- 01. Fiji…Again?
- 02. Fun & Games
- 03. Growing Indigenation
- 04. Coup de Grâce?
- 05. Friends Go Away
- 06. Mercy by Coup, Merci Beaucoup
- 07. It’s Nice to be Needed
- 08. Walk Like A Man
- 09. Extreme Retirement
- 10. Get a Grip
- 11. Dangerous Cargo
- 12. Drinking in the Holiday Season
- 13. Fit for Purpose
- 14. Emotion Sickness
- 15. New Fiji’s Eve
- 16. One Helluva Christmas
- 17. Enough is Enough
Christmas is a wonderful time of year to be a kid. I have few happier childhood memories than Christmas morning. Toys, candy, noise, laughter, food, surprises and a three-hour period when my older siblings were well enough distracted to not beat me up. Heaven.
Even the obligation of an afternoon visit to Snarky Grandma was not enough to take the shine off the day. Snarky Grandma incessantly commented on everybody else’s shortcomings, and she didn’t miss a thing. She would give a full accounting of each of us, citing the numerous debits and paltry credits in her ledger of righteousness. Her subtle yet incendiary verbal devices were a marvel to behold; genius, of a sort. Worst, she always gave us clothes for Christmas.
As compensation, the evening would include a visit with chain-smoking Salty Grandma who stretched credulity with lurid tales that would make the Brothers Grimm shudder. She spent much of her life on her boats, lending credibility to her sailor-like demeanour. From shooting skeet with Clark Gable, to piloting the largest oil tankers in the world, to proofreading an entire edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, she had done it all. Best, she knew exactly what kids of all ages want for Christmas: cash.
Christmas isn’t a bad time of year to be a grown-up, either. It is a time when it is permissible to embrace the absurdity of human existence (that means “drink”), and pay attention to those you love, instead of those who pay you. Subsequent forgiveness is often required, and usually will be found available, in due course.
From my vantage point, if you have the misfortune of being a grown-up with kids, Christmas seems more of a challenge. A parent’s love being most profound, many parents will focus on making sure their children have few happier childhood memories than Christmas. While that may be as it should be, I, too, demand a high level of attention, so it is difficult for me to spend time with other adults paying sole attention to their kids. It brings out the Snarky Grandma in me.
Thus it was on Christmas Day, 2012 that Frank Lee and I found ourselves happily celebrating at the modestly spectacular home of Clara McGill and Aydell Thyme, back on a short break from Clara’s volunteer work in Fiji. Clara and Aydell had brought us into their Christmas family a few years earlier. They hosted Christmas Day festivities that were fun for adults, despite (or possibly because of) the attendance of a toddler.
Or two. This year, the toddler had a younger brother. The elder child was now up and about, with both parents still amazingly well-behaved. We flew miniature helicopters, blew bubbles and drank much wine. Good fun.
The 2013 that followed was an eventful year. Clara got fired from her volunteer position, a remarkable accomplishment, really. The organisation she had been helping decided they wanted Fijians to do the work for themselves. While it is difficult to argue with that intent, a lot of good work went down the gurgler as a result, and it seemed that Clara was not treated very well. Not surprisingly, another Fijian women’s welfare group immediately snapped her up, offering her a position, which she was enjoying thoroughly. And the other big event of the year was that Clara and Aydell became grandparents, something that would prove to be an ongoing source of amusement for all involved.
Or three. On Christmas Day, 2013 Clara and Aydell were back once again for a short break from Clara’s volunteer work in Fiji. Now the guests included three well-behaved toddlers, four well-behaved parents, three well-behaved grandparents, and one well-behaved Frank. And me. It was more child-focused behavement than I could handle. Walking home, I told Frank “I think my limit is two kids at Christmas.”
A couple weeks later Clara announced that her new gig in Fiji had been extended another full year. Before I knew what had happened, Frank had bought tickets to join them there for Christmas, 2014. Seven hundred ninety-one days after having stepped off the plane from Fiji vowing never to return, I was at Melbourne International Airport checking my stunt kite at the oversized baggage desk for the flight to Nadi.
“That’s not oversized…” the man at the counter protested.
“Do you really think it was my idea to check this as oversized?” I retorted, flummoxed. “I was going to carry it on board, but they said it was dangerous cargo and had to be checked. A kite!”
He shook his head. “Really? Well, I can’t promise it will get there undamaged.”
“Look, it cost seven bucks at Aldi. It’s either check it, or leave it out in the lobby – and that might cause them to evacuate the airport while they detonate it.”
He nodded, shrugged, slapped a NAN airport sticker on it with two “FRAGILE!” tags, and fed it to the x-ray machine. I wondered why the tag makers had considered fragility such an exciting issue. I never expected to see my kite again.
At immigration control we met up with Shirley and Lucy, mutual friends who were also flying to Fiji to spend Christmas with Clara and Aydell. Because their tickets bore an Air Fiji flight number and ours a Qantas flight number, they thought we were on different flights. Frank tried to explain the miracle of codeshare, and failing that I tried to explain the commercial folly, not to mention physical impossibility, of two large aircraft departing Melbourne for Fiji at exactly at 10:50 pm.
Unconvinced, I thought, they headed to find an airport dinner source that was not utterly repulsive. That is always a difficult if not impossible task, but it is a reliable way to kill the tedious hours between mandatory check-in time and actual departure. We opted for the Qantas Club, as usual, where the free-flowing wine of good quality made the only moderately repulsive food palatable.
The Qantas Club advises it members to board flights at the last possible moment, allowing maximum time for pre-boarding ensnockerment. Thus Shirley and Lucy had already seated themselves when we passed down the aisle. Upon seeing us Shirley jokingly expressed alarm that we had boarded the wrong flight. “If you don’t tell ’em, I won’t!”
The six of us had planned to spend our first three nights together at a resort on the north coast of Viti Levu (aka “Big Fiji”). Clara and Aydell, who had scouted out the place, would meet us there. The Wananavu Beach Resort had sent a car – a Range Rover, to be exact – and driver to collect the other four of us from the airport in Nadi. Astonishingly, the overnight flight arrived on time just before 6 am, and our luggage, including an undamaged kite and a case of wine, was waiting for us, as was our driver. Given that the words “Fijian” and “timely” are, for all practical purposes, antonyms, I was as surprised as pleased.
The three-hour drive, on the Kings Road along the north coast, was certainly preferable to the five-hour bus ride to or from Suva on the south coast’s Queens Road. Although we were a bit cramped, it passed uneventfully and pleasantly. It was uneventful because we didn’t stop to help the people in the Jeep Cherokee which somehow managed to land on its roof in the roadside gully, wheels still spinning towards the sky as we passed. I presume our dashing and efficient driver, Sam, was confident that the dozen locals who were already on the scene would handle it.
Dashing Sam also made the trip pleasant by dashing down the middle of the road at high speed, deftly evading oncoming traffic as it challenged. Given the frequency of overturned-car-in-the-gully events, I was not about to question his determination to hold the high ground. In any case, we arrived alive, happy to have had the chance to review our lives as they flashed by.
We reunited with Aydell and Clara over breakfast, which the resort generously threw in for free since the rooms weren’t quite ready. My first impressions were positive, it appeared we had landed at a resort superior to Crusoe’s Retreat we had visited some 15 years earlier.
After breakfast, the rooms became available, so we made our way down to our comfortable beachfront bure. With only a couple hours sleep under our belt from the flight, we lay down for “just a moment”, falling fast asleep.
And then it started to rain. Hard.
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