It wasn’t exactly the outer regions of the newsworld that interrupted my mad nocturnal work. I mean it was Hawaii. The Very Big Burglar Alarm had gone off. Incoming.
Check the browser. Okay, I have friends from there. Are they there? The faces scan briskly across the eyelid cinema with the notion of calling but without even reason that’s discarded and my stop watch goes automatically on.
While finding wry that the warning made no mention of things nuclear but only the goddam rocket, my personal inbuilt nuclear clock starts whirring somewhere at the fusion of my meat and my electricity and it tells me: “Okay Son, say they have five or 10 minutes presume no safety margin damn what does safety mean now five or 10 minutes in lieu of announcement from the golf course presume the fiend has already fondled the football so reaction business already engaged.” Meaning she’s on.
The thoughts didn’t go ultra slow-mo like, say falling off a motorbike at two bloody hundred but they were both urgent and distant. As if taken from some secret protocol file opened for the first and last time in the face of oblivion, they were to be followed and observed without question. Like the target menus available to the President when they open the nuclear football.
So what did I do? I broke the protocol. I fired off the questions. Tick tick tick. How far across the sparkling blue Pacific full of water bottles is that thing now? How far have Trump’s rockets got? Will he finish the hole? Has he done a line? How long is the gap before China and the Russkies fly?
I didn’t get a drink. I got into bed. The Australian targets would still be on Cold War settings so the Weapons Research Establishment will be a goner. The airforce base. No more Adelaide Plains wines. Old Plains Grenache. Maybe they’ve added the shipyard at the Port. If they’re accurate I’ll see it from here. Probly even wasted one on Woomera. The Alice? Our secret Trump base is now a hole clear through to – gets out of bed to check the antipodes of Pine Gap: it’s near the Açores, mid-Atlantic; gets back under the duvet – clear through to somewhere a bit south-west of Ilha das Flores; they grow Verdelho there; was that where Frank Potts picked up his Langhorne Creek clone on his long sail south?
And it’s not even five o’clock.
My good friend Howard Twelftree, who wrote Australia’s best restaurant criticism for decades as John McGrath in The Adelaide Review, had once worked in the Commonwealth Health Department and had access to a vast number of pharmaceuticals they would test for release in Australia. His End of the World cabinet contained a dazzling array of these last-minute medications with an unopened can of Players King Size Plain but he died suddenly at his desk years ago with his new phone in his hand and the cabinet unopened. I never heard where the contents went when they found him and cleaned his stuff out but there I was thinking of that cabinet well before I started crossing great wines off my list. Wines I also don’t have.
It’s a couple of years since I last wrote of the most appropriate drinks for the end of time. This time it was for real. Suddenly, after two pots of heartstarter coffee, the bad news hit so there I was back in bed in the dark, waiting for the flash. Think harder Philip.
First, I thought of a glass of Krug. No such luck. Not on writer’s wages. Didn’t even think of other fizz. Brain went straight to the best Riesling in the house. Uh-huh. All gone at Christmas. Maybe I should clean my teeth? Don’t be silly Philip.
No thought of sensible rehydration nor getting water from the tap before the power goes off. Start whirring through the reds. Stupid to start decanting old ones. High Sands Grenache from across the back fence? Not a bottle in the house. The Castagna reds still there on the desk? Uh-huh. Only dregs open for a week.
Since that strange night I’ve marvelled at how quickly the selfish brain turned to whisky. First, the 1994 Highland Park. Not a drop in that bottle. Second, the Aberlour A’Bunadh Matured in Oloroso Sherry Butts at Full Cask Strength? That’s up there on the empties shelf, too. And not a drop of Hellyers Road Tassie 10 year old …
Should I even bother getting back out of bed?
By the time the BBC crackled something about false alarm I was embarrassed that I was better prepared for bushfire or blackout – even hangover – than your actual nuclear war. Not that it would be long enough to be a proper war. It’d be a minor cracker night in a minor galaxy in a minor run-of-the-mill part of the universe. A spark of death where Whitey wrote of intoxicating drinks for his mates before the ants took over.
Or so he thinks. In reality, there he was, still alive but numb in the cot.
Since Sunday morning, when this typical fluke of human survival occurred, my ruminations have been sobering as they’ve peeled the infant simplicity of the mind facing termination. First, it quickly decided that all other humans were asleep or too far away for me to be of any assistance at all. While it seemed to rapidly exhaust its first burst of curiosity, it quickly became accepting of a very big unknown. Then, it wanted fizzy drink: the best there is. Third, it considered austerity and the Riesling of Polish Hill. Red barely entered the flickering menu. Instead, in lieu of comrade Twelftree’s emergency supplies, it presented alluring images of three very strong liquors that are built to be sipped, not sunk.
Had there been any in the bottles, I can’t even say whether I’d savour it or schlück it.
More typical of this typically human awkwardness is the manner in which the mind has processed it all. I’m pretty sure I first became aware of this particular threat of Armageddon when my radio woke me with the news that there had been a false alarm in Hawaii. All this reaction about drinks spilled out in the first few microseconds of wakefulness. I hadn’t heard the warning, but its cancellation. I hadn’t even been up working. There were no two pots of coffee. I am writing about the way I have been recollecting something that didn’t happen in the order my waking brain instantly preferred.
So I still don’t know what I’d do when the big mushrooms grow. I did seriously consider going out to sit on the verandah to watch the black northern sky explode. Like, you’d never see anything like that again. Which is a bit like the Australian surfer I heard interviewed in Hawaii. When he got the doomsday message, he said, he walked “down the beach, to see if I could see anything”.
One thing I know: my thirsty brain is probably not the best thing to trust when recollecting the way I’d react to the protocols listed in that top secret envelope if indeed even that exists anywhere in this strange psyche.
Here, sister, peel a tinnie.
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