My first orphans’ Christmas

I don’t think I’ve been proper homesick until Christmas Eve.

It’s not that I don’t miss home, I do, it’s just I haven’t experienced this full-blown smack you in the face homesickness that people describe.

Then Christmas Eve rolled round and opposed to catching up with all my friends at a bar in Nelson and going carol-singing with the family on the church steps, I found myself pouring pints and using every part of my will to not burst into tears – especially after I learnt we were staying open later than anticipated, meaning I missed my Skype date for my nephew’s first Christmas.

Instead at the pre-arranged Skype time I found myself polishing glasses opposite a very drunk patron saying on repeat – ‘I know you don’t like me. You don’t like me do you? It’s ok that you don’t like me. Why don’t you like me?’ all because I refused to serve him – not because I didn’t like him but because he was shit-faced.

So by the time I managed to get home it was already Christmas and in a desperate attempt to cheer myself up I decided to play dress-ups with the cats.

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But putting that little Santa hat on their heads was a bit like animal cruelty – especially watching their tiny paws frantically clawing at their throats in an attempt to pry the elastic band off, so much so I didn’t have the heart to try again to get the perfect Seasons Greetings from ‘Bus Face’ (my affectionate nickname for Leila) and ‘Ellie-cat’ photo.

I then comaed only to be woken a few hours later, not by snow as I had hoped, but by thunder and lightning and sideways rain which made it difficult to get motivation to walk to my orphans’ Christmas brunch at the pub.

I’m glad I made the effort though, there were eggs and bacon and crumpets and Vogels, a kiwi pumping out Flat Whites on the coffee machine – and a real Christmas tree.

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Post-brunch I excused myself for my obligatory Christmas nap but it turned into a four hour one, to the point I actually had to be woken for Secret Santa.
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And, I was still half asleep when I made the mortifying discovery that the present I had brought, which was a joke present (a giant Hello Kitty head filled with bubble-bath) and a cool present (a selection of awesome candies like Pez, Push Pops and Haribo) wrapped separately but tied together with string had come apart, meaning they got mistaken for two individual presents.

By the time I realised it was too late and Coconut next to me (his nickname because he’s from Samoa) and the only one who knew my predicament made me feel worse whisper-teasing ‘you ruined Christmas’ at every opportunity, before that somewhat awkward moment at the end when everyone couldn’t work out why there was one present left under the tree.

Afterwards I felt so bad for the poor sod who got the Hello Kitty head I fessed up and gave him the spare present too.

As for Christmas dinner, the concept of a full-blown roast really suits Christmas when it’s cold and generally miserable outside.

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It makes less sense in a South Pacific Christmas, though we try anyway – then again my Aunty’s festive summer raw cauliflower and crushed gingernut salad doesn’t make much sense either.

I ended up piking from the pub at midnight, while the revellers stayed on until it was light outside and spent the next two days on the couch with an pre-migraine-ish headache watching the Kardashians, leaving only to fetch more Whittakers’ chocolate and RJ’s licorice sent over from my big sister.

Thinking about it, I’m sure there must have been an ulterior motive for her sending it to me, given I get to see her for the first time in a year in little under a month and when the roles were reversed and she came back from her year abroad I once joked – ‘you were so fat you worked up a sweat walking around the house.’

But now here I am about to go home a good 10kgs heavier than her – and she just had a baby.

To add insult to injury, she wore my what I would deem my ‘skinny Rachael’ clothes as maternity clothes.

And, I would truly like to do something about the shape of my arse but I live off pub food because it’s free and last time I attempted running in London I face-planted and spent the next three weeks plying gravel out of my hands and elbows.

Karma I tell you, karma.

As a endnote… a big thank you to Ernesto and Emma for letting me use their Christmas Day photos because I was too slack to take my own!

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Diary of a bar wench

Dottie: ‘Where are you from?’
Me: ‘New Zealand.’
Dottie: ‘Good, why don’t you go back there then?’

Meet Dottie, once high society MBEr (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and now progressively losing her marbles, ripped fur coat wearing, I would deem alcoholic pub regular.

In fact Dottie is so much of a regular at our pub, her bottle of Pinot Grigio is labelled and kept in the bottom left of the wine cooler for when she visits.

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And she visits almost every day (and even more so since she was banned from her other local), meaning my fellow bartenders and I, along with the rest of the regulars, are subjected to having the same conversations with her day in, day out – she truly has the memory of a human goldfish.

Apart from the daily ‘where are you from?’ jibe, there are seven other conversations with Dottie worth noting:

1. Dottie: ‘Do you like England?’
Me: ‘Yes.’
Dottie: ‘Well you should, England did a lot for the colonies.’

2. Dottie: ‘Rachael, do you know what you look like?’
Me: ‘No Dottie.’
Dottie: ‘A Jew.’

3. Dottie: ‘You’re quite common aren’t you?…I’m quite posh.’

4. Dottie: ‘Rachael, do you know I made being gay acceptable in England?’

5. Dottie: ‘Rachael, I would like a bottle of your finest New Zealand wine… I do like to support the colonies.’

6. Dottie: ‘Rachael, do you know I’ve met the Queen on six occasions?’

7. Dottie: ‘Did you know I spent a fortnight with Prince Charles?’

Despite my heart sinking every time she walks through the door, I am strangely sort of fond of Dottie and there was nothing quite as sobering as watching her face light up the other day when Loius Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’ came on and she sat facing the wall theatrically slurring it to herself.

Of course Dottie’s by far not the only colourful regular at our pub – considering the English treat their local like we’d treat our living room.

Other notables include the Cockney twins, one of whom is possibly the world’s worst long drawn out going nowhere storytellers, Driver Dave, who despite always ordering a pint of coke and a plate of wedges never complains when I regularly give him a glass of coke by accident, the American Colonel Sanders’ lookalike who always leaves us a generous tip, the tortured eccentric artist dripping in diamantés who likes to drop into conversation he has a yacht moored in Cannes, and the old Irish chaps who spend their days trying to get my phone number and have one-liners including – ‘where have you been all my life’ to which I usually reply – ‘I don’t think I was alive for most of it.’

But hands down my favourite is Disco Joe.

Disco Joe dresses like Crocodile Dundee and comes in to disco dance to his own music blaring through his headphones early on a Friday or Saturday night.

But you meet some real dregs of society working at a pub too, like the guy who complained about how long it took to get his pint after the glass randomly shattered in my colleague’s hand seeing him bleeding profusely on the floor, the girl who spewed down the front of the bar at 3.30pm on a mentally busy All Blacks’ test match day, the druggie who left her needle right next to the toilet seat for someone to stand on and the fat butch lady from a lawyers’ Christmas Party, who clicked her fingers at me, slapped the bar and yelled ‘excuse me’ to which (quite over her moaning about possibly everything that night) I snapped back, loudly barking – ‘excuse yourself, I am serving another customer, you wait your turn.’

But despite the niggles I strangely enjoy pouring pints, it’s ‘character building’ – or at least that’s what I tell myself, especially in the mornings when I’m getting up close and personal cleaning the men’s urinals, or when I’m hand ringing out the mop because I didn’t realise it came with a detachable squeegee, or when I find myself accidentally giving a customer a gin-less tonic, or a Guinness topped off with cider, or when the Mac’s Gold keg runs out without warning squirting foam at eye level and I loudly exclaim ‘how come it always explodes all over my face’ – which as soon as it’s out of my mouth I realise is about as bad as frustratedly shouting – ‘how come I never get the cock?’ in forth form badminton.

Safe to say being a bar wench, a bit like anything that requires logic and common sense, does not come naturally to me.

Just ask pub regular John, who watched me for a good two minutes the other day trying to fit a coffee mug under the coffee machine before losing it and yelling across the room – ‘Jesus Christ woman, it’s not going to fit.’

He was right.

On that note I should really mention John, one of my favourite regulars, who introduced me to the likes of Slinky Dildo on You Tube in retaliation for introducing him to Can’t Hug Every Cat – which coincidentally pretty much sums me up at the moment, as I find myself purebred cat-sitting this little rascal and her sister for my cousin and his girlfriend over the Christmas break.

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Back to John, this is him dressed as a horse/cross-dressing nun at our fourth anniversary Castle-themed birthday party.

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I went as a princess and while I didn’t find my Prince, I did get pulled aside by a regular and told I should seriously consider moving to Orlando Florida to get a job as Alice in Wonderland at Walt Disney World, which I know was meant to be a compliment but I took a bit like the Flight of the Concords song lyric – ‘you’re so pretty you could be a part-time model.’

But the best thing about working at The Castle is the people I work with, especially my fellow pint pourers Ollie and Freddie, who have resorted to calling me ‘Keisha’ in retaliation for me occasionally mixing up their names and Castle owners Cate and Aaron, who among other things, upped my shifts after I quit Winter Wonderland, let me live upstairs in the spare room for the first three weeks I worked here and accompany me on bike to the bus stop after my late shifts to save me from being accosted by the neighbourhood weirdos.

Case and point – the lady who pooed between two cars opposite the pub in broad daylight a couple of weeks ago.

And I can’t end this blog without mentioning our Mexican chef Ernesto, who calls the gigabytes on his iPod ‘jigabites’ and when the 12th of the 12th and 12:12 rolled around excused himself from his kitchen lair to come downstairs and excitedly proclaim – ‘it’s the ‘apocalypsis.’

But the only ‘apocalypsis’ that came was news that our much loved pub will be closing for good on New Years’ Eve, thanks to the local council voting in favour of developer’s plans to knock it down to make way for a four-storey apartment block.

So as much for me as for you, here is the 360 degree panoramic view of The Castle from how I see it – and will remember it – from behind the bar.

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My nightmare before Christmas

Unless I seriously go off the rails, being locked in a token booth at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park for upwards of 12 hours a day is the closest I will ever come to knowing how a prisoner feels.

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Only difference is I get paid for it.

Actually that’s disputable, I barely get paid for it and I think prisoners actually have a better deal – at least they have a toilet in the corner of their cell.

As for me, if I want to go to the toilet during my double shift (outside of my two unpaid 30-minute meal breaks and my two toilet breaks) I have to humiliatingly walkie talkie beg a supervisor for a ‘comfort break’ – a euphemistic code for ‘please Sir I am about to piss my pants’ which is usually met with a blunt bark down the line – ‘you should have gone during your break.’

But I should have known this job would be horrendous, there were warning bells before I even began.

Take the application process, I spent half a day filling out the forms after spotting the big shiny ‘recruiting now’ banner plastered on their website only to be rudely told ‘applications closed like a fortnight ago.’

So I went and got a job pouring pints, only to get an email the same night at 11pm offering me a job in the token booths and asking me to come in at 11am the next morning for my induction.

Curious, given I never applied to be anywhere near copious amounts of British pounds considering my mathematic illiteracy and even more curiously, my induction happened two days before my actual job interview which consisted of pretty much – ‘I like your Wellington boots, sign here.’

But I think the fact I spoke fluent English worked in my favour and I guess the calibre of talent doesn’t really matter considering it is possibly the easiest, most mind corrodingly dull job one could have.

The punter asks – ‘how does this work?’

You say something along the lines of – ‘£1 equals one token and rides generally cost between 1-7 tokens.’

They look at you blankly.

You repeat the above again, slightly slower and louder this time and with any luck they buy their tokens and be on their merry way.

But my favourite are the punters who slap their money down and order – ‘I want a ticket for the ride that goes up and down and round and round, you know.’

Actually Sir I don’t know, there’s only about a hundred rides at Winter Wonderland that fit that description, could you be more specific?

Then there’s the ones that just want a map, or directions to the ATM, or to the place I’m never allowed to go – the toilet.

Considering my tone you’d see why three double shifts or 40 hours of Winter Wonderland-ness a week was all I could mentally sustain, especially on a quiet day when I seriously considered stabbing myself with my counterfeit currency detection pen if I heard I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus, All I Want for Christmas, Santa Baby, Do They Know It’s Christmas or randomly Club Tropicana one more time.

And considering my every move was captured on CCTV and I was banned from eating and using my phone, it’s a miracle the pen and paper I was using to record the high and lowlight of each shift wasn’t also confiscated.

Enjoy…

Shift #1: one month till Christmas.

Highlight: getting a free hot chocolate after holding up a sign reading ‘hot choc for tired token booth staff?’ to get the attention of the cute German guys selling mulled wine and hot chocolate in the stall opposite us.

Lowlight: having to share my token booth with a guy who loudly sang Bangladeshi pop songs, even when serving customers.

Shift #2: 29 days till Christmas.

Highlight: giggling at the poor token booth staffer who had to deal with an irate customer who demanded compensation after being hit in the head with basketball at one of the games.

Lowlight: being banished to the token booth at the arse end of the roller-coaster which everyone thought was the entrance to the roller-coaster and getting RSI from trying to sign language that they had to walk all the way round the other side to get in – only to watch them ignore me and try and find a shortcut behind the circus tent.

Shift #3: 28 days till Christmas.

Highlight: getting two free cupcakes from the lady in the stall opposite me, only to drop both in the mud on the way home but being so drunk with fatigue I ate them anyway.

Lowlight: getting accused of short tokening a couple of £6 tokens and then watching the situation escalate to the point security were called after they pulled the race card with my supervisor and were made to leave the premises – but not before mouthing ‘f%*# you’ and flipping me the bird.

Shift #4: 21 days till Christmas.

Highlight: getting my revenge on a posh English lass by giving her £15 of change in weighty £1 coins after she turned to her boyfriend and said ‘I don’t understand a word it says’ when I was trying to explain the difference between peak and off-peak pricing and her mistaking me for saying ‘pig pricing.’

Lowlight: being propositioned by the Craig David lookalike of an Ice Marshal and self-professed ‘best skater on the rink’ who mistook my need to talk to someone, anyone, as wanting to have sex with him.

Shift #5: 20 days till Christmas.

Highlight: being stuck in a booth with the seriously cool chap who played Albert in the West End production of War Horse, who has also blogged about his time at Winter Wonderland, and then having my dinner on the giant observation wheel.

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Lowlight: having a loud shouty punter accuse us of being ‘horrible people’ for not selling him ride tokens five minutes before the park closed for the night.

Shift #6: 18 days till Christmas.

Highlight: wandering around the Magical Ice Kingdom after my shift and finding my unicorn!

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Lowlight: being stuck in a booth next to the robotic eternally laughing Santa and then overhearing two break supervisors skiting about how they’d spent all day playing Facebook poker while my break supervisor was two hours late to cover my lunch break.

Shift #7: 16 days till Christmas.

Highlight: the arrival of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ style travellers and witnessing my first real life ‘grabbing.’

Lowlight(s): having punters abuse me for the fact the power in our booth kept cutting out, my colleague getting bad electronic shocks from the token machine and a supervisor telling him to ‘just deal with it’ despite refusing to touch it himself, spending my entire meal breaks queuing to go to the toilet, our break supervisor being 1.5 hours late to give me a toilet break to the point I thought I was going to piss my pants and then not checking notes for frauds and trying to conceal transactions he’d mucked up to avoid getting in trouble on a till I was ultimately responsible for (leaving me with no choice but to dob him in), dealing with generally angry, shouty, rude, intolerant and impatient punters and finally losing the plot completely and sobbing all the way home on the tube.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a hearty female and I can put up with a lot of shit but the next morning I decided I would rather been broke than work another day for PWR Events at Winter Bloody Wonderland, so I wrote an email politely terminating my employment – effective immediately.

And given their employment-practices to date I can’t say I’m altogether surprised to still be waiting on their reply.

My first All Blacks’ test match

I’m actually ashamed to report I’ve never been to an All Blacks’ game.

It’s not that I don’t like rugby, I just don’t love it.

But being on the other side of the world makes you strangely patriotic, so I booked an overnight bus tour with a friend of my best friend (who I instantly bonded with after she miraculously trusted me to candle wax her blocked ear on our first play date) to Cardiff.

Well, at least I thought I did.

Turns out I actually booked myself on the one-day tour with the most motley crew of Kiwis you could ever assemble and throw on a bus, including: the meat-worker from Reporoa, the fresh-faced Mormon-lookalike from Wellington and Jimmy.

Actually Jimmy’s name was John but the computer geek from the North Shore became somewhat of a celebrity on our bus, perhaps because he was wearing the only thing worse than sneans – three quarter cargo pants and sneakers to ‘show off Jimmy’s kauri tree calves’ because referring to himself in the third person – ‘Jimmy is awesome.’

Besides marvelling at Jimmy’s meteoric rise to fame, I spent a large portion of the bus trip lovingly constructing this sign.

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The rest of the trip was spent bonding over a game of ‘toilet jenga’ – basically what happens when you have one toilet for a bus load of beer drinking rugby supporters and it soon filling up to the point you never quite know if you’re going to be the unlucky one covered in piss.

As for me I almost didn’t go at all, having vivid flashbacks of 4th form camp where I never lived down the fact I was the last one seen to be leaving the toilet block before the septic tank exploded.

It never ceases to amaze me how fast you make friends when toilet humour is involved and by the time we got to Cardiff I had a posse of new mates, though I lost half of them to the Welsh lasses with perfectly curled hair, mass makeup and top too tight rugby shirts at the pub, who clearly saw the onslaught of hearty young kiwi males to Cardiff as their one-way ticket out of Wales.

I then lost my sign to the miserable Cardiff weather, with it lasting all of 20 seconds before turning into soggy Weetbix.

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My new Kathmandu puffer jacket on the other hand, kindly donated by the lovely folk at Kathmandu in support of this blog, easily passed its first real test and as an added bonus made it 100 per cent clear that I was a kiwi supporter, as owning a Kathmandu product is a bit like tattooing ‘I’m a kiwi’ on your forehead.

As for the rugby itself… I arrived at Millennium Stadium to discover I was sitting by myself, though in amazing seats eight rows back from the try line and in easy zoomable position for the pre-match sights.

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The company wasn’t so good – with the ultimate wet blanket on my left and a full-bodied Lycra looney on my right, who spent the first half of the game trying unsuccessfully to put his fingers in the finger holes of his black onesie.

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And the other half entertaining the crowd dressed like this.

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I honestly still can’t work out if the guy was genuinely a bit special or just really really drunk – or really really high.

As for my verdict on my first ever AB’s game – the stadium was fantastic, Richie McCaw is a babe but the atmosphere was a bit flat – then again I was sitting next to the ultimate wet blanket.

But on arrival back to the bus I was pleased to be sitting by myself, as the others got stuck next to the token horribly angry shouty drunk girl, who then proceeded to throw verbal abuse at us for the entire journey back to London in the form of – ‘shut the f$*# up’ and ‘get your f*%^ing facts straight.’

After putting up with that for four hours she then turned round and ever so sweetly asked for my email address so we could be become ‘Facebook friends.’

I was so taken aback I couldn’t find the words to say ‘I don’t want to be your cyber friend’ so I did something awful – I purposely gave her the wrong email address.

As a end note… I’m quite aware that this blog post relates to a rugby game that happened a fortnight ago but I have recently come to the brutal realisation that I’m about to run out of money (yes I know, somewhat inevitable when you haven’t had a job for the best part of a year but a brutal realisation none the less) so did the only thing I could – I got a job, actually jobs: one as a bar wench and the other in what is shaping up to be my nightmare before Christmas – locked in a booth for 13 hours a day selling ride tokens at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

Sound of Musicing

I feel sorry for Mozart, Salzburg is his birthplace but it’s more famous because The Sound of Music was filmed here.

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As a matter of disclosure, I actually only watched the film in preparation for my visit and obligatory Sound of Music tour a few weeks ago, but it holds special importance for my mum as it was the first movie she ever saw at the cinema.

I have to admit it’s actually surprisingly good and Christopher Plummer who plays the Captain surprisingly good looking.

As for my obligatory Sound of Music tour, it consisted of eight girls and one boy, which when our weedy lank of a Austrian tour guide welcomed us made a point of stressing the gender imbalance with – ‘good morning ladies and gentleMAN’ – because really what man in his right mind would willingly sign up for a day of being driven around Sound of Music film locations in a minivan while the CD player blasts out ‘the hills are alive?’

And on that note, may I just point out that they’re not hills – they’re mountains.

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But much in the same way as potato doesn’t fit in this ‘Favourite Things’ song lyric ‘schnitzel with potato noodles and warm apple strudels,’ ‘the mountains hills are alive with the sound of music’ doesn’t have quite the same ring tone.

While I’m on the subject of the mountains… may I also point out that if the Von Trapp family did actually attempt their daring night escape on foot over the mountains (in real life they actually caught a train to Italy) geographically they would have ended up in Germany – not Switzerland.

I digress, back to the tour… Our first stop was Schloss Leopoldskron used to create cinematic magic at the rear of the Von Trapp mansion including the pink lemonade scene, Captain and Maria’s first dance and the children falling into the lake in their play clothes.

20121128-165821.jpgTechnically the gazebo where Leisl has her first kiss with Nazi nark Rolf should be here too, but they moved it to the middle of nowhere because the neighbours got pissed off with people skipping around it singing ’16 going on 17.’

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Disappointingly you can’t actually go inside the gazebo these days either – thanks to a 90-year-old woman falling off one of the benches and breaking her hip while performing her rendition of the hit song.

Again I digress… Our next stop was Mondsee – home of the wedding church.

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Getting here was an ordeal though – an hour long trip in the minivan listening to the movie soundtrack starting with ‘confidence in me,’ which when it finished prompted our tour guide to pronounce – ‘well clearly you don’t have confidence in your singing voices, don’t worry there’s plenty more songs to practise too.’

And oh there was, so so many, too too many.

I personally think the best stop was saved till last – Mirabell Gardens where the children jovially skip around practising their do-rey-mis.

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And I couldn’t hide my delight at getting up close and personal with this unicorn at the garden’s steps, as the mythical creature seems to keep symbolically popping up on my journey.

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Later that night I was convinced I’d found my unicorn of a man in the Austrian guy working behind the reception at my hostel too.

He had me in so much of a daydream I pretty much threw my hot chocolate at him.

It went everywhere – the computer screen, the keyboard, the pens, the paper, the desk, the scissors, his pants.

Together it took us half an hour to clean it up, which on dabbing the last drop of liquid from the desk he remarked – ‘are you always this clumsy?’

One word for you – mortified.

So later that night when I managed to lock myself out of my dorm room wearing only the large holey t-shirt I call my pjs I couldn’t bring myself to go downstairs to get him to open my door, so I sat outside it for an hour until the Australian guy in my dorm room (who was convinced he had a collapsed lung when it was really just a bad chest infection) came back from the hospital – all of which gave the dreadlocked Hungarian busker in our room ample time to steal my favourite/only beanie.

My bad luck continued the next day when I was lured into this place with the promise of rice and vegetables, only to be served up a plate of gluggy rice and flaccid browning cabbage and then charged €10 for it, because according to the metallic purple shirt wearing slime ball of a salesman – ‘€5 VIP price, you read sign wrong, you €10.’

I paid and left gutted and had a bit of a cry, which in hindsight was really silly but all I wanted was a plate of rice and broccoli.

I then stewed on it all afternoon so decided to go back and check out the sign to see how I’d got it so wrong.

Here’s what I found:

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Convinced I was in the right I stormed inside and demanded a refund, which when they refused I decided to get passive aggressive on it – going outside and taking photos of the sign and then loudly telling tourists walking past eyeing up the menu not to eat here.

My refund soon followed.

But as trivial as that incident was, what it made me realise was that after three months of solid backpacking predominantly by myself and in non-English speaking countries I need a break, so I booked a one-way ticket to my home away from home – London.