Sydney will you marry me?
I loooove Australia. Every time I visit it feels like coming home. And in my opinion Sydney is the jewel in its crown and as close to perfect a city as you can get.
Any city that esteems an opera house its cultural and architectural apogee and where the life criss-crosses above, below and alongside a waterway is always going to feel designed for me. It’s kind of like Venice but without the overpricing, pigeon shit and Italians.
‘Dropping in’ for the weekend as I did only added to the pleasingly indulgent nature of the visit. Having been two years ago, and comprehensively ‘done Sydney’ took the pressure off needing to see the place; this visit was more a social one than a discovery/exploration/cultural one, making any location-specific experience deliciously incidental!
Here’s what I did.
Thanks to my 10-hour delay in Singapore (due to a London fault of course) I missed a whole evening here and instead landed at 0600 Satursday but regardless of this was met by Jenny (Jayydubs) and Kit and we went straight off to Bronte beach – near Bondi – for an early breakfast, the sun shining and the sky as blue as the day is long. I actually visited Bronte last time as part of the Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk but didn’t especially recognise it.
We then went back to the awesome Balmain apartment which has a balcony overlooking the harbour bridge.
J&K pay a pretty penny for this luxury but as someone who is just about to rent a London flat with a similar feature (and by similar, yes I know London’s predominantly grey skyline hardly compares with Sydney’s but is nevertheless a panorama across one of the world’s best capital cities) I approve of this extravagance whole heartedly!
Following a brief tour of Balmain, a Tim Tam run, and a siesta to combat the 5am start, we headed out for a picnic in the Domain and to reserve our patch ahead of the free open air Sydney Symphony concert of music on the theme of Shakespeare, and also some Shakespeare readings from John Bell, shakey hero of Oz. Programme was:
Merry Wives of Windsor – Otto Nicolai
Suite for Henry V – Walton
A Midsummer Nights Dream – Mendelssohn
Romeo and Juliet – Prokoffiev
(encore) 1812 Overture – Tchaikovsky
All of which I love (well with the exception of 1812 – whose inclusion is a bit random to say the least – but on this occasion I rather enjoyed, complete with canon blast and spectacularly dramatic fireworks display).
My highlight of the concert was the ‘Touch her soft lips and part‘ movement of the Walton – the sort of music that makes you weep and feel glad to be alive all at the same time. I leaned over to the others to inform them of the appealingly mischievous title and as they raised their eyebrows dubiously at me (‘you’re not serious?’), Mr Bell, declaimed: ‘…touch her soft lips and part!’ providing much amusement all round, and proving that I was right (both of which please me greatly of course).
The gig finished early enough for us to get the last ferry home – kind of like the last tube or the nightbus but without rowdy drunk wankers, and wearing shorts in the balmy evening heat. Is it any wonder I love this place?
On Sunday we rose early and I persuaded Jenny not only for a swim but a run also. We went to the enviably well equipped Leichhardt Aquatic centre, only a couple of miles from Balmain, which has an Olympic swimming pool (50m lengths) of which I managed 17. From there we went for a 7k run around the coastal path of Iron Cove. I confess this was a struggle in the midday heat, having not run for a few days, and having insisted that I didn’t need to take any water with me. Oh and having turned into a bit of a fatster after a week of stir fries and Tim Tams and air-flight sedentary lethargy.
The afternoon, spent lazily in the living room watching Les Mis 25th anniversary concert (Kit is, like me, a musical theatre enthusiast and also like me, not gay) with intermittent views out across the harbourside – was a highlight. The fact that I’m just here and the sight of the harbour bridge, and even a bit of the opera house poking out, was sufficiently passé by now, was somehow hugely gratifying. To come here and get a feel of what it is like to be a resident and not just a tourist is a rare privilege.
The fun is only just beginning. It happens to be the Sydney Festival, which is why there is so much going on — talk about clever timing huh? OK, not planned at all! – we’ll call it serendipitous timing. On the other hand I leave only a day before public holiday and mass knees up, Australia Day (26 Jan), which is less cleverly planned!
Tonight we took a trip to china town and the Chinese gardens which is currently host to a light and sound festival. This was pretty awesome though unfortunately by this point I was a dead man walking (because the jet lag was catching up, not because I’d insulted some big dude over dinner or anything).
At this point I’m questioning whether I’m going go make our midnight comedy show.
This was preceded by a Chinese meal at Red Chilli Sichuan – quite simply the best Chinese I’ve had in my life, if a bit on the spicy side. This place is testament to the fact that the places with great frontages and with inflated prices are to be eschewed in favour of the unlikely looking joint down a side street. Tables being full of the eateries ‘native diners’, if you will, also an age-old indicator of quality and reliability.
Ok so now I’m struggling. It’s 11pm and I want my bed! Jenny and Kit very kindly offer to keep watch whilst I take my slumber. Check out the spot I found to rest my head! (photographed the next day by daylight)
I awoke just refreshed enough to make it through the show and man am I glad I did. Eddie Perfect, writer of Shane Warne The Musical, is a hilarious comic, gifted songwriter and lyricist, charismatic performer and consummate musician. And he’s got balls of steel touching on some of those subjects!
He’s not unlike fellow countryman Tim Minchin, but imagine something of the puerility of Avenue Q or the biting satire of Max Klein’s Blow Up the Musical and you get a flavour of the 70 min one-man show.
The occasions that Perfect pushed the boundaries of good taste, and he did often, you forgave him for the commitment and sheer artistry. One target of his ruthless satire and lampooning was the likes of yours truly and their fitness obsessions (‘who are these people who just go off for a 10k run’) and then triathletes (‘what is it about triathletes? is it so they can be 3 times as annoying’). I was well and truly savaged and J&K didn’t waste any time in getting double value, laughing at me as well as laughing with Eddie, at this routine.
He then stripped down to his lycra and stuck it to smug two-wheeler road-hogs and their choice of attire: (refrain) ‘I’m a / self-righteous cyclist / and the world can see my balls!’
That’s me well and truly told.
Monday saw Jenny and Kit resuming normal routine so I took myself into town both to revisit old haunts and take in the few places I missed last time, as well as continue my quest for Cookies and Creme tim tams (I failed).
My walking tour took in: Circular Quay, Opera House, Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park, St James Church, St Mary’s Cathedral, Wooloomooloo and King’s Cross where I stayed on last visit, Jayydubs’ work, a Japanese for lunch, Hyde Park again, Town Hall, Custom House top floor cafe overlooking the bridge, The Rocks and Darling Harbour.
The evening had yet more treats in store. We went to Sydney’s superior Thai restaurant in Kirribilli (north shores), Stir Crazy, and then back to Leichhardt (of the aquatic centre and Olympic pool) to catch the last hour of a big band gig, where a friend of Kit’s was having a composition of his played (sightread as it turns out! – faultlessly though). I’m at my musical happiest at live big band so there are times during this visit where it feels like my hosts have read my mind.
Which brings me to my closing point. Places are ultimately just places and provide little joy without the companionship of great people, which I’ve been lucky to have both times. Jayydubs and Kit are the most fun, sincere and generous spirited friends you could hope for, and spending this time with them is a true blessing.
And finally to their local coffee house for some early morning caffeine and some bircher muesli before a lift to the airport and the working (or travelling) day begins.
Goodbye Sydney: you’re giving New Zealand a lot to live up to.