Tuesday, 25 August 2009

My Week In Bondi

And so, after a week strolling the streets of Sydney, it is my final day in this land of perpetual summer. It is, technically, winter here, but as every day but one has featured blue skies and sunshine far outstripping Aberdeen's summer best, I feel winter is somewhat of a misnomer. "Lo-summer" would be a better term for the season.

Aside from a couple of days spent admiring the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and enjoying the very relaxed and attractive area around them, this has been a trip more of relaxing than of sight-seeing. I've been staying with Handsome Matt - don't worry ladies, his looks haven't faded one bit in the last four years - and he lives in Bondi, just fifteen minutes walk from the famous beach. So a couple of daytimes have simply involved wandering down there, having a large all-day breakfast, hoping to see a topless girl sunbathing (failing, sadly), and then meandering back to Matt's to take it easy after a hard day. One time I took a longer walk, all the way to some distant and very large cemetary, filled with Sydney notables of a century before, just about all of whom seemed to die before age 50.

Matt has lost none of his charm, but alas my visit has captured him at the tail end of a nasty bout of whooping cough, of all things. This has left him in a weakened state, and at fairly frequent intervals he starts coughing in a very feminine way. It sounds very silly. Illness, I feel, is bearable when it's visible and ghastly and elicits sympathy from those around; alas, when the discomfort is manifested in a girly cough no-one can take seriously, well, what's the point in being ill?

His cough is so puny that even Matt's children have deeper, more robust coughs. Yes, that's been the shock of the trip: Matt has children. Kind of, at least. He's hooked up with a NZ divorcee called Gina, who has a big apartment and two children. All are very nice, and I've seen quite a bit of them over the week. A number of evenings have been spent at hers, supping wine and dining, and on Saturday we all went out as a pseudo-extended family to a Korean restaurant. I encouraged the daughter (7 years old) to try kimchi: she started crying and I don't think has forgiven me yet.

Despite Matt being ill, the good news is that he now drinks alcohol (for a whole year during our time in Korea he didn't drink... I wasn't very impressed). By all accounts, he enjoys considerable amounts, although his illness has curtailed any heavy sessions. In fact, the heaviest was last week, when I'd just arrived, and we ploughed through a case of 24 lagers. Since then it's been moderate, well, mostly, I've still tried to drink at every opportunity. Saturday night was one such: we went down to a large bar with a number of Matt's friends and watched a surprisingly entertaining game of rugby between Australia and NZ, the latter winning by just one point. Then we ended up at a party, where my memory becomes distinctly hazy, but Matt assures me we had excellent banter. All I can remember is giving some shockingly sub-standard chat to a pretty but vacant little blonde girl, and stealing a bottle of wine.

I've enjoyed my time in Bondi. It's a pleasant place to be. Obviously and evidently very wealthy, the chic apartments and ultra-modern shopping centres tell a story of money. The place feels safe and open, and although architecturally modern still retains a definite charm - no two buildings are alike. It's the sort of place I could live in, not forever or even that long, but for a year or two. The quality of life is good, if expensive, and the pleasant sunshine is uplifting.

So, one final evening, and then a flight tomorrow morning to Korea. Where the frantic Asian-style mania will be quite a shock to the system after a week of gentle idling.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Opera House

We could have had this:

Or this:

Or perhaps this:

Or even this:

But instead, fortunately for the world, for Australia, and especially Sydney, we got this:

And it is magnificent.

In terms of sheer iconic status, the Sydney Opera House is up there. It may not be quite the premier league status of the Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building, but it's still a gobally recognised building that gives an instant identity to its city or country. A city needs "its building" and Sydney has its Opera House. But fame is a tricky mistress, and realities can often fail to live up to the hype. Does the Opera House pass the test?

In short, yes, when viewed from any direction, from a distance: it's beautiful, original, distinct and in absolute harmony with its surroundings. But it lets itself down a little when close-up, inside (from the limited visit I had) is dark and dingy and very dated, and even on the outside the style looks a little drab close up (after having tiled a few bathrooms, I can't help but be unexcited by the Opera House tiles). But the structure is incredible, the building has a real presence, and the flocks of tourists testify to its popularity.

So, impressed and inspired by the structure, I even gleefully parted with my money and bought this:

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Tin Goose

Hello from The Tin Goose, in London Heathrow's Terminal 1, where I am enjoying a pint of London Pride and am in the process of digesting a full English breakfast.

The Tin Goose is fast becoming one my favourite pubs because, though it would fail in the normal world, in the world of airports it is a haven of good beer and hearty food. It's usually busy, but I can always find an agreeable seat (today I'm nestled in the corner next to a power socket) and unlike its rival pub in Terminal 1, it has some nice big windows so that I can see the blue sky and large planes land. Having been through Terminal 1 so many times in the last year or so, it's become a kind of regular, and always a nice way to spin out some time between flights.

In this case, I'm not between flights, rather I'm pre-flight. My flight leaves in about two hours, but I arrived ridiculously early to ensure I got aisle seats for the long haul ahead - about 11 hours to Incheon, Korea, a few hours there, then another 11 hours or so to Sydney, Australia. Having suffered the indignity of a "middle" seat on a recent flight, there was no way I was tolerating it for two long stints this time. Plus, I quite fancied a few pints of London Pride at the Tin Goose.

I arrived in London yesterday afternoon, and was reunited soon after with two old friends known from Korea, Mary, who was visited not long ago in Berlin, and was visiting London, and JuHyeon, who has lived in London for a few years now, married to a New Zealander. With my snappy new clothes bought just a few days ago, both girls looked suitably glamorous by my side, and this was complemented further some hours later (and after a delightful Korean meal in JuHyeon's garden) by a further sweet-faced beauty, another Korean, a friend of JuHyeon's with the not-dissimiliar name of JiYeon, in a bar for some pre-club drinks. Three pretty lovelies and Nev: gosh.

I took a number of photos, but unfortunately left the camera USB cable in my checked-in bag, so you'll just have to imagine.

We thrust a number of drinks down our throats and I tried to charm JiYeon with my utterly useless grasp of Korean, which after years of non-use has crumbled into total rubbishness. Fortunately JiYeon was a lightweight and was drunk easily, so seemed to think my babbling idiocy was acceptable. We stood in a very long queue for a club for some time, watching a group of Spanish get enraged with a group of ghastly, tacky blondes and their stripey-shirted beaus, before finally managing to get into the club - £20! - and realise we were surrounded by hordes of ghastly, tacky blondes and their stripey-shirted beaus. When I say the word "awful", I want you to ponder it a while. A-w-f-u-l. In fact, the club - Pacha was its name - had a few virtues, such as being a pretty nice venue and... hmm, one virtue anyway, but was let down by the rampacked masses, the insanely expensive drinks (£5 for a bottled beer) and the muscular but expressionless thump of workmanlike bore-techno. The clientele were of a low class, and if the doors had been bolted and a fire turned the venue into a collapsed mess of charcoal bodies, I honestly feel the newspapers could accurately headline the story "No Great Loss".

Still, I did a little boogie with my three pretty ladyfriends and was glad they were too polite or drunk to critique my style, and we didn't hang about in this club-of-dead-souls too long, though it was still about 1am when we left. We then went on a wild goose chase for some distant, mythical club before realising that in the battle between tiredness vs desire to dance, tiredness was the victor, and I was relieved to get some sleep.

Thus catches me up till now, as today has simply been a nice lazy day at JuHyeon's, eating more Korean food, and enjoying the sunshine. In about half a day, I'll be in Korea, but only for a few hours (on the return leg I'm taking a couple of days there), and in about 24 hours I'll arriving in Sydney, and meeting Handsome Matt. He has chucked out his flatmate and broken up with his girlfriend especially for the occasion. Well done, Matt.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Clarity In Dingwall

Well, last week, as anyone who has approached my company will well know, I had laser surgery to my eyes. Obviously having major surgery to a vital organ is a traumatising experience for even the burliest of men and so I was laid low for over two hours following the five-minute operation, but I can happily report that I have recovered and am in full and magnificent health. Plus, my eyesight is now sharp and clear, and I am seeing the world in a clarity not experienced for over half my life. I have spent the last week making numerous wisecracks about my new eyes (laser beams, zoom-ins, one eye blinded, Superman II, that guy from X-Men) so I will spare the reader having to smile patiently and will skip these jokes, which I imagine have been made by everyone who has ever had laser surgery.

To celebrate my astonishing vision I have spent the last week visiting loved ones, to see their faces clearly for the first time in a decade-and-a-half without artifical aid. This took the form of an extended trip back home to Dingwall, where all kinds of changes and upheavals are taking place. Mainly this is my mother, going wild in her advancing years by quitting her job, selling her house, buying a new house, and forcing her poor manfriend to completely rebuild the new house, seemingly from scratch. Poor manfriend.

In fact, as my ever-young mother claims, the manfriend has been the main instigator of the start-from-scratch attack on her new home. With his five lovely but boisterous Labradors, who spend their time jumping gleefully and crapping on the lawn, he has ripped out absolutely everything from the new house, leaving it a shell, and my mother in a perpetual state of panic. The new house is a charming little house just next to a railway crossing in Dingwall, and historically was inhabited by a railwayman who, four times a day, would manually close the gates by the track to allow the train to pass. More recently it was inhabited by an old and (according to my brother - "Staff Nurse Christie" - who witnessed her in the old folks' hospital) extremely irascible lady, who finally died after a long and ill-tempered life. Her legacy was a house of leaks and breaks and grotesque decor: "rip it out" was the only option. The manfriend has also elected to build a garage, from scratch, in the garden.

So a fair amount of my time back in Dingwall was spent labouring in this new house, and tackling rowdy dogs. I ripped out all the skirting boards, pulled up and moved a hell of a lot of paving slabs, and dug three ditches for the garage foundations. Digging ditches, I have discovered, is not altogether easy, and I don't recommend it as a gentle pastime. Instead, you may prefer my mother's dainty tasks: choose bathroom suites, find nice taps, and worry about stuff. And cook me food, of course.

All this manly labour filled much of my time - last Wednesday to the Monday just passed - but I managed to successfully find time each evening to get quite drunk. The Wednesday was the pub quiz in Dingwall's favourite pub, the Mallard. With my sister(unemployed) and her friend (between employment), we sunk some hefty pints and entered the pub quiz, team name "Morag Is Still Unemployed". My hopes weren't high, to be honest, as girls, despite their many qualities, don't usually seem to be too handy at pub quizzes, but to our astonishment we won the whole thing - £60, not bad at all. It was a good effort by all, but in fairness the marking system, which involved swapping papers with the neighbouring team, helped us somewhat as our neighbouring team were really, really drunk and generous (having two girls in the team paid off after all). And our opponents were just drunk Dingwall locals and "youths".

The following evening was a barbecue at my uncle's, which I expected to be drunken but was only tipsy, perhaps because a day of labour had fatigued me. Or perhaps because I ate far, far too much.

On Friday, I visited Inverness and met up with Varwell and his fiancee Nicole, with Green joining us a little later. Varwell is getting married in November, and rather wildly has chosen myself, Green and Kitchen Mark as co-best men, which in addition to us having to remember to important stuff, also means we have to arrange Varwell's stag night. Because Varwell sometimes scours these pages looking for mentions of his name I won't reveal to you the stag night we are preparing for this good Christian boy, but I wil just drop a few subtle hints: Europe, party hats, multi-entry Bertha, arrest, trauma, slideshow for best man speech.

I took a break from ditch-digging on Saturday, to climb a hill in tribute to an old friend, alongside Green and another from back-in-the-day, Martin. I went woefully unprepared, with just a pair of shoes and a jacket (and other clothes, obviously), but it was still the fully-prepared and booted Green who got stuck up to his knees in mud and needed to be helped out. Apart from a half hour spell when a cloud descended and soaked everything, the weather was pretty clear, and afforded us great views from the top, of which photos can never possibly do justice to the magnificent panorama, but Green took a few which came close. I would attach them here, but I just can't be bothered.

I had been invited to my aunt's new and large country house that evening, for a debut dinner, with her own manfriend (manfriends are very in vogue), my mother, their neighbour and another chap with a book just out and published by my aunt's manfriend. This was very enjoyable, and loads of wine and whisky seemed to disappear, as tales and opinions were belted out, and I pretended to be frightfully intellectual, which is quite easy when everyone has had bottles of wine and whisky.

Ok, I'm getting bored now, I've been sitting here for about an hour writing this stuff. I'm off to Australia on holiday in a couple of days, to see the legendary and mythical Handsome Matt (photos will be posted, I promise) and then for a couple of days in Korea to see some pretty girls (and see if they've aged well in the four years since I last them).

Thursday, 6 August 2009


I have laser eyes!