Sunday, 30 December 2012

Christmas, A.K.A. The Annual Self-Restraint Test

So another Christmas has come and gone, and, once again my mum, my sister and I have all failed to exercise any form of self control over the festive period. Our family traditions aren't the most conventional - by the 8th of December, there was no evidence whatsoever that any Advent calendars had ever even existed in our house, and by the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, every single present in the household had been ripped open and poured over, leaving us in a mess of wrapping paper, socks, and empty Terry's Chocolate Orange boxes. (I was extremely disgruntled at the lack of knickers in my stocking as I had purposely refrained from doing any laundry, assuming I would receive the gift of underwear from at least one member of my parental unit). The first time this happened it was a mistake, and I remember feeling riddled with guilt and shame when I woke up on Christmas morning, surrounded by wrapping paper and chocolate coins (which I distinctly remember thinking were real for at least ten minutes). The second year it happened, it felt strangely liberating, and by the third year, it was assumed tradition. People tend to be genuinely horrified when they find out that we do this, and the general response is usually something along the lines of, 'but why do you do that?! You're ruining Christmas!' - I think they're forgetting that, for us, Advent ended on the 8th of December, so really we've held off opening gifts for a good 2 and a half weeks and there's only so much self restraint we can manage. (I'm aware of the twisted logic that statement presents, but such is the way of my life).

We ensured that all of our family traditions were honoured when we had a spate of falling outs the next day over a board game, which resulted in me telling my cousin he was a prick after he answered a question about horseradish incorrectly and everyone stomping out into the garden for a calming down cigarette. Luckily, tension is easily eased in my family - it's nothing locking Auntie Sue in the cellar for a cheap laugh couldn't sort out.

Taking into account that one my favourite things to do in life is mock others, I think it's a given that one of my favourite things about Christmas time is receiving family newsletters from my mum's old friends that detail every single event in their life, large or small, that has occurred in since this time last year. God knows how we'd cope if we didn't know that Bruce and Carol had broken their kettle and had to buy a new one - it makes me feel like such a terrible friend for not already knowing and having to find out in a generic letter because I didn't care enough to ask. In fairness, I didn't even know their kettle was ill. When I was sharing this heartbreaking news with my friends the other night, my friend's dad told us how he once received one of these wonderful letters from some friends boasting about the time their child saved a princess from a riot in Pakistan (like we've not all done that at some point or another). Carol and Bruce's letter was filled with similar excitements - for example, and this is a direct quote, "Both Bruce and I are showing signs of wear and tear. Bruce has had to give up playing badminton for the time being, as he is experiencing trouble with his knee. I, too, have been plagued by carpel tunnel syndrome and arthritis in my right hand." I know, your heart bleeds, doesn't it? She then goes on to talk, in extensive detail, about their trip to the Caribbean, including a short history of the Caribbean islands, the "vibrant and colourful" buildings, and the pink Cadillac they hired to see the sights of the city. After a few bits and bobs about her wonderful children and their perfect partners and their perfect partners perfect jobs, she then dedicates an entire paragraph to her mother's ill health - arthritis, oesteoporosis and low blood pressure, if you're interested. There is a ray of light when she mentions that her mother was getting much better, but then the next sentence is, "Then in September, she collapsed and was fitted with a pacemaker." I'm not entirely sure how we were meant to respond to this information, but if it was up to me, we would respond in the following manner:

Dear family, friends, family-friends, neighbours, colleagues, the postman, the milk man, and whoever else we've sent a Christmas card to,

     Whew! What a year! Although the Rooke family are still reeling from the death of our beloved pet cat Shelley, who sadly passed away some time ago, we have banded together (as all great families do - am I right, Osbournes?) and soldiered on through this tough time. It is lovely to have such wonderful friends when we are grieving and we thank all who have offered their condolences, though they have somewhat lessened over the past several years as many of you believe that the wounds caused by Shelley's passing should now have healed. We will be having a moment's silence in memory on New Year's Eve should anyone wish to join us.

     On a happier note, Alison has now retired from her teaching position and has been jetting off here, there and everywhere over this past year, drinking shots and frittering away her children's inheritance on Mediterranean cruises, American road trips and sangria. She has not completely disregarded her children, however, as they all received a pair of socks from the Norwegian fiords - almost as good as being there!...

    Although only one Rooke child is living at home, there is still plenty going on around the house. In the past three months we have blown up not one but two of our kettles - can you believe it? We couldn't! Alison has splashed out for a new one that cost more than £7 in the hopes that this one will not explode all over the kitchen and completely ruin breakfast time for all of us. It is a sleek, silver model, very modern and flash - it's quite the treat!

    Kezia has flown the nest and is continuing to do charitable work around Bradford. Her job is going well and she is making good use of her masters degree, despite still, at the age of 25, not being able to tell her left from her right. We are all very excited for the day when she finally does learn, and we will all be extremely proud of her when she does. Kezia now has pets of her own, but, for obvious reasons, Alison is not allowed to go within a 30ft radius of them.

     Amy returned from a five month backpacking trip in July and whilst she was gone, for a few unnerving months, we thought that she was actually going to do something with her life. Thankfully, she is now back on track and has settled back into the minimum wage peasant job she has had since being a teenager. Although her degree is proving entirely useless, she is proficient at differentiating between left and right, and we could not be more proud. 

     We hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year! We should meet up sometime soon - it's been ever so long!

                                           Kind regards,
                                                   The Rookes

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ceilidh Dancing? Just. Say. No.

It's been a fair while since my last blog post and, to all my truly dedicated fans that have noticed my absence (all three of you), I apologise profusely. The truth is, I wasn't sure whether or not I'd make it to December after eating some spaghetti that I found in the cupboard which went out of date in April 2009. That was three years ago. I was nineteen years old when that spaghetti was in date - the end of the world was a good three and a half years away, Michael Jackson was still alive, and Furbys had not yet made a comeback. (In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have eaten it, but, in my family, food is often held in a higher regard than life - the other day my sister nearly crashed her car trying to save her maltloaf from falling off the seat...) So much has happened since that spaghetti was in date that I've begun to think we should probably start clearing out our kitchen cupboards a bit more often. (And by 'we', I mean 'mum'.) The last time it got cleaned out was about 4 years ago when we got a new kitchen and we unearthed packets of pasta sauce from 1998. We had food in the kitchen that wasn't even from this millennium. I'd be ashamed, but I think it just shows that we have a life... Thankfully, I made it through the ordeal and lived to tell the tale, and now here I am, ready to enjoy the festive season, alive and well. I've always been a big fan of Christmas. Nice food, lots of alcohol, time off work and free stuff? What's not to like?

Christmas is also a good time of year to test my self-restraint and see how it improves, if at all, as I get older. Since I turned 17, I don't think there's been one Christmas where I didn't a) eat my entire Advent calendar at least 2 weeks before the end of Advent, and b) get drunk on Christmas Eve and open all of my presents. (The only reason this never happened before is we never had chocolate Advent calendars when we were little, and, despite what my current state of intelligence may suggest, I did not drink (much) as a child). In my defense, there's only so long one can stare at a Christmas present without grabbing it in typical Western fashion and eagerly tearing it open. I remember one Christmas when I was younger, I got so excited on Christmas morning that I just started frantically ripping open presents, regardless of whether or not they were actually mine. (In most cases, they weren't, causing a fair amount of annoyance for the rest of my family.) I'm not especially bothered about what's inside the paper (unless it's a Terry's Chocolate Orange, in which case, it could come wrapped in pig skin and I would still be happy), it's the unwrapping part that excites me. Nothing ruins Christmas like getting a present in a bag, a pathetic bit of tissue paper shoved in the top and a gift tag lacklusterly dangling from the handle. There's no guessing games to be had here - you open the bag, you look inside, and, just like that, all the joy is sucked out of Christmas. You've seen your gift, and the fun is over. There's no feeling through the wrapping paper, shaking the gift, seeing half of it mid-unwrap and becoming increasingly baffled. There's just nothing, and then, all at once, something. And that is not what Christmas is about.

There are, of course, things I dislike about the festive season. Along with Christmas hats (a nice tradition, but I just can't pull them off), cranberry sauce (it's fruit! It doesn't go on meat!), and sprouts (obviously), I also hate the Christmas CD that began its rotations at work on the the first of December and has been playing, over and over again, every single day since. I like Christmas songs, I do, it's not that - it's just that this particular CD only has six songs on it. Six. It plays them, and then it starts again. All day. For ten hours. And they're not even the real songs! You know when you go into Asda and they're playing The Beatles, but then, upon closer inspection, you realise that it's not actually The Beatles, but a group of Asda employees from the Wakefield branch, doing their own versions of pop songs? It's like that. The only thing that gets me through it is knowing I can go home, put Bob Dylan on, and eat my way through yet another Advent calendar.    

To be honest, I've not actually been in work much over the past two weeks, so my Christmas CD listening has been relatively limited, although by all means no less distressing. I went to Loughborough to visit my friend Belinda, then had a quick break to see some more friends in London where I realised, not for the first time, that I am not cut out for Big City Living. Within two hours of being there, I had been on the receiving end of no less than three,"for fuck's sake!"s and one, "make your mind up, darlin'!" - it's a good job the capital city was not established in the North or there would no doubt be a massacre and the streets would not be littered with cigarette ends and newspapers, but rather lifeless flatcaps and tobacco pipes, their owners lying in a field somewhere, bruised and broken because they took more than three seconds to decide which way they needed to go.

I left London (much to the relief of its residents) to carry my tour up to Nottingham to see my friend Bella play a gig. (If you're interested, here she is). I use the term 'friend' lightly - she has now been demoted to 'acquaintance' after tricking me into going to a ceilidh on Friday night. If, like me, you do not know what a ceilidh is, then when someone asks you to go to one, do not just casually agree until you know what you are in for. I have since discovered that a ceilidh is, according to Wikipedia, a "traditional Gaelic social gathering, which usually involves Gaelic folk music and dancing." If you know me in real life, or if this blog has in any way enlightened you to the type of person I am (which it should have by now), then you will know that a social gathering requiring anything that falls into the category of active participation is not something I am fond of, especially if said participation requires me to be coordinated. On an average day, I trip at least three times before I've had my breakfast (most of the time over my own feet), I trip up the stairs at work and I don't think there has ever been an occasion that I have ridden a bicycle and not fallen off. Coordination just isn't my thing, and it especially isn't my thing in the backroom of a pub as I am looked down on by a 70 year old man wearing a sweater vest and Diadora trainers.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

"Whenever I feel stupid or clumsy, I just remind myself of your existence."

There is one particular thing that I hate more than anything in the world. More than twisted straps on backpacks, more than the duvet all bunching up into one corner of the duvet cover, more than cotton wool on teeth, even more than the incorrect use of homophones do I hate automated telephone services. My first experience with one was when I was seventeen and attempting to change my driving test booking to a later time in the day because I was a lazy teenager who did not want to get out of bed at 9am during half term. This is what happened:

Annoying Automated Woman: Would you like to change your test to an earlier time? Please answer yes or no."
Seventeen-year-old Me: No. 
Annoying Automated Woman: You have answered yes. Your new time will be 8am. Is this OK? Please answer yes or no.
Seventeen-year-old Me: NO.
Annoying Automated Woman: Your test is now at 8am. Thank you for calling.
Seventeen-year-old Me: What? No! NO -
Annoying Automated Woman: Goodbye.

I was too terrified to call back and try to correct it in case I got an even earlier time of 7am and I just had to leave it and get up early to do my test the following week. (In case you were wondering, I failed that particular test, though there is no doubt in my mind that I would have passed had the test been later on in the day. My mind would have had chance to wake itself up and I would have not had a massive nervy b and stopped the car in the middle of a rather large and busy roundabout. As it is, that is what happened and I would appreciate it if no one brought it up again.)

Anyway. I lost my bank card on Tuesday night and therefore had to go through the familiar process of calling the bank on Wednesday morning and explaining to them that it had happened (again) and I would be needing a replacement. Having been in this situation many times before, I knew I would have to give them some kind of security number, and to do that I had to search high and low to find my Little Book of Important Things, which is basically just a tiny notebook full of incoherent sentences and random number sequences under headings such as, 'That Security Number Thing', 'Online Thing', and 'Travel Card Log In Thing', all of which have been scribbled out and re-written various times for each time I have locked myself out of my account and required a replacement number. The only good thing about it is that if my Little Book of Important Things ever fell into the wrong hands, there is very little chance of anyone understanding it well enough to log into any account I am in control of and steal all my money. (I say 'steal all my money' as though there is a lot to take - I currently have 7p in my savings account and not much more in my current account, so they'd be severely disappointed anyway). After entering my birthday (which no imposter would ever be able to get hold of), I then had to answer security questions about my favourite fictional character and my first ever pet. I couldn't remember if I'd chosen Bridget Jones (of Bridget Jones' Diary fame), Hermione Granger (of Harry Potter fame) or Maud Moonshine (of The Worst Witch fame), so I opted for the pet question, only then to be faced with the dilemma of trying to remember if I'd chosen Snuffy the rabbit or Shelley the cat. (You may recognise Shelley from previous blog posts - he was the one my mum murdered, remember?). In the end, I went for Shelley the cat, but apparently he was the wrong choice and I was, once again, locked out of my account. I don't think there has been one time in my life where I have rung the bank and not locked myself out. Eventually I managed to speak to a real human, who very kindly said he would block my card and would provide me with a new one. I thanked him, hung up, and then spotted my lost bank card on my bedroom floor. Naturally.

Another thing that displeased me about this week was an unfortunate incident I had in Waterstones bookshop on Monday afternoon. Given that the bathrooms in the bus station are usually full of absolute degenerates, most of whom are either drugged up or are about to be, the Waterstones bathrooms are really the only suitable place to have a wee in the city centre if you want to a) have a wee in peace, or b) not get a syringe in your arse. (It's never happened to me, but you do hear stories, don't you...). Anyway, so there I am, having a wee, when somehow, somehow, I manage to accidentally pull the In Case of Emergency cord next to the toilet. I'm not entirely sure how it happened (or more to the point, why it happened to me), but it did, and off went the siren, wailing the bathroom down and probably making quite a racket outside as well. Naturally, the first thing to cross my mind was, "oh my God, people are going to think I'm an old lady that's had a fall and needs help, they're going to come bursting in, oh my God, wee faster, WEE FASTER, DAMNIT!" Of course, this particular wee just had to be the longest wee of my entire life - it was well over a minute long, each second bringing with it the expectation of a Waterstones staff member barging in, closely followed by a curious crowd, made up mainly of people who were in my form class at school. (There were currently no members of my school form class in the shop at the time, but during despair the mind will delve into its darkest memories and drag them to the surface in order to make every situation ten times worse). After an eternity, I eventually stopped weeing and walking out of the bathroom to not one but three employees crowded around the bathroom door, asking if I was OK. I mumbled something about being sorry, not meaning to do that, and ran swiftly out of the shop. After regaling the experience to my friend Sam, she responded with, "whenever I feel clumsy or stupid, I just remind myself of your existence." I think she is probably speaking for everyone there, really... You're welcome, everyone. You. Are. Welcome.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Please, Not Like This, I'm Wearing DangerMouse Knickers and Mismatching Socks!

So, one thing you've got to understand about me is I have a completely over-active imagination. If I see a leaf fly past my bedroom, it has not simply fallen off a tree, it has been kicked off the roof by a serial killer who is stalking along the side of the house, preparing to swing down, launch themselves through my bedroom window, kill me with a crow bar, and then eat my head whilst they try on all of my bras. In honour of Hallowe'en, the five year anniversary of the time I accidentally got myself suspended from school and therefore a very special day for me, I am going to regale you all with a tale of horror from earlier on in my week that, due to aforementioned over-active imagination, turned into one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

I arrived home from work at approximately 8:46pm on Thursday evening. It was a cold, rainy October night and the low fog that had been hanging over my village for the past week seemed denser than usual, as though the weather was shielding from me something sinister, something... evil. A black cat crossed my path, averting its eyes so as not to meet my gaze, letting out a long, mournful meow. I continued on, a chill making its way up my spine as the cat meowed again. Reaching the middle of the street, I looked up at my house, silhouetted against the backdrop of a starless sky. Three witches stood outside, a bubbling cauldron in front of them. The cat meowed once more. My blood ran cold. "Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd!"

Wait. Hang on. That's Macbeth... That's not what happened, I got confused. What did happen, however, was I got home and my house alarm was wailing, leading me to the natural conclusion that a killer was in there and, as my mum was away for the night in London (globe trotter that she is), there was no way that I was about to enter the house alone. I ran in, did a quick shufti around the kitchen to check the coast was clear, entered the alarm code so it stopped screaming the street down (thanks for coming to help by the way, neighbours...), and then legged it back out onto my drive and rang my dad.
"There's a killer in the house," was my opening line, to which I could practically hear my dad rolling his eyes. "Come round immediately and save your child."
Instead of turning up at my house as fast as humanly possible and acting as my protector, my dad insisted on staying on the phone as I circled the house, whimpering, and checked that none of the windows had been broken into. May I just say, not the same. After resting assured that no one had squeezed their way through the downstairs bathroom window with an axe, I plucked up all my courage and went through the front door, still occasionally spitting words like "killer" and "precious baby girl" down the phone to my dad. On his advice, I turned around to lock the door (still keeping my keys in my hand in case I had to use them to fight off enemies) and noticed that my hand was covered in blood. Blood. If the house alarm wasn't enough reason for me to have a legitimate freak out, a limb covered in blood of an unknown provenance definitely was. I was now having a full on nervy b (nervous breakdown, obviously) whilst my dad, who was acting almost insultingly cavalier given the situation, told me to run my hand under the tap and check I'd not just accidentally cut myself. Determined to be correct about a killer, I begrudgingly rinsed my hand, realising as I did so that there was a cut on my finger that I must have acquired from the pebble dashing as I went around the back of the house, not feeling it due to the sheer amount of terror-induced adrenaline pumping through my body. The appearance of blood had put me on red alert and I crept slowly and cautiously around the house, checking each room twice, making sure my dad was prepared to send help if I was suddenly viciously attacked by a serial killer wearing my bra. By the time I got to the bathroom, I was certain that someone was in there. If you've ever watched a horror film, then you'll know that the bathroom is always the killer's chosen hang out spot, and the chances of me finding one in there were (in my head) very high. It was at this moment that my hilarious father decided to yell, "ARRGHH!" down the phone, very nearly sending me into cardiac arrest and prompting an early death. As my life flashed before my eyes, all I could think was, "Please, not like this, I'm wearing DangerMouse knickers and mismatching socks!" Decidedly uncool. My father obviously did not care in the slightest that his precious baby girl, his youngest child, was about to have her eyeball sockets turned into condiment holders.

As it transpired, there was no killer in the house. Well, either that, or they are still in hiding, which is quite impressive and, fair play to them, they deserve to kill me, eat me, and wear as much of my underwear as they like. They can even have my DangerMouse knickers.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

I Don't See Nothin' Wrong With A Little Bump n' Grind

Each day, the average adult requires at least half an hour of relatively vigorous exercise in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent dropping dead at the ripe old age of 25. Despite having the occasional multi-pack single packet of crisps and having a few pints every day now and then, I lead a very health conscious lifestyle. I always walk to work (because I have no other option), and I have never, not once, not even when I was unemployed and miserable, eaten an entire circle of Camembert cheese in one sitting. That definitely did not happen at all.
So. Anyway. Exercise. According to this 'half an hour a day rule' that everyone refers to but no one can actually cite reference to, I should be exercising for 30 minutes per 24 hours. I don't mean to be a diva, but this doesn't really fit comfortably into my schedule of working, drinking and eating cheese, so instead I play squash for one and a half hours on a Monday and, if we're going by a roll over system here, that should do me until Thursday. Right? Right. So on Thursdays, I go swimming for an hour, and then that lasts me until the weekend, and I don't exercise on the weekend because the Sabbath is a day of rest, and who am I, a lowly peasant, to argue with the Lord? My sister Kezia and I have recently taken squash back up after a hearty eight year rest, during which Kezia stayed pretty much the same size and I, naturally, got fat. (There may or may not be a direct correlation between the amount of cider and Camembert I consumed over the years and the percentage by which my weight increased). I blame any and all excess weight from the ages of 13 to 22 on the squash coach we had when we were younger who went to the trouble of enforcing a ban on Kezia and I playing against each other, citing 'physical violence' as the main issue. I feel Kezia herself is also partially to blame for the demise of my once lean and slender (ish) body. You know when people get a really misbehaved cat after it acted all cute at the shelter and then turned out to be a little shit, so they spray it with water every time it is naughty and thus the cat starts to associate bad behaviour with being drenched with water out of an old Mr. Muscle bottle? Well that is what exercise is to me. I became conditioned to expect pain (being hit with Kezia's squash racket) every time I was involved in any kind of strenuous activity and thus avoided it at all costs. What surprised me the most, however, is that Kezia was oddly unaffected by these violent games and did not appear to be tormented by similar demons, despite me once almost (accidentally, I feel I should stress) drowning her to the point where she turned blue, cried, and had to go see the camp counsellor... Maybe my mistake was just doing it the one time. Perhaps she had to almost die every time we went swimming for it to work properly. Oh well. You live and you learn.

Although it fits in well with my roll over system, Thursday night swimming is not as fun as it could be, as, apparently, Thursday night swimming is also a big hit with the dreaded teacher-swimmers. Teacher-swimmers are the worst kind of swimmers you can encounter in the pool and, if possible, they should be avoided at all costs. If you are not familiar with these creatures, they are hoards of women who are often, but not necessarily, of the teaching profession and can be aged anywhere between 30 and 60. Teacher-swimmers do not enjoy getting their hair wet and thus swim at approximately 0.2 miles per hour in order to create minimal splash. In itself, this is not necessarily a problem, but these woman often feel that they simply do not see enough of each other throughout the week and that they just don't have enough chance to chat properly at work/at staff meetings/at dinner/on staff nights out, and this is where the real problem begins. In order to continue their chatter about which staff members they dislike, why Little Timmy is mixed race when the rest of his siblings are suspiciously not, and who left those inappropriate photos on the school camera, the teacher-swimmers swim five abreast, effectively taking up at least two thirds of the swimming pool and making it incredibly difficult to get out of once you find yourself caught behind a pack. With this in mind (and taking into account that there are only so many accidental kicks on the way past you can get away with), we decided to change our swimming to Tuesday nights instead. Tuesday nights, however, are filled by one of the worst things to come out of the 20th century after shoulder pads - aqua aerobics. Or, as our local pool has taken it upon itself to call it, aquasize. If there was one thing in this world that I am not at all suited to, aerobics is it. My hand-eye coordination is spot on (if I do say so myself), but when it comes to doing anything that requires any kind of coordination at all or, God forbid, grace, then I am not the person for it. Nothing has made me re-evaluate my life more than being in a swimming pool doing something that can only be described as 'prancing' amidst of a group of middle aged women, two of whom couldn't even swim and as such had to stand in the shallow end with a float while the rest of the class (the advanced ones, if you will) paddled to the deep end. Who goes to an aqua-aerobics class without being able to swim?! I mean, come on, really?

Weight-loss fanatics are everywhere you go these days. I heard two women talking at work the other day about WeightWatchers as they stood behind the counter admiring the cakes. "Oooh, it's really good!" said one of them, "My friend Julie lost ten pounds!" to which the other one replied, wait for it, "What? In weight?"... In weight. It took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to walk up to her and say, "no, dickhead, she got mugged on the way in," but I didn't, because I am a respectful member of staff, and I instead politely asked them if they would like a sample of cake. I've been on my best behaviour at work recently with just a few minor hiccoughs - apparently, it is mildly inappropriate to sing R Kelly's Bump N' Grind behind the counter whilst bumping and grinding against other members of staff. Who knew? Personally, I don't see nothing wrong with it...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

They're Back...

I have just been informed that Furbies are making a comeback... I thought the whole ordeal had just been swept under the carpet, but apparently the Furby community is not dissimilar to gang culture and they are back to avenge the death of their brother.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in recent blog posts, or are worried that your parents are going to force this toy upon you, please get in touch with our producers. Help is available. You are not alone.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

"I wouldn't say I'm particularly materialistic, but I'd rather lose a mediocre friend than everything I own."

You'd have thought that being a backpacker for a significant period of time would have lessened my love for material possessions, wouldn't you? Judging by a horrendous dream I had the other night in which my house burnt down and I lost everything I owned in a blaze of horror, this is obviously not the case. After being faced with the worrying realisation that this dream scared me more than a dream I had once where the sea tried to eat me, I began pondering on how obsessed we are as a culture with material possessions. When I voiced this thought to my sister, her response was, "I wouldn't say I'm particularly materialistic, but I'd rather lose a mediocre friend than everything I own." If you are an acquaintance of my sister, I suggest you seriously reevaluate your role in her life - if it's her owl money box over you, then you're not doing your job well enough. I think we should probably stop holding our stuff in such high regard - especially seeing as we don't even like half of the things we own anyway.

For example, I remember one Christmas when I was younger (1999, to be precise) when I pestered my mum for months and months to buy me a Furby. If you ever had a Furby, or, God forbid, you still have one in the house, I suggest you stop reading this post now lest memories you should have long ago repressed come screaming back and send you running for the nearest roof top.

Still reading? Right. Let us begin. It is December 25th, 1999, and nine-year-old me is over the moon at the arrival of my new Furby. He is a classic addition to the family, rocking a black and electric blue mohawk and a big pair of gleaming amber eyes. So impressed am I with my new gift that I spend the entire day feeding him (and by feeding, I mean pressing his tongue every five minutes to prompt a soft purring sound) and ignoring the rest of my presents. At bed time, he rocks himself to sleep and I settle down next to him, his soft, electronic snores lulling me into a festive slumber. The following day I am just as smitten with my new friend and it seems like Christmas of 1999 could not have been better. A few days pass, and, little by little, the Furby is starting to grate on me. His hungry cries become less cute and his robotic rocking is not as soothing at 3am as it is during the day. Finally, after an hour long feeding session that seems like it will never satisfy my Furby's needs, I decide I have had enough and am going to remove its batteries. To my absolute horror, however, when I go to take them out, I realise that the battery door is bolted shut with a tiny, tiny screw. Being a house full of women, it will comes as no surprise that we were not in possession of a tiny, tiny screwdriver and thus my Furby continued to wail until it was groomed and fed and cuddled. As my patience dwindled, my thoughts became increasingly desperate, and in the end there was only one road to go down: starvation. Now, before we go any further, I would just like to stress that I am not proud of the events that followed. I was a lone mother, raising this Furby all alone. I had hit rock bottom. I couldn't ask my parents for help - I had asked for this, I had begged for this, and Satan had responded. I had no other choice. And so I did it. I bided my time until one snowy evening when my mum popped to the Co-op and I seized my opportunity. I stole downstairs and crept into the living room, the Furby wrapped in three plastic carrier bags to muffle his cries. Opening the video cabinet, I shoved him as far back as I could, obscuring him from vision by building a video wall using Matilda and The Land Before Time as bricks. I slammed the door shut and ran back upstairs, my heart pounding. The next few days were some of the darkest days of my life. The weight of my actions hung, like an albatross, around my neck. I heard the Furby's cries everywhere I went. He was in the carols being sung on the street, the hymns in church, the theme tune of the hour long Eastenders Christmas special - my guilt was haunting me. My nightmare eventually ended on New Year's Eve when my Furby finally passed on. As dawn broke over the new millennium, he let out one last resounding wail and was still, silenced by death in a Morissons carrier bag, not to be discovered for years to come when a family search for Boggle unearthed his cold, fur-matted body, lying still amongst the greatest feel good films of the 90s and an old Scrabble board. To this day I can still see those amber eyes, staring at me through the dark, watching me, waiting... Just waiting...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Nine Thousand Pounds Later, and Here We Are Again.

As I'm sure you will all be thrilled to know, I am now back in the world of employment after being a drain on society for what will forever be known as the most depressing two weeks of my life. Where am I working, I hear you ask? Well, I will tell you where. After shelling out a good nine grand to go to university and get a degree, the only job I have been able to secure is as a counter assistant behind a deli. Does this sound familiar? No doubt it probably does as it is the exact same job I have had since I was sixteen and am apparently destined to be in for the rest of my life.

Now, don't get the wrong end of the stick and think I got this job just for myself, as that is most definitely not true. "I'm so jealous!" people would say to me every time I posted an exciting blog relating to whichever amazing place I had just been to on my travels. "You make me feel like I'm doing nothing with my life," they would say, "yours is so exciting!" - such was the extent of others' envy, in fact, that I felt it was definitely time to return to my former blogging self and begin, once again, to write not about mountains and oceans and travelling cat shows, but rather the mundane banality of a working class life. I did this for you, readers, and I hope my self-sacrifice is evident.

Six months is a long time to go without working and as such I am ever so slightly out of practice when it comes to being polite and friendly for eight hours a day, watching my swearing and, with a slightly larger degree of difficulty, watching my sarcasm. It almost escaped my mind to look interested and alert today as a customer recounted to me her entire life story, the majority of which revolved around a particularly harrowing period in her mid-thirties during which she lost all of her front teeth. "Can you tell?" she asked me, baring her gums as the strawberry she was eating (and had quite clearly just stolen) fell promptly out of her mouth and onto my cleanly swept floor. I toyed for a while with the idea of saying I hadn't noticed and could she please do it again, but in the end I thought it was best if I just smiled politely and continued the encounter as though the past five minutes had not just happened. If my blatant disregard for her life upset her in any way, she didn't show it, although I did see her comfort eating her way through the free samples five minutes later, so perhaps I should not have been so frugal with my sensitivity...

I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy living in Yorkshire until suddenly I spotted a sheep walking through the car park at work yesterday without a care in the world. Nothing makes a bad day better like getting to go into the office and break the news to the office staff that a sheep has escaped from its field and may possibly be on the verge of headbutting a small child to death. The look of glee on my face as I said this should really have cemented their initial apprehension with regards to rehiring me as a member of staff... I am hardly a poster girl for good employees, as was shown quite clearly earlier today when I accidentally launched a multi-pack of Discos crisps at a customer's head.

If you happen to have read my previous blog, you may already be aware that I was very much disgruntled during my short stint of unemployement, but now that it is actually over, I have only fond memories of that beautiful fortnight. There is an emptiness in my life that was once filled with daytime television and sitting in the pub with my friend Bella, getting steadily more drunk until eventually ending up at one house or the other drinking whiskey and singing songs about miners. These activities tend to be fun apart from the occasional whiskey related mishap leading to more than one person (five in total, if we're being completely honest) being forced to venture to my house the following morning simply to check that I am alive. I have since learnt my lesson not to try and keep up with musicians when they are drinking...

Seeing as I now have no unemployment woes to depress everyone with, I will tell you a short story from a difficult period of my life. If you are a real person in my real life who actually knows me, you may recognise Shelley's story. (I bring it up at least once a month lest he be forgotten).

I'll take a few moments to set the scene. It is 1999. My mother, my sister and I are leaving the house for the daily school run. It is a dull, overcast day and I wrap my scarf a little snugger around my neck, watching as our family cat, Shelley, takes his morning stroll along the avenue. A lunch box lays forgotten on the kitchen worktop.
"Amy, have you got your recorder?" My mother's voice seems even more stern that usual at 7am and her suspicious eyes scan my empty hands. No, mother, I do not have my recorder because I do not wish to be forced, yet again, to sit cross legged for an entire hour on a cold wooden floor and play Hot Cross Buns for the 15th time whilst my music teacher plays the glockenspiel with giddy abandon and encourages us all to 'really feel the music'. I may only be nine years old, but I have already perfected my I-Am-Above-This-Shit facial expression. Begrudgingly, I head back into the house and rummage around in my bedroom for a good ten minutes until I finally locate the instrument, buried under a pile of My Little Pony figurines from the last time it was used. (It was not used to play happy ditties as the ponies paraded around my bedroom, but rather as a substitute for a rounders bat). By this time it is evident that we are going to be late for school and I just about manage to leap in the car as my mother starts reversing it down the drive.

People always say there's a certain sense of calm before a storm hits. Was I to know that just minutes from this moment my entire life would be turned upside down? No. Could I feel it? Yes.

"What was that?!" My sister, Kezia, jerks her head up and out of the corner of my eye I see my mum's eyes widen in realisation.
"Shelley..." she mumbles. My heart stops. Our beloved family pet, our 19-year-old cat, who has been so loyal, so faithful, for so many years, had been mown down by my boy racer of a mother. It was not the fast, painless death he deserved, either. As Shelley had attempted to seek refuge from the gargantuan steel monster heading towards him, his tail had been flattened by the back wheels of my mother's car and, being so old and frail (queue violins), his body could not withstand the trauma and the only option was to have him put to sleep. Wrapped in a blanket and placed gently in a cardboard box, Shelley was stowed in the back of the car and laid his head down to rest one last time as we picked up our friends Gemma and Daniel, who wasted no time in joining in the mourning for the world's greatest cat. I will always remember the solitary tear that stained Shelley's brave, ginger face during that drive to school. Admittedly, the Ace of Base mix tape we had playing in the car at the time somewhat ruined the atmosphere, but please remember that this was 1999 and pop music at the time was not really written as background music for dying family pets like it is today. Plus, Shelley was a huge fan of 90s' pop, so it seemed only fitting that it should be played on his way out. If you take anything away from this story, let it be this: Never let my mother near your family pet when she is driving, and the next time you see the world's oldest cat in the record books, remember who it could have been instead.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

So, Dressage - It's Not a Joke?

As the Olympics draw to a close, I am becoming increasingly worried about how I am going to fill my time now there are no more dancing horse events to watch on the telly. (I did have an idea about maybe teaching a cow to dance the Macarena and seeing if we could get into the dressage events in the Rio games, but that started a big debate about whether a cow could stand on its hind legs and, if so, would I be able to stay on its back... That idea is on the back burner. For now.)

It's been a fantastic two weeks and it's been amazing to be able to watch and support the most incredible sporting talents from all over the world perform things I wouldn't have thought the human body was even capable of. It's baffling that the gymnasts are even able to walk as they clearly have no bones, but they seem to manage it pretty well and for that I commend them. I was also pretty impressed at the amount of people who actually knew the British national anthem - I put on the BBC subtitles and got the lyrics up in an attempt to learn it, but they kept getting it wrong. (Unless it does actually say, 'God save our noble tea', which wouldn't be all that surprising...).

If the Olympics has been good for one thing, it's getting the country all excited about exercise and pushing everyone into that 'get fit' frame of mind that is very common around New Year's Eve. I myself have ventured to the swimming pool this past week with my sister and her friend Gemma as part of a 'Get Fit, Stay Fit' regime that will probably go to shit around this time next week. Routine exercise is something that everyone always says they do but never actually does, like washing jeans or using the left wing mirror on the car. (What does that mirror even do, really? I'm fairly certain it is for decorative purposes only and provides no function whatsoever). In terms of self confidence, weekday evenings are definitely the best time to go swimming as the pool is not full of thin, athletic people who can swim ten lengths under water without coming up, but rather 50+ year old women who have come under the pretence of 'exercise' so they can gossip out of ear shot of others and then go home and eat 5 crumpets because they've 'already burned off the calories'. (OK, so the crumpet thing was really me, but I bet they did it too). Plus, as Gemma pointed out, we get labelled as 'serious swimmers' because we're the only ones in the pool wearing goggles. Admittedly, I would have felt more serious if I wasn't in a bright turquoise swimming costume as it was the only one I could find. It was clearly made for sunbathing only and not actual swimming though, as I discovered after inadvertently flashing my boobs to the rest of the pool and subsequently forcing Kezia to tie the knot at the top as tight as she could so it wouldn't happen again. It didn't, thankfully, but it came with consequences and by the end of the hour I could feel neither my arms nor my breasts, neither of which were too great a loss.

Now, I am still unemployed (not for lack of trying), but be under no illusion that I am not being productive. I spent all day Thursday trimming the hedges in the garden (including the Laurel bush, thank you very much) and making the outside of my dad's house look exceptionally neat, tidy, and professional. Well, sort of. I soon realised that trimming hedges was very similar to cutting your own fringe. You know when you just keep saying, 'oh, just a little bit more... I'll just even this bit out... and just here...' and then suddenly you're sporting a crew cut and wondering what happened? Same thing. I often get out of control when I am allowed any use of tools and/or stationary. I'm sure I can't be alone in this - one trip to the stationary shop and suddenly everything in the house needs stapling together or gluing or tying up with string... I should really use all of my new found free time to exercise my self control, but when there's holes to be punched, who has the time? Maybe I should jump on the bandwagon and start reading 50 Shades of Grey, just to see what all the fuss is about. I've not really heard fantastic reviews about it, although I did get a rather mixed one from my mother the other week: 'God, it's such crap! I mean, I'm halfway through the third one and...'  - need I say more?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

No Job, No Money, No Life - The Only Way This Could Get Worse Would Be If A Bucket Of Piss Was Thrown In. Oh, Wait...

So, it is official now. I am unemployed. I am not 'in education', 'travelling', 'in between jobs' or any of the other excuses I have been using for the past six months to justify my lack of employment, I am simply... unemployed. I feel like this has given me some kind of a lesser status than I had previously. Instead of asking me intelligent questions about literature or communism, my friends have started asking me questions like, 'If monocles are called monocles, why aren't spectacles called bicycles?'...  I know that this is not what my parents had planned for me - it's definitely not what I had planned for myself - but this is not a pity party. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Being unemployed is everything I've always dreamed off. Instead of getting out of bed and going to work, I am spending my time writing CVs and generally talking about how great I think I am, which is a nice little hug for my ego. (Or, at least, I thought it was going to be until I realised that I don't actually have any skills that will be useful in a place of work, unless that place of work involves playing Tetris, which I am exceptionally skilled at.) My least favourite part of being unemployed is the severe lack of money flow, which is not working well with the lifestyle I am accustomed to. Instead of going out and spending, I have been trailing to the supermarket with my mum after her kind offer to 'get me out of the house for a bit', searching the house for books that I've not read yet (so far the highlight has been Why Love Matters: how affection shapes your baby's brain), and spending a lot of time huddled up in my bedroom, sitting in front of my mirror and playing my favourite game This Is What I'd Look Like Bald (if anyone's interested, the result is always 'not great'). Still, it's a nice way to let off steam after a hard day of applying for jobs, which is in itself actually quite strenuous. Bullshitting your way through various applications for cleaning jobs really takes it out of you. There's only so enthusiastic you can pretend to be about such work, you know? And it's not just acting like you're really passionate about a finely mopped floor either, you've got to actually prove that you're qualified to do it. After failing to recall any cleaning jobs I have ever performed that would be application worthy, I finally settled on insisting that I was 'proficient in the use of various cleaning tools, including but not limited to Mr. Muscle and the common dish cloth'. If that's not cleaning material, then I don't know what is. (I know, I know, I'm not really in a position to be making remarks like that on application forms, but I did impress myself the other day in an interview when I refrained from saying, 'I've spent £8 on bus fare and I don't want it to go to waste,' in response to being asked why I wanted the job).

I suppose I can't really complain too much, though. It's not like I haven't seen this coming. I even gave myself a post-travelling relaxation period during which my favourite American, Molly, came to stay, giving me further reason to prolong the daunting process of finding employment. I used her visit as an excuse to do some mini-traveling in England, Ireland, Scotland and France. (Sorry Wales, you got displaced). I went down to meet her in London and, keen to avoid the stigma that comes attached to all American tourists, spent the majority of the first day saying things like, "so, do you miss Canada?" in the hopes that people would be more accommodating. This would probably have worked quite well on the whole, but all pretense went out of the window when she whipped out her hand sanitiser faster than you can say "tramp on the underground". If there's anything that screams California, it is hand sanitiser, second only to a chihuahua in a handbag, which thankfully Molly does not possess. On the whole, she did very well and only got shouted at once by a stall owner for saying dollars instead of pounds, and only once did I have to remind her that we drive on the left in England and that, no, that small child is not driving a car. I think I was enjoying her struggles a little too much and was put firmly in my place when we got to Paris and, whilst Molly rattled off degree level comments about the art pieces in the Louvre, I, meanwhile, spent most of the time keeping an internal tally of the amount of genitalia on display and wondering whether or not it would be worth it to start a mosh pit in the crowd gathered in front of the Mona Lisa. (The Mona Lisa, incidentally, was one of about three pieces that I actually recognised). I also spent a fair amount of time wondering whether the chairs were art forms, were there for practical uses (mainly sitting), or were purely decorative. In the end I decided they were for sitting, but I still ended up doing that thing where you sit down but don't put all your weight into it, just in case it had once been thrown up on by Marie Antoinette or something.

I found culture a lot easier to come to terms with in Dublin when all that was required of me was to get drunk in a pub and listen to people singing songs about people getting drunk in a pub. That is culture that I can get on board with. There was a brief moment during our Dublin trip when we were forced to leave the comfort of the pub and go to the Guinness factory, but, again, that was a cultural requirement that I was perfectly happy complying with. Thinking about it, I'm not entirely sure what there is to do in Dublin if you either don't drink or aren't yet old enough to. I can't imagine it's a top holiday destination for anyone under the age of 18, which is unfortunately not something I can say about Edinburgh as it seemed to be somewhat overrun with small children. To be fair, we did spend quite a bit of time hanging around the children's section of the Camera Obscura museum, but still. Nothing made me feel older than watching children run back and forth through a vortex tunnel that Molly and I had just had to vacate for a fifteen minute breather due to a severe bought of motion sickness after walking through it once...

After a camping trip at the weekend with what seemed to be the entire population of my local pub, I think my travelling days have finally come to an end. It wasn't until we arrived at the campsite and started attempting to put up the tent that my mother admitted that the last time she had been camping was when I was 7 weeks old and as such had no idea how to erect a tent and was slightly rusty on the rules of camping. (If you just laughed at the word 'erect', shame on you). I had to aggressively explain to her that it was not good camping etiquette to bring a bucket into the tent in case she needed to go for a wee in the middle of the night, nor did it make it any more acceptable if the bottom was lined with kitchen roll so it 'didn't make a noise'. There were suggestions from my friend Bella of a catheter but I daren't mention it to my mother in case she got any more ideas and decided that it could double as a pillow or something... (Although, one of my mum's friends did have the idea of inflating an empty bag from a box of wine and using it as a pillow, which was decidedly brilliant and impressive). We did eventually manage to get the tent up once reinforcements had been delivered in the form of my mother's friends, by which time I could just stand there touching a bit of canvas and make it look like I was helping. I was especially thankful than my mum had invested in some tent pegs after discarding my sister's reassurances that it wouldn't blow away if we were in it and it wasn't windy. That's not a chance I'm willing to take with a bucket of piss in the tent. In the end, I did actually put my foot down and disallow any use of the bucket, only to have my mum wake me up in the middle of the night to reassure me that she was going to the actual bathroom and would not be using it. There aren't many things I am thankful for at the moment, given my lack of job/money/life etc., but knowing that my mother would not be squatting in a tent next to my sleeping bag and weeing in a bucket was a weight off my mind.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Kangaroos, Camels, and Savage Wallaby Attacks.

So, before leaving the South Pacific for pastures slightly less green, I decided that in order to capture the true essence of Australia, I would head into the outback and see what the big deal was about thousands of miles of red sand and kangaroos. If you read this blog regularly (and come on, why wouldn't you?) you will remember a girl way back from the start of my Australian adventure who made her blog debut when she got so drunk she stole a Dutch girls sandals and had to be fireman lifted back to the hostel. Remember? Well, she caused such trouble in Cairns that she headed straight to Alice Springs (the smallest town in the world) and has spent the last four months working in the hospital, trying to live down her shame and prevent anyone else from heading down the same path she did. After almost half a year in the outback, she was extremely excited to see me. (Or at least, I think she was - she'd recently indulged in some Botox in honour of her fast approaching 30th birthday and as such it was difficult to fathom her moods from facial expressions alone). If you don't know anything about Alice Springs, it is basically a little town randomly plonked in the middle of the outback which is so small that after three days of being there I was seeing people I knew in the supermarket. However, do not mistake it for a town where nothing happens. On Saturday, Rowena took me to the annual Alice Springs Beanie Festival - it is the only one in the world and consists of hundreds upon hundreds of bizarre beanie hats that would not look out of place at a circus (which, incidentally, Alice Springs does not have). It soon became apparent that this was the only town in the world where you'd look like a knob if you weren't wearing a hat with ears and/or an elephant trunk, and as such we spent at least 12 hours sporting ridiculous headwear and nodding in bona fide respect to anyone with an animal on their head. There was a slight drama when some woman had the audacity to attempt a theft of a beanie Rowena had already claimed, and had the Alice Springs bouncers not been lurking, I'm fairly sure some shit would have gone down.

On Sunday, we joined forces with Rowena's friend Kayla, rented a car, and headed into what can only be described as nothing. We discovered the car had pretty sharp brakes after Rowena gently put her foot down at the traffic lights and almost sent us both through the front windscreen... This was the first of many near death experiences in the car, as I later spent a good hour veering off the road at five minute intervals because I was too busy gaping in wonder at various aspects of outback scenery. Within ten minutes of 'outback driving', we had already come across a dead kangaroo at the side of the road. We pulled over (naturally) for a better look and I performed a quick prayer for the repose of its soul whilst Kayla poked it with a stick.You'd think that as it's so deserted there isn't much wildlife in the outback, but apparently this is not the case. Along with the kangaroos (some of which were actually alive), we saw camels (who knew?) and dingoes. Well, we think we saw dingoes - after noticing some very similar dogs in the carpark wearing collars, there's a slight possibility they were actually labradors... I'm fairly sure that at one point I was being circled by a hawk, too - it must have sensed that I was too unfit to be walking in the outback and started to get excited.

On our way back to civilisation (which in the outback means 4 or more people), we stopped by a wild wallaby habitat and got some feed for the wallabies, and it was then that, for the first time in my life, I came face to face with pure evil. As I held out my handful of feed and gleefully exclaimed at how cute the little critters were, I noticed a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. A member of the gathering was standing a little further back from everyone else, eyeing me with suspicion. His fur was matted and dirty, not clean and silky like that of his brothers and sisters, and, had he been able to talk, I'm fairly confident he would have spoken with a rough, East London accent. Taking pity on him, I edged closer and kindly held out my palm. What happened next played out in my mind as if in slow motion. Upon seeing my generous offer, the creature's eyes reddened and he took a threatening step towards me, raising one of his vicious paws as though to strike. Realising a split second too late that I had made a fatal mistake, I started to back away, but before I was sufficiently distanced, the Ronnie Kray of the marsupial world had lunged forwards and sunk his teeth into my flesh. I snatched my hand away, crying out in pain. I could feel the potential rabies spreading through me and, as Marsupial-Ronnie-Kray turned to limp away, I could have sworn he raised his head, looked me in the eye, and said, "see you around, princess", before disappearing into the night.
N.B. These events may differ slightly from what Rowena claims to have seen, but the truth of that night is known only by myself, Marsupial-Ronnie-Kray, and the infamous, dangerous Australian outback...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

What Happened In Sixth Form, Stays In Sixth Form

As I'm sure not many of you are aware (because, let's face it, why would you be?), New Zealand is apparently renown for its vineyards as well as rugby, sheep and volcanic "hissy fits". This would, I'm sure, be a lot more beneficial to me were I a wine enthusiast, but I have still managed to procure a slice of enjoyment by mocking those who are - or, at least, those who think they are. I think we all the know the types of people I'm talking about here, my mother being a prime example. She went on a wine tasting course one time (one time) with my friend's mum and for the following months, every time she had a glass, would swill her wine around, take a sniff, and envelope herself in the pretence of being a person who understands what it means to know a "good white wine". My own taste, naturally, is a little less refined as I am still in the adolescent phase of thinking a "good white wine" is something that tastes of neither piss nor vinegar. To be honest, I'm not that much of a wine drinker after a series of particularly unfortunate events following a sixth form party, during which I consumed almost an entire table of complimentary wine and was awoken the following morning by my friends telling me, amongst other things as I sat in bed and mourned the loss of a tooth, that by 10:30pm I was being escorted off the dance floor by not one but two bouncers and paraded past most of my school year, many of my teachers, and, to top it all off, the head of sixth form. In retrospect, it probably was not my finest hour, and as such I have since made a particular effort to avoid wine in large quantities - complimentary or not. In fact, it was this particular trip down Memory Lane that prompted me to really ponder the pros and cons of growing up in a country that treats underage binge drinking as a fragile family heirloom. (In the end, the pros largely outweighed the cons, but nonetheless).

After leaving vineyard county (and a hoard of other less mortifying but still uncomfortable wine related memories that came screaming back) behind, I headed on down to Christchurch where I was met, probably unsurprisingly considering their penchant for natural disaster, by a complete ghost town. I am not exaggerating, as I'm aware I so often do, when I say this - there was literally no one around, no lights in any buildings (or, even, buildings themselves), no people, no form of civilisation at all, and, worst of all, no hostels. Usually when I arrive somewhere new at night I am welcomed into the open arms of drunk pub goers and get to play my favourite game of seeing how many drunkards I can 'accidentally' knock down with my backpack. This was definitely not the case and after a fruitless 45 minute search, I eventually resigned myself to the fact that I may have to sleep outside, an option which was not as appealing given the winter temperatures. Eventually (thank God), I came across a YMCA, which wouldn't have been my first choice but, as at this point I didn't actually seem to have a choice, I wandered in anyway. Now, I cannot be alone in thinking that the YMCA was meant to be a haven for poor, unfortunate souls and the financially crippled (moi), and I was thus shocked to my very core when I found out I had to pay $40 ($40!) for a bed. I thought the least they were going to do was give me somewhere to sleep and some complimentary soup - isn't that what they're for?! However, there was nothing complimentary at all (apart from a basket of free soap, out of which I took as many bars as I could carry) and, just to add insult to injury, it took me nigh on four hours to get to sleep due to having the bloody YMCA stuck in my head, going around on loop until 2am. Contrary to what The Village People may believe, it was not fun.

I left Christchurch roughly eight hours and $40 (forty dollars!) later and soon found myself back in rural New Zealand. After refusing to pay $200 to sit on a boat and watch some whales (this entry has really forced me to face up to some home truths about people from Yorkshire...), I began to appreciate the beauty of the-far-away-fin, as it has now become known. When people told me that Kaikoura was whale country, I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't expecting to head down to the beach, play my harmonica for a bit, and then have an orca named Willy swim up and befriend me. This, obviously, did not happen. This is not the first time in my life that I have been cheated out of meeting an orca. Several years ago, I went to Sea World in California and became incredibly angry (to a degree that I stuck my fingers up at a 10 year old) that some stupid, annoying American kid had been chosen to go and meet Shamu when I was clearly the more enthusiastic of the two of us. He wouldn't even have been old enough to remember it when he was older, and then, if you please, when they asked him if he wanted to pet Shamu's tongue, he refused because he was too scared! I was so angry that I stormed out of the splash zone and up to my mother and sister (who had refused to sit with me, probably more so to do with my embarrassing enthusiasm than their wish to stay dry), spending the rest of the day seething with rage. Obviously, it doesn't bother me anymore as I am older, more mature, and in no way, absolutely not, still bitter... On the plus side, I saw about 20 dolphins all swimming and jumping together on the ferry back to the north island, so I feel that not only did I save $200 on something I got to see anyway, but I have somehow trumped the annoying kid from Sea World by seeing them in their natural environment. Take that, shit head.

Anyway. I'm almost at the end of my trip now, and if there's one thing I'm looking forward to it is being able to finally have a choice of real books to read instead of being limited to whatever is stuck on the book exchange in the hostel, most of which are in German anyway. I made a stand to myself the other day and point blank refused to read yet another pathetic excuse for chick lit after finding myself sobbing into the pages, crying, "no, Katherine, what are you doing, what about Joe?!". In order to avoid premature middle aged woman syndrome, I picked up the only other book available on the shelf - a textbook on domestic violence entitled When Harry Hit Sally. Times are bleak, my friends, times are bleak.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Wake Up and Smell The... Myrrh?

I believe that in life, everything (barring those few buttons on the TV remote that do nothing) has a purpose. New Zealand's purpose is to make every other country in the world look boring and ugly in comparison. I've moved on to the south island now and, despite my previous impression that the north was the most beautiful place in the world, it looks nothing more than a hole now I've seen how amazing the south is. In all honesty, though, I'm beginning to ever so slightly miss the plain and boring after a guide book I was reading described the town I was staying in as "still volcanically active, with Mt. Ruapehu often having a hissy fit". I don't know if it's my sheltered upbring in England, but I personally would describe a volcanic eruption with language a little more colourful than "hissy fit"... (Although, this is a country that, instead of bright lights, alarm bells and barriers at rail crossings, has a tiny notice advising you to 'look out for trains'). On the other hand, a volcanic eruption might warm things up a bit as New Zealand is one of those confused countries that have their seasons mixed up and as a result it is winter in May. This wouldn't have been such a harsh blow had I not left the only jacket I owned in a town several hours away, thus forcing me to buy the only thing I could afford to compensate - a bright yellow, hideous jumper from a second hand shop. It was only $4.50, and it keeps me warm, but, in short, I look like an absolute knob. Also, yellow is definitely not my colour. At best, I suit various shades of anything dark, but yellow really takes the piss. In an attempt to sweat out my mourning, I went on a little climb to the geological centre of New Zealand. Why the geological centre of New Zealand couldn't have been somewhere flat I do not know, but instead of getting over the loss of my jacket I was instead faced with the grim reality of how unfit I actually am whilst I scaled a hill that even the most expert of mountain goats would have struggled with. At least, that was my immediate impression, but I was forced to re-evaluate the size of said hill when I was joined at the top by a group of primary school children who practically skipped up. They were pretty good company though and I enjoyed listening to them have a debate about whether or not there was a town in America called UpTheBum... (There isn't, I Googled it). The unfortunate thing about New Zealand is that all of the places worth going to happen to be at the top of a huge hill. I climbed over 400 steps the other day to get to a good lookout and was greeted by a sign that read: Lift your heart in wonder! If anything, I felt mocked. It'll be a wonder if I have a heart left after all this, nevermind the ability to lift it. Despite my many attempts at leading a normal life, I found myself last week spending the night in a hostel that had been converted from an old convent. My main reason for staying there were the cheap rates, but I also thought it might be a little fun and quirky. Incorrect. It was neither fun nor quirky and had undergone such little change from its time as a convent that I actually questioned use of the word 'converted'. The walls were still lined with oil paintings of Jesus and Mary and there was an unmistakeable smell of myrrh in the mornings, faintly mixed with the scent of the 4000 cats that lived there... Having been brought up a Catholic I'm used to a certain amount of guilt tripping but I can't say I was too comfortable going to sleep underneath a tapestry that bore the words: Confessional - a place to repent, Father and God would always relent, a sinner would enter and come out clean, sinner to saint, every person's dream. Despite all the Christian paraphernalia, something I found most unchristian was the woman behind reception trying to charge me an extra two dollars for bedding. I was so indignant that I insisted I would be perfectly fine with the complimentary bedding, a decision I later regretted as it itched like mad. (Although I may have just been burning with the guilt of every non-Catholic thing I've ever done - the list is quite extensive). This hostel was also pretty stingy with its electricity, something I discovered as I was plunged into darkness mid-shower. After the initial (and, admittedly, highly irrational) panic that I had gone blind, I realised that the lights were motion sensored and was thus faced with the dilemma of either showering in darkness and risking some kind of accident, or getting out of the shower and risking being caught by a stranger doing a weird, naked dance. I'm sure there are less dignified first impressions, but I felt that that would be particularly humiliating... After surviving my stay at chez Jesus, I packed up and moved on to the next town. Unfortunately, I missed my bus - not because I was late, you understand, but because I was so absorbed in my book that I didn't realise it had arrived and it left without me. (I know, I should not be allowed to travel alone). Anyway, I refused to stay another day and had my first hitchhiking adventure in New Zealand. After persuading a bus driver to drop me near a main road I caught my first lift with a widowed farmer named Dave who had already picked someone up further down the road - Jo, the harp playing stripper from Edinburgh. (She told me she was a stripper later, not being sure whether Farmer Dave would have dealt with the information). Dave drove us for a while and then dropped us in the middle of nowhere and our next ride was a young chap named Ben who determinedly squish us, backpacks and all, into the smallest car known to man and then spent the next two hours talking only in Thai and German accents and driving through the mountains at no less than 100mph. If I hadn't been so sure that my life was about to end, he'd have been quite the entertainer.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

"Do You Speak Spanish?" "Oh, Y'know, Just A Chicken."

If you find that this entry happens to be brimming with even more wisdom than usual, do not be alarmed, it is simply due to the fact that I am now the grand old age of 22 and am therefore well on my way to being wise and mature. (And I know what you're thinking, I have always been wise and mature, and I agree.) I feel that maturity has been creeping up on me since I was 14 and was forced to write people notes to get out of P.E. because I had "mum handwriting". Given the school I went to, this basically just meant I wrote in cursive and was capable of spelling the word 'excuse'... I spent my birthday in Manly Beach and used my newfound wisdom and ever expanding intelligence to make an investment. I bought 6 books from the library for 50cents each, and then sold them to a bookshop for $2 each. Who says I don't have a head for business? (One of the books was entitled 10 Things To Do Before You're Sixteen so I had a flip through to see how I was doing - turns out I'm pretty on track). My turning 22 brought with it 4 hours of free internet from the hostel, a free cookie from Hong Kong, a birthday pint from a girl in my dorm and a package of chocolate from England. Not too shabby to say I'm all alone and on the otherside of the world without an address. I also gave myself a little birthday treat and inhaled all the helium from the free balloon I received after signing up to Greenpeace, an organisation I am now a fully fledged member of. I'm not sure how it happened, really - one minute I was walking down the street enjoying my Hong Kong biscuit, the next I'm being shown pictures of dolphins being killed and listening to how Nestlé should be damned to hell (they should). I thought I'd better sign up, as an apology for breaking the Great Barrier Reef if nothing else. My last few days in Sydney were spent wandering around milking the free attractions for all they're worth. I was sucked in by another do-gooder trying to sign me up to a project to save some endangered species of spider but I wasn't having any of it. Dolphins I'd miss, spiders not so much. It took all my self restraint not to grab her sandwich board claiming that hundreds of species of spiders were endangered and scrawling GOOD underneath it in thick black marker. As a city, Sydney gets pretty lively on the weekend. Amongst other things, I came across a man dressed in a sari holding a sign saying 'free hugs', a market stall dedicated solely to alpaca ponchos (made from alpacas, not for them), and a parrot rebelling against its exotic nature and eating a cigarette off of the floor. I prefer wandering around on the weekend though - it beats mid-week when the city is full of people in suits showing off because they're using their degrees... Before I left Sydney I met up with some of my dad's cousins and had two actual meals and a birthday pie - it felt like pure luxury after two months of making meals so unappealing that more often that not I reverted to picking out peppers like a child, not to throw them away but because they were the only edible bits of the meal. Anyway, I had rare lamb for the first time in my life and I was definitely impressed - I can now understand why people say British people overcook their meat. Well, I almost understand, I still don't see why the French get so irate about it, I mean, we might overcook it a little but it's not like we serve it in an urn.

I'm in New Zealand now and, after finally being allowed into the country, I have discovered it is even more beautiful than Australia. After being 'randomly selected to undergo a security screening for explosives' at Sydney airport I was frisked so thoroughly I half expected the woman to say she'd call me afterwards. Still, I'm here now, and there are lots of sheep, lots of volcanoes, and the words 'geothermal activity' get thrown around a lot. I'm not sure what it means, but it sounds impressive. I've met quite a few South Americans since I've been here and have been scrubbing up on my Spanish. Given that the last time I spoke it (give or take a few times at uni when Jayne would teach me funny words) was during my GCSE oral exam, it hasn't been going too well. My first conversation went a little like this:
Her: ¡Ah! ¿Hablas Español? (Do you speak Spanish?)
Me: Oh, err, un pollo... No wait, shit, that means chicken, um, un poco? (A little)
Then I realised that she wasn't particularly interested in what was in my schoolbag so left it at that. Maybe I'd have a better grasp on languages if I hadn't gone to a shit school where most of our French lessons were filled with 30 people saying, in thick Yorkshire accents, "err... Je m'a bloody pelle, innit?"

Sunday, 22 April 2012

One Minute You're Lying Seductively On A Bearskin Rug, The Next You're Letting Yourself Be Handcuffed To The Bed Of A Travel Lodge Whilst Being Doused In Whipped Cream.

So naturally, as I assume is typical protocol for all paupers, I have spent my first few days in Sydney visiting the various art galleries, state libraries, and other museum type places that I can manage to get in for free. Unfortunately, I have yet to achieve the level of maturity necessary when it comes to nude photographs and am still stuck in the phase of laughing, turning red and uncomfortably averting my gaze whenever I am faced with one. This is incredibly difficult to do when the entire gallery is made up of such portraits and a member of staff has chosen to, despite the look on my face, latch herself onto my arm (evidently under the impression that I require assistance) and escort me around the entire exhibition. I didn't want to appear immature (or, God forbid, ignorant about art) so I feigned interest as she talked me through several portraits, each subject as naked as the last, and each appearing in an increasingly unorthodox position. I'm all one for good art, but at the end of the day, pornography's pornography. I left shortly after she finished telling me, in a tone far too casual considering the subject matter, that most of the models in the photos were not professional but simply people who had called into the shop, which further fueled my theory that nude portraits are the gateway drug, if you will, of the pornography world. One minute you're lying seductively on a bearskin rug, and the next you're letting yourself be handcuffed to the bed of a TravelLodge whilst having whipped cream licked off you by the boy down the road who works in the chip shop. An interesting career choice, I'm sure, but in the end it's not one that made my maybe list.

Speaking of careers, given that it has been almost a year since I completed my degree, I'm starting to wonder how much longer I can answer the question, 'so what do you do for a living?' with, 'well, actually, I've only just graduated...' and then trailing off into what I consider to be an impressive silence.  I have started to wonder whether I'll ever have a job where I can comfortably afford to use internet without having to sneak into a library and use the public computers. I don't really mind, but in the past few weeks I have both been signed up to the Ted Baker mailing list and had an e-mail from "the FBI" as a result of putting my e-mail address in public computers. It is worrying, but somewhat refreshing, to know that the FBI have finally ceased with the formalities and are now using phrases such as, 'you get me?' I actually felt mocked the other day in the street after a CashForGold (or Australia's equivalent) representative stopped me in the street. 'Sick of all that unwanted gold?' asked the leaflet he was holding. What gave me away? Was it the shorts that I have been wearing for a week or the dry CornFlakes I am eating for dinner? And even if I was rich, I doubt any gold I had would fall into the category of unwanted. I could finally fulfill my If-I-Won-The-Lottery dream of spending my days riding around on a gold horse with gold reigns in a suit made of gold. (Thinking about it, I'm not entirely sure I could pull this image off, but it would be nice to have the option).

Sydney has also introduced me to a few more 'cultural delights' such as the Harbour Bridge (equally as boring to look at in real life as it in on a photograph) and the Sydney Opera House (likewise). I have actually started to resent the Opera House somewhat after I kept getting lost and somehow ending up there, and then upon finally deciding it must be fate and going to explore, I was asked to leave as I didn't have any shoes on. The reason I was barefoot is an upsetting story that, unfortunately, no longer involves shoes, but does involve me using my flipflops as a pillow after being forced to sleep in the Greyhound bus station over night because I didn't realise the date and missed my bus, and then leaving my flipflops behind (accidentally, obviously). By this point in my travels, and indeed my life in general, this type of mishap is not unprecedented, but it was uncomfortable nonetheless and I was unable to move my neck for the several days that followed. Thankfully, it was not raining, which it has taken to doing a lot in Sydney recently. If there is a country somewhere in the world that has quicker changing weather than Australia, I would be surprised to learn about it. The other morning I got a horrendous sunburn whilst sitting in the park, and then by the afternoon I was hurrying around Sydney's back alleys trying to find refuge, which came in the form of a Thai restaurant. It seemed the safest option given that one side housed a pawn shop and the other a seedy looking Thai 'massage parlour'. As in most Western countries, restaurants serving 'authentic cuisine' also usually serve chips and coke, but not this place. I almost had a genuine culture shock as I sat down and realised with a panic that there were no knives and forks, but I was about to be forced to eat my meal with my arch nemesis - chopsticks. In my 21 years of life, I have never figured out how people eat with these things. It took me the best part of 40 minutes to eat a plate of rice, and even then I had to use four chopsticks clamped together to fashion a kind of scoop. After many failed attempts to pick up a piece of pork, I eventually resorted to just stabbing angrily at my plate in the hopes of spearing a prize. On top of my chopstick related dilemma, the waiter had placed several unfamiliar dishes in front of me, brought in various different bowls and cups. Just as I was about to pour what I thought was sauce on my rice, I noticed a woman at the next table gesturing wildly over at me. She pulled her own 'sauce' towards her and started dipping her fingers in it, which I thought was odd behaviour until I realised that it was for cleaning your hands with. I spent the next five minutes pointing to various things on my table whilst she mimed out their functions. I was particularly confused about the teapot (something I finally recognised) as there were no cups, but apparently it is customary in Thailand to drink tea out of a bowl... I finally managed to work my way through my meal though, my new friend beaming proudly at me across the room, and for a while I felt like a genuine Thai diner - until I had to spend ten minutes trying to explain to the waiter that I wanted to pay, which was a whole new fiasco altogether. Naturally.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Only Way I Would Pay $195 For A Haircut Would Be If It Was Nibbled Off By Pedigree Kittens

The thing about Australia is, due to its size, you often find yourself in tiny towns with a population of three and a 'corner shop' that is a 6km bushwalk away. It's also pretty much a guarantee that these towns will be home to the worst hostels, all cockroach infested and bedbug ridden due to a lack of competition. Fortunately, as they are in the middle of nowhere, these hostels make extra effort to ensure you are entertained during your stay. Unfortunately, these entertainments include such events as the Queensland Feline Association Two Day Cat Spectacular. Unless every single cat I have ever owned (and there have been a lot - preparation for eventual life of a cat lady and all that) has been incredibly mundane, then I cannot imagine a feline doing anything that can be considered even exciting, let alone spectacular, and definitely not for two days straight. I think the most impressive thing my first cat ever did was accept a life in which Kezia and I would dress him up in a frock (matching bonnet of course included), swing him around by his arms, and then push his ears back so he looked not unlike a bald eagle. I like to think he enjoyed his life. Well, before my mother mercilessly ran him over. Obviously.

Partly because it's exciting (but mainly because I can't afford the $2 booking fee), I have stopped booking hostels in advance and have instead taken to hopping off the Greyhound bus in whatever town I land in and beginning a search for somewhere to sleep on foot. This led to me one day the other week hopping on a random bus to join a tour on a camping and canoe trip in Noosa. This would all have been well and good had there not just been a cyclone further up the coast, thus ensuring that it poured down (and I mean poured) for three days non-stop. Thankfully, the camp had a 'things to do when it's raining' list. This included a Make You Own Digeridoo class (I don't think the guy was too impressed when I suggested the middle of a kitchen roll), a Paint Your Own Boomarang class (apparently not a euphamism), and, worryingly, a Make Your Own Emu Caller. I don't know about anyone else, but the last thing I would be want to do if I saw an emu would be to call it to me, but, you know, Australians... Whilst I was in this camp, I somehow managed to offend someone of every nationality in four days. For future reference, refrain from asking a group of Canadians if they are American and do not make "this camp looks like Auschwitz" jokes to a German. For all my efforts, I'm not doing the Brit abroad reputation much good. Still, at least I'm faring better than the Scots. I heard a Scottish girl the other day say to her parents, "it's our Easter in Australia on Sunday! When's yours?" Oh, the shame. She was also telling her mum (yes, I was eavesdropping, hostels can get boring), that she'd just got a haircut for $195. $195! The only way I would ever pay that much for a haircut would be if it was nibbled off by pedigree kittens, of the Queensland Feline Association no less.

I think you can tell a lot about a hostel from the first couple of seconds you are in the room. If there is nothing on the floor, then it probably means there are insects and no one wants to put anything down. If there is stuff everywhere, then there probably aren't any insects, but there will be by the time you leave. Sometimes you have to make quick life and death decisions. For example, a hostel I stayed in last week had bunk beds that were literally just two beds, balanced on top of each other. Take the bottom bunk and risk death during the night if the person on top collapses onto you, or take the top bunk and risk the guilt of killing the person below you? In the end, I decided that it would be unfortunate, but if someone had to sacraficed in order to prolong my own life, then so be it. One of the best hostels I stayed in was in Byron Bay (I stayed there three nights and then reluctantly moved to a cheaper one down the road). Byron Bay is pretty much the marajuana centre of the East Coast, and as such everyone in my dorm room would get up in the morning, get stoned, and then make pancakes by the thousand and insist I join them for breakfast. This continued all day, every day. Every time I went back to the hostel - regardless of the time of day - they would be either making pancakes, eating pancakes, or about to finish their weed and then make some pancakes. It was amazing. I didn't have to buy food for four days and have since learnt that the secret to food budgetting is to bunk with stoners.

The good news is that my tan has been officially upgraded to that of a bronzed Goddess. The bad news is that, for some unknown reason, my left arm is the only part of my anatomy to achieve such status, leaving my right arm, both my legs, and my face with some catching up to do as they are still a pasty white. I'm getting some sunbathing done now though as it is free and there's only so many times I can hover around the local market stalls without buying anything. My lack of financial stability has also led me to indulge myself in a lot more reading, prompting a homeless person in Brisbane to call me a 'bookworm' before shamelessly asking me for money. Obviously she didn't hold it against me though as she wasted no time in pulling me into a very warm embrace when I gave her a dollar. It wasn't just a quick hug either, no no. It was a full-on, many limbed, lingering (both the embrace and the smell she left behind) snuggle. I can't imagine which part of my 'take my money and leave' facial expression she took to mean 'please, hold me against your bosom', but I have since learnt that she is not the only person in Brisbane (homeless or otherwise) to be overly affectionate. The bar beneath my hostel regularly sported naked waitresses - I never thought I would feel over dressed primarily because I was wearing underwear, but I suppose that's just the kind of place Brisbane is. It did have lots of interesting things to do though - within my first day I had visited the Brisbane museum (to buy some water), the Gallery of Modern Art (to go for a wee), and the Brisbane Public Library (to use the free internet). In Byron Bay, things are a lot more laid back and relaxed. (Probably because everyone's stoned). They have a really amazing lighthouse that I've been to on more than one occasion, and the other day I even saw a whale. Well, I think it was a whale. It was either that or the Dawn French of the dolphin world.

Friday, 16 March 2012

You Know When You're Walking Down The Beach And A Stranger Puts His Python Around Your Neck? I Hate It When That Happens.

So, as I realised last week that I somehow spent a three week chunk of my budget in just over a week, I decided to get a wriggle on down the coast and moved on to Mission Beach as someone told me there "wasn't much to do" and I "wouldn't spend much money" there. Between being picked up from the bus stop and arriving at the hostel I had already agreed to do a 14,000 ft skydive, thus spending another weeks worth of budget in one go by signing up for something that I wasn't sure I would be coming out of alive. (Although this would solve my money problems, I would also be dead, therefore chances of further enjoying my trip are somewhat limited). Before leaping to my untimely demise, I spoke to a few people who had already done it and questioned just how terrifying freefalling through the air was. They all assured me that it would be the most thrilling and surreal thing I have ever done and that it doesn't actually feel like you're falling at all. I can now speak from experience and glady tell you that when one minute you're in a plane 14,000 ft in the air, and the next you are plummeting towards the ground at God knows how many miles per hour, you can tell that you're falling. The sixty seconds prior to the parachute opening were probably the most horror-filled moments of my life when it occured to me just what I had done and I kept having hideous flashbacks from an episode of Hollyoaks I once watched when a girl jumped out of a plane an her parachute didn't open... Obviously, as I am still here, my parachute did open and I lived to tell the tale. What I did not (almost) live through was running into a cassowary whilst on a walk up a mountain with two German girls from my hostel. I'm not entirely sure their English stretched to, "fucking hell, there's a bird about to eat us", but I think they got the point when it ran past us, in a surprisingly camp manner, and had us frozen to the spot for about ten minutes in case it came back/was still around/had gone to get friends. I knew nothing good was going to come from going on a "bushwalk". Bushwalk is the term Australians use when they mean 'slow, life-threatening torture'. I think it's the equivalent of a leisurely walk through the woods in England (an activity I have partaken in only about three times since I was fifteen), only instead of the woods, it's vertical up a mountain, instead of rabbits, it's birds that kick you to death, and instead of pleasant English weather, it is 100 degrees and sweat is dripping from places I didn't even know had sweat glands. We were so traumatised by the whole ordeal that the long walk back to the hostel seemed all too much to cope with and we hitch-hiked a ride back with an Australian couple. Unfortunately for us, we had to squish ourselves in the back, still sweating, amongst half a trampoline, a dog basket, and a children's car seat. It wasn't the most confortable ride of my life, but the more distance put between my face and the kicking bird, the better.

Just in case the cassowary, the bushwalk, the hitch-hike and the skydive were not enough to scare me into never leaving the house again, a stranger on the beach put his snake around my neck. (Not a euphemism, an actual python). There I was, wandering along the beach, daydreaming of simpler times when I could afford bread, when a man started chatting to me. I chatted happily back for a few minutes when I suddenly realised he was holding a snake. "Oh, my snake?" he says, as though he was simply walking a border collie down the beach, "beauty, isn't she? Here, try her on!" and before I knew it, "she", bless her, was around my neck, 'purring' (i.e angrily hissing) and tightening her grip in a not entirely unworrying manner. After what felt like an eternity on my shoulders, the snake was finally removed as a woman and her child came over to investigate. Being Australian, and also clearly insane, they had no objection whatsoever in holding the snake whilst I took a photo for them and the woman either did not receive or just chose to ignore my telepathic messages that clearly said, "it's going to eat your child" every time the snake 'yawned'... Who knew I was so maternal?

After all the horrors of Mission Beach, I decided it was time to move on again before I eventually came to a sticky end. Understandably, the Australian Greyhound buses are a lot smaller than the American ones that I'm used to, I just wish I'd not discovered this as I attempted to lie myself down across two seats, fell off, and subsequently became wedged in between my seat and the seat in front. After a fair struggle, I managed to eventually heave myself out and sat in a quiet dignity for the following 18 hours with the group of people who had just witnessed my downfall and were, naturally, getting off at my stop. Just as I was congratulating myself at the beach later on in the day on my tanning upgrade from milk-bottle white to egg-shell white, the group from the bus strolled past, followed by not one but twelve Australians carrying surfboards who, in comparison to me, looked pretty much a different race. Tanning progress = nil.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Great Barrier Reef - One of the Seven World Wonders. (Or At Least, It Was Before I Broke It)

"If you are lucky enough," (that's right, it says lucky), "to see a cassowary in the wild, appreciate it from a distance. Be aware that this endangered species is also an unpredictable and potentially dangerous animal. When threatened, they can use their clawed toes" - clawed toes - "as weapons, jumping and kicking with both feet at once." This is the reality I was faced with as I walked through a rainforest full of these delightful creatures. Not only would that be an extremely painful death, I can also imagine no death more humiliating than being kicked to death with the 'clawed toes' of what is essentially an exotic pigeon. Thankfully, I left the bird trail unscathed and continued on yet another wonderful experience - the sky rail. In short, this is basically just a really exciting ski lift that goes over a rainforest. I know what you're thinking - that sounds amazing. And yes, it is amazing. Unless (and there is always an unless in my life), you happen to be in the carriage by yourself, the only other occupant being an enormous spider. After my mother played a cruel trick on me when I was 14, I now have an irrational fear of spiders. It's not just your average dislike either, I will literally sit and cry for a good hour if I am confronted with one. Granted in the past year or so I have actually become much better, this time I was 300ft in the air with no escape. The only thing I could think of to do was put as much distance between myself and this hideous cretin as possible, and this of course meant leaping (ungracefully) to the other side of the carriage. Given that the carriage was hanging from a cable, naturally when I leapt the carriage rocked, and when the carriage rocked, the spider ran, leaving me hanging mid-air in a tiny, enclosed space, rocking back and forth trying to outrun an insect. Meanwhile, the rainforest I'm meant to be admiring from the sky (and will probably never see again in my life) is passing me by and I'm starting to realise that 'cultural excursions' are maybe just not my thing...

Still, I did not let my spider experience deter me and soon found myself on an overnight trip to Cape Tribulation and Port Douglas. It's a wonder we got there at all as the friend I was going with kept getting the name wrong and ended up asking a bus driver if they were going to 'Cape Trepidation'. We managed to get there though, and our bus driver, George, is probably my favourite thing about Australia so far. At the first bus stop, he advised us to get off the bus, take some photographs, and smoke a joint. He then spent the next few hours telling us stories, all of which involved either girls getting killed, girls getting abducted, or girls/boys/family pets being eaten by crocodiles. Bare in mind, this is about half an hour before we were about to go on a boat to go and view some crocodiles in the wild - the baby ones were all well and good, it was when our guide exclaimed, "oh, look! Here's the mum!" that George's warning of "crocs can jump" came screaming back to me.

It would seem that there are a lot more ways to die whilst backpacking through Australia. The other night a girl in my dorm stood up on her bunk bed to take a photo and ended up being smacked in the head with the ceiling fan. I don't imagine there are many nice ways to be decapitated, but I think that's probably one of the worst. Who knew hostels could be so dangerous? On the whole though, I think the main issue with sleeping in a hostel is watching out for creeps. Unfortunately for the people in my dorm, that creep is me. The thing with sharing a room is it's easy to forget there are other people in it. For example, I woke up the other night to yet another of my exotic insect bites itching like mad. Apparently, I am irresistable to the mosquito population (understandable). Anyway, as I was rubbing cream into it, the girl in the bunk opposite happened to wake up and I realised that my sleepy gaze had somehow come to rest on her. Waking up to find a stranger staring at you in the dark and rubbing their leg probably isn't the best way to start your day, and needless to say, she left shortly afterwards. Accidentally creeping someone out whilst they sleep, I've found, is not the best way to make friends. Nor, it would seem, is saying to a girl from Sardinia, "oh, so you're a sardine? Like the fish!". Miraculously though, I have somehow made friends. My first night here I was the only one in a group of four that wasn't a doctor or a nurse. Somehow, working behind a deli did not sound as sophisticated as I'd once hoped. I felt a bit better though when later on in the week I ended up carrying one of them back to the hostel after she was refused entry from the club for being too drunk. It was an uphill battle right from the moment we went to put her shoes on and realised she had brought two right footed shoes, one of which didn't even belong to us. Another hurdle in the process of making friends - trying to explain to an angry Dutch girl why you are carrying one of her shoes whilst you simultaneously try and lift your inebriated friend into the top of a bunkbed.

This weekend's 'cultural excursion' has consisted of snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Excluding the time I once flipped 28 beer mats and caught them at the same time, it was the most amazing thing I have ever done. It was a little bit awkward when I realised that I had accidentally broken a bit of a world wonder with my flipper though... One down, 6 more to destroy. I also had a bit of a terrifying experience when I swam a little bit further around the island without realising and came out of the water to see nothing and no one. Naturally, my first thought was that a shark had eaten everyone and I was next. (The shark had also eaten everyone's luggage from the beach, and the pier and several boats that were there when I first went under). I highly doubt that the phrase it's more scared of you than you are of it was written for sharks off the coast of Australia, so I got out of the water and went on foot in search of my comrades. It's somewhat difficult to look even remotely cool and/or attractive when you are walking past tanned Australians in bikinis whilst you are dressed head to toe in an unflattering wet suit (complete with hood), a huge mask, flippers, and a snorkel. Unsurprisingly, I did not pull it off.


So, the thing about Australia is that you have to pay for literally every single bit of internet you use. Everywhere you go you either have to buy your internet use using your English bank account (whoops...), or spend $20 on a ridiculously overpriced sandwich just to skank a few WiFi passwords from the local cafe. So whilst I was browsing the other day, I noticed that this hilarious girl nominated me for a Liebster award, which basically means she thinks I am funny, and not unlike Adele in terms of award winning. However, I realised my fifteen minutes of internet time was almost up (more than fifteen minutes costs extra and that, my friends, is a slippery slope) before I'd properly had a chance to read it, but I thought, "you know what? Fuck it. This is my career we're talking about". (Since I quit my job, productivity has dwindled somewhat and thus I now refer to any activity where I use my brain as my 'career'). Britt first e-mailed me to check how many I have, as apparently the less followers the more deserving you are of said award. Do you know how many I have? Eleven. I have eleven followers. That's how many 'real bloggers' think what I have to say is worthy of their time. I always think my blog is pretty popular due to the amount of hits I get, but then I realise that they are mostly from my mum/dad/sister, the rest of my family, a few friends and then my mum's work friends whom she has bombarded with look-how-clever-my-child-is Facebook messages. (You know who you are, and I apologise profusely). But mainly, my hits come from weirdos who have taken to the internet and searched 'Chinese lesbians' in Google in the hopes of coming up with something a lot more exciting than more blog.

Anyway, part of the deal is I have to link 5 blogs that I think are better than mine. (That's not really what I'm meant to say, but here are some blogs that are probably a lot more coherent and make a lot more sense that whatever my blog consists of): - the first time I read this, the writer had just bought an inflatable shark and it was pretty much the funniest thing in the world.

So there we are!