DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 34 2019
A massive storm hits Singapore, and is most welcome, given there has been a prolonged dry spell, and parks and gardens are badly in need of a drink. Brunch at Baker & Cook, and then farewell drinks at Georges Bar, with our daughter, Melanie and her fiancee, Greg Mariotto. Business Class lounge at Singapore Airport is packed, but that doesn’t stop one American ‘lady’ taking up a whole lounge setting. “I have to be here till morning,” she moans. Thank heavens we won’t be there to see her greet the dawn.
Watch ‘Rocketman’ and ‘John Wick 3’ on the flight. There is an amazing red sun as we land at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam where we are met by a female representative of ‘Scenic’, the Cruise company that will take us from Amsterdam to Budapest, in Hungary. She is originally from Milan in Italy, but moved to the Netherlands 32 years ago, for love. We share the car (to the Hilton) with Bruce and Irene from Yarrawonga in Victoria, and Naomi McKay, from Buderim in Queensland. Marie and I have coffee with Naomi at Guadalupe Mexican restaurant, overlooking Oudezijds Canal. (Love the Dutch spelling – Not). There is so much litter in the streets, and the red light area is grotty (I know – they all are) – a lot more uninviting than I remember from my first visit in 1977, and even compared to my most recent visit, in 2002. Just window shopping, nothing else! A dark chap throws a milk carton straight onto the street, even though there is an empty bin nearby. I do my bit for our planet, by picking it up. One drink in the hotel bar, waiting for our room to be available. The barman looks like George Clooney.
Marie and I walk to the Science Centre and National Maritime Museum, through a school, to Haneker’s Boom Cafe/Bar on the canal, for drinks and dinner (tacos). The weather is hot, and there are lots of young people swimming, in what I would call ‘dodgy’ water. A storm hits as we make our way back to the hotel.
Explore Amsterdam further, walking to the flea market, via Nieuwmarkt, then to our boat, Scenic Crystal. Very exciting. We have been on two ocean cruises – one around New Zealand on the Sun Princess, and one in the Mediterranean, on Silversea’s ‘Silver Muse’. This is our first river cruise, unless you count a trip up the Maroochy River! We were supposed to travel on the Scenic Jasper, but the company tells passengers that the Jasper has been held up by low water levels on the river system, so we are ‘stuck’ with Scenic Crystal, which is still very good. The main difference is that the Jasper has a swimming pool. The Crystal does not. A lot of passengers are left disappointed, my wife near the top of the list, given she is an avid swimmer.
The first people we chat to are Bruce and Irene from Yarrawonga, and a Canadian couple, from Ottawa (he is ex-air force). Their daughter and granddaughter are keen equestrians. There is a welcome and safety briefing from our captain, Plamen; hotel manager, Ivan and cruise director, Tadej. Drinks with two Canadians and an American – all golfers – who are on their fifth cruise with Scenic. Dinner with four Canadian ladies, three of them retired teachers.
Tomislave is our room attendant. Watch excellent movie, ‘Boy Erased’. Former Great Britain rugby league utility, Tulsen Tollett is reading the sport on BBC TV News.
Breakfast beside a couple from Oxley in Queensland, although he is originally from Surrey, in England. He lived in Sellheim Street, Grange for a time, and this is just around the corner, literally, from where my wife and I live. We undertake a canal cruise, which is informative, thanks to our guide, who is now a Dutch citizen, after 42 years here. Originally from England, she sounds like Fiona Bruce from ‘Antiques Roadshow’. With great glee, she points out a male flasher, near the cruise departure point. It is the same place where we were exposed to a flasher in 1977, and then again in 2002. The privilege of flashing the public obviously has been passed from one generation to the next.
Our river cruise leaves at Noon and passes through pleasant Dutch countryside, into Germany. The welcome gala dinner sees us seated beside an Adelaide couple (both keen four-wheel drivers) and two women from Sydney, who had left their men behind (in Australia). One lady is a teacher from Hurstville. Live music is provided by a string quartet in the Crystal lounge, finishing with the national anthems of four countries – Australia, Canada, United States and Great Britain – the countries which have provided the most guests. The cellist is from Argentina. ‘Gianni’, from Italy, provides more live music after 9 p.m.
Lovely chat with Canadians, Randy and Donna, over breakfast. They live two hours from Toronto. She was a nurse and he had a restaurant. They have similar views to us, about the state of world affairs. Won’t go into detail.
Our first stop is Zon, in Germany, on the west bank of the Lower Rhine. Those who elect to use the bikes provided on board, set off first, on their 36km ride into Cologne. We get the bus. Our young guide is English, with Irish heritage, and gives us, what I would call, a ‘Greenie’ view of things in this region. I asked him if he believed the Allies had deliberately avoided bombing the cathedral, (which remained virtually intact, while the rest of the city crumbled) and he says, that was the case. Some of the more ‘weight challenged’ members of our group have a bit of a whinge on the walking tour of Cologne. Marie and I chat to two couples from Atherton in North Queensland, as we enjoy curry bratwursts and chips at Brauhause Sion. They are rugby league people, so, invariably, the topic of former Australian five eighth, Todd Carney arises, given he had a season at Atherton, where, evidently, he was a hit with local females. Marie and I had been to Cologne in 1977, and again in 2002. Cologne beer (Kolsch) in the traditional small glasses, is available back on the boat. Nice touch. Love watching the river traffic. The ‘Willie Osterman’ goes by, as I update my written diary.
Medieval dinner at Schlossburg Castle gets the thumbs up – soup, pork, waffles (moi); soup, chicken, vegies and potato mash (Marie). John Borszeky from Perth is coerced, by a minstrel, to join him on stage. John is a hit, as is the Canadian who is ‘asked’ to play the bagpipes. A Canadian lady is the volunteer for the guillotine. I certainly wouldn’t have volunteered. ‘Off with her head’, I heard someone say. John’s wife, Lyn, looks like former Courier-Mail workmate, Kathleen Noonan.
Late night drinks back on board with Michael and Leanne Montgomery from Atherton, who we had met in Cologne. He is a solicitor, and a stalwart of the Atherton Roosters Rugby League Club. Montgomery Solicitors is a locally owned and operated firm, which has served the Atherton Tablelands since 1904.
At 6 a.m., a calf muscle cramp forces me out of bed, just in time to see my first castle, as we head into the Rhine Valley Gorge, with its lovely villages, terraced vineyards and beautiful woodland. There are amazing views, and so many trains going by. Heaven. Lots of geese on the riverbank. An American lady near me reads Sally Field’s biog. Chat to an Aussie bloke wearing a Wagga Wagga Cricket Club premiership cap.
Captain Plamen blows the horn at hooning boaties.
Catch a mini-train to Siegfried’s Musikkabinett (mechanical musical instrument museum) in Rudesheim, and the experience is far better than we expected. Marie loved it.
The queues at the chairlift are too long for our liking, so we explore the village and enjoy a drink in one of the squares. A woman’s dog ‘attacks’, scaring the living daylights out of me, and forcing me to spill my beer. But of course, the dog is harmless! There is a buck’s party in full swing, and it is ‘full-on’.
Tommy Temerson, on the Zither (a strange, stringed instrument) provides the music back on board and then tries to sell CDs. I think he got one taker. A barge, carrying a load of sand, is named ‘Maranta’. Barry Maranta was the original chairman of the Brisbane Broncos’ Rugby League Club. It all comes back to rugby league. Well, it is ‘The Diary of a Retired Rugby League Writer’.
Back in Australia, our eldest son, Damien and his oldest daughter, Parker do the community walk to the lighthouse, at the entrance to Port Denison, Bowen in North Queensland. It can only be done once or twice a year, when the tide is right.
Melbourne Storm have claimed the NRL minor premiership. A couple from Western Australia couldn’t care less. They are despairing at not being able to watch the AFL finals, and I think they expected to be able to watch the games on board. They do not know the difference between rugby league and rugby union. Tragic. I know the difference between Aussie rules and netball! The Sunshine Coast Falcons have been confirmed as Queensland Cup rugby league minor premiers, winning the John ‘Cracker’ McDonald Shield in the process.
It is 50 Years today, since Murwillumbah Brothers’ 11-0 win over Cudgen in the Tweed Rugby League grand final at Murwillumbah. Brothers were coached by Maitland product, Bob Pannowitz. I played under-18s for Brothers that season, under the coaching of Des Lee.
Forgot it was Father’s Day, but our grandsons, Ethan and Connor haven’t, and they sing ‘Happy Father’s Day, Pater’ (as I am known), down the phone. Ethan is such a good singer. It is also Wattle Day in Australia.
Up on deck, chat to a Kiwi couple from Nelson, about tramping (as the Kiwis call bush walking) and those bloody Aussie possums destroying the bush in New Zealand. Also chat to Englishman, John who is a Nottingham Forest Football Club historian, a former scout for the famous club, who also worked for Internal Revenue.
There are fairs at a couple of riverside towns, one of them Wertheim, at the confluence of the Main and Tauber, and there is great music emanating from one tent. Dinner with two couples from Warwick in Queensland – Dave and Julie; Gary and Lyn. I have salmon and Marie chicken breast. Lyn wants to know all about sports journalism, and says she will buy my book, ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, published in 2013 by New Holland.
An American bloke – Henry – hits me on the arm as I walk to the bar to buy a drink. Weird. I think he was being playful, but it was, well – weird.
Learnt that at 3 a.m., a woman had left the cruise at Frankfurt, because of a family emergency back in Canada. Her travelling companion, close friend, Pam, is naturally very upset.
Back in Australia, former Test rugby league winger, Ian Schubert has had a motor bike accident, and may lose a foot. And in France, Fabien Devecchi is new coach of Villeneuve-sur-Lot, replacing Julien Rinaldi (Marie and I will be in ‘Vill’ later this month).
1 Marie Ricketts (left) and Naomi McKay in Amsterdam
2 Drinks at canal-side Heneker’s Boom cafe/bar
3 cruising through the Dutch countryside on Scenic Crystal
4 Marie Ricketts on the Scenic Crystal
5 Welcoming committee on the Scenic Crystal
6 John Borszeky and a minstrel at Schlossburg
7 The Rhine Gorge
8 The Rhine Gorge.