An Awkward Meeting

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

We soon made it to what looked like a good hotel, small and cheap, and adding to its two-star rating, our room had a balcony with a full view of the famous Pushkar Lake. We unpacked his bike and dumped our bags, and summonsed by our hunger we took to the streets.

With endless restaurants, hotels, clothing shops, and chai and chill houses, the narrow-winding laneways of Pushkar were unmistakably touristy. Maintaining the cultural balance, though, was the threatening racket of trumpets and drums from the Hindu wedding processions scuttling along.

‘This place is crazy,’ said Lior, ‘look at all the girls!’

He was right; for with as many westerners present as locals—and the western girls given, seemingly, little choice from the heat but to parade around less clothed than usual—this place was indeed crazy.

‘So what do you want to eat, mate?’

‘Her!’

‘Other than her?’

‘Her mate! You?’

‘Give me something normal, like a steak sandwich and a hamburger, hot chips and sausages…’

‘This country is vegetarian.’

‘Well f#&k’n fuck you!’

‘What?’

‘Sorry, mate, it’s just… it’s all getting to me, and if I eat any more rice I’m gunna fair dinkum turn into a giant grain.’

‘What does it mean, this “fair dinkum” that Aussies say?’

‘Ahhhr… I guess it’s an expression of authenticity, meaning really or seriously, for the most part.’

‘Is that right?’

‘Fair dinkum.’

‘Well, if you want to eat something different, why don’t we go to an Israeli restaurant?’

Lior took the reins, and soon led us down some stairs and through a beaded doorway of what appeared to be an underground Israeli lair. The room was smoke-filled and dimly lit, and had a dramatically low ceiling. It was packed with people; equally with the sound of Hebrew and the high falsetto laughs I’d grown to know of the Israelis.

We sat on a couch in the far corner, at which time I noticed, hanging on the wall above us, a small flyer: Traditional Indian Singing Lessons. ‘Could be cool?’ I thought, but it was here the thought ended.

‘You want a cigarette?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, subscribing to the airlessness.

‘So tell me, my Aussie friend, do you have a girlfriend?’

‘No, you?’

‘No,’ he said. The matter, in standard bloke fashion, opened and closed from one neighbouring second to the next. ‘But tell me, my Aussie friend, what does—’

‘—אח שלום’ said another man, interjecting. He’d clearly mistaken me as Israeli, and I gazed at him vacuously until Lior intervened. They conversed in Hebrew for a few seconds—the only word comprehensible to my ears being Australian.

‘Oh sorry, my friend, you looks like an Israeli.’

‘That’s cool, mate.’

‘Hello, my name is Eval.’

He was tall, tanned, and wearing a red shirt and a blue sarong. And the dark-haired girl standing next to him, wearing a yellow crop top and jean shorts that propelled her into the category of crazy hot, was so gorgeous she couldn’t but induce light-headedness. I tried to look away, but as though bound by an invisible neck brace, my efforts fell at least 180° short. ‘I’m Ariella,’ she said, leaning down and giving me an unexpected kiss on the cheek. ‘Can we share your couch?’

Lior and I exchanged a knowing look. This was definitely one of those situations where you found another bloke’s girlfriend a lot hotter than you legally should, but who were we to deny them respite.

The waiter brought us a round of hot milks, and Lior took charge of ordering food.

‘What’s this?’ asked Eval, clasping his mug.

‘It’s the juice of the desert,’ said Lior, taking a fearless swig. The rest of us shared a look of concern, giving me passage to further check out Ariella.

‘So tell me, how do you like India?’ asked Eval, sitting forward.

‘It’s fine, mate.’ I said, stifling a sudden hyena-like yawn. I was too road-fatigued for much in the way of philosophical discussion—and, possibly vexed he should be worthy of Ariella.

Lior eyed me over his mug, and when I noticed the dejection in his countryman’s eyes, I cleared my throat. ‘It’s a pretty broad question, mate.’

‘Do I seem like I’m in a hurry?’ said Eval, sinking back into the couch.

I took an apprehensive sip of the milk. ‘So how do I like India? It’s a two-sided coin, I s’pose.’

‘A love/hate relationship, yes?’

‘Yes.’ I said, turning to Lior. ‘This milk-stuff is alright, mate.’

Lior gave a solitary nod, as though more interested in elaboration than milk.

I turned back to Eval. ‘Yes, a two-sided coin; on one side it’s a zoo, a barnyard, the toilet of toilets. For all its corruption, never-ending dirt, and the fact that many of the locals would sell you their mother, India is hell.’

Lior shuffled in his seat.

‘But, because while I’m here I don’t have to stomach the six o’clock news, a cell phone, or laugh at my boss’s shithouse jokes, on the other side it’s heaven.’

Eval sat back up. ‘So why did you come here?’

‘It’s complicated.’ My invisible neck brace assumed default position, giving me a clear view of Ariella. ‘To be honest,’ I said, forcing back, ‘I sometimes feel like a pretentious twat having come here at all; like I’m trying to prove something to myself… or impress girls… or something…’

‘Fuck the girls.’

‘Ha ha! Fuck the girls!’ said Lior. I eyed him over my mug, making him default back to hiding behind his own.

‘And tell me also…’ said Eval, his voice dropping to a more confidential tone, ‘what do you think of us Israelis?’

I clasped my mug harder. ‘Honestly?’

‘Full honesty.’

‘Really?’

‘Really..’

‘I think you can be a bunch of dicks.’

‘What?’

‘You ‘eard.’

‘What?’

‘You asked me to be honest, mate.’

The three of them broke into fervent Hebrew—the only words comprehensible to my ears being Australian, and, fuckhead.

‘Look,’ I said, ‘I’ve found the few solo Israelis I’ve met, like my good man Lior here, to be totally cool, but in groups there just seems to be an inward vibe where youse stick together and come across as pretty cold.’

‘It’s true that we stick together,’ added Lior, ‘but when you come from a country with such division, it’s only natural.’

‘It’s like it takes a little time for us to warm to outsiders,’ said Ariella, now leaning forward, ‘but once you’re in, you’re like family.’

Eval turned to Lior. ‘Do you think it’s true that Israelis come across as rude?’ he asked in a tone that, ironically, sounded less than polite.

‘I guess so—but only because we don’t use please or thank you,’ he said, turning to me as though feeling the need to explain it to an outsider. ‘We don’t have these words in Hebrew; to us, politeness is expressed by the melody we speak in. So instead of asking in a dry voice “can I’ve a coke, please?” we’d ask in a more gentle voice “can I’ve a coke!” kind of kicking up the end of the sentence with a higher pitch. We don’t mean to be rude—we’re just framed by our Hebrew habits. Besides, please and thank you don’t mean shit! And the English-speaking world seems to use them like excuses, like it’s ok to go through life being an arsehole, as long as you say please and fucking thank you!’

‘But as for Israelis playing music too loud in hotels, and smoking a little weed here and there,’ said Ariella, ‘that’s because we want to blow off steam after military service.’

‘It’s mandatory for non-Arab citizens,’ said Eval, making me suddenly understand why every Israeli I’d seen was a picture of fitness and health. ‘Straight after high school: guys for three years, girls for two years. So right when everyone is set free, we’re thrown into military shackles. By the time that bullshit is over, we want to run like a dog with two dicks. Most Israelis come to India, others go to South America, and some to your Australia.’ (I’d previously learnt there could be as many as 50,000 Israeli tourists in India at any one time.) ‘So when did you finish your service?’ he asked, turning to Lior.

‘Six months ago.’

‘Exactly, and the first thing you wanted to do was leave that fucking place, right?’

‘Yes, but my good heart will kill me in the end anyway. If things at home get worse, and I get the call to fight, I’ll gladly do it. Fucking gladly!’

‘And what would happen if you didn’t go back?’ I asked.

The three of them went quiet.

‘Then when I return to Israel, as soon as I walk through customs—bang!—I’d be thrown into military prison.’

The waiter arrived with our food, and having eaten more rice of late than I wished to for the rest of my life, the sight of falafel, hummus, and chocolate balls, was a more than welcome one.

We sat around over a few more hot milks, until our guests stood up an hour or so later. ‘Shalom to you, brother,’ said Eval, handing me his email address, ‘if ever you come to Israel, you’re welcome in my house like family.’

‘See you again,’ said Ariella, furthering her spell by giving me another kiss on the cheek before they walked away.

‘Ah, man! I think I’m in love!’ said Lior.

‘Just give me a minute, mate.’

He sank back into the couch as we observed in respectful silence.

‘So anyway, mate, you were going to ask me something…’

‘What?’

‘Before they came along, you were going to ask me something…’

‘Ahhhr… you know what?’

‘What?’

‘I can’t remember it now.’

‘Don’t torture me with that!’

He brushed me off with his trademark dismissive wave.

We made our way back out onto the streets, which, as though by nocturnal command were alive with blokes and girls, and dogs and girls, and cows and girls—and, girls.

‘Man, I can’t get over all the girls!’

‘Mate, I’m in enough pain via my own eyes.’

‘Yeah, but look at her!’ he said, causing me to turn suddenly and meet eyes with another temptress dressed to hurt.

‘Fair dinkum, my neck can’t handle this.’

‘You want a cigarette?’

‘Yeah, give me two.’

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

Chapter One: Breathe

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

The most profound experience that ever happened to me was in a dorm room of a hostel in Dublin, December 1999. But to explain its significance, I need first to go back.

All my life I’d been diagnosed as asthmatic, and from the dawn of my existence had been in and out of hospital with bouts varying from mild to life threatening. Apparently I flatlined when I was three years old.

But I was never saddened by my condition, as I’d never known life without it. As a kid, I’d run around playing cricket, footy, climbing trees, get subsequently wheezy, have a puff of my inhaler and get straight back out there amongst all the sights, sounds, and smells that constituted boyhood.

It was a similar story throughout my teen years. But around the age of eighteen, just as I finished high school, and, ironically enough, when young people are thrust into the pressures of adult life, the asthma medications that had served me until this point appeared to no longer work.

Standing in front of the mirror, I’d look myself square in the eye and puff and puff with all my might. But no relief would come. I assumed I’d become immune to the old medications, and I sought the advice of countless doctors and specialists who, for the most part, would scratch their heads and prescribe the same old stuff over and over.

Five or more very difficult years passed during which I continued to feel, quite literally, permanently unable to breathe, or at least unable to catch my breath fully as I could when I was younger.

In June 1999, I decided I was going overseas, independently, for the first time. Seven years earlier I’d visited Irish relatives in America with Dad and my older brother Stephen, but this trip was to have no guardian or restrictions.

My main objective was to reach the motherland of Malta and the fatherland of Ireland, where I had numerous relatives whose names were like folklore to us first-generation Australians down in Oz. The trip also included a chocolate-box tour of mainland Europe. But with the unwanted extra of permanent breathlessness, I less so relished sites such as the Eiffel Tower, St Mark’s Square in Venice, and the Alps of Switzerland, as I gazed at them with strained eyes and accelerated heartbeat.

I reached Ireland by December that year, and having caught an asthmatic’s nightmare—the flu—my breathing was at such a record low that I considered cancelling the rest of my trip and flying back to Australia. But barely having the strength to make the phone call, as opposed to that to endure the long haul flight, I settled into a dorm room in a hostel in Dublin.

With countless anonymous backpackers checking in and out, my makeshift ward was far from private, and taking my inhaler up to 30 times a day—which, although it would “work” by way of making my hands go shaky, but never would it relieve my breathing—I spent most of the daylight hours in bed. This was the first time in my adult life when I actually fretted for my parents. But as much as I was here, they were in Melbourne.

I’d been there for almost a week, successfully avoiding social contact, when an unsought voice made its way into my ear. ‘What’s wrong with you? You look terrible.’

‘Nothing. I’m fine.’ I said, wishing this man would catch the soonest bus to the universe’s outermost corner.

‘You’re not fine. I would know.’

‘How would you know?’

To this day his name eludes me. He was Indian, about middle-aged, and he was proud to tell me that he was a general practitioner in London.

‘Do you have asthma?’ he asked.

‘I do, but—’

‘—And have you taken your Ventolin today?’

‘Yes, but it doesn’t seem to—’

‘—Son, if we meet in 50 years, I want to hear you tell me that you take your inhaler two puffs in the morning and two puffs in the evening.’

‘I do, I’ve probably taken it over twenty times today, but it doesn’t—’

‘—Son, you have oversensitive airways. The inhalers relax them so as to facilitate natural breathing. This is why it’s so important you take two puffs in the morning and two puffs in the evening.’

‘I’ve been taking them all my life! But for the last five years I seem to have become immune to—’

‘—Son, another remedy is to wear an undershirt at all times, to avoid sudden changes of temperature getting into your chest.’

‘I sometimes do, but—’

‘—But more important is that you take two puffs in the morning and two puffs in the evening. In fact, it’s getting dark, you should take it right now!’ he said, gesturing towards the dorm bathroom.

I felt the ‘v’ of my forehead increase from lowercase to capital. ‘I’m not taking those stupid inhalers, mate! All they do is make my hands shake—’

‘—Son, come on! Take it right now. No more backchat!’

Feeling like a child being sent to his room, I snatched my inhaler from my backpack and stomped into the bathroom. I flicked on the light, belligerently; the only trace of compensation being that the door was heavy enough that I could grumble without him being able to hear me.

‘Stupid inhaler.’

I turned towards the mirror and looked myself square in the eye.

‘I should just change my flight and go home.’

I exhaled until my lungs were almost empty.

‘One more taste of this evil shit and I’ll vomit.’

I put the inhaler to my mouth, pressed and inhaled mightily.

What happened next was the closest thing to a miracle I’d ever experienced.

As though an invisible corset had been unfastened, or a padlock on my ribcage suddenly unlocked, I felt a massive pressure fall away from my chest where from one neighbouring second to the next, I could breathe! I could breathe! My god, I could breathe!

Propelled into a state of natural ecstasy, it was as though I’d swapped bodies, or had reverted to the blissful state of childhood. I stood there for some seconds, gazing with disbelief into the mirror, breathing deeply, freely, and relishing each full inhalation like a smoker does with a cigarette.

In disbelief, I walked back into the dorm room where my Indian friend was waiting.

‘Well?’ he asked.

‘It worked!’

‘Of course it bloody worked!’

‘Yeah, but… it hasn’t worked for like five years, and, like, I mean, it really worked!’

‘Son, if we meet in 50 years, I want to hear you tell me that you take your inhaler two puffs in the morning and two puffs in the evening.’

‘I’ll do that. I really will!’

I went to bed soon after, and as though an unconscious curse had been miraculously lifted, I remember waking through the night—in my squeaky top bunk bed—in such a state of bliss that it brought tears to my eyes. I woke the next morning feeling more rested and energised than I could remember ever, and just as the doctor ordered, I took my morning puffs.

I walked all around Dublin that day in what was, I guess, the closest state of enlightenment I’d ever known.

As though a veil, or constriction, had been removed from my senses, I could see, hear, taste, smell, and most of all feel with a heightened awareness that, for the first time in my life, made me realise I wasn’t a separate entity floating aimlessly in a callous universe, but an intrinsic part of some sort of singular collective consciousness that forms the universe and all life in it. Be it the collective squawking of the seagulls reeling above, sounding, to me, as pure as dripping glass, or the icy sea breeze blowing off the Irish Sea feeling like a life-giving coverlet brushing against my face, or the white rays of the winter sun feeling as though they were stirring me on a cellular level, every sensory experience seemed so amplified that it rendered me in awe of all life and the very concept of it.

Where there was once great heaviness, there was now tingling lightness, and as though doing away with an age of pain and blockage, I wandered until dusk through the streets of Dublin, and up and down the length of the River Liffey, coughing up an indescribable amount of rubbish from my lungs. Each fragment discarded making way for even more glorious capacity to breathe.

It was no mystery that my new condition was bequeathed via the portal of good breathing, but how the breathing had unlocked was an utter mystery. I mean, all I’d done, as I’d been doing hourly for however many years previously, was take a whack from my inhaler, and—bang!—I was fast-tracked to comparative enlightenment. The spiritually inclined would later suggest that through some sort of trick of the mind occurring inadvertently by the doctor having taken control, I’d had a massive release from my heart chakra. Whatever that meant.

I left Dublin the next day on the ferry, and as the only soul standing on its stern side; I watched the small windblown city, with its famous Poolbeg chimneys, diminishing in the distance. It had truly been the scene of a miracle.

I arrived in London the next day, to be told vivaciously by my friends how well they thought I looked. I told them the story, sparing the details, to which with faces that suggested they had no personal experience with such matters, they made a sincere effort to show interest. My victory was a personal one, though cherished nonetheless.

I lived in London for the next twelve months, existing day and night in a continual state of bliss.

Saturday mornings were a particular treasure—where I’d lie on my bed in Tooting, relishing the ability to breathe as though with every breath I was having a sort of healing-conditioner massaged through my soul.

With my head, my body, and most importantly, my heart, now completely clear, it was as though I’d become who I really was: my true untainted self according to spiritual hypothesis, which at the time I knew little about.

Around 7.30 a.m., I’d open my bedroom door, which opened onto the backyard, and wait, ritually, for the sun’s rays to creep around the brick wall corner. While listening to the sounds of Hindu music wafting from the shops of Upper Tooting Road, I’d sit on my floor and be filled with ecstasy by seemingly nothing—or equally—by something as inconsequential as watching an ant crawl up a wall. Along with meeting my doctor-friend in Dublin, it was perhaps here that my interest in going to India began.

There was no amount of money on Earth I could be offered to revert back to my pre-Dublin condition, which I referred to as the “cursed me”. As now, able to feel it in the very air around me, I resided in a permanent state of love; love for all life, love for all matter, and most importantly, love for myself. I would smirk at the thought of the old me as I would at the thought of a bumbling child, who, lost in the perpetual state of fear and tension that I was, would battle my emotions via my head as successfully as one dodges machinegun fire. I was hereby at the summit of health and happiness; for by whatever means people were trying to acquire it, I now had it. But all of this was about to be lost. I went back to Australia.

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

The Ashram

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

Although I’d come to India with one eye on freedom, and the other on seeking answers that could shake me off emotionally, I’d become deeply adverse to the leagues of try-hard western spiritualists I’d observed along the way. They were a dime a dozen, yoga pant-wearing enthusiasts donning beads and wristbands as though the official decoration of the spiritual soldier. Most seemed unable to tell you quick enough just how “into it” they were. I’d been privy to conversations so toxically pretentious, I sometimes wondered if I should check myself into an infirmary.

Many such exchanges took place, but none stood out as much as with one American bloke, who overflowed with pride as he told a room of some thirty people—mostly girls—that he’d found his way back to god by drinking his own piss; his self-serving homily closing with a look as if expecting a round of applause.

These types, I felt, constituted the perfect circle of contradiction, in that they failed with flying colours to understand that genuine spirituality is defined by the degree the ego is dissolved, not fed. That if their transformation from jeans and t-shirts—to loose pants and sandals—was done in the name of impressing others, they were walking through the backdoor of the very house they’d tried to vacate.

Ange was by no means one of these, but was a dignified student in the Earth School. The others seemed to multiply when they got wet, and I knew any ashram would be rife with their kind, hence I wanted no part.

The next morning, nevertheless, Ange convinced me to go for an inspective wander at the ashram over the river.

Leading us away from the racket of the street, we walked up the long entrance ramp, where its vast flowery grounds unveiled themselves like a grand opening. The gardens were dotted with shady palms and tranquil seating areas, and the sound of nearby monkeys carried on the breeze.

Set high above the street, we gorged on the panoramic view of the Ganges. Ange turned to me with a broad smile. ‘Why don’t ye toss the bike idea and stay here fur a while.’

‘I’m tempted, it’s just… I’m not currently asylum seeking.’

‘Och, don’t be such a Jessie.’

‘Me? What about this lot of whitewashers? They look as if they’d be hard pressed to make a cup of tea between ‘em.’

‘Don’t be such an erse.’

‘I’m just not such a fan of these spiritual types, folk into their star signs and chakras, and those who claim to be so connected they can’t sleep during a full moon.’

‘Ah’m like that.’

‘Three words: al-co-hol.’

‘Look, why don’t we go down the office and ask a few questions?’

‘I’ll come for a walk with ya, but that’ll be me.’

We entered the rudimentary office. The fly screen door slowly closed behind us, screeching a melody so unpleasant it could make a dead man frown.

‘Good morning, sir,’ said the man, rising from his desk.

‘Good morning, what’s the minimum stay, please?’

‘Fourteen days, sir.’

I turned to Ange. ‘Nah, that’s a bit rich, I’m going to head into town and start looking for bikes.’

She shrugged her shoulders.

I headed for the door, but it was perhaps from not wishing to hear it a second time that I turned back around. ‘Excuse me, are there any peanuts in the cooking?’ I asked, myself being deadly allergic.

‘Actually, in fact, probably definitely yes or no,’ said the man, in an accent so thick that without a personal linguist on hand I’d have done better with Pythagoras’ theorem.

‘Sorry?’

‘Let me explain more clearly, sir,’ he said, inhaling as though about to launch into a more thorough explanation. But performing a head wobble composed of neither a nod meaning yes, nor a shake meaning no, he fell to complete silence.

The silence drew on, and I frowned and puckered, and puckered and frowned, until some years later he spoke. ‘Have I made myself clear, sir?’

‘Crystal,’ I said, turning back to Ange, ‘d’you know what?’

‘Whot?’

*****

Dear Manuel,

I’m in Rishikesh, and much to my surprise I’m staying at an ashram. I didn’t really know what they were previously, other than some sort of hippy refuge sought by westerners seeking budget enlightenment.

The word ashram means place of aspiring, so if a crack o’ dawn rise, two times yoga classes, two times meditation sessions, and three times eating the same food each day, defines aspiration, then an aspirant I am.

There are about a hundred inmates in stir. Each gets a small room, a bed with no mattress, and a pillow less comfortable than a chip of Ayers Rock. It’s a bit of a contrast to the motorbike plan, but here goes I s’pose.

*****

We were still standing in the office, when—ding!—the man rang a bell, prompting two other men to enter. Both were armed with keys and blankets, and they eyeballed us with a fraction too much intensity to call friendly.

‘Follow me,’ said one, as the other said the same to Ange.

‘Hang on,’ I said, ‘can’t we get a room together?’

‘Men and woman are separate in the ashram.’

He led me onto a balcony with a generous view of the river. ‘This isn’t so bad,’ I thought, taking it in as he fished the keys out of his pocket. He unlocked the door and we entered.

The room, however, if such cells were worthy of the title, was little more than a white concrete box with a hard wooden bed, a hole-in-the-floor dunny, and metal bars on the windows.

‘Any chance of an upgrade?’

‘Lunch is at twelve o’clock,’ he said, handing me a blanket and rulebook. ‘Don’t be late.’

It was 11:50 a.m., and feeling like a prisoner unsure of his crime, I sat on the hard bed. ‘Because this is far more fun than a motorbiking tour?’

I changed into loose white attire and made my way to the eating hall.

The hall was long and yellow; it had a grey tiled floor, and on the wall was a small music box playing a crackly Hindu mantra. There were as many westerners present as Indians, and all sat cross-legged on the floor, eating by hand from their metal trays.

I spotted Ange in the far corner. I walked over and sat next to her, as happy to see her as though we’d spent a lifetime apart.

‘Good’arvo, my name’s Dave. What are you in for?’

‘Illegal importation of Aussie zoomers.’

‘What’s a zoomer?’

‘Someone of an unstable disposition.’

Sitting opposite was an older western man. He was both handsome and ugly all in one, leading me to think he was French. ‘G’day, Pierre.’ I gestured by a raise of the eyebrows, to which he broke eye contact at record speed.

‘Wanker..’

‘He’s in silence, ya eeejit.’

‘Why? Frog got his tongue?’

‘Cat ya uncultured galoot! Anyway, shut it with yer Aussie piss-fartin’ aroond. We’re supposed tae be quiet and reflective.’

‘On what?’

‘Oan things.’

‘What things?’

‘Any and all things. Now shut it!’

‘D’you know what?’

‘Whot?’

‘You’d think they could have thought of a better name for it than sticky date pudding?’

‘Everybody silent!’ said one of the chefs, standing in the centre of the hall. All closed their eyes and fell pin-drop quiet.

As though psyching himself for the gig of his life, he closed his eyes and palmed his hands into prayer position. I kept one eye open, and several long seconds passed before he began singing some mantra. His voice, however, perhaps the very thing used to convert the ashram’s milk into curd, was about as in-tune as a cat being castrated with a can opener.

Trying not to think of Ange, I sat on the cusp of a total laughter breakdown, and I ran a scan of other-things-to-think-about-in-case-of-an-emergency. It would have been to my advantage to think about global warming, or the escalating concern of housing affordability for young Australians. But with the sound of Ange struggling to my left—and the chef wailing upwards as gracefully as a chicken, with a cape, trying to take flight—an avalanche gave way and I spurted aloud.

He stopped abruptly and made firm eye contact.

I tried to disguise my laugh as a cough, by intentionally continuing it and beating myself on the chest. Unconvinced, he held the stare, until after a few long seconds he turned away and recommenced.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said to her when he finished, ‘but it’s like needing a wee during hide-and-seek.’

‘Dear me…’ she sighed, ‘I think I ought tae be reprimanded fur bringin’ a fannyboz.’

Everybody started tucking into their food—a hotchpotch mix of clotted rice, lentils, and stuff that looked like a hybrid of the two.

‘This is pure mingin’,’ she said.

‘Is that Scottish for shithouse?’

‘Aye.’

‘Not a trace of Viagra in it.’

‘Maybe it’s the very thing that groond the French bloke tae silence?’

‘Maybe.’

The French bloke sneezed aloud, making me wonder if he’d just broken his vow.

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

Birthday truth bending

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

The majority of my birthdays escape my memory, but the one that’s burned into my brain most is when I turned 30 in Rishikesh, India.

It was September 28th, and the day was as hot and colourful as you’d expect from India. Myself and my Scottish friend Ange walked along the bustling roadside, during which a young local boy ran up to us with a cricket bat in hand. ‘Hello, mister! Your country?’

I told him.

‘Australia is number one! Shane Warne! Glenn McGrath!’ he shouted, giving us his best air-bat before running around a corner.

We reached the Ganges soon after, and with kids swimming and locals whack-washing their clothes, its banks were as lively as the images that had lured me here. The riverbank sand had a glittery metallic quality, and I walked ankle-deep into the water. ‘Shit! It’s freeeeezing!’

‘Aye, whot were ye expectin’?’

‘This is India, everything’s supposed to be balmy!’

‘Aye, but we’re near the Gangotri Glacier.’

Anytime I’d imagined the Ganges I’d envisioned an unsavoury picture of decomposing bodies and contaminated water, but with Rishikesh nestled in the Himalayan foothills, this section was as unspoiled as you could wish for.

‘I think I’ll go for a swim,’ I said, ‘but I dunno if I should take my pants off here?’

‘Why no’, huv ye got varicose veins?’

‘No, coz I’ve only got these translucent undies on.’

‘Och, ye’re in India the now, nobody cares!’

‘You coming in then?’

‘Noo, ah’m no’ strippin’ aff in front of these blokes over here.’

She was right, for the notion of privacy being utterly alien in India, as always we’d attracted a crowd. It was even common for western girls, daring to swim or suntan, to catch local lads wanking themselves in the reeds of the riverbanks.

I swam around until the holy water washed away enough old sins to make room for new ones. When I got out and dried off, the growing crowd circled in. ‘Hello, sir, will you be my friend?’

‘No.’

I sat on the bank, and Ange turned to me, her eyes seeming expressly occupied. ‘Can I ask ye something?’

‘I guess you just did.’

‘Don’t be daft. Why exactly did ye set oot oan this trip?’

I felt a familiar tension come over me as the inner breathing article loaded onto the front page of my head.

‘I’m not sure I want to bore you with it.’

‘Thanks,’ she said, ‘anyway, ah’ve been sittin’ here watchin’ the river, and thinkin’ aboot yer birthday, and I dreamt up a wee verse I wannae sing tae ye.’

She inhaled.

‘Ange?’

‘Aye?’

‘I’d prefer birthday bashes with a loaf of salami.’

‘Och, ah’m only jokin’, ya numpty! I knew it would get up yer kilt.’

‘Aye.’ I said.

‘Well, happy birthday and all. Ah’m gonnae heid up the hill fur arvo yoga, ya comin’?’

‘Nah, I’m going to hang down here. But I’m dead proud to hear you using the word arvo. I mean, why go to all the trouble to saying three syllables when you can achieve the same desired effect in two?’

‘Dave?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Ssshhh..’

She walked off, and as I strolled along the same cricket-kid from earlier ran up to me. ‘Steve Waugh!’ he shouted, giving me his best air-bat again before running around a corner. Curious, I followed, to find a group of some twelve kids playing street cricket.

With an old crate for a wicket, and a plank for a bat, their equipment was as elementary as you could imagine. Standing at the crease—having marked it in the dirt with his bare foot—was my little mate.

‘Sachin Tendulkar!’ I said, to which when the ball met with his bat it shot down the street and smacked into a cow.

It was still my birthday, so I figured I’d indulge in a self-bought present. I walked into a nearby clothes shop. The merchant smiled widely, and followed me around at a proximity close enough to be grating.

I browsed for a matter of time, until I spotted an item of interest. ‘How much for this orange shirt, please?’

‘One hundred rupees, sir.’

‘I’ll give you fifty.’

‘No, sir, one hundred.’

‘I’ll give you sixty.’

‘No, sir, one hundred rupees, last price.’

But the notion of fixed-prices being blatantly un-Indian, I was offended by his obstinacy.

Trounced, I resolved to leave, but it was then that one small question passing his lips would change our dynamic forever. ‘Your profession, sir?’

A little-imaginary-devil-with-little-fluttering-wings appeared at my left shoulder. ‘I’m a professional cricketer, recently drafted.’

It was hard to know if it was from excitement or nerves, but a muscle began to twitch in his temple. His brow grew damp, and having shot some command at his wife, she brought out a tray of chai in under a minute.

‘So tell me, sir,’ he said, dusting off a stool, ‘do you know Ricky Ponting?’

‘Yes. He is my cousin.’

‘Really?’

‘And I was best man at his wedding.’

He broke into girlish laughter, clapping his flippers like a delighted seal. ‘And tell me, sir, are you in India for the Test Series?’

‘Yes,’ I said, having precisely zero idea that the Australian team was currently in India.

He gathered his children for a group photo, and knowing that somewhere in hell Satan was dusting off another stool in preparation of my coming, I smiled for the camera.

Conversation turned back to business.

‘Please, sir, have this orange shirt, no money for you!’

‘Now now, I don’t want to be unfair, or least of all dishonest. I’ll give you fifty.’

‘Ok! Ok!’ he said, inserting the word between his shortening inhalations.

I was in his shop for half an hour, and I acquired a bundle of clothes at a heart-warming price. I could have let myself feel guilty, but figuring it was my birthday I was quick to grant myself pardon.

We parted with a reverent handshake, and as I exited his shop I noticed, a couple of doors along, the same group of kids still playing cricket. The little Tendulkar-batsman was again at the crease, and I acknowledged him with a faint nod.

My intention was to keep walking, but the merchant, moseying out of his shop, announced to the kids I was an Australian cricketer. My heart stopped as their faces lit. ‘Shane Warne! Jason Gillespie!’ they yelled as they exploded into mergers of child and pogo stick. I smiled dumbly, and although I’d hoped the moment would pass without consequence, one of the youngsters threw me the ball.

I stood with the ball in hand, but for the one, single, and inarguable fact that I bowl with the finesse of an orangutan, I was quick to chuck it back. ‘No, mate. I’ll bat.’

I stood at the crease with the bat in hand. Dozens of folk had gathered, and none were watching closer than the merchant, leaning against a wall with his arms folded.

I swallowed hard as the bowler took his run up. ‘Steve Waugh! Ricky Ponting!’ his teammates yelled as he unleashed like a muscle arm shotgun. My hit had to be a belter, for to be discovered as a fake could result in the burning of my effigy. The ball hurtled towards. My whole reputation was on the line, my whole career—perhaps my fear of clowns had returned, when—whack!—I belted it high.

Relieved, I stood back, and watching the ball soar through the air, it—plop!—landed in the Ganges.

‘Yyyaaayyy!’ the pogo-kids burst into a choir of approval, and guilty only of being in character, I lay the bat down and pointed their way.

‘Good luck at the game, sir!’ said the merchant, the twitch in his temple having resumed.

‘Thanks,’ I said, re-entering his shop for some subsequent bargains.

* Excerpt from Man, Dog, Bike. Now available on Amazon!

Throwing Toys

There are few historical figures that intrigue me like Hitler. Yes, Uncle Adolf himself. But before anyone unsubscribes in disgust, please let me explain.

I say this not to suggest that I’m pro-the very man who history rightly regards as the 20th century’s most awful, but that he fascinates me as a spiritual case study. I’ve lost entire weekends, laying on the couch mainlining doco after doco, trying to understand what could have possibly motivated him.

In my 41 years on the planet, it’s questionable as to whether I’ve learned terribly much, but if I’ve learned anything, I’d round it down to three simple attentions.

Firstly, that emotions cannot be experienced compartmentally, that all someone can feel is everything at once. Explaining why an unhealed abused child, presently in his 50’s, gets out of his car and bashes his fellow driver within an inch of his life, simply because he didn’t let him in from a side street. The reaction is less motivated by the actual event, than the event having played the part of a match being flicked into a river of anger, accumulated in the subject from infancy to present day.

Secondly, is that we feel so much more than we know, or could ever dream of being able to put into words. The fact that I didn’t understand what I was feeling at age 10 didn’t mean I felt any less. I can remember the complexities of my emotions back then being little less intense than my emotions at ages 20, 30 and 40. Although my capacity to put the emotional spaghetti into words is, today, tenfold on what it was then, should it become a hundredfold in ten years from now, I’ll better comprehend just how limited I was today. It is truly a mountain without a summit.

And thirdly, that no matter how full our belly, metaphorically that is, we are seldom not hungry for more.

The point of these attentions is to underline the sobering reality of our spirituality. That no one, anywhere, any age, is getting out of the Earth School without doing the hard yards of internal landscaping.

I’ve heard it said that all souls reside on a spiritual spectrum, ranging from destruction to enlightenment. At the positive end, those invested in their internality, is the likes of Buddha, the mere mortal claimed to have voluntarily departed his body once fully enlightened. Some of his nearby neighbours are distinguished others, such as Gandhi and Jesus Christ, no doubt. But at the misguided end, those intoxicated by power, and the need to change the world they live in—in order to make themselves feel better—is our old mate, Hitler.

Irrespective of position, all residents on the spectrum are motivated by the same thing, the desire—consciously or unconsciously—to be loved. Hitler would have done well to buy a pair of runners, do some push-ups, or purge his demons by way of eating a fruit salad on Sunday nights. But his anxious and self-serving plight, one that resulted in the deaths of 62 million people—and a good portion of them German—was no less motivated by his need to feel loved and of value.

Some say his desire for perfect order was unconsciously motivated by his mother’s pristine housecleaning. That he, like her, was trying to keep things in order, alphabetical, stowed at 90-degree angles and so on.

Midway through WW2, a team of American psychologists was put together to create a mental map of Hitler—based on his past behaviour—through which they could determine his motives, future tactics, and the ultimate outcome of the war. The team concluded that Hitler was a man so far gone that even if he won the war he’d never know satisfaction, yet, if denied his ultimate victory, the world would come to know the very definition of toys being thrown out of the pram. Hitler’s final order, to burn Germany to the ground so the allies would inherit nothing but dust, certainly confirmed it. Fortunately, his generals had the sense to see through the drivel, and it was never carried out.

If there’s a point to this article, as I write its closing paragraph, it’s that I’ll never cease to be fascinated by the destruction one man’s incapacity to journey inward can lead to.

By David Kerrigan

Truth In Nature

For some stories, truth is as much a hindrance, as is time a marinade that only makes them better. I suspect this to be one.

It was some years back when a young man by the name of Dennis McAnonymous was walking along a beach, on a blustery day in Holyhead, Wales.

Having had, by all Welsh accounts, a large one the night before, the need for fresh air was critical, and along with the sound of the wind whistling in the long grass of the beach knoll, was that of his person; producing a turbulent melody not dissimilar to Mozart’s Concerto in F minor.

He was completely alone, however, and so he let fly with the freedom of a thousand birds released, until, when one particular note – unwantedly generous in nature – near reached the periphery of the back of his left knee, our dear friend Dennis decided to be at one with nature and contend with the long grass of the beach knoll.

Looking first to the left, and then to the right, his predicament was a fraction closer to nature than made him his happiest; still he unzipped, whipped his tweeds southwards, and let nature take the wheel.

Masked by the sound of the crashing waves, all went to plan, as it were, but before our dear friend Dennis could straighten his bend, from out of the long grass sprung a Labrador. Frightened, literally, shitless, Dennis put his hand fast to his chest, before he hastily wiped, zipped, and stood up.

The dog, simply delighted to be there, jumped and wagged and thrashed about, at which time our dear friend Dennis – still veiled in the long grass – noticed a young lady yelling fretfully a hundred metres down the beach. ‘Barney?’ she shouted, ‘Baaarney?’ she shouted again, to which Dennis, steered towards being the Good Samaritan by his malt whisky-affected brain, emphatically waved over to her.

Greatly relieved to locate her beloved Barney, the young damsel came galloping towards the beach knoll, but when our dear friend Dennis turned back to his crime scene – to be sharply reminded of his work lying dead on the sand – his brain came promptly back online. Panicked, he was just about to kick a generous dose of sand over the evidence, but it was then, that in a breathless mess, the young lady arrived, and she – mistaking the sordid spectacle as the work of her dog – swiftly reached into her pocket for a dog-bag. ‘Oh I’m sooo sorry!’ she leached, dropping quickly to her knees and making right the misguided wrong by way of a valiant scooping motion, ‘Barney must be feeling “a wee bit off” today?’

Dennis, his brain suddenly offline with shock, made an involuntary squeal befitting of a seven-year-old girl, as the young lady awkwardly tied the bag. ‘Oh Barney! You big smelly wretch!’ she said affectionately while patting her dog, ‘what the hell have you been eating?’

Dennis, wide-eyed – and even more offline – breathed as little as he spoke.

‘Thanks!’ said the young lady as she and Barney skipped back up the beach, swinging the bag as though in time to her favourite song.

‘Ahhhr.. you’re welcome..’ said Dennis, coming back online and simultaneously concluding that truths with the upshot of irreversible emotional scarring – like those that thwart the telling of such a story – are perhaps best considered optional.

By David Kerrigan

For Brady

I’m told in the Greek language there are several words for the word love. That unlike English—a language with such limitations that the same word a husband uses to describe his deepest feelings towards his wife, he rather awkwardly uses to express sentiment towards his mother, his brother, his father, his friends, his dog, and even more gracelessly, his Saturday morning coffee and donut—the Greek language affords more distinct words born of the need to express such sentiments more specifically, truthfully, and, in essence, more comfortably.

Nevertheless, I wonder if the Greek language has a word that pertinently describe the fondness between two grown men, who, although knew each other well, never met in person. If so I would unreservedly use it towards my good mate Brady Thomas from Hamilton, Alabama.

Brady and I met through an online Writer’s Editing Service a few months back when I was looking for an editor to give a grammatical once-over to my manuscript. Even from his first email, his warm and personable nature—and fiercely intelligent sense of humour—towered over that of the other editors I was liaising with at the time.

Over the next few emails and phone calls, we realised our mutual love for playing music, and the uncanny similarities of our personal musical journeys—that he, like me, had on occasions packed up his conventional life and focused entirely on his dream to make it in music—his path having taken him from Hamilton to Nashville, mine having taken me from Melbourne to London.

As for our original point of contact, the writing, I sent him the first three chapters of my book, towards which he felt such enthusiasm that he came back to me stating that he didn’t want to be my mere editor, but my agent with mind to take the manuscript to as wide an audience as possible.

Over the next few months we talked over the phone and exchanged countless emails during which it was mutually evident that our business relationship was turning into that of two great friends in the making.

He continued to support me at every writing turn, thinking in and outside the box as to how best we build my online writer profile, how best to materialise the book, and encouraging each new article I would post on my blog by pointing towards it large amounts of online traffic.

But the biggest piece of news, received just a few days ago, was that he had an imprint of a major American publisher interested in my book. The news was as uplifting as imaginable, and Brady was waiting on my return from London so he could put himself on a plane to Austin—where I live—so we could finally shake hands and have that beer that we so fondly talked of having. He was set to arrive in two weeks.

But just yesterday I got a Facebook message from a lady I’ve never before met, contacting to inform me that her beloved friend—46-year-old Brady—had passed away earlier that morning. My heart was a cocktail of emotions as I read the text and I asked her if it would be ok that I call her. She agreed, whereupon we discussed our mutual disbelief, our gut-wrenching loss, and the cruel and all-consuming takeover of his now gaping absence, being as large as that of his kind-hearted spirit we both had the honour of knowing. I asked her, too, why she’d contacted me specifically, to which she replied that her inclination was motivated by the fact that he regarded me as a close mate.

I hung up the phone and cried over the loss of a man who although I never met in person, I connected with in a way that I know was real and precious. Along with the loss, I’m still wondering if even a language as sophisticated as Greek has a word that aptly embodies the “love” between two male friends-to-be.

Although an amateur spiritualist, I’m the least religious person that ever drew breath. I find most religions nothing more than bumbling belief systems struggling to understand the one consciousness from which the universe and all life stems. But the crushing loss of Brady Thomas—and the agonising reality that I never met him—truly puts me in a spin where I wished I believed in heaven—or something of the like—in which there was a lounge room, or pub, in the clouds where we can one day have that beer that we both looked so forward to.

Wherever you are now mate, know that your impact on me was such that I didn’t need to meet you to know that I (loved) you, or whatever our word should be. And through all your support and encouragement, undeniable is the fact that I felt it from you mate.

Until lastly we meet, let the light swirl around you.