Living With A Frozen Shoulder or Adhesive Capsulitis

26 04 2017

If you are suffering from this ailment and have found your way to my page, then you have my deepest and sincerest sympathies for what you are currently experiencing.

You are probably reading this at 3am, in the dark while everyone else is sleeping soundly, dry salty tear tracks on your cheeks, empty pill packets surrounding you, desperately Googling and YouTubing EVERYTHING related to a frozen shoulder.  Seeking ANYTHING, just ONE THING, that will help ease your suffering.  At least that’s the place I was when I decided to start journaling my frozen shoulder experience.

It is officially 14 months ago that I entered Stage 1:  The Slow Freeze.  I entered Stage 2:  Frozen Rock *&^%$# Solid and in Constant Agony in June 2016 and now (thankfully) I appear to be in Stage 3:  The Big Thaw.

As to how this all came about, I’m not entirely sure.  I did not injure my shoulder, nor did I have an operation, and I am only 41 years old (still young by my standards at least!).  But I am an English Teacher and I suspect that hours spent sitting in the same position marking copious written assessments, essays, short stories, and typing emails, correspondence and lesson plans has been a significant contributing factor – add to that an enormous amount of stress that I was experiencing at the time of onset, and that’s what I think did it.

It was following a big weekend of marking that I got into my car for work and noticed my first symptom.  Reaching back for my seatbelt, I got a pinching sensation down the underside of my right arm.  Thinking it was just the usual repetitive stress injury that I’d been managing for all my years as a teacher, I ignored it.  Until two weeks later.  It was still there and I had lost a noticeable range of motion in my right shoulder.

This was when I visited my first physiotherapist.  Since then I have seen two other physiotherapists, four doctors, an acupuncturist, a radiologist, a sonographer, a homeopath, a Chinese masseuse, two reiki specialists and a Bowen therapist.  Yes, it has cost me a substantial amount of money!

In our world of advanced technology and medical knowledge, I was stunned to be told again and again:  “There is nothing we can do.  It will fix itself.  You just have to wait.”

And how long might that take?   “Six months to three years, worst case scenario of course.”

So.  Here I am, 14 months later and below is everything I’ve tried to cure my shoulder or at least ease the pain.  Some of it I read online in those dark, sad mornings on my couch – thank god the Olympics were on the telly – and some of it I stumbled across myself.

Some of these remedies made me laugh, some made me cry and, sadly, very few actually helped.

The bad news is…and you need to hear this now before you spend the next 30 minutes desperately waiting for the cure…..nothing FIXED my shoulder.  And as you can see from the list, I tried a LOT!   In saying that, there were a few things that have helped me manage it.

Reading this, if you are absolutely at your wit’s end, desperate, exhausted and simply want an answer – then jump to the subheadings HEAT PACK, FISIOCREM, PILLOW, 701 PLASTERS and BOWEN THERAPY.  These have been my saving graces over the last 14 months.

 

THE REMEDIES I HAVE TRIED – in the order that I discovered and needed them 

HEAT PACK – I picked one of these up at my local Red Dot shop (a bargain store in Australia) for $9.95 and I have used it endlessly over the last 14 months.  Heat has been a constant source of relief for me.  This pink spotted horseshoe was the first thing into the microwave at 1am, 2am, 3am – whatever ludicrous hour it was – and would dull the pain enough for me to get back to sleep…if only for a little while.

Heat Pack – just 1 minute 45 seconds in the microwave.

PHYSIOTHERAPY – I tried this during Stage 1 and it was a frustrating experience.  Despite going once or twice a week for about 3 months, my range of movement did not improve and the pain continued to worsen.  I stopped once I reached $2,500.00 and I had used up my medical insurance.  HOWEVER, once I stopped, I lost significantly more movement.  I went on holiday to Europe during this time and after 6 weeks things were much worse.  This could be because I had reached Stage 2 but reflecting now, I wonder if I had continued with the physio, would my shoulder have deteriorated?  In saying that – it was also going to cost me a bloody fortune in medical expenses pursuing this form of treatment for potentially 3 years (worst case scenario of course).

ACCUPUNCTURE – this was good for instant release.  The trigger points targeted around my shoulder joint always felt more relaxed after a few needles had been inserted and twisted – a hideous feeling!  But the relief was always short-lived and by morning the next day I was back to square one.

FISIOCREM – A cream containing arnica, hypericum, calendula and melaleuca.  This cream is excellent and certainly helps ease the pain and throbbing in Stages 1 and 2, and I still use it during Stage 3 when my shoulder is feeling a bit niggly.  During Stage 2 I put it on every night before going to bed and it did offer some respite while I was trying to get to sleep.  Unfortunately, the pain would wake me during the night again so while sipping Milo and watching the Olympics I would rub some more in.  I have used this consistently in the evenings over the last 14 months.

Fisiocrem – costs about $30-40 at the local chemist.

NUROFEN/IBUPROFEN  – Meh.  These helped with the pain sometimes during Stage 1, but I found that I was downing so many of these little white pills that they began to irritate my stomach terribly.   Which then led to PANTOPRAZOLE (a small diamond-shaped gut calming pill).  As long as I was taking this, then I could keep taking the Nurofen regularly. While it helped ease the pain a little during the day, it did nothing to prevent those white-hot lightning shots of pain that woke me during the night.  You know what I’m talking about.  The kind that makes you think Beelzebub is standing over you driving his fiery pitchfork deep into your shoulder.  At least that’s what it felt like to me!

CELEBREX – This was another anti-inflammatory and it was supposed to be a bit more effective than Nurofen.  It wasn’t.  I took one of these morning and night.  After taking it for 3 months, it didn’t seem to be having any impact and I still had to take paracetamol on top of that to help with the pain.  Only meant for short-term use, I stopped taking it after about 5 months due to the potential side effects and it wasn’t really helping anyway.

PARACETAMOL + CODEINE – I found that paracetamol with codeine was more effective than just plain paracetamol and the Nurofen.  Initially, I responded with a warm fuzzy feeling to the added codeine which I found a little too nice!   Since codeine is addictive, and highly sought after for mixing with other illegal substances (so I hear), we have to show our driver’s licence each time we purchase it in Australia – our purchasing frequency being monitored by….well… someone I guess.

During Stage 1, codeine was helping me to manage the pain but that warm fuzzy feeling I had come to enjoy slowly disappeared, and by Stage 2 I had a named chair in the waiting room at my local pharmacy.  I was tripping back and forth to the chemist every week, flashing my driver’s licence, answering questions about what I wanted it for, getting a stern pursed lip from a pimple faced pharmacy assistant, being told for the umpteenth time that it is not for long-term use blah blah blah.  It took every ounce of my self-control not to scream, “It’s 15mg of codeine and a bit of paracetamol FFS – I’m not bloody Walter White!”

Science Teacher turned Drug Lord – Breaking Bad

By now I had entered Stage 2 and I was in some serious agony – all the time.  It never went away.  I was still trying to hold down my job and I was struggling.

And thus we arrive at TRAMADOL.  It’s quite strong, my doctor said.  It will make you drowsy, my doctor said.  It will be very beneficial, my doctor said.  It was useless.  It had absolutely no impact on the pain, my vision suddenly appeared to be in high definition and I was wired baby!  Wide-eyed, totally awake, senses peaked.  I stopped taking that after two weeks.  I was already having enough trouble sleeping.

From here I ramped it up to the CORTISONE INJECTION – I didn’t really know much about this.  My doctor told me I should have it and that it would fix everything.  One little jab in the bursa of my shoulder and BOOYAH!  All sorted.  Brilliant!  I hate needles but I’m in.  If you are going to fix my body, I’m in!

It had no effect whatsoever on the pain or the movement in my shoulder.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  In fact I later discovered that the injection (which went into the front bursa) was put into the wrong place.  But it was the side effects that did me in – days of insomnia (great – I was loving losing even more sleep!), huge mood swings (laughing hysterically one minute – sobbing my heart out the next) and then the depression hit.  This was a completely terrifying experience for me and led to 4 weeks paid leave from work.

I’ve read online that the cortisone injection has helped many people with frozen shoulder.  I just wasn’t in the 75-80% success rate sadly.

NAPROXEN/NAPROSYN – This drug turned out to be a double-edged sword for me.  I slept better for about 10 days after I started taking Naproxen and it certainly helped with the pain, particularly at night-time.  It didn’t disappear, but it wasn’t so unbearable that I was forced to get up during the night.  I could simply reposition myself and fall back to sleep again.  Excellent, finally a drug that was having some effect!

However, I put on 3.5kg in just ten days.  I initially noticed this after exiting the shower one night and catching a glimpse of a significant bulbous belly in the bathroom mirror, not too dissimilar to the first trimester of a pregnant woman.  And within days my work dresses and pants had become so snug that getting dressed was accompanied with a lot of loud wheezing and grunting.  Forget wearing pantyhose, they were cutting off my circulation.  And as for bending down to put my shoes on – not worth the risk!  I stopped taking this drug immediately, despite my doctor saying, “It’s not the pills, weight gain is not listed as a side effect.”  Tell that to the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters climbing out of my shower every morning dickhead.

I was back to my previous size and weight within 4 weeks.  The pills went into the rubbish bin.  However, if one was not susceptible to this particular side effect – I expect Naproxen would be very helpful in managing frozen shoulder pain.

The plethora of pills I was taking for about 4 months most of them ineffective.

CORTISONE INJECTION…AGAIN!   It was my third doctor (a highly renowned sports doctor) who recommended I try this again, only this time he assured me that the injection would go into the right place – the capsule around my shoulder joint.  As reluctant as I was, there were no other options at this point and with a 75-80% chance of success, I prepped myself for another week of insomnia and took the plunge.  It made no difference whatsoever.  And again, cost me a bomb!

SURGERY – the last hope!  This was not an option.  It wasn’t guaranteed to fix the problem, in fact many frozen shoulders remained following surgery, and cutting through tissue to get to the capsule was only going to cause more damage that would require more healing.  And with that there could also be more problems in the future.

At this point I was low…really REALLY low.  I was getting by on about 3-4 hours sleep a night and I was finding it difficult to operate during the day.  I seemed to wander around in a fog, I got my students’ names mixed up and words failed me – not good for an English teacher!  Prior to my frozen shoulder I was always such a cautious pill-taker, religiously following the instructions on the packet.  At this point I was just knocking back whatever I was given, begging for the pain to go away.  And only 3 months into Stage 2 I was still on most of the tablets I’ve discussed above.  I rattled when I walked down stairs and none of them were having any effect.

So I decided to stop taking them all and investigate some other, alternative options.

YOUTUBE – I watched video after video that made outrageous claims: ‘Frozen shoulder treated in one minute’, ‘God cured my frozen shoulder’, ‘Dental diagnosis cures frozen shoulder’ and ‘Mongolian death worm bite cures frozen shoulder’.  Total bollocks.  Your time would be better spent cleaning your oven – if you could move your shoulder!

CHINESE MASSAGE – One YouTube video I watched presented a very fit, perky and healthy female trainer who happily chirped, “Most people who THINK they have a frozen shoulder actually don’t.  It is just the pressure points in the shoulder that need releasing.”  So I trundled off to my Chinese masseur religiously once a week for 6 weeks.  While the body massage was fantastic, when it came to moving and manipulating my shoulder, the pain sent me through the roof.  After 4 weeks I decided that this was not benefiting my shoulder, no matter how much he coerced the tension out of my ‘pressure points’.

701 PLASTERS *makes angelic choir noise*   This product is a GODSEND which I found through EBAY.  It comes in a roll which you cut to size and stick on your shoulder like a plaster.  It contains: Ground beetle, Kuznezoff Monkshood Root, Nux Vomica, Rhubarb, Zanthoxyli Radix, Giant Knotweek Rhizome, Borneol, Peppermint Oil, Camphor, Menthol 14 types.  Sounds like witchcraft I know, but these plasters were the only thing that enabled me to continue working without the constant need for pills.

The plasters can only be worn for ten hours at a time so I used them during the day (every day) for about 6 months.  They have a warming effect on the shoulder joint and while I smelled like a Chinese herbal shop most of the time, I didn’t find the smell offensive and nor did my work colleagues.  This product did not heal my frozen shoulder but it made my days during Stage 2 bearable – and I was really struggling!  I couldn’t have continued working at school without them and I highly recommend these for anyone’s shoulder pain.

701 Plasters – available on eBay and my saving grace!

CUDDLE A PILLOW WHEN SLEEPING – This was a useful tip I found online for both Stages 2 & 3 for helping me actually get to sleep.  I would lie on my good side and hang my frozen arm over the pillow, as if cuddling it.  I usually managed to get to sleep and stay that way for a while.  The white-hot pain would always wake me at some point, usually around 3.00am, but I did find this useful in getting to sleep.  Now in Stage 3, I find it very comfortable to have my arm draped over the pillow and I am sleeping right through the night.

Tripillow/U-shaped pillow – I tried this too and it was okay.  It didn’t really offer any more respite than any other pillow I was using.  But I did find that mixing up my choice of pillow some evenings had an impact on me being able to stay asleep for slightly longer.  Using the same pillow all the time seemed to make the pain worse.

CUPPING – This was something unusual that I thought I would try.  It certainly helped the tightness in my muscles around my shoulders and upper back (much of which I attribute to poor posture spent marking student papers) but unfortunately it made no difference to the pain or restricted movement in my shoulder.  In fact, that raised angry purple dot on the top of my shoulder was really bloody sore for about a week afterwards.  It did allow me to bond a little with Michael Phelps during my early morning Olympics viewing though!

M Phelps photo courtesy of http://www.dailymedical.com

HANG FROM A CHIN-UP BAR – another spectacular suggestion I found online.  The person who suggested this is a moron and has never had a frozen shoulder.  Hang from a bar?  I couldn’t even hang the bathmat over the *&^%$# shower door, and as for hanging washing?  Forget it.  I was already coercing my hubby into the shower with me so that I would have someone to wash my hair.  I spent four months going out in public with wonky ponytails!  *mutters*   Hang from a *&^%$# chin-up bar…

MAGNETIC NEOPRENE SHOULDER STRAP – I’m not sure if the magnets had any significant effects but the neoprene kept my shoulder warm, so that helped a little.  It did not help with the pain or seem to encourage a greater range of movement.  I slept in it once and my shoulder was the worst it has ever been on waking.  Occasionally, I used it during the day but it was uncomfortable slipping up and down over my breast all day and wasn’t really giving me much relief.  I threw the towel in on this and went back to the plasters.

Not the most comfortable thing to wear under one’s clothing…

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS DIET – Having stopped all medication, I decided to focus on eating as many foods as possible each day that were known to have anti-inflammatory properties:  avocado, beetroot, cucumber, onion, spinach, nuts, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, asparagus, salmon, broccoli, celery, carrots, fish oil, green tea, lemon/lime and water, apple cider vinegar and pure cherry juice.

I also tried adding in – where I could – a few anti-inflammatory spices and had a pretty strong reaction to TURMERIC & GINGER.  I decided to try adding 1 teaspoon of these miraculous spices where I could to everything for a week or two and see what the result, if any, would be.  So I spooned a teaspoon of each into a banana smoothie on the first morning and drank it down.

Now I didn’t expect magic, but after about 10 minutes I felt a very warm fuzzy feeling in my big right toe…and then my vision started to become distorted.  I felt like I was looking at my living room through a kaleidoscope.  Small jagged, wobbling triangles rotated around the circumference of my vision and I had lost all peripheral vision in my left eye.  How did I know that?  I walked straight into the fridge door whilst desperately trying to get to the water jug to dilute my system.  Didn’t even see it!  After 20 quite frightening minutes and 3 glasses of water, my vision returned to normal – but DANG they are two very powerful spices!  I have since read that if you are new to turmeric, it is best to start with a 1/4 teaspoon to allow your body to get used to it.  Noted.

While there were no noticeable improvements in my shoulder during this FOOD PROGRAM, I don’t doubt it was beneficial and I felt good.  Probably for the first time in ages since I was hardly sleeping.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the reason my hair and nails were growing so fast (a sign of good health) during this trial period was due to these foods.  And I appeared to have taken on a slightly orange hue which made me look tan-tastic.  Just kidding.

DMSO GEL – This stuff is just bizarre!  A by-product of paper making, it comes from a substance found in wood and is often used to alleviate pain in horses.  Well, if it’s good enough for horses, it’s good enough for me!

The side effects listed online made for some unsettling reading but people with shoulder injuries swore by it and there were hundreds of positive reviews.  Unable to find this in Australia, I had to order it online from America.  I thought I would start by rubbing some onto a test spot on my foot before I doused my shoulder in the transparent goo.  Good job I did.  The pads on my fingers shrivelled up like they had been in the water for too long – and then they felt like the surface of the skin had been removed, you know that feeling when you accidentally get superglue on your fingers?  And it was hot…burny hot.  This gel never made it as far as my shoulder and has been confined to the dark recesses of my bathroom cupboard until I meet someone who owns a horse….or until my husband pisses me off enough that I am tempted to slip it into his underpants *snigger chortle*.

GENTLE SHOULDER EXERCISES – I thought perhaps if I tried to get my shoulder moving gently that might help things along – but my movement was extremely limited and going to the gym was completely out of the question.  I hadn’t been able to reach the handlebars on my bike for months (my brand new bike I purchased just before I developed frozen shoulder.  Typical!).  The exercises below did help a bit – and I felt like I was doing something positive – but I was very careful when doing them.  Even though they are only very basic in their movements, I could certainly feel them stretching my socket!

REIKI – This was something I’d never tried before, but I was giving anything a go by now!  I found it very relaxing, and I noticed a strange sensation in my shoulder – it went very warm to begin with, and then turned icy cold.  It felt as if someone had injected a frozen, liquid gel into the socket and it ached quite a lot afterwards.  Perhaps it helped.  Perhaps it didn’t.  I imagine one would have to continue with this treatment to see if there were any effects.  It just wasn’t something I wanted to pursue.

ESSENTIAL OILS – These smelled divine and I’ve always been one for lathering lotions and oils all over my body but I had never delved into essential oils before.  So following the instructions, I mixed up my oils and rubbed them into the shoulder reflexology point on my foot to trial them first.  It became apparent very quickly that, like the ginger and turmeric, these oils were powerful!  Within 10 minutes my turmeric induced kaleidoscopic vision had returned…and then my vision all but disappeared completely.  Ordering my hubby to bring me a sopping wet towel immediately, I wiped off the oils and lay very still on the sofa with a cold flannel covering my eyes and waited for my eyesight to return.  It did, after about 15 minutes, and brought with it a pounding headache.  What I hadn’t been told was that I needed a base oil to mix with the essential oils – that putting them on ‘straight’ was a little too strong.  I didn’t pursue this remedy either, but if followed correctly could well be beneficial.

If you’d like a full copy of the page in this photo please feel free to message me.  I was trying to be artistic with the shot 🙂

BOWEN THERAPY – I heard about this from our school librarian who had a friend that tried this and said it worked.  So I leapt into Wikipedia  to learn a little about this alternative healing technique (developed by an Australian as it happens).

Prepared to give anything a try, I found a Bowen Therapist just minutes from my work and made an appointment to see Shawna Sibritt.  My first consultation was memorable.  I was exhausted, in so much pain I would have cut my right arm off with a blunt hacksaw given the chance, and the whole time I was with her I couldn’t stop weeping.  Not one of my finer moments really!

The therapy itself was very pleasant.  I lay for 60 minutes in an aroma filled room, gentle sounds of lapping water, birds and crickets in the background, while she performed a number of small manipulations at various points all over my body.  Cheaper and considerably less painful than physiotherapy, she assured me I would only need 3 or 4 sessions – and if it didn’t help, then it probably wasn’t going to.  I left feeling much calmer and relaxed with instructions to drink plenty of water that afternoon.  To be honest, I was VERY skeptical.  I remember thinking to myself, “I must be the most gullible person in Perth right now.  She barely touched me, how is this going to help?”  But I took comfort in the fact that she wasn’t in it for the money – 3 or 4 sessions at $80 each I could handle.  And if it didn’t work, well I could just rack it up with all the other money spent to date.

That evening after my first session I felt like I’d had a remedial massage with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman at Almaty, Khazakstan (Long Way Round).  My body was SORE!   But a week later I noticed that I was sleeping about an hour longer than usual.  At my next two appointments I completely fell asleep on the table – something I’ve never done during a massage treatment ever.  And as time wore on things started to, very slowly, change for me.

I began sleeping through the night but still had pain upon waking.  However, this also started to dissipate as the weeks rolled by.  About three weeks after my fifth (and final) appointment I no longer needed to wear my 701 plasters or take nurofen/codeine for the pain.  I was also noticing small improvements in my range of movement:  I could pour a cup of tea using my right hand, I could almost reach up to the clothesline, I could flick the bed sheets without belts of pain and the hoovering became easier.  Things just got better.

And then it became clear.  I had entered STAGE 3:  THE BIG THAW.   Yessss!!!!!!!  More tears – this time of complete relief, joy and reflection.  Had I really spent almost an entire year living with this debilitating condition?

Can I claim that Bowen Therapy is the cure?  No.  But I definitely believe it helped.  It could just be timing; that my shoulder was going to begin to thaw after 9 months of being frozen anyway.  Perhaps.  Could it have something to do with me deciding to quit teaching for a while and removing that stress from my life?  Yes – I believe this helped too.

But I definitely think that Bowen Therapy had a big role to play in encouraging the stress and tension to leave my body and allow my shoulder to begin to release.

STAGE 3:  THE BIG THAW

At the time of writing this, I am 3 months into this phase.  It has been 14 months since I started this journey and all going according to my plan, I hope to be completely thawed by July 2017.  Fingers crossed!

I started back at the gym about a month ago with very gentle exercises and stretching.  The muscles around my shoulder have deteriorated significantly and I have long way to go to realign my posture.  When standing straight, I slope downwards on the right hand side.  Awkward.  But I am hell-bent on progressing slowly in this regard.  The last thing I want is a set back now that I am finally coming out the other side.

I also went back for another BOWEN THERAPY SESSION this week.  My last one was nearly 4 months ago, and since I am so sure that it helped the onset of my thawing phase, I wanted to have another session and see if it might speed up the release of my shoulder.  It felt great afterwards so watch this space!

SOME FINAL ADVICE:

Wear pyjamas (and other clothing for that matter) with buttons down the front.  Mornings were the worst for me for stiffness and pain.  Until I could get into a hot shower and get my shoulder moving a bit, it was near on impossible to do anything.  Having a button front pyjama top just makes the mornings a bit easier.  Thank you to my husband for that golden suggestion!

The agony of the bra (for the single ladies and those whose hubbies work shifts).  Obviously if someone is on hand, get them to affix the bra for you.  Don’t struggle unnecessarily.  If you have to manage on your own:  hook the clasps at the front of your body, rotate and SLOWLY wiggle it up.  Slow and steady is the key here ladies – breathe your way through it and remain as relaxed as you can.  Don’t rush.

No one can appreciate how difficult and painful something as simple as getting dressed is when you have a frozen shoulder.  I had to allow an extra 30 minutes most mornings to get showered, clothed, hair done (badly I might add), make-up on, breakfast and gather up my work things.  Driving to work, I could only ever manage it with my right arm resting on the bottom of the steering wheel.  Praise be for whomever invented power steering!

Catch some shut-eye where you can and LEAVE YOUR GUILT AT THE DOOR.  If you are falling asleep on the couch at 5.30pm after work, let it happen.  If you need to go for a Nana Nap on a Saturday afternoon at 2pm and you wake up two hours later, let it happen.  Obviously if you have small children, ensure they are suitably supervised!   Understand that most other people in your world are operating on 7-9 hours sleep per night.  We are not.  And we need to make up that time somewhere in order to function as best we can.  If, like me, you’ve always been a lively and active person, you will find it difficult to accept this.  But you must.  You could be dealing with this pain every night for up to three years (worst case scenario of course).  So give yourself a break!

Remind yourself how amazingly well you are coping.  You are still getting on with your day-to-day life under pretty extraordinary circumstances which makes you a person of fortitude, resilience, guts and determination.  And you will have developed a bloody high pain threshold!  I read about someone’s experience with frozen shoulder and they said that some days the pain can be a 12 out of 10.  True that!  You are coping the best you can with a condition that doctors have no answers for.  And in this age of technological and medicinal advancement, it is LUDICROUS to be told ,”I’m sorry.  There’s nothing we can do.  You will just have to wait from 6 months to 3 years until the shoulder fixes itself.”

If you haven’t ‘lost-your-shit’ at some stage in this whole process, then you are not human.  It’s okay to have these moments, and it’s here that you need to remind yourself how phenomenal you are.  I’m 14 months in – I honestly can’t believe I’ve been dealing with this for that long.

Finally, ACCEPT HELP.   I am a fiercely independent person.  I don’t like relying on others to do things for me.  It makes me feel useless, weak, pathetic and needy.  On one occasion I stubbornly struggled for up to 15 minutes trying to get the lid back on the Yoplait tub one-handed, despite it having slid off the bench TWICE and splattered vanilla goo all over the kitchen cupboards (which also required cleaning and most of which I couldn’t reach!).  All of this took place under the bemused eyes of my husband who was leaning casually against the fridge waiting for me to ask for assistance.  He knows better than to offer it!

So, I have learned to be less ‘heroic’ and ask for help when I need it.  On reflection I wish I had done that a LOT sooner!

Which brings me (finally!) to a close.  I wish you all the best on your frozen shoulder journey and hopefully you can take something away from this post.  Take each day as it comes.  Don’t think about how long your journey may be – that only made me want to smash shit up!  Just get through today and remember to pat yourself on the back when you do.





White Water Rafting in Bali

16 05 2014

Today we were up bright and early to go whitewater rafting.  Irini was our driver, yet another very cheerful chap, and he had been learning to speak English for the past three months.  His conversational skills were very good, and they were a hell of a lot better than our Indonesian!  A father of three, Irini worked from 6am – 8pm each day, had two days off per month and earned about AUD$150 per month.  On top of that, from 9pm – 11pm each night he went to his English lessons.  Boy do they work hard in Bali!

Again we savoured the view as we traveled to our destination about an hour and a half away.  As we made our way up into the forested area and headed towards the Telaga Waja River, the rice fields began to appear more frequently and in the stalls along the roadside men appeared to be hard at work forging masonry, brick or clay materials over black smoking fires.  As we begin to climb up into the hills, Bali’s huge volcano, Mount Batur, appeared on the skyline before us surrounded by a ring of clouds.  It was a spectacular sight.

Before long we arrived at the Alam whitewater rafting base, and on out entry into the base, a great bronze gong was sounded to announce “The Powell’s have arrived”, and men in traditional golden baggy pants and sashes bowed to welcome us.  Once we were all kitted out in our rafting attire, all the groups meandered through the rice fields down to the launching area.  From a distance, it would have looked something like a scene from Platoon or Tour of Duty with the soldiers walking through the long grasses.  However on this occasion, in place of M16′, flack jackets and army issue helmets, we had paddles, life jackets and happy yellow safety helmets.  It was almost as treacherous as walking through a mine field, a number of rafters slipping and falling off the path into ditches and almost twisting ankles on the way down.  This could explain why there is also a flying fox at the Alam base office that some rafters were riding down to the river.  We later discovered they were testing this piece of equipment, and I believe that now this has become the method of transport down to the waiting rafts.  Looks like a lot of fun and what a shame we didn’t get to have a go!

On the river bank we had a brief introductory lesson in rafting etiquette and how to respond to the following phrases: lie down, duck, paddle, relax, jump jump and boom boom.  The latter command was the means our rafting guide would use to communicate “We are going backwards, you can’t see what I can and we’re going to hit something big.  Hang the f*&% on!”

As we were waiting to get into our raft, I noticed that my paddle was faulty – in fact one good swoosh in the water, and it would snap clean in half.  I gestured to one of the guides, held up my paddle and pointed at the great crack in it.  “Oh no,” I mouthed.  “Replacement?”  I had no idea how good his English was and hoped that my gestures and facial expressions would communicate the problem.  Roger thought I looked like I was trying to talk through a pane of glass – you know when you talk really slowly?  And kind of stupid?  Yeah, that was me.

The Australian girl behind me understood just fine.  “Oh my god, you’re going to die on the river!” she taunted a little too loudly, chuckling to her mates at her ‘witty’ comment.  I stared at her, my disdain evident.  “I don’t think it’s that serious, but I’m not going to be much bloody use am I.”  She was wrong to judge me.  No, I wasn’t a prissy princess who was stepping out of her comfort zone for the first time to do something some might consider “death defying.”   Oh no, I was a hard-ass Kiwi, raised in the wop wops of Middle Earth where floating down the Waitaki River on a tractor tyre tube, fishing, camping and pooing in a long drop was my childhood.  At that moment, my replacement paddle arrived.  I grasped it firmly in my white, smooth, nicely moisturised hands.  My Trans-Tasman competitive streak kicked in and I took a mental snapshot of her raft team and guide.  I’m going to beat you down this epic river Australia, I thought.  Even if I do have blister prone hands and one Brit and two Indonesians who have never rafted before!

We clambered into the boat – Rog and I at the front, and our two Jakartan friends behind.  Our guide, Jakey, took the stern and we were off.  He did a fantastic job steering our raft downstream, richocheting us off rocks and cliff faces to achieve the perfect line down the river.  Although Roger would have me believe that he was doing this all on his own.  He’s paddling hard enough, I thought, so let him believe what he wants.  After an hour, I was a bit sick of “Did you see that?  Did you see what I did there?  I’m steering this whole raft by myself.  My sea kayaking skills I’ve honed off Hillary’s have definitely paid off.”

In the end, I blotted out his mosquito drone and let the sounds of the Balinese jungle fill my ears.

Our Rafting Team

Rafting down the Telaga Waja River

The duration of the rafting excursion was 2 1/2 hours (16kms) and for US$88 this was extraordinarily good value!  We went head long into cliff faces, got stuck on giant rocks, were swiped across the legs and faces with hanging tree branches and had mammoth paddle/water fights with the other groups.  Roger kept us all hugely entertained losing his balance and falling backwards, legs flailing in the air, right at the moment when we passed the camera man!  Our Jakartan friends and guides laughed so hard they too nearly fell out of the raft!  “I see your sea kayaking didn’t teach you how to balance Rog!”  I chortled.

Thank goodness he had boxers on underneath!

Ahhh, all the finesse of a sea kayaker!

And then amongst all of that excitement the scenery was stunning.  There were times when we just sat back and let the river carry us through paddy fields, dense jungle and rock faces.  We smiled and waved at locals washing their clothes and children swimming, men working the fields and turned our faces skywards as waterfalls cascaded from huge heights down onto us.  It truly was magical!

Then we came to Bajing Dam….

Kiri didn’t know about the dam.  Roger did.  He had researched the rafting website and knew all about it.  So when we stopped on the river and Jakey said, “Lie Down, Lie Down – Big Boom!“,  I began to get a little concerned.  Once we were all in position, we started drifting slowly towards what I soon determined to be a very distinctive drop off.

As we got closer, I could see a cluster of farmers further down river who had decided that what was about to occur was far more exciting than gathering their rice.

We drifted closer and closer.

Next to me I heard Roger say, “Yeah – now these are the rapids I was hoping for!”

As for me, I was trying to peer over my sandaled feet dangling over the front of our raft, all the while thinking What the hell is this?  How high is this bloody thing?  I can’t see anything.  Those farmers look like they are a long way down.   Oh……..Oh……..Here we go……….

“BOOM BOOM!  BOOM BOOM!” Jakey cried excitedly from the back.  What the hell?  Is he standing up?!

Eyes front…….over the top……………..OMG!!  HOW F*~#ING HIGH?!!!

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Going over the top of the Bajing Dam

And we crashed over.

Now Roger loved it, and while I enjoyed it, forewarned is forearmed – particularly when photographs are being taken.

And had I known that my husband was going to use his Adobe Photoshop to take a close up of this photograph and insist that I post it here, I would have tried for a more cooler, got-it-all-under-control facial expression.

Although the contrast between the two of us is pretty amusing……I guess.

The Close Up - two quite different reactions, don't you agree?

Pleasure and Pain – can you tell who’s who? LOL

(I would like to point out that I have evidence of a Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios in LA in 2004  where the roles are reversed in a photograph very similar to this one.  Just ask for it – I’m more than willing to slap it up here…..close up included!)

When we finally arrived at the finish (having blitzed my Australian nemesis along the way I might add – although reflecting on the photograph above, I don’t feel quite so rough, tough and stuff now!), we were treated to an orange syrupy drink.  I wondered if it was to combat the bugs that had gone in through our mouths with the water, which we had done so well to avoid since arriving in Bali.  This was followed by a yummy buffet lunch and a certificate of achievement.

After the adrenalin had passed and the sunburn had set in, we climbed back into the mini van and made our way back to Seminyak.  We attended to our sunburnt legs, went for a 90 minute massage, popped into a local restaurant for a bite to eat and then spent our last evening relaxing in our villa.

It had been an amazing three days and we had loved everything that Bali had to offer.  Our plane was due to leave at 8.30am the next morning.  Which brings me to my reflections on Bali…





Strolling the Streets of Seminyak

7 05 2014

Today we decided that we needed to “go it alone” in Bali, and this can often be the most frightening part of travelling – stepping bravely out into the local area, getting one’s bearings and trying to make it home safely in one piece; a particularly challenging task given the congested traffic and lack of pedestrianised areas in Bali.

We amicably shared the road with cars, tour buses, vans and hundreds of scooters, and while we were initially nervous about that, we discovered that everyone showed a great deal of care and concern for each other.  The primary concern of the people of Bali seems to be that everyone needs to get on their way safely and arrive at their destination safely.  Friendly toots to say “I’m here, take care, I’m coming past” were regular during our trek around the streets of Seminyak.  Although taxis mostly tooted for a potential fare:  “Hey you, Australia!  It’s hot, you’re clearly struggling, how about a ride in my air conditioned van?”  As the humidity set in and my hair went completely “fro”, it was a very tempting offer!

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Pedestrians take the hard shoulder at all times!

No, it’s not a one way road…add another car, five scooters, two taxi vans and a handful of tourists and that’s about right!


We met a few street sellers on our walkabout but had decided to avoid all marketplaces on this trip.  While these sellers were hawking their wares, we found them much nicer to deal with than those in Patong Beach who followed and nagged their customers for at least three blocks.  The advice we had read from a number of travel sites prior to arriving in Bali (don’t make eye contact, don’t speak to them, just ignore them….a bit like how Roger is with car salesmen!) was quickly cast aside by us.  We found this advice made us very dismissive and extremely rude, and instead we discovered that  a friendly hello, smile and polite no thank you was enough.  There was only one occasion where a persistent street seller practically climbed in next to Roger in the back seat of our mini-van, thrusting his goods in his face and saying “Only $1!  Only $1!”   After many firm no-thank-yous, and Roger on the point of grabbing his carved ivory horn and ramming it somewhere unpleasant, our guide Nowa came to our rescue and politely told him to sling his hook.  Discussing this in the back of the van as we drove away (Wow $1, that was pretty cheap for such a nice horn!), Nowa told us that actually no, it was a ploy, and the goods would probably be more in the range of $100.

We found the chaps on the scooters who pulled up alongside us, and the men hanging around Seminyak Square selling dubious looking scratchy tickets, to be the most deserving of any disdain.  These gents were annoying and less likely to give up if you didn’t keep walking.  However, as a female, I was less affected by their solicitations.  I found that their ‘pitch’ was for Roger’s benefit.  They always addressed him and never bothered with me.  It could have been they were terrified of my hair, but more likely it was because of the gender roles in their culture.  Roger, as the man, would be considered to be the alpha male of our little pack, the ‘trouser wearer’, and the one carrying the wad of cash in the aforementioned trousers.  Little did they know that all Roger was carrying in his wallet were two duplicate Midland library cards, his Dome coffee voucher from his Sunday morning lyrca clad bike rides and a receipt from the Pound Shop from England dated July 2007.  In fact, Miss Moneypenny here was the one with the cash and truth be told, she was a pretty soft touch when it came to parting with her money……but they let her walk on by.

However, I didn’t mind being ignored.  It left me to smile and wave at people going about their daily chores, including workers on a nearby local building site who turned out to be an extraordinary thing to watch.  The site was just metres from our villa and in a stiffling heat, the men worked hard lugging tiles and buckets of cement up bamboo scaffolding to a third, fourth or fifth storey of a new villa complex.  No protective clothing, no safety harnessing.  They would offer a friendly wave and a smile if it was forthcoming from us first.  One young man even began dancing gleefully (and precariously for that matter) on the edge of the fourth floor slab, so thrilled was he at the attention he was receiving!  Such happy, friendly people.  I was also considerably impressed to see a woman holding her own amongst the predominantly male work force, and stood watching slackjawed as she climbed a bamboo ladder with a bag of clay balanced perfectly on her head.  Respect sistah!

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The beach at Seminyak was beautiful, although we had heard the beaches in Bali were no good, terrible in fact!  Just another rumour to quash I guess.  Perhaps they are not so good down in Kuta?  And it was completely empty while we there but for a few swimmers, beach walkers and surfers.  We managed to find a great little place for a traditional Balinese massage called Cool Spa.  The girls here were fantastic, cleaning our tired feet for us then rubbing aromatherapy oils into our tense, work weary muscles for a full 90 minutes.  And for a very reasonable AUD$21.

For dinner we wanted to try a burger bar that had been listed as the Number 1 place to eat in Seminyak on Trip Advisor called Wacko Burgers.  We walked past it three times before we actually found it, tucked away at the back of a market place.  It really was as delicious as all the reviews stated.  The sauce…..there was something about the wacko sauce!  And for AUD$5 we got a very filling burger, salad and fries.  Perfect!  Even though we had to sit outside dripping in the heat because the air-conditioned interior was full.

We finally arrived back at our villa and fell immediately into the pool.  It had been a hot HOT day, albeit very quiet and relaxing.  But that was why we had chosen Bali in the first place for our holiday.  We needed to get away from Perth, and we wanted to be pampered with massages and our own pool.  We were certainly making the most of it, and we had found our way around Seminyak just fine.  And as an added bonus, tonight we found the mosquito coil in our villa – only three nights after we arrived!  Although, we had survived the mossies beautifully so far: only three bites between us to scrat at.

Feeling that tomorrow we needed to get back out into the wilds of Bali, we booked a white water rafting trip with a company called Alam.  They had been recommended to us by Nowa the day before.  It had been a while since I had balanced on the inflated sides of a raft and faced the white water of nature….Austria in 2003 I believe.  As for Roger, well, he’d never done it before.  He was so excited he could barely sleep and cursed the fact that he hadn’t pushed Santa harder for a Go Pro for Christmas!





A day around Ubud with Nowa and a Luwak

28 04 2014

As it turned out, we made it through our first night relatively unscathed by the mosquitoes….in fact, neither of us were bitten once!

(I would like to insert a quick advertisement plug here for Aeroguard Roll On and Swivel Fishing Essentials Mossie Bracelets – both excellent products!)

We had set today aside to immerse ourselves in Balinese culture, so when the alarm sounded we sprang eagerly from the confines of our netted sanctuary and into the warm morning air and all that it promised.  We started our day with a huge American breakfast of toast, bacon, mushroom, tomatoes, hash browns, eggs, pastries,  juice, fresh fruit, tea….. honestly, the food was endless!  All knocked up in the shake of a skink’s tail by our personal butler.  And it was just the sustenance we needed for a day of exploring Bali with our tour guide Nowa.

Nowa is the Owner/Operator of Bali Kini Tours whom we hired to drive us around some choice sights of Bali for the day at a cost of only USD$55.  He picked us up from our villa just after 8:30am (in his mini van, not his ark!) and it was this cheerful, easy-going Indonesian chap who made our first day in Bali an unforgettable experience.

Firstly, we kicked off tour with a traditional Balinese dance experience: the Barong and Kris Dance.  This was a play that represented the eternal fight between good and evil, a dance often performed in villages across the country as a way of re-establishing balance, putting wrongs to rights, and dealing with any evil spirits that may be lurking in the local communities.  Of course, Nowa points out, evil can never be truly eliminated from the world (Amen to that brother!), and the play also reinforces this idea.

The costumes and performances were fantastic and I found myself mesmerised by the fingers of the Balinese female dancers.  No matter how hard I try I simply cannot get my fingers to bend backwards as elegantly as they can.  My big crooked western fingers just won’t do it!  I also really enjoyed the role of one of the comical characters in the play who looked very similar to Billy T. James, a well known New Zealand comedian icon.  Not, on this occasion, clad in a black singlet and gumboots, nor Mexican attire, but rather in Balinese traditional dress.  While the other dancers performed their serious roles, he spent his time posing for photographs, eyeing up the ladies in the front row and generally strutting about the stage, and every now and then he would give the evil spirit a wallop with his branch of leaves for good measure.  The music was a steady stream of traditional lang-lang-jingle-jangle-badoom-badoom-chang-chang, and the hour long show provided just enough of a taster of Balinese music to keep one’s brain clanging about for the next hour!

I’ve read mixed reviews about this performance, and some were pretty scathing, but I thought it was a bargain at AUD$10 to get a glimpse of Balinese music, dance and religion.  And anyone who complains that it wasn’t in English?  Well that’s just ridiculous.  That would be like going to New Zealand and complaining because the haka was performed in Maori!  An informative sheet of paper, produced in a number of various languages, is provided to explain the gist of the story – and that’s all one needs.  From there, just soak it up!

The Tiger - click here to see the Balinese Billy T

The Tiger – click here to see the Balinese Billy T

While en route to our next destination, our questions about the dance and the ritual lead us into a very interesting conversation with Nowa about the beliefs of Hindu and other religions in Indonesia, the concept of making offerings each morning (holy water, flowers, incense = trinity) and the importance of the family and community temples.  Nowa’s honesty and willingness to share his beliefs with us gave us a snapshot of a nation of people who are peaceful at heart and who live their lives trying to be, to put it simply, better people.  Inspiring yes?  They are good natured, peaceful and happy, and one can’t help but admire their simple outlook on life.

Our second stop on Nowa’s tour was at a traditional Balinese home, and perhaps I’m parading my Western ignorance a bit here, but when we arrived I thought that it was a museum.   It wasn’t until I had rudely barged into the family’s sleeping quarters that Roger pointed out we actually were in someone’s home.  I quickly removed my sticky beak from behind the wooden door and retreated feeling stupid and quite embarrassed!

As we explored the family’s compound, Nowa explained the layout of the house in accordance with the Feng Shui principles.  In the back yard the family had a plot to grow their corn, coconuts etc. and an old stone well with a bucket and pulley system from which they collected their water.  As we strolled around the small individual buildings, chickens strutted and pecked around us and a young boy, about 5 years old, busily carted roofing tiles in his wheelbarrow from one end of the compound to the other.  Corn cobs hung drying above the stove and I found myself gazing in disbelief at the primitive kitchen thinking:  The woman in this home deserves a goddamned medal for cooking in there every day!  While the women and children went about their business, it was thought that the father/husband was probably working on a local building site, a very respectable job that earned a sound wage of about 800,000 rupiah per week, (AUD$80 per week).

Us in front of the family's temple.  The condition of one's temple indicated the state of the family/home, so everywhere we went, these were immaculately presented.

In Indonesian culture, the condition of a family’s temple symbolises the wealth or condition of the family, so everywhere we went the temples were immaculately presented and cared for.  Many times, they were in better condition than the other buildings.

Not a Breville's appliance to be found in this kitchen!

The Kitchen

What sort of family meal could you knock up on this stove?

The free-standing Westinghouse Stove?  Notice the chicken has voluntarily made its way onto the stove top.  Everyone, and everything, is happy in Bali!

As a courtesy, Nowa asked if we would mind offering a 10,000 rupiah donation for visiting this family’s home.  That’s about the equivalent of AUD$1.  Looking around the compound forced me to reflect on my own life and provided a much needed injection of perspective.  I don’t feel ashamed of the life I have, I have worked hard to earn it, but I am a little embarrassed by some of the unnecessary luxuries I have….that many Western people have, and think they ‘need’.  But the Balinese people are in no way unhappy with their lifestyle.  Nor was this family looking for charity from us.  As Nowa said, that’s not why he brought us to their home.  It was simply to give us an insight into how everyday people lived – content and happy – and today, these mud and brick homes are being steadily replaced by concrete and tin dwellings.  Near the gate, an elderly grandfather sat cross-legged against a clay wall playing (we think) a Balinese Suling flute as we strolled around his home.  As the patriarch of the family, our meager donation was given to him and meet with smiling eyes.  Had Roger’s voice of reason not been there, I probably would have emptied the contents of my wallet into his wrinkled hands, so compelled was I to share what I could easily afford.

From here we piled back into our minivan and continued 30 minutes inland to Ubud.  The rural scenery and local life of the villages gave us plenty to soak up as we whizzed past stalls of ceramics, paintings, wooden carvings, Balinese sculptures, elongated wooden giraffes and every piece of furniture you would need to deck out your house in true Balinese style.  All of which we have seen scattered throughout various stores in Perth and New Zealand.

Roadside Stall

When we stopped for lunch at the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, it simply took our breath away.  Talk about picture postcard perfect!   Here we ate lunch in a hut-like restaurant overlooking the green terraced paddy fields of Ubud.  As we watched tourists meander peacefully along the terraces on the other side, a small leather faced man appeared on the winding path below us.  He was in bare feet, wearing a grass hat, sarong and carrying a bamboo pole with woven flax baskets on either end full of rice.  His toothless grin was infectious and he graciously posed with me for a photo.  When he warbled “cheeeeese” for the photo, it occurred to me that this wily gentlemen had done this before.  In fact, he had probably been hiding around the corner just waiting for chumps like us (and the ones after us who also employed him for a photo) to arrive!  At 10,000 rupiah per photograph, he was definitely having a productive day!  I’m not sure how much rice was gathered, nevertheless, he was a gorgeous character and I don’t begrudge him his side venture one bit.

  • Additional Note:  While we were eating at the restaurant, we noticed a small white drone flying above the paddy fields and we think that Roger has found the footage from that particular drone HERE on YouTube.  It provides a fantastic view of the plantation – if you’ve got time, check it out!
Rice Plantation near Ubud

Tegalalang Rice Plantation near Ubud

Stalls at the rice plantation - some fantastic paintings here but we only have carry-on luggage allowance.  But next time....

Stalls at the rice plantation – some fantastic paintings here but we only had carry-on luggage allowance.  Next time though….

Cheeeeese......crafty bugger!

Cheeeeese……crafty bugger!

With some encouragement from Nowa, we performed a few acrobatic leaps for the camera in front of the paddy fields.  Reflecting on these photographs later, Roger was decidedly impressed with  his ability to gain “air”, certain that he could out-jump any AFL player on the current circuit.  It must be all the cycling he’s been doing lately!

Looks good huh?  Actually we were crap at jumping, this was our third attempt!  LOL

Roger was very disappointed with my lack of ‘air’.     NB:  Roger’s six pack has been photo shopped into a one pack  in order to add a more comical element to the shot!  At least that’s his story!

Wanting to avoid the market and busy central area of Ubud itself, we asked Nowa to take us to see more rural parts of the countryside around Ubud.  So our next destination was the Springwater Temple and this turned out to be another stunningly beautiful and tranquil setting.  Being expected to cover our legs before entering, Nowa helped us into our matching sarongs (Note to self:  this is not your look Kiri, nor Roger’s for that matter!) and then took us for a leisurely stroll through the peaceful garden setting.  He informed us about the purpose of the various rooms and their functions, the bathing springs next to the temple, the different zones of the temple and the need for villagers to come here to collect holy water.  All the while, enormous goldfish moseyed lazily through the various channels and under the bridges, following Roger wherever he moved along the pathway.

The Holy Water Springs

The Springwater Temple

Temple

Temple

Roger with our friendly guide Nowa.

Roger chatting with our friendly guide Nowa.

Our final pit-stop for the day – and the timing couldn’t have been better at 3pm in the afternoon – was a local coffee plantation.  Not only were coffee beans grown here but other spices as well such as ginger, vanilla, turmeric, cloves, cocoa beans and lots of other things that I’ve only ever seen in the spice boxes in my mother’s kitchen.  We weaved our way along the path, past the cocoa trees, coffee bean trees, past an old cow (for the milk?), pineapple trees and banana trees before coming face to face with a row of cages containing a furry cat like creature in each.  “And this creature is the Luwak,” our guide smiled, “of the world famous and very expensive, Luwak coffee.”  Now, not being a particularly huge coffee fan, and not one to get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the rich and the famous much these days, the Luwak reference completely escaped me.  Roger, in his usually eloquent way, made things as clear as crystal: “They eat the coffee bean, then they poo it out and then you drink it.”   Sorry, who drinks it?

Luwak

I’m not sure that the tiny unsuspecting Luwak has any idea of its infamy or is quite able to appreciate the great heights to which it’s digestive system has risen, however, from this point of the tour I followed the journey of one of its cocoa beans:  from the Luwak’s sphincter, to the drying stage, to the husk removal, to the roasting, to the grinding with the pestle and mortar, and finally into a tiny white china cup to be drunk by yours truly.  Had I been in Hollywood, I would have paid USD$80 for the privilege.  But here in Bali, it was offered to me for just 50,000 rupiah (AUD$5).  Why wouldn’t you try it?

Drinking my special cup of Lowak Kopi.

Drinking my special cup of Luwak Kopi.

 

Taster tray of various coffees and teas.

Taster tray of various coffees and teas.

In addition to this, I was also given the privilege of tasting (for free!) a variety of teas and coffees produced by the plantation.  These arrived before me in tiny glass handles on a wooden tasting platter – not too dissimilar from my beer tasting days abroad, although much more civilised and sophisticated!  So sitting at our little wooden table overlooking a vast canyon and paddy fields laddering their way down the valley to the river below, I sat peacefully sampling ginger coffee, lemon tea, vanilla coffee, cocoa coffee and much more.  Even Roger, who hasn’t had a cup of coffee for over 5 years, tested each cup – including the Lemon Tea which he told me afterwards usually brings him out in rash!  It was a truly magical setting and a totally worthwhile experience.

The view from the cafe.

The view from the cafe.

Coffee Beans

Coffee Beans

This was the perfect conclusion to our tour, and afterwards Nowa began the long drive back through the rural landscape of Bali to Seminyak.  The narrow roads and their verges were alive with activity: cars, tourist buses, laden scooters, bicycles, women carrying baskets and sacks on their heads, men pushing wheelbarrows of produce from the fields, children playing soccer on dried up paddy fields, tired workers slicing rice grasses with their machetes, women walking home having made offerings at their local temple, and school children in bright red and white uniforms finished their learning for the day.  Everywhere, life bustling past us.

Pay To Take Photo

Plantation Workers

Laden Scooters
At the end of our first day in Indonesia we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the Balinese people.  They were such happy people and I wanted to reach out to them, touch them, shake their hands, speak with them, laugh with them.  I wanted to connect with them – they seemed to have such beautiful souls.  Even the officials -Polisi, security officers, village officials – all offered us big smiles and a friendly “Hello” as we trooped past them in the stifling heat on our way to visit their local attractions.

As for Nowa, well he was just phenomenal.  I would highly recommend this jovial fellow to anyone travelling to Bali.  He listens carefully to what it is you want to see and he tailors the tour to suit you.  He speaks superb English (and that’s endorsed by an English teacher no less!), and his pride in his country is infectious.  On top of that, he didn’t hesitate once to answer my numerous silly and naive questions!  Bali Kini Tours – if you are going to Bali, you MUST spend a day with him or one of his other drivers who are equally “top notch”.

On arriving back at our accommodation we plunged immediately into our private pool to cool off and then enjoyed a full 60 minute body massage for AUD$20 in the comfort of our bedroom.  Shortly after, our butler arrived with our dinner and laid it out on the dining table for us.  Then he sprayed our bedroom for mossies, turned down the bed, lowered the netting and wished us a pleasant evening.  We were worlds apart from the people we had met today, but felt richer for having experienced their culture.





Bring on Bali!

25 04 2014

It’s travel time again and on this occasion, Roger and I decided to see what all the fuss was about in Bali.  Since so many Aussies visit there every year, there’s gotta be something worth seeing right?  Although, if I’m entirely honest, I wasn’t particularly hopeful and I had mentally and physically psyched myself up to deal with the very worst that Bali could throw at us.  As a holiday destination, Bali gets a bad rap from the Australian media and we decided NOT to watch the Today Tonight special edition on the eve of our departure which boldly claimed in its trailer that week: “1 AUSTRALIAN DIES EVERY 9 DAYS IN BALI.”  No, best not to watch that sort of thing before one leaves for the destination!

So having spent the last three days stocking up on Cascade red cordial (a precious liquid that supposedly stems the onslaught of Bali belly), cod liver oil tablets, vitamin C tablets, hayfever pills, Berrocca tablets (aids in repelling mosquitoes), and anything else that we had heard/read about, we were almost ready to  go.  The final things to be packed were the Mozzie bracelets, Aeroguard roll on, Dettol hand sanitiser and the dia-stop pills (to “blog us up” should the red cordial fail).

Let the holiday fun begin!

After a very leisurely drive from Midland to Perth International, the best of Wayne Fontana emitting from the taxi radio, we arrived at check in.  Having been appropriately sized up by the check-in attendant, she deemed us fit and able enough to assist with any air emergencies that may arise (excluding of course the disappearance of an entire jet plane) and allocated us the  front row exit seats on our Jetstar flight.  Chuffed to bits to still be considered to look ‘youthful and agile’ , we confidently boarded the plane and in no time at all (3 1/2  hrs), we’d arrived in Bali, Indonesia!  Too easy!  And no time zones to deal with either.

It was when we arrived at Denpasar Airport that things began to go a little awry.  It’s been so long since I traveled, I had forgotten that many small, older Asian women have no understanding of personal space!  The queue to customs was atrocious, and we ended up in the ‘slow lane’.  It didn’t help that we were approached by someone who offered to ‘express’ us…..and I politely sent him away.  I thought he was offering me a taxi.  However, Roger had been informed by his workmates to jump at the offer if it was made (which was purely random and very rare!), explaining that the official walks off with one’s passports to return 5 minutes later to happily lead you past all the the chumps sweating in the Indonesian humidity of the mile long queue.

After 45 minutes of barely moving five metres, and the aforementioned small, Asian women practically riding on my back in the queue (also whilst chewing her gum louder than a cow does its cud!), I was cursing my cautious nature.   In addition to that, the humidity had dramatically increased the volume of my hair ten fold and I was now sporting a  very un-stylish “Monica.”  (I am referring to the episode of Friends when they travel to Barbados).

Monica does Barbados

BUT, as I whined apologetically to Roger, his blue Jeep t-shirt clinging to his sweaty frame, and what I still stand by; you should NEVER let your passport out of your sight when traveling!

After 90 minutes we were through customs and I felt like a celebrity searching for my name among the sea of elegantly printed, glossy placards.  And then there it was, scrawled on a folded piece of A4 refill paper in black vivid marker pen: “Mr Kiri Powell.”

Traffic was, as we expected, organised chaos, and thank the lord we had the foresight to be arranged to be picked up.  We joined the Bali vehicle opera for 45 minutes before finally arriving at Bhavana Villas, Seminyak.  On check in we were greeted with a cool glass of orange juice which we knocked back immediately, letting the ice cubes clink together as we thirstily drained the glass.   Uh oh…Ice cubes!  That’s what “did it” for us in Thailand, and we hoped like hell that the red cordial would live up to its reputation!  Did I mention savvy travelers anywhere above?  Nope?  Good!

Having checked in, we were escorted to our villa, (Number 1 as it happens) which by all accounts was truly spectacular: the tranquil pool lit from every angle, the traditional wooden Balinese furniture that decorated every room, the smell of incense and the beautifully turned down four-poster bed draped in white mosquito netting.

Arriving at Bhavana Villas

Villa No 1

I sighed with relief.  It really did look as amazing as the pictures on the website.  We were especially stunned (is that the right word?) by the fact that, apart from the sleeping quarters, everything was open to the natural environment, in true Balinese style…… a million trillion mosquitoes baying for fresh blood included in the package.  Here’s hoping the money spent on roll-on’s, bracelets and tablets will repay us in kind.  Had we realised our villa was mostly entirely outdoor living, we would have invested in a bracelet for every limb!

Owlface relaxes by the pool.

Owlface relaxes by the pool.

So having smeared a few extra lines of Aeroguard across our virgin skin, and having become accustomed to the skinks coming out from behind the paintings/plants and skittering all over the walls of the bathroom and living areas, we were officially settled in and awaiting our personal butler to arrive with dinner: fries, bruschetta, one beefburger, one chicken burger and one carton of cow’s milk.

Our Sleeping Quarters

Our Sleeping Quarters

Outdoor Bathroom

Outdoor Bathroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor Living Room

Outdoor Living Room

Kitchen/Dining Area

Kitchen/Dining Area

After some dinner and a not-too-bad cup of English Breakfast tea, we dove into the safe confines of our Mossie net.  Being too warm to sleep under the covers, there was nothing for it but to sprawl on top – bare, white Aerogaurd-free flesh exposed for the hungry Mossies who had managed to flit in through the doors behind us.   Ahhhh, what a feast they would have tonight….





A Commuter in Perth

22 11 2012

When Mel and Koshi (TV breakfast hosts at Sunrise) said it was going to be a sunny 30⁰ in Perth, I couldn’t have asked for a better reason to dig out my brightly coloured summer dress and sandals for work.  It was going to be a beautiful Spring day, I had my happy dress on and of course it was Friday… only the best day of the week.

As I waited at the bus-stop in the warm sun, a lazy grin plastered across my face and the sun creating a hazy halo around me, the Joondalup street cleaning truck slowly approached.  The driver often passed me by with a wide berth, a toothy grin and a friendly wave.  He would appreciate my happy dress I smiled to myself.  Not today.

It was a replacement driver who blustered past me with his noisy rotating brushes, spraying a dirty film of water up out of the gutter and all over my sandals and my freshly applied fake tanned legs.  I quickly flicked my feet backwards and stared down at the black freckled pattern covering my shins, sandals and pink painted toenails.  I glowered after him with a face like a cat’s backside.  Eventually he put his truck in reverse and started beeping his way back towards me.  I was sure that my apology was slowly approaching, but he passed me by, stopped, changed back into first gear and began rumbling towards me again.  It seemed he had missed a spot.  Not to be caught out again, I skipped backwards as he approached and smiled smugly as the noisy truck roared off into the distance.

At that moment the 467 pulled in and I hopped happily up the steps.  “Good Morning,” I sang, sweeping my SmartRider card across the scanner with a flourish.

“Is it?” the grim-faced bus driver snarled.

“Oh,” I squeaked.

“Welcome to the Shit Express,” he grumbled, obviously a reference to the 1960s bus he had been allocated for his route that morning.  Not knowing how to respond to such a greeting, I quickly shuffled towards the nearest seat lest he accelerate quickly in anger and send me reeling to the ground, my happy summer dress lodged up over my head and my not so happy underpants exposed to the bright sunshine.

As I sat on the bus, too scared to breathe a sound (much like the other passengers), I mused quietly about my experiences as a commuter on the public transport system in Perth this year.  And to be honest, I can see why people say “I would NEVER use public transport!”

A sense of social decorum is noticeably absent in some people on public transport.  Sadly it’s mostly young adults.  From the young woman who loudly broadcast (with spectacular imagery) how “lucky” she’d got last night, including showing the bus driver the smattering of hickies across her ample bosom, to the Snoop-Dogg-wannabes sitting at the back of the bus with their boxer shorts exposed, swearing profusely and “pumping” the rap music from the tinny speakers of their cheap imitation i-phones.   And at least once a week there is a young couple in the midst of a saucy and entirely inappropriate public tryst.  More often than not, in the seat directly in front of me, such is my luck.  M-rated displays of public affection are something that one just does not need so soon after their Weetabix on a morning.  And then there is the girl who is permanently on her mobile EVERY SINGLE DAY for the entire seven minute trip to work and the entire seven minute trip home.  For a while I wondered if it had been surgically attached to her ear.  I’m baffled that she’s got friends left to talk to, she maliciously slanders a different girlfriend every morning!

However, it is when I have been standing at the bus stop near my school that I have suffered the most abuse, and as much as I try to fathom why I am a target, the only explanation I can come up with is that some people are just arseholes.  Unfortunately, and I really begrudge saying this, they’re all men.

My first incident involved a man in his twenties driving past, thrusting a megaphone out his car window and screaming “PICK ME UP!”  As obviously unexpected as this was, he frightened the absolute daylights out of me, and it didn’t help that the megaphone made an unnerving screech before the words came tumbling out of it.

In the second incident another young man in a white van thought it would be hilarious to cause his vehicle to backfire loudly right next to me.  My heart exploded in my chest, adrenalin surged through my body, one knee jerked upwards in an attempt to quickly get into the foetal position while I balanced precariously on the other, my arms cowered above my head, my eyes were squeezed shut tightly and I was braced for the impact of bullets and shrapnel.  Of course, once I realized that the danger was just a pint-sized punk who had nothing better to do, I felt extremely foolish.  I spent the rest of my wait for the bus flapping my shirt sleeves to disperse the perspiration that had flooded there with the threat of imminent death.

The worst incident by far was when a carload of middle-aged men sped past me and shouted “F**K YOU!” from their windows.  I was stunned!  How can a female waiting patiently for a bus be deserving of such abuse?  And one really has to be careful not to respond in a way that will antagonise someone who is already, it seems, pretty good and worked up.  I find that staring straight ahead without a flicker of recognition works well.  However, on that occasion I was so frightened that they would turn around and come back for another go that I rang my husband and made him stay on the phone with me until the bus arrived.  He immediately asked if I got their number plate – a difficult thing to do, I argued, when you are trying not to look directly into the face of danger!

And the most recent notable incident (prior to the grumpy bus driver of this story) was at the end of a journey home when a car was parked in the bus stop where I was getting off.   As the bus driver pulled in, he blasted his horn at the offender who had chosen to park illegally.  As the bus doors opened and I descended the steps, the stocky, black singlet wearing owner of the car leaped on to the bottom step and began to abuse the bus driver.  “I’ve broken down ya f**king dickhead…..” he shouted in a strong Australian accent, spittle flying violently from his mouth.  The barrage of abuse continued for a full minute before there was a pause, where I politely squeaked, “Excuse me sir, do you mind if I get off the bus now?”  Thankfully he stormed away back to his car and with shaking knees I hastily stepped down onto the pavement and hurried away.

What is so extraordinary about all of these incidents is that they all happened on a Friday.  Are people just so hyped up for the weekend that the “fun” has already started and their good social graces have been left at the time-out machine at their workplace?

When I breezed onto the bus on Friday morning in my happy dress I really should have known better.  People in Perth are tightly wound on Fridays.  Maybe they have had a tough working week.  I couldn’t care less if the “Shit Express” shakes and rattles a lot because it’s old, or is difficult to get into gear.  We are all doomed to that fate unfortunately!  Instead I enjoy the fact that someone else is dealing with the city traffic on my behalf, that I can sit and enjoy my novel on the way to work and that I can text my mum in New Zealand and wish her a pleasant day.

Being a commuter in Perth is, well, interesting.  I usually have a story with which to entertain my colleagues when I arrive at work most mornings.   But it won’t be forever.  Who knows, I’ve been good this year, so maybe Santa will bring me a cheap runaround for Christmas.  In the meantime fellas, ease up on me a little while I wait patiently for the 467.  You’ll be home knocking the top off that Corona long before I will be – the bus is running late again, so why completely ruin my day?





NOW AVAILABLE from AMAZON! (Reposted with download information)

15 09 2012

If it’s a bargain you’re looking for, then here it is.  Cheaper than a takeaway coffee and more entertaining than an hour of Big Brother (hopefully……otherwise I’ve got real problems!), my eBook “A Kiwi, A Brit and a Wedding in Spain” has finally been published on Amazon.

Don’t expect to find any boy wizards, teenage vampires or shades of grey in this book.  From the small backwater of Oamaru to the lights on the Eiffel Tower of Paris, this is my tale.

Join me on a whistle-stop tour through Europe for just £1.53  or USD$2.99  – also available at all other Amazon stores.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Buy from Amazon.com

READ Kindle EBooks on your ipad, iphone or ipod – all you need is the Kindle App

which can be downloaded for free.

EBOOKS FOR DUMMIES:   Not up with the latest fangdangle technology of Gen Z?  Don’t panic!  You can download the Kindle App (that’s the name for a programme that allows you to read Ebooks) to your PC and read Ebooks on your home computer.  Instructions with helpful picture guidelines can be found here.

Two teaser chapters are able to be viewed on Kiri’s Travel Tales blog.





Buying a New Car

2 09 2012

Warning:  This event turned out to be a harrowing experience for us, which I have retold here in a rather lengthy post.  I’m sorry about that.  If you are not interested in cars, nor have been through the drama of purchasing one, then perhaps this post will be of no interest to you.

If, however, your own experience is synonymous with the term ‘harrowing’ then you may find this tale thoroughly enjoyable.  May I suggest a hot cuppa and two gingernuts as a side serving to this story.

_____________________________________________________________

Since arriving in Perth five months ago we have been driving a 1996 Suzuki two-door jeep that was kindly loaned to us by one of Roger’s mates.  However, having leaned on the charity of our friend for long enough, we decided to begin the hunt for a new set of wheels.  The six weeks following this decision have been the most stressful, indecisive and frustrating weeks of our lives.  Buying a car, for us, has been more taxing than getting married, buying our first home or moving countries three times!  This is our tale.

It began one Friday afternoon in our studio flat while Roger was trawling through the Gumtree website, WA’s version of E-Bay.

“What’s our price range?” called Roger from the sunny balcony.

“$3,000. Not a penny more dear,” I replied firmly.

Disappointed that the figure did not contain another zero, Roger let out a long sigh and continued to sift through the bargain buys – the dregs that no one wanted anymore.  He soon stumbled across a metallic green Daewoo Matiz that had just been listed for $2,500.00.  It was very tidy, had low kms, was a bargain and Kiri had fallen in love with it.

We struggled through rush-hour traffic to the other side of Perth and pulled up outside the owner’s house, the little Kermit coloured car sitting gleaming happily in the sun.  A small rotund and very friendly lady approached us as we walked across the driveway.  “Oh I’m so sorry.  After I hung up from you, we sold it and I didn’t have your number to call you back.”  Disheartened, we returned home while Roger admonished himself for stalling, putting it down to old age.  He had never missed out on a deal like that before in his life.  Not when it came to cars.  He was an expert after all, didn’t I know!

The next vehicle to appear on Roger’s radar was a 2004 VW polo which had suffered badly in the hail storms of 2009.  Apart from the shell looking like a golf ball with all its dents and divets, it had only done 80,000kms and was a bargain at $4,500.00.  While I was reluctant to fork out the extra money, Roger insisted on checking it out.  He arranged to see the vehicle which was located on a small hobby farm at the bottom of the hills east of Perth.  Although the owner was at work, he left the car open for Roger to have a good dig around.  He found that in addition to the numerous pockmarks, the car was also filled with hay and was being used to transport horse feed around the property.  As he leaned on the car to assess if the interior was salvageable with a good valet, a tingling sensation moved up his forearm.  Looking down he noticed a regiment of fire ants marching boldly up his arm.  He flung himself backwards from the car, frantically flicking and flapping his arms.  And having also noticed them climbing up over his work boots, he stomped and pranced about like a clumsy river dancer in steel-capped  , while two horses in a nearby paddock looked on with their big horsey eyes, chewing their straw.

Once home, Roger badgered me about buying the car, adamant that it was a steal for the price and mileage, and would only take a couple of tins of Mortein and a few hours of elbow grease to clean it up.  I was unconvinced.  I was not prepared to bust open our budget for an ant infested golf ball.  However, Roger is the expert in these matters, and I left him to make the decision.  He offered the seller $4000 firm which he didn’t accept, and I wouldn’t let him offer any more.

So it was back to the Gumtree and within two days Roger discovered a 1998 Skoda Roomster 1.9 turbo diesel for sale.  He told me how Brits had laughed and made jokes at Skoda’s expense in the mid 80’s (What do you call a Skoda with a sunroof? A skip), but that of late they had been reinvented through their merge with Volkswagen Audi.

We contacted the owner and arranged to view the car that night.  Roger was pleasantly surprised, and not an ant or hay bale in sight.  The seller made his sales pitch and Roger nodded appreciatively at the fuel economy, the condition of the car, the overall look and especially that it was unusual.

Meanwhile I kicked at the ground and grumbled under my breath to myself about the price ($12,500.00).  But, since Roger was the expert in these matters, I kept quiet.

On his nod, we shook hands with the owner, wished him a pleasant evening and made our way home.  “I like it. I want it, it’s a steal for that price,” Roger murmured in his best Gollum voice.  I was confused.  I didn’t understand why we driving home without having made a deal.

While Roger is the expert in these matters, he is also known for being a tight-arse.  This is a man who reuses the same teabag twice.  He was going to play “the game” and hold out to see how much lower he could get the Roomster for.  Very shrewd, I thought.

The next night, while browsing through the Gumtree after work he noticed the Roomster listing was gone.  “Shit, shit, shit!” he complained thumping on the computer keys.  “Where’s my phone?”  In two seconds he was breathing heavily into the mouthpiece, asking the seller politely why the ad had been removed.  Of course it was obvious, the guy had sold it.  Roger looked like he’d been slapped with a wet kipper.  Again he put his dilly-dallying down to old age.  “This would never have happened to me two years ago.  I’m off my game.  I’m losing my touch!” he grizzled and moaned, and then went back to the Gumtree.

By now, in case you hadn’t noticed, the initial budget of $3,000 had quadrupled in about three weeks.  And it was two days after this that we found ourselves sitting at a set of traffic lights at an intersection noticing that almost every second car was brand new.

“Oh sod it,” I said.  “Let’s just buy a new car.  For the first time in our lives we can actually afford to.”

Roger’s eyes widened with delight, and so we began our search.

Just some of the research

Having been very impressed with the Roomster, Roger immediately joined a number of Skoda forums and researched two cars that had caught his eye: the Yeti 1.2 2WD ($27,500) and the Fabia Monte Carlo ($21,990).  Having chatted online with people from all over the world, and knowing more than probably the dealers themselves, I tagged along with him to visit two local Skoda dealerships to examine the two cars.

On a sunny Saturday morning we arrived at Dealer Number 1 and two things happened simultaneously; Roger pointed at the Yeti and said “I want that one,” while Kiri pointed at the Monte and said “I want that one.”  We arranged a test drive of the silver manual Fabia Monte Carlo.  The salesman drove it up the road with us and then Roger eased into the driver’s seat and took control.  Pulling onto the slip road to the freeway, the salesman casually said “You can put your foot down a bit if you want.”  And that was all the invitation Roger needed.  He accelerated swiftly past two cars before the road bottlenecked into one and joined the freeway.  Impressed with the car’s pickup and smoothness, we returned to Dealer 1’s car yard to talk price.  Armed with our information and research, we continued onto Dealer 2 to test drive the automatic Yeti.

On arrival at Dealer 2 they took copies of our driver’s licences, handed us the keys and left us to enjoy the test drive unaccompanied.  Roger pulled slowly off the lot, eased up the hill and immediately broke into a huge smile.  It seemed the easiness of the automatic had won him over completely.  And of course the large boot space for his radio controlled planes was an added bonus. A s I sat looking pretty in the 50 seater coach, my words echoed around the vast interior and I butt clenched as we passed tightly through narrow spaces.  Of course it wasn’t THAT big, but it felt huge to me and I just didn’t see the point in getting such a big vehicle.  Roger is the first one to moan about the huge 4WD’s that everyone seems to own.

So having test driven the Monte Carlo at Dealer 1, and the Yeti at Dealer 2, we had reached a stalemate.  We were in love with different cars.

Monte Carlo v Yeti

Since Roger was going to be the main driver and had been suffering in peak hour traffic morning and night for about five months, we had already decided that an automatic would be the best choice.  Not Roger’s preferred choice, he saw the automatic as a sign of old age, but it was the practical choice and would be better for re-sale.  However, this requirement meant that any ideas about the Monte Carlo would have to be abandoned since it was only available as a manual in Australia.  The automatic was not scheduled to arrive for three to four months. O f course my reluctance to agree to the Yeti was because it was a people carrier.  It was too “soccer mom” and my days of nipping swiftly into car-parks would be over.  The Monte Carlo on the other hand, was sporty and cool, and a cheap alternative to a mini cooper.  For me, it was all about looking good!

So I made it my mission to tempt Roger with other possible options.

The very next Saturday we visited a number of other car yards.  First I dragged Roger to the Hyundai dealer to test drive a Kermit green i20.  I still hadn’t got over the loss of the Matiz!  While the price of the i20 was good ($11,990), unfortunately the one on special was a manual.  It didn’t help that when the very friendly and slick-haired car salesman asked Roger what he thought, his reply was “It looks like you’ve picked it from your nostril and flicked it on the floor.  But if she likes it…”  The young man awkwardly shuffled off between a row of cars while I had a discreet word to Roger about his honesty.  “Next time just smile and nod and say it’s nice,” I muttered, “you don’t have to mean it!”

Next I steered Roger onto the Volkswagen car yard.  I grinned.  If anything would sway him away from the Yeti, it would be a VW.  On my left a shiny metallic blue Golf caught my eye.

“Ooooooooo look at this one!” I exclaimed loudly pointing and striding towards it.

“Woah, woah, woah, what you doing?” Roger whispered loudly.  “Keep your voice down!  They’re like vultures.  Once they know you’re interested they’ll be over here and you’ll be buying it.  Don’t look into their eyes – once you do it’s game over,” he muttered in hushed tones.

It would be pertinent at this point to explain Roger’s prejudiced views of car salesmen.  He believes that lies spill from their mouths like water from a tap, that they pretend to be your best friend, that they try to make you feel sorry for them…the tricks are endless.  Now I know my husband is the expert in these matters, but having had no experience of dealing with car salesmen myself, I found them to be charming and helpful.  Of course Roger’s interpretation of this was that they were “smarmy and deceitful.”

I rolled my eyes at his ridiculous paranoia and began to stroke the shiny blue Golf…until I saw the $42,000 price tag, and quickly withdrew my sticky fingers.  We passed by the “nest of vultures” (Roger’s words, not mine), avoiding all eye contact and whistling nonchalantly with our hands in our pockets.

At the far end of the lot I caught sight of a 2011 shiny black Polo TDi.  A diesel and ex factory car with 1700 kms on it.  This would be a carrot.  I whistled over to Roger whose head popped up from the bowels of a VW Tiguan, and dangled the bargain price of $21,990.00 before him.  Minutes later we were test driving her off the lot. I rubbed my hands together with glee – goodbye Yeti, hello Polo.

And then I heard the diesel engine – it sounded like we were driving a tractor.  I screwed up my face.  Oh this just won’t do. But Roger loved it.  Automatic, good for 200,000kms, cheap to run, solid build, great car ….but, it was black.  A black car in the hot Perth sunshine was a no-go.  We shook hands politely with the young salesman and moped off that lot and onto the next one.  Kia.

By the time we arrived here the car yards were almost closing, the weather was turning and the Kia Rio did not live up to my expectations.  It just didn’t look as cool as the other cars we had driven.  Roger was impressed with the Kia Soul but I drew the line at the prospect of driving with Postman Pat (minus the black and white cat) around Perth.  So we left the showroom and returned home faced with a dilemma.

Should we wait three months-ish until the automatic Monte arrived?

Should we buy the Polo?

Should we buy the Yeti?

The only thing we agreed on was that we both liked the Skoda cars.  A choice had to be made and Mr Indecisive nee Tight-arse was not able to make it.  By this stage, the budget was well and truly out the window.  Hell, I would have bought the shiny blue VW Golf R32 if Roger hadn’t dragged me away from it!  But, Roger was the one who would be using the car every day, he was the one that had lived and breathed cars his whole life, and as I’ve said numerous times, he was the expert in all car matters.  I laid my cards on the table.  I was going to have to fold.  It was going to be the Yeti.

Since the cars were new imports into Australia, there was no chance of getting one second hand.  Which meant we would need to go into negotiations with the Skoda salesman – Dealer 2.

Roger opened up the lines of communication via email and messages haggling over car price flew backwards and forwards for about a week.  It finally ended when Roger said “Give me your best price.  If I like it, I’ll come in.  If I don’t, you won’t hear from me again.”  The best price offered was $24,500.00.  And all communication stopped….until three days later when Dealer 2 emailed again and said that actually, Skoda had given them more money to play with, and that the price could be reduced to $23,990.00 with an extra two years warranty and parking sensors.

Defeat stared me in the face.  Roger was going to go for it.  I pulled out my last trump card: “Alright then.  Let’s go down tonight and take the Yeti for another test drive.  But I also want to test drive the VRS.  It’s only $6,000 more after all, and it’s a Fabia, AND it’s automatic.”  Roger’s eyes popped out of his head. “You wanna spend how much?!”

He emailed Dealer 2 back.  “You’ve got yourself a deal.  We’ll be down tonight, but we want to test drive the Yeti again.  Oh, and the VRS.  The wife.  I can’t control her.”

We arrived at the car yard and the Monte Carlo winked at me from inside the showroom.  I was so determined not to leave the car yard with a “people carrier” that I didn’t mind spending the extra money to get my own way.  I started up the VRS and cruised off the lot, again unaccompanied.  Roger was adamant that he did not want to test drive the VRS, and he sat confused in the passenger seat as I putted along the back streets and through the intersections.  “Hmm, it doesn’t seem to have much grunt,” Roger mused as I carefully turned into a side street. “I think you should have a go dear,” I encouraged.  If I could just get him in the seat, it was a done deal.

I was completely unprepared for what happened next.

Roger slid his large frame into the bucket racing seat.  “Ooo, seats are snug.  I like the display, feels nice.  Now let’s see how she drives.”  He tucked it into manual drive and planted his right foot on the accelerator.  In what felt like only three seconds, the 1.4 turbo charged and super charged engine jettisoned us from zero to just over 100km/hr, down a suburban tree-lined street towards a rapidly approaching T junction.  My heart leapt into my mouth, my pits exploded in a rush of adrenalin and my legs started shaking uncontrollably.  What power!  “I don’t like it,” I stammered.  “I love it!” Roger bellowed, grinning from ear to ear.

We arrived back at the car yard.  “What’s the verdict?” asked the salesman.  Pale faced and shaking like a shitting dog, I said “We’ll take the Yeti thanks.”  Roger nodded morosely, “Yes, that thing is ridiculously fast and I would lose my licence in five minutes if I owned that.”

(Roger would like to add a disclaimer here – he does not condone speeding in built-up areas and admits his silliness on this occasion.)

We went to the office and signed on the dotted line.  “I could probably get it cheaper still,” Roger jested with Dealer 2.  The salesman smiled and laughed.  And then there it was.  I saw it first hand, the morphing of his jovial face into a sneaky serpent’s.  Now I knew what Roger had been banging on about.

Next we were ushered to see Ms After Care.  As we walked up the stairs, Roger adamantly told the salesman that we would not be interested in anything that she had to offer, to which he replied “You’d be surprised.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that.”  And he laughed.  I laughed too.  He obviously had no idea how tight-fisted Roger actually was!

Ms Aftercare had barely started her spiel on window tinting when Roger stopped her short in her tracks.  “I know what you’re about.  I know your job is to try and sell me stuff that I can get cheaper elsewhere myself.  And I just want to be honest and tell you that I’m not interested.  So there’s no point me wasting your time or mine,” said Roger.

“Not even mats?” she asked.

“Nope,” Roger replied firmly, “I’m a tight-arse.”

I blinked and stared awkwardly at the picture behind the desk.  There it was again, my husband’s honesty.  I would have been happy to sit through her sales pitch, but Roger didn’t see the point.  And since he was the expert in these matters, I followed his lead. “I hope I haven’t upset you,” he apologised after I’d mentioned to him that he had been a little blunt. “I’m just being up front with you,” he said. “It’s okay,” she replied, and then showed us into Mr Finance’s office.

Having arranged finance and the necessary paperwork, we returned to Dealer 2 who was sitting at his desk, his fingers interlocked and resting on the desk jotter in front of him.  Full of self-importance he leaned towards us and said “Now, I feel like I have to say something to you both.”  We waited.  What now, I thought.  Car insurance?  Loan protection?  But I couldn’t have been further from the truth.  “I don’t know what you’ve said,” he announced quietly, “and you seem like nice people, but I’ve got an office girl in floods of tears up there because of something you’ve said to her.  And it’s not on.”

I stared at him and blinked.  Roger stared at him and blinked.  What on earth was he talking about?  It seemed that Roger’s blunt honesty had upset Ms Aftercare after all, and now we were being told off like a couple of naughty school children who had been caught bullying in the sandpit.  I couldn’t believe it.  After everything we had gone to get to this point, I would have happily ripped our contract up if it had still been sitting on the desk in front of me.  I was stunned.

Roger described the conversation to him, and even Dealer 2 admitted that perhaps Ms Aftercare was just having a bad day. “I was only being honest.  Just like I can be with you.  I know you’re only being my new best friend to get the sale, and when I walk out the door you won’t care what happens.”  The serpent smiled and laughed uneasily.

During the drive home we were very quiet.  We felt awful that Ms Aftercare was upset, but at the same time confused about how we had caused her to become so distressed.  Our new car buying experience, that should have been full of excitement, had been completely tainted.  We felt trapped and no longer wanted to proceed with the purchase.  To top it off, three days later Dealer 2 advertised their Yeti’s in Saturday’s paper on special for $23,990.00.

But it was not to end there.  Mr Finance spent the next week trying to sting us for the highest interest rate possible.  When I told him I thought my bank could do better than that, he immediately dropped the rate by 2%, without me even consulting the bank!  By the end of the week Mr Finance had dropped it a further 3%.  The hissing seeping down the phone was really starting to get my back up.  And then, just as the final details of the loan were being finalised, he told me about the $700 set up fee.  “Oh, didn’t I mention that?” he said too quickly.  I cancelled the loan and sought my finance elsewhere.

Our documentation

So tonight, after weeks of leg work, emails and phone calls, we are the proud owners of a brand new mato brown 2012 Skoda Yeti 1.2.  And it is a sweet car, and not at all the vacuous bus-like people carrier I initially imagined.  True, we have no car mats, no window tinting and no paint protection.  These are things that Roger has to sort out.  After all, he is the expert in these matters.  And how do I feel about the whole process of buying a brand new car?  Never again….ever!

Our New Skoda Yeti

But I have the pleasure of the company of a very happy husband who is at this moment scotch guarding the fabric interior and fiddling with all the buttons and knobs.  He has already cleaned the brake dust from the alloys having travelled just 70km in our Yeti today.

I wonder how long that will last?





From the Windows of Ruby Street – Part II

29 07 2012

 

The Arsonist

This particular incident was viewed, again, from the front windows of our flat in Ruby Street, from whence my prior criminal catching snapshot was taken (see previous post).

At approximately 4.27am on Tuesday, I awoke from my slumber to the wailing sounds of an alarm, which stopped abruptly following a very loud BANG.  As I lay quivering in my bed, my mind spurred into action in an attempt to explain the source of all the noise.  My final version of events was that someone had broken into a house, shot the occupants and then turned off the alarm.  Bollocks to that, I thought, and snuggled into Roger, who was sleeping like an angel on his only day off from the milk round.

Seconds later I heard the incessant honking of a car horn.  That bloody taxi again I thought!  (A regular occurrence at 7.45am every morning).  I leapt out of bed and ripped the curtains back to see a car on the opposite side of the street completely engulfed in flames.  SHIIIIIIT!

After running around in circles a few times in my small kitchen trying to think what the hell the emergency number was in England, I ran to the bedroom and shrieked “Roger!!  Call the fire brigade!”  In a very UN-calm and agitated state, I raced back to the window and threw it wide open just in time to see a second car burst into flames.

Roger drowsily made his way towards the telephone, tripping over shoes and god knows what else I had managed to leave lying in his path.  Upon reaching the phone, and with his eyes adequately adjusted to the blinding light (of the light bulb, not the fire), he placed the call.  Due to his slightly delayed reaction, and my initial instinct to ring 111, we were NOT the first to report the crime this time.

As the two cars burned brightly in the early morning, casting dancing shadows across the facades of terraced houses, an old white Vauxhall Corsa sat inescapably sandwiched between the two infernos.  It was just a matter of time before it too would be consumed by flames.  However, in the midst of all the popping, burning and exploding, the owner of the doomed car suddenly appeared, and leaping valiantly (or stupidly) through the thick black smoke he clambered hastily into his Corsa.  My heart was in my mouth.  “Is this guy crazy?” I jabbered at Roger who had by now joined me at the window.  And of course, true to the script of a dramatically explosive Hollywood movie…the car wouldn’t start.  RRRrrrrrrrrr.  RRRrrrrrrrrrr.

Tension and suspense wracked our bodies as we clung white-knuckled to the window frame listening to the starter motor turning over hopelessly, while flames licked the paint on the Corsa’s back panel.  In a flash, the owner’s balding middle-aged neighbour who had been watching from a safe distance ran heroically (or stupidly) across the road to his aid, his non-fire resistant dressing gown falling open mid-stride to reveal an enormous hairy belly.  More fuel for the fire, I thought.

Together, in what appeared to be slow motion, they pushed the car at a snail’s pace across the road while my hysterical screams of “Are you bleedin crazy?!  The petrol tank’s gunna BLOW!” echoed up and down Ruby Street.  By now, our neighbours had lined the pavement in their sleeping attire, and looking to the left and right of our window I could see bed-hair heads hanging suspended in air above the exciting scenes below.  Having safely navigated the Corsa to the other side of the road, thick black smoke billowed up into our window, choking us and filling our flat with an acrid stench, forcing us to close the windows and peer through a darkened haze at the action below.

After the arrival of Saltburn’s finest, the fires were extinguished and we were able to open the windows once more.  After eavesdropping on the firemen, police and neighbours from above, we were able to deduce that some unsavoury character had just minutes earlier siphoned petrol from most of the cars in the street.  How the cars came to be alight is somewhat of a mystery.

One possibility bandied about by observers was that the criminal must have spilled some fuel in the gutter which had dribbled down the street towards the sea, and then having thrown away his/her cigarette – ‘cos that’s the intelligence of these people, smoking while siphoning fuel from cars – had accidentally (maybe purposely) ignited the spilled fuel.

How the Corsa in between the burning car did not set alight, is a mystery only the eyes of the night know the answer to.

NOTE:  I did make a dash for my trusty camera, however Roger sensibly advised me that it would be bad taste for me to blind the neighbours with my camera flash while photographing people’s misfortune.  My moral radar told me he was probably right, so no photographs to accompany this post sorry.  KP

 





From the Windows of Ruby Street – Part I

17 07 2012

Date:  August 2003

While in England, my fiancée and I rented a tiny studio flat on the top floor of a three-storied terraced house, each storey containing its own apartment.  We lived in one of the “jewel” streets in the seaside village of Saltburn-by-the-Sea where stories of pirates, sunken ships and smugglers flourished.

Saltburn Pier at the bottom of the town’s furnicular

The street we lived on was called Ruby Street.  Our back window (there was only one) gave us a view out over the rooftops of the other terraced townhouses in the area but we didn’t open it much.  There was a pipe just to the right outside the window that consistently emitted the stench of blocked drains or sewage into our bedroom.

View from our back window

Can you see the offending pipe?

The two white net-covered windows at the front, however, looked down onto Ruby Street, and it is from these very windows that I observed three extraordinary incidences over the period of two months.  It is these tales that I will now retell:

–  The Skip Rats
–  The Arsonist
–  The Car Thieves

Part I – The Skip Rats

When a large blue skip bin appeared outside the house directly across the road from us, it was clear that some big renovations were about to begin.  Well, either that or someone had passed away and they were clearing out the property.  We weren’t entirely sure, and we didn’t really care.  The only difference it made to us was that it put a bit of a squeeze on car parking in the street for a while.

One morning as I leaned against the kitchen bench, gazing out the window and munching on a Bovril slathered piece of toast, a middle-aged man in a green sweatshirt and track pants shuffled slowly past the blue skip bin.  Seconds later, he shuffled back past in the other direction, peering curiously into the skip.  I watched bemused from my elevated vantage point as he shuffled back past a third time.  What is he doing I wondered?  Is there something in there that he wants?

The terraced house where we lived in Ruby Street

I kept my eyes glued on this mysterious character as he turned square on to face the skip bin.  His shifty eyes flicked left down the street.  Flicked right.  And before I could choke on my crust he had hoisted himself up and swung into the skip with the finesse of an Olympic gymnast on a pommel horse.  My mouth fell open, bits of chewed toast tumbling onto the carpeted floor at my feet.  What IS he doing?!

For ten minutes I watched the man shuffling about inside the skip bin, before I finally called Roger into the kitchen.

“You won’t believe it,” I said.  “Look at this guy,” I exclaimed pointing down to the bin.

“Oh yeah.  Skip rat.”

“What?”

“Skip rat.”

“What the hell is a skip rat?” I sniggered.

I listened attentively as Roger told me the customs and behaviours of a skip rat, a name given to a person who rifles through skip bins seeking antiques, treasures or just a little something for the mantelpiece at home.

“I’ve done some skip ratting in my time,” Roger admitted casually.  “You find some good gear in there.”

I threw him a dubious look before returning my attention to the man in the skip.  Our rat’s rummaging had been a success, and he leapt out with an old painting and a box under his arm, scurrying away with his precious trophies.  However, by midday, he was back, and this time he spent three hours in the skip, assembling his discoveries on the footpath before sweeping them up in his arms and scurrying off home again.

I was stunned!  These English are crazy, I thought, but that was just the beginning.  For the next couple of days I watched skip rat after skip rat stroll down the street, leap in, rummage about, leap out with their treasure troves and disappear.  The rats came in all genders, ages and classes.  They even came in pairs, and I snapped my new digital camera gleefully at the spectacle playing out before me.  For two weeks I stood at my kitchen window, camera at the ready, drinking tea and dunking my biscuits with delight every time someone new climbed into the skip.

“Bazz found a gold necklace in here the other day,” I heard one skip rat say to another.

“A gold necklace…” I murmured, my ratting instincts tempting my better judgement.

Skip rats hard at work

A few days later when I glanced out the window and noticed a witchy looking woman had loaded up the boot, back and front seats of her little blue car, I just had to take a photo.  This is ridiculous, I thought.  Her car was so chock full the mudguards were almost touching the tyres and her toddlers in the backseat had been buried under a plethora of what I can only describe as “junk.”

The next day when I arrived home after work, the police were standing outside the house next to the skip bin.  I raced upstairs and took up my viewing posse next to Roger in the kitchen who had been keenly watching events unfold.  He had no idea why the police were there, and since we had carefully logged the comings and goings over the last two weeks, we went downstairs to see if we could be on any assistance.  Or if I’m truthful, to be nosey!

“Excuse me officer,” Roger said in the deepest baritone he could muster, “is there a problem?”

“Good afternoon sir,” the policeman replied.  “It seems the house has been burgled, the workmen’s tools have disappeared.  Have either of you noticed anything unusual?”

Pffffftttt!  Unusual?  UNUSUAL?  My eyes almost popped out of my head.

“I did notice a blue mark III Fiesta parked here this morning when I went to work, but that car was here yesterday loading up stuff out of the skip” replied Roger.

The policeman became very interested.  “I don’t suppose you saw the registration?” he asked hopefully.

“I can do better than that,” he grinned.  “My girlfriend has a photo of the car.”

He stared in disbelief.  “Can I see the photograph?” he asked.

“You betcha officer!” I replied, and I bounded back upstairs as quickly as my slippered feet would carry me to retrieve my digital camera.

While I was fetching, Roger explained that I was a naïve Kiwi from Down Under who had never seen “skip rats” in action before and that was why I had taken a photograph.  He was trying to convince the policeman that I was not a stalking, obsessive curtain-peeping weirdo!

Caught on Camera! I have removed the license plate after consultation with my legal team.

As it turned out, a male relation of the woman we had photographed loading up her little blue car, had returned that morning and broken into the house that was being renovated.  The photograph that we had unwittingly snapped enabled the Cleveland Police to identify the licence plate and catch the culprit.  And if it wasn’t for us pesky kids, he would have got away with it!

Tune in again shortly for Parts II and III