Category Archives: Sport

#68 Become a [virtual] Plane Spotter

Among the myriad advantages of living in a regional city (think smaller mortgages, houses with real gardens, bushland close by, a ‘rush hour’ known as a ‘rush couple-of-minutes’, and proximity to a Bunnings or a Spotlight) is that the airport is situated thoughtfully close to town. Which was the impetus for my latest activity:

#68 Become a [virtual] Plane Spotter

My home is under a flight path, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Smallish planes might go over a few times a day depending on the prevailing wind direction. They’re like comfort food as I look up and think, ‘Ah good, the 4.50pm from Sydney’s running on time. All’s well with the world.’ 

Recently, a Local Council newsletter advised us of a website called ‘flightaware‘ where all the comings and goings of aeroplanes into, out of, or over Albury can be followed in real time.

By visiting this site it’s possible to explore the once secret and sometimes silent world above us. That white streak in the distant sky or the plane coming in overhead to land can be identified and followed without leaving home. (And I thought online jigsaw puzzles were a marvellous way to waste time.)

All this activity above us, all the time. Who knew? 

And by clicking on any one of these tiny icons, it’s possible to find out anything you want to know about that particular plane. Its origins, who owns it, where its travelling to, if it’s on time. It’s like Facebook for planes.

But more exciting than this is the chance to track planes on their descent into Albury Airport, watching their blue icons get closer and closer to their destination before the little aeroplane blip suddenly – poof! – disappears.

The distant roar of the engines thrusting into reverse tells me it’s landed safely.

Flights are not always as straightforward as you’d expect them to be, though. What, for example, was this pilot up to in the first few minutes after he left Albury? 

                                                                               Wouldn’t you love to know. Specs left at home?

Recently, while I was doing some virtual plane spotting on my iPad in the kitchen, I noticed that three planes, a Rex, a Qantas and a Virgin, all from Sydney, were coming in at about the same time. The battle that ensued in the air for pole position was quite mesmerising.

Straightforward at first, the three blue planes are all lined up, Rex leading across the Hume Weir (which I now realise looks surprisingly like a whale’s tail), followed by Qantas then Virgin …

… spaced perfectly so they’ll arrive in sequence.

But wait! Qantas takes a quick turn left – heading backwards! Oh no, he’s ceding second place to Virgin.

In an instant, though, it changes again. Virgin loses confidence in her position and takes a quick turn to her right – also heading backwards – to leave the chequered flag for Rex, no competition!

Once Rex lands and his blip disappears, it turns into a tussle between Virgin and Qantas for second spot as they appear to do aerial acrobatics. 

Don’t ask me what this is all about, but surely someone needs to look at the scheduling timetable if it’s this messy to get them all in safely.                                                    By now, Qantas has totally lost the plot. He’s coming in a distant third

But apart from the sporting aspects of virtual plane spotting, there are some very practical advantages too.

If I’m going out to the airport to pick up any incoming passengers, I can see well ahead of time if their plane has left its destination as expected.

AND, I can time my departure from home so that my seven minute car journey to the airport begins when the blue blip of my passengers’ plane indicates it’s exactly seven minutes away from the airport. Needless to say, it’s taken some time and complex calculations to work out where, exactly, the plane’s sweet spot is. Oh, the satisfaction when we both arrive at Albury airport simultaneously.

No more having to pay the Council parking fees at the airport should I be left hanging around waiting because the plane was running late.

Hang on a minute. Maybe Council should have thought this through before they let us in on the secret…

#41 Take up a Sport

Retirement doesn’t mean giving up all the fun sporting activities of your youth like tennis, athletics, cycling or netball. By all means keep on playing them, as much as your dodgy joints, crumbling neck and overall lack of flexibility allows.

The good news for the remaining 95% of us though, is that it’s still possible to

#41 Take up a Sport

at any age, no matter your level of skill and fitness. It all depends on the game you choose.

So welcome to the latest trend sweeping the world, and my most recent conquest:

Gentle sport

The Arthur Mee Children’s encyclopaedia goes on to discuss it in more detail:Croquet summary A Mee

but these statements are wrong on so many levels.  (In fact, I now wonder in what other ways Arthur misled me during my childhood.)

The most important thing to know about croquet is that it is NOT a ‘Gentle Game’.

If you thought it involved taking turns to accurately hit a heavy ball through a narrow hoop with a thick mallet, you are so, so, wrong.

Getting your ball through the hoop is a secondary consideration. Bordering on irrelevant. Croquet really revolves around putting your opponents’ balls in the MOST UNFAVOURABLE, MOST UNPLAYABLE POSITION possible. A bit like snooker but executed on the ground instead of a table. (In fact, I don’t quite understand why the term ‘I’m snookered’ took hold in popular culture, rather than ‘I’m croqueted’.)

Once the purpose of croquet is clear in your mind, you’ll go a long way in the game. It’s TACTICAL, it’s STRATEGIC, it’s VICIOUS in a seemingly polite way. So it’s a lot of fun.

But sedate? Not on your life. Croquet is not for sissies and neither is it for people wearing crinoline petticoats.

Yes, Arthur Mee may be correct in saying the lawns are green, (although early morning frost can give them a whitish tinge):

Croquet lawn…the peg colours remind forgetful players whose turn it is

and yes, when looking at this tense moment of exhilarating play (below) you may think ‘well that looks a mite leisurely’


but looks are deceptive.

Believe me, the decision that the player of the Red Ball has to make here as to whether to take out Black Ball or Blue Ball, or try and take out BOTH BALLS with the one shot makes for intense excitement. And she only has one minute to make up her mind and take her shot. You’d hardly call that leisurely.

Not only that, but in the six weeks I’ve been playing the game, there’s been neither sight nor sound of a garden party. Arthur Mee has it quite wrong.

He’s wrong to say that ‘croquet has lost much of its popularity’, too.

A recent article by the travel writer Lee Tulloch spoke about the resurgence of croquet and its perfectly manicured lawns at several top hotels around the world, no less.

Lee Tulloch

It just goes to show that it takes a croquet player to know what’s on trend.

The beauty of croquet is that it’s the only game where men and women play on equal footing. No men’s comp, no women’s comp, we’re all in it together.

And there’s another benefit, too. As a family member – who knows I’ve taken up croquet and has knowledge of my sporting prowess – was heard to say, ‘So, Croquet for the Disabled would be a tautology, then?’

Perhaps the last word should come from the clever team at The Shovel, who seem to understand where we croquet players are coming from:

Croquet Shovel 2

 …and let me tell you, a double tap is a real no-no