Jumping out of the jetstream

Good old Bernie. This year's bizarre Formula 1 calendar, with its nutty three-week gap between the first and second races, despite the fact that both are in the Asia-Pacific region, gave F1 reporters a choice: one could either fly home and then return to Malaysia at great expense and with an awful lot of time on aeroplanes, or one could spend the money pottering around in Australia. The numbers were pretty much even but with the English school holidays fitting in neatly to the break, it was a good moment to ship out those who have not had the chance to see Australia before and had a short holiday. Having a website is like having an unruly pet that constantly needs feeding and so there was much time spent on the Internet but otherwise the coast was clear.

When you are in Formula 1 you tend to get sucked along by the momentum of it all: going from one place to the next and never really jumping off the conveyor belt and enjoying a slower pace of life. For 10 years I have been going in and out of Melbourne and have not been to Sydney nor Adelaide since.

For a few days I rediscovered Sydney, a much better place since the investment made for the 2000 Olympic Games, and I did splendid things like visiting Taronga Zoo (which offers the best views in Sydney and a few animals thrown in) and having long lunches in Watson's Bay.

And then, perhaps a little bizarrely, I went back to Melbourne. It was by then 10 days since the Grand Prix had taken place and it was the chance to see bits of the city that I had never seen before. We tend to arrive at the airport, go to the places we know and then leave. It was nice to do something a little different. It was interesting to walk around Albert Park and see how the whole construction process of the race track works. Normally we just turn up and it is all there, neatly in place. We swiped into the paddock and don't give a thought about what it took to create it. Going back 10 days after the race revealed the scale of the work that has to be done as miles of concrete barriers and debris fencing is trucked away to be stored for the next 12 months. There were grandstands still being disassembled, and large areas of grass being reseeded. What impressed me was how quickly the park was reverting to its usual state.

The city was its usual action-packed self with a seemingly never-ending swimming competitions that gave the local newspapers stories of Eastern European coaches who bashed up their daughters or got into trouble for tweaking the breasts of hotel security ladies.

It was all still going on when a few days later we departed the city in a Holden Commodore to drive the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. I had memories of doing this a lot back in the late 1980s and, for some reason, in my mind it was never a long trip. From memory it seemed like an eight hour run and although the locals did warn me that it was longer than that my mind refused to let go of the idea and so as we zigged and zagged down through such charming spots as Apollo Bay and Lorne we began to realise that it was going to be a lot longer than we had planned.

You cannot go that fast on the Great Ocean Road without fear of going over the edge (never a good idea given that if you survive the drop and the splash you will probably then get eaten by great white sharks) and so, after stopping off at the fancy rock formations called The Twelve Apostles, we found we had already reached lunch time. There is a speed limit of 100kph in Victoria and everyone keeps to it in fear of the local police, who seem very keen on slowing people down. And so we trundled on. It was only when we crossed the border into South Australia and saw that the speed limit had been raised to 110kph that we realised that it was only another 500 or so kilometres to Adelaide.

But even with the extra speed we found the same thing. Everyone in Australia keeps to the speed limits.

The car stayed on (or at least near) the speed limit the whole way as we ruched from Mount Gambier to Penola, through the Coonawarra vineyards to Naracoorte, to Willalooka, Keith and Tailem Bend. And then finally to the great Murray River at the aptly-named Murray Bridge and yet there was still another 100km from there.

It doesn't look far on the map.

We arrived finally in Adelaide late in the evning having benefited from the bizarre half hour time change that still exists to this day, telling the world that the people of South Australia have a streak of independence that will not go away. The first thing we did the next morning was to get in the car and drive some more to find my old pal Bob Jennings, who was once the Formula 1 man on the Adelaide Advertiser (a big job when F1 was big in that town). Bob once had the great good fortune to be allowed to drive a Tyrrell Formula 1 car through the streets of Adelaide at lunchtime, with all the other traffic still there. He had a police car in front and a police car behind and as I recall the event turned more than a few heads. I cannot imagine such things happening today.

Going back to Adelaide after 10 years was a delightful experience for the city has changed little over the years. Some of the shops and restaurants have changed but life seemed pretty much the same - although once again it was strange to visit the place without all the paraphenalia that was always there when the Grand Prix was in town. It brought back many happy memories. Oddly the thing that stood out was how so many places reminded me of Ayrton Senna, notably in the park where Tina Turner called him up on stage and sang Simply the Best to him.

For a moment or three I had a twinge of regret that we ever went off to Melbourne.

And then it passed and I headed off to Malaysia, to get back in the jetstream.

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