My Life of Freelance Crime

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For several years now I have been completely besotted with the idea of working from home. It evokes images of tapping away imperiously on the 15″ Macbook Pro that I don’t own, swigging the chai lattes that I don’t like and barking things like “What’s the endgame?” and “yes, I know what SEO means” into an iPhone 6. I don’t actually have a clue what either of those vague statements mean, besides something to do with Samuel Beckett or a fake skill on my CV. They just sound sort of work-from-homey.

I’ve given it a whirl on the odd day here and there with previous jobs; and ended up either A) forwarding calls to my mobile and going for boozy lunches with my Mum, B) watching Game of Thrones all day in between sporadic 100m sprints to the laptop to hit refresh on webmail, or C) not even pretending and just spending 24 hours glued to the rug in a hungover sludge of fear, misery and regret.

As of recently however, I am officially a Freelance Writer, albeit one without a 15″ Macbook Pro, any tolerance whatsoever for chai lattes or an iPhone 6. This Freelance Writer business looked so much easier from the other side of the fence. It turns out that I’m awesome at procrastination and really shit at working for myself. Instead of trying to get some work done, I wrote a list of obstacles I have slammed into over the past four weeks:

1. I live in Byron Bay and there is both sunshine and a beach. I had crazy ideas of working AT THE BEACH but then someone’s errant child kicked a grain of sand onto my notepad and I thought I’d better quit while I was ahead; or before I started holding toddlers under the water for extended periods of time

2. There is no-one watching me, so I can dredge through Facebook like a rusty fishing trawler all day. I have literally never taken so much interest in my friends lives. Its not just limited to Facebook. I now know everything about everything. I have pretty much read every word on The Internet. And because there’s no-one watching me, I can do it all naked with a flower pot on my head

3. I’m writing academic materials. Yawn. About management. Yawn yawn yawn yawn. I’m sure if I was writing about beer or venomous snakes or awesome books or Ancient Egyptians or haunted houses then I’d be a lot more productive

4. Despite the fact that I’m penning management diplomas as opposed to literary classics, I am suddenly a Hemingway/Williams/Fitzgerald hybrid and generally hit the booze at approximately 10.51am. There’s no-one to tut at me for cracking into my third beer of the day at 11.31, and the management diplomas really flow. “Mix things up! Have a meeting outside!!” I should lay off the grog really, before my ideas get too revolutionary

5. The Dothraki have no word for Willpower. I’m sadly not actually a Dothraki warrior, but I’m more inclined to learn a fictional horse-lord language than to do any actual work. I find it impossible to turn down any invite, whether its to a party, BBQ, waterfall, movie or prison sentence; when the alternative is to get some work done

6. Now that I’m at home all the time, all of the areas of my life that need organising are in my direct eyeline. When organising them means that I can put off working for another three hours at least, they tend to take on a burning sense of urgency. My iTunes could do with a bit of a groom – I’d better cull, reassign and illegally download for the next day and a half. My laundry pile has at least five items languishing in the basket – I’d better hand wash them reverently, wring them out for 20 minutes and then sit and watch them dry. My book collection should really be arranged in height order – time for a two hour reshuffle. I’ve never, ever managed a cartwheel – I should probably check that nothing has changed in that department for the next eight hours

 

There are downsides. As I’m at home for most of the day, I don’t really see many people. This means that when an unfortunate passerby enters my catchment area, they get a dose of my Cabin Fever induced madness and have to put up with me sweating and gurning and invading their personal space for longer than is strictly necessary.

Also, I am totally broke. The thing with doing no work is that you then don’t get paid; so my bank balance has now entered the point where I can’t physically withdraw cash from an ATM, and its just embarrassing to walk into Westpac to ask for my 71 cents. My phone has been cut off, so I can only get in touch with people when I’m hugging a wifi router; I can no longer afford beer and will have to take to licking frogs in the back garden – and I ran out of food. This could be pretty dire.

Yesterday I took my last $10 note to Aldi, mecca for backpackers, the unemployed, and those in desperate need of a wipe clean mattress protector or an olive tree for $20. I couldn’t afford an olive tree, so went in search of sustenance for under a tenner.

It turns out that Aldi is not as dirt cheap as previously thought – items were around the $3 mark. This would keep me in food for the next 30 minutes, after which time I would suffer a slow and lonely death; although with a non-existent laundry pile and fluency in the Dothraki tongue.

With no other option available to me, I stole 3/4 of my shopping list – strolling casually around the bargain bucket supermarket carrying a kilo of penne pasta and a bunch of bananas; whilst stuffing pesto, coffee and cheese into my beach bag. I did this quite brazenly, so that if questioned, I could claim that my lack of trolley meant that I had to carry cup mushrooms down the front of my knickers.

I paid for my pasta and bananas whilst my beach bag groaned with the weight of contraband tinned pineapple chunks and my clothes bulged in odd places, making me look like a Quasimodo type creature with bolognese-jar shaped deformations. No-one mentioned the fact that a sweet potato was peeking out of my cleavage.

Almost tasting the sweet, sweet air of freedom (although it could have been the grapes I’d hidden in the sides of my cheeks) I hobbled towards the doors praying that an avocado wouldn’t drop out of my pants. As I burst out into the sunlight sans convictions for stealing green beans, I heard my Dad’s words in my head, “if you’re going to steal, steal millions.” It has occurred to me that if I wasn’t going to pay anyway, I should have raided a fancy deli. Aldi – it’s a gateway supermarket.

Release the Crocs

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‘Muddy’ has a sign attached to his feeble chain link surrounds stating “Extremely Dangerous – Keep Back from Fence.” He is about five metres long and his head is the size of your average kitchen sink. He looks pretty sleepy and disinterested, so I mosey on over for a closer look – Instagram prepped and ready to fire. As I get to within a metre of that spindly little fence, his eyes snap open like miniature vestiges of Sauron, he rears his big sink head and charges.

I swear that I hear a roar, but I might have imagined that. I definitely hear someone yelp like a banshee taken by surprise; but that one is all me. I fling my phone into the red pindan dust and fall unceremoniously on my arse. A grizzled Aussie with a face like a battered leather handbag chortles at me, and Muddy stares disconsolately through the hand sized holes in the flimsy wire – another tasty backpacker-shaped snack lost due to a chain link fence that has definitely seen better days.

Each crocodile in the park has it’s very own sign proclaiming it’s misdemeanors – Mauler ate two horses! Charger likes to make you soil your pants by rushing at you out of the water! One Eye Willie was shot in the face by a police marksman! He survived, but now has one eye. He’s probably a tad pissed off.

None of the prehistoric apex predators wallowing in their mossy ponds have any human fatalities splashed over their scuffed metal rap sheets – instead they are described as “problem crocodiles,” “particularly aggressive,” or “extremely dangerous” a la Muddy – leaving you to imagine how many of them have munched on an unsuspecting fisherman.

On our ‘feeding tour’, a guy in a croc-tooth necklace tells us how the baby crocs that we are nuzzling with are being reared for their skins, as the park has a contract with Gucci. I’ve been cuddling a tiny baby croc that feels like a little bean bag. As much as the guide reiterates that it’s like farming cattle for beef, I still want to smuggle Mini Crocosaurus out in my handbag, to save him from becoming one.

Sprinkled liberally around the park are signs telling us that the crocs adapt incredibly well to captivity as they are very territorial, and once they have settled into their pens are reluctant to leave – becoming aggressive when someone attempts to move them. The guide tells us over and over again that they don’t want to leave. How does he know that? Did Muddy whisper it into his ear?

I get very territorial when eating tapas, but it doesn’t mean that I want to live in a plate of calamari.

A “problem crocodile” only becomes a problem when some retired guy from South Australia buys a Winnebago and starts banging him on the head whilst filling his billy can from the river.

 

The guide throws Zooey the enormous saltwater crocodile some coral trout. Zooey lazily flicks his head to the side and bites down on the hapless fish with a bone jarring crunch. He’s had two wives, apparently. He ate the first one, and the second one hatched a desperate escape plan – burrowing into the next enclosure – where she was promptly eaten by Maniac – the next door neighbour.

It seems slightly disconcerting that the salties can burrow escape tunnels. What happens when they start sticking posters of Raquel Welch on the walls and asking Red to procure a spoon? I’m sure Broome’s tourist trade would take a dip if 70 full size saltwater crocodiles took a stroll past Divers Tavern.

That said, maybe it’s time that people accepted that launching their tinnie could mean losing a leg. I wouldn’t be too thrilled if someone erected a boat ramp in my home and then locked me up in some dusty enclosure; declaring me a problem. Maybe it’s high time that the crocs banded together, stopped eating each other and started burrowing.

The Psychic Blues

I’ve always thought of myself as one of the world’s greatest sceptics. Having said that, I did just spend $23 on lumps of aquamarine to aid creativity, self-expression and the accumulation of knowledge. I’ve got a little silk bag for them, as a 54 year old Californian woman with purple hair told me that I should wear it in my bra, as being prodded in the nipple by a shard of gemstone will no doubt transform me into a fount of motivation and literary genius.

At this point in my unshakeable Odyssey of Writer’s Block, I would try anything to get the creative juices flowing. If someone told me that in order to attain creative domination I need to smear dog shit all over my face and howl at the moon, I’d grab the nearest terrier and give it a try.

 

I’m in Western Australia, on holidays, and just spent the day wandering the streets of Fremantle looking at jade Buddha’s and drinking beer, interspersed with random women waving crystals around my head. I feel like I’m back home in Byron Bay.

 

Earlier in my stay, my friend took me to a ‘psychic brunch.’ I’ve never really been the biggest believer in clairvoyance, as it all seems to be about intuition, the shrewd reading of personal trappings and bullshit to me. Your psychic probably wouldn’t say “I sense that you’re battling some financial troubles” if a driver shielded you with a giant umbrella as you unfolded yourself from the depths of a Rolls Royce. I was pretty excited to go – secretly hoping that she’d hold onto my hands and exclaim “Oh my God!!! You’re going to be the future of British writing – the voice of your generation – one of the Greats of the 21st Century!” She didn’t.

 

As we walked into her little psychic lair I made the mistake of gushing “I’m so excited!!” in a kind of high pitched poodle squeal. With hindsight, I probably came across as a blonde haired halfwit that loves fluffy bunny slippers and making cupcakes.

After taking my hands, she laughed condescendingly and said “OK Amy, you are VERY gullible.” This annoyed me quite a bit. She elaborated for me. “People know that you’re not the first one to catch onto the joke, and they take advantage of that. People you know are always playing pranks on you,” she bulldozed on. “Don’t let them make you the butt of the joke.”

She looked at me with a self-satisfied smile, as though I was supposed to chuckle knowingly and say “Yep! You pegged it! The village idiot, that’s me!”

Who says something like that to someone?! “You’re a milk bottle short of a full crate and all of your friends think that you’re about as intelligent as a dust bin lid. That’ll be $50 please.” Especially if it’s definitely not true! Hopefully it’s not true. Oh for God’s sake please don’t be true. I’ve read Ulysses! I’m really good at guessing the end of movies! Who goes around playing pranks on people anyway?! I don’t live in a Dennis the Menace comic strip.

“Do you see that in yourself?” she simpered. “No, I don’t.” I hissed through clenched teeth. I hoped that she could by some miracle read minds, as all I could think about was that the only gullible thing about me was that I was choosing to give her a crisp banknote as opposed to headbutting her.

“OK,” she continued, seemingly a little miffed, as though she was irritated by the fact that I wasn’t thrilled to hear that I was a complete mong. Taking my hands again, she said, “you are really stubborn. When you know that you’re right, you dig your heels in, and you will not budge.”

Now she was just describing 86% of the human population.

Closing her eyes, she ploughed on. “You’re going to fall down the stairs. Try to watch your step in future because, you know… you can be a bit of an accident waiting to happen.”

Oh, come on. Just come out with it and call me a retard, why don’t you.

“The name Paul keeps flashing up.” Does he push me down the stairs?

“Someone is planning a surprise for you.” Is it Paul? Is it pushing me down the stairs??

“You’re a mother, but you’re not.” Oh, for fucks sake – now you’re just making this up as you go along. I don’t want to have kids, I tell her. “Yes, that’s why I said that you’re not. You’re just a fusspot.” Trust me lady. I do not give a shit about people enough to be a fusspot.

“Someone is going to crash your car.” I don’t have a car.

“Avoid romance, it makes you lose your focus.” Alright, no comment on that one.

“You’re a travel bug – you get restless easily. I see three big trips in your future.” Is one of them down a staircase? Apparently she sees me in the Middle East. Maybe someone uses my gullibility to lure me there.

She reads my tarot; talks about how I need to make more friends with connections, need to drink less, and am terrible with money – Wanky, Yawn and Blah – and then looks me square in the eye and says, “You are a brilliant photographer.”

Finally! She’s onto something! She must have read my last blog post.

Insta-Sham

When I was living in South Africa, I went on safari. We were volunteering at a safari reserve, which sounded pretty great. We’d stand around shuffling our feet a lot and move some debris from one patch of ground to another patch of ground and then stare at it. Someone would take a photo, give us a bright yellow T shirt and then we’d all go and get pissed and look at hippos.

As it turned out, we did stare at a fair amount of debris. The debris just happened to be mounds of sun-bleached bones that had recently been nibbled clean by the incisors of a lion. Guards stood around us with pretty bargain bin looking guns – less sub-machine, more sub-standard; and we industriously toiled away, moving mammalian remains into more orderly, tourist-friendly piles. Occasionally a guard would bark something in Xhosa and we would all shit ourselves; before we realised that he was asking for a light, as opposed to telling us that a full size alpha lion had its jaws clamped around our ankle. I kept freezing mid-action in a bizarre testament to Musical Statues, as it worked out pretty well for the kids in Jurassic Park.

We also had to corral Peruvian horses, which sounded very romantic and I imagined flinging myself around a paddock like Robert Redford; but as a matter of fact wild Peruvian horses are stubborn bastards and I spent three hours sprinting headlong in random directions swinging a rope around as I had absolutely no bloody idea what I was supposed to be doing.

 

The job I enjoyed the most was babysitting tiny newborn crocodiles, who sloshed around in enamel dishes of water and were quite self sufficient, so I could drink lots of wine whilst carrying out this particular task.

I snapped a few photos – one of which is below. This blog post is photography based – focused around photographic social media in fact – that billion dollar idea… Instagram. That may come as a slight curveball seeing as I’ve just rambled on about South African safari reserves for the last 300 and something words…but there is a relevant point, I promise.

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Look at this photo. It’s the clearest of the 68 that I patiently snapped. It is complete shit. It looks like a diseased gecko that fell into a box of stuff you were going to leave outside the Salvation Army. It transpires that I am a really hideous photographer. It blindsided me, to be honest. I had always assumed that the photos of sand that I was studiously sending via Whatsapp back to London were being pored over with envy, eliciting reactions of raging jealousy and barely suppressed urges to book plane tickets.

With hindsight though, it looks like I sent ten months worth of 98% recyclable beige napkin close-ups.

I’ll display another of my safari snaps.

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This one is a rhino. Walking away. With a bit of car bonnet in the foreground. The rhinos were lolling around our Defender at incredibly close range for about 45 minutes. This is the only photo I got that doesn’t look like a close-up of breeze blocks. One morning I opened my front door at 5am, bleary eyed and yawning and desperate for a pee, and walked smack bang into two rhino. They looked a bit miffed, as though they had been standing around for an hour waiting to see a human and they weren’t overly impressed with the specimen in front of them. I probably looked a bit indifferent too, but I think it was more the shock of having my nose 2cm from full frontal rhino horn half an hour before my alarm was supposed to go off. Eventually I recovered and filmed them for a while. They literally just stand there for the entire video, staring at me with total disinterest, and at the moment that they start cavorting and gamboling around like over-excited puppies, I turn away and film a tree. Even my Dad, who is David Attenborough’s #1 Fan and watches fishing shows, glazed over.

The entire trip was punctuated by examples of my shoddy photography – scorpions that we had shaken out of our boots, baby warthogs, a pride of lions devouring a tortoise and elephants scratching their bums on rocky overhangs. None of the photos remotely represent the gist of what we were actually seeing. My most impressive snapshot was a picture of an eviscerated water buffalo. I made the driver stop and hung out of the truck window for five minutes snapping away merrily, and meanwhile we missed a migrating herd of giraffe. My safari buddies were none too pleased with me, and spent the rest of the day ignoring my existence.

If they saw the photos that I created today, however; they might just change their minds and want to be my best friend. Or maybe just follow me, either through cyberspace or down an alley. I’m now some sort of filter savvy, hipsterfied photographic genius. For today, I discovered Instagram. I know that I’m a bit late to the party here, but I do live in Byron Bay where our local newspaper tells us all about the dangers of flouride, wifi and low-vibrational people but doesn’t tend to dig too deeply into wider world issues.

 

Instagram has opened up a whole new over-exposed-but-in-a-good-way universe. I now feel like I lead an extremely glamorous life, documented in sepia. Pretty much every photo that I’ve ever taken has been put through the woozy filter process. I think Lo Fi is my favourite. I’ve hand selected a few for my account, complete with wanky captions like ‘Houseboat in Amsterdam’ and ‘Picnic at Audley End House with Mum and Jane.’ I sound like a complete prick, and people are probably thinking “who the fuck is Jane?” but I don’t really care because I have photos from at least three corners of the globe and so I must look like some kind of jet-setting person that drinks a lot of coconut water.

Here is an example of my recent handiwork:

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It’s a koala that has given up on life. Sure, we all have tough days and just want to flop around like a torn bag of spuds, and this guy was conveying that perfectly. The pellets around him are small pebbles which I threw at him to make sure that he was alive. He raised his head at one point and stared at me as if to say “oh will you just piss off” and then went back to his melancholy sojourn. I told the zookeeper, as no-one wants to see a suicidal koala. But look at the light seeping around the edges of the photo. Check out the way that the colours just meld into one another. It looks bloody brilliant.

I might start referring to everyone in my photos by their initials like some sort of fictional prostitute. I will definitely take a photo of a brunch at some point. And I cannot wait to take a photo of myself staring moodily at a wall and plaster haziness all over it, thereby making myself appear ten times prettier than I actually am. No more out of focus rhino backsides for me.

 

“You’re going to need a bigger boat”

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A friendly shark visitor to our boat in Gansbaai, South Africa

An annual televised bash, this week is Shark Week. I know this, as I have spent way too many Friday nights in front of the Discovery Channel rewinding slow mo shark breaches and lamenting the fact that a bunch of whales have beached themselves en masse as they can’t bear to be apart from one another.

Apparently, Discovery Channel also run a Whale Week, which goes a little more unnoticed as whales do not tend to have the dramatic pull and Hollywood allure of the shark. Great White sharks mostly. I’ve never seen anyone get that excited over a Wobbegong.

Mercury. Supplied pic of a Wobbegong in the Towradgi pool. Photo. Norm Hoyland

I’ve seen more interesting shark specimens, myself.

Whales beat wobbegongs, at least, in the popularity stakes. Their habitual mass beachings usually get the locals all in a tizz and have led to several studies into what it is that makes them apparently launch into a suicide pact with a bunch of blubbery pals. Whales are intensely social animals. Their brains contain ‘spindle cells’ – which are the cells “which make us human” – neurons that enable feelings like love, emotional suffering, and which enable us to react to social situations. They are the catalyst that coerce you into buying a card emblazoned with the words “My love for you will last longer than Ned Stark’s head” for the object of your affections, the trigger that leaves you snivelling into a vat of gin when it all goes wrong and the signpost in our mind that points us in the right direction when manoeuvring through social interaction.

The fact that whales, dolphins and orcas have these neurons is disconcerting when you consider the fact that some of these animals are locked up in tanks for entertainment value. Separated from their families, often captured in the wild – taken from an ocean of possibilities, space and freedom and plonked into a glorified paddling pool. The death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau is a case in point for why orcas should not be held captive for the sake of splashing tourists and raking in some bucks.

If you haven’t already – see Blackfish – director Gabriela Cowperthwaite explores the history of keeping orcas in captivity and the incidents that have occurred as a result. It might make you cry and having your genitals ripped off by a killer whale does not sound like a barrel of laughs; but it’s eye opening, well informed and will hopefully make a real difference. SeaWorld need to realise that their original target audience is all grown up – we saw Free Willy; and these days we want to see these animals living free – we don’t want to stare at flopped over dorsal fins and a whale that can’t dive as deep or swim as far as is natural and healthy.

Orcas are the largest animal kept in captivity, according to PETA – who have written a nifty little article here on why marine animals shouldn’t be locked up in watery cells – http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/marine-animal-exhibits-chlorinated-prisons.aspx. Not many aquariums have taken a punt at keeping a Great White. At the time of writing, SeaWorld have not launched a Great White/human interactive show where you can watch the trainers ride on their backs or applaud as the shark balances a seal carcass on its nose – although with SeaWorld – you never know. Monterey Bay Aquarium have kept a few Great Whites in 3,800,000 litre ‘open sea’ exhibits, where they make behavioural studies and then release the shark back into the wild, using the shark’s stay as a promotional effort for a predator not usually viewed too favourably.

Ever since I can remember, I have had an unhealthy obsession with sharks, especially the king of apex predators – the Great White. Unhealthy?! you might ask. A heroin addiction, an unstoppable Greggs habit or a fixation on burning things could be described as unhealthy. Sharks can be admired from afar, in safety – i.e. from a photo, or on a cinema screen.

The ill health side of the coin comes into play when you start swimming with them. It tends to the add to the general bad malaise when you are missing a limb, or seem to have misplaced your torso.

The Australian Shark Attack File states that the last 50 years have seen 50 fatal shark attacks in the country – a nice round average of one per year. How neat and convenient.

Over ten months in late 2011 and into 2012 however, there were five fatal attacks in Western Australia alone. I was living there at the time, and as pro-shark as I am, being out in the water did come with a splash of added peril. It was not uncommon to see a cresting grey shape and shit yourself before you realised that it was a dolphin.

The government called for a cull, with WA Premier Colin Barnett announcing that it was no biggie, as they were “just fish”. Sure thing, Colin. We’ll pop you in a tank with a 15 foot long Great White and a potato cod so you can admire the similarities. Conservation groups were obviously riled up at this plan – and as a lover of all things shark, I was resolutely not on the bandwagon.

I wasn’t just worried about the inevitable pissed up bogans getting their tin boats together and sailing off to hook themselves a real life Jaws in their Bintang singlets, Bundy red cans held aloft. The ocean is the domain of ‘sea monsters’, and always has been since horny sailors were putting the moves on manatees. More simply put, the ocean is the sharks territory, not ours. We’re visitors in their great blue expanse, and we’d better wipe our feet on the sand before we go in.

Australia does love a cull, and often they are quite necessary. Cane toads are a blight on almost every native animal population in Queensland – soon even Irukandji jellyfish will be decimated because cane toads evolved gills and went swimming.

Kangaroo culling is a little more contentious, with one side arguing that the ‘roos damage ecosystems and are a threat to other indigenous wildlife; and the other pointing out that the kangaroos have been around for a pretty long time and have done a half decent job of managing their own population so far.

Animals are culled in Australia when they are perceived as a threat to local flora and fauna. Sharks are as much a threat to marine life along the Aussie coastline as any other ocean predator – from octopus to humpback whales. They eat what they need to, in order to survive. In fact, they play a very vital role in the smooth running of the ecosystem down there. They keep food webs in balance, and keep prey populations and habitats healthy. The only fauna that sharks pose a threat to is humans.

And what of the sharks? What if they floated around one day, observing the depleted fish stocks, the coral that has been bleached by human-caused global warming and the thousands of turtles, dolphins and their own kind that get trapped in nets and on drum lines every year and thought – “you know what guys? these humans have really got out of control. it’s time for a cull.”

Yes I love sharks, and yes I am biased. I also have not been stared down by a Great White without the safe haven of a cage around me, although I have swam with tiger sharks cage-free and am pleased to report that I am not dead. I have also stroked Great Whites on the nose from a boat on several occasions and they didn’t mistake my hand for a tuna.

I spent a month volunteering on a Great White cage diving boat in Gansbaai, South Africa; and was repeatedly blown away by the sharks that we saw. Majestic, agile and almost always giving off a remarkably calm aura. They were curious and playful, and any signs of aggression were purely as a result of baiting by the staff on the boat. I mean they probably weren’t even being aggressive. It’s just hard to look passive when you have a face the size of a Ford Focus and jaws full of Hattori Hanzo sharp teeth.

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A great amount of the people that have survived brutal shark attacks are against reprisal in the form of going after the shark. Rodney Fox is a South Australian who was attacked by a Great White in 1963. His ribs were broken, his abdomen “fully exposed”, his lung ripped open and the main artery from his heart was exposed. He needed 450 stitches after the attack.

And yet even after being used as a chew toy, he dedicated his life to studying and observing the species that had almost killed him. He has made documentaries, led expeditions, founded the Fox Shark Research Foundation and designed the first underwater cage to dive with sharks.

I am not always hungry. I don’t walk down the street and grab every piece of food that I see, snatching burgers from the hands of innocent bystanders with wild abandon. Likewise, sharks are not constantly ravenous. They don’t have a burning need to eat every chubby seal or errant human that they come across. They’re always out there. Swimming or surfing off the coast of Western Australia, and many other places for that matter, the chances are that there is a shark somewhere in the vicinity. I’m sure that you could casually cruise past a Great White whilst paddling around in your Speedo and nine times out of ten, it wouldn’t be in the slightest bit bothered by your presence. Obviously the aim of the game is to avoid the one time out of ten when he’s still not bothered, but he’s eaten your head.

I’m About to Eat My Shoe

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I’m really not one to write about diets. This is probably because I’m really not one to go on a diet, either.

Denying myself of cheese, beer, wine, buttery crumpets, Solero ice creams and Dr Pepper is not really something that I’ve ever considered putting myself through, even if on a quest to lose weight.

Alas, my flight back to Australia is set in stone for early September and I will actually have to go out in public in a bikini at some point, so its time to wave goodbye to the Waitrose scotch eggs, and take some drastic action. (as if depriving myself of scotch eggs wasn’t drastic enough)

Yesterday I started the fasting diet, or 5:2 diet. This is probably the 875th blog post you have seen about this diet. Its literally everywhere. I swear 94% of the British population are on this diet. I had briefly browsed the particulars a while ago and dismissed it, as it involves a couple of days where you can’t eat very much, and I’m still on the lookout for a diet plan that allows me to stuff my face.

The idea is that for two days per week, you can only eat 500 calories worth of food. And the other five, you can eat whatever the hell you want. I guess there’s a stipulation that this is within reason, i.e. try to avoid Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat ‘slice off’ lunches and buying a whole child’s chocolate birthday cake to eat by yourself.

 

Yesterday was my first ‘fast day’, and I plunged in with zero forward planning. As someone who has never really counted calories, I assumed that 500 calories would be a breeze. I started my day with a banana and a tangerine, and then realised I had eaten 140 calories.

I then had a Go Ahead bar for lunch. This was not a substantial lunch effort, and meant that I spent the entire afternoon looking at menus online, reading reviews of London burger shacks and gnawing on my mouse mat.

I went for a long walk at lunchtime to distract myself and ended up at Leather Lane market, which is packed full of street food carts peddling burritos and cafes flogging lamb kofta wraps. Even food that I would never willingly eat was causing me to salivate. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Chicken Cottage, and found myself gazing with animal lust at a woman eating a packet of Chipsticks.

I had to sprint headlong back to the office, where after 8 cups of black coffee and a 25 minute motivational session of flicking through shots of Victoria’s Secret models, I realised that I had done no work whatsoever all day, and set off for the gym. Halfway through Body Pump someone told me that you’re not supposed to exercise on fast days, due to lack of energy. Caffeine and nervous adrenaline saw me through, although after the class I saw myriad purple spots sprouting in front of my eyes, and felt as though I’d been out on the beers.

 

At Liverpool Street station, there was a 20 minute wait for my train. All I had to look forward to in the world was one plain pork chop and a scattering of wilted salad leaves. I wanted to eat my own face. I spent 20 minutes standing on the station concourse surrounded by Burger King, McDonalds and The Pasty Shop; whilst my stomach roared like a disgruntled hippo.

Finally my train arrived, and I could escape from all of these delicious ground-meat smells. I collapsed into a seat, tried to think about anything other than food, and a man got on and sat opposite me – delicately unwrapping a Burger King Double Bacon Cheeseburger. I know it was a Double Bacon Cheeseburger, because I watched every single bite he took and took note of each ingredient oozing its way out of the bun. This was unadulterated cruelty.

By the time I got home, I was ready to flop into a heap and sob on the doormat. I ate my one plain pork chop, drank a glass of tap water, and went to bed in case I ate my Mum. My only comfort was that I had lovingly placed a pork chop crusted with a parmesan and mustard crumb, and a heap of buttery new potatoes into a Tupperware for today’s lunch. On the train this morning it was all I could think about. Just knowing that Tupperware was nestled in my bag between my book and my umbrella left me in a state of total blissful contentment.

On arriving at work this morning, I told anybody that would listen about my fantastic lunch. I was crazed with excitement about eating it at precisely 11.59am. I took out the Tupperware to delight them with the sight of that parmesan and mustard crumb, whipping off the lid with abandon. A few forlorn potatoes rolled in the bottom of the tub. The pork chop was gone.

I looked everywhere – underneath the lonesome spuds, in my handbag in case it had slipped out and glued itself to my iPhone screen, even in the lift in case it had jumped ship on my way into the office. Nope, no pork chop. I have just brought a large plastic tub of cold boiled potatoes into work. I’m devastated.

I am still investigating The Case of the Missing Pork Chop. My money is on my brother to be honest – he is quite a shady character.

 

The Australian Car Crash Chronicles: Vol. 2

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Lana’s Land Cruiser, modelling the new convertible style

So this has been a long time coming. A few posts ago I mentioned a small incident whereby I decorated the local bush area with fragments of my car. I feel like this accident was written in the stars, as it taught me a vital lesson with regards to the proper use of seatbelts, i.e: I started wearing them.

Three weeks after totalling the Clamry Wagon, I had driven twice, and emerged a sweating, shaking wreck both times. I took to careering around town on a BMX, as being behind the wheel of a car caused me to have a meltdown. I’d leave the lofty heights of my boyfriend’s Hi-Lux in a state of near incapacity. I decided to leave the driving to people that didn’t tend to run off the road and smash through areas of natural beauty.

As a celebration of the fact that I was alive and my last stitch had dissolved, my housemate Lana and I had decided to go on a wine tasting jaunt, and set off on a sunny morning in her 80’s Toyota Land Cruiser.

The Margaret River region is chock full of wineries. There are over 200 of them sharing sun and soil in Australia’s South West; from tin shed operations reached by bumpy kangaroo grazing grounds, to palatial cellar doors and restaurants overlooking $2 million dams.

There is a slight issue with living in Australia’s South West. Yes the beaches are pretty mind blowing. Yes it is warm and balmy 94% of the time. And yes, as previously discussed, your local butcher advertises his wares on TV. Nice one, Fred. But public transport is just non existent. Buses only serve Perth, which is three hours in one direction, or Albany, which is five hours in the other. This is great if you are planning a weekend in Augusta, but rubbish if you just want a bag of ice and a mango from the supermarket.

Taxis are also rather elusive. I think the entire South-West region has four taxis, none of which work past midnight and all of which resolutely ignore you if you even slightly resemble someone that has recently left a pub. Having said this, my Dad is a taxi driver in London and has a similar modus operandi – hapless merrymakers on the journey home had better be enjoying that Big Mac in the cold, as there is no way that they will be munching on it in the back of his cab.

 

Distances are huge in Australia. I’m sure I’m not informing anyone of anything too ground breaking here. In London I visibly recoil if someone asks me to make the journey out to somewhere at the arse end of a tube line – i.e. Tooting Bec or Ealing Broadway. In Australia I used to jump in the car and drive for eight hours for a relaxing afternoon in the sun. Its sunny everywhere. You don’t need to chase the sun. An eight hour journey could get me to the Middle East from London. In Oz I’d use that time frame to get to a BBQ.

My point is that if you run out of beers, or realise that you don’t have any basil pesto left, or that your last few leaves of rocket have wilted; you have to drive for 20 minutes to get to the nearest supermarket. When you are suddenly without wheels, you realise that a craving for Doritos is setting you up for a two hour round trip, on foot, in the heat. This also applies to going to the pub. Either someone has to stay sober and drive, or someone has to drink and drive and hope that they don’t get caught.

 

Each winery and brewery comes complete with a standard issue sign asking who your ‘skipper’ is. Your skipper has the awesome job of supping lemonade and resenting you whilst you pour pale ale down your throat. Then they get to drive you home. As you can imagine, it can be tricky finding someone that is game to take one for the team and play skipper.

Lana, on this occasion, had opted not to play skipper. I was terrified of anything with a steering wheel and so had also opted out. We had, hilariously (or so we thought at the time), given the responsibility to a plastic fish with a surprised expression that hung nonchalantly from Lana’s rear view mirror. The fish was four inches long and definitely would not have been able to reach the pedals. But, we were three sheets to the wind and oblivious to this ominous flaw in our plan.

 

We cruised around some wineries, sipping sauvignon blanc and swishing shiraz. We were bundled safely in the knowledge that there was no way that we would get drunk, as the samples of wine were tiny and we had the hardened alcohol tolerance of pirates. This reasoning can probably be filed with assigning a rubber fish the job of designated driver. While we have the drawer open, lets stick in the thrift factor of an afternoon’s wine tasting. Free tastings sound like an economical way to while away the day, but then the people serving you the tastings are so nice and the winery is kind of empty and they’re looking at you and oh my god you’ve bought five bottles of wine.

It had got to the point where we decided that we might need some food to soak up the alcohol, as so far we had indulged in a couple of wafers and a slice of cheese. Off we set, trundling along winding, back country Caves Road through the trees. To this day, I’m not entirely sure what happened. One moment we were driving along and laughing about how we wanted to start a portable sausage sizzle company called Fo’Sizzle. The next, the car had hit the embankment, flipped upside down and then rolled onto its tyres again, coming to a wheezing and spluttering dead stop in the middle of the road.

I had smacked my face as the car rolled, possibly briefly knocked myself out, and was a bit dazed. Apparently Lana was trying to push me out of the car, but I don’t really remember this. The first thing I remember is a face looming in front of me and a distinctly English voice enunciating “Now stay calm, my name’s Phillip, and I’m a doctor” – it seemed awfully Truman Show to happen upon an English doctor in the middle of nowhere on a remote stretch of Western Australian road, which was perhaps why instead of bemoaning the fact that I had just been used as a human pinball, I launched into an over enthusiastic “Oh my god! Whereabouts in England are you from?”

After extricating us from a flattened 4×4, Phillip and his friends managed to move Lana and I to a roadside log, where we plotted our escape before the police came along and took away Lana’s driving license. The fact that I was still reeling from having my head kicked in by a chassis, Lana had a broken wrist, and we were both blind drunk prevented our gallant escape plans from getting any further than falling in the neighbouring ditch.

 

The police arrived, closely followed by ambulances, and I was mortified to discover that local community hero and ice cream entrepreneur, Simmo, was my St Johns volunteer ambo. The shame. “Did the wine make it out OK?” I asked forlornly. “I think it pretty much all smashed,” he relayed. “Oh.” I sniffled. “Did Lana make it out OK?” He just stared at me.

As we were being loaded into the back of ambulances, our boyfriends arrived at the scene to be greeted by a Land Cruiser that resembled an omelette, with a dirty deck of babes (playing cards featuring topless models for the un-Australian among you) strewn across the road, smashed wine bottles glittering in the sun.

Lana’s boyfriend saw her briefly before she was shunted away to the hospital, and mine asked after me. “Yeah, we loaded the other body onto the back of the ambulance five minutes ago,” the ambo told him. He was understandably quite perturbed to find out that he now had a dead girlfriend. However, the day was saved by Lana’s boyfriend, who informed him that I was alive and well, as he had seen my feet poking out of the other ambulance before it drove away. Of course I was alive – there were feet to prove it. I’m not entirely sure what was so full of life about my foot, or what distinguishing features made them so recognisable as mine.

Whisked away to the hospital, we were lectured by nurses who were quite surprised to see me again so soon, and in the aftermath of another car accident. One particularly earnest Irish nurse reduced me to tears by telling me that I could have killed her children. It seems unlikely, as I’m sure they weren’t in the habit of lying down in the middle of country roads, but I did take her point.

I was released that night, left with nothing but a particularly ferocious black eye for my troubles, and two valuable life lessons learned:

1. Four inch rubber fish cannot drive cars

2. I am indestructible.