Walking up to the door, it seemed like a regular enough building. Rectangular and squat. Yellowy-orange brickwork and a flat tiled roof. Rusted lettering peeling away from the heavy swing door. An uninspiring and bland piece of design. But then it was just a toilet block.
Yet there was something uncannily familiar about this average-looking toilet block. Something almost homely about it.
Then I realised why.
I'd seen this building before. Many times before. This was exactly the kind of public amenity block you'd find across the length and breadth of England. In busy town centres of London, regional cities, even in the occasional village. This Sydney toilet block was a very English place to go for a pee.
The difference was that this very ordinary toilet block had multi-million dollar views. Set on the edge of the beach at Balmoral, it overlooked the entrance to Sydney's harbour, was surrounded by opulent waterfront properties and Sydneysiders with more money than sense, and faced a string of high-end restaurants and cafes lining the promenade.
It was a completely English occurrence sat a million miles away from home.
And this is the paradox of Sydney.
|A parallel universe. Photo credit: rasdourian (Creative Commons)|
As you walk around this world-class city with its iconic beaches, faultless weather and sparkling deep water harbour, it is a city as far removed from any in England as the 17,000kms that separate the two. However, there remains those English throwbacks in Sydney that make it less of a polar opposite and more like a parallel universe.
The national dish here is not a serving of Balmain bugs, saltwater barramundi or prime rib of kangaroo, but the nation's most loved meal is the 'meat pie with veg', a food stuff as English as the pint of beer.
When someone behind me in a queue recently asked his companion "Are youse lot coming over to my place at the weekend?", my head snapped around looking to pick out the Scouser from Liverpool who might have booked cheap flights to Australia with his mates and was here on his hols. But this is the Sydney accent - a uniquely Australian mix of broad northern English dialects and occasionally the odd bit of Cockney rhyming slang thrown in for good measure.
The television programming here has a distinctly British flavour - from the witty comedies produced on the ABC to the regular flow of redeveloped variety and talent shows from the past. When I lived in Canada, the best of British on TV was Coronation Street but here I can watch almost any show coming out of Britain and often aired mere weeks not months after their British premieres.
Sport cannot hide its true origins. In Canada, I was exposed to uniquely North American fare including ice hockey, American football, baseball and lacrosse. Upon arrival in Australia, it was as if a spaceship picked me up in the night and dropped me in England... but in the sun. I watched cricket played in front of palm trees and red gums, rugby league under a bright winter's sun with a schooner of lager in hand, and soccer in a Central Coast stadium with picturesque views over and along the Brisbane water.
So much of Sydney's history and culture is derived from Britain but those sneaky little oddities - the toilet blocks by the ocean, the sight of a double-decker bus crossing the Harbour Bridge, the seat of Parliament in the Central Business District, the morning games of lawn bowls played at the local bowling club - continue to persist if you look long and hard enough about you.
Read the local press and you'd be forgiven for thinking the English and Australians live at absolute polar opposite ends of the earth in more ways than one. In reality, the people and places here are less different and, for better or worse, more often the same.
This makes Sydney an Englishman's parallel universe and that, for me, is quite a comforting thing.
What subtle English throwbacks have you seen in Australia?
Are there similarities from your own previous 'home' where you currently live - things that make you do a double-take or give you some comfort?