Cliche it may be, but after two consecutive years of trying and failing to get a good view of Sydney's legendary New Year's fireworks extravaganza, I lucked out in spades, securing a ringside seat on something like the 31st floor of the Intercontinental Hotel. The perspective gained thereby was not exactly like the one you see here, as this photo was taken from somewhere further to the east, and from a lower elevation, but it's close enough.
How I came to be ensconced there in a $1500-per-night (okay, only $1200 in US money) eyrie is part of an ongoing story of what the UK music press used to call full-scale liggery. Actually, I don't think they used the exact term "liggery," but they did frequently refer to "liggers," i.e., that ubiquitous breed of A&R vipers, journos and assorted hangers-on who made it their life's work to blag a spot backstage (and preferably near the deli table/open bar) of any concert or industry event, to the point where genuine fans of the band(s) involved often throw up their hands (or their dinner) and flee back to their bedsits where they can focus on the music unimpeded by the hordes of grubs and ratbags it inevitably seems to attract.
But I digress, as always; the past couple days has had nothing to do with music, and I actually don't think I've made anyone ill, though that's always open to speculation. But I have been enjoying a rarely-experienced level of luxurious hospitality at absolutely no cost to myself, all through no merit whatsoever on my part except for happening to be in the right place at the right time. Before getting invited along to the Intercontinental, I'd been enjoying a convivial gourmet feast on the upper balcony of Michael's Balmain home, after which we all 12 or so of us trooped down to the Wharf to watch the 9 pm (aka "children's") fireworks, and then trooped off back to the city. Kevin, the enormously engaging albeit occasionally frantic Mancunian who'd laid out all the money for the Intercontinental viewing platform (plus another $185 to get up on the roof, where we, lacking the requisite tickets, weren't allowed to accompany him) was suitably impressed, but after all was done, said a bit wistfully, "You know, it might have looked better from Balmain" (which was stone cold free).
After that we threaded our way through the hordes back up to Oxford Street, where we parked ourselves at a table on the footpath in front of Grumpy Baker and proceeded to watch the tumultuous parade of drag queens, stumblebums, muscle boys, and assorted suburban revellers en route to clubs, pubs, and some particularly prodigious hangovers. It was uproarious good fun, somewhat squelched, however, when somewhere after 2 am there was a screech of brakes and a few screams, followed by a couple of resounding thuds and thumps. The first came when an exuberant but not especially agile celebrant was sent flying over the hood of a speeding car, landing on and shattering the windscreen. From there he rebounded halfway across the street, landing practically in front of us on the pavement.
Well, there's that one dead, we thought a bit squeamishly, but no, he simply gathered himself and his dignity - what was left of it, at any rate - rose to his feet, and strode into the fast food chicken place next door to get a bite to eat. When the police arrived a few minutes later, the officers fanned out in what looked like it might be a fruitless search for "the victim." They finally did locate him, though, and then got involved in a lengthy argument with him over why he needed to go to the hospital to be checked out. I think they finally took him away, possibly under duress, and given the usual state of A&E units on New Year's Eve, I wouldn't be surprised if he's still sitting there waiting to be seen. Here's hoping the police at least allowed him to bring along his chicken sandwich.
This morning the heavens opened up with semi-tropical downpour, but it dried up soon enough for us to resume our watch stations on the Oxford Street front, which made for delightful viewing when, between 10 and noon, the various clubs began the chucking out process, herding bedraggled and bewildered drug and fashion victims out into the bleary midday sun, which was doing no favours to what was left of their makeup and/or outfits. Although the weather continues to be more reminscent of an English or San Franciscan summer than a proper Aussie one, it's still reasonably pleasant, and I must say that all things considered, the future looks rather bright indeed on this halcyon New Year's Day.
Oh, but before I go, I must mention my other major bit of liggery-pokery, on New Year's Eve Eve. That night I was invited along - why I'm not quite sure - to a "drinks party," which, though I don't have a lot of experience in such matters (in my drinking days, a "drinks party" would probably have involved 40-ouncers, some brown paper bags, and the nearest public park), is, I assume, the Australian equivalent to the American cocktail party. It was in what could safely be described as a mansion or at least a mansionette (the one next door was actually bigger and grander) looking out over Double Bay, and the guest list was heavily weighted toward multi-multi-millionaires, as near as I could tell.
The walls were hung with several hundred museum-quality (or better) paintings, to the extent one might have wondered if there was any point to having walls at all apart from holding up the paintings (for want of anything intelligent to say on the subject, I observed that it would be a terrible nuisance for them if they ever had topack up and move house). Strolling waiters provided endless amounts of wine and champagne (soft drinks were a little harder to come by, but available as well) and about 14 different kinds of finger foods (which has always sounded terribly unappetising to me, in that I half expect to see freshly detached fingers protruding from the elegantly constructed sandwiches).
I fell into conversation with several of the assorted heirs and magnates, one of whom was an acid-tongued chairperson of the local monarchist society, and another of whom was deeply concerned about the socialists who, if not watched closely, were going to ruin the Australian economy. Being no fan of socialism myself (to be fair, there is very little overt socialism being practiced in Australia these days, but one must remain vigilant!), we were able to have a merry old time bemoaning the state of things, until the topic shifted to the need to control those dreadful trade unions.
Fair enough, I conceded; many unions - London's Transport Workers, for example - have grown extremely corrupt, and do a great deal of harm, but at the same time, having grown up in a union family and heard from my father what it was like in the 1920s and 30s before the unions were successful in organising American factories, I could see that side of the issue as well. "I think I'll go see if I can find a bathroom," he told me, and that was the last I saw of him. Robert later furnished me with a report on his family, apparently (like most of the other families represented there) one of Australia's typical aggregations of plutocrats, all of whom seem to have gone to the same handful of schools and are related to the same handful of Antipodean aristocrats-in-exile. It was all very fascinating until they got onto the subject of old school ties (and in connections, not neckwear), at which point my eyes glazed over and I was glad to get back to the grubby environs of Oxford Street.