As a die hard (with a vengeance!) tennis fan, watching top quality players all over the world has long been an ambition of mine - and especially going to the Slams. Wimbledon was fairly easy to achieve, though based on recent experience there seem to be more hoops to jump through actually to get through the hallowed portals than most, of which more later. Then quite a few years ago, my beloved surprised me with a trip to the red clay of Roland Garros for the French Open which was a fantastic and gastronomic experience (definitely the best food) apart from the attempted kidnap late at night by a Chinese taxi driver on the way back to the hotel! In 2010 we combined a trip to stay with good friends in Annapolis with Flushing Meadow which was a totally different experience with all the noise and bustle of New York City transferred courtside. Each Slam was a quite different and massively enjoyable experience. That left just one more...
We originally thought we would make it to Melbourne to our final Slam in January 2015 when our last two children finally left school and home and were safely installed at university. But January 2015 was the very bottom of the birdcage health-wise and there was no going anywhere. January 2016 then marked the midpoint between the wedding of child number 2 and the wedding of child number 1 and for major understandable financial reasons, there was to be no trip last year.
But finally on January 15th 2017 we finally set off on our epic trip to return to Australia after 30 years, with men's semifinals tickets booked at the Aussie Open. I am so used to our children gallivanting and me being at home, holding the fort, so to speak, so this required instructions to the offspring before I could safely relax and go: 'Stay safe, children. Number 1: don't get hurt playing rugby, numbers 2 and 3: drive 5 mph slower than normal and imagine I'm in the passenger seat, and number 4: you'll be brilliant tomorrow - I absolutely know it!'
This is our story...
Sitting at Heathrow watching my beloved quaff his first and second glasses of fizz at 6.00am I had a major moment of the stretching of the umbilical cord. Yes they all got messages reminding them to drive safely, in fact, stay safe generally, and that I love them more than life itself. Bit teary...
Now here's a whole new experience for me (or, it's so long since it happened that I can't remember) getting on a plane and 'turning left'. Our first flight is to Doha with Qatar and it's the shorter one of the two legs. My beloved is directly in front of me in business class enjoying in-flight internet access and I'm right behind enjoying two movies and the new Jack Reacher is a winner. Yes, I know that Lee Child readers are aware that Jack Reacher is supposed to be built like a brick sh*****se and have a buzz cut but Tom Cruse has bought the rights to all Jack Reacher novels as films because he loves the character and he makes a jolly good fist of it.
As we flew in over Doha you can see gas and oil refineries and sand, and not a great deal else but the airport is very swish with more watch and handbag shops than you can shake a stick at. Like most airports, you could have been in any country in the world. Either the pound is shot, or this is a very expensive place to shop so we browsed as a way of getting some exercise and my beloved briefly contemplated the purchase of a drone!
As we trundle down to our gate, we are encouraged to take a different gate entrance from the hoi polloi (oh, this is the life!) with no queue and once through the bag check our tickets are taken away and new ones issued with no explanation. "We're in row 18" says the one who booked everything but the tickets say row 2 and we have mysteriously been upgraded to First! Now this really is the life!
One of us ate his second dinner at a beautifully laid table in front of him and drank copious amounts of fizz and red wine and then promptly fell asleep upright with his film still running whilst my bed was made for me and I snuggled up in my Moschino pyjamas. So as I write, I have no idea what time it is in Sydney but in my world it's 8.00am. I'm washed and dressed in a bathroom only slightly smaller than the one at home and getting very excited. In case you're wondering, he is still in the same position as in the paragraph above, snoring quietly!
There's an automated passport check at Sydney airport. Insert your passport, collect the ticket and then move on to the next station where you stand on the footprints and have your picture taken. Normally I am the one who is stopped and frisked in airports, but today I zip-zap through and head to baggage collection, pausing only momentarily to read the poster about the symptoms of the zika virus. Included amongst the symptoms are sweaty fever and bloodshot eyes. Meanwhile, my beloved has not appeared but due to checking in to Party Central (the bar - all night as it turns out) on the plane he has the appearance of several of the symptoms of the zika virus.
Eventually he arrives - apparently the automated passport check just can't cope with sweaty chubsters in specs! Out in the arrivals area we have a moment's panic when there is no sign of our friends - and then they appear, all hugs and smiles and we're on our way to their lovely flat in Mosman.
Even though we've only just had breakfast on the plane, it's actually supper time in Sydney and the challenge is to go to bed at an appropriate time so that the body clock rights itself. My solution? Stay up till 1.00 am and hope for the best. Luckily I have lots of gossip to catch up on and there's tennis on the telly so it's no hardship. Meanwhile, the one who had partied all night on the plane is out for the count!
Our first proper day in Sydney is a scorcher. We head down for an early coffee with the son whose bedroom we have appropriated, then it's off on the ferry from Manly to Watsons Bay. Nice walk up to some of the amazing viewing points of the ocean and then a drink and some fabulous fish at the legendary Doyle's. Last time we were here was some 30 years ago and it hasn't changed. It's great to sit on the pavement outside and eat fantastically fresh fish in the sunshine listening to the waves lapping on the sand. There were a series of letters in the Telegraph a while ago about finding an appropriate onomatopoeic word for the sound the sea makes as it sucks the sand back into the ocean - can't remember what those folks who write to the Telegraph came up with but it's a truly great backing track to life on the shores of Sydney harbour.
Wednesday night saw us taking the ferry into the centre of Sydney - the best way to see the city is undoubtedly from the water - and going for a drink at the Opera Bar. Young and buzzing, it's almost under the eves of the Opera House and looking across to Harbour Bridge. I have to pinch myself - we are really here!
Life here starts early (when it's cool enough to do stuff in the summer) and for fellow middle-agers like us it finishes early too. So quick pasta/pizza and it's back to Mosman with just time to check on British progress in Melbourne before bed. Think my body is on Aussie time now.