US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Four of Nine

Curious Indian/Middle-Eastern-English hybrid architecture, Brighton

Curious Indian/Middle-Eastern-English hybrid architecture, Brighton


Laura and her French-north African boyfriend Larry were revelations. I really gained an even greater if possible positive appreciation of Emma through her associates, and took their warm welcome of me as a good sign. Sadly, I found out from her at the end of the night that her friends’ almost decade-long relationship had not been without one particularly unhappy challenge. They were still a charming duo, even if probably due to that sad fact Emma later confided in me they were, while we sat later on as a foursome at a nightclub, arguing a little. I was experiencing a different problem with my momentary partner: I’d suddenly become shy. Under normal circumstances it would have been an appropriate time to kiss her, but I was discouraged by the whole “cold sore” thing you’d understand if you’ve read my blog posts on New York. I was kind of hoping she’d initiate something to that effect. And if you think that makes me less of a man, I politely encourage you to go back to the ‘50s with Tony Abbott where you belong. No, no kiss. Instead she slid across my lap – which wasn’t the worst thing a chick’s ever done to me for at least one reason – and began talking to Laura. Larry and I conversed but, God love the guy whom I still remember fondly, I could barely understand him due to a combination of the loud music and his quite good but a little drunken English. It was ok though. I’m a good listener. Even if on this occasion I was largely only reacting based on his facial expressions. Emma, meanwhile, was figuratively slipping further away from me. I made the mistake of, by clinking his drink, taking Larry’s side in the argument he’d had and I’d not overheard with his partner – at least just for the sake of backing up a brother. Laura would have forgiven me and I still hope Emma at least respected my ignorance. I was forced to buy her a drink at that nightclub because she had already shouted me two, but I did so while she was quite humorously counting a mountain of coins with which she intended to buy the drink herself. Then in response to her apparent but probably playful disgust at my having paid for her drink, I responded with shifty eyes. I can’t now remember what her drink was, but I believe I at least got it right. The kicker is that despite the pile of coins on the bar, she had said she was going to pay by card. A little shocked by her revelation to me of Laura and Larry’s private pain, I again baulked at kissing when we’d stopped walking side-by-side a short distance away at a cab rank. Where after kissing me on the cheek she ran across the road, jumped into a cab; and I never saw her little British bum again.

As with my previous night in London, I woke up about 3am again – probably from nightmares about balding hotel reception dudes stealing my money. Out of courtesy for my less insomniac roommates, I charged my phone and read (Youth in Revolt) in the hall outside my room. I was also Facebooking Emma too often but not aggressively. I will only further state in regard to my future messages to her that indeed I sent them too often and must have seemed to her a little in mental turmoil – both of which facts I blamed on the nightly sleep deprivation I suffered until heading back to London after about a week. Once the sun had risen to brightly bless beautiful Brighton (too much alliteration?) I left the hostel to wander the town’s lanes and laines; “laines” being footpaths between pub and shopfronts only wide enough to accommodate people walking single file. While the “lanes” were, y’know, the size you’d normally expect of them and wider than their letter “i” bearing cousins. It felt as if I’d stumbled into a fantasy novel loosely based on 15th century Britain. After the lanes and laines and roads and buses and coffee and cigarettes I took my first walk on the award winning pebbled beach that Brighton’s was. Still early, and on a weekday, this humble unemployed writer felt like he had one of the most wonderful places in the world he’d seen all to his self. There were however no waves. Couldn’t help noticing that. But as I knew there were often swells further west toward and off the coast of Wales, I was able to indulge in the dream and realistic prospect of hiring a car, surfboard, wetsuit – not to mention gloves, booties and probably another wetsuit – and heading west in search of Atlantic Ocean swell. I never did, but hey; I’ll be damned if it wasn’t nice to think about. From the beach I wandered past the Brighton Wheel (huge, white, enclosed carriage Ferris wheel) to the most working class cafe in existence. Full of large men and one woman wearing high-visibility clothing and offering only instant coffee, it was. But I didn’t mind, which I stated to that one woman after she apologised for their loud conversation in heavy regional accents I could barely understand. Actually I wish I had, respectfully, made more of an effort to talk with them and find out just what a lower or perhaps lower-middle class person living in a town like Brighton thought, but I was too immersed in my book. I walked from the cafe into the swiftly brightening sunshine and returned to the hostel just in time for its adequate free brekky that finished at “half-nine” each day. “I must ask what time it starts,” I scribbled. Where on earth did my philosophical introspections go? Oh yeah, they’re further back in the notepad. I’ll re-introduce some of them in the next post. Looking forward to having you read me at Brighton part five 🙂 Looks as if there’s going to be 10 parts. Nope, nine. . . .

Dawn, Brighton, winter 2012

Dawn, Brighton, winter 2012

US and UK – California Dreaming – Part One of Four

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I flew out of Gold Coast Airport on Friday, October 12, 2012, at 10.30am. Destination: Los Angeles. The first coherent passage of the notepad I kept during the almost three month trip refers to a Time Magazine article I was apparently reading on the plane. In it Ilan Halevi, a Jewish Palestinian Liberation Organisation member who lived in Israel during the hijackings, bombings and assassinations of the 1960s and ‘70s, said: “Because we took up arms, we were in a position to put them down with credibility.” I’m not sure if it occurred to me at the time, but now it seems odd but perhaps not inconceivable that a Jew could or would be a member of the PLO – which I imagine would be mostly made up of Muslims or at least non-Jews. Apparently the situation around Israel is more complicated, at least in that one regard, than I knew. I also noted that Yasser Arafat as PLO chairman during the same period “came to the UN with a gun in one hand and olive branch in the other”.

After landing in Auckland at about 4.30pm local time for a connecting flight scheduled at 7.40pm, the landscape around the city, as viewed from the airport, seemed a lot more dramatic than any of Australia’s. Heavily forested mountains rose abruptly from calm waters and gently rolling hillsides. A standard serving of sushi for dinner featured 10 small rolls, while a serving back home would be more likely to include four or six. I put this down to an assumed greater Maori appetite for meat. The airport’s smoking area felt like a cross between a prison guard tower and a prison itself. It was on the roof, and its view featured the rest of the roof, air conditioning units, chain link fences, barbed wire and other stony faced smokers getting their pre-flight nicotine fixes. Four cigarettes and two Johnnie Red and Cokes later and I was waiting at gate eight. I requested a double Scotch and Coke in the plane. The stewardess asked: “Red or black?”
“Red or black?” I questioned right back like a mirror.
“Yes, red or black Johnnie?”
“Oh, sorry. Red please.”
“Don’t worry, questioning almost over. Would you like ice?”
“Yes, please.”
The sun set completely behind clouds below me and into the Tasman Sea as I sipped my drink and enjoyed reading about lies and accusations of lies and untruthful accusations of lies from both sides of American politics in Time. The lead up to the November 6 election, in which Barack Obama would be re-elected for four more years, was in semi-full-swing. I hoped to time my visit to Washington DC with the election aftermath. But I never made it to that famous power city on the Potomac River, due to unexpected affairs of the heart. And I still may never journey there.

I felt more happy being myself than I ever had. Because no-one else was, is or could ever possibly be me. How lucky I thought myself to be able to do this; not as a soldier being sent to fight misunderstood people in forbidding, faraway lands but as a peaceful traveller seeking naught but pleasure and knowledge. I couldn’t sleep on the flight, so spent my time watching movies, listening to music and reading. Watched a strange film I’d never even heard of called Hemingway and Gellhorn, featuring Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Hemingway’s wife and journalist Martha Gellhorn. Also watched The Amazing Spiderman and that Community comedy series. Accidentally woke up a young Maori woman to my left by stepping on her foot, while trying to get my own back under the blanket. That was the closest I came to causing an international incident without even having left Australasia. I’d never seen anything like LAX – Los Angeles International Airport. Standing outside waiting for the number three bus to Venice Beach, I sent myself dizzy watching the freakish merry-go-round – or carousel if you prefer – of coaches, buses, shuttles, taxis and myriad private vehicles constantly driving past and stopping at arrivals. After a coffee and mineral water helped me compose my jet-lagged self, I gave up on the number three and hailed a friendly cab driver to whisk me to a funky little hostel in the heart of Venice. The first walk along the Venice boardwalk is probably comparable to how future astronauts might feel stepping from their spaceship onto an alien world and immediately amid its truly otherworldly inhabitants. It’s the best free freak show in the world. Except if you’re a visitor it’s going to cost you somewhere between thousands of dollars jet fuel or a few bucks petrol. And if you’re a local – chances are you’re one of the freaks. And I never made it to Hollywood. Probably as many freaks there, just wearing more expensive clothes and jewellery. Art everywhere. Biggest thing I noticed straight up, in comparison to Australia. There’s art on the ground, on and in the buildings, on the people and everything they own. Everywhere except the sky. Seagulls are enormous over there (and in the UK). They looked like large albatrosses, cross-bred with common pigeons.

I still that first afternoon in the United States hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast on the plane. God knows what my first LA meal was though; I didn’t write it down. I did enjoy a “Golden Chaos” beer, which from memory contained about 12% alcohol. I sat at the Candle Cafe and Grill in the autumn sunshine enjoying clichéd scenery that even featured guys walking around with surfboards under their arms – even though there were no waves to be seen. The Doors, the Californication TV series, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Baywatch – it was reminiscent of them all and more. And less. The cafe sat overlooking a little oasis of palm trees jutting out into the wide beach. It was difficult to tell the difference between locals and tourists. Even those who didn’t appear to be happy at least seemed to be pretending. It was like a stroll across La La Land’s beach while the sun had not yet set over the Pacific could not reasonably inspire anything but pleasant thoughts. The LAPD arrived in the form of one black and one white officer, and strode toward the oasis where an apparently excessive glut of freaks in all colours, shapes and sizes had congregated. One of them, the freaks, complained “this is a police state!” while one of his comrades was handcuffed. A pair of Samoan toddlers – one wearing a tie-die t-shirt – rolled south on scooters, and their mother wandered after them. A cartoonish black man wearing a universe of multicoloured clothing slid past on custom made roller-blades, while strumming an endless ode to the City of Angels on his electric-guitar.
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Full Moon Surfing

An historical night surf.  Photo courtesy of Blainey Woodham Photography.

An historical night surf. Photo courtesy of Blainey Woodham Photography.

Surfing is something that resides in treasured depths of not just my mind, but also my heart. It would require countless blog posts for me to comprehensively philosophise about it, and many more to properly discuss more technical or practical elements of it. This post will concern night surfing. And particularly one night surf. Though surfing at night is a different beast to surfing during the day, one night surf could only vary from another based on location, temperature and other conditions of the environment so this will be the one post I write about the specific topic. And I write this post for no more significant a reason than that I recently went for one of the handful of night surfs I’ve had. On June 23, 2013 at about 5pm a Super Moon occurred. In laymen’s or perhaps even scientists’ terms (but perhaps not a scientist’s language) a Super Moon is an event in which the moon passes as close to the earth as possible – presumably only as a full moon. On the 24th of June I noticed a Facebook post by Australia’s Surfing Life magazine that featured a video of night surfers. I don’t know where they were, I don’t know when exactly they were surfing. And I don’t particularly care. I enjoyed watching the dudes in it ripping waves to shreds in the pitch dark, aided by floodlights and probably a full moon. And quickly decided I wanted to go for a surf that coming night. High tide was at about 9.30pm – funnily enough as the moon was above the water. So I suspected a full moon surf at my local beach break was a definite prospect and headed down to said beachie just before dark in order to conduct some recon on the situation. I discovered a solid three-to-four-foot right hander breaking just to the south of and across the front of Palm Beach’s 7th Avenue. It was pretty good, and not many people were out there. I probably should have been out there for an afternoon surf, but it had become time to wait for the no-longer super moon to hang above the water as a heavenly surfing beacon.

I was hoping to have some company out there in the relative darkness. Despite putting the word out on Facebook I didn’t manage to attract enough interest, however, and one person who was keen ended up heading to a nearby point break – Snapper Rocks – a little earlier, instead. I suggested to him he could surf the beachie after riding Snapper but he said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get back into his sopping wet and freezing wetsuit, which was reasonable. I told him to man up anyway. So I headed down to 7th at about 9pm to see what I could see. Which wasn’t a lot, though the moon was doing its best to enlighten the situation. I could see the same right hander I had just three hours earlier, and perhaps unsurprisingly there was no-one out in the water. The wave would appear quite suddenly from the Pacific Ocean’s depths as its energy hit the sand bank and the moonlight hit its newly formed bulge in the water’s surface. Though not particularly keen on the idea of doing it alone, I realised I had no choice and decided to paddle out. If not for the fact that I do own but rarely use wetsuit booties, I’d not have bothered. The air temperature was something like 6 degrees this night, while the water temperature was probably somewhere above ten. In that case I guess you could say all I really needed was a wetsuit hood or something, but from experience my toes tend to get cold no-matter how much of the rest of my body is covered. So on the booties went. Then I put on a long-sleeved wetsuit shirt I fortunately had. And over that went my wetsuit. After waxing up the board, I was ready to rock.

Photo (of me): Blainey Woodham Photography

Photo (of me): Blainey Woodham Photography

I walked down to the beach past one woman checking out the natural splendour of the full moon hanging over a calm sea. “Are you serious?” she asked, quite shocked.
“Well, there’s no one out there,” I assured her. Then after I’d made it down to the sand whose coolness didn’t thankfully penetrate my feet thanks to the booties: “It certainly is cold though,” I concluded to her.
She said nothing more but stayed put as I placed my board on the sand, strapped the leg rope around my ankle and began to walk out through the shore break. I could barely notice the cold due to the fact that my legs were pretty well sealed between my booties and the leg of my wetsuit. Neoprene is an amazing substance. Once I’d passed as much of the relentless white water I could I laid down on my board and paddled out. Fortunately the waves weren’t breaking terribly powerfully and I could see the white-water easily in the lunar light, so duck dived a couple of waves without much trouble and found myself sitting behind the break zone – where I’d been thousands of times before but not often in the same context. One of the best things about surfing during a sunny day, when the water is clear, is that you can almost feel like you’re floating on an air pocket metres above the shallow ocean bed. This is also reassuring because you are able to see any potential hazards like rocks, or sharks. During this night surf I remember thinking it was mildly reassuring that, with only the moonlight’s aid, I could actually see the sand through an eery green watery prism. A more than usually intense focus was however required just below and in front of the horizon, to notice when a rideable wave was approaching.

There was a bit of southerly in the swell during this night. So I’d look a bit to the south when sizing up approaching waves. The first one wasn’t much good. Unfortunately the moon wasn’t far enough to the west and hence not casting its light directly on the face of the wave, so darkness all but reigned as I paddled on to it facing west. The highlight of the hour I spent out there was one particular wave. I managed to stand up ok – which is difficult wearing booties that fill up a little with water – and get my feet in a good position for riding across the face. I pumped along the wave quickly and did a savage little cutback right into the pocket where the lip was forming. The difference between performing this manoeuvre at night instead of during the day was that, and any fellow surfers out there could probably relate, I had to do it more based on feel than sight. I could feel through my legs and sense from my momentum how the wave was breaking and knew almost exactly when to push my back leg out to carve some water from the wave’s lip; then when and at what angle to push my front foot out to bring the board around parallel with the wave’s direction of travel again. It was exhilarating. If the wave itself had been a little better I would have been letting out whoops of excitement. My new surfing goal that I may never fulfil is now to get a barrel while night surfing. The moonlight would shine through the lip of the wave above to create an icy-green cavern I’d be crouching within. Just thinking about it is wonderful. I caught a few more waves after that one, and enjoyed sitting out there in the warm water and cool air while trying to convince myself that random movements in the water around me weren’t due to sharks circling. Then I decided I probably wasn’t going to get any better waves than what I already had, so caught one in. A fantastic experience. Heavenly, even. The closest to true inner-peace and quiet I’ve ever come without leaving but physically sitting at the edge of a major Australian city like the Gold Coast. Well, obviously sharks were a small concern. But night surfing is like any beneficial endeavour: if you’re realistic, dismissive or even contemptuous about your fears, you become empowered to achieve your dreams.

Photo:  Ross Dudgeon

Photo: Ross Dudgeon