A while ago I took one of the girls to Sydney and we ended up at Darling Harbour, ducking a frenzy of Japanese tourists taking photographs. It immediately struck me how seriously they took their tourism. Constipated little family groups were arranged with origami-like precision. If they were enjoying themselves, it was a secret.
There’s nothing remotely secret about Aussies on holiday. Thirty-odd years ago, being far too gutless and unmotivated to do the solo backpacking thang, I booked myself on a coach trip around Europe. It was basically me, and a couple of dozen retired couples in either beige safari suits or lavender twinsets with matching hair, who allegedly drove BMWs and had put their children through private schools. It begged the question – what were they doing on an economy tour with moi, and why was their behaviour akin to that of petty criminals on day release from a minimum security detention facility? For these people were absolutely without shame.
Throughout Europe, lavish smorgasbord breakfasts were part of the deal. We’d come down each morning to a vast array of food which boggled the senses. More varieties of bread, fruit and cold cuts than you could imagine in your wildest breakfast porn fantasies – and gollygosh – invited to partake of all we could eat!
But evidently, that wasn’t enough. The Rampaging Wrinklies stuffed bread rolls furtively up sleeves and trouserlegs, poked individual jam portions into every available orifice with gay abandon and, still dissatisfied with their booty, lined their socks and pantyhose with slices of cold meat. Terrified they might die of starvation during the afternoon, they lurched from the dining room with handfuls of baked beans and melon slices, having stripped the table back to a barren white cloth and a few odd empty plates. ‘It’ll save us having to buy lunch tomorrow,’ they assured eachother, nodding sagely. ‘Everything’s so DEAR.’
Nor did they have the decency to be embarrassed. It was a matter of pride to compare notes in the bus – and not just regarding food. Each morning, they regaled eachother with rollicking tales of pilfered pillowcases and Gideon’s Bibles – their suitcases would have chimed with a symphony of looted ashtrays had they not been well padded by contraband towels. As we drove off I would keep a nervous eye out behind for signs of gendarme, polizzi, The Bill – or whoever the local constabulary might happen to be.
Nor were the Criminal Crumblies ever on time for departure. Many a morning the rest of us waited on the bus while the driver went to bang on the door of Ronnie and Doris, slumbering blissfully under the sordid weight of yesterday’s illicit croissants.
Having remained aghast and honest under duress, what happened to me at the cheese factory wasn’t fair. The man assured us his gouda was export quality, perfectly legal to take back into Australia. We believed him, and bought up big. Not half an hour from the factory, the Greedmongering Geriatrics decided they’d consume theirs on the bus. Huge wheels of cheese were dragged out from under the seats and the back rows (where the naughtiest oldies sat) became a veritable munchfest. Dentures were cemented together and constipation became the buzzword of the day. I looked on in scorn. Until Customs.
Once there, the Pillaging Pensioners finally came into their own. They stood around smugly, their own gouda safely lodged halfway down their alimentary canals as my cheese was confiscated. Oh, quelle fromage!
‘Serves her right,’ they were probably thinking. ‘Self righteous, cheese-saving cow.’ And off they went with their ashtrays and towels, home in their BMWs to wash the smell of salami from the sullied gussets of their Bonds Cottontails …