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And so I caught the final flight of my holiday from Singapore to Sydney. The flight lasted about eight hours and I hoped I would sleep but no such luck. Unfortunately, arriving in Sydney at 7.00 am, it meant that the whole day was ahead of me. And what a day it was.

When I was at secondary school I started playing hockey. No-one in my family played the game and there was a strong background of rugby with the male members so I went to games on my own. It never worried me because I loved the game so much and, of course, had lots of team mates to share the experiences with, but when I arrived in Sydney and saw, not only Kate but both of my granddaughters playing - once in the same team - it made me realise what fun they were having sharing a love of the same sport.

Riley was on parade first at her school north of Sydney and Bret took her to her match. She plays for the school Junior 1st XI (she's 13) and they won that first game 5-0. Meanwhile, Kate collected me from the airport and we went to watch Tyla play for her school 1st XI at a completely different venue (she's 16) and they won as well. It was hideously cold at her venue at Daceyville, a suburb in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, apparently a notoriously cold venue with a biting wind freezing us despite the warmth of the sun.

Following her first game, Riley (and Bret), meanwhile, were travelling to Ryde Hockey Club where all three girls play club hockey. She had her second game of the day, playing for the Ryde Juniors so I was delighted to be able to see her play, as well as Tyla. It was a Family Day at Ryde which happens once a year. So there was lots of hockey to watch, and lots of activities to take part in while hockey games were happening continuously on their beautiful pitch. Bret is an absolute legend. Although he's been a top sportsman in both rugby and skiing, he's nearly always on the sideline watching all the games on offer.

Kate is the current President of the Club and she and Riley stayed on for the afternoon to help run some of the activities. Bret and I bought some cakes to take home and left them to it. At this point I flagged completely and went to lie down, expecting to nap for about an hour. It was a great surprise when Tyla woke me to say that it was dinner time at 7.00 pm!

Thank goodness Sunday was another day full of hockey and I was able to watch both the games. Excitingly, both Kate and Riley played together in the first one. Kate plays for the Senior 5th grade (there are seven women's teams). Riley plays for the Senior 4th grade but she was 'playing down' on Sunday so they played in the same game. It was a very good game with the team communicating brilliantly and they won 5-0. This photo shows Kate at centre-forward on the right of the umpire with Riley on her right ready to rush to help her teammates following a short corner against them. It's a pity I snapped them when they weren't both standing upright because it's amazing to note that Riley is now almost the same height as Kate. Kate scored two of the goals - her first this season - so I was delighted to be in the stands (and I suspect she was too!) At one point, Bret and I heard Riley call out, ‘Put your stick down, Mum’! 

In the second game, Tyla played for the Senior 3rd grade but, although everyone in the team played very well, they lost 1-2 to a slightly better team on the day. It was such a privilege to see all of 'my three girls' playing such excellent hockey and good to know that there were more games anticipated on the second weekend although I left early on Sunday morning of the second weekend so missed the Sunday games.

Apart from the hockey, the other great excitement of my visit was going to their new home. They sold their beautifully renovated home in Lindfield in December 2017 and have been in rented accommodation in Chatswood ever since. It was a wonderful coincidence that they had taken possession of their new property the day before I arrived.

They've taken a very long time to find another property needing their brilliant renovation skills and they're delighted with their new home which is situated at Millers Point near the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the CBD looking out to the Barangaroo area.

The property requires Heritage approval as well as Sydney City approval. It's in a terrace of almost identical properties, each four stories high on fairly quiet roads at the front and the back. Because of all the consents they'll need from the Heritage people, they'll have to move very slowly to make the changes they'd like to make and, of course, nothing at all can be changed on the outside.

The property was once a museum and the previous owner spent millions renovating it to look as it would have done when it was first built. Doors to bedrooms open into the rooms, for example, so that, in days gone by, servants could speak to the occupants from behind the door without encroaching on the occupant's privacy.

Nearly every room has a fireplace, usually painted black with ornate mouldings covered in gold leaf. All the electricity is placed at floor level on a wooden block with four points, as you can see on the left of the fireplace. 

The central lights in each room hang from very, very ornate mouldings in the ceiling, all painted in a huge variety of colours. In this one, we counted eight different colours, including the ubiquitous gold leaf. The ceilings are very high so whoever did all the painting would have spent hours and hours doing the fine work with a serious crick in their neck!

Considering the length of time spent on the renovations by the previous owner (and some of the workmanship is outstanding) it was very surprising to find that in a house with five bedrooms, there is only one bathroom and no kitchen! It is those two things, among a few others, that are going to take some time to get through the Heritage roadblocks because both, particuilarly the kitchen, are essential for normal family life, and a lack of both is what is keeping the family out of the house and remaining in their rented accommodation for the time being. The one bathroom that is in place is not user-friendly (you can actually see from the photo that there are two doors into the room) and when a second bathroom is installed, this one will be altered. Having said that, they both love the bath and that will be taken to the new bathroom! 

Fortunately, some of their neighbours are working on the modern renovations for their almost identical properties, some for several years already, and have got permissions for the sorts of things that Kate and Bret want to change so they're hoping they won't have to wait too long for the requisite permissions. Having said that, they've been told that the Heritage people don't seem to take much notice of precedents and work on all requests on a case by case basis.

Two days later was moving day, bringing all the stuff they've had in storage for several months. It was soon clear that they have far too much furniture so there's going to be a bit of a purge over the next little while when they decide what could fit where. It must have been a pretty exhausting day for the four moving people who had to go up and down four flights of stairs, sometimes with very heavy bits and pieces. Remarkably, it was exhausting for Bret, Kate and me as well and when they finally departed at about 2.30 pm, we locked up and made our way down to the waterfront below the back of the house for a well-earned break and a lovely lunch. The cafe we chose is owned by an Italian from Rome who used to be a butcher and whose wife is a chef. His cafe was full to the brim, even for a late lunch hour whereas the one next door was almost empty. He has great customer service and his cafe doubles as a bicycle shop where he sells bikes and gear and also does repairs. He is an international cyclist competitor and has just qualified for the masters' event that's coming up soon.

Despite all the hockey matches that take place at the weekend, both girls have evening games as well and it's no wonder they're exhausted. I guess I was lucky (for lots of reasons) that I went to a boarding school where we played just as often as the girls do now, but there wasn't any travelling involved during the week, only at weekends. We practised every day but it wasn't anything like as demanding as having to finish school, come home and go out again to venues all over the surrounding area. And to add to the time it took, the traffic in Sydney is really awful - almost worse than in Auckland - so extra time has to be allowed for travel and - somewhat surprisingly - they all have to be at their games one hour before the start. I didn't get to the bottom of the reason for this as they didn't appear to be warming up, running around the pitches, or having team talks.

Some of the venues they play at are better than others and the girls are pretty lucky that several of their games take place at the Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre. The Centre is also known as the State Hockey Centre of New South Wales. It's a very impressive, and huge, multi-use stadium that opened in March 1998, ready for the 2000 Summer Olympics. And, as you can see in the photo, the games are often late in the evening with school the next day.

Hockey apart, there was time on my last day to spend the afternoon at the property (games having taken place in the morning). Both girls were exhausted and Tyla had a heap of studying to do - Year 12 - so the three of us went into the city and started the afternoon with a lovely (almost) al fresco lunch at the Glenmore Hotel which is just one street away and a hub of activity. They really are spoiled for choice and I almost wonder why they need a kitchen!!

The two of them spent some time unwrapping their 'art works' to decide which rooms they should go in so that Kate can start planning the colours and make a start on the rooms that need her painting skills. Painting is one thing that doesn't require more than a rubber stamp approval so she'll be able to get started soon. I amused myself, sitting on their back balcony in the sunshine overlooking the ocean, imagining what it will all look like when it's a done deal. I'm coming back again for a week in October for a school reunion and I rather hope that they will have moved in by then. It's always a joy to become absorbed into their family life and enjoy all the things they do.

One of my impressions of Sydney is that it's very busy indeed and is home to heaps of different ethnicities and weird happenings. This was evidenced as we left where we found that the photographer for a wedding party had chosen their street as a backdrop for some photos. There was a rather beautiful Maserati (which I didn't photograph as it was parked down the street a little) but outside there were five Harleys, one of which, the owner told me, was gold plated!

On Sunday morning it was time to return to New Zealand. As Riley was playing fairly near to the airport, Kate dropped me off and I left the hustle and bustle and noise of the big city and returned to my little slice of heaven.

Waking up the next morning and going out for my morning walk on a beautiful Wellington winter's day, I was struck by the fact that I could actually hear the birds singing and the water gently lapping in the Inlet.



Sydney, Australia - 4-12 August 2018

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