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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.

DAY 244: Gassing the old girl

2 May

I’D thought ‘gas’ was American for ‘petrol’ – giggle – but no. I’ve been joyfully reunited with my ute, now fixed, and I’m filling it up with a bit of gas because it’s dual fuel and it needs a bit in the tank at all times.

I pump the gas into the connection and it hisses right back out again, forming a frozen pool by my shoe. After a few minutes of this I fill the other tank with petrol and get back in – once I’ve figured out how to get the passenger door open again.

Truth be told, I’m too nervous to drive the thing myself right now. As a first car for the nervously inclined it’s starting to look like a dubious choice, and my parallel parking lessons didn’t extend to skips on wheels. So I get Old Dog to peel off down the freeway, with the old girl making a curious tha-thunk noise whenever there’s a burst of acceleration. Atmosphere: tense.

Keeper? Avoiding gas wherever possible. This vehicle is starting to look like a year-long challenge in itself, grumble.

DAY 234: Dwelling in the gutter

22 Apr

Before.

I’M dubious about driving this ute; I’m sure it’s all fairly roadworthy and everything, but it’s like steering a sodden mattress that only wants to go left.

Despite his years on the road, I notice the bush pirate is gripping the handhold above the passenger window just as futilely as I gripped the map pocket in the glider yesterday. He’s already skulled a can of Monster so that there’s absolutely no danger of him falling asleep while I’m at the wheel.

My task today is to practise driving with the left wheels in the gutter, partly to stop my habit of hugging the white centre line, and partly so I will know not to overcorrect if I have to steer off-road in an emergency.

Inching into a gravelly trench at speed is as uncomfortable a feeling as deliberately punching yourself in the face, but after a few kays I stop thinking about it. In fact, I notice a couple of dead kangaroos on the other side of the road and automatically veer over to take a look.

“It’s time to pull over,” the bush pirate says tightly, “so let’s go through the stopping… process.” I’m not actually trained to drive manuals, so the stopping process pains us both.

“I’ll assume you indicated and checked your mirror there,” he says, voice deepening an octave in displeasure.

With the bush pirate back at the wheel, we reach the desert in double time and the rain stops abruptly. You could score a line where it starts; wheat fields and earth suddenly giving away to witchy black trees and white sand.

The sight of a sidetrack fills the bush pirate with unadulterated glee, and he gets me back behind the wheel for some four wheel driving. At first I’m hammering along, but I’m thrown when a Land Rover approaches and I veer up a verge sideways, burning rubber on sand. I’m as rattled as the suspension, and suddenly can’t find neutral or work the park brake, and have to do the humiliating slide along the bench seat to let the bush pirate take over in front of our new audience. It takes all his skill to hoik us out of both the sand and my gathering storm clouds, but of course he manages it.

After.

Keeper? It’s really tempting to idle, dribbling and glaze-eyed, in passenger mode forever when you’re in the company of a shit-hot driver. I blame VicRoads and their lack of encouragement.

DAY 233: Having a go on a glider

21 Apr

WE’RE tooling around the Grampians, finding our every route thwarted by recent flooding, when we pass a field with two gliders and a tug plane lined up in a row.

“Let’s ask them to give you a ride,” yells the bush pirate, over the roar of his trusty ute.

By some curious coincidence, getting in a glider has always been fairly near the top of my “I’m never doing that” list – just below hang-gliding. I pretend not to hear at first, then protest that they won’t want me dorking around, but by the time we reach the third bend in the road, we’re pulling a u-ey and heading back. It’s shockingly easy to twist my arm.

Looks perfectly safe.

No sooner have we pulled up than glider bloke Brian is agreeing I should go for a whirl, and signs me up as a member. What luck. I’m strapped in to the featherweight fuselage.

“How do you get down?” I ask the man who’s walking me through the various knobs and dials around my knees.

“Awkwardly,” he hoots. “Oh, and don’t touch this red lever – it jettisons the towrope, which can be really embarrassing. And this yellow one ejects the canopy. Best not touch that, either.”

John is my copilot, and he’s got decades of flying experience, having served in the air force. On several occasions he likens the humble glider to a Porsche in terms of control – which might be his way of admitting he’s driven a Porsche – and insists it’s as maneuverable as a fighter jet; capable of all sorts of acrobatics.

“It’s too rough out here,” crackles someone on the radio, which no one but me seems to be alarmed at. We’re connected to the jolly yellow tug plane by a very low-tech looking rope, then yanked off into the air, surprisingly smoothly.

As the tug plane climbs in front of us like a bandy-legged goose, we hit pockets of air and I cling on to the only thing that isn’t a deadly lever – the little map pocket. John keeps up the bedside manner to make me feel better, but once he releases the towrope we careen off to the right before correcting. We’re much higher than I’d expected, and a few times we have to lurch off at speed to avoid the other glider, which is looping the loop and generally fannying around in a reckless manner. John lets me have a go at steering – there are dual controls – and we stay up for around 20 minutes; enough for my mouth to dry out, but not enough to be sick.

The landing is smooth as butter, thanks to the wee wheels beneath the glider that you can’t see. We touch down and follow the narrow crevice in the grass of previous gliders with total accuracy.

Keeper? Probably not about to become a regular, but I love hearing nerdish enthusiasts talk about their obsessions. Love it.

DAY 216: Mini GP go-karting

4 Apr

IN my flashback I’m seven years old, on the dodgem track. I’ve insisted on having a go because my brother is, but I’ve immediately driven into a bank of empty bumper cars and I’m stuck. I can’t reverse. My plaits flap around my head as I try to attract help without having to yell.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” chuckles photographer Leigh when I mention my lack of motor skills, “but a woman got killed here a few years ago.”

My mate Zo’s invited me along to a go-karting shoot for her magazine Veri Live, with handsome young tykes Dead Letter Circus. The Brisbane boys turn up pumped and ready for blood. With the exception of drummer Luke, who’s more worried the breathalyser will pick up the morning’s vodkas, each one of them is totally focused on the goal. I’m going to get flattened.

We’re warned that these aren’t dodgem cars (oh good), and that an amber or red light will flash if someone stacks it, depending on the severity of the case. When I see that these aren’t soapbox-style go-karts I have a minor hyperventilation in my helmet, but we’re pretty quickly strapped rigidly in and cranked up like so many deadly lawnmowers.

As we take off, I’ve got two bits of advice in mind – Zo’s ‘motorcycle rule’ of always looking ahead to where you want to go rather than at what’s going on in the periphery, and my mate Emmo’s general instruction to accelerate out of a corner, as soon as you find your equilibrium or something. These go-karts drive like washing machines around tight corners, though, shuddering like they’re on spin cycle.

I’m quickly overtaken by the entire band, Zo, and a journo – which leaves no one – but bear in mind the band are out to slay each other, Zo’s got a race car in real life, and the journo’s running on fear-spiked adrenalin. He gets a nudge a few laps in and limps out of the race, crying whiplash.

The more laps the rest of us do, the more competitive the band get. We reach speeds of 60kph and on one corner all five of them barge me within seconds of each other, one shooting me an apologetic, country-style wave over his shoulder. I might be driving like a nana, comparatively, but I reckon I’m the only person not to stack it into tyres. Zo even gets a nudge that sends her flying with all four wheels off the ground. She lands partially on bassist Stu’s kart and the pair hold hands for a mo across the track as they get a bollocking from the authorities. That’s nice.

I come in lucky last in the end, but I’m pleased enough that I didn’t touch the brake once and accelerated like a bastard coming out of those corners. Effort: fair.

You would, too.

Keeper? Yes! Thanks for the pics, LEIGH WILKINS.