Grooming for the modern woman

It wasn’t until after lunch on Wednesday that I realised I’d pushed my “meh, I’ll just wash my hair tomorrow” mantra a step too far. My hair had formed two distinct and unique factions, and they were at war atop my head. My fringe was greasy and had formed thick strands, looking like I’d dumped a tablespoon of gel into the roots then had taken to it with a wide-toothed comb. If only I were good at smirking, I would have seamlessly fit into a 90s boy band.

Style inspiration.

Style inspiration.

While my fringe strands were binding together to form cohesive units, the rest of my hair had not received the memo about teamwork. It was a fluffy birds nest of disorder and mayhem. Each strand seemed to repel every other strand. One would curl, another would wave, and their third neighbour would rebel against the status quo and stubbornly lie flat.

The worst hair days always pick their timing well. I had dinner plans, and I didn’t realise the horror of my hairdo until about 4pm. After looking at myself in the mirror I was thrown into panic, and emailed my sister. She’s pretty, and her clothes always look nice, and she buys beauty products from places other than New World. I knew I could count on her.

“Just use dry shampoo” she suggested. “Or if you don’t have any of that, some talcum powder”.

I like the world she lives in, where she thinks (a) I would know that dry shampoo existed or (b) I might casually just have some talcum powder in my desk drawer at work.

I went back to the mirror and managed to get my fringe to sit together as just one fat clump instead of several thinner clumps. I wasn’t sure if this was better or worse.

I went back to my sister, this time taking a picture to try and emphasise the gravity of the situation. Worried that my phone might slightly pixelate the image—maybe smoothing some of the more offensive lines—I made sure to make my face match the hair.

This also doubles as my pirate impression.

This also doubles as my pirate impression.

“Looks great!” she sent back.

Obviously I was going to have to rely on my own ingenuity.

I stood in the work bathroom and attempted to fix it. I didn’t have a hairbrush, nor any products, so “fixing it” just meant “rearranging it with my fingers, probably introducing more grease to the situation, sighing heavily about the futility of it all”.

I clomped back to my desk and emailed her again.

“Is it crazy to cancel dinner plans because of bad hair?” I asked.

“Yes.” she replied.

Ok, fine. I guess I’ll just rely on my … personality? No. Ok. Back to the bathroom.

I appraised my hair from all angles, deciding that the birds nest was salvageable, it was the fringe that was causing me the most consternation. Reaching a breaking point, I turned the taps on full and dunked my head under, before I had time to decide if this was really a good idea or not.

Now I had a fluffy halo, wet hair in my eyes, and no hairdryer. I attempted to blot it with paper towels, but with ten minutes to go before I had to leave, this was not going to cut it.

I looked at the hand dryer, wondering what would happen if my hair got sucked up into the mechanism and caught on fire. I decided the risk was worth it. I squatted underneath the hand-dryer, waving my left hand around on top of my head to keep the airflow going, fluffing my fringe with my right, hoping that no one would walk in. I’m not sure of the legality behind judging a workmate for their bathroom behaviours, but I feel that in this case, the damage to my reputation would be justified.

Five minutes later and it was dry. Aside from the bits at the side—which were now jauntily flicking outwards like two little ski jumps framing my face—it looked exactly the same. The grease had stayed put, even through its water bath. Part of me was a little proud of its resilience.

Returning to my office, I rummaged in the work drawer for some perfume or lipstick or something, anything, to make me feel like I could approximate a woman who had her life sorted. Nothing. Well, not nothing. An broken eyeliner pencil and a bottle of Mariah Carey’s Honey Lollipop Bling.

Now, to Mariah’s credit, this fragrance does smell a bit like honey. Sadly, it’s a step removed. It’s more like honey-flavoured cough lozenges, dipped in sugar.

I am definitely too old to own this product.

I am definitely too old to own this product.

Deciding that smelling like a teenager’s medicine cabinet wouldn’t help, I set off to the city, planning to dash through Farmers on the way to dinner to steal a spritz of something fancy that I wouldn’t be able to afford to actually buy. Perhaps if I smelled like Gucci’s idea of a flower, my dinner companions might be tricked into thinking my hair was intentional. Some sort of avant-garde, retro-throwback, half-and-half-juxtaposition ‘do, something they were doing in France, that just wasn’t here yet.

I made it to Farmers and immediately realised their shop layout was going to work against me. Perfumes were displayed in towers, little testers all begging to improve my life … and all behind a counter.

“Um, hi” I said to the woman behind the counter. “Can I smell the um, the new, um, Kenzo?”, picking the first brand I’d heard of.

“Which one, dear?” she asked, immediately calling into question my trend knowledge.

“Oh, I’m not sure. I just, um, travelled internationally, recently, and I smelled something at the airport that I liked” I said, making sure that she knew that I could afford a plane ticket, thank you very much.

Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I swear she stood a little straighter.

“What was it like?” she asked.

“Um, sort of, fresh? Ish?” I said.

She tapped her finger on her chin, thoughtfully, perhaps wondering where on the financial spectrum I sat between “shove her towards the deodorant aisle” and “talk her into Givenchy’s latest aroma”. When she said, “well, Madonna has put out a fragrance?” I won’t lie, I took it personally, and cursed my fringe again.

She sprayed bits of cardboard, I smelled them. She asked me what I thought and I made “mmm?” noises. She talked about base notes and I nodded gravely, staring into the middle distance, trying to look like someone who understood what she was talking about. After declaring I didn’t like lemon, but that I did like cupcakes, we seemed to be narrowing towards a decision, and I felt pressure mounting to pick one.

“This one, the green one? This is good?” I said. “Ooh, Versace” she said. “Lovely choice. Would you like me to package it up?”

“Oh, I might just wear some for the day, I think, then decide tomorrow?” I said, hoping she’d leave me alone to apply it in privacy. My plan was thwarted when she gestured for me to roll up my sleeves and I realised in horror she wasn’t going to leave, and that I was going to get a shop-assistant-applied, barely-there spritz, instead of the full-body douse I’d been planning on.

I was tempted again to just cancel. Then I remembered the Body Shop.

Ten minutes later I sat at dinner, sporting a 90s fringe with 60s side-flicks, wild birds nest hair, and a vague hint of Versace under a liberal application of something called ‘Love Etc’.

I was exhausted. Thank goodness I wouldn’t have to rely on personality.

The Sniffles

Sunday. Woke up. Sick. Properly sick.

I tried to sip water. Nope. My throat was tighty-rolled sandpaper and the pathetic dribble of water felt like a very large brick.

My ears ached too, but on the inside. How can ears hurt? It seems illogical. But they throbbed, and I felt like I could hear a very distant concert inside my brain. I pictured tiny insects inside my head, screaming “ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?” They all held guitars and one played on my eardrums with tiny sticks. Yes, it was sort of adorable, and in my sickness haze I was kinda proud of my eardrum pun, but still, I hated these tiny bastards. Throbthrobthrob.

There's probably a "Beetles" joke in there somewhere, too.

There’s probably a “Beetles” joke in there somewhere, too.

I lay very still and sighed. Why did this have to happen to ME? Why was I the one to be tormented?

I tried to sip more water. Nope, swallowing was out. I tried filling my mouth with liquid and just lying very still, hoping it’d drip down the back of my throat due to gravity. It almost worked. Then my stupid in-built crappy instincts kicked in. Swallow, whimper, ow.

I reached for my iPhone and swiftly diagnosed myself with throat cancer, downgrading it after a moment to tonsillitis, because it seemed slightly more reasonable. Sigh. Tonsillitis? To me? On a Sunday? WHY, lord, WHY ARE YOU PUNISHING ME?

It seems to be the Kiwi Attitude that we just power on through. Get your leg gashed open by some number 8 wire and you say, nah mate, it’s all good, just chuck me some L&P bro, she’ll be right. Not I. I embrace a more hypochondriac-ky sense of doom, a – dare I say it – American approach. Obviously, I was going to have to take my tonsillitis to the doctor for an IV drip and several months off work.

The internet had warned of some side effects to tonsillitis, including dehydration, inability to eat, and imminent death. I was probably only ten minutes away from having my throat close up entirely. But my doctor’s office was closed – apparently people don’t get sick on the weekends – so I called Healthline for advice, hoping they would just skip all the preliminaries and send an ambulance.

I’m going to take a wild leap and say that the woman on the end of the phone did not start her speaking life with the Queen’s English. To widen our language barrier, my voice sounded scratchy and husky—it would have been sexy, if it didn’t also sound like I was speaking past a golf ball. Obviously, communication was awkward. Giving her my name, address and age took longer than it should have, and I started feeling even more sorry for myself.

She asked me to look inside my mouth, and I wrenched my jaw open as far as possible to inspect it in my hand mirror.

“Umm, it’s all red. The bits at the side, in the back, I mean. Also that red bit in the middle, that dangly bit, it’s huge.”

“Your uvula?”

“Ew. Yes?”

Obviously, in choosing to not enter the medical profession, I made a big mistake.

“Were you drinking last night, Kate?” she asked.

Why is it that a question with your name added at the end feels so much more judgemental? “Would you like a plastic bag?” means “are you ok to carry all this stuff?”, but “Would you like a plastic bag, Kate?” means “why not add some more destruction to the planet with this item that will never decompose, maybe just set fire to the world’s forests and overfish all the salmon while you’re at it?”

“Yes, I had a few” I meekly replied, not wanting to say “I have been drunk for the past four nights in a row, because I love people and bars, have no self control, and also recently discovered how great wheat beer is.”

Those Germans know what they're doing.

Those Germans know what they’re doing.

“Well, you need to drink water, Kate”, she said, “especially as you drank alcohol last night.”

I felt like she was cross with me. I felt sad and small and alone. It was the first time since I kicked my boyfriend out – five months ago – that I missed him. If he were here he could be doing this for me, maybe while giving me a neck rub. Then I remembered that he was scared of making phone calls, especially to strangers, and that neck rubs required negotiation.

I paused my self-pity for just a moment to consider that no, life could be worse.

Of course, optimism and logic at a time like this is no fun, so I switched tack, and decided to start missing my mum. If mum lived in Wellington instead of Brisbane, she’d bring me soup and give me hugs. WHY, geography? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?

The woman on the phone gave me a long list of instructions of what to do. Take ibuprofen. Gargle warm water. Sleep. Drink water. And if you find that you can’t breathe, call an ambulance.

Ok, that’s more like it. A big noisy proper ambulance? For little ol’ me? I let the wave of melancholy wash over me, my eyes stinging with tears and my voice catching in my already-choked throat.

“Ok thank you” I managed to squeak out before hanging up the phone and weeping, thoroughly enjoying my complete self-absorption and cathartic tantrum. I’d sob, and think about how sad I must look right now with my gloomy bloodshot eyes, and I’d sob harder.

When I cry, I look like Dawson. In case you needed a visual aid.

When I cry, I look like Dawson. In case you needed a visual aid.

Surely this is the height of dismal narcissism, thinking of yourself being sad, to make yourself sadder, on purpose? Actors say that when they need to cry they access a terrible memory, but I now doubt this is true, as (hopefully) they are far more narcissistic than I am.

After I was over my emotional outburst, I trudged downstairs to make soggy Weetbix. Eating it turned out to be less of a challenge than I’d been ready for, as was taking the nurofen and sipping a cup of water. I felt slightly affronted that I already felt better.

I slept for an hour and woke up feeling like I’d be able to participate in the world, even if it would be in a limited capacity. My life-threatening tonsillitis was apparently just a life-irritating cold. Despite this, I was not ready to give up my pity party just yet, and went to social media with sad-face emoticons in tow, practically begging for likes and aww nos and for people to offer to bring me things.

It worked, and I was forced to begrudgingly admit the world isn't completely terrible all the time.

It worked, and I was forced to begrudgingly admit the world isn’t completely terrible all the time.

Today, I’m in the worst part of the sickness window. I’m well enough to get out of bed, but too sick to taste anything. Well enough to go to work, but too sick to socialise. I want to just trudge around in trackpants and get sympathy hugs, but I’ve exhausted the opportunities for sympathy given that all I’m afflicted with is an average cold, exacerbated by my own lifestyle choices.

Still, I’m cheered by the thought of James Van Der Beek, crying. Not because I want him to be sad, but because now I feel somewhat confident that as he weeps, he’ll be imagining himself weeping back.

Beautiful Day, Isn’t It?

I remember when I was young and my mother mentioned that grownups talked about the weather to make small talk.

“What about the weather?”

“Oh, just what it was doing, what it might do later.”

It seemed… unfathomable. As a child, my hobbies were completing jigsaw puzzles, reading books, eating vast amounts of nutella, and being fat. It’s raining? So what? The only downside to rain was that the cat would smell kind of weird after she came inside. Have you ever hugged a damp cat? It’s horrible. You end up wearing the pong on your stripey polar fleece for the next week until your mother finally calls you a piglet and puts it in the wash.

Totally worth it, though, look at this little fluffball of love!

Totally worth it, though, look at this little fluffball of love!

When I was 11, our Intermediate school offered Japanese language lessons for a few terms (before you ask, the only thing I’ve held on to is “genki desu”, and no, I don’t remember what it means). After teaching us that we already spoke some Japanese—mitt-soo-bish-ee, kam-ee-car-zee—our teacher asked, “now, what’s the most common thing that people discuss, just to chat?”

We sat there and looked at her, blankly.

“You know, perhaps if you’re meeting someone for the first time, and conversation is a bit awkward?”.

The group of 11 year olds stayed silent. What did she mean, awkward? If you meet someone for the first time your mum tells them what your name is, then you both just stand there. Maybe you ask if they can giz some chips, but only if they have chips to giz. Conversation isn’t awkward, it’s absent.

Our teacher looked at us suspiciously, like we were playing a trick on her. After a pause she said, exasperatedly, “well, you’d talk about the weather!”

We all looked around at each other, baffled, and I realised that maybe I wasn’t alone in my lack of interest in what was going on in the sky.

Mrs Abernethy handed out A4 sheets of paper with suns and rainclouds and 14pt text. As a result, the first conversation I ever had with another human being about the weather was in Japanese. We were paired up and sat across from each other, awkwardly playing at being awkward grownups.

“My name is Kate. It is raining.”
“My name is Amy. It is sunny.”

The first few times I ever talked about the weather as an actual awkward grownup, I remembered my conversations in Japanese, and felt doubly self-conscious. A voice in my head would say “is this it? Are we doing it? We’re talking about the weather, this is small talk, you’re an adult now? Act natural!”

This monologue of confusion naturally spilled over into my speech, and made me sound affected and strange. I couldn’t do it casually like other people could. Wide-eyed, everything as a question, I’d stutter through “um, yes? It’s… raining? Yes?”

I yearned for other small talk topics.

Why weather, anyway? It seemed so… arbitrary. At some point, of course, I clicked that it’s one of the few universal things that we all experience, even if as an 11 year old I didn’t notice it. Generally, too, it’s inoffensive. Saying “oh dear, it’s windy” won’t make people feel uncomfortable, whereas if you try to bond over the looming spectre of death that hangs over us all, you might have less luck.

Of course, none of this is a problem after a few drinks. Aside from girlish giggling about our skirts blowing up in the wind, I don’t think I’ve ever engaged in weather-related small talk with a fellow drunk person. No. You force big talk down to small talk’s level. Last weekend I started a conversation in a pub bathroom with, “Can you teach me how to rock and roll?”

I didn’t catch her name, but apparently it’s all about swishing your frock about and spinning on your toes while cackling manically. Because that’s what we did.

She also looked exactly like Magda from 'There's Something about Mary'. The experience fulfilled a life goal I didn't know I had.

She also looked exactly like Magda from ‘There’s Something about Mary’. The experience fulfilled a life goal I didn’t know I had.

After a few drinks my small talk turns into some sort of public service where I try to boost the self-esteem of drunk Wellingtonian women. Not only have I complimented stranger’s outfits with the enthusiasm of a puppy with a new chew toy (“ohmygod that colour and where did you GET IT and can I try it on I don’t have head lice I promise”), I’ve tried ice breakers like “your face, my god, you should be a model!” and “that lipstick, ok, I don’t ever say this, but that lipstick is the best shade I have ever seen.”

I’ve tried impersonations of Canadian accents that have morphed into cockney halfway through (eh, how’s aboot you let me do yer accent eh guvnah?), I’ve argued about the best gum flavour (green, obviously), I’ve shared a popsicle with a stranger lying on the street (ok, yes, maybe not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I didn’t catch anything or get hit by a car, so let’s just call it a learning experience, and move on).

Taxi drivers bear the biggest brunt of it. I’ll hug the passenger seat from the back (sometimes I like being the big spoon, alright?) and will ask them about where they’re from and what do you think this text message REALLY means and what is the food like, in Somalia?

“I’ve had three drinks” is a fantastic excuse to get to leapfrog over the introductions and get straight into friendship. I’ve tried translating my approach into sobriety and it just doesn’t work.

Once logic is in play, appearance-based compliments come out just as awkwardly as my thoughts on the rain. Given that my wardrobe is stocked almost entirely with items that were on sale at Glassons three years ago, I feel like a fraud if I tell someone their skirt is cute.

I also suffer from the unshakeable conviction that during the daytime, sober compliments will make people will think I’m hitting on them. Panic about this will make me blush—something I am very good at. Other people get cute little flushed cheeks, little girlish rosebuds of innocence. Not me. My face ramps it up to 11. It starts in the cheeks, and it usually isn’t long before I feel it pushing through my eyeballs and spreading like an ink stain down my neck. Once I start thinking about the fact I’m blushing, I blush harder, turning scarlet. No, not scarlet. Wrong word. Now I’ve given you the mental image of O’Hara or Johansson, and this is definitely not as pretty as those ladies. Let’s go with, I turn the colour of a… turkey whattle.

My brethren.

My brethren.

Then I think about how weird it must be for this woman I’ve accosted with my compliment. She’s out shopping, minding her own business, and she’s interrupted from her daydreams by this increasingly reddening tomato, mumbling something about her coat before scuttling away.

Despite this, I continue. Surely it beats the alternative—where I clear my throat uncomfortably, raise my eyebrows in confusion, and question, “Genki desu, my name is Kate, it is raining?”

Regularly scheduled programming

I slide into the booth, trying to untangle my sunglasses from my hair with one hand while I unbutton my coat with the other.

“Sorry!” I say, “I know I’m late, but I’ve been hungover as balls for two days and couldn’t get anywhere near my blog, I could only face bad movies and deep dish Dominos. How are you, anyway? Honestly, I feel like I haven’t talked to you properly in ages, it’s been just all Fiji blah blah blah for forever.”

I pick up the menu and flip flip flip until I get to the drinks page.

“Let’s get milkshakes!” I say with an exaggerated dorky grin, then screw up my nose and put my head in my hands.

“I’m sorry,” I groan, “that’s just way too hacky, isn’t it, to make a reference to the blog title. I just can’t help myself. A shoe-horned, winking, awkward shout-out? Nothing’s funnier. Except maybe a Dad pun. Or maybe lowest-wit sarcasm. Or making references to things that were funny ten years ago. I’m still persisting with That’s What She Said, even though Wikipedia says it’s been ‘ancient’ since 1973. 1973! That’s almost 40 years of it being uncool, and yet I can’t stop myself from getting it out.”

Some probably do not find my buffoonery amusing.

Some probably do not find my buffoonery amusing.

I chew on my bottom lip and look at the milkshake list. “Ok, well, obviously I’m getting the caramel one, I don’t even know why I’m pretending to read this”.

There’s a piece of hair in my face, hanging over one eye. As I talk, I battle with trying to untuck it from under my fringe.

“So, anyway, after writing a thirteen-part-epic about everything I ate in Fiji, I’m kind of… adrift. My sister emailed me last week to ask what I was going to blog about when I’d finished talking about my holiday, and I said I didn’t know, probably just go back to what I used to do? And she said, what was that? I’ve forgotten. ”

The waitress takes our orders and I try to read her tattoo without making it obvious that I’m trying to read her tattoo. She sees me staring and says, “it’s Voltaire”. I nod, wondering if I’m allowed to ask her what font it is, or if that’s too personal. Before I’ve decided, she’s gone.

If you think fonts are boring, google 'Eric Gill', the guy who invented Gill Sans. Yikes.

If you think fonts are boring, google ‘Eric Gill’, the guy who invented Gill Sans. Yikes.

“Anyway, I can’t even remember how to write these things, either, if I’m not transcribing events. How do blogs even… work? It’s just first person, right? But without putting us somewhere? I just… talk? About what? I feel like I can’t just leap back into regularly scheduled programming. It’s like when you have a fight with your friend, and then you technically patch it up, but then you see them again and you’re like, um, how about this weather, and they’re like, yeah, and then no one says anything for what feels like a really long time, and then when they pretend to get a phone call you’re thrilled, and you realise you haven’t been breathing properly.”

Our milkshakes arrive in huge vessels, giant vases full of thick creamy goop with fat green straws poking out. It’s a test of good a milkshake, how thick the straw is, and I’m delighted to see that I’d probably manage to get my pinky finger into these ones. Another test of a good milkshake? If you can tip the glass upside down and the gloppy mass takes a moment to start moving.

I guess, if we’re being honest, I just want to drink melted icecream.

I sigh and scrunch my face up. “Is this too much, making you come out for a virtual milkshake? It’s all terribly self-indulgent, isn’t it, and it’s not like I can say that I studied at the IIML to get away with it.”

“Should I have just told you a story about Annie? Who, before I forget, is on Twitter now? Ok, I can do that. So we went out with some friends on Saturday. Annie had started drinking on the bus on the way home from work, and by the time dinner rolled around she was definitely drunk. She was in this little peach dress, and at one point she hauled her leg up onto the table to show us her snakeskin shoes, all while trying to keep her knees together. Meanwhile, there’s tables of families all around, and a guy behind her says ‘ooh, do THAT again!’ and his wife is definitely not happy about it, storming off to pay the bill. But instead of chasing her, he poses for a photo! The next day Annie’s looking through her phone pics, and has no memory of any it happening.”

I’m slurping the dregs of thick caramel from the bottom of the cup, deciding that if I’m going to pay $6.50 for milk, I am going to get every last drop in, even if the rattling sucking noise I’m making is definitely unladylike. I finish it and push the cup away, deciding that I won’t slide my finger around the inside to get every last little bit, because I caught the bus here and I haven’t washed my hands since.

Buses, man.

Buses, man.

“Ok, I could definitely drink like, at least six more of those. But after Fiji… Jesus. I told you how much I ate, right? I think something in my brain is broken. I read once that bees are the same. They don’t have that internal signal that tells you that you’re full, like, they will just keep eating until they explode. Hold on, I’ll find it.”

I dig my phone out of my pocket, tapping Bees Eat Explode into Google, and I scan the links.

“Woah. Um, ok. Sooooo apparently bees genitals explode during mating? And I can’t find anything about food, it’s all just genital explosion. Aww, poor little bees. Do you think their junk grows back? Or do they have to live as little bee eunuchs?”

That hair is still in my face. I try one more time to fix it before giving up and rummaging for my wallet in my handbag.

“My shout, ok, to thank you for indulging me in this? And next time things’ll be back to normal, I promise.”

Fiji Travel Journal Part Thirteen: Bras, Saw-rey Trav-lahs and Man Hostesses

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals
Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila
Part Eleven: Bottoms, Bubbles and Definite Things
Part Twelve: The Wrong Towels, Sporting Challenges and Definite Things

**

We arrive at the airport and I shake Annie awake. She’s covered in potato chip crumbs, her bright green underwear visible through her see-through pants, one shoulder of her singlet top hanging down by her elbow. Her hat is crumpled from where she’s slept on it and her eyes are almost shut.

“Ok. I cannot check in without a bra. Hold on” she declares, and dumps her suitcase on the ground to unpack it. She tips out sneakers and books and sarongs onto the airport floor, and eventually locates a bra. I push her towards the ladies room. “Do you need help?” I ask, and she looks at the floor for a while before mumbling “no don’t think so” and stumbling towards the loos.

When she gets back, we join a queue of lazy tourists. Everyone’s on island time, with bare legs, braided hair and sloppy smiles. We stand in stark contrast to the check-in staff, who are all clearly sick of having to balance strict international law with drunk lethargic tourists. They want to call us ma’am and follow procedure, and we want to shout BULA! I am from WELLINGTON! Yes, that IS interesting! THANK you!

Reality is also waiting for us as the x-ray queue. Annie beeps on the way through, making her leap in the air with exaggerated horror. Meanwhile, her handbag is flagged for further checking, and ma’am is asked to step aside. Saw-rey, she says, over and over, as the woman behind the counter pulls out multiple cans of tuna and tubes and tubes of lipsticks and glosses and mascaras. “Do you have a ziploc bag, ma’am?” she is asked, but no, neither of us do. Annie shuffles back to the airport terminal to find one, leaving me to watch our stuff.

Next to me, there’s a woman who looks like she’s come straight from the pool, with a thin black dress on over her coral bikini. An array of bottles is piled up on the counter in front of her, and she is in despair about forgetting about the 100ml limit on liquids. The Fijian women behind the machine help her decide to what gets to stay, collectively deciding that the Kerastase is more important than the half-full hotel samples. They tip them into a bin so she can refill the bottles with her own French stuff, making the room smell like a hair salon.

Their advertising makes hair look like it might strangle you, probably best to respect it.

Their advertising makes hair look like it might strangle you, probably best to respect it.

I stand and watch them squirt the chemical beautifiers down the drain for what seems like ten minutes before I hear, “saw-rey, I’m the worst kind of trav-lah” behind me. Annie emerges with an ‘oops’ expression and a ziploc in her hand.

She dumps her lipsticks into the bag and we’re allowed through to the international departures lounge. After we eat some expensive but disgusting pies, Annie plonks down on a squishy chair and promptly falls asleep. I wander around duty free, trying to spend every last Fijian cent with the perfect combination of bad chocolates and tacky souvenirs.

Alongside the ‘BULA’ and ‘FIJI’ printed on everything, a surprisingly high number of items in the gift shop bear the words, ‘Forgive Me’. The little figurines are incredibly ugly, and I wonder if the plea for forgiveness is supposed to go with the gift itself. Sort of a combo deal. Here is a doll, which I am sorry for giving you. I remember Mr Murphy teaching us in third form maths that a positive and a negative cancel each other out. Is this doll the equivalent of the number zero?

Does it cancel itself out?

Is the doll even really there?!

I DID take a Philosophy paper at university, what makes you ask?

I DID take a Philosophy paper at university, what makes you ask?

The other option seems to be that someone is actually requesting forgiveness, via this doll, for some other slight. Surely, we can consider this a good service that Fiji is providing. If your boyfriend comes home and says he blew all the savings on strippers, but here’s this doll to say he’s sorry … it’s no longer a grey area. No. Flag. Get a new one. You can do better, sweetheart.

On the plane, Annie announces that she’s going to watch ten minutes of Captain America then go to sleep. The plane is half-empty and she manages to negotiate a free row of seats from the “air hostess, the man one” and leaves me to my diet coke, old episodes of Absolutely Fabulous and my travel journal.

Forty minutes later I’m startled out of my concentration when Annie appears at my elbow. “So. My life is amazing. I have had two glasses of bubbles, which is probs not a good idea, but whatevs. Can you SMELL that? I want two dinners. Are you the hungriest you’ve ever been?!”

Without giving me time to respond, she’s gone again.

And yes, I WAS looking forward to food, if only to get the memory of the airport pie out of my head.

And yes, I WAS looking forward to food, if only to get the memory of the airport pie out of my head.

Half an hour later she’s at my elbow again, with flushed cheeks and a bottle of bubbles. She’s thrilled that the attendant gave it to her instead of just pouring her a glass. She’s also aware that this marks the second time today that someone has told her to just take the rest of the bottle. The second time, in just one day, that a service worker has given up. She wonders again about her life choices then stops the air hostess, the man one, to ask for food, any food that’s free, chips or bread or lamb casserole, just free? Puh-lease? She speaks in a hushed tone and he takes in the sight before him before patting her on the shoulder and asking where she’s sitting.

“Oh, BNE, I’m back in 23, I’m going now” she says, and again, she disappears.

I consider taking a nap, but feel like that would be wasting the free entertainment and services. I sit through episodes of Parks and Recreation I’ve already seen, while sipping almost undrinkable coffee.

Annie’s back again. Twenty seven and a half glasses, she tells me, as she requests that I take a photo of her with her second bottle. She’s thrilled that the attendant gave her two bread rolls, two! And with BUTTER! Is butter a thing?!

**

Annie is most definitely drunk, and getting her through customs is like trying to wrangle a puppy. We scan our passports then queue at the smartgates. I’m lost in thought about how great my bed is going to be, but Annie’s got other priorities, as I hear her say behind me, “Where’s your girlfriend gone?”

A man responds, “her passport’s too old, she can’t use this”, and Annie laughs, “oh, you should just leave her here! Where do you live, anyway?”

**

We’re home. I’m carrying what I can only assume is at least ten kilos of new fat cells. Annie’s hauling impressive statistics on how much alcohol she can consume without vomming. We’ve come back poorer and sleepier and redder than when we left, but it was all worth it. We climb into a taxi, shouting “bula!” at our alarmed driver, before Annie says, “We should drive through Maccas, that’d be the BNE. I could smash some chicken right now, let me tell you”.

Our next holiday? It better be a thing.

Fiji Travel Journal Part Twelve: The Wrong Towels, Sporting Challenges and Missing Knickers

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals
Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila
Part Eleven: Bottoms, Bubbles and Definite Things

**

We’re at reception waiting to check out, moving like we’re in quicksand. Annie’s fighting through layers of bubbles and Malibu to get words out, and my brain is marinated in lard and sugar. Attempting to sound formal and sober, Annie ends up complimenting the quality of the resort maybe twelve times, describing in detail the “lov-ee-lee pin-napples” in the garden. The woman behind the counter, whose passion is reading, nods politely and counts out our change.

In Annie's defense, the pinnapples WERE pretty loveeelee.

In Annie’s defense, the pinnapples WERE pretty loveeelee.

Our shuttle isn’t due to pick us up for another five hours, so we can store our bags at reception and wander out to the pool area. Annie scans the scene and declares that the men are fails and that we’re going to another resort. We go to the desk to get clean towels branded with our resort’s colours. All the resorts have this, a shack with hundreds of balled-up matching towels for guests. It saves you the effort of bringing your own while also ensuring a certain level of uniformity. We head along the path, Annie slugging from the bottle of Malibu.

By the time we get to the next resort Annie has finished the bottle. She’s looking dopey. We find some loungers, she declares that naps are definitely, actually, definitely a thing, and she goes to sleep.

I sit and read, enjoying the silence. It lasts for maybe fifteen minutes before we are politely asked to leave, from a man who deals with conflict as well as I do. “Ma’am, and hello, and I do hope you’re enjoying your holiday, and there is a procedure, and it means we look at the towels, and the towels here are brown, and management, and blue towels, and it is procedure, and…”. He continues stringing together words, misery in his eyes at having to talk to me at all, and I’m worried he might actually cry. I apologise as much as I can, managing to fit ‘sorry’ into a single sentence three times, and wake Annie up.

“Yep, let’s go” she says. “Are bubbles a thing?” she asks, following up with “WOW, I am hot! Is sunblock a thing?”

I worry she might ask if a thing is a thing and faint from the circular argument.

We head out, deciding to walk to the end of Denerau to visit the Hilton. We pad down onto the beach and look at the white buildings in the distance. We look at the buildings, and at the sand, and at each other, and we sigh, and turn around to trudge back to where we started.

We get some loungers with an ocean view, and soon, Alan joins us. Annie peers over her sunglasses at two men playing ping pong. “Oh, hello muscles” she mutters, and she’s gone.

Yes, I do still have my wristband on from our snorkelling trip. No, I haven't washed my hair. Sorry, Ma.

Yes, I do still have my wristband on from our snorkelling trip. No, I haven’t washed my hair. Sorry, Ma.

She’s back a minute later. “I challenged this like, father of 50, and said the winner can come get me, and I’ll be over there. Here, I mean. Oh. They better not come get me. I will vomit all over the table. Is that a thing?”

Without pausing she announces that she could smaaash a glass of bubbles. Right on cue, Alan sorts it out for us, two glasses of chilled fizziness arriving. Then two more. Then two more. Muscles appears to tell her that she can play his dad at ping pong, and she leaps out of her lounger to do it. She’s had seventeen glasses of bubbles today, with no food, and I’m flabbergasted that she’s managed to stand up, let alone play a competitive sport.

I go back to my book. Despite the fact that the ping pong table is on the other side of the pool, I can hear Annie’s “WOW, oh WOW” echoing all around me. When I turn around I see her scurrying after the ping pong ball, hands outstretched, grasping at air as the ball rolls away.

It appears that the bubbles have put her at a slight competitive disadvantage.

Alan, meanwhile, strikes up a conversation with the woman on the other side of us, who’s reading Fifty Shades of Grey. He opens with, “Oh, that’s that, um, chick porn is it?”, giving her no option but to admit to a stranger that she’s reading pornography or to try to defend herself. She picks the latter, struggling to make the case that there’s a plot. Now, I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey, and there’s no plot. She knows it, and I’m sure she knows I know it, and she soon gives up and abandons the conversation.

Annie shuffles back over. I asked how it went, and she is oddly surprised that she was defeated. She tries to read but apparently her book is a fail. She puts it down and announces that we need to take some more photos. We have maybe fifty images of ourselves smiling in front of a Fijian background, but Annie’s suddenly panicked that we won’t have enough to fill the required Facebook album.

She hangs off me and we pose. We remember that for optimal results, I stand on the right and she stands on the left, that we angle our faces in, that we don’t put arms on shoulders, and that our chins go out, not in. Getting all of that right is a lot to manage, so it probably shouldn’t be surprising that we accidentally take all of the photos with the sun directly behind us, and that Annie has her eyes closed in most of them.

She also tried her hand at some self-portraits.

She also tried her hand at some self-portraits.

Our shuttle is due to pick us up at 5pm, and at 4.30pm, I tell her we have to go have a shower. It should only take ten minutes, but I remember back to what happened when we tried to pack, and I figure we can’t risk it.

It turns out this was a good plan, as it takes her fifteen minutes alone to negotiate her limbs out of the lounger and for us to reach the lobby bathroom. It’s only after she emerges from the shower that she realises she hasn’t brought any underwear with her, leaving her the option of wearing a wet bikini or going commando in see-through cotton pants.

She hikes the pants up and down, attempting to keep her modesty protected, declaring that she definitely doesn’t need all of Fiji seeing her freaking gyne.

“You can’t even tell” I assure her, which is technically true. Of course, we’re in a dimly lit bathroom, and I imagine it’ll be a different story in the light of day, but I don’t want to miss our shuttle.

When we get back to the lobby she declares the situation “just, unacceptable”, and rummages in her suitcase for knickers, scampering off to the ladies to put them on. “I’m just, just going to say bye to Alan, too” she yells, as the shuttle pulls up. I have a vision of us stranded in Fiji for another week, but our driver is clearly used to such delays, and doesn’t mind waiting, thrilled to hear that we’re from New Zealand and we’ve enjoyed Fiji and bula bula vinaka.

“Tearful? Emotional?” I ask when she arrives back and clambers into the van. She mutters “couldn’t find him” and pulls a bag of salt and vinegar chips from her handbag, managing to get half the contents on her lap and half into her face.

She wrenches open the little window and squeezes her face out, looking like a cat emerging from its tiny door. I’m worried she’s going to be sick, but no, she just wants to shout “bula!” at other cars, giggling when they honk back.

Our van crosses a bridge from Denerau into Nadi, and it’s like stepping into another world. We shuttle past colourful houses with brightly patterned clothes hanging from haphazard lines. Chickens roam about with no fences between them and the road. We pass a horse, tied to nothing, lazily chewing from a tree. The van manoeuvres around potholes and children in school uniforms, dodging groups of laughing women in floral dresses. It’s dusty and messy and I want to be out in it.

Meanwhile, Annie has decided that leaning her head on the window, to sleep? It is definitely a thing.

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Eleven: Bottoms, Bubbles and Definite Things

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals
Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila

**

We’ve spent the morning beside the pool, guzzling beer and knocking back tequila in the sun. Now that our hotel room is finally ready, we’re standing at reception in our wet togs with towels wrapped around our waists. Our shoulders are slumped, our eyelids are heavy and our feet are bare. For some reason our morning schedule of ‘sitting down and looking at people’ has sapped our energy.

Our mood picks back up when we’re a golf cart arrives to drive us to our room. Despite Annie’s loud and persuasive arguments, our porter doesn’t let her drive it, but he does hoon around corners and splash through puddles while we all squeal and scream with delight.

Who needs theme parks?

Who needs theme parks?

Our new room has a balcony with two chairs and a lounger, all topped with squishy fabric squabs. Feeling like we should start repaying some of Alan’s hospitality, we offer to fix him a rum and coke. Annie pours us all drinks, using her standard ratio of 1:1, and we sit outside, munching on potato chips. Our room has a pristine and tranquil ocean view, with no people for miles, and I’m immediately bored with it. I get out my travel journal and start listing all the things that I’ve diagnosed myself with since arriving in Fiji.

I’m halfway through listing what I assume are the symptoms for gluten intolerance when Annie grabs the book off me and turns to a blank page. She writes “penis”, “BNE” and “bitches”, each word in quote marks formed from perfect miniature sixes and nines. She hands the journal back and leans back in her chair with a smug, self-satisfied expression, as if her one chore for the day is over.

Guessing she’s bored too, I fetch the Bible from the desk, turning to random pages to see if it will tell our fortune. We get three passages that none of us understand and decide that today probably isn’t the day to turn to a higher power.

I pour us more drinks, trying to outdo Annie’s ratio by filling mugs with cheap rum then adding a dash of coke. We return to an earlier discussion about men, ignoring the fact that Alan is shifting awkwardly in his chair. Earlier this year Annie went on a few dates with a guy who had the most fascinating bottom, a truly feminine curved posterior, and I was lamenting the fact that they’d broken up before she’d seen it without clothes. For some reason this makes Alan think I’m a lesbian, but I explain that it’s not even that I liked the bottom, I just wanted to know everything about it. Was it really that convex, or was it his tailoring? Was it a different colour to the rest of him? Was it muscular? Squishy?

Life is starting to look a bit fuzzy around the edges. Our second drinks have quite a kick to them, my hand is chafed from squeezing it into the Pringles tube, and I’ve been talking animatedly about a stranger’s bottom for the past ten minutes.

I abandon bottoms and make a pitch in favour of back hair, which is immediately dismissed by Annie & Alan. Annie then leaves us speechless as she outlines her very specific preferences in regards to men’s personal, um, grooming.

Turns out, there are only so many times I can hear the word ‘nutsack’ before I need a lie down. Either that, or it’s the beer and the tequila and the rum and the entire tube of Pringles I’ve accidentally managed to consume. Regardless of the cause, all I can manage to do is crawl into my huge white bed and groan. All I can taste is artificial Pringle cheese curdled with the leftover yeastiness of the beer. The Pringles are threatening to file back up out of my throat, and I worry that once I pop I won’t be able to stop.

My nemesis.

My nemesis.

“Are you ok?” asks Annie, and I mumble “ice chips” at her, figuring that they give them to pregnant women, and with my distended belly and nausea, the only thing I’m really missing is the fetus.

The ice nuggets are comfort and medicine all in one, the cold pebbles cutting through my sweaty sickness. I chew through half a bucket of them and pass out.

Monday 24 September

I wake up, thrilled to be still alive after my Pringles nightmare, but horrified that I’ve slept through our last night in Fiji. Annie assures me she had a great night with room service steak and a book, but this hardly seems fitting for a send-off, and so I resolve to make our last day here a good one.

The breakfast buffet starts at 9.30am and we’re there on time. The spread is equally as impressive as our first resort, with endless tables of options. I take note of the bowl of hash browns immediately, while Annie spies a bucket of bottles of sparkling wine. “Bubbles? At breakfast? Is this a thing?” she asks.

Twenty minutes later and I have sampled a little bit of everything. Eggs fried and scrambled, sausages, bacon, the aforementioned hash browns, baked beans, pancakes, pastries, yoghurt, berries and cereals (plural). A waiter has brought an entire pot of coffee to our table. I sip it and consider what I want seconds of, while Annie inhales the free wine.

It takes me until this morning to realise that we’re both enabling each other. I’m fetching Annie multiple glasses of bubbles, she’s shrugging and saying “you can probably fit in another pancake stack”. It’s like the trope of the devil and an angel popping up on the shoulders of a hapless hero. The only problem is that we have no angel here to push us towards the light. On this holiday, and yes, probably back home, we are both each other’s bad influence devils.

Ok, but seriously, how great was Daria?!

Ok, but seriously, how great was Daria?!

An hour later, I’m reaching the bottom of the coffee pot – yes, an entire pot – and Annie is almost horizontal on her chair. Breakfasts closes in five minutes and we mutually agree that we have time for more – I’ve got my eye on some croissants and Annie wants more bubbles. I ask how many she’s had and she narrows her eyes at the glass, as if she’s waiting for it to tell her. After a moment she looks back at me and says “this is number … nine”.

We fetch our final courses. I get five mini almond croissants, making a big show of “saving some for later”, and Annie pretends that she believes me. She gets two more glasses of bubbles, planting one in front of me, and I pretend that I might drink it instead of handing it to her after she’s finished the first. A waiter walks past with a pile of plates in his arm and he calls out, “ma’am, would you just like the rest of the bottle?”

Annie does an exaggerated shrug in an poor attempt at looking sober and casual. “Um, ok! Wouldn’t want it to go to waste!”

Ten minutes later and my pot of coffee is drained, I can feel pastries clogging my throat, and Annie is very carefully pouring bubbles into her glass. “This is definitely going to be the best eleventh glass of bubbles I’ve ever had”, she announces.

The bubbles have filled her with energy and enthusiasm, and she repeatedly whips up and down in her chair with epiphanies and memories of our previous adventures that she desperately has to share. At one point she leans over so she’s resting on two legs of her chair, her mouth wide open and eyebrows furrowed. “What?!” I ask, convinced she’s seen a celebrity. “Oh, sorry. I thought, I might have just seen someone! But then, I didn’t!”

This is largely how the next hour goes. She’s moved on from saying everything is the BNE, and instead is questioning everything’s status as a ‘thing’. “It’s the chef! On a cellphone! Is he a thing?”

We pick up yesterday’s conversation about men. I wonder whether it’s more important to find someone who makes you laugh or one who you can make laugh, but Annie’s watching a man across the room like a hawk, mumbling into her wine glass about arm muscles and abs.

Here you go, Annie. You can't say I don't do anything for you.

Here you go, Annie. You can’t say I don’t do anything for you.

She turns to me with a memory, saying, “I had a… I think it was a dream? And we were in a sauna, and this guy comes in with his girlfriend, and I go, she’s totally into you. Totally. About you. Because you were.”

I tell her it was just a dream, but she doesn’t seem to believe me, looking at me suspiciously over the top of her glass.

On her twelfth pour some slops over the side, and she looks equally surprised and embarrassed. She lowers her head to the table, announces, “I am NOT going to do a table suck”, and without pausing, slurps the spilled drink off the varnished wood.

She abruptly pulls her head away from the table, complaining that her eyes are “fuzzy in the corners”, illustrating this with little octopus tentacle actions at the sides of her head.

Thirteen glasses in, and she’s yelling about how blinking is ridiculous, complaining that it’s such a “stupid, mundane activity”. She looks at me accusingly, like I have some power over the blinking situation. I nod, which seems to satisfy her, and she pours the last few dregs from the bottle into her glass and slurps it down.

We pass the clock in the lobby, and I’m surprised to discover that we’ve only got six minutes left to pack and check out. “Should we run? Is this a thing?” Annie asks, but the pastries and eggs and coffee are all sitting like a brick in my stomach, and I’m conscious of what might happen if we shake the thirteen and a half glasses of bubbles in hers.

Back at the room, packing should be quick, but Annie is finding fascination with objects in her handbag and marvelling at how amazing keycards are, because Kate, seriously, it’s a card, but it is also a key, and this one has a butterfly on it!

I’m feeling like I want to crawl away from my own digestive system and she’s barely upright, so we call reception to ask if they can come pick us up in a golf cart. We lug our bags downstairs to wait. Annie uses this time wisely, drinking straight from the bottle of Malibu, declaring repeatedly that thirteen and a half glasses of bubbles is most definitely a thing.

I use my time wisely too.

I use my time wisely too.

Thirty seconds later a van comes roaring around the corner. It’s piloted by two men in matching polos and is filled with clean sheets in sealed plastic. They put our suitcases in the back and gesture down the path towards reception, but Annie has already clambered in the back after the bags. “Oh, dear, oh dear” one of them says, “please Miss, get in the front!”

Annie refuses to budge. I climb in after her and we sit in the back, our drivers laughing uproariously at the silly girls sitting with laundry. They drive us to reception, all four of us attacked by giggles, Annie yelling “faster, faster!” and slugging from the bottle of Malibu.

We’re at reception at ten past noon to check out. Ten past noon, and Annie’s had thirteen and a half glasses of bubbles and a quarter of a bottle of Malibu. “Ok”, she says “alcohol? It is definitely a thing”.

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Ten: Balloons, Perverts and Tequila

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units
Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals

**

We turn the room upside down, looking for the lost camera. It’s tense. There’s the worry about the physical property, of course, but there’s also concern about the content. Suddenly all those photos of me licking a bag of pineapple lumps seem regrettable, and Annie’s no longer finding it amusing that I took pictures of her nip-slip two days ago.

We’re starting to get snappy with each other when I find it under Annie’s bedside table, and she instantly remembers putting it there the night before.

This is the last day of having our accommodation paid for, and so we’re moving to a more moderately priced resort in an hour. This means it’s our final breakfast here, and while I woke up with good intentions about channelling Kate Moss and just eating fruit, it all falls apart when I sneak a bite of Annie’s toast. Toast. Toast! Where has this gluten-filled god been hiding? Annie can’t stomach it and pushes her plate away. She’s busy texting Alan, our new friend from the night before, and after she finishes her orange juice she goes to meet him outside. I finish her toast then make it through what is surely the equivalent of a loaf of bread, single-serve jam packets piled up next to my plate, plastic proof of my gluttony.

Joey gets it.

Joey gets it.

After my toast bender I meet them outside and they are drinking beer, empty bottles already at their feet, chatting about their evening. They ended up being taken to a nightclub by Freddie, the Fijian pianist in the band. They danced. They think. Their memories seem hazy at best, but the evening reminds Alan of the time his friend ended up in Thailand at a dodgy brothel and he had to pay two grand to get out, two grand mate, and you can bet his wife wasn’t happy.

I don’t want to ask what made him think of this story.

We go to check out, and it’s exhausting. Annie has had two beers on an empty stomach and I’ve eaten enough baked product for a small family. We’re dopey and lazy and we’re walking bellies first, jandal-clad feet shuffling across the marbled floor. We ask the concierge if they will take us to the next resort, for free? No, we are informed, but you can get a taxi for $5.

We look at each other, unwashed hair covering our eyes, and shrug. Ok. Fine. Let’s just commit to this. Our next resort is almost visible from where we’re standing, we could walk there easily. This is the probably the most indulgent thing we’ve done, and we snicker to ourselves about how naughty we’re being during our two-minute taxi trip.

We can’t check in for a few hours, but the front desk stores our bags and says we are welcome to use the pool. We’ve barely sat down in the loungers when a waiter arrives and asks if we’d like a drink. “Yes, beer” Annie announces. “But only if it’s cheap.”

I relax back in my chair with my Jilly Cooper, and Annie attempts to read her impulse buy—a book that bears the sticker “If you liked Fifty Shades, you’ll love this!” She’s reading a book that’s a knock off of a book that was fan-fiction of a book that was named Twilight. She’s about six steps removed from actual literature, and so it’s no surprise that she complains every few paragraphs about how terrible it is.

The waiter arrives with our beers and hands Annie a piece of paper to sign.

“Twenty one dollars? Are you SERIOUS?” she bellows, while our waiter stares back at her, confused.

“Ridiculous! This is ridiculous! Twenty one dollars? Seriously, would you pay that for a beer?”

It’s clear from his amused expression that no, he would not pay that for a beer. And that he probably wouldn’t be any good at poker.

Annie asks his name, and he replies “you can call me Bob”. His nametag says something else entirely, starting with V and peppered with Ks and Is, something I wouldn’t want to try to pronounce. It’s subtitled with “My passion is VOLLEYBALL”—obviously the ‘flair’ that staff at this resort are forced to display.

I'm sure it will make me unpopular, but I love workplace flair. Almost as much as this guy does.

I’m sure it will make me unpopular, but I love workplace flair. Almost as much as this guy does.

I ask if he likes playing volleyball or just watching it, and he says both. Annie pipes up and challenges him to a  competition later when he’s off work, winner gets the next round. Most people build a relationship like they might get into the ocean: testing the temperature with a toe, slowly walking in, looking for dangers. Annie prefers to run headfirst into the waves, screaming, arms waving, eyes squeezed shut.

Bob doesn’t know how to respond to her request. He looks at us for a moment and says “Um… I have to go now”. He turns to leave and Annie calls him back, yelling “WAIT”. He returns and asks, “yes, ma’am?”

Annie says “SERIOUSLY, would you pay $21 for a beer?!”

We sip our overpriced beers and Annie rummages in her handbag. I’m not sure what she’s searching for, but she seems delighted to find a black balloon. She blows it up and holds her balloon in one hand, beer in the other, and contemplates the horizon, the perfect picture of zen.

Soon Alan arrives, and Annie gives him the balloon. He’s baffled, and although this is an entirely appropriate response to being handed a balloon, we find it hysterically funny, and we’re set off giggling again. Alan says he says he will give the balloon to a little boy, because he doesn’t want to feel like a deviant. We convince him through our chortling that gender is irrelevant, and when a little girl in a pink jumpsuit walks past, he hands it to her.

The little girl walks to a nearby table and shows her mother and sister the balloon, pointing back at Alan. He yells, “Oh, hope it’s ok! Y’see, I wanted to give it to a little boy, so people wouldn’t think I was a pervert!” He ends his explanation with a hooting exclamation point of a laugh. The mother just stares at him, perhaps wondering how it came to pass that a bearded shirtless man is yelling “pervert!” at her at 11am on a Sunday.

Surely the day that perversion is supposed to be kept secret.

Surely the day that perversion is supposed to be kept secret.

The girl’s sister looks at us with bewilderment. Immediately I’m horrified—we’ve unintentionally shifted the balance of power in this family. “Quick, Annie, it’s not fair!” I say. “Do you have another balloon?” Annie fumbles in her bag but all she can produce is a pink clothes peg. Deciding that this would probably muddle the situation even more, we leave it.

Annie groans and says how ridiculous it would be if we did tequila, and instead of agreeing with her, Alan takes this as some sort of dare. Five minutes later we’re holding empty shot glasses, lemon squeezed between our teeth, Annie lamenting about needing to vom. The mother now has to explain to her children what the grownups are doing with the tiny glasses, and I feel like our little group has definitely removed some of the holiday from this woman’s vacation.

“Ok, maybs I’m going to vom”, Annie says. “Or maybs I’m just going to get naked and do weird stuff”.

Alan needs no further prompting. Another round of tequila and three bottles of beer arrive almost immediately.

We sit with our beers and people-watch. I frown at a little sadistic boy who’s throwing his friends into the pool, cackling with every shove, doing little victory dances. I wonder what kind of parent would have raised a demon like this, and then a bald man looms into view, wearing mirrored shades and a purple rash vest that he’s squeezed into like a sausage in its casing. “Nah, mate”, he says half-heartedly to the kid, who has been literally throwing crying girls in head first, and I despair for the future of the human race.

There was definitely a touch of this going on.

There was definitely a touch of this going on.

Alan points out a man with a really long beard, and we sit and stare at him, a creepy trio of voyeurs. After some consideration, I say “I think he’s a Bevan”. Annie announces he looks like a Susan, and starts giggling through her teeth. I start laughing how funny her Muttley laugh is, then she starts laughing at me laughing, and our laughs sustain themselves for a few minutes. Alan waits for us to stop before he says thoughtfully, with great gravitas, “He looks like a Geoff. A Geoff… Horn”.

All of a sudden there’s nothing funnier than the name Geoff Horn, and we cackle like witches. Alan’s baffled, and tries to wrangle back control of the conversation by saying, “well, there’s lots of bloody, um, ugly people in the world, but I’m really glad they get out there.” This just makes the situation worse, and Annie and I are falling off our chairs with laughter. “What?!” asks Alan. “It’s just… nice that you like… ugly people” I manage to get out, before Annie and I are shrieking with laughter again.

Neither of us know why we’re laughing, which makes it even funnier. “Geoff… Horn!” Annie says, and we’re off again. Alan is sipping beer and looking embarrassed, and considering he was the one yelling “pervert” at a woman not long ago, I feel like we probably have crossed a line somewhere.

We’re interrupted by Bob, here to tell us that our room is ready.

“Oh, BNE” says Annie, “we can get into the rest of that rum”.

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Nine: Prostitutes, Punking and Proposals

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert
Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units

**

The restaurant we were at last night printed its menu on crisp thick card, using a delicate script font. White space was used effectively to set an elegant mood. The menu noted where the steak was raised, how the broccolini would be prepared, and what region the wine was from.

The restaurant we are sitting in now has laminated its menu, presumably so you can also use it as a placemat. It features pictures of the burgers and uses exclamation points liberally. If you don’t want tap beer you can select something from the cocktail menu, which must have been created with a google search of “genital synonyms”.

I love it.

Sadly, the tacky fun comes at a price. My beef burger is bad. I feel pretty confident in declaring this, because even though I’m drunk, I’m not enjoying it. During other nights out I have declared BK chicken burgers to be god’s greatest crowning achievement, I have made audible moaning noises into a kebab, and have directed a taxi driver to “keep going until we find a McDonalds that’s open, price is no issue, friend”. If I’m drunk, and eating a burger, and I don’t like the burger? It’s probably past a point that most people would deem ‘edible’.

This photo makes it look more appealing than it was, which is saying something.

This photo makes it look more appealing than it was, which is saying something.

Annie is keen for a big night out with table dancing and raucous adventures. We’re drunk, and sitting at a table, so this is a good start. However, the mood’s all wrong. We’re surrounded by families and sleepy looking couples, all content to eat their soggy nachos then go home. I can sense Annie’s frustration. Annie doesn’t like frustration, and I know she won’t wear this for long before she makes something happen.

During dinner, a group in the restaurant sing Happy Birthday to someone at their table, and everyone applauds. Annie looks at me, something flashing behind her eyes. It feels like she’s asking permission, but for what? Then she turns to the bartender and says, “Amazing! It’s my birthday too!”

Obviously yesterday’s celebrations were not enough.

Though I’m sure they’re skeptical about how likely her story is, the bar staff lavish her with attention. As soon as we’ve finished eating, out of nowhere, two fabulous gay boys with narrow hips and fitted black shirts appear to take her to the dance floor. It turns out they work here, but they aren’t waiters or bartenders… it seems their job is to just be charming and encourage people to spend more money. Annie is twirled around and dipped while I snap photos. I’m grateful that she changed into a longer skirt.

After the song is finished, Annie clambers up to sit on the bar, and we “share” a birthday sundae (Annie eats the cherry and I hoover down the rest) and then pay the bill. Then we’re sort of adrift. We need more people to have adventures with, and it’s slim pickings at this bar. Seeing some potential in the women next to us, I strike up a conversation. I’ve barely gotten their names when I’m interrupted by Annie, wanting to introduce me to her new friend David.

David is a short, middle-aged, bespectacled Asian man with two large moles on his nose. He’s tucked his shiny blue shirt into his khakis. He is basically the opposite of everything Annie looks for in a man, and so when he asks if we want to join him and his friends for drinks, I expect her to decline. But she looks at me, eyebrow raised. We don’t have any other offers. It’s sort of her birthday. Why not?

Annie follows him outside and I say goodbye to the women at the bar, joking “I think I have to go be a fancy prostitute now”. Their stunned expressions make me wonder if maybe they think I really am a fancy prostitute. I won’t lie, it makes me feel pretty.

When we get outside a waitress asks David if he would like to buy his new friends some drinks.

“Beer!” David says.

The waitress cocks her head to one side. “Are you sure? Maybe some cocktails? For the lovely girls?”

After a moment he nods, and the waitress looks at us, guessing on the first try what cocktails we’d like. I’m flabbergasted at how smooth this whole operation is, and wonder how often groups of rich businessmen end up with silly drunk white girls at this establishment.

Meanwhile, Annie’s talking solidly without breathing about her birthday and winning this trip and what we did yesterday and what we’re doing tomorrow and her job and snorkelling and what she thought about The Rum Diaries. When she leaves to go to the bathroom, she leaves us silent in a giant conversational black hole.

David breaks the silence, turning to me and asks, “are you sisters?” I want to make a joke about how Asian people think us Westerners all look the same, but I’m unsure if my new role as drunken geisha includes race-based humour. So I just say “no, we’re friends” and take a sip of my drink. He says, “you’re quiet. Not like your friend”.

It was as if Holly Golightly had left the cat in charge of hostessing.

It was as if Holly Golightly had left the cat in charge of hostessing.

I think David must want some sparkling repartee, so I ask where he’s from.

“Shanghai.”
“Oh, I’ve never been. What do you do, for work?”
“Lawyer.”
“Oh, wonderful, what sort?”
“Corporate.”
“That’s exciting… do you find it interesting?”
“No.”

I want to say “you’re quiet, not like your friends”, but his friends are smoking and passively staring at the band. So I ask what his friends do. This one, he’s the boss. From Korea. That one, assistant. From Japan.

I’m bewildered about how much geographic diversity they have in such a small group of people, and wonder if this is some sort of business punking, feeling like I’m going to be accidentally racist at any moment. When Annie returns I have never been happier to see her. She takes over the reins of the discussion and I slump in my chair.

At some point we’re joined by an Australian in tight black jeans and an open, loose white shirt. He sidles up to our table and seamlessly joins the conversation. I assume he knows David and David probably assumes he knows us, and I wonder how long it takes for everyone in the group to realise that we are all just a bunch of drunk strangers.

It turns out I’m rubbish with accents, and the Australian is actually a New Zealander. His name’s Alan, and he’s staying at the resort next to ours. Just like the new James Bond, Alan is a fan of Heineken, and he makes sure that there is a steady supply of green glass vessels at our table. Soon we’re feeling very happy about the world.

I know, I know. But there's no point fighting it.

I know, I know. But there’s no point fighting it.

The fabulous boys from earlier have joined us, talking the men into buying more drinks and telling Annie and I how delightful we are while twirling us around the dance floor. It’s fun, and weird, and I don’t know who is being exploited or if maybe we all are. Or am I overthinking it? Why do I overthink everything? I have to start living in the moment. How do I do that? Should I start like, yoga? Ellen does yoga, I should talk to her about it. Or maybe meditation? I should probably write this down.

The only thing that shuts up my inner monologue is talking, so I leave the dance floor and approach David. I try to chat with him about language, explaining that from what I know of Mandarin, the intonation is just as important as the pronunciation. He leans in and says your friend, Annie – she is perfect. Yes, I agree, but why? He says, the lyrics. She might not know them, but she moves, so naturally. He steps back to watch her appreciatively, and I think maybe I’m fighting a losing battle with this one.

I turn to his friend instead, who I still only know as ‘The Boss’. I introduce myself and he replies, “oh, Kate, will you marry me?” Tired and beginning to lose interest, I shrug. He says “Buy you diamond? Buy you BMW?” and then leans in to kiss me.

I manage to deflect it and his puckered lips hit my cheek. Worried he’ll try again, I keep talking.

“Where are you from?” I ask, and he replies “Korea”. Something in me clicks, and I say, “ooh, like Gangnam Style!” I say excitedly, and he looks at me, baffled.

I look around for Annie, and see her at the end of a table, hanging off Alan. I shout “heeeeeey, sexy lady” at her, and without missing a beat she immediately starts hopping from foot to foot, singing “whoop, whoop whoop”. Looking at The Boss, this is a delightful surprise, like when you mention your favourite weird 90s movie no one saw and someone pipes up with a quote from it. The gay boys start dancing too, and Alan’s attempting it, and The Boss is clapping his hands in glee.

The true definition of a global phenomenon.

The true definition of a global phenomenon.

A silly K-pop song has helped us cross a cultural divide, and I feel like the evening has peaked. I ask Annie if she wants to leave and she shakes her head, declaring that beer is the BNE and she’s staying out. I think about my Jilly Cooper book at the resort. It’s sitting on my bedside table, next to a bottle of water, and suddenly I can’t think of anything more delicious.

Five minutes later I’m in a cab, alone.

**

At 3am I wake up to room service at the door. Annie’s asleep on the couch and I have to shake her leg to get her to move. She hauls her eyelids open and points her eyes in my direction. Then she says, “I’m ok?” I say “yes, you are. Your food is here”. She just repeats “I’m ok” and closes her eyes again. Minutes later I hear the scraping of fork against plate and I go back to sleep.

In the morning I roll over and see she’s made it to bed. “Good night?” I ask.

She replies, “so, apparently biting is my new thing? And I think I’ve lost the camera.”

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Eight: Periodicals, Pool Hops and Australian Units

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems
Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing
Part Seven: Entree, Main Course and Dessert

Saturday 22 September

I hurt, everywhere. My patchy sunburn makes it impossible to lie on my back or my front or my side, and last night it took me a few hours to arrange myself into a pretzel configuration that didn’t send scritchy shivers down my back.

Of course, despite her seventeen beers yesterday, Annie springs out of bed without a hangover. I look like a tomato but her sunburn is already fading into a tan.

I think her body works differently to other people’s.

After our breakfast buffet (which I handle in a similar fashion to yesterday, except I also include two bowls of muesli) we plod back to the room to laze about on our balcony.

I flick through the literature available in our hotel room, starting with the newest issue of The Fiji Times. There’s been a prison breakout recently, and the paper mainly focuses on this, along with some surprisingly in-depth coverage about the Bollywood film industry. The Letters to the Editor page is amazing, with the local residents all offering up tips to police on how to catch the criminals. More than one literally cites a television show to back up their theories. The letter writers seem to truly believe the cops would have sorted this already, had they just watched Rookie Blue on Fiji One two nights ago.

The Bollywood coverage also includes some opinion pieces.

The Bollywood coverage also includes some opinion pieces.

After I get my fill of current affairs, there’s Denerau Magazine, a glossy publication pitched squarely at rich tourists. There are two-page spreads confirming that yes, golf is a great sport, and the undertone here is that you are a very smart executive for choosing Denerau to unwind, well done old chap! After reading it I feel like I’ve gained no knowledge but have vastly improved my self-esteem. I wonder if I can subscribe from New Zealand.

I’m radiating heat and the Fijian air makes me feel like I’m breathing into a hairdryer. My goal today is lie in a shaded area and to break the spine on my Jilly Cooper frothy holiday book. Annie wants to find some babes and sneakily sip rum from a plastic water bottle. Feeling like we’ve exhausted the babe-spotting possibilities at our current location, we decide to visit other resorts’ pools.

All the resorts in Denerau are right next to each other, sharing the beach area (though no one swims in the ocean—perhaps “sand” is considered a bit common?). You can wander five minutes along the beachfront then slide straight into a new pool. This behaviour is technically against the rules, so I spend the time peering around like a meerkat, watching for security. Of course, no one cares.

And this is worth a bit of rule-bending, surely.

And this is worth a bit of rule-bending, surely.

We spend a few hours getting wet (“swimming” implies some movement or physical activity, no, we just immerse ourselves in water then get out again), reading, and babe-spotting. Annie’s sad to discover that man drought situation is the same everywhere on Denerau, and so we walk back to our resort, grimacing at joggers for their stamina and complaining about the heat, but making sure to constantly reassure each other that we’d much rather be too hot in Fiji than in Wellington.

Happy hour is starting soon, and as we had such fun in the spa two nights ago, we return to the same spot to drink Fiji Golds and gossip about other guests. We wonder if he is single, and if her breasts are real, and how long those two have been dating. Two beers in and Annie’s laugh is reverberating around the pool, attracting attention from all directions.

I think her cackle was the bait that attracted a tall Australian man holding two plastic cups full of beer. He wanders over and says, “hey, can we join you?” and we shrug and say “sure”.

He puts the cups down and leaves, leaving us to wonder who the ‘we’ is that he referred to. Annie suggests excitedly that maybe it’s his single bearded chubby funny brother (she knows my type well) and maybe also they’re rich and want to take us out on jetskis? Feeling like this is sounding like a lot of work, I suggest we just steal the cocktails and run. I think Annie’s about to do it when he arrives back with a tiny and beautiful blonde. She’s got one of those character noses, the sort you wouldn’t specifically request from a plastic surgeon, but that makes her whole face make sense. She’s quiet and well-mannered and educated and you can just tell that his mother adores her.

He, on the other hand, is loud and animated, constantly leaping from story to story, pausing only to take swigs of beer. All of his stories involve drunken spewing or diarrhoea, and they are populated with people called “Bazza” and “Dave-o”, with minor characters referred to as drunk units, or horny units, or skinny units, or big c*nts. He’s so passionate about recounting his adventures that he waves his arms around and uses empty beer cups as props. At one point he even gets out of the pool so he can gesture down his legs to show how the cylinders of shit sprayed out when he was in China at his DJ mate’s gig.

Annie and I laugh until we hurt, declaring that we are now all the best of friends and they MUST come out to dinner with us. He’s obviously keen, as the sort of fellow who ends up pantsless in Beijing is not the sort to be scared of some kiwi girls, but I can tell his girlfriend is going to squash this plan as soon as we’re out of earshot. We go back to our room to get ready for dinner after they give us the soft-rejection of “We’ll call you!”

Now I know how Imogen felt when Nicky didn't write her back.

Now I know how Imogen felt when Nicky didn’t write her back.

We drink Malibu out of teacups, not bothered that the ice hasn’t frozen completely. We’re drinking it too fast for the delicate shells filled with water bubbles to melt, so why does it matter? I queue Britney onto my iPhone and we sing along to the choruses as we get dressed. Annie’s asking if her skirt is too short and, snickering, we discover that if she leans back you can see what colour her underwear is. As she changes into a longer dress, I try to apply eyeliner. For some reason the line’s got all these wibbly bumps in it, and it’s smudging everywhere, and my left eye is thicker than my right eye, and all of a sudden I realise that at some point I’ve definitely gotten quite drunk.

During the fifteen-minute cab ride to the restaurant, I decide it is my job to change our driver’s impression of tourists. I emphatically share my very strong opinions about the current situation with the escaped criminals, spouting all sorts of views on it, surprising even myself with my sudden political interest. I realise only after getting out of the taxi that people slurring about things they don’t understand are probably his entire client base, and I will have done nothing but confirm all opinions he has about ignorant white girls.

Despondent, I decide to make myself feel better in the most efficient way I know how. We head to the restaurant to order some carbs and alcohol.

To be continued…