Things I like about Sydney No. 32: The springing of Spring.
I was never much one for noticing the seasons. Winter or summer, living in London always seemed pretty much the same to me: often grey, often wet, with very occasional unpredictable brilliantly bright days scattered around like dropped pennies. And as, increasingly, the seasons aren't behaving as they should anyway, with weather forecasters constantly harping on about unseasonably hot winters or freezing wet summers, why should I pay any attention to the four dividing quarters of the year? I'm not a farmer after all, rather a humble musician and composer, frequently holed up in a theatre somewhere, and, in darkened auditoriums, it's always winter.
This seasonal blindness of mine used to extend further afield than London. For instance, I didn't ever think to plan summer holidays in appropriate summer countries on appropriate summer beaches or winter holidays skiing or chasing after some winter sun. Instead, Daniel and I tended to drift where the mood took us, irrespective of the season. Venice in December and the Queensland rainforest in January - both times considered to be crazily 'out of season' - were however huge hits: empty of tourists, consequently fabulous.
Another instance of my old seasonal myopia: whenever I used to come across descriptions in books of the seasons I always felt them to be a hackneyed device, merely inserted to increase the author's word count for the day, rarely essential to the plot and often just an excuse for a bit of cheap allegory. Oh, it's spring, and as the flowers burst forth our characters are moving onwards and upwards with their lives! Ah, it's winter and as the snow falls our hero feels oppressed and downhearted, smothered by a blanket of sorrow!
But then, back in 2004, early spring to be exact, everything changed.
Daniel and I acquired a long and thin garden in Islington whose upkeep had to be kept up (and to the high standards of its previous owners at that). My seasonal blindness vanished as if lasered away by the eye doctor. I began to pay attention to those budding flowers and ripening vegetables of spring (after all, I'd, God-like, planted them); or to the fluctuating numbers of starlings feeding on our left-overs and bread crusts in winter; or to the falling of leaves in autumn which would need to be raked up, bagged, and hauled through the house to the front drive for collection on a specified third Thursday of the month. I began to join in those conversations when people discussed the unseasonality of things ("My crocuses have come up five weeks early this year." "Did you hear that the Swallowtail Butterfly still hasn't been spotted and it's nearly August?" "Our apples have been destroyed by these early winds." and so on and so on). And by 2008, just before we left for Australia, I could tell you exactly when and where everything in the garden grew and when they died and in which part of which season they did so.
Now, however, I am all at sea again. Just when the rhythms of life (they're a wonderful thing, Sweet Charity fans) and I were in sync, just when Nature and I were talking from the same (atheist) hymn-book, everything got turned upside down and I came to Australia. Where all is topsy-turvy. Where summer is winter and spring autumn. Where people look forward to their long holidays in December and batten down the hatches in July. Where no-one bloody told me that winter DOES exist and that it lasts just as long as an English winter with the added bonus of NO CENTRAL HEATING making it colder in July than Rejkyavik in a snow-storm...
It is precisely this dreadful winter we've just endured in a house equipped with just the one tiny gas heater that has made me agog for the springing of spring as I have never been before. I have been hypersensitive to any signs that spring might be on its way. And this, folks, is what I've noticed.
Firstly, the flowering of magnolias and camellias. Camellias are now identifiable to me because of the pink camellia in our garden in London which was also known to me as a harbinger of spring. Always the first plant to bloom in Islington, camellias were the first flowers out here in Sydney too, rapidly followed, similarly as in London, by magnolias. And what a lot of them. It seems that every gardener in Greenwich (Greenwich Sydney that is, keep up) plants these bushes and trees in their front gardens. Houses which have nothing else but lawn still have a magnolia or camellia plonked in the middle of the grass. Quite extraordinary. And unfortunately quite quite boring once they've done their three weeks or so mad blooming.
Secondly, the rising of the sap means the rising of scents. There are some extraordinary smells around now. Jasmine, eucalypt, lemon tea trees...fecundity whiffed at every step.
Thirdly, the burgeoning of natives. Native plants that is. It seems as if everything has decided to flower at once. Grevilleas, wattles, heather-like things, oh I have no idea what they are all called... here are some pictures of them instead.
Fourthly, whenever Sniff and I head off into the bush for our daily walks I've noticed that the scuttling has begun. Turn a corner and the undergrowth rustles. Step up onto a rock and tails whisk away into the shadows. We're preceded by constant movement, dartings to the left, dartings to the right. This can mean only one thing. The lizards and skinks are back - three cheers for the reptiles! Hibernation is over! The moomins will be out next. (In actual fact, I spotted the first Eastern Water Dragon of the year yesterday, all three and a half foot of it, running upright as fast as it could through our garden away from the scary monster Sniff).
Fifthly, and rather alarmingly, the Sydney funnel web spider's lair has been re-built ready for spring. This particular lair is only about ten metres away from our front door on the slope I climb down daily to get to the creek. At least I'm pretty sure it's a funnel web spider lair. It looks just like the pictures of them on-line. However, as I've watched the videos of funnel web spiders to be found on YouTube I am not about to poke a stick down the burrow just to try and entice the most poisonous spider in the world out to verify its identity. I'm not familiar enough with emergency procedures in this country to invite being bitten. Come to think of it, I don't even know what the emergency number is. I know its not 999....Must do some research. But apparently, there's nothing to worry about yet for it's only at dusk in the late summer and autumn that the male spiders leave their web-lined tunnels in search of mates. Then, although they can't jump, "they can move quickly, and will rear up when irritated and make sudden lunges when striking". Lovely. The Australian Museum reassures me that there is now an effective antivenom for a funnel web spider bite and there have been no deaths since 1981...Here is a gratuitous picture of one which I am glad to say I didn't take.
Lastly, I know that spring is just around the corner because I went out the other day without a jacket on. Still had a jumper and a shirt and a scarf on, but no jacket. This is a major achievement only to be understood but those who have similarly borne a winter of hardship and NO CENTRAL BLOODY HEATING. A friend of mine here, the magnificently named Anca Frankenhauser, is Finnish and agrees with me about the Sydney winter. She has never been colder than she has been at home here in Sydney. Despite being FINNISH!!!!! FINNISH!!!!! That's how ridiculous a Sydney winter is. Don't let anyone ever tell you that Australia is hot, hot, hot. It's a myth. If anyone asks, tell them its colder than Finland and full of poisonous creatures, one of whom has just been announced as Prime Minister.
Except don't, because then no-one will EVER visit us. x