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DAY 209: Watering down footballers

28 Mar

The mountain's called 'Arthur'.

“YOU’RE not putting lipstick on, are you?” Old Dog growls.

“Only a little bit. Why not?”

We’re in Lilydale, a Tasmanian mountain town, and Old Dog’s arranged for me to be watergirl for the home team reserves in their first game of the season. They’re playing Old Scotch, who have a nasty habit of kicking arse.

I’d pictured bush footy as being a bit of a jolly boot around in a paddock – having not actually given it much thought – whereas in fact the whole town’s turned out to scream community-spirited abuse, likely between mutters of “who’s this sheila fannying around the oval in her jeans and lipstick?”

I go and sit down away from the thumping commotion and musclebound nudity of the clubhouse changing room. Bucket comes over and sits by me. Thank you, Bucket.

Bucket looks how I feel.

It’s safe to say everyone here knows the etiquette of Aussie Rules but me. I’ve lived in Australia for five years, but I’ve never barracked for anybody, and whenever I’ve gone to a match I’ve wound up glassy-eyed, thinking about sex. Not because of the aesthetics of the players; just because those are my default thoughts when I’m bored stupid.

Old Dog takes me on the oval and runs through the rules – no being in the semi-circle when the bloke’s holding up a flag; no being in the square when they’re throwing the ball in the air.

“I take it I’m only offering water to our team?” Yep.

A young lad is also acting as water carrier, so I take the opposite end and decide to just mirror what he’s doing. And we’re off!

“Water?” I apologise to sweating footballers with thousand yard stares. They grunt like buffalo, barge each other and ignore me. I feel like a crazed spaniel that’s run onto the pitch in a panic.

“Oi waterboy!” one of the crowd hoys, to laughter. I ignore him.

“Are you a scotchy?” some bloke from the opposition’s interchange box asks incredulously as I reload. I’ve no idea what he’s on about, but I suspect the answer is 50:50 yes or no.

“Yes.”  I run onto the pitch.

An old dude runs after me, takes the water bottles off me, and furnishes me with two from my own team’s supply.


By halftime, our team’s down 88 to 1 or something, and there’s a fair bit of spewing, spitting and gasping going on as the coach bawls them out. Old Scotch have won the last four premierships and have not lost a game in over two years. Our boys, meanwhile, have been thrown together this week. Old Dog points out that their half-forwards are pushing down to half-back and making enough numbers around the contest to run the ball forward and over our loose men with handball. (Actually, that’s a direct quote – make of it what you will.) His coach’s answer to this observation, however, is to keep it simple:

“They’re college boys. Hurt them.”

It seems to work. With half a game of playing alongside each other under their belts, the locals go the man a bit, and match Old Scotch in the second half – regaining a bit of idiot pride and, while not close, making the scoreboard far more respectable.

The seniors are up next, so I get to experience life in the crowd – with all its inventive violent abuse. Whenever someone bellows out something particularly murderous and foul, everyone laughs like they’re at the panto. I’m introduced to Porto, who has hands like rusty shovels, and he and Old Dog discuss a bullyboy on the other team.

“Thinks he’s up here,” Porto says, raising his hand high, “when he’s down here.” He mimics fucking someone rigorously from behind.

The seniors win their match and we all crowd into the clubhouse to hear them sing their song – I might be ambivalent towards footy, but I’m not averse to soaking up a bit of glory. Lilydale wear the same colours as the Melbourne Football Club, so the song’s the same.

It’s a grand old flag, it’s a high flying flag, it’s the emblem for me and for yoooou…” they yell, and I nearly shed a tear.

Nusty, Old Dog’s partner-in-crime with a physique made sturdy from drinking, has played as hard as he can with no pre-season. He’s exhausted and has been chucking up ever since the reserves game ended.

He reels outside for one last spew.

“Bloody oath. Can’t be good with blood in the cunt,” quoth he, regarding his mess in sorrow.

Keeper? Not sure how useful I am on the pitch, so I’ll be angling for a physio role next time.

DAY 205: Trying two new watery things

24 Mar

Next time I'll wear clothes. Sorry.

“YOU swim like you’re trying to fight your way out of a paper bag,” observes Old Dog critically. After some coaching and a few fluffed attempts, I body surf my first wave. Yeah, I know – but as I’ve said before (and heaven forbid I slap on the Slough-wegian stuff too thick), I’m from England, and we don’t do that. We ‘paddle’ (that’s wading), and even then only when drunk or delirious and in long johns.

As I towel off, I notice Old Dog casually skimming flat stones across the surf, each skipping around six times. I’ve no excuses for not having done that – English beaches are generally great piles of shingles, after all. I give it a go and manage to bounce a couple once. GROUSE. As you say.

Watery things still to do: Water ski, jet ski, scuba dive, be a decky on a crayfish boat, lounge around on a nudist beach, swim to an island.

Strange Tasmanian marine life.

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 200: Crewing in a yacht race

19 Mar

Peter, Ken and your humble narrator.

KEN doesn’t know me from a bar of soap, but agrees to let me help crew his yacht in a race around Apollo Bay. There are five boats competing, from two-man dinghies to our three-bedroomed, $300k (with $30k of “add-ons”), 39-footer. “Your boat’s all cocaine and champagne,” another skipper sniffs, although actually neither are forthcoming.

Cruising out of the harbour with the motor on, we pass flotillas of stingrays and a lone penguin, then kill the motor and hoist the mainsail (pronounced “mainsull”). Rob is the mainsail trimmer. He keeps his sunnies attached to his head by cords and his cap attached to the back of his shirt with a little bungee rope – he’s not taking any chances. Right now he’s got the sail going full-flap, but if the wind’s blowing like buggery, he might take it up one reef (about 30 per cent) or two (50 per cent) so that he can control the boat easier and avoid us keeling over.

Peter unfurls the foresail (also known as the jib, genoa, or “headsull”). My job’s mainly to make sure ropes (“sheets”) don’t completely escape their winches.

When we get to the course, marked out by buoys, Ken lets loose an oath. They’re short lengths, much better suited to smaller boats. The umpire begins the five-minute start sequence – basically a series of flags hoisted upon his rescue boat. At one minute to, he pulls down the Blue Peter and Ken gives the order to do a 360 degree turn to stop us from drifting over the start line ahead of time. We turn too slowly, though, so when the klaxon sounds we’re facing the wrong way. Curses!

“If you lose the first 30 seconds, ya buggered,” Ken observes grimly, gripping the wheel.

Once back on course, we tack through the glassy water before pirouetting widely at the first buoy and completely blocking the passage of the yacht behind us. Boo! Foul! Consult your etiquette handbook! Etc. Ken’s getting flustered.

The second leg’s interminably slow, before we gybe back towards the final buoy – but we’ve come in third despite having superior wood finishes.

Race two is postponed twice for boats drifting over the start line or conditions not being right, and each time we have to go through the five-minute starter sequence. Eventually, we’re off. I think.

“Have we started?” I ask.

“It is a bit like that,” Rob says. “I dunno about the term ‘yacht racing’ – it’s just yachts going around in circles.”

The wind vane up top’s another thing going around in circles, first one way, then the other. We’re stumped.

The smaller boats have stopped altogether and I can hear a plaintive noise from across the way. “Sail whisperers,” says Peter. “He’s whistling the wind.”

By the time we get over the finish line, one yacht is still on the first leg, and hasn’t moved for so long that its skipper is having a swim. The umpire cranks up the motor of his start boat, shifts it over to the yacht and honks his finish line horn. Over the past two hours the wind has dropped from 10 knots to half a knot, so it’s time to pack it in.

“That was shithouse,” Ken proclaims, but I think he’s had fun.

The rescue boat/umpire. Reassuring.

Once the engine’s running and we’re heading for harbour, it’s my job to brace against the cabin and push the mainsail as far starboard as it will go, holding it there. In doing this, I can feel the rhythm of the wind as it threatens to dislocate my arm in perfectly evenly spaced bursts. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow… I’m surprised, as I’d assumed the elements to be more random than that.

“You really get to notice patterns like that when you spend time on a boat,” Peter says.

After bagging up the mainsail, which involves pulling it down and clinging on for dear life as the boom swings wildly around, the crew are insistent that I go up front to the bow and have a Kate Winslet moment.

“I’m the king of the waaaaah!” I utter, as Ken yanks the wheel sharply to the left. Ho ho. I slither back across the cabin on my belly.

Keeper? I’ve always wanted to drink in a yacht club bar, so yes.

DAY 198: Wrestling and manhandling

17 Mar

DING fucking ding! It’s The Perculator Vs. Legs McSqueal, throwing shit down, on the beach.

“The Perculator’s not so much about wrestling,” my mentor growls, hoiking up his shorts. “I like to think of him as a metaphor for people too dumb to think of good metaphors.”

With that, he spits on the ground, snarls, and grabs me around the neck. I bell clap his ears, rake his chest and knee him in the head. As he drops to his knees, I slide in for a flying dropkick to the guts. Such a crowd pleaser.

No crowing for too long, though – The Perculator’s just kicked sand in my face. Like, really. And he’s back up!

I remember my uncle’s love of the likes of boombas Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, but today we’re apeing the more classical moves of World Heavyweight Champ Mario Milano, who started life as ‘Black Diablo’, and American legend Red Bastien, or ‘Texas Red’. Mario’s finishing move was the atomic drop, which does sound quite final. He still lives in Australia today, after coming here to wrestle in the 1960s.

The Perculator and I work through a sequence of Greek wrestling holds, submission holds, scissor kicks, Chinese racks, backbreakers, suprexes, and that one Daryl Hannah does with her thighs in Blade Runner. That’s good, that one. We take turns to be the heel. Perko’s the inventor of the proctologist’s elbow, so I respond with my own signature move, the loving fistful.

There follows leaping, reeling, grunting, red herrings, leaping over heads and outlandish cries of pain, to the alarm of perambulating old ladies and their yappy dogs.

Keeper? Yes. I will need some pretty good moves up my sleeve when The Perculator discovers Mr Thumpy has nibbled the corner of his 1967 World Championship Wrestling Holds souvenir.

DAY 194: Diving in a kelp forest

13 Mar

IT strikes me, as I flounder through spectacular underwater kelp forests in a blind panic, that most of my activities with the bush pirate involve classic ways for the English to meet their demise.

You’ve read all those stories in the newspapers: an English falls off a sheer cliff-face (perhaps after being told to harvest hard-to-reach ferns); an English loses balance on rocks and is swept out to sea (after it is suggested a swim in a wave-lashed lagoon at high tide might be in order); an English drives a quad bike down a mountain and is lost… I’d not be surprised if a future idea involves hitch-hiking through Belanglo State Forest.

The English, I’m convinced, are not designed to put their heads underwater – yet here I am, tootling in fear up my snorkel. As ever with this year’s missions, though, the mathematics astound me: I go in 100 per cent sure this is a wearying, unpleasant idea – considerably further down the good ideas queue than ‘having a latte’ – and come out feeling 100 per cent more WAHOO!

Mystical hermit or grizzled surf dude? It’s up to you.

The lagoon at Castle Cove is cloudy today, but we spot rockfish, a stingray and abalone. The kelp usually rises up in columns so that you can swim among them as though you’re in a forest, but today they’re shimmying around the seabed, revealing bits here and there like saucy fan dancers. In the cliff walls, sea wrens are nesting, and apparently there are some sea hawks bandying about too, but I’m too busy trying not to get sucked out to sea.

Keeper? Will practise holding my breath – the three-second limit is hampering my experience.

Found this disturbing pic. It's like stingray porn. But for humans, not stingrays.

DAY 192: Nudey night swimming in the sea

11 Mar

YES, I know you’ve done this loads of times, but I am an English and it is unthinkable.

“You’ve got to get a song in your head – it helps,” says the bush pirate as we get out of the car. “Ready?”

In the sea we’re surrounded by swarms of tiny brill, which I’m not told about till later, and we often can’t see the waves coming till they bowl us over. Double the excitement.

Sea mist or something.

Keeper? Squeals ahoy! But don’t fancy going on my own much.

DAY 186: Doing the hokey croaky

5 Mar


ALL the clocks have stopped in the clubhouse. The fabrics are chaotically patterned and sun-faded, the air is pleasingly musty. The alumni plaques date back to 1926. We pull up chairs to the trestle table and Walter runs through the lengthy niceties (and double-crossings) of croquet. “Croaky,” he calls it.

Waiting in here with the sun spotlighting the dust through the curtains reminds me of going to visit Nana and Granddad one Sunday a month; of sitting in their ticking front room, mechanically eating stale cheese and onion crisps and drinking flat lemonade, getting slowly gassed by the faulty four-bar fire. Eventually we’d become docile, the allure of the outside world carbon monoxided out of us.

But I digress.  Rules, regulations and safety-checks administered, Bec, Anna and I are allowed out onto the lawn. We’re playing golf croquet, as opposed to association croquet. It’s the equivalent of playing snap in comparison to bridge. There’s no one on our green, but next door the bowls club is a-bustle with pensioners in soft shoes.

“Bowls is… elementary,” huffs Walter when I ask if the games are similar. “They don’t use mallets.”

Our mission today is to form two teams of two and smack our ball through six hoops. As with pool and bowls, you can also use your ball to catapult someone else’s out of the way, or block their shot. Walter teaches us to ‘stalk’ the ball – walking bandy-legged up to it with a surprisingly heavy mallet dangling down, and then sending it on its way.

My favourite part is the clack of mallet on ball. As far as satisfying sounds go, it’s up there with snap-lid phones, cowbells, the thump of a package through the letterbox, the whisper of the lid of a virgin vodka bottle being ripped from its moorings, heavy curtains being drawn back with a cord, the wet hiss of cold soda in a glass, pool balls dropping, matches shaken in their box, a needle dropping onto vinyl, being called for dinner, and the opening chord of ‘Here Comes Your Man’… yep, I think that’s everything.

Keeper? We’ll come back for a few games before it becomes too nippy. If it’s good enough for Harpo Marx and Bogart…

DAY 184: Pulling off a numpty

3 Mar

This isn’t me, but the level of finesse is there.

THE pheromones of fear are permeating my lycra. I’ve almost conquered my vertigo with this trapeze course, but the idea of pulling a new move gets everyone here a bit pungent.

A ‘numpty’ is a somersault dismount. I know. We’re attached to ropes so we can’t catapult off very far (I’ve already checked the instructor-bicep-width to flying-numpty ratio), but even so, I’ve never been fond of rotating in mid-air.

As I hang onto the bar atop the platform and lean into the abyss (plenty of practice at that), the instructor rattles off a string of unfathomable instructions from below. I give him a blank look and jump off. What the hell, eh?

At the moment I reach the ‘dead point’, he yells at me to tuck up my knees and let go of the bar. I really need to practise saying things like “damn” and “blast”, because I let out a loud profanity as I land on my feet. Which is great, but I didn’t somersault first because I let go of the bar too late.

“Why is it called a ‘numpty’?” Angie calls down to the instructor as I climb up the ladder again.

“Because any numpty can do it,” comes the reply.

This time when I reach the dead point, I let go on time. The instructor yanks on the ropes and I somersault with legs akimbo, letting loose a shrill “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” (hereby known as a JFC so as not to offend). I land spreadeagled on my back on the crash pad.

“Did I let go?” I ask the upside down instructor, in a moment of quaint confusion. Apparently so.

Keeper: Yeah. This will look really good if I can keep my legs together and maintain a stoic silence.

DAY 171: The night of the shooting

18 Feb

“I’LL just let the boys know you’re not comfortable shooting roos,” the bush pirate says, as I try and tell him an actual hunting trip’s out of the question without sounding like a big wuss. “I’m sure they’ll compromise with some foxes and rabbits or something.” Eep.

By the time we get to the campsite it’s around 11pm and the rum is in full flow. I can’t understand any of the conversations around me as they’ve become 90% more vowelly than the usual country talk, thanks to Sir Bundy. Nod, smile. Nod, smile.

One bloke keeps spraying a can of Aerogard into the fire for an interesting pyro effect, while another, upon seeing us, grabs a giant surf-style fishing rod and takes us yomping off down to the black river to set it up, tripping over various dogs as we go. The second his back’s turned he gets a bite and reels in an eel, which gets chucked back in after a bit of yahooing.

We’re here to fire his rifle though, so we all pile on the quad bike and take off to a bit of paddock away from sleeping children and cows. I’ve fired guns before, but this one’s got a sniper’s sight, for that extra “holy shit!” factor. It’s the heaviest I’ve held, as well. It lets off a mighty kaboom, and I let off a shriek, and then we’re hurtling back to the camp again for a Bundy update.

Keeper? If I find myself in this situation again, sure.

DAY 168: Kung Fu fighting

15 Feb

STAB with your fingers, smash with your palm, lunge with your front leg, keep your weight on the back leg, go “fft”, go “hngh!”… Every martial art I’ve tried so far tells me something different.

Today it’s, “Punch with your last two knuckles.” The instructor shows me how the bones leading up to the knuckles of the forefinger and middle finger slant at an angle into the arm and are thus more easily broken. By using the knuckles of the little finger and ring finger, you’re keeping everything dead straight.

The vibe in this Wing Chun school is quite mystical, and I’m not talking about the earnest men with ponytails and ornamental beards. You get them everywhere. No, there’s a pledge on the wall, curious, ancient-looking, human-sized wooden mug trees to slap, and lots of bowing.

As we’re not padding up and actually hitting each other today, I’m finding it impossible not to say “doof doof doof” when I throw punches, as though I’m eight years old and watching The A-Team, bouncing on the sofa and taking a flying leap over the coffee table.

 The enthusiasm’s a bit much, actually, as I get reprimanded for leaping nimbly around like a mountain goat when I’m supposed to be merely stepping aside. I might need a bell on my neck for next go, to warn me when I’m doing it.

Keeper? Yep – signed up for 10. Ask to see my clap and punch.