In an Aussie Accent
It was a long and circuitous route, taking up my posting in Bangladesh. A massive cyclone had recently travelled up the Bay of Bengal and smashed into the southern states delaying the issue of my visa and so I decided to travel from the UK to Australia where I might avail myself of another in due course. To get an Australian visa I had to assume my father’s identity or at least borrow his bank statements which bore the same name – Mr G.R Bell (and that is another story!). After paying for a one way ticket half the way around the world I had precisely sixty quid left in my pocket for the trip which was in itself not an usual state of affairs.
I landed in Houston Texas and whilst I no longer count airport stop overs as significant it was for someone of my generation a delight to simply repeat those immortal words ‘Uh, Houston we’ve had a problem here”.
In San Francisco, I stopped off to catch up with an old girlfriend and her sisters. I was happy to know that she had a boyfriend and intended to marry him. A lucky escape I imagine. I then flew on to Honolulu where I stayed one night in a youth hostel and to slept out, a second night, on the beach to preserve my meagre savings for the big Oz.
Sam and Pete were supposed to be waiting for me in Sydney but alas my itinerary was not exactly something one would set their clock to. Unfortunately, when I arrived they were on holiday in Cairns. I had three days and nights to kill and just enough money left to cover 48 hours in the youth hostel. My time and cash finally exhausted I decided to head back to the airport. At least there I could crash on the floor and wait in safety for Sam and Pete to pick. To my total consternation, I discovered overnighters at the airport were not an option. And security was heightened due to the first Gulf War so I had to be extra vigilant, trying not to draw attention to myself.
And here begins one of my all, time favourite anecdotes and done in an authentic Australian accent it really is quite unbelievable - calling into question the need for any security whatsoever, any time any place. The long and the short of it revolves around a ‘lost’ tank. One I had, later, to describe to an airport official - ‘yes – a military tank, one used by the army with a turret and a big gun at the front’. My rucksack on the other hand was extremely dangerous and certifiably heavy.
With the official threat level at ‘CRITICAL’ I was forced to carry my rucksack with me everywhere. The use of lockers was strictly forbidden. This was an extra burden but one I submitted to half-willingly imagining the exercise all good for one’s wellbeing, if not for one’s spine. It hindered slightly my new job – retrieving abandoned trolleys, returning them to the airport and collecting 50 cents a go. This paid for the odd coffee and doughnut interspersed with some timeout in departures. My first job as an illegal economic migrant in Australia I suppose? And not the last.
As evening drew close I had to evacuate the airport and my newly acquire source of revenue and stomp along the freeway looking for a secluded spot to lay my head. Eventually a large billboard beckoned me over. As I drew close I could see vehicle tracks cutting deep into the manicured grassy edge and then once behind the bill-board there it was. An enormous tank. Khaki in colour with a red flash light stuck down the gun barrel. It seemed incongruous but nevertheless homely and provided me with perfect shelter for the night, settled safely below the chassis and between the tracks of this monster. I slept well and woke early and continued to snooze comfortably in my unassailable spot beneath my tank until the engine erupted into action!
“What the hell was going on!” Was my first reaction and then it dawned on me. My latest mad cap adventure, travelling across the world in search of a Bangladeshi visa could end with me being flatten to death under the tracks of an abandoned tank, behind a random bill-board on a random stretch of road near a lonely airport. My squidged remains might not be found for years and Jill would be convinced that I had run off once again without so much as a farewell then my lovely!
I moved quickly from my sleeping bag, gathered what I could and scrambled away from my once cosy nest. Surveying the scene, in my underpants, from a safer distance I caught site of a young lad, all of 10 years old, standing in the turret like any other underage tank commander. The engine cut out for a moment and he shouted to his compatriots inside the beast.
‘Press the button and give it another go!’
In that moment of relative silence I shouted up to the young man.
“Hello there! Hello! I’m not sure that is a very good idea?
His answer was emphatic.
“Stuff it mate!”
And besides this he seemed to have the upper hand and was far better equipped for a fight! I decided best to just get out of there and to inform the authorities. Under ‘CRITICAL’ conditions having a rogue tank, driven by three pre-teens, in the vicinity of an international airport might be important and newsworthy? Apparently not to the Australian airport police.
Dressed once again, loaded down again with my back-pack and on my way to the domestic terminal I came across a police man and stopped him, desperate to make my report.
“Yes that is what I said – an army tank being drive by three young lads” I repeated. I suspect my very proper English accent might have caused him to think I was taking the mickey bliss! Finally he made, a somewhat minimal effort, to send my report through to his superiors on his walkie-talkie but I suspected some secret code was employed whereby his colleagues knew he was talking to a nutter. No further information was required about my rogue tank and where it might be heading so I left the scene and continued on my way to the terminal. I then came across the airport police station full of cops! As a dutiful global citizen now dependent upon the Australian services I decided to report my findings one last time.
“Yeah mate” he said with a real Aussie twang and a look on his face!
“You say there is a rogue tank being driven around the area by three youngsters and it might be a danger to the public. Thanks a lot for your concern – we will certainly keep an eye out for that!”
I gave up and like any average Joe, being taken for an idiot, I consoled myself with the thought of the look on their official faces when they had to explain how and why their fool-proof security system had failed to spot a random, ten tonne rogue tank driving down the airport boulevard. Just exactly how had it managed to traverse the airport carpark squashing cars left, right and centre, pass through departures and lodge itself on top of the Qantas check-out desk?. That would have been precious.
To my knowledge it never did happen and I never heard anything more about it. But I know there are three naughty young lads (grown men by now) who had one hell of a fun day out that day and their kids probably know nothing of that particular episode in their lives. [Please if that is you and you are out there and you know what I am talking about let me know as sometimes I wonder if it was all a mad dream].