Friday, April 20, 2007

Snout in the Trough

When the notorious current affairs programmes of Australia’s free-to-air networks aren’t showering praise on our government’s wonderful achievements while at the same time turning a blinkered eye from various shameful misdemeanours which may make either the government or the network look a bit ridiculous and hypocritical, one of their favourite types of stories that they like to roll-out are the ones about Aussies and their unusual pets.

Sometimes it’s a coastal-dwelling couple with an itinerant seal that comes by for a feed every morning and who saved an entire ocean liner from near catastrophe a few years ago, or perhaps it’s a sheep-dog which was trained to walk on a barrel for a quirky television advertisement for prestige motor vehicles a few years ago and which is now breathing new life into a failing country town as tourists flock to witness it doing back-flips on top of a disused water tank, or maybe it’s a duck who nearly froze to death during a recent harsh winter, and who was given mouth-to-bill resuscitation by a duck-shooter, and who now visits each winter to share a nip of whisky with the newly-reformed, lonely old shooter who once saved its life. Whatever it is, stories about Australians and their unusual pets are a winner for subduing the nation, and always result in the television networks’ phone systems becoming jammed with viewers keen to offer their thanks and praise.

Ironically, these stories often assume pride-of-place during the thirty minutes of cutting-edge journalism (minus twelve minutes for advertisements and three minutes for network promotion) whenever there is rumour of the Government doing something a little dishonest in a bid to discredit the opposition or to scare the nation into re-electing them for an unprecedented twenty-third term. But I digress…

One of these pet stories which particularly springs to mind of late was that of a lonely, old widow living in the country somewhere in out-back Queensland, whose cat was so fat, that it had to be moved around the house in a wheelbarrow pushed by Old Mother Hubbard. This unfortunate beast, despite capturing the hearts and minds of the Australian masses, was so grossly obese that at one point, no doubt at the urging of the camera crew, the owner and her neighbour placed Miffy on the ground, bloated belly down, and the Australian nation laughed as one as his little paws moved back and forwards in thin air, being approximately five centimetres off the ground thanks to his massive, distended tummy.

It’s this image which you need to keep firmly in your mind as you think of another, bloated Australian beast of burden in the form of yer ol’ mate Donkey, who is currently on leave in the Great Southern Land, and who seems to have gone a bit overboard on the tucker since his arrival.

Anyone who has ever spent time amongst Australian alcoholics as they crack open their first beer of the day at 9am will be familiar with the term used to appease their guilt, “Ah well, it’s after twelve o’clock somewhere in the world”. Well it was with logic such as this, a couple of weeks ago, which saw the Donkeys, deprived of such earthly delights in Hindu-dominated India, launching into a couple of flame-grilled Whoppers in Singapore’s Changi Airport, at 5am. This little feast, amply washed down with sugar-laden, carbonated carcinogens, set the scene for a two-week gorge-fest which is rapidly hurtling Donkey towards a prime-time interview on Today Tonight.

It was akin to the white-line fever that otherwise well-adjusted sportsmen and women get when they run onto the field, and become homicidal maniacs. We landed in Melbourne, two seemingly intelligent, reasonably sensible, socially-minded Donkeys, and all of a sudden, all sense of gustatorial reasoning went out the window as we became reacquainted with the delights of our beloved city’s multicultural cuisine, amongst which not a single dish had even the slightest trace of curry spices! First up, it was Eggs Benedict at Kaleidoscope (a cafĂ© at which the Donkeys fell in love), followed by coffee from Negrita, brunch at Brunetti’s (ohmygawd!), incredible gelato at Trampoline, real-milk shakes from Mule, and then it was off to our first BBQ in what has developed into an unbroken, daily ration of char-grilled meat, all washed down with wonderful, ice-cold Melbourne Bitter, Yarra Valley Sauvignon Blanc and creamy Guinness.

A week later, after just squeezing into an airline seat, we were sampling fresh snapper in Coffs Harbour, and yesterday it was Doyles’ famous fish and chips. This morning, while writing this drivel, I have been sitting in Sydney’s hippest new coffee house, Grind, where I am pleased to say, the Sparkling City is catching up with its windy southern cousin in terms of quality blends.

The Barrister wants me to leave now ‘cause I’m taking up too many seats which could be used by some of the Funky Kats coming in for a double-espresso, but Old Mother Hubbard has taken the wheelbarrow off to move Miffy out of the sun, so I’m stuck on the designer-grit of the polished floorboards, with my hoofs floundering about in the rich-smelling air. Maybe it’s time to start doing a bit of exercise … ah, no hurry, it’ll be dahl-and-rice-only again before I know it.

Something like how Donkey looks about now. This cat was a front-runner in the Australian media for weeks while the Government was being questioned over its inhumane incarceration of asylum seekers. Pic: Google images

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Boom! Boom! Boom! Let’s go back to my room…

It was lovely being submerged in warm, liquid dark chocolate and having juicy, red strawberries drop into my drooling maw by 60s go-go dancers, but all that came to an abrupt, dramatic halt as an almighty boom shook the bed and room, and indeed Donkey from his slumber.

Still addled by my adventures in Candy Land, and three days on the punishing mountain roads of Pakistan, I was initially somewhat confused, and I thought that Mrs Donkey had just farted in her sleep again. But just as I was working out where the hell I was, and wondering why I had a hankering for Lindt and girls in tie-dye minis and knee-high boots, there was a second earth-shattering explosion which sent me to the floor with a nasty expletive as I discovered that the bed was solid; my stinging forehead informing me that there was no where to hide from the impending collapse of the ceiling.

I couldn’t believe this was happening - we were under attack! I shouldn’t have been surprised; in the last four days, my journey through Pakistan had been brought to you by the term “extreme military hardware”, and the Pakistan landscape was littered with it. Indeed, the first monument to the fresh eyes of a visiting tourist on the way from the airport to the capital is of a massive, stern-looking President Musharraf sitting atop a mountain in full, imposing military regalia, and beneath it, Hollywood-sized letters bestowing the virtue, “Discipline”.

The military theme was further emphasized by a massive collection of surplus military machinery decking out tiny town-squares in even the smallest backwaters of the country. Single-pilot jet fighters were arranged in poses of active flight outside all government buildings, and beside the bazaars, (hopefully) demobilised, camouflaged tanks hulked imposingly, their guns pointing up the main streets as a reminder to all “visitors” that their hosts were ready for any false moves. And then there were my favourites; real missiles mounted on cement buttresses and pointing to the heavens like enormous, military penises the likes of which feature in George W’s wet dreams every night. Add to these ‘monuments to the death of nations’ a sizable military academy in every large town and three ordinance factories, the smallest of which would dwarf Monaco, and it’s not hard to appreciate that Pakistan spends upwards of seventy-five percent of its national budget on the military, even while most of its population are illiterate and losing their children every year to vaccine-preventable diseases.

And there I was, stuck in the middle of a full-scale attack and wondering why my security briefing hadn’t mentioned anything about what I was supposed to do when receiving fire while dressed in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts decorated in humorous pictures of monkeys. “That’d be right!”, I moaned, “Twelve years of suffering under the right-wing military regime of John Howard, without finding myself within even a dull roar of some military intervention, and yet my unwitting membership of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ was unlikely to save me now, all the way up here in this remote border region, miles from any of my wonderful Pakistani coalition allies, who would be the only ones who could save me from the marauding hoards of Afghani militants who must surely be surrounding my hotel right at this moment, firing mortars directly at my room”.

On the floor next to my bed, in a snivelling, quaking mess, I was praying to God for my life, and I even tried a bit of an offering to Allah as well, although in my panic, the only Urdu I could remember was “As salaam alaikum”, so in my final hour, all the Most Holy would hear was me rapidly squealing “Hello”, in a very shrill voice, over and over again.

After half an hour, there had been no further explosions, and I had dozed off until an insistent knock at my door at 8am. Preparing to meet Osama himself, I opened to see my colleague tapping her watch in a frustrated signal of my tardiness. “But … but the explosion? Aren’t we under attack?”, I stammered. She shrugged and assured me that the Chinese were building a hydroelectric dam next door, and that they sometimes have to explode holes in the mountain. She then fixed me with The Stare, which told me in no uncertain terms that I’d I better get out of those ridiculous shorts, and get moving immediately.

So hang-on, maybe it’s fair to suggest that my initial assumption of an Afghan invasion of Pakistan was a bit far-fetched, but in my defence, do our East Asian engineer friends really need to do their practicing for Chinese New Year at 4am? Here I was in one of the most harsh and brutal regions of the world, in a country where children are taught to disassemble and reassemble a Kalashnikov while suckling their mother’s breast, and I’m supposed to know the difference between nocturnal excavation and an enemy attack?. As I sheepishly approached the vehicle under the glowering gaze of my impatient and unforgiving team, I surmised that Pakistan, Donkey and un-forewarned explosions DEFINITELY DO NOT MIX!
Cricket World Cup Fever is one disease that cannot be cured by any vaccine, and it is rampant in the mountains of Pakistan. Photo: Hagas