Or are we meant to believe it was really an effort to stop controversies of players coaches using hand signals to help players from the stands?

Again, it still does not explain why male players in the same position do not have that option. Female tennis players have long argued for equality. With prize money, they have been heard. Arguing that what they do is no less challenging then what the men do out there. Only limited and separated by their natural physicality, the difference in ability of strength based on their anatomy of being either male or female. But when it comes to mental strength, who is to say a female can’t be as mentally strong, or I dare say, stronger than a male? So why is this rule only allowed on the WTA Tour and not on the ATP Tour?

Think back to 2004 Wimbledon, when a young Russian, Sharapova came up against the number 1 seeded, defending champion, Serena Williams. Can’t say that I believe there were many who would have predicted the result that eventuated. The outcome was amazing and one that I will not quickly forget. In front of our eyes, this youngster showed us poise well beyond her years, silky skills, power, precision and more mental toughness then you could ever expect from someone of her age in her position. Had the coaches been on-court Sharapova would not have gone through the same level of mental challenges and dealt with them by herself and be better for it. Surely, this is detrimental to the game of tennis? Ohh that’s right, Wimbledon is a Grand Slam Event so the rule wouldn’t have applied anyway.

Refocus, clear direction – sometimes it’s all it takes. The ability to find a new direction and reform yourself is part of being a professional tennis player. Mentality is a huge thing on a tennis court. Creating alternative strategies and having the ability and presence of mind to change tactics if things aren’t turning out or if you’re having trouble executing your strategy successfully. Tennis is meant to be a different game in that you actually have to think for yourself out there. Not to mention keeping your emotions in check and your motivation, spirit and belief high.

I for one hope the players on the WTA Tour come together just as the men did all those years ago and vote for the rule to be euthanized. Let the players test their mental toughness and learn an important, critical component of the game.  I fear that the introduction of this rule will ruin one of tennis’ unique features. Such a large part of being a professional tennis player is to solve things for yourself and do this better than the person on the other side of the net which will lead you to earning those three deserving words, Game, Set, Match.