Posted by: Tom Lancaster | June 5, 2010

Welcome to the Perth Alzheimer’s Anonymous meeting. Welcome to the Perth Alzheimer’s Anonymous meeting. Welcome to the Perth Alzheimer’s Anonymous meeting. Welcome to the Perth Alzheimer’s Anonymous meeting. Welcome to the Perth Alzheimer’s Anonymous meeting. Welcome to the Perth Alzheimer’s Anonymous meeting.

Episode 16: Sydney/Perth/Clifton Springs, Australia

Beard length (Tom): Captain Birdseye

Skin colour (both): Meringue

Location: Clifton Springs, nr. Melbourne, Australia

Date: 06th June 2010.

Apologies for the gap between posts, but after almost two weeks with my mother-in-law I’ve been lost for words. To make up for my lack of effort, I’m writing an especially good post today to appease you all.

The first thing to tell you is that Australia is as wallet-burstingly expensive as New Zealand. Within 30 minutes of arriving at Sydney airport, we had been charged $5 each (£3.50) to get from the international terminal to the domestic terminal to meet Jane’s Mum (Sue), we had declined to pay the non-refundable $4 required at the domestic terminal for a luggage trolley and we’d reluctantly shelled out $3.80 for a small bottle of water.

The other cost low-light was when I fainted at a bar after being told that three pints of normal lager would cost me over £15. Ouch.

The opera house (for those who have a below average IQ)

However, fear not, though our budgeting may well have made a misery of the holiday-of-a-lifetime for Sue : “No, we can’t have a cup of coffee”; “No, you can’t buy a tomato out of the kitty money”; “No, the kitty money doesn’t stretch to three meals a day”, at least we’ve arrived in Victoria a little inside our budget.

Sue will be pleased to hear that we’ve genuinely had a good couple of weeks, and everything that follows is a cruel exaggeration of her old-aged confusion……. I promise.

We stayed in Sydney in an area called Stanmore, in a hostel more upmarket than we’ve been used to, having been booked by Sue. She was less than impressed, but it was like a palace to us, and we were looking forward to heading out to explore Sydney on the first morning there, after watching a pair of female hogs from Switzerland chomp their way through a football-sized bowl of cornflakes and a couple of slices of toast each (I’m not exaggerating for comic effect here, it was truly disgusting).

This soon turned into us looking forward to heading out to explore Sydney on the first afternoon there, after Sue realised she’d lost her credit card.

Normally this would be rectified with one call, but Sue decided to contact Lloyds first of all, to inform them that her Nationwide card had gone missing.

She would lose her umbrella later that day, and the idea for the title of this post began to form.

A bridge that people jog on

Once the missing card was cancelled, we did the Sydney staples in overcast conditions – the opera house was impressive, the harbour bridge was visible from almost everywhere (though the aggressive joggers on it made walking over it a bit like trying to cross the Champs-Élysées at rush hour), the ferry to Darling Harbour was very nice and the lunch on a bench watched by beaky Ibises was disconcerting, but cheap.

Sue’s day was immeasurably improved when she was told sternly to “get her shit together” by a podgy, peroxide-blonde Aussie that evening in the supermarket, when she vaguely got in the way. How we laughed, especially when we realised that Sue thought she was being friendly.

We’ve actually (surprisingly) met a few unfriendly Aussies (though we’ve met plenty of very friendly ones as well) – there was the chap trying to cancel a transaction who f’d and blinded under his breath as he did so (lucky for him I wasn’t the mystery customer), and the tourist info woman who got shirty when we told her that a street map wasn’t exactly what we expected when we’d asked her if there was a walking tour we could follow.

Sydney skyline

I think it was in Sydney when I first noticed the TV adverts here. They’re incredible – either they’re inane/ill-thought out like this opening line for a mobile phone network ad – “If your mouth could talk….”, or they’re ineffective because of their honesty, like the two paraphrased examples below:

  • For Strepsils: The only lozenge with exactly this combination of ingredients.
  • For Swisse nutritional supplements: Better than some other brands.

The following day brought horrendous weather – 40mm of rain in the day, strong winds and only the interesting and thankfully time-consuming Justice and Police museum to show for it.

I ratcheted up the concern level (and unwittingly joined the Alzheimer’s club) that evening, by locking our key in our room, raising the very real possibility of us having to “bed down” with Sue for the night. It took 10 palm-sweating minutes until the proprietor was finally located. I could have kissed him.

The ferry to Manly

A minor aside to tell you of the chippiness of Australians regarding anything to do with Britain – it’s embarrassing how bitter they are. At the risk of being lynched I’ll share this with you. On serious news programmes we’ve seen:

  • An Aussie news (w)anchor interviewing a British political and economic commentator and saying “So, not only do we always beat you at cricket [where are the Ashes you bitter old bastard], but our voting system is better than yours” and then claiming that you can only get warm beer in Britain – this was a serious interview!
  • The most recent Grand Prix result being reported in the following way: “Aussie Mark Webber finished third in the Turkish Grand Prix today… blah, blah, whinge about crash….. blah, blah, leads the world championship…… Britain’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button completed a McLaren 1-2 [whispered in the manner of terms and conditions at the end of a radio advert whilst turning her mouth into a cat’s anus in a look of abject disgust]”.
  • Taking a disturbing level of delight in breaking a stupid world record which had previously been held by Britain (something like most hats worn by one man or longest index finger). Remember, this is main-stream news.
  • Advising viewers that the Socceroos have “nothing to fear from England in the World Cup as they’ve beaten them before”. By this logic, get down to the bookies and put all your money on pretty much every nation, including England, because we’ve beaten many of the participants before and that’s what ultimately counts.

Anyway, back to Sydney. The weather had brightened a little the following day, allowing us to take the ferry across the choppy harbour to Manly for a walk along the coast. Slowed by a fallen tree and both my fellow walkers’ choice of footwear (Birkenstocks in two different colours, but totally useless against a coastal path which in the previous 24 hours had had a month’s worth of rain dumped on it), we eventually completed the 10km walk at 9pm – I joke of course, it only took twice as long as it should have.

Extreme walking on the Manly coastal path

Sue treated us to a buffet-style curry in the evening, which we washed down with a couple of bottles of cheap wine. This was luxury indeed for Jane and me.

Our final day in Sydney saw us aboard a slow train to the ludicrously named Blue Mountains (neither blue nor mountainous), where we completed another lovely walk (in the correct footwear) through the woods and past waterfalls.

Waterfall in the Blue Mountains

Having reached the bottom of the walk in 90 minutes or so, we got the train back up which took 2 minutes at an angle of 52 degrees (pretty steep) and a cost of $11 a head (very steep).

Our taxi driver the following morning was reading his paper en route, but at least he knew where he was going. Those we’ve had since, have asked us which way we want to go, as if we’d know. When Jane rang for a taxi to Perth airport yesterday, the following exchange took place:

Jane: Can I book a taxi from Claremont to the airport for 10am please?

Idiot: Have you left sufficient time to get there?

Jane: I don’t know, I’m not from here. We’ve left half an hour, is that enough?

Idiot: I don’t know, I’ve never got a taxi from Claremont to the airport.

The Blue Mountains - three sisters

But I digress – from Sydney we flew to Perth, primarily to visit Sue’s brother, who unfortunately is unwell. Sue had booked us into a flat into the pretty suburb of Claremont, which again was like The Savoy to us compared to what has come before.

I won’t bore you with the details of our 6 days in Perth, but we had a relaxing time: visiting Freemantle for lunch with the gulls and a stroll along the front; the city centre for a walking tour of another nice city without any must-see sights; a park with a walkway through the tree-tops which Jane and I were most disparaging about (especially as it was raining); Cottesloe for a picnic on the front and a long walk in the sunshine and hired a car for a drive up the coast; stopping off at Scarborough for coffee.

Perth skyline

One place worthy of its own paragraph or two was the wildlife park we visited on our penultimate day. Feeding kangaroos, having our photo taken with a wombat mid-poo (the wombat, not us) and Jane and Sue mistaking a man fixing a cage for an animal (them with wide eyes: “What’s that?”; me with disdain: “That’s a human being with a hammer”) couldn’t beat the main attraction – the farm show.

I would like to be a koala bear in my next life

Not only did the sheep-shearing demonstration turn into a gruesome blood-bath, drawing gasps of horror from the crowd, when the shearer badly cut the ewe’s eye (we had had our concerns when the already-sheared sheep in the pen looked like they’d undergone minor surgery), but I got this gem of a photo of Sue and a cow’s arse:

Insert gag here

Our time in Perth was enlightening, confirming my fear that Jane is her mother’s daughter after listening to innumerable cyclical conversations, internally screaming “MAKE IT END, MAKE IT END, MAKE IT END” for hours on end.

One such example:

The night before

Jane (seeing advert on TV for X-Factor auditions in Perth): Oh look Mum, X-Factor auditions for the next two days in Perth.

Sue: Oooh, I should go along, I like a sing-song.

The morning after

Jane (seeing advert on TV for X-Factor auditions in Perth): Oh look Mum, X-Factor auditions for the next two days in Perth.

Sue: Oooh, I should go along, I like a sing-song.

Believe me, this is one of possibly hundreds of examples – it’s like watching two particularly forgetful and repetitive goldfish interact.

We’ve moved on to stay at our friends’ beautiful home in Clifton Springs where the rain has forced us to visit vineyards, buy up several bottles of their most affordable wine and spend much of the weekend drinking them. Fingers crossed the spill-chuck on this machine works.

The coast near Clifton Springs

I’ll leave you with my favourite Sue-ism of our time with her. As she was sitting on the balcony with her brother, I was trying to sort out the heating inside. You can almost guess what Sue said can’t you? “Don’t bother Thomas, it’s not getting any warmer out here”.

See Sue, I told you I’d be kind and leave out all the worst bits.

Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!


  1. Welcome to the club! (Only kidding – I can still climb the stairs one at a time). Yet more good stuff for the book, although your publisher will be somewhat wary of probable libel suits.

    • Gramps, you seem utterly convinced of the sanity of converting this blog to a book. Much as I appreciate your faith in the writing, I’d urge you not to get your hopes up! xx

  2. You don’t sound as enthusiastic about Oz as we were! But the poor weather probably didn’t help.
    Did you go to the Swan Tower in Perth? That was about the only place worth seeing, we thought!
    We stayed in Cottesloe when we went over.
    By the way, they are koalas, not BEARS!!!!
    I think Sue got off lightly with only a small amount of abuse – you were on your best behaviour!
    Hope to speak soon, xx

    • Oz is great, just we were in Perth for a few days too long. We’re on the road again from Wednesday, in a more modestly painted camper.
      Sorry for the koala mistake Mum, or should I say David Attenborough – everyone’s a critic eh?!
      Swan Tower? We barely saw anything over bungalow height.

  3. P.S. Loved the photos of the Joeys in their pouches!!

  4. Crikey ! I nearly forgot my response to your blog, unfortunately I lost your notes but have hopefully remembered most of it. I do remember I had to tell everyone how handsome you look with the beard and very important not to tell anyone the effect it has on small children and very suprisingly – dogs ! – the stick and the treats were not a success, thankfully the mother was passified and as promised I havent told your mum.
    Alan says he commiserates with you as he too has had to live with a bossy woman with withering looks for 30 odd years but says at least you have been warned as you have seen the older model – lucky you !!!

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