I am waiting in the aisle at Woolworths. A man in front of me has just bought eight large lettuces, and nothing else. He is stuffing them into two large bags.
Have you got a giant, hungry rabbit, i ask.
No, he says, looking confused. I haven’t.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
"Keep it pointed down range, girl," Jessie says. She takes her Glock back off Kylie, and rocks the slide back. "See? There's the shell stuck in there. Your wrists are too limp." She shakes it out, pulls out the magazine and slams it back in to reload. She hands it back to Kylie. "Now, one hand pushes forward, the other pulls back. Lock your elbows." She walks around behind Kylie and grabs her by the hips. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! Kylie knocks over a metal pig. "Good girl," says Jessie.
Jessie seems to be standing unnaturally close to Kylie. This is looking all very Thelma and Louise. I leave Kylie in Jessie's clutches and wander back to the Practical Pistol course. People are sauntering about, guns slung on hips, ammunition clipped to their belts. Mr Smith is racing through the commando course with his chrome Infinity weapon and its holographic sight held out in front of him. The other Mr Smith shadows him with a digital stopwatch. Mr Smith ducks and weaves around the barriers, unloading two rounds into each target, at a ridiculously fast pace. He quickly reloads his magazine. The next shot sets the popper target swinging. He puts two neat holes through a target, and ducks across to lean out between two blue barrels and nail the popper at the top of its arc. BLAM! BLAM! Mr Smith stops the clock. Seven point zero three, he calls.
Kylie has come back from the animal silhouettes.
"They keep giving me guns," she says.
"I just wanted to try shooting one. Just once. But they keep giving me more and more guns."
"Yeah. I wish they would give me one. I want to shoot those little metal chickens."
I have been woken up by the chickens next door every day now for two months. Every morning, six o'clock. Just one clip. I just want to unload one clip into a little metal chicken silhouette.
A man comes up to Kylie with what looks like a six-shooter.
"This is a thirty-eight calibre revolver," he says. "Would you like to fire it."
"Oh, all right," Kylie says, and stomps off with him.
It's hard doing this story for the paper. People will talk to me all right, about the pistol club, the sport, and what a great family sport it really is - but then they won't give me their names.
"Oh, i don't want people to know i've got guns," they say.
And the ones who have given me their names all seem to be called Mr Smith.
I am just waiting now to meet a Mr Wesson.
Mr Smith comes up to me with his chrome Infinity.
"This is based on the 1911 pistol, invented by Mr Browning," he says.
"That's right," he says, surprised. He seems quite impressed. "You know about Mr Browning?"
"Oh, i don't like to boast, but yes, i know a little...
'Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware -'"
"Robert Browning. The poet?"
He glares at me. "Do you want to fire this weapon or not?"
"All right then. As i said, it's based on the 1911 single-action automatic, invented by John Moses Browning." He scowls at me. "The most famous and competent gunmaker the world has ever known."
"Great. Can i have a go? On the animal silhouettes?"
"Now, John Browning was unquestionably a genius. He also invented the 30/30 Winchester repeating rifle. He developed his designs as all inventors do, through trial and error and an ongoing effort to improve on initial weaknesses."
"The animal silhouettes are just over there."
"Browning designed this pistol for use by the US military, and in this he succeeded admirably. Although 90 years have elapsed since the pistol was adopted for service, it is still in use by US military units, and very much in demand in the civilian sector."
"I have my earmuffs right here."
"Less generally known is that Browning designed many parts of the 1911 pistol to be used as tools in its own disassembly and reassembly. Even the .45 cartridge itself can be used to work on the gun."
"Has it got much of a kick? Let me try it."
"This custom Infinity has been adapted to fire thirty-eight calibre projectiles from a forty-five calibre shell. This gives the projectile more speed and accuracy, and also allows the gun's use on the Practical Pistol range under Federal legislation. Here, would you like to fire it?"
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Working long hours is taking its toll. It's not just about finding stories. Any fool can find a story. It's the production deadlines. Fifteen to twenty stories per week - find them, write them, sub them, process your photos and convert them to eps. Sub the stories and process the photos from your stringers. What's that? Channel Nine news is on the phone and they want confirmation on what? Whether the woman attacked by the shark whilst wading on the reef had a baby on her hip? How would i know? Tell them she had twins, one on each hip. Load up the pages and check the dummy. Start thinking about laying out the pages in Quark. Write a news list. Which stories are going on which pages? Do this before you have the actual stories. Fruitcakes off the streets. Back up your harddrive! Have you sent your story for the State Wrap? Keep your sources happy. Write out your entertainment expenses - a monumental exercise in creative writing. Sort through your daily quota of a hundred emails in the hope of finding two or three relevant media releases. Keep your ear to the ground and your nose to the grindstone. Maintain your records. Answer that phone! It's not just finding the stories and keeping plugged in to what's going down. It's finding the time to photograph, write, subedit, edit, lay out and publish the damn things. "Time management", they call it. Managing to fit 50 hours work into 37.5.
And the invitations! "Dear Mr Reporter, we would like to invite you to the opening of a drawer. Would you mind coming along and taking a few photographs? We have a guest speaker who will be speaking for four and a half hours on strategic best practice in drawer implementation which I am sure your readers would find most interesting. It's on Friday night at 6.30pm and the tickets will cost you $35. We look forward to seeing you."
Oh, you think i am joking, don't you. Obviously you haven't read my paper. Or last week's feature article "The Drawer: Getting A Handle On It".
Stress. It can strike any of us, at any time. Why not set aside a few seconds out of your hectic daily schedule? Just a few seconds, that's all it takes. Close your eyes, and clear your head of all thoughts. You are an island.
You are floating on a cloud.
Now, take a few deep breaths, carefully pull on on your earmuffs, and unload a whole clip of .45 calibre ammunition into a small target. BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
There you go. Now, doesn't that feel better?
Saturday, May 19, 2007
It is a hot, still morning, and the water in the harbour is like glass. Except it doesn't make any crunching sounds as our boat cuts through it. We head out from the Snapper Jetty. Kylie and i nurse hangovers, our eyes narrowed against the glare of the morning sun. I ask the man standing on deck next to me, Carnarvon's solar farm owner, independent political candidate, accountant and resident bagpipe player, if scattering ashes on the ocean counts as a Burial at Sea.
Or do you need an actual body, i ask.
Our vessel burbles past a line of blue and white trawlers, and they rock silently at their moorings. He frowns.
I don't believe so, he says. We once had a Burial at Sea where we used a couple of sandbags. They'd accidentally cremated the body.
But generally speaking, you need a body and a coffin?
Yes. The scattering of ashes is what one would call a Memorial Service.
I ponder this. As we leave the harbour, we pick up a few knots.
I don't suppose you even need a coffin, for a Burial at Sea.
He raises a quizzical eyebrow.
Just thinking outside the box.
We head out past the Lead Marker toward the point where poor Asger drowned. Asger, the Danish merchant seaman who jumped ship with a mate in Whyalla all those years ago. Three other longtime Carnarvon residents drowned alongside Asger after their boat struck a barge in the dark. It was a terrible business. The Norma Jean struck the barge amidships at speed, scraped along the side, and sank.
Kylie points to some sea creatures breaking the surface of the glistening green waters off the port side. Yeah, those are dugongs, i say casually. You get them out here all the time. (Of course, i have never seen a dugong before in my life. But i do know one thing for certain. In Italy, a dugong is called a dugongo. Valuable information, which will probably come in handy one day.)
Poor Kylie. I'm not sure what she expected, coming to visit me in Carnarvon, but going out and scattering a Danish mariner's ashes at sea was probably not the first thing that came to mind.
Eventually the lead boat of the flotilla drifts to a halt. We are at the site where the Norma Jean sank. The boats form a circle, and wreaths are laid on the surface of the sea. The radios Asger used in his volunteer sea rescue work are committed to the deep. We stand, silent on the deck, as his ashes are scattered. Then the parachute flares are let off. They blast their thin trails directly into the azure sky, high, high, high, before a thin pop sees them burning brightly and slowly downward. It is a very solemn moment.
On the bow of each boat, men stand holding flares aloft, like little Statues of Liberty, in silent tributes to Asger. It is sombre and serene. Fucking hell! Comes a shout across the water. Kylie and i look across and see that one of the boats appears to be on fire. Smoke billows from the deck, as flares shoot in all directions. Suddenly we are all lurching about the deck like drunks at a disco as the skipper powers our boat around in a quick arc to assist. It seems they have fired a flare upside down, directly into a box of flares. Another flare shoots sideways out of the boat. And another. Flares are firing randomly in all directions, as a couple of figures scramble about in a thick cloud of smoke, pouring seawater onto the base of the fire.
Our skipper cuts the throttle and we all stagger forward like drunks towards a bar.
Another flare fizzes off across the water, but the smoke is clearing. A hand emerges from the smoke, and gives us the thumbs-up. The wreaths have been upturned by the wash, and good old Asger's ashes are mixed in with the ancient salt of the sea. The Memorial Service is over.
We head back into the sun, back into another day in Carnarvon.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I knock off from the paper and drive the Datto out to the airport. Takes about thirty seconds. I can see the little Fokker 50 circling around to land, into the southerly. I've changed Young Kylie's mind, and air ticket, so she is coming to Carnarvon instead of Broome.
Don't be surprised if the plane has propellers, i tell her.
The plane is taxiing up to the shed that serves as Carnarvon Airport as i pull in. A man waves some ping pong bats at the pilot. The pilot cuts the props. Kylie emerges from the aeroplane, and climbs down those steps that hide the fire extinguishers. She looks out across the flat brown land from behind her designer sunglasses. The airport is surrounded with a levee against the floods. She sees me across the tarmac. Waves. A smile lights up her face as she comes into the transit lounge. We hug. She looks around for the conveyor.
Oh! she says. Where's my luggage?
I point to a little electric truck and trailer pulling into the car park at high speed. Driven by a man i last saw on the clay at Carnarvon Speedway. We grab her backpack off the trailer and sling it into the Datto. There's the hacienda, i say, pointing across the road. With the green fence.
It's a small town.
That night there is a spontaneous seafood feast. Mickey T scores hundreds of blue swimmer crabs from Jecksy out at Abacus Fisheries. Chrisso rolls up with a uteload of Shark Bay prawns. Richard the Oyster Farmer, who lives out at Northwest Seafoods, turns up with an irrational amount of scallops. Plus a carton of Corona and a kilo of lemon.
Coming back from Champagne On The Beach, the Young Kylie and i bring all the foodstuffs the blokes have forgotten. The only greens they usually have with their dinner is what they can smoke afterwards.
We demolish a huge mound of crab, with the ubiquitous Corona and lemon. Plates laden with two different kinds of salad, potatoes with sour cream and shallots, cracked pepper and sea salt, barbecued garlic prawns and chilli scallops. It's just tremendous. Seven hungry people, and still we can't eat it all. Richard, Chrisso, Terry the historian slash backpacker, Young Colby, Mickey T, Kylie and the Art Director.
The five-string and the bottleneck come out. Along with Ellie's homemade rum. The didge and the djembe drum. The jews harp and the blues harp. Anythin you could play on a verandah. You know, without electricity. Dirt music. Tim Winton. The verandah. A sky dusted with stars. Good food. Great company. Lousy music.
When i was in the UK, Kylie says, people found it hilarious that my name was Kylie and i was from Australia.
Well, it is hilarious. What do you want to do tomorrow.
There's a burial at sea. You should come. It'll be fun.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Well, the better half of The Art Director and Mayhem duo is off to San Francisco. Last i heard, Mayhem was planning to go to Chicago, get married to the rock musician Trashy Feelgood in a ceremony in Vegas, and spend some time living in the gutter. However, in the world of Mayhem, even the most concrete and sensible plans can go awry.
She rings me at five thirty in the morning, freaking out because she's been asked to make a video for a certain famous US-based musician. You have to help me Art Director, she says. I'm freaking out. Cutting a long, yet fascinating story short, she met a certain music producer at an after party, but is sworn to secrecy about the project.
He will pick Mz Mayhem up from her hotel in LA. In a convertible Mustang, no less.
I want his midlife crisis, i tell her.
Avid readers may remember the Art Director also planned to drive Mayhem about in a convertible Mustang, for the documentary film The Maestro. I also planned to make her a star. Well, she has that kind of effect on people, OK? In the end we settled for a 64 Falcon coupe, and a screening at a film festival. Not exactly the cover of Whom magazine, but there it is.
It's very Goats Head Soup, circa 1972. Every man is the same come on, I'll make you a star,
I'll take you a million myles from all this...
Oh, it's a familiar pattern, the midlife crisis. Anyhow, Mayhem has a good idea for the video clip. When she calls again, i give her my best advice. Give it your best shot. And cut a show reel. Go on. (We are always saying "go on" to one another. Which tends to land us in a bit of bother now and then.) I'll write a treatment and a budget, i say. And, if it doesn't work out - well, you've always got the gutter. But then her MySpace fiancee Trashy divorces her!
"Not only am i divorced, Art Director, but i've been deleted," says Mayhem. Deleted from Trashy's MySpace friends list! How mortifying. Mr Feelgood was obviously not living up to his name on that day.
Mayhem has an mp3 of the song. She plays it to me down the phone. She is under strict instructions not to let it out of her iBook.
It is a fucking great song.