Ayres Rock – Lord of the flies
Call me contrary, but if someone tells me that something is "iconic" or "must see", I find myself searching for another destination which is a little more obscure on a path less-trodden.
For me, the highlight so far in the Land of Oz has been the Pinnacle Desert. Haven't heard of it? That's not surprising, as most Australians haven't either. Whereas Ayres Rock feels familiar and of this world, the Pinnacle Desert feels like another planet. Imagine if after every Eisteddfod since, oh, let's say the time of Iolo Morganwg, they removed the Gorsedd stones to a sacred place on the Western Australia coast, and then got Colman's Mustard to sponsor the event by sprinkling its yellowy powder around the base of the stones. Then multiply that by a hundred - and you have the Pinnacle Desert.
Australian history being what it is, no-one really took any interest in this wonder until the 1960s, when a few camper vans turned up. having travelled around 200 miles across Nowhereland to reach it. And there's still no definitive answer why and how these limestone standing stones were created. No-one's buying my Eisteddfod theory, sadly. Some think it was an old forest lost to the sea, which then calcified as the waters receded. Others think it was the remains of a massive cave where the roof collapsed, smashing the stalagtites but leaving the stalagmites of between six inches to six feet to remain.
By the way, if you're confused about which-is-which, the easiest way to remember is that stalagtites - like tights - come down. A rather macho aide-memoir, you may think, but it works for me every time. In the same way that you'll never forget the tricky spelling of abattoir if you remember that it isn't a Swedish pop group. But I digress...)
And so to Ayres Rock. Three things hit you as you approach this red/crimson/pink sandstone monolith. The first is obvious. The second, as you step from the plane, is a feeling that you're a prototype for the World's Largest Hairdryer Experiment, where the controls are stuck on 45 degrees Centigrade. And the third are the flies. This is Fly City Central. And unbeknown to me as I swatted my way down the steps, they had a party planned in my honour.
The highlight of the visit was a sunset trip to view The Rock. Danielle, our tour guide, was keen to point out how The Rock would change colour as the sun went down,but that the experience would be subtle, not sudden. A crate of indeterminate white wine and some mixed nuts would aid our appreciation. As I stood there with 40 minutes to sundown, a fly buzzed past my ear. Then another hovered in front of my eyes. Then another dozen.
As I flayed arms in windmill fashion, I looked around at my fellow gazers. Some wore netting over their faces like those women used to do in Tenko, but surprisingly, I didn't see anyone wearing corks on their hats like they did in the movies. And it got me thinking. When does something that's fashionable suddenly become uncool/silly/stupid? And when did we decide to stop clapping when a plane landed safely. Who was the person who declared "Look, I've paid five hundred bloody quid for this flight, I'm damned if I'm going to applaud someone for doing his job -and the computer does the work, anyway"
All these thoughts were helping me to distract my attention away from the realisation that more flies seemed to be attracted to me than anyone else. And then it dawned on me - they'd mistaken me for their Leader. The Word was out that the Lord was in town, and the followers were streaming in from all over for a piece of the action. No matter how much I moved, they followed. No matter how much I punched the sky, they returned two and three-fold. Two of the blighters even drowned themselves in my wine as an act of reverence.
With the sun almost gone, the Leader prayed for a moment of peace. And then it happened. The buzzing stopped. The hoardes relented. The Leader was at last able to commune with The Rock. They were as one in a blistering desert.
And then a fly zoomed up my nose...