Travelling the other side of the World at just 18 . . .

This has been the hardest post to write so far, despite planning it in my head a million times. Thinking about it has brought me no further forward as to what I should and shouldn’t include, so I’m going to do what I do when I write and that’s erm, well just write and let what’s in my mind flow out onto the keyboard and magically appear on my screen. At this point I know it’s going to take a bit longer than usual to get it right but here goes . . .
18 and off to Oz for a year!
Bubbling with excitement and probably both doing our best to hide our nerves me and Debs were off on this huge adventure, the trip we’d been planning for so long and it didn’t seem real! Being 18 things like the unlimited booze on the Singapore Airline flight were such a novelty and it would be fair to say we probably made the most of it! I remember being amazed by the individual TV screens on the back of the headrests in front of us and all of the films, music and games on offer throughout the flight – something now I am lucky to have become accustomed to with all my travels but back then this was completely AMAZING! On the way to Australia we stopped in Singapore for a few days. I’ll never forget how jet-lagged we were, as it was the first time either of us had been on a long-haul flight this way around the globe. We fell asleep in our hotel and when we woke we didn’t know if it was day or night as the window in our room overlooked an indoor area. I don’t suppose it helped that we spent one evening drinking as much wine from room service as humanly possible, it was fun though!! I smoked back then and can remember us both (even though Debs didn’t even smoke) trying to blow smoke rings for hours in our room – why I do not know?? To this day I will never forget Debbie’s hilarious Dot Cotton impressions that night; with a long menthol cigarette hanging out of her mouth ‘they don’t call me Dot Cotton Brown for nothing you know, in fact they don’t call me Dot Cotton Brown at all’ she said in her best cockney accent, as we rolled around in fits of laughter at the state of us both in this stupidly tired and drunk state we were in. What we saw of the outside of Singapore we enjoyed and the food was great, despite the queasiness caused during our first experience in a food hall with all the smells so alien to a couple of 18 year old English girls (something now that makes me go weak at the knees with hunger due to my love of Asian food). 
Coogee Beach
Nina, Me, Emily, Jacqui, Karl, Morris, Dad, Emma, Jodie, Debs

Arriving in Australia was mad, as we had nowhere booked to stay and no idea really of where to go . . . plus it was about 5am so none of the hostels we were calling were open. Due to this we spent a few hours at Sydney airport, somewhere that would later become a regular haunt to say sad farewells to friends that were leaving to go back home, after their travels had come to an end. Eventually we found a hostel with a twin room spare – we weren’t quite ready for dorms yet!! This was in Coogee, right by the stunning beach and not far from the famous Bondi. 
This place was recommended by Debbie’s cousin Scott as he was staying there at the time, so a familiar face was definitely drawing us to this option over any other. We got to the hostel and were totally daunted by the fact that people actually speak to you and ask how you are, even Brits who at home wouldn’t usually so much as grunt at you! This should have been a good thing and was in the end, but straight away I think we were a bit daunted by it so got to our room, unpacked a bit and then just kind of sat on our beds quietly before braving going to find the showers for a much needed freshen up. Once we got chatting to people in the hostel (an American girl and couple of Irish lads if I remember correctly) and met up with Scott, this apprehension was all soon in the past and we went on to meet some fantastic people and life long friends. Within days of being in Coogee we ended up moving into the flat where Scott lived, where we ended up staying for about 6 months. The best description of this place was crossed between a pig sty and a flee pit (sounds like the perfect Australian dream right?) but for us it was where we had some of the best times of our lives – we were no longer naive 18 year olds and now young adults, the other side of the World from home and we had to look after ourselves for the first time. We weren’t lazy and motivating each other both got jobs within the first month to make sure we could support ourselves and save for a bit more travelling around the country. Don’t get me wrong though although willing to work we also partied very hard and the jobs we had seemed like a very small part of the whole experience! We loved it here and were having an amazing time with some fantastic new friends (namingly Kelly, Jodie, Jody and Emma as these were the girls we lived with and I’m still in touch with them regularly now, but also heaps of other people along the way, again some of whom I still see. 

Debs, Me, Jodie, Jig, Emma, Cath, Jody, Claire

However this Sydney fun had to come to an end at some point so it got to the end of April, the lease on the flat was ending, the rest of the girls were leaving Oz and we decided we needed to move on, so me, Debs, Nina and Liz (who had both joined us from the UK by this point) bought a car to explore some more of this vast country . . . When I say vast by the way, it wasn’t until we were in Australia that we realised how big it actually is! To give you an idea Australia is 7.6 Million Square KM where in comparison the UK is just 244,104 Sq KM – you can fit England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Australia 31 times and still have a bit left over! Absurd isn’t it?!!

Whilst in Sydney we’d also made friends with a girl called Katherine, who was over there competing in the Synchronised swimming at the Olympics (this was 2000 if I didn’t mention it before) and she’d finished her heats so after staying for a couple of days at her pad in Manly the five of us packed up the car and headed out of Sydney, West-bound. Our first stop was Canberra, the mighty capital of Oz! Or in our eyes perhaps not. We ended up camping this first night as had a couple of tents but despite three of us being huddled up in one it was still absolutely freezing so I ended up in the back seat of the car shivering and the others probably equally shivering in the tents. I have a vague memory that by the morning the tent that Liz and Debs were in had collapsed and was simply an extra cover for them, something that gave us all a giggle after a night of not much sleep. It was so early and nobody else was up so we were a bit naughty and quickly threw our stuff in the car and did a runner without paying – whoops! 😉 With the wind behind us, a pact to never camp again and nobody keen to spend anymore time in Canberra than necessary we headed on to Melbourne and then Adelaide with multiple overnight stops in between and dropping Katherine at a railway station en-route, as she had to get back for her flight home. We saw some absolutely amazing sights and had many a laugh on the way – we felt so lucky that at 19 we were getting to explore this stunning country. Once in Adelaide we loved it so much that we contemplated staying for a few weeks, however with money running low decided we should keep moving to our Northern destination of Darwin, where the plan was to find jobs and then take a leisurely trip of a few months back towards Sydney, down the East Coast. 
Looking back I’m sure the others will join me in wishing we had stayed on a bit longer because this trip didn’t go quite to plan and a few days into the baron trip up through the middle of Australia, Ayers Rock literally in site, the worst thing ever happened…we had a tragic car accident. For those of you that know these roads will know you can sometimes drive for a day and only see one other car, so this was possibly the worst place for something like this to happen. To make this situation worse, Debbie (by then pretty much my right arm) was unconscious after a blow to her head. Our dream was officially shattered and a cold kick of reality had propelled us into total turmoil – this wasn’t supposed to be how things happened! This was our dream! Why had it turned into such a nightmare?! In some ways we were so lucky in that a UK based dentist soon passed and stopped in his campervan and then two Ozzie ex-paramedics, all giving their best efforts to look after our friend and calling an ambulance which when it eventually arrived took Debs and I to the nearest health clinic in Uluru, where I stayed and Debs was flown straight from to Alice Springs hospital. We had to stay one night in Uluru to speak to the police and councillors etc – I was not happy about this as just wanted to be with my friend so the morning couldn’t come quick enough when we were flown to Alice Springs and met by a councillor lady who drove us to a hostel and then to the hospital, where I stayed by her bedside all day, night and the next day until they could do no more and we lost her. Her family arrived from the UK the following day so we were all together when saying our pain staking goodbyes to her – a day that will always remain so vivid in my mind. Luckily for me (being the driver when we had the accident) her family were and always have been totally supportive. It is at this point that I would like to mention what an amazing family they are, as not only had they just lost their daughter and sister in this tragic way at such a young age but a year before Debbie’s Dad had also passed away. Despite losing two people in their immediate family in such a short time they were and are all an absolute tower of strength and I have so much respect for each of them. Throughout my life I’ve been around people whinging about things (usually minor things too!) and then you come across people like this who are living their lives and getting on, no moans and groans despite everything that has happened to them – something for us all to aspire to for certain!
Debbie xx

Almost 11 years on now and still not a day goes by when I don’t think of Debs. The feelings I have about the situation have eased over time and more often than not I think about the memories we shared together rather than that terrible day. The pain and anger I feel in terms of the actual accident is something that will never leave, although it has softened a little through time healing. However, the pain I (and I know all of her friends and family) still feel when I contemplate her not being here and never seeing her again causes feelings I just can’t begin to describe. She was a friend in a million, more caring than anyone else I knew – she would do anything for anyone she loved and if there is a heaven she is most definitely in it. Love you always Debs! 

Stepping back to 2011 (a little more numb then when I first sat down to write this weeks blog)

So that is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written, as usually it’s never for anyone else to read so I can write anything I think and feel but that was harder than I thought and naturally brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Something that I have learned over the years is that showing emotion is not a bad thing, it took me a while to get to grips with but now I’m almost a fully-fledged hormonal, emotional woman – well I am pregnant so that explains part of it I suppose!
The tragic experience that we had in Australia, aged 19, certainly made me look at life in a totally different way and I’d say that it is definitely the reason that I try my best to live for every moment – I work hard but it’s always in reach of a goal (be it travelling or the ultimate of more time with my friends and family – dreams of kissing goodbye to everyday working are a big part of it!). On the whole I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve done work-wise and have learned valuable lessons along the way, particularly now being self-employed and building my own business. In my eyes life is too short and precious to follow the life plan of working for someone else until your in your 60’s and then retire on a measly pension so when you finally have more TIME you can’t afford to do anything – how is that a safe option!! I appreciate that some people work for others for the love of their job and that is super important, if you love it stick at it – smiling everyday is as important as anything else! However, a word of advice if you’re in a job that makes you groan each morning . . . come up with a plan, use you’re creative brain – we’ve all got one! Think out of the box at how you can make a difference to your own life – we’ve all got the same chances folks, don’t pass up on any opportunities that come your way and if you want to do something different but don’t know where to start I’d be more than happy to help you brain-storm and come up with some ideas for where you need to start. I’m no qualified life coach or anything like that but if I can do a little to inspire you that will do for me – if you are in my life, you are important and I will make the time for you! Wow, hark at me! Who the heck do I think I am?! I know some of you will be thinking that but I just want to help everyone make the most of their lives and don’t want anyone I know to be unhappy, so this is me doing my bit…
Since last week I’ve been quite a busy bee, again a nice split of socialising and working. I’ve had quite a few lunches and dinners with friends and family, lots of social media marketing, a couple of shifts at the council, an interesting meeting with the BBC (as I help look after some of their music related social media sites), and a great brainstorming and business planning session with my step-Dad, where we managed to come up with a great business idea (related to managing and maintaining buy-to-let properties) that he is going to implement immediately so if you think this may be of use to you let me know and I’ll get him to contact you! I even got to spend a day and a half with my lovely husband at the weekend as he’s finished the project at our house, which looks fantastic if I do say so myself! All in all a very successful week.
Baby-wise, there has been definite growth in the belly department. I also think I may have felt it move for the first time during a reflexology session from my Mum, although nothing since so not sure? There have been a few sleepless nights, although I’m not sure that is necessarily baby related as lots of other people seem to have been having the same issue – perhaps clock change or temperature being alot higher than a few weeks ago? We’ve come up with some boys names now too, so I think we’re pretty much sorted whatever we have, so long as he or she suits the name when we finally get to see them! We haven’t bought anything for the baby yet but Bryans Mum did buy us a cute little baby-grow, which is hanging in the soon to be nursery – very lovely and very tiny. All super exciting stuff! We’ve got the 20 week scan next week, which seems crazy as then I’ll be officially half way through my pregnancy, something that doesn’t seem possible – it’s gone so quick!

I feel like the bump has got a lot bigger since last week but the photos don’t really show it. I feel a bit silly putting them on here weekly when it looks like nothing but I am in my 20th week now so something has to start happening soon! 😉

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7 Comments

  1. That made me cry! But I smiled at the end xx

  2. Made me cry too! You are a very inspirational person Kaori. Nothing will get in the way of what you want to do and we do all learn through life experiences…………..
    Neat bump btw! xxx

  3. Beautifully written Kaori, brought a lump to my throat too. You are so wise for someone so young -your baby will be very lucky to have you for a Mum xxx Dawn

  4. Makes anyone who reads this very emotional. I hope you'll make it into a book eventually Kaori.

  5. RIP Debbie, she was truly an amazing young lady, hilariously funny, outrageously silly and we were all lucky to have known her the short time we did. I am SO proud of you for sharing this, I know how hard it must have been, but its so lovely to hear all about your trip, after all these years, and to see that lovely smiling pic of Debbie, and to look back and remember you all then, so young and cute, you're still cute now, but you're going to be a Mamma, Debbie would be very proud of you and VERY excited for you, as are we all…

    Love and hugs Elle, thanks again, so brave xxxxx

    PS I feel I've rambled a bit, but I hope I (vaguely) make sense xxxx

  6. Thanks for all of the lovely comments folks, much appreciated and thanks for reading xx

  7. JP

    This certainly brought a few tears to my eyes Kaori.

    You write beautifully, especially about something so tragic.

    I am glad you had the strength to share this with us.

    Jess x

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