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DAY 254: Stalking people

12 May

See?

WHEN I say ‘stalking’, I mean 90 per cent is a social experiment that can only further one’s development, and 10 per cent is personal enjoyment. Roughly.

In my continuing attempt to relate to others, I have decided to single out some strangers and follow them. This will sharpen my observational skills and encourage an interest in other people.

It turns out I only have time to kick off with one person today, but what a corker.  The subject pops out of Flinders Street Station, dressed ordinarily enough in a grey tracksuit, but walking like a lunatic: fists clenched and swinging, chin up, holding his arse a touch gingerly. He’s moving at a cracking pace and definitely up to something.

It takes all my energy to keep up pace; he’s got a blatant disregard for road safety and at one point I almost lose him until he stops at the lights, shifting from one foot to the other. My mission is to follow him to his destination, and he finally climaxes at an undisclosed address on Queen Street, which a quick Google later reveals to be offices for lease; just the sort of place where a big drug deal would go down on any number of gritty Australian crime dramas I’ve seen.

Keeper? Yes. Extremely exciting.

DAY 246: Experiencing great bonhomie at a glee club

4 May

It wasn't like this.

I HAVEN’T got the loveliest of timbres, truth be told, so when Esther – who provided the cynical backing track to our Heal Your Soul With Song experience – suggests we toddle off to a glee club, I’m apprehensive.

I’m picturing women in brightly coloured stockings and twee winter coats; Esther predicts gay men singing numbers from Starlight Express. Either way, when someone uses the words ‘hip’ or ‘funky’ in their online bumf, you know you’re going to have to check your pride at the door.

This glee get-together is held at South Melbourne’s charming Butterfly Club; a Victorian house with its parlour converted into a kitsch-cluttered lounge and the kitchen into a bar. It’s got a fairly clandestine entrance, which adds to the feeling that we’re slinking into somewhere shameful.

We cram into the front room with around 30 men and women, all clutching red wines, and not one of them looking particularly punchable. So far, so good.

Or this.

Glee hostess Vicky Jacobs has worked extensively coaching singers for musicals, and she has a warm, natural way about her. “I want her to run my life,” whispers Esther, brainwashed already.

Vicky runs us through some vocal exercises, each a tone higher than the last, so that we can discover our own comfortable pitch. I have a choking fit halfway through, which signifies I’ve passed mine already. I’m nervous that I’m going to vomit, because I used to trigger my gag reflex regularly when trying to sing along to screamy girl-bands in my teens. You know the ones – all jailbait dresses and photo shoots utilising raw meat.

Anyway, none of that here. We warm up with a run-through a ditty about some sailor whose flesh rots off his bones, sung in rounds. From there on, we sight-read our way through Solla Sollew, Chapel of Love, Falling Slowly and Over at the Frankenstein Place, singing in harmonies. En masse, it works, although I’m not ready for any solo spots. The songs sound so beautiful and forlorn that Esther and I grip our hearts and get goosebumps in rivulets… although I download the tracks later at home and it all suddenly feels a bit Sarah Brightman.

In the here and now, though, we’re filled with good cheer and wide-eyed about the whole experience. There’s a sense of stillness and robustness all at once. I may wind up rasping like Patty and Selma Bouvier for a few days, but I know I can get this feeling back.

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 245: Learning to drum unmolested

3 May

I’VE always thought I’d be pretty good at drumming; only such is my attraction to drummers that every time I tried to learn as a youngster I ended up nobbing my drum teacher and had to pack it in.

An arcade seems like the safest environment in which to learn, then, as presumably the Wadriko Rocket Dive has more of a sense of professionalism than those fop-haired shysters.

Urban legend has it these arcades are where ne’er-do-wells do their class A swappsies, but I’m too concerned with figuring out this giant bongo machine, the instructions of which are all in Japanese. Seems like a kiddy (“kodomotachi”) version of Guitar Hero, with dancing beagles fannying around distractingly at the bottom.

I'm demonstrating the French grip.

In the next arcade I find a full pad kit and some eardrum-botheringly loud Japanese rock songs to thrash away to. It’s fast, but not as fast as the kid next to me, who’s shredding away on a guitar with ‘PERFECT’ flashing up for every flurried note. If he could put that skill to some kind of actual use, he’ll go far.

Keeper? Marginally more productive than class A swappsies, so long as you’re not supposed to be at home doing your homework.

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 237: Pulling a pot in a country pub

25 Apr

The Pinnaroo Hotel.

WE’VE just crossed the border from Victoria to South Australia; first stop Pinnaroo.

Pinnaroo (pop. 900) is a no-nonsense, dusty sort of a town, peppered with railway tracks, silos, and the biggest specimens of farming equipment I’ve ever seen. It’s a town that sees itinerant workers passing through, although since the spud wash* closed a couple of years back, it’s been struggling a bit.

While I charge my iPhone and laptop like a nonce in the games room of the spotless Pinnaroo Hotel, and worry about where I can find a latte, the bush pirate pulls up a pew at the bar. He sinks a bunch of beers with the manager, Phil, who looks a bit like Dennis Hopper.

For a loner, the bush pirate sure can talk. By the time I come out, he’s learned the lay of the land, secured us multiple suggestions of swimming holes, an invitation to the local ATV race, told Phil all about this blog, and persuaded him to let me pull a pot behind the bar of his country pub so that I can add that to my list of things done. I pour Phil and the bush pirate a pot each, and Phil says they’re on the house.

“That’s a fucking great idea, that is,” he says, and wishes me luck on my quest.

“Hoo roo from Pinnaroo” a road sign bids as we leave.

Scuse face - eyes crazed from lack of latte.

Stumpy.

Just having a look.

Keeper? We’ll always have Pinnaroo.

* I freely admit I have no idea what a spud wash is.

DAY 235: How to trespass responsibly

23 Apr

Tell the dog to be discreet.

* Make sure your dog is well mannered.

* Do not damage any trees crashing through the bush around locked gates – unless they are already dead.

* Drive slowly to avoid hitting emus and kangaroos – bad form. (Did you know the emu and kangaroo make up our national emblem partly because it’s impossible for them to move backwards? Well, now you do.)

* Make sure fire area is damp and clear of detritus. Scoot dirt over the fire pit before leaving.

* Quickly stamp out any exploding gas cylinders and surrounding fire, including any flames on yourself.

* Pick up your Cougar cans.

* Leave at 5am to save any rangers the hassle of arresting you.

I built this.

Keeper? Unavoidable at times.

DAY 230: Getting a graffiti tag

18 Apr

The prototypes.

I BUY some hot pink spray paint from a model shop and come up with a HeyMan tag that only the most miniscule modicum of common sense prevents me from spraying all over the side of my house, once I run out of cardboard box.

Keeper? Yes. Fun.

These are rubbish by comparison.

DAY 226: Braving bongos

14 Apr

THERE are few sounds that instil a sense of dread in an urbane sophisticate like a bongo drum.

It rings nightly through the festival campsites and squat parties of one’s youth, as insistent as gurning teeth. It mocks your inability to sleep, and taunts you that somewhere – just out of thumping distance – lurks an earnest white uni drop-out with a drug stash bigger than yours, drawing in ever-increasing numbers of the sort of people you wouldn’t like, Lord of the Flies-style.

The horror, the horror.

I decide I need to face my fear head on.

The first thing I discover at this African drumming workshop is that not all hand drums are bongos; quite often it might have been a djembe chilling my blood. Bongos originate from Cuba and tend to huddle in twos, while djembes are from West Africa and sit singly on the floor between your legs.

The workshop’s equally split between men and women of all sorts of nationalities, and to my surprise, no one’s sporting a macramed hat, the colours of the Jamaican flag, or dreadlocks. In these hands the djembe takes on a less sinister slant. I think I’ve got drumming all wrong.

For the next hour, we work through four different rhythms, around 20 minutes on each. A couple of regulars get up to dance in the middle of the circle, which is quite awe-inspiring in the case of the dancer from West Africa, and a different matter entirely in the case of the bloke from Elsternwick.

I enjoy the challenge of sticking to my pattern throughout as other drummers go off on tangents, or coming up with my own solo in the middle (it’s okay, they ask me to). By the end of it my hands are on fire, and we should probably hug or something, but I slope out the door to get the tram.

Keeper? Wouldn’t mind trying the dancing. It’s the sort of dancing you usually do when no one’s looking, hence the challenge.

DAY 215: Playing pool like a pro

3 Apr

THE problem with being a louche, snake-hipped debutante is it makes you innately rubbish at playing pool. It’s all about the stance, as Tino Fulgenzi, proprietor of the ultra-chilled Red Triangle in Fitzroy, explains with great patience.

STANCE

I’ve always kinda leaned on a pool table like I’m telling a good yarn, with the cue sawing around somewhere off to the right. This is incorrect.

I’m to imagine a line drawn from the ball through my body. My right foot (I’m right-handed) needs to sit at 45 degrees on that line. The left foot comes forward and sits parallel to the line.

“Lock your back leg and put your weight on it,” says Tino, trying to find a solution to my bendy back problem. (Hey – I’m great at backbends.) “Then bend your front knee, keep your hips facing forward, and you’ll find your body automatically aligns straight on with the cue.”

Like magic, I hit the ball and pot it in the far corner. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk: I pot the entire lot. Okay, I’m not hitting another ball en route, but trust me, this deadly aim is a vast improvement.

It takes me a while to get used to my new stance, so I’m Shakira-ing my hips around the table for a good half hour. It’s zumba time!

FOLLOW THROUGH

When it comes to cueing the ball, Tino offers the analogy of a karate chopper aiming beyond a stack of wood so that his hand is still accelerating when he makes contact. I follow through with the cue about four inches past the white ball’s original position. “You can tell the difference in the sound,” Tino says. “That sounds much nicer.”

CHALK

Tino bemoans the way most people chalk their cues, burrowing the tip into the bluey nook and swivelling it like they’re trying to start a fire. This both fails to chalk the sides of the cue tip, and starts creating holes in the chalk cube. Instead, you should hold the cube at an angle onto a tip, rotate the cue with one hand and dust the tip with a sharp downward movement. Stylish. You particularly need to chalk your cue when you’re hitting the ball anywhere but dead centre – if it’s up against a cushion, for example.

TAKING AIM

I’ve been holding my cue all wrong – Tino tells me to shorten my grip and widen my bridge. He means the ‘bridge’ that’s the distance between the pool tip and your hand, rather than the ‘bridge’ that’s your hand. Confusing.

“Lower your bridge,” says Tino, referring to the latter now – and I flatten my hand like a limbo dancer. This is to stop me hitting the ball too high and cease the seesawing motion. In theory.

“Hmm,” he says, circling me critically. “Something is not right. What is it? Aha! We’ve found the culprit. Your elbow drops dramatically. Why would it do that?”

I love the way Tino sees my mis-cues as an interesting, mathematical conundrum, rather than the actions of an uncoordinated idiot.

To stop me dropping my elbow when I quit aiming and actually take the shot, he tells me to lock my shoulder and elbow and only swivel my forearm. It works a bit, but all goes to hell as soon as he introduces a second ball. Time to call it a day.

“Walter Lindrum’s dad only let him use the white ball for a year,” Tino reveals with a misty expression.

Keeper? I’m keen to try some trick moves, but in the mean time, Tino offers to lend me a cue. “Go home and practise aiming into an empty, plastic milk bottle on the kitchen table,” he advises. “Without touching the sides.”

DAY 214: At two-up school

2 Apr

AFTER sundown, we huddle on hay bales set in a circle around the front yard of this 1850s miner’s cottage, as a fiddler scratches out some tunes and tots of whisky are passed around.

Local chap Brian McCormick is going to teach the ruddy-cheeked, sentimental throng the basics of two-up – a game that took hold in the Goldfields of Victoria back when religion and pugilism were enthusiastic bedfellows. My experience of it is limited to wide-eyed viewings of Wake In Fright and halfheartedly standing around backpacker games in Bondi.

  • The spinner places his money in the middle of the circle and bets heads. Someone from the circle matches his bet, by placing their money on top of his: tails. The spinner must always bet heads.
  • Around the circle, players yell out their preference: heads or tails, and how much. The amount must be matched by someone betting the opposite side of the coin, and the person betting tails always holds the cash.
  • The boxer – your compere for the evening – yells, “Come in, spinner.” The spinner takes a kip with two coins on it. The coins are always placed tails up, to avoid the spinner cheating with a double-headed forgery.
  • Everyone hoos “Fair go!” and the spinner twists the coins into the air. If a head and tail fall face up, the spinner spins again. If two heads are shown, those who bet on heads take the money from the tails punters. And vice versa.

The seriously spooky Tutes Cottage has been ‘cheered up’ through the centuries with wallpaper of varying degrees of horror.

The bloke next to me keeps betting his entire hand of fake shillings and pounds. Each time his eyes light up with a fervour and he gets a maniacal grin about his face. Someone’s going to be two-upping themselves into a 12-step program in no time at all.

After about an hour of feverish gambling, a real-life rozzer drops in and busts us. He’s come from the local cop shop but has dressed up in Ned Kelly-day uniform nicked from the local museum.

He fills us in a bit more on the legal side of things: two-up has always been against the law, and is only above board in the seven days leading up to Anzac Day (and Anzac Day itself) – and then only if it’s played in an RSL and if it’s honouring the diggers. He brandishes his baton for a few oohs and ahhs. “You’re only allowed to go for the soft bits,” he says. “Just give them a bit of a tap.”

Luckily I am out of baton–shot when I ride off without my helmet.

Keeper? Yes, I’m given my own kip and pennies to take away with me. The whole thing was bloody lovely, actually; I wanted them to adopt me.