I am back in London again. I am despondent. How could it only have been a mere five weeks ago that I was trawling the shops of Bath, buying leaf-patterned thermoses for my Oz friends?
I flew into Sydney on a Thursday morning and was amazed, as always, by how friendly, healthy and attractive everyone is at Customs. Normally I arrive on a weekend and am received by the arms of a friend and ferried to Barzura in Coogee to acquaint myself with blueberry pancakes with coconut icecream, decent coffee, and of course, the morning sunlight on the ocean. This time I was met by lovely L, who dropped her boyfriend off at Qantas (he is an engineer making the new Marc Newton themed Oz Airbus) and conveyed me to an excellent café in Surry Hills, mere steps away from her house. This is one of the best things about Oz – good coffee is in abundance. Then L went to work and I had a massage in the afternoon to aid my recovery from jetlag.
The next day I had a hair appointment but, to my utter dismay, Blondes Brunettes and Redheads was no longer extant. Instead I had to make do with Brad Ngata, with whom BBR had merged. I didn’t like the feel of the salon – it had nothing of the intimacy of BBR - so now I have to find a new salon to frequent when I come home. I did have visions of chasing my previous stylist to Ireland, whence he has returned, but I think H would disown me if I did that as I am required (occasionally) to keep my obsessions in check.
In the evening, woozy with jetlag, I staggered to the Good Food Month noodle markets in Hyde Park. Chinese lanterns hung in the trees and there were rows and rows of noodle stalls. I was beside myself: how on earth did one choose? I made a random beeline for a random stall and bought some random pad thai, and then I- and I drank a bottle of wine out of plastic cups from Woolies. I met I-‘s boyfriend, who was sick with a cold and thus thought (as men tend to do when ill) that the entire world was coming to an end. He was a nice bloke though.
On Saturday was E’s wedding. I was picked up by Sj’s boyfriend and M, who I hadn’t seen for 11 years, since I left school. We drove to Katoomba and had a look at the Blue Mountains. I was impressed to find that, below the unprepossessing slabs of rock that were sculptures (for want of a better word) leading to the viewing platform, there were delightful quotes from people who had visited the mountains. The ceremony for the wedding was held in a garden in Katoomba, and then the reception in the revolving restaurant, which had a splendid view of the national park. Once I got over the shock of the realm of coupledom that presented itself when the dancing started, I danced my little heart out (in Collette Dinnigan, of course) and can’t remember the last time I had that much fun. I need to get out more.
Sunday I caught the plane to Canberra, and was met by J and P at the airport and taken out to dinner. I stayed with them later on in the week and was entranced by their Burmese cats, despite the animals’ penchant for attacking one’s ankles. I have decided I shall have a Burmese cat when I grow up. For three days I scanned microfilm copies of Nora Murray Prior’s letters to Rosa at the National Library, then I discovered that there was another bunch of archives I hadn’t noticed. I panicked and raced upstairs, and the lady behind the desk was most sympathetic and said that I could bring a digital camera in if I wished, to take photos of the documents. That saved my bacon, for Praed’s handwriting was almost impossible and deciphering it - as well as taking too much time - drove me insane.
Canberra is quite frankly the weirdest city I have ever frequented. It’s basically a number of important buildings shoved out in the bush. Or beside a lake. Any vibe which the place might have is dissipated by the space, and the lack of people with which to fill it. Also, most of those who work in Canberra are white, middle-class bureaucrats and thus there wasn’t much cultural diversity. And because it is mostly populated by people who work in well-paid jobs, the cost of living is inordinately high. Thus I was annoyed to shell out so much money for ordinary food, when that money could have gone to something far more satisfying, such as a piece of lingerie.
The rain followed me from England, which would normally have pissed me off, but the country needs it. A downpour ensued on the Friday that I finished at the library, and people hung about beneath the eaves, obviously expecting it to subside, as has been its wont over the last six years. It didn’t, however, and so they gathered their breaths and dashed out, newspapers held over their heads.
Although I had very much enjoyed J and P’s company, I was glad to leave the city on Saturday morning. The plane was delayed, however, due to the previous day’s storms, and I felt bad for J and P who had elected to get up at 5am to take me to the airport. My sister was also waiting for me at the other end in Brisbane with the kids, having bribed them with the condition that, unless they did a, b or c they couldn’t come to the airport to see Auntie Jess.
They weren’t quite crawling up the walls when I finally arrived, but they were close to it. G broke away from her mother and slammed into my legs with joy, which was somewhat startling, but still delightful. Mention was made of Uncle H, so we had to explain that he was still in London, and we are of course glad that he hasn’t been completely erased from the infant consciousness. B ran enthusiastic zigzags away from us and back again, and I wondered how it was possible for a tiny bundle to have so much energy. I wish I had enough steam to run run zigzags through crowds.
Since I was ready to commit violence for want of a coffee, my sister took us to a waterside suburb, the name of which I have forgotten, to appease me. Docked nearby was an enormous cruise ship, so B was overcome with excitement. There was also free ice cream to be had, although I couldn’t quite cope with the echelons which cruises seem to attract.
Most of my time in Brisbane was spent with my sister and the kids and this, combined with the heat, completely wore me out. However the jacarandas were in bloom and there were thunderstorms, which I always find thrilling, and the Indonesian geckos went clack-clack-clack in the evenings. On the Tuesday I went to the State Library to check a reference which Clarke had used in her biography on Praed. The staff there weren’t as on the ball as they were the last time I went, but they were still very helpful. One good thing about the horrible people who live in London is that they make you respect friendliness and helpfulness when you come across it.
At lunchtime I met up with the delectable SP in the café downstairs, which I love because it has couches outside – what better way to make the best of Brisbane’s beautiful weather? SP knew the name of the golden raintree which was in flower, and on the bridge to the city he stopped a man who looked like a Pacific Islander to check that he’d found a place alright – he’d given him directions earlier on in the day. I thought again, and it was hardly as though I needed reminding, of what a beautiful person he was.
I went home to mum and dad on the Thursday, having got in trouble from H for flying instead of taking the bus and saving my carbon emissions. However the bus took TEN HOURS and time was at a premium. On the plane to Armidale I sat next to a pleasant, fresh-faced country boy, which one could hardly complain about; boys with good manners are always so very pleasing.
At home I did a great deal of nothing in particular, being gripped by that ennui which is peculiar to going home to a country town. I stacked on weight (which must now be removed before I get into a bikini in Thailand), transcribed some of Praed’s letters, read four books, cooked lumberjack cakes and Russian teacakes, walked, slept badly, wrote a bit of my new novel, figured out how to fix a short story which wasn’t working particularly well, half-decided what my thesis was about, drank far more wine and watched far more TV than I am accustomed to and ended up in a car crash, because mum missed a give way sign. That spiced up my holiday no end. However, for the most part I was hugely bored, but that isn’t a bad thing, because it forced me to stop working and to rest.
And then I flew back to Sydney, and haemorrhaged some more money, and went out dancing and ate too much Thai. I was intending to do the Sculpture by the Sea walk from Bondi to Tamarama, but I was too tired, and instead wandered through Centennial Park, in which I used to run, and then lay beneath an old Moreton Bay fig tree and felt the breeze on my skin.
The flight back was fine – the last time I’ll have to do the Sydney-London leg thank God – apart from sitting next to a pimply boy from Blackpool, who insisted on telling me about his band, and wanted to follow me around Changi airport, although I fortunately foiled that one. He was an odd person, occasionally funny, but he irritated me immensely because he seemed to take it for granted that I would find everything about him fascinating, and he nudged me in the arm by way of getting my attention, which showed a total want of courtesy. In the end, having told him I was deaf, I just pretended I couldn’t hear him and absorbed myself in Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria.