Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cold enough to freeze the snakes in Sydney

Yesterday was the coldest June morning in Sydney since 1949, with dawn temperatures of 4 oC (39 oF) and it was certainly the first time I have seen frost on the ground down by the beach. Undeterred, the usual elderly gentleman swimmer was still pounding up and down parallel to the sand. The one saving grace on the temperature front was there was no wind. The water was gunmetal grey with mist swirling round the surface like a witches’ brew which is not a look I associate with Sydney Harbour – more of a North Sea vista.

Before the plane touched down in Sydney for the first time I held most of the common preconceptions about Sydney to the extent that when we arrived at our apartment hotel and I discovered the see -through loo seat I assumed this must be the norm in Sydney households to guard against the potentially deadly red-back spiders that I was convinced lurked under every loo seat.

It was unfortunate my preconception about the prevalence of snakes in Australia was reinforced by meeting one at Palm Beach on my second day in the country. To put this in perspective this was about as rare as meeting a sheep in Knightsbridge. My first year in Sydney was in fact a cracker in snake terms – I think I notched up seven in the year including a large black snake which I spotted slithering into the communal wood pile during a camping trip – I decided I’d rather freeze to death than start pulling bits of wood and a possibly enraged snake out of the pile. I have to point out in the interests of being rational that most of the snake sighting frenzy was due to the fact that in the first flush of love and marriage we did a lot of exploring of the national parks around Sydney and that none of the snakes were remotely interested in meeting me and slithered off with commendable aplomb.

It had never occurred to me before arrival that Australia was anything other than the ‘sun-baked’ country. Bondi Rescue does not show people muffled up to the eyebrows and I had assumed Ugg boots were an Australian fashion quirk rather than a weather induced necessity. It was quite a shock to discover that whilst winter in Sydney often consists of gloriously clear days with cloudless blue skies glittering with sunlight, the temperature does drop overnight. Given it is only truly cold for a couple of months in Sydney it is quite common not to have any form of central heating in houses and apartments. The first flat we lived in in Sydney, had enormous glass windows down one side of the apartment framing huge spectacular views of bridge and city but ensuring it was absolutely freezing during winter. We swiftly discovered that when it is 10oC outside that’s fine, but 10oC is not comfortable television couch lounging weather and we took to huddling beneath duvets like a couple of Eskimo Nells staring morosely at a small fan heater.

During our second stint in Sydney we bought a house. I was carried away by the excitement of becoming property owners and the fact it was a stinking hot February and failed to pay close attention to heating situation. The house in fact was a step up in that it did have a working fireplace and as we moved into winter and the temperature dropped I began to look longingly at the furniture as potential fuel. The man at the garage who sold cut wood swiftly became my new best friend.

Third time lucky – this time when we got back to Sydney one of my main criteria for a house was it had to have some form of heating and joy of joys it does. It’s a fairly rudimentary system compared to the US models – though just to put things in perspective we lived in such a poorly insulated house in the US that my olive oil used to freeze solid and the dishwasher had to be defrosted with a hair dryer on occasion. But there is nothing nicer than waking up to the creaky puff of hot air being forced out of vents in the ground as the heating cranks into action on a cold Sydney morning.

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