JOURNAL EXTRACT #10

22nd of January

I am on a plane, again.

My day started at 0120, London-time, when after three-hours sleep my alarm chirped with way too much enthusiasm for such a disgustingly early time of the morning. Although I don’t know if it can rightly be called morning. Late night? Technically I had slept, and it was a different date than when I first closed my eyes…for the purpose of clarity, let’s say it was early morning. But please bear in mind, the term “day” in this context gets very warped and wiggly, and may in fact last longer than the traditional twenty-four hours. International travel refuses to play by the rules of space and time.

So my “day” started in London, at 0120, when I pulled on clothes, splashed water on my face, completed the cursory pocket check of wallet, phone and passport, before grabbing bag and backpack and venturing outside to wait for a bus. It’s a weird thing to stand on a deserted London street in the freezing cold with the moon overhead, pacing back and forth to keep the feeling in your feet, and expecting a bus to show up. It took me back to when I first moved to London and got absurdly lost coming back from Vienna. Ahh, good times. At least in this case, I planned to be standing outside in the middle of the night (sorry, early morning), waiting for a bus. And just like that fun night, eventually headlights broke the darkness, rumbling broke the silence, and the deserted street was suddenly occupied by a red double-decker bus.

It took two changes, two-and-a-half hours, and three buses to get me from Morden to Heathrow airport. I was sustained by chocolate-chip cookies baked by my girlfriend during this trip. My love grew for her with every cookie.

The next leg was a plane that took me from London to Paris, which is a flight that basically gets up in the air only to come down again, albeit in a different country. Damn, but Europe is all smooched so close together. There was, however, enough time to enjoy a chocolate croissant — a perk of flying Air France.

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I arrived in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport at 0900 France-time, which is 0800 London-time, although to my sleep-deprived body felt like 2200 Internal-bodyclock-time. I had been awake for seven-and-a-half hours off of three-hours sleep and the sun had not long been up. Feeling confused? I certainly was.

From France, I boarded another plane at 1135, headed to Guangzhou, China. I forced myself to stay awake long enough for the first meal to come round (beef and mushrooms with rice, for those playing at home) before folding my knees up on the back on the chair in front of me, squishing my body into a weirdly comfortable accordion-style position, and disappearing into sleep for six hours. Six hours, not bad, right? I did wake up with completely dead legs and a back that took about ten minutes of coaxing to straighten, but it was worth it.

China was foggy and cold, and I saw exactly none of it as I paced the terminals looking out the giant glass building at a wall of fog. I killed two hours, breaking the time between watching episodes of Seinfeld on my laptop and watching a cute four-year-old Indian girl wearing a onesie dance up to people singing her ABCs in English. I can’t decide which was more entertaining.

From China, I boarded another plane at 0900 China-time, which was 0200 France-time, and 0100 London-time, this time headed to Melbourne.

I can hear the loyal readers asking, “Melbourne? But don’t aren’t you Australian? How can you put this entry in a travel journal when where you’re travelling to is home?” Firstly, thank you for your loyal readership, and for your astute observations about my origins. I’m honoured that you’ve followed this blog so closely, and glad I have a readership that asks such penetrating and pertinent questions.

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I can justify the title of travel journal because this time, having now established myself in London, I will be a tourist in my homeland. It’s a dislocating sort of feeling to be heading home and knowing it’s only temporary, that this time “going overseas” means travelling to Australia. To be simultaneously both an insider and an outsider. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m going to leave it there because I have three percent battery left on my laptop. Right now, the time on my screen says 0509, the time on my watch says 1409, my body would swear is about midday, and truthfully, given where my plane currently is in the world, none of them are probably right.

It’s been a long day.

 

24th of January

I am sitting in my bed writing this. It feels very strange. Not that I’m in bed, that’s a natural state of being for me, but because of the bed I’m in.

Seventy-two hours ago I was rising from my other bed, my London bed, and now I’m back in my Australian bedroom, a room that hasn’t changed since I left it six months ago. The room may not have changed, but the person within it has. (That’s me, by the way).

I landed in Melbourne at 2130, made my way through the ordeal of border security (after now having some experience with airports, I can safely say Australia is the most uptight country when it comes to customs. We’re number one!), and stepped out into a crowd of family. Mum greeted me with tears in her eyes and a hug that felt like home. It was a nice moment.

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Yesterday was the perfect easing-in day. Damian, Holly and I headed to Lygon Street and, after exactly ten seconds of looking, found a cafe for some brunch. Out of all the things I’ve missed about Australia, Melbourne breakfast-food would have to be one I’ve missed the most. (After my loved ones and friends and all that).

After reigniting my love affair with Melbourne’s brunching culture, we made our way to a pub called the Ale House and talked and laughed while enjoying beer, one of which was called peanut-butter-jelly-time and tasted like rocky road. I would highly recommend it.

It was brilliant to sit and talk with two of my favourite people. As incredible as the miracle of Skype is, (and it is a miracle — we are living in the future, people!), it still falls short of the intimacy and communication that comes from sharing a space with a person. I don’t know if it’s in the body language, the minute facial expressions, or some unconscious connection that comes from being physically present, but there was something inherently more satisfying in being able to sit in the same room as Damo and Holly and catch up.

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From the Ale House, we headed to the Edinburgh Castle where we were joined by my sister, Ange, and her boyfriend, Adam, and my friends, Erica and Brian. The latter two are the reason for my Australian vacation, as I’m attending their public and legal binding to one another in a week’s time. It should be a nice affair.

I got back to my brother’s house at around 2100 where, after assuring everyone all day that I was fine and had craftily avoided the effects of jet lag, I promptly fell asleep on the couch, absolutely jet lagged.

It was a good day, and a perfect slice of exactly what I hope to achieve from my brief time being back here.

 

27th of January

I am sitting on the couch I used to sit on as a teenager, looking out the window of my childhood home and breathing in the scent of gum trees. The odour is triggering memories across my cerebrum like wildfire. It’s disconcerting in a pleasant and bitter-sweet sort of way.

Since leaving London, it’s felt like I’ve walked backwards through my old life. Landing in Tullamarine and driving through the suburbs where I worked as a nurse, to arrive at the house I lived in straight out of uni, and now back to the root of it all in Traralgon, where I’ve spent the past half-hour touching items on my old bookshelf and reconnecting with teenage-me, a person I now realise I had almost forgotten.

It was strange and sweet and sad to stand in my old bedroom surrounded by pictures and drawings of a simpler me and look back across this timeline, and to see the way I’ve hopped from a country town, to an Australian city, and now across the ocean to London. Teenage-me never even saw it coming.

Yesterday was Australia Day, a day which has never really had much significance to me other than getting paid double-time when working (both in the supermarket and as a nurse, I was never one to have public holidays off). But this year’s Australia Day was particularly potent as I used it as an opportunity to see the family I’ve been apart from for the past six months, giving the day a whole lot more meaning than celebrating the landing of Europeans on Australian soil. Granted, I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t done that, but I got to meet my nephew for the first time yesterday. Nothing trumps that.

Harris Robb is a chubby little ball of baby that pulls funny faces and bobs his head against my chest when he wants a feed. Sadly, he was pumping at a dry well, but luckily for Harry, my sister-in-law had the goods. I have only just met the little man, but it’s safe to say I love him. He automatically gets the love card due to sharing genetic material with me.

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The day was spent in Trugania Park in Altona, right by the bay, where we indulged in the closest thing Australia has to a cultural meal: the BBQ. I slapped sunscreen across my skin with my niece, cooked snags on the hotplate with my dad, and drank beers with my brothers. It was familiar and special, and recharged the much-depleted family-time batteries.

I also got reacquainted with my niece, Ella, who took about half-an-hour to win over (she was obviously still put-out by my move to the UK), but once we splashed each other with water from a drinking fountain, we were firm friends again. I spent the majority of the day swamping her in hugs and kissing her cheeks, whether she liked it or not. She mostly liked it. I think.

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Afterwards, I drove the two-hour drive to Gippsland with my mum, the drive going in a blink as we shared all the thoughts we’d each been thinking since seeing each other last, to the point that I was mildly surprised to be easing the car into the driveway of my old home after what felt like only twenty minutes.

Being back in a home that evokes a life that no longer exists, but that gave me such an incredible start, is a melancholy and yet inspiring thing. I miss the easier life I used to have where my family was always just in the adjoining room and all I gave much thought to was which book I’d read next, but I’m proud of the complex and fulfilling life I’m living, and the strong ties I still have with every member of my family, even when we’re living in rooms oceans apart.

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2015/16

This time last year I was writing about how 2014 had felt like a year of waiting. It had been a strange year, one of routine that had become monotonous, and of a sense of disquiet. Of waiting.

It’s hard to wait for something, but even harder still to feel like you’re waiting for something that might never come. For most of 2014, I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I knew that the lifestyle I had set up was only a way-station to something bigger, only that something bigger kept not happening. I stuck to my routine and waited for the universe to deliver the next turning point in my story. The universe did not provide.

So I did. I could only wait so long, and in the end I decided to make the turning point myself. I resolved to move to London to see the world and, more importantly, to just do something. I wasn’t sure what I expected to happen, if anything would happen, if anything would really, on a fundamental level, change, but I knew at the very least I’d be doing something. That seemed like a better alternative.

So the end of last year’s blog post was hopeful. The waiting was at an end — I would be moving to London come the new year. This turned out not to be entirely true. The waiting continued for another six months, but at least by this point I knew what I was waiting for. The waiting had a different flavour to it, an anticipatory taste at the back of my tongue, and the tedium at least felt like it was building to something. And it did.

It’s safe to say that, despite the first half of the year still being consumed by waiting, the second half more than made up for this period of inaction.

2015 was a year of exploration, of trying new things, and, to a certain extent, of making it up as I went along. I’m sure I’ve been doing this since the moment I was born, that there isn’t a book somewhere with the plot points of my life already written down in easy to understand step-by-step instructions, but I’ve always sat and thought things through so that by the time of decision, what I’ve decided to do felt planned and preordained. I would convince myself that I’d mentally explored every possibility, and the one I’d chosen was the most logical and responsible. This has not always turned out to be the case, but it felt like it at the time. The illusion is a comfort.

But after literally disbanding my previous life — renting out my house, selling furniture, quitting my job, and buying a plane ticket — it seemed not to be in the spirit of things to fall back on my previous method of nutting everything out first before taking action. That way of thinking had certainly provided me with security, but it also ended with me living in an empty house, repeating what felt like the same day over and over. I was trying something different, now. That was kind of the whole point.

So instead I had a loose framework. I would catch up with my cousin and his girlfriend in Italy and we’d explore the country before heading to London. I knew in August I would head to Vienna to catch up with a friend for a few week before the both of us, and a few of her friends, went to Greece. After this, I had vague ideas of working and travelling, the ratio of those two things dependant on my financial status at any given time. That was it.

I figured this cavalier attitude towards my future would liberate me, would eliminate the weight of expectation. Expectation can be a hazardous thing. On one hand it gives you something to hope for — a future you expect and anticipate is one you can prepare for, and look forward to. But expectation cuts both ways, and sometimes the stressors of the future, those far-off jobs we can do nothing about but sit and chew over regardless, can get to us. I had no expectation for the future and so reasoned I could neither stress about it nor be disappointed if what I expected never came to pass.

It worked, to an extent. I said teary farewells to my family and friends, and dived in to the rest of the world. I met my to-be roommates in Rome and, through a forty-degree summer, we ate and drank and trained in across a country I’d been hearing about since primary school. I had no expectations, and every new wonder was an unanticipated joy.

Eventually we made our way to London, and a new apartment, and before I knew it I was boarding a plane to see a friend I’d made in Vietnam two years previously. Alex and I had maintained contact through Facebook and the mutual pastime of writing. This mostly involved her writing essays for university and me editing those essays. I am very thankful to her university for making her write long and detailed essays in her second language as it gave us cause to stay in contact.

I hadn’t seen Alex since the trip through South-East Asia, and wasn’t sure what would happen when I got to her house in a country I knew little about. From memory, she was lovely, and her messages and generous offer to have me stay with her while I travelled reinforced this, but spending two weeks with someone you haven’t seen for two-and-a-half years is full of potential social risk. She could have been crazy. Or I could have been. We were both gambling.

But, armed with my new outlook, I dropped expectation and just let it be what it was. Thankfully, after landing, hugging Alex, and about five minutes of conversation, I realised it was going to be fucking amazing. And it really was.

Alex was as kind and funny as I remembered, and it didn’t take long for us to discover we had more in common than just booking tours through Vietnam in 2013. The city she showed me was stunning, and her family’s generous proved to be equally incredible. Those weeks in Vienna will forever be one of the greatest times in my life.

Part of this may be because I fell for Alex in that time, and we spent a certain portion of the second week kissing (I made the first move, for those of you playing at home). After another two weeks in Greece, I had a girlfriend. Another unanticipated joy.

But months of holiday had to come to an end eventually and I returned to London and set about procuring employment. And it was during this process I learnt that, just like expectation, a lack of expectation also cuts both ways.

I stressed about all the things I hadn’t thought through. I stressed about money. I stressed about the future. It fluctuated, this stress, my “take it as it comes” attitude gaining the advantage for a few days when I reflected I was halfway around the world and who cares about anything else, only to be knocked off its perch by my more experienced responsible self, who sat in the den of my subconscious crunching numbers and sweating about the results. I had nights of blissful sleep and nights of anxiety-ridden tossing and turning. The consequence of abandoning my secure life had finally hit.

The beauty of it all, the lesson I can take away if there is one, is that the benefits still far outweigh the consequences. Yes, of course having a lack of plan results in anxiety, particularly for someone wired like myself. Of course working three days and then disappearing to Vienna for a week causes financial stress. Of course stress doesn’t just disappear because I decided not to focus on it. Idiot.

But when I flick through the photos in my 2015 album, holy crap have I had some amazing experiences. It’s hard to be resentful when I have so much to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for the places I’ve seen, the breath-taking, mind-boggling places from documentaries and travel guides that literally spread out from my feet, feeling both intensely real and unreal as my brain tried to assimilate my new reality.

I’m thankful for the meals I’ve had, for the pizza eaten on cobbled Italian avenues, the home-cooked Austrian feasts of pork-belly and dumplings shared around a family table, the meals in London pubs enjoyed with a pint and friends from home, and of mugs of steaming punsch held in cold hands burning warm paths down my throat.

I’m thankful for the work I’ve had, walking the streets of London and disappearing into the homes of the locals, getting to see how the citizens of this land live and love and cope. Of strolling through the west-end past theatres and shops, of accidentally stumbling into Camden markets, of wandering the tiny cafe-lined streets of Soho, and eating lunch in Trafalgar Square.

I’m thankful for the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and the generosity given to me that I never anticipated.

And most of all, I’m thankful for Alex, for the joy of having her in my life, for the hours of conversation and sharing of her fascinating and beautiful self, for her endless kindness, and for her making me stupidly happy.

So, all in all, all things weighed and measured, all stock taken, and all pleasure balanced against pain, I can confidently say 2015 was an incredible year. It was a year where I took risks that paid off. A year where I felt elated and exhausted, liberated and anxious. It was a year where things happened.
A year where the waiting came to an end.

 

P.S. I also got a new nephew this year. His name is Harris, and he’s beautiful. That was also pretty fucking amazing.