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Sydney, Whales, Mitsubishi and Viscounts

Posted on April 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM

“Have you seen the whale?” the cashier in the chemists said to Emma. “The what?” Vera and I blurted in unison. “Yes, the whale. If you look across the carpark, and through those two trees you can see the tale pushing up.” “It’s been there for the last hour,” she added. Excitedly, like four impressions of a five year old, we ran out of the shop and tore across the busy road, and on to the beach. Sure enough about 50 yards out you could clearly make out the white and black tale of a large Humpback whale. Every now and then it would surface and blow a spume of water about ten feet into the air. How absurd is this? We are in suburban Sydney and just across the road from the chemists is a whale. Yet; horrors. A surfie sidles up to us and with a flat voice which appears to come somewhere from the side of his face says, “The whale is caught in the shark nets, that’s why it hasn’t moved on,” he said. “Yeah,” he added for no apparent reason. The joy we had felt was now as flat as next day’s champagne. We had been in Sydney already a week and the credit card had been running hot. It had been on a provision and equipment purchasing spree that Ranulph Fiennes would have understood and approved. As a Scotsman once removed it was beginning to hurt a little. We were faced with a ruinous exchange rate. The amount of money that was required to organise a camping/caravanning trip around Australia would have to be reassessed and an urgent call to the Austrian bank manager made. I thought I had it under control back in Dornbirn, spending hours on Aussie ebay seeking a camper trailer to accommodate us for the 12-15 weeks of travel. I had bid on a couple, put in what I thought had been outrageously good bids only to be outbid. It all seemed so hellishly expensive for what we were getting. A$5,000 (* exchange rate of about A$1.5 to the pound) would buy you a ten year old 7’ x5’ trailer with no other amenities, but the camp kitchen and things like a 3 way fridge would set you back another A$1,500-2,000. The general cost of living was also proving to be a bloody thorn in the side. A daily shop teetered on A$50 every time we went into a supermarket. And for that we went out with barely two shopping bags between us. Absurdly, a single banana would set you back A$2. We also were in the market for a cheapish second hand 4 wheel drive. But, I soon saw it was going to have to be a car with as many miles on the clock as Apollo 13, if our budget wasn't going to be blown to smithereens. Initially it all looked pretty bleak. In between the shopping expeditions we did manage a quick swim at the beach. An obligation which would have been rude to ignore on any visit to Sydney. It was a beautiful spring day, a warm but sprightly breeze and that specialty of Australia, the strong white-glare sunshine. The fact that we didn’t have our swimmers didn’t matter. Off came the day clothes and in we surfed with our undies. Later that night as I was putting in the final bid on a Mitsubishi Pajero, with 331,000kms worth of “aussie experience” in the engine bay, I caught a snippet of a conversation between Emma and Vera. Emma had gone straight from the beach with only a dress thrown over her and off to the nearest playground. As she was hanging from the monkery bars, one observant kid shouted out to the other attendant mums, “hey, she doesn’t have any knickers on.” Emma recalling the family swim at the beach, came back as quick as a flash, “that’s alright because my mum hasn’t either.” Ebay witching hour arrives and praise the Dickinson we have ourselves wheels. For a paltry A$2,300 a 1992 model 4x4 is ours to pick up and keep for the duration. “But what about the mileage? Isn’t it a little high,” Vera asks reasonably. “These engines aren’t really run in till they’ve done a couple of hundred thousand miles,” say I, crossing fingers. An hour later we have completed the trifecta. Our bid for a 1979 Viscount pop top caravan was accepted by the owner and a happy email was no doubt wending its way to us via the ether, inviting us to join the caravanning fraternity, or alternatively the Ebay automated version- “Contact and Payment will be made in 24 hours, pick up within 7 days. No exceptions. No paypal. Don’t even think about a cheque, dickhead.” “Hey great news,” I am awoken from an unusual trucking dream at 7am. It’s Vera; she has already been down to the shops and looked in the newspaper. She had been deadly worried about the whale that had been caught in the net the previous day. “According to the local paper, it wasn’t trapped at all; it was a mother feeding her young one,” she said delightedly. Ha! Bubbles for breakfast. It was going to be a good day.

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