There are a couple of things I don’t want this record to become. One of those is the standard bloggery of the wide-eyed exchange student, which though a record of amazing eye-opening experiences for the writer can quickly become a bored skim-read for the reader. You know the sort – they go then I went here and then we did that and it was really good but really strange and the people are so friendly!, and they communicate a whole bunch of enthusiasm but not a great deal else. In fact, I don’t really want this to be a travel blog at all, but rather me finally getting around to letting some of my musings out to see whether they entertain anyone, in the approximate form of a journal.
The other thing I don’t want this to become is a tortured little misery-blog, which is where this next bit is difficult. It relates a time when I was, after all, quite miserable. I will try not to make a habit of that, and thus drag the general tone of my updates down, but for now I can but beg the reader’s clemency, and invite you to email me with abuse if this gets too despondent. In fact, email me with abuse anyway, but make it funny.
The essential concept which all of this is leading up to is that not having a place to live is awful. I spent my first week in Brisbane living in a backpackers hostel, which would have been crazy fun if it had been part of a planned vacation, but really isn’t all that as a stand-in home. I was definitely misled by the UQ (that’s University of Queensland, acronym fans!) website’s breezy assertion that once in Brisbane, the University Accommodation Services would help me find a permanent residence, and I was not really ready for this help to manifest itself as “you can use the computer over there to look”.
What ensued was several stressed-out days of searching flat listings, phoning landlords, arranging and attending viewings on the occasions that a room advertised was still on the market. Some of the flats themselves were remarkable – one, for example, was advertised as furnished but was nothing of the sort. Another cheap-but-nasty option I actually agreed to take and then spent the next day being played around by the vicious git of a landlord, who obviously wanted to give someone else the property but didn’t want to lose me as a backup option (“Yes, yes, I just have to make a call, I text message you in ten minutes”…one hour passes …“I will call you at one pm tomorrow”. That sort of thing).
The most extreme of the lot, however, was probably the first place I visited. Opening signs weren’t good. I rocked up to the place – a wooden “Queenslander” property built in one of Brisbane’s sunny, hilly suburbs – at 2pm, to find only one occupant awake, because the others were all still sleeping off the previous night’s excesses. A back garden studded with bottle-caps so numerous they just about formed a mosaic suggested this might not be too infrequent a scenario. But the highlight came when barely-awake-tenant showed me downstairs to the room for let, only to discover it was locked, and that his housemate had the key. Did he go and wake said housemate, to recover the key? No. Did he sneak silently into his housemate’s room and slip it off his bedside table? No. Instead, he grabbed a kitchen knife off a nearby table, jammed it into the space between the door and the frame, and wrenched on it until the lock gave way and the door swung open. To reveal the room. Which didn’t have a bed.
All this, remember, was taking place against the backdrop of staying in a central Brisbane hostel. Had I had a couple of weeks in a hall to jaunt around finding a place, it would all have been quite jolly, really. It was anything but. I’d just arrived in a city ten hours’ time difference from home, which meant I fell sound asleep (on a bus, once) as soon as the opportunity arose, but never for more than three or four hours in the night – come two or three AM, I was irrevocably awake. Anxiety and wholly irrational panic gripped me during these nocturnal sessions, and being unable to sleep in a room co-inhabited by five other guys is agonising. You want to be able to toss and turn, or turn a light on and try to read to quell the panic. Instead I had to lie motionless as possible in my bed, trying to think up stupid mind-games to fill my mind until it hit around six and I could justify getting up to shower (I did come up with some classics, though. Ever tried “how many songs which feature numbers in the lyrics can I think of, starting at one and working sequentially upwards”? It‘s a laugh riot. For the record, I made it to twelve, although I‘m a bit ashamed of using Disturbed‘s “10,000 fists” for ten).
All the while, every extra night without a house meant another precious $27 to stay another night in the hostel, which as probably the thing that played on my mind the most. Ending up penniless and homeless an entire planet from home seemed like a genuine possibility, and at my nadir I was left panicking unreservedly at three in the morning, wailing to my parents on a public payphone in a scene which Hollywood will probably tone down a bit when the movie of my life finally gets done. I’m not going to do the instinctive thing and laugh this all off as silly now that it’s over, even if I do feel a bit of a prat relating it. I felt absolutely adrift and helpless – almost the worst part of it was that I didn’t just need to get over it and pick myself up to make it all okay, because all the while I was tramping around looking at flats, checking websites and notice-boards and for-rent signs, arranging mobile phones and bank accounts and university cards. I was doing everything I could think of, and still felt like it was all collapsing under me.
Happily, the previous paragraph is all in the past tense. This didn’t have to be the case – it’s completely feasible that I could have spent an indefinite amount of time without a home base – but so it proved. The circumstances were extraordinarily serendipitous. Joe, a pleasant Canadian backpacker sharing my hostel room, casually announced that he was going to McDonald’s to use their wifi. Intrigued, I asked how this was possible, and was told that Brisbane station McDonald’s offer free wifi – even for non-customers, which is nice. Anyway, I joined him on his jaunt to the fast food joint*, and we sat down with our respective laptops – he to send some emails, me to continue my futile scrolling through accommodation websites where I’d already phoned every eligible apartment. And then Joe’s internet stopped working. I let him use mine, cast around for something to do, and noticed a copy of the Brisbane Courier-Mail newspaper lying on a nearby counter. One short perusal of the property section later, and I’m typing this up safely ensconced in my new residence in Indooroopilly, Brisbane.
But more on that next time. In fact, it’s about time that I started letting a little flavour of Australia creep into these little rambles, and nixed the trials-and-tribulations angle for a while. Expect descriptions, evaluations, and maybe even pictures shortly! Meantime, thanks for reading, and please do leave a wee comment so that I know that you’re doing so. Cheers!
* The remarkably pleasing alliteration in this sentence was entirely accidental. No joke.
My new housey!