THE END

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

And so the year ends. I firstly must apologise for the tardiness of my last few submissions. Not only has the year of new activities gathered momentum like a tidal wave, sucking time as it approaches, but I had in mind all sorts of spectacular endings. From shooting fireworks in front of 10,000 people (Bej, I still want to do that one day!) to getting an article published about my year. Alas, sometimes life has other plans for you!

So what has this year taught me? Has it changed me? Have I got a new life, new job, new hobby or am I just plain tired? For this entire year I have resisted the temptation to idly flick through the discovery channel and instead managed to roll off the sofa and focus my determination into chasing something ‘new’. And this is the curious truth about life. It is indeed full of amazing and new things that happen every single day and most of them could be happening just down the road! I read of a study recently that demonstrated that those who try new experiences regularly perceive more time has passed then actually has. In other words, they live life longer! And this year I can honestly attest to that! The year has blitzed past in a heartbeat yet looking back over the blog I can hardly believe this all happened in a year! There is a real satisfaction and simplicity to peeling back all preconceptions about something new and just giving it a go. Not only do you learn something new but quite often you learn a few new things about yourself, like what you are really capable of. All of a sudden, nothing in this world seems impossible. You just have to take the first step.

So yes I am plain tired at the end and no I don’t have a new job or new life, I may have a few new hobbies but one thing is for certain, I have learnt a lot more about life and can’t wait for the rest of it.

I want to thank all of you who took the time to read my adventures and post your encouragement or discouragement as the case may be. I also want to take the time to apologise for flooding your inbox with my verbal nonsense but even though you didn’t know it, you have been encouraging me all year to finish this challenge. If I have inspired even a single person to go out and do something new this year then I am a happy lad.

Thankyou and good luck with all your own adventures. The only question left for me is:  What do I do next?

Some new experiences you seek out and others just seem to find you.

 When hearing about some else’s misfortune it is easy to imagine how you would have handled the situation better. Life can be pretty darned easy when you live it from an armchair, but when floating in the sea with strong winds blowing you away from shore, all of a sudden the simplest things in life can suddenly appear impossible. 

Early in the year I took it upon myself to learn how to Scuba Dive (See Week 16). Like a handful of other experiences this year, I discovered a new passion that has begun to fill my spare room with all sorts of new toys. As I mate once said to me “he who dies with the most toys, wins!”. So with Diving high on the agenda I’ve been heading seaward discovering this new frontier.  

I’d heard about scallop beds in 12m of water no more than 1 kilometre off the beach. In fact the reports spoke of almost plague like proportions of scallops just waiting to be plucked from the sea bottom. The question was how to get to them. Swimming 1km out in full dive gear was not an attractive proposition and joining a dive charter was both expensive and they only infrequently went to the scallop beds. So I hatched a plan! After some internet research I learnt of a community of divers that regularly dive from kayaks. In fact Kayak diving is a growing sport that enables divers to access dive sites without the expense of boats… you can probably see where this is heading already. With no Kayak to hand I enlisted the service of Stuart of the ocean canyoneering fame (See week 15). Stuart owns both a couple old plastic canoes and a good serving of zany adventure spirit. The plan was simple. Paddle out, Dive, collect scallops, Paddle back and cheer at the mountain of scallops we had harvested.

Here is what actually happened.

As the weekend neared a couple other friends were keen to join so Doug, Richard, Stewy and I headed down the coast with a trailer load of dive equipment and a couple of plastic canoes. The bay was calm and from shore we could make out the dark water marking the beginning of the deeper water. We rigged up our equipment, checked the wind again and paddled off.  The paddle out was remarkably easy and within 10minutes we had reached the 500m marker and the start of the deep water.  After a while of struggling with wetsuits, tanks and organising ourselves we were set to descend. Each one of us held onto a shot line tied to the canoes that allowed us to drift tethered to the canoe. At 12m depth we hit success. The sea bottom was strewn with scallops like gold coins dropped from a clipper ship. We hungrily grabbed at the booty and within the 45min window collected close to our 100 limit each! After surfacing we noticed we had drifted another 500m from shore as the wind had picked up. An offshore wind was whipping up a descent wind swell. We dumped the scallops in the canoes and began the awkward task of squirming back onto the canoes without tipping them, all the while drifting further outwards. By the time we were on the canoes the wind swell was at an alarming height. As quickly as we could muscle we turned the canoes and paddled for shore. The waves breaking over the heavily laden canoe forcing us to stop every so often to bail out water. The awkward seating amongst tanks, scallops and dive gear making the bailing efforts difficult. Doug in the front of the canoe seemed to be merrily and happily chatting away as I nervously eyed the waterline approaching the lip of the canoe. We had made it almost halfway back and I knew the shallow water wasn’t too far away. Then I made the perilous decision to keep paddling in an effort to make the shallows instead of stopping to bail the canoe. All of a sudden the water poured in as the dive gear began to float about the canoe. We were sinking!

We piled out of the canoe as Doug began vainly trying to bail. It was time to make a decision. We either try and swim, dragging everything to shore or we get help. The winds had increased to around 30knots and I knew there was no way we would be able to swim into the headwind. The far safer option was getting help before we tire ourselves out. I spotted a fishing boat around 300m away so I began to call for help. And called. And called. And called. My hands waving backwards and forwards in the international call of distress. The 3 fisherman seemed far more intent on catching some flathead than saving anyone! Eventually another fisherman, twice the distance away heard our calls and came to our rescue. Ken was driving a 25ft half cabin cruiser that looked about a year’s salary. Ken had struggled to catch anything that day and was about to walk home with a bucket of scallops. He happily hauled us and our dive gear onto the boat and towed the canoe to shore. Meanwhile Stewy and Rich had made landfall arriving about the same time as us!

We had been saved. I guess the situation was not yet at grim circumstances. We could have dumped all the gear and swam for shore, then again maybe not. It has taught me a hell of a lot about understanding sea conditions. In fact I later attended a course on kayak navigation and techniques that exposed a plethora of judgement errors made that day. But like all adventures, you always need a little bit of luck to make it truly an adventure.

What better way to end a year of new experiences!

I always assumed in future years I would meet a Beryl at the local Bingo Club and there would blossom a wonderful and spirited Bingo partnership with high tea and scones in abundance as I complain about itchy woollen jumpers all under the watchful eye of a slowly rotating ceiling fan. As it turns out Bingo it is not about chatting, scones and high tea, in fact being sociable seems to be quite low on the agenda.

Let me explain the art of Bingo.

The Fawkner Bingo centre is not your typical local bingo hall. This leviathan of the Bingo world can hold over 1000 people and, operates 7days a week and marches through the Bingo rounds like a German Blitzkrieg. Danielle and I arrived late into the first round and were stopped by the building security before we could enter. This is rule no.1, do not walk, talk, sneeze, cough or even fart during the Bingo calling. This would apparently cause 1000 walking sticks to be flung your way. Rule no.2 bring your own pen. Apparently the house is not financed enough to throw a few BIC pens on the table so Danielle and I had to fork out a few bucks for a pen. Now here is a spot of bingo trivia. You actually get a choice of pen thicknesses! To increase your game speed, rather than crossing a number out, it is best to dab the number with a ridiculously fat pen instead.

Danielle and I find a seat next to an old Greek couple and a large islander whose wheezing reminded me of a German Panzer tank. So here is how it works. The caller signifies the beginning of the round by perfunctorily reading out the ticket number serial code followed by “Eyes Down, Eyes Down”. Instead Danielle and I look at each puzzled on what happens next. Thus followed what could only be described as a Gatling gun repetition of numbers: “both the fives,55… three and one, 31…”. The caller hardly drew breath between each number as both Danielle and I scrambled to find the numbers on the ticket. We quickly fell behind as we emitted a slow and quiet ‘crrraaappppppp’ as we struggled to keep up, my heart rate thumping as I greedily collected the numbers. Finally a faint “Bingo” echoes from the other corner of the room followed by a loud and collective disappointed sigh as the room sinks back into their seats. Even the old quaint Greek lady couldn’t help spitting a couple Greek swear words into the room.

It was startling to watch. An entire room focused intently hoping to win the golden prize of $100 each round. Barely enough to cover their expenses for the night! We get chatting to the old lady.

“Do you come here each week?”

Old Lady: “Pffft, each week???, try each day!!! We come here every single day and in 10 years I never win jackpot.” She looks carefully at us then adds “my husband and I do not drink or sit inside and watch TV, we get out of house and come here. Much better for life”.

I realised the old lady was right. This was a far more sociable and entertaining way to spend an evening instead of nursing a glass of rose in front of Deal or No Deal.

Danielle and I stayed on for about an hour as our eyes seemed to mold all the numbers into a big black spaghetti glob before us. It was time to leave.

We didn’t earn our fortune, nor did I meet Beryl. The appeal of the game seemed to fade some what in my imagination. Perhaps if a few scones were put out then the experience would be a lot different.

Let me do some maths for you. According to the Bureau of Statistics, Melbourne has a population of 3.8 million people of which around 15% are single.  If we then filter for age, compatibility and let’s face it I’m not attracted to overweight chain smokers, then my eligible populations distils down to about 600 single eligble females in all of Melbourne. That is exactly a 1 in 6333 chance that any Melbourne person I talk to will be right for me.

That bites.

Speed dating is pretty much the industrialisation of dating.  The mass production of first impressions that could hopefully lead to something more than a distant smile. The concept is this: you get given exactly 4.5mins to sweet talk your way into a woman’s heart. Now let’s think about that for a second. 4.5mins is not even long enough to boil an egg. That is stuff all. So in speed dating it all comes down to looks. If someone is physically attracted to you, then basically you have 4.5mins to not say anything stupid like ‘I like babies with pin shaped heads’ or ‘I am so sick of talking to people right now’. Incidentally both those comments are what other guys said to girls that night! At least that’s what the girls told me.

So you walk into a room filled with hopeful singles all suitably spruced up and awkwardly looking across at each other.  My ever present friend for fun times Danielle joined me for this evening and we literally waltzed into the place like a pair of class clowns. I immediately turned to a couple who were quietly introducing themselves to each other and yelled ‘hey, we haven’t started yet’ before turning around and looking for the bar.  Now I will be honest here. Singles events are not filled with glamorous charismatic people chinking champagne glasses together and laughing at the joy of life. Let’s just leave it at that! My natural defence mechanism soon kicked in and all I could do was joke around. I took no one and nothing seriously.  “Do I get my clothes off now or shall we talk for a bit first?” or my favourite conversation to a Japanese girl:

Me “So what do you do for a living”?

Her: “I enterriotter”

Me: “Sorry, what was that?”

Her: “I interrieter”

Me: “I’m really sorry,  I missed that again.”

Her: (getting frustrated) “I am interpreter”

Me: “Oh” (pause) “how’s that working out?”

16 girls later and 4 beers later we made our final decisions. Everyone huddled around their scraps of paper to tick ‘friend’, ‘relationship’ or ‘no’. It felt like a primary school exam with everyone trying to cover their answers with their hand. I joked to the girl next to me ’psst, what did you get for number 5?’. She looked at me blankly. I could only assume her joke bone had been surgically removed.

Then, everyone files off home. I must admit I couldn’t wait to get the results. I had ticked ‘friend’ to about 6 girls. If they did the same then you get a ‘match’ and each other’s contact details are immediately exchanged. The next day the results were through. I scored a 13 out of 16. 13 girls wanted to meet me again. Booyakka!! I still got it!  But what the hell happened to the other 3! I bet that damn ‘enterriotter’  was one.

I never did follow any of those numbers up. A couple email pleasantries were exchanged but alas I had already met someone special and I can confidently say one chick is more than I can handle! Anyway as far as I’m concerned based on a sample population of single girls the results are now in.

I got game.

Is there anything that better symbolises the evolution of mankind than making fire. No doubt a brontosaurus tastes a whole lot better roasted on open coals than raw flesh. It may well be that these days fires are used for enjoyment like campfires and shooting it from a canon at the Nitro circus, but 125,000years ago it meant just one thing. Survival. So if Ugg the caveman could make fire, then surely a university educated engineer can do the same.

At least so I thought.

According to Google, there is a plethora of primitive fire fighting techniques. From simple broadly known techniques like rubbing 2 sticks through to elaborate fire pistons using heat of compression to pop a spark!  I, however, selected a technique favoured by Bear Grylls. The bow and drill method. With the annual boys camping weekend nearing it seemed the perfect opportunity to test this out.

The bow and drill method is basically an evolved method of rubbing 2 sticks together by using a bow to spin the spindle instead of your hands. Apparently you only need one person to try this, but trying to hold a beer at the same time meant 4 of us had to crowd around to make the attempt.

It didn’t work.

Despite spending nearly 3hours trying, the most I got was a sliver of smoke, a sore arm and providing my mates with much mirth and merriment while I slaved away. Not one to give up easily I decided to take all the wood home and re attempt in the garage. I shoved the spindle into my Makita drill and cranked the revs to maximum and drilled hard into the hearth board. Nothing! A whole bunch of smoke but not a single ember. How the hell did Ugg do it!? It seems 125,000 years has devolved the most basic of man’s skills!

I eventually returned to Google and came to learn that Australian woods, of which most are hard woods are particularly poorly suited to fire making! In fact there are only a handful of woods such as the black boy tree that the aboriginals found that could work! Still not one to be beaten I then ordered the right wood from North America. 2 weeks and $60 later a package arrives with a couple pieces of wood and some tinder from the good old US of A. With Burnsy here for the weekend we sat out the back alley as dark began to fall and tried to make fire.

 Then in a dark alley in Ascot Vale, man did make fire. We did it. Like Ugg and his fellow caveman we cheered and beat our chest. Atleast I now know if I am lost in the Australian bush all I need is to find some North America wood or an internet connection with 2 weeks to wait.

 

      

Beards. The ultimate statement of manliness that truly separates the men from the boys.  Grow a beard and immediately a man earns both street cred and is able to taste the crumbs of yesterday’s lunch. It can make a man look both distinguished and bad ass at the same time and when the shit goes down, everyone turns to the bearded guy to sort it out. Great to keep the chill off and when unsure of what to do, a few strokes of the beard is like rubbing Buddha’s belly for inspiration. The question is not ‘why grow a beard’ the question is why not! 

Being not a particularly hairy guy I always assumed growing a beard would be like trying to plant grass in the desert. Not only that, an ex girlfriend from years gone by hated stubble so much she would force me back out of bed to the bathroom to shave before going to bed. For me the idea of growing a beard was never an option.  Finally with bearded friends egging me on and my year of new experiences in full swing I finally accepted it was time to join the men.  

So I did. I was so committed to this venture that I flicked my razor back on the bathroom bench as I left to rickshaw my way across Sumatra (see week 46). A rally where it seems almost a right to sport a hairy growth by the end. Like a gathering of caveman the men on the rally all converged at the finish sporting the year’s finest facial growth.  First comes that period of itchiness. Those incessant needles on my face leaving me rubbing like a flea bitten dog. Then as that passes the pleasant realisation that time spent shaving can better be invested in time spent in bed. Finally one day as I brush my teeth in the mirror I look at myself and think, “You good sir, have a fine pelt”. 

Indeed the beard has grown on me both literally and figuratively. Some people like it, some people don’t care and some people shake their head, mutter under their breath and walk away. Though I’m fairly sure I’ve noticed the odd smile from girls on the morning train that never seem to notice me before. Maybe it was pity. Whatever people think, I like it and this chin curtain might just stay for a while!

Throughout this year of new experiences I have made a special point of not including new foods as part of this crusade as quite frankly it’s a bit of a cop out and far too easy to tick off. However this particular occasion deserves special mention. Why?

Because it involves eating poo!

Kopi Luwak is an Indonesian coffee made from the faeces of a small cat like animal known as a Civet. Apparently the Civet happily gorges on coffee beans before pumping them out its backside whole. I can only assume an enterprising Indonesian guy must have wandered past and thought “hey I’m gonna stick that in my mouth now’. This same guy no doubt laments to his friends why he can never meet ladies. Anyway, the Luwak coffee now retails for around A$1000 a kilogram, which is about 20 times more expensive than a fine cut of eye fillet steak and can set you back $50 in a café for just a single ‘Crapuccino’!

So Eoin, Kristy and I had just finished a particularly arduous stretch of riding a rickshaw through South East Asia (See week 46) before arriving late into the port city of Bengkulu. I had been dying to try Kopi Luwak but the gazillion hours spent racing to catch up on the rally meant any chance of finding the stuff was almost zip. However soon after arriving a local guy magically appeared out of the darkness and promptly decided we would be his best friend for the night. Not only did our BFF take us out to dinner but took us to a café to try some Kopi Luwak. It was close to midnight as we arrived at the café which was nothing more grandiose than a roadside stall with a tiny burner used for preparing the coffee. We sat down on some plastic chairs on the street and awaited our inauguration into the poo drinking world. While we waited we got to see some samples of the raw coffee. Now somehow my brain had automatically tried to protect myself by imagining the coffee as nothing more sinister than a handful of off colour coffee beans, however the raw coffee dumped in front of us was quite literally a jar full of crap. On closer examination I could spot the coffee beans embedded into the crap like Han Solo in the carbonite. Momentarily forgetting what this was, as curiosity took control, I began reaching in with my finger to stir it around before the helpful barista stopped me ‘Please sir! It is not clean’.

It was now time to drink the Crapuccino, or is that “eat crap-uccino”, I wasn’t sure. I took a sip of the coffee, momentarily enjoying the idea of taking a sip of $5 in one go. The flavour rolled down my throat leaving the indelible taste of coffee and fortunately without not even a hint of poo.  The flavour was… ‘sublime’ would be the best word to describe it. The coffee was served black and gone was that typical coffee bitterness and instead replaced with a sublime smooth taste. Even Kristy remarked as an avid non-coffee drinker she could actually drink this. Whoever was the first guy to stuff this cat-shit coffee in his mouth must have been shocked to discover it tasted so good.

Thus as I finished off a cup of the most expensive coffee in the world I realised I had just learnt an important life lesson:

You can actually polish a turd.