Tag Archives: Travel

For All The Cows: I’m back here I guess…

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Three tins of Red Stripe*, a failed bet (sorry, bets) and awaiting news of a job I have diminishing hope of getting and I’m just about in prime territory for writing. Yeah, throw in a Friday night alone with Radio 6, 4od and frozen pizza and I have all the ingredients for a semi-structured, completely unrelated to anything I’ve just listed, blog entry. All I need now is to post pictures of my dinner and I’ll be near enough suicide. So where do I go from here? Well since my last post was about Belgian beer and I’ve gotten as far as Jamaican lager then I can’t envision much progress. Still, at least that’s somewhere to go from. Will I try to meet somewhere half way? Will I stop asking myself rhetorical questions? Will I ever buy any other frozen pizza other than Ristorante? You bet your arse I won’t.

Travel on the mind.

Literally the view from my laptop.

Literally the view from my laptop.

On the 3rd of November it will be five years to the day that I packed my not so little backpack, pushed back the tears and left Aberdeen to travel for the first time. I wouldn’t have thought that particular day in the calendar would mean that much to me but in all honesty, I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. My better half and I will be in Paris that weekend and being the sentimental guy I sometimes am, I would like to celebrate it by visiting the Eiffel tower and cracking open a bottle of wine. Now, I’ve been back in Scotland for a year and half now and even been back in Aberdeen for five months of those five but I can honestly say that there is hardly a day goes by where I don’t think of leaving again. And although I have thought and done in the past, I will just have to sit on such thoughts this time around – at least for the time being. I’ll be writing a sick inducing nostalgic entry for the third so if you can’t get enough self vanity, set your reminder for then.

Work to be done.

I started a new job in April which I am really enjoying as a Support Worker, working with homeless adults in supported accommodation. Ironically, I could do with some support myself but I must have failed to mention that at the interview. Regardless, I’m really enjoying it and sincerely think it’s the right job for me. Problem being, I’m only contracted part-time so find myself running around Edinburgh covering shifts in other projects to pay the rent. I realize the importance of a good reference now and finally realize that I need some balance in my life as well as the start of something serious on the job front. Although I’ve worked for a lot of places, in truth, a two-year old could draw all over paper with a green crayon and still create a more credible CV than mine. Time to buckle down and earn a reference/experience in something other than Head Cappuccino Making and Executive Chip Fryer. Although do look out for those jobs on Gumtree. I heard Glasgow is seeking skilled chip fryers for the Commonwealth games.

Needless to say, I am going and I’m tailor made for that role. I’ve retired from track and field.

I Could probably predict the future…

With the other half pegged down for a two-year contract at work and settled now in Edinburgh, it gives me time to focus on my job. I’m hopeful to land a full-time position within the company and would be unfortunate/have no one to blame but myself if I didn’t nail it down. We have been reading off of different pages when it comes to future plans thus far but have amicably agreed that if we were to travel extensively again, it would have to tie in with some sort of job prospects related to what we’re doing now. Hypothetically, I could walk around Bondi beach, offering housing support to backpackers that have spent their last cent but in that will never happen – I hate doing paperwork in the sun…

Realistically one of four thing’s are likely to happen: We end up moving back to Germany; We move down South to London; We travel then use a working visa abroad – i.e.- Canada; We stay in Edinburgh for longer. Simple! Next stop, a house and children and a five door car, but only if I still get to watch wrestling – that’s the deal. Who said life was complicated?

What else is new?

  • Remember I went to college because I thought it would be important to come back to education? Overall it was a waste of fucking time but I did get a grade out of it. I failed Higher German (poor attendance, terrible class structure and a really bad teacher that looked nothing like Cameron Diaz) but I passed Higher English and got an A. In all honesty, it was a great class even though I was the older student who sat at the back hungover and looked like a perv. The problem being with college is that I wanted to do nothing with it, therefore, there was not really any point of me being there. I didn’t want to get into University like most of my class or gain extra highers. I just wanted to do something I enjoyed and be rewarded for it even if it meant I had to work less. So waste of fucking time? Well yes but you know what, I needed it. I thought some sort of study would be good for me and, on reflection, it was. Reading The Great Gatsby over and over, being forced to write for hours and turkey burgers on paper plates – I had no idea what I was missing.
  • After a five-year absence I will be coming home for Christmas: I’ve not been in the country the last five years so it’s not as if I’m the selfish, ungrateful son who has turned his back on his family but still, five years is long enough. Expect a night out on the cards for my birthday on the 27th. I thank the both of you in advance for turning up and you both looked splendid in your new cardigans.

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  • Leaving my worst South African accent at the door, I flew over to Johanesburg in August for my cousin’s wedding. It’s probably something that I’ll go into another time but it was quite a humbling experience spending time with family who you rarely see but who love you so much and are so happy to see you. I was well looked after and truly welcomed with open arms. Being a large chunk of my dad’s heritage, it was a long overdue trip but was incredibly worthwhile.
  • My phone’s knackered – Angry birds? I’m fucking raging.
  • Oh and I ate this. Impressed? Didn’t think so.

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*Make that five.

 


Brussels: 5 Tips to Get You Started.

Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis

Brussels is famous for quite a few things: Beer; Chocolate; Mussels; Frites; Graffiti; Being the base City for Europe’s bigwigs; A statue that urinates 24/7, just to name a few. But if murals, politics and local landmarks isn’t your scene, and if none of the others listed don’t take your fancy, then hell, maybe Brussels isn’t for you! If I had you at beer? Then you should probably read on.

Eat: Fin De Siecle

Delicious Pork Shin.

Delicious Pork Shin.

Waiting in line for a meal isn’t a bad thing if the meal itself was worth the wait. This restaurant certainly delivered. Queued out the door and apparently busy every night of the week, there is nothing flashy about Fin De Siecle. But for what it lacks in style, it makes up for with bundles of charm, character, atmosphere and incredibly unpretentious but delicious Belgian cuisine. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the queue was relentless during our whole stay (no reservations folks) but don’t fret – you’ll be well looked after. The staff are fantastic: hurrying here and up and down and there. The menu is chalked in French, so you may want to save your blushes (and your servers time) by brushing up a little on the language before you arrive. Don’t expect to pay any more than 15 to 20 Euros for a meal and you should probably skip lunch that day as the portion sizes are generous to say the least. Fantastic.

Tripadvisor Reviews.

Sleep: NH Hotel Du Grand Sablon

Du Grand Sablon

Du Grand Sablon

Situated in the scenic Place Du Grand Sablon ( a charming little area, dotted with art galleries) you can’t go too wrong with this hotel. The reviews are mixed (as is the case with most hotels) but as I understand it, they come mostly about the dated rooms. My experience? Great. Nothing more; Nothing less.

Our room (on the 4th floor) was bright, clean and modern. One of the best I’ve slept in. The location is DSCF6121excellent: just up the hill from Grand Place, which is around a ten minute walk away. The breakfast was superb with plenty to choose from and of a high quality. The wi-fi was free but slow. So, so, slow. Overall, the hotel was great value for money. In fact, our stay was an absolute steal at £230* for four nights. Merely looking for a central place to crash, I was quietly pleased with my choice. Du Grand Sablon more than exceeded my expectations. Green? Not my colour but hey, I’ll roll with it.

*Lastminute.com Standard double room with breakfast. City tax not included.

Tripadvisor Reviews.

Go: Grand Place

Town Hall, Grand Place

Town Hall, Grand Place

Grand Place (which should be pronounced in a more alluring accent than mine) is the main square/hub in the centre of Brussels where you’ll find an abundance of restaurants, chocolatiers, bars and shops as well as some stunning architecture such as the town hall. There is many a tourist trap to be found around these parts, so some common sense is needed: don’t be ushered into restaurants. Shop around for your chocolate and be aware that prices are hiked up here. However, treat Grand Place as your base to explore elsewhere. There are some amazing restaurants and bars in the surrounding areas that are worth checking out. Brussels is a safe city so you should feel at ease venturing out the centre.

Drink: Cantillon Brewery

The Bar

The Bar

DSCF6008Unassuming and nestled just off a quiet street, Cantillon Brewery is quite easy to miss. Even standing outside peering in, you will still be unsure to what it is you are looking at. Since 1900, Cantillon has been brewing beer in this building and is still a working brewery today, maintaining it’s traditional methods. But I don’t need to google that fact, as the proud and friendly workers, (I say workers as there are no tour guides and you will be making your own way around) proudly state this to you upon entry and this information will be etched into your memory forever. Once your interest has peaked, you will be provided with two glasses of beer: a bitter and a kriek (cherry). And a warm metallic stove to huddle around. The beer is Sharp, bitter and clean and will be unlike any you have tasted nor will ever taste. A small brewery with a big heart, Cantillon is an ideal rainy afternoon activity but deserves much more respect than that. Six Euros will get you a self-guided tour and samples of their beer but you are likely to stay to sample more – there is plenty on tap! Check it out.

Visit: Bruge

Historic Bruge

Historic Bruge

Only an hour from Brussels by train, you would be foolish not to visit Bruge. Okay, so I’m cheating here, but if you can spare a day, it certainly would be worth your while. Allow yourself to be swept along with the sea of tourists, frantically snapping through cobbled back roads, Gothic cathedrals and winding canals. Don’t bother with the locals as you will have trouble finding them. Once your patience is wafer thin, enjoy the scenic stroll back to the station – the trains back are frequent.

Not selling Bruge for you?

In all seriousness, it is a beautiful city even listed as a world heritage site. Despite it’s popularity, there is a little peace of privacy to be had for everyone who visits. Simply get lost and see where the day takes you. Strangely, Bruge feels somewhat peaceful, yet it is incredibly busy with foot traffic. An unlikely combination but it works.

There you go: Five tips to get you started.

Have you been to Brussels? Any recommendations? Feel free to share by dropping me a comment below.


Glass Collecting: 8 Tools to Help You Survive Happy Hour.

The Exchange Hotel, Brisbane, Australia.

The Exchange Hotel, Brisbane, Australia.

Traveling the East Coast of Australia? Looking for work to fund onward travel? Enjoy cleaning up after drunk, drugged and dumb hipsters?

If you answered yes to all three of these questions, I have just the job for you!

Whilst living in Brisbane I worked at a night club, mostly as a waiter during sociable hours. To bump up my wage, I asked to do extra hours at the weekends, picking up glasses after my shift until the very small hours. As you can imagine, this kind of work is monotonous, soul-destroying and incredibly aggravating at times. But hey, it pays and if you need the cash, this can be a good little earner. Based purely on my experience, here are some tips to get you through happy hour. From sick to semen, I have it covered (figuratively of course.)

The Mop

Your induction will consist of a brief introduction of the tools you will need before going into battle. The first of which is the mop –  a 153classic time waster. Some girl has spewed all over the walls in the toilet? Take a break and go for a cigarette, as you’re going to need the fresh air before entering the stench pit. You know what awaits you and the only thing that will change between now and then, is the colour of her shoes and her level of dignity – yours diminished as soon as you signed up for the job. When you finally do arrive, usher drunks out of the cubicle like it’s a crime scene. Do not by any means interact with the culprit. She will have no remorse for her actions and tell you to leave  – which will anger you to no end – and she may be full of disease. Best form of action? Remind yourself at that moment why you need the money and get the cleaning over with as quickly as humanly possible.

Beside practical use, the mop can be used as a deterrent when cornered by jocks and hipsters. You will need to master two skills: The jab and the swing. When asked “Which part of Ireland are you from?” for the 10th time that evening, swing for his thick rimmed shades – he’s inside, it’s dark outside and they look fucking stupid anyway. Then follow-up with a straight jab to the voice box. That will protect your ears from his horribly bad accent.

The Sweeper

The sweeper consists of two items: a long-handled brush and a long-handled pan, both of which are designed to collect everything from cigarette butts to used condoms. At peak times, the sweeper may also be accompanied by a radio. This is to inform you of any breakages on the dance floor, (glass that is not noses) however at times you may feel somewhat patronized by the radio. The sign of a good ‘glassy’, (yes, this is what you will be called) is the ability to hear the sound of glass smashing from anywhere in the club, even over the load obnoxious reggaeton and electro. With practice, you will make it there in time to see some 18-year-old with skinny jeans and a vest, get tackled to the ground by the door staff for not doing much of anything. The entertainment value here is high, so it pays to be alert. Once you have followed the ruckus out the door, go for another cigarette before sweeping up the glass. By this point, nobody cares what you are doing, and neither do you.

Later, try heading out side to sweep. This will give you the opportunity to chat to the attractive door girl, tell the security about how much you hate your job and waste a good twenty minutes.

Top tip when actually sweeping: try using the side of the brush to knock in some butts. It creates more of a challenge and at times the odd butt will jump into the pan satisfyingly.

The Damp Cloth

138Similar to the mop, however the risk of coming in contact with bodily fluids is greater. If for any reason your cloth becomes dry during the evening, you may go behind the bar to damp it. This will give you the chance to engage in two second conversations to whomever is working, but be warned – there is a high chance no one will know your name. You could also use this time to grab a glass of water, marvel at the talent standing at the bar and act like you should  be serving. Be as nonchalant as possible. You’re not serving, but they don’t have to know that. Soon enough money will be shoved in your face and you’ll get screamed at. Walk out and carry on with your shift.

Damp cloth top tip: try wiping tables clockwise. Then anti clockwise. Mix it up and get creative!

The Tray

A classic tool used to stack glasses and the only part of your job that requires any sort of skill level. There is only one practical way to carry the tray and that is above your head, using one hand. There are two reasons for this.

  • In a packed club, absolutely no one will get out-of-the-way for you. Trying to maneuver around with a heavy tray by your side is near impossible. Plus you will end up slamming into people (which can be justified at times.)
  • People will try to add glasses to your tray. Keeping it balanced over your head will prevent this. Your tray is like a game of Jenga: perfectly poised, balanced and only fun if  drink is involved.

Add to your collection and go wild. Stack them; Place them side to side. The fun to be had is endless!

The will to live

Not a physical tool but just as important. You are going to need this. The shifts are long and boring and everyone around you is unbearable, but try to look at the bigger picture. Remember, you too are an obnoxious idiot when you are out. Remember, you won’t be doing this for long. Remember, that you probably will have to wait in McDonald’s for an hour with the same people after your shift as the first bus home hasn’t started yet. Remember, even with the extra shifts, you still can’t afford a taxi to the suburbs.

Becoming a  struggle? Try these games during your next shift to kill some time.

  • The 60 second game: When doing a lap around the club keep an eye on the clock. Feel the momentary satisfaction when you start a lap on the minute and get back to the same spot exactly a minute later. Challenging and there are many factors that could hold you up. Example: Guy comes up and asks you where the nearest cash machine is. You have ten seconds to spare. What do you do? Personally, I would ignore him. I have better things to do such as  beating my personal best. Girl asks the same question? Take as long as you need.
  • Guess the next song game: A stab in the dark but since the club only plays the same four songs, your chances for success is reasonably high.
  • The cock block game: Occasionally, girls will talk to you to escape the clutches of the rapey guy on the dance floor. You’re sober and he’s an asshole. Make her laugh, and watch him stress. Leave before he beats you up. Challenging but dangerous.

If you are heading over to Australia on a working visa my advice to you is to not be too picky. Take what comes your way and have fun with it. An experience – good or bad – is an experience none the less, to which you’ll learn from regard less. If you are willing to work all night and looking for a short term cash fix, glass collecting is at least an option, that – given the right club – could pay a decent wage.

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Cold Slow Smoked Ham

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Twenty Kilometers East of Ravensburg in the scenic region of Baden-Württemberg, (say that three times fast…) South Germany, lies the small town of Wolfegg: known for its vintage car museum, castle and now (at least in my eyes) it’s slow smoked ham.

Georg Klawitter, (that’s ‘George’ to you and I) has been living and working in the region his whole life.When not at 2012-12-24 11.57.53his day job, you will likely find Georg in and around the house, working away on one of his many projects. A skilled carpenter in his spare time, he shows me around his work shop which is dressed with bundles of wood, bound with chunks of metal and peppered with layers of saw dust. However it is the towering cabinet outside of the work shop that catches my attention:

“There’s about 50kg of ham in there – just shy of 200 euros worth.” claims Georg, as he ushers me to the cabinet and unlocks the door – an expensive piece of equipment in its own right. I soon find out it isn’t a cabinet at all. It’s a smoker.

Smoke rises, and escapes through the top, you see?” explains Georg proudly, as he becomes animated over his new project and entertains my interest.

As Georg pries open the door, smoke fails to bellow out, to my surprise, instead continuing its silky path to the top of the smoker, funneling out through the top:

“With cold smoke, liquid is forced out of the meat, producing more tender ham.” explains Georg.

2012-12-24 11.49.19It’s a hefty chunk of metal around three feet deep and six-foot high, allowing for the smoke to have room to rise and time to cool down. The smell is amazing: a dense woody aroma; The mouth-watering looking layers of hanging ham looks good enough to eat, but it’s not. In fact, the ham is soaked in a good amount of water for 24 hours, coated in salt, garlic and herbs for three weeks and left to dry out before going anywhere near the smoker. Once in, the ham is carefully cared for throughout the smoking period, maintaining a cold 10 to 15 degrees throughout the process – which can take several days to a week or two depending on the cut of meat/the size.

Forever a community figure, Georg is smoking the ham for friends, family and neighbours to give out as christmas presents. Sensing my interest, I am given a taste and try to recall a time where I had tasted better – heavenly. Unlike the smoking process, the sensation is instant as the intensity of the salt and the smoke come together sharply to form an explosion of flavour.

Conversation is limited between us due to my even more limited German, so rather than continue to struggle, I leave Georg to get on with his work as he wisely closes the smoker door to keep me out and I head inside for coffee.

I should try that” I think to myself, before remembering that I can’t even put a shelf up properly. “Leave it to the experts I guess… Besides, smoking is bad for your health.”

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For All The Cows – One Step Forward.

Although the last few years have been beyond my expectations, It wasn’t until I opened up a little – to myself and to others – about where my life was going, that it began to finally sink in that I needed to readjust my focus. Travel has and will be a big part of my life from here on end, as long as I am fortunate enough to do so. But coming home from being on such a roll, to slowly jolting to a complete stop, wasn’t easy to get my head around – I enjoyed my freedom and I never wanted it to end. However, as the old cliché goes, all good things must come to an end and I can now officially say, with a heavy heart, that this stint of travel is now behind me but someday, I will be back for more. For now, I’m here to stay and, in truth, I’m okay with it.

Give or take a few months, I have been working in hospitality for ten years, most of which has been full-time. For someone in their thirties this is quite long, but for someone at the age of twenty Seven, this is far too long. Through a string of broken promises to myself, I have stalled on getting out for a long time. But to be fair, I can’t knock it: through hell and high water, minimum wage boosted with jars of coins, ‘DARREN’ marked tip bags and the money saved by getting my hands on as much free food I could handle, has gotten me round the world and back: fact. But since coming home, I’ve never been so cynical and dissatisfied with what I do and to some extent, what I don’t do. As the months have passed, I’ve found myself going backwards and to be honest, I have become somewhat unhappy. Alas, here I still am, serving tables, wasting time and becoming more and more impatient day by day, as the constant demand of tourists chops me down, down, down. This is not where I want to be.

As for my own personal development? I wish I could tell you the answer. I desperately need to do something different with my life, and I have to push that forward in the New Year as opposed to just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. It’s only a matter of time for me. However now, more than ever, it’s important I use that time wisely – December, 2012.

I spent the majority of January getting increasingly frustrated with myself. I ploughed through job sites for ten minutes then got lost in923 You-tube watching videos of drunk racists on public transport for the remainder of the hour. Add in wrestling, Gumtree and a thousand and one articles on ‘career changes’ and you can begin to build a picture of what 2013 had met me with. It wasn’t until the tail end of January that enough was enough: Petra had been carefully nudging me along but I was still somewhat hesitant. It wasn’t until we went out for dinner with my mother one evening that I received that final nudge that would help me progress forward. I mentioned at dinner that I thought about going into support work. I explained that I needed a job that would still involve working with people but wouldn’t be so thankless. Like a moth to a flame she zoned in, as herself and Petra began systematically breaking me down and building me back up with encouragement, praise and approval as I played with my sachet of brown sugar and listened intently as I stared into my coffee cup.

The following morning, I applied for a position as an ‘Assistant Support Worker’ at a local unit in Leith. The job would involve working with adults with difficulties ranging from homelessness to depression – every tenant is different in terms of their circumstances. This would be the first job out with hospitality that I’d have applied for in quite some time. I held out little hope, however  I was open and honest in my application, just as my company was at dinner the night before. Perhaps support work would be my calling. I didn’t know. But at least now I knew it was time to find out. I was finally ready.

Around a week or two later on a break from work, I came home for lunch and found myself standing in the usual scatter of mail. Amid the take away menus and bills, I found a brown envelope marked in my name. It was stamped from the job I applied for. I promptly opened it there and then and began to skim read. I was invited for an interview. Excitedly, I confirmed my attendance and looked forward to the day.

The interview soon came and went and all things considered, (lack of experience, the high amount of applicants and little knowledge of the line of work) I felt like it went well. In fact, I don’t think I could have done any better if I was to do it again today. A positive, encouraging experience but I didn’t hold out hope in getting the job.

I was setting up the restaurant on a Monday morning – as I do every Monday – when I got the call. I had gotten the job that I was so sure I didn’t get. I was overwhelmed by the news and unashamedly cried when I got off the phone. I felt flattered, shocked and grateful that someone had faith and was willing to take a punt on me. I’m a somewhat emotional and personal person (no shit I hear you saying…) and that phone call, really did mean the world to me. This would be the start of a potential career, the start of something new and the end of an era.

As I carried on half-heartedly aligning place mats with cutlery, I instantly felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders. I wanted a change so badly and I guess my reaction reaffirmed that. I was struggling with the idea of not traveling again for a while and although for now I may be grounded, in a strange way I felt like I was on the move. This was one step forward and the beginning of a whole new journey. A journey that was completely unexpected.


For All The Cows: 2012 – A Year In Review.

The year the world was meant to end was also the year I came back to Scotland, with the intentions of getting my act together. Achieved? Well, no, not really: 2012 was a bit of a mixed bag but exciting none the less. I managed to pack in some travel as well as set up base somewhere new: Edinburgh, to which for a change, I still reside:

January:

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Petra and I had been travelling three months prior and had just finished a rain sodden trip through Malaysia. With the beach in mind, we skipped the last part of our travel in Borneo, and made our way for the guaranteed sun of Thailand: The majority of January was spent lying on the beach in beautiful Koh Lanta, eating food and reading my first book over 500 pages: A milestone in itself (Yeah, I know…)

February:

845We would be saying goodbye to our trip in Singapore, which seemed fitting since we started our trip in another awe inspiring city: New York: The last couple of days were spent catching up with an old friend, reflecting on the success of the trip as a whole, and getting in some last minute cheap but delicious eats and feel good sunshine. We love the food in Asia, and my year long Winter plumage can attest to that.                                                                                           

March:

Although back home with a bang, March held it’s own excitement: I had moved into a hostel in the P1270013centre of Edinburgh – sleeping in an eight man dorm room – whilst I looked for a job and a flat; Petra remained in Germany until further notice. It was slim pickings across the board, and luck was certainly not on my side. It began to sink in that, for now, the travel dream was over: It was becoming disheartening in the capital. After a couple of weeks of searching, my luck was to change and I had found a place in Leith. Not just any old place: A place that was perfect for me and more importantly, perfect for Petra. The next stage of my life was about to begin.

April:

DSCF5578The flat situation was sorted and Petra had flown over: We were settling in fine, and for me – at least – the job front was turning out okay as well: I started to work at a seafood restaurant, in the heart of the city centre called ‘The Mussel Inn’. I wasn’t too happy that I was back to doing what I had always done but for the moment, paying the rent came as a priority. I fitted in fine, albeit, a bit slow off the mark: It had been a while since I had worked in somewhere as busy and my head was still on the beach in Thailand.

May:

The year began on a high but was slowly turning on it’s head: Petra was finding it hard to pin down 923work (even interviews…) and she was becoming increasingly unhappy, having a knock on effect on me. But after weeks of hearing nothing, her luck was to change and an offer from Amazon came in: Not the best of positions but a job none the less and with a good company: A job that was badly needed; A job that was welcomed with open arms; And a job that would essentially settle us in Edinburgh.

June:

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It was the start of the Summer with nothing much worth of note: I continued to work anti-social hours whilst Petra settled in to the ‘nine to five’ working life. No money for a Summer holiday but I was starting to think about what I would do in the coming months: Would I go back to long overdue study or begin to search for a job with career prospects?

July:

A weekend off from an ever-increasingly busy restaurant was on the cards, so I decided to head down to leeds-131London to visit friends: Managing to find some sun and and a club on the Friday night, I went a little too hard and was a complete write off for all of Saturday, falling asleep in the graveyard next to Borough market and going back to bed shortly after. Buying a drink for a fiver and only eating the ice cubes says it all…

August:

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It was festival time in Edinburgh, and as well as Petra’s, it was also my first. The city is transformed from being littered with rage inducing tourists to being littered with rage inducing tourists coupled with punch-bag-worthy hipsters. Still, it was fantastic: Our first proper introduction to what Edinburgh can offer, and we loved it. Highlights included Richard Herring: Talking C**k, The Boy With Tape On His Face and seeing one of my heroes Mick Foley in the flesh: You know how they say you should never meet your heroes? Well, that stood true for me. Under whelmed summed that experience up, not helped by a rowdy, under appreciative crowd.

September:

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After much deliberation I had decided to meet somewhere in the middle of work and education and took the plunge to go back to college part-time to study Higher English and Higher German, as well as a short course on a Thursday evening studying Journalism at Edinburgh Uni. Let’s take the good first: Study keeps my brain ticking over, I’m genuinely interested in the topics I’m studying despite no plans for University, and it keeps me away from work for three days a week. The negative? Sitting on the bus for two hours, not receiving a bursary and slumming it with the teenagers who are more interested in their smart phones than education. Oh, and the food is terrible.

September was also the month that Petra found a great job at Edinburgh Napier University: A job with great prospects and a job that will continue her education in Scotland. She finds it hard work but ultimately rewarding; She is doing well and deserves it.

October:

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Another weekend away, accept this time I took Petra with me. In fact, Petra picked the destination: Barcelona. A weekend that had promised torrential rain, instead remained dry throughout the day and soaking throughout the night so I guess luck was on our side. A beautiful city with a lot to offer and a much needed break from the capital. Prosecco you say? Yeah, a bit too much…

November:

A month of pure procrastinating. My job patience is wearing thin, my German class sucks big time and IWhen reading this book, I actually found a red paper clip on the floor of the train. What's the chances? (No don't be silly. Of course I'm not going to talk about the actual book...) have little to no time to do much out with both of those things. What time I do have is spent with recyclable bags at Tesco, attempting to write with little to no motivation and blasting music into my ears as loud as I can to forget how pissed off I am with everything. But hey, such is life…

December:

2012-12-27 21.08.35I jumped at the opportunity to come back to Germany with Petra to celebrate Christmas with her family, making it the fifth year in a row I’ve been away from Aberdeen for the holidays. Do I feel good about that? No not really. But it’s just sort of panned out that way…

As it is, I’m enjoying the pure ‘down-time’ here and it gives me time to re-charge, re focus and even get around to doing a bit of writing: Something to which I have little time for. Yesterday, I celebrated my twenty-seventh birthday by throwing up repeatedly and relaxing at a thermal spa. I was welcomed back by a birthday cake/s: The first I’ve been given in years. Please excuse the word order in the photo: We are in Germany after all…

So what does 2013 hold? Honestly, I don’t know. Petra and I will continue to live in Edinburgh as her job demands this but I have no problem conforming to that: I love it there. As for my own personal development? I wish I could tell you the answer. I desperately need to do something different with my life, and I have to push that forward in the New Year as opposed to just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. It’s only a matter of time for me. However now, more than ever, it’s important I use that time wisely.

Oh, and how did I see in 2012? By dressing in drag of course…

Take it easy folks and all the best for 2013.

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The First: Qantas Strike Action; A Tale Of One City – Part 3.

Picture courtesy of Parsons.com

Picture courtesy of Parsons.com

For all different reasons, people were scrambling to get to where they wanted to be,  be it work, family engagements, whatever. So in that respect I was quite surprised I got the phone call. In truth, we weren’t really that bothered if the phone rang or not. We were told to be downstairs for 8pm but to be on the safe side we made the decision to go down for 7pm. We packed our bags with a sense of dread but also looked forward to finally getting to Melbourne.

Bags packed, loose plane clothing on and with a semi-premature feeling of finality, we headed downstairs to the lobby for six thirty – you know, just to be sure. Using the last of our food tokens, – the posh Marriott kind – we pulled up chairs centre circle, dug into some pizza and pasta and maintained a watchful eye over the hotel lobby. We had confirmation that we were on our way out of The States, but I was to remain slightly on edge: I had lost faith in Qantas and worried that there may be more mishaps to come. A few slices in, Petra had spotted familiar faces across the lobby, dragging their bags behind them:

They must have gotten on the flight tonight as well” she said.

Hmm…Yeah…I guess…Hold on.”

A gulp of water and some laboured chewing later, I went over to check what the gossip was:

The Qantas representative – the useless one we had been stuck with – was in the midst of getting a grilling from a very angry passenger. It seemed she was upset because people were leaving to the airport, to which she wasn’t told about. She was sporting shades, (tucked into her top) sandals and had a book clutched in her hand. Key point being, she wasn’t ready to leave, and this situation – in comparison – would act as her final boarding call at the airport. I was confused. It was barely past seven. Didn’t she have an hour to spare? As I continued to listen in – looking for my opportunity to get involved – the whole picture began to unravel, and it wasn’t to appeal to everyone’s tastes. Then, the Qantas representative dropped a clanger, heard all over the hotel lobby: She explained that if you happened to have been in your room at the time of the phone call, you were on the flight; If you happened to be by the pool, out of the building, taking a shit or anything else that involved not being by the telephone? Well you would have missed out. And as a consequence, not be flying out of Los Angeles. Never having dawned a Qantas uniform, even I felt qualified enough to realize that this was poor judgement on her behalf. The angry, sandal shuffling woman was now infuriated: She, personally, had been told prior that she would have priority because she was first class. Suddenly, I found it hard to sympathize. Unceremoniously, I piped up:

Sorry to interrupt, Can I just want to confirm some information with you? We are still leaving at 8pm, right?…”

No” She said.

We leave now. If you want to go to the airport tonight, be outside in five minutes.”

I bounded back over to the table, leaving the angry passenger and the representative behind. I told Petra we were leaving. Bewildered again, she finished her slice and shook her head. We were right to come down early.

 News had spread and more and more people began filling the lobby. Some with luggage; Some without. We slid past the gathering crowd, made our way outside and scrambled into a mini-van. Within minutes we were joined by others, and we were on our way to the airport.

 Upon arrival, we were greeted with the same check-in desk we fondly remember from those long and stressful hours from a few nights before. Not much had changed: There were still hoards of people, albeit, now in single file; Smiles upon faces and a lightness in the air. We joined in in the back, waiting patiently, ready to move forward and begin zigzagging our way closer to the check-in desk. However, there was one noticeable similarity from the last encounter: The staff.: They looked somewhat nervous; Like they had something to hide; Like they knew something we didn’t; Like they did the night before.The anxiety I felt at the hotel began to creep back in. I couldn’t help but feel that there may be more drama to come.

DSCF3579

A few twists and turns later we found ourselves obstructed only by a couple with their young family. The father had been talking to the sheepish looking check-in guy for quite some time. Scanning the horizon, I began to notice more sheepish faces, cowering behind the desks, including our troubled representative from the hotel. There was clearly something up. The man – with his family it toe – turned around and headed right, away from the line. We were up next. I stepped forward, lay my passport on the counter and peered at the man behind the check in desk pleadingly: Within seconds and to no absolutely no surprise, I was to be told that there would be no seats left on the plane. Here we go again, I thought. Despite our early arrival, we were still too late. On the flip side, it wasn’t the end of the world: He offered us a flight to Melbourne, connecting with Sydney. But before he could do so, I had gotten frustrated again and as did Petra. Not with him; Not with the situation; But with the woman from our hotel for – once again – giving out terrible information. As much as I wanted to sympathise with her, I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t mine nor Petra’s finest moment.; flaring out, speaking up and adding nothing but more stress. But, thankfully, it would be the last we seen of her: Cowering; Behind her desk; Well over her head.

As the queue became longer and longer and more and more people streamed into LAX, we began feeling fortunate that we were on a flight at all. There was a good chance that people in our hotel were going to be at the airport later expecting flights out, as well as many others. As the terminal filled up, I predicted a lot of unhappy people. Many will have made a wasted journey and could expect another trip back to the hotel: Too many people, not enough aircraft and a terrible breakdown of communication: This, yet again, was a mess.

 We had been told at check in that due to short notice, the plane hadn’t been able to be stocked on time, there for, there would be limited food and drink on board. We were then handed a voucher worth the equivalent of one hundred dollars for us to spend in the terminal: Well, this was different. I had never heard of such a thing. Naturally, my first question was:“Can I spend this in duty free?” He didn’t know. And neither did the guy behind me; Or the woman with too much make up;Or the guy with the tacky phone cover.;In fact no one quite knew what to do with the voucher, including Qantas themselves. But I guess we had time to figure it out. We headed upstairs, voucher in hand, feeling menacing.

Upon further probing we understood that the voucher came with restrictions: The main being that it could only be spent in one place within the terminal; Not a variety of. So with a little deliberation, naturally, we decided we would head to the bar, grab some sandwiches or the like to take away and spend the rest on whisky, cocktails and pints. Naturally.

The bar was dotted with normal passengers but laden with voucher waving Qantas nuisances. We had found a table in the corner and as we looked down on the ever increasingly busy terminal, we had time to reflect a little on the whole situation. I felt sorry for the staff: Not only Qantas, but for the ground staff, the baggage handlers, the taxi and the bus drivers; The catering staff at all the hotels; The maids, the cleaners, the cabin crew and those who had lost out on whatever plans, work or appointments they had waiting for them at the other side of the ocean. We had it easy: an extended holiday with a sprinkle of stress thrown in to keep things exciting, but others may have been effected in terrible ways: Missing a funeral is what came to my mind… As I enjoyed my pint, at Café El Qantas, I also felt sorry for our waitress: She was stressed – big time – and incredibly stretched, trying to deal with the floor on her own. Being a waiter myself for many years, I knew exactly how she felt and tend to sympathise with people I can relate to. I managed to catch a word with her: The consensus she put across on behalf of the terminal, was of the frustration with Qantas, and how chaotic it’s been for everyone involved:This mirrored my thoughts. Everyone had something to moan about or a story to tell. I wished her well and let her get on.

As we settled in at the bar, we began chatting to people around us, most of which were on our flight: A community of disgruntled passengers, becoming happier by the second, gripping onto a pint of lager and looking somewhat more upbeat then their downstairs counterparts

Do you mind if I sit here?” we were asked, by a man we briefly met in the cue.

Picture courtesy of Nikki Smith

Picture courtesy of Nikki Smith

His name was Andy: A thirty something year old from Melbourne who was in LA for business. He too had been caught up in the strike but he didn’t seem to mind, despite having a family to get home to. We began talking light-heartedly which came as a welcome contrast to the bull-dozing negativity that was circulating LAX. Even better, he was up for a couple of drinks, so before long we were on the whisky; Petra drank a cocktail. We shared a story or two as we waited on our food (club sandwiches) and he seemed to genuinely enjoy our travelling tales: His eyes lit up when I told him about upcoming plans and how my time was in Australia, Germany and Asia. He had travelled also – And I sensed he somewhat missed those days… We drank at the bar for an hour or two, taking full advantage of our 100 dollar vouchers. I was drunk.

It was time to stream through security and make our way to the gate. On the way we passed a news team, filming people holding up their vouchers to the camera: Would I have done the same if asked? Yeah, probably…We also passed some absolute fool in a Costa type chain, buying everything he could possibly get his hands on; Shortbread, muffins, cakes, crisps – you name it. I felt this was incredibly foolish as you CAN NOT take this into Australia with you: He would either have to eat it all on the plane or declare his loot to customs: So unless he would like to argue/ be fined over a half eaten chocolate muffin, a near empty tube of Pringle’s and a pocket full of crumbs it really wasn’t worth his while. All I was taking into Australia was a belly full of beer, and I was all the happier for it.

We had left it a bit tight to get through to the security checks as we capitalized on every single moment spent at the bar. As a result, we ended up rushing through – Andy included – and made a speedy beeline for the gate. Upon arrival, we were greeted with gloomy expressions, slumped over teenagers engaged with their smart phones and scattered crowds dotted over the carpet. I had seen this before. I knew exactly what lay ahead. Our flight had been delayed: Delayed for another three hours.

Due to the voucher restrictions, their would be no more freebies at the bar. What was becoming a relatively great night, turned into a shit one. I wanted to carry on boozing and fully intended on abusing the drink cart on the plane. But until then, we would have to cough up some dollars. In stepped Andy who kindly offered to buy us another round. Sharing stories had become sharing laughs with him. Another drink was in order. One became two; Two became three; Three became too many, and we danced our way back to the gate. Andy went on to explain how great it was to talk to us, as it brought back so many memories of when he was backpacking: Memories, he said, he hadn’t recalled in years. Genuinely friendly and incredibly kind with his words and time. The drinks we had came courtesy of Andy; The fun we had was priceless.

Again, it was the early hours of the morning and again, we were at the gate waiting to fly. We had made in time to join another queue, waiting to board. The staff had that look about them again: A look that can only be described as unsettling. However the flight had been called, so I couldn’t see what could possibly go wrong. We made our way forward and stepped up to the desk. Ready to board, I handed over my passport and boarding pass:

Sir I’m sorry but you are not on this flight. You will be on the next, which flies out in a couple of hours.”

Our tickets were right. We weren’t in the wrong. But it seemed things had been shuffled around last minute. As expected, I blew up, but somehow managed to keep it inside, swallow it and get over it within a matter of seconds. There was nothing to be done, and the good natured drunk in me prevailed. We grabbed our bags, shuffled back the way we came and found a place to park our bodies. The bar was now closed. For the next couple of hours, I’d be sobering up on the patch of carpet I chose.

As we settled, Petra and Andy struck up another conversation. I became quickly bored of my chosen tile. I pulled myself up, stretched out and decided to go for a walk. I enjoy being in airports: I love the excitement, the bustle and the people that flock to them. I find being on a plane restricting (for obvious reasons) but at the airport I’m free to roam, wonder and daydream; I’m free to celebrity spot, eat sushi and and read smutty magazines; I’m free to eat peanut M&M’s, try on fourteen different after shaves and play on the escalators; I’m free to stare, peer and watch; I’m free to go where I’ve been waiting to go for months; And I’m free to fantasize about being there, turning my dreams into reality.

As I roamed, I recognized someone that I had fond memories of the last time I was at the airport: There was no second guessing and no mistaking. There she was with her short grey hair and her baggy fleece, with her eyes set deep into a book. It was the woman that I had felt so bad for: The woman that I should have checked on that first night at LAX but didn’t. The same woman that would haunt me all the way to the hotel. I wanted to make things right. I had to talk to her. I approached her and opened with a simple ‘hello.’ She was nothing like I had imagined her being: Very well educated, charming and full of character. Canadian and going to Melbourne on vacation. I explained to her how I felt that night and how it was important for me to clear the air. On an emotional level, situations such as this one – leaving her on the side of the street without so much as a word of concern – can effect me horribly: I tend to dwell over the little things in life. She was lovely. And I was so glad I spoke to her. She to, was full of kind words and she very much appreciated my concern. Her name was Janice. She was crying due to being swept up by the stressful nature of the whole situation and – like everyone else – had no idea what was going on that evening. She got to a hotel shortly after we did. A little bit of thoughtfulness that night may have went far in a sea of people that were only out for themselves. That thought, has stuck with me ever since.

Two hours had past, and I was back at he gate with Petra and Andy. We were met with another hour delay. Still, in high spirits metaphorically and physically, I approached the boarding desk and talked with Qantas:

I know you are under a great deal of stress but all I want is a truthful answer. Will we be flying out tonight or not?”

We would be. Shortly after our flight was called. It was time to say goodbye to LAX. The ordeal was over. And we were not the worse for it.

Half a dozen gin and tonics later, we touched down in Sydney and were soon on our way to Melbourne: four days late. As we collected our bags we said goodbye to Andy. It was a pleasure to meet him. We swapped contact details and I vowed to write about the strike and send him the link. We waved goodbye to Andy and said hello to Melbourne. We had touched down and the next leg of our trip was upon us. But surely nothing could top what we had just been through. Could it?…

Writers note:

It comes with the territory that things can do and generally do go wrong at some point on a big trip such as that: You take the good with the bad and if you can make something good out of a bad situation, then an ‘ordeal’ doesn’t necessarily have to be that.

Being ‘stuck’ in LA for another few days wasn’t a disaster. I would even go as far as saying that it was a highlight of the trip – Certainly one of the more memorable experiences that I will ever have in my lifetime. We/I were apart of something global and it was truly exciting. Saying that, I’m no stranger to this kind of thing; I was also caught up in the Icelandic volcano eruption, that grounded most of the flights in Europe for a short time. I ended up getting to Germany by bus, train and boat: Yeah, karma certainly isn’t on my side when it comes to travel. For those of you that no me well, I do love a good story, and although I may embellish facts from time to time, the base of this story is 100 percent true.

Life if full of mundane things: Whether that be sitting on the bus on the way to work in the morning, making ‘spag bol’ for dinner for the eighth time this month or wasting six hours straight on the internet looking at absolute garbage on you-tube. To be taken out of the realm of normality and to be placed into something so surreal and out of sort, is a true exercise of the mind. And I – for one – relish this kind of rush as often as I can get it. Would I choose to put myself through that inconvenience again? Of course not. However could I and would I get a kick out of being inconvenienced? Absolutely. Life is full of inconveniences. And there will never be a convenient time.

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2013.

Take it easy folks.

Darren.


The First: Qantas Strike Action; A Tale of One City – Part 2.

Picture courtesy of Nikki Smith

Hotel name in hand we headed downstairs, dreading the impending chaos. We were accosted by a sea of people, impatiently crowding round a make shift barrier of orange vests, forming a line between the passengers and their belongings. The ground staff – rocking the orange – began rifling through miscellaneous sport bags, suitcases and backpacks, scanning for name tags. In an attempt to develop some sort of system, they intended on locating bags, shouting the name and have you step forward. But it was flawed; Some passengers were ridiculously impatient, dramatic and unruly by this stage of the proceedings at LAX airport. There was a man in a wheelchair loosing his temper because he couldn’t see beyond the crowd nor hear if his name was called; There were people pushing forward; People raking through scores of unclaimed bags, as if they were trying to find the body of a lost loved one; People seeing their bags and grabbing at them, breaking the barrier between them and the ground staff. It was all becoming a bit messy and by this point, I could feel my patience fading also as I really, really, didn’t want to be there… Eventually, our name was called and we stepped forward to claim our backpacks. I flung mine over my shoulder, helped Petra with hers and began to head outside.

As we stepped out onto the side-walk, it was to no surprise that the bedlam had spread to here also. The drop off/pick up point was littered with bleary eyed passengers, bags in tow, eagerly awaiting courtesy buses, cabs and lifts to take them to whatever mattress awaited them. However it was now in the very small hours. And as short-staffed the airline and Qantas was inside the terminal, the same can be said for outside; Very little cabs in the rank, a small trickle of mini buses and a select few representatives pacing the side-walk with talk radios.

We were given a hotel: I had the name in hand. We were given our luggage: Mine was laying by my feet like a trusted family dog. We were promised transport: It felt like it was never coming. It was at this time I could feel my patience dwindling from being tried, to being severely tested. I sympathized with the staff, parents stuck with small children and the elderly, but my compassion was wearing thin. I was tired, touchy and had enough. I wanted a bed; I wanted not to talk to Petra; And I wanted some proper/concrete information from Qantas. At this moment in time, I was getting none of the three. Time had ground to a stand still. Outside was as bad as inside. We had been waiting on the side-walk for a couple of hours…

Picture courtesy of Parsons.com

At lengthy intervals, a new bus would pull up whisking happier passengers away with it as we sat and watched on. The crowd had crumbled and chipped away from the wall of luggage and hunched figures it was before, but we were still there; Still waiting; Still listening out for ‘The Marriott down town’; Still tired; And still no closer to the hotel. Could we grab a taxi? Yes, we could, but it would have cost us a huge amount. The staff looked despondent; Like they knew nothing more than we did. And then – as teased before – I had really had enough. Like a moth to a flame, I stormed across the street, flailing out my arms, targeted a blonde haired Qantas crew member that had caught my eye and went on a tirade that I can barely remember. There was no more rational thinking left in my system; I had exhausted it all. I asked – or perhaps demanded – some facts, but all I really wanted to achieve was confirmation of our lift into town. Rather sheepishly, the blonde – who was already under enough pressure without my input – said he didn’t know, but he told me if we were to jump into a taxi, Qantas would cover the fair. As it turned out, this was information they knew all along; Information that would have been helpful during our plight with the pavement. However, regardless of how pissed off I was to hear it, it was all that I needed to turn around, storm back over the street, grab our bags and make progress towards the rank.

Shortly after – as if it was written all along – a black mini bus pulled up to the terminal, just as I had calmed down and joined the rank. Other ‘soon to be’ Marriott guests awoke and began to make a break towards it. We wasted no time in joining them. This looked like our ride into town:

‘Marriott down town???’ We pleaded more than asked.

‘I have no idea where the hell I’m going. What’s the deal? Who’s paying the fare?

If he didn’t hear ‘The Marriott’ and ‘Qantas’ the first time, he definitely heard it the second, third and fourth; Poor guy… We clambered in, snatched our seats, and I closed my eyes for a second or two. As the bitching commenced within the cab by other passengers, I examined Petra to see if she was annoyed with me. She looked back, let out a smile and rested her head on the window. She was fine; We were fine; And finally en route away from the airport. As we pulled out of the terminal, I spotted a woman at the side of the road: She was alone, about early fifties, short grey hair and sporting a baggy fleece decorated with portraits of dogs; The kind you see in tacky gift shops and wonder who buys these things. She was in tears. I had seen her earlier in the evening – not so upset but looking distressed – and I intended on asking her if she was all right. I didn’t bother. As we drove off, I felt terrible for not doing so. Selfishly, I was only truly concerned about her once we had been taken care of. And as emotions were high, I couldn’t really deal with that thought; That plus the image of her on the side of the road – crying her eyes out – began to haunt me, and it did so all the way to the hotel. I really wished I had talked to her…

The ride to the hotel, through the far-reaching, grid like, down town LA, was a short one in comparison to the nights events and we found ourselves soon pulling up to the front door. We were greeted by friendly baggage handlers and an enticing warm glow administered from the hotel lobby. We found ourselves in another queue;This time for check – in. But this was a far more calming affair; Sympathetic smiles, well-informed staff and padded carpet. Within no time we were key in hand, and in our room, marveling at the bathroom, staring out the window and flicking through the channels. Excitement well and truly over for the night, we crashed out, wondering what tomorrow held for us.

The following morning we arrived downstairs for breakfast after a good nights sleep; Hungry but with patience restored to full capacity. Before coffee we were told to check in at reception for any updates on the strike action (Qantas had sent a representative to stay at every hotel, setting up a desk in the lobby). Last night, upon arrival at the hotel, we had been greeted by someone from Qantas; Young Aussie guy, approachable, friendly and some what light-hearted; Qualities that could defuse any stressful situation. The Marriott’s representative was just as great; Sharp, keen and full of answers despite having limited information. Sadly, neither were to be seen today, and as we approached the make-do Qantas desk, I realised the Aussie guy had been replaced. In his place was an Asian woman; Rather scattered, out of sorts and looking a little bit disinterested; All in all seeming a little uncomfortable in her role, as more and more guests approached the desk armed with queries. She struggled to answer most questions and the ones she did, not very well, even with the added bonus of understanding and patience by most around the desk. It was also a struggle for her to understand most people as her English wasn’t the best. I came to the conclusion that she was either new on the job, or this wasn’t her regular role with Qantas. Regardless, she was doing terribly; Not helped by the fact that there wasn’t much to really say. Most people opted to talk with the Marriott representative – who was doing terrific under the circumstances – instead of her. We longed for the laid back Aussie.

There was only one announcement at breakfast and to no surprise:

‘There are no flights out today.’

We were handed three vouchers each – to the value of 12,15 and 22 dollars – to spend at the hotel on breakfast, lunch and dinner, courtesy of Qantas. Brilliant. This was not only unexpected for us but a real treat. The pool outside – with its enticing blue water, picturesque setting and sun just warm enough to dip your toes in – would keep us in the hotel until tomorrow. The rare opportunity to completely relax – at the expense of someone else – was something we wouldn’t pass down. We, of course, would make the most of it.

Relaxing poolside.

The day came and went inside The Marriott hotel and we had enjoyed the down time. We had nothing major planned for our arrival in Melbourne and could afford to lose out on a few days. We were grateful for that fact and I’m sure others weren’t as fortunate.

On the second day we arrived down for breakfast again to be handed another set of vouchers and to be told that there was no movement on the strike. There would also be a new influx of passengers at the desk, who had arrived at the hotel a few hours after us. The announcement:

‘There are still no flights out today.’

‘I’ll have the steak please.’

Late afternoon on the third day we had just arrived back to the room after spending time by the pool. I was laying, sprawled out on the bed watching TV, trying to figure out the appeal in American football; Petra was in the shower. The phone rang:

“Is that Mr Croaker?

It was the Qantas representative mispronouncing my name.

‘Would you like to fly out tonight at 11.30?’

‘For how many people?’ I replied.

She had problems understanding I was traveling with Petra; Constantly mispronouncing/misspelling her name and I had very little faith in her. It was a necessary question.

‘For two. Be downstairs for 8pm’

I cautiously accepted. But I was apprehensive about going back to the airport. And I hoped not for good reason.

To be continued…


The First: Qantas Strike Action; A Tale of One City – Part 1

Picture courtesy of Nikki Smith

As I pulled apart my Big Mac, I couldn’t help but feel cheap and disgusting. I don’t eat at McDonald’s often: one of those places I’ve poisoned myself against over the years but we had to spend the last of our dollars –  that jangled in our pockets, blanketed by receipts and tattered directions written on ‘post it’ notes. Besides, we were in The States – one last burger before leaving wouldn’t hurt right?

We had arrived at LAX in decent time for our over night flight to Melbourne. Petra and I were in high spirits as travelling The States was an overall success –  not much in the way of problems and a great way to kick off our trip. We had loved our time in LA and were somewhat sad to leave the US. One month down and three to  go, but we weren’t counting.

We were flying out with Qantas – to which despite losing my bags before – I have no problems. In fact they are one of the better airlines I’ve travelled with.

For a couple of hours, we strolled through the terminal, drinking coffee and taking it easy, beginning  to look towards Australia. I have lived in Brisbane before so I was looking forward to seeing some old faces, but Petra had never been so I was excited for her as well.

Before long it was time to board and without a hitch we settled in. I had torn apart the plastic package they provide you – with toothpaste, a blindfold and other things that get in the way and I probably won’t use. We wondered if we would get the seat next to us free  so we could stretch out later and squeeze in a fairly decent sleep, although in truth I wasn’t bothered about it: they had a whole season of Curb Your Enthusiasm available on the in flight system. I would no doubt be up all night watching that and drinking gin.

It was just past 11pm when we received an announcement over the Tannoy:

“Ladies and gentleman this is your captain speaking. If I could ask for your attention, I have some important information to share. I have just received a call from head office, and, I’m afraid I have some unfortunate news: Due to industrial action – out of my control – Qantas has decided to ground its entire worldwide fleet meaning, sadly, we will not be flying to Melbourne this evening. At this time I do not have any further information to give, but on behalf of I and the rest of the cabin crew,  I sincerely apologize. I will have to ask you to gather all of your belongings, and leave the aircraft back to the terminal. Again…my deepest apologies…”

As we remained sat in our seats and turned to each other, I wasn’t sure how to feel but Petra looked quite upset. With only a few moments passed, I had already developed the feeling that this could be a difficult situation to navigate. Perhaps a true test of not only my resolve, but of ours as a travelling couple. My mind began to race  making up different, unsubstantiated conclusions in my head. I worried that this would put strain on us –  very, very quickly.

Surprisingly, most passengers (us included) collected their things and left the plane without a fuss. The cabin crew looked as shocked as we were and they also seemed quite passive –  were they also in the dark about it?

Ourselves – and the rest of the unlucky passengers – streamed and weaved our way back to the terminal. We were guided by make shift signs simply reading ‘Qantas’, held out by ever increasingly shy looking crew members.

I began to think of the scene that awaited us upon arrival at the terminal: We surely weren’t the only Qantas flight outbound that evening… I had visions of being met with chaos, however I decided – like the cabin crew – to also remain quite passive:

“Lets just go with the flow on this one. Let everyone else do the stressing” I said to Petra.

To my gratefulness, she agreed.

We arrived back at the check in desks but my suspicions were right –  It was chaotic. There was another out bound flight to Sydney, to which my disbelief,  was in the process of being pulled from the air – subsequently turning around. Frustrated passengers from another flight from the runway also began to stream into the terminal, clashing with our flight like two angry tribes. But we were to expect passengers from the plane in the sky to also join the party. Before long the place was packed and the rumour mill started to turn inside LAX airport. There was talk of another flight, not getting home that night, and all things corporate/business related, spouted from douche bags on smart phones.

After what seemed like an age, it was well after midnight and the Qantas staff still hadn’t heard a word on what to do with the passengers. Everyone was huddled around the check in desks waiting to hear information and by now people were starting to get disgruntled. Petra and I decided to sit close to the desks  (where most of the staff were hiding behind) in case a massive queue was in the making. We figured it was only a matter of time so getting a head start wouldn’t cause any harm. As we waited, some of the business class passengers began to perk up, stretch their wings, clear their throats and step confidently into the front line. Questions and orders began to ring throughout the terminal from those that remained, whilst many of the others had already booked alternative travel via their smart phones, iPads, and net books. Many people only had hand luggage, so those fortunate passengers were already heading out the door. The rest of us remained in the terminal, scruffy dressed in baggy shorts and printed T’s. Baggage still on the plane, but plenty to be seen under ever glazing eyes.

Finally, after another lengthy wait, there was some movement behind the desks. More staff began to trickle through the terminal, dragged out of whatever bed, bar, or office they came from. They began  to make an announcements via white megaphones –  the kind in which I’ve only seen in protests and movies:

“If I could have everyone’s attention please: We have received word from head office in Melbourne and as it stands, unfortunately, there will be no flights leaving LA tonight and throughout tomorrow. We are in the process of arranging hotels for you all and for transport to take you there. Can I ask those of you on the Sydney flights to form a queue here and to those of you on the Melbourne flight to line up at the other side. We will then issue you with a hotel. Once you have the name of your hotel, head down stairs to collect your baggage and make your way outside for transport to your accommodation.”

As bad luck would have it, we were at the wrong side of the terminal and should expect to be last in line. Not only that, but due to the sheer scale of bodies in the terminal and not hearing the relevant announcement, we hadn’t noticed that the majority of the passengers on our flight had already been allocated hotels and were downstairs already. Disappointed that we had failed to get ahead of the game, we rolled our eyes and shuffled over to the other side of the terminal to be allocated a hotel.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a barren terminal, with only a few lost souls scattered around. Unintentionally, we had lost our Melbourne counter parts and were able to have a clear run at approaching the check in desk. We sluggishly stepped up to the desk, and handed over our boarding passes. In return, we received a piece of paper, marked in black pen, simply reading ‘The Marriott Down town.’ My eyes lit up and I suddenly felt over joyed to not be flying tonight.

When I had booked the trip – spending hours, scrambling through pages upon pages of potential hostels and hotels – I hadn’t envisioned staying at The Marriott: wminimum wage, prioritising with cities to be in, not beds to sleep on and it being beyond the realms of our reality went against it. But now that it was real? We would embrace it with open arms. However, it was still to early to crack open a beer. We had to get there first.


The First: English Teaching Job

I needed a plan for the future after coming home from traveling, otherwise I’d be returning to a similar life I left behind. I had originally planned on teaching English in China as I had fallen in love with the country, and at the time it felt like the right step to take; Not only was it a route out of Scotland again, but teaching would be something new and fresh for me and the job didn’t involve smelling like a deep fat fryer. Of course, not everything you plan comes to fruition and it only takes a roll of the dice to change your path around the board.

Before flying back to Scotland, I had said a teary goodbye to a girl, who in turn flew back to Germany. My plans were very much in the air and I wasn’t sure if I would be moving to Germany or putting some serious thought into China. During this time of contemplation, I thought It would be wise to cover all possibilities and I decided to crack on and take a TEFL course (Teaching English as a foreign language)After a fun and interesting two day classroom course, I now had 80 hours of online work to do in order to gain my certificate. Fast forward three months, and I had weighed up my options and made the decision on my future. I was going to move to Germany. China could wait for now.

The Summer in Scotland came and went and after I had saved enough money, I packed up and left for Germany. The difference and the the irony being I now needed to learn a language as opposed to teaching the one I already knew. I had found work in an Italian restaurant – which I went onto despise – washing my soul away in the sink night by night and losing the will to live little by little. During the days – apart from moping around feeling sorry for myself – I began working through my online course whilst keeping an eye out for any teaching opportunities, but there was little on offer for a rookie teacher without a degree and a certificate that in Germany, wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

However, my fortune was to change and one day I received an e-mail from a company called ‘The little English house’. The job was to teach English to kids from 4 to 7 years of age, and I was asked to meet at a local coffee house for an interview – I liked the thought of going for a job interview at a coffee house – Informal and less sterile.

“Hey, Vivian?” I asked as I approached a woman at an outside table who matched the description.

“Hello Darren, yes I’m Vivian” She replied.

We sat down and became acquainted before she went inside and ordered a couple of coffees. I sat in amazement staring at a dog lying at my feet, that was literally the size of a small horse. As we began chatting, I soon clocked on that this was more of a feeling out process as opposed to an interview. I had zero teaching experience but it didn’t matter. In short, she wanted to know if I would be a good, fun and reliable teacher for the kids; I wasn’t sure if I was any of those things… We spoke for around half an hour as I consciously tried to act as animated as possible and not say things such as “Well Vivian, ideally I would like the kids to know English so they can be adaptable in many roles within my new child army.” I based my purely fabricated performance on the cast of Blue Peter, and used generic sentences such as ‘I don’t take myself too seriously’ as often as possible. I had no idea how to act in this kind of interview so I threw myself into it to see where it would take me. Rather surprisingly, I had pulled it off and we began to discuss class plans.

I was given a bundle of kids books, word cards and props and was told to go home and come up with a class plan for teaching breakfast. I did as instructed and went home to drink coffee all afternoon and come up with a practical but entertaining lesson. As there was no real set instructions apart from ‘stay within the time limit’, I had a lot of room for creativity for my lesson plan. A few days later I sent in my lesson plan and it was approved by the office. I was good to teach and although it wasn’t going to be how I imagined my first lesson to be, – I was expecting a whiteboard and a bunch of exchange students playing on their smart phones – I was quite excited for it.

The day had come and I felt fairly self-conscious and anxious as I hunted down the building where the class would take place; about twenty minutes on the bus from my flat. I arrived pretty early and had problems getting in, until I was eventually let inside by a cleaner. After climbing the stairs I was greeted by an empty corridor lined with neatly organized colourful wellies and raincoats along the far wall, and a long wooden bench presumably for the parents to sit on when dropping off/picking up their kids. There was a square window at the top of the door, looking into the classroom. I decided to have a peek in to see for myself what awaited me. Vivian was inside, sitting on the carpet teaching a lesson. She spotted me and I was given an acknowledging head nod. The kids noticed this and they all turned round curiously to see who was at the door. When they seen it was not a parent, they quickly lost interest and turned back around; It was then I got nervous. The class I was about to teach was all about breakfast and I was ready to throw up mine. I had already disappointed the children but they didn’t have to wait long to see their parents as mums and dads started to trickle through the corridor.

“Hey! How are you?” I said directed at any parent that would listen.

I didn’t get much in return bar accusing stares and noticeable pre-judgement. One dad looked like he wanted to punch me. I can only imagine why. I could tell he wasn’t a fan of Blue Peter. I felt like saying “Don’t worry mate. I don’t want to teach your daughter either”.

It was soon time for the old kids to stream out and for the new batch to stream in; the kids I was about to teach. They were tentatively followed by myself sporting the fakest ear to ear grin I could muster. The kids – who were all girls – ran around the room, reaching for toys and books as I stood in the middle of the whirlwind waiting for the storm to die down.

“Who wants a sticker?” I asked.

They all did and they were loving the smiley faces I was drawing on them – that of course bar the one little girl who told me she was sad so I gave her a frowning smiley that didn’t go down to well with her – Still,  I thought it would be a good idea to give them all name tags and kids love stickers right? Or is it iPhones now?

Vivian was on hand to keep an eye on the lesson and give some friendly advice when needed but for the next hour I was on my own, teaching my very first English lesson.

So, how did I kick things off? With an all time classic of course: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. With one deep breath and to overcome my nerves and self consciousness, I threw myself into it. As predicted, the kids all knew the song and it garnered their focus straight away – apart from one that was still sulking because I spelled her name wrong on her name tag – and It went down well with Vivian and the class.

Warm up over, it was time to sit down on the carpet and get into the lesson, armed with a stuffed toy type creature that I named ‘Breakfast Boris’, flash cards and other various colourful props and text.

Breakfast Boris

‘Breakfast Boris’

As we (as a class) got into it, the first twenty minutes flew by and it seemed to be going well. The class were involved – contributing well to the lesson and not giving me too much of a hard time – and generally on good behaviour to the delight of Vivian who had warned me prior that they can be a handful sometimes.

But as I rushed through some of the tasks (flash cards with various breakfast items, bingo etc.) I started to feel I was losing their attention and I was running out of things to say. The clock seemed to grind to a stand still and I was soon losing focus and control. I also found myself doing the cardinal sin of talking to them in German, to the dismay of Vivian. At times I found it tough to juggle basic English so strangely reverted to a language I barely knew myself just to find common ground and be understood. The students were at all different levels so it just felt natural, however not a word of German can be muttered which is harder than it sounds. In relation, I started to realise how hard it was to do a lesson entirely consisting of basic, proper and straight-forward English. Stripping the language down to the bare bones is a challenge in itself, never mind the accent I carry with it.

Have you ever been to a family party where one of the kids takes a shining to you because you kicked a balloon around for 5 minutes? Well you know that awkward moment when the balloon has burst, you want to go to grab a beer but you are stuck talking to this kid with no idea what to say and how to say it in a kid friendly way? That’s what it’s like accept you can’t say “go see what your sisters up to.”

As the class became more dis-interested, I decided to get them on their feet again to do something more active: A game of British Bulldogs which I was told they like to play; basically a dart from one end of the class to then next without getting tagged. Nothing like the brutal game I played as a kid which resulted in clothes lines to the face, rugby tackles to the gravel and phone calls to concerned parents.

After killing another few minutes it was time to get back into the lesson; finding out what the class ate for breakfast with help from Breakfast Boris, whose name changed constantly as the lesson went on. The contribution by the kids was still good but I had yet to reel them down from the previous activity and I was starting to lose control a little again; The whole lesson was a juggling act. If the class had ended there it would have been a success, albeit, nothing spectacular but as it stood I had a chunk of lesson to go and wasn’t quite sure what to do. I had revised my lesson plan but timings/structure seemed to go out the window and I was running short of inspiration; not through lack of ideas but through lack of practise.

Berty Breakfast or whatever he’s called had failed me and was in the arms of a kid that wasn’t sharing him with anyone else, despite my efforts to pry him back. He had betrayed me in my hour of need. I knew my lesson wasn’t a disaster but I also knew that there would be better candidates on the way with experience ready to walk into the job. As a last gasp effort to impress, I grabbed my iPod from my jacket pocket and turned to the only thing that I knew could win back the class.

It was time for my wild card; SpongBob SquarePants; Yes, that’s right…

The idea was to show them a clip from an episode to set me up for a song based on the intro with the lyrics changed; And yes, a song. Cue embarrassing moment in front of the class, waiting parents and Vivian:

Who speaks English to people we see?

We speak English!

Who teaches English? Well that is me!

I teach English!

I teach English, you speak English, we love English!

Total fail. I sang it alone. Where is Arnie’s whistle and ferret when you need them? Even at four I would of thought my teacher was a dick head for doing that. It just left the kids confused and wanting to see what else I had on my pod. I was going to make an idiot myself regardless of the outcome, but If I was going out, I was going out in style, riding out in a blaze of glory on board a pineapple under the sea.

The lesson was over.

As the kids waved goodbye I even got a hug from a couple of the girls which was a nice touch. It felt like my efforts didn’t go to waste and to be appreciated as a teacher by a 4 year old was touching and a nice moment. The girls gave me minimum hassle and were all charming in their own little ways, but I was pleased the class was over.

“You did really well” Vivian said in a way that sounded sympathetic as opposed to encouraging.

“I liked some of your ideas and for your first lesson that wasn’t bad at all”

I appreciated the compliment but I already knew I wasn’t getting the job by judging her tone and body language.

“That was hard going! That hour feels like forever!” I replied.

We talked for a couple of minutes before the next class entered and it was more of a mutual goodbye as opposed to a ‘see ya soon’.

I walked home high as a kite with Breakfast Boris in hand, thinking about one of the most surreal experiences of my life. On the way I bought a packet of cigarettes and smoked around half a dozen, stopping on a park bench down by the lake, taking in the beautiful views of Constance.

It was my first and last English lesson and I didn’t hear back from Vivian which I found a bit unprofessional. I saw her in the pub I worked in weeks later but she blanked me but it wasn’t as if I was looking to strike a conversation up either. Never the less, experience is experience and at least I have another story to tell.

Maybe one day I will teach English again. Or maybe I’ll just stick to speaking English to people I see.