FIRST IMPRESSIONS (JULY 2012)
I'd been to Newcastle before, but not so the rest of the family, so it was with some trepidation that I watched them boarding a Happy Cabs People Carrier, that then flung us all all the way from sydney airport to our final destination. My wife, J was sitting at the front, me at the rear, which afforded me an excellent view of her facial expressions as she went from stony silence to jaw-dropping disbelief, as we closed in on our new temporary home. In fact her countenance pretty much mirrored my own, on my first day in the office, when told that since there was no men's Toilets, i would have to share with the ladies. More on that to follow.
No sooner were we unpacked than we were exploring the sites of Newcastle. The golden beaches aren't great when cold and the wind is up; and everywhere else had the feel of a run-down 1970's UK holiday resort, out of season. I soon discovered that there was a limit to how many times I could say, 'It's so much nicer when it's sunny' without sounding desperate. It was bleak, cold, dirty, and intimidating. Not at all how I remembered it from 6 months' earlier. But we were here now, and here we were going to have to stay.
I knew that J hated the place even before she finally voiced her opinions (approx 36 hrs post-flight), but I had to cling to the belief that once the sun came out (approx 3m post-flight), everything would be creamy-peachy. I took them to my favourite cafe, to the beach, and on occasions managed to lift the prevailing air of despondency to one of weary indifference. The nights were another matter: hysteria, floods of tears, and temper tantrums. And that was just me and my wife! To their credit, the three kids took things in their stride. To them it was just another cold poorly organised vacation. Those hard years of holidaying in the UK had evidently not been in vain.
Sleeping was a problem. The two boys were having to share a bed, and this contributed to the general sense of restlessness. Whilst I had jetlag, this was actually of some benefit. At least i was able to console J whenever she went into her nocturnal meltdown; and, whenever she threatened to pack her bags and head back to Blighty, use whatever means necessary in order to prevent her.
And then there was the work. 3 days after landing I embarked on the beginning of my glittering new career Down Under. I don't recall much about the first few hours, other than being introduced to a lot of people whose names and roles I instantly forgot. There was a short presentation in my honour, at which I somehow contrived to tell the same anecdote twice within the same short speech - and get it wrong both times. It was around now that Phil, the only other male in the office told me about the Toilet situation. he blithely assured me that he bumped into a lady in the loo 'Maybe once a month'. Well, Phil, mate, you must have a much larger bladder than me. I managed three in the first week.
My first week ended with a trip to Sydney by train. I'd already been warned about the trains, to the effect of, 'Look straight ahead, don't make eye contact with anyone, and whatever you do, don't use the toilets'. It's true that some of my fellow passengers weren't exactly Bill Bryson, but hey, I'm from Inner City London, and this was nothing to me. The greater problem is that it really shouldn't take 3 hrs + to complete a 100 mile journey. However, there were positives. En route I saw a kangeroo. I got a quick glimpse of Sydney, and I got a lift back, over the magnificent Harbour Bridge. At last: bona fide evidence that I was definitely not in England.