For the past two years, out of necessity, I worked in Sydney but I didn’t live there. Like several of my colleagues I commuted a long way and cobbled together various overnight arrangements that included sleeping in the office (seriously, we did that a lot), sleeping on a friend’s sofabed and, when I was desperate for a good night’s sleep, checking into a hotel. Sometimes the hotel option was a flop because I booked somewhere with thin walls, noisy aircon and road works outside, but just occasionally it paid off, like the time I booked into a grand hotel for a fraction of the normal price and they upgraded me to a room with this view. I could have stayed there for the rest of my life!
This week that all came to an end. It was my last week of intercity commuting. To say I was relieved is the understatement of the century. In fact, the minute I got home I threw down my bag and did a little dance like this one in Love Actually, when Sarah and Karl finally get together. But before that happened I said goodbye to a few experiences that have been pretty constant in my strange life of the past two years. Here, in no particular order, are the highlights from the week of last things:
The last time I said, “Good morning!” to Il Porcellino, the most excellent bronze sculpture who sits outside Sydney Hospital. He really is a fine fellow. People rub his snout for good luck. I once saw a Chinese businessman rub his wallet on Porcellino’s…er…pizzle, so I guess that brings extra good luck.
The last time I will get caught out by Sydney weather. Finally—finally—I’ve learned that when the forecast says cloudy it means torrential rain that will make your shoes fall apart and soak every piece of clothing, despite your valiant attempts to deploy an umbrella.
The last breakfast at Dymocks café, a genteel place on the balcony above the bookshop, where you can eat a superb omelette, watch people browse bookshelves and almost (but not quite) drown out the sound of jackhammers outside.
The last breakfast at Metro St James. (This is starting to sound as if all I did for the past two years was go out for breakfast, but that’s because we worked long hours without a break, so pretty much the only time I saw the outside world was at breakfast time.) I liked that place so much, not least because of its hanging plants, astroturf and view of an enormous fig tree. I also liked its mysterious jars of ferns and primordial slime.
Are they anaerobic terrariums? Beats me. Anyway, I enjoyed sitting in a corner next to them, reading my book and listening to great music (sometimes ’60s lounge music, sometimes reggae, sometimes funk, and often songs I’d never heard but instantly liked), while I ate a very good breakfast. AND they have Pepe Saya butter. Really, all my needs were met.
The last week of working in a building with wallpaper. I loved this wallpaper:
In fact, I’m pretty sure the wallpaper was one of the reasons I took the job. It certainly made working there more bearable. There were other architectural and decorative features that I liked, but this wallpaper was my favourite. One of the perks of working in a heritage building is that you get to experience history while you work: sandstone steps worn down by two centuries of shoes, quirky staircases that no-one in this health-and-safety conscious world would ever dream of putting in a workplace, a tin roof that leaks no matter how often it’s mended, and leadlight windows that so many people have looked at and admired. And then there are the ghosts. I never saw the ghosts. In all the nights I stayed at work I saw only cockroaches, but there was a lot of unexplained creaking of floorboards, and two of my colleagues who slept in the oldest part of the building swore they’d seen the ghosts. I don’t doubt it. I kind of wish I’d got to see them too.
And finally, when the ridiculous work hours, the long-distance commute, the odd sleeping arrangements and the exhaustion were over for good, I went to the Tea Room in the Queen Victoria Building and had the most splendiferous high tea with a friend. Sydney, for all its noise and brashness and crazy busy-ness, does have some jaw-droppingly beautiful buildings and the QVB is one of them. It was a grand, lovely, civilised end to two very unusual years and the week of last things.