I’ve been called to the highest office in the land. Well…thirty of us have to be precise. We’re to be drinks robots: smooth, shiny, non-speaking – unless spoken to – refreshment providers to upper-class types.
Correction: I keep forgetting that Australia is a classless society. They keep telling me but it slips my mind. So let’s clear this up once and for all. There is no upper class, no lower class, just people with money and people without. It’s very simple really and I feel quite dim for not grasping it fully.
Government house is a large, posh – but not upper class! – building in the middle of sprawling parklands in central Melbourne. It’s here that when in Melbourne the prime minister, who I shall refrain from naming as it may be someone different tomorrow, receives people from far off lands. It’s grand, colonial and invites and intimidates in equal measure; perfect for putting the wind up foreign dignitaries. Security here is super strict. Bret has just been told to put his phone away or it will be…
“…taken away, stamped on and shot”
Bow ties are tweaked, flannels flattened and locks licked into position while we endure a talk on decorum and attitude by Andy the protocol officer who has surely been understudying C3P0 in “Star wars, the musical”. He badly needs oiling.
The band perched up on the balcony play “Blue velvet” as the guests arrive. There appears to be some international prize at stake for “worst dress sense” and in an inversion of Eurovision song contest wisdom, my money’s on Norway. The Scandinavians either didn’t get the memo about formal dress or have mixed up this date with the car boot sale in the car park tomorrow morning. Bret shuffles towards me, thick beads of sweat on his forehead.
“My thighs are strapped up but I’m still chafing in peculiar places.”
He sails on past having duly delivered too much information and I resume my part in the synchronised drinks service: thirty penguins with silver trays side-stepping their way across the parquet floor. The view from above would resemble the ballroom on the Titanic complete with OTT floral displays and gently swaying chandeliers.
When the Master of ceremonies mumbles into the microphone, thankfully it’s to announce arriving VIPs rather than imminent icy disaster. The Mayor arrives – polite clapping. Followed by the chief of police – polite coughing. I’m hoping that Batman will be next but am disappointed to hear that it’s the MP from Perth and what’s more he’s left his tights and utility belt at home. Some bigwig army chief arrives next accompanied by soldiers dressed in what probably passes for relaxed, casual battle dress. They take up outflank positions around the edge of the hall and pretend to have a good time. The bubbly flows, the canapés vanish and our ship sails on into the night to be joined periodically by rafts from other continents: a party from Nigeria who consume neither food nor drink – presumably through fear of being poisoned – and a family of poultry magnates from Argentina all sporting jewel-encrusted shoes. I compliment them on their outré footwear and receive gold flecked toothy smiles in return. There’s money in them there chickens…
One more round of drinks is served to the Norwegians to dull their embarrassment and the evening draws to a close. The army types recall the flanks, the band begin the long descent towards noodling jazz and even the mayor has removed his two tonne ceremonial jewelry and sat down with a glass of red.
Out back, the used beer and wine crates have reached shanty town proportions. I use their cover to grab a five minute illegal breather. Unsurprisingly Bret has beaten me to it and is risking summary iPhone execution by replying to three whole hours worth of text messages. He’s off on a Kontiki tour of Europe – yes they still exist – and is getting to know his soon-to-be travelling companions. I glance over his shoulder at the exchange.
“Hi, I’m Kurt, I’m 18 yrs old, I like surfing and listening to Rihanna.”
“Hi, my name’s Bret. I’m a 30 year old gay man and I’m dying to meet you.”
I switch mine on and it immediately coughs up a text.
– Melbourne Grand Prix. 4 day posting. Text back “Dinnertime” to accept –
I hate formula one but can’t quite figure out why. This seems like the ideal opportunity to acquire a good reason.