Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Since when has being a loud mouth been genetic!?

For those of you who have been watching this space my car repairs came out at a decidedly reasonable $600.
All this to service the car, fix the transmission leak and do the annual pink slip for rego.
So relieved.
The other issue I raised was me talking to loud, I still haven't resolved this with my sensitive-eared friend, but have contacted her and am planning to meet with her and see if there is a way out of this.
I just had a mental picture of the cone of silence from Get Smart, but if the two of us got into one of these it would of course be a foretaste of hell for her, with my voice booming around inside those acoustic walls like a sports car's exhaust inside a tunnel.
I guess what we would need to do is I get inside the cone of silence and she sits outside it.
Which leads me to a curious coincidence.
English surnames that end in 'er' generally come from a job.
Thus, Hunter, Shooter, Fisher, Farmer and Thatcher for example.
For those of gen 'wifi' who may be reading this, a long time ago people did live in houses with a thatched roof, usually reeds tied tightly into bundles and woven, or 'thatched', together.
Less well known are Cooper and Fletcher, a maker of barrels and arrows respectively.
Also curious is Webb and Webster, which started life as 'wevva' slid over to 'webbe' and is derived from 'wefan' to weave.
Of course the commonest name of all, Smith, comes from blacksmithing, but there are also Tin, Silver and Goldsmiths scattered about.
Likewise (I just looked it up, I do research things) there are 100 people with the surname of 'Miner' in the Australian phone book
My surname is Barker and that is a job as well.
A barker was the guy who stood outside the circus and said "roll up, roll up, see the bearded lady" and such like.
A barker at work.
Now in the days before electronic amplification, the main qualifications for this job were a big, loud voice and verbal diarrhoea.
Two qualifications that those who know me well will tell you I have in spades.
Additionally, my father was a lecturer at Charles Sturt Uni, Mitchell college as was, and he taught before lapel mikes were the norm and was famous for his carrying voice.
So could it be that the reason I am so loud and (big word alert) loquacious is that we Barkers have been barkers since antiquity and it's in my genes to never shut up?
I'll tell my coffee friend this and see if it ameliorates her attitude toward me.
So having taken you through a history lesson of sorts I'll go onto a story that usually amuses.
When I was living on the Gold Coast I was 'nearly homeless'.
The quote marks are there because I wasn't sleeping in bus shelters and shop doorways, but I was the next step back from there.
I lived in backpackers hostels and campgrounds, No Fixed Abode is probably more accurate.
Eventually I began to get some work as a gardener and was laying turf in a new housing estate at Ormeau.
It was a tough gig, if I had sat down with a pencil and paper and tried to work out the worst conditions possible for turf and man, that summer would have been it.
It was very hot, mid-30s plus every day and often 30 degrees by 7am.
All those summers ago I laid this lawn
(very badly), while astral travelling to
Omicron-Persei 8.
Bush fires were burning in both western NSW and western QLD and the winds were blowing across the estate as from the very furnaces of hell.
Small bits of ash would fall on me as I worked and the turf roll would often dry out to a burlap sack texture by the time I carried it from the pallet to its place on the lawn.
I had to run the sprinklers constantly on the pallet and the laid turf and the amount of water wasted to provide a lawn was doing my head in.
One morning I drove from my backpackers in Surfers Paradise and when I got there I went to roll a cigarette while I contemplated the day.
But could I find my Champion Ruby? No.
I tore that car apart, but could not locate it.
Eventually I realised I must have dropped it in the car park at the backpackers and drove up to the shop and bought a new pack.
I went on with my hot work for a few weeks and eventually one Sunday I said, "I have got to clean this car out".
Leaving anything around the backpackers during the day was an invitation to steal, so everything I owned was in that car, tools, clothes, the lot.
The mess indescribable, but I'll have a go.
Take away coffee cups jostled for position with burger wrappers, the ash tray was piled so high that it was becoming difficult to see through the windscreen and there were parts of the carpet that had already evolved into new life forms.
So, time to clean.
I borrowed a vac from the backpackers and got some garbage bags and went down and began to unload my life piecemeal from the car in the underground car park.
My recollection is that I filled 1 and a 1/2 garbage bags with rubbish, which is pretty filthy for an ordinary mid-sized sedan.
Eventually I got everything out and was using a dustpan brush to clean between the drivers seat and the console when I came across my missing tobacco pouch.
It had slipped out of my pocket in transit and wedged itself in the gap in perfect position to be out of sight.
"You beauty!", I exclaimed.
There was $20 odd worth of baccy in the pouch and, at that time in my life, was  ~5% of my weekly income, so a great find.
I had a pouch on the go, so I tipped my current pouch into the found pouch and went on with my life.
Over the next fortnight though I began to notice a change in my behaviour.
I'll bring in a quote from a great writer, Doug Adams, to set this up.

"Ford then behaving oddly, or, as Arthur thought to himself, he began behaving in a way differently odd to the odd ways he more customarily behaved."

I was finding it difficult to stick to any task and my consumption of muffins, candy bars and take away coffee began to accelerate from one each morning and afternoon to driving up to the shop every hour, and still eating a full lunch.
In this period I also had a somewhat scary experience where I was driving home from Ormeau one afternoon and couldn't remember where I was living.
I had to pull over and really think hard to come up with the answer.
"Aren't I staying at Miami beach campground?", I said to myself. "No, didn't I check out of there on Monday?" "No, I think I'm at Broadbeach Backpackers, didn't I check in there on Tuesday?"
"Maybe, but what day is it today, it's Thursday isn't it?", and so it went for some minutes till I eventually came up with the answer (my tent wasn't in the car, so that helped me remember I was back at another campground just up the coast).
Anyway, you all may have guessed where this is going and soon after I got the answer myself.
As I came to the end of my recently found tobacco pouch, I was scrabbling in the bottom for the dregs when my fingers roughed across a small twig.
I pulled it out and suddenly it all fell into place.
The night before I lost my baccy pouch some Israeli backpackers had come and asked me to help them navigate away from the Gold Coast to their next stop at Noosa Heads.
I drew a pencil marking on their map, up the Pacific Hwy, turn to the Gateway Motorway and onward to the Sunshine Coast.
Happy with my help they gave me a large marijuana bud which I stashed at the bottom of my tobacco pouch in case the coppers pulled me over.
Then, as the pouch slipped down next to the seat, the heat from the console dried the bud to dust and the jiggling of the car in motion then vibrated the dope dust evenly throughout the tobacco.
I smoked 30-40 rollies a day in that period and was thus stoned from morning through to bed time.
No wonder the turf in the picture is iffy and when I told the people at the Ormeau coffee shop that I had finished my turf laying and wouldn't be buying coffee, candy bars and muffins there anymore, they had to close down.
A cast iron example for legalising marijuana, I know the shops that sell food would go for it.

Sweet Mary Jane, the source of my
erratic behaviour that summer.
(Actually every summer till 2007 when I gave it up)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Clinton, there's a man in a dog suit behind you.


I had a whole post neatly laid out in my mind when Byron Bay provided its usual interruption to my plans. I meet with Clinton every Thursday for coffee at his local coffee house and we discuss whatever is going on in our lives.
We were involved in an erudite discussion about the history and development of the English language when my eye was caught by this arresting tableau coming up the footpath.
Since I've started this blog, and even before when I would tell some of the stories of my town, occasionally people would say "are you making this up Lachlan?"
The picture shows I'm not, I don't have to.
I'm reminded for instance of when I returned to Byron after a short, horrendously mistaken attempt to live on the gold Coast.
The GC is only an hour's drive away, but a world away in culture.
Eventually I realised my mistake and headed back to this crazy town which is the only place I had ever felt at home.
Upon my arrival I called my Aunt Jen as promised to say I had arrived safely and as I was talking to her from the public phones in Jonson St, around lunchtime, a girl walked past me in full Jane-Austen-esque ballgown, but no shoes.
I knew I was home.

I did stop and speak with this dog-suited fellow and he gave me permission to use this pic on my blog.
The most Byron thing about it was that Clinton didn't bat an eyelid.
He, like me, habituated to this place, obviously thought it the most normal thing in the world for a man in a dog suit to first walk past, and then stop for a conversation.
I might add, just writing the above kind of crystallised in my mind one of the things I like about Byron Bay, viz; for the first time in my life I am not the looniest person around.

So if Byron can stop providing further must-snap photo ops I will finally get around to this week's theme: pressure.
It all started I guess at coffee with my other group of friends.
I was exercised about some issue and began speaking loudly and one of those present ask me to speak more quietly as she felt she was being 'battered' by my discourse.
Being an eternal digressor, bear with me here while I set things up.
Recently I wrote about having anxiety and many of you sent me supporting messages along the theme of 'it's good to speak about it'.
Thank you again.
I replied to some of you on Facebook saying "Thanks for your support as all I can remember from my childhood onwards is adults telling me to shut up".
Thus, my friend saying 'speak quieter' was my most ancient nightmare revisited.
I am going to speak with her and try to find a way forward, but it seems a bit of an impasse.
I am not prepared to go around constantly monitoring my decibels and she, to be fair, has sensitive ears.
If anyone has any thoughts on how to solve this I am happy to hear about it, but please note ear plugs for her and me sitting on the other side of the room have already been suggested.

Then Monday came around and I started the car and had no power.
My transmission had been a little iffy and this day it packed up completely.
I called the NRMA and when the helpful local mechanic arrived (we are on first name terms now and he doesn't have to ask directions to my tent) he first lifted my spirits by saying the car was just low on transmission fluid.
He then went on to send said spirits plummeting to the cellar by pointing out that when the fluid is this low there is a leak in my system.
Now a bit of urban philosophy I've developed in my time is this: "There are three things you never want to hear; 'you better come and see me', from your doctor. 'Audit' from your accountant and 'head gasket' from your mechanic."
For those of you not overly mechanical a head gasket is a seal in the engine, the actual gasket costs about $60, but so deeply buried within the engine is it that it takes six to ten hours labour to replace it.
My problem wasn't the head gasket, but I wasn't sure if the leak in the transmission was going to be a similar deal where it needed ten hours labour to pull the trans out, fix the leak and then put it all back together.
So the NRMA man filled the beast with fluid and I drove off to my mechanic who booked it in for Friday, also to get a pink slip as rego is due and I was already wondering how to pay for that.
So with this burgeoning mechanic bill looming above me like an Andean Condor cruising with ever greater menace over my financial carcasse, I went on with the week.
Gary, my mechanic, said I could use the car but to keep an eye on the transmission fluid.
But I then decided not to do any long distance driving, so had to text through to all my clients of the week in Ballina, Wollongbar and Possum Creek to say I couldn't be there.
Which of course meant no money which I was going to sorely, sorely need.
Then a text from my friend Sandy about other matters in which she mentioned that she was working for most of the week with her partner, Pete, painting his Byron property in advance of new tenants.
I owe Pete a lot of money and he has been great in not having my legs broken in lieu of the cash, but what he did say was I could do some work for him to pay it off.
Thus helping with the paint job was a good opportunity, so I hied me around to his house and began work.
It's good to be finally chipping away at the debt, but if you are working for no pay at the end of the week it is harder to motivate yourself.
Things weren't helped by my first morning on the job when I broke the grinding wheel on one of Pete's tools.
Scott did his best to stay awake.
He didn't get upset but I have mentally added it to my debt, the way this is going I will still be working for him when we are both residents of Feros Village, the old folks home up here.
So then Wednesday night came around and I am normally at soccer training, which is a piss off because all my favourite shows are clustered on six channels across four hours this night.
But as I couldn't drive to Alstonville (40k) due to car, I settled down to enjoy this and try to forget about money for a while when my set top box crapped out.
So loud and long did my swearing go on that the same possum from last week's column woke up and asked me to shut up.
However in adversity comes good.
I texted my friends Clinton, Ivan, Scott and the same Sandy as above, and to my delight both Scott and Clinton were able to provide me with replacements.
Additionally Clinton, Sandy and Scott were able to provide a greatly appreciated listening ear while I coped with all of this and thankfully, it was therapy week, so Paula had to endure a greater degree of intense moaning on my part than usual (and that's saying something).
Clinton did try, but a spot
 on the coffee shop awning
was more interesting than
 my moaning.
Friday tomorrow, up at five to get the car to Gary by 8, then cleaning the balcony for Eric at Clunes followed by more cleaning for Pete in Byron all the while waiting for the call from Gary telling me how much it's all gonna cost.

I'll close by saying that pressure makes things harder, by the time this is over I'll be made of Titanium.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Organic life and more roadway idiots.

I had high hopes of this post being all about environmental solutions until I came around the corner in Burns st and was confronted by a classic 'Only in Byron' moment, actually two 'O-in-B' moments.
Now don't get me wrong, despite all my complaining I love this town in much the same way that New Yorkers love the Big Apple for reasons that no visitor can really understand.
And the wacky characters in Byron Bay are a big part of it.
My continuing beef is that you can be wacky and entertaining while still obeying the law.
For those in North America we drive on the left here in Australia, and as you can see in the photo this unicyclist is on the wrong side of the road while the white SUV in the distance is bearing down on him.
Also he isn't wearing a helmet, so quite frankly he deserves all he gets.
The other curiosity is the person on the far right of the picture.
What are they carrying?
I didn't really notice till I enlarged the photo on my computer, but it seems to be a wok.
A numbskull on a unicycle and a random wok carrier.
Only in Byron.

And so to other issues.
Most of my life I've worked for environmental causes of one sort or another and a common saying, no doubt familiar to many of you is 'think globally, act locally'.
I was doing some gardening at one of my client's places and there were weeds on the path.
I mused to myself, "I better spray those weeds".
I really don't like spraying, but some clients ask me to do it.
But then I thought it through a bit and said to myself, "don't be so lazy, you can do it".
So I got my weed sack and went over the path by hand and ten minutes later it was weed free (as can be seen in the pic above).
In my little world, in my little way I had been finally able to act locally to reduce the toxic load on the planet by a vanishingly small amount.

Likewise at home.
For those who don't know I live in a tent.
I am generally very happy there, I particularly love the quiet.
Sometimes in the afternoon, when my neighbour isn't mowing his lawn down to the bare soil, it is so quiet that the only noise is when the fridge engine kicks in.
When was the last time the only noise you heard was the fridge?
I think it is partly the serene silence that leads many animals to move in with me, a koala has a favourite tree of the end of my deck, and indeed some nights the loudest noise in my world is the damn Koala grunting outside.
I normally let him have his head unless The Simpsons is on, in which case I have to shine the torch on him to get him to shut up.

So this morning when I stepped into the bathroom and discovered a lizard in the shower, it was no real surprise.
This lizard and I have been cohabiting for a long time and he has regularly made me jump by running between my legs to cross the floor.
However I am glad he is there as he eats any cockroaches that try to move in.
Well, I don't have any cockroaches and I'm pretty sure it is due to the lizard's diligent pursuit.
The lizard couldn't escape due to the steeply sloping porcelain sides of my shower recess, but I was determined to get he or she back on cockroach patrol, so after five minutes of rodeo-like, slippery-sliding pursuit I finally got it onto my dustpan and back into a favourite spot behind my bathroom door.

Which leads me to another story of life in the undergrowth.
One night I was abed when I was awoken by the sound of footsteps in my little workshop area next to the bathroom.
I lay in bed thinking it over.
"Why is there someone walking around in my tent?", I mused.
I didn't think it was a burglar, who would want to rob me?
I then ran a brief mental checklist of friends who had mentioned they may come and visit, but no one was due at this time.
So what was going on?
Then the intruder turned on my electric jug and it began boiling.
So at that point I said "that's it. I don't mind you walking around but making a cup of tea before robbing the joint was taking things a little too far".
So I got out of bed, put on my boots and went to check things out.
It was a possum.
She likewise is a semi-regular tenant and in her wanderings had put her foot on the top of the jug and set it off.
I only wished I'd been present to see her jump as the lumpen foothold she had chosen suddenly glowed orange and began vibrating.
Anyway that was the only time I ever laid hands on her, as I scooped her up and returned the beast to her sleeping spot on the roof.
I might add, Possums have a human like ability to stare and she gave me a filthy look and hissed at me in a fashion that made me feel somehow guilty.
To which I responded to her, 'well don't make such a damn racket at three a.m and I won't have to relocate you in such a rough-handed manner".
So we both retired to our respective beds not on speaking or, in her case, hissing terms.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

I am divided like the clock

I didn't write the title of this post, if I did I could say I was a great writer.
It comes from a book by Joanne Harris, 'Five Quarters of the Orange'. 
The book is about a French country woman during the second world war who suffers from crippling migraines.
For those who have never suffered a migraine headache it is characterised at the start by a flickering of the vision, classically on one side, but not always, sometimes your whole world seems to be coming at you like a TV set with bad reception.
I first suffered when I started uni and each day about 11am my left eye vision began to shimmer and then a series of jagged black and white lines would zoom up and recede like the Northern Lights.
The picture (above right) gives some impression.
Once my vision began to flicker I would have to look at forty-five degrees past the left ear of anyone I was trying to talk to, and then I knew that the migraine was descending and the unbearable pain was to follow.
Likewise the character in Joanne's book would stare at the large roman numeral clock on her mantle piece and realise that she could only see half the clock face and her migraine was coming.
She wrote in her journal, "I am divided like the clock".
I am no Photoshop expert, but hold a piece of white paper over half of this clock face with a shaking hand and you can get some feel for it.
And so, to this post.
I was divided about whether to put ads on my blog.
Those who know me well will tell you that I hate advertising, but when I thought about it I realised that what I really hate is intrusive advertising, and the most intrusive of all is television advertising.
Visitors to Australia, particularly from the British Isles, simply cannot believe how many ads there are on Australian TV.
To give you an example, the third Lord of the Rings movie is 201 minutes (3 1/2 hours) long.
It was shown on a commercial channel here on a Sunday night and began at 8.30pm.
Talk about a marathon.
It was still running at midnight when I gave up and went to bed.
But here's the thing, the main reason I stopped watching was because after 11pm the porn ads began and to see a film all about the best and noblest of the Middle Earth fighting to defeat pure evil desecrated by ads for strip bars and phone sex lines was too appalling for words.
(and no I didn't call any of the sex lines).
In my opinion the greatest invention in the history of the human race after the remote is the mute button on the remote.
I haven't heard the sound track for an ad on TV for many years and the definition of a millisecond is the amount of time it takes me to hit the mute button as soon as an ad appears.
So I really don't like intrusive ads and I'd like to think that the three ads on this website aren't.
So divided by the decision to advertise, I gave it some some thought and realised that one thing I am not divided about is being poor.
We are all divided, it's so hard to make a decision, the consequences of a bad decision lead us all to an almost permanent state of indeterminism (if that's a word) and to relieve the overarching feeling of doom this post has no doubt brought upon you here is a Dave Allen joke that sums it all up.

A man is conscious of a lifetime of bad decisions.
He had the choice of two universities, he chose the wrong one.
He had a choice of two jobs, he chose the wrong one.
He had the choice of two women, he chose the wrong one.
Comes a day he has to fly for a business meeting and the travel agent tells him there are two planes.
After much agonising he picks one and takes off, some hours later the captain comes on and says, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to announce a fuel emergency. We are four hours from the nearest land and it looks like the end."
The man immediately goes down on his knees and prays, "Please, please, St. Francis save me".
and a voice from the heavens intones, "St. Francis of Assisi or St. Francis Xavier?"

To end I want to make a meaningless jump to something one of my lecturers said to me back at uni in 1987.
All appearances to the contrary I do think about what I am going to write ahead of time and try to get some sort of linear structure to the post.
When I began thinking I made a seamless transition from being divided like the clock to my lecturer's comment but I can't remember how I did it now.
Anyway, I was thinking about why we (the human race) do not do more about global warming and the environment in general.
There are people like George W. Bush and an Australian shock jock called Alan Jones who try to make the populace believe that the problem doesn't exist.
However our lack of action goes deeper than that and here is what I think it is.
I was at a social function of the Zoology department and talking with my herpetology (reptiles) lecturer, Rick Shine.
He had made the point that some species of Australian snake, the King Brown and the Taipan could go
extinct due to eating Cane toads.
I, unlike most, loved these animals and was distraught that they could disappear, so I said to him, "couldn't something be done to save them? Captive breeding for instance."
Little did I realise that Rick's response would return to me 25 years later and from the specific of extinction of two snake species become broadly applicable to the whole of society and explain our lack of action on environmental issues, said Rick:

 "No one cares, Lachlan, no one cares."

King Brown snake.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

I'm sure I unplugged the oven

Why on Earth have I got a picture of my prescription at the start of this post?
And a picture of my ovens?
If you're confused then I am sure you are not alone. 
Don't worry I'll get to the explanation in my usual roundabout fashion.
I was reminded of an election held in the Northern Territory in (I think) the nineties in which the Labor party won the poll, and it was the first ever non-conservative government elected up there.
On the TV show The Panel they showed showed an ad done by the leader of the NT Country Party and he was standing in front of a chainlink fence declaiming to the audience.
The Panel members pointed out quite rightly that here was a man who was not really trying, with all the beauty of the NT at his disposal (Kakadu pictured below) he chose to be photographed in front of an urban wasteland bounded by a wiretrace fence.
Likewise, with all the beauty of Byron at my disposal, why the prescription?, why the ovens? 
Well the answer is that I am mentally ill, no surprise there, anyone who has read any of these posts could tell you that.
What I would like to explain is that these pills, Mirtazapine, also known as Avanza, are anti-depressants specifically for people with anxiety disorder.
When I was about 40 I suddenly became overcome with all sorts of panic.
I still have no real explanation for it, it was nothing to do with turning forty, I was quite relieved to make it that far.
These days my anxiety has settled into an exhausting round of 'checking' things.
When I park the car it often takes me ten minutes to check the handbrake is on, the transmission is in park, the lights are off, my wallet, phone, keys and glasses are accounted for, either with me or clearly visible in the car.
Then I check all the windows are up, and all four doors are locked.
Having checked all this I walk away and then are beset by doubts and have to go back and do the checks all over again.
On top of all this, I am no longer able to park the car on a slope, worried that something will go wrong and the car will roll away.
I have a few times driven to my favourite surf spot, Wategos beach, which is encircled by steep hills and if the crowds are thick and the only parking spot left is sloping then I have turned around and driven away, unable to enjoy the surf, worried I may return and find the car in a ditch at the bottom of the slope.
Likewise when I leave the house in the morning I have to go through and exhaustive, and likewise exhausting, round of checks to see that everything is switched off.
Both the car and home check anxiety fundamentally has money at the bottom of it. 
If the car gets damaged I don't have enough money to fix it without weeks of saving (or borrowing from my long-suffering friend Antony), and at home with the price of power, the thought of leaving the oven on all day is just too much to bear.
Thus, the picture of the ovens.
Anxiety has got so bad for me that I have to photograph the ovens with the cords visibly out of the socket before I can leave the house.
Even then I still go back a number of times to check that the cords that I checked were unplugged thirty seconds ago have not somehow magically re-inserted themselves in the socket.
If photographing these appliances seems a little over the top I can assure you that it is still better than the old days when I often got hit by a panic bomb and had to stop work, pack my mower away and drive home and check that everything was turned off.
Now I can at least get my phone out and look at the picture to reassure myself.
So if you're wondering if you are mentally ill, once again, you are not alone.
Most people check things, in my opinion if you get to checking things more than five times, then there may be an anxiety worm eating away inside you.
Clearly, the actual issue, in my case leaving the oven on, is usually a facade hiding a deeper problem.
If anxiety is starting to interfere with your life AKA, not being able to surf if I can't find a flat space to park or having to leave work to check the oven isn't on then it could be time to seek help.
I've been lucky (and tenacious), after a long search I found a competent mental health professional called Paula and she has the unenviable task of listening to me moan for an hour once a month.
All she does is listen and even I can't explain how it works, but it does.
If you think about it when was the last time someone listened to you?
I don't want to get preachy here, indeed this blog is supposed to be entertaining, but if at least you can go away thinking 'man, at least I am not as nutty as Lachlan', then that's some reassurance that has made the time you spent reading worth it.
So I'll close with this paraphrasing of a gag I heard from David Frost.
"The creed of this blog is simple, if I can bring just one little smile to one little face, then I've really screwed up somewhere".

Magestic Kakadu