Monday, January 01, 2007

The great pork crackling disaster

HAPPY new bloody year. And I hope the beginning of 2007 is going to be a whole lot better than the end of the last one. The whole thing has been a Barmy cock-up.
When we got up in time for a 4.15am coach ride to Melbourne airport on New Year's Eve, there was some doubt as to which hotel we would be staying in, amid rumours that the travel company employed by the Barmy Army were experiencing "cash flow difficulties".
Still, the Designer and I aren't moaners like some of the people here, who have decided to let small logistical problems ruin their enjoyment of the experience.
So far, it must be said, that we have only stayed in one of the hotels originally allocated to us, and that was the first in Brisbane. To be fair, though, Melbourne was an upgrade that we didn't expect and a great apartment.
The day before we flew we thought we were staying in the Gemini. Then we were informed it was the Mercure. Just before leaving, though, Chewy got a message... we were now in the Metro Central. C'est la Vie.
Arriving in Sydney, no one seemed to know what was going on. No one around from the travel company or Barmy Army apart from one bloke who had a list of passengers and their hotels dating back two days. Nevertheless, Chewy, the chief (as we now call Olly because of his remarkable resemblance to Chief Wiggum in the Simpsons!), the Designer and myself climbed on board the bus for the Metro on Pitt, which we assumed was the Metro Central.
A very helpful lady called Sue informed us that none of us were booked at the hotel but she would make some quick calls. It being New Year's Eve, albeit 9am, we decided there was nothing for it but to sit in the restaurant and order some alcoholic beverages. This involved one of the worst bloody Mary's I've ever tasted but beggers certainly couldn't be choosers in our position.
We then heard there was a SECOND Metro hotel just down the road. But we weren't booked there either.
As we sat quietly waiting for the efficient Sue to sort us out, more and more Barmy Army customers were turning up to find they had no rooms. People had spent all morning walking the streets of Sydney trying to find their hotels. It was like an influx of dazed and confused refugees.
Some were quite rude, mistakenly taking Sue for someone employed by the Army when, in fact, she was just the manager of the hotel on Pitt. She kept her cool better than I would have done.
Finally, Sue informed us that she though all four of us were in the Cameo apartments in Wellington, near the Sydney Cricket Ground. Result.
We piled into a taxi and got out there for around noon, expecting our problems to be over.
They weren't. While Chewy and the Chief DID have a room, we did not. We were then informed that we were back at the Metro Central.
I spoke to Nick Bligh, one of the Barmy Army travel people, on the telephone. He said that they had changed all the lists late that night but we were definitely in the Central.
Back into town we went, lugging about our cases as we did. I went up to the counter, through a lobby of fellow irate travellers. On the counter was a list. Our names were on it. Great! I thought. Nick had even told me we were in twin room 1.
Umm, no, the receptionist said. "I won't allocate you a room until I see a Barmy Army rep. I've never known anything like this in 30 years in the hotel business."
Chewy and the Chief had changed in their apartment and come back with us. We decided to ease the lobby congestion we would go across the road to a bar. For the next two hours the Designer and I took turns returning to the hotel to see if anything had been sorted.

Finally Paul Burman, head honcho of the Army, turned up and tried to explain away the problems that had occured. Cricket Australia came in for a lot of stick, as did the travel company... not the army's fault, he said. "We just want people to muck in."
Well, we had mucked in all the way through, and where had it got us? Without a room on New Year's Eve - Sydney's biggest night of the year. I thought people were going to swing for the reps. Ingrid, a work experience for the travel company who was in charge of the computer with everyone's hotels supposedly on it, had left it back in Melbourne. Lummy Days! She was in tears. The Designer and I were about the only ones keeping our cool.
It was at about 7.30pm that we finally got the news through. We were heading out to Bondi Junction to the Tiffany Apartments. And Ingrid's boyfriend David, nothing to do with any of this, was driving us out there.
Result. We got into our apartment, and wonderful it was, too, with swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, washing machine, cooker, dishwasher and microwave. But we couldn't stop to enjoy it, just did a quick change, a quick squirt of something smelling relatively ok to mask the odor of 16 hours on the road, and back to the car for a lift back to the pub where we have left Chewy and the Chief. By then Mark, one half of the Blackburn twins, had joined us and we bought them all a strong cocktail for their support. Then off we headed into town.

The others were keen on the fireworks... I just wanted to get very drunk. Mission Accomplished. I ended up in the Fortunes of War, a pub on the Rocks where, 12 years ago, I spent New Year's on my last visit to Sydney.
There I somehow once again became a choirmaster for the Barmy Army fans in the bar as we taunted Aussies well into the new year with songs about Glenn McGrath, his pension book and his zimmer frame. Aah, bliss.
I got back to the apartment at 4am. Fortunately a train ran straight from the centre of Sydney out to Bondi Junction and the railway station was right next to our apartments. All's well that ends well.

Not quite. We decided to have a relaxing day on New Year's Day, even though the quaintly named Tea Gardens Hotel over the road was rocking all day with queues outside from morning to midnight. Unbelievable. Some people in Sydney just celebrate for two days solid.
For our part, we found possibly the best takeaway/cafe in the world. Sitting dow to eat I had a huge roast pork dinner with crackling for around 5 quid. Gorgeous. But it did have its repercussions.
It was so filling I plonked half of it in a takeaway box and took it back to my room, heating it later in the microwave for tea.
Lying in bed that night reading my book I felt what I assumed was a bit of crackling stuck in my teeth and tried to remove it. Suddenly there was a gaping hole in my mouth and two halves of the crown I have had since I fell off my mate's shoulders when I was 19. Oh Lord, I now have a gappy grin and a little stump of tooth. Perfect for impressing the ladies.
This morning I am in search of an emergency dentist.
As I said, Happy New Bloody Year!

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