My New Best Friend

It’s Sunday morning, it’s very warm in Sydney and I’m just reflecting on my latest brush with fame and another week of “Christmas Drinks”.

I had a really nice surprise on Monday night. Actually, it wasn’t a surprise, I just had forgotten about it. A guy who I helped with some advice about a job asked me out to dinner, having now gotten the job he was after. We laughed, joked and chatted about a range of issues, ate some terrific food and drank some lovely wine.

I feel much more festive this year than last, for obvious reasons. Despite the shop decorations in the David Jones window, however, it still doesn’t feel like Christmas. Those childhood feelings of anxiety and excitement are long gone. I don’t really exchange many gifts anymore either. Still, I guess that’s what getting older is all about.

I do, however, like going to Christmas Drinks. On Wednesday night, I was invited to the Premier’s Media Christmas Drinks at Governor Macquarie Tower. There was the usual assortment of media literati and state parliamentarians with the added touch of Geoffrey Robertson, QC. Mr Carr made an amusing speech about the negativity of the media. I also met Helen Carr who seems very nice.

On Friday night, Damien and I went to Christmas Dinner at Pazzo. The food was, as usual very good, and Damien brought along a NZ Pinot he bought when he visited there a couple of years ago. After dinner, we went out for a few drinks at the Dolphin Hotel. In playing pool, we met a group of hilarious guys. They were both funny haha AND funny mad. They showed us pictures of their children, provided an elaborate critique of Radio National and 702, and one of the guys went on with an elaborate routine that he was a black gay man. I guess you had to be there.

Last night, Damo and I went to the opening of an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney about the desire and promise of the unknown inspired by the extraordinary voyages of J S C Dumont d’Urville. Like his hero Captain James Cook, Dumont d’Urville journeyed three times to the Southern Seas. His two voyages in command, 1826-1829 and 1837-1842 were the zenith of French maritime exploration, colonial ambition and scientific endeavour.

We were just there for the French champagne. Unfortunately, although the exhibition was about a French explorer and it was opened by the French ambassador, there was not a drop of French champagne in sight. Hmmm. On arrival we were presented with a lei, in keeping with the South Pacific theme of the night.

Archibald Prize - Margaret Whitlam
Archibald Prize – Margaret Whitlam

And I became best friends with Margaret Whitlam!

During the opening speeches, I was leaning against the wall, watching the proceedings when all of a sudden a face and voice appeared asking, “Do you mind if I borrow your wall”? It was Margaret Whitlam, the iconic wife of the former Australian Prime Minister. “If I don’t lean against a wall these days I fall over”, she said. When I replied, “Yes, I have the same problem”, she laughed.

After a little while, someone asked Mrs Whitlam if she would like a chair and if she would like to sit with Mr Whitlam. She said something like, “Oh, I’ll have the chair, but I’ll be fine here thank you”.

So we stood there with Margaret Whitlam on the chair in front of me. She became my new best friend with her witty remarks and wry observations about the ceremony underway. When a group of dancers came out with elaborate headgear, she commented, “Oh I wish they’d given us all those when we came in. Of course, you’d have difficulty keeping it on your head without sticking plaster”.

During the kava-drinking ceremony, Mrs Whitlam observed that it “tastes like dirty dishwater” and thought it was hilarious when Mr Whitlam was given some to drink. “Dishwater”, she said.

She was also amused to discover she had spent 30 years mispronouncing the name of a Tongan King and commented the dancers and singers, “Look more West Samoan than Tongan”.

After a while she and Mr Whitlam went to the book store, leaving her glass behind with a comment, “Can you look after that and make sure they fill it up by the time I get back”? I didn’t actually expect her to return, so I didn’t watch the glass, but when she did return she didn’t appear upset that I had neglected her wish. I asked her if she’d like some more and she replied, “Oh no, thank you… I’m fine”.

At the end of the evening she walked over to Mr Whitlam with the comment, “I’m just off to see what His Highness wants”. Shortly afterwards they left.

We then went for dinner at a French restaurant, Sel et Poivre, the place Colin had taken me for my birthday. The meal I ordered – Braised beef cheeks with Burgundy Sauce – was excellent. Highly recommended.

After dinner, Damo and I went out for a few drinks, which included cocktails at the Arthouse Hotel and beers at the Slip Inn, ending the night with – Damien’s suggestion, not mine – a cheeseburger at McDonalds.

Not much planned for the day, except writing my “year in review” which will appear here on December 31.

One Reply to “My New Best Friend”

  1. What an amazing encounter. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from Mrs Whitlam. She is awesome. Sadly – was awesome. RIP. Jimi you live an extraordinary life!

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