The city and her foibles

The city always looks a little different to me whenever we’ve enjoyed a few weeks apart. In the little while I’ve been back in Sydney after 14 heavenly days of rest and relaxation in the country, I’ve realised the city’s occasionally rude and impatient foibles have become less noticeable. Better yet, they’re far less irritating.

How, you ask?

  • When I wake up in the morning to the sunlight scalding my eyes it’s as if Julie Andrews, and not ACDC, is singing a delightful melody about what pleasures the day will bring.
  • I’m happy to wait patiently at the bus stop for a chariot that takes my fancy, rather than hastily scampering onto the first one that comes along.
  • In fact, I even smile at fellow commuters as they jump the queue in front of me.
  • I’m also rediscovering the simple pleasure of exchanging morning pleasantries about the weather with my bus driver.
  • I don’t care to play Russian roulette with traffic at pedestrian crossings anymore.
  • Instead, I’m unable to stop myself from adopting an almost whimsical expression at traffic lights as I wait calmly to cross the road when the little green man tells me to.

Yes, I think it’s true. Absence can make the heart grow fonder. At least for a little while.

The wireless and its crackle

I’m quite proud of the fact that none of the gifts I was blessed to receive this Christmas could be classified as an iFad of “must have” 2.0 gadgetry. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Instead, I received many happy reminders of how lovely it is to take pleasure in the simple things.

First there’s the cackling wireless, or radio, I received, complete with manual tuner and valves that need a few minutes to warm up before they’ll speak the gospel of AM radio. Yes, only AM radio. Even better, the number of stations available to you varies greatly depending on whether you use your body as a human conductor for the aerial.

There’s something so totally enjoyable about having a wireless humming away in the background bringing news from far off places. What makes it better still is the satisfaction of going fishing in the sound waves for the blue marlin of AM radio – the BBC World Service. I haven’t found it yet, but I remain ever hopeful that it’s out there.

Complementing my cackling wireless is the stationery I received to write hand-written notes to friends and family. The beautiful set of notecards offer just enough space to let someone special know you’re thinking about them; a sentiment we seem to discard far too casually these days.

Personally, I think there’s nothing sweeter than receiving a letter in the mail from someone you love who took the time to put pen to paper, just because. It’s something I’m going to take great pleasure in doing as I’m listening to my wireless.

The fidget and her food

Sunset over AustraliaI sat next to a very fidgety lady on the plane home from Perth recently. She had that impatient air about her that left me convinced she’d climb out on the wing and flap her arms if she thought it would help us reach our destination sooner.

As someone who loves travelling and, more specifically, air travel, I found her behaviour just a little odd. But there was one thing she did that I found odd for all the wrong reasons.

Not long after take-off my neighbour was lucky enough to have a special meal delivered straight to her seat. As an avid fan of in-flight dining, I looked on in frustration, and envy, at her bounty. Particularly as the food trolly delivering my meal was quite a way off.

In the 10 minutes that passed between her meal being delivered by VIP courier and mine arriving battered and bruised by snail mail, she did not touch her meal once. She didn’t so much as lift the lid on her meal for a sneak peek. It was the only time during the flight that she sat patiently watching the world fly past our window.

It wasn’t until after my meal was delivered and I’d started devouring it like a cave man that I realised what she was up to. She’d been considerately waiting for me to receive my meal before even contemplating touching hers.

Manners like that are few and far between these days. I found it so refreshing that when her elbow slowly started staking a claim on our shared armrest a little while later, I was more than happy to surrender.

The journey and the destination

There’s a well-worn path between Sydney and Orange that my car could probably drive blindfolded. And dotted along the familiar escape route from the city are hundreds of landmarks that regularly cajole me to stop chasing the destination and instead enjoy the journey.

Last weekend I did just that. My partner in adventure, Matt and I interrupted our return journey to Sydney and took time to survey the wide expanse of the Blue Mountains from the Pierces Pass lookout on the Bells Line of Road.

It took us just 20 minutes to reach the lookout, but it felt like we’d walked to the edge of world. The contrast from the bitumen track we’d left only a kilometre behind us was magical. Everywhere you looked, nature was happily enjoying its own company and creating moments of beauty just for fun with a simple shift of the sun, or a whispering breeze. 

In the distance we could still hear the odd car hurtling toward its destination, but in front of us lay a big ol’ view that could take days to drink in. It only took a second to realise how much time we’d wasted in getting from A to B.

The good, the bad and the lunchtime stand-off

Have you ever wondered what would happen if, in the middle of a gruesome movie murder scene, a soundtrack more akin to the music from Driving Miss Daisy started playing? Your emotions wouldn’t know whether to be terrified at what’s hiding in the closet or happily glancing over your shoulder down the memory lane of many pleasant drives in the countryside.

Yesterday, while I was out getting my lunch amongst the other corporate drones focused on nothing but getting from A to B, that very thing happened to me.

I was standing at traffic lights in Sydney’s CBD, absentmindedly critiquing the shades of grey everyone was wearing as I waited for my cue to cross the road, when a strange, but familiar, beat started weaving its way through the crowd toward me.

It was the theme song from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Imagine it, standing there, armed with nothing but a BlackBerry, and all of a sudden, the street’s overwhelmed with music that compels me to dive into the nearest tavern and peek through the shutters at the pistol fight unfolding outside.

Thankfully, there was no need to duck for cover. Instead of the gun-toting outlaw I was expecting to come strutting out of the mob of people, it was a man on an electric scooter wearing a storm trooper helmut with his boom box strapped to the back.

I could’ve sworn from his determined expression, that news of Blondie’s (Clint Eastwood’s character in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) return to town had reached him, and he wasn’t happy. In the short time I spent watching him at the traffic lights he stalked the pavement, keeping an eye on the horizon – like all good gunslingers do, I guess – totally absorbed in the moment.

I guess music’ll do that to you.

The feast and the entertainment

I’m not a massive fan of the dinner show concept. Where, halfway through your feast, you’re left wondering if it’s impolite to continue eating while someone shimmies their hips around your table or hammers away at an out of tune piano.

Aside from a few very select forms of mid-meal amusement – such as the wedding speech, which is a delightful banquet ritual that should never be touched, except by a few preparatory visits to Toastmasters occasionally – I just don’t see the value in it. It doesn’t make the food taste better, or the wine sweeter. The only thing it does succeed in doing is putting the kibosh on the long-overdue catch-up you’d planned with your mates.

Last night I discovered another form of entertainment to add to my small list of acceptable dining amusements – the intriguing dinner host.

It was at an amazing Persian restaurant I went to with a group of girlfriends. It’s a modest nook of Persian delicacies with a small rug pinned on one wall, an ornate gilded mirror on the other and what looks like a Tourism Persia campaign playing on a loop on the TV in the corner.

Sitting casually at a table beneath the TV as we walked in was a lady who instantly stood out. Actually, it was her ensemble that stood out the most – a beige leopard-print fedora, wispy blue leopard print dress, studded beige leather jacket and towering high heels. Very few people in the world could make it work, but somehow she did.

As we entered, she turned around, blessed us all with a beautiful smile and encouragingly invited us to enter with her eyes before turning back to her dinner companion.

A little odd, I thought, that a fellow dinner guest would make such an effort, but, hey, when in Persia…

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before she revealed her true identity as the matriarch of the feast. While an older man, who looked to be her husband, worked away at the grill and a younger man tended politely to customers, she slowly made her way around each table, offering complimentary Persian Delight and pausing to chat as long as her customers would allow it.

There was no need to hurriedly drop your cutlery for a mid-performance applause, or become unexpectedly intrigued by the type of rice the chef used in a bid to avoid eye-contact with a comedian looking for their next victim of humiliation.

The most taxing part of this showdine was offering a well-deserved compliment to a most gracious host.

The wanderer in rush hour

In the city yesterday, buried amongst the freshly ironed shirts and hastily combed damp hairdo’s rushing to work, stood a man.

He couldn’t have been more obvious if he was riding through the CBD on a horse whilst dressed in a chicken suit. He moved at a glacial pace compared to the crowd around him, who was bouncing in every direction like pinballs.  In fact, when he reached the edge of the curb his dawdle became a standstill and his expression suggested he’d just realised the buses everyone was casually dodging could quite easily squash him. So he stopped and tried to suppress his confusion by taking in his surroundings.

I don’t think it took him long to spot what was out of the ordinary; his dishevelled hair, his rumpled shirt, his denim jeans – on a Thursday. He was in the city, on a weekday, with a hangover.

Worse still, all available escape routes were blocked by the determined march of people charging through town like ants to a picnic. They weren’t about to give way to him and they certainly weren’t going tolerate the time penalties he was incurring by his aimless wandering.

As I sat on the bus watching the man’s confusion intensify across the street, I couldn’t help but smile. The guy looked like he’d picked time to be on his team. It might’ve been because any sudden movements caused a bell to toll loudly in his head, but who cares what your motivation is if it makes you slow down and take in your surroundings. He wasn’t rushing anywhere and nothing and no one could make him go any faster.

I lost him in the crowd the second I got off the bus; the second I joined the pinballs bouncing around in a rush to get somewhere.

The commuter and his whiskers

Everyone likes to wake up feeling fresh and full of excitement about what the day could bring.

Unfortunately, the reality of life is that many of us roll out of bed feeling as rumpled as the shirt we should have ironed last night, but didn’t. The same rumpled shirt that leaps onto the dawning day’s roster of tasks, ahead of the relaxed breakfast you’d planned enjoying the harbour views and early morning sunshine from your balcony. 

What I love about these chaotic early morning regimes, that leave calm and peacefulness meditating quietly in your wake, is the ingenious lengths people go to to complete their checklist of ablutions.  

At my bus stop this morning I saw a man shaving; happily ensconced in his thoughts and completely oblivious to the shards of five o’clock shadow he was spraying all over neighbouring commuters. He’d picked a classic tool of the trade – the rotary shaver from what I could tell – and it was making short work of the task at hand. Much to his delight, it seemed.

Sadly, on this occasion, it was a Gillette moment most people would happily avoid, but, for me, brilliant in its simplicity.

The sleepy holiday village and her glad rags

Byron Bay, NSW, AustraliaEnvy is a happy companion of mine on holiday. Waitresses in restaurants, shopkeepers selling postcards, receptionists telling you the same thing they told the previous guest; “yes, we are lucky with the weather here”. They’re not working, they’re just passing time on their eternal holiday.

Byron Bay is one of those towns that leaves you wondering what happy misfortune you need to experience to be sentenced to life here.

The cool, azure water is blessed with such transparent honesty it seems impolite to refuse her invitation to refresh your senses. And the lush, rolling hills surrounding the coast give you a sense that she wants you to enjoy the experience from every possible angle.

Yet, amongst this relaxed spirit, there’s a cheekiness that just doesn’t quite agree with her happy disposition, like a little black dress hiding in a closet full of yoga pants.

It comes out to play on weekends, destroying the peaceful atmosphere that’s worked hard to calm the many frayed suburban nerves seeking solace from the city.

Byron Bay

As the sun begins to wane on a Friday afternoon a flood of noise begins to seep into town; buskers crowd every corner and visitors unpack the chaotic and boisterous lives they’d shoved into their suitcases alongside their Ray Ban sunglasses and Element boardshorts.

For those of us here before the outbreak, there’s a sense that Byron would rather be at home in her yoga pants than accommodating carelessly discarded beer bottles and food wrappers all over the beach.

Never-the-less, she offers her hospitality gracefully and the locals manage to hide their winces behind well maintained smiles.

The cowboy and the bench

In a small coastal town, in northern NSW, that long ago surrendered its identity to a parade of homeware and genuine antique stores catering to the tidal flow of tourists escaping sand and sunscreen, a cowboy sat on a bench.

He wore a silver suit with a dagger of red hanging around his neck that clashed politely with purple socks. On his feet, two-tone shoes hailed back to a time when Al Capone patrolled the silver screen. Finishing off the outfit was a white cowboy hat from a distant prairie and silver mirrored sunglasses that perfectly accented his shoulder-length hair.

His handle-bar mustache dripped low, beyond his chin, and his white sleeve cuffs were crisp and standing to attention while a kaleidoscope of jewels glittered on every finger.

No one had noticed, but he hadn’t moved for almost 30 minutes. Even the wind dared not disturb a brittle whisker. His feet were anchored to the pavement and his hands rested calmly on his knees; his right hand poised to take up the pen he’d been furiously scribbling with before he fell into his silent contemplation.

The cowboy showed a commitment to posture and silence, grooming and fashionable flair, that left a smile bubbling on my lips all afternoon.