Tube diversions

For the longest time I’ve avoided public transport. Back in Wellington I harboured actual resentment towards the bus. The route my bus took went past the high school, so every morning I’d share my trip with 30-odd children. (I’m not sure what age you get where you start thinking of high-schoolers as children, but I’m definitely past the threshold.) These children would take up all of the seats, yelling across the aisle at their little friends, dropping the C-word like it was nothing. In my opinion you have to EARN the right to use the c-word. Be a British builder with bum-crack showing and some scary looking tattoos; be a feminist reclaiming the word; at the least be old enough to have dealt with puberty before you tackle that.

So I’d be standing on the bus, tipping from side to side as the driver took perverse pleasure in making 90 degree turns, while pre-pubescents without tattoos and without feminism called each other cunts and sluts. And it would cost me $3.50. This is why I walked to work and back. An hour goes pretty fast when you have podcast subscriptions.

It also meant you'd walk past art students' weird projects.

It also meant you’d walk past art students’ weird projects.

However, I’m in London now, which is quite large. Five times larger than Wellington. And when I started plugging postcodes into Google Maps then pressing the Walking button, it was clear that it was not going to be an option. Two hours there, two hours back: this is a daily physical proposition I am not ready to accept.

So I take the tube. And despite the reputation it has for being armpit-heavy (in smell and in physical proximity to), I LOVE the tube. Hold your card on the yellow reader. It beeps hello. Join a throng of people all going down an escalator, into the EARTH. Stand on the right if you want to stand, walk on the left if you want to walk. Sway into another’s aisle and face the wrath of a collection of passive-aggressive British tuts. Then a train arrives through a little tunnel, from underneath the EARTH, and you squish in to get a seat or find a bar to hold. Read the free metro paper or play Candy Crush on your phone, jostle jostle vroom vroom, then mind the gap on your way back out of the earth. The card reader beeps goodbye and you emerge. The buildings and the people are different. Sometimes the weather has changed. And you and your fellow tubers all disperse, like dandelion seeds, out into a new part of the world, as if by magic.

Sure, this might be the dictionary definition of "tuber", but dictionaries can be changed.

Sure, this might be the dictionary definition of “tuber”, but dictionaries can be changed.

One thing the bus doesn’t afford you is the chance to people watch. You all face the same direction, so you can look at the back of people’s heads and guess what their noses look like, but it’s not a particularly time-consuming game. Pointy, flat, squished, freckly, up-turned, wide. There are only so many nose options and once you’ve catalogued the bus you’re stuck looking out of the window. Not so on the tube. You all face each other in seated rows, forced to make eye contact when the girl across the aisle realises you’ve been looking at her intently. And you’re underground, which means you can’t get away with wearing sunglasses to hide your curious stares.

It’s not that I’m checking people out. I’m happily taken and get enough ogling at home. I just like making up stories for people. Take the girl in the peach dress, for example. I was on my way to a job interview and felt I looked extremely polished… until I saw her. She didn’t as much walk onto the train but glide. Her hair was shiny and perfectly in place – rows and rows of uniform chocolate brown strands. As soon as MY hair gets a whiff of rain it curls up at the sides, as if to welcome the drizzle, but I imagine her hair could be classed as ‘weather resistant’. It was her fingernails that caused me the most jealousy. She curled her hand around a beige designer handbag, each French manicured fingernail unchipped and all the same length. After six weeks of backpacking, my fingernails were torn, bitten, and were worringly sort of… grey.

So I gaped at her, wondering what she was doing. I imagined her name was something like Alexandra. Something full of syllables that she’d never shorten. I decided she was on her way to meet her boyfriend, who would have coiffed hair and an expensive hobby like archery or cocaine. They both loved each other and felt like this relationship was it, The One, but both were too proud to admit it, so they downplayed their emotions and pretended it was casual. She’d work in banking, because Daddy worked in banking. She hated poor people. She kicked dogs. Ugh. She was the worst.

How could you, Alexandra?

How could you, Alexandra?

I started to feel bad. I’d started spiralling Alexandra into a backstory of wealth and privilege and villainy, all because she dressed well and had nice fingernails. So I rewrote it, deciding instead she was the daughter of a welder and librarian. She’d studied hard and gained scholarships. She had natural financial savvy and had thrived in the stock market. And I got rid of the boyfriend, deciding instead she was living with a poor but kind teacher. No, she was single. No, she was a lesbian. With an Asian girlfriend. Take that, diversity.

Satisfied with Alexandra’s life story, I let my eyes wander around the rest of the compartment to a man in orange coveralls, napping on an overstuffed backpack. Immediately I decided he was a good person. In films, the men with grubby hands and workmen’s clothes are always good people. Salt of the earth types. Then I remembered back to my earlier snap judgement. It would be unfair to judge him so quickly too. So what if this man wasn’t named something nice like James, but something scary like… Victor?

Perhaps the bag wasn’t full of workman’s tools like I’d imagined, but… human… fingers. And he wasn’t sleeping from physical exhaustion, he was tired from being up so late, chopping off fingers. I frowned at him. If he’d stayed up so late chopping fingers off, why were his hands greasy instead of blood-stained? Maybe it wasn’t fingers at all, but instead he went around stealing little parts of children’s bicycles, so the children couldn’t ride them anymore?

Image by the Magnificent Octopus on Flickr.

A real dick move, Victor.

I shook my head at him, shocked at what a horrible person he was. Until I realised how crazy I was being. No! Victor wasn’t evil for no reason… it was probably all because Victor’s parents had never bought him a bicycle. Poor Victor. If he had access to therapy he might be able to work through those issues, but he can’t afford it. We reached my stop and I stepped off the train, leaving Alexandra and Victor alone in the carriage. As I climbed the stairs to the outside of the earth, I thought of little Victor, six years old, waking up on Christmas morning. He puts on his little orange’s workmen’s clothes and grubbies up his hands before running down the stairs to look under the tree. But there’s nothing there. His parents forgot Christmas, again. And his friends all laugh, and ride their bicycles around him in a circle, taunting him with their wheels and bells.

My heart broke for him. But then I thought about all the broken bikes across London. Pink bikes and blue bikes and little gender-neutral bikes with the training wheels still on. So I thought back to Alexandra and her Asian lesbian girlfriend. I decided she was a cop. And I planned that she would arrest Victor that evening, uncovering his bag full of little bike parts. And then she’d probably say something like how he wouldn’t take THIS department for a ride, then she’d smirk. God, she was cool.

The yellow card reader beeped goodbye, and I headed to my job interview, sad to leave them all behind.

Still. There would always be the trip home.

Up with the patriarchy

I know lots of people say they have the best dad in the world. They don’t. That’s because I do. I have cornered that market. Well, I share him with my sister and stepsister, but I am older and marginally taller than both of them, and therefore the market is mine.

Sigh. Ok. I’m already lying, and we are barely 50 words in. Fine. I admit it. They are taller than me. This is something that is logically “the truth”, if you want to be a mathematician about it. But at the same time, it’s also “crap” in the sense that I am the oldest one and have suffered far worse haircuts than either of those girls have even dreamed.

2007

2007

Yes, that happened to me. Yes, it happened deliberately. I went to the hairdresser and I requested that they do that to me. Then, do you know what happened? I went back. I went back and asked for it again. I pointed at the short fluffy strands of brownish hair that had tried desperately to hide my forehead, and requested they be made shorter and fluffier and even less flattering on my then fatter-and-more-moon-like-face.

Look again at that hair. I deserve to be the tallest of my sisters. I am the tallest of my sisters.

So, given my height and age’d authority, I can speak for all three of us when I say we have the best dad in the world.

Last Christmas I went to visit and Dad collected me at the airport on Christmas morning. I talked excitedly and without pausing about my job, my love life, my cold sore, my hat, and all the things I wanted to eat that day. He listened silently before saying thoughtfully, “you know, I’ve really gotten into afternoon drinking”. Sure, he followed it up with useful life advice, but why not start with a non-sequitur about holiday beer? True to his claim, every afternoon over the holiday he’d bring me a Stella Artois, often accompanied by a small bowl of chips, before returning to his gardening.

He’s the sort of guy who will chew on a length of straw while contemplating a sunset. Then he’ll make a “boop boop” noise for the tenth time that day, just because it sounds funny and my stepmother likes to pretend to be annoyed by it.

He also does this pose in almost every picture.

He also does this pose in almost every picture.

When one of my exes turned nasty he offered to fly me down the country that same day. He’s offered me a room in his house should I ever decide to write a novel. Sometimes, if he’s in a really good mood, he’ll even offer you some of his pistachios. Just one or two, mind. Don’t go crazy.

Years ago – but still after that haircut (scroll up if you’ve forgotten, but if you’re anything like me, it will be seared into your memory forever) – we took a road trip together. I had planned out Dad-friendly playlists. Leonard Cohen, Dean Martin, Queen. Half an hour in and he asked if he could have “a turn”. I obliged and he put in an unlabelled CD and turned the volume knob all the way around. Tapping the steering wheel, he started belting “she looks good but her boyfriend says she’s a mess, she’s a mess, she’s a mess, now the girl is stressed”. “WHAT IS THIS?” I yelled, and he replied “IT’S MY LADY GAGA MIX”.

Last Christmas he’d shifted away from Gaga and was into Lana Del Rey. During a family viewing of the Hunger Games he paused it to tell us that Lana spelt her surname with a capital D and a capital R. This wasn’t as out-of-context as you’d think, as he’d paused the movie maybe ten times to share “fun factoids” with us.  Did you know Tom Cruise makes $40m a movie? That Brad Pitt’s earnings, for just one movie, would have paid for the toll road in Northland New Zealand? I didn’t know these things easier, but after a viewing of the Hunger Games, I’d been educated.

Ask about a movie and he’ll give you a one word review – usually “tremendous” or “bullshit”. Once he described Gangs of New York as “not wicky”. On a related note, he’s quick to learn new words that his daughters teach him.

Possibly one of his most endearing traits is his approach to technology. He doesn’t seem to see it as a tool, but as a suspicious threat to be approached with caution. He still types with just his index fingers. His audiobooks folder on his computer is called “other gunk of a verbose nature”. He has a ringbinder next to his computer with handwritten pieces of paper inside, each with instructions on how to perform computer functions. I got him into podcasts a few years ago, configuring his computer to automatically download anything new, and his iPod to automatically sync. This still lead to confusion, so I sat with him on my last visit to go through it. He had prewritten the beginning of the instructions, starting with “Step One: open iTunes”.

One year I asked if his phone could take pxts, and this was the entirety of his response.

One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting at my grandparents dining room table as a little girl. We crowded in for breakfast, my Poppo’s porridge on the stove and homecooked bread cooling on a rack. Dad had returned from a 6am-mid-winter ocean swim, and as the rest of us rubbed sleep from our eyes, he tried to one-up my grandfather with finding rhyming words for “honey”. It culminated in them throwing the jar back and forth, making “runny poo” jokes in dramatic Shakespearean voices, as my grandmother held her head in her hands. My dad is a character, a good kiwi bloke. If I turn out half as great as he is, I’ll have it made.

Dad, you old cobber! I hope your Father’s Day is amazing.

Why I would not recommend the overnight bus

Dear bus,

I suppose it wasn’t really your fault. You are a machine constructed of interlocking metal pieces, stuck with your place in the world, whether you asked for it or not. Maybe you could have been something nicer, like a toaster? I’m not familiar with the differences between toaster metal and bus metal but they can’t be THAT dissimilar. Silver in colour and cool to the touch, that’s the metal motto.

But you aren’t a toaster, are you. You are a bus. A bus that advertised a luxurious sleeping service, like it was some sort of royal treatment. You boasted of hammocks and bunks, of luxury linen. Sat at home in front of my laptop, my credit card in hand, I was excited. It seemed too good to be true, to pay the price of a night’s accommodation but get free travel to boot.

Maybe a bit of this is on me. Six weeks in Europe backpacking and I still haven’t learnt that if something seems too good to be true, it’s because it’s secretly terrible. It is worse than the thing that seems just ok enough to be true. It’s probably about as good as the thing that seems like a bad idea.

This was the view from a too-good-to-be-true hotel room.

This was the view from a too-good-to-be-true hotel room.

Avoiding giving customers allocated sleeping quarters – why not, because that would take someone an extra ten seconds and save a lot of hassle – resulted in fierce bus demand. Instead of schlumping around the coach station, we joined our fellow passengers in two queues to make sure we got a good bed. No, not one queue, but two. Why? Well, why not. It gave us the competitive challenge of aggressively merging together at the ticket collection, girls in ugg boots shoving elderly men out of the way to get to the front.

We boarded, eventually, and were directed to the bed at the end of the bus. Now, I just used the word ‘bed’, but only because you’ve got me on a technicality. It was technically long enough for a human person. It technically had linens (though I’d argue that a fleece blanket on a starched sheet isn’t “luxury”, unless you’re using third-world standards to describe your features). The small shoulder pad placed at the head of the bed was probably intended as a pillow, and it did technically raise my head slightly off the hard pallet. If you held a small focus group, participants would look at the arrangement and label it ‘bed’, but I would imagine most would add “but only technically”.

Due to the fact that my high water consumption has me scrambling up early for the bathroom, I picked the outside with TJ on the inside. I won’t lie, bus. Watching him fold himself into a tiny bottom bunk was a treat. One foot went up, one went down, and his body tried to follow both legs at once. He was mostly on the floor when a fellow passenger pointed out you could pull the barrier down to climb in.

My entrance was no more graceful than his, but at least no one was watching by that point. We lay down and tried to arrange the bags at our feet, with our feet. We were only able to bend our bodies at a very slight obtuse angle before our foreheads came into contact with the bed above, so dexterity of foot was required (as a note, maybe you should mention this in your ad?).

My view. Not quite the scenic experience I'd wagered on.

My view. Not quite the scenic experience I’d wagered on.

The bags shoved against the wall, we turned our attention to the blankets, attempting to wiggle them into the right place. Exhausted and sweaty from the worm-like manoeuvring, we were happy to find the refreshments arrive – a bottle of water labelled “special price 29p!”. The lights were turned off and we settled in to sleep.

I hadn’t quite considered that a bus with sixty passengers would be like being in a dorm room with sixty roommates. We heard every cough, phone beep and whispered chatter. It took ten minutes but I managed to kick the bag of earplugs out of my pack and get them up to my face. Now all I could hear were slightly muffed coughs, phone beeps and whispered chatter.

I lay back and closed my eyes as you wove your way throughout the dark city streets. Corners resulted in my bed moving sideways, causing me to smack into the barrier between TJ and myself. I tried lying flat on my back. This didn’t work either, as the provided sheet was tucked in tightly enough to create a smooth plane. When you went up a hill I slid with you. Luckily my head was there to break the momentum.

At some point I managed to assemble myself like a mangled paper clip in such a fashion that I remained still. And I fell asleep.

A human paper clip, a female figure of eight knot.

A human paper clip, a female figure of eight knot.

I only woke up ten or twelve times, something I’m sure is some sort of bus record (if you have an awards ceremony I would be delighted to attend). One time I woke up as the driver announced that the toilet was broken. Another time I woke up from a particularly bumpy jolt. But the most memorable wake-up was probably the driver announcing that you had broken down, and we were on a motorway, and help would be an hour away. We lay in our beds, on a bus, on the side of the motorway, feeling our teeth rattle everytime a large vehicle went past.

And that’s where our time together came to an end, bus. Your replacement arrived – a traditional chap, with seats and a working toilet. As we staggered towards it, passing a line of men urinating into a clump of trees, I did not look back. It wasn’t that I was mad at you, bus. It wasn’t really your fault. But next time? I’m definitely taking the train. And with the time I’ve got spare, I’ll make myself a lovely breakfast. Of toast.

Yours sincerely,

Kate

Forging friendship over a chicken noodle groin

Severe diarrhoea, ending in a horrible death. That’s what dysentery is, and it’s what most people died of on the Oregon trail, according to the video game.

Bit of a bummer.

Bit of a bummer.

In reality it was cholera that was the most prolific disease. Cholera was similar to its pal dysentery – except that as well as the explosive pooing, you also vomited your way to the grave.

Imagine being trapped in a wagon with your whole family as they slowly all crap themselves to death. You can understand why they took along a banjo or two to sing some songs. While Aunt Mildred is spraying from both ends it can’t hurt to drown out the sound with some folky hymns.

As well as covering up the sound of gastronomic problems, singing releases endorphins and lowers blood pressure. As your wagon bumps along the trail, familial vomit pooling on the floor, your relaxed and happy demeanour will help you through.

During our recent travels through Europe, TJ and I would often sing to alleviate stress. As we walked up hills in thirty degree heat, we’d hum familiar tunes, enjoying the camaraderie and bonding it would bring.

See how little we hate each other? All thanks to the music.

See how little we hate each other? All thanks to the music.

“Here I am!”, I would begin.
“I ain’t got a dick, I got a chicken noodle can”, TJ would follow.

Together, we’d continue:

“All my life
I’ve been putting this can inside my chicken noodle wife.”

(Sitting on seven-hour train journeys with nothing but a backlog of Harmontown podcasts had given us a unique set of songs to sit along to.)

It didn’t end with the chicken noodle man having unsatisfying sex with his chicken noodle wife. We also added Pringles Dick to our set list, a song with a similar theme of a man sporting a snack-based penis. The gist, if you aren’t familiar, is that a chap is stuck with the nickname “Pringles dick”, yet feels at a loss to explain the reasoning behind it.

Some people call me Pringles dick, but I never really found out why.

He goes on to examine the situation, explaining that he simply stores his organ inside a (presumably empty) Pringles can to ensure it stays free from water and remains secure.

I don’t really have a Pringles dick, I just keep my dick inside
I keep my dick inside a Pringles can, because it keeps my penis safe and dry.
Some people call me Pringles dick, but I never really found out (no, I never found out)
I never really found out why.

The first time we bought Pringles overseas was at the Vatican City. Despite the super-religious-and-very-serious vibe the place seemed to promote, we felt a duty to pay homage to one of our favourite tunes with a photo.

You'd never believe he was raised a Catholic.

You’d never believe he was raised a Catholic.

A few weeks later we were in York, and we ended up at a very small and terrifying pub. We walked in and were greeted with silent stares, the burly tattooed men suspicious of the new arrivals with their own teeth. We ended up out the back, sitting at a table with two men from Glasgow. One was young and cocky, the scar on his arm suggesting he wasn’t the type to run from a fight. The other was older, wiser, and far more drunk. He moved like his centre of gravity was being toyed with by opposing bored magnets, his nose a deep and angry red, with a transport map of purple veins. Our conversation began with him slurring with a heavy Scottish accent, me replying “what?”, so to make things easier, he put an arm around my shoulder and shouted everything into my ear.

After a few pints and some confusing shouting about building railroads in Australia, the men treated us to a song – a Scottish ditty their grandfathers might have sung. Stuck without remembering any traditional New Zealand songs – with no Pokarekare Ana at the ready, forgetting the verses to I’m an Utter Peanut Butter Nutter, we launched into Chicken Noodle Man.

Come on, Sanitarium. Bring the jingle back.

Come on, Sanitarium. Bring the jingle back.

Two lines in and our drunk friend hit the table hard with his palm.

“I love this song!” he shouted, continuing to hit the table with a rhythmic smack, keeping time with palm against wood.

As we sang about the chicken noodle god coming down from the mountain, he cackled to himself and to his younger friend. “Great song! Chicken noodle! I love those chicken noodles!”

Knowing that he probably wouldn’t have ever used a computer, let alone understood what a podcast was, we didn’t try to explain the song’s origin. We just taught him the words. Sure, we may not have had the glamour and excitement of an infectious intestinal disease. But we had friendship, we had beer, and we had songs about men with cylindrical genitals.

And with that, we didn’t need anything else.

Haiku reviews of public bathrooms: Paris McDonalds

Welcome to series in which I review public bathrooms in haiku form. In this entry I visit a McDonalds in Paris. It should probably come with some sort of reader discretionary warning. Or, if you’d prefer to use more modern vernacular, “tmi, girlfriend”.

Despite where my review ends up, I would definitely return. Beer costs the same as coke!

Despite where my review ends up, I would definitely return. Beer costs the same as coke!

Paris train station:
If you want friendly faces
Not the place to go.

At the Info Desk
“English? I speak a leetle”
Ending with a sigh.

Half an hour passed
Of queuing then gesturing
With garbled requests.

Our tickets to Bruges
Selected, booked and paid for
Safe in my pocket.

But to get them cheap
Our journey was fragmented
Not starting ‘til two.

It was eleven
And with three hours to kill
We went to Maccas.

(Yes, “eat local food”
But after a week in France
I had had enough.)

We sat in a booth
Nursing coffees for hours
Leeching free wifi.

Mid Facebook browsing
Nature called, as nature does
I made haste downstairs.

In the summer heat …
… with a fifteen kg pack …
… with recent weight gain …

… with too tight jeans on …
… after eating McDonalds …
… I did not feel good.

This bathroom helped none:
Paper towels littered the floor
Inhuman odours.

A stall’s door ajar
Indicating vacancy
Beckoned towards me.

I grimly sat down
Trying to avoid thinking
Of words such as “stain”…

… or “smear” or “puddle”…
… “communicable disease”…
… “sick” and “infection”.

Eager to escape
I reached for the toilet roll
To end this visit.

Too late I realised
I’d forgotten the first rule
Of public bathrooms.

Before you sit down
Nay – before you unbuckle
Check paper is there.

‘Twas six long hours
‘Til our hostel check-in time
‘Til I could shower.

Employing girl tricks
I called meekly to neighbours
But no reply came.

I checked my pockets
Hoping for a backup plan
A napkin, perhaps?

But I was thwarted
By my own efficiency
All pockets were bare.

My options all out
I resorted to cardboard
The paper’s friend – tube.

Not a sensation
I would enjoy repeating
(Unyielding and tough.)

Call me uncultured
But I feel like this bathroom
Summed up “Paris, France”.

Finding myself in Europe

Before we left for our European backpacking adventure, I looked forward to meeting the new Kate.

The new Kate was a seasoned traveller, one who would shrug her bronzed shoulders when problems cropped up, scraping together her last few coins for beer instead of a hostel. Nothing would faze her. She would try everything. She would leap off the high dives, she would ignore the safety warnings, she would sleep in parks instead of hotels. I had this great romantic idea that TJ & I would land at Heathrow and my new personality would be waiting for me at the gate, her arms already adorned with friendship bracelets gifted from Spanish girls with pierced noses. I figured that once we got there, everything would fall into place, and new Kate would take over.

She probably wears more than one necklace at once, too.

She probably wears more than one necklace at once, too.

It turns out that personality transplants are not as easily obtained as I thought. After a few days in London, after we’d seen the changing of the guard (interminably dull) and Camden (completely fantastic), I slowly realised that the new bohemian Kate hadn’t shown up, and regular Kate was going to have to be in charge. We decided to get Eurail passes – giving us ten days of travel within two months – ostensibly because they were cheaper than booking individual journeys. Realistically, it meant I still didn’t have to do any real planning. Eurail passes were a buffer between me and committing to countries and dates. Even still, spending the money – money I’d literally saved for only this purpose – required actual self-counselling in my journal. I wrote, “plans are fun, you like plans, just because it is committing to money spend does not make it bad – you will be happier if you do this.”

Our passes would take a few days to arrive, and TJ said we’d go to Ireland in the meantime. I was so grateful to have someone else make decisions for me, so I agreed, and we took a train and a ferry to get there. When we arrived I swung from ecstatic joy over how gorgeous Galway was, through to terror that we would die on a Parisian street in a week.

The Cliffs of Moher, where the sky and the sea bleed together in a striking tableau, but more importantly The Princess Bride was filmed there.

The Cliffs of Moher, where the sky and the sea bleed together in a striking tableau, but more importantly The Princess Bride was filmed there.

I chewed my nails down thinking about how we only had accommodation booked for a limited amount of time. And every time I worried about this stuff, I felt guilty. I was obviously travelling “wrong”. The European Kate from my fantasies – the one who carried only a backpack held together with pins – didn’t worry about this stuff. She skinny-dipped and hitch-hiked and haggled with street vendors.

I’d confess my worries to TJ, who’d hug me and tell me that the worst thing that could happen would be that everything would be fine. We had enough money. We had three sets of parents between us, all of which would bail us out if we ended up in a Prague prostitution ring.

I often thought about my mother’s itineraries. Three weeks before I visited her in Australia for the first time she sent me the itinerary. She had planned out every day, often down to the hour. She’d scheduled relaxation time. She’d included web addresses of theme parks and malls, should I wish to do some research prior to attending. I yearned for her to send me one. I didn’t like that we were adrift in a continent with so many options, with no plan.

Back in New Zealand before we’d left, when people asked what our plans were, I took great delight in announcing we’d be travelling “like leaves on the wind”. It took me a week in Ireland to come to understand that leaves are often blown across roads in front of passing cars, or swept into plastic bags. During a school camp when I was nine, my love of being bossy rewarded with the title of “Bunk Leader”. I got to round up my friends and organise them into a cohesive group, and I loved it. My To Do lists are colour-coded and organised into sub-headings. I have a hierarchy of favourite pens. I am baffled as to how I ever desired being a leaf, how I ever thought I’d be happy sleeping in a park.

Look at those socks. There's no way this girl was ever going to grow up to be a hippy.

Look at those socks. There’s no way this girl was ever going to grow up to be a hippy.

For our final night in Ireland, TJ had splurged on a four-star hotel room in Dublin. His nudges and winks made it clear he had designs on a shared bath, but I saw the hotel stationery and the free wifi and leapt on it. After an hour I’d made a document outlining a plan. The fear of making a decision was outweighed by the happiness a plan would bring, and so I picked dates at random, depending on what I’d seen of the countries in movies.

This earned Salzburg three full days.

This earned Salzburg three full days.

The casual yin to my anxious yang, TJ said if the plan made me happy it was fine with him. So with his help, I booked our first week of accommodation. We planned trains and looked up which platform we’d depart from. And I felt all the stress drain from my body. The weight that spontaneity had been pressing on me was lifted.

After that, travel was so much better. And better still when I stopped worrying I was travelling ‘wrong’ and became happier with my inner planning nerd. Around our early-booked trains and accommodation we let the days fill in themselves, discovering that maybe impulsiveness didn’t feel so scary when there was a bed to come home to.

People say you travel to find yourself. Before we left I was sure I’d find a different version of me, a laissez-faire gal who would sleep in a stranger’s tent. She never showed up. And although my inner organised nerd felt like a burden at first, a stick-in-the-mud with her reference numbers and carefully filed train reservations, I came to love having her around. I like having plans. I am not a leaf. And it’s ok.

This is not a puppy party

Do you know how long it has been since I blogged?

Days and days, months and months. A long time. I could say I was too busy or important, rushing about doing life things. But that’s just not true. Sure, since we last spoke, I’ve starting dating a new fella, fallen for him in a big proper movie way, sold most of my stuff, relocated to the United Kingdom, and backpacked around Europe. I could say all of that is why I haven’t been blogging, waving receipts in your face and showing you photos of everything I ate (yes, I took photos of almost all of it, yes, almost all of it was carbohydrate-based).

Before you tut at me, there is vegetable on that pizza.

Before you tut at me, there is vegetable on that pizza.

Despite my list of activities, to blame them for my lack of posts would be a lie. Because during this time I’ve managed to get to level 147 in Candy Crush Saga. I’ve read multiple books. I’ve watched a pile of movies and seasons upon seasons of television (currently up to season four of Parks and Recreation, no spoilers). I’ve written long diary entries, all of which could be summed up under the heading “carbohydrate reflections”. Seriously, I visited a concentration camp, a real one. My diary for that day complains about American tourists halfheartedly before launching into a discussion about the “giant German treats, the densely packed sweet dough, covered in liquid sugar”.

I’ve managed to have a lot of downtime while travelling. Time on trains attempting German Sudoku (note: it’s the same as English Sudoku, but not understanding the instructions makes you feel a little smug, like you cracked a riddle). Time staring out the window when my phone was out of battery. Time I could have used writing blogs.

But I’ve been shy, you guys. Having snuck away from my lovely blog for a few weeks, then a few months, made me start to feel like I was going to have to do something amazing, something whizz-bang, something wondrous. LOOK, I could shout. I’ve been away but I’ve brought back PUPPIES! Then all of you would say WOW, some PUPPIES, this was worth the wait! We would all have a giant puppy party and it would be lauded across the world as the greatest canine caper EVER.

But even if you DO throw a puppy party, there's no guarantee they will enjoy themselves.

But even if you DO throw a puppy party, there’s no guarantee they will enjoy themselves.

Slowly, however, I’ve come to realise that no one is biting their nails wondering how I will make a comeback. Not in a gloomy way, but in a refreshing way. It’s just a blog, not a … hmm. Drawing a blank on things that make comebacks. Like … sports, um, players? Right. It’s a blog, not a sportsplayer! I can just slip back in with a lack of fanfare, just as I slipped out. Quietly open the door without it creaking and sneak into the back of the room, pretending I’d been there the whole time.

Hello, little blog. I’ve missed you. I’m so glad to see you again.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall

I stood in front of the mirror, talking to myself.

I do this a lot. Well, a lot when I’m drunk. Well, drunk or tipsy. If I’ve had a drink. Or am considering having one. And by ‘drink’, I’m including ‘coke zero vanilla’.

My one-on-one bathroom chats are usually brief but practical. I tell myself to have a glass of water, to remember that I’ve already had dinner and don’t need a bowl of fries and a pizza, and to stop talking about Emma Stone’s voice in such glowing terms, because people are no longer making eye contact with me.

I just want her to read me stories.

I just want her to read me stories.

In these mirror discussions I become my own mother, essentially—but in an exemplary parent/child relationship, one where both parties agree unanimously on every issue.

Yes. It’s weird. I know.

Years ago, I was practicing my over-the-shoulder duckface in my bedroom (in my defence, it was after an America’s Next Top Model marathon, also, I am not a cool or hip person) and one of my male friends walked in. I’m not sure what it was that horrified him – the activity itself or my reaction to being caught, which was so dripping in embarrassment and shame that it planted the action in the same camp as something truly damaging. Like being caught stroking a picture of your own face. While masturbating.

Regardless of what shocked him, he turned purple from the shame of it and started apologising profusely as backed out of the room, eyes cast downward.

I distinctly remember thinking, “well, that’s done. I guess there’s no way we’re ever getting married”. Before this moment I hadn’t even considered marriage with him, a man with whom I shared little in common. But it’s a weird feeling, knowing a door has closed, even if it’s a door you didn’t care to open. I don’t like knowing that someone’s opinion of you has permanently changed. Maybe prior to this he’d considered me a woman of some mild mystery and intrigue, what with my almost-complete-collection of Buffy on VHS and my insider knowledge of local haunts such as Mr Bun and the Readings foodcourt. Maybe he’d just been waiting to make his move.

But after this? No. I was firmly in the friendszone. This left me feeling petulant, and for weeks after I considered that maybe I DID want a relationship with him. Well, sort of. In my fantasies it was a relationship built on vague amiability, with no romantic or sexual elements, where I had thought ahead to our divorce and how lovely it’d be to have space to myself again without him breathing down my neck all the goddamn time.

In this situation, I was definitely the Xander. Or the Willow. Or the Buff... wait, did EVERYONE in that show have an unrequited crush?

In this situation, I was definitely the Xander. Or the Willow. Or the Buff… wait, did EVERYONE in that show have an unrequited crush?

This is why I am delighted that no one has ever caught me in my restroom repartee. Goodness, an innocent posing session led to such embarrassment! Imagine someone witnessing the strange Jekyll/Hyde display of me saying “only two more tequilas, Katiepie, then you probs should stop”, giggling in agreement with myself, then fumbling through an “ooh, you” hand flap.

A few Saturdays back, I stood in front of the mirror, washing my hands and baring my teeth like a wild dog to check if they were clean. I questioned if I should have more to drink. With the question, mumbled aloud, I noticed my facial expressions switch from an imploring beggar to a admonishing schoolteacher. The absurdity struck me as I saw my forehead change, and I realised I was at a crossroads.

Do I put an end to this ridiculous display?

Or do I commit to it?

We could split into two Kates. The disciplinarian would go by Katherine, and she’d speak with perfect elocution while maintaining rigid posture. She would frown upon alcohol and would figure out what a multivitamin is and where to buy one. She would understand how to make pivot tables in Excel. The other Kate would be known as Katie, but would pronounce it ‘Kyay-eh’, as she would develop an arbitrary cockney accent almost immediately. She would be constantly searching for places to lie down for naps and would throw full-body tantrums when things didn’t go her way.

Fortunately one of my friends has a lack of hand/eye coordination while holding beverages, so I have some experience with tantrums.

Fortunately one of my friends has a lack of hand/eye coordination while holding beverages, so I have some experience with tantrums.

The idea seemed appealing. For a moment I considered it, eyes wide with the possibilities. I would never be lonely or bored again. Plants vs Zombies would no longer be necessary to keep myself entertained, as now I’d have a guaranteed friend for always. This would mean I might as well sell my iPhone—and just think of the money I’d save on international calls! (Sometimes after a few beers I call my sister in Brisbane and sing her the New Zealand national anthem, because I enjoy her bewildered reaction to this practice. It is not a cheap hobby.)

After some consideration of this plan, I realised that my brain was attempting to find ways to assure its own destruction, justifying it under the devilish guises of “friendship” and “cost-effectiveness”. Surely, despite the positive side effects, brain-self-destruction is a bad thing? Surely I should stop this ridiculous mirror madness? Surely I should move on, be a grown up?

Luckily, Katherine stopped Kyay-eh throwing a tantrum about it, and as we left the bathroom together, myselves agreed – one more drink? Yeah, it’d probably be fine.

Traditionyule

When I was little, we lived in a pretty nice area of Tauranga, New Zealand (shut up, yes, there is such a thing). Our area was comprised of subdivisions full of snobby middle-class people, all sure to stress the second half of the suburb. “Yes, I am from Cambridge HEIGHTS. HEIGHTS. Oh, we have a decent acre of land, a double garage, a microwave, but it’s really no big deal. Please, please, there is no need to avert your gaze.”

The letterboxes in our street were either white or wooden, adorned with the fancy numbers. You know the sort, the gold or brass ones, the ones you need to screw in, definitely not the stick-on kind. Folks may have had personalities inside their homes, but on the outside? No. The outsides were kept uniform. Tidy. Orderly. Vaguely, um, Germanic, if you catch my drift.

Same same, only, not different.

Same same, only, not different.

After a few years, a new family moved in down the street, in a house that was set back from the road. Obviously missing the pattern laid down by their double-denim-clad neighbours, they installed a sickly-yellow-green letterbox. Against the white and wooden parade this was garish and ugly, a horrifying pimple on our street’s perfect face. To express our discomfort with the bile-toned box, my family would make vomit noises every time we drove past, punctuating our retching with emphatic hand gestures to show the path that our upchuck would take. Splash on the back of the seat. Slosh out the window. Oops, ha ha, there’s some on Mum’s head.

This was my first taste of tradition, and I loved it.

For years I tried to force traditions to catch on, a practice that makes everyone feel slightly affronted and thus uncooperative. I found that my parents were more agreeable around the holidays, as they were filled with an overwhelming sense of fatigue.

I managed to get a Christmas Eve reading of The Night Before Christmas to stick, my poor mother shuffling up the stairs to my room to sleepily read aloud every year, even though I don’t think anyone actually enjoyed it. I mean, it starts off great, everyone’s pumped for that first verse. I didn’t know what a sugarplum WAS, but it definitely piqued my interest, as did the slumbering mice. But after that it’s all downhill, petering off into an absurd fantasy. I don’t think it helped that Mum’s delivery was tinged with the weariness of knowing she’s going to have to get up at 4am to put stockings out and then let some fictional bearded bastard take all the credit.

When I was a teenager I saw It’s a Wonderful Life, deciding before it had even begun that it would be a perfect Christmas tradition. I felt a strong sense of nostalgia for phrases like “hot dog!”, wind-up telephones and small towns – a strange emotion, given that these were things I’d never really experienced. Looking back, I am almost positive that the nostalgia was actually just a mutation of a strangely intense sexual crush on Jimmy Stewart, an emotion my mother and stepfather did not share, as they would consistently manage to find excuses to avoid the TV. Sitting alone in the lounge weeping at the Baileys singing Auld Lang Syne – it was a tradition, sure, but probably not one I should take pride in.

I am not lying when I say that just looking at this picture makes me misty eyed.

I am not lying when I say that just looking at this picture makes me misty eyed.

A few years ago I packed three Christmas movies in my luggage to watch with my Dad & stepmother, figuring that one would catch on. They politely sat through – and promptly fell asleep in – It’s a Wonderful Life, leading me to finally retire it from family viewing. The next night I made what some might consider a slight error in judgement… given that my father’s favourite tradition is to hold hands when giving thanks to Our Lord before dinner, I probably should have reconsidered the recommendation of Bad Santa. Then again, sitting between my parents, watching Billy Bob Thornton have sex with Lorelai Gilmore in a car while she screams “fuck me Santa” – these are memories you can’t pay for.

The next night I redeemed myself with Love Actually, and now every year I get thanked for introducing them to it. If you’ve ever watched this movie with your family your traditions are probably the same as mine – chortle at Hugh Grant dancing, titter at Colin Firth attempting to speak Portuguese, and sit rigidly and unblinking during all of the simulated sex scenes. Seriously, so many nipple shots in that movie. Maybe I’m overthinking (certain people in my life will not be surprised to hear this) but watching Love Actually with your family is to acknowledge that oral sex exists, and this is not something I need on Christmas.

Those who read my Fiji blogs will be unsurprised to hear there is one Christmas tradition I never had to force, and one that stuck immediately. Every year it changes slightly, but it always centres around the same two things. One, sort of media consumption. Two, a competitive eating contest: where the competitors are “myself” and “my pride”. I vividly remember the first year I did this, lying on my bed with a new Babysitter’s Club book and a box of Roses chocolates (first digging out the strawberry ones, ending with a deep stomach-expanding breath and the classic fudge). Later years had me sitting on an inflatable chair, watching the South Park musical and groaning through bowls of salted cashews.

What could be more festive than this?

What could be more festive than this?

Before Christmas this year I had been focused on two food items: declaring the two-punch combo of ham and scorched almonds to be my Christmas “goal”, to anyone who would listen. I was thrilled when Annie bought me a box of those little chocolate-enveloped-nuts, despite our multiple agreements that we wouldn’t “do” presents this year. I was then delirious with delight when my stepmother needed both hands to lift the ham from the back fridge, as the thick slices of pork had been dancing in my mind since, well… about July.

Sadly, I am not the best at quote unquote self-discipline, and I accidentally ended up overdosing on yellow-bag Doritos and bubbles while watching The Sound of Music. I woke up at 5pm, face stuck to the leather couch, Captain von Trapp’s heart now as full as my distended belly. An hour later dinner was served. I was definitely still full, but managed to fit in two more glasses of bubbles and a plate of turkey and ham and potatoes and mayo-soaked salad.

Sure, I had to arch my back to fit it all in. But I was hardly going to say no to Christmas dinner.

It’s tradition!

Refined Tastes

6.30am

My phone buzzes, ripping me from sleep. It’s a text message from Annie, that simply reads “being awake is so not legit.”

It’s a Sunday. It’s 6.30am. Normally my Sunday routine is to rise around 11am, making whimpering noises until I have a cup of coffee. I then spend the next half hour slumped in a café booth, alternating between checking twitter, pretending to read the paper, and wincing at loud noises.

Annie’s right. 6.30am is so not legit.

7am

I prepare a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee. Annie pops the lid open on her second beer of the day.

Today we have tickets to Toast Martinborough, a wine/food/music festival held amongst the wineries of the Wairarapa. It’s my third year attending, which means it’s the second time I’ve ignored my own advice from the year prior to never, ever, ever return. Each year I’ve arrived home with no money left, sunburnt skin, and mascara-stained cheeks after the inevitable fight with a close friend.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at saying no. So once again, I have agreed to part ways with my money and sense.

8am

We walk to the bus stop in dresses and jandals. A car passes. Without explanation, Annie screams, “stop judging me, dicks! My life choices are legit!”

Two breakfast beers on an empty stomach have obviously left their mark.

8.30am

The queue at the train station coffee cart is lengthy, which justifies my decision to buy two cups.

In Canada, I believe they call this "double fisting". Those Canucks are so innocent.

In Canada, I believe they call this “double fisting”. Those Canucks are so innocent.

Meanwhile, Annie buys two huge cans of beer from the supermarket. It comes to a grand total of $5.98, and it’s clear from her first sneaky taste that the beer’s cost-effectiveness is definitely its only selling point.

She doesn’t want to get caught drinking in public, so her surreptitious sips are accompanied with suspicious stares around the station. I gulp down the rest of my coffee, handing her the cup so she can refill it with her cheap ale, which she does under the table.

She peers inside the cup, frowning.

The foam at the top is half beer, half coffee-froth, and it quickly separates from the rest of the beverage into a single floating mass. She hooks her finger and scoops the pond scum onto a napkin. The spume starts evaporating, wobbly gas pockets popping open with little lactose farts.

She continues to drink from the coffee cup, her eyes wary.

“I should have brought a goon sack” she laments, sighing about her poor planning.

9am

We meet our friend Michelle on the train. As it leaves the station, Annie fills her coffee cup with beer for the third time. Meanwhile, Michelle paints her fingernails, a bottle of candy-floss pink squeezed between her knees.

9.25am

The rest of the carriage is filled with husbands and wives, passing sections of newspapers back and forth wordlessly. Annie leans in and nods her appreciation. “I like when like, old people come to these things. And wear like, pants. With a shirt. It’s legit.”

This guy is "legit". You heard it here first.

This guy is “legit”. You heard it here first.

9.30am

Annie stops mid-conversation to say, “oh, hold on, I need to take my anti-babies”.

As she rummages in her bag for her contraception, she announces she texted Becky.

“Who’s Becky?” I ask.
“Oh, that girl we met that one time at Public, remember? She showed us that penis picture on her phone?”
“What did you say to her?”
“I said, remember that one time we met at Public? And you showed us that penis picture on your phone?”

9.35am

“Ooh ooh, she replied!” Annie shouts.

I try to shield my eyes from Annie’s phone as she waves it in my face. Unfortunately, Annie does not give up easy, and so I once again find myself looking at an image of a man’s genitals photographed next to a bottle of Tui (for scale). I’m impressed with his ingenuity but the image still leaves me feeling dismayed. He couldn’t have picked a classier beverage?

10.15am

There are mandatory bag checks in place at the train station, to stop people sneaking in their own alcohol or food. Annie & I are waiting outside the tent when Michelle storms up. “Well, I’ve already had my first fight. Shall we go?”

“So he found my croissants, and said I had to throw them away. And I said well, excuse me sir, but is this encouraging responsible behaviour, with the binge drinking culture we have in this country?” Michelle furiously spits out.

You may be able to tell that it is not Michelle’s first fight. She even made a guy cry once. To be fair, he started it, by introducing himself as “Hey ladies, do you know where Helen Clark lives? I want to give her a piece of my mind”.

10.40am

We huddle under a marquee tent, rain pouring outside. I hop from foot to foot and complain that I’m cold and that straightening my hair was a waste of time. Annie scoffs at the people smart enough to bring rainwear, muttering “golf umbrellas? Fuckers. Who do they think they are?”

A group of girls scuttle past, clad in floral mini-dresses and wearing candy coloured heels. Annie derides them too, saying “Heels? Idiots. Why would you wear heels?”

She then launches into a story about how she met a woman in a pub and told her to wear jandals. In the time it takes her to tell the story, I’ve finished a glass of wine and caught up on the last three hours of my twitter feed. This is because the drunker Annie is, the more context she includes in a story. Given by how far she rewinds in this one—starting with “I was having lunch, and”—the train beer has obviously left a mark.

11am

We sip our second glasses of Riesling and agree that, whatever happens, at the end of the day we will definitely split up and leave every man for himself. Annie suggests a motto of, “we are friends, with no responsibility”.

I make a note of it, as I am dedicated to blog accuracy.

I make a note of it, as I am dedicated to blog accuracy.

11.15am

The sun comes out and everyone in the area cheers, throwing hats and ponchos onto piles of handbags and flocking out of the marquee.

11.17am

The rain comes back. We all awkwardly crowd back back in, embarrassed of the fuss we’d made moments earlier. This process repeats itself three or four times.

Noon

We arrive at another winery. I’ve eaten an entire bag of macaroons before we’ve even sat down, washing them down with a glass of sparkling rose. The combination leaving me feeling like my teeth are coated with moss. I quietly hope that Mum forgets to ask how quitting sugar is going.

12.15am

Annie waves the camera around, hissing at me to pretend to smile so she can zoom past my face to take surreptitious photos of some guy in a white shirt.

12.30pm

I listen to the band, who seem to be working their way through the Pretty Woman soundtrack. The nineties numbers are broken up with the singer’s attempt at audience banter. “Who, is, um, from Wellington?” he booms. “Who, um, took the train?” His questions are met with polite “woos” from a few people who take pity on him, but mostly the audience is indifferent.

1pm

Annie gets too excited telling a story and flings her arm in the air, spilling wine all over her dress. We head towards the bathroom: a caravan atop a flight of stairs, which wobbles with each door slam. The toilets inside are filled with blue water and the floor is dotted with clods of grass, making it feel like a mix between a barn and a hospital. On wheels.

As I wait outside for Annie, a woman sidles up next to me. She stands close enough that for a second I assume we must know each other, but she’s unfamiliar. “Yo”, she says, as she reaches up under her skirt, digging for a moment, before snapping her knickers back into place. As fast as she arrived, she’s gone. I feel used.

An approaching girl is weeping, wiping her tears away from under her glasses. As she gets closer, I catch snippets of her conversation. “She got cash out (hiccup hiccup) and I was like, but this is (hiccup hiccup) NOT what we agreed on”.

Annie emerges from the toilet caravan, her dress still splattered with the wine stain. We find Michelle and decide to move on.

En route to the bus, Annie declares “by the way, this is NOT jizz on my dress, Michelle”, answering a question that no one was asking.

1.15pm

As we exit the bus, Michelle throws a “thanks, driver” over her shoulder. He replies, and she stops abruptly, turning and screeching, “did you just say thanks WOMAN?”

Bewildered and shocked, the driver replies, “no, I said you’re welcome?”

“Oh”, Michelle says, pausing for a moment to consider if she should still be offended. She shrugs off the potential squabble and skips across the road to the winery.

2pm

I make peace with the fact that I’m not going to be able to decide between the pulled pork ficelle and the lemon cake, so I get both.

No regrets.

No regrets.

Meanwhile, Annie’s telling Michelle about two of our friends that ended up in bed together recently. Michelle doesn’t approve, and I try to ignore her gagging noises while I eat. “If I go out, and I need to vom but can’t, even after I touch that little dangly bit, I am going to think about her and that guy” Michelle announces.

2.15pm

Michelle flops back in her chair, her nose scrunched into her face. “Is it still an abortion if you find out you’re pregnant and then you kill yourself? Or is it just suicide?”

An elderly couple shuffle up to our table and gesture to the two empty seats.

“Do you mind if we sit down? You can continue your young people’s conversation!” the man says.

2.30pm

“Well, back in the ‘50s, if a woman didn’t get married, she was an outcast! What a load of crap!” he says. His wife nods in agreement. “You don’t want to marry a crapper, you’d get stuck with him for the rest of your days”.

Emboldened by their use of language and their progressive message, Michelle jumps at the chance to tell them about her divorce.

Annie’s not here. I’m not sure what it is about the older couple that frightened her off, but my theory is that it was the dawdling pace at which the woman ate her salmon pie. Each mouthful was tiny yet she chewed it like a cow might – deliberately, using her whole jaw, and frustratingly slowly.

3.30pm

“Just with her vadge?” Michelle hisses across the table at Annie. “Or with her mouth?”

She gets no response, so increases her volume.

“ANNIE. VADGE. VADGE. HER VADGE?”

Annie is not paying attention, as she is texting a boy. It’s easy to spot. She only smirks at her phone if a boy is involved.

Michelle loses patience trying to get her attention and turns to me.

“KATE” she barks. “Do you know? With her vadge? Or mouth?”

I glance over at the four strangers who graciously allowed us to sit at their table. All four are in wide-brimmed hats with shirts buttoned up to their necks. They haven’t spoken since we sat down, and are currently staring straight ahead, actively ignoring this exchange.

“I don’t know” I hiss back, to Michelle’s question about what part of our friend touched our other friend’s genitals. “Stop talking about it. It’s gross”.

3.45pm

Michelle heads to the dance floor to aggressively shrug her shoulders, and Annie jumps up to join her. I’m full of pork and bread and cake and macaroons and poutine – not to mention the wine and the diet cokes and breakfast. Shaking my overstuffed and distended belly seems like a downright dangerous activity.

I choose an activity that’s risky in other ways, and head off to join the long queue for the portaloos.

I passed this couple on the way. Clearly a bigger day for some than others.

I passed this couple on the way. Clearly a bigger day for some than others.

3.47pm

Two girls approach and stop suddenly. “No fucking way am I standing in that line” the blonde says, and the brunette concurs. They stumble over to the urinal, pulling up the back of their skirts and backing in slowly. The 50-somethings in front of me are horrified. “Are those girls going to use the… the urinal?” one asks, her eyes wide behind her bifocals.

The girls emerge frowning and traipse off into the vineyard, their attempt obviously unsuccessful. I’m still in the queue when they lurch back, untucking their skirts from their tights.

4pm

“Katie! They swirled me! They touched me! They are in the army! What should I say to them? I’m thinking about saying, touch me again!” Michelle says, giggling, and pointing to two men dressed in sexed up fatigues, clearly not in the army.

She hops up and grabs my hand, leading me to the dance floor. We try to get into a waltz position but run into problems as we both try to lead. “Who is dom and who is sub?” Michelle asks, having learnt a thing or two from Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s revealed that she’s more of a Christian than an Ana, when she forcefully pulls me into her arms then spanks me.

After a lot of twirling, Annie cuts in, and I leave them to it.

4.30pm

At last year’s festival, we brought a houseplant with us, insisting that people pose for photos with it.

With great success, I might add.

With great success, I might add.

While she’d speculated that this year she’d try to collect snaps of “penis or female nip”, this year Annie’s been taking pictures of us in the reflection of other people’s sunglasses. It has produced some great shots – super-close ups of the nostril hairs of strangers, with our faces blue and fuzzy in the corner.

It was hard to explain the process to tipsy girls at noon, so it feels like a losing battle when Annie grabs the arm of a stumbling drunk and asks him to help. “What… whaddo I get outta it?” he slurs, talking to her cleavage.

“Nothing, just shut up and stand still” she barks with irritation.

“Can you buy me a drink?” he asks.

“Yes, yes, fine fine” she replies, waving her hand impatiently .

“Here, try-themmon” he says, dangling them from a finger. She looks through them and snorts.

“Bullshit!” she says, shoving them back onto his nose.

Annie then tries to employ logic to get him to stand still.

It does not work.

5pm

It’s definitely past the time we need to leave, but trying to round up Michelle & Annie is not an easy task. Annie wants to “smash another sav”, and Michelle keeps telling me to chill out, waving her arm around, saying my eyebrows look too angry.

I realise I’ve made a mistake in staying almost-sober, but it’s too late now, and so I resign myself to the role of mother hen.

“Nope, we’re leaving now. Too bad. Chop chop” I say, ushering the girls to the roadside. The buses going past are already overstuffed, with people crowding the aisles and tired-looking girls squished in, buttocks pressed against the glass.

5.15pm

I’m getting worried; gnawing on fingernails out of stress.

A ute approaches with two men in the front, honking their horn and woohooing out of the window.

“HEY BOYS GIVE US A LIFT?” Annie shouts, and they ask what she’ll do for them.

“Bit of nip?” she replies, reaching into her dress, untucking her right breast and waggling it at them.

“She just did that” a girl says, behind me, dumbfounded. “I just saw her nipple”.

5.50pm

By some miracle we’re at the train station. A school group is manning a BBQ, and I buy us all sausages wrapped in bread, no onions, lots of sauce please. Annie takes hers and then stumbles off towards the portaloos, and Michelle just looks at it, confused.

“Where did this come from?” she asks.

“I bought it for you?” I reply.

“Oh, Katie, you’re the bestest person the whole world” she says, leaning in to nap on my shoulder.

6pm

A group of girls stands near us, going over the events of the day with frantic intensity. One is so into her story that she doesn’t notice that she’s tipped her glass of wine upside down, and with each arm gesture she spills more down the front of her apricot dress. One of her friends touches her arm and tells her. She looks down at her saturated frock, shrugs, and goes back to her story.

6.15pm

Exhausted, I made the decision to fall asleep as soon as we got onto the train. Unfortunately, Annie’s volume made actual sleep impossible, so I’m faking it by leaning against the window with my eyes closed.

Annie rummages in her bag, pulling out two cans of tuna. She opens one and bends the lid into a shovel, scooping meat into her mouth before passing it to Michelle. They eat both cans this way, never stopping their discussion about the smell of spew on the train.

They also amuse themselves by taking pictures of me.

They also amuse themselves by taking pictures of me.

6.30pm

“I fucking hate tunnels!” Annie declares, for the fifth time.

“FUCK FUCK FUCK!”, she yells, her voice reverberating throughout the carriage.

I’m not sure if she’s always had claustrophobia or if it’s a recent development, but it seems to be at a level of intensity that would usually necessitate some sort of medication.

6.45pm

Annie’s claustrophobia has the welcome side-effect of shutting up the rest of the train, as forty drunk people all pretend to go to sleep to avoid having to ask if she’s ok.

8pm

We’re on the couch. My grey trackpants have a racing stripe, whereas Annie’s are black and flecked with paint. I shovel fries into my mouth after swiping them over the sides of my McChicken, tidying up surplus mayo. Annie smashes another beer.

I’ve spent all my money, have sunburnt my back, and have probably picked up a variety of diseases from the portaloos. Am definitely never ever going back.

Well, probably not.