Blessed to be a witness

Saturday, 20th August

The Great Escape

That night we managed to escape under cover of darkness without being buttonholed. To match our extravagance in accommodation, we booked at a posh looking French place, but when we got to it, the menu proved so posh - as in unaffordable - that I called from outside the restaurant and cancelled the booking immediately. We walked down the quaint, fairy-lit road (in winter, i.e. June and July, the area honours its weather by holding a "Yule festival", of which I suspect the lights were a remnant) and found the Post Office Restaurant, in which we were delighted by the best food I've eaten in Australia; indeed the best food we've eaten since Thailand, and the best western food since we left Dublin. I had a roll of pork, served on a bed of sweet potato mash, with roast apples and watercress. It was sublime. M dined on tempura sea bass and pommes frites - AKA fish & chips - which was also absolutely fantastic. If you're in Leura, eat there. The price was really good too.

We left Leura the next morning. I left M to drop in the key and help the impossibly irrepresible old boy with his email, with the words "I'm just going to the office; I may be some time".

"This chap, y'see, standing there bold as brass in the middle of the camp, was a member of Indonesian special forces. I said 'you're the bastard who was trying to shoot us!' Turns out he was hiding in the jungle watching the show the whole time. Priceless!"

"You should write a book," I told him, hoping by these words to save future guests, on the hunch that perhaps by committing his many - and admittedly occasionally fascinating - anecdotes to paper he would no longer pin the hapless down, with their fixed smiles and feigned nods of comprehension: "Bunty Fellowes ran the damn thing, of course, and you know what he's like! Hah!"

After an hour I managed to extricate myself from the office, leapt into the driver's seat, and started up the campervan with a sigh of relief and hopes of a quick getaway. However, as we slipped down the drive, he suddenly reappeared at the driver's door, knocking on the window. I wound it down. "Did you get your pipes?" he asked. I was confused. Then he mimed playing the bagpipes, and I realised he meant his performance of the previous evening. He'd caught sight of M and started honking out When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. "Yes thanks! Wonderful! Goodbye now!" we shouted.

As we pulled out of the driveway, he began to run alongside the van, clinging onto the windowsill. "Chap over the road dropped by the other day. Just moved in. Loves the pipes!" he yelled at us as we finally out-accelerated him and he let go of the van.

"Jesus," I said to M, waving back at him. "Thought he'd be with us 'till Sydney."

And so down from the Blue Mountains, away from the Aborigonal and Irish placenames into those of the Home Counties. We stopped for lunch in a town called Windsor, where the food was so atrocious that I finally went past my limit for complaints and sent it back, explaining that I didn't want a refund but that the chef should really know how rotten the food was. The manager insisted on 50% off, anyway. I thought - either refund or don't. 50% was a little insulting, suggesting that, because I'd made an attempt to eat half of the inedible crap, I should pay for it.

Through vast swathes of suburbia, we eventually arrived at the harbour, and crossed the Anzac Bridge, which afforded us views of its more famous cousin, and caught a glimpse of the Opera House. We found our friends' house in the Eastern Suburbs, where we were warmly and kindly received, and very well fed.

Our friends live in Coogee, a desirable residential area, and I can see why. San Franciscan hills, every inch of which are covered with pleasant bungalows, roll down to the Pacific shore, which is dotted with coves and beaches and spectacular cliffs. We strolled down to the beach, and looked towards Bondi.

The next day we cleaned the van up, and returned it, where I was relieved to get my $2,500 deposit back. We had escaped being charged for the huge chip in the windscreen, made in Queensland when a gigantic thundering lorry overtook us on gravel, because it fortuitously happened to coincide with an earlier, smaller chip, thank goodness. Otherwise it would have been a ghastly business.

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