'I 'm not flying Aeroflot and that's it. Bugger the expense Paul. End of conversation'.
And so our seventh morning in Russia began.
After a little more than half a year of living off my limited cunning, some fairly rudimentary maps of South East Asia and an overdeveloped sense of smell, I was almost at the home of my forefathers. The thieving bastards! Six months of bartering, dubious personal hygiene, baksheesh and Nasi Goering for breakfast had me longing for the familiarity of an English speaking country. Shit, New Zealand would have done. I had a problem though. A five foot two Welsh, ex-girlfriend in the midst of a bad hair week, who, as it panned out, had watched one to many documentaries on Russian air safety.
'It's a morning flight kiddo, surely the vodka wont kick in till after we're safely on the tarmac. May even help', I offered optimistically.
'Paul', when in the mood she had a way of saying my name that could coax me from a coma, 'if you make me fly Aeroflot, that's the end of anything we've ever had'.
'Bite me', I thought, but didn't say.
Never mind the fact that I owed Lithuania's current account deficit to VISA and had yet to invent a resume that could fool the masses, Aeroflot was now out of the equation and in effect another hundred and fifty pounds had just been added to my spiraling debt. I rang KLM, then made a mental note to start authority classes as soon as I had the nerve.
After a breakneck trip from Moscow's Hotel Rossiya to the airport with Yuri the speed freak who dabbled in taxi driving and speaking a mound of crap, we discovered our flight had been delayed by an hour. To add a further dimension to my disappointment, we were now going via Amsterdam. A night of hallucinogenic cigarettes, scantily clad women, canals, daffodils and clogs held merit. But four hours spent tantalising close to the debauchery of Europe's capital of sin was a kick in the cod piece. I consoled myself in the knowledge that Schipol had a casino, spent the remaining hundred and fifty pounds in my wallet on two toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches, a beer with freaky writing and a newspaper that offered more than just pictures to hold my attention.
The bleakness of my predicament started to hit home. Life on the road was hours away from being a memory and the inevitability of a new home away from home held more anxieties than hopes. My meager belongings were now on their way to the belly of a Boeing, I was probably seven or eight hours from Heathrow and then, who knew what. I had to a find a job, accommodation, money for a non-tropical wardrobe, a new stable of friends and an attitude to match. I wanted to sleep, but I had a plane to catch.
The need for slumber passed, replaced by the paranoia that consumes me whenever I'm faced with uniformed military types as I handed my passport over at immigration control. A largish woman with the beginnings of a Greek boy moustache looked me up and down as she fingered my pages. The scene momentarily reminding me that former Soviet Union was still far from all onion domes, vodka for breakfast and panty shots of Anna Kournikova. She finally allowed my passage, handed my passport back and flashed a smile that said, 'what the hell, is a dental plan'.
I was on my way, albeit via Holland.
It was after a dozen beers, forty quid worth of gambling chips and an impromptu session of nasal hair grooming in the confined space of a 767's toilet that I caught my first glimpse of London. Through the toughened acrylic window and a bunch of low lying clouds I got a birds eye view of the place I would call home for many years to come. As depressing as the opening credits of Coronation Street, London from the air seemed overcrowded and bleak. Box housing on top of box housing, split by the darkness of tarmac, splinters of green and a winding brown snake. It was a world away from the aerial beauty of Amsterdam. No patchwork fields, no giant's toy-box, not a windmill in sight. I sipped the last of my double Cointrea on the rocks and filled in my entry card as the seat belt light flicked on and we made our final descent.
I did a little mental arithmetic. Loosely based on current prices, inflation indices and the value of the Australian dollar in England I confidently concluded I had 45 minutes after touchdown to seek meaningful employment. Taking into account the need for a pint, a tube ticket, and a copy of the Evening Standard on arrival that figure diminished to 15. Luckily I had a scrap of paper in my wallet with a phone number on it. The Kid would save me.
The Kid was a long lost comrade from the hazy days I'd dubiously dubbed my further education. We had shared a tertiary course in Business, more than a couple of good times and a twelve-day cruise through the South Pacific, debauchery and beyond.
I found a phone.
'My name is Inigo Montaya, you killed my father, prepare to die', I said in my best Barthelonian accthent.
'Doddo, ya fat prick', came his reply, 'Where the hell are you?'
'Terminal, ahhhhhhh, Heathrow.'
'Nah, it's true.'
'Where are you staying?'
'Now there's the thing.'
We drank beer out of pint glasses, ate curry and tried ever so ineffectually to pick up a couple of posh slappers dressed in business suits. In retrospect, a better induction to London life an Australian is unlikely to find. At the time I thought little of it, as we basked in the memory of long lost friends, dubious conquests and the lottery of life. But in the light of day, with a hangover that could maim a rhino and the inevitability of finding work smacking me in the chops, I realised just how lucky I'd been to know someone who'd put me up.
You can only get so far in London with two hundred quid, a half decent suntan and a vast array of tourist t-shirts, board shorts and anti fungal creams. But now, I had a mattress of dubious hygienic value on the lounge room floor of a house that should have been condemned in 1974 and woke to the sound of London's over-ground every eleven minutes. I couldn't have been happier.
I rasped and wheezed myself into action. Heaped a tablespoon of instant and three sugars into the least damaged mug I could find and decided it was time to explore my surroundings.
The furnishings were a mish mash of charity shop chic, neighborhood throwaways and out and out improvisation. There were plastic plates in the kitchen, and generic brand, 12 pack bum tickets in the dunny. Posters, maps, magazine clippings, photos and prints littered the walls in an epileptic layout. Your stock standard Australian share house in London from all accounts.
The hundreds of people who had called this place home over the years, be it for a week or a year had left there mark. There were a lot of marks. Collections of guide books, single socks and travel brochures. Tell-tale signs of a transient household.
I killed the day mooching about. I had a full English breakfast at around noon, (fantastic concept that) toyed with the idea of ringing some employment agencies around two and decided it was beer o'clock about three.
I toddled into one of the locals, grabbed a pint of cider, pulled up a pew and settled in with a copy of TNT. I skimmed through the acres of job agency ads, caught up on a few of the headlines from back home and got the lowdown on a bit of Australian Rules. There was something that felt so right about drinking a pint by yourself in the mid afternoon of a weekday in this country. An inexplicable phenomenon, that I'd never felt back home.
Merely sips into my second pint I was joined by one of the Hannen Road stalwarts, Tut. He was sweating like a Chinese typesetter so I got him a beer in. I'd met him briefly the night before.
'Dry as a Nun's nasty, cheers Doddo.', he took a seat and clinked my pint.
'What's the story with the mask mate. Overdue library book, on the run from the law?', I asked
'Got the pushbike outside. Pollution’s a fuckin killer in this place.'
Tut was more Australian than Tasmania. His sun dyed curly blonde hair and tanned skin had him mistaken for a surf rat more than once. His small town country accent was as thick as a fat ladies thigh even after years on the road.
'So you like the local?'
'I've seen worse.' Only just, but I didn't want to offend.
'It'll grow on you mate, trust me.' And I did.
We lost track of time spinning shit and before long were joined by the Kid, Nat, Jac and Dave – half of the Hannen Road crew as it stood now. Round after round followed until exactly 10.45 when the Kid seemed very eager to get me back home for a unique and truly British experience.
I was bursting with anticipation. At 10.57pm exactly, topless darts graced the circa 1980 wood paneled set for exactly three minutes. Mandy from Manchester and April from Birmingham bounced and wobbled there way through a game of darts. A myriad of mammary, a peek of cheek and a close up of darts plunging the woodwork. It was titillating television. Britain at it's Carry On best. I knew I was home – for the time being at least.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Dodson is contributing editor of 2camels.com – a collection of travel writing on world festivals and events. He dabbles in freelance writing and his work has appeared in various online and print publications.
Read the next 30 installments of ‘An Aussie in London’ at http://www.anaussieinlondon.co.uk