Right, as I have had to deal with a number of "Have you died?" emails recently, I thought I would come back and clarify that I am indeed, not dead. It's strange because if I was really dead (and it is nice for people to be concerned) then in theory this would just go on and nobody would actually know. It's not like my next of Kin would tell Blogger "By the way, he died, could you disable the account, it was his last dying wish". In fact, if I was dying, I would probably ask someone to post a last entry for me anyway, hopefully it would beat my 22 comments record out of sympathy and I would be up there with a smile on my face.
Anyway, I digress. So, I'm not dead. I'm not in Australia any more either. It was far too strange being on the beach at Chritmas so I decided to come back to the dark and rainy streets that are England.
So, as I can't laugh at people travelling, I guess I'm going to have to laugh at people in the office. So, first up. To make an impression in your new job, sign any leaving or birthday card "With love from Trevor, will have to buy you a drink sometime". Now, people seem to be so guliable that they actually "I did'nt know trevor works here, who is trevor?".
Anyway, after signing a number of different cards over time with Trevor (in my case 3 in 5 weeks) you will begin to build up this character that people think exist but nobody has ever seen. My Trevor project is going well at the momnent, nobody suspects it's me (I even managed to find my own secret birthday card and sign it from Trevor before they gave it to me) and now Trevor is the talk of the department.
As you can see, when I'm not travelling, I am making things up to amuse me instead on a daily basis.
I kind of liked the 380 bus trip from Bondi beach. I constantly wondered why people always stood at one bus stop, despite there always being fifty people and a mad rush to get on. You see, if they walked back three minutes to the previous stop, they would be guaranteed a seat, every time. Maybe it was the heat. After all, it had been forty degrees the day before.
The bus meandered in it’s normal suicide manner up the hill and onto Oxford Street, the sky was blue and the shoppers were out in force. It felt good to have a seat and I reveled in a selfish manner at all the one stop after people who were struggling to keep their feet around the bends. Just as I was about to smile about this fact, I heard a cough behind me. Then another. Then an sigh. Then, well, then I felt what like appeared to be something on my back. As a payback for my seat smugness I had chosen the very seat where the guy behind had chosen to be sick on my back. Fantastic. Just as I was wallowing in self pity, I quickly came to forgive him. He was having a fit, the bus was stopped, some people stared, some people got off, an ambulance was called.
After getting off the bus my only option was to walk back, fully aware that I may have some epileptic fit sick on my back, my only consolation was the colour of my t-shirt, it was red. I was hoping that his diet that day consisted of strawberries and tomatoes and that the damage somehow blended into my attire, but I made sure I walked at a great pace and hoped nobody noticed.
There were three new people in the room. They had been asleep for the last two days but they were awake now. “Hi” one of them said, “have you had a good day?”. Well, there’s no point pretending I thought. “Well, not bad, same old really, beach, bus, man being sick on my back, same old story”. They gave me this strange and worried kind of look, being new to the city they probably wondered if people were sick on your back everyday. Well, I made sure they thought that by being as matter as fact as I could.
They were hear for a Christmas holiday break from Agricultural college. I could tell straight away. They spoke like they were distant relatives of the Queen, read Jilly Cooper books, adored Polo and had money, lots of it, well lots of daddies money. “I really don’t think I will like hostels” one of them said to her friend on the phone, “You actually have to share a bathroom with other people, I can’t believe it!. And the bunk beds are so squeaky, and there are no polo fields and they don’t have silver cutlery in the kitchen and there is no helipad…”. Well, I made the last bit up, but she was just about to mention that fact. I sighed; maybe the Ritz was all booked out.
Being a person that likes to be helpful, I offered the newcomers some washing powder tablets, after all, it would save them a journey downstairs. They took them gracefully, I felt I had done a good deed. On further inspection, well closer inspection that I had ever given them, he said “Hang on, these are for the washing machine”. On good turn had in fact looked like a practical joke. Of course, I had played a few in my time, but this time it was at my own expense. For the last week I had been washing my clothes with dish washer tablets. It then struck me why my clothes were not feeling as fresh as I had expected and why my food had a strange after taste. Number twenty two on the scatty list that year and new roommates who were probably thinking what practical joke was on the way next.
My move back to the WakeUp! Hostel came after staying three nights at the ‘Maze’. It was aptly named. You spent most of the morning trying to find you way out of the place or to the toilets or trying to navigate the corridors that led to other, corridors. Staying in the room at Wakup! Were two Scotsman, clearly identifiable by there large and prominent patches of red sunburn. Of all the national stereotypes one thing is true, you can spot the British people. They are either the palest shade of white or the deepest shade of red. Observing the masses a the beach confirmed this. Sometimes you nearly stepped onto people, their skin was the same shade as the sand. The next minute you let out a silent ‘ohh’ as you observed the third degree burns suffers.
This morning I was awoken by five evenly spaced alarm clocks. There were those getting in at 2am, those getting up at 5am, a couple at 7am and some new comers at 9am. Although this does constitute a good nights sleep (in fact a fucking awful bad one) you soon come to realize that it’s the way it is. “Ah, we had this guy, the first thing he said to us as he came in a 7am was “I’m your roommate from hell”. He proceeded to turn all the lights on, he took at girt back with him as well and then just started shouting at us. We didn’t see him for two days although his bag was still there. He just disappeared after causing chaos then laughed at us when he came back to pick up his bag”. Thankfully I had arrived a day later. It made multiple Nokia alarm clocks seem all that more bearable.
The heat hit me for the first time as I left the building. It was as if someone had left the iron and cooker on all at the same time. So, not meaning to defy national stereotypes, I observed my burns, dabbed a bit of sun cream on, and headed for the beach. At the hottest time of the day. Naturally.
“Oh, that is the man I was telling you about that saved me last night” as she pointed in my direction. I felt quite uneasy about this statement. Maybe I could have felt a little justified if I had saved her from sharks with a twenty minute life risking swim. Maybe if I had beaten off a gang of attackers in a late night attack. But I didn’t. All I had done was go next door and purchase (with her money, with change to buy a bottle of water at her expense) a large bottle of Pepsi Max. Well, she was dying apparently. Of a drink overdose. Apparently Pepsi Max was her insulin equivalent to diabetes. “I was hoping I would see you again to say thank you”. Acknowledging her unrequited thank you, I wished her all the best. After all, this Irish lady going back down the pub. It was eleven am. I’ll get the Pepsi Max ready next time.
The much made and slightly wearing trip to Bondi Beach that day was made decisively by the weather. For once, there was not a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately for me, it seemed that other people on this Sunday had spotted this fact as well. I was hoping they didn’t notice, but it seems, they did. The train was packed. It was not stopping at Bondi Junction due to rail works, so, that meant a bus transfer to catch other bus. All in all, it took forty five minutes. The buses were so full that half the crowd were refused entry, it seems this was not taken kindly by one rather large man who decided he would try to gain entry by kicking the door in. Everyone else looked on in pure bewilderment whilst the bus swayed off.
As I found a nice place to sit, I couldn’t help (or had no choice) to listen to a telephone conversation an animated American guy was having behind me. “Yeah, I’m in Bondi (pronounced Bondee), man, it’s awesome, it’s like, totally out of this world, it’s all kicking off man. It’s like a hundred degrees or something stupid, I tell you, it’s kicking off, it’s getting ready to explode. He repeated this five times. Then said “Goodbye mom, I miss you”. He then started to cry. All very surreal.
Apparently it’s the lead up to Christmas. They are playing the normal Christmas hits that have been played again and again over the last twenty years. There is, apparently, the brightest and biggest Christmas tree in the Southern Hemisphere down at Darling Harbour (I say apparently as I must have walked past it without knowing), there are even drunk Australian people wearing Santa hats after office Christmas parties. It’s just I say apparently, mainly because it feels nothing like Christmas at all. The signs say “Make sure you book your accommodation now for Christmas!”. Apparently it is the busiest time, something which had not got un-noticed walking the streets.
When I got back to Sydney that night, I realized there must have been a huge concert on. The place was heaving with people, some swaggering, some carrying others, others talking about where they had been, who they saw (Jamiroquai apparently) and showing off photos they had proudly taken. Others seemed desperate. In the city, worse for wear, they were looking for last minute accommodation, unable to get back to where they had come from. After finally managing to prove to the Maze backpackers that I had booked accommodation and wasn’t some crazed drunk, I got my stuff in and decided to go for a beer in the usual haunt, the Sidebar.
As I got to the bar, I heard my name being called from behind me. “Ah Rich, how is going, I thought you were in Perth”. He thought I was in Perth, I thought I was in Perth. That made two of us. “Let me buy you a drink”. It was the man from Norfolk who’s name I couldn’t remember (judging by the state of him I don’t think he could remember), part of the Norfolk get in at 6am whilst I was getting up brigade from the other week. “We met these girls and they said they knew you, they are sitting on the same table as us”. So, it was. All five of the people I had met were sitting there. I sat down, had a number of VB’s and then decided at three am that it was probably best to go, the three hour Perth time difference was starting to kick in.
As I made my up towards the room, a bottle of water seemed like a sensible idea. For some reason, despite my lack of beers, I was feeling slightly light headed. As I waited at the drinks machine, there was a very distressed looking girl, what could be wrong? Maybe she has had an argument. Maybe she has run out of money. “I can’t believe it, all I want is a Fucking Pepsi Max and it’s swallowing my money”.
“What’s all this about you staying in a hotel” Dee asked. Well, it was true. After six days at the Exclusive Backpackers I had committed the cardinal sin. I had booked in for one night at a reasonably priced hotel. Space at last. I could turn the light on when I wanted to. I could crunch as many plastic bags as I liked. I could open the door without banging. I could charge my Ipod without having to wait for a free socket. I could lie down in bed without thinking when the last person would get in or the first person to get up. Quite simply, I was in paradise. Be it for one day.
Despite the ‘Exclusive’ backpackers being far from exclusive, it had seemed like home for that week. I had met people that without thinking had been like good friends. From the ‘stare at Coops’ Danish girl to the ever so friendly Pat. Even the sensible shoes German was nice. The live band at the fiddle Irish pub played on but it was time to make my early exit, I was seven pints behind most people in the pub and it would take a lot to catch up. Despite being eyed up by some drunk, but rather pleasant local women, I decided to make my exit and revel in the luxury that awaited me. Even the simplest pleasures such as watching television and making a mess on the floor seemed like an attraction too good to miss.
Perth has a lot to offer. Despite being one of the most remote cities in the world, it seems quite content to live by itself. They claim to have the best beaches in Australia, but I have always wondered what precisely makes a good beach. Is it the type of Sand? The size of the waves? I always wondered just why the beaches seemed deserted. Apparently the locals don’t bother going to the beach when it’s only thirty three degrees. I’ll go down there for half of that.
“Ahhh, yes, I’m down here visiting my sister, wheres yous from?”came the twangy voice in the kitchen. “The UK” I replied. After looking quite puzzled, she finally came to prompt the next question. “Where is that?” she probed. “The United Kingdom” I responded. “Ahhhh, I see. So, where is that”. To make things a little simpler, I just replied ‘England’. It seemed to register this time. After a brief conversation about the queen, some of her relatives who lived near ‘London’, it was time to check out. Apparently she was from the country somewhere north of Perth. Apparently her ambition was to leave Perth and take a holiday to Sydney, something she had resisted from doing because it seemed like it was on the other side of the planet. I resisted telling her that I kept on yo-yoing between the two and wished her a pleasant stay in Perth. After all, it was the first time she had ever been to a city. It was time for one last beer in Perth, apparently an Irish pub was on the cards tonight.
We stood on a remote ledge overlooking the city of Perth. “You see, I don’t know about you, but it’s them damn blacks that are causing all the problems, it really gets to me”. Des, in his usual bold manner, was describing the problems of the health service in England. I thought the health service would be the last of our worries. Unknown to Des, but known to me, standing behind us were a large group. Lets just say they were not white and we in the middle of nowhere.
As we drove off, celebrating that we were not over the cliff we had just been standing over, the city illumined in front of us. It was like a big glowing Christmas tree, it’s just despite being December, Christmas was the last thing to come to mind. Des continued with the stories, the time he was stabbed by a flying pigeon whilst riding back from the army, the time he smashed a glass with his fist to get into a military pub. “I was in Paris and I had just had my bag stolen, those French police are fucking idiots, they tried to escort me out of the police station but they soon held back when I said I was a black belt in karate”. For a man of forty-five, he was going to have a few stories, but I didn’t realize just how many.
We were eating in a Harry Christener restaurant, not surprisingly it provided one of the most bizarre eating experiences. Apparently you could eat as much as you wanted of the Indian cuisine and then pay whatever you felt like paying. It was true. One dollar, five dollars or twenty cents. Apparently this was a charity based restaurant, all the donations would be given to promote the religion. We were joined on the table by some friends of friends from another hostel. It didn’t take Des long to get into his stride. “You know what, I’ll be honest. The French are arrogant pigs, they are rude and I just hated France. That’s why when French people come here I treat them like shit, just how I get treated when I go to France. I’m not the only Aussie that thinks this, word gets around you know, yes, I hate the French”. Just as he ended his tirade, Des spoke to guy opposite who was serving him some water. “Where are you from mate?”. Just as he had finished serving the water, he looked up and said “I’m from Paris” in a very French accent. This was going to be an interesting meal.
The bus is always an interesting way to observe local culture. The 401 went to Scarborough beach, a twenty minute ride. Just as I was settling down and observing the views, a voice came from the front. “Who is listening to headphones, turn them down, I cant concentrate driving this bloody bus”. Great. I had a school teacher as a bus driver. I could hardly hear the music coming from his headphones and I was sitting behind him. If there was any doubt who’s bus this was, it quickly vanished as the passengers looked at each other with disbelief. Half way through the journey, the firm voice was to be heard again. “Oh, YOU, give that seat up for that lady now!”. The poor man stood up in shock. I just had to make sure I had the correct fare on the way back or I will be spending the journey with my hands on my head.
On my return to the hostel, I found they were serving a bottle of wine. It was for the Danish ‘stare at Coops’ girl who was celebrating her twenty first birthday. We had the wine in typical hostel fashion, using a wide arrange of stone chipped and multi-coloured mugs with dark stains. The token cup of wine went down well. It was time to move on out, apparently we were going to a Harry Christener restaurant. Whatever next.
I liked it, the Exclusive backpackers on Adelaide Street that is. Not for the normal things, but for it’s sense of irony. It was one of the least most exclusive places I had ever stayed in. The Greek owner had her own way of running the place, trying to act like your mother whilst fighting with her husband. She was one of these people that meant well.
There was a Danish librarian staying in the room, he had at least twelve books scattered around the floor. The German guy, without meaning to stereotype, was very, German. An awkward array of facial hair, a ‘City of Perth’ baseball cap, jeans that seemed to originate from the eighties and sensible footwear. They had stayed in the room for a long time, it was almost home to them. But despite the books and the hats, they were agreeable people.
Helena was from Denmark. She didn’t need to say, there was something very Danish about her. We talked for an hour, then after thinking we had got on well, I became a little startled. Where ever I went, her eyes went. It was like a watching painting. I didn’t even have to look after a while. If I was reading a book, she was reading my book. If I was folding some clothes, she watched me folding my clothes. When I woke in the morning, just by chance, of course, she would be looking over. It was all rather strange. I always made sure I returned a smile with her more often than not glances, little did she know that behind that smile was a “you are actually starting to scare me now” thought. Those Danish people must just be friendly.
“Ah, where are you from mate?”. The voice had a bit of English, Australian and South African all mixed into one. “You wont know it, Bournemouth” I replied. “Ah, yea, just come from there”. I smiled. Sense of humour. “Yeah, I have been staying in Westbourne, my name is Pat”. Okay. Maybe he wasn’t joking. So we talked. It then became apparent, rather quickly, that he was a character. So he was over forty but looked thirty, he had just come from a place that I didn’t think anyone would travel to. “So, I’ve got a car, I’ll take you out for a ride if you fancy!”. It had only been ten minutes but I had been offered a ride, a game of golf, a place to stay at Christmas. I thought he was going to set up a meeting with his parents next. He didn’t. They were dead.
As much as this person was interesting, there was something slightly strange, rather odd. He was staying in a backpackers. He said he offered a girl in Bournemouth five thousand pounds to marry him so he could get a British passport. He lived on people’s floors. He paid over a thousand pounds to stay in a hotel before he left, to treat himself after staying in hostels. He was a used car salesman by trade. A paramedic at other times. He had travelled around Australia nine times, been all over Europe (including Bournemouth). He had nearly broken the drinking record at the Okoberfest. He was the sort of person that had a story for everything, the sort that would be your best mate in half hour.
So we all sat in his tiny car, heading towards the Joe Cocker concert in Kings Park. I was squeezed in the back. I didn’t even have to look. Helena was still looking at me. I think she quite like the small rear space, nearly as much as my legs didn’t. You had to pay ten dollars for entry. We sat outside. Security was tight. A white robe. A four foot security guard from Jakarta (so we found out after try to talk our way in). So we sat there, drinking VB. The music played, Pat told us about the deadly creatures in the bush as we discussed sneaking in. Helena, well she just stared again. The German guy quietly nodded his head to the music. All in all it was quite bizarre, sitting on a piece of grass, listening to music that I had never heard of and thinking I had some of the strangest, yet interesting people around me.
I always based cities on my first impressions. You can a lot that way. More specifically, you can tell a lot by the first person that you meet. In the case of Perth, it was a fly, it wouldn’t say goodbye. I guess it was nice to be greeted at the airport by someone.
I had arrived on a Saturday. It could have been four o’clock on a Sunday. It was if there was some secret hiding place that everyone had gone, the streets were deserted. The shops were closed. The last time I heard, this was a city. Then again this was Western Australia, apparently they do things differently around here. Like stay indoors. I even felt embarrassed for the green flashing man, it seemed there was nobody to cross the street.
I thought this place was gong to be quite friendly. The few people I did see were waving at each other in the street. Then I realised. They weren’t saying hello. They were trying to get the flies from around their head. Then I realised I was doing it to.
The city prides itself on the ‘CAT’ transport, a free bus service that shuttled people around the centre of the city. Despite the free transportation on offer, I decided to walk as normal, after all, there might be some hiding out there somewhere. But after a short walk, I had found where I was staying, people searching had to wait.
“Yes, I don’t know what it is about them. I just have a fascination just to jump in there and be with them. I was always being told off by the instructors not to go in, other people were petrified. I guess I have been like that since I was fourteen. Yes in fact I’m sure. I have always had a love for sharks since watching Jaws. It the scared the shit out if me”. In truth, it was starting to scare the shit out on me. Just as her eyes began to fade with her shark addiction, for which she was in Australia for, she turned around and asked “So what’s your addiction or phobia?’.
Just as I was about to say “Well, does making strange and bizarre decisions count as an addiction?” I changed my mind. It certainly seemed that way. I had woken up in a bizarre and bewildering hidden and obscure hostel in Kowloon. I had then woken up two days later in less strange but surreal all the same bed in Sydney. It was like finding out that there is a website for internet addicts, something, and I didn’t really know what that something was, all seemed a bit odd.
“Well actually I have got a phobia of fish, I don’t know what it is. But yes, before you ask, the great barrier reef dive was an experience in more ways than one”. There was me questioning her love hate regard for Sharks, she was probably laughing inside at my hate hate for all things fish, finding Nemo certainly wasn’t one of my life ambitions.
At those three days in Wakeup hostel, I had decided to take a more pro-active approach to people, with a little experiment in social interaction. It had been bugging me for a while, can you really just start talking to complete strangers? Well, of course you can. Of course you have to pick your moments, calculate your odds of go for the kill. The count was on three. The French woman who had asked me about lockers, I asked her about French things. Then there was Jade. A distance close enough, and, most importantly, reaching out for her second cigarette. The first is always the token one. The second, well, that nobody has a second without a reason.
“Have you had a good day?” I asked. It was more a question of irony than purpose. Of course she couldn’t have had a good day, it was raining. But, more importantly, it had just reached twelve. Not that much time to celebrate having a good day. Then wait for the reaction. Twenty minutes later. A meeting at eight in the bar for a drink.
Sydney itself was just the same as before, nothing had changed. Even the price of a red weekly travel ticket was stuck at thirty two dollars. The Opera House was still that off shade of white, the bridge with the same flow of tourist walkers in the distance. The shops were still there, in the same order. The unfinished building sites were now finished buildings. There were still the same proportion of Asian people, it was almost scientific, like there was some city quota. Tuesday night at the cinema was still ‘tight arse’ Tuesday, or so the locals in the queue called it. The buses still ran from the same bus stops, the trains pulled in at the same stations and the bars still had the same posters. The ‘lovely people’ hippy was still calling people ‘lovely’ down on Bondi beach. He was even wearing the same hat. Just what I was expecting to change in a year and a half I didn’t really know. Then I realized what was different. They were no longer serving sweet and sour chicken balls at the Foodcourt at Martin Place. I was most distressed. The “Have you had a good day?” line had meant I was drinking a few chilled schooners of VB down at the sidebar that night. It was a flashback in time. It was like I had stepped back after a week of being away. The chilled glasses were going down quite well, before I knew it I was surrounded on the table by ten woman, the beer must have been good. Before I knew it I had become fully updated with who was being a bitch to who, which person had bad dorm manners, who fancied which member of staff, who drank too much the night before and an array of what was what and who was who. It got a little bit too much, at one am I realized I had endured my dose of Cosmopolitan type tales and made my fuzzy exit.
The three people in my room were from a village in Norfolk. They didn’t have to tell me, they sounded like they were from farming outpost. They were on holiday and this was the first time they had stayed in a hostel. “This is a bit basic, we had a television in our hotel and everything” one of them said. “It’s crazy, the bathroom hasn’t even got a hairdryer!” the other girl claimed. As she unloaded her second set of hair curlers from her huge three week luggage, it became apparent, they really were on holiday.
Over a three day period we developed a mutual sleeping pattern. I would come in at one am, get up at eight am. They would just come in at eight am. As I was leaving and saying goodbye, they would come in, fully intoxicated and say hello on the way past. They tended to live in the pub all day, sometimes taking a break to see the Opera house if time allowed. They knew they had come to Sydney for a reason, it’s just they didn’t really seem to know what it was. I did my best to inform them of the local sights and surroundings. But the question and answer session would always end with one question. “Yes, but what are the pubs like there?”.
I had quickly come to the conclusion. I knew Sydney better than any other city in the world, the result of extensive walks, research and reading. I knew where to find what and in what shops. I knew where to eat, where to sleep and where to walk. I knew how to get around, how to get back. I knew what time films were showing, the cost of bottle of water in different places and the expressions of people seeing the Opera house for the first time. I knew how to pick up different accents and different conversations in different places. It was either time to move on or time to stay. One minute I was on the plane, the next I wasn’t. One minute I was emailing a job agency, the next I was looking into flights back home. When people asked how long I was staying for, they were constantly surprised when I said “I just don’t know”.
I had tried the “Have you had a nice day” before, it was time for something even more unoriginal. They were on their third cigarette. This person was bored. “How’s it going?” I said. The conversation quickened. She took a deep breath and said “Well, you see, I have been emailing this dive instructor every day for the last two weeks, I really want to do a dive but can’t afford it. You see I have always had a fascination for sharks”.