Old Durham Town

11 07 2012

Date:   3 April 2003  (Sorry, no photographs of my own during this excursion.  I bought my new digital camera the week after this!)

In addition to England being filled from top to bottom with majestic castles and cathedrals, in every church there is inevitably a round ruddy-faced monk, or patient elderly church volunteer, whose job it is to stand at the base of an antiquated stone stairwell and encourage you to contribute a small donation for the pleasure of climbing to the top.  But more about that shortly.  This time around my exploration of the North East of England led me to Durham and the hallowed and ancient grounds of Durham Castle.

Durham Castle - view from within the Castle co...

Durham Castle – view from within the Castle courtyard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having spent a few years as a live-in residential assistant (RA) at University College in Dunedin, New Zealand – a hall of residence for first year university students – I was amused to discover that Durham Castle housed the very first University College in England.  It was certainly a far cry from the two familiar concrete slabs situated next to Otago University in Dunedin.  Spectacular buildings, secret stairways and dark dungeons were all enclosed within the huge, thick and impenetrable castle walls.  In Dunedin we only ever had two large glass swinging doors to keep out predatory teenagers.  Orientation Week was particularly troublesome as randy boys and girls loitered outside seeking a willing participant for a drunken one-night stand.

I used to guard the doors with a fellow RA nicknamed Filthy, and very rarely did anyone get past us on our ironclad watch.  Not even the All Black (who will remain nameless, but who later became Captain!) who pounded on the doors, flexing his calf and bicep muscles, and snorting on the cold glass in desperation.  Not even him.  It was a very entertaining job patrolling those “fresher” halls for three years, but those tales are an entirely different blog!

As I wandered through the dining hall and listened to stories of how Oliver Cromwell used Durham Cathedral as a make-shift prison to house Scottish prisoners of war, I envisaged him sitting at the head table, tearing the meat from a tender leg of lamb with his teeth, then quaffing the remains of his tankard before dragging some unlucky wench upstairs to have his wicked way with her.  Ahhh, the days when men were men.  Thank goodness those have passed!

Durham castle

Durham Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strolling through the castle grounds and into the cathedral, I appreciated the gothic architecture, the flying buttresses, the fact that it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Shrine of St Cuthbert (?!).  Yes I did appreciate those things.  But on the other hand, how fickle of me to get outlandishly excited when I stumbled across the cloisters and learned that parts of the very first Harry Potter movie had been filmed there.  Of course in my defence the Harry Potter phenomenon was sweeping the world at an unprecedented rate at that time.

Durham Cathedral cloisters used to film the Ha...

Durham Cathedral cloisters used to film the Harry Potter movies.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After entering the cathedral I made my way to the central tower, which I had been assured offered the best views of Durham and the surrounding area.  And it is here that I met the round ruddy-faced monk I mentioned at the beginning of this tale, complete with brown robes and rope knotted around the middle.  I grinned stupidly at him.  Let’s remember, I grew up in New Zealand during the seventies, eighties and nineties.  The only place I ever saw someone dressed like that was in the television series Robin Hood.  “Hello Friar Tuck” I murmured, nodding my head respectfully.

For just £2, he told me, I could climb the 325 steps to the top of the tower for a royal view of Durham.  I plonked my gold coin into his collection box, performed a few limbering stretches at the door to the stairwell and then tore up the steps.  I’ll be up here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, I thought.

It turned out to be a whole lot trickier than that.  The stairwell was less than a metre wide and spiraled tightly in a very steep gradient, and with people coming down while I was going up, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to move in that space!  Aside from total lung collapse, a spasmodic heartbeat and unrelenting muscle spasms in my thighs and ass, I eventually made my way up to the tiny door at the top.

Keep stairwell.

This isn’t THE stairwell, but this is exactly what it looked like! (Photo: Flickr)

Unfortunately, the manner in which I swaddled my arms and legs around the centre of the staircase as tourists brushed past me was nothing less than an obscene representation of Demi Moore’s pole dance in the movie Striptease.  While women pursed their lips in consternation, men brushed uncomfortably close on their way past.  It seemed that I was the only one making an effort to flatten my body against the curved walls of the stairwell, while everybody else passed by without even so much as a tilt of the torso!  Children were also not faring well, many on the verge of tears at the steep gradient, which was a hundred times worse going down.  One footing error on the uneven and slippery steps would result in a quick fire ascent on your backside all the way to the bottom.  And I know I used to do that as a kid for fun on the carpet covered stairs of the Awamoa Hockey Pavilion, but having a slightly less robust posterior these days, the idea filled me with horror!

While I leaned over the parapet at the top catching my breath, I barely took the time to admire the views, so apprehensive was I about getting back down!

On my descent, the steps were so narrow that I had to step down each one sideways, and since two feet wouldn’t fit on the same step, I had to either step down two with the right leg and one with the left, or cross my legs over each other.  Both options left me precariously unbalanced.  It was slow going, and then there was the required flattening of oneself against the wall to let people pass on their way up.  It was a stroke of good luck if an arrow slit happened nearby that I could press myself into!

When I finally exited the bottom of the tower, my knees were knackered and my thighs burned hotter than two iron pokers pulled straight from a Blacksmith’s forge.  It made it quite difficult to walk and I looked like a malfunctioning robot as my knees snapped backwards awkwardly causing my legs to straighten in a restricted robotic movement.

I forced a polite smile at the round ruddy-faced Monk as I hobbled past him, trying to muster as much composure as I could.

“Did you close the door at the top?” he smiled.

Nice one, I thought sarcastically.  Friar Tuck had a sense of humour too.

And without looking back, I hobbled out the gates of Durham Castle and tottered back to the train station.





A Penchant for Blood…mwahahahaha!

7 05 2012

Anyone who has travelled through England knows only too well the plethora of castles and cathedrals that litter the country, and that for a small fee, one can wander through, gazing skywards, mouth agape at the enormous structures that are steeped in English history.

Of course, for many people who travel through England, there comes a time when the words “Not another bloody castle” are muttered through clenched teeth, closely followed by “Not another bloody church.”  At least that’s been the comment from the majority of travellers I’ve spoken to.

As for me, I can’t say I have ever felt this way.  Their stature, their beauty, their secrets, the famous and infamous people who have strolled or stormed their hallways and sturdy walls have always captured and fascinated me.  I remember the first church I visited after arriving in England like it was yesterday.  Whitby Abbey is indelibly etched on my memory forever.

It was a cold, grey, day in the North East of England and the wind had worked itself up into a frenzy as it snapped along the coast line.  On days like this the sea seemed to boil with fury and the stories of smugglers’ ships being devoured by the sea or smashed into the base of Huntcliff at Saltburn, was easily imagined.

Saltburn Pier and Beach

I drove down the coast to Whitby and parked on a corner high above Whitby Harbor where two massive whale jaw bones positioned as an arch towered above me, a path beyond weaving its way down the steep hill to the township below.  I gazed across the bay to the other side and instinctively pulled my coat tightly around me.  It wasn’t the chilling sea breeze lashing up from below that had made me shiver, but rather the black, uninviting ruins of Whitby Abbey that stared threateningly at me from the cliff top on the other side of the harbor.

Walkway down to Whitby Harbour and Township

I glanced up towards a third floor window of the Bed and Breakfast accommodation behind me and imagined Bram Stoker staring out of his window, on a day just like this, towards the imposing abbey, the stirrings of a tale about a vampire called Dracula awakening deep within his imagination.  It was the perfect setting and it was what had lured me to Whitby.

With my head buried into my scarf and coat collars, I shuffled through the bustling cobbled alleyways of the town, past the Dracula Experience filled with its wax horrors, fake cobwebs and blistering screams of thrill-seekers inside, across the swing bridge, past the quaint olde curiosity shops and past paned windows glinting with black Whitby jet, a golden warmth from within enticing cold shoppers to step inside.

Finally I arrived at the base of the infamous one hundred and ninety-nine steps from the novel, the very ones that Mina scurried up in her efforts to reach the safety of the abbey and escape the clutches of Dracula himself.  In a tail wind, I trudged up the worn blackened steps to the top, my breath coming in quick gasps after step number 135, the icy wind pricking the back of my throat.

Whitby Abbey on the cliff top

One hundred and ninety-seven, one hundred and ninety-eight…and then I was at the top, standing on the edge of a forgotten graveyard.  Black headstones that had become illegible with time tilted wearily.   Some were broken, some had sunken heavily into the ground, and some had just decayed with the weather, which by now was driving a cold hard rain into my face.  I dashed through the overgrown grass and ducked inside a small chapel.  It was damp, dark and eerily spooky inside, as if Dracula himself were lurking in the shadowy corner behind the pulpit, licking his lips at the sight of me and my flushed cheeks.  I shrugged my scarf up higher around my neck and sat quietly on a wooden pew at the back of the church listening to the wind moaning loudly outside.

After the rain had eased I wandered through the imposing ruins of the Abbey where remnants of great arches towered over me, black and crumbling.  The Abbey was an intimidating presence in Whitby and a spectacular attraction for the small town.

Ruins of Whitby Abbey, Whitby, England

Ruins of Whitby Abbey, Whitby, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I stomped back down the steps, the smell of hot chips wafted enticingly past my nostrils and I immediately felt hungry.  The Lonely Planet had bestowed the accolades for “Best Fish and Chips in the World” on The Magpie Café in Whitby, but it was closed for renovations, and so fate led me to a harbor side restaurant called Trenchers where I unwittingly ordered the best fish and chips I would ever eat in my life.  The fish was so succulent, so flaky, so fresh!  It was as if they had plucked it from the sea when they saw me walk through the door.  It has been nine years since Trenchers introduced me to Whitby Cod and chips, and nowhere else in the world have I found a feed of “greasies” that are even a patch on theirs.

Having hungrily devoured the hot fish and chips in record time, I stepped back out into the cold cobbled streets and began my climb back up to the whale jaw bone arch.  As the daylight began to recede, from out of the shadows came the most extraordinary creature: a female vampire.  My heart in my mouth, I recoiled away from her and pressed myself flat against a nearby bus shelter.  She grazed past me, flashing her black painted eyes in my direction, her burnt amber hair trailing down her back and her long flowing black robes flapping violently in the wind and she strode in her black Doc Martin boots to the end of the alley.  And then she was gone.

I panicked.  Had I stumbled through some rupture in time and relative dimension in space and accidentally ended up in Stoker’s novel?  Or alternatively, had the devil, that wily trouble-maker, possessed my soul when I wasn’t looking up at the Abbey?  I thankfully dismissed both conclusions moments later when a group of Gothic revelers passed by.  It turned out that my visit to Whitby had coincided with the bi-annual Goth Weekend festival which saw the town turn into nothing less than a Vampiric Underworld.  But, sadly, my day at Whitby had come to an end and I was unable to stay and drink blood, suck people’s necks and dance until dawn with the vampires.

In the years since, the Goth Weekend at Whitby has become one of the most popular Gothic events in the world and is now held twice a year.  I wonder what the Twilight phenomenon has done for the sleepy seaside town?

Unfortunately Rog hasn’t been unleashed on Whitby Abbey with his Panasonic Camera…the perfect reason to go back for another visit. And of course the fish and chips. 🙂





Initial Impressions of England through Kiwi eyes

1 05 2012

In 2002, in a pub in a small town in New Zealand, I proposed to my good friend Shaz that she join me on my OE to England.  I never really expected her to say yes, and when she did, well, I just thought it was the Jim Beam talking!  But when, two weeks later, I received a text from her saying that she had booked her tickets, I couldn’t have been more excited.  And on a summery New Year’s Day in 2003 we boarded Singapore Airlines bound for the wintery streets of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England.

Shaz and I quickly become "allies" with the English publican, part of our master plan to be "locked in."

The posts that follow over the next while are tales from 2003 and 2004 when I was living and working in England, and of course (like every Kiwi who has gone before me) exploring the European countries.

However, now that I am wiser, older (unfortunately!) and much more sophisticated (ahem, cough), I find my observations and experiences to be a little naive, quite embarrassing and almost always amidst an alcoholic haze.  That said, there were also some bloody funny moments that I just have to share!

If there’s one thing to change a person’s outlook on life and make them grow up fast, it’s travelling!  So with some slight editions to one or two monumentally shameful stories (hindsight really is wonderful isn’t it?!), here goes!

 

March 2003

England is:

  • Pubs closing at 11am unless you’re “in the know” and can get locked in after closing.
  • Kiri and Shaz trying desperately to “get in the know”, but sadly often left outside in the brisk night air.
  • Not receiving a cheery “Hello, how’s your day going?” from the check-out operators at the Supermarket, and being blanked when you try to initiate polite conversation.
  • Having to pack your own groceries and waiting for the 70 year old lady with arthritis in front of you to painstakingly pack hers.
  • Walkabout Pub in Middlesbrough, particularly Steve, the manager, with the dreamy brown eyes.
  • Kiri’s drunken failed attempts at complimenting Steve on his dreamy brown eyes, while Shaz pisses herself (indiscreetly!) at a nearby leaner.
  • Cars parking on both sides of the roads facing any direction they please.
  • Leaping out of the way of cars swerving across the road towards you to park on the other side of the road.
  • No reduced cream for Kiwi dip.
  • Baked bean flavoured crisps (not chips!).
  • Being hit on because of your, quote: “exotic accent.”  What, this old thung?
  • Being called an Antipodean who has come all the way from the Antipodes and having no idea where or what that is.
  • Buses lurching forwards before you’ve had the chance to sit down.
  • Landing face first in people’s crutches on buses.
  • Getting the giggles on the Underground because you don’t know where to look, heaven forbid you should strike up a conversation with someone!
  • Leather skinned old women exiting the numerous Sun Tan shops that line the high street.
  • Women wearing high heels and cargo pants. How are they going to scale a two metre wooden wall in those if the occasion calls for it?
  • Girls wearing hardly any clothes at the pubs, and lots of them wearing fishnet stockings (?!!)
  • Kiri and Shaz staring at fishnet stockings in Debenhams for thirty minutes before shaking heads and leaving the department store empty handed.
  • A bird that sounds like an owl waking us up at 6.30am every morning.
  • Spending Saturday and Sunday mornings at 6.30am in pyjamas looking like Medusa on crack, hunting down an owl-sounding bird.
  • Squirrels scampering around the back lawn and up trees.
  • Kiri and Shaz chasing squirrels around the back lawn to see if they bite or not.




A Kiwi Hunting Expedition

22 04 2012

25 March 2005 – This post is told from my British husband’s point of view of his hunting experience in New Zealand.

I hadn’t been in New Zealand very long when one Saturday night during Easter I was invited to go pig-hunting with my wife’s Kiwi friends, a married couple, Tanya and Rodney.  I learned quickly that the great outdoors, and in particular hunting and fishing, were an integral part of the Kiwi identity.  Having never had the opportunity to partake in a bit of hunting in England (a sport mostly reserved for the upper classes, their horses and their hounds), I was as keen as mustard to have a go!

Gearing up for my second hunt - the offending Puma trainers nowhere to be seen this time!

But before I continue let me explain that these pigs are not the cute little pink porkers that “oink oink” happily around the English farmyard all day.  These are killer pigs, with tusks as big as an elephant’s.  Well, not actually that big because then they wouldn’t be able to move.  But hopefully my exaggeration is effective; they are BIG MEAN PIGS.  They are extremely fast moving for their small stature and if cornered, will charge with their razor sharp tusks straight at you.  Needless to say, a good gouging in the lower limbs by one of these pigs could possibly result in broken legs; at the very least a trip to the hospital.  Heaven forbid that a tusk should horrifically manage to lodge itself somewhere else!

WOW!  Exciting stuff, I thought.  Without further delay we leaped into the Toyota Hilux and headed for the hills.  Tanya and Rodney gave me some time to practise my aim and get used to the guns we would be using.  Where a static tin can was involved, I was a pretty good shot.  I imagined it would be a different story with the pigs from hell running at me!

The poise, the execution...just the manliness of it all ay?

We set off and after a few hours of traipsing nervously through the bush, senses fully alert, a pig had yet to cross our path.  I was starting to feel a little disappointed (albeit slightly relieved!) that tonight I would not come face to face with my first kill.  And then a wild animal of a different sort stumbled into our cross-hairs.

Rodney had spotted a fierce wild goat grazing on the top of a hill on the other side of a large and deep valley.  “How do you feel about shooting a goat?” he asked.

“I’ll shoot anything” I replied, teeth clenched and eyes as big as saucers.  I squinted into the distance as he pointed out my victim.  He must’ve had vision as good as Superman because I couldn’t see a thing amongst the expansive bush, but once he had handed me a pair of binoculars I could see the wispy goatee of my target.  “Billy Goat Gruff,” I snarled in my best Jason Statham imitation, “your days are numbered.”  I viewed this as nothing less than a life or death situation…even if the goat was on the other side of a valley about 3oo metres away.  All my time spent watching war and sniper films was about to pay off!

We stealthily maneuvered our way through rugged country that was completely piss-wet through, and I thought to myself “Good job I wore my completely inappropriate bright red and white un-camouflaged Puma trainers.”  My footwear proved problematic as we navigated the slippery and uneven trail (not that I could see any semblance of a path!) towards the unsuspecting goat.

After trudging carefully down our side of the valley, I was slightly miffed to discover that the bloody goat had climbed about 50 feet down the opposite cliff face and was now happily grazing on a very steep ledge.  Mountain goat it was, mountain climber I was not!

“What shooting position do you prefer?” Rodney whispered quietly.

Shooting position?  Huh?

“Ahem, well, I find the crouching-tiger-hidden-dragon position to be the best one to attack from,” I nodded, puffing out my chest in a manly fashion.

He carefully handed me the rifle, and then it was just me, the goat and the sounds of the New Zealand bush.  I peered through the telescopic sight and just as I got the cross-hair lined up on my prey’s front shoulder, the bloody goat turned and looked straight at me.  Aw shit, here come the sympathy pains …….it was like the damn trout I couldn’t batter on the head last week!

As it gazed at me with its big sad eyes, munching harmlessly on a tasty piece of gorse, I lined up the perfect shot in the centre of its chest and manning up, I LET HER RIP!  A deafening noise erupted from the gun, made twice as loud due to the shape of the valley, and the goat started screaming and running off down the hill with blood pouring from it’s front!  Tanya, my back up shooter, took aim and fired at the shrieking beast to finish it off.  After a few moments, we heard it crash through some branches and disappear out of sight.  A deathly silence filled the valley.

“Do you want your photo with it?” asked Rodney grinning.  Well, does the bloody Pope pray I thought to myself?  Of course I wanted a photo!

“If it’s not too much trouble getting to it, I would love a photo,” I replied eagerly.

So we set off down the piss-wet through valley and began the climb up the other side.  The first 20 feet was okay, but then the rest of the hill resembled the climb from base camp to the peak of Everest, minus the snow.  I have never been so thankful for lumps of speargrass sprouting from rocks on that cliff face.  Even if they did cut my hands to pieces!

After weaving up and across the cliff face, we finally found the goat.  A single shot straight through the chest and out the shoulder had done the damage.  A perfect shot would have been a bit closer to the centre – but shit hot nonetheless!  It wouldn’t have gone much further.  Tanya’s shot had missed, much to our surprise, but definitely to my delight as it meant that I could claim all the glory for myself!

After posing precariously on the edge of a very narrow ledge for a few pictures, my grin as wide as a Cheshire cat, we nudged the goat over the edge and watched it plummet about 150 feet.  It was to be left for the dreaded pigs I mentioned earlier to gorge on.

My thanks to Rodney who leaned dangerously backwards on the edge of a precipice to get this photo. There wasn't a lot of room here...room enough for my red Pumas though!

As we had come about 150 feet up the cliff face, we only had another 50 feet to go to get to the top, so in my trusty (and again, completely inappropriate) red Puma trainers, I scrabbled, scrambled and scraped upwards and onwards.  “Don’t fall off Rog, Kiri will kill me,” said Rodney.  This part was quite terrifying.  I had visions of the Westpac Search and Rescue helicopter coming and airlifting me to safety, reprimanding for my irresponsible choice in climbing footwear!  But all joking aside, I truly didn’t think I would make it to the top and I was really worried about both myself and Rodney.  I don’t think any man had ever set foot on that particular piece of New Zealand, and if I’d had a British flag on me I would’ve planted it right on the top!

I finally managed to get to the top with the help of Super Rodney and his gun belt/bumbag that he threw down to me and used to winch me up.  Then it was a long walk back to the ute.  By this time it was getting dark and every tiny rustle had my head swinging left and right, quietly praying that I wouldn’t see a wild pig with me in its sights.  Hopefully they were all far behind us enjoying the goat buffet.

As we drove back to town I felt exhausted but I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face.  And my weekend wasn’t quite over yet.

The next night I was invited on another hunt (no doubt due to my skillful shooting and climbing abilities?) to hunt the elusive pigs again.  This time I was totally kitted out:  combat fatigues, army issue boots and camouflage face paint. I think this unnerved Tanya and Rodney a bit.  “It’s not the movies Rog,” they laughed.

And this time?  Success!  We got two pigs.  Tanya shot them both, cut them open and yanked their guts out before you could say “Eeeww that’s a bit messy.”  This is a woman you definitely want to have around if you’re stuck on a desert island!  Shooting is certainly not a male-only domain in New Zealand.

She got most of the insides out, but the special technique for cutting around the bum to take the arse out had escaped her just at that moment, so she left them in.  And if you’re wondering why I didn’t get my hands dirty, it’s cos I was standing guard over her holding a rifle to ensure that the two other pigs that ran off didn’t come back to have a go.  Well that’s my story, and I’m sticking by it!

Once she had finished, we grabbed a pig each and began to climb up yet another hill.  Tanya was struggling a little carrying her pig, so I threw mine over my shoulder and held it there with one arm, pig’s arsehole firmly ensconced next to my cheek, and grabbed hold of a leg of hers – her pig that is, not Tanya’s leg!

As we continued up the hill, a sickly shitty smell began to waft into my nostrils and it was only when I got back to the truck that I realized that the remaining feces inside the pig’s arsehole had squelched out with the jolting movement of my walking, and was now oozing down the back of my shoulder.  Just couldn’t remember the technique, ay Tanya?

I’m not sure if that was a pig-shooting initiation ritual of some sort, a bit of Kiwi humour perhaps, but I took it all in my stride.  People say it’s good luck for a bird to shit on your shoulder, so how lucky must it be for a wild pig to shit on your shoulder?!  Midweek lottery, get your ticket!

My apologies to any vegetarians or animal lovers who may be viewing this post.

And that brought me to the end of my very exciting Easter weekend in New Zealand.  My great outdoors experience had been amazing.  For days I retold my adventure, footstep by footstep, to Kiri and anyone else I could get to stand still long enough to listen.

The beauty of New Zealand is that no matter which part of the country one lives in, this kind of excitement is right on their doorstep.  I guess that’s why it is such a popular pastime with so many Kiwis, both men and women.  Let’s face it, it beats going to the pub for a pint!





Perth. How I’ve missed your blue eyes and warm breath.

30 03 2012

We’ve been here for just over three weeks now and with my hand on my heart I can tell you that of those twenty five days, I have only seen one day where there was a wisp of a cloud in the sky. It’s been blue skies and temperatures 27degC and above every day.  Every day!  Of course any Perth-ites reading this will be wiping their brow and saying “Yep, that’s right.”  Perth has not had this many heatwaves for the last 115 years, a heatwave being classified as temperatures reaching over 35degC for three consecutive days or more.  It is supposed to rain this weekend.  Rain.  Now that will be a novelty!

Since I was here three years ago the city has really got its groove on.  There are new skyscrapers making a noticeable impact on the city skyline and the new stadium is an eclectic combination of building materials that look like they’ve been collected from the local recyclers.  But even with the vast improvements in the public transport and the new Perth underground, cars are still bumper to bumper on the freeway morning and night.  Mental note: avoid the freeway at all costs.

A good friend of Roger’s has very kindly loaned us his jeep to get us around Perth until we buy our own car, however, the battery is knackered and so the Suzuki X90 has to be bump-started every time we use it.  we can, we park on a slope or a hill. But if there is pushing to be done, I am the official pusher…much to Roger’s embarrassment.  He feels awful sitting in the driver’s seat while “the missus” is hanging off the back, but I refuse to bump start it.  I know what will happen.  By the time we reach the end of our street I will have flooded the engine, Roger will be awash with perspiration, he will have pulled both his hamstrings and will be trying very hard not to swear at me.  The marriage will last much longer if I just push.

Our temporary wheels

The creepy crawlies in Perth are just the same as before.  I’ve watched mesmerised as a thick line of ants carry molecules of left over dog food to their homes.  One has to give this some perspective to fully appreciate the capabilities of the ant.  It would be like me putting my old Toyota Starlet on my head and carrying it from one end of Oamaru to the other.  If I was a bug in the insect world, and I was starting a business, I would hire ants.  Those little buggers are indefatigueable.  Let that be your power word for the day.

In addition to the ants, I’ve had an unpleasant encounter with a spider the size of my hand, a cockroach that leapt across the surface of a swimming pool straight into my face *shudders convulsively* and just two nights ago Roger and I found ourselves clambering over the top of each other chasing a mouse across the kitchen countertop.  Mental note: shake shoes thoroughly before inserting foot.

Orb Spider - the latest addition to my Aunty De's World of Pets

My final animal encounter occurred about a week ago during a job interview.  There I was sitting round a board table opposite He-Editor and She-Editor, both whom I was trying to win over with my best hire-me-I’m-amazing-smile.  Meanwhile, underneath the table out of view, my feet were being licked to death by a small, brown daschund clothed in a burberry diamante studded harness who had waddled into the room uninvited.

As I saw it, I had three options:
1.  Allow the unwelcome foot bath to continue and ignore it as best I could.
2.  Ask politely for the dog to be removed from the interview room and in doing so wave my anti-dog flag for all to see.
3.  Kick it away.

Daschund

Daschund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While all of this was running frantically through my head, I was at the same time trying to absorb the words of She-Editor who was by now outlining the roles and responsibilities of the job.  I smiled and nodded, completely oblivious to what she was saying: “My feet are under the table, the dog is under the table.  They probably can’t see underneath there.  I should say something, that would be better.  Or maybe I could just kick it.  No, better not kick it.  I’ll just give it a firm nudge and then the wet tongued handbag will leave me alone.”

So I tried to nudge the dog away from me, but ended up ‘chinning’ the dog, causing it to become straddled on my airborne foot from which it then fell off sideways.  “Oh Kiri,” said He-Editor who had been observing all of this from his side of the table, “is the dog bothering you?”  BUSTED!

Oh the shame, the shame! A grown, respectable woman picking on a helpless albeit very well dressed dog.  “Would you mind terribly putting it outside?  I’m finding it quite distracting, a dog licking my feet while I’m being interviewed,” I said flashing my winning smile, which fell crookedly off my face.  The gig was up.  I doubted if there would be a job forthcoming from this interview.

I maintained as much composure and dignity as I could while I click-clacked out of the building.  However, my final shreds of that disappeared as in my high heels, in full view of the staff, I pranced over to the jeep and began straining and pushing it from behind. Roger, wanting to assist me in my efforts, was half hanging out of the door when the back wheel of the vehicle accidentally rolled up onto his Zigtech Reebok shoe.  He yelped, then hollered and then leaped about the carpark clutching his foot in pain.  Meanwhile, I was left vainly clinging to the back of the driver-less car which had begun edging its way down the gradual slope towards the gleaming BMWs and Range Rovers parked on the other side of the carpark!

It was one of those days to remember.  And have you ever noticed the god-awful sound that high heels make when they are being dragged unwillingly across an asphalt surface?





Shopping and Trains in England

20 03 2012

Arriving in England was a bloody big shock to the system weather wise (although they have had the mildest winter in fifty years!) but it was nice to be back in a relatively clean and normal country.

A little different to South East Asia huh?

Since I have been here before, don’t expect a whole lot of posts about my first impressions of England – those little ditties from when I DID live in England have been stored on my computer for a while, and maybe it’s time I pulled them out again for your reading pleasure. *wiggles eyebrows*

Instead this post is about two things I noticed while in England this time. The fashion and the trains. Of course the first thing we did when we arrived was hit the shops! England has the best and cheapest clothes ever – long live Primark!

So what’s the shizzle in fashion in England at the moment? Well, super skinny jeans are definitely “in” and I’m devo (that’s devastated for anyone over the age of 25). I do not suit super skinny jeans. In fact, I’m pretty sure the majority of the female population don’t suit super skinny jeans, yet they seemed to be on every shelf in every shop. When they were only skinny jeans they were bad enough. Were they called stove-pipes in New Zealand? But super skinny. I wonder how many women just fall down in shopping malls due to the absence of blood flow to their lower limbs.  And these jeans aren’t just for the girls, they even have super skinny jeans for the blokes!  (See link at bottom of post)

The men’s jeans were just as awful. The style of the moment has the legs shaped so that they bend outwards in a banana fashion, causing the jeans to have the I-just-got-off-my-horse-after-100-days-of-riding look. But wait, there’s more. They are nicely finished off round the ankle with a tight elastic cuff – just like you’d find on a pair of old school trackie pants. Blurk! I tried to coerce Roger into modelling a pair so I could take a photo but he blatantly refused. Oh but just you wait you lucky, lucky Kiwi blokes. This little hum-dinger piece of fashion should be hitting shops near you soon!

This photo actually makes them look half decent. They're not!

The other thing that shrieked at me from shop windows were the clothing neologisms that my Year 12 students from last year would lap up! The first was “Jeggings.” These were not just a pair of leggings, but leggings that looked like a pair of jeans. Hence, jeggings! Eek, clever!

The second was a little trickier to figure out. “Treggings – two pairs for 10 quid.” Hmmm. On closer examination, I discovered they were leggings that looked like a pair of work trousers. Hence, treggings!

Ahh the British. Always leading the trends in fashion. If you feel you need to know more, check it out here.

So while in England we spent a few days down South and a few days up North, two parts of the country that are totally different worlds. I don’t think I’m identifying anything that someone living in England doesn’t already know, but for those of you who haven’t been there let me try to explain it. And I’m going to do it using trains.

Down south in the county of Surrey, the trains glide soundlessly up to the platform, silently easing to a halt. Their glossy colourfully painted carriages appear sleek and sexy as they warm in the winter sun. The tinted windows suggest a magical mystery tour awaits you inside. You enter into a warm and cosy interior with clean, newly covered velour seats and brightly carpeted carriages. The easy rocking motion and hum of the train makes you feel like you are cradled in the bosom of a loving mother as you glide carefree towards your destination.

Up north in the county of Cleveland, the trains are considerably different. They squeal and groan as they pull up to the platform, screeching to a shuddering halt. Their dull blue flaky carriages are a sorry sight, and the engine revs loudly while they try to muster up the strength to leave the platform, jerking reluctantly into some forward momentum. The faded hard seats offer no comfort, and glum cold Northerners, mouths pulled down at the corners, sit looking at the bleakness through their scratched and graffittied windows. The train click-clacks loudly over the worn joins in the tracks, rocking sideways violently as you jerk uncomfortably towards your destination.

*sigh* “It’s grim up North.”

After a brief consideration whether or not to stay and put some roots down in England, we decided against it. Preferring instead to head to the land of sun, sand and surf. Perth, here we come…again.





“It’s the people that you meet eeeeaaach day” – Sesame Street

18 03 2012

I don’t remember who sang this song, I think it may have been Ernie.  And possibly Bert was harmonising?

One of the best things about travelling are the people who move in and out of your life along the way, not all of them people that you will remember fondly, but people that you will remember for one reason or another.  People that have touched your life for the briefest of moments and then are gone….forever!

From Vietnam, the smiling street seller who let Roger shoulder his business is etched on my memory as the happiest and helpful Vietnamese person I met, but also a person who has the toughest job I’ve ever encountered – pounding the pavements day in day out, from sunrise to sunset, in ridiculous temperatures carrying huge amounts of weight.  But still he smiles.  There is something to be learned from this man.

The old and small taxi driver who maneuvered us through the mad and insane traffic both to and from our hostel in Saigon is a hero in my book and worthy of a guest spot on Top Gear.  Not once did he swear, frown, shake his fist or bump into another car, scooter, bike or pedestrian.  Nor did he seem to mind me laughing like a maniac out the window at the traffic around me.

Roger with some people from our tour of the Mekong Delta

Then there was Tiger, our Mekong Delta tour guide who knew how to say “I love you” in thirteen different languages.  I’m not sure his wife would appreciate hearing him brag about that!  He was a character who on the one hand provided light comic entertainment, but then on the other poured with patriotism for his country which he acknowledged had been struggling for years.  He spoke with enthusiasm of new developments around Ho Chi Minh city, but he also showed despair for the people living in poverty along the delta edges who would be moved on from their shanties by the next big development. And where else could they go exactly?

On the Coconut Canals, Vietnam

On the same tour, I won’t forget the young Thai girl who deduced that I was from Rome because I was wearing an Italia cap. She had never met an Italian before, so I was her new BFF and she literally clung to my arm all day!  And I mean ALL DAY!  Poor girl, after the eleventh photograph with her I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t Italian, so instead I started adding extra vowels onto-a the-a end-a of-a everything-a!

My new Thai BFF is in purple, the man on the left is her Uncle. The bloke topless is Russian. Everywhere we went in SEAsia, Russians were getting their kit off.

Meanwhile, Roger had struck up his own friendship with two Japanese boys because one of them had the same camera as him and was wearing a Bell & Ross watch that Roger also liked.  They spoke excellent English and left him their email address at the end of the tour.  A contact he has since been in touch with.

From Bangkok, our first tour to Ayutthaya was extraordinary.  No-one really spoke to anyone else, it was weird!  Lunchtime was very very quiet, like those old Western movies where the guy on the horse rides into town.  A hush falls over everything and all you can hear is the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves.  In this case it was the click-clack of chopsticks.  And it was that uncomfortable quiet all day!

It was very different the next day on our Adventure Tour.  During the hotel pick-ups in the morning we met a Canadian called Gordon who was a weather expert of sorts, some kind of flood forecaster.  We spent only half an hour in his company before being divided into tour groups at HQ.   However we met up with him on the bus trip back to Bangkok at the end of the day.  An Australian couple from New South Wales also joined us.  She worked for Nestle and following my “Ode to Milo”, we spent an hour enlightening our Canadian friend as to what the product was, the numerous ways it could be consumed and why Antipodeans worshipped the crumbly substance.

We shot the breeze, sharing our day’s experiences and learning about each other – our lives, our travel experiences and poking fun at each other’s cultures.  We laughed loudly, joked badly and enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the three hour drive back to Bangkok.  To say we got along like a house on fire would be an understatement.  And then we climbed out of the bus at our hotel and they were gone.  Forever.

How families and workers travel around Bangkok

Life is amazing like that isn’t it?  That in such a short space of time you can connect with people that you have never met, and then as quickly as they arrive they are gone from your life again, leaving a lasting impression.  Is it these types of people who are our soul-mates, whom by some cosmic force we are thrown together with to enjoy their company for a moment in time?  Deep Kir.  Real deep.

From Phuket, we remember every freak, geek, sleaze, Russian and weirdo we came into contact with.  But the receptionists at Patong Beach who happily posed for photographs with a small white owl are definitely worth a mention.  They probably thought we were crazy!  We also fondly remember the kind and friendly hotel manageress at Surintra Resort who ironed Roger’s wedding shirt and pants that had been rolled up in his backpack for ten days.

Travelling makes you reflect on how small the world is and how inter-connected we all actually are, passing in and out of each other’s lives for a fleeting moment, sometimes for longer, and in doing so having an impact on a stranger’s life.

Think about the people you encountered today: the young girl on the checkout at Countdown that you smiled at and said hello – or did you slam your goods down in frustration because you had to park too far away from the door?  The pedestrian that you waited for to cross the street – or from the luxury of your car did you instead cut in front of them?

Ellen Degeneres closes her show every day with the same line. “Be kind to each other.”  Such simple advice.  Ya know I think she could really be onto something there.





A Wedding on Valentine’s Day in Phuket

14 03 2012

Valentine’s Day. A day set aside in the year for you to proclaim your undying love to that special someone in your life. I couldn’t think of a better date to be attending a wedding at Surin Beach in Phuket. This was the very reason why we began our travels through South East Asia in the first place. We had a special wedding to attend, so why not visit a few other places on the way there.

There would be no shorts, tank tops or stinky sandals today. Instead, we pulled our glad rags from the dark depths of our backpacks and slipped awkwardly into them, our outfits clinging, sticking and riding up into every sweaty bodily fold and crevice imaginable. I considered applying make-up for the occasion but that thought lasted a total of two seconds, as even the chameleon’s colours outside were running off him.

At 5pm we wandered across the road to the Catch Beach Club of the Twinpalms Resort and found the Australian and Kiwi guests mingling around the bar (no surprises there!) passing time until the nuptials began.

All dressed up and ready to go!

The wedding itself was straight from the pages of a Disney fairy tale – minus the talking mirrors, wicked step-mothers and poisoned fruit. As the sun began to dissolve into the crystal water, the prince and his groomsmen arrived and took their places, opting for fedora hats and dark sunglasses to top off their beach style. The invited guests took their places on the decorated white chairs in a specially sectioned area of beach, while around us sun seekers clad in Speedoes and bikinis, swung to sitting positions on their loungers, lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on their holiday to be honorary guests at a Valentine’s Day wedding.

Guests milling about on the beach before the wedding

The princess, escorted by her father and the cutest flower girl in the whole kingdom, was dazzling in her Dolce satin ivory gown, leaving the ever popular Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty dead in the water, and not a glass slipper in sight. They are so impractical when it comes to sand! And in front of a white lace and ribboned gazebo, the prince and the princess declared their never-ending love for each other as the shimmering sun set in the distance behind them.

“Why couldn’t we have just watched the sunset tonight?” whispered Roger. But as the bronzed topless bather lying to our right sat up erect on her deck chair to watch the exchanging of rings, he was momentarily distracted, along with every other male guest around him. Thankfully she covered her *clears throat* er-hms up for the remainder of the ceremony!

Rog and I after the wedding. Funny thing, straight after this photo two blokes in Speedoes also stood in front of the gazebo posing for their own photos.

The wedding breakfast afterwards was spectacular, a huge variety of fare from right throughout the land – everything from the finest cheeses, to the chocolate fountain which Roger felt the need to stick his finger in! After the cutting of the cake, the happy couples danced to the smooth melodic tunes of romance and were the first dancers of the evening to kick-start the Valentine’s Party. As the last wisps of daylight scurried away, the bar morphed into an up market and funky nightclub.

Rhi Rhi’s latest hit single pounded out across the sand and down to the shoreline where the princess and the prince lit two huge floating candles and released them into the night sky, each containing their hopes and dreams for the future. And then entwined in each other’s arms on a shared wooden sun-lounger, they enjoyed a display of fireworks from a young Thai beach seller…even though the signs explicitly stated that they were banned on the beach! LOL

Twinpalms Catch Beach Club - photograph from http://twinpalms-phuket.com/phuket_beach_club.html

As the pace of the music became more frenetic, two fire dancers appeared on the sand in front of the nightclub, dancing and rolling fire around their lithe bodies in time with the music. Flaming balls, ropes and sticks spun and twisted in the air while the dancers somersaulted on the sand below. They were brilliant!

The princesses attendants in their chocolate brown taffeta gowns eagerly downed bottles of champagne and set the dance floor on fire…metaphorically I mean. They weren’t throwing back flaming sambuccas or anything. Well, not at that stage of the evening!

While the warm breeze of South East Asia caressed our bodies, the party wore on. And as midnight approached with the possibility of us turning into pumpkins, we wearily made our way back to our hotel.

As we strolled through the park we felt incredibly lucky to be part of such a romantic and beautiful beach wedding and after a quick dip in the pool to cool down, we climbed into bed.

Our trip through South East Asia had come to an end, and what an incredible note to finish on!





Sunset at Surin Beach, Phuket

6 03 2012

Just fifteen minutes north of Patong Beach we finally found it; the island paradise we had been seeking. Surin Beach was a small peaceful inlet with gigantic rocks clothed in green leafy palms guarding the bay at each end. The warm blue waves of the Indian Ocean lapped quietly at the shore while sun loungers and umbrellas dotted the hot white sand. Along the back of the beach, tall tropical palm trees swayed lazily in the warm breeze, offering much needed shade to the small outdoor restaurants lining the beach below. It was beautiful, and exactly what we had expected to find in Phuket.

Surintra Resort, Phuket

We found our hotel, Surintra Resort, unpacked our bathers and immediately jumped into the swimming pool with all the finesse of a block of cheese, where we splashed around to our heart’s content before making our way down to the beach.

Rog happily enjoying the swimming pool at Surintra Resort.

There wasn’t much to do in Surin except relax, and it was just what my doctor had ordered: lazing on a sun-lounger, splashing about in the ocean, losing oneself in a good book and letting one’s body absorb the peaceful serenity of the Windows screen saver you had blissfully ended up in. A Thai massage on the beach had been on the top of our list since we had left New Zealand, and was recommended by fellow travellers we had met along the way. This was definitely the place to do it: one full hour for only 300baht ($12NZD) – fantastic!

So we stripped down to our wabba-dabbas, sprawled ourselves across the wooden massage tables and surrendered our tired muscles to the skilful and dexterous hands of two very round and very happy Thai women. I chose to luxuriate in an oil massage, enjoying the scent of tiger balm lingering on the breeze and the warm feeling of the medicinal oil seeping into my muscles. It was heavenly.

Buddha sandstone carving

As for Roger, I couldn’t help but think that his massage looked to be a little hellish. Feeling that he was in need of a good body moulding, he had opted for a traditional Thai massage. It took only ten minutes for his grunts and wheezes to intrude on my relaxed slumber, and from the corner of my eye I could see his legs and arms flailing all over the place, his body parts being tugged, pulled, kneaded and contorted.

The idyllic scenes we had been seeking!

I tilted my head to peek in his direction in time to see the masseuse, her arms interlocked around Roger’s neck, wrench him quickly to the left, then to the right, his spine crunching, his eyes bulging from their sockets and his mouth hanging open in shock. Next, she sat behind him, put her knees into the middle of his back and with her arms still hooked through his, pulled him backwards over her knees – his hips lifting off the table so that his back was literally rolling over the top of her, and his belly button was reaching for the sky.

I lay in my oil heaven sniggering and chortling. I don’t think Roger knew I could see every wrench, yank, twist, twizzle and strain, and the look on his face when he saw his own foot just inches from his ear while lying on his stomach was priceless!

Sun loungers on the beach at Surin, Phuket

After I peeled Roger off the massage table, we walked along the beach to find a place to eat. I couldn’t leave Thailand without trying my favourite dish, Thai green chicken curry. So I followed along behind Roger as he stomped between the sun-loungers in his hat, t-shirt, cargo shorts, socks and bright orange Reebok ZigTech trainers, kicking up sand behind him from his oversized soles. I laughed. Rog doesn’t “do” beaches, and standing amongst the other bathers who were all dressed in speedos or bikinis, he stood out like a sore thumb!

Rog and I admiring the beauty of the sunset at Surin Beach

After emptying the sand from his shoes and socks, we found a small restaurant, Two Brothers, where I enjoyed the most delicious curry I have ever tasted. Of course I would expect nothing less. But by now, there being no vintage English cars, aeroplanes or internet to look at, Roger was getting restless, and I had yet to coerce him back onto the beach to enjoy the romance and beauty of watching the sun set.

Me wading in the water at Surin Beach as the sun sets.

“How long does it take?” he whined, perching on the end of his wooden sun-lounger. “Oh, not long, about half an hour,” I replied, reclining back on my own lounger seductively. Just off shore a luxury yacht had dropped anchor, no doubt some rich celeb on board also wanting to admire the beautiful sunset. And on the horizon, one lone traditional fishing boat putted quietly along.

Spectacular - travel brochure spec or what?!

But I had misjudged the sun’s timing, and an hour and a half later we were still waiting. “What’s taking so long? It’s only moved an inch! Can I go now?” he grizzled. Finally, two numb backsides and two Reebok Zigtechs full of sand later, the sun disappeared into the ocean. And after much needling from me, Roger reluctantly admitted that it was, actually, like all good things in life, worth the wait.





Phuket. An island paradise, or is it?

1 03 2012

I’m not quite sure what my expectations were of Phuket.  Well, no actually, that’s not true.  I expected the pristine beaches, swaying coconut trees and sparkling azure waters that I had seen in the travel brochures since as long as I can remember.  Where bamboo and coconut husk huts line the shoreline and you can step out onto your own piece of tranquility.  And of course, who could forget the tropical paradise depicted in the film The Beach.  I believe that this actually exists somewhere in Phuket, but I certainly can’t afford to go there.  And it certainly isn’t at Patong Beach in Phuket.

In the back of our tuk tuk heading to Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

Why so many people pour into Patong for their holidays is completely beyond me.  Run down buildings line the streets, litter lingers everywhere, the roads are terrible and pockets of nostril crippling stench waft on the breeze and assault you when you least expect it.  Oh and don’t forget the rats that scurry under the broken concrete pavers, or the family of eight rats who live under the bridge next to the shitty brown pollution filled stream that runs through the village.  However, I may be being completely unfair here.   After all, a massive tsunami did wash through only eight years ago, and the bamboo scaffolding on the local building sites would indicate that progress is rather slow in Phuket.

The footpaths in Patong are practically non-existent so it’s you against the traffic:  the scooters which they hire out to drunk white guys visiting the island for their stag’s night; the tuk tuks (and no thank you for the one thousandth time I do not want a damn tuk tuk); and the knobheads who try to force their huge brand new 4WD vehicles down streets the width of popsicle sticks.  Walking is hazardous to say the least, and then there’s that whole ‘no-one-stops-at-crossings’ thing to contend with.

Patong just isn’t my cup of tea, and based on my observations I think you have to be a particular type of person to choose Patong as your number one holiday destination:

Type 1:   In an open front bar, a fat white bloke in his sixties sits slavering and ogling a young Thai girl standing between his legs, while she in turn dances in front of him, gyrating and rubbing her hips against his pelvis.  This was a common sight in most bars we passed; old white blokes, suffering some sort of mid-life crisis, who were passing their days with three or four Thai girls hanging off them like pretty Christmas baubles.  I guess in Patong they got more bang for their buck, so to speak.

Type 2:  Beefy Russians seemed to be everywhere we looked, walking the streets topless with their pecs and calf muscles permanently flexed and looking like they had just strutted off the Conan the Barbarian film set.  Have you ever tried walking like that?  With your calf muscles flexed?  It gives one an unusual and constipated sort of a gait.  Well at least that’s how Roger looked when, not wanting to be outdone, he tensed up every muscle in his body, blew his chest out and Schwarzenegger-strutted towards the beach.  He slipped into a full body cramp just twenty metres down the road!

Type 3:  And finally, as we got closer to the beach, from amongst these sleazers and posers there appeared the most badly sunburned tourists I have ever seen in my life!  Hundreds of them, one after the other, minced past us carefully, chests blistered red hot, shoulders burning, arms burning, faces on fire.  It was extraordinary!  Red lobster-like westerners with seemingly no comprehension of skin cancer or slip, slop, slap.  God it was horrific.

We had to give in and take at least one tuk-tuk ride before leaving Thailand.

Type 4:  Add to this mix the hundreds of hawkers who would do anything and everything to get your money.  “Hello hello.  Tuk Tuk?  Giddaya!  Tuk tuk, tuk tuk?  Hello Roma!  Where you going – you need tuk tuk?  Hey mate.  Giddaya Australia.  Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?”  Oh God, make it STOP!  One thing that did catch us out now and again was when we strolled down a random alleyway – past six suit sellers, four DVD sellers, five watch sellers, seven silk scarf sellers, four t-shirt sellers, three massage parlours and a partridge in a pear tree – only to be confronted by a dead end, which meant we had to bloody well walk back past them all again to get out!

The only street seller I bought from because she actually picked that I was a Kiwi - not an Aussie, and not from Rome!

Type 5:  And then there were the “suit guys.”  These were immaculately dressed young men in beautifully tailored suits who stood in front of you, arms spread the width of the pavement and tried to get you into their store to buy three suits which would be ready for collection in just 24 hours.  “You wanna suit mate?  You wanna suit?” they called to Roger.  From underneath his Tui hat and behind his dark sunglasses he chuckled, “Do I look like I would wear a suit MATE?”  Grinning from ear to ear and undeterred, the suit seller continued his pitch, “Ahh, you English.  Lovely jubbly!” he mimicked in his best Del Boy accent.  Roger simply shook his head and walked away.

After dark in Patong Beach

And finally, Type 6:  The weirdoes.  As night fell and the neon lights erupted from every corner, the face of Patong came to life.  Tuk tuk’s turned into glorified chariots as boom boxes thumped out the latest rave music, flashing lights surrounded the cab and neons glowed brightly from underneath.  And that was when the freaks really came out to play!  Very tall (a little too tall if you get my drift *wiggles eyebrows*) Thai hookers lined the streets, eyeing Roger up appreciatively as he brushed past them.  A large Japanese sumo-wrestler-looking bloke happily strolled the streets, his face painted white and made up like a geisha.  At one point a man with wide scary eyes loomed out of the darkness, a chameleon clinging to his forearm, and thrust the small lizard’s scaly face up under our noses.  You can imagine my reaction…and the stream of swearwords that followed!

A VW Cocktail bar on the side of the street. At night time the roof pops open and the neons lights up.

While the beach itself is nice, it is chock-a-block full to the brim with tourists and types 1 through 6 – which doesn’t make it the relaxing idyllic paradise I imagined.  For any Brits reading this, Roger would say Patong Beach is “like San Antonio (Ibizia) on speed.”  It’s cheap, it’s cheesy and it’s sleazy.  I really can’t understand why the hell anyone would chose to come here for a holiday.  But if that’s what spins one’s wheels then so be it.