I suck less at snorkelling

Foooo–ishhhhhhh…. Foooo–ishhhhhhh…. Images flit through my mind of Darth Vader, or perhaps a morbid future self hooked up to a ventilator, but as I practice snorkelling in the Airlie Beach lagoon, I’m concentrating more on making it feel ok to breathe through a snorkel than anything else.

As you may have read a few entries previously, I had some difficulty on my last snorkelling adventure. Essentially the thought of having my mouth below the water level and inhaling posed quite the neurotic mental challenge, and limited me to fleeting glimpses of the Great Barrier Reef as I struggled against my own inadequacies.

But with the next snorkelling trip fully booked, this time to a calm spot in the Whitsunday islands, I’m attempting to reprogram myself sufficiently to enjoy it. And so I’ve bought my own snorkel, and found a spare hour to go to the free local lagoon around the corner from the hostel. I might have skipped this experience, but Laura just pushed my spontaneity past some kind of mental energy barrier with some gentle cajoling and I went with it.

And after the first length something definitely begins to shift inside my head. Here, with the ground solidly underneath me, no pressure to take photos, no awkward flippers, and the ability to whip off the mask any time I like, I’m more able than ever to keep it on. Blocking up my nose with plastic still doesn’t feel comfortable, but it does take on a sense of the familiar.

And the benefits of snorkelling come into play. No longer is the water a murky ether swallowing my body, instead it’s a different universe into which I can peer with a newfound vision.

So when we get on board a small raft and jet off to Whitsunday Island, I wonder if the skills will be transferable.

We’re tossed around on the boat for about 50 minutes, which is exhilarating if somewhat anxious – I felt the need to cushion myself at the tail end of most bumps. Then we take a walk on the island itself, up a steep path through dense vegetation and in an oppressive and humid heat. But it’s all worth it when we arrive at the lookout and see the ‘swirling sands’ of Whitehaven Beach, and beautiful spiral of clear blue sea and bright white sand.

Then we get to walk down to the beach, where the sand is hot underfoot, and the water refreshingly cool. We grab lunch from the boat and try to keep the food the blowing off our plate in the wind – with plenty of seagulls ready to pounce on any adventurous pieces of lettuce or ham.

Then, in a surprising act of cruelness to those less accustomed to the sun such as myself, they left. The rays beat down upon me and my poor sunburnt feet (one of the few places of me left unprotected by the stinger suit (or as the tour guide keeps calling it: my sexy suit)), and shade is too far back up the beach, so for 15 minutes I bury myself up to the ankles and curl up into a ball to minimise my heat absorption. Some pity comes from Laura and she stands near and provides some human shade, but the sun is high overhead and she casts a selfishly narrow shadow.

When the boat returns I wonder if my homework will be undone; my thoughtful preparation foiled by conspiratorial overexposure. Some queasiness rolls over me but it could just be the aggressive speed of the craft as we throw ourselves on every unsuspecting wave around the island.

Fortunately there is no rush to don snorkel equipment, and I’m relieved to hear they won’t be handing out flippers – now I don’t need to turn them down, I’m actually taking all the intended equipment (their reasoning was that flippers may damage the reef – understandable given that it was very shallow in places). I give myself some time to get comfortable with my mask (a far superior model to my own, happy to sit on my face without trying to consume it), and take a ‘noodle’, a floatation device that you’d be forgiven for mistaking as a draught excluder. They had plenty of them. Oodles, or so I am informed.

With sunstroke at least keeping a polite distance, ocean queasiness staying at bay, and a sense of determination, I jump into the water and assess my situation. After a few seconds I conclude: I’m floating comfortably, breathing feels less alien, and there’s no pressure to swim a great distance back to the boat. Biting down gently on the snorkel tube, I submerge slightly and discover something else: I can look and breathe underwater without panicking.

Using the noodle I get a really good look at the coral this time, and can study the schools of fish just below me. It’s fun to point at things underwater with Laura as we can both peer into the deep for extended periods.

After about half an hour, we return to the boat, then see a turtle just off the other side. It’s a bit of a fleeting glimpse, though, and after I hurriedly jump in after it, I quickly lose track of its position. But still, I saw one.

After a bumpy ride back to the mainland I depart with a sense of overcoming not so much a fear, but at least a hampering neurosis.

Now if I can just get over my fear of swallowing medicinal pills, I might start to resemble a human being.

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En-gorged

On our last day in Cairns, Laura and I went for a trip up the coast with a friend we met in the hostel: Matthew, a fellow Briton from Newcastle. The plan was to see as much of the Atherton Tablelands as possible.

Our intentions were far too optimistic, though, and we really only got 1/4 of the way through our journey, but we still saw a hidden gem – an idyllic rock pool at Mosman Gorge. It was full of boulders that you could swim to, and climb on, and then look up to a vast mountain encircled with misty clouds. For a second I felt like I was in a level of Zelda, and I was going to climb it and fight a boss at the end.

We spent far too long in the water and I was shivering by the end, but not before I had climbed several boulders, slid down a natural water slide (with some bumpy rocks along the way), and jumped off a giant rock (my ‘seal-like’ climbing technique, upon said rock, proving quite entertaining for both Laura and Matthew).

We’d hired a car for the day and driven up to Palm Cove, a lush beach with little else to do but eat and drink up the comfortable atmosphere and have a swim in a safe (from jellyfish) netted area of the sea. Then we pushed up to Mosman Gorge.

If you want to do a crocodile tour you’ll need to be there early; information we didn’t know as we wildly missed all the departure times… We just had time to return to Port Douglas for some dinner, mess around taking stupid photos on the shore, and head back to Cairns.

So we might not have seen Juliet Falls or any voracious crocodiles, but we did have a unique day out – which was the plan all along.

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Bats, man

Walking back to our hostel in Cairns, we saw lots of bats roosting in a couple of trees. I’ve never seen so many bats during the day. It was weird, but somewhat demystified them for me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57rUNe0q99Y

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Swaying Sex Zombies

In my laceless trainers, jeans, and £6 ‘Pepsi’ t-shirt from Primark, I’m one of the smartest patrons in the nightclub. Yep, in a city where it takes the utmost mental and psychological acuity to wear anything but shorts, it seems that ‘pants’ is how you differentiate smart from casual. And perhaps there is a telling parallel with our trainers vs shoes paradigm in the UK – smartness is essentially a measure of how much discomfort you are willing to put up with. And if you are willing to forgo the breezy ventilation afforded by cropped trousers, you are hastily marked as one of Cairns’ socialising elite.

I’m in the nightclub at Gilligan’s – which is part hostel, restaurant and disco. Assuming you are in the correct mindset, I imagine this is the perfect destination. Laura and I are staying in the polar opposite hostel – Globetrotters – where the focus is on early nights, washing up, and staying quiet. I feel like I’m at a transitory age where both walks of life appeal in different ways.

And at 31 I mostly fit in. I’m certainly not the oldest person in the room but I proudly own a certain mature edge over the young faces that addle past me, too preoccupied with impressing their friends to notice strangers. And even though I arrived on my own I’m happy just to get a drink and wait for someone familiar to arrive.

And soon, someone does, although not who I expect. Matt, a friendly Kiwi from the snorkelling cruise that afternoon, armed with a cheeky beret and a disarming 70s moustache, sidles by and shakes my hand, before disappearing back into the throng. Fortunately, he points me in the direction of my friends Ilonka and Annelies, who are with some other friends (also fellow snorkelliers), and are braving the dancefloor.

I took dancing lessons to avoid this kind of embarrassment, but without a dancing partner, or music at the right speed, I find two years of modern jive instruction are rendered essentially useless as I need to stylise myself in accordance with the latest club hits. But the few street dance lessons I’d attended kept my confidence high and I remembered it was more important just to stay in time, and really just to have fun – I mean that, more than anything else, was my reason for attending.

And as unsuited for nightclub life as I suspect I really am, many occupants are far worsely attuned to the experience. The most disconcerting are those people who have quickly overshot the ‘sensibly inebriated’ point, failed to hit the ‘drunk but in control’ marker, and instead landed on ‘gormless vegetable’. They sway about in front, and all around me, staring at people, unaware of their awkward gaze, staring at members of the opposite sex, in the vain hope that enough of their deathly look will bring their desires to fruition.

And when Annelies leaves Ilonka and me alone on the dancefloor, I daren’t take my much-needed trip to the toilet for fear of leaving her alone with the swaying sex zombies. Not that she can’t handle them… I just suspect she doesn’t want to have to.

Thankfully, though, these barely conscious members of our species make up the minority, and there are many more people with a far slicker approach to courting, and quite a few who are like rabid dogs finally let off the leash – their infectious bite being the volume of their exclamations as their favourite song is played, or they finally receive that anticipated text message.

I enjoy myself in my own way but I don’t think nightclubs are where I truly belong. If we could just take a short break every so often for tea, and a quick chat to share dance techniques, the experience might appeal more.

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I suck at snorkelling

It’s official. I may have generated enough tricks and bespoke styles to just about make myself buoyant at the average swimming pool, but with enormous flippers on my feet, a mask that prevents any kind of olfactory respiration, and the prospect of inhaling while one’s mouth is underwater, I’m reduced to a floundering wreck. And unfortunately this is the most important time of my life to swim and drink in the surroundings – except I really may end up ingesting half of the Great Barrier Reef.

I began the excursion overflowing with bravado, images of secret agents expertly making their way through reefs underwater flashing through my mind… And I felt a bit like James Bond – until I put on the mask for the first time and realised that nose breathing was off the menu for the duration of our swim.

You see I’m not the greatest swimmer – but over the years I have developed a sort of spitty breaststroke where I can breathe comfortably most of the time, and propel myself forward with my legs quite ably. But now I have flippers on which preclude any motion except scissoring forwards. I have also formed a very strong mental connection between inhaling and having my mouth above the water. Like any fear of heights, spiders, or green vegetables, this has very practical uses until modern technology gets involved.

We take a glass-bottom boat over to a small island on the outer reef and get a taste for the aquatic delights about to greet us – delicate coral scrolls by and exotic fish swim in and out of view. I know I’m carrying lots of unfamiliar gear but I’m also filled with a nervous energy, waiting to explode into a new physical activity.

At this point I would like to share a tip: don your flippers at the last possible moment, and walk backwards on the beach! Otherwise you inevitably spoon up embarrassing clumps of sand with your rubbery foot spatulas. Of course, I think once I’m in the water I’ll float off in comfort, free of my land-unfriendly footwear.

I set off from the beach and immediately see my problems. I just can’t breathe. At least, not for long. It feels very wrong to inhale underwater, and when I get slightly panicky, the lack of any nose breathing makes it much worse. I whip off the tube and suck in mouthfuls of air to recover. But this is not the intended method.

Twice I return to the crew member on the beach – once to return my flippers, and again to get a floatation aid. And I start to have serious doubts about my ability to return to the boat. It seems a long way away on the moderately choppy waters.

Box jellyfish and sharks are the least of my problems. Where are the warning pamphlets about my own neuroses?

Laura is somewhat unperturbed by the experience and seems to be floating quite happily, and dunks her head in repeatedly to get a good view of the coral below. I’m glad she’s doing it right.

Having ditched half of my gear, I’m acutely aware of my position and determined to capture it – so I arm my camera wrapped up in its waterproof bag, and snap as many underwater photos as possible, and a few videos. If I nearly drown now, I sure as hell am going to have something to show for it.

It’s a scary effort to get back to the boat but I make it, and somewhat traumatised, I clamber aboard.

There is a second snorkelling session later. Equipped with my knowledge from before, I dive in with just the mask, and feel a bit more comfortable just holding my breath for a look at the coral, which, secured between fleeting glimpses of a desperate asphyxiating man, is undeniably stunning. Schools of varied fish are swimming around and under me, and I hold on for as long as possible to observe them.

The boat crew are very entertaining and perform some magic tricks on the way back. And, tired from the swim, everyone is on-deck and enjoying the haze of water droplets that caress the boat on its return journey.

My internal strife made this more of a challenge than it needed to be, but I can’t fault the presentation by the tour operators, the camaraderie of my fellow passengers, and the stunning sights of Australia’s outer reef.

References:

Passions of Paradise snorkelling tour

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Cuddling Cairns Koalas

On Thursday, our first full day at Cairns, Laura and I took a trip to Kurunda, a rainforest village to the Northwest.

We took the ‘skycar’ funicular to get there, which consisted of a few miles of towers and little carriages propelled along the cable. It was very quick and we got some excellent views over the rainforest.

I was expecting some kind of aboriginal welcome to Kurunda but I suppose I should break the news to you that it really is intended for tourists – there is a charming market (and a quirky old market where you can buy coconuts, drink the milk, then crack them open to eat the pulp), and some unique animal sanctuaries, but it isn’t the rich cultural heritage of native Australia that you might assume.

Tempted by the butterfly sanctuary and birdworld, we favour a trip to the Koala Gardens, where I’m told you can hold a koala. And I’m not disappointed when I purchase my ‘cuddle card’ on the way in.

Holding a koala is best described as clinging to a warm fluffy cloud, it’s essentially motionless as I pretend to be a tree (albeit one with the biggest grin in the rainforest). It has very sharp-looking claws but I don’t feel them, and sadly too soon it’s plucked out of my grasp to the safe haven of the ranger.

I can’t describe why it’s cute; it has a weird squishy face and doesn’t really say or do anything. I think it’s the complete lack of any threatening action, and the fact that it’s a nicely-sized ball of fur play in its favour.

It’s possible to take a scenic and historic rail route back to Cairns, and it’s shocking to hear how so many people threw themselves at rock with chisels and spades in order to dig the tunnels. And for a second you gain an alarming insight into a time when work was backbreakingly hard and the threat of dysentery or tuberculosis loomed around the corner. If nothing else it makes me very glad I have a desk job and I get to fiddle with computers.

Food in Australia is not cheap – and Laura and I try to keep the prohibitive costs to a minimum by visiting Woolworths (which is still going strong over here) for some supermarket snacks on the way back. It’s still difficult to find a yoghurt for less than 2 dollars though!

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Delirium and Rebirth

After a night of semi-consciousness, forcing myself to march through the jetlag like a wet bog, muddy hands clinging to the heels of my awareness, I slept and slept and slept and emerged from my egg, ready for an early start on our first tour.

This is what it must feel like to be one of those people who like ‘early starts’. The prospect always baffled me, as someone who needs a profound motivation to be excavated from slumber at any time before 9am. Why would you ever wish to leave your safe haven of warmth, comfort, and safety?? Especially when sleep calls to you like a long lost lover, eager to feel your embrace and breath upon her neck. At this strange correlation point of jetlag and recuperation, though, I found myself with lots of energy at 8am.

The night before we had visited a fun restaurant called ‘Ochre’ which served some questionably authentic Australian recipes such as Wallaby steak, and crocodile with prawns. I was barely myself, though. I might as well have been drunk because the exhaustion skewed all my perceptions and reactions, and despite being served a gorgeous steak and chocolate treats for dessert, I had to fight to stay awake through it.

But an early night, near-hibernation and air conditioning cured me, and on our first morning I was ready for our first tour of the trip: the scenic train to Kurunda village and skyrail.

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Shutdown

11 hours time difference. That’s basically turning your body clock upside-down. Every activity you want to do needs replacing with the exact opposite, and very few activities are even available to you. Watch more TV, read, sleep, or just stare into space and have a bit of a think.

I’m currently on the second flight from Heathrow to Sydney after a change at Abu Dhabi. It’s supposed to be 14 hours long, and there’s at least another 5 to go. The crew do just about the best job possible, though, often plying us with new drinks and snacks, and I eat like a dog; mercilessly devouring every meal presented to me with little regard for appetite, or manners.

I’m excited about being in Australia. But to stay sane on this flight I just need to hibernate. So I try to get comfy again (one position is never very good for long), and attempt to shut down…

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My game is out!

Last night the Xbox build of Miasma 2 made it onto the marketplace.

It’s the culmination of about a year and a half’s work with Pete Lewis, to whom I am very grateful for his hard work.

Some other awesome guys chipped in, like Julian Cole for writing an entirely custom music score, Paolo Parrucci for creating some last-minute UI graphics, Jenny Peers for an eye-catching game cover, and many others.  Thank you all.

You can queue it up here:

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/Miasma-2/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550b1d

And read a bit more about it at the ESP Games website, if you like.

David

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New acoustic compositions!

I’ve written and recorded two new songs.  They’re both instrumental acoustic compositions that I semi-re-de-constructed over the Yuletide period.

You can check them out on my music page.

Thanks to Mike for recording me rather impromptu in his garage!

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