The flight was an hour late leaving Bangkok due to a ‘technical problem’ with the plane. The staff are always disconcertingly vague on such points. Why not give you the details and let you make your own mind up if you still want to stay on? A fuel pipe problem is different from one that just makes all the inflight movies tedious. Some statistics relating technical problems to likelihood of flamey death would be helpful.
Being late, our arrival at Sydney was total carnage. Qantas staff incited us to get through customs and quarantine as quickly as possible. But airport staff actively thwarted any attempts to get through the queues. Despite a stressful battle through customs, the luggage wasn’t on the carousel. By the time I reached the queue for domestic transfer we were told that the connecting flight was closed and we’d just have to get on the next flight.
After half-an-hour more in the queue we were told actually the connecting flight was waiting for us and could we come straight to the front of the queue. Despite being already 20 minutes late for the flight we were forced to queue for another 30 minutes to get the bus to the domestic terminal. The tiredness and jet-lag was starting to get to me and I was getting irritated. I put my best whingeing pom accent on and suggested why didn’t they board the bus “according to the departure time”. Of course, this simply elicited the tried-and-tested Nazi guard response “I just do what I’m told to”.
Finally we boarded the plane. The flight to Adelaide from Sydney is about 2 hours. Arriving at Adelaide our baggage steadfastedly refused to appear on the baggage carousel. The long queue at the baggage handlers told the story. “Oh yeah, we didn’t load your bags” like that would have been an insane thing to do. “Why would you?”. They offered to deliver it to the hotel later that day.
At this point my mind was starting to give up its tentative grip on reality. I got a coffee and checked my email.
My next destination was the Barossa Valley, the famous wine-district, most reknowned for shiraz. There are plenty of massive producers: Penfolds, Peter Lehmann and the lamentable Jacob’s Creek. The Barossa is some 70km from Adelaide. I took a $150 taxi ride (£75; Australia is at least as expensive as the UK) to the main town, Tanunda. The sun beat down, magnified by the passenger window, my elbow rapidly going red. I struggled to stay awake and talk to my Sikh driver. Tanunda is a quite atypical introduction to Australia – it was settled by persecuted lutherean immigrants from Germany in the mid-19th century. Lutherean churches and german bakeries serving dot this small town. I decided to have a Mettwurst with sauerkraut to settle the nerves and stomach.
Somewhat steadied, I got a taxi to the Novotel Barossa Valley resort where BacPath 10, a conference on bacterial pathogenesis was being hosted. My taxi driver sported an expert beard and was a committed motorhead. We talked about Top Gear. “I LAHV CLAAAARKSON HE’S CLASSIC” shouted my host. “I ALSO LOVE CAPTAIN SLOW AND THE HAAAMSTER” he said with no appreciative irony. His favourite episode was the one where they drive across Botswana “CHASED BY THAT FLAMIN’ VW BUG!”. In fact, UK telly is everywhere here. Other than imports like Top Gear, there is Australian (Celebrity) Masterchef, Australian Idol, Australian Apprentice etc.
Arriving at the Novotel I was mildly perturbed to find I was sharing a room with two other delegates. I was in such a state I immediately decided to pay the extra $200/night to upgrade for a single room.
I met up with Scott and his two new post-docs who have emigrated from the UK to work in his lab. The conference started in the evening, after dinner. Letures after a few glasses of wine is never a sensible arrangement, but with my extreme tiredness it was a total killer. I watched the opening talk from Bob Hancock on Pseudomonas which was excellent but I was falling asleep in my chair so decided to call it a night.
I popped my second melatonin which seemed to work. I woke at 4am and 6am but managed to go back to sleep each time. This was much better than I expected.
I have virtually no recollection of the next day. I know I went to several sessions of talks, and I must have spent some time preparing my presentation. Most of the talks had been delivered in a pretty serious style and I debated with myself how many Ozzie gags I could get away with. Scott, a Kiwi, encouraged me to put my Ricky Ponting teeth-spitting slide in.
On Tuesday my talk went down well. I got plenty of laughs during my 15 minutes talk and loads of positive feedback. This was a high-point, it was downhill from here.