You can try sugar coating them, but the truth is that some days as a traveller stink, really stink. I had one last week. Eleven hour train rides, Melbourne transport police, visa issues and medical testing. It’s a long story, so I’ll just start at the beginning.

I’m back in Sydney for a girl I abandoned six months ago when my Working Holiday visa expired. At the time I just thought to hell with it all, I’m going home to England, relationship over. Only I never moved on, regretting the decision to leave the moment I stepped off the plane at Heathrow. And so five months later, determined to put things right, I quit my job in England, booked a ticket back to Australia and flew out with my tail between my legs ready to beg for forgiveness. She had no clue I was coming, no idea I was in the country. My plan being to sweep her off her feet, surprise her at her door. Except she beat me to it, spotting me on the Manly ferry before I’d even had time to practice my apology. “What the fuck are you doing here?” she blurted as she came bounding across the top deck like a wrecking ball. “I’m here for you,” I pleaded just before she slotted me with her left fist. She had every right to be pissed, remember it was me who’d abandoned her six months prior.

But that was then and this is now. A month or so later and the relationship’s back on track. My mission a success, we’re back as girlfriend and boyfriend and the wrecking ball’s even doing my laundry. Result. But the real problem now is cash, or the lack of it. With tables for two and bills for the gentleman the bank balance is coughing blood. A job would be a simple solution, but being on a temporary tourist visa I’m not allowed to work. Not legally anyway. Begging, borrowing, busking… I’d considered it all, until finally I found a sensible solution. The advert asking for medical research volunteers promised financial reimbursement to anyone with a healthy body for hire. They paid cash, I was curious…

Love in the time of Cholesterol

“It’s 11 days in hospital testing a new cholesterol drug,” the doctor at the testing clinic explained over the phone. He was keen to book me in. No doubt his eye already on my kidney. “Can you come down to Melbourne next week for a screening?” I chewed it over for a minute, unsure if the 600 mile journey from Sydney was worth it. And then he added: “You’ll do know you’ll be reimbursed $3,500 for your time?” I stopped chewing. “Book me in. The sooner the better.”

And so one wet Tuesday night I clamber aboard the overnight train to Melbourne. Seat. Coffee. Relax. I flick through a pile of documents about the trial and go wide-eyed at the small print: “Risk of death, drug never tested on humans.” I reason it’s just a precaution, the same as you sign for skydiving, but still, dead at 25 on a cold surgical slab in Melbourne is not how I want it to end, not when things are going so well with the wrecking ball. But premature death is the least of my problems. Currently on a temporary tourist visa, if I don’t find sponsorship in the next two months I’ll be forced back on a plane bound for England, the relationship with the wrecking ball in tatters. Damn this 11 hour train ride. Damn you arseholes in immigration.

The next morning I arrive in Melbourne, cranky and yawning. I find a tram to the hospital and board without paying. Three dollars is better in my pocket than theirs I reason. Besides, no one else seems to have fed the meter. I sit there all smug, cocky even, imagining the happy face of my bank manager when I wire him the $3,500. And then all that joy is blown to smithereens when a Storm Trooper (ST) flips open her notebook and introduces herself as Transport Police. “No Officer, I’m sorry, I do not have a ticket…”

Use the force

ST: “I just need to take down some details, what’s your name and where do you live?”

Me: “My name’s Nathan Millward and I don’t really live anywhere.”

ST: “You must live somewhere, what’s your address?”

Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t have one. I’m on a tourist visa and don’t have a permanent address.”

ST: “Okay, but where are you living in Melbourne?”

Me: “I don’t live in Melbourne, I’ve come down for medical testing.”

ST: “Alright, so where do you live in Sydney?”

ME: “Mostly at the girlfriend’s, but sometimes at a hostel when she kicks me out for some peace and quiet.”

ST: “And what’s her address?”

Me: “I can’t remember. Balmain, Sydney, but I don’t remember the street or number.” (I genuinely couldn’t)

ST: “I don’t believe you. Unless you tell me the truth I’m calling the police.”

Me: “I’ll call her and find out.”

The wrecking ball answers and I explain, jotting down the address and feeding it to the moody Trooper. “I would like to speak to her to confirm the details myself,” she barks. I pass her the phone and stand well back. Bad move lady. The girlfriend’s a real firecracker. A straight shooting son of a gun who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. It’s what I love about her. And judging by the Trooper’s sudden silence I assume the girlfriend’s given her a blast from both her barrels.

“I’m sorry, she wasn’t very cooperative,” the Trooper splutters as she comes off the phone. Everyone on the tram is now watching. Silent. Absorbed. Sniggering slightly until the Trooper regains her composure and delivers her retaliatory blow; “As your girlfriend won’t cooperate you either give us another address or the police will deal with you.”

Shit. Thanks babe.

The lady and the tram

Pleading, grovelling… I scrape through the whole sorry saga of abandoning the girl six months prior and now being back, homeless, to give it another go. In front of a packed tram of commuters I try desperately to hit the Storm Trooper’s heart with the love bat. Finally, after ten minutes she concedes. “The letter’s going to your girlfriend’s; you can sort it out with her.” And about the punishment, I plead with watery eyes. “I don’t know, the magistrate will deal with you.”

With that I limp from the tram and flop down on a bench, a broken man. How could I have been such an idiot. I’ve come all this way, sacrificed a job in England on the gamble that the wrecking ball would take me back, she has, and now I’ve risked it all for a silly crime that could sour any application for a permanent visa. What a fool. What a plonker. At least there’s the $3,500 to cheer me up I reason…

At the hospital I’m given forms to fill in and documents to read. “Risk of death, drug never tested on humans.” I take a seat and look around. The place isn’t how I imagined it to be. I was expecting monkeys in spacesuits and hollowed out backpackers carrying their kidneys in jars. But no, the research facility’s all white-walled and clinical, looking every inch like a regular hospital and operating, as I soon learn, with equal incompetence…

Addressing the situation

Them: “Ohhh… wait a minute Mr Millward… you haven’t given us a Melbourne address.”
Me: Groan, here we go again. “No, I don’t have one. I’ve travelled down from Sydney for this.”
Them: “Oh, well sorry but you can’t take part, you have to live in Melbourne.”
Me: “You’re kidding me? I explained where I was coming from on the phone to the doctor. He didn’t say anything.”
Them: “Sorry sir, but it’s our policy. For safety reasons you understand.”
Me: Oh fuck off and die you bastards….

Alright, I didn’t really say that, but how I felt like it. Boy was I angry. Livid. RAGING. But being English that didn’t matter one jot. “Oh it’s not a problem, these things happen,” I forced through gritted teeth. They even wheeled out the doctor responsible for me to confront, to slug with angry words if I so wished. But no, that’s not the English way. “Don’t worry about it; it’s not your fault, just one of those things,” I whimpered like a wet paper bag. But damn right it was his fault, he knew it, I knew it. But there was no changing the outcome now. No point us both having a shit day.

And so with that I stumble from the hospital, all jelly-legged and frowning. Eleven hours on a train back to Sydney isn’t what I need now. I’m flying.

It’s dark and wet when I touch down that evening in Sydney, the sky as angry as my mood. Outside the airport the wrecking ball waits patiently in her car. I fall into the passenger seat and start spitting feathers at the day I’ve just had; the train, the tram, the toss-pots at the research clinic. The wrecking ball starts driving through the rain, humouring me sweetly, successfully, even apologising for dropping me in it with the Storm Trooper. I start to feel better, laughing about it all and smiling, until just one block from home she turns and levels me with the final blow…

“Hey I’ve had an idea about your visa; what if we got married?”

With that I fainted.