Monday, December 31, 2007

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS

Sweet baby jesus, i'm back in this woebegone city. It's vapid. Vacuous. Superficial. Not just ficial, it's superficial.

I can't get out of here fast enough. Perth is no different from any other mediocre city, i suppose. Christmas eve i spend on the streets. I'm trying to save my barely extant money by alternately couch-surfing, back-packing, and sleeping under trees on Adelaide Terrace. I wake Christmas morning in a homeless person's camp, under the fig trees next to the old ABC studios. Quite a contrast to the previous night's luxurious soirée in Huss and Veronica's swish penthouse apartment, overlooking the river.

The mosquito bites are a mild annoyance. Or were those fleas? It was a singularly uncomfortable night, either way, with my spare shirt wrapped abut my head to fend of those whining little bloodsuckers. I dust off my leather jacket, brushing away a flattened snail. Apart from swathes of polyethylene wrap, which served as bedding, the morning light unearths a ludicrously bouyant Bananas in Pyjamas motif on the banana-shaped cushion that served me as a pillow. Plus a couple of discarded backpacks, two carefully coiled pieces of electrical cable, and an empty can of eucalyptus spray. And, oddly enough, a hospital ID tag, with a picture of "Nathan", who looks Nigerian. With the word "Nurse" underneath. Nathan, the Nigerian Nurse. So this dump under the fig trees was probably home to a recent immigrant. Maybe Nurse Nathan is trying to save enough money to pay the bond on his first flat.

It is woefully hot. I fire up the motorbike and ride over to Matilda Bay, where the baking hot easterly is at least coming across the water. I fall into a fitful doze in the warm shade, only to be woken around midday by a worried-looking middle-aged Western-suburbs woman. She asks if i am ok.

Would you like some tobacco, or something? she asks slowly and condescendingly, as if talking to a very small child. Do i look like i have just gotten out of prison, or something? I politely decline, and roll over.

It must be the Christmas Spirit, i think. So volatile in the noonday sun.

Monday, December 24, 2007

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES


It probably would have made sense to plan this 1000km motorcycle trip to Perth, rather than just jumping on the bike and taking off. On an impulse. It probably would have been worth figuring out where to stay, when i was due back, that kind of thing. But, hey.

On the drive up, riding in the truck with Demo Bob nearly a year ago, the long distances of hot, flat bush between the roadhouses seemed so harsh and unforgiving. The red dust, snakewood and melaleucas fringing a thin strip of bitumen littered with roadkill under that vast white-hot blue sky - a man could perish out here, i thought. Now, this wild terrain seems more friendly and familiar. Like an enormous back yard. The distances have become shorter. The heat more tolerable.

Pushing into a southerly wind at a steady hundred clicks, i reach Wooramel River in just over an hour. The bike is behaving herself. Good bike. She hasn't shed any parts, or conked out. On the first test ride around Carnarvon a couple of weeks ago, one of the mufflers just simply fell off. I picked up the hot metal cylinder off David Brand Drive with my leather jacket, balancing it on my knees for a bleatingly loud and sheepish ride home. Then, the other one fell off, out by the plantations. These are minor bugs, i told myself. Just one of those things. Teething problems. Then the ignition key fell out from the switch, from where i had relocated it on the side of the 650. Somewhere between Ag Department and the office, a distance of about ten kilometres, the keys disappeared. The only set of keys to the ignition and the fuel tank. Oops. Mayhem and i tracked them down, and the bike now seems fairly integral. And it is registered. Which is, of course, a bonus.

I coast in to the shaded concrete forecourt of Wooramel Roadhouse, and kill the motor.

The tank takes a few litres of premium. Pushing through the screen door i find a chatty blonde in a low-cut pink top. I pay her for the juice and we discuss the slight prospect of rain. I sit down for breakfast and a quiet read. Over an instant coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich, i escape to Sicily, its seafood, piazzas and dark underbelly. The next stop is Overlander, a hundred and something k's south. Then another long empty stretch of highway to Billabong Roadhouse.

On past Nerren Nerren Station to the mighty Murchison, the first river i've seen in months that is full of water, rather than sand. Then it's on through the rolling hills of Northampton, with the farmers' increasingly bizarre roadside Christmas decorations. I ride on towards Christmas, civilisation, and the promise of a cup of real coffee.

This roadhouse coffee is shit.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

DO NOT GO GENTLE

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas
~1951/52.

The roof of the shack is covered in sheets of marine ply. Some very considerate beach bum has created the perfect platform for quietly viewing these dusted stars. We lie under a darkly blazing hemisphere of night.

We've rolled out a couple of swags, a little drunk, a little stoned. It’s Mayhem’s last day tomorrow. Staggering about the rooftop, disoriented and windblown. So this is Colby’s swag, says Melinda. Oh Lordy, do you think i could get pregnant from sleeping in this?

Taking a piss on the edge of the roof, i’m swaying like a bird on a wire. I can’t see anything below me in the dark. I hope i’m not pissing on anyone. A rope runs the perimeter of the roof, looped through four long, rusted, vertical lengths of railway track.

You’ll be right, i say. Just don't walk too far if you have to get up in the middle of the night.

Why? Is that an electric fence?

I climb into the sack, paralysed with a fit of the giggles. With 18 surgical staples in my torso, it only hurts when I laugh. Poor Art Director is coming apart at the seams. Still, better to get a hernia repaired in the Carnarvon Hospital than in some third world brothel overseas next year. Better - but only just.

Today we’ve been celebrating Mayhem’s successful three-month journalistic sojourn in the Gascoyne. With a big breakfast, and a run to the blowholes on the motorcycle. Down the South River Road. Chasing down the afternoon shadows, rushing past the plantations and out across that vast empty river at the Nine Mile bridge. Then the long, flat stretch of road past the Rio Tinto salt mines at Lake MacLeod, winding the bike out into the breeze, the mp3 player keeping us charged inside our helmets.

Cattle gaze ponderously at our approach, before stampeding into the scrub at the sound of the 650. A wedgetailed eagle lifts slowly, majestic, its wide brown wings spread against the setting sun. We run up the last few curves of road before peaking over a hill by the lighthouse.

The ocean effervescing in the afternoon sun.

I stretch my arms wide as the bike soars down towards the coast, Apollo 440 blasting in our eardrums.

At the “King Waves Kill” sign, we turn left onto the limestone road, and feel our way carefully down to the shacks. Down the boat ramp road, pushing slowly through the heavy drifts of sand, in a relentless mad urge to greet the sea. The bike loses traction, and keels over, as if exhausted. We crash-land on the beach, a couple of crazy Carnarvon cosmonauts. I hit the kill switch, and Mayhem helps me right the beast. We've reached our destination - the blowholes shacks, where we meet up with Mickey T, Louie, Chrisso and Kristy for some refreshing Coopers’ ales. Supplemented by a round of huge Pacific Ocean oysters, with alfalfa and Tabasco sauce. Steak, sausages, and a bit of weed. DJ Shadow on the stereo. We light a fire, and haul out an old sofa. Sit around and spin our tales of urban excess, tracing carefully, with our airy words, life's absurd spiral. Until the light fades and the sparks quietly die, flying upwards into that black, unimaginable nothingness.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

CABIN FEVER

The fever is beginning to take hold. In a moment of panic, i apply for a transfer. To Albany. The Southern Ocean. To those granite beaches, those tinglewood trees...

I feel my work here is done. There is generational change at work. A subtle, social paradigm shift in the seething microcosm that is Carnarvon. I can feel it. Civilisation is beginning to creep in, like a sombre assassin. I became completely certain of this a couple of days ago, when Louie declined an offer of another drink. Louie. Declining an offer of another drink.

And at the Gassy the other night, one of the teachers thought she'd picked up my drink by mistake. Is this your drink, she asks. No, not mine, i'm on soda water, i say. So am i, she says. And this, a teacher. On a pub crawl. We stare at one another, gobsmacked. The woman next to me shakes her head. It's just not right, she mutters. That's three people i seen tonight drinking soda water. She shakes her head again, in disbelief.

And the isolation. The fact that Carnarvon is around 400km from the nearest town north, and about 380 if you head south. It's five kilometres out to the Caltex Starmart on the North West Coastal Highway, and beyond that ... carry your own water for the next 633km, warns a big yellow sign. The Starmart marks the farthest point of civilisation. Starmart is the equivalent of the edge of the solar system. To a space traveller. And aren't we all space travellers?

To the west lie the islands, Bernier and Dorre, where they used to dump Aborigines with sexually transmitted diseases. Politely named a 'leper colony.' The islands, where some of these Aborigines would simply sit, for the rest of their miserable, lonely, truncated lives, at the edge of that barren island shore, and stare back mournfully at the mainland.

To the east is Gascoyne Junction, across 160km of broken road, then Meekatharra further out, out on the Great Northern. Gascoyne Junction, with its grand population of 43 souls. Including a publican who is owed $20.

And home: my room in a rough-and-ready shack, where sometimes it looks like i'm living in the bottom of a whore's handbag, as Mickey T would say. Still, i'll miss the place. Even Mayhem said today she would miss the place. I'll miss the freedom, she says. Freedom? The wide open spaces, she says. I suppose so, i say. If you wanted to go on a bender, some kind of spree, or just go berserk, well, there's plenty of space to do it in, and not a lot of people to stop you.

My manager comes into my office. Somebody died, she says, and they didn't find his body for five days. I shake my head. It's not news, i say. People die all the time.

And i'm starting to get that feeling of deja moo. You know that feeling you get when you think "i've seen this bullshit before"?

The phone rings. It's Fully. He's come second in some business award, second to some - what do you call those butch lesbians? he asks. Dykes, i say. Yes, Fully says, i was beaten by some dykes. One of them was dressed in a power suit. He sounds miffed. I think back to the last time i saw Fully, steadfastly strangling the national anthem on his bagpipes at the HMAS Sydney Memorial cairn at Quobba, dressed in a kilt.

Well, if you can wear a dress, they can wear a suit, i say, and settle in for the usual long, rambling Fully-embellished conversation, running the gamut from the finer points of international law through to the Rabbit Proof Fence and a number of tangents in between. People southwest of the Rabbit Proof Fence can't get the same price for their grid-fed solar photovoltaic electricity as we can here in Carnarvon, Fully says, And the only reason is because of the bureaucracy.

Is that right? i ask. Yes, he says. Except that Esperance, which is inside the southwest grid zone, has been officially declared outside of it. And Kalgoorlie, which is outside of it, is officially inside of it.
Kalgoorlie is inside? Even though it is outside?
Yes, they ran a wire out there.
And Esperance is outside, even though it is inside?
Yes.
I see. Like West Berlin was outside East Germany, even though it was inside it?
Yes, just like that. And like Babbage Island is not part of the mainland.

Babbage Island? Out where the One Mile Jetty is?
Yes, the Government excised it from the immigration zone of the Australian mainland, says Fully. A few years ago, along with Christmas Island and all the others.
But it's not even an island! i protest. I rode my bike out there on Tuesday. The road runs right across Shark Skin Crossing.
The river runs round it, so it's an island, says Fully.
They filled that in years ago! Everyone knows that!
Well, they don't know it in Canberra, says Fully. According to Canberra, it's an island. And you can't claim refugee status if you land on Babbage Island. You would automatically be an illegal. You'd have to make it down to the Gassy first...

And take your Australian citizenship test...
While downing three schooners and singing Waltzing Matilda...
Hmmm. Question one: Do you own, or have you ever owned, a pair of thongs?
Question two: what is the definition of 'circle work'?
Or Question three: What purple root vegetable, beginning with 'b' is, by law, required to be inserted into a Hamburger With The Lot?
Question four: where can you sell your solar photovoltaic electricity for a price greater than 7c per kW?
North of the Rabbit Proof Fence?
Exactly. We get 15.88c here. And Horizon Power can't get enough of it. Embedded solar PV. It's the way of the future. The Prime Minister's been knocking it, arguing that if a cloud passed across a solar farm, the electricity supply would fail. I mean, fair crack. That's absolute nonsense.

It's nonsense?

Of course it is. It's embedded PV. The mistake people make is assuming that there has to be a centralised solar farm. There doesn't. The electricity-generating panels are scattered all over the place, and the power supply is independent of each individual panel.

Like the internet. That's how the internet works - if any one node fails, it simply reroutes through another...

Isn't it ironic, says Fully, how these bureaucrats are using a non-centralised system like the internet to perpetuate myths about centralised power. It's nonsense. If a cloud passes over one panel, well, it's not passing over another, see.
There's never ever a cloud across the whole state...
Never! And they say it's unreliable, well, ... look at the wind-over-diesel power plant at Coral Bay.
What about it.
Well, they've never even used those backup diesel generators, not since they set it up! And they never will. You know, the first steamships were built with sails, just in case. And they kept building them like that for fifty years. Fifty years! How many freighters do you see these days off Gage Roads with sails on them?
Not many.
Not many. It takes a while for the truth to set in. And people worry about the lifetime of the solar panels!
Do they?
They do. So i tell them, look, the Apollo astronauts left some on photovoltaic panels on the moon, last time they were up there. And they still work fine. And those solar panels have not seen a whole lot of lot of maintenance over the past thirty-odd years.
No, that would be a bit expensive, sending someone up there to change a fuse or top up the oil. But you know what the problem is, Fully? Solar is still seen as marginal. The lunatic fringe.
So the business of the year award goes to — the Bindoon Bakery.
I've been there!
Must be some bakery.
It was ok.
Did it scream out "Business Of The Year Award"?
Well, the pie was nice. Anyhow, Fully, i've got to go. I have to speak to a woman in Shark Bay about some camels.

I hang up.
I'm flying out on the 15th, says Mayhem. You know, Art Director, i'm going to miss this place.
Hmm. Me too. Me too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

THAT FLEETING ILLUSION OF FREEDOM

Eyes on the road
speedo needle hovers
a dragonfly.

The bridge yawns beneath me
stretching left and right, its sands run
to ancient horizons.
Brake and shift down, down to the turn
the south river road
a scrunch of bluemetal, then wind it back on.
White rivergums
pink bougainvillea
blur past my elbow
as the motorcycle hums that half-remembered tune
that long blue summer tune
that fleeting illusion of freedom.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

SOME DAYS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS

Life on the psychiatric ward continues. I go upstairs for lunch with Andy. An ex-bikie, built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Missing his front teeth. Covered in tattoos. He regales me with tales of the bad old days. The drugs. The mayhem. Crowd control was his business. Sawn-off shotgun is the best method, he informs me. Let go with one barrel of that into the air and it clears a room. Save the other barrel for any troublemakers, Andy says. I'll have the chicken thanks love.

We take our trays to the long dining table, and set about making the most of the bland food. The man sitting opposite has sunken pits for eyes. Weathered, wrinkled face under a shock of grey hair. He is missing a few teeth as well. Speaking with a broad Lancashire accent, he tells us how he gave up the grog.

Seventeen years ago, he says. It was getting out of hand. I'd be drinking tea at work laced with whiskey, had to have four or five drinks before i could even go in.
He pokes at his hospital food. Boiled veges, mashed potato, chicken.
At the pub i'd be drinking in the main bar, and have a round going in the lounge as well. Got so as my mates weren't drinking fast enough to keep up with me. Those days, you'd just leave twenty quid on the bar, no-one would touch it, only take a few bob when it was your round, you know. I'd make as though i was off to the toilet all the time, but i'd be drinking in the other bar. It's me kidneys, i'd say.

What made you quit.

Me wife left me. Lost me job. Got back on me feet, you know. Gave up the grog, but didn't give up me mates at the pub. I'd just sit on a pint glass of shandy, sipping slow. They were a good lot, they understood, you know, never ribbed me about it.

The bloke on my left is complaining about the chicken.
Tough to eat with half your teeth missing, he says.
I guess i'm lucky, i got a denture, i say.
I just had six teeth pulled out, he says.
Ouch.
Yeah, i used to have dentures, but the dog ate mine, mutters Andy. I left them on the kitchen table, and in the morning they were gone. All i found were the bits of wire on the back verandah where the dog sleeps.

He shakes his head sadly.

I wouldn't of minded so much, but when i kicked him up the arse, he smiled at me.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

WARD D-20

After some negotiation, the nice people in the white coats allow me out into the general area of the hospital.

I pump coins into the public internet access point, check my eBay, email and social media, and notice that i am still nobody's best friend on Facebook and that my popularity level is still firmly fixed at zero.

Thursday night, i lie awake, worried for my personal safety as i listen to an unending torrent of abuse and threats from the patient in the bed next to me. On the other side of a thin fabric screen, an unidentified male person with an anger problem is saying i am a no-good piece of shit, a lowlife c*nt, a whole lot of other of unpalatable things which i will not repeat here. This is doing my self esteem no good whatsoever, i think. Tomorrow i'm asking for a transfer to another madhouse. After about half an hour, i realise he is not intending to follow through on any of his threats to f*cking kill me, and, judging by the extended pauses, is probably talking on a mobile phone to somebody else. Perhaps to someone he wants to kill because of an unpaid drug debt, or perhaps for murdering his brother. The reason for his extended vituperative outpouring is never made explicit. He continues for four hours or so, then drops into a fitful sleep, snoring loudly. This morning he continues his threats and insults on his way to, from, and during his shower. I notice he is not carrying a phone. I realise he is merely talking to himself, outpouring all his random, rabid thoughts into a vacuum.

Hmmm. It's a bit like using Facebook, really.

Avid reader, if ever i should become so crazy that i start walking around talking to myself, remind me to buy one of those bluetooth mobile phone earpieces and stick it in my ear. One must, after all, always strive to maintain one's dignity.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I'VE DONE MY DASH

Life's little ironies, eh? To think only a couple of weeks ago i was talking about having a mental health break, ha ha, getting out for a while, taking some long-overdue time in lieu...

I wake on Wednesday morning in a soporific haze. I am lying in a hospital bed, clad only in a pair of dirty jeans, listening abstractedly to the sounds of a pnuematic drill boring through my skull. Or is it the outer walls of the hospital? A baby is screaming violently in the next ward. The pneumatic drilling continues in staccato bursts, stopping for a period of time - is it hours? - then it resumes: ggrgrrgrrg gggrgrgrgrg.

I remember waking in the middle of the previous night, unable to control the violent shaking of my limbs, or to alleviate the pain and pressure in the back of my skull and neck. I have been tranquillized for two days, since Mayhem found me bordering on unconsciousness amongst the carnarge my totally trashed rented room. Monday morning. After a week of steadily spiralling downwards in a stricken, flaming mess, i had finally crashed and burned. And as i crawled from the wreckage, the black dog immediately set upon me.

After a series of interviews, and after going several rounds with the heavyweight hospital food, the mental health nurse decides to release me, somewhat reluctantly, back into the Carnarvon community. Medicated, confused and mortified, i return to Mickey T's hacienda to try to piece together where it all went pineapple-shaped. Perhaps it was last Tuesday, with the happy news of the imminent arrival of Mili the Ex's baby, and my doomed effort to obliterate the pain. Or perhaps it was just overwork.

Colby will never be able to listen to Radiohead again, Mayhem says, without him succumbing to fits of blind rage. Poor Colby has the room on the other side of the thin fibro wall to mine. All through the early hours of Monday morning, Mayhem attests, i was singing (or rather slurring, in a kind of high-pitched whine) along to High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, and every other song on my CD of The Bends, permanently set to Repeat. Punctuating the choruses with the sounds of breaking glass, i systematically destroyed every last scrap of sentimental breakables in my immediate vicinity. Needless to say, i don't remember much of my slow, Sunday-driven descent into madness, but parts of it were captured on video by Mickey T as i lurched about in a red Hawaiian shirt and dark glasses, accompanied by a half-cut black-clad Mayhem, in a dangerous, beserk rampage across the Massey Bay racetrack amongst the high-speed desert-racing buggies at the finishing line of the three-day, 500km Gascoyne Dash, verbally abusing anyone foolish enough to come within earshot. Without my glasses i can't see three feet in front of me, and, yet, after a carton of Smirnoff Ice, i could clearly see three feet below me, as i confusedly set about placing one on those feet in front of the other to photograph the event. During Brett Renton's dramatic rollover at the finish line, his buggy hit a rented 4WD, less than a metre from where i had been standing moments before i was shooed away by the Official Photographer, a certain Mr Flash.

Mr Flash is the photographer the Dash organising committee hired after telling me months ago that i had the job. I had hired, at great expense, a Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 lens from Camera Electronic to get the shots the Dash required. However the Dash committee had neglected to tell me they had hired someone else in the interim.

Anyhow, Mr Flash appears in front of me, apparently wanting a medal for saving my life - as if that were somehow a good thing. I tell him, loudly, that the out-of-control dune buggy would have missed my by at least metre. Then i called him a bad name. I think a called a lot of people a lot of bad names. I think perhaps i would have even given the Press a bad name, if such a thing were possible. The Kickstarters Gascoyne Dash Organising Committee has, thankfully, declined to press charges.

While much of that Long Day's Journey into Night is a blur, i have a clear and lucid recollection of the fibro partition between my room and Colby's suddenly vibrating and resonating wildly, as he attempted, at one point in that vehement and venomous night, to blast me into submission with a subwoofer and death metal. This was some time around 2am. Colby had a 7am start, as usual, at the Oyster Farm. In an act more pathetic than sympathetic, i simply threw another empty bottle of Smirnoff Ice across the room into another framed photograph, and cranked my 1976, two-ton, two-million-watt California-built Kenwood KA-5500 motherfucking-hell amplifier up to a hundred and eleven decibels. And sang along with Thom Yorke:

"She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns..."

and then foolishly turned the treble control to maximum and watched with detached interest as the pure, sonically-sweet tweeters of my beloved Celestion speakers began blowing forth two stereo plumes of blue smoke, which curled upwards into magnificent arabesques, shortly before the two perfect domes destroyed themselves.



It's almost a week later. I am clad in flanellette pyjamas, in the spare bedroom at my parents' house in the city. It's the closest thing i can get to a rubber room. I am convalescing, and changing direction, having learned a few things.

Rule number one: never rely on anyone to make you happy.
Rule number two: never rely on anyone to stick by you.
Rule number three: avoid animal tranquillizers, except under medical supervision.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

MENTAL HEALTH WEEK

It's not easy going crazy. But the task can be made simpler, given the right circumstances. Like taking up a high-pressure job in a strange town where you don't know a soul. The epitome of soullessness. It's a Sunday today. I can tell. I see the sun peeking through my banana pineapple and tropical fruit-decorated curtains. I should almost certainly be out covering the desert race, rather than drinking myself into a stupor in this darkened room. But sometimes you got to do what you got to do. Like 'enough is enough', it is by definition.

Ex's.

(I can only write about her in the third person, otherwise i go to pieces). She says she wants to have a baby. He has been with her for eleven years, and loves her to bits. She gets pregnant to him twice, and has an abortion twice, whilst telling him that he really should get himself a good, nine-to-five government job, with all the concomitant wages and conditions, and when he says are you crazy? i'd rather die, and when he says i am going to do a postgraduate diploma and work as a photojournalist, well, she leaves him for her boss, a high-up lawyer in the Federal government department in which she works. Moves into his house in Fremantle. She always wanted a house in Fremantle. And now she's having his baby, instead.

Ex's. Where's the bottle opener? Why don't they make these double-black vodkas with a twist top? Oops, it is a twist top.

I have never used The Nerve to dish it out to the ex, mainly because it's a tasteless thing to do. My only defense now is that i'm drunk, which of course is no defense. People have to do what they have to do. By definition, i suppose. And that little baby will certainly be better catered for brought up in a privileged, high-income household in the western suburbs, rather than crawling around some squalid, fibro sharehouse in the wild west.

Nurse Nikki just phoned. She texted me from the Sexpo last night, disappointed that they did not have a police uniform in her size. But she bought a showbag. Good, i say. Some of the items i can't use, though, she says. Don't throw anything out, i say. It can all be put to good use. Anyway, i might be in town next week, i need a mental health break, i say. I am getting on the bus with some knockout pills to get thru that 12-hour tortuous journey, then i'm going to lie in bed and watch videos with a girl i know. A bonkfest? Nurse Nikki says. No - it's just mutual support. She is being neglected. Besides, it's mental health week. Well, i know mental health week was last week, but everyone who knows me knows i'm never on time for anything. Only problem is, her tattooist boyfriend has already said he wants to kill me. Perhaps he fails to understand the purity of our relationship.

Are you sure you have thought this thing through? asks Nurse Nikki. It sounds like you are just inviting more trouble for yourself. I'm back in a couple of weeks, i can ride around on the back of your motorcycle in my fishnets and short skirt and cop uniform. I have a litre of Absolut vodka. Let's have a party.

Ah, midlife crisis. So many options, so little time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

GOBSMACKED IN SEXMOUTH

Mayhem and i have made a decision. A commitment, even.

We are not drinking rum, not ever again.

It is part way through the interview with the head chef at the Novotel in Exmouth (or Sexmouth as Colby calls it - Sexmouth, and Oral Bay) part way through a serious magazine interview that things begin to go a bit pawpaw-shaped. It is six-thirty in the evening, and we have been drinking steadily since our arrival at one-thirty. The chef is telling me about the menu for the poolside "Moonrise on Sunset" dinners they put on here over three nights, once every month on the full moon. They clear an area on the grass around the pool, and put on silver-service dining for couples as the sun rises over the Gulf. Barbecued scallops, wrapped in pancetta. I ask the chef how he got started in the food business. He says, well actually, he has always wanted to be a palaeontologist.

"I know," says Mayhem suddenly. She has been sitting relatively quietly at the table until now, drinking a lethal-looking green rum-and-lime cocktail from a brandy balloon. "Wouldn't it be cool if a dinosaur suddenly appeared, just walking across the landscape."

The chef and i turn to stare at her. She continues.
"I mean, it's the kind of landscape where you might expect it to happen. It's just so, so - "

Random?

" - so ancient. It's as if there could still be dinosaur eggs lying about, only no-one knows."
We nod, and begin to discuss the difficulties of the labour market. The other Novotel chef is from the Philippines, and is working at the resort on a 457 skilled migration visa.

Mayhem is watching the chef closely over the rim of her glass.
"What are you doing after work? What time do you finish? What are you doing then? Do you want to come for a drink?"

I can feel the situation beginning to spiral out of control. The chef and i contemplate Mayhem as she sips her lime-green cocktail.
"We're in room 408 if you want to come up."
That's ok, says the chef. Mayhem has taken a shine to him.

As she says to me later, after we return to our luxury apartment number 408, it was the palaeontology that did it.
"It's just so exciting," she says. She takes another drink, then gets on the phone to see if room service can send up the chef.

Friday, October 12, 2007

THE POWER OF ADVERTISING

This week Mayhem and i utilise our free classified advertising with the newspaper to place some classy classies. I send an email to Rachellarella to put in some ads for next week.

WANTED TO BUY: Cheap car, licensed, running or not, under $500, suit journalist.
Phone Mark 0405 *** 646.

HOUSESITTER AVAILABLE Short or long term, reliable, trustworthy journalist. Police clearance available. Good with plants and pets.
Phone Melinda 0422 *** 199.

WANTED Food, for journalists. Phone Mark or Melinda 99** 2222.

Writing Melinda's ad is difficult: she wants to advertise that she has a police clearance.
Do you have a police clearance? i ask.
No.
Then you'd better put "police clearance available". Tell them it's available, but they need to pay the $40 fee so you can get it done.
Why, do you think they will ask to see it?
I would, if you turned up at my house.

Mayhem also wants to advertise herself as a "professional" housesitter.
What do you mean, "professional"? I ask. Have you house-sat before?
No.
Do you have references?
No.
So what makes you think you're "professional"?
Well, i've lived in a house before.

Just when i think it is all going persimmon-shaped, the phone rings. It's an elderly lady, who saw my desperate ad for a cheap car in a previous paper.
Her name is Bond. Jill Bond. And she has lost her license due to arthiritis, the poor dear.
Well, i say.
"It's just that i have a powder blue 1978 Mercedes Benz 280E, six cylinder automatic, licensed until December."
Yes, i say. But people call me saying they have cheap cars, but it's not what i mean by cheap... i mean it might be cheap for that car, but... well, how much are you asking?
"$500," she says.
Mayhem, i yell. I've found our car.
What is it? she asks.
Merc. 280E. '78.
Same model as mine, she says. You know, i was just saying today, i miss driving my old car.

Next thing we will get a mansion in the Northwater Estate to house-sit. I just know it.

Tomorrow we are at the Novotel Ningaloo Resort in Exmouth, writing a food review. Free food and accommodation. And the ads aren't even in yet!

Still. If you don't ask, you don't get.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

CARNARVON STYLE

It's Friday night, i'm drunk, and i have just bought me some spurs.

Well, it's one way to kick off a big night out. Whilst buying spurs could be interpreted as a sure sign that i have been in the North West way too long, it may also be a natural, reflexive reaction to drinking too much rum. Now drinking too much rum is definitely a sure sign of being in the North West way too long. Either way, it is touch-and-go for a while, bidding against two hardcore, spur-craving cowboys - Macka and Dustyboy - on eBay. But i think West Coast time may have helped me in the end, because by the time i place my final, desperate, spur-driven bid at eight o'clock on this Friday night, those Eastern States cowboys are already full of Bundy, with Dustyboy no doubt getting all the Dustier doing circle work in a ute in a drought-ravaged paddock somewhere north-west of the Murray-Darling basin. A pair of stainless steel offset spurs, with brass rowels and leather straps with brass buckles, direct from the USA via Salisbury Plains in South Australia, will soon arrive in my mailbox out here in the wild west frontier town of Carnarvon. And they will go straight onto the back of the black, hand-tooled, Cuban-heeled leather cowboy boots i got from the dear old ladies at the op shop last week for five dollars. With a copy of Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual thrown in for good measure.

Carnarvon style.

This is an expression which, understandably, has gained immense traction in the Mickey T household, after Mickey T and Cowgirl Chelsea won a ludicrously glam ballroom dancing competition called Dancing With The Stars - Carnarvon Style at the Civic Centre, Carnarvon's former woolshed turned culture-and-the-arts barn in the high street.

Whilst it was indeed a night of salubrious dancing splendour, what with a panel of judges, finger food, actual trophies (the miniature version Mickey T is holding here was given him by Richard the Oyster Farmer in a doomed attempt to bring him down to earth) and the beautiful, long-legged Latin dance teacher Kerry Lavell (yes, we had it all), its lasting value was its addition of that gloriously descriptive, all-encompassing phrase to the local vernacular, with the two words Carnarvon style now being randomly applied to anything vaguely cultural (in the postmodern, critical sense of that word) within the shire boundaries - be it design, cooking, turning up late, turning up early, interiors, gardens, drinking, driving, drinking and driving, hairstyles, apparel (the premier women's clothing store here is called Pimping Beauty - that's a very Carnarvon-style name), surfing, playing guitar, or generally tooling around - it's all now done Carnarvon style.

Mickey T is expressing an interest in buying a road bike, now that my Yamaha XS650 is nearing completion. There's a Honda CB250 advertised on the community notice board outside Woolies, a bargain at $700, so Mickey T tears off one of the paper tabs, with the mobile phone number, and rings it up. Nothing. He tries again. Nothing. Mick, look, it's only got nine digits, it's not a complete mobile phone number, i say. We look at each other, say the same thing. "Carnarvon style."

So, Friday night, and i have placed my highest possible bid on eBay for the spurs. An amount still considerably less than the cost of the bottle of Bundaberg rum i will buy from the Gassy as a traveller later that the evening, shortly after i ask Abi - the beautiful young barmaid from London, who looks after us at the Gassy with awe-inspiring reserves of equanimity and aplomb - to accompany yours truly for a magazine shoot in Coral Bay (yes, we just get drunker and drunker as the town gets redder and redder). But i am ahead of myself, and a linear narrative is a much underrated literary style. Colby, Mickey T and i are on our way to that waterfront bar, the Carnarvon, to party with the doyen of the Gascoyne arts scene, Sarah, and celebrate her thirty-somethingth birthday. So our evening starts out on quite a civilised, if slightly intoxicated, note, with the Three Amigos drinking champagne, and toasting Sarah amongst the hoi polloi of the Carnarvon social scene. But, as avid readers of The Nerve know, such social niceties will quite rapidly degenerate into a wild, drunken rampage across the town that will leave a trail of tarnished reputations, burned bridges and blood in its wake.

We turn up to the culture-and-arts barn to see a play, Educating Rita, already quite soused, with a bottle of plonk from the Carnarvon secreted in my camera bag. Mickey T and the brutally unsophisticated Colby accompany me to the theatre foyer. I will civilise this place, i mutter, quoting the sadistic oath offered up by Ray Winstone's policeman's character in Nick Cave's classic of sun-scorched Australian savagery, The Proposition. I will civilise this place. I am already in possession of a complimentary ticket to the theatre, thanks to a half-hearted offer to write a review the production, but Mickey T and Colby are queued at the ticketing counter. It is then i notice that Colby is wearing, atop his work clothes, a pink scarf, which i last saw lying on the back seat of the Newspaper vehicle.

Colby tosses the pink scarf casually over his shoulder, and in his normally loud voice, made inordinately louder by the effects of red wine, rum and champagne, calls to me across the crowded foyer, "Marky Mark, you gorgeous hunk of man, i just can't wait to be exposed to some theatre." I stare down at my cowboy boots. But, mercifully, it does not take long for Colby's pent-up affections to be transferred to the brash, shrill, fishnet-stockinged and PVC-clad actress playing Rita, and the evening's thespian entertainments quickly become peppered with vivid comments and lurid descriptions of what Colby would like to do with Rita, be it on the desk, the chair, or the carpeted floor.

"Alas I came to this beleaguered land and the God in me evaporated," says John Hurt's bounty hunter character in Cave's screenplay. We need a theatrical production of The Proposition here, Carnarvon style. Stuff this stilted, dated, oh-so-English Educating Rita. We need more rape, fraticide, torture and mayhem. And a good moral quandary. "Alas I came to this beleaguered land and the God in me evaporated." Carnarvon style.

One a.m. at the Sandhurst, and we are scanned for weapons before we are allowed in. Mickey T has picked up a lovely Scottish barmaid somewhere along the way. The Sandhurst looks exactly like the kind of venue where they would have cage fighting, without the cages. The Three Amigos and the barmaid - whom i shall call Desdemona for reasons which are not entirely clear - enter the Sandhurst, famous for the brutal and almost fatal bashing of an off-duty policeman in the carpark by a crowd of people armed with baseball bats late last year. There are some mean looking motherfuckers standing around in the bar. I order a round of strawberry daquiris, and Colby and i take it to the dance floor like couple of whomoes.

What's life without adrenalin?

Later that night, as Colby runs about the house in his underwear, shouting desperate appeals for a threesome with Mickey T and Desdemona, i stab myself severely in the back of the middle finger of my left hand, trying the jab-the-big-sharp-knife-hard-between-the-fingers-in-quite-rapid-succession trick. I stare down at the bloody wound, momentarily confused. How odd. Normally i can perform that trick exceedingly well, with some degree of precision. Something has gone horribly wrong.

Perhaps it was the daquiris.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I HATE TO COMPLAIN, BUT

it's the one thing i'm really good at.

I haven't been blogging as much as my avid readers would like. Sure, i've managed the odd post here and there, about transparent frogs, cheap cars, Safari Bob, but, clearly, it's not like the old days. Because, until now, i have been completely unable to log in and blog on at home. And, for reasons of national security, the newspaper prefers me to spend my time on their computer at work writing newspapers.

The problem stems from my much loved fifty-dollar iMac. It sits there in my room in Carnarvon like some hog-tied, mute Gimp - offline, disconnected, silent and accusing. But then, on sudden impulse, i grab a networking plug Thingy from Louis at the computer shop. Procuring a long red network cable, i plug it into Mickey T's broadband connection, and drill a couple of holes in my ceiling. Looking good. Stacking one barstool atop another, as you do when it is not Work Safe Week, i send Colby up into the roof cavity to ferret about with the cable and wallah! - a broadband internet connection.

It's like - welcome to the 20th century!

And then Mayhem turns up, and in one rather casual fell swoop, she just hooks up the whole house into some kind of telesmatic wireless matrix of artificial intelligence, connecting iPods and phones and laptop computers and garages and refrigerators into the kind of sophisticated communications network that would make Interpol look like, i don't know, a bunch of cops. It's magical. As the brilliant science-fiction novelist and world-renowned pedophile Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Which is, of course, complete bullshit.

But now the Gimp goes on the defensive whenever i try to install any version of Safari that is able cope with the ins-and-outs of Blogger. "You can't just go doing things like that, what do you think this is?" says the Gimp in its pop-up dialog box. So i circumvent the problem with Firefox. Firefox lets me interface with interactive functionalities on the Internet in ways i never dreamt possible. Like clicking on icons and having them do stuff.

So avid readers, everything is now back to normal. Yes, peace and tranquility has once again returned to The Nerve. This week, readers can relax and immerse themselves in what is, on the surface at least, a sleepy subtropical paradise on the Gascoyne River delta. What with Mayhem away in Perth, and the Motorcycle requiring brakes, the means for stimulation and excitement is limited. But i can at least write about the possibility of writing about the possibility of writing about something. Which is, of course, better than nothing.

I could, i suppose, write about last Friday's disorderly, frenzied party at Pippas, and the depths of depravity that were plumbed by those present before Mickey T completely lost control of his bodily functions, and i was ejected unceremoniously out into the main street, as was a libidinous, out-of-control, hormone-and-alcohol-fueled Nurse Nikki. But i have been sworn to secrecy. Oh, no, that's right - i only promised Mickey T i wouldn't write about his exploits in the newspaper... to be fair to Mickey T, and to allow him to cherish what few shards of self respect and dignity he may still possess, i will just say that if we had partied any harder we would have been immediately signed to the West Coast Eagles.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

FROM MANHATTAN TO THE MANGROVES

I'm feeling a bit under the weather this morning. Strange expression, don't you think? I mean, aren't we all under the weather? To be over the weather, you would have to be somewhere above the stratosphere...

"Just drink a big glass of Toughen The Fuck Up," says Colby. This is the Colby cure-all. Cuts, abrasions, broken limbs - all ailments can be fixed with a big glass of Toughen The Fuck Up. "And let's kill us some fish." We push the tinny off the pontoon and roar off down Oyster Creek. Mayhem wants to try her hand at fishing.

Having been in Carnarvon for a couple of weeks, Mayhem has realised the limited extent of recreational possibilities available in this frontier western town. There is not much of a party scene. No nightclubs. The cafes here are full of tourists, rather than bohemians. We have no keys to any photographic studios. And, sadly no car as yet - only the Work Vehicle for assignments - the legendary $200 Datto having being sold to pay for motorcycle parts. So any suggestion made to Mayhem that involves the slightest possibility of recreational pursuits receives a standard answer. You want to do a marine radio course? "Oh! All right." You want to go scuba diving in Exmouth? "Oh! All right." You want to hang out of a helicopter and shoot a desert race? "Oh! All right." She is imperturbable and agreeable to most suggestions - an eminently admirable trait in an attractive young lady. Whether it be doing circle work on claypans at high speed amidst the shattered and rusting bodies of previous rollovers, or getting drunk with a bunch of rednecks whilst playing with pistols and high-powered rifles, or rescuing wild dogs, or - scary indeed - traveling up the North West Cape in a convoy of grey nomads - Mayhem seems to be up for anything.

But, like all those blessed with true genius and a penchant for trouble, she has her idiosyncrasies. You want to go camp at Mardathuna Station, out by the Kennedy Range National Park, i say. "Oh! Why would anyone want to do that?" Umm, because it's fun? Tourists come from all over the world to holiday on outback sheep stations, i say. Her eyes widen. "They do not!" she says with vehement finality. Nothing i can say will sway her from this conviction. Riding dirt bikes, shooting things, eating homestead cooking, drinking rum, sleeping on swags by a campfire under the stars - it's fun. "No, no," says Mayhem. Camping on a sheep station is seemingly the epitome of nihilistic madness.

So we head out for a spot of fishing. Fishing, of course, is a way of drinking beer. We berth alongside a muddy mangrove bank to grab some oysters, to go with the beer. As i take a swig of beer, Colby puts down his beer and pulls out an inappropriately huge knife. He prises open an oyster naturale. He passes it to Mayhem. "O! All right!" she says, and gulps it down. Under her NY cap, with her incredible porcelain skin, she looks to have dropped into a totally alien landscape. Which, of course, she has. From Manhattan to the Mangroves, via Melbourne.

Colby has agreed to take us fishing only reluctantly. "Fishing is for pussies," he declaims. Colby's logic is that of a relentless killing machine. Unless you're pinging wild goats and throwing them on your bonnet, or freediving amongst sharks, speargun in hand, hunting ludicrously large marine creatures, it is simply not worthwhile going about the business of food gathering. In fact, it is scarcely worth getting out of bed, unless you are going to have a beer and then kill something large and tasty.

"We should get us some turtle," he surmises, navigating the tinny through the shallow waters of a creek mouth. "Look, there goes a ray." Eating fish and chips at Coral Bay a couple of weeks ago, Mayhem told me that the alleged "scallops" you buy at fish and chip shops are all made from manta rays. "They cut their fins into circles with a cake cutter," she says. This mental image, for reasons i cannot quite fathom, sends me into paroxysms of laughter.

Colby's previous job was swimming with sharks in a big fuck-off aquarium in Hillarys. There he would hand-feed the sharks. "Great for pulling the chicks," Colby says, nodding. "The number of offers i got for headjobs from teenage girls, in my wetsuit out the back of the tank, well you just wouldn't fucking credit it." But Colby's tastes, it seems, run mainly to fish. His iPod is crammed with photos of him lovingly clutching a freshly-killed, glistening marine creature to his nether regions, smiling with orgiastic pleasure to camera. How can he describe the pleasure to be gotten from spearing marine creatures? "It's sexual," he says simply. However, it should be noted that Colby says that about most things. "That was sexual," he will say, after eating barbecued lamb chops. Looking at a particularly well-laid out edition of the local paper: "That is just sexual." My motorcycle, apparently, is sexual.

The beer goes down well. Casting out mulies does not go down so well, they keep landing on the creek bank. Our aim is off. We send Mayhem out to detangle them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

ART DIRECTOR AND MAYHEM

Art Director and Mayhem, that indefatigable journalistic team (and yes, that is us on the avatar, the profile pic) are back together, this time reporting from the frontier towns of the Gascoyne. Even as we speak, Mz Mayhem is journeying north, trusty Leica in hand, on a caravan safari into the wilds of Shothole Canyon and Turquoise Bay, deep into the unforgiving territory of the North West Cape. There she will hook up with a TV production crew and presenter Tania Kernaghan, the (apparently) well-known country singer, to document the inaugural Warlu Way safari, from Exmouth to Broome. Mayhem will cover the Exmouth component. Exmouth, endearingly referred to by our new flatmate, the blunt, sexist, foulmouthed, crocodilehunteresque freediver Colby, as Sexmouth. But more on Colby and his exploits later...

After returning from a three-month U.S. sojourn, Mayhem has this week taken up her new position as journalist, roving and reporting and apprenticed to the Art Director. Turning up at the paper brandishing a degree in journalism, she has been dropped in at the deep end - quite literally - flung into shark-infested waters off the Blowholes for a Coral Coast Happenings magazine assignment. And she has the scars to prove it, after a brief encounter with razor sharp corals at Point Quobba. But let us begin at the beginning.

Dugites are kind of like venomous snakes. Always willing to go to any lengths for a story, even lengths of deadly dugite, i stop the vehicle on the roadway shortly before we reach our destination at Point Quobba. The road, i notice, is alive with reptilian life forms. A thorny devil is sunning himself in the middle of the road. A dugite is stretched out nearby. Former wildlife rescue volunteer Mayhem springs into action, rescuing the thorny devil, preventing him from becoming lizard jerky on the Blowholes road.

My god, Art Director, isn't he beautiful! she exclaims. Can i keep him? I'll call him Spike.
Umm, i think the Department of Environment and Conservation might have something to say about that. You can't just grab creatures from the wild and keep them. It's like picking wildflowers. Against the law, you know.
You can't pick wildflowers?
Umm, no.
But you can trample all over them, or drive across them in a four-wheel-drive?
Umm, yes, i think that's okay.
And somebody could run over Spike! Look at him, oh, he is so cute! Ouch!

I persuade her to let Spike go, and we walk back down the bitumen to where the dugite lays, stunned, in the middle of the road. I pick it up by the tail. This is the surest way to determine whether a snake is venomous. Non-venomous snakes can't bend around and bite you on the hand. The snake looks a little worse for wear. As Mayhem and i are playing with it, a four-wheel-drive stops and a couple of English tourists jump out to look at the snake.

You should have seen the thorny devil, Mayhem says. He was so cute.
Oh, where is he? asks the female tourist.
Over there, about where you parked your car, i say.
Oh no! Poor Spike! Mayhem says.

We give the venomous snake to the tourists, and press on with our assignment. Coral Coast Happenings want a profile on the tourist destination.

Swimsuit shots, Mayhem. We must have swimsuit shots...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

SUPERBOB PULLS THE PIN

Can it be true??

While Amelia Earhart was possibly the 20th century's most famous disappearing act, Polaroid photographer extraordinaire Safari Bob (or "Superbob" as he is known to the online Photographers in Perth group) must surely rank as No 1 so far this century.

Safari Bob has deleted himself from Flickr. The word is Safari Bob disappeared in a puff of smoke after comments i published on the Flickr site about the Perth Centre for Photography. Could it be true? Safari Bob is, unfortunately, a member of its increasingly elitist and autocratic committee.

PCP cancelled my membership after some of its membership base, myself included, attempted to turn it into an open and accountable organisation. I was summarily eliminated from PCP. Now Safari Bob has disappeared from PIP.

There may be more to Safari Bob's sudden invisibility than meets the eye. An extraordinarily complex human being, he is (was?) a man of many facets.

RIP Superbob. If only he had used his genius for good, instead of PCP.

Monday, August 13, 2007

AAARGH GOD HELP ME

It's 1.43am and i am trying to subedit this week's fishing column for the paper. Here is a brief sample of what i have to work with:

"Those magic calm mornings that just bring with them such a zest to live the outdoors to the full and all the action on and around the water such as numerous bait balls being smashed by countless pelagics of various types and birds by their dozens feeding on the scraps as the fishing world just pulsates to the call of nature within every anglers veins begins to change. Its no news flash to state the obvious in regard to the increase of windy days that makes it increasingly difficult to hit the water, particularly in the boat. Add to that the drop in pelagic activity and the change in the fishing landscape begins to turn the corner for what’s next."

Does it make any sense to you? It makes absolutely no sense to me. Obviously, it needs subediting, but once you start replacing the convoluted style with content it doesn't leave much. "Its no news flash to state the obvious in regard to the increase of windy days" means, i suppose, it's getting windy.

Stuff it. Maybe i should forget the fishing column and just run a picture of mudcrabs instead.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

VODKA CRUISERS

When i arrive at the Carnarvon Yacht Club marina, the rowing boat Rus is still on its trailer. Three tall blond chaps are standing about, engaged in a quiet discussion in Russian. I walk over and introduce myself to the interpreter.

"Mark!" he says. "How the hell are you?" Sensing my bafflement, he continues. "Kirill," he says, nodding. I nod back, with absolutely no recollection or recognition. "Friend of Jules," Kirill continues. "We met at your exhibition at the Blender."

Like a drunken redneck discharging both barrels at a nadger of ducks without first loading the cartridges, something clicks. Kirill. The exhibition. We talked about motorcycles. I remember. "What are you doing up here?" he asks. What is anybody doing up here? What is he doing up here? What are we both doing up here, what are these Russian twins and their unlikely rowboat doing up here? It is a deeply disturbing philosophical question. I shrug.

Sergey and Alexander Sinelnik are what you might call professional adventurers. Each year, it seems, they embark on some random, ill-advised and ludicrous expedition in an attempt to cover some part of the globe by one improbable means or another. It might be the deserts of the Middle East on giant three-wheeled motorcycles. Or crossing the Caspian Sea on a replica Russian Ark, wearing heavy suits of armour. Or circumnavigating the globe on Urals, which are a sort of old and heavy Russian version of the Harley Davidson. In between their rambling adventures, they paint. They are both accomplished artists. And build boats. The kind of people who make me wonder: what am i doing with my life?

Sergey and Alexander are in Carnarvon, with the resolute intention of rowing the Indian Ocean to Africa. Or Mauritius. Or the Seychelles. Depending where the currents take them. The twins are going with the flow, in what looks like a yellow submarine. Are they on drugs?

Kirill speaks to them in Russian, translating my incredulity. They seem quite relaxed about their enterprise, as if spending four months in a rowboat on the high seas, eating dehydrated food and manufacturing their own drinking water whilst hauling their genetically identical asses across to Africa in a series of three hour shifts around the clock, using nothing other than their bare hands and strength of will, were little more than a quiet means of getting away from it all. A bit of a boating holiday.

What's that on their t-shirts?" i ask. The pair have 'Night Wolves, Russia' emblazoned across their chests, and also along the prow of the boat, alongside their sponsors logos in Cyrillic script. "Oh, that's the motorcycle gang they belong to in Moscow," explains Kirill.

Of course it is. It seems the Night Wolves began in 1983. "First illegal concerts of forbidden by state authorities rock bands took place. People of all USSR, named "lubers" visited Moscow, trying to crash Rock-Culture, which was "anti-sovietic" at that time. Mass fights followed almost each of them. Exactly, at that time, a prototype of Night Wolves was created, people on bikes, as a power, defending the musicians. A lot of interesting might be said about that time, but so this page would be too large."

Then, in 1988: "After severe natural selection, a group of people, cultivating a philosophy of man of Freedom, the symbol of which was the Bike, was finally formed." ( http://nightwolves.ru/en/history/)

Crazy motherfuckers, defending the musicians and disturbing the peace. More about the Night Wolves later. Meanwhile ...

We put the trailer in the water. The launch of the Rus is a slapstick comedy, recorded for posterity on video by Kirill. The boat nearly falls off the trailer, but as Sergey and i struggle to hold it upright, Alexander quickly and expertly secures a line through a cleat on the bow, and we push the Rus down off its trailer and out into the harbour. Somehow, the line slips free, leaving Alexander holding a rope attached to nothing but fresh air, as the boat is unintentionally cast off into the drink.

We stand staring at one another. Alexander dives in and swims towards the vessel, leaving his shoes bobbing in the muddied water at the base of the boat ramp.

Thus the twins prepare to embark on their four-month nautical odyssey. In their rowboat 'Rus', the ancient name for Russia, with its Russian flags - blessed by an orthodox Russian priest before their last doomed attempt from Carnarvon in April, 2005. On the last trip, their water-making apparatus broke down after twenty four days at sea. Unfortunately they were beyond the fuel range of the aircraft able to drop the spare parts off to them, so they were rescued by a passing tanker and brought home. This time they have two water making machines. And about ten pairs of oars, just in case.

Follow the crazy Ruskis progress here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

BLOG AND BE PUBLISHED

A.D's thoughts on blogging, one year on. As published by the Australian Journalists' Association Scoop magazine, Winter 2007 edition. Photo of A.D courtesy of Demo Bob.

I began writing my blog, known to avid readers as the nerve, while stranded in the wilds of the Great Victoria Desert. Finding myself in the Blackstone Range, south of the Giles Meteorological Station, I cast about for something to do. I was in Papulankutja, a dry community with no alcohol, smoking, drugs, or petrol - and thus my options were limited. There was, however, broadband. So I got on, went to Blogger.com, and started a blog.

I was carrying with me a longhand journal filled with observations, gum leaves, printed ephemera, sketches and diatribes. But after my first electronic post, it dawned on me that while my blogging style was just as inimitably personal - solipsistic is perhaps more apt - as my private journalistic rants, there was one major difference.

The little button I pressed to upload my post. The little button that said, simply, “PUBLISH”.

And therein lay the magic. The power inherent in clicking that button was strangely addictive. I watched that vaguely miraculous little rotating wheel appear alongside the legend “PUBLISHING IN PROGRESS” and thought: that’s more like it.

It was in July of 2006 when the editor of Yarn magazine, former Rolling Stone journalist Barb, convinced me to start a blog. Yarn flew me to the Alice to cover the Beanie Festival. Why not, I thought? If I can play lawn bowls, I can surely write for a knitting magazine. I grabbed my Nikon and left. At the Alice’s famous Casa Nostra Italian restaurant (Casa Nostra being Italian for Nostril Castle, apparently so named for a local custom of consuming fettucine via the nostril) Barb regaled me with stories of writers who secured book contracts, after having innumerable offers thrust upon them, all as a result of writing blogs. Well, it got me thinking.

After the Beanie Fest I was nabbed and driven across the desert, down Aboriginal “business roads” not shown on any map, to photograph the spinifex papermaking in Papulankutja. And it was here I realised the innate portability of a blog. If I can blog here, I thought, I can blog anywhere. Later I would plug in at a net café in Bangkok, publish my photographs, impressions on the military coup, and blog my thoughts on living the Thai life - all for the cost of a few baht.

Blogger.com falls loosely within the ambit of what is termed the “social media”. MySpace, for instance, is a cross between a high school clique and rsvp.com. One of the first places visited by journalists and police after a mass-murder/suicide, MySpace is popular with musicians, serial killers, and people into online dating. Apart from your favourite music and films, MySpace lists your age, marital status, star sign (oh, please), whether or not you want kids, and whether you prefer “dating” or a “serious relationship”. Thankfully, Blogger is less like personal pages for egomaniacal wannabes.

But one reason I blog is, admittedly, for precisely the kind of benefits the social media bring. A way to keep in touch with friends and associates, or, rather, a way to put myself out there for those friends and associates who may be interested. Don’t you sometimes feel writing unsolicited emails to friends is uncomfortably like spamming? And sometimes it is: personally, I can’t stand being included in those bulk emails alleged “friends” send with those attachments they find so endlessly amusing ... just stop it, ok?

But the main reason? Blogging is an easy way to publish creative work. With newspaper writing, particularly news writing, there is very little room for creativity in expression. With digital photography, most images languish on my hard drive, rarely to be printed. Uploading them to a blog, or to a Flickr site, makes them seem more real, more visible: more like a print.

To write a blog and get picked up by the mainstream media, or to garner a massive readership and thence a book contract, you need to find yourself a niche, and then go for it. You need to be highly specific in what you choose to write about. Unfortunately I am not yet that pragmatic, focussed, or obsessed.

The nerve is, ultimately, all about putting the me in meandering.

And the “comments” button underneath each post? Its true purpose is neatly summed up by Bette Midler’s character C.C. Bloom in Beaches: “But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

BLOG SAFARI

Six months after leaving Perth on the trek with Safari Bob, i'm still writing my way around the North West. Just got a call from Coral Coast mag wanting a restaurant review. Mmm, food. I had better write this one the day before payday. That's the day i usually have a slice of cheese for dinner. Doing a food review the day before payday is as close as i get to financial planning.

Still living hand to mouth.

Meanwhile, i've been abandoned by all those around me. My flatmate Mickey T is out at Mardathuna fixing the station roof, leaving me to my own devices. Devices like my new invention, the hands-free-burger-eating kit, which is coming along nicely thank-you-very-much. Got a call from ABC Radio this morning, wanting to talk to Mickey T about his tuna (see below). I thought of pretending to be him, and making all kinds of outrageous remarks, but in the end i thought i could never come close to the flagrant egregiousness of the real Mickey T in action. I gave them his number at Mardathuna. He will be on air tomorrow, talking tuna.

My son Alexei was up here for a week, hanging out with the freestyle motocross riders, but on Monday he got on the 4am bus and hightailed it back to Perth, back to the chemical factory, to resume manufacturing bug powder. He could be making $100k+ on the mines, but hey.

As they say, you can always tell a twenty-one year old. But you can't tell them much.

Meanwhile, Mz Mayhem left Las Vegas yesterday and should be back in the country by now. Mayhem claims she wants a job up here in Carnarvon. I suggest a job as our sports writer. Let's face it, that's how Hunter S. Thompson got started, and look where he ended up. Hmm, on second thoughts... i notice they are seeking a casual nurse at Dr Case's medical centre. Mayhem has extensive nursing experience. As a veterinary nurse, working with animals, sure - but hey, this is the North West.

"A casual nurse?" comes her text from Vegas. "Does casual mean removing my stilettos?"

So. I'm writing restaurant reviews now. Not really edgy, is it? Unless of course they have a bain marie.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

SENDING A MESSAGE

Speaking on a mobile while driving might soon cost you $300.
Drinking a cup of coffee while driving will only cost you $3.

Just grab a cup from one of the many drive-through coffee shops in the big city. And if you're tired of dealing with emergency driving situations with a cup of boiling coffee in your lap - why not think about one of my new hands-free kits? The hose simply clips on to your bottom lip. Only $25 including p&p.

I am working on the hands-free burger-eating kit even as we speak.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

RELAXING WITH A LITTLE BIT OF FISHING

Suddenly, Mickey T turns up with a 98cm Northern bluefin tuna. Which he caught from a kayak, for chrissakes. With a fly rod. We eat fresh sashimi as he fillets it. With Corona and lime, of course. Imagine! Getting towed around the ocean in a kayak by a tuna. For his next trick, he will troll lures whilst kitesurfing.

THE QUIET AMBIENCE OF THE OUTBACK

The sun has already set as i pull into the Junction. The sky to the east has turned eggshell blue, graduating down through orange and red to indigo at the horizon. Still just enough light to get the photo i need for the paper. I drive to the police station, photograph it from a low angle, through the wire gate. Work done, i go to the pub.

The pub is old, and pretty small. The usual bush paraphernalia stuck to corrugated tin walls. TV, raucous in the corner, Eagles battling Lions.

There is something quite zoological about sport.

A few blokes stand about with stubbies and yell at the TV. Behind the bar, an enormous beer gut curves upwards, clearly graphing the publican's beer consumption over the past few years.

I walk up to the bar. A few blokes turn to stare at me. In my Hawaiian shirt. Purple jacket. Glasses.

Faggot, one of them says into his beer.

Yeah what can i get yer, grumbles the publican. He takes a swig from his stubby, and wipes the back of his hand across his bearded face.
I count out my coins. Three dollars forty.
How much is a beer? i ask.
Four fifty.
You got an ATM here?
A wot.
Like, a teller machine?
He grunts, and motions me to follow him into the adjacent petrol station. He runs my card through the eftpos. I ask for twenty dollars. A couple of my newspapers are sitting on the counter. The headline reads "Gascoyne to get lots ... and lots". A story about new land releases in Carnarvon and Exmouth. What a stupid headline, i think to myself. Who writes this rubbish.

The machine says "DECLINED: CONTACT CARD ISSUER."
Well, i say.
Yer that journalist from the Guardian, aren't you, the publican says.
I stare at the paper, and its stupid headline. Yes i am, i say with a sigh.
He pulls out his wallet.
Look, i don't often do this, he says. Looking around to make sure no-one is watching, he pulls out a twenty, and presses it into my hand. Here, get yerself a beer. He looks around furtively, puts his wallet back, nods to me and leaves.

What a curious man, i think. I walk back around to the bar.

The blokes are screaming at the TV.
Fuckin kick it! yells a man in a beanie. Fuckin kick it! That's what it's designed for, dickhead!
He wears a blue and yellow shirt with Rio Tinto embroidered above the breast pocket.
Fuckin kick it, says the man next to him.
The publican is back behind the bar.
Now, what can i get yer, he grumbles through his beard.
I'll have a beer thanks.
He drags out a stubby, pops the lid, presses it into a foam stubby holder, and thrusts it across the bar. I pay him. With his own money.
Oh, come on! That's gotta be a free! yells Mr Tinto.
I look up, startled. He is pointing in the direction of the TV. He is fairly drunk. He turns to the man on the stool next to him. The man nods.
Gotta be a free, he agrees.
Mr Tinto turns back to the screen. Christ! Pick it fuckin up! Pick it up, yer fuckin tool! Playing like a fuckin bunch of fuckin pansies!
Bunch of fuckin pansies, says the bloke next to him, taking a swig of his beer.
Suddenly someone kicks a goal.
Yeah! yells Mr Tinto. Fuckin yeah!
He raises a drunken arm to high-five the man next to him. He misses, and smacks the man right in the face.
Yeah! says the man.

A skinny, pale couple walk into the bar. The bar falls silent. The half dozen blokes, and the publican, turn to stare at them. The man has elasticized loops sticking out of his pants at the cuffs and pockets, and wears a backpack. The pants have a zip just below the knee, which turns them into shorts. Tricky dacks. His wife wears a similar pair of pants. They both have small, oval-shaped, rimless glasses.

They converse quietly in Dutch, reading the chalkboard menu above the bar. It alleges that food can be bought on the premises. You'll be lucky, i think to myself.

The publican heaves his massive bulk in front of them, hands on the bar.
What can i get yer, he grumbles.
The Dutchman orders two steak and chips, in faltering English. I look up at the blackboard. That will set them back sixty dollars.

You might have a bit of a wait, says the publican.
Excuse me?
The publican makes a great show of looking heavenward, then leans forward.
You ... might ... have ... a ... bit ... of ... a ... wait, he says loudly.
He marks out long intervals with his hand along the bar.
It ... might ... take ... some ... time, he shouts.
Oh, says the Dutchman. We don't mind.
Christ, says the publican, looking around the bar in mute appeal, as if wondering what he has done to deserve customers who walk in asking for food.
Fuckin drongos! shouts Mr Tinto. Play on! What you fuckin standing around for?
I presume he is shouting at the TV, although it is not entirely clear.
Fuckin drongos, says the man next to him.

The publican leans on the corrugated iron wall and shouts out through the back door. Get some chips out the freezer! An two steaks!
He takes a swig from his stubby and turns to me.
You right?

Who says you can't get quality service in this country these days.

Fifty k's out, i take a random back track, drive a while before finding a turnoff, a gully really, and stop by a shallow creek. I kill the lights and step out. A whole galaxy peels away above me into inky blackness. The stars. The infinite vastness of it all. It makes me feel small and insignificant. I stare upwards into it, until i get sick of feeling small and insignificant. I get enough of that dealing with my bank.

I switch the headlights back on and collect some wood. There appears to be no kindling. All the spinifex and bush is green. I find something in the glovebox that says "Datsun Sunny: Owners Manual".

I would hate to be caught with any evidence that i ever owned a Datsun Sunny. I use it to light the fire.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I WASN'T ALWAYS A WRITER

I used to work as a human cannonball, until one day i got fired.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

AWASH IN A SEA OF UNCERTAINTIES

"Whenever it is a drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

We run into Stelio at the pub. He has been out at sea, catching the snow crabs. I never would have picked him for a seafarer. More your groover and shaker - wax in the hair, funky streetwear, bit of bling - Stelio hangs out with the lovely Kristal. We always seem to run into him at the pub. So it comes as quite a surprise when he says he has been spending time at sea. At the edge of the continental shelf.

Yeah, i've been working through the pain, he says. Sea-sickness. When you're 200km off the Carnarvon coast, there's no barlese. Just got back, and had to play a team pool comp at the Sandy the other night. Grand final it was, too. Lost every frame. Couldn't stop the table moving.

Poor Stelio. Saw him again at the lovely Kristal's barbeque party, briefly, then he was off again on the boat. It was, like, eight o'clock at night. The tide was running out.

Crustaceans. What a way to make a living.

We went out on Scott's boat the other day, for sea trials. Scott's boat looks like the SS Minnow from Gilligan's Island, but without the hole in the side. Big, white and wooden. We were out on the drink the night before. I thought, sleep it off on the boat, then go to work Sunday and finish the paper. We get out there to the harbour, Louie, Mick, Chrisso and i, and Scott has the instrument panel pulled out, wires everywhere. It's spaghetti marinara.

This is Mark, says Louie. Oh, good, says Scott. He shows me the wiring. Temperature guage keeps showing high, and the ammeter's not working. What do you reckon.

It seems i've been nominated to fix the wiring on the boat. Unfortunately nobody told me i had been hired as the electrician, and i'm completely hammered. I stand swaying in the cabin, and we haven't even cast off. Still, my experience as a professional photographer has taught me one thing: as a professional, you must always remain in command. And make outrageous demands. Sorry, my experience as a professional photographer has taught me two things: always remain in command, and make outrageous demands. If you're on a shoot, demand exotic props. And employ the argot, the vernacular of the field.

Sorry, three things. Remain in command, demand outrageous props, and use specialised language.

And always appear confident at all times, even if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. Especially if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing.

Sorry, four things. If there are four things i have learnt whilst working as a professional photographer, it is command, demand, bamboozle, and bluster. I stagger into action.

Where's the multimeter? Take me to the bridge!
You're standing on the bridge.
Then the engine room, goddamn it! Where's the alternator? We need to check the diodes!
We descend into the hull. Darkness. Bilge pumps. A great big inboard diesel. I move about, poking at wires and nodding sagely.
Just as i thought! The single phase inverter is coupled to a transistorised regulator!
Oh, says Scott. Is that bad?
Of course it's not bad, you fool! I am disconnecting the sender unit!
I pull a wire off the temperature sensor.
What do the guages read now, Captain?
Scott scrambles up through the hatch to inspect the instrument cluser. They are exactly the same, he calls down.
I put the wire back on. Just as i suspected! i yell. You have an earthing problem!
That's just what i thought, he yells back. An earthing problem!
I stand up too fast, and suddenly everything is spinning. I fall down with a thump.

Needless to say, we don't get to sea that day. I can't understand why the instrument cluster is not earthed to the body of the boat. Scott has no idea either. The two guages are connected to each other via black wires bolted to the metal instrument panel. But the instrument panel itself is set in a wooden fascia. Where is the earth?

Eventually, after i burn a hole in the end of my finger with the end of a shorted wire, Scott calls my bluff.
You're not a sparky at all, are you, he says.
Sort of, i say.
He stares at me.
I take my finger out of my mouth.
Well, no, not exactly, i say.
What are you then?
A writer.
A writer, he says.

We retire to sleep off our hangovers.

I wake up hours later, and suddenly realise i was on board a boat. A boat is not a car. Of course nothing is earthed to the body of the boat - it floats in seawater. Seawater is an electrolyte. Of course you wouldn't use the chassis to return the current.

I probably would have figured that one out, had i been sober. You live and learn.

Well, you live.

Tomorrow we take out the Minnow for sea trials.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

BEACH PARTY BLUES

Morning is hell.

I peep out from inside the sleeping bag, but the light hurts. I tuck my head back under the fleece. Free beer. Always dangerous. Don't remember much of the beach party. A fire. I remember a fire on the beach. Guitars, a djembe drum, girls … as i drop back into the brief panacea of sleep, i remember …

Somebody tears down a tamarisk tree, covers it in diesel, and sets it alight. Well, they're a weed. Sitting around the fire, the drum thuds away as the other guitarist and i meander around each other. All is going splendidly until the Professional Partygoers turn up. One is carrying a big pine pallet. You idiots, he says. Trying to burn a green tamarisk tree.

He drops the pallet on the fire in front of us, with an expression of smug self-satisfaction. Which slowly fades as our fire goes out.

As i am leaving, a fresh Professional Partygoer demands the guitar. Give me the guitar, he says.
Oh, i am just leaving, i say, my guitar already slung over my shoulder.
No, come on, give me the guitar.
Well, i'm—
Give me the guitar.
I give him the guitar.
He sits down with it, and launches into a series of self-important power chords. It sounds like shit.
What the—?
He looks down at the guitar.
It's in open tuning, i say.
Oh, shit, he says, rolling his eyes. He plucks the lowest string, and turns the tuning peg. Nothing happens. He tries again.
What the—? he says again.
Oh, the bottom string has been removed. It's in a five-string tuning.
Oh, shit, he says. Give me an A, he demands of the other guitarist.
A? says the other guitarist, gently mocking.
Give me an A!
A? A? we all start saying in unison. A? We laugh. I get the guitar back and head up the road. I run into Louie.
Pies, says Louie. Pies. Let's go.
We walk to the bakery. Chrisso is there. Mickey T is nowhere to be seen; he's probably in a sleeping bag somewhere with one of the girls from the party. It's about three. The bakers flail away amongst the flour, making dough on speed.
They're on speed, says Chrisso.
A baker pops out with four pies. Ten dollars, he says. His eyes like saucers. Flying saucers.
It is the best pie i have ever eaten in my entire life. Either that or i'm drunk.

Morning is hell.

For breakfast, i eat half a microwaved pie i find on top of the cupboard. As we check out of the Coral Bay backpackers, we check out the backpackers. There's Lydia, the Swedish babe from the beach yesterday, in the yellow bikini. Lydia is swanning around the place. She smiles. Mmm.

Ah, back in the Bay, says Mickey T. Now i remember now why i spent a whole year here.

We take our key and our borrowed rugs back to reception. Chrisso, Mickey T and i try catching moths in the lobby. For our wallets. The girls at the desk stare at us as we climb the walls. Call security, says the pretty one to the ugly one.
What are you guys doing? says the ugly one.
Oh, just catching these moths, to put in our wallets. So when we open our wallets, the moths will fly out. You see? It's like a joke.
She stares at us.
Maybe you should put them in your underpants, she says.

At the bakery, i order double-shot espressos from the french waitress. With a poker face, i open my wallet, waiting for the moths to fly out so i can play the old 'obviously i haven't opened my wallet in a long time' gag. A big moth lumbers out, slowly. Obviously dazed. It stands on the end of my finger. We both stare at it.

Eez that your leetle friend, says the waitress.

We wander the Bay in search of our sobriety. It takes us four hours to launch the boat. Finally, after several more coffees and red bulls, we head out into the bay, totally flungover. Which, as readers of The Nerve will know, is just like hungover, only further over.