Friday, December 31, 2004

Past events on NYE

Montmartre sunset

It seems like most people either really love NYE, or can't be bothered with the whole idea. There is a pressure to go out and do something fun and memorable, and of course anything in a public area usually involved drunken idiots (unless you're one of the drunks). I'm not sure where I fall here, but as much as I like going out, it wouldn't bother me too much if I didn't. Thinking about it though, over the years I've been quite lucky with my NYE outings. Here are a few that stick in the memory.

- Paris 2003/04
I'd never been abroad for the new year before, but taking a cheap flight to Paris turned out to be a great idea. It helped that we knew someone out there, and managed to borrow a studio flat in Montmartre for a few nights, as one of her friends was going away. If you've ever seen a Paris studio flat, you'll know how small they are - and there were three of us in it. Of course, most of the time we were out and about, with Erika showing us around Paris. The best bits were the walks, wandering around Montmartre, the Seine, the old cemetaries - all in freezing weather. At NYE itself, we went to a party and left at about 3am realising we had no idea where we were, or how to get back to where we were staying. We ended up wandering around wishing random people 'Bon annee' until the Metro restarted at 6am and we could go home. Actually now I remember - the best thing about Paris were the crepes...

- Edinburgh 2001/02
As usual the entire centre of Edinburgh was fenced off, reserved for ticket holders only. Although free, these are hard to come by, so when in the 'burgh we usually have to think of other things to do on the big night. A couple of years ago we met up with our friend Lou who knew a bunch of medical students who lived at the top of a tenement on the corner of Forrest Road, by the new museum. We turned up to their party, and found a rickety wooden ladder poking up into a skylight. They were all up on the roof - so we scrambled up the ladder and emerged on top of the five-story building's flat roof. After a few drinks amogst the chimneys, the midnight fireworks display went off, leaving us in a prime location, with a great view across the entire city.

- Manchester 2000/01
The last time I was out on NYE with my friends from home was almost five years ago. We decided to go through to Manchester as there was an outdoor concert at the Castlefields site by the canal, featuring the best of Manchester bands at the time - Alpine Stars, Doves and Badly Drawn Boy. After a few drinks, we got there just as Doves were starting and managed to get to the front for their set, which was brilliant. The headliner was Badly Drawn Boy - otherwise known as Damon Gough, a great songwriter, but with a shambolic stage routine. He came out almost inebriated and played a couple of songs, then came to the front of the stage and pointed straight at my mate Alex, who was standing next to me. "Are you not f***ing enjoying yourself then? I'm here to f***ing entertain you lot, you bastards" he shouted. Alex (who's well over six feet and 15stone) had been standing there, arms folded, listening to the music. Badly Drawn Boy shouted a bit more, then started playing again - but the crowd started to turn on him. When someone hit him with a (plastic) pint glass, he flipped - unplugging his guitar and hurling the pedal into the crowd, along with a beer bottle and his mobile phone (which landed about a foot in front of me). He shouted more stuff at Alex, the person who threw the glass, and the crowd in general, and stormed off. That was it, gig over, at 15 minutes to midnight. The organisers hastily played some music over the p/a and waited for the new year. Alex told me later that he had been enjoying it, and didn't know what the fuss was about.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The New Year Gap


After Christmas, we're now in the 'nothing week' - the few days between Xmas and the New Year. The only things open now are the shops - Sydney is as packed with shoppers as any other sale-crazed city. Apart from that, all offices and attractions are closed, which leaves less to do for someone like me than usual. I could always go and look through the shops, I suppose. Maybe I'll wait until the pandemonium quietens down a bit first, though.

Well it's New Year's Eve tomorrow, and I'm still not sure what's my plans are. At the moment I think it boils down to two options - I could either go and watch the fireworks on my own, or go with Amy to a party in Manly. Pros and cons time - the Sydney fireworks are spectacular, and this could literally be the only chance I get to see them. Living in Edinburgh you get used to mega fireworks displays (apart from the last one we were at, which was held in driving rain and heavy clouds), so it would be great to see them. Downside here is that all my Australian friends are fireworked-out, so won't be going. So do I see the fireworks (which I really want to) on my own, or go to a party where there'll at least be people, but no fireworks. Hmmm...I still haven't decided.

On another note, something that keeps happening to me is being asked for directions. Now there's a definate precedent here - when I was in Paris for New Year last time out I was asked for directions five times in four days, including in French (and actually managed to answer in French, thanks to my schoolboy days). It happens here too - I'm not sure what it is, maybe I look trusting or knowledgeable, or probably geeky enough to know where everything is. Maybe it's because I don't look like a tourist and walk at 2mph looking up all the time, blocking the pavement and getting in the way (but that's a story for another time). Anyway, for whatever reason, it keeps happening. It's not as if I get it right most of the time, either.

Monday, December 27, 2004

A (too) busy Boxing Day

They left without me...

Well, it didn't quite happen for the old yachting today. I got a call from Amy saying that her Dad wasn't going out on the harbour this year to watch the start of the race - so no hobnobbing with blazered-elite types for me after all. I didn't really have a Plan B, but I threw one together and decided to make my own way out to Watson's Bay and then walk to South Head, at the edge of the harbour. South Head (and the opposite North Head) are the huge rocky cliffs that make up the entrance to what is usually called Sydney Harbour, but officially is called Port Jackson.

Because of their location and height they make the perfect spot for viewing the start of the yacht race, which begins in the middle of the harbour. As you can imagine, this leads to large crowds, and I had an unsuccessful wait at a bus stop in King's Cross as all the Watson's Bay-bound buses were so packed they weren't stopping. So no yacht race for me - instead I went back home and indulged in the other traditional Australian Boxing Day tradition - watching the cricket on the telly.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Day in Sydney

Christmas dinner, Australian style - Merry Christmas!

Well it's the big day at last, Christmas is finally here. I had been wondering what to do for a while - going to a beach was always an option. I didn't really want to join the hordes of pissed Brits at Bondi (and besides this year the police have banned all drinking, eating and smoking on Bondi beach over Christmas as last year about 35 people had to be rescued from the sea). Of course I could have gone somewhere else. But the weather was against that - as after days of sunny warm weather today was dull, grey and cold. Admittedly it's the weather I usually expect at the seaside, just not in this country.

So instead I opened my presents - I wasn't expecting anything but Santa managed to find me over here (maybe he reads this blog too). So that was a great start to the day (well, it was more the middle of the day by that point). Then it was time for Cristmas dinner - seeing as I was on my own (both my flatmates had gone to their families for the festivities), I didn't bother with all the complex turkey stuff, and did myself an enormous steak instead. Very nice it was too.

After that I went for a walk, wandering around the deserted city. Things were busy around the tourist areas - the Harbour and Opera House especially - but the rest of the streets in the city were very quiet. What with Boxing Day tomorrow falling on a Sunday, most of the sales start on Monday, so it might be just as quiet tomorrow. Plus the Sydney-Hobart yacht race starts tomorrow, so plenty if people will be at that - me included. So watch this space...

Saturday, December 18, 2004

From bay to bay

How lazy can you get?

This afternoon was dry and warm, like most days recently, so I decided to go for a walk around my new neighbourhood. Living in the centre of Sydney you're never far from the harbour in one way or another, so I walked down the hill from Paddington to have a look at the 'Bays'. First up was Rushcutter's Bay, only a few minutes from my front door. The bays and inlets of the harbour all follow the same sort of pattern - a few extremely expensive flats or houses on the tree-lined edges, a ring of gleaming BMW's and Mercedes, and then a multitude of yachts and other boats moored in the bay. Rushcutter's Bay also has a cricket oval, and a game was going on - although a couple of the fielders were standing next to beer bottles - so I don't think it was a first-class game.

I walked along the side of the bay for a bit and was staggered by how many people use the harbour on a weekend. Every kind of boat was out there, zig-zagging between the ferries and each other. And yet there were still dozens of yachts tied up in each bay - but that's the Eastern Suburbs for you. The next one of which was Double Bay, which has a reputation in Sydney for being full of SUV-driving snobs. As it's the run-up to Christmas (and therefore the run up to the Sydney-Hobart yacht race), the yacht clubs were packed full of blazer wearing toffs enjoying their Saturday afternoon. Further on along the exclusive road was Rose Bay, and to give you an idea of the calibre of resident here, there was a hillside house with it's own funicular railway down to the street - to save the owners the hassle of walking. At first I thought they might have been disabled - but this was no giant Stannah stairlift as there were half a dozen steps at the bottom. Thora Hird must be spinning in her grave.

In between all of these opulent housefronts was the one place 'normal' locals could go - Blackburn Gardens in Woolhara. A small area of trees and lawns led down a steep slope to an area of beach about 10 feet across by 40 feet long, which was packed with people - presumably those who can't afford their own yacht (or funicular railway).

Finally, a correction. It has been brought to my attention that in the UK a Daddy Long Legs isn't a spider, but a cranefly, which is also harmless. My sincere apologies to all concerned... ; )

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Our eight-legged friends

The Daddy Longlegs in our bathroom

As a continent, Australia is famous for it's assorted deadly creatures. Just yesterday on the news an Adelaide 18yr old being towed behind a speedboat on a rubber ring was killed by two Great White sharks. There are poisonous jellyfish, snakes, even the deadly blue-ringed octopus. And that's just in the sea - on land there are all kinds of things that can ruin your week - the most obvious being spiders.

In my flat, there's almost always a Daddy Long Legs hanging from the bathroom ceiling (why are spiders attracted to bathrooms?). It's body is about the size of a peanut, but the legs stretch as wide as your palm. There's an urban myth that these are utterly deadly, but have too small fangs to pucture human skin. Apparently (thanks to Google) this isn't true, although they do eat larger spiders. They look impressive though, far more 'spidery' than the weedy-looking things that pass for Daddy Long Legs in the UK.

There's also a resident spider in the living room. Being a man, I naturally have a favoured chair to sit and watch TV, read the paper or whatever. It's one thing that separates the sexes - women seem happy to sit anywhere, but men have their chair - and that's that. It just so happens my chair is next to the wall and the web of a Cupboard Spider - a relative of the feared Redback and Black Widow species. I Googled that one very quicky after spotting it. Thankfully for my TV viewing they are only mildly dangerous - "their bite can be very painful, with symptoms similar to those of Redback Spider bite (but without the dangerous effects). Cupboard spider bites have also been implicated in cases of minor skin necrosis." But having watched it at length, it only ever emerges about an inch from it's burrow - so I should be alright. According to my flatmate we have a large Huntsman that visits now and again which he casually described as 'hand-sized'. Now that would disturb anyone's TV viewing...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Two months to the day

Two months down, ten to go...

It's the 14th of December today, which means I've been in Sydney for two months. It doesn't really feel like it, it seems like I've only just arrived really. Mind you, now that I'm in a flat rather than the hostel I feel more like I live here instead of just visiting. The hostel I was in is fully booked over the festive period, which means people in there now are turfed out and have to find somewhere else during the busy period. I bet few of them had planned for that. My mate Rob (who was in my room when I arrived and is still there - he's been in the same bunk for 3 months) is having to move somewhere else - even if there were room he refuses to pay the hiked Christmas price of $35 a night (10 pounds), up from $23.

Speaking of money, I had an email from work today which said 'we know you are on a Career Break, but due to the late submission of your paperwork you have been overpaid by 421pounds this month. Please send the agency a cheque as soon as possible'. That's nice of them, maybe I won't send them a postcard after all. If I paid them $421 I wonder if they would notice. Probably not. Mind you, the money's in my UK account so I can't spend it (shame).

I was in the supermarket the other day and made a great discovery - cheap instant noodles. They come in packets and each has a sachet of dubious powder that makes the boiling noodle water into a broth. Anyway, you can combine these cheap noodles with all kinds of things, meat ,vegetables - they are just like noodles you buy in the UK (I have seen noodles before, that isn't my point) - but 10p a packet! Yes, 10p! That's US19c for my American readers. I thought that was great. Not that I'm cheap or anything, but when you can buy noodles for $0.26 anybody would be excited by that. Wouldn't they? 10p?

Monday, December 06, 2004

What I did on my weekend

Number 14 overtakes nmuber 12...

This weekend I had a busy time - on Saturday I met up with the few Blackburn fans who live in Sydney (I've now increased their number by 25%), and on Sunday I took the trip out to a circuit in Western Sydney to watch a day's motor racing.

The Rovers meet-up was in an old pub in the Rocks, and consisted of me and three others - one bloke in his mid-30's called Vic and two 'old-timers' who were probably in their late 50's (sorry Dad). It was good to meet them, as they gave me advice about where to go in Australia "Don't go to Queensland mate, it's shit" and we had a discussion about where the Rovers are going wrong this season. Four hours later, it was getting dark. After drinking five pints of Coopers Sparkling (which tastes like bathwater, but I was being polite) I left - but it was a great afternoon talking about Rovers greats from the 60's, what Ewood Park looked like in the 50's, and Australian rugby league. I spent a lot of time listening...

The next day mildly hungover I got up at 7am to catch a train out to Blacktown in the far Western suburbs. Sydney really does go on for ever - space in Australia is abundant, so new housing estates are free to spread out. As a result Sydney is about the same area as Paris (but with about 1/5 the population). The Eastern Creek Raceway was hosting the final round of the V8 Supercars (touring cars), so I went along. Entry was $43 (P18.00), and there were plenty of races. It was very hot, and there was no shade, but it was still fun. The only other motor race I've been to was the 1997 Le Mans 24hr race - and although these V8's are nothing like the GT sportscars, they are still loud and fast. There was also an 8-car pileup in a vintage car support race, so even the people who came for the crashes went home happy (not me, of course....)

Friday, December 03, 2004

Death at the Beach

Cronulla beach, with dead birds in foreground

Seeing as the temperatures had stabilised in the mid-20's, I decided to go for another walk yesterday. I took the train from King's Cross to the end of the line at Cronulla, and walked along the beach. The plan had been to walk all the way round the bay to Botany Bay National Park - but it was several miles (this is Australia), so I walked along for a couple of hours and came back. It was all very picturesque - dark clouds were hovering over the land, and made everything look very dramatic. There were a few surfers out, and one wake boarder - the seemingly suicidal pastime of strapping a small surfboard to a large kite and then being dragged through the water. The man had a helmet on - and no wonder - he was blasting through the waves parallel to the shore at a staggering speed. He probably got to Botany Bay in minutes.

On every beach you see unfortunate things that have been washed up, and Cronulla was no exception. Walking along the strand line there was a multitude of dead things that had been caught out by the tide, or a storm, or who knows what. The most surprising were the seabirds - I would estimate there were over 100 dead birds on the stretch of beach I walked on. They were all the same species, which I didn't recognise. Also washed up were lots of cuttlefish bones, a few bloated puffer fish, and countless insects that flew out to sea by mistake. A large group of seagulls were picking them off. There were also a lot of the ubiquitous stingers (small blue jellyfish). It wasn't until the walk back that I found out what happened to the seabirds - there was an unfortunate bird still alive, lying on it's back feebly waving it's feet and trying to flap it's wings. I thought about putting it out of it's misery, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. But I solved the mystery - it has been stung by a jellyfish and was paralysed. Presumably a group of birds had been fishing and stung by a swarm of jellyfish, and then drowned. Such is nature, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Five bad things about Australia


1. Flies
Without doubt the worst thing about Sydney - every time you venture into a park the flies descend and start to annoy. From my limited knowledge of flying insects, they seem to be large fruit flies - which makes me wonder what part of me they confuse with fruit. Evidently it's the face, as these pests have the habit of going for your eyes, nose, or ears. You wave them away, and they fly to another part of your face. I've found through experience that after four or five landings, they fly off - so you just have to keep swishing. There's no chance of swatting them. Maybe a hat with corks in in the answer. Hmm....

2. Bank charges
Banks over here have some nerve - they charge you for keeping your money, and then charge you for giving it back. My typical account has a $5 monthly fee. Also I have 15 free 'transactions' a month (ATM withdrawls, counter services) - after that you get charged 60c for each 'transaction'. My rent goes out of my account via direct debit - except each time that happens I get charged $1.80. OK - these amounts are hardly a lot - but it's the principle.

3. The heat
I think I've covered this - I'll just say that last night the temperature at midnight was 25C and that it reached 30C at 10:30am this morning. I think you get the picture.

4. TV schedules
Very odd this - it must be a nightmare for people trying to set the timer on a VCR. Sometimes programmes start up to ten minutes early, and some finish later than in the TV guides. There are no explanations for this. Sometimes random news or sports updates are added. A programme will start, and immediately after the opening credits will go to an ad-break. Similarly there's always an ad-break with about a minute to go before the programme ends, which can be great if there's a cliff-hanger ending.

5. Australians

Edit - 02/07/2009

This post was written almost five years ago as a joke - if I'd realised at the time it would become the top article if you Google for 'bad things about Australia' I would have put a bit more thought and effort into it. Don't take it too seriously...

Edit - 22/06/2010

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