Thursday, 24 November 2016

Coming to Oz…part 2

In Melbourne there is a well known and apparently badass hill climb known as the 1000 steps. I had Googled it the day before I decided to attempt it and set off with a couple of litres of water and value brand muesli bars to see what would happen.

The walk has two options. Scenic and easy, attempted by ramblers and those wishing to push their cardio by actually running up it, and the Fucking Horrible Route which is roughly 1000 uneven stairs, hence the name.

I opted for the harder option and about halfway up could feel the combined weight of 6 months without proper exercise, 6 weeks in Crete drinking heavily plus the fact I’m 40 something… all combining to make the ascent a bit of a bastard.

I made it to the top with about 3 water breaks and was fully expecting a glorious view over Melbourne, only to be confronted by the sight of loads of trees obstructing the vista. Oh well. Rehydrated and ready to go I set off again down the easier route, noting that there were “Warm Down” points along the way involving stretching tired limbs to avoid post workout cramps like I occasionally get in Krav, and result in me auditioning for the Ministry of Silly Walks at 3am in my darkened bedroom while trying not to scream.

I used the push ups and limb stretching posts, munching on a bananas as I limped back down and, not wanting to litter the hillside, hung on till the bottom to ask a random woman holding a baby if she knew where the bins were. The conversation went like this:

“Excuse me do you know where the……MELINDA?!!”

Turned out the random woman I had asked was a work colleague from the UK I haven’t seen in 16 years. She was equally flabbergasted, mainly as she doesn’t even live in Melbourne and was only there for the day with her husband and two kids. She introduced me to her family and we had a chat about old times, me pointing out that the week before I’d been crashing at the apartment of the mutual friend who’d introduced us back in 1997.

Next day I flew to Sydney which was 50 bucks more expensive than taking the bus but 10 hours 30 minutes quicker. I’d never flown domestic before and while the security is equally as tight, there is no problem taking liquids through and no security at the other end. You literally just disembark and then fuck off.

I hadn’t been able to find a Couchsurfer willing to put me up so I had found a cheap hostel called Surfside in Coogee Beach, about 5 miles from the city centre. The 6 day experience will be a separate blog entry but to sum up I am way too fucking old to be sleeping in the same room as a bunch of alcoholic, pot smoking, horny kids young enough to be my children.

The snorkelling around Coogee is superb and I borrowed a mask and snorkel off the hostel manager, taking in the highly recommended Gordon’s Bay about 15 minutes walk down the coast. It looks like a garbage dump, mainly due to the untidy collection of large rocks that make up the cove. However in summer it’s apparently jammed with people and virtually impossible after 12pm to get a space to sunbathe. I dived in and was super proud to find a conk shell within about 5 seconds. Turned out there were dozens of them, along with smaller limpets and shell life, thriving in the rocks. Crete where I usually swim, is barren by comparison.

Sydney has a few sights to see, the main one obviously being the Opera House in the harbour. The building is super impressive, and it was worth it to trek down there. Next to it is Sydney harbour bridge which is fucking enormous and below that was a colossal cruise ship called the Princess Royal. The bars and restaurants along the harbour are nearly always full and it is truly breathtaking to experience the sense of scale.

Climbing up the Sydney harbour bridge costs about $300 which is taking the piss by anyone’s standards. Instead I opted for the $20 treat of the Sydney Tower Eye in the centre of town. This is a view over most (but not all) of the city from a height of about 300 metres. For an extra $45 you can suit up in overalls and get lashed to a platform OUTSIDE on the roof by carabiners. As fun as this sounded I’m on a budget. The 4D presentation was only 1D due to the 3D projector being up the swanny. I complained after and was offered a choice of one other attraction the following day by a smiling, chubby receptionist. I opted for the wildlife zoo, mainly as she had raved about how it was her favourite.

Next day I rocked up and the zoo, while small was staffed by enthusiastic, mainly female zookeepers who clearly loved their jobs and doted on the animals in their care. Cobra Holding is now Cobra Patting (for reasons that went unexplained) and Koala Cuddling is now Koala in the Same Photo As You, due to the fact that hugs apparently stress them out and put them off shagging (the birth rate has double since they banned people from holding them…or so we were told).

I got to feed a couple of adorable kangaroos, met the creepy looking Two Headed Lizard (one “head” is its arse, meaning that if a bird grabs the wrong end it either bites it with the real head or shits in the bird’s mouth). Whole thing was awesome and this was something definitely worth doing.

Later that night I met up with an old school friend I hadn’t seen in 28 years. We last spoke when we were about 18 and he contacted me via Facebook some time ago, saying to look him up if I ever came to Sydney. A few beers in the Opera Bar near the harbour bridge as the Princess Royal left dock. Seeing a ship THAT big doing a three-point turn is impressive in itself.

It was also nice to see the amount of yummy, female arses on display as the Ozzy summer has resulted in many women going out in shorts or short dresses. I have always liked a nice bum and Ozzy women seem to have ones that are just about right. My mate pointed out that this was one of the reasons that he emigrated here.

My patience with the youth hostel was wearing thin so I had looked into driving a car 3000km up to Cairns. Certain car agencies specialise in this as people need their vehicles relocating but posh folk don’t want the hassle of doing it themselves. It’s free for so many days to use the vehicle, you just pay for road tolls, insurance and petrol. I applied to drive a two berth camper van the distance, noting that the free 5 days would be enough when a friend from Plakias who lives in Sydney suddenly agreed to let me stay at her place for a while.

Happy days.

When I arrived she showed me to my own bedroom which had a double bed, a nice clean towel and wasn’t populated by anyone on a skateboard or smoking marijuana.

I could have wept.

After composing myself and hugging the shit out of my friend in gratitude, we went off for a pub dinner. A decent steak and three schooners of beer and I went to sleep a happy man.

The next day I felt soooo utterly relaxed that I did very little. There are a few shops in this bit of town and after 2 weeks of trying to buy a folding toothbrush (trust me, until you’ve tried one, you’ve never lived) it turned out that the ma & pa chemists at the end of the street sold them. Live and learn.
I also went for a jaunt 4 stops down on the train and found out that the local shopping mall have a Specsavers, my optician of choice from England. Made an appointment for a consultation, pointing out that wearing specs while travelling was getting right on my tits, and they gave me 2 free sets of monthly contact lenses.

Quids in.

I am a Krav Maga Practitioner and have been for about 6 years. My other blog details this and while I'm travelling it's been fun to join both the Melbourne and Sydney clubs that fall under the umbrella of Krav Maga Global, the organisation I'm affiliated to. I went to the Sydney club on Monday and the class lasted 2 hours, including the awesome "Getting Slammed Face First Into An ATM" training and some abdominal workouts from Mr Motivator's nightmares. Turns out they also do in house gradings, meaning I'm eligible to retest my P5 exam (approximately equivalent to green belt in the ponsey martial arts) in December. Biggest shock (and second biggest coincidence that's happened while in Oz) is that the photo the club uses to advertise their kiddy Krav classes is one that is not only from the club I worked at in the UK, Junior Safe Krav Maga...BUT is a photo that I myself took 3 years ago. I personally wasn't bothered but when I told the club owner he had a quiet word and the Sydney club agreed to pull the pic. Training was heaps of sweaty fun and I'll be heading back Sunday for more.

One thing I’ve been lax on over the last few years is scuba diving. I qualified as a Rescue Diver with PADI in Crete just over 3 years ago and in spite of a couple of of dives the following summer, havent’ been near a BCD since. The clincher had come when on a dive in 2014, with the requisite Plakias hangover, the instructor had got me to clear my mask at about 1metre depth. She then said “Tomorrow we do that at 30 metres” and my anxiety fuelled, raki sodden brain had waved a white flag. I told her to keep the money I’d paid her in advance for 5 dives as a gift, realising that heavy drinking and scuba tanks do not go hand in fin.

This time however I’ve been off heavy drinking since August and wanted to try to get back into it. A few doors down from the poxy hostel is a school that looked fairly good and had some smiling instructors milling about when I went in. They offered 2 refresher dives for $200…or 4 Open Water dives for $149.


This is cheap by anyone’s standards, as diving is an expensive luxury. A few days later I rocked up with my diving watch and knife and was introduced to a smiling yet serious 23 year old female instructor whose dad used to be a specialist firearms officer in the London Metropolitan police. As a Rescue Diver I had the luxury of missing out on all the theory that the baby divers had to do…plus I was able to pick and choose what skills I did while piggy backing on their course.

I opted to skip the classroom stuff but took all the skills, as my memory needed a good polish, to say the least.

Heading out to Camp Cove, about 6 miles from the dive school and we got suited up. \

Now…getting back into a wetsuit after so long was not easy. As farcical as it may sound, I was very uncomfortable with the whole thing. Despite what you see in movies, the process of diving takes a lot of preparation and a lot of disassembly. First of all you get a wetsuit. Then you get boots. Both of which you are measured for. Then you get a mask & snorkel. Then a weights belt to keep you down when you dive.Then a Bouyancy Control Device which is like a waistcoat that will inflate when attached to the pipes and thingies that plug into your tank of compressed air. The pipes are 4. You have two respirators (one for you, and one for a “buddy” low on air). Then a combined diving computer/ air gauge. Finally a pipe that plugs into your jacket allowing it to be inflated with air from the tank to keep you afloat on the surface and/ or affect your floating skills when underwater. To get into all this lot takes at least 10 minutes and then you are obliged to check your assigned buddy to check they haven’t done anything stupid and/ or got their pipes twisted. You both lean forward and step into your weights belt, then hoist it up and pull it tight. It doesn’t have a safety catch as it is meant to be released quickly in the event of an emergency descent. Finally you help them get into the BCD, which by now has the air tank and pipes on it as well. After that you waddle down the road holding your flippers and assemble at the water’s edge, inflating your jacket and laying on your back as you struggle into your fins.

The first dive was not very pleasant as I was still remembering those halcyon days of hangovers in Crete where I was taking beta blockers and struggling not to panic at anything below 6 metres every time I imagined accidentally nudging the clasp on the weights belt and then rocketing to the surface to face a dose of narcosis.

My buoyancy proved to be the arse ache of the mission. I had five on the belt and the instructor had to swim over a total of 3 times to give me more, secreting them in the spare pockets of my BCD. We then worked through a few skills, including the fiddly “Taking off your BCD and then putting it on again”, followed by the ballerina moves of “Taking off your weight belt and doing a crocodile roll to put it on again”, before finally attempting my own personal bastard…the “Kneeling on the ocean bed, taking off your mask, putting it on again and then blowing air out your nose to clear the water”. 

After I’d done all this I began to relax and enjoyed the remainder of the dive where we just swam around, looking under rocks and ogling at jellyfish.

A second dive was held an hour later. It’s hard to see where everyone is when diving and when you have 6 guys in close proximity following an instructor you run the gauntlet of getting a flipper in the face, which happened to me on a few occasions.

As we dried out and squeezed back into dry clothes (and I tried not to perv out on the women in bikinis stood around me) I got the instructor to agree to me bringing in my Go Pro (well, Go Pro imitation to be fair) the next day to catch some footage. My diving knife’s second strap had pinged into two pieces that morning (fortunately during the dry land briefing before we dived and not when we were submerged to I thought to improvise a wrist strap with the remaining one and save about $75 dollars for an official one.

When I got back the next morning everyone was ready to go and today we were told we had both a navigation dive AND the joys of a deep one. I’m licensed up to (or rather, down to) 30 metres but the deepest the instructor wanted to take us was 10 on what was for all intents and purposes an Open Water course that I was gatecrashing as an oldie in need of revision. An OW certification means you can dive to 18 metres once you are signed off but very few instructors will take you that deep during training.

The navigation was fine, with us swimming 8 kicks along a designated compass point, with our buddies hanging on to us. Later we took the plunge to 10.3 metres (at least that’s what the dive computer recorded as the maximum depth) just as a lightning storm kicked in. The water temperature was weird as it would change depending on where you were swimming, from either tolerably warm to shiveringly cold. I felt sorry for the other group’s instructor who’d forgotten his wetsuit and was diving using a hooded vest thingy and a pair of surf shorts.

I had the camera contraption on my wrist, after having successfully constructed a harness to wear it. On a motorcycle or bike you would wear the camera on your helmet or on the handlebars. On a Go Pro or it’s ilk, you can’t due to the risk of it obstructing precious vision or knocking your mask loose. A wrist holster means you can then simply point it at what you want to film. Only problem with an action camera is that they are VERY basic in their operation. You push ‘On’ to power up, then ‘On’ again to flit between high/ low res movies and high/ low res photos. There’s no preview screen like on a phone or digital camera as you are meant to be occupied with your skydiving, surfing, scuba diving and not on what you are trying to commit to celluloid memory.

I had the camera on for about an hour or so, which will undoubtedly be a joy to edit later on.

Trudging back to the van and the beach was deserted as all the sunbathers had fled when the storm kicked in. It was still fiddling with rain and we shivered next to the mini bus and the gear trailer as we stripped out of our gear and stowed it. I got the instructor to sign my log book, meaning I now have a grand total of 23 dives to my name. I asked the instructor how many she’d done and she replied “My dive computer says 800…but I’ve been diving since before I wore it”.

Some way to go yet then.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your turn to speak...
Feel free to disagree but insults and insinuations
will get your comment deleted.