Category Archives: Sabbatical

Going native

38 degrees.  10pm.  Humidity 91%.   As I walk up the stairs from the beach to the bar in my sweat-drenched sarong, something lands on my right foot.  I yelp, loudly and embarrassingly, attracting a chorus of laughter.  The resort staff know what’s happened and find it very amusing; a large, ugly frog has hopped onto my foot.  I unstylishly kick it off, lurching it into the air.  From this point I become the butt of jokes, mostly about frog princes.

Okay, so my last post may not have been entirely honest about how perfect my stay in Fiji has been …

When opting for a mountain view room (rather than a beachfront one), I hadn’t anticipated having to climb halfway up the mountain to go to bed, urged on by the locals enthusiastically yelling, “Bula!!  Good exercise, hey”?!  My responding smile and breathless nod betray the “sod off” that my heaving lungs won’t permit me to reply.

In the evening, with limited vision and bare feet, it’s unsettlingly easy to stand on one of the many frogs – a repulsive possibility.  However the frogs are outnumbered by insects and large slimy centipedes (picture worms with legs), and one of the four lizards who cohabit with me got a fright and dropped its tail when I shut the door.  I promptly scooped it up with a tissue and threw it over the balcony (the tail, not the lizard).

But the monstrosity of the tropical creatures pales in comparison to me.  For the first time since I was about twelve, I’ve been growing my body hair to its natural length – legs, eyebrows, underarms … all of it.  To enhance this Amazonian look, I’ve gone without shoes, makeup or washing my (head) hair since setting foot in Fiji; I go native with alarming ease.  As a result of receiving 23 mosquito bites in 48 hours, my perfume is Aerogard, Tropical Strength.  The Islanders will mythologise me as a hideous beast – with luminous white skin, red circle markings and matted hair; its smell repelling all living things.

I’m unquestionably perceived as a Lone-Wolf-Weirdo.  Breakfast is served from 7am – 10am and I spend the entire three hours there, with pineapple, coffee, and my laptop; it’s the only place to receive internet coverage and the only time to be blissfully alone.  People are constantly trying to chat at to me, having identified me as a solo traveller.  I’m external stimuli for holidaying couples (having exhausted their own conversations), an additional friend for groups, and company for other singletons.

The staff have also adopted me.  As I approached the bar last night, the barman briskly walked towards me (running would be an exaggeration, and I’m not one to exaggerate ….) and high-fived me.  I had to clumsily transfer my drink from my right to my left hand to enable it.  He repeated this tonight, but added (no word of a lie), “Smack me baby”!  I am not the sort of person who high-fives and I have no idea of the correct response to, “Smack me baby”!

All that aside, I have had a great time.  In my room I’m naked with reckless abandon (hell, at dusk I stand exposed on my balcony with a glass of wine and watch the rain … fear not, no one can see me).  My ipod’s hooked to a sound dock which means it’s a constant dance party in room 103.  The pool bar’s my home (delaying the evening mountain hike for as long as possible).  For fourteen hours a day I swim, read, sleep, drink and eat.  Live music starts in the evening and I don my rumba and salsa hat (those dance classes finally useful).  I’m hopefully at least slightly more graceful than when I’m kicking frogs off my feet.

No good deed goes unpunished

An Acton bus stop, Sunday, 12:30pm.  The sun is shining and through my headphones I’m happily listening to the cast of Glee sing Christina Aguilera’s, “Candyman” – the post gym buzz still with me.  A long, bendy 207 bus pulls up and the door opens, revealing the back of a reversing wheelchair.  I wait on the pavement for the passenger to alight.  Nothing happens.  Oddly, the chair isn’t moving towards me, but instead jerking erratically from side to side.  Alarmed, I realise the passenger’s not alighting; she’s clinging to the safety rail.  Her brakes don’t work so she’s gripping the bar with all her strength to prevent the chair from skidding off the bus.  She loses her grip and the chair slides rapidly to the exit.  I jump up and grab the chair’s handlebars to stop her fall. Furious, she hits my hand away.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me!!

ME: (stunned, embarrassed and nervous.): Sorry, I was trying to help, sorry.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me! Why does it always fucking do this?! Piece of shit! (She yells, swears and mumbles a lot of things that don’t make sense).

I take my hands from the handlebars, but keep my body against the chair so it won’t just skid away.  If I move my weight, the chair will slide off the bus and out the open door.  Without a ramp she’ll end up hurt.

ME: Do you want to get off the bus?

WOMAN: No!  He should have answered his fucking phone! (She rants some more and the C word is thrown about with carefree abandon).

I just stand there.  The doors of the bus have closed and we’re moving.  Even though I’m supporting the chair, she’s still clinging to the bar, swearing and mumbling.  The movement of the bus snaps me out of my paralysis and I look at her properly.  She’s wearing a baseball cap, with greasy shoulder-length hair hanging in limp clumps from under it.  Her fingernails have black dirt encrusted under them.  She’s wearing a loose black t-shirt and jogging bottoms.  Her arms have what I initially think are cuts on them, but then I realise they’re track marks.  She smells of urine.  She’s a junkie … possibly homeless.

I look around at my fellow passengers.  Most of them are looking away, a few glance at me with sympathy.  ALL of them know what’s happened:  I’d jumped to the aid of a person in a wheelchair, but been confronted with an aggressive drug addict.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m still pressed against the chair with this woman sporadically yelling and mumbling.  I lock eyes with a man on a seat not too far from me, some sort of message passes between us and he gets up.  He presses the button for the bus to stop and, as it pulls up and the ramp comes down, he speaks to the woman – manoeuvring himself around me so he can grab the handles of the chair.

MAN (to the woman): Would you like to get off here?

WOMAN: Yes!  Fucking hell! (She looks over at me) C***!

I nod thanks to him, move out of the way and he helps her off.

With the screaming woman gone, the atmosphere on the bus is awkwardly quiet.  Feeling self-conscious, I get off the bus at the next stop … three stops early.  My buzz is definitely gone. 

London is a carnival of junkies, though I’ll not be escaping the theatrics when I return to Australia.  My hometown was a hotbed of nutters; the most famous being “Ding, Ding”, an alcoholic ex-boxer who enjoyed air fighting imaginary opponents and chasing my terrified sister through the park during her lunch hour.  Local “characters” are found in any environment, city or rural.

Anyway, speaking of fringe dwellers who are capable of humiliation and intimidation, I’m off to Erotica.

Pond life

A grey Thursday afternoon in November.  Ealing, 1:15pm.  The high street is busy with people on their lunch breaks. Having just been to Nationwide, I cross the road mouthing the words to the music on my ipod and passing lots of people.  A man in his late twenties is walking past Specsavers, heading in my direction.  He’s striding purposefully and clearly focused on me; I don’t know what he’s going to do.  Seconds later he’s standing in front of me and the following, somewhat surreal, conversation takes place.   

MAN: I’ve got a long, hard cock for you.

ME (raised eyebrows, simultaneously shocked and irritated, but unexpectedly composed.  I tilt my head slightly to the side and smile): And yet I’d prefer you to have a good job and speak properly.

MAN (pauses, taken aback): …. Fuck you.

ME (still smiling): Well, no … you won’t. That’s the point. (I walk off and don’t look back).

Central line platform, Holland Park tube. 11:20pm. Ten hours have passed, filled with the completion of chores and dinner with a friend. I walk onto the platform and see that the only people waiting for a train are myself, a middle-aged man on a seat further ahead, and a man in his early thirties who is just near me.  The man near me looks up and speaks.

MAN (smiling): Hello.

ME (return the smile): Hello.

MAN (raises his voice as I’m continuing to walk down the platform): Hey! Wank me off!

Ugh.  I roll my eyes, but say nothing and keep walking – my feistiness of the morning has disappeared with the day.

So that’s the city of London bidding me farewell in its own charming way.  It’s confirming that I’ve made the right decision to leave.  Don’t get me wrong, in the past week I’ve also experienced the many positives of the city – I’ve been to the play “Jerusalem”, the musical “Rock of Ages”, had a dignified afternoon tea and been out for many dinners.  No one’s ever short of entertainment here, but a different lifestyle is beckoning.  Soon the theatre, pubs and restaurants will be replaced with horse riding, cycling and cafes.  The grime of the tube will be replaced by the dirt of the muddy, snake ridden rivers.  The tension of keeping a lookout for thieves will be replaced by the tension of keeping a lookout for spiders.  Evenings of Sky+ viewing will be replaced by evenings of Scrabble with my mother.  My pace of life is about to dramatically change.

Symbolically, my final weekend in London will be spent at “Erotica” and my first weekend in Australia will be at my niece’s third birthday party … I’ll definitely feel more comfortable and familiar at one of those events than the other.  I’m swapping the life of a youngish Londoner for that of a rural pensioner – or possibly a 6 year old.  With the outdoor activities, the regular board games, and my intention to seek and embrace every obscure activity that comes my way, I feel I’m going down the child route.  When I was a young sprout I had high hopes for myself and in some ways I’ve let that sprout down.  The absence of work and the focus on new experiences in the coming months will create the opportunity to try to become the creature the little me anticipated.  This warty toad is regressing to a tadpole and hoping to emerge as a bright-eyed frog.  I’ve no idea if the change will be for the better (my inner cynic speaks loudly), but I’ll (quite literally) keep you posted!