Oops. I've been rather slow in getting out another journal entry. No real excuse: just got sucked up in other projects. But perhaps it was subconsciously trying to avoid giving too much prominence to a long weekend in Fiji two weeks ago. I fear people might think I never do any work!
I started writing this latish last Monday evening, having just got back from Sydney. Katie had retired to bed and I was listening to Lucinda Williams "Car Wheels On A Gravel Track" - no connection with the Dead (except she did once open a Jerry Garcia Band show). But I've been finishing it off in bits and pieces over the rest of the week.
Our plans for last weekend were disrupted by the rain all over New South Wales. We were supposed to go to the Louth picnic races west of Bourke (near the Queensland border) as guests of Swires who own large properties there. But the recent rain had left the course waterlogged, so it was called off. The weather in fact got worse, and Friday saw really heavy rain and strong winds - especially in Sydney where 200mm fell.
So we ended up with a weekend in Canberra before I flew down to Sydney on Sunday night for a dinner. On Monday morning I called on Leo Schofield: he runs the Sydney Festival and I'd been wanting to meet him for ages: several mutual friends had spoken very highly of him, but our schedules never seemed to coincide. We turned out to have a common love of Strauss opera--he'd once put on the Die Frau Ohne Schatten in Melbourne--which got us off to a good start.
Then on to a session on scientific links between Britain and Australia at the British Council. Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the clockwork radio dropped in: I was able to tell him that the only working radio in my office in Number 10 was one of his, and we used to wind it up so as to hear the Prime Minister being interviewed on the Today Programme. Lunch at Lendlease who are developing the massive Bluewater shopping/leisure complex at Dartford in Kent. Then a flight back to Canberra in time to go to the opening of GEC Marconi's new Canberra offices.
I seem to be writing this journal backwards. Last week we held a dinner for (Admiral Sir) Michael Boyce, the visiting C-in-C Fleet. He turned out to be great friends of John and Susie Pearson - Susie is a school-friend of Katie's and they run a gallery in Dorchester. Dick Vincent, the ex Chief of Defence Staff, was also visiting Canberra--I had got to see a lot of him when the Bosnian tragedy was developing.
I had spent the previous Monday and Tuesday also in Sydney, calling on British firms (British Aerospace and P&O) and going to a lunch at the Australia British Chamber of Commerce. Kim Beazely (Labor Leader of the Opposition) was the speaker, and I sat next to him at lunch. It was just after the launch of his biography which had attracted a lot of - pretty favourable - attention. That brought out his links with Tony Blair, both from their Oxford days together and more recently when he went to Chequers soon after the election last year - and quoted Tony Blair as saying "I can't believe I'm British Prime Minister."
Beazley clearly hopes he will be able to reciprocate after the next Australian election! He was on good form, both at the lunch and in his speech afterwards - no doubt buoyed up by the polls showing Labor in the lead. He clearly impressed the business audience.
I also saw Malcolm Turnbull - of Spycatcher and republican fame. He now runs Goldman Sachs Australia. I think he as a bit suspicious at first, wondering whether as HMG's envoy I would regard him as the devil incarnate, but I was genuinely keen to meet him - I remember reading his Spycatcher book when it came out. We had a good conversation about the Australian constitution - it's a subject that interests me from all my dealings with constitutional issues in Number 10.
Before that, we had our long weekend in Fiji! Just what we needed as a break from a Canberra winter.
There were six of us: Katie and me; Henry Crawford and Nina; and Andrew and Susie Main. Henry had developed the resort from scratch along with Martin Livingston, who's now the general manager. They had spotted the potential for an up-market resort and had perservered in realising their vision, despite all the difficulties.
We spent Thursday night in a hotel near Nadi, and then flew on to Vatulele the next morning early. It's an idyllic place. As you fly over the resort you see the beach but hardly anything of the bure's nestling in the trees. We landed on the grass strip and were met by Martin who drove us to the resort along the winding track. Breakfast was sitting outside the main bure eating tropical fruit and looking out over the lagoon towards the reef.
We then had three days of doing the sort of things you imagine on an island: snorkling on the reef; sailing Hobie-cats and windsurfers; exploring on canoes; lying on the beech and reading; some sleeping.
And some wonderful evenings. We had all meals communally, spread along a big table with many of the other guests - who came from all round the world. Wonderful food (lots of locally-caught fish). Several of the islanders who worked at the resort played and sang during the meals, and Katie and I borrowed their guitars afterwards and went through a large chuck of our old repertoire--with Susie who used to sing with Katie when they were at school.
We're now working how we can get back to Vatulele soon--and recommending it to all our friends.
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