Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pinch me


“Pinch me” was all that Gustav could say after he’d entered the water at North Bondi this morning. This was a defining moment, he really was in Sydney now on the white sands, in the blue-green water, under the white foam.  The water temperature was about 22C, the conditions great for body surfing. I warned him earlier about aquatic dangers like the up-bear but he survived to tell the tale – or at least I await his account on I am Jack’s Beard. 

We walked around the lower end of Bondi Beach, where Gustav got his first pair of Aussie thongs, and was introduced to toasted banana bread as a coffee accompaniment. We then caught a bus up through Bondi Junction to Paddington to view the weekend markets, and then a gentle descent along Oxford Street through Darlinghurst and back to Woolloomooloo.
Pinch me Bondi Beach

Friday, March 29, 2013

Royal Easter Show: Sydney’s true underbelly

P1130291Sydney’s Royal Easter Show has been running for almost 200 years to showcase NSW’s agricultural produce along with the usual side dishes of carnival rides, show-bags, and culinary excesses like chips-on-a-stick.  I haven’t been to it since the show was transferred from its old Moore Park home to what is now Sydney Olympic Park, a little closer to the city’s population centre.

The fearsome crowds at the event are the biggest obstacle to attending, but it seemed to be the perfect event to expose Gustav to a wider range of Australiana than he would encounter around central Sydney. We’d also get a train ride out past the suburbs where my house lies, and a glimpse of how people live away from the harbour foreshores.
camel rides what a roo'd woman!
On my last visit I knew I’d past some sort of aging milestone when I realised that I was far more interested in the produce and craft displays than side-show alley. There is no going back on that transition and you find yourself inspecting display cases full of minutely subcategorised fruitcakes, and elaborately presented jams, woollens and ceramic vases. Anything to avoid the equally irritable whines of rotating carnival rides and over-stimulated children.
light fruit cakes For those too afraid to harvest malamute wool, there's always sheep
Our fair food fare was limited to a meat pie, some wasabi cashews and a small ice-cream. My metabolism would not have known what to do with most of the other offerings.

We dutifully lined up for the dog show pavilion, and processed slowly past a few dozen empty dog stalls before seeing anything. I really don’t fancy this kind of life for my companions. There were a couple of malamutes being brushed within an inch of their lives, but their hair seemed to have been stripped of vitality and their teeth were in a poor state – not a patch on Munson’s ultra-bright fangs, even as he nudges five years.
Anzac Biscuits are passé  P1130295
P1130298P1130285apple-fed beef
Gustav at Latteria, DarlinghurstAll up we spent a little over two hours there. After three years of living in a quiet rural corner the crowds were just too much to sustain. Leaving while thousands of people still poured in to the venue was the best strategy.

We exited our return train at Central so I could walk Gustav through parts of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Potts Point as an antidote to the morning madness.

My sleep still seems to be broken between a few afternoon hours and three or four more across the night. Gustav is faring rather better than me, not having to deal with  the chest cough. I usually get up at 3-4am and sit on the terrace where I can bluster to myself.

Today’s sleeping hours were pleasantly broken up by a roast lamb dinner for which we were joined by Vance’s sister Bev, who is eager to meet Munson again when he is freed from confinement in May.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

First morning

I didn’t sleep at all last night, and Gustav probably only managed a couple of hours’ worth, but that was no obstacle to us being in the swim lanes at Andrew Boy Charlton Pool and doing laps early on our first morning. Gustav had the benefit of some adrenalin, having seen his first golden orb spider close up, hovering next to the path by Woolloomooloo Bay.
IMG_2040 golden orb spider
Swimming was followed up by a big breakfast bruschetta with grilled haloumi and Campos coffee in the cafe above the pool. I ordered a flat white for Gustav but I don’t think he’s ready for the strong stuff yet, pronouncing himself as “shaking” after a few sips.  We’ll scale him back to a methadone latte for a while.

Our walk continued around to Lady Macquarie’s Chair where he could look across to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. We cut back across Farm Cove where the staging for a floating production of Carmen is moored.
IMG_2046  IMG_2045
Vance accompanied us into the city where in under an hour, Gustav got his bank account set up, and we got new SIM cards for our phones. If it had been that easy to do these things in France, I would have had about three months’ fewer angsty blog posts!

Many of the changes in the CBD, particularly around the Westfield military-fashion-foodcourt complex near Pitt St mall were quite dramatic for my eyes after three years. I certainly don’t miss working in the CBD area – thankfully twenty blissfully remote years have passed since that era.

I had to get some chest medicine as a mild tickly cough I’d been bequeathed by London had now blossomed into a painfully wracking cough. Vance said that he’d just started getting over a similar ailment from his recent time in Europe.

While picking up some groceries for the Easter weekend, I marvelled at small jars of duck fat selling for $27 or around €22 – at least twenty times the cost of the stuff we collected from primary producers in France.

I crashed for four hours in the afternoon, which was probably not going to help my sleep endeavour tonight, but my body had screamed its limits.

I also learnt that Munson had been rebooked for his Sydney flight, now arriving a week later (because of Easter holidays), so I likely won’t see him before April 5th. Look after yourself little buddy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Treasure Aisle

Copenhagen - Dusseldorf - Abu Dhabi - SydneyCopenhagen –> Dusseldorf –> Abu Dhabi –> Sydney

Twenty six hours.

We didn’t do too bad on the seating. The final leg was lightly loaded so we were able to shift into seats by the emergency exit aisle and stretch out for the duration. I woke up just as the plane crossed the Australian coastline at Port Hedland and followed our progress for a little while and then picked it up again much later when we’d gone down to the Great Australian Bight and tracked eastwards past Adelaide until disembarking in Sydney just after 7pm.

Europe is in the thrall of an extended winter and Sydney is having a long summer with March being warmer than February. We were greeted with 25C temperatures in the evening after a speedy pass through customs and immigration – Gustav was processed just as fast as I was.Munson trying out a crate for size
I checked my email using the airport’s free wifi, and the first message out of London was a little distressing:

Munson is absolutely fine but there has been a big problem when we have delivered him in for his flight. He has literally forced his way out of his air kennel by taking a complete panel out of it, and therefore there is no possible way that he could travel on the flight tonight. We are going to have a discussion with our carpenter tomorrow and try to work out a way to reinforce the kennel but I am afraid that a delay in his trip to Australia is unavoidable at the moment.

I wanted to let you know as soon as possible and to reassure you that Munson is back with us and completely safe (he was so pleased to see me and smothered me in kisses when I went to collect him)

My first thought was that although his confinement time is going to be extended, at least this didn’t happen after he’d been sealed in the hold, with whatever consequences this may have entailed.

Vance picked us up a little while later and we were at his Woolloomooloo home by about 9pm.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Swedish interlude

kitchen sunI’ve been bouncing around from place to place white a bit over the last few weeks – I count 9 beds across France, England and Sweden since leaving the farm – but today is the last full day in the northern hemisphere before Gustav and I fly to Sydney.

I’m glad that I got to see his parents one last time before departure, and Gustav had a few friends over for morning coffee. He had been best man at the wedding of two of them only the night before I arrived.

We had some troubles with seat check-in on the airline, as Etihad’s booking system didn’t acknowledge Copenhagen as a possible starting point for a journey. I finally got through to their helpdesk and got seating for one of our three flights but were told we’d have to wait until we got to Abu Dhabi before we could fix our seating for the final thirteen hour leg to Sydney.  Some hours later I got an email from another part of Etihad suggesting I call their Johannesburg office, and supplied a local South African number. Somewhat mystified by this, a friend in the travel business suggested they got CPH and CPT (Capetown) confused. I hope that our pilot is better briefed.

After dinner and slightly tearful goodbyes at the railway station we travelled to Malmö to stay at our friend Hugh’s for the night. Some others came over for late drinks before we settled on the sofa ahead of a 3.45 alarm.

Gustav the bandit

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Trains, Planes, Danes and Skåne

Copenhagen airport - rail platformMy 11.30 flight from Heathrow was substantially delayed due to weather conditions in central Europe.  The baggage checkin process was also so slow that it took more time to move through the 20 people ahead of me in the queue than to be driven in to the airport from Brentford. I had my own mental version of the events as seen from the clerk’s POV as he calls up to his supervisor: “there’s more of them coming right at me, and they’ve all got suitcases!”

To avoid paying flight delay compensation to passengers I think BA ended up boarding us and sitting on the tarmac for ages before taking off after the time when I would have been touching down in Copenhagen.

Even the best of overheard conversations can’t make up for 4 hours in Terminal 5, but this gem came from an old lady sitting next to me: “On my last trip to America we went to the Grand Canyon. It had just been built.”

An uneventful flight saw us safely into sunny but snowy Copenhagen where I quickly cleared the entry officials ( it helps when you’re not seen as an unspeakable colonial ) and by following Gustav’s earlier-sent instructions bought a train ticket to Ängelholm , with just over five minutes spare to get to the platform under the airport for the next service.
Once again I crossed the Oresund bridge, this time on the lower train deck, with a view of Malmö to my left and a field of wind-turbines sprouting from the Baltic to my right. The train is a connection-free journey via Lund, Helsingborg and terminating way beyond Ängelholm in Gothenburg. The service announcements are in Swedish and English, firstly using the Swedish Yrtrbrg, and then an almost American twang to the precisely enunciated Goth-en-burg. (NB Skåne does not rhyme with rain).

I asked the Vodafone store at Heathrow if my PAYG SIM would allow me to place and receive SMS messages when I was in Denmark, Sweden and finally Sydney. They assured me that it would. WRONG ANSWER.

Gustav waiting for me at Angleholm My 4.46 train saw me into Ängelholm about 6.10 where Gustav and his dad were waiting to collect me. It’s three weeks today since I dropped him at CDG in Paris, absolutely a sight for sore eyes.

I’ve never travelled through this part of Sweden outside of summer so was presented with quite different vistas from the carriage window and
at Gustav’s house. With the trees bare of foliage I could now see the sea from the kitchen window. The water was now a brilliant azure against the golden sunset, even as snow continued to fall.

Taking flight

Munson on the Tube - between East Aldgate and MonumentThis morning I dropped Munson off with Airpets at Heathrow in preparation for his flight on Tuesday, just as I did with Bondi just over five years ago.  I will next see him just after Easter at the Sydney quarantine station.  It’s unfortunate that we were not travelling later in the year, as the indication is that quarantine time would be cut from 30 days to 10.  Even the time between now and seeing him in quarantine is longer than any separation we’ve had thus far. It already feels a bit weird not having him under the same roof.

I took Munson out for a special day around central London yesterday – I’ll post about that and Paris later – in which he got in his last train rides for the foreseeable future. I’ve read that Howard Collins, the head of the London Underground will be taking over Sydney’s half-hearted equivalent later this year.  I wish him well in turning this organisational trainwreck into a service-oriented organisation like the Tube.

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Copenhagen, and thence taking the train across to southern Sweden where I’ll be meeting up with Gustav and family. We fly out of Copenhagen, Sydney bound on Tuesday morning. It will be quite a temperature change for us – it’s been snowing in London all day today, and Sweden is offering me temperatures down to –9C, while Sydney beckons with 25C.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Fair

Earl's CourtWith Munson now bedded down at Airpets, I went to Kensington to check out a book fair specialising in children’s titles and modern firsts. There was an interesting selection but nothing that cried out “buy me!”. My eye was drawn to a couple of Moomin cartoon strips by Lars Jansson and a couple of shelves of titles by the English nature writer Denys “BB” Watkins-Pitchford.

Spring snows continued to arrive through the day, and I found myself waiting on a friend at Earl’s Court Station, watching the snow descend like white soot over the deck-chairs and fake grass outside the Ideal home show across the road.
Moomin strip by Lars Jansson
BB books

Gustav busts some moves ferschizzle

Gustav is giving some last minute football tips to Lucy. Munson’s interest is split between playing with them and sniffing out treasures with Tosca.
P2231790 P2231783
P2231798 P2231800
At the end of the day, he’s too tired to bother with any moving anxieties.
Moving no bother me

From market to market

Munson @ SpitalfieldsIt seems to have become somewhat of a ritual that I visit Spitalfields market in the days immediately before leaving London. I miss the rather ramshackle old weekend I visited originally, but the sparkling new daily market still has its attractions. On my final visit with Bondi in 2007 I bought two big paintings which now feature in my living room.

The noticeable loss this time was that Monmouth Coffee no longer have an outlet here, which meant an inevitable compromise in the first cup of the day. Fortunately I found a Costa with some Italian baristas who knew how to make a proper flat white rather than the “standard Costa version” which is basically an oversized weak latte with a foamy head.

The new market stalls have less variety to them, one particular stall seeming to have a copy of itself every three rows or so. Still, it was warm and I found myself falling into easy conversation with several stall holders. 
Gherkin & Falafal
Tower Bridge and the Shard from London Bridge
We walked up to the start of Brick Lane before going on to Borough Market, but the chilly wind which carried midwinter into this first day of spring was not to be endured passively. I turned us around and caught a tube down to Monument, so we could walk across the Thames to the market. As we reached London Bridge I caught my first view of the completed Shard, the tallest tower in Europe, although on this viewing, it doesn’t seem as lofty as Malmo’s Turning Tower, probably because of the way it dissolved into London’s misty sky.
Mont d'Or  Borough Market
Munson’s nose was immediately engaged by the rich scents of the market. I’ve been there with him several times before, and before that so often with Bondi. It’s one of our favourite London haunts … until today. Apparently “management” now have a no dogs policy (not posted anywhere I saw) so we had to leave – the faceless grey suits are winning over the welcoming smiles and treats from the stall holders and customers. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the policy were enacted entirely without their knowledge.
the Flat White  Waiting for a flat white at Monmouth Coffee
Back across the Thames, we walked westwards towards Covent Garden again, this time passing St Paul’s Cathedral (my first time). One of the days I’ll get to visit it and the British Museum, I think my two major omissions from London visits … and I just remembered that I had intended to go the Cartoon Museum, and forgot about that.

St Paul's Cathedral
Covent Garden: Lindt Eggs  Covent Garden: Lindt Eggs Sponge Bob  Covent Garden: Lindt Eggs
Covent Garden market welcomed Munson warmly, especially at the Lush store where I went to buy some of their Aromorant deodorant I’ve used for the last decade. I learnt it had been discontinued, but was brought down from my entirely appropriate incandescent rage by the staff swooning over Munson and picking up our spirits after the Borough disappointment. A few people asked where we’d been that day and so I mentioned what had gone on at Borough and they were really surprised, but immediately began suggesting alternate markets to visit in future.
Covent Garden: Lush  Covent Garden: Lush
The last stop for the day was the Moomin store, which I discovered purely by chance. Even better news was that they had Moomin tablet sleeves that would fit my new Lenovo Yoga 13; extremely fortuitous given that Lenovo mysteriously abstained from selling the custom cover for this device outside of North America.
Ealing Park Tavern
The day was concluded with us taking Chris out to dinner at the Ealing Park Tavern, another regular visit when we’re in this part of London. Tonight’s meal neatly bookends Munson’s first night in this hemisphere nearly three years ago.