I have now completely forgotten about Hong Kong. I don't know where I lived when I was there, I can't remember how much a pint of milk cost, or what number of bus went from Wong Tai Sin to Yau Ma Tei. I don't even know where Wong Tai Sin is. On the other hand, Megawati Sukarnoputri wants me for her cabinet. Which is nice.
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to a theme park, so last night we decided to go to Mann's Chinese Theater. Sadly, our plans were derailed by Jackie Chan, Hong Kong celebrity, and his crazy plans to hold a movie premiere, despite my best advice.
So we went on a roller coaster ride. Annette drove us half way across Hollywood, and we wound up at a multiplex in a mall, watching AI on a tiny screen. I'm sure that on the medium-sized screen wasn't the way Spielberg or Kubrick wanted me to see it, but it was a pleasure to watch nonetheless. The movie works on a number of levels. There's the wonderful superficial level - watching it for Haley Joel Osment's acting. The kid is electric, and a pleasure in every scene. You could expand your thoughts a little and consider the plot.
But moving away from that, AI is a movie steeped in movies. It's partly Spielberg, partly Spielberg-trying-to-do-Kubrick. That's interesting to watch. It also builds heavily on The Planet of the Apes and The Wizard of Oz, and spotting the moments of hommage is a challenge in itself. I loved the whole Rouge City sequence for that...
And today we went to Six Flags, and Mr Twinky made me go on all the rides, the swine.
I need to update the background for you. We're staying with friends in West Hollywood. Sandwiched between Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, this LA suburb is predominantly populated by gay men, and our friends appear to be the only straight couple in their building. We're just south of Beverley Hills, home of "Rich and Famous" people. So, on Tuesday night Annette, Mr Twinky and I went out for drinks and dinner at a hotel. Food was good, we were surrounded by beautiful people talking in beautiful-people-ese, etc. There was a lady in a glass box behind reception, just sort of lying around and reading and being art. It was the sort of slightly surreal situation where you realise that you don't quite fit in, but that the only way to fit in would be to become totally artificial and sacrifice your personality on the great altar of the body beautiful.
Pause. Skip forward. Leaving. Walking down the steps, back on to Sunset Boulevard, I see a face I recognise. The reason that the face is fresh in my mind is because it's plastered all over LA. One of Mr Twinky's favourite actors. I try not to stare, just because I'm not sure it's him, and if it is, I don't want to stare anyway. Round the corner and I tell Mr Twinky that I think I've seen Breckin Meyer. Mr Twinky therefore goes back to check. I was kind of embarrassed, but kind of proud of the man's gall. Apparently there was a body guard there too, and Mr Meyer shied away from Mr Twinky's gaze, thereby proving that Mr Twinky was right.
One celebrity down, several thousand left to go...
Stepping back in time, in more than one way, I'd like to talk about Horsham. This is Horsham in Victoria, Australia, rather than Horsham in England, or any other Horsham you may have heard about. You can find out more about Horsham at their web site. Or you can read some of the facts I'll present below. Judge for yourself which is more accurate.
"We've Got It All" may be true, if you like accomodation, restaurants, golf, antiques, parks and churches. However, you'll notice that entertainment is conspicuously not mentioned on the Horsham web site. For that, you have to go to the monthly Horsham tourist paper, which seems to be entirely produced by a charming lady called Val. I can say that she's charming because I met her, and frankly she was very nice. The highlight of the tourist bulletin for me was the full page advert for the adult store. Sadly, we visited Horsham on a Saturday, and so everything was shut.
Everything. No chance of buying a new razor, or some pain killers, or even a coffee. So we booked tickets for the late showing of Shrek, and went to the pub to play pool really badly.
Now Horsham is a rural place. A local place, one might even say. So, as two young, intensely attractive homosexual men, we sought to hide this when we made our selection on the Juke Box. A bit of Red Hot Chili Peppers, some Alice Cooper, perhaps. How wrong we were. Maybe half way through our second game of pool, we were joined at the next table by a couple of guys, seemingly fresh from the fields. They grabbed their turn at the juke box - straight for Geri Halliwell performing "It's raining men". To which they danced. They behaved in very heterosexual manner, by grabbing at each other's crotches as they danced around the pool table. It was verging on pornography. At this point, I realised that I have completely misjudged all men that I have ever met ever. Anywhere. I'll gloss over the part where I made a fool of myself. I'll just mention that I was drinking beer and Mr Twinky was drinking Chardonnay and leave the rest to the imagination. Moving on.
Horsham boasts a range of restaurants. Most of them were closed, though. We were left with two options. Mexican, or pub food. And the Mexican looked so far from authentic as to be suspect (plus Mr Twinky and Mexican food disagree. Mexican food thinks that it is a cuisine. Mr Twinky thinks that Mexican food is tacos and chilis and that's about it. Everything else is spelling points. But I digress...) so we wound up back in the same pub that we had originally left. There we samples such delights as mechanically recovered calamari, and my personal favourite from the salad bar, grated cheese and carrot. Some people had got dressed up to go to this place.
Horsham night life on a Saturday consists of the cinema. Since the range was either Moulin Rouge again, or Shrek (yes... a multiplex), we had booked tickets early. Just as well. The place was packed. Well, half full. Well, the last six rows were half full. The rest of the cinema, maybe thirty rows, was cordoned off. We didn't know why. The locals didn't know why. We were all too scared to ask the management why. Fortunately, the film was most amusing, and we quickly forgot the delights of the local pub. We were damn sure that we weren't going back there though, so we went home.
That night, home was the Majestic Motel. A 21 room extravaganza, where each room comes with its own roach trap, just to make you feel secure. Where you can rent a video recorder from the front desk, and a range of porn to watch on it. Sounds almost perfect, doesn't it?
I feel I have probably said enough on Horsham for now. I have exorcised a demon. There's more, but nothing quite so extreme. After all, Horsham is the gateway to Mount Arapiles - described by Val as a big rock in the middle of nowhere, like a low budget Ayers Rock - so it can't be all bad. Can it?
And so to Adelaide. Since Apollo Bay, we've been to the delights of Port Fairy, and in to the depths of Horsham. We've walked along the Grampians, eaten fine Italian cuisine on the Murray River, and indulged in wines at the Barossa Valley. We have lived life to the full, but we're staying in the sort of shitty place that makes you desperate to leave a country - and fast.
Mr Twinky and I walked along the beach last night at twilight, watching the dark clouds swelling over the ocean, and as the first rain fell, we ran for the cover of the nearest hotel. We sat near an open fire and downed a bottle of Bannockburn wine (from Geelong, naturally), and discussed a potential novel idea which I may or may not write.
After the rain stopped, we walked back in to town, and headed for the restaurant which we'd picked out for dinner. But there was another pub on the way - one with a wood fire - so in we went. And we stayed there for a couple of pints. And their kitchen closed. And then we met probably the other visitors to town.
I can't really remember their names. There was baseball cap man and spiky hair man, who were both from Melbourne. There was an Irish man that was referred to as 'Irish' and a French woman called Nat. All in their mid twenties, and drinking their way along the coast. Irish and Nat weren't a couple but looked and acted as though they were. Baseball Cap man was the ring-leader, certainly. Spiky hair was trying too hard to be something out of the ordinary, with orange spectacles and hair that had been painstakingly plastered into position leaving him looking more like a cartoon character than anything else. We got chatting and drinking and ripping the piss out of each other, playing pool against a twelve year old local boy until he had to go home when the bar closed about eleven.
But we weren't finished drinking, oh no. Not by a long way. We went to the only remaining bar in town, the six of us. We drank more. I managed to knock my beer over with a pool cue while playing (very badly) against spiky hair. Obviously, I took it in my stride because by this stage I was too far gone to do anything else. Finally, we got chucked out at about one thirty.
Now bear in mind that we're fuelled by a lot of alcohol and not a lot of food. I have no idea where we were going. We cetrainly weren't heading for our motel, so I suspect we were heading for the campsite where our new friends were staying. And one of our new friends decided that he was going to be an arsehole. I was walking slightly ahead of him, so I can't be sure exactly what he did to annoy the man that came racing up the road after us, but as he chased along the road looking for the spiky haired guy, the rest of us scattered. A surreal and threatening ending to an otherwise interesting evening.
Irish and Nat found us shortly thereafter, and walked us back to our motel, just to make sure that we were safe. Nice of them but probably unnecessary. And they still seemed like a couple, even though they said that they weren't.
His name was Josh. He worked at Pam's Store in Tilba Tilba. He made us instant coffee that we sat and drank in the cold, while we talked about his move from Canberra five or six years ago, to help out in the family business. There was something unsaid though, some subtext going on that was hard to read. He had beautiful hands.
For one evening only, we were guests of the Greenwell Point Bowling and Sports Club Ltd. This involved declaring that we were over the age of 18, adhering to the directions of the management of the club, and being suitably attired.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We're now on the first leg of our trip, heading south from Sydney towards Melbourne. On the first day, we covered more or less two hundred kilometres, firstly through the suburbs of Sydney, then into parkland; long winding roads that veer between tree-lined glades and stunning shore views. When you look at the clear blue seas, the huge waves crashing magnificently on the shore line, you can understand why the first European explorers to arrive here decided that it was a good idea to invade.
Looking for somewhere interesting to spend the night, we found the Coral Tree Lodge, just as the sun was setting behind us, bathing the village of permanently parked trailers in a romantic orange glow. Following signs for the office, we drove in to a birthday party for one of the residents. Despite mistaking it for a queue, or a lynch mob, we were welcomed by the owners, and shown to a motel room that might be a converted garage, or might be left over after some war or another. Cold but clean, and with a fantastic view of the Tasman Sea, still and calm. We watched the sunlight dying, hugging each other close in the crisp cool air.
Rather than go hunting for somewhere to eat, we took our hosts' advice and walked to the Greenwell Point Bowling and Sports Club. This is one of those places where you walk in and everyone stares at you. Voices didn't drop, and relatively few people turned to stare, but it was nonetheless a place where I instantly felt not at home.
We were adopted almost immediately and guided through the process of signing in by a homely woman who assumed we were there to watch the rugby on the big screen. Her boyfriend, a younger guy with a cropped haircut quizzed her about us in detail as we made our way to the bar.
By this stage, we were getting brash, almost bold, but we still firmly avoided eye contact with anyone. The club was full of "characters" - almost stereotypical in many ways. A group of men in their twenties, clearly out drinking to avoid their wives. The rebel strumpet, all black leather skirt and pierced tongue and high heels. The war veteran and his family, wheeling himself through the bar. The young buck (as noted above) trying to worm his way into either the group of men, or his homely girlfriend. We watched carefully. Eye contact was avoided studiously, and we walked in fear of spilling anyone's pint.
Shortly after we arrived, Syndicate started to arrive. Live music, to entertain the masses. Younger than anyone else in the club, it seemed. A collection of fashion victims trapped in the 1980s, from the lead singer with the slicked back black hair to the groupie with the bleached highlights, the black trench coat and the pierced eyebrow.
And the food...
There were two ways to get food. One was the Bistro, which was the description given to a basic servery with someone frying up behind it. That was popular, but you had to eat your food in the main club. The other was the Chinese restaurant, which was more spacious, and more popular, but not a preferred option, as we've been trying to keep off the Chinese food lately.
There was a third option, one that was a bit more random. For a dollar, you could buy a strip of five raffle tickets. There were three basic types of prize in the raffle - boxes of fruit and vegetables, trays of meat, or a dairy package containing mainly milk and orange juice. Tempted though we were to try to win a shoulder of lamb, two dozen raw sausages and half a chicken, we couldn't be sure of winning some vegetables to go with them, so we settled on the Chinese restaurant.
The food was actually pretty good, albeit smothered in corn starch and deep fried into oblivion. The sort of good quality Chinese food that you only get outside China, with fresh local scallops, some of the finest chicken chow mein, and traditional British-style sweet and sour pork.
As we struggled through the Australian-sized portions, the Chinese-Australian woman who had cooked the dinner came out and started chatting with her friends at the table next to us. It turned relatively quickly in to a discussion of the one-child policy. Meanwhile, Syndicate had started up, so we decided that it might be time to leave.
So, back to the converted garage for a cosy night in, snuggling up in front of the electric heater - and out of here first thing in the morning.
Two days in to the huge holiday, and already we're feeling relaxed and happy and 2000% better than we did last week. Whether it's the lack of stress, or the fact that Sydney is a pretty cool place and we're enjoying hanging out with friends, who can say? But there's flow, and we are going with it.
In about 14 hours, I'm emigrating again. Not back to the UK as originally planned, but probably to the Republic of Ireland.
One of the greatest fears that comes from moving country is the loss of confidence caused by not knowing enough about how the infrastructure works. Hong Kong may be a complete mess at times, but it's a complete mess that I understand, and that gives me the confidence to navigate my way through it. Who knows what's coming next?
Mind you, I am still more blase about this move than I was about coming here in the first place, and I was pretty blase about that... we'll see what happens next.