From Dore to the North Shore

Doyles CQ

Familiar faces are a little like buses, you don’t see one for six months and then five appear all at once.

sydney-airport_2Our long awaited first visitors, Rich’s parents, arrived about 10 days ago. After a thirty-five hour door to door journey they were greeted by oven–like temperatures as they disembarked their plane and tried to orientate themselves in the blinding sun, having left snow behind in their home village of Stubbington in Hampshire. It was a relatively cool day by  Sydney summer standards, a mere 33 degrees and actually pretty much the same temperature they left behind in the UK, but of course using a different temperature scale – Fahrenheit in the UK, Celsius in Australia!

The “cool” weather didn’t last long; the day after they arrived Sydney witnessed its hottest ever recorded temperature, a staggering 46.8 degrees (that’s Celsius, not Fahrenheit!) which made Sydney the hottest city in the world on that day.

We swam in the morning and we swam in the afternoon, it was the only sensible thing to do.  In between swims we came home for lunch to cool off in the shade of the house.  I made some BLTs but couldn’t face going near the toaster so left the bread untoasted. There were seven of us for lunch and the camp table that we are still managing on in the kitchen is barely big enough for the four children so we had no choice but to eat at the larger table outside.  The table is completely undercover and the walk from the kitchen door to the table takes about 5 seconds.  By the time I had taken the BLTs from the kitchen to the table, the bread had toasted in the sun!  The cutlery had been sitting on the table for about five minutes and was too hot to handle.  It was definitely a hot one!   After their marathon journey to get here and the record breaking temperatures upon arrival, I think Rich’s parents felt they had touched down, not in Australia but on Mars!

Dore, the village in Sheffield where I grew up and where my parents still live, is quite small and has a population of only 7,000 people, but four of those residents have visited us here in Sydney in one week!

Doyles WBLast weekend our dear friends, the “Wandering Walkdens”, James, Nicole and Ava arrived in Sydney at the start of a two week holiday from their home in Hong Kong.  We were very lucky that they gave up one of their three precious afternoons in Sydney to spend it with us in Watson’s Bay.  Despite the blistering heat of Friday 18th January, Saturday 19th, the day we spent with James and his family couldn’t have been more different.  The sky was grey, the temperature struggled to get much above twenty degrees and it rained; not our usual type of rain – a monsoon like downpour which lasts an hour or so and then gives way to blue skies and high heat.  This was much more like English drizzle which lasted most of the day.  The weather of course did not dampen our spirits but as we sat on the beach, eating fish and chips under umbrellas, watching our five gorgeous kids dance in puddles on the sand, the scene was much more reminiscent of a summer’s day in Scarborough than Sydney.

Doyles CQWednesday 23rd January saw the arrival Liz and her husband Andrew, who I also know from Dore.  Liz is the mum of my oldest (as in most long standing) friend Cath and despite not having seen Liz and Andrew for over 14 years, we couldn’t stop talking as we shared a bottle of Australia’s finest Sauvignon Blanc at Doyle’s on the Quay, with stellar views overlooking Sydney Harbour, and its iconic landmarks, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.  Liz and Andrew were also only spending three days in Sydney at the start of a very impressive driving and walking tour of Australia so I was exceedingly glad that they chose to spend one of their precious evenings with me and even more glad that they treated me to a wonderful meal at Doyle’s.

The evening also presented me with a long overdue opportunity to confess, “Simon Mayo style”, to a misdemeanour that I committed at Liz’s in about 1980 when Cath and I were dancing round her living room a little too enthusiastically to the Grease soundtrack and I swung on the curtains and pulled down the curtain rail, curtains and half a ton of plaster.  As two terrified thirteen year olds, we laid the rail, the curtains and all the bits of plaster that had fallen out neatly in the centre of the room and raced off to bed.  In the morning when we awoke I suddenly remembered I had to help my dad in the garden or do my paper round or something so I left very early, leaving Cath to explain and face the wrath of her mum alone.   So thank you so much Liz and Andrew for a wonderful evening and the chance to clear a guilty conscience that I have had for about 32 years!  Enjoy the rest of your holiday in Australia.

On Thursday I met up with my dear friend and long standing resident of Dore and Sydney, Bobby Dennis.  Years ago, Bobby used to be my parents’ next door neighbour so I first met him when I was about 10 years old.  He moved to another house in the village and our families lost touch for many years until I become reacquainted with him in 1998 on a cruise ship that we were both working on in Tahiti.  I was working as the Spa Manager and Bobby was one of the headlining comedians on my ship for a couple of weeks.  We have been great, if unlikely friends ever since and we have met up several times in both Sydney and Dore over the last 15 years.

Bobby is truly a marvellous gentleman who is both funny and charming. He is 87 years old and has been a professional comedian, musician and entertainer for over 60 years, working alongside Bruce Forsyth, Bob Monkhouse and Morecombe and Wise in their formative years in the entertainment business. This is the first Christmas he has not worked on a cruise ship in 60 years  – the cruise industry thinks it’s time he retired and started to take life easy but Bobby has very different ideas and is still pulling in crowds in the clubs and theatres of Sydney.

Thank you dear friends of Dore for spending some of your precious time in Sydney with us.  It was very much appreciated and when we can’t be home it’s truly wonderful that a little reminder of home can come to us. Safe onward travels all and hope to see you either here or there sometime soon.





I’m English Get Me Out of Here, Part 2


There was an article in our local newspaper, The Mosman Daily, last week, entitled:

“Man finds python living in his shoe”.

Australians are a fairly literal, “does what is says on the tin” kind of nation so the essence of the story was well summarised in the title. Mosman is pretty much the heart of Sydney and is completely urbanised. There are no farms, forests or significant expanses of bush land. All the roads are paved, the buildings are made of concrete and brick and we have Starbucks on every corner. Yet one of our neighbours (yes neighbours i.e. somebody who lives very close to me, in my neighbourhood in a “this could just as easily happened to me kind of way”) took a shoe from his wardrobe, went to put his foot in it and found that his foot wouldn’t fit because there was something inside. My first thought of what this might have been (remember we live in the urban jungle, not the actual jungle with trees and Tarzan swinging on vines) is a forgotten balled up sock. But no, when our neighbour went to investigate the impediment he discovered it was a baby python, curled up  and having a little doze.

What I found more incredible about his story was not the actual finding of the python, but the man’s reaction to the find:

“I grew up in the country so I have found snakes in unusual places many times before. I recognised it straight away as a python and thought it was probably fairly harmless so I put it in a box with some holes in the lid, had a cup of tea and a bun and then my wife and I took a leisurely stroll down to the zoo with the python in the box and handed the little fellow over.”

I like to think that this would have been my exact reaction in the same situation (obviously after I had finished screaming until my lungs bled and had been coaxed down from the top of the wardrobe!)

In the same week, the national press carried several stories about the impact of a piece of legislation introduced in 1972 forbidding the hunting of crocodiles. As a result, in the far north of Australia, the population of saltwater crocodiles (number one predator on Steve Backshall’s Deadly Sixty list by some margin) has increased alarmingly. The rapid increase in their numbers has led to severe food shortages and has resulted in the “salties”, as they are affectionately known, having to become more resourceful when out hunting. One of the ways their ingenuity is manifesting itself is in the numbers of salties who are regularly seen wandering down high streets or into people’s gardens, primarily looking for a snack of pet dog or some other tasty morsel (small child or similar).

Steve Backshall has some interesting thoughts on the saltie and its view of humans as food in Matthew, Ben and Zach’s favourite book, “Deadly 60”:

“Of all the creatures we met that which occasionally injure or kill people, I’m sure that the vast majority only hurt people when the animal is harassed or threatened, or it mistakes a human being for something else. This is not true of the saltie. It is one of the very few animals on earth that will deliberately hunt, kill and eat a human. If you enter its watery world you can expect to disappear in a brutal flurry of water and gore.”

According to Wikipedia, “It has the strongest bite of any animal today, but its teeth are not designed to rip flesh, but to hold onto the prey item, which is an advantage that reduces the animal’s (or human’s) chance of escape. These two properties allow the crocodile to catch and drag the animal into the water with the minimal possibility of losing its prey. Then, the prey item is swallowed whole or torn into pieces either by death roll or by sudden jerks of the head.”

One of the main points of the story was to offer advice about how to react if you found yourself one day quietly sitting on the sofa watching the tea-time repeat of “Home and Away” and a saltie should wander into the lounge. The advice was priceless:

“Firstly, do not panic as this could alarm the animal and provoke an unpredictable reaction in him.”

Given that a “predictable reaction” is that it would wrap its immense jaws around your middle (jaws capable of exerting up to 3,700 pounds of pressure per square inch!) and snap you in half like a pretzel, I would definitely be prepared to take a chance on an “unpredictable reaction”.

“Secondly, do not try to tackle the animal yourself (you don’t say!). Calmly make your way to the telephone and call for help.”

For me the advice in the article was slightly incomplete as it offered nothing in the way of a suggestion as to what to do if the 3000 pound reptile was standing between you and the phone. Even having Crocodile Dundee on speed dial would seem to be of little use in this situation.

A few weeks ago, Rich took the children on a “Dads and kids” camp, back to their favourite campsite in Myall Lakes, about three hours north of here. I declined their kind invitation to accompany them on account of the fact that a) it is midwinter here and b) Myall Lakes does not qualify in my book as a campsite, it is actually just a field with no toilets or showers. I chose to spend a rather pleasant kid-and-husband-free weekend in SydnP1040330ey with some other mums who felt the same about mid-winter, toilet free camping as I did!

The dads sent the kids off to collect fire wood and Zach came marching back proudly with a log bearing a baby red bellied black snake. (Number three on the Australia’s list of most venomous snakes if you remember from a previous article.) Luckily, it was more of an “ex-snake” very dead and I thank goodness for that. But I put it to you that this was not always the case, it had once been very much alive. And presumably has many relatives still thriving in the area.

So once again I am forced to ponder the question of how exactly so many Australian children make it in to adulthood when it is so easy to get eaten by a crocodile on the walk to school. The result of my mindless musings is that in fact many of them don’t make it to adulthood; the Australian population is being wiped out in droves. That explains why nobody here is actually Australian and why the government keeps repopulating the country with gullible Brits!