What I Did on my Holidays, Part Two

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Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 15/02/2022 - 3:05pm in

Part one here.

You would think there'd be somewhere open for breakfast in Chinatown on a Saturday morning. You'd be wrong. What are noodles for, if not for breakfast?

I wanted to pick up a hat from Paddy's Markets, just behind my hotel, before setting out. Apart from fruit and veg stalls, they're not open till ten o'clock, so I and my bare old bonce brave the ultraviolet unprotected.

At the north end of Chinatown is Sydney Trades Hall, nowhere near as grand as the Melbourne one. The ground floor used to be the Trades Hall Inn, but no longer. I love political activism that you can do from a pub. In here I used to sip beer and nod earnestly in the cause of stopping the introduction of the GST (Australia's VAT), and the Iraq War (or at least Australia's involvement therein).

On the heels of these stunning triumphs for the mildly-organised left, I remember somebody asking Ian Rintoul what he thought the next urgent issue would be, and he said it was refugee rights. I found this hard to credit. Who on earth could object to taking in a few refugees every now and then? In my defense, it was a slightly more innocent time.

Further up (latitudinally) and down (geologically, as the land descends to meet the harbour) Sussex Street, things get grimly prosperous.

It's all grand gaudy f-off facades, designed to destroy the streetscape, plus the grimy parking garages of posh hotels disgorging their contents with a clanking of grates and barriers. It's as ugly as sin. From my own much more modest hotel, you at least step out onto a living street. Nobody walks down here. It's death by wealth.

Nothing to see but the occasional ghost of a more productive past. I wonder what these buildings were for. I used to work down in this part of town thirty years ago and probably walked past them hundreds of times, but I can't remember.

I get to Circular Quay to meet my family with enough time to purchase/regret a breakfast snack at McDonalds. By the water, the buskers have yet to set up, but there are huge plastic tigers which I just realise I've been seeing all over town. Oh, right; it's Chinese New Year. I don't think I look at the things you're supposed to look at. Quite pleased about that.

The family thing works out as family things do. It's nice. I'm not used to seeing all these people without my dad in the background, either benignly amused or becoming tetchy about things not progressing according to schedule. From here on, it looks like I'm standing in the background by myself. I miss him.

Formalities done, we've enough time before lunch to wander round the Rocks Markets, which seems to be suffering from Covid. Not a lot of international tourists, and pretty slim pickings from a reduced number of stalls. Can't find a hat.

There's a stall selling coins. I expect to find a selection of pennies, ha-pennies, and shillings — Mum says she still has a huge jar of them at home — but holy cow! Vespasian! Trajan!

If I had a few hundred bucks I had no use for (ha!), I would be tempted. But then my inner Indiana Jones kicks in: These belong in a museum! Ideally, in a huge glass pickle jar.

My family is chemically gaseous. That is to say they expand to occupy the available space. We've a booking for lunch, but now it's down to my brother's teenage girls and their mobile phone skills to corral everybody. I notice with some envy that a couple of nephews have been lounging in the Mercantile Hotel for a while.

We have lunch at the German restaurant which nearly twenty years earlier hosted my wedding reception. A bit of icing on top of the grief cake just for me. Still, sausages and sauerkraut and a couple of glasses of quite agreeable rosé later, I'm feeling bulletproof.

Half the party head for market stalls promising gelato and chocolate, and the other half head for the Orient Hotel. I'm with the latter, sipping beer at a picnic table on the street, getting sunburnt. Wish I had a hat.

They're all going to miss their express train back down to the Shire. Not everybody makes the rendezvous point back at the quay at the appointed time. My sister volunteers to find/join her two errant sons at whatever pub they happen to be holed up in — no rush; still plenty of time. My father would be beside himself at this stage. Greatly amused, I give the assembled remnants of my family a cheery wave, and I'm free to enjoy a whole afternoon and evening in the big city, Mary Tyler-Moore style.

I just need a hat to fling in the air.

I make a beeline for the Paragon Hotel, the former public bar of which is now the McDonalds where I had my self-inflicted breakfast. A quarter of a century ago I went in there on a Sunday afternoon and was surprised to hear Bix Beiderbecke playing as muzak. There was a jazz band setting up in the back corner, so I stayed.

They were blistering. Hard-edged 1920s/30s Chicago-style jazz. Absolutely magical. I was mesmerised by the clarinet player, a strikingly tall, thin, grey, birdlike fellow who didn't seem to register that he had an audience at all, and just fidgeted away in his own little world. He's surely long dead now, like the pub. So it goes. The half of the back bar where they played is now for gambling zombies, and the tiny slice of pub remaining between that and McDonalds is pretty dismal. I sit outside and watch the Sydney Bin Chooks going about their business, all thin and birdlike with long black protuberances.

At the Matrix Woman In Red Fountain in Martin Place, there are white limos reversing off the street and up to the fountain. A bunch of burly blokes in white suits get out and prepare for photographs with the cars. There's also a young woman, in a big white dress. Not sure why she's there. She's holding a bunch of flowers. I expect a bit of skin and a posy is a nice counterpoint to the manliness of the cars and the blokes. Very tasteful.

  At my old beloved Edinburgh Castle on Pitt Street, I employ the soon-to-be-fashionable medium of the pub lavatory selfie to immortalise the harrowing (for even the most firm-footed drunk) stairs leading down to the gents. Once upon a time I opened the door at the top of these stairs, saw a crumpled body at the bottom, concerned people gathered around, and heard approaching sirens. Even I, dim as I am, almost immediately clocked to what had just transpired. Thought I'd best go back to my beer and give it a minute.

I take some more self-consciously zany selfies (are there any other kind?) on my way back up to Haymarket, as I'm now feeling the Mary Tyler-Moore vibe.

It doesn't even occur to me that I should plug myself into a podcast, lest one or two of my remaining brain cells get accustomed to slacking off, which I can ill afford. There's enough to see and hear to keep my synapses crackling.

There's a vast, interconnected floating world of clean, gleaming shopping malls running the length of the inner city that I don't enter. In the nineties I became concerned about the state of dereliction that the city appeared to be falling into. As I only ever went into pubs, bookshops, record shops and newsagents, I didn't really notice the metastisizing private-public space below, above, and beside the public space. I was conscious of it insofar as it all linked into the underground railway station concourses, but at some point I realised that it was possible to walk the roughly eight kilometres from Central Station to near Circular Quay without ever seeing daylight, or a homeless person. Now I suppose there are several routes.

So many homeless people, obviously long term. The mattresses, tents, etc. are new to me. Fortunately there are so many derelict shop doorways and alcoves now that the beautiful people live in their floating world. One could get really settled in as a homeless person in Sydney, were it not for the roaming packs of Nazis in the wee small hours. Damn. There goes that Mary Tyler-Moore feeling.

Finally get back to Paddy's Markets, thinking I'll pick up a hat and maybe some cheap clothes. It could always be relied upon for a Bob Marley t-shirt, or something similarly subversive.

  Woah! Okay, well. I'd never say never, but not for everyday, and certainly not for visiting my mother tomorrow morning. Apart from the range of mild fetish gear, which is new, Paddy's Markets is a shadow of its former self, but then it always was.

I did however find a hat. It hurt to put it on. Definitely sunburned. Went upstairs (through the mall) to the Market City Tavern, which I should hate because it's so artificial and built for — rather than just retrofitted for — gambling, but I do love the balcony and its glorious view of nothing in particular. I shall have to carry on up George Street to Broadway to get some cheap clothes, because unlike all the teenage boys I work with in my supermarket, I cannot bear to wear the same shirt two days running.

On the way out I take the time to pose for another pub lavatory selfie.

These are the hottest new thing, honestly. I'll be selling NFTs shortly.

If that's not a natural cliffhanger, I don't know what is. Will he get the shirt, or turn up for morning tea at Mum's a bit whiffy? How bad is the sunburn, and what will the morning shower feel like? (Spoiler alert: it really hurt.) And will the latex Wonder Woman costume fit comfortably?

Continued in part three.