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A Traveller's Tale - part 2

7th October 2008

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We left Nathan Millward after a disastrous day of medical testing in Melbourne. It ended with a proposal from the girlfriend he calls… the Wrecking Ball.

For those who've never been, the mechanics of speed-dating are simple. You sit with a stranger and in three minutes hope to impress them to the point at which they put a tick in your box. I didn't think that was going to happen with the Wrecking Ball; a 26 year-old English teacher with tousled blonde locks and a past history as a pit-lane model. With my tatty Converse trainers and hot dog diet contrasting awkwardly with her salad of bohemian glamour, she didn't look my type, and I certainly didn't look hers.

And so I wasted the first minute buying a drink at the bar and the second apologising for not buying her one. The third minute then looked bleak, and yet somehow, it all turned out rather sunny. We got on well, went for another drink and within a week started dating. There was just one problem. In three months my Australian Working Holiday Visa would expire and I would be forced to make that long flight home, to England...

A year on and so much has happened since speed-dating. I could tell you how I solved that problem by abandoning the Wrecking Ball and going home to England without her. That I then landed a job as a motoring journalist in London might entertain the boys for a minute, while female hearts may be softened by news that secretly I was missing the Wrecking Ball like crazy. I'd made the wrong decision, and that I didn't have the bottle to do anything about it would lead neatly on to the stupid excuses I came up with for returning to Australia without it obvious I was doing it just for her. Like how I planned to ride across the world on a moped and finish on her Australian doorstep with the alibi that the journey was only to raise money to help Nana buy a new bungalow.

The same Nana who's sofa I would sit and sob uncontrollably on 'cause I couldn't decide what the hell it was I should do. Career or the Wrecking Ball? England or Australia? To stay or to go? Then living with regret and indecision, I could tell you all about that, before detailing how six months after abandoning the Wrecking Ball in Australia, I grew some balls and finally booked a flight to go back. For a rousing conclusion I could then celebrate our romantic reunion and pretend it didn't happen by accident on a ferry boat. And then finally, as a footnote, I could confirm that two months into my Australian return, we're back as a couple and going better than ever.

And so you see, with all that's happened this past year, the marriage bombshell at the end of a disastrous day in Melbourne isn't as daft as it first sounds. I came all this way, she's taken me back, it's going well, so why not? And let's face it. At some point in our lives we've all got to surrender our student overdrafts and take on mortgages and mother-in-laws. It's what grown ups do. Isn't it?

And tying the knot would certainly make life so much simpler. In my haste to return I could only get a three month tourist visa, and so, as I sit here bashing out the latest instalment of my Antipodean adventures, the update is that if I'm going to make all this stick, I either have to find a brave company willing to give me a high paid job and a two year sponsored contract, sign up to one of the mightily expensive university courses, or find someone with an Australian passport who will marry me. And as I'm so far struggling with the first two, maybe the Wrecking Ball is on to something with the third.

But whether we do or we don't, the truth is I'm flat broke. And there's nothing worse when trying to woo a girl than an empty wallet. I can't afford flowers, or lingerie, or even the alcohol needed to take advantage of her when she's drunk. Heck, I can't even afford to have the tooth repaired that I cracked eating dried pasta back in March. And so I've been a little cheeky and asked around the local cafes if they can give me some work, cash in hand of course. It's taken some time, but finally last week Spiros the Greek rang to say I can make sandwiches in his dirty cafe. It's nothing flash, or even legal, but it's money to buy that alcohol and fix that tooth.

If only the cafe were not on the same street as the car magazine I worked for when I was here in Sydney last year. It means that each day I get to watch my replacement zoom past in some Lotus or Aston or whatever else it may be while I clear dirty ashtrays from the tables outside. I stop and think how that used to be me and how much I miss it, before Spiros screams at me to take Table Four some cutlery and to stop day-dreaming on the sidewalk. From that high to this low, it's one mighty fall, but I can't complain when the reason for my return, the Wrecking Ball, will be waiting for me after work with a racquet so she can smash me at tennis.

And regardless of all this silly drama, I'm starting to genuinely enjoy Sydney. The last time I was here I whined that it can be a false, soulless place; full of botox-ed foreheads and plastic breasts. But slowly it grows on you, gets under your skin. The great food and the beautiful women help, but it's also the little things, like the small town feel you get in the suburbs and the simple happiness the locals take from getting their surfboards wet on the weekend.

And I've got good friends here too. Some from the last time, but also new ones, like Ollie from Lincoln and an Essex girl nicknamed Pube Head for the same obvious reasons that I'm called Big Teeth. We met in a hostel a while back and laughed like idiots when we realised we were here for the same reason. Sadly she's not been as fortunate as me, with nothing but unanswered phone calls and a cold shoulder from the ex she's flown all this way for. So Pube Head's sad, as you would be after realising someone you love is actually a bit of a shit.

But that's the thing with travelling; you meet interesting people with interesting stories and adventures that they're still in the middle of completing. In some ways I wish I was at home, oblivious to the wider world that's out there. Like friends who've been drinking in the same pub for the past ten years and don't dare go anywhere but down the road.

What a simple life that would be; content and happy with your lot, not endlessly trying to better it. Instead, I'm a long way from home and only half succeeding in making things work with a girl who lives in Australia, but is actually Canadian and who never wants to live in England. It's achingly complicated, but also wildly exciting, and that's what travelling guarantees all of us when we embark on stupid adventures that any of us can so easily find ourselves on. But marriage? Even I'm not that stupid.

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