Seven hours of hearing about Tasmanian dog training laws. I just wanted to sleep, even for one precious hour, but my chair mate on Singapore Airlines to Sydney had other ideas. Jet lag would be my next companion. I arrived into Sydney into blinding blue skies and heat that was to be expected as a welcoming party. I was staying with a very good friend’s Mum. I had typically failed to ask him what she looked like. I checked and checked for a family resemblance as cars sped into the tightly marshalled pickup zone, but this was difficult as my friend is a 28 year old man. Some ladies waved, I waved back hoping this would be the correct mother. They looked back confused, I really should have known better with the Vietnamese lady.
I am relatively good at thinking on my feet, so thought I would make myself look as conspicuously like I’d arrived from London as possible. The ten pound Pom of 2014 if you like. I wore a black overcoat with a Poppy badge in 35 degree heat. It actually worked, Mrs Todman picked me up and we were driving over the Harbour Bridge into the beautiful Northern Beaches. I was hanging out the window like a dog with its tongue out, snapping generic and irritating shots of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. I had seen them twice before, they are still spectacular anytime.
I met the Todman family en masse and had a coffee. It was very early in the morning, but Bigola beach was teeming with small children, known as “nippers” with water polo hats learning how to lifesave. Their parents strolled about barefoot drinking flat whites with a nonchalance that told me they knew their numbers had come up when they were born on this island. Compare this scene to windswept parents watching their beloved children drown in icy mud playing football on Hackney Marshes with only a flask of Bovril for company.
I went back to the car, and patted my bags. I realised the plural had become singular. “Mrs Todman did I come with two bags?”, “No Jonny, your exact words were to me when you picked me up were, I am travelling lightly for once”. I had left my cabin bag in the densely populated pick up zone of Sydney airport. At 28, forgetfulness is a frustrating constant in my life, I fear for when I get dementia. I inwardly panicked, both passports were in that bag. If I had only my British one, I would be quite happy to sacrifice Mother Erin and hope that Michael D Higgins would forgive this boy from East Belfast. Unfortunately, I didn’t have either. We had to drive across a mass of traffic in central Sydney that makes the route to Heathrow look like the magic roundabout. Mrs Todman showed the calm that I think will define my time with Australians, “do you want to go for a swim in the sea now or try to find your passports?”. Deferring panic is not a strength of the Drennan family. We drove.
A weekend of beautiful beaches and languid coffees came to an end. One person recognised me from my brief days on Sunrise TV. She was drunk and said “we couldn’t really understand you, but you had SUCH GREAT ENERGY AND FEELING”. I was generally talking about bombs or child abuse, so I was grateful, and forever will be. I negotiated a bus system into town that insisted on the patience of Job and the military strategy of a Marine. It took 2 hours from door to door. A bunch of lads with bleach blonde hair sat beside me emotional, drunk and upset at losing all of their money on the Melbourne Cup, a horse race that shuts down the whole country. “I am as pissed as nit mate, I lost all me money and me girl”. I didn’t offer my bony shoulder to cry on, just nodded sympathetically. I sat with Bill Bryson’s Down Under for company, accompanied by pale skin, this is the neon badge proclaiming you are on a temporary visa.
I am staying in Surry Hills for the next two weeks, a beautiful part of Sydney with a friend from AFL in London. There are flowers in the hedgerows and people smile. There are things that will be different and difficult. But this is a path that has been trodden so many times by many Irish and British feet. Sydney, I think we’ll be fine.