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DAY 307: Going to see the alpacas

5 Jul

JOURNOS are always getting things wrong.

I’ve come to this alpaca fashion knit shop in Elsternwick to pet some alpacas, as advertised, like, all over the internet, but it turns out they live at a mill out near Ballarat and only visit the shop on a Sunday lunchtime.

It’s not a totally wasted journey though, as I do learn a new fact, which is the woman behind the till can’t own an iPhone like me, because apparently it would interfere with her pacemaker.

I also get this finger puppet so that I don’t leave empty handed, and so that the woman behind the till doesn’t feel guilty.

Keeper: I’d still like to cuddle an alpaca, if anyone can arrange.

DAY 292: Cuddling piggy-wigs

20 Jun

Double squealage.

NOT quite the same as Hugging Cows, which was to help a farmer with a new ruse to fleece rich city folk, Cuddling Piggy-Wigs is done for the pure joy of it.

The feeling’s not mutual though, as when I pick up a grunter it lets forth a piercing scream. The piercing scream ceases the moment I put the beast down again.

The next piglet does the same, screaming accusingly like a car alarm as its mother scarfs down cauliflower leaves, unperturbed.

They were like this when I found them.

Keeper? Yes. If I persevere they will scream less.

DAY 275: Failing to unearth a worm

2 Jun

This didn't happen.

A FEW days ago, my brother – who used to teach children and so is a wealth of this sort of information – told me that you can coax earthworms to the surface by tapping on the grass until they poke their heads up. Birds achieve this with their feet when they do that curious bandy-legged dance across your lawn, to mimic rain.

Today, by some curious coincidence, there is a jackdaw stuck down the chimney of the house I’m staying in.

When bits of grass, pans of water and cajoling in a simpering voice fail to coax it down, I go out onto the common and tap the grass to procure a worm. I can’t help picturing the adulation that’ll abound when I stroll back in with a wriggler, like the Steve Irwin of Middle England.

Twenty minutes later, I call it quits.


While you're here... look at this!

DAY 271: Racing stuff

29 May

WHEN Tiger told me about the Turkish pharmacy with fat leeches in jars sitting in the window, I knew I had to buy some and race them. I’ve already had one on me during the Day of a Thousand Fucks, so racing them was the next most obvious thing to do.

The pharmacy, in North London, is stacked with curious supplements and extracts – including snail extract – but I’m hopping from one foot to the other waiting for the woman to get off the phone so that I can buy my leeches. The longer she’s on the phone, the more I’m unsure as to how I’m going to phrase it.

As it turns out, the leeches are not for sale. Instead, the chemist slaps them on whatever part of your body is ailing – for fifty quid a leech – just like in the olden days. The chemist says they usually set the leeches free afterwards to avoid cross-contamination, but that some of the locals are in uproar about this, so there is going to be a meeting on Tuesday to discuss whether the leeches should be freed or killed in alcohol.

Anyway, the long and short of it is I can’t have them, so I have to resort to a plan b. This strikes me a few days later at the seaside, as the family set out to go crab fishing. Bait worms would make good stand-in leeches – in fact better, as they’re less likely to stick to your fingers as you set them on the racetrack.

I’m thwarted once again, as it turns out we’re using bacon for bait, which is rubbish at racing. And so, plan c: racing crabs.

I mark out a track and set two tiddlers down, drawing a crowd of young onlookers who are totally jealous that they didn’t think of this. There’s a lot of screaming and carrying on, and one crab definitely wins, but they’d set off before I could name them or put money down. Void!

I'm better at crab racing than Photoshop.

The little buggers kept going sideways.

Keeper? Yes, with practise could race anything.

DAY 261: Wearing fish socks

19 May

THE old codger in vest and shorts has to be practically hoiked out of the water by the spa orderlies, so keen is he to get his feet nibbled free of every callous by carnivorous fish.

When it’s my turn, my tootsies are given a cursory wipe-down in a pan of water and then I swivel around on the bench to lower them into the trough. (I say trough, but it’s a fairly fancy trough in a spa primping ‘My Heart Will Go On’ on panpipes.)

The moment my feet make impact with water, hundreds of tiny carp are onto me like seagulls on a chip. I can feel each individual one chomping frantically, but overall the sensation is like being tickled with eels. Some of the sardine-sized tiddlers worm their way between my toes – taking liberties, it feels like – while others work their way up my legs.

I’ve been wanting to try a ‘fish pedicure’ for ages, but they haven’t really done the rounds in Australia, and they’re fast getting banned across the US. These epidermis munchers are supposed to leave you with glossy soft skin, rather than grizzled heels, plus I’m hoping they’ll nosh off the peculiar itchy rash that I’ve been cursed with these last few weeks.

Health officials in the US point out that cosmetology tools need to be discarded or sanitised after each use – particularly cosmetology tools that eat your flesh and then someone else’s – and that it’s impractical to chuck out fish or bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. This has led spas to protest that they use individual tanks, regularly clean out water, and install UV light sterilisation. Although, not the spas over here in Kuala Lumpur, which have a more communal, convivial vibe.

Back in my hotel room my feet are prickling. Hopefully they’re just prickling with fear.

Keeper? Probably not one of my greatest ideas.

DAY 260: Hooning around an Arabian stud farm

18 May

AS IF to mock my own experience of being wedged into bushes, six-year-old Billie is tearing up the paddock on a miniature quad bike, gunning the throttle and hooning down slopes with a fearless stare in our direction.

She brings the bike to a splattering halt in front of us. “I’ve got four horses,” she announces.

So we head up the hill to see them.

This stud farm outside Launceston breeds Arabian horses for endurance racing, and the majestic beasts are everywhere, rearing up, cycling their front hooves and psyching each other out. They’re bred for Tom Quilty endurance racing: 160km across country in one day. A ‘strapper’ has to hose down the horse at intervals to get its heart rate down to a vet-approved bpm, then it’s off full-pelt again. I’m glad I’m not being dared to get on one.

“You big sooky la la,” Billie admonishes as I hesitate at the electric fence. I hand Old Dog my latte, which he accepts with a grimace, and duck under. Bloody hell, they breed them tough around here.

As we ascend the paddock, horses come up for a mild-mannered look, until we decide to take a closer inspection of the foals, at which point a whole field’s worth of horses start clustering us. I turn around and there’s a nose right in my face.

Back near the homestead, which is awash with dogs, kittens, mice, motorbikes and kids on motorbikes, a new recruit with beautiful pebble markings is being dressed in the stables. It looks a bit mortified as it’s bustled up in a total of five fetching coats – and that’s without even knowing its picture’s going to be splashed all over the internet.

Keeper? Yes: patting, not racing.

DAY 255: Finding a pub in a paddock

13 May

WE’VE already driven past ‘The Homestead’ – a makeshift saloon on some land 20 minutes out of Launceston, at which you can tether your horse and hit the turps, and now here’s a pub in a paddock.

The sisters boozing on in the main bar are cleaners by trade, and save up every cent to go travelling once a year to see something new – more vital than owning a house back in Geelong, they testify.

They’ve gawked at a woman swimming with snakes in a tank at the Moulin Rouge, sampled olive oil that made them weep in Italy, and travelled the length and breadth of Australia.

Now they’re visiting the Pub in a Paddock (famed secondarily for Priscilla the Beer Drinking Pig) near St Columba Falls, and are quizzing locals on why it’s alleged most Tasmanians have two heads, while screaming in unison at the antics of “local character” Dale.

Dale could be a bushman from any of the black and white photos of loggers and pioneers lining the walls. He sports an unkempt beard, swagman’s hat, a holey jumper, and pants, from the legs of which pepper berries keep a-rolling. He’s keen to disprove the idea that Tasmanians are only interested in inbreeding, and so sings bawdy sea shanties and keeps up a relentless offensive on one sister, who he reckons he’s on a promise with. For every remark about places she should smear her gravy, though, Diane gives it back twice as hard. It’s like porno ping-pong.

Bruce didn't have the same finesse as Dale.

The barman supplies me with a bottle of light beer for a dollar and we all troop outside with a torch to feed Priscilla. (It’s okay, the RSPCA have approved the light beer; although they may not have endorsed 12 bottles a day.)

Priscilla’s not playing ball, having gone to bed, so I climb the fence and try to rouse her — but ominous growling from the sleeping quarters quickly sends me packing again.

Keeper? Best pub ever.