Wednesday, December 31, 2008

STONER NOODLES

DECEMBER RECIPE OF THE MONTH
This is a recipe for instant gratification. You can cook this while totally off your tits. I know, because i was there.


INGREDIENTS
Serves 2
Mi Goreng instant noodles
two eggs
coconut milk
coriander
sprouts or other vegetation
meat, fish, or fish substitute

METHOD
Dylan is back in town. I don't quite know what he is doing here, but that's OK, because neither does he. After lurching about town for a 'quick drink', we finally stagger back to the apartment and start in on a stash of New Zealand's finest, thoughtfully left behind during a recent visit by a local bohemian guitarist. It's been a big afternoon slash evening. Sarah Toa was right. There is no such thing as a 'quick drink' with Dylan, unless bouncers are involved. As it was, i had to drag him out of the Tangehead pub before we were thrown out. Once again. After weeks of practice, i have found there is an intangible yet clearly definable line, which, if we stick to it, allows us to be happy, smiling, partying drunks. Once the line is reached - and this is easily recognisable, because suddenly everybody is our best friend - the trick is to drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. And drink slowly, preferably while wearing a Hawaiian shirt. To quote Safari Bob, everything looks better in a Hawaiian shirt.

But if i succumb to that almost irresistible urge to increase my alcoholic intake fourfold and /or start in on the spirits, i will cross this fine line, and become an instant nuisance. Or, along with Dylan, two instant nuisances.

After Dylan sits down at someone else's table and starts talking in what sounds like a Lithuanian dialect to Ann-Marie, the pretty, short-cropped blonde-haired ex-model, i decide we must have inadvertently crossed that line at some point on our crawl between the Hurl, the Premier Hotel and Tanglehead. Ann-Marie works at the hairdressers downstairs from my apartment and, a couple of days ago, they were all working dressed in elf outfits. Ann-Marie's red pixie party dress, trimmed with white faux fur, came down to her upper thigh, followed by a short space of white flesh, then sheer white lace-topped stockings. She was wearing high heels, and her legs went all the way up until they met our expectations. We had just returned from the beach, and stood in front of the window - sandy, stunned and somewhat stricken - as Ann-Marie bent over to pick a dustpan and brush up off the floor.

"You looked very festive in that elfin outfit," Dylan says to her during a brief moment of comprehensibility. "My friend and i were watching you through the window. I've got an ostrich egg at home. I can show it to you if you like."
I collar Dylan and drag him toward the exit. "Let's go."
"We could listen to Barry White! Do you play Yahtzee?" he shouts over his shoulder.
Our exit is complicated by the sudden appearance before us of two blonde girls, dressed all in khaki. They introduce themselves as Steve and Bindi Irwin. This proves too much of a distraction for Dylan, who immediately launches into another improbable dialogue.
"A dingo ate my baby," he begins.

Eventually we reach the relative solace of the apartment, light up a pipe, and get bombed. Dylan raids my vinyl collection, and begins to irreparably damage my mint condition Beatles box set. I go to the kitchen to see what's to eat. Not much. Some leftover beef vindaloo. And a couple of packets of two-minute Mi Goreng instant noodles.

I boil some water on the stove, and crack in a couple of freshly plucked eggs. After these have cooked for about a minute, i chuck in the noodles and their concomitant condiments, squeezing them out of their little plastic sachets. Dylan has found some Stevie Wonder. The street scene from Living For The City plays out on the stereo. I lurch about the kitchen. Two minute noodles. It doesn't quite cut it, does it. I find a tin of coconut milk. Mmm. There's an idea. Coconut milk. I open it and set it aside while i go looking for some coriander. Coconut and coriander. Like Steve and Bindi. I find some coriander and some leftover salad, and tear it all up. The noodles are cooked, so i tip in some coconut milk and throw the vegetation on top. Looking good. But it needs some body, some meat, or better still, some seafood. Fish. Or perhaps some nice fish substitute? I ransack the fridge and cupboards. Nothing. Only the leftover beef vindaloo. Where is Sarah Toa, rogue fisherwoman when i need her? What the hell, i think. I quickly heat the vindaloo in the microwave and throw in some beef strips and, as an afterthought, tip in some of the curry oil.
"Mmm," says Dylan, and he takes a mouthful from his bowl of noodles. The Saints are on the stereo, stranded far from home. "This is great curry laksa."
I look at the bowl, with its coconut soup intermingled with curry oil. Bean shoots. Noodles. It does look like curry laksa. Well i never.
"Oh it's not bad," i say, nonchalantly. "I got the recipe from a Thai monk during my stay at the Suvarnabhumi Temple at Three Pagodas Pass, up near the Burmese border. Back in '72."
"They love their Yahtzee, those monks," says Dylan. "You got any beer?"

Sunday, December 28, 2008

AS I LAY DRYING

My lids are red, almost translucent in this lucid December sun. I hear the soft shush, shush of the swell between the rocks, and feel the warmth of the sun, and its bite. I realise i will be prickly with sunburn tomorrow. But the heat is so relaxing my muscles have lapsed into a dream state. And i don't wish to wake them.

Yesterday i applied for a job as a journalist in Airlie Beach, Queensland, with The Whitsunday Times. No, not the Sunday Times - The Whitsunday Times. This is a subtle, yet vital distinction. Because the Whitsunday Islands are exotic, are far away, and have remote beaches. Mmm. The Whitsundays. I'd need a yacht. And perhaps there i can finally get away from it all. Perhaps there i can finally escape my past and stop running for a while.

So how do you think it feels
sleeping by yourself
when the one you love, the one you love
is with someone else

then it's a wide open road
its a wide open road
and now you can go any place
that you wish to go

- David McComb


But deep down i know the memories will follow in my wake, and when i stop she will once again wash over me. Getting away from it all on some remote beach. It's a romantic notion; and like most romantic notions, it will never work. Because on whichever beach i lay on - and today i'm laying on a warm rock off Mistaken Island - it is never remote enough. Wherever i am, the beach is right there under me. There is no escape.

Mistaken Island - a metaphor for my journey these past two and a half years, trying to forget, trying to push myself and my work out beyond the edge. And now today i have discovered i am not a photographer at all. I am merely a camera demolition expert. I have destroyed yet another Nikon, this time by dropping it onto Sarah's head as we climbed down from above the wheelhouse on the Cheynes II. She did a sterling job of breaking its fall, but as it hit the deck the back came open, ruining my last roll of film. The camera no longer works. Deja voodoo. I remember picking up another F3, also minus its back, its spoiled film spilling out like goat entrails out onto the highway near Ravensthorpe. Only a couple of weeks back. And the D70 ... well, best not to even think about that one. Suffice to say it's gone too. That makes four cameras lost, broken or completely destroyed since October. Ouch. I heard a theory, through a friend of a friend, that i am subconsciously destroying all my cameras because i don't value my skills as a photographer. Perhaps that's what happened in my relationship with Mili X. Perhaps i didn't value my skills. Or perhaps i'm just really stupid and clumsy.

Either way, i'm working on a deal with The Newspaper to acquire their stash of old Nikon film cameras, which are languishing and collecting dust, in a steel cabinet in the subs' room. A whole bunch of them. Which is good, because at this rate, i'm going to need them.

Just as we were about to push off from the Cheynes II, we suddenly realised it was a giant mussel farm. Never averse to a feed of those tasty morsels, we filled a third of a bucket in no time flat; Morgan, Catherine, Sarah and i pulled them from the hull where they were clustered between the high and low tide marks. Then Sarah piloted the boat around the coastline, past Fisheries, to the lee side of the peninsula and Mistaken Island, where we anchored and swam. I had only boxers. "Don't laugh," i instructed my fellow drifters as i prepared to dive into those crystal clear waters. "Oh, no," said Catherine, "We'll only laugh when you get out." Hmm. The shrinkage factor. I dive in.

Lying, drying, salt taut on my skin. Sarah and Catherine are stretched out on another rock somewhere on the island, while Morgan is fossicking about, swimming, and calling to his mum. The quietude and sunshine is bliss. I roll onto my stomach and start toasting my back. Perhaps i should stay put in Albany for a while, with its warm weather and stunning beaches. I'm earning good money now, as production editor. And Melinda Mayhem will be back from New York by the end of the week, unless they agree to extend her US visa - and even the US Government is not that crazy. Last time she flew from Manhattan straight to the mangroves and spent three months working in Carnarvon, where i broke her in as a journalist. If i remember rightly i was wearing spurs at the time.

"I'm thinking of coming down to Albany from New York," Mayhem says. "Can you find me a job? I mean, why break with tradition? We'll save some money, Art Director, and head for Europe. Go on."

Perhaps that's what i need to break this spell. My muse. I'm hot, and i'm dry. I wade out into the crystal clear waters for another swim. Fuck the X. Bring on the here and now.

Friday, December 26, 2008

MESSING ABOUT IN BOATS

It is a splendid day. The sea is glassy and white clouds scud, as only clouds can, across an azure Albany sky. The thirty horsepower Mercury is getting us across at a good clip. We can see the silhouette of the Cheynes II framed against the white beaches of Possession Point. The whole venture brings to mind Kenneth Graham: "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

The Cheynes II. And i thought my '62 Spitfire was a rustbucket. It had nothing on this old Norwegian whalechaser. It is one of those spectacularly failed projects. You know the ones. Your uncle probably had one in his shed, a chassis of a vintage car or truck, dozens of cardboard boxes full of parts, and a head full of dreams.

"It had a series of owners, all fixated on owning the ship as a kind of boys' own adventure," explains Sarah Toa, as she pilots Old Salt's tinnie across the harbour. "One of its owners was going to make his fortune out of it during the America's Cup, hiring it out to rich Americans, so they could watch the yacht race in luxury. Decked it out with a chef's kitchen, plush velvet booths, jarrah panelling. They went broke, of course."

As we approach the half-sunken ship, pigeons explode into the clear sky, circle, and resettle. We draw up alongside and tie off where the rusting deck lists right down to the high water mark. Surprisingly, there are no 'keep off' signs here to deter visitors, nothing imploring them not to trespass, no warning signs at all - other than the obviously dangerous deck. I step onto it, and see it has completely rusted through in parts. A bit like the floor in my '62 Spitfire. I welded the floor pans up, and then the sills rusted through. I replaced the gearbox, and then the cylinder head went. I went through two differentials and still it howled like a banshee. The fuel pump imploded along with various axles, bearings, radiators and starter motors. "No-one ever owns a Triumph," a knowledgeable friend told me. "You only ever own Triumph parts."

We weave our way past the rusted holes and scattered debris toward the bow of the ship. The bulkheads have long been stripped of their brass portholes. Pieces of chain and steel plate are lying about. What looks like a mast rises high above the deck, secured by cables. A rusted 44-gallon drum is affixed to the top, guarded by a lone cormorant. Of course this can't be a mast: the Cheynes would have been powered by a massive diesel engine. Or was it steam? It must be a lookout, a crow's nest, from which the whalers would have sighted their quarry. The cables still hold a few rungs, which run up to the rusted drum. One could still possibly climb it, but it would be a suicidal mission. And today i'm just not in the mood. I did try to commit suicide once, back in 95. I took up smoking and stopped wearing seatbelts. This, however, proved unsuccessful.

These days kids paddle out here from Camp Quaranup to do bombies off the deck. Miss Polly told me she came here once on a school camp, and did just that, only to find that the impact with the water a few metres below was sufficient to pull her bikini top off.

Ah, to be sixteen again, and swimming with topless, raven-haired girls. I gaze out into the green waters and trip over a length of steel cable.

The Cheynes II is, i realise, one of the last bastions of freedom. Here, we are completely free to fall down, hurt ourselves quite badly, and sue somebody's ass. It is a treasure trove of litigation. Sunken ships and treasure. A boys' own adventure indeed.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

THE FINE ART OF GETTING FIRED

It's never much fun getting fired. But when you are a human cannonball, it comes with the territory. And Dylan's ballistic style was always going to land him in trouble.

He was a talented writer, our former arts writer, one of the best - and i've worked with some damn fine talent during my nine-month sojourn at The Newspaper. Dylan's words glowed with a white fire. He had the imagination and verve to carry the bright and blazing torch of prose well beyond the pale. He was a natural with words, and was never more so than when being ejected from the various bars around town. He would invoke heaven and hell in his brilliant drunken diatribes, bringing down all manner of blessings and disgrace upon our bleary heads. You could call him a troubled writer. And as his sometimes unwilling accomplice, i too was troubled, mainly by where we were going to drink the following night as we were systematically banned from each of the town's few watering holes. Even our friends started banning our late night, inebriated visits. Dylan was indeed a troubled soul. I got along with him famously.

Miss Polly and i went to see his bizarre film, Enter The Hobo, which had been included in an international comedy film festival in the nearby hippy commune of Denmark. We drove down there, bought some wine, ordered a pizza and sat through what Miss Polly later dubbed "officially the worst film of the entire festival." I didn't think it was that bad, although it was clearly a stoner movie. The pizza was a good call.



Anyway, after a particularly spectacular drunk one night he finally lost his artistic licence when he was fired on the spot. That night Lorenzo and i were nearly killed. But as we tore down the winding road around Mount Clarence, the silver sea shining like a sharp flat blade in the abyss below, i was totally fatalistic. Faster, faster! I cried. You need to accelerate through those corners! Keep the car balanced! Hit that bend at its apex! And so on.

And of course it all ended badly. We skidded to a halt outside Martine's place, where Derek, Dolores and Tiffany had just returned after the pub, but they wouldn't let us in. Tiffany, who is quite a responsible girl in a glamorous kind of way, tried to take Dylan's keys. But we took off again, back up the mountain, in an ill-fated search for a higher plane. Ours was a spiritual quest. There was a bottle of spirits out there somewhere with our name on it.

So Derek rings on the mobile. "What do you think you are doing, you fools? Make him stop. He is in no condition to be driving. Get out of that car," he admonishes.
"Sure Derek. What would you know about it?" i demand, as i am flung hard against the window winder as Dylan negotiates another hair-brained bend.
"I work in the emergency department, i see what happens," Derek says.
"Try telling that to James Dean," I shout, and terminate the call.

I had absolutely no idea what i was trying to say, but i was saying it with great conviction. An ashen-faced Lorenzo jumped out at the next intersection.

It was a sad day, helping him empty out his room. It wasn't much of a house, out past Highway Meat Supply in one of the undesirable suburbs. The back door was broken and couldn't be locked. His flatmate was away on the mines. The recent downpour had covered the kitchen floor with water. Some aboriginals whom Dylan had given a lift home the night before had stolen all the cassettes out of his car. There was nothing much in his room to put into a storage unit anyway, but he insisted on doing just that. "I'll be back at Christmas," he said.

A clock radio, a small collection of the worst records i have ever seen, a cheap portable television and a box of oddments. Even in the smallest storage unit in the complex, his collection of belongings looked pathetically small. I tried to explain that he wouldn't miss any of this stuff, and that he would never come back for it, but after he accidentally snapped the key off in the roller-door, it was settled. We tossed the remaining LP records. Max Bygraves went onto the roof. An accordion band hit the forlorn-looking basketball hoop by the cyclone fence.

"I'll be back," he said.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

NINETEEN SEVENTY NINE

He found me through an article in the newspaper.

"When i first saw that story about someone with your name riding a motorcycle around Albany without a licence, and giving false details and a false address to police, i thought, that would have to be you," he says.

It's an unnerving experience. Someone you haven't seen for nearly 30 years on your doorstep. School friends - those school friends with whom you once spent a lot of time - have this innate knack of turning up and shining a harsh light on your formative years. Quite unintentionally, in the course of general conversation, they illuminate how you so carelessly chartered this course of self-destruction, how you so blithely cast off into strange waters, setting sail with nothing but a rudimentary grasp of trigonometry and the wan light of distant stars.

But this didn't occur to me when i first opened my door and saw Lachlan. These thoughts came later, after several red wines, and more several red wines. The first thought that came to mind was how long his eyebrow hairs had grown.

I invite him upstairs, and put some coffee on the stove top.
"Yes, that was me," i say. "I couldn't do anything about the article going in the paper, but i did get to write my own headline. 'Motorcyclist takes police for a ride'."
He nods. "Yeah, funny," he says flatly. "Then i read a story about your photographic exhibition. You were always photographing things. That's what i wanted to talk to you about. You see, i'm getting married next week..."

And so we get to talking. Remembering the days of the old school yard. Music, cars, the (still unsolved) mystery of girls, our first forays into pubs and clubs, and, of course, skateboarding.

"Remember the luge runs?" Lachlan asks.
"Remember? 65 miles per hour on a four-foot long skateboard. Three inches off the road. At night. Yes, i remember."
"There was one time at Kangaroo Hill, me and Tim were standing, waiting for the run. Then this couple came out into their front garden, just randomly; we didn't know what to do. Suddenly the luge goes past, whoosh, and they watch it barreling downhill, stunned. Hub dressed all in black, lying down on the board, lit by your headlamps as you both roared past their front gate at over 100km/h.
"This couple just stand there, stare at each other. Then the bloke goes, 'I have heard about these things.' We just took off."
I laugh. "I remember doing Ewan Street in Scarborough, from the water tower to Scarborough Beach Road. Ha. Crazy days."
"Ah, Scarborough High School...they banned all school socials after ours. Man, i don't know how you did it. You got third in the academic awards, and you were never at school."
"I was so."
"No you weren't. You were always out stealing cars, or down the beach, or making explosives, or doing some crazy shit."
"I was not."
"Then you would bring in sick notes, and forge you mother's signature." He laughs.

He must have me confused with someone else. I'm imagining he's suddenly going to look at me askance and go, hang on, who are you again? Oh, no, that was another guy. But he doesn't.

"Remember when we went to that gig at UWA? What were they called - Icehouse? Flowers?"
"Flowers. And no, i don't remember. I'm pretty sure i wasn't there." But there is a niggling memory.
"Yeah you were, we were looking for you after the show, and you'd taken off with the band somewhere."
"No." Did I?

It slowly dawns on me that i've blocked out a whole series of memories from those days. They were troubled times. I didn't know who i was, what i was doing, or where i was going. High school days. It was like being locked in the trunk of a car, on a slow crawl up a darkened road, suddenly emerging before a giant drive-in screen as some bright and strange movie unfolds before your eyes. Now that part i remember. That was 1979, the movie at the drive-in was A Clockwork Orange, and i'd been in the boot of Robbie Chapman's Renault. I got in for free.

After high school i worked in a bank for two years, to qualify for the independent rate of tertiary assistance. The stint as a bank clerk permanently scarred my soul. To compensate, i bought a '62 Triumph Spitfire, chopped and lightened, with a worked motor. My first car.

Always start as you mean to continue.

We'd drive out to wherever and just skate. All the old crew from school, the pioneers, were still skating right through 1980. We were listening to new wave, punk, whatever. Sex Pistols. Devo. The Ramones, The Cure, The Jam. We could see bands every night at the Cat and Fiddle for a dollar, but we'd still climb the barbed wire at the back to get in for free. We were punks. The pub is the Flying Scotsman now, and the old punks settle for pizza and a pint on Sundays. But the Cat had bands like Doris Day, the Neutrons, the Silent Type, the Manikins. And the Triffids, whose limp and laconic stage presence belied their panoramic music and Dave McComb's stunning lyrics.

I started to take photography seriously. Went off to university and spent two years studying physics. Then i met Sienna, and began fooling around with drugs. As you do. I'd jump in the Triumph with a ridiculous amount of hash and we'd just drive, to Kalbarri or Margaret River or wherever, sit on the beach and smoke until we couldn't move. Or i'd turn up at a ramp and try to skate on acid. Things spiralled out of control pretty quickly. The skate crew fell apart over the next year as people drifted off. I don't remember much of that period at all, right up until the beginning of 1987 when i discovered i was a father and had certain responsibilities...

But by 1983 i had dropped out of uni started played music. In those days, this seemed a viable career option - you could live on the dole and play punk rock in bars. The Old Melbourne, the Casablanca, Hernandos, the Seaview, Rockwells, the Stoned Crow, the Shents, the Wizbah, Ozone Bar, the Red Parrot. I was renting a run-down house near the Leederville Hotel, a two bedroom wooden cottage for twenty dollars a week. But most days i'd go visit Sienna. We'd get stoned, fuck, and lie on her bed, off our heads, listening to King Crimson, Return to Forever, Eno, or some wacked out shit like Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Sienna was going through a mad, bad time. Her boyfriend Bob had died of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of a roadhouse, while on tour as the drummer in the musical Hair. A phenomenal drummer, by all accounts. Sienna threw herself into his grave at his funeral. She was a nut bar, but i loved her. Then one night she just ran off. Turned up a few days later in the hills, at a friend's house in Darlington, where she'd spent the past two days blind on datura. Literally blind. She was never the same after that. We drifted apart. I joined a new band.

Lachlan, meanwhile, was Down South, surfing, smoking, and camping in the forest. Working his way through university, to emerge a decade later with a qualification and a house in Denmark.

"Last i remember, you were getting about in that Kombi," i say. "It had 'Copious Amounts of Marijuana' written all over it."
"That's not the half of it," Lachlan says. "I could tell you the story of my flatmate, Juan, and the two motorcycles he brought in from Peru. With two fuel tanks full of cocaine."
"Now there's a story."
He phones his fiancee. We pick her up from Pyrmont House, and start on the drive to Denmark. I'm going to shoot their wedding next weekend, on a hundred acres of land Lachlan owns in the forest. He met Nicola while doing aid work out of London.

So how did he end up there?
"I just got jacked of it all in '99, doing accounts and helping make rich fat people richer and fatter," Lachlan explains. "I wanted to quit Australia and go overseas, and do something useful. So i put my hand up for Australian Volunteers Abroad. After about a year, I got to the interview stage. They asked me where i wanted to go. I said i didn't care. They said you have to give us a preference, so we know where to place you. I thought about it, and said, well, I want to go where there's surf, women, and beer. In that order." He pauses to overtake a cyclist.

"So they sent me to Afghanistan."

"I had no idea where it even was, so i looked it up on the map. And i'm like, where's the fucking beach?
"I spent a few years there, mainly in Kabul, working amongst the Talibs for a Danish aid organisation. We were right next door to the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, the ones who did all the enforcing. Staff members would literally hide under their desks when those bearded bastards came in. They were scary. I remember one time we heard they had taken some kites off some kids, and told them they should be spending more time reading the Koran.

"Then we look outside and there they are next door, kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, flying kites."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

BOHEMIUM IS SO AN ELEMENT

Meanwhile, Miss Mayhem is in New York, having recently completed her diploma in film directing. Mayhem is hanging out in Manhatten with music producers, filmmakers, actors, billionaires, and presidents.

"Come and meet me in Spain, Art Director," she says.
"I got no money," i say. "I spent it all."
"Don't worry a.d, i'll find us some money," Mayhem says. "I've got connections."
She is an ideas girl. And it is my job as the Art Director to bring these ideas to fruition. Thus we begin a series of increasingly bizarre schemes and exploits to make money for our plane tickets.

"I need a buyer for a whole bunch of muscle cars," Mayhem says the next day. "You find us a buyer in Australia and we'll take a cut. It won't cost us a cent up front, a.d, i promise. I have a friend. There's four of each of these cars, 60s and 70s, SS, Camaros, Coronets, Corvettes."
Hmm. That's sixteen cars. I get on the blower to a guy in Albany, Joe, a millionaire who collects classic cars.
"If you had a convertible E-type, i'd take it," Joe says. "Look, it'll cost you three grand per car to ship them out. I know a buyer in the Eastern States, i'll track down his number. You'll need makes, models, years, photos."
I call Mayhem. "I know the Dodge Coronet, the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro - but what's the SS?" i ask. "Is that like a Gestapo staff car?"
"I don't think so," Mayhem says, in all seriousness. "I think it's a Chevy. I'll get the details from the grease monkey tomorrow."

The next day she emails me a link to a seemingly random webpage.
"What do you think, Art Director?" she asks.
Reluctantly, i click on the link. They are looking for women to donate eggs to the infertile.
"Compensation for successful egg donors is $8,000 and you receive a free, comprehensive medical evaluation," the site says.
I call her back. "Are you for serious?"
"Am i for serious? I don't even know myself."
"It sounds like you are just one step away from drug testing."

Mind you, i got good money when i was drug testing, back in the nineties. One time i got $220 for sleeping, and another time $20 for every shit i did. Money for shit. It was great. It lasted a few weeks, before some guy developed an erratic heartbeat and ruined it for everybody. The damn fool.

Another time i got a wearable heart rate monitor, which i sold to a jogger for sixty dollars.

"So how's it going with the new muse?" asks Mayhem.
"Miss Polly?" i say. "Well. The girl has talent."
"Yes," says Mayhem. "I like Miss Polly. She has a sense of the ridiculous." She pauses. "Well, she must have."
"Hmm." I let the implication slide.
"You know, you always remind me of the Doctor, having all these adventures with all these beautiful women by your side," she says.
"Yeah, right. You know it's not like that."
"I hope i'm your Rose," she blurts.
"What?"
"You know how she was always your favourite."
What is this girl on?

When Mayhem came to Albany, back in June, it was raining. We spent the weekend in the apartment, watching an entire series of Dr Who. We were so engrossed we only went out for one photo shoot. A pvc jacket and binoculars, up at the radio tower.
"Look at my Facebook page," Mayhem says. "There's a link to the episode where Rose re-enters. Maybe that will be us! Minus the Daleks killing you."
"The drink is already killing me, i don't need the Daleks."
Mayhem: *in Dalek voice* "Inebriate! Inebriate!"

"How about a photographic exhibition in New York?" she asks the next day. "Your work and mine, a collaboration. Well, yours mainly."
"Can you get a gallery?"
"I'll find us a fabulous space! I have contacts. You know people here pay $20,000 a week to hire a gallery? Their work is about as engaging as shaking hands with a leper, yet they're still packing out openings and selling really mediocre work."
"I can do mediocre," i say.
"Or we could do billboards," Mayhem says. "I have a billionaire friend who does billboards."
"How would that make us money?"
"It would make us famous," she pleads.
"That's not the same thing, Mayhem. But i like the way you think."
"What about those Aboriginal photos of yours from the outback? The Australia movie is in release here next week. People are going nuts for the Aborigines. "
"Umm, all those photos were taken by Aboriginal kids and i can't sell them because i don't own the copyright," i explain. "I can only exhibit them."
"I'll think of an angle, a.d, don't worry. I'll make us some money, then we can meet in Spain. Spain, Art Director! Spain!"
"Spain. Yeah, right." The conversation is beginning to sound a bit like an episode of Charlie the Unicorn.

The next day she messages me on the Facebook.
"Hey a.d!"
"Hey ho!"
"Ha ha. Fucking hilarious aren't you. How's tricks?"
"Up and down, up and down. Yo-yo tricks."
"Oh, i know, a.d, i've been depressed too. A muse without the maestro - what sort of life is that? I'm not being very successful leaving the apartment tonight, i'm meant to be getting shot by a French film director on 35mm."
"What time is it over there?"
"It's one in the morning. I'm obnoxiously late. But what's another hour? These people are experimental filmmakers, they don't punch the clock. I wonder what they want me to do? I should have asked."
"You think it might be risque?"
"I think the French director wants to sleep with me," she says. "But hopefully not on camera."
"Then he really would be a French director."
"Oh, noes! I'll have to change my Facebook status to Born for Porn."
"What will your mother say?"
"We are professionals, Art Director. She'll understand. And Qantas is offering two tickets for the price of one. I'll make some money and we can meet up in Spain."
"We are indeed professionals, Mayhem. I have the utmost respect for your work. Even when you do and say crazy things without any regard for the consequences..."
"Like when i wanted you to tie me to the railway tracks?"
"Hmm... or that time in the desert when i'd been shooting you in your underwear, and we were having a break you looked at me and said 'So, Art Director, what would you like to do now?'"
"Did i really say that? Hahaha!"
"A couple of ideas crossed my mind..."
" I did say that! Hahaha. Jesus!"
"We have a strange relationship, Miss Mayhem."
"Indeed we do. Leaves many a person scratching their heads i'm sure. Did you know there is an Albany in New York state?"
"Yes, i did. Do you know if it is wrong to sleep with someone from your sister city?"
"Hahaha. You should come over, we'll get tongues wagging for sure. But i'll see you in Spain in February?"
"OK Mayhem."
"OK a.d."

Mmm. Spain. That means Spanish women.

Monday, November 24, 2008

STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK

I can't see my boots on the gravel below me. In front of me is the dim gleam of the black bitumen, sheeting cold on this blackest of nights, running east west, carless and silent. For the past three hours i've been trying to hitchhike out of this predicament back to Albany. But it is hard when there is no traffic. Not a single car in either direction. And they call this a highway?

Predicaments. Always trying to hunt me down and trap me.

It's Sunday night and it's late. I don't know how late, because my mobile is dead and in pieces. And my 40-year-old Seiko mechanical watch just stopped the other day, shortly after i met Miss Polly, and refused to start again. Now my beloved Nikon F3 is also destroyed, having hit the tarmac at 130km/h earlier in the day, along with the rest of the contents of my shoulder bag. Five kilometres out of Ravensthorpe. That's the third camera i've lost or destroyed in a bare few weeks. Is the universe is trying to tell me something? And now the motorcycle stands wet and silent, immobilised. It coughed sporadically and died. Just after sunset.

This has not been a good day.

I've never seen a night as black as this. No lights on the horizon. I figure i'm probably about forty kilometres from Manypeaks, having ridden about four hundred this afternoon from the Bay of Isles, Esperance. Forty clicks is a ten-hour walk, so there's not much point embarking on that, other than to keep warm. I can't see my hands in front of my face, let alone how i'm going to make it home tonight. I pull my helmet and gloves back on for warmth as more rain drizzles in from the south. There is no shelter. It's going to be a long, cold night.

There must be a way to fix this bike. In the last of the fading light, i checked and found there was fuel in the carburettors. So i figured the problem must be electrical, and probably not anything i could fix without a bit of time to spare, and a test lamp or multimeter. I had none of these things. So it was then i decided to just push the bike off the road, into the bushes, hitchhike home, and come back tomorrow with a trailer.

I wish i could say that was my first mistake. But i have made so many in my brief time on this planet.

Standing on the side of the road these past few hours, while i haven't exactly been bowled over by the traffic, i have had time to do the logic. The bike first started playing up when i reached the outer limit of the tree plantations. The road gets real rough from there on in from the log trucks - the bitumen is corrugated. I have had time to remember that it was shortly after i first hit those bumps that the bike started misfiring. So it's got to be a loose connection, right? Either a broken wire or a short. The voltage is being switched off or drained off somewhere, either way, it's not enough to keep the electronic ignition firing. If only i could see the wiring...

The headlamp. Of course. I feel my way back into the bush, searching for the motorcycle. I step into a hole and twist my ankle. I walk into a bush. Then i find the bike and wheel it back out to the roadside. In case a car comes along. Ha ha. I switch on the headlight and scan the dripping melaleuca bushes on the side of the road. There is no shelter, i am not going anywhere, so i am just going to have to try to fix the bastard.

Because rule number one says never give up. And rule number two? Always remember rule number one.

So i pull the side covers off, and grope about in the dark for the rudimentary tool kit. Working by feel, i unwrap the screwdriver and spanners from the smell of the oily rag, fit a flat head, and unscrew the retaining bolts for the headlamp. I switch it on, and by guiding it out a bare few inches, to the extent of its wires, i can turn it around to use it as a torch. I stare at the glaring, multicoloured spaghetti inside the headlamp housing. I need to find and fix this problem before the headlamp flattens the battery. Without sufficient voltage, i won't even be able to kickstart this ancient machine.

And you may ask yourself, well, how did i get here?

Friday afternoon, my boss sauntered in, all cowboy boots and swagger, and asked in his usual booming voice what i was doing for the weekend.
"I'm riding to Esperance for a kebab," i stated flatly.
"Esperance! That's 500 kilometres. On that old bike? For a kebab?"
"Yep."
"Not my idea of fun," he said, and stomped out.
Well, i think. You obviously never met my friend Gonca. She has the Turkish bakery in Esperance.

Besides. On the open road things are different. Once you're settled in on the saddle, with your helmet sitting right, the wind and the steady thrum of the motor the only sound, the bitumen starts to roll like credits in the movie of your life. It's a meditation. It's an escape. It's a chance to think. Or better still, to not think.

Of course, all the photos were destroyed when the Nikon hit the bitumen. The back came off, exposing the film. I've only got this noisily lame ass mobile phone photo of Gonca on one of Damo's custom pushbikes, the Para Locos, or Crazy Mama. We were at the Aqua Shak, a.k.a. Damo and Martine's shed, where you drink beer or stuntman cocktails (that's the one where you snort the salt, squeeze lemon in your eye, and drink the tequila) and stare at the many broken surf boards that decorate the roof and walls. Damo's partner Martine teaches yoga. "And what do you do, when you're not breaking surfboards?" i ask Damo.
Esperance. I didn't mind Esperance. Nice bunch of people.

I did the second rebuild on the 650 twin out on the front porch of Mickey T's place in Carnarvon, and it wouldn't start then either. I'd towed it up from Perth in a trailer behind my $200 Datsun, with a swag and my son. I rewired it completely, front to back, with a new wiring loom, working from a diagram. I'd order parts over the internet, and pick up packages from the post office. I fitted an electronic ignition to replace the mechanical points setup. I pressed replacement brass bushes into the swingarm, to fix the notorious high-speed shimmy caused by Yamaha's plastic bushes. Roller bearings in the forks, new fork seals. New clutch and throttle cables, and a new oil seal for the clutch pushrod. New battery, oil filter, fuel filters, and air pods. New rubbers for everything. A schmick custom paint job, reproducing the colour and design of the early model, right down to the triple white stripe on the tank. New handlebars, side mirrors, and indicators fixed most of the damage i'd done when i crashed into the horseshoe bridge. The motor i rebuilt in my bedroom in Harley Street in 2006.

I threw out the large, ugly stock instrument panel and replaced it with two small guages - a speedo and tacho - with white faces and stainless-steel housings. Noice. Relocated the ignition barrel to the frame, just in front of the fuel tank. The front brakes took some fixing, and i had to have a new flanged copper pipe made up. This was the only thing i didn't fix myself, and the brakes later failed on me coming up to a T-junction on the Brand Highway, just out of New Norcia. But that's another story, one i'm lucky to be around to tell.

When i'd finished, the bike sat on its brand new Pirelli Sport Demon soft compound tyres, and wouldn't start. So i traced the problem back through the wiring until it did. And raced it down past the bougainvilleas on South River Road, over the Nine Mile, and back the other side of the Gascoyne River. No front brakes or registration, but it went.

On the side of the road now, eighty clicks from Albany, the rain drips off my nose. I am applying logic, desperately rather than systematically, with a hot headlamp in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. I take the twelve volt wire from the ignition coil to see if i can spark it against the chassis. No. So there is no voltage getting to the coil. I make up a length of wire and run it straight from the coil to the battery, basically hotwiring the old thing. I kickstart the bike. The engine kicks into life. Well. That was easy. I replace the headlamp and i'm back on the highway.

Before i rode a thousand kilometres down from Carnarvon, i'd never done a road trip on the 650. Just short bursts around town, evading the cops. And then there it was, freshly rebuilt, hopefully with all the nuts and bolts torqued down and good to go. Heading out onto the North West Coastal Highway that first time, luggage strapped behind me, was a leap of faith. Just winding the throttle on and getting it up to 120. Flying, the leather jacket zipped tight. Telling myself nothing can go wrong, because i'd built it with my own hands. Trusting i had done it right. At first i was tense as hell, a bundle of electric nerves, bracing myself for that moment when the wheel came off, or the handlebars worked loose. But by the time i made Billabong Roadhouse, i was relaxed. It was okay. And i never looked back.

Motorcycling and road trips suited me, right down to that tread pattern on that red dusty ground.

Ten kilometres closer to Albany, the bike coughs, fires again, and cuts out. I notice the headlamp going dim as the bike splutters and runs down to a halt. What the hell. There must still be a short circuit somewhere. I dismount, and look around. The same wet bushes. The same wet road. I mouth the same invective, and kill the headlamp. Yep. The same starless, bible black night.

Always remember rule number one.

I pull the headlamp out again. This time, i notice the horn, brake lights, and indicators aren't working, but the headlamp is. I switch on an indicator, and rummage about in the wiring behind the headlamp until the flasher comes on. It blinks orange, like an emergency beacon. Excellent. At least all these cars won't run over me. I rummage some more. It stops. Using this highly scientific system, which i call rummaging, i fine tune the problem down to a male connection on the end of a brown wire. It has come loose, and is out and about doing things it shouldn't. Bad wire. I press it back home into its female socket, ask it to please remain monogamous, at least for the rest of the journey, and kick the bike. It starts. I push on towards home.

But now every time i hit a bump, i hear an awful loud sound burbling away down to my left. Sounds like the exhaust pipe is about to fall off. Fuck it, i think. I'm not stopping for anything. I hunch down and watch the black ribbon unfold in the wet yellow beam.

When i get in after midnight, having been on the road since three o'clock, the exhaust pipe is broken in two, and is barely holding on. Metal fatigue.

And some days you just got to know how that feels.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

EGGS POACHED IN SALTY TEARS

NOVEMBER RECIPE OF THE MONTH
Breakfast, on that morning when the rest of your life stretches before you like an empty highway.

INGREDIENTS
Bacon
An egg
Asparagus
Parsley, if you like
Sourdough bread
Tears

METHOD
If you have bacon, start frying it while you boil some water. Get some asparagus spears and chuck them onto a lightly-oiled griddle and scorch the bastards. Once the water is boiled, put a slice of sourdough bread into the toaster. That toaster is your egg timer.

You are cooking breakfast. What used to be Miss Polly's favourite breakfast. The one you used to share on those bright mornings when she would go off after breakfast to work as a coffee girl, and you would go to the newspaper to kick journalists around the news room... ah, those were the days, that week before last... but save the salty tears for later when you let them drip sadly onto your poached egg as you eat it on your lonesome. But if you can't hold them in, let them pour like a sudden Albany cloudburst into the boiling pot. Add some vinegar. Its sourness and acidity will keep the egg in one piece. Take note of this, because you may need to use your acerbic, cynical humour later in the day in a similar fashion. Deadline is no time to be going to pieces.

Take a locally-laid egg, and crack it one-handedly into the turbulent water, using your other hand to wipe away your tears. When the toast pops, drizzle some olive oil, followed by a strip of bacon. Then lay the asparagus spears down like the weapons of defeated warriors. Lift out the egg with a suitable implement, draining off the water, and lay it on top. If you like, you can garnish with parsley, torn up like your ever loving soul.

Serves one.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

MOJO SEARCH

Happiness is the opposite of thinking.
- Art Director.

I wake with a start and realise i have lost my writing mojo. I realise, suddenly, that i simply can't write. Woah. Woah woah woahdiddly woe. Now i'm in trouble. I realise i have been unable to write for some weeks now. I bury my head in the pillow. I hear the kookaburras outside the window, laughing. I raise my head to shout at them. A dim glow over Mount Clarence tells me it is just before dawn. It is always darkest before the dawn. If you're going to steal your neighbour's newspaper, this is the time to do it. But i have more pressing problems at hand.

It is because i am no longer miserable. Misery is a writer's best friend, saving, as it does, his or her readers the trouble of being miserable for their own selves. Misery is a blessing in a disguise, a bit like Nastassja Kinski in that bear suit in The Hotel New Hampshire.

For a writer, happiness equals death. Happiness freezes the brain into a kind of Zen blancmange from which nothing can emerge but fatuous tautologies, and the occasional recipe for Thai chilli mussels.

After shouting at the kookaburras i pass the day cutting copy from one of our North West newspapers, periodically picking up the phone to berate the mindless, rum-snorting party animals that pass for journalists in that part of the world. Martine comes in to grab a camera. "Did you know the collective noun for subeditors is a whinge of subeditors?" she asks as she passes my desk. How edifying. She pauses, Nikon in hand. "Hmm. I wonder what the collective noun is for journalists?"

I stare at her. "An affront of journalists would be quite apt," i suggest.


So. The mojo. I feel i must return to first principles. This means consuming vast quanitities of either wine or beer. Excessive consumption of alcohol is guaranteed to bring on a dose of the abjects. So i take Miss Polly out to dinner. Halfway there - i say halfway there as if there were some destination in mind, which there never is, because going out for dinner in Albany always involves driving up and down the same desultory streets ruling out the same desultory restaurants, before eventually throwing culinary caution to the wind and choosing a place that is at least consistently mediocre - halfway there, Dewse calls from somewhere up the highway.

"Hey A.D," he says. "I'm in Kojonup."
"What are you doing there," i ask. "Come to Albany. And bring a tuna."
"Why," he asks.
"I want to cook sashimi," i say.
"You don't cook sashimi," Dewse says.
"Just find a tuna and get down here. Jesus, man, don't argue with me."
“I was going to camp in the Porongorups and climb a mountain,” he says.
“Fuck you.” I say. “How about you come to Miss Polly’s instead and we get pissed and write a joint blog.” The mere mention of the word 'joint' has Dewse pulling up his metaphorical tent pegs.


He turns up after the chicken parmigiana, all hair and attitude, smiling like a poor man's jesus, a new copy of On The Road stuffed into his backpack. The desserts look dubious, so the muse and i decide to pay up and head back to base. I whip out my bank card to pay for our meal. It is, after all, the day after payday.

“Sorry sir, but it is declined," says the buxom waitress.
It’s always embarrassing when you have to ask your date to pay for your food. And yet, as Dewse so kindly points out, this is expected - like next week's pay cheque.
Miss Polly produces her credit card.
“What else am i supposed to do?” asks Miss Polly. “Regurgitate?”
The waitress stares at us, no doubt hoping this is a rhetorical question.

“So what are we going to do?” asks Dewse, once we have escaped the very real prospect of criminal charges.
“I have ideas,” I say. “That don't involve night clubs. And besides, Miss Polly has a credit card, so I suggest we stick with her.”
We head for Spencer Park. Dewse gets a tour of Miss Polly's house.
"I never got a tour of the house," i complain.
“Maybe that's because you headed straight for the bedroom,” Miss Polly says.
She points us to some pre-Party cartons of warm beer on the kitchen floor, then peels off her stockings. "Good night boys," she says.

Sleeping is one of her favourite activities. But then, how else is she going to find her dream house?

The guitar, the blues harmonica and the cartons of warm beer are but a prelude to drunken computerising. The writing becomes somewhat turvy. But Dewse did not come all this way in search of a qwerty merely to fall asleep on some chased lozenge. No fear. We need tuna. Perhaps we can buy some online? "Shut up," says Dewse, and directs my aspirations toward the further consumption of warm beer. He takes over the keyboard, foaming bottle at his side.

"Party." It’s a profound and familiar voice that resonates down the blower, one I met some time ago down at Oyster Creek. His deluded pitch is frightening. We used to get away with it then, up that way. The booze, the hash, and useless days without a hint of tit. Long odious days where the red earth ends, veering off into the ocean sea. A dangerous place, where a man finds no companionship other than that of a loaf of stale bread. Where the desert will fry the brain, if you give it half the chance.
“You think we are pissed now, just wait till the Party," the Art Director says.
"Lets hit some clubs up,” i declare, with a certain insanity that will see a good man do time.


With that, the Dewse abandons the keyboard and heads for the fridge.

I look at what the Dewse has written, and decide i should leave stories from beyond the edge to the younger generation.

So, i've lost my mojo, i complain to Sarah Toa from under my hangover. Sarah is my rock, my touchstone, and my warrior princess. She is not afraid to tell me when i am being a princess because, as we all know, it takes one to know one.

Try looking under the bed, she says.

Sage advice. This girl knows her bream from her mullet. She gives me a jar of fig jam and a dozen eggs from her chook pen. On the way home i buy some bread. Gluten free, says the label. Glutens are great, i think. They should glue body and soul together for a while longer.

And it's even better if they are free.

Friday, October 31, 2008

BANGKOK MUSSELS

OCTOBER RECIPE OF THE MONTH
Thai chilli mussels. Served on a bed of rice. Or a plate of rice, if you prefer to keep your bed for other things. The dish should conjure up hot, sultry nights in Bangkok, jazz music, and a rooftop bar.

PREPARATION
20 minutes, or 30 minutes if you stop for a pre-dinner gin and tonic. Or two.

INGREDIENTS:
Serves 2
1 kilo mussels
3 spring onions
1 bit of lemon grass, woody bits removed
1 bit of ginger. Chop off a bit like your thumb
1 garlic clove
2 green chillis
bunch of fresh local coriander, with roots
oil - groundnut, canola, or massage
½ tin coconut milk
1 tsp fish sauce
1 lime - the juice thereof
1 red chilli, sliced as if with a laser beam

SUGGESTED WINES
Tassel Park Sauvignon Blanc
or Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, if you are in an expansive mood

METHOD
Ideally, mussels should be delivered to you early in the morning, fresh from Oyster Harbour, by a friend who is being schooled in the genteel art of poaching by some grizzled old local fisherman.

Where did you get these, i ask my intrepid friend as she hands me a kilo of mussels wrapped in butcher's paper.
"Well, they were attached to a rope floating in the harbour out near the Oyster Farm," she says.
Uh huh.
"The rope was clearly a hazard to boating, so we removed it," she says.
I offer her a coffee, and bang my head painfully on the corner of the range hood as i reach for the percolator. She laughs.
"Sorry," she says. "But you always do that."

When cooking Thai chilli mussels, it is important to have the right music on in the kitchen. Cooking is all about rhythm and timing. So the music is crucial. Pray For You by Plump DJs is a good start to getting the job done. Get the plump ones or some other homie wigga blasting on the stereo before you start cooking the rice. And for the best results, hand the job of actually cooking the mussels to someone who can cook and dance at the same time. Preferably someone with long, raven hair. Who will dance like she is making love. You mix the drinks.

If you don't have a delicious dancing chef in your kitchen, take out your frustrations by roughly chopping the spring onions, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, green chillis and coriander roots. Use a knife. Then throw them, recklessly, into a food processor. Whizz the whole lot to a paste. If you are in need of exercise, use a mortar and pestle instead. Don't be afraid to add a bit of Albany rainwater. If you don't live in Albany, this could be problematic. Improvise.

You can de-beard the mussels, but i wouldn't worry too much about rinsing them. Seawater is, sadly, a much-underused culinary ingredient. If you are ever on a picnic by the sea, barbecueing up some libertine rapture, just go and rinse the lettuce on the beach. Lettuce with seawater dressing is a simple sybaritic delight. But i digress.

Heat some oil in a big, fuck-off pot with a lid. Throw in the paste and fry it for a couple of minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice. Mmm. Bring this to a gentle simmer and add the fresh mussels. Put a lid on it (not the music - keep that wigga ghetto blaster blasting) and steam for about three minutes. Just enough time to knock back a gin and tonic and dance to your favourite track. Now pour the wine.

Open the lid, and you may see some miserly mussels with their lips still zipped firmly shut. Fuck these taciturn, shellfish creatures off, and only eat those mussels that really want to be eaten. Serve these stunned, open-mouthed and beautiful mussels on plates of rice, scattering coriander and fresh red chilli over them like confetti on a wedding day. Spoon any juice left in the pot over the rice.

Sip the sauvignon blanc while flinging the spent mussel cartridges aside. The raven-haired one uses mussel shells to spoon the delectable rice into her equally delectable mouth. Mmm. This is pure, epicurean pleasure.

Time to book two tickets to Bangkok.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

STYLE TO BURN

It was, quite simply, a humdinging lulu of a party. The muse and i stumble trolloped out into the apartment, emerging from the carnage of a bedroom strewn with marijuana, vinyl records, Absolut vodka bottles, cameras, and the other paraphernalia of saturnalia.

The Dewse's shaggy mop sticks out from a swag in a corner of the room. The window is open, and bottles lie about on the roof above the hairdressers where partygoers were dancing the night before. CDs litter the tables. There is broken glass, and unidentifiable dark patches on the carpet. My feet stick to the kitchen floor as i go in search of water. The tables are peppered with signs of drug taking. A Danish modern couch has been used to blockade the stairwell, while a red condom thrown in the bathroom offers mute testimony to some wanton partying.

Following the previous evening's elegant cocktail party at Tigersnake, with its sophisticated blend of mojitos, G&Ts and canapés, Miss Polly's Birthday Week celebrations just kept on rolling with the sweat-laden dance floor mayhem of Blumanna at the Regency Room, before band and crowd shook its collective booty en masse to the afterparty. A party that Moondog Taylor described as 'a night of legend'.

"Just look at the state of this living room," i say.
Miss Polly nods. "Looks like people have been living in it," she says. "Let's take some beer and oysters, drive to the beach, and roll a scoob."
Clearly the most sensible option.
"You are an ideas person," i say.

When Albany turns it on, it really turns it on. We float on our backs off a stunning white beach, soaking up the sun. In the distance, a blue beach umbrella stakes our solitary claim on pure, unbridled escapism. The Dewse has taken his Jack Kerouac novel, swag and backpack and gone to climb a mountain. Miss Polly and i have oysters, party food and a supply of cold beer. And an afternoon of sunshine stretches ahead of us like a sunbaking serpent.

"People really should float more," Miss Polly says.

After a while we swim in. Back on the beach i roll us a racehorse while the muse works on her tan.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ONE TEQUILA, TWO TEQUILA, THREE TEQUILA, FLOOR

Stuck out at Ora Banda, working fly-in fly-out on a gold exploration show, our only entertainment was the Sunday session at the Broad Arrow Tavern.

After a full week's work putting in grid lines, trailing through the bush with a roll of wire and a compass, drilling and sampling, and making billies of tea over stick fires for the geologists, we would knock off early, leaving our corrugated iron camp for the simple pleasures of beer, beer, and more beer at the Broad Arrow Sunday session.

The Broad Arrow was a 30km drive over a rough gravel road. We wouldn’t hang about. The standing record in a Hilux, held by Bernie, was 14 minutes 30 seconds door-to-door, at an average speed of 125km/h.

Even though the Toyota was airborne much of the time, we only rolled one company vehicle in six months. And while Bernie was, in all probability, a complete lunatic, he was also my boss. So I’d just hang on and not say a word. As well as teaching me how not to drive, Bernie taught me how not to handle explosives.

He had just spent his fly-out break in Bali, sucking down native hallucinogens in Blue Meanie smoothies, and although he was physically back at work, his mind was elsewhere. So we were well over our record time when we pulled up in a cloud of dust outside the corrugated walls of the Broad Arrow. The pub was inscribed inside and out with graffiti, full of prospectors, travellers, and the town crowd from Kalgoorlie. It was rowdy and raucous. Some of the nurses were there, playing pool in the back bar.

The hotel owner Tom, a "colourful racing identity", was behind the bar talking nags with a customer. An old prospector, Clarence, sat on his regular stool, quietly composed, his battered Akubra on the bar next to his usual pony glass. "Gets too warm otherwise," he'd say about his comically small glasses of beer.

Photo Rosemary Lynch

We front up to the bar. Tom comes over.
“Bernie.”
“Tom.”
“What you having.”
“Middy of VB.”
Tom looks at me. Today i don’t feel much like beer. I feel like tequila.
“I’ll have a tequila,” i say. “With lime and soda.”
Tom looks slowly from me to Bernie and back again. He raises an eyebrow.
“I’ll get Dougie,” he says. “He does all the fancy drinks.”

Part two: TWO FRONTAL LOBOTOMIES, PLEASE

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

THE CHESS OF THE MADDENED QUEEN

I’m fed up with all this pussyfooting around with climate change. Governments and their people making noises, signing protocols, talking about quotas, and pretending that they are doing something about global overheating. And, while we’re on the subject, i’m fed up with the term ‘global warming’. It just sounds so … so warm and fuzzy.

An industrialised country is yet to take the lead on this. If i lived in a country of which i could be proud (and i seriously considered becoming a citizen of New Zealand when that small country stood up and banned US nuclear warships from its waters) then Australia would be doing something. Australia is in a unique position to make a difference and set an example - and that is what we should be doing. Not frittering away our resources, spending the money on big fuck off four-wheel-drives, and tooling about the city in our petty icons of status and power.

All the Kyoto Protocol can hope to do is slow the rate of growth of carbon emissions. Oh, but surely that's a good thing, say people with a feeble grasp of mathematics. No. Short answer, no. Slowing the rate of growth is not the same as reducing emissions. It is merely slowing the rate at which industrialisation and emissions continue to grow. It is merely postponing the inevitable.

Except it is evitable. Almost anything is evitable. Notice, dear reader, that i didn’t say anything fatuous like ‘anything is possible’. As if i were a meteoric sports star standing on the highest podium after a race at the olympics: “This proves anything is possible if you put your mind to it.” No, it fucking doesn’t, you moron. A winner is a sample size of one. What about the other 99 per cent of people in the race, who also put their minds to it, who also gave it their best shot, who also gave 110 per cent, who also did better than their PB. And lost. If someone winning a race proves anything, it proves that you can give something your best shot, put your mind to it all you like, and still have a reasonably high probability of failing. Try telling a vegetable in a wheelchair that she could win the hundred metres freestyle at the olympics if only she would put her mind to it. But i digress.

When chess was played in Persia, back in the mid sixth century, pawns could only move one square at a time. No moving two squares on your first go. No taking another pawn en passant. These moves came later, to speed the game up a little, to leap more quickly into the fray. But more interestingly, the queen was the weakest piece on the board. Both the king and queen were quite staid, protected by the pieces around them, the pieces that held the actual power. Then, around 1580, an Italian suggested making the Queen the strongest piece instead of the weakest. In France, the new game was nicknamed echecs de la dame enragee or ‘the chess of the maddened queen’. The queen became the most powerful piece on the board. Promotion of a pawn became a singularly cataclysmic event.

As i said, almost anything is evitable. And it would help this planet immensely if someone seized leadership, rather than merely clutching at power, and actually fucking did something.

Now if the Art Director was suddenly promoted to the position of the maddened queen, Australia would immediately cease exporting all iron, nickel, and other metals – the basic building blocks of industrialisation – to the rest of the world. Yes, just like that. That would learn’em. Ouch, i hear you say. But how will i meet the mortgage payments on my three-storey house looking over the bay? Then how will i afford my new Landbruiser? Two words. You fucking won’t. You will grow vegetables and cycle to work like the rest of us. You will start actually making a change rather than blowing ever more hot air out into the world.

And you will stop making dirty big holes all over this beautiful land, you greedy mutherfuckers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

DISAMBIGUATING THE OBVIOUS

OK, so we have been spending a lot of our time together.

Last Wednesday, Miss Polly turned up at my workplace at lunchtime, and we went out, and i didn’t come back until Thursday. Dishevelled, and still wearing the same clothes. Which raised a few eyebrows. But it proves nothing. Because the first rule has always been The Art Director Will Not Fall In Love With The Muse.

You see, everything the muse and i do together is done for the purposes of Art. And Miss Polly’s modelling contract clearly states “no sex - just the drugs and rock’n’roll.” I trust this sets the record straight, clears any confusion, and disambiguates the obvious. One should always strive to avoid confusion.

She adjusts her Ray Ban aviator sunglasses as i drive up York Street. We’ve decided to take the weekend off and head up to Perth. I push a switch, and the electric windows glide shut. Miss Polly sinks back into the leather upholstery and dials up a tune on her iPod. Pulling to a halt at the pedestrian crossing, we wait as as a few of Albany’s more senior citizens shuffle slowly towards the afterlife. Above us, stretching across the road, is a banner that reads “Mental Health Week.”

“Hmm,” she says, looking up through the windscreen. “Perhaps we should have taken the whole week off.”

Once the road is cleared of pensioners i put the pedal to the metal and hold it there. We’ve got to get this show to Perth sometime inside of the next four hours. There is some serious partying to be had. Architecture in Helsinki blasts out of the stereo. "Give it to me, baby give it to me." Miss Polly starts with her car dancing, her bare feet up to the dashboard. She makes some rhythmic yet strangely undefined movements with her arms, and sways her legs from side to side. Car dancing. She seems happy.

“You know, i was going to get a dog," she says. "But then i met you.”

Sunday, October 05, 2008

COFFEE, LACE AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS

Waking up with a head cold is bad enough. But when the slow realisation dawns on you have lost your camera, that you left your camera rig on the floor of the pub the night before, then you need more than a hot lemon drink.

I text the muse. We are supposed to be doing a photo shoot this afternoon. Oops a daisy. Miss Polly makes a few calls, including one to the hotel manager, who says there is no sign of the missing camera. (A Nikon D70, serial number 6011881, and Nikon SB800 flash. By the way.)

The next thing i do is cast about for a scapegoat. I think i can blame the girls. Mainly Dolores the Journalist for getting me so tipsy after work, but also Miss Polly, whose rockstar looks are enough to distract blind Freddy and his three dead brothers.

When Miss Polly turns up and joins Dolores and i on the black sofa, she crosses her legs, revealing a glimpse of thigh-high stockings with elasticized lacy tops. It is at precisely this point that i lose the camera. I completely forget about the backpack on the floor, with its padded carry handle on top, big clip-down flap, and diagonal zip pouch containing a blue USB card reader, spare 1Gb compact flash card, a $3000 camera rig, and an unused condom.

Can i get you a drink, Miss Polly. What’s been happening, Miss Polly. Uh huh yes wow how fascinating uh huh can i walk you to your car?

Doh. So the digital camera is now, more than likely, at one with Miss Polly’s iPod, which disappeared during the past week’s Birthday Week celebrations. No doubt both pieces of technology are in the hands of the same drug dealer, who is, even as we speak, idly flicking through photos of the muse and the art director playing pool and listening to More News From Nowhere on Polly’s iPod. Oh, and looking at rock photos of Adalita Srsen from Magic Dirt. Mmm, Adalita. No, wait. There can be no more distractions. This is serious. Miss Polly and i have both lost stuff in the past week, and doesn’t that, technically, make us a couple of losers?

To hell with the technicalities. On the positive side, it certainly makes the maddening choice between film and digital one hell of a lot easier. I unclip my aluminium camera case, lift out that trusty old brick, the Nikon F3, and blow off the dust.

I text Miss Polly and confirm the digital camera is no more. She texts back. “Fuck fuck fuckity fuck. Want to go out for breakfast to commiserate?”
Fuckity fuck sounds good, i say, but breakfast will do.
“OK… where r u? Work or home or in the bath with razors?”

Everyone’s a comedian.

I order her breakfast at the café downstairs, hoping she is coming equipped with her credit card. She arrives just as the steaming plates of scrambled eggs and chorizo are put on the table. We sip our coffee. The muse is also a professionial barista, and one hell of a coffee critic. The Bean Café long black somehow pole vaults and contorts its way over the bar, which Polly has set so impossibly high. But then, as Tim Shocker always says, she makes the best coffee in town.

I found these, i say, pulling a pair of Mexican silver earrings from my pocket. You left them. Do you have anywhere you can put them?
She looks at me like i am not all there. “Uh, like maybe in my ears?” She puts them in her ears, and tucks back into her breakfast. I do like this girl.

In spite of my sickness (and yes, avid reader, it is a mere head cold – i don’t want to see the word lovesick bandied about in the comments section) and in spite of my camera having been stolen, we go ahead with the scheduled shoot. Upstairs in the apartment we crank through a couple of rolls of film as Albany turns on the rain and hail outside. Miss Polly in a mohair coat, sprawling on a bed of vinyl records, the new muse in stockings and heels curled against a rain-spattered window. The raven haired coffee girl glowers through the locks of that famous hair, all wide eyes and hoop earrings, into the lens of the Nikon.

And with each look, she permanently rearranges the chemistry of my fine-grained emulsion.

PORK MEDALLIONS

SEPTEMBER RECIPE OF THE MONTH
Pork Medallions, to be awarded when your partner is particularly good in bed. Served with citrus and green bean salad.

PREPARATION
15 minutes. Marinating time will vary according to what you’ve got on. Allow 10 minutes to cook.

INGREDIENTS
Serves 2
250g trimmed Pork Medallions
250g green beans
1 orange, torn to shreds
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 totally crushed garlic clove
½ red onion, if you want
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoons zesty orange zest
1 tablespoon olive oil, virgin or sullied
1 pile of cous cous

SUGGESTED WINES
Pitchfork Pink
Peel Estate Zinfandel.

METHOD
I never won any medals in sport. So when i was awarded these Medallions for skills with the pork sword, you can imagine how excited i was. If you want to get someone excited, give them Pork Medallions, and tell them why you believe they deserve them. Especially if that person is me.

First, lay your hands on the extra virgin. You can never have enough lying about the apartment. Whisk this luscious liquid with orange juice, garlic, lemon juice and orange zest. Mmm. Now don’t get your orange zest mixed up with Zest, the fertiliser. That stuff will send you into a hormonal frenzy. Just make the orange zest yourself by scratching an orange rind on a grater. It’s easy.

Keep half the marinade (see, this is what you’ve just created – a marinade – so don’t be afraid to let people know. Splash the word about a bit. In fact, pour yourself a drink – you deserve it) and pour the remaining liquid over the Pork Medallions. Leave these babies to marinate for half an hour or so while you crack open the Pitchfork Pink. This is a rosé, but don’t hold that against it. It will quaff quite nicely with this light dish. In fact, splash some in the marinade. Go on, you know you want to. Do it with a flourish.

Open the Zinfandel and let it breathe. This is a big wine. Very big. In fact it’s fucking enormous. Don’t mess with it, just let it breathe. After a while, remove the medallions from the marinade and pat them dry with a copy of the Albany Advertiser. Dioxins and ink never hurt anybody. Now, heat ½ tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat and grill the pork for a couple of minutes on each side. If you’ve got a George Foreman Grill, use that, while singing the Rich Hall classic, “I’ve Got A George Foreman Grill.”

"I've got a George Foreman Grill, a George Foreman Grill
If you wont cook my dinner, George Foreman will
I've got a George Foreman Grill, a George Foreman Grill
If you wont cook my dinner, George Foreman will.
He was the master of masters
In the sweetest science
But to you he is just a name on a kitchen appliance
How can you be so stupid
How can you be so dumb
Not to know that George Foreman was as mean as a gun
He went eight rounds in Kinshasa with Mohammed Ali
He didn't float like a butterfly or sting like a bee
He just lay there on that canvas all quiet and still
But he was dreaming of the plans for a cheap sandwich grill
I've got a George Foreman Grill, George Foreman Grill
If you wont cook my dinner - George Foreman will.”

After singing this, repeat the chorus a couple of times. “I’ve got a George Foreman Grill, a George Foreman Grill…” before removing the pork from your George Foreman Grill (or the Stupid Frying Pan, which doesn’t rhyme quite as well) and loosely cover it in foil. The Pork Medallions need to rest for a few minutes. You know how it is.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the beans. Throw in a few quotes from Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, even though nobody will have a fucking clue what you are on about. Chuck the water you just blanched the beans in onto some cous cous and let it quietly absorb, like a reader in a public library. Then quickly refresh the beans with cold water. Wake up, beans! Time to be eaten!

Heat the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil in the pan and briefly sauté the red onion until it has slightly softened. Sauté sauté sauté. Splash in a bit of Zinfandel. Now that’s what i call red onions. Combine the green beans, orange chunks and red onion in a bowl and lightly drizzle with the rest of the marinade. Drizzle, like a sweet Albany rain.

Now, grab your pièce de lower résistance, the Pork Medallions, and crack some salt and pepper over them. Serve them up alongside the green beans, couscous and what's left of the Pitchfork Pink. The Zinfandel is for later, when you switch on the lava lamp and the record player.

If you haven’t got cous cous, you need to ask yourself just what kind of show you are running here. You should have chucked a few whole potatoes into a sealed plastic container and microwaved them for about four minutes, about four minutes ago. Then cracked them open and added lashings of pepper and sour cream. But it’s too late now!

Pork Medallions.

The name says it all.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

LIFE AT THE HILTON

The first time she banished me, it was because she thought i was sleeping with the bass player. Kat Atrocity was a striking girl, to be sure. Intelligent and eurasian with a perverse sense of humour, she was a devilish man-magnet on stage. But we weren’t fooling around. I mean, it did happen later, but it wasn't happening at the time. It was all about the music, man. I’d come home late after gigs, hot and sweaty and exhausted, and my strikingly beautiful but sick wife would become increasingly suspicious. But we were, i suppose, a punk band. Heat and sweat came with the territory.

Early one morning, after a dusk-to-dawn recording session, i came home to find the house locked and my clothes outside the door. I never did get a key to my wife’s house. It was a strange relationship, to be sure, and i’m not pretending otherwise. You can’t base a relationship on sex and drugs, my friends would say. It won’t work. They were wrong. A relationship based on sex and drugs will work as perfectly, spectacularly, explosively as a firework.

Anyway, she banished me and i wound up at Glen’s. A friend of hers, he said he understood, and offered to put me up. Almost certainly dead now, Glen was a one-armed one-legged heroin junkie who lived in Hilton, just east of Fremantle. We called it The Hilton. Oh, hi, i’m Mark, i’m a recording artist and i’m living at The Hilton. Sounds grand, doesn’t it.

The reality was a verandah covered with the toys of his lost daughter, and an endless procession of local pilferers who thought his house abandoned. His garden of wild weeds flayed themselves upward into the stupid sun only to throw their seed out amongst the rusted spare parts of his ’72 Ford Fairlane. His legs. That Ford is my legs, he used to say.

And his plastic leg had other uses. Many a stolen bottle of vodka was thrust into its plastic hollows to drown our sorrows, and many a set of points, gaskets or spark plugs. We would floor it, always fast and loud, roaring the Fairlane back to The Hilton, windows down. Glen looked at the world through a rose-coloured windscreen, as his brother-in-law Kim Salmon put it. I would warm up the valve amplifier and play guitar, open-tuned 5-string Keith Richards slack-G tuning, and Glen would wail on the knife-edge of circulatory collapse, microphone held in hook. He had elected to have his useless arm sawn off, figuring a hook would prove more useful.

A good mechanic, he taught me a thing or three. There’s nothing like seeing a man with one arm strip down a Holley carburettor and reassemble it simply because he has to get to the methadone clinic. There’s motivation for you. You want to fiddle about and try to get a washer or a nut onto a difficult-to-access carburettor mounting stud? Slide it onto the blade of your screwdriver, and just touch that screwdriver onto the head of the bolt. There you go. You can’t miss, and you won’t drop it and see it stuck somewhere under the inlet manifold. Like i always did.

Glen and i changed a Ford 9”diff, complete drum-to-drum, between vodkas on a Saturday afternoon. With nothing but a length of wood, milk crates, stolen spanners, and brute sweating gumption. We ate pasta. Garlic stabbed on the end of a knife, held skewered over the steady blue yellow flame of the stove. It pops. And with one large left hand, twice the size of yours or mine, he squeezes out a fresh, virginal lozenge of spice. Spinach grew wildly in a square amongst the weeds, alongside the rosemary. The legacy of his ex-wife. With a big pot of pasta and a splash of vodka we would have ourselves a meal.

He was a consummate thief. And that’s how he came to grief. The father of the young girl he stole from the pub, the girl on the back of his motorcycle during that spectacular crash on the new 1970s freeway, tried to switch off his life support. I probably would have too. But jesus christ he had charm. Always smiling, always one eye on the main chance. A dreamer, a cruiser, a relentless bohemian, a reader and writer, he had style to burn. If only he had left me his shirts in his will.

I wake up, and the house is carpeted with people who can barely keep their eyes open, nodding people who scratch at themselves vaguely, stare at the floorboards and speak of their incomprehensible dreams. They have plans for this or that, plans which anyone can see will come to nothing. The backup is the sawn-off shotgun up the nose of the local pharmacist. A shotgun which i can wander out and see, loaded, brutal, tucked under the parcel shelf of a mute black coupe stolen and spraypainted with aerosols.

Morning. Glen wanders in, all mad shock of black hair and silk shirt. The perpetual smirk. Have you seen my arm? he asks.

It’s hanging on the back of the kitchen door, i tell him, right where you left it. (The term ‘kitchen’ being loosely employed at The Hilton, given we have no fridge.) And where the fuck is my leather jacket?

Oh man i had to hock it, but you’ll get it back Friday.

Friday night i’m trying to write as an endless procession of misfits, thugs and losers make their way into my bedroom. Where the fuck is Glen, they ask. He has taken a few thousand dollars from this conglomerate of desperados and fools and disappeared into the night. Some hours ago.

Don’t know, man, i just live here. Chill out.

He could sing, in a way. He had an irrepressible smile. And, as it often is with the bohemians, and as it was with my beautiful, fragile wife, he is probably dead by now.

LOVE AND REVELATION

Ansel Adams described the camera as an “instrument of love and revelation”.

Sometimes i am blind. The clear-eyed sights of truth lie beyond my peripheral vision, emotions outlive and outweigh my ability to feel, i dream in impossible colours. Blinded by that which enables me to see, i rail against those who describe photographs as 'pushing boundaries'. They are leaves that meander downriver. Sometimes stuck in eddies, sometimes carried along in the mainstream. Obsessed with focus, exposure, mechanics. I will torch them all. My photographs.

The task of the photographer is to bring to light that which cannot be seen.

Trapped within turgid methodologies, i must jump boundaries and barbed wire without dropping the Rolleiflex. Infrared, infrared - why did Kodak banish infrared from this hot planet? Those pecuniary, short-fused fools. How to regain those searing truths, that slow burn of heat and light, all blistering silver heat of moment, lush glow and gritty force and hearts and minds aflame?

Climbing through overgrown steps, the ivy mocks our illusions of control. Through the open window and all is transience, dust, trash. Surrounded by the verdigris of evaporated souls. All the fittings gone, a fire lying long cold on the floor. Empty rooms, an emptier note in the fireplace. "You are the worse person i know. You took all i got. Please bring it back." The lament of the squatter on the edge of the abyss. Beyond realising you've got to give up everything to have it all, she is now overwhelmed with the terror of that lone dark flight into bliss and oblivion. The sad beauty of falling, and falling.

White dress, chocolate bricks. We stand and stare at each other, momentarily stunned. “I’m nervous,” she confesses. My hands shake. This is new. “I’m nervous too.” The veneer is gone, with it the wilful, simple urge to capture and contain. All i know to be self-evident flies from the lens, reflected on some distant horizon, a cargo cult plane. I can look at nothing, i can see nothing, i can only feel. I can’t operate these simple controls, these proffered mechanical dials, i can’t see the meter. I look to the walls and the ceiling, into the light that creeps silently through the window, a cat burglar, stealing away my stores of hubris and presumption.

The image of Miss Polly in the viewfinder is beautiful. The German existentialist Friedrich Nietszche said to experience a thing as beautiful means to experience it necessarily wrongly. But then, Nietzsche was a cunt. I press the shutter.

I am blind. I am a photographer.