Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Down Under

Hallo, and oh dear,
So much for New Year resolutions; mine was to write my blog regularly once a month without fail. Date today 16th February. Hmmm. Happy Belated Valentine's Day everyone.
Anyway, this being the first day of the rest of my life, better late than never, and all that, here it is, and as always I do have a bit of an excuse, as I've been in Australia for a month. Mostly staying with Daughter no 1 and her family, celebrating her birthday with a very cool ladies- only party, and having a glorious holiday, but doing a bit of work as well. And how clever of me was that! with the UK swathed in icy fog, I was to be found picnicking on a host of lovely beaches, body surfing rather gingerly, swimming in rock pools --the pools carved out of the rocks on almost all the beaches, filled every day with fresh water swirling in from the ocean--eating endless yummy barbecues, and lolling beside the family pool and perfecting a water ballet with my 15 year old granddaughter. We found this hilarious; the rest of the family got rather tired of it. ...Oh and we had a wonderful lunch at the Boathouse restaurant, on Palm Beach, made famous in Home and Away, (although it isn't called Palm Beach of course, but Summer Bay last time I looked) where the food is totally yummy--thick tuna steaks, we had, washed down with very good white wine, and the best frites I think I've ever eaten. The most fabulous kite surfing goes on there, the surfers lifted ten, sometimes fifteen feet out of the water, and pelicans march up and down the beach looking distinctly disapproving.
For me the One Word Association with Australia is not "sun" or "beach" or even "barbecue: it's light. The light there is simply beautiful, very brilliant and extraordinarily clear. I suppose it's all the water everywhere, reflecting it and throwing it back. And it is without doubt a happy place; people smile a lot and are incredibly friendly.
The working part of the trip consisted mostly of promoting The Decision; and it was the happiest few days. I always find it rather hard to believe that these stories of mine, written in the seclusion of my study in London, then go out and travel all over the world; and especially as far as the absolute furthest side of it. But they do and it's a huge bonus, meeting readers there; and I always enjoy talking to them so much. .
I stayed in the heart of Sydney in the extremely spoiling Four Seasons hotel, my room overlooking the harbour and of course the iconic Opera House; it truly is the most ravishing sight, and even more marvellous in real life than all the photographs, its lovely arched winged shape carved out of the (mostly) blue sky . (It is incidentally a bit of a myth that it never rains in Australia, Sydney does rain like you wouldn't believe, sending down stair rods of the stuff that go on for days at a time.) But it does rather redeem itself when it stops; one day I was sitting on the deck the house and the most incredible double rainbow presented itself to me and lasted for a very long time, far longer than its English counterparts. But I digress: as usual.
I had lots of fun inSydney, did several interviews, mostly on the radio; perhaps the most fun was on the ABC Radio National book show, with Michael Cathcart, definitely a legend in his own airtime. We chatted away about all manner of things as well as the book and I completely forgot, as with all the best interviews, I was on the radio at all and had to be practically hauled out of the studio. There was a marvellous lunch, hosted jointly by the Sydney Morning Herald and Dymocks, a book chain very like Waterstones, that same day; 25o people (mostly female, but certainly not entirely) came and were one of the best audiences for a talk ever; and I got a huge round of applause when I said, entirely truthfully, that I thought Sydney was one of the most beautiful cities in the world, up there with Venice and Paris. One of the most endearing things about Australians is how proud they are of their country, fiercely and gloriously patriotic.
And as if to prove to me yet again how small the world is, even if I was 23,000 miles away from home, a gentleman came up to my table at the lunch, and announced he had been at medical school with my late husband however many decades ago it was, let's not count... and as if that wasn't coincidence enough, he knew another English family who live--wait for it--almost next door to another daughter in London, and whose son is extremely good friends with with my grandson last summer and came to Wales to stay with us in our Gower cottage.
Another treat was meeting Brooke Simmons who runs the Sassie Sam website, hugely popular over there; she interviewed me , if you could call it that, it was more like the funniest, most interesting conversation ever. Brooke is seriously stylish in a wonderfully ditzy way; and looks quite amazing. Definitely the star of the foyer, she was.
We had dinner that night, some publishing and book seller folk and me, in a stunning restaurant called Otto, situated like all the best Sydney eateries on a wharf and sat in the warmth as the sun went down, drinking rich golden Australian chardy, eating barramundi, and chatting the night away. It's a tough job but someone has to do it...
On then to Melbourne, very different from Sydney, more formal, with tall gracious buildings a greater sense of history and a strong cultural reputation. The rivalry between the two, or rather the inhabitants of the two is intense, witness a fierce argument at dinner in Sydney; personally I think it's like comparing steak and strawberries -- and can't be done.
Anyway, my hotel (another humdinger, the Westin) was set in the heart of Serious Shopping country; I was within a wallet's throw of Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Armani.... . Fortunately my schedule didn't allow me to do any more than glance rather desperately through their windows as I was whisked past en route yet another interview.
Ironically it was hotter in Melbourne than in Sydney; an alfresco lunch at an Italian restaurant (the best risotto ever, this is a city for serious foodies) was as much Outdoors as I could cope with. Temperatures in the mid thirties come as a shock to the Anglo Saxon constitution. .
The trip ended with a dinner in Camberwell, an outpost of the city, again sponsored by Dymocks; more chat, more exchanging of ideas and a distinctly informal atmosphere. I have to tell you that the conversation over the book signings is not always confined to literary matters, but other weighty subjects like clothes, food, children and what sort of dogs we've all got. (this last because I'd revealed on the radio that morning that my early-morning dog walks was when I do my plotting.) Incidentally, for those who care, the dog population of Australia is extraordinarily similar to that of England: lots and lots of labradors, spaniels, poodles, labradoodles, (very popular indeed now) and German shepherds. ...just thought you might like to know. And although dogs are not allowed on most of the beaches, (which I have to say is probably a good idea) they have specially designated Dog Beaches, where they all gather in huge numbers, steal each other's toys and sticks, swim very competitively, and make a lot of noise.
Coming home was something of a shock, as it was right in the middle of the coldest spell in the winter, but just as well, as I didn't manage to do QUITE as much work out there as I planned--well would you?--and it suddenly seems quite easy to sit indoors all day,with the central heating turned up, slaving over a hot laptop and getting on with the next book. Which I just suspect might have some Australian sections...
And I promise the next blog will be much much sooner.
Penny V

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