Title in homage to Lindsey who is so thoroughly amused by British people pronouncing Melbourne in a very British way.
Apologies for spelling – I’ve been typing quickly and this keyboard has a spacebar which hates me. I’ll come back and edit when I get a chance.
It is time, ladies and gentlemen, for me to provide a recap of the first leg of my adventures down under. I believe it’s currently about 7.30 in the morning back in the UK on Thursday, which means I’ve been away for about two and a half days. It feels like rather more.
As a brief recap, my trip to Melbourne was necessitated by the rather large IUGG conference at which I’m presenting. It’s a two week conference, and I’m spending a couple of days beforehand with a friend in Tasmania. My flight our wat in the mid afternoon on Monday, with Qatar Airways. It was to be a two-leg flight, with a 1 hour stopover in Qatar. When doing the online check-in thing, however, I was only able to select my seat for the first (6 hour) leg, before the website through a tantrum and decided it didn’t lke me enough to let me choose for the second (13 and a bit) hour leg. My preferred seat, by the way, is by the window. I am perfectly capable of being on a plane for 13 hours and co-ordinating any required toilet break (if any) with the others in the row. I quite like being left alone to gaze at the passing landscape.
So, by some miracle, the Chilean ash cloud is currently behaving itself, no-one at the airports is on strike, and the sun was shining on me enough to result in an on-time departure from Heathrow. My only concern at this point was that the sun was shining a little too well on me, as the temperature in the UK (hovering around the 30 degree mark) was somewhat above the 5 degrees I was expecting to land in at Melbourne. Suitable attire for the flight was a momentary concern, but shorts was the decision made, with a jumper in the bag if it got bad. They always dish out blankets on these flights in any case. The first disappointment of the day came when I was informed at duty free that I was unable to purchase the golden rum I had promised to my Tasmanian hostess as I was transiting through Qatar. They do not allow you to transit with it (although they will allow you to buy some at the quatari duty free – there’s morals for you). This, then, was my solution; a mad dash to duty free in the 1 hour layover.
First leg of the flight was really rather pleasant; excellent views across France, Belgium, Germany, parts of Eastern Europe I couldn’t identify, finally with the sun setting as we passed over the Black Sea and into Turkey. Travel down over the Middle East and into Iraq was marked largely by darkness and the occaisional orange glow of what I assume were burn-offs at oil drilling or production rigs. This was concluded with a frustrating 40 minutes circling over the Arabian Gulf before being allowed to land. My 1 hour layover had just turned into a 20 minute dash.
We filed off the aircraft onto the tarmac, only to discover that someone was breathing fire at us. No, that couldn’t be it – it must be hot exhaust gas from the engine as it spooled down. We walked out from behind the engine to find that while the breeze stopped, the temperature remained the same. It is apparently reasonable for midnight in Qatar to clock in at a touch over 40 degrees C. Suddenly the shorts idea was pencilled in as Best Idea Of The Week award, and people who chose to live in Qatar were subconsciously filed under ‘P’ for ‘Properly Mental’.
We were transported to the terminal in blessedly air conditioned buses to await the passport and bag processing. The two people processing 400 people of the previous flight were delighted to receive the next 400 of us into the queue. A third person was drafted in. Lindsey definitely wasn’t getting her golden rum
Some time later, bags cleared, I dashed to Gate 16 to get the Melbourne flight. We knew they’d held it for us and there were quite a number of us trying to get on As we passed through the next security screening before getting to the gate they took our water from us. Psychopaths. We then had to wait 20 minutes before they had buses to deliver us to the aircraft. A quick blast of 40 degree heat again, and we’re on to the next plane. Due to lack of seat choice I’m now in an aisle seat, with two middle-aged australian ladies occupying the other two in the row. Book out, bag up, sit and settle. A cursory hello to the ladies next to me, and I begin playing with the media screen thing, putting together a playlist of tracks for me to read and snooze to. There are over 100 films to choose from and not a single one I want to watch. The tannoy comes on – the captain would like to welcome us onto his aircraft, and apologises for the delay but we’re still waiting for passengers from the Paris flight. Which is still in the air and expected in 45 minutes. So I could have got the rum.
After a further 90 minutes on the tarmac, I’ve had my reading disturbed by inane chat from the loud and annoying aussie next to me (who, for the sake of brevity, I will refer to as LAA from hereon) who wants to tell me all about her 6 week trip cruise in the Med. I can’t stand the idea of a cruise, let alone having to hear about someone elses. This flight is not going well for me. We’re finally loaded with French people and we’re off. As the seatbelt signs come off I get the visit that I have joked about several times and never really expected to happen. A very beautiful air hostess taps me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, are you Dr Rowley?”
“Yes?” I respond.
“We have a passenger who…”
“Sorry – I’m not that kind of doctor”
“Ah, I see, sorry.” She smiles at me. “What kind of doctor are you?” she asks in broken english.
“Er, a Dr of Geology” I respond, wondering what other types of Doctor might have been useful in the situation.
“Ah, sorry I don’t understand. What is Geology” she asks with a quizzical look.
“Erm…” my mind blanks on me. “Study of the Earth? Rocks? Volcanoes? Earthquakes?” I try as she shakes her head sadly at me.
“Rivers, Mountains” LAA next to me chirps in. Gradually 4 or 5 people around me are trying to describe what a geologist is with varying degrees of accuracy and success. Eventually the air hostess nods with what for the sake of this little story we’ll call ‘understanding’, thanks me for taking the time to talke to her and tell her what I do, and moves off back down the plane. I can only assume it wasn’t a serious medical condition, or perhaps just a very serious one in which if no meical doctor was found in the first 15 seconds there was no point continuing.
A few minutes later LAA asks me to get up as she needs to go to the toilet. I get up, she wiggles past and in her movement she snags my headphones out of their socket. I sit down after she returns, go to replace my headphones only to find she’s managed to snap off one of the pins inside the socket. 1 hour into a 13 hour flight and my only reasonable method of ignoring LAA’s every attempt to engage me in chat is foiled. I begin to wonder if a database is drawn up of ‘seats where pins are snapped off inside sockets’ for flights around the world, whether LAA’s name will show up as the occupant next door. We’ll probably never know, but I have my suspicions.
During the flight LAA has to go to the toilet a further 10 times. Sometimes her friend has to go as well, but only in a time-window 10-15 minutes after LAA. She can’t possibly synchronise into a single toilet shift. I begin to hate life very much. LAA tells a number of unamusing anecdotes, and then tries to come up with things for me to do in Melbourne despite the fact I’ve told her I’ve been there before, and besides – it’s a conference I’m not going to have any real free time. This does not deter her. She points out that there’s not a lot of history in Australia (being European I’m clearly only interested in anything more than 200 years old). I nattily avoid commenting on the 65,000 years of native history, as I detect this is probably The Wrong Thing To Say. This goes on for some time. The subject of conversation (I use the term loosely – she seemed content with murmurs of response as I read my book and blaked out large quantities of what she said) returned to her holiday, and a comment that lots of Australians love to go and holiday in Europe. I wittily remark that it must be because Australia has no history. You have never seen such a sense of humour failure face in your life. I almost feel like pointing out that she said it first, before realising this is my Out. I might not have to talk to her anymore. I grin inwardly and get back to my book.
15 minutes later she’s clearly forgiven me and is merrily explaining that I shouldn’t get in any cabs in Melbourne as they’re “all driven by Indians”.
13 fucking hours.
I should also point out here that after we took off from Qatar we were instructed to close all the window blinds on the plane as the sun was going to be coming up very shortly. Fine, no problem. Most people (apart from LAA and her victim “I can never sleep on planes, much better to have a chat anyway!”) fall asleep. I wouldn’t have minded this were it not for the fact that 99% othe indows stayed closed for the next 8 or 9 hours, meaning they only began to open again when we were back in the night-side. I missed an entire day and feel cheated. Why anyone would want to sleep all through the flight, only to arrive in Melbourne at 10pm well rested I have no idea.
So I arrive in Melbourne, ditch LAA and her accomplice, and mull over my choices. The plane is a little late landing, so it’s nearly 11 by the time I’m out of the airport. I’d booked a room in a Hostel in the city for the night, but it was a $2 deposit. I had to get another flight at 7 am to get to Tasmania. Did I want to spend $40 getting in to the city, a room in a hostel for 4 hours, then back out to the airport? Yes, I decided, I did. Sleep, beautiful sleep.
The bus takes us without incident into Melbourne, I find my way to the hostel, to be greeted by the mangerwho has no record of my stay. I show him the booking reciept, he apologises, and finds me a bunk in a room. I trail my way up the 4th floor, and quietly go into the room. 2 bunks, with one upper bed free. I drop my stuff, go and brush my teeth, and begin a brief sort of my things in the dark. Get out the things I’ll need in the morning, put way things I don’t need anymore, go to climb into bed.
“Uh – we’ve already divided the blankets and pillows from your bed between us” a French guy whispers, giving no intention of handing it back as he clutches it to him.
I give him a look of exhausted disgust, but exhaustion wins, so I root around in my bag for the sleeping bag liner I had packed in case of just such an occurance. I climb the bunk, liedown, set an alarm for 5am and try to sleep.
Not the best nights sleep I’ve ever had, I must confess. Woke up quite a few times, and eventually came down again at 4.30 unable to justify lying there for 30 minutes. Pack, wash, change of clothes, a quick drink downstairs, then back to the station to get the AirBus back to the airport. I clamber on and am enjoying 20 minutes of quietime right up until the passengers behind me gasp, then we all hear a loud shrieking of metal. Some numpty (I believe ‘Drongo’ is the native term) had tried to overtake the double-length bendy bus on the inside of a roundabout, and foundhimself squashed in the middle. Nothing like an RTA to start your day.
Eventually, we get to the airport, and I realise my final opportunity to buy rum is thwarted by my use of the domestic terminal. All that Duty Free had to offer me were a selection of stuffed koalas and slogan t-shirts.
I have to say, my pre-existing dislike of Melbourne has not been softened in any way at this point in time.
Tasmania, on the other hand, is a treat. For starters as I was on the plane over, the sun rose for the first time in about 36 hours. As the Stygian darkness melted away I was presented with a view of what I can only describe as a more compact version of New Zealand. With day one in Tasmania comprising an airport welcome and pickup, followed by great coffee and breakfast, a walk around Hobart, then a trip up to the top of Mt Wellington to take some piccies of the amazing scenery, we finally went back to the house. A glorious place on the Southern Arm with huge panorama windows, looking through the gum trees on to the bay beyond as the sun set I have to say I’m very much of the opinion that when the rest of Australia does as I ask and finally fucks off, I hope it leaves Tasmania behind for us to enjoy. This opinion was only partially tempered by the stories of my hosts as they recounted the numerous and various encounters they’ve had in the house with snakes, spiders, and other wildlife. After a very good dinner and a couple of drinks I was in bed by 8.30, and wasted only a few short minutes worrying about what else might be in the room before falling into blessed unconsciousness – a state that lasted in excess of 14 hours.
I’ll leave it there for now – I’ll keep you updated on progress as and when I find a computer to do so.