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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 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 353: Sharpening knives so that I might prepare for a dystopian future

19 Aug

“THIS is why you keep failing your driving test,” says Emerson, making his point spitefully. “You’ve got to understand that very few things come immediately. You’re all meat and potatoes and no foreplay. You’d be great in the trenches; you’d be over the top in a flash.”

Today I’m learning how to sharpen a set of knives on a carbon block with a dash of olive oil, and I actually reckon I’m being pretty patient for someone with a burning need for instant gratification – but it’s a scientific fact that men are more methodical than women and can quite happily do the same thing again and again and again without wanting to scream, so Emerson begs to differ.

“Man had knives before he invented the wheel or discovered fire,” he says, stroking away, “and if we end up like Mad Max, you’ll need to know how to sharpen your blade properly, not gouge a hole in the block.”

scrick scrick scrick

Here are Emerson’s precise instructions, if you can make it through to the end:

20 degree angle for a thin blade, 30 for a thick blade (rule of thumb), five degree for the finishing strokes (called linishing), then you run it over a strop (leather belt that’s affixed to something to hold it tight). “Stropping” is usually only seen with shaving razors as it gives that super keen edge that only lasts for a few cuts, but it’s worth doing nonetheless. You saw me do it with the autosol and a kevlar rag, rather than the traditional leather way. 3 strokes each way for soft blades like bronze or copper (as used by ancient types: Normans, Gauls, Mesopotamians) 10 for steel or low carbon stainless, and 20 – 30 for high grade austenitic alloys, titanium and heavily folded irons. 2-300 for foamed alloy.


Keeper? Yes. Would like my own gear.

DAY 350: Riding a ride-on lawnmower

16 Aug

A-yup. A sedate ride, but a ride nonetheless.

Keeper? Yeah. Take that, VicRoads.

DAY 347: Taking the Scientology personality test

13 Aug

FOR an organisation that’s vehemently anti-psychiatry, the Scientologists seem to be fishing for a lot of mental illnesses.

I’m taking their personality test, having walked past their Sydney HQ yesterday and having my interest piqued by the tatty façade.

Hitting their website back at Stacey’s house, I locate the 200-question personality test, which you can either carry out online or in a Scientology centre; the idea being they’ll then assess you, find you ailing and prescribe a course of rigorous doctrine. It’s called the Oxford Capacity Analysis test, which may or may not be to make you think of Oxford University.

I decide to crosscheck with Stacey and see if her answers for me would be the same as mine.

“Am I forceful?”

“No, I don’t think you’re forceful, I think you’re sly and petulant. I think you’re a stubborn mole. I mean, mule. You think you can just get in someone’s car and drive it. I think you throw precaution to the wind.”

“Would I use corporal punishment on a child aged 10 if it refused to obey me?”

“Corporal punishment? What, you’d murder it?”

“That’s capital punishment.”

Back to the anti-psychiatry, though, and I find I’m spotting all sorts of questions that seem to be rooting out cases of manic depression; variants of “Do you find yourself being extra active for periods of several days?

Then there’s paranoid schizophrenia (“Do you ever feel people are working against you?”), autism (“Do you ever browse through timetables just for pleasure?” “Is your voice monotonous, rather than varied in pitch?”), OCD (“Do you feel very uneasy in disordered surroundings?”), tourettes (Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?) and some pigeon-toed dancing around depression.

When I’m done, I get the message: “Thank you for completing your test – your answers have been forwarded to a consultant who will contact you shortly to go over the results with you and show you the graph.”

Keeper? Never got the follow-up call. It’s like the eHarmony Compatibility Test all over again.

DAY 322: Making a Wolf Creek contingency plan

20 Jul

THE sun starts going down on the Nullarbor in West Australia, which means we’ve got four hours of dodging roos before we reach Norseman.

Each town we see on the GPS turns out to be a battered old servo with some dim sims in a bain-marie.

At one servo we’re nursing our self-frothed lattes from a machine when a bloke in a trucker cap starts filling the Holden GTS next to us. Apart from the nice ride, we notice him because he’s muttering to himself over some weird zumba music blaring from his stereo… and then he slings a rope in the boot.

He pulls out of the servo, does a loop and drives back in.

Here's a weirdo we saw earlier.

After a piss break, we set off ourselves, and soon find we’re driving past the same fella, who’s now pulled over by the side of the road. There’s a collective “eep” from our car as he swings out behind us, but I’ll also admit to a flash of excitement, given that we’ve spent the last 10 hours on the Nullar-bore discussing bowel movements and reading bits of Woman’s Day out loud.

The bloke pulls a U-ey and we see his tail-lights fade. We reckon he’s just joshing with us, but we decide we need a contingency plan.

First off, a vote: if we’re followed, keep driving or stop? It’s unanimous: stop. Then wait for him to get out. Then drive. Then stop. Then wait for him to get out. Etc.

Back-up plan is one of attack. The weapons available to us are:

Luke warm cappuccino (2)

Bottle of Jo Malone perfume

iPod lead

Rolled up copy of Woman’s Day (the one with a Joanne Lees interview in it)

Mini can of Dove antiperspirant + lighter

Knitting needles.

We’ll be right.

Keeper? He wasn’t bad looking, but we’ll leave him on the ’Bore.

DAY 319: Stalking my lost youth and other youths at Luna Park

17 Jul

TODAY I’m at Luna Park to tackle every thrill-ride it can throw at me. I’m emerging from a lethargic spell and I need a double-shot of adrenalin.

Going to a fairground drops me right back into being 12 years old again, mooching around on the brink of puberty, checking out greasy boys with moody acne and waiting for the buds of neurosis to develop into full-blown norks.

One summer I spotted a roustabout working the waltzer, a boy all of 14 in a Levis sweatshirt (well, probably a knock-off Levis sweatshirt, realistically) and blue jeans. For someone with my buttoned-up existence, this was as close to Rumble Fish as it got. He ignored me completely, and after the fair left town, I pined. I placed a personal ad in Sky, on the off-chance that travellers regularly bought mags with Wendy James on the cover.

I never saw that boy again, but I’m always casting a sideways glance at fair folk to see if anyone swarthy’s at the controls. No such luck in Luna Park, which is about as chiselled as Matthew Newton’s cheeks.

Instead, I climb on board the Pharaoh’s Curse with Clare and get tipped upside down a bunch of times in an unpleasant manner. Woah, that’ll do.

Keeper? No, but must write that Mills & Boon novel I’ve been putting off.

DAY 306: Prompting curious outbursts in other people

4 Jul

I WAS having what seemed like a reasonably normal (for them anyway) phone conversation with someone, and somehow I moved them to say: “I’m sharpening my Gerber knife right now as I’m talking to you.”

Keeper? Not sure.

DAY 264: Sliding five storeys on my arse

22 May

IT’S my last day in Kuala Lumpur and I’m mad as a sack of seagulls after some hoohah from back home.

The last thing I want to do is take various forms of public transport alone to a far-flung suburb, get on a five-storey thrill-ride in a shopping mall without so much as a witness to squeal “Ooh! That was spectacular,” rush back to my hotel, get my suitcase and lug it to the airport for a long-haul flight to England.

Right, then!

Finding the Empire Mall takes some doing, but eventually I get there and there’s the slide in all its curly glory. Although Time Out made it sound like it was for Bear Grylls-style daredevils, when I get to the fifth floor it’s just me and a couple of 10-year-olds in the queue. When it comes to my turn, I’m tucked in a sack, handed my handbag to clutch, and given a shove.

I barely have time to pronounce “?$%!!” at the sight of the chute whizzing around me, before I’m startling the wee bloke at the bottom, who was expecting to catch someone smaller.

Keeper? Yes. Cheered the fuck up.