The Global Haddock: 96 Hours Down Under
“Why,” asked the pretty young Japanese girl who had come to sit next to me in the domestic departure lounge of Melbourne’s swanky airport, “do you have a pair of boots hanging around your neck?”
“The steel toe caps have set off every metal detector between here and Singapore, so I thought I would save some time and hassle and take them off.”
“I see. You are English aren’t you? How long will you be in Australia?”
“Just 96 hours.”
“But it’s soooo far, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s for work and I really want to be at home with my son and girlfriend.”
“Ah, I see. You must travel a lot then for work?”
“Well, I get around, yes.”
“You must be like a global haddock then.”
“Global Haddock…? Er…”
“You know, at home everywhere, always on the move. Travelling the world all the time.”
“Oh, I see. You mean soul.”
“Sole, haddock not the same thing?”
And then my flight to Adelaide was called and I left my newfound friend fumbling with her dictionary.
I had never been to Australia before and as I packed my bag for the trip I couldn’t really think why not. Eighteen hours later, and wandering around Singapore airport feeling rather seedy, I understood why. Australia is a stupidly long way away. I always felt that the walk from my home to the local pub was a long way and that my daily twenty mile drive to work was probably pushing my levels of endurance to their limit but Australia soon changed all that. It’s just unfeasibly far. Of course, most sensible people take their time and go for at least a few weeks. I didn’t have the luxury of such a long trip and had to compress my visit into just 96 hours. The only possible advantage I could see of doing it this way was that I didn’t have time to get jetlagged as my body never really adjusted. It may have only been 96 hours, but it was definitely a quality 96 hours.
I arrived in Melbourne on a bright November morning and presented my passport to the immigration officer:
“G’day bloke, welcome to Oz. Now, are you here for work or pleasure?”
Always a tough question that one…
“Well, work actually.”
“That’s just fair dinkum mate, I’ll just stamp you a work visa here. I see you are going back in 96 hours. Strewth, you wont have time to see much. And it’s such a long flight. You must be shattered.”
“Well, my advice is head out of the arrivals hall and turn left. There is a great bar there. Nothing beats bacon and eggs with a cold one for breakfast.”
I picked up my documents, wondered if the Aussies were the nicest people on the planet, and headed off for my connecting flight. The officer leaned from his booth and called after me:
“Shame about the cricket, eh?”
“What? We haven’t played yet.”
“Yeah, but you will still lose.”
I flew down to Adelaide where I was collected by the company I work for. It was the first time we had met in person. It was 8am.
“G’day Philip. How was the flight? You must be shattered.”
“Yeah, let’s go to the hotel and this afternoon to the office.”
“Strewth, we got some tinnies in the office, nice and cold. You must be gagging for a cold one after 26 hours on a plane.”
“And everyone is waiting to meet you.”
We went straight into a meeting that lasted until lunchtime. Someone sent out for beer, wine and sandwiches and I tried to hide in the toilet and sleep. The wine, I noticed, cost nearly two hundred Aussie dollars. I was too tired to enjoy it and felt vaguely guilty. By the time the meeting wrapped up I needed two matchsticks to keep my eyes open. Someone offered to drive me to the hotel. Four hours later we crawled out of the bar and fell, as you do, into a casino.
Whilst playing roulette the croupier said to me:
“Strewth. 96 hours in Oz? You must be shattered. Here, have a beer on the house.”
I eventually passed out in the hotel’s reception.
The next day we whizzed around the city seeing various people and companies. I was looking forward to getting back to the hotel and sleeping. Everyone said I looked shattered and then someone suggested dinner and wine tasting in a revolving restaurant. My heart sank.
Some of my notes from the trip to the revolving restaurant are impossible to read, but I have managed to salvage most of them:
8pm: Sitting drinking beer at the bar. The restaurant is turning gently giving me a nice view of the city. I feel rather good now.
8.30pm: Just sat down and started the wine tasting. No one seems to want to order food yet and I have been told, by Aussie Bloke (AB), that I have to keep notes on the wine, so here we go:
AB: Solid dark berry fruit aromas, with hints of earth and vanilla.
PB: Nice, solid wine. Could get seriously drunk on this.
AB: Not bad for a cheap wine (50 A$)
PB: This is more than I ever spent on wine in my life
A few nibbles arrive, someone’s wife remarks that I look shattered. No one mentions food.
9.00pm: Polished off the first bottle. Feeling good now. Relaxed, sociable, happy.
AB: A lovely young Shiraz with a dash of sparkle. Reminiscent of English summers, cut grass and the sound of leather on willow.
PB: The bubbles have gone up my nose and I am feeling a little giggly.
AB: Finished in port bottles and a snip at A$60
PB: Why is the spinning of the restaurant speeding up?
9.30pm: Ordered, finally, a dozen oysters. Can’t remember if you are supposed to eat them when there is an R in the month or not. Guess things down under are done differently anyway. Feeling even more relaxed and happy now. I embark on a long and highly amusing story about a recent trip to Sweden. My wit is endless. What great company I am today.
9.45pm: Someone mentions food. It’s soon forgotten as we crack open the third bottle.
AB: An absolute classic. What a lovely concentrated, exotic mix of flavours.
PB: Nice. Lots of bite. Would be a good wine for a Saturday night…
AB leans over and inspects my notes. He suggests that I try to be more creative:
PB: Rich, pungent, rice-pudding, hot summer days, new leather (my limbs seem to be loosing coordination). Room is spinning ever faster now. Oysters look less attractive – waitress looks more attractive. Interesting. How much is this one? Why can’t I feel my toes?
AB: The cost? More than the last, but less than the next.
10.00pm: Feeling light headed, tired and a little grumpy. Oysters have been consumed, waitress is looking better by the minute and I have just ordered crayfish. We seem to be speeding up on the drinking but slowing down on the food front.
AB: One of the local delights.
PB: What the wine or the waitress?
AB: Ha! The light cherry colour is a bit unexpected in an Aussie wine. This shows ripe strawberry-tinged fruit.
PB: Is this restaurant called revolving or revolting? I can’t remember. Wine is good. Looks like sepia coloured photos from yesteryear. Could I afford this one?
AB: I guess not.
PB: And you say its made from strawberries?
AB: No, the fruit has a strawberry taste.
PB: Strawberry grapes…wow.
My office calls and due to the time difference they are just starting their working day. I am three sheets to the wind and giggle like a girl down the phone to my boss. Everyone looks a lot more interesting now and if I could concentrate on the conversation and not the skyline of Adelaide whizzing past, I might enjoy myself.
10.20pm: Feeling decidedly woozy now. Just tried to go to the toilet and when I stood up my legs got in the way and decided they wanted to do their own thing. The spinning is getting faster now – I wonder why no one has noticed apart from me.
AB: Complex, expressive nose showing vivid tarry fruit…
PB (getting the hang of things): horse chestnuts, straw, strawberry meringue, slight acidity from a chalky ground? Room spinning, can’t remember what I am talking about. Just write some bollocks down here to keep AB happy. Legs don’t work. 20,000 miles from home…going to be sick soon. CEO’s wife’s purse or pot plant, which is closer…
AB: Reminds me of…something or other. There goes another A$200 on the corporate account.
PB: I don’t ever like wine…
10:45pm: Food has arrived. I have a massive plate of crayfish. I am sure one of them is winking at me. I can’t seem to focus on anything and have just stabbed myself in the cheek with a fork. Everyone agrees I look shattered and then orders bottle #6:
AB: What a classic for our meal. One might describe it as tight and crisp. The nutty/herby nose is quite refined as well.
PB: White, clean, like drinking meths. Feel sick. Want to go home. Room spinning. Forgotten which hotel I am staying at. Forgotten which country I am in. Going to sit in the toilet and cry. Have to call home…oh God, I am going to be so hung over tomorrow. Must find a new job. Maybe become a monk.
AB: Goes well with the cray fish and a snip at A$150.
11:15pm: Eaten food. Sobered up a little. Stab wound to cheek stopped bleeding. Legs seem to be back under control. Order dessert and coffee. Beginning to believe I might just survive tonight. Then…
PB: No, no, no…I can’t drink another drop.
AB: It’s sparking…
PB: Oh, go on then. One for the road…
AB: This is two-thirds Pinot Noir and a third Chardonnay.
PB: Ha! I am two-thirds drunk and one-third smashed!
(the rest of my notes are illegible)
Coffee and brandies arrive. Then more brandies arrive. Then the wine bill arrives on a silver tray. Six of us have just drunk A$1500 worth of wine. I feel sick again.
Everyone agrees that I look shattered. And so they take me to the casino. We play roulette and drink English beer until 3am. I win most of our wine bill back at the tables. The CEO’s wife thinks that I am about to keel over from lack of sleep. I agree with her and am bundled into the car and driven to a bar where we can watch English football.
“Strewth,” says the barman, “all this way for 96 hours? Best have a beer then. On the house.”
After the game, and as the sun rises, everyone says they feel tired and so we go to a strip club – which is thankfully closed. Rather begrudgingly I am driven back to the hotel where someone orders a round of whiskys. Once again I pass out in reception.
Wake up fully dressed on my bedroom floor. Room full of cheery Aussie blokes. Poured into the shower. Driven to a board meeting. Enter boardroom. Fall asleep with head on table. Note it’s made of mahogany. Dribble on my notepad. Wake up, think: Oh no, I am going to be sick. Legs don’t work. Vomit on boardroom table. Room full of cheery Aussie blokes laugh:
“Bloody drunken Pom.”
Go to toilet, slap water on face, adjust tie. Pretend I am civilised. VIP’s arrive. Give presentation without vomiting again. VIP’s leave. Feel relieved. Lunch arrives. Another bottle of wine. Take single sip of wine, vomit again. Notice, whilst sitting with my head in it, that the waste paper basket is made in Korea. Strange.
That night no one suggested going out for a beer and I managed to get a solid twelve hours sleep. The next day we flew back to Melbourne for another round of meetings. I made it until lunchtime before someone said:
“Strewth. 96 hours in Oz? Let’s go for a beer then.”
On my last night I met up with some old friends. We sat out by the river, ate oysters and drank a couple of bottles of champagne. When the barman asked me how long I was in Oz for I lied and said two months. He made me buy my own drink. Twenty-six hours later, I arrived back at home. My girlfriend had just opened a bottle of wine and our son was dreaming pleasantly.
“Dear me,” she said as we exchanged kisses, “you look shattered. Bet you could really do with a glass of wine…”
I locked myself in the toilet and didn’t come out until she had gone to bed.