Saturday, 27 December 2008
You remember the night she arrived? You know... the night that I had to use the Whiz?
That night I called her Ernest, but suspected she might be an Ernest(ine), and Ernest(ine) she has remained. Till now.
It is my sad duty to inform you that Ernest(ine) is no more. She is an ex-spider. She has shuffled off this mortal coil and - oops, sorry, Monty Python almost intervened there....
Ernest(ine), as I said, is no more. She violated The Rule. I only have one Rule - to steal a term from Star Trek - it's the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive for spiders in Chez Betty is this - stay up high. Sheesh, it's not rocket science!
But poor Ernest(ine) - after a couple of weeks of wandering around the house, partaking of whatever dubious joys there may have been Up High, Ernest(ine), for reasons only known to herself, decided to venture to more low-lying areas... and that, as they say in the classics, was that.
I tried to ignore it when she pushed a few boundaries, and came down to below eye level on my kitchen shelves. Honest, I did. I really hate having to enforce the Prime Directive.
But when she came into my bedroom, crawled lower and lower on the wardrobe door and eventually ran towards me across the carpet and disappeared under my bed.... I'm sorry. It was me or her...
I screamed and ran for the chemical warfare bottle. I felt so bad... I squirted poison in the general under-bed direction, and then ran like mad. I believe that a poisoned spider is a desperate and unpredictable spider. Ernest(ine) lived up to the hypothesis. Every time her poisoned neurons perceived my presence she made a desperate run TOWARDS me - so there was a bizarre spider-dodging dance as I tried to extract my tankbag from my bedroom, so that I could go to work - cunningly blocked by a dying and discombobulated Ernest(ine).
It was horrible, I tell you, horrible!
Eventually I grabbed the tankbag and made a run for it.. I paid for my haste when I arrived at work without my security pass and had to explain myself to the smirking security guards.
When I arrived home Ernest(ine) was curled in a noble heap of hairy legs in the midde of my living room floor... and I felt very sad. I also felt too scared to move her, in case she was playing possum... so she lay in state for 2 days before heading to a resting place at the bottom of my new Trash-Pak.
Vale Ernest(ine). I am sad about him/her. Honest. S/he was a good and gutsy spider.
But he did. Eventually I had a bar put on my phone - it's impossible to call a mobile phone from my landline now - and even though Steve moved out (again) long ago, I didn't bother reversing the bar. I mean, I never call mobile phones from my landline anyway - too expensive!
Today I put my mobile phone down somewhere when a violent thunderstorm hit and I ran to check on the chooks next door (another story). When I got back I had a senior moment and couldn't find the wretched thing. The easiest way to find it is to call it from another phone, then run around the house following the ringtone until I locate the phone - right? Simple.
Not so simple. Can't call mobiles from my landline, remember?
Pffft, I am a resourceful woman! I'll call my daughter and ask HER to phone my mobile... Now, where's her number...? Bugger, it's stored on my mobile.
What about the immense brainpower I used to be able to use to recall any number of phone numbers? (I was so good at it, it was practically a party trick! I was a human telephone directory...) But since I got a mobile phone I've kind of stopped trying to remember phone numbers, and the miraculous skill has disappeared - I just punch names and numbers into that little mobile phone of mine these days. The one that I can't find.
I search the house. And again. And again. Retrace my steps. Look in all the likely places. No luck. Look in all the unlikely places... Would I really have left my phone in the oven? I don't even use the oven for COOKING stuff, for goodness' sake!
I try really really hard to remember Kate's number, and dial a number that sounds very familar.
"Hellooooo?" It sounds like Kate putting on a silly voice.
"HI, it's me. Can you call my mobile phone for me? I can't find it.... I won't answer it or anything..."
Dead... Silence... It kind of reminds me of the time at uni when an enormous fart erupted from the loo cubicle next door to mine, and I said jovially "Sheila, is that you?" The silence was deafening. I eventually had to skulk from the dunnies with my hand over my mouth to stop myself shrieking with laughter. The dead silence on the phone right now stretches in the same deathly embarrassing way.
"Hello? Hello, Kate?" I say...
Eventually a lady with an Indian accent says "Who are you? I am Daphne..." How embarrassing.... I apologise profusely, tell Daphne the total stranger what an idiot I am (just in case she can't figure it out for herself) and do a metaphorical skulk by hanging up.
By now I am getting that awful twitchy anxious feeling. WHERE IS MY MOBILE PHONE? I'm irrationally angry with my daughter for not being at the number I called. I am furious with my faulty memory. And I am ready to kill my son because it's all his fault that I put the mobile phone bar on my phone in the first place!!!
I search the house again. This time I use a torch, and find a little bird corpse under a bookshelf, a long-lost earring under the couch, and what appears to be a bit of some kind of construction toy (wtf?) under the griller. But no mobile phone.
A simple remedy would be to go to the house next door (not the house with the chooks, the one on the other side) and ask my lovely neighbour to phone my mobile number - but then she would know that I am an idiot, and I want to maintain my reputation in the neighbourhood. I'm the middle-aged mad biker woman. I don't want to become the tragic phone-losing no-brain...
It took something like 2 frustratingly infuriating hours to find the stupid phone, but now I have it. I'm going to have it implanted into some fleshy part of my anatomy somehow, so that I can never lose it again.
Oh, and first thing on Monday I am having the mobile phone bar removed from my landline. Just in case.
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Did I ever tell you about the time I slept with my helmet?
It was the night that Gary Spider first appeared. Gary ended up being one of my most long-term spidey residents, and I felt a kind of grudging respect for him, mixed in with the terror that his spideyness inspired.
I heard him arrive. I'm serious - his hairy spidey legs actually made a sound as they scuttled down my hallway at warp speed. I thought it was an enormous mouse, and then it thundered across my bedroom floor and took up temporary residence on the bottom drawer handle of my chest of drawers. My helmet was sitting on top of the chest - a nice dark inviting hiding-place for a spidey refugee.
Now, I don't know about you, but I think sharing a car with a giant spider is bad enough. I've been known to abandon said car in traffic, when a giant spider has appeared from one of the vents. The thought of one of those hairy-legged suckers suddenly appearing on the inside of my visor, an INCH from my face while I'm out riding my bike - well, let's just say it haunts me. It happened to my friend Tempo once, and he survived to tell the tale. I wouldn't stand a chance.
So when I realised it was only a short spidey trip from the drawer handle to my helmet, I sprang into action. GO GO GADGET ARMS - I willed my arms to stretch further than ever before as I balanced on one leg, high on tiptoe and poised for flight, and snatched my precious helmet away. The safest place to put it was under the doona, right next to me. Sweet dreams...
Gary Spider eventually lived in every room in the house, but preferred the bathroom. There were some very scary moments when the steam in the bathroom made him lose traction. He would start sliding down the wall, closer and closer to my unclothed self... and I'm not sure who was more terrified! He'd be scrabbling like mad to climb higher, away from the madwoman who yelled "Don't come any closer, Gary, or I'll have to -!" (have to what? Concede defeat and give up my house? Run naked to a safer, spidey-free suburb?)
The day that I accidentally TOUCHED Gary Spider - ugh, I can barely recount the tale. I grabbed the bottle of saline so I could rinse my contact lenses, and got a fistful of Huntsman. The bottle and the spider flew towards the ceiling while I fled the room screaming. When I returned to the scene of the crime, Gary Spider was marching furiously up and down on 'his' bottle of saline where it had landed in the sink. I risked all sorts of ocular disasters that day by wearing unrinsed contacts. It seemed safer.
When the Bathroom Man came to renovate my bathroom, I got a bit worried about Gary. He'd gone into hiding, as he regularly did, and I suspected he had a little spidey hideaway behind a cupboard in the bathroom.
"Bathroom Man," I said, shuffling my feet and feeling a little silly, "Um, behind that cupboard is my pet spider. He's been living here for MONTHS now. When you pull out the cupboard..."
"Ja," said Bathroom Man, "if zat damn schpider shows its face -" He made a horrible SPLAT movement with his hands, and grinned. "Ja, it be shit rrreal fast, don't you vorry".
In desperation I called my friend Tempo, babbling about a race against time. I couldn't let the unsuspecting Gary be squashed by a cold-hearted tradesman who had no concept of the History Gary and I had...
What a pal. Tempo came and found Gary, who had obligingly come out of hiding, and bravely transported him outside in one of my rice bowls (I won't tell you which one, heh heh!) My hero!
I never saw Gary again. I like to think that he took his rightful place in the outside world, safe from the snapping beaks of hungry birds. The Huntsman spider lives for about 2 years, and I hope he lived a full and happy life Out There.
I wonder if Ernest(ine) is one of his grandchildren?
The giant spider currently in my kitchen may or may not be Ernest(ine). It's a lot less bulbous in the abdomen these days. I have pondered this, and come to the following possible conclusions:
- It is a rival giant spider - which could mean I have TWO giant spiders in my house at the moment.
- It is a rival giant spider and it ate Ernest(ine). If that's the case, I have one giant spider, but it's clearly of the predatory persuasion. And it knows where I sleep.
- It is Ernest(ine). She has laid an enormous egg-sac somewhere, and regained her girlish figure. If so, I can expect my ceiling to be covered by hundreds of tiny, perfect huntsbabies sometime soon. I will have to dodge them as they abseil from the ceiling on tiny threads of web - or perhaps let them abseil onto my arms - they're very cute and non-threatening when they're tiny.
Monday, 15 December 2008
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Canberra to Penarie (say it Pen - AIRY) - 670kms or thereabouts.
Where the heck is Penarie? Well, it's a little dot on the map, about 28kms north of Balranald, on the Ivanhoe Road in western New South Wales. It's pretty much due west of Wollongong, and about halfway between Canberra and Adelaide.
Why Penarie? There's a fantastic outback pub there: http://www.homebushhotel.com.au/ , inhabited by a quirky array of characters. Besides, I don't get out west often. I've heard about the Hay Plain, but haven't ridden it - so it was about time!
So... the adventure begins on Saturday morning, after uncharacteristic downpours have dropped a couple of inches on Canberra AND parts west, like Hay - unheard of! The forecasts aren't great, but hey, I have wet weather gear...
At the servo in Yass I meet a trio of riders from somewhere out west. They're heading into Canberra for the annual Toy Run. Nice one! They warn me about enormous clouds of giant grasshoppers out west. Oh, great! Funnily enough, I don't encounter any at all - maybe because it's PIDDLING with rain by the time I get to Wagga Wagga, and maybe grasshoppers don't like the rain. I know I don't!
Out past Collingullie there's a place called Galore, which has the Galore Store (there's a store in Galore, the Galore Store, but out in Galore there's not much more!) and I start feeling as if I've stepped into the pages of a Dr Seuss book...
Well past Galore (and the Store) is Narrandera. That's pretty much the end of so-called 'civilisation', ha ha - and only about half way to Penarie. After Narrandera the distances between towns streeeeetch, and I'm basically heading into the outback. My next refuelling stop is a little roadhouse at Waddi. I stopped here once before, coming home from a Wintersun trip, in thick fog. Back then it was a haven of warmth, and I almost missed it because of the fog. It's unrecognisable in clearish weather!
In Hay a couple of people chat at me and tell me it's a crap day for riding. I agree! I've been on the road since about 7.30am. It's now 2pm, my shoulders are aching and I still have to fight the wind across the fabled Hay Plain. The wind is howling, the sky seems to have dropped MILES closer to the earth, and it's feeling pretty ugly. Press on, press on!
A mob of sheep is doing its thing on the road - sheep are so DUMB! I slow to a crawl, and the sheep run hither and thither across the road, changing course every couple of nanoseconds... The stockman, looking every inch the hero in an Akubra hat and a Drizabone, and astride a beautiful horse, gives me a noble and friendly wave as I negotiate a wobbly path through the mob. Forget Dr Seuss - all of a sudden I'm in a bloody Banjo Paterson poem!
Wow... the landscape out that way is amazing. It's almost sinister (but that could be because of the bleak weather...) I'm reminded of Henry Lawson's poem "Up the Country", where he talks about the hostile landscape that wants to trap the weary traveller...
Woodland gives way to stunted trees, and the grasslands disappear altogether. Dome-like shrubby things abound, and the colour of the ground changes from grey-brown to cream, to red-brown. It's so FLAT, you can see for ever.
Sad little piles of bones, in various states of bleachedness, appear every few metres by the roadside.
And then there's the dust... Between Hay and Balranald, big drifts of dust are whipped up by the wind and wafted across the road. Just what my bike needs - a good sandblasting...
My fellow travellers all appear to be trucks the size of apartment buildings, and mostly going the other way. If I forget to duck down as far as I can behind my screen to rest my chin on my tankbag, the enormous gusts of wind they generate try to rip off my helmet (and my head!)
The cattle trucks are the worst - the following blast of air is always full of cattle piss.
Why am I doing this? Because I want to get to the Homebush Hotel, that's why! Eventually I do! It's about 3.45 when I pull up out the front. Mine host, His Excellency Phil, kisses me hello - I ask you, how many places can you go and get that sort of welcome? - and gets me settled in.
After a shower I feel a little more human (although my shoulders still ache like buggery), and then the fun begins!
The Homebush Hotel is the last remaining pub of 15 which once existed on the 200km stretch of road between Balranald and Ivanhoe. (That must've been a helluva boozy pub-crawl on horseback, way back when...) Back in the old days it was also a Cobb & Co stop, and is one of the oldest continually-licensed premises in the country.
These days it's been extended (with grants from the Heritage Council that ensure poker machines will never EVER be installed there!) and Phil has grand plans to turn it into a hub of combined cultural activity and outback hospitality. The second "Country Muster" will take place next Easter. Don't miss it!
I have a fabulously boozy evening with the entire population of Penarie (that's about 5 people) and a couple of "interlopers", like Wayne's Mum and his lovely girlfriend, Valerie. What a hoot! My new friends are great company!
Sunday is quiet - a gal has to conserve her energy for the monster ride home! A busload of RSL people from Sea Lake (Victoria) descends for lunch and a tour of the Historic Homebush, and those of us who are left when they go have a few quiet drinks.
The ride home begins at about 6.45am, in the midst of a dazzling outback sunrise. I've been warned by Wayne, one of the locals, that there will be roos on the Ivanhoe Road, so I'm not surprised when 3 of the little buggers start hopping along parallel to the bike. As long as they stay parallel it's all good. But you can never trust kangaroos.... I stay slow...
I see wedge-tailed eagles rising - enormous and majestic - from the side of the road... Major Mitchell cockatoos fly upwards, wings spread, their pink and white feathers back-lit by the climbing sun, and it's just breathtaking! There are emus watching me traverse the Hay Plain... I shriek and sing and giggle like a madwoman inside my helmet - I'm having such fun in this crazy alien landscape!
The relentless sameness of the landscape does strange things to your eyes, and creates optical illusions - but the lone man in the hi-vis vest, pushing a wheelbarrow across the Hay Plain is no illusion. The Australian flag flutters proudly on the front of his wheelbarrow and he looks so tiny and alone out there. [note to self: google to find out what the heck he was up to!] By the time I realise I'm not hallucinating, I've flashed past him and missed a fabulous photo opportunity.
A little later I pull over to take photos of the countryside (there are no grey clouds today!) Somehow one of my contact lenses is blown out of my eye, and I have to retrieve it from the bloody road! It would be quite a sight for a passing motorist (if there WERE any!) to see me crouching by the bike, trying to find a spot out of the ever-present wind so I can put the bloody thing back in!
The trip home takes me a different way - after Narrandera I go via Grong Grong, Matong, Ganmain and Coolamon. The grasshoppers start just before Ganmain. Clouds of them fly at me. Some are big enough to make me say Ouch when they hit my gloves, legs and boots. They make an interesting plick noise when they hit my visor.
At Old Junee a hare lopes across the road in front of me. I don't squash it - that would be mean...
I refuel at Cootamundra (I'm feeling peckish by now, but it seems close enough to home not to bother stopping for food.) I ride through ever-denser clouds of grasshoppers (Ouch, plick, OUCH!) and finally arrive home a bit before 3pm. The landscape here is so tame, so safe, so familiar - and I really want to head back over the Hay Plain to Penarie again!
There are three blokes who run the Homebush Hotel: His Excellency Phil, Sir Edward Edward Edward, and Captain Smyth - and what an interesting crew they are! His Excellency Phil, who's a muso as well as a publican, an entrepreneur AND a pisshead
Turns out Captain Smyth and I went to the same primary school in Sydney, many many years ago (not at the same time) and we both remember certain teachers! That coincidence is just too amazing, and I intend talking to the Captain some more! Penarie (and home sweet Homebush!) here I come again!
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
I learned to ride in April 2005. And May, June, July, August.... you get the idea. My friends mostly know the tragic story, but I'm recording it here for posterity.
Imagine this – a short, slightly-built woman. She's shy, a bit timid and has always been hopeless at tasks that require physical coordination. She can't work up a sweat in an aerobics class. By the time she's figured out how to put her arms and legs in the right spot to do the moves, the rest of the class has moved on to a new step. She can't dance either. She's stiff and unco. Learning how to drive a manual car is one of the great physical triumphs of her life. Got the picture? That's me.
I find myself, one sunny Saturday morning in April 2005, in the ladies' class at Stay Upright, scared but hopeful that by the end of the following day I'll be the proud holder of a learner rider's licence. I've already lined up a motorcycle to buy – a sweet little red Kawasaki GPX250. What an adventure!
An astute reader, especially one who rides a motorcycle, will probably be shaking his or her head right about now. You just know what's coming...
About halfway through the first morning, I've learned how to get on and off the bike. I've got over my shock at how big and heavy the riding school's Honda CB250 is. I've learned how to turn the engine on and off. Now I have to start the engine and ride the bike about 6 metres, to where the instructor is standing. My heart's pounding. My left leg is shaking with nervousness. My mouth is dry.
Somehow (you knew this would happen, didn't you?) it all goes horribly wrong. I crash the out-of-control bike into a concrete barrier, fall off, and learn the first big lesson of motorcycling – even small, low speed crashes hurt!
I get on again and promptly fall off. So I'm 'expelled' from the class, pretty much, and I limp home, a bundle of misery and bruises. Bugger. Motorcycling is harder than it looks.
When the bruises fade, I have another go at it – I may be unco, but I'm also remarkably (some would say 'ridiculously') stubborn. I rock up to my first 'remedial' lesson, and don't even get to turn on the engine. The instructor, a mature man with a bad back, spends the entire lesson pushing me around the riding range on the CB250, while I, for my part, keep falling over. Exasperated, Mr Instructor, whose back is killing him, calls an early halt to the lesson. I'm relieved, but also disappointed. I'd been so certain that I'd be able to ride properly by now. Mr Instructor asks if I have some kind of middle-ear problem and suggests I do some practice on a pushbike, where I'm less likely to kill myself. Once again, I take my bruised ego and shattered confidence home.
A new instructor greets me for my second remedial lesson. (I must've scared the first one off.) He's been briefed about my 'special problem'. He asks me to turn on the engine straight away, and to ride towards him. I can't believe what I'm hearing. Does the guy have a death-wish or what?
The engine purrs, I find friction point and start to ease off the rear brake. My left leg (that's the one that's holding me and the bike upright!) is shaking so much that I know I'm about to fall over, and that wouldn't be good, only 2 minutes into the lesson. I turn off the engine, rip off my gloves and remove my ridiculously expensive helmet which, just now, is looking like a complete waste of hard-earned cash.
“I'm sorry,” I say, battling girly tears, “I'm just wasting your time. I don't know what I was thinking! I'm going home.”
Robert is astounded. “But you've paid for a whole hour! Tell you what, you can just sit on the bike for an hour if you like. I won't watch. Just get yourself comfortable.”
But even sitting on the bloody thing makes me tremble. I feel so demoralised and pathetic – like the world's biggest loser. I climb off before the inevitable happens. By this stage, Robert must be thinking he's got some kind of loony on his hands.
“Let's get a coffee,” he says, “and you can calm down.”
I can't even get a spoonful of coffee out of the jar. The granules keep dancing off the spoon and flying around the room. Robert tries not to stare, and makes the coffee for both of us. I have to hold my cup with both hands to stop it spilling.
We talk about fear and about why I want to ride, (why do I want to ride? Just because...) and when the shaking stops, Robert suggests having another go at getting on the dreaded CB250.
So I mount the beast, which seems to be getting bigger and more evil with every passing second. By the end of the hour I've managed to make it move a total of about 15cm. Robert hasn't made me feel like the idiot he probably thinks I am, I haven't fallen over (although I've wobbled rather a lot, and nearly panicked a bit), and I've agreed to come back for another lesson - that's a Good Thing, right?
By remedial lesson number five I can spend 15 minutes at a time on the bike before becoming overwhelmed, and have managed to reduce the number of falls per lesson to one or two. I've learned how to pick up a dropped bike (a handy – no, essential - skill for someone like me!) I've had lessons in icy wintry weather and pouring rain, all through the long Canberra winter. I've had lessons with just about every one of the instructors at Stay Upright. I can just imagine their conversations. They probably have a book running on how many times I'll drop the bike every lesson. They can't believe I'm still chucking money at them to fall off one of their bikes. I want this so much I can taste it. I salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs every time I see a motorcycle – it's insane!
After remedial lesson number ten (yes, you did read that correctly – number TEN), I haven't dropped the bike for a while, and can ride around the riding range, changing gears and everything! I book in to do the weekend course again.
It's a proud moment in late September when Robert hands me my certificate of completion, and tells the class that Betty has just been awarded the most expensive L-plates in history. I'm in the Stay Upright Hall of Fame – Most Determined Unco Ever. Finally I can get on that sweet little red GPX that's been sitting in my yard for 5 months – hoo-bloody-ray!
Saturday, 6 December 2008
The fact that they are blonde is good. The fact that they are nose hairs is not.
I'm not bothered by them as a sign of my encroaching 'crone' status, ha ha. They're just one very small part of the wonderful process of ageing. With wisdom comes nose hairs - ok, maybe not. But hey, give me nose hairs over arthritis or hot flushes any day.
As a motorcyclist though, I have to say that nose hairs really suck. They're dangerous. A single rogue nose hair, wiffling in the breeze, can very quickly ruin your enjoyment of a ride - and your very sanity. The incessant tickle tickle tickle as it wafts against the tender skin just outside your nostril is enough to reduce the hardiest rider to a gibbering wreck in less than 10 kilometres. When you're riding, focus is important - it's not good to be distracted, but a nose hair will distract you to, um, distraction...
And there's not a damned thing you can do about it. Oh, you can try. You can pull up your visor and rub furiously at the tip of your nose with a gloved hand, but the nose hair just lays low for a couple of seconds. As soon as the coast is clear - boing! - out it springs again. Nose hair is extremely resilient, not to mention sneaky.
If you leave your visor open you simply compound the problem because the nose hair acts as an attractant for small, very annoying flying things. They hit the nose hair and cause an instinctive gasp reaction which can (a) suck the stunned flying thing up your nose and down the back of your throat (not recommended) or (b) pull the stunned flying thing into your mouth and down the back of your throat (also not recommended). Choking and /or throwing up inside your helmet for any reason can really stuff up a good ride.
If the small annoying flying thing doesn't get sucked up your nose, it will usually end up lodged in the corner of your eye once the nose hair lets it go. Again, a good way to put a damper on an otherwise enjoyable ride.
OK, so close the visor. You'd think that'd help, wouldn't you? It doesn't. Actually, it exacerbates the NHTF (Nose Hair Tickle Factor). If air didn't circulate inside your helmet you'd suffocate, so all helmets allow a certain amount of air to circulate - and guess what? Nostrils being one (well, two...) of those important air-intake thingies, the circulating air always - ALWAYS circulates past your nose hair, flirting with it, tickling and caressing it even. The nose hair squirms ecstatically in response - and the rider goes NUTS!
Nose Hair is a Health Hazard!
Hot tip for today: if you must have nose hair (and it seems that, as a woman of a certain age, I must...) - keep it trimmed! I remember giggling at bizarre circular gadgets, years ago, that were called "nose and ear hair trimmers". I wish I hadn't laughed quite so derisively, and I wish I knew where to buy one now!