February 24, 2005 GMT
A Night at the Opera

The Australians have three obsessions: booze, gambling, and how wonderful they are.

Bottle shops abound, often the drive-through variety; as do pubs (of course) and booze seems to be available on a much wider basis than I've ever seen before.

A big crowd-puller into the pubs are the pokies. These are, apparently, a sort of one-armed bandit on which you play poker. Many pubs have entire rooms set aside for these. As well as having the pokies, many pubs also double as betting shops, complete with TV monitors showing the races and the odds. This can get a little annoying (for me) at times as there's a new law that 50% of pub indoor space must be non-smoking; so they make the gambling bit the smoking bit, which rather buggers up the quiet drink and read the newspaper thing.

I had a close encounter with (I think) a wombat in Wagga Wagga. There I was, sitting outside my tent having a nightcap (Jacob's Creek Shiraz is about 4 quid a bottle) and I saw what I thought was the silhouette of the campsite cat. I made the usual noises (I speak cat) and the shadow approached timidly. Next thing I know, a pair of large round brown eyes are looking up at me. Not a cat, then. Rather sweet, though, and very friendly.

Talking of campsites, a conversation I had early on, in the Kakadu:
[Them] Do you want a cover?
[Me] Er, beg your pardon?
[Them] Do you want a cover? It's going to rain tonight.
[Me] Thanks all the same, but the bike's used to getting wet.
[Them] No, not for the bike, for the tent.
[Me] Er, sorry, not with you.
[Them] It's going to rain, and you'll get wet.
[Me] I don't think so, not unless we're talking 6 inches in an hour or something. I mean, tents *are* waterproof enough for most normal conditions, and my sleeping bag's waterproof as well.
[Them] Your tent's waterproof? Blimey, this we have to see.

So they did. Quite a lot of oohing and aahing. Hmmmmmm.

Oh yes, the bike. Well, called at the BMW dealer in Sydney - very helpful chap called Andrew Kelly (the spit of Rory McGrath and an R90S owner) at Tom Byrne M/C welcomed me, sat me at his computer and telephone, with a coffee, to contact shippers and things, couldn't have done more. And the nice young man at the shipping company is also being very helpful - apparently the price will vary depending on whether the flight goes via the US or Europe. Best not to delve to deeply into that one, I think.

I expect you remember my fitting a new gearbox before I left, having done a cost/benefit analysis and deciding I'd rather it was Mr.BMW's problem if anything happened? And having to learn "My gearbox has exploded" in 23 different languages? Well . . .

. . . it started misbehaving in the usual manner a couple of weeks ago, and on Tuesday I decided enough was enough. So it's going in to the dealer on Saturday for a checkup; Cooper's have (I hope) faxed the original paperwork over as proof of date of purchase; the above-mentioned Andrew is confident there's a box at BMW Aus in Melbourne; and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

And last night I went to Tosca at the Opera House. It was stunning, as is the building. Cheryl Barker singing Vissi d'Arte was spine-tingling. And John MacMasters' Scarpia very scary - the rape attempt was particularly good. And, being here, there are enough bars to prevent the usual scrimmages you get in Europe in the intervals, not to mention terraces overlooking the harbour with amazing views of the Bridge and everything lit up.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at February 24, 2005 08:57 PM GMT

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