Monday, 13 February 2017

CHAPTERS













CHAPTER THREE

 Chapter 3

     We were to start off in Sydney and somehow travel up to Perth.  From Perth we would go on to Singapore and then across to London.  Accommodation had been arranged in Singapore so only the problem of travelling to Perth had to be resolved - as well as checking into some Backpackers Hostels.
      I closed my eyes as the G-force threw me back into my seat.  The feeling of power always overwhelms me and I’m somewhat addicted to flying now.  As the luscious greenery of my homeland grew further and further away - the realisation that this adventure could turn out to be a trip of a lifetime or a disaster waiting to happen made me quite anxious as well as excited.  This was the beginning of a new way of life. Anything could happen, anything could go wrong and I would have no-one to run to, no-one would ever come to my rescue if a disaster happened or if I was stranded in a foreign country with no money, nowhere to stay and definitely no way of getting back home; which would be on the other side of the planet, although I was with Andy - relationships don’t always last.
     Three hours later I arrived in Sydney.  A great swarm of nervous, anxious and excited people buzzed passed me outside the terminal building.  I stood there for a few minutes and allowed the bright hot sun greet me with its warmth.  I was pleased to be back in Australia once again but also relieved that I didn’t have to contend with any more ‘Wizard’.  After Andy landed (we were on different flights) we picked up our bags and hopped onto the bus that would take us into Sydney city.  The bus we were on drove around dropping tourists off at their lush hotels, whereas us - being backpackers, were dropped off at the not-so-glam backpackers at the back of Kings Cross - not very far away from the Warratah Apartments.
     While we were in Kings Cross I went and said hello to Uncle Russell who was living there at the time with his girlfriend.  He spent most of his time off his face and his head permanently stuck in a bong.  I often wondered how he managed to live out the ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle during the day and still be able to hit the right notes in the evening - turns out he couldn’t.  In fact, it was the first time that I had experienced someone in the ‘family’ other than mum asking me if they could ‘borrow’ money.  I lent him some money with the realisation that I would never see it again.
     Uncle Russell played bass guitar in Graham Brazier’s band when he was living in New Zealand and he also shared the same stage with Bob Geldof (once) when he was in Auckland doing a gig.  The last time I’d seen Uncle Russell was when I was working in a town selling ‘Wizard’ and they just happened to be playing in the same town.  I stopped by the place they were playing and surprised him.  We went backstage - did the ‘groupy’ thing if you’d like to call it that.  It was quite a pokey little room filled with smoke and stunk of B.O.  It wasn’t as glamorous as I was led to believe.  The band broke up shortly after that and he headed for Australia to ‘find fame’.  Only it wasn’t working out the way that he’d planned and in reality - turned into a ‘dead beat’.  He’d continually tell me stories about the people that he met and the people that he used to hang out with but seeing him being in the position that he was in made me a little less gullible and I didn’t believe him.  We took a trip out to Bondi beach and hung out for a little bit, the beach was literally deserted and the full moon was up, it was just nice.
     Back in the red light district of Kings Cross I sat in the MacDonald’s restaurant on the corner and did a spot of ‘people-watching’.  Kings Cross is renown as a ‘red light’ district, the prostitutes strutted their stuff down the street.  Most of them didn’t care how they were dressed, one was wearing a see through red dress with white panties and no bra - definitely dressed to thrill.  I admired them in a way - they seemed to have in their lives what I was missing in mine.  Having enough self-esteem to walk down the street half naked and not conforming to social ideals.  I’ve always been a ‘conservative’ kind of dresser.  But on the same token - it gave me frightening shivers to think about what happened afterwards when the newly acquainted pair drove off into the unknown.  There were downsides to Kings Cross - there were times that I wasn’t sure what to do and had no option other than to play the part of the ‘bystander’.  One lady just literally dropped dead in the middle of the street due to a drugs overdose.  There’d also be other drunks that would fall unconscious wherever they fell.  It hadn’t changed a great deal since I’d been there last.
     We had a couple of day’s lee-way to find a job.  It wasn’t that difficult as seasonal and temporary jobs were listed on the notice-board’s of the backpackers hostels wanting workers.  I phoned one the advertisers up and went for an interview in Avalon.  The bus journey there took a little while; it’s out the hustle and bustle of Sydney.  It’s a quaint little town with a stunningly gorgeous beach.  It turned out that that’s where ‘Home & Away’ programme is/was filmed.  I got the job and also discovered that there was a backpackers hostel pretty much just across the road which was a blessing.  Literally a hassle free job making gift bags with cheap accommodation just over the road.  What more could I possibly want?
     We took the bus from Sydney to Avalon, driving through winding roads and beautiful scenery.  We checked into the backpackers there.  The job was enough to pay the accommodation and general living expenses as well as save a bit for the trip to Perth.
     It was a quiet town with very few shops.  One night at the Backpackers Hostel, we were sitting in the common room and had just finished laughing hysterically at some guy who genuinely thought that ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ was pronounced ‘ninety thousand two hundred and ten’ when an enormous crack of lightening lit the dark cloudy sky.  I wandered over to the door and watched the spectacular tropical storm pass by with all its anger.  The storm only lasted for about twenty minutes but I was amazed to see such power and spectacular displays of ferocious fork lightening.  It cracked loudly when it connected to the earth; the giant rumbles of thunder echoed throughout my entire body and the vibrations from it gave my feet a mini-massage.  I loved the intense power of a wild storm and afterwards when the last rumbles had disappeared the sky would be calm and silent - at peace.
     We stayed in Avalon for a good couple of months before making our way towards Perth.  We spent one last day in Sydney enjoying the breath taking scenery.  Since I’d been there before I knew the city roughly.  We went up the Sydney observation tower and gazed out at the spectacular harbour and famous landmarks.
     We’d be catching a bus from Sydney to Melbourne, Melbourne to Adelaide and then from Adelaide across the Nullarbor Plains to Perth.  We said our goodbyes to Avalon and set off to Sydney’s bus station where we boarded the bus on route to Melbourne.  It was a night journey - we’d both be able to sleep on the way and be relatively fresh when we arrived in Melbourne in the morning.
     The sun was rising slowly behind scattered clouds as the bus entered Melbourne fifteen hours later.  We pulled into the bus station and the cold hit me hard in the face the minute I stepped off the bus.  My feet were swollen, my neck was stiff and my bottom was aching from sitting down for too long.  We were greeted by Andy’s sister, Carol, who was married to an Australian and had a couple of kids.  So I did the whole ‘family-bonding’ thing and it was also a chance for Andy and Carol to spend some time together before he went back to the UK.  Melbourne was an amazing city, with its old fashioned electric trams, the mellow buzz of shoppers hunting out a bargain - and the weather.  I was pre-warned that Melbourne was renowned for its rainy weather but it was the total opposite.
     Time passed by quickly and we found ourselves loading our backpacks onto the bus once more as we made our way to Adelaide.  It was another gruelling ten hour aching trip and I was just praying I could sleep the whole time so I’d get there quicker.  I found it rather bizarre that when we were staying in places time just whizzed by whereas when we were on the bus it just dragged on and on.  I was literally a walking zombie by the time we got to Adelaide.  We wandered around Adelaide and in comparison with Sydney and Melbourne, the place was quite mellow.  We came across some Koalas in the middle of the shopping mall (good photo opportunity) then onwards to a lovely garden where the wisteria was growing wild.  We didn’t stay in Adelaide for long before boarding the bus and heading across the Nullarbor Plains to Perth - which was miles and miles of sheer nothing.  Wildlife ran free making Kangaroos a hazard for drivers - especially at night.
     It was like slow torture, 35 hours on a bus with nothing to look at but red sand that stained your shoes and stung when it was windy (as discovered when we had a pit stop). It took two days and one night to get there by coach, every inch of my body was swollen and I swear my feet must’ve grown two sizes.  It’s Australia’s longest straight road - the ‘90 mile straight’.  There’s nothing for miles bar the occasional kangaroo hopping about.  All I could think of was having a top of the range sports car and just flooring it - seeing how fast I could go. It is the perfect spot for it.  The ‘outback’s’ temperatures heading into the late forty degree mark, no-one would want to be hanging around out there for too long which means hardly any people, traffic or speed cameras.  The sun set was absolutely amazing.  It set in an orange ball of fire that made the desert look smooth and golden.  It was such a gruelling bus trip, my neck ached tremendously at any angle so I found it difficult to sleep and my buttocks were in sheer agony.
     Eventually, the first glimpse of Perth was seen.  I was incredibly eager to get off the bus and would be quite happy never to step foot on one again.  The time it took from spotting Perth to pulling in at the bus station seemed to be in slow motion.
     As I attempted to lift my backpack - it just pulled me straight back down.  I eventually summoned the strength and got it on my back but it just felt as if it was going to make me to keel over backwards.  It took a few minutes to find my feet and the ability to balance.  It was almost like my feet had mysteriously turned into flippers and my muscle capabilities had deceased along the way.  A short while later, a scout from one of the Backpackers Hostels collected us and I was having a hot shower to relieve my senses from such an exhausting trip.
     It was a Saturday in Perth and nearly everything was closed for the day so we had no option but to chill out - which suited me fine.  I wasn’t up for doing the touristy thing - not after such a nightmare journey full of nothingness.
     We wandered around the next day, avoided the pelicans and slowly began to become human once more.  After ‘collecting’ ourselves it was once again time for some more travelling - this time involving a plane thankfully.  We still had to get on a bus to get to Perth Airport early in the morning - at least it’d be the last one for a long time.  Andy was flying with a different airline to me which meant that I’d be the first one to get to Singapore and I’d just meet him at the hotel.  Flying time was relatively short; five and a bit hours, compared to the mammoth bus trips it was a walk in the park.
     Just before I was due to land in Singapore - the air steward handed me the arrival card along with a little warning card with a skull and crossbones picture on it saying ‘smuggling drugs results in the death penalty’ beneath it.  It’s the first time I’d ever encountered a modern-day pirate-like warning about drugs.  At the airport the guards were fully equipped with machine guns and compared to the Australian and New Zealand’s basic guns - it was certainly a bit of a shell shock, I certainly didn’t want to annoy them.
     As I walked out of the terminal building leaving the air-conditioning behind - the extreme humidity threw me back a little bit.  I got a taxi to the hotel.  I was in heaven as I got to the hotel and went into the room.  It was absolute bliss after spending nights on stiff beds with just my sleeping bag, having communal wash rooms, no air conditioning and living amongst creepy crawlies like cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes.  The hotel had all the mod-cons, there was a nice comfy bed with a duvet, a power shower, and best of all - it was private.
     After I’d had a shower and got refreshed I went for a wander.  Walking down the main drag in Singapore everything was pristine - there were little ashtrays on top of rubbish bins.  There were little notices warning you that if you got caught littering or dropping your cigarette you would be fined fifty dollars.
     Singapore’s back streets were rough and ready.  Market stalls everywhere and street beggars sitting contentedly on corners with deformed limbs.  This was my first glimpse of real poverty.  From the corrugated iron shacks that were ready-made homes to the skinned dog carcases hanging in windows. 
     There were absolutely hundreds of cats, cats everywhere; and when it rained, the whole place just stunk of cat urine.  The rain was monsoon-ish, it would lash down for about ten to fifteen minutes and suddenly just stop.  Shortly afterwards everything would be dry again.
     I didn’t venture very far.  I knew it would be too dangerous to leave the crowds.  I was walking past Raffles Hotel when I heard voices behind me - there were three men following me yelling “Where do you come from? Where are you staying? Where are you going?”  They followed me for quite a distance.  I passed a little row of shops and an old woman grabbed my arm and tried to pull me into her shop saying “You buy, you buy.”  I snatched my arm back and just bolted.  Whether I lost them or they gave up following me I don’t know, all I know is it was an experience that I didn’t want to repeat so I found my way back to the hotel.  That evening Andy arrived.
     While in Singapore we went to the Chinese Gardens and Jurong Bird Park.  The Chinese gardens were full of bonsai, stone lions, and everything as one would expect to find in a Chinese garden including the statue of Confucius.  The downside to the gardens was no doubtedly the mosquitoes; they seemed to be in love with my blood.  Maybe it was because I have a rare blood type - who knows - but the bites on my legs were the size of a 50p piece.  They were very painful and itchy.  The Bird Park was really impressive; they even had a crocodile farm attached to the park where they bred them.               The young crocodiles would be handled by the workers who put ropes around their snouts, the crocodiles would spin to get free and the workers would end up with bite marks on their toes and fingers.  The larger crocodiles were in a secure compound that resembled their habitat.  There was a tunnel where you could walk underneath them and it was rather scary as the white belly just lay there above you.
     After the dodgy incident in Singapore with being followed, I decided it was definitely not my most favourite place to be.  I was getting excited about actually making it all the way to London.
     The time finally came after hanging around Singapore International Airport for a little while.  We were boarding separate planes again on route to London and we’d meet each other at the other end.  It was when I was asked to pay the departure tax that disaster and panic struck.  I searched my bag frantically for any loose Singapore change.  My heart was literally in my mouth as the thought of being stuck in Singapore with no money loomed over me like a dark cloud.  Luckily, there was just enough to leave the country with two Singapore cents to spare (they didn’t accept MasterCard; strictly cash only - which meant that I would’ve missed my flight getting the cash to pay the departure tax).
     At last, I was on my way to England.  All the excitement, anxiety and dreams of making it to England had snowballed inside.  The rush of adrenaline made me burst into a fit of laughter like that of a giggly schoolgirl.  I couldn’t hold back even at the slightest comment or thought.
     I had arrived in England on a cold icy day.  The temperature was minus one and I was unprepared for such a dramatic change of climate.  I wandered around the airport, not tempted to face the sub zero temperatures that awaited me outside. This was the time of reckoning, I had made it - I had arrived.
     We were picked up from Heathrow by Andy’s mum (Margaret) and her partner (Alan), they seemed nice.  Andy had already asked if we could stay there for a few days before we got a flat and that was okay.
     Before we got started looking for work he took me to meet his sisters (Sue and then Elaine). They were complete opposites.  Sue was a little bit hippy-ish and had three kids and a husband living in Kent and Elaine was married and were social climbers that lived in Bath.  Andy’s dad lived in Wales and was a bit on the eccentric side.  His tool shed was the kitchen and he’d even stuck carpet to the fridge/freezer in order to make it more insulated.  I didn’t mention anything about my family, they didn’t ask so I didn’t tell them.  Andy knew bits and pieces but not the whole story.
     It took a little bit longer to get a job in Hemel Hempstead than I’d anticipated.  I got a job at MasterCare two weeks later as a Customer Service Advisor which was in the industrial estate.  I absolutely hated it.  After a few months we got a flat in Adeyfield. Andy was beginning to launch his business and all of a sudden the great travelling holiday was turning into some kind of ‘normal’ life scenario and Andy had opted out of doing any more travelling without actually telling me.
     Every day I’d get up, get dressed, go to work, deal with arsehole people all day, get a headache from the air conditioning - go back to the flat, cook tea and that was it.  Big fat boring.  We didn’t go out to clubs or anything as it wasn’t Andy’s ‘cup of tea’ however he didn’t really seem to have a problem with it in NZ.  We’d go to sit down country pubs where I would literally be bored out of my brain however would do the polite thing and join him.
     This particular day was no different to any other.  I got up, got dressed, went to work only for a work colleague to say “Well? well?” in anticipation. Andy was going to propose but had forgotten to tell me about it.  Instead he had told his friend and it just so happened that his friend’s girlfriend was a work colleague of mine.  So, he proposed over a candlelit meal that evening and I hesitantly accepted.
     A few months had passed while in the ‘domestic bliss’ routine when I had a phone call from Aunt Carole.  It was bad news about Brendon (cousin).  He’d committed suicide and his family found him hanging in the garage.  It was a huge shock as I never thought for a moment that Brendon would give up on life.  He had it all - good looks, a caring family, so many positive things in his life that I was absolutely stunned.  His girlfriend had died in a motorbike accident and unfortunately he was hurting that much that voluntary death was the only option. Once I’d said goodbye to Aunt Carole, I looked out the window to see everything was white outside.  It had been snowing.  It was a very sad day.
     Brendon’s unexpected death was yet another catalyst to discover the world and experience everything that it could throw at me - with Andy not included.  I soon learned that Andy had started seeing his ex-girlfriend so in turn, I chucked the ring back in his face and left.
     I got a live-in job in a rough and ready pub in Hammersmith.  The place was okay, it didn’t really matter as I was in London which was where I wanted to be.  I could go discover London at my leisure.  Andy would write love letters and tell me that he missed me and all that jazz, asking me to come back.  It was a good couple of months before I started going to Hemel Hempstead for the weekends and staying with Andy - it was also a good couple of month’s wages that the pub owed me.  They didn’t pay me so I ended up having to take ‘IOU’s’ from the till.  I’d write it on a bit of paper and stick it in the till so that they knew.
     I was working in the bar one night and a relatively old man began talking to me.  He told me that he liked my ‘style’ and he asked me if I would work for him at his bar in Camden Town.  I asked him if the job was live-in and if he pays his staff on a regular basis.  He was a bit shocked to learn that I was having problems trying to get wages.  He said yes then he gave me his card and told me to ring him.  So the next day I rang him and he asked if I was able to start the next evening.  That morning I was packing my bags to leave Hammersmith when the boss came in - I asked him for my wages and he just made some excuse that I’d given a pint of Guinness away and that I was fired without pay.  Well - if I didn’t get fired I would’ve quit anyway.  Still; it happens regularly so I’ve heard.  That particular pub hired foreigners in order to string them out for as long as they can without paying them.  The bureaucracy of workers on working visas, lack of time, employment law and employment tribunals eat up a long time.  I was given a one year working visa - didn’t have the time to deal with all the bureaucracy.
     So I got the tube over to Camden, found the pub, went in and asked for a guy called Dennis.  He was to be my new boss.  The pub in Camden was absolutely busting at the seams over the weekend, just so busy - busier than what I’d been used to and when the end of the night came I’d need a shower as I’d be all sweaty from working a full throttle. It was a ‘traditional’ Irish bar with a Thai restaurant out the back.  They’d have bands come in during the weekends and during the summer days everyone would just be sprawled out everywhere outside with fire-eaters and people just mucking about.  It was great.
     There was a regular customer that came in and for some reason he kept calling me ‘Siobhan’.  I lost count of the amount of times that I corrected him but he insisted that I ‘looked’ Irish and that I ‘looked’ like a ‘Siobhan’ to him.  We got chatting and he would tell me stories about his Hollywood friends.  I didn’t believe him but listened anyway.   I was quietly surprised when Patrick Bergen (‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ movie) came in with him.  I thought Patrick Bergen was pretty ‘out there’ and a little eccentric.  He was quite unusual, he wore a cowboy hat and a coat that looked like Australia’s Outback one, he ordered a bottle of beer and asked for a shot glass - he’d pour the beer into the shot glass and drink it as if it was a shot.  Rather intriguing I thought.  I just kept thinking to myself ‘I know what you did to Julia Roberts’, but didn’t say anything.
     Shortly after that Johnny Rotten came in.  Not really a fan of the Sex Pistols and I tend to get Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten muddled up.  He sat in the corner of the bar talking to his friends.  I went upstairs after he shortly did a huge spit on the floor, ‘nice chap’ I thought. ‘NOT!’ I liked working in the bar in Camden, granted I didn’t get a lot of time off work but it was great fun.
     Things were improving between Andy and me.  I would go back to his on the weekends and just hang out.  Maybe improving a bit too much as I soon discovered that I was pregnant.  I went back to work for a short time until I decided to leave as lifting kegs (although empty) didn’t seem like the right thing to be doing.  I ended up having a miscarriage shortly after I left which was rather disheartening and the whole experience of having a D&C at Hemel Hempstead hospital was not only painful but upsetting.  Andy and I talked about it and decided that we would try for another baby soon.  A couple of months drifted by and my time in England was nearing an end.
     We did a little tour of Paris and Amsterdam which was great and standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower was pretty awesome.  The Notre Dame had scaffolding around it at the time but the detail was amazing and the choir boys inside that were singing were - heavenly (rather corny to describe them in those terms but they were).
     Amsterdam was great fun although I only remember bits and pieces of it.  Andy just crashed out for most of the time that we were there.  I had the experience of just one man following me this time - I’d just come out of a shop and a guy started grabbing me by the arm saying “Policia! Policia! Come back to shop! Come back to shop!”  He tried to drag me back towards the shop but I retracted my arm and asked him for ID, after that he decided that he couldn’t speak English and disappeared.
     When we got back to Hemel Hempstead I discovered that I had fallen pregnant.  I freaked out a little bit as it all seemed to happen really fast.  So it was decided that we would both return to New Zealand and settle there.
     Attempting to live in the UK would prove somewhat difficult for me as it was bitterly cold (almost too cold to function) and I would suffer tremendously - besides I had no intention of living in the UK - it was just a working holiday.  Living in the UK and holidaying in the UK are two completely different things.
     Before we went back to New Zealand we did a mini-tour of England for a week.  We drove up to Stratford-upon-Avon and had a look at William Shakespeare’s pad, Blackpool then onto Liverpool and into Scotland stopping at Edinburgh.
     On the way back I convinced Andy to find a place called ‘Johnstone’ as apparently it was where Johnstone castle is, we found it and it was a rather disappointing venture - it was the smallest of castles located in the middle of a housing estate.  As we were leaving the area of the castle there was the sudden screech of breaks and a giant thud - we had a car accident.  All I remember seeing was the others drivers face getting closer and closer and the expression on his face was just bracing himself for one almighty collision.  We all had whiplash and ended up at the hospital - I had a scan to make sure that the baby was okay.  Everything seemed to be fine and so instead of driving back to Hemel Hempstead - we got towed back.  We were dropped back at Margaret and Alan’s where we stayed for a couple of nights before heading back to New Zealand.
     The journey back home was rather exciting - we’d be stopping at Los Angeles, Hawaii and Fiji before arriving in NZ.
     We touched down at LAX and headed for the hotel in Anaheim.  Soon as we dumped our bags I flicked on the television and couldn’t believe the amount of channels they had.  Most of them had political adverts degrading and belittling other members of opposition parties.  It was also Halloween and there were programmes about pumpkins by the masses.  I’d never encountered Halloween before, after all - it is American.
     The next day we were sitting in a diner having breakfast when we heard a competition on the local radio station - the first 50 or 100 people to be dressed up in full Halloween costume were allowed into Disneyland for free.  I sat there and was amazed at the amount of witches, ghosts and goblins hurriedly walking towards Disneyland eager to be one of the winners – within such a short period of time, thinking that they must’ve been dressed in costume already.  Never in my life had I seen such enthusiasm.  We just moseyed into Disneyland at a leisurely pace and had to pay to get in.  Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed on many of the rides because I was pregnant.  Still; ‘Toontown’ was a hoon.  ‘It’s a Small World’ was of course annoying (there’s only so many times one can sing that song) and the Disney train was fun too.  I became quite frustrated as I had to wait around for Andy to finish all the rides.  The worst one was the ‘Back to the Future’ ride.  They had the original De Lorean sitting outside the building with the virtual ride inside.  I had the pleasure of looking at the car while Andy got to speed through the tower’s clock and go back and forwards in time, he was absolutely buzzing when he came back out.  After the ‘Back to the Future’ ride we went off to watch the ‘Miami Vice’ stunt show.  Crockett and Tubbs would be zooming around on jet skis trying to get the bad guys who would in turn be shooting at them and trying blow them up and it finished with a rigged helicopter explosion at the end.  Disneyland was great - it would’ve been greater had I been able to enjoy the rides though.
     The next day we went to Universal Studios where we were indulged with ‘old sets’, ‘hot sets’ and all things movies.  It was quite amazing to see the old buildings such as the ‘Munster’s’ house, the clock tower out of ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Psycho’s’ house, feeding ‘Jaws’ and seeing how they actually parted the river when Moses parted the Red Sea.  As we left Universal Studios we drove past where they filmed the car race from ‘Grease’ and I spotted the ‘Hollywood’ sign but couldn’t get a picture.
     Onwards to Hawaii.  It was the early hours of the morning by the time we landed and we were both greeted by ‘Aloha!’ and a lei of flowers were hung around our necks from the ‘welcoming party’.  We were both feeling rather tired and little dopey from the flight so Hawaii was a good place just to kick back and enjoy the island’s way of life.  We headed down to the beach and chilled out for as long as the waves allowed us.  The beach front drops so dramatically that when a bigger wave is coming there is no way of knowing until its too late and everything is swamped and drenched.
     The weather was gorgeous and the island was very laid back.  We hired a jeep and drove around the island stopping at little picture spots along the way.  The whole island is just very lush.  It wasn’t until we reached Pearl Harbour that I realised that this little island has seem some disastrous atrocities in its day - however has sprung back to life like that of a blossoming flower.
     Next stop was Fiji.  When we landed in the rather small airport at Suva we were greeted with ‘Bula!’ and wreaths of flowers were then draped around our necks by the Fijian ‘welcoming party’.  We drove a little way out of the capital to get to our resort and once we got there we could just do nothing at our leisure.  It was great.  We ventured into Suva and had a look around but preferred to hang out at the resort where we had the luxury of the pool as well as the reefs etc.  It was quite hot in Fiji and I ended up getting sunburnt feet as my feet were dangling in the pool - they ached tremendously on the flight between Fiji and Christchurch.
     We’d arranged a connecting flight from Christchurch to Invercargill.  By the time we were approaching the landing strip at Invercargill airport I was beginning to have mixed emotions about being back.  After all I had left Invercargill shortly after Russell died and only been back a couple of times since for a short amount of time.  During all the visits there had been some kind of family dispute involving my mother.  The concept of living there again, raising a family of my own hadn’t completely sunk in - almost like I’d gone so far but nowhere at all.
     We stayed with Aunt Carole and Peter on the farm until we rented a small flat in Invercargill.  From there we looked around and ended up buying a two bedroom house with half an acre of land in Wyndham which was about a half hour drive out of Invercargill.  Mother hadn’t changed; her views about life in general were still the same.  The world had done her wrong and she was owed huge favours which everyone around her must succumb to.  She was still in the country and western group and was a hard core tussock jumper.  While Andy was around she behaved herself.  She would keep her comments to herself as she tried to portray herself as being the loving and caring mother - of which she wasn’t.
     In between the flat in Invercargill and buying the house in Wyndham I was getting larger and larger.  I was six months pregnant when we got married in the Queen’s Park Rose Gardens in Invercargill.  It was 34 degrees on the day and my makeup was literally just melting off.   I was struggling to fit into the meringue dress - I seemed to swell quite dramatically within just a week of the dress fitting to actually wearing it.
     Andy’s dad (Berkeley) came over from Wales to the wedding - and once we got married, he ended up coming with us on honeymoon; which wasn’t the greatest of experiences.  We bought the house just a couple of months before Shivon (Von or Vonny for short) was born and it had to undergo some major work which involved digging up the kitchen and replacing the foundations.  The house was a complete shambles, meanwhile I was just growing larger and larger.  Luckily the majority of work to the house was finished by the time Shivon came along.  Andy told me that my belly button would pop out but I didn’t believe him, it wasn’t long after he’d said that - it did.
     I was becoming tired with the weight, I couldn’t shave my legs nor could I sleep properly as my body was preparing me for the arrival of a newborn.  I’d be awake every couple of hours.  Meanwhile, Andy was building his little farm out the back and was quite content with his four calves, his motorbike and his fabulous outdoor tool shed.
     With only days until the expected birth it was a mad panic - especially with Braxton Hicks as there were a couple of false alarms.  I thought I was going to give birth by the side of the road at one point.  Eventually the time came and I found myself permanently attached to the gas and air mask at Kew Hospital. I was literally begging for a caesarean, but being ‘traditional’, my doctor refused.  I was in labour for two days and I really did think that Shivon was coming in to the world and I was on my way out.  I had all of the above drugs plus more, gas and air, two shots of pethidine, epidural - of which they had to give me a double dose.  It was reaching a critical point when my Doctor said to give me a c-section but almost at the same time that she gave the instruction - apparently I’d dilated.  A few more hours later and Shivon was born.  29th May, 1995.                  When we went to Births, Deaths and Marriages to officially name her - I’d forgotten how to spell Siobhan so instead I opted for Shivon.  It’s better; more original.  I called her Shivon due to the old guy from the Camden Pub, I quite liked that name.  Andy said he was okay with it and liked it; just so long as she had Sue as her middle name.
     I turned the big 21 the next day and I was still absolutely exhausted.  Vonny (Shivon) was a ‘sucky’ baby and seemed to want to nuzzle all the time.  My nipples were so sore with blisters and cracks - I just couldn’t breast feed anymore so she went on to being bottle fed.
     It wasn’t too long after Vonny arrived that I started hearing the same old spiel from mum.  She’d slipped back into her venomous ways as well as try to demean and belittle everything that I was doing.  She started up at the hospital and it just so happened my Doctor had a case of immaculate timing and came into the room - mum decided to refrain from what she was saying very quickly.
     Life back in Wyndham was quite boring.  There wasn’t a great deal there and its miles away from any nightlife.  All there is to do is do the ‘farmers wife’ routine; which isn’t me at all.  Plus, I was being bombarded with memories that I didn’t want to have anymore.
     I kept looking at Vonny thinking that there’s no way that I could put her through the same shit as Russell and I went through.  It’s all about breaking the cycle.  I wanted to move to Christchurch but Andy insisted that we have to be near family for some strange reason so it was a choice between Invercargill or Hemel Hempstead; I felt like I had no choice but to opt for Hemel Hempstead.  So, three months later we were off again, we’d been there less than a year.
     So it was back to Hemel Hempstead.  We’d put the house up for sale and it was snapped up pretty quickly.  Allied Pickford’s came and packed our household belongings in order to get them shipped to England.
     Time was nearly up in Invercargill and once again I found myself boarding a plane ready to leave - only this time I had a three month old baby girl to care for along the way.  It was going to be a painfully long flight, from Invercargill to Christchurch, Christchurch to Tahiti, Tahiti to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Amsterdam and then from Amsterdam to London - such a mammoth trip.
     I caught Air New Zealand on the first leg of the journey through to Los Angeles.  Then KLM from Los Angeles to Amsterdam then back to London.  Air New Zealand were great but KLM were a different story altogether.  I’d booked the bassinette seat on all flights however when we boarded the plane in Los Angeles they asked me to sit in an ordinary aisle seat and put Vonny on the floor because an overweight person was sitting in the seat where the bassinette was.  I huffed and puffed and they eventually gave in - however wouldn’t help me with anything after that.  They refused to warm Vonny’s milk as they said that they might get sued and were just completely rude.  I got told that I would have to heat her milk up myself.  I had to leave Vonny when she was hungry while I made my way around the kitchen on the aircraft to heat up her milk.  Vonny was screaming when I left her - I felt sorry for the other passengers however I couldn’t do a lot about it at the time as I wasn’t getting any ‘service’.  It was the most horrible trip that I had been on in all my life.  Vonny screamed that much that when she got off the plane she had developed a chest infection that took a little while to recover.  I did send a letter of complaint to KLM but all I got back from them was “the Airline Steward’s have no recollection of this matter.”
     I was nearly kissing the ground by the time we landed at Heathrow.  I really needed to change Vonny’s nappy as well as freshen up as Vonny was sick on me when we boarded the plane in Christchurch and I stank to high heaven.  I had never stunk so badly in my entire life.  I’d remembered all of Vonny’s things but forgot to pack things for me.
     Andy was extra pleased to see us as it soon emerged that just after we’d left Tahiti people demolished the airport terminal with bulldozers and began to set fire to planes on the tarmac because of the French’s nuclear testing at Mururoa Atol.  We were bloody lucky to escape it.  I’d heard a rumour about riots but didn’t think it was to that extent.
     We had arrived in England on a very cold day.  Andy hadn’t got a place for us to stay during the interim, so we stayed at Margaret and Alan’s until we started renting a house in Highfield.  We had to ‘make do’ until our stuff arrived courtesy of Allied Pickford’s.
     It was about six months before our furniture arrived from Allied Pickford’s - only to find that our fridge/freezer had gone walkabouts.  During the meantime we ‘made do’ with cardboard boxes.  I’d made a big one into a temporary cot for Vonny and got another bigger box and made it into a changing table.  Andy and I had a spare mattress and slept on the floor.  We moved again and rented a place in Grovehill.  I guess that’s where the real problems began.
     Andy and I were becoming more distant.  When he got home from work in the evenings - I’d go to work at the local nightclub - so we really didn’t see each other that much.  There were a couple of his friends that had said I only married him to stay in the country.  The tension between us was a ticking time bomb.
     Vonny was two years old by this stage and I was absolutely knackered.  I’d work from 8.30pm to 3.30am, go back home and then be up to Vonny in the morning between 6–7am.  I’d get Wednesday and Sunday off which left little time to recoup.
     Sometimes I’d get home in the early hours of the morning to find Vonny crying as Andy couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed to put her back into bed - needless to say that I got pissed off with him for not making an effort.
     He soon became mega controlling and the breaking point was when I needed some basics such as bread and milk so I went and got them - I’d spent £5.  That was it - he marched upstairs with Vonny in his arms and started having a go at me.  I just sighed and said “I want a divorce Andy”, he said “Right, you want a divorce, you got one”, and so it began.
     He moved out and went to stay with Margaret and Alan telling them that I’d kicked him out.  Andy was looking after Vonny when I went to work, right up to the point when my appendix ruptured.
     I was working one night and thought that I had period pain - so took a couple of strong painkillers.  I carried on working until I finished and went home as normal.  The next day I could hardly walk so I went to hospital only to find that I had to have an operation to get my appendix removed.  I remember coming round after the operation, the Doctor and nurse were beside the bed and the Doctor said “We’ve just removed a nasty appendix.”  Just as he’d said that the needle in my hand came out and blood was spurting out of it, the nurse fixed it and I crashed out.
     Andy bought Vonny to the hospital the next day.  I didn’t really get a chance to spend any time with Vonny as all he said was that he wanted the oak cabinet that we bought back from Invercargill.  I said “What? No”, so he just picked Vonny up and left.
     The next day I checked myself out and went back to the house in Grovehill and shortly after Vonny came home.  I couldn’t work straight away and had to accept statutory sick pay of £40 a week while still paying legal aid for the divorce and household bills.  I was starting to get more and more into debt every week.  I found it hard to recover from the operation and look after Vonny on my own.  It was difficult carrying her up the stairs and doing the normal things that one takes for granted when physically fit.  I phoned Andy to see if he could help but all he said was that I was incapable of looking after her, I’m a bad parent and that he was going to be seeking custody.  That day he came and got her and didn’t bring her back - I just got a phone call saying the same thing; that he’s going to get custody.  It didn’t last for too long as he dropped her off the next day.
     Shortly after that I spoke to a lady from the playgroup who said Andy was seeing a woman called Kate.  Apparently they’d been seeing each other before Andy had moved out, apparently Kate was asking “What do you know about Michelle?”
     They had since moved in together in a little cottage in Great Gaddesden and Vonny was told “This is your new mum.”  I confronted Andy about it and he just denied it.  He couldn’t deny it for too long as he just couldn’t help himself from saying “We are a family unit, we have our own place, we are getting married and we are going to get custody of Shivon, you have nothing.”  I thought to myself ‘bloody great, from one abusive relationship to the next’.  There were a couple of times that I’d asked for help but he just simply said “Life’s hard isn’t it.”
     I went back to work for a little while only to find myself struggling with childcare.  On one occasion Margaret and Alan were looking after Vonny as Andy couldn’t and I was to pick her up from Margaret and Alan’s the next day.  Unfortunately I slept in and woke up to the doorbell constantly going ‘Dingdingdingding’.  I answered the door to find Alan yelling “What are you doing with your life - what do you think you’re doing?” “Where’s Vonny, is she here?” I asked, he said “No, she’s waiting at the house for you to go and pick her up.”  I was confused, why come over and do that? I got dressed and was soon on my way to go and pick her up and as I was driving to Margaret and Alan’s - got more and more agitated about how they’d handled the whole situation.  I’d said sorry for sleeping in but still got an ear bashing.  I thought - well, if it’s good enough for me then it’s got to be good enough for them. 
     I got to Margaret and Alan’s and rang their doorbell like Alan did mine.  Alan was already back at the house which really didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Vonny came out and then Margaret and Alan proceeded to have a go in the middle of the street - so I had a go back.  As I was putting Vonny in the car seat Margaret said “You should be thanking me”, I said “It’s Andy that should be thanking you, it’s his weekend.”  They seemed to like seeing me lose my temper as they would then patronisingly ask “Why are you so angry?”
     Shortly after Andy rang to have another rant, it was almost as if they were giving themselves ammunition just to ‘have a go’.  I’d had enough so when he said that he was going to be having Vonny for a week I just said fine.  One of my work colleagues had asked me to go on holiday with them to Cyprus so I thought ‘fuck it, I’m going’. Of course I was incredibly selfish according to Andy but it was a good opportunity just to get away and chill out a bit.
     When I got back from Cyprus I had more bad news - I had been evicted from the rented house in Grovehill.  The rental agreement had run its course and the family that owned it were expanding, I was effectively homeless.
     So with complete despair I had to wait and depend on the council.  I’d heard horror stories about where they put you and being a council tenant rather than a private one had its many downfalls.  Within a few months we got a two bedroom flat in a place called Gade Tower in Nash Mills.  We lived there for about three to four years, during which time the nonsense with the custody was still going on.  I was continually getting called a ‘bad parent’ and verbally abused on a regular basis.  Gade Tower wasn’t the nicest of places, there’d be used needles and blood on the floor, once the door was shut – that’s it – visitors make an appointment.  Of course, I didn’t have that many because it was Gade Tower, ‘drop out city’, and unfortunately if you live in a place like that – you’re automatically branded as being ‘one of them’.
     One night when Vonny was with Andy there was a knock at the door - it was a drunk Kate.  She invited herself in and proceeded to tell me how I should be raising Vonny and how I should be living my life - she even went as far as coming inches away from my face and trying to intimidate me in such a way to provoke a reaction - that much that I would have no option but to deck her.  It would’ve given her some extra ‘ammunition’ against me if I did by way of running back to Andy saying “Look what she did to me.”  Kate’s sister was apparently waiting for her in the car outside and when she eventually left she said “This is our little secret.”  Kate was hell bent on having a baby almost to the point of it becoming an obsession and she looked at Vonny as if she was her own.  It was clear to me that once she started to have babies with Andy, Vonny would ultimately be pushed out of the equation, perhaps a good thing for me but not fair at all on Vonny.
     There were many times when he’d use Vonny just to get back at me.  He was a male version of my mother; absolutely full of bitterness.  Once again I found myself completely worn out and sick to death of being branded as the ‘bitter ex-wife’ so I went and got a loan and booked the return flights home to NZ - we both needed a break.  I had a letter from his solicitor saying that it was against the law to take Vonny out of the country without his permission however; informed them that it is indeed within the law to take my daughter out of the country for a period of no longer than 4 weeks.  We would be staying in NZ for the maximum time that we were ‘allowed’.  It falls under something called ‘The Hague Convention’.
     I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to New Zealand.  We had a long flight and once we landed in Invercargill I hired a car and drove out to Aunt Carole and Peters - knocked on the door and gave her a huge surprise.  It was very emotional.
     We stayed with Aunt Carole and Peter for a bit, then for some strange reason tried to rekindle some kind of relationship with my mother so went to hers.  While we were there she was still saying “Should’ve had an abortion” in front of Vonny and all the other shit so I left there quick smart.  I took Vonny from Invercargill through to Queenstown, over to Dunedin and back down to Invercargill.  The time that we had flew by and before I knew it, it was time to return back to England.
     We got back to England and I did feel somewhat refreshed and recharged.  Although I hated the tower and quite often there’d be syringes along with blood splatters lying around outside.  Once we got inside the flat - the door would be locked and bolted shut.
     Vonny had started Nash Mills School and we were going about our ‘normal’ business. Andy was still being a complete dick but then, things don’t change overnight; if at all.  I’d started to work weekends at a local pub while Vonny would be at her dad’s and it was at the pub where I met a guy who was looking for a travel buddy to go to Jamaica with him - so I stuck my hand up.  Travel buddy as in travel buddy only.
     We stayed just outside of Negril in a little shack that his friend owned.  We drove out to Dunn’s River falls where I climbed up them and generally just hung out on the beach. He was a bit silly one night as he went out and ended up getting his drink spiked and then mugged and dumped so I had to find him the next day - it ended up as a rescue mission where I turned into a babysitter instead.  Not that much fun.  The wildlife and people that I had encountered were great.  I would hear “Hey white girl” as I was walking down the road.
     The place we were staying wasn’t in the touristy bit and we were amongst the locals. I wandered on to a different part of the beach and ended up being asked to leave as I wasn’t staying in the hotel (which looked really nice, it was ‘private’, I was jealous).  The Hummingbirds were so tiny and there was a moth the size of my hand positioned on a door of a shop, it was lovely and warm and so ‘yeh mon, I-ree’.
     A couple of months later Vonny and I had our first ‘British’ holiday.  I found a cheap deal at Butlins in Bognor Regis. Vonny was at an age where she would love spending time with Noddy.  I certainly learnt my lesson after the fifth day though; needless to say, I really don’t like Noddy.
     It had been a while since I had a ‘meaningful’ relationship with anyone after Andy and the whole scenario made me somewhat nervous.  The new relationship didn’t last for too long either - he was rather possessive and needy and it ended on Mother’s day.  It lasted for about three months.  The next one came along a little while later; his name was Russell - freakish really.  Our first date was at the Red Lion and we seemed to get on okay.
     Russell was a hard-core festival fan and I had never been to a festival before so our first trip was to the Virgin Festival in 2001.  It was a great experience, Texas were playing along with Nelly Furtado, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Faithless, David Grey and Crowded House.  Kylie Minogue also played but we missed her performance, apparently the dancers dropped her that year.  When we got back to Hemel Hempstead, Andy started to interfere and become jealous as Vonny was talking about Russell all the time.  He would make things difficult and he was difficult to deal with.  It seemed; if I was single Kate would be ‘funny’ and if I was seeing someone Andy would be ‘funny’, it was a no-win situation. That aside, we carried on being a ‘couple’, our first ‘family’ holiday was a camping trip in the New Forest.  It was quite weird to be involved with someone and be away with someone with my daughter in tow.  We went to Bournemouth beach, went out for dinner; did all the stuff that ‘families’ normally do - quite a bizarre experience that I hadn’t been accustomed to for quite some time.
     Luck was certainly changing; I was starting to feel happy once again.  Even happier when I got a letter from the Council saying that I had been offered a tenancy with a Housing Association on a new development in Apsley Lock.  It’s a two bedroom house with a garden, close to school, close to the train station and right by the Grand Union canal; absolute heaven compared to the tower.
     Russell and I finished the year by going to Rome.  It was absolutely amazing.  I was just in absolute awe of the whole city; the Vatican, the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain.  Everything is built on top of the old buildings so the old buildings are literally underground.  All I kept saying was “wow.”
     In March (2002) we went and seen Faithless at Wembley - it was brilliant.  We got right up to the front and Sister Bliss looked at me.  I felt like Vonny - where her enthusiasm bubbled over when I took her to see the Wiggles at the Dacorum Civic.  She went up to the front of the stage and ran back shouting “He smiled at me mummy, he smiled at me!” She was star-struck.
     That was the first year that I was able to give Vonny a birthday party.  It was just full-on stress for three excruciatingly traumatic hours.  Things that should’ve lasted for 15 minutes lasted for five, 20 odd kids screaming and shouting and demanding to be amused.  I sure did appreciate peace after they all went home.  Russell had given us tickets to go and see Kylie at Wembley as a present to both of us.  Vonny was quite impressed when we saw Kylie, the audience sang her ‘Happy Birthday’ and Vonny said “Oh mum, it’s Kylies birthday today, it’s my birthday tomorrow and then it’s yours!” That evening when she fell asleep she was clutching her Kylie Minogue book with a little cherub smile.
     Shortly after that we went to the Queens Jubilee.  All the flags were up and I was blown away by Brian May playing his guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace with hoards of people lining the streets.  A few months later things started to fizzle out between Russell and me.  By the time Glastonbury arrived things were starting to get strained between us.  Of course Andy couldn’t help but cause problems as he knew we had planned on going to Glastonbury and came up with an excuse as to why he refused to look after Shivon a couple of days before the festival was about to begin.  Russell and Andy ended up having an argument on the phone about the colour of Shivon’s poo.  We ended up breaking up a week before we were due to go on a ‘family’ holiday to Woolacombe not long after we got back from Glastonbury - I was heartbroken.
     I took Vonny to Woolacombe on my own.  I bought a tent and off we went.  Vonny enjoyed her time on the beach and seeing what the area had to offer whereas me - I was just trying to hold myself together.  I ended up becoming quite ill in Woolacombe and lost a bit of weight.  When we got back to Hemel Hempstead I had to go into hospital for some examinations and it turned out to be Irritable Bowel Syndrome - nothing life threatening but certainly bloody painful.  It would come in bouts, one minute I’d be fit and healthy; the next I would be in complete agony and have a major flatulence problem.
     Things settled down a bit and shortly afterwards a friend invited me to go to Prague with them.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that the Moby-lookalike friend actually wanted something else rather than just friendship.  The day before we were due to fly out I got an email from him with ‘dinner’ and ‘date’ in the same sentence; my first reaction was to back out from going and I thought ‘I don’t want to go’.  It certainly made things awkward.  I went to Prague anyway and was quite freaked out by the place, the whole history, just spooky. I didn’t speak to the Moby-lookalike again after that.
     That year I also met Sally.  She was a friend of a friend and shared the same birthday as me.  I also met Tracy who had not long shifted into Hemel Hempstead.  I asked her round for a drink - unbeknown to her I didn’t mean coffee - I meant vodka.  I met Tina that year as well - Tina was a ‘kiwi’ living in Hemel Hempstead who I met at Yoga.  Sally was in her forties and married with two children, she was quite ‘well-to-do’, had millionaire parents while her husband was in the property market.  It seemed when she was stuck for cash she’d ask her mum.  If only I had one of those.
     Sally’s parents used to live near her however one night when her parents were babysitting - they woke up to find some cocaine in the kitchen, Sally’s parents found it.  Her parents later moved to Cornwall.
     Sally had a best friend called Freddy who resembled something of an Italian beauty queen and she knew it.  She worked with Virgin Airlines and was rather pleased with herself when Sir Richard Branson made a bee line for her at a meeting; allegedly.
     I enjoy the company of women, although sometimes not all women like other women and sometimes the bitching can be worse than the school years.  Single women see other single women as a threat.  Married women see single women as well as other married women as a threat.  Sally introduced me to a world of materialism and sheer pretentiousness where image was the main focus and everything else is centred around it.  I’d not met any other women that were so infatuated with themselves.
     Tina was the complete opposite - she hardly wore makeup, she didn’t have any designer clothes and didn’t like to ‘borrow’ money from her other half (Howard) whom she was living with as well as their three kids.  Tina fell into the ‘private’ category and drove a nice BMW.  They’d not long had their back garden renovated by Diarmuid Gavin’s team from the BBC.  They paid approximately £10k to have it done.  It was a major job and quite a headache for Tina.  While the BBC team were there they would be constantly arguing and slagging each other off, when the cameras were rolling conversations were on a more pleasant level.  I went over to Tina’s a couple of times when the BBC were still there, Diarmuid was sitting in the garden chair overlooking the garden and I have to say he was a really bad flirt.  The gardeners were in the process of installing a weaving wooden walkway that was elevated off the ground and lead to a large shed that resembled an Armadillo at the back.  There was a metal ball/sphere to the left and a place for the hammock to go on the right.  Along the pathway were rushes and ferns which meant that the only lawn that they had in the garden was a very small circle - hardly big enough to do a kart-wheel in.  This was all happening while Diarmuid just sat and watched for a few minutes.  Once he’d done his filming he left.  He was a ‘designer’, which meant that he came up with the designs and that was it.  One day I went over there and I passed the prefab that was positioned at the front of the house.  I peered inside the open window to see one of the female ‘supervisors’ engrossed in a magazine - the power of surprise was too tempting for me so I said “Are they in?” quite loudly in order to startle her - it worked.  I’ve never seen someone leap so high from their chair in complete shock.  I just couldn’t resist laughing - that was the highlight of my morning.
     I asked Tina if she’d like to have lunch with Sally, which was accepted - so we made a date to do lunch.  Unfortunately they didn’t get on.  I invited Tracy to have lunch with Sally – unfortunately they didn’t get on either.  Tracy started to come over more; well - pretty much every day during the week and I started going to boot sales at the weekends.  While I missed going out - I didn’t miss the crap that went with it.
     I began thinking about my ‘career’ and what I would end up doing with my life so I began an online degree course for Psychology with the University of Derby.  I had the idea in my head that I would really like to be involved with forensic psychology; after all, I was used to all kinds of blood and gore and would just love to ‘sniff out the bad guy’ as I’d had enough of those in my life already.  If I could possibly become a criminal profiler - well, that would be absolutely marvellous.
     I was on Income Support so all the books required for the course had to come from the weekly allowance that I was already getting.  The conditions of the degree in order to get my university fees waived was that I had to complete three modules per semester, it was pretty rough going and I’d never been so broke in all my life.  It was actually worse than when I was homeless as I didn’t have any credit then.  My books (which were rather expensive) had to go on my credit card so I was becoming more and more in debt every semester.  On the upside - I knew that when I completed the course my ‘opportunities’ would be so much more than just owing quite a few quid.  The prospect of a career was so much more important, so I began to study my arse off.
     Around the same time, Tracy was busy studying for her beautician’s diploma and needed a couple of crash test dummies to undergo a manicure and pedicure.  I automatically stuck my hand up in the air and volunteered.  I also asked Tina if she’d like to partake in a luxurious hand and foot fondle and she agreed.  That’s when Tracy and Tina got to meet each other in a seemingly normal and relaxed way.  They got on which was a huge relief.  At the same time as doing my degree Andy was beginning to be a dick again. Just when I thought things had calmed down and we were heading down separate paths - he’d erupt over something and then threaten me with court proceedings.  A whole bunch of verbal abuse would normally come my way. Little did I know that the storm was just brewing once again.
     Tina had invited Vonny and I over for Christmas that year so we went and it was a really lovely day.  I had too much to drink so ended up crashing there.  The next day we got up and heard the news that there was an earthquake which in turn had caused the Asian Tsunami with catastrophic consequences; it was thee most depressing ending and beginning of any year.


CHAPTER TWO

Chapter 2

     Selling ‘Wizard’ could be compared to a ‘poor-man’s well-paid’ actress.  There were days when I really didn’t feel like putting the ‘show’ face on.  Days where I just wanted to hang out at the beach and do something that was much less ‘robotical’.  The novelty of the job meant that I could discover the country that I call ‘home’ and that beat the ‘sales-blues’ all the time.
     A normal day would be getting up at 7am and ready for the team meeting in the lounge of the hotel at 8am.  Judy would come into the room and give her ‘motivational’ spiel which would ultimately lead to a grilling for someone.  She’d then compare the sales charts – first individually and then between the group.  Finally, she’d tell us what our targets were and then we’d pack the van.  The boxes of ‘Wizard’ needed to be packed and unpacked out of the van on a daily basis.  We also had medium sized satchels that we’d pack with a pre-mixed spray gun bottle of cleaner, some cotton material (pen demonstration), some towelling cloths (the carpet and glass demo), two small (500mls) bottles and two large bottles (1 litre) of ‘Wizard’, a pen and a receipt book.
     Once our satchels were packed and the team were in the van we’d be on the road.  Judy had full control of what areas or towns we’d be working.  Each team member had designated areas to avoid overlapping.  The system would work in blocks - Judy had a street map and used different coloured pens for each team member so that she could mark the areas that had been worked.  We’d do our demonstrations to people in main streets, shopping malls, offices, suburbia, schools – anywhere where there were people.
     We’d go ‘door-knocking’ individually on our designated ‘patch’ and would meet Judy again in an hour or thereabouts at a specific time and place.  During the meeting we would restock our bags if needed, give Judy the cash/cheques from any sales before being given another designated area as well as a new meeting time and place – normally in another hour or so.  Meetings would be very brief; just long enough to reload.
This routine would be begin at 9am and finish between 6-7pm with an hour break for lunch.  When it was lunch time the team would be picked up by Judy one by one and we’d all do ‘lunch’ together in a café or somewhere – generally decided by Judy.
We’d all get dropped off to our designated areas one by one after lunch.  When the last person had been collected at the end of the day we’d get driven back to the hotel/motel.  Back at the hotel/motel we would be ‘slaves to the roster’.  We’d all have specific jobs to do at the end of every day - whether it was washing the demonstration cloths, folding the demonstration cloths, cooking tea or doing the dishes.  The day didn’t finish until around 8pm–ish and the sales chart would be positioned by the TV or somewhere where visibility was paramount.
     On one night a week (normally a Wednesday), we’d all go out to dinner as a team.  ‘Team-bonding’ apparently – I enjoyed it.  It was a fabulous novelty.  We’d generally have the weekends off; sometimes we would work on a Saturday morning depending on the state of the sales figures.
     While I was working with the ‘Wizard’ there were quite a few ‘newbie’s’ who’d had enough by the second day and left, the staff turnover was immense.  My sales were pretty consistent - even when I’d be having the worst head-fuck (‘HF’) days ever, I was the youngest on the team (17 years old).
     Everyone else would be calling their relatives and vice/versa; I opted to ring Aunt Carole - a lot.  It was never a ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ and no longer a ‘brother’, some days that would be enough to make me somewhat detached – but – I’d generally hit my sales target nonetheless.  I had developed and fine-tuned a skill where I could appear happy on the outside but fucking miserable within.
     On one particular occasion I was having a ‘HF’ moment while we were in Picton.  To avoid questions I walked down to the local park and sat on the swing.  It was a calm evening.  The stars were bright in the sky and it was nice to be able to ‘deal with my issues’ without being questioned by my work mates.  My last memory of school was bad enough to leave a haunting memory.  I didn’t want that to happen again as it would probably change their perception of me as none of them knew about my emotional ‘baggage’ and would perhaps think that I’m just a ‘cry baby’.
     Judy followed me down to the park and we got talking.  It had been an employer/staff relationship up to that point.  She’d told me that she’d not long lost her boyfriend in a car accident and pointed out that we had something in common as she said “You’ve lost a brother, I’ve lost a lover.”  I found that reassuring, someone to understand a sudden loss but at the same time not venturing too ‘deep’ with the conversation.  I was in the process of leaving the emotional onslaught behind.  We wandered to a restaurant, had something to eat and then walked back to the hotel where the other girls were.  At the time there was Peggy (mid twenties Maori girl who was ‘up’ for anything), Kate (early twenties ‘Pakeha’ girl), Gina (late teens, giggly Maori girl) and someone else.  Peggy and Gina both came from Auckland and I think Kate was from Christchurch.
     We stopped in Picton before we caught the ferry over to Wellington and continued up to Auckland.  It was as if my past in Invercargill/Dunedin was becoming a distant memory and the possibility that perhaps those memories could be deleted was replaced with better ones was starting to look promising.   Not-so-good memories were being faded out and replaced steadily with different parts of the country.  I’d never been past Dunedin.  Actually I tell a white lie – there have been two ‘out-of-town’ experiences.  The first to Palmerston North which I don’t remember that much of it and I was indeed ‘baggage’.  The other when I was living in Dunedin with my squat-mate.  We hitched up to Christchurch and when we got there we ended up getting locked up some kind of rehab place and had to break out of it and do a runner.   So those two experiences don’t really count.
     When we got to Auckland I was in absolute amazement as I’d never seen a ‘city’ with skyscrapers or more than one motorway.  I found myself being amazed by a few stretches of concrete.  Wellington is the capital so I’d always assumed that it would be bigger but it’s quite compact and situated roughly around one area whereas Auckland is quite spread out and with a bigger population (at the time the population of New Zealand was approximately 3 million; 1 million in Auckland, 1 million in the rest of the North Island and 1 million scattered around the South Island).
     Even more bizarre was spending my 17th birthday at the Road Nights Pad in Auckland.  Behind the razor wire was the bike shed that is dedicated to boy mechanical stuff and in the club house was a completely kitted out bar.  I did get told off for using the word ‘gang’ - they prefer ‘club’.
     I was also feeling rather proud of myself that I’d achieved what I had done for obvious reasons.  I felt a little bit more ‘emotionally stronger’ to deal with the harsh criticisms if I saw my mother again.   I was missing ‘home’ a little bit.  I hadn’t been in touch with anyone other than Aunt Carole.  It was just a weird feeling missing ‘home’ but not really knowing what it meant.
     I arranged a break for me to fly down to Invercargill.  I was to catch the train from Invercargill to Dunedin then back to Invercargill.  Then fly from Invercargill over to Nelson via Christchurch.  The team would be in Nelson and I’d be straight back to work when I got back.  I paid for my first ever plane trip – on my own.  I’d never been on a plane before either.
     Time had moved on a bit, the trial was over.  I thought that perhaps mum would be proud of me as I was doing something constructive however the question was would she still class me as a ‘nuisance’ to her life.
     My first flight was an adrenalin rush.  I got to fly over New Zealand.  I got to see it from an aerial perspective.  I loved it.  I loved the way it pushed you back into your seat and before you know it – you’re airborne.  The landing can be a little scary though. Especially in ‘windy’ Wellington where the plane has been known to hit phenomenal turbulence when descending and the wings tilt from side to side. Then oxygen masks dangle in front of you and all you can see is – sea.
     I walked onto the tarmac at Invercargill airport absolutely buzzing – I love flying. Plus – I was ‘home’ - but without a real sense of the meaning of the word.
     I didn’t spend a great deal of time with mum as she had become a country and western music fanatic and was busy with her ‘new’ boyfriend, a goof of a man.  All this time and there was still no change; exactly the same shit.
     I’m not sure whether its ‘normal’ to completely draw a blank with chunks of your life.  Every now and then there are little bubbles of memories that make it to the surface that force me to reminisce for a moment or two.  Little memory bubbles that come from out of nowhere but are just suddenly there.
     I remembered our ‘family’ holiday.  Russell and I were to look after Lance on a trip to Queenstown.  We’d be getting to Queenstown via The Devils Staircase on a bus – mum not included. Lance was about two years old and we were living in Newfield so Russell and I would’ve been around the 7/8 years old mark.  Apparently it was cheaper just to send the kids.  We waited for the bus to pull up then mum took our bags to the driver and we were off to Queenstown being responsible for a two year old as well as being on a bus with a whole bunch of older and strange people.  The questions were generally the same: “Where’s your mum?”
     The Devils Staircase is quite scary.  Quite a few people died when they made the road, the road is on the edge of Lake Wakitipu; a lake ‘they’ say that they haven’t found the bottom of.  It’s a sheer drop, is very narrow and very windy.  The bus had major trouble getting across a little bridge and got stuck which resulted in some body damage to the side of the bus; it’s a one-way bridge so the people driving from Queenstown down to Kingston had to wait before the screeching of metal was over in order to carry on with their journeys.
      There were moments when I missed mum as did Russell, Lance was too young to understand.  Russell was pissed off more than anything else.  It was a crucial moment in Russell’s life where he actually wanted a holiday with his mum rather than be put on kid-duty (out of Invercargill and as young as we were), it must’ve been quite an eye-brow raiser for the other passengers.
     Russell and I both soon realised that we really didn’t need mum anyway.  We both looked after Lance and we had a great day.  It was fun and different – the only disappointment to it would be how mum would be when we got back to Invercargill.
     Sure enough, after our trip to Queenstown we walked in the front door only to hear the same words repeat themselves over and over.  We just looked at each other and rolled our eyes at the same time.  It was quite confusing as we behaved ourselves and we were thee most responsible kids ever – looking after a two year old as well etc - even the bus driver told mum that she should be very proud of us.  Some things never change on the ‘mum’ front.  I filed my memory and was back in the present – in mum’s car… with her… staring out into space, almost instantaneously regretting my decision to return.  We had pulled up at a pub and I had left my suitcase in the back seat of mum’s car.
     I got the drinks in.  She was still giving me the same spiel only it had changed slightly; “My mum always said that I should get an abortion when I was pregnant with you”, talking about Nana.  I asked her “Why didn’t you then?” She replied “It was too late and I couldn’t do that to Russell.”
     I don’t know what she meant by that and I didn’t even want to ask.  Now the person that really wanted me to not exist is my Nana.  Although, mum had changed her tune slightly as she’d previously said she “wished she had an abortion”, whereas with Nana it was a “should’ve got an abortion”; I’m still undecided about which is worse, ‘wished’ – or – ‘should’ve’.
     I flirted with the idea about having a ‘normal’ childhood with mum and I’d said there were quite a few times that things didn’t feel ‘normal’ in comparison to other kids and their relationships with their parents.  She glared at me while brushing the imaginary dust off my shoulder and stated “You had a normal childhood.”  All of a sudden it felt like I was seven again and was ready to duck at any moment.
     It was crystal clear that I couldn’t even attempt to stay with mum.  The ‘normal’ spiel would be repeatedly talking about her past and her desire to have an abortion.  She’d then line up her medication on the coffee table and say “Look what you kids did to me, I have to take these to stay alive.”  She’d then swallow her pills with a glass of water feeling somewhat elated that she had managed to degrade at least one kid of hers just one more time.  She was taking pills for Angina as well as an ‘irregular’ heart beat and had been fitted with a pacemaker by the doctor to make sure that there was in fact nothing seriously wrong with her heart.  That all started with a heart murmur which of course Russell & I were both blamed for giving her the condition.
     I went back out to the car to get my case but the car had been broken into and the only things that were missing were all my photos of where I’d been along with the letters that I kept from Russell when he was in CT.  My brothers letters that I had carried everywhere with me since he sent them to me when I was living in Nightcaps - vanished. An ordinary run-of-the-mill thief wouldn’t piss about with photos – quite freaky, bizarre and also infuriating.  My brother’s letters were gone. 
     I left mum to it and ended up staying with Aunt Carole and her husband Peter on their farm in Branxholme.  It was quite a big farm; it was about 15 minutes drive out of Invercargill.  I told Aunt Carole what had happened and before long she told me that Russell had told her the same thing about the abuse, she said “Yes, that’s what Russell said.”  I was taken back as I thought ‘didn’t you believe him?’, and ‘you knew and you didn’t do anything?’ She said “You and Russell were always good kids”, “yeah, why do you think that is?” I asked.  “You could’ve always said something Shelley”, she said.  After a pause in the conversation I replied “When you’re a kid – you don’t feel as if you have a voice” as well as thinking I just did ‘say something’.
     Russell spent some time with Aunt Carole and Peter after he’d been round the block and stayed at many places.  He liked the farm life, lots of boy stuff to do I guess.
     The gap of silence broke when Aunt Carole told me about the time that mum accused Russell of arson.  Uncle Peter’s house burnt down in Invercargill sometime in the late 1980’s.  There was a rumour that it was arson in order to get insurance as they were struggling financially.  One day mum and her brothers and sisters were having lunch and the topic of the house fire was mentioned.  Mum piped up “It must have been Russell.”
     I couldn’t believe that she had actually blamed her own son of arson and neither could they.  She made damn sure that Russell knew that his mum thought that he’d turned into a pyromaniac; she’d succeeded in demeaning him yet again to whomever that would listen.
     Seeing Aunt Carole and Peter was great, at least I had some kind of family connection.  It was blatantly obvious that me being there was putting strain on the relationship between mum and her sister though.  I took the time on Aunt Carole & Peter’s farm to chill out because it’d be soon time to get back to work - relieved that I had somewhere else to go.  I went to the airport with Aunt Carole & Peter, the other Aunts and Uncles came to say goodbye, Mum never came.
     I flew to Christchurch and then over to Nelson on a six-seater plane.  It was really playing havoc with my internal organs as the plane seemed to be playing hop-skotch with the clouds.  Touching down at Nelson airport was a relief.  Judy was waiting for me at the airport.
     We worked our way over to Christchurch and that’s where we were introduced to Stan.  He was Judy’s boss that came over from Canada to see how things were going and to give Judy some time off.  We were all sat down after work having a meeting when the topic of working in other countries came up.  I was offered a job in Australia - so I took it.
     The first few months of selling door-to-door was even more than what I imagined it could’ve been.  I made new friends, was part of a group and fast falling in love with my own country.  I’d never been past Christchurch (when sober or happy) but now I’d made it to Auckland and was living there in the ‘big smoke’.  We travelled all over New Zealand doing our little spiels, our little cleaning cloths were in our bags and we were on a mission to ‘clean up the country’.
     I didn’t have a passport nor did I have any of the I.D that was required to get one.  It was a race against time as I had to apply for my birth certificate and wait around for that to come through first.  I also had slight difficulty filling in the ‘next of kin’ bit on the form - so Judy was it for the time being.  My passport was issued in Rotorua within a couple of days prior to flying out.  There was no way that I could get down to Rotorua from Auckland in time to pick it up so it had to be couriered up to Auckland.  It showed up just in the nick of time as it arrived within a couple of hours that we were due to fly out.
     After the panic and a three hour international flight later; the first glimpse of Australian shores could be seen from the window.  The land got closer and closer and a few minutes later all that could be seen was red roofs.  It dawned on me that I was 17 years old, not even ‘legal’ drinking age and headed to a completely different country with a job and accommodation sorted before I even land – holy shit!
     I landed in Sydney and stayed in the Warratah Apartments which is located just behind Kings Cross.  The place was rather lush and had an absolutely wicked view of the Sydney tower.  Getting up in the morning and having a coffee while looking out over the city was amazing.  My first taste of being a party animal was unleashed in Kings Cross.  We’d all go to the clubs and then leave at about 6am giving us about an hour to get ready for work.  Probably explains why sales were so poor...
     In Kings Cross there were many bars to choose from on just one little stretch of road.  Unfortunately there were some bars that I couldn’t get in to as I was underage (at the time the drinking age in Australia was 18 and in New Zealand it was 21 obviously – Sydney was fucking brilliant) and I did still look very young.
     I had the best ever day exploring Sydney - much to the bemusement of my boss (a big burly Canadian called Stan) who had told me to go back to the apartment and do the dishes.  I thought ‘am I hearing right?’
     I wandered back to the apartment, looked at the dishes and looked out the window – Sydney was calling me.  It was a glorious day, the sun was blazing in the sky, it was the weekend - and there was the Sydney Tower looking at me - it was speaking to me, it was saying ‘Michelle, there’s a dishwasher behind you, use it’, followed by an invisible force field that was tugging and enticing my exploring urges – just luring me in. Unfortunately I had no idea how to use a dishwasher as I’d never come across one before.  So – seeing that the apartment had a dishwasher – I loaded up the machine and poured some liquid into it, turned it on – and then I was off to explore Sydney.
     I walked everywhere that day.  I went to the Woolloomooloo bar, Darling Harbour, the Sydney tower and finished off listening to some amazing wind acoustics whilst sitting on the steps of the Opera House with the sun setting magically in the background.  Absolutely amazing, breath-taking in fact, after the sun had set I casually wandered back to the apartment.
     When I got back to the apartment my team mates were all sitting on the couch with their arms crossed, silent.  I asked them what was wrong and their eyes flicked over to the other side of the room.  All of a sudden there was a deep-voiced rant and I walked a few paces more so that I could see – it was Stan, swearing his head off.  He had a pot in one hand and his other hand was rested on the counter for support as he was scooping up all the soaps suds and slamming them back into the sink.  There were soap suds everywhere.   I couldn’t help but laugh.  Word of caution – never use dishwashing liquid in a dishwasher – always use the capsules. 
     I tried desperately hard to keep a straight face however a little giggle did emerge; I had never used a dishwasher before and Stan - knee-deep in soaps suds scooping them up - was rather comical.
     Sydney was great.  I hadn’t had very much time to explore it as we were working from 8am to 6pm during the week so weekends were a blessing and the swearing and cursing from Stan was worth it as I would’ve missed out.  We were due to leave Sydney soon and we’d be working our way up to Brisbane where another boss would take over from Stan so that he could head back to Canada.
     A short time later we were making our way towards Surfers Paradise.  One town that we stopped at (I can’t remember the name), somewhere near Taree in New South Wales turned out to be another ‘trippy’ ‘Doors’ moment.
     The town had a drunken masochistic vibe to it with not a whole lot going on – that is – apart from the police officers that would come and just scoop the intoxicated Aborigines up from the pavement – ‘load’ them into their vans and drove them off to wherever.  It was carried out in a manner like the officers were used to it, like it was their daily routine.  To them it seemed ‘normal’ (which it isn’t in modern day Australia).
     I walked into a bar and I froze when the whole bar just turned and snarled at me.  I turned to leave immediately; I was nearly out the door when I got spat on.
     Walking into that bar was a huge mistake, it was indeed an anti-white town and only the locals would know to avoid the place at all costs.  I was ecstatic when we left.  It reminded me of something out of the ‘Doors’ movie where most of the people were just tripping out on acid or some mind-altering drug and living their lives almost in animation.  It’s an Aborigine town and they do not like people of the white kind... ‘Riders on the storm’... (tumbleweed rolls down the main drag).
     We made it to Surfers Paradise (Gold Coast) safely and with a huge sigh of relief.  We stayed at Stan’s pad in Surfers.  It was an apartment in a new block of flats that was positioned not far from the beach front.  Every morning a tractor would sweep the beach; the sand was indeed golden and so soft, it was kept pristine at all times. 
     The town itself was ‘glossy’ and the area is owned by the ‘super-rich’.  Unfortunately that was bad news sales wise as most people had cleaners.  The club life was fun though.  We went to a bar called ‘Coco’s’ and participated in line dancing while making complete fools of ourselves, but who cares; nobody knew us and we probably wouldn’t see them again, besides - everyone was doing it.
     We didn’t stay in Surfers for very long, it was soon time to hit the road again and head for Brisbane.  Before we got there we stopped at a few places on the way, sometimes to look and sometimes to work.  We stopped at ‘The Big Banana’.  It’s a banana plantation at Coffs Harbour where everyone does the touristy thing and gets their photo taken with a giant banana.   When we were working in the sticks I’d be surrounded by Eucalyptus trees, flocks of Cockatoos squawking, Kookaburra’s and red sand – the kind that stains.
     By the time we got to Brisbane I was really starting become sick of selling.  Sales were absolutely atrocious.  It was completely different compared to New Zealand.  New Zealand people loved to chit chat, take the time, trusting – whereas Australia seemed to have too little time and had a quicker pace of life in general.  I wasn’t that particularly thrilled about Brisbane.  We were staying on Kingsfordsmith Drive opposite the river.  The river looked as if it was massively polluted with plastic bags but in fact; what I thought were plastic bags were jellyfish - they were everywhere.
     My rotten days in Brisbane were quite frequent.  There was one lady sitting behind a desk – whom I presumed to be a receptionist.  She was wearing a lot of makeup and looked as if she’d spent hours just getting her physical appearance perfect or what she thought was perfection.  To look at her - my first impression was that she was an Australian Aristocrat-wannabe.  So, in my polite voice I began to ask her if she had a spare minute she pipes up “How dare you”, “Pardon” I said.  She carried on “How dare you show me a cleaning product – I don’t clean!”  Kind of freaked me out a bit as I’d never come across anyone living in a dream world.
     Speaking of Dream World – that was my first ever theme park that I visited.  It’s not far from Brisbane so I booked a day trip to Dream World.  I was overflowing with excitement.  No-one wanted to come with me so I went on my own.  One thing that I’ve learnt is; if the opportunity is there – take it, if you’d like to go somewhere but don’t because there’s no-one to go with – you will MISS OUT!  Never miss out through fear of exploring individually.
     While I was in Brisbane I found out what the maximum temperature I could withstand was and it’s 42 degrees Celsius.  I was out in it all day.  I didn’t have a hat, I had to carry a bag with four litres in it all day and when it came to the meeting time I’d be standing around waiting for longer in the sun with no shade.   This particular day I was feeling the heat; I walked into a café and nearly collapsed.  I was suffering from heat exhaustion.  The café’s owner walked me into the stand-in freezer so that I could cool down a bit.  I took the rest of the day off and the next day when I woke up I had little itchy spots all over me.  That’s when I found out what ‘prickly heat’ was.
     I started travelling with a different team from Brisbane further up the Queensland coast.  I often wondered if I would make it to Cairns – as that was where our dad was meant to be from but I didn’t make it up that far.  I really did have enough of ‘Wizard’ and I just could not attempt to demonstrate it to one more person as really – I just couldn’t be arsed.
     The moment when I decided to quit came in Maroochydore.  I wandered down to the beach and sat amongst the scattered rushes watching the day go by.  I knew that I’d made the right decision. I got as far as Bundaberg before heading back to Brisbane to catch a flight from Brisbane to Sydney.
     On the last night in Brisbane, one of the girls that I was working with and her boyfriend were going to meet me down at the pub for some drinks (she was really tiny, approx 5.2” and about a size 8).  I had trouble getting in that night, the doorman asked me for ID and I conveniently didn’t have any.  I got turned away so I snuck in through the restaurant and was soon drinking Sambucca’s with my workmates.
     We tottered off to the bathroom.  My work colleague was sitting up on the ledge in the ladies bathroom and the mirror was behind her.  When I came out of the toilet another girl had pushed my work colleague straight into the ledge and had started fighting.  I grabbed her by the hair and started to knee her in the face.  The girl fight continued until the doormen came in and stopped it by which time I had chunks of her hair in my hand.  It turned out that the woman that pushed my workmate was known for causing fights in the ladies and normally gets her ‘victim’ thrown out.  However, on this occasion it wasn’t the case.  The doormen asked what had happened and she began to lie her way out of it by saying that my work colleague started the fight.  They saw straight through her and kicked her out – I was left in the pub – hurrah!  I was thinking, ‘time for a drink!’
     As I was leaving the doorman who refused me entry earlier clocked me.  He said to his workmate “Who let her in here, she’s underage” his workmate shrugged his shoulders “Don’t let her in here again” he said.  I just thought ‘not a problem’ while giggling to myself.
     The ‘Wizard’ team were on a break in New Zealand when I got back from Australia.  Judy was planning a trip to South Africa but had no-one to look after the admin side of the business so I agreed to do that for her.  I’d have to go to the ‘office’ (rent-a-secretary/office-space), collect the mail and messages, send out any bottles of cleaner; normal day-to-day running a business type stuff.  Judy seemed confident in letting me look after the business.  Before I knew it she was on her way to South Africa to see the Gorillas.
     I was living with Pete (Judy’s cousin) in Avondale, Auckland.  Pete had his own pad in the basement.  There was Pete and his girlfriend Donna, Helene (friend) and her newly acquired British husband Bruce (got married to stay in NZ although Bruce didn’t love Helene but Helene loved Bruce… messy situation) and me.  I hooked up with Donna’s brother Roydon who was a deep sea fisherman.  He’d be gone for 3-4 weeks at a time and while he was away Helene and I would go out clubbing.
     Avondale is home of the Avondale Spider that was used for the movie ‘Arachnophobia’.  I had one just underneath my light switch in my bedroom one night – we were subtly acquainted.  I pulled my hand back sharpish and shouted “What the bloody hell is that?”  Helene came in followed by Bruce and when Helene saw it - that was it – she just climbed on top of the table and refused to budge until it was gone.  I got the newspaper and rolled it up ready to bring it to its untimely end however Bruce got an empty bowl and was hell bent on saving it and setting it free outside.  He’d said that Avondale’s come back so you have to take them a few houses down the road and set them free.  I just thought that that was even more reason to say goodnight to it.  The actual spider on my bedroom wall was the size of a starter plate.  I’ve been told that they grow to the size of a dinner plate – they also carry a knife and fork.  It’s hairy and it creeps and it also jumps – quite the athletic creature.
     Another creature that resides in NZ is the Weta.  It’s a bit like a giant stick insect that sticks to everything.  When it’s on your hand it just won’t come off no matter how vigorously you shake it.  You have to prize it off gently and hope that you don’t snap it in half otherwise it lays eggs that will seep into your skin and eat you from the inside.  Only kidding, it won’t.  It’s completely harmless, it just sticks! The bloody things won’t come off without a fight.
     Uncle Russell had been living in Herne Bay.  I hadn’t had that much contact with him since I was in Auckland.  I had quite a long conversation on the phone one day to him about Russell and living with mum.  It had only been a couple of years since Russell’s death and I was still feeling the strain of it.  There were moments where the ‘sales persona’ was switched off and I would have my ‘down’ moments.  Uncle Russell had no idea of the shit that mum had been saying over the years – or at least if he did know – he was really good at disguising it.  I went over to Uncle Russell’s a couple of times before he left for Sydney.
     I also decided while I was living in Auckland that it’d be a good idea to get my driver’s licence.  I got my ‘learner’ licence on the second attempt and bought a car for $350.  It was a mark II Cortina with column steering and it was red.  I took it into the car park and practised driving it around and pretty soon starting driving all over Auckland.  Tut Tut me.
     I’d had a little bit of practise behind the wheel previously as I started getting a bit wiser in my earlier years when I was living in the garage.  I knew that I wouldn’t be living in the garage for too much longer and as I listened to music and danced around the car all of a sudden it was clear to me - how could I sleep with a car every night and not know how to drive it?  It was a little red thing – not bigger than a Cortina.  I made it my mission to learn how to drive.  I had a spare key and drove it down to the end of Tweed Street and back when mum was out.  Whenever I was in a car I paid attention to the foot gears.  I’d done it a few times but unfortunately since the driveway was on an angle and had a concrete post on one side and on the other side was a wooden fence – I panicked as I thought I saw mum and ended up crashing the car into the wooden fence on the driveway.  I look back now and think ‘well, I guess that was worth a beating.’
     Of course it’s not the wisest of ideas to take my self-taught driving skills onto the roads of Invercargill but crashing into a fence, getting a beating - wasn’t that big of a deal in comparison with the adrenaline rush.  There wasn’t that much damage to the car and only two fence posts needed to be replaced.  The neighbours were pretty cool about it – surprisingly. The lady next door laughed about it as she thought it was funny.  She was a nice lady.  She made strawberry jelly and put strawberries in it.  She fell out with mum around the time that I had the crash.  I had to ask her whether she called the police on me or not as mum had said that the next door neighbour had complained and had ‘pressed charges’ against me.  Apparently that was a lie.  Unfortunately for mum the next-door neighbour wasn’t the kind of lady that appreciated being dragged into bullshit.
     Crashing mum’s car happened around the same time as Aunt Gayna and Tony’s wedding.  Mum didn’t want me around so I was put on a bus and sent to Waihola (which is not far south of Dunedin).  I wasn’t there for the wedding; it was Aunt Gayna that had said something to mum about the whereabouts of both me and Russell.  The conversation went “Anne, where’s Russell?”, “I don’t know”, “Oh, yes – he’s your son isn’t he?”
     Waihola was a religious kind of place.  I think it was one of those ‘tough love’ places where little misfits get sent when the parent/s have had too much.  No surprises there then.  I was 12 years old – not quite ready to get booted out. We had to pray and sleep in dorms etc, as well as the normal thing like chores and charts etc.  There was some fun stuff as well like go-karting around hay stacks.  From my mother’s banger to a racy little go-kart going full throttle.
     Unfortunately the same fate happened to my first car – I crashed it into a wall.  As I pulled out of Henry Street (in Auckland) and headed down the hill to the main road (Great North Road) I discovered – I had no breaks.  So I swerved, took out the stop sign and crashed into a concrete wall.  I missed the car in front of me that was stationary at the intersection – all I saw was a little boys face on the back window looking at me and he was coming closer... and closer.
     I was a bit shaken up after nearly crashing into someone else, people have always told me that everyone crashes their first car – I really did think that was an urban myth.          The police officer came and got a statement, checked the breaks and sure enough – there weren’t any and it was considered an ‘accident’.  My car was pretty much totalled, the bonnet was quite pushed in.  There wasn’t a great deal that I could do really as I didn’t have insurance (wasn’t obligatory at the time) and even if I did it wouldn’t be worth claiming for anyway.  I ended up selling it for $300, only lost $50 – bargain for a smash-up derby and a ‘Stop’ sign souvenir.
     While I was in Avondale with Pete as my flatmate and Judy still in Africa - I had a strange dream.  I was at the house and we were all out in the back garden having a barbeque and a few drinks when it started raining.  Everyone ran inside and I got caught under the garage door and the rain turned into little rays.  I looked up and there were little spacey type creatures having a fight in the sky and shooting each other with their laser beams.  We were all watching it and then one of them got shot and landed right in front of me.  It looked at me - smiled and then flew off back into the sky.  Then there was a blank and then after that until I saw myself giving a speech at the racecourse.
     It was thee most bizarre dream I’ve ever had.  I found an article in the Australians Woman’s Weekly magazine about a ‘Dream Doctor’, so I sent him a letter.  I received a reply back saying something positive about me and that I have a lot to teach/give people. ‘Okay’, I thought.
     After a fair amount of time Judy arrived back in Auckland from South Africa.  She’d fallen out with her friends and smashed their car up while she was on a bender there so wasn’t in the best of moods when she landed.  She looked over the business stuff and was happy with regards to the condition that sales were in etc.  I was just thinking it must’ve been a bit of a car-crash month, pardon the pun.
     Once her stroppiness subsided she began to get a new team together to start door-to-door canvassing.  This time the team was Gina, Bonny, Diesha and Jacqui.  We went to Napier, Gisborne, covered the Bay of Plenty, over the Waioeka Gorge, the Coromandel, Mt Manganui and past White Island.  On the way back to Wellington we took a detour to go and see Huka Falls.  Once we got to Wellington we got the ferry to Picton and headed down the West Coast of the South Island.  I could then say that I had covered pretty much all of New Zealand – all except the very north tip of the North Island and Stewart Island.  It was a little hard to comprehend that I’d never been to Stewart Island which is an island that’s a stones-throw away from Invercargill - yet been pretty much nearly everywhere else.
     The ‘Wizard’ spiel was becoming mind numbingly boring and tedious so I quit when we got back to Auckland.  I needed some time off from the ‘Wizard’ as I’d been doing it quite a while without a descent break.  I came to realise that when living with work - sooner or later it eventually develops into this all compassing thing that gobbles you up.  It was there when I went to bed; it was there when I woke up; the sales chart was permanently stuck in my face and if I clapped sight of any more bloody cleaner I would have no option but to have an emotional breakdown.  I was becoming suffocated by a cleaning product.  I didn’t want to be out selling anymore.  That went down like a lead balloon with Judy and we fell out so I moved out.  I didn’t leave on ‘good’ terms - I guess that comes with all ‘break ups’.  I moved out of the ‘Wizard’ premises and rented a one bedroom flat in Blockhouse Bay still remaining in Auckland.
     Within a short time I’d got another job working as a waitress for a company that caters for weddings and other formal functions, it was okay - nothing to shout about.
I still remained in touch with Judy and a couple of months went by before she asked me to return to work for her and train some people that had come over from the UK for a working holiday.  That was when I was introduced to Andy.  He was a bit of a long-haired lout really, a lanky surfy looking guy that spoke with a weird accent.  He was also really quiet so I ended up getting him to do shouting exercises before he went in to his sales pitch on people.  Things were going okay; I wasn’t living with the ‘Wizard’ crew which was a good thing as I’d get the space that I needed.  I’d get picked up in the morning and dropped off after work; it was almost like a ‘normal’ job, however the time was coming that we’d need to be back on the road and before I knew it; we were.
     Just before I was about to go on the road I had phone call from Uncle Joe.  It was about mum - she’d been beaten up by her boyfriend and needed a break so he thought it would be a good idea for her to come up and stay with me for a bit.  I did tell him that I would be away working but would only be gone a couple of days and that I’d ask some friends to see whether they could pick her up from the airport.
     When I got back from working away, my friends had told me that mum was a complete bitch when they picked her up from the airport.  They made a special sign saying ‘Michelle’s Mum’.  Mum went up to them and said “Oh she’s not here; I’m going to catch the next flight back then.”  They convinced her to go to the flat, so they drove her to the flat and she didn’t even say as much as “Thank You” to them.
     I got back and walked in the front door - the floor just looked as if was literally jumping.  It was absolutely riddled with fleas and there was mum, sitting up in my bed giving me orders once more.  I asked her why she didn’t go and get a flea bomb (Pak ‘n’ Save was only a short walk away) but she made some excuse pertaining to how much money she had as she’d come to Auckland with no money and I was expected to give her some.  It made me laugh; she’d not long won an obscene amount of money on a scratch card and bought a house in Waiau Crescent with it (which was on the other end of Invercargill).  I wasn’t in the mood to have an argument with this person sitting in my bed so I wandered down to the supermarket and got a couple of flea bombs.  When I got back mum had gone out so I lit the bombs, locked up and went over to a friend’s for a couple of hours.
     Later that evening I returned back to the flat to find mum once again sitting up in my bed, this time clutching a piece of paper and looking rather agitated.  I asked her if she wanted a coffee and she didn’t respond, so I made myself a cuppa.  It was then that she started to have a go. “You told Social Welfare that I was living with someone didn’t you?”  “Pardon?” I said.  “I got a letter saying that Paul’s doing me for maintenance.”
It was if my question fell on deaf ears as she blatantly ignored me while shouting over the top of me “You fuckin' told Social Welfare didn’t you!”  “What’s that got to do with me?” I bellowed back.  She didn’t answer that question but insistently started shouting “You fucking told them that I was living with someone!”  I blew up and shouted back “It’s got nothing to do with me and no I fucking didn’t, I didn’t know that you were living with someone and I really don’t give a fuck!  Did you actually bring that letter with you, all the way up from Invercargill so you could have a go at me?”
     She just kept going on and on.  I could’ve gone blue in the face saying the same thing over and over like “no.”  It wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference as she was hell bent on blaming me for something that I hadn’t done - yet again.  So I rang a friend of mine and crashed at theirs for the night.  The next day when I got back to the flat, the front door was wide open and all my stuff was gone - apart from the bed and the sofa.  Man I was pissed, but good riddance to her if that’s what it took for that abusive leach to leave.  I phoned Aunt Carole a few days later and she’d said that mum had got back to Invercargill alright.  She’d asked mum why her trip was cut short but all she’d said to Aunt Carole with “Why don’t you ask Shelley?” I let out a sigh of frustration; “It’s just never-ending bullshit with that woman.”
     I looked around the empty shell of my flat and my few bits of ‘treasured’ possessions; namely a couple of cassette tapes, some clothes and my suitcase was all that was left.  I thought – could this really be ‘it’ then?  I knew ‘Wizard’ wasn’t going to last forever – was I now destined to become a waitress?  The ‘Wizard’ team were due to leave Auckland soon and head down south.  It was a blessing in disguise since my stuff had been nicked so there certainly wasn’t a problem with packing or storage – or trips to the tip for that matter.
     The new ‘Wizard’ team were the ‘Brit’ boys (Andy, Alistair and Asif) and the girls (Gina, Lisa and me).  The atmosphere was so much more relaxed compared with having an all girl team as the bitching could be quite ruthless.  We headed south via Kaikoura, Christchurch, Alexandra, Queenstown, Arrowtown, Kingston all the way to Bluff, then stopped off in Invercargill then en route to Ohai and Nightcaps (the little mining town where both Russell and I called ‘home’ for a short time).
     Just before we were about to go to work in Invercargill I had a quick glance at the paper.  On the front page of the Southland Times there was a medium sized write up about a fatal collision on the road between Nightcaps and Ohai.  As I read the article my hand covered my mouth in shock as it was the Kingi family as well as Shelley (an old girlfriend of Russell’s) who were all involved in the accident.  Jamie was riding a motorbike to Nightcaps while Shelley and Jamie’s sisters were heading the other way back to Ohai.  The road between the two towns is very windy, very dark and there is a severe problem with fog.  The towns are located in the middle of nowhere and not far from the Takitimu Ranges.  At one point or another Shelley decided to do a ‘u-e’ and turn around,  right at that moment when she decided to turn around Jamie slammed into the side of the car on his motorbike and subsequently died.  Both Shelley and Jamie’s sisters were all hospitalised as well as Shelley’s sister who was also in the car.
     I was in shock for most of the day.  I still got my sales target though but I also did a lot of staring into space.  Later that day I knocked on the door of one particular house and a girl came to the door, I can’t remember what she said but she led me into the house and there she was – there was Shelley.  It was so random, there was Shelley sitting at the dining table, her mind driving her insane from ‘memory flashes’.  All she kept seeing when she shut her eyes was the expression on Jamie’s face.  She was a mess, her face was almost unrecognisable.  In fact she had about the same injuries as the skinhead woman beating in Dunedin – and that was severe.  I left when the Doctor came to give her some more valium.
     It wasn’t the last time that I saw Shelley.  A couple of weeks later we all went out to the pub on the edge of town, just before the turn off to the abattoir and the beginning of the journey to ‘middle earth’.  I was dancing and this person was banging into me, me being me - thought ‘I’m not friggin' moving’ so stayed where I was.  She banged me again so I turned around with my ‘pissed off’ expression and it was Shelley.  What could’ve turned into a girly brawl in the middle of the dance floor turned into a great surprise with huge hugs and then a giggle as she was thinking the same thing I was – ‘I’m not moving’.
     Jamie was a Maori and the funeral took place in the burial ground in Ohai/Nightcaps.  The family stayed with his body for 12 hours before they buried him.  It’s a Maori tradition allowing enough time for the ‘spirit’ to leave before his body was given to the earth.
     We arrived back in Christchurch at the same time that Split Enz were doing their 20th Anniversary tour.  We all got tickets and went to see them in their full glory; it was an absolutely superb kiwi experience.  The Jack Daniels was being passed around followed by tobacco with something special in it; absolutely superb.  The next day we ventured out to Orana Park.  Orana Park is a wildlife park that boasts animals being in their natural habitat.  There were Tigers, Lions, Cheetahs, Rhino etc and being in New Zealand and all.  When it was time to witness the lions being fed we had to drive into an enclosed paddock and park our cars side by side.  We sat in the car as instructed by the keepers (after all it was rather dodgy if anyone got out, you’d run the risk of being mauled to death).  The feeder was in an enclosed cage on the back of a tractor and giving the big cats the raw meat through a retractable flap as the vehicle slowly drove by.  The Cheetahs would also get their exercise as they raced after their food with the aid of a ‘rabbit run’ contraption that they use for greyhound racing.  It was amazing to get that close to a Cheetah to actually hear it meow like a cat – well – it is a cat – but certainly not one that’s going to be lounging on your sofa.  Christchurch was great and I loved it.  It was Christchurch that a couple of sparks flew between Andy and I.  We both thought it’d be good idea to get away from ‘Wizard’ for the weekend so we hired a car and embarked on a little adventure down to Queenstown, up to Mt Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo and across to the Moeraki boulders then back to work in Christchurch. Our little excursion was great fun.
     Once we got back to Christchurch we headed to Queenstown where the choice of jumping off a bridge or doing loop-the-loop above Queenstown in a Bi-plane was served up to our adrenaline urges.  I opted for the loop-the-loop.
     Wellington was where I bought my first designer dress.  At Thornton & Hall I found a gorgeous black velvet dress, it had sleeves and a keyhole on the front, the skirt was slightly flared and it was superb with boots or heels.  I was a constant boot wearer.  I had a pair of black knee length boots that I would wear with everything - I didn’t own a pair of heels.  In my suitcase would be my sneakers and jandals – I’d be wearing my boots non-stop.  Sneakers had to be worn when we were out selling ‘Wizard’ because we could get the muck out of the carpets better, plus there was the feet factor.  I paid $350 for my gorgeous designer dress and I even wore it with my boots.

     By the time we all got back to Auckland, Andy had convinced me to go on a working holiday with him.  I departed New Zealand leaving my memories - good and bad behind me.  I boarded the plane with a one way ticket to England, a loan of £2000 in order to get a working visa for a year in England, approximately $500 and my trusty MasterCard; also not forgetting my St. Christopher gently hanging around my neck.
     Not only was it the beginning of a new era in my life but it was also going to be one hell of an adventure, also quite a dangerous one with many risks involved.  There was no ‘backup’ or ‘support’ along the way; this was a trip of survival, to see how far I could make it, to find out where I would end up on my travels.  The biggest adrenaline rush I would experience to date because with next to no money and no way of getting home once the funding had gone - I was completely dependent on working and finding a job as soon as I could.