The Sloe Lane

The Alabama Slammer with sloe gin

Who could resist this cocktail of sloe gin, amaretto, Southern Comfort with a twist?

I’ll confess straight up I’ve had a busy week and – as anyone who lives in the countryside can likely empathise – I have done an extravagant amount of driving. Between airport drop offs, grocery runs and other far flung commitments, I’ve driven almost 800 kilometres. All in a matter of days. And I haven’t really gone anywhere.

After extensive Googling I’ve decided to accept there are no luxurious rehab centres in exotic climes for sufferers of Extreme Driver Fatigue. (Please God, inspire someone to invent one, preferably overlooking the Andaman Sea)

So there’s nothing else to do but to hide the car key and fix myself an inspiring cocktail. Not my usual Pimms either. I feel like I need to get sloe down.

Alabama Slammer 

15 ml (1/2 oz) sloe gin 
30 ml (1 oz) amaretto
30 ml (1 oz) Southern Comfort
Dash of lemon juice

As I sip my drink (to slam would be to waste) I realise rather quickly I need a porch to go with my drink. And perhaps a swing chair, balmy heat and some southern hospitality.

Alabama

Alabama may be the perfect location for a weekend home. Beaches and BBQ sound good to me.

It would be easy to talk in cliched tones about Alabama – sass about hillbillies, pick ups and Confederate flags – but I’m not buying into that narrow vision. Not when this classic song swirls in my mind as I take another sip of my cocktail.

Alabama may just be everything good about the south. Charismatic music, poignant civil rights and indigenous historical sites, pristine beaches on the Gulf, comforting cuisine and heat. Serious heat. All things that pique my curiosity particularly when here it’s six degrees outside tonight.

Marion AL, USA

USD$110,000

When I happened upon this house I couldn’t believe my eyes. So close to my USD$100,000 budget and so utterly beautiful it took my breath away. I know it may be too expansive to be a low maintenance weekend home but, well, I don’t really care.

Circa 1840 the house is – quite rightly – on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a L-shaped two-story home on nearly two acres. Four bedrooms, two baths, ten foot ceilings, plaster medallions, heart pine floors, new kitchen (which I’d probably paint), fenced dog yard (we country folk like those), detached office (hello craft room!) and garage (for the enormous ‘pick up’ I simply must have).

Alabama 5.2

Perfect symmetry, pillars and to-die-for black shutters. Stunning

Alabama 5.4

Delightful grounds

Alabama 5.5

Two words. White. Paint.

Alabama 5.3

A quick polish of the floors and I’m moving in. The wallpaper? If it’s in good condition, it stays, I love it

 

Citronelle AL, USA

USD$58,500

This gem is a little smaller and so is the price tag. Once again perfectly symmetrical, glistening white and with undeniably stylish black shutters.

It has nearly two acres of garden and four floors including a basement and attic. I am gobsmacked.

Alabama 2.1

Three bedrooms and three bathrooms on 1.8 acres of parkland like garden

Alabama 2.2

Lovely original features

Alabama Southern Living

Could be transformed to look like this without much fuss

Mobile Al, USA

USD$50,000 – $100,000(Auction)

This rather large 3,100 square foot family home has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Since it will go to auction it’s hard to pin point the exact price.

This gorgeous pile has such huge potential I can barely contain myself. Other houses on this historic street sell for triple the price range. Though the other houses on the street probably aren’t in the same state of disrepair. This poor old dame has been trashed, I suspect by the previous occupants.

Alabama 3.1

A southern classic

Alabama 3.2

I’ve lived in worse, I really have

Alabama 7.1

This glorious southern belle is also on Dauphin Street and is for sale for $399,000

I’d be happy in any of these weekend homes but I’d have to ship my entire family out to Alabama to be with me.

So I’ll take all three.

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A World Cup Weekend Home?

Fifa-World-Cup-2014-Brazil-Wallpaper

In case you didn’t know, the finals are here!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup final – between powerhouses Argentina and Germany – is finally upon us. The forthcoming finale makes me feel quite jolly. I like football, I really do. It’s just that I’m terribly tired of commercial network news programs peppering us with unimaginative images of beautiful, hairless people slinking along Impanema or Copacobana under the guise of ‘reporting live from Brazil’. It’s driving me crazy. (I confess a small part of me wondered if a TV network executive was responsible for the gunshots fired at Copacobana this week so yet more beach scenes could be broadcast.)

Who knew Brazil was only a sandy knoll – populated by bare bottoms – on the Atlantic?

I’ve also been praying furiously to the God of Fashion – Anna Wintour – Brazilian swimwear doesn’t catch on like the torturous Brazillian itself. Actually, if I’m going to be honest, I really was hoping the ‘skort‘ would come back in fashion. Perhaps retro skirted swimsuits. Or at least some frilly frills. More lycra not less please Anna. My thirty something bottom needs at least partial housing; it’s laissez faire rather than derriere extraordinaire.

I’m all for women wearing whatever they like. But really, I just can’t chase a three year old around looking like this.

Brazil Beach Photo Getty

Less of this

Kenneth Cole Swimsuit

More of this! (Elegant frills without the spills)

Yes, I know what most men reading this post are thinking. More of that, less of this!

OK, until you all look like this guy I recommend you be cautious where you toss your stones in your proverbial glasshouses. Though, if you looked like this guy, I’m not sure you’re interested in women’s swimwear at all. You’d likely favour fitness over fashion.

7ca737f362ba859471d02c62b64fd59e

Touche?

Oh dear God, let me move on.

So anyway, I decided to have a weekend home ‘world cup’ this week and let the football final decide where we look for an abode.

Suffering for my art, I woke up obscenely early on Monday morning to watch Brazil and Germany fight it out live. If you missed it, the first 15 minutes were fairly energetic, then Germany scored a staggering four goals in six minutes. Brazil suffered what we call  “plot loss”. By two thirds of the way through the first half Brazilians in the crowd were crying, some were praying (perhaps to Anna Wintour?).

Stop it. Please.

Stop it. Please.

The suffering continued early Wednesday morning. Argentina and the Netherlands failed to score until a penalty shoot out, after extra time. Possibly the most defensive, cautious and dull game of this World Cup. As I watched, I wished I was sleeping. At some points I may have been.

So let’s start our search for a weekend home in Germany. Brace yourself. Unlike many European countries, the German realty market is strong; knock-your-socks-off expensive.

Exclusive Baden Baden – on the edge of the magnificent Black Forest – is south of Frankfurt and just over the Rhine from France. So overwhelmingly stylish is this town I think if James Bond was into spas, this would be the destination for him. A glamorous casino, baths with Victorian splendor and a mix of summer and snow adventure sports. Although you’d need to head to the Alps for serious skiing, Baden Baden is close to several ski resorts including Baiersbronn (8 lifts, cross country trails and endless James Bond cello-case-tobogganing potential).

The idea of a weekend home in the centre of Western Europe really appeals to me. As well as having the option of sunny summers and white Christmas’. Baden Baden isn’t cheap cheap though. In fact we won’t get anything for our USD$100,000 budget in one of the prettiest towns in Europe. So we’ll search close by.

Baden Baden

Baden Baden is an hour and a half drive south of Frankfurt and four hours east of Paris

Baden-Baden-Germany-Spa-Vacation

Relax, you’re in Baden Baden

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

Baden Baden, Weststadt, Germany

USD$162,000

Clearly. I’m over budget. But since the interest rates are so reasonable in Europe (thanks Angela Merkel) we may be able to stretch a little. This is the only accommodation I could find near the town for under USD$275,000.

This – ready to update – two bedroom apartment is close to the spa and cuckoo-clock action. And it’s as lovely as a Black Forest Gateau.

Baden 1.1

Sunny Baden Baden Yellow exterior

Baden 1.2

And a sunny Baden Baden Yellow interior

Baden 1.3

The sunny Baden Baden Yellow continues on the terrace

Will I take it? Let’s let the final decide.

We cant forget precioso Argentina. So let’s head south to Mar del Plata. The busy beach paradise is a four hour drive south of Buenos Aires. Once a fishing village, today it is a stylish seaside mega-resort. Before you scoff at the idea, consider there is so much to do in Mar del Plata you’ll never tire of it. Like Baden Baden, it has spas and a casino. But it also has the added benefit of heat, endless beaches and endless family activities. Not to mention Argentinian food. Si por favor!

Aar

Mar Del Plata is a four hour drive south of Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires

It's a little popular

It’s main beach can be popular on public holidays and high summer

Colourful fishing boats at the marina

Colourful fishing boats at the marina

Mar del Plata, Argentina

USD$138,500

I absolutely adore this two bedroom townhouse in Pompeya Mar del Plata. It’s reasonably new but I think it has an adorable character. I love the kitchen, the floors even the grill. What a lovely retreat from the crowds.

mar del plata 1.1

Oh yes, I could cook up an Argentinian storm on that grill

Mar del Plata 1.2

A few streets from the beach

mar del plata 1.3

A blank canvas

Will I take it? Let’s let the final decide of course.

I think if Germany can be as strong, skilled and structured as its real estate market, they will win. Just.

Deutschland gehen!
(And they did win. Just. Wasn’t it incredible?)

The Googly

There are peculiarities, peculiar to peculiar countries that others find, well, peculiar.

Australian Vegemite, Khmer fried spiders, Scottish Haggis, American Rocky Mountain Oysters et al. Unless you’re raised on such delicacies, it’s fair to say you’re unlikely to acquire the taste. (Except perhaps for the fried spiders, which actually taste like crispy fried chicken skin, who doesn’t like that?)

This is also true of cricket. You can’t learn to like cricket, you have to be born to like it. Nature trumps nurture.

Used_cricket_ball

Cricket is not an acquired taste

Predictably, if you ask an American about cricket, the responses range from the quaint “it’s so adorably British but I don’t understand it” to the downright off base “it’s like a four day game of baseball, who has the time?” It’s not their fault of course and I don’t intend to cause offence. They were born to connect with ‘World Series Baseball’ and ‘World Series NBA’. Neither of which involve anything to do with the ‘world’ at all. Neither of which I like either.

The phenomenon is absolutely mutual. It can be applied infinitely. Canadian NHL ice hockey, Thai Kickboxing, Chinese Ping-Pong and Estonian Naisekandmine. You get my drift.

One of the delightful aspects about writing about cricket is I know the readers of this post are all cricket enthusiasts.

Everyone else stopped reading two paragraphs ago.

Sometimes I read sports news articles about cricket that explain the basics of a dead ball ruling or where silly mid on is compared to short leg and ponder why the writer bothers. Anyone who doesn’t know cricket, doesn’t read about cricket. It’s a fairly simple universal truth don’t you think? (It could also be that writers just like talking about ‘silly mid on’. That is also universally true.)

So, hello cricket devotees. It’s just us now. This is safe space to be your – cricket loving – self.

I’m a proud product of 1980’s cricket. An era that saw my – mustache growing and always weirdly sweaty – heroes painstakingly gathering momentum to begin a new era of Australian dominance by the decade’s end. In fact I really didn’t know Australia could lose the Ashes until I was all grown up. It was quite a shock, let me tell you. I still associate Ricky Ponting with feelings of helpless despair.

Naturally, I grew up watching Kerry Packer’s colourful World Series Cup ‘one dayers’. A world series that actually involved the world. The relevant parts anyway. David Boon, Alan Border, Merv Hughes and Steve Waugh were setting exciting benchmarks (both in cricket and in beer consumption). And Kapil Dev, Courtney Walsh, Ian Botham were famously formidable opponents. All resplendent in weighty gold neck chains.

Thames Cricket 1986

Australian – World Series Cup – team in green and gold in 1986

We also played endless backyard cricket. My father spent hours trying to teach my sister and I bowling techniques. The basics. Pace. Swing. Spin. Then the miraculous Googly and the great – equally perplexing – Doosra. (Even today I wonder if ‘The Doosra’ is my dad’s favourite saying, it comes up very frequently.) All lessons I hope to inflict on my son with the aid of Youtube tutorials from – the greatest leg spinner of all time – Shane Warne and perhaps some batting advice from the endlessly captivating Sachin Tendulkar (my two cricket soft spots).

So it follows that my favourite film of the 1980’s features cricket nostalgia. Oscar nominated Hope and Glory (1987) is John Borman’s memoir about a great war, an English river and cricket. If you’ve ever swooned over cricket, and I know you have, then this is the movie for you (rent it on Itunes for $3.99).

Of particular poignance is the scene where the protagonist Billy is preparing for his father to depart to serve in the army in World War II. As they play cricket in the yard Billy’s father Clive pulls him close in a tender embrace, separated only by a battered red leather cricket ball.

“Billy, before I go there’s something I want to tell you. You’re not quite old enough, but, well it’s the Googly. Your hand is too small to master it, but you can make a start.”

We – the viewers –  are then blessed with a captivating and romantic description of the power of the Googly. “It looks like an off break, but it’s really an leg break.” We witness Billy’s most important moment with his father. Decades after first seeing the film I still remember the scene with utter reverence.

photo12

Billy’s dad explains the Googly

As the film draws to a close, Billy’s father returns from his post to find the family house in London is no more and the family have relocated to Grandpa George’s house on the Thames. And little Billy has indeed mastered the Googly.

photo

Grace – Billy’s mother – raises her glass to the Thames and says “I never want to leave the river again” at the end of Hope and Glory.

The family are so taken with living by the Thames they vow never to return to the city. “To the river” they cry as they raise their glasses. For that scene alone, I’ve always wanted to spend a summer by the western Thames either in Berks, Bucks, Oxford or Surrey. Perhaps even buy a weekend home there.

Thames Map

Hope and Glory’s Thames scenes were filmed 5 km west of Kingston on Thames at Shepperton Lock, Surrey

I’m very drawn to buying weekend home on the river itself. Needless to say an absolute riverfront house is out-of-my-league. So I’m leaning toward something a little more unorthodox.

A narrowboat perhaps.

A traditional English narrowboat is no more than 7 feet wide and 70 feet long. Although that means living on a small scale (oh yes please), it ensures we can zip up and down those lovely – overflowing with history – canals in England’s southwest.

Yes, I know there will be mooring costs of around USD$5000 per annum to incorporate into my budget. That sounds quite reasonable to me, considering we will be so close to London.

I have to wonder if I will be able to dock my narrowboat at London’s Vauxhall Bridge and wonder up Park Lane to Lord’s Cricket Ground? Or perhaps a ‘visitors mooring’ at London Docklands and tube ride on the Jubilee Line to St Johns Wood? Sounds perfectly plausible to take my weekend home to the Ashes rather than commute don’t you think?

Goring-on-Thames

Berkshire, UK

USD$113,000

Thames Boat 1.1

The Maisie, 55 feet of British navy blue loveliness

Thames boat 1.2

The double bedroom, bath and living area will need a spruce up. Some additional berths are essential. I do like that charming wood burner though!

Maisie Maisie, how do I love thee? Let me count the waves (awful sonnet butchering I know, I can’t help it). I’ll take it.

Thames & Kennet Marina

Berkshire, UK

USD$60,000

Thames Boat 2.1

Built in 2003, the 57ft Elwood II has one double bedroom, bath and functional kitchen

Thames Boat 2.2

Break out the lime wash!

See you at the Ashes! I’ll take it.

The interior of my narrowboat would be deciededly muted. Just like this visionary Otters Boat Hire boat in – Old Trafford land – Lancashire.

Thames Aga 2

Taupe tones expand and lighten the space

Thames Aga

A mini Aga? Oh yes please

Thames Kelly Hoppen

Cap that off with a splash of Kelly Hoppen luxury and we’d have the perfect narrowboat

I’d really like my narrowboat on the Thames to have a neutral and modern feel with some courageous splashes of London glamour. It would suprise and belie it’s traditional external appearance. Not at all what you’d expect.

Just like a Googly.