Sunday, October 22, 2006

The regrets of a crusty ol' sea dog

In Thailand recently, while sitting up in a swanky beach-side restaurant eating succulent seafood and sipping my chilled sauvignon blanc, I got to musing about all these funky young things a little further down the beach, who were disturbing my exclusive ambiance with all their smoking drugs, drinking beers, dancing, fire-juggling and more or less having a great time, all in a rather provocative state of undress.

Reflecting on my own experiences at that age, I was at first at a loss as to why I never came to Thailand and got into this sort of nocturnal beach-side work, and then, with a great, rosy-red tide of embarrassment washing over me like a gigantic, cosmopolitan tsunami, I began to recollect and reflect on one of my life’s greatest regrets.

It’s pretty common in Australia for young people, at the end of their final year of secondary school, to go to some up-market beach-side town for “Schoolies Week”; a great celebration of the end of their life of enforced confinement, and the beginnings of a summer, and indeed a new future of fun and abandon. Unfortunately, what it turns out to be for these youngsters, many of whom have had little real exposure to alcohol, drugs or sex (although Mrs Donkey assures me that the latter only really applied to me at that age!) is a substance-fuelled, emotionally destructive week spent, at best, hung-over, or at worst, in medical clinics with alcoholic poisoning and/or seeking the morning-after-pill; a week in which lifelong friendships are broken and trusts betrayed, and a week in which some of the seedier elements of those beach-side towns come out to prey on these easy pickings.

It may come as no surprise to regular readers that Donkey and his friends never experienced this initiation into the “who’s who” of Melbourne’s post-private school social set known as “Schoolies Week”. Instead, my friends and I went to Rosebud! For those of you unfamiliar with Rosebud, I don’t really think it necessary to describe this bay-side retirement village in too much detail, other than to ask you, if given the opportunity, which would you choose;
a) all night parties on the beach, drugs everywhere, free-flowing alcohol, randy young things just wanting a bit of fun, sun, sand and surf … or
b) Rosebud, with your mates?
Yep, the story of my life … while everyone else clamoured all over themselves to sign up for Option a), Donkey chose the far more sensible option with the much, much, much shorter queue, and signed up for Option b), with the result that he spent the first week of the rest of his life of careless abandon with three other socially inept boys in Rosebud; a town that can not even boast a pub!

Immediately upon our return from Rosebud, and on hearing of the exploits of everyone else at Schoolies, my good friend Banno and I, still both with virginity firmly intact, were feeling a bit ripped-off about our lot, and after some high-level summit talks, with inputs from an invited guest speaker, my sister, we hatched a plan to right this grievous wrong.

My sister, who is a bit older than us, had just returned from a cruise on the P&O liner, the Fairstar. With her neck covered in hickeys, some of which had become infected, and were weeping slightly, she explained that the Fairstar, “The Fun Ship”, was like a Schoolies Week for everyone else; a place where the alcohol is free, where young people party all night long and where you can just do whatever you want, whenever you want. Reading between the lines, randy young Donkey and friend, having a pretty good idea what we thought “whatever you want, whenever you want” meant, hung on every word she said, and a plan was devised to spend the next twelve months saving enough money to book the cheapest cabin on the lowest deck, and to taste the delights of the high seas, P&O-style.

The beautiful P&O Fairstar, sadly no longer with us. Pic: Google images.

Unfortunately, being young males who’d only recently been let off the leash into adulthood, we didn’t manage to save much money that year, and to my eternal embarrassment and shame, Banno and I never did make it onto the Fairstar. Mrs Donkey often gets stuck into me nowadays when I lament this, as there has been a bit of a shift in recent years amongst allegedly higher-brow Australians regarding their view of the types of people who board ships like the Fairstar, affectionately referred to as “The Fuck Ship”, in an uproariously hilarious parody of the P&O slogan.

It appears that both the old and not-so-old like to get on their moral high-horses and criticise the kind of behaviour that goes on aboard these cruise ships, proclaiming them degenerative and morally degrading. These modern-day puritans from all cross-sections of suburban Australia love to editorialise at length, criticising cruise-goers as belonging to only the basest elements of society. I wonder if Banno and I knew about this reputation when we’d planned to go … probably!

Anyway, this backlash against cruise liners, which for some reason does not extend to Schoolies Week (to me the only difference is that one is land-based) seems to me to be rather odd, given that it often comes from older generations, many of whom arrived in Australia aboard cruise liners in the 50s and 60s, at the height of Australia’s immigration boom.

I know you think Donkey’s barking up the wrong tree here, ‘cause we’ve all seen the photos of poor European immigrants coming off the boats and being hurtled into immigration camps in cities all around Australia; the images of hunched old women in head scarves with two or three children in tow. But I’m not convinced that this was always the true story.

Many of Donkey’s school chums were sons of Italian and Greek immigrants, and I can remember one of my friends observing one day, as his father sat around the house in a pair of tight blue shorts, and a dirty-old white singlet, that Australia hadn’t been kind to his father’s fashion sense. As if to explain, he showed me a photo of his father taken just as he was boarding the cruise ship which would take him to a new life in the antipodes. His father was a very handsome young man in his early twenties, dressed in a sharp, pin-striped suit, with an attractive glint in his eye and an alluring hint of a twelve o’clock shadow along his chiselled jaw. Fifty years later, if this hunky, young Italian-stallion had set foot on the Fairstar, he would have been ravished by a bunch of teenage Australian beauties in minutes … but of course, this was the fifties, and things like that just didn’t happen back then … or did they?

If you ask where and when Michael’s parents had met, both will proudly tell you, with a hint of a cheeky grin, that they met on the first day of the journey to Australia, that they danced together every evening during the six week voyage, and that they were married within six months of arriving in Australia.

Isolated incident? Not so. In a previous career, Donkey’s House of Feet serviced many, many elderly immigrant couples whose lives together began on their journeys to a new world, and it always took very little prompting to get them to reminisce fondly of the fashionable clothes, the balls every evening, the days in the sun and the exotic ports which they explored and experienced together. Somehow, this flirtatious existence, which must have been considered pretty risqué for these young people, coming as they did from conservative 50s Europe, has been romanticised over the decades, and is now almost exclusively viewed as having been acceptable behaviour for the time.

How does all this differ, therefore, from the poor old Fairstar? Should a regretful ol’ Donkey be criticised by the love-of-his-life, just because he once aspired to a greater level of social development (even if he didn’t actually ever follow-through with the plan)? I think not! True, had Donkey and Banno boarded that ship all those years ago, there’s every chance that things may have turned out very differently, but such a course of action could/should never be considered to be somehow morally reprehensible. Today’s evils become mind-numbingly passé by tomorrow – that’s the way of the world.

I’m onto the next bottle of sauv blanc now, and the kiddies at the end of the beach are starting to stagger all over the sand. There are a lot of bikinis and shorts littering the sand and lots of splashing and laughing out there in the dark. I muse that tomorrow morning, just like every day here on Thailand’s beaches, these youngsters will be sick, sore and perhaps even a little sorry for themselves … just as Donkey has been so many times before, on different beaches, in different countries, with different people. I have no need for regrets … we’ve all been on our Fairstars; we’ve all met our friends and lovers in different ways, and as far as I’m concerned, the moralists can scream from atop their soap boxes until they’re hoarse. Being young is all about exploration, of self and of others. Whether it’s the beaches of Thailand, the hash dens of Varanasi, the church youth group or a P&O cruise, everyone has to push the moral and behavioural boundaries of their world in order both to find their life partners, and to be ready to receive them.

Perhaps the Fairstar might have been fun, but a different road has brought Donkey to the life he shares with Mrs Donkey, and despite the alleged witticisms above, he has no regrets about that.

If only we'd been more organised, this could have been Banno and Donkey! A couple of hip cats aboard the Fairstar, circa 1984 (I hope). Pic: Google images.


Anonymous said...

God love you, you crazy man, this made me laugh.

I had a great Schoolies week by combining your type with the drunken type.

It was awesome.

J said...

Well,... should have, could have, would have, I suppose...

Hmmm,... I think if you try to revisit the whole cruise ship thing now, maybe Mrs Donkey will have a thing or two to say?

(Sipping on Sauvignon Blanc while perving at funky young things isn't so bad. is it?)

DonkeyBlog said...

J, no, sipping wine while perving is not such a bad thing, however...

LUCY, it might put me in the category of the dodgy types which often lurk on the fringes of Schoolies Week!

The secret is, and this is the shocking part ... Mrs Donkey went on the Fairstar, not once, but TWICE!!! So why all the grief?

J said...

This story is getting more and more exciting by the minute!

Any more juicy details to add in (while I go get the popcorn)?

Mrs Donkey said...

Just hang on a minute! No need to exaggerate Donkey - Yes I admit I did go on the Fairstar, but it was ONCE, and I was ELEVEN. Most alluring things on that ship then (and I admit it probably would be now, too) were the $1 pizzas.....mmm pizzas...for a dollar!

DonkeyBlog said...

Oops, my mistake ... and yeah, I probably conveniently ignored your age in my report (tee hee). So there you have it, people, my wife was "rough", even when she was 11!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on keeping your virginity..ermmm...intact(?)

Anyway you guys are a lot luckier than us, you know. We don't have summer holidays and all but even during school holidays, we were either forced to just stay at home and watch TV the whole day or read books (read : get out of my mum's way!!!) or go to the beach but only with family. Holidaying with friends...especially of the opposite sex...was strictly not allowed.

Thankfully the bug up my mum's arse (I apologize for putting that picture in your head) has finally dies cos it suddenly dawned on her that i'm over 25!!!