Christmas is coming: of that there is no doubt. But for any Poms finding themselves Down Under for Christmas, as we Traffords are, it possesses a very different feel and rhythm. Tourists for the festive season, we’ve found it hard to get our heads around the entirely different character of a summer Christmas
Under the sweltering heat (not a hardship, to my mind!), it seems incongruous to see images of reindeer, flashing Christmas tree lights and even fat blokes dressed in red suits with unconvincing white beards exclaiming ho! ho! ho!
Following a family wedding (outdoors on a green sward overlooking Sydney harbour), we’ve been staying in cabins in a nature reserve on the north edge of Sydney. As we leave it to move on (more of that later), the cabins are filling up for Christmas, as are the spots for caravans, motorhomes and tents.
Many are sporting flashing lights and even Christmas trees while, for those children anxious that Santa should find them away from home, there are little signs pegged into the ground announcing “Santa stop”. Lucky old Santa: at least in a tent there will be no chimney for him to struggle through.
I’m writing this in Sydney airport. We made an early start: but the dawn chorus arrived first. Always noisy at 5am, the usual cacophony was increased this morning by the arrival of the garbage-truck emptying countless bins across the site.
The dawn chorus has been an extraordinary, if unrestful, experience. A large crow lurks just outside our cabin most of the day, but boasts a more sophisticated repertoire than the boring caw of its English cousin. It vents some extraordinary sounds, including an “oh, oh!” exclamation reminiscent of a cartoon character.
As for the kookaburras, we’ve been trying to think of a collective noun for a group of those wreckers of human repose. A cachinnation, perhaps? Maybe the only appropriate term is a cacophony. Starting with a clicking and whirring, the call builds up to the full cackle which even a single bird can render entirely inimical to sleep.
We’ve learned both to love and to hate those birds: curse them for the early-morning noise; grow fond because, over the last few days, a couple of regular visitors have been perching on the rail of our cabin’s deck. They arrive not out of curiosity or affection, of course, but presumably in the hope of being able to steal food.
Not all the wildlife is noisy. If the brightly-coloured lorikeets make a row about scavenging crumbs around the barbecue areas (this is Australia!), the bush turkeys potter around the site in dignified silence, as do the Eastern Water Dragons, splendid two-foot-long lizards more interested in insects than human detritus.
Then there are the rats. Inevitably these ubiquitous rodents scurry around beneath the raised cabins, but they don’t get into them – unless you leave the door and fly-screen open and the lights on in open invitation, as another member of the wedding party did in a cabin two doors up.
His wife, terrified of the creatures, had been assured (falsely) that what she’d spotted had been a bandicoot, an altogether more benign beast. But, when a rat ran over her bed in the night as a result of her husband’s negligence, there was no deceiving her as to its identity, and all hell broke loose. Two of the young men in our large party managed to trap it briefly in the shower, but failed (to our relief) to batter it to death with a broom, losing it instead behind the cooker. Amid shrill indignation, the family moved out, and the pest-controllers moved in (so far without success, we gather): unsurprisingly, less-than-sympathetic rat jokes have dominated wedding-party banter ever since.
We’ve enjoyed Sydney, its glorious beaches, great eating and places, and even (thanks to a generous host) a luxurious trip by water-taxi under the Bridge, past the Opera House and round the point with its cluster of millionaire houses to a posh fish restaurant in Rose Bay. But now we’re leaving the city for a bit of Christmas wilderness on a remote tropical island: that might fuel a future blog.
Had we been staying in an Australian family home, we would already be caught up in the build-up to festivities: but we Poms, used to cold and frosty Christmasses and, having just endured the shortest day of the year, just cannot feel Christmassy yet, though we’re no Scrooges or humbuggers.
Checking in at Sydney Airport this morning was a shock. The check-in hall was heaving with humanity. Why is it so busy? I wondered aloud. Then came the announcement, in that beguilingly informal, jokey Australian style: “Sorry for the delays, guys: we’re exceptionally busy with all of you travelling for Christmas. Have a good one!”
Christmas? Of course. I’d forgotten. Notwithstanding the 25° heat, it really is nearly Christmas. Today is 23rd, the day following the longest day of the year. Only two more sleeps until we learn what Santa has brought us. What I’m hoping for is a spectacular seafood buffet dinner instead of the usual turkey.
In the meantime, yes: I guess Christmas truly is coming now. Even if it’s not “just like the ones we used to know,” as the song goes. On the contrary: to misquote Star Trek, “It is Christmas, Jim, but not as we know it!”
As the man said, have a good one!