Thursday, May 29, 2008

We're getting something ... it's faint ... but ...

The communication below is over a week old. I feel like that Mars lander, sending messages and telling stories that won’t be heard until much later. The little log book below was written in real time on my four-day journey across Australia. Each evening I would pull out the computer and exercise my fingers remembering the little things that float around in your head when you’re alone and driving long distances. I’m trying to avoid writing a daily diary-style blog because it’s a bit indulgent and really, the tales of setting up a house are probably best left to one gloating tale of deals and rip-offs which will be called Lies, Damn Lies and Bargains!! Coming soon to a blog near you.






19th May 2008
Adelaide to Balranald
553 kms


Driving along at 100 km/h yelping with laughter and dribbling chewed up chocolate biscuit down my chin.

That’s what driving across Australia means in 2008. The Red Rocket (as tastefully christened by Trent) is utterly comfortable and I could probably drive across the planet in it if I didn’t have to make it to Bribie Island by Friday in order to be there for the electricity man who promises that he will turn the power on between 2pm and 6pm. That’s going to be a fun afternoon. Sitting around in an empty house, waiting for some business-like chap with an AGL polo shirt and a laptop in his pocket to flick a switch. Willie Nelson didn’t include that in his many odes to travel.

But back to the chocolate biscuits. I’m currently in a cabin in the Balranald Caravan Park. I have just watched The Simpsons Movie on my laptop and knocked the top off of my third Toohey’s New (having refused a plastic carry bag to the approval of The Thirsty Camel bottle-o proprietor – they value environmentalism in rural Oz), so it’s going to be the long version.

It begins with selling the Honda.

Yes, quell your gushing tears, the Honda is gone. I bought her (I’m fairly confident it was a girl) on September the 11th, 2001, about an hour before the first plane hit. We travelled far and wide together, on road trips and sumo gigs. I was given some oversized speakers to install, which were stolen. I replaced them with even larger speakers, on which I spent many hours playing music with complex and well-structured bass-lines and ensuring that I will spend the rest of my years yelling ‘What?’ to anyone who talks to me in anything but a loud, clear voice in a sound-proof booth. I never got a speeding ticket. The other various treasured memories I have of that car aren’t ones I’m willing to put on record, partly for fear of prosecution, and partly because it was purchased by another blogger who shall remain anonymous unless they choose to reveal themselves here or elsewhere. I am not in the business of outing people who wish to remain in closets automotive or otherwise. They also probably don’t want to know.

The reason the Honda had to go is that, although my beloved Civic was able to fit (via my bloody-minded mania for efficient packing) four sumo suits and a 4 x 4m foam wrestling ring in the back seat, it lacked any real suitability as an interstate haulage vehicle. It was time for a new car. If you’re a regular reader, you will know that story already. The untold portion is the one in which I pulled out my mp3-playing stereo from the Honda and had it installed in The Red Rocket.

(Nb. I also installed my old non-mp3-playing stereo back into the Honda all by myself, just like a real man! I did ask my mechanic for advice and that advice did turn out to be ‘Connect the same coloured wires together’, but still – in is in and it didn’t melt the car when I turned it on, which I believe is a common problem).


Enter Bill Hicks. Bill Hicks is one of those rare comedians whose material remains relevant 20 years after it was written. Not to mention hilarious. The jokes he was making about the first Gulf War could easily be told onstage today for just the same impact. Even his anti-PC tirades in which non-smokers and anti-abortion lobbyists are grouped together in an extended stream-of-consciousness free verse poem involving Barbara Bush and a scat-munching right-wing US senator still trick you into loud, honest hoots of laughter, despite the unwelcome mental images he coerces into your mind. I had decided on a second chocolate chip fudge biscuit (packed by Mele with love and care) when Hicks began his bit about teenage white-girl American popstars who make money selling a product which has the gall to call itself music. He pushes the appropriately sweet-sounding Little Debbie (vaguely heard of her – think Strawbery Kisses-era Nicki Webster if you need to visualise) into a locked recording studio with the still-living Jimi Hendrix, an electric guitar and a lot of sexually-charged feedback. His impersonations of her screaming for her mother while Jimi plays Voodoo Chile all over the top of any of the pretensions to musical insight and, ahem, innocence she may still possess are the true meaning of comedy. As is me, squealing with goose-like laughter while trying to catch a fountain of mostly-chewed, liquid chocolate fudge tumbling from my lips.

(Nb. Sadly, Bill Hicks is dead. In an ironic twist, which would have been best appreciated by a man who mocked the jogging guru Jim Fixx for dying while jogging and then followed it up with a counter-bit in which he himself speculates about his own death at the hands of cigarettes, Hicks actually died from cigarette smoking. Although Hicks died from cancer, and not, as in his routine, at hands of a pack of rancorous anti-smokers: ‘I tried to run, they were too fit! I tried to hide, they heard me wheezing!’).

I’ve been cruising along all day in 21st Century mode. The iPod is plugged into the stereo, the mobile phone has been on (but out of service – thanks Telstra), the cup-holder (a cup holder! Such a modern conveyance!) has been cradling the best lattes the Murray region’s four baristas-in-training have to offer and the digital camera has been taking photos of road signs and curious pubs – all by itself, mind you. Both hands on the wheel for me. Oh yes. I lunched upon polish sausage and cheese from the Central Market and ate fruit from Mele’s Nonna’s trees.

I’m not shot of Adelaide just yet.

20th May 2008
Balranald to Dubbo
674 kms


Today I had an auditory-visual co-experience. That means that I experienced exactly the same sensation through my ears as I did through my eyes. I crossed the Hay Plane while listening to Melbourne talkback 3AW with Neil Mitchell. The Hay Plane has been accused of many things, but I think the intellectual curiosities and broader cultural and philosophical challenges posed by talkback radio (mixed 50/50 with advertising) are the most accurate comparison I can make to the neural stimuli that the Hay Plane presents. I don’t know which was more bored, my eyes staring at the same piece of road rolling under the Red Rocket or my ears, sagging with the drones of people who would rather complain about road-works than the Burmese junta euthanasing its own people.

Other than 700 kilometres of fairly similar driving, the only other highlight was dropping into the Parkes Radio Telescope (otherwise known as The Dish) a slick 15 minutes after they had closed the visitors centre for the day. Nice timing, dingus. I did still get to have a good look at the thing, take some iffy photos and see it moving! I’m pretty sure (although not 100% certain) that they were receiving alien communication transmissions!

21st May 2008
Dubbo to Glen Innes
556 kms


Ho. Ly. Shit. The New England Highway is fucking beautiful. Scooting through it in the Red Rocket in late late autumn is just as wondrous and wonderful as the Hay Plane with Neil Mitchell was unenlightening. Every town has rows of tall trees leaving ridiculously gay piles of leaves on the highway. Rock formations abound. I practised much restraint by only going to one lookout outside Tamworth and discovering that it had been spray-painted with racist slogans and swastikas. Just as I was leaving, a gentleman who Nick Earls would describe as a man who puts on a hat to go driving pulled up in the empty car park. He had a younger passenger who grinned at me and looked vaguely glad to be able to race up the steps to the lookout ahead of his chauffeur.
‘Which way are you going?’ our bespectacled driver asked, absently patting an oblong bulge in his brown wool jumper which could have been either a glasses case or a pacemaker. I explained that I was driving to Bribie Island and he responded, as 75% of people do, that he knew it and had been there on holiday (the other 25% screw up their noses, declare cheerily that they’ve never heard of it and ask questions about ferries). He then took a full five minutes to explain an activity to me which I simply had to try. I didn’t understand it, nodded and smiled anyway and drove off to piece together in my mind what the hell it was he was actually talking about. I eventually worked out that he was telling me about an amazing thing I must see which would involve me turning around and heading back towards Tamworth. I was to search for an exit very similar to the turn-off which lead to the lookout, drive up it a short distance, turn around again (got me? Heading back towards the highway), put my car in neutral and let it roll towards the main road, touching neither gas nor brake peddle. He insisted that I try this complicated stunt because once I reached the flat ground just before the highway, which sloped gently uphill, my car would still keep rolling through some mysterious magical and/or magnetic force which would pull it uphill against gravity for a distance of ten to fifteen metres!
Sadly, dear reader, I was most of the way to Armidale before I figured that out and so left the magnetic miracles of the New England to those who are chosen to experience them.

Glen Innes, however is an excellent place to have stopped. I’m glad I was enthusiastic enough to shop around caravan parks for a decent price because the first one I wandered into seemed very impressive, but for such a delightful dorf I was a bit Big Bottom Lip about staying at a place which doubled as a service station off the main highway. The place I chose (Blue Sapphire) was cheaper and looked like a country cottage which decided to throw up a few cosy cabins and call itself a caravan park. In fact I suspect that’s just what it is. No one was attending the front office, which was left with its money-laden till wide open and a note instructing visitors to call a number on the phone provided because the owners had just popped into town for some shopping. I thought about pocketing every last cent and getting a B&B with a spa, but picked up the phone instead, just in time for the chatty owner to come in from preparing a roast lamb with rosemary.
‘And a bit of lemon and garlic, eh?’ I enquired, ever the culinary enthusiast.
‘No. Just rosemary.’
Mele will tell you that this ambivalence about garlic is indicative of our move, but to that I say fiddlesticks. We shall bring garlic to these people, whether they want it or not.

And now, I am off to eat a counter meal and watch the first State of Origin contest because I am a northerner now and that’s what we do. Right Benny?

22nd May 2008
Glen Innes to Bribie Island
439 kms


After a burger, a few pints of New (that’s Toohey’s New, for the uninitiated, the increasingly misnamed beer of the eastern states), some light abuse at the hands of some New South Wales supporters at the Glen Innes pub and a cosy old night in my cosy old cabin, I struck out on the home-away-from-home stretch.

The themes of inordinate beauty combined with ABC radio continued as I crossed the Main Ranges. I pulled over on a gravel park to throw out some garbage and have a slash. Right next to the garbage bin were two peacocks. Not nesting, and not exactly feasting on McDonald’s wrappers either. Just standing in the bushes, taking me in. Checking me out. I took it as a Good Sign and took Many Photos, which made me realise that I Want A New SLR Camera.





Seriously though: peacocks. A pair. Big and strong and healthy. And on the other side of the gravel truck park zone? Someone had tossed a large television into the thick vines and scrub which grew over the side of the drop-off. I think that sums up Queensland for me so far: surprising natural beauty frequently punctuated with examples of humanity’s need for thoughtless consumption. Or, if you prefer, lush rainforests and gargantuan shopping malls. Often side by side.

Thankfully, Bribie Island is easy to find and the freeways are easy to negotiate. There are monolithic signs everywhere that unmistakably lead you to where you want to go. You also get about three or four acre-sized warning signs for when your turn-off is coming up.

NORTHERN SUBURBS AND SUNSHINE COAST
LEFT LANE



your gargantuan sign will read.
‘Does that mean I get into the left lane to get to the Sunshine Coast?’ you ask, squinting into the ubiquitous sun.

YES
JUST GET INTO THE LEFT LANE
WE WILL DO THE REST



‘Aaaah!’ you scream. ‘Fuck!’ you yell. ‘Get out of my way! I am going to miss my turn-off, you arseholes!’

YOU HAVE 6 WHOLE MINUTES TO CHANGE LANES
JUST INDICATE AND SLOWLY DRIFT OVER
RELAX

So the freeways are large and fast, but easy to handle in a bright red car with South Australian number-plates stuffed to the air-vents with linen, books and cooking equipment.


Bribie Island itself is just as lovely and picturesque as it was when we visited in January. And if our car manages to avoid getting keyed, we will be ahead on points already.

As soon as I was over the bridge, I couldn’t help myself. I drove straight to the house. It’s a semi-detached jobby, connecting garages with an identical house next door which is owned by the landlord. Something the real estate agents conveniently left out until I had signed the lease for real and handed over our deposit … However, it’s not all that big a deal because as I pulled into the (deceptively steep) driveway, scraping the nutsack out of my loaded-to-the-springs new car, Mavis the Midget appeared and welcomed me to Bribie Island. Mavis is a lovely little old lady who can’t be an inch over four feet tall. Lives by herself with a little dog named Bess (or Jess) and enjoys a chat. So much so that she followed me through the house as I performed an initial inspection. Thanks, Mavis. I’ve got it from here. I might actually take a piss now, if you’ve finished showing me the window-locks.

How is it? The Tribe has chosen well. Big north-, south- and west-facing windows, large rooms, gas cooking (as I may have mentioned) and you can see the ocean from the front garden. I have unwittingly engaged in a sea-change lifestyle and really, baby-boomer-bashing aside, it has much to recommend it. The sea, for example. And the tropical birdsong, which I’m sure will have me in the Bribie Gun Shop within the week pricing scattershot rifles, but for now, it’s quite uplifting. There is a church directly across the street, which is more amusing than anything for a person who holds the views on organised religion I do. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine, just as long as no-one tries to welcome anybody else to the neighbourhood with pamphlets and hymns.

The only problem with this place is the smell. It holds the musky scent of holidays. Of exciting plane journeys, visiting relatives, sleeping on the beach, walking through rainforests, swimming in waterfalls, fishing at sunset and sleeping to the breathing of palm trees outside the window at night.
Not the most conducive environment for completing a Phd. Wish us luck and lots of it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

See ya later

Car is packed full to the fan vents. I've planned my route on Google Maps and Whereis and decided to buy some foldy maps from the servo. The iPod is charged. I've got a clippy-grippy thing to hold it or the mobile. I have carefully purchased some bread and cheese for roadside snacking.
The coffee machine made it in.
I'll be seeing you, on the road.

Broom broom!

Don't know when I'll blog or have internet again, but you can bet I'll find a way.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat!

New Kids On The Block were wrong. Step One was not, contrary to their toe-tapping super ballad, lots of fun. Step One was securing a rental property on Bribie Island by bullying my extended tribe into inspecting a slew of houses, apartments, units, granny flats and garden shed. Prices ranged from suspiciously low to spectacularly outrageous.
One agent actually tried to connect us with a nice old couple who had renovated the bottom floor of their Queenslander and turned it into a self-contained, one-bedroom unit. The agent told me over the phone that it came fully furnished, with all bills paid and Foxtel and broadband connections.
'Really?' I asked, impressed. 'There's actually cable and broadband included?'
'Oh yes!' trilled Martha* 'They have all the connections there, you just have to sign up with a provider and get it turned on and that's not included in the rent, but they have all the connections there!'
'So ... they have a phone line ... and the street has Foxtel cables ...'
'Yes!'
'Right. E. O. How much?'
'$300 per week!'
'Hmm. Thank you, Martha. Allow me to talk it over with the missus.'
*click*

Despite the general hilarity involved in renting a property via telephone and intermanet (why would they only include three angles of the same kitchen?), we are now the proud renters of a three bedroom house with a garden and gas cooking. The drawback will be having to walk the entire 200 metres all the way to the beach when we want a swim. Too, too trying, dahling.
Mwahahahaha!
Seriously though, do come visit. Three bedrooms = cheap Queensland accommodation 4 U! Ring now!

NKOTB had it a little closer to the mark with Step Two. There definitely is much we can do. However, I believe The Boys were talking about holding hands, necking and Levi-searing frottage sessions, whereas our activities have included looking for cars, inspecting cars and ... as of 3pm today buying a car.
Yessiree. I done gone and negotiated myself into a Toyota Camry station wagon.
Central locking. Electrical mirrors. Red enough to deliver your mail. The first car I've ever owned that didn't need a choke. I took it for a test drive down to our Sainted Family Mechanic who pointed out oil leaks and bald tyres, then I called Dad (who has flogged the odd used car in his time).
'You don't want to come down?' I asked with the trepidation of a young warrior on his first hunt.
'You've haggled in China, it's just the same thing. But
whatever you do, don't go in there and tell them that you liked the car. Tell them what's wrong with it and offer them a price less the cost of fixing it. And the rego.'
So I did. The British salesman brought me in, sat me down and I recited the faults and repair costs and need for new tyres. The good old used car salesman gave me his banter: they wouldn't cost that much to repair, their mechanic would fix that in-house, there were plenty of people interested, it's a great car, those are country miles, Toyotas are bullet-proof, a guy came to drive it this morning, Indian families love these Camrys (not sure how that was working on me), we sell 35 cars a month here and after all that - do you know what, my friends?
It was marvellous.
The used car salesman is a cultural institution. A character, a caricature, a legend and an experience all rolled into one, like cowboys and politicians. We all know what they're like, but to actually meet one in the flesh and talk to him, and have him talk to you! The marvellous things he says would come straight out of a book of clich├ęs
, were it not for the actual, factual, silk-tied, stripe-shirted being lounging there on the comfortable-for-Officeworks chairs, shuffling foxed manilla folders around and explaining proudly about how it is an Australian requirement that they sell a road-worthy vehicle. 'Lots of 'em do,' he answers when I ask about re-treaded tyres 'But not here. It's illegal to put re-treads on. We don't do that here.'
For a story-teller and a writer to hear this most beautiful brand of bullshit is quite a rare occasion. I'd rather spend a few hours negotiating for a used car than attend a poetry reading. What fan of Fargo hasn't wanted to spend more time with William H. Macy's Jerry Lundegaard?
I offered him my price.
He ummed and ahhed. He looked at me.
I looked at him.
'I'll have to ask the boss,' he said, and disappeared into a back office. Assuming he was probably doing the same thing, I picked my nose and looked outside at the sun for a few moments.
He returned and offered me just under halfway between my offer and the sale price.
I ummed and ahhed. I looked at him.
I asked about the warranty (nationwide, as it turns out) and said that I would call my Dad.
He offered me the private phone in his goldfish tank office and left me in peace.
Dad and I talked. We discussed. We opined. We picked our noses and looked outside at the weather. We took our time.
'Do you think that's okay?' asked Dad. 'It seems reasonable.'
'Yeah. I'm pretty happy with it. It's a good price.'
I said goodbye and went outside and found my modern cultural artefact directing a gormless teen in baggy pants to wipe down a bunch of cars with a sponge.
'What did your dad say?' he asked. 'I bet the old man's going to try and screw me down!'
I smiled on the inside and squinted regretfully on the outside.
I offered him a hundred dollars less.
We shook hands.

In the section on the sales contract where it calls for my details, I instructed him to put "Writer". He liked that. 'You've got it made, mate!'

I drive out on Monday the 19th.

***

GTH - I can't go past T.O.o. Sam for the points here. Along with a slew of excellent suggestions for slogans and what could be the beginning of a worldwide advertising campaign, he also got the jump on the current champion, River, by correctly identifying the painted gluteus maximi as everyone's phavourite physio first.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

If it makes you feel icky, it worked.

I should start up my own one-man advertising company. I will not stop at distasteful slogans, no!
Behold the Active Bodies Physiotherapy television advertising campaign!



Do my work for me!

A very dear friend of mine runs a physiotherapy practice and, as I ply him for free physio, he has returned the compliment and asked me for advice concerning a catchy slogan for some advertising. And when he says "advice" I assume he means "finished products", just as when I take another sip of beer and casually begin a conversation regarding any kind physiological problem I may or may not be experiencing, I actually just want a really good back rub.
So, not wanting to put my bush under light (or however that saying goes) I will be airing out my best ideas here and asking you, my five loyal readers to tell me (and him) which one is the best:
  • Don't get punched by any old donkey. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. We knead your meat.
  • For easy movement, Active Bodies Physiotherapy. Like nine litres of prune juice.
  • To crack back into the pack or just crack your back, back a cracker back-cracker. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • If it ain't broke ... get it checked up anyway at Active Bodies Physiotherapy. (If it is broke, get a referral from the emergency department).
  • Back straight! Shoulders back! Good girl. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Can't touch your toes? Active Bodies Physiotherapy. Or a lucky parole hearing.
  • 10 reps. 4 sets. 3 muscle groups. 5 machines. Active Bodies Physiotherapy doesn't lose count.
  • Lucky shirt, lucky protein, lucky bottle, lucky routine. Active Bodies Physiotherapy: the sensible alternative to poetry-based health and fitness.
  • Are you still whinging about your shoulder? Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Sore wrist, eh? Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. We won't laugh.
  • You look tense. Have a seat. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. We'll squeeze that little knot until it hurts like hell.
  • You bring your body, we'll bring the instructions. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. I had no idea it was that stiff.
  • No magnets. No mirrors. Some rubbing. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. Because it shouldn't hurt like that.
  • Get the movement you need. Without the fibre. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. We're not just for wussy footballers.
  • Get it popped right back in. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. We can be very manipulative.
  • Active Bodies Physiotherapy. This won't hurt a bit.
  • Your movement is our message. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
  • Get a good rub and tug. Active Bodies Physiotherapy.
You may be able to tell that it is becoming late and the metaphors have reduced themselves to poo jokes and masturbation gags. Vote accordingly. Or suggest better. Winning suggestion receives a prize.

***
GTH - Adam Y again with the eyebrowing-raising cultural reference. Me like. River gets an encouragement point because I get the feeling she is refusing to have a guess any more just in case someone gets jealous of her massive and formidable score. The photo is, in fact, the tourist information centre in the Redwood forests of Yosemite National Park.

An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32