Monday, September 17, 2007

Sydney under siege

When is a city not a city.
Well, it was Sydney’s turn during most of my stay.
Sydney, to put it florally, had its heart cut out for something like a week, and it resembled its beautiful self during that time barely at all. But, of course, the patient is strong and, once that week was over, that great heart was sutured back into place, and within hours you would never had known that anything had been different.
To speak more plainly, the politicians of the APEC countries (and, no, I neither know nor care what the trendy acronym means) gathered in the capital of New South Wales for a seasonal session of ‘let the TV-watching world see us talking to one another’. And, to facilitate their little chats, and discourage potential assassins, the centre of Sydney was encased for the nonce behind a ‘Sydney Wall’ of barriers and police presence.
When in Sydney, that very centre of the city, with its public buildings and amenities, is where I normally operate. But, needless to say, on this visit, I didn’t. I had no more wish than most of the indigenous population of the city did to get involved with the unpleasant Djakarta-like atmosphere empoisoning mainstreet, and so I just stayed home.
‘Home’ was – as ever on my visits to Sydney – with class A friends Barry and Rosie Collins, with whom I sailed at least seven musical seas some thirty-five years ago, and with whom I first ventured into the racehorse-owning business a decade or two later. And with Holly their dog. And there, in Leichhardt, whilst the politicians (who really could have chosen some nice uninhabited island for their beanfeast rather than a place where people are trying to live) pranced their parade, I remained curled up with Barry’s computer and the heaps of notes for my book the-maybe-next, quietly working away until the city came, overnight, back to normal.

I did have a few days left thereafter to scurry to my favourite library for some whirlwind research, but for the most I really didn’t feel as if I’d visited Sydney at all. Just Barry and Rosie.

The other part of this particular visit was to have been a journey up the Hunter Valley to Brooklyn Lodge to visit our splendid mare Rosmarino and her baby Basilico (by Fantastic Light) who is being prepared to make our fortunes (pray, pray) at the forthcoming yearling sales. Last time I was here, fate intervened and we never got there. This time … we didn’t get there again. Australia is in the fangs of an epidemic of equine influenza, and the horsey population of Australia is suffering the same sort of siege situation as Sydney. It seems that the disease will be pretty impossible to avoid, so we can only pray that Rosie, Basil and the baby which Rosie is due to drop in a few weeks (by Fusaichi Pegasus) are not harmed by it.
Anyway, as a result of this bacillus, I still haven’t seen Rosie (the horse) since she retired three years ago from her grand career on the racetrack.
But all these non-events that perforated my visit still left room for the odd adventure. And the oddest of these was footie night. Now, I don’t actually know a lot about football. Yes, I’ve been to a few soccer matches in France and England over the years, and once even to Twickenham for the rugby, and I sort of know the rules of both games. But ‘Aussie Rules’? I can’t describe it. It’s livelier than rugby, and there are half a dozen more blokes on the field. They run a whole lot more, they kick a whole lot more, they fall down and gouge and brawl a whole lot less, but they drop the ball just as much, and some of the rules are just as impenetrable.
Tonight was the Swans (who are Sydney) in red against someone from Victoria in blue. Which meant, of course, that we were ‘red’.
We didn’t go the ground, we went instead to a middle-sized pub in some unfamiliar part of Sydney which is apparently the Swans’ fan-HQ. There were two giant screens set up out the back of the pub, and a plethora of gas-lampions for heat, and there we sat, at long tables, ingesting a fairish fish and chips and horribly overpriced wine, while the four halves (sic) of the match unrolled amid much howling, cheering and blaspheming. Alas, it quickly became evident that the Swans were dropping the ball far too much for their own good, and the evening ended in a Sydney defeat. Which is never good for the bar takings. It was all good fun, but I think two halves of any football match are really my limit. And I do prefer it when they mostly pass the ball to their own teammates and not to the opposition.
We had a couple of much better meals out – Leichhardtly -- with daughter Antonette (of ABC radio news) and partner Daniel, and also plenty of time just being together .. and all in all, although the politicians and the influenza rather upset my original plans, I had a lovely, rather lazy, time.
And then, on the Friday morning, I said farewell to a recovered Sydney and I set out on the second leg of my Australian voyage.

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