Zen and the art of unrequited romance

Back in July, one of my friends got me a voucher to get a massage, a half-hour shoulder rub to ease the stresses of a busy life. It took me until November to redeem it, which I can only assume means I pass the test of being busy enough to deserve it.

I was seven minutes early to the day spa, which is definitely not my style. I prefer to rush into appointments a minute after they are supposed to start, my life a tangled mess of earphones and sunglasses and bags and effusive apologies. So it was with some confusion that I said “Um, I’m Kate? I’m here for an appointment… soon?”

The receptionist took my name then gestured towards a chair with an exaggerated swoop, a motion that used her entire wrist, and that could have passed for an OSH exercise.

My favourites are the ones that could double as dance moves.

My favourites are the ones that could double as dance moves.

After a moment a petite woman came to get me, introducing herself as Priya. She led me through a maze of corridors to a little room that smelled like a rose garden bathed in oil. The blinds were down and soft music was being piped in from somewhere. It was immediately relaxing on every level, and I let out a full-body sigh. I’ve seen drug-addicts in the movies who relax in a similar way, their shoulders dropping all the way down as a grin spreads across their face, and I am now of the firm belief that the right kind of lighting and aroma is the equivalent of a… snort of… meth. Or whatever it is you’re supposed to do with it.

“Please take your clothes off and get under the sheet”, Priya said. “You can leave your underwear on”.

She was barely through her sentence before I was wriggling my shirt over my head, putting this five-foot-tall woman at the eye-level of my turquoise bra. “Um, I will be back in a minute?!” she said, and I realised that I was probably supposed to wait until she left, not enthusiastically disrobe for an audience.

She stepped outside and I took off the rest of my clothes and scooched under the sheet covering the table, laying face down. I smashed my toe into the table in my attempt to rearrange my legs, but aside from that, I was in heaven. The attention to detail was amazing – not only was the hole in the table cushioned with a little towel-donut, they had put frangipani flowers on the floor underneath the table. Just in case my eyeballs got bored, I guess.

She came back in and asked if I was ready. “Yush” I mumbled into the face towel donut and she began.

I think it was probably only two minutes in when I had the surprising realisation that I was definitely in love with Priya. But why? Was it her fingertips deftly prodding my spine? Her dainty hands cupping my love handles? I mean, they must be called that for a reason, right?

My thoughts were interrupted. “Is the pressure ok?” she whispered, breathily. I guess it was part of the whole schtick of making this room a quiet sanctuary, but it felt like Priya was definitely flirting. “Mmmm” I murmured, and it accidentally came out a little too groany. I guess I was a bit dopey already from the smells and the sensations, but I honestly didn’t intend to be quite so… guttural. Priya can now count herself amongst the handful (or two, but who’s counting?) of people who have heard that noise while my top’s off.

Our relationship was obviously progressing quickly, and so I started making plans.

Priya could spend her days massaging out the stresses of my difficult life, and I could, well, I dunno. Bear her children? Maybe? I guess her brother could get involved for donation purposes, is that how it works nowadays?

We could probably go back to her home country, if she would like. I’m not sure where it is, but I can only assume the food there is great. I will get really fat because I will insist on only eating whatever national dish has the most amount of butter in it. Don’t worry though, because the extra padding will be good for the baby.

At this point I'll take any excuse, really.

At this point I’ll take any excuse, really.

Privya started on my lower back, shifting the towel down to get better access. Much better access. She shuffled my knickers down too, giving her a view that only a handful (or two, but who’s counting?) have experienced.

We’d call it a “plumber’s crack”, but I remember saying that once in high school and being reprimanded by a classmate. She was a blonde American, sweet an innocent as apple pie (the food kind, not the euphemism kind), and her big blue eyes widened when she heard me say it. “Naw, Katie!” she said. “Women don’t have plumber’s cracks. Call it a ladies split!”

Priya was now squirting oil on me, dangerously close to the aforementioned ladies split. I suddenly wondered if I needed to fart, and if I did, what would happen? My new potential romance was now the furthest thing from my mind. Imagine farting, basically into someone’s hand, as they rubbed frangipani oil into your tramp-stamp-spot. Oh god. I blushed from the idea of it alone. There’d be no way Priya would marry me then. Unless it was one of those situations where the awkwardness would bring us closer together? Like in Sex and the City, when Charlotte and Harry vomited together all night?

Priya abandoned my back and started squeezing her fingers down my arm, reaching my hand. I tried to think about something else, because it didn’t seem appropriate to think about farts while my future wife stroked my fingers.

I relaxed my hand but I wasn’t sure if that was the right response. Should I keep each finger stiff, to show that I am strong? That I will take care of her? That I will weather the difficulties of the world and will remain steadfast in adversity? Well, maybe. But the music sounded like happy whales sighing happily about how great the ocean is, and there’s no way I can ask my muscles to do anything other than ‘slump’.

We get to swim all day! Plankton tastes amazing! I have a tail!

We get to swim all day! Plankton tastes amazing! I have a tail!

After Priya tended to my limp digits she asked me to flip over. “Mrhhhm” I managed to gurgle, doped up in a haze of aroma and blissful orca chatter. With concern she asked “are you ok?”, perhaps worried that she’d accidentally massaged my spinal cord into the wrong place.

“Oh, yes. Just very, um, happy” I said, immediately regretting my choice of words. Ugh. “Very happy?” You couldn’t have picked more impressive words, Kate? Dazzled her with some vocabularic trickery?

She held the sheet up and turned her face away, and I wriggled myself over on the table. I imagine the effect was not dissimilar to flipping an upside-down car back onto its wheels. After my awkward flop from belly to back, she placed a perfumed wheat bag over my eyes and started massaging my head, her fingers kneading oil into my scalp.

“Massage all done” she announced, after what was probably half an hour, but what had felt like five minutes.

“Oh, oh… ok” I said forlornly, as she took the wheat bag off and my eyes adjusted to the light in the room.

I looked over at Priya and was alarmed to discover she was a real person. With a crash I was back to reality. We’d never work. What was I thinking? The height difference was considerable, the language barrier was problematic, I was straight, and—most traumatic of all—our names weren’t easily meshable to form a catchy portmanteau. Kiya? Priy…ate? The options were grim.

“I leave now, ok?” she said, and I just nodded mutely, feeling myself blush. I wanted to thank her, but I felt like If I started talking I’d end up confessing that while only half an hour ago I was in love with her, I had since fallen back out of it. And while I’ve never experienced it, I get the feeling that being removed by security from a day spa is probably not the best way to get closure after a turbulent love affair.

Kate’s Guide to Makeup: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of Kate’s Guide to Makeup!

Hopefully by now you’ve tried the daytime look we covered yesterday, and you’re busy fending off phone calls from persistent gentlemen (I’m free next Tuesday?) or eager ladies, if that’s your thing (one at a time, gals!).

This tutorial will show you how to upgrade your daytime look to a flashier one. Do you have a ball to attend? A wedding to go to? An awkward family dinner with that one aunt who always talks you about her really specific and gross medical problems? No problem!

As we are going to build on the daytime look, you will need to follow the steps from yesterday’s tutorial. Have you done it yet? No? Ok, we’ll wait.

… not sure how long to give you. It doesn’t take that long, but that’s if you have everything ready. If you’re rushing around trying to find a clean sponge, it could take a while, I mean, I don’t know the layout of your kitchen.

All done? Great!

STEP FIVE: BLUSHER

Blusher is important because it makes you look like you have killer cheekbones. It all goes back to this contouring lark. You just want to make your face look like a series of ominous shadows.

… woah, is that a sci-fi series yet? If not, you can have it. Please just name a character after me.

Normally blusher is applied with a brush, but if you don’t have one, just use the other side of your sponge (environmentally-minded folks will be pleased to note that this is also good for the planet). To apply blusher, smear some on your sponge, then suck in your face and schwoop it up. Sorted. Now for the other side.

Suck in and schwoo … oops.

Ok, sometimes these things happen. Sometimes the dog runs away, or the apples fall out of the basket, or you try to put blusher on and somehow make it go across your cheekbone instead of along it. Nevermind. You can catch the dog, pick the apples back up, and re-draw the line.

Even if it takes you three goes to work out how it’s supposed to feel if you’re doing it properly.

STEP SIX: LIPS

Lipliner is important for making sure that your lipstick stays on. I think. To be honest, I’m not really sure what lipliner is used for. All I know is that when I was 13 and I would wear brown lipliner with a layer of Vaseline on top, people would make fun of me.

As a result, I haven’t owned any since then. Which is why I needed to improvise for this blog.

Coloured pencil seemed like a good idea, given that it’s a colour and it’s a pencil, just like lip liner.

Unfortunately, coloured pencils don’t really stick to skin, especially when it’s covered in a thick layer of contour and foundation that is already starting to flake.

So I upgraded to a pen. Now, I used an Artline 220 Super Fine 0.2, but this is a highly personal thing, and you should select the pen that feels right. Ink is subjective, and I won’t be the one to bark orders from on high about which stationery you should employ.

Now, I can’t see the point in lip liner if you’re not going to make it work for you, so I made sure to go over my actual lip line, by just a smidge. This smidge might make the difference between getting that marriage proposal or being passed over for that girl who works at Subway who doesn’t charge for double cheese. Don’t leave your future to chance, ladies!

With your lip liner you’ve created a boundary to be filled, and now all you have to do is colour it in with lipstick, staying between the lines. Maybe this is why people use lip liner? So you don’t accidentally just keep applying lipstick until it covers the bottom of your entire head? Something to think about.

Make sure to get your lipstick all the way to the edges. If you’ve gone over the lines a bit in some places because your hand-eye coordination isn’t that great, make sure to colour these little anomalies in too.

Now is probably a good time to practice your industry-party laugh. You’re going to need it.

STEP SEVEN: EYELINER

Ok, so maybe I’m a bit smug I have a real eyeliner. From a real brand. Of course, if you aren’t as blessed as I am in this area, then you can probably use a felt-tip pen or a Sharpie (depending on how thick you want the line to be).

Now, remember back to the lip liner, when we drew a line around our lips? We’ll do the same thing with the eyeliner, except this time we’re drawing a line around our eyeballs. Keep it as close as possible without putting the stick into the white part of your eye. Pro-tip: if it hurts, or if you go blind, you are drawing too close.

If your line looks a bit like one of those seismic activity charts, don’t worry too much. Just colour in the little shaky bits with more eyeliner. Consider your eyeliner a frame for your peepers, and maybe it can be one of those pretentious fancy picture frames where there’s a tiny picture with like six metres of wood around it.

Practice some answers for when you’re interviewed by Vogue. Maybe you want to start your own range of cat… bling? Maybe your beauty secret is that you drink six litres of water every day and test the pH levels of your urine? You’re going to want these answers at the ready. Nothing’s more embarrassing than umming and ahhing your way through an interview with a Wintour underling.

STEP EIGHT: FACE HAIRS

Part of being a lady is picking out your favourite face hairs, and making them darker and stiffer. This usually means eyebrows and eyelashes, but I’m not one to judge – the following steps would also work well with sideburns or moustaches.

Applying mascara is easy, if you keep a few simple things in mind.

Firstly, you want to get that brush all the way to the base of your lashes, which means opening your eyes wide.

Secondly, you are also going to want to open your mouth really wide. Don’t argue with me on this. It’s like how you can’t sneeze with your eyes open. I heard that a girl at my high school tried to put mascara on with her mouth closed and the next day she woke up dead. It happened. Just ask anyone.

If your mascara is clumpy, or feels tricky to put on, it’s probably because your mouth isn’t open wide enough. Don’t be afraid. Crank that jaw, ladies.

Excellent.

Now that that’s done, we’ll have to do something about those eyebrows.

Some people have fancy eyebrow pencils, but this product is largely a scam on the part of the makeup industry. Just use your mascara to define your brows.

I mean, think about it, your eyelashes and eyebrows are all the same face hair, right? Why should one be treated any differently to the other?

Once your eyebrows are filled in, we’re done!

RESULT!

You have made a frame for your face – from the lipstick chinstrap to the black mascara you’ve combed into your brow hairs. You’ve drawn lines around some of the most useful features (eyes are the window to the soul, and lips make kisses). Pop a breath mint and you’re ready to hit the town!

And who knows? Maybe by following my advice you’ll end up going places you never even dreamed of…

Until next time,

Kate x

Kate’s Guide to Makeup: Part One

“So, um, what do you do?” asks the stranger in front of me as she sips her beer. We’ve been introduced by a friend who knows us both, and as it’s about 8pm on a Wednesday, she’s not really that drunk yet, and our conversation puzzle is not going to fall together easily. Eventually we’ll either (a) have too much to drink and arbitrarily declare ourselves best friends, or (b) will find something in common – maybe she agrees there’s nothing funnier than that one bit in Wanderlust where Paul Rudd talks to himself in the mirror – and it’ll be fine.

But we haven’t worked that out yet. So, for now? It’s awkward.

“Oh, you know, I faff with Word documents, whatever. But more importantly? I have a BLOG,” I say, desperate to talk about it, but not really talk about it, because actually I’m quite shy about these things in real life.

“Oh, what’s it about?” she asks, and I’m immediately stuck.

“I just sort of like, talk. About stuff?” I reply, and she nods her head slowly, desperately searching for another topic.

“So, um, how do you know Christine?”

**

This isn’t a once-off. This scenario has played out maybe five times. Having a blog where I just write about nothing is fun, but it also makes it hard to define in bars.

I was thinking about this on the way home yesterday, wondering if I should pick a topic to concentrate on.

Then it hit me.

I’ve spent some time in the fascinating world of YouTube makeup tutorials recently, all-the-while feeling that these guides would benefit from a more static medium. And honestly? It can’t be that hard. I wear mascara every day (I know, I know, I shouldn’t brag) and have a webcam.

So without further ado, may I present, Kate’s Guide to Makeup: Part One.

Kate's Guide to Makeup

STEP ONE: PREPARE YOUR CANVAS

Ok, so, full disclosure, maybe I have left it a bit long between fringe trims.

I can wear it two ways: Visually Impaired Cousin Itt…

…or I’m Sorry Suzanne, I Promise I Will Book an Appointment Soon.

Regardless of the level of infringement of hair upon one’s forehead (see what I did there?) it’s important to work with a blank canvas when applying makeup.

Pull your hair up into one of those butterfly clips. Hope that even though you have just piles of hair, it will somehow all stay up and will not fall out.

Try not to take it too personally when you are thwarted by your villainous mop.

Add a headband for good measure, then get distracted checking Twitter for a really long time.

All done? Great, now you’re ready to go!

STEP TWO: CONCEALER

From what I gather from the back of the bottle, it is important to cover up any blemishes, pimples, scars, moles, potmarks, pores, hairs … divots … just sort of anything that isn’t a little patch of skin. Though you can feel free to cover that up too, I mean, when in Rome.

Layer it nice and thick, because you wouldn’t want people seeing your blemishes.

I’m sure it was Shakespeare who said something like, “to blemish is to perish”, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

STEP THREE: CONTOURING

Contouring is something that’s a bit new and special, I think. I picked up a book in Whitcoulls with a whole section on it, and it looked very interesting but also very complicated, so I put the book down and went to see if they had the new NW so I could decide Who Wore It Best. Spoiler: it’s usually the one that doesn’t go too crazy with the accessories. Come on, Hollywood. When will you learn?

What I gathered about contouring, from the brief time I spent with the book, was that you can basically redefine the shape of your face with makeup. Got a weak chin? No problem, just draw on a new one. An uneven hairline? No worries, just paint over it.

Start by contouring your nose, because this logically seems like the bit that should be contoured, as it sticks out more than the rest of your face does. Note that in this context, “contouring” means “put some concealer on it because it is the lightest makeup you have”.

Now comes the fun bit, where we add the… anti-contour. Do this with… what’s the opposite of concealer? Not sure.

What else comes in stick form? Lipstick?

Ok, that’ll do.

Colour in the side of your nose to make the top bit stand out more.

Be mildly alarmed at how good this looks already, and we haven’t even gotten to the jawline!

Colour in the jawline in a similar way, scribbling under your chin too, because nothing is worse than makeup that isn’t blended in, and also, this will make your face look slimmer. I’ve read Cosmo‘s advice to put dark colours on wide hips. I know how these things work.

Stare at your new face in quiet amazement. “Have you lost weight?”, “have you had work done?” they’ll ask, and you will just smile to yourself, knowing the secrets of a good contour should not be shared with workmates who constantly steal the last biscuit.

STEP FOUR: FOUNDATION

Now that we have our contouring done, we need to apply foundation. This will give even coverage over the rest of your uncontoured face.

Start by applying some foundation to a sponge. If you don’t have a sponge, feel to improvise with the corner of a kitchen one. A sponge is a sponge, right? I mean, as long as it’s clean. I got this one new, just for the record. Because whatever is going on with the one we have on the bench at the moment, I don’t even want to begin to think about. I think it’s basically a mini petri dish. Soon it may become sentient. I will awake one morning to see its once-blue-now-greyish form flopping over my face, leaving an oily sheen in its wake.

Moving on. It’s important to dab the foundation on instead of wiping it, so you don’t wipe all your contouring work away. When the sponge starts to feel dry, just add some more foundation. There’s no such thing as too much.

I really wanted to quote from the Spice Girls’ hit number Too Much here, but it turns out they make the opposite point.

Keep going until you’re all covered. Get the lips done too for good measure. Really, just do everything. Otherwise you may have to pick a point where eyes or lips begin or end, and who are you to decide that?

All done? Congratulations!

You’ve laid the base now, creating a natural look that can work for all sorts of daytime activities.

Picnic invite? No problem!

Day at the beach? Don’t mind if I do!

Of course, sometimes a lady wants to look extra special… so make sure to come back for the next instalment, where we will cover how to transform your daytime appearance into an evening look that’ll make those fellas clamour for more!

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…