J-Smoov to John Wick

It has taken a while, but the journey from new arrival  on the other side of the world to local took a big step forward the other night.

Driving home around rush hour, taking the required right-hand turn meant joining a queue of traffic which threatened to take longer than the rest of the journey.

But six months living in – or very near – Canberra has started to seep in.

From shying away from driving in the opening weeks and requiring directions to pop down to the local shop, a bit of acquired knowledge kicked in and sailed smoothly over the traffic lights, round the back of the outlet centre and back onto the main road by the park and ride.

It was a small thing – regardless of the smug feeling from the driving seat – but the latest step in learning to live like an Australian.

Have embraced the weekend trip to Bunnings – an Australian institution and roughly their version of Homebase – which comes complete with the compulsory sausage sizzle where some fundraising group will sell you a sausage in a piece of white sliced bread for less than £1.

Beats a bunch of disinterested Cubs packing your supermarket shopping and an idea the Aussies have taken a step forward with the democracy sausage – the same thing, served up after you vote.

But perhaps the best way of measuring my adjustment to life in Australia is via the medium of kangaroos.

For the first few weeks, almost from the moment we pulled away from Sydney airport, the only sight of the national symbol was lying flat on the side of the road.

Then, amid much excitement during breakfast on the deck, spotted one hopping across the field behind our house – the only thing between us in New South Wales and the ACT.

Kangaroos
Ever get the impression you are being watched? Kangaroos in the nature reserve unusually not fleeing as soon as a camera appears. ACT border just behind those trees

The excitement grew when finally headed for a post-work stroll through the field – a nature reserve hemmed in houses, a main road, the border and a prison – and a few appeared on the other side of a fence.

More and more appeared on repeat visits until the point it is almost impossible to wander over there without huge groups popping up in the grass – you spot one and, as you move closer, a second, a third and then there are suddenly dozens.

They are skittish, watching you closely and then when one hops away as you move closer, off they all go. Which is pretty much guaranteed to happen the moment you lift a camera up to grab a picture.

My excitement – and it remains a thrill every walk or even from over the back fence when they venture up to the top of the field – does mark me apart from the locals, but head out now not in excited hope but in expectation of where they are likely to be hanging out and how best to enjoy watching them.

But those road signs which catch your eye on first arrival are not just there for the tourists.

The best time to spot them is just before dusk. Which is also the best time to hit them as their jump across the road – in our case, from the reserve to the nearby cemetery or the park which borders our back wall – coincides with your arrival on the same stretch of tarmac.

Kangaroos
Kangaroos with road sense. Or good luck

And it was as darkness fell that a sizeable shape lumbered alongside my car window and straight across the right hand turn home.

If it had been in the first few weeks, would no doubt have been like a kangaroo in the headlights – another issue – but was able to react and actually enjoy watching him bounce into the darkness.

Sure there are plenty of other opportunities to come to experience occupying the same space as a large kangaroo, which ends badly for the animal and the car and is not one that is on my list of Aussie experiences.

But it is a near miss chalked up so can nod sagely next time anyone mentions the dangers of kangaroo collisions.

In many other ways have not totally assimilated to Aussie life – opening my mouth tends to be a big clue (and occasionally a useful shorthand for not having the slightest idea what is going on).

And asking for “red sauce” is akin to speaking a foreign language and needs a local to do the “It’s OK, he’s English” intervention.

Even more so if you opt not to squirt it all over a pie.

Have embraced certain key parts of Australian life and am cheering on Penrith Panthers, the Brumbies (via regular trips to the coldest part of the coldest city in the country) and Sydney Swans.

Even understand (most of) what is going on in Aussie rules. Possibly. Feel uneasy calling it football.

Draw the line at supporting any team wearing green and gold (whatever nickname they carry) and the odd one all in white, which made for some interesting evenings and early mornings during the Ashes – ending all square probably helped our relationship.

Australia and England winning their groups avoided a showdown in the match we had tickets for in Brisbane during the Women’s World Cup at the start of our honeymoon (albeit before the actual wedding – of which more next time, probably deserves a post of its own).

Instead we became part of a select group of people to see England win a World Cup penalty shootout, the later finish sparking a rush as pretty much the entire stadium raced to find a nearby screen to watch the Matildas.

Suncorp Stadium
Darkness falls over Suncorp Stadium ahead of England v Nigeria

But that only delayed the inevitable and a more high-stakes meeting in the semi-final, two days into our married life.

Tried to be magnanimous in victory.

Not everything has changed that much. The commute to work still involves stumbling out of bed and, via the shower, to a desk in the next room.

With the office in London, there is not that much chance of popping in to show your face.

Even my nearest colleague in Australia is about three hours’ drive away near Sydney.

Or just down the road as they call it over here.

And, so far, the weather has not taken that much of an adjustment as made the move on the cusp of a Canberra winter.

The temperature drops as low as at home overnight with frost pretty common for several months, but it rarely stays that way – even in the midst of winter there is plenty of sun and it usually works its way into double figures.

But that is starting to change as spring emerges and, while there is still the threat of some cold nights, the shorts and flip-flops (refusing to call them thongs) are appearing as the temperature heads into the mid to high 20s.

There is a lot more to come and determined not to complain about the heat.

Well, not much.

Which just leaves the latest batch of the A-Z journey through my iPod – after all, that is sort of the point of this blog.

Not sure too many, if any, of the tracks which kicked off the relatively brief journey through J were in contention for the wedding music (at which the iPod paid a price, of which more next time) as we made our way from Stephen Malkmus to Dry Cleaning.

Via quite a few names and the 7,000th track on this journey (JFK by Lambchop).

We hit a seam rich with Jack (Names the Planets, Ash), Jackie (Down the Line, Fontaines DC,) Jacqueline (Franz Ferdinand), James, Jane, Janie (Jones, one of the great album openers from The Clash), Jeane (Billy Bragg), Jed (a selection of Grandaddy tracks) and assorted spellings of Jennifer and Jenny (& The Ess-Dog, Stephen Malkmus).

The Pogues gave us a homage to Jesse James while Nirvana reckoned Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam and Wilco gave us two versions of Jesus etc and Iron & Wine kept it biblical with Jezebel.

And there was still more from Jessica, Jill, Jim (Wise and his bright red cardinals, Sun Kil Moon), Jimmy (squared by The Undertones), Jo, Joan and Joe.

Which took us to the end of this section, pretty much halfway through the J section in one go – but not without the wonderfully dark and quite beautiful John Wayne Gacy Jr by Sufjan Stevens, part of his career-high obsession with Illinois.

There was even some non- names, Whiskeytown remembering the Jacksonville Skyline (with the still awkward moment when you realise how good Ryan Adams could be when not… well, let’s leave it there), and Bill Callahan’s lovely Javelin Unlanding – part of the playlist which was on constant rotation around Africa.

And just when it was getting a bit quiet, Sonic Youth chipped in with JC, backed up by Sugar’s JC Auto.

Probably enough to scare off the kangaroos.

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A-Men to Into the Groovey

NEW country, new home, new job, new pet and all the stuff which goes with them – surely there has been something to write about in the return of the blog?

To say nothing of an impending wedding and, as this is supposed to be a blog about the A-Z journey through my iPod, ticking off another landmark.

One that has been a long time coming – something you could say about all of the above.

This blog post, in keeping with so many of its predecessors, has appeared on the to-do list numerous times only to be bumped off by something a bit more integral to moving across the world.

But gradually that scarily long list of things which needed doing before and after moving to Australia has been whittled away to nothing – well, almost – and even the wedding list is all but ticked off (bar the last couple of jobs and the vows which should be writing instead of this).

Thankfully, a couple of the big items on the list were ticked off before leaving Gloucester – not only was somebody waiting for me at the end of the flight to Sydney, she came complete with somewhere to live.

And a cat – possibly more of a culture shock for an avowed dog person than the kangaroos which accompany the after-work walk (of which more next time).

That is our cat, apparently. Apart from when she noisily lets us know she wants breakfast before 4am, when she very much becomes Lisa’s cat. Not that she does that if the person who has agreed to look after her while we are on honeymoon is reading.

Work was probably the biggest worry about the move – not being able to find anything suitable was far more of a concern than actually making such a big leap in life.

But things fell into place remarkably quickly and smoothly.

One of the first people who was told my visa had come through and the move was about to happen instantly sent a link to a job he had seen.

One application and an interview before work at 7am (arranged out of habit as most applicants were already in Australia) later and employment was sorted before my flat was packed up.

Still reckon it was recognising a Strictly… dancer in a quick picture test of my news knowledge which clinched it. Even with the admission it was only because he had been a guest on House of Games the previous week.

Sure that carried far more weight than spotting Mark Harper lurking in the background of a group of front benchers in the Commons.

Meur ras for the lead, as they apparently say in Cornish, to the regular blog reader for the tip.

And for any former journalist colleagues back home who have noticed and wondered – a couple have asked – that is my byline popping up on the wire and various publications on a wide variety of PA Media stories (the news agency which most UK publications use).

Be it news (some interesting people – or at least their press officers – have been chased late at night and are filling the growing contacts Google Doc), sport – which really rolls back the years – subbing, raiding the overseas wires or the first tentative steps into editing video clips, our spare room has become a little PA news bureau.

As the London office winds down overnight, our Australian team takes over.

Which means the spare room is operating in its own time zone as it sticks on UK time, something which took a bit of getting used to, especially having just moved to a completely new time zone – we start at 11pm in London, which went from 10am in Canberra to 9am and then 8am in my first three weeks courtesy of clocks changing and sparking a weird form of work-related jet lag.

So have settled into a new job, home (complete with newly constructed bed which brought accompanying blisters from a screwdriver and wooden map of the world on the wall of the front room which means we will struggle to move without a replastering job) and country (with plenty more plans to explore after one weekend in Sydney and various ventures out closer to home).

And most of those jobs – bank, pensions, driving licence etc – are ticked off that list, bar those like the next stage of the visa which have had to wait until after the wedding.

Ah yes, the wedding.

It is a small affair as close to eloping as it possible to do so without just heading off and not telling anyone.

The ceremony will happen in a garden overlooking a beach on an island off the coast of Queensland, which should at least bring some welcome relief from a Canberra winter (sunny and pleasant in the day, often down below freezing at night), especially as it came on the back of the British equivalent.

Think we are as excited at the prospect of a couple of weeks off which will take in a Women’s World Cup match during a few days in Brisbane (possibly England v Australia, which post-Ashes would provide another early test to the marriage, but potentially neither), a visit to Cairns before heading to the island and a few days in Port Douglas capped with a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Vows, the details of the ceremony and sorting a cake apart, one of the few remaining jobs is sorting any music for the ceremony.

Where we have drawn a blank. Musical tastes do not cross over that much – Ever South by The Drive-By Truckers is about as close we have to “our tune” – and most of my suggestions have been brushed off as too miserable for a wedding. Or too “shouty”.

Certainly don’t think there have been too many options from the latest chunk of the A-Z journey through my iPod, which was the catch-up of the tracks added from A-I while that adventure was stuck in the I tracks.

As that section lasted several years, an overland adventure, three continents, four jobs, as many homes, a pandemic and a couple of iPods, it easily topped 600 tracks and needed another catch-up before we were finally up to date to start out on J (a much shorter chunk which is halfway done already).

The concentrated trek from Goat Girl to Ciccone Youth’s Madonna cover included many artists we have touched on over the last few years, several of which have released more than one album in that time and appeared in the end-of-year lists.

There were plenty of familiar favourites (Wet Leg, Taylor Swift, Michael Head, The Murder Capital, Idles and Fontaines DC – a total wedding, or even car, no-no apparently who managed to put out two albums in the time covered by the catch-up) alongside stuff which has made less of an impression since being added to my library.

There has been older stuff filling holes on the iPod – not sure how the The Go-Betweens’ original of Cattle and Cane was not there earlier, although it dates back to the early days of the journey through I.

The Soup Dragons and Ciccone Youth were added in a bid to recreate an old mid-80s C90 – only missing America and Me by The Red Guitars – while a deeper dive into John Prine’s back catalogue followed his untimely loss in the early days of the pandemic and added the original (and Jason Isbell’s version) to the 10,000 Maniacs version of Hello in There.

And welcome discoveries (Bonny Light Horsemen) were joined by some new arrivals – The National, Boygenius and The Murder Capital (again) making strong plays for this year’s best-of lists.

Often as the soundtrack for watching kangaroos.

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