Thursday, 4 July 2013

Surprises

As it turned out, Pedro delayed in booking his flights after all. He’d had an acrimonious split from Paul and decided to go alone. As a result it meant less cash for him to play with and he decided to stay with friends in Mount Druitt an hour from Central Station rather than get a hotel-room in town. Only when we were both there did we realise that an hour out of London’s city centre is not like an hour out of Sydney’s and Mount Druitt is indeed a lifetime away from everything that happens.
I arranged my flight and with no hotel rooms in my price range left in Sydney - booked a room at the Youth Hostel in the centre of town. It came with a high recommendation from my Mum who'd stayed there the year prior so I knew it had to be ok.

So Mardi Gras in Sydney had gone from Paul, Pedro and I to just me. At least Tom was to meet me from the plane.
We’d been speaking on the phone at least once a fortnight in the four months since he'd left and with increasing frequency once I’d booked my tickets. We’d be on the phone for hours, inevitably with one of us talking into the small hours thanks to the time difference. We'd traded stories and histories and invested in some serious bonding time as well as possible shares in British Telecom.
I thought I was going to be sick as I walked through the terminal looking for him. What if there was nothing there, what if it didn’t work, what if I didn’t fancy him anymore?
With Tom standing at the barrier waiting for me, it took me about two seconds to find out most of my answers. There was definitely a spark still there – more like a bolt of electricity to be honest, I could have jumped on him in front of the Japanese tourists with their video cameras. So yes, I still found him attractive. Nor was it uncomfortable, in fact it felt like I was with someone I'd known for years. He greeted me with a big hug, grabbed my bags and asked where I was staying. "Central Station, wherever that is, at the Youth Hostel." "Oh the new place? Well we might as well take the train rather than a cab, it's right next to the station."
It was on the train to the city that he told me he had a new boyfriend.
"I'm sorry I probably should have said something eh?" He shuffled in his seat. "It was only supposed to be casual and only really got serious in the last month. I didn't think it would and even when I realised it was serious, I just... I dunno, I just didn't want you to change your plans that's all." "Look at me," I lifted his chin up, "It's OK." "You're sure?" "Of course I am. I haven't exactly told you everything that's been going on with me either." "You have a boyfriend too?"
"No. Not exactly. I've been seeing someone, a really nice guy. Nothing serious, just hanging out. It was casual up until I left really, he kinda told me the last night together that he wants to get serious." Tom sighed and gave me a small smile as the tension left his shoulders, "And will it?" "Get serious? I dunno. He's a nice guy, very sweet. But I dunno if sweet is for me, I tend to go for edgy. Trouble. Naughty." "Naughty", he smiled, his eyes glinting mischievously. "Yes." I ignored him and put on my best adult voice, "So the idea is, I'm under orders to have a great holiday, get my philandering ways out of my system and then go back to Terry and see if I want to make a go of it." "And will you?" "Ask me in two weeks’ time." "So we're cool?" "We're very cool. And anyway, you can still show me round, we'll still get to go to Mardi Gras together? You can introduce me to this boyfriend of yours, right?"
Not right. Tom had managed to get me a ticket for Mardi Gras as promised, but would be going with the boyfriend, alone. The boyfriend who incidentally wasn’t very happy with him spending time with me while I was there. That was when the disappointment hit. I’d kind of figured out that he’d been seeing someone – he’d been a little distant the last few times on the phone, but the idea that he wouldn’t be able to hang out was hard. Two weeks on my own in Sydney, me a boy who needs other people around or suffocates, starved of conversation. The only thing to do was to throw myself into it.

I was to catch up with Pedro the following evening – the night of Mardi Gras itself. By this time, I was determined to have been to the top of the AMP tower, to have seen the Opera house and the Harbour Bridge and to have completed the Bondi to Bronte walk. And it was going to be bloody magical or else.
It’s very hard to be disappointed when the sun is streaming down, everything is bathed in a white light, people are smiling as they pass and you don’t have to go to Work. Actually, things are usually pretty good just without Work. Even so, Sydney surpassed expectations: The quality of light in Sydney is amazing, it’s so bright, even on cloudy days you need sunglasses. But the piece-de-resistance had to be the water. It was the clearest water I’d ever seen. Standing at the side of the harbour in the Botanic Gardens, I was amazed that I could see crabs wrestling six feet below the surface. 

The Sydneysiders had a thirst for fresh air. Hanging about the Gardens at lunchtime in Sydney I was amazed to see them jogging, kick-boxing, circuit training, stretching, strolling, picnicking, chatting, sailing, eating, swimming, rowing, laughing, living and working on and around one of the world’s most stunning harbours and all in their lunch-breaks. It made the staff canteen of the UK look a world apart – which of course it is.

Walking through the city I felt warm with the energy of Sydney. Businesspeople going from one building to another were moving through crowds at a pace that would have seen them mowed down by pensioners on London’s Oxford Street. No hustle. No bustle. Rather than the constant screech of London’s polluted rat-race, Sydney hummed with a calm yet energised vibe as if everyone ran on solar power – calmly, efficiently and with little harm done to their environments. Everywhere I went I saw snippets of the harbour serving as a reminder of where I was and how fortunate I was to be there. Sydney was an interwoven dichotomy of the manufactured and the cultivated; of steel, glass, stone and marble, the pristine and the new, the shining, the cold and the deliberate, offset by sky, grass, sand, wind and colour, the surrealist trees, the kaleidoscopic birds, the genteel, the quiet and the serene.

And then there were the people. In London I’d been spat at, punched, laughed at, ridiculed and harassed for ‘looking’ gay. “It’s bad enough you being gay behind closed doors, but when we have to have it rammed down our throats and recognise the fact…” Alright I admit, the skirt might have been a bad idea, and that time with the eyeliner, and maybe the purple hair was a giveaway, but there’d also been times when I was conservatively dressed and minding my own business and still ended up with the footprint of some thug’s boot on the side of my face for a week… Not that I want to debate the tolerance of either nation in detail, but imagine my surprise at this conversation with a staff member in a café at Central Station:
Average Joe behind counter: “Wow you’re English?”
Me: “Err yeah…”
Joe “You must be here for Mardi Gras”
Me: Oh My God! How can he tell? Is this gonna get nasty? “Err yeah…”
Joe: “You are gonna have the best time, I took my wife last year”
Me: “Err right”
Joe: “Here’s your change – Happy Mardi Gras!”

Refreshing doesn't do it justice!