Adelaide to Brisbane
The jet zips up from the scorched runway into the limpid blue. We climb out over the St Vincent Gulf, pleasure craft below scraping white scars in the turquoise sea. We quickly turn landward and I see downtown beneath us, a small square of high-rise in an ocean of single storey suburb. At the city limits low hills lie thick with deep green canopy. Beyond that are parched looking farms plotted on a grid and peppered with single trees. It could be anywhere in the western United States. For a while we seem to follow the route of the huge meandering Murray River, clogged with sandy islands. The terrain takes on a motley aspect — stains of dark forest, patches of blindingly white sand and what look to me like salt lakes, curvilinear and milky green. All baking in the noonday sun. It’s an hour before I see any signs of the red soil typical of the continent. I’m surprised how managed the landscape is along the flight path. I’d been anticipating wilderness. As we approach Brisbane it all gets amazingly verdant. A vast armada of cotton ball clouds hangs above squiggles of rivers, forests and fields. It could easily be the central belt of Scotland. We descend through the cloud and the frost at the bottom of my window vanishes. I see the murky Brisbane river wend through the city with a phalanx of skyscrapers attending its banks. It’s much greener than I remember. There’s a line of dockside cranes in the distance like a mob of emus. It’s hot and muggy, a closer heat than Adelaide. After a short drive to the hotel I stick some Mahler on my new impulsively purchased mini-speaker in my modern room overlooking an old cricket ground. This is the easy life.
I take the sultry air and find a grocery. On a side street I spot a bar where I order the now traditional veg burger. I’m in a quiet downtown neighbourhood with twelve storey blocks and wide roads. Everything looks like it was built yesterday. Solid, clean and unassuming. It’s kind of like San Diego. I guess they share an ocean. The guy opposite me wears a beach hat and looks like he’s drinking off a hangover with a sugary cocktail. He pays up and stumbles off blotchily. I hear the squawk of some exotic bird, halfway between a hoarse blackbird and a car alarm. It is competing with the horrid yammering International pop the barman is playing. A light breeze lifts the leaves on the young trees lining the pavement. A particularly odious piece of warbling catches my ear and it occurs to me it might be Ed Sheeran, but it’s so damn hard to tell. Shazam confirms it — the red-bearded privateer himself. I was swithering whether to join a few of our party tonight who have tickets, courtesy of our tour manager, for his show here. I was almost curious to go but this brief exposure to his colourless toxic vapour is enough to confirm my earlier decision to give it a miss. Besides, if I accept a freebie I can’t possibly be rude about him and where’s the joy in that? Shove your ketchup up your arse.
I load my little fridge with water and head back out into the night. I come to a crossroads — a street of Asian eateries intersecting with a row of pubs. Fairy lights are strung above, engendering a festive feel. And there’s the venue, the Fortitude Music Hall. Vaguely gothy types mill around the frontage. There’s a big Irish pub opposite and, further up, a troubadour with guitar and stomp pedal plies his trade perched on a stool on the patio of another bar. He’s better than Ed. Maybe he’s singing Ed, I don’t know. Maybe Ed is everywhere like God or rats.
I watch TV back in my boxy room before retiring to a soundtrack of random classical fare generated by my “liked” selections. I’m quickly asleep and quickly awake, first at 2AM then — BANG! — at 5:30AM. I find a café on maps that opens at 6:30 but they haven’t set up yet when I arrive (irritatingly) at opening time so I sit on a nearby park bench, listening to the local bird life making cantankerous sounds. Maybe they’re enraged by the rising traffic din. It must get their goat. Or on their wick. There are a few dog walkers. A man comes by with a little fluffy white thing with a tartan collar and it might be the gayest dog I’ve clapped eyes upon. In fact, all these guys’ dogs look gay. The men look very straight but their pooches are almost certainly not. Maybe this is a new metrosexual trend. You probably have to go a special breeder. But I’m just a crummy little cynic. People adore their dogs. But sometimes I think the whole affair has gone too far. Some people buy their dogs birthday gifts. This is surely an abomination. A lot of children don’t get birthday presents. And the wealthy ones, who get too many birthday presents, sometimes — and this is incredible — get a DOG for their birthday. A dog they may very well go on to buy birthday presents for. It’s fucking insanity and all, somehow, completely filthy.
I calm myself with a juicy vegetarian breakfast wrap from Cafe la Vita Pure, who have by now unstacked the chairs and seem happy to serve me. I’m seated on a terracotta patio outside an office block. It’s very pleasant. I notice a tiny spider on a leaf in the manicured hedge beside me. It looks like a jumper. Its venom could probably kill a horse but there she is waiting for a mite to bite. She appears to have one large eye on her head, which can’t possibly be, so I get out my magnifier app. As soon as I’ve got her in the frame she crawls shyly onto the underside of the leaf. The eyes of my phone lens must resemble that of a predator. Because the phone has become a predator. You used to just answer it. Now you ask it questions and it fucking answers you. And from the questions you ask it makes a profile of you and begins to hunt you. I asked Siri about butcher shops eight years ago and now I have a subscription to The Journal of Freemasonry. And I don’t even know what that is.
Of course, I am aware that this life of ease is a farce. It’s an aberration. We westerners are guzzling the resources that belong to everyone in a race to the great calamity. Pedal to the metal, we just don’t care. Back in my room two bananas are beginning to rot. Some people buy their dogs birthday presents.