Blessed to be a witness

Thursday, 25th August

Oysters and crabs

Oops, a cliché

Our friends in Sydney have been so kind to us. Despite coping with a serious medical crisis and two small children, they've taken time off to show us around and generally have a good time. And their friends have been lovely to us, too. So much so that one of them took us out in his own boat to show us the harbour, a privilege few get while here. Owen bought his boat, an ex tourist vessel, fifteen years ago. It's a small, slowly chugging vessel that has seen better days, but is still ideally kitted out with beds, a fully equipped galley with a proper oven, and a head (that's toilet to you landlubbers), as well as a lovely rooftop seating area.

One morning we went down to Sydney's main fish market to buy lunch, then drove to the marina, which is very close to the harbour bridge. We chugged into the main shipping lanes in a cloud of blue smoke, under the harbour and past Circular Quay, the opera house, a naval base, and various small islands and coves. After an hour and a half or so, we anchored off a beach, and prepared lunch. Something about Australia generally, but Sydney in particular, is the quality of the light. I don't know if this is down to lack of air pollution - there is still some apparent over the city when viewed from a distance - the lack of ozone layer, or simply the latitude of the city, but it makes the city appear shiny and new. The blues are so deep, the whites so bright, the greens so rich green, and everything is outlined with crisp clarity. It's like I just got a new pair of glasses, and photographs come out amazingly well.

We sat on the roof of the boat in the clear sunshine, quite warm when it shone, though chilly in the shade, and ate the nicest oysters I've ever had, fresh that morning, with a light taste and sumptous texture. These were followed by fresh juicy prawns, smoked salmon, and a crab salad on crusty white Vienna loaf, washed down with sparkling wine. I had a moment of pure pleasure. This lifestyle is not available to all, but it's within closer grasp than in most other places.

Then sadly it was time to go. Unfortunately the tide had receded while we ate and indulged, and the boat was aground. Owen ordered five of us out of the boat into the very small tender to allow the boat to float higher, then stripped off and climbed into the chilly bay. We floated around unsteadily in the packed vessel, feeling like Captain Bligh and his compatriots, while Owen waded chest-deep and shifted the boat around until finally it was afloat again and we could re-board. The boat, which had jets rather than a propellor, then started to smoke, so he had to get down into the engine and clear out the leaves that had been stirred up from the seafloor.

More hilarity was had the next night, when we went for a crab racing evening at a pub in the Surry Hills. It was the kind of debauchery that we had been avoiding in Brisbane (though perhaps a little less prurient), but with a gang in tow it was a great laugh. We 'bought' crabs for $3 and named them - I got two: "I've got a small willy" and "It hurts when I pee". The names were chosen in order to embarrass the commentator; how was I to know that the owner of the crab would be identified? Mayhem ensued when we realised that crab owners had to declare themselves to the commentator, at which point a bargirl would attack the declared owner with a jet of cold water from a very powerful garden hose. The crabs - hermits, just like my friend in Malaysia - were released in the middle of a circular table, and the first few to the outer perimeters won the race.

Because of my unflattering crab names, coupled with my unexpectedly winning the blow-up-a-balloon-until-it-bursts competition - the final of which had to be performed standing on the bar - added to my Pommie nationality, meant that I got picked on rather, and was chosen for a hula hooping 'comp', also standing on the bar. Meanwhile our host and M were attempting to get each other squirted by owning up to crabs they hadn't actually purchased - and when the hose was eventually turned on them they leaped backwards so hard to avoid it that they hit the fire exit bar and collapsed backwards out onto the pavement, howling with laughter. Drenched and a little tipsy, we declined to enter the 'Win a six-pack by showing your a six-pack' competition (the two girls who entered were so professional at stripping that I'm sure they must have done it professionally) and left in high spirits.

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