An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The perfect gift for the man who has everything

I don't want for much in life. I have a beautiful wife, the best job in the world, a 1997 300Tdi Land Rover Defender, and I get to live half the year in the two best places in the world - Australia and Africa.

I'm not really into 'stuff', but I've got just about all the gadgets I can think of that make travelling in Africa possible and comfortable. So it's not easy when it comes to buying me presents. Mrs Blog struggles, although she did come up with a corker recently, a Garmin GPS running watch for my birthday.

This is a fantastic gadget, although it's doing its best to kill me. I like running, but it wasn't until I got my watch that I knew just how far I was running, and how fast. Now whenever I go for a run I know what my last speed was, and I've been trying to increase my pace. I've posted a few of these runs on facebook, as after I've finished I'm able to upload a map of the run and all the details about pace and calories burned etc to the internet, for a fascinated worldwide audience to devour. Whether or not anyone else cares about my running prowess or not, I do... and I am, to put it simply, knackered this week after pushing myself to a number of personal bests.

But enough about running and more about gift giving.

I'm into the second week of my round (parts of) Australia and New Zealand book tour, to promote my latest novel AFRICAN DAWN. I've been having a good time and meeting lots of readers and booksellers and librarians (all of whom are my favourite people).

It's not required, by any means, but often when I've given a talk the bookseller or library who organised it will present me with a gift. Often it's a bottle of wine or a book, and these are just the perfect gifts for me as I love reading and drinking to excess.

There's not much else I could have imagined a book talk organiser giving me, so imagine how surprised I was when the lovely people from Beaumaris Books in Victoria gave me an AIRSICKNESS BAG!

I don't know if you can imagine how thrilled I was because... and this is the first time I have revealed this publicly (other than at Beaumaris), I collect spew bags.

Yes. True.

Cheryl from Beaumaris Books had, unknown to me, contacted my ace former publicist (she's just left Macmillan, sadly) Louise, and asked her if there was anything quirky I might like as a gift. I suppose it doesn't get any quirkier than Barf Bags, but that's what Louise suggested. I didn't even remember I'd told her about my collection. I must have been drunk at the time.

Cheryl presented me with a King Island Air airsickness bag which she was safe in thinking I did not have in my collection. When I got home to Sydney I decided I must get out my (what is the collective noun for vommit bags?) 'retch' of bags. I was surprised to see I had more than 40 of them and, decided I must lay them out on the carpet and gaze upon them in all their glory.


I don't really remember why I started collecting barf bags. It's not like I've had great need for them, although I have been guilty of losing my lunch a couple of times on military aircraft - specifically while pushing things and myself out of the back of the old CCO8 Caribou twin engine transports the Royal Australian Air Force used to fly.

These aircraft had a reputation for being very bumpy in turbulence, but my mishaps were usually alcohol related, as in the olden days of irresponsible drinking in the Army Reserve we did give the booze a bit of a nudge on training weekends. I remember going on one flight that was so rough the pilots were tossing their cookies while trying to hold the aircraft steady!

Still, nauseous nostalgia aside, each of the bags in the collection reminded me of a past travel adventure. Or sometimes not... Pictured below is what I imagine is now a highly sought-after air sickness bag in the world of airsickness bag collecting as it's from the now defunct Lauda Air, an Australian airline set up by former Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda. I just wish I could remember when and where I flew on Lauda Air. Perhaps this memory is alcohol-related as well.



I found several bags from Red Rat Airlines (aka our national carrier, Qantas) including this rather retro gem featuring the old winged kangaroo airline. I like the pattern too, which would seem to scream some time in 70s. However, in the 70s my family was too poor to fly Qantas (or any other airline for that matter), so I wonder where this one came from.





In fact, it was seeming to me that rather than bringing back memories of past flights this collection could have belonged to someone else, but then the haze started to clear.


I remember grabbing this little number because I thought I might need it on a flight to the MULL OF KINTYRE! Yes. I actually flew to the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland on a British Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft in 1993. Mrs Blog and I lived in the UK for a year where I worked as a journalist on a country paper in Buckinghamshire and spent weekends serving with the British Territorial Army (their version of the army reserve) on attachment as an Army air dispatcher. As in Australia my job back then was pushing stuff out of aeroplanes.




I remember thinking it would be quite embarrassing if I threw up on that flight as the plane was full of British SAS men. What I didn't realise until I had a closer look at their top secret special forces Land Rovers while I was unloading them on the Mull of Kintyre airstrip was that these were actually the SAS's elite cooks. Their vehicles included pots and pans and cookers and leaked dirty chip oil on to the Hercules' floor and my face as I scrambled underneath to release the tie down chains holding them in place. So, in hindsight, I guessed that as Army chefs they were used to seeing soldiers throw up and wouldn't have been overly offended if I had been airsick.

I love this NATO-issue air force air sickness bag, because it's called, in true military ass-backwards fashion, a 'Bag, Air Sickness', and has instructions for use by simple soldiers. Classic.



Here's one (above) that definitely reminds me of a memorable trip - my first holiday overseas as a 21-year-old, to Vietnam. Back in 1985 Vietnam was not nearly as open to travellers as it is these days and I had to be shepherded everywhere by secret policemen disguised as tour guides.


I flew Vietnam Airlines from Saigon to Da Nang in a Russian Dropawingoff twin-engined rust bucket. The seatback of the seat I was in refused to return from the recline position and rested, broken, in the lap of the polite passenger behind me for the entire flight. I sat, or rather perched, next to a veteran of the liberation war dressed in a sharp Russian suit and we conversed in school boy french about how bad the Devon sandwich in the inflight meal was, and why the petit coffee cups looked liked they'd come from a child's tea set.

I have some other classic air sickness bags that did bring back some fond memories. There was the one from Tarom Airlines, Romania's national carrier that Mrs Blog and I had the great misfortune to travel on. Tarom had (and if it's still flying no doubt still has) the worse safety record in the air.


We were upgraded to First Class on a trip from Bucharest to Istanbul becuas the plane was triple booked, but as we weren't paying as first class passengers the bee-hived flight attendant in our cabin refused to serve us. Instead, she sat in a seat across the aisle in the otherwise empty compartment (if you can afford to fly first class on Tarom you fly economy on some other airline), and glared at us throughout the flight.



I also found a bag from Merpati, an Indonesian airline so unreliable that it's unofficial slogan is 'It's Merpati and they'll fly if they want to, fly if they want to'.


Like I said, I don't really remember why I started this collection, or why I've held on to it, but if you're ever stuck for a gift for me, give the gift that will keep coming up, as long as people drink and fly.


(NB: Attention libraries and booksellers, I'm short of a Virgin Blue bag).

4 comments :

ali g said...

That is the funniest thing I have ever read in my entire life. onya mate...me & her

RobertLW said...

Lauda was Austrian not Australian. Pity you didn't have one of those bags at my place recently.

tonypark said...

Oops, typo. I meant austrian.

Tracey said...

As someone who once had to pee into a sickbag (in a small plane wtihout toilets), I'm riveted by your collection. It's fabulously weird.