Mighty St. Michael’s Mount looking miserable in the mist from Marazion makes me think it might be time to stop wearing shorts and ask the Renault Clio to take me home. Especially after last night’s disturbing tale. Click here to read it:
Mighty St. Michael’s Mount looking miserable in the mist from Marazion makes me think it might be time to stop wearing shorts and ask the Renault Clio to take me home. Especially after last night’s disturbing tale. Click here to read it:
A British tourist has made a disturbing mistake on the last leg of her cartwheeling tour around Cornwall.
Caroline Gough has stayed in a variety of pubs and guest houses all along the Cornish coastline and believed herself to be quite an accomplished and experienced guest.
However she admits that perhaps experience has led to complacency. “That might be the only way to explain what happened,” she told us.
After checking into her Penzance accommodation, Caroline completed her bedtime routine and placed the all-important “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of her bedroom.
“Imagine my surprise when my peaceful slumber was disturbed by a large amount of clattering and the tuneless singing of “Is this the way to Amarillo?” all before 8 o’clock in the morning.”
“In an absolute rage, I shot out of bed, only to discover a builder standing on scaffolding outside my third floor bedroom, shouting about how much he loves himself to his builder mate below and to everyone else who had previously been enjoying their holiday lie-in.”
“Then I realised my mistake. I had put my Do Not Disturb sign on the bedroom door instead of hanging it out the window. Tonight I shall clamber up the scaffolding to hang the sign in a place where the builders will clearly see it. I’m sure they will treat it with the utmost respect and wait quietly and patiently in their van for me to wake up before they start their tuneless singing and relentless banging about.”
Everyone knows I love to go to a West End theatre, but this time it was the West End of Cornwall. I cartwheeled at Porthcurno on my way there and I wrote a story too:
The cushion had been in the living room for longer than anyone could remember. If you were to ask anyone who had lived in the house in recent years where the cushion had come from, or how it came to be here, nobody would be able to give you an accurate answer. But it was unlikely that the question would ever be asked. Nobody considered the cushion important enough to warrant a conversation.
Other cushions came with a story. One was a present, one came from the Range, another had been created by Caroline’s Mum using silk paints. But this cushion had nothing.
Occasionally it visited the washing machine, at Christmas it was hidden inside the cushion cover of a surfing Santa. Other than that, it simply existed from day to day, week to week, year to year.
Until one day in September, when it was plucked off the sofa and tossed onto the back seat of the Renault Clio.
“What just happened?” asked the other cushions. No cushion had ever left the house before. And if a cushion was going to be picked for something special, surely one of the more beautiful cushions would be chosen. The cushions assumed the worst. They suspected they would not see their old companion again.
The next day the adventure began. The cushion remained on the back seat. The radio was played, songs were sung, Caroline regularly revisited the same road several times and circled roundabouts more than once in her quest to try and find the correct route. But the purpose of the cushion remained unclear.
Days passed. Weeks passed. The more beaches that were visited, the sandier the car became. The cushion concluded that Caroline must be on a mission to pick up enough sand to create her own beach back in Georgeham. But if there was a mission that the cushion was supposed to be completing, it was impossible to work out what it was.
And then finally, it happened. The day began like any other, with Caroline sending the Renault Clio off in the wrong direction several times before eventually arriving at the beach she was looking for. The cushion remained in the car next to the ever-growing collection of recycling and the stack of books which were going to require some serious de-sanding before they were returned to the library. But in the evening, instead of driving back to the latest guest house, Caroline sent the Renault Clio climbing up high to what seemed like the edge of the world, and then took the cushion out of the car.
“This is it,” thought the cushion as they neared the edge of the cliff. “She’s going to hurl me off of the edge!” But Caroline merely wanted the cushion to pose for a photo, to compare the turquoiseness of the cushion with the turquoiseness of the sea.
Next Caroline and the cushion joined a queue and descended many stone steps and suddenly the cushion understood. They had come to the world famous Minack Theatre to see a production of “Pride and Prejudice (sort of!)” a comedy version of the Jane Austen novel.
“How marvellous” thought the cushion. “She does love me. No other cushion has ever been taken to such a prestigious event. I must be her absolute favourite cush…” but the rest of the cushion’s thoughts were squashed as Caroline placed it down on the seat and sat on top of it.
The show was brilliant. It was starting its UK tour after a successful run in the West End. The audience laughed and clapped, and had a wonderful time. But the cushion missed everything. Squashed between Caroline’s bottom and the hard stone seat, it missed all the jokes, all the songs and all the action. It wasn’t until the very end when Caroline leapt to her feet to join in the standing ovation, that the cushion even got a proper glimpse of the stage, but by this point the cushion was too suffocated to care.
That night the cushion sat sadly in the car, gradually regaining its shape and hoping there were going to be no more trips to the Minack Theatre. Sitting on the backseat being neglected was far preferable.
That was the end of the cushion’s story. The rest of the trip was unremarkable. The cushion remained on the back seat and Caroline cartwheeled on her beaches. When it was time for the adventure to end, Caroline and the contents of her sandy car made their way back to Georgeham. The cushion was tossed back onto the sofa with no sentiment, no suggestion that it had been an important part of Caroline’s Cornish Road Trip, even if only for one night.
“Oh,” said the other cushions. “You’re back. Did you have a nice time?”
The cushion hesitated. How to strike the right balance? Admitting the truth, that the cushion had spent 22 days travelling 128 miles just to be sat on would make the cushion a laughingstock. Pretending to have been an integral part of a glamorous exciting road trip would make the other cushions jealous. Either way the cushion could be ostracized for years.
“Yes,” said the cushion. “It was okay.”
The cushions seemed satisfied with this answer. And life carried on. The cushion remained on the sofa. The books were returned to the library. The sand was vacuumed out of the car, only to be replaced very quickly by different sand from Devon beaches. Caroline and the Renault Clio continued to take the wrong turning every time they went somewhere new.
And nobody spoke of the cushion ever again.
Today’s cartwheel comes from Gwithian Towans beach, where I watched seals sleeping, contemplated whether or not Gwithian would make a good name for a future hamster, and then surfed until the sun went down.
A surfboard from North Devon is thrilled to have been given his own bedroom after several weeks of living in a car.
The surfboard, known to his friends as Kevin, is currently road tripping around Cornwall where he has enjoyed riding the waves at several surfing spots including Fistral Beach, Polzeath and Gwithian Towans.
“When I’m not surfing I have to recline on the passenger seat,” explained Kevin. “Caz only books single rooms so there usually isn’t any room for me.”
This week however the road trip has taken Caz and Kev to a caravan park where the mobile home they are staying in has two bedrooms.
“It’s quite a small room,” said Kev. “I can imagine if two teenage brothers spent a week sleeping here, the room would be filled with arguments and terrible smells. But for me, it’s perfect.”
You can spot them all a mile off
The tourists who visit St. Ives
Cos they all wear shorts and smile much more
Than they would in their usual lives
I selected my prey quite early on
Doing cartwheels down by the sea
And I thought “I like the look of her
I hope she’s staying for tea.”
She went out on a boat trip first
Then she swam in her bikini
Without a second glance at me
The brazen blonde haired meanie
But finally she got hungry
And then I got my wish
When she sauntered out of the takeaway
With lots of chips and fish
She found a spot upon the sand
I swooped down to say hi
She said “you’re getting none of this
So go away, goodbye!”
I could not believe the rudeness
When she’d made me wait all day
She opened up the box of food
I thought “it’s time to play.”
I quickly hopped towards her
But she’d met my type before
She ate a chip, then closed the box
“Right,” I squawked “it’s war.”
“You know you can’t eat all those chips
And sharing would be kind
But if you won’t play nicely
I’ll attack you from behind.”
I calmly stood behind her
Out of mind and out of sight
Until she took another chip
And went to take a bite
I flew in and attacked her
I grazed her bottom lip
And victory was all mine
As I flew off with her chip
She wasn’t very happy
Said things I won’t repeat
And quickly grabbed the flip flops
That had once been on her feet
She threw a shoe towards me
As the blood dripped down her chin
And said “you won’t get another
I’d rather throw them in the bin.”
I didn’t like her sentiment
I knew just what to do
I raised my head and squawked out loud
So my friends would join me too
We formed a circle round her
And squawked and hopped about
She wasn’t very happy
Of this there was no doubt
We didn’t get another chip
But I still think that we won
Cos she was quite annoyed with us
Whilst we were having fun
And when her trip was over
I watched her from afar
Then flew ahead and left
A giant present on her car
Seeing as I have spent the day in the arty town of St. Ives, I thought I would try to make today’s cartwheel look artistic!
Four days into the Cornish adventure and everything is beginning to smell a bit damp. So far I have been to Bude, Boscastle, Tintagel, Port Isaac and Polzeath and at each location the rain is slightly heavier than it was before. When I go in the sea, it rains so much that there’s no point getting out of the sea. When I do get out of the sea, the towel waiting to dry me is far wetter than I am, despite being placed in a supposedly waterproof rucksack. Every time I visit a town or attraction, I spend the first half an hour in the car park, willing the rain to stop, the next half hour exploring my new location in the rain, and the final half hour back in the car, wriggling out of wet clothes and into dry clothes whilst trying not to flash the steady stream of walkers passing by.
Consequently, the long-suffering Renault Clio has turned into a portable drying rack. Clothes and towels are carefully laid out in every available space so that they dry in the sun. Except there is no sun. So everything stays damp and the Renault Clio is beginning to smell worse than a 12 bed dorm in a youth hostel.
We’re currently having some time apart, the Renault Clio and I, because everything I need for the next three days is in walking distance. The Renault Clio is sulking in a car park and I am living in what feels very much like the set up for a really good episode of Midsomer Murder. It’s a village pub which has been owned by the same family for 42 years. Three generations live here, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, grandparents, and if this was Midsomer you know that everyone would be locked in a bitter feud because the daughter-in-law wanted to change the menu, and by the first set of adverts she would have been found floating in a giant vat of tomato soup.
However it was a different television show that brought me here… Malory Towers! If you were brought up by my Mum, then Enid Blyton was as big a part of your childhood as learning to do a cartwheel, and I was at least 30 by the time I realised not everybody’s Mum had championed pointed toes and the Magic Faraway Tree quite as much as mine did.
During the first lockdown in spring 2020, Mum phoned and asked if I was going to be watching the new remake of Malory Towers that afternoon.
“No,” I said. Why would I? I was 39 not 9. But she sounded so excited about it that I decided to give it a go. And I loved it. The writers and producers have done a magical job of keeping the charm of Malory Towers whilst making it seem relevant to today’s world. There have been three series so far and I have been enchanted by them all.
Do you want to know a secret? The real reason I came to Cornwall? Yes, I did want to see all the beaches but that wasn’t the main reason. The real reason was this:
I wanted to swim in the Malory Towers swimming pool.
I first read about it when I was still at primary school, this idyllic turquoise sea pool cut into the rocks where all the girls frolicked and swam and had midnight feasts. I wasn’t sure that such a place could really exist, but then the BBC found it and brought it to my TV screen and instead of thinking “wouldn’t it be nice to go there one day?” I decided I actually would. According to Google, the Malory Towers swimming pool was less than a ten minute walk from the Midsomer pub.
Not that anybody was very forthcoming in how to actually get there. The Midsomer pub family smiled and said how lovely it was, but couldn’t provide any specific directions, the lady in the farm shop simply beamed at the apparent loveliness of the sea pool and said “you can’t miss it”. Turns out you can if the tide is in because the sea covers it up completely. With no humans able to give me proper directions, Google Maps was my best bet.
It had poured with rain throughout the night and the beach path was full of muddy brown puddles. I edged round them all and was then met with more than ten metres of squelchy thick mud, currently being negotiated by two jolly looking pensioners with walking poles. I waited for them to work their way through the mud before tackling it myself.
“Ah,” said the lady, looking me up and down as if I had been presented to her as some sort of puzzle that needed to be solved. “Now let’s see.” She shook her head. “No. I don’t think you’ll be able to do it. Not in those shoes.”
What was she talking about? These were what I call my adventure shoes. They had seen me round the roughest terrains of Australia and New Zealand, and more recently they had kept me safe on the slippery rocks of Tintagel. Surely they weren’t going to fail me on a muddy beach foot path?
“Now we’ve had to come out, because we’re on our way to get some milk,” she said, making me marvel at just how rural a place this was if pensioners had to navigate squelchy mud with walking poles whenever they needed a pint of milk. “But if I were you I’d go straight back home again.”
When I explained that I’d come a long way especially to swim in the Malory Towers swimming pool she instantly brightened. “Oh it’s lovely,” she beamed, just like everyone else I had mentioned it to.
“Is it that way?” I asked, gesturing beyond the mud, because there was no point squelching through it if I wasn’t even in the right place.
“Oh yes,” she said. “We’ve just seen it. But I don’t know if you should go in. I don’t want you to end up on SOS Rescue. Not when you’ve got such lovely hair. I’d hate to think of the men having to pull you out of the water by your lovely hair.”
Really? I’d never seen SOS Rescue. Is that what happened? People got dragged out of the water by their hair? Surely there were better more sophisticated ways of rescuing people from the water?
“I don’t think you can get to the pool from the top,” said the husband. “I think most people go over the rocks. Your best bet is to come with us and then go down to the beach and over the rocks.”
And so the three of us went back in the direction I had come, back through the muddy brown puddles, looking down at the beach the whole time, at the gigantic stretch of rocks which did not look like they would ever be much fun to climb over, but especially not when they were slippery from last night’s rain which was threatening to come back at any moment.
“Ah,” said the lady. “No. I don’t think you’ll do it. I think your best bet is to go back along the path, through all that mud and see if you can get down from the cliff top.”
Were these people employed to walk along the beach path accosting tourists and taking them off in the wrong direction?
No! It turned out that these people were tourists themselves and the fact that they had no clue about the local area was not going to stop them meddling in the plans of other tourists.
I bid them farewell, set off back through the muddy puddles for the third time, squelched through the slippery mud and eventually came to the pool. Which looked neither turquoise nor idyllic with the drizzle beating down. Nor did it look very accessible. There must be a way though. If the BBC could get a whole camera crew down there, if scaredy cat Mary-Lou and drama queen Gwendoline Mary Lacey could get down there, if the entire first form could get down there in the dark with all the essentials needed for a splendid midnight feast, then surely I could get down there in the drizzly daylight.
A large group of people were sitting on benches eating sandwiches. I addressed them all and asked if they knew how to get down to the sea pool.
What was I thinking? Had I not learnt my lesson from the Jolly Pensioners? No local is going to be sitting on a coastal path bench eating a sandwich in the drizzling rain. These people were tourists. They probably knew even less about the pool than I did.
“You gotta ask the guy in the green jacket,” said an American accent, and even though several of the group were wearing green jackets, I found the correct green jacket and asked him how to get to the pool.
He showed me a little opening in the cliff beyond which were lots of rocks that you were supposed to climb down to get to the pool.
The drizzle had turned into a more forceful sort of rain, and I wasn’t ever so thrilled with the idea of descending down slippery rocks even with my adventure shoes, but I was even less thrilled with the thought of coming all this way just to say that I hadn’t swum in the pool, and so down I went. Tentatively and slowly. I put my bag in the place where it was least likely to get blown away in the wind, got dressed and cautiously got into the water.
Giant waves were crashing over the far edge of the pool and I was scared that if I attempted to swim even half a length, a wave would crash over me and take me out to sea.
And so less than 10 seconds after getting into the pool, I got out again, got dressed and made my way slowly back up the rocks, through the squelchy mud and the brown puddles, thinking that coming to Cornwall to swim in the Malory Towers Swimming Pool should be put in the same category as meeting your favourite celebrities – disappointing and not recommended.
Suddenly a lady with two long pigtails trotted up to me, looking every inch the Malory Towers Sports Captain despite being at least 65. “Did you enjoy that?” she asked in her Jolly Hockey Sticks accent.
No, I absolutely did not, I wanted to reply, but before I could think of something more diplomatic to say, she jumped in. “You were awfully brave chancing it in such challenging conditions. Why don’t you come back again tomorrow before the tide comes in?”
Because tomorrow’s weather forecast looks even worse than today’s, is what I wanted to reply but this lady was the sort of person who asked you questions and then carried on talking without giving you a chance to reply. Five minutes later, she trotted off, satisfied that our conversation had come to a close despite the fact she hadn’t given me a chance to answer any of the many questions she fired at me.
The next day I woke up with a new determination. I hadn’t come all this way for the sake of 10 seconds. I put on my wetsuit and my adventure shoes and headed off to the pool smiling a cheerful good morning at all the walkers in their waterproofs and pensioners buying milk. I splashed through the puddles, squelched through the mud and reached the top of the cliff where two ladies were wearing crocs and Dry Robes and clinging to the rocks at the top of the cliff in terror, just like I had done less than 24 hours earlier.
“Have you done this before?” they asked me.
“Only once,” I said.
They breathed huge sighs of relief. “Amazing. We’re going to follow you.”
Goodness knows what the Jolly Pensioner would have said if she’d seen these two ladies negotiating the slippery rocks in their crocs, but down we went, slowly and tentatively, except I found that now that I’d already done it once before and was with other people who mistakenly believed I was an expert at visiting the pool, I wasn’t quite as slow or as tentative as I had been the day before.
The Croc Ladies followed me as I waded into the water and we glided happily up and down the pool, and when they got out and made their way tentatively and cautiously back up the rocks, I carried on swimming and floating and daydreaming in the water for at least another hour, although time does seem to work differently when you are in an Enid Blyton novel.
And then for the briefest of moments the rain stopped, the sun came out, the water went turquoise, and for that tiny sliver of time it really was the idyllic, turquoise paradise that my nine year old self had dreamed of.
Bounced back to beach life today after yesterday’s bad brain and thank goodness I did because the sun finally came out! Today’s cartwheel comes from Kynance Cove – which has been on my bucket list to visit ever since it popped up as the “like what you see?” photo on my laptop welcome screen.
Today’s cartwheel comes from the archives. Long Covid doesn’t go away just because I’m on holiday and today my brain has been bad and gone through the whole shutdown and reboot that it does when I have done too much. So today’s cartwheel comes from last Friday in Holywell Bay and here’s hoping that tomorrow I wake up to full cartwheeling strength once more.
Today’s cartwheel comes from the intriguingly named Lusty Glaze in Newquay. What is a Lusty Glaze? And why are we not pluralizing the Lusty Glaze when we have more than one of them?
Today’s cartwheel comes with lots of love from Great Western Beach in Newquay
Today’s cartwheel comes from a very wet and windy Polzeath.
Today’s cartwheel comes from Summerleaze Beach in Bude.
With all the first day of term photos flooding social media, I thought I would add my contribution….
There have not been many cartwheels in Cazmania this year. I started the year literally on top of the world, skiing in Cervinia, watching fireworks light the sky over the Matterhorn as the new year dawned. By the 2nd January I’d already been to Switzerland, Italy and England, more countries in 2 days than I visited in the whole of 2020 and 2021 put together. I joked that I’d started the year on such a high, it could only go downhill from here.
I was right!
I walked out of my classroom on 21st January, feeling great, looking forward to the weekend with absolutely no reason to suspect that I had just worked my final day at school.
Covid hit that weekend, the pings were coming thick and fast, letting me know that I had been in contact with yet another positive case. It was no surprise when I woke up dehydrated and headachey on Sunday morning with a satisfyingly thick purple line on my antigen test.
But it was a surprise when everyone else got better and I didn’t. During the isolation period I kept in touch with all my friends in the Covid Club, they had good days and bad days, and I thought I was just the same, sometimes I would lie on the sofa with the headache from hell but other days I would clean out 4 kitchen cupboards and be super pleased with myself.
But as everyone else started testing negative and going back to their lives, I did not. My immune system isn’t the best, maybe it was natural that I would need a few more days than everyone else before I was back to normal. But a few more days turned into a few more weeks and then a few more months. I kept thinking “next week I’ll be better” but next week never came.
The year has gone by in a sleepy headachey blur. I had planned to lose a stone this year, instead I’ve gained an extra one. My brain has been the worst. I haven’t been able to read novels for most of this year, let alone write my own. Even the most normal things: a walk on the beach, a hot chocolate with a friend, a dash around the supermarket, would have to be paid for later, usually two hours of sitting on the sofa in a foggy trance waiting for my brain to shut down and reboot itself.
It’s not over. Sometimes it feels like it’s over but then I do too much and tumble back down to square one for a few days or weeks. I’ve been back to my classroom and visited my students a few times. They treat me like a celebrity now that they don’t see me every day. I always have the most wonderful time but then spend the next three days recovering.
And so I have made the brave/crazy/stupid/sensible/sad/exciting decision to quit my job! Nobody knows how long Long Covid actually is, but it makes sense to me that I will get better faster if I spend the next year as a lady of leisure, doing things that make me feel well.
So tomorrow, instead of being a classroom, greeting my students as we begin the next academic year together, I will be packing up my car and setting off on a road trip. Cornwall is only down the road from me, but with Putsborough Beach on my doorstep I have never needed to venture any further. This year though I am going to make the most of not being tied to school holidays and do things I wouldn’t usually do, kicking off with a Cornish road trip. I will take it slow and steady and hopefully not do anything to trigger another tumble back to square one.
This is the first piece of writing I have done since before covid. I’m sure that this year of adventures will throw up many more things that I want to write about and I hope I will be well enough to do that writing. I am also expecting to cartwheel on a different Cornish beach every day for the next 21 days, but unless I make a friend who is good at fast action photography I will only be able to take a photo of the beaches, not the cartwheels!
Watch this space!!
A hamster from North Devon has made the record books by becoming the first hamster in the region to undergo a hysterectomy.
Tinska Octavia Gough first hit the headlines back in June 2021, when her uterus fell out unexpectedly. Since then it has fallen out a further five times and Tinska has become quite the celebrity at the emergency vets.
Speaking to us from her palatial residence in Georgeham, Tinska said “It was quite a busy June and July with all those late night trips. It’s a good thing I live with a night owl.”
Night owl Caroline said “Much as my body clock is programmed to stay up late, round trips to Roundswell are not how I like to spend my evenings. Tinska’s uterus would always wait until at least 10pm before it fell out. She was always treated like an absolute princess at the vets, who declared her to be the nicest hamster they’ve ever met, whilst due to covid rules, I had to wait in the car park, hoping my hamster was still alive and calculating how much sleep I would be able to get before waking up to go to work the next day. We never got home before 2am, and the week it happened twice in three nights I was so tired I accidentally poured the milk directly into the packet of Cornflakes instead of the cereal bowl.”
The late night trips had quite an effect on Caroline’s bank balance. “Not a lot of people know this, but if your hamster’s uterus falls out after 10 o’clock at night, it costs £159 to put it back in. Apparently it would be cheaper at 10 o’clock in the morning, as that is considered a much more sociable time for a uterus to fall out.”
Caroline and Tinska were told that they could save money by putting the uterus back in by themselves with vaseline and a cotton bud. “I really wasn’t keen on that,” said Tinska. “We did try it, but I just didn’t like it. The only time it worked was when Caroline’s friends Katie Lola and Mira were visiting from London, then there were enough people to cuddle me and syringe milk (my favourite drink) into me so that I almost didn’t notice what was happening down below.”
Whilst Tinska’s uterus remained in tact for the whole of the summer holidays, it then fell out again to coincide with Caroline’s first week back at work in September. “It was particularly bad that time,” said Tinska. “There was blood everywhere. I’d never seen blood before. It doesn’t taste as nice as milk does.”
It was decided that the only option was for Tinska to have a hysterectomy. “Previously the vets had advised against this,” said Caroline “because giving anaesthetic to a hamster is quite a risky thing to do. Also no vet in North Devon had ever done a hysterectomy on a hamster before, nor had the qualification to do it. So Tinska was literally going to be a guinea pig.”
Happily, the operation was a huge success and Tinska emerged from the operation missing not just her uterus but also an entire underside of hair. “I didn’t know I was going to get shaved as well,” she said. “It was a bit chilly for a couple of weeks whilst I waited for my hair to grow back.”
Caroline’s bank account is very pleased that the ordeal is over. “With all those vet trips and then the final operation, that uterus has cost more than £1000. Which is crazy when you consider a hamster uterus isn’t even as big as a penny.”
Tinska said “Being a guinea pig for the day was quite dramatic. I much prefer being a hamster.”
Two fingers from North Devon are furious after being forced to take part in a covid study that they had not consented to.
The fingers, who reside on the right hand of 40 year old Caroline Gough explained: “Caroline signed up to be in a covid survey last September. People turn up on the doorstep about once a month, ask her questions about how many people she’s hugged recently, and then she does a swab test. It’s not something we’ve been directly involved in because the left hand does all the swabbing. We do know that the tonsils and nostrils are not very happy about these visits. We have always made a conscious effort to stay well out of it.”
But yesterday morning, the two fingers found themselves thrust into the spotlight when they discovered that they were to be stabbed in order to produce a blood sample for antibody analysis. “It came out of nowhere,” said the middle finger. “The left hand stabbed me with a hidden needle and then spent several minutes squeezing the life out of me, collecting all my blood in a test tube. When I dried up and had nothing left to give, my next door neighbour was then given the same treatment. It took at least fifteen minutes to fill up the tube. We now each have a painful puncture wound. We are very upset.”
In a separate interview, the left hand fingers told us: “we are on the dominant hand. On a daily basis, we have to use a range of important tools such as toothbrushes, pens, teaspoons and television remotes, things that the right hand fingers can only dream of. We can’t afford for any of our members to be injured, so it was obvious that the right hand fingers should take one for the team. What else do the right hand fingers actually do?”
Whilst the right hand fingers are trying hard to forget the traumatic ordeal, the left hand fingers had further information: “We actually signed the form giving consent to do monthly blood samples for at least the next 12 months, but in reality it could be closer to twenty-four,” they divulged smugly. “So this is only the beginning.”
A nocturnal pair from North Devon were crowned winners this weekend after the Linguistic Board of Cazmania unanimously declared them to be top of the leader board in the category of “Most Unexpected Sentence of the Week.”
Tinska Octavia Gough, and her owner Caroline both have naturally nocturnal body clocks, and they regularly stay up late even on a school night.
“Usually we watch TV together, scamper about in the hallway, eat strawberries, the usual sort of thing,” explained Tinska. “Then she goes to bed and I run in my wheel and check that there are no predators in my tunnels, not that I actually know what a predator is. Our usual activities would never win us any sort of linguistic award.”
But things took an unexpected turn on Friday night when Tinska’s uterus fell out.
“We watched that incredibly underwhelming football match between England and Scotland just because we thought we should,” said Tinska, who is happy to support England, even though she is of Syrian descent. “And then suddenly Caroline was frantically typing things into Google because she noticed that there was this bright pink thing hanging out of my vagina.”
Following a phone call to the 24 hour vet, Caroline and Tinska quickly got into the car and set off for Roundswell.
“That was exciting,” said Tinska. “What with this pandemic, neither of us have been as far as Roundswell since 2019. I ran in my wheel all the way just to help the car go that little bit faster.”
Luckily the vet was able to pop the uterus back in and everyone is very much hoping that it won’t pop back out again.
“Tinska has brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘just popping out for a bit'” remarked Caroline.
A spokesperson for the Linguistic Board of Cazmania, which monitors all verbal and written communication said: “Never in the whole history of the question ‘How are you?’ has anyone ever responded with a comment about their hamster’s uterus before. The board were impressed with the originality and uniqueness of the What’sApp message and would like to wish Tinska and her uterus all the best for the future.”
With a CRUNCH and a CRACK
The peace was SHATTERED
The phone went dead
My nerves were battered
Not the Easter
I eggspected to see
But not for me
The phone got trapped
In a place with no name
Look at the photo
And join in the game
Can you guess where it went?
I think that you might
Now click on the link
And see if you’re right!
A British chocoholic who was expecting to win big at an Easter Sunday online bingo game has had her chances scuppered by her faithful travelling companion, the Renault Clio.
Caroline Gough, who had spent a happy afternoon at Putsborough Beach in North Devon, was about to complete the seven minute car journey home to join the bingo game when she momentarily put her mobile phone on the roof of the car in order to open the boot and place her bags inside.
The motion of opening the boot encouraged the mobile phone to slide down into the previously un-named space that nobody ever thinks about where the roof of the car joins the boot.
“I couldn’t get it out,” said Caroline. “It was wedged in perfectly. This is something that the car manufacturers don’t tell you about. I bet Which magazine has never done an article about which cars are most likely to kill your Samsung Galaxy.”
Caroline realised that the only way to release her phone, was to close the boot, but knew this could be dangerous. “If I left it where it was, I’d be in the ridiculous situation of having a phone I could never use and a boot I could never close, but if I took steps to release the phone, I knew the pressure of closing the boot might kill it.”
There was an almighty crack as Caroline closed the boot, and she feared the worst as she extracted her phone. “It was completely smashed at the front and the back,” she confirmed.
Luckily there was a screen protector on the front of the phone. Caroline got several shards of glass stuck in her finger as she peeled off the protector. Despite bleeding profusely from her forefinger, she was thrilled to discover that the screen was still in tact.
“The battery had gone completely,” she said. “I took it home and plugged it in. It was too traumatised to do anything at first, but eventually it declared itself to be on 6% and continued to rise throughout the evening. Obviously by this point I had missed the online bingo and all that lovely chocolate I was destined to win. The Calorie Gods are just not smiling on me this Easter, because as well as missing the Bingo, I bought a pack of hot cross buns from Sainsbury’s last week, and it wasn’t until I got home that I realised I had picked up the reduced calorie ones by mistake.”
The Renault Clio said “I am thrilled to hear that Caroline missed the Easter Egg Bingo. I am well aware that she had already eaten several Easter Eggs before Easter even began and I do not need her adding any more weight to the car when she gets in. I have been a faithful travelling companion for Caroline for twelve years now, and every day I feel more and more used. She never tells me where we’re going, she frequently abandons me in a car park with no idea how long it will be before she comes back. She parked me in someone else’s garden for nine months whilst she went travelling, didn’t even tell me she was going and expected us to pick up where we left off as soon as she got back. Not to mention the time she left me festering in her own sick juices for a week whilst she went swanning off to Lanzarote. I’ve had enough.”
The Renault Clio went on to divulge that when Miss Gough realised a photograph of her car would be required for this article she hastily washed it, but only the side that was going to be in shot.
“The rest of me is muddy, dusty and covered in bird pooh” grumbled the car. “But after twelve years of living outside Caroline’s various houses, this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from her.”
A family of next door neighbours got more than they bargained for when they snuck down to visit their second home during lockdown restrictions.
Instead of a peaceful and relaxing night in their idyllic home from home, they were subjected to a two hour performance of musical hits sung by their next door neighbour Caroline Gough.
Caroline who teaches at a local school was celebrating the end of term with a spot of vacuuming and karaoke.
She told us “Back in the old days before Covid-19, the end of term would generally involve a night out with colleagues. Pub, food, dancing…. that sort of thing. Now that all of those things are illegal I instead injected all my end of term energy into cleaning my house.”
Night Owl Caroline explained “Because I tidy to music, it’s not long before I get sucked into the world of musical theatre, abandon the messy house, put on my backing tracks and start singing.”
Caroline’s one woman show, which consisted of a eclectic mix of songs from musicals throughout the decades, did not have an interval and continued until the early hours of the morning.
Whilst some of the songs were within Caroline’s vocal range, others most definitely were not. “That’s the beauty of living by myself in a street full of holiday homes,” she said. “Nobody can hear you screech.”
However, unbeknownst to Caroline, the next door neighbours had popped down to enjoy a peaceful Easter weekend at their second home.
“I didn’t realise until the following morning,” she explained. “Depending upon where you get your advice, visiting second homes is quite possibly forbidden, or at the very least frowned upon. It’s a bit of a grey area, but certainly black and white enough for the neighbours to have hidden themselves and their car incredibly well. You wouldn’t know they were there unless you lived next door.”
Caroline considers herself to be a good neighbour who would never knowingly vacuum or sing when other people might be sleeping. Regarding the events of last night she told us: “Although some of those notes I hit should never be heard by another human’s ears, I don’t feel mortified because if I’d known they were there I wouldn’t have done it.”
Unsurprisingly the neighbours were not available for comment.
This year my Mum was tasked with recreating the cake she made for my 5th birthday. She says you got a lot more Matchmakers in the box back in 1986.
I decided not to dress up as a nurse this year!
A British birthday girl has woken up feeling very refreshed after a night of not celebrating her 40th birthday.
Caroline Gough would usually have celebrated a milestone birthday with a Saturday night party, but in line with current coronavirus restrictions has stayed at home instead.
“I feel great,” she said. “There is no Sambuca or Apple Sourz in my bloodstream, so I haven’t woken up with a banging headache. It’s illegal for anyone to come into my house, so I didn’t have to spend all day tidying for twelve overnight guests who needed somewhere to stay after the party. Nobody was sick in the taxi on the way home and I haven’t got to spend the day fretting because someone I forgot to invite has seen the photos of us having fun plastered all over Facebook.”
Caroline also found that organising the caterers, venue, entertainment and guest list was a lot easier than in previous years. “It was just me and Tinska in the living room with Midsomer Murder, a bit of salad and a lot of chocolate,” she said. “Then I went to bed before midnight and she stayed up running in her wheel and eating peanuts.”
This morning instead of having a huge sleep and drinking several pints of water, Caroline went paddling in the sea and chatted to the birds in her garden.
“I am looking forward to seeing my human friends again one day,” she told us. “I’ve now had two birthdays, cut my hair and grown it back again since I saw the majority of them. I can’t wait to go and give them all a gigantic hug just as soon as the time is right.”
A fortieth birthday has been thrown into chaos amidst speculation that the birthday girl is in fact a year older than she believed herself to be.
Caroline Gough from Georgeham in North Devon grew up believing that she was born in 1981, however the recent discovery of a hospital bracelet has thrown some confusion onto the subject, as it looks as though the date has been amended.
Caroline made the unexpected discovery in the loft during February half term.
“I used to spend my weekends and holidays enjoying theatre breaks, catching up with friends or going skiing,” she told us. “But thanks to the pandemic, I now spend my free time in the loft sorting through dusty unforgotten boxes.”
Caroline was surprised to find that she still owns her entire collection of maths exercise books from secondary school, and even more surprised to discover that she once understood how to solve a simultaneous equation and got 91% in a trigonometry test. But the hospital bracelet was the biggest discovery of the day.
“I’d understand if my birthday was on the 2nd or 3rd January, because people are still getting used to writing the new year,” she said. “But by the 11th March, you would think the year was old enough for midwives to remember to write it correctly.”
Caroline assumed she could quickly clear the matter up by What’sApping her mother, however she was somewhat baffled by her mother’s ambiguous response.
“She’s neither confirming nor denying that I was born in 1980 or 1981,” said Caroline. “Instead she is attempting to make me believe that it’s not possible to get pregnant whilst being a teacher in Luton, but I am sure that many people do.”
“If I am a year older than I thought, this means my entire life has been completely different to how it could have been. Should I contact my old PE teacher and tell her that every time the Under 14 netball team won a tournament, we should have been disqualified because one seventh of the players was actually 15? If I’d been in the right year group, would I have met the love of my life when our eyes met across a crowded Year 10 science lab? And as for passing my driving test, that’s a whole extra year I spent catching the last bus home at 10:23pm when my friends were still in the pub. Not that they would have even been my friends, because they would all have been in the year below.”
As parties are currently illegal in the UK, Caroline is not having a proper celebration. “I was disappointed at first,” she told us. “But now there’s the obvious relief that I’m not going to have to tell everyone that they need to go back to the shop and get balloons that say 41 instead of 40. I’ll be celebrating at home with Tinska the hamster and she hasn’t learnt to count yet, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”
What happens when Boris announces another lockdown? Everyone goes Christmas shopping. The pubs sell off all their beer at crazy discount prices, and everyone makes the most of being able to go out and see their friends and family before getting locked down for another month. The restaurants and pubs were as busy on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before lockdown as they had been on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays in August when we were Eating Out to Help Out.
And it wasn’t just the shops and the pubs that squeezed in as many socially distanced customers as they could before lockdown, all the hairdressers stayed open until 10 o’clock every night as well.
I don’t have a hairdresser. I am nobody’s loyal customer. There is no Tania or Sandra or Julie who is going to move heaven and earth to fit me into an already full calendar just because I ring up at the last minute pleading for an appointment. I nearly didn’t bother. I thought they would laugh down the phone if Random Caroline phoned up wanting an appointment before lockdown. But then I looked in the mirror at my eyebrows and eyelashes that haven’t seen a hint of tint since January and the long blonde hair that’s getting a bit too long even by my standards, and I thought I should at least try.
Have you seen me? My hair is long and blonde. It spends a lot of time in the sea. It’s not as if I can plug a hair straightener into a nearby rock after every surf to make my hair look good again. It needs to be low-maintenance. During my 39 years on this Earth I have learnt that when I am stupid enough to let anyone cut my hair shorter than my shoulders, it will spring up and do a terrible impression of pretending to be a thick and unattractive bush all around my head. It looks absolutely glorious for the first three days because the hair dresser will have tended to it with an expensive pair of fancy straighteners, but then I wash it, the magic of the straighteners is washed away, and the giant unwieldy bush quickly takes formation.
I am not a morning person so the last thing I want to do is add any extra minutes to my morning routine by having to use hair straighteners, especially when I then spend the rest of the day wondering if I remembered to turn them off, or if I will arrive home to find that my house has burnt down.
Therefore I have learnt that there are only two styles of haircut that I can get away with – long hair, and even longer hair.
This is what I explained to the hairdresser at 6pm on the Tuesday before lockdown as I settled into the seat for my 6pm slot. I told her I wanted long layers. I showed her where the layers should be. She asked about definition around my face, I said yes, as long as I can still tie my hair back. We made a plan, and then she completely ignored our plan and did all of the things I didn’t want her to do.
Clearly, definition around my face is the part she was most excited about, because she has incorporated so much of my hair into creating the definition around my face that there was almost no hair left to make up the long layers… you know, the bit I actually wanted.
Obviously I didn’t realise this until later on, so we chatted kind of happily whilst she destroyed my hair. The room was filled with socially distanced hairdressers and customers, all wearing masks and all talking about covid.
“I guess you don’t ask people about their holidays anymore,” I quipped.
Going to the hairdressers has always terrified me. Staring at yourself in the mirror, whilst trying to make polite conversation with a complete stranger who is in the process of butchering your hair. It’s not the best set-up for a flowing conversation. When I was a teenager I sat quietly, watching every other hairdresser and client deep in cheerful chat, assuming that one day when I was nearly 40, I’d be one of those people who could have a cheerful conversation with a hairdresser.
Now that I am nearly 40, I realise I will never be one of those people.
“Do you use a hairdryer?” she asked during one of the many lulls in our conversation.
“Not very often” I replied. She doesn’t need to know that my hairdryer is older than she is, that I got it for my 15th birthday, because when I was 14 and three quarters I had been to the hairdresser and got my hair layered for the first time and went through a very vague and very short-lived period of being slightly interested in hair and make-up. And that in the past 24 years, I have at no point seen any need to upgrade the hairdryer, mainly because it spends 97% of the year in the cupboard, 0.5% being used and the remaining 2.5% of the time sitting on the stairs waiting to be put back in the cupboard again.
“What I usually do,” I told her, “is set my car heater to cold air, put it on full and point it at my head. My hair is always dry by the time I get to work.”
“Oh,” she said, sounding quite surprised. “Nobody’s ever said that before. That’s a really good idea.”
“You should try it,” I said, knowing that she never will, but that every time she adjusts the heating in her car from now on she’s probably going to think of me.
It took her two hours to not put any long layers in my hair, as she concentrated on making almost every strand define my face. Then I had to run as fast as I could down the road to the beauty salon because my eyebrows had an 8pm appointment with someone called Poppy.
Usually I get my eyes done in London. I get a lot of satisfaction from telling people that I get my eyebrows and eyelashes done in London, because I’m not the sort of person who would ever go on a round trip to London just for the sake of an ablution.
The actual truth is that just like hairdressers I had never found a regular beautician. They were either really easy to talk to, but made my eyes look terrible, or they made my eyes look lovely but had terrible conversation. One accidentally spat on my face once, and we both left the spit sitting on my forehead, I was too polite to acknowledge it was there, and she was probably too mortified to wipe it off.
Then one day, just by chance when I was in London for a theatre weekend I had an hour to kill and eyebrows that needed attention so I had a spontaneous walk-in appointment with the truly wonderful Kim, who didn’t just make my eyes look amazing but also made great conversation and didn’t spit on my face once, and ever since that day, I haven’t even considered letting anyone else near my eyes. Having my eyes done with Kim is now as big a part of my London routine as going to the theatre and eating al fresco at Vespa.
Except of course, London theatre weekends are not happening anymore, and the tint that Kim put on in January disappeared months ago. So I was taking my chances and hoping that Poppy would be able to do a good job.
When I arrived, there was a loud conversation taking place. You know how sometimes when some people lose one sense, the others become more powerful? Well the lady on the bed having a treatment clearly thought that because her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see anyone, she needed to shout so that everyone else could hear her, and the beautician treating her, matched her volume by shouting back at her. Poppy was also shouting her own contributions to the conversation, so she ignored me as much as possible so that she could shout with the others.
Unfortunately they were talking about teachers. Shouty Lady 1 had four children, Shouty Lady 2 had three children and Poppy had two children. They were still absolutely outraged about having to home school their children during the first lockdown, and even though schools were not going to be closing during the second lockdown, they still felt they needed to spend a lot of time shouting to each other about how mad they would be if the schools did get closed again, how ridiculous it was that anyone should expect them to educate their own children, how teachers shouldn’t be sitting around on their arses when they could be on the front line teaching their children and how ludicrous it was that Henry and Delilah both got sent home for coughing and having high temperatures last week when there wasn’t a thing wrong with either of them, and clearly the teachers would just do anything they could for an easier life.
“So what do you do for work?” Poppy asked me, when there was a lull in the conversation.
I’d been prepared for this and I was going to lie. Except I’m not very good at lying.
“I’m a teacher,” I said, but it came out all squeaky and high-pitched, because it wasn’t what I’d been planning to say, I’d actually been concocting a brilliant story in my head about being a copywriter.
Well it was enough to kill the conversation. Shouty Lady 1 tutted, Shouty Lady 2 said something I couldn’t quite hear which was ironic given how shouty she had been in the previous conversation, and everything went very quiet for a very long and awkward time, until Shouty Lady 2 said “did I tell you that Melissa’s pregnant again?” and the three of them started gushing.
That was the end of my conversation with Poppy. I went home with my new look, and realised I was going to need to make the most of the next couple of days because as soon as I washed my hair it was going to be an absolute nightmare.
And I was right. It might have defined my face when it was straight, but now it springs up and flicks about in all directions. Just like it always does every time I’m stupid enough to go to the hairdressers.
So now I am doing the very thing I was determined to avoid, getting up extra early every morning, so that I can sit in front of a mirror straightening my hair, staring at my reflection, wondering how I can be nearly 40 and still be making the same mistakes I made when I was 17.
To the person who really wanted an appointment before lockdown and didn’t get one, I really wish you could have had mine.
And to everyone reading this who knows me… at least by the time I’m allowed to see you all again my hair will have grown a little bit longer.
If you have enjoyed this story, you might like to read the step-by-step guide on how to be the beautician from hell – based on a true story from my travels in Australia:
A busy British teacher who attempts to write stories in her spare time was surprised to find herself locked out of her own blog this weekend.
Caroline Gough from Georgeham in North Devon repeatedly attempted to access www.cartwheelsincazmania.com only to be told that she was forbidden from entering the site. It was only when friends from other parts of the globe reported the same issue that Miss Gough realised why everyone has suddenly been banned from visiting the site.
“Cazmania has gone into lockdown,” she explained. “If you look at the list of countries that are safe to visit, you will see that Cazmania is not on there. No country shares an air corridor with Cazmania. There aren’t any available flights to Cazmania. Clearly a very strict Travel Ban has been imposed on the whole of Cazmania.”
Caroline has been cartwheeling in her own back garden whilst the lockdown restrictions are imposed.
“What’s ironic,” she said “is that nobody will actually be able to read this story until Cazmania opens again. By which point it won’t be news anymore.”
In October I wrote a story about a car journey. You’ll remember if you read it because it no doubt gave you ever lasting images of me driving to Exeter airport in the middle of the night, vomiting the contents of what had once been a delicious lasagne all over myself and my car, and then having to leave the car sitting in sick juice at the airport for a week whilst I did a quick change in the mother and baby cubicle and then jetted off to Lanzarote wondering why when you’ve been sick it always makes your hair smell of parmesan cheese.
The entire incident has come back to bite me because on Friday I presented my car for its MOT. It went in at 8am, the idea being that it would be finished by 9 and I’d be in the sea by 10. It was after all the hottest August day on record since 2003.
No such luck. Sickgate had landed. I don’t usually introduce myself as “Caroline with the Renault Clio” but that became my name for the day during my frequent telephone conversations with the people at the garage. I was finally reunited with my car at 6pm after paying out the hefty sum of £582.08.
Why so much money? What could my faithful Tempest Blue possibly have done to accrue such a bill? Especially as she had been treated to three beautiful new tyres just last month.
Well it wasn’t her. It was me. Although I took the sick drenched car to the nearest valet place as soon as I landed back in England last October, what I didn’t realise was that the sick had seeped into a secure unit behind the steering wheel, and has steadily been corroding all the mechanisms for the last ten months.
The mechanic enthusiastically held up the two innards that he had taken out of the secure unit. “This is what was in your car,” he said cheerfully. I think I was supposed to notice the rust and corrosion but all I could do was stare in horror at the pieces of stale sick that were clearly welded to both parts.
There was a lot of mechanic speak, which I would struggle to understand in usual circumstances, but even less so with thoughts of sickgate whirling through my head. It was about then that it dawned on me that if I’d simply had a spare plastic bag in the glove compartment last October, I wouldn’t now be about to hand over the cost of, ironically, another week in Lanzarote to pay for the damage.
My car had obviously sparked quite a bit of interest at the garage, because even though it was 6pm on a Friday and they should have been heading home to start their weekends, two other mechanics came over to join the conversation, they were all quite enthused by the issues my car had presented. Clearly they don’t see that many ten month old regurgitated lasagnes corroding the mechanisms of a Renault Clio.
We didn’t mention the sick but surely they realised it was there? The mechanic was waving the innards of the car around in quite an animated fashion, which wouldn’t necessarily be advisable if you knew they were covered in stale sick, but perhaps he was now immune to it after ten hours of working with my car, or wanted it to fly onto me seeing as I’d produced it in the first place.
When I got home and deciphered the bill, it was clear that the mechanics definitely knew about the sick:
NSP – Nasty Sick Problem
SUMP – Sick Under Mechanisms, Probably
OIL – Oh! It’s Lasagne!
PLATINUM: Problem: Lasagne Attacked The Indicator. Now Utter Mess!
NSC – Noticeable Sick Corrosion
Support – the therapy required by all the mechanics who had to encounter the sick.
LLB – Lasagne in Light Bulb
But what is the moral of this story? Don’t eat a lasagne before you go on holiday? Always keep a sick bag in the glove compartment? If you throw up in your car make sure you trade it in before your next MOT is due?
Whilst writing this story, it occurred to me that I haven’t eaten a lasagne since Sickgate. It’s usually up there on my list of top ten favourite meals when eating out in Cazmania, but for the last ten months I don’t remember even seeing it on a restaurant menu. And lasagne is usually on every menu, at least it is at the pubs and restaurants that I go to. Presumably my subconscious has been blocking my mind from registering words like “lasagne” and “bechamel sauce” ever since the trauma of Sickgate.
But I can’t ignore it forever. And with the current trend of “Eating Out to Help Out”, maybe I should join in. It would certainly help me out to get money off a food bill after Friday’s unexpected expense. Perhaps I should go to a local restaurant and order the lasagne. I’m sure it will be delicious.
I would just have to make sure I didn’t get into a car for several hours afterwards.
If you have loved this story and can stomach some more tales of sick, you can find the original sickgate story “Why I’m not coming home” here:
This year on my 39th birthday, two fairly significant things happened. Firstly the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic, and secondly my dishwasher broke. A worldwide disaster and a personal inconvenience.
A broken dishwasher pales into significance compared to a world health crisis, so putting things into perspective, I decided not to look upon the dishwasher as a big deal. After all, some people get through their entire lives without ever having a dishwasher. I could survive a few weeks.
Turns out that I am rubbish at washing dishes, and in the four months and nineteen days that I have been without a dishwasher I have got worse, not better.
I used to wash up all the time. Warrens Bakery paid me to wash dishes when I was 16 so I must have been pretty good at it back then, and I did more than my fair share of washing up in some of the London and Australian flat shares I used to live in. It’s only since getting a dishwasher when I bought “No Tower View” ten years ago, that my brain decided to erase all my washing up skills to make space for learning something else (at 29 I was learning about mortgages and growing my first cucumbers, it seems reasonable that my brain could easily have deleted “dishwashing skills” to free up space for “home ownership” and “gardening” knowledge).
My reunion with washing up started quite badly as I ran out of Flo Gas soon after my birthday and had to survive 5 days of cold water and no heating before they could do a delivery. After that I was thrilled to be able to create bowls full of hot soapy water in which to put all my dirty dishes, but I much preferred leaving everything “to soak” whilst I went for my daily walk around the fields, rather than actually doing any scrubbing or rinsing myself. By the time I came back from the daily walks, the water was always cold and I had to start again.
Soon after my reunion with washing up began, I developed huge red sores all over my fingers and I decided that I was probably allergic to Fairy Liquid. It made complete sense. I hadn’t used Fairy Liquid for years, and now that I was using Fairy Liquid every day, my hands were having an allergic reaction. What didn’t make sense was that my toes had also developed the same red sores, but I figured that these had just come out in sympathy for the fingers.
The fingers and toes were waking me up every night, demanding to be itched so I eventually decided that I needed to tell a doctor about my fingers and had the fun of describing the current state of my toes and fingers to a doctor who was either working from home or taking my phone call whilst simultaneously having an appointment with several small screaming children in his surgery.
“What do you think is wrong with your fingers?” he asked as CBeebies blared loudly in the background.
What did I think was wrong with my fingers? I don’t know mate, I got a C in GCSE Science and left it there. I was thinking we might use your medical degree to find out what was wrong with my fingers. I babbled on for a bit about the Fairy Liquid and then he asked me if I’d been spending more time outside recently. I said yes, and he said perhaps I’d picked something up in the garden, but the only thing I’d been picking up in the garden was a good book, and I doubted that this was causing the drama.
He tasked me with the job of emailing him some photos of my fingers, and until that day, I had never realised just how difficult it is to take a photo of both your hands when you haven’t got anyone to help you.
However I needn’t have bothered, because this is the doctor who, no matter what you go and see him about, will always prescribe exactly the same tube of steroid cream. And that’s exactly what he did, along with a vague diagnosis of “some sort of dermatitis.”
I didn’t go and collect the cream because this was the exact time that the local pharmacy had hit the headlines for having four hour queues, which was not my idea of a good way to spend a sunny Tuesday, and by this point I had developed a cough and had started self-isolating. But I already had several tubes of steroid cream ranging from 2005 – 2019, all prescribed by the same doctor, so I just found one of those at the back of a cupboard and hoped it had a longer life than the expiry date suggested.
I asked the person doing my shopping to get me some marigolds gloves to wear for washing up, but unfortunately when they dropped off my shopping, I found my original list amongst the groceries, with the word “marigolds” heavily underlined, and written next to it in capital letters GARDEN CENTRE CLOSED!!!!!
So I started applying the out-of-date steroid cream, and continued washing up with naked hands, and eventually the red sores shrivelled away into little scars which I can still see today. My Mum when she saw them – through a window – diagnosed frostbite, and then several weeks later, it transpired that it wasn’t frostbite, dermatitis or a Fairy Liquid allergy, but most likely I had been suffering from Covid-Toe, a real but not often reported symptom of the coronavirus which, despite not giving fingers a title credit, does affect both fingers and toes, and looks just like my fingers did in the picture I sent to the doctor. Thank goodness I had been self-isolating with my cough at that time and had not gone into work or taken my covid fingers to stand in the four hour queue for the pharmacy.
Life continued. I worked from home, I painted walls, I read more good books, but at no point did I ever feel I had mastered the art of washing up. I regularly started making drinks or meals only to reject and rewash all the saucepans and glasses that I’d supposedly already washed and put away. Sometimes after doing a big shop I got carried away and cooked a meal using almost every pan in the kitchen, only to feel hugely remorseful later on when I had to wash them all up.
I wondered if I had developed cantwashupitis whilst travelling around Australia and New Zealand two year ago. Most backpackers are notoriously bad at washing the dishes, it’s rare you’d ever go into a youth hostel kitchen and pick up a plate or saucepan that you would be happy to use without washing first, perhaps it’s a contagious condition that we all pass around to each other whilst sleeping in communal dorms?
I regularly tuned into Boris’ updates to see if he was ever going to mention dishwashers.
“Go to work, but don’t go to work, stay at home, but go for a walk, wash the dishes, but don’t wash the dishes. Do the Hokey Cokey and order a dishwasher.”
Boris never actually mentioned the dishwashers, but the time finally came when white goods could be delivered again. When you went to the shop to look at the dishwashers, you weren’t allowed to touch them or open them to see inside, and no staff member wanted to come close enough to talk to you about the dishwashers, not when the two metre rule provided a great excuse to ignore all the customers and stand about chatting to their colleagues, so instead I stood next to each dishwasher and Googled to see what it looked like inside, which I could have done just as easily from the comfort of the turquoise sofa at home.
I picked a dishwasher and placed my order with great excitement. It was going to be delivered between 7 and 7 last Tuesday and my Mum was going to be on hand to take delivery of it if it came when I was still at work.
Remember when you were six and you couldn’t concentrate at school because you knew something exciting and unusual was going to be happening later that day, like your Grandparents picking you up from school or a favourite cousin coming to stay? Well that was me last Tuesday. So imagine how sad my six year old inner self was when the clock ticked to 7:01pm and the dishwasher hadn’t arrived yet.
And imagine how annoyed my 39 year old self was when she realised she was going to have to now wash up all the dishes that she’d purposely been piling up to “test the new dishwasher” on Tuesday night.
But, ever the optimist and the procrastinator, I decided all the dishes could continue to sit on the side, just in case the dishwasher arrived on Wednesday.
It didn’t. So on Wednesday night I entered into a fairy long term relationship with the store helpline (you see how kind I’m being by not mentioning them by name?). It took them more than three hours to answer the phone and I spent so much time on hold that by the time they answered, I had forgotten who I was calling and what I wanted to talk to them about.
Fearful that they would hang up on me if I didn’t say something soon, I quickly composed myself and remembered the situation.
Just to be told that the dishwasher was not coming, and they weren’t even sorry.
“Oh yes,” he said when I gave him my order number. “I can see exactly what has happened. You’re in the grey area.”
The grey area did not sound like a place where anyone would want to be.
“I can see that you placed your order on the 30th June. And that’s the day that we had a glitch and none of our orders went through.”
“Oh okay,” I said. “So why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Well because of the glitch,” he said as if I was struggling to understand something that was really quite straight-forward.
“Yes,” I said. “But you still could have contacted me to let me know it wasn’t coming.”
“No,” he said. “We couldn’t contact you because of the glitch. Obviously.”
“Obviously? But couldn’t you have just sent a message to all the people in the grey area just to let them know that their items weren’t arriving? Instead of letting us all sit at home waiting for something that was never going to come?”
“No, because nobody had successfully placed an order. So technically they weren’t actually customers.”
“Yes but we all thought we were customers. We all wanted to be customers.” Suddenly I appeared to be speaking on behalf of all glitch victims, not just myself.
“Yes but none of you actually placed an order.”
“But I’ve got an order number.”
“Yes, but your order didn’t actually go through.”
“So why did I get an order number?”
“Oh,” he said, quite cheerfully. “An order number doesn’t mean that your order has actually gone through.”
“So um…. if I order another dishwasher now, and I get an order number, how will I know if it’s a real order number, or if there’s been another glitch and I’m back in the grey area?”
“It’s always best to just give us a quick ring and check,” he said.
“A quick ring?” I exploded. “Do you know that I have been on hold to you for….” I took the phone away from my ear to check “three hours and sixteen minutes?”
There was a slight hesitation and then he said “it’s best to ring us at times when we’re not busy.”
“Okay,” I said. “So what time would that be?”
“To be fair we’re busy all the time at the moment, because of the coronavirus.”
“Right, so I need to hang up, order a new dishwasher, and then ring you back to make sure I’m not in the grey area?”
“Yes,” he said sounding absolutely delighted that the thick woman on the other end of the phone had finally got the point.
“Well I can’t do that tonight,” I said. “It’s already six forty-five. By the time I order a dishwasher and spend three hours on hold to you, your call centre will be closed won’t it?”
“Yes,” he said. “You’d have to call back before seven.”
As if he believed I would actually get through.
“Oh,” he said. “One more thing. After this call ends, do you mind staying on the line to do a quick survey to say how happy you are with the service you received today?”
“Yes,” I said, suddenly thrilled. “I would absolutely love to do that.”
“Oh great,” he said, sounding like he had absolutely no idea just how much of a slating he was about to get. “Thanks.”
So I left some fantastically sarcastic feedback and reordered the dishwasher. I paid an extra £20 because it was no longer on special, but I didn’t fancy another three hours on the phone waiting to see if anyone would have enough common sense or compassion to let me have the discount I was supposed to get the first time around. In effect I have paid £20 to save myself from the trauma of another three hours on hold.
And today is the day! It’s Tuesday again. It’s the summer holidays, we’re having a heatwave and I should be in the sea. If the dishwasher arrives then I can cope without my day at the beach, but if it doesn’t then I might have to throw some of the dirty crockery across the kitchen to demonstrate my rage. Which will reduce the amount of washing up at least.
Sunday 19th April 2020
A British chocolate bar has spoken of his epic journey after he was won in a game of Bingo during the current coronavirus lockdown.
The Milk Chocolate Bounty who expires on the 4th October 2020, was awarded to the person who first crossed off all their numbers and shouted “Bingo” during Game 2 of the 2pm game played via videolink earlier today.
The Bounty said “Most of the players are related to one another and either live close to one another in the village of Braunton, or really far away in places like Bournemouth or ‘the North’. But I was won by random friend Caz who is currently self-isolating up a very steep hill in the village of Georgeham.”
Bingo caller Julie Dalling immediately took the Bounty on a mile and a half social distancing walk, past the home of number one blog fan Doris, to the home of Martin and Katie Webber. The Webbers and Amber the Springer Spaniel, then undertook a seven mile government approved round trip to deliver the Bounty to the front door of Caroline Gough, who was in the garden with an intermittent wifi signal and had no idea of all the effort that was being made to deliver her prize with such efficiency.
“It was quite a walk,” said the Bounty. “I’m glad I was being carried. I’m lucky I didn’t melt or get eaten during the journey.”
Once they had arrived in Georgeham, the Bounty was placed on the doorstep. “Mr. and Mrs. Webber did attempt to contact Caroline, but the messages did not deliver in time and so they left me there,” explained the Bounty. “It was quite a scary experience, especially with the number of dogs and children currently being taken on daily walks.”
Luckily the Bounty remained fully clothed and untainted for Caroline to discover almost an hour later.
“I was then welcomed into Caroline’s home where I was introduced to the two little ducks who had made quite a racket every time the Bingo caller announced the number 22.”
“I’ve done more in a day than all other chocolate bars do in a lifetime,” said the Bounty. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
A spokesperson for Miss Gough said: “It’s true that the Bounty has been on quite a journey, but we envisage the end is near. Miss Gough is a huge fan of chocolate. We anticipate the Bounty will not live to see another night.”
Christmas…. it’s officially over, but not in Cazmania.
I only haven’t taken my tree down yet because the first green waste collection of the year isn’t until Thursday, and both me and the tree would much rather it stayed in the living room feeling loved and lit up until Wednesday night, rather than sitting out in the cold for over a fortnight just because superstition or tradition dictate. It’s far more atmospheric to watch Midsomer Murder with a Christmas tree in the corner, and that way it feels more acceptable to plough my way through my collection of Christmas chocolates rather than limiting myself to just one chocolate per every dead body which is what I do for the rest of the year.
Obviously if you’re not taking your tree down until Wednesday, then there’s no point taking down the cards, tinsel or fairy lights either, although I have recently stopped turning on the fairy lights in the front windows to send Christmas cheer to the people passing by. I haven’t got any neighbours, but if I did I wouldn’t want them to think I was crazy.
It’s not just the house that still thinks it’s Christmas. My body is still in Christmas mode too. Every Christmas I take a leaf out of the Pizza Hut menu and allow myself unlimited Coca Cola refills and so there is Coca Cola aplenty sloshing around my body, along with the extra layer of chocolate that has taken residence around the top of my jeans and shows no signs of going anywhere any time soon. The fact that I’m sitting here eating Christmas Wine Gums as I write this is only going to worsen the situation. Too bad the brussel sprout tree has turned yellow, the sprouts don’t look nearly as appetising as the Wine Gums and chocolate Santas.
I received a Christmas present from Australia yesterday, and my window cleaner put a Christmas stamp on the letter he recently posted to me (Great Aunty Rosemary take note!) so all things considered it’s not too unreasonable that Cazmania has not yet completed the transition out of Christmas mode.
And as well as the coke, the tree, the chocolate and the tinsel, I still have my Festive Nails.
I’m not really a Festive Nails kind of girl. Previously Nail Bars existed in the same sort of category as sushi bars, saunas and carrot cake, things that I am happy to exist in the same world as, but would never have any desire to interact with. However in the weeks leading up to Christmas, more and more of my colleagues were coming into work with the most beautiful sparkly and glittery nails you ever did see, and so one Thursday night, caught up in the atmosphere of late night shopping, I found myself venturing where no Cazmanian has gone before and wandered into a Nail Bar.
In my head, I was going to be served by a kind and patient nail technician who would give me a beginner’s guide to getting my nails done because until that Thursday night I thought that a refill was something you got at Pizza Hut, takeoffs happened on airport runways, and acrylic coffin nails were found only at an undertakers.
My Nail Technician would have a name like Helen or Kim and she would give me her undivided attention, explain about all the different tools and potions she was going to use on my nails and help me to decide what sort of shape, colour and design I wanted to have without laughing at my complete lack of knowledge. We’d chat as she worked on my nails and then when I left, we’d wish each other a Merry Christmas, and whenever I wanted to get my nails done in the future I’d always ask for Helen because she’d been so helpful.
Sadly Helen was not working on that Thursday night, or if she was, she certainly wasn’t in the Nail Bar that I went to.
Instead I was greeted – if that’s the right word – by the polar opposite of Helen. She was so incredulous that I’d never had my nails done before, and didn’t know what I actually wanted, that she broadcast it to the entire salon. All customers and nail technicians stopped and looked at me as if I was some kind of sub-species, and then I was seated in front of a monotonous young man who didn’t speak to me the whole time I was there, instead we communicated via the incredulous lady, who despite her incredulity still wasn’t prepared to talk me through my options and seemed to think I should be pre-programmed to know exactly what I wanted to happen to my nails.
Nevertheless, by asking the same dumb questions over and over again until I got an answer that made sense, I was able to get what I wanted, despite not even having the most basic grasp of Nailspeak. “Yuck, that will look horrible,” said the Polar Opposite of Helen when I picked my colours, but at the end she conceded that they did look nice after all.
And I absolutely loved them…. until I got home and tried to continue with my life.
So for those of you that speak the lingo, I had acrylic rounded nails, for those of you who don’t speak the lingo, I had fake nails superglued onto my existing nails. My fake nails were long and beautiful…. and completely useless for completing everyday tasks.
Here is a list of just some of the things you can’t do if you’ve got festive nails:
Nobody explains to you that once you’ve got new nails you will no longer be able to do things that you originally learned to do before you were five. I had a traumatic experience at the supermarket check out where the cashier had scanned all of my shopping long before I had even managed to open the first bag to start packing. Then, feeling flustered by the long queue of people all glaring at me because I was holding them up, I dropped my credit card onto the metal counter and discovered that it was impossible to slide my false nails under the card to pick it up.
In the classroom my students were handing me their cheesestrings and satsumas at snack time, faithfully believing that I’d be able to open them for them because that’s what I’d been doing for them every day since September. They were very dismayed to find that Caroline was no longer able to provide them with their personal fruit and packet opening service. In the staff room my lunch time friends laughed at me trying to peel my own satsumas and taught me how to stab my thumb into the centre of the fruit and work on it from there.
I use predictive text on my phone by swiping from letter to letter, it’s always worked very well in the past but with Festive Nails, my phone had no idea what my fingertips were trying to say. I had to abandon predictive text and start spelling each word out slowly and carefully and it still takes several attempts before I get each word right. The games I play on my phone are usually games that require speed and accuracy like Boggle and since getting Festive Nails my scores got dramatically worse because my nails are hitting the wrong part of the screen. “Feeling a big sluggish today?” asked the phone in what I felt to be quite a patronizing manner when my Brain Train Score had dropped by 16% in the space of two days “Don’t worry. We all have our off-days.”
“I’m not having an off-day,” I retorted. “I’ve just got Festive Nails!”
Festive Nails do not do a lot for your state of mind. As well as shouting at the phone, I found myself hurling an unopened packet of celery across the room, because I was getting hungry and having absolutely no luck with opening any of the packets of food I’d just bought. Once I had opened all the packets I didn’t have the dexterity to close them again, so I tried to wrap things in cling film to keep them airtight, but the cling film stuck to my nails instead of the food packets which meant that the cling film soon found itself being hurled across the room in the same direction as the celery.
Ironically the absolute worst time to have Festive Nails is at Christmas. There are three very necessary steps when it comes to opening an Advent Calendar – sliding your nail into the perforation to open the door, using your nail to pierce the foil to reach the chocolate, and then digging your nail under the chocolate so that you can extract it and eat it. If you’ve got Festive Nails, you can’t do any of these things. This is another reason why Christmas is not yet over in Cazmania, I’ve got 12 Advent Calendar doors left to open once my Festive Nails come off.
I’ve had to take my necklaces and bracelets to Christmas parties and ask other people to put them on for me, because I haven’t got the fine motor skills to do it myself. Jelly aside, my favourite party snack is Wotsits, but when you pick up a Wotsit with a false nail, it digs into the Wotsit and bits of Wotsit get stuck behind the nail. The only way to eat Wotsits with Festive Nails is to make everyone play that game where you put your hands behind your back and try to eat your Wotsits straight from the bowl like a horse, but not every Christmas party has the sort of atmosphere where people are going to want to do that. Certainly not the party they threw at my Grandmother’s residential home.
But the absolute worst thing to do when you’ve got Festive Nails is to wrap Christmas presents. You literally can’t do it. Real nails have enough of a struggle to find the end of a sellotape, Festive Nails have no chance. I had to get my Mum round to act as a human sellotape dispenser, if we still lived three hours apart, instead of three minutes, then nobody would have got their presents wrapped this year.
Everyone said I’d get used to them. All the Serial Nail Ladies out there who get their nails infilled and shellacked on a regular basis have all learnt to adapt to life without Fine Motor Skills, and to some extent I did too. I started using my teeth to open packets of celery instead of throwing them across the room in a rage. I threw bird seed on the patio floor for the birds because I could no longer open the bird feeder, I ate apples instead of satsumas.
But now they’ve grown too long. And apart from making a brilliant sound when I drum them on the table, they really aren’t good for anything. They still look sparkly but the real nails have been growing steadily over the past five weeks so now there’s a very obvious non-sparkly gap of normal nail between the Festive Nail and my finger. And the more my real nail grows, the longer the Festive Nail gets making it even harder to do anything that involves using my fingers. Writing to friends on What’sApp and Messenger takes even longer than when I first got the nails, and incurs even more mistakes. The phone regularly asks me if I’m feeling sluggish today because my Brain Train Score has gone into minus figures, and there’s a whole bowlful of satsumas growing old and growing mould because peeling them takes too much effort. It’s my Mum’s birthday next month and I can hardly invite her round to wrap up her own presents.
And so tomorrow, they are coming off. I’m going to have to tell the Incredulous Lady that I don’t want refills or infills or coffins. I just want my nails restored back to their boring but brilliant old selves so that I can pick up a coin when I drop it on the floor, make a salad without getting angry and clean out the goldfish tank.
Then I will sit with my Christmas tree and polish off the last 12 chocolates from the Advent Calendar whilst enjoying my fairy lights and watching Midsomer Murder. Perhaps I’ll even get a can of coke to add to the occasion… it’s been weeks since I’ve been able to use a ringpull.
Next year, when people start arriving at work with festive nails, I will no doubt look back fondly on this Festive Nail Era of my life. My head will say “Remember sellotapegate? Remember celerygate? Don’t you want to eat any satsumas this Christmas?” But then I’ll buy myself a sparkly new top to wear to Christmas parties and I’ll start thinking about how much better that top would look with matching glittering nails, and no doubt I’ll wander into a Nail Salon and pay good money to have my dexterity removed for the whole of the festive period.
Let’s hope I remember to wrap all the presents first.
NOTE FROM EDITOR: Whilst we have made every attempt to ensure we have represented Miss Gough’s views as accurately as possible, we cannot guarantee that we have translated her manuscript properly. It was difficult to decipher her words, due to the limited dexterity brought about by her Festive Nails.
Today the Renault Clio and I are going to Exeter airport but one of us remains blissfully unaware of this fact. I still can’t bring myself to tell the Clio, not when it still has all the ailments from the last time we went. This time we’re taking Laura. She knows all about the space hopper picture, the sick and the fact that I can no longer dip my headlights or use the heater as a hair dryer, but she still seems happy to be my passenger.
We’re going to Edinburgh. Or rather Laura and I are going to Edinburgh. The Renault Clio is going to be hanging out in the same car park as last time. It’s only now that I realise just how cruel it is to force the car to revisit the place where it spent a week festering in sick juices, this will no doubt cause quite a setback in his emotional recovery. But I’ve paid my £35 for the car park, so I’m not changing it now.
I’ve only been to Scotland once before and I found it almost as traumatic as the week my car spent at Exeter in October.
I was 12, it was the summer holidays and I was going on Guide camp.
My Mum was a hugely enthusiastic Girl Guide, and her Dad was an even more enthusiastic Boy Scout. So following in family tradition I was enrolled in the Brownies as soon as I was 7, and progressed onto Guides without even questioning it.
The Scouting and Guiding that my Mum and Grandad took part in sounds far more wholesome and innocent than the Guides I went to.
Brownies was fun, although I was a Brownie just a few years too early to qualify for the cool uniform. I joined in 1988 when everyone still wore those nasty brown dresses. I was still a Brownie when the brown dress was phased out, but by then I was quite an old Brownie, and none of us old Brownies were allowed to trade our brown dresses in for the cool yellow sweaters that the young Brownies were rocking up in every Monday, mainly because our mothers had spent so many hours sewing all the badges onto our uniforms that they couldn’t face the thought of transferring them all onto a new uniform. Obviously all the old Brownies had earned a needlework badge by the time we were eight, but we still fully expected our mothers to sew all our badges on for us.
Eventually the long standing tradition of wearing the nasty brown dress every Monday, dancing round a toadstool, making coconut ice and enduring random spot checks to make sure you had 10 pence, an elastic band and a safety pin in your pocket came to an end, and off I went to Guides.
My first night at Guides was a sunny spring evening and so we were sent off on an orienteering exercise. Back in my mother’s guiding days I’m sure that would have been idyllic. In 1992 not so much.
I was 11 and still very much cocooned by the security of my village primary school. I had no older siblings and had no life experiences that would prepare me for the horrors of being put in Nightingale patrol.
My patrol leader was called Harriet and the only orienteering she was planning to do was navigating us all to the local bandstand where she had a hot date with her boyfriend. The only thing hot about him was the ash that fell of the cigarettes that he and Harriet smoked. The rest of us sat around awkwardly as Harriet’s mouth alternated between smoking cigarettes, kissing her boyfriend and telling us that if we dared tell on her then she would be sure to flush our heads down the toilet when we went up to secondary school in September.
Suffice to say, this is the first time I’ve ever told anybody about my first night at Guides.
The weeks went on and we spent our Wednesday nights doing crafts, making quizzes, going canoeing and singing songs in a round. Harriet’s attendance was fairly sporadic and it wasn’t long before she left altogether.
The first Guide camp passed without drama. Vague memories involve a trip to Cadbury World, a couple of ghost stories and a competitive game to see which patrol could peel the most potatoes in 10 minutes.
But the next year was a completely different story.
North Devon is a long way from Edinburgh but it seems even further when you are on a coach full of teenage girls, and when you are sitting next to your one time best friend Gemma who has never been away from home before and who decides that she is going to spend the whole journey, in fact the whole week, crying because she misses home.
To be honest most of the week is a blur. I only seem to remember things from my childhood if there’s photographic evidence to jog my memory, and I managed to drop my camera on Hadrian’s Wall before we even got to the campsite and pitched our tents. The camera smashed, never to be used again, and 12 year old Cazza wasn’t the sort of person who would bunk off during a Guide excursion to pop into an Edinburgh branch of Jessops and buy a new camera.
What I do remember is the fury of the Guide leaders when we arrived at our campsite. The Girl Guide Motto is “Be Prepared” but they weren’t, because none of them had done an inspection of the camp site prior to our visit. Presumably you couldn’t fly Exeter to Edinburgh for £29 in 1993, and Trip Advisor hadn’t been invented either, so the first time they saw the site was when they arrived with a coachload of 43 Guides for a week’s stay. I don’t remember anything about the site, just their furious faces as they discovered nothing was as good as the brochure had suggested. Being on Guide camp with a load of angry adults really isn’t a lot of fun.
As well as the Angry Leaders, we also had Dominique. She was too old to be a Guide but wasn’t ready to leave the Guiding family so they had let her stay on as a young leader. What that really meant was that Dominique had the power to bully as many Guides as she wanted to. And having spent her teenage years being a victim of bullies herself, she was very keen to give as good as she’d been given. She teamed up with some of the older guides and together they formed an effective tribe of evilness. They took all the qualities that a Girl Guide was supposed to have and did the complete opposite. Name calling, backstabbing, sabotaging tents…. I’m sure Lord and Lady Baden-Powell would never have dreamt of Guides competing with each other to be given an accolade for the most creative and upsetting way to display a used sanitary towel, but these were the sorts of thrills that Dominique and her gang went in for.
During the day times we’d go off on Scottish excursions. I can’t remember what any of them were, because the smashed camera means I have no visual prompts to remind me. I do remember Tearful Gemma crying all the time and I remember looking up the Gough Tartan in a tartan shop but I can’t remember if there even was one let alone what it looked like.
When you’re a Guide you have to travel in threes. The logic behind this is that if one Guide falls down and breaks her leg then you’ve got one Guide to stay with the injured Guide and another Guide to race off and find help (the training sessions always suggested that we’d find this help by racing off to the nearest red phone box with our emergency 10p). So although I can’t remember, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have spent all my days trundling around Scotland with Tearful Gemma and somebody else – and whoever they were and wherever they are now, I’m sure that as they didn’t break their camera on Hadrian’s Wall, they have a dusty photo album stored away in their loft containing photos of me having an unmemorable time in Scotland.
The only really vivid memory I have of Edinburgh Guide camp was getting into trouble. We’d got back from whatever Tartan Excursion we’d been on one day to discover that in our absence an official from Girl Guiding HQ had come out to do a spot check inspection of our camp – a Girl Guide Ofsted presumably. We were all sitting around the campfire eating some variation of baked beans and sausages whilst the Angry Leaders received their feedback and became even angrier and more red faced than they’d previously been which I hadn’t thought possible until it actually happened.
At this point I should tell you that earlier that day I had decided to use my initiative. I’d had a shower, noticed that my towel was beginning to smell a little rank after living day after day in a tent with 5 other girls and their towels, and so I had decided my towel would dry much more effectively if, instead of scrunching it up and leaving it to fester in the tent, I draped it over the guy rope.
And at no point in my 12 years on this planet had anybody ever told me that draping a towel over a guy rope is an ILLEGAL ACT on Guide Camp, and that if a Girl Guide Ofsted Inspector catches you doing it, then your entire Guide company gets an INSTANT FAIL!
The insanely Angry Leader stormed into the circle of 43 girls, her face as hot and as red as the campfire and she demanded to know who the towel belonged to. I unwittingly admitted it was mine and then in front of the entire circle of sausage eating Guides she unleashed more wrath and fury on me in 2 minutes than I’d ever had in the whole of the rest of my life put together.
DID YOU KNOW THAT THIS ENTIRE GUIDE COMPANY HAVE FAILED THEIR INSPECTION BECAUSE OF YOU? THANKS A LOT.
Well no, I didn’t know that, but now everybody does which means you’ve just given 42 girls licence to bully me for the rest of this week. So “thanks a lot” right back at you Mrs. Angry Guide Lady.
Ironic really that some people can maliciously place a used sanitary towel on someone else’s pillow and get away with it, whilst other people who always tried to be good can spend the rest of the week in disgrace for doing something they didn’t even know was wrong. After that drama, I cried almost as much as Tearful Gemma did.
Laura and I are flying to Edinburgh so there will be no long coach journey for us, and we’re only going for the weekend so homesickness is unlikely to be an issue, but sickness could be because we’re going on one of those rides that hoiks you 60 metres into the air and then spins you round and round really fast before plonking you back on the ground again. Thank goodness I won’t be anywhere near the Renault Clio when that happens.
We’re staying in an airbnb. Just like my Angry Guide Leaders we haven’t gone up to inspect the facilities before our visit, but we’ve seen some lovely photos on the website and we’re not expecting Ofsted to drop in and judge us on where we hang our towels.
After the unfortunate incident in the Renault Clio the last time I went to Exeter I am taking more than one pair of jeans and plenty of plastic bags, so I have remembered to Be Prepared, just as Lord and Lady Baden-Powell intended.
These days I use an Olympus Tough camera which is designed to withstand all sorts of shocks, drops and temperatures so it will probably survive the journey, which means my memories should remain in tact too.
We can’t travel in threes because there’s only two of us, but mobile phones have been invented since the last time I was in Scotland, so we should still be able to arrange for help to come if one of us breaks a leg. We’re definitely not taking any bullies with us and we’ve got Google Maps to lend a hand if we need to do any orienteering.
It sounds as though Scotland 2019 should be a lot better than Scotland 1993.
Not that the bar of expectation needs to be set very high for that to happen!
Today we tried
But once inside
We were denied.
The reason why
Was not supplied
Had someone wide
Got stuck inside?
Or even worse
Had someone died?
It was implied
By our guide
That the slide
Had not complied
And so a ban
Had been applied
“Okay,” we sighed
And so the slide
It’s been four weeks since I posted my last story and I’m sure you’ve all been on tenterhooks. No time to spend thinking about Brexit or General Elections or whether or not to sit at home with the lights off ignoring the trick or treaters for Hallowe’en, not when I left you all with the very dramatic cliffhanger of whether I would come back to England and face the Evil Contents of the Renault Clio, or simply stay in Lanzarote, cartwheeling in the sunshine and rewriting the script for the Sun Safe rep in the hope that she might be able to make a sale before we enter the next decade.
I can now confirm that yes, I’m back in England. I was the last person to board the plane in Lanzarote, and the last passenger to get off it when we landed in Exeter. I even stood in baggage claims for a while and let my stripy suitcase do a few extra laps of the carousel, just to put off the inevitable moment when I had to leave the airport and collect my car. But in the end I could delay it no longer, and off we went for the big smelly reunion. The Renault Clio had indeed been festering in nasty juices for a week, with several nasty splodges that we’d missed in the dark, and so we thanked technology for inventing Google Maps and pointed the car in the direction of the nearest valet company where some poor teenager got lumbered with the job of making my car sparkly clean again.
“Is it generally quite clean?” he asked, because it seemed that his pricing strategy involved asking the customer how clean or dirty they thought their car was and then plucking a round number out of the air rather than taking a look and judging for himself.
“Um… the backseat’s not too bad,” I replied, and so he got to work.
The car sparkled and smelt beautiful for the journey from Exeter back to North Devon, but when I climbed in to go to work the next day, the sparkly smell had disappeared, and I was worried that my car would be known forevermore as “The Sickmobile”. Thankfully the smell has gone now, or perhaps I’ve just got used to it.
The drama isn’t over though. The day after I got the car valeted, a picture of a space hopper appeared on my dashboard, which sounds like it could be fun, but in car terms it means that the teenager was so enthusiastic about valeting my car that he’s messed up the airbag mechanism and now I’ve got to pay to get it fixed.
Also, as a result of either my violent vomiting or his vigorous valeting, the temperature control now only works when it’s switched to odd numbers. Before sickgate I was able to turn it up to number 4 which was incredibly useful for blasting out enough cold air to completely dry my hair on the 20 minute journey to work. Unfortunately numbers 1 and 3 aren’t nearly as powerful, so I was arriving at work with wet hair every day and have now started showering in the evenings instead. Who knew throwing up in your car could lead to such huge lifestyle changes?
I went to the garage to tell them that my heater no longer works as a hairdryer, and that there was a picture of a space hopper on my dashboard. Obviously I’m not fluent in garagespeak, but I’ve now learnt that there are mechanisms inside the seats of my car that are linked to the airbags and if those mechanisms get wet then the space hopper picture appears on your dashboard and you instantly fail your MOT.
Who knew? I thought the seats were just there to be sat on, but now I discover they’ve been multi-tasking all these years. And considering how often I have driven back from the beach in my wetsuit over the years, I can’t believe it took a valeting teenager to make the seat wet enough to cause this malfunction and not me.
Considering the mechanic was completely bald, he was quite sympathetic to my hair drying issues, nevertheless we decided that having a heater that only works on odd numbers isn’t really the end of the world and we would just concentrate on fixing the space hopper. And so the Renault Clio went into the garage on Friday.
When I went to collect it on Friday afternoon, I nodded and smiled as a different mechanic – this one had quite a lot of hair – spoke to me about resistors and other such curious words, then only make sense if you can speak garage. Then I realised that he was talking about the number two setting on the heater which didn’t make a lot of sense when the bald mechanic and I had agreed that we weren’t going to bother reinstalling the even numbers and that we would only concentrate on removing the space hopper picture from the dashboard.
After I felt I’d done enough polite nodding, I casually asked:”And what about the air bag?”
“The air bag?” he says, as if nobody had ever mentioned the air bag to him before.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s what I thought you were doing today. Look there’s a picture of a space hopper on the dashboard.”
“Oh right,” he said. “Yes I see it. That could fail an MOT.”
“I know,” I said, not feeling ever so pleased that for once I was ahead of the game when talking to a mechanic. “That’s what I thought you were fixing. Not the heater.”
The man went to get to get his iPad. It’s magic, because you just have to sit in the car with this iPad and it scans the car and tells you all sorts of clever things, that once upon a time you probably only found out by getting your hands dirty and taking the car apart. Last week when I took the car in for the space hopper assessment I was very impressed. This time it felt less magical.
“I need to find out which air bag it is,” said the mechanic.
“It’s in the driver’s seat,” I told him.
The mechanic ignored me, then three minutes later informed me that the air bag problem was in the driver’s seat and that I’d need to bring the car in to get it sorted.
Which is what I thought I was doing when I dropped it off earlier that day.
So to recount… the sick smell has gone, the space hopper picture is still there. The heater now works on number 2 as well as numbers 1 and 3, but it still doesn’t work on number 4, so I still can’t dry my hair on the way to work and have to shower in the evenings. The jury is still out on how much I’m going to have to pay for the not exactly useful reacquisition of number 2 on the heater.
As an added bonus, following the Renault Clio’s day trip to the garage, it has developed the hugely annoying habit of automatically switching the headlights on as soon as it thinks it’s dark. I am not allowed to override this, and the only way I can turn off the lights is by switching off the engine. Which if you’ll excuse the pun is driving me crazy because I live in Georgeham.
If you live in Georgeham, or any other far flung village that is only accessible by very narrow single track roads, you will know that when a car comes towards you, one of you will have to reverse back into a passing place to let the other car go by. The car that doesn’t have to reverse expresses its gratitude by saying thank you. If it’s light enough, the driver will wave to say thank you, but if it’s dark, you have to say thank you by using your lights. Some people flick their headlights onto full beam to say thanks, this generally dazzles the other driver and makes them swear profusely. Other people drive past without saying thanks which also makes the other driver swear profusely. The only way you won’t get sworn at is if you say thank you by dipping your headlights. But the Renault Clio won’t let me dip my headlights any more so no doubt all the other drivers are now swearing at me, as I either blind them with my full beam or wave at them in the dark even though I know they can’t see me.
“How curious,” said the bald mechanic when I told him of this unexpected additional drama. “I don’t know how that happened.”
So as a result of being sick in my car over a month ago, I can’t have a shower in the morning, I’ve got a dodgy airbag that still needs fixing, and every driver who reverses for me in the dark is now swearing at me because I can’t say thank you. The car is going back into the garage next week but I’m not confident that the lights and air bag will be fixed, I’m pretty sure they’re more likely to spray it red and retune all the radio stations to Radio Cymru instead.
Meanwhile Grannie’s tartan picnic blanket, which you may remember landed the unfortunate job of cleaning up all the sick, is hanging sadly on the washing line, and there it will stay until at least next April. It stares at me disapprovingly every time I open or close the curtains, and all this torrential rain we’ve been having has done nothing towards removing the layer of cannelloni it acquired on that fateful nocturnal journey, although it’s possible that a couple of birds may have given it a go.
The suntan is fading, the summer clothes have been washed and packed away until next year, but the consequences of that dramatic journey to the airport seem to be never ending. I’m flying out of Exeter again in a couple of weeks time but I haven’t told the Renault Clio yet, I can never seem to find the right moment.
Still, at least this time I’ll know to take lots of sick bags.
The holiday is nearly over but I don’t think I can come home. There’s something evil waiting for me in England and I’m not ready to face it. The longer I leave it, the worse it will be, but here on my sunlounger it can’t touch me.
It’s not work. I like my job, I like my colleagues (especially the ones who’ve recently found and liked this blog! 😘) and I’m actually looking forward to going to work tomorrow and seeing everyone again.
It’s not the death of the holiday or the fact that it will be winter when I get home. I love killing time at airports, and Lanzarote airport is one of my favourites. I like living in a country that has proper seasons and I’m looking forward to some theatre trips and firework displays when I get back.
I haven’t had a Shirley Valentine moment either. I may do all the cooking and cleaning at home, but Putney the hamster shows far more appreciation than Shirley’s husband ever did.
What I don’t want to do is get in my car. It’s going to be waiting for me at Exeter and it’s going to be furious.
Let’s rewind. A week ago today, the October half term had just begun. In true Cazmanian style I had been too caught up in the events of the week to have given even the fleetingest of thoughts to Lanzarote. So jam-packed into Saturday was: sleeping, packing, tidying, vacuuming, going for a meal with friends, having some quality nocturnal time with Putney and then setting off for the airport at 2am.
It was all going according to plan but when my friends dropped me home at 10:30pm, something extraordinary happened. Cazza the night owl decided she needed a nap.
I woke at 1:50am feeling rubbish. Poor Putney got only the briefest of goodbyes and I pulled into my Mum’s driveway at 2:20. Mum and I are polar opposites when it comes to the actual “going” part of “going on holiday”. I want to drive through the night, singing along to showtunes with the sunroof open. I’ll preferably be flying from Gatwick, meaning plenty of showtunes will have been sung by the time I reach my destination. I’ll have stopped at one of those proper motorway service stations, I’ll have parked in an airport car park so big that I’ll only ever find my car again by writing down the grid reference, and I’ll tuck into some overpriced overgreased airport pub breakfast before spraying myself with Coco Chanel Madamoiselle and having a shopping spree. For Mum that entire last paragraph is a nightmare. Ideally she just wants to magically wake up on a sunlounger by a hotel pool. If that’s not possible, she’ll put up with travelling as far as Exeter or Bristol, but if she can’t reach her destination from there, then she’s not going, and she really hates travelling through the night too.
With this in mind I deliver the next sentence as cheerfully as possible “Um…. I think I’m probably going to be sick at some point during this journey…. but I’m sure I’ll feel much better once I get it out of my system.”
And so we set off. Through the country lanes, through Braunton, into Barnstaple and over the bridge.
“Have you got a bag?” I ask as we head round the Moan Henge roundabout and I hope Mum realises that this isn’t a general enquiry about which of her pretty handbags she’s chosen to bring on holiday because soon after I ask the question, the first wave of last night’s meal comes up from my stomach and I can’t reiterate the question or add any urgency to it because I am too busy holding last night’s dinner in my mouth and cheeks, much like Putney the hamster, hoping that Mum is going to produce a bag in the next three seconds and that it’s not going to be one of her pretty handbags.
She’s certainly doing a lot of frantic rustling in the seat beside me so I think she’s got the message.
But it’s too late. Wave two is working its way up from my stomach with such force that it’s going to overtake wave one and send both waves tsunami-ing out of my mouth in less than a second.
You would think that at 2:40am I’d have the road to myself and would be able to pull over, throw my guts up and carry on with the rest of my life, but Barnstaple is uncharacteristically busy for such a time on a Sunday morning. I’m following an ambulance and there’s a whole convoy of cars behind me. There’s no way of stopping – not the car and not the tidal wave rising up through my body.
The tidal wave unleashes itself, all over the car. The steering wheel, the dashboard, me, my Mum. Nothing and no-one is spared. In the dark it’s hard to assess just how bad things are, and we still haven’t seen a layby so all I can do is keep driving.
Readers, how squeamish are you? I don’t want anyone to unsubscribe from my blog because I scared you off with my vile tale of vomit. My stories are supposed to make everyone laugh after all. Does it make it easier if I don’t mention the S word? Or if I referred to it as last night’s dinner? Which by the way was the most delicious beef lasagne I’ve ever tasted… maybe now isn’t the right part of the story to tell you that?
Anyway, it was as bad as you could imagine. Literally everywhere. I was wearing it, Mum was splattered with it, the car was full of it. The only good news was that my earlier prediction was correct, now that it was no longer inside me I felt a lot better.
Once upon a time there was definitely a brand new packet of wet wipes in the boot of my car. But not anymore. We found a couple of serviettes in the glove compartment but not enough to make any difference. I was going to have to sacrifice Grannie’s tartan blanket.
Older than me, Grannie’s tartan blanket had been a staple part of Gough family picnics since even before my Dad was born. In its youth it went on Great British holidays in Grandad’s Hillman Imp, along with hampers of sandwiches and flasks of tea. These days it lived in the boot of my car, sat on the beach almost every day in the summer and bided its time in the winter. The picnic blanket had no doubt seen a lot of things in its time.
But never before had it been used to mop up a huge deluge of sick. It wasn’t the most effective material for this purpose, but it was better than nothing. After it could take no more, I put it in a plastic bag (see I did have bags, they were just in the boot where we couldn’t reach them) and we drove on.
Any other night and I could have taken myself to 24 hour Tesco to clean up myself and clean up the car. But at 3am on a Sunday morning? I knew a couple of nightclubs would be open but they employed bouncers to kick out the people who were covered in sick, not to let them in. Besides we hardly looked like we were dressed for clubbing.
“We’ll drive to the first service station,” I decided. I’d buy some wet wipes, rinse out Grannie’s blanket, wash myself, change my clothes and buy one of those tree shaped air fresheners that people hang from their rear view mirrors. I don’t usually like them because – ironically – they make me feel sick, but under the circumstances, I decided it might mask the smell a little bit.
And so we drove through the night, sunroof and windows wide open. Once when driving back from the airport with the sunroof open, a bird clever enough to understand the science of how to land something on a moving object sent a stream of white pooh down through the sunroof and onto the gearstick and handbrake. It would really be the icing on the sick if that happened again tonight, but luckily for me none of the birds in tonight’s sky had got a GCSE in physics yet.
The Tiverton services – a Burger King and a Costa – are not open at 3:25 on a Sunday morning so we hit the motorway and kept driving. Finally we see the sign for services in 10 miles and in my head I’m working out the best order to do everything, and whether it would be overkill to buy several large bottles of water, throw them over the affected areas and hope England has enough half term sunshine to dry the seats out over the next week. Then, a mile before we get to the much anticipated services, the SatNav tells me to leave the motorway because the airport is looming.
And so we find ourselves in the car park, supposedly ready to go on holiday, except because we haven’t been to a service station I’m still wearing remnants of sick, I smell disgusting and there’s little pockets of vomit all over the car because using your Grandmother’s picnic blanket in an unlit layby at 3 o’clock in the morning isn’t exactly a foolproof method of removing all traces of sick from a Renault Clio.
There’s a super smiley, super efficient car park attendant. He’s even got shorts on, bless him, in the middle of the night in October. Clearly getting into the spirit of everyone else going on holiday even if he’s not having one himself. He wants the keys to my car. I hope for his sake he’s not planning to get in it or drive it anywhere. You hear about these airport scams where the people looking after your car take it for a joyride to Brighton accruing speeding tickets as they go, well I think we can safely say nobody’s going to be choosing my car for any illicit road trips this week. But this poor man might have to take it on a two mile trek to his premises in a different part of Exeter.
“We just need a few minutes to sort everything out,” I tell him brightly, and noticing a sploge of sick on the footwell carpet I cement the rubber floor mat on top of it. Out of sight, out of mind.
We hand over the keys and walk over to the airport, depositing the bag of sick serviettes as we go. In the airport toilets I get a first glimpse of my new look in the mirror. I am wearing jeans, and where some people’s jeans are fashionably bleached or faded down the middle of the leg, mine have been unfashionably sicked, with bright orange tracks all the way down to the knee, with plenty more on my hoodie, masking the brand name completely. The paper towels, push tap and hand dryer do little to improve my smell or appearance. I’m going to have to put on a whole new outfit. I don’t have any other trousers, I’m going to Lanzarote after all, but when I get back to Mum she’s already dug out her light weight turquoise three quarter lengths to lend me. And yes you’re right, turquoise is my favourite colour but I can assure you I didn’t plan to start the holiday covered in sick just so that I could borrow her trousers.
I root through my own suitcase for some clean clothes and Mum is astounded that in spite of everything else I’m hunting around for white knickers.
“Those trousers are see through,” I protest. “I can’t wear black knickers.”
“Lots of other people do,”
“I don’t,” I said, and headed back to the toilet armed with my new outfit.
We went through security, finishing up the last of the Tropicana orange juice from my fridge and then out into the metropolis of Duty Free shopping. Exeter airport has only two shops but my usual enthusiasm for perfume spraying and book buying had gone completely. I never sit and wait for the flight to be announced, I’m usually too busy darting around having fun, but today sitting and waiting is all I feel well enough to do, apart from a dash to the disabled toilet when it seemed that there was some lasagne left in my body after all and it wanted to make a hasty retreat out of the other end of my body.
We got on the plane and I hoped my body would behave until we were in the air. It’s probably okay to be sick once you’re airborne but if they caught me throwing up before take-off they might tell me I’m not fit to fly and chuck me off the plane. Learning from my earlier experience, I try to be prepared. There are no sick bags in the seat pocket. So I lean over to Mum. “Have you got a bag?” I ask, instilling a terrible sense of déjâ vu in her.
I’d paid £11 to sit by the window and another £11 for my Mum to sit next to me. “You shouldn’t have bothered,” she said when I told her earlier in the week. “I don’t mind where I sit.” Now though I was supremely grateful to have paid the money. When you’re throwing your guts up on a plane it’s much better to be sitting next to your Mum than a kindly but clueless couple from Clyst Honiton or even worse an angry unforgiving lady from Umberleigh.
We had 20 minutes in the air before the first wave came. The Tropicana orange juice, why did I ever think it was a good idea to drink that? Up it came and I promptly deposited it into the Duty Free bag Mum had procured for me earlier. Wave after wave came, surely I hadn’t drunk that much orange juice? Mum pressed the button so that the cabin staff could come and watch too.
They were great. They came forth with bottles of water and giant plastic bags. Who knew being sick had so many silver linings? Free bottles of water, no mention of a 5p charge for a carrier bag. No chance of your car being joyridden whilst you’re away, and the unexpected opportunity to wear your mother’s turquoise trousers.
Which were currently being spattered with sick. Along with my white hoodie, the only other warm piece of clothing I’d brought with me. I’d brought it because I like to think that white shows off my suntan and blonde hair after a few days in the sun. If I’d known it was going to be covered in sick before I even got to the sun I would have made a different choice.
The rest of the journey was not a lot of fun. It was cold in the air, far too cold for a pair of turquoise three quarter lengths. I wasted the window seat by sleeping for much of the time, waking every 20 minutes or so to quench a horrible thirst, shiver, and make insightful remarks such as “my hair smells like parmesan” before falling back to sleep again.
Eventually all of the free bottled water collecting in my stomach decided it was time to revolt and soon I was wide awake and throwing up into one of the lovely big TUI plastic bags that the cabin staff had given me. Whilst it was an intense and prolonged moment I wasn’t so preoccupied that I didn’t notice the two teenagers in the seats in front turning around and shamelessly filming me on their phones. “That really is sick,” my Mum quipped when I told her later.
“Are you actually for real?” I wanted to ask the teenagers, but I was too busy being sick to be able to address them so instead I gave them my best teacher glare whilst throwing up which no doubt just made for even better viewing.
Imagine, I spend all this time writing stories and trying to make a name for myself and in the end the thing that makes me go viral is two nasty teenagers and a sick bag.
There is nothing left in my body to come out so the rest of the journey is fine. We get to the hotel and I pass out on the nearest sunlounger for the next 3 hours whilst Mum lunches by herself and attempts to find Aunty Jean who arrived on a different flight.
It’s an all-inclusive hotel but for now the only thing I want to eat are those biscuits that other people get with coffee (I don’t drink coffee, so I never get them, but luckily they are unlimited and free to everyone here, not just coffee drinkers).
My clothes spend a night in the bath and the next day I send them to the hotel laundry. I got pretty familiar with using the washing machines at Australian backpacking hostels a couple of years ago, but sending my clothes to a hotel laundry is not something I ever imagined myself doing. Two T-shirts, two hoodies, the jeans, the turquoise trousers, the white knickers. It costs €25 and when they are returned to me, crisply ironed and smelling like fresh sheets, all I can see is the patches where the sick was. Like Lady Macbeth and her invisible blood, I am so traumatised by Lasagne Gate that I will forever be seeing tracks of sick on my no longer favourite jeans and hoodie.
I haven’t been able to bring myself to wear any of the clothes yet. They remind me too much of last Sunday’s drama. And I gave lasagne a wide birth when they served it in the restaurant on Tuesday night. I’m lucky that after my traumatic Sunday I had a very early night and woke up on Monday feeling fine and ready to start the holiday. It’s been a great week. We’ve had a lovely time.
So what kind of fool would voluntarily choose to leave their sun lounger, put on their jeans with the invisible sick tracks and fly back to England to get into a car that’s been festering for a week. I’ve seen the weather forecast for England at the moment. It’s not exactly sunroof weather.
So you see, I can’t possibly come home. I’ll just have to stay here.
Perhaps I’ll get a job as a Sun Safe rep.
It was always my dream to be a performer. You could say that dream came true, just not in the way I envisaged.
I have a microphone, I have a script, and I have an audience. I’m a one woman show and I perform my well-honed routine on over a dozen stages in the space of a week. Not that anybody listens. I don’t have a stage door, but if I did, nobody would be hanging around after the show to get a glimpse of me or ask for my autograph.
I am the rep for Sun Safe, the super expensive suntan lotion that nobody wants to buy. I perform beside the busiest swimming pools of Lanzarote’s hottest hotels. I stand on my stage and perform my monologue. It’s a musical without the songs, a comedy without the laughs. I list the merits of the product, I recite the latest skin cancer statistics, I tell everyone why Sun Safe is far superior to the sunscreen they put on this morning. But nobody cares.
Kids run past me, flinging themselves into the pool, splashing me in the process. Women sit on sun loungers chatting loudly, teenagers are plugged into iPhones. Nobody even hears me as I talk about how many stars the product got in a recent Daily Mail review.
After I finish my act, there is never any applause. I remain onstage for a further twenty minutes, the official amount of time set aside for answering questions and making sales.
Unofficially the time is spent dodging the children with no spatial awareness who bash you with their giant inflatable crocodiles as they saunter past. The adults walk by too, some smile kindly, some avoid eye contact, but all of them hurry on by before I can throw another sunscreen statistic at them. I am the cold caller who interrupted family dinner, the high street charity worker who might guilt trip you into making a monthly donation, the homeless person who wants you to spare some change. Nobody wakes up hoping to find a new reason to part with their money, and even my well polished speech won’t persuade them.
My name is Kay. Kay because my parents couldn’t think of anything beyond naming me after the eleventh letter of the alphabet. ‘kay, short for okay when a bored teenager can’t be bothered to voice the first syllable. Kay for killjoy, because even if the people aren’t listening to me, they still have to put up with the poolside music being switched off until after I’ve packed up my unwanted goods and trundled out of their happy holiday lives, and onto the next hotel.
Twelve years ago the youngest of my kids left home. Six months later my husband went too, he said there was no point keeping up the pretence any more with just the two of us left in the family home. With everyone else gone, I didn’t see any point hanging around either. It didn’t happen straightaway, I spent a lot of nights drinking a lot of wine first. But eventually I picked myself up, put myself back together and bought a one way ticket to Lanzarote. To start my new life as the performer that nobody wants to see. At my interview they said I sounded “down to earth and authoritative”, but over a decade later “down to earth and authoritative” hasn’t sold a lot of Sun Safe.
Today’s pitch has gone much like any other. I stood by the pool and delivered my speech whilst everyone ignored me. Now I’m doing the 20 minute questions and answers session. Nobody talks to me, or even looks at me, so I do my own questions and answers in my head. Which guest is the fattest? Which guest has the worst tattoo? Which couple looks most on the brink of divorce? What shall I have for dinner? A bottle of red or a bottle of white?
Ten and a half years ago, sitting at my kitchen table in Rochdale, I thought Sun Safe was the answer. I’d be a British woman living abroad, living the dream. The British wives, sitting round the pool with their saggy tummies and Richard and Judy book club titles, thrilled to escape the British winter for one or two weeks would look at me and see that I was the real winner. Their husbands would see me too: slimmer, more tanned, less naggy, less saggy than their wives, and they’d shoot me flirtatious smiles.
In reality it doesn’t work like that. Sun Safe is so concerned with safety in the sun that it provides a sensible sexless uniform to emphasise just how serious it is about sun protection. Knee length khaki shorts as if I’m about to go on safari. A bright orange Sun Safe T-shirt to to match the product packaging. And to top it off, a bright orange baseball cap. The British wives do not look at me and think I’m winning. Their husbands don’t look at me at all. They save their flirtatious smiles for the waitresses and the aquagym instructors.
At first when you tell your nearest and dearest that you’re off for a life in the sun, they promise to visit all the time. Then when they realise you don’t live in a beautiful villa and you haven’t even got a spare room, let alone a swimming pool, they hastily make other plans. My best friends these days are a group of disillusioned ex-pat divorcees who drink even more than I do. My supervisor lives in Manchester and my nearest colleague is across the sea in Fuerteventura. Neither of them come over for a staff Christmas party.
I don’t think I could go back to Rochdale now. Emotions aside, after a decade in the sun, my immune system would cave at the first sniffle of the winter flu. Cold, dark, rainy nights, warm jumpers, roaring log fires, they belong to a someone I used to be. Someone not that different from the British wives who gather round the pools where I perform. I thought they’d be jealous of me, of my never-ending holiday in the sun, but in reality I think they’re the lucky ones.
I’ll stay here, I expect. Trundling in and out of the hotels, following the script, being ignored. There’s been something missing for such a long time, I don’t know what it is anymore.
But at least I’ll never get sunburnt.
SMALL PRINT DISCLAIMER: Most of my stories are true, but this one is a work of fiction. It is not based on any sun cream sales reps, living or dead, that I have or haven’t met whilst reading Richard and Judy book club titles round any pool in any hot country.
An aunty from Bedfordshire looks set to be spending a week’s holiday by herself due to the data protection act.
Aunty Jean, who was expecting to spend a week in Lanzarote with her niece and sister has not yet been able to locate either of her relations.
Sister Gillian and niece Caroline flew from Exeter and arrived at the hotel several hours before Jean, but due to strict privacy laws the hotel are not allowed to tell either party where the other is staying.
71 year old Gillian told us “”I’ve read 94 pages of my book, eaten a prawn salad and had two swims in the pool but I still haven’t found my sister. Because I’m not technologically savvy it hasn’t yet occurred to me that I could switch on my Nokia classic and give her a call.
“Usually my daughter Caroline would be on hand to remind me about the existence of technology, but she spent the entire journey being violently sick and has now passed out on a sunlounger which isn’t very helpful.”
A spokesperson for the hotel said “whilst we’re not allowed to give away information about other guests, we do try to make it easy for them. We’ve purposely put the sisters in rooms next door to each other. We hope it won’t be too long before they figure this out.”
Gillian remains optimistic about the situation. “There’s Bingo at 4pm on Wednesday and Jean never misses a game of Bingo. So we’ll definitely see her on Wednesday if not before.”
A group of knives, forks, plates, cups, bowls and spoons have spoken out 20 years after they were maliciously hurled into a university lake.
The utensils, who belonged to first year student Cassie Saunders, were thrown into Digby Stuart lake by Cassie’s flatmates after they unanimously agreed that living with Cassie was a nightmare.
Cassie’s Mum purchased the utensils at the Cargo store in Salisbury in August 1998. The utensils had initially been very excited to be going to university.
“We were beyond thrilled,” confessed a stripy mug who hasn’t seen his handle since they crashed into the lake 20 years ago. “Everyone knows about university. It’s all about sex and parties and making life long friends. We couldn’t wait to share a cupboard with some like minded crockery. It was going to be such fun.”
“And when Cassie found out we’d got into the nicest accommodation on campus, it was the icing on the cake,” added a chipped blue plate. “I envisaged myself at all these student parties holding a pizza, whilst my new student bowlfriend cradled the Doritos. We were going to have the time of our lives.”
However the cracks soon began to appear.
“Cassie was very difficult to live with,” admitted the frying pan. “I mean for us it wasn’t so bad. She was a very clean student, so we never experienced the dirt and mess that you hear about in student kitchens. But it did set us apart from the other crockery in the flat. We were always clean and dry and shiny. Other crockery would stay dirty for days on end. Some of them started to resent us. Especially the stack of plates that were left for so long they got stuck together. You can understand why we found it hard to make friends.”
“But it was Cassie’s flatmates who were the most angry,” said the egg cup who never even got used during her short time at university. “They were living away from home for the first time, they wanted to be wild. But instead they got a flatmate who was far more strict and disapproving than any parent could ever be.”
“She told them off for being loud, messy and promiscuous,” explained the spatula. “So of course they became louder and messier and talked about sex just to rile her. And they lived in completely different time zones. Cassie would get up at 6am and made lots of noise just to get them back for all the noise they’d made when they came home drunk at 4am. So the next night they’d have a loud party in the corridor and she’d storm out and confiscate the CD player. The whole flat was at war and we’d only been living there three weeks. We were scared to see what would happen next.”
Unfortunately what happened next was the savage attack on Cassie’s kitchen possessions.
“It was a Monday night and before she went to bed, Cassie had pinned a note to the fridge saying she expected to see the whole kitchen absolutely spotless by 8am on Tuesday,” sighed a fork. “The flatmates were furious. They started drinking and Stoned Steve got out his lighter and burnt Cassie’s note.”
“Then the flatmates thought it would be funny to melt something, so they picked on Cassie’s slotted spoon. It was highly unfair because that slotted spoon had helped all of them, when they needed to get beans out of a saucepan and hadn’t got any clean spoons of their own to use.”
Next the flatmates gathered up all of Cassie’s crockery and cutlery and marched it out to the nearby lake.
“They just went crazy,” said the tin opener. “Frisbeeing plates into the water, throwing knives like javelins, cheering every time something smashed. It was pure carnage. None of us will ever be the same again.”
“Those students have been able to move on with their lives,” said the cheese grater. “No doubt they’ve got mortgages, sensible jobs, children, even cheese graters of their own. Does Stoned Steve spare a thought for me every time he grates some cheese onto his pasta? I highly doubt it. We are destined to stay here forgotten forever.”
Caroline Gough lived in the flat next to Cassie during the time that the items went missing. “Everyone on campus knew what had happened to Cassie’s stuff apart from Cassie,” she explained. “And yes it sounds like a harsh thing to do to somebody, but who am I to judge? Extreme situations drive people to do things they wouldn’t usually do and until you’ve actually lived with someone like Cassie how can you know what does or doesn’t feel justified in that situation?”
Cassie regularly mentioned her missing cutlery when she bumped into Caroline on campus. “She was convinced everything would turn up one day,” said Caroline. “She would often tell me her things were missing as if it was a new story she hadn’t told me before. She did spend time speculating about where her things might be but never came close to guessing where they actually were. I was studying English Language and Linguistics, but I deserve to have been given a First in Drama and a lead in a top West End play for the amount of empathy and surprise I was able to convey each time she told me the story.”
The lady opposite me has not taken her nail varnish off.
The notes clearly stated that all nail varnish and jewellery had to be removed. She doesn’t look like a rebel. She’s reading People’s Friend. Maybe she can’t reach her toes anymore.
Suddenly she lifts her feet up and places them inside the shopping basket on the floor next to her. I wonder if this is because her feet are cold or because she can hear my thoughts and wants to hide her rebellious toes from view.
My toenails are naked. They are never naked. Right now they should be at the beach, turning cartwheels and playing in the sea. I’m not planning to die today but if I did, would anyone know to repaint my toenails for me? I don’t want to spend the rest of eternity with naked toes.
It’s the last day of the summer holidays and the weather has delivered a perfect day. One of those wall to wall sunshine days where people are in and out of the sea all day, having barbecues and staying for the sunset. Not a good day to leave the beach early because the holiday’s over and you have to drive home to some landlocked county five hours from here. And not a good day to not get to the beach at all because you’re going into hospital. Who even knew that you could have an oscopy on a Sunday?
The last time I was in this particular place, I was having a colonoscopy and wasn’t allowed to eat for a day and a half before the procedure. Today I’m having a gastroscopy which means I stopped eating last night and haven’t been allowed a drink for the last two hours. I spent the night dreaming about being thirsty and got up extra early to drink lots of water. The leaflet said I could only have clear liquids, even so I’ve steered clear of the Vodka and Malibu.
The lovely lady at reception gave me a questionnaire to fill out and a pen that didn’t work. Obviously I had at least twelve different coloured pens in my bag, so filled out my answers in magenta. One of the things I’m asked to do is list all the valuables I brought with me, and I wonder if this is to protect my items or to give staff a heads up as to whether or not it’s worth raiding my bag once they’ve knocked me out with sedation drugs.
The waiting room is a busy place. Two men who haven’t seen each other for at least three years are having a cheerful reunion, chatting about all the people they know who’ve died since they last saw each other. It’s not the best topic of conversation to have in front of an audience of people about to have exploratory surgery, but these two men are oblivious to that as they gleefully try to outdo each other with their death stories “One minute she was at the top of the stairs, the next she was dead.”
Bringing relations along for the ride is supposedly prohibited so my Mum dropped me off, giving me a hug and a sticker that says Bee Brave which the doctors and nurses will no doubt have a good laugh about once they’re sure the sedation drugs have kicked in.
But one lady has ignored the no guests rule and has brought her whole family into the waiting room. They don’t seem to notice that they’re using up all the chairs and that real patients are having to stand. One of them’s got a bacon sandwich which is particularly cruel seeing as all of us have been fasting for at least twelve hours and some of us for considerably longer. If you’re not even supposed to bring relatives into the waiting room, then I’m sure relatives with bacon sandwiches are off the scale illegal.
It’s soon my turn to go and talk to the nurse. She’s incredibly lovely and knowledgeable and I wonder where she was on the day that I phoned up with my pre-surgery questions because the nurse I spoke to that day couldn’t answer any of my questions and I ended up getting all my answers off the internet. When this nurse asks me if I’ve got any questions I really wish I could think of one, because she would definitely know the answer.
I’m shown to a bay with a bed, a chair and a shopping basket. The rebellious lady with the painted toenails is sitting opposite me with a hospital gown on. My bay is right near the window, the door is open and I’m being flooded with fresh air and sunshine. Maybe I’ll get to do some sunbathing after all.
I sit down and put my bag on the floor. A different nurse immediately swoops in, picks it up and tells me that all items have to go in the shopping basket as if she’s manning the self-service check-out at Tesco and thinks I’m trying to steal some sausages. Then she places my bag in the shopping basket, gives me a pointed look for breaking the rules and announces she’s going to do my cannula which wipes the smile off my face completely.
“Are you scared of needles?” she asks.
No, but I’m absolutely terrified of cannulas.
I went to A&E in London in 2002 and screamed the casualty department down for four hours, not because of the initial pain that I went in with which was significant enough to get me a ride in an ambulance, but because of the cannula that they stuck into my arm. Having had subsequent cannulas that haven’t hurt at all, I can only presume that the London cannula was put in wrong or that I was a bit of a wuss back then. Whatever the reason, the memory is still vivid enough for me to be scared of looking at a cannula in someone else’s arm, let alone having one put in my own.
This nurse is possibly the one who couldn’t answer my questions when I phoned up last week. She likes to ask the same question three times, but not listen to the answer.
“God, you have no veins,” she mutters, which doesn’t make me feel as if today is going to be the day that I cure my fear of cannulas.
The nurse mutters a lot and inspects both of my arms without enthusiasm, whilst I focus on the ceiling and pretend not to think about what she’s about to do to my veinless arms.
“You look scared,” she says, as if this is a surprise. As if she isn’t a nurse and hasn’t spent her whole career sticking needles into people who are scared of needles. As if she hasn’t already asked me three times if I’m scared of needles and three times been given the abridged version of my fear of cannulas story.
Eventually the cannula is in, and actually it doesn’t hurt at all. The nurse disappears to leave me to my sunbathing. At the far end of the ward is a seating area where people who’ve already had their oscopies are drinking tea and eating biscuits, chatting cheerfully as if they’re having a marvellous time at a coffee morning. One of the ladies is absolutely jubilant to be having her first cup of tea since 9 o’clock yesterday morning and wants everyone in the ward to know just how happy she is. I wonder how many meetings the hospital had in order to decide it was a good idea to have the people rejoicing over cups of tea and biscuits in the same area as the pre-surgery people who’ve not been allowed anything to eat or drink for the last day or two.
Whilst I’m waiting, I contemplate my hospital bracelet. School starts again tomorrow, not that I’ll be there for a couple of days. This is the time of year that people come back with their hair braided after a Spanish holiday or with the wristbands showing that they’ve been to Reading Festival or stayed at an all-inclusive hotel. Maybe I’ll go back to work with my hospital bracelet on. “Hey guys, I had a gastroscopy this summer.” “That’s awesome Cazza, I saw the Foo Fighters at Leeds Festival. Let’s take a selfie with our wristbands.”
Cannula Nurse comes and tells me that I’m not wearing a hospital gown. I already know that I’m not wearing a hospital gown, and clearly she does too, so I’m not really sure what she wants me to say to that. Then I remember I can say anything I like because Cannula Nurse doesn’t listen when you speak to her. Her eyes dart around the bay, as if searching for a hospital gown, and then without another word she pulls the curtain around my bay and leaves.
Luckily I’ve got supersonic hearing so I hear her tell someone else that I haven’t got a hospital gown, and I hear that someone else tell her that I don’t need one. Otherwise when she came back without a hospital gown, pulled the curtain open again and walked off without uttering a word, I would have been very confused.
Time passes. The lady with the rebellious toes is taken off for her oscopy and wishes me luck with mine. My shopping basket and I are alone in the ward. The jubilant cup of tea lady has left, looking far too energetic and cheerful to have just had a camera inserted inside her. In her place a subdued lady drinks tea quietly and nibbles on a Digestive. I decide it’s a perfect time to get my phone out. Some of my friends messaged me earlier to say good luck, and now is probably my only chance to write a coherent reply before I’m sedated.
I’m in the middle of a juicy three way conversation with two of my closest friends when the doctor comes to ask if I’d like to come for a chat. Hmm, not really, I can’t imagine he’s going to be sharing the same sort of gossip that we were in the middle of, but he is the reason I’m here after all, so I hop off the bed and he takes me to the Quiet Room.
Having worked in special needs schools since 2002, I come across a lot of Quiet Rooms in my line of work, but I had no idea that they had them in endoscopy suites as well. I presume they have slightly different functions, I don’t think the doctor has brought me here because he thinks I might be about to trash his ward to get to the subdued lady’s Digestives. But you never know (answer: only if they were chocolate ones).
We have exactly the same chat that I had with Knowledgeable Nurse earlier. Then he says that we’re going straight to the oscopy room, quashing my hopes that I might get another ten minutes in my sunny bay to finish catching up on the gossip. Instead I dutifully pick up my shopping basket and follow him.
I’ve said a very enthusiastic yes to as much anaesthetic as possible, I have no desire to be fully conscious as a camera snakes its way down my throat, or bits of my oesophagus are taken out for analysis.
“You’re not allergic to anything, are you?” asked one of the nurses as I lie down in my designated spot.
I’m allergic to bananas, tuna and artificial sweeteners, and then there’s a whole load of other things I don’t eat because I’ve got colitis, but I never know whether I’m supposed to talk about this when a doctor asks me about allergies. I presume they want to know if I’m allergic to any of the drugs that they might be about to give me, not that I’m going to be displeased if they present me with a round of tuna sandwiches when I come round after the surgery. All the same I tell her what I’m allergic to, and everyone in the room gasps because the anaesthetic spray is flavoured with banana.
“It’s okay,” I said. I’ve done my homework. This is one of the questions the nurse couldn’t answer last week. “It doesn’t actually have bananas in it.”
All the same there’s a flurry of excitement because they’re not allowed to rely on me and my Googling skills, they have to go and check. In the meantime the other nurse leans over me with what looks like a plastic necklace and places it around my head as though awarding me a medal at an Olympic ceremony. It has two plastic prongs where the medal should be and I assume he’s going to put them in my mouth, but instead he puts them up my nose. A nose necklace. Who knew that was a thing? It smells of plastic and apparently it’s going to help me breathe. My nostrils are far from pleased with this unexpected intrusion.
The results come back on the banana spray, my homework was correct, I am allowed to have it and so a nasty stream of synthetic goo is soon sprayed into my throat.
“If you can’t feel your throat, it means it’s working,” reassures the nurse.
I attempt to answer but instead the banana goo gargles in my throat and makes an unintelligible noise that sounds a bit like an angry goose.
He gets me to lie on my side and puts a plastic green ring in my mouth.
Parts of my body are queuing up to complain. My nose hates the plastic, my throat hates the banana taste – which even I know doesn’t taste anything like a real banana – and my toes are still furious about being naked.
“The sedation will soon start to take effect,” says the nurse.
“Good,” I reply forcefully, not that he can understand me. I can’t wait for this moment in my life to stop being a reality. Whoever invented sedation needs a medal, and not just a plastic nose necklace like the one I’m wearing.
When I had the colonoscopy in 2015, I was able to speak, because the camera used a different entrance to get into my body. All I remember from the whole experience is a brief snippet where I was looking at my insides on the TV screen and announced to the doctors and nurses that it was very sparkly inside my colon. One of the doctors laughed and said that was the fairy dust. The other one said it was the light reflecting off of the camera. I can bet which of those doctors is the most fun at the staff Christmas party.
This time as they wheel me back to my bay I’m convinced that I have stayed awake and remembered the whole thing. But actually I haven’t. A flash of red on the screen, the sound of my throat fighting against the camera and then nothing. Not until the nurse leaves me in the bay and says “Well done” leaving me to wonder what it is that I’ve done well.
The nose necklace, the cannula, the mouth ring are all gone. I can’t see my bag either. “Is my bag….” I begin, because last night I made a litre of extra strong full sugar squash to pour down my throat at precisely this moment.
“It’s under your bed,” said the nurse. “There’s a special little place for it.”
“Can I have…” I ask but maybe I don’t say it out loud because the nurse has gone.
Cannula Nurse floats nearby. I don’t rate my chances but she’s my best shot.
“Okay?” she inquires abruptly.
“Could I have my bag please?”
“It’s under your bed.”
“Yes I know, but could you pass it to me please? I’ve got a drink…”
“You want a drink? You want a tea or coffee?”
“No thank you, I’ve got a drink in my…”
“You let me know when you’re ready for a drink okay?”
“Um now. I’m ready now. If you could please just….”
But she’s gone.
Fine. I’ll have to get it myself. I just need to sit up, swing my legs round and….
But before I can do any of that I fall back to sleep again.
Minutes, or possibly hours later, you really can’t tell when you’ve been sedated, I’m awake again and still thirsty. Nobody’s around. I decide I’ll get my bag, drink my squash and get back on my phone to see what else has develop after the cliffhanger of gossip that my friends left me with before I got sedated. Cannula Nurse is immediately beside me.
“Shall I call your Mum?” she asks. “Are you ready to go home?”
I have no idea if I’m ready to go home. The last time I tried to sit up I passed out. I can’t even get my bag from under the bed. Walking out of the ward and getting into a car doesn’t seem like something I’m going to be able to do any time soon.
“I just want to get my drink,” I tell her with as much determination as possible.
“You want a drink?”
“Yes, it’s in my bag… I just need to…”
Before I really know what’s going on, Cannula Nurse is escorting me and my bag over to the sofa at the end of the ward. Clearly this is the designated drinking area and she won’t have anyone swigging their squash in any other part of the ward.
I sit down, retrieve my squash, take off the lid and just as I’m finally about to drink it, she says “You need a cup.”
This is highly debatable. I don’t need a cup, I just need a drink, because I had my last sip of water five hours ago and I’ve been thirsty for at least the last four. But she produces a cup, I pour my squash into it and down it in seconds. Cannula Nurse is satisfied and moves on.
There’s nobody else in the designated drinking area so I sit by myself drinking cup after cup of squash. There are biscuits on the table, packets of threes. I take some Bourbons and after I finish eating the first one, it seems there are none left in the packet. I pat it dramatically, searching for the other two, but it’s definitely empty. This is the magic of sedation, it makes you think you’ve had one biscuit when you’ve actually had three. I reach for another packet and soon forget that I’ve eaten those as well.
“I’ve called your Mum and she’s on her way,” said Cannula Nurse. “Are you ready to go home?”
“Is someone going to talk to me about my results first?”
We fall into a bit of a pattern. I’m not going to be ready to go home until someone speaks to me about my results, she’s not going to answer the question about my results because, well I’m not really sure why, but she’s really doing her best to avoid it.
Eventually she tells me that my Mum’s here and she’s got my results. And so she leads me on a merry dance up and down the corridor looking for a private space where we can talk. We sit down, and she tells me that there are no results. I’ll get them in nine to ten days time. I’m all for patient confidentiality, but we really didn’t need to go and find a private place for her to divulge that piece of information. Especially when I had been sitting alone in the designated drinking area and nobody would have overheard her. Maybe she just wanted to get me away from the biscuits. Maybe I only thought I’d had six. Perhaps I’d actually eaten twenty-seven.
Cannula Nurse hands me some paperwork and much to her annoyance, instead of getting up and leaving, I sit and read it. There’s a section called advice/comments and someone has typed that I’ve been reassured. I’m not sure that my chat with Cannula Nurse counts as reassurance, and even if it did, the piece of paper saying I’ve had reassurance was printed before the actual reassurance was provided. Maybe time works differently for everyone in endoscopy suites and not just those of us who’ve been sedated.
Really I would have liked to have chatted to Knowledgeable Nurse, or the Quiet Room doctor or even the lady with the rebellious toes. I contemplate asking to speak to someone else, not because I think they’ll magically have some results for me, but because after you’ve had exploratory surgery, it’s nice to be spoken to by someone who understands the concept of a two way conversation.
In shops and restaurants, when staff members don’t have any people skills, and prove to be bad for business, their bosses put them out the back where they won’t have to interact with the public. I wonder if it’s the same in hospitals: the staff who are rubbish with people are put in the wards where none of the patients will make an official complaint because they’ve all had sedation and won’t remember how rude and dismissive the staff were.
Cannula Nurse is glaring at me as if she can hear my thoughts. Just like rebellious toes when she put her feet in the basket earlier. Maybe endoscopy suites are magical places where time works differently and people can hear what you’re thinking.
“Okay?” demanded Cannula Nurse, but she’s not really asking if I’m okay, she’s signalling that she wants me to stand up and leave.
“I guess we’ll find out in nine to ten days,” I reply.
She seems to think I should be able to find my own way out of the endoscopy suite. I definitely can’t. Even in New Zealand where a town had just one road leading through it and I hadn’t had any sedation, I’d still walk the wrong way if I didn’t know where I was going. The endoscopy suite was far more challenging with all its doors and corridors. Grudgingly she escorts me to the correct door and pretty much pushes me out of the endoscopy suite, out of her life. My Mum is the other side of the door and I land in her arms.
I recline the passenger seat on the journey home, close my eyes and quiz my Mum about what she’s been doing since she dropped me off. Except I realise I’m not listening to her answers. I ask “Where have you been?” at least four times and she gives the same answer each time, but even now I have no idea what my Mum did for three hours in town on a sunny Sunday other than wait for the call to come and pick me up. I’m behaving just like Cannula Nurse, asking questions with no intention of listening to the answer. Is it catching? Did Cannula Nurse squirt some of her social ineptness down my cannula whilst I was sedated? Or did she used to be a lovely chatty person who has simply just been around sedated people for so long that she’s absorbed their speaking and listening incoherencies and and has now lost the ability to ever have a proper conversation?
“We should go to the beach,” I mumble, before falling asleep completely.
Mum takes me home. She’s sleeping over tonight, otherwise I would have had to stay in hospital overnight and that would have made this story much longer. Patients and nurses I never got to meet, a hospital tea that may or may not have contained tuna. But instead I sleep in my own bed, completely unaware of the night that could have been and the stories that would have been written.
I spend the rest of the afternoon sound asleep on a bed of cushions and blankets in the garden.
I sleep solidly for four days. On the fifth day I repaint my toenails.
WARNING: When you have been sedated, you are not allowed to operate machinery, go to work, drive a vehicle, be by yourself or sign legal documents for at least 24 hours because the sedation might affect your thought processes. However nowhere does it say that you can’t write a story about your experience because you might not have remembered it properly.
I applied for a Debenham’s credit card the other day. I didn’t want one, but I did want the 10% discount. The sales assistant fired questions at me, entered my answers on her computer and then announced that I’d failed. I wasn’t allowed the card but she still gave me the discount. So perhaps I won after all.
I think the thing that put Debenhams off was when asked about my occupation I said I was a professional beach goer. If I’d told them I was a teacher I’d no doubt have an extra piece of shiny purple plastic in my purse right now. But it’s week six of the summer holidays and the only things in my head are tide times, weather forecasts and not forgetting the matches to light the barbecue.
Not that I would forget, because going to the beach is the thing that I am best at. I was already pretty good at it, but that time in Australia really consolidated it. Turned the A* into an A* double distinction plus. Or a 9 as they seem to be calling it these days. If you’ve got a 9 in going to the beach you’re not going to forget the matches.
Not everyone is as good at going to the beach as I am, and these people all come together once a year on the August bank holiday weekend to demonstrate just how bad they are at going to the beach. They find it so difficult and so traumatic, that they vow never to return, and keep that vow until the next August bank holiday, when they forget about the previous year and decide to do it all over again. This means they never improve their skills or enjoyment of going to the beach and would certainly never think of doing a cartwheel while they were there.
Once the decision has been made to go to the beach, the first thing everybody has to do is get ready. For me this is very easy. I’ll have been to the beach the day before, the day before that and the day before that ad infinitum, so many of my things will already be in the designated beach bag. My kitchen cupboards are stocked with beach and barbecue fodder, my car is full of surfboards and sand. The sock drawer hasn’t been touched for weeks and I’ve swapped underwear for bikinis seeing as I’m in the sea every day. You have no idea how much this infuriated the lingerie lady at Debenhams when I requested a bra fitting, but that’s another story (literally – I’ll publish it next week).
Other people do not have a designated beach bag. They will have to go into the loft to look for the picnic blanket and whilst they’re up there they will find a broken kite, two deckchairs from the eighties, a sun umbrella and the game of boule that they couldn’t find last year. They will decide that all of these items are essential for today’s beach trip and they will spend ages packing all these things into the car before squeezing in the rest of the family.
Once everyone is squashed into the car, it’s time to drive to the beach. For me, this usually means taking the Renault Clio on a mile and a quarter journey down one lane, the sort of lane that is too narrow for two cars to pass each other in opposite directions, so you have to reverse into a passing place if someone comes towards you. Normally the road is used by surfers and locals, everyone knows how to reverse and I get to the beach in seven minutes.
But not on a bank holiday.
Hundreds of cars that don’t usually go anywhere near a narrow country lane are suddenly crammed bumper to bumper into a bottleneck where there are so many cars and so many people not understanding what to do, that nobody goes anywhere. Some of the drivers are terrified of reversing or have forgotten how to do it, some refuse to reverse because they are terrified of scratching their giant cars on the unforgiving stone walls and hedges, whilst other drivers perhaps wouldn’t have minded reversing into a space if they hadn’t packed their car with so many windbreaks, tents and deckchairs that they can’t actually see out of the back windscreen.
Not that anybody should need to reverse. On a sunny day, on a road that leads only to the beach, why would anybody be travelling away from it before 6pm? But some people arrive at the beach, baulk at the £8.50 car park entry fee and say “Sod that Susan, we’re not staying here.” These people then turn around and meet the other hundred cars travelling towards the beach. An hour later and they’re still fighting upstream against a never ending procession of vehicles, wishing they’d paid the £8.50 and stayed at the beach after all.
Those of us travelling towards the beach spend minutes at a time sitting with our engines off, waiting for it to be our turn to shuffle slightly forwards, and sometimes backwards, in the Great British Bank Holiday Narrow Lane Car Dance. Locals will open gates and direct cars into fields to create space on the road so that other cars can come past; fields full of tourists are then left wondering if it will ever be their turn to get right of way (answer: no). Farmers bring their largest tractors onto the road, chuckling to themselves because they don’t actually need to go anywhere, but for them taking to the lanes on a bank holiday weekend is a compulsory sport.
And today we’ve got a smug pedestrian. She’s walking gleefully past every car, she can’t wait to convey the same message to every driver: “It’s gridlocked, all the way to the beach. You’ll never make it, you might as well turn around and go home now.” She’s positively thrilled to be the traffic oracle, leaning into every car, imparting the news like a smiling assassin. As she walks towards my car, grinning like she’s won the lottery, I put on my dark sunglasses, wind up my window and give her the death glare. “Trot on love, and take your prophecies of traffic doom elsewhere.” Her face falls and she stumbles by, temporarily wounded, but picks herself up in time to inflict schadenfreude on the driver behind me.
The Prophet of Traffic Doom is wrong and I do get to the beach, it takes 41 minutes instead of 7, but I’ve been doing Devon Bank Holidays since 1986 and I knew I’d get there in the end. In the car park the shouting has already begun. All these people who don’t usually come to the beach are now removing all of the junk they transported from the loft to the boot, and scratching their heads as they try to work out how to carry it all down to the beach.
“Ruby, do we really need to bring the inflatable unicorn?”
“Are you really going to use it?”
“Right, then you have to carry it, otherwise we’re going to leave it in the car, do you understand?”
All that Ruby understands is that there’s no way she’s going anywhere without the unicorn, there’s no way she’s going to be carrying the unicorn, and actually she’s going to insist that she needs to be carried as well. To demonstrate her point she starts screaming as loudly as she can, and sure enough her Dad scoops up Ruby, the unicorn and many other things that he now wishes he’d left at home.
I have my favourite places to sit on the beach, but on a bank holiday, you just choose the first patch of sand that hasn’t been claimed and isn’t in the middle of somebody’s game of frisbee. The beach is buzzing. There’s a man loudly reading from a manual as his confused mates attempt to follow his instructions to assemble a tent. There’s a group of children playing French Cricket and giggling every time their ball smacks an unsuspecting sunbather. There’s a Mum who is speaking so loudly it seems that she’s not addressing the child in front of her but instead asking everyone else on the beach if they want to have a wee wee, and there’s an angry Dad telling his son that he “won’t tell you again.”
If only this were true. Everyone on the beach knows that when a parent starts the “I’m not going to tell you again” routine, he is in fact going to tell the child again and again and again, until the rest of us are far more frustrated with the Dad than he ever was with the child.
As I unpack my designated beach bag, I quickly become aware that I have an Oscar on my left and my right. Although both Oscars belong to two different families, they are both attracting the same frustrated shouts: “Oscar, stop it. Oscar, get off the blanket you’re too sandy. Oscar, come here now. Oscar, I won’t tell you again.” One Oscar is a cocker spaniel and the other is a boy, but they seem to be committing identical crimes of getting sand everywhere and invading personal space.
When one of the Oscar families leave, they are quickly replaced by another family who set up their base and head to the sea. The umbrella not wanting to be left behind quickly dislodges itself from the sand and goes flying across the beach, turning somersaults as it whips along the sand. I run after it and rescue it but not before it’s smacked a teenager in the face. I’m not sure why I apologise to him because it’s really not my fault that someone else’s umbrella has smacked him in the face, but he accepts my apology and I return the umbrella to its original home, lying it down so that it can’t take off again. This confuses the umbrella’s owners when they get out of the sea, their umbrella was clearly the marker to help them remember where their things were. I wasn’t exactly sure what my neighbours looked like, but when I see a family wandering around looking confused – much like me every time I come out of a Tesco Extra and realise I’ve got no idea where my car is – I decide it’s probably my umbrella neighbours and go over to help to reunite them with their things. They were wandering off in completely the wrong direction and if they’d given me a pound for every time they told me how confused they’d been when they couldn’t see the umbrella, I could have paid for at least three more cars to get into the car park.
When you sit near other families, you quickly learn everyone’s names, because they all shout at each other all the time. “Duncan are you going to light the barbecue or are you just going to stand there like a lemon?” “Henry threw sand at me,” “Poppy won’t play with me,” “Jessica, stop it,” “Oscar I won’t tell you again.”
The umbrella family’s black sheep is called Bailey. He doesn’t actually seem to be doing anything wrong, but the Mum is repeating the same monologue “You’re not listening to me Bailey. I’m telling you. I won’t bring you here again if you can’t listen. No that’s it, you’re not going anywhere. You’ve had your chance Bailey. You can just sit there now and watch everybody else have fun.”
It’s true that Bailey isn’t listening. But it’s also true that Bailey’s a dog. A very quiet dog, who seems very happy sitting under the umbrella, doing his best to ignore the lady delivering the angry tirade. Bailey and I exchange a glance. It’s clear to both of us who the annoying member of that family really is. I should have left her wandering the beach looking for her umbrella after all.
Further down the beach a Dad is furious with his children because they are covered in sand. Or at least he thinks they are. He clearly hasn’t ever played that game where you bury someone up to their neck in wet sand. His children have just a little bit of sand on the backs of their legs, but he is shouting at them to go back to the sea immediately and wash off EVERY GRAIN OF SAND otherwise they won’t be getting back in the car and he’s going to leave them here.
I think that sounds like the better option. If I was his child I’d be plastering wet sand all over my body to make sure I did get left behind. It’s the middle of the day, the car is going to be a sauna when they all get into it and they are going to have to battle through the narrow lane traffic for at least an hour if they leave now. That will make him far angrier than a few grains of sand on the back seat of his car. And he’s going to be REALLY furious this evening because his skin has gone really pink and that’s going to hurt. There’s no way he’ll be bringing those kids back to the beach any time soon.
Sand does seem to strike fear into a lot of grown men. They agree to come to the beach as long as they “don’t get sandy” – but then they wear those serious trainers which sand just loves. Sand secretes itself into every eyelet of a lace up trainer and works its way into the sock, it gets stuck in the velcro, the tread and onto the fabric. I could rinse my flip flops every night and not a grain of sand would be left, but these sand haters who come to the beach once a year in their trainers will still have bits of sand hiding in their shoes next Easter.
As a professional beach goer I know to wait until later in the day to join the ice cream queue, I also know to have my money ready and at least three different ideas of what I want because on a bank holiday the staff are speedy and the stocks run low. The lady in front of me doesn’t know any of this but she does want everyone in the queue to know exactly what each member of her family has requested. “Matilda wants a double raspberry Magnum,” she says in a loud voice to her toddler daughter who’s unlikely to be any help in remembering the order or carrying it back to the rest of the family. “And Tallulah’s having a salted caramel cone.”
Many of the people in the queue know it’s unlikely that Tallulah will actually be having a salted caramel cone, because this lady is clearly an amateur and won’t be able to make it out of the shop, down the steps and over to her family with seven ice creams and a toddler in tow before the salted caramel cone melts all over her hand. Professional beach goers know that if you want a cone you have to go and get it yourself so that you can keep the ice cream under control by licking it into shape (literally) all the way back to where you’re sitting. If you’ve sent someone to get your ice cream for you, you either need to ask for something that comes in a packet or be comfortable with letting that person lick it for you.
Loud lady gets to the front of the queue and discovers the shop has run out of five of the ice creams she was supposed to be getting and so she has to think on her feet but why she thinks someone who ordered a white chocolate and cookies Magnum is going to be pleased with a milk flavoured Mini Milk is anyone’s guess.
Once her ice creams are ordered she explains to the young shop assistant in a loud and patronizing voice that she’s only got very large notes and holds out a £20 as if she’s expecting the teenage lad won’t ever have seen one before. Without missing a beat he tells her the total cost of her ice cream purchase is £19.50 and a ripple of laughter makes its way down the rest of the ice cream queue. The lady slinks off juggling the toddler, her 50 pence change and all of the ice creams. Tallulah’s salted caramel is already dripping onto her fingers by the time she passes me.
There are definite winners and losers of bank holiday beach days. Ice cream shops rake in the profits, whilst Loud Lady’s family probably felt quite underwhelmed when presented with their unrequested Mini Milks and Tallulah’s melted salted caramel. The guy who owns the beach car park will be feeling a lot luckier than the sand haters who paid him £8.50 to come to the beach, getting sunburnt and ruining their best trainers in the process.
An unlikely winner of the bank holiday weekend is a miniature schnauzer. He lives in a house so close to the sea that it has steps down to the beach and walls made of glass to maximise the view. You would think that someone who owns a house as expensive as this would be able to afford to feed their dog, but this dog is on the beach every night, raiding everyone’s food. He can get into bags and hampers better than the seagulls and on more than one occasion I’ve come out of the sea to find this dog on my picnic blanket surrounded by the pastry crumbs of the sausage roll I had been planning to eat for tea or polishing off the last of my sandwiches. The name on the collar says Cliffhaven but this is not the dog’s name, it’s the name of the house the dog lives in, an invitation perhaps that the next time their dog eats my tea I could go to their house and make myself a meal.
The locals have got wise to Cliffhaven and his scavenging ways. Now I never leave my base without zipping everything away. On a bank holiday though, Cliffhaven is in his element. People leave food out in the open whilst they go for a swim or build a sandcastle. Other people are so busy telling Oscar that they’re not going to tell him again that they don’t even notice Cliffhaven taking sausages straight off the barbecue or licking ketchup off the toddler’s face. Many people are pleased to see Cliffhaven. This never happens on a normal day, but today the newcomers encourage him over for a pat, Cliffhaven trots over, ignores the people with their outstretched hands and runs off with their burger buns instead. Cliffhaven wishes that every day was a bank holiday.
As afternoon turns into evening, many people decide it’s time to go home. It’s still really sunny and I won’t be leaving for at least another three hours, but everybody else is getting ready to go. Chaos reigns as people who don’t usually come to the beach work out how to leave it. People are trying to work out how to pack the tent back into the little bag it came in, how to carry the disposable barbecue up to the bin without burning their fingers, how to deflate the giant unicorn. Oscar’s Dad is yet again telling Oscar that he’s not going to tell him again, but Oscar doesn’t care, he’s covered in sand on top of a rock, he will come down at the very last minute and transport all the sand into the back of his Dad’s car. Children are crying because they don’t want to go home, parents are shouting because their child has lost a flip flop, one family is frantically digging in the sand because nobody’s seen the car keys since they arrived seven hours ago. Cliffhaven takes the opportunity to nose into their open bag and devour the leftover chicken.
Up in the car park, drivers are trying to remember how they managed to fit all the people and objects into the car this morning, because now it’s impossible to get everyone and everything back in. Then all the vehicles have another go at doing the Great British Bank Holiday Narrow Lane Car Dance as the hundreds of cars travelling away from the beach fight to get past the twenty cars going to the beach. These cars are filled with people who think they are smart to wait until the evening when the beach will be quieter and less crowded, but these people have not realised that they will simply just meet the crowds on the roads instead of on the beach.
Not me though. Whilst other people are battling through traffic, piling sandy deckchairs on the landing ready to go back in the loft tomorrow and discovering just how much their shoulders hurt because they forgot to put on suncream, I’m having my barbecue, watching the sunset and going in the sea. I’m still in the sea as twilight turns to darkness. I’m the last person to leave the car park. It takes me seven minutes to get home and another seven minutes to unpack and repack ready for tomorrow.
If the people who make the decisions about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to have a Debenhams credit card knew just how many people fail at being a professional beach goer, they may have considered my application with a bit more respect.
I don’t really care though. Tomorrow they’ll be back at work, encouraging customers to apply for credit cards that they then won’t let them have and I’ll be back at the beach wearing the bikini I bought with that 10% discount.
A hamster and his owner have celebrated three weeks of living together by making it Facebook official.
Syrian hamster Putney was previously living with his brother at Pets at Home in Barnstaple, but took the big step of moving in with Caroline just five days after they first met.
Caroline said “We’ve spent the last three weeks getting to know each other and learning each other’s daily routines. I introduced him to some of my friends quite early on and obviously I’ve already met his brother, but we now feel that we’re ready to take the next step and let Facebook know that we are living together.
Facebook is a well-known platform for sharing important news. As well as announcing pregnancies, engagements and living arrangements, many Facebook users immediately turn to Facebook when they want a wide audience to know what they’ve had for dinner or to cryptically vent frustration about a non-identified situation that leaves most of their friends nonplussed.
Putney, who doesn’t have his own Facebook account yet, said “We’ve got 92 likes already and we’re really pleased with that. We’ll be taking lots more photos of our lives together for all our friends to see. My paws aren’t heavy enough to use a smartphone yet so Caroline will have to upload all the photos whilst I concentrate on looking cute.”
A British skier has failed to win the deep fried lottery at a hotel in Italy.
Caroline Gough who spent seven nights at the hotel in the skiing resort of Cervinia explained: “Every night the meal begins with a buffet starter and on the first night I discovered that other diners were eating delicious balls of mozzarella deep fried in breadcrumbs which I had somehow managed to miss. Deep fried cheese is one of my favourite things.”
The next night Caroline eagerly helped herself to a generous portion of deep fried balls, only to discover that on this occasion the balls did not contain mozzarella cheese, but instead a ghastly concoction of mashed fish. “It was horrendous,” said Caroline.
For the remainder of the holiday, Caroline tentatively tried the deep fried balls every night but did not succeed in finding any that contained mozzarella.
A British skier has spoken of her ordeal at the hands of a kindly retired couple from Valtournenche in North-West Italy.
Caroline Gough from Devon met Fabrizio and Fulvia Fogliati last week whilst skiing in the popular Italian resort of Cervinia.
Caroline explained “At the start of the day many people head to a ski area called Plateau Rosa by taking a series of three gondolas. Being in a gondola is a little bit like being on the tube, although the social etiquette is not quite so prescribed. If you like you can keep your sunglasses on and glare frostily at your fellow commuters, but some people have been known to remove their sunglasses and helmets and smile at each other.”
In the first gondola, Caroline exchanged a smile with the Italian couple. They then ended up sharing the second gondola where they exchanged general pleasantries about the snow conditions and established where each other was from. By the third gondola the conversation was flowing quite naturally and both parties were enjoying it.
“I assumed that would be the end of it,” said Caroline. “But then they invited me to ski with them. I laughed and said no, because I figured I’d never be able to keep up with an Italian couple who’ve been skiing since forever. They said that I was probably faster than them because I’m younger, so I said that if we were still together at the bottom of the first slope then I’d join them. I honestly thought I’d never see them again.”
However Caroline found that her new friends skied at a similar pace to her, and so agreed to ski with them into the Swiss resort of Zermatt. “I’d already done it the day before,” said Caroline. “But Franco and Fulvia wanted to take me a different way.”
It transpired that Franco and Fulvia’s favourite route involved a long steep and icy narrow black run which was marked ‘for good skiers only’. Caroline said “The run was actually called Furi which shows just what an angry run it was. You have to ski down this near-vertical wall of ice, then shoot round a narrow and icy corner with literally just a thin piece of orange string to separate the run from the death drop beside it. You also have to do it at top speed to keep up with your crazy new friends and you definitely can’t lose face by breaking into a snowplough.”
It turned out that all of Fabrizio and Fulvia’s favourite runs were similar to Furi and Caroline found herself skiing along many narrow icy tracks, over the edge of steep precipices and at one point over a rickety old icy bridge with several missing slats.
Caroline said “It was absolutely terrifying, but I kept up and didn’t fall over, so I’m very proud of myself.”
Fulvia told us “Now that we are retired we can ski every day of the season. We love it, but it can get a bit monotonous, just the two of us.”
Fabrizio added “We were worried our marriage wouldn’t survive once we stopped going to work and had to actually spend time together. But then we began playing ‘Terrify a Tourist’ and we’ve never looked back”.
“Looking after pets” often crops up on the syllabus at school, and both Hammersmith and Dagenham were subjected to being the focus object of several circle times back in Shillingstone, but this year without a hamster to my name and not wanting to pluck one of the goldfish out of the tank to take in for show and tell, I instead introduced Project Egg.
This is where each student and staff member is given a hard boiled egg to look after for the duration of a week, and at the end of the week anyone who has looked after their charge eggceptionally well gets to swap it for the hugely imaginative prize of an Easter Egg.
We all named and decorated our eggs, and the fun began. We took our eggs for walks, created thrones for them to sit in and made them chariots out of Lego. It wasn’t long before cracks started to appear, but at the end of the week, we had two survivors.
With no cracks or blemishes, she smelt far more fragrant than any of her friends, and so with the Easter holidays looming, I decided to take her on an eggventure – and it just so happened I was about to go skiing and had a little bit of space left in the pocket of my ski jacket.
Our first adventures happened before we even left Devon, with Eggmerelda’s first and last experience of a Drive-Thru McDonalds:
Then on to Leigh Delamare Service station, where Eggmerelda was anxious that nobody slip on the freshly mopped floor (she’d seen enough of her friends break during her week at school)
We had a whole three hours to sleep at the Gatwick hotel before the alarm went off for our eggstremely early flight. Eggmerelda was very cosy in the wardrobe:
At the airport Eggmerelda loved travelling on the conveyor belt to get through security, and we had breakfast together on the other side. I didn’t order the full English – I thought it might cause a bit of controversy if one of Eggmerelda’s friends turned up fried on the plate:
We loved having a window seat on the plane:
And enjoyed a walk around Cervinia when we arrived:
Eggmerelda made a new friend who was almost as talkative as she is:
She was scared of visiting the crepe place incase she ended up as an ingredient:
And she definitely didn’t want to have a game of pool:
She enjoyed making some new friends at breakfast time:
And we borrowed this special throne so that she had a proper seat:
It seems not a lot of eggs get taken for walks in Cervinia, so Eggmerelda stopped traffic wherever she went:
And often got a cold bottom:
Eggmerelda was shocked to see an old friend at the dinner table on Thursday:
And raced to the supermarket to warn her friends about the perils of life:
But she couldn’t speak Italian so they didn’t understand.
Then it was time to go skiing. We waited a few days because Eggmerelda was a bit scared of tackling such an eggstreme sport.
It started off so well. We wrapped Eggmerelda in a serviette and then placed her inside a glove for extra protection, and she sat quite happily in my rucksack as we skied from Italy to Switzerland and back again:
But then it happened, the eggsact thing we were trying to avoid. Packed into a cable car with 99 other people, and all their skis and snowboards, there’s not much room to move. As the cable car juddered past a pylon, my rucksack smacked against a snowboard and an ominous smell filled the air. It could only mean one thing.
Back in the classroom we’d had sellotape to put Humpty Dumpty, Mario and Egg Sheeran back together again, but here on the mountain I had no First Aid at my fingertips. There was nothing I could do for Eggmerelda.
It was Game Ova.
A British skier has been left perplexed and outraged following the disappearance of four chocolate eggs from her hotel room at the popular ski resort of Cervinia in Italy.
Caroline Gough from Devon in England eggs-plained “When I left my hotel room at eight o’clock this morning, there were five chocolate eggs on the shelf. When I returned this evening, there was just one chocolate egg left. I am quite chocolate-orientated so it was the first thing I noticed.”
The eggs, which were purchased at the Tesco store in Braunton, came in a variety of different coloured foils and travelled from Gatwick in Miss Gough’s hand luggage on Sunday along with several others that Caroline ate earlier in the week. Caroline said “The four that are missing all had turquoise wrappers. I saved them til last because turquoise is my favourite colour.”
Caroline added “If all the eggs had been missing, then I may have forgotten that I hadn’t already eaten them myself, but the fact that there’s a pink one left absolutely confirms that somebody’s tampered with them. I’d never ever leave a pink one until last.”
After a happy day of skiing, Caroline returned to her room to shower and relax before the evening meal, but her plans were turned upside down upon discovery that the eggs were missing. Caroline said “It would be eggs-tremely logical to jump to conclusions and assume the cleaner has eaten them, but I wonder if there is a different eggs-planation.”
Caroline believes the cleaner may have got into the Easter spirit and hidden the eggs around Caroline’s hotel room as a surprise Easter Egg hunt. “She hasn’t emptied the bin or removed the six month accumulation of dust from the corners of the bathroom, so maybe she found more creative things to do when she was in my room today,” said Caroline.
Caroline who is a teacher said “I did an Easter egg hunt with my class last week and everyone really enjoyed it. But on that occasion nobody had just done a 78 mile round trip skiing to Switzerland and back, so we all had a lot more enthusiasm and energy for egg hunting than I have at the moment.”
Caroline has conducted a thorough search of her room but has not yet found any of the hidden chocolate. “I’m beginning to feel a little bit eggs-asperated,” she confided.
A source close to Miss Gough said: “Don’t mess with Cazza and her chocolate. As soon as she realises there is no Easter Egg hunt, she’s going to eggsplode, possibly with eggspletives.”
Whether we were for it or against it, Friday was the day that our not so united kingdom was supposed to exit the European Union. Like a less entertaining version of the Ross and Rachel “Will they, won’t they?” storyline in Friends, audiences from around the world have been waiting to see whether or not the UK really would part ways with the EU on 29th March.
However, one linguist from North Devon has always known that Brexit was never going to happen on 29th March for the very simple reason that it is not considered a proper word by people who play Scrabble.
Caroline Gough, who enjoys playing real Scrabble at a table, and Words with Friends on her phone, attempted to play “Brexit” against her mother Gillian Byrom back in July 2018. “I’m always excited to see what I can do with high scoring letters such as J, Q, X and Z,” explained Caroline. “And when I realised I had all the letters for Brexit, I was thrilled.”
Caroline’s delight was short-lived however when Words With Friends informed her that “Brexit is not an acceptable word.”
Caroline said “When I learnt to play Scrabble back in the eighties, there were lots of strict rules about which words were and weren’t acceptable in a game of Scrabble. Proper nouns and slang were completely out, and in 1996 there was a huge family argument because my Mum put CHIMP on a Triple Word Score and Great Aunt Rosemary stormed out of the dining room because it’s a shortened version of CHIMPANZEE.”
However the online versions of Scrabble and Words With Friends allow all sorts of words that Scrabble purists would forbid, including acronyms such as FE (further education), colloquialisms such as GAWSY and proper nouns such as PARIS.
Caroline said “You can have ZAX which is a tool that punches holes in roof slate, you can have XI which is the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet and you can have EL which means an Elevated Railway, particularly in Chicago. You can’t have NARNIA or HOGWARTS presumably because these are things that exist in the realms of fantasy. It appears that BREXIT falls into the same category. Perhaps Theresa May should visit Scrabble HQ before her next vote and convince them that BREXIT is a real word. Then she may have a bit more luck passing it through the Commons.”
Since returning from my travels and moving back to my North Devon roots, one of the many things I enjoy about my new life is having a patio that I can see from the comfort of the turquoise sofa. Many of you will know that despite its name, my last house – Tower View – did not actually have a view of any tower, more pertinently, it also didn’t have any windows facing onto the patio so there was nowhere you could sit to watch the birds. I fed them, but never got to watch them, just picked up the bird table several times a week because it was always falling over.
Chertsey House, where I live now, is a 4 hour drive from Chertsey, my student flat at Woking Close was nowhere near Woking, and I doubt that Cantaloupe Close was built on an ex-melon field, so perhaps I am destined to always live in houses with false names, however here at Chertsey House, I can sit on my turquoise sofa and watch the birds til the cows come home (which they do, there’s a farm two doors down).
This autumn, my collection of bird feeders grew from two to eight, there’s now a whole cupboard dedicated to bird food in my board room (that’s where the surfboards, ironing boards and board games are kept – I’m sure you can guess which type of board I use the most often). And the ring ouzel and I have formed such a friendship that he now comes and sits on the patio step and waits for me to go out and talk to him.
So as you can imagine, I was looking forward to taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, where people throughout the nation are asked to record how many of each species of bird they see in the space of an hour.
I was all set. There was hot chocolate for me and seven varieties of food for them. And so the show began. The little birds flocked to the patio, the bigger birds flocked to the garden. I greeted them all with delight (obviously they couldn’t hear me as the doors and windows were shut) and ticked them off my list. Everyone was happy. And then the drama struck.
THWACK! Thirty-seven minutes into my calm, happy bird watching hour, just as I was looking at the identification guide to check the difference between the common gull and the black headed gull (this is as misleading as the houses I’ve lived in, black headed gulls don’t necessarily have black heads), one of the gulls in question thought he would come a bit closer to help me out with my identification quandary. And so he flew as fast as he could into the closed window behind my head.
I jumped so far off the sofa that every part of my neck and upper back locked together in spasm. I spun round to see what had happened, and there was a black headed seagull with no black head and not a lot of life left in him, lying on his back, staring at me through the window from behind a flower pot, surrounded by feathers, looking quite forlorn and not ever so sure of how he had got there.
My voice ascended into falsetto and the air went blue as I loudly pondered what I was supposed to do now. Living with goldfish is great, but they never offer to take the lead when you’ve got a crisis to deal with. It’s always down to me.
Then there was a flutter of wings and I breathed a sigh of relief. He had obviously survived his spectacular crash, and was now going to carry on with his day – or go off to die in somebody else’s garden. Then I realised it wasn’t his wings that had been flapping, but the wings of an evil looking bird who had swooped down to finish him off.
“Far out,” I said, because this is what my Australian friends say, now that they’ve all had children but still need an expression beginning with F to convey feelings of shock or distress. Nobody had warned me about this when I signed up to do the bird watch weekend. I thought I was going to be watching birds eat peanuts and hop around the patio, not kill themselves and eat each other.
Funnily enough the bird survey was not comprehensive enough to have a box to tick for the events unfolding in my garden, nor did it have a picture of the evil bird. Presumably these birds don’t come to gardens regularly enough to appear in the normal survey, only to act as cannibalistic undertakers. However the rules are that you have to list every bird you see, and so I was going to have to work out exactly who this evil bird was.
“Are you a sparrowhawk?” I asked through the closed window, holding up my laptop screen to compare the real bird with the photo. “Or a hobby hawk?” The bird ignored me and continued to feast gleefully on the gull which I hoped was dead by now. “Do you think you could take that away?” I inquired. “This is a takeaway restaurant, you’re not supposed to dine in.” I thought about banging on the window to emphasise my point, but I didn’t want him to fly off and leave the partially eaten seagull behind.
I turned my attention back to the nice birds who were doing what they were supposed to be doing, feasting and fluttering at the feeders, completely oblivious to the horror scenes taking place just around the corner. The Evil Bird retreated to the bottom of the garden, taking his prize dead gull with him, and eventually he flew off completely, leaving just a patch of feathers to mark the traumatic occasion.
My bird watch continued, but who knows if I counted the correct number of bluetits and dunnocks, or a if a couple slipped by unnoticed after all the drama and distraction of what will undoubtedly go down in history as The Traumatic Seagull Incident.
With my terrified leap off the sofa sending my neck and back into the sort of spasm that can only be eradicated by a deeply painful and brutal sports massage, it really didn’t help that later in the day whilst getting ready to go out to the theatre I stepped on an ill-placed hairbrush and went sliding uncontrollably down the stairs encountering two wombats a pile of paperwork and a very painful hairdryer as I went – which I somehow managed to switch on, possibly with my toe as I descended down the stairs, landing in a heap and wondering what was making the whirring noise.
And so these are the hidden dangers of bird watching that nobody tells you about. It’s not all about relaxing on the sofa, watching the sparrows dart about. Birds die. Other birds eat them. Dedicating a day to sitting at home watching birds can lead to a whole range of injuries I didn’t have before I started the bird survey, including sore arms, sprained thumbs and bruised elbows from falling down the stairs and whiplash from my frightened leap off the sofa.
In comparison, today I went to the beach and climbed up some of the highest rocks in my wellies whilst gale force winds whipped up the sand and sea around me. And I came home completely unscathed.
Just like the black headed gull who doesn’t have a black head, the Tower View which has absolutely no view of any tower and my ability to scramble up tall rocks safely, yet injure myself whilst bird watching from the comfort of a sofa, it seems that absolutely nothing is as black or as white as it may first appear.
Going to the beach is one of the things that I am best at, nevertheless in Australia I practised going to the beach almost every day because I didn’t want to lose my touch.
Unless I was staying with friends, all accommodation whether it was hostel, hotel or airbnb was chosen specifically based upon how quickly I could walk to the beach.
I stopped wearing normal clothes and automatically dressed in bikini, sarong and flip flops each morning. The toenails were colourful, but not always immaculate, given how much contact they had with sand and salt water each day.
In the beach bag would be everything I needed for a day at the beach, sunscreen, a stripy towel, a good book, pen and paper and a selection of snack items that wouldn’t melt in the sun, like cherry tomatoes, passionfruit, raisin bread and a delicious fizzy mango drink which is probably the culprit for me losing my first adult tooth recently, but which I wish we could get in England nevertheless!
And that would be all I needed for a wonderful day. I’d go in and out of the sea several times, I’d read my book, I’d write my stories, I’d drink my fizzy mango drink and I’d eat my tomatoes. And there I would stay very happily until it was too dark to see the pages or swim in the sea anymore. Rumour has it that the sharks swim closer to the shore after dusk so midnight swims aren’t an option in Australia. But the sunsets were always nice.
And then the next day I’d get up and do it all over again.
Today I was going to the beach with Simone and her phone and her family. We’d had two false starts already, due to the extended present opening ceremony on Christmas Day, and then the Boxing Day Battle, but I’d been promised that today was the day.
It was a bit different to waking up in a hostel, putting on a sarong and walking out the door, because lots of things needed to happen first. Three children needed to be dressed and shouted at, Dean needed to sit and stare at his screen with apparently no sense of urgency that everyone else was busy getting ready, and Simone and her phone needed to speak to both Bec and Nay because apparently Tim had proposed to Kim on Christmas Day and somebody was going to have to break it to Jim.
An uneasy truce had formed in the house following yesterday’s Boxing Day Battle. Noelene and Simone shuffled around being overly polite to one another and asking each other’s permission about every ridiculous little thing to ensure they didn’t cause offence. Simone had already asked three times if it was really okay to open the good jam which made me feel sorry for the existing jam which was presumably considered bad by comparison.
The truce was good news for me, because it meant Noelene had relented, and instead of demanding us all back at the table in time for lunch, she had accepted that we might like to get lunch at the beach which meant plenty more time in the sea for me (or so I thought!).
In the car, we all had to be quiet so that Simone and her phone could console Jess who had apparently had a hideous Christmas, although from the sounds of it not nearly as hideous as the one I’d just endured with Simone and family.
Then we drove straight past the beach, through the town and pulled into the car park of an out-of-town shopping centre.
“I thought we were going to the beach,” said Simone.
“Patience,” said Dean patronisingly. “I’ve just got to get something.”
Dean mumbled something incomprehensible about technology.
“But we promised Caz we were taking her to the beach.”
“We are taking Caz to the beach,” he snapped. “Seriously, I could have been into the shop and got it by now if you’d just stop talking.”
“Yeah but we could have dropped Caz at the beach and met her there later.”
My thoughts exactly.
“If you don’t stop talking about the beach, then we’ll go straight home and nobody will go to the beach,” threatened Dean which I thought was incredibly unfair, seeing as the person who wanted to go to the beach most (me!) hadn’t made any fuss at all.
So we all trailed around the shop, following Dean as he picked up seemingly identical packages and frowned at them all before saying that it wasn’t really that important and he was going to leave it.
Inside I was screaming. If it wasn’t that important why were we wasting precious beach time in a shopping mall?
But hell was not over because despite her earlier concern that Dean had not immediately driven to the beach, Simone decided that whilst we were here she’d just have a look at the children’s clothes section, even though the kids had each received more clothes than they knew what to do with on Christmas Day. And then she had a quick look at the diaries, because surprise surprise, she didn’t really like the one Noelene had given her. And then just as we were finally leaving Simone remembered that despite the million hints she’d dropped, nobody had bought her a new coffee machine for Christmas, so then we had to go and have a look at those.
The kids were even less thrilled to be at the shops than I was, so we entertained ourselves by trying to manoeuvre ourselves up a nearby empty aisle by only standing on the blue squares on the floor, but then Simone clocked that the children were having fun and ordered them all to stand next to her and not speak, so that was the end of that.
Then it was decided that it was far too late to go to the beach without first having something to eat so we had to spend an hour at a pizza restaurant. The five year old got told off for his insightful observation that the garlic bread looked like it had a smiley face on it, then he got told off for using his straw to blow bubbles in his drink, the three year old got told off for copying, Dean and his screen ignored everyone and searched the internet for the technological thing he couldn’t find in the shops and then Bec phoned which of course took precedence over everything else and we were all threatened with being sent to sit in the car if we uttered one more word because Simone was trying to speak to Bec.
Eventually we got back into the swelteringly hot car and drove to the beach. It was 2:24. As I strode towards the beach, Dean said:
“Caz where are you going?”
“The beach,” I replied, wondering what cruel delaying tactic he could possibly throw my way now that the beach was literally a stone’s throw away.
“We’ve got to get changed,” he said, like I was stupid, and I discovered that not everyone intending to have a day at the beach puts their bathers (as the Australians like to call them) on under their clothes. We went into a changing room and I was tasked with getting all three children into their bathers, whilst Dean disappeared into a cubicle by himself and spent ages getting himself dressed and no doubt having some sneaky time alone with his screen, because there’s no way I undressed and dressed three small children quicker than he dressed himself.
Simone had not joined us in the changing room because she had decided that this was the perfect opportunity to have it out with her sister Sarah. Sarah had spent several hours with us on Christmas Day, being ignored by everyone except me. And although Simone had ample time on Christmas Day to extend an olive branch, scratch out Sarah’s eyes or do whatever needed to be done to resolve the sisterly dispute, Simone had decided that ignoring Sarah was the best course of action. Until now, because obviously the best time to shout at your sister is on the phone in a public place when all three of your children need to get dressed and the British visitor is about to lose the plot if anyone does anything else that delays her precious beach trip any further.
Once dressed, we found a spot to put all our things and went straight down to the sea. The one year old was crying that she didn’t like it, and it occurred to Dean that this was probably the first time she’d ever been to the beach. But instead of consoling her, he saw the opportunity to give the five year old a science lesson.
The five year old had jumped up and wrapped his arms and legs around me so that I could carry him into the sea. We were only up to my knees and therefore very reluctant to turn back when Dean called us, but dutifully we did.
“Do you know what sand is made out of?” he asked the five year old.
“But do you know what makes the sand?”
“No,” and it didn’t sound like the five year old cared either.
“Sand is made from glass.”
“What? No it isn’t.”
“Don’t argue with me,” said Dean, crossly.
I left the poor 5 year old to his unwanted science lesson and took myself off for a swim whilst I had the chance. Geelong has an enclosure (with bars to keep the sharks out) and I swam as deep as I could, used the diving boards and then swam into shallower water to see if I could rescue the 5 year old from science.
Simone was off the phone and wearing her bathers. She strode down beach, picked up the squealing 1 year old, then strode into the water towards me. As she reached me, she held the child horizontally in the air, then with a swooping action dunked the poor child under the water for a second before pulling her out again. The 1 year old started screaming blue murder.
“It’s what you have to do to get babies used to the water,” Simone said when she saw my shocked face.
I was pretty sure that you’re only supposed to do that to fairly new babies and that to get 1 year olds who are nearly 2 used to the water, you were probably supposed to have brought them to the beach several times already and made it seem like a lovely fun and safe place to be instead of randomly bringing them to a beach with no explanation and submerging them in the water without warning when they’re already terrified.
I swam back towards Dean and the five year old.
“Do you want me to take him out for a proper swim?” I asked.
“Yes!” said the 5 year old.
“No” said Dean. “We’re getting out.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m going to stay in a bit longer.”
So I took myself back out to the deep end and had a lovely time, and the next time I looked back at the shore, there was Dean and the five year old, fully dressed and waving at me to come closer.
“You need to get out, we’re leaving,” said Dean as soon as I was in earshot.
What? But we’ve only just arrived.
Back at the bags, a quick look at my phone confirmed it was 2:49. Twenty-five minutes earlier we’d been heading into the changing rooms. What happened to endless swims and games of french cricket, ice creams, sandcastles and all the other things that make a childhood?
“Come on,” said Dean impatiently.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Because. We brought you to the beach and now we’re going home.”
“What are we going to do for the rest of the day?”
“Nothing. Come on, everyone else is in the car already.”
Dean has no idea about a lot of things. Here are just four of the many things that he will never know:
I put my towel around me, picked up my bag and walked barefoot to the car. I opened the door, felt the heat escape and decided there was no way I was getting in.
“I think I’ll stay here,” I announced breezily to everyone in the car.
“Because I love the beach and I’m not ready to leave,” I replied. “And we’re not doing anything else today are we?”
“Well we might,” Simone sounded offended.
“We’re not leaving you here,” protested Dean as if it was the most ludicrous idea in the world. “How will you get home?”
“Train,” I replied.
“But you don’t know how to get to my parents’ house from the train station.”
“We can’t leave you here by yourself. What if something happens?”
There was a definite danger that something might happen – if they left me here by myself I might actually have fun and enjoy myself for the rest of the afternoon whilst the rest of them had a miserable time at home.
Simone interjected: “Honey. First, Caz just went travelling round South Australia all by herself and nothing happened. Second, you can’t tell Caz what to do because she’s 2 years older than you and third, is this what you’re going to be like when the girls are teenagers? Because I have to say I’m finding it quite adorable.”
At no point in all the time I knew him was I ever at risk of finding Dean even slightly adorable.
“We’re the ones who’ll have to phone her Mum if something happens to her,” he snapped in a very unadorable way.
“That’s a good point,” said Simone. “You should give us your Mum’s number.”
“Fine,” I said.
“I don’t understand,” said Dean as I programmed my Mum’s number into Simone’s precious phone. “We brought you to the beach. What more do you want?”
“I’ll see you later,” I replied because Dean had just asked a question that he would never ever understand the answer to.
And off I went. And Dean’s biggest fears came true because lots of things happened. I swam in the sea. I bought an ice cream, I lay on my towel and I read my book. Which happened to have the most appropriate title ever:
What a good idea, I thought. I think I will make Travelling Alone my new year’s resolution.
And so I did.
I just had to get through New Year’s Eve first…. tune in next time to find out how awful that was!
Angry 35 year old mother, sucks joy out of everything, spends a lot of time on her phone
Simone’s husband. Great with technology, rubbish at real life, never seen without his screen
The 5 year old
Delightful little boy, gives the best hugs, always in trouble
The little sisters
3 and 1 years old. Not allowed to have fun
Dean’s Dad. Spitting image of Dean, but with grey hair, a jolly smile and no screen
Dean’s Mum. Loves cooking. Hates most people
Dean’s sister. Nothing is more important than her cat
Baffled visitor from the UK
Cat 1. Usually lives with Simone in Sydney. Much like her owner, she has endured a 10 hour car journey to spend Christmas with people she hates
Cat 2. Janine’s cat. Pampered and privileged
Cat 3. The resident cat. Usually enjoys a peaceful life at home with Noel and Noelene. Not impressed with any of the visitors
Simone’s sister. Currently not on speaking terms with Simone
Random octogenarian. Speaks only to Noelene, ignores everyone else. No idea where she came from
The activity takes place at the home of Noel and Noelene between 24th and 26th December 2017.
Christmas with Simone and her phone had been falsely advertised to me as a fun-filled family affair, a little bit like a festive episode of Neighbours. Unlike Eastenders, festive episodes of Neighbours were always happy back in the day, because Neighbours always used to finish for a Christmas break with all the loose ends happily tied up, the evil uncles locked up or knocked off and the remaining Neighbours all quickly cured from the drama, bereavements and tragedies of the year and gathered together for a game of cricket and a barbecue. I’d still been in England when I’d accepted Simone’s invitation to join her for Christmas, so had not yet learnt that Simone had turned into an angry sergeant major who shouted at her children, sucked the joy out of everything she did and had completely lost the ability to ever enjoy anything as nice as Christmas.
The plan was that Simone and Dean, the cat and the children would undertake a 10 hour car journey from their new home in Sydney to stay with Dean’s parents in the town near Melbourne where Simone and Dean had lived until very recently. Various friends and family members would be dropping in throughout the Christmas period, but there would definitely be time for me to fulfill my dream of swimming in the sea on Christmas Day. It was all going to be very jolly and Simone couldn’t wait for me to be a part of it.
“Won’t Dean’s parents mind?” I asked.
“Oh my God, are you kidding? They will love you.”
What Simone and her phone forgot to tell me was that whilst Dean’s parents might love me, they certainly didn’t love her. And that Christmas, just like every other time Simone got together with her in-laws would be fraught and awkward. It would start with a bit of muttering, a few door slams and snipes, then as the time went on, the tension would increase into a huge crescendo and finally break out in the mother of all arguments with Simone and Dean one side of the kitchen island and Dean’s parents the other side, sending insults backwards and forwards quicker than the ball at a Wimbledon final.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Thankfully I’d been smart enough to avoid the 10 hour car journey from Sydney which had occurred earlier in the week, and by the time I flew in on the morning of Christmas Eve, Simone and her mother-in-law had already spent three days together, winding each other up and were already at the stage where they couldn’t speak to each other without slipping in a scathing look and a dash of criticism.
Dean’s parents were the complete opposite of one another. Noel was skinny and jovial with a twinkle in his eye, declaring everything to be fun and wonderful, whilst Noelene floated around in a caftan, looking enormous, complaining it was too hot and silently observing everything that happened with an air of disapproval. They were out shopping when I first arrived at the house and when they returned, Noel threw his arms around me and said how wonderful it was that I’d come for Christmas, whilst Noelene drifted past me with a frosty “hi” and immediately started asking what the beetroot was doing out of the fridge and why the three year old had a different hairstyle to the one she’d given her this morning.
Dean’s sister arrived not long after me, throwing her arms around everyone and seeming very enthusiastic about Christmas. Simone and Noelene seemed to briefly reunite in disapproval as they exchanged a glance and shook their heads with sour faces at Janine’s cheerful arrival. I was thinking how nice it was to have a friendly female around, and that Janine must take after her Dad, not her Mum, when Simone took me aside and explained that Janine was on very strong medication and the current high she was displaying only meant that she’d be on the floor weeping with sorrow and calling us all horrible names before the hour was up.
I was the only person who hadn’t arrived with a cat. Angry Bella had been brought all the way from Sydney by car and was still absolutely furious about it. Pampered, privileged Frank had travelled from Melbourne with Janine, the car loaded down with all Frank’s essentials – a scratching post, a favourite blanket, toys and treats, and a floor to ceiling indoor climbing frame which we spent a good two hours trying to assemble whilst resident cat Basil stalked about pretending he didn’t care in the slightest that a visiting cat had better toys than him.
Whilst the adults had all resigned themselves to at least trying to pretend to like each other for the duration of Christmas, the cats decided to be far more honest about it and made it very clear that none of them could stand the others. And so the house was divided into three different sections for the whole of Christmas and certain doors had to remain shut at all times so that each cat never had to encounter the other two. I think Christmas would have been much more successful if we had divided the adults up in the same way, with different people shut behind different doors so that no more eye rolling or scathing comments could take place.
With the arrival of me and Janine, it meant that all three of Simone’s children would be sharing a room tonight for the first time ever in their lives. This in itself is exciting enough when you are five, three or one, but add in the extra ingredient of sharing with your siblings for the first time ever on the exact same night that Santa is coming and you have three hugely excited children who are quite clearly not going to be going to sleep for many many hours.
Simone and Dean were completely enraged by this. They could have sat back with a few drinks, enjoyed the evening and accepted that this was a special night and the children were going to sing and chat and laugh in their rooms, because they were far too excited to sleep. Instead Simone and Dean took it in turns to go into the bedroom shouting horrible threats at the children and listing all the awful things that would happen to the children and their presents if they didn’t stop talking and go to sleep RIGHT NOW.
“It’s wonderful,” said Noel. “They’re so excited. They’ll treasure these memories. You can’t blame them for not sleeping. You didn’t when you were their age.”
Dean who had just sat back down with his screen after shouting at the children was so infuriated by this that he stood back up again and went and shouted at the children with so much force that they all started to cry. Then Simone, not bothering to get up from her chair, bellowed loudly that they had nothing to cry about and that they needed to stop crying now and go to sleep. The crying stopped for a bit, and then a bit later the one year old started to sing and then the talking and laughter began again.
“I can’t deal with this,” said Simone.
“Do you want me to go?” I asked. Hanging out with the children seemed far more inviting than sitting in a room full of angry adults.
Simone laughed. “You? You’re far too nice. As if you’d be able to discipline my children.”
“I wasn’t planning to discipline them,” I said. “I was thinking of using some of the sensory strategies I use at work. To help calm them down, seeing as they’re not in the right state of mind to go to sleep yet.”
Simone laughed as if this was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. “Sensory strategies. Yeah right.”
And so the children stayed awake, being loud and excited, and the adults continued to shout and be far more annoyed about their children’s excitement than was necessary.
In between shouting, the adults were supposed to be wrapping presents. Simone and Dean had brought a ridiculous amount of presents for the children. There was already a huge sea of presents leaking out from under the tree, and several more bags full of toys and clothes that still needed to be wrapped. You’d think that on Christmas Eve, anyone who still had at least thirty more presents to wrap would be grateful for any help they could get, but not in this household, because Janine, who was neither a giver nor receiver of any of the presents that needed wrapping insisted on bows.
“If Caz hasn’t been taught how to do a bow properly, then she’s not wrapping any presents,” Janine warned.
I wasn’t ever so convinced that a one, three or five year old would be bothered if not all their presents came with a pretty ribbon, but I decided to humour the family tradition. Janine taught me how to cut the ribbon, wrap the ribbon, tie the ribbon, add extra ribbon and then curl the ribbon. It was a lot of effort. Noelene, Janine and Simone all scrutinized my first attempt disdainfully.
“She can carry on with the ribbon,” Noelene said as if I wasn’t there. “But we’ll hide all the ones she does at the back. We don’t want to get them in any of the photos.”
The rest of the family nodded, possibly the first time they’d reached a unanimous decision on anything in the whole of 2017.
But not for long. Because twinkly eyed Noel who’d spent the day remarking that everything was wonderful was about to rock the boat, by saying exactly what I’d been thinking.
“There’s an awful lot of presents,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know why you need to get them this many things. They’re never going to be able to play with all these toys. It takes away the meaning of Christmas, piling all this stuff on them. They’d be just as happy with two or three nice presents each. You’re spoiling them. I’m sorry, but it needs to be said.”
A silence fell over the room, then Simone got up and stormed out of the room, closely followed by Dean. A door slammed and the shouting began.
“I’m sorry, but it needed to be said,” Noel announced to the rest of us, then he got up and left the room too, leaving me sitting at the table with Janine, Noelene and the offending still to be wrapped presents.
“It’s true,” said Janine, who had brought at least twenty individually wrapped presents for Frank the cat. “No kid needs this many presents.”
Simone and Dean didn’t emerge from their room again that night, and gradually the rest of us went to bed, apart from Noelene who said she had a few bits to do in the kitchen but was in fact still awake and tending to a platter of lobster salad when I woke and went to the loo at 2:37am.
Going to the loo was a difficult thing throughout my stay at Noel and Noelene’s because the part of the house where Angry Bella was allowed to roam free was the corridor outside my bedroom which led down to the toilet and bathroom. Day and night, Angry Bella stalked the corridor waiting for someone to vent her anger on and usually it was me. That first night when I got up to go to the loo, Angry Bella stood in front of the bathroom hissing at me, and blocking my way. I tried to coax her out of the way with gentle quiet whispers but Angry Bella was having none of it, and when I gave up and went to step over her, she lunged forward, wrapped her front paws around the back of my bare leg, whilst at the same time biting into the front of my leg with her mouth.
I obviously didn’t yelp quietly enough because Noelene was there in a flash. “What’s going on?” she demanded.
“Bella bit me,” I whispered and followed Noelene into the kitchen where lobster salad making was in full swing.
Together we inspected my leg, which was dripping with blood. I carefully wiped the blood away with wet kitchen roll and showed Noelene the impressive holes left in my leg by Angry Bella’s teeth and claws.
“Little bitch,” she said, and I hoped she was talking about the cat and not me.
We had a bit of a chat about the lobster, and all the other food Noelene was preparing. Noelene seemed quite pleased that I was taking an interest in her love of cooking, she even smiled on a couple of occasions and elaborated by telling me some cookery stories from Christmases long ago and just as I thought she might be mellowing a bit, she said quite abruptly:
“You better go back to bed. Make sure you don’t bleed on the bed sheets.”
I was relieved to see that Angry Bella was no longer blocking the entrance to the toilet so that I could finally visit the loo as originally planned. However I was less pleased to see that she had taken the opportunity to snuggle down onto my bed for a snooze.
“No way,” I whispered as bravely as possible, terrified that she was going to attack me again if I went anywhere near the bed. “You are not sleeping here. Get out.”
Angry Bella ignored me.
I turned on the light to show her I meant business. “Listen you angry cat,” I whispered. “This is my room. If you were a nice cat, we could share, but after what you’ve done to my leg, I can’t trust you. Get out.”
“What’s happening?” asked a voice and I turned to see Dean in his boxer shorts, looking as morose as ever.
“Bella’s in my room,” I whispered, thrilled that someone who wasn’t scared of the cat was awake and might help me. “I’m trying to get her to leave.”
“She’s fine,” said Dean. “She likes it in there.”
“No,” I said. “She just bit me.”
“She’d never do that.”
I showed him my leg and explained about the claws and the teeth and the blood.
“Ouch,” he said. “Are you sure it was her?”
“Sorry,” he said. “She’s probably a bit cross because she’s not allowed outside. She hasn’t attacked anyone for at least a couple of weeks.”
“Can you get her out?” I pleaded.
Dean sighed, but went into the room and manhandled Angry Bella out of the room whilst she hissed and scratched him. I shut the door gratefully and sank back into bed.
Christmas Day came, and with it a random octogenarian called Mary, who turned up and followed Noelene about the kitchen, telling her long complicated stories and anecdotes about other random people, whilst Noelene raced from sink to oven to hob to fridge, looking flustered, and seeming to be doing quite a good job of tuning out everything Mary said. It seemed Mary came every Christmas, but refused to acknowledge any member of the family apart from Noelene, and they in turn all completely ignored her, apart from the five year old who was randomly instructed to give Mary a kiss at the very end of the day even though there’d been no interaction between the two of them all day.
Christmas Day also brought Simone’s sister Sarah, who was currently not on speaking terms with either Simone or Dean, but presumably had been when she accepted the invitation to come to Christmas dinner. Her relationships with Noelene and Janine seemed equally terse, Mary was a non-starter and Noel, like the cats, seemed to have assigned himself a separate part of the house to spend his time in, which meant the only adult left who didn’t mind having a chat with Sarah was me. Sarah quizzed me about my travels and on all things British, and it must have looked as if we were having far too much of a good time, because we were ordered to sit at different ends of the table at lunch time where Sarah was rendered speechless by the fact that nobody at her end of the table was on speaking terms with her.
Simone managed to burn all of the vegetables, and Noelene scraped them into the bin, whilst issuing Simone with a silent deathly stare. Simone’s only job of the day had been to tend to the vegetables, but she had been on her phone at the same time and had got distracted. Although to be fair to Simone, the only vegetables she ever allows into her own kitchen are those frozen bags of mixed peas, carrots and corn, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that she didn’t know what to do when faced with pumpkin, sweet potato and real live carrots.
There was still plenty of food, and although Simone had denied us all the chance to have our five vegetables a day, Noelene had provided five different animals – lobster, stuffed pork and glazed ham, beef sausages, lamb and duck.
I realised fairly early on in the day that my dream of swimming in the sea on Christmas Day was not going to be fulfilled. Just as Simone’s assurances that “Christmas is going to be awesome” and “Oh my God, Dean’s parents are going to love you” had so far turned out to be false, it seemed that “Of course you can go swimming, Dean’s parents live right by the beach, we can easily take you down there for a swim” was also a lie, because Dean’s parents actually lived a 40 minute car drive from the nearest beach, and it was clear that driving Caz to the seaside was not top of anyone’s To Do list today, especially not with all those presents to open.
So on a boiling hot Australia day, instead of enjoying the sunshine or the local beautiful surroundings, eleven people sat inside, sweaty bodies sticking to leather seats, taking part in the present opening ceremony. My best presents were from Janine, who despite not having met me when she bought my presents, had thought very carefully about my backpacking needs and bought me little boxes of cereal, sachets of jam and hot chocolate, little bottles of shampoo, a torch…. and a keyring with a photo of Frank the cat on it. At the other end of the scale, Sarah hadn’t considered my backpacking needs at all and gave me a large candle in a beautiful but very heavy glass jar that would take up most of the stripy suitcase.
Noel and Simone hadn’t spoken since his outburst about the quantity of presents last night, so we had that elephant in the room as well as the eleven sweaty bodies and all of the presents. We started to open the presents at 1:30pm and were still going at 7pm. Most of the presents were for the children. Dean and his screen took photos of each and every present being opened, and then as soon as the child clocked excitement at what was inside, Simone would shout “Don’t take it out of the box. We’ve got to drive that back to Sydney. You can’t play with it here.”
That’s right. We spent five and a half hours watching the children open presents that had travelled for 10 hours to be opened on Christmas Day, only to discover that the children weren’t allowed to investigate or play with any of the toys because they all needed to stay in their boxes so that they could be packed neatly back into the car for the 10 hour drive back to Sydney.
After the present opening I tried to escape to my room for a bit of time and space by myself. I had been trying to keep my bedroom door shut, initially because the one year old liked to go through all my stuff, but now after last night’s drama with Angry Bella, I wanted to keep her out as well. However Dean kept opening my door every time he went past, because he believed that my room was Angry Bella’s favourite place to sleep and didn’t want to deny her every opportunity to hang out on my bed.
On this occasion, I went into my room to discover that Angry Bella had been sick everywhere. So instead of time and space by myself in the room, I had time and space by myself in the laundry room, washing cat sick off of all my possessions which had been taken out of the stripy suitcase and distributed around the room by the one year old, making them easily accessible for the cat to be sick on.
Simone was mortified and came to help, whilst Mary and Noelene had a loud conversation about how inconsiderate it was of the British visitor to want to do her laundry on Christmas Day. Dean stared at his screen, oblivious to the fact that his obsession with opening my door had caused all this trouble in the first place.
Boxing Day started with a trip to the leisure centre. The night before Simone had told me that she and Dean were feeling super stressed and were going to calm themselves with an early morning sauna, and did I want to join them. Well, getting up early to go and sweat with two angry people in an unbearably hot room that smells of wood is not my idea of a great way to spend my time, but then Simone uttered the magic word “swimming” and I was all ears. At the leisure centre Simone and Dean disappeared off into the sauna and I swam lengths of the pool, then got super excited at the announcement that the slides and flumes were open, and had a wonderful time testing them all out. I could have stayed there all day, but before long Dean was ordering me out of the pool, looking like his sauna hadn’t de-stressed him one iota, and we were soon in the car travelling back to Noel and Noelene’s.
“It’s a shame we didn’t bring the kids,” I commented. “They would have loved the slides.”
“Yeah, but nuh,” said Simone. “We need to make the most of the free babysitting whilst we can.”
We got back to the house, to find Janine loading everything into her car, in floods of tears.
“Goodbye Caz,” she said, throwing her arms around me. “It was lovely to meet you. Please come and stay with me and Frank in Melbourne. We’ll go out to tea. I’ll take you dancing. Come whenever you like.”
“Thanks,” I said, as Janine pointedly walked past Dean and Simone, got in the car and drove angrily away.
“What’s going on?” Dean asked his parents as we went back into the house. “Janine just left without saying goodbye. I thought she was here til New Year.”
“I think you better ask your wife,” said Noelene with sheer venom in her voice.
“What am I supposed to have done?” asked Simone, clearly baffled.
“Well if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you,” retorted Noelene, and stormed into her bedroom.
Dean used his screen to phone Janine, who shouted a load of nonsensical angry words at him and then hung up. Then Dean and Simone started having an argument about what Simone had or hadn’t done to drive Janine away, and I played with the children.
Boxing Day was already shaping up to be better than Christmas Day because as well as my early morning swim and slide ride, the agenda for the day was “taking Caz to the beach”. I couldn’t wait. Unfortunately we were having lunch first, and would have to be back in time for tea, because no-one’s allowed to mess up Noelene’s mealtime arrangements, but nevertheless I was excited.
“Can you get the children dressed?” asked Dean. He was too busy arguing with Simone and having his calls blocked by Janine to do it himself.
“Sure,” I said. “Does it matter what they wear?”
“Just clothes,” replied Dean crossly.
So I helped the children choose which clothes they wanted to wear for a day at the beach. Then Noelene appeared, took one look at the two girls in their shorts and T-shirts, and demanded:
“Who dressed the girls?”
“Well they can’t wear those clothes. They’re what I call the play clothes. Totally inappropriate for today. Come on girls. Nanna will help you put the right clothes on. Silly Caz didn’t know what she was doing.”
The children were quickly re-dressed in what Noelene apparently called the non-play clothes, which looked fairly similar to the play clothes I had dressed them in earlier.
Lunch was a terse affair. I’m not sure that anyone actually knew why Janine had left, but it seemed everyone was cross about it, apart from Basil the resident cat who could now reclaim the main part of the house again now that Frank had gone, and me who was beside myself with excitement at going to the beach this afternoon. I’d already put my bikini on underneath my own “play clothes” in anticipation.
And then it happened. Simone and Noelene were in the kitchen, getting in each other’s way, trying to pack up the lunch things when Noelene announced:
“Right, that’s it, we’re leaving. I can’t stand this any longer.”
“You don’t have to go,” snapped Simone. “We’re taking Caz to the beach. You can stay here. This is your home.”
“Well it might do you good to remember that, young lady.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Quick as a flash, both husbands jumped up and ran to the sides of their wives. The singles snarling match had just become the doubles championship.
No stone was left unturned. Everything and anything in the whole nine years that Simone and Dean had known each other could be grabbed and hurled as ammunition.
“You were always comparing me to his last girlfriend. It was like you wished he was still with her.”
“I did wish he was still with her. You were still carrying on with another boy when you met Dean.”
“It was complicated.”
“It’s not complicated. You pick one or the other, or you walk away.”
“I know that, I picked Dean.”
“Not that you think he’s good enough for you.”
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean? Of course I’m good enough for her.”
“Shut up Dean, of course he’s good enough for me. I love your son.”
“Oh so you do actually remember that he is my son.”
“You never let me forget it Noelene.”
As a special needs teacher, I’m used to quickly upping and leaving a room with hoards of children at a moment’s notice and ushering them to safety when an inappropriate behaviour arises, and this was an inappropriate behaviour if ever I saw one. The children were fascinated by the action unfolding in the kitchen and reluctantly followed me into the garden, to play although we could still hear every word that was shouted.
“You need to think about the way you talk to your children, you never show them that you love them, you’re always shouting at them.”
“How can you say we don’t love them? First you say we’ve bought them too many presents and now you say we don’t love them.”
“Love isn’t about buying an obscene amount of presents. I asked them this morning what they’d got for Christmas, they can’t even remember because you overwhelmed them with too many things and wouldn’t let them play with anything.”
“I remember I got a bike,” the five year old told me, looking a bit bewildered.
We played in the garden whilst Simone delivered a tearful monologue about how nobody can please Noelene or live up to her high standards, then Noelene burst into tears and said that everyone has to tread on eggshells around Simone because she’s so angry all the time, and bit by bit every part of family life was thrown into play – the burnt vegetables, today’s early morning sauna trip, something about a silk scarf that got lost in 2014 and an exciting new fact that I didn’t already know – earlier in the year Noel and Noelene had sold their family home and specifically come to live in the same street as Simone and Dean to be close to the grandchildren, then three weeks later Simone and Dean announced they were off to live in Sydney.
An hour and forty-five minutes went by. I know this because I’d been texting a friend as the argument began and I checked to see what time I’d sent it, so that I could work out how long the battle had lasted. Eventually it went quiet and the five year old volunteered to peer through the window and see if it was safe to re-enter.
“I can’t see anyone,” he whispered. “Do you think they’re all dead?”
“No,” I replied. “They’ve probably just gone into another room.”
“Oh.” The five year old seemed disappointed at such an anti-climax and raced around the house peering in the windows and reported that the only sign of any life he could see was Angry Bella sitting on my bed.
Eventually Simone appeared in the garden, looking tearstained and sorry for herself. “Caz we’re going for a walk,” she said.
Dean was at the front of the house. He kissed the top of my head and said “I’m really sorry you had to see that. Thanks for taking the kids out. We’ll take you to the beach tomorrow, I promise.” He then engaged in some rare fatherly activity and helped the five year old to ride his new bike whilst Simone and I walked behind.
“Are you okay?” I asked because someone needed to fill the silence and it clearly wasn’t going to be her.
“Yeah,” she said. “We just had to clear the air.”
“Is it resolved?”
“Caz, it will never be resolved. This happens every time we see them. It’s usually a lot worse. That was nothing.”
Nothing? That was nothing? I’d missed out on my Boxing Day Beach Trip for an hour and forty-five minutes of nothing?
“I’m so glad you’ve come for Christmas though. You are having a nice time aren’t you?”
“Well let’s see,” I said. “The cat has bitten me, scratched me and thrown up all over my things, everyone has ridiculed my attempts to put ribbons on presents, I got told off for dressing children in play clothes, even though all they’ve been doing today is playing, I haven’t been to the beach yet, I had to pretend I’m not allergic to lobster because I didn’t want to make Noelene cry, I’m terrified of going to the toilet in case the cat attacks me again, and when world war three broke out in the kitchen I had to evacuate before I’d put any sunscreen on which means I’ll probably wake up with terrible sunburn tomorrow. The jury’s still out, but this might actually rank as an even worse Christmas than the time I fell 240 metres down a ski slope and ended up on crutches.”
Simone had stopped walking and started to cry again, but this time she was crying with laughter. “Oh Caz, you are too funny,” she said. “You crack me up so much. I wish you lived with us all the time. It would be so much fun. Seriously, I keep telling you to write a blog. Everyone will love it.”
Yes Simone, they do! But what you don’t know, and will hopefully never know, is that it’s the stories about you that everyone loves best!!
A Great Aunt has discovered that she can save a lot of money by simply forgetting to put stamps on her Christmas cards.
Great Aunt Rosemary, who lives near Leeds, said “Christmas is an expensive time of year and postage stamps are not as cheap as they used to be. You can’t even get two for a pound. I’d much rather be spending my money on more meaningful things, like those different flavours of Baileys that you can only get at Christmas time.”
With an ever-expanding family and lots of old friends dotted around the country, Great Aunt Rosemary told us: “Some of these people I haven’t seen since they were babies, others I don’t expect I’ll ever see again, yet along with many other Brits I am struck every December with this ridiculous compulsion to sit down and write a card to everyone in my address book who hasn’t died yet. That adds up to a lot of money at the Post Office counter.”
The Great Aunt came up with her brilliant money saving scheme quite by accident. “I have to walk past a postbox to get to my local post office and once when I was on my way to buy a stamp for a birthday card I automatically posted the card before I got to the Post Office. At the time I was mortified, but now I think my mistake was pure genius.”
Friends and relatives all over the country are having to travel to a Post Office and pay £2 for the privilege of receiving their cards which simply say “love from Rosemary.”
Great niece Caroline Gough said “I’ve known since Monday that I had something to pick up at the Post Office, but due to my busy work and social life I couldn’t get there until Saturday. That’s six days of anticipating what exciting item might be waiting for me. This has been a huge anti-climax.”
Great Aunt Rosemary said “Dropping all my unstamped cards into the postbox is the most liberating thing I’ve done in a long time. I think I’m going to do this every year.”
Staying in hospital is not that different from staying in a backpacking hostel, a British woman has confirmed today.
The findings came as Caroline Gough visited her mother in North Devon District Hospital over a four day period. Gillian Byrom recently received a hip replacement.
Caroline, who was backpacking around Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, explained “The similarities between a hospital ward and a backpacking hostel are staggering.
Firstly there’s the communal sleeping in mixed or single sex rooms where everyone has a locker to put their things in and at least one piece of luggage.
Then there’s all the nocturnal activity. People trying to go to sleep early whilst other people keep them awake by talking or zipping and unzipping their bags a million times. People manoeuvring themselves out of bed to go to the loo in the middle of the night, and my Mum said that one night she had no sleep due to the constant noises from another patient’s phone. This is the sort of behaviour that happens in hostels all over the world.”
Caroline also felt the social aspects of staying in hospital were similar to that of a backpacking hostel. “You’re sharing a small space with people you haven’t met before and are unlikely to see again so the conversations tend to be about where you’re from and what you’ve been doing.
Sometimes you really hit it off with someone and have a lovely chat and then you’re faced with the awkward decision of wondering whether or not to ask to stay in touch. The number of times I woke up to find someone checking out early had left their email address or phone number on my pillow whilst I was sleeping. I think my Mum was too woozy and sore to make any lifelong friends during her hospital stay, but I had a lovely chat with Margaret from Chulmleigh on her behalf.”
In both settings, people don’t always know how long they’re staying, they might have a longer or shorter stay depending on their circumstances. So there’s the exciting element of not knowing whether you’ll have the same room mates each night or if there’ll be someone new to meet.
Caroline admits that not everything is completely identical. “Nobody brings you breakfast in bed when you stay at a hostel,” she told us. “And I imagine the use of bunk beds in hospitals would be greatly frowned upon, especially in the hip replacement ward. The biggest difference though is probably to do with vomiting. You can get shouted at and chucked out of a hostel for being sick, but in hospital special people called nurses immediately come running to look after you.”
Auditions have been taking place in the Devon town of Barnstaple to find the next big star to play the role of Caroline Gough’s newest hamster.
And despite the best efforts of many fluffy bundles taking to the stage at Pets at Home, the role is still yet to be cast.
Caroline explained “We’ve had a stellar line up over the years, starting with Hammersmith, then Dagenham Martello and most recently Billy-Ricky. The new hamster has got big boots to fill and so far the standard of those auditioning hasn’t quite made the cut.”
Some of the hamsters have slept through their auditions, whilst others have shied away from the limelight and remained nestled under the bedding so that they can’t be viewed at all.
Other hamsters have been rejected for biting their friends during the audition, for looking too much like Dagenham and for trying too hard to make an impression.
“With Hammersmith, Dagenham and Billy-Ricky there was an instant connection,” said Caroline. “Our eyes met and we just knew we belonged together. Although many of this year’s hopefuls have been cute and entertaining, I haven’t felt any sort of connection that has made me think ‘yes, you’re the one.'”
Caroline has been been driving around for many weeks with a secure hamster transportation unit in the boot of her car so that when the right hamster comes along she can take him home immediately.
“I’m quite surprised I haven’t got a hamster yet,” Caroline confided. “I thought I’d fly home from Australia, get off the plane and recruit a new hamster before I was even over the jetlag.
But the fact that he hasn’t turned up yet means it will be all the more special when we do finally meet.”
Auditions are still taking place, if you think you have what it takes to be Caroline’s next hamster, hurry down to Pets at Home in Barnstaple. You don’t have to be the fastest, the cutest or the best at swinging from the bars, you just have to have that special something that will melt her heart and make her realise she can’t possibly leave the shop without you by her side.
A British woman is blaming concussion for her inability to stop herself from spending money on things she wouldn’t usually buy.
Caroline Gough smacked her head hard against a wall and the floor on Thursday morning when moving backwards to avoid the ball during an intense game of dodgeball. And whilst her competitive nature saw her get up, return to the game and help to win it, it later emerged that she was suffering from a head injury that has altered her ability to manage her finances.
Caroline, who has a giant bump on the back of her head and a spectacular bruise on her left buttock didn’t realise the extent of her injuries until she popped into Barnstaple to visit the bank and discovered that late night Christmas shopping was in full swing.
“I was supposed to be racing into town after work to quickly pay in a cheque,” said Caroline. “But instead I got caught up in the merry throng of Christmas shoppers and never actually made it to the Halifax.”
Instead, Caroline visited almost every other retail establishment on the High Street, buying a variety of frivolous items as she went, including sonic blue nail varnish, an electric toothbrush and a bubble bath scented with Unicorn Candy because it smelt “weird but nice”.
Caroline’s most extravagant splurge was on her favourite perfume. “I’ve never owned it because in my right mind I would never spend that much money on perfume, so I’ve been saving all my Boots points since forever and when I’ve got enough I was going to use them to buy the perfume. But when you’ve got concussion, it makes you think differently, and I realised how much quicker I would be able to get the points if I bought the perfume first. So I did!”
Further uncharacteristic activity included having tea at the Wimpy, trying on a pair of knee high boots that cost more than a skiing holiday, and having a chat about make up with the ladies on the Benefit counter at Banbury’s. Caroline then went home and hit the internet, buying top price theatre tickets and a three night stay in a hotel during the Christmas break.
A community of cold water fish have spoken out after being reunited with the owner who abandoned them for over a year.
The four goldfish and the weathered eel had spent many happy years living in a dining room in Shillingstone, Dorset where they were loved and cared for by fish enthusiast Caroline Gough.
“Every need was met,” said Malarkey, the spotted fantail goldfish. “We had fresh bloodworms, dried daphnia, lovely ornaments to swim in and out of. Then suddenly in August 2017, she decides she’s going off on an adventure and rents her house out to someone with FOUR CATS. Obviously we couldn’t stay there. Our best friend Marmalade went off to live in a pond in Gillingham, and we were bundled into a campervan and driven two and a half hours to Devon to live in Caroline’s Mum’s laundry room for the next 15 months.”
Satsuma the common goldfish added “Apparently Caroline has been travelling around Australia and New Zealand. She didn’t even bother to tell us. Or maybe she did. Our memories aren’t very reliable.”
Caroline had a wonderful time on her travels and spent lots of time visiting aquariums and swimming in the sea with many other fish and marine life. “To say we are hurt is an understatement,” said Chumley the white faced goldfish. “We can swim just as well as those Australian fish. Why she needed to go all the way to the other side of the world just to see some fish when we were right there in her dining room is something we will never understand.”
The fish endured more upheaval on Wednesday evening when they were relocated to an address in the picturesque village of Georgeham, North Devon. “Once again we find ourselves living in a dining room with Caroline,” said Malarkey. “But everything’s different. The trust has gone. Is this our forever home or will she get itchy fins and decide to go off to find more fish in the sea? We are in a constant state of flux.”
Miss Gough was unable for comment, but a spokesperson revealed that Caroline has plans to knock a hole in a perfectly good interior wall at her home with the intention of placing a tropical fish tank in the hole so that the same fish can be viewed from two different rooms.
“That’s ridiculous,” scoffed Satsuma. “Caroline can’t be in two places at once, this past year has definitely demonstrated that. She’s never going to be able to simultaneously stand in two different rooms and watch the fish from either side. What a ridiculous waste of time and money. I’m glad we’re not speaking to her.”
What a difference a year makes…..
On 10th November 2017 I was surfing on Bondi Beach.
On 10th November 2018 I was surfing at Putsborough.
Can you spot any differences between my two surfing experiences below?!!
The travel adventures are over but the blog lives on as I cartwheel around England, no doubt finding plenty more people and situations to write about. There’s also a few extra travel stories that haven’t quite made it onto the blog yet – the traumatic incident of getting my jelly confiscated, the day I accidentally ended up being interviewed on live Australian radio about something I didn’t have the first clue about, and the day I travelled five hours to stay with an acquaintance who said “surprise we’re going on holiday” and proceeded to drove me five hours back to where I had just come from.
There are also a few more chapters in the Simone and her Phone saga, you definitely won’t want to miss the Christmas special (though I would have been very happy not to have been there at the live event!).
For now though, here’s one about my pajamas…..
A British backpacker and a pair of pajamas are planning to spend a bit of time apart now that they have returned to England after almost a year of travelling together.
Speaking from her home in North Devon, Caroline Gough said “when it came to choosing which pajamas to take to Australia these were the obvious choice because they are my favourite pair, nevertheless it’s a long time to spend wearing the same pair of pajamas night after night.”
Caroline bought the pajamas from a Tesco Extra in Bedfordshire earlier in 2017. The trousers are purple, white and grey to match the matching T-shirt which says “My bed is a wonderful place.”
“That’s a bit ironic really,” said Caroline “because I haven’t slept in my own bed since August 2017 when it went into storage.”
Instead Caroline and the pajamas have slept in a grand total 92 beds across Australia and New Zealand, ranging from luxurious king size beds to youth hostel bunk beds.
The journey has definitely aged the pajamas who have become much thinner after experiencing a range of washing machines and dryers, whilst Caroline believes she has become much fatter after experiencing a range of delicious milkshakes, chocolate and exciting flavoured jelly.
The pajamas said “it’s all very amicable. I need a bit of chill out time in the chest of drawers and she needs to catch up with the other pajamas.”
A British backpacker has spoken of her anger at discovering the name of New Zealand’s latest cyclone.
Cyclone Hola hit the New Zealand coast just in time for Caroline Gough’s 37th birthday, ensuring that her plans for swimming with dolphins and relaxing on one of New Zealand’s best beaches were well and truly thwarted.
In an exclusive interview, Caroline told us “Hola is a ridiculous name for a cyclone because it means hello in Spanish. Why would anyone want to say hello to a cyclone? If we have to name our cyclones after a greeting, it would be much more appropriate to call it Cyclone Adios, Cyclone Sayonara or Cyclone Piss Off Now Please. Naming it after a welcoming word suggests we are actively encourging it to stay.”
This is not Caroline’s first experience of a New Zealand cyclone. “I had another cyclone mess up my plans a couple of weeks ago,” she explained. “But at least that one was called Cyclone Gita and didn’t have any welcoming connotations. The only Gitas who have ever cropped up in my life are the Gita who ran a market stall in Eastenders back in the nineties, and the Gitas you encounter in secondary school maths text books, you know the ones: Gita has seven apples, four oranges and a banana, do a fraction to show how many oranges she has. These days, I don’t ever encounter fractions or cyclones during my day-to-day life and I’m very happy with that arrangement.”
Beach loving Caroline who says her main aim in life is to try and swim in the sea every day was so fed up with Cyclone Gita chasing her around the south island that she changed her plans and caught a plane to the northlands which are renowned for having the best weather. Caroline splashed out on an airbnb apartment in the popular seaside town of Paihia to ensure she could have a beach based birthday.
“But it wasn’t to be,” said Caroline. “I went on a misty birthday boat trip around the Bay of Islands. The scenery is supposed to be stunning, but nobody could see it, partly due to the greyness and partly because the majority of passengers were busy being sick. The crew said it was such a bad trip that they gave everyone on board a lifetime voucher to have a free boat trip with their company the next time we go to Paihia.”
Caroline, who is not sure that she will ever want to go to Paihia again, spent the rest of her birthday watching episodes of Midsomer Murder whilst eating Boysenberry jelly and watching the relentless rain pour down outside the window.
“Meanwhile, the friends I had left behind in Wellington the previous day woke up to glorious sunshine with not a hint of a cyclone. They sent me various photos on What’sApp throughout the day to show me what a wonderful and sunny time they were having.”
A British backpacker has once again found herself having a twenty minute conversation with two complete strangers because she initially thought she recognised them.
Caroline spotted the couple on the beach at Cable Bay on New Zealand’s north island and after what appeared to be some mutual smiling and waving she approached them, only to realise pretty quickly that she had in fact never seen them before.
Caroline explained “Last night I had to stand in an ice cream queue for a very long time because there was just one person on duty and she was having a complicated phone conversation with someone who was teaching her how to change the till roll.”
Caroline had just decided her ice cream need wasn’t strong enough to remain in the queue, when the couple in front of her started to chat to her.
“They were called Beth and Boyd and they were really nice,” said Caroline. “We had such a good conversation that I didn’t mind waiting in the long queue anymore. And when I saw what I thought was them on the beach today, it felt like I was bumping into old friends. I couldn’t wait to go and catch up with them again.”
However Caroline soon realised her blunder but not before expressing enthusiasm at how pleased she was to be reunited with a baffled German couple who had never met her before.
“This happens to me a lot,” explained Caroline. “I am great at mistaking strangers for people I know, and equally good at failing to recognise people I do know when I see them out of context. I find it’s best just to smile at everybody, then nobody gets offended, although sometimes strangers do take it as an invitation to start hitting on me.”
The German couple were more than happy to give Caroline an earnest and in-depth report of all the places they have visited so far during their five week tour of New Zealand.
Caroline said “Considering they didn’t know me, they seemed very keen to talk to me. They’re touring New Zealand in a campervan, maybe it’s been such a long time since they talked to anyone other than each other, they were just thrilled to have someone new to speak to.”
This certainly seemed to be the case, because several hours later the German couple spotted Caroline sitting on the beach reading and approached her for a further twenty minute conversation.
“As they approached, I wasn’t sure if it was Beth and Boyd, or the German couple,” confessed Caroline. “So I had to wait until they started speaking and then work out who they were from their accents.”
Face blindness affects 2.5% of the population. “I think other people have it a lot worse than I do,” said Caroline. “But I have watched films where two actors look so similar that it takes me at least half the film to realise that they are two separate characters and it’s not a film about someone with a split personality.”
A seagull from New Zealand has been displaying some excellent netball skills on a north island beach in his attempt to get fed.
Tourist Caroline Gough who was eating chips at Cable Bay was impressed with the seagull’s amazing ability to dodge around the other seagulls and find an unmarked space, using the same strategies that a highly skilled netball player would use when making themselves available to receive the ball during a game.
Caroline who played Goal Attack in a netball team for many years explained “Dodging is a very important part of any netball game. You fool the person who’s marking you into thinking you’re going in one direction, then you quickly sprint in the other direction, freeing yourself up to receive the ball. This seagull was doing the exact same thing in his quest to get my chips, whilst the others just squawked loudly and annoyed each other.”
The seagull also impressed Caroline with his ability to make eye contact and call for her attention just as any professional netball player would.
Caroline and the seagull proceeded to enjoy an intense training session together. “Like the majority of the population, I find that I can never eat a whole portion of chips,” said Caroline, “so I began throwing leftover chips to this seagull one at a time. This prompted the other seagulls to up their game and try to outsmart us, but we never failed. The seagull got into a space every time and received my chip before any other seagull could intercept it. We made the perfect team.”
A set of clothes are enjoying the opportunity to hang in the wardrobe and have a good stretch for the first time since they arrived in New Zealand.
The clothes, which spend the majority of their time crumpled up inside Caroline Gough’s stripy suitcase, have been travelling with Caroline since she left the UK last November.
One of Caroline’s summer dresses explained: “As a summer garment, I am used to spending the majority of my time hanging in the wardrobe back in Shillingstone. I do get taken out and worn sometimes during the summer months, and I am usually chosen to go on a 2 week holiday to Lanzarote in the October half term, so I am more used to travelling on planes than a lot of these other clothes.”
A turquoise T-shirt added “I am Caroline’s favourite colour and also very versatile so I tend to leave the wardrobe fairly frequently throughout the year. But I am always hung back up again after she has finished with me, or at least I was until this trip began. Now we spend all our days shoved inside the stripy case.”
The jeans explained “Back in England Caroline wears me all the time, but in Australia it was so hot she barely even looked at me. In fact she put me right at the bottom of the case so that I would be out the way. It was okay for a while but as she spends longer on her travels, she buys more things and soon we won’t be able to breath inside that stripy case.”
However after three and a half weeks of hardcore backpacking around New Zealand’s South Island, Caroline has stopped for a few days at an airbnb with a proper wardrobe.
“We are all so relieved,” explained the lovely white and blue blouse who knows it won’t be getting another outing until Caroline stays at a place with an iron. “Just to sit on a hanger and shake myself out for a few days is pure heaven. We know it won’t last forever but we shall relish it whilst we can.”
The thermal top added “Caroline bought me in Queenstown so I am quite new and this is my first experience of living in a wardrobe. To be honest, I haven’t found the other clothes to be particularly friendly. I think they’ve realised that at some point there isn’t going to be enough room in that case for all of us and they’re worrying about who’s going to get rejected.”
I don’t want to bore ya
But I went to Kaikoura
Where all sorts of things did unfold
We had Cyclone Gita
I did not want to meet her
She was windy, ferocious and cold.
I met Not Hot Scott
He read books a lot
It did seem quite silly to me
That someone would pay
To fly out all that way
When a library visit is free
I saw all the sights
And sang Wuthering Heights
Which made Not Hot Scott disconcerted
I kayaked the rough sea
Nearly threw up my tea
But thankfully that was averted
Then out of the blue
A text message came through
From someone I did not want to see
Karoline with a K
Was coming to stay
At the very same hostel as me
What happened next
As result of that text?
You can click on the link, then you’ll see
It’s quite a long tale
(there’s even a whale)
So you might want to sit comfortably!
The terrible news came out of nowhere on an otherwise perfect day. I had been for a swim in the sea, read a few chapters of the latest book and was just preparing to head back to the hostel to get ready for my evening sunset kayak tour. But first I flicked on the mobile data on my phone, cos let’s face it, this is the 21st Century and I hadn’t looked at it for at least an hour.
And there it was. A What’sApp message from Karoline. This, you may recall is Kayaking Kampingplatz Karoline who spent a weekend in close proximity to me, sharing my tent, my kayak, and let’s not forget, my name back in Doubtful Sound a couple of weeks ago. I knew she was going to be in Kaikoura at the same time as me, but I also knew that she thinks backpacking hostels are beneath her and was going to be staying at a holiday park by night and joining some sort of dolphin-tracking conservation team by day, so I was optimistic that I could definitely make sure I was busy every time she was free and that our paths would never cross.
Not anymore. Karoline’s message read: “Hi Caroline, so great we both here in Kaikoura. We have now so many opportunities for meet. Tomorrow evening I will go to an interesting evening session on reducing household rubbish in Canterbury. I think it sounds very great, perhaps you will join? If it is too short or you have busy then we still have so many more opportunities 🙂 Where do you stay? I have now booked a shared room in the Albatross until the end of the week…..”
This is where I stopped reading. Because I am also in a shared room in the Albatross, and I had purposely not shared this news with Karoline so that she didn’t know where to come looking for me. But now, she’d presumably started to run out of money and was finding she had no choice but to stay at the backpacking hostels she had deemed to be beneath her, and by some terrible twist of fate had unknowingly chosen the same backpackers as me. And if I was really unlucky she would probably be bedding down opposite me or jiggling around in the top bunk above me.
Obviously the first thing I did was swear loudly and repeatedly. The second thing I did was compose a reply. Not to tell her that I was also at the Albatross, I planned to keep that a secret for as long as possible, but to ask her what time the highly interesting talk on household rubbish would be tomorrow, so that I would know when it would be safe for me to hang out at the Albatross without bumping into her.
I have been travelling for four months and the Albatross is my favourite hostel so far. It is quirky, full of beautiful murals and run by a lovely couple. There’s a cat and a piano, a selection of drums and guitars, a painting corner, and baking ingredients which anyone can use so long as they share whatever they bake with everyone else. The lampshades are all different but each is based upon the theme of Alice in Wonderland. All instructions and information have been written in poetry, and music is piped into all communal areas 24/7, a great selection of all my favourite Golden Oldies – it’s as if they wrote to me ahead of my stay and asked me to send them my perfect idea of a playlist. One of the other guests clearly doesn’t enjoy this sort of music, because everytime I see him, he is listening to music through his own set of giant headphones, singing along to something with a completely different beat, judging from the frequency by which he nods his head to the music. There are huge tables to sit at, giant beanbags, comfy sofas. I loved the atmosphere but there was no way that I was going to be able to chill out and enjoy any more relaxed evenings at the Albatross with Karoline by my side.
What is so annoying about Karoline, I hear you ask. Well, where to begin. We shared a kayak and a tent during a weekend on the otherwise tranquil Doubtful Sound and during this time she decided that I was her best friend, whilst I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to her. Karoline complained about everything (too hot, too cold, too late, too early, too hungry,) and within our first half an hour together I had already learnt all about how she doesn’t talk to any of her sisters and is perilously close to disowning her mother as well. We all had to fill out extensive risk assessment forms, which amongst many other things asked us to disclose medical conditions, and because she’s nosy, she had a good look at mine and spent the rest of the weekend quizzing me about my colitis, making huge and inaccurate comparisons between me having colitis and her being a vegan, and asking me how my tummy was at far too frequent intervals and usually in front of lots of other people which annoys me because I prefer for complete strangers not to know that my digestive and bowel health is dodgy unless they absolutely have to. When it was time to put up the tent, Karoline told me that I didn’t need to help if my tummy wasn’t feeling up to it, causing several people to ask me what was wrong with my tummy, and when I went to visit the toilet just before bedtime, she rested her hand on mine, smiled at me sympathetically and told me to take my time and not to feel under any pressure. Until she said that, it hadn’t occurred to me to feel under any pressure, but the thought of Karoline quizzing me extensively on the details of my toilet trip after the event certainly made me feel far more apprehensive than I usually would.
When you kayak as a pair, the person sitting in front has no control over the direction of the kayak, this is detemined by the person sitting in the back who uses foot pedals to steer the kayak. When it was Karoline’s turn to steer, she veered wildly all over the fjord, crashing into the bank and other people’s boats whilst I sat in the front powerless to do anything other than brace myself as each crash came upon us, repeatedly apologising to everyone as we crashed into them and hoping they’d realise it was the other Karoline causing the crash not me. Occasionally she’d have things under control and we’d be kayaking quite happily alongside another pair, but if I found myself having a nice chat with those people and Karoline didn’t feel included, she would immediately steer us far away to the other side of the fjord, quickly bringing my conversation to a close. We had been issued with wetsuits and thermal layers and I had hung mine out to dry overnight. The next morning, Karoline took my clothes off the line and changed into them, leaving me to put on her wetsuit and thermal that she had left festering in a damp sweaty pile outside the tent. Once we got back into the kayak for day two, she decided she was too tired to do any paddling and spent the time moaning and taking photos, leaving me to do all the paddling and steering whilst the rest of the group constantly had to stop and wait for us to catch up. After our lunch stop she lost her lifejacket and put mine on, so the rest of the group were held up as we all hunted high and low for the missing jacket (which is bright orange, so pretty hard to lose) which everyone wrongly believed that I had lost.
Consequently I was berating myself for being foolish enough to tell her the truth about my future travel plans, and not creating a vague lie so that she wouldn’t realise that we were both going to be in Kaikoura at the same time. But until today’s fateful What’sApp message, I had been sure I would be able to get away with not seeing her.
Now though it was time for Mission Impossible. Would I be able to exist alongside Karoline at the Albatross without her realising I was staying there too? It would be particularly hard if we were sharing a room, but I was willing to give it a go. What was helpful was that the bunk beds in my room each had a curtain that you could close around you, primarily designed for blocking out the light and getting dressed in private, but now also very useful for hiding from annoying ex-kayak partners. As long as we weren’t actually in the room at the same time, I could easily creep into bed and close the curtain around me and she would never know that I was sleeping in close proximity to her.
Technology helped. By pretending that I was genuinely interested in Karoline and her life, I could find out exactly where she was and what her plans were. What’sApping to ask her what her plans were for the evening and if she’d checked in to the Albatross yet certainly sounded as if I was trying to compare our plans to see when we could meet, when really I was just working out when it was safe for me to hang out in the hostel living room and when I would need to go and hide in the pub down the road.
But she caught me unawares on Monday. The weather was so bad that my whale watching trip had been cancelled for the second day in a row, so had my swim with the seals, but despite all this I was in a cheerful mood, enjoying the hostel atmosphere, editing the story about the unblissful chocolate bliss in Christchurch and checking on my laundry, when suddenly I heard the unmistakable annoying voice of Karoline, and there she was at reception, wearing the same pacamac and pair of practical trousers that she had been wearing the day we met. So quick as a flash I jumped up and headed out the back door as fast as Hyacinth Bucket’s neighbours in an episode of “Keeping Up Appearances”.
Once out the back, I regretted leaving so quickly. In the hurry to save myself I had left everything at the table – my laptop, my phone, a USB stick containing all my travel photos, my entire selection of colourful pens and a freshly made mug of Fairtrade Hot Chocolate (nothing but the best at The Albatross!) I should have gathered them up and brought them with me, Karoline was far too focussed on boring the pants off the lovely landlady and would have been unlikely to notice me gathering up my things before I made my hurried departure.
I’ve already told you how much I like the Albatross, and I now began to appreciate another of its features – the fact that there were three different entrances and exits to what is essentially the same giant room, and several windows for peering inside. I found a good place where I could hover in a doorway, keeping an eye on my belongings until Karoline left the room.
Not that it was going to happen any time soon. I could hear her loud monotonous voice, and it was clear that this wasn’t Karoline’s first meeting with the lovely landlady. She had presumably checked in earlier today, and was now of the mistaken opinion that the landlady needed to know absolutely everything that had happened to her since the last time they saw each other. On and on she droned with her monologue, explaining something fairly complicated and quite boring about some luggage restriction on a bus she had travelled on at some point in her life. I decided I wasn’t going to waste any more time lurking in doorways eavesdropping on boring conversations. For the first time since I arrived in New Zealand I was glad that the weather was so bad as it meant I was wearing my hoodie. I put the hood up to hide my hair and most of my face, powered into the room, gathered up all of my things as quickly as possible, and then hot-footed it out of the room before Karoline finished talking to the landlady.
Back in my dorm room I inspected the room for evidence of new room mates. I knew that at least two of last night’s room mates had checked out so if I was unlucky Karoline might have been given one of their beds. One bed had a newly dumped backpack on it, with a Canadian flag and the name “Sebastian” whilst the other had one of those serious backpacks – the ones you get from mountaineering shops, that are as far a cry from my own stripy suitcase as you can imagine. Karoline doesn’t actually climb mountains but does seem to favour mountaineering clothes, so the presence of a mountaineering backpack was a little ominous.
These curtains I told you about, the ones we can pull across our beds to create private spaces are very useful, but also make it difficult for you to know if there’s anyone behind them or if you’re in the room on your own, and whilst I was peering at the label on the ominous mountaineering backpack a bit more closely than was probably polite, the curtain of another bed was pulled back, and Not Hot Scott started to talk to me.
It’s probably a little unfair of me to call him Not Hot Scott, because he looks absolutely fine, it’s just that when you grew up watching Neighbours in the eighties, you assume that all Scotts are going to be blonde surfers who hang out at the beach all day, and this Scott is as far removed from that stereotype as you can imagine. He is a Cambridge graduate, but hasn’t yet left Cambridge because he’s still at the university, being very clever and doing all sorts of things that he told me about in great detail when we first met, but which I failed to be able to comprehend after about the fifth word. He’s very disappointed to only be in New Zealand for three weeks but it seems that Cambridge simply can’t survive without him for any longer than that. As far as I can tell though, Not Hot Scott spends most of his time behind his curtain reading books rather than packing as much adventure as possible into his short time in New Zealand, so it would have been far cheaper and more sensible of him to spend his annual leave hanging out at a library rather than flying to the other side of the world.
“Hi,” said Not Hot Scott, looking a bit forlorn and throwing more sadness and anguish into his delivery of the word “hi” than you could possibly imagine.
“Hi Scott,” I said brightly. “How are you?”
“Fine,” he said, in a voice that clearly suggested he wasn’t.
“What are you reading?” I asked, and he held up a well-worn copy of Wuthering Heights which isn’t the sort of book that would immediately spring to my mind as a good holiday read.
“Have you read it?” he asked.
“No, but I know the song,” I said.
He looked blank, so I started to sing it in my best high pitched voice. You can do things like that when you’re backpacking. It doesn’t really matter what people think of you if you know you’re unlikely to see them ever again. Plus I doubted that many people ever burst into spontaneous song in front of Not Hot Scott, so it would be a new experience for him.
He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s a faster version of the book,” I explained. “Same storyline, just not quite so much detail. I won’t sing it all. Don’t want to spoil the ending for you.”
Not Hot Scott is as baffled by my sense of humour as I am by his explanations of what he does at Cambridge University.
“Right,” he said earnestly, as if filing this piece of information away in his brain for a future date.
“Anyway, I’ll let you get back to your reading,” I said, because we were in danger of approaching another Awkward Silence. Not Hot Scott and I have been sharing a dorm long enough to have exchanged all the usual background information that backpackers share and now it’s incredibly obvious every time we see each other that we have nothing left to say. Nevertheless we regularly try to fill the Awkward Silences with Awkward Conversations that neither of us really want to be having.
Not Hot Scott retreated back behind his curtain and I gathered up a few belongings and went into town for a walk.
Later on I headed back to the hostel and peered through the windows into the living room, feeling a little bit like a stalker, although it occurred to me that I was probably the exact opposite of a stalker, because my goal was to not see Karoline, rather than to see her. It wasn’t ever so easy to see everything through the window, but I was hopeful that Karoline was still at her rubbish talk, and went inside where Daydream Believer was the latest song playing on the continual loop of excellent songs.
There was no sign of Karoline, so I went ahead with my plan of cooking tea. The best hostels have free range chickens and vegetable patches, and the Albatross lets you use all the produce and eggs for free, so I was combining the available ingredients to cook what would probably be the only “yellow courgette and stripy tomato omelette” I would ever eat in my life. I was aware that cooking an omelette was a bit risky – what if Karoline turned up before I had finished cooking – but I was hopeful that the people of Canterbury would have a lot to say on the topic of household waste and that I would be able to cook and eat my omelette in peace.
It sort of worked. I sat at the big communal table to eat my omelette serenaded by Dolly Parton, Billy Joel and Neil Diamond. The headphone guy was sitting at the table eating his meal and lost in his music, but the rest of the diners were probably a bit surprised to see how frequently I kept snapping my head round to look at the door every time someone came in.
And then she appeared. Poor old Mathieu from France, I had only been half listening to his earnest tales of apple picking in the first place because I’d been so busy watching the door, but now I wasn’t listening at all as I sat frozen to the spot watching Karoline make her way into the room, wearing the same uniform of practical trousers and a pac-a-mac. “Surprise!” I was going to say. “Isn’t it funny that we’re staying at the same hostel?”
But there was no need because she walked straight past the table and into the open-plan kitchen without even glancing in my direction. I pretended to listen attentively to Mathieu’s apple picking anecdotes, all the while watching as Karoline made a drink, bypassed the table, sat down in a comfy chair and took out her phone.
And then I realised how easy it is to hide from someone if they don’t know you’re going to be there. So I carried on with my evening, tentatively at first, but gaining more confidence as time went on. Mathieu and I chatted about French ski resorts, I did my washing up, made and drank a hot chocolate, and all the while Karoline sat within metres of me, concentrating on her phone screen. Encouraged by this, I took out my own phone and sent her a What’sApp message, asking her how the talk had been, whether she liked the Albatross, what she was up to this evening and when she was going to bed. She replied pretty promptly to say that she’d enjoyed the talk, she liked the Albatross and would be going to bed soon, which I was obviously very pleased to hear. And true to her word, she soon packed up her things and headed off to bed, leaving me to enjoy the atmosphere of the Albatross once again. The room was dark when I went to bed and I quickly and quietly made my way into bed and closed my privacy curtain, then lay awake stifling giggles for a good ten minutes at the thought that Karoline might be sleeping above me with no idea that I was underneath.
The next morning I was having another attempt at swimming with the dolphins. I had come to Kaikoura specifically to swim with dolphins, swim with seals, go whale watching and do a sunset kayak, but Cyclone Gita had done such a good job of churning up the sea, that so far everything had been cancelled, apart from the Sunset Kayak which I had renamed the Seasick Kayak and sorely wished had been cancelled too when I found myself kayaking on a very bumpy sea trying to stop my lunch and tea from making a reappearance.
Today though the dolphin swim was finally going to happen. I was encouraged by last night’s revolutionary discovery of how easy it is to hide from people who aren’t looking for you, but all the same I employed my best secret agent skills, peeping out from behind my privacy curtain before getting out of bed, peering round corners before entering the bathrooms and kitchens to make sure I wasn’t going to come face to face with Karoline, and my mission appeared to be successful.
Until I tried to leave the building. Because there on the only path that led out of the Albatross garden was Karoline. Karoline and a bicycle that she had presumably borrowed from the Albatross. I waited out of sight for her to climb on and cycle off into the distance, but she seemed to be carrying out some very thorough checks to ensure the bike was roadworthy and hadn’t even put on her helmet yet. I sighed deeply. There was no way I was going to risk missing the dolphins by turning up late, but I didn’t want to walk past Karoline either.
There was only one thing for it. With Karoline engrossed in her bicycle checks, I tiptoed behind her across the lawn and climbed rather spectacularly over the fence. I started walking towards the dolphin meeting point, anticipating that Karoline would come cycling past at any moment, but there was no sign of her – she really was taking those bicycle checks seriously. And then just as I was reaching my destination I heard her, calling my name, sounding so excited to see me that I almost felt bad for avoiding her.
“Caroline! Hello! This is so great!”
“Oh, hello,” I said and then added rather untruthfully “I didn’t expect to see you on a bicycle.”
“I know. It’s so great. I borrow from the hostel. Where do you stay?”
“Over there,” I said, waving my hand vaguely so that it indicated the entire town of Kaikoura. “Pretty close to you I think.”
“Oh. That is so great. Maybe tonight we can meet. I want to do yoga. Maybe you can join? I think it would be so great. Or maybe now we can have breakfast? That would be so great.”
I had forgotten that despite her constant moaning and complaining, everything else in Karoline’s life was so great.
“I can’t,” I said, looking at my watch. “I’m about to swim with the dolphins.”
“Oh, that is so great.”
“Yes,” I said. “In fact, I must dash. I don’t want to be late. I’ll message you later.”
“That would be so great,” said Karoline as I paced off towards the dolphin centre as fast as I could.
The dolphin swim was good. We were encouraged to attract the dolphins by singing to them through our snorkel masks, so I sang my way through the score of my current favourite musical “The Girls” and found I got the most attention from the dolphins when singing “So I’ve had a little work done” which is a song about having a boob job – not something you’d expect dolphins to know very much about, but clearly something they found interesting.
After the dolphins I had to race back to the Albatross to have a quick shower and change before racing straight out again for my whale watch which had been rescheduled for the third time. I snuck quietly into my room hoping that Not Hot Scott wasn’t going to emerge from behind his curtain because I didn’t have time to have an Awkward Conversation with him as well as a shower, so I grabbed my towel and raced off to the bathrooms at lightning speed.
To get to the shower, you either have to walk through the communal living room or go across the front garden. Usually at noon on a Monday there wouldn’t be very many people around, but today the living room was packed full of people having a Harry Potter marathon. With the aftermath of Cyclone Gita still whirling around making outdoor activity less enticing, the golden oldie music had been turned off and lots of backpackers were camped out in front of the TV with no intention of moving until they had seen every single Harry Potter movie from start to finish. In my hurry to avoid Not Hot Scott, I had only grabbed a towel from the room and no clothes, so after my shower I decided to go back to my room via the garden, rather than treat the Harry Potter audience to the sight of me in my towel, but as I made my way into the garden I discovered the obstacle of Karoline sitting on a picnic bench eating pasta. My only passageway back to my room was to walk right in front of the TV, so I made a point of grinning at everyone as I walked past in my towel and they all laughed at me as I hurried back to my room to get dressed.
Whale watching was expensive but not exciting. Not Hot Scott had waxed lyrical about his whale watch a few days ago, but my trip involved a two hour erratic jaunt around the bay trying to track down the elusive whale, whilst people who hadn’t yet discovered that “Kaikoura” is synonymous with “seasickness” threw up into little white paper bags all around me. The majority of the whale is under the water, so when we found the whale we just saw a grey oval of skin for about ten minutes and then the magical whale tail at the end. By the time my whale watch was over I decided I wouldn’t have minded if it had never been rescheduled after the first cancellation, but of course until you do these things, you don’t know that they’re not going to be wonderful.
Back at the Albatross, Harry Potter was still in full swing, but a different story was being retold in the kitchen. I briefly stood unseen in the doorway and watched as the lovely landlady busily cleaned the kitchen, bustling about from one surface to the next, clearly trying to get things done, whilst Karoline followed her around, getting in the way, loudly delivering the same monologue that I’d heard in the kayak a few weeks ago, the one about how she’s disowned most of her family and had come to New Zealand without bothering to tell any of them where she was going. I returned to my room and Not Hot Scott opened his curtain immediately.
“Hi,” he said, as morose as ever.
“Hi,” I replied. “How’s your day?”
Scott held up a copy of The Woman in White. “I started reading this,” he said sadly.
I wondered if it would be a good time to tell him that I’d seen the musical twice, had the soundtrack and knew most of the songs off by heart.
“Are you purposely reading books beginning with W?” I asked instead.
“Wuthering Heights, Woman in White,” I listed. “I thought maybe there was a theme.”
“Well I’m going to read the Mayor of Casterbridge next, so no, there isn’t a theme,” he said, and I wished I had sung him one of the songs from Woman in White instead.
I went out for tea, with Woman in White songs whirling around my head and then returned to the Albatross where the Harry Potter Marathon was still in full swing. This was wonderful because it meant the whole room was dark apart from the television. For the whole evening, Karoline sat at the table, totally oblivious that I was sitting round the corner writing a story about her. Harry Potter truly did have magical powers.
The next day I was leaving. Which was easier said than done. Cyclone Gita had caused so much damage that the roads to Kaikoura were closed. Nobody could get in and nobody could get out. And I would have been happy to stay at the Albatross indefinitely, playing Hide and Seek with Karoline and cooking yellow courgette omelettes, however after four weeks of back-to-back backpacking hostels, my next destination was an airbnb apartment at one of the best beaches on the south island. I didn’t want to miss the beach and I definitely didn’t want to miss the apartment. Backpacking is fun, but you can’t beat the amazing feeling of closing a bedroom door and sleeping by yourself in complete silence, or making a meal in a shiny kitchen with sparkly new utensils. So I had hired a private plane to fly me out of Kaikoura.
It sounds far more grand than it actually was. Even though I hadn’t found them very exciting, the whales are big business in Kaikoura and lots of people pay $150 to go whale watching by air. Now that Cyclone Gita had closed the roads, the whale watching plane company had spotted an opportunity and were flying stranded tourists and locals in and out of Kaikoura until the roads opened again.
I woke before my alarm to the sound of room mate conversation. Or rather the monologue of Not Hot Scott explaining in dull tones what he does at Cambridge University. The monotony of his voice was almost enough to gently guide me back to sleep, until the person he was talking to said in a loud voice:
“That is so great.”
Unmistakably, Kayaking Karoline was in the room. Thank goodness for the private curtains. All the same my heart started racing. I had a flight to catch, and I knew how long Karoline could talk for. How long would I have to hide away behind my curtain listening to the conversation between Not Hot Scott and Kayaking Karoline?
“I am actually here to make some dolphin conservation work which is so great,” Karoline was saying. “In fact I was supposed to be making it for five days but today that said they don’t want me to come which is not so great, but later I will make a trip with the boat to see the whales which I think will be so great.”
Not Hot Scott started to talk in an enthusiastic monotone about his whale trip, but Karoline doesn’t like to let anyone else talk for very long, so quickly interrupted him and started to tell him about how inconvenient it is for her that the supermarket had closed down because trying to find vegan food in Kaikoura is not so great.
“I think in the long term it’s probably more inconvenient for the supermarket staff who worked there than it is for you,” said Not Hot Scott bluntly, and I stifled a giggle from behind my curtain.
“Exactly, this is what I think too,” said Karoline unconvincingly and the conversation came to an abrupt halt.
I drifted in and out of sleep until my alarm went off and then I surreptitiously peered out of my curtain to see if the coast was clear. Nobody seemed to be about, so I tentatively got out of bed, ready to grab my stuff and hot foot it to the bathroom, but not before Not Hot Scott drew back his curtain.
“I don’t like our room mates,” he grumbled.
I didn’t know if Karoline was behind one of the other curtains, so I did the only thing I could think of in this situation and disguised my voice by putting on my best Irish accent.
Not Hot Scott sighed “Somebody came in last night whilst I was asleep and turned on the lights. And then they spent ages zipping and unzipping their bag like a million times.”
“People are so rude, I hate it when they do that,” I said, aware that I was almost definitely the culprit, and that my Irish accent was turning a bit Liverpudlian. The previous night I had gone to pack my suitcase at 8:30 and found the room in darkness. I couldn’t work out if Not Hot Scott was behind his ever-closed curtain or not, but I had decided that 8:30 was far too early for anyone to go to bed and besides I could hardly pack in the dark, so I had turned the light on, packed my case and then returned to sit round the corner from Karoline at the Harry Potter marathon.
Not Hot Scott shook his head glumly. “Where are you going today?”
“I’m leaving,” I said and explained about my private plane.
Not Hot Scott looked surprised. “Oh,” he said. “I was going to ask if you wanted to go for dinner tonight.”
I looked even more surprised that Not Hot Scott. Dinner? Did he not realise just how many Awkward Silences would occur on the walk into town alone, not to mention when we were actually sitting across from each other in a restaurant.
“Oh,” I said, my fake accent turning a bit Brummy in all the surprise. “We’ll have to do it another time.”
Not Hot Scott nodded like he’d heard that one many times before, and I escaped to go and have my shower.
The shower passed without incident, this time I had remembered to take clothes with me, so I emerged from the shower fully dressed, only to discover Karoline standing right in front of the door with her back to me cleaning her teeth. As she looked in the mirror to see what was happening behind her, I quickly closed the door and locked it for extra safety. After successfully avoiding her for all this time, surely she wasn’t going to discover me now, just as I was leaving. I wondered if Karoline had only come to the bathroom to brush her teeth or if she was waiting for a shower, in which case I was stuck in a stalemate. I could hear the showers either side of me in use, and from the noises and conversations taking place, all the other people had only just started showering, so it could be a while before another one became free for Karoline to use, and I had a $150 plane to catch.
I got my towel and arranged it turban-like on my head to form a disguise, hoping that my original theory that it’s easy to hide from someone if they’re not expecting to see you would still be true, even if you have to make eye contact with them as you leave a shower. But when I unlocked the door ready to face the music, the bathroom was empty.
I walked through the garden, peering in through the window to see if Karoline was in the living room or kitchen, but there was no sign of her, which meant she might be in the bedroom, which would make retrieving my stripy suitcase a bit difficult, and even more so if Not Hot Scott was also thrown into the equation.
Back in the dorm I could hear Karoline before I saw her. “Ja, das ist so toll,” she was saying in an animated voice, and I saw that she was lying on the bunk above mine, talking on the phone, with just her feet visible. Brazenly I walked into the room, crouched down to put my last few things into the suitcase, then zipped it up, no doubt annoying Not Hot Scott in the process as he read his book behind his curtain. Karoline remained on the top bunk talking into her phone, completely unaware that I was there, or that I had been sleeping beneath her for the last two nights.
Against all odds, it was mission accomplished. I crept out of the room as quietly as any person can when they have a stripy suitcase on wheels, said goodbye to the lovely landlady at reception and then just like any other secret agent, I boarded my private plane and flew far away ready to see what my next adventure would bring.
No two hostels are the quite same
And yet they all have the same name
The word “hostel” does not reflect
Exactly what you should expect
Some are clean and some are smelly
Some might confiscate your jelly
Some are nasty, some are nice
The ones with cats do not have mice
Some have toilets with no lock
Some give free cake at six o’clock
And so it really can confuse
When working out which one to choose
But rest assured and do not fear
For crazy linguist Caz is here
She’s coined new words and made a guide
Of what each hostel has inside
So next time when you need a bed
Click here to read her A to Zed
P.S. One hostel really did confiscate Caroline’s jelly – that story will be coming soon!
Aaaaaaahostel First on any alphabetical list, back in the day when we used that archaic thing called a phone book, this hostel would hope to get lots of business just by being first on the list.
Animostel Terrible atmosphere
Borstel Full of locks, keypads and chains
Bosstel Bossy owners, lots of rules
Coastel Overlooking the sea
Costel Hugely expensive
Crosstel Angry atmosphere
Dosstel Not very clean
Drosstel Even less clean
e-ostel Hostel of the future. Electronic check-in. No staff
Flosstel For dentists and dancers
Frostel Frosty atmosphere
Ghostel Haunted hostel
Glosstel Recently painted
Grosstel Never set foot in the kitchen
Hos-pi-tel For broken backpackers
Hostile Don’t even go there
i-hostel Everyone glued to their screens, including the staff
Joshtel Very funny. Comedians stay here
Josstel Smells of incense
Kostel Greek themed
Lostel Incredibly hard to find
Moshtel Lots of dancing, not much sleep
Moustel Infested with rodents
Nostrel Recreational drugs snorted here
‘ostel Cockney themed
Poshtel Delicate cups, saucers and doilies. Complimentary high tea at 4pm.
Postel Converted Post Office
Sloshtel BYO alcohol
Squashtel Too many beds in one room
Testostel Lots of bed hopping
Voicestel Very loud backpackers, expect no sleep
Washstel Excellent bathroom facilities
X-hostel Closed down
Zzzzstel Comfy beds, soundproof walls, everyone sleeps well here.
A British tourist has been left with a bitter taste in her mouth after consuming a petit four that did not live up to its name.
Caroline Gough popped into a New Zealand café for a hot chocolate and spotted the incorrectly named “chocolate bliss” balls as she was ordering at the counter.
However when Caroline bit into her chocolate bliss, she discovered it was more of a very dry textured nut and raisin nightmare, which is a terrible combination for anyone suffering with colitis. “It was beautifully presented in a rammikin,” said Caroline, who left the majority of the offending chocolate bliss in the rammikin. “But that’s where the beauty ended. I think they should change the name to Chocolate Disappointment. Then at least the customers will know what to expect.”
A New Zealand backpacking hostel has created a series of innovative sleeping spaces, designed to make all backpackers hate each other.
The Cat’s Pyjamas specialises in worn out bunk beds with saggy bottoms, ensuring that no backpacker ever gets a good night’s sleep.
Caroline Gough who has been staying at the backpackers explained “When you get into bed, the mattresses are so saggy that absolutely everything slides into the middle of the mattress and creates a big dip. As it’s a cramped room with no space to put personal belongings, we all go to sleep with our phones, water bottles and room keys under our pillows or beside our heads, and we all wake up to find that we’re in pain because all these items have worked their way down into the dip in the mattress and are now piercing our bodies or digging into our ribs.”
With absolutely no suspension left in any of the mattresses, it’s difficult for the backpackers to get comfortable enough to fall asleep, but when they do they are quickly awoken by their room mates, because absolutely any movement causes the ancient springs to make a loud creaking noise.
Caroline added “I’ve got a bottom bunk which is usually considered a good thing in the backpacking world. But the mattresses have such saggy bottoms that the girl above me is literally dipping down into my personal space and I can see and hear every movement she makes.”
The atmosphere of room 8 had been quite jovial before the backpackers went to bed, with the eight occupants chatting and sharing travel stories, but by the morning the dynamics had changed dramatically. “After a restless night of listening to each other fail to fall asleep, we were all glaring at each other furiously,” said Caroline. “Deep down we all know it’s the beds’ fault, but we’re all too tired to think rationally.”
The hostel ensures that absolutely no backpacker gets a good night’s sleep. “My friend Christine has a private room with a double bed, so you’d think she’d be okay” said Caroline. “But her room has been built right onto the smoking deck, so instead of sleeping, she gets to listen to all the nocturnal backpackers chatting and smoking. Obviously they don’t bother to go to bed because they’ve been here a couple of nights and know that the beds are too worn out to even bother trying to sleep in.”
Whilst the hostel fails to create a good sleeping environment, it has worked hard to live up to it’s feline name. “There is cat memorabilia everywhere,” said Caroline. “I do like quirky hostels with character and you can’t say these people haven’t tried to cram cat related tat into every available corner.”
The hostel is currently for sale. “I think if a cat lover bought it, and turned it into a cattery for cats when their owners go on holiday, it would be perfect,” said Caroline. “Cats are an ideal size for settling down into the saggy bottoms of each mattress for a cat nap. For them this hostel really would be the Cat’s Pyjamas.”
A rare New Zealand lizard has spoken of how difficult it has been to correctly learn his colours due to his misleading name.
Despite being a bright greenish yellow, the lizard which can only be found in New Zealand’s Northlands has been named “Grayii” since 1843.
The lizard explained “I’ve got a few different names. My Latin name is Naultinus Grayii, my friends call me Grayii and in more formal situations it’s Gray’s Tree Gecko. Obviously when I reached the point in my education where it was time to start learning my colours I just assumed, quite reasonably, that ‘grey’ would be the same colour as my body, because why else would everyone call me Grayii? Discovering that I’m not grey at all, but on the cusp of yellow and green was actually quite mind-blowing. It took me a long time to adjust to that.”
Grayii was in fact named in honour of the British zoologist John Edward Gray. Other animals named in Gray’s honour include an Indian pond heron called Ardeola Grayii, a herring called Salvelinus grayi and Gray’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon grayi).
“It’s alright for them,” said the lizard. “Herons, herrings and whales do tend to be predominantly grey, so that isn’t going to cause any confusion for anyone. But now that I have learnt my colours, I know that there is nothing remotely grey about me. It would have been far easier if I’d been named Naultinus Greenii. Green is a very common surname. Surely back in 1843 there were enough Mr. Greens walking the earth that at least one of them would have been worthy enough to have a lizard named after him?”
The lizard has been in contact with a green, black and yellow Mexican turtle called Trachemys venusta grayi. “Together we plan to set up an international support group for animals that have been named irresponsibly.”
A male backpacker has shocked his room mates by going to bed at 8:05am.
The incident happened at the Tasman Bay Backpackers in Nelson, New Zealand.
The boy, known only as Luke, is from Hemel Hempstead and is believed to be in his late twenties.
Caroline Gough who is sharing a room with Luke said “It was quite unexpected because he had initially seemed so alert and chatty.”
Every evening the hostel invites guests to gather in the dining room to eat free chocolate pudding and ice cream on the understanding that those consuming the chocolate pudding will talk to each other and make new friends for the duration of the pudding eating session rather than stare mindlessly at their phones.
Caroline and her fellow room mates had to tiptoe quietly into the room and fumble about in the darkness to find the things they needed for the rest of the evening.
“Luckily there was a nice living room with a good atmosphere, so we all hung out there,” said Caroline.
Caroline was unable to locate her ear plugs in the dark and consequently had to listen to Luke snoring for the entire night.
It was my first Saturday in Australia and I was being taken to a party I didn’t want to go to.
It fact it didn’t sound as this was a party that anyone wanted to go to, because it seemed that every single person going to the party wasn’t speaking to at least one other person on the guest list. I knew this because I had been staying with Simone and her phone for four days now, and all four of those days had been packed full of phone calls from people complaining to Simone about how awkward it was going to be at the party on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, Simone was finally off the phone long enough to give me a complicated run down of who all these people were, why they all hated each other and how tense the atmosphere was going to be.
“We’re basically all getting together to show that even though Han and Dan have split up, it’s not going to affect the dynamics of the group and we can all still get together and have fun.”
“It only isn’t affecting the dynamics of the group because the dynamics of the group are already totally screwed,” mumbled Simone’s husband Dean from behind his screen. He didn’t want to go to the party either.
“Well,” I ventured bravely. “You don’t need me there messing up the dynamics even more. I think you should go without me, and I’ll find something else to do.”
“What?” Simone and Dean were so shocked that actually took their eyes off their screens and stared at me.
“I don’t know any of these people,” I said. “And it sounds like you’ve all got a lot of…” I searched for the right word “…history. So you go to your party and have fun with your friends and I’ll do something else.”
Simone was completely aghast. “We can’t abandon you on your first weekend in Australia.”
“You really can,” I said.
“But why? What would you do?” Simone asked as if there was absolutely nothing for a British backpacker to do on a sunny Saturday in Sydney.
“I’d go to the beach, or the zoo, or the aquarium…”
“You went to the beach yesterday,” said Dean.
“Yes,” I said. This was true. But going to the beach was one of the biggest reasons I’d come to Australia and I was planning to go to the beach as much as possible. It wasn’t like I was going to tick off “going to the beach” on day three and never bother going again. But I didn’t explain this to Dean because Simone was already wailing.
“But we want to take you to the zoo and the aquarium.”
Yeah. That was the original memo I got. Back in England when I’d been What’sApping Simone about my travel plans, she told me I had to stay for the whole weekend because she had grand plans to take me to the zoo and the aquarium. There had definitely been no mention of hanging out with a dysfunctional group of friends who in fact hated each other.
Don’t you want to meet our friends?” wailed Simone.
“Not really,” I said, trying to sound apologetic.
“Because you and your friends have been complaining about this party all week and it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.”
“Our friends are great,” protested Simone. “They only hate each other. They’re all going to love you.”
“Really?” I said doubtfully, because introducing a random English stranger into a warzone didn’t sound like a successful recipe to me.
“For sure,” said Simone. “Anyway, we want you to come. Josh will be there.”
“Who’s Josh?” I asked, thinking that the party sounded bad enough without the addition of Simone trying to make me part of the screwed up group dynamics by setting me up with one of its members.
Simone lowered her voice. “Everyone in the group thinks Josh is autistic, but his Dad’s in denial. But if you were there we could be like “hey everyone this is Caz from England, she teaches autistic kids” and you could do a little diagnosis.”
Suddenly I wished Josh had been an adult they were trying to set me up with. That would be far easier to get out of.
“You do know that I’m not qualified to go to parties and give a lifelong diagnosis of autism to a child I’ve only just met?”
“Oh well, whatever, I’m sure you’ll work it out, whatever you say it will sound better coming from you. Oh and you need to teach Jess how to restrain Josh. She’s taking over the step-mum role and she can’t manage him. He keeps kicking off at the supermarket.”
Before I could even begin to explain Simone exactly how many things were wrong with every single thing that had just come out of her mouth, her attention was drawn to the five year old, who had been quietly and painstakingly writing row after row of lower case mmmms but had now got bored and was beating out a rhythm on the table with his pencil and rubber. When he clocked that his Mum had finally stopped talking and was looking at him, his face turned to anguish and he tried to return quietly to his writing, but the wrath of Simone had been stirred and she marched over to look at his work before launching into her usual unnecessary charade of rubbing most of it out, telling him it was “yuck” and that he wasn’t trying hard enough.
And so the morning went on. I played with the kids, Dean played with his screen and Simone had to call most of the people who would be going to the party later so that they could discuss all the things that they wouldn’t be able to talk about in front of everyone else when they got to the party.
It was a bit of a rush to get ready for the party. The kids were all completely unaware that they were going to a party because nobody had bothered to tell them, and the parents were so busy having screen time that they lost track of the real time. So there was a lot of shouting and a few tears and by the time that Dean had gone out to the car to move the car seats around so that all six of us would fit in, he was feeling quite stressed. I didn’t realise I was going to be adding to his stress until he opened the car door and pointed at where he wanted me to sit.
He certainly had moved the car seat, but not the bits of food and crumbs that had been happily breeding under the car seat for however long the car seat had been there. The seat was littered with bits of ancient cracker, bits of biscuit, a few old McDonald fries, a third of a jam tart and was just generally not a place you would want to sit when you are wearing your white Desigual dress.
“I think I need to get a cloth,” I said.
“We haven’t got time for that, get in,” Dean replied.
“What’s wrong?” said Simone.
Simone greets everybody by asking them what’s wrong. Usually I tell her nothing’s wrong and give her an enthusiastic happy story about the latest games I’ve been playing with her children. Right now though I gave her question the literal answer it needed.
“This seat,” I said. “I need to clean it before I sit on it.”
“Caz, I am so sorry,” said Simone as she clocked the state of it, and she set about cleaning it with wet wipes whilst Dean sighed impatiently from the driver’s seat. We all had to be quiet on the journey because Simone needed to talk to Gem and Em before we arrived to find out if they were talking to each other yet. Apparently they weren’t.
Going to a party in Australia is different from going to a party in England. Australia, with its lovely weather, has sensibly set up lots of communal barbecue and picnic areas near all its beaches and parkland, and on sunny days and evenings there are always groups of happy Australians chatting merrily, drinking beer and tending to sausages.
Or in the case of Simone and Dean’s friends, standing around, pretending not to hate each other.
Three groups were quickly established – the guys were in charge of the meat and the beer, the girls busied themselves setting out salads and dishes filled with things they’d prepared earlier and all the children went off to play on the playground equipment. Simone’s three kids who had followed me around lovingly for the past four and a half days didn’t even give me a second glance now that there were other little people to play with, so I had to be brave and talk to some adults instead.
Everyone had a one syllable name. I spent much of the party thinking that one of the blokes was called Ann and wondered what it was short for, later I discovered his name was actually Ian but none of the Australians pronounced the first syllable – I wondered if his parents had realised that would happen when they christened him?
The only people who got referred to with more than one syllable were the people who hadn’t been invited to this party – a pretty amazing achievement to be so out of favour that they weren’t even welcome at a party where none of the guests liked each other. Gem and Em, who even I knew weren’t speaking to each other, found common ground as they slagged off someone called Melissa, whilst other people picked over the misdemeanors of people called Caitlin, Darren and Bianca. People didn’t seem to be talking to each other, more talking over each other, believing that if they talked a bit louder than everyone else who was talking, someone might listen.
My most favourite thing about the party was the food. Simone had stopped off at the supermarket on the way to the party, shouted at the children for daring to ask if they could go into the store with her, then disappeared for at least fifteen minutes. The rest of us had stayed in the car, Dean sighing and tapping the steering wheel, telling the kids to be quiet and swearing when he tried phoning Simone only to find her phone was engaged. Eventually she returned with a few packets of breadsticks and her phone clamped to her ear. Other people however had clearly been off the phone long enough this morning to create homemade dips and quiches and jelly slices. I hovered by the food table with my paper plate and cup, topping both of them up far more than anyone else did.
Simone introduced me as the Awesome Caz from England who’d been keeping her sane and looking after her kids all week. Someone had brought their parents to the party, two cheerful people in their sixties who had no interest in the politics of this party, but instead chose to quiz me on UK politics, asking far more questions about Brexit and Theresa May and cumberland sausages than I knew the answer to. But I must have passed the test because they invited me to go and stay at their holiday cabin in the Blue Mountains any time I fancied.
One of the “friends” was called Kill, which I can only imagine was short for “If-looks-could”, judging by the thunderous expression she wore on her face for first hour of the party as she hovered on the edge of conversations, glaring angrily at everyone and everything. Once the parents were satisfied they’d quizzed me on all things British, they moved on to interrogate someone else, and Kill honed in on me.
“I’ve been to England,” she announced, somehow managing to make this sentence sound more like a threat than a statement.
“Oh?” I said, feeling a little bit scared that Kill was entering into conversation with me. I much preferred it when she was polishing off the watermelon and glaring at everyone.
“Yeah. I lived in Nuneaton for a year.”
“Did you like it?” I ventured. It didn’t seem the most obvious place for an Australian to live for a year.
“Yeah, I loved it.” The monotonous voice, the angry eyes and the frown did not convey the same positivity as the words.
“When did you go?”
“Two thousand and seven.”
“What did you do there?”
“You know what’s weird about England?” Kill suddenly became animated. “Yorkshire pudding, it’s like, not a pudding. And like, black pudding. That’s not a pudding either.”
“Don’t listen to her,” said one of the guys. “Kill talks crap. Of course Yorkshire pudding is a pudding. I’ve had it. My Mum used to make it all the time. It comes with custard, doesn’t it?”
“Actually…” I began, but Simone suddenly appeared from the other side of the park, took me by the arm and steered me away for what would be the only conversation she had with me for the duration of the party.
“You can’t talk to him,” she said.
I remembered. Dan, formerly of “Han and Dan” – the reason everyone had come to this party in the first place. This guy who thought Yorkshire pudding came with custard was the reason I was here and not at the aquarium.
Simone explained “He’s on the rebound. And Han is really really vulnerable. If she sees you talking to him, she might scratch your eyes out.”
“Right, we were just talking about…”
“Yeah, I know, but Han won’t see it like that.”
“Which one is Han?” I asked.
“Um, she’s not actually here,” said Simone.
Simone looked a little tearful. “She’s very upset. She can’t face it.”
“That’s a shame,” I said. “But if she’s not here, she won’t know who Dan’s been talking to.”
“Trust me,” said Simone. “Deb and Em will be ringing her up the minute this party ends and telling her absolutely everything that Dan did whilst he was here.”
“Right. Is there anyone else I’m not allowed to talk to?”
Simone didn’t notice the sarcasm in my voice. “No,” she said. “Oh actually, maybe not Dom? Bree’s a bit insecure about their relationship, but I don’t blame her after what happened in the mountains. I’ll tell you later. I need to find Kim, I haven’t spoken to her yet.”
I did a circuit of the playground and even went to the top of the climbing frame to talk to the five year old, but with so many other kids to play with, he didn’t even return my hello before he was off down the slide, caught up in a game, shouting commands at one of his friends. I returned to the blue cheese dip, which was by far the best thing about the party, but discovered some of the uninvited flies that had been buzzing around the food all day were now at different stages of swimming and drowning in it. Instead I spied an empty chair amongst the main group of “friends” and bravely decided to go and join in.
“So, are you like Simone’s au pair?” asked one of the friends.
“No,” I replied. “We went to uni together in 2001 when I was here on exchange.”
“Oh right, so why have you come back?”
I explained about giving up my job to come travelling and they all looked at me like I was mad.
“Aren’t you worried that you won’t ever get another job?” asked Bree.
“Not really, no,” I said.
“Well I would be,” said Deb.
Bec swotted away a fly from her plate. “At least in England you don’t have to worry about these,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“These black things. They’re called flies. You don’t get them in England, but they’re a real pain, especially at picnics.”
“We do have those in England,” I said.
“No,” Bec said. “Like these black things. You get bees and wasps, but not flies.”
“We do,” I said.
Bec shook her head. “No,” she said. “I went to Europe for six months, I never saw any.”
“When were you there?” I asked.
“Like October to March,” said Bec.
“I guess they’re around more in the summer,” I said.
“How convenient,” said Bec sarcastically, clearly not believing me at all. She addressed the rest of the group. “And do you know, in England they put carpet in their bathrooms. I mean, what’s that all about?”
“Why would you do that?” asked Deb, turning to give me an accusing glare.
“To warm your feet up when you have to pee in the middle of the night, because it’s so frigging cold in England,” said Jess.
“Some bathrooms don’t have carpet,” I said. “Maybe in older houses they do, but a lot of bathrooms have tiles or lino.”
“Yes,” I replied wearily, thinking I much preferred the politics inquisition from the parents. At least they were cheerful and willing to believe everything I said, even though I was far less clued up on Brexit than I was on flies and carpets.
“So my brother told me about how in London there are different pavements depending on how fast you walk,” said Jess. “And like slow people can get fined for walking on the fast people’s pavement.”
“How does that even work?” asked Deb. “Like, how do you know how fast you’re allowed to walk?”
“It’s probably like at the swimming pool,” said Bree. “The lifeguard tells you if you’re swimming too slow for the lane you’re in.”
I was rescued by the cheerful parents. “Caz,” they cried. “We need help. Tell us. That Maggie Thatcher. Is she dead yet?”
“Yes,” I said in relief, and stood up to go and join them without even a backwards glance at the group I was leaving. I found that quizzing the cheerful parents about their lives and Australia stopped them from asking me any more political questions that I couldn’t answer.
Eventually it was time to go. People fussed around putting lids back on things and Bec gave an unnecessary “what the f*** did you just call it?” when I referred to the cling film as “cling film” instead of “glad wrap”. Kill, who still looked furious, said it had been lovely to meet me, gave me her number and told me I should definitely go and stay with her when she went to her parents’ holiday home in Queensland this summer, whilst Bree and Jess threw their arms around me and said the next time I was in town we should all get together for a girls’ night.
Back in the car, Simone declared that the entire afternoon had been a complete success and she’d had a wonderful time. “I told you that everyone would love you,” she told me, and I wondered which parallel universe her party had been held on.
“You’ll definitely have to come back for Bec’s birthday,” said Simone. “You’re part of the group now. Too bad Josh wasn’t there. Apparently Tanya wouldn’t let him come. We’ll have to find another time for you to diagnose him.”
“Mummy,” said the five year old. “Tonight, when we get home can we…”
“Shush,” said Simone. “I’ve got to phone Deb.”
“You’ve just seen her,” said Dean in exasperation.
“I know, but I didn’t get to talk to her properly because… hi Deb…. oh my God I know… and did you see her face when Gem asked about the table decorations?”
And so it went on. The rest of the car journey involved Simone calling up all the people we’d just seen so that they could privately dissect every part of the afternoon, whilst I daydreamed about how next Saturday I would be far away from Simone and her phone, and never have to see any of her friends ever again.
That evening we didn’t do a lot. The party had been exhausting, apparently, so Simone and her phone and Dean and his screen just wanted to flop on the couch and not speak to each other – no different to any other night at their house. I had a look at my own phone and discovered I had a new friend request on Facebook – from someone called Bec Cotter.
“No way,” I said in disbelief, clicking on the photo for a better look, and there she was, Bec from the party, wearing a silly hat and posing with her two children.
I hovered over the “decline” button, but then stopped.
Perhaps I’d leave her hanging for a while. Just in case I ever did have to see her again.
And maybe a little later down the line when I went back to England, I could take photos of English flies swarming about in uncarpeted British bathrooms and post them all onto her timeline.
A herd of cows have spoken of their anger over an advertising campaign that they have labelled insensitive and callous.
The cows who live near Warrnambool on the Great Ocean Road claim that the first they knew of the plans to place a board advertising a fast food restaurant specialising in beef products in their field was when they woke up and spotted the board on Tuesday morning.
“We are not stupid,” mooed the cows. “Whilst humans continue to fret and ponder about where they go when they die, we know exactly where we’re headed. But we don’t need a great big board in the middle of our home to remind us that we’re destined to end up inserted into a bun and then covered in cheese, ketchup and gherkins. We prefer to look at the trees, the sky and the passing traffic.”
Backpackers travelling around Australia have been thrilled to discover the “five for five fifty” money saving offer at Hungry Jack’s where they can feast upon a hamburger, chips, chicken nuggets, a drink and an ice cream for a mere $5.50.
Hungry Jack’s is well known throughout Australia for its slogan “The burgers are better at Hungry Jack’s”.
Customers visiting a juice bar in Queensland are repeatedly being told that their juice orders are “too easy”, the Cazmanian Times can reveal.
The juice bar in Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast stocks a range of fruits and vegetables and gives customers the opportunity to choose which ingredients they would like to have in their juice.
And it doesn’t seem to matter if customers pick one ingredient or eleven, the response from the sales assistant is always the same – “Too easy.”
One British backpacker who ordered a pineapple and kiwi fruit juice said “When he said my order was too easy, I felt like he was challenging me to throw in a few extra fruits to make it more difficult. But I didn’t want to add to my order because I like the simplicity of pineapple and kiwi, and to be honest, anyone working in a juice bar shouldn’t find making any sort of juice difficult because it’s what they do every day.”
Our linguistics correspondent Caroline Gough explains: “Whilst traditionally ‘too easy’ could refer to a maths question that wasn’t challenging enough, or a person with questionable morals, here in Australia, it is understood that ‘too easy’ is simply a response to convey that there is no problem. It’s used in the same sort of context as ‘no worries’.”
‘Too easy’ is not just confined to the juice bars of Queensland but is in fact in widespread use throughout Australia, with waiting staff, bartenders and shop assistants regularly informing customers throughout the land that their orders and requests are “too easy.”
“Even when they tell you it’s too easy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is,” said Caroline who was recently told her order for the McOz burger at a McDonald’s in Cairns was too easy but then had to send it back because it was missing its trademark slice of beetroot.
“But at least it makes more sense than a pet shop I visited in England a couple of years ago. The sales assistant asked me a million questions to determine whether or not I was responsible enough to buy five neon tetras and she responded with the words ‘awesome sauce’ to every single answer I gave.”
Caroline explained “Rottnest Island doesn’t have cars, so visitors are encouraged to rent bicycles for the day. There are several brochure and website photographs showing people looking very happy as they cycle around the island without a care in the world. I had no doubt in my mind that when I visited the island I would be cycling around looking just as happy as they did.”
The newest occupant of a female dorm in Adelaide has annoyed all her room mates by repeatedly telling them a story that wasn’t newsworthy in the first place.
Alex Atkins from Cardiff in Wales arrived at the backpackers this afternoon to discover that the hostel staff had assumed she was male, and had consequently put her in an all male dormitory. Luckily the hostel wasn’t fully booked, so within two minutes the mistake was rectified and Alex was allocated a place in a female dorm.
Caroline Gough who had only popped back to the room to quickly pick up a packet of Cheezels and a bottle of fizzy mango from her locker was the first to hear an in-depth account of Alex’s arrival at the hostel and how traumatised Alex felt when faced with the prospect of sharing a room with the boys.
“I couldn’t really identify with her predicament because I actually prefer sharing with guys,” said Caroline who always tries to book a mixed room rather than a female one. “I’ve been in a few female dorms where you can’t even charge your phone because the plug sockets are taken up with hair straighteners and hairdryers, and you can’t move without tripping over the giant suitcases that the girls have brought with them to house all their essential beauty products and many pairs of shoes. The atmosphere is usually better in a mixed room and you’re less likely to encounter people like Alex. Plus when else in my life am I ever going to get the chance to hang out with hot young Dutch guys?”
Caroline only managed to extract herself from listening to the monologue when another unsuspecting room mate entered the room and made the mistake of saying hello, which prompted Alex to begin her story again whilst Caroline slipped quietly out of the room. But later in the evening Caroline returned to the room to find not only was Alex still sharing her story with the room mates who hadn’t yet heard it, but she had now exaggerated the situation and was telling her latest listeners that she had in fact arrived the night before and had been forced to endure a night with the boys before transferring to the female dorm today.
Caroline said “She didn’t even seem to notice that she’d met me earlier and had already told me a much watered down version of the current story. If I liked confrontations I could easily have blown Alex’s story out of the water and told everyone that she only arrived today.
I’ve got no idea why this story is still getting airtime. It’s very worrying that someone who’s already been travelling for five months thinks that this is her most exciting story. Alex is one of the most unisex names in the world and the only newsworthy thing about this story is how this Alex has managed to make it to the grand old age of twenty-six without this sort of thing happening to her before.”
None of Alex’s room mates seemed particularly excited about her story. “One of our room mates doesn’t understand very much English,” said Caroline “So she kept smiling and nodding and saying ‘yes’ and ‘ah wonderful’ throughout the story which wasn’t the reaction that Alex was looking for.”
Alex created further drama after everyone had gone to bed when she woke up screaming that a spider had walked across her face. “The lights went on,” said Caroline “And everyone got out of bed to have a look for this spider, which I’m fairly sure didn’t even exist, but we all knew we were unlikely to get back to sleep until we had reassured her it was gone. Then she shrieked that we needed a man because males are better at disposing of spiders than females are. I couldn’t believe it. We’ve spent the whole day listening to various versions of how terrible it was that she got put in a male dorm, and then she wakes us all up telling us that only a man can help with her spider predicament.”
Caroline added “Tomorrow I’m going to see if I’m allowed to have Alex’s spot in the male dorm. I don’t know if I can handle another day and night in the life of Alex.”
An Italian backpacker has failed to understand that the helpful British woman who has aided him through every stage of his hostel stay so far is also a guest at the hostel and not a member of staff.
Caroline Gough, who has so far only spent one night at the backpackers in Dunedin, New Zealand herself explained “I heard the doorbell ring several times and as nobody else was around, I decided to answer it.”
Caroline was met by 27 year old Alberto who has taken 6 months out of his IT job in Florence to travel the world.
“He was very jovial and talkative,” said Caroline. “I took him to reception and there was an envelope with his name and room number on it, and a key inside. I was going up the stairs anyway so I ended up helping him with his heaviest bag and taking it to room six for him.”
Alberto asked Caroline where the bathrooms were so she pointed them out and also shared a tip about adjusting the water temperature of the shower that she had discovered earlier.
“Obviously I thought that was the end of it,” said Caroline. “But fifteen minutes later he appeared in the living room repeatedly calling me wifey until I gave him the code for the internet.”
Alberto tracked Caroline down for further assistance when he couldn’t find a cheese grater, when he needed a map of Dunedin and for recommendations of what to do tomorrow.
“By this point I realised he thought I was a staff member,” said Caroline. “But seeing as I knew all the answers to his questions, I just went along with it and helped with all his enquiries.”
However on Wednesday morning Alberto accosted Caroline in the kitchen whilst she was boiling an egg and said he was checking out and required his $20 key deposit returning. “I told him I wasn’t working today and asked him to go and see one of my colleagues,” said Caroline. “I don’t mind being helpful, but I draw the line at giving my money away.”
Many backpackers on the east coast of New Zealand follow a similar itinerary to one another, travelling the same route and visiting the same tourist hotspots so it is not uncommon for backpackers to cross paths with each other from one location to the next.
“It would be funny to bump into him at the next hostel,” said Caroline. “I wonder if he’d finally realise that I’m just another backpacker, or if he would assume that I’m managing a whole string of hostels up and down the coast.”
A hungry backpacker is feeling frustrated after staff at her latest hostel provided her with plastic cutlery to eat a meal of steak and chips.
The meal which cost just $10 was served in a plastic takeaway carton at a backpackers in Perth this evening.
Caroline Gough who spent the best part of an hour attempting to eat the meal told us: “It’s really great when hostels offer cheap meals to backpackers, and I can see that whilst it may not be great for the environment, using disposable trays and cutlery prevents the washing up issue that occur so frequently in hostels.
However the people who organise this meal have clearly never attempted to cut up a piece of steak with a plastic knife. That in itself is difficult enough, but when the steak is balanced unevenly on some chips and limp lettuce in a wobbly plastic container it becomes even harder.”
Caroline did observe that a few backpackers were using normal knives to cut their steaks. “I enquired as to where the normal knives were kept and discovered that not only were there none left but that other people had already reserved to have these normal knives passed on to them when the first people had finished.”
Caroline added “When I saw the chalkboard advert for the meal, it did say to hurry because stocks were limited. I assumed they meant the steak, I now know they were talking about the knives.
It’s a good marketing trick because having spent so much time and effort carving off minuscule pieces of meat at a time, I’m really hungry and contemplating dessert.
It was day two of the eight month adventure and jet lag wasn’t getting a look in. When I landed in Sydney yesterday I’d spent the day with Simone and her phone as we drove around the city ferrying children to school and playgroup and swimming lessons, Simone and her phone joined at the ear, or connected via Bluetooth as she offered dubious parenting and relationship advice to the variety of people with one syllable names (Bec, Jess, Kat, Nat, Gem, Em, Han, Tan) who called throughout the day. At playgroup I joined in with parachute games and play-doh fun with the children and parents, whilst Simone sat on a gym bench at the edge of the room and chatted away to her constant stream of callers. In the evening I had my first taste of a chaotic evening at home with Simone and her phone. Cooking a meal whilst simultaneously holding a phone to your ear is a tricky thing to do, even if you’ve had as much practise as Simone has, and consequently we all dined on chicken nuggets that were too dry and broccoli that was too wet. The children were not so much put to bed as ordered into bed in the style that an angry sergeant major might use, and Simone just laughed at me when I offered to help with bedtime and told me that I didn’t know the routine. Once the kids were in bed, out came the laptops. Simone and Dean stared at their screens all night, and I went to bed soon after the kids, as it was now Tuesday night in Australia and I hadn’t done any sleeping since I woke up in England on Sunday morning.
The next morning I woke up in time to watch Simone and her phone negotiate a chaotic breakfast, and then everyone disappeared to school or work or daycare. And I had a brilliant time. I figured out how to catch a train to Circular Quay and quickly established that there were no place names on the Sydney train network that would be suitable for my next hamster. And then I had several wonderful hours of walking around enjoying Circular Quay. This is where the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are and even though I visited many times during my eight month adventure, the novelty of seeing it and being there never wore off.
I had strict instructions to be home in time for tea, but when I got back to Simone’s house there wasn’t even a whiff of a chicken nugget cooking and Simone had a face full of thunder.
“Hello,” I said with extra enthusiasm as if that might help diffuse whatever the latest drama was.
“Aunty Caz!” shrieked the children and threw themselves at me in delight.
“Get off Aunty Caz and leave her alone,” shouted Simone, and then said “what are you doing tomorrow?”
“Going to Bondi Beach,” I replied, although I was fairly sure from the look on Simone’s face that these plans were about to be scuppered.
“That’s fine,” she said in a tone that suggested it wasn’t fine at all. “But none of the children are allowed to go to school or daycare tomorrow because today they all got sent home with conjunctivitis.”
“No worries,” I replied. “They can come to Bondi Beach with me.”
Simone didn’t seem to appreciate this as a viable option, so the next day, the three kids and I stayed home and had a lot of fun. The night before I had filled some disposable gloves with water and different cordials so that we had some frozen colourful hands to play with in the garden the next day (I left a couple of frozen hands at the back of the freezer to freak Simone out at a later date). We made jelly and fairy cakes, drew some pictures and played a game where we were a family of monsters. The rules were devised by the three year old and quite complicated, but we enjoyed it nevertheless.
The five year old had to do some school work. His sisters and I listened as he read a page from a book about insects, then he wrote a few sentences about our jelly making in his news book and then he had to practice writing the letter k. But not the normal letter k that is used widely in print and handwriting around the world, he had to do line upon line of cursive ks the sort of k you only come across when your great aunt sends you a handwritten letter, or when you’re in Key Stage One at school. It’s a hard letter to do when you’re five and a lot of his attempts looked more like capital Rs than cursive ks but you could see that he was making progress and improving as he went along.
It seemed a bit of a dull activity, sitting by yourself writing k after k after k so I sat next to him and made it a shared experience by writing a few ks of my own on another piece of paper and putting what he was doing into context by talking about how there’s a k in his first name and in other words like cake and koala and it was all going very well until Simone burst through the door, phone clamped to her ear and what do you suppose her first words were:
“Sorry Bec, one minute, I’ve just got to shout at my child.” And then she held the phone briefly away from her ear and out came a barrage of unnecessary shouted admonishment.
“Stop talking to Caz. You’re supposed to be doing your work. You’re always doing this… don’t you dare argue with me” (as he tried to protest) “You put your head down and do your work.”
Well, I was far more bewildered by this outburst than the five year old because he is sadly used to nonsensical acts of weirdness from his mother, but I still remember her as the fun loving eighteen year old I made friends with a lifetime ago, so I found it much harder to compute.
“Actually,” I said. “He is doing his work. We were just talking about the letter k and thinking about all the different words that have a k in them.”
“Nuh,” she said. “He just wants you to think that. He’s wasting time. He always does this.” She glared at her son and shouted at him to do his work, then went back to her phone and said “sorry Bec, we’ve got a bit of a situation here.”
She marched over, grabbed the piece of paper, took no notice of how the capital Rs slowly started to look more like ks as the line went on and declared “This is yuck work.” Then she grabbed a rubber, erased all of his work, accidentally tearing the page with her furious rubbing and said “Do it again. Concentrate. And don’t you dare talk to Caz.”
The five year old hung his head and started to cry and Simone was back on the phone apologising to Bec for interrupting the phone call. She disappeared into her bedroom talking away on her phone and closed the door at which point the three children and I breathed a sigh of relief.
She emerged almost an hour later to find us playing in the garden and immediately started to question the five year old about his letter ks with the same sort of intensity you’d expect to find in a murder enquiry. She inspected his work, decreed it to be much better and then told him to apologise to Aunty Caz for wasting her time.
“He wasn’t wasting my time,” I said as the five year old mumbled an unnecessary “sorry Aunty Caz” at me. “And he doesn’t need to apologise. We’ve had a great day and it was me talking to him about his work, not the other way around. I was just trying to make it a bit more fun.”
“It’s not supposed to be fun,” Simone replied. “When you have kids, you’ll understand.”
Oh. That old chestnut.
It was dry chicken nuggets for tea again, this time with peas, sweetcorn and overcooked pasta. Throughout dinner there was excited anticipation – from me at least – about the jelly we had made earlier. Simone took three jellies out of the fridge and banged one down in front of each child, paying no attention to the fact that the children might want to choose which colour to have, or that I might want one too.
“Oh but….” said the five year old.
“Don’t you dare argue with me,” shouted Simone. “You have the one you’re given.”
“No,” I said. “He’s made a special one. He mixed all the different colours together to see what happens.”
“It was a science experiment,” added the five year old quietly.
“Oh. Well I didn’t know that,” said Simone and allowed the five year old to go and get his experiment jelly and a blue jelly for me.
Before we even finished the jelly Simone had to quickly phone Kat, so she threw a copy of Rapunzel at the three year old and informed her that Aunty Caz would read it to her.
So after the jelly we settled down on the couch, the three children and me, and I started to read the story. We had nearly got to the end when Simone ended her phone call and announced that everyone had to get up and go to bed immediately.
“We haven’t finished the story,” protested the children and I.
“It’s bedtime,” Simone replied.
“There’s literally one page to go,” I argued.
“Nuh. They’re going to bed.”
And so they did. Simone shouted her way through the bedtime routine and we definitely could have finished Rapunzel without it adding to the length of time that bedtime ended up taking.
Simone and her phone were more stressed than usual because today she had been offered two new jobs. She could either choose to spend five days a week doing a highly stressful job that involved supporting children who had been removed from abusive parents (yes, I saw the irony there too) or she could spend three days a week devising educational apps for a start-up company, working from home for much of the time.
“Seeing as you have three children under five and already seem quite busy (I thought “busy” sounded better than “stressed”) it doesn’t sound like taking on a full time job is the right thing for you to be doing right now,” I offered. “And the full time job sounds like it could be quite emotional and stressful. If you took the part time job you’d have a lot more time and energy to spend with the kids, and you’d be at home a lot more too.”
Dean – the husband – glared at me from over the top of his laptop screen. “Simone is a career woman,” he said crossly. “She needs to think about her five year plan.”
“She’s also a Mum,” I replied and was given one of those deathly stares that suggested I should shut up now or catch the next plane back to England.
“I’m going to phone Nay,” announced Simone. “She’ll know what to do.”
Despite having a name that sounds like the noise a horse makes, Nay was full of good advice, or at least I thought so because it was identical to everything I had said.
“You’ve got three small children,” said Nay. “I feel like it’s not the right time for you to be going full time, plus that job sounds like it could be quite stressful. You should take the part time job.”
“Do you know what? You’re absolutely right,” said Simone. “Thank you. You’re the first person who’s actually said anything sensible that makes any sense. That’s totally put it into perspective for me. Nobody else understands like you do. You’re the best.”
What? How about when I said exactly the same thing as Nay did ten minutes earlier? Surely Nay was in fact the second person who’d said anything sensible that made any sense. And surely I was the best for looking after the kids all day, and being brave enough to give my honest opinion about Simone’s job dilemma despite the fact that her husband was giving me the death glare?
Then Bec rang because let’s face it, it was at least an hour since she’d last spoken to Simone. Simone launched into an appreciation speech of how wonderful Nay was, stopping only to shout at the five year old for getting out of bed to come and tell us he had a tummy ache. Dean spent the evening with his screen, Simone spoke to each of her one syllable named friends and had several identical conversations as she told them all she was taking the part time job, and I had another early night.
The next day was Friday. Apparently the window of contagiousness for conjunctivitis was now closed which did make me wonder if I was going to get it and take it round Australia infecting other backpackers, seeing as I’d spent the previous day with three contagious children. Everyone was going to school, to work or to daycare. I was a little bit disappointed, because I had enjoyed my day with the kids yesterday. It was so much easier to have fun when Simone and her phone and Dean and his screen weren’t there.
But I soon got over it, because I caught the train to Bondi Beach, had a delicious chocolate milkshake, rented a surfboard and spent the day on the beach.
It was not a surprise to see that Simone was on the phone when I got back.
“Caz is here,” she announced to her caller. “Yeah no Caz is awesome. She looked after all three kids yesterday all by herself. Yeah no, we’re having the best time. Kay I’m gonna go talk to Caz and call you back later.”
Wow! An appreciation speech and priority over whoever was on the phone. Things were looking up.
“That was my mother-in-law. I’ve been trying to get rid of her for ages,” said Simone. “So anyway, I have news… I’m taking the full time job.”
“Well because Dean phoned me up at work today,” Simone said this as if talking to people when she’s supposed to be doing something else was a completely rare occurrence. “And he made me realise that I’m a career woman. I’ve got to think about my five year plan.”
“So what is your five year plan?”
Simone was stumped. “Um…”
“What about the kids? You said you were already feeling like you were missing out just working three days.”
“Yeah, I’ll miss not going to play group,” said Simone and I cast my mind back to Tuesday when all the other parents had been playing with the kids whilst Simone and her phone had hung out together at the other end of the room. “But Dean and I talked about it a lot and this is definitely the right decision.”
I had offered to shout us all takeaway pizza that night, partly to pay my way and partly because I couldn’t stand the thought of more chicken nuggets. So I was surprised when Simone started pulling the infamous nuggets out the freezer.
“Nuh, the kids aren’t having pizza, it’s just for us,” said Simone when I enquired.
“I was planning to get it for everyone,” I said. I had envisaged a fun family evening with pizza and garlic bread and the rest of the jelly for dessert.
“Nuh,” said Simone. Clearly in her eyes pizza couldn’t compare to the nutritional value of the chicken nuggets.
So we had our pizza evening, but it wasn’t the fun social event I’d hoped for, not with the kids in bed, Dean on his screen and Simone on her phone. Obviously she had to call all her one syllable named friends to tell them that she’d changed her mind and was taking the full time job after all. They all seemed to think this u-turn was as crackers as I did and Simone sounded less and less convinced of her decision with every call she made.
The pizza at least was delicious, even if the communication and chat between the three people in the room was lacking.
Simone was busy telling someone called Mon that Caz was here and Caz was awesome and Caz was having a great time in Australia and I wondered how Simone could possibly know that when she spends all her time talking to other people and not to me.
But I didn’t mind too much. I’d managed to sort out an Australian sim card whilst I was at Bondi Junction. Ironically I could now call and text England at a far cheaper price than I ever could when I was in England using a UK sim. And now I had unlimited data too. I busied myself putting my Sydney and Bondi photos onto Facebook, and sending messages to friends via texts and WhatsApp. And there we sat in the living room having a wild Friday night, ignoring the television, ignoring each other, silently shovelling pizza into our mouths and staring at our screens.
Well if you can’t beat them, join them.
A British backpacker has spoken exclusively to the Cazmanian Times following her unexpected nocturnal descent into the dusty unknown.
Caroline Gough who was sleeping in a top bunk at a backpackers in Townsville explained “When you sleep on the top bunk, you have to take quite a lot of things up the ladder to bed with you and often there isn’t anywhere to put them. I regularly go to sleep hugging a bottle of water, whilst my phone, my room key and some spare earplugs sit under my pillow. The princess and the pea has nothing on me.”
However disaster struck just after 1:30am when Caroline was awoken by the unmistakable sound of a key dropping onto the floor below.
“I used my phone torch to see if my key was still under my pillow,” said Caroline. “And when I couldn’t find it, I realised I was going to have to try and find it in the dark without waking up my seven sleeping room mates. I was getting up early to catch a bus at 6am so it wasn’t as if I could wait until everyone woke up before I looked for it.”
Caroline described her descent down from the top bunk “It was one of those bunk beds that doesn’t actually have a proper ladder,” she said “And the guy sleeping beneath me had put slippery towels and clothes on the metal frame where I needed to put my feet so I had to be careful as I manoeuvred my way down the sheer vertical drop.”
Once safely at ground level, Caroline had the tricky task of shining her phone torch onto the floor to look for the key, whilst at the same time ensuring the light did not wake up her slumbering room mates.
“I couldn’t see it anywhere, so eventually I crouched down and shone the light under the bed,” said Caroline “The key was in the most unhelpful place possible, right at the back by the skirting board.”
Caroline was faced with no choice but to lie on the floor and shimmy under the bed on her tummy towards the skirting board. “I hadn’t actually met the guy sleeping on the bottom bunk,” said Caroline “So it felt a bit risque to be shimmying around underneath him. I was very much hoping that nobody was going to wake up and wonder what I was doing. Luckily I’ve been backpacking for eight months now, so I’ve had quite a lot of practise of being quiet in unfamiliar dark places, although this particular expedition did take things to another level.”
As she ventured further under the bed, Caroline encountered various pieces of litter and a forgotten pair of dusty underpants. “It was clear that nobody else has been under that bed for quite some time,” said Caroline. “My pyjamas and I did an excellent job of collecting several years worth of dust before we were finally reunited with the key.”
Despite being covered in dust, Caroline counts her nocturnal expedition as a definite triumph. “Nobody woke up, I got the key back and did a bit of unexpected spring cleaning at the same time. I’ve never been a human feather duster before. I think I’ll reward myself by washing my pyjamas when I get to Mission Beach tonight.”
Sporting enthusiasts from across the globe have spoken of their disappointment after being misled by a residential street in Australia.
“Badminton Court” in Geelong, Victoria is a residential street which contains several houses but, despite its name, no sign of any shuttlecocks or sporting facilities.
Caroline Gough who is currently travelling around Australia said “Who doesn’t love a good old game of badminton? When I saw that there was a badminton court in Geelong, naturally I put on my sportiest clothes and and raced along to have a game. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that Badminton Court is just the name of a residential street. I’m sure I’m not the first person who’s made this mistake.”
The street was keen to fight back. “I’m sure it’s only people who have degrees in English Language and Linguistics who insist on being so literal. What about Dead Dog Lane and Queen Street? People don’t go flocking to those streets thinking they’re going to bump into royalty or trip over a deceased dog. There are millions of residential streets all over the world and if we were all named after physical features found within our street it would be very limiting. We’d all have names like Pavement Avenue or Telegraph Pole Road. That would get awfully confusing for the postman.”
Badminton Court is located in the Geelong suburb of Marshall which Caroline believes could cause further confusion. “If you type or speak “Badminton Court, Marshall” into a search engine, you don’t get directions, you either get a list of leisure centres that offer badminton and martial arts, or you get information about court martials.”
This is not the first time that the reliability of a place name has come into question during Caroline’s travels. Back in June she carried out a series of conclusive experiments which confirmed that Magnetic Island is in fact not magnetic.
“However at the other end of the scale, some places go out of their way to live up to their name,” said Caroline. “Earlier in the year I stayed at an airbnb in Manly and glued to the kitchen window sill was an air freshener that squirted out a masculine aftershave scent every 20 minutes just to remind me that I was in Manly. It seems to be one extreme or the other.”
Caroline confirmed that she still intends to give Wee Wee Creek and Wasp Island a very wide berth.
Backpacking is fun and it certainly provides me with plenty of material to write my stories. But for my own sanity, every now and then I need to check into a place by myself where I can spend a few days sleeping on my own in a king-size bed, hang my clothes in a wardrobe, use fluffy towels and not set eyes on a bunk bed or a shower clogged with other people’s hair. And so from time to time I trawl the airbnb website looking for a great place for a beach loving solo traveller to stay.
The first airbnb I stayed at had a huge and shiny kitchen. I had previously been staying with Simone and her phone and her family, and meals had generally involved chicken nuggets and frozen veg, usually overcooked because Simone had been on her phone throughout the cooking process and hadn’t kept a close enough eye on the meal. Then I’d been at a hostel that was so lacking in space and utensils that I had to wait half an hour before I could even find the space and equipment to boil an egg. I was keen to branch out. I went to the supermarket and did a huge weekly shop. And then I started cooking. Roast chicken, roast potatoes, stuffing, cauliflower, broccoli and leeks in cheese sauce, swede and carrot mash, gravy, yorkshire puddings, jelly. Not everything was colitis friendly but I had two bathrooms to myself and my tastebuds were craving proper flavours. I cooked everything from scratch using every pot, pan and utensil available to me.
So it was a bit of a disappointment to discover – once the dishwasher was loaded – that it didn’t seem to be working. I pressed different buttons and turned dials, but nothing I could do would make it work. I felt too deflated by the thought of removing every dirty greasy item to wash by hand so I put it off until the next day. Which was lucky because on the stroke of midnight the dishwasher kicked into action. And that’s what it did every night, whether I wanted it to or not, like Cinderella at the ball, once it got to midnight the dishwasher realised it was time to go back to work.
At the next place I had an unexpected communication breakdown with the cheese grater. How is that even possible? This was a fancy cheese grater where you grated the cheese and it made its way into a plastic container inside the grater and there the cheese stayed unless you possessed magical powers to extract it. Which I did not.
I twisted and pulled it as much as I could without breaking it, and I typed all sorts of things into Google to see if anyone out there knew how to overcome this unexpected predicament but so far nobody has posted any online advice for airbnb guests having a cheese grater crisis. So I had to settle for just tomatoes in my omelette that night.
My next airbnb home was at the bottom of the host’s garden and whilst I regularly saw the host, her family and the rabbits, I didn’t ever meet any of them as the instructions explained that they all had busy lives and all communication must take place by text message only. I must have sent some good texts because the host put in my feedback that I was an excellent communicator and very easy to talk to – even though no actual speech ever took place.
That’s right. Airbnb hosts write you a review so that future hosts can decide whether or not they want you to stay at their properties. I was expecting dubious reviews saying “Caroline left a liberal sprinkling of sand everywhere she went and was not intelligent enough to operate the cheese grater” but in fact everyone gave me such glowing reviews that I’m wondering if I can put them in my CV and forge a career as a professional house sitter in my next life.
One of the reasons I had chosen the house at the bottom of the Text-Message-Only host’s garden, besides its close proximity to a lovely beach, was because it was listed as having a washing machine and I was desperate to wash every item of clothing in my possession. The last hostel I’d stayed at only let backpackers use the laundry between 12 and 4pm and in the height of the Australian summer I wasn’t going to waste a precious afternoon sitting indoors staying dry whilst my clothes got wet, when I could be down at the beach getting myself wet by throwing myself in the ocean. So when I got to my new home, the lack of a washing machine rather thwarted my well thought out plan of “Arrive, make jelly, put on first load of washing, go to the beach.”
It was a very tiny apartment with everything in one room, so it was fairly easy to establish that there was nowhere for a washing machine to hide, all the same I looked in all the cupboards just in case and eventually sat down to read the welcome note which explained that if I wanted my washing done, I was to put it in the linen bag provided before 3pm and then put it on the entertainer with $10. Text-Message-Only would do my washing and hang it on the line for me to collect the next day.
Clearly I wouldn’t be able to put “every item of clothing in my possession” on the entertainer to be washed, because then I’d have nothing to wear in the meantime. But my first challenge was trying to work out exactly where – and what – the entertainer was. I composed a text message to Text-Message-Only to tell her that I needed more clues because in England an Entertainer is someone who sings songs and does circus tricks, and she replied to explain that in Australia an Entertainer refers to the large area of undercover decking at the back of somebody’s house. Not sure I’d pay to spend an evening watching one of those.
Two of my airbnbs had ladders but no obvious clues as to what I should do with them unless the owners knew of my backpacking background and were concerned that I might have withdrawal symptoms if I didn’t have to climb up a ladder to reach my bed. One property had mirrors strategically placed in the bathroom door so that you could see yourself sitting on the toilet. Another apartment had a television in the bedroom which switched itself on at fourteen minutes past five every morning, frightening the life out of me. And one had a very nice landlord called Jeff who taught me how to use patio BBQs – after that there was no stopping me and I barbecued my way around the rest of Australia and New Zealand.
One of the apartments had a very manly smell. Some airbnbs spend their lives being full time airbnbs but others do it as a part time hobby. In these situations the owner lives there most of the time and earns money by renting it out when she or he goes away. When I arrived at this next apartment, it smelt as though a teenage boy had hurriedly tidied up ten minutes before I arrived and compensated for his frantic tidy by spraying his very manly smelling aftershave all around the apartment. I couldn’t wait for it to disappear and I opened the sliding doors to encourage the smell to leave the room.
The apartment was clearly one that was usually lived in by the owner, as was evident by some of the things dotted about – like nappies for dogs and a bowl on the kitchen table containing a button, a sim card, 20 Israeli shekels and a brand new pound coin – I’d forgotten until then that Britain even had a new pound coin. I made some jelly, went to the beach, picked up some groceries and on my return the manly smell was still there, just as strong as before.
One of the benefits of living in someone else’s house is that the owner tells you to help yourself to the staples, which I took to mean basic ingredients, rather than the metal things that fix pieces of paper together. So I tried out a range of different salad dressings and made my first (and only) risotto of the trip because who wants to take a kilogram of aborio rice backpacking around Australia? Much easier to borrow it from the guy who offers you his staples. However everything I cooked from risotto to bolognese had a tang of manly smell about it.
It took me a couple of days to realise that the reason the manly smell was lingering was not because of some over-zealous aftershave spraying by a teenage boy, but because there was an air freshener on the kitchen window sill that was actually programmed to squirt out a manly smell every 20 minutes. That’s 72 squirts of manly smell a day. No wonder it never disappeared. I decided that the air freshener could go and live on the balcony for the remainder of my stay.
This was not one of the airbnbs that came with a mysterious ladder, so I had to climb onto the kitchen bench to get the air freshener down. Except I couldn’t bring it down. Because someone had permanently attached the air freshener to the kitchen window sill so that nobody could remove it. Not only that but it was fixed in such a place that it squirted itself right over the top of the cooker hob. I was meticulous about using saucepan lids for the remainder of my stay so that my meals were no longer contaminated with essence of manly smell. How did this constant spraying all over the saucepans not annoy the person who usually lived here?
And then it hit me. My apartment was actually situated in a place called Manly. I had recently stayed in Freshwater where they had turned off the water one day to carry out essential work – I now decided that this was clearly to ensure the water was fresh enough to live up to its name. Kangaroo Island had certainly had a lot of kangaroos on it, Lorne had plenty of grass, Coral Bay had been just that and now here I was in Manly where the apartment was actually equipped with a device that emits manly smells.
Well, I thought, if Australians are going to be this literal I’ll have to be a bit more careful when choosing my destinations from now on. I made a mental note to steer well clear of Cape Tribulation, Wasp Island and Wee Wee Creek. However Turquoise Bay, Lovely Banks and Sunshine Beach sounded right up my street.
A British backpacker has been denied the opportunity to sample a delicious cocktail in Sydney this evening.
37 year old Caroline Gough explained: “When you’re backpacking, you meet all sorts of people and tonight I ended up going for a meal at Circular Quay with my newest friend Lisa from Switzerland.”
Lisa ordered wine with her meal and the waiter asked to see her ID.
“Lisa immediately got out her passport,” said Caroline. “But as soon as the waiter disappeared from earshot, she started to complain that now she’s nineteen, she really would have thought people would have stopped ID-ing her by now.”
Caroline who was ID’d just last summer when she attempted to buy BBQ lighter fluid said “Are you kidding? Being ID’d was part of the natural process of buying a drink until I was at least 31.”
Caroline who had so far not been asked to prove how old she is at any point during her eight month adventure down under then attempted to order a cocktail. “It was basically an alcoholic chocolate milkshake,” said Caroline “and it came with a chocolate biscuit and a sparkler so I was feeling pretty excited about that.”
However the waiter then asked Caroline for some ID. “I suppose because my friend was nineteen, he thought I might also be young. Plus I had my hair in plaits which probably didn’t help.”
Caroline was unable to provide any form of identification. “In England I carry around a huge wallet which seems to be a breeding ground for loyalty cards and vouchers I never use, as well as containing ID in the form of my driving licence. But in Australia my purse is a fish and I carry very little in it.”
It had been thirteen years since I last saw Simone so I knew things would be different. She had a husband and three kids now, a far cry from our single student days. As a mother and wife, she’d have different priorities but I was looking forward to meeting the important people in her life.
It was a surprise to discover that the most important things in Simone’s life appeared not to have been made out of love between the sheets on three separate romantic evenings by her and her husband Dean, but made on a production line at the Samsung factory.
When I arrived in Australia, very early on a Tuesday morning, ridiculously excited to be there and not quite believing that I was, I felt a bit nervous going through the doors after customs. It’s scary, the prospect of seeing someone again after thirteen years. What if we don’t get along anymore?
The correct question should have been: What if she’s not there to meet me?
I scanned all the faces. Couples clinging to each other with excitement at the thought of seeing the loved ones they were about to greet. Other people already reunited, squealing and hugging. And the impassive faces of the drivers sent to collect people. Names now displayed on iPad screens, not clipboards. Technology gets everywhere.
But no Simone.
It was okay. It didn’t matter. I was in Australia and I was incredibly happy. On the plane I had been too excited to sleep for even a second. I spent 24 hours looking out the window and literally watched the world go by, even when an angry air hostess told me it was sleeping time and motioned that I should close the blind. Now I found a sunny spot outside the building, connected to the airport wifi and sent a WhatsApp message to tell Simone where I was. This was the start of an eight month adventure and it felt amazing. Simone would turn up eventually. What was it the Aussies said? No worries.
Clearly “no worries” did not apply to all Australians as Simone turned up with a face like thunder and a mobile phone clamped to her ear. Undeterred by the stoney expression I jumped up and raced to hug her. She reciprocated with the arm that wasn’t holding the phone and carried on talking.
“Yeah, but what you’ve got to remember is that Dunstan’s a dick. He’s always going to be a dick. Nothing you can do will ever stop him being a dick.”
She turned and motioned for me to follow her to the car park. “Yeah well Shaun’s a dick too,” she said, taking large strides ahead of me whilst I trotted behind with my giant suitcase. It wasn’t the most enthusiastic welcome I’d ever had.
“Sorry hun,” she said. “But I’ve just got Caz from the airport.” I thought perhaps she was going to say that she needed to end the call so she could talk to me seeing as we hadn’t seen each other for thirteen years, but instead she said “And I can’t remember where I’ve parked the car…. well because I was talking to Bec when I got out the car so I wasn’t paying attention. Yeah, no I don’t even know what level it’s on. Caz we’re looking for a grey Carnival.”
Whatever one of those was.
“Yeah well, Malachi is a feral feral bogan,” Simone told her caller. “Anyway, he’s not even coming on Saturday… what? But Han said she wasn’t inviting him, oh well that’s going to go down well with Brody.”
Saturday? Simone had told me I had to stay with her for the whole weekend because she was planning some fun stuff for us to do together. Hanging out with dicks and feral feral bogans did not sound like my idea of fun. We made our way around the multi-story car park going up and down slopes to different levels, Simone remained glued to her phone slagging off the guest list for whatever was happening on Saturday and I tried to keep up with her. The famous stripy suitcase that would accompany me around Australia and New Zealand was packed inside an equally gorgeous but far more cumbersome turquoise and blue case which I was going to leave at Simone’s house for most of my travels and then bring back to England no doubt full of souvenirs and surf branded clothing at the end of my stay. It was hard work to keep up with Simone and manoeuvre the case up and down the slopes of the car park without annoying all the drivers or getting myself run over.
After going as far as the sixth floor, we found the car back on the second level and Simone finally ended her call. “Sorry,” she said. “Welcome to Australi… oh I better phone Dean and tell him you’re here.” We got in the car, Simone spoke to her husband to tell him we were leaving the airport and then we were on our way. Time to talk at last?
“It’s so exciting to see you,” I ventured.
“Yep. Hang on. I just need to… I don’t know which lane…”
I didn’t know which lane either so I thought I better save the reunion until she worked it out. But then the phone – now set up to hands free – rang and Simone answered it straight away.
“Jess, just to let you know you’re on speakerphone. Say hi to Caz.”
“Hi Caz,” said Jess.
“Hi Jess,” I replied.
“I just got Caz from the airport,” said Simone. “She’s over from England. Talk to her whilst I work out what lane to be in.”
“Oh okay, so Caz, what are you doing in Australia and how do you know Simone?” asked Jess.
“It’s okay,” said Simone before I could answer. “I’m sorted. What’s wrong?”
“We’re not getting the deposit back,” said Jess. “And they’re trying to claim another six hundred bucks.”
“Well that sucks,” said Simone. “Did you tell them where to stick it?”
“Just say you didn’t do it. They haven’t got any proof.”
Jess gave a loud sigh that resonated around the car. “Hun, Josh has written his name on their table in permanent marker. They know we had a kid called Josh there.”
“So?” argued Simone. “It’s circumstantial. Loads of kids are called Josh. Maybe the cleaner has a kid called Josh and he wrote his name on the table whilst she was cleaning the apartment.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“Josh isn’t even your kid. Get Tanya to pay.”
“Yeah, that’s going to go down well. Tanya, I stole your husband, I took your kid on holiday and now I want seven hundred and fifty bucks because he ruined a table.”
“Why do they need seven hundred and fifty bucks for a table?”
“It was an expensive table.”
“Who puts an expensive table in a holiday let? Tell them to go to IKEA.”
“And Josh broke a socket as well.”
“How the hell did he break a socket?”
“He weed in it. Half the apartments got shorted out.”
“Seriously Jess. That kid. Tanya and Malachi need to sit round a table and work out what to do with him.”
I wondered if this was the same Malachi that Simone had labelled a feral feral bogan in her last phone call. How many people called Malachi can one person know?
And so it went on. After Simone finished talking to Jess, there was a call from Mel who was convinced that Deb wasn’t talking to her, and then Em who didn’t want to organise Gem’s hen weekend any more because Gem was being a controlling cow. Simone started all her conversations with “What’s wrong?” and I wondered if she’d had a career change and now worked as a telephone counsellor or agony aunt and was currently on shift and all these callers were her clients. Although I was fairly sure that counsellors and agony aunts weren’t supposed to use the words “dick”, “drongo” and “stupid head” quite as much as Simone did. And then Gem called to announce that Em was being flakey and indecisive and please could Simone take over the hen party arrangements instead and I figured that Simone probably did know these people because as far as I was aware counsellors and agony aunts didn’t usually organise their clients’ hen parties.
We arrived at a house and Simone motioned for me to go in. “I just need to finish talking to Gem,” she said.
I got out the car and approached the house feeling slightly apprehensive to be going in alone when I hadn’t met any of the occupants yet, but I needn’t have worried.
“Aunty Caz! We’re so excited you’re here!”
Three small children came racing out of the house and threw their arms around me.
“We’ve been waiting all day,” announced the oldest child. It wasn’t even half past eight yet.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” I said, enchanted by these three little people who were so pleased to see me.
“Come and see your room.”
“No, come and see my room.”
“No, come and see my cat.”
“It’s not your cat, it’s my cat.”
“It’s everyone’s cat.”
“Aunty Caz, do you like Paw Patrol?”
“Aunty Caz, do you like chocolate?”
“Aunty Caz are you scared of spiders?”
“Aunty Caz do you know that now I can sleep in a big girl’s bed?”
“Aunty Caz because do you know I’m not scared of spiders.”
“Yes she is.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yes she is. Yes you are a little bit.”
“Well maybe a little bit. But Aunty Caz did you know that spiders can bite you when you’re asleep?”
And so I was bundled into the house and taken to see toys and bedrooms and big girl beds, the cat, a dead spider in a jar and the doll’s house by three excited children, who spoke more words to me in thirty seconds than their Mum had in the entire car journey back from the airport. It was at least 40 minutes before Simone emerged from the car and by that point I was well acquainted with all three of her children even if I hadn’t said a proper hello to their Mum yet.
With the phone still attached to her ear, Simone shouted at the children and told them they shouldn’t be playing with me because they were supposed to be brushing their teeth and if they didn’t get in the bathroom right now she was going to take all their toys and throw them in the bin. After the hasty brushing of teeth Simone frog marched everyone into the car for the school run whilst simultaneously giving over the phone parenting advice to someone called Vick.
We dropped the five year old off at school in the “kiss and ride” layby – although he didn’t get the kiss, just the ride. And then as we drove off, the already far too familiar sound of Simone’s phone started to ring again and Mel was back on the phone again.
How come she gets to come back for a second chat when I haven’t even had one chat yet, I thought as Mel tearfully confirmed that Deb definitely wasn’t speaking to her.
I know the feeling, I thought and wondered if I’d have more chance of a conversation with Simone if I got my phone out and rang her even though she was sitting next to me.
“Anyway,” sniffed Mel tearfully. “Tell me about you. How’s your day?”
“Oh awesome,” said Simone. “Caz just arrived from England. She’s like one of my best friends from uni. We’re just driving around catching up, she’s met the kids, yeah no, we’re having the best time.”
“Oh nice,” sniffed Mel. “That sounds amazing.”
Yeah, it does, I agreed silently. Shame it’s not actually true.
1. When the customer arrives, do not smile or welcome them. Show them into a soul-less room with a bed and no windows. Close the door and leave them there.
2. Put on a pair of gloves and a mask that covers your mouth and nose. It is important that you must never directly touch the customer or breathe in their essence as this could lead to contamination.
3. Enter the room. If the customer is sitting on the bed, encourage them to get off, using the same technique you would employ to shoo away a naughty hen.
4. Put a layer of scratchy cheap water resistant paper towel on the bed. Other salons have been known to use luxurious towels but this may encourage the customer to feel pampered and make a repeat booking.
5. Get the customer to lie down on the bed. Try to do this without having to use any words or eye contact.
6. Do not speak to the customer at any point during the treatment. They do not need to be warned or informed of what you are going to do to them. You can simply yank and twist their head into the position you require it to be in. If they flinch in surprise, press down hard on their forehead with the palm of your hand. This will act as an excellent restraint and prevent any further movement.
7. If the customer attempts to start a cheerful conversation, ignore them. They are not your friend.
8. If the customer tries to confirm what colours or styles they wish you to apply to their eyebrows or eyelashes, don’t listen to them. You are the beautician. You know best.
9. Once you have applied the tint to the customer’s eyebrows and eyelashes, leave the room for an indeterminate amount of time and have a chat with your colleagues. The customer will have no choice but to lie in the soul-less room with their eyes closed sorely regretting ever making the appointment and fretting about what you’ve done to their face.
10. Creep quietly back in the room so that the customer doesn’t hear you. The first they should know of your presence is when you dramatically twist their head 90° to the left and then pour a large amount of water down their face to wash out any excess tint.
11. Now turn the head 180° to the right and repeat the water pouring process.
12. Use a bit of the scratchy cheap paper towel to dry the customer’s eyes in a painful but ultimately ineffective way.
13. Yank customer’s head backwards the way you were taught to position Resusci-Annie’s head when preparing her for mouth-to-mouth in First Aid.
14. Attack customer’s eyebrows with hot wax, waxing strips and tweezers to fashion the eyebrows into whatever shape you wish. The customer should not be consulted as to how they would like their eyebrows to look, nor should they be forewarned of when you are about to attack them with the wax, the strip or the tweezer. Restrain forehead firmly to prevent sudden movement.
15. Hold mirror in front of customer’s face and give a one word command to encourage customer to open their eyes. This is your pivotal moment. If the customer likes what you have done to their face they might give you a tip. Encourage this by telling them how great they look. If possible inject some enthusiasm into your voice.
16. Usher customer out of room towards till. If customer is not smiling or chatting effusively, then it is likely that the tip will not materialise so charge more than the advertised price just to be on the safe side. If customer enquires about the Thrifty Thursday discount, invent reason why customer does not qualify for discount.
17. Continue to repeat steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 16 throughout the day. Steps 8 – 15 may vary depending upon which treatment the customer is having.
18. Go home and feel immense satisfaction of how you enhanced the lives and faces of everyone you worked with today.
19. Get up and do it all over again tomorrow.
A couple who have not been speaking to each other for the majority of their trip around Australia have announced that their relationship is officially over.
Olivia and Ethan from Shropshire in England first hit the headlines back in June when they arrived at a backpacking hostel in Cairns refusing to speak to one another. It is still unclear what sparked the initial argument.
Caroline Gough who spent almost a week sharing a dormitory with the feuding couple was reunited with Ethan at a bar in Sydney’s Circular Quay this evening.
Caroline told us “They were both supposed to be going home on the sixteenth of August, but in fact neither of them will be catching that flight. Olivia ran out of money and went home last week , whilst Ethan loves it here and is planning to stay for as long as possible.”
Ethan explained “I’m basically just going to keep travelling until I’ve spent all my money. I grew up on a farm, so when I’ve run out of money I’ll go and find work at an Australian farm until I’ve saved up to go travelling again.”
Olivia is currently working at a well known supermarket back in England, earning lots of money which she can then spend at the student bar when she returns to university in September.
Ethan and Olivia are no longer listed as friends on Facebook, but have both added Caroline to their friend list. Neither of them are aware that she writes a blog.
Peter and Anita realised almost as soon as they got married that they really shouldn’t have done it. If only they’d been born a generation later they could have had a crack at living together first and then when they realised what a disaster it was, gone their separate ways three weeks later, never to cross paths again.
But marriage was marriage and so they were stuck. Stuck with completely different ideas of how life should be lived. A night owl living with a lark, an optimist with a pessimist, two people who couldn’t even agree on what to eat and when to eat it. They were completely incompatible.
So they decided to open a backpacking hostel.
It was perfect, exactly what they needed. They didn’t need to be a husband and wife with nothing to talk about anymore, now they were a team with a project. They bought a huge run down old house and set about getting it renovated. Now the conversations were endless. They could complain about builders who didn’t meet their deadlines and bathrooms that cost far more than the original quote. They could spend their days choosing bunk beds and picking out paint colours and preparing for the grand opening. She was creative and he was logical and whilst it wasn’t a winning combination for love, it was very good for setting up a business.
The doors opened and the backpackers came. Anita and Peter fell into a routine. She bustled about brightly in the daytime, doing the cleaning, the morning check-outs and the afternoon check-ins, smiling and chatting to all of the guests as she worked, making everyone feel welcome. He did the evening shift, sitting morosely behind the desk, reading heavy books with heavy titles and only communicating with backpackers when he absolutely had to, always casting a suspicious eye over each and every backpacker as if it was inevitable that they were only going to bring trouble and mayhem to his life.
It was the perfect arrangement for an imperfect marriage. Anita went to work before Peter woke up, and she went to bed before he came home. The only time for conversations was the 3pm handover when they could briefly tell each other about unruly backpackers who’d left without handing in their key, or about a terrible smell lingering in one of the communal fridges. Peter had no idea that Anita spent her afternoons on the beach before heading home to watch several hours of TV, Anita only knew that Peter had taken up golf because of all the golf related items that now cluttered up her hallway.
They hadn’t been away together since their disastrous honeymoon in Tasmania. The hostel provided an excellent excuse for separate holidays because someone always needed to be there to run it. Anita had girly holidays in Bali and Fiji with her sisters and best friends. Peter went off by himself on walking and skiing holidays.
Once in an attempt to not exactly spice up the marriage but just acknowledge that they had one, Anita suggested that perhaps Peter didn’t need to work so late every night. On the evenings that they were already fully booked or not waiting for a latecomer, he could come home earlier. They could eat tea together. They tried it once. Anita cooked spaghetti bolognese because she had no idea that Peter had stopped eating garlic, onions and tomatoes more than six years ago after they started to repeat on him.
There was nothing to talk about over dinner, so they filled the huge gap in the conversation by planning an unecessary refurbishment of several bedrooms and bathrooms and drawing up a list of unecessarily strict rules to inflict upon future backpackers.
Peter decided he couldn’t face another night of tomatoes and garlic and awkward conversation, so he took drastic measures. He bought a fish tank. In fact he bought five and installed them all around the hostel. He spent the next few weeks and months becoming an expert fish keeper. Anita had no intention of suggesting another excruciating meal with her husband ever again, but if she did he would be able to decline on the grounds that he had to stay late to eradicate an algae problem or corect the pH level of the water. Over the years if ever Peter ran out of things to do, he simply bought another fish tank. He now had seventeen.
The backpackers liked the fish tanks and were intrigued by the grumpy man who seemed to like and care for the fish a lot more than he liked or cared for the backpackers. They quickly learnt to save their questions and queries for the lovely lady who worked during the day, and to avoid the grumpy fish tank man at all costs.
Peter’s rules became more unreasonable and more bizarre. He put all the books with the heavy titles on a bookshelf along with a sign saying that backpackers would have to pay $5 to borrow a book and another $5 if they returned it in less than perfect condition. Consequently nobody ever borrowed a book. He created wordy patronizing signs explaining why it wasn’t okay to put beer in the fish tanks and how the backpackers should go home and let their mothers look after them if they weren’t capable of washing and drying their own dishes. Anita who had a much higher opinion of the backpackers than her husband did would rip the posters down each morning and Peter, who thought it was the backpackers ripping his signs down would create even wordier and more patronizing signs to put up in the evening, including signs about how it was an offence to rip down the signs. He even started to laminate them.
Then Peter went on a roadtrip. He went to see his adult niece and her boyfriend, his siblings and their spouses, his parents and the only friend he still kept in touch with from high school. It was a bit out of character, Peter wasn’t all that fond of people, but he’d heard from his mother that a boy he used to go to junior school with had died and suddenly he felt he should make the effort to see the other people in his life before it was too late.
Peter’s trip lastest fifteen days and at every house it was the same. By day they took Peter out on walks and excursions, then in the evenings everyone sat around ignoring each other as they concentrated on the screens of their phones and iPads.
At first Peter assumed it was because his niece and her boyfriend had grown up with technology that they spent their nights glued to it instead of each other, just like all the backpackers who sat around the hostel staring at their screens every night. Then at his oldest brother’s house Peter thought his brother and sister-in-law were only on their phones all night because they’d had an argument over dinner – picking the wrong woman did seem to be an unfortunate family trait. But when Peter got to his parents house and watched his elderly mother spend the whole night online playing Words with Friends with Beryl who only lived next door whilst his Dad played some sort of online version of a fruit machine, Peter was really suspicious.
“Is this what everybody does?” Peter eventually asked his younger sister when he found himself in his fourth living room of the trip, everybody ignoring each other and even the television in favour of staring at their screens.
“What?” she asked.
“Sit around staring at screens ignoring each other.”
“I wouldn’t say we’re ignoring each other,” she protested, then swore profusely because taking her attention away from her screen to talk to Peter had caused her to lose at her game.
Peter was furious. All these years he’d spent at the hostel, carefully painting walls just for the backpackers to immediately scratch and make dirty again, spending night after night telling backpackers to be quiet, chucking them out of the kitchen at ten o’clock and despairing of the mess they left it in, all the time he could have been sitting at home in his own living room having a perfectly normal time ignoring his wife just like the rest of the nation was doing. How long had smart phones been around? Ten, twelve years? Peter had been missing out.
Peter went home and immediately installed a keypad system at the hostel so that guests arriving after 6pm could check themselves in. He bought himself a brand new phone and spent his evenings sitting on the sofa, drinking wine, playing with his phone and ignoring his wife. It was bliss.
Anita thought it was far from blissful. Because Peter was not sitting on the sofa ignoring her like any other husband might do, he was repeatedly tutting with disapproval at all of the television shows that Anita liked to watch. And coupled with the intermittent and annoying beeps that kept coming from Peter’s phone, it took so much concentration to drown him out that she had no concentration left to focus on her favourite shows. Plus now that Peter finished work by 6pm, he had started coming into work earlier, faffing about with his fish tanks, upsetting the guests by refusing to give back damage deposits to anyone who was more than three minutes late checking out, and generally getting in Anita’s way.
Anita decided she couldn’t go on like this so she vandalized the keypad and put herself on a split shift rota. When Peter got home at 6, she went back to work and sat in the hostel TV room watching all her favourite shows with the backpackers. It was great. Much better than sitting at home by herself or with her husband. The backpackers were more than happy to talk about what was happening on The Voice or Silent Witness or My Kitchen Rules. They seemed to think the shows were as important and as dramatic as Anita did. They even introduced her to Love Island. Anita should have thought about split shifts years ago.
Then one day when they were doing the handover Peter cleared his throat and looked even more serious than usual.
“Um, it’s our wedding anniversary in November. Do you think we should,” he paused awkwardly “do something?”
Anita gave an involuntary shudder. “I don’t know,” she said doubtfully. “Do people usually do anything for their thirty-fifth? It’s not a special one is it?”
Peter studied his shoes. “Some people might have a party. Or a holiday. Or a meal.”
His words hung in the air and they looked at each other in sheer panic at the prospect of putting themselves through the ordeal of any of the things he’d just mentioned.
“Alternatively though, I was looking on the internet last night and apparently thirty-five years is coral. So I thought we could celebrate with a new fish tank for the hostel. A really big one. With a coral theme. I thought we could put it in reception.” Peter’s eyes were only ever animated when he was consumed with thoughts of a new fish tank. Right now they were positively shining.
I am a gorgeous cockatoo
I make a lovely sound
I’d never steal all your things
And throw them on the ground
I’d never swipe your breakfast
Or eat your Sunday roast
I’d never get my mates around
To fly off with your toast
I’d never take your swimming shorts,
Your towel, or your bikini
And drop them in a nearby tree
I’m really not a meanie
I just sit on the balcony
A quiet cockatoo
Now why not click the link below
To see if this is true?
A group of marauding cockatoos have been wreaking havoc on an otherwise peaceful Whitsunday Island.
The cockatoos said “Living on an island where everybody else is on holiday is great. Especially this island which is so expensive that nobody can afford to stay for more than a couple of nights. We can keep performing the same old routine to a constantly changing audience. The guests never stay long enough to get wise to our antics.”
The cockatoos have been targeting the balconies of the holiday apartments overlooking Catseye Beach on Hamilton Island.
“We find we get the maximum effect if we work as a team,” explained the cockatoos. “To begin with when someone new arrives at an apartment, just one of us will pop down to sit on their balcony and welcome them to the resort. If the guests aren’t Australian, they’ll usually get very excited to see us and will rush to take a photo of us. Of course we’ll sit very still in the perfect pose until a couple of seconds before they press the button. At that point we’ll fly away.”
Throughout the day the cockatoos monitor all of the balconies. “People often like to eat their meals on the balcony,” explained the cockatoos. “So what we’re doing is constantly looking out for the guests who take more than one journey to set the table. The one who brings out a delicious salad then goes back inside to get a knife and fork, we’ve swooped in and removed everything from her plate before she’s even opened the cutlery drawer. Guests learn fast and you know she won’t make the same mistake again, but you also know there’ll be someone else on her balcony in two days time who will do exactly the same thing. Different guests have different tastebuds, so we get to sample all sorts of different cuisines. It’s great.”
The cockatoos all agreed that their favourite part of the day is the late afternoon. “We all congregate on the balconies and screech as loudly as we can. We’re very noisy birds and there’s over a hundred of us, so we can really create quite a powerful sound.”
The cockatoos have noticed that this is also the time of day that guests start returning to their apartments to get ready for the evening, leaving their wet towels and swimwear on the balconies to dry overnight. “This is a huge part of our day,” explained the cockatoos. “We basically need to swoop in and remove absolutely everything that has been placed on the balconies. We do try to fly a few metres with each garment before we release it onto the ground so that it’s definitely hidden from the people it belongs to. The main aim is to try and make it land somewhere that’s not necessarily easy to get to, such as the branches of a tall tree or the middle of the swimming pool. We quite like the vicious circle of a person needing their swimsuit in order to go into the pool to retrieve their swimsuit. If they even ever realise that’s where their swimsuit has been hidden of course.”
Guest Caroline Gough watched the action unfold whilst relaxing in the resort jacuzzi. “They really are unscrupulous birds,” she said. “It’s literally been raining shorts, towels and bikinis ever since I got into the jacuzzi. There’s a newly arrived couple on a balcony on the seventh floor who have just been showered with a large pack of BBQ shapes (a popular Australian savoury snack) and some blue swimming shorts. At the moment, they’re looking up in disgust and shouting ‘control your bloody kids’ at the innocent family above them.”
“We like to add a bit of spice to everyone’s holidays,” said the cockatoos.
I was super excited to be going back to Hamilton Island – my first (and last) visit had been with my Mum and Dad back in 2001. It’s an expensive place to be, so I booked myself onto the earliest flight to maximise the amount of time I had there there. The plane was half empty, so I got not just my beloved window seat – but the entire row to myself – and three more seats across the aisle too, if I really wanted. Flying over all the other islands was as wonderful as I remembered, and then on arrival I got the keys to my room and headed up to discover the door was already open and the cleaner was just leaving.
“Room is ready, but I just need to go and find new cover for highchair,” she said, waving something plastic at me that was presumably the old cover for the highchair. “I be back very soon.”
“Okay,” I said automatically. Then “Hang on, I don’t actually need one, so don’t worry about it.”
The woman peered at me, then at my stripy suitcase and then back at me again. “You not bring baby?”
“No,” I said surprised. “Were you expecting a baby?”
Her eyes lit up as if she finally understood “Ah! Congratulations!”
“Thanks,” I said – again automatically – it had been a very early start – then I realised what she was congratulating me on. “No,” I said. “I’m not expecting a baby, I was asking if you were expecting a baby…. I mean, if you were expecting me to bring a baby?”
“Ah!” she said. “Me? No. I am not expecting a baby. I have baby. I am breastfeeding.” She then patted one of her breasts and acted out rocking a baby in case I hadn’t understood. “But you, you have not brought baby.”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t got a baby.”
“Oh,” she looked confused. “Then why you need highchair?”
Now I was confused. “I don’t need a highchair.”
She smiled as though we were finally getting somewhere. “So I can go, and you don’t need me to come back with new cover?”
“No. Thank you though.”
“This is my pleasure,” she said with a beaming smile and gave a little bow before leaving the room as if to signal the end of the play.
A man in a lift is keen for everyone to know that he would not usually use a lift and that his current lift usage is completely at odds with the way he lives the rest of his life.
The incident occurred at the popular holiday resort of Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays in Queensland, Australia.
Caroline Gough was the only other person in the lift and had not met the man prior to the incident.
“The doors were just closing as this man approached the lift, but he frantically bundled himself into the gap, forcing the doors to open and let him in,” said Caroline.
The man then launched into an extraordinarily detailed monologue. “Basically he’s here on holiday with his children and grandchildren and today they marched him up to the top of the highest point of the island on what was supposed to be a scenic walk and now he’s exhausted and couldn’t face using the stairs,” said Caroline. “I think that was the general gist of it, but he got out on the second floor and so didn’t have time to finish his story.”
Caroline continued up to the sixth floor where she is currently staying in a one bedroom holiday apartment. “Sometimes I take the lift and sometimes I take the stairs,” she said. “But it has never occurred to me that I should try to justify the decision I make by talking about it with the strangers who share the lift with me.”
Caroline thought no more about the incident until the following morning when the lift going down to reception stopped on the second floor and the same man got in. “He looked a bit sheepish when he saw it was me,” said Caroline. “You could see he was trying to make himself invisible, but that’s quite a difficult thing to do in a lift.”
The man studied the lift floor with interest for the duration of the descent and then bolted out of the lift so quickly that he hit the door with his arm as he raced through. “I expect he was on his way to do something really energetic like a triathlon,” said Caroline. “And taking the lift will help him conserve just that little bit of extra energy he needs to win it.”
And then three come along at once!
P.S. not sure who this little guy was but I liked him!
Athens is back!!
I wonder where it’s been?
An Australian family have been providing a constant stream of entertainment at a popular Queensland beach today.
Whilst all five members of the family gave a convincing performance at Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas, the show was undoubtedly stolen by the Mum and the Dad whose comic double act was very much at the centre of the piece.
Theatre-goer Caroline Gough told us “The performance had already begun by the time I arrived at the beach, but I was still able to get a good spot fairly close to the action.”
Whilst the two daughters had a fight over whose turn it was to use the pink mermaid bucket, the parents had a similar argument over whose turn it was to change the toddler’s nappy. “It was a clever idea to show two simultaneous arguments,” said Caroline. “It really portrayed how different things are important to different generations.”
Both arguments ended when the eldest daughter noticed that the toddler had removed his nappy and was doing some sensory play with the contents. “That was a real crescendo of the piece,” said Caroline. “Everyone started shouting. It was really quite dramatic.”
The mother immediately grabbed the toddler and began to clean and change him, placing all the dirty wipes in the pink mermaid bucket. “This united the two children who had been fighting about the bucket,” said Caroline. “They forgot they’d been fighting with each other and immediately both started to scream at their mother for ruining the bucket.”
It then transpired that the family had forgotten to bring several essential items to the beach including enough wet wipes and clothes for a toilet training toddler. “There was a very well scripted argument between the parents about whose fault that was,” said Caroline. “And the Dad ended up going home to get all the things they’d forgotten. Everyone in the audience could clearly see that he was the wrong person to send and we were right – he returned twenty minutes later with none of the things he was supposed to get, instead he had brought a whole new family with him.”
The two boys immediately started doing a lot of digging with their giant spades, sending sand flying in all directions. Several of the audience members closest to the stage also got covered in sand which really made them feel involved in the performance.
The Mum and the Dad then performed another realistic show-down about the lack of clothes and wet wipes. “The Dad started playing up because his mate was there,” said Caroline. “He kind of adopted a teenage swagger and said that a toddler on the beach on a hot day doesn’t need clothes or wetwipes because he can run around naked and be washed in the sea. This made the Mum really angry and she let rip with a whole string of rude words. The producers should probably look at classifying future performances as being suitable for mature audiences only.”
Even when it was time for the interval, the families remained in character as they ate their interval ice creams. “The toddler’s ice lolly ended up in the sand almost immediately,” said Caroline. “So he was screaming, and the Mum was shouting at the Dad for not helping the toddler hold the ice lolly.”
The younger sister instantly regretted choosing a rainbow paddle pop and delivered a loud and emotional monologue about how she wanted a chocolate one like her sister. Meanwhile the eldest brother made a crude innuendo about his brother’s choice of a Golden Gaytime (a popular Australian ice cream) so the youngest brother swiped the eldest brother’s ice cream onto the sand and stormed off in a rage.
There was further drama when everyone was forced to eat a packet of Arnott’s Tiny Teddies biscuits. “The eldest daughter didn’t want any,” said Caroline. “But the Mum explained that if one person is having some Tiny Teddies then everyone’s got to have some Tiny Teddies otherwise she loses track of who’s had what.”
The performance ended with the Mum performing a monologue about how everyone and everything was covered in sand and nobody would be allowed in the car until they were clean. “She was fighting a losing battle,” said Caroline “because nobody else wanted to leave the beach so they didn’t exactly rush to get clean.”
It is believed that similar performances are being staged at popular beaches all over the world.
Caroline said “It was a very action packed piece of drama and very well cast. Even the toddler remained in character throughout the performance.”
A British backpacker has spoken of her surprise at being reunited with the feuding couple who shared a hostel room with her in Cairns last week.
Caroline left the Cairns hostel early yesterday morning and travelled by bus to Port Douglas. “The couple were still asleep when I left,” she said. “So I tiptoed out quietly and assumed I’d never see them again.”
However Caroline returned from another snorkelling trip on the Great Barrier Reef to discover that the couple had travelled to Port Douglas earlier today and had moved into the same hostel as Caroline.
“I had told them where I was going to be staying,” said Caroline “Because that’s the sort of thing you talk about when you’re a backpacker. I hadn’t expected them to follow me to the same hostel, but I suppose it’s a logical thing to do, seeing as they’re speaking to me but not to each other. They’ve presumably had to speak to one another enough to arrange to come to Port Douglas, so that’s progress at least.”
The couple’s feud was well and truly established when Caroline first met them on Wednesday evening, and and neither party appears to have made any attempt to resolve the conflict.
Caroline said “It was particularly awkward on Saturday morning. The guy was having a sleep-in, so the girl decided to talk to me in an extra loud voice just to annoy him. I like the guy and didn’t want to annoy him, so I replied to everything she said with one word answers in a quiet whisper, but that just seemed to encourage her to use an even louder voice.”
Caroline is unsure of what sparked the actual argument, but is aware of several factors that are having a strain on the couple’s relationship. “Somehow they’ve survived a year apart, with her at university whilst he helps out on the family farm in Shropshire. She seems to have spent all her money in the student bar, whilst he’s steadily been saving up to come to Australia. Consequently he can afford to go bungee jumping and scuba diving, whilst she most definitely can’t. In the longer term he wants to take over the farm and she wants to move to London and be a copywriter. It doesn’t sound like the most promising relationship, I’m surprised they even got as far as Australia before it all fell apart.”
Caroline is sharing a six bed female dorm room with the girl, whilst the boy is in a male dorm on the second floor. “Maybe it will help them to have some time apart,” she said.
Caroline added “I finally learnt their names too. Apparently they’re called Olivia and Ethan. Which has completely confused me because in my head I’d christened them Beth and Freddie.”
Hoards of backpackers are today stunned to discover that the sound of a zip being zipped up or unzipped in the darkness whilst other people are trying to sleep, is in fact, incredibly annoying.
Backpackers all over the world are travelling around, sleeping in multi-share rooms and carrying all their possessions in a large backpack or suitcase.
Caroline Gough who has been backpacking in Australia and New Zealand for the past seven months said “Most backpackers favour bags that have lots of different compartments so you can organise where you put different things. Each compartment is sealed with a zip. It seems that as soon as one backpacker turns off the light and tries to go to sleep, another backpacker will immediately decide it’s time to start rummaging in the darkness, zipping and unzipping every compartment of their bag several times until they have found whatever it is they are looking for.”
Caroline added “There are two different types of zippers. There is the Inconsiderate Zipper who will zip and unzip their bags a million times without any regard for their sleeping room mates. And then there is the Painfully Slow Zipper who is so aware of everyone else that they will undo their zip very slowly, trying to be as quiet as possible.”
Research has shown that both types of zippers are equally annoying.
It has also emerged that rustling plastic bags whilst people are sleeping is a similar source of annoyance.
Caroline said “Last night, someone arrived after midnight and began unpacking. I was initially quite pleased about this because I’m currently sharing with a couple who aren’t speaking to each other and I thought an extra room mate might dilute the atmosphere a bit.”
Caroline’s initial optimism turned to frustration however as the new room mate proceeded to unpack every item from their case. “It really isn’t necessary to unpack everything at quarter to one in the morning,” said Caroline. “Also it sounded as though every single item he or she unpacked had been placed in a separate plastic bag, so there was a lot of rustling as well as zipping and unzipping.”
The new room mate eventually went to bed and Caroline fell asleep soon after.
However in an unexpected turn of events, Caroline was awoken once more at seven minutes past seven this morning to the sound of the new room mate carefully packing everything back into his or her case and then leaving the room. “There was at least half an hour of rustling and zipping as this person put everything back into plastic bags and repacked their case,” said Caroline. “Honestly, what’s the point? If you’re only going to be spending six hours in a room and be asleep for most of it, surely you don’t need to unpack anything?”
Further research has shown that earplugs are completely ineffective when a room mate is conducting a nocturnal orchestra involving plastic bags and zips.
Caroline remained diplomatic on the matter. “Zips are a fundamental part of backpacker life, there’s no getting away from them,” she said. “I guess the same could be said of annoying room mates.”
A British backpacking couple travelling around Australia are still not speaking to one another, it has been confirmed.
It is not yet known at what point the couple stopped speaking to each other, but the feud had been well and truly established when they arrived at the Waterfront Backpackers in Cairns yesterday, following their 29 hour coach journey from Brisbane.
Caroline Gough who is currently sharing a room with the couple told us “I was there this morning when they both woke up. He said to her “You all right?” she snapped “Yeah. You?” and then stormed into the en suite bathroom. By the time she came out of the bathroom, he had gathered all his things together and left.”
The male was later overheard booking just one place on tomorrow’s scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, whilst the female was seen sitting by the lagoon reading “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes.
Caroline said “Usually if I found myself sharing a room with a couple, I would make myself scarce to give them a bit of space, but these circumstances are completely different because I’m the only person in the room that either of them is speaking to. They both fall over themselves to be the first to start a conversation with me when I enter the room, and when I attempt to leave the room, you can see the panic flashing in their eyes. I’ve never felt so popular.”
This evening in a joint quest to avoid speaking to one another, the couple opted to follow Caroline to a local bar and gatecrash her evening. “It could have been a bit awkward,” admitted Caroline, who still doesn’t know the names of the couple and feels she has now known them a bit too long to ask. “But somehow we managed to keep the conversation going all night without either of them actually having to speak to the other. I asked them different questions about their lives and their travels and they took it turns to answer.
I did ask them how long they were staying in Cairns and she said they hadn’t discussed it yet. Seeing as they’re not currently discussing anything, I guess that might mean they’re staying in Cairns forever.”
A British backpacker has found herself bedding down between a feuding couple at a backpacking hostel in Cairns.
Previously Caroline Gough from Georgeham in Devon had been pleasantly surprised to have a ten bed dormitory all to herself.
“It was wonderful,” explained Caroline. “I got the bed next to the only power point in the room, had lots of space to hang my wet bikini and towel and I didn’t have to fumble around in the dark to find my pajamas – in fact I didn’t even bother to wear pajamas. My FitBit tells me I had nine hours and sixteen minutes of uninterrupted sleep. That never happens in a youth hostel.”
Caroline had hoped this sole occupancy of the room would continue indefinitely, however on the second day she returned to the room after her snorkelling trip on the Great Barrier Reef to find that two more beds were occupied.
“At first it wasn’t even clear that these people knew each other,” said Caroline. “Because they had chosen beds as far apart as possible. There did seem to be a bit of an odd atmosphere which I was trying not to take personally. When I said hello, she ignored me and he grunted. Then he said ‘You don’t have to come if you don’t want to’, she snapped ‘I wasn’t planning to’, he stormed out of the room and she sank back on her bed, put in her earphones and closed her eyes.”
Witnesses later saw the male drinking beer by himself at a nearby pub whilst the female dined on a microwave meal for one in the hostel kitchen.
The Cazmanian Times later discovered that the couple had just completed a 29 hour coach journey from Brisbane to Cairns which is enough to test even the strongest of relationships.