Friday, August 14, 2009


Madness (amongst other things) overtook me at the weekend. It wasn't hard to spot. I was running down the middle of the road on some of Sydney's widest boulevards at 9am. Not the act of a sane person.

The insane part was not the road but the running. I was perfectly immune from traffic. Or certainly from the kind that hurtles along at 80kmph; a bone crunching wall of metal and strengthened glass, uncompromising in the face of 80kgs of me. No, the usual lorries and SUV’s had been regulated to back-roads in favour of more pedestrian traffic. For Sunday was the appointed day of Sydney's annual City to Surf fun† run.

It shouldn't be that hard. After all, Bondi is no more than 5k from the City centre. And yet the sadists that run the event feel it is necessary to take 70,000 people around 14.4kms of coastal cliffs.

Granted the views (panoramas across the harbour, encompassing the city, water, parks and the iconic Opera House, the long sweep down to Bondi, past rolling hills and ocean) were magnificent. But who had the strength to enjoy those?†† Not your correspondent, that’s for sure. I was too busy watching the rest the competition pass me by.

No. Madness was not the only thing to overtake me. I was passed by pretty much everyone taking part in the race. I was about a kilometre in when the first cartoon character sauntered by. A dragon as I recall. There were innumerable spider-bat-super-men and I was left in the dust by at least one giant valentine. It was on the upward slope of the appropriately named heartbreak hill that a man pushing a pram jogged along nonchalantly, as though I were stationary.

But the final insult came two days later when the timings came in. I was pleased with my own time; 88:59 – 8 minutes improved over last year. Then I saw the time for my friend the uber-competitive Hideko; 88:36 – 25 seconds my better.

Time to take up cycling


† A deliberatively provocative use of the word. I have already drafted a missive to the Advertising Standards Institute of Australia.

†† Actually Mark was probably enjoying the view. Mr. Cahill finished the race in just over an hour, and there’s every chance he didn’t break a sweat. Good job Mark!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Capsize Kayak

When it was proposed I was decidedly unsure about it. Kayaking on Saturday, despite the fact that it was six degrees - the entire idea was clearly completely nuts. My politicking against the plan was too subtle and I was left wondering if might be worth breaking my own arm to avoid the event.

And then, once again, Sydney surprised me.

The weather was lovely and the water warm. I have first hand knowledge of the water temperature as I managed to capsize my vessel 20 metres from the shore. This provided David, Elaine and Hideko with a solid 20 minutes of laughter but, pride and fingertips* aside, I was unhurt. Later on there were mangroves, a veritable blizzard of jellyfish and some of the most magnificent homes in Australia.

Winter! What Winter?

* Climbing out of the water over razor sharp mussel-shells


The trip to Canberra was long overdue. It's been months since Danielle and Chris moved there and I keep missing them when they're in Sydney.

Alison drove me down and began the weekend ferrying 8 of us around a selection of ACT's finest vineyards. An excellent start to an evening of revellry at Danielle and Chris's apartment.

The following day was dedicated to the many cultural opportunities offered by Canberra. After a preliminary investigation we decided to give the Questicon experience a miss. I should have guessed it from the name, but it was not quite what I expected. I was thinking "Smithsonian", "London Science Museum" or "Deutschemuseum". Questicon is more like a giant McDonalds Fun Centre. A group of about 6 of us stood in the entrance hall for about a minute. The blinding primary colours and near-riot of 6-year olds did not play nice with our collective hangovers. One of the girls commented that the tableau was causing her a pain in her ovaries and we departed for the relative serenity of the National Gallery.

We took in a visiting exhibit of "Soft Sculptures". These were a wide variety of objects that droop, ooze, squish or bend. It's just the sort of thing to do when you have a hangover. A lot of the exhibits put me in mind of the then state of my own grey matter; deformed and smushed.

Next time I shall go to Canberra I shall tick another gallary off the list. But I think Questicon will have to wait until mid-week when I have some borrowed 9-year olds and a clear head.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Citizen Kelly

It was over the Christmas 2001 holidays that I decided to emigrate to Australia. I had been working in Cork and when I returned there in January 2002 I resolved to make a new life Down Under. The process was expensive, bureaucratic and lengthy. Yesterday (May 2nd, 2009) it came to an end as I took the Australian Citizenship pledge.

It has been a long journey from researching citizenship on the web in Cork to standing before an immigration official in Parramatta - but I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Zero Sum Loss

April 25th is ANZAC day.

On that day in 1915, under Winston Churchill's plan to open the Black Sea for the Allied forces, the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp landed on a beach on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. In the following 8 months, over 8,000 Australian and 2,700 New Zealand soldiers died - without gaining more than a few metres of beach. The ANZAC legend recounts the hardship, bravery and sacrifice of the troops.

ANZAC Day is remembered at dawn with "The Last Post", "Advance Australia Fair", "God Defend New Zealand" and "Reveille". The events at Gallipoli have had a defining impact on the character of the two nations and their respective military traditions.

It's also given them the curious gambling tradition of two-up. This game is legal in pubs* for a few hours on this one-day-a-year. The idea is that WWI ANZAC's (or 'Diggers') played the game and doing so on ANZAC Day is a form of commemoration.

Basically, in two-up, you are betting on a coin-toss. You 'agree' the bet with some person standing in the same circle as yourself. You have a fifty-fifty chance of winning and the house do not take a cut. So overall it's a zero-sum-gain (or loss). I like the idea - best odds in town! Just go on a random walk and as long as you are adequately capitalised, take home as much as you like.

*It is not clear to me that this is strictly true. It's possible that the playing of two-up on ANZAC day is a mass exercise in the flouting of the law. No one cares.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Afraid to Move

I love my little house. I love that it is still a work in progress. I love the potential inherent in its manifold weakness. I love that it is mine and that it is a place where I can have things the way I want them.

I’ve had a cleaner in. Not that it needed a cleaner* you understand. The house was perfectly tidy. Granted I had accumulated the odd bit of bric-a-brak that I didn’t need but nothing on a significant scale.

The thing is; my boss from Ireland is coming to stay, for three weeks, with his wife, and I want the place to be nice for them. Just ordinary householder’s pride really. So I decided that the way to have the house really clean (as opposed to ‘boy clean’†) was to get a cleaner in.

Anyhow Jelena has done a Stirling job. Such a good job, in fact, that almost any activity I can think of is guaranteed to make the place less perfect. For those of a mathematical disposition‡;

So I’m just going to sit here and be very quiet...


* It is quite clear to me now that it actually did need a cleaner.

† More than tidy but less than certain-not-to-give-you-the-plague.

‡ I'm looking at you Dave

Friday, December 12, 2008

Softer Still

Sydney has softened me to the point that I think 11 degrees Celsius is insufferably cold. But it is easy to see why: Your correspondent writes to you from his back-garden hammock; Cold drink in hand on a balmy (32C) December day.

Being December there are abundant reminders that Christmas is upon us. Despite the heat, we are still treated to a diet of woollen-clad Santas and snowmen. However, the marketing is by no means as relentless as I remember from Ireland. The transplantation of Northern-hemisphere festivities has left Australia with the bizarre traditions of hot-puddings and open fires at a time when fruit, seafood and beach-sports are far more appropriate.

I will take little part in any of it. Christmas to me is the light at the end of the tunnel that makes the descent into a cold, dark, wet, winter just about tolerable. As the days lengthen and the temperatures rise there is no need to dangle a carrot over the solstice. In Australia Christmas is rightly celebrated as God intended: in June.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting Softer

There’s nowhere in my experience like Sydney; cosmopolitan and dynamic, forward looking and welcoming. It’s set on Port Jackson, possibly the world's most stunning harbour, easily surpassing Cobh or San Francisco Bay. And around the city’s shores are numerous sandy beaches that put Santa Monica to shame. But the Siren’s song that lured so many of us to these shores is the sunny, moderate climate which defines Sydneysiders' relaxed lifestyle and love of the outdoors. So why is it so fecking cold! Seriously, the Australian tourist board owes me some warmth.

That’s the thought that wafted through my head recently as I awaited a friend at Newtown station. I was stamping my feet against the cold and wrapped in full body armour against the winter; a blue Michelin man in my Dad’s old duffle coat, thermal hat and gloves.

I’d have been sidestepped by all and sundry for appearing a little gauche were I at any other Sydney station. Newtown is adequately alternative for me to have been unremarkable were I sporting a balaclava or peacock’s feather. As it was, the entrance to the station had been laid siege by a smugness of over-zealous revolutionary socialists and the casual observer could be forgiven for assuming I was one of their number.

I noted that my new comrades were engaged in a futile effort to elicit signatures from weary commuters. The petition was to be in support of one cause or against another perceived grievance; whales, Iraq, Iran, the-closure-by-health-inspectors-of-a-vegan-friendly-Newtown-cafe. It really didn’t matter; no one cared, least of all me. The only people interested in discussing the burning issue-du-jour were Newtown’s burgeoning population of homeless loonies. These are harmless folk, all too eager to engage our lead tovarish on the topic of what was wrong with Sydney. He in turn politely nodding in agreement, equally eager to move the fellows along as he was to add new X's to the meagre list on the bottom of the supplication.

Meanwhile I stood, ruminating that there was precisely nothing wrong with Sydney other than that it was a tad glacial at the moment. I had checked, and the temperature was expected to hit an overnight low of 11 degrees Celsius. These are insufferable, polar, Arctic conditions! Call in the National Guard! Well, at least it is dry and nice during the daytime. And since that low point the Spring is finally bringing finer weather. Seriously though, perhaps my peacenik friends are right; maybe we’d all be better off in Soviet Russia. Brrr...