Wednesday 19th November
7am - Australian time
Things are finally back on track. With my connecting flight ready for departure, Wang had realised I couldn’t possibly be a threat to national security if I wasn’t in the country, so I had my camera returned and I was released from my confinement. I was frog-marched right up to my seat on the plane, and I was more than a little put out to find the girls buckled up and ready to go without me.
“What happened to you?” Rachel had asked, mildly curious as Wang stored my hand-luggage above my head.
“Did you not see the three armed-policemen marching me off for questioning?” I snapped.
Bev had almost dropped her mobile. “Woah! The police here have three arms?”
Rachel tells me I smell of fear and incarceration, whilst Bev thinks I should be paying extra for the ‘excess baggage’ I’m carrying under my eyes. The two of them look rested and relaxed, which is more than can be said for the other passengers onboard who watched with obvious concern as I was bundled onto the plane. They probably think I’m a big bent terrorist. Can you imagine?
“EVERYONE, GET YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR NOW! So I can slip onto them a pair of these gorgeous cashmere-lined leather gloves I found at duty free. Aren’t they just FABULOUS?”
Ooooh, we’re landing!
To: 'My UK Contacts'
Subject: The Eagle has landed!
Date: Weds 19 Nov - 07:50
G’day cobblers! (or whatever it is they’re supposed to say here)
It is a bright Wednesday morning in Australia, which I guess means for you lot that I’m writing to you from the future. Melbourne is 11 hours ahead of the UK, so whilst I’m about to raid a vending machine for breakfast, you’ve probably just finished dinner and are settling down to watch Eastenders. This makes my brain hurt. I knew to expect the time difference, but the reality of it is something else entirely. Nothing can prepare you for being woken up at 2am by bright blazing sun, which is what happened to me when some muppet opened one of the shutters on the plane. To be fair, the view of craggy mountain peaks piercing through the fluffy white clouds below was absolutely breathtaking, and totally worth the interruption to a pretty decent dream about Aussie lifeguards.
The second part of our flight here took a further nine hours, this time taking us from near the top of the planet to the bottom rather than from left to right. I had to explain to a freaked-out Bev that travelling south wasn’t the same as travelling down, and that we weren’t plummeting towards the ground. She does get a bit confused, bless her. Earlier in the flight I’d had to explain to her how to eat a pistachio nut.
We’re now lost within the bright and bustling bowels of Melbourne’s International Airport, and I am struggling to contain my excitement because EVERYONE HERE HAS AN ACCENT! The welcome was a little less rapturous than I’d imagined, as there were no topless Aussie hunks handing out complimentary cans of Fosters. Infact, it was quite the opposite. Customs Officials held laser-guns to our foreheads in a high-speed effort to measure temperatures and ensure we weren’t bringing any nasty diseases into the country. Presumably, if you were unlucky enough to be suffering from a sniffle, rather than just give you a tissue and a dose of Beechams, they’d just bundle you on a plane and send you back to where you came from. We were then frisked for fruit and wood (insert joke here) because it is illegal to bring either into the country. It would seem that despite their easygoing reputation, Australians are stricter than they’d lead us to believe. They had no problems with me bringing in all my bombs and guns though.
We’ve yet to collect our luggage, but seeing as it takes up more room than an average-sized council house it shouldn’t be too hard to find. Poor Rachel’s rucksack is bigger than she is, and she looks like a well-endowed tortoise when it’s on her back. Moves at about the same speed too. She and Bev have popped to the ladies (or should that be ‘the Sheilas’?) to freshen up. Or, as they delicately put it, “we’re off to take a swift wet-wipe to the giblets”.
And on that note, enjoy your dinner!
Love Kev x
P.S. Just to be clear, I was joking about the bombs and guns. Obvs.
8.30am – Taxi rank, Melbourne airport
Phew, what a scorcher! Which is a particularly weird thing to say at this time of the morning, especially considering it was the middle of the night an hour ago and yesterday lunchtime a few hours before that. Time zones are weird and we’ve crossed all of them. Bev and Rachel have now changed into low-cut tops to try to distract passing men from the fright that their hair has become, and are now both on their mobiles, calling, texting, and updating Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and God-knows-whatsapp. I don’t think they’ve even looked up yet to appreciate that WE’RE ACTUALLY HERE.
“According to my weather app,” Bev said, squinting at her screen, “Melbourne is meant to be really sunny until about 10pm today, and then it’s going to get really moony.”
Rachel was too busy ‘checking-in’ to the country to hear her.
They looked at me blankly.
“We’re actually in AUSTRALIA!”
All three of us broke into wide smiles. Bev tried to pull us together for a group hug, but all our rucksacks collided above our heads and bounced us off in different directions, so we settled on high-fives instead.
“What’s the plan now, then?” I asked.
They looked at each other, then looked back at me and shrugged in unison.
To: 'My UK Contacts'
Subject: What a ride!
Date: Weds 19 Nov - 09:07
Hey all. Guess where I am RIGHT NOW? I’m only bloody squeezed into one of those bright yellow cabs you always see people leaving Ramsey Street in on Neighbours! I’m using my phone in rarely-used sideways-position, and feeling very high-tech and worldly like a gay James Bond. I know we’ve been doing it for years, but I still think sending an email to a whole bunch of people at once, from a mobile phone, from the back of a cab, FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD is pretty incredible.
It’s lucky the three of us, plus bags, are wedged in so tight because our taxi driver is driving like a man possessed. I have no idea if he’s a psycho or if this is just how Aussies drive. So far, he’s taken three sharp rights at ‘No Right Turn’ junctions, and I’ve lost count of the emergency stops. Rachel had been reapplying her lippie the first time he jammed on the brakes, and as it had already gone soft in the heat it’s now mushed around her face. She looks like a clown with a lumpy red skin disease. More than normal, I mean.
Better go. Autocorrect is getting on my nerves. Mobile emailing with my fat fingers is tricky as he’ll.
Love Kiev x
SENT VIA MY MOBILE DEVICE
10.45am – ‘The Friendly Backpacker’, Melbourne CBD (Central Business District)
We’ve checked into ‘The Friendly Backpacker’, a hostel that I chose from a list at the airport in the hopes that it would live up to its name. We’re all a little anxious about meeting new people. Actually, scratch that. I’m a little anxious. Neither of the girls could give two shits.
As hostels go it seems perfectly adequate, but having never stayed in one in my life I really have no idea. It certainly ain’t no Hilton. We have a set of bunk beds each (one bed for us, one for our bags) and a room to ourselves, but I suspect this isn’t normal and probably won’t last. Bev and Rachel, fragile young things that they are, have retired straight to their bunks fully-clothed, blaming jet-lag. I’m still wide awake and am eager to get exploring, but to be honest I’m actually quite glad to have some time alone. The pair of them made the flight from Hong Kong almost unbearable.
Having been held under armed-guard for seven hours or so, and let’s not forget the intimate probing that I’m forgetting about, the last thing I wanted to hear was how much fun they’d had without me in Hong Kong. At the time I’d been held at gun-point and worn like an Asian glove puppet, they’d been squeezing in a few quick rides at Disneyland China thanks to an express shuttle service from the airport. They decided to help me practise some chat-up lines in an effort to ‘cheer me the fuck up’.
“I got one! How about, ‘Those are nice legs. What time do they open?’ It worked on me once,” laughed Rachel.
“I think Kev’s a bit more… classic,” said Bev politely. “Something more like, um… ‘Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? Because you must be an angel.’ Ha!”
Cue vomit noises from all three of us.
“I walked up to a guy once, downed his drink, looked him dead in the eye and said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ And then I fucked off. It was HILARE!”
I joined in for a bit because I do actually need the practise, but then they called the campest steward over and it stopped being funny.
“Hiya luv! This is Kev, and he has something he’d like to say to you.”
Three pairs of eyes looked at me expectantly, four if you count the lady across the way that was pretending not to listen, and my brain went blank. It’s been so long since I even made eye contact with a man I didn’t know, and I opened and closed my mouth for a bit as he stared at me with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Then, out of shear panic, “NICE TIE!” burst from my mouth followed by some slightly hysterical giggling, and the look I was given from the trolley-dolly only made me want the ground to swallow me up, rather than him.
“That was totally HILARE!” Bev had laughed, once he’d left me red-faced.
Finding my humiliation thoroughly entertaining, Rachel then decided to “take things up a notch”, and the next time he passed by she whipped my ‘Gay Times’ from my hand-luggage and flung it at his feet. I was mortified! Presumably the idea was that he’d pick it up, see the glossy topless man on the cover, our eyes would meet and he’d become so spontaneously horny that he’d forget all his training and pull me straight into the toilets for a bit of a mile-high seeing to. Because as everyone knows, all gays have no standards and are permanently horny. All it actually earned me was an outraged hair flick and a smile so fake it gave Rachel’s cleavage a run for its money.
Still not satisfied, they decided to do it again a few hours later, tearing the magazine from my unwilling hands as the other steward passed by with the drinks trolley. Incredibly, this one winked as he handed it back, and slipped me a free vodka for good measure. RESULT! The girls were most put out. The steward was a butch, hairy guy with a Russian accent and his badge said his name was ‘Yogi’. He was a bear in every sense of the word, and if we had done anything kinky it would’ve resulted in me coughing up hair balls.
2.45pm - Batman Park (no, really!)
Well, this is a new experience. Sun-bathing. And not the reluctant, fully-clothed, sweating-in-a-jumper-and-jeans kind of sun-bathing I might be forced into at home either.
I can’t get over how familiar everything is here. Ever-so-slightly-different mammals climb the branches of ever-so-slightly-different trees, whilst flocks of brightly coloured birds gather at the edge of the river. Birds I’m very familiar with, but should clearly be in a zoo. But whilst the world around me feels unexpectedly samey, I feel completely different. I left England feeling lost and rejected, and have arrived here feeling hopeful and relaxed. It seems the light at the end of the tunnel is Australia.
With the girls still sleeping, I’ve been out investigating Melbourne on my own, and almost immediately I realised something unexpected. It has been years since I’ve had to make any decisions for myself.
Where shall I go first?
What should I have for lunch?
Which shops should I visit?
Do these clothes look good on me?
Should I say something to that cute assistant?
Question followed question, and they were all mine to answer. It was a bit bewildering at first because for so long someone else has answered them all for me and I hadn’t even realised.
Let’s go here.
Eating that will make you fatter.
Why would you want to go there?
That’s not flattering on you at all.
Were you flirting with that guy?
I’ve let Phil call the shots for so long; firstly to be nice, then out of habit, and then finally out of some kind of subservience, but over here I have no choice but to think for myself. It’s actually a little scary. As I walked the streets, staring up open-mouthed at the sky-scrapers and soaring glass structures and apologising to barely-missed pedestrians, something else occurred to me too. Something really obvious, but that I hadn’t properly considered. No one here knows me.
Other than Bev and Rachel, everyone in the entire country is a total stranger! Let’s review the full impact of that, shall we? There is no chance of seeing people I used to know from my hetero days whispering about me behind my back. No chance of getting stink-eye from a total stranger because I’m with a man. No chance of bumping into an old school friend and being asked those three most awkward questions – “Girlfriend? Married? Kids?” No friends to disappoint. No boyfriend to give me grief. No mother to fret over. No family to embarrass. No reputation to consider. No expectations to meet. I can be me without worrying about the consequences, and the sense of freedom that washed over me was so strong it made the hairs stand up on my arms.
I realised I was hot and I took off my jumper. I didn’t give it a second thought. Yet back at home this would risk ridicule, because without a second layer what would disguise my fat rolls, or hide my bingo wings and sweat patches? Then, as I walked into the park, air shimmering in the heat, I did something so completely out of character, so entirely unexpected, that I shocked even myself.
I took my t-shirt off.
I’m sure no one else would understand how massive a deal this is, how huge a personal milestone, but the fact is I would never even dream of going topless at home. The thought of someone I know catching sight of my white hulking mass and hairy moobs is too much to bear. But here, with the anonymity of Oz, my wobbly man-tits are live and unleashed upon an unsuspecting nation, and despite being in the vicinity of athletic men (with smaller waists than me) and sporty women (with smaller breasts than me), I feel at ease. No one is staring!
Well… Except me.
Up until now, I’ve been paying close attention to what the Australian men are wearing. I need fashion guidance and fast, because if this is the kind of heat I can expect I’m going to have to completely rethink my wardrobe. Maybe buy some shorts that are actually short and don’t end just above my ankles. But now, as I stretch out, a breeze around my pits and grass tickling at my nips, I can’t help but pay closer attention to what the guys here aren’t wearing. The warmth of the sun on my naked back is such an alien sensation that it’s making me feel… a little naughty. I don’t know if it’s just my imagination but the very air here seems charged somehow, like it’s buzzing with new possibilities, and just breathing in its warmth makes my heart race a bit. All the flesh on display isn’t helping either. There is a team of rowers not ten metres away doing warm-up exercises by the river. The afternoon sun is reflecting off their tight tanned chests, toned arms glistening, water trailing down sculpted bodies… tiny swim-shorts stretched over muscular thighs… clinging fabric hinting at the bulging contents beneath… Phwoar! There’s not a coxless pair amongst them, that’s for damn sure, and the sight of them doing their lunges is stirring up feelings I’d all but forgotten. They don’t even seem to mind me staring, although admittedly I am wearing mirrored sunglasses and pretending to look the other way.
To: 'My UK Contacts'
Date: Weds 19 Nov - 22:22
Alright ya dingbats! (It’s an Aussie phrase, don’t you know.)
Sorry for the multiple emails today, but evening has now fallen on my first day in Melbourne and I have to say I love the place already. It’s a bit like some of the posher parts of London, if the UK capital had the brightness and contrast turned up and was stretched out to make everything wider. Stuff that should be red (buses, phone-boxes, ready-salted crisp packets) seems to be yellow, and the locals all seem friendly (they make eye-contact and everything), so maybe it’s not that much like London, but the point I’m trying to make is I was expecting everything to be a little bit more, well, foreign. The biggest difference I’ve come across so far is that the pedestrian crossings here don’t beep, they click, which is weird but hardly Earth-shattering. What has thrown me most of all is that they play all the same music that we do at home. You’d think travelling this far you could get away from Justin Bieber, but no.
Despite there being more lanes of traffic than I’m used to, and trams chattering up and down the street, the city works at a far more relaxed pace than any I’ve been to. Maybe that’s to be expected from a country that prints water-proof banknotes just in case any of its residents want to stop for a spontaneous dip. Above the streets, the skyline is full of towering structures in a mish-mash of gleaming styles, and poking proudly above all of it is a needle of a building called the Eureka Tower. I headed there first.
A high-speed lift shot up sixty storeys in seconds, depositing me (ears popping) in the Melbourne Observation Deck. Here, I was presented with a 360º view, and stretching out far below me was the capital city of Victoria, a state tiny by Aussie standards due to it only being the size of the United Kingdom. Melbourne, I discovered, had been named after a British Prime Minister, but had only narrowly avoided being called ‘Batmania’ in honour of an early Tasmanian settler. Can you imagine that? Each resident was this close to being called Batman! A-maz-ing. The city had sprung up in the late 1800s after gold was discovered in the nearby Yarra River, so I made my way there next in the hopes there’d be some left and in a way there was. Golden people were everywhere. A pale Australian, it would appear, is rarer than rocking-horse poo.
The girls slept right through the day, so I guess the rumours are true and they really are good in bed. I finally managed to rouse them at 8pm, and as we prepared for our first night out I realised they weren’t going to be your stereotypical back-packers.
“Why don’t these weird sockets fit me plugs?”
“How am I supposed to do me lippie without a full-length mirror?”
Once heels and make-up had finally been applied (to them not me, honest), we headed out to do Essex proud, discovering a restaurant suitable for our first Aussie meal on the other side of the river. Surrounded by flame-throwing pillars, it enticed customers in by sporadically scorching them with jets of fire. Not something you see at your local Harvester. It was here that we were introduced to the delights of ‘middies’, ‘stubbies’, ‘schooners’ and ‘jugs’, Aussie booze-lingo, and we kept drinking until we had all the terms memorised. After a quick tipsy gamble at a casino we stumbled across next-door, sheer exhaustion forced the girls (and by extension me) back to the hostel and they returned to their beds. I really hope they enjoyed both hours of their first day here.
I’ve been chatting to some of my fellow hostel residents, and I realised pretty early on that eavesdropping is essential before initiating any form of conversation. Whilst it is horrendous enough introducing yourself to a random stranger, it is nothing compared to the bum-clenching embarrassment you experience when you get a blank face and a “que?” or “pardone?” in response. One such resident, a white Rastafarian, spent twenty minutes informing me of all the places I could smoke marijuana in Cambodia without getting killed. Which was nice. He then lent me a tea-bag on the condition that I gave it back to him when I’d finished.
Love Kev xx
Personal Replies: Right, now let’s finally answer some of your emails. Please excuse the group message format.
Mum – I’m sorry you sobbed so hard when I left that you lost your contact lens behind your eye.
Dad – I’m sorry you couldn’t make my leaving do. I guess I’ll see you when I see you.
Sis – Please tell Tommy to stop crying. Let him know I landed safe and I miss him too.
Michael – Where were you?
Jack & Jenny – Now, now. Don’t fight.
Jemma – Oh, was it from you? Yes, it’s getting used. In fact, I’m already developing writer’s cramp.
Alex – No, I don’t hate him. But if he was on fire and I had water I’d drink it.
Gavin – Yes, there are plenty of other fish in the sea, but there’s also sharks, toxic waste and a whole lot of shit too.
Fiona – You’ll know when dinner is ready as the fire alarm tends to go off. Thanks for popping in on her.
The end of a looong day, but I’m still not tired. Does jet lag even exist? Bev and Rachel have done nothing but sleep all day, but I’m wide awake. Maybe it is all in the mind and it’s not affecting me because I have one?
To avoid lurking in dark corners on my own like some kind of weirdo, I’ve had to face my fears and start up conversations with total strangers. Not something I was expecting to do on my first day. One poncho-wearing nut job from High Wycombe insisted I referred to him as “The Raggerman” when I know for a fact his name is Timothy. He kept moaning about all his “haterz” and how they “dinnit unnerstan me bruv, ya git me” and his faux-gangster attitude wound me up so much I couldn’t help but point out it was unlikely he had ‘haterz’ per se, and more likely people just thought him a twat, which is the kind of thing I’d normally only think. I ran and hid when he was distracted by a twisted dreadlock, and found myself out on the fire-escape blagging a cigarette from an Irish girl called Karen. Not because Australia has suddenly turned me into a smoker, but because there was no one to tell me I couldn’t. It was menthol so it doesn’t count anyway. Karen, who somehow refrained from laughing at my pathetic attempts to inhale, introduced me to her friend, a timid Ginger fella called Hamish, who was the entire reason I’d approached her in the first place. Hamish has a strong Scottish accent, a stammer, and is setting off my Gaydar big time.
And there was me thinking it didn’t even work anymore.