Snap Shot #36: Low Blow

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“What are you doing with that?” I stop, the heavy ceramic pot feeling gravity’s tug towards the ground. I look up at my confused mother in law on the verandah. I too am confused. I thought she was aware that we’d be taking some her pots home so she wouldn’t have to chuck them when she moves later in the year. Before I can reply, my wife comes to the rescue and urges me on while she explains to her mother that this had already been flagged. So I load up three pots and we transport them from Sydney’s south to Bondi. My son helps me hide them in a corner of our apartment block’s front yard. A few days later, I also hide a couple of nice climbing plants in full bloom and several bags of potting mix. I’m excited that I will soon be able to add to the existing pot with the same type of climbers. My hope is that these attractive bell shaped flowers will eventually climb their way up several dead bamboo shoots – the skeletal remains of a previously failed garden project. The next afternoon, sweat dripping down my face on another humid day, I plant the pots and position two either side of the larger existing one. I also plant an avocado tree that a generous neighbor has given me. I look at my handy work, pleased with how it brings more colour to the front garden. It also feels good to use pots that were destined for the rubbish tip. Over the next few days I keep an eye on them. The climbers seem to be doing well but the avocado tree is struggling. The weather keeps alternating between scorching sunshine and torrential downpours. It is about a week later that I am shocked to see that the two floral pots are no longer there. It takes me a moment to comprehend that they’ve been stolen. What the fuck? Who would do that? I do my best to shrug it off but it eats away at me over the next few days, especially every time I walk past the scene of the crime. It is only days later that a recent memory pops up and demands attention. I recall looking out the window when yet another thunderstorm was threatening. As huge drops started crashing to the ground, I noticed two big dudes in workmen gear outside the building next door. They each grabbed a big pot plant near the entrance and walked off. At the time I assumed they were removalists or in some other way authorised to take the plants. But in hindsight, I now reckon that they were pot plant thieves – quite likely working on the building site across the road and loading stolen plants into their truck at the end of their shift.  Days later they would be doing just that to the plants in our front yard. It does my head in that there are people whose moral compasses are so out of whack that they can do such a thing. What are they doing with them? Surely there’s not a huge black market in stolen pot plants. Do they go home to a garden full of plants nicked from all over Sydney? I just don’t get it. My faith in my fellow man takes a particularly low blow.   

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Snap Shot #35: Stung

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I am in the park doing my daily yoga routine, Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle wandering about, nose to the ground. Unusually, I am not in my preferred spot. A couple are having their own yoga workout where I tend to have mine. Interestingly, they have a small tripod set up and are recording themselves with a Go Pro. The woman seems to be instructing the man. I manage to position myself behind a tree so as not to be distracted or distracting. I am on my back, about to do some spinal twists, when I spread out my arms. Suddenly, a sharp pain shoots down my left arm. Ouch! I sit up and check it out. I can’t see anything but it feels like I’ve been stung. I search the ground for some sort of stinging creature – bee, wasp or bull ant. Nothing. I look at the spot just above my elbow. I can’t see any swelling or any tiny stinger sticking out. I give it a rub. That helps. I decide to continue my stretching. The pain subsides. I finish and call Nitro over. I attach the lead to his collar and hook it around my foot. He knows the routine. I’m about to close my eyes and meditate. The one time I did this without securing my dog, he got into a fight. It cost me a hundred dollars in vet fees. I meditate. When I open my eyes, the first thing I see is a wasp laying on my black straw hat. Is this the culprit that put me in pain earlier? It seems to be dying, barely moving. I know that bees die soon after they sting but I’m pretty sure wasps don’t. Maybe it’s some sort of skinny bee. As I watch it, I notice an ant has now crawled on top of it, possibly getting ready for a feed. Is the wasp/bee about to be eaten alive? Is it maybe already dead – the movement of its wings similar to a headless chook’s ability to still run around? Should I squash it and put it out of its misery? Can wasp/bees even be in any misery in the first place? Or should I just let nature take it’s course? Deciding the dilemma doesn’t warrant as much thought as I’m already giving it, I flick the wasp/bee off my hat. I notice that the ant is still there, no doubt wondering what the hell happened to the wasp/bee it was about to eat. I shake the hat and the ant sails off. Time to go home.

Snap Shot #34: Mr. Cave I Presume?

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I settle into my seat at Sydney’s newest venue, impressed by it’s steep row arrangement. I am excited about seeing an artist who’s been a constant creative mainstay throughout my adult life. I am barely legal age when I first see him perform with The Birthday Party at the Red Parrot in Perth circa 1981/82. I’m getting a drink before the gig starts, already quite out of it. This guy comes up to me, smiles and asks, “Mr. Cave, I presume?” He must be even more out of it than me. Yes, my hair is teased in a similar wild child manner and I suppose I’m pretty pale and skinny boned. But the likeness ends there. Nick Cave’s face is freckle free. And he’s not very likely to be at the public bar grabbing a drink before he hits the stage. I manage a one syllable: “Nah.” The Birthday Party are loud chaotic and contemptuous. I end up taking it all in perched somewhere I shouldn’t be (appropriately enough at the Red Parrot). A few years later, I’m in the green room of the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney, about to meet the man himself. The Party is over and he’s now gone to Seed. A girl at uni knows someone who knows someone who manages to get Nick to agree to let us record an interview for our video magazine, ‘Off Air’. The first thing he asks me: “I’m not getting paid for this, right?” He looks elegantly wasted, long cocktail glass in hand, who knows what in his veins. The uni girl who set it up is not a natural interviewer. And Nick, though at times drily amusing, can also turn nasty, especially when the subject of Elvis is brought up. I notice that every few words are punctuated by a long “uhhh” or “ummm”. I will later play with this in the edit suite, making a montage of his ums and uhs. I also show him at his funniest, when he gives the novice interviewer a lesson in ‘noddies’. “You have to go like this..” He does a big nod, “like – that’s very interesting Nick.” As an added bonus, our crew scores freebies to the gig that night. After witnessing Screaming Jay Hawkins do everything an old man can to attempt to steal the limelight, we see Nick and his original Bad Seeds rip into “Tupelo” and “From Her to Eternity”. Fucking fantastic. Through the Nineties, Cave provides the soundtrack to my life. Like playing pool at the Kirribilli Hotel, “Deanna” and “Red Right Hand” on the jukebox. Always the master of the macabre, such as singing about getting fried in an electric chair, he slowly becomes adept at love songs, with the “Ship Song” and “Into My Arms” being played at weddings. Years later he even makes an appearance at my wedding, with my best man reading the lyrics to “Rock of Gibraltar” (though not all the lyrics – what starts as a testament to matrimonial commitment takes a turn towards the end – we left that bit out). He seems to delight in countering expectations – like doing a duet with Kylie or claiming to have found God, despite having once sung: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God.” And the creative output not only steadily flows, it also branches out: writing a novel and movies, composing various soundtracks and even fronting another band. We both grow older, both flirt with facial hair, both become fathers. My heart sinks after the loss of his teenage son. But the music still comes. And so, for the first time in decades, I’m watching him perform. And he’s magnificent – once the Prince of Darkness, now so much more. As the songs play on, the years roll back. For both of us.

Snap Shot #33: Dam Motorbike

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 My experience riding motorbikes is limited. As a teenager, a mate and I rode a couple of extremely low horse powered bikes on dirt tracks to his family’s West Australian property. We told ourselves that this was our ‘Easy Rider Trip’, despite the fact that, instead of choppers, we rode little postman bikes. We were laden with backpacks, which made it hard to balance. More than once my bike slid from beneath me, especially on the sandier tracks. It wasn’t until years later, in my early thirties, that I had another chance to try my luck on two wheels. Again it was on a rural property but this time in Victoria. My girlfriend and I had been invited by a friend whose stepfather happened to be one of Victoria’s richest men. The place had its own groundskeeper and he set us all up with bikes slightly bigger and faster than the one I had ridden years earlier. This one had more grunt to it and, no longer burdened by a pack on my back, I started to appreciate the thrill of such machines. My confidence grew, as did my speed. I was having fun gunning it up the embankments of the property’s several dams, riding along the top and then back down again. I had done this several times when, as I was speeding up a bank, I realised I was going way too fast. I got to the top and kept going, launching into the air and splashing down in the middle of the dam. By the time the others arrived, I was standing there, water up to my neck, face beet red. “Are you ok?” “Yeah.” The groundskeeper was a calm man. “Good. Now, we’ll need someone to tie a rope to the bike and then I’ll pull it out with the tractor.” I put my hand up. “I’ll do it.” Besides being eager to makes amends, I was the obvious candidate, practically standing on the mud embedded bike. So I dove down with the rope, unable to see a thing. I managed to tie it around a wheel. The tractor was brought in and the muddy machine was dragged out of the dam. And that was the last time I ever dared to ride a motorbike.