Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Up the wave like a walking marlin.

A small portion of the horde outside Woollies.
I am supposed to be taking some time off over this period of the year, having a break from writing, but then last night at 2am, I was infuriated beyond belief, and that reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place: to complain.
So, to start with we went through Xmas, and as Xmas approached I was not really conscious of a feeling of unease, of not really being able to settle to any particular task.
Now I'm an atheist, and so obviously don't celebrate Xmas, but of course, living in the town that is
ground zero for summer partying in NSW, Byron Bay, meant that in the end I couldn't really avoid it.
I did my best, I got all my clients' gardens mowed well before the traffic began to build up, and received a couple of superb Xmas cakes from Joanne and Becky which was better than nice. Both were superb, and since (like most middle-aged men) I have to watch my diet, and had been dieting most of the year, I decided to go absolutely hog-wild, and have a piece of cake each day over the holiday period.
So that gardens were done, and I like all the other locals in the area, I then hunkered down for the waves of tourist hordes that descend on us annually at this time.
However, the run to, and during Xmas, wasn't that bad, and I was reminded that, actually the crowds don't really begin to affect us like fleas on a dirty dog until New Year.
Most spend Chrissy with their families at a home of a family member, and then once boxing day had passed, they begin the long trek up the Pacific Highway to Byron Bay.
Clinton's lawn was nowhere near as glamorous as this.
Thus Christmas was quite pleasant, I spoke to my Brother Robert in the Hunter Valley, and we had a good chat. I texted with my other brother, David, also based at the headwaters of the Hunter in Newcastle. And that was really the end of my family Xmas.
At lunchtime I cycled down to join my friend Clinton for Xmas tea on his lawn.
Normally we go to his local coffee shop, the Yellow Flower in Suffolk Park, but they were of course shut, and so we recreated the last days of the Raj in India, with tea on the lawn.
That was nice, and we talked, then I got on my bike and cycled back to town.
I was able to pass on a piece of Xmas cake to Clint as well, which shows how the trickle down effect can work. (He enjoyed it as much as me.)
As I cycled back down Bangalow road that Christmas Day, I was conscious of a feeling of peace that I hadn't had since really, the first Christmas ads appeared on our TVs, sometime in October.
The pre-New Year's Eve traffic on Jonson Street
Being Christmas Day, there was no one on the road, and so in devil-may-care fashion I weaved back and forth across this perennially congested artery just for the hell of it, and great fun I found this little antic.
So with Xmas come and gone I was kind of starting to relax, and so when I went to the supermarket on the 29th of December, the crowds hit me like a punch in the face.
The line of cars bringing holiday makers stretched from the centre of town out to the end of Jonson Street.
For anyone who lives in Sydney, this is a daily event, but for us parochial coastliners, this annual holiday season influx is always stressful.
However the traffic wasn't worrying me on foot, but it was certainly a pre-cursor to what was going on in Woolies.
Everyone currently in NSW, north of Coffs Harbour, seemed to be in our shops.
I finally wrestled a shopping basket out of another customer that had finished with it, did my shopping, then queued at the checkout. I go through the self-check-out part, and normally I'm there for ten minutes, but this day it was like they were selling Stones tickets in the deli, the queues were indescribable.
Eventually I got through, and came out wondering if it was already February, but no, it was still the same New Year's Eve madness all around me.
So I took my groceries home, put them away and then commenced hunkering down (again).
So finally New Year's Eve came to our town, by this time I had changed my shopping schedule and was getting to the supermarket as soon as it opened, 8am.
Not a great chore, but it was all part of what we have to do around here to beat the crowds.
As I walked about I saw the preparations for NYE all around. There was a guard at the Gym car park, with a sandwich board sign, saying 'Gym and Club Parking only', (my gym is behind the RSL club).
Down on the beach front there were 'no parking signs' all around, and traffic flow diversions were all over the place.
So I think all of this, though it didn't affect me directly, as I wasn't driving, and had done my shopping, did affect me, and I was very unsettled and quite stressed all during NYE.
I guess it was the sheer weight of numbers in and all around the town, that just created a kind of subliminal background radiation of tension.
However, hunkered down though I was, I couldn't just sit in my flat and do nothing, as I was kind of antsy, so I went to the Gym and had a decent workout, which did help.
I cycled home, and then brought up the Coastalwatch camera to check the surf.
I had no great hopes, as summer is usually not such a great time for surfing. The reason for this is that the wind tends to be onshore. When the wind is onshore, it makes the waves ragged and scrappy.
The offshore wind is what we crave, as that creates smooth, glassy waves, that are better than sex.
So I checked the Coastal Watch website and discovered somewhat to my surprise that the wind was offshore, out of the south, and the waves looked quite good.
However, an offshore wind that is too powerful, is as bad as an onshore wind, as this makes it hard to paddle onto the waves.
Once I went out and the wind was offshore at 30 knots (ie, very, very strong), and had the quite unnerving experience of being blown back up the face of the wave. That day, when I did finally get hold of one, I stayed crouched for the first part of the ride, but then with the corner looming, I stood up to negotiate the change in direction across the sand bar, and the wind blew me straight off my board and up and over the top of the wave.
Here is today's Coast watch, showing
a return to the more usual onshore, north wind.
That was some experience.
Anyway, back to New year's Eve, the coastcam was telling me that the wind was offshore at 18 knots.
Not wanting to relive the 'being blown backwards' experience, I said to myself that I'll watch the coastcam throughout the day, and if it stays offshore, but drops in strength, I'll go.
So I watched and waited, then just when I was thinking of giving it away for the day, around 5pm, the wind dropped down below 15knots, and it was time to go.
I'm so glad I did, as it turned out to be one of the best surfs I've ever had in the bay.
The swell wasn't big, 2ft, or thereabouts, but with the (now) light offshore breeze, it was so glassy that you could see fish swimming in the waves.
By the way, I always hesitate to write about surfing without pictures, but the problem I'm sure you can appreciate is that while I'm out there, I can't take photos. However, I found this one on the net of the day, so this should give some idea of the perfection.
Anyway, I went. I was anxious all day, but got some help from Kieran who runs the book shop in the little mall part of the apartment complex where I live.
He checked that indeed my door was locked. As you may recall when my anxiety gets bad it manifests with a range of bizarre checking procedures, that make it hard to leave the house, or even live my damn life.
I'd love to present the image of a cool surfer with a devil may care 'tude, but sadly it's simply not the case, and I am like everyone else, a mass of conflicting fears, doubts and neuroses masquerading as a human.
But with Kieran's help I got out the door, and walked the kilometre to the Pass.
In I splashed, and then headed out wide away from the oncoming surfers knifing at you down the waves.
Once I got out there, I suddenly realised how good it was.
'This', I said to myself, 'is gonna be good'.
And so it was, talk about the glittering prize.
The big problem with the Pass is that it is so crowded, and this was New Year's Eve no less, the most crowded day of our holiday town's year.
However, there weren't a lot of people out there, much to my surprise, I can only assume that either a) the word of the glassy waves hadn't got out yet, or (more likely) b) everyone else was getting ahead start on getting pissed for NYE.
Anyway, giving thanks to whichever supernatural deity you choose to explain away the physical manifestations of nature, I sized up the oncoming waves and made my move.
The Pass is a right handed wave, and as I was out wide of the break point, that meant I had to loom in menacingly from seaward until I got to the nexus of breaking wave and smooth water.
In I went, and did a lateral turn to pick up the oncoming wave's energy. Though a smooth day, this is still kind of a hairy moment. If you get it wrong, you end up a) near drowned, or b) looking stupid, and in my case c) mostly both.
But I had got my timing right, and the white wash came at me in a foaming torrent.
The board began to buck and caper under my stomach and as ever at this time I felt rather than saw what was going on beneath me via vibrations through my rib cage.
One of the hardest things about taking off by the way, is keeping on paddling, when all you want to do is grab the board with both arms and clutch it to your stomach like a much loved baby.
However if you do do that, the wave will pass beneath you and you will end up looking a), b) and c) as described before.
But I felt the ocean through my bones, and gave it a brief steam hammer of paddling, and then got the reward, the front of my board poked out of the white wash and the glittering prize of the wave opened up before like the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz.
I don't think that's me, but it is possible.
With an ecstatic cry of 'Yeah Baby Yeah', taken from the Austin Powers movies, I gave it one last paddle then clambered to my feet.
I'd love to say I leapt to my feet in one smooth balletic movement a la Nijinsky, but I'm fifty years old now, and nothing I do is smooth and balletic.
Mind you, considering I was planning to stand on a board no longer or wider than me that was moving across the Pacific ocean at close to thirty knots, I have to give myself some credit for even getting myself in the position to do it.
Anyway, up I clambered, and then the wave unfurled before me like a kind of slanted escalator.
The surface was so smooth that I felt like a hockey puck gliding across some Canadian ice rink.
I jabbed my right, rear foot into the board hard, and that took me up to the top of the wave where you go to pick up speed.
I raced along, flying like a bird.
Paradoxical this is, nothing in written from can really describe what it's like to be riding a glassy wave in speed and silence in the sub-tropical sunset, though that's what I'm trying to do.
Then I realised that the wave was slowing down, or I was outriding it, either way, it was time for a course correction.
I dragged my left, front foot, down and away, and brought my whole travelling system round in a long raking left hand turn, re-entering that's called, or 'rio' for short.
I came all the way around and now I was going back up the wave in the opposite direction.
This is how you regain your speed.
The oncoming wave front met me within seconds, and then it was time to u-turn again round to the right.
Round I went, and now I was cruising with frantic pace across the bottom of the wave.
When you are down there, you can, if the waves are glassy, look into the wave, and at times I have had the extraordinary experience of travelling along with a school of fish, as if you are one of the school. It is totally trippy I can tell you.
However this was denied me this day as the setting sun in the direction of travel made the whole face of the wave glow, and reflect orange and gold. (Not complaining, definitely)
I scrubbled my back foot again to maintain the speed and then came to the Corner Bar.
This is not a local drinking hole, but a sand bar at the corner of Main Beach.
Here the waves go from peeling along from the Pass, around the corner, and become front on atom smashers.
If you're a really good surfer, you can make this corner and keep riding, but I'm definitely not that, so judging discretion was the better part of valour, I baled out.
This I did by stamping with due force and violence on the back of the board with my rear foot, and arcing like a walking Marlin up the face of the wave, briefly into the air, and then to splash down into the crystal waters of the Bay.
Man that was great.
I hope you get some feel for why we go surfing from that.
I then had to face the paddle back, but after a wave like that you are prepared to paddle to New Zealand if you can have another one, so I dug 'em in, and paddled back upcurrent to the takeoff point.
I got four rides that day, all as good as that, and was in the water for an hour and a half.
Landing with splash like Apollo 13 after the fourth one I knew I was done, so tired even lifting my arm shoulder high was beyond me, so I picked up the shore break and coasted home on my stomach.
Home I walked in the sub-tropical dusk, had a shower, watched some TV then hit my bed like a cut down pine tree.
A great day, and I have to say, the sort of day that I can have now that have given the grog away.
If you drink heavily on a daily basis, you simply don't have the physicality required to do that sort of on-ocean explosive exercise.
I'm writing this on Jan 1, 2015.
Today marks two years since I've had a drink, and days like that will remind me why I am doing it.
Wishing you all a great 2015.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Xmas Party season (Oh god, do I have to)

The drunken idiots that work at Byron Central Apartments.
In this picture taken early in the evening, everyone is at least standing upright.
The other day I was at work when Susanna, a work colleague, said, "Are you coming to the sausage sizzle?"
I replied, "Unlikely, as I'm a vegetarian, what's the occasion?"
To which she answered, "it's the work Chrissy party."
My mind lurched, 'god, is it that time of year again?', I said to myself. I looked down at the date stamp at the bottom of my computer screen, and saw that it was indeed the 15th of December, and so, yes it was Xmas party season.
I did end up going, though my consumption was kinda limited, as I don't eat meat, and I don't drink either these days. However, Susanna did ask me to go, which, since one of my most oft repeated complaints here in this blog, and at home alone watching television is that I don't have a social life. I went.
Actually now that I think about it, I don't really work here where I do my writing, I just sort of come in and sponge off the Byron Central Apartments network for my internet connection.
However, if you inhabit an office long enough, you sort of become involved, somewhat like a soap opera, in the lives and aspirations of those around you, and thus an invite to the staff party came my way.
It was held at Byron Bay Bowling club, and this club, like most others in the post-'smoking-is-banned' world, have had to turn to other sources of income, and thus they allow casual drunken idiots like us to have a bowl.
Showing my form while Susanna and Meggsie look on and laugh.
Anyway, we had a good time, and for many reasons (despite my caption above), no one drank too much.
Partly because everyone in this hippy town is on some sort of special spiritual diet/path/way of life, but also because here in the countryside, there is no public transport.
There are two parts to this, first, as there is no public transport, everyone has to drive, and secondly, due to the hideously expensive nature of Byron Bay, none of us lowly wage dogs can afford to live in town.
Scott the Boss lives up at Possum Creek, Meggsie the maitenance woman, lives in Clunes, 30 k away, Susanna, the receptionist lives in Mullumbimby, Elaine the cleaning supervisor lives also in Mullum.
So not much drinking went on, which I think is a good thing.
Partly because I'm a recovering alcoholic, but also because as I learned in the latter part of my life in the corporate world of Sydney, the annual Xmas party is a career threatening event.
It's the time of the year for photocopying your bum and faxing it to your boss.
I saw this happen one year while working for a large computer firm in Sydney, and I was most impressed that the disgruntled employee that did this rebellious act had the mental wherewithal to fax it from another part of the building, so that the boss couldn't immediately link it the employees partying in our part of the office.
We did wonder later when we got together in the new year whether the boss who received this most unwanted of faxes did examine the derriere pictured closely to see if they could decipher whose bum it was, but then we got on the juice and forgot all about it.
When we did come back to work in January, the bum-faxing employee was still employed, and so we gathered that the boss had not been able to figure out who it was.

It's also that time of year for having quick knee trembler with another staff member in the stationery closet.
Now this activity, is not technically illegal. However, the legality of the act (or otherwise), kind of depends of the marital status of the persons involved. And this broom or stationery closet act, invariably occurs because the people involved are married to other people and thus this is an opportunity for a bit of extra curricular naughtiness.
The logic here is that those who are married to each other, and work with each other, do not need to snatch a few stolen moments in the stationery cupboard as they have an entire house to cavort in.
If you do catch a couple involved in this drunken act at the Xmas party, the best thing to do is get a photo of them, and then if they are in any way above you on the work totem pole, use the picture as blackmail to further your own career and rise up the ladder.

The next thing that comes with Xmas party season is 'THE TRUTH!"
"THE TRUTH!" is that overwhelming desire to finally tell your boss what you f%^&-ing well think of their sorry arse.
All year you've had to cope with this mental pigmy ruining your life, and the office Xmas party, with a few free drinks under your belt seems like an ideal time explain a few things, as you see it, to your boss.
However I strongly caution you not to do this at the Xmas party, particularly if you have a mortgage and can't afford to lose your job.
If you really can't hold it back anymore, then it's time for you to get a new job.
Thus my advice for you is to get a new job, start it, then when two weeks have passed, and things are going well in your new place of work, phone up your old boss, and then let an air horn off into the mouth piece of the phone after asking them to listen closely.
The air horn will say it better than anything you can come up with verbally.

The closest that I came to THE TRUTH! was when I was working for a water cooler supply company in  North Sydney.
The boss was a brutal, fat, arrogant bully, whom I heartily detested.
He it was who would call all of us in the computer department into his office, tell us what he wanted done, then tell us how to do it technically, even though he was unqualified.
We would go away and do it, then when it didn't work, he would blame us, and threaten us with the sack for incompetence.
Man I loathed that arsehole.
Anyway, the Xmas party duly arrived and I made possibly the only good decision around drinking I ever made in that heavy drinking period of my life.
I could feel the rounds of temper rolling into the chamber, and knew if I had a few beers the desire to tell my boss THE TRUTH! would be uncontrollable, and so I decided not to drink at that party.
It stood me in good stead, as the boss returned late that Friday from an interstate trip, and called me into his office at six pm to discuss some technical matter. I think this was a power trip on his part, dragging me away from the Xmas party, but I handled it, largely due to my being (for once) sober at six pm on a Friday night.
Actually when I did follow my own advice and left that company, what happened was kind of amusing.
I had ceased talking with the fat controlling boss by this point, and had put all my energies into the new job search. I found one, and was due to start on the Monday with a new company in Sydney's CBD.
Due to the nature of contracting computer work at the time, you rarely gave notice, and this I didn't do. I got my ducks in a row at the new job, and kept drawing my pay from the water cooler company.
Then my last Friday came, and so I thought I had better tell the boss I was leaving.
I went around to his office, and spoke with his secretary, a lovely, matronly, middle-aged woman named Lee. "Hey Lee," I said, "is fatso here?", I said jerking my head in the direction of the fat controller's office.
"No," said Lee, "he's in Brisbane I think, and I'm not even sure when he'll be back."
"Oh," I said, somewhat non-plussed, "well, I'm quitting, and so I came to tell him that."
"Oh," replied Lee, "well when are you finishing up? Can you tell him next week?"
"Not really", I said, "I'm quitting now, starting new job Monday."
"Oh," said Lee again, "well, I'll leave a note for him to see when he comes in. I'd tell him myself, but I'm quitting today as well."
And so Lee and I walked out of the building late that Friday, and never looked back, either literally or metaphorically.
I would still love to know what the boss made of it when he did return to the office and found that the computer department was now unstaffed, and that even his secretary had left without a spoken word as well.

So over the Xmas party season, don't drink and drive, don't fax a picture of your bum to the boss, and don't, however much you wish for it, tell your boss THE TRUTH!
Wait till January, then let it rip from the phone on the desk at your new job.




You gotta stay focussed Lachlan!

This photo on the right shows my sink, seemingly with a kind of reverse snow storm bulging upward. It is of course, detergent, and clearly I had turned on the tap to do the washing up, then squirted the detergent in, and then got distracted.
What happened was that just as I began this process, my phone beeped and it was a message from Scott the boss and supervisor of the apartments that I live in.
I do a little work for him now and then, and this text was to do with work, and so I got involved in replying to his text. Then as I typed on my phone screen I began to notice a different noise, as of a kind of trickling, like water spilling into an underground cavern, heard from a distance.
When I looked up the foam was piled high in my sink and the water was trickling over and onto my kitchen floor.
I leapt across the gap and switched the tap off, then reached in and took the plug out, to let the water drain down to a manageable level.
Then I looked down at all the water running across my floor, and got out the mop and started to squeegee it up.
Once I started, I then realised that this a perfect opportunity to clean my floor, which I duly did.
So although the headline reads 'stay focussed', in the end this happy accident meant that I cleaned my floor.
Where does a year go, huh?









This ain't over.

And so finally to the youtube clip below.
It has nothing to do with Xmas party season, but it's another of my favourite Simpsons moments, and it came on the other night, so I was reminded to share it with you.
What happens in the plot is that Grandpa Simpson starts a fling with 'stone-cold hoochie', Zelda, played by Olympia Dukakis.
Grandpa and Olympia then flee to Branson Missouri, to have a fling. Now Branson Missouri is, as Homer describes it, 'like Vegas if it was run by Ned Flanders'.
Ned Flanders being an ultra-behaved christian.
Branson, Missouri is the place which repeatedly has the epitome of ultra-naff, Andy Williams, performing there.
That's how bad it is.
Anyway, Homer and the family head down to Branson to bring Grandpa back, but they get on the wrong bus, and end up in Bronson, Missouri.
Bronson, Missouri is populated entirely by Charles Bronsons. Wives, Mothers, fathers, kids, they're all Charles Bronson.
For those who don't know, Charles Bronson was the essence of the seventies TV tough guy.
Most notable for his starring role in the Death Wish series of movies. In which he played a sort of vigilante who solved all the ills of the world with extreme violence.
Anyway, for those who remember the wooden acting, and ultra-violence of Bronson on screen, enjoy this six-year-old Bronson asking his mother for some cookies.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Another one of those f$%-ing days

When I turned the car off recently, I did my in-car checks of the 'park' lever, handbrake, and ignition off, and finding them satisfactory, pulled the keys out of the ignition and got out of the car.
I was back from a gardening job, and so that means that I get my two fuel canisters - one for the whipper-snipper [weed whacker - for north American readers], and one for the mower - out of the back of the car and put them in the storage area of the underground car park.
As a gardener most of my work is in the summer, and so I don't like to leave fuel in the car for obvious reasons.
So I walked around to the back of the car to get the fuel, and then noticed that the lights were on.
"That's odd," I said to myself, "I was sure I did all my checks. Must have forgotten to check the lights."
So I went back to the front of the car, leaned in through the window and went to turn the lights off.
To my unholy consternation I discovered that the lights were indeed off.
"What the f$%&?", I flicked the switch off and on a few times, but it had no effect. With a lugubrious sigh, I realised that yet another thing had gone wrong with my car.
This follows on from a post of some weeks ago in which I was talking about the 'Check Engine' light.
To bring you up to speed there.
For most of the life of this particular car, first with Tom, whom I bought it from, and then in the year that I have had it, the Check Engine light comes on as soon as the engine has warmed up, and stays on for the rest of the day.
Thus, as I came down the hill from Clunes a few months ago, and the Check Engine light went out, I went, 'aww, that can't be good.'
However, nothing catastrophic happened, and the car ran OK.
I was going somewhere a few weeks later when this yellow 'Hold' light came on, and didn't go off. Then the Check Engine light came on as well, and I once again spent most of my time at the wheel wondering what this panoply of odd lights could portend. I did look up the manual, but couldn't find after a cursory glance what the 'Hold' light means.
However the engine kept running and so I tried to put it out of my mind.
Then came the lights staying on thing and I now have to go through an extra round of checking before and after I set out in the car.
Since I can't leave the lights on while parked, as it will flatten the battery, I now have to each time I pull up, get out, open the bonnet, unship the negative battery cable from the battery to get the lights to go off, then shut the bonnet.
A bit of a hassle, but worth it to keep my car rolling.
After I shut the bonnet [hood for north Americans], I went back to lock the car. I shut the driver's door then turned the key and the driver's door locked, but the satisfying car-wide 'cloonk', telling me the central locking had locked all the doors, hadn't kicked in.
So dear reader, I can now confirm for you that central-locking is electrical.
With the battery now unconnected, I have to, as well as taking the battery out of the circuit, lock each door individually.
What's more, if I have forgotten to wind up the electronic windows, I have to reconnect the battery, turn on the ignition, then wind up the windows, turn the ignition off again, then go back around and disconnect the battery again.
For a man with OCD checking disorder, just parking the car has now become a major enterprise.
And I might add, this car ghost-in-the-electrical-system rubbish followed on from the ghost-in-my-apartment's-electrical-system malarkey.
What happened there was that I came out one morning and went to boil the jug to make my morning coffee.
However when I picked it up to fill it with water, I noticed to, again, my unholy consternation, that the jug was already quite hot, and once I felt that and looked closer, I saw that there was steam coming out of the jug's nozzle.
WTF? I said to myself, then I noticed that the damn thing was exhibiting a noise as of a low level of boiling going on.
I leant in closer, and sure enough the jug was boiling, even though the switch was off.
As I later discovered, the heating element had blown the circuit, and overridden the auto-off switch.
"AAARGHHH!" I yelled into the six am quiet of my apartment complex.
The immediate problem was no hot water for coffee, but I solved that by getting out a saucepan and boiling some water, but the longer term problem was that for a nutjob like me, who seeks to control the world by checking everything, now the jug and the car, were exhibiting signs of self-animation, and now even when I had checked both that everything was off, they may switch themselves on in some ghostly fashion, while I sleep.
The upshot being I may burn the apartment down despite my five thousand checks.

Anyway, with my sweeping and weeding done up the beach front at Julian's beach side hotel, and with Caitlyn's lawn mowed at Mullumbimby, I was finished with gardening and the car for the day, and so I went up to my desk to do some research on an article I was writing for Independent Australia.
Quickly my head was into global warming figures and tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and all the rest, when my phone beeped.
It was a message from my therapist, Simon the Super-listener, it was my monthly therapy session, and all off the above car stress had completely blown it out of my mind, that it was today.
"AARRRGGHHH," I yelled.
"ARRRGGHHHH!," I yelled into the thankfully empty office.
"Shit, it's therapy day".
Now just to background this a bit, for those who have been following my progress away from dysfunction.
Previously my therapist was Paula the Wonder Horse, whom I saw with great productivity for nearly five years.
However after 80-odd sessions, Paula had to finally put up her hands and tell me that she had heard how much I hate my parents for the eightieth time and it was time for me to move on.
Not really of course, the real reason was that there is a natural arc to therapy, and after some time, it's good to freshen things up with a new person. So Paula, with carefully prepared efficiency lumbered her colleague Simon with being trapped in a room listening to my eternal, internecine, always rambling stories of my life as a youth in Bathurst.
Simon is great as well, and I am already looking forward to broaching new frontiers with him.
Paula the Wonder Horse's web page, note former name.
I might add, that one of the reasons Paula couldn't see me anymore was that she had decided to resurrect her movie career, she used to be one of the Bond girls, and had been called back into action by the makers of the Bond films. (see pictures)
I know now why she changed her name, it was nothing to do with getting married, but all to do with her dark past on the silver screen.
Paula did deny that she had ever been a Bond girl, but I knew she was lying.
Anyway, now I'm with Simon, and things are great, so I was less than impressed with myself for forgetting our appointment.
However, now I had a new problem, as I said the office was empty, and thus there was no one around to help me with my 'lock-up' checks which I needed to do before I could go to therapy, about ten minutes walk away.
So with the pressure on, I raced back to my apartment, windows shut (so rain can't get in), power off to the TV and set top box (I didn't want them coming on either in ghostly fashion), shower off, bathroom sink taps off, jug definitely unplugged, and all six burners and timer on the oven were off.
I had to literally wrench myself away and had to work hard not to go round and do these checks twenty or thirty times, but I was already late to therapy, and had to go.
So outside the door, I turned the key, checked that it was indeed locked, and then turned to go.
The credits of the Bond movie, 'A View to a Kill', showing Paula's past life.
The worm of doubt came into my mind, back I turned, I checked the door was locked again, it was.
Away I turned, the worm returned, back I turned, checked again, then turned away once more, took two steps, the worm of anxiety came back.
Then I had to stop and just use brute force of will.
I turned back, and said inside my head, "Right, Lachlan, you idiot, the f%$^&ing door is locked and you are looking at it locked now with your fingers on the door, showing you it's locked."
With the satisfactory clanking of the door showing it was indeed locked, I finally wrested myself away from the door and began walking to Simon's office.
Once more back on the street, I had to go past the office door, I stopped and checked that I had shut and locked that.
I had, so I turned to go, now already 15 minutes after my appointment with Simon was due to start.
Then the worm returned, back I went, checked the office door was indeed locked.
I think I stood at the office door for another three minutes, constantly pushing on the door, testing it was locked.
Then, finally, having to use the same brute force I had had to use on my apartment door, I wrenched myself away form the office door and made for Simon's office.

Now with Paula, our therapy was mainly focussed on my terrible childhood.
With Simon, we are mainly focussing on my debilitating checking, using various techniques to tackle it.
So never have I gone to therapy with greater relief than this day, with the various machines in my life turning themselves off and on, at will.
Finally I pitched up at Simon's office, puffing from the jog-trotting I had been doing to get there as quickly as my checking allowed.
I went in and sat down, after explaining why I was late, we settled in and Simon asked, "So how's your checking going?"
"Well, Simon," I said, "Boy am I glad you asked."
Therapy then proceeded as it usually does, with me talking volubly and at length of my dysfunction, and the therapist, in this case, Simon, slowly backing away against the wall, trying to escape.
Finally three o'clock came, and Simon was free of me.
I left feeling somewhat relaxed.
Simon is still in Byron Bay Hospital under sedation, where he screams in his sleep, "NO Lachlan, NO, please don't tell me the same story again".

Those who tune in regularly will have noticed that I haven't been regular with the Blog, that is because with the summer my gardening in necessarily busier, but also my work with Independent Australia is stepping up.
However, like Simon above, I'm sure you can use a break as well, even reading about the life of a nutjob can be exhausting, man do I understand that! 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Silence on the topic is suicide itself

Easter started out well for me, here at Kirra YHA.
Following the release of my most recent story, The Easy Way Out,........(?!), there have been a few
comments about it, and so I guessed it was time for another blog post.
The story itself is, I guess, black humour, it certainly does not set out to trivialise suicide.
Anyway, since I wrote it there have been a few comments.
I was going to write 'some positive, some negative', however, that doesn't really reflect the true nature of the comments.
However, even I, aspiring wordsmith though I am can't find a 'correct' way to describe the comments.
Part of that is separating criticism of the actual writing, from the topic itself.
Should I have even written a story about this blackest of topics?
If I did, should I have put humour in the same story?
Well you can make up your own mind about that.
I will stick to my original contention that the more is said about the topic, the better.
I talked with a work colleague and he said he had an in-law who had killed themself. Schizophrenia was the root cause.
My cousin killed himself, likewise schizophrenic.
So schizophrenia is a big part of the problem.
Pindari Homeless Men's hostel, Fortitude Valley Brisbane. I ended up here a few scant hours later.
This can only be adequately treated with the care of a psychiatrist, as drugs is currently our major treatment for schizophrenia.
Just as an aside, and definitely not wanting to trivialise this dread complaint, schizophrenia means literally, 'broken head'. 'Schizo-' comes from the same word root that gives us schism, and 'phrenia' comes from the source that gives us Phrenology, the Victorian-age bunkum of examining the shape of people's heads, to give us some insight into their psychology.
One of the issues with schizophrenia is that it is usually the people around the sufferer who have to encourage the sufferer to get treatment.
This is hopelessly problematic as one very common and apparent symptom of schizophrenia is paranoia, and often the people around the sufferer are the first people not to be trusted.
I had this demonstrtated most admirably one bad Sunday evening in my homeless days.
What happened was this.
I was staying at the time at a backpackers at Kirra Beach, on the Gold Coast in the run up to Easter in, I think 2002 or 3.
Anyway, due to my perennially, at the time, drunk and stoned state I misunderstood what they told me at Centrelink when I put in my form that week.
With the four day holiday coming up, if your form was due on on of the public holiday days, mine was, Good Friday, you could put your form in the day before, which I did, on the Thursday.
However the way Centrelink traditionally works is that you put your form in and you get your payment the next day.
Now what I misunderstood was that I thought by putting my form in on the Thursday before Easter, I would therefore get paid the next day as usual, in this case Good Friday.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, Lachlan.
While my form went in early, I wouldn't get my payment till the next working day after Easter, in this case, the Tuesday, four days hence.
Now the backpackers I was staying at was a nice place, but they had trouble with local itinerants wanting to stay there, and so were totally hard core on payment.
No credit, no, 'can I pay tomorrow?', none of that.
So when I went to the bank machine of Good Friday to get some money out, I saw with a breath of fear that my balance hadn't changed, and my payment hadn't come in.
I had $18 to my name, largely due to spending most of what I had left on beer the night before.
I went back to the backpackers and tried to get some credit, I had been staying there three weeks, but no, there was no credit to be had.
Either pay or get out.
So get out I did.
I went through a lot of thought, tried some friends for loans, and while they were receptive, there was no one who could get money through to me straightaway on the Gold Coast.
So I called a few crisis numbers, and eventually got a minor lead of a homeless men's shelter in the heart of Brisbane, Pindari.
They said they had room, but I had to show up sober and be there by four pm, else, I wouldn't be allowed in.
I was technically sober, and with no money would stay so, but I had some fears that I would still stink of last night's booze by the time I arrived.
Anyway, I got a bus ticket via eftpos and took the bus, stomach rumbling all the way to Brisbane and got out at Roma Street bus terminus.
I walked around to Pindari and was accepted.
I went up in the lift and got out on one of the upper floors and found a bunk.
Thankfully my room was empty, and so I threw down my backpack, in a gesture that was oh-so-familiar to me in this period of my life and then, sat on the bunk staring at the wall.
Dinner was at six pm, it was now about two o'clock, and I had no money to do anything.
I still smoked back then and couldn't afford cigarettes and so that was another strain on my system.
Most of the other men in there were geuninly homeless, or were recently out of prison with nowehere else to go.
So smokeless, drinkless, and with the constant taint of prison violence humming through the air of the place, I did my best to get through the hours.
Dinner came and went, and afterward I sat on my bunk staring at the wall (Once six o'clock came around you weren't allowed out).
Then I realised I had run out of my anti-depressant medication.
Now I'm not schizophrenic, and my medication as very low-level compared with that which my cousin had to take for instance, but one thing it does say on the packet in big red letters is, 'Do Not Stop Taking This Medication Suddenly'.
So I went down to the desk and told the night supervisor of my problem.
He gave me special dispensation to go down to Brisbane Base Hospital to get some more meds.
I went down there to A&E and checked with the triage Nurse, who sent me round to the psych wing.
I told the desk nurse there about my medication and she said that should be no problem, but I would ahve to wait iuntil the duty psychiatrist could give me a script.
So I went out into a little courtyard area to wait.
While I was sitting there, I idly contemplated asking if I could stay here for the rest of Easter, as it was a damn sight nicer than Pindari.
However, I knew the hospital system was groaning at the hinges, and further as events were about to show, a psych wing is no place for anyone to spend a long period of time.
Anyway after I began to take stock of my surroundings, I noticed sitting a little way down the bench from me a young man, about 18, flanked by two psych nurses, one male and one female.
This threesome were chatting amiably of this and that, when the doors to the little courtyard opened part way, and a psychiatrist and two middle aged people looked through the doorway.
Well the young man, saw them and went from sitting chatting amaibly to on his feet screaming abuse with expletives at the three people in the doorway.
"Why did you fucking let them in here, you fucking bastards", and "I told you these people were fucking trying to kill me, and you fucking let them in here you fucking bastards."
Man, talk about shock.
Turns out that the people in the doorway were the young man's parents, and that he had schizophrenia.
His parents were the people he most saw as 'out to get him', and so the shrink kept their looking through the doorway to a minimum amount of time.
Obviously his parents werre heavily concerned and wanted to help, but the young man's disease was forming a barrier to any contact.
Anyway, the shrink and the parents withdrew and the door shut, and the young man once again switched things off and went back to chatting amiably with the psych nurses.
I was still shaking some minutes later. It was as good a representation of why schizophrenia is such a terrible disease for the sufferer and those around them.
Seeing this episode this dark, dank night in Brisbane, showed me even more clearly than my cousin's suicide why schizophrenia is so hard to treat.
Soon after my name was called and I went into meet with the shrink, get my prescription, then back to Pindari for another night's sleep with one eye open.
Eventually Monday came and I did what I should have done in the first palce and called my brother in Sydney and he put some money in my account and I was able to leave pindari and head back down to the surf coast.
As I've often mentioned one of the problems with being a writer is that the worst experiences make the best stories, and never was that more apposite than those few dark days in Pindari.
I learned a lot about myself and obliquely, about schizophrenia.

Away from schizophrenia, though, even relatively well-adjusted people contemplate suicide, usually to do with life situations.
Farmers in drought is a common one, adolescants being cyber-bullied is another, your partner having an affair is another, the list is pretty eternal really.
So some sobering stats from Lifeline here:

It's all too horrible to contemplate really, stats like these.
So what's to be done?
Well I'm no expert, but as ever when doing a post on this topic I strongly draw everyone's attention to the Lifeline phone number at the bottom of the screen grab.
If you are worried by suicidal thoughts yourself, or worried for someone you know, call Lifeline as an excellent first port of call.
My friend Sandy who works at Lifeline was telling me one that ninety per cent of calls to Lifeline are not 'life-threatening' calls, not suicide related, but if more people called Lifeline on a regular basis, then perhaps the ten percent that are suicide-related would drop in number.
Anyway, I hope that no one reading this is ever troubled by suicidal thoughts, but if you are call Lifeline first.

And so to finish on a lighter note, many I know who read this rubbish I output don't like cricket, they think it's too boring, and all the rest of it, 'what sort of a game goes for five days and then still ends in a draw?', is a common bleat from my American readers.
Well I would like to point out that cricket has finally been of some use in my workplace, the garden.
One of the banes of my life is Date Palms. These plants are attractive (from a distance) and up here in the sub-tropics, some nameless arsehole in the past went round and planted a lot of the things.
Meaning that in the present day that I have to prune them.
And the reason I say 'arsehole' is that the spines on these things are weaponised limb-numbing beasts with spines on a mature plant fully 30cm (1 foot long).
When I first naively began to prune my first Date Palm I went at it bare-handed, and got stung by the spines countless times, there is a minor plant toxin in the spines, and for the week afterward my hands were near paralysed, and I could hardly even life a beer, (I was still drinking then).
Anyway I realised I needed better protection for my hands, and so not long after was watching a cricket match and saw the batter wearing the special protective batting gloves.
So I sent away online to the cricket warehouse and bought a pair.
Then with my new hand protection I went out and retackled the Date palms.
It still does to take great care, but now I can work with Date Palms and come away with my hands intact.
By the way the reason these things need to be pruned is that the fronds hang downward and soon you can't even walk under a Date Palm without getting one of these spines in the head.
As you can see from the picture, these things can cause a nasty injury, and could even kill someone if the fell or in some way got their full weight onto a spine.
So in the end I have done two things for the world. One I am making the gardens of my clients safer, but mostly, I have finally found a use for cricket.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

What the hell is a 'proper' job anyway?

I've picked up another job recently, sweeping the outdoor areas of a hotel just up the beach front from my place near the centre of town.
I quite enjoy it, it's very meditative to be out and about when all the partying world is still asleep.
Indeed the only people I see as I cycle the one k up the hill is a load of other people in active wear, out for their early morning exercise, jogging, power walking, cycling, and setting up for a surf.
However, as I swept the other morning I was once again thinking that this is hardly what my oh-so-image-conscious parents would have wanted for me, however, as I say I enjoy it.
While my job category at Centrelink lists me as a gardener, that overlaps in my holiday town with property maitenance, and then inevitably, cleaning.
So I'm a cleaner.
I have no problem with that, though if my parents were alive, they would no doubt tell everyone that I am the maintenance/cleaning supervisor for a five-star holiday accommodation enterprise in exclusive Byron Bay.
Whatever, that then led to thoughts that have beset me throughout my life, of what is a 'proper' job.
I can't really count how many times this has come up, but I have no doubt that many of you reading this have contemplated the same thought, 'what is a proper job?' Mostly of course it is tied up with money and status, but whether a job with money or status is the proper job for you, well that's always debatable.
Anyway, I'm a cleaner/gardener/handyman and journalist, and I'm quite happy doing all that. Of course if I meet someone new I usually say 'journalist' first, as that seems to be a higher status job, which just shows that I'm still affected by the trappings of image laid down upon me by my parents.
So how did this happen? How did a guy with a degree in Science end up sweeping paths for a living? Well let's go back in time a bit to the HSC at Kelso High in 1982. When I began to think about this it occurred to me that in some ways I was the success story of the day.
Why do I say that?
Well, as far as I recall, I was the only one who went to Sydney Uni. Now I'm certainly not out to make out that I'm am better than anyone else I was at high school with, or a higher achiever, simply that on the scale of things at the time, Sydney Uni was the pinnacle of success.
And, as I say, I was the first graduate of Kelso High to go there (I think), I'm not sure about the year before me, but of my year, I'm sure that's true.
Anyway, what's the big deal? (If any).
So let's start overseas.
In Britain the pinnacle of university success is Oxford and Cambridge, Oxbridge is the short hand.
Oxford is the oldest uni in the world, its foundation date is uncertain, but there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096.
Cambridge is the second oldest, founded in 1209. These venerable institutions led the way for education for nearly a thousand years. Oxbridge was seen as the home of elitism, the upper class went there or nowhere.
In the States it is the Ivy League that is the New World home of elitism. The Ivy League is comprised of: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania.
For the record, Oxbridge/the Ivy League in Australia is represented by the "Group of Eight", comprising, ANU, UNSW, Sydney, Monash, Melbourne, Queensland, Adelaide and Western Australia.
So I went to Oxbridge/the Ivy League in Australia.
(PS: I've just recalled a classmate, Gavin, went to ANU, so I wasn't the only Kelso person who went into the Go8 university system.)
I know this made my father very proud, he was a graduate of Sydney Uni himself, but if he could have seen the way I carried on once I got there, he would have been less happy I'll tell you that for nothing.
For, let off the leash of my parents control, I began to party 'like 'twas 1799', as they said on The Simpsons on one episode about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Drinking, smoking pot, playing soccer, trying to have sex with any female that passed before me, I was the definition of a man born to fail his exams.
However, I obviously did some work, as I did pass, though barely. (My average mark for the three years of my undergraduate degree was 57%). Looking back on it, if I'd gone to counselling then, I could be the head of CSIRO by now, just a little less drinking could have seen me achieve so much more.
However that was then, and as I've often written we'd all do things differently if time machines existed. I would go back in time and just punch myself in the head and say 'wake up to yourself'.
Actually, I've just remembered that Joe Hockey was the president of the Student Union when I was at Uni, and if I did have a time machine, I would first go back in time and punch that fat fuck in the head first, before I dealt with myself. Smacking Joe Hockey into unconsciousness would do more for current day Australia, than anything I could do other than that.
One thing not having a proper job allows
is plenty of time to check the surf and ride my bike.

So did I learn anything?
Well yes, but again looking back on it, the real benefits of my elite education were the old students net.
Previously referred to as the old boys net, but not by me anymore.
The real benefits turned out to be the friends I made while I was there.
Most notably my long suffering friend Antony, who has loaned/given me, money in four figures to keep the wolf from my coastal door.
Evo, who has/is giving me invaluable financial advice that is seeing me through my short, but heroically, unsuccessful business career.
There are others, whom I'll name if relevant.
However, I seem to saying that I agree with 'it's not what you know, but who you know.'
On this topic, and reinforcing it, is this piece of advice handed out by an older student who had just graduated from Sydney Uni law.
Another player on the soccer team was just on his way down to Phillip Street, where the Law School was housed, to complete his law degree.
When the younger student asked of the older, 'how should I play it down at Phillip Street?'
The older student replied, 'get down there and root anything that moves'. [For my North American readers, 'root' was the slang at the time for having sex, you would say 'screw']
Clearly this indicated that the older student thought that contacts were far more important than an in-depth knowledge of company or real estate law.
So returning to the theme of what is a proper job? There is no real answer to that.
One thing I do remember is that quite a number of the scientists and engineers that I graduated with, didn't go into those fields, but instead were sucked up by the burgeoning IT industry, indeed as I would be a few short years later.
In those faculties, we spent more time on the computer than most, and thus spent more time fixing them than anything else, and so many began lucrative careers working on computers.
My first job out of Uni though was with Greenpeace, I don't know now what my father thought of this, but I think he thought I would be immmediately employed in a lab somewhere, and spend my career in a lab coat poking the buttons on complex lab equipment.
But that was never for me, even as a boy I knew that the world's environment was in trouble, and so began work with Greenpeace to do something about it.
After that I did my teaching diploma, and took some part time work with a soccer newspaper, so began, simultaneously, my teaching and journalism careers.
Couple of things to note there.
I think my father was happy that I was going to be a science teacher, as he saw that as a proper job. But within minutes of starting in the classroom of a NSW high school, I can confirm that teaching is an improper job of the first water.
I know what this looks like, but I
am in fact running to get into position,
while the timer on my phone camera ticked
away, not to molest this woman.
Man, I hated that.
The other thing to note, and particularly if you are going into teacher training is that the first day in the classroom is the first day you will start planning how to never enter another classroom.
So hectic is it that you quickly realize that you will never sustain the energy levels needed to do this for a whole career, and so will do anything else. Get promoted, quit, drink heavily, anything to keep you away from the classroom.
So after some five years teaching, I finally realized that teaching wasn't for me, I'd been sacked by three schools, and had left twenty odd of my own accord.
So I went into journalism full time.
I began working for the Sun-Herald (now defunct) in Sydney.
However this was yet another badly timed decision on my part, like all the rest, for you see, just as I joined the world of newspapers, the price of paper began to skyrocket due to our appalling desecration of the environment.
We were running out of trees, to put it mildly.
It takes 75,000 tress for instance to produce one New York Times Sunday edition.
The ultimate effect of this was that the long ever-quickening spiral of sacking journalists began.
I was one of the first to go, as I was only recently joined, and I might add, I got sacked from the Sun-Herald, not for incompetence, but because I wasn't walking quick enough.
How's that?
Well what happened was that I was on the racing desk of the sports section of the S-H. The editor of the same was an incredibly dysfunctional stress head, and he wanted everything done yesterday.
That day I was responsible for the early editions of the paper, so I was sitting at my desk when a shadow loomed over me, I looked up and saw it was the editor, he said: "Where we at with the early edition?", I replied, "I've got it underway, I'm just going to see about the photos from Tony, in graphics."
He nodded, but stood there.
So I thought I better show willing, and got up and went to see the picture guys.
Sauntering in a casual manner as I went.
About an hour later I got an inmail from the editor, 'could you come and see me please?', it said. I went over to his desk, and presented myself, "Oh, er, yeair," he said, "I've got to retrench three staff, so your one of the ones I'm letting go."
Simple but effective, I walked out of the John Fairfax building that arvo, and never returned.
And I'm certain that if I'd walked a bit faster earlier that afternoon, I may have survived.
However, if the price of paper was becoming the rate determiner of newspapers, I did get a good look at where news was going: the internet.
Already the Herald was cannibalizing it's own readership with its website, and so I went round to the bookshop at Crow's Nest where I lived at the time and got a book on HTML, the coding language of the internet.
Then I began making webpages on my computer, and then I began applying for jobs as an internet sub-editor.
I duly got one, and then spent the next ten years hunched over a computer screen looking for misplaced tags giving odd layouts and spelling errors on websites.
I guess that was a proper job, but what I got from that time in IT was a serious alcohol dependency.
Nothing about working with computers is healthy. It's bad for your back, your posture, your digestion, your eyes, your wrists, and of course your mental state.
I include this simply to show where public transport is these days.
Will country Australia ever have public transport again?
There is also a 'it never ends component about it'. I can't count how many nights I struggled for sleep as I went over in my mind all the code I had seen that day, wondering if I'd left a bug in it that the bad guys, could use as a nice security hole to penetrate the system.
This lack of sleep led me to increase my pot use, and then my alcohol use, just to get to sleep.
Anyway, after the millennium turned I was too burnt out to continue, so I left the IT world, and Sydney, and began drifting around the north coast of NSW, and the south of Queensland, surfing, mostly, but also wondering how it had got this way, how had I gone from Southern Hemisphere Oxbridge to being homeless?
Well, while I would never care to repeat being homeless again, it did give me time to think, and I happened across the old decision to live in Byron Bay, surf and be a gardener.
And so I did it.
In all that time from my first employment aged 15 for a cauliflower farmer, outside of Bathurst, to today, I have had almost three hundred jobs.
When I look at them, I see that the ones that would have been considered, by my parents at least, as 'proper jobs' were the ones that made me the most unhappy, and thus led me to drink heavily.
The ones that would be seen as the lowest status, weeding garden beds, sweeping paths and/or cleaning toilets, have brought me a measure of peace.
Weird how things work, but there you go.
So if you are ever worried about the status of your job, stop now, the only one it matters to is you.

Sweeping at dusk brings the ultimate peace of views like this.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Those pants are a bit high aren't they Roger?

For some reason one of the commercial stations is showing all the Bond films again.
I find this a little surprising as I felt the excellent Mike Myers, Austin Powers films had put Bond to death as a serious piece of cinematography, but no, for some reason Channel Nine had decided to put all of us with nothing to do on a Saturday night, through it all again.
If you haven't seen either, I fully recommend the Austin Powers films, as they are funny beyond measure, and point out a lot tof things that I had been wondering for many years about the ludicrous plot holes in the Bond outings.
This was brought home to me the most when I was living in Sydney as a younger man, and had first got out of soccer and cricket, and into surfing in a big way.I lived in Harbord, on Sydney's northern beaches, with a couple - Lloyd "Lloydo" Millard and Karen "Kaz" McSkimming.
It was one of the happiest periods of my life, and if only I hadn't destroyed everything with my drinking, things could have been happier still.
Karen and Lloyd, whom I referred to privately as "Couch potato Kaz", and "Red-zone Lloyd", were terrific to live with, and one of the few instances in human history when living with a couple was Okay.
Invariably when you are looking for a flat to share, the first thing your friends say is "Never share with a couple!". However it worked for us.
Lloyd was video editor, and worked in North Sydney, while Kaz was a hairdresser, who worked in Chatswood, then Wynyard in the city.
I was working as a journalist for a computer magazine in North Sydney, and as usual, doing my best to not do it very well.
It was part-time, and I only went to work two days a week. One day to do sub-editing and layout of the various pages, and the other, Sunday morning, to do "the download".
The view from our flat down to the ocean at Freshie.
This was the early nineties, and the internet was just getting going. For this reason our parent magazine in New York would put up the stories for the week, and then I would download these stories to our server in Sydney, then print them out and give them to our editor Bill, and he would hand these stories out to the journalists to rewrite them from an Australian angle.
The rest of the time I went surfing at Freshwater beach, 100 metres from our flat.
Lloydo was an extreme sportsman of the highest order, and this all started for him with surfing. He was an excellent teacher, and so he would teach me to surf and I slowly got my country-living self up to speed (sort of) with this most coastal of activities.
Lloyd was only happy when throwing himself off something high, or riding down the face of something powerful.
He was an expert rock climber, skate boarder, trail bike rider, and, as mentioned, surfing.
Anyway, one Sunday there was no surf, and it was raining. My ex-girlfriend, Shivaun, came over (we were still friends), and we were sort of planning to do something, but with the weather not the best we instead sat around the living room smoking cones (and drinking in my case).
As ever with this activity conversation began to slow down, as people began to say inside their head, 'did I say that, or did I just think that?'
So we turned on the television set and a Bond film was on.
So we began watching it, and it was one of the best afternoons I ever spent.
The Movie was 'You Only Live Twice' with Sean Connery as James Bond.
Somehow the nexus of pot and the age of this film allowed us to see how damned ridiculous it really was, and we spent the rest of the afternoon taking the piss out of it unmercifully.
The first thing that caught our eye was when Bond needs a bit of aerial transport, and so 'Q', the weapons and gadgets guy shows up with a do-it-yourself helicopter, called Little Nellie. Q is accoutred with various bags and things, and he plonks them down and builds a helicopter there and then.
An Ikea helicopter?! Well why the hell not?
Connery then gets aboard and flies off to make battle with the evil supervillain, played by Donald Pleasance.
Pleasance sends out four helicopters to take Connery out, but Bond blows them out of the sky with a mixture of high-tech whizz-bangery.
Then he radios back to base and says, "Four big shots made advances to Little Nellie, she repelled their advances."
Whereupon we all began wondering why he didn't just say "I blew four helicopters out of the F$^-ing sky!" We then began wondering if the guys back at base were wondering if Bondy himself had not been partaking of the same green matter that we currently enjoying.
So Bondy goes on and defeats the villain and blows his within-volcano base to smithereens.
We were more sorry than I could say when that movie finished.
However, we then began checking the TV listings, and from then on whenever there was a Bond film on a Sunday afternoon, we would invite Shivaun over and get coned out of our gourds and watch with every measure of enjoyment there could be.
Shivaun I might add was joyously taken with the 'micro-comparator'. What's that? Well in The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore, as Bond, breaks into the baddie's Egyptian headquarters and steals some plans in electronic form.
He then, in conjunction with a beautiful Russian spy (and is there any other kind in the Bond films?) gets the plans back to the headquarters that MI5 have set up, which for reasons that escape me now, were in the basement of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Obviously they got the moving men in to hurl out all that five thousand year detritus of the pharaohs to make room.
Anyway, there is some doubt as to the plans completeness, so 'M', Bond's boss, says, "Stick them on the micro-comparator."
This is a well-handy electronic gizmo that compares two sets of plans to note any differences, this they do and indeed discover that part of the plans are missing. Shivaun's points were that a) if you have a full set of plans to compare to, then why did Bondy have to go steal them in the first place, and b) how handy was that to find an electronic plan comparing device among the flotsam and jetsam that MI5 had brought out to Egypt for the caper?
So we laughed hard for another Sunday.
So for all these reasons when For Your Eyes Only came on the other Saturday night, and I had nothing to do, I decided to watch. It was bittersweet beyond measure, as my friends from those old Sunday afternoons have long gone now, scattered to the four winds of town and job and relationship change.
Also I don't smoke pot or drink anymore, and so things were never going to be the same.
However I did get a measure of enjoyment out of it.
The first thing that struck me was how high Bond's pants were (see pic at the top). I found my stomach wincing in sympathy with the cinsure being to applied to Roger Moore's hip areas. However it didn't stop him jumping from burning cars, diving out windows, skiing with the ability of an Olympic gold medal winner on a down hill run and all the rest.
The plot (such as it ever is) was that the British have put their missile launching computer, ATAC it's called, on a disguised trawler operating in the Mediterranean.
BTW: Ever noticed that all the baddies in Bond films only operate out of the tropics? or a high-class ski resort? Never did Bond have to go undercover in Omaha, Grimsby or West Wyalong.
The baddies get wind of this trawler, and sink it. Then Bond has to go out and recover the ATAC machine.
Now if you thought that the micro-comparator was well handy, get a load of this.
Turns out that the British government can't officially salvage the trawler with the ATAC on it, as that would mean they would have to acknowledge it, and cause a diplomatic incident.
So it all has to be done undercover.
Bondy and girlfriend just happened across millions of dollars of equipment. Handy or what?
So then M says to Bond, "luckily, an amateur salvage expert is in the area excavating an ancient temple of the seafloor of the Med, so you (Bond) can work with him'.
This archaeologist just happens to have a US$20 million dollar salvage submarine on his ship, which Bond and his beautiful assistant, the archeologist's daughter, are able to operate without training.
Now wasn't that handy?
So they go down there, salvage the thing and then bring it back to the surface, and the 'plot' then moves on.
But then the baddies ambush them back on the surface, take the ATAC machine, and the 'plot' them moves on. Which brings us to another part of the Bond 'plots' that always intrigues me.
In all Bond films the baddie invariably passes up the opportunity to just shoot Bond dead when he has the opportunity, and instead relies on a series of needlessly complex attempts of Bond's life.
This was best put in the Austin Powers films.
In those films, the baddie, Dr Evil, has a time machine, and he goes back in time and steal Austin Powers mojo, which he then uses to render Powers useless as a foe.
Dr Evil's son, Scott, the says, "look why don't you just go back in time, and shoot Powers dead while he's sitting on the crapper or something."
DR Evil then pours scorn on this hopelessly undramatic plan, and the plot moves on from there.
Then later, Dr Evil captures Powers and they are all sitting around the Evil board room table discussing how to kill him. Dr Evil then says, "Start the ludicrously slow killing machine." To which Scott Evil then says, 'Look, instead of doing that, I've got a gun in my room, I'll go and get it, come back, kill him, take five seconds. What's wrong with that?" And again Dr Evil then berates Scott for having "just no idea about how supervillains do things".
Likewise in For Your Eyes Only the baddies have at least thirty different opportunities to kill Bond stone dead where he stands with a gun, but continually pass up these opportunities to partake in much more cinematically spectacular methods, most of those on skis. Here you can see the baddies chasing Bond down the mountain on snow-capable motorbikes.
And harking back to the above mentioned ambush on the surface of the Mediterranean, the baddies shot at Bond and his girlfriend with every piece of weaponry the Eastern bloc had to spare, from AK-47s through pistols, but despite firing a thousand bullets, they miss with every shot.
Then for reasons that again escape me, they decide that a more effective way to do things would be to run the pair down with their cabin cruiser, this they do, but Bondy and his girlfriend get loose and make for the bottom of the sea, where Bondy has handily placed an aqualung in case of just such an eventuality as this.
The bullets that missed were of course fired from a 'baddie' gun. This expression refers to the way a baddie can fire a hundred bullets and miss with every one from point blank range, while the goodie can fire one bullet without even aiming and take out six people.
James Bond is played by Daniel Craig now, and though I've never seen a full film the snippets I have seen show them to be still as ridiculous as ever.
I particularly loved the bit in Skyfall when Bond is on a remote island in the back waters of the Caribbean and needs to speak with headquarters in London. He presses one button on his mobile phone and is through the HQ and M, now played by Judi Dench, picks it up before it's rung once. They then converse with full signal strength for a few minutes and the line never drops out or breaks up. While the conversation goes on the minions at HQ book Bond, first class of course, onto the next flight out of Port-of-Spain. He shows up at the airport and there are no check in problems, and I suspect he gets his gun on board without a query.
Looks like I've got to add 'goodie phone' to the list of expressions.

Anyway it's all too ridiculous for words, but it brought back some bittersweet memories of those Sunday afternoons with Red-zone Lloyd, Couch potato Kaz and Micro-comparator loving Shivaun. I miss the ambrosial feeling of being stoned and drunk, but definitely don't miss the hangovers or the come downs, and won't be going back to drugs and alcohol.

In the end the only thing to say is that at least Daniel's pants are lower on his hips, so that's something we've achieved in thirty years of Bond films.


Sunday, 28 September 2014

I dreamed of the city of the hotlands

When I was a boy, I dreamed of a city.
I don't know now if it was a recurrent dream, but even if I only dreamed of it once, it was so vivid that I can still bring it to mind today, 40 years after the fact. 
The city was tall and elegant, crystalline and clean metal spires reaching for a shimmeringly hot blue sky.
My view of the city was from a distance, and around the base of the spires, and covering all the hectares leading up to it was green tree-clad plains. 
When I awoke that day I was filled with dread, and sense of loss, that it was only a dream, and this marvellous city was not there, it was not so close I could reach out and touch it. I couldn't walk the clean hot streets and byways of this wonderful place. 
Instead I was awake once more in my dread world of parental abuse and freezing streets of my home town Bathurst.
Not that Bathurst is an unattractive place, but as I've written ad nauseum, I was abused there and thus my view of the town will always be coloured as night.
However, some time after that I had an experience that not many of us get, when that vision from my dream was made real.
I went with my junior soccer team, Red Tops, for an exchange, billeted weekend with Kogarah Junior Soccer team in Sydney.
The cold of my home town was emotional and climatic.
As we passed over the Blue mountains we got our first view of the eastern plains, and there was my city, turns out it was Sydney.
The view through the bus window was almost exactly as I had seen in my dream.
I had been to Sydney before on family holidays with my parents, so I'm not making out this was some majorly telepathic event that had brought the city of the hotlands to my dreamscape, nothing like that, however rarely have I experienced such a powerful mental experience.
Although I am and always have been very much a cynical, hard-nosed type, having no truck with discussion of dreams and what they mean, that dream did create a change in me.
Having seen the city in my dreams, I was filled with an all-consuming desire for escape from my town and live in this wondrous city.
I played for Red Tops until I was ten or eleven years old, I know that, and so the dream occurred when I was younger than that.
I have no idea when of course, not now, but looking back, I see that my dream showed me that there was a world away from my horrendous parents, and I made a pact with myself that one day I would escape.
And eventually I did, some ten years later.
I can thank my parents for few things, but one of them was the gift of intelligence.
I know it's 'cool to be a fool' at school, but already the clock was ticking and my only means, as I saw it, of escape was to do well at school and thus be able to go off to uni in Sydney.
Some of you who went to school with me may possibly remember this, but particularly in primary school, and to a lesser extent in high school, I would cry if I made mistake at school.
Mostly this was to do with my father's terrifying rages.
He demanded with brutal terrifying screaming, that his children do well at school.
So crying when I made a mistake was largely to do with fear of my father, but a small part of it was that my waking dream of escape from Bathurst was all tied up with good marks at school.

The Chrysalids

Another part of this was my enjoyment of John Wyndham.
Wyndham was an author, most famous for Day of the Triffids, but his other novels are very good as well.
I find it hard to read him today, as he was very sexist.
He couldn't control his furious hatred of women for being stupid.
He wrote in the staunchly conservative fifties, and may have been seen as enlightened for his views on women taking their place as equal to men in intelligence, but take it from me, if that was enlightened, I would hate to see misogynist at the time.

Anyway, another of his books was The Chrysalids.
This book is set in the north-east of Canada some generations after a nuclear war has laid waste to the Earth.
The people of this area, Labrador, have reverted to an brutal 'christian' ultra-orthodoxy, with genetic mutation the sign of the devil.
The central character in the book is David Strorm.
His father is a frankly evil man, who kills anything, human, beast or plant, deemed to be mutated.
Early in life David and others of his age develop telepathy.
This wondrous gift has to be kept secret at all costs, as they will certainly be cast out to the wastelands if the christian elders of their community find out about it, as they would certainly deem telepathy a mutation, and an invisible one at that.
I mention this book, as it starts with David describing a dream.
I can't remember now when I read the book, but it was certainly long after I had my dream, but my experience was so similar to David in the book, that I felt The Chrysalids had almost been written in the hope that one day I would read it.
I struggled for a while to understand what the 'shiny fish-shaped things' were, but of course they were futuristic air- and space-craft.
Without wishing to be a full spoiler for those who may now decide to read the book, the city David dreamed of turned out to be Auckland, New Zealand.
Tucked away at the bottom of the world, New Zealand had been the country that best escaped the direct affects of the nuclear winter that the weapon-mongers had brought to the Earth.
The country had survived, and David was picking up visions of the city at night in his dreams, due to his telepathy.
And like David in the book, I found this vision of an elegant city of the hotlands, comforting, and as it turned out, it was of greater benefit than I could realise at the time, as it lit the fire within me to escape.
One other thing that was part of my dream was shimmering heat.
The picture at the shows Sydney in the sun, but in my dream this city gave the impression of baking, shimmering, almost untenable heat.
Despite the description, this made it more attractive to me.
Again, I'm guessing it was something to do with the cold of my home town, and I fully understand that dreams are not explicable, they have no quantifiable meaning, but I longed for the heat of that city.
Perhaps there was some correlation between the desired heat and the emotional cold of life with my parents, who can really say?
The city of the hotlands in my dream.
Anyway, I did do well at school, despite the bone-crunching pressure my parents put me under, and eventually aged 21 I escaped to the city for good.
Of course it wasn't the utopian metropolis of my dreams, Sydney has its problems like any other place, but it rapidly became my real home, as twenty years later Byron Bay would displace Sydney as my real home.
However I quickly found a place there, away from my parents, and learned to live.

The Midwich Cuckoos

And just a little further on John Wyndham, his most famous book was The Triffids.
After that he is probably best known for The Midwich Cuckoos.
In The Midwich Cuckoos a couple come home from a trip away to the coast and find their village blocked off, with no one allowed in.
They try to find out what's going on, but, as events are to show, no one knows.
Turns out alien ships have landed at various places on the Earth, including their village, and put out some sort of force field, within which everyone is unconscious.
The dastardly aliens then go about impregnating every eligible female within the force field.
The plot then moves on with the village attempting to come to terms with the 'day out', as it came to be known, and the sudden arrival of thirty odd alien children to live among them.
It's a good book, and was filmed as The Village of the Damned, first in 1960, and then a remake in 1990.
I mention it as you are probably most familiar with it, from, how did you know I was going to say this?, The Simpsons.
In this episode Homer and his pals go out on a wild bender and do a lot of drunken damage to the town.
Police Chief Wiggum then announces that, "there was a lot of damage last night, and so we're jumping to the conclusion that it was kids. Thus we are imposing a curfew on all children from now."
Thus, from then on all the kids of Springfield have to be home after dark.
However, Bart needless to say leads a rebellion, and takes the kids out to the drive-in to see the latest horror film, The Bloodening, and this is a send up of The Village of the Damned.
The glowing eyes by the way, represent the mind control that the children have.

The Kraken Wakes

And since the topic of John Wyndham has come up, it behoves me to mention his another novel of his, The Kraken Wakes.
This book follows the fortunes of a radio journalist and his wife, Mike and Phyllis Watson, and begins, as all good sci-fi novels should with the Earth undergoing inter-planetary invasion.
'Fireballs', as they're called, rain down out of the sky, and descend into the oceans of the Earth.
As it turns out these fireballs are bringing creatures from Jupiter to colonise our planet.
Due to the pressure differential between the two planets, the only place these aliens can exist in any comfort is at the very depths of our oceans, where the pressure is approximate to those of Jupiter.
To start with there is no problem with our species inhabiting the land, and the Jupiter lot in the depths.
However friction soon starts and we humans poke the bear by dropping a couple of nuclear bombs down into the depths to give these creatures a message.
They, unsurprisingly, resent this, and a war starts between the two races.
It is not a conventional war as we know it, no bullets fly, instead the creatures from Jupiter come up with a a variety of fiendish ways to attack the humans of the surface.
The most devastating of these is setting up atomic reactors under the polar ice caps, and melting the ice.
the seas rise, and the humans have to constantly scramble to higher and higher ground to escape the encroaching ocean.
It's as good a lesson in the effects of global warming as one could hope for.
London, where Mike and Phyllis live, is half inundated.
The ocean is not now at Dover, but in London itself, with the tide coming in up The Strand.
Mike and Phyllis leave London, by boat, needless to say, and go to live in their holiday cottage in Cornwall.
Not long after they arrive, the hill upon which their cottage stands become an island.
The book seems to be heading for a conclusion with Mike and Phyllis planning to gather up all their supplies, and every litre of petrol they have, and make their way south over the ocean to the tropics, where they can at least grow their own food.
However, just as they are planning this hope is born again.
A scientist they had previously worked with has found a way to kill the creatures of the deep, and so the ice caps are once again protected, and begin to refreeze.
The water levels stabilise, and there is hope for the future.
And the last page of the book has Phyllis contemplating the future.
it is a long hard road still, with many cold years of little food to go round, but she says:
“I’m coming to life again, Mike,” she said. “There’s something to live for.”
So as a literary analogy for us, it can't be beaten.
Currently we face the same fight with global warming.
The Abbott government, and others like them, are out to lead us to a drowning death with their desire for quick, dirty profit from coal.
However they can be beaten and sensible government can return to the lands of the Earth.
Many who know me well will be picking themselves up off the floor to read that, the internet's most prolific whinger [Whinge means constant complaining for my north American readers] being optimistic, however, I would bring a note of cautious optimism to the future.
Once I wouldn't have thought it possible to escape the terror of my childhood, but a random dream gave me some hope.
Likewise with a bit of effort Tony Abbott and the rest of those destroyers of our planet can be kicked to the curb.

Mind you, tomorrow another letter could arrive from the tax department, and then it will be back to full on moaning, but let's just enjoy this moment in time with the future ahead, and moaning, for a brief moment, in the past.