Saturday, March 28, 2009

Get yourselves to "Darwin's Teapot"

A bloke called Scott runs one of the best blogs on the net. It is full of fascinating news from the world of science, astute observations on religion, politics etc., and is criminally under-utilised. I urge everyone to take a look - you'll want to put it in your followers list for sure. 

Darwin's Teapot - go there now!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

...and get your kicks for free.

The Mormons introduced themselves as "Jim" and "Peter" from "The Latter-Day Saints".

To their surprise, I immediately asked them in. "Coffee?" I offered. "Er, no thanks," replied Jim, "but a glass of water would be nice."

"Now, fellers, what have you blokes got to say for yourselves?" I enquired, as we sat around the table while Jim got a dirty big book out of his briefcase - a tome that resembled a bible, but which was in fact The Book of Mormon, one of the stupidest wastes of good Tasmanian old-growth forest you might ever see.

"Do you know anything about our church, Laurie?" asked Jim, who was obviously the senior partner of the Jim and Pete show.

"Nothing at all," I lied, wondering what tale of idiocy would shortly be coming my way. Jim, who'd been to Mormon training school by the look of him, asked me straight off (and believe me, I was unprepared for this) "Are you worried by the prospect of spending eternity in hell, Laurie?"

Well, ten points for announcing your utter stupidity up front, I thought to myself. "Tell me about this hell you speak of, Jim," I replied more courteously. Jim launched himself into a tirade of imaginary horrors that would have done James Joyce proud. After three or four minutes of this I was becoming both impressed by his reserve of adjectives, and worried about his sanity at the same time.

Now, it just so happened that, a couple of days previously, I'd had a bit of an altercation with the limb of a tree I'd been removing down in the bottom paddock. The thing had fallen and twisted, sending a smallish branch in my direction. I'd turned to run, just as the branch came down and grazed my back. Nothing serious, but I had some pretty hefty cuts and grazes down my back that made it look like it had come in contact with a cat-o-nine-tails half a dozen times. To tell the truth, I was more pissed off with the thought that it had ripped to pieces a favourite t-shirt that proclaimed "God is dead - now let the bastard rest in peace, motherfuckers." A sudden thought came to mind.

"Jim," I interrupted as speckles of froth were starting to appear around the sides of his mouth, "there's a bit of a problem I see in your argument, if you don't mind me saying so. You see, I have a medical condition - well, to tell you the truth, it's a mental health issue - called Masochism Anxiety Disorder. I know, of course, that it's irrational, but my psychiatrist tells me there's no likelihood of a cure for it."

"Oh," said Jim, utterly perplexed. 

"Yeah, it's a bit of a bugger, actually," I continued, "because it's a condition that presents itself as a desire to have pain inflicted upon myself. I enjoy being hurt, to put it simply, and, quite frankly, this 'hell' you describe sounds like my idea of the ultimate fun-park. I mean, I've made up a few little devices I use down in the shed that involve whips and electric motors and such, but hell sounds like the mother of all torture chambers, and to tell you the truth, I can't wait to get there."

By this stage I could see Peter glancing around as if he was coyly assessing the best possible escape routes out of the place, and he had begun to go several tinges of a whiter shade of pale. Jim was studying his book of Mormon as if he was trying to find a verse or two dedicated to the management and care of the seriously deranged. Fat chance, I thought, as I ploughed on.

"I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. A couple of days ago I had a good session with my cat-o-nine-tails machine I've rigged up. It was most gratifying, I can tell you," I said with a decidely lewd leer in Pete's direction.

I stood up, turned around and pulled my t-shirt up over my shoulders. By this stage, my wounds had become scabrous and evilly red, with blue tinges of bruises on the sides. It was a most prepossessing sight, if I do say so.

At this, young Pete jumped to his feet with a gasp of horror. It was a bad move, because what little blood had been left in his head cascaded immediately into his feet, and the poor bastard dropped like a rock in a pratfall that would have done Buster Keaton proud. He was out cold on the floor of my kitchen with blood trickling out of a nose that was never going to attract nice young Mormon ladies again.

Jim jumped to the aid of his mate with little cries of "Oh, oh, oh!", knocking his glass of water all over the open pages of his book of moronism. At the same time, his face had gone a distinct tinge of green, but, curiously, his ears were the colour of a beetroot. Fuck, I thought, trying to contain my joy, these two could just about pass as the Italian national flag.

I pulled an old bottle of smelling-salts out of the cupboard, and held the open bottle under Pete's flattened nose. He came to with the sort of startled cry that Uma Thurman affected in Pulp Fiction. It was a shame I didn't have a dirty big needle full of adrenalin, I thought. Young Pete would have been seriously discombobulated to wake up with something like that sticking out of his chest.

Eventually, he was conscious enough, and comforted enough, to whisper to Jim that it might be a good idea if they went home. Jim helped him out the front door, down the path, and into the Landcruiser. "Are you sure you don't want to take a look at my little chamber of horrors before you go? I enquired solicitously.

At that, Jim gunned the motor and did an impression up my drive of a Norwegian rally driver. I dusted off my hands and went inside, only to spy Jim's book of Mormon still sitting on the kitchen table.

"Ah, kindling!" I exclaimed. "These Mormons come in handy occasionally."

And, I must say, the Book of Mormon burns beautifully.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The prince of sports

A couple of years ago I retired from competitive cricket. My last year was as captain of the North Richmond 7th grade team, a position I was thrust into some years previously by the president of the club, a genial bloke called Ross Matheson, who must have been seriously deluded about my capabilities to have even considered the possibility that I would lead the team to glory, i.e. by actually winning a competition. (It never did, by the way.)

I'd played cricket as a youngster, of course, going up through the age grades and learning the trade. But cricket gave way to girls, surfing, taking drugs, playing in rock and roll bands, robbing banks, and generally being stupid.

When my eldest son finished his junior career, the possibility of blooding him in the seniors came along, and so I agreed to play with him in one of the lower grades. By this stage, Miles was a pretty damn good cricketer, and it wasn't going to be long before he climbed up to first grade potential. I, on the other hand, at the age of 45, was going nowhere, and was happy to admit it. The club got a team of fathers and sons together - six blokes of about my age with our sons, who were all pretty handy with the leather and willow by this stage.

I remember the first time I strode out to the crease, donned in new pads and gloves, and the most important bit of kit a bloke needs: the box. Cricket balls make a curious, crushing sound when they come in contact with a pair of unprotected gonads - a sound I'd heard once or twice while fielding at slips just before realising that that particular kid was going to spreading his genes in the future only by means of a syringe and a turkey-baster.

Anyway, I shaped up to this young bloke from the Glossodia team who came screaming in to the bowling crease at a great rate of knots. "This feels pretty good," I said to myself as I prepared for a comfortable front-foot drive into the covers, only to find that the bat was still at the top of its back-swing as the ball thudded into the keeper's gloves.

"What the fuck happened then?" I asked of no-one in particular, as the blokes in the slips cordon began tittering. The next five balls brought about similar results, until I was left bewildered at the end of the pitch checking that my bat did not have watermelon-sized holes in it. I realised, finally, that my reaction times were not as they had been twenty-five years before, and, more importantly, I was gonna have to do something about it, and quick. My son, who was opening the batting with me, just stood at the other end of the crease giving me a look that would have withered  Don Bradman.

"Okay, you smug little bastard," I thought, as he shaped up to the bowling, "let's see what you can do. Crack! The ball whistled past my ears at Mach 3 on its way over the fence at long on. The next ball he turned deftly to backward square leg and immediately yelled "Come on! There's three in it." I was running as fast as I could, and had just turned for my second, when he overtook me, already on his third run. "For fuck's sake, get a move on, Dad!" he said with an evil grin as he loped, elegantly, to his crease. Meanwhile, I was considering the time it would take for an ambulance to make a round trip from Windsor Hospital with a victim of myocardial infarction on board. Somehow I made it up and back once more before the square-leg fieldsman, fortunately a bloke also in his dotage, could return the ball to the keeper. I decided a good lie down on the grass was in order, and asked the umpire if rest periods between balls had been written into the official MCC book of the laws of cricket.

By the time I'd regained some composure and my stance at the crease, I was thinking that this really was a mug's game. I threw caution to the wind, and, seeing a ball that was slightly overpitched just outside off stump, thundered down the track, kept my bat straight, and hoped for the best. The ball struck the middle of the bat and whistled straight through the covers for four! I looked up at Miles, who was gazing at me with a mixture of consternation, scepticism and awe. It was a moment of pure bliss.

I scored 25 that day, and, of course, was hooked. And so, I soldiered on for another eight seasons, until creaking knees and one rather unfortunate injury gave me pause to reconsider.

I was 53 and opening the batting again. This time I was playing with my younger son, Blake, who was, like Miles, stepping up into senior cricket. He is a very fine swing bowler, and I'd had two seasons of captaining him in the seventh grade, to my great satisfaction. It was a game to see who would go into the finals rounds in first position on the competition ladder. A young, lanky fast bowler, who was all of 6'6" tall, came in to deliver the first ball. It was short, and reared up at what I thought was an excellent hooking height. I went for the shot, was too late, and the ball careened straight into my face at about 120 kilometres an hour. It dropped me like a brick onto the pitch, blood pouring out of a gash just below my left eye, and the left side of my face immediately swelling to the size of the ball that had just done the damage. I was only semi-conscious, but had the presence of mind to call out to the bowler, who by this stage was standing over me, "Is that as fast as you can bowl, mate? Pathetic."

Ross, the club president was there, and immediately bundled me into his car and took me off to hospital, where x-rays determined that I had fortunately not fractured my skull. It took a couple of weeks for the swelling to go down, and I must say the blokes from the other team were very good about it, with their captain and the bowler himself both calling me to see how I was. Two weeks later we lost the semi-finals against the same team, and I realised it was time to hang up the box for good.

I know it may sound silly, but I'm very proud and fortunate to have been able to play a real, competitive sport with my sons. We learnt a lot from each other out there in our flannels, and I hope that their abiding memories of me will include all that great fun we had together playing the prince of sports.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I'm so very, very, very fucking sorry.

Someone was having a whinge the other day, to the effect that my postings had slowed considerably over the last couple of months. All I can say to this is that time's been against me; the department of education has dumped an entirely new syllabus on me that means I have to re-write all of my programs, even though what I teach has effectively changed not one iota. Thanks, fellers, for giving me a shitloat of needless, redundant work to do just so that you can justify your pointless, inane, bureaucratic existences.

Secondly, I am in the process of writing a number of extended short stories which are not in keeping with the serial stupidity of the current blog. These are taking some considerable effort to craft, and will hopefully appear in print towards the end of this year. Wish me luck, folks.

As well, I have been organising a few travel experiences, including a grand European tour, for which I'm desperately trying to write a paper for a particular conference in Dublin, and the prospect of giving that paper in front of the assembled off-the-scale intellects I'll be faced with has caused several cases of terrified incontinence already. The other major trek is one Leigh and I are organising for early 2010, where we will attempt to drive in a straight line from Sydney to Broome. Thankfully, Leigh has come up with the original idea of towing a trailer with a pallet of beer behind us, so the straight line will become fairly wobbly from the word go. (At least we'll be able to maintain adequate levels of hydration when we're stuck in the desert.)

Last but not least, the Byron Bay Bluesfest comes up in exactly four weeks from now, and it has fallen to me to be the principal organiser of the forty or so crew that assembles at Lennox Head camping ground for what is the best ever time a feller can have standing on two feet. (Or lying horizontally in mud, as the case may be.)  As usual, Leigh is no help in these matters at all, as he reckons that being the elder statesman of the Byron experience affords him certain priveleges, such as becoming stupid for a week. But I, for one, am looking forward to this year's experience like I never have in the entire preceeding twelve years.

All I can assure regular readers is that, as I can, I will continue to post ridiculous stories about my life, adventures and the people that mean most to me as time permits. I promise that, after my return from Europe in August, I will write dozens of idiotic pieces that will entertain you all, or bore you to death. I promise not to include any travelogue-type material, but merely my observations of the sheer hilarity of being human, which, as far as I'm concerned, is a phenomenon unconfined to Australians.