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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 358: Giving my roadworthy vehicle its first bath

24 Aug

There goes the neighbourhood.

POOR Great White Shark. Its only crime is to have been run into the ground and found wanting, yet so far I’ve kicked it up the arse, shaken my fist extensively at it while issuing vile threats, and have entertained ideas of just setting it on fire; which is particularly disturbing because I am an animist, so essentially that would be murder.

Now I have it back from the mechanic with a genuine looking roadworthy certificate (seven months after I bought it on eBay), I should be showing this ute some good loving.

Good as new.

From Big W I purchase a chamois, a squeegee and a bucket, and set to work in my driveway. I give the shark a nice soapy bath and rub down, and then we both have a shower with the hose. Even the house has a shower, on account of it being inconveniently situated under a wattle tree. Who invented wattle trees, anyway? And why put one in an area where wandering around in furry socks is a necessity?

Either the ute or my carport seems to be listing a fair bit, but I will not be immediately selling the shark, as has been gently suggested. We’re in this for the long haul.

DAY 357: Being blooded into Dungeons & Dragons

23 Aug

I AM the half-elf druid Mentholius. I am a chaotic neutral. This distinguishes me from a chaotic evil, in that I may choose to slit your throat in your sleep, but it probably wouldn’t be a malicious gesture. Dungeons & Dragons disciple Clem Bastow chose this character for me, but I think it sums up my own ‘how on earth did that happen, I was merely…’ demeanour.

Even though it feels like it’s been around since Middle Earth times, Dungeons & Dragons was actually conceived in 1974 by role-playing games designer Gary Gygax, who enjoyed playing Medieval wargames in his basement with other nerds.

Fast forward to the 2000s and Clem developed an interest after finding a prize haul of early ’80s paraphernalia in an op shop. She’s flummoxed as to how the manuals might have got there, as a D&D-er would have to fall from grace considerably to want to get rid of such a bounty. Perhaps, she hypothesises, his mother threw them out unbidden when he left home, or his wife insisted it was them or her. The latter’s quite likely: when Gary Gygax’s business partner died, the wife unceremoniously dumped all the Tactical Studies Rules on his front porch. Either way, Clem’s on a quest to track the previous owner down and find out.

I have a flick through the manuals and recoil. While the covers look like the fantasy paint jobs you’ll find on any discerning panel van, inside they’re crammed with facts, figures and stats, like your worst memory of physics and maths books combined. There isn’t even a D&D set stuffed with orcs and mountains, as it turns out – just grid paper.

Today, in a Carlton café, Clem takes the role of Dungeon Master, although she wouldn’t usually – DMs tend to develop a god complex, if they didn’t have one already. She sets up a scenario: I’ve run into a confrontational cluster of Kobolds, and they’re booming “Halt! Who goes there?” kind of things. With some rolls of the dice – the numbers of which determine my battle strength – I am soon defeated.

Unsurprisingly, there are some epic fall-outs within D&D brethren, particularly when someone acts unethically or nurses an almighty grudge. It is, Clem, muses, psychological warfare. With capes. It’s comparable to Alcoholics Anonymous or having some incurable disease, in that there’s a whole ’nother universe behind an ordinary looking door, with its own rules, issues and lexicon – that most people have no idea exists.

Is it for you?

Your fantasies tend to involve dwarves.

You work in IT.

You have a pedantic streak a civil servant would balk at.

You have a tendency to over-intellectualise life.

The passage from childhood to puberty was one marked with sorrow.

If you answered yes to any of the above, it is for you.

Keeper? No – no immediate gratification here.

DAY 350: Riding a ride-on lawnmower

16 Aug

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

Keeper? Yeah. Take that, VicRoads.

DAY 324: Becoming a human lie detector

22 Jul

I WENT to see The Panics play last night, and I noticed frontman Jae stared up and to the right as he sang, sometimes right over his shoulder.

This is because he was using his imagination to recreate the world he’d written about.* You look to the right when you’re creating, fabricating or lying. Looking left means you’re retrieving actual information.

It’s more complex than that, though – we access different parts of our brain depending on whether we’re using our imagination, or recalling smells, sounds or visuals.

This human lie detection website gives me some scenarios to pose to my two guinea-pigs.

1. Ask someone to think of the noise of thunder. When a person’s eyes look to their right, they are constructing an auditory thought.
Simone: Looked right.
Layna: Looked right.

2. Ask someone what they wore yesterday. People look up and to their left when they’re remembering a visual image.
Simone: Right, up.
Layna: Right.

3. Ask someone to picture a boat on the ocean. This is a visually constructed image, and they should look up and to their right.
Simone: Right.
Layna: Right.

4. Ask someone to think of their favourite song and play it in their mind. This is recalling an auditory memory and they should look to their left.
Simone: Right.
Layna: Right, then left.

5. Ask someone how it feels to walk in wet sand. They should look down and to their left as they recall a sensory impression like taste, smell, or feeling. We look down and left when we’re conversing with ourselves.
Simone: Down and right.
Layna: Left.

Keeper? Yes, will be watching everyone extremely carefully from now on. Including myself.

* in my opinion.

DAY 321: Driving in SA and WA

19 Jul

I’VE sulked everywhere: atop mountains, by scenic lakes, on planes, trains and automobiles, throughout long walks with Mum and Dad (100m behind) and longer board games.

So when I find out Layna is reluctant to let me lay my grubby hands on her lovely new steering wheel just a few hundred kays into our four-day road trip, it seems as though history must repeat itself. Not only does the cosmos not want me to get my licence, neither does anybody else. BROOD.

By rights, I could sulk all the way through our latte stop at Snowtown, the Flinders Ranges, Kimba – the halfway point of Australia – the Big Galah, the Big Roo and the Nullarbor golf course, but there isn’t room for passive aggressiveness in a car loaded up with three people and confectionary; three people dancing on a knife-edge of sugar violence. Luckily, Layna feels the same, as about 12 hours into our trip, she reluctantly relinquishes her grip on the wheel. Onya!

Kangaroos: 0. Sudden swerves to the side when 26-wheelers trundle past: 100s.

Keeper? Yes, this was very satisfying. I suspect I was handed the wheel to prevent me from spilling any more peanut butter sandwich crumbs on the spanking new passenger seat, though.

DAY 285: Hacking hair in a rainforest

13 Jun

USING my newfound barber skills from Day 266 – although I am without comb, admittedly – I give Old Dog a haircut in amongst scenic Tasmanian rainforest.

I can’t examine the front lest I slide down a ravine, somewhere in which winds a gurgling brook by the sounds of it, but still I reckon I do a pretty decent job.

Keeper? Doing things with a lovely view makes them 90 per cent more tremendous.

DAY 280: Geocaching my way to victory

8 Jun

I’M late to the party, but I’ll explain geocaching – or ‘hi-tech hide and seek’ – to the absent guests.

The cryptic crossword of outdoor activities, it requires participants to use a GPS to locate a waterproof container (hidden by a previous participant) within a short radius of supplied coordinates. There are over 1.3 million active geocaches listed on websites, spanning over 100 countries.

Sometimes you might have to work the final coordinates out from a series of clues: by taking last letters of a series of road names and then using the numbers those letters fall into the alphabet at, for example. Once you find your haul, you add the date and your details into the logbook hidden within, and add a little something of your own to the package.

My interest wanes almost immediately as my young nephew wields the GPS and takes us at a fair trot towards the harbour… until we’re about five feet away and I spot the life ring. I leg it over while the little fella’s gazing about at stones and bushes, and shove my hand into the hole at the front.

I’ve found a dirty tissue decoy, but when I move around and shove my hand into the back, I pull out an old vitamin bottle. Triumph! Sucked in, kid.

Inside is miscellaneous rubbish and a photo off some kids. The first geocache, 10 years ago, was hidden in the wilds of Oregon and contained software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot – so things have obviously taken a bit of a slide since then.

I can’t really talk though, as all I have to offer is a Malaysian coin. If I’d planned properly I would have brought along Chinese crackers, a gobstopper and one of those fortune telling fish, to really show the next person how it’s done.

Keeper? Feels a bit like you’re cheating, using a GPS. If you have your orienteering badge, you might want to try a more organic game.

DAY 279: NOT exploding with rage at my disconnected upload

7 Jun

IT’S either a sign of the times, or just because it can’t fight back, but my most apoplectic explosions of rage are reserved for technological equipment. I’ve taught countless printers a lesson they’ll never forget, while my violent rebuttal at the TV playing up is likely to surprise us both.

I decide to set up an impromptu experiment, to see if it is actually possible to avoid an episode if I really put my mind to it. I want to upload a very large file, and I want to do it right now – on this country train – and I am not allowed to curse, tut, slap my forehead or even bunch my fist if it fails.

Common sense dictates this is a stupid idea – I’ve tried it many mornings before and only achieved a dozen disconnects and accompanying oaths. It’s bloody asking for trouble. What’s more, a woman has sat next to me and is clearing her throat softly every few minutes, despite there being free seats elsewhere; I know full well that if I were to mete out a savage little “FUCK” upon disconnection, I would be able to glean some enjoyment from her discomfort, which makes this experiment all the more challenging.

Having established the controlled variables, I hit ‘send’ and keenly watch the progress report at the bottom of the web page. We’re passing through North Melbourne and out into the internet wasteland that is Sunshine, always a trouble spot for my disposition. Meanwhile, I’m egging myself on by watching the connectivity box; watching the green squares flicker in a desultory fashion around point zero. I can feel my blood pressure rising.

I dare myself further by thinking of the money; how much of my data allowance this is using up with every passing minute.

You can’t do it, can you?” I taunt silently, as I struggle not to shake my head slowly and condescendingly at the screen.

After 25 minutes, 90 per cent of the file has been uploaded. I’ve got my hand over my mouth, Hillary Clinton-style. We stay on 90 per cent for a further 14 tantalising minutes… and then finally, finally, that punchable little pop-up reports: “You were disconnected by the PPP server”.

Woohoo! I feel a strange kind of elation; something like triumph. The computer may have totally failed in its simple task, but I have succeeded in mine.

Keeper? I can do this.

DAY 266: Being a barber

24 May

I’VE always loved the idea of starting again – whether it’s doing a runner to another country, or bringing down the cleaver on gangrenous limbs of your life – and clipping off hair seems to be the physical embodiment of that.

I haven’t seen Ajay since school – 20 years – and he’s gone from being the most frequently caned/suspended/expelled kid I know, to a dapper, thoughtful gent with three barber shops to his name and a boxer’s physique.

He meets me at the station bearing a latte, responding to caffeine pointers that he has picked up from the blog. In fact, it soon turns out he has the upper hand, in that he’s completely across everything I’ve done and thought for the past 265 days. That never fails to puzzle me at first.

After some wry chuckling about how people should never be judged on what they were like at school (fyi, I was a stuck-up cow with a full arsenal of filthy looks, several big guns of which were aimed in Ajay’s direction), he hands over the tools and takes a chair.

I’m answerable for some atrocious haircuts, from clipping my own, gung-ho style, a bit like this…

…to maiming other people’s with my signature knife-and-fork look.

Today, though, Ajay’s talking me through it.

With the scissors and comb both in right hand, I comb up chunks through the fingers of my left hand, then cut across the top in a straightish line. Once the crown of the head’s all done, I take to the rest with the clippers. They’re set to a No.4, but as Ajay’s brother points out, at times I’m achieving a No.2. At school Ajay always used to sport tramlined eyebrows and hair like this, though…

…so I’m not too concerned.

There’s a bit of an unsightly ‘stepping’ effect going on, so I’m told how to hold the clippers over the comb to grade the hair lengths. Then it’s down to the mini clippers, to neaten around the ears and neck.


Keeper? After Ajay’s brother steps in and whisks everything down to a No.2 it’s clear there’s no harm done, so I might keep having a go.