My Stage is the World

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

Total tourist

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Walking in sunshine

With a limited time in Singapore I was determined to make the most of it. To me, this means walking everywhere and finding all manner of things lurking around each corner.

After checking in to my hotel (after tents and hostels, it was the most beautiful room I’d ever seen) and having a shower I headed out into the city. I wandered aimlessly for about four hours and stumbled across a free gig in the Arts Centre. Linden Furnell was a pretty talented Aussie guy who’d studied in Singapore. His songs were pretty deep, with powerful lyrics that made me reflect. Damn him.

I got lost on the way back by following the map – what a stupid idea. I then had what was effectively a chilli crab pot noodle, which I ate with chopsticks in my pyjamas.

The following day I had an agenda – find chilli stingray and go to the night safari. Simple. Google Maps suggested 800m to Little India, but I went the scenic (aka long) way to the travel agent. A very helpful man told me I could just catch the bus to the safari and buy my tickets there. He also told me not to go to Malaysia on my own because I “have the blonde hair and the pretty face. It is not safe. Find some friends.” He even said his son would go with me at the weekend, but I had to decline.

Little India was bizarre. It was colourful and busy, but smelled of cheap mint/bubblegum chewing gum. I somehow found myself upstairs in a salon having my eyebrows threaded after asking the price – a fairly reasonable $4. My eyes watered a lot, even though it wasn’t particularly painful.

I then walked to Chinatown to find Lau Pasat, but I gave up and stumbled into a Buddhist temple. Full of Buddhas I was presented with a spiritual book, which happened to fall open at a page about promiscuity – hmmm.

After perusing hundreds of food stalls, I finally settled for a $3 bowl of Laksa. It was a sixty-year-old recipe he’d learned from a master and he made each bowl separately with all natural ingredients.

His technique worked – the laksa tasted of the ocean and was delicious. The stall owner explained that cooking was his passion and he had started the stall when he retired from the stage. He and his friends – who I met – still got together on Thursdays and performed in Retirement Homes. He was also a very positive about England and its people, which was very refreshing.

Where the wild things are

Stepping off the shuttle bus to the Singapore Night Safari, S and I started our nighttime adventure with the walking tours, setting off down a dark path, through barely visible jungle into the unknown. All sorts of creatures lurked in the bushes and I was quite jumpy at times, especially when rats crept past, frogs jumped and lizards crawled.

The idea is that nocturnal animals are more energetic at nighttime and it was interesting to see their behaviour in the dark. At one point we were surrounded by wallabies, another time by fruit bats. There was also a dark cave that dripped water with nasty reptiles sleeping behind (thank God) glass cases.

On the walks we also saw civets, tigers, rhinos and deer… Plus sloth bears, invisible night squirrels and night pelicans (I still think the zoo man made this up as they looked more like pterodactyls). There was no crocodile though. We asked and were told “No, no crocodile.” When we later found an ’empty’ river marked Crocodile we figured his story checked out, but we didn’t hang around for too long!

Our first tram ride was a hilarious experience. We got on halfway round and our guide was quite bloodthirsty, explaining that “hyenas can run non-stop for 3km. They are also strong swimmers, so they will bite you until you fall down and die.” “Lions tend to ignore humans, but they will still rip you limb from limb if provoked.” Every animal then became a danger to humans, as we made up ways they could kill us… Including being sat on by a hippo until we die.

Just in time for the last animal show, we watched otters and raccoons recycle rubbish and an escaped Python dominate the stage and a poor Korean tourist’s neck.

Back on the almost empty tram, our new guide was far more positive and we had a much better view of the elephants and lions. The hippos had been asleep the first time, so as we rounded a corner I saw them, exclaiming “Yay hippos!” Which turned out to be buffalo… Hopefully I redeemed myself by remembering a male elephant was called a Chawang… We also saw a giraffe sitting down – which led us to ponder how giraffes sleep.

Returning to the city just before midnight, we finally found somewhere for dinner – a Thai restaurant open until 5.30am. The food was good, although there was no wine and they appeared to be playing Westlife’s Greatest Hits – quite bizarre.

In fact, the whole evening turned out to be “surreal, but nice”.

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The end of the affair

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It’s a small world

The drive back to Melbourne presented no problems (shocking I know) and there were no charges waiting for us when we dropped the keys off. Taxi back to the hostel and we took a tram to St Kilda’s to explore the beach.

Obviously we were both starving, so we popped into a nice looking cafe for a spot of brunch. And, of course, it was the cafe where Hannah (who I met in the Blue Mountains) worked. It amazes me how small the world really is.

After gorging ourselves – and enjoying a free coffee – we set off with Hannah for some cider in Abbey Road. St Kilda’s is very like Camden, so it seemed appropriate that we were in a London themed bar!

Onto the beach – past some hippies dressed in fluorescent tutus, dancing to huge ghetto blasters – and into another bar to meet up with other vagrants from Sydney.

Back to the hostel to beautify ourselves and we headed out – German roommate in tow – first to the hostel bar (hello jugs of sangria) and then to another appropriately named bar: The Berlin Bar.

After entering a door marked ‘No Dickheads’ and going up some steps, guests have to push a little green button and wait to be admitted. We were then ushered past the sophisticated white stools of West Berlin into East Berlin, where there are boxes and bunk beds! The prices were definitely more west though…

After a quick Pie Face (for all three of us) it was back to the hostel to watch our Italian roommate’s brush with death (aka crocodiles) before a relatively early night.

The next morning we visited Victoria Market, which sells all kinds of crap, as well as organic food. We then indulged in homemade muffins and delicious coffee before spending the rest of the morning riding the (free) tram which goes around the city,

Luggage collected, it was a sad farewell that Miss H and I bid as I headed back to Sydney. It had been an epic few weeks, but now I was leaving Australia for the delights of Asia.

By the time the shuttle bus had deigned to appear, dropped me off (last, again) and the receptionist had managed to find me a room – after I traipsed up the stairs, bags in tow, and was told in no uncertain terms to leave: “Sorry babe, this room’s full”, all I had time for was a pot noodle, a shower and a film (The Magdalen Sisters) before attempting to sleep.

Sadly, my fellow hostellers were having their traditional Sunday night rave, so when I got up at 6.30am I’d barely slept a wink and had a flight to catch!

After two minutes in Sydney airport I was being made over by a Benefit lady, so I bought some eyeshadow. I then saw that my flight was delayed by three hours, meaning that my Singapore trip was cut by half a day. I stormed off to get a coffee and then realised that it wasn’t my flight that was delayed, so had to run to my gate. It wasn’t until I was on the plane that I noticed that I’d left the make-up in the airport.

Ah well – It would be far too hot for make-up in Singapore!

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Nature – it’s all over me

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Climb every mountain

After a fairly cold night, we got ready to explore the area around Cumberland River. But before we set off one of the ladies came over to see if we wanted to climb the sides of the valley with her son Jeffrey. He wanted to go, but not by himself – a fair point in this treacherous country. It seemed like a good idea, so we made some sandwiches and went to get some water.

Stepping through an area marked “Do not enter: revegetation area” we began to clamber up an almost vertical, unmarked track, keeping a close eye on the ground as we did so (apparently he’d seen a few King Browns the week before). We had to use our hands for the first few metres, grabbing hold of trees and roots to stop ourselves from sliding back down the hill.

Trees whacked us, bushes scratched our arms and legs and the journey was hot and tiring. The path kept disappearing so we kept skirting around fallen branches to try to find our way. We were glad we had our ‘guide’ with us as we would never have found our way without him! After a while we started to walk down, but then the track veered sharply right and once again was almost vertical.

However, after almost half an hour of climbing we pushed our way out of the bushes and into the sunlight.

We were very high up and the view was amazing. The campsite lay before us with tiny tents and caravans tiny below and the sea stretched away to the south. To the north were endless trees, covering the hillside beneath the bright blue sky. It was also very windy!

After catching our breath we descended, a much quicker journey – and not just because we ended up sliding part of the way down the hill (I was the only one who remained standing), getting covered in earth (and more scratches) in the process.

Water, water everywhere

Feeling slightly hot and bothered, we sat by our tent and ate our lunch in the sun, listening to our Woolloomoolloo playlist (Field Day bands). We then set off through the wood at the back of the campsite towards Jebb’s Pool. This was a short walk, but involved crossing the river twice – once on stepping stones and once along a fallen tree, but the water hole was beautiful.

A shallow natural pool from the river with waterfalls (used by the kids as slides) cascading down into the main pool. From there it flowed through the campsite, into the other water hope and under the Great Ocean Road to the sea.

Jeffrey had told us earlier that a few years ago he’d been swimming in the main camp watering hole when a kangaroo had fallen in from the hill we’d climbed earlier. We vowed to go and look around at dusk to try and spot some.

But after a quick paddle in Jebb’s Pool we set off to the beach that was used only by the campsite. The river flowed under the road surrounded by bushes, yet when it became the sea there was nothing but sand.

After crossing the road we followed the path to the beach when suddenly Miss H swore and stepped briskly sideways – Tiger Snake alert!

Kum ba yah

Luckily the beach was almost deserted, but it was getting cold so we stayed a while and paddled before heading back for dinner, noting our new neighbours with interest. Two Australian guys who were already a few beers down.

Of course once we started cooking they invited us to sit with them and use their chairs (as we had nothing) and offered us beer… And chicken on a stick. And sausage sandwiches. We were so good at this camping lark!

Once again we fire sat while they went off to get more beers, making the most of their chairs and speakers. When they got back some friends joined them and the guitars came out. Then of course people flocked over to join in – there was even sheet music.

It felt kind of stereotypical to be sitting around a fire on a campsite, singing songs and toasting marshmallows, but it was pretty awesome. Apparently Shane had been chased by a kangaroo the previous year after “catching it drinking at the water hole”. He swore that the kangaroo had jumped over five bins as it chased after him…

As the two guys had been coming to the site for years and years we weren’t told to quieten down until almost midnight. The rest of the campers dispersed and we declined the guys’ offer of ‘going to the beach’ with them. I did borrow Shane’s fleece lined hoodie though as it was freezing in that tent, despite many, many layers of clothing.

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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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    Anne Boleyn – The Most Happy

    Anne Boleyn“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to law, and therefore I will speak nothing against it… To Christ I commend my soul!”

    Yesterday marked the 476th anniversary of Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution and I know I am not alone in mourning her death.

    I’ve admired this woman since I was 6 when I first studied the Tudors, and as I grew older I found myself thinking about her more and more, as I realised how similar we are.

    I own a replica Boleyn necklace, dyed my hair brown when I dressed up as her and have visited Blickling, Hever, the Tower of London and many other places on my quest to know the real Anne Boleyn.

    The recent series of The Tudors, plus the dramatisation and film of The Other Boleyn Girl, has suddenly thrown Anne and her family into the public eye and the glamour and beauty that she evokes in people is quite startling. For what is it about someone who died so long ago that makes us all admire her so?

    Twenty years ago when I was in Hampton Court in my school uniform, clutching the hand of my current best friend, I ran about looking for the infamous HA engraved in the ceiling. Later I would write a script with my ‘boyfriend’ – a conversation between Anne and Henry as they talked about Wolsey. I was already a madam and a writer.

    Back then I was merely insensed by the seemingly arrogant man who dismissed wives as if they were going out of fashion. As I grew older and studied Tudor history again, I became intrigued by the flirtations and excitement that surrounded Anne at court. I was turning into a feisty, headstrong girl and I started to see similarities between us.

    We were both manipulative and perhaps a bit spoilt. Clever and determined, we wanted our own way and would stop at nothing to get it. Men were nothing more than a tool, useful in some ways, as long as they could get us what we wanted in life. I started to realise the trouble I would have been in if I’d lived 500 years ago. Had it been in my power I would no doubt have risen and fallen in much the same way.

    I read The Other Boleyn Girl before the hype, one summer in Barcelona when I was 17. I was fascinated and realised there was so much more to learn about Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately my A-Level History coursework was not allowed to be about Anne Boleyn and her sister because there ‘wasn’t enough information about her and it was mostly conjecture’, but one degree and a Masters later I had done plenty of research about this ‘conjecture’.

    Every time I argued with a boyfriend I thought how lucky I was that he couldn’t chop off my head, although one caused my neck to become very delicate and I can now no longer bear to have it touched. Another left me with a broken heart, which I think was because I was too passionate and argumentative, just like Anne. I even remember thinking about their heated relationship where they would argue and then she, full of remorse, would apologise… just like me.

    I recently appeared in a documentary about Anne Boleyn, alongside Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir. One question I was asked was why Anne Boleyn was suddenly so popular.

    There are many reasons why I wasn’t the only person who wanted to leave flowers for Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London’s chapel this weekend. To me she’s always been a beautiful, intelligent woman who rose to become Queen, changing our country’s religion just because she was loved by a king. That’s power.

    Power all of us women would long for. Some of us have it – the power to control people through our emotions and actions. Walk into a room and everyone wants to speak to us.

    Passion. Lust. Power. Danger.

    When I am 50, she will have been dead 500 years. I wonder if she’ll still be remembered by so many.

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    Mean Girls

    Mean Girls

    Boo you whore!

    Women are mean, there’s no doubt about it. You may wonder why men put up with us, but it’s because we’re all the same. Girls seem to revel in bitching and moaning – about, and to, everyone.

    I’ve never been much of a bitch, mainly because I like my friends, my boyfriend’s never done anything too awful and I just don’t see the point.

    However, everyone needs to vent and let off steam and there’s been many a time when I’ve sympathised and ranted with a bottle of wine and a friend. It makes life easier for your partner because all your emotion has been spent and all men are like mascara – they run at the first sign of emotion. The less they have to hear about it the better – they don’t care about Suzy’s pregnancy, Jane’s wedding or ‘that Mary in accounts’.

    I hear women moaning at work, on the train, in the shops… I actually find it quote irritating, especially as everything they’re moaning at is so trivial.

    Everyone at work (myself included) has berated their other half for wearing their running trainers out out. I’m glad it’s not just me who loathes this fashion faux pas, but if that’s all they have to worry about, then they should count themselves lucky!

    Girls make cutting remarks which aren’t intentionally hurtful, but are in fact upsetting.Half of the time, I swear we don’t realise we’re doing it. Someone admires your dress and says ‘it’s very you’ which could mean it suits you, but also means ‘I wouldn’t wear it in a million years’. It’s meant as a compliment, but in a vindictive way.

    Men should probably stop listening to the things we say – we don’t mean it when we aren’t fully supportive of your £400 games console, we just wish we could spend £400 on shoes or baking equipment. We have to put it down so we feel better – it’s just jealousy.

    If we’re upset, we snap – we don’t mean to, it’s just our way of saying ‘I’m not cross with you darling, bu I am stressed and a bit sad – please hug me and tell me you love me and I’ll snap out of it.’ We always do.

    Boys are easier to deal with – honest, straight and rational. My male friends have been better at supporting me recently than some of my female friends. They’ve sent messages of love, sympathy and compliments.

    With girls you never know if they’re being sincere or if they’re smugly congratulating themselves that their life is better than yours.

    If your friend asks you if she looks all right, you take in her (too) tight dress, (ridiculous) high heels and (streaky) fake tan and tell her she looks great, when she actually looks like a TOWIE reject. Are you being nice or nasty?

    It’s a catch 22. A girl may think setting you up with a drunk guy might cheer you up after having your heartbroken, but it just lowers your opinion of her, especially as you’re still very upset. Helpful comments make things worse because you don’t know if they’re being nice or nasty. Nobody will ever know.

    My male friend put it simply. ‘Girls are mental. Men are knobs. It’s just who we are.’

    I’m more confused than ever – who will win the Battle of the Sexes?

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