25 December 2006

Christmas Barbie At The Beach

I don't think I've ever heard an Australian besides Paul Hogan utter the word "barbie" with a straight face (and I'm not sure Paul Hogan ever uttered anything with a straight face), but I'm a visitor here, so I'm entitled to use whatever awful Aussie slang I feel like.

Anyway, it's already such a cliche hereabouts to head for the beach and barbecue huge mounds of dead flesh to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus that there's no point in striving for proper word choice when recounting my own participation in said ritual.

The sun finally broke through the celestial miasma that's been swirling over Southeastern Australia for the past week or so, but it still couldn't have been termed proper beach weather. That of course didn't stop my intrepid hosts, most of whom were either swimming or surfing before dinner, and a few of whom - those who didn't head out for the golf course - did so again afterward. But even the children, who normally seem impervious to temperatures that would freeze the bejeebers off of whatever creature it is that has bejeebers, commented that the water seemed a little cold. I dipped my toes in it, and it compared not all that favourably to the perennial ice pit lurking off the shores of Northern California.

The water temperature in Sydney Harbour is allegedly 20 degrees (68F), but the ocean has got to be a bit cooler than that. Last year at this time it was more like 23 (73F), which may not seem like that big a difference, but believe me, it is. Anyway, the stiff wind and waves as high as my head made swimming even less inviting, so I lay on the beach for a while getting sandblasted every time a particularly strong gust arose.

Most of the time, however, was spent up at the beach house, which doesn't sound like quite a grand enough description for a million dollar house with multi-million dollar views (and I'm talking American dollars here, not those puny 78-cent Australian ones). Apparently it's a requirement for every moderately successful Australian family to have a second home within sight of the water, and this particular Australian family is more than moderately successful. There was a matriarch, sadly a bit under the weather and just out of hospital for the day, seven children and assorted spouses, some of whom are high-powered movers and shakers in media and finance, others of whom, like yours truly, lead a more, erm, relaxed lifestyle, and nine grandchildren, ranging in age from six months to 20 years.

Dinner consisted of ham, turkey, chicken, lamb sausage, steak, and prawns, most of which had spent time on the barbecue grill out on the deck, and a token vegetable or two. Australians do love their meat, and a vegetarian would not be a happy camper in such an environment. On the other hand, there was loads of fresh fruit, even though someone forgot to take the diced watermelon out of the esky until everyone was packing up to go home. There was a fair bit of talk about the cricket - the oldest of the grandchildren was headed down to Melbourne in the morning for the fourth Ashes test match - and some mostly congenial argument about various political subjects too arcane to recount here.

All in all, a splendid Christmas, much nicer than I'd anticipated, since I'd been a bit hesitant about crashing what was otherwise solely a family celebration. It was really nice of them to have me, and I hope I didn't embarrass either of my home countries by my lack of couth or aplomb. Got home at 8 pm and promptly fell asleep, thus allowing me to get an early start on Boxing Day by waking up at 4 am. Oh, and the sun is actually shining full blast today, though the temperature is more akin to a bright day in early spring. Never mind, mustn't grumble, as all those years in England should have taught me. Curious, then, that the all-purpose Aussie epithet for Englishmen is "whingeing Poms."

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