Sydney

I’ve been thinking. There’s this place.

A great person once said, “The best writers read”.

This great person, a brilliant writer, praised as “the next Shakespeare” by her lecturer at Warwick University (not far from where Shakey himself sprouted), told me that if anyone ever wants to write like the best of ‘em, they must read and read and never stop reading.

This great person was, and still is, my mum. Wise words indeed from the old broad, imparted via Skype some 10 months ago after I’d emailed a chapter of a book I was, back then, somewhat obsessed with writing. It was a book about Sydney, about my time here, the people I’ve met, know and love and the places I’ve been (sound familiar?)

She convinced me, in a fabulously subtle way, that perhaps what with my job, my other responsibilities and my, should we say, inexperience, now was not the best time to write a book. She did this by suggesting I read Hemmingway.

“One of my favourites”, she gushed; assuring me that if I wanted an example of real style, I should start with him.

Having ashamedly forgone reading anything resembling a novel since my slog studying English literature at university, and finding it genuinely impossible to disagree with her logic (this time), the moment we hugged screens goodbye I dragged my work into a folder aptly named “For Ron” (an Aussie idiom meaning, “later on”, by the way), clicked over to Google and purchased the very first Hemmingway I saw.

For Whom the Bells Toll arrived weeks later and, forcing myself out of my literary coma, I set about to devour its pages with a passion born from an eagerness to imbibe my mind with the secrets of one of the finest writers to have ever graced the shelves of physical and electronic bookshops the world over.

Then Sydney got in the way.

Sunset and crescent moon over North Bondi

Sunset and crescent moon over North Bondi

My fabulous chum Lisa Omagari

My fabulous chum Lisa Omagari

Ahh, the Monday morning pirate

Ahh, the Monday morning pirate

Another sunset, this time over Darling Harbour

Another sunset, this time over Darling Harbour

Needless to say, there it sits on my bedside table, barely-read and buried under The Great Gatsby, Timothy Conigrave’s Holding the Man, Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and a copy of Mo Hayder’s book, Birdman, that I found at Martin Place train station and tried and failed to reunite with its owner. All on my to-read pile, all harbouring a book mark or dog ear at different junctures and all staring at me, wondering, “why, Jack? Why have you forgotten us?”

Well the problem is that pesky thing called time, blown in only one humanly foreseeable direction from its not so humble beginnings at the Big Bang, has a tendency to run away from us. The last time I wrote in here, for example, was before Mardi Gras!

God what a glittering shower of amazingness that spiraling rainbow of pride, acceptance and equality was, but fuck me dead it takes it out of you. And I’m not even talking about the partying.

The fireworks and lights at Harbour Party this year

The fireworks and lights at Harbour Party this year

I was one of the fools that decided to help organise the building of one of the floats, the fundraising to buy said building materials, the interaction with the volunteers, the choreography practices, the organising of the choreography practices, etcetera, etcetera. And that’s all on top of having a nine-to-five, freelance work, desperately trying to stay fit and fitting in a social life.

Please don’t take this as complaining, as I loved every second:

We were romans

We were romans

And we liked to dance

And we liked to dance

It was pretty feckin' awesome. Photo courtesy of  my good friend, John Power

It was pretty feckin’ awesome. Photo courtesy of my good friend, John Power

But when it came to writing about it for Jack Down Under, it got a little overwhelming. Not only was there the parade and the week-long leg cramps from too many lunges in the dance routine, but, if you missed it, there was unfortunately a great deal of fallout between the gays and the police. Let’s just say, like good old Hemmers or my one-day-in-the-future creation, I shelved it for a month or two.

The interesting thing is though, having barely any time to dedicate to this here creative outlet, let alone only just getting our own Internet connection (yes, my long-term-life-partner-lover-cum-boyfriend and I were living in modern day cardinal sin: forget anal, we didn’t even have analogue), I had the luxury of thinking about what I wanted to write. And for some unknown reason my mind kept going back to my mum.

While I did and still do completely agree with her logic, I’m beginning to think that these days, perhaps times have changed? The best writers will read, of course, but Hemmingway never had Twitter and I would bet a pretty penny all those masterpieces might not have come so quickly if his regular daily read was bombarded by hashtag-ridden slurs at celebrities or pictures of Grumpy Cat.

These days, with the technology available to record almost every moment we make, not to mention awesome sites such as WordPress, everyone is or has the potential to be a writer. So with so much to read where do we begin? How do we, forgive the vulgar metaphor, sift through the shit?

To be a truly great writer in the age of the Internet we must find the time to learn from the people we meet and listen to the conversations we have. While reading is of course something never, ever to let go of, we can’t just bury ourselves in pages or screens and hope the words come. We must go out into the world and live.

And if I must be completely honest, I couldn’t be more grateful that I get to do exactly that in Sydney.

Erskineville

There’s This Place

When I first arrived in Sydney I lived in a northern suburb called Turramurra with a guy I met in London called Dean and his elderly mother.

Five days in to my new life, Dean took me to my first ever Australian house party: the joint 21st birthday extravaganza of two of his brother’s four daughters – a pair of fabulous vegan hippies with a love for life and in love with every living thing.

According to Dean, his brother’s family was renowned on their street for these house parties and I was in for a “big one”. So when we rocked up to Xadi and Capri’s “All Around the World Party”, Dean in full traditional Scottish costume complete with kilt and me looking like a rejected French rent boy, let’s just say I wasn’t surprised when the first person I said hello to, dressed as Sergeant Pepper John Lennon, returned my greeting with a smile, a wink and a big fat joint:

Bonjour

Bonjour

Cut to five hours later and we’re in a drumming circle. The entire party’s crammed into one of the bedrooms, I’m on the bass keeping the beat, Xadi and Capri are taking care of the rhythmic back and forth and one or two of the oldies have whipped out the tambourines for a little dance-cum-tribal jig around the congregation. It was unforgettable and entirely unbelievable.

Last night, Josh (my boyfriend) and I went for dinner at a good friend’s house in Erskineville. Pardon my French but I fucking love this place. It’s inner-west, full of lesbians (and gays and straights and families too) and located just one train away from Circular Quay (that’s where the Opera House is, by the way).

There’s something about Erskineville, like my first Australian house party, that, pardon again the choice of language, resonates with me entirely. It’s calm, it’s green, it’s laid-back – my boyfriend and I can walk hand in hand and the happy inhabitants simply smile, or better yet, don’t even bat an eyelid. It’s accepting in Erskineville and it’s welcoming. It’s everything you’d want in a place to live.

Unsurprisingly however, I’m not the only one who seems to think this way. Let me tell you, it ain’t cheap to live there. In fact, just tonight another good friend of mine referred to Ersko (cute, no?) as the “hot” place to be right now.

Even the abandoned buildings stay on trend

Even the abandoned buildings stay on trend

Of course, it also helps when the people in said suburb are some of the most fabulous you can meet – the ones I know at least appreciate good food, great company and even better conversation. To me, those are three of the most important aspects of any relationship in life. In fact, last night’s shenanigans were pretty perfect and this usually seems to be the case whenever I’m this side of the city.

I remember last year in May for Josh’s birthday, we popped round to another friend’s in Erskineville as both Josh and said friend, Megs, celebrate their birth on the same day. Megs is a chef and she was mid preparing a WHOLE lamb when we arrived. Sadly we had plans that evening – I was almost as gutted as the strung up little creature that I couldn’t try it (WARNING VEGETARIANS LOOK AWAY NOW):

Gross I know, but I couldn't help myself

Gross I know, but I’m a carnivore through and through

Oddly enough, the menu last night consisted of lamb. 24-hour marinated lamb rack to be precise with sweet potato mash and broccolini, followed by a mountain of chocolate brownie smothered with double thick cream, ice cream, strawberries and shaved Tim Tam (a very famous and utterly addictive Australian chocolate biscuit).

Le recipe

Le recipe

Kara – one-half homeowner of the house we called home last night and three halfs homo – did the meat, Haylee, the second half homeowner did the veg and Josh and I did the dessert. Everyone else just looked pretty, which wasn’t too hard for little Holly the Staffy and Archie the boxer.

Kara the meat giver and her gays

Kara the meat giver and her gays

Dessert, dogs and the train ride home

Dessert, dogs and the train ride home

Now it’s getting late so I’ve got to round off here, but I know that Erskineville isn’t and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But at a risk of losing some of you to impromptu rhyming, it’s the closest thing I’ve felt to home, half a planet away from my own.

And that can’t be too bad now can it?

Year of the Snake

There’s This Place

When my brother and I were kids, we went to a very multicultural primary school from nursery (kindergarten) to Year 1 called St. Andrews Benn. Not only did the curriculum celebrate Christmas each year, it also celebrated Diwali.

In fact, one of my most vibrant memories from that age was being fascinated by the taste of zarda, aka sweet dessert rice, at an Indian wedding my mum had been invited to by one of the other parents. It was like a delicious rainbow in a bowl and it blew my mind.

Zarda

Photo courtesy of paklinks.com

Just before Year 2, my folks separated (very amicably and sensibly, may I add) and we were moved to a school a few miles away called Crescent School. And while Crescent did have one or two Indian and Chinese students, the classes were predominantly white and the religion was only Christian.

As you may remember, I’m from an entirely atheist family, but that didn’t stop me learning the Lord’s prayer by heart or playing Joseph in the nativity play each year. I even got to be Judas once and kiss Jesus on the cheek. Let’s just say, if I knew what a boner was back then, I probably would have got one.

But, childhood homoeroticism aside, we never really celebrated Chinese New Year. Ever. I learned about the tradition - the story of the 12 animals and their race to win a year in their name – but it was only until I moved to Australia did I really get introduced to this age-old Oriental tradition.

It’s no secret that there’s a big, bustling and buzzing Asian community in Sydney. Just yesterday I was walking back home from Glebe and I came across this sign that could have been plucked straight from the back streets of Bangkok:

Even the girls in the advert look like they have an ice addiction ...

Good $$$ AND no sex? Sign me up

Much more importantly, if you were to take a stroll through or anywhere near Chinatown today, it would be impossible to miss the closing festivities that have been ushering in the New Year over the last two weeks.

This Lunar year, which also happens to be the Chinese zodiac year I was born into, is the year of the snake. And to celebrate, I was lucky enough to be invited to join a bunch of other writer/journo/media types for complimentary drinks, dumplings and entertainment at Uncle Ming’s last Wednesday.

Obvious bias aside, I have been before as a regular client and I thought it was pretty fab. The only downside really is that it’s a little hard to find (hidden under a shirt shop on York Street in the CBD) and I’ve never been the biggest fan of the whole “we’re too cool for proper signage” trend. But then again, for my age I’m an awfully old git sometimes and should probably get with the times a little more.

Once you’ve discovered the entrance however, you’re no longer in the city. It’s like you’ve been transported to a dark, mysterious destination in some exotic Eastern locale with a glistening array of enticing alcoholic goodies winking at you from behind the bar. It’s quite big, authentically designed and decorated and, thank god, still relatively under the radar so not packed full of suit-wearing banker wankers.

The food’s good, i.e. if you’re a dumpling fan you won’t be disappointed, but it’s certainly a drinking hole first. Personally I’d suggest trying the imported Hitachino pale ale if you fancy something a little different, or if you want fruity and strong (who doesn’t?!), their lychee martini goes down a treat. Otherwise get a cocktail in a tea pot, they’re too cute .

The place itself has three owners, all of them youngish guys (one called Andrew, an American guy who likes to wear hats, and the other two I can’t remember their names), and they put on a good show. The place was still open for the public that night and at around 9pm, a traditional drumming troupe appeared and a Dragon dance ensued:

The drummer boys

The drummer boys – love the pants

Roar (apologies for the blur, I only had my phone and was a number of drinks down

Roar (apologies for the crap pics but I only had my phone and was a number of drinks down)

At this point, I found myself stood next to a very pretty and stylish young girl called Annette, who also happened to be the niece of Sydney restaurateur, Miss Chu (I later spoke to Miss Chu herself who turned out to be far nicer and welcoming than her “soup nazi” reputation makes out).

I asked Annette how her night was going and if she enjoyed the dance in front of us, and while she nonchalently proclaimed to be bored (fair enough after seeing said dance in various forms year after year since birth), I could tell she was enjoying it, even if only a teeny tiny bit.

Call me an optimist or just call me drunk, but there was a twinkle in her eye when the dragon bent down and “ate” the cabbage in front of it before proceeding to spit out big chunks at me, much to the predominantly Western audience’s delight.

From my point of view, having never been so close to any kind of dragon dance before, I loved it. In fact, the whole night was a great success and I couldn’t have had a better start to my horoscopic year.

And while I’m still not sure how much I believe in the stories, legends and traditions of any religion or belief system, I couldn’t help but smile when I opened the fortune cookie that came as part of our leaving gifts:

Words of wisdom, eh?

Words of wisdom, no?

I say, regardless of who you are or what you believe in, just remember: like the years, every day is new, so make the most of them and keep a look out for those “pleasant experiences”.

Anyway, must dash, we’re late for my boyfriend’s best friends’ birthday drinks (try saying that three times fast) and he looks like he’s going to kill me soon.

Valentine’s Love

Once in a While

As it’s Valentine’s Day across the world, I’d like to share a little poem I received today from a fellow colleague at work.

It was written on a candygram (like a stripper gram but with more calories), which is a cute little charity fundraiser, now in its second year at my day job.

What you do is buy a pink paper heart for $2, write your own message on it and then the candy fairy delivers them to your chosen person’s desk, attached to a bag of sweets (or lollies as they call them in Oz). All the money, fittingly, goes to The Children’s Heart Foundation.

Sorry, Michaela

The candy fairy … sorry, Michaela

And while I received one from my boss with the same message as everyone else in editorial – “without you I’d have to do more work, therefore I love you” – and a couple of very sweet messages from others, it was this poem that stuck out from the rest and well and truly gave me a taste of true blue Aussie amour:

Poem

Take this as you will

Happy love day everyone!

Tossers

I’ve Been Thinking

Tuesday just gone was Pancake Day and most Sydneysiders I spoke to had no idea what the hell I was banging on about.

Luckily I’m not the only Pom in the office so my crazy babble about some mythical day devoted entirely to pancakes didn’t go completely misunderstood.

Hardly any of them knew that on said holy Tuesday (aka Shrove Tuesday), the day before Lent in the Christian calendar, you gather all of your goods from the larder, feast on them like kings and then give it all up for 40 days (or thereabouts – I’m talking in nutshells here people).

However, I’m from an entirely atheist family so for me it’s always been more of a general treat day rather than a religious hangover in preparation for repentance. I’ll always remember my mum standing over the oven, frying up Saint Delia Smith’s basic recipe and shouting “NEXT” so my brother or I could run in, drench the piping hot cake in fresh lemon juice and bury it under a layer of castor sugar. Heaven.

This is my mum, can you guess her name?

My mum

This year I got down with the frying pan at a fellow Pom’s house. We had a hoot:

Josh came later but missed out on this magical moment

Josh came later but missed out on this magical moment

The best bit about Pancake Day, apart from carte blanche to gorge on fried batter, is that you’re guaranteed a laugh. The recipe is so bloody easy to  make, everyone has to have a go at flipping the pancake at least once (it’s all in the wrist) and you’ll always end up dropping one or fucking one up no matter how many times you’ve done it .

What I particularly love about Pancake Day in Sydney though is that while the Australians I’ve met here may not be completely clued up, I know for a fact my friends and I weren’t the only ones tossing our brains out on Tuesday.

Not only were my Instagram and Facebook feeds full of fellow Sydney-living Brits, cooking up their own batches and reminiscing about home – EVERY Coles and Woolies from the CBD to Elizabeth Bay that night was fresh out of lemons (alas, we had to use processed lemon juice, but it’s ok, we weren’t bitter).

It just goes to show that while some people may think life in this city is bland or boring (some people), there really is a lot more to Sydney than meets the eye. Even if it’s just some silly tradition that’s made its way around the world.

And believe you me, pancakes are just the tip of this scrumptiously fabulous iceberg.

A Fair Weekend

Once in a While

When I was 15, back home in Rugby, England (yes, there’s a place called Rugby, and yes it’s where the game was invented, would you believe?), I met a group of friends that I would now consider some of my closest companions.

And while we’re all off doing our own thing these days – one in Belgium, the other in Ireland, some still in the UK and me in Australia – I’m convinced we’ll be friends for the rest of our lives, no matter where in the world we are.

Aww, they love me

Aww, they love me

This is us during our last Christmas Meal in 2009 – a tradition we used to hold every year consisting of a secret Santa that would never stay secret, pre-drinks at my Dad’s place and then dinner. That particular year we cooked it ourselves, drank so much Sambuca that various numbers of breasts were exposed and we all ended up passing out at some stage or another. It was fabulous.

I told you.

I told you.

However, I left for Sydney in 2010, so we haven’t had a proper one since. We did have somewhat of a shindig when I came home this Christmas just gone and it was truly marvellous to have everyone in the same room again.

The same marvelousness can be said about many traditions around the world, especially when it’s summer in Sydney, the sun’s out, the temperature’s high and all the gays, lesbians, straights and everythings in-between converge on the grass at Victoria Park to celebrate Fair Day.

An annual event organised by Sydney Mardi Gras, Fair Day is a huge gathering of approximately 70,000 people from all walks of life. Its aim is to celebrate the uniqueness of the LGBTI culture, to let organisations and companies (including the likes of the NSW police and Google, for example) show their support for the community and for everyone to welcome the start of this year’s Mardi Gras Festival.

While I’m not hugely into the drinking and undeniable drugs culture that comes with some of Fair Day’s regulars, it actually is a super fun and safe day out for any family including a Dog Show, a main stage with acts performing throughout and some really top-notch food stalls from some of Sydney’s fine eating establishments (I had the best beef quesadilla, probably because it was so not on my detox diet).

However, I was there as part of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (a political not-for-profit group I’m on the committee for – more to come on these awesome people soon) and for the last few years we’ve ran a tradition of our own: the Sea of Hearts.

Honestly, you can’t miss us. We’re always smack bang centre-park exchanging bright pink love hearts on lolly pop sticks with the words “All Love is Equal” printed on them, a screwdriver to – pardon the pun – “stab the dirt” and a marker pen to write your own words for a gold coin donation.

And she wasn't part of the drugs culture

And she wasn’t part of the drugs culture

By day’s end there’s a huge heart-shaped sea of pink hearts, each with their own personalised sentence, scribble or picture and a bucket of much-needed funds for the lobby to keep us afloat in these uncertain times.

Our stall - that's me on the right with Josh's mum, Robin

Our stall – that’s me on the right with Josh’s mum, Robin

And while we do get people stumbling up to us, roughly inquiring as to what we’re doing and buggering off to chase a scantily clad friend before we get to finish, it really is an honour to witness the energy and enthusiasm that so many people have to express their own messages of love and thanks.

We even get a familiar face or two:

Recognise these two?

Recognise these two? Photography courtesy of Doug Millen

So while some traditions might be unfeasible and even impossible to maintain from time to time, it’s important to never let them go. You’ll be surprised at just how much happiness and joy you can bring when you put in a little effort and make it happen.

Anyway, I see to be the only one left in my office and it’s getting a little creepy.

Early riser

There’s This Place

When I was at uni, there was a brief period when I was going out and getting shit faced so much that I would wake up at 5pm, go straight to dinner and start boozing again with my fellow late risers (oh the follies of youth):

Can you guess which one is me?

That didn’t last long. Mainly because I decided my lifestyle probably resembled the slippery slope of alcoholism, not to mention those pesky things called deadlines were coming up and I would never live down failing my first year. So - I forced myself to be a little more, shall we say, proactive.

Nowadays, I love waking up early and making the most of the day. Especially living in Potts Point.

I regularly think I’m on holiday in this neighbourhood. Like today with the summer sun shining and a cool, refreshing breeze gliding through the trees. Ahh, heaven:

This is the view from my bathroom. Well, my toilet to be precise.

This is the view from my bathroom. Well, my toilet to be precise.

This morning  I went to Coffee Tea and Me for my Joe – a sister cafe to the Redfern original (SHAMELESS SELF PLUG ALERT) that I reviewed a while ago. I needed something strong and the Campos they serve, served right I may add, is good for what ails ya.

The interior is a little too small, if for example you’ve got a pounding hangover and standing up straight is more tasking than usual, but seeing as I’ve been detoxing for the last two weeks after a month in Europe visiting my family and introducing the boyfriend, I managed to remain upright.

Usually though, I’d head to cafe DOV, a minute away from me on the corner of Victoria and Orwell Street. The Allpress Espresso they serve is always smooth and yummy, and, pardon the new-age pun, the place has a nice vibe. However, it’s always rammed on a weekend morning and I didn’t fancy the crowd with my fluffy bed hair.

Tim, the owner, is a friend of Josh (my boyfriend) and if I remember right they used to work together when DOV was on the corner of Forbes and Burton next to East Sydney Fashion College. He’s a lovely guy, who I have nuff respect for seeing as he’s one third of a same-sex parenting family, although I’ve only seen their beautiful baby girl via his pictures on Facebook. His staff is hard working, friendly and never flustered even when the place is packed to the rafters.

The best bits however are arguably the outdoor seating areas. There’s the “secret garden” out the back (as my neighbour and his “screaming queen” friends like to call it) and the two tables out front on leafy Victoria Street, offering the perfect position to watch the eclectic mix of people that occupy this area where Kings Cross and Potts Point begin to properly merge.

The not so "secret garden"

The not so “secret garden”. Photography courtesy of cafe DOV’s Facebook page.

The front is probably my favourite.

It’s where Josh took me on one of our first dates. He drove us through Potts in his old but very cool dark blue BMW, sat me here and told me about his old working days as a barista for Tim and co. (more to come on “co.” as those fab people have stories of their own). I’ll always remember that morning, learning more about the man I love, because quite frankly, it was brilliant.

But if I’m to practice what I preach, while I may have already whipped up a review for a new ice-cream place on Crown Street, sent it onto my editor and wrote this blog post, it’s almost 1pm, I haven’t showered and I’m still in my underwear.

Best get a move on.

Thursday evening

I’ve Been Thinking

I suppose I should start from the beginning. After all, it’s a very good place to start (am I right, Maria?)

About how I first arrived in Sydney from England almost two and a half years ago to where I am right now: overlooking pretty much the entire city from my apartment’s roof deck with an empty can of Diet Coke wedged between my thighs and a boyfriend waiting for me downstairs.

But if I’m honest, it’s blowing a hooley up here, so let’s see if I can make it easier (for myself, that is).

I’m pretty high – nine storeys to be precise – perched cross-legged on one of the benches atop the U-shape apartment block on Tusculum Street in Potts Point. I’ve just had dinner and I couldn’t think of a better time to whip the old laptop out and get working on my brand new blog.

With a stretching CBD directly in front of me, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge to my right and Harry’s Horizon to my left, it’s not exactly the most uninspiring of vistas:

TheView

I must admit, I didn’t always think Sydney was this fabulous. In my defence, I certainly didn’t live below easy-access to this draw-dropping view, but when I first moved here, I actually thought Sydney looked a little out-dated and for the lack of a better word, cheap.

All the homes looked too small compared to the taller town houses of Britain and the colours of the buildings reminded me of booze cruise holidays to the Costa del Sol or Faliraki (not that I’ve ever been on one of those of course …  ahem).

But then one day, about six months into my Sydney stint, drinking a coffee at Café Belgenny off Taylor Square, I remember looking up from the black and white chequered floor and literally seeing everything in a new light. It all looked different. The colours looked deeper, the light was more vibrant. Even the people around me looked more real.

I like to think back on that moment as the time I realised I’d finally “gotten off the boat”. I was no longer a student in England; I was an independent pom in Australia. I was a fully fledged fob and it felt fucking fantastic.

More to come, but I’m freezing my tits off up here.