Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – my take

(Spoilers throughout, and especially toward the end.)

It is above all else a film about conflict. Explicitly, that between the British and the French in the days of sails and cannon and muskets on the high seas of the so-called at the time “far side of the world” (around the south-east and west coasts of South America). More subtly, quieter conflicts rage between science and religion and warfare and nationalism and pride and superstition – the latter of which would these days more exclusively be lumped in with religion, but back then also took on a life of its own at least in the context of, and in this context, seafaring. It is a film epic. But it is also a narrow examination of deeply human characteristics. Down to the expertly and/or innately furrowed brow or knowing look.

I first watched it years ago, two or three times. And at the time nor now could I claim to be an expert on period-specific warfare or naturalism or religion or the simple complexity of the human experience, despite the fact that of course I have been a human for more than three decades. Not to mention the gorgeous music accompanying the film I estimate, rather than research, to be of the baroque. And specifically, at least mostly, originally by Bach. But an expert would not approach the film like I have with every viewing: awe and admiration. They would approach it at best critically, if not necessarily in all respects approvingly. Certainly, it is critically, if not expertly well-reviewed. But it did not perform dramatically well at the box office.

I put this down to the simple, clearly evident premise of the film: a quite obscure, geographically located contest between the British and French, punctuated as perfectly as possible by scientific sojourns around the at the time as yet barely documented world treasure that is the Galapagos. It won a couple of Oscars, from memory, hampered by the concurrent presence of one, perhaps the first, of the Lord of the Rings trilogy films. (In fact one of the LOTR actors, Dominique Monaghan, if I’m not mistaken, was on board the British MAC ship (busy boy).) It’s easy for me to assume its understated success went over the heads of too many of the movie-going public for it to instead have been an overwhelming success.

But this is an incorrect assumption, as assumptions always are. In fact it’s not even close, as most assumptions probably are. The film featured as its lead an Australian (and perhaps New Zealand (sometimes it’s hard to recall birthplaces of such people from memory (and I’m endeavouring to conduct this homage purely from recollection))) and also somewhat US popular, thanks to Gladiator, actor: Russell Crowe. And it dealt with a cat-and-mouse game between a British and superior French ship along the east and then west of South America. This would never have played well with such fervent nationalists as are probably the majority of the movie-going US public. It’s a simple, yet in my opinion accurate account for the film’s undeservedly yet unavoidably understated success.

Yet, if we look beyond such commercial concerns (which apparently according to Wikipedia hampered the production of a second film), MAC is a singularly, epically good film. And the reason is, as I stated earlier, its focus on conflict. War is something that has been done literally and innumerably to death and will continue to as war evolves, unfortunately mostly depending on the propaganda purposes of the country (or company?) most concerned with the message to be sent. They’re welcome to it. But what this film does well is it goes far beyond pedestrian notions of nationalism or patriotism or zealotry, and examines the conflict inherent in the human condition and the civilisation it has been striving to progress for some 10 millennia, albeit mostly from a male perspective (if you discount native Brazilian women and toasts to “wives and sweethearts; may they never meet”).

This is where MAC becomes infinitely more interesting than who’s firing or swinging a sword at whom. It is a film about a swirling morass of conflict not unlike the swirling seawater to the stern of the principal ship – which also serves as the somewhat central character. As far as I can recollect MAC is set within the enlightenment era, in which science is slowly displacing religious and otherwise superstition. A character in the film is identified as a Jonah – basically a bad luck charm – and he throws himself overboard holding a cannonball, to his death. And coincidentally winds and rains delivering passage and life, respectively, begin again just in time to avert mutiny shortly after his sacrifice (urged by pressure from the Biblically superstitious crew). The captain, Crowe, wisely rejects posthumously acknowledging him as a Jonah and instead eulogises him as, to be succinct, quite the able seaman lost to circumstantial tragedy. It’s a pivotal moment, in which the dead character is almost resurrected like a secular Christ as a reminder that superstition is at best unhelpful and at worst catastrophic.

The catastrophe of losing one man, let alone many, aboard a warship so far from home port is also neatly punctuated by this incident. Each loss of every man is mourned not just due their humanity or popularity, but to their former purpose aboard the ship. The men – some old, some very young, others in-between – all depend on each other to fulfil their roles whether important or menial. And every loss is a loss indeed; a hamper not just to their dominance over the enemy, but the very chances of survival for every surviving crew member. So even though there is interpersonal conflict on the ship, this is the least of it. Because the survival of the entire crew, and every individual man, is so dependent on the very survival of individual men. The ship, arguably the main character under Crowe’s captainship, becomes a metaphor for human civilisation struggling against its internal membership and external forces – characterised by the French, the weather, and religious interpretation.

The film’s ultimate message is that conflict produces righteous victors. But also that other righteous would – and possibly should – be victors might be sacrificed along the way. The good doctor is a victor. He is shot while seeking to observe an obscure species of bird by a marine attempting to hunt the same bird, in a wonderfully dramatic clash of science versus instinct. And by virtue of this he successfully operates on himself (another metaphor so profound as to be almost too blunt to be a metaphor) on the very island (Galapagos) he was previously denied inspection of due to the hunt for the French. And then! During the very research he was previously denied by said hunt, he observes the nationalistic enemy and must return to the warship empty-handed of most of his specimens barring observations. Curiosity enlightens; conflict destroys.

So with much subterfuge and camouflage (incidentally that the captain observes via a stick insect gathered from the island) the British ship of course conquers its enemy. The dead are given to the waters they served so precariously above. The victors’ history, as with all victors’ histories, is the one portrayed by the film. But a British victory is of course one the modern western world is not hungry for. Perhaps during the late 1800s, this film would have proven both popular and successful as propaganda to the British Empire – if film such as this yet existed. Regardless of the breadth of its audience, it is of course an enlightening film. Science triumphs over superstition and conflict – even as it aids the latter. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World above all else teaches me that with every conflict, personal or worldwide, individual humans and humanity at large grow. Every conflict renders following conflicts less necessary and/or likely and/or destructive. Humans are still battling themselves and each other. But progressively we are fighting less, and cooperating more. The Earth is a ship, and the billions of us will sink, swim, or sail, perhaps one day actoss the universe, together.



The (artist once formerly known as) Prince is dead.

During my childhood Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U was a favourite of mine.  At least until I discovered she was bald.  Hey, I was a kid.  And us men, we’re all at least a little superficial.  It probably wasn’t an issue of attraction, anyway.  Guess I just thought women should have hair.  But I digress.  Other than the fact that it’s obviously a wonderful song, I hadn’t since known exactly why I liked it – incidentally completely until a significant long-term relationship of mine recently ended.  But that’s another story.

Then Prince died.  Hadn’t known much about him at all.  Didn’t have a particular interest in his (self-performed) music.  Thought he was a bit of a freak.  Like a less mainstream Michael Jackson.  Still kind of think that.  But I was driving to work one day and heard over the radio that he’d died.  And I cried.  It caught me by surprise, that is, until I discovered that Nothing Compares 2 U was written by him.  It’s like I knew subconsciously that one of my favourite songs from childhood (the other one is Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger) was written by this all but unknown man and my inner-child – and me – wept for his passing.

It was a great weekend, nonetheless.  I’d just won a pretty cool portable Bluetooth speaker made out of an old suitcase, from a beer company that will remain unnamed due to their apparent implicit support for religious groups.  And the Double J digital radio service played Prince all weekend.  So I enthusiastically funnelled him through the speaker for two days.  Now I like most if not all of his songs.  He did record a version of Nothing Compares 2 U according to Spotify, but apparently Sinead’s version came before and cast a large shadow over it, to say the least.

Goodbye, Prince.  You’re missed.  But you did what you needed to.  I’m sure an ocean of purple tears was shed for you.

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Four of Nine

Somewhere in Oregon, US - November-ish, 2012

Somewhere in Oregon, US – November-ish, 2012

Portland, Oregon, was as you may remember a progressive Pacific-north-western American city I missed while riding a dragon (Wicked Camper) from California to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This is a little regrettable because since then I’ve learned without much effort more about the city’s vibrancy, despite its almost year-round wet-and-cold-weather. Such weather was itself credited by I don’t remember who in a magazine I can’t recall the name of as being the reason why Portland’s creative culture was blossoming like a sunflower despite or perhaps in spite of regularly dark clouds above. Because such foul weather more often than, say, on the Gold Coast, forced people inside to paint, strum guitars or write fiction. Now, at this point of my US and UK journal I’m in London, and the reason I’ve taken you back to Portland is to make a comparison between the two cities. By no means am I going to suggest that London is not nor never has been an international artistic centre. Hardly. But while Portland and the US north-west it calls home is known as a cultural “up and comer” (Lonely Planet), I felt London was long past its prime in that regard. Of course even or maybe especially for such an ancient city bohemian blossoming in whatever art form must come in cycles, but I couldn’t help but detect a certain stagnation, weariness or perhaps arrogant complacency in that old world town.

I'm posting either too many or not enough photos of London.  Hard to guess when I've started posting as I write.  Oh well. . . .

I’m posting either too many or not enough photos of London. Hard to guess when I’ve started posting as I write. Oh well. . . .

While this feeling was evident, to me, everywhere I went in London – it was no less keenly felt in Clapham, where I was presently riding the bus with young Kristy. We were sitting atop the double-decker heading along Clapham Road back to her townhouse somewhere in or near the Brixton area. At some point during this trip I remembered, loudly and vocally, that during late-2011 London had been rocked by widespread rioting in response to corruption, depressed economic circumstances and, I believe, isolated police brutality. Clapham itself, as Kristy confirmed, had on August 8 of that year been hit by more than 1000 disaffected youths who laid siege to Clapham Junction – one of “Britain’s busiest train stations” – through an orgy of violence, destruction, looting and general anarchy. When I much too loudly started discussing these recollections Kristy shooshed me, then glanced around the bus as if sensing danger. And finally that event brings me to my point: the only thing progressive I sensed about London during my time there was a distinct undercurrent of social angst and anger. But, hey, the Global Financial Crisis was kind to no-one, not least the British. And at least in the UK, unlike Australia, its people bother to notice their elected representatives’ corruption and contempt and voice their disapproval of such outrages. The whole “she’ll be right, mate” sentiment is something that must make our wealthy and powerful rub their fat pink hands with glee. Back to where I left off with the last blog post. . . .

Didn't go inside Shakespeare's Globe - too expensive

Didn’t go inside Shakespeare’s Globe – too expensive

Even with Google Maps streetview I really can’t figure out which Clapham pubs I’d been to during that Friday night in London with Kristy – a pretty friend of my half-sister and brother’s sister. Even memories of the first pub we visited, after leaving central London with her two full-bodied buddies, are hazy due to the amount of gin and tonic I was drinking. I remember enjoying myself immensely, though, and that the atmosphere was quite amiable – despite the fact that being a long way from home and escorting three women I barely knew through an area I knew even less well was a decidedly foreign experience for me. Still, we chatted and danced and drank and indulged in that time-standing-still atmosphere unique to Friday nights out or pleasant sexual experiences. The pub seemed a microcosm of that not-quite-eternal city; it was standing room only, unless you could actually find a seat on the sides of the room. We had, and it was warm inside so I’d removed my scarf, jacket and second jacket down to but a t-shirt and jeans. Not long before leaving entirely I stepped out for a cigarette quite bravely without wearing warm clothes and when I tried to return, they were closed. Of course the pub wasn’t actually closed, but that’s what the security staff told me. I said my friends and jacket were inside, but they were indifferent. So I stood there jumping slightly up and down with my arms crossed for warmth, until the meat-heads said I could go back inside to get my stuff, under one condition: they’d be following me. Naturally, once I’d taken a few steps inside and turned around to check I was being followed, the bouncers had lost interest and were nowhere to be seen. The fuckers were merely messing with the rare Australian guy who’d mindlessly followed a beautiful woman to Clapham.

London Bridge from the Thames south bank

London Bridge from the Thames south bank

So after I uncharacteristically kissed her friends goodbye European style (one kiss on each cheek), Kristy and I headed for hers via another pub to visit the bathroom and the abovementioned bus ride which could have turned ugly due to my indiscretion. Unbeknown to us, Kristy had lost her wallet at either the second pub’s toilet or simply anywhere within the first. We got back to her flat and I was all ready to make my move – I have no idea how but it’s happened before and hope I manage it again – when she discovered her wallet was gone. That’s a big thing these days. I mean all those cards can be painful to replace and anxiety-inducing to possibly have on someone else’s person. Actually, it probably was worse to lose a wallet back in the days in which money wasn’t electronic. But still, she was hardly pleased. And it was hard to pretend that the hour or two she spent on the phone with places she’d been that night – investigating the location of her misplaced treasured possession – were arousing in the slightest. At least her couch was comfy. In the morning. Well, 1pm really. The next afternoon I didn’t give her so much as a hug before I stepped out of her door and onto a street that was more bewildering than any I’d yet come across during the two months of the trip so far, because my smart phone and hence only real means of navigation had died. I regret not hugging her. At the time I was planning on seeing her again that night, for the 12 Pubs of Christmas. That, I should explain, involves while dressed as Santa visiting and having at least a couple of drinks at 12 pubs (or taverns or bars) – or as many pubs as you can before you wake up in bed the next morning dressed as a less-than-jolly Saint Nick, wondering what the fuck happened. I’ll explain later on why I regretfully didn’t make it to that event. It had something to do with an unplanned twilight stroll through the slums of east-London. I also regretted my phone being dead. Regardless, and filled with fragile confidence constantly battered by a savage hangover, I set forth boldly down the road with extremely little idea of either where I was or where I was going, surrounded by very Dickensian-looking inner-suburban London.

I would have taken photos of Clapham, had my phone not depleted its battery.  God knows my camera would have become lost/stolen, had I taken it. This is Westminster, backgrounded by a simply mesmerising dusk sky

I would have taken photos of Clapham, had my phone not depleted its battery. God knows my camera would have become lost/stolen, had I taken it.
This is Westminster, backgrounded by a simply mesmerising dusk sky

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Two of Nine

Blackheath Avenue

Blackheath Avenue

When I’d first booked a return flight from Gold Coast Airport on Friday October 12, 2012, Wednesday December 12 was meant to have been the end of the greatest geographical, physical and intellectual journey of my life, at LAX International Airport to Brisbane via Auckland. Instead, blessedly, I was setting out from Blackheath, south-east London to explore Greenwich, also south-east London, England. This was after probably the best sleep I’d had in two months, and waking up neither to cold, snoring nor a fellow backpacker noisily packing their shit before departure. No. I was blissfully alone. And perched on the precipice of beginning an oh-so-long-awaited plunge into exploration of arguably the greatest city the modern civilised world has ever produced. Blackheath, though, to be honest, felt like a little British village far removed from the enormous yet beautiful and labyrinthine metropolis London surely became – which in many ways was a positive reflection of it. But first I needed a leather jacket button mended, so I wandered out into the biting cold while wearing it and another jacket and handed it in to a dry cleaner just across the road. Swear I would not have been surprised if I’d seen Postman Pat and his black-and-white cat ambling along the street bringing letters to people’s doors. Ready, but less well-layered than I’d been in weeks of Northern Hemispherical winter, I headed to Greenwich Park. All Saints Church farewelled me into the park’s tree-less southern depths, and after walking straight up leafless treed and dull green grassed Blackheath Avenue I stopped beside the Royal Observatory. Where I would have seen London in its totality for the first time, but for the glorious yet foul weather settled over it like a cold, dirty blanket. In Greenwich proper the Cutty Sark sailing ship lay landlocked beside the Thames (pronounced “Tems” in case you didn’t know) in an undersized dry aquarium of glass and steel. Soon I got my first view of a brown, certainly frigid yet wide and fast-flowing Thames before heading through the Old Naval College and briefly checking out the National Maritime Museum. I learned there about Arctic sea-passages of old often sought but rarely and hardly found, and about the forging and defence of North Sea World War Two shipping corridors to Russia. Strangely, I saw little of the unprecedented naval empire established during the reign of Queen Victoria. Figured I’d given them enough time at this point, so headed back to Blackheath and retrieved my jacket from the dry cleaners, stopped in at Jimmy and Tim’s, then boarded the aboveground train from the nearby station, for London.

Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark

Alighting at London Bridge station on twilight provided not the dramatic entrance to outer-central London I’d expected. Until I emerged on the southern bank of the Thames and was confronted close-quarters by an immortal city weighed flat by its thousands of years of history. By its many millennia of great wars, artistry, politics, empire, architecture and romanticism. Lights astride the river twinkled gaily through air thick with cool moisture and speckled a black Thames with reflected illumination rivalling the stars in Heaven. I let forth a deep exhalation of visible carbon dioxide, and traversed the Tower Bridge. Then walked west past the city on the river’s north-side, crossed back over London Bridge and continued along the south bank past the Southwark, Millennium (footbridge), Blackfriars, Waterloo, Hungerford and Westminster bridges. After gazing upon Westminster’s governmental splendour for the first time, I got lost amid the St Thomas’ Hospital grounds before passing the Lambeth and crossing Vauxhall Bridge and catching the Tube train from Pimlico to South Kensington Station, a short walk south of Hyde Park. I’d considered ice skating outside the National History Museum, but decided not to for some reason (it must have been busy) and wandered east back through the city to London Bridge and returned to Blackheath, at about 10pm. This is where I’m puzzled by my own notes. Between leaving Greenwich and returning after a very lengthy foot-journey around the city to London Bridge Station, I wrote probably only 50 words of reminiscence. It’s pretty simple, really: London is boring. That might sound contradictory considering I’d already said my first visit to it was “oh-so-long-awaited” and had referred to it as “arguably the greatest city the modern civilised world has ever produced”. The most positive thing I can say under these changed circumstances is that I’m sure London really always is what I expected of it, but you really need a lot of time – probably no-less than a year – in which to appreciate it. Not just a week. Not less than 12 months, I’m sure, would really be required in which to properly appreciate its physical vastness, its cultural depth and its timeless atmosphere. Positives aside, it is the most impersonal city I’ve ever experienced. That’s what bored me. While walking through any city whether in the UK, North America or Australia, a certain aloofness from fellow inhabitants is granted. You won’t be calling hello to everyone, or anyone, you meet like in a good-hearted small town. But in London this was taken a further step to the extreme. As people bustled around and toward me I didn’t feel just as though they saw me blended within the broad, thick brush strokes of moving human paint spread within the streets. You get that in any city. In London, it felt as if to every inhabitant of the pavement and tarmac I and every other were instead offensive graffiti that might be cleaned with but a malicious scowl or not-so-subtle bump of the shoulder. There was an animosity, a teeming, angry jagged flow to London’s streets which didn’t sit well with me despite the physical beauty of its design. So, when I arrived back at London Bridge Station two hours before midnight, I quite with relief boarded a train and fell asleep in Blackheath’s relatively tranquil embrace by 11pm. I would sleep well in London – one of the least sleepy cities in the world – in comparison to those many others I’d visited during the preceding weeks. Possibly too well.

London Eye and Westminster

London Eye and Westminster

US and UK – A Small Sweet Bite of That Biggest of Apples – Part Five of Five

Ridin' those rails - 59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

Ridin’ those rails – 59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

It’s so appropriate that New York gets five blog posts. A real testament to its imposing in every way scale. Plus I know I, predictably, got enough photos to go with so many words, which is reassuring. This bit is worth the extra thousand words or so. You’ll enjoy it, I guarantee it, or your money (by which I mean time because of course you didn’t pay for squat besides data allowance to view this blog) back. Here we go! 5.15am. If that’s not shocking enough for you, I’ll spell it out: quarter-past five in the God, damn, morning. That’s after many drinks, loud music, enjoyable yet draining (for an introvert) company and going to bed at, oh, I dunno: 3am? And at the risk of throwing chronology out of kilter again so soon after getting it back on track, I’d say it must’ve been Tuesday, December 4, 2012. Not even 6am. Jesus. I would pay for it later. Pay with my heart. But at this moment it was prudent to live in the moment, or at least the very short-term future. In this sorry state I had to while hungover, savagely sleep deprived and carrying about 50 kilograms get to, then ride the subway through one of the most densely populated areas on the planet – thankfully before rush hour, and going in the opposite direction to most commuters. I had to go back the way I’d come when first landing at JFK International Airport a week earlier, which simplified matters. But the kicker was how it all began. I’d set an alarm, of course, but what I actually woke up to was Carlo shaking me because I’d slept through my alarm. I’d become the drunken alarm sleep through hostel staying wanker! The horror! The fear and fucking loathing! Unfortunately, I had no time presently in which to reflect on this episode of severe pain, because I was running late, so I mumbled thanks to my saviour – who promptly returned to sleep – endured one last trip downstairs on the Slowest Elevator in the World, threw my key card at the reception staff, and burst – as much as it is possible for anyone to “burst” anywhere considering my condition at the time – out on to Amsterdam Avenue.

A photo within Central Park, that I used at the end of my New Orleans blog posts, that by virtue of its singular beauty deserves to be used again

A photo within Central Park, that I used at the end of my New Orleans blog posts, that by virtue of its singular beauty deserves to be used again

Alright, and perhaps not so obviously: I made it. It was not, and I stress NOT, fun, though. While I was slumped within a carriage hurtling underground, and contemplating the positives of death, some bum moved through the carriage asking everyone within it for money by using some fabricated sob story. He got to me, looked me in my bloodshot eyes and moved on without even having a go. My aching, angry soul was clearly hanging somewhere beyond and around me, warding off anyone whether their disposition toward me was positive or not. A friendly yet probably naive young Indonesian woman unknowingly tried her best to improve my mood, when she asked me if I was going to JFK. Because, duh, that’s where she was going. She reminded me of the short amount of time I’d spent in Indonesia, in Jakarta, particularly, before a flight home from a surf trip in which I’d spent about 10 days on a boat with eight other Aussie gents and three native crew members – around an island west of Java called Panaitan. The boat’s crew, and my brief experiences with Indonesian mainlanders, imbued in me a lasting impression that Indonesians are beautiful, generous, if largely impoverished and sometimes corrupt people. I never saw her again after leaving the train. And I suspect she went in the wrong direction, because she was nowhere to be seen as I awaited the airport connecting Air Train. I hope her travels then and future journeys through the grand theatre of life treat her well. I arrived with plenty of time before the flight. It must’ve been later than I thought. I had a gin and tonic, which had by now become my airport drink of choice, and read and used the airport’s wifi. In between drifting in and out of badly needed sleep, I enjoyed watching movies – Total Recall and The Campaign – and TV shows – New Girl and Curb Your Enthusiasm – during my third international flight (not counting Vancouver-Vegas via San Fran). And finally, after looking out at darkness that might as well have been the endless emptiness of space, I was struck by lights below sprinkled across the flat expanse that was England, west of London and Heathrow International Airport. The Old Country. In many ways, despite my Irish and Scottish heritage: home.

A quite cynically and kind of bitterly hashtagged photo from my former Instagram account, which accurately conveys my mood at the time - while connecting to the JFK Air Train

A quite cynically and kind of bitterly hashtagged photo from my former Instagram account, which accurately conveys my mood at the time – while connecting to the JFK Air Train

US and UK – A Small Sweet Bite of That Biggest of Apples – Part Three of Five

Looking across Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle, Central Park, toward Yorkville and East Harlem, Manhattan, New York

Looking across Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle, Central Park, toward Yorkville and East Harlem, Manhattan, New York

Both happily surprised and comically disappointed that Emma was much more co-ordinated on ice-skates than she’d suggested, I spent three hours or about five or six miles skating around the Wollman Rink with that energetic and diminutive lady of the old country. She talked constantly. About everything. Like she was a paintbrush that had been waiting for my blank canvas to come along. Beyond my normal reservations, and whether it was intentional on her part or not, she’d stunned me. I was a zombie: still walking, still skating, but suffering from severe blows to the head and heart. Her green eyes were as hypnotising as a field of well-wetted grass in the bright sunlight, and her cold-bitten rose-red lips concealed perfectly white teeth – despite the cigarettes she also enjoyed. We wandered Christmas-theme decorated 5th Avenue and Times Square before enjoying dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. We took photos of each other at the 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree. My God. I just realised while outside my parents’ Tudor-style Gold Coast home and enjoying some wine, a cigarette and jazz music on my phone, thoughts of her awoke in me briefly my love for everyone who I have had and do have love for. Emma did and has made an impact on me I’ve tried not to acknowledge, due to reasons you’ll read about in blog posts coming up. “It truly seemed I could do no wrong with this girl,” apparently. We returned to the hostel by about 2am after our night gallivanting around New York, and I left her to battle the busy – even at that hour – reception staff for her third replacement room card-key in five days. “By some miracle” she agreed to see an off Broadway show with me the next morning before her flight back to the UK. I struggled to get to sleep for obvious reasons. “Despair!” cried my notes. Emma’s 6pm flight from my life forever, or so I thought at the time, required a 12.40pm shuttle pickup from the hostel. The show I wanted to see with her was at 11am. Still, we wandered Central Park together in the time that was left. At one point she incorrectly asserted that we needed to walk in a particular direction to return to the hostel – which would have taken us to the Upper East Side – and I equally assertively overruled her. I shouldn’t have. She would have definitely missed her flight if I’d not succeeded or not tried to correct her bearings error. I made a critical romantic error when we were close to the hostel, and I pulled out and used a ChapStick. She asked if she could use it, before which she also asked if I’d “ever had a cold sore?” I admitted I had, and suggested if she was concerned about oral transmission she could pick off the top of the stick I’d just applied to my lips. She did, but my unfortunate fate in regard to her was sealed – and it would be entirely my fault. But the rest of that story is for a later blog post. Outside the hostel, we hugged, waved goodbye through her shuttle’s windows, and I dragged my suddenly broken heart slowly up that Goddamn lazy elevator.

Wollman Rink and Mid Town, Manhattan, New York City

Wollman Rink and Mid Town, Manhattan, New York City

The Statue of Liberty, on my way to Staten Island

The Statue of Liberty, on my way to Staten Island

Despite one of its drawcards being on her way to JFK – where she’d talk her way into the VIP lounge, drink wine, pop a couple of Valiums and drunkenly achieve her childhood dream of visiting the plane’s cockpit – I wasn’t done with New York just yet. I spent the Saturday reading, drinking, smoking and coming up with the financially irresponsible yet romantically outrageous idea of an $800 round trip to Heathrow Airport, London, in order to “gain the kiss I should have already planted”. Then I went out drinking with Carlos. After five Budweisers and four Guinnesses, I brazenly challenged this apparently former pro pool player to a game at the hostel. But the table was taken by a suspiciously all male and well muscled group of French guys. Spent, I retired to bed. Managed movement about noon the following day, which was a record so far for that city. Enjoyed an expensive but delicious lunch at the Big Apple Cafe downstairs in the hostel. There’s a word at this point of my notes that I can’t decipher. Which is a shame, because it ends with an exclamation mark. Which you know means it’s gotta be good! Looks like “8hjes!” I have no idea. Must’ve been something to do with the food. The previous night I’d eaten an enormous and tasty $7 Singapore noodle at the Asian joint across Amsterdam Ave. New York is foodie heaven, and its food is one of the few cheap things it offers if you know where to look. Back to the present and with a full stomach, I rode the subway down to the Whitehall Terminal Manhattan (South Ferry) to ride the free Staten Island Ferry – famed for taking tourists directly past the Statue of Liberty, to Staten Island, and back again. This was the touristic highlight of my time in New York, especially when compared to my Mississippi trip on the Natchez paddle steamer back in New Orleans: firstly because I was no longer sick (though as usually hungover); and secondly because, unlike from the Natchez, the views from the Staten Island Ferry just about wore out my eyes and my camera’s shutter button. I sat, shivering, on the ferry’s top deck and gazed at enduring Lady Liberty, thinking proudly of the freedoms from tyranny, repression and censorship she represented. Freedoms which had gloriously and ironically allowed me to be gazing upon her splendour. I looked at Manhattan to my right, and as the ferry pulled into Staten Island I was saddened by the absence of those long-gone now twin towers. Towers that did probably represent greed and tyranny at least to the people who succumbed to the temptation of symbolically and tragically destroying them. But that overcomplicates my feelings at the time. As I returned on a different boat to New York City, I passed the Lady once more. The sun had set, darkness had reclaimed its 12-or-so-hour reign, yet even all the stronger it seemed she shone around the globe with the light of freedom loving people everywhere. And I without exaggeration was strengthened by her passive magnificence. May she remain standing as long as the human race endures.

Lady Liberty, on my way back to Manhattan, New York City

Lady Liberty, on my way back to Manhattan, New York City

US and UK – Some Guys Can Handle Las Vegas – Part One of Four

So long, Dragon.  Sniff.  Sob.

So long, Dragon. Sniff. Sob.

Wicked Campers’ Vancouver depot dude said through the cigarette haze surrounding us that no Goddamn way could I walk from the Marpole area where the depot was located, to Vancouver International Airport.  Funny, it perhaps deceivingly looked a walkable distance, just across the north arm of the Fraser River delta.  I must take a cab, he said.  So he called one for me, then we chatted in the meantime about how I was supposed to have dropped the Dragon back the day before.  This lateness was the result of miscommunication between me and my mate Wicked’s marketing manager Mr Dudgeon, who said I had to have the van back on Wednesday, roughly November 21, 2012.  What he didn’t stipulate to me was that he’d meant Wednesday Australian time – which was about the next day, Thursday, North American west coast time.  It was confusing, and I don’t even know if that clarifies things.  If you’re confused about why I’ve begun the next part of this ongoing blog about Las Vegas, via Vancouver, when I apparently had only just left San Francisco, please read this future literary award-winning eight part series in order to catch up:  Updated?  Good, ‘cause the cab had arrived.  Off to the airport, without a flight booked I might add.  I wasn’t sure how getting a flight to Vegas would go without booking, but I rolled the dice, as they say, and it turned out very well.  This is an important point of difference between the US and UK – and perhaps even Europe, generally.  In America, “first you get the money, then you get the power. Then, you get the woman.” And in order to help you get “the money”, the Yanks are all about offering cheap deals to people who arrive last minute for things like theatre shows, train journeys and, of course, flights.  The reason is because they’re keen to fill up the capacity of whatever’s on offer, so they’re willing to offer discounts to people who arrive late and might never have been in the audience, or on the train or plane, otherwise.  I hope you’re with me on this.  In the UK, it’s different.  There, unless you’ve booked a few weeks or at least days in advance, you will be charged more for arriving last minute. And of course be less likely to get “the woman”.  The UK’s approach makes less sense, which is understandable if you’ve ever met or had a conversation with a drunk English or Scotsperson.  And I guess North America’s approach is a very real testament to their free market, economically chaotic values. And their national pride for gangster films.  Point is, from memory, after simply wandering up to the Vancouver departures terminal, I managed to secure a flight to Las Vegas, via San Francisco, for about $150US.  Fucking, excellent, yo.

The long left-behind USA Hostels San Francisco smoking and drunken youth mock-United Nations area

The long left-behind USA Hostels San Francisco smoking and drunken youth mock-United Nations area

So, yeah: cheap flight to Vegas.  More drinking/gambling/possible problem with the law fine money.  Boom.  There was nothing much worthy of note about the flight itself.  The connecting flight from San Francisco was where the action happened.  This was only my third experience with international connecting flights.  The first was Gold Coast-Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur and the second was, only weeks before where we’re at now, Gold Coast-LA via Auckland.  Both of these were straightforward affairs with plenty of layover time, which lulled me into a false sense of security for my third-time-almost-unlucky.  So, I sauntered casually out of the San Francisco international arrivals terminal, lit up a cigarette and scoffed at the 15 minutes or so I had to get to my Vegas-bound plane.  Then started slowly walking to what I thought would be the domestic departures terminal.  It wasn’t.  It was a monorail.  This confused me.  What in God’s name? I thought.  I had never come across trains that had to be used within an airport before.  A little frazzled, I got on the monorail, and after five minutes felt a little bit fearful.  Like I’d maybe got on the wrong one and was actually going away from domestic departures, to God-knows-where.  Turned out my fears were well-founded.  Ok, I thought, it’s alright: I’ll just get off, get back on a train going the other direction, and make the plane.  Or so I hoped.  When I finally got off at domestic departures I had to do the frenzied run to my gate, and made it with only seconds to spare.  Wasn’t terribly embarrassing; plenty of other people were running madly past me to their gates during my sprint to mine.  This experience would come in very handy a few weeks later, during an extremely hungover dawn run to New York’s John F Kennedy airport via the subway from Manhattan.  Regardless of how scattered I was upon arrival, I knew I was in Las Vegas.  There were poker machines in the airport, for Christ’s sake.  And I would find out they were also in the city’s convenience stores, and probably churches.  Not that I was cynical enough to visit a place of worship while visiting the most evil city in the world.  When I arrived at the extremely seedy area at the northern end of South Las Vegas Boulevard (otherwise known as The Strip) to check in to the Todd Motor Motel, a grizzled old chick complimented me on my ripped jeans.  I was rooming with Fred (not his real name) – a Catholic 50-year-old poker junkie – and Estefan (another nom de guerre) – a Brazilian 34-year-old teetotalling new dad who was in Vegas not to drink and gamble, like most people; but to indulge in adrenalin junkie activities like sky-diving, Camaro driving, machine gun shooting and motorcycle death-defying.  Oh, and buying stuff, for his very young son, that was much cheaper in America than in his homeland.  Estefan’s wife was and is very hot.  I hope if he’s reading this he takes that remark as a compliment 🙂 Estefan, particularly, may have saved my life in Vegas.  Which you may come to understand, should you keep reading.  It was 11pm when I arrived at the hostel.  So I pretty much went straight to bed, hoping Fred on the bunk above me wouldn’t wet himself from dreams about poker or Jesus or playing poker against Jesus.  I swear he at least spoke in tongues while he slept.

Todd Motor Motel, North Las Vegas Boulevard

Todd Motor Motel, North Las Vegas Boulevard

US and UK – Some Guys Can Handle Las Vegas – Part Four of Four

Vegas, the beast, had not rendered me penniless just yet, but out of both prudence and wisdom, I agreed to join Brazilian Estefan for Saturday night dinner at an Italian joint. I can’t figure out exactly where it was on Google Maps. Somewhere east of the airport on Tropicana Avenue. It was a subdued affair, but the point is it kept me from losing another hundred or two or four on the strip. I certainly wouldn’t have spent $25 for a meal on the strip, though. Unless you count the Outback Steakhouse lunch I just couldn’t resist. The next day, Sunday, I planned on leaving Vegas with my credit rating intact via a hotel near the airport I’d stay at before flying out on Monday. The main problem was I decided to walk there. Catching the monorail south to the MGM Grand, then walking the mile or three east along Tropicana Avenue and south to domestic departures along Paradise Road was really not that arduous, despite the heat and about 50kg of baggage I was saddled with. The first problem was that the few hotels close to the airport I stopped in at along the way were booked out. The second was that, once I got to the airport, I realised it really was much cheaper to catch a plane to my destination, New Orleans, on Monday rather than presently. So I caught a shuttle bus back to the strip – like I’d just Goddamned arrived. Inevitably exhausted after lugging so much luggage (backpack and satchel) through the desert heat, I checked in to the Luxor’s glass pyramid hotel – not a half-mile south of the bloody MGM. Vegas was going to get one more chance. One more chance, that is, to murder me. “A pair of beautiful young women wearing southern-style petticoats and skirts hold my arms up while I lie shivering in my Louisiana bunk bed. Then their equally entrancing mother calls them to her, after which she walks over, kisses my burning forehead, runs her fingers across my scalp and promptly walks away.” This is a delirious dream I apparently had shortly before catching up on these Vegas notes while in New Orleans, a few days later. After checking in at the Luxor, I ate McDonald’s for dinner then wandered to the New York New York (everything on the strip pretty much was a) hotel to ride its rollercoaster with three Mexican ladies – one of whom was extremely cute and gave me oh so briefly the eye. Then she disappeared. Maybe Immigration found her. Feel free to let me know if you think that joke was in poor taste. Afterward, I was ripped off $2 (eight-quarters) by a House of the Dead gaming machine. Almost lost my shit over those vanishing quarters. I bought a pint of Guinness at the riotous Irish bar within New York New York; then sat outside on a balcony overlooking The Strip and drank it with a cigarette while an authentic Emerald Isle band played to great acclaim within. Caught a burlesque (titty) show back at the Luxor; wandered the tranquil and un-used due to winter pool area; got raped on the roulette tables; took a wine-and-smoke break in my room; got even more raped by roulette; tried to get into a nightclub too late and while too wine-drunk; then went to bed.

Tools of the trade.

Tools of the trade.

“When I hold my exhausted arms over closed eyes the upper-case E stretches larger and larger toward me. Along with the noise.” This was more New Orleans sickness delirium. Perhaps I’m being self-indulgent, but by way of analysis of this madness, I guess my arms were the outside parts of the E. And my face must have been receiving the centre arm of the E. I have no idea where “the noise” came from, what the noise was, or what anything at all from the dream meant. I was really, really, really fucking sick, you understand. There were no psychedelic drugs involved. And even if the sickness came about because of drink spiked with some Goddamn shit, there’s no way, surely, that its effect could have lasted a week. Hey, in my defence as either a victim of sickness or drink spiking, I was making a concerted attempt to catch up on the oddly much more immune-system healthy time that was my experience of Las Vegas. I checked out express from the Luxor. This meant simply dropping my key-cards into a provided bin. Then I walked, shudder (which you can read about some of here: from the Luxor to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport from its southern side, which was conservatively four miles south along the Las Vegas Blvd then east too many miles along Sunset Rd. It’s pretty simple stuff when you Google Map it. Even though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, I was attempting to walk what eventually would have been a total of, again conservatively, 25 miles to domestic departures from the south side of the airport. It was of course an impossible, albeit in my and possibly but not probably your opinion admirable, endeavour. Defeated, I stopped somewhere east of Paradise Rd and dragged myself to an insurance company building, whose receptionist, as relayed in the link a few sentences back, called me a cab. The driver was a real nice guy. I tipped him generously – as I did for some reason all cab drivers during the greater journey. I was repaid immediately by karma, when I overpaid my excess baggage charge at the airport by a couple of hundred dollars (because the weight reading was in pounds, when I thought it was in kilograms), and a nice baggage lady ensured I was refunded. Back to San Francisco, without the infuriating international-domestic transition, then New Orleans where – according to my notes– I became seriously concerned that this and the entire story of my life might have ended.

US and UK – Some Guys Can Handle Las Vegas – Part Three of Four

Foreground: Todd Motor Motel Background: Stratosphere Casino Hotel and Tower (and highest yet small amusement park in the world)

Foreground: Todd Motor Motel
Background: Stratosphere Casino Hotel and Tower (and highest yet small amusement park in the world)

Friday. November 23, 2012. Word Journeyer headed out for his first solo night deep into Old Las Vegas town. It could have gone much worse. In vaguely recalled reality, it really was a good time. I now understand that quote from The Hangover by the random dude out the front of Caesar’s Palace, just before the Wolf Pack is surprisingly returned a cop car by a valet, in reference to the mattress apparently thrown out of a hotel room: “Some guys just can’t handle Vegas.” It’s true. A group is best. You can look after each other. After all, as long as you have money or at least a functional credit card, Vegas is practically lawless. It’s a place where you can shoot, fuck, drink, gamble, drive, jump from, marry or really do anything you want, for a price. The only danger is that anyone with enough money can also do anything to you that they want, if you don’t watch your own back. I was reasonably under control. Lost $40 dollars at the Stratosphere, first. Then wandered to a McDonald’s adjacent the Circus Circus for a Quarter Pounder burger. Stimulated by red meat and hard liquor, I found myself quickly within the circus the Circus Circus was, for some roulette fun and games. For the record, it had clearly changed a bloody shit-load since the time Hunter S Thompson and his Samoan attorney had spent there. No carousel bar to struggle to escape from; but if you drank enough, it certainly felt like the place was spinning. It was there at a roulette table I vaguely recall at one point turning probably 20 or 40 bucks into a stack of $5 chips totalling $100. Which I naturally lost all of before the clock tolled midnight. From there I wandered upstairs to the arcade where I blew the heads off arcade game zombies while drinking frozen margaritas – one of which was almost criminally added to with tequila by the bartender who said he was “just doing his job”, after I light-heartedly accused him of trying to kill me. “His job”, I quite accurately imagined, was to get me so heavily liquored that I would lose all of my money as quickly as possible at the closest roulette table. Instead, in spite of the bastard and his evil casino management, I wandered back to the Stratosphere where I lost another $60. Then I remembered there was a strip club right across the road from my hostel. I’d started the evening at the Olympic Garden Gentlemen’s Club. Only a short walk across the road from the Todd Motor Motel, that I was staying at, the place wasn’t terribly animated at 6 or 7ish o’clock. I drank the minimum entry requirement of two $10 drinks, smoked a couple of cigarettes and gave a Marlboro Light to one of the B Team strippers who was there that early. Then I left for the abovementioned shenanigans on The Strip. This time, roughly, oh, I dunno, 1am, after walking in and quickly nursing a Scotch and Coke, I was rapidly set upon by Francesca: a breathtaking brunette in her early 30s with Italian blood and fabulous breasts. I paid $100US for 15 minutes’ alone time with her. Details aside, it was the best experience I’ve ever had with a stripper, even though I baulked at paying an extra hundred for even more private sneaky sexual happenings. Blissfully and drunkenly ignorant of the fact that I’d left both my bank card and license at the strip club, I stumbled deliriously across the road, and finally to bed.

Closed Monday through Thursday.  Why?  How?

Closed Monday through Thursday. Why? How?

The next part of my notes are interesting, as they were apparently written while for “three days now I’ve been slowly dying from a sadistic head cold in the Treme-Lafitte, America’s oldest black neighbourhood, north of the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana. But the show must go on.” Even now, many months later, I can remember that I really had felt not far off death as these scribbles were placed upon their notepad, and I probably should have seen a doctor. But, obviously, I survived. And as far as you know I’m still in Vegas. So, where were we? Oh: “I checked out The Strip’s older yet equally gauche sister – Downtown Vegas – on Saturday.” I was a little weary after the previous night’s sampling of that mythical American Dream. But the show certainly did in broad baking desert daylight go on. At this point in writing, it occurs to me that I had almost completely stopped taking note of philosophical ruminations while in Vegas. The reason is simple: Vegas is not a very philosophical place. If my introspections had in any way been spiritual, then they had no place in Vegas – which is so devoid of spirit it’s tragic. Back to the present journey. After retrieving my licence and bank card from the strip club – and checking my bank account to ensure it’d not been cleaned out by some fucking fraudster – I took a roundabout route from South Las Vegas Boulevard to Downtown, through East St Louis Ave then up the South Maryland Parkway. This trajectory took me past very low-set, colourful and eclectically-styled suburban homes. It was so dry and full of tropical trees and suburban-lower-middle-class it was reminiscent of Los Angeles. Northward of Maryland, I came across one of Vegas’ few parks. This being a Saturday, the park was of course open. But it was interesting to note that it was and is never open Monday to Thursday. I laid in the park awhile, pondering the US’s often bewildering ways – such as generally not open parks – and caught up on some reading. After a burrito from a shop in an area that was so Hispanic it might as well have been Mexico, I was immediately confronted upon entering Downtown with groups of striking hospitality employees. Also, when I reached the intersection of Fremont Street and North Las Vegas Boulevard, I could see apparently purposeless scaffolding heralding the entrance to the Fremont Mall. While crossing into the mall and past the scaffolding I was shocked by the reason for it: four people whizzed into the mall’s shade over my head from behind me, suspended from wires I hadn’t noticed and to more scaffolding which received them about a quarter-mile north-west into the mall. Crazy. Downtown felt like a more condensed, out-of-date and focused on gambling, drinking and eating area of Vegas. It was raw, stripped back and unashamedly trashy. Vegas, ’70s-style. I wandered through it, out of it, past the Main Street Station Casino Brewery and Hotel, doubled back, had a coffee, cigarette then headed back south to the Todd Motor Motel along the Boulevard. Thoroughly unimpressed though not regretful, during this last leg of the day’s journey I noticed an older man stumbling toward me. He wanted to know where the strip was. I enjoyed the sick pleasure of telling him he was on the South Las Vegas Boulevard; but that The Strip itself began at least one mile back much further south in the direction from which he’d come. He, too, was clearly recovering from a big night. I didn’t hold it against him. We even chatted a bit. He didn’t try to steal my wallet. He was alright, that guy.

Downtown Las Vegas

Downtown Las Vegas

US and UK – Some Guys Can Handle Las Vegas – Part Two of Four

I’d almost suicidally exposed myself to the risk of being mugged, stabbed, shot and abducted by staying amid the socio-economic quagmire of South Las Vegas Boulevard, between The Strip and Downtown. But, it was an excellent vantage point from which to emerge from the worst Vegas had to offer and into the best (which fucking ain’t saying much), by walking the 18 mile round trip up through The Strip and back. A nine mile shrine to decadence, depravity, excess and indulgence, is The Strip. Even the bums had evolved to Vegas’ unique ecosystem. Though there were of course the regular pan-handling for change types, there were also many more others handing out flyers advertising mostly Latino women of questionable gender and sexual hygiene who you could call directly to your room for a pittance. I baulked at this. First of all, I’m not a huge fan of Latino women. Secondly, I prefer to be sure when getting intimate with a woman, that I won’t suddenly find out she is not, or has not always been, a woman. Perhaps out of homesickness, I found myself at the MGM Grand’s Outback Steakhouse for lunch. Ate an enormous steak and drank a reinvigorating Scotch and Coke that were unfortunately more expensive than everything else in Vegas was, on average. I took it easy with Brazilian Estefan that first night. I felt the need lower myself cautiously into the cesspool Vegas was, rather than diving blindly in. We visited the Stratosphere Casino Hotel and Tower. I won 20 paltry dollars on roulette. We rode three thrill rides clinging precariously to the top of the tower and wandered The Strip while quite sober. I was reassured by the fact that, and I believe I expressed this to my new South American friend, during my time at each place I’d been so far not only had I found a partner in crime, their genders had varied chronologically from male to female. Eric the German dude in Los Angeles; Clara the beautiful French chick (even though we didn’t come nearly as close as I would have liked) in San Francisco, plus Tom the Hawaiian dentist and Marco the Italian dude in the same city; then Sarah the gorgeous biology student in Eureka/Arcata, northern California; Steve the bitter expat PhD graduate Yank living in Vancouver; and Mary the lonely dog-loving north of Squamish, British Columbia, deserted campsite cabin-dwelling chick. An incredible list of gathered associates for an introvert like me, and the Brazilian was by no means the least of these personalities. After only a couple of drinks, and amazingly without any gambling losses – yet – I was asleep by 1am. Fred the poker player was nowhere to be seen. I would have paid good gamblin’ green to have known what that crazy bastard was up to.


Maybe it was yesterday’s still digesting red meat and hard liquor; maybe it was homesickness anxiety; or perhaps it was just in general an itchy trigger finger earned through my time within the gun-loving United States of America and many hours playing shooting PC computer games. Whatever way, soon after lunch I found myself across the road from behind the Circus Circus Hotel Resort and Casino, at the Battlefield Las Vegas shooting range. I swear those imagined reflexes gained from playing World War Two games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honour kicked in to almost have me ducking and weaving as I approached the “Battlefield”, which really did look like a modern military base under siege from the surrounding hostility of Las Vegas. Several Humvee armoured vehicles and camouflaged barrels and sandbags surrounded the Battlefield’s main building. One car backfire or actual gunshot was all it would have taken for me to throw myself behind the nearest cover. But things went a lot more straightforward than that. I recall, while studying journalism at Queensland’s Griffith University, I had once looked into visiting Southport’s Gold Coast Pistol Club for a few study-steam-blowing-off shots with my Indian housemate. When I enquired, the pistol club required police checks and waiting periods and all sorts of things that would have frustrated my patience. Battlefield Las Vegas, on the other hand. Well, I basically swaggered in, thankfully not too wild-eyed or hungover, filled out a short form, followed a ‘soldier’ in to the shooting range and was successively and successfully handed both a Glock pistol and AR-15 assault rifle I’d requested at the front desk. I took aim at the unfortunate humanoid shape on the paper target positioned about 30 metres deep within the range in front of me, and began to squeeze the trigger. Shot, after shot, after booming shot. It was just like being in a video game. While not perfect, I could tell the sergeant or whatever he was standing watching was kind of impressed with my accuracy. In fact, he probably thought I’d wielded a deadly weapon before. After emptying the Glock’s magazine almost without deviation into the target, I stuck the AR-15 on my shoulder and launched even more accurate rounds into the poor paper plebeian. Even after my attendant military man had adjusted the rifle to shoot semi-automatically, most of my multiple bullet bursts still hit the hapless human-shadow-poster-target. Poor inanimate bastard looked more like Swiss cheese than a large piece of bullet-riddled paper, after all my rounds had been expended and GI Joe had retrieved it from the ceiling-bound track. What a fucking rush! I laid the rifle on the table in front of me, exhaled noticeably, thanked my camouflage-covered comrade and wandered deliriously from the building with an unexpected souvenir on my person – a bullet casing I’d stepped on with and gotten lodged in the tread of shoes I’d bought earlier that day. As far as mementos went, it certainly beat a shrapnel fragment to the face or casino security beating to the stomach. I must reassure you though, that I am in very few ways a fan of guns. And believe the fact that, in the 21st century, you can apparently privately own weapons of war such as assault rifles in some US states to be an ongoing criminal act by legislators. For anyone in Australia reading this who disagrees with my gun-control views, I’ve got three words for you: Port. Arthur. Massacre.