Though we loved her – Petula was a pathetic cat. Often jumpy and slightly unhinged, her life was cut short before she reached her second birthday. She started losing control of her back legs and bowels. The diagnosis was not good. She had nervous system issues and would eventually be paralysed. My wife at the time was extremely upset but agreed that the best option was to have Petula put down. As the whole ordeal was too much for my wife, I took poor Petula to her last vet visit on my own. The process was quick but sad. Thinking that the best way to take my wife’s mind off the departed cat was to get a new one, I asked the vet if he happened to have any in need of home. “As a matter of fact, I got a black female that followed a guy home from the service station.” Hmmm. Intriguing. So he takes me out the back, opens a cage and hands me a sleek shiny black cat. I hold her up in front of me. She stares at me with her gorgeous green eyes. Then, ever so gently, she bites me on the chin. “Oh – you’re such a flirt! Come on then – let’s go.” So Jezebel came into our lives – a very different beast from her predecessor. Far from jumpy, she was one of the most confident creatures I’ve ever encountered. Just as she did from the servo, she would often follow us when we left the house – though never much further than a couple of hundred metres. That’s when she would peel off in pursuit of her own adventures. I suspect she had many. Sometimes we wouldn’t see her for days. Then she’d suddenly pop up, looking well fed and groomed, smelling of perfume. We suspected that we were not her exclusive carers. Then, maybe not quite a year later, she went into heat. Three tomcats lined up along the fence in pecking order. The first was the biggest, meanest and ugliest – a one eyed feral that no cat (or cat owner) dared mess with. The second was most likely a well trained house cat but also fairly burly in size. Last in line was the pretty boy – an all grey teenager who barely looked old enough to pass along his pretty boy genes (though he managed to do so – the litter featuring one grey kitten). So the three of them took their turns, two resting up while the other went at it as Jezebel screamed (having since learned that cat penises are apparently spiked, screaming seems a logical response). When Jezebel finally staggered in for food and water, we figured that she’d had enough. But half an hour later, she was scratching at the door, desperate for more. Turns out she was well named.
I unfurl my yoga mat. It’s a bright winter’s day at Bondi Beach. The concrete platform at the south end has the usual sprinkling of yoga stretchers, tai chi posers and seated coffee drinkers. I spot an especially lithe young woman with a pony tail contorting herself into some pretty impressive positions. But me – I’m just here to do my daily stretch – nothing too fancy (though I will end up in headstand a bit later). I begin my salute to the sun and notice an old fella near a rock with a pair of binoculars. It’s that time of year when then the humpbacks migrate north, so he’s no doubt here for a spot of whale watching. But just at the moment, it’s not whales that he’s watching. I follow the direction of the binoculars and surprise surprise – they are pointed at the pony tailed contortionist. Given he can’t be more than about twenty metres away, the dirty old bugger is getting an eyeful. An eyeful of what exactly is anybody’s guess. I suppose he can focus on whichever part of the lithe body he fancies. After all, it sure the hell beats whale watching.
I’m heading to the snow with my teenage son and am excited. Even he’s been able to ramp up his enthusiasm level – encouraging for someone who just weeks earlier had claimed that he wasn’t interested in skiing with me this year. But circumstances shifted and with the help of a motel with an indoor swimming pool, a sauna and a games room, plus the promise of $50 spending money, he is looking forward to it. It’s been awhile since we’ve last skied together – over four years ago in Japan. After he suffered through a group lesson in another language, we had a private lesson together with an instructor who spoke enough English to improve both of our abilities. My son’s improved so much that he raced off ahead of me. When I caught up with him, he was sprawled out on the snow, motionless. Not a sight any parent wants to witness. I asked him if he could move and he said no. He wasn’t screaming in pain so I took that as a positive sign. So we waited. An Aussie couple caught up with us. The woman had some lollies and, magically, these seemed to revive the nine-year old, who then exercised more caution coming down the mountain. Perhaps that incident contributed to his initial reluctance to ever go skiing again. But we seem past that now. We do a couple of easy runs on Friday Flats, Thredbo’s beginner slope. By the end of the second one, he seems to have enough confidence to head up the mountain with me and ski an area that he managed to cope with about six years earlier. But when we get to the start of the run, he freaks. “It’s too steep!” I’m surprised by the reaction. “No it’s not. You tore this up years ago. You loved it.” This fact does little to bolster his confidence but, reluctantly, he slowly snowplows his way down, kids half his size whipping past him. When we get to the bottom of the run, he wants lunch – anything to delay the next run. Some chicken wings and chips later, we head back up. He’s very nervy. About a quarter of the way down he comes unstuck and falls, one of his skis coming off. He lets fly with a couple of expletives to which I wisely turn a deaf ear. I do my best to keep things calm. “It’s alright mate. That’s just the first time you’ve fallen today.” But this provides no comfort. “This is stupid. I didn’t even want to come here.” We try a couple of times to get his ski back on but it just leads to more frustration. He decides that he’s over it and starts marching down the mountain, carrying his skis while I ski with four poles. At one point he sits down for a rest, fuming. Recalling the magical resuscitative powers of sugar in Japan, I offer him a mini Snickers. “No.” Mmm. Refusing chocolate. Not a good sign. “You made me do this. I told you I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay at Friday Flats. This is too steep. I’m a beach kid – not a snow kid. I’m never skiing again.” I attempt to counter this with a pep talk about how sometimes you need to push through stuff rather than give up when it all seems too hard. But he’s not buying it. Once we’re back at the restaurant area (but still half way up the mountain), I make him a deal. I give him money to buy a hot chocolate. He’s to sit down and drink it while I sneak in a couple of runs on my own. When I’m done, he seems in a better mood. We take the chairlift back down the rest of the way. As we swing between the gum trees, I suggest that we do a couple more runs at Friday Flats, just so he can get his confidence back and not end the day defeated. To my relief, he agrees. And sure enough, by the second run he is going well enough to abandon his snow plow technique. He then waits for me while I get one more run in from the top of the mountain all the way down, enjoying my recently purchased skis. Heading back to the motel, I suggest that if the weather turns the next day like is forecast, that we maybe forget about skiing and return home early. He’s in favour of this plan. He then surprises me by saying that next time (there will be a next time!) he wants to try snowboarding. I reply that this is a great idea and suggest that he learns it next year during his school’s annual five day ski trip. Then once he has the hang of it, we can give it another go – even if we’ll both have different modes of getting down the mountain.
We’re four middle-aged men about to hit the slopes – mates who met in Perth decades earlier but none of whom still live there. Perhaps it’s because it’s a bit of a catch phrase of the times but right from the start the trip is dubbed: “The Fully Sick Ski Trip”. This is even etched out in the frost covered back window of Ano’s four wheel drive – our very comfy mode of transport up and down the mountain (sadly the photo of this etching appears to have melted away just like the frost itself). The skiing is fun and without incident. Until the last day. Coming off a lift, one of my skis gets caught and my right knee is twisted into a position it was never designed to reach. The pain is excruciating. Abandoned by my mates, I somehow make it down the run. It seems to be less painful to ski than it is to walk. So I manage to get through the rest of the afternoon, stopping regularly for quick shots of alcohol. This appears to ease the throbbing and gives some credence to all those scenes in westerns where they give the poor sod a shot of whisky before ripping an arrow out of his leg. Our skiing is finally done and I manage to hobble back to the four-wheel drive. But as we begin the six hour trip back to Sydney, my knee reaches a new level of pain. Maybe having to keep it bent in the back of the car isn’t helping. A couple of hours later, I’m not only in great pain, I have now become a great pain – a distraction to the others who just want me to shut the fuck up. Then I remember that one of our group, who sadly had recently cared for his wife as she died of cancer, had mentioned that he still had some morphine pills with him in case any of us were interested. At the time he mentioned it, none of us were, possibly a little freaked out by the offer. But times change. Now, a bit of morphine sounds just the ticket. So I ask for one and he obliges. I wait, slightly nervous – wondering if I’m about to drift off into a drug haze. But nope – nothing. The pain is getting worse if anything. Could I maybe have another? Sure. So I pop the next one, wondering if two morphine tablets in a short space of time can constitute an overdose. But yet again – nothing. Maybe they’ve gone off. I don’t feel anything except a knee getting ready to explode. Then I have a great idea – alcohol! Some alcohol is the answer. So I ask Ano if he minds if I have some of his duty free bottle of bourbon. Sure – go ahead – anything to shut me up. So I dig it out of his bag and have a sip. Mmm – not bad. Not my usual preference in spirits but definitely hitting the spot. So I continue to swig away while discovering that mobile phone golf can be a fascinating distraction. And so between the bourbon and the golf, my mood improves considerably. In fact, I can’t really feel my knee at all. Actually, I can’t feel much of anything. But I do feel great. Until I don’t. We arrive on the outskirts of Sydney and stop for some petrol. My stomach doesn’t feel so good. Nausea starts stirring. The phone slides from my hand as I lean my head against the window. Uhhhh….. I’m vaguely aware of a couple of the others being dropped off. Ano can sense that I’m not in a good way. He tells me to hang on as he speeds through the relatively quiet Sunday night traffic. I try. But I can’t. I lower the window and empty the contents of my stomach down the side of his car and possibly into the windscreens of anyone unfortunate enough to be behind us at the time. Ano expresses his annoyance in a series of expletives. But I don’t care. I’m dying. I’m being turned inside out as we zoom along towards Bondi at breakneck speed. Finally, we arrive at my block of flats. Ano opens the door and is happy to watch me tumble out of his spew sprayed car and crawl to the gutter, where I intend to remain until I finally die. Shouldn’t be much longer. But my wife, standing there unimpressed by the mess that is her husband (for the time being), tries to get me to move while Ano cleans the puke off his now soiled four wheel-drive. But I ain’t moving. So my wife gets our big burly Kiwi neighbour to carry me over his shoulder and up to our flat. Such a position should make me puke all the way up the stairs but, fortunately, there’s nothing left. It’s all either being washed off of Ano’s car or is splattered throughout the streets of Sydney. I am tossed into bed where, surely, I will soon die. But I don’t. Instead, I manage to survive, albeit with a cloud of shame over my head. My mates of course bring it up on a regular basis, Ano particularly annoyed with how I dispensed with his Jim Beam. So, several years later when three quarters of our gang of four are at a pub and I am reliving the horror all over again, I tell Ano that the time has come to finally put this to bed, in a manner of speaking. So we walk over to the drive thru bottle shop and I tell him to pick a bourbon. He forgoes Jim Beam for something fancier, and more expensive. No worries – whatever. Anything to repay the guilty debt of The Fully Sick Ski Trip.
I’ve just finished twenty laps at the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre and am looking forward to a steam. I turn the corner to discover that the steam room is out of action. Bummer. I look through the glass wall of the adjacent sauna and see that it’s jam packed. Wait a sec – no, there does seem to be a seat on the bottom bench, even though a couple of people are standing near the door. I carefully push it open and the standers make room for me. I sit down and immediately notice that the bottom bench is considerably cooler than the one above it. Oh well. Maybe someone will leave and I’ll get my chance to move up in the world. I also become aware that the Chinese looking middle aged woman standing in front of me and facing everyone else is quite animated and talkative. She starts making odd faces and doing yoga poses, chanting, “Breathe in, breathe out.” She gets herself in a precarious position. It’s too much for the other stander and he opens the door. This unbalances the woman and she topples bum first out of the sauna. She gets up and leaves. Then it starts. The judgment. Bottom Bench Woman: “She was definitely on something.” Top Bench Woman: “Or maybe she used to be on something and is now always like that.” Top Bench Man: “I work at Long Bay Prison and I see that sort of thing all the time.” The door is swung open by a tall handsome life guard. I assume that he wants to checks people’s wrist bands and ensure no one is in there that didn’t pay for the privilege. But I’m wrong. “That woman that was just in here – she’s a regular and has fairly severe autism. Usually it’s not an issue but it’s particularly crowded in here today, so I apologise if she’s upset anybody”. He leaves. Silence. Bottom Bench Woman: “I feel so bad. Here we were, judging her.” Top Bench Woman: “I know.” Top Bench Man: “We deal with autism all the time at Long Bay.”