Monday, 23 April 2012

Things that smell...

...are not always as bad as they sound. But sometimes they are.

Once upon a few years ago I went out with quite possibly one of the strangest men in the world. He made his way into my life under the guise of a rock-god front-man of a Swedish band, but oh how this story ends! Let me explain...

I used to play bass in a band called Smiling Politely. We thought we were rather cool, especially after we played at the Annandale and had one song on the radio. Once. We requested ourselves. But that's how Nirvana got started, and we were proud of our acclaim. Looking back, we weren't very good at all but it was a lot of fun nonetheless. Anyway, one day we received a message from a Swedish band with the same name who wanted our website. We told them no, because obviously with all our fame we didn't want to be mistaken for some Swedish no-names. Nevertheless, we got to talking, and when our drummer Luke was travelling through Europe he ended up staying with Charlie and Christian, two members of the Swedish Smiling Politely. I say their names here with the knowledge that nobody reads my blog, especially (I hope) my ex. In the end, Charlie and Christian decided to come to Australia and ended up staying with Luke and Matt (our guitarist) just until they got on their feet, which ended up being the best part of a year. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was romantically involved with Charlie.

Oh what a story for the grandkids! Obviously I wasn't thinking of grandkids at this stage, in fact I figured that Charlie would be leaving after a year and we could put that happy chapter of our lives behind us and very firmly closed. We had great fun together to begin with. We had parties at The House (as we very creatively named their place) every weekend and enjoyed our youth, as young people do (or don't, if you ask old people.)

It didn't take very long, however, for me to realise that perhaps Charlie wasn't the guy for me. For one thing, he was incredibly clingy. I'm not the type of girl to enjoy the company of a clingy guy. I'd get up from our circle to go to, say, the bathroom, and Charlie would grab my hand and ask where I was going. I would assure him I wasn't going far and would be back soon, whereupon he would kiss my hand and stroke my face while telling me he'd miss me. In the couple of minutes I was gone I was quite frankly never worried about missing him. And if he was getting up to go the the bathroom, we would go through the ritual again. During a night of drinking trips to the bathroom were not infrequent, and this little display of affection got old very very fast.

It also got to the point of creepy with similar speed. After another night and a few drinks at The House, I had decided I had hit my own personal wall and was ready for bed. The guys had a very comfortable lounge suite, so I curled up on the armchair and nodded right off to sleep, but not before Charlie badgered me about sleeping somewhere more sensible. I honestly was happy to sleep exactly where I was, and did just that. I slept peacefully curled up on the armchair for a couple of hours before something woke me up, and I don't think I've ever woken up to a more disturbing scene. Charlie was perched on the end of the couch, head resting dreamily in his hands, watching me. He had been watching me sleep. It probably wasn't the creepiest thing that could've happened, but I was a 20 year old in no mood for anything serious or for men watching me sleep.

Still, it got worse. Apart from watching me sleep and being terribly clingy, he also liked to smell me. Not in a nice "what perfume do you wear?" kind of way, more in a "*sniiiiiff* my GOD you smell so GOOD" kind of way. It wasn't so bad to begin with and I never expected him to make a habit of it. But habitual it became. Every time I was near him, which was quite a lot, he would take a great big breath of me. It was rather disconcerting, and I asked him if he would mind not sniffing me quite so much. He agreed, but explained that our chemical attraction was incontrovertible. Right. Of course, he kept it up. He was nothing if not persistent. We spoke about it again and reached the compromise that he could sniff me once each time we met. And yet he still did it every five minutes from that point on. Saying hi, *sniiiiiiiff*. Going up an escalator, *sniiiiiiff*. Heaven forbid we ever get close. Suffice to say, I did not like being sniffed.

Another issue with Charlie, hereafter referred to as Sniffy, was that he didn't quite grasp the concept of sarcasm. I like to think I have a wonderfully dry sense of humour and take the piss out of anyone within earshot, including myself. As it turned out, Sniffy didn't understand that it was a joke, and by consequence was offended by just about everything I said. I thought it might be a Swedish thing but Christian never suffered the same affliction. It really wasn't fair. We agreed that I would try and make less sarcastic jokes if he would try and realise I didn't actually mean them.

But seriously, who was I kidding? It was never going to work and one or both of us would walking across eggshells forevermore. It's simply a part of my personality to make jokes at the expense of the people I like, and a part of his to take offence to it. After a night of watching romantic comedies (his idea), he suggested I stay the night. He told me he loved me. I told him we were over. I said I was pretty sure he didn't love me as he barely knew me (our passionate love affair lasted less than two months), and what he did know about me was that I was rude and offensive. I wasn't made of stone though and felt pretty about about the whole thing. His one parting request was to kiss me on his favourite part of my body (I was dubious), which turned out to be a freckle on my ear. Having never actually seen my own ears I was unaware I even had a freckle there and had never had it pointed out before. The fact that Sniffy was the one to do so was probably foreseeable. So I let him kiss my ear (it looks even weirder in writing), and on my way I went.

The fact that he lived with my best mates did mean that we saw each other rather a lot from then on, and he was often in the company of his latest squeeze. I wasn't jealous, but I did pity his choice of women and felt rather small for having joined his league of lovers. Worst of all, I overheard a rather private conversation one night I really rather would not have heard. Ellie (remember Ellie from the previous Mega Bus story?), Amzzz and I were settling down for bed in the living room of The House, with Christian and Sniffy in the next room. The House had paper-thin walls, and in lieu of a door had a curtain dividing these two rooms. Consequentially, we overheard every word of their conversation. I was at a loss to explain why they were speaking in English rather than their native Swedish, unless they wanted us to hear. All things considered though, I'm not sure they did. They had made real efforts to not speak Swedish around us so as not to be exclusive, and I think their state of inebriation made their voices all the louder. The basic gist of Sniffy's lamentations were that I was "the one" but obviously I was right and we could never be together. Where would we live if we got married? Would he leave his family and live in Australia, or would I leave mine and live in Sweden? Oh the calamity! He talked about our imagined future in great length, which made me feel a little shallow for entering into the relationship knowing it had a use by date of one year, but all in all it cemented in my mind the knowledge that I had most definitely made the right decision.

Poor old Sniffy, he just didn't get that we were never meant to be. He even tried to get close to my parents and brothers. He really did try to do all the right things, like notice the freckle on my right ear and comment on how I looked when sleeping. It was all a little much for me and I'm glad I had the perspicacity to realise so early on it was never meant to be. I broke his little heart all the same.

Sniffy is now engaged, so it's all's well that ends well. I'm not sure what she smells like, but hope their pheromones hit it off in a way that ours never quite managed.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Things on Trains...

...and things with pains.

This story takes place over 24 hours in London. They were by no means the most exciting of my life, but it was an unexpected turn of events that I was able to laugh at immediately afterwards.

My best bud Ellie and I were in need of transportation from London to Southampton. We were staying with a friend and asked his advice on the best way to get there. He suggested booking tickets through a site called Mega Bus. Tickets were only a few pounds each, and naturally we booked them there and then. I received a text with my ticket number and instructions for departure from Waterloo station. I was a little confused, however. Where, exactly, do the buses leave from Waterloo station? I puzzled over it for a few minutes before trying my luck at the old "calling up" tactic. Unfortunately, the lady I reached on the Mega Bus information line seemed just as confused as I was. Conversation proceeded somewhat as follows:

Me: "Hi, I've just booked two tickets for the journey from London to Southampton at [time] tomorrow. My reservation number is [this]. Could you tell me where we actually leave from?"
Her: "Yes, you'll be leaving from Waterloo station."
Me: "Yes, but where exactly?"
Her: "...Waterloo station."
Me: "Yes, but which side? Where do we find the bus stops?"
Her: "...The platform will be announced shortly before departure."
Me: "Platform?"
Her: "Yes. It's a train..."
Me: "Oh! But we booked through Mega Bus!"
Her: "Yes, it's affiliated with Mega Train. Just make sure you get to Waterloo station at least ten minutes before your TRAIN leaves."
Me: "kthxbye"

Well that cleared that up! Lucky I called rather than running with my usual "she'll be right" strategy. Anyway anyway anyway, a little wary after our shaky start, Ellie and I made sure to get to Waterloo half an hour before the train to ensure no further mishaps. I saw a ticket machine with a sign saying if I had my reservation number, I could print off my tickets. It took about four goes before I realised I wasn't doing it right. I called over a member of staff, who took a look at my reservation number and told me it was sufficient to get me through the barriers and onto the train. Hooray, a simple instruction! Ellie and I twiddled our thumbs until the platform was announced, giving us just under ten minutes to make our train. But alas, on reaching the barriers we were confronted with another problem. The horribly mean ticket lady told us we would need to go to the information centre, across the other side of the station, to print off our tickets. But what?! That chap over there said the reservation number was enough! Bollocks to that!

I left Ellie with our bags and sprinted across the station, my Doc Martens causing a disproportionately loud noise for how light I felt on my feet. On reaching the information centre, I was stopped in my tracks by a long line of people, and realised I may as well have crawled my way over for all the good running did me. The line moved far too slowly for my cause. Didn't these people know I had a train to catch? Presumably these other people had trains to catch as well, so why were they taking so long asking such silly questions? I finally reached the front of the line and hurriedly explained I needed these tickets printed "NOW!!! Please". The lady at the counter took a look at my reservation number and informed me I didn't need a ticket and the number alone was enough. Well deja vu, deja vu! I bolted back to where Ellie was standing and damn near yelled at the ticket lady "THELADYATINFORMATIONSAIDWEDIDN'TNEEDTICKETSANDTHERESERVATIONNUMBERSAREENOUGH!!!" *pant pant pant*. I watched forlornly as our train steamed away on the other side of the barrier. She tried to send me back to the information centre, which I refused to do. At this point I was thinking we might as well walk to Southampton; at least we would get closer than if we were just running between the platform and the information desk. I adopted my coolest, most business-like demeanour (though I don't think I fooled her), and said calmly "look, we booked these tickets yesterday through Mega Train (bus? train? whatever) and have been told twice now that our reservation numbers will serve as tickets. You have held us up and caused us to miss our train. Now will you please let us through the barriers, and we'll wait for the next one."

Ellie did an invisible jig at how firm I was. Bitch-lady looked at me for a second or two before exclaiming, "OH you booked them through MEGA TRAIN, why didn't you say so?!"

I was livid. I felt it now the time for replacing my Doc Martens with my Bossy Boots. Boy was I going to give her a talking to!
"Look, I mistakenly assumed you knew how to do your job. I shouldn't have to tell you how we purchased our tickets. Obviously we're not getting to our destination on time now, thanks to you. We have our tickets on us, and would appreciate if you would let us through. We'll get the next train and forget about your incompetence."
In actual fact, I doubt I was that eloquent, but my words were to that effect. I guess this lady must get this a lot, what with being so woefully poor at performing her duties. The look she gave me suggested as much.

"Look, these tickets are for a train that has left..."
"Thanks to you!"
"...and you'll have to go back to the information centre to get tickets for the next one."
"OK but we're not paying for them!"

Ellie rolled her eyes and promised to guard our bags from this dishonest and clearly not-to-be-trusted woman. My bossy boots took me back to the information centre, where there was now, typically, no queue. I was served by the same person as before, who gave me a "not you again" look. I explained our quandary, going into great detail about the many shortcomings of their staff. She then asked me the stupidest question of the day: "So it was the staff member's fault you missed the train?", which I answered with a resounding YES. She gave me a form to fill out which would serve as our new tickets (I was doubtful), which included, to my joy, a section where I could detail how and why we missed our train. Words such as "RUDENESS" and "INCOMPETENCE" littered the page, with caps locks for emphasis. With a smug expression I left the information centre for the last time (I hoped) and ran back to Ellie waving our new tickets high above my head. She nearly did a tap dance as I showed her my detailed description of our poor treatment at the hands of this awful employee of British Rail.

This next bit I probably should have seen coming. I had to show this same woman (the one I had just verbally desecrated on official documentation) the piece of paper exhibiting my insinuations that she should be fired. I trembled in whatever boots I was now wearing, worried she might beat me with a stick for writing such defaming (albeit true) things about her then shoving it in her face. With supreme nonchalance, she finally let us through the barrier, and I made the assumption that such a vile specimen of humanity probably couldn't read.

In the end, the train we finally got on got us to Southampton faster than the original would have. The bloke who checked our tickets on board chuckled when he read my "ticket" and wished us a better day from that point on. He restored my faith in the quality of people employed by British Rail, but even more so begged the question "was that so hard?"

In the end, I did more running around Waterloo station than I had done for months. We probably should have expected as much from tickets that only cost three pounds, and swore off Mega Train forever.

Funnily enough, our Mega Bus trip (actually on a bus this time) to Glasgow a month later (we forgot our boycott in favour of cheap tickets) went off without a hitch. Go figure.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Things about Baboons...

...are the things of nightmares.

I have just applied for a wonderful job as a travel research writer. On the off chance that my potential employer reads this (thank you if you are a potential employer and reading this!), I thought it high time I published another wee travel story.

This one takes place in Botswana in March of 2009. I was camping by the Chobe River, a most spectacular location by the national park where elephants run rampant and warthogs try to nose their way into your tent at night. Baboons won't wait for nightfall, however, and will go to rather extreme measures to procure food from nearby tents. The campsite's facilities ranged in accommodation from the very sparse to the most luxurious. My budget put me in lower class section, which was a short walk away from the fancy parts. There was a glorious pool, bar and restaurant with a magnificent deck overlooking the river, and a boardwalk through the trees to reach my tent. Adorable little monkeys dotted the boardwalk, playing chase with one another and scurrying out of sight as soon as a human walked their way. It was all very quaint, in an African kind of way.

Walking back to my tent to quickly grab my towel and return to the pool, I made my way across the boardwalk and just about walked into a monkey approximately six billion times the size (roughly) of any other monkey I had seen that day. I took a step back and froze. I looked at him. He looked at me. It could have been love, but I don't think that was exactly the look in his eye. I thought about walking back the way I came, then talked myself out of it. Inner monologue proceeded as follows:

"Don't be silly Ernid, this monkey lives in a campsite. He's used to people. All the other monkeys retreat as soon as they hear someone coming. This one looks like he can smell my fear. Just stand tall, keep walking, and he'll clear out."

So stand tall I did. I puffed out my chest in order to look fearless, and quite literally strutted my way forward. The monkey jumped up onto the railing, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He must have been convinced that I had right of way. Or perhaps not... Instead of scurrying away, he climbed along the railing in my direction. Turning to face me, he crouched. It looked suspiciously like the position a wild monkey might adopt, were he to pounce on a bypassing human.

I had about .6 of a second to decide on my next move. The first .2 of that second were taken up thus:

"I could take this guy on. I'm bigger than him (just) and surely I would come out on top in a fight."

The remaining .4 of a second thankfully revealed a change of heart:

"This thing has claws, it has teeth, it has rabies... RUN!!!"

And run I did. The thongs I was wearing didn't exactly lend themselves to the amazing burst of speed I so desperately required, and I was cursing my choice of footwear as this creature chased after me. He was screeching and screaming, which I assumed was his way of swearing and banishing me from his hood. I think he must've given up pretty quickly, probably after seeing the super-human speeds I had hitherto never been capable of. The chase only lasted a few seconds, but I ran all the way to my tent and zipped the door tight shut. Phew, that was close!

I was absolutely terrified of walking back to my friends on the other side of the boardwalk, and it took me a good half hour to work up the courage to return, and only after a change of footwear at that. All the cocky bravado of earlier had vanished. I was regaling this tale to my tentmate Ingvild, a lovely girl from Norway who had lived in Ethiopia for three years. She asked me to describe this monkey to her, and gave me that "you're an idiot" look I am only too familiar with. She explained that I was right to run instead of fight, stupid to even consider otherwise, and that this monkey was in fact a baboon, which could have killed me with no strenuous amount of effort. Also, looking him in the eye was a bit of a no-no. Highly territorial animals, I had inadvertently threatened his ownership of the area. Good call.

This self-rescuing princess needs saving from nothing!
(Could possibly use job from generous travel writing types)