DAY 359: Learning three important life lessons from Bear Grylls

25 Aug

My triple-A pass. I didn't abuse it, there were too many scouts around.

THE people either side of me are arguing over whether Bear Grylls has Asperger’s or ADHD.

“It’s ADHD,” the woman insists, jabbing her finger across my nose. “I work with Asperger’s, and they can’t make eye contact or answer questions. He’s got ADHD, that’s why he’s so focused and wants to take you on his exciting journey.”

Tonight’s exciting journey at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre comes with the stone-in-shoe hindrance of Nova tool Merrick Watts and his rote jokes, but generally speaking it’s mountain-moving stuff. You don’t need me to reiterate how charming and humble BG is… No, you just need me to tell you the three important life lessons I have learned.

1. Choose your battles

Bear learned this one when fighting a saltwater crocodile for a fish.

2. If you’re going to do something, do it properly

Bear didn’t just demonstrate how to drink your own pee from a homemade snake receptacle – having worn the fermenting concoction around his neck for a day and a half, he drank it, vomited, observed “there’s still a little bit left” and drank it again.

3. Don’t take anything personally

No matter what Worst Case Scenario he lands himself in, Bear is indefatigably chipper and matter of fact. The few men who made it, alongside him, through the training of the French Foreign Legion – which included being buried up to the head and used as a goal post – were the ones who didn’t take anything personally, he noted.

Keeper? Yes. And here are some spares: “Dig deep when pushed” (like his old muckers in the Special Forces), “You can’t put a price on pride”, “Detail is very overrated”.

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 356: Getting psyched at a university opening day

22 Aug

I WAS hanging out with a fellow music journo recently and I realised he was storing facts and figures about the industry, and trading useful hair-curling anecdotes about the people therein, while I was more interested in opening up an artiste’s head and sympathising greatly.

The Florence Nightingale of music journalism, if you will.

So I’ve decided to go the whole hog and become a psychology student. I studied psychology for two years in my youth, but was scuppered by the maths. Surely by now, with the wisdom of age, I will be able to do maths.

Our future is in this generation's hands.

The open day is at LaTrobe in Bendigo, so I go along with Lucy, who also wants to interrogate people for a living and then discuss their strange little foibles over lattes. Confidentially, of course. My interest in university first time around was so low that I can’t remember if I went to the open day or not. At the very least, then, this is the first time I’ve been to an open day and paid attention.

For those not in the know, university open days involve lots of free mints, dirt cheap canteen food, professors talking in monotone and various stands. Our stand comes under ‘sciences’ – shudder. Lucy and I go to a lecture for mature students and blanch every time someone says ‘mature’. Better than ‘crone’, I suppose.

Keeper? TBC.

DAY 355: Entering competitions

21 Aug

This has nothing to do with anything, but it came up when I put "entering competitions" into Google Image.

APART from the odd No-Doz snorting competition, I’ve never bothered entering anything. Having worked on magazines though, I know how easy it is to win, particularly when most entrants insist on doing painful rhymes in their 25 words or less, and are therefore immediately eliminated by people like me.

(By contrast, someone once entered a meet-and-greet with Kings of Leon with a giant, cigarette-smoking beaver made out of chickenwire. They won.)

I register with a free website called and enter 10 competitions, all requiring a sincere little essay of 25 words or less. I am up to win Stevie Nicks tickets from Woman’s Day, natural skin products, a luxury cruise of the Great Barrier Reef, a Byron Bay break, a warm bodymat, a meet and greet with an opera star (I forget his name) in Malta, sensitive skin care products, yoga wear from Reader’s Digest (good for pyjamas, I reason), natural cosmetics (they wanted my No.1 health tip, which upon some musing turned out to be something I’d never tried in my life), and an eight-night Hawaiian holiday (this one! this one!).

I’m now on at least 10 mailing lists, which will probably transpire to be thousands of mailing lists, but never mind, never mind.

Keeper? We’ll see.

DAY 354: Totally banning ‘x’ ‘o’ and ‘:)’

20 Aug

I HAVE a new email account and I’ve decided I will not be tarnishing it with any kisses or hugs. Kisses and hugs are nice in real life, but in emails they’re a drag, an extra layer of code to interpret.

Whether it’s the PR chick you’ve never dealt with before, or the girl who was abducted by a taxi driver in England, and confounded police by putting an ‘x’ at the end of her I’m-about-to-be-murdered text, it’s all a bit of a minefield. Take these examples:

Okay, Jane is a Continental ‘xx’ girl, I’d better reciprocate with two.

John is unlikely to get this joke unless I place a winking emoticon here. But will he then look down upon me?”

Last time I didn’t exactly mirror Molly’s ‘xoxoxox’ she responded with one fewer ‘xo’. I followed suit, until by the end of the conversation we were down to ZERO. Whatever happened to Molly, anyway?

And it’s not like you can’t be nice without using an ‘x’. By the same token, you can use an ‘x’ and be a passive-aggressive pissant. So it’s nothing personal, okay? I’ll squeeze the life out of you when I next see you.

Keeper? Yes. If people can’t tell I’m being nice, I’ll just have to put heaps of exclamation marks in.

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.