Goodbye London

Can’t say I enjoyed my final hours in London.

There was so much to do and so little time, primarily working out how to cash my arcane cheque from Winter Wonderland.

I swear I told them in November I didn’t have a UK bank account (given it’s near impossible to set one up as a nomad without looking like a money launderer) and was told cashing it wouldn’t be a problem.

Well it was.

Not that they recalled that conversation and not that they were willing to put aside this infuriating ‘can’t do’ English attitude to ensure I could access the money I was relying on to see me through until I get a real job back home.

In hindsight, me losing the plot at one of their HR ladies on the phone, after she, without knowing any of the facts was quick to blame me and began patronisingly calling me ‘Rachael’ at the beginning of each of her sentences as if I didn’t know my own name, clearly didn’t help my cause.

But seriously, it was insult to injury after enduring 75 hours of being locked in a token booth and forced to listen to Christmas music on repeat, while desperately needing to pee.

All I can say is thank goodness for the parentals, who saw right through my too proud to ask for help ‘I’ll be fine’ facade and immediately topped up my bank account with an emergency loan.

Without them I would have been royally screwed right now, because despite working full time for the past two months and not paying rent thanks to the perks of purebred cat-sitting, money goes nowhere in London.

It’s a city you need money to have fun in.
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And as much as I loved my time here, it’s not the type of place I can see myself getting a flat and a career job in.

Everyone is in a rush, everyone is stressed, you queue for everything, it takes a good hour to get anywhere, thousands of people resort to internet dating because it’s a tough city to crack and most disturbingly – people outwardly ‘how dare you’ tisk when the Tube conductor comes over the loud speaker to announce in a monotone voice that there’s a delay on the line after some poor soul saw no way to improve their life but to jump in front of a train – at rush hour.

The English also have this habit of making things exceptionally difficult when they don’t need to be – the payment from Winter Wonderland is case and point, as is needing to see a doctor when you don’t have a fixed abode, or going to the optometrist for contact lenses.

Above all, I’m positive London’s no place I want to raise my kids.

Clearly I’m talking in the future (the only baby I have at the moment is a food baby) but watching mums (and the elderly) struggling up Tube stairs (because a lot of stations lack step-free access) while intolerant commuters shunt past them is something I never want to experience first-hand.

But perhaps the tipping point for me is there’s no seaside in London.

Sounds silly, but being from New Zealand not being able to see the ocean makes me feel just a little bit claustrophobic.

So on pretty much my only day off in December I managed one last day-trip to Brighton to see the beachside town – taking my sister’s best friend’s mum along for the journey.
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In hindsight we probably shouldn’t be allowed to travel together – managing to get on the wrong train and only clicking a good half hour later when we both thought it was funny the train conductor didn’t mention anything about going to Brighton.

Credit to us we were at the right platform at the right time – we just got on the wrong train.

As for Brighton (when we finally got there), it’s not really a beach, it’s pebbles and one hell of a rolling current.
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And as for the pier with its dated arcade games and crusty carnival rides deep in winter hibernation, despite being so incredibly different to home (where the ocean is left to revel in its natural beauty) I actually found Brighton Pier tackily brilliant and strangely charming.

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So all in all what I’m trying to say is that I’m confident I’ve made the right decision to go home.

But surprisingly I’ve accumulated a lot of clothes from my year away, which I blame mostly on my recent discovery of Primark.

I kinda wish Ear Candle Wax Girl never introduced us though, as packing my rucksack took numerous attempts and I’m actually scared to open it now for fear of being buried under an avalanche of mainly blouses.

Sadly I didn’t have room for bus face, though it would have been mighty easy to steal her given she packed herself.

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But I don’t think she would have survived my extended stopover in South Korea – apparently they eat cat here, and dog, and according to the pub’s Mexican chef – ‘they eat baby.’

I thought he was pulling my leg until he pulled up articles like this on my iPad.

Surely that’s cannibalism?

Maybe eating cats and dogs isn’t so bad after all…

My year in review

I promise this is not going to be a big philosophical wanky blog post about how 2012 changed my life, although in many ways it did.

But being the dawn of 2013, it seems wrong to not at least reflect a little on what an amazing year its predecessor was.

In fairness, how could it not have been – I blew my entire life savings on backpacking and, hands down, it was the best decision I ever made.

So because I love bulletpoints here’s my 10 best and 10 worst travel memories of 2012.

I’ll start with the worst, in no particular order:

1. Greece in general – from the numerous forms of public transport that never showed up, the pre-booked accommodation on a derelict island that turned out to be deep in winter hibernation, getting kicked out of the bus station in a dodgy port town in the middle of the night and left to fend for myself with some homeless guys, and my favourite – being sold an expensive backpackers’ tour of Delphi and Olympia, only to discover when boarding the bus (bar the newlyweds) I was pretty much the only person under 50.
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2. As in the number of seriously strange massages I had – the first in Vietnam where the masseuses’ hands got dangerously close to my lady bits, and the second at a Turkish bath in Istanbul where the lady led me (basically butt naked) by the hand over to a group of Turkish woman, before pointing at me and exclaiming – ‘like a baby, my little baby’ – to which I’m still not entirely sure what she meant.

3. Getting mistaken for being pregnant at Thai boxing in Bangkok, at the beginning and I would deem skinny phase of my trip.

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4. While I’m on the subject of pregnancies… Being by myself and a blubbering mess at a camp ground in Florence and feeling like a crap sister for not being in Wellington while my sister had an emergency c-section and hopelessly waiting for news while the internet and phone lines kept crashing.

5. Making the same mistake numerous times – falling for tortured artists, in particular Casio Watch Boy (though the watch is still going strong) and the Gypsy.

6. Being locked in a token booth for 13 hour shifts and deprived of the human right to pee at Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park in London.

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7. The worst hangover of my life in Cambodia, which was the product of drinking an entire pitcher of vodka and orange at dinner because it came with a free t-shirt, the novelty of drinking beer while getting a Dr Fish massage and then finishing the night drinking buckets and shots of absinthe and then having the delayed hangover kick in while visiting Siem Reap’s temples in 40 degree heat.

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8. Getting food poisoning from an under-cooked burger in Barcelona and it rearing its ugly head eight hours into a nine hour bus trip, where I sat helplessly as spew began trickling down my legs from the sieve-like holes in the plastic bag and then arriving in Madrid to the brutal reality of checking into my non-refundable pre-booked 14 bed dorm in a party hostel.

9. The tomato coloured eye bogey incident at the Tomatina food fight in Spain.

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10. Getting lost, everywhere, all the time, usually on travel days when I had my 15kg backpack on and it was upwards of 30 degrees.

As for my best 10 travel memories of 2012…

1. The food: the coconut milk curries of Thailand, the water buffalo of Laos, the ‘Fanny’ icecream of Vietnam, the everything of Turkey, the pizza and gelato of Italy, the fromage of France, the M&S salads of England, the free tapas of Spain, the frites of Belgium, the langos of Hungary, the burek of Bosnia, the schnitzel of Austria, the hard boiled egg soup of Poland and the fried tarantula of Cambodia.

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2. Waking up on my 25th birthday on a Vietnamese junk boat in Halong Bay.

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3. Hanging out with elephants in Thailand and Laos.

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4. Never being prouder to be a New Zealander than watching the sunrise at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli on Anzac Day.
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5. Getting to be an Olympic reporter for the London Games.

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6. All those moments where I felt like I was living in a postcard.

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7. Every day getting better at this backpacking thing and realising that you really don’t need a lot of money to have a hell of a lot of fun.

8. All the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, and in particular, those who helped make it possible for me to live out of a backpack for a year. I love you guys x

9. This blog, which without a word of a lie has kept me going and when things have gone wrong I’ve been able to rationalise it and say ‘oh well at least it will make a good blog post.’ This is the first time I’ve ever had an avenue to write not for a radio news network or for a politician but for me. The only issue now is getting it to start paying the bills… suggestions welcome. Although if you’re that pestering company trying to make me advertise online gambling on my blog, for the umpteenth time I am not interested.

10. Saying farewell to 2012 and farewell forever to The Castle Pub in London where I’ve been bar wenching for the past couple of months, which is sadly about to demolished to make way for an apartment block.

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And finally about 2013.

I am coming home and arrive pretty much a year to the day I left.

There’s a few factors in that decision.

Firstly, I’ve run out of money.

Secondly, I have the chance to work with the New Zealand Olympic Committee for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney on the way home, which I am incredibly excited about.

And finally, I desperately want to spend some time with my friends and family and in particular meet my first ever and favourite nephew.

But that doesn’t mean this blog will end, it just means it may be about adventures a little closer to home – well for awhile at least.

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.