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.


  1. The pink tree is from South Africa - Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense).

    thanks to Andrew...

  2. Super to hear your voluptous outpourings on Sydney's prolific blooming tendencies.

    However, reading between the lines I feel your praise is somewhat faint. Adjectives you use to describe St. Alban's blooms: charming, delicate, miraculous; adjectives you use for Sydney's blooms: violent, obscene, pendulous, drooping, putrid, strange; similies for Sydney's blooms: rotting meat, overcooked prawns and (my favourite) the dustbins.

    Which brings me to my second point, a reminder: your task was to write about things you LIKE about Sydney. Leaving this quibble aside however, the combination of a fascist refuse collection and recycling system with vindictive, anarchic and untidy refuse and recylcling operatives is surely universal. Amsterdammers get letters all the time slapping our collective wrists for unseemly refuse conduct, and the bin men in the UK hold knives to the throat of the nation, where streets are never more untidy than just after the bins are collected.

    OK I'll give you the beautiful Jacaranda...but please try harder!

    And get a fan!