June (terror on the steps)

I think I may copyright that title -Terror On The Steps. I can see it headlining a black & white film, with perhaps Boris Karloff and some lithesome blonde, heel of hand pressed against her forehead as she faints uselessly. Which is a far cry from the real Terror On The Steps (cue suspenseful music), which is what happened to me not two hours hence.
It all started when I woke this morning and lazily decided not to do my usual Sunday 1000 steps walk. After which guilt nibbled at me throughout the day, especially when I devoured the better part of a packet of chocolate biscuits at lunchtime. So finally, just after 4.00pm, I gave in, got changed and headed off. By the time I arrived at the picnic grounds, the day was just beginning to slip genially towards dusk, and there was a magical golden glow bathing the foliage. Simply lovely.
There were still quite a few people around, but they were in the main a different breed than those I usually struck (not literally of course), early in the morning. This lot were a little more touristy, a little less fit, a lot more family. And with some really strange dudes thrown in the mix. Like the guy I passed early on, who had a handbag crooked delicately over one arm and a receding hairline behind which flowed a wonderfully fluffy mop of waist-length grey hair. Or the pair of ladies speaking rapid French with the small, poodle-like dog on a lead. Even apart from the fact dogs are strictly forbidden up there, I can't quite work out how that thing negotiated the steps. They must have carried it, which sort of defeats the purpose. Aah, the French.
So there I was, meandering along happily and thinking 'why don't I come here at this time more often', when there came a loud, distinctive birdsong echoing down the mountain. Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah. It was an elongated, single-note sound. Hollow, with an evocative cylindrical echo that didn't so much splinter the ambience as enhance it. And I could visualise the bird who would be making it - something large and colourful and proud, with chest vibrating as the warbling notes issued through the bush.
Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah.
The sound now came at regular intervals, getting louder and louder as I climbed ever upward. And a strange thing happened, because as the sound became louder, and closer, it sort of lost some of its echoing beauty and became just a little spooky. A tad Blair Witch, if you know what I mean. I started walking a bit faster.
Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah.
Maybe even Alfred Hitchcock. I mean, have you seen that film The Birds?
Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah.
Really loud now, so I knew it must be close. Which made me especially pleased to come around the corner and see a guy, around my own age, leaning against the railings and staring intently down into the valley below. It suddenly occured to me that he was most likely gazing at the bird itself so I paused nearby, ostensibly to have a drink of water but really to have a peek at what type of bird it was. After having listened to it for the past twenty minutes, I felt it owed me a least that much. So I craned my neck forward and then, quite suddenly, right next to me and ridiculously loud:
Aa-ruuuk! Aa-raaah!
You know how people say 'oh, you made me jump' when in actual fact they barely blinked (stationery liars, the lot of them). Well, I actually jumped. Literally. Off the ground. Because the noise came from the guy himself. There was no bird. I tell you I aged ten years in ten seconds. And as I stared, stunned - he did it again. Without turning, without even changing position. Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah! Calling down into the valley below. Over and bloody over. A veritable chorus of rollicking whatevers.
As soon as I recovered my equilibrium, I started walking. Fast. Trying to think of all the different reasons that a relatively well-dressed middle-aged man would position himself halfway up a very steep trail and then screech bird noises down a mountain. There's not a lot. Apart from the obvious mating ritual thing and I have to tell you that if that was his intention, I can't really see it working. People usually prefer their foreplay more... well, sane. Anyway, so this is where a vivid imagination can be harmful to the health, because once I gave up on plausible explanations, I started on the implausible. And immediately came up with the incredibly bizarre scenario that this was some sort of ritualistic chant, where he called down thanks to the gods of the valley a certain number of times, and then whipped out a handy knife and found someone to sacrifice. To keep the gods happy. As you do.
Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah.
As you can imagine by now I'm walking pretty damn fast. I pass a young couple who have stopped to catch their breath and we exchange pleasantries (i.e. what's with that fruit loop down there?) and I continue on feeling a little more relieved. Because now I have bodies between me and him, and sacrificially-speaking, the young woman looked distinctly more virginal. And in my admittedly limited experience, mostly from watching TV, that's usually a pre-requisite.
Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah.
This keeps up every minute or so for the entire climb. At one stage the sound/call is answered by several others and it sounds like a pack of them in joyful unison. Even though I suspect it's just some young people having fun it's still really creepy. And I'm reminded of a Buffy the Vampire episode about a wolf pack who looked human and had this extra-sensory connection with each other that they used to attack and then devour a small pig, a homeless guy and the headmaster (one at a time of course. Otherwise it'd be greedy). I know my sacrifice scenario is patently ridiculous but I've never, ever, climbed those steps so fast. And now each time I hear the guy do his weird bird-thing, I'm almost relieved because it's coming from the same place and that means he hasn't moved.
Aa-ruuuk, aa-raaah.
Accompanying me all the way to the top, and then continuing as I trot briskly down the lyrebird track. Bouncing off the mountains and echoing hollowly along the valley. And the closer dusk comes, the more bizarre and strange the whole thing is. He's still going when I reach my car and as I lock the doors, I decide it'll be a long time before I come for a walk up here at the same time. That is, not unless I'm accompained by a handy virgin and one thing's for sure, none of my friends qualify.

June (it's official)

Last week we attended a Kokoda et al information evening run by our trekking company (as in we shall be using them, not as in we own them as part of our business portfolio). Anyway, as information evenings are usually - but not always - wont to do, the evening was primarily devoted to the giving and receiving of information. But it was also a good chance for us all to catch up again, including our newest member, Annie, and also Wayne, who some of us were in the Army Reserves with many moons ago. It looks like Wayne will be our token male so it's probably just as well that he already drinks.
We also got to catch up with our prospective leader, Sue, who is a very pleasant lady of around our own age. And she appears competent too, which will no doubt come in handy. Especially since I now severely doubt the ability of either Lorraine or myself to navigate our way out of a wet paper bag. When trying to find the conference room, which was on the second floor, we managed to end up back where we started - twice. It was like one of those weird puzzles with stairs and everything but just one dimension. So being unable to find the second floor of a pub seems, to me, to be a rather bad omen (but then again jungle paths are single storey so maybe it'll be easier).

After the information segment of the evening, we went back downstairs (it was easier to find going backwards) and settled down for a catch-up. Sign of the times (and our age), though, was the amount of skinny hot chocolates that were ordered in comparison to actual alcohol. Even so, I (who believe it or not was a hot chocolate consumer) still managed to lose my footing afterwards when picking up my coat and went staggering backwards, arms spiralling attractively, straight up and over a laden - but fortunately unoccupied - table. Tres embarrassing.

But the upshot is that we have firmed and booked our dates - the latter part of July 2010. Which gives me just over a year to perfect both my navigational skills and my ability to stand upright for extended periods of time (say, five minutes). This will be a challenge.

June (soundbites from my life)

Today was a public holiday to celebrate the Queen's birthday even though it isn't really her birthday and very few would care even if it was. But it's sure nice to have a day off. In fact I personally think we should celebrate her birthday every Monday. Or somebody's anyway. But the upshot is that I've had a lovely day writing away at the computer so I thought I'd share a few 'soundbites' from my life with you:

1. My two female offspring (F18 & F14) are watching a skit on Australia's Funniest Home Videos yesterday, which features a rather rotund gentleman getting in touch with his inner seal. He slithers through the pool water and beaches himself plumply on the side with appropriate barking and flapping of hands/fins, whereupon a friend (clearly with the same cutting-edge humour) offers him a goldfish - which he eats. Okay... yuk. Really yuk. F18, looking disgusted, comments "well, now I'm over men for life." To which her sister responds with: "yeah, and now I'm over seals."
(So thank-you Australia's Funniest Home Videos, you have saved our family many awkward moments in the future. Not to mention hard to organise family get-togethers etc)

2. I am at my mother's house having coffee. She wants to get a tupperware container out from the back of a bottom cupboard and asks me if I could reach it for her. Now those following this blog will know that I have a torn ligament and am waiting on an operation (which is also the reason Kokoda 2009 became Kokoda 2010). The following conversation ensues:
  • Me: "I'll give it a go but don't forget I can't bend properly."
  • Her: "Why not?"
  • Me (frowning slightly): "Because of my bung knee."
  • Her: "What's wrong with your knee?"
  • Me: "You know, I've torn the ligament."
  • Her: "What? Aren't you over that yet?"
(Clearly they don't make them as tough as they used to. After all, I've had months and months when I could easily have made a small incision, executed a few nifty blanket stitches to repair the damage and then even signed my handiwork with embroidery thread before closing. Half an aspirin would've staved off any pain.)

3. My single male offspring (M26) and F18 are corresponding via facebook (even though one is in his bedroom and the other in the lounge-room - of the same house). They do a quiz to ascertain who would survive in a horror movie and while F18 falls into the 'wet blanket' category, M26 is designated a 'serial killer' (I'm so proud). He then posts "look behind you" and sneaks up the passage to position himself with his face poised over the top of her armchair. She reads the post, frowns, obediently turns - and the screams are enough to age me ten years and send the dog scurrying behind the couch, leaving droplets of urine in her wake (clearly possessing the guard-dog skills of an incontinent ostrich).

4. We are all, together with a friend of F14's, watching the end of Shrek 2 on DVD (note: this is an animated film), where the backdrop is a large pirate-style ship with rows of clouds cleverly positioned in lieu of sails. F18 asks admiringly: "How on earth did they get all those to stay up like that?" At which point everybody stares at her open-mouthed and then starts laughing. FF14 (also chortling derisively) responds with: "That's easy. They'd just have used string."

Welcome to my world.

June (damn fitness)

What really annoys me is how it takes so damn long to get fit, and so little time to lose it. I mean, I've been doing the 1000 steps each Sunday for the past six months or so and had exerted a lot of energy to get to the stage where I could reach the summit with only three rest-stops. I was even extending myself by walking up a little hill at the top and back down again and then, if that wasn't admirable enough, jogging part of the way down the Lyrebird track (which is easier than it sounds because, in many places, it's so steep that once you start jogging you can't stop. So it's actually more of an out of control running/flailing movement). Then a few weeks ago my eldest daughter developed a cold. Now this particular offspring is not usually terribly tactile but when she is the least bit ill, has a tendency to drape herself over me at every opportunity. Thereby ensuring that any ailment is shared posthaste. Hence, within a few days, I also had a cold. And it has lingered, and lingered (no jokes about swine flu please, I'm over them).
So this morning I head for the 1000 steps as per usual. But this time I am breathless before I even get out of the car-park, and by the time I reach the actual steps I sound like an eighty-year old asthmatic. I won't go into details of how I sounded - and looked - once I reached the top. Suffice to say I suspect several people were preparing themselves to deliver CPR (probably holding a secret rock/paper/scissors for who would have to give me mouth-to-mouth). Needless to say there was no extra little hill this morning, and no jogging/running/flailing either. It seems my fitness level has rebounded several months in a week. And, boy, am I peeved.