Well, that’s the end of it. After being back in the UK for a couple of months, it’s so easy to forget the first half of the year. Well maybe not forget, but it is a fading memory. I managed to fit quite a lot into 2011 and I can’t wait to do it all over again. I’ve really got no big intentions of staying in the UK for the whole coming year if I can manage not to, the question is… Where to next?
Reviewing the year, blimey, I’ve had some fun. I’ve met some amazing people and managed to catch up with old friends in different countries. I’ve seen things that not a lot of people get the opportunity to see, and I’ve done a few things that most people wouldn’t do either. My eyes have been opened even wider and the drive to see more of the world is stronger than ever.
After another birthday in January, the sitting around in the UK not doing much was wearing a bit thin, cabin fever. Come February, Valentine’s Day, I was on my way to Thailand for the first time. I loved Bangkok. I thought it was bursting with vibrancy, culture and colour. There were many highlights, but travelling along on the riverboat to the various places was something I don’t think I’d ever tire of. I could spend months walking around taking photographs; the people of the city were fascinating. As impressive as the temples were; aside from the historical and religious draw, a bit too blingy for my taste to be honest. I’m a bit more rustic and dilapidated, and throw as many peeling paint façades and quirky doorways in my direction as you like. One of the most mind-blowing and memorable districts on this visit was the flower markets at Wang Burapha Phirom and Pak Khlong Talat. I have never seen so many beautiful flowers all in one place, really quite special; the scent filling the air was superb. I still wonder how they manage to grow and then sell that amount of produce on a daily basis.
It was great staying in the city fringe of town too; I had Dodge to thank for that. I spent a couple of nights in the same apartment he’s been living in for 12 years, it was a quirky little place in Sathorn. Just step out of the door and you’re in another world. I took to the street food like a dog does to a bone (hope it wasn’t dog), just outside the apartments were plenty of little delights to sample. I could sit and eat pork ball soup with chilli and bok choi all day. The loose change you had in your pocket could buy a delicious freshly made noodle soup; I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
From there I travelled down to Hua Hin. Getting to the transport exchange was an education in itself and the words ‘travel lightly’ shouldn’t be underestimated. Even though I didn’t have that much baggage, and thank god both my bag and camera case had wheels on, it was interesting trying to navigate my way around the central departure area of Bangkok. That was after the taxi ride from Sathorn, I didn’t have a clue where I was going, which didn’t help when the driver tried to rip me off. When I got to the bus terminal, it turned out there were about 60 different terminals to choose from, taking passengers all over the country, I was sure I was going to get on the wrong bus and end up in Cambodia or something. The whole area was heaving with people and traffic. Luckily Keeffy was on the other end of the text machine keeping me straight. I did get on the right bus and after about three hours in the mini bus I arrived in Hua Hin.
I stayed at “The Castle” where Keeffy now lives permanently. A great little collection of houses all surrounding a central huge swimming pool, complete with an on-site bar. And a resident dog called Bak. What more could you ask for? I stayed in a gorgeous glass gazebo that had a four-poster bed right in the middle of the room. Much fun took place whilst I was staying there, including parties that started at 7am and fireworks being exploded right outside my front door at any time of days a guess. I met some really lovely people while I was staying there and couldn’t have felt any more welcome. Keeffy lent me his car for most of the week I was there which was so good of him and really appreciated. I took off to see some of the sights on my own, never have I been more grateful for an English speaking GPS in a very foreign country. I went all over the place, Monkey Mountain, The Giant Budda. I went early morning to watch the fishermen on the pier in Hua Hin. I tried not to get too attached to every soi dog I met along the way. I discovered that 3 Jaeger bombs are enough to keep me awake for 2 ½ days straight. I found great company in Sid, with whom I belly ache laughed for hours, one of the funniest people I’ve met for years. After a week in Hua Hin I was a bit broken. Sid would call it ‘shaking like a shitting dog’; I wasn’t quite as bad as that, but not far off. I’d also fallen asleep in the sun and got an impressive and ridiculous sunburn (I can’t stand strap marks, I’d rather be lily white) and just about drank myself under the table more than once. Adam, Chels, Wayne, Gun, Jungle, Jeff and of course Keeffy, big thanks. Too much to tell here to be honest, what happens at The Castle, stays at The Castle, but a truly unforgettable experience for sure. I was sad to leave, but next on the list was Far North Queensland, can’t hang around!
Via Sydney, I arrived at Cairns airport to be greeted by torrential rain. I forgot it was the arse end of the wet season. This was the first time I was to see the damage after Cyclone Yasi, I couldn’t have been more shocked at the destruction. So very grateful to Sooz for putting me up whilst I was in Mission Beach, we had a lovely time, there’s nowhere else I’d have rather been. Amongst the getting reacquainted with old friends, I happened to be there when there was severe flooding. The whole village got locked in when the creeks burst their banks and helicopters were flying in supplies. The shelves in the supermarket were stripped bare, banana’s were $12.99 a kilo, and everyone had a little holiday. The three days while the floods were going on, while crocodiles were where they shouldn’t be, were spent laughing my guts off with Adam Long and Gypsy Mick, big thanks to them, that’s a few days I’ll never forget. Broken after that one as well, sand dunes will never look quite the same again.
After a month in Mission, I headed to Tasmania for the first time. I stayed with good friends Greg and Anna whilst I was there, it was so lovely to see them again. It was quite a shock after the heat of FNQ to reach Hobart and about 10 degrees. I went from bikini to scarf and gloves in half a day. You forget just how big Australia is and the extremes that come with a continent of that size. I knew Tasmania would be beautiful; it was that and much more. Seeing a real Tasmanian Devil in Tasmania itself was a special event for me, I know they’ve got a bit of a reputation and a bite three times the strength of a pit bull, but I still think they’re cute. I also went to Port Arthur, which was really interesting, a former convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, quite an eerie place to walk around. Some of the stories of what life was like there, back in the day were rough and you could almost hear the screams from the mad house. Funnily, you could check to see if any of your ancestors came across as convicts, there was a couple of Dennis’s on the database. I’m not sure if they were related down the line somewhere, but it’d be fun to trace back and see, maybe that’s where I get my watered down mischief gene. We did such a lot in a short space of time in Tassie. I was lucky enough to hug one of the biggest trees in the world in Mount Field National Park, I still can’t get over the size of it. Now I’m thinking I need to get my arse to America and have a look at those redwoods. Trees… another obsession.
The boat out into the southern ocean was amazing, and quite Arctic as you’d expect, there was nothing in between where we were and the Arctic. As we were looking at a seal colony south of Bruny Island, I wondered how cold the water was. Fantastic diving I bet, but could I handle the temperature? I think I just need to invest in one of those heated under-suits and be done with it. Yeah, sod it, lets get one and go ice diving…
A lovely time was also had at South Arm at Greg and Anna’s holiday home, what a special place. Amazing how much you can fit into a week in between quaffing red wine, not to mention being introduced to the wonder that is the wheat bag. Am I the only person on the planet that had never seen one? Pop it in the microwave for a few minutes, and there you have it, a lovely genius hot cuddle that lasts hours, a must for skinny people in colder climates. I got one for Christmas this year.
MONA in Hobart was world class and staggering and easily up there with the best museum’s I have ever been to, add it to the list of highlights, including the wine tasting we did beforehand. The week went past so quickly, an enormous thank you to lovely Greg and Anna for such a wonderful time, I simply could not have had a better time. Greg and Anna took me to the airport, where not for the first time, I got searched. Why you would get searched going out of Tasmania is beyond me. It doesn’t matter how much older I get, when ever I go anywhere, I’m amazed if I don’t get searched, for some reason they always pull me up. The security woman was a right jobs worth, it’s not very often I feel like punching someone. ‘Why are you travelling on your own, do you always travel on your own?’, ‘What have you been doing here, where are you going?’, ‘doesn’t it scare you travelling by yourself?’ She went on, and on, and on… It was suggested later that I should have replied with ‘I travel on my own because I haven’t got any friends… will you be my friend’ all executed with a tilted head and vacant stare. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing.
To get to New Zealand I had to go back to Sydney to get a transfer, ridiculous I know. I waved at Greg and Anna out of the plane window and off we went. Best friend Neil was to pick me up at the airport in Auckland. This should all have been a painless affair. When I got to Sydney I had a bit of time to kill, so I went to enjoy the outside bar. Finally on my way to the departure lounge, I had to do a double take when I saw nine hours had been added on to my flight arrival time. I couldn’t believe it, nine hours, it must be a mistake. There was no mistake, but by this time I had gone through passport control, so there was no going back outside. I wasn’t very amused by this; time to be spent in the departure lounge amounted now, to about 10 hours or so. I went to the Qantas desk and asked what was going on, to be told the flight hadn’t left its last destination yet, nor had the plane been cleaned was added to that fact. Forever the quick thinker, I explained that I couldn’t be confined in such a small area for nine hours, I’d go mad. I said I wanted to go back outside, now please. She explained to me that in order to do that, I would have to reclaim all my baggage, and create a logistical nightmare. I didn’t want to cause any trouble, but. I’m certain I put on quite a good show. The lady on the desk made a quick phone call and told me to get into the lift opposite. To go to the third floor, give my name, and that they would be expecting me, also to not whisper a word of it. When I got to the third floor, I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d been given free access to the first class lounge. What a fantastic nine hours I had drinking champagne, eating canapé’s, watching planes taking off and making friends with the waiters. All the while, my poor friend in New Zealand is waiting for me at the airport. I tried texting him, facebooking him, ringing him; he never got any of the messages. I eventually got to Auckland at about 4am, poor Neily. I have to say, I had no idea the first class lounge would be so brilliant, if I never get to do it again, at least I’ve done it once.
The next three months were spent mainly living out at Karekare. I’m so grateful to Neil and Alyssa for putting me up and putting up with me for three whole months. I bet they were glad to see the back of me after that. In hindsight, if I’d have known what the work situation was going to be like in New Zealand, I’d never had planned to stay as long as I did, a month would have done.
Even though I didn’t slide back into the freelance world like I thought I would, I did get a chance to do some acting, it was definitely a highlight. I played the part of a serial killer’s wife in a crime reconstruction; I loved every second of it. Felicity Drumm, it was a non-speaking part obviously, my kiwi accent isn’t brilliant. I had to get an 80’s wig fitted and went to this massive wardrobe warehouse to get some 80’s clobber to wear, it’s was brilliant. I did find the programme on the net, http://tvnz.co.nz/sunday-news/may-29-4188373/video, I’m not sure how long it’ll be up there for. It was great fun filming it with Stevie Butler who’s a producer and old friend; it ended up taking a couple of days and a lot of giggling.
I had a week up at Snells Beach visiting Kim, it was great to see her again. We just carried on where we left off really, drink in one hand, and so on. Great place she’s living now, with a gorgeous view out over Kawau Bay. I donated my bed to her, along with a load of my stuff out of storage. Leaving a flat full of ‘stuff’ in rented storage for four years is not a good idea; I definitely won’t do that again. And I’ll remember to not use biodegradable bin bags to put stuff in as well!
I had a weekend down at Mt Maunganui with Wayne, staying at Murray and Ellie’s beach house. I climbed the Mountain with a minor hangover, where there’s a hill, I have to be up it. Staggering how much red wine we got through that weekend without suffering much at all really. It just goes to show the difference between a good bottle and an average one.
Apart from those excursions, I spent the rest of the time in Karekare, there are much worse places to be. I can only guess, but I’d say in the time I was there I would have walked and climbed probably about 200km on my own. Those muddy walking tracks through the Waitakere Ranges, all navigated in a pair of $20 trainers; I won’t leave home without my walking boots ever again. I loved taking Neil’s Boxer, Mali for a walk; we spent hours down on the beach wandering around. Such a magical place Karekare beach and only a quick walk from the house. Most days I’d be gone for three hours, I think the longest track took me about 5 hours, but I eventually went hiking everyday, it became a personal mission. Unless you surf, there’s not a lot else to do in Karekare in any case. My most memorable trek was when I came out at the bottom end of the Buck Taylor track, amongst the huge sand dunes. I got completely disoriented, I could hear the ocean, but couldn’t work out a way to get to it because each way I went I was stopped by a swamp. It became outrageous after over an hour that I still hadn’t found my way out. It’s going to get dark, and I’m still going to be going round in circles. Talking to myself out loud, which isn’t unusual, I said, OK, somebody please show me a way to get out of here. I thought maybe I might see another walker and I’d be able to follow them, or maybe some footprints in the sand. There was nobody anywhere in sight, and in that area alone the stretch of coastline is over 14km long. No sooner had I said it, I saw a sea eagle. The bird came and circled over the top of me checking me out for a few minutes then it slowly flew away, but it kept coming back to me slightly, then flying away in the same direction. I thought, well, I might as well try and follow the bird. So that’s exactly what I did. I kept my eye on the eagle and followed it for about ten minutes up the coast. I just could not believe it when I came across a trace of footprints on the sand, not quite a path, but too many footprints to not take notice. I followed the footprints and then I did find the path, when I looked up again the eagle did a circle and then flew away out of sight. Call it what you will, but something magic happened then. Another 15 minutes along the path and I reached the beach and the ocean and I was safe, it’s something I’ll never forget.
After New Zealand I headed back up to Mission Beach for another month. Much better weather and the right time of year to be there, I was amazed just how much of the rainforest had grown back. Back at Suzie’s we had another lovely time and spent many a happy hour. At the beginning of the month, I went on a very strange camping trip for a long weekend, which I won’t go into too much. I’ll just say I was very lucky to get the chance to do it, it’s not every day you get to stay on you’re very own desert island, with nobody else around… that is until a cruise ship pulled up on the last day and we got invaded when the people were tender boat driven to the island from the mothership. Apart from that it was just the most spectacular sunsets and us, every night. I wasn’t all that keen on the huge rats scuttling around my feet by the campfire I must admit, but they aren’t bad conversation after you’ve had a few. I was quite glad to get back on dry land for various reasons, but did recognise the potential for a party on that very same island, which apparently you can book all the tent pitches for and have all to yourselves even in high season. I think the only reason why it was deserted when we were there is because it hadn’t been cleaned up after the cyclone, the wooden dunny was in bits.
I climbed Walsh’s Pyramid with my skydiver mate Daz one afternoon, this is along the ranges between Cairns and Mission Beach off the Bruce Highway. Every time I’ve been past it, I’ve always wanted to go up it and now I have. It took about 4 hours up and down, it took me longer to come down oddly, I think we were up there in 1.5 hours, it was a 3km steep climb. What a fantastic view from the top, every time I climb a mountain I feel ecstatic. My legs were like jelly when we got back down, but in great Aussie tradition, the beers were waiting in the esky at the bottom, the first one was like angel juice.
Another amazing thing I got to do was hang out of a helicopter taking photographs. By this I mean, I was secured only by the seatbelt, there was no door and I was hanging out of the hole. I was taking aerial photographs for JumRum Rainforest estate, nice work if you can get it, I’ve got Suzie to thank for that. We spent a bit of time up in Kuranda, that’s where the estate is, I really like it up there, it’s got such a creative vibe. I did notice though that there’s a definite hole in the market for drinking and eating after 8pm, the place was like a ghost town practically as soon as the sun went down. Where did all the people disappear to, off on the bongo perhaps? The busiest joint in town was this drinking ‘hole’, mainly full of drunken aboriginals, who can get a little bit arsey after they’ve had a few. Still, a beautiful place, somewhere I could easily spend a bit more time. Amusingly, I bumped into a guy called Wazza at Kuranda amphitheatre when I was there this time, I’d met him at a hippy bush duff party five years ago when I was living up in the Bloomfield jungle. It’s such a small world sometimes.
Meanwhile back in Mission Beach, I discovered that although the business was up for sale after the cyclone, I could have had my old scuba instructor job back like a shot. Now you tell me, and well, it was a bit late to start being employed four months in. The prospect of being out on a boat again did appeal to me a lot especially while the weather was so glorious, I really miss diving regularly. Then I remembered the last time I worked for them, and the time we were out in a vessel incapable of handling 3m swells and 15knt winds. That was complete carnage, half the passengers were spewing, and nobody got to see the real Great Barrier let alone do a dive. An American woman on board gashed her leg open when she lost balance and fell on deck. I still think greed made that boat go out, we should never have been out in conditions like that. So, yeah…
I spent quite a bit of time in The Shrubbery, which had been bought by a lovely man called Rodney from Sydney. You’d never believe Rodney was a top barrister, absolutely full of fun and mischief every night. It’s a gorgeous bar right on the beach front in Mission, which got smashed by the cyclone, but it’s back now and as fun as ever. It’s always great to see my old skydiving mucker’s out for a few ales, nothing much changes around there. Also, it seems I can sing! Well, when I’ve had a few vodka’s at least, my rendition of Abba when down extremely well at The Shrubbery. You can’t really hear yourself sing, so unless you record yourself, you never really know what you sound like.
I stayed up in Cairns the night before my flight out, with Suzie at the house of his name shall not be mentioned again, Buddy, what a fool. Suzie took me to the airport the following morning, it was quite a melancholic affair; it had been like having the sister I’d always wanted for a few months while I’d been in Oz. I never say goodbye though, it’s always ‘I’ll see ya’.
I boarded my plane to Singapore. I didn’t realise until I got my boarding card that I’d be doing a stop off in Darwin. What a nuisance that was, Zacc’s in Darwin, I could have had a week there on the way through, next time. Instead I spent 4 hours cooped up in the transit lounge at Darwin airport, which has to be the smallest transit lounge I’ve encountered yet, and I’ve been about a bit. You weren’t allowed to leave the lounge, not even to go out to the duty free shops. Thank god I had my laptop, pity I didn’t think to charge it, or keep my power cable in my carry on. Still, that passed a few hours before it ran out. A few beers and a lot of pacing up and down the only 20m of space between the toilet and the tiny Café counter, and finally the flight was called. The door was just there; we were ushered out onto the tarmac and into the blistering heat… up, up and away.
It was late at night when I arrived in Singapore. I’ve been to Singapore before so I wasn’t worried, and I still think it’s one of the safest places in the world. Last time I was there I stayed right bang in the middle of China Town in this historic inn, it was right in the middle of Chinese New Year and I couldn’t have had a better introduction to the place. I didn’t like the sacks of dried seahorses that I kept seeing outside shops, but then that’s the culture vulture. I don’t think I’ve stopped chuntering about that ever since, and know now why I never see any seahorses when I’ve been diving and I’ve easily done over 300 dives.
For a bit of variety this time, and I confess budget restrictions, I decided to stay right in the middle of the Geylang red light district. When you think of red light areas, you think seedy or maybe a tiny bit dodgy, especially if you’re on your own and have never been to the country before. Not in Singapore, the red light area is a way of life and not frowned upon like it might be in some other places. In a way I think it attributes to the lack of crime there, there are no sex-starved men prowling around, it has to make a difference. I have never seen so many hookers in one place in my life, but like I say, it’s just a job to them. I think they’re pretty brave doing a job like that, I couldn’t.
There are always plenty of highlights when I’m in Singapore but my time spent exploring the Geylang has to be up there at the top this time. One day after I’d been trawling around, I stopped off for a beer at the quirky little café opposite my hotel. Always full of characters, this evening was no different. I managed to bag myself a table, which at around 5pm was lucky.
Being a bit of a lone ranger, I’m used to men approaching me, trying it on, and I know how to get rid of them without the need for brut force. You always hope you can just enjoy your beer without any hassle, but you’ve got to be aware. As I was sat minding my own business a man came over to my table outside and asked if he could sit down. By now there were no other seats available, he looked pretty harmless, and seeing as I was taking up 4 seats I thought it would be mean to say no, so I said he could. He introduced himself as Bruce. As he spoke, the French accent became more pronounced. He was about 5’ 8”, dark wavy hair and at a guess, in his mid fifties. After a few exchanged words, he insisted on buying me a drink, even though I said no thanks, the beer was in front of me before I had chance to do a swift one. And so the night began.
I ended up chatting to him for hours, in that time several people he knew came to the table to join us, it was pretty fascinating listening, watching and learning. Bruce obviously knew the area very well, and one needn’t think too hard to wonder why. He knew the café staff, he knew what I guessed were the local pimps and he knew Irene… very well seemingly.
As we were sat, Bruce called over an Asian girl and introduced her to me as Irene. For the next hour or two I learned all about Irene, drinking beers with her and chatting to her, she explained frankly her life as a prostitute. You couldn’t wish to meet a sweeter or more generous girl, and although I wasn’t shocked, I felt she deserved a better life. She didn’t see it like that at all, she was quite happy with her life, she was earning more money than most people, $80 or more an hour. If she had a busy day, she might earn more than $800 tax free, you have to see the draw even if no amount of money would ever temp me.
Hours and hours had passed by now, we were all getting along happily. Bruce was a bit drunk by this point and you could see if he drank too much more it was quite likely his head would end up on the table and he’d be dribbling everywhere. Irene suggested we take him back to his apartment. I did have a slight twinge of weirdness in my guts when she suggested this, but I still went along anyway. So, we got into a car with one of Irene’s boy ‘friends’, Bruce stuffed in the front seat, and Irene and I in the back. We could have been going to Mars for all I knew. The roads were mental at that time of night, cars everywhere, scooters dodging in and out and people on bicycles. Before long we arrived at the apartment block, so far so good. Bruce had had a complete relapse by this point, and the three of us had to practically carry him all the way up to his room. It’s worth pointing out that even though I’m quite small, I was bigger than both the locals.
When we got up to Bruce’s room, we just chucked him on the bed. I don’t think he will have moved very far after that. This is where the night get’s even sillier. After this, I go out for a night out with Irene, at this point it’s about 11pm. Irene got her boy ‘friend’ to drive us to this bar she liked which seemed to take ages to get to, the driver didn’t stay. Even though there was a bit of a language barrier between Irene and I will still had a great night. We ended up spontaneously meeting all these other new people and there was a great band playing. One thing that did piss me off was the way men felt they could speak to Irene in a certain way because of whom she was. She seemed pretty thick skinned, but it must have hurt deep down. I felt quite protective of her, she was so tiny, but lets face it, you have to be quite tough to do a job like that.
Irene decided to call it a night, but by this time I was having such a good laugh I decided to stay out. I ended up partying with a bunch of Scottish lads ironically. One was such a gent he walked me half way back to my hotel and made sure I got a taxi, I’d have probably been still wondering around Singapore in circles otherwise.
Looking back now I’m not sure how many people I know that would have done what I did, it could have all ended very differently. Like I said, I’ve never really felt threatened in Singapore, everyone’s so little I could probably do a bit of a farm backhand and that’d be it. My only regret though, is not seeing Irene the next day. I’d arranged to meet her back in the café where we’d started so I could do her portrait, it would have been great. I really wanted to send her some nice photos. I waited at the café for a while but I didn’t see her, my guess is she had a pretty busy day that day. When I’m next back in Singapore, I’ll go back to Soi 17 and see if she’s there.
Quite a lot of other things happened when I was in Singapore, I went to the mind blowing royal botanical gardens, I saw the Terracotta Warriors up close, I was there for the National Day Celebrations warm up which was better than New Year anywhere and I had a proper Thai massage at a place called Sabai Sabai, where I had by back walked on and got bent all over the place. All incredible, and only just a few of the things I got up to. I was only there for 4 days! I could probably live in Singapore without having my arm bent backwards too much; it’s a place full of all the things I love, I’ll definitely be back. A quick note, National Day this year is on Thursday 9th August 2012, I’m going to try and get there, it’s well worth it.
Crash, bang, wallop, back down to earth, well onto Yorkshire earth. I think I was a bit shell-shocked when I got back. Apart from the obvious things that tug on my heartstrings, the only things that keep me here, I’ve been planning where I’m going next ever since I got back.
Nothing that I’ve done since I’ve been back really compares to the time I had while I was away, but you mustn’t forget the simple things in life, things like your dogs being so glad to see you, every time they see you, unconditionally and without exception. Being able to do stuff for Mum and Dad, like landscape the orchard at the farm. Seeing best friends that I haven’t seen for too long. I mustn’t forget all the awards I’ve won for my photographs in 2011, being interviewed by the newspapers and having my work published in magazines. One major highlight was being invited to photograph Tim Andrews, which will always be an absolute career high, following that, the finished works acceptance into the Guernsey Photography Festival, alongside the likes of Rankin and Harry Borden. 2011 has been a phenomenal year really when you look at it all together.
Here’s to 2012, I know it’s going to be a good one! I hope you all have a spectacular time. You have to look at it this way, if the world really is going to end on December 21st 2012, why sit round wasting time. Get out there and grab it by the bollocks…
Love & Light
Captain Jayneway X