After three weekends away in a row, the fourth was planned, again at my brother’s place to sort out some more camping gear.
But, I thought, I’ll defer it a few hours and head to my favourite place for a drink … that would be Lina’s in Albert Park.
After all, it had been a week or so since I’d been there and, let’s be honest here, if there’s not a reference or seven to Lina’s on every bank statement, it’s time to check the obituraries to see if I’m in there.
It was also a time to start thinking outside the square … that’s something everyone should do, although not if you play full-back in the AFL. They always have to think inside the square.
But, I digress.
Back to outside-the-square land and the elimination of the shabby, not-so-chic suburban hippie look. First, a shave … yep, before the weekend, before going out, a shave. And put the singlet in mothballs, boy, it’s time to wear a white shirt, hanging out over the jeans, sleeves rolled up just so and a pair of snakeskin boots (no yellow Crocs for this little black duck). Oh, and a splash of Egoiste (it’s Chanel and it’s my favourite after-shave).
Yep, there I was outside the square and I quite liked it. People I see regularly at Lina’s pretty much had a second look to make sure it was me, you know, dressed up. Might start to make it more of a regular thing
Anyway, a few drinks in with a mate and there I was talking about my son Liam’s plans for a party on Saturday to celebrate his birthday. He lives in Vanuatu and has been there for a bit over three years. He told me that he’d organised a big screen to be put up in his yard (it’s a big tract of land), borrowed the concert sound system from the biggest hotel in town, and had organised a couple of kegs and invited lots of people. On Facebook, he said something like “Come and be a bogan with me.”
My mate said to me, “Why don’t you go? Give him a surprise.” I didn’t take too long to convince that it may not be a bad thing. A weekend in Vanuatu … after all, it had been oh, 5-6 weeks since I’d been there. My friend tried to check the bookings on his phone, but to no avail, so, full of bonhomie and not too much wine (yet) I trotted home (OK a slow walk, but you get the picture) to get aboard the interweb thing to get aboard a plane.
I tried Air Vanuatu, which is far and away the best airline going there, not just because its prices are comparable to the other one (OK, it’s Virgin’s Pacific Blue). Oh, and it has bugger all to do with the fact that Air Vanuatu is a full service airline … you know the deal, hot food, endless glass of wine (it was red for me) … whereas on Virgin I’m pretty sure that if the cabin depressurised the bastards would produce the credit card machine and charge you by the breath. I’m still waiting for the invoice to arrive for the safety demonstrations. Harsh criticism, but fair. But more (a lot more) of that later.
I tried Virgin and got onto a very helpful, cheerful Kiwi girl called Mary, who totally got me sorted right down to the seat allocation in the emergency row aisles (of course you have to pay for that even if you are, like me, 6’3” in the old money and a large unit to boot).
Mary was a cracker.
So I was booked to fly out of Tullamarine at 6am on Saturday, bound for Brisbane and then Port Vila, where I was scheduled to arrive at about 2pm. All that was available was a return flight 24 hours later, from Port Vila to Sydney and then home. Done.
Now given that I was going to have to be up before four the next morning, I did what any self-respecting person would do. I went straight back to Lina’s for a drink and to give my mate the good news. He’d gone, so I phoned him and he did what any self-respecting person would do … he came back for a drink. There we were at the bar having a couple and he said: “What do you reckon about me going, too. Then he phoned his good woman and asked her if she’d like to come as well. Unfortunately she couldn’t quite get her head around the spontaneity of the whole thing, and besides, they had made arrangements to do things on the Saturday.
I know that if I had someone in my life at the moment, I would have booked two tickets. Alas. And it was quite symbolic, I reckon, that I had an empty seat alongside me on two (or was it three?) of the four flights I took at the weekend.
Anyway, I slept like a log until three on Saturday morning and I finally struggled out of the cot just before four and bounded (OK, that’s just not true, I really just trudged) into the shower after which I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed (OK, that’s not true either. I’m just trying to get the excitement level up, after all, here I am going to bloody Vanuatu for a weekend party. Jesus, come on will you, fire up). Anyway, packing took about 96 seconds (all I has way a one-bag carry-on … I’m surprised they didn’t charge for that as well. Maybe the bill is in the mail) and I was out the door, into the car and bound for the long-term car park at Tulla, about 17 minutes away given the early hour and the absence of traffic. With the car securely dropped off in section B, I hit the shuttle bus to the terminal, checked in and everything was in travel mode … except the need for breakfast, which was no doubt still waging some sort of war with the wines of the previous night. Anyway, the food options at the airport at that hour aren’t exactly what Victoria Street is to a good Vietnamese feed. Anyway, I thought, I’ll get something on the plane. Yeah, right.
Anyway, I went through the domestic security check twice (it’s hard to commit to sitting any longer than you have to at the departure gate) without hiccups. No nasties in the bag, no traces of explosive material (I think I was scanned three times for the weekend), no worries.
Finally, boarding time and pretty soon the pilot dragged the plane’s arse into the air and there I was off to a party.
I tried every which way to sleep, but it was no good. You know what they say about reading or watching horror stories before bedtime. Well, I read V-licious, the Virgin in-flight food and drinks list. That did it for me. So I tossed and I turned all the way to Brisbane, thinking the whole time about the delicious (their word, I seem to remember) cheese and tomato sandwich or the Pringles or the …
At least Virgin had done the right thing and given me a train voucher to transfer me from the domestic terminal to the international one.
Given that I had a couple of hours to kill, I thought a sandwich and a big cup of tea would kick-start what was always going to be a very long day.
A chicken, avocado, lettuce and (as it turned out) red onion sandwich and a small bucket of tea were the prescribed methods of kick-starting. The avocado turned out to be avocado dip, but hey, it was the airport and it was Queensland. Yep, they’re different, eh? The tea was good but.
I even thought I’d buy a newspaper to kill some time, but I thought, you want to kill some time, not your spirit, so I gave the Courier Mail and the Gold Coast Bulletin short shrift.
Anyway, the time went quickly enough … I was now fully awake and able to watch it speed along. Before I knew it another pilot had dragged a plane’s arse into the air and I was about four hours away from having a drink with my son.
I tried valiantly to get some shut-eye, but no dice. A toss here, a turn there. Nah, I just cannot seem to sleep on planes. On a floor and under the table in my dining room, yeah, in a chair in the middle of a Queensland rainforest, yeah, but not on planes.
Anyway, with about an hour to go before hitting the tarmac (I hoped it would be gentle), I ordered a can of Bundy and Coke (see bogan reference earlier and a tube of Pringles. Well the Bundy was eight bucks and the tube (well, actually it was a stunted version of the sort of thing you normally get when you but such things) of Pringles was four bucks ... for 40 grams. Spuds are about $4 a kilogram to put it into perspective.
Now I’m not averse to shelling out my hard-earned if it’s a worthy cause … a glass or two of good vino, a nice cheese, a helping hand to any one of the homeless people who ask for a quid, a bunch of flowers, whatever … but four bucks for the potato chips. Shit, Richard Branson, little wonder you’re a gazillionaire. My flabber would be gasted in there were any more than 40 chips in the little tube and (I was never good at maths) that works out to about 10 cents a chip. Virgin, my arse, you’ve been screwing people for years. Ten cents a chip. Jesus wept. Bundy was good but.
Anyway more of an attack on Branson later … and no this isn’t a tall-poppy thing. I admire him for all that he’s done … except maybe for the 10 cents a chip thing.
Land ho. (The ho thing is an old pirate thing, not a reference to land-based women with dodgy morals.) And a pretty smooth landing it was in Port Vila, on time as well. So with my bag over my shoulder and two litres of duty-free Jack and a carton of fags for the young fella (I don’t smoke) in my hand, I cleared Customs and quickly jumped into a cab. “To Ellouk (I think that’s the spelling) my good man and don’t spare the horses. I’m here for a party.”
I reckon I could have Driven there … it all looked familiar. Yeah, there’s the first nakamahl I ever went to here. Ah, the casino where I dropped dough … ah, the nightclub where I spent New Year’s Eve … the market … port road (yep, there was a cruise ship in), the Indian grocery that isn’t, ah, there’s the entrance to La Lagon. “This is fine for me. How much do I owe you?”
“Twenty seven thousand (vatu),” he said. I gave him 30,000 and bid him farewell through the bag over my shoulder and walked through the gates at Liam’s house, half expecting the dogs Angus and Stu to greet me or at least see something going on in the yard. No sign of anyone although I could hear Liam’s voice from inside the house. I broke the seal on a litre of Jack, walked through the back door into the house, caught his eye (he was lying on his bed and talking on the phone).
“I heard there’s a fuckin’ party on (revisit earlier bogan reference please),” I said. “I’ve gotta go,” he said to Matt, his plumber mate on the phone, “My old man’s here. Shit.”
A big hug or three later and a swig each of the nectar that it Jack straight from the bottle (see bogan reference again), he said: “Fuck. I can’t speak. You’re the best man ever. I’m speechless. I’m tearin’ up.”
Yep, it was a good surprise.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.