Thursday, November 26, 2009

James Sullivan's Horse Trough

 Just around the corner from our house is one of three places where I particularly like to take Sniff for a walk - Camperdown Park - and within the park is one of my favourite things: a horse trough dedicated to the memory of James Sullivan and erected by the RSPCA.

The trough is sadly neglected as you can see from the photograph. At each end, where there should be fresh water, there are only broken twigs and rotting leaves. The mounting block serves no purpose anymore except as seating for the occasional Goth or as a climbing frame for youngsters - horse-riders being few and far between in Camperdown nowadays. Nevertheless the trough exerts a powerful fascination over me because of the inscription engraved at both ends. On dull blueish grey metal plaques the following text is inscribed in raised capitals:

who lost his life on 23rd July 1924
when trying to save his employer's
horses from death by fire.

Now this memorial inscription raises many more questions than it provides answers: who was his employer? where did this happen? in Camperdown Park? did the horses die? It is so bizarre in its reduction of someone's life to a single act without even giving us the barest details of his life: was he young? was he Australian? was he connected to the RSPCA? was he shagging his employer?

I could look him up on the internet and no doubt find answers to some or maybe even all of these questions but I prefer to remain in ignorance of the real James Sullivan and to imagine him, a young brawny, bronzed Australian, daily battling fire and rescuing horses, as if that was his sole occupation and purpose in life.

(The trough also nostalgically reminds me of the mounting block in London near the ICA in Waterloo Place, supposedly used by the Duke of Wellington...)

The rest of Camperdown Park is a little like its sign: a faded glory. The circus lettering implies side-shows and tea-rooms but there are no excitements here. There is a magnificent bandstand but even this is merely secondhand. An iron plaque explains that it was built in 1888 by Souter and Martin at the impressive-sounding Globe Foundry for the larger and more central Hyde Park which replaced it with a new bandstand and an amphitheatre in 1910, subsequently giving their cast-off to Camperdown who promptly put it up in their park in 1911. It has been, more recently, renovated and its ceiling painted a blushing pink under which boxers and tai chi experts do their daily work-outs.

I am always surprised by the fact that the Oval at the centre of the park is actually used for SPORT. This seems so un-English somehow. Shouldn't it just be used for taking drugs and drinking beer? But every weekend there will be some match or other (currently, it being summer, cricket). Last Saturday a cricket match was underway in 40-degree heat, everyone dressed in proper whites and managing to look vaguely crisp and alert despite the humidity. There was not a single spectator. Not one. Apart from Sniff who had a quick butchers. During the week, various odd-balls jog their way around the perimeter of the Oval or repeatedly kick rugby-shaped balls through the goal-posts or run on the spot grunting. There is a grandstand for the non-existent spectators the stairs of which are popularly used for running up and down in an exhausting-looking fashion but as neither Sniff nor I are impressed by displays of athletic vigour ("this means nothing to me" to paraphrase Midge Ure) this all makes me wonder whether I will ever, ever fit in here...

I'm going to go and raise a glass of something cool to James Sullivan. Farewell for now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cheap Asparagus

This is going to be short and sweet.

Things I like about Sydney No. 2:

Cheap asparagus.

I was able to buy this much today for only three dollars (that's one pound fifty)... how marvellous is that?

(the fact that the farm market where I go to get it is in an underground car park slightly dilutes my joy in this economic miracle but nevertheless...)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trees that Flower.

When I was little and growing up in St. Albans (that thrilling hotbed of bohemianism) my mother and I used to walk down Sandridge Road each morning to reach my primary school. It was (and still is) a long and boring road, very straight and unyielding, architecturally bereft of interest and almost completely without charm except that our side, the left-hand side, was lined with cherry trees. Every spring they would all simultaneously burst into blossom. The best thing about this was that the trees alternated in colour: pink, white, pink, white, pink, white...with only the occasional slip up in the pattern. I used to wonder how this had been achieved: did whoever planted the trees aim to create this perfect pattern or was it simply a miraculous freak of nature?

Which brings me to "things I like about Sydney" No. 1: Trees that flower.

Apart from those delicate cherry blossoms and the odd white bracts on sycamores, trees in England don't have a tendency to suddenly and unexpectedly burst into violent bloom. In Sydney however, it is a different story. Everything seems to be itching to explode into obscenely tropical flower. One day things will be normal and the next great pendulous growths appear over the next door neighbour's fence.

Like these red flowers for instance, nicely matching the dustbins (yellow for recycling, red for rubbish, green for garden waste; red collected once a week, yellow every other week, green no idea I don't have a garden...bins outside in the lane* for no longer than 24 hours or else possible fines from the council for being unsightly...I know, we've had a letter about it. Although I would like to say that the rubbish collectors themselves play havoc with my bins each week and I have to run up and down the lane looking for them on a Monday evening, eventually unearthing them and dragging them back home like recalcitrant children late for tea).

Or then those drooping pinkish white flowers which looked somehow putrid hanging there in the sun, like a tree festooned with rotting meat or overcooked prawns. I buried my nose in one but there was no scent (at least at that time and on that day) but I expected it to smell baaaad...

My favourite flowering tree, and it seems the longest-lasting for the skies have been full of them for nearly two months now, are the pale purplish-blue flowers of the jacaranda which look so beautiful outlined against both a bright blue sky and a dull grey one.

Then there is the tree immediately outside our house which is only just beginning to flower: strange spindly pink petals around a dark pink heart. Unlike the wattles and grevilleas it doesn't seem to attract any birds. Which is a relief in one way because a tree full of rainbow lorikeets is an extremely loud tree.

If anyone should know what our tree is please let me know...

As I type today it is 41 degrees with a wind blowing like a fan-assisted pizza oven. Sniff is lying under furniture hoping that it might be cooler there (it's certainly dustier) and Daniel is lying on top of furniture wilting, complaining and generally bemoaning the heat. The streets are empty of people, everyone no doubt huddled inside air-conditioned spaces: buildings and cars. We have no air-conditioning. We haven't even a fan. It is, to be honest, extremely stupid of us. But the jacarandas are still blooming and Sniff and I managed a quick struggle around Camperdown Park which may well soon bring me on to: Things I Like About Sydney No. 2...
  1. *Lane: there is so much space in Australia that there is a lane at the back of our road (and we are not alone) whose sole purpose seems to be to use up some of this space, whilst also providing a perfect area for nefarious and illegal activities...such as casing the joint or perhaps having a joint or perhaps breaking someone's joints.... In London this would naturally spell complete disaster whereas here the lanes seem to remain a blank space, unused by all except builders, possoms, and those carelessly-strewing-rubbish-bins refuse collectors. There was a dead rat in the lane the other day. Sniff found it. And Sniff sniffed it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Premise

I was lying last week on
an inordinately comfortable chaise longue in my friend Kevin's flat in Pythagorasstraat in Amsterdam. The rain was falling softly in that lovely European way onto the enormous skylight which showed nothing but an expanse of gray. A few bedraggled blackbirds huddled on the branches of the fir tree outside the window and rivulets of water ran down the leaves of Kevin's balcony garden. I sipped from the mug of Earl Grey tea which had just been placed within arm's reach on a beautiful side table and felt pleasantly full with my breakfast of toast and perfectly poached eggs: all was civilised and just so.

And then I suddenly remembered. I don't live in Europe anymore. I live in Australia. This was just an interlude, a sidebar, a cunning distraction. Within the week I would be back in Sydney. It would be hot. It would be hell. I'd have no friends again.

I threw a despairing look at Kevin and began, once more, to complain bitterly about my lot. He sighed (after all, he was about to become a wise old man of 50) and threw out a challenge.

"I want you" he said, "to write to me every week and tell me three things you like about Sydney."

I spluttered into my Earl Grey. "THREE things a week. Are you kidding?"

We negotiated heavily. After all, I was coming from the three-things-a-year angle...

Agreement was eventually reached in Schiphol Airport's rather glum (but still gorgeously European) bar (they gave us peanuts in a glass with a spoon: how Dutch is that...). I would write about ONE thing I like about Sydney at least ONCE a week.

This blog is my attempt to fulfill my half-hearted (and by the end of negotiations half-drunken) promise to Kevin to write about "the things I like about Sydney". Starting next time. Honest.

Enormous apologies up-front to all Australians and all Sydneysiders: really, it's not you, it's me....