Wednesday, November 12, 2014

And then I moved to Maitland

So what happened next? Sorry it’s been so long between drinks dear blog followers. I’ve been super busy with practical matters like working full-time and commuting up and down the highway between Sydney and the Hunter. I did it for so long that the road itself was re-branded, from the F3 to the M1, and another whole freeway was constructed, the (wonderful) Hunter Expressway. That kind of puts it into perspective doesn’t it?

Obviously decisions had to be made, both practical and emotional. Long distance relationships are finite, ultimately someone has to move, but who was it going to be?
The incurable romantics are wrong, love doesn’t always win out. But three and a half years after we first met it love did win me over; I moved to Maitland.

The decision to move proved to be unexpectedly easy. Actually driving away from Sydney, the city I loved so much and which held the narrative of my entire life, was much, much harder. Much. And leaving my dream job gave me more than a few anxious moments.

For baby boomers think the TV sit-com ‘Green Acres’, for those who tragically missed the generation lottery and were born after the boomer era, i.e. the Golden Age, here’s a re-cap:

Or just watch the video intro to the series, it says it all:

The move, in July 2013, has proved to be more than just a new beginning. Soon I’ll be ready to tell that story.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Heaven sent

A low dark cloud stretched across the Australian Day long weekend, one perfectly mirroring my mood. The end of the road had been reached and I was unravelling. I couldn't do this dual life anymore even if I wanted to; it was obvious that every softly-softly approach, the one that I'd been peddling for the last two and a half years, had spectacularly failed to get me to where I wanted to go. My simultaneous city/country life was crashing down around me and I was going down with it.

So I called a time out. I was taking a breather, making a master plan for 2013 (one which didn't include the word 'cope' as in 'this year I will cope with the long-distance travel by using my time more productively on the train'). In perfect synchronicity, just as I was tying my laces to do a runner from my own life, I ran headlong into the leaving date for our long-anticipated summer holiday.

I was yearning for this away time, ten glorious days to read, eat, sleep and swim. I wanted to get up at dawn, go down to the beach and watch the sun turn the sky a streaky gelato coloured vision of lemon, pink and lavender. I could live on that morning light; it's a magnificent vision of heaven.

Even though I had prayed for this holiday over that bleak long weekend, the weather gods proved unyielding in their cruelty. They nearly de-railed us before we had started sending thick clouds, wild winds and heavy rain our way, a legacy of the weather which was flooding Queensland. Never doubting for a minute, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Country Mouse continued to pack the car with the utmost certainty. As we pulled out of the driveway the unyielding rain was accompanied by a soundtrack of thunder. Just perfect for a camping holiday.

The Country Mouse can be an enigma. Sometimes I have to jolly him out of a sombre glass-half-empty frame of mind, at other times he is positivity itself. "A week of rain", I howled. "It'll clear", he countered. I held my phone up showing the grim Bureau of Meteorology 7-day forecast - solid rain. The CM was unperturbed and became a one-man cheer squad on our trip north to Crescent Head. In those moments when the volume of water hammering down on us eased slightly he beamed "Look, it's clearing". It wasn't.

Despite the conditions the CM sorted our campsite like a professional and for the first time that night I heard the sound of tent rain. I know a man loves a woman brimming with questioning doubt and who am I to disappoint, so I peppered him. "Is the tent going to leak?" "What will we do if the campsite floods?" "Can we sleep in the car?" "Can we go to a motel?" "If the power board gets wet will we get electrocuted?" And still the rain kept coming. 

Crescent Head is loved by both of us, but we had no joint history there and this was the holiday where we were going to make the place our own. I first visited almost 40 years ago and remember scribbling in my teenage diary 'crystal Crescent', as it had the clearest water I'd ever seen. This was in the days before the deep ocean outfalls cleared Sydney's beaches and an innocent swim could easily turn into a frighteningly up close and personal encounter with one of the dreaded 'Bondi cigars'. My skin still crawls with the memory.

Crescent Head is time-standing still, country town meets coastal idyll, unpretentious and quirky. By some miracle in the decades since my first visit more has stayed the same than changed. The surf break is still there and due to a resurgence of (retro) 70's fashion the surfers look just like they did in the real 1970s. Killick Creek still runs into the ocean at the southern end of the beach and the cunjevoi still stink at low tide. The Crescent Head Country Club remains wonderfully unrenovated with bands still rocking the place on a Saturday night. Nothing could make me relinquish my Crescent Head love affair no matter how long we’ve been apart.

But back to the rain. We took day trips north (where it was also raining) and found places that didn't excite us, like Grassy Head which had a strange Deliverance-type atmosphere, and a town that did, Scotts Head. I loved South West Rocks with its dark green stands of Norfolk pines, cosmopolitan shopping strip and two lovely beaches. Where else can you swim over the top of a sunken ferry (sent to the bottom decades ago during a heavy storm), then lie on the sand and look at the ruins of a colonial stone prison on a nearby headland? SWR, we'll be back.

I'm all for paying your dues and four days in the weather gods decided we had paid in full. We'd obviously done our penance; a stretch of blue sky appeared and stayed for more than a couple of hours. It was just in time as I was seriously casting about the caravan park for a small child to sacrifice to appease those same weather gods. We ventured out.

Killick Creek was a muddy hue as the flood water which had flushed out the Belmore Swamp behind the beach joined other storm-laden muck and poured into its water way. Dirt and debris from the creek swirled into the ocean turning the waves a creepy colour even way out to sea and leaving a disconcerting brown stain down the sand. Even the white bibs of the local pelicans had a tea-stained look.

Despite chanting 'crystal Crescent, crystal Crescent' in my now water-logged mind it didn't get any clearer, so we drove south toward Point Plomber in search of the clean waves we'd been dreaming about. It was too easy. In about 20 minutes we were undone by the most gob-smackingly beautiful beach with wide sand, the dreamed of crystal water (the chanting had worked), a large rock pool big enough to swim in and at each end of the long stretch of beach deserted grassy headlands.

Did I mention we had all this glory to ourselves? Had we had travelled unknowingly into one of those Qantas Australia ads, the ones with the deserted perfect beaches, and that choir of kids singing 'I still call Australia home'. Beautiful one day, perfect the next? Move over Queensland and go the Crescent coast!

We were stunned. Where were we? We'd simply been cruising toward Point Plomber, saw a small modest sign which said simply 'Beach' with an arrow, parked and followed a track. Consulting our very inadequate maps we figured out we were at the southern end of Goolawah Beach and that this bit had its own curious name, Racecourse. The next day we did it all again, and the day after and after again. Every day finding yet another beach with another quirky name - Delicate Nobby, Barrie's Beach and Big Hill Beach.

Had we passed through some portal and gone straight to nirvana? I swept my arms around our newly discovered paradise. "This", I declared "is what heaven will look like". I was not only joyful, but soaring. The rain had stopped, perfection on earth had been found and one of my mantras 'Don't let age define you' was screaming in my head. It always inspires me to think about all the things still waiting to be done in life, like...nude boogie boarding!

I had my purple board, I was au natural and I was off. My reverie was broken by the Country Mouse's urgent call "Bluebottle!" A near disaster was narrowly averted as I steered just clear of an ugly encounter with a large bluebottle trailing a frighteningly large tentacle. By curious co-incidence I had just read about the latest research into bluebottle stings, making me informed but not prepared, and sadly therefore no less likely to be stung. So much for knowledge equalling power.

Pioneer bluebottle research from the University of Newcastle and the Calvary Mater Hospital which took place on Newcastle beaches was finalised seven years ago, yet bizarrely has had almost no publicity since. It proved that the most effective pain relief from bluebottle venom is water hotter than 40 degrees C.

If you have ever been stung by a bluebottle you know you need never go there again; and if you have ever been treated for the sting you know that everything formerly done - dabbing the area with vinegar, washing it in cold water and even rubbing sand on the site actually makes the pain worse. Those kids wailing after stinger treatment "It's hurting more!" (you might have been one of them) were telling the truth. The problem with the solution is the environment. Bluebottles, ocean water and the beach - and water hotter than 40 degrees C? All you can hope is that some English tourists (not backpackers) are nearby with a handy flask of tea.

In the middle of our out-of-this-world happiness the Country Mouse had to briefly leave, called back to Newcastle to do a couple of gigs as a guitar god, and that’s in a roundabout way how I came to have my own close encounter with God – or at least some of his chosen people. One sunny afternoon I took myself for a walk and passed by a Crescent Head institution, a double garage facing the main road to the ocean which has a large wooden sign with the words 'Christian Surfers', the letters being made of pieces of twisted bamboo.

It's been there as long as I can remember and I've always been intrigued by it. The roller doors to this Christian HQ are never open and I’ve often wondered what had happened to the surfers. Did they give up their mission, abandon their faith, or get taken by a shark off the point at Little Nobbys? Not so.

On that lovely afternoon, much to my delight, the roller doors were up and a sign out the front announced 'All welcome' to the launch of a book Ground Swell about the Christian surfer movement. What an opportunity. Inside the roller doors a club house was revealed, it was unpretentiously shabby chic with a fridge, bunk beds, funky signs, old mismatched chairs and a rickety table.

A big barbeque was in progress and copies of Ground Swell were out for sale. The book was an impressive production and documented the Christian surfers’ story which originated unsurprisingly at Cronulla Beach, God's own country, in the 1970s. There are now lots of branches across Australia but not, I noted, at my Sydney home beach Bronte; in fact there is no Christian surfer outpost anywhere in the godless Eastern Suburbs.

The launch had drawn a big crowd and they showed true Christian charity in their warmth and welcome to those of us who were strangers amongst them. I was thrilled when I saw a merchandising stand, if there ever was a group who had the moral rights to a Jesus walking on water t-shirt it was them, but they’d missed the opportunity, along with the chance to do a women’s surf wear line featuring St. Mary Star of the Sea. Still I left all warm and fuzzy, my life was wonderful, I was in Crescent heaven.




Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Even though this blog sees me preoccupied by the clash between the city and the country I do know that this isn’t the only site of cultural opposition. ‘Home’ of course is in the eye of the beholder. I was recently reminded that Sydney itself is no homogenous place and that this vast city is just a collection of diverse tribes firmly located in their own neighbourhoods. Recently I left my familiar stomping ground in the city’s East and took a work-related day trip into the badlands of the Western suburbs.

Ah Bankstown…working class Anglo meets Asia-Africa-Lebanon all swirling around in one great big melting pot. I was fascinated on my walk from the station to the Library that morning by almost everyone I saw, everything I overheard and every shop I passed. However my favourite Banky resident was the woman I followed for many blocks that Wednesday morning and whose journey seemed to parallel mine. We crossed the same roads, cut through the same park, turned the same corners and went down the same arcades and because I walked behind her for so long I was able to watch her closely.

I tried to look away, I really did, but became a fixated by the tightness of her jeans, so snug they must have been painted on. Come to think of it now they may have been jean style leggings, but whatever they were they clung to every inch of her arse and thighs re-writing the meaning of ‘tight’. They were also gossamer sheer giving me a clear outline of her g-string and even its colour (orange).

Despite her shaky stilettos she maintained a brisk pace and when she looked around at one stage I got a startling view of her enviable makeup - false eye lashes and blood red lipstick. I do think false eye lashes before lunchtime is something to be in awe of, it’s decadence par excellence. That this amazing outfit was completed by a hijab, the wearing of which is a public sign of her commitment to modesty, was probably the most extraordinary part of it all.

(Of the hijab explains ‘it is a choice to cover and dignify the body Allah gave you, rather than give in to a culture that teaches women they are to be sex objects who sell their bodies to market beer…hijab is a symbol of our worship and servitude to God. It is a symbol of modesty that is not just about our attire; it extends to our whole demeanor’.)

One of the cleverest short cuts into Sydney’s tribes and tribal mindsets I have ever seen appeared in Tharunka the student publication of my old alma mater, the University of NSW. In 2011 it said it like it is with a map of Sydney’s suburbs according to each of its tribal cultures. You can see it here:
To complete this view of Sydney make sure you click through to the next page for a Westies eye view of everyone else. I defy you not to laugh out loud!

And now for something completely different. I’ve recently re-discovered an old favourite, the Catho Hotel, at Catherine Hill Bay and fallen in love with it all over again. Despite some initial scepticism I think the Country Mouse is coming around to its fabulousness too. I first found this classic Australian pub in the mid-1990s when dear friends were living nearby and I had forgotten about it, having no reason to visit Catho again after they moved on.

This former miner’s pub has by some miracle been saved from gentrification despite the miners’ cottages around it now selling for the same price as a two storey absolute waterfront properties. The cottages may be match box sized, but they are authentic – and authentic costs. Proximity to such heritage chic would normally mean the local pub was vulnerable to a makeover of the
glass/polished metal/blonde wood variety, complete with a ModOz bistro serving Asian fusion food, but somehow the Catho has survived unBotoxed with all its wrinkles in place.

The Catho crowd are the same. No weekend warriors here, these denizens are hard-core 24/7. The women have more ink than the Saturday broadsheets, there are lots of patched bikers and the remainder could be, or should be – tattooed and patched that is. A pub brawl would be something to behold, this tough crowd could put on a punch-up of Olympic level strength and endurance. But the Catho’s owners must see them as a dream come true, no-one sits on glasses of iced water all night, this is a hard drinking lot.

As a music venue its pitch perfect for loud and dirty rock and roll. Talking of dirt, it’s that substance and sand which makes up the dance floor, while the stage is primitive and adjacent to it is the band’s green room (or scarily maybe their accommodation) a seen-better-days Viscount caravan whose badge ‘Grand Tourer’ seems wishful at best.

The hard-hitting nature of the place flows through to the bistro, staffed by the Australian first cousins of Seinfeld’s notorious restaurateur the ‘soup Nazi’. The surly kitchen hands are clearly irritated by people who turn up at their counter constantly annoying them with food orders. And like their New York counterpart they insist on a strict manner of behaviour. In case you didn’t pick up the face-to-face icy vibe a sign without a trace of irony spells it out:
If you are grouchy, irritable or just plain mean there will be a $20.00 surcharge just to serve you.

You’ve been warned. So bring your own packed lunch, order a Jack Daniels and coke and kick back in the beer garden. All together now...“ROCK AND ROLL!!”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Highway to Hell

How hot is hot?

The Country Mouse and I have an ongoing debate every summer, one which is never resolved and merely reappears again and again when the mercury climbs and I start seeing a ‘3’ in front of the temperature forecast. The CM grew up in the country; I grew up on the coast and this defines our notion of heat.

After he kept declaring “It’s not hot” day after day despite the fact that the bitumen was almost melting, I pinned him down to put a figure on ‘hot’. He volunteered that for him 38 degrees is hot and 40 degrees is very hot. Me? 30 degrees is hot and 40 degrees is a temperature not fit for human habitation.

On one recent notorious Tuesday a strange heat alliance meant that the Lower Hunter Valley and Sydney both simultaneously experienced a 43 degree day. The different reactions of the citizens say it all. I was with my urban compatriots in Sydney where the news cycle was dominated by one story – The Heat.

The City Mice wailed and the city media warned ‘Don’t go outside, take shelter, lock up your pets, tend to the elderly – or you will all die’. Shopping centres and cinemas overflowed with the hot, frightened citizens of Sin City. As I joined the exodus into the heavenly cool of Hoyts a woman next to me in the queue confided “This is my third movie today”. When I asked what she was going to see next she said she didn’t know and didn’t care, all she just wanted was to be safe from The Heat.

Meanwhile at the Country Mouse house the rural residents proved they were made of sterner stuff. After months of negotiations our solar electricity was finally installed - yes on that same Torture Tuesday when the mercury reached 43. When I queried whether it was wise for the installers to clamber over the roof handling glass panels in those temperatures the CM scoffed – he would provide cold drinking water for them, what more could they want?

Despite my frantic plea, “Cold water, they’ll be beyond cold water - they could die up there!”, the solar panels went up without a hitch and the installers even knocked back the offer of a cooling drink. They make ‘em tough in the country.

And from temperature hell to angelic news (don’t you love the segue?) I’m still feeling gutted at the news which hit just before writing this post. The Angels front man, (he will always be The Angels front man to me, despite the band’s multiple line-up changes) the enigmatic Doc Neeson, is in hospital being treated for an aggressive brain tumour. The news is bad, bad, all bad, with the cancerous tumour described as a ‘four’ on a scale of one to four. The only (slightly) good news is that this has caused the bitter divisions between some of the former Angels and Doc to finally have been put aside.

The Angels are in my Australian musical pantheon. In the late 1970s, like many an awe-struck girl, I had a huge crush on the tortured poetic Doc who with his Irish lilt and artistic sensibility didn’t seem to live on the same planet as other rock and roll singers. If you ever saw the Angels play live Doc didn’t just sing, he was possessed; for a great insight into why this was so the profile ‘The demons in the Angel’ written by Stephanie Woods in the Good Weekend magazine, Sydney Morning Herald on 25 June last year is worth a look.

So tonight I’ve got tears for my favourite Angel. Doc here’s to you, take a long line and fight on: ‘this is it folks…over the top’.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A few of my favourite things

I thought I’d start the New Year with an ultra positive post – what I love. Most of all this is the handsome Country Mouse (of course) but I’m currently also going warm and fuzzy over a few other things.

Waves and wireless
This summer Bondi Beach becomes the first beach in Australia to offer free Wi-Fi. Stunning! Listen up Newcastle City Council – let’s make one of our beaches the second.

Roitfeld rocks
My fashion hero, Carine Roitfeld, took the book on ‘mature dressing’ and ripped it up. Forget comfy shoes and elastic-waist pants, this feisty 58 y.o. French vixen breaks every rule for so-called ‘mid-age’ fashion. She wears stilettos, she wears black next to her face, and she still looks like a rock chick. Carine is two years older than me, so I kind of feel she’s lighting the path ahead for me – the one less travelled that is. Carine - lead on!

She is not only a stunning style maven, but also displays a healthy dose of scepticism for her chosen milieu, the fashion industry. Who else, after being Editor of Paris Vogue for a decade where she was famous for her smouldering eye make-up, declares she spends no more than five minutes creating her signature smoky eyes “I like it when makeup looks like you have more important things to do than to look at yourself”?

Stylish fuel
The Coles Express petrol station on Frenchmans Road, Clovelly must be one of the most genteel in Sydney. Not only is it scrupulously clean it provides moistened towlettes so that one can wipe one’s fingers and not have any nasty petrol odour on a fresh manicure. Classy!
Blogs I love
My two favourite blogs of 2012 were both based on a tight sense of place. One is Sydney based, the other set in Newcastle.

Mark MacLean’s blog Hamilton North is everything I love. It displays an intense local focus that really brings a blog alive and then goes on to tick all the boxes: quirky, unpredictable and idiosyncratic.

Its basis is simple: Mark walks his dog Jambo daily along the drain-like Styx Creek which is, of course, in Hamilton North. Their adventures have been self-published in a tiny, delightful book, A Year Down the Drain, which you can order from his website.

I felt in love with this blog because it flooded me with nearly forgotten memories of roaming for hours across Sydney’s Inner West in the 1980s and 1990s with my dog Arrow. In those days I was in my 20s and my dog was a cross-Kelpie, so combined we had a potent energy cocktail: my youth and her part working breed genes. On our exploratory roaming we would find culverts, hidden drains, abandoned factories and unnamed stone-paved lanes and old rights-of-way. We pushed past lots of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, just going where we wanted to go and as the seasons changed and years went by we just kept walking. We found magic in the grottiest parts of the Inner West just as a Darlinghurst blogger did in the Inner East.

My Darling Darlinghurst was created by Violet Tingle who surely has the most delicious and aromatic name in the blogosphere. She is in love with a suburb, Darlinghurst, and welcomes you to her blog with: ‘I'm so glad you found my love letter to the suburb I call home. I hope my Darlinghurst blog will inspire you to visit. Or if you are from the neighbourhood but were forced to leave for whatever reason and are now homesick, I hope my little blog can provide you with some small comfort on the cold nights away’.

Her ability to look past Darlo’s human tragedy and urban grime to find wonder in the tiniest detail, kindness and humanity in the tough residents and the extraordinary in the ordinary makes this blog like a letter from a friend. Being a history tragic I also look forward to her posts on Darlo’s heritage and the beautiful black and white photos she finds in the City of Sydney Archives collection.  

An early Christmas miracle
Our feathered fowls continue to delight us with their antics and on 14 December we had our first 4-egg day, meaning that we are now in full 100% egg production. I am sure this is delighting the Country Mouse who looks at the chooks like a true economic rationalist with a sceptical “These chooks are going to be a long-time paying for themselves”.
That we still have four chooks, rather than three, is due in no small measure to a miracle last December. It all centered on Dixie, once the smallest and meekest of the chickens, who stunned us by her audacious flight over the fence into the land of ‘Next Door’ - home of the terrorist terrier.

She must have twigged at some stage that she was named after those gutsy musical chicks; maybe she even had Wide Open Spaces on high rotation after hours in the chook pen. Unfortunately she seems to have been inspired by the chorus ‘She needs wide open spaces/Room to make her big mistakes/She needs new faces/ She knows the highest stakes’.  

While the Country Mouse was distracted on an international phone call she struck out, ‘to find a dream and a life of her own’. Over the fence she went. Onto the lawn next door. And up the back steps. And into the house. Mrs Next Door was in the kitchen when Dixie calmly strutted past. I’ll be forever grateful that she quickly scooped up the terrier before a violent end and a bundle of feathers was all that we had to remind us of our once docile bird.

Dixie was duly returned home by one of the twinnies, an 11 y.o. brother and sister duo, who despite all their high-tech gadgetry and abundant toys are absolutely fixated on our chickens and visit them daily. They are so fierce in their devotion that the Country Mouse has had to devise a roster system to stop them physically fighting each other to get to the laying boxes to see who will be the first to discover the day’s bounty of fresh eggs. Their excitement at finding an egg, while their bikes and iPads are thrown discarded on our lawn, is a thing to behold. Who would have thought?



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cluckingham Palace

Love is a funny thing. Who would have ever thought that the Country Mouse would’ve fallen in love with four new females? Yet as 2012 draws to a close the mouse house’s new inhabitants, four Isa Brown chickens, have captured his heart and his imagination.

But this chicken love dance almost ended before it began when we hit a stumbling block – what were we going to call our feathery fowls? Yes, naming our new friends proved an interesting exercise in compromise. For weeks I was on high rotation with the same simple question, “We get to name two each. What do you want to call yours?”

The Country Mouse was adamant, “K and F-n-C”

My vision of the CM calling across the backyard “F-n-C!”, “F-n-C!” to some poor bird was enough for the Court (me) to immediately dismiss his suggestion. I figured he’d been having a Rake-ish moment, given that he is a recent and enthusiastic convert to the antics of ABC’S wicked criminal defence barrister Cleaver Greene.

After a series of other unsuitable names were proposed by him - Henny Penny and Chicken Nugget anyone? - I threatened to withdraw his naming rights altogether, so he took the position that he would have to see them in the feather so to speak before he could do any naming. Soon after they arrived, he dutifully watched them for signs of individuality and personality and he settled on ‘Shaker’ (shake a tail feather) and ‘Windy’ (wind beneath her wings) who soon morphed into Wendy.

Of course my naming suggestions were completely brilliant, just not to him. ‘Crosby’, ‘Stills’, ‘Nash’ and ‘Young’ was dismissed with a dry “they are girls”. My other suggestion, that they be called after girls immortalised in song titles: Peggy Sue, Sweet Caroline, Barbara Ann and Sharona (I fancied picking up a lovely hen and serenading her with “My, my, myyyyy Sharona!”) was also vetoed. He supported ‘Dixie’ (the obvious Dixie Chicks) and given that I love the name ‘Clementine’, (which he doesn’t) he generously agreed to this, although she’s now developed the classic Aussie moniker ‘Clemmy’.

The local Council advised we could have up to ten chooks, but no roosters and we were to promise to consult our neighbours in advance. One set of neighbours provided an eye-popping response to the news that chickens were moving in with Mrs Next Door announcing with a cheerful big smile, “Oh I hope our dog doesn’t kill your chickens!” Right on cue their snarling little terrier looked up and gave its distinctive teeth-baring growl. I scowled back giving it my best death-stare look.

The Country Mouse created a wonderful chook motel, with an adjoining weather and vermin-proof run complete with a proper roof, a range of perches and four separate laying boxes, so that the hens could feel very cosmopolitan while doing their egg laying in their own private studio apartments.

The backyard now echoes to ‘chooook ,chooook ,chooook’ (that’s us, not the chooks) and they answer back with the same call, with a quirky variation if we are slow letting them out in the  morning to do their daily free ranging. Lining up at the gate they announce their displeasure with ‘oooo-uuuu-tttt!’

‘The girls’, as we call them, are more formally known as Gallus gallus domesticus and they are no slackers; one week after arriving in their new home we got our first tiny egg and on 3 December we had our first two-egg day - our hen pen has now become an egg shed.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Public transport tales

Frustrated at the non-appearance of my Newcastle dream job (fabulous new Hunter-based career where are you??) I’ve been thinking laterally and decided that I am now perfectly placed to move sideways and take on a new professional life as a public transport consultant.

Never in my life did I contemplate that I would spend so much time in transit, but now that I do I am the keenest observer of what is right and wrong with the buses and trains of Sydney and the Hunter. I am the consumer who needs to sit on the boards of Cityrail and Sydney Buses.

Spending so much time travelling has also allowed me to develop a new fashion-related game I call ‘Defy the Weather’; it’s somewhat like the children’s lookout game ‘I Spy’. It started last year when I started noticing people who, to my fascination, had totally thumbed their nose at the weather.

There were men in shorts on the coldest days of winter, women in July wearing summer dresses and grasping thin cardigans around them with a frigid desperation, their bare legs shivering. At what point did these people not notice it was mid-winter?

In the last couple of weeks my favourite ‘Defy the Weather’ contestant was a woman I spotted on one of Sydney’s rare scorchers, a day when the temperature soared past 30 degrees. Throw in dripping humidity and you get the picture. But there she was denim shorts (check), singlet top (check) and knee-high grey ugg boots (say what?) I felt anxious just looking at her calves and feet encased in all that sheepskin.

‘Defy the Weather’ can be played anywhere, but public transport gives you such a large number of potential game winners it’s the games natural home. The rules are simple:

  1. Assess the weather
  2. Define the worst thing(s) to be wearing for those conditions
  3. Go find the person wearing it
Another form of can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it public transport entertainment is watching the people who use the trains as their own personal bathroom. This is for some reason doesn’t seem to happen on buses, or not that I have observed. I am guilty of using my Sydney-Hunter-Sydney train time to pluck my eyebrows, do a manicure (and a pedicure if the train carriage is almost empty), but some people go the whole hog.

I see lots of women expertly doing makeup despite the rocking of the train, but my favourite ‘train as personal bathroom’ moment was a male one. A businessman, who carefully unpacked his battery-packed electric razor from his briefcase, had his morning shave and calmly folded up his shaving gear and packed it away. Getting out a moist towel to wipe his face, he finished with a splash of cologne and was perfectly poised to leave the train just as it pulled into his station. Now there is someone who knows about time management.

Another great thing about public transport is the opportunity it gives you to blatantly listen in to other people’s conversations; it’s the supreme snoop fest.

My overheard conversations have ranged from hair-raising horror stories to dialogue which would slay any stand-up comedian. It has included the world’s worst parenting threat (on the 428 bus), mother to little girl: “You’ve been so bad that when we get home the police are going to take you away”. On hearing this news the small child started screaming, bringing a new round of extraordinary threats from her mother.

Eastern Suburbs buses provide an international demographic for this snoop fest. Recently a Canadian was explaining to his compatriots that “right here” (i.e. at the five ways intersection at Paddington) was where “all the homosexuals of Sydney live”. “Ooooohhhh” sighed the Canadians pressing their faces to the bus window only to observe, no doubt to their disappointment, the mostly heterosexual upper middle class of Paddo going about their deli shopping and heading into the decidedly straight Royal Oak Hotel for a drink.

International backpackers regularly re-enforce racial stereotypes, which is disconcerting but undeniable. European males flirt and charm like it’s their birthright. Recently I watched as a young Italian train traveller slid up to a group of girls, sitting himself down in the middle of them and laying it on til they were soon giggling and cooing. A group of young Anglo males watched with undisguised irritation. For well over an hour they had been eyeing off the girls, daring each other to make the first move, yet the solo Italian backpacker with his expert eye came, saw and conquered making himself the centre of their attention within two stops of getting on the train.  

This year’s favourite overheard public transport conversation (so far) goes to a trio I’ll call Sean, Sean’s friend and Miss Finland.  Sean was an Irish backpacker, accompanied by an unnamed male friend (also Irish) and Miss Finland was the pretty Nordic princess in Sean’s sights on the 380 bus. Sean’s friend was uncomplicated, he was hungry - really hungry - and his sole focus was when, where and how quickly they were going to eat.

They were sitting behind me and first caught my attention when Miss Finland was asking Sean what sports he played. He eagerly explained ‘hurling’ which Wikipedia defines deftly as ‘an outdoor team game of Gaelic prehistoric origins and played for at least 3,000 years and thought to be the world’s fastest field team game and one of Ireland’s native games.’

Miss Finland heard ‘curling’ and nodded enthusiastically. “Yar! Curling!” Helpfully Wikipedia defines this as ‘a sport in which players slide stones across a sheet of ice towards a target area. It is related to bowls. Two teams take turns sliding heavy, polished granite stones across the ice toward a target.’

There was a ‘Hurling? No…curling’ and ‘Curling? No…hurling’ misunderstanding which I could completely understand. To my English language only ears Finnish is a fiendishly impenetrable language and Finnish-accented English is really something to hear. Between Sean’s Irish brogue and Miss Finland’s limited English they were really doing it tough, but chemistry knows no linguistic boundaries and I admired their dogged persistence to find some common ground.

But Sean’s friend wanted none of it. “Sean” he pleaded “When are we going to get something to eat?” Sean ignored him. And so the bus ride, and Sean’s budding romanced, was punctuated by his friend’s increasingly desperate hunger pains. “Sean, look that pub has a bistro”. “Can we get off here Sean? That pizza place is still open”. “Sean, I’m dying of hunger”. But Sean remained unmoved; he was focused on Miss Finland.

Sean’s friend could stand it no more and wailed my favourite overheard line of 2012.

“Awww Sean……..I’m so hungry I could eat a toddler!”