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Saturday, 23 April 2016
Giving The 'Rahlag' A Miss
They're a sociable bunch, the Australians.
I know that this is another in my ongoing series of sweeping generalisations, and I'm sure that Australia has its own share of misanthropes. It's just that I've never met any of them.
Take the other night in our hotel bar. My wife and I were sitting, minding our own business, gazing at the rugby on the television but really watching the comings and goings in the bar and trying to get a feel of the Australian social culture. Another couple of about our age came in and sat not too far away from us. They were nursing a couple of green and brown concoctions which looked distinctly unappetising and I later learned rejoiced under the name of 'Tobleroonies'.
Now, in England, it would be entirely possible to spend an entire night within feet of someone else without ever acknowledging their existence but I had a feeling this wouldn't be the case in Sydney. Sure enough, after a short while they found a reason to say something to us and a conversation rapidly blossomed as they moved over to join us. I'm rubbish at being sociable, so I decided to do something useful and go and get some drinks. As I made my way back from the bar, a couple of blokes sitting at one of those high tables you sort of perch at stopped me and said, with a grin, "you wanna watch it mate, our mate's moving in on your missus" Indeed, a tall strapping bloke, who I recognised as being part of their group from the previous night, was sitting talking animatedly to my wife and the other two.
It turned out that Gary, as he was called, had been out on the town with his two mates and had clearly had a very convivial evening. I don't know if he was really trying to chat up my wife, although it would have been a nice vote of confidence if he was, but he was clearly in the mood for a natter and was greatly interested when we explained that we were here as tourists and only had a limited amount of time in which to enjoy the delights of Sydney. We said that we had been for a walk down to Darling Harbour and were pretty exhausted after that.
"Ah, you want to go to the rahlag" Gary announced, in a manner that brooked no argument. I did what the English do best, I tried to look as if I knew exactly what he meant whilst searching desperately in my memory for anything that would give me a clue. "I always used to go to the rahlag with my old man when I was a nipper, used to love it. All the animals and the stacks of fruit and veg." He continued with enthusiasm.
It was at this point that the penny dropped. I had been reading the local paper, largely because it was free, but also because I think you can learn a lot about a country from its local press. I remembered now that there was a feature about the ongoing Royal Agricultural Show currently taking place in Sydney, although I hadn't taken a great deal of notice of it.
"Nah, you don't want to go there" the woman of the couple chipped in, "it's boring. You want to go to Manly, it's got a great beach"
This prompted a spirited discussion about the relative merits of both attractions. Gary, it transpired, was on a three day 'jolly', along with his two mates (who were watching the conversation with interest from their perch on the table opposite) sponsored by their trade union. Ostensibly it was to attend a union conference, but I think the eating and, particularly, drinking side of it was principally what it was about.
We, politely, said that we would keep our options open re our plans for the next day and Gary staggered off to bed, apparently satisfied with a job well done. The other couple, who were in Sydney to visit their daughter who was about ten months pregnant and due any moment, laughed at the idea of anyone wishing to spend their precious holiday time at the 'rahlag' and extolled the delights of Manly.
The next day, we decided to take their advice and took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly and had a brilliant time on a scorchingly hot autumn day. Back at the bar that evening, Gary came in looking a little sheepish and considerably more sober than the previous night.
"What did you do today?" He asked. We shamefacedly admitted that we had gone to Manly.
"I don't blame you. It's a nice place." He agreed, "You wouldn't want to go to the rahlag, it's just animals and veg."