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...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Luck of the Irish

It was something of a mixed weekend for the Irish in Australia. Collectively we were unfortunate with the result of the rugby but my personal good fortune in the Blue Mountains more than made up for the disappointment.

Prior to the commencement of the rugby you’d have had to say the Irish had a fighting chance of taking home some silverware. The Wallabies might have been at home but the forecast was for rain which ought to have levelled the teams. The climate in Ireland gives us more experience of scrapping though the mud. However, it was not to be. The crafty Australians have got a roof on their stadium. Tantamount to cheating to be sure, but sure, what can you do. The conclusion was 18 – 12 to the yellow team.

But fortune did shine on one Irishman. For, while the 15 Paddies were without luck in Melbourne there was one lucky leprechaun in the Mountains. Not only did our team win a pub quiz but, of the three lottery tickets I bought for $5, two were winners. What’s more I walked off with the grand prize; a colour laser printer. Come on you greens!

It certainly was a bountiful expedition. Between the 10 of us the takings looked more akin to loot than winnings. Apart from the printer, power tools and attachments for power tools, there were children’s games, garden chairs and gardening accoutrements, a tray of meat (very Australian) and bottles and bottles of wine. Time for a barbeque methinks.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

'Ello 'Ello

The police turned up this morning. And in bigger numbers this time.

The knock came early. I wasn’t quite fully dressed, but the blue ones were in no mood to wait for sartorial adjustments.

The last time I had a policeman appear at my door he came on his own. His tone was conversational, almost convivial. Not so this time. The four burly lumps of Sydney’s finest crowding my narrow doorway this morning wanted help with their enquiries and looked as if they knew how to get it. I had a mental image of being whisked away into a Kafkaesque nightmare of waterboards and devilishly ingenious things with tweezers.

But this is Australia not Orwell’s Oceania so they were quickly disarmed with the news that Karen Anderson did not live here. Miss Anderson is, in fact, completely unknown to me despite the fact that she’s been giving my little terraced house as her address to all and sundry. Strictly speaking the (now fugitive) Karen has given her address as an apartment within my house. Apartment number 319, would you believe. A neat trick getting that many apartments into my two bedroom Victorian.

The lone policeman from the prior visit was searching for a gentleman with a similarly confused domicile. Presumably that individual was an accomplice of master-criminal Anderson. The pair are doubtless hatching intricate plots at this very moment, impervious to statute behind a vast web of assumed addresses.

It would seem that somewhere in Surry Hills (perhaps a parallel Surry Hills, “Surrey Hills” perchance?) there is building on a “Belvoir Street”, bearing my number. This parallel Number 5 is a significant edifice of many flats (a disturbingly high proportion of which house wanton criminals). The evidence for this parallel world is mounting. Aside from head-scratching constables, meter-readers and pizza delivery boys there’s been a steady stream of bemused individuals standing in front of my house with faces of bewilderment, often shouting into a mobile phone:

“No. I’m standing at number 5 now and it’s definitely not an apartment block. It’s a house.”

It would appear that the parallel world has a link to our telephone network.

This of course would all be harmless (if occasionally irritating) fun, were it not for the first incident of this nature. Nearly a year ago, when I first moved in I was woken at 2 or 3 am by frantic activity at my door. The first people I knew of to be misdirected here. I will never know if that ambulance crew ever found the people who called it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Not Just Cricket

I don’t really get cricket. There’s something suspicious about a sport that takes a whole working week to reach a conclusion. In fact it’s a dubious proposition in my mind whether it can deservingly be defined as a sport at all. I think it is in fact ‘a game’. Honestly, can it be a sport if the spectators are getting more exercise than the participants?

By any standards cricket must have the most complicated scoring system known to man. Not just rivalling but actually surpassing GAA “points v goals” system in this respect. Consider the following score:
South Africa: 170, 178/4 (57.0 Ovs)

And that’s just the one team’s score! But that’s not what makes the whole pursuit so utterly impenetrable to the casual observer. All fields of human endeavour generate an individual argot, but cricket takes the prize for building its own private tower of Babel. The quaint English pastime has added to the lexicon: “Zooter”, “Bump Ball”, “Doosra”, “Silly mid-off”, “Arm Ball”, “Beamer”, “Bosie”, “In-ducker”, “Jaffa”, “Bouncer”, “Googly”, “Grubber”, “Leg-cutter”, “Yorker”, “Sticky wicket”. You could look up the definitions, but I promise you; you’ve got better things to be doing with your time. Consider the following excerpt:
“...he tried to hit off-spinner Shoaib Malik for six
with 21 needed and six wickets still in hand,
he was stumped”.

He’s not the only one that’s stumped by that sentence. Or this:
“Ireland reached 2 for 32 after 10 overs ...
Pakistan losing wickets when Hafeez (4)
was caught behind from seamer Langford-
Smith. Khan then followed with a third-ball
nought, caught at slip, to make the score
2 for 15”.

Cricket people say things like this all the time and actually expect to be taken seriously.

So why am I so concerned with this particularly bizarre example of the English practice of creating-a-sport-and- exporting-it- so-that-everyone-else- can-beat-them-at-it? Well the hint is in the two quotes above. We were all more than a little surprised last year to discover that not only did the Irish have a cricket team, but they had actually advanced to the World Cup in the Caribbean. Then they took the huge scalp of Pakistan – on St. Patrick’s Day! The BBC describes this as “one of the greatest victories in cricket's rich history”.

Over a year ago, Paul Davey, an Irish friend of mine based in Sydney, had the idea of making a documentary film about the Irish participation. He took a huge risk. Giving up his lucrative technology job and investing his savings in the venture. Paul had unprecedented access to the whole team. In a sense he became part of it, getting first hand reactions of the players.

The resulting documentary is a really good story, even if – like me – you don’t know the first thing about cricket. The players were all part timers and Paul shows them going from their ordinary lives as postmen and teachers to the superstar world of international sportsmen and back to their inevitable postal-rounds. And on top of that you will all remember the controversial, untimely death of the Packistani coach. The documentary has had great critical acclaim and I want to encourage you all to go and see it. To do so, follow this link.

Monday, February 18, 2008

5 Kilos of Books

I recently confronted an interesting conundrum. On a brief, 4 day, visit to Dublin I decided to send a portion of my Irish library to myself in Sydney. Between one thing and another it turns out that it’s really cheap to send 5 kilos of books and starts to get rather pricy if you want to send more.

This raised the question of what were my most valued books, by weight.

Thus while my Concise Oxford English Dictionary is valuable to me, weighing in at over a kilo it displaced far too many other works to make the cut. At the other extreme, even the lightest of my ‘Holy Bible’ collection was never likely to be scheduled for transportation.

[Some readers will be surprised to learn of my scripture stack. As I see it; if the Gideon Society give me their stuff it would be rude not to accept it. Taking their gift saves the next occupant of the hotel room from reading the thing and after a while you get a paper pile that can be useful for packing material, origami, or fuel.]

My 5 Kilo pack was made up of Carl Sagan, Karl Popper and Richard Dawkins works, but the real question for you, gentle reader, is; what would you take with you? (I feel this owes something to the last page of H. G. Wells’s ‘Time Machine’ which I may send in the next 5-kilo instalment).