LIFE IN THE BUBBLE

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It’s like a sweetshop and I’ve got a sweet tooth.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012
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I was running late. I seem to be doing that a lot at the moment. My wife is pregnant with our first child and I didn’t want her to carry the shopping bags up the stairs to our top floor apartment. She’s more than capable (she insists) but I feel like a bad husband, dad-to-be if I let her.  We’re very fortunate to live in Ben Buckler and to have a view of the ocean. But no lift. First world problems? Anyway as I said I’m running late. I’m going to meet Paul. Paul is a backpacker from London (well Romford which is just outside London in Essex). And after 4 months in Bondi has a very different view of it to me. 

I’m also English, so is my wife. But our child will be born Australian. Which works for us. I hope it works for them. Anyway back to Paul. I ring him to say I’m running late. And we agree to meet in the Bucket List halfway down the beach. Is this neutral ground? Was it created to be where North meets South? The “no mans land” of Bondi? I’ve never met Paul but by what he said on the phone I didn’t think he would be too hard to find. I wasn’t wrong. When I arrived he was sitting outside, in Union jack shorts, mirrored sunglasses and burnt red arms, supping on a bottle of Corona, a big smile, watching the world (and it’s female inhabitants) go by.

 

He was clearly a man who was happy to be alive and living in Bondi.

"I fuuuuuuuucking love Bondi.

Why wouldn’t I, it is Puukka. Fucking best place in the world. Fit, almost naked Birds everywhere. I love the man who invented the bikini. Clever chap. I also love the bloke who turned to his bird and said “why don’t you go topless” even more. Now that was a bit of quick finking.”

Paul talks with the passion of an evangelist I’m waiting for him to throw his hands in the air and shout “Praise be to God”

I grab a drink and Paul another, and we get to know each other. We talk about various things, football (“they call it Soccer here- Soccer? That’s what you do to your girlfriend” he belly laughs.) We talk about Bondi and we talk about differences with Australia and England.

I explained to him why I wanted to meet/interview him last week and he was intrigued. How we are 2 of a predicted 6,000 Brits living in the Bondi area. He didn’t know about ‘Life in a Bubble” and never thought about Bondi being it’s own “little bubble” though he admitted he “hardly ever left, well why would he?” He liked the idea of being interviewed, and the comparison of lifestyles of two “Pom’s” living in the same place but on different paths. I’ve been here nearly 4 years he’s been here for 4 months.

I’m very happily married (I am, I’m not just saying that), he’s very happily single. I’m 36 he’s 24. Oh how different those worlds are.

 

“Bondi is all about the birds. They are from everywhere. Swedish, Irish, German, Spanish, Brazilian, I’ve even met a couple of Aussies.

It’s like a sweetshop and I’ve got a sweet tooth.

Everyone is up for a good laugh, yeah you get the odd Dickhead, they’re normally from Leeds or Liverpool or Manchester or some other agro football club area.”

I’m obviously in a different space. I’m thinking about having a child, about how baby friendly Bondi is. How when we go for a walk along the beach I see Dad’s playing with their little people in the sea water pool and I can’t wait to be doing that with my kid. How I see (and hear) the Nippers on Sunday morning, so energetically and enthusiastically learning about how to respect the ocean, and how happy and healthy they are.

 

Paul has a different view of the beach (of course).

“Yeah awesome beach.

Never said Awesome before I came here, but I can’t stop saying it – cos it is.

Anyway, yeah, the beach, the ocean, the birds, the birds, the birds. I’ve got a coupla mates one of which I met at Noah’s and now we’re in a shared house, and they’re  good (Football/Soccer) players as well so we normally take a ball down to the beach, pitch up in front of some tarts, and have a game of keep ups. Birds love a fit bloke, and as the Aussies can’t play they know you’re not from here.”

I thought it would be a bit more obvious than that, but Paul disagrees.

“Nah I get mistaken for Aussie all the time, I pick up accents really quickly, I once spent a month in Florida and all my mates took the piss out of me for talking American when I got back.”

 

I can’t hear it myself, maybe I’ve been here too long. We talk about how bad things are back at home and how good things are here. How the GFC doesn’t seem to have hit Australia and how depressing things seem back in the UK, with another recession predicted and unemployment to continue to go. How the Global strength of the dollar seems to keep the economy buoyant and the standard of life here seems so much better here than what I remember in the UK. He agreed. Well sort of.

“It’s fucking expensive here isn’t it?”

After a few more beers, which I paid for. (Paul is currently between jobs. But got “some birthday money from his Gran so he’s ok for rent and stuff for a bit.”) – he lightened up and dropped the provado for a bit, he talked of love and life. How a girl back at home cheated on him and broke his heart. How going traveling seemed like the right solution, how he hated his job and being stuck on the train “every bloody day” and just needed to escape. Go somewhere else, be someone else. How he does go out and drink a lot and the extra (“The price of drugs here is fucking ridiculous and  it’s “Shithouse”(we both agree – why isn’t the word ‘Shit’ enough?) $350 for a bag of Coke, and most of it’s Persil –you can see the blue bits that gets your white’s whiter than white”) – but deep deep down, he’s not really happy. He just wants to go off the rails for a bit and be someone else. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying it, but it’s exhausting.”

 

The sun has gone down, people have come and gone from the Bucket List, and I’ve either had 5 or 7 bottles of Corona. I’m not quite sure. I’m sure my Credit Card will tell me when I pick up the bill. I’ve enjoyed my chat with Paul, he reminds me a bit of myself. A younger, louder, randier, more complex but simpler version. Ok we’re both English, male and living on the other side of the world. But both our versions of Bondi are real to us, and both make Bondi the best place in the world. I love it because I can go for a swim before work and sit out on my balcony watching the ocean after it. Paul love’s it because he can live up to that stereotype of the backpackers who is just there to have fun, and if this is really happening or if it’s not, Paul like thousands of other Brits like him, come to Bondi each year to escape, find themselves. The difference is do they live there (like I feel I do) or are they just alive there?

I thanked Paul for his time, and we agreed to Facebook and keep in touch, - both knowing we probably won’t. We man hugged the only way two men who’ve bonded over alcohol can and parted ways. I headed off up to North Bondi to a sleeping pregnant wife, while Paul was off to the Beachy – to see if there was “anything he could pick up.” I don’t know who is the happier. But I know neither of us are the “only Pom’s in Bondi” and never will be.

 

NB Only days later Paul was caught in a rip trying to retrieve his football from the water and was saved by Bondi Rescue. When asked on how he felt about the power of the ocean, he replied: “Birds know your vulnerable and all that so they love it”

 

Photography: Larnce Gold

 

 

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