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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Wizard in Oz!

I rather like the Australians.

I’m afraid that there are likely to be any amount of these sweeping generalisations in what follows.  Obviously, I can’t say that I like all Australians.  I’ve only met a few, and those that I have met have been invariably providing a service or selling goods of some kind, so were  hardly likely to be unlikeable, but still…

I suppose what I like most is their sense of humour, and that fact that they’re not afraid to use it.  Take this ‘for instance’.  We were in a pharmacy in Manly (a town which must have a sense of humour with a name like that).  I had an irritating cough (I’ve got an irritating everything, but the cough was excelling itself) and my wife had digestive problems.  We sought the advice of the pharmacist, who suggested a couple of remedies.  My wife, who likes to relieve awkward situations with humour, said to her “What with his cough and my problems, we keep expecting people to spray us with something”.  Now in England, that would either have raised one of those artificial and pitying smiles which say ‘poor old bugger, it’s a shame really, but if I keep smiling she may go away of her own accord’, or would have elicited no response whatsoever.  Here, the pharmacist said, “Nah” as she rang up the items on the till, and waited a perfect beat before following with, “we’ll just spray after you’ve gone.”

I should, I suppose, explain that, at the time of writing, we’re on a brief stop-over in Sydney prior to a cruise around New Zealand (which is the primary purpose of this holiday).  Hence the visit to Manly, because everyone has said we should visit there even if we do nothing else.  Although one large Australian gentleman, with quite a few beers under his belt, made a very strong case for the Royal Australian Agricultural Show, which we declined.

Coming back to the pervasiveness of humour, there’s the adverts.  In Sydney, there’s an anti-litter campaign ongoing at the moment.  All over the city, there are huge posters saying ‘DON’T BE A TOSSER!’ and, in slightly smaller letters, ‘put it in the bin’.  Brilliant!  But can you imagine getting away with anything like that in the U.K.?

Or there are the road signs, which are probably not intended to be humorous, but get there anyway.  At a particularly complex and busy junction in Sydney (and, I’m sure, elsewhere), involving multiple lanes winding around a city-centre block, there’s a point where four lanes emerge from a blind bend.  There’s no entry to these lanes for oncoming traffic, but this might not be immediately obvious if you were unused to the traffic flows in the city, and were perplexed by the junction.  About 20 yards down from the junction, along those four lanes and facing the oncoming traffic, there is a large red sign with white lettering which says ‘WRONG WAY – GO BACK’.  No diagrammatic sign or translation into other languages, just this stark warning in English.  And if you can’t read English? “Well, you’d better learn pretty sharpish, eh mate?” you can imagine would be the response.

It’s the same robust attitude that informs the small print of a meal offer at a restaurant on the waterfront at Darling Harbour, which read ‘This offer is not available on Bank Holidays, or any other day when we can’t be bothered’.

Of course, sometimes the joke seems to be on the weary traveller.  For example, Australians seem to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to drinking alcohol.  They seem quite keen on it, but in a sort of slightly guilt-ridden way.  On Good Friday, I nipped down to the bar in our hotel for a quick pint (well, a ‘schooner’ actually, whatever that is.  Whether you get a pint, or not, seems to be in the lap of the gods here).  There were a number of people in the bar but I was surprised to find the door was locked.  I tried it a number of times, thinking I had made a mistake, at which point the bar tender came over and unlocked it, saying he could let me in for a last drink if I liked.  Another chap joined me (also English, recently arrived from Blighty and like all fellow-born Englishmen, pathetically grateful to be served anything by anybody).  When this other chap asked about the early closure, the bar tender explained that they were not allowed to serve alcohol after midnight on Good Friday.  We were now rather perplexed as the time was 22.05, so he went on to say that he needed the extra time to clear the place and do his paperwork!  I asked if I could buy another beer to take up to my room (a pretty standard practice in most hotels) but was told that I couldn’t because it would have meant walking through the Reception area with it, which was an alcohol-free zone.  Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.  I thought the local populace might at least kick up a fuss about being ejected from a hotel bar at 22.10, but no, they all filed out meekly, as did I.  Mind you, on our first night, they had shut off all of the draught beer pumps at 21.30, for no apparent reason, and that didn’t elicit a word of protest either.

It’s a funny old place, Australia.

Now try the second instalment of the saga - 'Time Flies (But Not In Economy)'

If you've enjoyed this, you might well enjoy Philip's 'nostalgedy' series of books which contain numerous pieces in much the same vein.  Links can be found to the right of this page.