Yo, sorry if you are one of my 2 or 3 email subscribers. I accidentally just posted something that was un-proof-read and intended for another blog. Terribly embarrassing. For what it is worth, you can read the proper version of it over on my new blog. And maybe start following that blog if you want to intermittently hear about whatever mundane crap is pissing me off at that moment.

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Mobile phone operator Halebop, a budget subsidiary of TeliaSonera, is racist. Or at least xenophobic. Or at best a bunch of idiots.

Having been told by various phone companies when I first came to Sweden that I could expect to wait at least a year before anyone would offer me credit and thus a contract phone and its various benefits, it was with trepidation that just over 12 months on from my initial arrival I applied for a Halebop Rubbet phone package; a 24 month contract with an iPhone 5C priced very competitively. I was delighted to be approved at the first time of asking, and after waiting a couple of days for the Easter holiday postal backlog to clear out, received a little piece of paper in the post this morning advising me that my new phone was ready to collect at the local post office. With a spring in my step I finished my day at work as quickly as possible and took myself to ICA Sabbatsberg, where my package was waiting for me.

Unfortunately on my arrival at the post office desk I was told that I wouldn’t be able to use my British drivers license as proof of my identity to retrieve my parcel, and the only acceptable form of international identification would be a passport. Given that I have previously collected post using my driving license, and as recently as last week got a package out without even being asked so much as my name, let alone for some form of ID, I was pretty disappointed that the person manning the post office today was a stickler for the rules. ‘But one must respect that she is only doing her job,’ I reminded myself, and since it wasn’t such a chronic bother, I took myself home to collect my passport and returned to pick up my now long overdue new phone.

The round-trip to my current residence in Vällingby took a little over an hour (when I made mention of my ‘local’ post office earlier, it is in fact local to the address where I am still formally registered according to the Swedish government. I have actually lived with a friend in Vällingby for 6 months but never dared to admit it to anyone. Vällingby is pretty crap. Sorry Vällingby) but the time simply flew by as the excitement of picking up my fresh new telephone grew.

My current mobile is an iPhone 4. Undoubtedly a great piece of kit in its day but I only got it as a freebie as it had run its course for the previous owner and was in a pretty bad way; cracked screen etc. Before that I had owned a Samsung E1270, a capable caller and texter, but for £7 (€8.50/$11.75/77 kr) nothing to be too excited about when I first unwrapped its non-descript blue box. It is over 4 years since I last had the shiny-new-phone buzz associated with a freshly signed contract so that extra hour didn’t seem like such a big deal.

On my return to ICA I proudly presented my passport to the lady who had taken over at the post office counter, helpfully pointing out that it was a British passport, but that I knew that that was ok because her colleague had earlier told me that it was and I had listened to what she said and went and got my correct ID. I think she thought I was a child with autism. Fair enough.

After a fair bit of tapping at her computer keyboard, several confused facial contortions, some quiet tutting and under-the-breath muttering, she finally uttered those words that no customer ever wishes to hear but that are so awfully charming in the way that they disarm you that you sort of don’t mind when they are said: ‘I think I’ve fucked this up for you.’ (One of my favourite things about Sweden is that a member of staff can say this in a supermarket full of children and no one bats an eyelid. They love a good old fucking swear, the shitting Swedes)

Consulting a colleague and then an internal postal service helpline, the fucker-upper was able to establish that I was not going to be able to get my phone, because after three failed attempts to input my passport details on to the system, my package was frozen in the system for 24 hours and she would not be allowed to give it to me or anyone else, until tomorrow evening. At this point I started to get pretty annoyed, given that this woman’s incompetence at pressing the correct keys on her computer in the right order should cause me the inconvenience of being without a phone for the next 24 hours. She, clearly embarrassed and keen to avoid listening to my attempts to complain in inadequate Swedish, proceeded to dig deeper to see if there was any way to undo her doings and make things right for the increasingly upset and frustrated little boy in front of her.

Several seconds of further tapping away on the computer keyboard, plus another lengthy consultation with a different colleague resulted in the revelation that ‘I didn’t fuck it up!’ …but… ‘you will definitely not be able to get your phone within the next 24 hours.’ ..and… ‘you will possibly never get your phone if you don’t have a Swedish ID card.’

It turns out that Halebop have an agreement with the Swedish post office, that the only acceptable proof of identity for picking up your new phone is one issued by the Swedish government. When I think about all the things that I have been able to do since moving to Stockholm last year using nothing more than my British passport, and for the most part just my driver’s license, this becomes increasingly ludicrous.

Things I have done without the need to have a Swedish ID card:

  • Got a job with a Swedish company.
  • Opened an account at a Swedish bank.
  • Paid tax to the Swedish government.
  • Bought a flat with a Swedish mortgage.
  • Flown across the Swedish border several times.
  • Proven my identity to countless other different people and organisations for a variety of different reasons.

…and above all else…

  • Been approved and accepted as a customer of Halebop, a company that you would have thought would have wanted to just take my fucking money, but who apparently don’t want the custom of an immigrant who has taken the perfectly reasonable decision to skip paying 400 kr (£36/€44/$60) for an identity card that is not legally obligatory and apparently serves no purpose in any other walk of life.
  • Authorised Halebop to transfer my phone number away from my Telenor SIM card and on to the new SIM, an apparently irreversible process that means I don’t have use of my current mobile because it became inactive at 4am this morning in anticipation of my big move (as I write this, it is now ‘tomorrow’ by the way. I was so annoyed and exhausted by this shitty mess last night that I had to stop writing and go to bed).
  • Accessed Halebop’s woeful online customer service, a chat-based service that leaves you completely insanely angry because the agent manning the computer at the other end (a really sympathetic, good-humoured chap called Anton, the only good thing about this shitty tale. I told him to quit his job twice in the course of our online chat, not because he was bad at it but because he represented a proper skid mark of a company and he could be doing something better. He kindly ignored my sarcasm and anger and just did his job as best he could. Fair play, Anton) is not allowed to budge from the script, a script that tells him to say no to everything you request, a script that says there are no superiors to speak to, and no way to take this complaint further without posting a letter to an address in Borlänge. Given my previous history dealing with these people by post I am not exactly keen to head down that route, even though I’m sure it is the most efficient and quick way to retain my custom, worth several thousand Swedish Kronor to your company, and to sort out my problem in a timely manner *massive fucking sarcasm explosion*.

Yes, I am and have been allowed, well within Swedish law and my basic human rights, to do all these things, AND YET I AM NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE HOME WITH ME FROM THE POST OFFICE, A PACKAGE WITH MY NAME ON IT, A NAME THAT IS INDISPUTABLY MINE ACCORDING TO EVERYONE THAT I HAVE EVER HAD TO PROVE IT TO, EXCEPT HALEBOP, THE RACIST (or at least xenophobic, or at best a bunch of idiots) SWEDISH MOBILE PHONE NETWORK.

In fact I am very much alive. After a month or two of fighting Swedish bureaucracy, I have a job, I am on the population register and if I want to I can even do something nuts like open a bank account or buy a mobile phone. Unfortunately I am still decidedly poor and can’t afford to buy a subscription from an Internet provider because I won’t actually receive my first proper pay check until the end of June. In the meantime, hold tight because once I’ve got regular access to my wordpress account, this baby is going to fire up and be so worth reading you won’t know what to do with yourself between updates. Hang in there folks.

Ok people, first the bad news: my travel blog ran out. It was all going so well but then we had too much fun in Bangkok (amazing city, go if you can) to sit down and write anything. Now I’m back on the cold side of the world, I don’t have any money left for more holidays and I’m going to have to get a bloody job. Boring.

The good news is that the adventure never stops. Because I’m not going home exactly. I’m in Sweden. Which means I will be getting a job in Swedish. Which sounds pretty dangerous.

Actually my Swedish isn’t as bad as you might think. According to statistics I just made up, only 0.002% of the world’s population speak Swedish, while 100% of Swedish people speak English. Learning Swedish should therefore be at the bottom of everybody’s list of things to do, below ‘learn Zulu,’ ever so slightly above ‘learn Norwegian.’ But I’m a bit scatty with priorities so I’ve spent the last couple of years learning, at my own pace, this somewhat niche language.

With that initial hurdle at least a little bit out of the way, all I have to do is figure out the Swedish tax office, Swedish health insurance, the Swedish property market and precisely what the difference is between a coffee break and a fika. Then hopefully I will be considered employable by some fantastic and achingly cool company that are going to change the world and I will be able to tell all my friends that moving to Stockholm was the best thing that ever happened to me and they won’t make snide comments behind my back like when I moved to Brighton and then spent three years making lattes for arseholes and scraping together just about enough money to make my rent each month.

In two days time I will be sitting on a flight back to England after spending 6 months away from home, travelling around the world, across varying landscapes, through enormous cities and strikingly empty beaches, from freezing my arse off waiting for sunrise at The Grand Canyon to sweating my tits off watching the sun set over Bangkok. This is ludicrous.

Three years ago I was making frothy coffees for the weird and wonderful in Brighton, not really considering that life held much in the way of an exciting future for me, content to drift along enjoying hanging out with friends and living by the sea.

Then I met Lovisa and all of a sudden life was golden.

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Without resorting to a revolting, awkward and unnecessary public display of affection (she is right next to me, asleep. If I really wanted to I could wake her up and display my affection right now in the sanctity of our hotel room. Written down that comes across a bit perverted and innuendo-y. I assure you that ‘my affection’ is not a euphemism for anything), I’d just like to point out that it was my really brilliant girlfriend who told me that it could be fun to go and see the world, instead of working at Nando’s for the rest of my life, and because of her beautiful little mind I am the happiest person in the world right now.

And it might not seem like much when you consider that your girlfriend is rubbish compared to mine and I continue to draw attention to it, but at least you get to share in my happiness through my mediocre blog. Everyone’s a winner baby.

As a holidaying couple rather than a pair of travellers, we have spent almost all our time in each other’s company rather than taking the opportunity to get to know people we have met around the world. It’s not that we are an anti-social pair who prefer to spend all our time alone; at home we have quite independent social lives which we conduct very happily alongside our courtship. It just seems that everyone we have met is a know-it-all travel expert dickhead.

Generally speaking the backpacking community is full of heinous wankers, more concerned with finding other heinous wankers to hang out, get drunk and take acid on the beach with, than actually having proper experiences of the countries they have spent their parents money on coming to visit. They wear massive harem pants, carry their enormously over-laden rucksacks with them all the time but never actually use any of the camping or hiking equipment they spent their last student loan instalments on, get their hair dreaded, necks tattooed and noses pierced. I don’t know why they all want to look the same but they do. It would be much simpler for them to simply hang a sign round their neck that said “Ask me anything about anywhere because even though I haven’t been there you can bet I have an opinion on it because someone I know once read a Lonely Planet guide about it. By the way do you know how much LSD I did last night? I only do psychedelics now because alcohol is so passé and totally makes you a wanker. I can’t be a wanker because I travel so much you see so I must be open minded and anyway even though I don’t know why I’m wearing these fucking heavy, impractical, hotter-than-the-sun baggy trousers, the mushrooms in Thailand are incredible. Has anyone seen my shoes?”

Which made it such a bloody pleasure to meet Gertraud.

This is Gertraud (left)

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Gertraud is a 67 year old widow, she travels alone for three months every year, has never been moved to get a sanskrit tattoo and has been to more countries than Ban Ki-moon.

She was staying at the same guesthouse as us in Bira and after a couple of days of seeing her chatting non stop to other backpacking Europeans we assumed she was just a crazy old German lady who smoked too much and probably talked a load of old bollocks. When we tentatively joined her at her table for breakfast one morning we were delighted to be proved wrong.

She has been just about everywhere, for the love of travel and seeing the planet, not for the love of being part of a bead-wearing community of idiots. Yes, she’s had a “dirty weekend in Pattaya,” (her words) but she’s earned it.

If you want to know about women’s rights in Iran, ask Gertraud. She was there in the 70s when she says women were running the show in banks, politics and the rest. Same for Afghanistan before the rise of the Taliban; Gertraud was there. If you want to know anything about any of Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands, she has been to most of them and can recommend you a good place to stay. If you want to know what it’s like to share your hut in the Amazon with tarantulas and pythons ask her, she’s done it. If you want to know why Goa isn’t a nice place to go on holiday anymore she will tell you at length how when she first went it was the most unbelievably beautiful place on earth until backpackers and developers shit all over it. Asia, Africa, South America, Oceania, Europe, the Middle East; she’s been there, done that, bought the fake Burberry t-shirt and worn it with pride with her beautifully blow dried hair because she understands that taking care of a sensible haircut is much easier than taking care of dreadlocks when you’re on the road for several months you fucking faux rasta pillock.

Or if travelling isn’t your bag, ask her about something else, because Gertraud isn’t defined by her nomadic lifestyle like all the gap year Henrys and Poppys are so desperate to be.

Ask her about growing up immediately after the war in West Germany, having nothing and having to start an entire country again from scratch. Ask her about going to the opera in Munich in the summer. Ask her about her brother and his awful Club Med package holidays. Tell her about your trip to the USA because its the only place she’s never been to and because she actually likes to hear what the youth are up to these days, without having to respond with her own, slightly more crazy and enlightened anecdote about how when she went to *somewhere* it was before you went there and they had much better weed then.

If I can be even half as cool as Gertraud is when I’m nearing 70 I will be so pleased with myself that I will become unbearable and therefore automatically way uncooler than her. But I’m going to try and do it anyway.

In between entertaining the locals with our pale skin and small talk about European football players, we managed to find time to do nothing at all. Once you’ve dodged the paparazzi and media scrum at Bira beach, it is quite possible to find a spot along the coast where you won’t see another soul for a whole day. This would be pretty good on a normal beach. On the most exquisitely perfect beach you could ever hope to see, it was freaking astonishing.

There really is no good reason that this place hasn’t been turned in to a holiday destination of international repute. The powdery white sand stretches in either direction as far as the eye can see, and the sea is the temperature of bath water. While I enjoyed paddling in the shallow end with starfish and pipefish, Lovisa went out and dived with turtles and stingrays. Then at the end of every day the sun set over the ocean and we ate unbelievably delicious Indonesian food from the kitchen of our brilliant guesthouse.

In two weeks there we didn’t spend more than $20 a day, including our accommodation. That shouldn’t be possible but it is so for God’s sake book yourself a flight to Indonesia now and take advantage of the incredibly lovely people of Bira who will give you the most perfect holiday of your life for less than the cost of staying at home with the heating on and chips for dinner.

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If you’d just spent 3 weeks in Bali, one of the most famously exotic and beautiful holiday destinations in the world, and then told me you needed to take two weeks to do nothing on a tropical paradise beach in order to recover, I would quite rightly tell you to piss off and get a grip.

Never being one to take my own advice, and more to the point, never being one to tell my girlfriend to piss off or get a grip, we went to a tropical paradise beach, immediately after spending 3 weeks in Bali.

In fairness, between the snorkelling, the mopeds, the dolphins, monkeys, tropical fish and coral reefs, poo flavour coffee, torrential rain storms and waterfall seeking hikes, Bali had been a bit knackering, and we felt like we’d earned ourselves a bit of a sit down.

After a little browsing around the Internet we booked ourselves on to the next plane to Sulawesi. Apparently it’s the world’s eleventh biggest island, but judging by the reception we got we were the first white people to have discovered it.

When we walked out of Arrivals it felt as though we’d stepped on stage at Glastonbury. While a slight murmur greeted the Indonesians who preceded us through the door, when we came out it was like every taxi driver in south east Asia was there to roar their approval. Our own driver and host for the fortnight Eriq, told us that this was quite normal, that we would be celebrities in his little seaside town and we should expect plenty of people taking photos for the next two weeks. Of course we laughed this off thinking Eriq was having a little fun at our self importance, so proud were we to have been the centre of attention at the airport. Not half an hour later, having enjoyed a very good lunch at a roadside cafe, we were surrounded by the whole wait staff, management and their families, posing for pictures for ten minutes.

Just as Eriq had predicted, the next two weeks were full of much the same.

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The girls in the last picture practically had seizures. They ran in to the sea with tears streaming down their faces, screaming, laughing, splashing each other with water, weeing, vomiting and evacuating their bowels with the sheer unadulterated joy of having had their pictures taken with a couple of crackers.

All the boys wanted to ask me about Manchester United, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and David Beckham, while the girls just wanted to be photographed next to Lovisa and her lovely white skin. While initially great fun and quite hilarious, it’s all really incredibly tragic. These beautiful people, from the most wonderful place on earth, with their own unique culture, desperately want to be just like us; a bunch of overweight, wasteful, arrogant arseholes who have spent the last couple of hundred years trying to fuck up as much of the world as possible.

To regular readers, an apology; we have been without Internet for over two weeks now and I know you have all been waiting, terribly concerned about the fate of your favourite blogging holidayist and his girlfriend. Well here is some more of what we got up to in Bali, with very little sense of chronology and actually only a vague sense of what happened, given how long ago it was.

The tourism industry in Lovina is centred around the many little boats that line up along the beach and every morning offer rides to see the local dolphins. They even built a sort of charming but mostly really ugly and definitely very tacky statue in tribute to them.

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Yes, that is a dolphin wearing a crown.

After deciding against spending several hundred dollars to take a whale and dolphin spotting cruise in Kaikoura, New Zealand, we were chuffed to find that the ones here cost about $7 per person. And were incredible.

I only had modest hopes of seeing a dorsal fin or two swimming through the ocean and would have given myself a quiet pat on the back if I had managed to pick anything out at all in the twilight as I imagined the colour of the dolphins would be very much the same as the grey-blue sea at this time in the morning. Instead we were treated to the sort of acrobatic show normally reserved for those adverts about holidays in Florida except with no bint in a fluorescent wet suit goading a porpoise with a mackerel. This was just them out for their morning swim, the young ones jumping out of the water and doing tricks in the air for no one in particular’s entertainment. We took the liberty of being entertained anyway and cried tears of life-affirming joy because it was just so fucking beautiful.

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Since the dolphins were having such a good time, and also because the local dive centre salesmen were some of the most persistent people I have ever come across, we went snorkelling a few days later to see what else the Balinese sea could throw up. As it turns out, it was a hell of a lot. I was given a snorkel and mask that had a near enough perfect match for my prescription lenses in and soon enough found myself surrounded by the sort of coral and tropical fish that I literally never imagined I would see without first having paid my entrance fee to the Sea Life Centre in Brighton. Hundreds of different varieties, many of which looked like they had come out of the imagination of my six year old niece with only a packet of Stabilo Boss highlighter pens to colour them in, and plenty more that were almost as beautifully rendered.

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As well as looking at fish, Balinese people like to eat them. In order to learn more about how to cook tuna (and chicken and a very fine vegetable soup) we went to a cooking class at a local restaurant. We started with a trip to the market. This was quite the eye-opener for two people used to European standards and Environmental Health Officers being a constant threat in their previous workplaces. While a man butchered sweaty, unrefrigerated chickens on a wooden block with a dirty knife and a hacking cough, a woman sat with her buckets of prawns and tuna steaks laid out on the floor, wiping off as many ants as she could while depositing them in plastic bags for her customers. These things, plus the rather sick looking cats that were ever present in the kitchen while we cooked, plus the fact that we are both still here today having eaten everything prepared in such a dangerous way by any western standards, without any ill effects, only serves to confirm everything I thought I knew about the health and safety industry as a whole and how it is a contemptuous shit of a world, and anyone who works within it is a contemptuous shit of a person who ought to spend more time filling the voids in their own personalities rather than pointing out the minor flaws in others’ working practices.

As you can see from Lovisa and Wayan’s (our lovely Balinese chef and teacher) smiling faces the class was a success and if you should ever come round to dinner at our place there will almost certainly be chicken satay on the menu.

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The first thing(s) you notice when you arrive in Bali are the mopeds. Hundreds of the bastards everywhere you go. They far outnumber the cars here and a lot of the time they seem to outnumber the people. That is until you count the number of people on each moped and realise that a whole family can fit on one if enterprising enough. We thought it was quite exciting on our way from the airport when we saw a man taking his three children to school on one, until we got to our hotel where just outside we saw one woman with five children all aboard, most of whom seemed to be having a great time while mummy overtook a lorry doing 50mph with a bus load of scuba diving equipment overtaking her on the outside. On a single lane road. In to a blind hairpin turn. Being chased by monkeys. On fire.

However because we are intrepid explorers and are not afraid of anything at all we went ahead and rented ourselves a wee scooter for a couple of days and tried not to get killed out on the roads.

On our first day we drove to the rather wonderfully named Git Git. So horrible they called it a git twice. But actually it wasn’t so horrible at all. After a brief admonishment from the local police in Singaraja – none too impressed that we had attempted to drive the wrong way down a one way street, apparently the only traffic offence that is deemed worthy of police time while school children whizzed past on their 500cc motorcycles – we carried on to Git Git, found what looked like a good place to stop, parked our little bike and followed the signs; ‘to the waterfall.’ Yes Git Git is home to a waterfall that is apparently very beautiful and high and impressive and where you can go swimming as long as there aren’t too many other tourists crowding the pool at the bottom. So we were a little uncertain as we set off in to the rainforest, still following directions to the falls but increasingly coming across reasons to believe that this was not the main tourist trail. Take this bridge as an example. A few lengths of bamboo laid across a ravine, only one of which seemed fit to support a human’s body weight, the rest bowing ominously towards the abyss if you so much as grazed a toe over them.

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Nevertheless we hacked our way on, coming face to face with horrifically enormous and almost certainly quite deadly spiders, while the intensity of noise from the rest of the jungle wildlife grew to an uncomfortable and disorienting din, the sort of sound effect used in films to tell the audience they’re going the wrong way and someone is about to get eaten by something you can’t quite see yet!

But get eaten we did not. We soldiered on, following the sound of streaming water, and soon realised why no other tourists were following this path. If you went swimming in the water at this end of the falls the most you could expect to get was your 20m Freestyle Death badge.

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Still, the view from the top was quite magnificent even if you don’t actually get to see the waterfall itself. Eventually after much backtracking, conversing in very broken english with a hundred year old woman who was up a ladder building her retirement home, and paying what turned out to be way over the odds for parking our moped for the second time that day (the parking attendants only ask for a donation but with no recommendation as to how much one should donate. We paid 5000 Indonesian Rupiah twice before someone told us that the most you should ever pay is 2000) we arrived at the bottom of the same waterfall, with all the splashy falling watery photo opportunities that we had hoped for in the first place.

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At least that tree appears to have earned its swimming badge.

With the wet season in full swing, the flow of water had been turned up to 11 making the prospect of a gentle paddle or cooling dip in the pool at the foot of the falls a rather more perilous one than it might be for the rest of the year. Instead we got back on our bike and started for home.

A few miles along the increasingly foggy mountain road, our bike came to a sudden halt. Immediately I knew something was wrong. We had left it too late to top up the petrol, an armed gang had created a road block and were going to spring out of the forest to rob the bloody hell out of us while we pathetically attempted to push ourselves back uphill to safety. Or Lovisa had spotted a family of monkeys having a picnic by the side of the road and wanted to take some pictures.

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If you’ve grown up and spent most of your life in south east England things like this don’t happen to you ever. You might go to Woburn safari park and have a monkey climb on your car if you are very lucky, but you will be surrounded by signs telling you not to encourage them and certainly not to open your bloody windows. Well here there were no bloody windows. There was no car. It was just man (and woman) and monkey (and monkey woman) and it was at once both brilliant and quite terrifying. Seeing proper wild animals up close and personal is really something that can’t be replicated in a zoo and I was loving the exhilaration of being there and trying to interact with these vaguely human but completely uncommunicative little animals. And then as if to show me what an arrogant, presumptuous, walking, talking, human bastard I was, I got legitimately eye-balled by a crazed looking little macaque, a look that said “I promise if you take one more fucking picture of my wife and kids having a nice day out, I will scratch out each and every one of your four eyes, you Harry Potter twat.” And realising that communication in the jungle was alive and well but not a business I wanted to be involved in, I made a point of how I thought it was time that we were leaving.

Of course as soon as we left the sheltered environs of the monkey’s tree, it started to shit it down with rain, the sort of enormous raindrops that again, one doesn’t see in England. The monsoon lasted for a couple of hours that by the time our shivering, bloodless corpses had found their way back to the hotel, had felt like an eternity standing directly under the thundering waterfall we had earlier deemed too feisty to swim close to.

It almost made this not one of the best days of my life, but of course it was really.