“The Boat that I row………..”

Greetings!  Christmas Greetings if you wish (if you follow such things). It is past midnight here in suburban Sydney – so it is December 25th, 2011 for me – even if for YOU  there may be several hours before we are on the same day. And even though this Blog says posted 24th – that’s because my computer clock is still on UK time!  So, Patience, mes amis!

All around me (especially at AA meetings) I hear the common cry : ‘it’s just another day’ and that’s fine with me. But it does have special meaning to many people and I respect that too. Each to their own. Although, I read in the local paper today an address from the Bishop of Sydney : I had to keep putting it down in disbelief.

Being (once) a proper Catholic boy I have quite a good handle, as they say, on the story of Christmas (according to that church, anyway). I was surprised with the Bishop’s “Christmas : the True Story”.  Apparently “Mary was a peasant girl coming, like Joseph, from a very devout family……..” Hmm. How does he know that?

And how about “Jesus was born between the years 4BC and 7BC”. Doesn’t BC mean “before Christ” and isn’t that the date that BC/AD changes?   This is apparently “some time before the Christian era” which it would be wouldn’t it, since it’s named after Christ! All very confusing, so we shall leave him to it. Maybe they’ve discovered stuff I didn’t know as a boy?

Anyway, I was going to go to Midnight Mass and the preceding Carols (as I do back home) and there is a convenient Catholic Church 5 minutes walk away in Gladesville (where I stay). In the event, I didn’t as I ended up at an earlier service in the City. I co-opted a few pals and went to Sydney Town Hall for a free Christmas Eve concert which included a performance by the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir.  Since I plan to have a sing with them in the New Year I thought I would have another look at them. To my surprise the ‘concert” was a Carol Service organised by the Metropolitan Community Church and featuring loads of carols, a few solos, speeches and even a communion at the end.  As it happened I would have missed my ferry if I had stayed for communion, but hadn’t planned to stay to the end anyway. Though the whole thing was so inter-denominational that I am tempted to go along one Sunday and see what they get up too. It was far more than gay supportive, to say the least and the size and variety of the crowd was inspiring indeed. I seem to recall there is a similar Metropolitan Church in central London (Bloomsbury?). I would urge anyone who has issues (as I do) with organised religions to maybe check them out.

ANYWAY….. I wish you all, my dears, the happiest of Christmas Days and hope you get all you wish for. Though you should be careful of what you wish for  – oh, but that’s for another time! :))

Most of you will know I am not much of a water baby!  As in, I am a pretty useless swimmer – though I sink very elegantly.  I have never quite mastered that bit about breathing while you splash along though many wonderful people have tried to teach me. Even Steven, my old and trusted Australian artist friend, failed – and that was in a private pool with just we two.  So, in the water – no. By or on the water? Now that’s a different story. When I left London some years ago, I went first to Margate (don’t ask – aka – benefits central!) which was a mistake – but the view from my little eyrie down and across the Harbour was magic. Less fun were the nine flights of stairs.

Thence rapidly to Seaford and – for a while – my lovely little house with garden running down to the beach and the constant awareness of the sea from sitting room and bedroom windows. Sound & movement. When I had to move just around the corner to save money, I never settled and was heart-sore for my lost sea-view, more so than I would have expected.

So here I am by another sea – the Pacific, or Port Jackson (Sydney Cove) and the Parramatta River. I spend a lot of time taking the Ferry up and down from my lodgings to the centre of Sydney. I often take my bike on the Ferry and then take my life in my hands on the Sydney roads!  But I begin to wonder now if I am for ever to be on or around the water.

Last week – quite unexpectedly – and old friend from England (who has a business here) invited me to join him on their Office Party (with a Christmas theme.  I went as Manger – obvious, but also a play on the French for “to eat”. It’s a long story).

Here’s the little boat we sashayed around the Harbour on….

To give an idea of scale, it is only 110 feet long. The Helicopter, alas, was not aboard that day! We were using that area for dining, as you do.  If you can bear it, here’s a link with some fuller information on this floating gin-palace!

http://purecruises.com.au/2011/02/07/mv-flying-fish/

Tomorrow (that is – Boxing Day) sees the start of the famous (and famously dangerous) Sydney to Hobart(Tasmania)  Yacht race. I shall be on another (smaller) boat in the Harbour, following the  boats as they start out from the Heads (where Sydney Harbour meets the open sea). Courtesy of an AA pal and as a thank you for helping to make 100 desserts for a Christmas reunion last week.

Meantime, my friend Brenda (with whom I am staying),  has been a volunteer for the Cruising Yacht Club (organisers of the Race) for some years and will be flying off to Hobart on the 27th to prepare for the flotilla to arrive in Hobart.

And to finish the year off, New Year’s Eve will see me once again on the Harbour – moored as serenely as possible for viewing of the best NYE Fireworks in the World!  Courtesy of Lisa (old friend of my brother Sean)  & her partner David. I think I recall putting this shot of their boat on an earlier blog.

And should we tire of Bridges, Fireworks and food, we can cruise around the corner to Glebe Island where Jamiroquai, The Pet Shop Boys and Boy George/Culture Club will be giving a concert! What a life.

Apropos of nothing, I used to hate New Year’s Eve – it seemed that I sat somewhere each 31st December wondering where the year had gone, why I was another year older, why I had achieved nothing and why it was so unfair! Recent years have taught me differently; now I see a new year coming as part of the challenge, the adventure. Who knows what will happen – or even if one will see the year out (not being negative, things happen!).  But in line with my philosophy of trying to live each day as it comes ( to the fullest), how can I not be happy, grateful and inspired by the lucky circumstances that see me here in lovely Oz?

Even if Sydney is experiencing the coldest / wettest December in 50 years. These things are all relative : 26/28 degrees even if wet and muggy is not so bad.

To return to my watery subject, the oddest thing is that I feel quite unconcerned to be up and down, round and about the River, ocean etc. yet with no desire to swim in it. My recent visit to Magnetic Island (see Blog) saw me unusually venturing above the waist into the water – and that only because I was skinny dipping –  so sort of had to!!   I do wish I as comfortable with it – but  there is something about the power and strength of mother nature in the raw that is too much for me, and yet draws me.

I am also a little obsessed with the wonderful poet T S Eliot and, in particular, his masterpiece “The Wasteland” which not only includes a reference to Margate, it even has a section called Death by Water.  I suppose one can read too much into things?

So to Christmas and lunch.  We shall have smoked salmon (not Oysters as planned : the guests not like them!) and Brenda will crank up the Barbie for steaks (of course) and salad and veggies. I have made the dessert – a classic traditional Plum Pudding. Made really just with various fruits (raisins, currants, sultanas, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs and rum (call that rum “flavour”). It takes only a short time to prepare (mixing it is a bit of a bitch!) but then six hours in a bowl, on a saucer, in a big pan – constantly topped up so it doesn’t boil dry. For “traditional” read “for the days when servants had hours of time to kill”.  I was up till 01.30 on the simmering process, then waited another hour for it to be cool enough to refrigerate. We shall know in about  15 hours whether that was worth it – or if I shall be faced with a few wry faces, trying to say how “lovely” it is!!

So I shall get myself off to bed now – in the knowledge that some of you will possibly read this before I awake again – though I’d leave it till Boxing Day if I were you!  My love and best wishes to you all – sorry that I am not having Christmas lunch with family and friends in the UK but also – selfish as ever – happy to be avoiding the winter.  We may speak over the next day or three but meantime I hope the Christmas you get is the Christmas you want.  Old (and un-reconstructed) hippy that I am, I offer these few lines from that lovely old song by Greg Lake (who he – Ed?)

I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
I wish you a brave New Year,
All anguish, pain and sadness,
Leave your heart and let your road be clear.

They said there’d be snow at Christmas,
They said there’d be peace on earth,
Hallelujah! Noel!, be it Heaven or Hell,
The Christmas we get, we deserve.

JC x

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Magnetic Island – no hardship to get stuck there.

Welcome to Maggie – 5 miles off Townsville in Northern Queensland. Though Captain Cook in 1770 called it “Magnetical” Island – he thought something there was having an effect on his compasses. Later research has been unable to trace anything, hence it has become more simply Magnetic!

(Puts me in mind of the Harbour at Sydney Cove – where all the ferries come in and out – it was first called Semi-Circular Quay. Why? Because of the shape of the bay naturally.  But in true Aussie style, that’s a bit of a mouthful, so Circular Quay it is now called. I await further shortening: one day it will be Serky!)

But (again) I digress. Magnetic is a good name – the island drew me back (with a friend) 26 years after my last visit.  Sadly, I couldn’t remember a bit of it! Not entirely my fault; they have moved the Ferry from the mainland to another port and built a new terminal along the coast. Which simply wasn’t there in 1985.  It has to be said that much of the island looks as if it hasn’t changed a lot since then, though again I can recall only a rather backpacker-ish guesthouse with very lush gardens and whilst we saw one or two of them (and a fair few backpackers) nothing rang any bells.

But what we (my friend Robin – out from London) and I were seeking was sunshine, peace and tranquility – and we got that in heaps.


This is Jeffery Bay – 2 mins across the sand from our little un’s front door. Taken somewhat late, so here’s a daytime view on same beach:

 

Hmmm. I tried – without success – to turn this picture up the other way; I had intended to make a flippant quip about the distortion of the waistline being caused (perhaps) by gravity in far north Queensland. Unless you turn the page upside down you won’t see the joke. So I should reverse the joke to say that I was too heavy to be returned up the right way. Sadly it was too hot for much exercise – that’s my story anyway.

Another more reasonable shot on the beach!

The point behind me was famous for its rock wallabies – tiny, kangaroo-like marsupials which gather at dusk – so gullible tourists can feed them! They even sell little bags of “feed”in the local store much like we used to do for the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Is that cute or not? And here is Robin being creative with a perching marsupial, silhouetted against the sky!

 

There’s little that creativity can do to help here :

As you can see, it is something of a small and very rocky island – covered, indeed, with these large, probably volcanic, boulders.

It is also quite a famous jumping off spot for the Great Barrier Reef and for deep sea fishing trips. I am sorry to say that we didn’t any nearer to the Reef than you see me now.  Our trip, basically, was R&R not adventure travel – as least that what it ended up as.

There are wonderful fish to be fished, if that’s your thing:

Blue and Black Marlin, Sailfish, Mackerel, Wahoo, Giant Trevally, Dogtooth Tuna, Coral Trout, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Red Emperor and Sea Perch. But, you know, I caught a Wahoo once – in the India Ocean off Mombasa during my acting days in Kenya. And that’s another story.

So meantime, we walked a lot around the island – it is not large and half a day would see you from one end to another. We were, unbeknownst to we pommie travellers, at the end of the season.  From November onwards, it gets wetter, businesses close, tourists disappear and in their place,  the seas start to fill with stingers of various kinds, up to (and including) the infamous Box Jellyfish. Though the Box can be as large as a metre or more, the tiny (finger-nail size) Irukandji is as deadly if not more so. The remedy for being touched by either? Liberal doses of vinegar and call 999 or equivalent. Don’t worry,  they will send a helicopter to get you : there isn’t a hospital on the Island!

 

Far cuter, far less dangerous. In fact, unconcerned and oblivious to passing tourists and clicking cameras:

I was completely convinced it was a plant, until we saw another (and with a baby!). Aaahhh!!!

I wish I could offer you a picture of the Dugong that swam within a metre of me as I paddled in one deserted bay, those that know me know that I don’t really “do”swimming. No photo because :

I was skinny dipping and didn’t have a camera with me

Even if I had a camera, I was too shocked initially as I thought it was a shark and then it was gone

There were a couple of “naturists” haunting the rocks a little up the beach and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself

Which leaves me with only one wildlife picture to show: our (almost) nightly dinner guest:

And strangely enough – is it something to do with eating lots? I can’t make this bird picture turn the correct way round either!!

It’s a bush curlew or plover and teams of them raid any outdoor eaters across the island. Chivvy one away, and three return so you learn to ignore them pretty quickly. Though they settle down very late at night and like to sing for hours before they do. A haunting, cur-lewing sound which can severely jar the nerves if you’re not in the mood! Sadly you’re not allowed to eat them, strangle them or (indeed) kill them off in any other way!

Despite them, we managed a few days of complete rest: lots of bush walks and (for me) a pretty severe case of sunburnt shoulders.Which, being  so surprised and embarrassed by, I shall discuss no further. Except to say that it was not for lack of sun-screen, just a failure to remember how hot it was (even with sea breezes) and how often you should replace your sun screen. At least once more often than I did, I now realise.

 

To conclude : I think my memories of Magnetic were coloured by the years that have passed; by the amount I was drinking in those days (maybe I was on an altogether different island?) and by the fact that it is probably a destination for ‘the youth’.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that except that I wanted more than just bars and surf hire or jetski shops and was disappointed. My attempt to bike hire was thwarted by indifference and end-of-season slow down. So probably won’t be going back again in another 25 years.