Sunday, 26 July 2009

Conversations With Weird Guy


[Weasel enters via front door, with mail from postbox]

Weasel: “Hi.”

Weird Guy: “ ~
[stares at TV]

Weasel: “There’s a letter for you.”

Weird Guy: “ ~
[extends left arm towards Weasel]

Weasel: “Here you go.”
[places letter in Weird Guy’s outstretched palm]

Weird Guy: “ ~
[rips open letter]

[Weasel hesitates, wondering if she should mention it is Weird Guy’s turn to buy washing up liquid]

[Weasel exits]

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

then one day, my life changed

On 23 July 1997, my Significant Other and I make our way to Heathrow Airport, accompanied by an assortment of grim-faced relatives.

We say a tearful goodbye to the rellies, and get on a plane to Moscow.

We spend a few days exploring the city and watching the funeral arrangements of Gianni Versace unfold on CNN.

Then we catch the train to Beijing.

Beijing is huge and hot, baffling but wonderful. So is Bangkok. There, I send home the enormous luxury bathtowel that has been taking up most of the room in my rucksack, and all the horribly impractical clothes I bought especially for the trip from Primark.

I replace them with a pair of cheap rubber sandals, baggy cotton tops and pants, and a lightweight pink towel from a department store. I buy a fake press pass for a couple of baht from a man with a cart on the Khao San Road, and a fake student ID.

Now I am a real backpacker.

Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore.

The rest of the world is suffering from Dianamania but in Tioman, there is nothing going on but jungle. I make friends with a ginger cat whose only concern is comfort; we have much in common. In Malacca I am bewitched by the Chinese graveyard. In Singapore, I fall in love with the big fat bird statue by the river. Its grossly obese bronze body rests on fiendishly chunky legs. It looks like the heaviest thing you’ve ever seen: flight would be a pipe-dream for this fella. The bird also has a hole where its bottom would be, and poking your finger into the hole is irresistible. I want to find the man who created this statue, and marry him for his wicked sense of humour.

Bali. Our first night in Kuta, and we stroll to the beach for the sunset. There, amongst litter and drugged-up beggars and fat Australian paedophiles and gangs of Indonesian men on motorcycles, we watch a local take a piss on the sand.

“It’s one big toilet!” he informs us, spreading his arms wide.

It’s a relief to get to Australia, where you can just walk into a shop and buy something without haggling.

Darwin, the frontier town. Heartened by not being killed instantly by spiders that lurk under toilet seats, salt water crocs, jellyfish or innocent-looking shells on the beach, I soak up the cheap beer and luxury sunsets and vow to live here one day.

Kakadu haunts me with its quiet mystery and splendour. I don't want to leave.

Alice Springs: caramel brainfreeze, and air as hot and dry as an oven.

Am I really in the Alice? Is this really me, sucking an icy caramel milkshake through a straw in the smart, pedestrianised high street of this remotest of places? How on earth did I get here? Two months ago I was in an admin job in Bootle. In a daze of gratitude and disbelief I sweat like a bastard, watch wallabies laze in the garden of the backpacker hostel, and cut up tourist brochures to make collages of Uluru in homage to the gods of far horizons.

Uluru. Please don’t climb, say the signs, it is our sacred place. Please, don’t climb. My ambitions in life had been this: to see the Statue of Liberty, to watch the sunrise from the top of Ayers Rock.

I don’t climb.

Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney. Along the way Mt Isa, Cape Tribulation, the Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Byron Bay. Is Australia the greatest holiday destination in the world? Yes. Even Canberra, where my Significant Other refuses to go and see the Spice Girls movie, and I sulk. Especially Melbourne, where I get bitten by a possum.

The number of exotic animals I have been bitten by rises to two.

I adore the heat, the galahs, the huge cockatoos flying free among the gum trees. Back in Sydney the walk from our scruffy hotel in Kings Cross through Woolloomooloo and the botanical gardens into the city centre makes my heart soar every time. The harbour, the Opera House, the bridge: they are glorious. Shiny with sweat, I am delirious with happiness.

Christmas Day at Bondi Beach. A day trip to the Blue Mountains. Mooching at Circular Quay. Mrs Macquarie's chair. Manly. At Taronga zoo, I stand for hours staring at the platypus tank, but don’t see a platypus. Nevertheless, I still love Australia.

Then New Zealand, as different from Australia as you can get. I step off the plane at Christchurch airport, take one look at the big sky, and know I am home. Our three week itinerary stretches into nine months, a well-paid computer job for my Significant Other, a tiny flat in a downtown Auckland apartment block with a swimming pool in the basement, a pair of TV1 newsreaders in the penthouse on the roof, and a glimpse of the SkyTower through the lounge window.

People come to visit. My Lovely Sister, my niece. Significant Other’s sister and brother-in-law. His niece. Friends. My mum and dad. While my Significant Other slaves over a hot database I take them all to see what it is that keeps us here – Cape Reinga, the Bay of Islands, horse rides on Pakiri Beach, the Coromandel, Rotorua, Taupo. Right on the doorstep are Muriwai, Bethells, Cheltenham, Devonport, views of Rangitoto from Mission Bay, the volcanic cones. Auckland is lovely; New Zealand is lovely.

There are stunning places, yes, but there are also wry grins, welcoming smiles, an easy good humour. Chickens pecking around under tables in rural pubs; ice-cream more fresh and delicious than any you’ve tasted before. Nailbiting Warriors games. A “no worries mate” from a stranger who means it; people happy to lend a hand. A slowness to the days, a natural rhythm. Another deserted beach, then another. Beauty everywhere you look. The land, a spiritual presence, framed by the vastness of the sky. Crystal clear light; the air tastes like freedom. Breathing, being alive, the purest kind of pleasure.

The friends, the family: they understand.

I come to hate the airport. Always tears. When it is time for me and the Significant Other to go, we crane to see our beautiful Auckland slip away beneath the plane’s window. It is bathed in golden early morning sunshine. We grip each other’s hands and cry silently as we rise into the air.

Fiji restores us. Slow and simple, the uncomplicated routines of nature. The States destroy us. Out of money, uprooted and off-balance, we tour around in foul temper.

LA, San Francisco, stars in the sidewalk, drive-through trees, Yosemite, Clint Eastwood, pollution, Alcatraz, San Diego, Silicon Valley, cars, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Vegas, panhandlers, Texas, Key West, the American Dream, whatever. I start getting sick – sleep epilepsy, it happens when I am unhappy. Greyhound buses are torture on wheels. America is spoiled and corrupt and there are people, so many people, and nobody smiles and says hello.

What is so hard about smiling and saying hello?

America is… not New Zealand.

More seizures. They wipe my memory. I have flown over the Grand Canyon and cannot remember it. Now I am in New Orleans, or is it Washington DC? The receptionist says, “When you leave the hotel, go here and here. If you go here or here, you will get mugged, or shot.” On the train north from Washington I occupy myself with anagrams, and discover my Significant Other’s name can be reshuffled to read ‘The Winter Pigs’.

New York, at last. A familiar city; somewhere to unpack for a while. We hire a cheap room for a month on the upper west side. Broke, we walk everywhere, live on bread and pasta, Taco Bell and Subway, see the city sights from the sidewalk. We creep into Harlem library to spend the day somewhere warm. Central Park is ours.

In a diner, I ask for a glass of water.


“Water. Water. WATER.”


Water. Wooorrr-terrrr. H2O?”

“Oh, wadda. Why didn’t you say?”

Christmas comes, and not even wearing all the clothes we have keeps out the chill. We can't afford to buy more, but the shop windows look pretty. President Clinton tells the world “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. Times Square roars in the New Year.

A few days later, a pint of Guinness in Dublin, then a flight to Manchester, and a connecting flight to Liverpool.

Liverpool, because once it was home. Liverpool, because it was where we planned our trip and I love the idea of coming full circle. Liverpool, because the thought of that grim descent into Heathrow, the endless sprawl of concrete and identikit houses, the clogged roads and the grime, fills me with despair.

Heavy hearts, the end of the road. At Victoria Coach Station, we are met by My Lovely Sister. There isn’t much to say. England looks tired and sick and crowded and drained of life. It is January 1999.

Three months later, my Significant Other and I fly back to Auckland for good.

It is the beginning of everything.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Gloves Are Off

just don't shake me

Kad has not brought the internet back yet.

Kad went to cat-sit at his brother's internetless house a few weeks ago and now he tells me he is going to stay there forever, crushed by the unrelenting grind of sharing space at Chateau Weasel with Weird Guy and the new guy in the room opposite mine who doesn't speak to anyone except Weird Guy and who plays music that sounds like Satan vomiting up chainsaws at ear-splitting volume each night and on Sunday afternoons.

I cannot understand why Kad has left.

But Kad says that when his brother sorts out some internet of his own I can have his, so I am very excited. I have never had an internet of my own before.

School started in earnest today, after the tutors ordered us to have a cruisy one last week. Maybe because I am still a bit shellshocked from my work experience experience, maybe because the sun was shining and there was a hint of spring in the air and for the first time in ages I didn't need to wear gloves while walking to school, I breezed through Term Three's baptism of fire without a care in the world.

Two assignments had been promised for today, on maths and statistics. Two hour deadlines for each. That's all we'd been told. All weekend I tried to worry about it, but couldn't muster the energy.

And so the day came. Assignment one: at 10am precisely we were presented with the 2009 annual report of a bank, and given two hours to interpret the figures and write a 300 word story on our findings. Deadline midday - hand the story in a second later and you fail.

Assignment two: at 1pm precisely we were handed a very fascinating release from Statistics New Zealand, and given two hours to interpret the figures and write a 300 word localised story on our findings. Deadline 3pm - hand the story in a second later and, well, not only do you fail but you are likely to get your fingers slammed in the top drawer of the tutor's desk for your trouble.

If you'd have told me in February I was going to have to do this I would've run screaming from the building. But I not only completed today's tests with sanguine disregard for deadline pressure and my innate mathematical subnormality, I even managed to get a pun about sausages into the first line of the second assignment.

Education is a wonderful thing because something from the mess that was the past five months has clearly seeped into my tiny weaselly Etch-A-Sketch brain.

Like I keep saying to my Fabulous Classmates, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

O Hai

Invercargill lives to see another day

Kad, my ISP, took the internet away from Chateau Weasel last week.

Kad promises me he will bring the internet back tomorrow.

He'd better. Because I am missing Lolcats.

We had an earthquake here last night. It was scary enough to make me want a cuddle afterwards. The walls to my room creaked and swayed; the noise they made was one of imminent building collapse and it made my blood run cold. The house shook for ages and the girl down the corridor started crying.

When everything stopped moving, I dug out my tilley lantern from the bottom of the wardrobe in case there was a power cut, and wondered if wearing my cycle helmet would help if the ceiling fell in. I also worried about being trapped in rubble for five days and the toilet difficulties that would present. I would hate to be pulled alive out of rubble after five days having had no other option but to shit myself in the interim. Is it wrong to worry about things like that? Surely when worrying about being trapped in rubble it would be more sensible to worry about things like injury or hypothermia?

It also briefly crossed my mind that if, say, the earthquake had wiped out for example my college then I could abandon the course with gay abandon and not have to go through four months of pain, misery and trauma in order to get a diploma I'm no longer sure I want. I could just get in my car and go. Anywhere. If the roads out of here weren't in pieces.

Then I watched the news and sadly, Invercargill was still standing.

But even so, I didn't enjoy my earthquake experience at all.

So no more earthquakes please.


Monday, 6 July 2009

Shakespeare's Sister

i can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible

I still find myself not being able to put into words the, um, experience that was my 'work experience' experience.

I did manage to get nine stories in the paper. Unfortunately, nine stories in two weeks is crap.

Every personality trait a reporter needs, I appear to lack. Multi-tasker? Nope. Enquiring mind? Nada. Calm under pressure? Negative. Ability to meet deadlines? You're 'aving a larf mate. Nose for news? Sinusitis.

I am still rather traumatised by how astonishingly bad I was so rather than get myself all worked up again I will offer you instead a soothing picture of a kitten:

Deep breath now Weasel: every day in every way it's getting better and better.

The reporters I met were, without exception, smart, funny and talented people who worked hard. They were just like normal human beings. It was also very interesting to see how a newspaper is made every day out of nothing more than a bunch of ideas.

Another very exciting aspect of being in the Times' hallowed halls was being in a real live newsroom when real live news was breaking:

(Downstairs Monkey and friends on hearing the news of Michael Jackson's untimely demise).

So my foray into the grown up world of reporting was not a completely futile endeavour, for those reasons and for this - I got to spend two weeks in Dunedin, which is not Invercargill.

Ms Elephant, over there at Really Quite Useful, has asked me to describe Dunedin, seeing as she lives in Edinburgh and Dunedin is copied from Edinburgh and people in Dunedin still think they're Scottish.

I am happy to advise Ms E that Dunedin is a nice little city. It has a cracking university and lots of shops and people and hills and interesting things like cafes open after 4.30pm; the electric lights were bewitching, there was plenty of magnificent graffiti, and the botanical gardens were charming. The pavements weren't strewn with broken beer bottles, and men did not leer at you from their cars as you waited to cross the road. So it was as different from Invercargill as can be. And as the murder capital of New Zealand, it was particularly thrilling to drive down the very street where David Bain did not systematically slaughter every member of his family. Oh how we laughed! I also saw a whale and some seal pups and lots of penguins while I was there, and some seahorse babies. There was also a ginger cat. The cat was nowhere near the sea; the other creatures weren't. All in all it was splendid.

Here is a Saturday morning photo of Dunedin's metropolitan beach that Downstairs Monkey took, which is why it is blurry:

Click to big and spot the people.

While I may not ever be a journalist I have not lost heart - there will still, perhaps, be a career out there for me; composing the blurb on cereal packets, maybe, or writing instruction leaflets.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

I Survived (But Only Just)

i am not a journalist i am a human being

First I was afraid, I was petrified...

Then it got worse.

I don't know whether to give you the full unexpurgated account of the "futile and useless weariment" (Frances Hodgkins) that was my fortnight in Dunedin, or whether to tantalise you with edited highlights.

Whatever it will be, all I know is that I don't really want to think about it right now.

It's good to be back in the Land of the Underachievers.

There's no place like home.