I started to write this post in the departures lounge at Auckland airport as I waited to board a flight to Melbourne. My pack was checked in and I was through security. I’d filled in my departure card. My Australian visa was ready. My walking shoes were clean. I’d been frisked for fruit and veg and was, according to Biosecurity, ready to go. But I wasn’t. Not really.
I felt genuinely distressed at leaving New Zealand. My instinct now is to write ‘my six week-long stay flew past’. This little cliché, while in many senses accurate, doesn’t quite ring true. My first, vaguely hallucinatory night in Auckland could have been a year ago. Those first days in the Bay Of Islands and on Metro’s bus are mired in the depths of history. I met my cousin Tessa for the first time in Picton on 21 February, barely a month ago, yet feel I’ve known her forever. Living in the moment apparently induces some unusual temporal phenomena. Einstein was a backpacker.
Still, onwards and upwards, and here I am in Australia. I haven’t detected, and therefore cannot report back on any radical cultural shifts since arriving in Melbourne, but this is mostly because I’ve been taking it very, very easy. Two weeks of coughing like the last surviving inmate of a sanatorium has tired me out.
My host in the delightful maritime municipality (their words, not mine) of Williamstown is family friend Heather. Heather is an osteopath by profession, and plied me with echinacea and manuka honey on my arrival. The walls of her beachside flat are decorated with pictures of unicorns, and uplifting quotations from a variety of osteopathic and philosophical sources adorn all other surfaces. Nevertheless, the Berry / Kenny cough, passed from mother to daughter, defeated even this healing environment. Yesterday morning a bleary-eyed Heather informed me in no uncertain terms that it was time to go to the doctor and ‘get some drugs’.
Three doses of expensive yet life-giving amoxycillin later, I’m a new (and significantly quieter) woman. I resented having to pay to visit the doctor. $60 spent on a 90 second consultation and a further $35 on antibiotics and Ventolin blew my budget for the whole week. I’m so used to thinking of free healthcare as a right and not a privilege that the very idea of paying for the service made me bristle with indignation as I sat in the spacious, clean, adequately-staffed waiting room. Still, I showed them. I stole a pen from the reception, which subsequently turned out to be Viagra-branded. Oh yes. The pen will sit proudly in my collection next to my Seroquel XL and Venlafaxine merchandise, as a testament to the NHS and all who sail in her.
In the afternoon I felt so much better that I travelled into Melbourne City for a recce. On Sunday I’m due to meet Liz, Wendy and Raymond for a post-Formula One evening of carousing, and I feel it incumbent upon me to locate appropriate establishments for our patronage. High on the list thus far ranks the City Wine Shop on Spring Street: a cellar-like shop-cum-bar that reminds me of Gordon’s and whose shelves, I was assured by the smugly handsome waiter, hide some refreshingly inexpensive treasures. Then perhaps on to Double Happiness, a bar serving ‘fusion cocktails in Chinese socialist propaganda surrounds’ (with tourist propaganda like this,who even needs cocktails?), and maybe dinner in Chinatown at the happily-named Yuriya restaurant. Kidneys, anyone?
I would have continued my research today but for my unfortunate decision to go to the beach in the morning. This marked me as a true Brit. We go on holiday to a warm place and, when the initial excitement of changing from pale blue to white has worn off, foolishly imagine we can go one step further and get ourselves a full-blown suntan. It’s with difficulty that I’ve managed to type anything at all today. One hour in the late morning sunshine effectively wiped me out. When I stood up, addled by heat and blinded by sun and sweat, I lost my bearings and was forced to wander the coastline consulting my compass periodically but with no conscious understanding of how the readings would affect my situation. When, eventually, I found my way back to Heather’s flat, I was compelled to stand under a cold shower for fifteen minutes until I could remember my surname. Three pints of water later I remembered why I should never sunbathe. Incidental tanning while walking about wearing sunglasses: yes. Sunbathing: no.
I had anticipated that the weather in autumnal Melbourne would be similar to that of New Zealand in late summer. Wrong. The heat here is of an entirely different intensity. You can feel the sun’s burning rays from noon to around four, even through a veil of cloud. I’d been dousing myself in factor 30 since hearing that one in three Kiwis and Australians will suffer from skin cancer. Nonetheless,with this morning’s brilliant blue sky lying heavy above the heat-hazed city of Melbourne across the bay, 25 year’s worth of life experience was thrown to the wind and I resolved that today would be my tanning day.
It wasn’t as ludicrous an idea as some of you might think. Despite the deathly pallor I am known and loved for in the UK, I don’t burn easily. However, I am possibly the only woman under 30 in the Southern Hemisphere who still wears a full swimming costume as opposed to the otherwise mandatory bikini. I haven’t bowed to fashion in this arena for a variety of reasons, the most important being that I do not wish to scare children when disrobing on the beach. In my heart of hearts, I long for a return to the days when everyone wore striped flannel shoulder-to-knee jobs that required the wearer to shake the fish out when returning to dry land: swimming costumes in the truest sense of the word.
My current suit, a retro 50s cut with some nifty support options, is a major contributing factor to my lack of an even tan. Even when I sunbathe with the shoulder straps removed, its complete (though laudable) opacity means that the expanse of flesh ‘twixt breast and thigh remains a luminous white. This is fine by me. Very few people ever see this area, and then, if I can help it, only in poorly-lit scenarios.
What I object to is the sometimes inexplicable discrepancies in hue between all other tannable areas of my body. After today’s session, even discounting the swimsuit zone, my colouring brings to mind one of Ed Gein’s more elaborate creations. While my face, or at least parts of it, has achieved a rather pleasing biscuity tone, my neck remains lily white. My upper arms have turned a mottled red-brown, while my forearms are a much deeper shade of wood stain. Both feet are a subtle coppery colour, interrupted by the unmistakeable lines of jandals. Knee to ankle is a similar shade to my face, while the thigh area, being less frequently exposed, is a pale fawn.
The chestal region, however, is a genuinely intriguing prospect. Geologists can tell stories of the birth of continents by examining sections of strata at the rock face. A trained beautician could tell you where I’ve been and for how long by detailed analysis of my décolletage. From the inexplicably pale base of my neck, the hue grows darker until we reach a band formed on Tuesday 23 February in Abel Tasman National Park. Moving southward, we come to the positively Mediterranean remnant of Friday 19 February (Tongariro). From here the colour tapers to the toffee tones of Queenstown beach (6 March) and fades to the last socially acceptable straps-down session at Tekapo on the eighth. Finally, we enter the alabaster zone of the swimmers.
I shouldn’t complain, as at least 60% of me no longer resembles a freshly-exhumed corpse. But I know from bitter experience that when I get back to the UK expecting friends to marvel at my exotic appearance, I will simply look a bit grubby. Still, if my biggest preoccupations are having a bit of a cough and some uneven tan lines, how bad can life be?
Have YOU been to Melbourne? What did you think? Where did you go? Text your answers to 40678. No, don’t, I just made it up. Write me a comment.