It begins, as all good stories do, with two tall blonde Swedish girls. Dragon tattoos, lip rings, hair like plundered Viking gold framing eyes that promise pillage and plunder.
Now as a general rule I don’t drink the night before a flight, to be honest I don’t really drink at all, especially not in a country where the alcohol is half the strength twice the price and watery.
But it’s my last night in Melbourne and this Ronja girl is singing the Pokemon theme to me in Swedish so I relent. The flight is at nine in the evening anyway, what’s to lose?
However… The plot thickens. I possess no jeans due to a slightly longer and less interesting story. But not to worry, another Swede (Karl the kind) lends me his quite restrictive by still boogalooable Swedish slim fitters.
I don’t remember anything else because true to form I go far too hard, far too early when I drink and I always have and I always will so I don’t drink often and that be the reason.
As expected I wake up stinking drunk and find I’ve already been sick everywhere and somebody else has had the delight of changing my clothes for me and putting me to bed. Ronja’s murderous ice cold Viking eyes lead me to believe that I probably didn’t make it easy.
I’m still drunk at this point and when Karl tells me it’s nearly four in the afternoon I can only laugh and then be a little sick in my mouth. But it’s all fine my flight’s at nine. Thankfully at this point my mind had some vestige of liquor drowned intelligence and questioned itself. Am I who I purport to be? Did I say something offensive about the queen of Sweden last night? Do I really have a flight? And the KEY QUESTION…. Is it really at nine?
It wasn’t at nine. It was at half six.
Two and a half hours til departure, I should arrive at an international flight two to three hours early. My bag isn’t packed. I’m being sick. It’s a half hour on the tram and a half hour on the bus to Tullamarine airport and then at least an hour of running around the airport. Getting up from the bed makes me throw up; sitting back down makes my head spin. The prospect of standing for half an hour on the tram with no space to breathe makes me run to the bin again.
The old Korean man who cleans the hostel has been listening at the door, he says I’m definitely going to miss it, and then thanks me for not being sick on the floor.
I remember that I knocked a small boy over with my backpack on the tram and that I apologised for far too long. I remember that I told a sad looking business man sitting next to me on the bus I was quite drunk… He told me to stand near the front, I remember I wasn’t sick on the bus… But the Virgin Australia lady did tell me to “sober up sir” otherwise I wouldn’t get on.
And I did sober up; in a toilet stall, in the departure lounge with 20 minutes to go before flight departure, on my knees.
I have a sudden epiphany… I’ve left my card in Karl’s tight, grey, vomit flecked Swedish jean pockets.
Now at the time this wasn’t all that startling. I have food, a tent, cold weather and waterproof gear, knives, torches and many and varied means to make fire. The south shores of New Zealand are rich in Abalone, the rich, fleshy mussel like creature that only free diving can reveal and the mossy tree roots hide some nice mushrooms to boot. There was also the Salvation Army (HUGE in Australasia and I’ve been making my donations). Also, it’s just a card. I have the money, I just need a new card sent to me. It would be more than easy to get by on collateral til the card arrived. There were plenty of options and they sated my damaged brain while I cruised over the ocean stinking of sweat and vomit.
I had plenty of options.
But I didn’t count on question nine. “Do you have proof of the means to support yourself whilst here in New Zealand?”
So at one in the morning, after quarantine, customs and the inevitable full bag search and x-ray that comes with travelling alone and smelling of sick, the man at Christchurch borders asked me that very question; and I just said no.
I could very well have blagged it and lied, I know airport security are pretty tight on body language and facial cues and whatnot but…
I thought he’d just wish me luck on the card being sent swiftly.
He didn’t. He really didn’t.
I had no proof of funds, nor could I prove it that night. Legally they had to deport me.
I was referred to the nicest immigration officer who kindly informed me (very kindly actually, a really really nice guy. I told him it must be fun catching people who come NZ to sell drugs or beg or steal and he told me that “crushing the dreams of desperate people is never fun”, he was kind)… He informed me I was refused entry into New Zealand as if t’were a club too exclusive for my hiking boots and jogging bottoms. I would most likely be deported, back to Australia, where for lack of proof of funds the same thing could very well happen again, sending me back to England with a hefty bill to pay and probably a confirmed cavity inspection to accompany any future flights I would ever take.
I was then allowed a phone call to my dear Mother and Father to inform them of the latest idiocy among many of their foolish idiot son. Thankfully neither mother, father nor home phone picked up. At 3 in the afternoon? On a Sunday? You guys be having a ball now I’m gone, partying on the sabbath.
In any case I was ushered to airport police, placed in a cell, stripped of my laces, abstracted from all my earthly goods and taken to jail. At this point it was highly likely the short ride to sing sing would be my whole experience of the land of the long white cloud and so I made the most of Christchurch at four in the morning from the back of a police car. Nose pressed to the window. Asking the officers inane questions about population demographics and the proposed new flag.
I was passed on to police police at the new headquarters in Christchurch and they gave me the long wait in the holding cell they usually reserve for drunk drivers in road safety adverts. Unclimbable walls in a pacifying, über neutral shade of fern green. Lots of beige. Thick Perspex windows with street names scratched in and doors that close themselves.
This was my first and my last and only night in the cells, I don’t know if youre only experience of “a bit of bird” comes from HBO or if you’ve been in and out of her Majesties pleasure all your life (that’s you mum). But I’ll try and describe it.
Prison for a night and a day
It was a modern affair. The old station having been destroyed in the quake.
The room was circular, about the size of a P.E. hall. The few officers on the night shift sat in the middle, tapping at laptops or watching iron man. All around the outside of the walls were the cell doors, surrounding the officers. These comprised of small square rooms, also in beige. About two metres square with a 4 metre high roof. That I wasn’t allowed my lace-less shoes I presume is something to do with the kicking, all night there was the noise of someone trying to smash down their door and my cell was covered in bootmarks, even one on the ceiling which must’ve taken ages and some real contortion.
In the room there is a steel toilet/sink and a little shelf with a… Like a kids plastic playmat… The colourful ones you find at big sky or let’s play; that’s your mattress. The pillow is plastic and sticky. The floor and walls are also sticky. All the fittings are flush so you can’t climb to the light and the blinds behind the Perspex window won’t let you look out but allow a passing officer to shine their torch down on your face every two hours. The cathode tubes of light screwed into the ceiling are blue, my normally ever present maze of lightning bolt veins are invisible.
It’s a strange feeling, having your liberty removed. I still had basic freedoms of speech and thought but freedom of action and the freedom to leave… Losing those isn’t great. You do only know what it is until it’s gone… Liberty. The ability to leave a room or a job or a country is something I’ve never respected until I had a door closed on me and somebody shine a torch on me while I was trying to piss. I’ve grounded for maybe 2 years of my life, all my fault. But having a door locked from the outside is different.
But I had a warm room to myself, breakfast was yoghurt and cornflakes and the officers were friendlier than I expected. The mattress was a far sight thicker than the rollmat I lie on now and it was cleaner than any hostel I’ve ever slept in.
The constant swearing, singing and general screaming from the other chaps all night and morning wasn’t all that soothing… But I was exhausted, especially after the obligatory cell push-ups and sit-ups, I slept regardless.
When the door opened to reveal two new immigration officers I genuinely thought I’d be at Heathrow by noon the next day.
But it’s now noon the next day… And I’m sat in my tent in the garden of a hostel in Christchurch.
Because my fantastic father sorted it all out, Western Union transfer from my account to the travelex at the airport, as simple as. Deportation avoided. New Zealand resumed. Free noodles and vegetable chips all round.
All in all immigration were only concerned with my safety. I didn’t have any food as quarantine had binned it, I had nowhere to set up my tent as the airport was in an industrial park as is the fashion.
I would of been in the shit real deep and as things stand I’ll be searched, questioned and stared at every time I go through customs for evermore, but a night in prison being shouted at by kiwi gangsters was the best thing that could’ve happened. I just can’t stand missing a flight. A stupid affair.