Not so long ago

I was in Sydney the other week, the city I was born in and which I’ve lived since, once as a teenager, and a few years later as a young adult. I’m a Melburnian through and through, but I know Sydney well, and there are parts of it I love.

The Sunday before Christmas I spent with my oldest friend. We went to school many years ago at Turramurra High School. We’re a bit older than that now, which often seems surprising when we recall the fact. We look older – though not terribly – but our relationship seems little changed from those days. It’s surprising to learn when you get to this age that you don’t feel all that different to when you might have looked upon this age as being ancient. Surprising how much immaturity survives the journey – and we’re all the better for it.

The upshot of all that 30 years on we still talk about the same things, and find ourselves sniggering at the same jokes. It’s the value of sentimentality, it’s awfully comforting.

What has changed now is that rather than visiting each other in our parents homes on this day I found myself once again at his sprawling quad-level home built on a side of a hill amid tall eucalypts in leafy Wahroonga. It was a steamy day and we had a barbecue and a couple of beers and caught up on the old times.

Driving to his place, and after, from it, was an exercise in nostalgia. I lived in this neck of the woods, travelled these roads in a school bus and in the family car. The road heading towards the CBD was familiar, and naturally so to was the harbour bridge looming in the distance.

Late in the afternoon we set off for the eastern suburbs, where I spent so much of my time in the early twenties. It’s a beautiful, privileged part of the world. At that time I lived right on the tip at south head, in Watsons Bay. I lived with my aunt in an apartment building built in the thirties on a rise across the road from the beach – Gibsons Beach. She lived on the top floor, and from the front room – a glassed in balcony – you could sit and watch the ferries criss-cross the harbour, and distantly, half obscured, could see the arc of the harbour bridge lit up by night and the colour of verdigris. What memories I have there.

I was surprised as we made our way to Watsons Bay how much I remembered. It all came back to me as we passed through Rushcutters Bay, Double Bay, Rose Bay, and Vaucluse. I recalled the Cosmopolitan, still going around, and the cinema at Double Bay now something else altogether. There was the Golden Sheaf, a pub I spent many an evening in.

I remembered another time, dredged up from the past, eating at some fancy Double Bay restaurant with my aunt and an older, very elegant, friend of hers, Dodie. Dodie must have been a beauty in her day, and still possessed the ease and grace of those favoured with looks and money. I had come to know her through my aunt, had done some work for her, and in some ways was doted on by her. I was 20 years old, tall, lean, exuberant, randy.

I remember dessert had arrived and I had gobbled my mine down. Dodie, by contrast, had picked at hers with feminine elegance. Perhaps I eyed her meal covetously, for she smiled and pushed it across the table to me – a chocolate mousse I think – and told me to enjoy it. I felt her eyes on me as I ate, and at the end of it she gave a satisfied smile and said “I love a man with a good appetite.”

As we drove through these suburbs I recalled the hundreds of times I had caught the bus from Watsons Bay to Edgecliffe, the bus wending its way down these roads. I even remembered the route numbers – 323 and 324. It all seemed so fresh.

Gibson's Beach at twilight

At Watsons Bay we parked outside my aunt’s old apartment block. It hadn’t changed at all. We crossed the road and walked down the path to Gibsons Beach. It’s a small, but pretty beach, with a pilot station nearby. On t

We walked along, all the way to the Watsons Bay Hotel, and Doyles next to it, before returning. So many memories. So many possibilities.he weekend we would go down there with the papers after a breakfast of fresh croissants and enjoy the sun.

The day ended in Vaucluse, dinner at a small Hungarian restaurant served by buxom waitresses possessing a maternal allure. I had a goulash, and then an excellent cherry strudel. It was a grand day.

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