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Happy Sad Land
No Worries
Jack and Zena
The Craic
1900 House

Robbie Williams
- Somebody Someday

No Worries (1996) - Extract 1

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Extract 1
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Voiceless in Surfers

A month into my Australian trip and I was still with the backpackers ...

Was this what I'd come to Australia for? To hear two sparks from Bromley male-bonding with a cabinet maker from Cranleigh? 'Trouble is yer on the piss every night, trips and shit, soon goes' ... 'Yeah, fucken right' ... 'Where you goin' next?'... 'Bali' ...'Oh yeah, we was there just before we came here, they won't leave you alone, come up and try and sell you stuff and shit ...'

I was back on the Greyhound, heading north into Queensland up the Pacific Highway. Coming round the bend at Coolangatta you can see Surfers Paradise on the horizon, the long row of high-rises a depressing grey silhouette against the blue sky and sea. In Sydney, people had told me endlessly about this place. 'It's terrible - but you've got to see it.' 'The sun sets behind the skyscrapers at three.' 'It's like a honeypot, we like having it there, it keeps the Japs away from the rest of the coast.' And from a man in London: 'If ever there wasn't a paradise - that - is - it.'

At the bus terminal out got: me, two American girls in sex-kitten sawn-off denims, a little Japanese man in a day-glo baseball cap and the Bromley/Cranleigh trio. We crossed the enormous shiny floor to the Backpackers' Advice Centre. (This backpacker business runs like clockwork. When you check out of your hostel at Byron Bay they give you brochures for the next place you're headed, then when you've chosen, they book you in and arrange for you to be met. All for $13 a night. It would be entirely possible to go from Sydney to Cairns without ever once lifting your pack to your back.)

I was picked up by Pete from the Sun 'n Surf. He was a swarthy Pom - from Manchester - with a ponytail and a huge infectious smile. 'Mark,' he said, picking up two of my bags. 'Good to meet you, mate.' On the way to the hostel in the minibus he filled me in: 'Basically, Sun 'n Surf is a really relaxed hostel. We don't lock you up at 10.30 at night. If you want to make a noise or scream and shout that's fine. We like noise.'

He showed me to my dorm. It had two Habitat-style pine bunks crammed into what had clearly been, not so long ago, a dingy motel room. Nobody had even bothered to redecorate. The broken phone fitting was still stuck to the wall. 'There's a Puerto Rican bloke and two girls I think. That's your bed, all right, mate.'

There were bras and knickers scattered everywhere. Through the frosted-glass window of a battered sliding door I could see the silhouette of a girl taking a shower. 'I won't be long,' she called. She emerged, wrapped in a towel, long blonde hair dripping, pretty as a Silvikrin ad.

She was Elin from Norway. This was a good-fun hostel and Surfers was OK. No really, it was good fun. She and her friend Margarethe had come for one night, 'just to see it', and ended up staying three. She laughed, grabbed some clothes and went back to the shower.

Came a knock at the door. It was Ross, a Canadian with army-short dark hair. 'Elin,' I called through to my new friend, 'somebody for you.' When she appeared this time it was the Flake ad: flowing, kneelength floral.

'Oh hi.'

'You OK?'

'I'm OK, yes.'

'You had breakfast yet?'


'I'm making some downstairs.'

'OK, I'll come.

It had clearly been a long night of passion; now there was the tricky business of making friends in daylight.

I went for a stroll into town. The geography of Surfers wasn't hard to grasp. Three parallel straight lines: the long straight strand of beach; above that the palm trees and luxury high-rises of the Esplanade; three hundred yards back from that, behind a legoland of hotels and apartment blocks, the double-track Gold Coast Highway. At a right angle in the centre was Cavill Avenue Mall, where you could sit outside cafes which served flat whites and banana smoothies and sushi and all-day breakfasts (NEW! KEBAB BREAKFAST! shouted a sign) or wander into shops which sold Swatches and speedos and Rip Curl boardshorts and Mako, Police and Porsche sunglasses and jewellery and Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon and the Bob Hawke Memoirs and cameras and real estate and turquoise T-shirts with three embossed gold shells reading SURFERS PARADISE and even, for the home-loving, a turquoise Cronulla Pottery teapot or an Original Painting On Queensland Timber. Here was a shop called Condom Kingdom; and here, outside one of the big all-Japanese stores, was a giant furry koala: KANGAROO - $300 said the sign round its neck.

Back in the tiny dorm I found the Puerto Rican, lying on his bottom bunk wearing nothing but a black moo-stache and a pair of very tight white scants. He was in his thirties, brown as a walnut, smelling strongly of aftershave. 'Hi,' he said, 'I'm Carlos.' He was from Seed-knee and today he was in a very good moot. He'd just got a job. Just washing up, that sort of thing, at this place called the Hog's Breath Cafe. 'But it's money,' he chuckled. 'So I can stay a leedle longer with my friends at Surfers.'

I wasn't feeling like a protracted chat so I went downstairs. It was late afternoon and a merry water-fight was in progress in the pool. Two girls in Sun 'n' Surf T-shirts had been chucked in and were screaming and splashing and oh, oh, OH YOU BASTARD !

In the lounge area an Aussie with the kind of physique I've always aimed for but never quite achieved was boring a couple of flirtatious young Kiwis to death. Or rather, he was boring me to death and - astonishingly - fascinating the Kiwis, telling them how easy it was to get work in England. 'You've just got to show you're ready to work hard,' he told them. He'd started by temping, gone on to the trading floor of a Merchant Bank and ended up Just About Running A Recruitment Consultancy.

Upstairs, Carlos had been replaced by - well, well - Margarethe, winningly attired in tight orange hotpants and a not-quite-reaching-your-waist pink top. She had cropped dark hair, huge dark eyes, voluptuous breasts and no sense of humour.

Elin joined us. 'You two coming to the hostel barbecue?' I asked convivially. 'No,' said Elin, 'we're going out for some dinner. Ross and I and Margarethe. You must come with us.' I protested feebly, but she was adamant. It was soon apparent why. I was to take care of Margarethe so she could get cosy with Ross.

We strolled into town down the Gold Coast Highway. They were trying, they really were trying not to be too giggly, touchy-feely and overwhelmed by lurv - but they just couldn't help it. Margarethe was putting on a brave face, especially as, with the fag-end of the cold that had been with me since my frozen morning hitch-hiking, my voice was deteriorating rapidly from Richard Burton husk to frog croak.

None of them liked the idea of Japanese food which was a bit of a shame as almost all the restaurants were Japanese. Or Chinese, which Ross wasn't keen on either. 'I like to know what I'm eating,' he said. 'Hey, there's a Pizza Hut over there!'

My turn to be difficult. I hadn't come all the way to Surfers Paradise to go to a Pizza Hut. In the end, by that committee-system of restaurant choosing which guarantees that you end up in the worst, most expensive place possible, we settled for a pizza restaurant that wasn't a Pizza Hut where, budget-conscious all, we ordered a carafe of house wine and two medium pizzas to share. I was now sounding like Barry White and wishing I'd stayed at the barbecue.

Then things took a sudden upturn. Margarethe and Elin had been at the Backpacker Inn in Byron Bay. (I thought I'd half-recognised them.) And guess who'd befriended them? James, Tommy and Tango. 'No really,' Margarethe said, 'James was very nice. He drove us up to Nimbin for the day.'

I bet he did.

'And he took Elin out on his horse.'

'No?' I croaked.

Elin was laughing, hand over her mouth. 'I'm saying to him, "I don't want to go on this horse," but he's saying, "I want to see how you look on this horse."

'So she goes on this horse,' said Margarethe.

He just had the horse to pick up girls, I said. Of course, said Elin, but then Tango had his bees. Hives full of them apparently, at the back of the Backpackers. 'That's his thing. All the girls have to get up early to see Tango's bees.'

We laughed; and then, quite suddenly, and for the first time in my life, I lost my voice. Not a squeak, not a murmur could I make my vocal chords produce. I was forced to sit in silence as Ross told us in detail about his life back home in the countryside round Calgary. They did this kind of country dancing. Like, you know, you hold the girl and two-step. Elin was rapt; Margarethe's enthusiasm for the evening was visibly waning. Voiceless, there was no way of intervening in the Ross monologue, teasing, sending him up, anything. Eventually I got so desperate I pulled out my notepad and started writing.

'I've never lost my voice,' Ross was saying.


'DUMB?' asked Elin, with the look of a kindly nurse.

'Stoopid,' said Ross. 'Now he knows what it's like to be stoopid.'

No, no, not that at all.

DUMB, I wrote frantically, MEANS (I underlined it, twice) YOU CAN'T TALK.

'Oh right, OK,' said Ross. 'Like, he means, dumb like he can't talk.'


Oh dear, oh dear (oh dear). I really can't bring myself to print out all the things I found scrawled in my notebook the next day. As I tried, increasingly unsuccessfully, to turn this sudden handicap into an amusing ploy. They were all as sweet as anything. Elin had a special whisky mix that would definitely bring my voice back. When that failed, they all three waited patiently as I scrawled my exponentially absurd and desperate interventions.

We ended up in a nightclub which was swarming with every backpacker in town. Over the identical, jostling youth, I spotted the Bromley lads, handsome Richard going for broke with a chick in gold culottes while gawky ginger-nut Dave titted around annoyingly beside him. Nightclubs are bad enough when your vocal organs are working: yelled, disjointed conversations over the deafening discobeat. Voiceless, I felt like Harpo Marx squared. I went home.

Carlos was sound asleep as I crept in. Much later there was semi-suppressed giggling as the girls came crashing back. Outside, the Sun 'n Surf party went on and on. Laughter, chat, shrieks, the occasional 'shsh'. Around five, just as silence had finally fallen, an incredibly noisy dustbin lorry arrive to collect rubbish outside. Seemingly for hours. At 7.18, finally, I crawled up. Stumbled, brain-dead, to the Esplanade for a treble espresso and some breakfast. Returned to find Carlos filling the tiny room with the pong of his anti-perspirant spray. 'Hi Carlos,' I whispered.

'Hi, Mark!' Carlos replied in an unneccessarily loud voice. 'You coming to the surf parade later. I'm just going to church first but then I'm going to the surf parade. Just got to catch the 9 o'clock service.' He carried on, not seeming to mind that he'd woken the girls, or indeed Ross, who was touchingly curled up with Elin on the lower bunk.

I left in a hurry. When he came down the steps to the pool, 'Are you really going to church?' I asked. I had a notion of going with him, if only to see who on earth went to church in Surfers Paradise.

'No,' he replied. 'But I just like to talk in a loud voice in the morning. Because if they don't res-bect me why should I res-bect them. They come in and out all night. They bring men in there.' He looked directly at me and his eyes flashed fire. 'No worries! See whaddimean? They come here for one night and now they're staying three nights but I don't care because I'm checking out. Today. This place is too much and I'm checking out.'
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