Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Break From the Tent

Paul Keating reportedly said that, if you were Australian and didn't live in Sydney, you were just camping. I wouldn't have the strength to live in Sydney, so I've set up a bit of tarpaulin in Canberra. But I agree with Keating that Sydney is wonderful - I know of few other places quite so wonderful, in fact, if you feel like a bit of excitement for a day or two.

Since that was exactly what I did feel like, the day before yesterday I got on the train that goes from Canberra to Central Station. What is more, I bought a meat pie on the train, thus overcoming a thirty-year long phobia, the result of an incident on a train taking me back to boarding school in Mittagong, when I also bought a meat pie. On that occasion, what I found inside the meat pie was a sea of writhing maggots. No horror film I've ever been to has managed to rival that sight for stomach churning ghastliness. Especially as I'd already taken a bite.

Anyway, the train was great this time, including the meat pie, both on the way there and on the way back, (although on the way back I didn't have a meat pie, as I'd already had one for lunch - but you probably weren't particularly interested to hear that, were you?)

I would like to point out that whoever does the hiring at NSW Trainlink deserves a medal. I've rarely travelled on any public transport where all the employees have been quite so friendly, helpful, cheerful and generally all round nice. Plus the carriages were clean - are you listening, all you British railway operators??? Also there weren't endless announcements, unlike some places I could mention, (yes, I do mean trains in the United Kingdom), plus it cost just $39.00, without endless fare permutations and restrictions and other stuff designed to make you decide to call the whole thing off and just drive instead.

From Central Station I walked up to the other end of the city to the place I was staying, passing all sorts of interesting sights - all especially exciting for a person from possibly the only capital city in the world that is genuinely provincial and without metropolitan flash or dash.

I enjoyed seeing old details on buildings, things that people hardly notice, I suspect, as they hurry past - this frieze near Central Station, for example:

plus the doors and coat of arms of the Law Courts (as well as a little gargoyle holding up the year it was built that I'd never noticed before):

I found the lost-in-a-crowd big city indifference thrilling to witness, briefly:
I got to where I was staying in time to have a shower and then I was out again, round the corner to the Wharf Theatre, one of my favourite places in the world.

Getting to the Wharf Theatre meant walking around Circular Quay, past the ferry terminals and then the Museum of Modern Art and enchanting Cadman's Cottage, past all the former storehouses, where ships unloaded their cargo - now turned into restaurants that look out at the Opera House - and then under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

When you get under the bridge, you can easily begin to think that, with enough time and a strong enough spanner, you could probably knock up your own Sydney Harbour Bridge, if you had plenty of nuts and bolts:

(I don't know what that umbrella and thermos were doing there, but they help give a sense of scale):

But then you look out at its span - (and can you see that gaudy Luna Park face with its sinister grin, over there on the other side of the water?) - and you realise that that wouldn't actually be possible:
And so you plod on, trying to ignore that blot on the landscape at the end there, Blues Point Tower, a place of tantalising hopelessness, its inhabitants condemned to look out at water but never to stand on a balcony and really enjoy it:
Instead, you cheer yourself up with nice things like this old letterbox:
and at last you arrive at the Wharf itself, where you have, extremely dashingly, since you never drink coffee after midday normally, a cup of absolutely superbly made coffee and think, not for the first time, that there are few places in the world quite so civilised and aren't you lucky to be a citizen of this wonderful country, (Australians all let us rejoice .... [but for heaven's sake don't mention the later verses]):
And then you go into the theatre - or rather, (enough of this ridiculous poncey second-person nonsense): and then I went into the theatre. The play I was seeing was a revival of Andrew Bovell's first staged work, a comedy called After Dinner. It is set in a pub bistro in the 1970s and has a cast of five characters, three women and two men.

I hope I will get round to writing about it on the blog where I promised myself I would write about the plays I see, (as I have since broken that promise to myself several times, only time will tell).

The main thing I will say about it now is that it was exceptionally funny. Its funniness, what is more, included the most amazing moment I've ever experienced in a theatre.

The play had reached a point where the two male characters were loosening up and admitting their sexual inadequacies to each other. One, having revealed that he didn't have a very large penis, added, "But people say women don't notice size."

There was a tiny pause, no more than an instant; but, in that instant, a single throaty laugh from what sounded like a very mature and experienced woman, (not sure how one can judge these things merely from a laugh, but I believe sometimes - including on this occasion - you can), echoed out into the packed and silent theatre. It was a laugh that said, 'Yeah, right, pull the other one, whatever makes you happy", et cetera. It was a laugh that said a very great deal, all of it shattering not only the illusions of the character but the illusions, I suspect, of most of the males in the audience.

And suddenly the entire theatre was roaring with laughter. And I don't just mean the audience. The actors were equally overcome by mirth. It was wonderful. I read somewhere that a minute of laughter is as restorative as half an hour's sleep. Well, hundreds of people got the equivalent of half a good night's sleep that evening, thanks to that woman's outburst.

In the interval, I might say, I bought a glass of wine, and looked out at the water, and even the Blues Point Tower didn't look quite that bad:

Stay tuned for more excitement in coming posts - including a visit to the NSW art gallery and the fulfilment of a decades long dream, (plus, if I'm feeling particularly treacherous, the unsung verses of our national anthem).


  1. This begins my interest in seeing Sidney. Somelovely and fascinating sights. And...seriously...that umbrella has to be miniature. How can nuts and bolt of that size really exist? Astounding.

    1. Sydney is a truly wonderful city

  2. New Yorkers say, or used to, that "After New York, everthing's Trenton."

    1. I wonder if Keating knew that and adapted. The inhabitants of both cities are about equally smug, I suspect