Friday, December 25, 2009

Upside Down Under

It's not quite the cliché Christmas pud on the beach but with "White Christmas" blaring out from Youtube and pictures of Chapelfield Gardens (Norwich) in the snow on one hand and a hot sunny day outside and a beach trip in the offing the contrast is quite enough! The kids have unwrapped their piles of presents and are now enjoying them in one of the three or four living rooms here (and outdoors is another limitless one) and we are contemplating how to spend the rest of the day. J has unfortunately taken her turn as the sick one and is upstairs, hopefully starting her recovery.

Australia, the Lucky Continent, is certainly a contradictory place - all that space but a heavy-handed police force and a nanny state that reduces the essentials of life to three-word phrases: "Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle" is familiar enough. "Slip, Slap, Slop" is a classic (Slip on a top, Slap on a hat, Slop on the sun-block), but now there are others, including "Look, Lock, Leave" for car-parking protocol. Now, if they hadn't included the last, would Assies still be standing beside their locked cars looking lost? It does sometimes seem as if the State here treats its citizens as children, potentially naughty ones. Where the alliterative trio of imperatives is unavailable, then an attempt at humour will do: "Lose Wait Now" announces an SMS-based service to tell you when the next bus is due - by the time you've finished texting, the bus will have come!
It is indeed a fortunate place, the amount of space - or the knowledge that it's there - helping to foster a sunny relaxed friendly informal atmosphere, helped of course by the weather - although it can get down to 5 C in winter and there's little domestic heating and no insulation! And yet it's hard to imagine, beyond the hedonism, what it must be like to live here, whether the open spaces symbolise something missing - a cultural history and a shared tradition. Rockingham, the nearby town, has social problems that mirror inner-city UK or USA, with the fissiparous mix of immigrant origins adding to the complications.
One thing's certain - it's better for most purposes to be here than in Jakarta - clean, dry, healthier, functionally impressive (I mean there are trains and buses and they work a treat, cheaply or for nothing), relaxed, milder: somewhere to gather ourselves and recover before heading off to New Zealand.
Happy Christmas to all our reader (sic)!


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