Monthly Archives: March 2013
It’s been a low couple of days, but rather than bang on about my faltering resolve, here are the highlights. Had these two incidents occurred to someone else, I would have peed myself a little, so in true altruistic fashion I pass them to you for enjoyment at my expense. Aren’t I nice?
A few days ago I took myself to Bondi Beach. It was a beautiful day: stiflingly hot inland, but on the coast it was almost cool with the wind. I ate an ice cream, dipped my toes in the sea and took a stroll down the busy beach. As I was walking down the promenade I saw someone else on their own, carrying an enormous rucksack and plenty of other possessions draped upon his person. As he came towards me I tried to watch him with that haughty plea of one loner to another; somewhere between ‘Oh God, please be my friend’ and ‘I don’t need you – look how cool I am’, but this was overridden by my awe for the sheer amount of stuff he had decided to take travelling. I was straining my neck towards him to try and work out exactly how he was carrying said items, when out of nowhere, the wind caught a surf cover owned by the gentleman walking near me, lifted it high in the air, and straight into my face.
Well, I gripped my nose and pretended it was fine as Surfboard Man and I suffered an awkward back and forth of apologies and reassurances, all the while seeing the man with a house on his back snickering in the corner of my eye.
Later that day, safely at home with my fat nose and far away from errant polyester, I decided to glue my riding boots together. One of the patches on them had frayed and they were rubbing the sides of all the horses, leaving bloody grooves in their sides. I purchased a tube of Super Glue to stick it back down, but whilst trying to pierce the top I squeezed the bottle a little too tight. The glue spurted all over my fingers, thus sticking my hands together.
Luckily the Super Glue didn’t get really stuck as I put my hands under water, so remove the image of my spastic fingers please. But it did leave a dodgy white residue that I could only get off with hard picking. So, the past few days have been spent doing just that. It now looks like it has snowed in my room. Or like I have really bad dandruff. And I must look a tad special, agitatedly picking at my white stains wherever I go.
I have tried my best to avoid Christmas this year, but I look like Rudolf, I’m shedding fake snow decorations, and I live in a stable.
Sydney is, so far, exactly what I thought it would be: the buildings tall, cultures multiple, public transport excellent and expenses high. Confusingly, it carries itself like a capital city; so packed with tourists and their provisions that it probably reflects very little of Australia proper.
It feels empty. Not in an uncluttered or vacuous kind of way, but in a blank page kind of way, which makes it a pretty exciting place to be.
The Australians, however, have not succumb to my expectations. They are easy going, friendly and cheerful, yes, but (and I say these words very gingerly), they aren’t anywhere near as bumptious as I imagined. In fact, they’re quite nice.
Of course, the best bit is the language. It makes life so straightforward. And they like the English! Actually like us! Perhaps after France I am easily pleased, but it makes setting up so painless.
Me: I’d like to set up a bank account please.
Assistant: Pardonner, je ne parle pas anglais.
Me: Compte de banque, s’il vous plait?
Assistant: (blank face). Je ne comprends pas ce que vous dites.
Me: Anglais? Personne?
Assistant: Non. Peut-être un lundi.
Me: D’accord. J’ai retourner lundi.
Assistant: Er… La banque est fermé le lundi.
Me: I’d like to set up a bank account please.
Assistant: OK, sure.
* Please note, for the purposes of this conversation, I used Google Translate for the assistant’s lines. It is, at best, a loose translation, having also reduced the many ‘ums’, frantic gesticulating and pleas for help that ran alongside this short encounter.
The only thing is, I don’t feel upside down.
I thought, what with being on the other side of the world, that things might be a bit topsy turvy. But it’s probably as close as you could get to home from 10,552 miles away. The Queen’s face is splashed all over the money, cars occupy the left side of the road, there is a Prime Minister, they’re part of the Commonwealth… the list goes on. The other day I bought pie and mash after a night out, and there are British place names everywhere. My train line into Sydney passes through Croydon and Lewisham, and there are scores of others dotted about: Liverpool, Cheltenham, Cardiff, Exeter, Canterbury, Exeter, Newcastle, Regents Park, Hyde park… again, the list goes on.
How have I travelled 10,580.85 miles to live in a place that when typed into Google Maps, gives me a location 11.2 miles from High Wycombe?
Sydney also fiercely emulates America, so they would say say ‘freeway’, not ‘motorway’, but ‘toilets’, not ‘restrooms’. There are fast food restaurants everywhere and overwhelming American media influence. I see it mainly in the plastic optimism of their advertising. Every sentence ends in an exclamation mark and up-sell is persuaded through remarks such as ‘what more could you ask for!’ and ‘this is everything you’ve ever dreamed of, and more!’ The other day I saw a TV advert with the byline, ‘professional looking personalised Christmas cards will guarantee you love.’
Having successfully navigated my way to Sydney, I was appointed a room on the edge of the stable block. It is ideal really – a little bedroom with a kitchenette and a bathroom. It is, however, right next to 40 horses, and below another 40, and there is a 4cm gap underneath the front door to let all the dust and hay in. And anything else that might want to crawl through that space.
The room was clean when I entered, but clearly hadn’t been used for a while. There were dusty webs everywhere and spiders filling all of them. Now, they didn’t look like the kind of spiders that were going to kill me, but what do I know?
I was so filthy and jet-lagged that I didn’t even care: all I could think of was to shower and check the bed for killers before I slept in it. I couldn’t find the light switch to the bathroom, so I began washing off the flight feeling in the partial light from the bedroom. Just as I was congratulating myself on making it to Australia and starting to relax a little, from the top of the shower waved a leg, about 7cm long, thin and wiry. Then a matching one came to join it.
Suddenly I was washing at top speed, never taking my eyes off the creature, which remained firmly hidden behind the edge of the shower frame. Only the two legs, which I had now surmised were antennae, kept peeping over, edging closer to the steaming water.
I leapt out of the shower and grabbed a large stirring spoon from the kitchen cupboard. Quite hysterically, I battered the top of the shower door, but in the semi darkness I couldn’t see where the mysterious creature had fallen to.
With the absence of a body I still didn’t feel safe, and when I finally braved returning to the scene to brush my teeth, my eyes stayed fixated on the corner. Which turned out to be a very good thing, because the taunting little antennae began waving over the edge at me once more. I grabbed my weapon and banged the top as hard as I could, until once more the antennae disappeared.
Still no body.
I stood precariously on a little bin and peered over to wait for it to reappear. From here, I could see the middle of the shower frame was hollow and the creature had merely been retreating into it when I whacked the frame. But with such little light, I could still only see two antennae, what they were attached to was lost in the shadows.
I examined my kitchen implements once more, and this time I chose a knife. I edged my bin closer to the hole to get a good angle down, while still maintaining as much distance as possible. And stabbed.
From the hole flew the largest cockroach I have ever seen.
I had, of course, been hoping to kill the creature, and jumped so high that I fell off the bin. I then hurried out the bathroom and slammed the door on his angry flight.
I selected a new weapon – a dustpan, and cautiously opened the door to the creature. I must have injured him because he was frantic, flying around the shower as though electrocuted. He wouldn’t keep still long enough for me to attack, especially as I was trying to stab at it from behind the shower door. Please also remember that it was dark in the bathroom, and big as he was, every time he flew into the shadows I lost him. Then he would reappear somewhere else! Not sure how he was doing that.
Eventually I hit him. But cockroaches, who can apparently withstand a nuclear blast, don’t die that easily. I simply infuriated him further, and he violently flung himself around the bathroom while I stood shaking pathetically behind the door.
When I hit him again he still continued to fly around, now mutilated, and I felt awful for effectively torturing this poor little thing who only popped out to see where the hot steam was coming from. I couldn’t even bring myself to sweep him up from the ground when I finally crunched him to a wretched mush in the corner of the shower.
Suffice to say, I didn’t sleep at all that night. This wasn’t just due to the cockroach; it was mainly the impending fear of my first day at work, but also the myriad of noises which presented themselves at regular intervals throughout the night. I could hear the roaches scratching around, rats in the walls and ceiling, and what was either the horses snuffling around in their boxes or killer kangaroos These noises culminated in a cat having a fight with… something. It’s screams and hisses were enough to keep me awake, wondering whether it was a good thing to have the cat protect me or a bad thing to need protecting. I decided this was time to get up.
The cat, by the way, was fine. I met him the next morning, hobbling around with a great plaster cast on his broken leg (not from that evening’s antics I’m assured). I suppose the cats are tough. Tougher than me at any rate.
Meanwhile, I’ve been passing out with exhaustion for a few hours every night, before waking up and lying in the dark (or with the light on depending on how scary the noises are) and awaiting my 03.25 alarm. I’ve been putting my headphones in one ear to distract me, but I am reluctant to put them both in, because I should stay aware. Just in case a monster jumps on my face. It’s better in the day, so I’ve been sleeping then instead. Work, sleep, fret and sweat at the noises. It’s a routine, I suppose.
I have since cleaned my room and blocked the door gap. I am armed with killing weapons and bug spray when I go to bed. But every time I feel a bit better about the room, it’s daylight, then the night comes and with it roach O’ clock. Each morning I find them on my floor. Where do they keep coming from?
Now I know I have developed an irrational fear of insects in recent years, and I suppose in retrospect these things will have been ‘character building’. My dad would tell me to stop being such a girl. But I am a girl. And I really didn’t mind my irrational fear.
I blame much of my paranoia on the fact that I’m reading Bill Bryson ‘Down Under’, who spends the first third discussing, in astonishing detail, how many things can kill you in Australia. One thing he does neglect, however, is how to identify these killing machines, which means that I have had to resort to a no tolerance approach for every insect in the place. Thus leaving me by far the most deadly creature around. Hopefully.
So, I am now killing out of fear. Is this how Hitler started?
It is not my usual method of dealing with insects – I usually go to any lengths to avoid killing them. I do try to sweep the ones that don’t scare me so much out the door: the caterpillars and bugs and woodlice and other unidentified insects. I am working my way up to the harmless little spiders. But not the cockroaches. They’re my Jews.