Category Archives: All the Dumb Things

A close encounter with a champion kickboxer in Japan

He might be going down but he won the fight

This photo was taken in 1976 and it’s of a fight between the Thai Junior middle weight champion (the guy on top) and the Japanese middle weight champion “Kame” (at least that’s how I think it’s spelled). Although Kame (Japanese for turtle and it’s pronounced Kam-air) won the fight, his temples were covered with purple streaky bruises where the Thai fighter had elbowed him numerous times when he had him backed into a corner.

I met Kame in 1975 in Tokyo through a room mate of mine called Simon. Simon was in Japan studying shotokan karate and we used to teach at the same English school. Simon had been on the English karate team and while he was a great guy and like a big brother to me, he obviously wasn’t a person to mess with. He used to do 500 sit ups day, could do the splits effortlessly, didn’t have an once of fat on him and had calluses on his knuckles from punching a makiwara board for hours.

I used to hang out with Kame and Simon (I was never into martial arts) and go drinking with them. Whilst hugely entertaining, drinking with Kame was always problematic as he used to urge us to drink more than we wanted to. A sort of terrorism by hospitality. So when Kame wasn’t looking we used to toss the sake that had been pushed on us, over our shoulders or pour it out into pot plants. Kame caught me doing it once and bit through a thick ceramic bowl to freak me out. It worked. I knew that Kame would never actually harm me (I was an unworthy adversary). The same couldn’t be said for Simon, as I was sure that Kame wanted to take Simon on. It was a good thing that I was the one caught tossing the sake.

Kame grew up in Okinawa were he studied Goju Ryu Karate. In his late teens and early twenties he honed his skills in Okinawan bars frequented by U.S. servicemen stationed there.

Having said all that about Kame’s scary side, he was a great friend and could be extremely funny. Kame and Simon used to regularly trash our apartment, sparring. Great stuff to watch in a 3 tatami room. They put quite a few holes in the walls and once knocked over the refrigerator. Kame also used to get us ring side seats at his fights. Going into bars with Kame was always pretty cool as well as all the local Yakuza and Chimpera knew and respected him. We used to always get free drinks sent over to our table, with a curt nod in our direction from them across the room.

Once, on a cold night before a match, Kame cover over to our place looking for Simon. Kame wanted to warm up for the match by sparring with Simon, but Simon wasn’t home. So Kame asked me if I was interested in taking a few kickboxing pointers with him up on the roof of the apartment block. I thought, what the heck, why not? I felt quite honoured, so up the stairs we went, onto the roof and out into the cold to begin my little lesson in kickboxing, and as it turned out, in life.

Before I go on, I should digress and explain that the Japanese tend to be hierarchical in their interpersonal relationships. Kame was about 10 years older than me and a champion kickboxer to boot (oops, sorry for the pun), so by Japanese standards I was subordinate to him. He was the sempai (senior) and I was the kohai (junior) and due respect was expected. This sempai, kohai relationship is one of the basic tenets of Japanese society. Now being my sempai didn’t mean that Kame felt he had a right to be overbearing towards me, but rather that he had a sense of responsibility towards me. Sempais take care of their kohais, it’s a bit like a mentorship. Conversely, kohais are expected to appreciate what they are being given and act accordingly.

The first thing that Kame showed me was the kickboxing stance (standing on one leg with the other leg raised and bent at the knee, with both fists up against the forehead with the elbows close together and close to the mid section protecting it) and how to block in that stance and then he showed me how to take blows. This went on for about an hour and Kame was really patient with me. Finally Kame got into the stance and said that I should try and strike him anywhere as fast as I could (Simon used to get me to do the same thing).

Needless to say, I didn’t get to lay a finger on him as he was just too fast and his defence was a quantum leap better than anything a novice like me could throw at him. After five or ten minutes I’d worn myself out trying to land a punch or kick on Kame. Kame just effortlessly blocked everything I had. He could see I’d had enough so he said we should stop and he dropped his guard.

Now at this point I would like to ask you, dear reader, to think (or image if you’re too smart for such idiocies) of a time when you did something that you knew was stupid and that was going to lead to tears, but you continued. Sort of like the feeling one gets when you are trying to open an old paint tin with a chisel or a beer bottle with your teeth. Just dumb, dumb, dumb.

As soon as Kame dropped his hands, I quickly and lightly touched his left ear with my right hand with a mock punch. Before I could pull my hand away, Kame, fast as lightening, lightly snap kicked me in the head. I know that Kame didn’t kick me hard as he could have, after all, I was still conscious and standing. I’ll tell you what though, my ear was so hot that I didn’t feel the need to wear a beanie to keep my head warm for the rest of the evening.

I could still feel the effect of the “lesson” two days later.

The day I was born. 21st of May 1956

I was born on the same day (21st May of May 1956) as very first airborne hydrogen bomb was dropped on Bikini atoll. 

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Bye, bye paradise.

Amazingly, despite the odds, considering the trouble and strife the world has been through since then, plus all the dumb things that I’ve done, 53 years later I’m still here!

 Woo hoo me!

Tonight I’m having a bunch of friends over for dinner to celebrate. Because I’m getting ready for tonight, I don’t have enough time for much of a post, so for all my friends out there, here’s the Four Tops singing one of my favourite songs, “Reach out”, that I dedicate to you all.

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There are few “paths less travelled” left for gen Y. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Ratchaburi, Thailand. 2007

Sometimes I feel a bit sorry for the latest crop of bright shiny things that have just left the nest to go travelling.

The great unknown they are about to leap into is actually a well sign posted, worn path complete with a multitude of guide books. Truth be known, it’s been like this for several decades. For example, when I went to Bali back in 1974 I felt that I’d come too late and had missed out on how I thought it must’ve been before. You should see it nowadays! I could hardly recognise the place when I went there about five years ago.

When I was in Thailand a few years ago, I went to the floating markets. I avoided going there on my first trip to Thailand back in 1974 because I figured that it would be too touristy. That was over 30 years ago and of course it’s an even better known tourist attraction now. The klongs (canals) were clogged with locals in their boats selling things to the captive market tourists in the group tour boats.

I passed boat after boat full of young people who wanted to see some local colour. With bored and disappointed looks on their faces, they politely declined the wares on offer . As the old Vikings would say, “it wasn’t worthy of a saga”.

trial by shopping

Poor bastards!

I bet that’s not what they signed up for.

They had travelled so far, and all they wanted was an “authentic” experience, but instead, like slot-cars, they were racing around in a well worn rut.

I was talking to a young guy who is a co-worker of my wife the other day, and we were chatting about his recent trip to Europe. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about driving in Bosnia because it’s one of the places I’ll be going to with my wife later this year.

Him: “Oh it’s a real adventure!”

His comment set off alarm bells in my head because to me, “adventure, is discomfort remembered in comfort”. I’ve had what many people would call adventures and I can say with some authority that “adventures” are unpleasant even though, they do make for good tales over dinner with friends years later.

Me: “Adventure?” What do you mean by adventure?”

Him: “You know, going somewhere that not many people go to.”

Me: “Whew!”

Him: “Why the sense of relief?”

Me: “For a minute there I thought you got into some deep life threatening shit .” “You know, like being held at gun point for 8 hours on a small riverboat on the Mekong by boy soldiers of the Pathet Lao; or like being thrown in jail and having 3 cops trying to beat you up in Morocco.”

Him: Umm.. no… not quite… but we did get stopped a few times, up in the northern areas by the Serbian militia and they checked our papers.

Before anyone out there thinks I was indulging in some kind of pissing contest, my main concern was the word “adventure”. To me adventure is a bad thing, as I’ve had more than my fair share of them and I’m in no hurry for any more character building experiences. This goes double for when I’m with my wife. I’d never forgive myself if she ever came to any harm.

Adventure?

For me?

No thanks, I’ve had more than enough but I hope there are a few wild places and experiences left for generation Y so they can entertain their dinner guests when they get older.

How a practical joke nearly got me killed

Back in the early eighties, when I lived in the US, I used to work in a travelling Laser Light show that used do the carnival circuit in the summer and the car show circuit in the winter. The Laser show was called “Laser One” and it was transported in a three-wheeled trailer towed by a high cube truck with a tow ball. The trailer had a fold out façade with two revolving-door entrances at either end and it housed the control room with the actual laser in the middle.

The positioning of the entrances meant that the triple axel with the very small wheels were in the middle of the trailer, instead of the end. The mid mounting of the axels and the tow ball hitching system led to a very unpredictable and dangerous ride. The trailer was quite heavy and it used to seesaw up and down over any undulations in the road plus wheels would regularly tear off while we were driving down the highways. The wheels used to tear off because of metal fatigue caused by the forces exerted on the outside wheels as they were dragged around the middle wheels when very tight turns were made during parking. It wasn’t unusual to be travelling down the road and to see one of our wheels passing us and a shower of sparks coming off the dragging hub. I didn’t get my drivers licence until I was 35 so my job in lieu of sharing the driving was to change wheels and tyres when needed. It was needed often and, often it was in the middle of the night in freezing conditions.

Most of the driving was done by our manager, Brian “Buzz” Carlos, and sometimes my other co-worker, Jordan would help out.

Buzz

Buzz was a very levelheaded and intelligent guy who was a pleasure to work with. None of us smoked and it came as a surprise to Jordan and I that Buzz started smoking when we were in Milwaukee. At first it was only one cigarette every couple of days but then of course it turned into one a day and when he starting a couple a day. I thought it would be hilarious to play a practical joke on him. I went to a magic and novelty store and bought some “spikes”.

Spikes are about 1cm (1/3 of an inch) long and about half the thickness of a matchstick. They are pushed into the end of cigarettes to make them explode. So when Buzz put his smokes down one day, I inserted a few spikes into them, while he wasn’t looking, and waited. Lo and behold, Buzz didn’t pick a “spiked” cigarette for over a week. In the meantime, winter was coming and as it was getting colder Buzz went out and bought a very nice parka with wolf fur trim because the heating in the truck wasn’t adequate.

At the end of a “spot” (the place where the show was held) we’d do the “strike” (take down the show) at the end of the last day, which would take about five hours and then we’d jump into the truck and drive through the night, straight to the next spot.

With the show in Milwaukee finished we headed south through Tennessee as it was starting to snow and by the time we reached the Smoky Mountains there was a blizzard. We’d been up all night, and Buzz had been at the wheel without a break, when we started to hear frantic messages over the CB. Things like “if you heading down the mountain at such and such, get out of my way, cause my brakes ain’t working!” or “watch out for such and such a place as there is black ice and two trucks have left the road”, etc. There were smashed cars and trucks all over the place. Buzz took it all in his stride and just drove on through the carnage. After all, we had to get to the next spot on time. The snow just kept on falling and the blizzard winds made the visibility very poor.

During one particularly long steep descent down a mountain road thickly covered with snow; almost no visibility and a bucking and weaving truck, Buzz in his nervousness decides that it would be a good time to light a cigarette. BANG!! The cigarette blew up and hot embers went into Buzz’s eyes, blinding him and also setting his brand new parker on fire! The truck was starting to fishtail because of Buzz’s flinch at the wheel when the spike went off. Jordan grabbed the wheel and helped Buzz regain control. When we got to the bottom of the hill Buzz pulled the truck over and jumped out of the cab to put out this smouldering parka.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a very popular boy that day. I won’t be putting spikes in people’s cigarettes again.

A flood of memories from Cambodia in the early 1970s

Two days ago my hot water tank developed a leak that flooded the storage area under the stairs. After getting the, “ooo that’s bad news”, from the plumber over the phone, I organised for a new hot water heater to be installed the next morning and got down to the business of mopping up and clearing out all the camping equipment and various other junk from under the stairs.

I have a general rule about accumulating junk I try to adhere to; if I’m surprised about coming across something that I haven’t seen for years and haven’t missed it, it goes in the garbage. So I threw out an old turntable with a ceramic cartridge and a Nakamichi cassette player (they used to be considered the best). All of the camping gear gets used, so there was no culling there, but then I came across an old model aeroplane made from the detritus of war in Cambodia back in the early 1970s.

A real memory trigger

All of a sudden like a pin ball machine, my mind started to light up with a flood of memories. I knew instantly that I still valued what many people would consider a pile of junk. It was all covered with dust so I cleaned it off as best I could and I’ve put in my living room where I can look at it again.  I wondered why I hadn’t had it out on display. Then I remembered that up until recently, I didn’t have any where I could put it without it getting more damaged.

I bought the model plane in a small town called Takeo, while I was doing some hitch hiking by air. The plane was made by a soldier called Kong Chuon (he wrote his name on it), and he’d called it a Dara X Supersonic.

Kong Chuon in Takeo

The fuselage is mostly made of M16 stripper clips and loaders. The Bombs are made from .50 calibre bullets and rounds from AK47s (all emptied of course). Stuck on right wing of the aircraft is a little scrap of paper with a hand written anti communist slogan which says;

“The bomb can negotiate with the VC for the peace in South East Asia”

I carted this model plane around with me for over ten years in my backpack as I wandered around various countries. I always thought the plane was pretty cool and it was my intention that I’d put it on display when I finally settled down. After years of moving around, jammed into a pack the poor old model has taken a beating.

I remember the day I bought the model. I didn’t have any English teaching work on that day, I so I hitch hiked out to the airport and then walked out onto the tarmac to ask  pilots for a lift. I did this quite often, because of the war it wasn’t possible to travel by road as the government only controlled the towns and the rest of the country was in the hands of the very dangerous Khmer Rouge. It was the only way I could afford to see the country I was making so little money at the time, I was literally starving.

As I was asking around, I met a one armed American guy on vacation from his job in Saigon who was doing the same thing as me. We hit it off, so we hung out for the day cadging lifts all over Cambodia.

Apparently my new found friend (who for convenience sake I will call Sam, because I’ve long forgotten his name) lost his arm because he was kicked so hard during a football game. Sam came from Colorado and the things he missed the most, living in Asia were Coors beer and Dr Pepper. Sam just raved on about Dr Pepper (which at that time I hadn’t tried) and how good it was. As for Coors, I was informed that they made it from “pure mountain spring water” and Sam assured me that if I ever went to the States that I wouldn’t be disappointed with his favourite beer.

My travelling companion was mobbed by children in Svey Reng

It was Sam who suggested that I buy the model plane. He explained that they were very popular with the G.Is stationed in Vietnam and he bought a few of them to take back home as presents. For me at the time, the $2.50 that I paid for the plane was a real extravagance. I was ashamed to tell Sam why I couldn’t buy more of them, especially when he kept urging me to because they were so cool and so cheap.

Now as I look at my beat up little plane I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to Kong Choun and all the little kids in the photos above. I suspect that that many of them either had a very hard time or came to a bad end. I always have these feelings when I look at my old photos that I took in Cambodia.

I often wonder about the fate all the Cambodian people whose images I have.

On a lighter note, several years later, I went to the US and of course I was very keen to try Dr Pepper and Coors.

The verdict; Dr Pepper tastes like stale marzipan and is just horrible. I guess it’s one of those things you have to grow up with. A bit like Vegemite which so many Aussies rave on about (disgusting, salty rubbish). As for Coors, it’s just so bland that I can’t imagine why anyone would bother with it.

As I was looking through my old negatives to illustrate this article, I came across a few other photos of people in Cambodia that I’ll post over the next couple of days.

Fear and loathing in the US Army. Savannah, Georgia, USA. 1980

“Ah, yes, mere infantry — poor beggars”
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BCE)

I’ve probably hitch hiked over 50,000 miles and there is one thing I can tell you for sure, it sucks to be hitching in the rain at night. It’s bad enough hitchhiking at night because people are frightened (rightly so) to pick up someone that they can’t see very well, but the situation is made even more unattractive by the fact that a sodden hitcher will mess up their car.

Back in the early 80s I was hitchhiking across Georgia (it’s so long ago I can’t even remember why) on a cold overcast day that turned into a very miserable wet night.  I ended up sitting on my backpack by the side of the road, miles from nowhere, in my cheap plastic poncho in the pouring rain. I sat for hours, bored out of my skull and freezing my butt off.

Car after car passed me.

After midnight, I was not only cold, but I was getting very tired as it’s impossible to sleep out in the open when it is raining.  Trust me I’ve tried it. Every time a tiny little splash of a rain drop hits the you in the face you’ll be jolted wide awake.

It must have been about one or two in the morning when a beat up and rusted out little Japanese pickup truck stopped and the door was flung open for me to get in out of the rain.

Finally my misery was to come to an end!

I tossed my backpack in the tray in the back and climbed into the cab to be greeted by a pimply faced skinny little pencil necked geek with a smiling crowded mouth of deeply stained and twisted teeth. He flung his right hand forward to shake my hand and introduced himself with a, ” Howdy, get yourself in here in out of the rain”. Sure, he looked like the guy out of the movie Deliverance who played the banjo, but I just didn’t care and I was so grateful that I’d been picked up. As soon as I sat down I looked where to place my feet and I noticed that the whole floor of the cab was deeply littered with what must have been about a hundred Soldier of Fortune magazines. 

I could almost hear the guy from the movie deliverance playing his opening notes on the banjo.

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The thing about hitchhiking is that one can’t really be too fussy about who picks you up; particularly at night time and that goes triple for when it’s raining. Sure he was a rancid looking little hillbilly but at least he had a kind enough heart to take pity on me and give me a ride. I began to feel a bit disappointed with myself that I’d been so taken aback by his appearance. As is generally the way how it goes when you’re hitchhiking, we quickly struck up a conversation. He asked me where I was going and I soon found out that he was a soldier on leave returning back to his base in Savannah.

Back in the early 1980s there had been a big recruitment push in the United States Army.  I can remember seeing the television commercials at the time, promising to educate the young volunteers and the glossy brochures were showing them the up-dated accommodation that was on offer. No more drab army barracks for the new professional volunteer army. The brochure I saw, showed what looked like quite nice town houses in landscaped grounds and I’m sure to a lot of poor inner-city kids it would have looked like Shangri-La.

It was obvious to me that the guy who had given me my ride was one of those people who came from a background that made the army look like a good opportunity to get ahead. As we drove along he told me about his life in the army and when he saw that I was looking down every now and again at all the Soldier of Fortune magazines on the floor he told me that he was interested in becoming a mercenary after he had received his training in the army.  The way he saw it, it was the only way for somebody like him to make some good money and travel the world.

During our conversation he reached underneath his seat and pulled out a rifle and showed it to me.  This wasn’t done in a threatening way, but more in a, ” hey, check out my neat gun!” sort of way. When I was in high school I’d been in the army cadets and I’d fired rifles and machine guns so I was able to engage him in some conversation about guns. My ride (let’s, for convenience, sake call him Floyd) was obviously having a great time talking to this foreigner about the army, guns and his hopes and aspirations for the future.

I guess he was starting to feel quite comfortable with me after about an hour or so of driving when he confessed that he was tripping on LSD.

Join the army were the real party is at

Now, I’d done acid before and I found it quite amazing that he was able to drive, let alone drive at night in the pouring rain.

There I was, with a hillbilly soldier high on LSD armed with a rifle in a beat up old pickup truck full of magazines aimed at people willing to go overseas and kill strangers for money.

Strangely enough I wasn’t worried. I should’ve been, but I wasn’t. 

At least he had put the gun back underneath his seat and wasn’t pointing it at me, plus there was the added benefit that I was out of the rain and we were making good time. Considering the fact that Floyd was high on acid, his driving and conversation seemed fine, so when he offered me a hit of acid I said, “sure why not?” And swallowed it without hesitation. When I think back about this situation I can’t believe that I was so stupid, but then again that’s what this blog is all about, all the dumb things, that I’ve done.

LSD is quite an interesting drug and I’ve always felt that the perception that we normally sense as reality has been toned down by our survival instincts and filtered so we can cope with normal everyday life. I don’t think it would benefit us from an evolutionary point of view, to be boggling on intense colours and deep thoughts instead of looking for a mate, shelter, food and protecting ourselves from predators and enemies. My experiences with LSD and magic mushrooms have led me to believe that what we see on a normal daily basis is akin to looking through a keyhole.  Basically we only see a tiny bit of what is actually there and when we take hallucinogenics it’s like the keyhole has been removed, the door has been opened and the volume to every single sense we have, has been turned up. It’s no wonder that Aldous Huxley named his book about drug experiences, “The doors of perception”.

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As I sat in the truck with Floyd with the LSD working on my brain I found myself contemplating the social economic realities of living in America.  If you come from a disadvantaged background and the shallow end of the gene pool it’s pretty hard to get ahead in the States. Sure, if you’ve got some brains and some drive you have a chance at the American dream, but if you’re poor, black or not very bright it becomes your fate to become the servant of those who’ve made it.

It was still dark as we neared Savannah and Floyd asked me where I’d be staying for the rest of the night. I replied that, “I’ll just be sticking my thumb out and hitching on”. Floyd then said to me, “that’s crazy you’ll never get a ride. Why don’t you come and stay in the army barracks with me?”

“What? You must be kidding, how on earth can I get through the security and onto the base?”

“Aw, don’t worry about that, it’s okay.”

“But what about the sergeant?” I had some sort of mental image that they lived in barracks where there would be about 40 or 60 beds and a sergeant would be sleeping in some room at the end; a bit like the old TV show, “Sgt Bilko” or perhaps Gomer Pyle.

“Aw, we won’t see him until Monday, so don’t worry about it?”

Floyd then tried to put me at ease with, ” just relax, you watch, it will be fine.”

At that time in my life I had long bright red hair and a beard. In short I would’ve stuck out like dog’s balls on an army base full of clean shaven and crew cut soldiers. 

Never let it be said that commonsense would get in the way of me having character building experiences.

So we rolled up a few hours before dawn in the pouring rain at the army base check point, both high as kites tripping our arses off and with me very obviously not a soldier. Floyd just wound down his window, smiled at the guard who was bending down looking at me and we were waved through.  I just couldn’t believe that there was such a lack of security.  

I bet you couldn’t do that nowadays.

On we drove through the muddy parade ground to what looked like a row of beautiful new town houses.  It was just like in the brochures, except that obviously it was all so new, that the landscaping hadn’t been done.  I was starting to think to myself, “wow this is incredible!” Soldiers high on hallucinogens, taking strangers into their barracks and no security check! 

Land of the free?

You bet!

I started thinking to myself that the US was going all out to make people feel comfortable here! Maybe the army wasn’t such a bad place after all.

It was all so appropriately surreal…… for an acid trip that is.

Up a short flights of stairs, we walked into the bright new shiny row of townhouses. As soon as I got through the front doors the change of scenery hit me like an icy wind.  The outside was a facade bricks arranged in such a way as to make the building look like it was a row of townhouses but on the inside it was basically a great big long hall that was an old-fashioned barracks just like in Sgt Bilko. The only difference was the beds weren’t arranged in a line down the barracks. The beds had been grouped into threes in “U” shapes and between each of the “U”s was a row of lockers so that the effect was to almost give a sense of there being rooms; when in actual fact there weren’t any.  Each of the “rooms” was actually a three sided affair made up of lockers with one open side that was open down the whole length of the barracks like one long hallway.

Another thing that struck me as we walked through the doors was the amount of vandalism that was apparent.  There was graffiti scribbled all over the place with marker pen and there were also numerous holes that had been knocked through the walls.  It looked like a slum and I couldn’t help but think to myself , “where’s the discipline here?” “What kind of people are running a place like this?”

It was all very weird.

Floyd with his duffel bag over his shoulder led me down the hallway, past the various bunks, slapping high fives as he went past his fellow soldiers.

Hang on a minute! 

It was about four o’clock in the morning; why were all the lights on and what were all these guys doing wide awake?

Floyd led me to his bunk and tossed his duffel bag in his locker saying to me, “here, you can take this bunk, nobody is sleeping there at the moment”. So I sat down and we continued our conversation as various other an inebriated soldiers wobbled by, pausing occasionally to ask us if we had any weed or alcohol.

There, as I sat and Floyd prattled on to me about this, that and the other, I found myself contemplating the contents of the American infantry.

There was something that seemed a bit odd about them all, and at the same time, it seemed to also unite them into one group.  At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then the more I thought about it, and after chatting to a few of Floyd’s buddies, I began to think about the backgrounds that these guys came from and what being in the infantry actually means.

It would be a safe guess to say that all the sexy jobs in the army, air force and navy are held by the smartest people, and at the opposite end of the scale are the people who are in the infantry.  I started seeing Floyd and all his comrades as the disposable people of his society.  Who would you put at risk to do a very low skill and dangerous job? A potential brain surgeon or the bus boy?  As I sat in that army barracks, I realised, in my drug induced heightened state of awareness, that in societies that make no effort to uplift the disadvantaged; the poor and the dull can be lured into risking their lives to kill strangers for reasons they don’t really understand.

The infantry is for the people that only their parents care about.

I can hear the howls of protest now.

But let’s be honest people, if we cared about such people we wouldn’t send them to fight in wars in the first place. It’s only because there are so many young men in the world that can be revved up for whatever slight reason that we even need armies in the first place.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

One man’s army is another man’s oppressor.

I think the whole world would be better served if all the young underachievers were trained and given skills to make a decent and honest living for themselves instead of training them up to kill foreigners, or in the case of the Third World countries, oppress their own people, for spurious reasons.

Surely it’s much cheaper in the long run, to educate the world’s poor people than to have a large well equipped army?

Yep LSD should be banned…….

because it makes you think too much!

As a post script, after reading an article by grasswire I was reminded of one of my favourite songs that I thought would be so appropriate to add to this post. Because you’ve been so good to visit, here’s a video of Iggy Pop’s, “Passenger”.

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Peter helps me feel normal. Wingello, NSW, Australia

When I was in my early 20s I read the book, “On the Road”by Jack Kerouac and when I finished it I thought to myself, “what was all the fuss about?” So the guy did a bit of hitchhiking and hung out with a few other young guys.  It didn’t sound like a big deal to me and by the time I had read the book, I’d already travelled extensively; hitch hiked tens of thousands of kilometres; come under mortar fire in a war zone and worked in the carnival as a laser light show operator. 

“On the road” just seemed very tame to me. 

I had a similar feeling when I saw the much hyped movie “The Motorcycle Diaries”about Che Guevara travelling around South America with his friend by motorcycle. Some of my friends had raved about the movie and I can remember when I watched it, thinking to myself, “hrumph! So what! A couple of guys from well-off families go on a motorcycle trip, big deal!” To top it all off, nothing really happened.

Sometimes I feel so disconnected with most of the people that I share society with by the differences in our life experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel superior, just different. It always amazes me when I talk to people and they tell me about how they lived in the one place, went to the same school and have only had a few jobs all their lives.  I almost envy people who can say that they have a hometown or they refer to, “my” high school.

Every time I see a TV show with that old trope about the high school reunion it’s like I’m watching some strange ritual being performed by an exotic tribe from a strange faraway land. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to still have friends from high school. I went to six primary schools (I was expelled from one), three high schools, two colleges and one university.  Because I’ve moved around so much as a kid, it hasn’t been a big deal for me to just walk away from friendships that I have made and begin new ones very easily.

In short, I’m what my wife (Engogirl) describes as an over stimulated jaded piece of meat.

The whole idea of having a career is such an alien concept to me that it’s almost unimaginable.  The reason why I find it so hard to get my brain around the concept of a career is that I find it difficult to understand how somebody’s attention can be held for so many years doing the same thing.  I usually do things (with the exception of photography) for about five years before I move on to something else.  Most jobs I’ve had, with one exception, have only lasted about a year or two.

I suppose, “recalcitrant dilettantism” would be a suitable description of my chosen career path.

Here’s a short list of some of the jobs I’ve done, starting with part-time jobs I had at night in high school.

Newspaper boy.  Bus boy.  Waiter.  Kitchen hand.  Door-to-door salesman. English (as a second language) teacher in Cambodia and Japan.  Worker in a tractor factory (only did that for about two months because it just sucked so badly).  Pizza maker.  Ceramics slip caster. Mouse racer (a carnival job). Laser light show operator. Set builder in the theatre. Camera salesman. Photographic assistant in a large studio. Photographic lab manager. Outdoor equipment store manager.  I now fake it as a designer (sets, websites, graphics) in my own little business. 

Now that I’m married, live in the suburbs and own a house, my life is so totally different to what it used to be.  If you were to ask some of my older friends what I was like before I met Engogirl 13 years ago you would hear adjectives like, party animal, lunatic, dangerous, trouble. I’ve even had some friends tell me that they thought I was going to be the first person in our social circle to die because I was so reckless. All my friends feel that Engogirl has civilised and calmed me down.

Before I met my wife I used to rock climb quite a bit and most of my friends were people like myself. Rootless drifters living on the fringes of decent society working only because they were saving enough money to go on their next trip.

Two weeks ago Engogirl and I went to her parent’s holiday home down in Tallong and when we were down in that area (the Southern Highlands) we dropped in on an old friend of mine, Peter, and his wife Simona.

Simona and Peter

In the picture above of Peter and his wife you will notice that there is a framed advertisement (for Bonds clothing) behind them that has a red shirted young man sitting on a chopper. The young blond haired dude is Peter in his early 20s. He was quite the chick magnet in his day and when I used to work with him I noticed that quite a few women still found him attractive.

I first met Peter about 15 years ago when I was the manager of an outdoor equipment store and he was a customer. At that time Peter used to live in a tent for about 4 or 5 months of the year down in the snow country so he could spend his time with his girlfriend (at the time) skiing.  When Peter wasn’t skiing he used to install television cable systems in hotels and live aboard other people’s boats minding them for them.  After spending a couple of seasons skiing, Peter moved back up into Sydney and started to work in the store I managed.  It was during this time that we worked together that I heard about Peter’s life.  He had travelled extensively and he used to have a yacht charter company in Sydney Harbour with several yachts and he owned a block of apartments until he lost it all in a divorce.  Although Peter wasn’t too keen about the idea of losing so many assets, he was quite philosophical about it all, telling me that he felt that his life was getting far too complicated and stressful and that it was all probably for the best. Every now and again Peter would supplement his income by delivering yachts up the coast to Queensland.

Peter stayed on in the outdoor equipment industry for another couple of years and in his spare time he built a catamaran and lived on it in Sydney Harbour. About five years ago Peter met Simona and they were married within about a year.  It was always really obvious to me that life in the city working in a normal job never really suited Peter. A couple of years ago Peter and Simona moved down to the Southern Highlands to a town called Wingello.

Friends of mine had told me that Peter had moved into a yurt and because I had known Peter so long I assumed that he built himself a large round circular tent in the style of the Mongols, like what I’d seen at the Kyrgystan pavilion at the 2005 Expo in Aichi Japan.

Yurt at 2005 Expo in Japan

It certainly wouldn’t have surprised me.

I didn’t have an address for Peter but I knew that if I asked the people in the only store in Wingello where he lived they would know because he is such a sociable character they would be bound to know him. Sure enough they did and they gave us directions to his place, finally saying, “he lives in the yurt and you can’t miss it”.

I have to be honest and admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that Peter was actually living in a solid house. Aparently, such octagonal houses are known locally as yurts.

Peter and Simonas yurt

Peter now makes a living as a local handyman and Simona owns and runs a little junk shop.

Peter and Simona bought the “yurt” in an unfinished state and when we arrived they were in the middle of laying beautiful travertine marble tiles on the floor. The bottom floor has all the shared living areas and there is a circular staircase in the centre that goes up to their bedroom. I was told that they wanted their house to be like the inside of a lighthouse and that they were also seeking permission to add another story on top of their bedroom to make their house look even more like a lighthouse.  I knew it was pointless to point out the fact that they lived 100 km from the coast.

Who cares anyway?

Nothing about Peter is ordinary and he has absolutely no time for conventions of any kind. Having said that, Peter is a lesson in conviviality and capability. He is always surrounded by a tribe of friends and he seems to be capable of manifesting anything. 

One of the main reasons why I like Peter is that he makes me feel normal. Nothing that I have done in my life seems different or extraordinary when I am with Peter.

Our first week of the new year

I hope you all had a nice Christmas and an excellent new year!

As is usual, the time between Christmas and New Year’s day is packed with feasting and socialising. That’s my excuse for being slack with posting and I’m sticking to it.

Here in Sydney Australia it’s stinking hot right now and for reasons I don’t understand, I always get highly motivated to do major projects around the house at this time of the year. The smart time to do most of these laborious jobs would be in the cooler weather, but no, that would make too much sense. I never really feel like doing such things until it gets uncomfortably hot and humid.

Further proof that I’m a complete idiot. 

Last year at about this time I landscaped the front yard in the blazing sun. This year I’ll be toiling in the backyard making a pond and replacing two toilet sets in the house. 

The photo below is of Engogirl on the first day of this year, helping me with the construction of some bench seating that will surround the pond we are constructing.

Engogirl likes using the drill press

After sweating our butts off for a day, we decided that instead of getting stuck into our backyard work and knocking it over quickly, we would rather get into an air-conditioned car and take couple of days off to visit Engogirl’s parents at their holiday home in Tallong (2 hours south of Sydney).

There are a few orchards in Tallong and stone fruits are in season. Engogirl’s father loves jam and makes his own.

This man is powered by jam

Here’s Engogirl’s father’s recipe for apricot jam

Ingredients

Equal quantity of firm (slightly unripe) apricots and sugar. For the jam that was being prepared in the photo above, 1kg of apricots and 1kg of sugar were used.
Pectin (use only half the amount that is recommended on the packet or the jam will be too firm).
Water.
Glass jars. 

Method

Place freshly washed jars with lids and sugar into an oven and heat up to 100 degrees C (which is boiling point at sea level or about 212 degrees F). The sugar is preheated so that it dissolves quickly and completely when it is added to the fruit. Wash, pit and halve the apricots. Place prepared apricots into a saucepan with a cup of water, then heat for about 15 minutes, until the fruit begins to soften, over medium heat.

When the fruit is soft add the sugar and pectin stir until dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for about another 5 minutes, whilst continually stirring. You will know when the jam is ready to fill the jars when the jam mixture sticks to the side of the saucepan in thick blobs. When the mixture is ready, take the jars and lids out of the oven (don’t forget that they will be hot, so use oven mitts) and fill with the hot jam mixture and screw on the lids straight away. It’s probably best to perform this operation in your sink in case there are any spills or accidents.

Don’t get your mother high for Christmas.

Back in the late 1970s when I was in my early 20s and living in Canada, I used to smoke a fair amount of dope. As a matter of fact, back then if I couldn’t do it high, I thought it wasn’t worth doing.  Also at that time my relationship with my parents was very strained as they could see I was living a lifestyle that they disapproved of. My stepfather Manfred was a teenager during the Second World War and as such was in the Hitler youth (which was like the boy scouts except that one received weapons training and indoctrination).  Manfred was educated by the Jesuits and grew up in a world of strict discipline and respect for authority.  I’m pretty sure that my long hair combined with an anti-authoritarian fuck you attitude drove him up the wall, and he used to say to me, “a few years in the army would do you a world of good”.

Little did he know that I was kicked out of the Army cadets in high school for being useless (according our captain) and I’d been put in a boy’s home to two weeks when I was a young child for being uncontrollable.  I suspect that I would have been up on disciplinary charges most of the time if I’d ever joined the army. 

If I was a dog I would be one of those mongrels that would always be pulling on the leash no matter how hard you yanked on it and I’d probably bite you for your troubles.

My mother was also rebellious as a child and I think she had some sort of empathy and understanding of the headspace I was in at that time.  When my mother was in her mid teens she used to hang out with the local hell raisers who were basically a small-town biker gang.  Mum has had a fair bit of experience with rebellion and she is not one of those naive mothers who has never been anywhere or done anything.  In short, my mother is a very worldly person to the extent that she is almost the exact opposite of wimpy-wishy-washy and she has had what many people would describe as a “colourful” life.

Because of the tension at the time between myself and my stepfather, any family get-together was always a time of great stress on my mother.  Now that I’m older I realise what an imposition I put my mother in and what an absolute pain in the arse I used to be. It also surprises me that Manfred never tried to murder me because I sure did deliberately push his buttons, and he would have been justified.

Now I don’t have to go on about what a stressful time Christmas is to everyone because we know it’s such an old and familiar trope.

I think it was back in about 1979 when I was invited over for Christmas dinner (I was such a jerk back then that I wasn’t really welcomed there at any other time) with the family.  Ours is a pretty small family, as there is only my mother, Manfred, my sister, her husband (at that time, they’re now divorced) and I.

This picture was taken about two years after this story

As usual, mum cooked a really great meal and afterwards we were all soon suffering from post prandial lassitude. There hadn’t been much conversation as we ate because of the general tension caused by my presence, so Manfred excused himself from the table and said he was going to have a bit of a nap to sleep off the meal.

As soon as Manfred was out at the room I pulled out my bag of dope and tossed it to my sister to roll a joint (something that she was very good at back then). It never even occurred to me that I should have asked my mother’s permission or that she would mind. Mum just sat there with a raised eyebrow and a bemused look on her face.  I can almost imagine my mother thinking to herself, “ha! You think you are so cool, but you’ve got no idea”. Never let it be said that my mother is a wet blanket. 

Mum then went on to explain that she had tried marijuana with a bunch of musician friends that she knew about 10 years earlier and it didn’t have any effect on her.  “I just don’t understand what the big fuss is about that stuff “, she knowingly declared.

“I think it’s a waste of money”, was added for good measure. 

Those comments got me rabbiting on, in that irritatingly condescending tone that young adults take with their parents, about how good Colombian weed was and that I was sure that my dope would knock her socks off.

Mum, just said, “no thanks”. 

Just as we were about to light up, Manfred came back into the room (he later told my mother that he knew we were up to something) and my mother grabbed the joint and stuck it in the top pocket of her shirt.  Of course the tension between Manfred and I killed any further conversation so we all went into the living room to watch some television.  The diagram below shows our seating arrangements so I don’t have to go into a complicated explanation that would probably be hard to follow.

Manfred wasn’t wearing his glasses so he was sitting on the edge of the seat leaning towards the television, whereas I was sitting back in my seat while my mother faced both of us with her back to the television.

In my arrogant and selfish stupidity I resented the fact that Manfred had come back and that I could no longer smoke the joint.  I sat there for about half an hour bored and irritated. So behind Manfred’s back I indicated to my mother that I wanted the joint back.  Not to be outdone in the cool stakes, my mother who smoked cigarettes back then, took out the joint and lit it right in front of Manfred. Manfred whose eyesight isn’t that great couldn’t see that it was a joint and not a cigarette. 

Within seconds of mum lighting up, Manfred quickly stood up and said in an alarmed voice, “What’s burning?”

To which my mother just said, ” don’t worry about it, it’s okay”.

Manfred then said, ” no, something is burning maybe it’s the wiring”.

In the meantime my mother had taken about 4 or 5 drags of the joint, and since it was really strong Colombian, I was trying to indicate to her that she should pass it. Unfortunately, mum just didn’t get what I was trying to communicate and she followed Manfred around the house, smoking the joint and blowing the smoke on him as he was sniffing in all the various nooks and crannies looking for the fire. Together they made a circuit of upstairs, the ground floor and the basement. By the time they came back to the living room the joint was just about finished and mum stubbed it out in the ashtray.

A few minutes later mum got up and went upstairs. I didn’t think anything about it at the time but then a few minutes later my sister went upstairs. My brother in law, Manfred and I sat there in the living room, glancing at each other every now and again for about another five or so minutes until Manfred also went upstairs.

After a few more minutes my brother in law said that I should go and see what’s going on.

So off I went upstairs to my parents bedroom.

As I approached the bedroom, Manfred came charging out of the room like a wounded rhino. His face was bright red with anger and he barked at me, ” did you give your mother that dope?”  

Summoning up my most insolent tone I spat back at him, “yeh”. I thought we were going to come to blows but Manfred must’ve thought better of it and kept on proceeding away from the bedroom.  I guess he felt he had to get out of the situation before he did something that he would later regret.

 My mother was laying on the bed crying and freaking out as my sister was trying to calm her down. Mum turned to me and between her sobs said, “how could you do this to your own mother?”

“I can’t feel my legs!”

The only thing I could think to say in reply was, “well, you did smoke the whole thing by yourself and I was trying to get you to pass it on to somebody else”.

More sobs and a repetition of, “how could you do this to your own mother?”

“I can’t feel my legs!”

I thought I could try reason, and explained to mum that the joint was made with $60 an ounce Colombian, (this was back in the days when a lid of weed used to cost about $10) and that people don’t pay that kind of money to feel bad.  I then went on to suggest that mum lay back and enjoy the experience. Mum was just too freaked out and that wasn’t going to happen. There was plenty more crying, accusations and damnation.

Wow!

That went well,

………….. not!

Manfred was dangerously furious and mum was so upset that I figured that it would be probably a good idea to leave and go home.

If in doubt……..

 Bug out!

Christmas ruined for everyone.

 Yes, my work there was done!  

A couple of days later I got a phone call from my parents basically explaining that I wasn’t really welcome back in the house, and it was about two years before I went back.

Poor ole mum! 

This picture was taken by Manfred about two weeks ago

The crap I’ve put her through could fill a book.

Luckily for my family and I, I’ve matured a bit and I now get along with Manfred to such a point that I consider him to be a friend and I find it hard to understand why I never used to like him. 

On the other hand, I have no problem understanding why Manfred used to be annoyed with me when I was younger. 

This situation reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain:

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

 MERRY CHRISTMAS!

“Hello boys!” Gymnasts get too close for comfort at the Marriot. Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

This post is coming to you from the Marriot Hotel at Surfers Paradise in the state of Queensland. My wife (Engogirl the engineer) and I flew up yesterday afternoon to a conference on large Australia and New Zealand dams, that Engogirl is presenting a paper at.

The veiw from my hotel room

As part of the conference a “meet and greet” social event had been organised in the evening, complete with food, drinks and live entertainment. Unlike what some people would have you believe, engineers are a pretty civilised lot and I’ve never met a dumb one (I’m probably not smart enough to recognise a stupid engineer anyway; truth be known). Conversation in such company can range all over, from what work they are doing, through to how, learning to paint and draw can help with lateral thinking. Always erudite, quite often insightful and always (for me at least) very interesting. One of the things I really like about socialising with engineers is that they tend to be very, rational, unpretentious and down to earth.

Live music was played (covers of “Crowded House”) as we all chatted and on the nearby marked off area two small (they were about 150cm or about 5ft tall) scantily clad gymnasts did their acrobatics. Unlike many of the female gymnasts one sees in the Olympics, these gymnasts were adults in their late 20s. The women went through their routine, lifting each other up to form various shapes together, executing back flips etc. We the audience were very close (only about 2 metres or about 2 yards away) to the supple young women. Most of the engineers were much more interested in their conversations and ignored them, but some (along with me) watched. Most of us guys were about 180cm (about 6ft) tall and since we were so close to the gymnasts we were looking down at them.

Before I continue with my story of last night, I feel, for clarity’s sake, that I should offer a glossary of Aussie slang used instead of gymnastic technical terms in the following video featuring Roy and HG from the Australian TV show “The Dream” which ran during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Bag = scrotum

Date = anus

Flute = penis

Hello boys = upside down splits

Sav (short for Savaloy, a type of sausage similar to a hot dog) = penis

Battered Sav (same as the American “Dagwood dog”) = smashing penis into floor

[youtube XKFWE1xt_x0]

I find it a bit unsettling being so close to live performances as you can see every little detail whether you want to or not. In the case of the gymnasts, things got a bit weird when they started doing their contortions. Bending over backwards to stand on their hands and then doing the “hello boys” as we peered down their barely covered clackers.

It was just too close!

My complements to their Brazillian waxing technicians. 

Most of us just didn’t know where to look.

After all one wouldn’t want to even be seen looking.

As the gymnasts kept repeating the manoeuvre (who knows? Maybe their boyfriends had told them it was their best angle.) I began to feel more and more uncomfortable, plus I noticed that I was the only one watching. Suddenly I wished I had my camera with me so I could’ve photographed the women doing their “hello boys” as the audience had their backs turned to them.

Now, I know it’s probably churlish of me to knock a couple of women with great skill and flexibility who are just trying to make a living, but all I can say is that next time I hear that gymnasts are performing I’m going to stand back quite a bit further as some things just don’t bear up to close scrutiny.

P.S. The colour and levels of my photos will probably look a little different to what I normally put up because I’m using my wife’s laptop and the screen is very different to what I’m used to.