My Stage is the World

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive

Field Day

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Start as you mean to continue

After an extremely sober start to the year, we resolved to have a few bevvies at the New Year’s Day music festival – Field Day. Dressed in our best festival attire, we strolled down to the Botanical Gardens caked in sun cream ready for the gates to open at midday. Naturally we were pretty early so hung outside in the heat with a few people who’d clearly come straight from the previous night’s celebrations!

We decided against alcohol smuggling as we knew we could buy it inside and it was definitely a cider kind of day – bright sunshine and music! Once we’d passed security we had a quick scout around The Domain and got our bearings.

Most of the bands we wanted to see were on the two main stages and people were already dancing to Indian Summer on the huge dance floor in front of the main stage. We joined them for a quick boogie and then headed to the cider tent, which was currently deserted.

It wasn’t cheap – $9 a can – but each can you took for recycling got you $1 back. So, cider in hand we headed off to see Elizabeth Rose, a young girl in a very sparkly leotard. Her music wasn’t bad so we joined the small dancing crowd and made up some lyrics to her pretty catchy songs. We briefly chatted to some guys (who turned out to be Indian Summer) but mostly just enjoyed the set.

Cheap as chips

With a short gap until Crystal Fighters we headed to the recycling tent to return our cans. This is where we discovered that you could take back several cans at a time and still get $1 for each.

Now we’re not skanky, nor are we massive green girls, BUT this scheme equated to free/cheap cider, so each time we finished a can we’d go and recycle it, picking up any discarded cans en route. Only on the way – we weren’t fighting over them or fishing them out of bins like some people were.

Basically, each cider we bought cost us $4, which made it much more reasonable. We even splashed out on a chicken and capsicum pizza to keep us going.

Sing for absolution

Back at The Island stage, we discovered that we really liked Crystal Fighters – long-haired hippies wearing a lot of crystals – (At Home was our favourite) so stayed for their whole set (bar another quick recycling/cider run) and then watched London Grammar who were also pretty cool.

We then switched to the main stage (again via recycling/cider) to see Flux Pavilion. It was much more crowded here and us short people struggled to see. After voicing my frustration to a topless man behind me, he suddenly hoisted me onto his shoulders, giving me the perfect view. He was about 6″3 but didn’t seem to be holding me very tight so I had to grip him pretty hard to stop myself plunging head first into the crowd.

Eventually I was safely back on my own two feet, just in time for us to run back around to see The Wombats, who are extremely popular in Australia. The crowd was dense and we were quite close to the front, so we gave up on recycling and just enjoyed the band.

They were pretty awesome live and everyone was singing along. We got chatting to some English guys in the crowd, so once the festival finished about 11pm, we headed to O’Malleys with them for some more cider. New Year’s Day definitely made up for New Year’s Eve where drinking was concerned!

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New Year’s Eve

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View of the Bridge

After another day of being a tourist and walking miles (including all of the Botanical Gardens and climbing thousands of steps to check out the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon), it was suddenly New Year’s Eve. Now apparently this is a big deal in Sydney so we wanted to make sure we did it properly. A few people were paying $395 to sit on a boat and get drunk; others were going to a club. So what did Miss H and I do?

Up bright and early, we got the train down to Martin’s Place and walked to the Observatory Gardens. The gates opened at midday so (as it was 10.30) we joined the few other people in the queue. Obviously we made friends with some German guys and an Australian family so were chatting away, taking it in turns to stroll around, get water/ice-cream etc. It was a no alcohol zone, so our bags were cleverly concealing a box of ‘goon’ wrapped in a blanket amongst our picnic.

Bags checked and wine undiscovered, we smugly set off for the best spot – just behind the white line (which nobody was allowed to cross as it was above a very steep slope). From here we had the perfect view of the bridge. We just had 9 hours to wait until the kids’ fireworks and then another 3 until the real ones.

The gardens gradually filled up while we sunbathed, read our books and played Go Fish! About 4pm we decided it was time for some ‘lemonade’ which we mixed with Sprite. It’s pretty nasty stuff, but it grows on you – you just have to be prepared for the goon hangover, that can set in any time after you start drinking.

One of the German guys brought us fresh blueberry muffins and we played a game of Epic Snap with the group behind us. They were drinking ‘Ribena’ and we mixed our picnics together, guarding our sacred space from the many tourists trying to sit in front of the white line, or even next to us. Rude.

Karma Chameleon

Sadly, one bunch of tourists were particularly annoyed that we wouldn’t let them sit with us, so informed the security guards that we were drinking alcohol. This was most displeasing, especially as we were pretty sure that they had guessed, but were turning a blind eye because we weren’t causing trouble. Now, they marched over and demanded we surrender our alcohol. We lied, we cried and we apologised, but we had to hand it over.

Minutes later, the security man came and apologised, promising to return it after the fireworks. Our new friends stopped drinking out of solidarity/fear and the Australian dad gave us his vineyard card, promising us a bottle of wine if we visited. Meanwhile, I made friends with a five-year-old American girl who gave me a glow stick and lent me her brother’s laser gun so we could shoot all the tourists who tried to sit near us. Great fun.

At 6pm we saw some astounding aerial acrobats – the plane flew past us and did a loop. The Red Arrows need have no fear! However, their second show was pretty spectacular, although it did sort of look like the planes were on fire and crash landing!

However, the children’s fireworks at 9pm were pretty epic and the crowd whooped and cheered; my new friend kept whirling her glow sticks around, even though it wasn’t quite dark enough. Then we waited.

However, after the first wave of fireworks, order broke down. People sat in front of the white line, despite our arguments and security’s persuasive powers. The wine stealer fought our corner bravely, explaining that ‘those guys have been here for ten hours, so it’s not really fair that you’re sitting in front of them.’

Most of them grudgingly moved back, but a few persisted, including a balding Swiss man who actually sat on Tom’s lap until he moved up to make room. Then he waved off our protests with ‘no comprende’ even though he clearly did and we also told him in no uncertain French terms to bugger off. In the end we amused ourselves using his head as a tripod and using him as the subject of our ‘three words each’ story, beginning: Once upon a mantelpiece, lived a fat French man who liked to eat sweaty cheese…

The Dutch couple on the other hand were another matter. We explained exactly why they couldn’t sit in front of us and we were told “in my country, we call your sort of people w*****s”. Our retort? “Well we call your sort of people c***s!” Little J and the security man argued with the Romanian family but they just ignored us completely.

After all this excitement and eventual resignation, a lot of us napped, sharing our rugs around as we waited for the ultimate firework spectacular.

The Final Countdown

At 23.45 we woke up Little J and prepared ourselves. We had no idea exactly what time it was, because different people started counting down at different times. But, the fireworks knew and off they went.

They were the most spectacular fireworks we’d ever seen. Lasting more than 15 minutes, there was everything. Purples, oranges, blues and reds, plus white and gold, shimmering and sparkling in the Sydney skyline. There were fireworks from the barges in front of the bridge and two behind, plus the Opera House and the bridge itself.

Breathtaking fireworks that kept on amazing and delighting adults and children alike, ending with a blazing fountain of gold underneath the bridge, making it look as though it was on fire. Photographs couldn’t come close to portraying their true beauty.

Walking back with our new Facebook friends, the streets were wild – Christmas jumpers, steamers, cheering and shouting. Yes, the eight of us were sober, but it had been a fabulous New Year’s Eve.

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Gangsters’ Paradise

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After a couple of days lazing on Bondi Beach (beautiful, but windy) and nights hanging out with the crazy backpackers from the various hostels, it seemed like time for an adventure.

So, bright and early on Sunday I stood by the fountain waiting for a bus that would take me up into the Blue Mountains.

Enter Rodney – our crazy Australian tour guide for the day. Once he’d picked us all up we had to provide him with our gangsta name: I was Mikki C and sat next to Bigg Tiff D. Rules of the day – whenever he said ‘Hey Gansters’ we had to reply with ‘Yo!’ Pretty straightforward really.

The bus ride was about an hour so most of us napped as Triple J played in the background – Rodney kept us informed when “what he thought was Australian Hip Hop’ came on as ‘that’s what us gangsters like”.

We stopped briefly at Dave’s House to pick up our packed lunches and then suddenly we were in the “boring, touristy part of the Blue Mountains”.

The Australian Grand Canyon

Of course, we didn’t go there – we went off the beaten track where there were very few people. We climbed over broken trees, jumped over ditches and crawled through a cave. Then, ducking under a ‘Danger: Keep Out’ sign we arrived at our first viewpoint.

It was breathtaking. New Zealand is often thought to be more beautiful than Australia, but this could have been Middle Earth. A deep ravine of trees and rocks as far as the eye could see, all enveloped in a blue haze. So much greenery less than an hour from Sydney was unexpected, but appreciated.

Waterfalls here and there dotted the landscape as we looked done into the gorge. Beautiful.

Interesting fact learned here: Quemajosca is a Brazilian insult, meaning ‘donut burner’

But we had to leave to go elsewhere, after a toilet stop where a gas mask was necessary to avoid retching. Many of us girls waited for the next stop which was far more sanitary and required no additional breathing apparatus.

Fierce creatures

More fabulous scenery awaited us – plus the anticipation of lunch – so we braved the path that was “full of snakes, spiders and God knows what” to get to the middle of the canyon where we stood on dodgy scaffolding snapping away. Some of us (myself included) risked the vertical ladder down for a better view of the other side. Stunning.

Clambering back up, Hannah and I joked about which was worse, spiders or snakes, stepping over a couple of lizards, but thankfully nothing else as we did so… Until we reached the hut where we were having lunch where a massive spider lurked on the ceiling above our buffet.

Tentatively glancing up as we ate our lunch we asked what it was. “Oh that’s a Huntsman – they’re nice spiders aren’t you Huntsie?”

Personally, I think he was dead (or biding his time) as he didn’t bother us as we stuffed our ravenous selves with food.

A walk to remember

The next lookout was buzzing with a couple of tourists who all looked terrified when they hears “Hey Gangsters” followed by a resounding “YO” from about 18 youngsters.

Rodney then informed us that we’d do the next walk on our own, but we’d be fine because [sic] “Jesus protects me – I am not for catching” which apparently a famous Australian gangster had claimed.

Pacified, we set off up the hill towards the waterfall we had seen in the distance. Several hundred steps up and then down we were greeted with a spray of water, which wasn’t rain but the waterfall, blown towards us in the wind.

Slightly soaked we took our scenic photos and carried on up the rocks onto a woodland path. Hannah and I sped off and were soon far ahead of the others, who only caught up with us because we took so many pictures and posed in the middle of the river.

Waiting for us at the top was Rodney and we set off to a top tourist spot because no tour of the Blue Mountains was complete without it.

Myths and legends

It was packed. Rodney gave us twenty minutes so we tried some ice-cream flavours… Until the man got annoyed, saying to Bigg Tiff “let me serve this lady and then I’ll sort out all of your problems” so we chose quickly and went to look at The Three Sisters.

So, legend had it that three great warriors fell in love with three sisters of an Aboriginal tribe, but their father – the tribe’s witch doctor’ refused. A battle ensued so he turned his daughters to stone to protect them. Sadly, he was killed during the battle and his daughters remain forever as stone.

Rodney told us it was rubbish as white man cared not for the aboriginal legends until they could use them to fob tourists off. With this in mind we walked up, looked at the three mounds of rock, snapped a photo and went to see the giant Christmas koala bear instead.

We all agreed that if the rocks had waterfalls they could be the three weeping sisters which was a much more convincing story.

Our final stop was Kings Tableland – a flattish piece of rock with a sheer drop into a gorge. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and we all sat there dangling our legs over the edge and taking silly photos.

Homeward bound we exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up in Melbourne (where we were all headed).

Back to the Cross and time for Thai food and jugs of Cucumber Collins (gin!) with the girls.

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Strolling and singing in Sydney

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A walk in the sun

While Miss H headed off to Manly to pick up some clothes from a friend’s house, I ventured (well, ambled) into town to join the free walking tour. Despite my appalling sense of direction it took just 20 minutes to find the Town Hall where about 100 people stood clustered around a few guys in bright green T-shirts.

I found myself next to two Welsh girls so tagged along with them. They’d come over for Christmas and New Year, although one of the girls was staying longer to do some exploring. The other (like me) had a job back at home and had so far resisted the temptation to quit and join the thousands of other Britons working and partying.

I still hadn’t met many actual Australians as everyone seemed to be British, but thankfully our tour guide was a Sydneysider and he led us around the city he loves for almost three hours. By the statue of Queen Victoria outside the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) we saw (and heard) the talking dog statue – in memory of her favourite dog Islay – voiced by controversial DJ John Laws, who also does the bark that follows Islay’s ‘thank you’ if money is thrown into the ‘wishing well’.

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Inside the QVB is a decorative castle clock designed by Neil Glasser and representing Balmoral. Each hour it displays six scenes of British royalty, including the beheading of Charles I, accompanied by Jeremiah Clark’s trumpet voluntary.

As well as unusual facts about Sydney architecture, we’re also given tips on cheap activities – so instead of paying to climb the Westfield Tower ($40), we’re told to just go to the bar which not only has a super view, but also rotates and the minimum spend is only $20 – bargain!

After seeing almost everything Syndey has to offer (including a lot of Christmas trees) we ended up by the iconic harbour bridge, across the harbour from the Opera House where I was heading that night.
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Not New Year’s Eve

Naturally, for a night at the opera (house) one has to make some sort of effort. So we ditched the shorts and flip flops in favour of dresses and shoes. We drank pink Moscato in the Opera Bar by the harbour and then pre-ordered sparkling Semillon for the interval.

The Opera House had arranged a New Year’s Eve programme for the last week of the year with opera, music and theatre. We were off to see ‘Not New Year’s Eve’ – an evening of classical music, jazz and songs from musicals, performed by the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra with special guests.

The Opera House is actually much smaller on the inside, but the acoustics are excellent and we had a good view. However, one couple informed our neighbours that they were in their seats… But it turned out that their tickets were actually for the next day – oops.

Much cheering, clapping and singing along later we felt thoroughly satisfied with our opera house experience and continued in the cultural spirit by heading out for drinks.

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To infinity and beyond – flight to Sydney

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The calm after the storm

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a… Random woman? Wearing pyjamas I crept downstairs after hearing voices, only to find a strange lady sitting in the dining room.

Yep – the power had been off for almost 12 hours so my dad had gone down to the town for a wander and come back with some free baps (the local bakery just gave up and offered them out) and an elderly lady.

Now, my dad isn’t one for chatting to strangers, but Barbie (oh yes) had been waiting for a non-existent bus in the cold and my dad had invited her back for a cup of tea. After sharing her life story (one son, no husband), she took some candles and my dad drove her to the community centre and then home.

Meanwhile with no phone signal or wifi I was forced to ‘call on my friend’ by turning up at his house unannounced, where I was met with a candlelit house. Of course the Christmas lights weren’t working which was sad, but the town and houses all looked far more festive without electricity.

But before I could enjoy this old-fashioned Christmas I had to deal with more pressing matters – packing without electricity and hoping that my plane was flying…

Off to a land down under

I made it onto the plane with few hitches (oh apart from a slight problem with my visa… The hyphen in my surname had been missed off, so I didn’t exist) and found myself sitting next to a rather attractive young PhD student (life’s ambition: to take his hand built pizza oven around Australia). There were also a few Christmas jumpers, although none to rival my penguin.

Several films later (What Maisie Knew is a fantastic film – watch it), we arrived in Dubai where we were greeted with cries of ‘Happy Christmas’ which is very bizarre when you have no idea what time it is, let alone aware of the day (GMT 03:15).

A quick freshen up and time for a smoothie. Of course we then heard the final call for our plane so had to run… Only to be told that this was the wrong flight – we were trying to board the cancelled flight from December 23rd, so ended up having to run for ours after all! Back to our seats for ‘Christmas dinner’ aka roast chicken and a coffee brownie, plus a festive chocolate. Woo. Then lots of heavily disturbed sleep, The Great Gatsby (credit to Baz Luhrman for making a full book a pretty good film) and a lot of Big Bang Theory.

And then we landed. It was raining.

Sadly, I got separated from handsome student at the carousel with only a flutter of a smile and a wave. But if I’m ever in Newcastle…

Struggling with suitcase, rucksack, bag and satchel I navigated the trains to Kings Cross and walked to the hostel, only to be told I couldn’t check in for another 4 hours. Luckily she took pity on me and let me into the room (dodgy carpet stains included) where I napped for a couple of hours until Miss H rocked up from New Zealand.

Ride a cock horse

No time for slacking – it was off to the races via a very welcome lemon chicken sandwich. The sun had finally come out to play and Royal Randwick racecourse welcomed us with open arms – free entry for international passport holders. Mingling with the Australian equivalent of Essex girls and the hardcore gamblers, we scrutinised the listings for the worthwhile horses, betting the large sum of $1-4 each time.

Some of my winners included:

  • Street Savvy
  • I’m impulsive
  • Elusive Diva
  • Can’t think why those horses stuck out for me… They made me a profit anyway. Nothing like betting ‘each way’ when your horse wins and you get a nice little return… Why anyone would ever bet ‘to win’ is beyond me!

    Off to the supermarket, dinner and bed… With tan lines already visible. Excellent.

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