Part I: Australia

Friday 28th December – Thursday 10th January

Melbourne was chosen as the first stop on the Same Small World tour as one of my oldest and closest friends now lives there with her family. They’ve had a tough few years, and during those times I’ve missed being closer to them. It was time to bridge the gap. Plus, with Hogmanay on the approach, you want to be amongst nearest and dearest.

And so, 9 years to the day since my last Australian adventure, Molesworth Street was to be my new home for the next 12 days, just next to the excellently named Batman Station. The O’Bs kindly put me up in their studio (aka Archie and Isla’s Milk Bar.) Archie is a brilliantly exuberant 3 year-old Spider-Man fanatic, and Isla is a permanently smiling 1 year old who is seconds away from her first steps. They are the offspring of Linda and Ross, frankly one of the happiest couples I’ve ever known.

Hogmanay was the first point on the agenda, and we had the classic Antipodean celebration of a barbecue in the back yard with good friends, excellent snags and top notch grog. Ross even created a sensational trifle, a tradition of the O’B household at New Year. In the wee small hours, I introduced team O’B senior to Sailor Jerry Rum, which Ross now exclusively refers to as Mungo Jerry’s.

New Year’s Day brought two very welcome surprises with it. The first? No hangover. The second? One of my favourite people on the planet, Mike, got in touch to see if we could meet up. In the classic meeting place, under the clocks at Flinders Street, we did just that. He’s been in Australia for around a decade, and the last we saw of each other was in Sydney 9 years ago. The best friendships are the ones where, no matter how long it is since you saw each other, everything feels exactly the same.

We stopped in for a drink by the River Yarra before walking to Chin Chins on Flinders Lane for dinner. While we’re waiting for a table, we’re served bottled beer in brown paper bags in the Gogo bar downstairs. There was so much to catch up on, we didn’t even waste time ordering and went for the “feed me” option where they basically keep bringing you food until you wave the white flag. The food was ace Thai. Then we walked to Fitzroy, a super-hip (but not in a Shoreditch way) area full of furniture shops, quirky bars and independent boutiques. But it’s a national holiday so all the bars are closed…of course. The only last chance saloon we can be sure of is the Crown Casino, so we head there for a final libation. However, hilariously, the Man City game with Stoke is just kicking off…so it looks like we won’t be going anywhere for a while! You see, Mike’s the very reason I support Man City, having brought them to my attention when we lived in Paris back in ’98 when they were unspeakably in the second division. My relationship with City has proven to be just as much of an adventure as my relationship with him. Tonight’s score sheet read exactly like the day we won the league (yes, I’m still banging on about that…)

Over the course of the next few days, the O’Bs and I had beautiful days together in stunning sunshine. We went to North Brighton Beach for the day, spent an afternoon at Melbourne Zoo, mooched around Brunswick shopping, had buddies over for a barbie and a kickabout and sought out falafel in Coburg. Linda took me to a Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the Heide Museum, where she works, and we had a beautiful lunch at Shannon Bennett’s Cafe Vue beforehand. The collection was stunning especially the Maman spider figure which I never got round to seeing at the Tate Modern. It is fair to say that we chatted more than we appreciated in silence though! On our return home, Isla had taken her first steps!

The following weekend, Adam came to visit me from Sydney. ALWAYS a pleasure to see that young man. We spent the day in St Kilda catching up, plus furiously stocking up on trekking items for my upcoming Inca Trail experience. After dinner at Mr Wolfs on Inkerman Street, we hit the toon. Of course, I left the young ‘uns to it at a vaguely sensible hour. We had time for a last lunch at Tom Phat’s on Sydney Road, a Brunswick institution…and rightly so. After a fond farewell, I headed back for Mungo’s Roast Chicken, then Linda and I spent a brilliant night drinking fizz with the fabulous Jessica Love and Leah Walsh at The Toff In Town on Swanston Street.

The next day brought dazzling 38 degree heat, so Mike and I met up at the NGV then took a walk through the Botanical Gardens and all the way back in to town along the Yarra. Determined to see Fitzroy, we headed over to The Bishops Arms on Gertrude Street for dinner then a cocktail or two.

Some serious travel planning took Tuesday over, and my reward was being taken out for cake by Linda at Carlton institution Brunetti’s then some quality time in Readings bookstore where I picked up Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Catherine Deveney’s The Happiness Show for the road. On my last night, Ross and I went to the Forum to see Beach House which was absolutely show-stoppingly brilliant.

So far, so whistle stop right? In many ways, the first chapter felt really relaxed but it still sped by. In between all of the above was reading Archie countless digger and truck books, playing racing cars, watching Ross try to keep it together while kindly removing a Huntsman spider from my room, the self-popping balloons on Hogmanay sizzling in the heat, Isla’s hysterical attempts at talking and teaching Archie to play snap. It was so good to have that time with good friends and there were tears at the end. I hate not knowing when I’ll see these friends again.

It was the perfect first chapter, and it was really difficult leaving Melbourne. But I know I’ll be back, you can never stay away from the people you love and who love you for long.

And the soundtrack was:
David Kitt The Big Romance
Sly and the Family Stone Life
Youth Lagoon The Year Of Hibernation
Bobby Womack Harry Hippie
Beach House Teen Dream

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