The halcyon dream that was Broome already feels like a lifetime ago. Before I went to Australia I had been terrified of flying for twenty years. Once I knew I was definitely going over there I couldn't indulge that fear anymore. Not only did I have to deal with the twenty plus hours getting there but once I arrived I'd be on a number of internal flights for both the tour and the holiday I'd be having with Keir and Kate at the end. And what would be the point of being afraid? It would just mar an otherwise wonderful time. In my first Australia Blog I mentioned that I had chosen not to be afraid anymore. Its often the things you perceive as being huge and insurmountable that are resolved by a simple shift in perspective. It seems perverse that I can remember so many flights that were endured with sweaty palmed terror and a blanket placed firmly over my head. But that doesn't mean they didn't serve a purpose. Eckhart Tolle said that: “Suffering is necessary until you realise it is unnecessary.”
What I'm getting to is that had I not overcome my fear of crashing planes I would not have found myself climbing aboard a helicopter, heart in throat, in the safe knowledge that if I backed out now I would never forgive myself. I'd rather the fucker went down with me in it than go up without me.
The pilot, Wayne, introduced himself:
'So anyone here going in a helicopter for the first time?'
We all nod.
'Cool, me too,' he grins.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
'Seriously though, you couldn't be safer -'
Of course I could be safer you wanker.
'Most helicopter crashes happen to private owners, not professional pilots. They give us a bad name.'
I cannot believe he's talking about crashes before we've left the ground.
'So, shall we take the doors off?'
WHAT THE FUCK!?
'Yes!' Kate exclaims. 'Can you do the zero gravity thing too?'
Our father, who art in heave-
'Sadly not, there's too many of you, the weight would be too much.'
We watch as he and the boys remove the doors. It looks like a remote controlled toy. Wayne takes our weights and does some maths before one by one strapping us in to our seats. I'm in the centre with Dave and Adrian on either side of me. Dave and I are not small which means that by the time he's strapped Adrian in the poor sod is sat right on the edge with one arse cheek hanging out of the helicopter. He goes a bit quiet. Kate is strapped in the front and looks delighted by the whole thing already. We're given headphones and mouthpieces and Wayne checks we can all hear each other.
'Please don't scream,' he says.
'Do people scream a lot?' Kate asks.
'Yeah,' he sighs. 'Its really annoying. A squeal is okay though.'
I place my hand firmly over the mouthpiece despite the fact that out of all of us its Dave who's given to squealing.
The blades start rotating and we sit for a while waiting for it to 'warm up.'
And then we rise. Straight up and quite slowly. Hovering about five feet above the ground. The old familiar terror rises up in me and is brutally cut short by my brain saying 'What's the point? This is happening. Either enjoy it or shut the fuck up.' I think of Bill Hick's philosophy on life: It's just a ride. It's just a ride. The fear is replaced by a wave of pleasure. Look at me! Look at me! I'm in the sky going higher and higher and there's no doors! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Don't get me wrong. I'm no adrenalin junkie. Clearly. But I am learning, at close to 40, that life is infinitely better when you do things that frighten you a bit. I wish I'd learned that years ago.
We glided along looking at the incredible coastline beneath us. Kate saw a mantaray in the ocean and as we flew over Gantheaume Point Wayne showed us the area where you can see 130 million year old Dinosaur foot prints in the rock. He glances back at me to check I'm okay and I hear him through my headphones saying:
'There's a lovely smile. You feeling better now?'
I nod happily and pat his shoulder.
In the afternoon I play with Adrian in the pool at the hotel. He has his goggles and its my lot in life to throw trinkets in the water for him to dive and retrieve.
'Are you sure you want to go to the adult pool?' I ask.
'Its heaps fun but!' he grins. 'Like being a pirate diving for treasure.'
I throw a ring in the water and whilst he's under a woman on a nearby lounger looks at me quizzically.
'He's not my boyfriend,' I state.
A man on the other side of me starts giggling and I stop short from also asserting that I'm not his carer.
I read my book and toss things in to the water which Adrian fetches like a happy golden retriever. After a while he paddles to the side.
'Its your turn now.'
'Oh no. No really, I'm fine.'
'Its fun,' he says.
'You have to have a go,' he insists.
I know from cruel experience that once Adrian gets something in to his head he won't let it go until I capitulate. I put the goggles on, sigh, and climb in to the pool.
Its disturbing how quickly our roles reversed. Suddenly its me waving my hand in the air screaming 'I got it! I got it!' I love that about Adrian. He still plays. He enjoys things like a kid and he reminds you over and over again how much fun can be had if you just stop pretending to be an adult all the time. Once we tire of the diving game he shows me how to empty my lungs of air and sink to the bottom of the pool.
'Lie on your back on the bottom and look up!'
After that we took turns timing how long we could stay under water for and Adrian whiled away the last part of the afternoon diving off the side just by the sign that says 'No diving.'
Nobody but Dave is looking forward to the wet t-shirt competition. Adrian is insisting we attend because A. Its a local institution and B. The promoter of the gig Kate and Keir will be performing the following evening has asked us to go.
'People keep saying its a local institution,' Keir says. 'By that definition you can make anything acceptable. Hey, come to the lynching! Its a local institution.'
'He organised a helicopter ride for us,' Adrian says. 'We have to go. It'll be fun.'
Kate wants to rest her voice before the gig and is the only one of us with a viable excuse. Dave is delighted by the prospect. I am resigned and Keir is off his face on a cocktail of wine and anti histamine by the time we set off.
I head straight to the bar and start ordering myself beers and tequila chasers.
'What are you doing?' Adrian who hardly drinks is looking on in horror.
'She is getting methodically drunk,' Keir explains.
By the time the 'show' starts I am eight tequilas down. Young girls line up on stage and writhe around to music whilst knuckle dragging men pour jugs of cold water over them.
Five minutes in Adrian turns to me, all colour drained from his face.
'This isn't right. We should go.'
The audience clapo-meter starts and a few men boo some of the girls who have slightly smaller breasts than the others. One by one they are picked off until only the most porn-like remain. The most popular girl, who must really need either the 500 dollars or a psychiatrist removes her tee and bra. She's disqualified for removing her top but not until she's been allowed to continue subjugating herself for a further ten minutes.
Keir looks as depressed by the whole thing as me.
'Can we go now please?' Adrian asks.
We leave and everyone is quiet in the car except Dave who says:
'Well what I've learned from this evening is not to go to a wet t-shirt competition with you lot you fucking kill joys! What did you expect?'
He's right really. What did we expect?
The next day is our last day and none of us are happy about it. Before the gig the promoter Peter takes us out for a lovely dinner and before long its time for Kate and Keir to perform.
Its wonderful having one more opportunity to watch them sing the songs I have come to know so well over the last three months. The gig is brilliant, even though an alarm goes off over the road and takes fifteen minutes to silence. They soldier on with good humour and the audience screams for more when it ends. I spot several grey nomads in the audience that we met on our drive and when Kate comes out to sign they come over and buy cd's and chat.
We fly back to Brisbane and spend the following day doing nothing much at all except napping and eating. And then its somehow my last day. Kate and Keir take me out for lunch and grocery shopping. I spend the afternoon drinking wine and cooking a feast for them and a couple of friends I've made whilst there. We eat and drink and listen to music and talk about our adventures. Afterwards we head downstairs to John and Sallie's flat and drink more and laugh. John plays the piano and Keir and Sallie sing Aerosmith's What It Takes drunkenly and with gusto about eight times. Doesn't matter how proficient or talented a musician you are, drunken singalongs are the same the world over. I'm so happy sitting there watching them wail and laugh and I can't believe I'm heading for the airport in six hours.
We stagger upstairs at around three and get a couple of hours sleep. Keir is driving me to the airport but Kate also drags herself heroically out of bed and comes along in PJ's and sunglasses.
'Darling you don't have to come,' I say.
'Of course I'm fucking coming,' she smiles.
I'll see them again in the winter over here which takes the sting out of the goodbyes. There's still a sting though. I'm going to miss living with them, listening to music, eating great food, laughing and talking about books and films and songs and and and.
A mere thirty hours and several near disasters later I am back in the UK.
I've seen and learned so much in the last three months and it was all golden. I wouldn't change a moment.
Thank you so much to Madame M, Christian, Sandy, Randall, Dave, Sallie, John, Benedict, Tai, Hannah, Junior, Tim, Adrian, Madelaine, Mikki and all the others that made me feel so welcome and spent so much time keeping me entertained and feeding me and showing me new things. And thank you to those of you that have been following this blog and leaving comments, it has been much appreciated.
And thank you Kate and Keir for too many wonderful things, I love you both very much.
I'm not going to be writing any more blogs now. This was really more to keep a diary of the holiday and a sort of round robin letter to my family and friends. I'm going to spend some time writing a book instead. I don't know if I'll finish it but by starting it I'm at least giving myself a chance at making the life I want to lead. And its good to do things that frighten you a bit. So long, farewell and thanks for all the Barramundi. It's been a piece of morning sun, swallowed with a grin. Bliss.