The kookaburra is an early riser. He wakes before the sun breaks the dark silence of the suburbs to open his beak and cackle deeply. Another joins in, then another. The joke, it would seem, is on the sleepy - spring mornings in my father's garden are simply too good to miss. Soon afterward the Rainbow Lorikeets chime in - noisy, clattering, manic - but it is the melodic, sonorous call of the Butcher Bird that resonates most deeply. He is small, lovely, elusive. I tried to capture him, but each carefully calculated swoop was deliberately timed, I am sure, to maintain complete anonymity. One of the rarer creatures in a beautiful, glamourous (clamourous) city.
Glittering Sydney - that Bridge! those Sails! that sparkling Harbour! - isn't my Sydney, though a small tear in the corner of my left eye (always the left...) crossing The Bridge made me wonder, this time, if that is entirely true. Places are nothing without the people who make them, granted, but Sydney is without doubt far more outwardly seductive than my southern home.
Growing up, it was the Northern Beaches that held our family in thrall - Deewhy, Mona Vale and, when feeling brave, the wild, rough surf of North Palm called (we're good swimmers, thankfully). I can proudly say that I have never swum at Bondi; the beach itself is a place where the Beautiful People like to parade. The offspring of media magnates, large-breasted pin-up girls and British backpackers, betrayed only by their accents, so deeply tanned that you'd think they were born and bred on these sandy shores.
Step back from the main drag however, away from the glam, and you'll find pre-historic-looking frangipani trees in every street, Orthodox Jews, resplendant in their out-of-kilter cold-weather religious garb, laundromats a-hoy, crumbling blocks of sea-sprayed flats and second-hand bookshops that double as meeting spots for artistic folk.
And, close to the top of the hill, lives my best friend Jo.
The eating, as always, was good. A lunch of dukkah-sprinkled fried eggs with a friend in Newtown made me oddly nostalgic, winding our way through back streets I still know as well as the proverbial back of my hand; a long walk, from Bondi to Surry Hills, ended in a long, tipsy lunch at the exquisite Red Lantern and, later, blistered feet; dinner with Mum and Dad at the darkly lit, stylish Modern Turkish Efendy and an early, restrained, yet giggly (always) dinner at The Glebe Point Diner, with Kylie.
The week was spent arms bared to the warmer days. My mother's perfectly hung washing dried in a flash and I came back a shade or two darker. The weekend here was no different - glorious sunny skies prevailed. That lemon tree is still full of ripe, golden globes and something had to be done. Something unthinkably easy and warm-weather friendly. So very nice to be home.
Lemon barley water
Something as old fashioned as this is incredibly thirst-quenching, though not at all like that which you can buy ready-made. The pearled barley I keep isn't quite as 'pearled' as the stuff you'll (generally) find in supermarkets, thus the longer cooking time. If yours is completely pearled - which is in fact desirable here - reduce the cooking time by half. Perfect as warmer days, in theory, settle in.
1/2 cup of unrefined sugar
1 1/2 litres of water (1 1/2 quarts)
3 heaped tablespoons of semi-pearled barley
Using a vegetable peeler, pare the skin from each lemon in long strips. Place the skins in a large heatproof bowl and add the sugar, scrunching thoroughly to release the fragrant oils with your fingers (Very Satisfying). Juice the lemons.
Bring the water and barley to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Pour the water and barley, while still hot, over the sugar and peel, then add the lemon juice. Stir well, then leave to cool to room temperature.
Strain into a large jug, top with loads of ice and drink on a sunny afternoon.
There are more photos here, should you be so inclined.