The water pressure in the shower puts me in mind of asthmatic kittens blowing dew from a cobweb.
I rotate the temperature control dial. Nothing alters, especially not the temperature.
I rotate it again - once, twice, three times clockwise. Then I rotate it once, twice, three, four, five times anticlockwise. The dial spins this way and that as the water continues to trickle like gentle yet scorching summer rain. There is a certain thrilling freedom here. The dial is detached from the business of water flow in a way that would make a Buddhist proud.
Skin-strippingly hot, nipple-shrinkingly cold, or off; there is no middle ground. I choose hot, and shampoo my hair.
After twelve years of living like a relatively normal human being, I am a backpacker again. The twelve years have taken their toll. Bunk beds no longer excite me. I have come to cherish warmth, privacy, comfort. Backpacking now just feels like a cruel and unfathomable version of homelessness.
I have twenty two sleeps left in New Zealand.
I am waiting, waiting to go home.
Sometimes I sit in the hostel’s dining room, attempting to read the copy of A Brief History of Time someone has left behind. As I munch toast and nod wisely at the revelations therein -
In effect, the meter is defined to be the distance travelled by light in 0.000000003335640952 second, as measured by a cesium clock. (The reason for that particular number is that it corresponds to the historical definition of the meter – in terms of two marks on a particular platinum bar kept in Paris)
- ah yes, Paris - a stream of young men and women come and go. Kit-set Europeans, Canadians, Israelis. Young women with tanned limbs and lustrous hair, young men with serious faces and intense eyes. And couples – a single entity, a world apart, huddled together, talking in low voices, oblivious to everyone around them.
I glance up each time somebody enters, to see who will catch my eye and say hello. The last thing I want is another tedious 'where are you from how long have you been in NZ' conversation, but an acknowledgement of a shared existence in this room might be nice.
Some smile or say hi. Many don’t. And by nationality, Brits are by far the worst for The Silence.
The Silence astonishes me. I have lived in New Zealand a long time, and have grown used to Kiwis. Kiwis, given half a chance, will sit you down, buy you a beer, tell you their life stories, invite you round to their house for a feed and then give you a lift home afterwards.
It startled me at first but now I accept it is entirely normal and indeed pleasant to greet people you pass on the beach or in an otherwise empty street. A breezy conversation with a shop assistant is fine. Chitchat with strangers in public places is condoned, expected.
Many British folk, though, will go to great lengths to studiously ignore other humans in their vicinity.
Brits, let me say this: forget the Stranger Danger thing. Do not assume what you read in your British newspapers will also happen to you if you make the perilous mistake of engaging in basic human contact with people you don't know. Yes I understand that in a hostel situation they are, or might be, foreigners.
But consider this: on balance, most people in the world do not want to rob/pillage/assault you, or even be your friend.
So chill out. The blanking thing is, frankly, weird. So DON’T DO IT.
Try looking up; nod a greeting, say hello, smile.
I stick my head under the trickle of water. The shower hose's metal casing has broken away from the shower head and droops like a slattern’s stockings, revealing the liquorice tube of narrow rubber beneath. My hair absorbs the entire water output so that none reaches the floor.
I notice a fur ball the size of a small rodent in the plughole.
Twenty two sleeps is all.
(Because I am ethical now having done one of them journalism diplomas I am trying to credit my picture sources. So, I nicked the above pic from here. Where he nicked it from is no business of mine.)