DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 25 2017
MONDAY, JUNE 19
A lazy last day on Sicily at the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea. Marie and I say farewell to many members of our Albatross tour Group, with breakfast the last official ‘function’ of the 16 day, Southern Italy trip. I rate the trip eight out of 10, and I am a hard marker. Some of the food and wine hasn’t been as good as expected; there were stretches of boring scenery, and, as it was our guide, Englishman, Richard Ellis’s first ‘Southern Italy’ trip, he had to learn a few things on the way, so we were guinea pigs, to some degree. But he was an excellent guide, great company, and certainly earned his money, especially as one of our members broke her leg on the first day, and she and her husband had to be repatriated to Australia.
Like Marie and I, several members of the group decided to have a full day in Palermo, and another night at our hotel. Steve and Julie Chidgey from Cronulla, are going on another Albatross tour – to Croatia.
At our hotel bar, Marie and I chat to a lady from Epsom in England. Super yacht, Hampshire is docked in the harbor.
The heatwave hitting London, could be the worst since 1976, when my late sister, Kerri-Ann lived there. The death toll is 62, from forest fires in Portugal. Marie and I drove through some of the affected areas in 1978, during our camper van trip around Europe.
TUESDAY, JUNE 20
Our cab driver to Palermo Airport, reaches speeds of 140kmh. He only puts his seat belt on when he sees a police car. At Rome Airport, we are met by former Italian water polo representative, Lores from our bed and breakfast accommodation in Rome’s port city, Civitavecchia. He represented Italy against Australia 20 years ago. For the first time in our travelling history, we had pre-booked a private driver.
Learn of the passing of former Ipswich Bulimba Cup rugby league representative hooker, Bob Christison and former Brisbane Souths’ prop, Jim Murdoch. Bob and his wife, Jan have been regular attendees at Brisbane Men or League lunches at Broncos Leagues Club, and Jan is a noted league historian. Bob played for Ipswich against the 1959 Kiwis; the 1960 French side and the 1966 British team. Christison was selected from the Ipswich Railways club in 1959 and ’60, and the town of Kilcoy in 1966. Kilcoy was part of the Ipswich competition. Jim Murdoch was one of the founders of the Souths Sunnybank club, as well as Tugun Juniors on the Gold Coast, and was the subject of an article I wrote for Men of League magazine
Former New South Wales’ halfback, Brian Burke from Newcastle, pens an open letter to NRL CEO, Todd Greenberg about ‘the death of bush footy’.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21
Dave and Sue, a couple from Mossman in Sydney, are staying at the same bed and breakfast as us. He retired the same time as me. I leave travel tips for Lores, who intends visiting Australia soon. At a cafe, we chat to three Kiwis, who now live at Shoalhaven Heads in Australia. They are going on a Royal Caribbean cruise, before exploring Ireland, Wales and England. They have relatives in Crewe, Cheshire. We are cruising on the SilverSea’s newest ship, Silver Muse, which docked at 6.30 a.m., and accommodates 596 guests. First, I have a haircut – 14E – at an old fashioned barber shop, Adriana Esposito. Back to the cafe, which has wi fi, to keep up to date with the return State of Origin match. Queensland beat New South Wales 18-16, at the death. Amazing. A wounded Johnathan Thurston kicks a sideline conversion, after Dane Gagai scores a try. Man of the match is NSW second rower, Josh Jackson. Broncos media manager, (a former Villefranche De Rouergue player), Trad McLean hosts a French league mate, Fabien, at the match.
Our room on the Silver Muse is amazing. Our butler, Madhu Kandanath, is Indian and our suite attendant, Irene Guillen, is from the Phillipines. Marie explores the ship, while I have a couple of Stellas from the fully stocked fridge. We have Prosecco delivered. I could get used to this. On the pool deck, there is an area for smokers, unfortunately. Chat to a Pom couple after I order a Boddingtons. She is from Doncaster and he is from Watford. During the safety drill we chat to a Canadian couple. He was a Federal judge, and she IS a lawyer. Dinner (steak for me, veal for Marie) at La Terrazza and then listen to guitarist, Silvio. Wine is La Braja Castello Bianco (not Blanco). The ship had set sail at 7 p.m.
Photo 1: Silver Muse
THURSDAY, JUNE 22
Breakfast in room, while reading our (daily) ‘Australia Today’ Chronicle. White table cloth, butler service. We feel a bit uncomfortable. It is not US, the butler thing. A tender takes us ashore at Sorrento. The swell is quite large, and some, old, frail people really struggle to get on and off. There is a destination wedding at one of the churches – Poms. Sorrento too busy for us. Talk to a Taringa (Brisbane) couple on the return tender trip. He is almost blind, but has a very good pair of binoculars. He talks about a Glasgow firm which made periscopes. The ship’s captain, Marco Sangiacomo (Italian) hosts a party. Dinner at Indochine, with four Canadians seated near us. At 10 p.m.we see a show – A Tribute to the Big Bands.
Photo 2: Breakfast in our room
FRIDAY, JUNE 23
Trapani on Sicily is our next port of call. We had seen the city from the heights above, on our Albatross Southern Italy coach trip. Marie buys a pomegranate drink, which goes right through me. Lunch beside the ship pool, where we meet a couple from Lymm in Cheshire, Allen and Beryl Olive. Allen played rugby league for Salford, but supports Warrington. Later we meet a Yorkshire couple, Colin and Carole Dent. He is Castleford originally and supports their league team, but now lives in Halifax and is a sponsor of the local soccer side. Our chardonnay is from Chile.
See the ‘Voices of SilverSea’. They are all exceptional, but I am especially taken by mezzo soprano, Marisa Nelson from Minnesota.
Photo 3: Colin Dent, Carole Dent and Steve Ricketts
SATURDAY, JUNE 24
Malta’s Valetta Harbor is impressive, and we are met by a solitary gondola, as a truck ferry to Catania passes by. As our ship is refueled, Marie and I have a swim and a spa, and overhear four Australians talking about Queensland’s amazing win in Origin II. Lunch at Arts Cafe on board, and then we buy tickets (10E each) for a three hour bus trip around the island. The ticket seller, now 68, and still a smoker, despite health battles, says he lived in Australia for eight years. There have been a lot of migrants from Malta, and Mackay is certainly blessed with a number of fine citizens, with Maltese roots. Lots of road side rubbish (like Sicily) and bad smells. The highlight of the trip is the Blue Grotto, where scores of young people are swimming. The roads are so rough. Back on board, we have drinks in the Library Bar, followed by pizzas on the pool deck. We drink Sartori Pinot noir. Ian Sartori used to play for Brisbane Brothers’ rugby league. It all comes back to rugby league.
Back in Brisbane, our youngest son, Lliam takes his oldest boy, Ethan into the saloon bar at the Breakfast Creek Hotel. ‘The Creek’ has been a place of pilgrimage for the Ricketts’ clan since my father, Jon first went there in 1960, while training with the Shell Oil Company (to become a ‘rep’ or area manager).
SUNDAY, JUNE 25
A little windy as we anchor of Malta’s second island, Gozo. Our guide on the island is a Camillieri, and, not only does she know Joe Camillieri from Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, but also former Parramatta Test rugby league prop, Michael Vella. At Qala, we have a church visit, with a Bishop celebrating mass, along with a choir and orchestra. It is so moving. I know our nephew, Kieran Ricketts, a talented musician, would have been impressed. We visit another church, where a baptism is about to happen. Cheese, salami and fruit platters at Tal-Massar Winery for lunch.
Our English friend, Carole Dent says Kiwis have more refined accents than Australians. Stone the Crows! Also chat to a lady from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, who was born on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. She says she prefers Australian rules players to the rugby boys, because Aussie rules players have better bodies. Well, I never..
One drink at Porto Vecchio Bar at Mgarr Harbor, before returning to the ship. My beer is a Lord Chambray, which is brewed on the island. There are lots of vessels at the blue lagoon, off Malta’s third island, Comino.
Debate the merits of rugby league and Aussies rules with Ray, a chartered accountant from Melbourne. I see some merit in Aussie rules, he sees none in rugby league. We shan’t be chatting again.
Photo 4: Marie with Beryl and Allen Olive.