Thursday, January 05, 2006

By boat to the inland

Speaking of Canberra, that is where we journeyed for Christmas, following a star we had seen in the east. Well, actually we went there because that's where Elf's mum and dad and sister are. Elf's sister is Imp - if I havent talked here about the Fullagar family's thing for names its probably too late to start now. This Christmas they were joined by Fred and Chonk, Elf's brothers who live in Sweden and Switzerland respectively, and also Chonk's Swiss-Texan girlfirend Irma.

As the brothers can't come home very often we made a point of being there too, to eat their chocolates and festoon them with clinging and giggling nephews while we read books and generally lay about.

We caught the ferry Spirit of Tasmania III to Sydney. It was very good, a better ship and more enjoyable route than the Devonport - Melbourne boats. The food is free and excellent quality. It takes 22 hours, leaving Devonport at about 5pm and putting into Sydney at about 3pm. The last few hours, where you steam up the NSW South Coast, through the heads and into Sydney Harbour is just magnificent. On Spirit III punters are allowed on the top deck, and everyone was up there crowding the rail as we went under the Harbour Bridge. That was very exciting, one of my great travel experience to tell the truth. Unlike my visits to other tourism icons this time I had to keep an eye on two freewheeling small boys. We were the biggest thing in the harbour and every other craft was honking and waving enthusiastically. As we cruised past the Opera House I walked bow-to-stern down the vacant middle of the deck and kept abreast of it - which felt very wierd.

Next we drove off the boat (Elf in charge) and launched ourselves into Sydney traffic. They have a neat system for testing new drivers - the lane that leads from the ferry wharf onto the Harbour Bridge merges away on both sides simultaneously, coming to a sharp point. If you survive this you are presumably then qualified to drive off into New South Wales. We found Aunty Finty and her family in Lindfield and had a pleasant visit with them. Finty insisted we sit in front of a huge electric fan.

Then we tried to find our way out of Sydney. Finty wrote explicit instructions. I misread them and we got very close to the northern beaches before I lost patience with the instructions and told Elf to turn around. As we headed back the way we had come for twenty minutes it gradually dawned on me that the error was all mine. We finally found an exit and trundled the 2 1/2 hours to Canberra, getting in about 11pm.

We stayed four days in Canberra, all very hot. The first was 37° but it moderated later. The boys were delighted with their gifts and seemed to enjoy the Whole Christmas Thing. We gave Marcus a red remote-control Mini, and Michael a red ukelele. I missed the moment of opening the uke but apparently Michael was totally, wordlessly thrilled. I was there by the time he started bellowing "GUITAR!!!!!". It didnt leave his side for days. The Mini careered around the loungeroom through piles of wrapping paper, clipping ankles and smacking pleasingly into furniture. When we took it to an empty carpark early on Boxing Day it screamed in wide circles while Marcus pelted after it, too excited to actually use the controls in his hand.

Irma, Chonk and Fred spent lots of time with the boys. Fred is always a big hit. He is a scientist, who still has all the interesting equipment from his scientific youth hanging around the house in Canberra. Marcus was fascinated by his magnets, electric components, paper planes and crystals. We met Irma for the first time and she made a very good impression on us all. The boys loved her to bits, and she spent a lot of time with them.

Elf's mum Felicity has several hundred jars of jam and marmalade around the house. My heart went out to her when I realised that she spent the hottest part of the 37° day sitting at a shadeless market stall and she sold not a single jar. I would like to help her market her product a bit better, if I can think of ways to do it without too much of a jump in her costs.

Elf's dad Bill has new lenses in his eyes and is seeing very well. He's not walking too well though and the garden is starting to get away from him. He has sensibly consigned a large part of it to wilderness is concentrating on a few rows of peas. Sulphur-crested cockatoos are everywhere, and Bill loathes them. He's an old salt living a long way inland, and now he has retired I wonder how long he will stand for the heat and cockatoos. He lent me a wonderful book about Paraguay from which I will blog snippets.

We made regular visits to Imp and Ed's. The boys play very well with their cousins Karri and Miah, and on one visit there was even cricket with the cousins' cousins. Imp catered for Christmas dinner and it was superb. The other big attraction at their place was the pool. Marcus overcame his worries and stood in the shallow end in water up to his chest. Since we have been home we have been to the Big Pool and he has continued to stretch his boundaries, which is great.

Now we settle into a gruelling round of birthdays. 11 days until Elf, then 8 days until Michael, then 34 days until Marcus.

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