Journal for 30 December 2000

Prawns on the barbie: Christmas down-under

Our fourth Christmas in a row in Australia, though the others have been 'Over East' as the sandgropers (West Australians) put it. Very different from the wind and rain in the UK, and now the snow and ice.

The Saturday before Christmas was carols in Walker Street where we lived in the 1980s. It's a cul de sac, so everyone gathers in the street - this year there must have been at least 70 people. Katie sat on the back of a ute with her guitar, and was joined by Jeremy Roberson, also on guitar. All the favourite carols sung with gusto if not quite Kings College Chapel tunefulness. Then a sizeable portion of the company repaired to the Longleys' for pizzas - they've just installed a pizza oven, so it's bring your own ingredients and make up your own pizzas.

Christmas Day itself was hot - up to 38 degrees C (100 F). We went for a swim with Holly on the beach early - with lots of other dog-walkers. It looked a bit like the doggie Olympics with owners spaced about 20 metres apart all throwing sticks and balls for their dogs, and a line of dogs paddling furiously back to the beach. Then back to Walker Street for breakfast - another big gathering, this time at Ric and Lynn's. Katie very envious of Ric's newly-built water features in his garden and busily plotting what she can do in our's.

Breakfast lingered on until nearly noon, ending with a swim and impromptu water polo in the Lefroys' pool. Then back home to prepare for Christmas lunch. This time a smallish affair, with Fanny Roberson and Barbara Sawyer. It was hot enough for us to decide to eat inside rather than out - though I did my bit sweating beside the barbie cooking prawns and scallops. Then back to the beach with Holly for another swim, meeting up with George Haynes and Jane Martin who invited us back to their place in Walker Street for a drink. This turned into an evening session playing guitars and singing with the remnants of their lunch party until we staggered home.

Boxing Day was up early for the traditional RSBCA holiday ride. The Walker Street turnout was small, just Mike Lefroy and me. We pedaled off gently at the back of a huge bunch - around 100 all told. No heroics and we joined various smaller groups enjoying a quiet 50k around the river.

Back for a birthday breakfast for Kate Lowe at the Lefroy's pool again, before a lazy day in front of the television watching cricket (the first day of the Melbourne Test), sailing (the start of the Sydney-Hobart) and racing (the West Australian Derby). Then off to Parmelia Park in the late afternoon when it was a little cooler for the traditional North Fremantle versus South Fremantle softball match. I had been supposed to umpire, but managed to get out of that since I didn't know the rules. Not that that would been a great disadvantage: it's a very non-serious game that always seems to end in a tie.

It was a beautiful still evening, and a group of us went out on the Longley's converted cray-boat, mooring briefly to pick up fish and chips at Cicerello's and then tying up to a spit post half a mile off the fishing-boat harbour. Even though there was very little breeze, it still felt several degrees cooler out at sea, as John regaled used with sailing and boating stories.

Wednesday was also hot, with strong easterlies in the morning that frustrated Katie's attempts to go rowing. There was a late sea-breeze, which made for a peaceful twilight race on board Robo's Fremantle Eight. We decided to play musical positions on the boat, changing at each mark. Katie happened to be helming when a bigger boat bore down on us on an upwind leg and ignored all shouts until we literally had to fend her off. Luckily no damage, and the collision seemed to put them off much more than us so we finished well ahead.

The weather changed for Thursday morning, blowing much more from the north. That made for tough cycling and rowing. The group doing the 80k ride was bigger than normal, partly made up of people from the fast group claiming to be suffering Christmas hangovers. Those proved only temporary, and the pace was strong. Downwind was OK, but battling back upwind was hard. I teamed up with a group of stragglers, and we all arrived back at Papa's exhausted. Katie joined us after a similar battle on her scull, with the wind blowing straight down the Canning River and kicking up white horses. All this before breakfast.

I'm off to Canada next week, via London, so I'll get a chance to sample some cold weather. I'm working with former Canadian G7 sherpa colleagues on a study on world financial institutions ahead of Canada taking over the presidency of the G7 in 2002. Before then will be New Year's Eve at our house - the Walker Street gang plus others. At least we can confidently plan to have dinner outside in the courtyard.

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