Smoke On The Water: New Year’s Eve 2012 On Sydney Harbour


NYE2012x1629LO

For once, I’ll be relatively succinct. I’ve spent a couple of New Year’s Eves shoulder-to-shoulder with the hordes cramming the shores of Sydney Harbour and vowed never to do it again. In 2012, it was a case of “never say never”.

It must be said there are many better uses for $5 million than sending it high into the air where it explodes noisily in bright colours. But nobody asks me. So each year, NYE dutifully rolls around and more than one million Sydneysiders and visitors stake out their places around the edges of the Harbour at first light and wait through the day for darkness to fall and the bread and circuses to begin.

There are two rounds of fireworks – at 9pm, ostensibly for families, and midnight. Seven fireworks barges are anchored along the harbor with other pyrotechnic units on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and several office buildings at Circular Quay.

Sydney Harbour Bridge and crwods at East Circular Quay
Sydney Harbour Bridge and crowds at East Circular Quay

For the more sensible, the television coverage, beamed around the world, offers a distinctly better vantage point. What it lacks is the sweaty, crowded, intoxicating bonhomie of sharing the moment with countless others, oohing and aahing as the explosions rattle the bones and the night sky is stitched with light. They probably said the same thing about the Western Front.

The A-listers party at the Sydney Opera House, amongst celebrities, politicians and the beautiful and connected. At Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Botanic Gardens, a canapés’ throw away, ordinary folk do exactly the same thing but without the French champagne or, in fact, any alcohol of any kind.

The police had closed off Circular Quay and The Rocks by early afternoon, when it was deemed to have reached capacity, and BYO alcohol was not allowed in although hotels, restaurants and numerous food stalls were operating.

Cheek-to-cheek revellers
Cheek-to-cheek revellers

While Northern Hemisphere celebrations can be distinctly frosty, in Australia – if the weather is right – it’s balmy and still. NYE 2012 was just such a night. It had been a hot sunny day, a showpiece of summer, and by 9pm it was still about 21 degrees Celcius.

I would never have entertained the thought of doing it again except for a friend’s kind invitation to spend it on the 15th floor of her mother’s East Circular Quay apartment, which as can be seen from the accompanying photographs had spectacular views from the CBD and Circular Quay to the Bridge and up the Harbour as far as South Head.

Traversing the police road closures was quick and highly efficient and an official pass allowed a picnic basket crammed with champagne to proceed unmolested. Travel into the city was easy by train; and out again just as painless. It was the perfect demonstration of crowd control, how to disperse countless thousands of people quickly and without drama. Police, check-point security, public transport workers, everybody that could have been pissed off that they had to work such a major public holiday weren’t and those who could be expected to have attitude didn’t. At least as far as I could see, NYE in the Sydney CBD was one big love-in, brimming over with good humour and respect.

Blue-lit AMP Building with crwods along Cahill Expressway
Blue-lit AMP Building with crowds along Cahill Expressway

Sometimes, human nature can be a surprising thing. Consider the magnitude and you have the makings of a very special event.

Enjoy the photos. Oh, and Happy New Year.

Sydney Harbour Bridge get its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge gets its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge get its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge gets its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge get its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge gets its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge In Blue
Sydney Harbour Bridge In Blue
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove

Words and photos © David Latta

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Sometimes A Schnitzel Is More Than Just A Schnitzel: Essen Restaurant And The Schnitzilla Challenge


There are many people who say there’s a time and place for fried food. And there’s the rest of us who exclaim “anytime and anyplace!”. For those in the latter category, a trip to Essen, a restaurant specialising in northern European cuisine, is a must. It’s located on Broadway close to Sydney’s CBD.

My love of this kind of food started in the early 1970s with regular visits to Una’s in Kings Cross. Una’s has always been dependable; great breakfasts and especially great schnitzels including the jaeger schnitzel (with mushroom sauce). When original owner Maggie sold out (and later opened a namesake operation just across from the El Alamein Fountain), the new owners branched out with a couple of satellite Una’s. One was on Broadway, sandwiched between the University of Sydney and UTS. That was seven years ago; a couple of years later, the partnership that took over Una’s split and this branch became Essen.

It’s been as dependable as the original Una’s; great jaeger schnitzel (in a choice of pork, veal or chicken) and superb slow-roasted pork knuckle with bread dumpling and sauerkraut. Essen is also notable for its excellent beers and ciders including a malty dark Dreher Bak beer from Budapest (a brewery better known for its export Pilsner Urquell). Essen on Broadway is especially good for those of us for whom Kings Cross has lost its charm.

The Contenders Await The Challenge

As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that Essen’s schnitzels are comparable to my all-time favourite, the legendary Figlmüller in Vienna, Austria. It’s here that the humble wiener schnitzel has been elevated to an art form. Figlmüller opened on Wollzeile, a short walk from St Stephen’s Cathedral, in 1905. I’d often reflect on the famous (and infamous) personalities who may have found their fried version of heaven within these walls – Freud (who undoubtedly would have suggested that a schnitzel is sometimes just a schnitzel); an unsuccessful painter of watercolours who just missed out on being named Schicklgruber; and Orson Welles, legendary lover of food in prodigious amounts who filmed The Third Man in the streets nearby

Figlmüller’s claim to eternal fame lies in a single piece of pork tenderloin, pounded into wafer-thin submission, crumbed and fried. At around 30cm in diameter, it smothers the plate on which it is served. It was always the first place I’d eat whenever I arrived in Vienna and the memories stay with me today.

When it comes to food, as with so many things, I claim observance to Dirty Harry’s creed that “a man’s just gotta know his limitations” and so it was at a recent media launch for Essen’s Schnitzilla challenge. I was on hand to watch a bunch of overly-ambitious journalists and media types attempt something no-one else had been able to achieve – defeating a man-made mountain of schnitzel.

Disbelief Sets In

The Schnitzilla is Essen’s newest menu item. Inspired by the Man v. Food television program, it encompasses a 3.5kg platter of chicken schnitzel, side dishes such as roesti and cabbage salad, and jaeger sauce. The idea is that if the dish is consumed within 45 minutes, the diner gets a limited-edition “I Got Schnit-Faced At Essen” T-shirt (presumably Size XXXL).

In the first month of the Schnitzilla, 70 diners tried but none reached the goal; the best performance was leaving 1.2kg. They get to take the leftovers home, where they will undoubtedly be recreating their challenge for the next few days.

There were more than enough contenders at the media launch. They took their places, their optimism as bright and eager as little bunny rabbits. But the Schnitzilla was the headlights on the highway. All were flattened by the juggernaut of fried meat. The best performing diner left 1.39kg.

Craig Donarski At Battle Stations

Human nature is such that we always believe we can conquer the impossible, tackling Everest or visiting Ikea on weekends being the most notable examples. So the Schnitzilla will continue to seduce thrill-seekers but it appears unlikely any will ever succeed.

On the other hand, the Schnitzilla –  at $49 – can be seen as outstanding value. It roughly equates to about four or five servings so do your best but don’t overdo it; the leftovers will feed a large family or 27 Russian supermodels.

Essen

133-135 Broadway

Ultimo, NSW, Australia

Tel: 612 9211 3805

The Schnitzel Will Always Win

Words and photos © David Latta

Age Shall Not Weary Her: Suzi Quatro Bathes In Rock’n’Roll’s Fountain Of Youth


In an upmarket suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, former juvenile delinquent and lead singer of hit 50s all-girl rock’n’roll band The Suedes, Leather Tuscadero – younger sister of Pinkie, one of the few of Fonzie’s girlfriends ever to have a name or any semblance of longevity – is not in any mood for growing old gracefully. After her initial rush to stardom was derailed in the early 60s by the British Invasion and spending some time in the musical wilderness, her career was revived with a long-running musical theatre in Branson, Missouri, before being discovered by a new generation of music lovers via MTV Unplugged. One of the first inductees (and the first woman) into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and a series of chart-topping albums produced by Rick Rubin, Leather Tuscadero’s current smash is an album of duets with Tony Bennett.

In a parallel universe, someone who still looks a lot like the Leather Tuscadero of long ago is rocking out on stage at the Enmore Theatre in inner-city Sydney. Suzi Quatro tells the cheering capacity audience that she has just turned 60 and it’s obvious she has quite the same disregard for entering what many others would consider life’s twilight years.

Tight-fitting leather molded to a petite frame and wielding a low-slung bass guitar, Suzi has whipped the crowd into a fervor that recalls a full-throated old-time tent revival meeting. Britain, Europe and Australia provided her greatest successes over the years and there’s an even bigger roar when she mentions this is most likely her 25th tour of the country. Her fans have never had to wait too long to worship at the altar of Suzie Quatro but their enthusiasm make it clear they never tire of her presence.

I must admit that, initially, I wasn’t one of the converted. I was a teenager when she had her first hits – Can The Can, 48 Crash and Daytona Demon in 1973 and Devil Gate Drive in 1974  – and well aware, as anyone of my generation would be, of her music. But it was a friend who talked me into attending the concert, on this early spring evening, with the added lure of meeting her afterwards.

From the moment she burst on stage, it was obvious that this was going to be much more than just another dip in the warm waters of nostalgia. Susan Kay Quatro was born in 1950 in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was a jazz musician who not only openly nurtured the emerging talents of Suzi and her siblings but taught them enduring lessons in professionalism.

She was discovered by legendary UK music identity Mickie Most and relocated to England where she formed a partnership with songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn (responsible amongst so many other things for such touchstones of our generation as The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz, Smokie’s Living Next Door To Alice, Racey’s Some Girls, Toni Basil’s Mickey and Exile’s I Want To Kiss You All Over).

Can The Can, 48 Crash, Daytona Demon, Devil Gate Drive, and, in 1979, Stumblin’ In, were the results of that collaboration. Although American success eluded her (with the exception of Stumblin’ In), Suzi appeared on the hit television show Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero in 1977-79 after producer Garry Marshall noticed a Suzi Quatro poster on his daughter’s wall. She continued her acting roles in such shows as Minder, Absolutely Fabulous and Midsomer Murders.

Fifty million records later, Suzi is in Australia for a 21-date tour that takes in the usual capital cities plus such regional spots as Toowoomba, Deniliquin and Narrabri. In the crowded auditorium, the vast majority of the audience match her age and, in some cases, possibly even exceed it. But, for two hours, they’re catapulted back to their youth, clapping wildly, cheering, waving their hands above their hands like kids at a Countdown taping. The long years, with their successes and failures, the optimism and inevitable appointments, the loves and lost loves, trials and disappointments, have evaporated and their hearts soar into one unified whole.

Backstage, it’s obvious that her two-hour performance has been punishing, yet she’s kind and gracious to a total stranger, taking the time to chat and discuss her career before slipping away for a well-earned rest. Upstairs, the Enmore Theatre is empty. The roadies are dismantling equipment in preparation for the move to the next venue. Her satisfied fans, smiles planted firmly in place, have filtered out into the slightly chilly night. They may not consider what the private Suzi Quatro is like; there are far too many stories of musicians as self-appointed gods and conscienceless monsters. For many of the fans, the music is more than enough.

One newly transformed fan, however, can allay such apprehensions. Like them, Can The Can, 48 Crash and Devil Gate Drive helped to colour the soundtrack of his teenage self with a vibrant permanence that does not fade with time. It’s gratifying to report that Suzi is just as warm and friendly as she appears on stage.

During the concert, she’d reported that her father continued gigging until the age of 89; retirement, she intimates, is far from her mind. As evidence, she played songs from her latest album, In The Spotlight, marking a return to working with Mike Chapman; time will probably judge the song, Spotlight, to be one of her best. She’ll continue touring with the same passion and commitment as long as her fans demand it and, most likely, I’ll be one of them. Her father would be proud and, even for a sweet little rock’n’roller entering her sixth decade, that’s probably pretty important.

Words © David Latta

Photos courtesy of the Glenn A. Baker Archives

Sydney’s Forgotten Glory – The Garden Palace Burns!


NOTE: This is Part II of the Garden Palace article.

When the Sydney International Exhibition closed in April 1880, thoughts turned to how best to utilise such a magnificent building. The newspapers of the period weighed in with a range of fanciful possibilities including turning the basement area, under the towering statue of Queen Victoria, into the world’s largest aquarium.

Public sentiment seemed to lean towards a museum. It was announced, not too long after the Exhibition, that the Garden Palace would house the South Kensington Museum of New South Wales. Whether this was an official arrangement with the London museum founded in 1852 and drawing upon exhibits purchased from the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace (and which was renamed the Victoria & Albert Museum in the 1980s) or merely a nod towards the Mother Country, is not known as the plan never reached fulfillment.

However, another museum did occupy some of the space with the Technological and Sanitary Museum taking up space around the ground floor area of the west nave. In the end, political practicality took over. The machinery of colonial government required enormous space and the vast interior of the Garden Palace was perfect for such uses.

The Mines Department, the Harbours and Rivers Department and the Trial Survey Branch were just a few of the many government departments and instrumentalities that set up supplementary offices, storerooms or archives within the Garden Palace.

The Sydney International Exhibition eventually faded into memory and the Garden Palace became an accepted part of the Sydney skyline. Nobody gave much thought to how long the locals would be able to enjoy such a beautiful building. The answer, regrettably, was not that long.

On the morning of 22 September 1882, night watchman F. Kirchen of the Insurance Brigade made his rounds as usual and found nothing of consequence. He met up with the police patrol that regularly visited the building at 5.30am and then walked to the Domain entrance to greet the day watchman, J. McKnight. They chatted for a few minutes as dawn started to seep across the harbour.

Turning their attention to the Garden Palace, they were horrified to notice smoke curling from under the dome. Kirchen and McKnight rushed to the building. It was already too late. They entered the building and saw, through the choking dark smoke, enormous tongues of flame rushing up from the basement area, engulfing the statue of Queen Victoria, and being propelled with increasing speed along the dry wooden beams and supports towards the massive dome.

They had enough time to reach a telephone and alert the Fire Brigade before they fled the scorching heat. After a moment’s hesitation, there was barely time to rescue a pet dog, trapped and barking in panic.

By the time they’d reached a safe distance, the Garden Palace was a roaring ball of flame. As the Sydney Morning Herald later commented, “To describe the progress of the fire is to analyse the events of a few minutes”.

Fire brigades started to arrive from all parts of the city, as did horrified local residents. They could do nothing but watch in stunned disbelief. A few minutes after 6am, the windows of houses fronting Macquarie Street started to crack.

Strong winds fanned the fire which burst in a multitude of colours – dark ruby, green, yellow and blue, tinged by the chemicals and paint treating the wood and the contents of the building –  higher skyward. When the dome collapsed, the rush of expelled supercharged heat sent ash, debris and burning cinders as far afield as Darling Point. The roof of a house in Potts Point was set alight while furnace-twisted sheets of corrugated iron rained down on the grounds of Elizabeth Bay House.

The Illustrated Sydney News reported: “A dull roaring sound, and a crackling like the discharge of fire-arms. An immense flame leapt into the sky, volumes of black smoke rolled up, and with a crash like a peal of thunder the mighty dome fell in”.

By 9am, the spectacle was over. The Garden Palace, which for three years, was the first sight of the city skyline seen by ships entering Sydney Heads, was no more. All that remained were a few tottering fragments of the entrance towers, the charred brick foundations and a smouldering pile of rubble that took days to extinguish.

Just about everything within the building was destroyed including hundreds of paintings gathered for the Art Society of New South Wales’ annual exhibition, all documents relating to the 1881 census as well as other important census records going back decades, and land and water calculations that required vast sections of the colony to be re-surveyed.

Attempts to find a cause of the fire proved fruitless. One suggestion was that thieves set the fire while attempting to break into a Mines Department safe. Another was that one of the Macquarie Street landowners had been desperate enough to regain his harbour views that he had resorted to arson.

The sad truth is that fires were a regular occurrence in Victorian times and the haste with which the Garden Palace was constructed, with the Government taking control of the Exhibition’s organisation just eight months before the projected opening, necessitating the use of wood rather than brick and stone, played its part.

It was just one of those things and it robbed Sydney of the most beautiful building that had ever graced its shores.

Today, there’s very little to remind visitors that it ever existed. The Garden Palace Gates, erected in 1889 opposite the State Library (what is now the Mitchell Library), were later relocated to their present site fronting Macquarie Street. The Pioneers’ Memorial Garden was built in 1938 on the spot where Queen Victoria’s statue stood. A small brass plaque commemorates the Garden Palace.

One lasting tribute, although even that is generally known only by trivia buffs, is that the Technological and Sanitary Museum survived the fire despite losing all its exhibits, found safer lodgings and was later renamed the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Later still, it became the Powerhouse Museum and can now be found in Ultimo adjoining Darling Harbour.

Words © David Latta

Photos © State Records NSW

 

Sydney’s Forgotten Glory – The Garden Palace


NOTE: This is Part I of the Garden Palace article.

The Garden Palace, the most magnificent building Sydney has ever seen, is virtually unknown these days, the province of history buffs and architecture junkies. It doesn’t help that it existed for just three years; in September 2012, it will be the 130th anniversary of its spectacular destruction.

There are a few reminders of its existence if the curious have the time to search the Royal Botanic Gardens but none befits its outstanding splendour and the way it dominated the skyline of the colonial city.

It was a grand Victorian-era confection, an ambitious vision that was hampered by haste, and it was this rush to complete it in time to house the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 that led directly to its untimely demise. Yet, when it opened in September 1879, it excited the awe of the people of New South Wales and the envy of the other colonies. It was a big, bold statement of self-importance especially befitting the colony’s hopes and dreams.

Ever since the Great Exhibition of 1851, held at London’s glittery Crystal Palace, there was a race to mount ever bigger, ever better testaments to technological achievement. New South Wales had sent contributions to the Great Exhibition as well as to subsequent events in 1862 and 1873; to Paris in 1855, 1867 and 1878; and to the biggest of them all, the 1876 Great International Exhibition of America in Philadelphia, that brought together 60,000 exhibitors from 37 countries. All were forerunners of the World’s Fairs and Expos of the 20th century.

The Agricultural Society of New South Wales, founded in 1822, had mounted the much more modest Intercolonial Exhibition in 1870, the centenary of the discovery of Australia, at exhibition buildings located within Prince Alfred Park. As the years wore on, there was agreement that the time was right for New South Wales, as the oldest of the Australian colonies, to make a declaration of its industrial maturity and to be the first in the Southern Hemisphere to do so.

The Society decided on a date in September 1879 to hold a Sydney International Exhibition. Invitations to attend and exhibit were sent out to governments around the world. The response was almost immediate and plans were hastily arranged to extend the exhibition halls of Prince Alfred Park.

The torrent of interest, however, became a deluge that turned into a flood of Noah-like proportions. By late 1878, the Society realised that the Sydney International Exhibition was destined to be bigger than anybody could have imagined. They, and the environs of the Park, just weren’t up to the challenge.

An approach was made to the New South Wales Government to take over the event. Sensing the humiliation to the colony should the Exhibition be cancelled, Henry Parkes, then Colonial Secretary, agreed. In December 1878, nine months before the scheduled opening, it became official.

The rush was on. James Barnet, who had held the post of Colonial Architect since 1865 and whose greatest works would include the Sydney GPO and the Customs House as well as public buildings throughout New South Wales, turned to designing a building big enough and grand enough for the Exhibition. A suitable location would also have to be found.

Formal instructions authorising Barnet were issued on Tuesday 17 December. On the Friday, he submitted a design, which he estimated would cost £50,000 (the eventual cost would blow out to just under £200,000). A prime spot running alongside Macquarie Street and adjoining the Botanic Gardens and the Doman was earmarked. On a high ridge, it was intended that the exhibition building would dominate the city’s skyline and be seen for miles in any direction.

The first controversy of the Garden Palace’s existence erupted even before the first stone had been laid. That the building was going to be big was beyond question; to hold the anticipated exhibitors, floor space was to equal 8.5 acres (3.4 hecatres) and the entire exhibition grounds would spread across 35 acres (14 hectares).

Barnet’s building was, befitting a temple of technological achievement, shaped very much like a church. It had a nave 800 feet (244 metres) long with intersecting transepts 500 feet (152 metres) in length with concluding four storey-high entrance towers. It would be topped by a giant dome 100 feet (30 metres) in diameter (only slightly smaller than St Paul’s Cathedral in London), topped by a lantern for the flow of natural light and an ornamental finial. From the ground to the tip of the finial, the Garden Palace would reach a height of 210 feet (64 metres).

There was a public outcry, fuelled by the newspapers of the period, about such an enormous building dominating a public area. Not the least concerned were the wealthy homeowners along Macquarie Street who were outraged that their expansive harbour views would be endangered.

The site of the Garden Palace was marked out on 2 January 1879, two days before Barnet’s plans were formally approved. By 13 January, construction commenced. By May, more than 3,000 workers were feverishly attempting to meet the looming deadline. The use of carbon-arc floodlights, marking the first use of electric light in the colony, allowed night shifts to accelerate progress.

The factors that hastened the demise of the Garden Palace were beginning to become apparent even at this early stage. With such a pressing deadline, there was no time to use more permanent (and fire-retardant) materials; aside from the brick used in the foundations and the entrance towers, the majority of this vastly enormous building was wood and corrugated iron.

(In comparison, the World Heritage-listed Melbourne Exhibition Building – constructed for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 – was composed primarily of brick and bluestone.)

Thus, the Garden Palace, that most magnificent of constructions in the harbourside city, became impermanence exemplified.

Luckily, everything ran to plan. On Wednesday 17 September 1879, the Sydney International Exhibition had its official opening with some 20,000 people attending. The stormy weather of previous days cleared to bright sunshine; a public holiday had been declared and all shops and businesses were closed.

In total, there were 2,160 foreign exhibitors as well as representation from all Australian colonies. Some 14,000 exhibits crowded the Garden Palace alone; visitors were particularly fascinated by new-fangled inventions. The first elevator ever seen in Australia, with a luxurious interior of paneled ash, carpets and seats, was an instant hit. Another marvel was a machine operated by a 13-year-old girl which washed filthy clothes borrowed from the engineers’ shed to a sparkling white.

The Exhibition was a roaring success. By the time it officially closed, on 20 April 1880, more than one million people had passed through the gates (in a country with a population barely exceeding 2.2 million).

New South Wales had done itself proud. As one newspaper commented, the Sydney International Exhibition had “exalted the colony is the estimation of all civilized countries”.

Once the final visitor had left, the brightly coloured ribbon and bunting removed and the last exhibit crated up and shipped away, there remained another problem. Just what to do with the Garden Palace?

But that, along with the tragic story of the Garden Palace’s final hours, will have to wait for another day.

Words © David Latta

Photos © State Records NSW

Getting There Is Half The Fun



Actually, it’s not. Especially when “getting there” translates into flying.

I hate flying. Not that I’m a nervous flyer, although I prefer being at the back of the bus rather than the front (on the understanding that planes rarely back into mountains). Rather, I hate the artificial atmosphere of the entire experience. I hate airline food. Even the smell of it wafting from the galley makes me want to heave. I hate sitting up for 12 hours and simmering slowly in my clothes. I rarely sleep on planes, even if I’m flying in Business Class. And I hate having to battle the boredom by watching movies that have been edited so they won’t offend six year olds and Midwestern grandmothers and shrunk to six-inch screens.

I’ve had some horror flights. In the 1990s, I would attend an annual tradeshow in Chicago. One year, owing to the deadline of a magazine I was editing, I had to fly Sydney – LA – Denver – Chicago in one hell-bound session. It was late at night when I arrived at O’Hare International Airport. I was already in a foul mood and even more so when I discovered my luggage had been lost. After two hours of fruitless form filling and arguments with people who didn’t give a toss, I caught a taxi to my hotel to find there was no record of my booking. I was close to ripping the throat from the hapless clerk. Happily, there suddenly appeared two colleagues, also in town for the tradeshow, who had decided over a prolonged happy hour that they would be sharing a room and didn’t need the spare. And my bag turned up the next day.

Another nightmare trip was Sydney – Bangkok – London – Helsinki. In London, I bought a new pair of socks and had a shower but, by the time, I reached Finland, after more than 30 hours since I left home, I was too dazed and disorientated to build a bonfire for my clothes.

So it’s important to find ways of surviving long flights. When it comes to new technology, I’m not exactly an early adopter. So when, at Sydney Airport before one trip, it was suggested by a good friend that I buy an iPod, I was initially reluctant, a strange reaction considering I have such a prodigious music collection. Luckily, the friend, thrice-crowned Rock Brain Of The Universe by the BBC and whose own music collection takes up a two-storey barn on his property outside Sydney, persevered.

So we raided the duty free shop for a 160Gb iPod Classic. I doubt if I’ve ever loved a piece of technology as much as this. I take it on every trip along with external speakers so I can  play music in my hotel room. I’ve graduated from earbuds to over-the-ear noise-cancelling headphones that pretty much drowns out the background roar of jet engines. And it makes that time away from home a lot more survivable.

Of course, the problem comes with what to put on it. I pretty much cover every eventuality, every possible type of music I could imagine the need for. Rock, pop, 60s rhythm and blues, 40s swing and 90s neo-swing, 70s disco, jazz, blues, crooners, doo wop, French singers such as France Gall, Sylvie Vartan and Serge Gainsbourg, glitter rock, lounge and Northern soul, swamp rock and surf, soundtracks, Broadway musicals and British Invasion.

At just over 25,000 songs, there’s something for every mood. Ever the completist, I tend to go overboard when it comes to inclusions. There are 300 Beatles songs and I don’t even like the Beatles (notice how the world is divided into those who favour the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?). Bruce Springsteen gets more than 400 songs while I once had almost 500 KISS songs on the iPod until I realized they were all pretty much the same. So I replaced them with more than 600 David Bowie songs.

So while I won’t ever say that getting anywhere is half the fun, it’s a lot more enjoyable than it used to be and I travel in a better frame of mind. Which means that,  amidst screaming toddlers and seat back kickers and luggage mishaps and missed connections, horror flights are a lot easier to cope with.

Words and photos © David Latta