Some slight differences...

It's Christmas eve. I'm sat on my Mum's (new) sofa eating M&Ms in my PJs watching Arrested Development. Sounds like your standard Christmas, no?

There are some ever-so-slight differences:

- It's about 35 degrees outside.

- I have all the doors and windows open, and all three fans on high. It's hot.

- My chocolate has anti-melting stuff (that's the technical term) in it.

- My hair is frizzing, but from all the humidity rather than endless drizzle.

- There's a Christmas tree next to me but it's not real, and all the presents underneath it have airmail stickers on them.

- I'm googling 'traditional Australian Christmas food', looking for ideas about what to take with me to Mick and Val's tomorrow; all of it is cold. No bread sauce here ladies and gentlemen.

- You could probably make mulled wine just by putting a pot out in direct sunlight.

- I still haven't heard any Slade. Or Wham. (Lots of Mariah though. Strange.)

- You can't purchase mistletoe in any shops. I think this is to do with it not growing in hot places rather than an attempt to curb ill advised Christmas PDAs.

- Forgetting to bring my bikini back with me is a genuinely upsetting problem. I'm not sure if the Australian government alter their public indecency laws to allow skinny dipping for Christmas day, but I doubt it.

- It's summer, not winter. That probably sums it up.

Skydiving, nuff said.

So. Skydiving.

When I first arrived in Mission beach I was pretty terrified of 'jumping out of a perfectly good plane', as all the promotional material puts it. Even watching Oceane's DVD put me into a state of mild panic, and that was with the calming effects of alcohol. However many weeks of watching load after load of skydivers landing safely, and then of serving their little happy faces drinks afterwards (the bar is right next to the skydive centre) put paid to that. When Stacey announced that we had a date and time for our jump my primary emotion was that of excitement rather than fear.

Being the sensible girl that I am, I decided to carefully prepare for my skydive. Following the example that most of the tandem masters have set, I decided to drink scotch with my friend Pete until 2am. Waking up at 6.15am has never felt so good. Really.

At this point I was still just feeling excited. Mostly hungover, but also excited. It wasn't until we had our safety talk and I heard someone utter the words "...tuck your legs underneath the plane..." that I suddenly realised 'oh feck, I'm about to throw myself out of a perfectly good aircraft'.

Not that at any point I didn't want to do it. I felt scared, but good scared. Like when you're about to tip over the top on Oblivion. Adreneline is amazing, and I've missed it. I can't remember who created the quote about doing things that scare you every day (probably Twain or Wilde) but they were totally right. That lovely build up of fear as you you 'tick tick' up to the top, only magnified by a 20 minute plane journey. It's ace thinking you're so high up only for someone to announce that, fantastic, we're halfway to the top.

14,000ft is high. Like, really high. Really, really far up. Very high in the sky. (I can't stress this enough). However when you're past a certain point it ceases to seem like reality. My outward bravado held strong until they opened the door for someone to get out at 9,000ft. And the person just went. Whoosh. Gone. I'm not sure whether I expected them to float out like a feather, but bloody hell people fall fast. At that point the fear really kicked in and I uttered some involuntary expletives. And started to mildly hyperventilate.

When we finally reached the right altitude the door was thrown open and people started to shuffle forward, some more nervous than others. My beautiful friend Louise was beyond scared, and I'm very proud of her for being able to sit right next to the door and not totally freak out.

Whoosh, there she goes. Good lass.

The gear they truss you up in is, as you'd expect and hope, pulled extremely tight. It's not the sexiest of looks, especially as it thrust my not-so-insignificant chest practically up to my chin. Shuffling forward, I repeatedly smacked myself in the face. Coupled with my calming breaths (think woman trying to breath through contractions) and goggles I look super-hot on my DVD. Rawr.

I'd like to describe the moment I finally fell, but in all honestly I now understand how people can describe things as being 'all a bit of a blur'. The seconds between being in the plane and out of it are indistinguishable. One moment I was looking up at the sky, the next I was looking up at the plane. As I fell through the sky.

How they can get away with calling themselves 'Jump the Beach' I don't know. You don't jump, you fall. And bloody hell, you fall fast. There's no reference point to look at and all I was aware of was the wind; the adreneline, my ears needing to be popped and the short bits of hair in the nape of my neck whipping against my skin. I didn't see or hear, I just felt. And it felt amazing.

Those first few seconds set a new bar in exhilaration, you feel invincible. People ask if you worry about the chute opening, or your harness coming loose. Not at all. At that moment you can do anything. You can walk through fire, swim to the bottom of the ocean and punch a tiger in the face. Gravity is your bitch. Physics is your bitch. I summed this up eloquently at the time by doing a 27 second long swear.

The opening chute jolted me back into reality, and for the first time I looked around. Even Tully looks good from 7,000ft (that's right, you fall 7,000ft in 60 seconds. Pretty cool, no?); the rest of it looks beautiful. There was a huge manta ray in the water, and you could see out to the barrier reef. I'm nowhere near eloquent enough to do it justice. Lets just say it was...spectacular. The day we jumped was clear and you could see for miles and miles, far northern Queensland in all it's glory for your viewing pleasure. I was very happy. My favourite part of plane journeys is looking out of the window (I'm 23, honest) and this was even better - a full 360 view rather than a tiny little gap in the side of a huge plane.

We'd been warned in the plane that our landings would be fast as there was very little ground wind to slow us down. Having not done it before I've got no frame of reference, but it seemed pretty OK to me. OK that is, until I had to do my bit and put my legs down. Boomf. On to my knees (there's a joke there somewhere). I didn't mind, until I watched the DVD back. I'm not going to say what it looks like I'm doing (or having done to me), but lets just say that I fall onto all fours and my instructor, ahem, slams into thhe back of me. (Oh Francesca, when will you stop behaving like Bridget Jones?). It's a very classy moment, though I was oblivious, way too pumped up to care about anything. I felt like Jedward, after sugar, on Christmas morning. That was my level of hyper-ness.

I now officially love skydiving. I'm going to be doing my second jump in a week or so, and Des (who took me up before) has promised to 'do some superman shit' during freefall. I'm hoping this means a backflip out of the plane and some mid-air twists and turns. If I had the money I'd do my solo training tomorrow, especially as companies are always keen to hire women (it's a very male dominated area). But it's expensive, and I need to see Australia on foot before I see it from the sky.

Would I recommend skydiving? Yes, wholeheartedly. You will never have a better experience doing anything else. Even if you feel terrified, feel the fear and do it anyway. I've seen plenty of people almost throwing up in terror, only to land with a wider smile than Wallace. My only warning: this shit is addictive.

Bits and Bobs

So, yeah. I've been pretty bad at this whole blogging lark over the last few weeks. Pretty bad at keeping in touch, generally I think. I could blame it on working a lot, but it might also have something to do with the fact that when I'm not working I'm either napping or drinking. After being very sensible for my first month, all the gloves have come off in my battle with early morning hangovers.

I'm not going to lie, it's been fun. Even if I now hate my alarm more than I ever thought possible.

Because I'm still feeling lazy, despite an afternoon off (inactivity breeds inactivity boys and girls) I'm simply going to list some the events and thoughts that I've been having. Trying to link them into one cohesive narrative is not going to be possible right now.


- I've been working super-long hours because Stacey had her Mum over to visit, so her and Ash had the week off. Despite being on the go from 8am-11pm most days the week wasn't as bad as I thought; even though I'm doing something 'menial' I'm still incredibly happy. It must be the location - it's impossible to shake the feeling that I'm on holiday.

- I did a skydive. And it was awesome. The experience cannot be summed up in a paragraph, so I hope to write an extended description at a later date.

- This is the least christmassy I've ever felt. I can't get my head around Christmas and summer being the same thing. It's not right. Oh, and Father Christmas arrives on a fire truck here. I kid you not. And carols are accompanied by banjos. Weird.

- I've still not seen a Cassowary. It's getting embarassing now.

- Illicity scratching mosquito bites is better than sex...

- ...especially when you get 38 new ones in a single evening, only counting your legs. Yep, that's right, my body is an all you can eat buffet for mozzies. The little bastards. It seems that Yasi has given them heaps more places to breed, which is excellent news. Especially when every other advert warns you about dengue fever.

- Yesterday I saw an iguana. Casually sauntering around by the hostel. I'm still yet to see a spider spider. So far I've genuinely only seen two, and we had bigger ones in the back garden of plush towers. Did you all just make up this shit to scare me?

- My little sister will be here in three weeks, which I'm incredibly excited about. At the moment I'm like the Doctor without his companion... Granted, you get the odd Kylie or Katherine for an episode, but they're no Amy Pond. (Actually, this totally works. because Catherine Tate was only in for a special, but ended up becoming a full time companion. Totally works, I know for a fact that some people are going to become regulars. If only I had a tardis rather than tickets for greyhound buses. I'm going to stop being a geek now).

- The weather has turned, in a big way. A storm on Thursday chucked down 15cm of water in a night. ONE NIGHT. I couldn't sleep because the rain was hammering on the roof. The outside of my friend's house turned into a river and I watched their doormat float away. On Wednesday Louise and I had a girly night; on the way to the bar I launched our umbrella away from us, after seeing lightening hit the street. And today? It's drizzling, which is worse than any storm.

- I finally have a new camera. This means that I'll hopefully be putting up pictures very soon so you can all cry about how tanned I am.

- Plans are starting to form about what I'm going to do with myself. My only concrete definites are flying to Sydney on Jan 18th, visiting friends in Victoria at some point and the Melbourne comedy festival. Funds are the main constraint, and I've also learned that sometimes not knowing what's about to come next is the bggest adventure of all. At some point I've got to do my 'regional' work for my second year visa, but I haven't decided which form of fruit picking I'll be inflicting on myself yet.

- If you have a pool in your backyard, and scaffolding up the side of your house, then boys will find themselves unable to do anything except jump in. Even if the pool is a metre deep and the scaffolding is three metres high. Especially after a works Christmas party.

A day in the life of a beach bum.

No posts recently because I've been SO BUSY doing lots of work to earn money for future adventures; when I've got a spare hour you're more likely to find me on the beach/by the pool with a bevvie than tapping away about how tired my legs are after another 12 hour day... I know, I know, get the tiny violins out.

I actually wrote most of this over a week ago and didn't find the time to finish it off. Nothing much has changed, other than now it's sometimes too hot to go to the beach. Seriously.

Anyway, all the days here seem to run into one another so I thought I'd give you an insight into my beach bum existence. Here is a summary of my average day:

07.15 Alarm goes off. Snooze.

07.20 Alarm again. Curse the world. Snooze alarm.

07.25 Snooze alarm.

07.30 I can skip breakfast. Snooze alarm.

07.35 Snooze alarm.

07.40 Do deals with self about going to bed early. Snooze alarm.

07.45 Snooze alarm. Then check the time. Realise how many times snooze has been pressed. Jump up, hit head on top bunk and fall onto floor in a tangle of sheets.

07.46 Discover I've become deaf overnight. Shit! What did I have for dinner....?

07.48 Remember I wear ear plugs. Idiot. Not deaf. Just dumb.

07.50 Get dressed in usual cleaning attire of denim shorts, baggy polo shirt and grumpy morning face. Brush teeth, then ruin minty freshness with coffee made from two dessert spoons of instant. Remember the days of £4 starbucks with misty eyes.

08.03 Walk into hostel kitchen. Try to work out who has left the mess. Plot revenge. Start to clean.

08.47 Silently curse all the backpackers who are now making the kitchen dirty again. Smile to their faces. Plot revenge.

09.13 Assure people that I don't mind them walking across the floor I've spent the last half an hour cleaning. Plot revenge.

09.30 Crack. Decide to have breakfast. depending on level of alcohol consumption this is
either vegemite on toast or cereal. Have a moan to new arrivals about how sleepy you are, despite general 'I-live-by-the-beach' smugness.

10.00 Start cleaning dorms. Plot revenge on all those who fail to take the sheets off beds when they check out.

10.47 Realise should probably stop gossiping to Stacey/Louise on reception and get cleaning finished on time.

11.05 Hop in shower. Whack on some face power and a slick of mascara. Put on work top. Walk the long 2 minute commute.

11.29 What is the point in showering when I'm back to 'sweaty and disgusting' after two minutes in this heat?

11.30 Work. Serve lunches, make drinks. Chat. Search and listen to songs on the music database. Stock some fridges. Eat food. Drink coffee.

15.00 Run back to hostel. Put on bikini. Slap on suncream. Put kindle in it's posh protective case (ikea sandwich bag).

15.08 Relax. Ahhhh, the beach. Put sunglasses on to optimise perving success. Pretend to read book. Admire the scenery. Realise book is quite good, actually, and forget about boys.

15.40 Too hot. Swim time. Ahhhh. Bath like sea. Lovely, though marred by possibility of death by stinger/shark/crocodile/stingray.

17.00 Go back. Shower, dress, ablute &c. Head to work.

18.00 Work. Work, workity work. Serve drinks. Try not to muck up people's food orders. Talk to friends. Resist urge to consume caffine. Eat yummy dinner. Clean. Knock off drink.

22.30 Home. One more drink can't hurt, it'll help me sleep.

23.00 Sure, I'll come to the Shrubbery for a drink. Why not?

23.16 Who bought that sambuca? No I will NOT drink the sambuca!

23.17 Sambuca is disgusting.

23.20 Sambuca is amazing. Who bought me more wine?

00.48 Blargh, sleeps time. I'll go to bed early tomorrow, honest.

Beach fires, waterfalls and introspection...

I've spent the past week really settling in, and as I meet and bond with more people this little place has started to feel like my new home.

Tuesday night was Oceane's leaving do, and we had an ace night on the beach. The fire was like a beacon, and we attracted various people who'd come looking for a party. Ever mindful of my early alarm (and the fact that however laidback everyone is, I probably shouldn't turn up too hungover on my second day) I decided to head back at about 1am. Only to be persuaded to stay for 'one more drink'. Hopeful that vegemite on toast and a litre of water would magically help my liver overnight, I fell into bed at about 2.30.

Hmm. Even my twenty second commute felt a long way on Wednesday. And I felt even worse when I realised there were 12 checkouts to do... I also had to swap dorms into the long-term room (only four of us rather than nine - hurrah!) so needed to pack and unpack. It was a long morning.

On Wednesday evening I decided that I was definitely going to watch the moon rise. The man in the moon however, must have somehow slept through his alarm because even by 10.30 he was nowhere to be seen. Tired and achey, our group gave up and came home to fall once more into bed. Next time, I'm googling what time to expect the moon. At least I got to show off my mad fire building skills. All bowed down to the prowess of my ex-scouting knowledge. I got to be bossy and MAKE FLAMES so I felt better about the moon-less skies.

Somehow I managed to get the morning off on Thursday so I had a delicious lie-in, relishing not having to clean any toilets right after I'd eaten breakfast. Then it was time to go to the first shift of my second job!
The Zenbah is owned by the same people who own the hostel and the two couples who manage the hostel (Louise and Alex, Stacey and Ash) work between them to manage both places, meaning that I already knew everyone I was going to work with. It's a bar/restaurant/cafe/whatever you make of it and it only opened a couple of months ago. I like it, because after much persuasion from Stacey they stock pear cider - a rarity in Australia as everywhere seems to be beer only!
I did well and (aside from smashing a stack of plates, spilling passionfruit pulp all over the bar and forgetting to put someone's main through the till...ahem) managed to learn the ropes pretty quickly. Customers are the same everywhere, and I started to flex my bar muscles. My leg muscles, however, are unused to being used for such long periods of time and by my last shift of the week on Saturday I was feeling seriously achey. Long gone are the days of my uber shifts at BonDs, I've been sat behind a desk for the past 19 months! I
sold chairs - I had to sit down a lot.

The only problem is that I get fed every shift. Doesn't sound so bad, but when you consider that Rudi the chef is french and worked in a Michelin starred restaurant back home...well you pretty much want to lick the plate when you've finished. And the French aren't exactly reknowned for their low-fat options. I'm hoping that running on the beach will counteract the calories. It's amazing what being half naked all the time does to your commitment to healthy eating.

On Sunday I was invited by one of the long termers to go on a road trip to Milla Milla falls up in the tablelands - and obviously I said yes. Despite having 12 people checking out I worked like a machine and managed to do all my cleaning, shower and pack and be ready on time to leave at 11. Skills.

The Milla Milla falls are just over an hours drive away, and even wedged into the back next to the eskie I enjoyed the journey, watching the scenery change from thick rainforest, to mountains, to rainforest-y mountains. There were four of us - Pete the driver (who stays at the hostel and works as a painter), Rudi (chef at my place of work, and also brother of Oceane the previous housekeeper) and Rudi's friend Jess; we were joined later on by Ann and another long-termer Ben who's originally from the tablelands. We visited two other waterfalls (Zillie and Ellinjaa) before Milla Milla and they were beautiful, literally carving out holes in the rainforest. It's cooler up in the mountains, and with spray from the falls I enjoyed feeling free from heat and humidity for the first time in nearly a month.
Milla Milla was beautiful. Just....gorgeous. (I'm not eloquent enough to do it any justice in description - I suggest you google it.) We even managed to get the falls to ourselves at some points in the afternoon, before another bus load of tourists turned up. Hungry, we tucked into the paella that we'd brought with us that got 'cooked' on the dashboard of Pete's car and heated up by the sun! It was over 24 hours ago and I've not got food poisoning yet, so it must work. It's a trick Rudi learnt from his mother apparently, and it must have been worth it just to see the look on my face... I really bemoaned not having my camera yesterday (I still haven't fixed mine/got a replacement) but more for the lack of paella-cooking proof than anything. Thankfully Ann had her camera and took a snap of me...

This is one of the locations for a herbal essences advert. Don't I fit in perfectly?

After warming up in the sun I decided to join Pete for a swim. He'd warned me (and I'd expected) that the water would be cold, and woooooah it was. Not quite 'Bantham beach in April' cold, but probably 'north Cornwall in August' cold. It was certainly fresh, and it was nice to be able to splash about without the sting of saltwater. There is something liberating about wild swimming (I love the Hampstead ponds) and it was a novelty being able to enjoy SUCH cold water without the worry of how to warm back up afterwards. Although after spotting a black water snake after I'd got out, I did remind myself that the worst you have to worry about in the UK is probably weaver fish. There are advantages and disadvantages to living everywhere...

We spent a few hours at Milla Milla falls, each managing at least one swim and a nap, before we got too cold and decided to head off. Pete's parent's own a pub in Milla Milla and we stopped in for a beer and - drum roll - my first proper Aussie meat pie. I don't know if it was the pie, or the appetite the fresh air had given me, but it was bloody tasty. Yum. I approve of Aussie pies. After Pete and I roundly beat Rudi and Jess at pool (I helped - by potting two balls) we were knackered and made our way home.

Last night was spent forcing my eyes open to read until a semi-reasonable time, and I've just finished my work for the morning. My plan of beach-read-swim-repeat has been foiled because I stupidly left my bikini in Pete's car last night (forgetting to remove it before he went to work today) and I'm pretty sure no one needs to see me sunbathe in my pants. It's probably a good thing though, as rather than laze my afternoon away I'm ticking things off my 'to-do' list.

Tomorrow is my first full day off since a week last Sunday - no waitressing, cleaning or pot washing. Hurrah! I intend to do nothing other than read on the beach, swim and get even more tanned. Don't hate me too much - I'm doing housekeeping and split shifts at Zenbah for the rest of this week, so I've got to squeeze in downtime somehow...

So, after my first week as a fully paid up member of the working-beach-bums scoiety how am I doing? Well, I only wear shoes half of the time. And I'm starting to look pretty tanned (having white bits and looking tanned are very different things for me). My hair is accelerating from red to blonde, and I barely wear makeup; if I do it's pretty much just a slick of mascara to darken my even-lighter lashes. Surprisingly I'm coping with the insular nature of this place - until yesterday I don't think I'd walked further than the 500 yards to the stinger net on the beach. Having people come and go helps because there's always a new face, but I'm actually OK with the contrast to my old life in London. In fact, it's one of the reasons that I like it here so much. No tubes, no targets, no rush, no stress.

I do love London, and I want to go back; I miss home far more keenly than I thought I would. This is compounded by the desire I have already to extend my visa to a two year one (it really is amazing out here). When I planned to come to Australia homesickness was something I'd expected, but how hard my goodbyes were took me by surprise, as has the amount I miss home. Not to say I want to go back now - I'm so excited to be here - but I think I'd just like to have a mate or two with me. I'm jealous of the people travelling in pairs! It's hard not being able to access the people you love all the time - the time difference is a bitch and it's no fun having to plan exact skype times with people. It's an adjustment, and I'm sure one that I'll make, and I know my other life will be waiting for me again when I return. I want to see the world, and I'm much happier here than I was before - just in a different way. Routine is comforting, but it doesn't necessarily make you happy in the long run. I love that I can go and have adventures where and when I fancy; the only thing that limits me is 'can I afford that?'. Given the popularity of work-exchange hostels I think I'll muddle through and go on all the adventures that I like. Knowing me, I'll be way more 'Australia-sick' when I get back to the UK!

One of the advantages of being here (and being signal-less and internet-on-my-blackberry-less) is that I'm not chained to my phone anymore. Not obsessivley tweeting, texting and calling. Guaranteed, I'd have taken and uploaded pcitures from the falls yesterday. Tweeted about it. Called someone with a 'guess where I am?' boastfullness. It made me think of the John Mayer song 3x5, and I liked it.

Wow, this has all gone a bit intropective, eh? That's what happens when I can't go for a swim. THE MADNESS SETS IN. I doubt anyone will want to hear me moan about working split shifts as you all work equally hard back home and don't have a beach to lie on after work. But if anything interesting happens I'll probably blog. Until then, g'day and g'night.

I don't know if anyone's tried, but my Aussie phone isn't working here as Vodaphone don't cover the area. Thanks Vodaphone. I'm working on getting a new sim, but until then should you need to contact me urgently then loosen the purse strings and spend 30p on texting my UK number.

Being a beach bum

So, my first couple of days as a dweller in paradise have gone pretty well. It's far easier to not snooze your alarm at 7.20am when you can see blue sky and palm trees out of your bedroom window. It's true, they've done studies.

Housekeeping is relatively easy in the hostel because it's pretty tiny, and everyone chats to you as you clean. My first morning with the lovely Oceane (the girl who I'm taking over from) was very successful, given the amount of gossiping we also managed to fit in. The only job I hate so far is de-gunking the sink but I can cope with that - I can see the sea out of the kitchen window, so I just close my eyes and think of the afternoon...

Monday afternoon was spent on the beach with Oceane, her friend Emily and a German girl called Anne. We stayed in the sun until we were too hot, and then flaoted about in the waves laughing everytime someone got caught out and dunked underneath one. Oceane and Emily are both French, so many discussions about language were had - it amazes me how non-English speakers always think their English is terrible. I feel like telling them to go to Tamworth to see what terrible English really sounds like.

We decided to had back to the hostel when we got too hungry, having no idea of what time it was at all.

After a big bowl of pasta I had a lovely chat with Dot on skype which made me feel terribly homesick, though not for home exactly - just the people back there stuck in the rain and cold. Come and join me everyone, boasting on a daily basis is SO much fun.

Luckily, the perfect antidote to feeling homesick turned up. Because we're on the west coast there's no chance of a sunset on the beach; we can, however, watch the moon rising. There's some sort of optical illusion explained by physics (which I'm sure someone must know) which makes the moon look huge as it rises out of the sea. I've no idea how or why it happens, but it's incredibly beautiful. Serene. We were all sat there quietly sipping our drinks as the fire died down and the moon rose up... It reminded me of why I'm here, and that even though I miss people (though not you, obviously) I'm on an adventure and I have to make the most of it.

As we drifted back I was chatting to Oceane about her first skydive and we decided to watch her video. Just looking at the people in front of her falling out of the plane made my heart beat with nerves, and even though we see four groups a day land safely on the beach I know I'll still do I put this delicately? Hmm. Shitting myself seems to be the only thing that'll cover it.

We were all in bed early, and I woke up before my alarm went off which was a novelty. Most people in my dorm work in contruction or farming so even at 7am there's only two of us left asleep. It makes me feel better about having to get up 'early' every day.

Oceane was off doing her second skydive (for free as she's done her stint as housekeeper) so I was left to clean alone. Other than being exceptionally sweaty by the end of it I was fine and didn't forget to do anything. Which would be tricky considering that I do have a list of the jobs...

Once more, after the midday scorch had subsided it was off to the beach with our little French/German/British group. I don't really need to explain what we did again - assume the whole sunbathe/swim and repeat shebang is happening if I mention the beach. It was hot, but a few clouds gave some nice relief and I even managed a nap, leaving some sexy red marks on my face when I woke up. (Note to self: scrunched up shirts are not to be used as pillows again.)

Tonight is a big party night as a few people are leaving tomorrow, so I expect that waking up early will not be as easy... It might be the first time I won't appreciate bright sun and heat. It had to happen sooner or later.

A change of plan.

A fairly uneventful week, during the week at least. I treated myself to some 8am lie-ins in anticipation of the hard work that fruit picking would turn out to be. I had a lovely sail on Wednesday (again, everyone else sailed and I had the important job of putting weight on the rails. I am an indispensible part of the team) and did research about what I'd need to take to Tully. I invested $15 in the Sally Army shop getting some old clothes, and searched fruitlessly for gum boots everywhere. Ah feck it, I thought, they'll have gum boots in Tully.

Friday was the day I had to pack, and it was almost harder to pack up that day than it was coming to Aus. When I came over here, there were only a handful of clothes that were suitable for Aussie weather so deciding which went into storage was fairly black and white. But packing after I'd packed was difficult. In the end I still ended up with far more than I really needed, I looked like a princess waltzing into the Mission Beach hostel with my own pillow, heels and hair straighteners.

The drive up to Mission Beach was smooth in Mum's swanky new Subaru (thank the lord for tinted windows and excellent aircon) and the scenery on the way was spectacular. Seeing acres of sugarcane makes you realise you're really abroad; not just living in a warmer version of England.

We made good time and got to mission beach just before sunset. The hostel staff gave us a warm welcome and we settled in quickly. Declaring that we were 'on holiday' Mum treated us to dinner at a lovely restaurant by the beach. Why does food taste SO much better when you're eating it under plam trees, watching the moon rise over the sea? -smug face- After a few more glasses of wine we came back to the hostel and had a few entertaining conversations with various people who were passing through. Two Aussie guys who looked and sounded like they'd come right out of a Chris Lilley skit were particularly hilarious, as was the extremely efficient German night porter. He came out to tell us all to be quiet and ended up sitting down with the rest of us, going to bed way after us troublemakers did...

Now. The next part of this story demonstrates that either, 1. I'm a jammy bastard and someone somewhere always makes things go my way, 2. Everything happens for a reason, or, 3. Coincidences often occur and people read things into them.

I haven't been looking forward to banana picking. Why would I? I was excited about meeting people and earning money, but I doubt even the most twisted sadist would enjoy being woken at 4.30am for eight hours of manual labour in 30degree heat. I also really liked mission beach, and felt quite at home with the laid back hippy atmosphere. One of the reasons for doing my picking was to get my 88 days for my second year visa, and I knew I'd have to do some with my little brother and sister when they came out anyway.

After Yasi ripped through in Feb it took out two of the four working hostels in Tully, so I only had a choice of two places to stay, one of which was fully booked for weeks. The only other hostel I could stay in has a policy of only letting you book in the day before you arrive. I've no idea why, but I guess it's probably to do with the flakiness of backpackers. They told me on Friday that they had plenty of avaliabilty but when I called them on Saturday morning the girl on the desk couldn't find the book, told me to call back and when I did they'd given all the places out... Thanks girl on the desk at Hotel Tully.

Oh shit, thought I, it doesn't matter how much I didn't want to pick fruit I've got to work somewhere and I didn't want to go back to Townsville with my bags packed...

Luckily, on our way to the beach on Saturday I'd noticed a sign next to reception saying they were looking for a housekeeper. When I asked about it the manager Stacey practically jumped for joy - they'd been desperate for someone! Working 8-11am six days a week pays for my accomodation and internet, so I figured that I could get another job and live cheaply, doing my best to save. Oh, and you also get a free skydive if you work for a month. Huzzah! Of course as I'm a jammy git, it turns out pretty much everyone in Mission beach wants to hire someone to be a waitress/potwash/barmaid too. Even luckier, the couple who own the hostel also own a bar/restaurant about 2 minutes down the road which is also desperate for staff. When Stacey realised I'd work all hours, had loads of bar experience and my RSA...well, she was very happy indeed.

So I'm going to see how I do here for a while; I think I'll be just fine bumming about on the beach for a couple of months.


After I'd sorted myself out both Mum and I were a lot more relaxed. She did me a big 'pre-uni' style shop on Saturday afternoon so I've now got enough food to last until my birthday, or perhaps Christmas if I get really hungry. We had dinner in my future place of employment and fell into bed exhausted from all the sunbathing at 11pm, sleeping like well behaved babies until the morning.

Another day of the beach beckoned, and we had a lovely time soaking up the rays and going for a splash when it got too hot (SMUG FACE). Poor mama though, as she had to drive back in the afternoon to make sure she was fresh for work tomorrow morning. Who will make her lunch every day now??

So I've spent the last few hours settling in to my new home, chatting to people and explaining my change of plans to Tash on skype. I'm typing this sat in the lounge area which has no need of walls, being interrupted occasionally by the seeimingly thousands of little gekkos that live in the roof.
Tomorrow I shall clean and have an afternoon on the beach, enjoying some free time before I start my other job on Tuesday.

My plans now? Well, this has taught me that I shouldn't really make any. People tend to come here for a week and stay for months - it's so beautiful here, literally paradise. At the moment I think I'll head back to Townsville at Christmas and head to Sydney mid-Jan, but who knows? I'm going to embrace the hippy lifestyle and just go with the flow.

I know I promised less smugness, but I'll just have to go back on that. Sorry everyone...

How Aussies do November 5th, and other stories.

I typed half of this blog on Friday, then neglected to post it. C'est la vie. It's now been turned into an epic week-long blog, perfect for reading over your afternoon coffee. And don't worry, the absolute smugness will soon, I fear, be ending...

Monday - Friday

I've not had much to report this week as I've mostly just been reading, job hunting and sunbathing. The good news is that I now have tan lines. The bad news is that I still look like Casper's albino sister. Such is life.

Having been blocked by the 'RSA qualified only' at the beginning of every job advert, I decided to bite the bullet and commit my Tuesday morning to learning about responsibility and alcohol and....stuff. (Turns out you can't serve alcohol to minors here! Who knew!). I don't want to call the course a government-money-making-waste-of-time but...well, it is. It takes four hours to explain that you can't serve drunk people, and that signs of drunkenness can include 'loss of coordination and slurring of speech'. I think the fact that about half of the questions focus on how much you get fined for breaking the law rather than how to help people speaks volumes. Unsurprisingly - given that the multiple choice questions made ITV phone in comps look like a mensa exam - I passed and am now qualified to serve alcohol in Queensland and a few other states that probably won't visit.

Moving on.

Went out for a twilight sail on Wednesday which was a perfect evening. It was a triangular course, and as we brought the boat round for the final tack the wind really caught in the sails and the whole way back was over smooth water going about 7 knots. Perfect. I like this sailing lark, but as we go into the rainy season I fear the opportunity to go out will diminish. There is such a thing as 'too much wind' here, apparently.

Apparently we've been lucky with the weather so far as this time last year it had already started... The BBC are starting to forecast storms, but so far nada and I've spent many happy hours floating in the pool and reading on my kindle. My kindle being in a very sexy waterproof cover (ikea sandwich bag).

On Thursday I had a job interview at a really swish restaurant and as I'm amazing I obviously got the job... However. At the moment I have an issue, the issue being that we're a good few miles out of the city centre, and public transport here is pretty much non existent. So I've either got to cycle along the highways (and I haven't cycled for years) or rely on my Mum giving me lifts everywhere. Not an ideal situation. Especially given that I would only be on 20 hours a week.

To earn enough to save for my Sydney/Brisbane/Melbourne adventures I was faced with working for 6 days a week in two different jobs, and potentially being stranded/paying $35 for a taxi at the end of every shift. So I decided not to be a waitress. Or work in Townsville...

Mum and I had planned to go up to Mission beach next weekend, and it happens to be very close to Tully which is a prime fruit picking location. After a bit of research I figure that spending 40 hours a week sorting bananas or digging potatoes might actually be the answer to all of my problems.

I reckon I can save about $1,500 in the 6 weeks before Christmas, and even though it'll be hard work I'll get to meet fellow backpackers and generally have a good ol' knees up at the weekends. It also means that I'm on my way to qualifying for a second year visa - the easiest way to get approved is to do 3 months of fruit picking work. The write ups on the hostel have people saying 'came for a months; stayed for six...' and similar; basically it's hard work but with a good reward.

So as of next Monday I'll be up at 5am to do hard manual labour for 8 hours a day. Given that I'll be on about $20-odd an hour and partying all weekend I think I can deal with it. Fruit picking is described as a 'rite of passage' for backpackers; I'm hoping it's not too painful to endure... At least you'll all be spared my smugness for a while. Tully is apparently the wettest place in Australia. And Australia's pretty big, so that's a lot of precipitation. I challenge it to be worse than Lancaster.

Lets just hope I can cope with the banana spiders. Gulp.

Saturday and Sunday

One of the things I was most worried about missing over in Australia was Bonfire night. As you all know, I'm essentially a child masquerading as an adult so fireworks (sparkly, bangy, whoosy things yay!) makes me very happy, as do bonfires (because setting things on fire is ALWAYS fun, a trait I get from my father who routinely felled trees simply to have something to burn and who's favourite ever present was a fire pit that my step-mum got him for Christmas). Happily though, I did have a bonfire. And it was on a beach. On a desert island. And I wore a summer dress.

I was happy to have the beach in lieu of fireworks.

To top everything off, we got there by sailing. It was the final race of the season, but unfortunately a few of the usual crew couldn't make it ("if you work for the airforce and they call you into work, you go into work") and the wind was a lot stronger than predicted so it was a challenging journey, but still a lot of fun.

At one point I commented to my Mum that it's a good job I never get seasick as the waves were HUGE; she just looked at me incredulously and said 'this is nothing'. Cripes. I definitely felt like a beginner at that point...

Because of the novice crew, and trouble getting the kite out (the wind swung around 40 degrees as we tried to get it up...not good) we finished 6th out of 7, but happily Panacea still won the Commodore Cup - well done to Mick and Val! We weren't the only ones to have trouble though, another boat got their spinnaker halyard stuck at the top of their mast and had to send someone up there. I'm pretty sure being winched to the top of a 40 foot mast, at sea, in 20 knot winds is the definition of bravery...!

The Herald island race is a sore point for Mick and Val as the last time they sailed it they hit rocks just as they came in. Not only did it write off the boat, but poor Val broke her nose as the jolt as they hit was so great it threw her into the instruments. There were a few held breaths but thankfully all was well, and we anchored up safely and had a well deserved drink. Ok, a few well deserved drinks.

We were given a lift to the beach at about 6ish in time for sunset, and I made the leap from boat to tender very gracefully. Ahem. At least I managed not to fall in. Our taxi for the evening was being driven by an interesting character nicknamed Xander, who looks like a proper little pirate. He sailed on panacea on Wednesday, but was a lot more chatty tonight probably due to the bottle of Bundaberg rum that he came aboard with... He wouldn't tell us how he got his name (I'd guessed that he was a Buffy fan) but finally he admitted that his full name was 'Alexander'. I'm not sure what the secrecy was all about!

The beach party was amazing, with 100 people in attendance. Some poor sod had obviously decided to take his significant other to a romantic uninhabited island for the night and had made a cute little camp at the end of the beach...only to have 22 boats rock up over the course of the afternoon. Probably the only night for a couple of years you'd find other people there! Oh well, I hope they enjoyed our party playlist.

Herald Island is a beautiful place, but a reminder that we weren't-in-the-UK-any-more-toto was a warning that a croc had been spotted nesting only a few days before. Erk. Never has a lack of toilet facilities been so perilous. Especially as I spotted a few snake tracks in the sand. No spiders though, which is the main thing. And, of course, all was well. You'd have to be a pretty brave croc to take on 100 people.

It was such an experience to spend time on the island, and thankfully the rain held off. The moon was so bright that everything had a shadow, and we didn't need lights or torches. There were actual coconut trees with actual coconuts on them. It was like being on shipwrecked. However you're all going to have to take my word for how pretty it was because my camera decided to die on Saturday morning, and some idiot (ahem) forgot to pack my Mum's camera in the beach bag. Never have I been so upset about not having a camera! Oh, the potential profile pictures...

As people slowly drifted back to their boats I found myself sitting around the fire, chatting and eating shrimp out of a bucket of sea water. How very back to nature! Who'd have thought that a London girl could having such an amazing experience and cope without tweeting about it?! Naturally, I was one of the last people to go to bed and somehow I managed to get from the tiny inflatable tender back on the boat. Some feat given that the moon had set and I was a good few bottles of wine down...

Last on the boat means last to nab somewhere to sleep, and I arrived back to find my bunk had been taken. No matter, thought I, and decided to sleep up on deck. Like a real salty sea dog. It was warm enough to not really need a blanket, a good job given that my pillow and sheet had been taken along with my bunk! A folded towel did the job, not that I had planned on sleeping right away anyway.

I'm a bit of an astronomy geek, so seeing the stars without light pollution was a genuinely exciting prospect. The day and night had been pretty overcast, so I'd only seen glimpses of the cosmos. (It's also pretty difficult to see the cosmos after a box of wine.) But as I lay back the clouds magically cleared, like someone opening a curtain, and my God it was beyond description. My description anyway. I've never seen a sky like that, it was achingly, movingly beautiful. Every so often a shooting star would tear across, and I could even see the Orion nebula. I probably laid there for a good hour, occasionally having my night vision wrecked by the lightening flashing down from a storm near the palm islands. At some point in time (I was clueless, as I don't wear a watch and had left my phone behind) it clouded back over; I decided that the deck wasn't particularly comfortable and made myself at home wedged on a seat next to the spinnaker bag.

The best way to start a Sunday is having water poured on your head at 7.30am after not a huge amount of sleep. I'm sure you'll agree. Having said that, I was so hot that it was actually quite a relief. Didn't stop me from swearing at the culprit like a true sailor though.

After a round of bacon and egg sarnies our hungover group decided to head home. There are many excellent hangover cures, but I'm not sure sailing on a very choppy sea is one of them. I was very tired, but couldn't face being in the cabin as we sailed (it makes you really seasick; I've no idea why) and eventually the fresh air blew my cobwebs away.

As we came towards Maggie island the motor decided to pack up, and we had to take some slow tacks so we were flat enough for Mick to take a look. When he'd found the problem (and ascertained that it needed a spare part) we carried on heading for home and I went down to reapply my suncream (the engine is underneath the stairs!). The next thing I heard was a shout of 'there's less than a metre below us!' and the alarm going off. Erk. We hit (smushed into?) a mud bank, which given that the motor had gone couldn't have happened at a worse time! Unable to motor off, but worried about getting even more stuck, we had to let the headsail right out and almost totally ease the main. We then had to put weight as far out as we could. Funnily enough, my tiredness had evaporated as I crouched on the rail inches above the water...!

Thankfully after ten or so minutes we floated to safety. I was getting worried that the Herald island trip was cursed for Mick and Val! It was certainly a learning curve, but Mick got to show off his best skipper skillz as he brought Panacea into her berth with just the main sail. And I got to do some winching!!

It was a brilliant weekend, and an experience that I feel lucky to have had so early into our trip. Thanks to Mick, Val and everyone else at the TCYC!

This week I'll mostly be enjoying not getting up at 5am and not sleeping in a dorm with eight strangers. Oh, and the pool. I'll be enjoying the pool.

P.s - I seem to have readers in Russia, the USA and Germany. I've no idea who you are, but thanks for regularly stopping by. Zdravstvujtye, Howdy and Gutentag.

The one where I don't get hit by the boom!

I'm just going to warn you now that this blog contains extreme levels of smugness. Whatever you thought I was capable of before, triple it. In fact, if you're reading this at work on Monday morning then, in all honestly, I'd advise that you stop reading now.

Right, I prepared you. So no getting uppity about my boasting, 'kay?


Last Sunday I was woken up by my little sister at 9.30am. I felt so sick I had to turn down a bacon sandwich and it was my third night on the trot with very little sleep. This Sunday I woke up naturally at 7.30, had coffee outside whilst looking out for wallabies, then packed a bag for a days sailing.

That's right, I spent yesterday sailing on a beautiful yacht in the coral sea. More specifically, racing a yacht around Magnetic Island. Well I say sailing, I spent the day falling over everywhere and trying to not get in anybody's way. Which for the most part I did a fairly good job of. I'd joke that my job was to 'look pretty' sat on the stern, however of all the words to describe what I looked like for most of yesterday 'pretty' would not be one of them. Although I defy even Christina Hendricks to look nice slathered in suncream, wearing an old demin skirt, with hair scraped back under a baseball cap. Oh, and sweating quite a lot ('perspire' isn't quite a strong enough way to describe how you feel under the midday sun).

The sun directly overhead

To be truthful, I can quite happily forego looking good in exchange for a day on the waves. Although I'm not going to pretend like I didn't put my summer dress back on and powder my entire face the second we got back on to dry land.

Anyway. As I mentioned in my previous blog (I think, I can't remember what I put in it because of the jetlag) Mum and I were invited to sail in a race by a lovely couple, Mick and Val. We were joined by four other crew members which thankfully meant that I didn't have to pitch in. Not in a selfish way - when you are taking 40 seconds to tack a novice sailor would be a hindrance as well as a danger. Instead I sat happily on the stern and watched what everyone was doing. I'm definitely going to learn, and even after a day I've started to pick things up. Ish.

The race began at 11, and the crew spent about half an hour getting to know the boat and each other; practising tacking so we could start strongly. The boat was really heeling so I had to make sure I switched sides along with the crew. On our first go, I tried to do it without holding onto any of the sheets (that's what us salty seadogs call 'ropes') and the boat came up to meet my knee as I went to put it down. -Whack-. Ouch. It took about ten seconds for an impressive lump and bruise to appear but I bit my lip, feeling rather foolish that I'd managed to injure myself without actually having any sailing business to worry about.

When the crew had settled in (and I'd started to get sea legs) we were off to the starting line. There's something both terrifying and thrilling about the start of a race, as boats come within feet of one another and everyone tries to get in the best position. Most of the boats sail regularly, and there are various leagues and tables for the sailing season so there's lots of rivalry and competition. We took a tack away from the island, and that put us in a good position for the rest of the race. As we swung round and put out the spinnaker (check me with ma sailing lingo) our speed really took off, and we could all have a rest (I was obviously exhausted) and enjoy the surroundings.

My face was NOT fit for photographs...

There was a magical moment when a dolphin or two appeared and everyone stopped to look. It was nice to see that even the aussies still found that special - I can't imagine ever getting over the novelty of seeing creatures like that in the wild.

The rest of the race passed smoothly, although one boat behind us caught a gust with their spinnaker and heeled so far over we wondered if they'd capsize. It was a bitter rival, so there was quite a large amount of schaudenfreude involved.

We came 4th, which everyone seemed pleased with; Mum and I had obviously proved our worth, and we're racing with Mick and Val again next week to Herald Island. It's a five hour race, and we stay over for the night with a BBQ and bonfire on the beach. I think we're going to sleep on the deck under the stars - but there is a cabin with our names on if the weather turns! One of the things I was most upset about missing was bonfire night, so it's quite funny that I'm going to end up having such an amazing experience - and a bonfire! - on November 5th.

I feel pretty lucky that I've got to have such brilliant opportunities so soon after moving here, but it goes to show that getting stuck in combined with the Aussie generosity is an excellent combo. When we landed on Wednesday Mum pointed at the little white dots in the bay and said, 'Oooh, I can't wait until we're out there!', but we didn't expect to be out there this fast! Everyone on the boat couldn't believe Mum and I had only been here for 4 days; to tell you the truth neither could we...

Most of today has been spent with admin tasks (and no procrastination in the form of swimming or skyping at all) so not much to report. Unless you want to hear a detailed account of CV tweaking and RSA researching? No?

Happy Monday!

A sleepy blog

It's been a very busy few days on this side of the world, trying to get everything sorted before Mum starts work on Monday. I didn't even manage a morning swim today (though I did make it up later on...).


Friday morning was spent sorting out and picking up a car. Thrilling, and necessary. Fortunately that meant that we could start exploring, and we managed a drive up to the top of Castle Hill to see the views. Even with quite a bit of haze the views were amazing, and it made us realise how big Townsville actually is!

Next on the 'to do' list was handing in CVs in a shopping centre called Willows, as someone from the hospital had told me her friend owned a shop and might be hiring. In true Aussie spirit she was amazingly friendly, and though she didn't have any vacancies she did reccommend some places that did.

Unfortunately my jetlag wall decided to hit at about 5pm. I've moaned about the jetlag before but, oh my, it was nothing compared with how I felt last night. I honestly can't quite remember a lot of yesterday afternoon and evening, and I went through stages of total euphoria and absolute depression. Sometimes within a few minutes. Thankfully I was able to remind myself that I was horribly sleep deprived, otherwise the madness could have been far, far worse.

However, being the trooper that I am, I bucked myself up enough to attend a social evening at the local sailing club (yeah that's right. Local sailing club). Sure, I asked for a red bull from the bar in a similar way that James Franco asked for water at the end of 127 hours, but I managed to make conversation with lots of people. I think. My Mum and I must've had our best charm hats on anyway, because we were invited to help crew a boat for a race around magnetic island on Sunday! I'm sure Mum will be fine, but given that I haven't even sailed a toy boat for years don't be surprised if tomorrow's blog just reads 'hit by a boom'.

After we eventually managed to leave (they were a very friendly bunch!) mum and I managed to keep our eyes open enough to skype my cousin Helen and her daughter Kira who didn't believe that she could 'see us over the internet'. Obviously being an adult I had to prove a child wrong. Once that task had been accomplished I fell into bed, and was very pleased with my only waking up twice during the night.

(Yes that's right. I've become a baby. When I finally sleep right through I'll be cracking open the champers. It took me 3 weeks to do it as a baby (I was an amazing baby) so I'm hoping to beat that.)


No leisurley breakfast today. Cornflakes were shovelled into mouths and we were out early to try out the Aussie tradition of garage sales. Basically car boot sales, but not conveniently located in one place. In fact, the Aussies were very confused by the concept of car boot sales. On our list was a bike (for me) and a coffee table (to replace the cardboard box covered in a towel we currently use). Alas, the few that we visited seemed to only be selling childrens bikes; while having not cycled for years I'd be happy with stabalizers it wouldn't be very comfortable.

One friendly family advised that we try cash converters, and it proved to be a good tip because I got myself a bike for only $80. Sure, I nearly fell off trying it out but I'm sure with a bit of practice I'll be navigating my way to Cairns in no time...ahem.

After a 'big shop' from Coles I had obviously bugged mum enough because we drove down to the beach. It's such a way of life here - people turning up after work for a quick dip and an hour in the sunshine. There are huge public BBQs, and you can see groups of family and friends pitching up with their 'eskies' filled with food. Why sit in your back yard when you can sit on the beach?

Exhausted from sunbathing (-smug face-) and a swim we came back home to a dinner of kangaroo steaks, salad and red wine. Yum.

I keep worrying about not having found a job yet, and then having to remind myself that we've only been here for just over three days...not long at all. We've been on the go so much that it honestly feels like over a week. I do feel like we're starting to settle into the lifestyle, and we're certainly getting to know the town since we've been able to drive around. After thinking that living close to the sea would be prohibitably expensive, Mum discovered that actually we should be able to which is nice. I'd trade a pool for the sea, even in stinger season.

Fingers crossed that this makes some sort of sense. I'm very sleepy right now. Defs the jetlag and not the red wine and G&T. To all, a good night.

Things I always knew but didn't -really- until I got here

Once again I'm tapping this sat outside. The humidity is up once again and even at 8.30 it's getting incredibly warm.

1. There is wildlife fucking everywhere. And most of it can kill you.
So far we've had a wallaby jumping about on both mornings, a salty has just been captured in the bay, we've had warning about stingers in the water and brown snakes in the grass, there are ants that bite all over the patio and last night I found an inch long insect sitting in the middle of my bathroom floor. It's like living in a zoo when all the creepy crawlies have escaped. This is a crappy webcam picture of my back yard (the rails keep the crocs &c out, but not the bush turkeys):

(My Mum has loads of snaps on her blog. I've not got organised properly yet.)

2. Aussies are the friendliest people you will EVER meet.
The lady who set up our bank accounts genuinely offered to lend us her car for two weeks while she was on holiday. It took us extra time to do everything yesterday because everyone wanted a chat. The man is telestra gave us real estate advice, the woman in medicare taught me how to avoid snakes, the woman in Woolies told us how to get home... No one ever seems too busy to help you out or have a chat. There seems no suspicion of intentions - "why wouldn't I want to help someone out?". A boring day of '1. bank account, 2. Medicare, 3. Internet/phone' was made a lot of fun because of the people we encountered.

3. The NHS is a thing of wonder.
It's not until you go through the rigmarole of registering with medicare here that you realise how lucky we are to just be able to walk into a hospital or doctors and receive treatment without worrying about the cost.

4. Vegemite tastes nothing like marmite.
I know this because marmite makes me want to hurl and I've just had vegemite on my toast for the second morning in a row. Admittedly I spread it quite thinly.

5. While lovely, the Aussies are sometimes very odd.
Mostly through advertisments. Every other one is for life insurance or funerals. There was a sign in woolies that said 'Why pay $10 for a BBQ chicken?!? Our chicken is only $9.88!!!' with no sense of irony. And of course the brilliant quarantine video and airport 'peadophile' warning.

6. Everything here is beyond expensive.
Everything. At least 30% more than the UK. It's like London prices with a little bit on top. Yesterday a lunch of a piece of lukewarm lasagne served on a plastic plate with a crappy coffee cost £9 each. Even subway costs a bomb.

7. You have to wear sunscreen at all times.
Apparently 1 in 3 Aussies will get skin cancer at some point. Yesterday we bought some sunscreen that was being sold by the litre. It's got a little pump on the top. No messing about.

8. They love The Queen.
Honestly, I thought they weren't that fussed here. But there's loads of excitement about the visit, which I didn't expect to see. It's really lovely, and I shall continue to make a toast to HRH before dinner.

9. Some stereotypes ring true.
Although here I'm referring to us. Mum and I have both brought over our own tins of tea (hers being twining Earl grey and mine being English breakfast purchased from the Buckingham Palace gift shop). The aussies don't get it. You really start to notice your accent too and odd little un-Australian quirks.

10. Australians don't speak English.
They really don't. I don't want a schooner, I want a pint. Root means 'shag' so asking someone 'I need to go shopping, can you advise me on the best route please?' means something totally different. Though I may forget to know that purely for my own entertainment.

11. My Mum lies on her blog.
There were no tampons in my bag, but it made for a better story. I didn't scream about the bathroom bug, I calmly went to get my mother to sort it out for me like a proper adult. I suspect I will be publishing more retractions (on her behalf) in the coming months.

12. Jetlag is awful.
It really is. I was so bloody cocky before, but after yesterday evening when we almost couldn't function and waking up at 4.15 this morning I admit defeat. It's really, really horrid.

Today will be spent: getting a car, doing a proper shop and handing out CVs. We're also going to a social for the local sailing club tonight. Given that by 5pm yesterday we were dancing around Big W with coathangers because we actually felt drunk with fatigue, it should be interesting.

Once again though, all this will commence after my morning swim.

G'day mate...

...and welcome to my first Aussie blog. I'm typing this as a sit outside on our little patio listening to various birds make strange sounding noises (that's not a nice way to talk about your mother you say, ho ho ho). It's just before 7am here and it's pleasantly warm, though it feels a lot more humid than it did yesterday. I've just glanced up into the bush behind our house and seen something move. Fearing for crocs (we're close to a very large river) I shot up and looked around. Not a croc. A wallaby. A little hoppy wallaby just casually bounced into the area behind our house. Mum managed to get a few snaps, just as proof that I'm not making this up.

But we made it. Sure, it took 28 hours and three flights across ten timezones, but we flew with Emirates. And I'm really never going to complain about it taking five hours to get from London to Edinburgh again.

For starters, we almost didn't get on the plane. Feeling very sad and weepy, I was giving Mum a hug rather than concentrating as I went through security, thus forgetting to take my makeup and laptop (and other electrical goods) out of my hand luggage for inspection. Cue a very understanding security man (who took one look at my red rimmed eyes and decided I wasn't a terrorist, or if I was then not a very good one) who bagged up the liquids for me properly and scanned everything I owned for bomb dust (or similar).

(I've now just had a weird bird wander into our yard. No idea what it is but there's tons of them. They look like really rubbish turkey's with black feathers and sunset heads. It's like living in a zoo. I've now been told they're an actual breed of turkey. Weird.)

Our first seven hour 'hop' to Dubai was OK. I had a window seat which always makes me happy (mind of a child) just a shame that Emirates decided to turn the heating up to volcanic levels. This was made all the more enjoyable by the heating vent by my feet which not only meant that I couldn't stretch out, but also that I felt hotter than anyone else. At one point I genuinely poured water over myself to cool off. We also had the pleasure of squeezing past an odd man sat on the aisle who preferred to not get up when we wanted to get out. He'd also opted for an eight hour wait in Dubai before a connecting flight to Mumbai rather than going directly from heathrow because he 'only lives 20 minutes from Birmingham so it's so convenient'. Strange man.

After an hour or so in Dubai (where I thouroughly enjoyed an iced lemonade) we got onto our blissfully quiet fourteen hour marathon to Brisbane. If we'd drawn the short straw on our previous flight, we had the longest straw in the world on this one. It was so quiet we managed to get three seats each to stretch out on. Heaven. I had books on my kindle, thousands of films, music and TV shows on my little telly screen and red wine on tap. Really darling, you haven't lived until you've watched a thunderstorm from 30,000 feet while sipping merlot and listening to Debussy. Probably one of the most pretentious things I've ever thought or felt.

Having dreaded the flight it was really very enjoyable. I'd have happily stayed on for a few more hours. But after a short film about Aussie quarantine laws (featuring a woman being stopped by a sniffer dog to apple in her hand luggage!!! And another woman (sexist) getting caught by the X-ray machines attempting to smuggle in...a wooden african drum!!!) we had to disembark. We spent most of the immigration queue laughing about the apple smuggler so obviously the one person on our flight to be stopped by the sniffer dog at quarantine would be my Mum. She was let off, and is still certain that the dog could smell her 'double long haul flight without a shower' aroma.

My favourite airport warning sign goes to: "It doesn't matter where you are in the world, peaodophilia is still an Australian crime'. I'm really not sure that they meant it to imply what it appears to imply...

Most of the little domestic flight to Townsville was spent reading and lauging at Australian Sky news. They spent ten minutes talking about HRH the Queen's superb choice of hat. I also had no idea that the Aussie's were so fond of our monarch, it made me feel a lot better about my new choice of home.

Townsville greeted us well, with low humidity and blue skies. Having not experienced proper hot weather for four years, it took about an hour after moving in to go for a swim. That's right, our complex has a pool. -smug face- Feeling sleepy after our five lengths (and not because of the jet lag) Mum and I went for a sleep.

Waking up after an hour was hellish beyong belief. My body did not want to comply and thank God mum was there to wake me up or I'd have slept straight through.

It's very disorientating to not have the use of internet or a car. We'd been provided with milk, bread, butter, jam and tea (basically an Enid Blyton picnic) but had nothing in the way of 'food' food so we went for a walk to forage. Well, we didn't find a shop but we did find a little complex with bars and a cafe right on the river. Deciding that alcohol has fed us more than vegetables anyway we opted to stay for a drink. I was delighted to find they had strongbow (which is much sweeter here) but very confused by the option of a 'schooner' or a 'pot'. Thankfully Mum speaks the lingo and translated for me.

Saints be praised there was an offie nearby, so we got some tonic for our gin and some medicinal red wine to go with our dinner of Pizza Hut pepperoni. Yum.

Exhausted, I sloped off to bed at 9. I've been pretty skeptical about jet lag, feeling more concerned about the tiredness than waking up. So I was rather surprised to find that when I woke up feeling rejuvanted it was only 90 minutes after I'd turned off the light. This pattern repeated every couple of hours but I did manage to sleep until 6am which is pretty good for a first timer.

I'm not feeling too homesick at the moment, but I imagine that'll kick in in a couple of days. It's hard to not be able to connect with people instantly, so I'm keen to get internet sorted sharpish. I need skype back in my life. At the moment everything's so new and exciting that feeling sad isn't emotionally possible.

Anyway, that bring us up to now. Breakfast is finished and the wallaby has run away. I had some vegemite which is nothing like marmite because marmite is THE DEVIL and vegemite is quite nice if spread thinly. We're pretty much unpacked and I have pictures up and all of my leaving cards on my bedside table. I sent over the tea I purchased at Buckingham Palace and Mum has her twinings earl grey so that's OK. Today we will hopefully get a car and look into internet. Plans are being made to clear the yard and to perhaps drive up to Mission beach next weekend.

But before all that, I'm going for a morning swim.


So we've arrived safely after our epic 28 hour journey and are settling in well. I've written a proper blog about what's been happening thus far, but as we've not got internet in the flat (I'm on one of the computers in the hospital offices) I can't post it!

The weather here is amazing, the scenery is spectacular and a wallaby joined us for breakfast this morning. So rest easy, I'm doing OK.

Although when I woke up this morning and went outside my body said 'mmm, have an afternoon beer'. I told it no, and had a cup of tea and some vegemite on toast instead. Thoguh I'm not sure if that's jetlag and being out of sync, or just my body generally.

Peace x


So, it's really happened. October 24th has actually arrived. In just over 12 hours I'll be on a plane that's lifting off the tarmac at Birmingham International. Three planes and 28 hours after that I'll be touching down at Townsville airport.

How long after that it takes my Mum and I to make it to the pool in our complex I've no idea, but looking at the forecast (-smug face-) and given that I've not been on holiday for 4 years, it probably won't be long.

I've had to say goodbye to some bloody amazing people over the last few weeks. Thank you to everyone who's made the effort to say goodbye - I see the separation sadness as a good thing. Not being upset about saying bye to people would be a pretty awful reflection on my life! I've become pretty accustomed to crying on public transport because I always seem to be getting on a bus or train right after. Can y'all start saving for your airfares please? Thanks.

The whole 'emigrating' thing is pretty scary, actually a lot more so than I thought it would be. I've wanted to run away and have adventures for as long as I can remember though, so it is a sort of nervous excitement. This has been on the cards for so long that I just want to be on my way now.

Anyway, I should probably stop talking rubbish and start my packing.

Skype you soon...


Earlier, I freaked the f*ck out because a teeny tiny spider crawled onto my bed. Literally screamed and flapped around like a proper girl. My fear extends to an inability to even look at pictures of spiders. It actually makes me nauseous and JUMPY.

(As I typed that I felt something on my leg. Due to the nature of what I'm writing my mind said SPIDER and I ended up dropping my laptop. Smooth.)

My Mum think's it's hilarious to take pictures like this and pretend they're real. (For those of you not able to see that pic - it's a massive spider ON MY MUM'S HAND. She told me it had come in through the window at her friend's in Australia. Lies. It's a dead one in a museum. She once captured a massive house spider, put it in the sugar pot and put it next to me on the table after giving me a cuppa. Bitch. It's a good job that that's the only real child abuse I can recount in 23 years.)

I managed to let a teeny spider crawl on my hand at Bestival, mostly because I was so very drunk, but even then it made me feel all sick and awful afterwards.

London Zoo run an arachnophobia course, which comes recommended by Claudia Winkleman, but I can't go on it because, 1. It costs £130, and 2. I've no time left.

So what's a girl to do? We can laugh all we like, but for those that have ever seen me in the company of an arachnid you'll know that it's not something I find funny. Regardless of how much I'll joke. And how much of an idiot I look freaking out.

Seriously. I'd rather be locked in a room with a weeping angel than a spider.

Will it all get better when I'm out there? Or will I end up living a life that involves me checking under the toilet seat in a blind fear every time I need to go?

Tips welcomed. Unless they are sarcastic tips that involved links to pictures of spiders. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Ding Ding! Round Two with Paxo

Note: I typed this on the internet point at conference and it seems it didn't post. Enjoy hearing from my past self.

Some of you may remember my triumph (ahem) on Newsnight last year. Well, for some reason they wanted me on again. Despite my protests of "No, no. I won't put my hand up this year", I did, because I'm a gobby cow and Phillip Hammond pissed me off royally about the EU.
Anyway, Paxo was nice to me this year. So all is forgiven. Until, possibly, tonight when I'm on again. I'd recommend watching - it's going to be 80 women and Boris Johnson. Genius.

For those wishing to laugh at me, I'm about 25 minutes in... Enjoy the way they CUT BACK TO ME when I least expect it.

Post Edit: I didn't get my oar in on Tuesday. I did, however share a lift with Paxo. I smiled, he raised his eyebrows. It was all very awkward. Which, as those of you who know me well will expect, I absolutely loved.

1st October 2006

Everytime I think about how scared I am about leaving, I re-read my diary entry from my first day at University:

I hate it. My flatmates are lovely - Sarah is mad, Beth is quiet but reminds me of Soph and Rosie seems cool. But I'm just so homesick, the thought of being here for three years is too much and it depresses me. I want to go home so much, I would even be happy to go back two years and do my A-levels all over again. My future here is just so uncertain and I don't like it. The only time I felt peaceful yesterday was when I forgot I was leaving [home]. I'm crying now and I shouldn't be - I'm a student, I've dreamt of this for the whole of my life but the reality is so far away from my conceptions of it - in my mind I didn't miss home this much.

(Now, ignoring the lack of paragraphs and First World Problems tone of the entry, I think we can see that I wasn't such a happy bunny on my first night away from home. At all. Most people celebrate their first night of freedom by throwing up on a one night stand; I ate pesto pasta and moped.)

I then like to read the next entry, a week later on Sunday 8th October:

Can't believe it's only been a week. I feel so at home here and so happy with my mates. When I think about how much I hated it when I first got here......I must have been mad.

The rest of the update is primarily concerned with boys and drunken stories, so I've left that bit out. No one wants to hear my 18-year-old self's thoughts on those matters.

To summarise: Yes, emigrating is shit scary. But I'm pretty sure I'll be OK. Aus won't require me to write essays about Kant and has lovely weather. The same cannot be said about my (beloved) University city.

(I've honestly not made this up. If I had, trust me, I would've made my younger self sound far more eloquent and worldly wise.)


So, I'd reported previously that my flights were booked.

This was a lie. Although I did think it to be true at the time.

It turns out that it's not just the UK that has you tearing through layers of red-tape at every level.

Our travel request had to be authorised by 'The Institute' (sounds scary, no?), then the hospital's Executive team, then the travel office, then back to our lovely travel booking lady to confirm that we're still okay with arrangements before they could confirm the flights.


Anyway, we're now all booked and ready to go. Ticket-and-visa-wise anyway. So I say to those of you hoping to stop my departure with a last-minute declaration of love: put down the guitar and cancel the roses... It's done.

But in the words of America's 8th best politician: I'll be back.

I'm homeless...

...well not really. But I did have to move out of my beautiful, beautiful flat yesterday *sob*. It does feel strange to be typing this in my dad's house, because I do feel like I'll actually be going back 'home' later on today.

Alas, someone else will be in my room (which could make thing a bit awkward if I turn up) and the contract's expired and everything. So for the next two weeks while I work my notice, I'm going to be couch surfing with some rather lovely people.

But after that, I'm officially homeless and unemployed. This should probably scare me more than it does. Hurrah - finally my complete lack of responsibility pays off!!!

In other news, I've managed to drive through central London and get myself to the Midlands in one piece. This might not sound like an achievement, but when you've driven twice in the last three years it certainly feels like one... Now, only 140 more miles back down south to go. Wish me luck.

The Epic Bestival Post

Bestival. The Besttilllastfestival. (Apparently that's where the name comes from.) In my mind, it's because it really is the best festival I've ever had the pleasure of attending.

Perhaps the circumstances surrounding my Bestival trip should be explained. I've wanted to go since...oh...this time last year, and I'd planned to get a ticket if money allowed. Unfortunately, when my Aus trip was confirmed I figured that £175 for a ticket with spending money on top was probably not a good way to use my money. So I listening to my friends get excited, watched my flatmate get his fancy dress sorted and tried to use the dismal weather forecast to make myself feel better.

My lovely friend Helen, however, came into some luck. When she went to buy a last minute ticket on the Friday the seller refused to take her money, and instead handed her two free tickets and told her to have a good weekend. Being the absolute diamond that she is, I got the option of nabbing the free one. However, this meant ditching my other lovely friend Pete who was down for the weekend; after I ummed and ahhed for about two hours I think he got sick of me anyway and insisted I go (it turned out pretty well for him anyway...).

So after a night out in Camden I found myself drunkenly booking travel tickets at 4am, grabbing three hours sleep and sprinting for a 10am train. I had a sleeping bag, cider and a ticket, but I
didn't have wellies, fancy dress or..well...anything else you probably need for festivals.

I'd planned on sleeping for the entire journey, but got chatting to a lovely couple who thankfully were also attending (and knew what they were doing) and helped me find my way to the festival site. We were all getting the hovercraft, and I was very excited. However you can't actually see much so while it looks pretty cool, it feels like you're on a very bumpy train. Getting the ferry back way way more fun, even with a hangover.

Hovercraft view!

I arrived just as the heavens opened and poor Helen got soaked coming up the massive hill (if you've been then you'll know!) to meet me with *the ticket*. Then it was straight to the orange overflow campsite to give everyone a nice surprise...ME! Thankfully everyone seemed happy to see my face, and once the tent was up and we'd smeared our faces with glittery paint we were off.

First up were the Villiage People. Trust me, you haven't lived until you've stood in a field with 40,000 people all doing the YMCA. Yes, it was just blokes prancing around to a backing track, but who cares? If you watch the Villiage People hoping for a genuine music experience you're probably a bit of an idiot. Y'know, the sort of person who thinks Cher Lloyd is proof that the X Factor "works". We all enjoyed ourselves immensely, even though we watched the mayhem from behind this amazing Beastie Boys costume:

The man in a bag is supposed to be cocaine...

We then had a little rave in the Big Top, before taking in some comedy in the Caberet Tent. The highlight has to be a stage invasion by Tony Law's gorgeous kids during his act. Judging by the laughs they got I reckon he'd better watch out...

The evening started with The Cure who were OK, but really not as good as I expected. We decided to sneak off and catch most of Annie Mac's set. Again, she was ace but not mind blowing. Still, Helen and I happily raved about in the mud until we found a worse-for-wear Frazer being propped up by Zena.

We wound our merry way around the site, investigating anything that took the interest of Frazer the puppy (little 'in joke' for you there). This eventually led to us finding ourselves in a Wedding Disco, which was bloody amazing.

Wedding Disco!

At about 2am we decided to head back to the tent. Exhausted by our long days (and nothing to do with alcohol at all) we fell to sleep pretty much instantly, safely snuggled in our small-but-perfectly-formed tent.

Lovely teenie weeny tent!

Sunday started with breakfast (which included potato salad...I've no idea either), face paints and cider. We started with the Drums on the main stage. I'm not a huge fan but I did enjoy their set, though with last-day-of-the-festival atmosphere building I would've danced to anything.

Kelis was on afterwards, and was a really great surprise. I'm not a 'fan' fan, but I'll dance to milkshake with vigour after a few ciders (as you do). However she really was great, and played a blinding set. Talking to others it seems they were as surprised as me! Bravo, Kelis. And not just for the snazzy top hat/corset combo.

We pushed up the hill and through the crowds to nab a decent spot for Noah and the Whale in the Big Top who (luckily) lived up to the hype (although, my favourite moment came before they came onto stage when an orchestral cover of Bohemian Rhapsody lead to an enormous sing along. Honestly, sometimes the DJs between sets at Bestival were more fun than the acts themselves.) Anyway, NATW were brilliant. They commanded the crowd and proved why they're achieving so much success. Top notch.

As it was heading towards dinner time our little group decided to have some food back at the campsite (read: drink some cheap alcohol) before Robyn. However, we then found Alice and Frazer who had disappeared off just before NOTW had started. It turns out they'd spent a fun filled two hours in the medical tent. I can't think why, but we all suspect that drinking 5litres of Country Manor 'wine' during Kelis may not have been such a good idea after all...

Bag of 'wine'. The worst thing? This was my mum's festival tip...

After finally locating my flatmate Ash we headed to Robyn via a few campsites, arriving just in time to hear Call Your Girlfriend and Every Heartbeat. (Frazer insisted on staring at me lovingly throughout the latter, and then made me go all weepy with his drunken sentiment. Thanks Fraze.) Despite the cider-induced emotion I really enjoyed Robyn. She's got a cracking voice and everyone in the crowd seemed to be having a good old dance - pretty much the opposite of The Cure.

Now we had to wait for Bjork, an act I'd been pretty skeptical about. My main memory of her is basing my GCSE art piece on her 'fashion disasters', mimicking the Warhol disaster series (I got a C). But, my God, that freaky Icelandic nut job was insanely good. Perhaps it was the David Attenborough intro; perhaps it was the crazy choir that joined her on stage. Whatever it was, it worked. On that Sunday night in a field on the Isle of Wight, everything about Bjork suddenly made sense.

After 90 minutes of pitch perfect weirdness Bestival 'ended' with a huge firework display. It's hard to convey how happy we all were in that moment: watching sparkly shiny things go pop to a background of Queen and The Horrors, reflecting on a fucking brilliant weekend. It was one of 'those' moments when you think, 'I'll keep that filed away for the nursing home.'

When we'd finally dried our eyes, we decided to follow Ash to the Rizlab where we were excited to find there were FREE PONCHOS to be had. Quite lucky, given how hard the rain had started to come down. Still, at least we look pret-ty coooool in them.

Rather quickly the rain became a little too wet and we escaped to the covered safety of the Big Top and Mr FatboySlim. Some of us (Ash) were sceptical about how good he'd be. Some of us (me) were confident that it would be beyond incredible. Of course as we all know, women are always right. It was blissful, even though the converse/mud combo made it nigh on impossible to dance properly.

RIP Converse

There was a moment when everything faded out, leaving only the voice of Liam Gallagher singing 'wonderwall' blaring over the crowd as we all tried to join in. It was magic - who would've thought that the best part of a dance set would contain nothing but a vocal track? I also never thought waltzing in the mud to classical music at 2am on a Sunday would be a good way to finish off the festival. But, somehow, it seemed fitting.

I'm not going to pretend that getting back on Monday was fun, or that the thought of a hot shower and toilets with a sink to wash your hands in didn't almost make me weep with happiness; that weekend was probably one of the best I've had. This is the first time I've not cut off my festival wristband the second I've got home, and that's got to tell you something.

So thank you Helen, and the lovely man who gave her the free tickets. Thank you Pete for letting me ditch you (with love in my heart). Thank you to everyone in our camping group. And thank you Rob de Bank, for masterminding the whole Bestival idea.


I'm going to end on a photograph and a song. Here you go:

Both seemed fitting.