Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

December 2010


GeneralWednesday, December 29th, 2010, (6:08 pm)

Back when I was a kid riding my bike around the block was just about the single most exciting thing I knew of. I would get out there and just ride and ride, going faster and faster all the time. I loved the thrill of the speed, the feeling of the wind on my face, and the exhilaration that comes from racing a friend, the clock, or just my imagination. Riding my bike was a passion, and it wasn’t one that I lost a love for… Until I discovered cars and girls.

I’ll be honest with you, cars and girls ended up being something of a distraction for quite some time, but I promised myself that would all change here in Australia. With the spoils of better weather and motivation to stay in shape I decided to buy a bike and take to the roads with the enthusiasm of my younger self, if not the boundless energy.

I did have a bike back in England, a heavy mountain bike with nobbly tires and a trip computer; evidence of my good intentions at the time of purchase. I didn’t live in the mountains though, nor did I ride it through anything more challenging than the occasional puddle on the street.

I’d bought the bike with the intention of riding to the shops and the beach to watch the occasional sunset now and then, but those rides never quite happened. The trip computer clocked up a grand total of 57 miles, a number that would flash on its little screen every time I moved the bike to hang my washing in the sun room. Each time it would blink a little more faintly, seemingly giving up on me as the battery faded in tandem with my motivation.

I could blame all kinds of factors like the weight of the bike, the gears that needed tuning, or even the unpredictable nature of the British weather that would lead me to elect to take my car rather than run the risk of getting drenched in yet another unforeseen rain storm. Truthfully though, I was just too damn lazy to choose pedalpower over horsepower.

I remember my first bike very well with it’s training wheels and colored tassels at the end of the handle bars. It was blue with a white seat and white tires, very cool long before cool was ever something I cared about or even knew had a word. It was a simple bike, the classic shape. It wasn’t a racer, but that didn’t matter because I was!

Here in Australia cyclists have to wear crash helmets. However, such safety precautions were of no concern back when I was learning to ride my bike without the training wheels. I can still recall the images of my Dad running along with me on the path by the retirement apartments just around the corner from where we lived. We would start by the little park where the swings were and he would run along holding the back of the seat while encouraging me as I pedald.

I remember that was fun, but then he would let go and his voice would quickly be behind me so I would turn around to see where he was then lose my balance and fall off the bike, scraping my hands and arms along the rough surface of the pavement. Many a time I would be in tears saying I didn’t want to ride anymore as he picked me up and told me we would have another go. What’s wrong with my Dad? I would think to myself. How come he had the easy job and I was the one getting all beat up? That didn’t seem right to me.

Of course, in the end I got it. The training wheels came off and the small accidents that happened at slow speeds while I learned how to ride unaided turned into much faster more spectacular accidents as I pushed the limits of my abilities and the boundaries of my belief. Trips to the emergency room were a common occurrence, almost a weekend ritual for a while according to my Mom. I didn’t mind though, as I saw it, if we weren’t supposed to go fast we wouldn’t have invented the wheel in the first place.

A Flight frame. Australian made Bicycle.

So I’ve bought myself a new bike. It’s a locally made ‘Flight’ single speed hybrid in black. I don’t really know much about bikes, but it’s pretty much the bike I envisioned riding here back when living in Melbourne was just a day dream.

When I first got it I couldn’t wait to get on it and go for a ride. I had a smile as bright as a six year olds as I took to the road for the first time. That smile was born of a combination of things. The bike, the summer weather, and the location.

I felt the same as I did when I was got my first racer; a shiny red ten speed kalkhoff with big dynamo lights and a built in wheel lock. Riding this new bike was every bit as great as back then. I was so excited, so utterly bubbling with joy that I let out a whoop. Yeah, I know that’s not entirely cool, it’s certainly not fitting of the hipster mentality within which these bikes are so trendy. But I’m no hipster, nor am I a member of the lycra clad brigade. I’m just a guy on a bike, getting there under my own steam, wherever that might be.

A Flight frame. Australian made Bicycle.

Scrap bike helmet law says health expert
Your bike is rad
Flight Bikes
Jellybean bikes
Build your own fixie

GeneralSaturday, December 25th, 2010, (6:54 pm)

Having only been in Australia for just ten days I’ve travelled to New Zealand for the Christmas holiday. I made this ecard for my friends and family so I figured why not share it here too.

It’s been a rather laid back Christmas for me this year. I’m staying with my friends Phil and Kerry-anne along with Grace, their 11 month old daughter who I am meeting for the very first time. She doesn’t really do much, just eats, sleeps and cries from what I can tell, but she’s a work in progress. Despite the fact she has no real idea what Christmas is all about, she had an impressive amount of gifts under the tree.

Now that I think of it, if people put gifts under the tree before Christmas what then is Santa doing on Christmas eve? Doesn’t the tradition of placing wrapped gifts under the tree make Santa and his reindeers jobless?

Christmas still feels a little strange to me when it’s warm and sunny outside, but I’m not complaining. Though I have to say that I do miss having a great big roast turkey dinner at Christmas. I can’t remember the last time I had one of those.

Anyway, I hope you’re all having a great Christmas holiday wherever you are in the world, and may you have a fantastic new year too.

As with all of my pictures that have that little magnifying glass icon in the

GeneralFriday, December 10th, 2010, (11:17 pm)

The number 64 tram rattles its way along the tracks into Melbourne City centre as people onboard adopt familiar public transport postures. It’s my first full day in Australia and I’m heading into central Melbourne to run a few errands and to re-introduce myself to the city.

Passengers hide in the pages of their books or in the solitude of their iPods, while others avoid actual human contact in favor of more sanitized digital connections made through devices that occasionally squawk like a pet demanding attention.

This could be the London Underground, the Portland Max, the Tokyo Metro, or indeed any other public transport you care to mention. We’re just people going somewhere alone together.

There’s a fairly standard mix of people on the tram from a few pencil pushing office types making a late start, to tourists talking in foreign languages clutching maps and cameras. I look around for someone reading something odd like the woman I saw on the London Tube reading Even God is Single: (So Stop Giving ME a Hard Time), but there’s nothing that noteworthy this morning.

A woman sits across from me dressed in a black top with a polka dot skirt that fans out across the seat like it was designed for just that purpose. She sits motionless wearing big black glasses behind which she could be staring into space, sleeping, or looking at me as I look at her. I move my eyes quickly to the window where sometimes you can furtively use the reflections to spy on fellow passengers, but not today, it’s too bright outside as we pass the National Gallery. I make a note to go there — see some art — get some culture.

Federation Square; my stop. I jump off and cross the road to Flinders Street station to buy a MyKi card, a smart card ticket that allows me to use the trams, trains and buses with just one rechargeable ticket. As silly as it seems I feel rather pleased with myself as I slide it into my wallet. Something about having this makes me feel more like a resident of Melbourne and not just another fumbling tourist who stands in front of the ticket machines looking somewhat confused. Of course, the MyKi doesn’t grant me immediate intimate knowledge of the city and its public transport network, but I’m going to fake it ’till I make it.

I’m on my way to an appointment at a local bank to finalize my new account here. The streets are busy, filled with Christmas shoppers wearing summer clothes which is something of a head trip for me. Shop windows have decorated Christmas trees, Santa’s, and summer holiday special offers. A group of young musicians are playing carols on the sidewalk collecting money for the Salvation Army just a few steps away from two pretty blonde girls with clip boards who are trying to stop pedestrians with their bright smiles.

At the bank an Asian woman called Xu helps me finalize my account. “How do you pronounce that?” I ask her. “Zoo.” She says. “Oh like with the animals?” I reply. “No, Zoooo.” She says prolonging the word in a way that makes it no less clear how this isn’t the same as zoo with the animals. “Ah right, I see.” But really I don’t.

She explains to me the limitations with my new account. I can’t use it here, and there, and at this place and that, or even over the counter at the banks gazzilion branches all over Australia. “Is there anywhere I can use this card?” I inquire with a little humor in my voice. “Oh yes.” She says with a very endearing smile. I wait for the rest of the answer, but quickly realize that was it.

“Right. Well good then.” I say, deciding that perhaps this is something I’ll be able to learn from the literature. Xu smiles at me again and continues to tap her keyboard while clicking the mouse and moving complicated windows around the screen in front of her. Eventually she hands me my new bank card and some paperwork, the account is set up. “Thank you and I hope you will be having a good time here.” She says as she stands to her feet. “I plan to.” I tell her as we shake hands, and that’s it, I now have a bank account.

I leave the bank through its huge glass doors and stand at the top of its wide stairs. “I live here.” I say to myself as I watch people going about their business on the busy tree-lined street before me. My bank account and ‘MyKi’ card seem to somehow validate this truth.

Walking into the flow of foot traffic I blend into this city that I’ll be calling home for a while. I’m not really going anywhere now, just allowing myself to be carried along in a current of people that swirl around lamp posts, trees, and trash cans like flood water.

Jenny Biddle busking on the streets of Melbourne, Australia

Turning a corner there’s a busker playing guitar and singing to her moving audience. It’s a pleasant afternoon, the sun is shining and I’m on no hurry to be anywhere so I sit on the steps of a large building to listen to her.

She introduces herself to the people sitting around. Her name is Jenny Biddle. “Like piddle only with a B.” She says with a smile. I like her, she looks like someone who is enjoying life, like she’s doing something she truly loves to do.

Singing into a microphone, she smiles a lot and is good at engaging the crowd. I have no idea how lucrative busking is, but a few people toss money into the open guitar case next to her and she nods to thank them for their contribution. Between songs she tells stories while returning her guitar. “My CD’s are on sale today folks. Just twenty dollars.” She says pointing to a small stack on CD’s upon the speaker next to her.

Twenty bucks isn’t much, and I liked her music so I waited for a gap between songs to buy one from her. I thought about asking her to sign it, after all she might be famous one day and I could then say “I met Jenny Biddle. You know like piddle only with a B.” I didn’t though, maybe if we meet again I will.

I step back into the current of people and get carried off down the road as her singing fades behind me into the sound of the city. On a street corner a grey haired man is preaching to everyone and nobody. Above his head he’s waving a big black Bible with gold-edged pages while speaking in a loud voice about “the Holy name of Jesus” and the real meaning of Christmas.

Ah yes, it’s Christmas, I forgot about that. Back in the UK it’s snowing and cold. But hey, I’m on the other side of the world in Melbourne, and I live here now.

Jenny Biddle
The Melbourne Identity
Melbourne Graffiti Art
Even God Is Single, So Stop Giving Me A Hard Time

GeneralThursday, December 9th, 2010, (11:53 pm)

It’s mid morning when the wheels of the plane carrying me to Australia touch down in Melbourne. The usual landing announcements are made; stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened, be careful as luggage might have moved, but I’m not really listening. Instead I’m peering out of the window saying to myself “Well, this is it.” After packing up and leaving everything behind in the UK I’m finally here, I’m in Australia!

Melbourne, Australia

Unlike the grumpy bastards who grunt and snarl at people entering the UK, the Australian immigration officer at passport control greets me with a welcoming smile. I hand her my crisp new passport which thus far has just one stamp in it from my recent stop-over in Singapore.

“Welcome back Simon.” She says after quickly scanning my name and inspecting my picture. The exchange is short and sweet, no hard questions, no need for finger prints or steely stares into facial recognition cameras. I make a joke about how I look like I’m wearing lipstick in my passport photo to which she gives it a second look. “Well it works for you love, so no worries eh.” She says as she hands it back to me with a wink.

It’s barely been a year since I first came to Melbourne, and now here I am with two bulging suitcases, a laptop, and no keys. I’m about to put down my preverbal hat and declare this place my home for a while. In many respects this is madness, but life without a little madness, without its moments of abandon, is surely no life at all. I’m not a hobo, I’m not on the run, I’m just a guy making it up as I go along, turning each new page not as a passive reader but as the author.

Okay, I’ll grant you that might sound cheesy, and to write about blank pages and the such is probably a terribly over-used metaphor, but you’ll have to forgive my lack of literary originality in this moment of excitement. I’d love to come up with some insightful and well crafted sentance that would be worthy of reading over and over. Instead all I can liken this feeling to is the way bubbles jump for joy on the surface of a fizzy drink. It’s silly I know, but that’s all I have for you. Right now I’m a soda pop wanderer.

Summer is just beginning in Melbourne and the sky is a beautiful deep blue as I arrive in the city. Being an Englishman I am somewhat prone to obsessing over the weather, a fact that’s hardly surprising when you consider that England spends a great deal of time trapped under skies that have all the vibrance of a parking garage. I’ve come here for all manner of reasons, and not least among them is to escape the dreary English weather.

My friend Phong is waiting at Southern Cross station to meet me. We met earlier in the year through the couchsurfing website when he kindly offered to host me on my first visit to this, Australia’s second city. I’ll be staying with him once again until I can find a place of my own sometime in the new year.

“G’day mate.” He says as he reaches out to help me with my bags. Lifting them into the trunk of his old Toyota he asks the obligatory question one always asks in these situations. “Good flight?” I laugh and answer. “Well, it took off and landed and we didn’t crash, so yeah, it was ok.”

As we get into his car we laugh about the silly things people say to each other at airports. “You Hungry?” He asks. “Sure, I could eat. What do you have in mind.” He checks his mirrors and pulls out of the parking spot while visibly thinking of the lunchtime choices. “Lucky Coq?” He suggests, and it’s not a bad idea. $4 pizzas and locally brewed ice cold stubbies, you can’t beat it.

I lean back into my seat, look out of the window and slide on my ‘sunnies.’ “Yeah. I reckon that’ll hit the spot mate.” I say, and with that we disappear into the Melbourne traffic.

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TravelWednesday, December 8th, 2010, (4:32 am)

It’s a strange feeling to board a flight to the other wise of the world knowing you’re not holding a return ticket. Every moment, every little thing seems to take on a new sense of being part of a greater journey. So with that in mind watching a new dawn cut its way through the clouds over the Himalayas from my window seat high above Nepal felt especially metaphoric to me. What little plans I had made were now in motion.

It takes a long time to fly from the UK to Australia and each one of those hours sat in the confines of an airplane seat that is designed to be just that little bit too small makes the already tough journey that bit harder. So with that in mind I elected not to go from one side of the globe to the other in one long leap, but instead to stop in Singapore and visit my friend Navin for a few days.

Having just come from the frost bitten beginnings of a long British winter I wasn’t at all suitably dressed for the equatorial heat that awaited me. As I stepped out of the air-conditioned oasis of Changi airport the thick humid air crowded around me like begging children in a third world country. The dramatic change in temperature from the UK jolted me out of a state of travel fatigue and reminded me, as if I needed it, that I had already travelled a long way from home.

In many respects air travel isn’t really travel at all. There’s no graduation from one place to the other, one culture to the next, and there are no real experiences along the way. It’s not ‘travel’ in the true sense of the word, but merely transportation that takes us from one location to another in no more time than it takes to eat a microwaved meal and watch an inflight movie or two.

Despite that, as much as I would love to travel overland by various different means to a place like Singapore, the thought of hauling my two rather cumbersome suit cases any further than from the arrivals lounge to the airport parking lot was not something that excited me as I wiped the sweat from my brow.

Having arrived in mid afternoon my friend Navin decided we should go to a small place to grab a late lunch. It was a distinctly ‘local’ eatery, far from the glitzy restaurants in the central business district, but a perfect location for a jet-lagged Brit to unwind and acclimatize myself. In the end we stayed there chatting well into the evening, drinking seemingly never ending beers served in ice filled glasses as the world wandered by or waited in traffic. As introductions go, this was a good start.

Singapore

It’s said that there really isn’t that much to do in Singapore other than indulge oneself in copious amounts of retail therapy, and while that might sound wondrous to some it sounds like a special kind of cruel punishment to me. The city feels like it’s dressed to impress, like an exotic woman wearing the evidence of her expensive taste.

Catwalk streets are lined with stores that bare names commonly endorsed by Hollywood stars on the pages of glossy magazines, their windows displaying pictures of perfect models selling the dream. Many of the buildings are new and ostentatious in their design, standing like supermodels in a row carefully trying to look relaxed and underwhelmed by their peers while stealing sideways glances from time to time. In many respects it seemed to me that Singapore is a place where credit cards feast and bank balances go to die.

I could be wrong, but there also seemed to be a distinct lack of public parks and open spaces. I suspect they were bulldozed years ago to make way for more glittering shopping malls, conference centres, hotels and parking lots in this one of the world’s most prosperous nations. In fairness though, despite the lack of open parkland the city is awash with thriving greenery and lush plant life as if to redeem its residents from what might otherwise be an inescapable concrete hell.

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Away from the central business district and the designer label laden shopping malls, I was introduced to bustling streets of China town and little India. Although I didn’t explore either place as much as I might have liked to I was able to get a sense of them.

China town was full of places to eat, which only went to support the stereotype that Chinese people are always thinking about food, while little India was bursting with the kind of chaotic color that I had seen on the streets of Tamil Nadu.

Singapore

Singapore

Overall I got a sense that there was probably a great deal more to Singapore than meets the eye. I had been told that four days was long enough to ‘do it all’ but I suspect that’s not the case. Yes, I saw the Christmas lights on Orchard Road, and stood in the Marina Bay Sands Skypark with its spectacular views across the city, but this was just a taster.

It may be a retail junkies idea of paradise, but under the glitz and the mountains of steel and concrete I’m certain there’s more to discover. With a little effort I’m sure I could find the soul of Singapore, and frankly I like the idea of that challenge.

Singapore

GeneralSunday, December 5th, 2010, (9:39 pm)

There are moments in life that stand out like landmarks by which we measure the progress of our own journey, our befores and afters. Sometimes we know we’re in them, but often we don’t. Right now I am pretty sure I am in the thick of one such moment. With weeks of ‘lasts’ behind me I’m now on a plane heading for Singapore and right into the unknown. From here my journey is as yet uncharted.

The last few weeks have been hectic for me. Since announcing to friends that I was leaving the UK my time has been spent socialising and trying to prepare for the big move ‘down under.’ It’s been a strange experience in many respects. I’ve paid more attention to the seemingly mundane tasks of daily life. Trips to the shops, going to the gym, driving my car, relaxing in my bath, routines that might otherwise pass with little thought took on a different flavor as their end drew closer.

Having a date upon which everything would change really focused my thinking. I wanted to see everyone, to gather up the crumbs of time amid the familiar so as not to miss a thing. It was like taking tiny sips of a glass of fine wine that was nearly empty, not so much to finish the drink, but so as to enjoy the aroma and really squeeze the value out of those last few drops.

I didn’t have a leaving party. As odd as it might seem, I didn’t want one. I was happy to just pack up my things and move on, I was already spending a great deal of time with my friends on what amounted to a ‘goodbye tour’ so there seemed little point in a last hurrah.

I did, however, declare my last full day at the apartment an ‘open house.’ I figured a few of my friends might turn up in the evening and, over a cup of tea, help me pack a few of the last boxes. In the end though the packing never happened. From 11:30am the guests never stopped coming, and as inconvenient as that was in regards to my packing, it was a wonderful and unexpected surprise to spend that time with my friends.

Having my place full of friends is just about the most enjoyable thing I can think of, and the fact that so many of them came was extremely touching and humbling for me. I’ll probably remember that day as being one of the best times at the flat above the hairdressers, which itself has so far been my favorite place I’ve ever lived.

Despite the preparation and planning, that the final day crept up on me. After more than eleven years the day I would move out had arrived. A last surge of effort and help from Will and Henry meant that the flat was essentially empty pretty quickly. I’d sold some of my furniture to the next tenant, but the things that had made that place my home were gone.

I took one last walk around the apartment, checking that I had everything I needed and just bringing my relationship with the place to an end. The finality was dawning on me as the now empty rooms echoed slightly and looked almost desolate in their bareness. I felt like a stranger in my old home, looking at the few things that were left and wondering what kind of person had lived there. The clues gave little of the story away, memories melted silently into the lifeless walls and whatever secrets the old place could tell were clearly going to remain secret.

I won’t lie to you, that bit was hard. I stood in my living room and looked out of the window at the now leafless tree that has for so long been a fixture in my life. Out loud I said goodbye, my voice quiet and low. It was a moment, a sad one, a farewell to follow so many of the last few weeks. But this time there was no farewell back, just the slight reverberation of my voice against the bare walls then pure silence.

I’m not one for tears or outward signs of raw emotion, but walking into the salon downstairs to surrender my keys was very hard indeed. The girls and I had already had an emotional goodbye earlier in the day, so I wanted this one to be light hearted and brief. But I couldn’t hold it together. Wenda my landlady, and the girls from the salon downstairs have been a huge part of my life for years so I suppose it was a given that there was never going to be an unemotional goodbye between us. I will miss them for sure.

And with that I left. Giving up the keys for the apartment meant that I had no keys at all. I put them on the desk and my hand was empty. For the first time in my adult life I didn’t have a bunch of keys, not even one, and oddly enough it was that feeling that really gave me the sense of being untethered and free of the anchors that hold us in place. Such was the impact of this realisation that when I got into Will’s waiting car I said “I have no keys.”

So now, after a couple of nights at Will’s house I find myself at London Heathrow airport, boarding card and passport in my pocket, my hand luggage tossed over my shoulder. I’ve packed my life into a few boxes and stored them in Will’s garage and Henry’s loft, and compressed the life I’m taking with me to just two bags and one item of carry-on luggage.

The sadness of all those goodbyes has given way to excitement. I find myself feeling giddy like a child, as pumped up as a sport star before the big event. This is it. Everything I’ve been doing has lead to this place, to flight 319 bound for Singapore from London’s Heathrow Airport, then in a few days another flight to Melbourne, Australia.

As the plane takes off I look out of the window at the now darkened ground disappearing beneath me, put my hand against the glass and say my final farewell. I’ll return to these shores of course, but for now the new adventure begins. We’re airborne and from here everything is new and the road ahead is tantalizingly unknown.

All good things
As one door closes

Last train to Liverpool