Tuesday 22nd January – Hello England!

We are back! On time and without any delays from the snow. We landed on time at Heathrow – 6.20am – with only a short time in transit at Singapore after 7 hour flight from Sydney. Then another 14 hours to London – it was definitely worth paying extra for an exit row seat for me (and Chris in the row immediately behind to allow another long legged person to have access to the seat next to me). We were met by our taxi from Walden Cars and were back at Chris’s dad’s house by 9am. That isn’t bad – just over two and a half hours after landing.

Whilst the difference in temperature is pretty stark, we are glad to be back home. The snow is now starting to disappear, so we have missed the pretty part and left with the slushy mucky bit. Our car started first time but is now due for an MOT and a new tax disc. So we start the long process of reintegrating ourselves to UK society and work out where we packed our winter clothes.

It has been an amazing journey and it has been a wonderful opportunity to spend extended time with Jo, Hamish and all the family and friends we have seen along the way. We now start looking for a house to buy in the UK and working out what sort of work we will be doing this year. Over the next week or so we will be posting our reflections on the trip and some extra images & statistics which will summarise our experiences in a variety of ways. In the meantime, I must get throw a snowball at Chris before it all disappears!

And this is my 100th blog posting – I am exhausted and completely out of words!

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Monday 21st January – Goodbye Sydney

This will be my last blog posting in Australia; my next one will be from the UK where we arrive on Tuesday morning. I am sitting in a coffee shop in Oatley at 7am to update this blog ahead of getting started on the challenging job of packing all our stuff into two suitcases and two carry-on bags. It is quite quiet here and just warming up nicely; I think we can expect a warm and sunny day. However, I have just checked the weather in London and the flight details. It would seem there has been snow in the UK with more snow expected in the south east, flights out of Heathrow have been cancelled over the last few days, and flights into Heathrow have been delayed. It looks as if we might be delayed about three hours. Not looking forward to the journey.

So after packing we are going to take Frances out to lunch in Oatley to say a very big thank you for her generous hospitality over the last week. It has been wonderful being able to stay in one place for a week and not have to pack our suitcases and move on every other day. Thank you Frances. We need to check in on time at Sydney airport for our flight at 5.30pm even if we are delayed for a few hours in Singapore. So we will leave Oatley around 2pm and hopefully find our way to the airport without the benefit of a satnav.

So goodbye Sydney; farewell Australia and New Zealand. It has been a wonderful adventure. Over the next week I plan to post some reflections on the time we have spent away and what we are thinking of doing next. So, dear reader, don’t go away just yet……!

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Sunday 20th January – Last visit to Ashbury and Almost a Cricket Match

So, our penultimate day in Australia and we had planned to spend it with Jo and Hamish. After a swim in the pool at Oatley (not the same when the sun isn’t out and it’s only 23 degrees outside!) we drove over to Ashbury. We had a lovely prawn and cheese lunch with Keyna and Tully discussing the messages from the film the previous evening.

And then we went our separate ways. As a result of submitting a photo of the wedding cricket match to a Radio 702 Backyard Cricket competition, Hamish and Jo had won a number of tickets to the One Day International cricket match series (Australia v Sri Lanka). So as Hamish took me along today. We missed the start due to our leisurely lunch but Australia’s batting only became inspiring at the tail end which resulted in a total of 223 (not so bad). After the ghastly interval entertainment (a rap band from the UK) Sri Lanka started to bat but after four overs the rain came down. We made a quick exit as we didn’t expect the rain to let up and in hindsight we made a good decision.

Chris and Jo took a somewhat different route! They went to Newtown to see if they could buy some shoes for Jo but sadly were unsuccessful. To make up for this, they went for a drink in a local hostelry where friends gathered before the evening service at St Stephen’s. We all met back in Ashbury around 9pm for a bite to eat before Chris and I returned to Oatley without the use of the satnav (as we had returned it to its rightful owners).

This was the last time we would see Jo and Hamish as we return to the UK tomorrow.  It has been wonderful being able to see them over the last three months and this will have to make do until we see them on Skype and when they hopefully come over to the UK in July. A few tears were shed as we drove away but we appreciate how fortunate we have been  to be able to take this time out to visit them.

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Saturday 19th January – Visit to Balmain and Almost an Outdoor Movie

After the record temperatures of yesterday, we expected something different – and we got it: rain. Well not that much rain but just enough…! It didn’t stop us having a light lunch and then journeying over to Jo and Hamish’s for the day. The parents of their housemate Tully live near the harbour in Balmain. Alan and Viv have lived there for a long time and gave us a short guided tour of the area including walking to a small park which overlooked part of the harbour where a huge cruise liner was just doing a three point turn to prepare to leave on the next stage of their voyage: an amazing sight with the city in the background.

Alan then took us to see an exhibition which forms part of the Sydney Festival. It is called “Waste Not” and was showing at the Carriageworks (an old railway sidings and workshops where small art exhibits are housed and performances are put on). This particular piece was by a Chinese artist called Song Dong whose mother had been collecting stuff over five decades. After his father died this helped her grieving process but it filled their house completely. The son then proposed to his mother that they take her stuff around the world to show at exhibitions. Interesting to reflect on just how much we hoard ourselves.

The final call of the day was at the North Sydney Oval Cricket Ground where we were expecting to see an outdoor movie on a blow-up screen. We drove and walked with our picnic and blankets only to find that the organisers had failed to update their website or send emails to people who had bought tickets to tell them that the forecast was rain and the film was cancelled. Still we weren’t the only ones who didn’t know and we had a little gathering outside the ground to express our displeasure at such time wasted. Still we returned to Ashbury and had an indoor picnic along with one of Tully’s movies.

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Friday 18th January – A Record Breaker

I have been in 40 degrees in South Sudan but never in Australia. Apparently today the temperature soared to 45.8 degrees which is the highest ever recorded! We were lucky as we had the pool and the IGA supermarket to escape to for respite. I felt sorry for all those commuters who had to put up with lots of sweaty bodies in trains without air-conditioning.

I made it to Gloria Jean’s to borrow their wifi in exchange for a cup of coffee but after that I had to return to base and take it easy for the rest of the day. We took Frances to meet Jo and Hamish in the evening to go for a Lebanese meal and then onto a production of Peter Pan in Surry Hills at the Belvoir Street Theatre. A very entertaining evening which appealed to adults as well as children and some very clever use of the stage and props. When we came out it had been blowing a gale and there was lots of bits of trees strewn all over the street. Quite a change from the heat of the day.

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Thursday 17th January – Souvenir Shopping and Flamenco Music

Another quiet day helping Frances with her computer, getting rid of some ants and sweeping up in her garden. As there is no wifi at the house in Oatley I journey to Gloria Jean’s coffee shop in the village to upload this blog and marvel at the diversity of ages (but not colour!) in the community.

After a pea and lettuce soup lunch, Chris and I travelled back to Circular Quay to buy a few souvenir presents for people back home and meet up with Jo after work. We walked up the Rocks to the Lord Nelson Hotel which brews its own beer – very nice too. So after a couple of glasses and a bowl of chunky chips (very healthy!) we met with Hamish at the Spanish Club near Town Hall. Jo and Hamish’s housemate, Keyna, plays the flute in a flamenco band every Thursday night. Tully and is parents were there too and we had a great evening eating tapas and listening to some wonderful music – what a talented lot her band are. They are called Pena Flamenca Sydney and can be found on Facebook.

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Wednesday 16th January – Royal National Park

The week has been hotting up as Sydney starts to experience another bout of blistering temperatures. Just after their wedding, Jo and Hamish took some of their friends to the Royal National Park which is an hour south of Sydney. They had recommended the walks along the jagged coast, so we thought we would follow in their footsteps. As it was likely to be too hot to walk in the afternoon we set out in the morning and were not particularly hampered by the traffic. We stopped at the car park at W???? where a creek has formed a lagoon next to the beach. We managed about a kilometre walk before it became too hot and we returned to the lagoon for a swim and sandwiches. The area was getting even busier as we left: admittedly it is the summer holidays but it was going to be extremely hot for the next few hours on that beach.

A couple of hours by the pool at Oatley solved the problem of what to do in the heat and I managed to make some headway in the couple of books I want to finish before I leave. In the evening I took a train across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Chatswood where I met Ian Edwards (Malcolm’s younger brother ) who I used to play soccer with in South Africa. He drove us to Mossman Bay where we had fish and chips (and a couple of beers) at the Rowers Club overlooking the boats and ferry terminal and watched over by some very expensive apartments. Ian moved to Australia just after Malcolm in the 1990s and is well established in Sydney along with several other renegades who I knew in Joburg in the mid 1980s.

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Tuesday 15th January – A Day Out in Sydney

We planned a full day today to make the most of the last few days we will be in Sydney. It is a vibrant city and there are many places we haven’t been. So we set off with Frances for a mini-adventure which revolved around the waterfront at Circular Quay (Sydney Cove) where the ferries depart.

First stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art which has been redeveloped in recent years. There were several pieces that I just didn’t understand but some very colourful displays and moving personal portraits. The most disturbing (and art is good at doing that!) was a collection of pieces using all types of media called “Taboo”. The popular subject was Australia’s approach to the aborigines and their own cultural issues; there seemed to a preponderance of pictures and cartoons of golliwogs.

We stopped for lunch in a German restaurant in the Rocks near the harbour: wonderful comfort food and lively beer. We took a long walk (!) around the harbour to the Sydney Opera House where we went on an hour-long tour of the building and the performance areas (no photography allowed due to privacy and copyright issues). It was fascinating to hear the chequered history of the building which went many millions of dollars over budget and well beyond the three year timescale originally set for construction. The technical engineering challenges associated with the construction were eventually overcome so that 4 out of 6 billion people in the world recognise the iconic building.

Next we went to the Dendy Cinema to see ‘Hitchcock’ with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren – a great insight into the relationship of the director and his wife and the making of ‘Psycho’. We ended the day with a cocktail at the summer bar at the Opera House overlooking the coming and goings in the harbour watching the sun go down over the massive cruise liner parked there.

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Monday 14th January – Getting Settled in Oatley

This week is the start of a long-term process of consolidating our belongings. From two plastic bags on the Hawkesbury River we will eventually take all our belongings out of storage and the many other places that we have left our stuff in the UK and put them in a house that we will buy at some point after our return to the UK. At Oatley we successfully reunited our suitcases and bags with each other and marvelled at how few of the clothes that we had brought to Australia in October last year we had actually worn. Still we had to cater for all kinds of weather, even though it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Having settled into Oatley, for the coming week, Frances took us out in the afternoon to visit the nearby Oatley Park. We had a pleasant walk around the coastline which is popular with local people seeking some fresh air and bush walking on a small scale. We could have gone swimming off the beach if we had brought our swimmers.

The evening we returned to Balmain to have supper with Malcolm and Lindsay who I know from South Africa and from whom we sought advice about our travels around Australia. We went to a lively Vietnamese restaurant which gave us an idea for a future trip to this neck of the woods. It was good to recount some of our stories to them particularly as Malcolm has been following our travels via this blog and Facebook. We also caught up with news about friends and surprising mutual connections – that’s what FB does for you.

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Sunday 13th January – The Adventure Continues

I had another early start as dawn arrived. The fish were jumping out of the water catching flies and the birds were singing their early morning songs: a great opportunity to sit and soak in the wonder of God’s world at the start of the day. Somehow, I found I couldn’t sleep in as I had been allocated a sleeping spot on the floor just outside the toilet (bit smelly most of the time). So there didn’t seem much point lying in the way of the rest of the crew as they made their morning ablutions!

Before returning the craft to its mooring by the ferry, we thought we would journey a short distance further up the Colo River to see where Hamish and Jo had gone the day before. Sadly, it was not to be. The engine conked out completely – and it was not to do with stray branches that populated the river at various times. The only option was to call the boatyard for assistance. Sadly there was no mobile phone signal and so Hamish and Jo took the dinghy down river to find a phone leaving me and Chris to wonder whether we would get home before dark. Help arrived after an hour or so in the form of a mechanic who spent the next hour repairing the outboard motor.

When we arrived back to the boatyard, the lady in charge suggested that it was our fault that the engine had failed, but after some assertive statements from Jo, she relented and said that she would give us a special price when we hired from them the next time.

The car was packed full again and back to Sydney we went. We had had lovely weather up to that point, even though the first day was a little too hot. Yet it had to break at some point; and didn’t it do just that in great style. For most of the drive back to Sydney we were in a massive thunderstorm with so much rain that rivers started to flow down the road. We made it back in time to unload and go off to the 7pm service at St Stephen’s; it was really nice to be welcomed back again after the wedding. After dropping Jo off home we journeyed onto Oatley where we will be staying with Hamish’s aunt, Frances, before we return to the UK in just over a week.


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