Monday, 24th September

With all the birthday excitements over, it was time for us to depart for the next stage of our holiday. We were off to see friends in a Narrawallee.

We took advantage of Justine taking the girls into the office (they are on holiday from school) to cadge a lift down the hill to the fast bus to the City with our bags. We were off to Narrawallee (please consult your maps!), somewhat south of the Sydney, to see our friends Aileen and Mick Darragh, who we met on the big train journey last year.

Our route to them was quite circuitous. It was a slow train both literally and metaphorically. Initially our route took us through the suburbs of Sydney, then we passed through a lot of small settlements, stopping at most. Some names, like Otford, were familiar. The landscape eventually became wooded and then we were running parallel with the sea. Our route took us through the hewn rock of cuttings and I was once again reminded of these pioneers who literally carved their way through the country.

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We got the train to Kiama and where our chums picked us up. To get further than this was even more complicated……. In the event we had lunch there. The fears that we all later admitted to in terms of meeting up were immediately dispelled – we had only met for a few days on the train, would we still get on? We need not have worried. We started chatting immediately and did not stop in waking hours until we left them on the following Friday.

After lunch it took another two and a half hours until we reached the Narrawallee environs. The local government area is called Shoalhaven and covers a small area on the south coast of New South Wales. It is a wonderful beach location with the added bonus of Rick Stein meeting a lady of the area (I think they are married now and he has a house there) and opening a restaurant in a local hotel. Bannisters in Mollymook has apparently brought a number of people to the area.

After a bit of touring to orientate us we arrived at Durragh towers, a delightful bungalow not far from the beach. It was by now late afternoon.

Mick is a real music buff. Keith’s subject. Aileen and I talk like Buddhist prayer wheels, spinning from one subject to the next, hardly drawing breath between topics. We talked through pre dinner drinks, dinner and post dinner. What fun,

Sunday, 23rd September

The girls could be heard chatting before 7.00. We did not get up for the breakfast waffles or the run around to work off the sugar rush, but joined the family for breakfast when everyone had gone. Justine, perfection as always, had organised, successfully devised and implemented an exemplary birthday party and had not turned a hair. I am in constant awe!

We had a fairly lazy day which included a blowy visit to the secret beach, further along the northern beaches. This was a lovely cove of pristine sand that can only be reached on foot.

An interesting occurrence on our way back was the sound and eventually the sighting of three young bagpipers playing while standing on the edge of the cliff! Who would have thought it!

Keith cooked more fish for supper – his version of fish fingers – and the time came for the final birthday activities. We went to the cinema. Not any old cinema but the Gold Class cinema experience. This, much to our amazement, comprised the opportunity to buy cocktails to be delivered at a time of your choosing to your plush reclining double seat while watching the film! It was hilarious, not least because we were watching ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’. What a hoot!!

Saturday, 22nd September

We were up with the lark to go off down the hill. Tony, Justine and Mickey were off to a boxing session, while Keith and I perambulated around the headland, Long Reef. It was a lovely walk in the morning light, with cricket and golf already well advanced – it was 8.00 am.! Birds, views an views….

We had a busy morning ahead, but first there was the visit to Devitts, the popular barbecue butcher to buy sausages for brunch. These were consumed with eggs on the balcony while we planned the modus operandi for the day.

Suitably fed and watered, it was time to get on.

The boys were charged with cake getting – an ice cream affair from Ben and Jerry’s. The female operatives, Justine, Mickey, Coco and me (later joined by a friend of Mickey’s who had been commissioned to join the entertainment team), put sparkles in balloons, prepared pizza dough and toppings, baked cupcakes (for later decoration by party participants), laid the table. It all took time, debate and consideration. By 4.30 all was ready and Justine and I had poured our first glass of fizz against the rigours of the day, when tight on time our young ladies arrived.

What struck me most was what a collection of sizes they were! There is obviously not a uniform height for age 12! It was a hectic few hours! The chaps (K and T), left as soon as their role as pizza bakers on the balcony oven had finished, to down a few beers. We, on the other hand, experienced the noise levels rise as the various stages of the activities progressed. The highlight for the ‘tweens’ was the manicure provided by a lovely lady from the local beauty salon. I was so glad she turned up – I am not sure my manicure skills would have been up to the task, had they been required!

Eventually it was time to cut the wonderful cake, which had caused Justine and me not a little angst in terms of when to take it from the freezer. Luckily the instructions were found before there was a total disaster.

By 7.30, all but 4 (the sleep overs) had gone. There had been no tears and only four telephone ‘amnesties’, when the mobile ‘phone activity had reached fever pitch and Justine could tolerate it no longer. The boys returned. We sat down to supper, while present opening took place and the chosen four were entertained royally by their young hostess.

There was still considerable noise taking place from Coco’s dormitory room when I went to bed and it apparently took stern words from Tony before it abated. I was long since asleep

Thursday/Friday 20/21st September

Thursday

We decided on a quiet day to enable me to catch up with my memoirs. As it was a grey wet day this proved to be a good decision and, apart from a stroll around the block, we were pretty inactive.

Friday

We had decided to pop into the City again and Keith was cooking a fish curry for supper, so supplies had to be purchased. The fish was the result of a family fishing expedition to Darwin some weeks before and the freezer was full. Upon enquiry it transpired that the fish had been frozen and packed up in a case before they left Darwin. The bag then formed part of their luggage to Sydney 😳. I found myself wondering how Ryanair might have reacted had they been fishing in Europe and it was required to be flown home….

Anyway to get back to our day, we did a little more retail therapy and then went to the Rocks where we knew there was great street food on Fridays.

A successful forage found us with a Turkish gozleme and juice, listening to a very tuneful singer. On the return journey we dropped off at the Mall to make our supper purchases and it was not long before joined at home by Justine and the girls.

A very good Thai fish curry later and it was time for bed, it was another celebration day on the morrow. Coco had 11 chums coming for a birthday tea. I had a feeling it was going to be important to be ‘fresh’.

Wednesday, 19th September

We got up at 7.00 to take part in the requested birthday breakfast of hot croissants. There was no thought of waiting for supper time to open her gifts. She was on them like a rash!

Despite the excitement, everyone had gone by 8.00 and Keith and I tidied and arranged the gifts in a suitable display. There was then a bit of a pause before taking off to meet our chums Wendy and Sarah at the Boathouse in Manly for lunch. We got the bus to Manly and then had to walk along the beach path before reaching the Boathouse.

It was a bit blowy but sunny and we had a lovely walk along the shore before arriving at the restaurant – a real beach paradise in a beautiful location. The food was good too.

After a very enjoyable lunch catching up with each other’s news, they very kindly carried us off to see how a house ‘stylist’ had ‘improved’ their house which is up for sale. The house was absolutely stunning before. It has now had a stylist makeover to enhance it. This ‘makeover’ has more or less left the Girls with a bed and a couple of bar stools in the kitchen in which to live until the house is sold!

Wendy and Sarah very kindly took us home and the day took off again at about 4.00 when the girls and Justine (very unusually) arrived home and preparation commenced for the evening’s outing. Once again at the Birthday Girl’s request we were off out for Pizzas. This was to be no ordinary Pizza though – we were going to have a metre of Pizza followed by a Nutella Pizza. Definitely a new experience for us!

Coco, as in all things’ was well versed in the process as, looking very glamorous, she chose the toppings for our outsized affair. Which, when it arrived exceeded our table size by several inches!! It was great fun.

Unfortunately there was something of a holdup on the pudding Pizza. After several reminders and nothing happening the Manager came out with a 3 kg tub of Nutella for Coco to apologise!

She thought she had died and gone to heaven!!! And then the Nutella pizza arrived…….!

Tuesday, 18th September

Tuesday

The household was quiet by the time we got up. Life starts early at Collaroy Plateau. By 8-00 am there is the last slam of the front door and we are alone in the house, save (of course) for the cats.

It is Tony’s birthday. The reason we headed for Sydney so quickly. We had decided to head for the City to get a couple of clothing items as some of our clothes have had to be abandoned, having succumbed to the red dust blight. After a bit of a problem with keys, we eventually headed in on the local bus which takes about an hour to meander through the suburbs before crossing the bridge to arrive at the Wynyard central city bus stop..

We were limited on time because we were in charge of turning on the birthday feast, but were delighted to literally run into Kathi, one of our fellow travellers on the trip. We could not believe the serendipity of it all. A minute earlier or later and we would have missed her. After a warm reunion we adjourned to shop together, Lulu Lemon called!

After a fun shop we had a very brief coffee and headed off back to the Northern Beaches, Keith taking the smart new bus all the way (the fast bus stops at the bottom of the steep hill up to the Plateau), while I hopped off at the shopping mall along the way to purchase fizz as our contribution to the evening’s entertainment and get a few bits.

It was a good gathering for the birthday supper. An excellent meal, good company and present opening cannot fail. Nine of us sat around the table. The boys drank beer and a real treat was that Justine opened a bottle of Veuve Clicqout (my favourite champagne) to mark our arrival. It felt very special, but was really the trailer for the big birthday of the week. Coco was to be 12 the next day. Her excitement was palpable……..!

Monday, 17th September

We did not get up quite so early. It does not take us long to lapse! Another sunny day.

The lovely Helen dropped off our washing to enable us to pack (we were flying to Sydney later in the day) and then came back for us at about 11.00.

She then carried us off to her sister’s house where her brother in law had cooked us an amazing ‘brunch of Peking duck, pancakes plum sauce and all!! It was delicious. We hopefully earned our keep a bit by adding to their knowledge of the via Francigena – the Canterbury to Rome walk – which they are coming to Europe to do, in reverse (!) next year. It was good fun for us to revisit the memory of the walk which was a true landmark in our relationship..

Their apartment HD’s a wonderful and in fact looked over the Mendl Beach where we had been the night before!

Eventually it was time to get the the airport and we reluctantly said our goodbyes, with many thanks and promises to join them at the end of their walk next year. Wonderful people.

Helen took us to the airport (she will join us in Sydney for my party there in October) and it was a very slick move to the departure lounge. Before long Darwin was disappearing below us and we were en route to Sydney which was to be our base for nearly a month

As promised and as efficient as ever, Justine was there to meet us (lovely to see her again!). She of course took in her stride the vision of two still rather dusty travellers carrying what definitely looks like a coffin in Keith’s new bag, between us. This was easily swallowed up in the car and we were off to Wightman Towers at Collaroy Plateau.

It was dark and busy. The most traffic we have seen since we left the M.25.

We arrived at the Wightman’s to a lovely welcome. The girls have grown, the cats are still looking robustly healthy and Tony as delightfully ‘hang dog’ as ever. It felt like coming home! It was so good to be with them again.