At last I am in Australia. Sydney to be exact. The fabulous city where they really take their wine, beach bodies and breakfast seriously!
It is here that my grandchildren will grow up. They left England five months ago. They will wear hats in the playground, talk with Aussie accents and swim like little fishes. Of course they have dual passports but I know that Australia will be their home for ever more. I was very lucky to have a wonderful window of three years whilst my youngest son was working in London. The family bought a house near me in Henley and I was “a hands on” Granny. I loved every minute of it. Since they left the UK it’s been hard, especially at the beginning. I missed them and longed to ring them, but knew I had to let go and let them settle back into Sydney life.
So here I am in Australia and back to being hands on. One of the mums at kindergarden was reduced to tears when she saw the welcome my grandson gave me when I met him fresh off the plane. She so wished that her mum lived nearer.
I was really interested to read the introductory blurb from my grandson’s nursery. It sets out very clearly that the first year is spent on interaction, sharing, learning social skills, responsibility and confidence. The Aussies believe that six is early enough to start school.
The housing market in Sydney is grotesque. The prices are now just a little less than Hong Kong and far in excess of London. Tiny terrace houses go for in excess of a million pounds. Ingenious well paid architects squeeze every inch of space out of the tiniest of houses. Apart from the high house prices life is good. In Sydney you are never far from the beach. Each is different and quite often they will have a sea water swimming pool as well. After the summer the sea is warm so this is an ideal time to visit Australia. It’s still warm but the searing 40 degree heat is long past.
Let me tell you something about the day to day life. First of all, imagine going to work every day on a ferry which crosses the Harbour. Rain or shine these hardworking boats chug backwards and forwards from delightful bays to the centre of town. There you get public transport to wherever you work. The trains, boats and buses all run on time. You are not allowed to eat on them so they are clean. Yes there is some strap hanging at rush hour but it’s nothing like the cramming in that we have on our own dear London Underground!
Then there’s the food. The Aussies love their tucker and it is truly multicultural. I have eaten better Thai than in Thailand! Sunday breakfast is my favourite and an Aussie ritual. Usually eaten anytime after ten, you go to an alfresco cafe and consume Eggs Benedict, Mexican omelettes, the BIG Brekkie or yogurt and fruit an muesli. It’s always huge portions and will last you to six, enabling you to go off and do your surfing or whatever your sport may be.
Some years ago I was told by a friend that Australia was a cultural desert. Well no more – there’s everything from heavy metal to the latest musical. I went to an exhibition on Australian contemporary painters and one on deadly spiders. The latter which came in useful later in my visit.
I have been trying hard to analyse what it is that I like so much about Australia and I think it is the wonderful mix of cultures. I guess it is a little like what America must have been in the twenties. Every culture is catered for – that is perhaps with the exception of the indigenous people. One is not allowed to say Aboriginal anymore. I was shocked at the poverty of some of these people but hopefully certain factions are really trying to close the gap.
I decided to tear myself away from, my darling, or after three weeks perhaps, not so darling grandchildren, and spend two days with an old friend speaking grown up language in the Blue Mountains. The journey from Sydney couldn’t be easier on board a sleek double decker train. Two hours later you arrive at the charming mountain town of Katoomba. My old theatrical friend was there to meet me in his bush hat and shorts looking every inch like an OKKA OZZY. He in fact comes from Great Malvern! My wonderful host had organised two days of sight seeing. The only thing he hadn’t organised was the weather! No matter I am an English woman I have a mac. …. . We set off in pouring rain to catch a double decker red bus. Yes it looks a little incongruous in a Katoomba street but no matter. He has only been here for eight years and the whole world says hello to him. Who says the Aussies ain’t friendly. The bus take us to the first of the scenic points where we can see precisely nothing as it is so misty. No matter, as the bus driver predicts the weather improves and there in front of me was the most amazing vista – miles and miles of steaming forest steaming with a blue grey mist above it. Gargantuan limestone and sandstone rocks stand proud, as they have for millions of years. It made me feel very small. When the settlers first came over, the Blue Mountains were impenetrable. Apparently a surveyor was sent off with 12 convicts to map the area. Several of them died but the remaining convicts were given their freedom. Coal was discovered and Bob’s your uncle, the Welsh moved over, started rugby and sang a lot. All the ingredients for a successful mining industry.
The Blue Mountains are also cooler than the coast. So, much as they did in India, the rich built their holiday homes there. Pretty flower filled boulevards, shops and fancy hotels appeared. Various millionaires built extravagant houses with glorious gardens. Now, hordes of tourists come to stare at the magnificence of the place. I imagine the thirties was its heyday. Tennis parties and picnics and elegantly dressed people. Indeed some of the Great Gatsby was filmed in Katoomba. My host took me out to a most gastronomically gratifying dinner at one of these wonderful houses, now a posh hotel. Delicate baby lamb on a bed of the smoothest mash with kale a dente! The meat cut like butter. The mark of a really good chef in my book is to make kale taste good and he did. My host then went on to eat a decadent triple chocolate pot but I declined for waistline reasons!
I have left the unfriendly animals, snakes and insects till last. Australia really has them all. A brown snake will kill you, so will a funnel web. My grandchildren have been brought up to be very aware of spiders and the other day – when I was in sole charge – a great big bu**er crept out from under the sofa. It was at least teacup size. Not knowing whether it was deadly I carried the children downstairs, as far away as possible from it and vacated the house VERY QUICKLY. I couldn’t afford to make a mistake.
I had thought of trying to vacuum it up, but it was so big. I didn’t know whether it was too wide to go up the snozzle. Any way where would I put the vacuum? It might crawl down. The possibilities were too horrible. I shall have to Google’ dangerous spiders in Australia’ so I can recognise them at 15 feet. But I’m shortsighted. Why is life so difficult? I hope I live to write my next blog post!