Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Almighty, very long, (Sorry) New Zealand Blogathon!

My Euphoric Flight to New Zealand
OR: Thank you feet.

On my way to Sydney airport, I suddenly realise that I’m nervous. I have only ever got on an aeroplane all on my own once before and I’m not entirely convinced I know how to do it! I make Helena take me with the full 2 hours messing-about-time just in case I cock it up – and have to ask H what to do when I get in. It is, actually, surprisingly easy… I find the desk with my airline, Aerolíneas Argentinas, am surprised to see my bag still weighs under 20Kg, get given a boarding pass and walk though security no hassles.

Awaiting me on the other side, as if they knew, is a higher-than-usual range of salesmen with trays sampling their wares. I try Hazelnut Baileys, Raspberry Moet, and a zesty Absolut Vodka. All before 1pm. And yes, I’m aware the acronym for the airline I’m flying with is AA. Although they’re clearly not, as once on board the plane, I get no less than THREE glasses of wine. And not those silly little bottles, but big glasses filled to the top from a normal real-life wine bottle. And even some lunch! On a 3 hour flight. Fantastic. Would love to see what their long-haul is like. Probably get your own personal masseuse!

Amyway… I’m not sure of it’s the heady concoction of free booze and air-travel or perhaps the anticipation of a new country awaiting me…. But I start to feel strangely euphoric.

I can only describe it as it happened: The sun is blazing at 30,000 feet or whatever altitude we were at, I have a glass of wine in my hand, 2 seats to myself which I am greedily spread out on, and my iPod blaring Nina Simone. I flick through the in-flight magazine and read an article translated poorly from Spanish, about Solo Travelers. And it just really hits home, I’m doing it. The thing I have dreamed of doing for so long, the thing I worked and saved for, the thing I spent countless hours planning when I should’ve been doing my dissertation – I’m doing it all. And I’m doing it now.

Not only am I doing it, I’m 4 months in, and I’m having the time of my life. I’m doing it well. I haven’t run out of money, or had a serious accident, or been mugged, or lost, or drowned, or stung, or so homesick I’ve flown home. And not only that, I’ve been lucky enough to just land on my feet, no matter where I go.

I guess I can be thankful to my mother for giving me this quality; it would appear she’s always had the same advantage. To land on one’s feet – a strange idiom for me to adopt seeming as how ill-equipped my actual feet are for landing on anything. But metaphorically, my feet are great for landing.

Allow me to elaborate: In Airlie I couch surf with a family who become like my own and wangle a week sailing the Whitsunday’s for free. In Hervey Bay I just so happen to know, by proxy, the couple who’ve just opened the hippest restaurant in town and score a free meal and new friends (making me look like the ultimate mover-and-shaker about town with unintentional endeavor), In Sydney, I get to stay with an old friend, and by total coincidence it just so happens that she lives in the place to live. (The conversation with sydneysiders usually goes something like this: Stranger: So, where are you staying whilst you are in Sydney? Me: Oh St. Peters, near New Town. Stranger: Oh cool, where abouts? Me: Just opposite the park. Stranger:  It’s not the caravan house is it? Me: erm, yes actually, it is. Stranger: Oh, My, God. I’ve heard about this place so many times, I’ve always been desperate to see it, do you think I could come and have a look? How did you get a place there? Is it really as cool as it sounds?). I’m not even joking, one day I was just checking my emails, and some people turned up who had just heard about the place and came to have a look around.
Similar story I guess with Mardi Gras. Having always been a fan of London and Brighton’s Gay Pride march, I was eager to see what Sydney had to offer – what with it being one of the most [in]famous Mardi Gras on the planet – and whatd’ya know… Helena and co. have their own float and I’m in. I’m in the God-damned parade. Thank you feet.

So I was a little concerned that my luck had run out, when, searching for a couch to surf in Auckland I was coming up short. After 5 or so declines, I posted a message on facebook to see if any friends of friends would host me. So a guy I met briefly in Cape Tribulation sent me a message saying that his friend Gaz lived a little south of Auckland and would probably have me stay and to give him a call. Gaz said no problems, but he couldn’t pick me up from the airport, he’d get his flat mate to get me, Conrad.

So upon leaving Sydney Airport I text Simon to tell him that if I disappear off the face of the planet, to tell the police; I am meeting a guy called Conrad, who I don’t know, who is the flatmate of Gaz, who I also don’t know, who is a friend of Ryan, who I barley know. What could possibly go wrong?

Such were the thoughts flooding my (somewhat) intoxicated brain on our decent into New Zealand. But having spent most of the flight in dizzy euphoria bought on by my own abilities to land on one’s feet, not face, I was fairly confident everything would be fine. In addition the number 23 had been popping up all over the place all day, which is always a positive sign.

Rather frustratingly I realised my aussie mobile was immobile in NZ. Making for a somewhat tricky rendezvous with this Conrad chap. So I’m waiting outside International Arrivals, willing it all to go ok, when this very tall, handsome man, barefoot and in boardies, races over to me, shakes my hand, grabs my 19.9kg bag from me, and ushers me toward his old jeep so that we can get out of the carpark before they start charging.

In the car we chat freely, he has a lovely dog in the back, Brandy, and an empty crate of 12 long-necks which he is taking to the bottleshop to swap-a-crate – which I learn means pretty much exactly what you’d imagine. I’m thrown a bit of a curve ball by discovering that my first kiwi friend is in fact a Safa. Remarkably I actually pick up on this quite quickly, and ask him all about where he’s from, where he’s been and how he got here.

He tells me that he left Africa when he was 18 and spent some time in Holland, and a few years in the UK. I tell him I’m from Dorking, and he says he knows it. He used to work in Sutton. Oh, that’s funny, I say… I used to work in Sutton too. He asks me if I know the two big red brick building behind Sutton train station. Cue lots of screaming, and Oh My God’s, and I Can’t Believe It’s – Yes, that’s right, we both used to work at Reed. DURING THE SAME YEARS. He was a maintenance guy. I thought he looked familiar. Then we had a chuckle about the lovely short spiky plum-haired lady at the front desk. The World Is Smaller Than We Think.


Life at The Farm in Papakura
OR: Dead Sheep

We pull up at the farm that is Conrad’s home. It’s beautiful. Set in rolling hills and beautiful bushland. There are chickens, a goat (which Conrad warns me will jump in the car if I let him), and a lovely fat pig, which they bought for pork but liked too much, so now he is pet, (bet he thinks he landed on his feet too!). I meet His lovely welsh flat mate, Ben, and his bird, Carly, who I get on super well with. Gaz (who does the best Tony Harrison impression I’ve ever heard), and his lady, Phil, are both awesome too. I get shown to my double room, dump all my stuff, and proceed to have a bit of a piss up, whereby I talk Conrad into bunking off work and taking me out Friday.
Farm view from lounge

So, after a call into work, (cough, splutter), Conrad makes bacon and eggs for brekkie, and we head into town. We go up One Tree Hill and get the awesome 360 degree view of Auckland. Then drive into town to see the tower. We do some shopping in preparation for the braai. Then Conrad takes me to the amazing Hunua falls. We have a quick bush walk (where we spot a bloated decomposing sheep corpse, an essential part of the kiwi experience) and then take a dip in the FREEZING water. It’s so cold my feet cramp when I test the temperature and I swear I’m not jumping in. Conrad braves it, and I can see by his face how cold it is. Despite his face giving him away, he tells me it’s amazing and I simply must jump in. So, holding hands, we count down from 3, and take a plunge. I actually scream it’s so cold, and as soon as I surface, I scramble out. But I am very very pleased I did it!

We proceed to sun ourselves on the deserted bank of the falls, where we chat for an hour or so, and Conrad tells me all about his brother, and father, and how they’re coping (or not), in the years after his mothers suicide, following her struggle with a gambling addiction.

We drive home via the mahusive Dam, and I sneak in a 2 hour nap whilst the boys prep the braai.

We are joined by friend Sam, who I get on really well with. He puts on some awesome dubstep, and the boys get the fire going. The food is delicious, the sweetest corn I have ever eaten. Conrad’s specialty is far better than it sounds – cheese toasties, some amazing meat, and to top of the perfect evening, we roast marshmallows over the fire, with Gaz’s expert commentary to guide us!

On Saturday I wake to hear the news of the earthquake in Japan. I had not, at this stage, seen any footage. With talk of the apocalypse and general heartache for the scale of natural disasters we seem to be experiencing, I say my farewells and promise to return for a weekends fishing and eeling before I head back to Oz, providing NZ isn’t under water by then.

Gaz dropped me in town for me to catch my bus to Tauranga, where I will meet Jeremy. A man I met in my local pub in Dorking, once, over a year ago, who said, in passing, ‘if you ever find yourself in New Zealand, you should come and stay’. Well, I do have a habit of taking these things literally, so here I am, on a bus, to go and stay with Jeremy. I may just add here that we have kept in touch via facebook throughout the year, and formed an uncanny online friendship, so my arrival was no surprise for the man in question!

Taurnaga Time
OR: Plastic minds

Jeremy met me from the bus, and we got a cab to Jeremy’s house (Taxi number 23, a good sign!), where he lives with housemate Jane. We are joined by 3 or so of their work colleagues (both Jane and Jeremy work for Tauranga council) for beers and a barbie. The combination of four females over forty, who all work together, plus a bit of booze, and you have the perfect recipe for a terrifying tirade of bitchy gossip. Over the indecipherable hum of things I don’t care about happening to be people I don’t know, Jeremy and I catch up on the one subject that has kept our online friendship fruitful: music. When the other girls leave, I get a chance to talk to Jane one-on-one, and realise she’s actually right up my street.

On Sunday morning Jeremy and I go into town to get some boring chores done (I need a phone, and a camera charger). However, everything is shut, and its like a ghost town.

The weirdest thing about New Zealand, is it’s exactly that. A ghost town. There is NO ONE here. You walk into a shop and you are seen to immediately because more often than not, you are the only person in there. It’s almost eerie. I spoke to Simon and he reminded me of the old NZ joke “I went to New Zealand once, but it was closed”. Scarily accurate for a jibe.

We go to a café, which for NZ, is quite busy, and get some breakfast instead, and then have a look around the art gallery. After a day of chilling back at home, watching a film and generally lolling about, we go back into town to view one of Jeremy’s friend’s art exhibitions. Tauranga is a very conservative, middle-of-the-road type of place, so in this small space, where the exhibition is held, there must be every single queer within a 10 mile radius. Much more my scene! In fact, if this exhibition was the first example of Tauranga I’d experienced, I would have thought it was the gay capital of NZ. Oh how very wrong I would have been.

On Monday I spent the morning watching the news, in total shock at the subsequent tsunami to hit Japan. I’m not one for tears usually, unless, rather selfishly, something is happening to me, but the footage actually makes me cry. After an afternoon in town getting my chores done, I meet Jane after work as she’d invited me to join her at her weekly combat class. It was awesome! I do love a bit of fighting to music. After a quick shower, Jane drops me, still shaking from the class, to a café where one of Jeremy’s friends is celebrating her 50th. We have a lovely evening. Sandra, the birthday girl, is a delight, and so are all her friends. By 9pm however, it is only Jeremy and I left. Classic Tauranga. So we stumble home, listen to Anthony and the Johnsons, Elbow and Joanna Newsom, and go to bed. (Separately I hasten to add!).

Tuesday I spend the day catching up online, and doing a supermarket run. Jeremy has requested Toad in the Hole, which I cook, quite unsuccessfully, but both Jane and Jeremy clear their plates so it can’t have been too bad! Then Jeremy and I watch Shortbus. Jane is joined by her new-ish bit of stuff, Martin. He’s a typical middle-aged brit from Southampton. Friendly enough with a big smiley face, bald head and round tummy. He’s your average, sun reading, brick laying, ‘salt of the earth’ bigot. He happens to walk in during a scene in the film where two men are kissing. His instant repulsion takes me a bit by surprise and as he quickly turns his back to the TV he says to us, with complete disgust, in his Southampton burr “ugh, I can’t watch two lads kissin’”. I never really know what to say when someone says something like that, part of me wants to challenge their prejudice, but a bigger part just wants to keep the peace. But without a second of hesitation, and before I’ve really even had a chance to digest what is said, Jeremy responds with “Would you rather watch a tsunami?”, and kind of to everyone’s surprise, I think even to Martin’s, he replies pathetically “yeah, I guess I would”.  Welcome to Tauranga.

The funny thing is, he seems like a nice enough bloke. I guess he’s just never really questioned his own beliefs. And it’s one of the things I absolutely adore about Jeremy. He has a way of making people question their perceived wisdom, without sounding aggressive, cruel, radical or know-it-all. But if someone says something that comes across as bullying, or is simply very narrow minded, he questions it. In fact, I’m making it my new aim, to be more analytical of people’s behavior that doesn’t fit my moral code. And you never know, when you question someone’s stance on a topic that conflicts with yours, you may just change their opinion…. But even more excitingly…. They may just change yours! I find it comforting, the flexibility of minds. It reminds me of that early meeting, between me and Johnny, at Dingo beach (which you may recall if you are an oldschool blogette). To be willing to be challenged, is to be willing to accept you might be wrong, and that is a willingness to change for the better. To learn. Plasticise your minds my friends! (Mum, I’m not on drugs, I promise).
Jeremy, Me, Jane & Martin

So I get to this point, in Tauranga, where I’m nearing the end of my stay at Jane and Jeremy’s house, and I haven’t really got a plan. I've been to the mount, i've exhausted Tauranga, and I have another 10 days in NZ, and not a clue what to do.

Cue a call to Mum, who in her infinite wisdom, suggests I go to Wellington as it’s the biggest city. Smart move. For my last night, Jeremy treats me to dinner at his favourite Thai restaurant, and we are joined by Jane and Martin, who I get on so famously well with by this stage that I question my snap judgments, and promptly change them. Good old plastic mind.

Windy Welly
OR: It’s the little differences…

The bus to wellington is a good 10 hours, but I don’t care… I genuinely enjoy the time I spend with my thoughts, the scenery, some good tunes in my ears. Plus this journey is a little more exciting than usual cus the poor old batty woman (85, dementia, travelling alone) pipe’s up and gets rewarded with a trip to the police station. The whole bus is like a class of jittery excitable school children trying to figure out what all the excitement is about. When the camp bus driver (who really ought to have had a career on the stage if his announcements are anything to go by), says over the tanoy: “Ok guys, I’m obviously having some problems up here, please just bare with me, you can see this isn’t a usual situation so just cut me some slack and give me a bit of understanding… I can’t really explain over the tanoy what’s going on, its not very appropriate”, to which I say to the lady next to me “Yeah, but he’s dying to do just that!”, to which she gets the giggles and we have a laugh and a chat the rest of the way. PLUS, when we stop for tea, I order a cuppa and guess what order number I get given? Wellington is gunna be good.

My first CS host, Mark, meets me from the bus, and very trustingly gives me the keys to his house (He’s off toa party, which I decline an invite to in favor of a night in with Chinese and trashy telly). This suits Mark fine as he has 2 other CSers coming to stay and they are arriving at 9pm, so I can let them in.

The 2 surfers are lovely young Canadians from BC. Jen, 20, is outgoing, bordering on the mad, just how I like it, loads of weird little tattoo’s and plays the drums (win). Her friend Seynel (pronounced like that designer brand), also 20, is adorable, seems younger than Jen, has an awesome laugh, and they make some kind of hilarious double act.

We fall asleep before Mark gets home, but wake Saturday and have a good old chat together. Mark is a surreysider, mountain biker, IT boy – 31 - lived in East Molesy up until 5 years ago. It’s nice to be around a familiar accent. He talks about traffic on the A3 and at the sound of the road name, I actually coo: Ahhh, the A3, I remember that! He still has his British keyboard too, and I get the giggles when it takes me yonks to find the @ key, because I have become so accustomed. We have a goodl ol’ chat about travelling, and how it’s the little things that get you. Like the dial tone of a phone, the plug sockets, the bleeps the pedestrian crossings make. Its these little differences that when you first arrive make you feel like such a stranger in a strangeland – and it’s those very same little differences that make you realise you are no longer a foreigner, when you fail to notice the differences, and instead are surprised by an unsuspected reminder from ‘home’ – like seeing an English plug – my initial reaction was ‘what the hell’s that?’. Incidentally, I cannot recall in my minds ear the UK dial tone. Travelling. Everyone should do it.
Hitch Hiking

Us 3 girls decide a bit of retail therapy is in order. I feel like an absolute square when I grab my oh-so-grown-up bus time table and get looks from the girls like I’m a total saddo, cus obviously we’ll just hitch in.

Despite being 24, this is my first ever attempt at hitch hiking. It’s surprisingly easy. Rather unsurprisingly, we are picked up by three 18 year old boys, meaning four of us are squeezed in the back. These poor boys don’t seem able to contain their excitement, and after a barrage of questions, we arrive in town and jump out the car.

The day is perfect. The vintage shops are like the ones I see in my dreams. Loads of cool old stuff, but being sold at bargain prices. Unlike in the UK, where you either get a second hand shop with loads of cheap rubbish, or a second hand shop with loads of expensive gems. I guess somewhere on earth there’s gotta be a second hand shop that’s shit and expensive. I buy a pair of white RayBan sunnies and a nautical beach back from $40 (about twenty quid). That night we head back into town for a drag show, which turns out to be beautiful, touching, hilarious, well done, smart and thought provoking. Mark meets us after at a bar…. And this is just one of many examples of why I love Couch Surfing.

He says to go to the Mighty Mighty on Cuba St (The main bar drag). He tells me its v inconspicuous from the outside so just look for two doormen. He wasn’t kidding, you’d never know there was a bar there. There is just a black single door, no lights or anything, with 2 door staff standing outside. You go up some steep stairs and then BAM! You’re in an awesome, large venue, decked out in super retro style, complete with awesome band playing. It’s rammed with scenesters draped in vintage designerware and hairstyles intentionally bad in that kind of ironic, hip, sub-cultural way. Mark and I sit at the bar and drink beer and have remarkably deep chats. An awesome night. We get home in the wee hours and crash.
Me & Mark at Mighty Mighty

On Sunday, Jen and I attempt to climb Mount Victoria but somehow end up just sunbathing in the park. Then cook a stir fy for dinner and watch Bill Bailey with Mark. An early night for all – Seynel flies home to Canada Monday, and Jen and I are off to stay with a new Host, Kacy.

Racy Kacy
OR: How to simultaneously be domestic-goddess-mother and badass-gothic-dominatrix.

Kacy meets us in town. 31, kiwi, mother of 8 year old Ryan, Dominatrix by profession. She’s big in that sexy way that really suits gothic dominant women. We get the buss to her house, where she proceeds to cook us the most delicious pumpkin soup, homemade savory scones followed by scrummy date cake. We watch a few Mighty Boosh episodes and then get an early night. Tuesday its rainy and cold, so me and Jen go to the pictures to see Black Swan – a nice cheery film. We walk home in the rain and finally get to meet Ryan.

He’s the coolest kid I’ve ever met (perhaps apart from Jobe). He is so well mannered, polite, funny, smart, interested, interesting. He shows us his skills on the drums (followed by Jen, who pretty much blows us away). He chases me around with a gun, we play lego, he teaches me how to ‘Bop-it’. Adorable. And Kacy is the kind of mother that I want to be. 100% all about Ryan, his day at school, his homework, yet without compromising a fraction of who she is. She’s so involved, constantly playing and talking with him, and she disciplines him in a way that just, I dunno, it just looked like how parenting should be done to me. In the morning we play connect 4, and he kicks my ass about 8 times in a row. By the 4th game, I was really really trying. The kid is a genius. A sneaky genius.

Journey of Doom
OR: Gut feelings.

I leave Kacy’s at 8.15am to catch a train to Welly Central to catch the horrible bus back up north to Papakura. This is my first taste of how shitty actual travelling can be.

I have my backpack strapped to my back, plus my massively over packed handbag, and the towel and pillow attached to the outside of my bag. It is POURING rain. My mac just about covers half my backpack. And it’s windy. And my centre of balance is distorted. I pretty much stagger the mile to the station (convinced I’m going to miss the train). The train happens to be running late, leaving me 15 minutes before my bus departs Wellington. I make it with literally seconds to spare. STRESS. So I’m sopping wet as I embark on my 12 hour bus to Papakura. And my iPod battery is dead. Brilliant. The child in the row behind screams and whines non-stop for the first 3 hours. Whilst a mother at the front of the bus changes her babies nappy, which, thanks to the wonderful aircon system, we are now all aware of, as the rancid smell permeates the entire vehicle.  

Jen, on the other hand, is flying. A 1 hour flight. She left Kacy’s at 1pm and was drinking a beer by 3pm. That is how it’s done. Jen is staying with a chap she met whilst selling fruit on the side of the road in Auckland a few weeks back. I’m not due back at the farm with Conrad and Gaz et al til Thursday night. So Jen asks this guy if I can stay. (Incidentally, he paid for her flight). I kind of just had a funny feeling about it from the off. And not just because Jen informs me he has a crack and gambling problem.

I seem to recall my bus arrival time as 8pm, and Jen says they can pick me up in Papakura then. But when I board my connecting bus, the driver announces the ETA is 7pm. I text Jen to tell her but it doesn’t deliver. I try calling and it goes straight to voicemail.

I try to quash my niggling doubts about the whole set-up, but things keep creeping into my brain, like, I wonder if Jen is tied up in his basement? Or, what would I do if I get off the bus and he’s there but she isn’t? I kept telling myself not to be mental, but macabre thoughts kept returning. I was desperately searching my ever-changing surroundings to spot a number 23 so I’d know I was safe, but I didn’t see a single one. Then I decided to text Simon… He told me that although the guy probably wasn’t a serial killer, I should go with my instinct… and with Mum’s words about listening to my gut still ringing in my ears, I called Conrad and asked him to pick me up. The guys are all OTL, but Gaz’s girlfriend Phil finishes work in an hour and can pick me up on her way past. Perfect. I find the nearest pub, order a bowl of mussels and pint of beer, and am greeted with the warm sense of making the right decision. That same feeling you get when you’re desperate to go home from work or school but you stick it out for hours before you finally give up the goat and decide to sack it in and go home. Relief. At about 8pm Jen calls me and says she gets no network at this guys house, and that all is fine, and no worries, as long as I have somewhere to stay, it’s all good – we arrange to meet for lunch the following day.

Life at The Farm in Papakura 2
OR: Dead Rabbit

Whatever my weird feeling was about, I don’t really care, I love it here at the farm. I get on so well with each of the housemates. I slept fantastically, and woke Thursday with a view to doing some housework to say thank you. Conrad was too hungover to go to work in the end anyway so we spent the morning cleaning and the afternoon hanging with Jen (the [possible] serial was home sleeping off his latest crack binge presumably). 

Me and Conrad go back to the farm, I make an Apple Crumble and we watch a film. That night Conrad and Carly decide to take me Eeling. Yup, exactly what you are thinking, like fishing, but for eels. It’s 8pm, so I naturally assume they mean the next day…. No, it turns out you catch eels at night. Very befitting for the creepy creatures they are. But I’m informed a smoked eel is delicious, and with my new ban on eating factory farmed animals, I decide a bit of eel would go down a treat.

With the decision made, Conrad grabs his shotgun and announces “I’ll just go and get some bait”. God this is rural living. 5 minutes later he reemerges from the darkness with a dead rabbit. (Since when did eels come higher up the food chain than rabbits!?). We drive down to the waters edge and Conrad helps me bait my hook (not sure that’s what you call it – can you tell I’ve never been fishing before?). First to get a bite is Conrad, but he reels it in and it’s only a tidler, so we throw him back. I’m assured that they’re hardy bastards that can survive a hook in the mouth as long as they don’t swallow it. Right. Next Carly reels one in, also a bit of a baby. Back he goes. I get a few tugs on the line but scream so loud I think I scare the slimy buggers off. Just as we decide to call it a night, and reel in our lines, I realise I have an eel. He’s quite big too. But I guess my lack of skill foils us, and with Conrad’s headlamp illuminating the scene, we watch him jump free from my hook. Kind of relived for the little eel.

We get home around 11pm and promptly crash. Nothing like a bit of eeling to tire you out before bed!

After a quiet couple of days at the farm, Me and Conrad share our last night getting drunk and eating good food at the local pub (a twenty minute drive away!). The next day he takes me to the airport. we leave at 7am. I arrive to be told that my flight is delayed until 3pm. Great. After a small amount of eyelash batting, big smiles, and polite but pissed off complaining, I get put (probably to just to shut me up!), into he lounge, where I  spend the next 6 hours in better comfort than most of the previous months travelling have seen me enjoy! I board my plane to Sydney in a rather relaxed state thanks to the constant flow of free booze, and am totally ecstatic in the knowledge that I am soon to be reunited with my Sydney family. 

You're gunna hate me for saying it my kiwi friends.... New Zealand is pretty cool, but Oz knocks the socks off it! .....just in case I'm wrong here, Simon and I have every intention of travelling around both islands in a van in the not too distant future! I will keep a plastic mind on this one.....

If you got the the end of this mammoth blog - you deserve a prize! well done bloggetes!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Happy Mardi Gras!

So as you may have seen from the pictures, I managed to get an outfit sorted in the 24 hours leading up to Mardi Gras. This was mainly achieved by Helena driving me around to Op and $2 shops, and borrowing/stealing garments from the friendly poly folk who I met at the pre MG picnic on Friday.

Friday night Belinda cooked the most beautiful meal. We were joined by lovely Ivan, who I met briefly at the DnBBQ, and his lady friend, beautiful French Clara, whom I love not least of all because she made the most delicious chocolate soufflés and a pear, chocolate and nut tart, which henceforth became known as ‘the tart that undid polyamory’, for its jealousy inducing nature! We got a semi-decent nights sleep to prepare for the big day.

Saturday: Fishnets on, false lashes stuck, corsets tied, we made our way to Hyde Park, to the marshalling area to find our float. After much waiting about (which actually included learning the dance routine, shmoozing with our queer peers of the parade – my favourite of whom were the Sydney Rugby Convict boys – now there’s a gay minority if ever there was one! - and general frolicking)  the parade was off.

I was pretty much in my element – bar one small moment of realisation, as we approached the oxford st crossroads, the crowds were huge, the press were everywhere, the road was littered and slippery and I became suddenly very aware of my legs, and their inability to continue walking naturally. After a brief panic that I could fall flat on my bare ass in front of most of Sydney, I pulled it together and strutted the remainder of the parade with ease (helped of course by being surrounded by good friends).

The after party was epic. There are no more words. We arrived home about 6.30am. Sunday was spent in the recovery position. Helena had to work, but came home in the evening with Thai take-out (I love you Helena). We made a nest in the front lounge and watched Shortbus with full bellies. Perfect.

Michael, Belinda and Me in a Cave
Monday was a very early start – made even earlier by the fact that Simon was at Mum and Pete’s and I wanted to skype – So I woke at 5am and had a lovely long chat. At 7am, me, Helena, Belinda and our new friend Michael (28, Tasmanian rainforest activist and dumpster-diver, all round anarchic pretty boy), drove to the Jenolen Caves and the Blue Mountains.

We had such a super day. The caves were magnificent, despite the less-than-riveting guide (we combated this with a good ol’ fashioned game of ‘spot the rock that looks most like a cock’). The walk through the Blue Mountains was stunning too (although I fear I’m becoming very blasé with waterfalls these days!). And to top off the perfect day, we stopped off in the evening for a delicious pub dinner and bottle of wine.

Waterfall Shmaterfall

Tuesday Michael and I went to Sydney zoo with Jamie and Emily. Another perfect sunny day. The animals were pretty bloody awesome. I finally got to see a platypus! And crikey, have you ever seen a Komodo Dragon?? Bleedin’ terrifying! The guys were going ‘oh wow, look at the komodo dragon!’ and I’m going ‘where, where?’, squinting, looking under rocks and nooks and crannies – thinking its small and well camouflaged. Then I see the bigger picture and realise the thing I think is a rock is its hind leg and it’s about twice my size! Bloody loved the meerkats too – they always get me they do!

Wednesday I spent the day cleaning and packing for NZ. Helena’s parents took us out for dinner in Newtown which was lovely. On the way, as it’s a bit of a walk, Helena suggested we take it ‘in stages’, which I was pleased to see meant stopping along the way to have cocktails at regular intervals! 

The food at the restaurant was fantastic, a grazing menu – what a fantastic idea, perfect for me, as anyone who has been out to dinner with me knows I want to try a bit of what everyone else has ordered anyway – so what a perfect solution to have individual dishes to be bought out one at a time, for your party to share! – and afterwards we went to that Max Whatshisface for chocolate overdose. Superb!

H's lovely folks :)

Helena very kindly drove me to Sydney airport on Thursday where I caught a plane all on my own, for only the second time in my entire life, to Auckland, New Zealand.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

2 Steps forward, one step back, Or: Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards – aka: The Roadtrip that saved me

So it’s Sunday night, 20th February. My bag is packed, and I’m venturing on a road trip with Helena and Bud (who is actually quite a big deal!). I meet Simon and Sheba in Newtown, who are doing the first leg of the roadtrip with us.

Simon is big, bald, has a deliciously friendly face and an awesome sense of humour. Unfortunately, meeting him Sunday night, I am still sans-sense-of-humour, in fact, I am without any social grace whatsoever – which is quite unusual for me. Every time Helena asks if I’m ok, I’m willing her to stop asking with my eyes because if I answer I will cry. So naturally, these people who have so kindly offered to drive me 4 hours north of Sydney, think I’m a little…. I think Simon later referred to it as…. ‘poopy’. Fair assumption.

Di and Daryl
We arrive in Forster, Green Point, at about 1am, where our hosts for the next few days, Di and Daryl (kiwis, married 20 years, professional stilt walkers/circus/poi/market traders), await us, with wine, cheese & biscuits. I receive huge warm hugs from them both, and am immediately reminded of a trip I took with mum when I was about 10 to Chard, Dorset. The house, and the occupants’, had that same calm, positive, grounding energy. Feeling better already. Simon and Sheba turned in. So did Buddles and Daryl (not together I hasten to add!), leaving me, Helena and Di.


Well what a screaming laugh we did have. Us three girls got through all 4 bottles of wine, then decided to go for a skinny-dip in the lake at the bottom of the garden. This lake is huge. Six times the size of Sydney harbour I am reliably informed by Di. And in this lake, I witness for the very first time, the natural wonder that is bioluminescent phosphorescent marine life. It looks like sparkling glitter in the dark depths of the water. With every sweeping movement of a limb, a wave of the starlike flecks sparkle and twinkle, surrounding the moving limb in the most phenomenal glow. Awesome [in the tradiitonal sense]. It blew my mind.

Somehow , after I confiscated yet another bottle of wine, I made it into bed at 6.30am.

We woke 1pmish on Tuesday to a delicious ‘breakfast’ Di had made. We packed the esky with wine and bubbly and went down to the beautiful secret magical hidden beach where we swam in the sea and Di taught me some new hoop tricks. 

Hooping. Hooping. Hooping Hooping. 
Hooping. Hooping. Hooping Hooping. 

After a booze and food run by me and Helena, we settled in to a night in the garden playing the famous person rizla game. I won (I was Obama. Easy!). With every hour that past, I felt more and more myself again.
A more reasonable night allowed us to wake at the more respectable hour of 10am. We started the day with some guided yoga courtesy of Sheba. 

At some point during the morning, news broke of an Earthquake in Christchurch – where both Di and Daryl are from. Many tears, and frantic phone-calls later, once most loved ones had been accounted for, we had a big breakfast together where we gave thanks and sent prayers. 

We packed the van and cars ready for a BBQ down at the smokie across the lake. Somehow leaving the house allowed all of us, including D&D, to put the worry and heartbreak out of our minds and enjoy the day.

Me on the boat, enjoying the afternoon sun.

Di took Me, Sheba, Bud and H on the boat whilst the boys went ahead in the van to set up. What a fantastic time. Di’s boat skills are amazing. We saw beautiful black swans and huge flocks of pelicans. We eventually rocked up at the site where an evening of good food, good company, lovely locals, kids, hoops, football, fire ensued. I even tried my first fresh oyster. Not a fan. I retreated to the bed in Di and Daryl’s van (which was there home for a very long time), and fell into a beautiful sleep listening to the lapping water and good friends sharing good times. Most soothing!

I barely woke up when they packed up the van and drove the 10 meters home. 

Sheba, Simon, Di, Me, Daryl, Bud, Helena.
We woke Wednesday and had a very quiet, chilled, booze-free day. We had a delicious lunch at the sundowner, and after a lovely meal together, we retired early ready for our next leg of the trip – to Byron! Di and Daryl kindly lent us their car, and Sheba and Simon headed back to Sydney. 

Helena not a fan of the new MFL
Helena did some top-notch driving, and we made it into Byron about 5pm, where we checked into the Arts Factory Lodge. (bud had a gig at the adjoining Buddha Bar). The two girls who were due to meet us there were unfortunately ill, so couldn’t make it. But the cheeky bastards at AFL charged Helena for the two beds. So it is henceforth called the Money Factory Lodge. Helena, like Simon (Pilot), has been a fan of the AFL since the 90’s, and was heartbroken to see that their laid-back, customer friendly attitude had taken such a turn since being taken over by the largest Australian backpacker company, Nomads. Realising we were with the UK legend, international DJ Big Bud, who was playing at the venue, didn’t encourage any leniency. Very mean indeed.

The venue was unusually quiet, which was a shame. But we did get free booze and food being Bud’s roadies/groupies, which was a nice touch. And we spent a lovely evening with Bud’s old friend Mischa, a German guy who visited Byron in 1996 for a 6 month holiday….and never left.

A Day at the Beach - Byron Bay

Me leaving the Arts Factory with my pretentious suitcase!
The following morning we went to the beach, before saying farewell to Byron and heading north. We stopped off at Mullumbimby, which is the finniest place I have ever visited. Full of crazies, hippies, vegan food shops and nut jobs. I loved it. Made great friends; whilst getting a smoothie from a café, a guy wearing lipstick informed me ‘the enlightened one will provide smoothies for us’ and that ‘the vegetables felt no pain because they have been blessed by the enlightened one’. He was lovely. 

We headed north via Nerrang, to visit Helena’s two nephews who were a pleasure, and then via Carrara, to drop into Viv and Pauls to collect my bag that Wendy had so kindly fixed and sent to me. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Viv, El or Nic, but it was such a delight to see Paul and Mojo. However briefly.

We finally arrived at Helena’s sisters house, an hour out of Brisbane. Had a fantastic night. Debbie has 4 kids, 11-19, they were all lovely. We stayed up drinking and chatting. Lovely stuff. Woke Saturday morning and after some brekkie, headed to The Valley, Brisbane, for Bud’s final gig.

He's actually quite a big deal you know.
The venue was superb, the gig was amazing. Danced, ate, laughed, just generally really enjoyed myself. Getting quite into the Drum and Bass Malarkey!

Helena heroically drove through the night back to Forster (an 8 hour drive).  Having driven for 6 hours, strictly sticking to the speed limit and without rest, we pulled in to a layby for a strecth and a wee. When we rejoined the highway, there was a car quite close behind us so she put her foot down to gain her distance so we could settle back into the long slog. Wrong move. It was a cop car that she had accelerated away from. Which pulled her, booked her, gave her 3 points and a fine. I really felt like the cop didn’t want to, he seemed like a nice guy, but I guess shit happens. 

We pulled into Di and Daryl’s at 5.30am. After 5 hours sleep, we woke, helped D&D clean the house in anticipation of Di’s parents arrival. Then drove to Newcastle, where H and Bud, Me and Daryl got a bus (the ONE bloody time you want to get a train into Sydney and its replacement bloody bus service!), into Sydney. Daryl was flying to Christchurch to help his parents, and me Bud and H were going home.

We went to the warehouse that Bud stays in and drank gin. Monday I cleaned the bathrooms which felt really good (even better because I am now the paid cleaner and really needed the money!), then went to Bud’s last supper.

This was held in a warehouse of his good friends (who I feel are now good friends of mine). They cooked amazing dinner, we drank heaps of wine, we chatted and danced. Alex, who lives in the warehouse, gave a lovely farewell speech in the form of a limerick complete with Irish accent. It all felt very lovely, and yet very sad that a new, good friend was flying back to blighty, having spent every day for over a week with us.

The amazing food they put on. LtoR: Simon, Bex, José and Lu.

Tuesday Bud cooked us a delicious omelette, before H took him to the airport. A very similar story to what I experienced the week before.

To cheer her, and us, up, me and her housemate/best-friend/lover Belinda, got lots of wine, and whisky. The only thing to do in a time of need. Thiago, Belinda’s chap, came home to find three drunk girls, and he did the only thing there is to do for drunk girls – ordered pizza. 

Wednesday I walked to Newtown for tea, did chores, cooked a lasagne. Thursday Belinda took me into Sydney central for some shopping. Got home around 3pm, then the three of us did some exercise in the park. Helena and I headed out to a DnB night on Oxford St, which was awesome. Saw all the lovely warehouse friends, but there was a Bud shaped hole. :(

Doesn't really need a caption, does it?

 Woke feeling a tad hungover today, so cleaned and walked and went to the pre mardi gras poly-picnic. The march is tomorrow – how very exciting! I feel it may put London and Brighton to shame! Especially as this time i'm IN the parade. Exhibitionist that I am, actually marching with our float in the Syndey Mardi Gras really appeals to my narcissistic side. It's one of the most exciting prospects of my trip to date! Now... to try and find an outfit. I have less than 24 hours and I have decided I want to wear a Tuxedo. Hmmmm....

I will let you know how it goes!


Don't know the name of this weird building.... HA! Look where I am!!!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Last days with the pilot and first days in Sydney

I’ve been putting off writing this blog because I’m in the difficult position of trying to convey how wonderful, joyous and happy the last few weeks have been, whilst writing from a place of sadness and longing. But I will try and leave my current state of misery at the door and start from when they let me out of hospital on Tuesday 8th Feb. (For any new readers – I wasn’t momentarily sectioned – I had a kidney infection).

I am so very grateful for having met this wonderful family, who I just happen to share blood with (I mean in the familial sense, no weird rituals). When you’ve been really poorly, there is nothing better than going home to a comfortable bed, good food, people who love you, and a wonderful little dog called Mojo. Simon and I spent a few days just resting up at Viv and Pauls. And by ‘resting-up’, I mainly mean shopping/dining/drinking.  Those who know me well will know that clothes shopping for me is like going to the fairground for pikey kids. I fookin love it. 
So meeting a man who will willingly spend 2 hours in an Op Shop with me has been very lucky, to say the very least. After some v. successful finds for us both, we spent hours on busses (Gold Coast public transport needs to take a long hard look at itself) to go to Saks, a swank restaurant on the marina, where we ate the most ridiculous sea-food platter for two you have ever seen, followed by swimming in the sea/frolicking on the beach. 

That evening was Elliot’s gig at The Basement. It was Simon’s first Oceanics experience, and he was suitably impressed. We had a super evening. Word of my skills in the burger-making arena had reached Andy, the fantabulous Oceanics drummer (who also happens to be one of the nicest boys I have ever met), so I agreed to make them the following night for all.

So Friday night was burger night. Andy ate 3. What a hero. Sarah came over to say goodbye, and so did Marge. The drink flowed, and before long the guitar was out (Along with Pauls thirty-year-old hand-written song books) and we all had a good singsong. Saturday Nic and Elliot took us t The Spit and we walked along the pier and then got sushi. Viv, Paul, Nic and AJ went off to Michael Boob for the evening, leaving me, El and Si to have a divinely nothingy night in. I called a doctor (nothing too dramatic), just to get some more antibiotics and she gave me some pots to wee in incase I’m on the wrong antibiotics and another lot of heavy duty AB’s. 

On Sunday Nic and AJ drove us down to Byron Bay. We had a fab day, but Nic and AJ had to go home to be sensible which was such a shame, as the 4 of us would have made a brilliant team for a short holiday. Never the less, Simon and I soldiered on. We booked into our romantic room at the Arts Factory Lodge where Simon had stayed 15 years before. The room was like an old gypsie canvas caravan, with a front porch and a back porch which backed onto a large pond. It was perfect. We spent the evening at the Railway Friendly bar – Simons’ old Byron haunt, and then bought some wine and went down to the beach to drink it on the rocks whilst the sun went down.

Monday was Valentine’s Day. Not a day I’m usually one for celebrating with much enthusiasm. We got up and sat on our back porch, legs dangling off the deck over the pond. A mummy duck and her ducklings were wading around. I had honestly not expected to receive a valentine’s card from Simon…. I don’t know why, I just hadn’t. So when I asked him if he wanted his card before we went out for brekkie, and he replied ‘yes, do you want yours?’, I was quite genuinely, pleasantly surprised. Nothing had prepared me though, for what is by some distance, the nicest thing I have ever received.  (With the birthday card he painted me firmly in second place).

I do hope he doesn’t mind me explaining this…. It’s funny with writing the blog, it has become such a useful catharsis to me, that the things I thought I’d probably keep to myself, have become the things I want to write about most. So Simon, apologies in advance if I now shatter the illusion for the millions of readers of this blog, that you are in fact, a macho-tough-guy, and not, (as your card making skills imply) the biggest romantic softie that ever lived. 

I’m sure lots of you will know the importance of the  balloon-in-the-tree in Westcott. But for those of you who don’t, I will give a brief explanation.

Knowing that I was going away for a year, and Simon’s inability/lack of interest to have a long-term relationship, we had a few early symbolic rituals or turns-of-phrase that kind of helped us communicate when discussing our early, new, foetal-like but blooming, relationship. To kind of make sense of, or interpret, how things were going. So when we met in the depths of winter, Simon would often say ‘as long as you are here to see the spring bulbs…’. And we would say this often. And then of course the spring bulbs bloomed and disappeared, followed by the veggies, the late summer flowers, and the early autumn planting of the following year’s spring bulbs. An entire gardener’s cycle and we were still in love. 

So around the beginning of last year, we happened to notice a heart-shaped balloon trapped in the tree by the burial mound, on Guildford Road, near The Bothy. This balloon kind of took the place of ‘as long as you get to see the spring bulbs’. Seeing someone’s gift of love trapped in a tree is an emotive image anyway. But for us it became this kind of metaphor; As long as that balloon is trapped in that tree then our love is safe. The weeks and months went on, and we watched the balloon transform as it slowly degraded. The weather had bleached it and torn it, and towards the time I was preparing to leave, it was barely recognisable as a balloon, bar the long ribbon-like strings intertwined in the branches. But we knew what it was. Many times, I would drive home past the tree, look up to make sure, and send Simon a message; ‘it’s still there…’. And sometimes we would jibe that if it came down, that would be the end. Or that perhaps it would fall the day I left as some kind of cruel but apt analogy – an emblem of my departure. But it didn’t. It was well and truly up there. We even went on a half-hearted rescue mission with the intention of maybe keeping it safe somewhere, but it was too high up and we couldn’t get it.
So I guess when Simon saw that the heavy snowfall had finally brought down the beloved symbol of our longevity, there really was only one thing to do with the remains. Inside is scrawled, in his lovely Simony handwriting: ‘The balloon fell down in the end, but my love for you never will’. 
Sorry Simon. If it makes it any better, I made a sickeningly saccharine book of love which is just about the most puke-inducing bit of craft you can imagine. The long and short of it is, we are a couple of weirdo’s that just so happen to have managed to find each other in a world full of normallers. And I am very happy.
Anyways, after that, we got some lovely breakfast, then did the long walk to the far end of the beach around cape byron, to Watego’s beach. Lovely lovely day. We spent the evening on our back porch having a candle-lit smorgasbord with the prize bottle of Villa Maria. Tuesday we made a den on the beach and barricaded ourselves in with a low wall made of sandcastles using my urine sample pot as makeshift sand-bucket. (Unused I hasten to add, they gave me two).  

We were driven home by a nice chap from CS called Mitch who lives pretty near aussie nan and pop. We got to Reg and Vals at 7pm and had wine and pizza and farewells. It was lovely. We looked through Reg’s brothers photo album (he was killed in a spitfire during WWII). Therte is a photo of one of his many lady companions wearing his pilot’s jacket, which made me chuckle for reasons you can imagine.
Wednesday  we got up early to say our final goodbyes, it was horrible. Elliot, lovely boy that he is, took us to the airport where we caught our plane to Sydney.

We cabbed it to Stu’s and had a wonderful night out with him, his housemate and lovely dutch Erik – delish thai. Slept badly, the knowledge of it being my penultimate night with Simon creeping into my shallow dreams. Thursday we got a cab to Helena’s house, which is not a house, but the most beautiful living arrangement I have ever seen. We had a lovely lunch, then spent the afternoon/evening in the park watching the planes go overhead and finding a bottle shop (which involved several trips to various pubs of course!). The night was lovely, great company, great wine. I woke in the night weeping. a sign of things to come.

We got breakfast Friday morning and tried to be very brave. Simons cab collected him from my arms at 1.30pm. I didn’t even watch it pull away. That night Helena took me to a very interesting fetish nightclbub, ands when I got home at 4am, the incessant crying began. Saturday was the Drum n Bass BBQ which I was so looking forward to, but I felt tired, weepy and under the weather, so came home at 8.30pm and did some crying.

It’s now Sunday and, despite the wonderful people, beautiful place, and exciting travel plans, I cannot seem to snap myself out of weepsville. I won’t write a long and protracted explanation of my heartbreak and sadness – other than to say, I am heartbroken and sad. For the first time, I have considered coming home.
We are off on a road trip to Byron and Brisbane this week so will hopefully see Viv and Paul on route, and the busyness of travel will hopefully reduce the weepings. And then its time to find work. And I suppose in the grand scheme of things this is all probably a good sign, but at the moment I am struggling to remember why on earth I am doing this to myself when I could be living in domestic bliss with the love of my life. Also living out of a backpack is starting to seriously do my head in.

The following pictures go someway to describing my current abode:

Until next time bloggalettes.