Monthly Archives: May 2009

I Got My First Real Six String…

I’m a guitarist.  A player of the six string Gitfiddle.  It wasn’t always so…

In primary school I started to learn the guitar.  My teacher was a piano player, she was old, and even though she could be nice, she used to like hitting my hands with a small wooden ruler when I got the fingering wrong.  That used to happen a lot.  I now have large beefy fingers, and in part, blame her for the condition. 

Greg Bennet Uke, CMG Amp, Takemine Guitar

Greg Bennet Uke, CMG Amp, Takemine Guitar

My next teacher was an American chap.  Nice bloke, crap teacher.  He was a folky as well.  I was heavily into Status Quo, Suzie Quattro, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC at the time.  ‘Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley’ was not on my list of things I wanted to play. 

A few years later, in a different town, I picked up my old guitar and started fiddling round with it.  I fiddled with it long enough to convince my parents to let me try again.  Off to the ‘Guitar Workshop’ we went. 

The store sat next to the old Trades and Labour council building, across the road from one of the most violent pubs in Gladstone.  I was dropped off by my father and my new teacher, a visiting yachtie down on his luck, named Frank (aka Frank the Hippy), said, “What sort of music do you like to play man?”  The first time I had actually been asked! 

The two big hits of the day were, Mull of Kintyre, and Surfin’ USA (the Leif Garret version… yeah, yeah ok, it seemed a lot cooler back then to my 10y.o ears)  Frank grinned, “Let me teach you a little tune that you might like,” he said.  I was introduced to ‘the sound’ that made Chuck Berry, Status Quo and every other Oz pub band famous.  Frank called it ‘Rockin’ On’, but I’ve also since heard it described as 12 bar blues.  I was rapt.  I was stoked.  I had bleeding fingers by the second day and didn’t care! 

Frank taught me two songs a week for nearly 3 months, then he managed to repair his yacht and sailed out of my life.  John, the bloke who owned the store took over.  John was an excellent teacher, but we didn’t ‘click’.  I wish I’d stayed longer now, because as I struggle to learn lead guitar I can’t help but think what level I’d be playing at now if I’d persisted. 

Probably in a band, on the road, divorced several times, nurturing an out of control drug / alcohol habit, and trying to get out of a  destructive relationship with a manager who is constantly ripping me off… you never know do you? 

Was in a band once.  If we’d spent more time tightening our sound, and less time trying to kill eachother then we might have gone places.   We lacked vision, we lacked the right gear, we lacked licences to get us to venues where we lacked the right age to be allowed entry.  Most of all we lacked the necessary social graces to just simply put up with eachother and just play. 

But I’ve been thinking lately, maybe we’re ready to try it again, because it’s been ages since I’ve put my foot through a bass drum.

Is the world ready for us…

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LMC – Our Name is Mud!

“Hello, how soon can you deliver 200 tonnes of concrete, and eight kilometres of chicken wire?” 

 I’m not getting anywhere fast with this line of questioning, but it’s all for a good cause, I’m trying to organise an icon to draw the tourist dollar. 

With the Federal Government handing out swags of cash, I thought now might be the time to push for some bucks to build a tourist trap of magnificent proportions. 

It’s one thing to win a swag of tidy town awards (actually, it’s a pretty big thing to win a swag of tidy town awards… and good on us), but sadly being clean is not going to draw the free spending travellers that all our district rivals happen to be clamouring for as well. 

What we need is something so stupendously spectacular that the ensuing hue and cry will see at least three or four councillors sacked for gross negligence just for voting in favour of this thing.   

It’ll be worth it, trust me!  I’m a sucker for those gimmicky roadside tourist draws, we all are.  Big Pineapples, Cows, Prawns, Bananas, Sheep, etc. we’ve all got photos tucked away in our albums, with us standing alongside them grinning inanely. 

Even Rockhampton in a moment of madness erected a herd of concrete bulls, complete with dangling attachments that have proven very popular with numerous novelty collectors and desperate deviants.

But we can do it better, and bigger.  Much Bigger.  What about a Big Mudcrab? 

Now, I realise that Miriam Vale folk will shake their heads and say it’s already been done.  But my response to this is that we in Gladstone will be using our full derriere to construct this icon.     

Let’s build something so colossal that the rest of the nation will be stunned, yet curious enough to come here and drive under, walk through and be photographed beside our Big Muddy Mate.  Imagine, if you can, a crab so big that it actually hovers over the road, with claws the size of buses splayed out in a menacing way.   

Tourists wending their way north and south of our great city will be assailed by a billboard campaign of exacting precision, eg: “Get Crabs in Gladstone” should make for an eye-catching sign.  “Nip into Gladstone” could follow it up a few more kilometres down the road.   

By the time the family car gets to either of the Gladstone turn-offs, the children in the back seat should be in a foaming mouthed frenzy and pretending to have convulsions until dad turns off the highway to quell the rebellion.  I’m a parent, and I know this works.  I now have the small throbbing vein in my temple that all fathers get when they drive long distance with children. 

Let’s do it Gladstone!  Let’s build a colossal concrete structure that will be the talk of the nation.  All we need is the concrete, the chicken wire, and one thousand volunteers with a mad glint in their eyes, armed with wheelbarrows, a couple of hundred extension cords and a burning desire to erect a fitting, and enormous, tribute to Our Big Muddy Mate, the true symbol of Gladstone.

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KLE 500 – Beautiful Betsy

Back in the 2004 I was asked if I wanted to take my KLE 500 for a ride to visit the crash site of Beautiful Betsy, an American Liberator bomber which crashed near Gladstone in 1945.  The plane had only been found recently and, once the remains of the crew had been found and removed, and the crash zone photographed and catalogued, it was opened to the public. 

Yep, I was in. 

Betsy File Photo

After registering our vehicles at the National Parks office in town, we sailed forth a week later one sunny Sunday morning.

The ride up the Kroombit Range was fantastic, and the KLE was running like a train.  I had road/trail tyres on, and had deflated them a little to handle the dirt tracks.  One of the mates was on a Honda 500 road bike, so I figured the KLE was definitely going to handle whatever came our way.

Near the top of the range the road got a little narrower and steeper.  Long drops into the thickly wooded valleys below gave us an extra thrill.  The scenery changed from sparse, dry brown hills, to lush, green, mountainous terrain, dotted with flowing creeks lined with thick growths of ferns, staghorns and blackboys.  Along this road we now rode in single file with the support truck bringing up the rear. 

At the top of the range we passed by the camp grounds, and the rangers station.  The road was much better and we started to speed up.  It was fun, right up until I came to a ‘Y’ shaped fork in the road, and my front tyre started to let go in the thick layer of loose gravel.  I snaked all over the road, only just managing to keep upright, and just as I was about take out the large gum tree right in the middle of the intersection, the tyres grabbed and flung me hard to the left and around the tree.  I slowed down, my heart was jammed at the back of my throat, and pumping harder than a honeymooning Spaniard.  The bloke who had been riding behind me came alongside and yelled, “Mate!  How did you do that?!  You’re a *&%^ing Legend!” 

No.  I was the luckiest bastard on the trail that day, because my dirt riding skills are pretty ordinary… ordinarily. 

The last obstacle to get to the crash site was a long hill covered (for some insane reason) in sand.  2nd gear, flat.  The poor bugger behind me knew all about it as he got covered in a huge rooster tail of sand on my scramble to the top, I ripped the clutch in just in time to avoid launching through the small carpark like Evil Knievel on a bad day.

The crash site is a quick stroll through the silent scrub, and every noise we made seemed to be amplified in the stillness.  The plane was a mangled wreck, having more or less hit the only large rock jutting out of the side of the hill.  I reckon the poor buggers on board wouldn’t even know they’re dead.  The impact was so great that the plane bent in half, the tail flipping over the cockpit, and the four engines ripped off the wings ploughing nearly a hundred metres through the scrub, the propellors (each blade nearly 6 feet long) flung off in different directions. 

We took some snaps, had a bit of a snoop round, then sat in silence, each of us thinking our own thoughts, when suddenly a sound not like a cannon shot startled us out of our daydreams.  It was a large branch snapping off a nearby iron bark.  The perils of the Australian bush…     

Afterwards we made our way back to the bikes, and agreed that we would ride to the Kroombit Tops lookout, refuel from the containers in the 4wd, then make our way down to Ubobo on the southern track.  No worries. 

We set off and immediately split up, the good riders shooting ahead, sideways round the bends at a good rate of knots.  My bike was taking corners sideways as well, even at slower speeds, and on a couple of occasions I actually had the bike under control… damn tyres!

I ended up slowing right down, because the odds were pretty good that I was going to kiss the gravel if I kept pushing my luck.  I found some of the group and the lookout at the same time, just as I flicked over to my reserve fuel setting.  We waited for ages, and every now and then could hear bikes in the distance, sometimes revving hard.  Because I had the larger tank it was agreed that I should go back a little way to try and find them.  Just as I kicked the old girl over they turned up. 

The Kroombit Tops lookout is amazing.  The platform juts out over a high cliff face, and the first time I looked down I thought my guts were going to drop out of my arse.  Once I convinced myself that the deck was sturdy enough to support all of us I started to enjoy the amazing view (unfortunately not one of my damned photos turned out… guess I’ll have to go up again!)

View from platform at Kroombit Tops

View from platform at Kroombit Tops

The trip back down the range was an eye-opener.  Tyres, half dirt, half road (useless on both) were not meant for this type of riding.  The downhills were steep, and the corners so sharp that they almost turned inside out.  The drop offs on the side of the range were almost vertical so that if you were to go over, you’d be killed for certain… and no-one would ever know, or be able to find you in the thick undergrowth of ferns at the bottom of those tree filled cliffs.  

Only once did I come close to crashing.  The road had widened, and the grade was smoothing out, so I picked up the pace.  I was the 2nd last bike, with only the Honda roadie and the 4wd waaay behind me.  The others, were waaay in front, so I thought I’d try and catch up.

Fun!  I was having a ball, almost the perfect riding day.  I hammered toward a sharp corner and noticed that the dirt track was full of long and deep grooved skid marks, looking up I saw why, the corner was so tight that if you took it at any speed greater than, say, 5 kph, you would almost certainly go over the edge into the heavily wooded valley below. 

I clearly remember three things about that moment:  1.  I was yelling at the top of my lungs (in the bush, only the trees can hear you scream), 2.  The KLE’s brakes, suspension and steering worked magnificently, as I took the turn almost laying down, and 3. As time slowed down, I recall thinking over and over, “F*#* I’m dead!!”

My luck held.  It is the only time I have ever scraped the footpegs on my bike, my left leg was stretched so far out from the bike that I must have looked like a land born water skier.  It certainly felt like my hip was popping out of its socket.  I still have no idea how the hell I got round that bend.    My hair turned grey that day… or possibly the next day… look, it was around that time anyway 🙂

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful for me from that point on.  At a greatly reduced speed I got to enjoy the surroundings and magnificent views over the tops of the trees, and at the bottom of the range I passed through a timber cutters camp, before blasting through a knee deep flowing creek.  The only thing that would have made it more enjoyable was if I’d carried more bottles of water.  The creek at the camp was the last one I went through, and I wished that I got off and had a drink.  As it was, by the time I rode into Ubobo, I was parched, and not a little disappointed to discover that the shop was shut (it always is/was on Sundays).  Fortunately the water tank out the back was working, so I gulped down a few mouthfuls before riding off. 

Some of the better riders (all of them except for me and Mr. Honda) returned from wherever it was they’d been riding, and we stopped and chatted for a bit.  They were going to go back to see how Mr. Honda and the 4wd were going.  It was suggested that I should keep going as I’d only slow them down… cheeky buggers!  So I rode forth on my own, not that it really mattered much, I was pretty familiar with this stretch of road now.

From Ubobo, I rode onward to Nagoorin, then checked out an old camping spot, it was full of campers, and the ground was strewn with empty bottles, dirty nappies and litter (good onya morons!). 

Disgusted, I returned to the road and cruised homewards in a reflective frame of mind.  Much of this area is not controlled by the National Parks mob, and that is a good and bad thing.  Good, because when you want to go camping you don’t have some Hitler in uniform ordering you about (like they did in every camp ground around Brisbane that I visited).  And, Bad, because idiots being idiots, will turn any good camping spot into an open sewer, just because they can, which ruins it for everbody.  Surely there must be some compromise?  Shoot all the idiots perhaps?  Where to start…   

I arrived home just after dark, feeling weary, but exhilerated.  My bike was covered in dust, as was I, but only one of us was going to be washed that night… me (in case you were wondering).  The next day I caught up with some of the boys.  The bloke on the Honda had a hell of a time coming down the range apparently.  Thanks to his road tyres, and shocking state of the tracks, he spent more time crashing than he did riding.  Fortunately the support truck was behind the poor bastard to help on each occasion!

I’m hoping to take my family up to see the plane again soon, and will look at hiring a 4wd for the day/weekend.  Should be a blast, and this time I’ll make sure I get some better photos from the lookout… oh yes, and take plenty of water!

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LMC – Nicknames

What’s In A Name?

It’s no small feat to have lived so long without being given a nickname.  It’s something to be proud of in a small way.  ‘Big Deal!’ you may be muttering right now, but let me tell you, that just about everyone I work with has a nickname, and if you heard some of them, then you’d know why I’m pretty happy not to have one. 

A co-worker with a terminal case of dandruff has been nicknamed Lamington.  Then there’s Snotty, Yappy, and Crackers.  I’m fairly pleased that I don’t have a funny name, or any distinguishing features or habits that would give my workmates the ammo they need to label me.

My father was given a nickname during his time in the Navy, but I can’t mention it here because of the threats my mother made when I bought the topic up.  She had ‘that’ look in her eye. 

It’s a bloke thing.  Women tend not to give eachother nicknames, or at least not names that they’re prepared to use in front of eachother.  Recently while waiting in a supermarket cue, I overheard two women having a fascinating discussion which involved two ‘friends’ who were named ‘The Lying Cow’ and, ‘That Skank’.  One of them noticed me eavesdropping and I was immediately labelled as ‘That Nosy Bugger Behind You’.  I shuffled off to a different line.   

My recent interest in nicknames was triggered when I bumped into an old primary school mate.  I not only remembered his face, but his name as well, which surprised us both.  We reminisced about our time together in the hallowed halls of West Gladstone State School, and shared information about old classmates, who they married, and what they were up to now. 

A thought struck me, “Say, what was Deadcats’ real name?” I asked. 

My mate looked bemused, “Dunno?  I should know, but I can’t remember.” 

It was a stumper.  We could both remember the day Dead Cat was given his nickname, the person who came up with it, and why (don’t ask!), but neither of us could recall his real name.  He had become, and remained, Dead Cat. 

My brain kicked up a gear, “Didn’t you visit his house once?  What did you call his mum?”

He smiled, “You’re not going to believe this, but I think we called her Mrs. Dead Cat?” 

 I didn’t believe him.

We fell into silence, straining our memories for clues, but nothing surfaced.  “I wonder what became of him?” my mate asked.  I suspect that he left Gladstone as soon as he could, determined to put as much distance between himself and that nickname as possible. 

He’s probably in Alaska right now, working on the oilrigs, and I’m willing to bet some Eskimo larrikin has nicknamed him Dead Seal.  These things happen.   

Which is why I’m pretty grateful that I don’t have a nickname.  That I’m aware of…

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Tired of Tyres

One of the things that I’ve grown used to over in the last couple of years of pedalling is fixing flat tyres. 

For some reason, the people of my town seem to like depositing screws, nails, or staples on the sides of our roads and byways and my ‘gift’ is finding them, then puncturing my inner tube with them 🙂

My puncture repairing skills went into overdrive after purchasing a set of mountain bike road tires, of the Maxxis brand.  Great tyres, increased speed, good grip, and pretty snazzy coloured lettering on the sides (no, I didn’t buy them because of the lettering… but it did help!) I was rapt with them.

A sight I've grown 'tyred' of seeing, another Flat Maxtor :)

A sight I've grown 'tyred' of seeing, another Flat Maxxis 🙂

The only problem with them was keeping the damned things inflated.  At least once a week, I’d walk out to my bike to find a tyre had gone flat, usually the rear tyre.  

I’d sigh, then fix it.  After several weeks of gluing patches onto my tubes, I lashed out and bought two thorn proof tyres.  They worked quite well.  I was only getting punctures every 2nd week now… 

Then one sunny morning I turned to my wife and said, “Today’s the day!  I’m pedalling to Tannum Sands!”  Tannum being our local beach some 20 odd klm’s down the road.

I gave Pubtruck a quick once over, tossed my puncture repair box, some snacks and a towel into the case on the back and set off.  11 klm’s later the inevitable puncture occurred.  I pulled over near a small bridge, and popped the tyre off.  Yep, a large piece of wire was sticking out of the tube.  No worries, I had my trusty repair kit. 

I popped open the kit, and noted that I had 3 patches left, plenty to get me to the beach, then back home again.  Popping the tyre off, I had the tube out in no time, and was somewhat dismayed to discover that the wire had created 4 holes on it’s short journey through my inner tube. 

Okaaay… I managed to stretch a big patch over two of the holes, and used the remaining two patches to cover the rest.  I put it all back together, had a drink, ate a small pack of sultanas, before having a little stroll around the tidal creek I had pulled up in front of.  Twenty minutes later, certain that the glue had thoroughly dried, I whipped out my little hand pump, and started to inflate the tyre.  It went up.  It stayed up.  I got on, rode another 10 or so metres down the road and got another puncture.  This time it was a small rusty screw.   

I was toast.   

Further along the road I spied a road crew.  Minutes later my wife was winging her way to my rescue as I sat staring at my bike.  It was a nice day, the weather was perfect, the birds were singing in the trees, and I felt like kicking Pubtruck to pieces.  I decided against this course of action.  I would take it apart, put it in the car, then take it home and set to work on it with some of the more serious tools in my shed. 

I didn’t of course.  In the end I persisted with the tyres, but as well as carrying a fully stocked (jammed packed with patches) puncture kit, I also carried two spare tubes with me wherever I went.  The number of times those tubes came in handy over the last couple of years are beyond number.  One tube was retired a few months ago because it was literally covered in patches, and almost double its’ original thickness. 

But this morning, I strolled out to the shed, and found the rear tyre flat again.  This time I didn’t repair it.  I took both tyres off, inserted the two spare thorn proof tubes, and replaced the tyres with my old knobbies.  I have officially given up. 

'Pubtruck' sporting knobbies... and a super-handy, but terrible looking milk crate.

'Pubtruck' sporting knobbies... and a super-handy, but terrible looking milk crate.

The knobbies mean my top end speed will be approximately 5 kph slower, but they should provide me with the reliability that I now crave.  And as an added bonus, on the odd occasion when I’m pedalling on wet surfaces, they won’t spray a constant line of muck directly onto my face.  In addition to this, I’m now dirt track capable again.  I’m back baby! 

Tomorrow is another cycling day and I can hardly wait to hit the trails out the back of our home.  With a bit of luck the ol’ tyres will still be up when I stroll out to the shed…

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LMC – Hypochondria

Like most men, I love visiting doctors. It’s right up there with clothes shopping, food shopping, and having your leg cut off with a rusty hacksaw. My LSW (Long Suffering Wife) pointed out that I had some ‘suspicious spots’ that needed checking, along with my eye and ear complaints. “What ‘eye and ear complaints’?!” I shouted. “Ask the doctor why you can’t hear my voice when I’m talking to you, but you can hear the kids opening the door of your beer fridge from the backyard. And why you can’t seem to see when the rubbish bin needs emptying.”

I went to the doctors’ as it was the lesser of two evils. Minutes later I was comfortably seated in a cool waiting room reading an interesting article in an ancient New Idea. Unfortunately the article came in two parts and it took me half an hour of digging through the book pile to find the second instalment.

During this time several people, who had come in after me, were ushered straight through to see the doctor. Watching them over the top of my magazine, I must admit to thinking the odd dark thought about cue jumpers, when the surgery door was flung open and in walked a victim of the latest flu outbreak. He had it bad too. A real lung busting, doubled over, hack and wheeze cough, coupled with a non-stop runny nose. He was still in his pyjamas and obviously beyond care. Of course, he sat down right behind me.

As he went into another fit of coughing, I could feel his germs spraying all over my back, so clutching my magazine, I moved to a chair on the other side of the room hopefully out of sneezing range. To my horror he started thumbing through the magazines while clutching a dripping hanky. I looked at the magazine in my hands and wondered how many other infections I’d just picked up during my own extended search through that book pile.

Ever notice how your nose itches when you don’t want to put your hands anywhere near your face? The itch was reaching eye-watering stage when the doctors’ assistant appeared, I stood up and said, “Finally!” She shook her head, “Doctor’s not ready yet, we had a suspected case of meningococcal virus earlier and I forgot to clean the chair the patient was sitting in.” She whipped out a bottle of disinfectant and a cloth. Guess which chair needed cleaning.

By the time I saw the doctor I was a wreck. He informed me that my blood pressure was slightly elevated and I was a little flushed. The spots, the original reason for my visit, were nothing to worry about apparently, and he hinted that perhaps I shouldn’t be such a hypochondriac. When I got home I leaped from the car and straight into the shower. While I was frantically scrubbing myself clean with three different types of disinfectant, LSW popped her head into the bathroom and said, “There, that wasn’t so bad now was it? You really should go more often.” I started sneezing.

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KLE 500 – Let The Adventures Begin

When I bought my bike back in 2003, I wasn’t looking for another bike.  I was visiting Hervey Bay, saw a bike shop and popped in to buy some bits for my XT 600.  I saw the KLE 500 sitting along the fence and thought, “What the hell is that?!”  I bought the bits for the XT and mentioned the KLE to the bloke behind the counter, “Come with me,” he said.

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