Monday, 11 November 2013

4 - Stepping Into Europe

My final morning in Asia came and it was time to say ‘good bye’.
My eyes were opened there certainly, and I was changing as a person, but I wasn’t unhappy to see the back of it.
I took myself around to Changi airport in Singapore and checked in.
I was flying Alitalia, and even this European organization seemed to be suffering from a form of disorganization, acquired by osmosis from the Asian continent.
Back then I was a fervent anti-smoker, which would be another learning process for me, as later in life I would be a just as staunchly pro-smoking.
I took it up full time in my thirties as a protest against my mother, who was dead against it, as she was an asthmatic.
But even this protest lacked any logic as she had been dead ten years at that point in my life.
Which was another lesson, looking back, in not being to fervent about anything, because we all grow and change through our lives, and the feverish declamations of our youth, for and against things, come back to haunt us in later life.
Anyway, I mention this because I checked in and asked for a non-smoking seat, but I think the check-in clerk only heard the “smoking” part, because when I finally sat down I was right in the middle of the smokers, so much so that I felt that I was back inside an Indonesian transport vehicle.
I might add, some younger readers, if there are any, may not know that there was a time when you could smoke on a plane.
And just to digress (as ever) on the topic, I remember watching a movie about life in Australia during the second world war and one scene was set in a movie theatre, and as I watched I was struck by something weird, it took me a few moments to get it, but then I realized what it was.
The whole theatre was clouded in smoke, and as I watched a middle-aged man lit up his pipe where he sat watching the screen.
It was odd to see it.
Of course, some fires and deaths later, smoking was banned in theatres and those of my generation never attended a movie theatre in which smoking was allowed.
And similarly smoking on planes was allowed then, and the cabin was divided into smoking and the laughably titled ‘non-smoking’ areas.
I say laughably because, of course, it’s all the same air and within a short space of time the whole cabin was full of clouds of rapidly staling smoke.
The situation was highlighted best to me by the story of a friend from Melbourne.
She was first generation Australian of European ancestry, and one Christmas her family flew home to spend the holiday season with their relatives in Macedonia.
There were seven of them, mum, dad and five kids, but only dad smoked.
When they checked in, the father decided to sit in non-smoking with his family, and if needed to walk down to the smoking section during the flight.
The plane took off, and a short time after the aircraft had reached cruising altitude, the man sitting across the aisle from the father lit up a fag and began smoking it.
The father thought that the check in had gone wrong, and they were in the smoking section, and so thought ‘to hell with it’, and lit up a fag.
To his consternation, a flight attendant came down and told him he couldn’t smoke as he was in the non-smoking section.
He stared at the man across the aisle, a mere half metre away, pointed at him and said, “but he’s smoking.”
To which the flight attendant replied: “Yes. He’s in the smoking section.”
Anyway, my aircraft ascended out of Asia and everyone around me began smoking.
My throat was better by now, but even so, it was annoying, as I’d asked the check-in clerk not to be there.
So I once again gritted my teeth and stuck out another journey in less than salubrious surroundings.
We flew direct to Rome and there I had to transfer to my flight to Frankfurt.
I had to cross Rome airport and I remember seeing the security police standing around with sub-machine guns slung over their shoulders.
It was quite threatening, and a reminder that I was travelling in the terrorist age.
Of course, this was pre-9/11, but even then Europe had enough trouble with terrorism to be going on with.
There was the Badder-Meinhof, the Black September movement, and in Italy, the Italian Red Brigade.
I trekked across the airport and made my way to my next flight, a short hop across Europe.
The flight came and went, and I was then standing next to the luggage carousel in Frankfurt airport waiting for my backpack.
The crowd around me thinned out as each person picked up their bags, until I was the only one left.
Eventually the carousel stopped moving, without producing my backpack, and I realized that the check-in clerk back in Singapore had not only put me in the wrong seat assignment, but had mis-tagged my bag as well.
Well, I assumed that’s what had happened, certainly my backpack wasn’t here.
With a sigh I left the carousel area and went in search of the Alitalia booth.
I found it and explained to the young woman seated there what had happened.
She picked up the phone and dialled and spoke in Italian to someone down the wire.
She put the phone down and said, “OK, Mr Barker, I’ve located your backpack, it’s in Rome.”
Then she halted.
I waited for her to continue, but she didn’t seemed inclined to go on, so I prompted her, “I see. So how do we get it here?”
She replied, “it will have to come on our next flight from Rome. That will be in four hours, at 2pm.”
‘Oh fucking great’, I said to myself.
“OK, so I just come back then and pick it up?”, I asked her.
She nodded and I said “thanks”, then turned away.
Thankfully I had my carry on luggage with me, including a book, so I found a lounge area, sat down and began the long wait.
I might add I was pretty annoyed because I had planned well before I even left Australia to avoid this eventuality, said planning stemming from something my friend Bob, whom I lived with in Vancouver, had told me.
Bob said that his guidebook had given him a good tip which was, pack everything you need for a trip, Bob was going to Spain for a couple of weeks vacation, then pick up what you’ve packed and walk around the block.
Then when you get home with your arms now longer by four inches and your shoulders on fire, take half of what you packed out and put more money in your wallet.
An invaluable tip.
I had followed this and had taken a backpack about the size of a basketball for my travels across Asia.
So small was it that I had wanted to take it onto the plane in Singapore as carry-on luggage, but the desk clerk had added to his sins by telling me that it was too big, and so I had checked it into the luggage hold.
Thus, I was now sitting in Frankfurt airport waiting four hours for a pack which I could have stowed neatly enough in the overhead baggage compartment.
Finally two o’clock came around and I went back to check the luggage carousel.
Since I had now entered German territory, this involved some tortuous explaining to the German official who was supervising the area, but he checked that I had my passport and once I explained what had happened he let me through to wait for my bag.
I might add, once again, this was pre-9/11, I’m not sure how things would have worked out if it had been afterward for this reason.
One of the security precepts put in place was that no bag can fly unless its owner is on the aircraft.
So no doubt I would have had to fly back to Rome, pick up my bag and then fly back to Germany, but thankfully I was spared that.
The carousel began moving and I joined the passengers from the two o’clock flight waiting for bags.
And the same thing happened.
Soon everyone had picked up their bags and left, and I was once more alone staring at the carousel.
I went back to the Alitalia booth and once again explained my predicament to the woman.
She (again) picked up the phone and rang through.
Another brief conversation, then: “Ok, I’ve checked with Rome and your bag wasn’t put on the aircraft.”
Once again she stopped speaking, this was one chick who really needed a refresher course on customer service.
So I prompted her again, “So what happens now?”
“I’ve told them to be certain to get it on the next flight.”
“Great”, I replied, “When does that get here?”
I had a mental picture of four more hours in the ‘port, but it was worse than that.
“Tomorrow morning at 10am.”
I stared at her in consternation.
“Tomorrow?! So what do I do now?”
I might add that, then as now, I looked like I’d slept in the street, I was till in my travel-stained Asia overland clothes, and so she strongly suspected, and she was right, that I didn’t know how to assert myself.
A penniless, filthy backpacker she could handle.
So she said to me, “Find yourself a backpackers for the night and check in, then come back tomorrow with the receipt and we will reimburse you.”
I think she would have put anyone else up in an airport hotel, but she had quickly sized up my appallingly filthy state and didn’t want to put any of the hotel cleaners through having to clean anywhere I sat down.
I can’t remember how I found my backpackers, but anyway, I located one about an hour away from the airport and headed down there.
Frankfurt is part of a large twin city conurbation comprising Frankfurt and Mainz.
My backpackers was on the western skirt of Mainz and it was quite pleasant and peaceful.
The month was September, which is shoulder holiday period in Europe, August being peak, and the backpackers was half full at best.
I checked in and threw my book (my only luggage apart from my passport pouch, which hung round my neck) on the bed, then went outside and sat at a picnic table on the lawn.
I contemplated for a while and then began wondering what was different, and it was this: there was no one else there.
I even looked around to try to get some perspective, but I was indeed alone on the lawn of a backpackers on the outer edge of Mainz.
Gradually it dawned on me why this was strange, and it was that all my time in Asia whenever a tourist went anywhere in public, they would be immediately surrounded by locals trying to sell them something.
But here I looked like everybody else, and decidedly poorer than most, and so as a commercial opportunity I was null and void.
And of course, having just spent three months in Asia begging to be left alone, now that I had achieved it, I was now lonely.
So I decided to go to the supermarket.
I had taken out travel insurance, and the woman at the Alitalia desk had said I could buy essentials and submit that receipt to the insurance company to be reimbursed, so I figured that even my cheapskatedness could handle a bit of shopping.
I went down to the supermarket and got out my German-English dictionary and spent a quite enjoyable time translating product names and figuring out what to purchase.
I got some shampoo, razors, and soap, mainly for anyone who had to stand near me, than for myself, then having made my first purchase in Deustch Marks, went back to the back packers.
I went to the shower and scraped some of the filth from my person, then went back to my room.
In there was a young German who had just checked in, I said “hello” to him and we began chatting.
He was the first example of how almost all Europeans spoke three languages minimum.
He replied in fluent English and I learned a bit about him as he readied his stuff on, and around, his bed.
His name was Heinz and he was from Bremerhaven in the north of Germany, on the shores of the North sea.
He had come down to Frankfurt to go to uni in the fall term, and was in the backpackers until he found some permanent accommodation.
As we talked, in his excellent English, with my occasional German word thrown in, it dawned on me that I was enjoying this conversation immensely, and from that it was short leap to realizing that it was my first real conversation in nearly two days.
The only other thing that vaguely gestured toward human interaction had been the kinda tense conversation with the woman at the Alitalia desk back at the airport.
So we talked, then Heinz said, “Would you like to get some dinner?”
I replied “Yes, but do you know anywhere cheap?”
He nodded and so we stepped out into the German evening and ate at a cheap restaurant and had one beer.
I remember this, only having one, because Heinz was going to study Theology and so, apart from his natural Germanic strictness, his ensuing holy orders wouldn’t consider it appropriate to get fully tanked.
However, one beer in Germany does mean a tankard of foaming ale that you could fit your whole head in, so one beer was definitely enough.
We headed back to the backpackers and got an earlyish night on our bunks.
The next morning I was up early, said how nice it had been to meet him, and good luck at Uni to Heinz, then checked out and headed back to the airport.
I spoke to the new official on duty near the luggage area, showed my passport and explained what I was doing, he noted down my passport number, then let me through.
And so for the third time in 24-hours I stood by the luggage carousel and waited.
To my considerable delight my backpack finally appeared through the hanging strips and I was reunited with my stuff.
That wasn’t hard.
Now time to move on, my ultimate destination was England, but I had flown to Germany to see a friend from teachers college, Alvian, who was doing some post work to his PhD at the university in Bonn.
Alvian was a quite a marvel.
He had a doctorate in Physics, and so was clearly a smart cookie, but what made him even smarter, in my opinion, was that he had bothered to go to teachers college to learn how to teach physics as well.
I’m sure you all can think of one, or many, teachers, that were brilliant in their subject area, but had no classroom control, or ability to relay esoteric concepts.
Alvian had recognized this and had taken steps to make himself a good teacher, not just a brilliant physicist.
So I travelled to Bonn, a distance of about two hours, by train, and got my first feel of the German train system.
It was fast, efficient, clean, sorry for the stereotyping, but there you go.
I arrived in Bonn, and went around to the uni and tracked Alvian down.
Here was at the, wait for it, Helmholtz-Institut für Strahlen- und Kernphysik der Universität Bonn, in english, the Particle Physics department.
And I’ll just digress briefly to mention something I saw on one of those ‘bloop and blunder’ shows on TV.
It was an English TV crew and the news of the holes in our ozone layer had just broken, so they were walking around in a park during summer asking people about it, they went up to a young man who was reading with his shirt off and said, “Excuse me, would you be surprised to learn that you are sunbaking under a large hole in the ozone layer?”
And he replied, “not really, I’m a particle physicist”, which stopped that crew in their tracks.
Anyway, even for physics, particle physics is well known as being very complex and difficult, only triple-A+ students can cope with it, and not only had Alvian graduated in it, his marks were so good that he had been granted this study in Germany.
I enquired at the desk at the front of the building and they sent me down to a seminar room, I knocked and went inside and there was Alvian and some of the other students and staff discussing the boundaries of the universe.
And here I was to once again marvel at the Germanic gift for languages and courtesy to outsiders.
They were discussing things in German, but quickly Alvian put up his hand and said he couldn’t understand, and so they all switched over to English and continued with hardly a pause.
I’m sure you understand this, most of us reading and writing this couldn’t understand HSC Physics, but these people not only were adept in this hardest of subjects, but could understand it in their second language.
I listened for a while, but it all passed over my head, then eventually the seminar broke up and Alvian took me over to his accommodations, where I was allowed to stay for my time in Bonn.
This was a great score, I can’t actually remember how I achieved it, but not only did I have somewhere to stay, but I was allowed to eat at the student cafeteria, three square meals a day for 2 DM each.
It really called to my cheapskate soul, I can tell you.
And it was here at the University of Bonn that I met Alvian’s friend, a young German named Martin, who lived across the hall from Alvian.
As I’ve already alluded to above, most Europeans speak three languages, almost as a birthright, but Martin was way ahead of the curve.
He was a graduate languages student, with honours at that, and spoke six languages with assured fluency.
They were his native German, plus English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Russian.
Some time later when I called him up from London, he told me he was heading to Helsinki to learn Finnish, well known as one of the hardest of European languages.
I asked him during the call “How do you say ‘hello’ in Finnish?”, and his reply sounded like a car horn honking.
I might add, Martin also burned for good my stereotypical view that Germans had no sense of humour.
When I met him he was reading Garfield the Cat in German, and laughing at this laziest of cats lukewarm reception of Mondays.
He became my German teacher and by the time I left Germany I could converse with halting but reasonably effective speech.
I might add, he told me to read Garfield as a great introduction to German, and this was good advice.
The pictures helped me translate, with the help of my dictionary, what was going on and I really enjoyed learning with Martin and Garfield.
However, it did limit things a bit, and I was forever after ordering lasagne in German restaurants.
I spent about a week with Alvian and Martin in Bonn, and we had a generally good time, though Bonn was limited in its distractions, as it had been the capital of West Germany for many years, and like our capital, Canberra, it was pretty boring really.
However we did spend one night drinking at a riverside bar.
We, or perhaps, just I, got slaughtered, but apart from that the river was the Rhein, and it was great experience to be on the banks of this most iconic of German watercourses.
I might add, that this evening I foolishly, or perhaps, just thoughtlessly, broached the subject of Nazi Germany.
Martin and his friends did discuss it with me and I learned a couple of interesting facts.
One was that there are more Nazis in France than Germany, and two, Germans of Martin’s generation are prepared to fight to the end to “see that it never happens again”.
All too soon however it was time to hit the road, and begin the next pahse of my journey to England, and here I rode with the Mitfahr-Zentrale.
This is the hitchhiker’s network and typically of Germany, even “thumb riding” is officially organized.
You go into the office in whichever town you are in and put your name down in the ‘passenger’ section, with your desired destination.
The drivers state where they are going and you then hook up, with the driver getting company and fuel money, and the passenger getting a ride cheaply.
I put my name down for London and a few days later I got a call from a German business man who was going through to the West Coast of Ireland where he had a holiday home.
We arranged a departure time and place and I showed up backpack at the ready.
He was at first another stereotype, large, somewhat overweight, red-faced, and he drove a black Mercedes 500SE, and my first thoughts were is he really going to Argentina to hide out with the other Nazis?
But thankfully I was wrong, and got another good lesson in not believing stereotypes.
Peter was his name and he was a charming man and a good driver, you have to be when you go everywhere at 200+ k an hour.
We set off and on the way picked up another Mitfahr-Zentrale passenger, a Belgian girl called Angelique, who was going to Dublin.
I had bought a newspaper to practise my German on the way, and I should say, this was the only time in my life that I have read anything at the ‘National Enquirer’ level of baseness.
I bought this tabloid because it was the only paper with child-like text that I could understand.
Peter endeared himself to me by looking at the paper I had bought and raising his eyebrows, “why are you buying that?”, he said.
“It’s the only one I could half-understand”, I replied, “I thought I would practise as we drove.”
He nodded, then said, “OK, but promise me that once you can speak German you will never buy that rag again.”
I nodded my agreement and once I’d deciphered the front page, I understood what he meant.
It made the Daily Telegraph look like a learned organ for philosophy societies.
So we set off and I had my first experience of the Autobahn.
Peter put his foot down and we soared along at near 200k.
This was my first real experience of European travelling and it was an oddity for me, used to the vast tracts of my homeland, to cross a country in an hour.
In fact we were in four countries in one day, Germany, Belgium, Farance and finally, England.
I remember distinctly that I had hardly deciphered the first few pages of my newspaper when I looked out the window and the signs were saying Bruxelles (Brussells) and I realized that we had left Germany and were sailing across Belgium.
Then hardly with a blink, the signs were in French, and we were at the ferry terminal in Calais.
I remember telling Peter and the Belgian girl that you can drive for fourteen hours in Queensland for instance and still be in the same state, let alone country, to which they both shook their heads in wonder.
To give you a comparison.
In Queensland, Brisbane to Cooktown is 2,000k, or 22 hours driving, this is about the same distance from Calais, France’s northernmost city to the very southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar.
We queued with the other cars then drove on board and then I went out on the deck to catch my first glimpse of the land of my ancestors.
Well, that’s what I planned to do, but when I got to the door to the outside area of the upper forward deck, I encountered a problem that would dog me for the next two years, it was raining.
And I’ll just digress to use the work of an author I like, David Lodge, who describes it best.
One of his characters is an academic at Birmingham University, and he gets offered a year’s sabbatical at a uni in California.
He goes over there and has the time of his life, as indeed anyone who gets out of Birmingham for any reason would.
The weather is great, the pay is higher, the food plentiful and well-cooked.
So much so that in the end he doesn’t want to go home, but finally reality prevails and eventually he and his wife stand on the deck of the QE2 as it docks at Southampton, and Lodge writes: “Phillip looked at the approaching docks emerging from the grey smudge of Southampton and realized he had caught a case of the sniffles, which would last for the next ten years.”
And so it was that my hoped for glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover was not to be as a low lying bank of grey cloud, from which emerged a depressing mizzle, blocked my view.
I stared for a while, but knew I wouldn’t see anything, so went back into the cab and passed the rest of journey in conversation with Angelique and Peter.
Eventually we arrived and went back down to the car deck and drove down the ramp on to English soil.
I had a few hiccups at the Immigration post, as most Australians arriving in London come via air through Heathrow, and the cockney who was staffing the station wasn’t used to one such as me arriving in the back seat of a black Mercedes.
But I sorted it out and then we were away into the heartland of Britain.
It was late evening now and Peter said, “Where shall I drop you off?”
Well, I wasn’t exactly sure, the capital is just too diffuse a place to simply be dropped off in “London”.
However I had another contact given me by my teacher’s college lecturer Mike King, and so I decided to head for her residence, which was at Epsom, in the commuter belt on the South-West side of London.
My plan was to ring a woman who had never heard of me, tell her I had just arrived in Britain and ask if I could come and stay the night.
Clearly my arrogance and willingness to ask other people to provide for me was still resident in my psyche, but as it turned out, my plan was foiled, as she wasn’t home.
Peter wanted to keep moving toward Ireland, he still had a ten hours or so of driving to go, including another ferry crossing, so didn’t want to hang about while I made up my leisurely mind.
So we had an in car conference and I decided that the simplest thing to do was to catch a train into London and find a place to stay the night.
I am thankful that I hadn’t read it at that stage of my life, but Bill Bryson in one of his travel books was saying that when he arrived in England for the first time he had to spend his first night sleeping on a bus bench not far from the ferry terminal in Dover.
I certainly didn’t want to repeat that, so got Peter to drop me at the station at Epsom and I said a sad goodbye to Peter and Angelique as they drove off in their warm, dry car.
Then with a sigh, I humped my pack on my back and walked onto the platform.
To say I was depressed barely hints at the scale of my desolation.
It was dark now, and raining.
Although it was September (first month of Autumn), the rain and dark made it quite chilly.
I couldn’t find a ticket office, so just sat and waited for a train to come along.
Eventually one did, and I got on board.
I sat in the corner and contemplating the dark depressing view, wondering where I would stay the night.
Finding somewhere to stay is hard enough, but at night, in the rain, it takes on a whole new dimension of difficulty.
Eventually a train staffer came down the corridor wearing a large machine on his front, like a metal child in a front holder.
He asked me where I was going, I said London, and he replied, “Well, this train is going to Waterloo, so I’ll ticket you there.”
“OK”, I said.
He clicked at his machine and a ticket emerged.
I took it and he walked off.
It wasn’t till after he had left that it occurred to me to ask him if he knew somewhere cheap I could stay, but I put that thought aside with the thought that he would probably return ere long to check for new passengers.
However, I then had a piece of luck that all travellers dream of.
We stopped at another darkened station and the door to my carriage opened and a young woman got on.
She sat near me and then eyeing my backpack, and my genuinely deplorable condition began a conversation, “where are you from?”
“Australia”, I replied.
“You?”, I said, “local?”
“Yes, I live in Surbiton with my sister and brother-in-law”.
We got chatting and slowly it emerged that she, her sister and brother-in law, had a goal in life.
A goal that had emerged to the exclusion of all others: they wanted to emigrate to Australia.
So we talked about this, not that I knew much about it, due to my insular life, but I told her what I could.
And as the conversation flowed we got around to where I was going.
Well that was still a question, but I answered as best I could and we discussed a few options.
Then, as we approached her stop, she seemed to come to a decision and she asked if I would like to spend the night at their house.
Did I!
I accepted so fast that she was still speaking the last words of her offer before my acceptance reached her ears.
Talk about darkness to light in a split second.
Surbiton loomed up outside the window and I got off with her, and we walked the ten minutes or so to her home.
We then went through the process of entering an English home, which I would become heartily sick of as the year went by, involving removing all wet clothes in the garage or laundry, then entering the house.
I met her sister and brother-in-law, he rose in my estimation immediately by hearing that I was Australian, then going straight to the fridge, getting beer out, and handing me one.
We then had a lovely meal, with more beers.
We discussed options for Australian emigration, I agreed to help where I could.
They told me travel trips for Britain (Take more money), and eventually I went to sleep on a mattress in their spare room, listening happily to rain outside, rather than scrunched up on a bus bench trying to keep my various limbs out of it.
Morning came and I said my goodbyes to this most hospitable group and made my way back to Surbiton station.
I bought my ticket and eventually, many long kilometres through Asia with long-haul flights in between, I stood on the Strand.
I had made it to London.
So, first things first, how to get out of the place?
Later on this would become an overriding obsession, but on this first morning I had more immediate reasons.
The most important contact I had from home was a biochemistry student, Mike Balmer.
Mike was English and had spent a year studying at Sydney U, and I played with him at the soccer club.
He was now back home and I had sent my large bag with my “England” clothes in it, to his place in Church Stretton, in Shropshire.
So my first task was to get out there and pick up my bag.
So I caught the tube around to Paddington and then the train to Church Stretton.
Church Stretton was a lovely place and I was given accommodation with Mike’s girlfriend’s mother, who ran a small sweet shop in the high street.
I threw my gear down in the spare room and not long after Mike came in from his place just outside the village and we repaired to the local pub.
It was a weekday, and not long after noon, but my arrival gave us an excuse to drink early.
We had a few pints, then I took my suitcase, which Mike had brought in with him, back to the shop and I took it upstairs to unload.
I then spent a couple of very happy days there.
I washed my clothes, I drank pints in the pub with Mike, we walked on the Longmynd, a large hill outside Church Stretton, famous for ramblers, and then time came to return to London.
Among the valuable things Mike and his family did for me was a place to stay in London.
Mike’s brother-in-law, Don, had a share house in South East London, and Mike teed it up for me to stay there.
Looking back I can’t believe how lucky I was in that early period, first the fortuitous girl on the train, now Mike’s family had a place, seemingly ready made for me in the capital.
So I said my goodbyes to Mike and his family and hefting my backpack and suitcase and headed for London.
I arrived at Paddington, then tubed around the circle to Charing Cross.
I emerged from the tube stop and took the surface train to Don’s house in Lewisham.
This was a minor coincidence as that was the last place I had lived in Sydney.
I got off at Lewisham station and walked through the grey streets to the address I had been given, opened the door and let myself in.
Don was an accountant and lived with two mates from work, Matt and Pete.
He had warned me that he (Don) wouldn’t be home for a while and the first person I would meet would most likely be Matt, and so it was.
It was a little disturbing for Matt, as I don’t think Don had been able to get through to tell him that I would be ensconced, and as it happened I was watching the TV in the living room when I heard the sound of a key scraping in the lock.
The door opened and I yelled out from the living room, “Matt”.
There was a silence, then he answered, “Er, Yes?”
Obviously he had heard my Australian accent and knew it wasn’t anyone he thought should be in the house.
So I got up and went out into the hall to allay his fears.
“UH, hi, My name’s Lock, I just got here from Australia, and Don said it would be Ok to stay for a few days.”
He replied, “Oh, Ok, great, want some tea?”
Yet another English person who had broken the mould of my stereotyping by being accommodating within seconds.
We repaired to the kitchen and while Matt made some tea we talked and figured out how things were going to work.
We went back into the living room and began watching the soccer highlights and checking the scores of other weekend games.
After a lifetime of being considered effeminate in Australia because I played soccer, it was great to be in a land where it was the main game.
We watched happily together and eventually I went up to the room I had been allotted to unpack and prepare for tomorrow when I would go out and sign up with a teaching agency to get some work.
I began pulling my clothes out and got a set of teaching clothes ready to put in the washing machine downstairs.
I emptied the various pockets and as I did I came across an object that I would soon wish was genuine, it was a train ticket from home and it said “Lewisham to Bondi, one way, $2.50”.

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