Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bull's eye

As I've said before, the Great Ocean Road is a driver's joy. Hundreds of kilometres of sinuous and beautifully realised roadway afford the motorist every pleasure, such as coming up behind a sluggard mobile home and overtaking it with the mighty power of the Volvo's 2.5 litre, turbo-charged engine, and narrowly avoiding the Audi doing exactly the same thing from the opposite direction. A rough calculation of vectors alerted me to the fact that a combined impact speed of about 300 kph would have probably set off the Volvo's air-bags.

"Jesus, Loz!" ejaculated Leigh - "I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my Grandad - not screaming in horror like his passengers!"

We were in a rather more subdued frame of mind as we rolled into Apollo Bay, a combined fishing village and red-hot tourist mecca for cashed-up Melburnians, many of whom were to be seen promenading their pomeranians along the main drag as we dawdled through town. To be fair, Apollo Bay is paradise on a stick; a long, curving beach winds its way up to a boat harbour where the fishing fleet rests, and the ocean front is admirably bedecked with wide, rambling parkland. We pulled up outside (guess where) the Apollo Bay Hotel, and decided that drink was, for the moment, the better part of valour. After all, we were still shaking from a close encounter of the luxury German vehicle kind.

"Thought I was about to become an historical Australian figure, back there, Loz," mumbled Leigh as he poured schooner number three into himself.

"Get a grip, you big girl's blouse," I responded, "after all of your shenanigans in the Hawkesbury, you'd be lucky to have a statue erected of a size that just one pigeon would have the room to shit on."

It was time to find a camping ground, and, without any trouble at all, we drove into a neat little area that had several tent sites by a creek that fed into the ocean just a couple of hundred yards away. Having set our camp, and it being about 6 p.m., the call of food was unmistakeable, so we ambled back into the hotel to see what was on offer. (And, I must say, southern ocean lobsters are delectable, but please don't tell my wife.)

By about eight o'clock the place was getting jam-packed. Leigh and I decided that a game of pool was in order, and it wasn't long before two local fishos and we were having a rather merry time buying each other beer as we won and lost, and having a very fulfilling conversation about the vicissitudes of the fishing industry. Leigh had opted for the red wine option, and, when he didn't have a pool cue in his hands, was presented with the stimulating dilemma of a very large glass of red in his right, and an even bigger one of beer in his left. Naturally, he chose to be ambidextrous, and, after a couple of hours, became somewhat verbillaceous as well.

"Loz," he intoned rather conspiratorially, "I want to live here for the rest of my life."

"You keep pluggin' away at that lot," I pointed to the two glasses he held in his hands, "and that could be all of about four hours, pal."

At that point the doors of the pub burst open, and in marched three young women of the Vietnamese persuasion, followed by an older bloke who may as well have had the word "Pimp" tattoed on his forehead. The girls were wearing extremely short mini-skirts and equally extreme low-cut singlets; so extreme, in fact, that one had to wonder how those acres of exposed epidermis could actually be contained within the outside of a human body, if you get my meaning.

They turned out to be a trio of working girls down from Melbourne with their boss for a spot of R&R. They were, I have to say, for all their dainty charm, just about the toughest bunch of women I've ever encountered. They immediately commandered the pool table, and looked over the four of us, no doubt determining which would be the easiest to beat. Fortunately, I was overlooked by the selection committee, and retreated to the safety of the bar. The oldest, and toughest, of the three picked Leigh.

"Rack 'em up, sunshine," she commanded Leigh, who, by this stage of the evening, was starting to become unfamiliar with the English language, let alone that variety of it spoken by a tiny Vietnamese woman with a prepossessing snake tattoed across her sumptuous and extensive decolletage. Nevertheless, he valiantly attempted to assemble the balls in the little wooden triangle, overlooking the fact that the white ball didn't belong there. Having one ball, the black, left over from his assemblage, he bemusedly rolled it up to the cue line. The girls looked at each other with looks that said "How good is this?", and the snake lady strutted along the length of the table, pushed Leigh out of the way, and with a dismissive shrug, rearranged the balls correctly. She decided to break, and said to Leigh "You know about 'Pants down run around'?" - referring to an intriguing custom whereby the loser of a game is obliged, if he has sunk no balls in his defeat, to remove his lower garments and parade around the pool table.

Thus potentially relieved of what would be the last vestiges of his dignity, Leigh propped himself on a pool cue while the snake lady leant over the table, revealing a pair of red satin knickers under her mini-skirt with a black bull's-eye strategically embroidered, and belted the fuck out of the break. After a considerable time, the balls stopped careening off the cushions, and, to my amazement, and in seeming defiance of the laws of physics or probability, not one of them had found its way into a pocket.

When Leigh's eyes stopped rolling after he'd vainly attempted to follow the balls around the velvet, and finally appraising that it was his turn, he turned to the snake woman, smiled broadly and said "Tough break, darlin'."

Now, conventional medical science has it that alcohol inhibits various brain functions, including motor skills, calculation, and reasoning. The game of pool requires a tremendous degree of control over all of these faculties, and Leigh had had enough of the stuff to theoretically make it rather difficult for him to stick his pool cue in a bath-tub, let alone bring it close enough to a two-inch pool ball to actually make contact with it.

Leigh decided to throw caution to the wind, and lined up the most difficult long-shot on the table. The girls were tittering with scorn, when Leigh cracked the thirteen ball straight into the corner pocket, leaving the cue ball motionless, and perfectly positioned for an easy pot of the eleven into the side. "Lucky shot," exclaimed the snake lady.

Leigh ignored the easy pot, and lined up a ball that was resting on the cushion at the other end of the table. Gently, delicately, he rolled the cue ball onto the twelve, causing it to run faultlessly into the bottom pocket. The looks of scorn began to dissipate on the ladies' faces, to be replaced with an evident and rising anxiety. The snake lady looked cautiously at the hundred dollar bill that - with the confidence of the consumnate punter - she had previously lain on the end of the table. 

Meanwhile, Leigh had smashed another ball cleanly into the side pocket, and was calmly assessing the angle of a particularly tough double into the bottom corner. The ball slid into the pocket without a murmur of complaint. Jack, one of the fishos standing beside me, spat half a schooner onto his mate, and started doing a little jig on the spot. "Fuck me - I don't believe this!" he exclaimed.

By this stage a sizeable crowd had assembled around the table, no doubt attracted by the combination of Leigh's effortless prowess and the ridiculous impersonation of an Irish kick-dancer he affected between shots. Dancing around the table, giggling for all he was worth, he smacked two more balls into their pockets with the sound of a whip-crack. Only the black ball was left. Leigh addressed it. It hit the back of the pocket and rolled down the tube with a sound like hollow laughter.

The crowd erupted. Leigh nonchalantly picked the hundred off the end of the table and walked over to the snake lady. "I can't take your money off you, darlin'," he said as he pressed the note into her hand, "but I believe it's your turn." I have to say this for the snake lady - she was a good sport, and dutifully and deftly removed the mini-skirt and bull's-eye knickers and jogged around the table two or three times. But in her profession, I suppose, such behaviour was fairly run-of-the-mill.

Of course, Leigh's sensational win was the occasion for another several rounds of drinks, and Leigh and I chatted for a while with the girls from Melbourne and a few locals. Or I should say I chatted - Leigh was somewhat more voluble, and mixed a loud discourse on the beneficial effects of red wine on the neurological apparatus with several triple forte choruses of "Proud Mary".

Eventually, the miracle of modern medical science and I staggered drunkenly back to our camp-site, where Leigh got half way inside his tent, and was still on his knees with his head and shoulders on the ground, before he went into a perfect, dreamless sleep. As a parting shot, I got a texta out of the glove box of the Volvo and drew three concentric circles on his backside, which was conveniently protruding from the tent.

"Bull's eye, indeed, old mate," I whispered.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Footy, funerals and fish.

Leigh was keen to catch some fish. He'd even bought a little fishing rod in Sale, Victoria - where we'd stopped for a breather before we drove into a hurricane on Wilson's Promontory. As we cruised down the coast from the Prom, dodging trees and pieces of peoples' houses littering the roads, Leigh waxed lyrical about our good fortune.

"See, Loz - the fates were with us. Nothing bad happened to us at the Prom. Granted, the tree that crushed your tent while you were up having a leak put the wind up me a bit, 'cause, quite frankly, I didn't know how I was gonna explain to your lovely wife why, after your demise, I'd continued on to the Flinders Ranges in her Volvo. I would have given you a decent burial, though.

"No, the only bummer at the Prom was that it was too wild to have a fish. But we'll sort that out at Sorrento tonight, Loz  - I'll go and get a few whiting, then I'll cook them up with some ginger, lime and chili: perfect." 

He dozed off, no doubt dreaming about the culinary delights attendant upon fish hunting, while I drove through a town called Fish Creek that had the singularly weirdest street sign I have ever seen: "Caution - Funeral in Progress." I had to reverse up to it to assure myself that I was not hallucinating, but there it was, fixed to a metal pole concreted into the ground, and obviously rather old. I drove on, wondering whether Fish Creek was some doppelganger of the fictional Midsomer, with a murder a week de rigeur. Whatever, it was a peculiarity that bespoke much of the odd proclivities of Victorians.

One other of these is the enthusiasm - no, the psychopathology - Victorians exhibit for AFL football, possibly the most idiotic game ever to waste valuable parkland. We pitched our tents in a very odd little camp-ground at Sorrento, and Leigh ran off to the beach with his rod and a bag of prawns, and the gradually muted cries of "Come here you little fishy bastards", or something. I decided to reconnoitre the famous Sorrento Hotel instead.

Inside, I fetched the inevitable pot of beer and sat down to take in the ambience. Around the perimeter of the room, where walls met ceilings, was an array of television sets all screening different games of AFL. I nodded to a fellow drinker who was looking rapturously at one of the screens, and asked "Who's playing?"

"Oh, it's a repeat of the 1978 grand final," he replied quite seriously.

"What about the games on the other sets?" I asked, with a kind of urbane nonchalance that masked a rising panic.

"Arr, that one's 1982 quarter-final between Essendon and Hawthorn, that's the 1990 G.F. The other one's live, but I'll watch that on replay later."

Yeah, in about 2035, I thought, wondering whether the publican was some kind of time lord.

I very quickly finished my beer and hurried out before the Daleks came on for the change of shift, and finally met up with Leigh at the beach, who was still fishing, and chuckling at the same time.

"Any luck, mate?" I enquired.

"Not yet, Loz." I asked if he'd had any bites yet, and got the same response.  I was just about to suggest that we pack it in and get a pizza when he hooted with laughter and said "I've run out of bait, anyway."

"Then why is your line still in the water?"

"Cause this is brilliant, Loz. I love fishing."

Eventually I coaxed him to reel it in, and we set off for the township of Sorrento, where, I must say, the pizzas were delicious. Leigh was keen to visit the hotel himself, so we ambled in again. The place was packed to the rafters, it being about 8p.m., with the assembled locals having a very jolly, noisy time, every one of them watching a replay of the 1972 grand final.

The following day we set off for the Great Ocean Road. But first, of course, we had to pay a visit to the beach where a former prime minister, one Harold Holt, had drowned while in office. To many people, the idea of the leader of a nation ambling down to the beach by himself on a Sunday morning, then throwing himself into a gigantic surf, only to never reappear, is strikingly odd. Where were his bodyguards, his minders? Well, the simple fact is that in 1968 no-one in Australia thought it odd at all. After all, he was just bloke who happened to have a fairly high-falutin' job. But, apart from that, his day off was his own business.

So Harold, who was in his late sixties at the time, decided to test the waters at Cheviot Beach. Leigh and I were making some breakfast by the beach, while waves of a similar stature to those that were the undoing of Harold came booming in at the shore.

"Loz, I reckon that there must be somethin' left of old Harold out there still. I might go out for a look." So saying, Leigh donned his blue boardshorts, paddled into the surf, and was, in fairly short order, obscured from view by fifteen-foot waves. I didn't see this as too much of a problem, at first. After all, he wasn't a prime minister, and, secondly, I hadn't finished my avocado on toast. Leigh was a reasonable swimmer, and although he hadn't taken his floaties with him as usual, I was sure he'd be alright. I settled down for a post-prandial snooze.

I was awoken by the sound of a helicopter's rotors beating a dull ostinato above the surf. I looked up to see a rescue worker, dangling from the helicopter, fighting to get what appeared to be a draft horse collar around a small, red-haired figure in the water. I could just hear the strident voice of my mate floating across the waves.

"Piss off, you idiot - I'm just waitin' for the next set to come along. Leave me alone. What right have you got to interfere with a bloke's freedom to have a bit of a surf?" He went on and on, all the while trying to belt the rescuer, whose natural concern was to pull what was obviously a raving lunatic out of mountainous, shark-infested seas.

Eventually, the rescuer subdued him, and Leigh was dutifully hauled into the cabin of the chopper. By the time it got back to the beach, he was barking mad and in no mood to party. I opened the Esky. "Here, mate, calm down and have a beer."

His mood changed immediately. "Aw, that's very good of you, Loz - did you see what these kill-joys were doin'? I just reckon they don't want me to discover the truth about Holt's disappearance. I got to the bottom, Loz, and I tell you, there's bits of submarine with Chinese writing on it down there."

As the rescue helicopter's crew were obviously looking as though strait-jackets would be the next phase in the rescue mission, I piled Leigh into the Volvo and we took off at high speed. 

Somewhat further down the road, as Leigh was rubbing his neck, which was beginning to show some ominous bruising from the horse collar, he said "Jesus, Loz, there were some good fish out there. I should've taken my rod."