Dispatch RiderBritish Dispatches
Thursday, August 28, 2003
      ( 10:17 AM ) Spengy  


Me Ma has just arrived from Oz. I'm driving her off up 't north to Hornsea. I'm told it isn't the end of the world but you can see it from there. I won't be able to post tomorrow so I give you two today to finish off the series of "THINGS IT IS BEST NOT TO DO" (one for every working day of the month of August). I hope you enjoyed them. Don't worry there are many more but I want a rest.

So until Monday I bid you all adieu.


Those of you have been following this series will recall my entry about walking in the Lake District with my cousin. Every time I returned to the UK I made an effort to get up there and do some fell walking. This was normally in late summer or early autumn. In 1995 I was back in January and still determined to walk. There was deep snow on the high peaks but being a dumb colonial that didn’t matter. This was despite having woefully inadequate gear for high fell walking in the middle of winter but I didn’t discover this until well into the walk.

I decided upon the Langdale Pike loop. Booted and rugged up I tramped off from Grasmere and headed up the valley past Sourmilk Gill that was a frozen sheet of ice. It leveled off as I walked past Easedale Tarn. There were small patches of snow here and there with some very sorry looking and wet sheep. Onwards up through the gully between Eagle Crag and Slapestone Edge as the snow cover thickened to mid shin depth. By the time I was halfway between Belles Knott and Sergeant Man the snow was thigh-deep. So this was why all the walking stores in Grasmere village were selling crampons.

I struggled on crampon-less until I hit the ridge saddle where I discovered the howling gale that was roaring out of the west. I had been protected from this by climbing up on the leeward side. I dropped back down out of the wind and put on every bit of clothing I had. I must have looked like Michelin Man. Being a stupid colonial I continued on rather than turn back. I could see two other idiots in the distance so I wasn’t alone. I struggled on through very deep snow lathered in sweat to Thunacar Knott.

I had discovered that the snow had a thin ice crust and provided you didn’t break it and plunge into the soft snow beneath you could make reasonable progress. This required spreading my weight and without crampon shoes the best way to do this was on my hands and knees. This was madness. I consulted the map for the easiest and closest path off the ridge and out of the wind. I crawled across to Harrison Stickle sank down exhausted.

The view was magnificent down Great Langdale. Snow covered the high peaks and fells as they swept down to the valley floor. This was picture postcard stuff. I stood up and slung off my backpack to get my camera out of a side pocket to capture to moment when and enormous gust of wind picked up the pack and blew me backwards off my feet.

I was sliding on my back down the gully with my pack in one hand and the other arm waving about hopelessly. This was serious as I was gathering speed. I managed to roll over with the backpack beneath me as some form of sledge and still gathering speed. So this was what is was like to ride the Cresta on a luge. I had to stop. Digging in my feet in a vain attempt to slow down or at least steer was not the best idea. The next thing I was tumbling end over end and came to a stop in a big drift. I remember lying on my back in the drift, heart pounding, looking back up the gully to Harrison Stickle some 100 yards above. I stood up and looked about dazed. I couldn’t feel anything hurt or broken and collapsed back into the snow. I had just slid over 100 verticle metres down the steep gully between Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark.

It took a good 15 minutes before I was able to pull myself together to gingerly walk down to Stickle Tarn and follow the gyhll down to New Hotel where I ordered a pint. My hands were still shaking when I put the pint to my lips trying to collect my thoughts and thanking my lucky stars. High fell walking in the middle of winters wasn’t for sissies it was for bloody idiots.


My father’s side of the family have owned a small holiday cottage in north Wales since he was a small boy. It is in a small boat building village tucked into the fold of a hill on a peninsular. There are about 30 or so houses and a small pub (one of the top 5 in Wales) on the beach. Access for the public is along the beach at low tide. If you own a house there access is along a small dirt road through the 18 hole golf course that occupies the entire peninsular top above. A small carpark is nestled into an old iron age fort on the clifftop with a driveway leading down through the hillside to the village 30m below. It is a truly magic spot and I have fond memories of the place as a young child.

To stop non-resident vehicular access to the carpark through the golf course there is a big solid reinforced steel gate across the road adjacent to the course clubhouse. It didn’t used to be this way. Prior to the monster gate that could stop an armored tank there used to be a lovely red metal framed farmgate strung with fencing wire.

Late one evening when we had been out in the neighbouring village on the other side of the bay for a meal and several pints too many we piled back into the car to return to the cottage. We approached the hill up to the golf course club house and accelerated. Just as we neared the top someone called from the back

Backseat Driver: Don’t forget the gate

Designated Driver: What gate?

Gate: Bang, clang, crunch, scrape

Backseat Driver: That gate

Designated Driver: Oh, that gate

We came to a halt and all leapt out of the car (a Citroen DS – an all time classic, years ahead of its time). The stone gateposts were intact and unmarked but there was no gate hung between them. The gate was lying forlornly in the middle of the track. The two ends bent upwards on either side of where the carwheels had driven over it. There was no discernable damage to the car (like I said – The Citroen DS was a classic) other than a few scratches to the bumper.

We picked up the gate and carried it back to the gate posts where we propped it up. No one else was about as it was very late so we left and returned to the cottage. The gate was reinstalled on its hinges and lasted several more years but they never did get the bow out of it. It was finally replaced some years back with the current tank stopper version. I don’t think the Citroen could even get through this one

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
      ( 8:16 AM ) Spengy  


Continuing in the same vein as yesterday Mrs Spengy was determined to learn to swim properly. Twice a week after work we would head down to Tempe indoor pool for her lesson. I’d swim laps in another lane for an hour while she was instructed in the finer arts of sinking with style. After several months she was able to swim a lap of the pool in a rough form of freestyle. The only trouble was it was a shallow pool and no part of it was out of her depth. She was now a confident swimmer in her own depth but it was another story if she couldn’t touch the bottom.

To try out her new found skill we decided to try an Olympic size pool with a serious 12’ 6” deep end. Armed with her goggles and swimming cap Mrs Spengy took the plunge into the scary unknown. She disappeared under the water and finally surfaced with arms flailing, eyes wide shut and grabbed the lane rope in terror. I knew what she must be feeling. I recall when I was learning to swim the first time I had been made step into the deep end. I was terrified even before I stepped off the blocks. When I finally plucked up the courage to jump in I almost shat myself when I looked down through the water to the tiled bottom 12’ below. I was going to die. I think I managed to swim all of 5 metres - which was the precise distance from the second lane where I had jumped in to the safety of the edge.

Sorry, I digress – back to Mrs Spengy. I suggested we try from the shallow end where she could stand and see how far she could swim towards the deep end before she needed to stop. This went fine and she made it just over halfway before the fear gremlins kicked in. At least she had swum past where she could stand. She swam back to the shallow end and back up to the same point several times. After a while I got bored swimming along side her so I started swimming to the bottom and waving to her as she passed overhead. I soon got bored with that so next time she swam passed I flashed her. She had her goggles on and had a perfect view of my exploits and crown jewels. Bad move. She completely forgot her stroke and made a panicked grab for the lane rope. I quickly surfaced to see if she was okay and found her clinging to the rope coughing up water and looking slightly the worse for wear. She looked at me and said “I have just discovered that you can’t laugh when your face is underwater”.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
      ( 12:35 PM ) Spengy  


When I lived up in Bris-vegas for several years in the late 90’s I made full use of the time getting out and about exploring the countryside. I even had a large high wheel base four-wheel drive. It was christened the “Grunter Hunter”. This was not a reference to my sexual escapades but due to the fact it had a removable canopy and a big row of spot-lights that the red-neck country kids would have loved to use as a gun platform for wild pig shooting.

At least once a month I’d pile the camping gear in the back and set off for a weekend in the bush with friends. One of the favourite spots to go camping was on the Coomera River in the hinterland behind the Gold Coast. We’d set up camp on a quiet bend of the river and swim, drink and eat.

The last time I went was with Russ and my future wife. As usual we found a great spot, set up camp, built a fire and dragged the canoe off the roof-rack. After a quick lunch we set off in the canoe to explore.

Not far down stream we came across a cracker rope swing. Russ and I bailed out of the canoe, swam to shore and clambered up the bank. Russ went first. He arced out across the river and at the furthest point of the swing let go. Splash. It was my turn and I followed suit. It was being like a little boy again. After several goes we started to encourage Mrs Spengy-to-be to get out of the canoe and have a go. She declined saying she wasn’t a good swimmer out of her own depth and continued to paddle about in the canoe just out of range of our landing zone.

After a while Russ and I got bored of the swing and decided it was time to tip Mrs Spengy-to-be out of the canoe. We swam over to the canoe and grabbed the side. With a quick yank the canoe tilted and deposited her in the river. As she came up she grabbed the side of the canoe that just rolled over and sent her under again. I casually swam up to the end of the canoe to steady it to allow her something to hang onto. Before I got there she came up again. Her eyes wide. As she made another futile grab at canoe and began to sink for the third time she managed to gasp “I can’t swim”. I was now in a bind. I was not close enough to steady the canoe and too far from Mrs Spengy-to-be to grab her. I yelled to Russ who was nearer and he flung out an arm and grabbed her wrist that was the only thing about the water and hauled her up. By this time I had steadied the canoe and she held onto the side for dear life as Russ and I swam the canoe back to camp.

Mrs Spengy-to-be spent the rest of weekend away from the water and only dangled her feet over the edge of the bank. I felt awful and a bit like that HSBC advert where an action means completely different things in two countries. To an Australian “I’m not a good swimmer out of my depth” means I can swim but not well. It does not mean “I can’t swim at all”.

Friday, August 22, 2003
      ( 10:07 AM ) Spengy  


As a child I spent many of my school holidays in Grasmere in the Lake District. My great-aunt owns a place there. I have many happy memories playing with my cousins, scrambling on the fells, exploring the garden and messing about on the lake. After we immigrated to Australia I always looked forward to visiting on our rare returns to the UK to see family.

When I graduated from university I went on the obligatory world tour. I was lucky enough to get a couple of weeks in Grasmere with my great-aunt. Another cousin of mine (who shall remain nameless – for good reason) joined me there with her boyfriend at the time (who we shall call “D”) for some walking in the high fells.

We planned to climb Helvellyn and Striding Edge starting from Thirlmere and finishing in Glenridding where our great-aunt had agreed to collect us. It was early as we set off alongside Comb Gill for the steep climb up to Birk Side and Comb Crags. Short of climbing up a cliff this was the shortest (and of course the steepest) way to summit. It was slow going. Walk for 15 minutes then rest. Walk for another 15 minutes then rest. We finally pushed our way up through a narrow gully and popped out on top of Comb Crags.

The view was amazing. Thirlmere stretched out to the north and to the southwest we could see the peaks of Helm Crag, Silver How and Loughrigg framing the Langdale Pikes. This is where my cousin announced that she wanted to give up. This came as no surprise to D and myself as she had grumbled pretty much most of the way up so far.

“How far to the summit?” she asked.

This was a problem. We were only a third of the way to the top and still had some fairly steep bits to go. We also had Striding Edge to negotiate after that. Luckily for us the summit of Helvellyn was obscured by High Crags and the nearer high ground of Nethermost Pike was almost directly above us. D and I exchanged glances and we both pointed to the nearer Nethermost Pike saying that was the summit and that we had done the hard part. We convinced her that it would be silly to admit defeat now.

Onward we climbed making sure that we kept to the contours of the hill to obscure the real summit. We finally managed to grumble our way to the summit ridgeline before we saw Helvellyn’s rounded top proper. This was the moment D and I had been dreading. There ensued some fast talking about being crap map readers and it was now just a stroll along the ridge by comparison to what we had just done. I can’t recall exactly what we said but it worked. My cousin was convinced and in no time we were at the top of Helvellyn.

A short stop for lunch at the top and we were off again. The descent from the top down onto Striding Edge is about as scary as anything you’ll find walking. The ground drops away so steeply you can see no more than 1 or 2 yards in front. It feels like you are walking off a cliff. It is most unnatural to put one foot in front of the other while your brain is screaming that you are in imminent danger of walking to your death. It was so scary my cousin didn’t grumble once. I think she was too shit scared to open her mouth.

Striding Edge itself is probably one of the most exposed ridgeline scrambles in the Lake District but it is also the most exhilarating. All too soon it was over and we rambled down into Little Cove and Glenridding.

So what is best not to do I hear you ask. No, it isn’t making sure you pick your walking mates carefully. I’d really enjoyed the day (even the grumbling) and would walk with my cousin again. It is never admit where the real summit is when you are trying to drag a disheartened person up a hill. I’m sure she now looks back on her achievement with pleasure even if I did buy her a badge saying “I CLIMBED HELVELLYN AND DIDN”T MOAN (much)”.

Thursday, August 21, 2003
      ( 12:51 PM ) Spengy  


I used to work in a local record shop for some extra cash while reading economics at university. It was a great job. I got to listen to music all day and chat to good looking girls who thought I must be way cool to get a job like this (how mistaken they were).

One of my regular shifts was to run the shop on Thursday afternoon and evening until 9pm as it was late night shopping. I was on my own and left to my own devices.

Several months after I had landed this plum shift a group of born again Christians set up under the awning of a bank across the road. You know the type. The ones who have found the love of Jesus, our saviour, and feel the need to tell the whole world about it with a portable PA system and leaflets to handout. The end is nigh and the heathen masses are going to hell in a handcart unless you turn to the bosom of God.

After a few weeks of this I got fed up with hearing the same message about how much Jesus loved me and that the truth was there for me to find in the Bible if only I opened my heart to His infinite love. I worked in a record shop, I had a huge amp and big speakers with monster sub woofers, I had a record collection to die for at my disposal and I had the urge. After a bit of tinkering with the wiring I loaded the first record onto the turntable, lowered the stylus onto the black vinyl, flicked the speakers over to the front-of-house set and cranked the volume.

Please allow me to introduce myself,
I am a man with ……

Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones blasted across the street. This was followed up by Highway to Hell (AC/DC), Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed), Killing in the Name of (Rage Against the Machine), Lust for Life (Iggy Pop), Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin), Countdown to Armageddon (Public Enemy) and Imagine (John Lennon).

It took a couple of songs for them to cotton on to what was happening. There then ensued a battle of PA against amplifier. I won that one. They tried coming into the shop and telling me off. They gave up on that when I asked them where their sense of Christian forgiveness was. They finally called the police to complain about the noise pollution the shop was making by blasting music into the street. I was asked to turn the music down but they were asked to move on as they didn’t have a license to perform on the street. So it was Heathens 1 – God 1.

I’m sure there is a highlighted section in the big book next to my name when I rock up to the pearly gates. So it will be Heathens 1 – God 2; unless of course the Jews or Muslims are right.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
      ( 10:54 AM ) Spengy  


When we immigrated to Australia I was dismayed to discover that the sale of fireworks was restricted. You couldn’t buy a skyrocket or banger for love nor money. All that was on offer were pretty fountain types that sat on the ground and sent out a shower of sparks that occasionally changed colour. Big bloody deal. The ban was introduced to stop children injuring themselves with fireworks that exploded or could be launched. What a load of bollocks.

The ban was absolutely useless. It had the complete opposite effect. I quickly discovered that my new school friends were equally pissed off with the poor offering of things that went bang or whoosh. So being boys we set about making our own. We started by using masking tape to wrap up a firework. After a few goes we had perfected it to get a satisfying bang.

But we wanted more.

Our experiments quickly progressed and we found that the pretty fireworks contained loads of powder that we extracted and poured into small jars and containers with a wick through the lid. These produced bigger bangs and we discovered the need for longer wicks to allow us enough time to take proper cover.

But we wanted more.

We finally discovered copper plumbing pipes. Here were an enterprising group of young boys making pipe-bombs. Before you ask, no we didn’t realise the danger or stupidity. At the same time Matty had worked out how to make a slow burning wick that gave us at least 30 seconds to get away before the bang. We had made our first bomb and now looked for somewhere to set it off. Across the road from Jocks house was an old house with a big sandstone garden wall that ran the length of the property. We used to spend hours climbing on it pretending to be mountaineers. It had loads of cracks and crevices that were ideal. We wedged our little bomb in one of the cracks, lit the fuse and retired to Jocks front lawn to watch.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM. Wow. This was bigger than we had expected. This was bigger than the WD40 can in the incinerator.

As the smoke and dust cleared we saw that a huge section of the wall had been blown away and fallen backwards into the garden. We looked at each other with wide-eyed astonishment and smiles of wonder as we realized that this was serious. We scattered. Jock reported the next day at school that the police had been around to inspect the damage. We shat ourselves.

Luckily for us nothing more came of it. You’d think that would have stopped us for good.

But we wanted more (that however is another story as is our experiments to build skyrockets).

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
      ( 12:30 PM ) Spengy  


The summer holidays were the best. No school for six weeks. Endless warm sunny days. Your mates to hang around with and hang around we did. Always on our BMX bikes and usually down at the park at the bottom of Henry Kendal Drive.

The park was great. It wasn’t really a park but more like a large grassed area fronting onto the local creek and bush. We even built a small BMX cycle track with jumps and table tops. Right in the center we built a massive jump.

The favorite game was to ride up the road and come hurtling down as fast as you could go, up over the gutter and hit the jump. You’d sail up through the air and come crashing to earth hopefully landing it to the applause of your mates.

One year in mid-January we had a tropical storm that lasted a couple of days. Big fat rain drops that soak you to the bone, flashes of lightning and claps of thunder that made Mums crockery rattle in the cupboard. It was still warm but playing outside wasn’t really an option. We were be cooped up inside reading books, playing the latest game on the Atari and generally getting under the adults feet. By the time the storms had passed we couldn’t wait to get outside again and I’m sure the feeling was reciprocated by our parents.

We all met up as usual at the BMX track. There was a huge puddle (aka lake) spread out across the big jump landing zone. This was going to be fun. We rode up the hill and I was first off. I was determined to make this a big leap and an even bigger splash. Pedaling as hard as I could my feet were a blur. I hit the jump at an almighty speed and I was flying. Time seemed to stand still. I looked down and I was an awfully long way from the ground, higher and longer than any time before. This was no time to worry. I was out over the middle of the puddle and fast descending. Time to brace for landing. I felt my back wheel touch and a put my weight forward to bring down the front wheel in line.

Unfortunately the puddle was less like a lake and more like a muddy swamp. The mud sucked the bike in and stuck fast. I on the other hand kept going downwards and forwards connecting with hard metal pedals and then the swamp. My friends tell me it was spectacular. I had gone soaring through the air and made a perfect landing but the bike and I had just been swallowed up by the ground in an almighty explosion of brown mud. No body else tried the jump for several days until the puddle had really become only a puddle. I still sport some great scars on my shins to remind me that BMX pedals are not only great for holding your shoes in place but can gouge an amazing amount of flesh from your legs if you fall off.

Monday, August 18, 2003
      ( 12:15 PM ) Spengy  


I don’t mind spiders - even really big hairy ones – provided they aren’t on me. Mrs Spengy on the other hand has super sensitive arachnid radar. If there is an eight legged beastie within 20 feet I’m dispatched with glass and cardboard to catch-and-release it into the wild. This normally occurs just as we are going to bed. Thankfully the neighbours can’t see in or they would be entertained by a nude me scrabbling about in the corner of the floor or outstretched on stool near the ceiling trying to catch a spider the size of a pea.

One summer evening Mrs Spengy’s arachnid radar went into overload. She screamed “what the *&%$ing hell is that” and pointed towards the window with quivering finger. Now I must admit this was a big one. So big it made me wary about approaching. Big in the UK is small but big in Australia (when it comes to spiders) is very big. From what I could make out it was a huntsman and his legs would have stuck out from underneath a plate. This was too big to capture. It was a case for the flyspray.

He was resting on the flyscreen behind the net curtains. What we couldn’t determine was whether he was inside or outside. If he was outside no problem - he couldn’t get in and I didn’t need to spray him. If he was inside he was going to have half a can of insecticide dumped on him. Mrs Spengy was all for just spraying the beast regardless of it being inside or out. I wasn’t. Neither of us were game to lift the curtain to confirm which side of the screen the spider was on.

I had a brainwave. I’d go outside and illuminate the spider from behind. This would allow Mrs Spengy to see which side the hairy monster was on. If outside we would let it be. If inside she could send it to god with the can of flyspray. I threw on a pair of shorts and walk around the side path to our bedroom window. It was still there. I’d forgotten the torch so I fumbled around in my short pockets and found a lighter. Holding the lighter up to the flyscreen (not too close mind you – I wasn’t that brave) I counted back aloud from three.

“Three – Two – One”

I lit the lighter and peered at the spider perfectly illuminated.

“Its alrigh..........“

At the same time Mrs Spengy’s arachnophobia got the better of her and she let rip with the insecticide. A fine jet of atomized spray shot out of the can through the flyscreen. Enveloped the spider and carried on towards me. On the side of the can it tells you that flyspray is flammable. I was holding a naked flame. I realized the stupidity of what I was doing at exactly the same time that the mist ignited around my head. This was the second time in my life that I had no eyebrows or lashes (refer to THINGS IT IS BEST NOT TO DO - #4 : 6 August 03)

Friday, August 15, 2003
      ( 1:35 PM ) Spengy  


The Hellfire Club was daytime club in Sydney. That is it opened at 5am when all else closed. Being a daytime club it dragged up an interesting mix of clientele. There were those who were still partying from the previous night, those who didn’t like to see daylight, Goths (loads of them), those with a latex fetish, those into a bit of S&M or B&D (not D&D) and taxi drivers.

The club was in a fairly rundown part of the city near Central Station. The décor was black. All black. The whole place was lit by candles and black neon.

Pete a great mate of mine used to pester me to go here with the line that they used to amazing things with candles and hot wax. I stood at the bar drinking a beer trying to come down from the night before as a Marilyn Manson type wondered past leading a squat guy in full latex black rubber suit in a dog collar and leash on his hands a knees.

Why was I here? Why was I doing this? Why am I blogging about this?

Lit Candle. Hot wax. Nipple.

I’m sorry but I can’t quite get there. Surfers know what I’m referring to when I say nipple cripple.

Pete, you are a legend.

      ( 12:09 AM ) Spengy  


Please refer to Karen's post in my Comments for "THINGS IT IS BEST NOT TO DO - #11".

Thursday, August 14, 2003
      ( 11:30 PM ) Spengy  


I would like to welcome those of you who have come to this site after searching for "stand to pee device" in Google. I am in the middle of a series of "THINGS IT IS BEST NOT TO DO". If you still want to find what information I have on your original search may I suggest you try the July 02 archives.

      ( 11:09 AM ) Spengy  


One of my favorite subjects at school was art. I loved to draw and paint and always managed to do quiet well. I often wonder what would have been different in my life had I continued with it.

One semester was all centered round sculpture. We got to play with plasticine, clay, metals, sculpture blocks and papier-mâché. Usually I had a free period after lunch prior to the double art period before the end of school for the day. If I wasn’t catching up on some homework I’d often go down to help out the art teacher setup for our class (no I wasn’t a goody two shoes – just liked to get a head start on whatever we were doing for the day – you know, I just enjoyed an extra bit of creative time).

I arrived in the art room and Mr Morgan handed me a huge basin, some powder and a large stick. He wanted me to mix up wallpaper paste to be used for papier-mâché. No problem I think to myself. I drag all the ingredients and tools over towards the sink and set to work. Bit of powder. Bit of water. Bit of stirring. Soon I had a huge basin full of this off-white slightly lumpy looking goo and I felt good.

Mr Morgan strolled over to inspect my endeavors and approved. I was allowed to start on my creation. I collected my wire model from an earlier lesson, scooped up some of the paste into a plastic container and went and sat down. Bit of paper. Dip it in the paste. Stick soggy bit of paper, covered in goo, onto the wire framework. This was going great and I felt great.

The school bell rang to indicate next period and my classmates started to drift into the room from their previous lessons. I was absorbed in my sculpture. Bit of paper. Dip it in the paste. Stick soggy bit of paper, covered in goo, onto the wire framework. This was going great and I felt fantastic.

It is amazing how quickly time flies when you are absorbed in something. The end of school siren sounded before I even realized it was time to go home. I had been totally caught up in my own little world. Bit of paper. Dip it in the paste. Stick soggy bit of paper, covered in goo, onto the wire framework. This was going great and I felt brilliant.

As I was leaving class Mr Morgan slid up beside me and whispered that I should take it easy on the way home. I looked at him strangely. Why? He explained to me that wall paper paste is mildly narcotic and as I had been around it for several hours I was probably going to feel a bit light headed. Bit of paper. Dip it in the paste. Stick soggy bit of paper, covered in goo, onto the wire framework. This was going great and I felt off my face.

It isn’t often that you are allowed to sniff glue at school and get away with it. It took me an hour to ride home where it normally only took 20 minutes but I didn’t care. Bit of paper. Dip it in the paste. Stick soggy bit of paper, covered in goo, onto the wire framework. This was going great and I was floating.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
      ( 12:51 PM ) Spengy  


In my youth I was bitten by the skateboarding bug. I saved up my pocket money and purchased the latest. A bright yellow plastic flexideck with 2.5 inch wide red wheels. It was the bees-knees. None of this modern stuff, it was the 70’s. These were the machines that, if you weren’t careful, gave you the death wobbles at high speed. Every afternoon after school and all day on the weekends you would find me and my mates out and about riding our boards.

Our favorite was skateboarding down hills. The bigger and longer the better. There was one that was the pinnacle of fear and bravery. Weenamara Avenue, or “Death Wobble Hill” as we used to call it. It was part of a new housing development where the roads had been put in but no houses were yet constructed so we had no worries about cars. Plus it was long and straight with a turning circle at the bottom. We would dare each other to see how far you were prepared to walk up before common sense told you to stop, turn around and ride to the bottom making a neat arc in the turning circle to wash off your speed.

Each time we would go further and further until it was time to ride all the way from the top to the bottom. You found yourself standing at the top looking down to the bottom of the hill. The turning circle was an awfully long way off. A little voice in your head is saying “that is too far, you are going to die”. Your mates are cheering you on and saying “don’t be a sissy, you can do it”. So you push off and pick up speed. You can feel the vibrations of the road jar up through your feet. The whir of the ball-bearings increases and your vision narrows down to the road in front of you as the world whirls past. This is fun. This is why you ride skateboards. Faster and faster you go. Wheeeeeeeeee.

However there is a point where you realize you are not going to make and it is strangely always beyond the point of no return. This is the difference between committed and involved. The best example of this is the “bacon & eggs breakfast” analogy. A chicken is “involved” but the “pig” is committed. I was well and truly committed and wishing I was “chicken” as I recalled my mates jeering before I had set off. I noticed that they had all gone quiet as I realized I was the first stupid enough to actually ride from the top.

I had already passed the death wobble speed and the turning circle was fast approaching. The little voice was saying “must concentrate. Close to the outside corner and lean back to complete the arc”. Some of the guys were standing at the bottom of the hill to watch my descent. I saw white wide eyed faces as I tore past halfway through the circle. “I might just do this if I can lean back a little further and“ ..... the circle was a bit wider. Kerb. Bang. Stop. Flight. Ground. Crash. Ouch.

I remember lying on my back looking up at the blue sky. My mates came charging over to see if I was hurt saying things like “Wow”, "You should have seen your face", "That was cool", "Ace", "What a crash" and "Do it again". And I did but only after the cuts, scrapes and bruising had gone down.

I went back to that hill a few years ago to look. I must have been mad.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
      ( 1:08 PM ) Spengy  


Dishwashers are one of the great kitchen time saver inventions of all time. True it becomes one of the chores to unload it but it sure beats washing up.

Dishwasher powder has advanced through time from a simple white powder to include;

  • Rinse aid that leaves your glass clean of the horrible white film
  • Heavy particles to remove that baked on grime
  • Calgon to reduce lime build up

The final leap forward was to combine all of these into a simple pressed block tablet. No more mess, no more hassle.

When you run out of tablets it is better to nip up to Tescos and buy another box.

Do not try and use dishwashing liquid as a substitute.

While there have been great advances in dishwashing powder there have been equaled steps forward in dishwashing liquid;

  • Extra cutting power to remove baked on grease
  • Increased lemon essence to make your plates smell nicer
  • Added froth to make the suds last longer

These all work well in your sink but the latter two are exponentially improved in a dishwasher.

Nothing comes close to the lovely lemon smell of arcs of foam being forced out through the door of a dishwasher in mid-cycle into a knee deep lake of suds flowing across the kitchen floor.

Monday, August 11, 2003
      ( 9:24 AM ) Spengy  


Christmas day when I was little were the best. You’d be beside yourself with excitement counting the number of days to go. On Christmas Eve you’d be too wound up with anticipation of the next day to sleep but you knew if you didn’t Father Christmas wouldn’t come.

In the morning you would get up and the family would gather round to open presents. You always got new clothes. This year it was a bright orange shirt with press-stud buttons and a collar so wide it extended past my shoulders. It was just the best.

While the turkey was in the oven we all went for the family walk through the neighbouring fields. This year was no exception. Of course I was in my flashy new shirt and thinking I looked like a million dollars. Rather than prancing about thinking I was the next best thing since sliced bread I should really have been looking where I was going. I missed my footing and went face forward straight into a cowpat. It wasn’t an old hard frozen one. It was a fresh laid steamer.

Rather than come running to my rescue everyone just fell about laughing. At this moment I hated my family. My orange shirt was ruined. I had cowshit from head to foot smeared down my front.

I never wore that shirt again.

      ( 8:10 AM ) Spengy  


On the hottest day ever on record in the UK do not lend the pedestal fan. Even if they suffer in the heat worse than us.

Friday, August 08, 2003
      ( 9:07 AM ) Spengy  


Before we moved to Cronulla we used to live at the bottom of a big hill. For many years I used to ride my bike to school rather than catch the school bus. The game used to be to see how fast you could get the bike to go down hill. We had a long drive up to our garage so there was never any problem pulling up.

This game quickly developed into a game of chicken. How late could I leave the breaking to pull up as close to the garage door. After several weeks I had it down to a fine art. My pedals spinning madly, tires whirring, the wind whipping at my hair and tugging at my shirt-tails. Into the final bend, up the driveway and locking up my brakes I would skid to a halt mere feet from the garage door, my heart racing.

This was great fun. Then it rained. As usual I went tearing down the hill, my legs a blur. Into the final bend and up the driveway. I grabbed a handful of brakes. Wheels locked I slid along the cement. I kept sliding. And sliding. Oh shit. BANG. I hit the garage door just like Wyle Coyote in the Road Runner cartoon.

Dad was not impressed with the dents left in the garage door. No amount of bashing with a hammer ever got rid of them. I learnt that braking in the wet is harder and bike wheels only rotate when round.

Thursday, August 07, 2003
      ( 11:47 AM ) Spengy  


When you destroy school property deny everything.

My small group of friends, as you now know, liked to blow things up. When one of our gang was able to get his hands on a set of train detonators we were well pleased. Train detonators are placed on train rails by track maintenance crews to warn them of on-coming trains and alert the train driver that there are people on the track ahead. They are small percussion explosives that are set off by the weight of the train wheel rolling over them. They make a bang that is loud enough to be heard by both the driver and the maintenance crew.

Having not learnt much in the way of physics we liked the idea of the loud bang but had no idea about the matching force that must accompany the sound. However we were sensible enough to realize that this was not something we should do near any of our parents houses. So after a discussion it was decided that the best place would be early one morning at school before most people had arrived.

With military precision, furtive phone calls and messages passed across the classroom we organized to meet at 7.15am and ride in on our bikes rather than catch the first school bus at 8am. So far, so good. We were the first to arrive. The playground was deserted. We parked our bikes in the empty bike rack and headed up to our favorite corner.

The train detonator was removed from its box and placed on the ground. We then started to throw stones at it in an attempt to set it off. After five minutes and several direct hits nothing had happened. It was then we had the bright idea of placing one of the school bins over the detonator and lobbing a brick into the top of the open bin. We guessed that weight of a brick hitting the base of the bin would apply enough downward pressure to do the trick. We guessed right.

BOOOOOOOM. The noise was absolutely deafening as it echoed around the deserted playground. The bin was blown 20 feet in the air and turned inside out by the force of the explosion. We stood there in stunned silence until the loud clatter of the bin hitting the concrete brought us to our senses.

We scattered. Scattering was normally a good playground trick to avoid the finger of blame being landed. Unfortunately in a deserted playground it is not so effective. While there may have been no students around there were of course teachers who had been in the staff room watching our escapade through the window.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
      ( 11:29 AM ) Spengy  


When a teenager you should resist those pyromaniacal urges. My mates and I were fascinated with making things and blowing them up or setting fire to them.

This fascination culminated at Andrew’s house as his father had an outdoor incinerator made from concrete besa-blocks. The idea was to get a reasonable fire going in the base of the incinerator then throw in an aerosol can, drop the heavy steel plate lid down, stand back and wait. After a few minutes the can would explode lifting the lid and a flame would shoot out accompanied with a muffled bang.

After several weeks of trying various cans of fly-spray, hair-spray, furniture polish and deodorant to various levels of success we thought we were ready for the heavy stuff. A jumbo size can of WD-40. The fire was going well so we threw in the can, dropped the lid and retreated to our designated safety zone (about 15 feet). We waited. Next thing we knew there was an almighty boom followed by a blinding flash and fireball that engulfed the incinerator, the surrounding garden and us. Then there was a silence.

As the smoke cleared we surveyed the damage. The base of the incinerator poked up like the jagged ruins of a derelict castle. All around the grass had turned black with little bits of concrete rubble scattered about. Andrew’s Dads prized roses had ceased to exist and a portion of the back fence had fallen into the neighbour’s garden. The worst bit was the fact that we were marked men (there was not even the slightest chance of blaming this on Andrews even more wayward older brother) as we no longer had any eyelashes, eyebrows or fringe to speak of.

Post-script: We never found the heavy steel plate lid. Despite being made to knock on every neighbour’s door to apologize.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
      ( 8:15 AM ) Spengy  


When you share a house with a mate on a river esturary do not get drunk and decide to take the boat out for a spot of fishing. This is especially true when you have just got the boat, it is the middle of the night, you have no running lights and are unfamiliar with the navigation channels.

I don't remember whose idea it was but it seemed like a great one at the time. We gathered up our rods, tackle, bait and beer. Threw it in the "tinnie" (15 foot aluminium run-about - for the non-nautical) and set off downstream. After a while we stopped where we thought would be a good spot, centre channel, threw out the anchor and lifted the outboard. Why we thought this was a good spot I don't recall. It was pitch black, it was our first trip down stream and we were pissed as newts but it looked "good".

After a couple of hours casting out and winding back in neither of us had caught a thing. We were running low on beer (not that we really needed any more but you know how it is) so it was time to up stumps and return home. My house mate retrieved the anchor and I dropped the motor back into the water. Thuk. That didn't sound quite right and the outboard was sitting at a strange angle off the stern of the tinnie. We peered over the side to see what the problem was and discovered that while we had been boozing and fishing the tide had gone out and we were marooned on a massive sandbar in the middle of the river. No wonder we hadn't had a bite.

There ensued 20 minutes of two pissed blokes dragging a boat across the sand back to the navigation channel.

Monday, August 04, 2003
      ( 9:04 AM ) Spengy  


When you have been out all night on the piss with mates it is better to call into the all-night store and buy kebab/chips/burger than try and cook at home. I recall staggering through the door at 3.30am and having an urge to cook noodles. It is amazing how much the kitchen sways at that time and how noisey pots are. After I found my sea-legs I was standing next to the cooker holding onto the grill handle watching a pot come to the boil with my noodles in it (Mental note: grill handles are not that secure when being used to steady drunken body). The pot was taking ages to come to the boil. I thought I'd just go and sit on the couch while I waited.

What the f*ck is that smell? Why is it so bright? Why does my head hurt? ..... Ah ..... Lots of beers last night. It is morning ..... Ah ..... What the f*ck is that smell? ..... Ah ..... Lots of beer last night. It is morning. I was hungry when I got home ..... Ah ..... Oh ..... Shite.

When you leave 3-minute noodles in a pot on medium heat for two and a half hours the water boils off and the noodles stick to the bottom in a glutenous mass. They also give off a vile smell along with a fair amount of smoke. To this day I still don't know how I didn't burn the flat down or asphyxiate myself. The only losses for the night were a pot, a packet of noodles and several thousand braincells.

Friday, August 01, 2003
      ( 11:47 AM ) Spengy  


When visiting grandparents living in Northern Ireland it is best to remember that when entering a roadblock manned by Paras, at night, they expect you to turn your headlights off. This was the first time I had returned to Ireland driving a car. All earlier visits had been as a child before we moved to Australia. The "Troubles" hadn't meant much to me then and I'd never seriously given it much thought since. Until now. Sorry I digress - back to the roadblock. When a Para points at your car because you have your headlights on it is an indication he wants you to turn them off not flash them three or four times. If you are stupid enough to flash you headlights onto high beam you will be dragged from the car and your face becomes intimate with the tarmac while the back of your head becomes familiar with the sole of an arm issue boot and the dangerous end of an SLR. At this stage it helps to use your broadest outback twang saying you are Australian and you are very sorry. Do not under any circumstance ask for an apology or you will wait on side of the road while the soldiers pull your car to pieces looking for suspicious packages.

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