Saturday, October 30, 2004

It's not what you know...

So many to choose from...

Had two very different nights out Thursday and Friday this week, summing up the differences between Sydney's flashy and not so flashy sides. On Thursday three of us from our dorm (three out of four - the German was out somewhere else) went out for a few drinks in Kings Cross. There are two others in the dorm, Rob and Matt, both typical 23yr old British backpackers - who refused to believe I was 28. We had plenty of drinks at a corner pub and ended up wandering around Kings Cross at 2am trying to stop Rob from chatting up the prostitutes.

The next night it was a birthday for one of the North Sydney lot, Hayley. I met her last week through Amy, she's a TV presenter for Channel 9 on a kids show called 'Totally Wild'. I got to the staggeringly swanky bar at Kings Street Wharf in the chic part of the harbour, only to discover a clipboard-toting matriarch with a guest list. After watching for a bit - and seeing they weren't letting anybody in who wasn't on the guestlist or didn't namedrop someone inside, I was starting to wonder how I was going to get in. Thankfully the day before I'd watched Hayley's TV programme (she was interviewing a schoolboy who collected reptiles) - and because I'd seen the end credits I knew her name. So I marched up to the clipboard and said 'I'm with Hayley Chapman', and they let me straight in. I was chuckling about that for ages - it turned out I was the only person in our group that Hayley didn't have to come down to the door and vouch for. Heh. Of course the swanky bar was full of pretentious idiots (although not in our group), but having outsmarted them, it didn't matter...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Slightly seeing someone famous

Can you see her?

Over the last couple of days I've been wandering around various parts of Sydney, trying to get some sort of idea of where might be a good area to live. I think Paddington is a favourite - I need to be near the city (so North Shore parts are out), and near transport, and ideally away from the Brit backpackers (so that rules out half of the Eastern suburbs, but mostly Bondi, Coogee and Kings Cross). The last point I'm not all that bothered about, but I can live with British people at home I guess.

The other day I went on the ferry to Balmain, a very swanky neighbourhood on a small spit in the harbour, so you could practically see the water from every direction. The houses were small, clapboard, and colourful - so it was almost like being on a Carribbean island. The day after I took the ferry to Manly and walked up and down the beach, and then through a 'bush trail' on the North Headland which has been left to nature. Saw plenty of insects, lizards, birds.

Today I had a mild brush with fame. Walking into the city to find a sandwich, there was a large crowd waiting outside a department store. Usually I shun such crowds, but here I don't exactly have a rigorous schedule, so I stood to wait for something to happen. About twenty minutes later, a flash car pulled up and Liz Hurley got out and walked into the store. I took a picture - you can see just how crap a papparazzi I would make. Unless you wanted to pay for a picture of the side of Liz Hurley's head obscured by a parking attendent in a top hat. If you do, you can call my agent...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Things that are different in Sydney

Skyscraper reflecting the QVB

1. Skyscrapers
Living in Edinburgh where every building is below about five storeys, coming here - to what feels really like a 'city' is certainly an eye-opener. Or rather an eye-widener, as I always seem to be looking upwards at the massive buildings looming overhead. If you want to look like a futuristic city there are three things you need - skyscrapers, neon, and a monorail. Sydney has ticks in all those boxes.

2. Asian Food
Of course we're nearer to Asia here, but Asian food is everywhere. Essentially Australia seems to have pilfered the best parts for their own cuisine (which they cunningly called 'fusion' so nobody would know what they borrowed). I can't think of a single day when I haven't eaten Asian food - Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai. It's all cheap, and it's all fantastic. Eating a great Thai meal for less that 3pounds is what I'm talking about.

3. Asian Women
Again, the proximity to Asia has something to do with this I'm sure. Everywhere you go in the city centre you are surrounded (not literally) by stunning Asian women. They all dress as if it's permanently Friday night, and they always seem to go round in pairs. I'm impressed - and it gives me something to look at when I'm eating Asian food, too...

4. Extreme weather
It's either way too hot or way too wet. I just don't get it. No mild boring days over here, oh no. On the weekend was one of the craziest storms I've ever seen - thunder and lightening every 30 seconds - bang/flash/bang/flash (or is it flash/bang/flash/bang?). They had a hailstorm in Northern NSW the other day - but the hailstones clumped together and formed cricketball-sized lumps that destroyed crops, trees, dented cars, and even - get this - punctured people's roofs! That would make you sit up and take notice...

5. Australian TV
Is rubbish. I was warned, yes, but it is rubbish. Guess what was on peak time the other day? Keeping up Appearances (that terrible sitcom with the Hyacinth Bucket character) and Inspector Morse. After the 8pm Simpsons/Neighbours/Home and Away slot - and yes they have them here too - it's time for the American acronym hour - CSI, NCIS, JAG, NYPD Blue - on every channel at once. Actually I quite like NYPD blue.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Eviction night - off to the Cross!

A bunk with a view...

You think hostels in Sydney, you think King's Cross. And indeed that's where I ended up on Friday afternoon. One weeks hostel accomodation - $144. I think that works out at 8pounds a night (no pound sign on the keyboard). I'm in a shared dorm with three other guys - one Brit, one German, and one New Zealander. Actually, bizarrely, I prefer this. I feel more like I'm in Sydney and less like I'm intruding. Next weekend the flatshare adverts come out and I'll be looking to move on - so a couple of dorm-bound weeks will do me no harm.

It also feels less like I'm in some kind of TV soap opera - although we went to a BBQ on Sunday that was very British in style - burned sausages and heavy rain. But it was good fun - the heavy rain turned into a crazy thunderstorm with crashes and bangs aplenty. The weather here is never dull, that's for sure...

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Water water everywhere...

Bec, Amy and Amy's Mum at the birthday meal

It's still raining - I really can't believe it. Everyone I talk to says how unusual it is..."It never rains this much". That's because I wasn't here before! And it's not even going in the reservoirs where it's needed, apparently. Water is a big issue here.

Last night it was Amy's birthday so her brother Jason came round for dinner with his astoundingly pregnant wife, Fiona. She is about ready to burst - they had the 'hospital bag' in the car with them when they came, she's due any day. Amy's Mum cooked up some seafood and we had a fair amount of wine. Jason's a city trader, and looks every inch a city trader. Sometimes I feel like I've slipped into an episode of Dynasty - although no-one's been shot or gone into a coma yet.

Wildlife update - no spiders yet, but according to Faye a foot-long Goanna (lizard) was prowling about in the garage yesterday. She found it hiding under her car (a scarlet BMW of course) and left the garage door open for it to scurry out. Not sure if it did or not, but maybe it'll help with the spiders...

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Nice weather for spiders

Ahhh! Spider!

It's been raining here steadily since Sunday night - almost two days. It made the TV news much in the same way a few centimetres of snow in London makes ITV news go into spasms. But they really do need the water here - one thing you notice is how dry everything is. Although not lately, as I got drenched yesterday as I was sorting out a bank account. It was so bad, I had to buy an umbrella. Of course some kind of spring broke and the umbrella jammed - I managed to fix it after I'd got home, but that is always the way things happen.

Spiders don't like the rain either. I've seen a couple of very small ones, but I was in bed on Monday morning and could hear a commotion on the stairs. There was a few muffled thumps and I could hear Amy (who hates spiders) yelping. When I got up I asked what had gone on - a Huntsman spider had crawled in out of the rain and was slowly wandering along the hall carpet. I made the mistake of asking how big it was - and was told it was 'palm-sized'. I was told then that they are totally harmless, but that fell on my newly deaf ears as I was quietly wondering what I'd seen poking out from under a pile of t-shirts in my room. After a thorough arms-length sweep of my room, I discovered the truth. It was a sock.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The high life (literally)

Rushcutter's Bay, with yacht club (white roof)

Saturday afternoon in Sydney, and time to pay a visit to Amy's Dad's apartment in Elizabeth Bay. One of the most exclusive areas of Sydney, it's right next to Kings Cross - one of the least exclusive. Travel writers would have a field day with the mixing of that kind of local flavours. Apparently Kylie Minogue herself looked at flats in Elizabeth Bay.

We were supposed to go round for a seafood lunch prepared by Amy's Dad, Earl, and his partner Jen. But after some champagne on the balcony of their fifth-floor apartment overlooking Rushcutter's Bay - a surprise was sprung. We were all going out to lunch.

So half an hour later we were in the swankiest restaurant in Chinatown, and I was staring at a very large, but very glum, lobster. Held up by Albert the head waiter - who knew Earl personally - it was about to be our afternoon's entertainment. But first, the duck. A whole duck, mind - fried and brought to our table to be carved. After three courses from the unfortunate (but very tasty) fowl, it was time for the lobster. I've never tried lobster before, and it was delicious - even if the guilty feelings about meeting it face to face before it's boiling bath persisted.

Earl signed the bill with a raffish grin, and after giving Amy a white gold bracelet he bought on a recent trip to New York, it was back to the flat for more drinks. We've been invited to his yacht club for lunch - this is all very different to how I imagined it would be - I'm certainly not in backpacker territory here. At this rate I'll have to invest in a blazer! (but I draw the line at cravats)...

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

All the way across

The view from Amy's house. Not bad, eh?

I got bitten by an ant yesterday, that's some welcome to Australia. Still, at least it wasn't a snake or a shark. Just a small black ant. Obviously I couldn't bring myself to squash it - even if it had attacked me 'When ants go bad' indeed. So I flicked it off, and carried on burning the nest with a magnifying glass. Joke! I was actually standing on a balcony admiring the view. I'm staying in Cremorne, which is very upmarket for a humble Lancashire boy like myself.

Cremorne is on the North side of the Harbour, and is home to a lot of city types and richer families. Sydney is made up of hundreds of bays and inlets, and where I am is no exception. From my window I can look out on to a yacht-strewn bay with waterside houses and trees. Whilst it's a view I could certainly get used to, I'd like to be a bit closer to the city - but finding accommodation can wait until next week.

The day I arrived it was 37C - the hottest October day on record. That kind of heat feels odd - you go outside and it feels too hot to be right, as if something's broken and it's overheating. I dunno, maybe that's what's happening. But thankfully because it was that hot it soon got thundery and a rainstorm (!) cooled everything off. I get here and it rains on my first day, and I'm thankful for it? What's going on there?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Last day at work

Won't be seeing this for a while...

Last half-day, really. In less than an hour I'll be leaving work, and more ready to head over to Australia. Things have progressed in the last few weeks - I'm almost all set to go - just need to sort out a few more things.

It'll be strange to leave Edinburgh - I've been here (on and off) for five years. It's certainly the place I've been most settled. But because I've been away and come back a few times, it's easier to leave this time, I think. At least I've got a week without work here to do anything I need to before I go. But probably I'll not get round to doing anything, that's the way it goes.

So that's it for the NHS, I'll see you on the other side. Only ten days to go!!