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.