Monthly Archives: August 2009

Mondays’ Column – Maggie Malarky

A familiar theme for those of you who have been following this blog over the last 12 months!  Enjoy 🙂

It’s that time of year again, when the most aggressive, pea-brained, malevolent creatures in the world take it upon themselves to attack every living creature that haplessly wanders into their sights.  No, I’m not referring to the tribes of politicians returning en masse to Canberra, but the black and white terrorists, Magpies.    

These feathered bombers haunt nearly every highway and byway around our fair city, and are completely without mercy when it comes to protecting their turf.  I wouldn’t mind so much, but as a cyclist (of sorts) it can be a bit daunting to run the gauntlet of several magpie attacks on my weekly pedal into town to visit the library.  And Spring having come early this year, means that the Magpie season is going to be a lengthy one as we sail into an early Summer. 

‘Pubtruck’, my trusty pushbike, is too slow to outrun them, so I had to come up with some sort of diversionary tactic to prevent further attacks.  After much experimenting, I eventually stumbled across a sure-fire deterrent, but some of my earlier trials were, shall we say, not very successful.    

For example, I heard that painting a pair of eyes on your helmet will fend off attacks.  Nope, it just makes them angrier.      

Then a workmate suggested that covering my helmet with long cable ties would keep the pests at bay.  So I bought a pack, strapped them all over my helmet, and put it on.  I looked like the end result of an appalling experiment involving a jovial village idiot and a hedgehog.  Undeterred by the jeers of my family and neighbours I sallied forth to a known magpie hangout to test my latest invention.  Pedalling slowly along the bike way and shaking my head to achieve ‘maximum cable tie wiggle’, I quickly learned that while the maggie couldn’t attack my head, my shoulders, arms and back were still vulnerable.  I returned home, my ears still ringing from the cawing of the bird and the taunts of some smart alecky school kids. 

Next I bought a humorous rubber mask, carefully selecting one modelled on the Mr. Bean character.  Going by the way it frightened the Littlest Princess, I knew I was on to a winner.  I lashed the mask to the top of my helmet, so from the magpies’ perspective, it would look like I (or Mr. Bean) was facing them.  I’m happy to say it worked.  Sort of. 

While the mask was successful in keeping the marauding maggies at bay, it seemed to attract the yokel element.  I lost count of the number of drivers, and their vocal passengers, who slowed down to shout insults, hoot their horns, yell out, point and laugh, and on one spectacular occasion, toss a thickshake at me.  It was a sticky ride home that day.  Needless to say, the experiment wasn’t repeated. 

I persisted for another week, stoically enduring several more attacks, wracking my brain for a possible solution that didn’t involve heavy machine gun fire.  Then one morning while I was buying some bits for my bike, I noticed a bright orange flag hanging on the wall.  Inspiration struck, and moments later I was strapping it to Pubtruck. 

It worked!  The flag, waving jauntily in the breeze, made it almost impossible for a sneak attack from behind.  I even tempted fate by riding through Magpie Alley, a horror stretch of feathered fury near town, and the flag came through with flying colours.  Hurrah!  As an added bonus, Pubtruck became a bit more visible to passing motorists, so I’m spending less time leaping over gutters to avoid becoming a hood ornament. 

 Sure, the flag looks a bit geeky, but it’s certainly better than having your helmet, head, shoulders and back pecked, grabbed and slapped about by overly aggressive thugs, oh, and it also keeps magpies at bay.

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Play before Pay

Since my glittering debut earlier this year as a guest columnist in the Gladstone Observer, and my subsequent rise to regular Monday contributor,  I have had a lot of people ask me the same question: 

How much are they paying you?

The answer is:  Nothing.  Not a single cent.  These are financially grim times folks, and the print media is doing it a bit tough at the moment, so I’m prepared to scribble for free while I improve my word thingies… skills.

Just keep scribbling...

Just keep scribbling...

And, over the past few months, I’ve learned what it’s like to have column brain fade (where a great idea for a column disappears faster than a slippery eel from your hands into the dark weeds of your mind).  I’ve learned to write to a deadline… of sorts.  I’ve really learned what it’s like to have your life consumed each week trying to find 500 – 600 words written in such a way as to make readers go from Ha Ha, to AhA, then back to Ha Ha again.  Hopefully. 

I’ve also been humbled by praise from unexpected folk.  One workmate in particular has become Fan #1 (apart from my Mother!), and if you’re reading this, then, “Hello Big Stanley!”  Stan informed me the other day that because of my column he now buys Mondays’ Observer, which has lifted circulation by one paper each week.  While this is good news of course for the papers’ accounts, it’s not really enough for me to justify kicking in the newspaper managers’ door and demanding a hefty and immediate pay rise.  For that to occur I would need approximately another couple of thousand ‘Big Stans’ to buy Mondays’ edition.       

or,

Perhaps I could talk Big Stan into buying several thousand more Monday papers. 

Might be worth a shot!

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Filed under Becoming a Full Time Writer, Writing

SPRING-ing into Summer

Salty Sea Dogs

Salty Sea Dogs

“The weather is fine, so now is the time, for messing about on the river…”

Yep, Spring is early this year.  Magpie attacks, fans on again through the night, and a certain feel in the air that nature is ready to officially ‘go nuts’ after a few months off.  Unfortunately, the only thing missing is the rain. 

Drying off, while we eat iceblocks :)

Drying off, while we eat iceblocks 🙂

Dry!  The ground is so parched that the trees are uprooting themselves to move nearer to the dogs when they stop to pee.  It’s been a very dry 5 or so months. 

But on the upside, the weather is Perfect for hitting the beach, which is what we did last weekend.  The water is still cool (by Queensland standards!), but the dogs didn’t mind.  Looking forward to that first swim of the year… which will no doubt be sometime this week going by the way the heat is cranking up.  This Summer promises to be a scorcher.

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Filed under Here In Gladstone

Happy Anniversary (19 down, several to go…)

This column was the very first that I actually requested be used on a certain date, as tomorrow is our Wedding Anniversary and good ol’ Amy at the Observer came through with the goods.  I can’t wait to hear Long Suffering Wife’s feedback tonight when she gets home! 

Wife on the Land

Twenty years ago, things were progressing so well with the girl who was to become Long Suffering Wife, that the idea popped into my head to introduce her to my relations.  It was also my big chance to show the kinfolk that at least one of us had done alright.

We arrived at my Uncles’ farm on a bitter mid-winter morning, and as we sat thawing in front of his combustion stove, I made the necessary introductions before casually asking, “So, what do you do for fun out here?”  My uncles’ eyes lit up as he sipped his tea.   

Ten action packed minutes later I was up to my elbows in muck and filth trying to locate the source of the leak in his septic tank while he stood by leaning on a shovel, “Geez I hope we get it fixed,” he said, “otherwise we’ll have to shower under the old tank.” 

I took one look at the icicle hanging off the tanks’ shower rose and redoubled my efforts.  It didn’t take too long to fix the problem, and after backfilling the hole, we washed ourselves off at a small tap near the back fence.  The water was so cold that it felt like my skin was being flayed off by razor blades.  The scenery though, was magnificent, with only one other house off in the distance.  As I stared at the remote dwelling, a man staggered from the back door, one hand clutching his chest.  “Ah,” murmured my uncle, “old Reg is having a spot of heart trouble.” 

 “Heart trouble?!” I asked in alarm, “Shouldn’t we help him?”

 “Nah, he’ll be right,” came the casual reply.

Reg reached his back fence, grabbed the top wire with both hands, convulsed and twitched for a few seconds before letting go and wobbling back into his house.  “I taught him that,” said my uncle. 

 “What?  Taught him what?” I asked, not quite believing what I’d just seen.

 “Whenever he has a heart turn he grabs his electric fence which fixes him up for a while.” 

“Do you have an electric fence?” I asked, staring at the many strands of wire surrounding the property. 

“Yeah,” he said, scratching his head, “One there, that one over there, this one, no, hang on, not this one, that one,” he pointed to a fence off in the distance.

“So, not this one then?” I asked, reaching for the top wire.

 He helped me to my feet, and while I caught my breath, he found my hat, brushed it off and plopped it back on my head, “Sorry ‘bout that,” he muttered, “my mistake.  Yeah, this one too,” he added unnecessarily, “c’mon, we’ll check the horses, then go in for smoko.”   

I stumbled along behind him to where the near frozen animals were clustered together in the middle of a small paddock, possibly to avoid going anywhere near the wire fences.  Gazing at my quivering hands, I wondered if my uncle had hooked his fences up to the mains supply.  Approaching the horse pen he touched the top wire, “This one’s alright,” he said, so I leaned on it and rested my sodden foot on the bottom wire.    

He helped to my feet again, “But the other two are live,” he said, brushing the grass and manure off me.  The air was filled with the smell of burning hair.

Eventually we returned to the safety of the house where I sat next to the combustion stove trying to control my twitching limbs.  My girlfriend patted me on the knee and smiled, “It’s nice here isn’t it?  Can we stay a couple more days?” she asked sweetly.  My uncle thought that was a marvellous idea, as across the paddock Reg kicked open his backdoor and lurched towards his fence again.  At that moment I had a clear premonition of what married life was going to be like; Full of shocks, but kind of funny. 

 Happy Anniversary Little Mate!

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This Weeks Reading

If there’s one good thing about being sick, it’s the fact that I’ve had a bit more reading time.  This week I’ve managed to plough through a few good novels, some old, some new, and have already chewed through my weekly quota a little earlier than planned.  I had to read a little slower during my breaks at work today as I’ve only got one more book up my sleeve to take in tomorrow (and I’m halfway through that as well!)   

Not my legs... looks uncomfortable doesn't it?

Not my legs... looks uncomfortable doesn't it?

The week started off with a Terry Prathcett favourite, The Truth, and ended not 10 minutes ago with a novel by an Aussie writer Brendan Gullifer entitled, Sold.  

In between these two books were several smaller books, The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh (he of Brideshead Revisited fame), some exercise books, and a couple of investment magazines (who am I kidding 🙂  I was flat out understanding the ads!) 

But this weeks standout was Sold.  A roaring good novel, very enjoyable, and also an extremely educational look at the Melbourne (well, anywhere really) Real Estate Market.  I put the book down tonight and had a bit of a think…

It’s one thing to be on the bottom of a very long ladder, it’s quite another thing to be scrabbling around on the floor at the base of the ladder as well.  Not only that, for those at the top of the ladder, it’s a terribly long way to fall when things go wrong, and they can go wrong, be it from greed, overextending yourself, being on the receiving end of a dodgy ‘mate’, or just plain bad luck.

I’m kind of happy to be doing what I do, there’s a basic honesty to it.  I like some people, I don’t like others, and I can tell them what I think, as they can (and often do) to me.  And while I’m still a wage slave, I’m nobody’s servant either.  I don’t have to beg for my pay, or wheedle up to people I don’t like, or respect.  I do my job, I do a little bit more, the world is a slightly better place in a very small way.  Ok, the risk is low and so are the rewards, but this lines up  nicely with my personal values.  I’d be like a fish out of water in the realo game… a very, very small fish amongst entire shoals of sharks.  Hungry, and desperate sharks.  Note:  Not all of them are bad, but they are all hungry, and that can temper their decisions when it’s crunch time.   

But for what it’s worth, Sold is a good read.  I like Aussie authors, and the way they tell a good yarn without a lot of unnecessary ‘filler’.  Brendan Gullifers’ writing style reminded me at times of Robert G. Barrett, and I would have been unsurprised to see Les Norton pop up halfway through the novel.  

Do yourself a favour… trust me 🙂

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Training Notes

There were two things that I learned in the last few weeks – 

Illness:  The tri-athlete who gave me some tips also warned me that you will get ill a lot more, because you’re constantly pushing your body to the edge, so fatigue will cause you to fall victim to any viruses getting around.  Ha! I thought, I’ll keep popping my magic vitamin pills, that’ll keep me out and about.  Nope.  Over the weekend I hit a wall, literally ran myself into the ground, then woke up with a bit of a sniffle, which rapidly turned into a head cold.  Tired an snuffly, I’ve been mooching around the house thinking about what training I could do in this condition.  In the past I’ve tried to push myself a bit harder when crook, with some terrible consequences as a result.  So, I’ll continue to mooch around the house, and take it easy this week.  Which is annoying as I was starting to hit my stride as well…

Did I mention it's bit dry here in Gladstone?

Did I mention it's bit dry here in Gladstone?

Music:  A workmate asked me how I could possibly train without using an MP3 player to keep me pumped.  So last Friday I plugged a new battery into my MP3 player, worked out what songs will play, and deleted those that didn’t (don’t ask me why, it’s just another battle between Greg and technology), and set out. 

Did it work?  Well, I ran the first 10 laps in the record time of 18mins 50 secs, and only walked 1 lap out of the 15 total.  I was started to flag a little at one stage, then the opening power chords of Airbornes’ song ‘Diamond in the Rough’ pounded into my brain, and I lifted as if by magic, fatigue forgotten for the moment.  Brilliant!  I’m convinced, and once I can work out how to get the MP3 to work reliably enough to play my personal motivational music then I’ll be a world beater 🙂  

But not this week.  This week, I’ll rest, relax, and try some mental imagery.  If I can’t physically run the course, then I’ll try the NLP exercise of envisioning my training run.  Hey, if it worked for John McCain’s golf game, then it can work for me!

If you want to know how Johnny improved his golf game without using a club, then stay tuned.  It’s an interesting story.

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Filed under Getting Fit, Gold Coast Marathon

Marathon Madness

The letter ‘M’ is used to start many words, for example, the word Motivation; something I’d been lacking for a little while.  I needed a goal.  Paddle a canoe down the coast?  Hike the National Trail?  Learn to scuba dive?  Nothing clicked.  Then a few weeks ago I was strolling through the bush behind my two mutts when a bloke came jogging by, and as he bounded effortlessly past us I thought, ‘That’s it!’ 

Returning home I logged onto the internet, found my new goal and called out to Long Suffering Wife, “Honey, I’m going to do the Gold Coast Marathon!”  She took a quick look at the web page, looked at me, then started laughing.  Some more ‘M’ words are Merriment, Mirth and Mocking.  Afterwards, she asked, “Why are you doing this to yourself?” 

“Well, O Queen of the Suburbs,” I replied, “it’s one thing to retire wealthy, but quite another to retire healthy.  Just think; my hard work now will ensure that you and I will be together for years after I retire.”  She was so touched by this that she burst into tears. 

The next ‘M’ word is Months.  I have approximately ten Months to go from being a non-runner to competing in a marathon next July.  As part of my preparations, I received permission from a nearby school to use their oval early in the mornings, and set off at dawn the next day for my first run.  The next pair of ‘M’ words are ‘Measurements’ and ‘Mathematics’.  The inside track round the oval is a distance of three hundred and forty metres.  To complete my marathon I would need to be able to circle the oval at least one hundred and twenty three times at a reasonable speed.  Gazing at the grass covered track I was struck by how big an oval is when you’re actually standing on it, as opposed to casually glancing at it while driving by.  The next ‘M’ word is Move, as in, ‘move those legs’.    

Mind also starts with ‘M’.  In my mind I saw myself gracefully soaring over the ground, grass flying in my wake, and a light bead of sweat covering my determined brow.  But this was not the case.  Picture a race between the hunchback Quasimodo and the Elephant Man on a very hot day, and you’ll get the idea.  Right now I would probably be in with a chance of beating at least one of them… if I had a bit of a head start, and they had roaring colds. 

‘M’ is for Murder.  All crossword fans know that this is the correct name for a gathering of crows, ie: a ‘murder’ of crows.  It had not escaped my notice that by lap five, as my breath roared in and out of my gaping, dribbling mouth, that several large crows were sitting expectantly on the crossbar of the football goal posts.  By lap seven they had moved from the crossbar to the edge of the track.  And as spots filled my eyes on lap nine, they were strolling casually alongside me and giving each other the crow equivalent of the ‘thumbs up’.  I called it quits on lap ten and staggered home. 

Another ‘M’ word is Massage.  Long Suffering Wife listened to my desperate pleas for a rub down, before pointedly rolling over and going back to sleep.  Staring at the trail of wet grass my shoes had tracked from the back door through to the bedroom I thought, ‘Well, she’s got enough to do today anyway.’  She must have got up while I was showering though, because I could hear her shouting through the locked door.  This time the word Murder was being used in its’ normal context.

Waiting until the noise tapered off I dashed from my sanctuary, taking care to avoid a certain mop wielding woman, and drove off to search for a Mentor.  I’m obviously going to need all the help I can get.     

Published in the Gladstone Observer 17/8/09

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