Man walks into a column, no.33: Sydney

Phil’s Australian Travelblog, part one of two: Phil’s week in Sydney, in which our hero falls foul of light fingers in an Abu Dhabi toilet cubicle.

The few of you who pay close attention to this column will remember that in last week’s post I was wedged between the horns of a quandary: how to make this resolution-enforced foray into travel writing remotely interesting. Then I remembered that I’m a researcher by trade so I should keep it simple and stick to indisputable evidence, so here are a few facts about Australia’s capital city, Sydney.

FACT: all men from the Middle East are thieves, given the chance. Before I’d even reached Australia I encountered calamity: exhausted from flying and lack of sleep, I left my wallet in a toilet cubicle at Abu Dhabi international airport. I realised my mistake after just a couple of minutes but when I returned it was gone. The security guards questioned the cleaner who was on duty at the time in a manner that can only be described as indescribable as I do not speak Abu Dhabian. I do not expect to see my wallet again.

FACT: my great-great-great grandfather was a convict shipped to Sydney. George Copestake was a weaver from Sheffield who committed a possibly heinous crime (molesting a ferret?) and paid the price by being transported to a Pacific paradise. I discovered this thanks to the computer database at the Hyde Park Barracks – the place where convicted men were housed until they’d served their time. George was such a wrong ‘un that he even tried to escape, and as punishment he was forced to ‘tread the boards’ on a massive wooden treadmill which was used to grind flour. This explains why I hate gyms so much.

FACT: each and every Australian child can spot the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby at a distance of 100 yards by the age of six. Kangaroos are greedy and aggressive despite their friendly faces: when feeding a pack (pouch?) of ‘roos this morning, outside the bungalow in Jervis Bay where we were spending the weekend, the Alpha Roo tried to mug me for the entire sourdough loaf I was carrying. These were obviously kangas with a middle class palette.

That’s probably enough facts for now – I bet you feel like you’re here yourselves – but just in case, here are a few FACTlets to tide you over till next week’s post:

1. The sea in Sydney is warmer in winter than a British sea on a summer’s day.

2. I am surprisingly good at catching fish.

3. In Sydney buses have their own roads.

4. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is much bigger than it looks on television.

5. Australian strawberries are rubbish, but all other Australian food is delicious.

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