We have done NZ, twice, that’s what it feels like, so the time is right to move on after three months. We get stopped at Sydney Airport – we are illegal food smugglers, unwitting pirates against the privateers – we have a few dried biscuits; and we only have them as they are, as the name suggests dried carbohydrate that no one wanted on the plane and we forgot to leave them behind. A man who has a double charisma bypass, one of only a small number on an island of ‘no worries’ – except when it comes to biscuits! He holds them between us like he’s the parent that has found our teenage stash. “Dried carbohydrate, commonly called biscuits, from the French bis meaning twice and cuit to bake til well done,” I think, but know it’s never best to aggravate a man in authority in an ill-fitting starched fancy dress. The wife is about to add something acerbic to his sarcastic inquisition, so I think it best to be jump in and be contrite, even though I’m thinking tourism is your biggest earning sector, so the customer is always right, but I bite my visiting lip, avoid any remarks about convicts and bread, and we are in Australia.
We have a middle-eastern taxi driver and judging by the way he is peering at the Sydney A-Z in his lap, and flitting occasionally at the busy roads, he has been in the country just marginally longer than we have. The wife is concerned, but we have travelled in India, where we had more accidents in three months than the combined forty-five years of driving between us. Eventually we arrive at the YHA at the end of Bondi Beach on Fletcher St. The Girl is a little stressed, leaving the bedroom she has shared with Don and Lauren’s two girls.
We are up very early as Australia is two hours behind NZ and we are down on Circular Quay with the commuters to buy a weekly family travel pass. The invigoration of a city we have only ever seen on the tele many times keeps us excited all day. We wander around The Opera House, watch the people climbing to the top of The Harbour Bridge, watch the ferries on their errands at Circular Quay, wander through The Botanic Gardens, marvel at the large fruit bats and over to Andrew Boy Charlton Pool and the views across the Harbour.
Tiredness catches up with us all. The kids are moaning, The Boy has damaged his foot a few days before, but it’s almost mended. The Girl is annoyed she has left her friends over two-thousand kilometres behind. The Wife hates it when the kids moan, but I tell her it could be worse, we could be home in England and they could be moaning! It culminates in a big barny between the mother and eldest offspring, they both ignore the blue hat I put on, so I pretend to be Dutch and withdraw to somewhere where I cannot see or hear the carnage.
I suggest we catch the Manly ferry and get something cool to becalm everyone. It works momentarily. We have bought cheap tickets for a classical concert at The Opera House for later that day – it seemed a good idea first thing in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, Volker Hartung is conducting The Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and a bit of Mozart and Tchaikovsky. The young female sales assistant is so enthusiastic, she thinks I’m a connoisseur! I just nod and repeat, “Volker, hey, what an absolute bonus!’ I tell the family unit that: ‘We are in luck, Volker Hartung is playing this very night!’ ‘Who’s this Volker guy?’ The wife asks. ‘You’re an intellectual pigmy sometimes, Wife, you really are!’ But come the night and after a day of guerrilla sightseeing, we all just want some R&R.
The concert has barely started and the children are fighting to stay awake and we are up in a box, overlooking the plebs, but not dressed right to pass any judgement. The Girl is asleep almost immediately before the end of the Ides of March in the spring movement. The Girl sleeps throughout the whole performance. The Boy manages a good fifteen minutes before he is lullabied to sleep by Volker, his Orchestra, and Vivaldi. The Boy wakes during a lull in the music: something has shaken him from his dream to shout out across the quiet auditorium:
“The ducks are after me, help me, stop the ducks, stop them!”
Then as soon as he as awoken, he is off again to leave his embarrassed parents being starred at by hundreds of high-brow Australians! The Boy has no idea about the aggressive ducks, why he has dreamed it, and why he would embarrass his parents so publically. It becomes a family in-joke, and remains the event I return to whenever I see The Opera House on the tv. The moral of the story is: Don’t try and do too much in one day… or the ducks will come after you for no apparent reason in public.
The next day we visit Taronga Zoo, the kids have looked forward to going for months, and it does not disappoint. It is a great zoo, the animals sing Disney tunes, I know the arguments for and against zoos (I have degree in Ecology), it is a great zoo. I sit and watch the Duck-billed Platypus’s, they are my most favourite animals in the world. The Girl has her picture taken with a Koala, which may look cute on the photo (when not sleeping!), but have very sharp claws. We have learnt our lesson about doing too much in one day: duck and cover is in order.
On several occasions (we are in Bondi for a week) we walk down into central Bondi Beach to eat and body board. We also mosey in the opposite direction on a few occasions: through Mark’s Park-Mackenzies’ Beach-Tamamara Beach to Bronte Beach, where we eat several times at La Plage, on the recommendation of a friend. It serves as focal point to a lovely walk.
One night the wife and I leave the kids in the hostel to watch a film with their new backpacking friends and go for a meal at the iconic Iceberg salt-water lido. It feels like we are on an exotic date as we watch the swimmers ploughing up and down, the waves crash against the side of the pool, but they plough on like human ice-breakers.
I tell a friend’s brother about eating there when we get back to England, he is model, and he tells us a story of when he did a photo shoot there for a hair gel advert. In the advert they are to swim against two ex-Olympic swimmers, both well into their sixties. The week before the two early twenty something young bucks that are living the surfer lifestyle down in Bondi muse whether they should have a few warm up swims.
“Naa,’ they conclude, ‘we’re only swimming against a couple of old-timers.’
On the day of the shoot they are supposed to be keeping alongside the two bald ‘old-timers’, finishing together and immerging from the pool hair meticulous due to said hair product. The two ‘old-timers’ are gliding effortlessly through the brine like greased dolphins and the two ‘young-uns’ are competitively trying very desperately to keep up, the old timers are waiting for them at the end of the pool, as they both emerge together exhausted and wheezing to hear the director shouting, ‘Bloody hell no, cut-cut-cut, bloody hell.’ The advert was edited so they were not being humiliated by pensioners; but looking composed and gorgeous with immaculate hair.
We buy a video camera, our phones are too crap to record decent images. The one we brought away has died and it was a mistake not to get one in New Zealand, memories have been lost to the mists of time. The DVDs are Magical to look back on, but check that you are recording right; we have one full hours tape with no sound on!
The Girl and I go into Kings Cross to pick up a hired saloon car we will eventually drop off in Adelaide. The Girl feels like she is a grown up on an adventurous road trip, (still at the age where she would go with her dad!) I tell her it’s up to her what vehicle we rent. She is mainly making her decision on colour and cup-holder numbers. “You haven’t got anything in shocking pink with sweet and crisp holders, have you?” The helpful assistant plays along. I am making informed decisions on comfort and luggage/body board roomage, air conditioning, quality of radio. She is the ying to my yang. The assistant and I engineer it that she has made all the decisions and she is now leaving her new best friends back in the hills outside Auckland.
“Where shall we go first?” I ask her as the smell of interior polish hits me.
“The Zoo.” She replies enthused.
“We went there two days ago.”
“So, let’s go again. The zoo”
“It’s difficult to get to the Zoo from here,” I lie convincingly.
“Ice-cream then.” She knows how this parent/child-spoiling-thing works as she reels me in.
I read the guidebook the night before we set off and decide we should nip over to Broken Hill to buy some art as a keepsake of the trip away, the light is supposed to be spectacular for painting. It is west of Sydney. The Wife asks how far out of our way it is, as we are heading southwards down the coast. I check the small print 1,200km! – which is a slight deviation! We never visit Broken Hill.
At one point we are down walking around the Circular Quay area and I say to The Wife. “I might just nip across the harbour and get my hair cut.” I look out across the shimmering water as I utter it.
She is puzzled, “Where?”
I think for a moment. I am confused, I think I’m looking out across Auckland Harbour, where one day The Boy and I nipped across and got our haircut – we both have hair.
“Oh, I got disorientated. I thought we were in Auckland for a minute. I find Australasia a little confusing at times.” Her look of bewilderment is joined by an admonishing shake of the head.
“I worry about you sometimes; this is what you’ll be like when you have Alzheimer’s.”
“Well… at least I’ll have nice hair.”
Next time: Kangaroos on the Lawn, Satin Bowerbird in the garden.
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