Your friendly divemaster here - yes, I've done my time and am now a fully fledged divemaster!
When I left you last I was a bit deaf - I SAID I WAS A BIT DEAF!! I was also swaying around all over the place as an after effect of getting off the bleeding boat. Well it was a good few days before the ears and balance sorted themselves out, but I got there in the end. Having postponed the next trip for a week to allow time to recover from my cold, my next mission was to find new digs. Unfortunately my self indulgent stay at the Shooting Star was up, and it was time to find a more realistic place to stay.
I looked at a number of places from the sublime - a large room in a beautiful big colonial-style house - to the ridiculous - a shared room resembling a prison cell, with two mattresses on the floor, living upstairs from an ageing hippie who advertised only for girls to move in, and had a gaggle of nervous looking Japanese girls already living there. Unfortunately the lovely house didn't work out - probably for the best, as it was about an hours walk away from town, and I'd probably have had to have got a car. I plumped for somewhere in the middle, and moved into a small breeze-block room in a tiny flat where a guy called D- was staying.
I'm not there any more though. It all started before I moved in - when I 'phoned to say I'd take the place, D- said that he'd bought a computer desk for me, as I'd mentioned my studying and laptop. How nice, I thought. I told my friend John, and he said - the git! - sounds like a weirdo, better watch out for cameras! So anyway, the seeds of doubt in my mind (yes John - feel guilty!), I moved my gear into the compact room, and got to grips with my provided transport - an old push bike. I am pleased to inform you that it is true what they say, you don't forget how to ride a bike!
The rent at the flat was $70, no bills and I could help myself to tea, bread - indeed anything in the fridge. Almost too good to be true - my suspicions were raised further. The third night I was in the flat, my friend Brooke came to stay. Her and boyfriend Adam are travelling from Sydney to Darwin, and had stopped for a while at Townsville, so she popped up the coast to see me. The first night she met D- she thought he seemed OK. We were going to go out for a drink & to try and find somewhere to watch Big Brother, because Annoushka from the UK one was going into the house that night (as I had to leave England when ours had barely started, I've had to get into the Oz version instead - go Reggie!). D- suggested a backpackers down the road with a bar, so we went there.
After an hour or so he rocked up, and brought over a bowl of potato wedges, saying he couldn't finish them - they'd not even been started. He then bought us three jugs of beer, not letting us buy one back. By the time he did actually leave, Brooke was having her doubts too. There was one very odd comment - I was asking him about his daughter, who is 15 & he sees on a daily basis during term time. I was saying that it was good he had such contact, and he said "well when they're that age, there's not much the courts can do to stop you seeing them, because they can jump on a bus & see you if they want to." Hmmmm.
Well Brooke and I had got into the drinking swing of things by then, and the jugs of VB were going down real well. We bought another few as the bar called last orders, then got talking to a Kiwi couple who were managing the hotel along the road. Once our jugs were empty we ventured down there, and at four in the morning, I was drinking Jack Daniels and coke, and listening to Brooke's rendition of a country and western number - I'm sorry, Brooke, I can't for the life of it remember what it was, though Faith Hill spring to mind - it's not that is wasn't a memorable performance, mind, think I was just laughing too much to hear the words. Africa Overlanders will be reassured to know that we all joined in on a rousing performance of The Gambler.
Anyway the second night Brooke and I were getting ready to go eat - oh yeah, an ad came on TV about McDonalds - they've started doing a toasted cheese for $1.50, bargain! - and I was saying that was a good deal, so D- whips out three plates & says "I'll make us some now". We said no, we were just going out - we'd been discussing it for half an hour. Also he used to be an army cook, but only had one saucepan - don't you think that's weird?
The main thing that happened that night though was that once D- had gone out, this weird neighbour came up from a couple of doors down & stood in the doorway talking to us. He was most odd - a really fake seeming person - big pretentious laughs, and just pretty full of himself, a real know-it-all. He made me go down to his flat, and started handing my CDs to listen to - which I think is really arrogant. I'm not really getting across what he was like, but the wolf from little red riding hod sprang to mind! Anyway, he said he could do me a reading, i.e. psychic stuff. I said that was strange, as D- had offered to do tarot cards for me the night before. He said he wasn't surprised as the block attracts strange people. He then went on to tell me about the people that were in the flat before - a couple of junkies, apparently, and "oh my god - she had long blond hair too". I said that's okay - I'm not a junkie, so the similarity ends there.
Anyway the son was meant to have gone off the rails (though what sort of rails a junkie's son is on in the first place, I don't know) robbed a load of angels from a graveyard, graffiti-ized the bible and burnt it - yes, you guessed it, in my room. I mean, Okay, probably a load of old balls, but I'm hardly going to feel comfortable sleeping there, am I? Brooke and I had a very nervy night that night, jumping at every sound, and she urged me to leave as soon as poss. I had one more night there before going to the reef, and assured her that I would be getting a new address on my return. Paranoia, bad vibes - whatever, I just didn't feel at all comfortable there. There were so many alarm bells ringing that I just had to get out.
The previous weekend, when I was meant to have been out at the reef, was perfect. It was hot, the skies were clear, the sea was like a mirror, and visibility was up to 30 metres in places. Speaking to the guys once they returned, we heard that the minky whales had put in an appearance, and they'd been lucky enough to be able to snorkel with them on a number of occasions. Naturally the weekend I actually went out bore no resemblance to that one. The sky was overcast, winds were up to 30 knots, the visibility was 15 metres max - and the whales - well your guess is as good as mine, but we sure didn't see them! Did I enjoy it? Oh yes, in big heaps!
The sea was undoubtedly lumpier than it had been on during my first trip, and we were really rocking and rolling on the journey out. Thanks to the wonders of modern science - that is sea sickness tablets - my stomach contents remained intact for the journey. I did still spend most of the trip lying on my bunk, the occasional whimper escaping, but on the whole I managed to keep a handle on the fear aspect. One thing that helped I think, was the fact that Vera (another trainee) and I were given one of the top cabins, next to the wheelhouse. While I lay there with my fists clenched, in danger of being thrown from my bunk, I could hear the skipper chatting calmly to other crew - if he wasn't worried, then there was no reason for me to worry, right?
The students who I'd been assisting the two previous days in the pool had been a good bunch (all bar two were Brits - draw your own conclusions!). Most of them had picked it all up easily enough, and all were keen. I was cold free, and my ears were unclogged - although I have got into the habit now of snorting salt water before every dive, just in case. Without the distraction of equalising problems, I was able to relax into my role more, and really enjoyed it.
On the first dive the one girl who had a few problems in the pool, and showed most apprehension toward diving was having some trouble at the surface. To give her due, the strap on her newly purchased mask had been threaded incorrectly and in an effort to tighten it she had ripped half the strap off. With the snorkel out of her mouth and the mask off her face she was getting a bit of a battering from the waves, and her eyes were widening as the anxiety levels were growing. I managed to get her to calm down, stick the reg in her mouth so she could breath OK, re-thread the mask and get below the surface to join with the rest of the class on the bottom. She went on to do her Adventure course.
One of our evaluated dives was to brief a group of newly certified divers for a night dive, and then to lead them on that dive. Now navigation has never been a strong point of mine on land, let alone underwater at night, so this was one of the things I was most apprehensive about. Only six people from the two classes wanted to go on the dive - maybe word had spread that we were leading them, who knows? Due to the small number it was decided that Vera and I would both escort the same group. The brief went very well - managed to get the points across without putting the fear of god into them. Night dives tend to be something divers are understandably nervous about - until they do one, and find out how relaxing they are.
On the one hand you could say that the dive itself was a bit of a disaster - our navigation was well off and Ben, the Instructor - who was of course along in a supervisory position - had to grab our attention and get us back on the right track. One of the girls had been less successful in gaining our notice to warn us that she was getting low on air - in our defence it is bloody difficult distinguishing six people in full scuba gear at night, and although we'd been doing regular air checks, we must have missed her and got someone else twice. She had enough to get back to the boat, so don't worry - this tale doesn't end in catastrophe.
As I said, you could say it had been a disaster, but I prefer to think of it as a great success - after all, we came back with the same number we went out with and all the newbies had had a great time. When we apologised to the low-air girl for not being as attentive as we could have been, she said "it's OK, I felt safe though because you were there" to which there was general agreement amongst the group. That to me was a real thumbs up. We'd not seen any turtles or sharks either, but had seen some sleeping fish, and the red reflection of shrimps eyes - both of which we had mentioned in the briefing. Everyone - including me - had enjoyed the experience, and after all, that's what it's all about.
As we had completed all exams and other requirements prior to the trip, we returned fully fledged DMs, and it only remained to fill out the paperwork, and pay PADI the obligatory fee. Pro Dive insist on feedback sheets from passengers, and I was pleased to hear that one lovely student had commented on my professionalism - I'll remind them of that when I'm sniffing after a job. The day we returned from the trip we went out for a meal and drinks, and Vera and I were asked to be in so many photos that we could hardly what with all the flashes going off.
I was surprised to wake up around eight the following morning, so went out house hunting. Saw some grim places that made me feel I should just get over my case of the heebie-jeebies and then phoned up about this place. It's a wooden flat above the letting agents, a long living room with kitchen area and four rooms off of it. The front room the agents leave empty so they can have board meetings in it - unconventional, but one less person to queue for the bathroom. Electricity and use of washing machine are included in the $90 per week price. Non rent paying occupants comprise of tiny ants, hordes thereof, and regular visitors include mosquitoes and sandflies - ooh, and a one off appearance of a Rhinoceros Beetle. A large number of syringes, spoons and other paraphernalia found around the place leave little imagination required to guess as to the hobbies of the previous occupants!
As I was being shown around, a Japanese girl was looking too. It being far and away the best place I'd seen, and feeling bright, breezy and safe, I was very interested. I had to fill out a form - it's a kosher let - they really wanted six months minimum, and work references, but I talked them round to only three months - so this is where I'll be for the next three months! I explained about my house sale too, to reassure them I'd not stiff them for the rent. I also mentioned my previous employment - it's amazing how being an ex-customs officer is so much less of an embarrassment that being a current one. It helped that I had the cash in my bag for the required three weeks rent up front, so I was able to secure it.
While I was bringing my first load round, a couple rocked up to look at it, so I was really glad I'd wopped the cash down straight away. D- wasn't there when I picked my stuff up, so I left him a note with a white lie about having moved in with a friend, and apologising for the short notice. I'd paid him two weeks up front, and had only been there nine days including two nights at the reef, so I've no qualms about that. Unfortunately I'd given that address for my medicare card (reciprocal health thing), so I'll have to go and collect that when it arrives.
I feel so much happier being out of there - like a weight's been lifted. Okay, I probably overreacted, and may have hurt his feelings a bit, but I've got to look out for number one, haven't I? Better safe than sorry. When I arrived were two girls here already - one called J- and one called C-. C- is 20 years old, and about five foot tall, and really skinny. She seems really nice. She told me about her ex, whom she had been living with for three years, but left a month ago, and who had been really possessive. Anyway, she has a new boyfriend now who's much nicer - he actually came round that first evening.
The next day there's a knock at the door, and this girl's stood there. The atmosphere is very obviously frosty, so I'm assuming that it's the ex's sister, or something; voices start to be raised. I'm bumbling around, sorting my shit out when the girl storms out, C- shouting after her. "That was my ex!" C- tells me - now that I'd not expected! Anyway, she goes on to tell me how the place they had been renting - from the same people that let this one - who are based downstairs, don't forget - has been left by said ex, with money owing on it left right and centre. The ex, backed up by her mother, had come round here, shouting her mouth off trying to shift the blame to C-. Next thing the girl is back up in the flat, calling C- "Honey" with the most aggressive intonation possible. S-, the landlady comes up, the girl's mother is on the steps urging her to leave - which she eventually does.
Next thing S- has also left, and C- is in floods of tears - she has been told to leave the flat that very day! She had asked S- for a week to find somewhere else, but was told no, you have lied to me, and I'm not having it - get out! It has been a good lesson for me - I now know not to mess with the landlady - she will show no mercy! So anyway, I have this tiny young girl in floods of tears, saying she has nowhere to go, and doesn't know what to do!! Fortunately I had spent the previous day trawling around, looking for places to stay. Whilst most of them were at the dismal end of the scale, there was one that hadn't been too bad - a big old Queenslander (type of wooden house on stilts, storage room underneath) owned by a guy in his forties, another guy staying there, two big lockable rooms to let.
The guy had told me on the 'phone that it was a bit rough around the edges, but he was in the process of doing it up. I'd looked at it, and the people seemed up front, and the place a bit grotty, but fine. Had I not seen this, I'd have probably gone for it. Other things that had put me off a bit were the fact that they had two dogs - one a little terrier, the other a bull mastiff, and that they both smoked - I've now given up. I'd told them I'd call them that night & let them know, but had forgotten what with the excitement of moving in to this place.
I told C- about the place, gave them a call and said that I wasn't interested, but had a friend who was. It's only around the corner, so we went round and had a look. C- smokes, and loves dogs, and was also stoked to hear that the guy keeps chickens. the place seemed perfect for her, so she came back and packed, and he picked her and her stuff up an hour or so later. All's well that ends well, eh?
My current flat mate, J-, is a bit of a strange one. Within ten minutes of meeting her, she had told me how nine years ago she had left her husband and two kids in Tasmania to come up here. Also how because she was the first to move in (by eight days) the landlady has given her the ultimate say in who stays and goes "she said to let her know if I don't like anyone"; she occasionally refers to herself as boss lady of the flat. She comes out with comments like "I live on the dark side - but I'm not evil", and says things like "if anyone broke in here, they'd take one look in my room and be like 'shit man, this girl's got weapons - we're not messing with her!'".
J- numbers Ninja Boy, Burnout Boy and ADD Boy amongst her friends (seriously folks, I am not making this up), as well as the to-be-expected quota of Paulys and Davos. In a conversation about one of her ex-es she told me "yeah, man so he spun - and people were like 'oh my god, I can't believe he spun' but I was like 'hey man, look at him - he was always gonna be a spinner'". This conversation has been elaborated on since, but I still do not have the slightest clue as to what being a 'spinner' entails!
One thing I did miss on leaving D-'s was the use of that bike. I really didn't think I'd enjoy being on two wheels unless there was a throbbing engine attached, but I did. Also compared to cycling, walking's so bloody slow! I'd have been happy with a clapped out old heap, but couldn't be arsed to answer small ads and hike all over town looking at possibilities - having done this on two occasions in a fortnight for housing, I felt I'd put in my time. I heard about a place that rented mountain bikes for $50 a month, so hired myself a set of wheels. I've always been a bit nervous of bikes with gears (it's a hereditary thing, isn't it mum?), but now I ride around changing gear at will. Great fun.
I'd been securing my transport by chaining it up downstairs, but J- suggested that I move the bike into the flat. She kindly offered to carry it up the stairs for me as she is stronger than most women (she's a size 8 tops, as she admits she hardly ever eats, so I'm not quite sure where she hides all these reserves of strength). She also kindly offered to walk me into town if I needed to go in after dark, in case any bad men scare me! I told her that I've walked alone at night in Asia and Central America, so I think I can manage Cairns. [if anyone at this point is even thinking that Ms Macho sounds like me at all, I'll swing for them - and I warn you, I'm stronger than most women, and I have weapons!]
So to finish with my bitching session I will just tell you this. She is of course into astrology, and refers to her book on star signs and Chinese year signs as her bible (as long as she doesn't burn it in my room, eh?). On being asked I told her I was Cancer and born in the year of the pig, "aww, never mind - that's OK though, there are some nice Cancer/Pigs." I am beginning to think that Cairns is just basically a town of freaks and weirdos. This reminds me of good old Dover and makes me feel right at home.
I'm reckoning that I'm not exactly anyone's idea of the perfect housemate myself, and I'm not bloody moving again - this place may not be perfect, but I like it - and I know what else is out there. I am looking forward to someone else moving in here though. After the quality housemates I've encountered so far, it's bound to be someone entertaining. The landlady did show round this absolutely gorgeous bloke the other day, but he's not turned up with bags in tow, so I guess that really would have been too good to be true!
Damn, I seem to have forgotten to mention going out on an all day sesh with John, and getting chucked out of the Casino for swearing! I wasn't swearing at anyone, just being my usual loveable self!! Apparently swearing can be considered offensive, would you believe? I tried explaining to them - between giggles - that I am afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome, but they wouldn't believe me. When confronted with curbing my language or being thrown out, I suggest to John that we get the fuck out of there. Sorry, mate - hope they let you in again one day.
I could bore you with tales of my continuing journey to become a PADI clone - thoughts of the Stepford Wives in fins and masks enter my mind - but I think I've probably bored you enough this time round