Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Island Life

From one point of view, my time on Taranga Island was a tale of misery and degradation. I was woken at 6am by the guy in the next tent calling me a tosser. I was assailed by immature nicknames, and by a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song repeated endlessly for the sole purpose of irritating me. I was forced by peer pressure to down shot after shot of Johnny Walker whisky, drunken out of a shot-glass made up of the sawn-off top of a soft-drink bottle; and having done that I was forced by general merriment to suck up split wine from the lid of a food container that had been a playground for rat-shitting rats the night before. I was mocked for going down the hill too fast (“Can ya smell the lolly bin Mike?”). I was mocked for going down the hill too slowly (“Hurry the fuck up Grandad”). I held onto a cliff face by a slippery root and two flax leaves while my supervisor stood on a ledge above me and laughed and made jokes about risking my life seven times for the sake of three weeds. I tripped over on a root the first day. Immediately this appalling misdemeanor gave rise to huge false guffaws from my travelling companions, as it did for the next ten days. For 10 days I had no dry socks. For ten days I put on a wet shirt in the morning and took a wetter shirt off in the evening, and I came back to camp to wash out of a small blue tub of cold water, an activity that was partly a bath and partly a shower and combined the worst aspects of both. In the evenings I sat and watched people hunched wordlessly over something called the “Brick Game”, an appallingly addictive electronic device that emitted many piercing electronic noises, including a tinny rendition of the famous part of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. I was surrounded by puerility. After a few days my protective reserve had worn away and I cheerfully joined in with the puerility. I composed a “bestiality ballad”, seven verses about an erotic adventure with a tuatara. I noted a brand of chocolate called “Dark Ghana,” and observed that this was a neat little euphemism for excrement, and having made this discovery I took every chance to extend it and explore its many variations. When the sole female on the trip went behind a tarpaulin to shower, and her jerking, rubbing silhouette came through the other side of the tarpaulin, and the others put all sorts of merry construals on the shadowy and naked movements, I joined in. When I went to the long-drop at night I had to whack the sides with a stick to get rid of the rats. And so on.

From one point of view, then, all of these happenings made up a truly unpleasant period of work. From my point of view, however, they were all part of the fun.