What Is That Sound?

I discovered something interesting on the weekend. I have a high level of emotional intelligence.

There’s a test you can take to determine this, and my Emotional Intelligence Quotient scored pretty high. I am, in fact, probably more emotionally intelligent than you. I am definitely more emotionally intelligent than my boyfriend (who also took the test) – and I will make sure he never forgets it.

In fact, I am so emotionally intelligent – so very much so – that I knew exactly how to handle an uncomfortable situation on the bus today.

The bus was trundling toward the city, and I was sitting down the front, enjoying my window seat. It was a cold, sunny day in Brisbane today – the type that’s beautiful with a cruel, glittering kind of beauty. It was warm inside the bus, so I was content. As we plunged beneath the city, into the subterranean busway, I started to hear a small noise coming from the back. It was a faint, staccato sound, repeating every few seconds. A small ftss.

Ftss.

Ftss.

I did not turn around. The sound was getting more insistent as we swung past the Queen Street Mall bus stop and up towards daylight. There it was again.

Ftss.

I supposed we had a sufferer of Tourette’s Syndrome on board. No worries – we had someone with Tourette’s in one of my lectures at uni. Once you got past the fact that someone to your left was grunting ‘Hup!’ over every third word the lecturer said, it became nothing more than lecture hall ambience.

Now the sound had gotten out of its seat and was moving towards the front of the bus, becoming more audible.

Ftss. Fksk. FKSK. FUCK’S SAKE!

The sound belonged to a smartly dressed young man with far too much gel in his hair, who evidently wanted to disembark in the city. But this bus didn’t stop in the city – it passed right through on its way to the eastern suburbs. Now Pointy Hair had realised this, and was approaching the bus driver.

As the bus cruised through the last set of traffic lights before the motorway entrance, there was a quiet conversation. It suddenly became loud.

‘I NEED TO GET OUT HERE.’

‘I CAN’T LET YOU OUT ON THE ROAD.’

‘LET ME OUT!’

The bus driver – a tough, middle-aged woman with beefy arms and an operatic voice – yanked the bus vindictively over to the kerb. She leaned on the steering wheel and glared at Pointy Hair.

‘THIS BUS DOES NOT. STOP. IN THE CITY!’

The young man was much calmer now that the bus had stopped. He tried to swipe his Go Card to tag off, but the machine hadn’t registered the stop.

He asked, ‘Could you please turn your machine on?’

‘READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’

Meanwhile, two other passengers stood up, the ones who were also on the wrong bus but had chosen to bear it with dignity. Now they were rushing the doors with relieved looks on their faces.

The bus driver was livid. ‘AW LOOK,’ she thundered at Pointy Hair, ‘NOW EVERYONE’S GETTING OUT!’

‘Could you please turn your machine on.’

The bus driver finally switched on the machine, and Pointy Hair and the others quickly tagged off. They exited the bus followed by the bellows of the bus driver: ‘READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS! READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’

As the shell-shocked survivors of her wrath scattered on the sidewalk, the bus driver threw a foul look into her rear-view mirror – as if daring any of us to ding the bell – then heaved us back onto the road. We rode onto the motorway in a silence that could’ve combusted. I kept waiting for her to shout at us like a pissed-off teacher who’s just sent the naughty kids to the principal, but still needs to vent. I was waiting for, ‘THAT’S WHY YOU ALWAYS READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’ But it never came. It was probably saved up for whoever was waiting for her at home, god rest their soul.

Now, because of my heightened emotional intelligence, I was able to handle this situation very well. (Clearly these EIQ tests are extremely accurate.) When presented with a highly charged atmosphere and a conflict situation, I reacted with the grace and style of someone who has aced the emotional intelligence test.

I ducked down in my seat and tried to stop the tears from coming.

Yep. Watery eyes and a trembling bottom lip. Frightened of the bus driver. That’s the mark of an emotionally superior being, right there. Boom. Take notes everyone, ‘cos this is how we do.

 

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A crazy couple of weeks

There was no blog post last Sunday, and I’m very sorry about that. Between study, travel, and illness, I haven’t had any space in my head for this ol’ bloggy blog.

Blog posts are probably going to be a little sporadic for a while – I’ve just started a very intense Graduate course, and it’s kicking my arse. It’s made me its punching bag and is throwing right hooks like it’s mad at me. So, it’s a shame but, when everything gets mental, the blog is the first to suffer. (Actually, that’s a lie – the hygiene of my flat is the first to suffer. The blog comes a close second.)

However, I WILL be posting a new story here this Sunday, I promise! Photo courtesy of Yarn

And, if you’re in the Brisbane area, you can come and see me perform a story, live! I’ll be one of the storytellers at Yarn: stories spun in Brisbane on Thursday 16th August. 6:30pm @ Dowse Bar, Paddington. The theme of the night is ‘In Transit: Stories of Going Nowhere’. Gee, I think I can relate!

Right. Back to study …

The apparition of these faces in the crowd

It’s early morning at the station, and I’m standing with hordes of other commuters waiting for the train. It’s one of those dark, chilly mornings where the mood is bleak; everyone’s heading to work or to school, when they’d clearly rather be tucked up in bed. The train arrives and we silently file into the carriage.

It’s packed inside; full train. I get pushed down to the other side of the carriage, shoved in between some businessmen and school kids. Over near the priority seats, I see a guy I kind of know. Shane, the brother of one of my high school friends. I only met him a couple of times, years ago. Even then I only knew him as my friend’s autistic brother – mainly because every time she mentioned him, she would say, “You know, my brother, who’s autistic?” He sees me, and we wave at each other.

There’s that ‘bing bong’ sound that means the doors will be closing. Just then, we all see a schoolgirl desperately pelting across the train platform, running towards our door. Her rubber-soled shoes are thack-thacking on the pavers. Somebody presses the ‘open doors’ button in a futile gesture, but we know she doesn’t have enough time.

The doors begin closing. The schoolgirl is still a few feet away from the train. Oh, this is going to be heartbreaking – she’s going to hit the doors just as they close, and we’ll all feel sorry for her. But wait, she’s picking up speed, she’s launching herself at the doors – oh lord, there’s only a sliver of door left – but she’s through! The girl dove through the carriage doors just as they closed. That was amazing. Indiana Jones could not have done better. The girl stands panting, just inside the doors, red-faced and very pleased. She grins, like “I did it!” But then her face changes.

I watch her realise that her backpack is stuck outside the train.

The girl made it into the train, but her backpack did not. She’s still wearing it – the pack is still strapped to her back – but the doors have closed over it, trapping it outside. The train starts to glide forwards, and the girl begins to panic. She can’t move, she’s held in place by her enormous backpack. She wriggles and makes squeaky noises. No one in the crowded train moves to help her. Except one man.

It’s Shane, my friend’s autistic brother! He hollers, “KAITLYN! HELP ME!” as he pushes his way through the motionless commuters. His voice is loud against the hush of the crowded carriage. I spring to life and elbow my way forwards. We reach the girl, and Shane begins pulling on her backpack with all his might. I tug at the doors, trying to pry them apart. The girl strains forward on the shoulder straps, and all three of us struggle together. Finally her backpack pops free. Girl, backpack, Shane and me all tumble apart like bowling pins.

The girl whispers a quiet thanks while she adjusts her backpack, embarrassment already spreading over her cheeks. I know she’ll want to pretend that nothing ever happened; that’s what I wanted when I was a teenage girl. Shane and I move back to our respective spots in the carriage, our roles as hero and sidekick now finished.

The train glides along, uninterrupted, in its usual peak-hour austerity. Shane disembarks a couple of stops later, then the girl. I stand, packed in amongst the other sardine-people, keeping my balance as we sway around the bends. It’s a quiet, desperate morning. I try not to grin too much.

“I’m not trying to buy the road … I just wanted to park on it”

Last week, a letter entitled ‘My Rejected Parking Appeal Retort’ went viral on Facebook. It was written by a known troublemaker a dear friend of mine, who recently received a hefty parking fine. She appealed the fine, but her appeal was rejected. (When you read the letter, you might figure out why.) Subsequently she wrote this letter to a representative of the City of South Perth – a poor man named Phil – outlining her general feelings on the rejection. This letter is about a parking fine … but it’s so much more than that.

In it, she ranges wildly in tone and philosophy, from questioning the role of government in our daily lives, to oblique (and seemingly irrelevant) Tom Cruise references. She dismisses feminism, endorses privatisation, and accuses South Perth of careening towards an Orwellian dystopia in which Big Brother is always watching. Remember, this started because she parked slightly outside the lines of a parking space.

This letter is hysterical. In every. Sense. Of the word.

I initially took the letter at face value, as just another eccentric thing my friend Jess did. But as more people have read it and discussed it, full-blown arguments have erupted.

“She’s making a valid point! Why do we have to pay to park on roads that we drive on for free?”

“We pay for what we use! We pay so that the City can afford to maintain the roads!”

“Isn’t that why we pay taxes? Why are they punishing us for using roads for which we’re already paying taxes?”

“It’s not punishment, it’s a clear set of consequences that you agree to when you participate in civilisation!”

“Civil liberties, blarrh!”

(And that was just the argument going on inside my own head.)

So, before you read the letter, I want to ask you: what is your opinion on parking fines? Is it reasonable for the City to issue punitive fines when we’re parking on public roads? Are roads something to which we have a right as citizens, or must we pay extra for the privilege? Are parking meters and fines a “revenue raising” scheme, as my friend suggests, or are they in the interests of public safety?

On a broader philosophical note, I would also like to ask: Do we serve the government? Or does the government serve us?

I’m going to copy in my friend’s letter for you, now. By the way, she really did send it. (The addressee’s name has been changed, because I believe in protecting privacy, even if ‘Gov’ doesn’t. Ooh, ideological burn!) After reading it, I suggest punching the air and yelling “WE ARE THE NINETY-NINE PER CENT!”

My Rejected Parking Appeal Retort

Dear Mr McKay, (if that even is your real name)

I understand that you feel that the City of South Perth could really use the $100 from my parking fine – it being “tough times” and all… In fact, I’m pretty sure there is a parking inspector in Greece that is blaming their crisis on being lenient on the Gucci laden women that park so recklessly in their suburban streets. So, how do you even sleep at night? I’m just taking a stab in the dark here Phil, but I’m guessing it’s on thousands of $100 bills that you’ve collected from poor, naive women like me; who just have terrible depth perception and can’t tell if they’re parked in the right space or not.

Surely there is a “women driver” clause that gives us a bit of grace? What about a warning to be more careful, or simply be more attentive? Or issue a forced public apology even? Now I’m all for equality, but I think the feminist movement has a lot to answer for. I’ll be honest, Phil, I don’t like lifting heavy things, or opening doors for myself; they’re just dirty.

Now, I don’t have a clever segue-way for my next point, but did you ever see that film, I think Tom Cruise was in it (shame about the divorce) Minority Report maybe? Anyway, it was about convicting people of crimes before they could commit them? Which in the end turned out to be a terrible idea and I’m pretty stoked we don’t have that kind of technology to enforce that in our society. Japan may be the closest to it – or Germany, for different reasons – but hey, I don’t live there, I live in Australia – quite possibly the greatest nation on this planet, despite it’s petty parking laws and over zealous Rangers – but alas, I digress. We just don’t punish people for victimless crimes these days, Phil! It’s just not hip! Maybe all the cool kids are working at the City of Perth or something, because they’re certainly not hanging out on the south side of the basketball court if you get my drift….

This whole spiel about parking laws being in place for public safety seems like its just bureaucratic jumping-on-a-couch-mumbo-jumbo. As if anyone has been hurt because someone hadn’t parked exactly inside the yellow lines in the first place? Enlighten me, Phil – just how are those solid yellow lines of paint on Mill-Point Road saving lives?

Let’s be honest, it’s not really about safety is it, Phil? It’s simple revenue raising! It always is! And without parking laws, we can’t create over-paid jobs to enforce them, or pay for the office Christmas Party now could we? Gina is keen to import labour from overseas – maybe you should try that to reduce your costs? Perhaps then you could issue more affordable fines, for say, twenty or even forty dollars, whilst still being able to go out for lunch on the corporate credit card. I’m sure Gina would agree that $100 for a parking infringement, in this circumstance, is pretty steep – even with the new carbon tax in place. You know Phil, I’m not actually trying to buy the four meters of road I was parked on – I was just borrowing it for half an hour.

In all seriousness, I find it pretty lowbrow to be issued a fine for parking slightly out of the space, but still within it mind you. Perhaps you should give out vouchers for parking lessons, as it looks like there is a minimum standard of competency that I have missed out on. I don’t believe this violation of your South Perth lore is fair, and I reckon it’s worth appealing.

That said, I would love to see the photos the Ranger took of my car. Please email them to my email address – I most certainly don’t have the resources to come to visit the rangers of the mighty South Perth Civic Centre during work hours to view in person, and I’m sure the photographic evidence is already on your system. Surely your department isn’t still taking snaps with Polaroid’s? Well, it seems there are so many of these wandering Rangers about – can’t one of them just bring the photos over to me? Alternatively I am happy to send you a self-addressed envelope for you to send them to me via post. You already have my address, license plate number, car description etc. – so finding my postal address shouldn’t be too difficult.

It may be worth noting that my blood type is O+ just incase you need me to sign another form with it – I know how you local government types love to see things jump through hoops; whoa, hold up – is that why the City of Perth has a circus camped out on the foreshore?! My God, is that what it’s there for??!!!

I’m not a believer in ponsey appeal processes and I am looking forward to writing to you for the long-term.

Kind Regards,

Jess

 

Empire Service (Part III)

I’ve spent a fair chunk of this trip alone. I’m nineteen years old, and five months ago I booked a round-the-world ticket and jumped a plane out of Perth, Western Australia. I was elated to be leaving my hometown. Trip of a lifetime! I trekked through a few different countries before I got to the US, where I picked up a job as a camp counselor. Working on a New England summer camp is one of the best things I have ever done. I can’t even begin to explain why. I can only recommend you do it and see for yourself. When the summer ended, there was a huge diaspora of camp counselors toward New York City. We descended on the town in busloads, tanned and dirty, singing camp songs and bursting into Hebrew. We tumbled into hostels and cheap hotel rooms and commiserated the end of our golden summer together.

We held huge dinners in downtown Manhattan, saying goodbye as we all dispersed to the next steps on our journeys. Some of us were going home; most, like me, were hitting the road again. Counselors from different camps joined us, and shared stories from their summers. It sounded like our camp was one of the lucky ones; other counselors told horror stories of spoiled brats and boring activities. One girl, a fellow Aussie named Ro, dolefully told me how she spent the whole summer standing in a barn. Apparently none of Ro’s campers had been game to have a go on the horses, so she spent most of her time at camp alone. I winced, and tried to downplay how freaking awesome my summer was.

After the goodbye dinners, everyone started to peel off in different directions. Some of the boys rented a silver convertible and set off for the southern states. The English girls went to California, to top up their tans before going back to Ol’ Blighty. My boyfriend went to visit relatives in Niagara Falls, and I took my pre-booked trip up to Nova Scotia. The gang had split up; I was travelling solo again.

A couple of weeks later, I came back down to New York from Nova Scotia, and began the great train journey west. You already know the story of my inability to follow simple directions to a train station, and you know what happened on the train to Niagara Falls. I’d already collected some pretty weird experiences on my travels. But what happens in Buffalo is something I will never forget.

After visiting the boyfriend at Niagara Falls, I am back in New York State, catching a cab through Buffalo. Buffalo is right near Niagara Falls, and it is from here that I will be catching my train to Chicago. I should be excited to see Chicago, but mostly I’m just cried out. I’ve said goodbye to my boyfriend (again), who has ended his trip and gone home; I don’t know when I’ll see him next. It’s hard being alone again. I miss my camp friends like crazy, and I’m already exhausted from shunting my enormous pack around. (Travelling light is not a trend with me.) I drag my bags into the Buffalo train station, in the pitch darkness of night. My train doesn’t leave until midnight. The station is deserted; everyone else has the good sense to travel at a decent hour. This is going to be a long night.

As I enter the station, I feel miles away from everyone I know. Australia seems like a world away. No one knows I’m here, except my boyfriend, and he just flew back home. I am completely, sadly, anonymous.

“Kaitlyn?” Says a voice, incredulous.

“Ro?” I exclaim.

Sitting on one of the cold, metal benches is Ro, the Australian camp counselor I met in Manhattan. She is staring back at me. We’re both having trouble taking in this situation. A month after camp finished, in a deserted train station, in the middle of the night, in a random town in the United States of America, the only other person catching the train is someone we know. It’s insane. It’s amazing.

We laugh hysterically for a while. Then Ro immediately heads for the restrooms.

See, there are things that I didn’t think about when planning my first solo backpacking trip. Like going to the toilet in a public place. When you’re alone in a train station and you need to pee, do you risk leaving your humungous backpack behind in the terminal? Or do you try to stuff it into the toilet stall with you? This is the dilemma that Ro was faced with before I turned up, and she was getting desperate. But, when there’s two of you, everything is easier. You just take turns.

Unbelievable as I find it, Ro is also heading to Chicago alone. Neither of us knows anybody in Chicago, so our meeting is perfect. Now that we are travelling together, I’m feeling way more hopeful. We chatter about Australia and camp and wait for the train to show up. I’m especially glad to have run into Ro when it is announced that the train will be two hours late. We won’t be departing until 2AM. A long night indeed.

The next morning, Ro and I peel ourselves out of our train seats and wander, zombie-like, in search of breakfast. We find the dining cart, relieved to see tables and tables of happy, eating passengers. The train lurches a little as we curve around a bend. Ro and I stumble towards the tables, but something blocks my path. It is a large, bosomy, grinning kitchen lady. She hollers something at me and points, but I can barely understand her accent. In my bleary haze, her Southern jolliness is too loud, too Southern. I look down at my battered Converse shoes. The red novelty shoelaces that I picked up in Canada are trailing limply behind my feet. I stopped bothering to re-tie them several states ago. I look back up at the kitchen lady. She grins and booms, “YOU GOTTA TUCK ‘EM OR TIE ‘EM, SUGAR!”

She and the other ladies hoot with laughter. They shriek and pound their thighs.

I feel near to tears. Why won’t she let me have breakfast? Please, lady, just let me sit down and have breakfast. I spent the night on a train, not sleeping, while children kicked the back of my seat with the energy and precision of an A-league soccer team. (How did those children stay up all night? Surely children will sleep anywhere? My little brother used to fall asleep in helicopters, rock concerts, heavy machinery … In fact, he still does. Okay, that could be narcolepsy.)

But then, I look across at Ro. We both start to giggle.

It’s good to know I’m not in this alone.

My Wicked Week

This week, I road-tested a form of transport that I’ve been hanging out to try for years – a Wicked campervan. Man, I couldn’t wait. I’ve wanted to hire one of these ever since I first saw one on the highway, trailing the fumes of exhaust and embarrassed parents.

You know, Wicked campers. Backpacking institution. Painted with crazy artwork, break down at the drop of a hat? Anna Bligh called them racist? You know the ones.

Wicked vans are awesome for their cheap price and rebellious paint jobs. But the thing that really struck my fancy was the handwritten graffiti all over the inside of the van. It seemed like every backpacker who’d passed through that van had scribed something. There were at least five quotations signed by a Pouick, and my boyfriend and I seemed to keep finding more. For the whole week, one of us would be firing up the barbecue or doing the dishes, and the other would yell from inside, “I FOUND ANOTHER POUICK!”

Pouick and Pouick-related graffiti.

This Pouick was clearly a backpacking epigrammatist of the highest order, whose wisdom has been immortalised on the ceiling of the van. Sage advice such as: “Rain is not a camper’s friend.” “Slow down camper, you will see that koala.” And perhaps the most enigmatic of Pouick’s quotations: “No, Meaghan, don’t look at me. Look away. Don’t look at me!!!”

The inside of the van was patchworked with doodles and scribbles. It was like the walls of a ladies’ toilet in a university arts building – but less insane (Pouick excepted). Instead of diatribes or weepy confessionals about sexually confused boyfriends, Wicked campers wrote heartfelt messages of love, advice on cool places to visit, and personal jokes from their trip. After a week, it felt like my boyfriend and I were travelling not just with each other, but also with a gang of cool new friends who had shared their memories with us. It was a beautiful and warming thought … Until my boyfriend started wondering aloud if Pouick might actually be living secretly inside the van somewhere. After all, we kept finding new Pouick quotes that we could swear weren’t there before. Then I wondered if those scratching noises we’d heard all night weren’t really possums, but the sounds of Pouick’s ghost trying to get back in. It was hard to sleep after that.

But still, I had a great time in our Wicked van.

Home sweet van.

So, here’s to the ghostly crew that kept us company during our Wicked week. To Major Jiggle, the three English girls, Jeffy + Jilly, Team Boobies, and the prolific Pouick, thank you for your words. The boyf and I have added our own, so that future campers can travel ensconced in our fond memories. And thank you, Wicked, for such a fun camping experience. I don’t care if your vans rattle and the mattresses are so thin that I couldn’t lay on my side for fear of bruising my bony hips. We paid for an experience, and that’s what we got. (We also got to and from our destination without breaking down, so BONUS!)

Since writing that last bit, I’ve found out more about our campervan. Some of the graffiti informed us that it was used in the shooting of an upcoming Brisbane indie film called Dark Are The Woods. Guess we were sleeping inside a former movie prop! It was exciting to think of seeing the van we hired in a movie, but that was before I looked up the movie online. I’m really glad I didn’t see the teaser while I was still spending nights in the van. It turns out Dark Are The Woods is some kind of B-grade torture porn flick, all about backpackers getting killed and eaten by incestuous bush-dwelling cannibals. And there are strippers, for some reason. Uh, yeah. I’m glad I didn’t know I was ensconced in the memories of those minds.

Hmm. Maybe next time I’ll just ignore the graffiti.

NY Train Driver

I don’t know about you, but I can get really bored at work. You know – it’s a slow day, no one’s around, you’re exhausted from staying up last night to watch an entire season of True Blood … Hey, don’t judge. So, maybe you whip out your smartphone and flip through Facey for a while. These things happen! But – if you’re like me and you’re an Arts graduate with a double-major in English and ‘creative flair’ – your job probably doesn’t affect many lives. I mean, when I’m handing out perfume samples at the Indooroopilly shopping centre, no one’s going to die if I sneakily play Bejewelled behind a counter.

Train drivers, on the other hand … ‘Not looking down’ is a rather vital part of their job description.

Nicole from NMNPHX (a blog I recommend checking out) brought a rather pertinent news story to my attention. A train driver in New York was recently suspended from his job for reading the newspaper at work. A passenger uploaded a video online of him reading the paper – cover to cover! – while he drives the train. In the video, filmed through the window in the driver’s door, you can see the driver occasionally glance up at the track, then go back to reading the paper in his lap. Ouch. That’s pretty irrefutable.

Oh, mister train driver. I know work can be hell. But when your job requires you to look at things in front of the train, maybe you could find an activity that doesn’t make it near-impossible to look at things in front of the train. There’s books on MP3! The radio! You could invent your own freestyle raps. Just don’t read the bloody paper.

This story has made me wonder if train drivers getting trolled by passengers is a common thing. I know I’ve uploaded a photo of a bus driver reading the paper between stops, but I wasn’t trying to get him fired. I just thought it was too amazing not to share. I’d love to know if anyone has heard of similar stories – my comment board is always open.

 

Skaters Gon’ Skate

Apologies for the quietness lately. I started a new job, which has been taking up much of my time. This job is a bit special, because one of its perks is limitless ice skating. That’s right, ice skating. In the middle of Brisbane, Australia. Ice.

At first I was terrified of setting foot on the slipperyness. I’m not the kind of person who is known for their grace. I trip over thin air. So, I figured I had no chance at all on ice. But, dammit, I was going to give it a shot.

And I did not fall over! Not even once!

Granted, I was leaning heavily on a sled (a sled designed for toddlers who are still learning to walk).

But I kept my balance! And eventually I graduated to skating without any kind of crutch. It was a proud moment. I wish my parents could have seen me.

I actually do wish that, because my folks grew up in America and always had their own ice skates; some of my earliest memories are of family holidays in the States, with my parents trying to convince me to enjoy sliding around in the snow. I was a child of tropical north Queensland – I did NOT like this cold stuff. Wearing all those layers confused me; why couldn’t I walk around in my underwear all the time? We did back home! Cold climes were not for me.

But luckily, people change. Now I quite like the ol’ ice rink. Sure, it still feels unnatural to strap blades to the bottom of your feet and skitter around on them, but I’m learning. Perhaps this will be my new favourite way of getting around.

In some places, ice skating could be a legitimate mode of transport. In Holland, for example, they all seem to be born with their feet on the ice. I was in the Netherlands a few years ago, visiting a friend for a week. I just happened to arrive in the midst of headline-making Dutch weather. The canals had frozen over for the first time in 12 years. For over a decade, no one had seen that much ice. Then, suddenly, EVERYTHING was frozen!

Edam, Holland. 2009.

That’s a lotta frozen.

All the locals in Edam, where my friend lives, were ditching work and grabbing their skates. People were skimming along the narrow waterways that run through the fields, their hands clasped behind their backs. My friend and her family kitted me out with some spare skates and dragged me to the nearest lake.

I was terrified. That thing about me not liking the cold? It was kicking my ass. If my friend hadn’t pulled me bodily along the ice, I would have just crouched in the middle of the frozen lake until it melted. Images of terror-stricken people falling through the ice were tearing through my head. Even the mental vision of Bear Grylls doing naked push-ups to demonstrate how to survive in arctic wilderness wasn’t doing it. And that image usually solves any problem.

After a while, my friend suggested we skate to the riverbank for a rest. (She was probably tired out from pulling my dead weight up and down the lake.) The ice looked much thinner near the shore. I nervously hung back and watched her casually glide to the edge of the frozen part. Under her weight, the sheet of ice we were standing on suddenly plunged downwards, and water whooshed up from underneath, spilling across the ice and the riverbank. I whimpered in fear. My friend merely prodded the dark ice with the tip of her skate blade and said in her charming Dutch accent, “Okay, here is good.”

She walked right off the ice and sat down on the grassy bank. I quivered after her. Other Dutch people were watching me while they unwrapped their lunches. They were smiling slightly, as if I was the weird one. They were picnicking on a snowy riverbank! Meanwhile, children and toddlers skated dreamily past me.

I didn’t understand the Dutch fascination with ice skating. I thought it was a terrifying and needlessly dangerous leisure activity. But now that I’ve had some more practice, I can appreciate how beautiful it is to glide around on an expanse of glittering white.

Now, if Queensland ever experiences some inclement weather and the Brisbane River freezes over, I’ll be ready.

I’ll be ready.

Edam, Holland. 2009.

Standing completely still with no help: An achievement.

The Wizard

I have to share with you a magical moment that happened yesterday.

There’s an express bus service that runs past my house every 10 minutes (I know, sweet right?). Lately I’ve noticed that the bus sometimes makes an unscheduled stop a few metres before my stop, lets people off, and then moves down the road to stop again at the actual bus stop as well. I’ve only seen it happen twice, and the second time was yesterday

My housemate, who usually drives, was on the bus with me. A few metres from our stop, the bus did that thing where it mysteriously pulls over. People started leaving, so we followed them off the bus like slightly baffled sheep.

My housemate is a solid sort of person who brooks no nonsense, and she wanted to know why the bus was being so weird. I didn’t have an answer. But, I pointed out, both times I saw the bus do this, an old man with a cane disembarked at this same spot. I pointed to the old man in the woollen jumper, who was hobbling down the sidewalk. ‘That man.’

My housemate stared after him, then looked back at me, her eyes glowing with wonder in the afternoon sun.

‘Wow,’ she breathed. ‘He must be a wizard.’

Yes, a wizard. Nothing, not even expecto patronum could have impressed her as much as getting an irascible city bus driver to pull over at an unmarked stop. During peak hour, no less.

Who is this old man who can stop buses with willpower alone? We just call him the Wizard. As ancient as Dumbledore and as enigmatic as a unicorn, you never know whose bus he may embark next. It could be yours.