“Good morning handsome."
"Mmphmnin", I grunted.
"Hmmm sending a signal from Australia, to the UK and back... and on a mobile phone too: Pricey I guess? I’ll be quick. Fancy a day at the beach? Meet you outside yours in half an hour.”
“Err y’know Tom, we eat breakfast in the UK”, I groaned through a large stretch.
“I’ll bring it with me”
It was another gorgeous day – this time stifling. Tom was already waiting outside the hotel, with an "Esky" and a large beach towel.
“You’re prepared; you must have been on your way when you rang. How did you know I’d be free?”
“I didn’t. But you’re worth the gamble” He flagged a cab. “Circular Quay, please”
Getting a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly is a typical thing to do in Sydney for any tourist and with good reason.
The ferry leaves the wharf and on one side you have the surprisingly graceful arc of the Sydney Harbour Bridge while on the other you have the pearlescent shells of the Sydney Opera House. These two icons epitomise Australia: I’ve seen them on postcards, posters, travel shows, documentaries and in the windows and brochures of every single travel agency I’ve ever stepped foot in. They make an instant link to Australia for every overseas visitor and are as Australian as Kangaroos or Koalas. I’d even go so far to say that for a lot of tourists, not pointing any fingers at any specific countries of course, the outline of the Opera House is more readily recognised as Australian, than the outline of the country on a map.
When the Sun shines on the clear blue water and the ferry turns to pass the Opera House, the light dances on the thousands of tiles and you begin to realise you’re actually in Australia.
"What d'ya think?"
"Of the Opera house or the harbour?"
"The Opera house, but both will do."
"It's amazingly beautiful isn't it?"
Tom beamed, "She sure is"
"It's weird I feel like I've been here before, it's all so familiar. Iconic obviously," I nodded.
"And this is the best way to see it."
"On the ferry?"
He rolled his eyes, "From the harbour. Although yes, technically for most people that means on the ferry."
I smiled and dug him in the ribs with an elbow. "Just teasing. It's a brilliant way to see the whole thing, ground level, up close n personal." Tom raised an eyebrow. "No seriously - I love it!"
Tom pulled a box of croissants and pastries, a punnet of strawberries, incidentally the largest, sweetest strawberries on the planet, a tub of diced melon and pineapple, a couple of plastic forks and paper napkins and a large carton of Orange Juice out of his Mary Poppins like bag, declaring breakfast served.
"I hope you brought your appetite."
"I'm starved," I said as I crammed the first strawberry into my mouth.
"So I see," he laughed.
As the ferry pulled away into the harbour, the view lazily changed from city skyline, to sprawling park and then to beach all along the coastline of the harbour itself. Rounding Middle Head, the swell rose and the view changed to that of the ocean and the distant horizon, before the ferry turned in to head for Manly.
We walked along the promenade at Manly round to Shelly Beach, a slightly more secluded beach than the main drag and set up camp; towels laid out, Esky positioned in the shade, sun tan lotion rubbed into pale English skin. Aside from a quick dip in the ocean, the morning was very lazy. We chatted, ate ice cream and drank lots of water, I snoozed a little – catching up on jet-lag and finally as the sun reached its zenith, decided we had fried enough. That afternoon, Tom took me back to his where we sat in the shade next to the pool, occasionally swimming, more often talking until by evening I was ready to head home. Tom was back at work the following morning and needed an early night and I was beginning to feel the serious effects of Jet-Lag and was ready to sleep for a thousand years.
For the next two weeks, while Tom was at work, I hung out with Pedro or explored Sydney’s museum’s, galleries, the zoo and aquarium or hung out at the beach. In the evening Pedro would catch up with Zak and if Tom wasn’t free I’d join them, otherwise Tom and I’d hit Oxford Street or the cinema or grab something to eat, talking into the small hours before going back to our respective beds. While Tom spent every spare moment he had with me, he’d done nothing more than hug me or hold my hand. It made no sense to me; there was an obvious chemistry, he quite frankly blew me away, and yet nothing more serious than a peck on the cheek had happened.
I was due to leave at mid afternoon on Sunday, so my last Saturday night was to be a big-one.
Pedro, Tom and I were to go hit Oxford St, starting out at the Midnight Shift for beer and pool, then Gilligan’s for cocktails before heading to Arq, Sydney’s gay nightclub. The night was busy, although far less hectic than Mardi-Gras as most of the tourists and half of Sydney’s gay population had moved up the coast to Turtle Cove for a week’s further partying.
It had been a whirlwind night, Pedro and I had massacred Tom and Zak on the pool table and we’d downed some outrageously strong cocktails: An Oxford Smash is basically a toxic combination of as many different spirits as the barman can fit into a tall glass. He might throw some orange juice or coke in for good measure if it will fit, if not you get a glass of alcohol. It’s always tasty and often lethal. While one of these might make you slightly less particular about whom you make eyes at, two of these and frankly you’re everybody’s.
After several of these we headed to Arq.
Now I love Australian bars, I really do. They’re always friendly; they serve beer around the clock and there’s almost always someone ready to talk your ear off. It’s quite possibly due to the great licensing laws of Australia that they get bars so very right and nightclubs so very wrong. After all, if the bar’s not closing and you’re not forced to give up your comfy barstool after the sixth beer and go and stand in a smelly, loud, smoke filled box, why would you chose to do so? In Australia, you don’t. ‘Hotels’ – or Pubs to the English - quite often stay open around the clock so Australian’s choose to make their bars friendly and comfortable while their nightclubs are filled with twelve year-olds. Of course in the Gay scene, their actual age may be closer to forty, but believe me after a blast of Crystal, a line of Charlie, or a bag of pills, they’re often acting like twelve year-olds.
Harsh I know, but mostly true. So Arq was a tad disappointing. I’d been through my clubbing scene in London in the mid nineties – many weekends starting on a Friday at the London Apprentice, and ending up at Bang on a Monday having visited, The Fridge, Trade, DTPM and FF in between. I’d taken an assortment of substances to help me believe that I wasn’t in a dirty cave of a nightclub and that my feet weren’t sticking to the floor and it had been electric, exhilarating and mind-alteringly life affirming. Nine years later I was as clean as a whistle and able to indulge my inner self-control-freak by steering clear. Not that I minded other people taking drugs, far from it: Arq was disappointing simply because it was nothing new. I felt like I’d stepped back into Trade circa 1996. The music was the same, the lights the same, the sweat, poppers and smoke smells exactly the same, the men all had their shirts off and their muscles out, carried their obligatory water bottles and wore their smiles frozen in place. I guess looking at it with clear eyes meant I suddenly got a look at what I used to do weekend in, weekend out. It wasn’t pretty.
But this was my last weekend in Sydney and I was going to play.