Thursday, October 14, 2010

Southern encounter

Today I ventured south of the Thames to Southbank to have lunch with Marilyn, another refugee from the Southern hemisphere refugee – in Marilyn’s case, South Africa. Topics of conversation included:

1.      1.  The fact that Northern ocean fish is far inferior to Southern ocean fish; though I learnt that it is possible to get John Dory here.
2.       2. That the English don’t favour directness. That if you are a little annoyed with bad service, for example, you should merely sniff, or perhaps make a wry, clever remark which carries only the faintest whiff of criticism. If you are really annoyed, you might go so far as to say something like ‘now I’m beginning to get a little cross’.
3.       3. That BT is the world leader in bad service, eclipsing even Telstra; which, as Australians will know, is really saying something. BT should therefore be avoided at all costs.
4.      4.  Of course you are going home at Christmas!’ said Marilyn. Of course.
5.       5. The Northern winter – that rite of passage for Southerners. Marilyn recommended planning to go somewhere warm during January or February – ‘January and February are hell!

Generally speaking, it was a good old fashioned ex-pat whinge. Marilyn has been here for a year now, and lives in a village, in a house with a garden. I have garden-envy. I have found myself lately taking circuitous walking routes just so I can walk through parks and squares, and once in said park or square I choose to walk on the grass rather than the path. I find I am craving a decent hike.

I’ve now been here for six weeks. And let’s be frank – this business of searching for the perfect breakfast with well-cooked poached eggs and decent sourdough toast is really a sign of homesickness – an attempt to replicate my Sydney morning ritual. So far I have achieved an approximation, but Tablespoon Cafe in Lindfield with the Sydney Morning Herald, it ain’t. Luckily Evan is arriving for his visit on Sunday – at just at the right moment on the homesickness curve.

My negative state of mind today may have something to do with the fact that I have still not been able to satisfactorily resolve the hot water situation, my internet is working only intermittently, and I have been reading Schopenhauer (who does not seem to have been a cheerful person). I have also unpacked all the Australian Stuff that arrived on Monday, and am quite shocked at what I thought was indispensible. For one thing, I am never buying a piece of clothing again. I have enough here for three lifetimes. What was I thinking? And I threw so much away, too!

To chill out from this rather negative day I attended a yoga class this evening, at a local community centre called OneKX (KX as in Kings Cross). As a local resident, I am eligible to be a member, which I now am. The yoga class was quite good, at least until we got to the handstand part. Somewhat unfairly, I was minded to think of Hilary’s lovely yoga room on York Street in Sydney, with its buddahs and plants and Indian drapery, where I use to go every lunch time a few years ago, and the OneX multi-purpose room and handstands (which I couldn’t do, of course) didn’t really measure up. But that’s just being picky.

But this evening I had a last minute invitation from a friend visiting London to join her for dinner, so I donned some of the despised clothing (there is so much of it!) and went to Knightsbridge, where we Norwegian crab claws from the Barent Sea (known as the most dangerous catch, because of the severe sea conditions), and something named ‘sea bass’ – I’m usually wary of anything bearing this name, but in this case it was delicious. Almost like home *smile*

I can’t leave this blog entry without quoting in full today’s editorial comment in the Guardian on the subject of the maestro:
Even the Guardian’s obituary of Dame Joan Sutherland observed that Richard Bonynge was not just the late, great soprano’s husband and teacher but also, “some would say, her svengali”. Such an attitude towards Mr Bonynge was at one time extremely common. From the 1960s onwards, in order to hire Sutherland in her prime, an opera house also had to hire her husband as conductor. The package deal, plus the fact that Mr Bonynge had such a big say over her repertoire and fellow singers, undoubtedly caused resentment. In this country, there was some anti-Australian snobbery about it too. Yet Mr Bonynge stuck to his guns and, in the end, he won through. He did so, in part, because La Stupenda so obviously needed him to sustain her long career and, in part, because, as a conductor, he was so considerate of singers’ needs. Above all, though, Mr Bonynge was shown to have been right all along about his wife’s voice and repertoire. He was way ahead of his time on his knowledge of the rarities, and concern for the performing practice, of bel canto opera. He also understood that his wife’s extraordinary voice was ultimately better suited to the more lyrical repertoire than to the more dramatic roles which broke so many sopranos’ careers too soon. This week of all weeks is one in which the anti-Bonynge brigade should reflect on their decades of misjudgement. Mr Bonynge was no svengali. He was a true life-partner in a revelatory career which those who were fortunate enough to experience it will never forget.

You'll note that bit about ‘some anti-Australian snobbery’. Perhaps today’s blog entry has helped redress that balance with a little anti-Britishness. It seems that the six weeks point is the point at which those little quirks which were so charming begin to make one, shall we say, a little bit cross. 

Oh, and if you are reading this it means that my internet connection has put in a brief reappearance and it's probably after midnight. For some reason it works best then.

Images from these websites:


  1. To really study the English, try "Watching the English" by Kate Fox:
    Watching The English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour"

    But I expect you have enough to do with philosophy without getting into anthropology as well.

  2. I checked that out - "a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and byzantine codes of behaviour. The rules of weather-speak. The ironic-gnome rule. The reflex apology rule. The paranoid-pantomime rule. Class indicators and class anxiety tests. The money-talk taboo" -- my goodness, where have I landed?? One thing - at least I don't need to carry around my sunglasses. Haven't need them since I left Barcelona.