As I leave Australia, I would like to say I've changed the country. Or it's changed me. But no. Not really. It has rained more than I'd expected. And the television is worse than you'd believe.
On my last night, Paul takes me to the local pub. There's a room of pokie slot machines, and there's a room for horse-racing betting. And there's a big screen tv showing an episode of Medium. A curly red-head in a tie-dye shawl is shouting at the screen "No! It can't be him! Oh Melissa!". The caption "To be continued" flashes up on the screen and the ginger woman howls: "No! They keep doing this! They can't do this to me!"
But the pub is mostly empty and the only answer comes from the ever-chipper pokie machines.
Paul and I stand watching The Footie Show. It's now missing its lead, Matty Johns, after all of the unfortunate gang-banging. But the show continues.
Matty Johns is a national icon in tatters. His autiobiography ("The Inside Story of Rugby" - curiously leaving out the group sex) is all over the bargain book stores. Worse, on the same edition of The Footie Show that he apologised for his sexual shenanigans, he also starred in a sketch which effectively said "Well, it could be worse, I could be gay." Curiously, Australia was unimpressed. So he's now Australia's biggest gang-banging homophobe.
In good news, however, all the stress has given him a haunted air and he now looks quite hot. Rather than like Rob Brydon's leftover chins. I'm just saying.
Anyway, the Footie Show is on, and a sketch has a cast member apologising for being late - he was at a strip show. "Hey man," says a colleague, "We don't do that any more."
"Hey! No worries!" he protests, "It was a male stripper!"
"Well, that's okay then." And it's all smiles. Hmmmn.
APOLOGY: In previous posts I may have given the impression that Mr Shamwow might, just might, be my new husband following his promise to be twelve times more absorbent than anything else on the market.
Such impressions were, of course, misleading and innaccurate. Especially now I discover that Mr Shamwow is not the moisture-soaked paragon I initially took him for but instead:
Thank you for letting me finally sleep through till 9am. Great. But I'm going home tomorrow. With my luggage stuffed full of licorice bullets and shamwow.
PS: Phoned to check my parents safely installed in the flat. Mum answers. In the background is hammering. "Yes dear. Everything's lovely. Your father just noticed the beading was causing your windows to stick so he's taking them out and refitting them..."
Is bad beyond words. A friend used to make commercials out here, but gave up after deciding, "Well, look, I didn't make award-winning BBC trailers so that Crazy John could ring up and scream at me about his advert."
And then I saw the trailer for ShamWow. Gold dust. See it here
Cairns is like being roasted in an oven that hasn't been cleaned. It's hot. It's tacky. Outside my hotel window a band is playing the Macarena followed by The Birdie Song.
Getting here was brilliant - the train took 32 hours through endless not-very-much. Occasionally we'd stop at a station surrounded by even less. On board was like a 70s Travelodge on wheels, with tutting pensioners, camp staff, and strange strange food ("Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, as we approach Townsville may we remind you that the buffet carriage is now open serving a range of teas, coffees, non alcoholic beverages and alcoholic beverages, sandwiches, wrapes and cookies-in-a-cup." Cookies in a cup?).
Actual Cairns is... oddly like the beach before the end of the world. I went on a disastrous date with an Austrian masseuse called Harald who'd just been stung by an anenome but really wanted to talk about the fascinating fluctuations in the exchange rates ("But that should be like fourteen euros, which is crazy...").
The gays of Cairns are co-dependant hairdressers and trolley-dolleys, clutching their manbags, i-phones and fag hags as they stagger around a bar called Sapphire. They want to talk, which is nice. Well, normally their poor best female friend forever has to do the talking while they stare moodily at distant strangers ("Hiyaaa! Oh, I hate her.") or occasionally reveal their Dark Night of the Soul ("Well, I tried being brunette for a week but no one paid me any attention...").
Strangely, implaccably, the bar is run by a very nice man from Nottingham. He says he came here for a quiet time.
It's like a soap opera made for the deaf by the blind. All the evenings have merged into a blur of early Britney blasting out as a smug hyena from JetAir slides his hand across my jeans while Ainslee wails "And he said 'bitch, bring me more ice cream', and i'll do that for him even though he treats me like dirt!', and the JetAir Hyena will wail "You're a prick Ainslee" and spit in her drink and then turn to me and scream "I am such a whore!" and I will go home and sit on the balcony and read Agatha Christie.
At some point we gave up on our plans. There was going to be a mountain with a lovely view of... the rain. There was going to be a tropical island with beaches. In the rain.
We brought umbrellas and trudged to see a morning matinee of Star Trek. Rain poured through the cinema ceiling. Afterwards, I went and slept in my room. Tim walked around some museums. It rained.
The first night, we'd gone to one of Brisbane's 2 gay pubs. Called the Sportsman it looked like 79 CXR would look if it held a pub quiz night. Lots of fat old men thinking. We stood on the rain-soaked porch while I tried to smoke under an umbrella. Miserably, we trudged back to the hotel. Oddly, wherever you are in Brisbane, where you want to be is up a hill. The driving rain did not help.
The second night we went to a place called The Wickham. There was Drag. But it was Australian Drag, so a man in a dress mimed an interminable song about cunnilingus to a nearly empty bar. Because everyone was outside. Smoking. In the rain.
Two lesbians had a play fight. The bored security man stepped in to try and separate them, and then wandered off, bored.
Tim and I looked at each other. Our looks said "This is awful. Let's go home."
And then we met The Grey Fox. Well, he asked me for a cigarette and I gave him my heart.
Imagine Crocodile Dundee's slightly younger, butcher cousin. Working as a race car mechanic. And somehow having so many muscles they poked through four layers of clothing and a rain coat.
The Grey Fox was out drinking with his best gay friend. Who was 20 years younger than him. It was like a gay Owl and Piglet. (Hmmn. Fox. Owl. Piglet? The animal similes are a bit much).
Anyway, they took pity on us. Or, at least, they took us to a gay club. In the distance was a dance floor. Piglet got Tim drunk and they chased each other round the dance floor.
And the Grey Fox and I went and stood outside, smoking under a sun shade. Around us, the young gays of Brisbane called each other "bitch" and stole Marlboros off their fag hags.
"The twinks are so fat nowadays," sighed the Grey Fox. "Last five years, they've got beer bellies. It's really sad."
I looked. He was right. I suddenly felt less like the fattest gay in Australia.
He continued. "It's like they've stopped trying. Now it's the young straight gays who go to the gym and dress well. If you want to pick up hot guys, you've got to go to straight bars and find a gay guy who is dressed like a straight gay dressed like a gay guy. It was easier in the 80s."
We nod and sigh and smoke another cigarette.
Inside, Piglet is showing Tim pictures of his boyfriend (a Doctor) and their pets. They are drinking more. There's even some dancing.
Outside, the rain pours down.
And the Grey Fox and I kiss. This is very, very exciting.
"Would you like to come back to the hotel?" I ask.
He shakes his head. He has to drive Piglet home. This is at 2am after half a dozen scotches. Yup. The Grey Fox is so hot, he makes drunk-driving sexy.
He smiles. "You can see me on Friday," he says. "We can spend the whole evening together."
Up until this moment, I had been incredibly excited about leaving Brisbane and spending 32 hours on a train to Cairns. Now I'm gutted. "I can't," I say. "I'm leaving tomorrow."
And the Grey Fox smiles. "Let's have a last drink, then," he says.
And we go back inside.
Later, Tim and I walk home through the rain. He is shouting at me. "You could have left me!" he screams, "You could have stayed on! You could have caught a plane! He was worth it!"
I mutter something about how it's sometimes nicer to just kiss a stranger. More enigmatic. More romantic. More classy.
Tim makes a disgusted noise. "You're an idiot. He was gorgeous. How often do we meet men like that?"
I am in Brisbane. It is raining. Really raining. All I can see are office blocks and rain. The guide book tells me I can go cycling along the river, or snorkelling. But I may just hide in my hotel room. And, in other bad news, Lee emails to tell me that, inexplicably, the Sarah Connor Chronicles has been cancelled. First Bonekickers, now this? Is there no justice in the world?
It's nearly 3am, somewhere in Sydney and three things happen simultaneously: 1) The jetlag kicks in 2) I sober up 3) The taxi passes a gay bar.
I get out and wander in. It's a small bar, but there's still a few people around, and a man on the door. Only he's wearing a rubber waistcoat and a kilt.
"Hum," I say, "Is there a dresscode?"
"Yeah. It's leather. And pvc. And..." he looks at me. "Cardigans are fine after 2am."
"Right," I say and wander in.
It's pretty much empty, actually. But it's a helluva lot better than Oxford St, which was packed with disco damage, drunk fag hags, korean hairdressers, and straight guys trying to bluff their way in to bars so full the smoking areas looked like adverts for Amnesty International.
Correct. It was so bad I'd rather be in an empty pub on bondage night wearing a cardigan.
I've been there five seconds before Australian Poster Boy corners me. He is amazing, and is wearing a suit.
He grabs hold of my cardigan with one hand. "Where did you get that cardigan?" he asks.
"Oh, I got it in Newtown today." I am hoping I sound au fait with the Sydney fashion scene.
He nods. "Yeah, it looks like a lesbian's jumper. Still, it looks great on you. Shall we see if it looks better off you?"
3am. Jetlag. Hot man. Cardigan. Yet, I've pulled in 15 seconds.
"Um," I say.
"You are so English! Love it!" he says, cupping me fondly and popping off to the loo.
Standing behind Australian Poster Boy is an equally good-looking man. Only he's not smiling at me quite so much.
"Hi!" I say, "Isn't that guy amazing?"
The other man nods. "Oh yes," he says, tightly. "We've been together for six years."
"Right," I say. "Sorry. I..."
And he's back. "George!" he shouts, "Look! I got take-out!"
George stares at me. Not a chance. And walks out of the bar.
Australian Poster Boy looks at me regretfully.
"You should probably..." I begin.
He nods. "Yeah."
"It was nice..."
He smiles, and goes to find his boyfriend.
And I am, suddenly, the last man in a bondage club. And I'm wearing a cardigan.
Honestly, group sex with rugby players is all the rage here in Australia (see here).
Sadly, it appears that: 1) the players involved aren't the prettiest 2) it may not have been all that consensual.
The airwaves and newspapers here are full of coverage that manages to be both horrified and muted - rugby here is such an institution it's like discovering Joanna Lumley likes scat.
Everyone wants to know the sordid details, but no-one wants to know.
On the radio yesterday an advice show had the following nuggets to offer:
"I mean, yeah, she may have been okay with guys one to five, but what if she's not too happy about bloke number six? How should she indicate that?"
followed, oddly, by:
"Well, you know, if you find yourself in a group-sex situation there are a few indicators that you should check for to make sure that it is consensual. A couple of signs to check for is if the girl is tied up, struggling, or crying..."
Over and above all this is a persistent blokiness to the coverage. The main man involved is called Matthew Johns. For years he's been familiarly known as "Matty". Fair enough. But in most coverage he's still referred to as "Matty". When you're deploring someone's actions, it doesn't work so well if you're sticking to his nickname. I mean, "I really can't support what Tigger's done" just rings hollow, doesn't it?
PS: Yes, Australia is fine. So far there's been pirate drag and a lot of ferries, the world's tiniest beach and an ill-advised attempt to go clubbing in a fleece. And we're not going to talk about the jet lag.
I've no meetings and no pressing deadlines, and only a couple of fun projects to do. So I'm working from Australia this month. Which is a sentence that I never thought I'd be in the lucky enough position to type.
Going through my old guidebooks I found the following, which, once I saw it in a Guide To Sydney For Visiting Businessmen, I just had to keep. And now I share it with you: