Part of my last blog about howI met my radio presenting, mate, Stu, touched on the fact that he came to Australia to see me when I was doing the ‘working holiday’ thing over there.
The intention was for Stu to stay for 3 months but due to an unfortunate accident back home, he had to cut short his trip after nearly 3 weeks.
The day before his last day, I was in my first week of door to door selling Optus telecom. It had been our first day out on the streets of some random suburb in Sydney, after a couple of days training in an office.
I got home so late (I was designated driver for our ‘crew’) that it was too late to have dinner with Stu and we ended up at a Hungry Jacks (Aussie Burger King).
I decided I’d quit my job and spend Stu’s last day with him in its entirety, as I’d miss his flight out if I went ‘door knocking’ again.
We had no real idea what to do with ourselves on the Friday, so we just kind of wandered from the apartment I was renting a room in, located next to Sydney’s Hyde Park into the CBD.
‘What is it you want to do?’ I asked Stu as we were standing downwind of some kind of fashion show set up.
‘I want to see where they are filming the sequel to The Matrix’ replied Stu with no sense of impossibility.
So we asked someone.
It turned out, not only was The Matrix being filmed at Sydney’s Fox Studios, the location was a theme park too. ‘How do we get to Fox Studios?’
The Backlot Tour closed at the end of 2001 so we were, in hindsight, lucky to be going as one of the last groups of ‘tourists.’
Co-incidentally, within a couple of weeks, I would return to Fox Studios to work as a receptionist/runner in one of the post-production studios. I met some of the crew from The Matrix and saw firsthand, special fx being added to Lord of The Rings.
As I had quit my job, I convinced Stu that I needed to check in with the ‘talent’ agency I’d recently signed up with to see if they’d found me any work. As I stepped in the door the receptionist greeted me with ‘Hey, do you wanna be in a TV commercial for a bank?’
‘Yeah!’ I enthused and I carried out the job the next week in a random park in Sydney.
Stu and I considered getting a train so we walked to near where I’d previously worked down Elizabeth Street towards Sydney Central station and perched on the steps of a surrounding we dubbed ‘the pink towers.’
We waited for a taxi and spoke about a lot of stuff, including some ‘guy code’ vs ‘girls code’ scenarios. As much as we don’t really do it now, we’d have regular ‘pink towers’ chats which normally start, ‘can I have your opinion on something… mainly girls.’
We didn’t really know what to expect at Fox Studios and we were alarmed to find the set of Babe in a dismantled heap behind barriers.
We were treated to sights of a replica Home & Away set and had a conversation with an animated character on a television screen which was being powered by a lady in the next room.
We stumbled on The Titanic Experience.
We thought about it. The Titanic Experience? Great film, most of the characters die in the end…based on a…TRUE…story…
‘What the hell?’ we thought and we approached the entrance to the ‘experience.’
A ‘live’ queue and a ‘die’ queue.
‘What the hell?’ we thought, it’s not like we’re going to die for real, not like Jack Dawson or you know, the real people who died in the real life experience.
We were taken through a brief, museum like, tour, taking in anecdotes about The Titanic, real and fiction.
We, as the ‘die’ queue, were invited to ‘board’ the ship and take our places as 3rd class ‘passengers’ in a custom built auditorium which aped a 3rd class, Titanic lounge.
The ‘Captain’ came down to warn us to ‘keep the noise down’ as we didn’t want to ‘disturb the 1st class passengers.’
The tour guide invited us to clap and dance and stomp our feet behind the ‘Captain’s’ back. At this point Stu and I realised, we were the only grownups together without children.
The tour guide urged us to quieten down as The ‘Captain’ was coming back, who proceeded to scold us for the noise.
At this point I felt like I was watching kids TV and I’d lost the remote, it felt patronising, amateurish and not as enjoyable as we thought it would be.
Half way through the ‘Captain’ berating us, the walls at the front of the auditorium burst open and water gushed through.
Stu and I looked at each other as if to say, ‘Ah, OK, you frightened us for a minute, fair play.’
We were ushered into a passage way at which point, the rather attractive tour guide pulled us to one side.
‘Ummm… Can I ask you two a favour?’ she started ‘can you guys do an English accent?’ she enquired warmly with her Australian tone.
‘We’re from England, it shouldn’t be difficult’ we retorted.
‘Excellent’ she said. ‘When I give you the signal, can you run into the next room and shout ‘The water’s coming in!?’
We agreed to do so. This was getting a bit ridiculous now and we geared ourselves up to run into a room full of families and ‘act’ our hearts out. Seriously, we were going to look like total idiots.
Thing is, we hadn’t really banked on what was in the next room and as we took our cue from the tour guide, we stampeded into the next room.
I was immediately faced with an aggressive spurt of fire which warmed the side of my face. Stu and I froze and struggled to have anyone hear our ‘The water’s coming in!’
We were actually going to die.
There was the car that Jack and Rose had a cheeky bunk-up in, complete with hand streak in the window. Fire appeared to shoot from everywhere. The noise was deafeningly incredible.
‘THE WATER’S COMING IN!!!’ we shouted in fear.
A piece of the wall gave way to reveal we were now heading to the seabed; we were ‘dead.’
Indeed, we had experienced what it was like to ‘die’ in the film Titanic but it was based on real events… I’m not entirely sure, that whole experience was in good taste.
Heading out of the complex, we saw a small crowd start to swell outside the Channel V studios. Channel V is an Aussie, entertainment channel, sort of in the MTV mould.
We asked a security guard what all the fuss was about and he informed us that some bands are performing ‘…and Dido….’
‘Fair enough,’ we thought and started to make are way to the exit, until, you know, Dido walked out onto the stage, guitar in hand, and began to sound check.
Stu and I then split up. I stood underneath a speaker to get the best out of the sound and Stu tried to get close enough to the stage to make eye contact with Dido. Those actions pretty much sums us both up.
Dido wore denim which flattered and complimented her figure and her voice sounded like someone pouring warm, silky, smooth chocolate over you. We watched with our mouths open as she ran through an acoustic version of ‘Hunter.’
Stu would later get a telling off from his radio bosses in Northampton a couple of years later for constantly introducing Dido tracks with ‘And this is my future wife…’
Having Stu with me had very much shortened the distance between Australia and my home in the UK.
When I had originally landed, at the very beginning of September 2001, in Sydney after a tiring 24 hour adventure, I remember this feeling of ‘what am I doing?’
I sat very tensely in the departure lounge at Heathrow. I’m not a huge fan of flying but I like to tackle my fears head on. I figured that if I could conquer flying to Australia, plane journeys in the future would be easy.
The flight to Seoul was pretty, uneventful, I listened to recorded sets from mine and Stu’s last gig in Kettering, the night before I flew, on my walkman. (Google ‘walkman,’ kids!)
The flight from Seoul to Sydney on what seemed like a half empty plane was calming. The dude next to me, an Australian of a similar age to me at the time who had just spent 9 months in Los Angeles, spotted that there was empty rows and said, ‘you stretch out, I’m going over to those seats over there, I’ll be back for brekkie.’
I was at ease on that flight, until that bit near Australasian waters where it gets a bit bumpy and the apparent ‘three-point-turn’ the plane does after overshooting Sydney and it’s visible, iconic landmarks of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House before touching down at the airport.
I felt very far from home and when Stu had joined me, the homesickness seemed to all but subside. He had flown in, literally just after 9/11 and airport security was tighter than it had ever been, there was initially a risk that his flight out to Oz would be cancelled.
As we hugged each other goodbye, my heart sank. We could barely look at each other as he got vacuumed into the door in which only passengers were allowed past that point.
He disappeared from view and with him, went my homesickness antidote.
I headed back to the adjoining train system at the airport and struggled very hard to keep my lip from wobbling, a stray tear or two escaped down my cheek.
Once on the train, I couldn’t hold on. I pulled the hood of my Carhartt jacket over my head and buried myself in the seat and wailed, as silently as possible for the entire journey back to my stop.
It had been a tough few weeks. I’d given up a rather cushty, cheque prossessing job at News International to chase a door to door sales job which I quit after four days. I was unemployed, running out of money and thousands of miles away from home. My best mate had joined me on a lifetime adventure and was cruelly ripped out of it just as things started to settle.
I’d also, had the most random, best day of my life with Stu before the torturous journey to the airport to wave him off. There would be no, ‘see you next week’ or ‘pop round for a drink sometime.’
Despite only staying for just shy of 5 months, at the time, I was a month in to a 12 month Working Visa.
The date was October 5th 2001, I was 23 years old.
Yes, I cried, in public, for around 45 minutes.
Wouldn’t you have..?
– Images of Titanic experience from themparkuniversity.com –
Here’s a video of what was The TitanicExperience at Fox Studios, Sydney, Ausralia