Day 724: Mandy’s Pressie from PNG

Xmas Day 2010:

After a couple of hours kip I was up an’ at ’em, ready to TAKE ON THE WORLD!!! My only problem was that I had spend the few remaining dollars I had on beer last night (you WOULD NOT BELIEVE how expensive Australia has suddenly just become: we’re talking a UK fiver for HALF a pint… seriously!!).

I scraped together what I had and hoped it would be enough for a taxi to the airport. I would be taking the 11.30am flight from Cairns to Melbourne. I didn’t quite have enough to pay the full fare, but my lovely taxi driver (from my fav Indian state of Kerala) let me off a couple of dollars – hell, it was Christmas day and I did spend the entire journey telling him how cool I thought his hometown was!

So in the airport I changed my left over PNG dollars (which I was planning to keep for when I went back, but when readies are short…) into Aussie dollars.  They’re both made of that weird plasticy material.  So are the new Bangladesh Taka, incidentally.  I’m a luddite when it comes to money – I like the paper stuff, it feels more real.  Although to have a paper note worth less than a fiver is just bloomin’ stupid.  As such, some of the money I’ve collected on my travels is breathtakingly filthy.

With my ill-gotten gains I bought a copy of Australian Empire Magazine (half the size and twice the price) and while I waited for the boarding queue to die down I indulged my baser instincts with a real Christmas treat – a Burger King Whopper Meal.

Yum yum!

Happy to have a window seat, and even happier that nobody sat next to me (three seats just for my fat ass! Yey!) the plane journey passed in a sleepy haze – a haze in which the contrast levels of my life had just been turned up a notch.  Or maybe that was the bright midsummer sunshine streaming through the window.

The plane touched down in Melbourne at 4pm.  While the other passengers were fannying about waiting for their luggage, I went outside and bought a bus ticket to the city centre.  I then went to the carousel, picked up my backpack, laughed at the massive queue which had just formed for bus tickets and jumped on the waiting bus which promptly departed leaving my fellow travellers behind.  Experience baby, that’s what I’m talking about YEAH!!

The bus slid into Spencer Street Station in just twenty minutes (take THAT, Heathrow!) and there was a little bit of a worry caused by the fact that Mandy was not in Melbourne today, but in her home town of Ballarat, a 112 kilometres to the north-west.  Would I have the money to get the train, or would I have to hitch-hike.

As if to prove that, if not Poseidon, then at least Santa was fighting my corner, I was told by a wonderfully cheery Aussie lady that all the trains across the state of Victoria were free today (it being Christmas an’ all).

Wow!

Australia, you ROCK!!

So I boarded the 5pm train to Ballarat: with any luck I’d be back in Mandy’s loving arms before 7.

The Train To Ballarat
The Train To Ballarat

I arrived at the lovely old station of Ballarat at 6.30pm.  Brilliantly enough, Mandy and her sister Tam had spent the afternoon at their auntie’s place, and I arrived JUST AS they were jumping in their separate cars and heading back to their mum’s.  So Tam, her husband Ian and their three month old son William came to pick me up from the station: shh… not a word to Mandy…

It was great to see them again and to meet little William, the newest edition to our clan.  Mandy drove back to her mum’s in her own car and didn’t suspect a thing.  Around the corner from the house, I got Tam to stop the car and she and Ian to bundle me into the boot (the trunk) and covered me in towels and blankets: all wrapped up for the surprise.

When Tam arrived at her mum’s place, she went to get Mandy.  “Your Christmas present has arrived from PNG” she told her.  Mandy wasn’t interested – she was too busy trying to get me on Skype(!)  Tam practically had to drag her out to the car.  And then…

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE AND ALL THE BEST FOR 2011 FROM MYSELF AND EVERYBODY AT TEAM ODYSSEY!!

Days 941-942: It’s Not Your Fault

30.07.11-31.07.11:

Just enjoyed an awesome weekend volunteering for the Melbourne Open House festival. Seventy-five buildings around the city had their doors flung open to the general public… and you know I’ve got a thing for large erections.  It was great stuff (there was over 100,000 visits in just two days) and has also given me the opportunity to write yet another blog entry about architecture! YIPPEE!!

I am firmly of the opinion that some kind of secret meeting took place in 1958.  Present at this meeting were representatives of every single architecture firm in the world.  Under hoods and bearing blood-dipped swords, they swore a dark oath in the flickering candlelight: to never design anything beautiful, anywhere in the world, ever again.

Some of those present at that first meeting have since died, but the legacy of their macabre pact lives on in the hearts and minds of architecture students all over the world.  I see it as a kind of Hippocratic Oath but for architects.  And evil.

If, after reading this blog you care to point me towards a building that is OBJECTIVELY beautiful (like Audrey Hepburn, yeah?) that has been designed in the last fifty years, then I will happily eat my hat.  You’ve got 200 countries, thousands of cities and hundreds of thousands of buildings to chose from… but, lets face it: you can’t, nobody can, because such buildings do not exist.  Travelling through literally hundreds of cities in my lifetime has done NOTHING to amend that opinion.

So what are we left with?  Well, as I always say, KNOW YOUR ENEMY (that’s why I’m more than happy to watch bad films), so Rocco and I went to a talk this week from some of Australia’s Top Modern Architects, designers whose nightmarish creations would feature on the Melbourne Open House Weekend, just so the organisers can’t be accused of refusing to take submissions from the special school.

I was taking notes.  The nonsense word ‘vista’ was said 42 times.  The word ‘green’ was bandied about like building a massive construction involving tons of concrete and steel, man-hours, cranes, machinery, energy, diggers, drainage, pneumatics, electrical cables, pipes, glass and heating THAT IS DESIGNED TO ONLY LAST 30 YEARS is somehow ‘green’.  It’s not.  See St. Paul’s Cathedral?  THAT’S MORE ‘GREEN’, okay?  Been there for 350 years, see?  The bloody PYRAMIDS are more ‘green’!!!

There were murmurs about ‘rationalisation of space’, ‘textured lighting’, ‘juxtapositioning’, ‘initiating a conversation’ and other words that are at best meaningless, and at worst pointless.  The event was like a Monty Python sketch, only not one of the funny ones.

And how many times did the word ‘beauty’ pop up?  Go on, guess.  Maybe five times?  Nah.  Not once.

You can go on thinking that the point of a building is to do something functional and therefore any intrinsic beauty is somehow decadent and bourgeois, but then you’d be a dick and I will have you in a fight.  If you want to fill up a planet with massive formless monstrosities of interchangeable cultureless cack, why does it have to be this one?

But horrific garbage like Federation Squareisn’t even the worst bit.  If you really want to piss me off, why not take a beautiful heritage building and literally attach a malformed shed to the side of it? 

You know, an edifice that would make McDonalds seem upmarket.  A lock-up that Del-Boy might use to keep his Sinclair C5s.  Maybe you could throw some bright primary colours on it (subtlety and intricacy being concepts of yesteryear) and, hey, why not fling some lopsided shapes willy-nilly on the wall, just for giggles?  Three examples: Bluecoat Chambers, Liverpool, John Rylands Gothic Library, Manchester and (we had the bloody architect giving a presentation about it!) The Melbourne Grammar School.

Who allows this multi-million dollar vandalism to happen?  Who sanctions this carnage?  Who allows our most treasured cultural possessions to be terrorised in this way?  And WHO THE HELL THINKS IT LOOKS GOOD?!?!!

Do I go too far in these rants?  Have I crossed the line of polite conversation?  Would you be giving me looks and kicking me under the table if I argued this sort of thing at a dinner party?  Would you throw a pint of beer over my head if I said it in the pub?  Or do you have the teeniest bit of sympathy for my point of view?  I’m not asking you to stand in front of your most detested building and scream ‘F**K OFF!’ at it all day (as I sometimes fantasise about), all I want is to live in a world where the unbelievable shiteness of modern architecture is as commonly and vocally acknowledged as the general awfulness of your average Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

Why are we so cowed, brow-beaten, thwarted into submission over this stuff?  Why are we so terrified to acknowledge that the emperor has no frickin’ clothes on?  If you think modern buildings are universally ugly, just say so, studies have shown it will make you up to 41% happier and up to 93% more sexy.

The places I visited on Melbourne’s Open House Weekend blew me away, lifted my spirits, made me squeeze Mandy’s hand a little harder, put a song in my heart and a spring in my step.  But not one of the buildings I embraced on my tour of the city was built after 1958. 

You might think I take all this a little too seriously, I’m sure you could imagine me in a suit of armour, clutching a lance and riding a horse at full tilt towards Manchester’s Beetham Tower, but I refuse to believe that I’m the only one who has noticed how culturally impoverished our modern constructions are when we ALL KNOW we could do so much better.  SO. MUCH. BETTER.

There’s a common film trope in which the main character has a bit of a breakdown and finally addresses the problem that’s been bothering him (and you) for the last 90 minutes.  The expensive-wine-in-the-plastic-cup scene in Sideways, Cameron kicking his dad’s Ferrari, the bit were Rob Lowe locks himself in the bathroom in St. Elmo’s Fire (what a dreadful film)…  It’s called an ‘Anagoretic Moment’.

Well here’s this post’s Anagoretic Moment…

Days 943-948: Ain’t No Fat Lady Singin’

01.08.11-06.08.11:

So I’ve come to the fine city of Sydney in pursuit of a yacht captain who is looking for ADVENTURE, EXCITEMENT and REALLY WILD THINGS on the high seas. It’s also given me the opportunity to meet the most excellent Team Odyssey members Alex Zelenjak and Damian Pallett in real life instead of in electric dreams.

While I’m here, I’m going to be trying to get as much exposure for my quest as possible. I’m also having meetings with publishers – a nice little advance for my forthcoming best-seller “The World Is Slightly Pear Shaped (A Drunken Stumble Through Every Country On Earth)” would seriously help me finish this crazy backpack extravaganza sometime this decade.

This morning I was on Channel Nine’s Today show, which is Australia’s equivalent of GMTV – I only had five minutes, so I just blurted out everything I could think of to say… and yet missed out so much – the fact that I present a TV show on Nat Geo Adventure might have been a good bit of information to throw in there! D’oh!!

If you, like my girlfriend Mandy, are wondering “where my eyes are” then I should possibly confess to being up until very late last night drinking with my Sydneysider chums. Don’t look at me like that! The minute I start taking this whole thing seriously is the minute my head explodes…

Anyway, here’s the interview, thanks to Steve MacDonald for the upload, ENJOY!

Days 988-989: WOO HOO!!!

15.09.11-16.09.11:

I’ve just heard back from Martin at China Navigation (the subsidiary of Swire Shipping involved with PNG) and the good news is that there is a ship willing and able to take me from Lae in Papua New Guinea to Honiara in The Solomon Islands and back to Australia so I can FINALLY officially tick this great big silly continent off my list.

The ship is called the Papuan Chief (cool name eh?) and it’ll be departing Lae around the 10th of October.

Major thanks to Swire Shipping, China Navigation, Ray and Sebastian in PNG, Paul in Melbourne, Ross in Sydney and Martin in Singapore as well as kudos and kisses for Lorna and Mandy who helped out with the deal. Lorna especially so: she’s in the UK and the time difference meant she either had to stay up very late or get up very early in order to make the calls – somebody get Interflora on the phone!!

So… what I’ve got to do now is head back to Wewak on the North Coast of Papua New Guinea and pick up the trail from where I left off. Then I’ve got to get to Lae. Luckily for me, I’ve got an age to do this, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easily. Flights from Port Moresby to Wewak were extraordinarily expensive, so instead I’ve opted for a much cheaper flight to Madang – halfway between Lae and Wewak. But while it takes 6 hours on the road to get from Madang to Lae, it the road from Madang to Wewak is slightly err… problematic, as you can see:

Madang to Wewak
Missing: one ten mile stretch of road...
Madang to Wewak
Anybody got a canoe?
Madang to Wewak
Ox-Bow lakes: good for geography teachers, bad for overlanders.

Consequently, I’ll have to get on the same sort of Steamboat Willie affair that I took along the coast from Vanimo to Wewak last December – there and back again. But I’m not complaining – it’ll be fun! And, more importantly, THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION IS BACK ON!!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

VIDEO: Graham and Mandy Down Under (2002)

Back in the heady halcyon days of 2002, I travelled to Australia to meet up with Mandy, an Aussie girl I had met 3 years earlier while backpacking around Egypt.

We teamed up and took a beaten-up 1982 Holden panel van called MONTY on an epic drive across the red heart of AUSTRALIA.

From MELBOURNE we drove along the GREAT OCEAN ROAD, popped into ADELAIDE to feed the koalas, visited LAKE EYRE and COOBER PEDY on the way up to ULURU (AYRE’S ROCK), THE OLGAS and KING’S CANYON.

After a little, erm, car trouble we found ourselves in ALICE SPRINGS, went UFO hunting at the DEVIL’S MARBLES and swimming in the crystal clear waters of KATHERINE.

Up to DARWIN to search for the mangroves and then across to KAKADU NATIONAL PARK in search of crocodiles and cave paintings. After a near-fatal collision on the way to HUGHENDEN we limped along to TOWNSVILLE where we both decided to leap out of a plane at 10,000 feet up in the air.

Heading south down the East Coast of The Land Down Under, we took a sea-plane out into the middle of the GREAT BARRIER REEF and then high-tailed it to BRISBANE to watch the midnight screening of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Cos we is geeks like that.

Then down, down, down all the way to SYDNEY and CANBERRA before scaling MT KOSCIUSKO, the highest mountain in Australia. After adjusting to the altitude we drove down to the coast to visit EDEN on the way back to MELBOURNE.

What’s really sweet about this video is that Mandy and I only got together the day before we started filming it: and we’re still together to this very day. Hell, good travel buddies are hard to find…!!