I’ve just come back from a research trip to Australia (the hat gives it away). Well, I say research trip…it was actually more of a family visit and holiday, but I used the opportunity to do some research for my current novel, which is set mostly in Perth (Australia, not Scotland). Writers never stop working, even when they’re on holiday. Behind those mirror shades the little grey cells are working away… I love research, real research that is; not the sort that involves using a search engine. It’s like a warrant card. It gives me purpose and authority, emboldens me to walk into places, talk to people, in a way that I never would usually. It’s a bit like stepping into someone else’s shoes (but without the person whose shoes you’ve stepped into calling the police and accusing you of stealing their shoes).
I love Australia too; it’s a beautiful country, and the people seem so friendly (at least, most of the people that I’ve met). And Australian culture is always good for a laugh. However much you see of it there’s always something new waiting to surprise you.
For instance, I came upon this sign under a tree in Hyde Park. Sadly the photo isn’t clear, but what the sign actually says is, ‘Heavy seeds or cones may fall from this tree without notice’ Without notice, mind! Bloody trees: no consideration. The sign itself would be unusual for a country that isn’t generally all that bothered about health and safety regulation.
I never did get around to taking a photo of the bins they have for dog owners to dispose of their little plastic bags, which is a shame, because I don’t suppose many people will believe me when I tell them that they’re labelled ‘Doggy Dumpage’. Only the Australians could make something so quotidian and unpleasant so much fun.
Something else I never got my head around is these signs in IGA (one of the main supermarket chains). I can’t help thinking I’m missing something, and perhaps I should have asked one of the assistants for an explanation, but it looks to me like the special offer gets you 3 mangoes for five bucks, instead of the $4.98 you would have paid if you bought them individually. Like I say, perhaps I’m missing something, but I like to think it’s the manager having a bit of fun with their customers. The mangoes were tasty, in any case.
I also love the way that Australian shops price everything at $x.99, but when you come to pay they round it up to the nearest dollar anyway. So if you pick up something priced at $4.99 and take it to the till, you’ll hear, ‘that’s five bucks then mate.’ It took me a while to get used to that, too.
The language in Australia makes me smile. Three of the most used words are; ‘look’, ‘yeah’, and ‘aw’, as in the standard opening gambit of, ‘aw… yeah look…’ The word ‘look’ is seriously over used. It must be very frustrating for anyone who’s blind.
The standard greeting, particularly in shops, is ‘How ‘ya going?’ (or, ‘How ‘ya going, guys’, when speaking to more than one person). It’s best not to say ‘pretty regularly at the moment as it happens, not that it’s any of your business’. The correct response, as far as I could work out, is ‘Good.’ or ‘Good, thanks.’ or, if you’re feeling particularly effusive, ‘Aw..yeah, look I’m good, thanks; how are yoo-oou?’
I didn’t get as much writing done as I’d hoped while I was away – too many distractions maybe? I’d hoped to make great progress on those long flights, but the environment wasn’t really conducive – too uncomfortable, too distracting looking ahead at rows and rows of flickering television screens. I did manage to knock out a short story, based on a news item about a property development – a multi-million dollar mansion in an affluent suburb of Perth – that had run into difficulties and was due to be demolished. And I did cover all of the research that I’d wanted to do for the novel. At least I think I did. Then again, now I think about it, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’d better go back again, just to check…