Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feeding Time at Glenview Zoo

Things I like about Sydney No. 23: Feeding Time at Glenview Zoo

It has slowly dawned one me that none of my friends from London are going to come and visit me here in Sydney. I used to think that they would make the superhuman effort to come on over but "It's too far", they whine; "The children make it too expensive", they moan; "I don't like Australia", they opine; "What about the insects?" they fret.

So I am having to make new friends and the quickest way to do this is to anthropomorphise all the creatures around our house, now know as Glenview Zoo.

I'd like to introduce you to Thang and Kev, our newest best friends. Thang and Kev are two rainbow lorikeets. They have taken to coming every day to our balcony to be fed sunflower seeds by hand.

 Kevin's in the foreground. He has a much redder breast than Thang but is a cautious bird and took some persuading to graduate from the balcony railing to my hand. Thang on the other hand leapt straight on to my palm and bit my thumb. Saucy minx.

It began only a few days ago. Thang and Kev first appeared (they always appear together) one morning whilst I was sat on the balcony in one of our new directors chairs reading a paper. They perched at a far distance and chirupped and bobbed their heads up and down, their beady red eyes searching for something tasty to eat. I rushed inside and got the wild bird seed box and laid some seeds out in a line along the railing. They slowly crept up to them and began pecking avidly away. After a while they agreed between themselves that pecking directly from my hand whilst it rested on the railing would be OK. Soon after that I tried holding my arm straight out in front of me with my palm full of seeds. Thang flew straight onto my outstretched hand and started cracking open the husks. Kevin kept making feints for my arm but fluttered off in confusion four or five times. Eventually he made a crash landing and they settled, side by side, on my hand. And now, three days later, I am having to shake Thang and Kev vigorously to get them to release their tenacious grip on me.

I soon learnt that only sunflower seeds would do for Thang and Kev. All the other seeds in my wild bird variety box were quickly discarded as beneath them and chucked nonchalantly into the bush (which means that I am going to have to crawl under the balcony and make sure things aren't sprouting which shouldn't be sprouting or else the Bush Regeneration people are going to get me). So it was off to Coles yesterday to buy a bumper packet of cut-price seeds.

Why, indeed, pay more for what is obviously now an everyday basic?

Thang and Kev aren't picky. Oh no. Anyone will do if they've got food in their hand.

Below you can just see that Thang has a yellower breast which for some reason makes me assume she is a she. They both have a rapacity which is quite frightening and sometimes, beneath their gaudy exterior, you can glimpse a rat-like quality which is rather alarming and makes me worry a little about getting psitticosis. Shall keep you posted.

 The problem with making new friends, however, is that friends beget friends. Kev and Thang have started to invite their own friends over...gatecrashers really...and this morning the balcony looked like this:

And then this:

I wonder if we've started something we shouldn't have? Breakfast is beginning to feel decidedly Hitchcockian. I may soon look out through the window of our living room only to discover Tippi Hedren on the balcony, twenty lorikeets clawing frantically at her headscarf...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Sydney Opera House

Things I like about Sydney No. 22: The Sydney Opera House

So many people have written about the iconic Sydney Opera House ("to date one of the most famous and acclaimed music venues in the world") that until now I didn't feel I could add anything to the babble of voices. Or pictures. John Utzon's website (Utzon is the Opera House's architect) points out that many thousands of pictures are taken of the Opera House each year, probably each day. Whenever Daniel and I go along to Circular Quay there are teems of tourists posing with it as the backdrop. Somewhat like this:

Here I am, New Year's Eve 2008, still reeling from the fact that I have re-located half way across the world - it is merely a month since our arrival in Sydney. I have a plastic lei round my neck because we were lucky enough to get tickets to a VIP area for the fireworks and, obviously, that's what VIPs wear. The sky is pink because our camera was malfunctioning. I'm pink because I was a) sunburnt and b) a little drunk. My glassy-eyed expression was permanent at that time, drunk or not. (Utzon had died less than a month before this and the paper's were full of his demise and the fact that he had not been involved in the completion of the building because of various recriminations and ridiculously imposed budget cuts.)

Fast forward to May 2010, nearly a year and a half after our arrival here, and here I am again.

The thing that may strike you first is that I'm pink once more. But this time I am neither sunburnt nor drunk. Oh no! I'm bathed in the soothing glow of the Opera House's spotlights, performing on the studio's stage last Saturday with Natalie Gamsu in something called Late Night Lounge (a sort of cabaret compendium of, and I'm quoting here, top talent). "Your neo-classical, rock ‘n’ roll, variety, cabaret, chat show experience!"

It was a sell-out naturally. Mainly I'm sure because the audience were promised (and got) full-frontal nudity. It wasn't provided by either of us though. Here's Natalie to prove it at the moment in our performance when she's being beamed up into outer space on waves of audience adoration:

I would like to point out that, not only were we making our Opera House debut but we were also performing two of my songs, along with a marvellous cover of Britney Spears's Hit Me Baby One My Time with which we opened. The entire show. Which unfortunately meant that the first thing I did on the Opera House stage after playing just three chords on the piano was to slap my arse and scream into a microphone....My youthful dream of standing in front of a full orchestra ready to play the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto on the Sydney Opera House stage didn't quite work out as planned. But I am more than grateful it didn't, this was much more fun.

Daniel took these illicit shots with his iphone which is obligatory gig behaviour. I can't understand why the two people in the audience in the photo of me are looking at Natalie rather than over towards me. I had a new jacket on as well. Next time I'll wear lycra too, that should nail 'em.

The nudity was provided much later by Ursula Martinez doing her striptease magic act which I last saw about ten years ago with Daniel in the Vauxhall Tavern in London at a Duckie event...Which is very bizarre in itself....Backstage in the dressing room Ursula seemed rather keen to know how I managed to settle here as she now has an Australian girlfriend. I wonder if I can flog her my residence visa...

There was also a man (a rather well-known singer apparently) called Iota backstage, waiting to go on after us. Having no surname is obviously de rigeur these days, but having a first name like Iota? I obviously need to change Jonathan Cooper to Pixel or Jot or Spitlickle. Also on the bill was a drag artist called Trevor - Natalie and I have played for him at his weekly cabaret nights - whose personality is as overwhelming as his dresses.

I'm so sad, I stole my performer's day pass instead of returning it to the stage door. But it serves them right because my name wasn't at the door anyway. Natalie had to persuade them that I was indeed an artist as security were in a very feisty mood as both the Prime Minister and the State Premiere were knocking about the Opera House having welcomed round-the-world sailor Jessica Watson back to Sydney (a story which I don't think will have impinged on anyone's consciousness outside of Australia). How dare they?! Next time, they better KNOW who I am!

I'm Pixel.

Or is it Jot?

Or perhaps Spitlickle?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Things I like about Sydney (and environs) No. 21: CORPSES.

(Warning: this blog entry is not recommended for those of a nervous disposition...)

Murder No.1

It all began last winter (which obviously translates as summer for most of you) when Daniel and I were staying at his mother's country retreat, McGrath Flat, in the Coorong, South Australia.

It was bitterly cold and the wind was howling around the chimney-tops and whistling down through the fireplace causing smoke to billow out into the living room. We were playing scrabble and had been most of the day. Wrapped in blankets, Sniff looked as if he was never going to rise again. It was time, surely not?, to venture out.

Bulked up in layers of jumpers, neither of us having brought a coat ("It's Australia", we thought, "it's always hot.") we ventured outside, over the road, and down towards the Coorong - a long, shallow lagoon more than one hundred kilometres long that is separated from the Southern Ocean by a narrow sand dune peninsula. The sun was beginning to go down, creating a beautiful but mysterious haze on the horizon. Our eyes were peeled for emus, which we'd watched loping past the windows that morning and which, despite their size, are very good at camouflaging themselves amongst the scrub and the olive trees. There was no-one around, no-one for miles it seemed, and as thousands of moths and midges rose up from the grass we trekked through, grass that reached over poor Sniff's head, there was an eerie stillness, filled only by the howling wind and the distant sound of waves.

The path became more and more overgrown, obviously untrod by man for months, and Sniff had to leap and bound his way with increasing energy through the thickets, raising up more clouds of fluttering, pale insects as he did so. We began to near the lagoon, our footprints beginning to imprint into sand. The grasses around us became thicker and hardier, the wind colder and colder, the silence more ominous.

Then, ahead, in the distance, we began to hear a faint buzzing sound, emanating from around the corner - the unmistakable sound of swarming flies. An entire army of flies. A faint smell accompanied the sound, wafted towards us on the breeze; something other than the tang of the salt-water and the tart sharpness of the vegetation. Something distinctly disturbing...

One more corner to turn and we would reach the edge of the water. One more corner to turn towards the crescendo of buzzing. One more corner to turn - TO THE FIRST CORPSE!!

It lay in shocking graphic detail, in a terrible rictus of death, festooned with flies, beribboned with maggots, large and terrifying, as big as a human - this corpse of a seal; teeth bared in an eternal grimace, like Cerberus at the gates of Hell, body flattened by deliquesence, eyes eaten by ravening seagulls, fins nibbled away by crabs.

It was such a sad and lonely end for such a magnificent creature, in such a sad and lonely spot. The sand, dotted with Sniff's paw-prints as he scuttled past oblivious, cradled the corpse and the angle of the sun blackened its eyes and playfully lit up the silver in its fur. Daniel and I looked down upon it mournfully in silence...and then we returned to the house and played Scrabble again.

The next morning there was the most magnificent rainbow over the site of the seal's demise, promising another bright and cold day, and I thought of all the seals gambolling in the waters, alive and thriving, feeding themselves and their young, with no thought to their probable, perhaps even inevitable, shockingly pointless mass demise....

Murder No. 2

Back in Sydney, and the corpses begin to pile up. It seems as if there is a serial killer on the loose. And close to home at that.

In our very driveway, we found the corpse of the Golden-Crowned Snake which has already been the subject of a blog entry. He or she seemed much more peaceful in death than our seal - I expect its death was swift and surprising, caused by the silent but deadly swoop of a Powerful Owl.

Equally, swift and surprising was the LIVE Golden-Crowned Snake I saw the other night, again in our driveway...

The nights have drawn in, it gets dark suddenly at about 5.30 pm. and, although we have a light on the top of our gatepost about a hundred yards from the house, most of the driveway beyond remains in complete obscurity. The drive twists and turns, climbing steadily and very unevenly upwards and it requires keen night vision to negotiate - something the Golden-Crowned Snake and Sniff (to a lesser degree) have and I very clearly don't...

As Sniff and I neared the house last night, through the gloom, with me heading blindly towards the patch of light emanating from the gate-post, Sniff suddenly pulled at the lead and careened forwards, dragging me with him, urgently in pursuit of something. He stopped near the gate-post and when I caught up with him I crouched down to see what it was that had excited his curiosity so much. With a gleeful thrill I spotted, rapidly disappearing into the dark towards the verge, a rather large snake. I was so excited that I didn't stop to think that bending down to peer at a venomous snake in the dark is probably not a good idea. What did I care for danger? I was getting my first glimpse of a live Australian snake in all its wriggling glory.

Similar in size and colouring to the one pictured here, even though I didn't catch a glimpse of it's (venomous) head, I think it was undoubtedly a Golden-Crowned Snake. I told our neighbour of this rare snake sighting and apparently the news is so exciting it will be going into the local council's newsletter...Daniel and I, needless to say, now imagine that every night the driveway is writhing with invisible snakes, which does lend a certain extra frisson to coming home from work in the dark.

Murders No. 3 and 4

The other week I wrote about the chocolate Easter Bilby, the last remains of which have now well and truly been devoured. Which is more than you can say for the remains of the creature which I stumbled across on Berry Island last week: Corpse No. 3.

I have no idea what this is (answers below please). Is it a Bilby? Is it a baby possum? Or more prosaically a rat?

Whatever it is, corpse No. 3 looked so angelic lying on its byre of dead leaves and twigs, with its forepaws curled up to its chin, its lustrous fur asking to be stroked, its ears still perky. For a short while I hoped that it might in fact still be alive, to still be breathing, but the tell-tale streaks of bright crimson blood told the true story...It did feel as if the murderer had barely left the crime scene. I could almost sense a pair of homicidal eyes watching me intently from the undergrowth, sizing up the chances of a fresh kill.

Sniff however once more showed no interest whatsoever and dragged me off down the track. Honestly, I sometimes wonder whether he is actually a dog at all.

We descend from the island down towards the beach where I am to search for shells for the bathroom whilst Sniff does his un-dog-like things. There are lots of shards from rock oyster shells which have a opalescent sheen on their underside and which I collect, along with a few limpets and barnacles. And then I stumble across it. Corpse No. 4. Frankly, I should have been a detective.

Oh, that's just a fish, you say.

Perfectly normal.

Except this was a bloody large fish, just lying there ripe for the eating, freshly dead. The murderer, once more, had only just left the scene of the crime. If I hadn't already had the experience of reading every sign there is to read on Berry Island I would have brought it home and cooked it. As it is, there is a warning to fisherfolk spelled out on a rather obscure noticeboard that the fish caught in these particular waters off Berry Island have too high a chemical content for safe eating, at least, it adds inconclusively, "in large numbers". Which just makes you worry once more. What is a large number? A large number of small fish or large fish? But then I remember. There won't be a large number any way...

Hercule Cooper Investigates

Obviously I am on the hunt for the serial killer. And when I find him or her I will march them straight down to the Police and Justice Museum near Circular Quay.

This beautiful old police station was built in 1885 out of both stone and wood, mixed together in a lovely and delicate fashion. Unfortunately it now houses a rather mediocre and dull museum which promises a gruesome journey into Sydney's criminal past but distinctly fails to deliver any such thing. The museum absolutely needs to up its corpse count and I think I might be the man to help with the four cases outlined above...The fantastic building contains a fully preserved nineteenth-century court room with an enormous splendid Victorian skylight where, once our serial killer is caught, he can be tried, cuffed with some rusty old handcuffs and dressed in one of those fetching outfits covered in arrows. And once convicted, there is a convenient cell or two to put him in, with a lovely stuffed police dog called Trixie to stand eternal guard...

So Hercule Cooper is off to investigate. But I am already wondering whether that dead fish might simply turn out to be a red herring...