21 April 2014

“S” is for Spanking and Stonking and Sydney – the place I call home

I live in Singapore and have been expatriated for many years now. Whenever I return back to Australia – and to my hometown of Sydney, it is both spanking and it is stonking. These are two terms used by my colleagues the English to describe very pleasant and good things.

I like both words and their application.

The word stonking is not made up. It is in the Oxford dictionary. It is defined as:

"….used to emphasize something impressive, exciting or very large".

I first associate spanking as a form of naughty playful slapping – or as something that is given by some parents to badly behaved children. I think that most of us would. I now however also perceive it in a different way.

I have adopted both terms from the English with whom I work. 

I have claimed them as my own.

Spanking and stonking – I like them a lot. 

Sydney - steak and kidney - the Harbour Town. I will be back there in a few short months and I know that when I alight from the plane I will immediately feel comfortable and relaxed and happy - deliriously so. Despite the long overnight flight from Singapore I am now bouncing all around the place at the thought of being there. Sydney is the most gorgeous of cities.

It is Bewdiful!

I am reminded every time that I return to Sydney just how lovely this city is. It is stunning. I normally stay at the Shangri La hotel in the Rocks district and when I look out of my hotel window I can see the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is one of those structures that is synonymous with the identity of a city. To the right of this is the Sydney Opera House. It is also iconic. And the harbour - Sydney harbour – it is the greatest body of water in the world. 

The view from my hotel window screams Sydney.

From my hotel window I will also see ferries gliding across the water. They will be moving people from Circular Quay to Balmain and beyond.

I love the Sydney ferries.

When I walk from the hotel to my Sydney office I will see a road sign that points east to the suburb of Woolloomooloo. That's eight 'o's and three 'l's! I will see another sign that points the way west to Parramatta. These are magnificent Australian and Sydney place names.

Just thinking of these signs and places makes me want to say them out loud. In fact I am saying them out loud now as I am writing them down. 



There is some debate regarding the origin or meaning of the name Woolloomooloo. It is aboriginal of course - as is Parramatta. Woolloomooloo is possibly derived from the Koori word Wallamullah. This translates to the 'place of plenty'.  

Parramatta means 'the place where eels lie down'.

Nice huh?

I think so.

When I return to Sydney I will be yacking away to people all day. I will be chatting to fellow Australians who are perfect strangers. This will happen quite naturally and from the moment I land. We Australians just talk to each other without any hang-ups or agenda and most often without scruple.

It is so different to Singapore. I talk to strangers here and they look at me like I am mad.

Perhaps I am.

Perhaps they are.

However from the line in Immigration at the airport to the crowded lifts in my Sydney office people will just start chatting. 

"Owzitgoin mate?

"Yeah good owzitgoin yourself?" 

"Beautiful day huh?" 

"Yeah but its gonna rain on the weekend" 

"No worries. We need the rain" 

And on and on it goes.

It is relaxed and natural and pleasant conversation. 

It is home.

I recall on my last visit I said "Gidday" to an American couple in the hotel lift. They told me that they were here on holiday. They said that they were on vacation in the American language. I asked them if they were enjoying themselves and they told me they were. The female of the couple told me in her Texan drawl how friendly she thought we Australians were. I agreed and I told her with no small amount of pride that this is what we do.

We be friendly and we talk. 

It is so nice to be there.

It really is.

The most impressive, exciting and very large part of going back to Sydney though is spending time with my old mates. It is quality time. That is Quality with a capital 'Q". We always talk and we laugh and we reminisce and hours slip away like minutes.

We all have them I think - old mates. Good and precious ones.

Really good ones.

They are that very small circle of people you have known for decades - since you were fourteen or fifteen years of age. Our collective memories are indelible. They are many and significant experiences that are shared from when we were in our impressionable years. These reunions are bonding moments where we laugh until our stomachs ache. There are never any awkward silences and we chat away as if we still see each other every day.  

Even Now. 

Thirty years later.

My old mates and I do that together whenever I return to Sydney. We do a lot of recollection and reflection and do-you-remembers. Our talk generally drifts at some point in time about others who are in our circle of old mates. We tell and re-tell old stories from when we were young and we sometimes literally roll around the floor laughing.

There is much mirth. 

It is hysterical.

A lot of the stories involve our common mate Berty - who happens to be my very best mate and who lives in the US. Berty hasn’t been very well of late and I worry constantly about his health. He is a tough cookie though is Berty - and he’ll be all right.

I know he will.

I love you Berty – and you too Dana. I miss you heaps but I will be over to see you soon – before I go to Sydney actually.

On my last trip back to Sydney my other mates and I spent some of our reminiscing time telling each other funny Berty stories. We remembered that one of his Aunt's on his mum's side was a Private Investigator and when we were still at school Berty spent a summer working for her.

Surveillance work.

We were all very impressed with that at the time.

We also remembered Bert's mum Shirley getting us jobs parking cars at the netball on Thursday nights. We used a torch in each hand to guide cars in between gum trees at the Jells Park netball courts.

We helped them park in the dark.

In this job we also got to watch heaps of hot girls play netball in very short skirts and we were paid for it - in cash. 

We were living the dream.

My mates and I also recalled with great fondness the Reynolds Melbourne Cup Day barbecues. They were a classic. Bert's dad Brian was an accountant with his own Practice and every Melbourne Cup day he would host a big barbecue around the pool at the family home. All of his clients and relatives were invited. I went every year from when I was about fifteen and Bert, me and his elder brother Shayne would help ourselves to heaps of beers that were chilled in ice in the many bathtubs that were in the house. 

It was open slather.

We also remembered that one year a different aunt of Bert's turned up at the Melbourne Cup Day barbecue with a guy who had just been released from prison. We were reliably informed that he had robbed a bank. He was heavily tattooed. This was in a time when tattoos were far less common than they are now. Being inked up is so common now that it is passé in my humble opinion.

Everyone has them.

I don’t though. I quite like the art form but I am afraid of pain and I would not willingly allow anyone to inject my skin with ink.

My mates and I remembered that we looked at Bert’s Aunt’s boyfriend with a bit of awe and fear and we made whispered references to him as "the Bank Robber". He ended up marrying the Aunt and he came back every year to the Melbourne Cup Day barbecue.

We also recalled that the Bank Robber and Berty’s aunt won a big lottery. It was a very big one in fact that was more than three million dollars. That is a lot of money now but it was even more back then. I am talking more than thirty years ago. We don't know how much he robbed from the bank but it would be safe to assume that it was nowhere near that amount.

Bert’s Aunt and the Bank Robber then invested all of their money into some scheme that was run by dodgy and aged famous-footballer turned Television-Personality turned Investment-Adviser. He was a very bad Investment Adviser as it turned out.  The dodgy ex football star apparently gave all of their winnings to an even dodgier guy in Hong Kong - who in turn invested all the money in himself.

Then he ran away.

They never saw him or their money again.

Berty told me that the Bank Robber was electrocuted repairing a faulty washing machine a couple of years later.

It was fatal.

He was shocked to death.

I personally think that the Bank Robber's life was full of great adventure. I think it was action packed.

Being shocked to death seemed quite an appropriate way for him to go.

Factual stories are so much better than fiction. 

They really are.

Berty's aunts were all a bit crazy but they were colourful and they were highly entertaining. 

Life is theater sometimes.

Theater is life. 

Reminiscing with my mates about all of this and other things is always wonderful and returning to Sydney is always excellent. 

It is both spanking and stonking. 

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