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.