DAY 365: Blowing shit up

31 Aug

DAY 1 of Hey Man, Now You’re Really Living began with meditation – snore – so I wanted to go out with a bang.

After putting the word about, I was introduced to explosives expert, Bouncing Betty. Not her real name.

Bouncing Betty turns up to an undisclosed Melbourne location, loaded up with highly flammable paraphernalia and a large plastic receptacle on wheels, of which she has spent the afternoon cutting out a window with power tools, “so that we can see.” Fortunately, she and her mother have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

“You guys are so antsy,” she tuts as our host, Uncle Rocket, shoots me a mean look and fetches a fire extinguisher from his car.

There are a few false starts as Bouncing Betty can’t get the bugger lit with matches. “It won’t start,” she observes, peering in as the photographer and I yelp.

“We’ll leave natural selection to run its course,” mutters Uncle Rocket.

With the aid of a big stick dipped in petrol, the receptacle starts making ominous noises and I retreat to observe behind the shelter of a jasmine twig.

The thing goes off like a frog in a sock. Following the sparkle show (BB’s secret ingredient), we’re treated to a 100ft pillar of flame. There are five massive explosions, if you don’t count the smaller bangs of metal missiles landing on the roof.

We’ve barely time to ooh and ahh before Uncle Rocket’s neighbours are shouting over the fence to see if we know what just made their whole house shake. That’s pretty cool – it must have been a real Donnie Darko moment for them.

Keeper? Afterwards Bouncing Betty admits her explosive expertise hasn’t extended to a missile of this size before, but no harm done. Apart from that lawn.

Always keep a small plastic bucket to hand

DAY 364: Falling out of a plane

30 Aug

TALKING of being an agnostic at Christmas (as we were, a couple of days ago), I was fully expecting to be hypocritically praying for my life today, or at least screaming FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.

In actual fact, there’s just one solitary “oh fuck” as I’m shoved out of a plane door with a thrust of my tandem instructor’s hips and we do a violent forward roll into nothing, then curiosity takes over. Skydiving’s not nearly as scary as I thought.

When Larrikin Larry, the unofficial mayor of Hervey Bay, suggested it, I thought yep: I’m in exactly the right sort of mood to hurl myself out of a plane. How often is that going to happen?

The next morning it’s just me and a new divorcee, Amy, picked up in a van with no seatbelts, I notice. At the airfield, we’re strapped into our harnesses, a long and intimate process, and talked through the jump by our instructors, who have totally mastered the well-polished bad jokes and slightest-hint-of-a come-on peculiar to the tourism trade.

There’s barely enough room for the four of us on the floor of the plane, and I’m sitting on Travis’s lap for half of it as he keeps checking my straps, or something. My back’s up right against his chest and I can feel his heart beating fast. Next to my hip, his finger is drumming a tattoo on the ground, and every now and then he takes a really sharp breath. Hopefully it’s just performance anxiety that’s making him antsy, because I’m feeling fine about all this.

Nothing prepares you for the temper tantrum of the plane door opening at 13,000 feet, though. The wind slaps in, and it’s thunderous. Amy starts freaking out and holding on to the doorframe. Thankfully her instructor gives her a shunt and they disappear.

Travis and I scoot over to the door; I swing my feet over the wheel and wait for him to push me out.

It doesn’t feel like you’re falling, but the wind pummels you in the face and knocks your body about. You can’t breathe. It’s like belly-flopping into a pool of caustic chlorine and feeling it rush up your nose. I’m not having the I’m-falling-through-the-sky brain freeze we were warned about, but I am looking forward to the parachute bit kicking in.

When it does I totally forget you get yanked violently back up through the sky, so there’s a bit of a wail, but still no promises to behave if only I will be delivered through this, etc. The wind’s assault on your ears stops abruptly and everything’s peaceful. Travis points out various parts of Fraser Island, and his hometown of Bundaberg. Down below everything looks like Toytown, with Fuzzy-Felt grass.

The touchdown’s gentle and bang on course, and when I stand up I’m neither shaking nor shaken. A good half of the year’s challenges had my palms sweating, maybe because I had to trust myself for those, rather than blindly put my trust in someone else, which I enjoy.

These guys must clean up in the pubs of Hervey Bay.

Keeper? Definitely; whenever I want to kick heads.

DAY 363: Kayaking with stingrays

29 Aug

Warning: humour-free, sickeningly sappy entry.

Day 2 in Hervey Bay and I’m already calculating how long it would take me to sell my house. You can get a three-bedroom pad here for $250k and all you’d have to do is eat seafood, swim in glassy waters and hoon around on jet skis all day; maybe a bit of bar work. I can’t think of any low punches I could pull to describe the place for your amusement; it’s pretty good.

Today’s a scorcher. I head out to Fraser Island and hire a kayak, to paddle around a part of the island with still, clear waters that Aboriginal settlers used as training ground for their most inept canoeists. I’m pleased to find I’m naturally good at kayaking, though – the downside about doing something new every day is that you’re usually terrible at it.

I’m skimming over so many stingrays I lose count, and schools of hardy heads arc over the surface of the water like tiny silver dolphins. I follow a path through the mangroves, watching the water get darker, and thick with the scum of tea trees. I’m keeping an eye out for carpet pythons, but also a rare spider flower. A local guide told me about it earlier. Shaped like an avocado inside, Aboriginal women used to drink a shot glass-worth when they were in labour. It would essentially poison them, acting as a sedative, while hastening their contractions. Half an hour later they’d either have a baby in a fraction of the usual time, or be dead. I’m guessing in very small doses it could be interesting.

I’ve also been told mangrove mud is sold in swanky spas for extortionate prices and that it’s the best thing you can put on your skin, so by the time I paddle back to the hire place I’ve got so much smeared on me I look like a swamp creature. I hope it wasn’t a joke.

Keeper? Yes. Sand-chafed, ravenous and stupidly happy. What’s more, I have a feeling I am going to be a champion kayaker one day.

DAY 362: Getting my aura read

28 Aug

THE hotel I’m staying at has a Psychic Expo on. Regular readers of Hey Man will be aware my faith in psychics runs as deep as a puddle, but like an agnostic at Christmas, I can’t resist getting my aura photographed.

I interviewed a healer last week for an article, and she told me, just by looking, that I had a red/orange aura, which means I am fiercely driven by my base urges.

Sounds about right. Now, of course, I feel obliged to get a second opinion – purely in the name of journalism.

For a mere $40, Konnie from the Psychic Expo sits me in front of a weird camera and gets me to put my paws on hand-shaped metal sensors either side of me. She shines a bright light at me and takes the picture.

It should pain me to admit that the results are pretty similar to the healer’s description last week, but I’m actually quite excited, and I’m relieved it’s not black. We’ve got exactly three minutes before my adventure bus comes, but Konnie scans the picture and tells me that oranges and reds are quite common in the youngish, as they represents drive and ambition. The lighter patches are an indication of spirituality. “You should trust yourself more,” she reprimands.

The green patches are lower down because they’re on their way out of my life. “That’s about letting go of a past problem and starting something new,” Konnie says, fixing me with a beady eye. “Go down to the sea and bury it in the sand. Let the surf wash it away. Get rid of it.”

Keeper? Sage advice. Might have to get a third opinion on auras though.

DAY 361: Riding a jet ski

27 Aug

Death Cheata.

I’VE come to Queensland’s Hervey Bay for hols, and ol’ larrikin Larry of the local watersports joint has taken me under his wing. (“He reckons he’s mayor of Hervey Bay,” someone grumbles to me later.)

First off, he gets me a jet ski, chucks in some free kayaking, and suggests a spot of free falling.

“Bear Grylls broke his back in three places free falling,” I lisp.

“I’ve broken my back in four places,” he immediately scoffs, leaning jauntily on the desk. “I did it when I was running prisons. Anyone can do it. The point is, you probably won’t.”

Once out on the jet ski, I relive all my childhood A*Team fantasies. I am escaping from a baddie. No. I am chasing a baddie. At the top permitted speed of 30 knots I’m unlikely to catch the baddie, but I do discover that accelerating swiftly from 0 to 30 knots over and over is good fun.

After half an hour I return the jet ski to Larry, who shouts me a latte and settles in to tell me about his time in the rodeos.

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 360: Making beer at Mountain Goat

26 Aug

I DON’T drink beer, but upon arriving at Mountain Goat microbrewery in Richmond, I’m moved to admit a beery workforce is a happy workforce.

Sloshing around in hops slops and digging encrusted barley out of fermentation tanks with a cheerful industriousness hitherto only seen in Fraggle Rock, everyone’s relaxed and chipper – and then they get to go home smelling nice.

Cofounder Dave Bonighton is giving me a few lessons in beer making today. Dave went to economics school in the US for three years and travelled back via Europe, sampling the real ales of the UK and Belgium en route. Returning to the sparkling lagers of Australia – and a boring job – was something of a comedown. Inspired, he started making homebrews in a disused town hall in country Victoria and, after some scrambling for funding, he and business partner Cam established Mountain Goat.

Stare-off in front of the fermentation tanks.

One of the staff – they’re encouraged to experiment – is tinkering with using rye. A new success story is Seedy Goat – a coffee IPA. Another is experimenting with wine yeast, which is more tolerant to alcohol. Since alcohol’s a toxin, if you try and brew past eight per cent strength using normal beer yeast, it starts poisoning itself. Use a hardier yeast and you’ll end up with a thicker, stronger beer.

TASK ONE is to simultaneously sterilise one keg with caustic cleaner, while filling another with frothy nectar. Luckily, all I have to do is load the kegs up and press a couple of buttons, and a machine called Gunther (he’s from Germany… all the machinery have names here, like Bender and Patrick) does the grunt work. Only one of us screams when high-pressure beer slops comes shooting out of a nearby grate though.

TASK TWO is to measure the pressure and temperature. I fail at this task, as I’m not strong enough to work the gizmo.

TASK THREE is to test the pH and temperature of a random bottle with a probe. I succeed at this, and so does the beer, which clocks in at around 4pH.

Dave won’t go so far as far as to say his beer’s good for you, but it is preservative-free, with no stabilisers or head enhancers.

You can get your own free guided tour at 6.30pm on Wednesdays, or just drop into the bar for a pizza. And a beer.

Keeper? Probably not the career for me, but good to try.

DAY 359: Learning three important life lessons from Bear Grylls

25 Aug

My triple-A pass. I didn't abuse it, there were too many scouts around.

THE people either side of me are arguing over whether Bear Grylls has Asperger’s or ADHD.

“It’s ADHD,” the woman insists, jabbing her finger across my nose. “I work with Asperger’s, and they can’t make eye contact or answer questions. He’s got ADHD, that’s why he’s so focused and wants to take you on his exciting journey.”

Tonight’s exciting journey at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre comes with the stone-in-shoe hindrance of Nova tool Merrick Watts and his rote jokes, but generally speaking it’s mountain-moving stuff. You don’t need me to reiterate how charming and humble BG is… No, you just need me to tell you the three important life lessons I have learned.

1. Choose your battles

Bear learned this one when fighting a saltwater crocodile for a fish.

2. If you’re going to do something, do it properly

Bear didn’t just demonstrate how to drink your own pee from a homemade snake receptacle – having worn the fermenting concoction around his neck for a day and a half, he drank it, vomited, observed “there’s still a little bit left” and drank it again.

3. Don’t take anything personally

No matter what Worst Case Scenario he lands himself in, Bear is indefatigably chipper and matter of fact. The few men who made it, alongside him, through the training of the French Foreign Legion – which included being buried up to the head and used as a goal post – were the ones who didn’t take anything personally, he noted.

Keeper? Yes. And here are some spares: “Dig deep when pushed” (like his old muckers in the Special Forces), “You can’t put a price on pride”, “Detail is very overrated”.

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