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The Great Escape
Stuart Macdonald

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia. Such simple words, yet for most of us they conjure up delightful images of a clear, sparkling blue ocean, nestling against golden sands which are studded with scantily clad bronzing bodies. A little slice of heaven on earth - especially at a demanding and dreary Christmas time in the UK.

Sadly however, the closest most of us Brits will ever get to this famed icon of Aussie sexiness and cool, are the daily delights of Neighbours and Home and Away. That is unless you have the dubious pleasure of bumping into one of the countless Australian backpackers who pop up all over the UK. They seem to think it great sport to parade themselves around here, just to prove that there really is nothing worthwhile back in Mother England. It makes me sick.

Or at least it used to, until I decided a couple of years back that my Student Loan could perhaps be more wisely invested than in the various bars of Glasgow's West End. I was doing a Business degree, so why not put my knowledge of foreign investments (however shaky) to the test? Surely it would be a more astute bet to punt some of my ill-gotten funds in the direction of some Antipodean fund/bar managers…

This was the rather haphazard thought process that resulted in my eventual appearance on the fabled Bondi Beach - on Christmas Day 2000 no less! Myself and a few cronies who had also escaped the foul clutches of the British winter, were prepared for a day of unparalleled indulgence. The sun was shining high in the vaulting blue sky, we had gallons of sun-tan lotion so as to worship the demanding sun god and, more importantly, gallons of wine with which to maintain our buoyant spirits. The scene was set for what was certain to be the best Christmas ever.

Okay, so I missed the traditional Christmas Dinner, followed by the usual snores of my Grandparents through the Queen's speech, but that to my mind was the problem - tradition, tradition and yet more tradition. Surely Christmas was meant to be more spontaneous and fun than this? I mean, for those of us of a Christian denomination anyway, we're supposedly celebrating the birth of the greatest man who has ever lived - the son of God. And for those of us who are unconvinced, or of an alternative religious persuasion, then it's at least a week or so off work - need I say more?
So, Bondi Beach was my sort of Anti-Christmas - there was even a Santa Claus sweating his way around the various groups on the blisteringly hot sands. You had to pay $12.50 for a rather naff plastic toy, but what the heck, it was Christmas after all and everything was at peace in the world.
I think that it was around this time that things began to go wrong. The hitherto prevailing spirit of goodwill to all men and women ascended unto the heavens, leaving just us mere mortals behind. It seemed as though our Garden of Eden experience, rather like the apple in the fable, was beginning to turn decidedly sour. If it wasn't so fundamentally tragic, it could almost be ironic that the problem which arose was essentially that of so many human conflicts throughout history - religion.

You see, we weren't the only canny souls from the more Arctic climes of northern Europe to choose to follow our less willing forefathers. There were all sorts slumped on the sand that day - English, Irish, Scots, Dutch, French, Norwegians and Swedes. Each tending to bunch together, proclaiming their territory with a swishing of flags and glancing ever more menacingly at their neighbours as the afternoon' s drunken festivities wore on. Even then, things would have been okay, if only a bunch of eedjits whose nationality shall have to remain a secret, hadn't decided that here and now was the time to right a catalogue of wrongs done to them by another. At the root of the problems all those years ago, were conflicting religious beliefs - and so things were apparently to remain, as sectarian and bigoted chanting ensued, which swiftly led to violence.

We cleared out fairly promptly after that, although I am told that the fighting raged on for some time into the night, finally petering out into intermittent running battles between the aggrieved factions. As a result of this seasonal cheer, no longer will weather-weary Brits be able to dream of a hassle free Yuletide on Bondi, enjoying Christmas in the sun - the local council has banned any such future activities. Perhaps it's as a result of humiliating invasions such as these that Australians generally appear so touched by wanderlust. In view of my experiences, I think it's only fair that they are able to exact a small measure of revenge, by testing other countries' hospitality to see if they're quite as tolerant of foreigners' festive high spirits.

For this intrepid wise man, however, hopefully Christmas 2001 shall see the resumption of some of my more traditional Christmas hobbies, such as devouring as much Turkey as is humanly possible without actually beginning to go 'Gobble'; and freely participating in the normally excruciating family games of Charades. I may even perk up to listen when the Queen's Speech comes on and will certainly allow myself a wry grin when, for the umpteenth time, we sit down en masse to watch The Great Escape.

©Stuart Macdonald 2001

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