From the beginning of my childhood in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, I remember hearing the exclamation THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN! For me, it never happened, until recently, when I traveled through the wonderful country of Australia.
Now I know that many speakers travel all over the globe delivering profound messages and pertinent information, but this was my first experience as a humorist to speak to audiences born and raised outside my native land. I discovered that laughter truly is a universal language. I also discovered that the Aussies speak it every bit as fluently as we Americans.
Our flight was smooth and long. Hank and I left a whole day up in the air somewhere before we arrived in Sydney. Michael Harrison, CSP from Australia, had hired me to do three humorous luncheon presentations on AGING for his client, Zurich Insurance Associations and their corporate sales and financial planners.. One would be in Sydney the day after my arrival, one in Perth two days later, and one in Adelaide three days after that, to be topped off by doing a three hour evening humor workshop for Adelaide's NSA Chapter.
We left LAX at 10 p.m. Sunday night and landed in Sydney at 7:15 A.M. on Tuesday morning. Michael had sent a driver to pick us up, and Michael himself met us at the Sheraton on the Park registration desk. He said, "How are you feeling?" I said, "Great!" He said, "How great?" Even though my eyes were bloodshot and blurry from lack of sleep, I looked Michael right in the eye and said, "You're not going to ask me to do a presentation tonight, are you?" Michael said, "No. I was wondering if you could do a presentation today at lunch." I knew that he was serious. I said, "Let's go get some coffee." We did...
Michael kept saying that it was all right if I said, "No." but of course, I knew it wasn't. I said, "Yes." Michael gave us directions as he went back to his meeting, and Hank and I went up to our room and unpacked what we needed for the next 48 hours. We had two hours to wait before hailing a taxi. I knew I was too keyed up to take a nap. Besides, even if I COULD take a power nap, I'd be too groggy to fully wake up before the presentation was over. And a hot bubble bath would relax me just enough to make it impossible for me NOT to crawl between those crisp white sheets. And so I sat down to browse through the local newspaper and put some notes together for the presentation. I came across a short article on whingeing, which means "to complain," Otherwise known as to have a "whinge." The article went on to say that a recent national survey revealed that 98% of Australians are whingers. Believe me, I suddenly felt like one of them! I was ready to whinge my heart out, but I knew what little energy I had left needed to be conserved for "ShowTime!"
Hank and I decided I should wear my new red jacket to match my eyes.
Michael introduced me. He had seen my presentation at the NSA Winter Workshop in 1999, and he had loved John Dolan's introduction of me, in which John had said, "Lola Gillebaard is so old that, when she was born, the Dead Sea was not even sick!" at which the audience had laughed and laughed. Not only did the audience not laugh when Michael said it, they gasped in horror, even though they could see me standing there smiling in my matching red jacket and eyes. Was it the way Michael said the line? No. Michael delivered the line every bit as well as John Dolan had done. The problem was the fact that the audience did not know me, and they thought that Michael (at best) was being sexist and (at worst) was putting me down.
Of course Michael was doing neither, but the NSA audience had known that John Dolan and I were good friends who respected each other. This audience knew nothing about me, including my credentials!
Needless to say, Michael changed his introduction for the next four presentations to say how we had met, and why he had chosen me for the Zurich Conferences. The surprise session in Sydney was ultimately well received, while teaching both Michael and me a valuable lesson.
Hank and I flew from Sydney to Perth early the next morning, arriving at our hotel room about mid afternoon. I couldn't believe I was in a location that, in my head had only been the tiniest pinpoint on the globe. A stroll around town proved the people to be charming. The weather was quite warm, and the atmosphere reminded both Hank and me of a town in the Texas panhandle.
That evening in Perth was one of the most beautiful I've ever spent. W e had dinner with the Zurich VIPS in a restaurant called Frasiers, overlooking the city. Between entree and dessert, we walked outside into a beautifully clear desert-like night overlooking city lights for miles. But none of this prepared me for what would happen the next day.
The meeting room in Perth that next day had the perfect arrangement for a humorist presenting in a luncheon setting, round tables that filled the room and each table seating eight people, with each seat holding a warm body. About 95% of these bodies were male and 5% female.
The program went well. I even found a couple of men to pick on who seemed to love the attention. The laughter wasn't "slap your thigh" but it was fun and quite jovial. I received some energetic applause at the end and really felt good about the whole thing. I thanked my audience and took my seat in the back of the room. A few of the men stopped on their way out and kissed my hand. The men behind them kissed the top of my head, my forehead, my cheek. I then realized that all the men in the room were lined up to kiss me on some visible spot, and they did not seem to be at all impatient about waiting. Imagine the thrill for this old broad. If I live to be 110 (and I plan to) I shall never forget my bussing experience in Perth.
Off to Adelaide the next morning. We arrived at the Stamford Grand hotel, a very old and beautiful Hotel on the Bay about 11:00 P.M. that Friday night. The hotel and the park across from it were having a jazz festival over the complete weekend. To sleep was impossible, so Hank and I walked around and heard every jazz tune we could remember and some we'd never heard. What fun it was. The next morning in the dining room we ate our breakfast to the beat of a live jazz band. The enthusiasm all around us was very contagious.
After a long walk along the beach Hank decided to walk into town and I decided to take a long bubble bath in the long bathtub I had spotted in our bathroom. The tub was very narrow and very deep. It was a delicious bubble bath. I had to smile when I pulled the plug. I knew that the water below the equator went counter clockwise, but the drain seemed to gulp down that tubful of water in one swallow. It was right after that when I suspected I might have a problem.. The tub was made of fiberglass and no matter how I tried to bend my body to get out, part of my body would touch the side of the tub and just stick there. At first it was comical, and then it was not. There is only one way I can get out of a bathtub. That is by turning around and pulling myself up on my knees and then pulling to my feet by grasping the sides of the tub. The tub refused to allow me to turn around to pull myself up. Every time I tried, part of me would hit the side of the fiberglass tub and refuse to move. There were no bars to pull up on. The more I tried, the more I stuck. The more I stuck, the more I tried.
There was no phone within reach, Hank wouldn't be back for at least a couple of hours, and the jazz bands were playing so loudly that, for me to holler would have been an absolute waste of time. I hummed quite a few bars of "Whistle a Happy Tune" to help me think, and then it finally hit me. All I had to do was fill the tub back up with water. Then I could get out.
That's exactly what I did. The hot water was gone. I had to settle for icy cold water until the depth of that water matched the top of my seated body. I really felt like whingeing. Finally, with chattering teeth and shaking hands I got out of that tub and grabbed a towel. The jazz bands suddenly got louder, as if to announce my victory.
Michael picked us up the next day to take us for a barbi (barbecue) at his home with his wife Pam, and their children, Jackie and David.(I had met Jackie at the Washington NSA convention when I had done a MEET THE PROS session for the YOUTH program.) It was a beautiful afternoon with good food and wine, and many gales of laughter. Michael drove us back to the hotel as all three of us admired one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
My Zurich luncheon presentation took place in the Stamford. This speaking arrangement was definitely not ideal.
The room had the capacity to hold 500 people, but only 47 were seated at 14 round tables, no more than 4 to any one table. I knew this meant the laughter would be difficult to corral. It was. Even so, the group seemed to enjoy themselves and said so, but no kisses of any kind. My last presentation was a three- hour humor workshop at The Hilton Radisson in Adelaide. Michael picked us up and we got to the hotel just in time for a quick dinner before.
The NSA Adelaide Chapter members and guests were absolutely delightful. They had 100 attendees that night which was a record high according to Michael. The room capacity was exactly 100, just perfect for a humor workshop. I did portions of a keynote followed by a breakdown of those portions, illustrating how the humor used had applied the ten humor tactics listed in everyone's handout. And then it was time for the audience to give their own examples, which each one did eagerly. The humor of each example was perfected by individual audience members and fine- tuned by the audience as a group. We laughed and worked and worked and laughed. A productive good time was had by all. EVERYONE received a standing ovation, which is not easy to accomplish with 100 people in a room that holds 100.
Michael took Hank and me back to our hotel on the bay and we all hugged each other "Goodbye," except for Hank and me, of course. We flew back to Sydney the next day, where we boarded the CRYSTAL HARMONY cruise ship for my five week lecture series at sea from Sydney to Fort Lauderdale.
As we sailed out of Sydney at sunset that evening, Hank and I waved to all the people on shore who represented each of the beautiful gracious Australians that we had met and enjoyed during our stay in that wonderful country "down south!"