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.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I RECKON THAT RICHARD BRANSON OWES ME $5.50
Top: the boys getting the great film screen to the operational stage ... they really are an arty bunch, eh? ... and it looked more like an abstract painting than a screen after some overnight rain.
Indeed, it was the beginning of a party, the day not yet beyond three o’clock, but the sun was over the yard arm somewhere in the world. And anyway, swigging Jack from the bottle has a calming effect on all concerned. It certainly helped Liam to find his voice again and certainly got me kick-started. Not that I needed too much by this time. Eight hours of travel, bugger-all sleep and a family surprise will do that to a fella.
Liam and I shot the breeze, and breezed the shots, catching up on each other’s news … not that there was a lot to catch up on because we tend to talk on the phone at least once a week … and started pouring beers from the keg he’d set up on the back verandah.
Michelle, Liam’s girlfriend wandered in about this time, and looked quite shocked to see me … I mean, Jesus, she’d seen me before. What was the fuss about? OK, just kidding, it was good to see her again. She’d been in town buying all manner of food to feed the no-doubt hungry masses that were to descend on the place later.
A few beers in and people started to wander in. Matt, the plumber who was talking to Liam on the phone when I arrived, was first (I think). Matty’s a big unit and a good fella. His biceps were voted the best guns at the Denilliquin Ute Muster when the three of us were there some time in September. Then Patto, a Scot who genuinely stops a drop going stale, although he said he’d cut back (apparently true). He’s a terrific bloke, too, and easier to understand than some other Scots of my acquaintance (sorry David).
Then three locals -- Ni Vans to the uninitiated and blokes who work for Liam -- wandered in and they were ready for a beer.
Johnnie Bangalulu, a fit-looking unit with a huge smile, was someone I’d been keen to meet since I’d first heard of him the last time I was in country.
Johnnie was so enamoured of Cathy Freeman’s performance in the Sydney Olympics that he named his daughter (born not long after the Games … Olympics that is, not Johnnie’s) Cathyfreeman Bangalulu. Yep, that’s right, Cathyfreeman is one word. He is such a proud man about it as well.
The three of them set about erecting a giant screen in the garden, so we could show lots of music videos and generally blow away the neighbourhood.
Pretty soon there was AC/DC footage, Rolling Stones, Woodstock, all manner of other music entertaining anyone within about a five-kilometre radius.
It all gets a bit hazy at this stage, nothing at all to do with a lack of sleep, an abundance of beer and bourbon and generally the excitement of it all. Well OK, a bit then.
I do remember being stretched out on the day bed, bourbon in hand, texting THE One just to let her know that I was where I was … i.e. Vanuatu. Bragging, showing off? Nah, not really. Now I’ve been to Vanuatu twice in the past eight or so weeks and, surprise, surprise (OK, not really to anyone who knows me), she’s the only one I ever contact when I’m there. She was the only one I talked to on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps I’ll have to revise her title to THE Only One.
Reckon it was about this time that the bogan bits started to take front and centre. Arm wrestling for starters. Everyone had a crack and, suffice to say, I’m still undefeated, although later on I did stop a couple of decent swings when the odd scuffle became the order of the day (OK, the night). I’ve still got the bruises (plenty) to prove it.
Plenty of food arriving from the barbecue was a good way of interrupting the more physical nonsense. The beef industry in Vanuatu is an absolute cracker (there is no dairy) … beef, and it’s really good, and it’s cheaper than fish. Go figure, given that Vanuatu is all islands and the Pacific is bloody big and teeming with fish.
The food-induced lull afforded me the chance to meet lots of good people … Jeremy, the land valuer, who is harder to understand sober than he is when he’s had a few … or a lot. It’s almost a line-ball though. I have no idea what he said at any time, sober or pissed.
Ben (I think) was another. He’s the general manger of the Vanuatu Aroma something company. It specialises in essential oils of all sorts. In fact, he gave me a couple of vials of frankincense (was he a wise man or did I look like Jesus? Neither is my bet). It was only later when I was waiting for the cute drug dog to do its thing over my bag at Customs in Sydney Airport that I thought: “Shit, I hope that really was frankincense.” What was I thinking, taking two small vials of stuff I didn’t know, back in my bag? Truth is, I wasn’t thinking at all. Surprise parties will do that to you. Anyway, I gave one to Amber at Crikey as a present.
Ben has a glass eye and loves to shift it around in its socket. It really is quite disconcerting to be talking to two eyes, then one and a white. Even sober I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it. I’m glad I wasn’t around when he lost his glass eye … and also the spare at home. Funny man though, a really decent fella.
Then there was Kath, about 5’9” in the old money, blonde, about 40 and single. Again I was stretched out on the day bed, bourbon nestled comfortably on my chest, and I suggested she join me for a chat. She did. What a good woman. We sat there talking food and wine … she teaches young chefs at the local hospitality school. I had a three-course lunch and wines at the school the first time I went to Vanuatu. It’s an excellent initiative. Good to see the kids really having a crack at the hospitality caper. There are certainly some places in Port Vila that could use some of what they’re taught. She seemed genuinely surprised that a bourbon-swilling bogan such as me actually knew something about the fruit of the vine. Little did she know that my all-time favourite wine is actually the next one. But that’s another story. Maybe she knew, but just kept it to herself. She was one of the local expat women that the boys thought would be an ideal partner for me when I eventually get there to live.
There were lots of other chats, including a 6’3” woman who has some sort of strange nickname (better left unsaid), some dancing in the rain … yeah, it seems to rain a lot there … some singing, drinking, eating. Drinking, eating, singing, it really was party city. I did somehow manage to lost both of my earrings during the night. The main one was a silver axe given to me by an ex a long time ago. Perhaps it was someone or something telling me that it was time to go bare-earred after all these years. Earrings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
The last thing I remember was sitting outside with Liam and someone else, dunno who, drinking … all I know is that there were three of us … and that the time was in single digits (when the small hand was on little numbers … OK, I have no idea what time it was other than to say that I’d probably been up for 24 hours and that the singing syrup was kicking in big time).
I don’t remember my head making contact with the pillow (a fist or two earlier I do definitely remember), but sleep really came very easily, although it ended all too abruptly. I wandered back out into the sunshine-lit scene of the previous night’s crime. Yep, it was a crime scene and I had been a party to the crime … glasses and shit everywhere, but that’s what parties are all about. It was 9.45. I made a couple of cups of tea, drank some water and then realised that I had set the phone incorrectly and that it was really 8.45. Little wonder I felt like shit.
I resisted the temptation to finish off the last shot or two of bourbon … I had to drive home from the airport later in the day.
The kids surfaced an hour or so later and there was lots of head shaking, lots of muttering “never again”, and lots of water being consumed.
Again we shot the breeze, although there were no shots this time. The last couple of available hours just flew by and all of a sudden it was time to head for the airport and get the flock outta there.
As we pulled into an airport parking space, I realised that I had left my phone on the kitchen bench back at the house. Michelle did the return journey while Liam and I sat there feeling sorry for ourselves. “Shit I have a headache” was the most-played song while we sat there, drinking Fanta (it really is a great hangover cure, if not the greatest). I grabbed a bottle of water from a shop just to tide me over. The girl behind the counter said: “Are you really Liam’s dad?” He knows people, that boy. Michelle made it back just in time to give me the phone before it was hugs all around and I was gone, through to airport security for the third (or was it the fourth?) time in two days.
This time, they decided that my deodorant was a threat (not nearly as much as not using it) and I had to leave it behind. I wasn’t happy, I fought, but they were steadfast. “Your deodorant cannot board this flight.” “It has been through so many X-rays, mate, to get here. I’m almost attached to it,” I pleaded. No dice.
Soon, I was back in seat 15C … I’d had it the previous two flights … buckling up my seatbelt when the Virgin flight attendant, Tritip, smiled at me and said: “Did you really just go for one night?” “Yep, was my son’s birthday and it was a surprise trip,” I said. She smiled her beautiful smile. “That’s fantastic,” she said. I remember thinking on the flight out of Brisbane: “Jeez, that girl has a gorgeous smile.” It’s true.
Even though I felt like I could throw up at any time, I decided to have a crack and the ham, cheese and semi-dried tomatoes wrap … great value (not) at $8 and a thing that was one of those enhanced water things that is supposed to fire up your metabolism, grow hair, trim your nails, cure bad breath, exfoliate your heels and make your feet smell better. At $4 it seemed like a good thing. Well, it was wet.
The wrap, which was two days before its expiry date kicked in (proudly made in New Zealand), was notable for its lack of semi-dried tomatoes (note the plural). Mine had one, with just a scrap (probably about a dollar’s worth by Virgin standards) in one half. It did, however, do its job. The water thing, too. My feet do smell a lot better.
I tried again to sleep my way to Sydney … no dice, but it seemed to fly (time that is … and the plane) and in no time I was wandering through the last of the duty-free shops (I resisted) before clearing Customs and heading to the domestic terminal for the final leg of the weekend odyssey.
It was then I discovered that I had to catch a bus to the domestic terminal. “Do you have a voucher?” asked the driver. “No.” “That’ll be $5.50 thanks,” he said. Shit, Branson’s screwed me again, I thought as the bus headed towards my penultimate stop. I paid Virgin top dollar to get me from Melbourne to Vanuatu, then Vanuatu to Melbourne and I didn’t expect to shell out any more of my hard-earned on extra travel fares. Those bastards didn’t give me a voucher. Bastards, I reiterated (a few times actually).
Finally, after a two-hour wait, during which I spoke to THE One, the Melbourne-bound air conveyance was ready to have its arse dragged off the runway into the night sky. As I went through the check-in, I was told I had to get a new seat allocation. Yep, I had been allocated seat 1F (I paid up-front for the more tall-friendly seats) but I was being bumped back into a row-five seat. There you go again, Branson, screwing me and my knees, which would be knocking against the seat in front of me. In the tunnel I had the bejesus scared out of my by a girl dropping her suitcase on the way to board the plane. “You scared the shit out of me,” I said to her. She smiled. I reckon I could have been a little less rude, but it was a shock in my hungover state. Maybe. Maybe not. She muttered something I didn’t catch. Anyway, I settled into row five and, bugger me, the pretty, suitcase-dropping girl said: “I’m sitting with you.” I helped put her case into the locker, settled into my seat, closed my eyes and tried again to maybe sleep for an hour, rather than chat.
We did exchange pleasantries once the plane had hit terra firma in God’s own city. Had she have been THE One, I probably would have talked all the way home.
Empty seats beside me on the way out. Empty hopes on the way home.