“You’re going to need a bigger boat”

Image

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.

funny-sad-shark-tears-attack

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.

Advertisements

I’m About to Eat My Shoe

5-2-diet_0-550x385

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.

 

10 Things I Miss About Australia….

MeanwhileInAustralia-43063

…..without being totally predictable and talking about sun, warm weather and lounging around in the sand like a beached jellyfish.

As is probably quite evident throughout this blog, I am seriously itching to get back over to Oz. The sooner the better, before I start hanging out at SheBu Walkabout and pining for The Footy Show.

Here, then, are 10 things which the UK just doesn’t do as well as its convict cousin:

  1. Masters Choc Milk. It’s really tasty, has funny adverts and is killer for a hangover.
  2. Solo.  It’s really tasty, has funny adverts and is killer for a hangover.
  3. Kebabs. They’re a lot better in Australia, and can actually be classified as a meal – as opposed to something that you buy when you’re drunk to smear on your face and throw at buses.
  4. Bus journeys. Everyone says hello to the bus driver when they get on and when they get off again. No-one is that polite here. We even have to have signs on London buses reminding us not to beat up the driver…
  5. Local TV ads. I used to really like seeing an advert from the local butcher on TV. You’d be sitting eating dinner and all of a sudden Fred would pop up on your screen out of nowhere! “Gahhh!!! It’s Fred!!! I bought pork sausages from him the other day!!! Go Fred!!!”
  6. Sunday sessions. People are a lot more sensible about it over in Oz – as in you’ve finished drinking by 7pm, you’re hungover by 10pm, and therefore fine for Monday morning. If I drink on a Sunday in England I need a month off work afterwards.
  7. Local Newspapers. They have sports match reports saying things like “Steve persevered like a wounded buffalo…” I swear that’s a line I read in a match report in a Bunbury paper. The Metro never compares people to wounded buffalo.
  8. Thongs (aka flip flops). Thongs are not a big enough part of life in the UK. My feet are happiest when they’re out in the open, wafting in the breeze. Shoes are rubbish. And please don’t even get me started on socks.
  9. Back Country Pubs. They’re awesome. There is a severe lack of Friday night Meat Raffles in London. How have the big London nightlife honchos missed out on this great concept? You buy a beer, buy a raffle ticket, and could possibly win a box of raw meat! I’m in.

I was having a bit of trouble deciding on #10, and trusty Aussie Sam stepped in with some things that he missed. This is the one I concurred with the most, although yes, Sam – iced coffee and KFC sides are something I miss too. And I agree that a tub of baked beans does not constitute a side dish.

10. Drive through bottle shops. As we are all quite enamoured with convenience these days, and don’t want to have to move unnecessarily, drive throughs are a revelation. Fast food drive throughs are great when you’re hungover as hell and still wearing slippers and don’t want to face civilisation. But drive through bottle shops are something else entirely. Firstly, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that you can buy three cases of beer and a bottle of rum when you’re behind the wheel of a car. Secondly, you drive in, roll down your window, and someone asks you what you want, goes to get it, and loads it onto your back seat. You only have to open the window and utter your request. That’s it.

I promise you, it’s the future.

The Australian Car Crash Chronicles: Vol. 1

Image

Above: The Clamry Wagon, now sadly deceased. R.I.P Old Friend.

I spent the entirety of last weekend by myself, at home. It wasn’t because I’d been stood up or cancelled on or realised that none of my friends like me, but a voluntary hibernation to Get Things Done.

I’ve been writing an article for an independent magazine on drug trafficking in Northern Mexico, and am spending way too many of my working hours researching rural narcotraficante gangs and bootlegging grandmothers. If I type ‘cocaine’ into my computer one more time I think they’re going to fire me.

So this weekend was set aside for self-imposed exile, to beaver away happily surrounded by empty coffee cups and a towering fort of articles about murdered Mexican beauty queens and lawless Sinaloan valleys full of drugs, guns and rhinestone studded cowboy boots.

Everything went swimmingly until about 4pm on Saturday when I began to get a serious case of cabin fever. I found myself singing Alice in Chains at the top of my lungs and replacing key words with the name of my dog, whilst she looked at me blankly and then deigned to ignore my presence. After ten minutes of bellowing “Into the JESS againnnnnn… Same old Jess it was baaackkk thhheeennnn!!!” at an uninterested canine I considered going out before I lost the plot and butchered a rosemary bush.

I had by this point fallen into a total state of lethargy and going out meant changing out of my reindeer pyjama bottoms and putting one foot in front of the other, colloquially known as ‘walking’.

Outside the window sat Stella, my sisters prized Nissan Micra. I stared at her for a while, pondered, reflected, did a couple of walk-bys, weighed up the pros and cons…and then decided firmly against borrowing her for the afternoon, for the following reasons:

1. I’ve seen my sister when she’s in a bad mood, and I don’t want to die.

2. Driving is not my strong suit. I think I’m really good at it, but then I wrap a car around a tree and realise I’m probably not as great as I thought I was. And I don’t want to die.

 

My shoddy driving record began with my first car, a company provided Audi A3. I hadn’t driven since my driving test when I was 17 and cruised along the pavement for a while during a reverse parallel park. I was now 23 and couldn’t remember which pedal was the brake.

I decided to start the re-acclimatisation process off with a healthy dose of motorway, and took Pamela the Audi on an 8 hour drive from London to York. It shouldn’t have taken 8 hours, but I spent quite a long time on the M25 before I realised I was headed for Portsmouth, which is in the wrong direction. I eventually reached York, flushed with pride, and reversed at high speed into a wall.

Pamela unfortunately went on to suffer further indignities. My Dad took to referring to me as Conan the Destroyer after conifers, garden ornaments, plant pots and his car fell prey to my erratic parking skills. My brother came sprinting outside one night after hearing what sounded like “the Titanic splitting in half” – which had been Pamela rearranging the left hand side of my parents BMW, as my music was on at full volume and I couldn’t hear the fact that I was stripping half of the paintwork from both of our cars.

I crashed into a lamppost whilst on a picnic shopping trip in a blind panic, as someone had stopped to let me out and I had a complete meltdown. Pamela’s front bumper was left with a gaping hole which I cheerily hoped I could ‘buff out’.

I’d just started seeing someone and very kindly agreed to give him a lift somewhere. I pulled away after he got out of the car and was momentarily distracted by people in fancy dress on the other side of the street. In that moment, he had decided to step out into the street, relying on the assumption that the girl he was seeing would not stoop so low as to mow him down in the street for no apparent reason. The next thing I knew, there was a loud bump and he was staring at me in stricken horror through the windscreen with his legs askew and his nose squashed into the glass…kind of like this

What made it worse was that before I had pulled away I had revved the engine as though I was going to run him over, we had both chortled happily and slapped our knees, and then I had actually run him over.

 

Following my lack of success with Pamela, it was a while before I had another car. My next foray into the world of driving was the Clamry Wagon, my prized run-around bestowed upon me by my boyfriend at the time, when I moved to South West Australia. It was love at first sight. The Clamry looked like a weathered tin shoebox and came complete with a speedometer that had absolutely no basis in reality. We had some great times together. When I put a six pack of beers on her roof and reversed, smashing them all on the ground, she was there for me. She was a shoulder to cry on when I did the same thing with my new laptop. We were together when I saw my first wild kangaroo, and celebrated by almost flattening it. I commiserated with her when I left her parked in Dunsborough with the window down and someone threw the innards of a sausage roll on her passenger seat. When I drove her to a brewery, got drunk and left her in a car park for the night, and woke the next morning convinced she’d been stolen from the driveway…she understood. Sure – it took me a day to find her, but she understood.

It still hurts when I think back to her untimely demise. I should have seen the signs. A few weeks beforehand, I’d spent the afternoon drinking beers with weird and wonderful flavours at Bush Shack Brewery. You have to give your car keys as a deposit when you open a tab. It worked a charm as I spent 15 minutes fumbling around in my pockets and searching underneath logs before a disgruntled bartender came to inform me that he had my keys, and I owed him $90. I had a typical drunkard’s response to finding oneself in a remote place with no public transport but a perfectly good car within rolling distance. My friend and I buckled ourselves in and I hurtled off down the road safe in the knowledge that “I’m a WAY better driver when I’m drunk!” This bravado lasted until I braked too late at an intersection and went steaming off the road straight into a post. The post was made of rubber, which was a bizarre lesson in my surroundings but also very lucky, otherwise the Clamry probably would have been cleaved in two and I would have killed my friend.

We carried on our way with absolutely no lessons learned, paving the way for the end of the Clamry a few weeks later.

I’ll never forget the day that Clamry died. I had been working at Bootleg Brewery, and was on my way home to scrub off the spilled amber ale. I was going to a festival the next day and so was poodling along trying to find an exact track on my iPod. When I looked up again, I was heading directly for the tree line. Instead of calmly adjusting course and braking smoothly, I almost ripped the steering wheel out – all the while slamming on the brakes and swearing as loudly as humanly possible.

This, shockingly, did not work, and I completely lost control of the car. The last thing I remember thinking was “Fuck. I don’t have a seatbelt on” and then I was tearing up foliage and a fence, flying around the inside of the Clamry like a pinball, and had shattered the windscreen with the back of my head. Obviously I was a bit perturbed.

A family on a relaxing day out had pulled over to look at what they thought was an old car wreck. Who says the recession hasn’t hit in Australia?! They were greeted with the sight of  me stumbling out of the back door of the car as the front ones were pinned shut by angry uprooted trees. I was dishevelled, covered in blood, had half a gearstick poking out of my knee and wailing something about the car not belonging to me.

They locked their kids in their car as quite frankly I looked like a raving lunatic, and managed to calm me down enough to wrap a picnic rug around me and get the plastic out of my leg. Soon we were all fast friends, sitting around on crushed vegetation sharing bottled water and laughing about the time they locked the kids in the car as they thought that I was going to kill them. They even sent one unfortunate child into the glass strewn, precariously positioned wreckage of the Clamry to retrieve my phone. When he came out with a bleeding hand we all guffawed at the newest turn in our hilarity-filled day.

The ambulance arrived to whisk me away and had to wait whilst I swapped numbers, hugs and teary goodbyes with my new friends. The police had breathalysed me and I had lied stoically about the non-seatbelt wearing episode, whilst they pondered the fact that it must have been a stretchy seatbelt seeing as I had taken out the windscreen with my cranium.

I had to spend the night in hospital sharing a ward with an old lady with a severe flatulence problem. The next morning I was concussed, sore, had itchy stitches and had to shower in a hospital cubicle the size of a postage stamp. The nurses gave me some Oxycontin and told me that under no circumstances was I to go to a festival. I popped the Oxycontin and went straight to a festival.

Despite the concussion and Oxycontin, I was going OK, at least until I threw alcohol into the mix. With the addition of alcohol I went from slightly dazed but happy to inciting a riot with a group of burly bearded bikers to get into see Slayer, charging through the assembled security guards with my hospital wristband held high. After I remembered that I don’t like Slayer, I wandered off with a few new bruises, my stitches pulled and bleeding and a new best friend with a leather vest and prison tattoos called Mike.

I learned a few lessons from the whole episode.

  1. Concussion, prescription painkillers and canned Wild Turkey do not mix well.
  2. Trees are not made of rubber
  3. Seatbelts are not just there to be used as bungee cords for securing guitars, microwaves, and whatever else I have ill-fatedly purchased from Gumtree. They work very well to protect the back of your skull too.

Lesson #3 came in very useful three weeks later, when my friend rolled her car with me in the passenger seat. But that’s The Australian Car Crash Chronicles: Vol. 2… 🙂

Wanderlusting Lowdown: Imbibing in Perth

I had overcome the quite hefty obstacle of having no friends in a new place. There were people I could go out with! But where to go in Perth? With friends did not immediately come an innate love for the city. I found bars that I liked, a few that I loved, but I could never quite get used to the city streets going from hustle and bustle to the Marie Celeste as soon as the clock struck 5.15pm every weekday.

It seemed that the majority of bars revolved their entire musical repertoire around Rihanna’s back catalogue and the bouncers had taken it upon themselves to form an elite Gestapo unit whose mission statement was to make sure people didn’t even consider going to a pub to actually….wait for it…have a drink. Arriving at the doorstep of most boozers led to an interrogation into how many drinks you had consumed, where you had been, what you had been doing, if you were out for a big night, and so on and so forth. You would give a stock answer of “two drinks, just come from home, standing here being pub-blocked by you, just a quiet one – we’ll probably curl up in the corner with a book” and hope they believed you. Then you would be in for a shocking dismissal of your flip flops as “inappropriate footwear”. This would then be followed by an eventual blessing to cross the bridge or being water boarded and sent home.

Us English folk, used to drinking until we can’t tell the floor from the ceiling and spending the night snuggled up in the middle of a roundabout, tend to be flummoxed by this human shaped obstacle to our prospective inebriation.

There are however, some gems among the Identikit 17 Inch Heel Parades, all of which I miss desperately and stalk on Facebook as though they were long lost ex boyfriends. Hula Bula are doing $10 Mai Tais this Friday????? How could they have moved on so much without me.

If you happen to find yourself in Perth, Western Australia and are in need of some fun times, devoid of rugby tackles from over-zealous bouncers and listening to every song Rihanna has ever warbled in her entire life, here are my recommendations:

download (1)

1. Hula Bula Bar, Victoria St. a) it has a great name. b) they sell every rum you could ever conceive of. c) they play fun music. d) they do $6 Jamaica Mules on a Wednesday (if you knew Perth drinks prices, you would realise that this is akin to finding a Rembrandt for a tenner at a car boot sale) e) they give you plastic toys in your drink. I’m not even kidding. Every time you buy a drink you get a plastic monkey/zombie/eyeball/snake/octopus tentacle. I literally just cannot think of anything better.

maxresdefault

2. The Jazz Cellar, Mt Hawthorn. a) You have to walk through a London phone box to get in. b) its full of weird and wonderful knick knacks that you could spend hours exploring if you could reach any of them, as the place is usually packed to the rafters. c) its BYO food and drink, so your night will rack up to the relatively bargainous cost of entrance, a six pack and a takeaway pizza from next door. d) an elderly jazz band provides the entertainment and they are AMAZING. Plus they take breaks for a cup of tea and tell the same jokes that have served them well since 1941, but have no cultural relevance now as we don’t have air raids anymore. e) everyone, and I mean everyone, gets up and swing dances as the night wears on – and no one cares if you have the coordination of a broken sprinkler.

download (2)

3. Mojos, North Fremantle. a) this is how they describe their line up: “Mojos Bar loves live original music seventeen days a week. It loves it local and foreign, hard and soft, new and old, obvious and obscure, friendly and furious… you get the idea” b) you’re allowed to wear flip flops. I love flip flops. c) it has the kind of outdoor space which makes me want to live outside for the rest of my life, with cushions and lanterns and fairy lights… I love fairy lights almost as much as I love flip flops. d) Flipside Burgers is next door so you can go there first. “Mmmmm!! This is, a tasty burger!”

pic_slideshow_02

4. Devilles Pad, Aberdeen St. a) its owned by the same people as Hula Bula, so it must be good. b) its a ‘Las Vegas style hell themed nightspot’. A good dose of satanic fun is what I look for in a night out. c) the smoking area has a giant volcano in the middle of it. d) they have go go dancers. e) everyone is chilled out, dressed up, having a great time, and not a single person will sneer at you or spill a drink on you. f) they have a guy that walks around making balloon animals for customers. Although at first disappointed that he couldn’t make an armadillo or John Malkovich, I must concede that he does make a mean octopus. g) They sell deep fried jalapenos stuffed with cheese, which would be my Last Supper if I was on Death Row.

ojuXDHbCcgAuHM

5. X Wray Cafe, Fremantle. a) they have an open piano night, where really talented people make you wish you hadn’t given up music lessons to play Pogs. b) you never need to look at another online gig guide again, as you can use their toilet walls – a fountain of local gig and festival knowledge. c) its open during the day so you can go and have coffee and grilled mango for brekkie. d) it looks like a beach bar but you don’t get any sand up your bum.

download (3)

6. Ezra Pound, Northbridge. a) it’s down a little graffiti filled alleyway and you feel like Marco Polo for discovering it. b) they serve long necks in a brown paper bag, so you can guffaw about looking like a hobo even though you can afford current Perth beer rates and most probably don’t live in a gutter. c) they have games, so if the company is boring you can ignore all conversation with them and play Connect 4 instead. d) they sell Bootleg beer. It is $9 for a bottle but I am a sucker and will gladly pay just so I can say “Guess what! I used to work at the brewery!” before shutting up and playing Scrabble.

download (4)

7. Tiger, tiger Coffee Bar. a) its absolutely nothing like Tiger Tiger in the UK. b) its a coffee bar by day, laneway bar by night, so the staff see your bleary morning persona, and your idiotic drunken persona, and still like you enough to take your money. c) it sits in the kind of leafy laneway setting that makes you feel like you’re in Umbria eating prosciutto and watching passing Lambrettas. d) they have competitions like ‘win a free coffee every day for a month.’ Coffees are generally $4 a pop in Perth, so you can save yourself $120 and then go and spend it all the next month, on coffee.

In Sydney a new small bar will materialise every 5 seconds. In Perth, the small bar scene plods along at a more sedate pace, but things are speeding up. As I left the city, bars like La Cholita, The Classroom and slushie especial tequila soaked el Publico were opening to much fanfare and queues around the block. The new Brookfield development on St Georges Terrace led to new restaurants and bars in the CBD, and every time the Six Thousand Perth newsletter hits my inbox there seems to be a new watering hole opening up – The Mechanics Institute, Frisk Bar and 399 in Northbridge, The Local Shack in the CBD and Miss Kittys Saloon in Inglewood. Northbridge even has a new coffee bar/toastie hut with the quite frankly, brilliant, name – Toastface Grillah.

But, if these don’t take your fancy, you can swing by Hula Bula Bar for a rum and a plastic frog.

Upping Sticks: How to Make Friends

When I first moved to Perth, I didn’t know a soul. I’d envisaged the kind of easy friendships that blossom over hash pipes, djembe drums and tequila shots in hostels the world over; and wasn’t quite prepared for how different moving into an empty flat in an isolated city was, when compared to moving into a creaking top bunk in a crammed dorm.

My first attempts at human contact were dire. I chased my new Asian neighbour down the street like an anabolic greyhound, sprinting after him laden down with groaning shopping bags overflowing with chicken, basil, lemons and soy sauce, such was my eagerness to introduce myself and make a friend.

He looked quite frankly petrified as I charged him, and sped up, I assume, to escape. In all of the excitement I tripped up a step and went sprawling; chicken soaring through the air, basil scattering in the wind and soy sauce rolling forlornly down the stairs. To my dismay, new neighbour/potential best friend for life carried right on escaping, stepping over the soy sauce, completely ignoring the fact that I was prostrate on the concrete with the contents of my dinner strewn around me.

 

My flat was in Nedlands, an area solely populated by Asian students, empty megabucks properties and pensioners. I didn’t realise this when I first moved in. I went to my local ‘student pub’ and was met by tumbleweed and a soggy beer mat. I tried a pub slightly further down the road called The Byrneleigh which was a lesson in self-important wankiness. The bartender resolutely ignored me until I started wondering if I’d mistakenly walked into someone’s house and was standing uninvited by their impressive personal alcohol collection. When she finally deemed me worthy of attention, she wandered over with all the enthusiasm of a dead haddock and stared down her nose at me like I’d walked in off the street naked and made myself an outfit out of her menus. For some reason when faced with this Jack Torrance level of customer service, I turn into the most ingratiatingly polite human being ever. It’s like I have to make up for both of us in the civility stakes. I joked and guffawed and cajoled and slapped my knee and slobbered, whilst she threw a beer in my general direction and glowered at me through hooded eyes.

After The Byrneleigh, I set my experiments in social interaction a healthy bus ride away. I had strayed into Claremont – the “I’m 18 and a university student therefore I must throw up on my shoes” capital of Perth. For a while I thought that Perth nightlife was entirely dominated by people who derived enjoyment from being insulted and people who derived enjoyment from covering themselves in their own bodily fluids.

I was still yet to make a friend, and after starting up impromptu conversations in toilet queues, bar queues, bus queues and coffee queues, resigned myself to skipping along the pavement stuttering erratically to a hedge for the rest of my life. I had to look beyond The Queue.

I got a job behind a bar, and used this as a platform to Make Friends With People. The bar was in Claremont, so all of my new friends were 18 and covered in vomit. After a couple of weeks of discussing cheese toasties, toe cramp and how one would go about making do-it-yourself LSD, I decided to broaden my horizons. At about this time, I met an English girl called Katherine. We set up a date to go for drinks and I spent the day going on about my ‘friend date’ to anyone that would listen. Which was pretty much my fridge door and a potted cactus.

I turned up late after I got off the bus too early and had to walk across half of the city, after a stressful day of trying to unblock my sink with various contraptions I had purchased from the hardware store and proceeded to throw around the place with no real idea what I was doing. I spent way too long explaining the intricacies of unblocking sinks with long bendy wires and almost blew the whole ‘maintaining your cool so people want to talk to you’ thing. Katherine was going back to the UK for a wedding and wasn’t sure if she would come back to Australia. I had to stop myself from yelling “Don’t go!!!! You’re my only potential friend!!!!” in her face, and instead smile and nod and not be weird.

 

After this I met aforementioned Sam at work, and so began a friendship based on how hilarious it is when you forget to attach something to an email after stating ‘please find attached.’ After we progressed to riding escalators in opposing directions and high five-ing at the midway point, said friendship was cemented for life.

Soon began a deluge of new found friends. I went for rum cocktails with a girl that served me in the Body Shop. I made friends with my hairdresser. I met a guy on the bus. I ran into an old friend from South Africa on my lunch break.

I still don’t fully understand how I went from going out on my own and trying to ooze uninvited into peoples lives; to actually having real life friends that weren’t inanimate objects in my apartment or the characters in The Walking Dead.

If I had to give someone tips for making friends after moving to a new city/country/hemisphere, it would probably go something like this:

1. Get a job in a local pub/bar. Even if you’re working full time, you can spare one night a week to pull pints and meet the regulars. They will like you because you provide them with alcohol. You’ll go from lurking around the edges smiling nervously at people to yelling “Yo Bob!! How’s that shit heap of a truck??!!” and clapping people on the shoulder for no apparent reason in a matter of days.

2. Find hairdressers/eyebrow waxers/language classes/pottery lessons etc on Gumtree. I found my Perth hairdresser on Gumtree and we are still friends today – she swears that Gumtree is a veritable mine of potential friends, all you need is an excuse to meet up, e.g ‘please can you cut my hair? oh yes, and lets be pals for life.’

3. Don’t feel too proud to look up ‘New to the area….’ social groups on Meet Up, Couchsurfing etc…sure you’ll feel like a friendless cretin the first time you go and you might meet a motley crew of agoraphobes, maniacs and people with no understanding of personal hygiene, but there might be a diamond in the rough somewhere. Find a group that’s targeted towards a specific interest instead of just a generic Billy No Mates gathering, so at least you can talk about sci-fi, skydiving or unicycles instead of facing conversational abyss or someone that has just been released from the local mental facility.

4. Live in a share house. Instant social network. If following people around in the street like a lost puppy is not resulting in a packed calendar, you can just follow your new housemates around the kitchen instead.

5. Talk to people. It’s quite obvious really, but people still don’t really seem to do it. If I hadn’t started striking up conversations with random people when I moved overseas then I wouldn’t have a single friend. It doesn’t always work, and people might assume that you are an evangelical missionary or about to murder them, but out of the non believers are a few that are open minded, friendly, or just as lonely as you are. Steer clear of asking people for a lock of their hair and you should be fine.

6. You’ve started talking to random strangers? Great! Now, ask them if they want to go for drink. If you’re chatting to someone in the gym changing room and getting on like a house on fire, why not get on like a house on fire more regularly? They might be thinking exactly the same thing but just be too embarrassed to suggest it. And what do you have to lose besides dignity, self esteem, a cheerful mood and the ability to ever go that gym class again? If they say no you can always just quietly seethe and plot their downfall later.

7. Hi-jack your friend’s friends. When you have a new friend, meet their friends, and then steal them. When I became friends with Sam, he invited me to spend Australia Day with his friends. We laughed, we drank, we made up ritual dance routines to the rain gods…  They are now my friends.

8. Don’t let it get you down if it takes a while. Most of the people you’ll meet are born and bred in that area – they have their own friends, families, boy/girlfriends, jobs, hobbies and social lives to contend with. They might not have time for a new friend. But you’ll get there…even Ed Gein had a couple of mates, and he spent his free time making belts out of human nipples. If all else fails, go to your nearest hostel bar – a totally acceptable place to turn up on your own and start talking to people without someone thinking that you’re about to make accessories from their body parts.

Itchy Feet Syndrome

Image

I suffer from a serious condition. It is relatively common, although the effects can be devastating to your close friends and family, bank balance, and career prospects. It can strike you down at any time, and despite its debilitating symptoms, there is no known cure, and you will find no allowances for company sick pay or government disability benefits. I have a chronic case of Itchy Feet Syndrome.

When I was 18 and friends were eagerly filling in UCAS forms and heading off to university open days, I planned instead to head off to Europe – with no known destination or outcome in sight, my plan of action stretching little further than my childhood dream of moving to Spain, dying my hair jet black and becoming a flamenco dancer.

University beckoned however, as I became jealous of friends wittering on about all night drinking sessions, curling up in the library with a flask of coffee and taking up lacrosse. As it happens, I only ever achieved one of these things. Whilst at university I filled the hours spent in lecture halls (probably an average of 1.5 a week) daydreaming about hitting the road in the Australian outback and swimming with sharks in South Africa.

My first boyfriend was a stony faced sentinel on holidays as I skipped around booking paraglides with unlicenced instructors that launched from illegal spots towering on the mountainside; had my nipple pierced in a shady tattoo studio and hatched covert escape plans from our tour guide of less salubrious spots in Marrakech. I was successful, dragging my ex through twisting alleyways and little visited souks and poking my head into every nook, whilst he clung to my arm hissing about potential abduction.

This boyfriend had a possible opportunity to work in Mumbai, and would be relocated with his girlfriend. I was thrilled at the prospect and spent every passing minute scouring the Internet looking at apartments, bars, yoga studios and Marathi language classes. I bought Shantaram and had my nose stuck in it for the next week, skimming endless pages of analogies on life to get to anything remotely related to living in the sprawling, heaving city.

The move to Mumbai never transpired, and the relationship fizzled shortly afterwards. My next boyfriend was offered the opportunity to work in Australia, and the process started up again. I called Sydney job agencies on Skype, trawled through the Melbourne Gumtree branch and zoomed in on sunny Perth through my Google Earth telescope. When the Australia move began to look unlikely, I told my Mum that if he didn’t go, I’d go by myself. We had just moved in together, and I was off on a three week trip to South Africa to fulfil my lifelong dream of staring a Great White shark in the eye.

The three week trip turned into over a year, after I stroked the Great Whites, partied in the townships, rode an ostrich and decided that I was never going home. I called him to break up with him over the phone and tell him that my parents would be coming to move my stuff out of our flat. I quit my job by email, and spent hours on payphones and Facebook convincing friends and family that I was not being held hostage by an amaZulu tribe and was doing the right thing.

Aside from worrying my parents, breaking someone’s heart, detaching my retina and being mugged at gunpoint – I had the time of my life. I came home in August 2010 to a London where I struggled with directions, traffic that did not include livestock, being able to use an iPod in public and wearing shoes for the next five months, before packing my bag and moving to Australia.

In Australia itchy feet continued to plague me. I spent four months in rural South Western Australia: heading to the beach after work; appearing in the local newspaper three times and the TV news once as anything can count as news in remote WA; spending my weekends crabbing on a run-down boat and camping in the karri forests where possums act nice and then steal your food and bush pigs snuffle the ground outside your tent – sounding like Babe and looking like a Triceratops.

South Western Australia is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but after four months of living in a tropical Truman Show, I moved to Perth. I lasted a surprisingly long time in Perth. Perth is the kind of place where trying to make friends takes the kind of mental investment usually reserved for Olympic training or joining Opus Dei. After several nights out by myself where I danced hopefully around groups of people, smiling like a maniac and trying to ooze into their sphere of conversation, I rather luckily met Sam.

Our meeting could have spelled disaster. I was sitting in front of him at my new job in a sports events company, as a glorified debt enforcing racketeer. Within approximately 5 seconds of introducing myself, I had spilled my coffee all over my computer. Within 5 seconds of exclaiming “Fuck, I spilled my coffee” and dramatically sweeping kitchen roll around my desk, I had done it again. I think he was only friends with me because he thought I was mentally challenged and might throw hot coffee over him otherwise.

Perth lasted a mammoth eight months before I wanted to move back to South Western Australia. I immediately informed my manager at my new job that I would shortly be leaving, and set about finding yet another new job. I scooped up an Event Manager role for a celebrity cricket tournament, and started with nowhere to live, residing between my boyfriend at the times parent’s house; a friend and her Labrador and my car. Eventually my manager gave me a house to live in on his vineyard estate, and I spent a month chasing Huntsman spiders around with a broom and wandering with seven foot tall red kangaroos in the garden.

After a few moments where I’d start cooking, realise I’d forgotten a vital ingredient, and have to drive for half an hour to get to the nearest supermarket, I decided South Western Australia wasn’t for me, and moved to Port Hedland in North Western Australia. This lasted for two weeks, as it is a hell hole. I walked into the tavern I would be working in (called The Last Chance – apt) and was met by dank darkness; Chop Suey blaring over speakers with a lone, deafened gecko trundling over them; men with no teeth and rumbling welcomes such as “Welcome to the Jungle”, and “New Meat”. It took two weeks of breaking up fights between burly miners, being spat at by alcoholic customers and coming home to find local crack dealers making themselves at home on my couch before I surrendered and flew back to Perth.

This was followed by London, which was followed by Perth again (chasing an ill advised relationship), which was followed by Sydney. Sydney was eight months of being convinced that I found the place I could live in forever, before I missed my Mum and came home. I have been home for four and a half months now. The sun has decided to come out, I have a brilliant job, my calendar is full of trips to Amsterdam, birthday parties and weddings. But with the sun has come my old nemesis: Itchy Feet.

In the past 48 hours I have searched for jobs in Cape Town, apartments in Northern Spain, and considered a career in the Honduran hinterland. I had an hour long chat to a friend in Australia over Skype and am pining for a trip to the beach to drink a cold Little Creatures and watch the sun set and dolphins ride the waves.

I love London. Really I do. I love the bars, the markets, the museums, the multi culturalism and the raw, urban grittiness of it all. But it is very rare that you see a dolphin. Or a beach. Or the sun.

I spoke to friends and family a couple of weeks ago about how much I love my job, and that I can see myself sticking with it and staying for a while. I take it back. I take it all back. I can see myself throwing my woolly scarf away, reaching for my flip flops, waving London goodbye and going to find the dolphins.