Well, escaping Singapore after a great time in Asia (on the whole), it was time to head for the relative calm of Australia. Starting in Sydney with a nice unpacking session with some dour Customs types. I'd admitted I had some shells from various countries; the regulations are strict on bringing in anything organic, and the fines are huge if items are not declared. The chap didn't seem too impressed with these, and decided to have a look at my dirty Calvin Kleins along with the rest of my belongings. He wasn't the first to nonchalantly cast them aside. The staff of Ko Samui International Hospital beat him to that privilege. "Diver, are you?" he quizzed, while pulling my mask and regulator octopus out of the bag. I resisted the almost overpowering urge to compliment him on his Sherlock Holmes-like qualities, and suggest a career change...but I limited my response to a simple Yes. My brother had been through Aussie Customs once, and got a full strip-search. If they didn't like the look of him (and he's better-looking than me), I wasn't going to tempt Fate. Only had a finger up my bum once, and didn't really like it that time to be honest.
Australia's greatest living detective out of the way, I made my way to the train. Museum stop was next, south of St James's Park in the city. My old mate Bruce lives here; I worked with him in London; lunchtime boozing and afternoons staring at a monitor and not getting much done. So I was expecting more of the same behaviour. Without the work element.
Bruce's flat is amazing. A penthouse on Goulbourn with a huge L-shaped roof terrace (on which he was to have a party I'd be missing) and officially the best shower in the world. Well it certainly felt like it after 3 months of cold or inefficient ones (sometimes both). Suitably refreshed, we headed out to the nearest decent pub. Fish and chips and a few pints in a nicely-designed boozer round the corner. Sorted.
Sydney's OK. I don't think I could live there, though. Didn't really inspire me on a cultural or architectural level. I was only there for 4 days, though...so it'll get a second chance on the way back through. The Opera House left me cold...looks better on TV. I still love the honeycomb surfaces of its sail-shaped roof, but the concrete looks dirty and tired. The rest of that side of the harbour doesn't hold anything of interest. The bridge is impressive, though; looked particularly good at New Year when we went down for the fireworks. And the harbour bar would be nice on a hot day. Aside from that, the city doesn't have too many modern buildings to catch the eye.
Paddington is by far the best place to go for a drink, and it's a little bit more stylish than the rest of it; a few good shops and boutiques. The houses are very pretty, and there were a fair few decent pubs. Like I say, the jury's out...we'll see in May. I expect more of Melbourne, as the best of the Aussies I met in London gravitated from there.
The beaches are lovely, though. So if you can make do with a lack of anything to stimulate the culture nerves and like the outdoor lifestyle, you'd like it here. Bronte Beach was the best of the ones I saw, and myself and The Jock had a great afternoon being battered by big waves crashing in. And the view on the sand isn't bad, either. Sexier bodies than you see down in Brighton, in the main.
A mate of Jocky's told me about a taxi driver who'd quizzed him when he arrived in Sydney. Where are you from? Where are you going? Who with? On informing him that he'd arrived with his girlfriend, the driver told him "Awwww, mate! That's like taking a hamburger to a barbecue..."