Heading home

I’m flying home soon. Sort of. Y’see I’m leaving Vancouver on the 20th of October, leaving the life I’ve led for the last nineteen months (it will be twenty by that point), and heading to Toronto. After Toronto comes a return to New Orleans, then down Cancun way in Mexico (though I don’t plan on spending much time in Cancun itself), back up into the good ol’ U-S-of-A to finally check out San Francisco.

You jealous? Yeah, you’re jealous.

The part I’m real excited about, however, is my final destination at the end of it all. Just over three weeks after leaving Vancouver I’ll be climbing on a plane. Fourteen hours of travel that are also two days later – because timezones – I’ll be climbing off a plane in Charles Kingsford-Smith. Sydney. Home.

I’m so fuckin’ excited. Counting down the weeks, the days, the hours. It’s been so long and I miss it all so much. Friends and family I haven’t seen in well over a year and a half, a brother and a sister whose birthday’s I’ve missed, my dog, Aussie beer, lamb, Thai food and Donner kebabs, the bars and pubs I learnt how to drink in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna miss Vancouver. No, that’s not true. I’m not going to miss Vancouver. I’ve not been able to form any real attachment to this city despite what it’s given me and I’ve grown tired of its many flaws and pretensions. I can’t look past them like I can with other cities I’ve visited, other cities I’ve loved, other cities I haven’t lived in long enough to become uncomfortable. But I’m gonna miss the people I’ve met here. The good folk who shared a drink, a meal, a board game or a movie with me. That taught me how to bartend or at least encouraged it, allowed me the chance to realise that yes, this is a job I love and want to keep doing. Will keep doing. I might not miss this city, but I will miss them.

They better fuckin’ follow through with promises to come visit.

But I’m not missing them yet. I’m not really thinking about missing them either. I just wanna get home and see my family, see my mates and be able to talk normally to both without needing to repeat myself (Fuck, I can’t fuckin’ wait to be able to talk – and swear – normally). I wanna pat my dog, see cricket and rugby and AFL on the TV instead of baseball and NFL and ice hockey.

What I really wanna do, what I really wanna do, is sit somewhere on the harbour with a schooner, and get very, happily drunk while watching the sun set over Bridge and the Opera house.

I can’t Goddamn wait.

Requiem for a dying pub: Remembering the Lansdowne Hotel

Lansdowne Hotel edited 9:8:2015

For over five years it was my pub. I know I’m not the first person to call it that, and even with the end coming I doubt I’ll be the last. It was one of the first places I went drinking after I turned 18, it was one of the last places I went drinking before I left Sydney behind. The Lansdowne Hotel was for me, as it was for generations who’d come before, a cornerstone of growing up. One of the key locations where my own coming of age story took place.

I can’t remember the first time I went there for a drink, but I remember the feelings it brought up. Sticky floors and tacky carpet, old torn posters on the wood-paneled walls, a battered pool table with wonky cues, a few worn but comfortable couches, high stools beneath higher tables, a row of taps in front of a wall of spirits, a couple of arcade and pinball machines near the door, pokies in a separate area that I can’t say I ever had the desire to enter. Clusters of students drinking beer around one table, a couple of old alcoholics sitting at the bar joined on occasion by the working class men so prominent in Jimmy Barnes’ thinking, stopping by for a quick schooner after work often still in their high-vis and steel caps. The smell of stale alcohol in the common areas and staler piss (with the occasional whiff of vomit and worse) in the bathrooms. I fell in love with the place immediately. It was everything I’d grown up expecting a pub to be, a little seedy and a little classless, but with a lot of heart and plenty of fun to be found, good grog and the natural charm that comes from bearing witness to the best and worst a society has to offer without judgement. But I might me romanticising a little. Or a lot. But, hey, first loves are a little like that, aren’t they.

It was a relationship that I fell into quickly. My best friend and I made a point of meeting up once a week during most of the semesters that we were both at Uni, and while there were plenty of drinking holes that we’d bounce between (Bar Broadway, Manning, Hermann’s, The Royal, Corridor, really hoping I don’t sound like an alcoholic right now) the Lansdowne was always our most frequent stop. Being so close to Uni, it was also a place where I spent a great deal of time with the people I met in my various classes. Drinking, laughing, listening, arguing, singing, sitting, chatting, bitching, drinking. Seriously though, not an alcoholic.

Anyway, some of the fondest memories I have of those years took place at the Lansdowne. Discussing future courses with one of my tutors and a half-dozen fellow students after the final tutorial of my first semester. Handing out relationship advice that I really have no right giving after a half-dozen scotch and cokes. Cheap steaks and absolutely excellent potato wedges in the upper floor beer garden. An enthusiastic barman pouring tasters of the more interesting beers on tap since it was a quiet afternoon and I’d expressed an interest, probably part of the origins of my own beer snobbery. Discussing films late into the night with folk who knew far more than I did, but listened to what I had to say anyway. Pausing a conversation to headbang along to the drop in No One Loves Me and Neither do I (’round the 2:15 mark) by Them Crooked Vultures. Arriving one weeknight to find a metal band whose name I never learned performing an absolutely fuckin’ amazing Queen cover. Chatting with a random old guy looking for some company while he drank, sharing a jug and a mutual love for the Dropkick Murphys. Sitting on the chairs outside and just watching the traffic passing by on the intersection of Parramatta and City Roads. Getting the pasta one fateful night and promptly deciding never ever to do something so foolish again. Simply talking.

That is what the Lansdowne was most for me. A place I could talk. It was my pub. A safe place without judgement or the anxiety it caused. It was a place where I could stretch out after a long day, week and month at uni or work and unload my troubles with the help of a friend or friends that cared, or help someone else unburden themselves. I went through some fucking dark times at university, but the Lansdowne was there for me as a place I could work through them. A part of my present where I could work through the past and stagger towards the future.

It changed a bit over the years. The red-headed bartender who didn’t know our names but new our preferred brew left and was replaced by a (I’m pretty sure we learnt she was) Thai girl who always poured the perfect beer and filled the jugs all the way to the top. A fire in 2013 was the cause for a round of renovations that left it lot cleaner and less battered, but still with a lot of its old personality. The menu, of course, shifted about as the kitchen staff obviously changed (the wedges stayed great, the pasta stayed shit). But it was always there, always a constant and what it meant to me (and the best mate I mentioned above) remained the same, so much so that a need to vent or relax or what have you could be announced with a single-worded text: “Lansdowne?”

Well, until now. It’s apparently been bought by the Academy of Music and Performing Arts, who are planning on turning it into a place of learning. A place of “study rooms, performance areas and recording studios.” Fuck me dead. I mean, yeah, fuck, they wanna turn it into a dance and musical theatre school. Just, good luck to’em I suppose, but I can’t help but feel I’m losing something important. Expect a lot of people are going to feel that way. It also doesn’t really matter that they’re going to try and leave it as a live music venue. It wasn’t just about the music (though for many that was definitely a defining part of its character), it was about the place itself. The history, culture and camaraderie that you only get in a proper pub. It was iconic and symbolic and the Lansdowne. What it was, what it is for at least the next few weeks, is being taken away from it. And that is tragic.

What’s got me is that I won’t be there for the end. My last schooner there was my last there. I can’t see it out properly, with a jug of good Aussie beer and a game of pool with its wonky cues, a cheap steak cooked medium rare in the beer garden, and a poor attempt to sing-along to whatever’s playing over the sound system. A good time with good mates before something that was so important to me ceases to be.

So I’ll simply have to say goodbye to the Lansdowne Hotel from here. Goodbye and good luck to whatever you become. You were too good for what the world is now.

If anyone’s in Sydney before it closes, do us a favour. Head in there and have a beer.

Happy New Year

Have you ever watched Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show? It’s a hell of a performance. The annual budget of a small Pacific nation is blown away over the course of around twenty minutes in a spectacular display of colour, thunder and light. The Harbour Bridge takes centre stage, its arch sometimes doubling or tripling in size as gouts of yellow, purple, red and green flame and smoke rise high into the night sky, while pontoons scattered across the water provide sideshows and back-up dancers to our main diva.

New Year’s Eve is a night that, regardless of the shit that’s gone on throughout the year, we remember that Sydney loves a party. The club lockout rules are relaxed a little, revellers surge through our streets, public transport struggles to move it all about, the atmosphere is alive and excited. Hopeful. I was so disappointed when my first NYE as an eighteen year old was down in Hobart instead of Sydney, visiting family. Getting plastered with my mates in the city was supposed to be a right of passage, and instead I was slightly buzzed at my Aunt’s friend’s place overlooking the comparatively pitiful Hobart fireworks. Two guys on a raft with a flare gun, I like to half-joke. Most of us just watched the Sydney fireworks on the TV. Mind you when I was eighteen I considered any remotely special occasion where there was an opportunity to get drunk as a right of passage. Eighteen year old me was a dumbarse. So was nineteen year old me, actually.

Mind you, it’s not like I’ve spent every year since getting trashed in the city beneath the fireworks. It’s a pain in the arse getting in and a bigger pain getting out. Last year I spent with the family and neighbours, year before that the guys came round to mine and we played poker all night. They came around again last night, though with a lot more alcohol and more ‘plus ones’ then that term usually implies. Was a lot of fun. There was an NYE where we made the trip to a spot called Blues Point, within kicking distance of the Bridge. We had to get there five hours early and fight for every inch of space against better prepared families who’d erect tents and barriers to guard and expand their territory. It was a dry area, and we expected them to put some effort into keeping alcohol out so we didn’t even try. All the drunken teenagers hanging around the public toilets proved how easy it could have been. The display was spectacular. Worth a five hour wait (six for my friends who arrived before the rest of us did)? Probably not. Worth being able to go to any other city in the world on NYE, let out a haughty, patronising chuckle and remark with absolute authority that “it’s nothing compared to a Sydney NYE display”? Absolutely. You could almost say that was the reason we were there. One of my friends was leaving for Nice (on exchange) not long after, and none of us had really gone to see those bright and tightly choreographed explosions we’re all so proud of before.

It’s all very ritualistic when you think about it. An annual sacrifice of material worth steeped in tradition, performed in front of millions of eyes, imbued with a socially-constructed sacredness, associated with drunkenness and revelry celebrating the death of the old and the beginning of the new, a communal prayer to the secular gods for a prosperous new year or at least a better one than the last. We’re nine condemned men hanging from a tree away from pleasing Odin. But I did a lot of Studies of Religion subjects at university, so that’s what I think about. The problems of the past year or burned away on a giant, kaleidoscopic funeral pyre, and we start fresh and anew. Today is a new day. Today is a new year. Thank Christ and consumer culture for that.

After all, how will 2014 be remembered? “A bit shit,” seems like an appropriately understated answer to that question. Ebola, IS (the caliphate formerly known as ISIS or ISIL) still going strong in Iraq and Syria, MH17 and MH370 (along with all the other planes that have gone down this year), a gunman in Ottawa, a gunman in Sydney, the situation in Ukraine, Ferguson and the resulting (completely justifiable) civil unrest, Gamergate and other attacks on feminism and women in our entertainment mediums. A bit shit. There were definitely joys to be had, 2014 gave us Guardians of the Galaxy after all, but I know I’m not gonna look back at this year too fondly. I may have spent a substantial part of this year going through depression (“may have” because I’m not a fan of self-diagnosis and get a bit rattled at the thought of getting a professional opinion). But that’s me, and any such judgement is entirely subjective. I couldn’t wait ‘til 2014 ended. You may have had a great year. I hope you had a great year. Seriously. I hope your next year is a lot better though. I hope mine is as well. I think it will be.

I’d like to say that writing this blog, for the two dozen or so of you that read it, has been a real joy. You’re all wonderful, intelligent, discerning and startling attractive people. I’ve been trying to maintain at least one post a week, but it’s been a bit difficult lately and will be a bit difficult in the future. I’m moving to Vancouver in a month and life has been busy. So bear with me, yeah?

Yeah. So that’s the barest outline of my plans for the new year, what’s yours? I hope they’re good. Keep the positive from last year, throw the negative onto the pyre, start the new year refreshed and ready. Welcome 2015, fuck off 2014.

And Happy New Year one and all.

Thanks for reading.

Sad, but still proud.

The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was check the news. Sombre, tragic, but relieving. Not a lot of new information at that point beyond that it was over and three were dead. There was still an exclusion zone in the city, which would remain for much of the day. City-bound traffic was gridlocked, probably not helped by people deciding to drive to work instead of catching public transport. Every half hour or hour the newsreaders seemed to have a few extra scraps of information to give us. Confirming a name, mentioning a rumour, providing a little more background.

Yesterday my sister called my mum from outside her place of work in Bondi Junction, talked about all the cops effectively locking it down. Mentioned at the end that she needed to go back inside. She was holding a timer and the security guards were giving her funny looks.

Well. Shit.

I’m assuming by this point most people have heard about the siege in Martin Place, in the middle of Sydney’s Central Business District, which ended with the tragic deaths of two hostages (RIP Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson) and the decidedly less tragic death of the gunman who held them for sixteen hours (Man Haron Monis, may he burn in a particularly warm circle of hell). My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the wounded, and the freed hostages. My city bled last night but thank god, the police and the other emergency personnel present that it didn’t bleed more. Those guys are awesome, and they proved it once again.

There are going to be a lot of questions being asked about the siege, and it’s going to occupy our media for a while. Probably sit in the international media for a while as well. Will this be considered to be a terrorist act in the history books, or just a lone nutjob publicity-whore with nothing to lose but relative obscurity? I think a lot of us are angling at nutjob. Why was a man with more than forty indecent and sexual assault charges, a conviction for sending insulting letters to the families of dead soldiers and a charge for being an accessory to his wife’s murder given bail? Because the Crown’s case wasn’t considered particularly strong. Wasn’t he on an ASIO watchlist? (If not, why not?). Is Fox News in the US really trying to use these tragic events to argue against gun control? Fuck those guys. How did our own media handle the event? Pretty well according to some, aside from the 2pm print edition of the Telegraph. How did our politicians do? Not too bad either. How will this effect Christmas shopping, upon which so many people rely for financial security? Not well, and you’re likely to get called a materialistic arsehole for asking.

It’s a sad thing to have happened. Martin Place is so iconic, so central. The Harbour Bridge might be Sydney’s smile, but Martin Place is part of its heart. The outpouring of grief is real and overflowing. But truthfully, I’m so fuckin’ proud of my city right now. Proud of the cops who dealt with the situation so calmly and methodically, who tried so hard to end the situation without blood but acted decisively when required. Proud of the news folk, who kept us updated but, for the most part that I saw, were careful about what information was revealed and how it was delivered (such as the using ‘gunman’ instead of ‘terrorist’). Proud of the speed with which so many Sydneysiders made clear that they weren’t blaming the Islamic community, and would support them against the racists and rabble rousers. Proud of the Islamic community. You guys know what you’re going to go through because of the actions of this one criminal, but you still choose to be part of our community. Our city. I’ll ride with you. Anybody that wouldn’t can piss off. They don’t deserve to live in our city.

There’s not a lot I can add to any conversation about the events yesterday and this morning that smarter, more involved folk aren’t going to be debating better than I ever could for days to come, but I wanted to say that. Because our city is strong, and I am proud of that.