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Bugs and Birthdays

Greetings from freaks-ville!

Hello one and all, here are the latest instalments in the tomes of Serena the travelling gnome! For those of you who can't be arsed to read the rest of this, let me give you the headlines. Got a new flatmate - but not the good looking one. Have now completed my IDC - instructor development course - and have final exams in a couple of day's time. Turned 32. That's about it. Bye.

Okay, for those who have a bit longer, I'll give you the story in a bit more detail.

The Saturday after writing last I awoke to find a man wandering about the house. He introduced himself as P- from New Zealand. He is about the size of a hobbit, and facially bears an uncanny resemblance to Claypole from Rentaghost, if any of you still remember what he looked like. My vain hopes that the beautiful boy shown around by the landlady a few days before might move in were cruelly dashed, and I tried to hide my disappointment as I chatted to my new flatmate.

Later that day, I was sat at my desk, studying hard (yawn) when I heard a noise from outside the window. My room is on the side of the house, and beneath my window lies a small strip of ground between this building and the next. I stuck my head out and saw someone walking there. I shouted "Can I help you?" in a stern, British voice, and the gorgeous bloke who'd been shown the flat looked up at me! I told him to come around to the back steps (which were what he had been looking for when he stumbled between the houses).

By a tragic chain of events, it turns out that as far as he was concerned he had secured the room as his own. He told the landlady that he would be out on a boat for a couple of days, but would be back Saturday. She in turn had got him to fill out a form, and he thought that was that. He's English and had just done his divemaster and was about to commence his instructor training with a company down the road. He would have been the perfect flatmate - we could have studied together . . . and stuff!! Gutted. There is some consolation in the fact that we will both be at the same exams next Friday to Sunday, and I may even remember to ask his name this time, and see if we can't arrange to get to know each other a little better, if you catch my drift!

So anyway, the following day was my birthday, so I had an early night so as to be wide awake early the following morning when my parents rang - I was positive they would. By nine o'clock the next morning I realised that they weren't going to call & texted my dad, whom I knew would still be up. He texted back wishing me happy birthday, and said they would have called, if they'd had a number for me!! I then decided to get on with the serious matter of enjoying my birthday, and went out for a wee drinky or two with my friend John. After a great afternoon/evening, we ended up at the casino and didn't get chucked out - a bit disappointing, really

On returning home my mobile showed that I had missed a number of calls - beloved parents having worked out that this amazing piece of technology known as the mobile 'phone can be used for something other than SMS messaging! Had a nice long chat with them and received apologies for not having called that morning. When I was off the 'phone, my housemate stumbled out of his room and told me that he felt really crook and thought he needed a doctor, so off we went to the 24 hour medical centre to get him checked out! It was just a virus, so he got a prescription for antibiotics and a hefty bill. Not quite the way I had planned to end my birthday.

The Bacardi and coke I'd had at the casino (I had to "sip Bacardi like it's ya birthday", a la 50 cents, at some stage of the day) kept me awake until five, so I took advantage of this by listening to my walkman & trying not to sing out loud. I failed, though, and received a complaint about my singing the next day from my flatmate, who had been unable to sleep due to illness. He then did not endear himself to me any further, by insisting on leaving the door to his bedroom (which is next to mine) open. I was convinced I could almost see the germs flying out of his room, looking for their next victim!

Most of the next week was spent with my nose firmly in the books, but I did give myself one morning off, and checked out the Mangrove Boardwalk on the road out to the airport. It was nice, but I hadn't learnt my lesson from the Botanical Gardens a couple of weeks before, and forgot to deet up. Here it's not so much the mosquitoes (although the dengue fever continues in these parts) but the sand flies that are the problem. They are tiny - like our midges, I guess - and their bites swell up horribly. I am told by 'boss lady' J- that this is because they wee on you. I don't know the truth of this, but if there are any entomologists out there, feel free to confirm or deny this fact. Either way I'd be alright as long as I kept walking, but once I stopped to take photos, or to listen to the clams snap shut with a metallic click, the little buggers would hone in on me. I'd have to brush them off my legs, arms and face and stomp off quickly to lose them.

The week before my next training course began I popped into Pro Dive and helped out in the pool with a class of students, including a twelve year old Dutch girl learning to dive with her parents. She had apparently seen a program on TV about the underwater world four years before, and had been mad keen to dive ever since. I was helping out Phil an English guy who had managed to wangle residency due to IT skills, and was now working as an instructor. With the old adage 'nothing ventured nothing gained' in mind, I set about trying to blag a trip out to the reef with them, and started pestering management to let me go.

Paul (the guy who did my DM training) told me he would call me at six that evening, to let me know whether the remaining two spots had been booked. Sure enough, I got a call telling me they had. He did say, though, that he had put my name and number down in reserve; if someone failed to show, I was on. Fat chance, I thought, who's going to pay $500 odd for a trip to the reef then not show up? He told me I should pack my stuff just in case of the unlikely event of a last minute cancellation, which I did - all except my hair brush, anyway.

Well to my great shock and happy surprise, a couple did fail to show! I received a call at ten to seven to tell me I was on - I have never been so pleased to get an early morning call in my life! (Those of you that have ever had cause to see or call me in the early morning will probably be shocked to hear that I even can be happy at that hour!) The trip was great, and the weather fabulous. I worked my socks off and had a brilliant time, getting on well with crew and pax alike. The Friday of our return we had the expected post-trip meal (at an expensive restaurant, that Pro Dive always go to because the crew get free meals and ten free drinks - backpackers generally cannot afford to eat of even drink there - at $12 for a single vodka red bull, you can see why). Most of the passengers went early, but I stayed on with the crew, and the evening ended with the inevitable dancing on tables in the Woolshed!

The hair is becoming a bit of an issue, I am loath to admit. Fortunately I was able to borrow a hairbrush from a nice girl, and it didn't dreadlock as badly as it did on the previous trip, but I am grudgingly coming to the conclusion that it's not going to last. The thing I've always liked about having long hair is that it is so low maintenance - I don't even bother brushing it some days (gasps of disbelief all round! Hmmm). Well on the boat it suddenly becomes this big issue, and I have to do battle with it for up to an hour a day. Mind you, I've been pulling handfuls out, so maybe I should just let nature take its course, and it'll be gone in a week or two! Thing is, I've always said that if I were to have my hair cut, I'd go from one extreme to another and have a crew cut . . . do I have the courage of my convictions? It'd be low maintenance for sure! Maybe I should put it to the vote - what do you think? Can you see me with a crew cut?

The instructor course began with a general overview, introductions and much filling out of forms on the Sunday at six. Throughout the day I had begun to feel quite unwell, and sitting there in the evening, my throat sticky and sore, I knew I was definitely coming down with something. By the following day I was feverish and dizzy, sitting and shivering under the air conditioning - and as you can imagine, cursing my flatmate. On the Tuesday we had to do our first classroom presentation - a mini lecture which must contain at least two plugs each for equipment and courses to gain full points (Put Another Dollar In). I was light headed and my vision was swimming, but somehow managed to get through.

The next thing to go was my voice - a blessing, some might say, but not when you have presentations to do. Poor Yuko - the Japanese girl on our course - had to buddy breathe with me (sharing the same mouthpiece) so she'll probably come down with the lurgy in a week or so. The fading voice was accompanied by a barking cough which kept me awake at night. I recognised this also as one of P-'s symptoms - he's in the room next door, so his cough had kept me awake too. He actually made some comment about not wanting to catch my germs, so I felt obliged to point out that they had been his in the first place.

"It can't be what I had" he said "you'd be in bed if it was". I pointed out that they build them tougher in England - though if it hadn't been during this expensive course I would without doubt have had a couple of days in bed. We were to spend the weekend at nearby Fitzroy Island - also the venue for the exams - practising open water presentations and rescue scenarios. I stocked up on lemsip and cough medicine, and swigged generously on the latter. Unfortunately this added an extra complication due to one of its side effects - I had to see the funny side when I read "may act as a laxative" on the packet! You will undoubtedly be relieved to hear that I managed to avoid soiling my new wetsuit, so that was something.

I was in bed before nine Saturday night, being unable to speak over the music in the bar, but had not been asleep long when I coughed myself awake around two. We were sleeping four to a room, and I could hear everyone else tossing and turning as I attempted to cough silently into my pillow. I lay there, hacking away, struggling with my conscience. It was one thing for me to have a (yet another) sleepless night, but I didn't want to make everyone else have one too - I was feeling wretched enough without having to wake up with everyone hating me for keeping them awake all night. I gathered up my sheets, pillow and a blanket, and headed out to sleep in the nearby open-sided kitchen, until a very noisy cleaner woke me up at six.

I managed to survive the day, although thoroughly cocked up my teaching sessions, and on our return to the mainland we had only one more day of training before the course was over - not a moment too soon. Between my bug, the padi hard-sell approach and the feeling the whole class had that we were just totally being criticised for everything we did, I can't say I enjoyed the course much. Still if I pass the exams this weekend coming, I need never do one again - and that's one hell of an incentive! Then I find a job and get on with finding out how you really teach someone to dive, rather than try and ram equipment and courses down their necks.

Not sure yet whether that job hunting is going to take place here in Cairns. This place is very intensive with a high turnover of staff. Around 85% of instructors here are employed doing resortees AKA Discover Scuba, taking down four people who have no idea about diving, after giving them a half hour briefing. There are a number of reasons why I don't want to do this. It is where the money lies - but if I was only after the money I'd still be a customs officer, right? I may head to somewhere that's a bit more laid back, probably Coral Bay or Exmouth in WA, although I may head down the Queensland coast a ways. I'll see how I go in the exams (fingers crossed for me, folks) and then have a bit of a scout around here before deciding - having eventually got settled, it would be easier to hang here for a while - and it would put off having to attempt to carry both backpack and dive gear a bit longer - still trying not to even think about that.

So there we are. This episode is finishing on a bit of a cliff-hanger - will she or won't she pass her exams?! Either way, you can bet that I'm going to be mighty pissed Sunday night, be it celebration or commiseration.

Tune in next time, folks . . .

PS Follow the links above for photos, or go to there are a few new galleries in the Cairns section, plus I've compiled one of some of my favourite shots.


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