Friday, 4 May 2012
Being such a dutiful boyfriend, although he didn't need to rise early, Howard breakfasted with Sandra, who had to be out by 7. Flax seed porridge with bluberries, raw cocoa and bee pollen was that breakfast! I do hope it was as good for me as they said, because it certainly didn't taste it. On departing, Sandra said she would probably see me in another 20 years time, as I estimated that was how long ago we'd last met, and I thanked her for the mental image of myself as an OAP that her charming thought had evoked. Howard took my precious cargo and I to the airport and during the journey he put forward his anti-government stance and annarchistic leanings. I forget exactly how he put it, but it was something along the lines of by voting for any of the world's major political parties, we are agreeing to being raped if we are put in prison for whatever reason; ie no one is to be trusted and every system fails. Thanks for another unpleasant image - I'll never look at a ballot paper again in quite the same light. Bizarrely, he not only works for a government body, he is an American who lives in Australia and is employed by the British Department of Transport. Something to do with overseeing the production of Asian cars, so they are compatible with British laws. I told him about my manifesto : not bothering anyone, riding my bicycle and burying my head in the sand when it comes to the world's attrocities. Howard might be cynical and jaded when it comes to human beings, but I've never met such a doting pet owner. He had never had much contact with cats before and always saw himself as a 'dog person', yet when a stray black cat came a knocking a few years ago, he and Sandra didn't know who his owners were and decided to let him stay. Now Badda Bing is the centre of their universe, they pander to his every whim and coo over him like a baby. The iconic Jaws image caught my eye on a poster in the airport toilet, with the words "Some things aren't meant to fly" - underneath some wit had scrawled "Like toothpaste and soap" - and then went on to talk about checking one's luggage for dangerous items. So then, a window seat over the wing again on another interminable China Eastern flight, with its slapstick action films, bland airline food; and in-flight magazines only in Mandarin, although hardly surprising with 99% Chinese passengers. To help pass the time I finally got some use out of the huge Rough Guide to Australia that I've been lugging around with me. There was a condensed history and I also learned some new slang words, such as : Banana bender - Queenslander Beyond the black stump - Outback Budgie smugglers - Speedos Warm fuzzies - feeling of contentment It was when reunited with the Pudong terminal building disappearing in each direction as far as the eye could see, that Orwell came into my mind. The Chinese remind me of the pigs in Animal Farm, who want to be like capitalist Westerners, but their corrupt communism and cultural differences hold them back. Whereas the few white faces (the non-pig farm animals) you see in this country stare back at you with the look of frightened rabbits. China is after all Australia's employer. Funny watching the pushing and shoving in the airport. In between the endless series of moving walkways they hustle and bustle past each other on SLIM, spindly frames and centres of gravities at shoulder level. At Customs a man queue-jumped and I protested, to which he held up his hand as if to say "Get back, foreign infidel!" Had to collect my bike as I had a stop-over here, but fortunately my hotel was right in the airport, so I could take the box on a trolley all the way to my room. This is how the conversation went at reception : "Passport". "Please." "Passport." "Please." "Passport." "Please." Then she smiled. However, it wasn't the swanky hotel that I had been allocated, but the motel opposite. It was pretty nice though and not a pictureless brick wall in site. The lady at the desk here (who had a number badge not a name badge) was none too friendly either (I guess it's just a cultural difference) and when she gave me a card with a four digit number on it and I asked if this was the room number, she looked at me like I was an idiot. The first number referred to the establishment and the other three pertained to the room. Her non-verbal language seemed to be saying, "You must be really stupid not to realise that". For liquid refreshment, two tea bags were all the room offered. I couldn't be bothered to go all the way back to reception to ask for coffee and milk. There was a full-length mirror behind the toilet, so I could watch myself urinating and this is how the wording ran on a sign stuck to a small, glass table : "Friendship prompt : utslightly carefully, please not heavy pressure" Although there was internet access, the blog was unattainable (I learned later that all blogs are blocked by the State) and out of curiosity I tried to access Facebook. Social networking sites are verboten as well; Laura couldn't survive here!
Sunday, 29 April 2012
Returned to the world of textiles. At the bike shop it took 15 minutes for a man to dismantle and box my bike, and squeeze in most of my luggage. This had taken Tony, Laura and I several hours. However, presumably no-one weighed it in Glasgow or London because I didn't have any more stuff, yet now it was over the 23 kg limit, and this was only ascertained after it had been taped up - at the airport. The 8 kg discrepancy would have cost $150, so obviously I took most of my luggage and added it to my carry-on baggage. The woman who dealt with me was none too friendly (and hardly looked up from her monitor) but the man next to her was, and he lent me scissors, tape and a bigger bag to take on the plane. I became increasingly stressed, ripping everything out of the box, reweighing it a few times and getting covered in bike oil in the process. Dragged the box to the oversize baggage section (I wasn't paying $3 for an airport trolley) and returned to the desk to criticize the woman for her lack of eye contact. She smiled sweetly and said she would take my advice onboard. Unfortunately, when atempting to pass through security, I realised that in my anxiety I'd included bike tools with the carry-on luggage, and, of course, they wouldn't let me do that. So, somewhat sheepishly, I had to return to the woman previously mentioned to ask for the box to be recalled, for it to be opened up AGAIN and taped up AGAIN. This time she smiled a lot and fixed her gaze on me. More dramas in the departure lounge, where it seemed ridiculous that passengers who had been given allocated seats queued up before being called forward. Stupid idiots, I thought. I hate standing in queues and ignored the announcement for our flight over the PA, as it would surely take ages for all the boarding cards to be processed. Five minutes later I heard my name being called over the PA and had to rush to make the plane... Although I'd asked for a window seat, I forgot about the wings, which obscured my view. However, (a) it was mostly cloudy through out the journey and (b) the man next to me said we would fly through the Outback. I had hoped to retrace my route along the coast, and get a perverse kick from measuring this three-hour flight against seven weeks of gruelling, sweaty toil. Peter, my original host in Melbourne, had suffered a relapse of his ME-type illness and asked me to try and find someone else to stay with for my remaining two nights in the country. As luck would have it, my older brother, Anthony, has a friend in the city, Sandra. She and her boyfriend, Howard, picked me up from the airport and took me to their place in Brunswick. Sandra cooked up a fabulous Spanish seafood affair, featuring muscles, prawns and beans. A serious foodie, she uses the finest ingredients in her cooking and we even drank white wine from a different type of glass to the red. They also have this Japanese fridge, the door of which can be opened from either side, as although it opens like normal, it's hinged on both sides. Whereas, Howard is into his hi fi and had searched the planet for the best kind of speakers, which are huge and individually shaped. Stupidly I itched my back to relieve the sunburn and it got worse and worse. Eventually I restrained myself from touching it again and the pain subsided during another uncomfortable sleep.
Saturday, 28 April 2012
Received this SMS from Kelly in Yarra Glen, Victoria : Hi Adrian, I have been reading your blog and just wanted you to know I have found it thoroughly entertaining and amusing. I wish I wasn't one of your first stops because then I would have known you liked a drink and your sarcastic sense of humour (at times) would have cracked me up whilst telling stories of the past few months!! Perhaps, I could greeted you at the front door with a towel whilst pointing at my watch! Argh, but in my case, it was I who expected you a day later... Ha ha... I think you will be nearing the end of your journey soon - congratulations... Thanks for letting me read your adventures on-line... And providing so many laughs. The sunburn was less sore, although it has been replaced by sunstroke and I felt queasy all day. Mike took his accolytes on a tour of the area, via a swim on the beach, a somewhat pedestrian walk along a river bank and another swim in his development's private pool. We bumped into an older homosexual (if you hadn't already guessed, Mike is of the fraternity) walking his dog, who must be jealous of all the young, studs passing through Mike's back door. There is a Yorkey's Knob Festival (if you didn't know the place you might think the second two words were joined rather than the first pair) where they crown a king and queen, or maybe a queen and queen, I forget. A festival organiser tried to change the name to Yorkey's Beach Festival, but the Knobs weren't having any of it. There's no point in putting up signs promoting the occasion, because they are stolen as soon as they are... ahem... erected. Being naked is, of course, soon forgotten, and I never caught anyone looking at anyone else's bits. It might be different (for me at least) if it were a mixed affair, yet ironically this could have made us feel less comfortable. Mike is keen to point out he hosts women and couples too, although I'm not sure how often. Really, though, what does it matter? He's gay and likes being naked around other, mostly younger, hot males (somehow I got in too). What of it? We all entered into this situation freely - and Mike makes it perfectly clear what guests are letting themselves in for, so those who haven't read his profile properly can back out. Many people would never try Couchsurfing and many more would never enter into a naked environment with complete strangers. Even a champion surfer such as myself, did so reluctantly, as the idea set off alarm bells. He must be a sexual pervert surely? I thought. Well, all I can say is that he is a thoroughly decent bloke; generous with his time and food, interested in other people and a natural bon viveur. Later I swam at another beach, read and people-watched. It's a difficult life. The east coast of Australia is extremely well set up for leisure activities. Just about every public place I've visited, such as parks, nature reserves, beaches, highway rest stops, etc, offers canopied picnic tables, free gas-powered barbecues, information signs, drinking water, manicured foliage, footpaths and so forth. I know I am on holiday, but imagine it would difficult to endure the daily grind in such a leisure-orientated environment and with this climate. The second beach was surrounded by a Stepford Wivesesque suburb, where dull, grey houses had been laid out in dull streets with names like Sea View and Bay Road, planted with evenly spaced trees, and where immaculately turned out, wholesome children skateboarded, cycled and got up to no mischief at all. Whereas Yorkey's has a homely, spunky vibe. I rode around a boardwalked wetland too, although the humidity wasn't conducive to nature appreciation. No way I could live in this prickly heat and don't see the point of spending 99% of your time in air-conditioned buildings and vehicles to avoid it. When returning to Melbourne tomorrow, I won't miss the nausea-inducing smells of carrion and fried tomatoes either. I saved a spider, that was being carried away by ants at each leg. The spider was so much bigger in comparison, even to eight ants, yet it was powerless in their grip. I couldn't stand by and watch that happen. The treefrog, which Mike relocated to the garden, promptly came back inside to exactly the same place - sucker padded to the inside of a lampshade, where it is motionless and perhaps wishes to hibernate. Mesmerised by the family of three bigmouths as well, which sleep in a tree during the day and hunt at night. They look a bit like owls, except with wider mouths obviously. Mike showed us an hour-long video of the snake that consumed a rat, about three times its width, in his front yard. He volunteers at a wildlife hospital, but unlike me, doesn't save creatures being eaten by others. In the evening we were joined by fresh meat in the muscular form of a young Swiss boy, Micha. Never mind that there wasn't much room, a mattress was made available for this young, tanned adonis, with dark brown curls and long eyelashes. Seriously though, he was very nice, and another delightful, al fresco meal took place. We enjoyed fat, thick sausages; and then we had dinner. Seriously though, I really do believe there's something to be said for socializing sans clothes. It feels natural somehow, and of course, like wearing a school uniform, it's a great leveller. Later we jumped in the hot tub, somewhat incongrous in northen Queensland, but still restful and reviving. Michael unleashed his collection of rubber ducks and I played with one that was actually more like a snake. Seriously though, it was a lot of fun and I'm so glad I threw caution and clothes to the wind by staying there.