Monday, January 28, 2013

Farscape tour of Sydney

My name is John Crichton, an astronaut. A radiation wave hit and I got shot through a wormhole. Now I'm lost in some distant part of the universe on a ship, a living ship, full of strange alien...

Oh no, wait - that's not my life, that's the Jim Henson Company's prematurely cancelled cult sci-fi drama Farscape. I'm not an astronaut, I'm just an aimless wanderer with too much time on his hands, looking for ways to fill his last few days in Sydney.

Hang on, wasn't Farscape filmed in Sydney? I smell another pointless and frustrating challenge!

Friday, January 25, 2013

A nightmare to remember

People say it's boring to hear about other people's dreams. But people think things like sport and cars are interesting, so I wouldn't trust what people say.

Admittedly, I won't exactly be engrossed if someone's telling me their blandly psychedelic dream about being on holiday with friends when weird shit happens, and I dismiss the trashy dream psychology that can interpret teeth falling out in a myriad of contradictory ways depending on which pocket What Do My Dreams Mean? guide you buy at 70% discount from The Works "book shop." But sometimes dreams can be really interesting, as long as they're well written.

A lot of dreams have obvious or subtle messages to be mulled over the next day, but when it comes to nightmares I've always been more impressed when my unconscious delivers a traditional chilling experience just for the sake of the chill, rather than something to be psychoanalysed that's revealing of my hidden desires. At least I hope not, or else I'm about to tell you everything.

I've just spent an enjoyably macabre evening immersing myself in the kind of horror fiction I like - folky, arcane and subtle - and if that doesn't mean I can look forward to a cracking nightmare tonight, maybe writing about some of the greatest hits of my brain's dark side will seal the deal. Take thou heed and be thou warned, voyagers into the darkness; for herein, foul night ghasts lurk!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kind of grey

The Southern Highlands was my last port of call in the wider Sydney area before my travel card ran out. I'd planned to visit twice to see different parts of the region like I'd done in the Blue Mountains, but a lengthy and convoluted commute in and out of these remote villages meant I only made the trip once, and when I did it was raining.

That wasn't entirely a bad thing though, as at least grey skies and gloomy lighting lend some desperate variety to these outdoorsy blogs and I didn't have to worry about my skin burning again. Actually, due to the inclement weather, high elevation and being ever-so-slightly closer to Antarctica than ever before, this is one of the few places I've been in the past year where it's nostalgically a little too cold to walk around in just a T-shirt. So I decided to wear pants, shorts and shoes as well.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kind of green

I can't drive and I have no intention of learning to drive. I'm not interested in cars or the responsibility of owning and operating one. It's just another one of those quirks you'll have to accept about me, like how I'm not interested in settling down, having a relationship last longer than six months or spoiling my blog with ads to make a few pounds a year.

Still, there are times when having a car would be bloody convenient, especially when my plans for day trips end up lying some way off the train and bus networks. Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park and Berowra Valley both looked tempting and conquerable on Google Maps, lying on opposite sides of the rail line and Pacific Highway just to the north-east of Suburbia, but when you show up eagerly at a train station to be greeted by a sign informing you that the Berowra Valley trail begins 10 kilometres in a non-specific direction, you remember the lesson you thought you'd finally learned a long time ago - that Australia is big, and even on a local map nothing is as close as it appears.

But I persevered and managed to get at least an abridged introduction to both national parks, joining the Great North Walk at several intervals within reach of public transport and turning back after a couple of hours before the sun started to set and the 136 bus ceased its limited Sunday service, rather than heroically carrying on and risking spending the night in the open air if I didn't come across a town. If you're under the delusion that I'm some kind of thrill-seeking adventurer and not just someone trying to fill his days with nice visuals to accompany his audiobooks, I don't know what blog you think you've been reading for the last two years.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kind of red

Day two in the Blue Mountains as I continue to tick off the region's most easily accessible, well-travelled tourist trails and leave the more creative bush walking experiences for less lazy people with ambition and cars.

At least I saw some wildlife this time, even if it was only birds, lizards and insects.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kind of blue

I've felt pretty damn content since I arrived in Australia, and walking around the cool rainforest trails of the Blue Mountains National Park was definitely the high point - not only in the literal sense. I always love escaping from the urban sprawl and losing myself in the wilderness, especially when I don't have to actually get lost, can stick rigidly to easily accessible, well maintained trails and get home in time for dinner.

But all peaks must have their troughs (again, I'm not literally talking about terrain, but it is stylistically helpful that my mood changed in direct proportion to my elevation above sea level) and the illusion shattered when I got back to Sydney centre and had to deal with rush hour traffic for the first time since I got here.

It's so much more annoying being able to actually understand the inane banter taking place around me after spending so long in the non-English-speaking world, like a guy loudly narrating every stage of the journey over the phone and some teenagers dissecting a recent episode of Geordie Shore with more reverence and enthusiasm than necessary. I forgot how terrible people can be. Utopia my arse! Australia has the same problems as anywhere.

So the next morning I escaped to the mountains again, returned to the city in the evening and repeated the cycle for the rest of the week, riding the sine wave of stress into the sunset. Wheeeeee!

Friday, January 11, 2013

A bad read

I've been a fan of audiobooks since childhood, when it seems I pestered my parents into buying an assortment of books on tape covering everything from the nativity story to Batman. Maybe it was the parental comfort of being read to, back when I could read the same 30-page book endlessly without it getting boring (as if the Caped Crusader escaping a crushing room of spikes only to find himself tangled in the tentacles of a giant squid could ever get boring), or maybe I just enjoyed being ordered to turn the page when the bell sounded like Pavlov's bookworm.

I even went through a very strange phase (even strange by my standards) of recording books from my collection and my own stories for seemingly no purpose. I never listened back to these, and I don't think there were any commercial prospects for Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park being read slightly too fast by a nine-year-old boy who doesn't understand genetic engineering or chaos theory. Maybe there are, but it's too late now - I taped over them all with Offspring mixes when I was 15, partly because I was too embarrassed to let them survive.

Since I've been travelling, I've relied heavily on audiobooks to entertain me on days out, whether I'm exploring temples and national parks or just getting lost down residential streets trying to remember where that bus stop was. I mostly try to listen to something new, mixing in the odd old favourite alongside podcasts, radio dramas and the occasional Offspring mix for old times' sake.

One common problem I come across is how a lousy narrator can really ruin an otherwise good book. This is the guy or occasional girl who'll be speaking in my ear for anywhere between four and forty hours, and if I don't click with their line delivery, or find their attempts at voicing characters of the opposite sex distracting or plain offensive, it can really hinder my enjoyment.

So here's a list of some of the least successful audiobooks I've come across so far. It's far from thorough, so I hope I'll have more to add in the future. Though I mostly hope I won't.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rockin' the suburbs

I'm not sure how I'm rockin' them exactly, unless 'rockin'' means 'living in and walking around,' in which case I am a bloody rock god. If 'god' means someone who walks around for a few hours at a time trying to photograph elusive birds until he gets tired, a bit bored and sunburnt, so goes back to his comfortable room to watch QI (there must be some obscure religion, surely?)

I stayed in Sydney Suburbia for six weeks in the end, which has been plenty of time to get to know one specific area intimately, on days when I wasn't stubbornly insisting on extracting the maximum value for money from my travel pass by making six-hour round trips to see some slightly different cliffs. This month's blogs may get a little repetitive, sorry. I hope you like green.

Friday, January 4, 2013

What are we doing here?

You get a very different perspective on Australia if you cross the planet in stages and take your sweet time getting here. Flying from London to Sydney with a compulsory stopover in Shanghai or Kuala Lumpur isn't enough to build an anthropogeographical map of the world and its people in your mind that can be utterly demolished when you land in this far-off country, inexplicably run by white people. What the hell are they doing here?

I've visited plenty of fallen colonies in the last couple of years, some of which have only shaken off the European influence relatively recently, but this is the first one I've been to where they stayed for keeps (I haven't discovered America yet). After working my way through East Asia and noticing subtle marks of ancient colonisation and migration - Chinese-hybrid Thais, Malaysia's migratory melting pot, the malleable Buddhist faith - it's very strange to head south and see white people where you'd expect people to be darker than that.

Admittedly, most of them are slightly tanned. And - get this - they only speak bloody English too! Or a close approximation anyway.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A month of Sydneys

I don't normally celebrate New Year, which gets the same attention from me as my birthday, Christmas and Ramadan. Despite spending my last three December 31sts in capital cities where they don't let the arbitrary turning of the Gregorian calendar pass by unnoticed (Edinburgh, Taipei, Seoul), I preferred to spend those pivotal hours like any other: on my computer, avoiding contact with revellers or just being asleep.

But when I ended up spending this New Year in Sydney, and was invited to see in the New Year from the best vantage point in the city and enjoy several hours of drinking in the park, sleeping through the event this time seemed a little disrespectful. And anyway, this might be most easterly (and earliest) New Year I'll ever have, which, combined with the equally redundant time zone system and the end of my month in Sydney, somehow resulted in a night worth celebrating. Happy Early New Year!

Oh yeah, I'm in Australia. Didn't I mention that? I should probably backtrack a little...