Pulling over on the shoulder, ain’t driving…

I made the mistake of listening to Kurt Vile today after a week of cabin fever induced by rainy days and freezing weather.

Smoke Rings For My Halo will always be driving through Death Valley, watching the heat rise by degrees every minute, walking out onto the Mesquite Flat sand dunes and watching the sun set. Death Valley is heeding the warnings about rattle snakes and water, eating big American dinners, getting up early to see if the sunrise is as numinous as the sunset, cutting your fingertips on the salt flats, which burn so bright your eyes water.

I think I am my best when I am in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to be.

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It’s The #PRINCEWEDSWATTS Wee Waa Wedding Extravaganza! Part 1: The Road Trip

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Over the Easter long weekend we went to Wee Waa for the long-awaited wedding of Alex and Mary. If you have the Internet, you probably heard about it, I know I had several people contact me to say their entire social media was being clogged with the freshest of content.

Alex and Mary are one of those couples everyone knows, one of those couples everyone knows are going to get married, one of those couples you refer to almost in one word: alexandmary. Alex and Mary have had you and ten other people over for an impromptu roast dinner, or drinks around a fire pit and after a while you realise you can trace the beginnings of most of your friendships to their backyard.

Alex and Mary are the people you’ll travel 600kms for, to a town of less than 2,000 people, just to see them get married.

We traveled with Josh and Annie. I met Josh in Alex’s backyard several years ago and made a complete fool of myself. Suffice to say, I’m not the person who should give pep talks to newly single men. It amazes me Josh still speaks to me, and Josh wasn’t even the man in question, just an innocent bystander to my well-intended motivational talk.

Months later, I found myself sitting next to Josh at a work training course and we hit it off. Eventually I poached him to work for my department, or at least convinced him to allow himself to be poached and then spent the next six months playing practical jokes on him, which mostly involved creating collages of him stealing over-sized office goods, which I then emailed to people. I’ve also spent more time than I care to admit trying to convince him that I am serious about marrying his father just so I can be his stepmother.

Annie is Josh’s girlfriend and she looks like a 1940s Hollywood bombshell, and I love her because she worries about stuff like whether she put too much hip hop on the travel mix (never!) and pretends (or at least I think she pretends) that her last name is Broccoli. Also, she raps. At weddings. Bless her heart.

We headed off early on the Friday and I immediately knew we’d chosen excellent road trip buddies, mostly because I couldn’t see them for the mountain of snacks they had packed and because they were as enthusiastic as I was for McDonald’s breakfast. A road trip isn’t a road trip unless you spend half of it regretting getting the hotcakes because your hands are stuck to the wheel with maple syrup.

It’s a long drive to Wee Waa from Sydney, about six-and-a-half hours, but we had an invaluable resource at our fingertips: Facebook chat. Alex had thoughtfully set up a couple of group chats, meaning everyone travelling that day could share information, like: Singleton is great if you like having to hold public toilet doors shut with your foot, or police are targeting people who stay in the overtaking lane too long, or our contribution: definitely stop in Murrurundi because Cafe Telegraph is serving baked Camembert with figs and there are horses to feed carrots to!

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I love horses. I love how big their heads are. When you hug a horse, you’re basically just hugging a giant head.

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At this point we were about half way and I’ll admit it: I was feeling smug. The Facebook chat was going crazy with talk of hours-long traffic jams before the Pacific Highway turnoff and people still stuck in Sydney. Sure, they’d had more sleep than us the night before, but here we were, sitting under the willows, the back of the trip already broken.

I shouldn’t have thought it, let alone said it. But I did: “I’m really glad we left early! It’s been such a great trip for us!”.

In a few hundred kilometres, I’d regret cursing our little caravan …

Can-berra-erra-erra!

We’re taking a road trip this weekend, our first in a while without the dogs and four whole days off before I start my new role.

love road trips, just thinking about it is enough to tug my heart strings.

I have a fairly standard road trip ritual:

+ Make a playlist, abiding by the following rules:

1 – The music should be communal, meaning both participants are known to enjoy any song selected and if you want to throw a little something new on there, it has to be fun with the high probability the other party will like it.

2 – If one person is doing all the driving, this rule can be bent. If you’re the sole driver, you get to pick whatever the hell you want, to make up for the fact you can’t be over there chilling out on your iPhone. Essentially, if you want to hear your music played in my car, you’d better have a licence.

3 – Nostalgia is always a great addition to any mix.

+ Check the weather at your destination. Hopefully it is going to be cold.

+ Pack the night before, using the patented Mathematical Underwear Minimum Packing Sum (MUMPS) where x = number of days on the trip and y = number of underpants packed and the equation is x+2 = y.

+ Make sure you go to MUJI and pick up their amazing travel-sized bottles of toner and moisturiser.

+ Pack your gym clothes, because you’ll be going to the gym while you’re away. No, really.

+ Pack cables and chargers for your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Bluetooth speaker, camera and the dust buster you keep meaning to use to clean the car out of at least one (1) new corgi worth of fur.

+ Go to the petrol station and get Red Bull and petrol in that order of urgency. Probably also pick up a small hand sanitizer which you’ll forget is in the glove box until it splurts everywhere.

+ Get on the M5 and pick a lane. Overtake only when necessary, don’t be one of those dicks who’s watched too much Tokyo Drift and changes lanes more often then they change their underwear.

+ Don’t cry when Harley and Rose comes on the playlist, or if you really can’t help it, pop a pair of sunglasses on first.

+ Wait until your travel buddy is firmly ensconced in trawling Twitter and slightly dozy due to the warm sun and the rocking of the car, then start talking about the celebrity and maybe even personal gossip they normally wouldn’t tolerate. If they don’t appear to be reaching the relaxed state required, subtly turn the heater on low.

+ Take a detour through the tiny town, population 1,2011, you lived in when you were six. Point out the house the girl lived in who terriorised you that entire year, because almost 30 years later, you still remember exactly where it is (Hello, Kirsty).

+ Make one complete lap of the first large roundabout you come to in Canberra. Fuck it, make it two laps.

+ Discuss on a scale of one to ten which person needs to pee the most as you get lost on the way to the hotel. As a Red Bull drinker, you always get first dibs on the toilet.

+ Have that awkward experience when you check into any hotel, where you feel like the person at the desk is judging what kind of sex you plan to have in their hotel. Try and look very much like a person who doesn’t do that kind of thing. Also try and look like the kind of person who can afford to stay in the hotel. Your corgi fur covered luggage will not help this cause.

+ Get to the room and immediately assess how much complimentary toilet paper they’ve given you. Worry about whether that will last for the length of your stay. Continue to worry about this until you can casually duck into a convenience store and stock up without your travel companion noticing.

+ Hide the excess toilet paper in your luggage. Feel very satisfied and safe.

+ Hop on the bed to relax when your travel companion suggests having a nap. Instead lie very still and wonder about the hygiene logistics of using the glass they always put in the bathroom. Get thirstier and thirstier the more you think about it. Get up and drink from your cupped hands under bathroom tap. Lie back down on the bed, relieved. Wonder about the hygiene logistics of the tap you just had your mouth close to. Get up and do a worry wee.

+ Lie back down and remember you have this week’s Who magazine. Read it and get lost in the dreamy world of celebrity gossip. Slowly doze off and have your third dream in which you’re friends with Khloe Kardashian. Wake up completely relaxed and ready to have an amazing weekend.

 

 

Katoomba, August 2015

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It’s no great secret that I have a love-hate relationship with Sydney and sometimes I just need some space from it, so I can tolerate it on my return.

We’ve been breaking up and making up for almost 10 years and I’ve started plotting ways to leave, for good. I’m sorry Sydney, it’s you, not me.

On Sunday and Monday, B and I both had time off work, which almost never happens two days in a row anymore, so we decided to go to the Blue Mountains for the night.

The Blue Mountains is one of the many places we’re considering moving at some point. It has the advantage of being within a commutable distance from Sydney, as well as being somewhere you can see the stars (which is actually on our “must have ” list for future moves).

We stayed in an amazing Airbnb place B found. I love that Airbnb is competitive price-wise with motels, but allows the luxury of a much more informed choice and far nicer accommodation. Gone are the days of hideous matching art works over twin beds, which are clad in doonas patterned to hide all manner of stains.

We stayed at a place in Katoomba called Little Burrendong, which was a studio built over a garage in a lovely backyard. The space was so well thought out and furnished perfectly. Were I not a collector of books and the owner of a small fur family, I could easily live somewhere like this.

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I really like Katoomba. It’s a little far to commute from to Sydney every day, but I would move us here in a split second if we worked from home, or only part-time in Sydney. It’s big enough that it has everything you could want, but there’s so much space, and it’s so quiet at night and the bush is stunning.

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The next day we stopped in on some of the other villages on our way home, so we could get a bit of an idea about what they’re like.

Breakfast was at Wentworth Falls.

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Then we spent an hour or so in Springwood, just wandering.

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I was sad to get home, luckily there were three furry faces waiting there, happy to see us and have cuddles.

The Tail of Snoopy

Dogs are like tattoos, once you have one, you immediately want more; however, unlike dogs, tattoos don’t need to be walked, fed and they don’t pee inside.

After we bought Delilah, we discussed getting a second dog, not straight away, not even in the medium term, but we decided that at some point, we would like a flock of corgis.

We knew we weren’t ready for another puppy yet. Puppies are no walk in the park, unless you’re actually walking them … in a park, so we wanted to wait until the time was right, maybe when we next move and are settled down in one spot.

Still, we started to sense Delilah might respond well to a buddy. When we lived in Newtown it was dogs galore, all the time, but in our new neighbourhood, we don’t see many at all, not even in the dog parks. People just seem to have dogs that stay in the backyard and we can go for weeks without even meeting another dog on a walk.

So we thought about what we wanted to do.

And we decided on this: we wanted to find an older dog. An older rescue dog, a dog that might have trouble finding new owners because of their age, a sweet, old guy looking for a retirement home.

I started the hunt. I found one old gentleman, a corgi cross, who’d been in a foster home for over a year. Turned out he was a bit bitey, so we crossed him off the list.

I tried to convince B that adopting an older Papillon didn’t even count as adopting a dog, because they’re basically just a set of fluffy ears.

One day I was scrolling and a saw a guy.

I scrolled past.

I scrolled back.

I clicked the link and read a little about him.

I scrolled some more.

I scrolled quickly back and copied the link and send it to B.

The link was for a old beagle … an old, old beagle, all of 12 years, which is 64 in beagle years!

His name was Snoopy and in the pictures he was relaxing in the sun.

Now, I know beagles, the dog I grew up with, Bill, was part beagle.

I knew they have noses like magnets for smells, that they are water dogs and hunting dogs and that they’re sturdy and like to eat (like corgis!) and that they have soft, floppy ears and have a nice temperament and a deep bark.

I emailed his foster mum. She was a bit cagey about the details, and had only had Snoopy for three weeks herself, but we arranged a time for me to meet him and bring Delilah along.

On Thursday, in the pouring rain, I loaded Delilah into her carrier and we headed to the Central Coast. It was a stressful drive and traffic was awful. Just as we reached the outskirts of Gosford, Delilah managed to unzip her carrier and suddenly popped up next to me like, “Hey! How’s it going? What are you doing?”.

We went to the meeting spot, a horrible little park with nothing besides a grim toilet block, a graffiti-ed basketball court and a sheltered picnic table. Three young guys stood around a car parked outside the toilet block. I started to feel like I’d made a huge mistake.

A few cars drove up slowly and did U-turns and left.

Finally a black car came to a halt, and in the back was the face of a curious beagle, ears pricked.

It was Snoopy.

We introduced the two dogs, Delilah was far more excited than Snoopy, who sat near his foster mum’s feet at stared off into middle distance.

She told me a bit about him, there’s no obvious history of physical abuse, but he shows behaviours that suggests he was yelled at a lot.

We sat in her car and filled out the transfer of ownership forms, both dogs in the back.

She gave me a quite substantial discount on his advertised price, because he was so old and she didn’t expect much interest in him, then she handed me his leash and he was mine.

I loaded both dogs into the back seat, Delilah into her carrier, but  Snoopy moved up to the front passenger seat, sat down and stared quietly out the window.

I felt a pang. I remembered one afternoon many, many years ago when my family first adopted Bill. He sat on the seat, staring sadly out the window the whole way home and it was weeks before we even heard him bark.

This wasn’t going to be like getting a puppy, there were heartstrings involved in this one.

We began the drive back to Sydney, Snoopy alternating between looking out the window and trying to sleep.

I chatted to him a bit and gave him a few pats.

We were almost home, heading through a tunnel in slow traffic and I had my hand resting in the gearstick.

Suddenly Snoopy sighed, and shifted closer and rested his head on my hand.

Here was a guy who needed us.

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It’s only been a few days now, but Snoopy is doing much better.

He’s shy and scared, so he never leaves my side, but at the same time, flinches when I pat him.

Delilah likes to jump on him and Wuz, after a brief moment of “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT AND WHY ARE THERE TWO OF THEM?!”, doesn’t seem phased at all.

Snoopy has quickly chosen a place, on the couch, under the heater, so we spend time there and I watch TV or read and he just chills.

He’s really enjoyed going on walks and has sudden bursts of excited energy where he skips along.

Last night we went to an enclosed dog park and he and Delilah both made a beeline for a giant muddy puddle and splashed around.

From the word go, they’ve taken to sleeping curled up together and sharing a bed.

He’s not great at always making it outside to pee, but for now we’ll put that down to living in his third home in three weeks and being nervous. He’ll sort it out.

It’s a very different relationship to the one we had with Delilah. We needed her, whereas in Snoopy’s case, he needs us.

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And then there were two.

Long Highway / Paralysing.

In 2011 I spent four weeks driving around America. I made a pact with myself when I got back: I would always have enough money in my bank account for the price of a flight to America. Just the flight. Enough that if I felt like it, I could book something at the last minute or buy flights when they were on sale.

It never happened.

Sometimes I wonder if a lot of my life choices in my thirties are being driven by having to be so responsible in my twenties.

I suppose I don’t feel like I need an escape plan anymore, but mostly I think I got tired of always being on top of everything. Which is stupid, that’s life.

I miss being on the road. I miss the feeling of being in a car and no-one knowing exactly where I was, except for the people in the car with me.

I think a large part of what I love about travel is the lack of constraint.You can have a map, you can know where you’re meant to spend the next night, but there’s absolutely nothing stopping you turning off at the next exit just to see what’s there, disappearing from any expectation.

I remember standing on a straight stretch of road in Arizona and trying to guess how many miles it was to the next bend in the road, near the horizon.

The black tar was the only sign of civilsation until some helicopters rose from somewhere in the distance.

It felt ominous, we quickly got back into the car until they passed overhead, like there was some kind of danger in being seen in the middle of nowhere, standing in the middle of a highway, doing nothing but staring at the horizon, amazed at how long it would take us to get there.

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I’m a professional cynic but my heart’s not in it.

Last week I handed in my first psychology assignment. You know when people say things like, ‘OMG! Did you hear what she said?! What, did she just take Feminism 101 or something?’? This assignment was literally a PSY101 essay and there’s a reason for the cliche.

I would have preferred to scratch my nails on a chalkboard for two weeks than write it, so I’m hoping my intuition that I did okay is correct.

Right in the middle of it, I started using hard drugs to help me through, by which I mean macaroni and cheese. I’m pretty sure the recipe I use is from the Commonsense Cookery Book, but I’ve started to refine it. For example: always with the dijon mustard. New discovery: soy milk makes a superior white sauce than cow milk.

Every day, I would eat my macaroni and cheese and watch a Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode and then I would stack my dishes in the sink and forget about them and B would say, ‘What are the white globs in the sink that smell like vomit?!’ and I would say, ‘That’s the remains of heaven, B. Heaven’.

Now I have to start essay two, or essay poo, as I like to call it (not really, potential essay marker, I am taking this very seriously.).

As a nice reward, we went to Orange on the weekend with Delilah. It just so happened the annual food week was on, which included some farmers markets, so we went and ate goat sausages and bought some honey goat cheese, and some Stone Pine gin and some fudge.

Delilah rolled in various kinds of poo, and went for a swim in the dam and failed to keep a fox out of the yard.

We brought home one very tired, very happy, very stinky corgi as well as some gin.

Road Trip Bedside Tables

One of my favourite things to photograph during my travels are the bedside tables in various places I stay. Bedside tables can tell you a lot about where you are, both physically and mentally.

This is a collection from 2011 and 2012.

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A Study in Bedside Tables #1: Holiday Inn Express, Seattle.

This was probably three weeks into a four week road trip. Every overseas holiday ends with a pile of small change you always insist you will spend before you leave and never do. Instead you leave the coins in your wallet, handing them out as gifts or frustrating baristas by trying to use them as legal currency once home.

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A Study in Bedside Tables #2: Hilton Hotel, Portland, Night 1.

My first thought revisiting this photo is that I don’t change much. I am wearing both silver rings pictured today, and although the phone has changed, I would definitely still use a Buzz Osborne picture as my wallpaper. I am still getting through that exact bottle of melatonin and the CD at the back of the photo is the Puscifer album, Conditions Of My Parole, which I still listen to at least once a week.

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A Study in Bedside Tables #3: Hilton Hotel, Portland, Night 2.

The Hilton was the only accommodation we stayed in which did not provide free wi-fi, hence the books, cough syrup, Black Russian and melatonin. I spent a few hours that day in Powell’s Books, which is the largest independent bookstore in the world. I was reading mostly essays in 2011 and was lucky enough to pick up collections edited by two of my favourite guys.  

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A Study in Bedside Tables #4: Hilton Hotel, Portland, Night 3.

At least on the third night I was mixing wine and cough syrup, not spirits … right? The cough syrup stemmed from an incident in Las Vegas, which having not smoked in about five years, I found myself in a city where you can, and everybody does, smoke inside. While I  managed to refrain from partaking, my body reacted as though I had a three pack a day habit: I had a constant cough and bleeding noses most mornings of the trip. Remember: smoking is cool.

The sunglasses were bought at a vintage shop in Portland called Magpie. I have a sunglasses addiction and had two other pairs with me on the trip, yet I still maintain these are the best sunglasses I’ve owned and it was worth the excess.

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A Study in Bedside Tables #5: Shilo Inn, Medford

*snort* As any travel mate I have ever had will tell you, I am obsessed with having the ability to wash my own clothes. While everyone else would race ahead to find out if the hotel had wi-fi, I would be anxiously sweating until I could confirm I could do a cold wash. I guess having the washing liquid on my bedside table was reassuring.

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A Study in Bedside Tables #6: The Historic Mayfair, Los Angeles

Had we not almost stayed in a crack den in Seattle, this would’ve been the worst hotel of the trip, easily. There’s nothing like spending your last night in a hotel which has taken obvious measures to prevent the self harm it provokes in even the more hardened traveller.

Baby food. What can I say? It started in Whole Foods, Salt Lake City, where I decided that baby food was the perfect travel snack: small, healthy (?), tasty. Every time I popped the lid on one of these bad boys, I was roundly mocked by my cohorts.

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A Study in Bedside Tables #7: Cottage on the Inlet, Porirua

A year later, a different country and there’s that little green bottle again. I love melatonin. Another memento of the earlier US trip is the giant skull ring, which I bought from a shop called Loved to Death in Haight-Ashbury.

The reading material is fairly standard fare. I have read every issue of Vanity Fair for a decade now, I love Bellow and Nabokov in that order.

 

North Island, New Zealand

Today we are leaving America behind to fast forward to 2012, when I last visited one of my favourite countries: New Zealand.

I have been to New Zealand three times, most recently for the wedding of my dear friends Amy and Nicola.

We stayed in a cottage in a quiet inlet. Nights were spent watching movies and eating cheese, drinking gin and indulging in general merriment.

New Zealand is stunning in a tactile, earthy sense. It is a country I could spend weeks in alone.

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LA to Vegas

Our road trip began in Los Angeles, after we flew into the barren LAX.

We stayed in Downtown Los Angeles at the Figueroa Hotel, notable for its Spanish influences, kama sutra decor and proximity to The Original Pantry Cafe.

We arrived, hideously jet-lagged and made the dubious decision to drive to Venice Beach to eat tepid nachos without sleep, a GPS or anyone who’d driven in America before.

That night we discovered America’s free-pour policy and sat around the hotel’s green-lit pool, drinking gin, planning our departure the next morning for Las Vegas and our first experience of the long, hazy highways of California.

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