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18 September 2019

I’m missing Australia for its beloved friends, its lunchtime margaritas – and its bin chickens

It’s just a shame the place is so far away from London.

By Tracey Thorn

I’m writing this through a haze of jet lag, having just flown back from Australia. Someone described the feeling to me as being “three whiskies in”. That’s accurate, and doesn’t sound so bad, but is perhaps not ideal at ten in the morning. Anyway, you don’t want to hear my tips for overcoming jet lag, and that’s good because I don’t have any. No one does.

On the plane I did some things right, and some wrong, like most people. I drank plenty of water, but also plenty of booze. I planned to sleep, but was confounded by turbulence. Half of being able to sleep on a plane relies on convincing yourself that you’re not in the air, but somewhere safe and unmoving on the ground. A plane constantly dropping what feels like a few floors puts paid to that.

So I instead read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, watched a documentary about Iris Apfel, and went on Twitter! Which still amazes me, I can’t quite get my head around being online at 30,000 feet. I’m old enough to remember smoking on planes, so having access to the internet is still news to me.

For my first couple of days in Australia it poured with rain. Every time I spoke, and people recognised my English accent, they would apologise to me for the weather, and I’d reply, “Oh don’t worry, I’m used to rain.” Then they’d apologise to me for the state of our politics, and I had no reply to that. Ah, I thought. We’ve become one of those countries that people feel sorry for. OK.

Aside from that, my trip to Sydney was fantastic. I wasn’t performing or promoting, but was instead researching my next book project, which will be focused on my friendship with Lindy Morrison, drummer with seminal Australian band the Go-Betweens. A larger-than-life figure on the music scene, she was my best friend in London in the Eighties, and I am using her magnificent life in order to tell stories about friendship, and ambition, and art, and to explore the way in which the history of music gets written. And who gets left out. (I’ll give you two guesses.)

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Anyway, my research trip consisted mostly of hanging out with wonderful people, drinking margaritas at lunchtime, and listening to Lindy tell me outrageous anecdotes that reduced both of us to the kind of hysterical laughter that turns heads in restaurants. As “work” trips go, it would be hard to beat.

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And I loved being in Sydney. The beauty of the place, once it stopped raining, was overwhelming, and I was made to feel at home by everyone I met. There’s something down-to-earth and no-nonsense about the Australian character that I find very winning. I said to a friend one day, “What is that lovely bird I keep seeing everywhere?” To which he replied, “Oh, that’s a bin chicken.”

It’s a shame the place is so far away from London. When I landed back at Heathrow it was 5am, and I’d been awake for what felt like days. My body thought it was 2pm, so all I had to do was stay awake for another 17 hours before I could go to bed. I found I couldn’t stop eating or drinking. I had another breakfast, having had one at 4am mid-air. Toast and then more toast. I had a coffee. Then another coffee. Then a Berocca. I felt like that character in the Chumbawamba song who has a whiskey drink, and then a vodka drink, a lager drink, and then a cider drink.

I had lunch. I had dinner. I thought, I’ve got this, I’ve really cracked it! Then at 7pm the need for sleep hit me like an oncoming train: urgent, insistent, out of my control. Nothing like normal sleepiness, it was more like being given a general anaesthetic. I tried to watch the opening episode of Succession, but my eyes drooped every 30 seconds before I jolted upright.

“Wake up!” Ben shouted from across the room.

We gave up on that and decided to play a game of Scrabble. But it was like some surreal sleep deprivation torture scene, with me slumping forwards on to the board and Ben constantly prodding me awake. I looked in the mirror and my eyelids had locked in a half-shut position, like a stuck Venetian blind. That’s the last thing I remember. 

Next week: Kate Mossman

This article appears in the 06 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Out of control