- Full of things that not only want to kill you, but have every possible evolutionary advantage imaginable to see this ambition through.
I promised myself solemnly (I wasn't smirking or anything) that I would simply refer once to Mr Bryson and never mention anything about vast deserts or inconceivable concentrations of venom.
Then we went to Coogee.
Sara has been stung by jellyfish in the past - Sardinian ones. She didn't exactly enjoy it, but Mediterranean jellyfish don't have the same work ethic as their South Pacific counterparts. Like the gentle waters of the Med itself, the jellyfish that Sara previously attracted were just making a bit of a show of being nasty - their heart just wasn't in it.
Coogee Bluebottles (for that is the local vernacular) on the other hand, are nasty little bastards who take this whole stinging business very seriously indeed. We arrived at Coogee beach at about 11:45, and by 11:50 or so I was carrying the inconsolable Sara for first aid at the lifeguard station just behind us. You have to understand my state of mind at this point: I was calm, but I was working under the assumption that my youngest daughter was in danger of meeting a horrible end if she wasn't whisked away pronto in something with sirens. We were in Australia, Sara had just been stung by something with an innocuous Aussie slang term, therefore I assumed death was imminent. Thank you Bill Bryson.
Matters weren't helped by the fact that the lifeguard didn't share my sense of urgency on the matter. This brings me to two things that one can say about the Australians: Lifeguards are, as a group, greatly respected. Seems fair, considering the number of lives they save each year - very often those of tourists who didn't heed Bryson's many warnings. I was all primed to show deference, and to be awed by their derring do. The other thing about Australians is their tendency towards understatement. Take our friend Gary here in Sydney. Last night over dinner (thanks again Ludi and Gary - it was excellent catching up) Gary explained the difference between saltwater and freshwater crocs. While the salties are viscious monsters and therefore should be afforded some respect, freshies are harmless and you'd have to practically stand on one to force it to give you a 'bit of a nip'. It was news to me that crocs did 'nips'. Pekinese dogs do 'nips'. A terrapin, if handled inexpertly, will give you a 'bit of a nip'. Crocs do not nip. At least not in Hiberno-English, or indeed just about any dialect of the English language. Except Australian.
So when I presented poor Sara to the lifeguard, I expected him to manfully take over and burst into action. Instead he offered me directions to the showers, and told me to come back for some ice packs. He did, in fairness, also pluck off one of the remaining tentacles from Sara's right leg, protecting his fingers with his sleeve - something I should have done myself. But as far as first aid was concerned, we were getting nothing but water. A shower and some ice.
Compare this to what happened on the beach in Santa Margherita di Pula in Sardinia when Sara last got stung by a jellyfish. The 50 or so people on either side of us went straight into action, organizing themselves wordlessly into teams:
- One team dived into their beachbags and retrieved every form of medicine that can be legally purchased over the counter in Italy (which is a lot, by the way) - and given the number of doctors on the beach, we also had a choice of prescription-only products. Ammoniac, antihistamines, cortisone creams, pain-killers - you name it, somebody was running towards us holding fistfuls of it.
- Another team moved swiftly towards the part of the sea where the offending creature was presumed to be, armed with buckets, nets and, most probably, more drugs.
- A third team, lets call them the 4th estate, set up an impromptu incident centre through which all information related to the 'attack' was relayed, compared to similar incidences, and analysed based on severity, age of the victim, profession of the parents, and of course the likely efficacy of the drugs being used.
I'm not saying that the Italian approach is necessarily the correct one, but I must confess I would have preferred it to the stoic 'No worries mate, a bit of ice and she'll be apples' attitude that I was getting. I'm all for being stoic, taking it on the chin, grinning and bearing etc. I'm not so keen on it being expected of my 6-year-old baby girl.
This all happened more than 24 hours ago now, and in the meantime, Sara is just, well, 'apples' (she did get the ammoniac and anti-histamine treatment from her mother's mobile pharmacy, mind). We visited the superb Sydney Aquarium today where we read, apropos bluebottles, that the best course of action is rinsing with fresh water and applying ice-packs. I didn't have a felt-tip pen to hand, so I couldn't add some extra helpful hints or pharmaceutical product names.
It might have been worse. Gary told us that when he was just a few years older than Sara, and visiting Sydney from his native Melbourne, he got stung right across the chest. His uncle proved even more rugged (and unhelpful) than our Coogee lifeguard: "Just rub sand into it and you'll be right". You just know how that particular 'cure' came about: Gotta do something - now what have we got to hand? I mean when you stung yourself with nettles as a child, and instantly grabbed a fist of 'Doc' leaves and rubbed them into the sting, did you ever stop to think that 1) they never NEVER made the slightest difference and 2) they were always growing next to the nettles. No? Me neither.
Anyhow, all's well and tomorrow we'll return to Coogee, though we'll stick to Wylies' saltwater pool there. Below is a photo from today's trip to the aquarium. Look our for these buggers - apparently they can give you a 'bit of a nip'.