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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

It's Christmas!

Stick with this: 
When I was a child I had a pink rabbit. His name was Albert. He accompanied me everywhere. He'd been made by a neighbour and was one of a kind. Then, when I was about six, he went missing. You may think that this tragic tale inspired the well loved children book 'Dogger' but in fact kids losing toys happens all the bloody time. Anyway. I can clearly remember going from shop to shop asking if anyone had seen Albert, the house was turned upside down, parks were combed, rivers were dredged. Nothing. Albert was gone. We moved house when I was seventeen, there was still hope that he might turn up, he didn't. 
This Christmas my sister in law handed me a parcel with the words 'this is a bit strange'. I opened it and it was Albert. Well Albert mark 2. My brother and my mum had given my sister in law a detailed run down of what Albert had looked like and she had recreated him. She had even cut her dressing gown cord up to make his tail. 
I cried. Then my sister in law opened her present from my brother (her husband), it was a lovely bracelet, she cried. Then my Dad opened his present from my Mum. A photo album of the grandchildren. He cried. Then my eldest brother opened his present from our Mum and Dad. It was a kitchen bin. We all stopped crying. 
I also got this brilliant gift from my eldest brother and his family. I now have the dilemma of liking it too much to use it. So at the moment it is an ornament, I'll need to put something in it so someone doesn't pick it up and put it through the dishwasher. 


Smugness

I landed at 6am on a Thursday morning. The flight was fine, well I believe it was, I was heavily, heavily drugged. I have vague recollections of eating a wrap but that could well have been an incredibly boring hallucination. I know that I changed planes in Dubai but I really don't remember it, I don't think anyone is going to be knocking down my door to do a travel documentary. 
I was reasonably alert when I got off the plan and was capable of having a conversation. I also managed to power on until 11pm that night and go to bed at a reasonable time. I was awake between 3 and 6 and then awake again at 7. Somewhere in my mind this read to me as 'beating jet lag'. I repeated this pattern for the next 5 days and was pretty smug about it. I came to the logical conclusion that I was some kind of super human who was at the next level of evolution and therefore the usual rules of physics and time change didn't apply to me. This all came to an end on Tuesday morning. 
Looking back I can see that five hours sleep a night and jam packed days are not the way to recover but it still came as a surprise when I turned over in bed and had to put my hand out to steady myself as the bed was rolling around and bucking. There followed a day where I was unable to lift my head without the room spinning and needing to throw up. I was unable to walk without stumbling in to a wall. The only option was to cancel all plans and lay on the carpet. I guessed that I had done something to my inner ear and screwed my balance up. I actually had achieved 'accumulative jet lag'. Basically where you save it all up and have it on one day. My best mate saved me by bringing round travel sickness pills which meant I could stand up without covering myself in vomit. She also bought me soup. Which was followed by a text which said it had 'the taste of soup and the consistency of hummus', which didn't help the vomit situation. 
Travel sickness pills are AMAZING. I was still quite 'lurchy' and occasionally walked sideways in to a wall but I could stand upright without decorating a room with sick. 
And if you think about it (really, really think about it) I am still kind of a super human. What would have been a week or so of jet lag for crossing eleven time zones, I got out of the way in twenty four hours. Not quite super human but super efficient. 
  According to google images, this is 'jet lag'. Put a ginger wig on this man and imagine it's me. 

Hot Christmas

From the first of December I was in 'get christmassy' mode. This happens every year. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't, but it is a hell of a lot harder in 30 something degree heat. But I persevered. I had Christmas flip flops, I had a Christmas vest top. I laughed at my other English friend who insisted on wearing her Christmas jumper. As is traditional I ate my advent calendar in a couple of days. 
An art deco cinema in Sydney which I love (the Hayden Orpheum) had a Christmas double bill of films. We watched National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and Elf. Candy canes were handed out and then we sweated out guts out whilst waiting for the bus home. 
The church that I went to in Sydney held an amazing event called 'Carols under the bridge'. 5000 people turned out to sing carols under the Harbour Bridge. It was beautiful. I helped out, assisting with a photo booth (I apologise to all who got my handiwork) and then we sat and drank wine and ate cheese and biscuits and sang carols. It was gorgeous but there was still a small part of my brain that wondered why we were doing this in July. 
I know that it's what you know and if you were bought up with a hot Christmas then that would feel Christmassy but seriously Australia, change Santa's outfit. Someone is going to die if you keep pouring them in to a big red furry suit. 

 

 This lego tree on the left is the most Australian decoration I saw. I loved the koala at the top. The tree on the right is the Christmas tree in Martin Place. A few days after this was taken this was where the siege in the Lindt cafe took place. After the sad ending to the siege this area was filled with flowers by well wishers. 

Homeward Bound

I am back in the UK. I've been back about 10 days and it's been a bit of a whirlwind. I've toured the country and am now gearing up for 2015. 
I had a month in Sydney at the end of the trip and it was (much like the rest of the trip) great. I excelled myself by driving ONCE and getting a $200 parking fine. I am disputing it on the grounds of ignorance but I don't hold out much hope. Apparently in Sydney everyone has to park facing the same direction. I didn't know this and ruined the look of the street with my slapdash european style parking. When I got the ticket I immediately put a beret on the car and rammed a cigarette up it's exhaust pipe. 
As I was preparing to leave Sydney everyone asked me if I was ready to go home. I was actually in the really nice position of being fine either way. If I'd been told that I had to stay another six months I would have loved it and carried on writing, hanging out with friends and having a very nice life, if I had to go home (which indeed I have had to do) I would love it and go back to my friends, family and see what the future holds (I still have no real idea what is going to happen). 
I will miss Australia and my friends but, without wishing to sound about 100 years old, technology has made things so much easier. Facebook, whatsapp, instagram - it's so much easier to dip in and out of people's lives without having to sit down and write a huge email or letter. Except to one friend who has decided she'd like to be pen pals. So there will still be proper letters going back and forth. 
But now I am back in the UK. I've rediscovered my house, been to a lovely wedding, had Christmas and now... bring on 2015 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

I've always relied upon the kindness of strangers

Arriving in Sydney over three months ago I knew one person. Not being particularly fussed if I didn't speak to anyone for four months I knew that I would be OK but would obviously prefer if I met some people in order to avoid me turning in to one of those people who laughs to themselves in the bus queue. Reader I think you can see where this is going...
People are great. 
This doesn't include the weird woman who sat on the end of my bed and scared the shit out of me but it does include (drumroll...) 
  • The girl who I used to work with who drove for an hour and a half to pick me up from Melbourne then put me up for the weekend and introduced me to her lovely friends. She also introduced me to tablets which you eat and they turn everything you eat in to sweet tasting things. Sweet tasting vegemite is very odd indeed. We also went for drive through coffee which pretty much blew my mind 
  • Two of my UK friend's sisters who again put me up and treated me like a Queen. 
  • An old school friend who met me for dinner despite not having seen me in years. Amazing company, lovely food and friendship rekindled. 
  • Friend of the old school friend who got in touch and met me for a drink. Lovely night and got to see huge flames go off outside the casino. 
  • Old work colleague who met me for a drink and we had a very pleasant afternoon in St Kilda. 
  • All the randoms I met in hostels and idled away days with. 
  • The very strange woman I met in a hostel who decided to give me a cat statue. I have to confess I left it behind in the hostel. It was a nice but not entirely practical gift. I did come of slightly better than the Dutch girl who was given a full set of table mats and coasters. 
  • My travelling tour mates from Melbourne to Adelaide. Helped me overcome my prejudice of organised tours. Not an unpleasant idiot among them. 
  • My new Sydney friend who introduced me to the greatest ice cream on the planet. 
  • My flatmates who made my re-introduction to communal living flipping awesome. 
  • All the new friends I have made who have put themselves out for me, made me feel so welcome. 
  • The old friends who have opened their home to me and made it feel like barely 10 minutes have passed since we last saw each other let alone 10 years. 
I suppose the culmination of this was an invite to a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. I have never been to a thanksgiving before but I enjoy eating. The friends that hosted it are wonderful (and American) and put on a hell of a feast. My only knowledge of Thanksgiving is from TV and film but I am sort of tempted to start including it in my autumn calendar. I'll ignore all the guff about pilgrims (I still don't think I've really grasped what all that's about). But I am pleased to say that we did do the thing where you go round the table and say what you're grateful for. I like that. And I like eating. 

I was thankful for the fact that four months ago I arrived knowing next to no one and there I was sat at a Thanksgiving dinner with people I know are going to be friends for life. It's not where I ever expected to be, but I was very thankful. 

Great Ocean Road and the Grampians

I am not by nature one of life's 'joiner inners'. As a child I lived in fear of being sent to summer play- schemes. Even now I feel a shiver of dread when someone says 'get in to groups'. 
I needed to get from Melbourne to Adelaide. On the way to Adelaide is the Great Ocean Road which I wanted to see. I could have rented a car and driven along it but I knew that I wouldn't really see much so I bit the bullet and booked a 'tour'. I assumed that I would either be with a load of eighteen year olds who would spend the whole thing binge drinking and being dicks. Or I would be with a load of pensioners. Although neither appealed I would have preferred the pensioners. 
Well goodness me. If I didn't end up having an absolutely amazing time. The tour guide was brilliant, the group of people were all in their early to late twenties and were all lovely, lovely people. We're now all friends on facebook. The trip was easily the highlight of my travels around the country.
We saw the lighthouse from 'Round the Twist' as the only English person on board I was the only person who knew what 'Round the Twist' was and I was VERY excited. I didn't treat people to me singing the theme tune but it was definitely going round my head all afternoon. We stopped at many places along the way but it ended with sunset at the 12 apostles (there are only 8 rocks, they just liked the name). It was a bit breezy so I popped my beautiful duck coat on. Then Andrea from the bus came towards me wearing the same coat. It would appear that good taste transcends continents. 
I'm not going to bore you with a day by day break down of what we did but I saw some beautiful sights, sights that I wouldn't have seen if I'd hired a car and driven myself. 
There were around nine nationalities on the bus and I was once again incredibly thankful that English is taught in schools all over the world. The only person who had limited English was one French woman (who we accidentally called by the wrong name for a day). Having heard all the Dutch, Norwegian, German, French and Swiss people casually switch between languages and saying that they had learnt all they knew at school I got a bit over confident. I sort of knew my Latin wasn't going to come in particularly hardy (even though it allegedly gives you an underlying knowledge of all modern languages) but I did French for five years. So I struck up a conversation. I think I started with the weather. "Il fait chaud ne est ce pas" I casually said. She clearly hadn't learnt French the same way I had. The correct answer (according to Madame Jones and the Tricolour book) was 'Oui ce est chaud" not the stream of incredibly complicated French that she came back with, which no doubt included the phrase 'and why the hell are you all calling me Renee? That's not my name." 
Inevitably we resorted to an horrific combination of French, English and mime. Which considering we ended up talking about the Normandy beaches was quite something. I claimed I'd been to Normandy. I haven't but didn't quite have the French to explain that we were talking and cross purposes. It also didn't seem right to mention it as she had taken this conversational segue as an opportunity to tell me about her father's experiences in Alsace Lorraine during World War II. All I knew about Alsace Lorraine was that it was a very popular location in my school text book and had a quiche named after it. Luckily our conversation could be cut short with a quick "ooh regard! Kangaroos" from me. Not a traditional conversation ender but in this case it was accurate. There were wild kangaroos bouncing around us. 
Bloody hell those things can jump high. No point building fences, they can go right over them. I tried (unsuccessfully) to try and capture one mid flight, then gave up and just watched them. 
It was 44 degrees the last two days we were there. We were meant to spend one afternoon marching up a mountain to a look out. This was postponed. Instead we got up at 6 the next morning to do it. It's not the way I usually think of starting the day but it was breathtaking. By the time we were coming down the route was full of school children dangling off ropes and having abseiling lessons. I asked their teacher if they were on a school trip. No, this was their PE lesson. You can't help but feel cheated when your PE lessons consisted of you dancing around in giant navy PE knickers to the hits of Bananarama (which was dated even then). 
I am now a convert. I would recommend everyone travel the world this way. Great people, great sights. My new life motto is now 'calm the fuck down and say yes to everything'. I think it'll catch on.






Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Melbourne

From Canberra I flew to Melbourne. I flew drug free and so the plane was treated to me weeping and willing the plane to stay in the air. I was successful and we didn't die although it was turbulent. 
I was staying on Flinders Street at the YHA there. The person who had been in the room before me was so extraordinarily messy that I assumed that they were still staying there so I left a light on for them for a couple of nights until I realised they weren't coming back. I then took the toothpaste they left behind. I went for dinner with a couple of guys I met and we all filled each other in on our travels. One of the recommendations was the youth hostel from hell I had previously fled. I said 'I had a bit of a bad experience with one of the long term guests'. I said her name and the guy started laughing. Turns out she had tried it on with him and the only way he was able to escape her attentions was to pretend to be German and not speak English. I once again cursed my GCSE French and Latin combo. He then amused himself by texting all his friends to tell them he had met someone who knew the strange lady and then spent a good few hours trying to convince me that the strange lady was in Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup. 
I like Melbourne but although I've been there a few times I don't feel like I really know Melbourne. This is possibly because it's set on a grid and I can't work grid systems. I will always turn the wrong way and end up in a dodgy neighbourhood or on some train tracks or the local dump. In Melbourne I am constantly looking for the centre when in fact there is no centre and it is a warren on side streets and alleyways. 
I do however love St Kilda. Not just because it's where 'The Secret Life of Us' was filmed but because it's beautiful, fun and full of excellent pubs. 
 The picture to the left is my attempt at recreating 'The Secret Life of Us' opening titles. I meant to pop to St Kilda for an afternoon, mooch around and come back. I ended up enjoying it so much that I walked along the front to Brighton and beyond. The views were beautiful and it was lovely to turn back and see the city behind you. Brighton is famed for it's multi-coloured beach huts. 
 I walked and walked. It wasn't a warm day and was quite overcast. Whenever I say this to people now they nod sagely and say 'Oh yes, you have to be careful when it's overcast. I was not careful. I had sun cream on but it had been applied in a slightly slapdash manner. Luckily I had also worn make-up (something which didn't happen a lot on this holiday). On arrival back in the city people looked at me strangely. I assumed I was glowing with health following my walk. In fact I was glowing with the power of a thousand suns. I had branded myself. 
 My chest has only recently got back to a normal colour. My face had luckily escaped the worst, with one exception. Dotted along the walk to Brighton are water fountains. I had drunk from a few of them and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand. This meant that I had wiped the make up from my top lip and I now had an electric red moustache. Which makes a change from my usual ginger tash.


Friday, 7 November 2014

Canberra

So it turns out I'm a city girl. Who'd have thought it? Not me. I thought I'd love two weeks in the wilderness with nothing to do but read, walk and write. Err no. Arriving in Canberra made me so happy. We were only on the outskirts, a bit which looks a little bit like Welwyn Garden City, but I already felt more at ease. Now admittedly it hadn't been the easiest two weeks in the rurals (see previous post). I'd also stayed in a place where the set up was a little weird and the place was shared with a campsite. You had keys to go everywhere. A little like a prison. But in theory no one could get in. Except the night when someone walked through, opened all the doors (and left them open) and turned all the lights on. Which was fun. 
It may be shallow. It may be a sign of the times but the minute I had full phone service, wifi and access to decent coffee I immediately felt better. I think I am used to English rurality. Cottages and nice pubs. Not back of the beyond where people haven't met anyone other than their own family. This may sound horrendous but I have never seen so many people with missing body parts. It was like a Cbeebies presenter convention. 
Everyone also seemed to think that they were living in a metropolis as well. Tour guides would advise you to leave half a day for a trip. Unless that trip included a nap and a four course dinner (bring your own, no cafes) it would take ten minutes at best. 
Don't get me wrong it is stunningly beautiful and I'm glad I went (lunatics aside) and I did get a lot of writing done, which was kind of the point but you do feel like the rest of the world is having a party and you're stuck visiting aged relatives. 
Luckily I met a really nice girl in one place who shared similar opinions to my own and we eventually gave up trying to be cultural and instead lolled on the beach all day. 
But on arrival in Canberra I got a shot of energy. Everyone had told me that Canberra is the most boring place on earth. I LOVED it. Now it could be that you could have dropped me anywhere that was vaguely concrete and I would have felt the same, Solihull, Wigan, Teran. But I genuinely think that Canberra is brilliant. 
It is such a young city and completely built from scratch. You do have to slightly forget that they trampled all over a lot of Aboriginal rights (not something the planners had a problem doing), as a result the city is in zones and built around a completely man made lake. 
The lake is stunning. I walked around the whole thing. All 28km of it. I sort of forgot that by the time you've walked half of it, you have to walk back. Towards the end I was walking very strangely. I watched a brilliant 1950s film encouraging people to move to Canberra and I really think I could move there. 
I went to the excellent War Memorial Museum, really interesting and beautifully set out. Everything seems to be set up to give amazing views. The Parliament Houses, both old and new, were incredibly interesting. Although I have to say I much preferred the old building. Mainly because I got a real touch of clock envy. But you also got a sense of power and decision making. The new one just seemed a bit glass and steel and airy. Like running a country from Lakeside Food Court. But I did like the fact that you could stand on the roof. 
I also met up with an old friend who I hadn't seen since school. It was lovely. Such a nice night and it was great to be shown a city by someone who lives in it. I would highly recommend Canberra to everyone. It's excellent. And if you've been told it's going to be dull and are worried about this, simply spend two weeks in the arse end of nowhere with a couple of nights fearing for your life.Paradise awaits! 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Incident

So whilst roaming around rural New South Wales accommodation options have been limited. So I've been youth hostelling. I have to say the youth hostels in the cities are excellent. I've met some lovely people and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The rural hostels.. less so. If you have a love of haunted houses or perhaps recreating the life style of 1962 in a slightly backwards town then go for it. If not, steer clear. My stays in these rural backwaters have been interesting to say the least. 
I went to one place that was incredibly beautiful and out of the way. I am not going to say where it is as I don't think that is fair to the hostel owners. I arrived in the "town" (street) and walked to the out of the way hostel. I ended up sharing a room with a long term homeless person (not a problem). She also had quite severe mental health issues. Bit more of a problem. She told me all about the voices in her head, how everyone was against her and how the government was watching her via cameras. She also spent the night screaming. Waking up at 3am to someone shouting 'F*** off' repeatedly is not a way to wake up. I jammed ear plugs in and went back to sleep. The next time I woke up, she was standing at the end of my bed watching me. I didn't know if she was awake or not so I played dead. When I told the hostel owners this they told me 'not to engage with her'. 
Amongst some of the things she told me: 
- The government are watching her as she accidentally caused 'The White Australia Policy'. In her defence she she didn't intend it to be racist. 
- She's invented a form of exercise so good that they won't give her a licence to be a personal trainer as she'll solve the obesity crisis. 
- Everything she's ever written has been stolen and someone else has got the credit. This includes the Bourne Identity. 

I tried to get away from her but accidentally ended up playing board games with her. 
I thought I could put up with her but ended up staying away from the hostel for hours at a time. Which in a small, rural fishing village is quite hard. When you find yourself wondering whether you should walk around the lake in anti-clockwise direction as you've already walked around in the other way then you've run out of things to do. I went back to the hostel and was greeted by the mad woman saying 'They're having a town meeting about me, they want to take my wisdom teeth out and analyse my blood". At that point I checked out. There were no buses till the next morning so I spent the night awake in an armchair in the communal area waiting for her to come and kill me. As soon as morning came, I fled. Convinced she was coming after me. 
I still think she might. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Wollongong

I am on my travels! I have a back pack (borrowed) and everything. First stop on my trip is Wollongong, which everyone has told me is horrible. I rather like it. I've been here three days and have probably exhausted all it has to offer but as a city goes it's quite pleasant. A bit 'twinned with Felixstowe' but nice enough. I am staying in a youth hostel. Pushing the definition of youth to it's outer limits but enabling me to see a lot of the country on a budget (I slightly over shot on the Gold Coast trip). I've had a room to myself for most of the stay but last night I was joined by an 18 year old called...something. I instantly forgot her name. 
She is here because she is going to University in Wollongong and didn't get in to student accommodation. So she is living in a youth hostel. She's is from a place called 'Young' which I have never heard of and it has a population of 800 people. She told me last night that she was unsettled by Wollongong as it was so big and there were 'so many cars and people'. You can walk the length of Wollongong in about 20 minutes and there are about four cars. 
Bless her. You had to feel for her. She asked me how you make friends at University. Whilst giving her the advice of 'Talk to everyone and then spend the next four years avoiding all the 'friends' you made in the first two weeks' I realised that she was two when I went to university. Me giving her advice on what to do would be like some hip cat from the 70s telling me to make friends at University by 'going on a peace march' or 'go to a sit in'. I have no idea how university works today. For all I know they sit around on facebook, cyber bullying each other before rushing off to a flash mob. I am no more equipped to give advise on University than I am on space travel. 
However since arriving in Australia I have been required to make new friends. Something which I have been moderately successful in and so I gave her the following advice; "Say yes to everything." You may end up doing some really strange things (which I have) but you might meet people along the way who you really like (which I have). 
Whilst in Wollongong I have tried in vain to walk the ring track around Mount Keira. On Saturday I went to find the path and got astonishingly lost. Australian's don't really go in for signage. Then I saw some people who were in walking gear getting out of their car and parking up. So I followed them. They were not walking the ring road. They were climbing the mountain. And on a pretty off piste route too. They had hiking boots and poles and stuff. I had trainers and my handbag. I followed them all the way to the top. I had to. I had no idea of the way down. 
Today I printed off a better map and set off. I walked about 40 feet in to the trail and there was a huge fence. No explanation, no alternative route, so I walked back. Although I have not seen the fabulous views from the viewing platforms that are dotted around the ring track I have seen a lot of the housing estate which lies beneath Mount Keira. I have admired the broken glass scattered in the subway you have to walk through to get there and I have delighted in the lack of pavements on the suburban roads. The Mountain is there but there is no way to it. 
Or no roads that I can find. Speaking from past experience there will be a huge signposted extravaganza about 3 foot away from where I was. The road will be lined with cable cars and helpful guides but I will be just out of reach. Then when I talk to people they will crease their brow in an all too familiar look of confusion and say 'You couldn't find the mountain? That Mountain there?" 
I'll shake my head 
Then they'll continue to question me 'You took the fairy dust lane road right?"
Shake of head
"Oh so you went the Princes Highway?"
No
"Oh. Well that is strange. We're there all the time aren't we?"
Well good for you. Perhaps you should draw the maps. 
I did however find the beach. 

Bye Bye Bondi

Well six weeks just flew by. I no longer live in Bondi, sob sob. The unit I lived in is now sold and I am on my travels. 
When I moved in I saw it as somewhere to be for six weeks whilst I got myself sorted in Sydney. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did and also make two really good friends out of my flatmates. I hadn't lived in a shared house for ages but living with those two made me realise how much fun it can be. I will have very happy memories of merrily slagging off Big Brother whilst Mike had a fire on the BBQ. 
Bondi itself is fantastic and I would highly recommend anyone to live there. This post is going to be mainly photos I'm afraid. 

When I first came back to Sydney I thought maybe I would try and live on the North Shore which is where I lived before. I am so glad I went to Bondi, an area I didn't really know. A lot about Sydney has changed ($5 for a coffee. $5.) and I am glad I started afresh rather than try and pick up where I left off. I loved being near the beach and loved the whole lifestyle of just wandering around and writing. I landed on my feet and was really lucky. 

I also loved the number of little cafes dotted around Bondi, who didn't mind if you sat there all day writing. Or if they did mind, didn't say anything. 


I will miss Bondi hugely but now I am off on my travels for a month......

Gold Coast

I went for a three day jolly on the Gold Coast. I went to Surfers Paradise which is, according to everyone I spoke to, a bit like Magaluf. I really liked it. The Gold Coast's slogan is 'Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next' and I agreed. A bit too many people walking around in not enough clothing but you can learn to live with these things. 
Sadly the thing I was most excited about was sleeping in a double bed. An actual bed. For the last 7 weeks I've been on an airbed. A very comfortable double airbed but I was acutely aware that every time I turned over it sounded like I was having a very loud and celebratory bowel explosion. Or a light wrestle with an elephant. I fully intended to make the most of having a proper bed to myself and planned to sleep at least eleven hours a day. Inevitably this meant I was up and ready to go by 7am every morning. 
I can't say I did anything of cultural significance whilst I was there. I went to the beach a lot. Saw dead jellyfish, didn't go in the sea in case their living relatives were still there. I did however miss a super storm in Sydney. The worst storm to hit in ooooh a long time apparently. I sat in 28 degree heat with my balcony doors wide open whilst I watched the news report on flooded stations, people trapped in cars and the terrible damage the storm had caused. Then a picture of my friends house came on the television. The house that I had been staying in the previous day. 
A tree had landed on her neighbours car. She sent me this picture. 

No one was hurt, don't worry. My helpful comment was 'who the hell do you call to deal with that?' We concluded you would have to call your insurance company. 
In the meantime I was enjoying this:

I also survived the plane journey there and back. I'm not going to say I enjoyed it but I survived without drugs. On the second flight I was distracted by a rather large lady who had to share my seat, she had her own but there was 'spillage'. 
On arrival back in Sydney I had expected it to look like a post apocalyptic nightmare. It didn't. Everything had been cleared away and everything looked exactly the same. Apart from the big hole in the ground outside my friends house. 
Oh and I also saw the world's saddest smoke alarm. 


Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Best Money I Ever Spent

"What's the best money you've ever spent?" People never say to me. 
"Why it's the UK pound",  I don't reply."Gold, shiny and the envy of the world. Plus I contribute to the rebounding British economy." 
Then we don't laugh, as this whole conversation is fictional. 
However I have made some spectacular purchases of late and so I am going to tell you about them, like it or not. 
Obviously I am forced to say my house. But in my case I do genuinely love my house. Small but perfectly formed and decorated as though a slightly twee old lady has gone nuts in a junk shop. I love it. I also love that I've rented it out and it's helping me fund my adventures. 
On a slightly less grand scale a couple of years ago I impulse bought a pac-a -mac from Primark. It cost me ten pounds and I estimate I have worn it six hundred thousand times. As I have only been alive 12661 days (thanks google) I have spent a lot of time taking this coat on and off. Now not only does this raincoat pack away nice and small, allowing me to slip it to my bag and take it with me everywhere, it is also an attractive black so goes with everything. Oh and it's covered in pictures of ducks and has a hood so enormous it covers my entire face, forcing me to tighten the woggles either side of the hood so it frames my face like this. 
It's pretty fetching. However it sits besides me as I write now and I have worn it several times on this trip as Sydney rain is insane. I've only been caught out once when I was stranded a good 15 minute walk away from home and the skies started to empty. My trusty cagoule was at home and so I popped to the dollar shop and purchased a child's rain poncho. A light blue one, designed to be worn on log flumes. I draped myself in the flowing plastic and marched home. I recognised the looks of respect I got. I'd seen them many times before when wearing my cagoule. 
On a side note until a couple of years ago I would have called my duck coat a 'cagoule' pronounced 'Kaggle'. However when I referred to it as that I was asked to repeat myself several times before they would ask 'Do you mean KA goooooooooole?" I didn't mean that, I meant 'kaggle' but it made me self-concious and I began to think I might be saying it wrong. Having had many years of merriment laughing at someone who referred to 'Cack he' rather than 'Khaki' I started calling it a rain coat instead. I stick by 'kaggle' though. 

My other amazing purchase has been a sleeping bag. Not just any sleeping bag, a fleece sleeping bag. It was $10 from K-mart and I believe they are still available. When I packed to come to Australia I didn't bring many clothes (still managed to have 30kg of luggage though so I assume they were lead lined). I'd just chucked a few things in, lobbed a couple of cardigans on top and thought 'Oh well it's 18 degrees at the moment I'll be fine until it warms up." To be fair 18 degrees is warm, I've been on SUMMER holidays where 18 degrees was the high and I swam, played on the beach and went a lovely blue colour. 
Reader I was freezing. Not a bit chilly, not a touch on the cold side, I was baltic. Rigid with cold. Particularly at night. Of course I had to lie. I couldn't say that I'd packed for winter and arrived with a couple of pairs of flip flops and light cardigan. I had bought my Ugg boots but they were thrown in to a bin on the street after I spent a while in a cafe going 'what is that horrific smell? Has someone trodden in dog shit?" then traced the smell back to my Ugg boots which had been soaked (see above for rain detail) and dried a dozen times. But with my fleece sleeping bag I was toasty and warm. I even woke up a couple of times in the night boiling to death, which is the dream. It's too hot to use it now but it's coming back to the UK with me. 
So not terribly lavish purchases. Most of my money is going on feeding a terrible Freddo the Frog addiction. These chocolately treats now come in popping candy flavour and I refuse to tell you how many I am getting through, let's just say they are 4 for $2 in Coles and I am in there most days. What I need to do is eat a pine lime flavour one. A treat so unutterably foul it once nearly caused involuntary public vomiting. I can only assume that someone was once using some industrial strength toilet cleaner and thought that they should try and capture the smell and taste in a tiny chocolate bar. Either that or I accidentally ate a car air freshener. That was the worse money I ever spent. That or any money I have ever given to Greater Anglia Train Company. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Book club

I went to a book group the other day. We read 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. I was the only person in the group (and from the reaction I got, possibly the world) who hadn't read it before. Having read it I am now certain that racism is a bad thing. 

I found that a funny joke. 

The rest of the book group didn't. I'm not sure if I can go back again. 

What I enjoy and find amusing about book groups and to an extent English lessons at school is the level of detail you have to go in to. The majority of the time you just read a book and think either 'I liked that' or 'I didn't like that'. Throw a book group or an English teacher in there and it turns in to a full on exploration in to the author's psyche. It's the literary equivalent of a 14 year old girl explaining a crush to her best friend. 
"Then he touched my hand; which I think means he wants to marry me." "Then he asked if I wanted a water. What do you think that means?" 
In most cases the answer to these questions is "no" and "nothing". 
I know that books have sub text. I know that detail makes the book. I also know that occasionally it just is what it is. 
As you sit there picking a book to pieces someone will inevitably ask 'Do you think that the setting is important to the book." And everyone will turn to the text and go 'Oh yes, definitely - the moors reflect his character' or 'the sterile environment shows that he is separated from the real world' and you nod along but there's a bit of you that thinks 'Yeah, maybe or maybe that's just where it's set.'
 I had two years with an English teacher reading Jane Eyre (a book I now loathe by the way) and banging on about the 'symmetry of nature'. You couldn't read a paragraph without her reflecting on how the constant driving rain reflected Jane's despair or Mr Rochester's sorrow. We all dutifully wrote this down and regurgitated it in our exams but there was always a bit of me that thought 'maybe it's always raining because it's Yorkshire. It rains a lot there.' 

I suppose the questions are meant to make you think more deeply about the text. To make you examine the motives of the characters and discover meaning. I certainly found the book club enjoyable and I do quite like the fact that there are no wrong answers. If you can make an argument for it then no one can prove you wrong. Unless the author is sat there then you can claim what you want. I would just love it if the author was sat there and occasionally could chip in and say 'Where did you get that from?'

Oh and as a blatant plug, my book is out now. Feel free to discuss it in book groups. I can tell you now it's set in London as I know the city and Tess gets the bus everywhere as she doesn't have a car, not because it symbolises her being carried through life on pre-determined routes. Although now I think about it that's rather good. Scrap my previous explanation, that's exactly why she gets the bus everywhere. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joy-Depression-Laura-Sleep-ebook/dp/B00NHB65W6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411379935&sr=8-1&keywords=the+joy+of+depression 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Home, home on the ?

This adventure has meant that there has had to be many changes in my life. This is no bad thing and I think I have taken most of them in my stride. However there was one thing that was slightly bothering me: living with other people. 

I have lived on my own for seven years and I love it. Love everything about it. It's great. Everyone should do it. Ignore the fact there's not enough housing stock, grab a tent and live in a ditch - you'll love it. Now obviously I have lived with people before. It is unusual for a toddler to live independently. After I left home I lived in various flatshares and enjoyed them before buying my own place when I was twenty seven.

I rented my flat out in July and for six weeks I stayed with my parents, friends and siblings. It was very pleasant. A perfect reintroduction in to living with people again. But I knew that when I got to Sydney I was going to have to live with strangers and that would mean something else I've not done in a while...flat hunting. 

Most of the flathunting I've done has been for a flat, this time I was going to have to scope out flatmates as well. Luckily I was staying with very nice friends so I didn't have to take the first thing I saw, which was just as well. There's a lot of freaks out there. 

Some of the places I saw were just badly described in the ads. "Near public transport!" translation: as the crow flies it's half a mile to a bus stop. If you don't fly like a crow then it's a 40 minute jog. I'd placed an ad on a flatsharing website saying what I was looking for (a short term let of around 2 months). One woman called me. She sounded very excited. She felt she had just what I was looking for. I met her at 9 on a Sunday morning, heavy with jet lag. She made me a cup of tea and then told me that she was really looking for someone who could stay long term. 'Oh well', I thought 'I got a cup of tea out of it.' Then she suggested that I may like to stay with her parents, so drove me there. Her parents were well in to their 90s and were using their house as a furniture warehouse. I said I'd think about it and she gave me a lift in to the city. She was actually very sweet and I'm sure would have been nice to live with long term. Short term - well I wasn't going to live with her parents. 

The strangest one was in Paddington. A very nice area close to the city. The woman sounded normal on the phone. Sadly in person she was insane. She showed me the 'furnished' room (a heavily stained matresses in a damp room). She explained that she worked from home so she would prefer it if I never cooked (smells). She then asked me how often I showered (enough) and how long it took me to dry my hair. This information was so she could fairly divide the electricity bill. Again I smiled and said I'd let her know. 

Just as I was losing the will to live a flatshare appeared in Bondi. They wanted someone to take a room for five weeks. Could I see it that night? You bet your arse I could. Great location, huge flat, nice flatmates (I checked that they had no hairdrying rules - they don't). Done! I moved in last Saturday. 

After October - I think I may head off round the south coast for a bit. Who knows? But for now I am content with this. 

I had an afternoon swim in the outdoor pool yesterday. 
Before you get too envious - I had to get out as I went purple with cold. But in a couple of weeks I'll be back there. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Time Travelling

I have arrived. The eagle has landed etc etc other metaphors for arriving in a country without the plane bursting in to flames (it happens). The flight was actually OK. I was on one of those Qantas airbuses and it was enormous. I was also out of my skull on a cocktail of prescription (not necessarily my prescriptions) drugs which made the whole thing a lot more palatable. I was even relaxed enough to take a quick nap on the floor of Dubai airport. Never let it be said I don’t travel in style.

I had somehow managed to get in an early boarding row so was one of the first on the enormous plane. As it filled up the seats next to me remained empty and so I’d managed to convince myself that I was going to have a whole row of seats to myself. I was of course being ridiculous. This never happens. You are always rammed in and convince yourself that the flight is full then on a wander to the toilet you see about 20 rows of seats that have one person stretched out along all three seats. Your reaction to seeing this varies depending on whereabouts in the flight you are. Early on you tend to think “Oh I wonder how they managed that”. Later on “I’m going to wake them up and ask them how they did that and then tell them that it would be nice if they shared their good fortune around and we all took turns at sleeping horizontally”. 14 hours in and you are standing over them weeping.

The empty seats next to me were filled about 2 seconds before the doors closed. They were filled by a strange couple who were having a domestic. They were terrifying. I stood up to let her in and the first/only thing she said was ‘is this all your stuff?’. This was in reference to the full up over head locker. I replied that my bag was under the seat in front. She ignored me and got in her seat, her scary husband sat next to her and we all sat in silence. I listened to the people behind me bond, they were practically arranging to come to each other weddings. I even began to envy the people sat next to the child going mental. Then scary man broke the silence. By calling his wife an f***ing b***h. Her response to this was to hand him an inflight magazine and say ‘Oh look we went there’. I shut my eyes and listened to him detail the plans for their divorce, whilst she smiled and laughed as if she was at a dinner party. Luckily at that point my fake sleep turned into real sleep and I was spared their weirdness. When I woke up they had their arms round each other and were watching the Big Bang Theory. They then started whispering sweet nothings to each other. I pretended to sleep again.
I could only assume they were one of those ghastly couples who thrive on tension and make up sex. You’ll be as thrilled as I was to hear they were in the same seats all the way to Sydney.

I had planned to try and sleep at the correct times so that I would arrive early morning in Sydney and then power through till the evening. Of course my plans failed and I awoke at about 11pm Thursday night all ready for a 5-30am landing. I prepared myself for jetlag/death.  I’ve only ever had jetlag badly twice. Once when I actually thought I was going to die and the other slightly more amusing version where I couldn’t stay awake. I would be mid sentence and then wake up three hours later glued to the carpet by my own drool. This continued for a week. The only thing that made it more amusing was that the two people I was living with got exactly the same thing. At any given moment there was the chance that one of us would just collapse in a heap and pass out for a couple of days.


This time I got a strange kind of jet lag. The type where I decided that I was a higher evolved human. I managed to not only change time zones but also evolutionary stages. I got to a point where I didn’t need sleep or food. Inevitably this had to come to an end and it did in spectacular style on Sunday evening. I assumed I was out of the danger zone of jetlag and was enjoying my new evolutionary life as a thetan and so decided that I would try out a church in the city for it’s Sunday evening service. I think it was nice. I think I spoke to people. I got hit by the truck of tiredness about 10 seconds in to the service. I had to keep pretending to pray so I could shut my eyes. Then I had to keep jerking myself awake so I didn’t go in to a coma and fall off my chair. I got an attack of the involuntary head dips. Where you think you’re fine and then suddenly your head jerks back up and you realise it’s slowly been sinking towards your knees. I think I was drooling. I realised that I wasn’t a thetan and I was also very, very cold. I got home somehow and put on all the clothes I own, borrowed a onesie and went to bed, shivering. Only to wake up at 3am boiling. Oh jet lag you cruel mistress. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Tomorrow

I leave the country in about 27 hours. Weirdly for the last few days the question I have been asked most often is 'Are you packed?'
No
No, I'm not. Nor do I have anywhere to live, I'm not entirely sure how long I have as a stop over in Dubai and I've not printed off my ticket yet and I'm not sure there's enough ink in the printer. However I am still utterly convinced it's all going to be OK. 
The goodbyes have been said, the hot air balloon ride cancelled for the second time (grrr) and now I just have to put a few things in a bag and go to Heathrow, knock myself out and wake up in Australia. Off I go....

In other news;  this is the front cover of my book. Nice isn't it? I am just checking the contents for the final time and then it will go on kindle. Reading your own work is strange. I am quite happy I'll be out of the country when it comes out. So yes. Next time I'll be writing this upside down. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

"Auntie Laura said the C word"

Inevitably as you get older your life changes and the majority of these changes won't be of your own volition, so you have to change and go with it. When you hit your late twenties/early thirties the biggest change will be the sudden influx of children in to your life. My opinion on children is the same as my opinion on adults - some I like, some are awful. Luckily my friends and family are really good at producing excellent children who, as long as you make it look vaguely like a game, are happy to run around and bring you things. There is however one thing I have had to change... my language. 
Well more specifically my swearing, no one is insisting I only speak to their children in Norse or anything. 
Given that I became an aunt for the first time at 23 you think I would have cracked it by now. I really, really haven't. It doesn't help that some of words I think are benign replacements are also off limits so I inadvertently correct myself by replacing the bad word with a worse one. However I have managed to curb the worst of my excesses and so can concentrate on teaching them bad stuff whilst using PG language (I spent a whole day teaching my nephew how to cheat at cards. We were only foiled by the fact that his hands were too small to hold all the cards he kept winning and so he kept dropping them and showing us all he'd been cheating). Then came lunch... 
There were nine of us to lunch. Myself, my parents, my brother and his wife and their four children. I am not sure how we got to this point but my Mother (who is not know for her filthy mouth, she once set herself on fire and said 'Oh shoot') told my Dad (under her breath) to 'eat your bloody sandwiches'. This passed by. Then a small boy (7) said 'bum' and was sent to the naughty step. A few minutes passed and he was told he could come back. But in a shock move he refused as 'No one had told Grandma off for her language'. Which was a fair point. 
Unfortunately at that point I used the word 'crap' to describe something (it would appear my family is a bunch of potty mouths). The only people who heard my were oldest nephew (8) and my niece (10) who I both managed to convince that they should over look it. This didn't work, and even more unfortunately this led to the description of 'Auntie Laura said the C word". 
Now there are many ways to not swear in front of children. Repeatedly bleating 'I said crap, I said crap, I didn't say the C word, I said crap'. Isn't it. 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

What's the opposite of Narnia

I go to Sydney in under 3 weeks. 

And I have no plans. I have a whole heap of stuff to do before I actually get there but when there I just plan to write. I feel I should be more panicked than I am. I'm sure it'll all be fine. 
It occured to me yesterday that I am going to experience a sort of eternal summer this year. I haven't known a UK summer so consistently hot and sunny as this for years and when I arrive in Sydney they'll be heading in to Spring and then Summer. The main consequence of this is that my hair is going to be revolting. It's already an alarming blonde that looks like I've been at the sun-in (it's all natural - jealous?). Add that to a substandard hair cut and I look a bit like the 1990s Brad Willis. Except not so pretty. 
The good news is that this is going to help with the packing. No jumpers, no ugg boots, no hats, gloves, coats, scarves. There is however the distinct possibility that when I get off the plane in mid December back in London that I will simply die of shock. If I haven't already died on the plane already. 
I do not like flying. This is for legitimate reasons (FIRE! CATAPULT! ENGINE FAILURE). However I've now managed to add another ridiculous layer to it and have discovered that I am completely immune to valium. I was given it to fly last year and looked forward to a drug fuelled haze. I waited for it to kick in, waited and waited. I could have piloted the bloody plane. If I hadn't been having a weeping, shaking nervous breakdown that is. I thought perhaps I'd taken it when too worked up so did a controlled experiment in my living room one Friday evening. I was looking forward to channelling my inner Marianne Faithful - I ended up doing the crossword and loading the dishwasher. The dirty plates and cups didn't talk to me or anything. I was devastated. 
So when I was at the doctors I asked if there was anything else I could take. I would like to stress I wasn't after methodone or anything. Just perhaps some non drowsy anti-histamenes. I was told 3 times that valium worked for everyone and I had taken it incorrectly as I had already been stressed (I told her the crossword story - I can only imagine she gets very worked up when it comes to word puzzles). I asked if there was anything, anything else I could take. She said "Deep breaths'.  I gave a haughty look at her degree certificate (it had a distinct whiff of clip art about it) and left. And then ordered sleeping tablets off the internet. 
Oh calm down - it's Tylenol. Which knocks me right out. And does a damn sight more than deep breaths. Although I have a real gift for always sitting near the bogs so maybe deep breaths would knock me out after all. 

I was going to...

I was going to start a new blog. It was going to run next to this blog and be more of a diary, travel journey thing. But I was immediately technologically flawed. The interface had changed and was quite frankly beyond me, I couldn't up load photos, it looked crap and so I have decided that one blog will do me! 
Now... the reason why I am starting a new blog (or not). 
If you had asked me on New Years Eve 2013/2014 what this year would hold I would have fairly confidently replied ‘More of the same’. I certainly wouldn’t have said that by July I would have jacked in a job that I loved, rented out my house (which I was also fairly attached to) and been about to head off for five months to a country I last visited eight years ago, where I know a few people and with under 4 weeks to go.. have nowhere to live. But here I am and hopefully I'll report here how it goes. Along with any other stuff I write about.
So why did I do it? I don’t know is the short answer. The longer answer makes slightly more sense. So January I was happy, I had a very good job in a lovely company and some of the best work colleagues you could ask for. I had (have) lovely friends, great family and was fine. But I was kind of hoping for change. The good kind. I had begun to feel that I wasn’t really living my own life. I had kind of slipped in to a supporting role. I was living in relation to other people rather than living my own life. Obviously we all have to do this to an extent but I felt I wanted to be the main player in my own life.
What I’ve really wanted to do for as long as I can remember is write. I’ve made some inroads over the years but never quite got there. Once again life got in the way. Life trundled on, I did nice things, I celebrated birthdays (34- bloody hell) but I still wanted for, prayed for (I’m Christian) change. I was bored. Not with anything in particular but with everything.  It became very clear that if you want change then you have to change things. But I didn’t really want to do that – where would I get a better job? What would I do with my house? How could I afford to live? There was nothing so wrong with my life that I needed to walk away from it.
Then May happened – this was the month from hell. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I’m not going to go in to details but when on the last day of May I found myself in tears again I knew that I had reached the point where I could walk away from everything. It wasn’t a knee jerk reaction to a bad couple of weeks, it wasn’t putting two fingers up, I think it was a way (in my mind God’s way) of getting me to a point where I could move on. I’d burned down the farm. Leaving work was hard, it’s difficult to explain why you’ve walked away from something you enjoyed, could do and liked! But it felt like the right decision. And things began to fall in to place. I rented my house out to someone I trusted, I got a really good deal on flights, my first novel is going on kindle in the next few weeks.
So here I am. A stunning bit of planning means I moved out of my house 6 weeks before I left the country, so I am free wheeling between various houses. I’m off to Australia in 4 weeks and we’ll see what happens. This may be the best or worst idea of my life but I think I am just going to see where it goes. I don’t really have much other choice.


 Oh and I've also started taking really crap amateur photography on my phone. 


Peaches

You will be shocked to hear that I didn’t know Peaches Geldof. We didn’t really move in the same circles. But I was shocked when my friend messaged me to tell me she had died. It was so out of the blue, so strange and it really seemed to resonate with people. Twenty something women just don’t drop dead out of the blue and so people took to social media and expressed their shock, their sadness. People expressed their sadness for her two boys, for her husband, for Bob Geldof. A family that had suffered so much already were going through it again. Then it came out that her death was linked to drug usage and the sympathy stopped.
It wasn’t that her death stopped being sad; it was more that people didn’t think that she was now deserving of sympathy. Then the other comments started: how her death was selfish, how could a mother do that to her children? But the manner of her death doesn’t make it less sad, or tragic or a waste. If anything it makes it sadder; she didn’t get the help she needed and her death was preventable.
I think the problem was this: now Peaches was a mother she was no longer allowed to be human. It was no longer just about her. She had responsibilities.  In short – her children should have saved her from addiction.

No pressure kids.

Now first let’s deal with the obvious. Children are many things but they are not a cure for addiction. If they were then rehabs would go out of business, methodone wouldn’t exist. There would be no AA meetings. People would simply go to the doctor and be handed a small child. Cured. Well women would be cured. Men would probably stick to the conventional methods as they are not completely defined by their reproductive ability. Addiction is an illness not a choice. She didn’t love heroin more than her children, she probably hated heroin, loathed it and it’s role in her life but she was overwhelmed by addiction and she happened to have children.
Motherhood is not a super power. It’s a state. Any problems that were there before are more than likely going to be there afterwards – with less sleep. Motherhood doesn’t make you untouchable. If you had a gammy leg and a short temper before, then chances are you will afterwards. Horrifically self righteous before? Add a child and well… I’ll see you in a few years. The point is that the child may spur you on to want to be a better person, give you a reason to change yourself, make you want to be a role model but somethings are just overwhelming and innate.
Peaches didn’t fail her children. She was failed. We boxed her in to a corner where she wasn’t allowed to have faults. It didn’t help that she gave many interviews where she pretty much said that motherhood had saved her and her life was perfect (addicts lie – who knew) but we all went along with it. What would have happened if she’d told the truth? That she was struggling? That she was out of her depth and having two small people totally relying on her wasn’t pulling her through her demons? Let’s face it – we would have thought that she didn’t love her kids enough.

Which is bollocks. Of course she loved them. She loved them so much that she lived furtively and perhaps didn’t get the help that she needed for fear that they would be taken away from her. If she had been allowed to be openly flawed perhaps things would have been different. Perhaps if we had looked as her as human first? It was a lack of love that killed Peaches but her love for kids was never in doubt.