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 Рan Australian institution and roughly their version of Homebase Рwhich 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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