Sunday, April 29, 2007

The West Uncut: car keys


It’s not likely, but if ever you see me out and about, please ask if I have my car keys.

Chances are I will look shocked, disoriented, confused and then I’ll panic, because I know the stats, that chances are I will not have them on me, they will be somewhere else, anywhere but where they should be, in my pocket.

It’s not just my keys. And it’s not because I’m a Baby Boomer in the latter part of his life with brain cells disappearing faster than Australian flora and fauna. I‘ve done it all my life, leave things in a place they are needed least.

I dream about it, the leaving and forgetting of things, including forgetting to put things on, like pants.

Usually I’m in a shopping mall, wandering about, buying this and that, when suddenly, without warning, my pants are gone.

Once I have accepted I have none, then I remember I forgot to put them on, wonder why and why no-one is looking, pointing, yelling “Look, mummy, the man has no pants.”

It seems I am the only one who knows.

Hang on, I’ve drifted.

Here’s what happened on a week not long gone.

On the Wednesday I flew to Geraldton, or as I prefer to call it, Palm City, and then drove to Northampton to talk to a fine mob of farmers in the middle of the driest period they can remember.

On the Thursday I returned to Perth Airport, refreshed by the humour and generosity of the northerners and made ready to collect my car from its overnight bay.

With baggage held firm in one hand I scrambled about my body with the other for the illusive car-key with attached security device. Not in pocket, not in bag, not in hand luggage, nowhere.

In that instant, when the hand emerged from the last pocket without key, I knew where it would be.

I ran towards the car, to where I thought the car should be after the local car-stealing brigade had made their nightly sweep and plucked it from among the severely locked and disabled.

But no, there it sat, ignored as a model not worth the effort, all doors unlocked, security device with attached key firmly ensconced in ignition.

Knowing what a mob of Northampton farmers would do when they heard my story, I laughed, then I asked the questions I have asked before.

What is it that I have to do to make it easier for your average car thief?

What is it about my car that makes it unworthy of theft?

What is about the modern car thief that makes him or her bypass your wide open, key inserted, ready to go vehicle and make a b-line for the hard task, the locked-up, the security laden, alarm screaming, electronic masterpiece?

Is it the challenge?

As I have made clear, it’s not my marbles I have lost, it’s the marbles I have never had, for it is not the first time I have left my car, ready, waiting, enticing anyone with an eye for a vehicle not their own.

Once I left it in St George’s Terrace, not with the key in the ignition, but, in what I thought was an even more enticing positon, in the front door on the driver’s side.

Three hours later I came out of the luxury hotel to find it there, key glaring into the street, not a thief in sight.

I have left all manner of items in all kinds of places, only to return and find them sitting where I had once sat.

People have run after me in Greece, Spain, Switzerland and Japan, waving wallets, passports, room-keys and small change that was rightfully mine, but that I could have lived without.

There was, however, that once, when a very expensive pair of German sunglasses went missing from a South Perth beer garden and I was so shocked, surprised and confused I forgave the thief instantly and thanked him for not taking my car, which sat idling in the carpark.

As you can imagine, if there is one sentence I have heard more than most in my life it is this one: “You’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on.”

It is screwed on, but I think my makers crossed the threads.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The West: first rains


That smell, the first rain smell, I love it, always have, always will.

When my boy was a boy and chose to live in the hills with his parents we would run outside with the first fall, tearing our clothes off as we ran.

Luckily for us his mother, Hildegard, descended as she is from a sensible line of Europeans, would always manage to convince us that wet nudity in a suburban street was probably a chargeable offense and it was best to run amuck with some covering.

We did our best.

Our best was not always good enough and Hildy, in an earlier year, could be seen running after us waving items of clothing.

Our first autumn rain this year up high in the Kalamunda hills was a beauty, a full 40mm they said in the all the places where they say how much rain we get.

There is nothing quite like sitting in your house safe and sound listening to the rain fall hard and heavy and relentless on your tin roof.

It conjures memories, visions and a kind of peace and quiet bound up in the knowledge that the long wait has ended and outside the parched earth is drinking and won’t stop until heaven has emptied itself.

There is, of course, a sound to dread.

That sound is the one that reminds you that you forgot to clean the gutters and the water has spilled over into your eaves and any second now the overflow will enter your house and drown you where you sit in front of your brand-new digital television set.

This is when I jump, as I have done on many occasions, remove my clothing with haste, don my Speedos and climb up in the drenching rain to work in the gutter where I belonged the week before and if I don’t clear the leaves, twigs and gumnuts Hildegard will make me live for the week after.

When I re-enter the house I bring water and blood and aching hands from thrusting into pathetically narrow gutters, stiffening knees from crouching low and a sore head from the inevitable bang on the solar hot water tank that has more peripheral piping than an aluminium smelter.

I am told by some of my neighbours that television no longer holds any wonders for them and they long for that first rain and the sight of me clambering up a ladder, soaked, shivering and near naked, stumbling, slipping and sliding on a roof they would not be seen dead on and they hope I won’t be either.

Hildegard often yelled and screamed but in both directions at the same time: Get on the roof and clean those gutters! Don’t you dare go on that roof dressed like that!

Hansl, the boy, would laugh and laugh and I’m surprised he didn’t drive up here that last good rain just for the sport and to watch his skinny father naked and wet and his mother yell and howl.

And it’s not just the roof. There is also the driveway.

The driveway drain is an ancient and unfortunate construction, built by a man who knew nothing of drains or water, or liquid flow, but everything about human drama.

This man built a drain that floods in seconds, allows water to run into the garage, my office, anywhere and everywhere but down the hill where it would logically flow if there was not a drain to block it.

This drain is, in fact, two drains.

Once again, almost naked, but full of the excitement of the chase, I follow the water from the driveway all the way down the hill, unblocking as I go and not resting until its body rests in the small gully we call Sleepy Hollow.

But not for long, because water waits for no man and in that one restful second I know the other drain has blocked, the driveway is again full and flooding and the neighbours on the other side of the house have not yet had their full of me ghostly white, shivering and splashed with mud and leaves.

But when the rain and I are exhausted and Hildy has forgiven me, we sit quietly with a window open, a cup of hot chocolate and smell that smell that rejuvenates, replenishes and turns prose into poetry.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The West: lawn and water


I’m confused. But I’m certain.

That’s the way it is with me, I am able to live with contradictions no matter how loud they scream.

Here’s where I’m at: My current confusion centres on research into Yarragadee, because one lot says this and another lot says something else.

Clearly one lot is on one side and the other lot is on the other side. That’s makes two sides and I’m sure there/s another I have missed.

Of one thing I am certain: we need water to survive. And another: we don’t need this much lawn.

Ok, lawn is nice, it’s green, you can roll on it, run on it, drop a glass of red wine on it without breaking the glass and when the dog does his thing you can find it quickly and remove it.

But lawn is not necessary for the maintenance of life as we know it, unless you are a species that eats grass, like sheep, cows, kangaroos, ducks, or a nasty little thing called lawn armyworm.

So, unless those of you with lawn are prepared to put cattle, sheep and ducks on your grass and flog them off to neighbours when they are plump and ripe, then lawn is a luxury.

Not only does lawn cost water to keep, add to that the cost of the fertilizer, both as lawn feed and long-term pollutant, the armyworm killer-spray and the greenhouse gasses required to cut and groom the patch, then we are talking considerable savings for the household budget, the planet and a drop in income for local nursery and fresh meat retailers.

Right here, in keeping with the proposed new lobby laws, I must declare an interest, or rather, lack of interest, in lawn.

I hate lawn.

In Bridgetown, when I was a mere morsel, my family and other animals lived in an average sized house surround by an acre of lawn, plus a tennis court.

Tennis was big in those days and I was often trounced on that court by my father, all my brothers and even the sister I never had. The only person the in the vicinity I could beat was mum and only because she fudged the scores.

My family were orchardists, retailers and lawnmowers. Every weekend we worked in the shop, the orchard, or on the lawn. My memories of orchard are fine and without blemish, as are recollections of the shop, but my psyche was deeply scared by lawn.

As an adult I vowed that when I found the courage to form my own family unit there would be no lawn, none, not even a suggestion.

My first house had lawn front and back. We ripped out the front and let the back die.

This house I live in now, up high in the hills, once had a hint of lawn but we hid it quickly under an extension and now it is dead from lack of sunlight, fertilizer and water.

Water, good old H2O, I love the stuff, can’t get enough of it. I drink it, wash in it, cook with it, I even swim in it.

But it never leaves my taps and touches lawn.

There is no doubting the water guzzling qualities of lawn and what have we done in the north of the city, right under the Gnangara water mound? Why, plant lawn of course. And what’s the new plan? Remove water guzzling pine trees and sell the land off to more lawn-growers?

Which brings me back to the Yarragadee and here again I must declare an interest.

This massive pool of pristine liquid-gold sits under my country, the Lower South West, inhabited for centuries by Noongars, for 160 years by Dousts and still farmed by my youngest brother and his wife on land drying up and without a trickle from the famed Hester Brook.

Those of us who have lived in and loved the big timber country can see its pain, its wilting limbs and its drying leaves.

The scientific research might confuse me, but I can hear my heart, soul and grandfather, the legendary bushman Roy Doust, whisper words of wisdom, don’t tap it, let it be.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The West, Saturday: Dullsville


This is not a good idea, but I’m going to do it anyway, apologise, to the people of Perth.

In many ways, although I have lived in this city for over 20 years, I have never really been at one with it, its lifestyle, its vibe, its inner core. The boy from Bridgetown has always kept his distance, his separateness and has remained an amused observer.

This, hopefully, will allow you to forgive my seeming indiscretion.

When the big news broke, when it became a major news item for eastern states newspapers and national TV stations, I was one of the first quoted.

From memory, unreliable as it is, I seem to recall I was quoted on the front page of this very newspaper.

I certainly remember appearing on a daily TV breakfast show hosted by Steve Lieberman, or a man who was sitting in his chair.

In fact, it was not Steve who interviewed me but rather his offsider, a woman who’s name is no longer with me and who is no longer with the daily TV show or with any show I watch.

What occurred, of course, in typical media fashion, was that my comments were taken out of context.

Not only was the context re-contextualised, but what I said was also isolated from what I did not say and left unsaid.

Ok, I did say Perth was dull and that the bon mot, Dullsville, was well deserved, but nowhere was it pointed out that I continued to live in the place.

Many of you, especially those of you involved in the communication arts, know that what is unsaid often carries the most important message.

What I implied by offering comments from Perth, about Perth, was that although I would admit to a strong dullsville strain in Digger and Dealer City, it was only superficial, that the shallow dullness above, hid a deep, seething, vibrant underbelly beneath.

And in one particular bit of the under-belly, I and my friends lived a culturally rich and eventful life.

I could have added, as does Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, James Dean and Al Pacino.

Or, if this is your first time in this column, Brian Burke, Julian Grill, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr.

Oh yes, these past few months have certainly made a few of those Easterners sit up and read their papers.

Not all that long ago, their columnists and street-mockers took great delight in having fun at our perceived parochialism and, indeed, many of them refused to visit, claiming that the five-hour flight was the most exciting part of the journey and there was no point in it because all you had to look forward to at the and was the return and they had no interest in going over old ground.

Perhaps that’s why so many of them are still with us now, not used to the distances, they can’t face the long trek back.

But back to the underbelly that hangs beneath this great state of ours. And I’m not talking Yarragadee.

Let’s face it, it’s put us on the map, it’s a mark of our maturity, of our continued rise up the ladder of high-profile cities.

Who wants to visit a town where the major attractions are a couple of bells stuck up a tower, a mob of kangaroos just down the road from the CBD, lovely white sandy beaches with no surf, or an adolescent clogged island with nowhere to sleep.

What we have always needed is human drama, scandal, on a scale to match Profumo and Keeler, Stalin and Trotsky, Kennedy and Monroe, Starksy and Hutch.

And now we have it: Sydney (Brian Burke) Greenstreet versus Humphrey (Alan Carpenter) Bogart, James (Ben Cousins) Dean up against Clint (John Worsfold) Eastwood and Rupert (Hancock) Murdoch up against Conrad (Wright) Black.

Such reckless, self-indulgence by our high profile citizens can only enhance our image in the east, full as it is of your educated and sophisticated modern tourists, who shun base natural beauty and seek the glamour of cultural contrivance, deceit and good old sex, drugs and money.

This week I will attempt to right the injustice of my earlier “dullsville” comments. I will be contacting Steve Leiberman and, as soon as I remember its name and channel, the producers of the breakfast TV show.

I will claim I was disoriented at the time, heavily medicated following a number of losses on the property market, suffering from mild heavy-metal poisoning, and depressed following my break-up with Megan Gale.

The West, Saturday: a bad week


I am writing this on the third day of a bad week, well not quite a week, but if it goes on much longer I can call it a week.

Bad weeks start innocently enough for most people, usually, I guess, on a Monday.

The Monday-thing is not normally a thing for me, given the way I work, well not really work, sort of follow my hobbies and wonder where the money comes from.

It all started when I woke up, not unusual in itself, because I often do that, but never before have I woken with my right leg twisted at such an angle. My left, sure, but my left has a life of its own and normally the right stays swell clear.

At first it seemed fine and I lay there marvelling at its flexibility, but when the pain hit I marvelled at its inflexibility.

Those of you who suffer regular pain, like my life’s partner, Hildegard, she of the terminal back-thing, well know that pain can cause grumpiness, irritability, irascibility but rarely, at least in our case, infidelity.

Normally when I wake I get up, it seems to help me get things done, so I did, but forgot to do my neck bends. A day without neck bends is bad enough, because it sets me up for neck-stabs which lead to neck stiffness, which leads to instability.

That was two false starts, so I gave up on the normal round of floor and standing exercises, deciding breakfast was the way to go. Go it did, all over the kitchen table and some made its way to the floor.

I’m ok with eating recently prepared debris and sucking up soy-milk off a table, but our floor hadn’t been ironed in a while and I couldn’t sort out the breakfast debris from the other debris.

Sorry, not ironed, we don’t iron our kitchen floor, slate is not a thing you iron, what I meant was swept. Well there was that one time, a long time ago, but I was heavily medicated and my father-in-law was visiting.

I’m not sure about you, but after I have eaten early in the morning this seems to lead to the other thing that is a logical consequence of eating. I don’t think I need to go into detail here but if you require it, please consult your local doctor.

Nothing untoward happened in the small room, but on leaving it, I forgot to flush it, not the room, you don’t flush rooms, well not in our house, but the water-thing that sits above the place that holds the debris.

Not a pretty thing for the nose when you happen upon such debris later in the day. After opening the small-room door you usually stumble backward and hit your head on the shelving above the washing machine, which is exactly what happened.

After all this, a person really needs their computer system to collapse, just to remind them how important it has become in their lives and how incompetent and insignificant they will feel when it has been removed by the technicians who shake their heads as they carry it down the driveway without a definite promise of a return date. Which is exactly what happened.

Over the years, due to an inability to cope with bad days in the manner taught me by a Zen Master, I have sore feet, as a result of kicking things that don’t kick back and generally stay where they are, like brick walls and granite outcrops.

When I arrived at the podiatrist for my appointment she said: “Well, you have the right month, and year, but it’s next week.” Her reception desk was made of a flimsy material and I decided against kicking it.

I tried to drive home but the car wouldn’t start.

I called home but Hildegard was busy ironing the patio.

My son, Hansl, said he would come and pick me up as soon as he remembered where I lived.

It was then I realised how important getting out of bed is, because if you get out wrong and the feeling lingers the wrongness will infiltrate the entire day, polluting it with its venom and nastiness and by the end, even though six things went right, you will not have noticed them, or their cousins, the almost right and, as far as you will be concerned, the world is the work of the devil and you are the only one who can see him.

Thanks for that. I feel better now. Not quite a week, just the three days. Good luck with your week