I Took the Kids to

Werribee Zoo

After my 2 year old had chanted NO BUS for the eighteenth time I realised that maybe it was time to bail. But we were on the bus. And as a mum who generally has always respected her daughter’s wishes, it was hard to force her to sit down and tell her that it was going to be fantastic – for the eighteenth time in reply.

We just had to get moving. I had lured Miss 2 into the Safari Bus queue with a cookie, and kept her there with the promise of more in my pocket. (I literally held the cookie in front of her nose and walked.) Now, as she was squeezing out of her seat belt, and screaming, my grand idea of neutralising her, and the 6 month old on my lap by trapping them in a moving vehicle for 35 minutes was rapidly fading. As with many a grand idea, I found myself singing under my breath “seemed like a good idea, at the time”.

That’s right, I came to the Werribee Zoo with two kids under two on a thirty degree day because, you know, that’s what parents do sometimes when they’re desperate to get out of the house, and want a long enough drive that their kids might sleep.

When we are finally moving, it feels like a lifetime before we see anything. I wonder if I’ve picked the wrong side of the bus.

Over the hill into the savannah scene and suddenly there are four Giraffes ridiculously close to our window – my daughter is hypnotised. “Thank you Jesus” I mutter under my breath, possibly heard by the guy across the aisle who had called me Super Mum earlier (I decided more in sympathy than admiration).

We circle some zebra and rhinos and Miss 2 is refusing to remain seated. I break the rules, by breaking open a rice cracker pack. I unwrap it under my seat and pass it to her like a black market transaction. “QUICK” I whisper, “EAT IT QUICKLY.” She takes one bite and goes to throw it out the window. Toddlers.

I learn that the collective noun for zebra is a ‘dazzle’ from the occasionally hilarious man narrating our tour. I wonder if he can see us through the mounted cameras at the front of the carriage – my daughter is standing up again but I have one arm wrapped around her. I decide that I could legitimately plead ignorance about not knowing the rules as she had done a runner from the queue when he was listing them all over the loud speaker.

When the bus finally returns to the Safari Station, my daughter is somehow still safe inside the vehicle, and my 6 month old is asleep on my breast, sweaty, but happy. After escaping the bus, which upon reflection she agreed she had enjoyed, Miss 2 seeks refuge in a coin operated safari car and refuses to move.

“I’m driving!” she yells, to which I reply, “yeah, me crazy.” The lady at the adjacent café table definitely hears that, laughing into her coffee, and I let my daughter drive for as long as she likes.

bus pic

A Sweet Ghost, Flower Power and Christmas in November

I’m not far from home when I feel someone ghosting me. A young guy, he’s quite tall, and first I speed up to let him go ahead of me – but he slows down.Then I power past him, but he’s still there, at my left elbow.

I pull out my earphones and look at him. He’s younger than I thought, just tall. “Namaste.”

“Namaste,” he replies, very, very quietly.

“Tappai lai kasto cha?”

Even more softly so that he is almost whispering, he shyly mutters, “Sannchai cha…”

He regards me with a faint smile, “You speak Nepali, as well as English?”

“Only a little Nepali! And you, your English is very good. Do you learn it at school?”

“Yes, I go to an English and Nepali school.”

I am so glad now that I didn’t respond with anger or suspicion at this young man just wanting to test out his English. We walk almost to my door and I wish him a happy festival week and force him to be on his way, although I think he wanted to stay and talk more.

Nepal is filled with good people. Of course there must be ‘bad people’, but even people who might have an agenda – vendors, taxi drivers, etc – are, I believe, inherently kind, friendly and generous here.

The other day when I rode in a micro-bus (not worth saving $2 – next time, taxi), crammed in a mini-van with about 20 other people, sweating, dusty, falling over because our feet were half a metre away from the weight of our body, and only staying sane because there was a really cute baby in the seat that I was nearly falling onto, my bag was held by someone in the front of the bus. Was I worried about it? I guess so. But did I actually think someone would take something from it? No.

Today I asked a young man in a card shop to write in a card for my host-brother. Stupid me – I could have really humiliated the young man, forgetting that over 30% of men and boys here are illiterate. How would I have felt if he couldn’t write? He was only able to write Happy Deepawali and Thank you, and as he was getting a little flustered (he actually went to the neighbouring shops to find someone who could help him – but was unsuccessful), I left it at that.

We really do take it for granted, that so many of us are privileged with an education.

This festival is quite beautiful – four days of honouring Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. First Hindu people honour the crows, the dogs, the cows and the oxen, and finally celebrate the Brother and Sister Tika day, when siblings give presents to each other.

Tonight I walked around the neighbourhood checking out the beautiful light displays – the dark houses were Buddhists or Christians, my father pointed out – and enjoyed the festive cheer of the Laxmi Pooja. Each house invites Laxmi (and thus, money) into their homes by creating little colourful offerings outside their dwellings, on the road or in their entrance, with a painted line tracing its way up stairs to each apartment and room, aglow with tea light candles so that the Goddess does not lose her way, or miss out on anyone.

A bit like Christmas, like children waiting for Santa. Mixed in with Halloween – children run from house to house, and store to store, singing a song asking for gifts, and are duly rewarded with sweets or money, which the head child then stuffs into the communal backpack that he wears on his front, before leading the noisy group away to the next target.

During the day I watched the entire city sell, purchase or carry the flowers that are used in the worship offerings, and as decorations for houses and store fronts. Every store was being attended to carefully and lovingly – people were on ladders every few metres in the city centre, attaching the beautiful yellow flower chains to their doorways and eaves. Every second pedestrian’s arms were overflowing with the flowers, and every corner was a sea of yellow and orange. I can’t help but wonder who grows, and makes them all. With the flashing lights, the decorations, the offering made into a mini mountain in my family’s living room, the children playing excitedly and the crowds of people walking in the streets shaking hands and whispering “Happy Deepawali” to each other, there is definitely a Christmas feel to this week.

The children will stop chanting and ‘trick or treating’ at 11pm apparently – because after that, they need to be quiet and go to bed. When one group came earlier to the house, the lady downstairs had not quite finished the offering in the main walkway, so she just told the singing youngsters that she was not ready, and that they should come back in 5 minutes. The singing (shouting) stopped abruptly, and the group of 8 kids or so respectfully walked away.

So, I guess there’s nothing else to do except lie in bed, my room flashing through the different colours of the lights outside my window. Maybe I should go out and relight the candles outside my door so that Laxmi doesn’t forget to throw some money in my direction too.

PS As this goes to print, I have since caught many a Micro-bus and am feeling more confident about finding the right ones, and quite enjoy the crazy experience it offers. I love the people watching – here people hold other people’s bags on their laps, and often hold other people’s children on their laps – it is a wonderful microcosm of Nepali culture.

Remittance and Regret in Nepal

I feel a touch of anger in Bhupi’s words as he speaks. It disappears so quickly I wonder if it was ever there at all. It is the raw exasperation of a man with great passion about his country, and who must often feel as though his efforts are going unrewarded.

He has arrived at the part of the presentation about the work of VIN (Volunteers Initiative Nepal – the organisation that he founded) detailing the Youth Empowerment program that they have implemented in their project community just outside of Kathmandu.

The other programs are being well received in the community, and reaping rewards big and small amongst the marginalised there – especially women and children.

But the youth of Nepal – more importantly, the educated youth of Nepal – are leaving the country as soon as they have the money or means, or moving into the already crowded city, leaving a country, or countryside of just the very young and old. In Nepal only 30% of the women and girls are literate, and 60% of the men, and the primary industry of the country, agriculture, suffers as the young refuse to take over their family’s farms, often leaving to seek the only job and life opportunities they see to exist – overseas. Incoming remittance to  Nepal is credited as a major factor in the development of the country over the past 40 years. (UNDP’s ‘Human Development Report 2010)

How do you keep young, educated people in their country of origin? If you have a person trained to be a doctor, a nurse or a teacher, how do you make them stay? The government is in limbo here in Nepal, politics is just politics – vote for me, vote for me – and no care is being shown for the state of the nation. The writing of the constitution is years and years overdue, and infrastructure, education, jobs and welfare are in trouble.

Programs to empower and assist the young people of Nepal are obviously open to exploitation by those being educated and assisted. Once young people have the skills and knowledge they need to gain security and greater wealth – there needs to be great incentive for them to stay in this country to work and settle. Of course in their situation, most of us would leave our country if that was where the opportunities lay- and with the other volunteers from all over the world we discussed similar ‘exodus’ situations in our own countries – like the ghost towns of the Australian outback where the entire town’s inhabitants have left for the big smoke.

There is just a great sadness in the loss of these trained and educated people who can contribute to their country’s future. Nothing can really happen until the government gets their ars into gear and improves the quality of the lives of people living in this magical nation.

For the moment VIN and Bhupi will continue their Youth Empowerment programs, experimenting with new ideas and strategies such as business ventures that might keep the youth of the communities within Nepal. But you cannot help but feel his regret that this aim of his – which is the backbone of his goals and work – is failing because the government and country are not supporting the generation of people that the country so desperately needs to stick around.

Day One: Pre-departure Paranoia etc etc

“It will be an adventure,” I keep telling people, and myself, about this trip to Nepal. That makes me feel better, I guess, because adventures are supposed to be uncomfortable. If trips were easy and there was no sense of the unknown – then what makes you learn? Where do you get your funny stories from – the ones that were laced with danger but left you with a valuable lesson, worth the retelling?

I’ve never understood people who have never been on an adventure.

It doesn’t need to be overseas. It could be around Australia. It could be a camping trip or a drive up the coast. So in fact, perhaps there is actually no one who hasn’t been on an adventure. Big or small, short or long, near or far, I guess we probably have all done something that takes us out of our comfort zone.

My mum asked me how I was feeling last night.

“A bit anxious,” I said.

“Then why do you do keep doing this!” I could hear a mother’s concern, tinged with some exasperation at the last child to settle, the last one to stop moving and stay nearby. The one yet to buy a house, have some kids, get married.

I do ask myself the same question – why? Why do I leave my happy life, my wonderful boyfriend, my cute dog and steady job? But I know the answer.

I am addicted to adventure, and change. I get bored. I’ve been like this since I was a teenager. It’s the same addiction that is probably responsible for the demise of many a relationship – mostly unimportant flings of youth, but some that held great gravity in my life.

Luckily I have found the best life partner for me – who understands my need to upturn my life every now and again to stay sane – and because I understand myself better now, I don’t feel guilty for my need for a change of scene. He knows that if he tried to stop me leaving, I would just go anyway. I know that sounds unbelievable to some people – why would you leave the person you love? But I think, why would you short change yourself – if I don’t go, then I won’t be myself and I won’t be happy. And the last few months have been wonderful, because life is great when you are waiting for your adventure to start.

And so Day 1 has begun, as I fly over the great Australian outback. It stretches so clear and flat out my window that I feel like I should be able to see the sea, but I cannot. I am excited and exhausted simultaneously, happy, and yet a little lost.

(The sadness I felt when I left you Troy, struck me hard as I walked through those doors.)

But this is what an adventure is! It’s about how you deal with those mixed up feelings – it makes you stronger. I don’t like depending on people, and so maybe in a sort of masochistic way, I like to stretch myself and test myself.

Suddenly, as I write this, the plane is crossing some coastline of the North of Australia. What a clear, beautiful day! I can see every river, every crocodile – infested estuary, every nook and cranny of beach. And then we cross part of Indonesia, or Timor, and I feel like I am being taken on a tour of a World Map, hovering, in slow motion – like in and out-of-body experience, from South to North, crossing continent and ocean to really give me perspective about how big this world is. Clouds dot the blue below, and soon we will be above Asia… It is a massive world, and I am a tiny organism, being carried in a vehicle whose mechanics I don’t understand, to a country far from where I was born.

Adventure – already worth it.

(It totally smells like someone is smoking in the toilet. If the plane crashes. That’s what it was. Sorry friends and family who have put up with my pre-departure paranoia that I would die this trip –  but seriously, just saying.)

The Sum of all my Fears = this ‘Holiday’

For all my Buddhist talk – I have some fears. Besides the sort of ‘philosophical’ fears like ‘will I do enough in this world?’ and ‘am I happy?’ – I have a few practical, physical fears.

Water is one. Confined spaces is another. And sharks and crocodiles. (An earwig crawling in my ear is another – but not quite relevant at this time… if any.) I’ll get back to the first three later, but the whole croc thing – that has been around since my nightmares as a child (and young adult). It is the reason that I don’t ever, EVER, sleep with any of my limbs overhanging from the bed, and why this trip to the Daintree rainforest has caused me some anxiety since (and before) we arrived.

We have been here, up North, for two days now, and seriously – what an amazing, beautiful place this ancient rainforest is. It is spectacular. There is an immense prehistoric-ness to it. The trees, the animals, the insects, the flowers, the mountains.  From the beach looking inland, you could be in Lost, stranded in a space-time-continium rift – or in a really nice version of purgatory or wherever they were, or in a scene from Jurassic park – expecting at any time a T-Rex to come bounding out of the dense, twisted, mangled forest, or one of those giant, alien polar bears that flatten the forest in the distance when the plane-wrecked team crash land on the beach.

When someone says, “this beach is very safe – there has never been a croc sighting here”, I don’t hear this with optimism – I hear this with a great and permeating pessimism that erodes my entire being. I hear “No one has ever been killed here whilst lying on the beach or been dragged under and drowned and ripped to shreds whilst paddling in the waves – but there’s always a first!”

Very soon after visiting one of the beaches, I felt reassured to an extent – but we didn’t swim. There were many people about, and I do trust local knowledge regarding the movement and behaviour of crocodiles – animals with whom these residents share their neighbourhoods.

So onto the water and the sharks, and the confined spaces.

I’ve been snorkelling before. In Vanuatu Troy and went on a very small boat out not very far, in a part of the ocean touted as the ‘safest area to snorkel’ – naturally protected by the reefs and the islands – no sharks would come to talk to us. This activity began with me, after trying to affix the mask to my face, hyperventilating on the shore, my tears and breath fogging up the mask. (The whole mask thing = confined spaces.) Troy coaxed me out, and I managed to swim back to the shore from the boat, vaguely enjoying myself in the process, however I was not breathing through the snorkel tube, just holding my breath and looking down. The drop off scared the bejezus out of me (not the Drop off!) when I met a mean looking fish with massive teeth just facing off with me and I turned my little fishy tail to land and swam swam swam.

Water’s just not my thing. I’m not a beach girl. I don’t like surfing or body boarding or sunbaking for hours, or wearing a bikini. I’m a land, bush girl. Mountains. Walking. Trekking. Climbing to the top of something to see what I can see. Skiing. Camping. Trees – I just really love trees.

Water, no. I don’t like putting my head under water. I can swim (I can only do survival strokes) but would rather run 5km than swim 50 metres of freestyle. Putting my head underwater is like being in a box to me. You are trapped. (Horrible childhood memory = swimming instructor making me hold a swimming brick under my chin so that I wouldn’t lift my head out of the water when doing freestyle.)

And sharks, sharks frighten me. (But at least they’re not amphibious – with Crocodiles, there’s no escape.)

So today Troy and I went snorkelling. So that he could live one of his dreams – snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, which I too wanted to do – but I knew that this would mean facing my quite irrational fears, which I was prepared to do – but I knew wouldn’t necessarily be easy.

The marine biologist taking us out gave us the welcome talk: “We might see turtles, stingrays, dolphins, and if we’re really lucky – a shark!” That didn’t help my condition.

“Don’t you dare leave me.” I told Troy. And he didn’t – except I left him at one point, to return to the boat, and then he saw a turtle. Not. Happy. Disappointed to the max.

This was no little put-put Vanuatuan boat taking us 200m off shore. This was ‘the fastest way out to the reef – there in 25 minutes!’ (PLUG – Ocean Safari, great people, great tour. Cheap, fun.) And so we literally sped out to the Mackay Reef, 9 nautical miles offshore (which apparently is quite far – it certainly looked extremely far) in the most beautiful weather possible. Clear blue water all around, and what a view of the forested mainland! But we hadn’t even got to the boat and my heart started beating VERY fast, my breathing became shorter and useless as we walked…Troy squeezed my hand and told me it would all be okay… It is very rare that my fear transfers into physical anxiety but has happened with snorkelling and once at a music festival when there was no room to move due to the crowds – I used to be frightened of flying, but this never played with my heart-rate or ability to breathe normally.

Fast forward 25 minutes (yes only 25!) and I’m in the water. I have flippers on, and I have a mask on my face, and suddenly my breathing is. Short. Useless. Hyper. Ventilating. Get. Me. Out. Of. Here. The tears are coming (in my head a cartoon image pops up of my face mask comically filling up with water) – what am I doing out here in the ocean?

Troy calms me down as I tread water. I tell myself to get my shit together. I have conquered many an uncomfortable or scary situation before, and I don’t like depending on my boyfriend, but thank goodness he was there to talk me into swimming a little further, trying a little harder, and persisting with this whole swimming out in the ocean thing. I just find it a bit overwhelming. You don’t know what’s out there, and you can’t really go anywhere if you meet something sinister. It’s just a whole another world – and I can understand why some people love diving and snorkelling because of that. I appreciate the beauty of the underwater world – but diving for me would honestly be the most frightening thing I can imagine doing. (Water/confined spaces/sinister ocean beings – they’re all there.) I would much rather jump out of a plane.

I practice breathing through the snorkel pipe and the nice guide throws me a noodle floating device to help me stay horizontal for the first part of the journey. I am relaxed now, and able to breathe through the snorkel – something I’ve never been able to do before.

We visit three different parts of the reef. Two fairly shallow areas, and a short look around the drop off. I feel safe with lots of people around, and am so thankful of the amazing weather and clear water “You’ll see something coming from a mile away!” says Troy – oh yes, reassuring that is. But seriously, it was wonderful to see the array of fishes, and the coral. A highlight (since I missed out on the turtle) was the giant clams. Yes – doesn’t sound exciting – but seriously, these clams are giant!

Whilst I was slightly disappointed with the reef (it wasn’t as colourful as I imagined – I actually blame this on watching Finding Nemo so many times) it was a great experience… Shattered I missed out on the turtle, but thankful I didn’t see anything much bigger than the (small types of) Groper fish.

I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s screwed up by pollution, rising sea temperatures, mining or dredging, and be able to tell my children that I woman-ed up and faced my fears.

But I think that’s it for my snorkelling adventures.

A little sunburnt, extremely tired, and somewhat emotionally drained, we arrive back at our hotel.

“It’s so tiring being brave.” I say with great drama (oh damn these first world woes!).

“Well, tomorrow we’ll just go to the beach, have a swim, chill out,” he says, before quickly adding, “the safe beach.”*


Love this holiday.

*See below photo –  yes, this is the ‘safe beach’. Right.

Life, Death, Sacrifice and Infamy

Have you ever wondered whether you have the capacity – and by that, I think I mean the courage – to give your life for a cause? I don’t mean those amazing people who have, on the spot, made the adrenalin-charged decision to save others by running into burning buildings or jumping into a domestic dispute, I mean people who have felt so strongly about something enough, to risk – or deliberately give – their lives to make a point.

In Munich in 1942 and 1943, a small group of university students and their professor were responsible for the anonymous distribution of leaflets that called for active opposition against Adolf Hitler, and the Nazi’s persecution of Jewish people. I had never heard of this little pocket of resistance called the White Rose in the heart of Bavaria until I arrived in Munich, and began strolling through Wikipedia pages about the city, to find tourist attractions I might be interested in, and get the general historical ‘gist’ of the city. The six core members of the White Rose were arrested and decapitated in 1943. They are now considered heroes – but at the time of Nazi domination, you can imagine the danger they faced when brazenly dropping leaflets around the university and into people’s letter boxes.

“Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?” – the first leaflet of the White Rose

In Munich, we visited the Hofbräuhaus beer hall where Hitler gave one of his earliest speeches, and I imagined the students of the White Rose and their professor, secretly meeting in small beer halls or university lecture rooms to discuss the need for change against such a man, and such a regime. They would have known that death would be the likely outcome if a great change did not come from their countrymen, and they were caught opposing the Nazi party.

I feel very strongly about many things. But I wonder at my capacity to give my life for something that I feel so strongly about. I am so lucky to live in a peaceful, just society, and only have to look at the recent uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Syria to wonder – if I was there, where would I be? What would I be doing?

I am now in Prague, the site of the self-immolation of Jan Palach, a student who set himself on fire in protest to the Soviet invasion of 1968, dying later in hospital. Considering this event brings to mind other self-immolations that have shocked the world: the 12 year old girl (2001) who (allegedly) belonged to the persecuted Falun Gong spiritual group in China and Thich Quang Duc (1963), the first of many Vietnamese Buddhist monks who committed suicide in protest of their oppression at the hands of the Roman Catholic administration in the country.

A watcher of the suicide of Thich Quang Duc reflected:

“I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think… As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”

Now, considering myself as someone who certainly tries to follow a Buddhist lifestyle, and being familiar with the teachings of Buddha, I try to live my life as one of many lives. And due to this belief, I try to think of these life sacrifices as positive things – for of course, we will be back, and will be rewarded for our past actions and good deeds. Goodness breeds goodness. (Did you know Buddha gave one of his lives helping deer cross a river? He was trampled to death, but all the deer were safely able to make it to the other side.)

So taking into account that I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again, I got to thinking (a little bit too much) about my lives pre-this one. Would I have been braver in a different life? Would I have harboured a Jew in Hitler’s reign, knowing that it could be the end of me? Have I died before for a cause – for someone or something? Am I evolving, understanding more clearly with every life that this world is transient? And of course, these bodies holding my soul – the other ‘people’ I have been – were different people to who I am now, but essentially have I always been the same person somewhat? Oh dear, you can see how thinking about this leads to thoughts that are a little deep for a blog once you get moving.

I want to use this life to do good deeds. I want to change the world, and have made that my dream since I was quite young. I want to be a part of the masses aiming to end discrimination, end the pillaging of our world, end violence and abuse of children and women, end human rights violations, end the raping of our forests to feed the cows that feed McDonalds, and the list goes – literally – on and on and on and on.

At any rate, I wish that I could feel completely at ease with life and death, and being in these places of great historical sacrifices – often by young people – has made me consider my own strength.

Time will tell (although hopefully it will not?) whether I am strong enough to always stay true to my beliefs and what is good, moral and just in this world.

Sunny days, drinking the day away…

Ned Kelly’s Bar, 6:00am

It’s gonna be a messy day, I think, as I warn the random guy from Bendigo to not fall asleep and pour his drink down my pants. He tells me to lighten up. I take a sip from my first drink of the day. It’s nearly Quarter Time, and I’m standing in Ned Kelly’s Bar in the centre of Munich, watching the AFL Grand Final with literally hundreds of other ex-pats and tourists. They must all be Aussies, or stupid, to be up at 5am for this game, but the German next to me tells me that he was just “interested” in Aussie Rules. He asks for the run-down of the game. “Grab the ball, and kick it through the big posts”, I say. The guy with a Cats scarf next to me shrugs, and nods. “That’s pretty much it.”

I’m fairly certain that only 20% of the crowd are Collingwood supporters, maybe another 20% are actual Geelong supporters, and the remainder are just ‘not Collingwood’, and so therefore, barracking for Geelong. Almost everyone is running on little or no sleep, us included, and most have come directly from yesterday’s Oktoberfest celebrations. At half time we all get some air, and a man is throwing up across the road.

Oktoberfest Grounds

After riding a twisting, turning, plunging, spinning ride on the showgrounds and only just managing to keep down my Subway 6-inch roll, we somehow manage to secure a table in one of the beer gardens. My first maβ arrives. I sit on this beer for the good part of two hours, marvelling at the women delivering ten of these Litre glasses at one time, and me only just being able to lift it to my lips with my left hand. After the original group of ladies on our table leave, we allow a rowdy group of Austrians to join us. We can see a group of sweating Sesame Street characters a few tables over, and somehow, with the exodus of the Austrians, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Ernie (sans Bert), Oscar the Grouch and also the pink and yellow fluffy characters are here, their massive heads bumping against ours above our empty maβ littered table. They are Dutch, besides one Pom, and are a fun bunch, and clearly crazy to be wearing full fuzzy suits on this sunny day. We take it in turns to try on their heads.

Toilet Queue, most of the afternoon

I feel very ugly and strange in the line, with the girls around me decked out in their beautiful Dirndl dresses, the traditional Bavarian outfit, which, along with the boys in their Lederhosen, is the common attire for Oktoberfest (everyone from tiny toddlers to the grey oldies are costumed). I’m different, and what’s worse, struggling to find clean, let alone nice clothes in my backpack was hard enough this morning, so I’m in a daggy T-shirt and jeans.

The toilet situation is Oktoberfest is basically impossible. Each time I make the mission, it takes me between 40min to an hour to do the round trip from table to toilet. On the first few adventures, we are detoured out of the beer hall, through a plethora of different walkways and exits, amidst a sea of drinkers, dancers and hall staff carrying jugs of beer or a huge plate of food, and one time we are actually led out of the entire beer hall, and garden, and the toilet-goers find ourselves once again in the queue to get inside. (That time I snuck back in, the opposite way, few a few illegal exits and returned to my table.)

This final time (I am not doing this again) some Spanish guys think it’s hilarious to take photos of the girls who are absolutely in pain needing to pee, and are shoving their camera in our faces, making pouting lips at us, trying to get us to pose for their picture. There is no escape, bar from leaving the line. I seductively gesture to the Spanish man to give me the camera, which he does, and proceed to make stupid pouting poses at him, take his picture at point blank range, and give him back his camera.

His friend, apparently the translator, begins “ahh, my friend, he says, you are different, very funny…” “Yeah well, mate, I don’t really care what your friend thinks,” I say, “except he shouldn’t be taking photos of the girls lining up to go to the toilet. You tell him that.” The girls around me nod in agreement and I feel a little bit of respect. The girl next to me is lovely, and since we still have about 40 minutes together of talking time, have a lovely conversation whilst we elbow out the girls trying to push in.

Back at the table

With Sesame Street having taken over our table, I am bungled into a group of old German men, who, besides being quite funny, are occasionally snorting a white powder out of a little bottle. They offer me some, which I decline, but later find to be peppermint. What the? The German/English banter continues, until, after unwrapping one of their arms from around my waist, and narrowly escaping a kiss on the lips from Sandra, I retreat to Sesame Street.

A French group has invaded, and it seems Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch have been evicted from the beer garden. They reappear later for more impromptu Red Hot Chilli Peppers singing, and Cookie and I can continue our extremely disjointed rendition of “Land Down Under”, which basically consists of humming, drumming, and “GAVE ME A VEGEMITE SANDWHICH!”

Oh dear Oktoberfest, when my mother said “Stay sober in Munich!” I had laughed. But in the end, it was not as messy as it could have been, and for that I am grateful.