Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Rail Thing

I have a job.

I know. I can hardly believe it myself. It's only for one month but has the potential to be for longer depending on workload and performance.

I will be working at Rail Corps, the Oz equivalent of Rail Track and will be in the HR department doing the odd Word document and Excel spreadsheet. Unfortunately at $20 an hour the maths isn't exactly stacking up. I still need to make savings on a daily basis in order that this money can be used to build a warchest for further travel, rather than simply allowing me to subsist.

So it's bargains at the supermarket, making use of the Pink House laundry rather than the laundrette, and swapping bacon sandwiches for The Pink House free breakfast which, previously, I've never been up early enough to catch.

I started as I meant to go on and yesterday bought some "value" chocolate biscuits. They were shit. So shit, in fact, that out of sympathy Chris immediately nipped out and bought two packets of Tim Tams. Tim Tams are the Daddy of Biscuits in Oz. They kick a Penguins ass.

So, I don't know how this job will pan out, or indeed if there will be any work for me when I've finished, but it's a start if nothing else.

The Tooth Of The Matter

Had a dental related accident yesterday. We were playing coin football, a game I remember playing when I was in the Scouts years ago.

Explained briefly it consists of shoving a coin to the edge of the table, flipping it up, catching it and after spring loading your thumbs catapulting the coin through a goal framed by your opponents hands.

This was all going swimmingly until Richie, with whom I was playing, fired a coin a little high of the crossbar and, at great speed, ricocheted a 20c piece (about the size of a UK 50p) off my right canine.

Instinctively, we both clapped our hands over our mouths. Me because it hurt. Him because he thought he'd knocked my teeth out.

"Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Sorry! Sorry!Sorry!Sorry!Sorry!Sorry!" babbled Richie as I ran to the toilet and to a mirror to check out the damage.

Sure enough a bit was missing from my tooth. Only the smallest, smallest amount and only enough for me to notice, but where the tip was once sharp it was now ever-so-slightly blunted.

Certainly not enough to warrant a pay out from the tooth fairy. Although I have been spending a bit of money recently so maybe we should play it with ballbearings from now on.

Things People Are Least Likely To Say

Last week we made a list of the things that certain people are least likely to say.

This really is a great way to find out about people. So here, in no particular order, here they are.

Things People Are Least Likely To Say

Dan - Sorry, love you're just not my type

Franc - You're right. I concede the point

Richie - I don't think I'll say that. In fact, I'll just keep it to myself.

Raj - I think I'll go to work today

Brian - Look at the tits on that

Me - I don't know

Dave - I won't wear that. I'll get laughed at

Aidan - Led Zeppelin? Never heard of 'em!

Emma - Can't we just cuddle instead?

Russ Abbott's Mad House

It's been quite a week at The Pink House. We've not had one or two, but three guests who have tested the patience of the staff and residents alike.

Mr Tumnus

They arrived in order proportional to the havoc they were to create. First up an Australian who we started referring to as Mr Tumnus an account of his resemblance to the half-man-half-fawn creature in CS Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. His slightly " just popped in from the magical forest" look, with his curly hair, doe-eyes and fluffy goatee beard belied a brutish, drunken lout and a man who instigated himself into conversation by bellowing loudly about his achievements, and punctuating his proclamations with lager-fuelled belches.

It wasn't long before he'd upset Martin from Germany and incurred the wrath of Emma too, by constantly referring to her as "sweetie" and "chick" and other patronising nicknames. Emma, despite firing back a string of well-proportioned invective, only succeeded in eliciting the response "You Pommies need to learn how to take a joke....Jeez"

Actually, his problem was that he was just drunk. And over the next few days he altered his behaviour accordingly.

Mrs Brown

This couldn't be said of the next two guests. Bizarrely, an 81 year old woman bowled up to the house armed with nothing much other than a tartan shopping trolley and a rain hat. When Manager Miranda told us of this, naturally we assumed that, even at 81, this woman must be reasonably independent, perhaps in good nick for her age. Maybe a golden oldie, or a silver surfer.

But no. We were shocked. Mrs Brown was 81, but looked 801. A cross between Yoda and Gollum it beggered belief how she had got here. Rapidly Miranda realised that something was fishy, and aside from the contents of her handbag.

The next morning the old lady was to leave, in order to free it up for two other people who had booked it (both a respectable 20 something). But that's when the problems started. First it was clear she was having problems actually getting out of the bed and second when she had vacated the room the staff discovered that whilst she had been to the toilet in the night, she hadn't bothered to get out of bed to do so.

A fuller picture was beginning to emerge and Miranda decided to call the Social Services. The old woman was long gone after calling a taxi - but how did she afford it? And where did she go? We immediately began postulating what could have happened. Had she escaped from an old folks home? Had wandered out of a hospital?

The task of cleaning the room still remained. Step in Franc who had already snapped on thick crimson Marigolds earning him comparisons to Frank N Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He binned all the sheets and set up a open gas hob to burn off the smell.

Long after she had left the mystery of the old woman remained in the air. And so did the smell.

God Almighty

Then, the most challenging guest of all wandered in. Oh yes, this man was to test the patience of all. I first found out about him thus:

Miranda: He's back
Me: Who
Miranda: "He" is. "Him".

Her vague pronouns confused me. How bad is it when someone is referred to, simply as, "him".
No one knows his real name or where he comes from because he changes it on a daily basis, but the man who calls himself Ava is banned from every hostel in King's Cross on account of him being a nutter.

The only reason he is at the Pink House is that Aidan was on reception the day he checked in and, unfortunately, knew nothing about him. Short of having a wanted poster saying "Warning - Do Not Give This Man A Room", there's not much we can do.

Dressed in all white and with a mobile handsfree kit permanently jammed in his ear, he is a violent Christian Fundamentalist with the emphasis on the mentalist. He makes loud proclamations, even when on his own, can clear a courtyard in 5 minutes and when told to shut up, claims that he's busy talking to God and that you are forgiven. He lies about his name, his nationality and generally confunds people with his off-kilter statements and increasingly madcap utterances.

Yet, until he actually does anything wrong it's difficult to evict him. However, it didn't take long last time he was here, so here's hoping.

I suggested getting on the hostel tannoy and announcing "Oooooh.... Ava....this is God speaking.....please leave The Pink House......thanks bye......"

Pie Eyed

Was killing time yesterday between interviews and decided to treat myself to a pie and chips from the shopping mall food court underneath Pitt St.

There wasn't much space, so I plonked myself down one of the few remaining tables, but was joined within minutes by a grey haired bloke about 64-65 in a knitted pullover (presumably a Christmas present).

Straight away, I just had a feeling that he might be a nutter. Well as it turned out, maniacal enthusiast is closer to the mark. When he learned I was from England he launched into a treatise about how Shakespeare was the greatest ever playwright, and how he liked British actors, particularly Albert Finney.

I was beginning to warm to him with his flyaway hair and his chunky fireside sweater when he dropped a bomb. "My favourite actor...." he proclaimed " John Nettles". Er...OK.

He went on, "I love Midsomer Murders. We get that over here." and then proceeded to delve into John Nettles's personal history "...did you know his mother was admitted to a psychiatric ward at 28 leaving him to fend for himself". I thought, " No.....but I know someone else who should probably be admitted".

Anyway, it turned out he was harmless and it's not every day you have a conversation about Bergerac whilst 10,000 miles away from Jersey. Nice old bloke. The kind of person who you might find in Midsomer come to think of it.

He should move there. At least if he got bumped off, he could rest in the knowledge his favourite detective was on the case.

Gizza Job

I really didn't anticipate it being this difficult to find a job. Initially I was pursuing leads in media. And, initially, signs were good: skill shortage + need for recruits= job. Or so I thought.
Because soon it became apparent that I am too "siloed", as the Australians say - meaning I am too specialised.

You see the Oz media industry is still stuck in the 1990s. Step into any office and they're drinking Tab Clear and talking about how it's great that the Berlin wall came down, isn't it fantastic that Strictly Ballroom won all those Oscars, and how it's fabulous we have still icons to look up to like The Pope, Princess Diana and Michael Hutchence.

My role doesn't exist in Australia. It's collapsed into a broader role for which I have no experience on account of me being too specialist. Thus finding a job is like finding Pete Doherty's needle in a haystack.

"That's OK" I thought "I'll get some generic office work", but that hasn't been easy either. I am so pissed off. I can't work out what I am doing wrong. Am I under-qualified? Am I over-qualified?

One thing, like Ko-Ko out of the Mikado, I am adding Recruitment Consultants to my "little list", alongside double-glazing salesman, telemarketers and car salesmen. "Just looking through your CV now. Degree qualified. Good. 6 years office experience. Good. Yes, we have hundreds of jobs for you. I'll call you tomorrow".

Then.....silence. When you chase them its "Erm...what was your name? Oh, don't really have anything at the moment". Twats.

I have done Word tests. I have done Excel tests. I have done Powerpoint tests. All of which I passed with flying colours. I even did a customer service test for which I received 89%.

Questions included:

If a customer is angry, do you:

a) Keep a level voice, and attempt to explain what you are doing to rectify the situation, by way of apology.

b) Shout "la, la, la, la - not listening, you fucking old trout" down the phone before stuffing the receiver down your Calvin Klein's and doing a trump into the mouthpiece.

c) Say "You think you've got problems. Yesterday, my wife found me in bed with the cast of Grange Hill"

d) None of the above.

They are that easy. Obviously the answer is b), by the way.

I have signed up to 12 agencies in total. They have found me nowt. What am I doing wrong? Maybe I should stop waving my nob about in interviews. It must be distracting, I admit.

Pub Quiz Champignons

After two second places resulting in a free jug of beer and tickets to some shonky experimental theatre, it was high time we claimed a pub quiz crown.

Off to the Bourbon, then, on King's Cross for was pupported to be a quiz with a $2000 prize. Luckily it was by far the easiest one we've done so far and at the end round one we were already home free.

But, by the end of the quiz despite thrashing the opposition into submission and knocking the nearest team into 2nd place by 10 points, the prize was decided by calling up a team member to the front to scratch some circles off a poxy scratchcard. Obviously, we didn't win.

Disappointing, as despite demonstrating our triv prowess, it would have been easier to nip next door to the newsagent and buy a Scratch-To-Win-Lucky-Dip instead.

Return To The Zoo

Went back to the zoo. This time with a bigger crowd. It really is very good.

A couple of animals were more active this time, although the Tasmanian Devil was as elusive as ever, preferring to skitter in and out of bushes as if on a hike, desperately looking for somewhere to do a wee, but finding walkers around every corner.

Other highlights included a chimp pissing on another chimp's head, Raj claiming a wombat looked like across between a pig and a cat (hence him naming it PigCat) and Richie, on the bus home, despite being 31 and unshaven, bounding up to the driver and saying in the most juvenile tone he could muster "One child's ticket, please".....and getting away with it.

And then Aidan, also 31, also unshaven, and greying slightly saying "Same again, please"....and getting away with it too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Unlucky Dip

As assortment of non-sequiturs and meandering monologues, loosely drawn together under one tenuous banner. More random than picking a dice out of a lucky dip in a roulette wheel and then throwing it at a one-armed bandit.

1. Cluedo has landed in The Pink House and nobody appears to be very good at it. Yesterday nobody won. As in no one guessed the correct combination of weapon, location and murderer. That's really bad.

This is because no one ever really concentrates in the Pink House. They're distracted by the TV, or an iPod, or most often another conversation. Raj is particularly guilty of this. When pressed for a Cluedo "accusation" the other day he said, in a Cockney accent:

"Yeah, I fink it was Mr Custard in the thing wiv the thing"

2. Franc is a master of the barbed put-down. When I informed him of my plan to woo a fellow hostel inmate by talking her for a scenic walk, he said: "Who the fuck are you, Jane Austen?"

3. Nicknames are commonplace in the Pink House. In fact, it's like Grange Hill in here at the moment. I keep expecting a sausage on a fork to hove into shot accompanied by the "wan-it-wow-wow" sound effect. So, in no particular order, here are some monikers and an attempt to explain their origins:

Goonie Pig is so called because she drinks of a lot of goon. So much so that it's almost an experiment to see what happens to someone who drinks so much. Like a Guinea Pig. Except with goon. Hence Goonie Pig.

Raj: Remember the two trendy Indian kids in Goodness Gracious Me played by Sanjeev Bhaskar and Kulvinder Ghir ("kiss my chuddies"). That's Raj. He is so trendy that it's only fair we give him the most normal, pedestrian, mundane nickname. Thus Raj Anandanesan becomes Reg Anderson. He hates it. That's why we use it.

Brian and Franc: In the same way as Brad and Angelina became known as Brangelina, and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner became known as Bennifer, Brian and Franc are known as Branc. As in "what does Branc think?"

Assorted Nicknames:

Other nicknames include Uncle Slam, some bloody American who wouldn't stop slamming the pissing door. Niels from Germany was known as Herr Flick, as he really did look like the Gestapo officer from 'Allo 'Allo and Simon was known as Whinge Commander Hawkes on account of his tendency to moan about everything.

Also, any collection of people with a common characteristic are known as Team...... so for example Team Canada, Team Austria, Team Germany. Andy and Jamie were known as Team Smith an account of them both having the same surname. When Richie, Raj and Dave knock about together they are known as Team Rave (it's an amalgam of all of their names). Occasional fourth member Chris sometimes makes it Team Crave. And when, due to unforseen circumstances, Raj and Richie pull out to replaced by Miranda, this makes it Team Mavis

Yours Truly

Embarrassed to admit it, but my nickname is actually very positive. I am called The Oracle. This is because early on I managed to establish myself as the house smart arse/know-it-all. People often use me as a repository for useless information, and when playing Trivial Pursuit they steer well clear. Could be worse I suppose.

The thing is these nicknames are used freely. A typical tannoy announcement may sound thus:

"The following peope owe rent: Branc, Room 5. Goonie, Room 1. Reg Anderson, Room 9. The Oracle, Room 1. Team Canada, Room 7"

4. I've had my head shaved again. Franc has been doing a sterling job with the clippers. Had a shock yesterday though. Whilst shaving my head he announced jokingly, "Don't look at my crotch. I haven't got any underwear on and these shorts are a bit baggy".

But as he was concentrating on ironing out what he called my "Friar's Fringe", Dave from Donegal had sneaked up behind him and whipped down his shorts. And, no, he wasn't wearing any pants.

I know this because I was about 8 inches away. It will haunt me forever.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hunter Valley: A Day In Quotes

In The Beginning

Chris: What are you doing Sunday?

Phil: Nothing. Why?

Chris:Thought about going to the Hunter Valley wine tasting. They have all these vineyards and you razz about between them sampling all their free wine and getting pissed.

Phil: Brilliant. How do we get there?

Chris: Hire a car. I don't mind being designated driver because these places do cheese and chutney and chocolate as well. Whilst I do that, you get the Chardonnay down you.

Phil: Deal


Phil: So how many are coming now?

Chris: We've filled three cars. Me, You, Franc, Etienne and Claire in one. Miranda, Martin, Dave and Lindsay in another. And now Richie reckons he can fill a third with Fanta, Raj, Goonie and Carolyn. Come with me to Avis tomorrow and help navigate back to the Pink House - they've closed off William St because of the Fun Run, so we'll need to find a way back.

Phil: OK. No problem (in my head thinking - "Shit, I'm not very good at navigating")

In Miranda's Car, Circumnavigating William St

Miranda: Shit. This doesn't look right. I think we're on the toll road heading out of the city. Can I U-turn?

Phil: Wait. What's this sign say?.....Woolloomooloo straight ahead. Yes! We've come the right way.

Miranda: Thank God for that. I'm just going to zigzag my way back from here. Are they still behind us?

Leaving Sydney

Sat Nav: At. The Next Exit. Turn. Right.

Chris: What? Bollocks to that. I'm going straight on.

Claire: I think the car behind is waving at us.

In Warawee

Franc: Where are we?

Phil: Warawee

Franc: Yes. Where are we?

Phil: Warawee

Franc: That's what I said.

Phil: Yes I know. Warawee

Franc: Oh forget it

At The First Vineyard

Somelier: Can I interest you in a Shiraz?

Phil: Yes, please.

Somelier: 2003 or 2005?

Phil: Erm.........

Franc (prompting) I think the 2003 is less aggressive

Me: agree......less aggressive...actually, I think I'm pissed already.

In The Fudge Shop

Me: Can I try some vanilla, please?

Me: Can I try some caramel, please?

Me: Can I try some chocolate, please?

Me: Can I try some jaffa, please?

Me: Can I try some peppermint, please?

Me: Thanks. Bye

In The Chilli Chutney Shop

Chris: Try this chilli paste

Phil: That's nice.....I like that....oh....hang like burning........phwwwwwwwwwwwwwooooooooograhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Chris: That was 8 out of 10 on the heat scale. Try this. It's a 10.

Me: No way. I'm still ablaze.

Franc: I'll have a go. Oh that's good.......ouch.....sweet baby Jesus and the orphans........argh......Holy Mary Mother of God......give me your Coke....quick!.....glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug........

Chris: My teeth hurt......quick....drink....glug glug glug glug glug glug glug glug

In The Car On The Way Home

Chris: It's the police doing breath tests. Turn that music down.

Phil: Chris, you haven't been drinking. They're not going to arrest us for listening to
A-ha........actually, they might. Let's turn it down.

Some purchases...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Spaced Out

I've been in Sydney for so long now that I think I've nearly wrung every last drip out of the tourist sponge. A couple of things remain though and yesterday I ticked off another: Sydney Observatory.

With a clear night sky and 6 interested people, we made our way over to the Observatory perched high above the city in an area called The Rocks. Hosting the evening was Xin, a twentysomething stunner of Chinese descent with a postgrad in astronomy. I nearly proposed on the spot.

After being ushered into a 3D theatre for a rather amateurish film complete with Bontempi Organ demo music, the evening really took off. We made our way on to the lawn where Xin had a kick-ass laser pointer which she fired miles into the sky, ringing constellations and dotting planets. I want one. You could have probably blinded an astronaut on the International Space Station with it.

After craning our necks to see constellations unique to the Southern Hemisphere (Southern Cross and The Teapot) we made our way into the Dome and to the actual telescope. It was about the size of two dustbins and aligned with a letterbox slit pointed out into the night sky. Xin invited the crowd to begin queueing to peer down the eyepiece at Jupiter.

At this point it dawned on me that I was actually going to see Jupiter. Not a photograph. Not a computer generated image. Not an artist's impression. Ashamedly, I started elbowing little kids out of the way to get a glimpse - well they were bigger than me anyway.

And then there it was : Jupiter - a sandy disk about as big as a 10p coin streaked with what looked like strawberry jam. It managed to be awe-inspiring and slightly underwhelming at the same time. Awe-inspiring in that I was looking at a planet billions of miles away. Underwhelming in that it looked a bit like someone had stuck a small sticker on the end of the lens.

Course, you can't take people anywhere, and it wasn't long before Chris had suggested we ask her to point the telescope at Vulcan. Or the Death Star. This was followed by Franc whispering in my ear "Say to her: can I see Uranus, please?".

Return To Katoomba

Organisational Behaviour

I've been a little hostel-bound of late. So when Claire suggested a trip to The Blue Mountains I thought "why not....?". What with Claire having a proper job and everything, it was left up to me to organise it.

So, here's a life lesson: Never try to organise anything for backpackers. Their motto appears to be: why make a decision now when you can wait until tomorrow when it's too late.

I didn't do it out of the goodness of my heart, I did it because if I hadn't, it wouldn't have got off the ground, but when a third person says "I don't know whether I'm coming Friday or Saturday. Or at all", it's tempting to say, Partridge-style "Oh forget it. You people!"

Nevertheless, I perservered. By Friday morning I had booked a space for 9 people - 7 in a dorm and 2 in a tent in the back garden. By Friday evening we were on a 1970s train rattling idly through the night. By Friday night we were stood, icy-breathed, on Katoomba station. God, it was cold. Agonisingly cold. Chest-constrictingly cold.

Thanks to Chris's TomTom we found our way to the hostel quick enough. I had been warned by the owner when I had booked it over the phone that he didn't want a large rowdy crowd. I assured him that we were coming to the mountains to escape rowdy crowds.

However, nothing prepared me for quite how funereal this place was. Upon entering the common room we were greeted by a librarial hush punctuated only by the occasional turning of paperbacked pages. I know he said this place was quiet, but I think I'd find more excitement in the queue at The Antiques Roadshow. Naturally, our over-excited babbling had soon filled the air and the gathered throng were soon staring at us reproachfully over the tops of their copies of Harry Potter 7.

Despite the air of reverence, the hostel was great: small, cosy, warm, quiet, very quiet with a few plush sofas, an open fire and soft Latino jazz wafting through the air. We hit the Thai restaurant and hit the sack.

One Small Step For A Small Man

Brian, Claire, Chris and I had arrived on the Friday and by Saturday Emma, Jamie and Andy had arrived too, minus two people who had dropped out. One of whom claimed he was on a promise, although we later found out she'd promised him nothing.

We wasted no time and set out for the main observation deck overlooking the Blue Mountains and Three Sisters. After a day down amongst the canopy, we finally reached the Giant Steps. 956 metal stairs awaited us set into the rock at a formidable angle. The top wasn't going to get any closer so, inevitably, with our heads down we began the upwards tramp.

Actually, I was expecting it to be far worse. Within a few moments the smokers had fallen to the back, wheezing like punctured accordions, whereas I had powered on ahead, my Peak District altitude training kicking in. The climb took 35 minutes and with legs burning I reached the top of the Three Sisters breathless but satisfied.

The next day we rose early and made our way over to Wentworth Falls. We were picked up by possibly the most inept bus driver, who appeared to have little or no mathematical ability when working out change (even when he was given exact money) and, alarmingly, spent the entire journey driving with his head spun round 180 degrees like an owl, chatting to Brian who had foolishly sat at the front.

We watched him through splayed fingers hoping his occasional glances at the road would be long enough to spot various obstacles - mini roundabouts, trees, traffic lights, cyclists and corners.
Brian later confessed to not understanding a word he'd said.

The Wentworth Falls walk was harder. The path took us down the side of the waterfall, weaving left and right, down through, and up and over the canopy.

The drops were enormous, the inclines were steep, the legs were burning, but the photographic evidence below says more than I ever could.

See the rest at:

Chris checks the map....unfortunately he's pointing to Africa. This photo was taken in 1932

Jamie refuses to help to erect the tent.......

At the bottom of the Giant Steps.....

At the top of the giant steps.......

At the top of Wentworth Falls.......

....and round the side......that's a very, very, very big drop the bottom of the falls