Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to live in a beige city

After a short hop up from Auckland I land in Sydney. I am heading towards Canberra where I am staying with my old friend Dale. Canberra is 3 hours drive away. If I was in England this would require intense discussion, a sat nav, regular traffic reports, Kalms tablets or Bachs rescue remedy and mellow Magic on the radio all the way. In Australia it’s treated like a quick trip to the shops.

I met Dale a few years ago when he came to stay in England. Our perverse senses of humour and love of psychology collided into a great friendship (read - permanent good hearted bantering session). He went back to Australia nearly a year ago and I haven’t seen him since. I see him walking towards me with this big grin on his face. He picks me up, swings me around and gives me the most enormous bear hug. Australia feels good already. As if to confirm this extra big dollop of happy the car next to Dale’s car sports the number plate BHAPPY. My point exactly.

The City of Beige

I had been warned about Canberra by Aussies, English people and Kiwis alike. ‘There is nothing to do there. Everything is beige, dull and sterile,’ they said. They have a fair point. Aside from some spots like Cotter, Gibraltar Falls and the New Parliament building (worth a look for the way it uses pyramids in its construction) it is duller than snooker on a black and white TV, but it doesn’t unduly bother me. This trip is about people in places, rather than the places themselves so I adapt to the life of my host. And Canberra is no exception. As Dale said to me, ‘It’s not a place for tourists. It’s a place to live. And if you live here it’s great.’

So ‘living’ is what I have done this past week. I settled into Dale’s place like a regular flatmate dealing with my normal life issues - primarily my university writing course - and considering the stress that created towards the final deadline I suddenly become very grateful for the fact I was ‘living’ in one spot and that Dale had good coffee.

How I am sure if I know Jack

At the end of the week of hard writing we went for a meal in a Chinese restaurant called Happys. The queue boded well for the fact the food was good, but not for the fact we would get seated this side of the weekend. The group in front of us asked us to join them and 3 became 7. They were an interesting bunch. We had a lively male joker, a pregnant lady who was well overdue, her husband who seemed to be an astute, well read, spiritual type and a wiry, energetic, female archaeologist. The predicted dullness of Canberra stepped aside for a night of intriguing, impromptu and semi drunken conversation. 2 such snippets were:

1. How did ancient Muslims in Australia know where Mecca was? This is not a racist question before anyone gets on their high or low horse. The Archaeologist was working on a project investigating the Islamic presence in Australia eons ago. I have neither researched this nor can remember it in full detail, but suffice to say Arabs and their ships of the desert (ie camels) were shipped into Australia because the Caucasians didn’t know how to navigate the hot bits in the middle. If you don’t know get a man that does. Her research was asking the question ‘how did they know which direction to pray when so far from home without compasses?’ To illustrate her point when we got relocated to an adjacent table she placed a sauce bottle on the old table and said, ‘That is Mecca (apologies to those who need them). Now we are at a new table how do you know which way is Mecca on the old table?’ I couldn’t tell her. Turns out they used stars. How they did this during the day or when it was cloudy I don’t know.

2. So you want to fix men and be rescued by them? – Being the traveller I get quizzed a lot. There is always a search for both common and uncommon ground between new friends of different nations.

TV is a staple topic. People like to know how it differs abroad and in the most part love the variety of English TV. So far wherever I have gone ‘Family Guy’ has been the one show with guaranteed universal appeal. If you can fling some choice Stewie and Peter catch phrases into a conversation you are in. At this conversation though, I happened to bring up ’24’ one of my favourite programmes and the fact that Jack Bauer is rather fit.

‘So you want a man that you can fix then?’ states Husband of Pregnant Lady, rather bluntly.

‘What? Eh, no. I just meant he was handsome, brooding, and can kick arse. He does what he needs to to make it right and will go to the ends of the earth to do so.’

‘And that is what you want a man to do for you. To save you. ‘

‘Ha. He’s the modern day knight in CTU armour,’ piped up Lively Joker.

The spring roll paused on its way to my mouth. I wasn’t expecting such open heart analysis from total and now very drunk strangers over my entrees. My brain began picking over previous boyfriend choices with an awareness that was obvious as the chilli sauce in my mouth.

Even as adult females we are still subjected to the ‘fairy tale.’


  1. Canberra suits a particular sort of person - one of those is someone who loves the outdoors but doesn't want to live in a small town.

    One of the guys at dinner reminded me of the disabled guy off Fat Pizza. Can't remember the character's name.

  2. Haven't seen Fat Pizza but I would agree with you about Canberra. Not saying it is a bad place - just that it is very different from other places.