LETTER FROM MANLY — DAY 1

MANLY — THE FINAL FRONTIER

Manly Beach — where great white sharks abound

Manly Beach — where great white sharks abound

Arriving into Sydney airport at around 7.30pm local time, my first impressions of Australia is that it’s caught somewhere between the ‘fifties and the ‘nineties in a post-colonial time warp.

Bank notes still sport our Queen’s head but Australian Border Control repel all those with spurious entry claims (and anyone carrying fruit or who has been on a farm within the past thirty days) with a judicial raised palm that those charged with entry to the UK could only dream of.

Two Muslim women duck beneath the ropes in an attempt to jump the queue only to be put to the back of the queue. Can’t somehow see that happening back in Blighty.

Finally through customs, we don’t have to wait long for evidence of post industrial-revolution Keynesian economic thinking: spotting a sucker, the taxi driver charges us $92 for the ride to Manly, a journey that took around twenty minutes. Having found the apartment, which on first inspection is so far from the beach to classed as in the foothills, we met up with Harriet, Jane’s 21 year-old daughter on a gap year, and set out on an expedition in search for something to eat.

Manly in a prosperous, even aspirational weekend resort for residents of Sydney, also home to many who commute to the city.

But in keeping with autumnal seaside towns back home, if you don’t present for food before 9pm — forget it.

It’s not a good day to be arriving in Aussie as the England cricket team has just

England crash out of the World Cup

England crash out of the World Cup

exited the Cricket World Cup, humbled by the might of Bangladesh. Normally this would be meat and drink to a Pom-hating Aussie, but the burly barman in McTavish’s Sports Bar has had his spread bet ruined by the result.

I emphasise my Irish heritage, and he points to a television screen showing Ireland being put to the sword by India. Fair Dinkum.

By 11.30 I can hardly keep my eyes open.

My body clock tells me that it’s 12.30pm, and having had a reasonable sleep on the flight from Abu Dhabi, I should feel okay.

Icrash out straight away but wake at 3am (somewhere around 2pm UK time) ready to party. Now I should just say a word or two about the journey. Pushing the boat out and travelling Business Class with Ethiad was worth every penny. This isn’t being snobbish, but I simply would not contemplate travelling more than half way across the globe crammed into Economy, at my time of life. Forget it.

But reading some traveller reviews on Sunday morning had left me with a quiet unease that we could perhaps be in for an experience that would fall short of expectations. But from the moment that we were fast–tracked through check-in and security at Manchester airport, whisked into the Premium lounge to be served with home-cooked full English (albeit with turkey rashers) and champagne, there is nothing I could say which could praise the experience highly enough.

However, on the seven-hour flight to Abu Dhabi my e-player (films, TV, games etc.) didn’t work. The cabin crew tried re-booting it three times without avail, and even asked a fellow passenger if he would consider changing seats, as he wasn’t using his. I was given a form to fill in and told that I would shortly receive certification confirming that I would be compensated with 10,000 air miles.

But then the thing mysteriously started to work, albeit by pressing an unlikely and random combination of buttons, and all was well. Before setting off, I had flirted with the idea of having a go at David Boon’s tinny record. Now for those of you who know nothing of this, way back in the ‘80s, Boon — a former Aussie cricket Captain — had beaten the record set by fellow player Rodney Marsh — by drinking 52 cans of lager between Sydney and London.

The legendary Boon, whose feat was announced over the tannoy by a proud Quantas captain, exited the plane under his own steam, whereas Marsh had to be carried down the stairs by Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson before completing the journey to the team bus in a wheelchair.

In the event, I don’t think I even troubled the scorers to record much more than low teens, as the constant flow of champagne and red wine were preferable to guzzling for guzzling’s sake, and the quality of the cuisine — simply sublime — was much too good to spoil by hosing down lager.

Chatting to one of the cabin crew, I mentioned that my trip was largely to get over a recent family bereavement, and shortly after I was visited by the Lead member of the cabin crew: a Buddhist chap, who knelt by my seat, palms together in prayer and squeezed a few tears out.

All very touching, but no more air miles.

A diminutive airline representative, carrying a board with my name on it greeted us on arrival at Abu Dhabi. She presented me with a letter confirming that I had indeed been awarded 10,000 air miles, and we were whisked through security (by-passing queues in a manner that the Muslim women at Sydney airport could only dream of) and into the Premium Ethiad transit lounge.

Okay… enough of this Business Class stuff. But I will say that we received unrivalled service and all without having to flash my Press card and mention the words Lonely Planet.

Up at 6am the following morning, I’m now sitting on the balcony of our rented apartment, which is much closer to the beach than it seemed last night.

It’s approaching 8am and a pleasant, fragrant 24 degrees, with curious birds saying ‘g’day’ to each other in strange avarian dialects.

Surfers and joggers have been strutting their stuff since first light, and I’m now ready for a spot of brekkie and then to wrestle with the Great Whites that swim into the shallow waters of Manly bay in search of a bit of Irish tenderloin.

     “… Fair thee well and ado, to you sweet Spanish ladies…”

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