Walking The Tender Minefield – Quiz Night

Posted in CWA, Mixed Nuts on November 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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After my last post, all cheery and grateful, I’m ahead far enough on happy credits to grow all sombre and introspective again. Today I took delivery of a lonely, stormy Sunday. Last night I attended the annual Country Women’s Association Quiz night, a sort of mega-Trivial Pursuit distraction which provides the folk of Madang with an evening of aimless and good natured competition.

Since this is going to be yet another soul-searching ramble through the back alleys of my cranium, let me first demonstrate that I am not in a bad mood at all. These are among the finest bananas I have ever had the pleasure of smushing up in my still toothy gob. Somebody brought them up to the beach at Blueblood a couple of weeks ago. I must have eaten about six of them. As you can see they are rather small. They are incredibly sweet and the flavour is slightly reminiscent of green apples:

See, that’s a happy thing. You may find little flakes of freeze-dried happiness elsewhere on this page. Let’s see what happens. I’m winging it.

As I plan to intersperse scenes from last night’s frivolities here and there as I plod along, I may as well get started. This is our intrepid QuizMaster, Shane McCarthy overseeing the presentation of the craft projects. Each table of six participants was required, on pain of merciless ridicule, to create an object d’art  from the miscellaneous contents of a cardboard box. Imaginations ran rampant on the theme of “Christmas Carol”:

Once again I found myself facing a dilemma, the magnitude of which might seem trivial when seen from some remote location outside my skull. Over and over again, because of my life situation, smack dab in the middle of everything which meant anything to us,  I have to decide if I’m going to do this or that and wonder what my reaction is going to be. The problem is that there is no more us.   There is just me.  The range of effects which I have experienced has fallen between the extremes of euphoria and despair. I honestly don’t know beforehand what is going to happen. I’m just along for the ride.

This is a tender minefield. While that expression may seem oxymoronic, it is not. All that is happening here is that my community is allowing me the freedom to find a new normality. People are treating me as if everything is business as usual. This is exactly what they ought to do. From their perspective everything is  business as usual. The minefield is of my own device.

I had waited for an invitation to a table at Quiz Night until I felt that I had to take some active part in my life once more. Two days before the event I called two friends asking, in a not-so-transparent manner, if they had a table and if it was filled. Later that day, I did receive an invitation, after I mentioned it, from another friend. So, committed as I am to allowing life to carry me where it will with as little interference from me as is prudent, I accepted with a mixture of gratitude and foreboding. I’m such a drama queen. Everything has to be a big production. Nothing is easy. Truthfully, I blame my mother, but don’t tell her.

It is  a minefield, but it bears me no malice. It is simply there, inert until provoked. If I stay in place, I won’t get anywhere. I’ll stand and take root in this miserable existence. I can walk gingerly, experimentally, but I know that the odds are against me. I’ve already stepped on a few and I have big chunks missing here and there. The wounds are painful, but they heal rapidly, some more rapidly than others.

There is fun aplenty at every Quiz Night. Ridiculous, giggly fun. Here three teams compete to determine which can most rapidly expend an entire roll of toilet paper by wrapping a team-mate in it:

Following the analogy of the minefield, I’ll tell you a true story (really) about a related metaphor, The Point of No Return.

When you note that you have reached the geometrical centre of the minefield and you count your injuries, it dawns on you that you are only half-way home. Injury-wise it might make more sense to retrace your steps and return to GO, not collecting $200. Yet that way lies the madness of arriving back at the beginning and realising that the only reasonably safe option is to once again retrace your footsteps back to the point at which you turned around and proceed from there. You needn’t have wasted the energy. Rational decisions at this point are extremely difficult to reach.

Late one Sunday afternoon in the early ’70s, I roared away from Chicago Midway Airport in a US Army UH-1 “Huey” helicopter with my crew of four en-route to Decatur Illinois, our home airfield. It was a late departure and each of us had a severe case of “get-home-itis”; families and jobs awaited us. I was Pilot in Command, as sorry a situation as you could want. I was neither much of a pilot nor much of a commander. Deeming that we had sufficient fuel, we lifted off post-haste.

Shortly after passing Kankakee, we could see a massive line of thunderstorms ahead of us. This is my no means unusual for a summer evening in Illinois and it seemed that there were plenty of non-flashing holes through which we could safely pass. We fluttered on, listening to AM radio rock-n-roll through our helmet speakers. After a while it was becoming more and more obvious that we were going to be doing some ducking and weaving. I tapped my finger on the fuel gauge. My co-pilot nodded and frowned. I considered a hop back to Kankakee and a miserable night with a grumbling crew in a motel and rejected it.

We dodged thunderheads visible only by their fireworks and suffered some moderate turbulence which reminded us how long it had been since lunch – just long enough. Nobody wants to barf into his helmet bag. With all of that dodging and searching for holes, I could see that fuel was going to be a teensy-weensy problem. The chatter on the intercom went significantly silent. Everybody knew that we had just passed the Point of No Return. I was wondering precisely how many Army Regs and Flight Rules I had already busted. I was about to bust a few more.

Well, I see that it’s time to shorten this long story. We passed safely, if unsteadily through the flashy Texas Line Dance of cumulonimbus incus aircraft washers and into the still, star-studded air of central Illinois. We were about twenty-five minutes from Decatur when the Twenty Minute Fuel Warning light began excitedly to advertise its presence. Uh-oh. As pilots are wont to put it rather indelicately, the pucker factor increased by an order of magnitude.

Let me take a break from that breathless and somewhat pointless reminiscence to show you our creation: (and then I’ll try to explain the inexplicable)

I sincerely hope that you can see that it is a manger scene, complete with a tiny, fuzzy Baby Jesus. I contributed, somewhat distractedly, the snowflake and the exclamatory Moo from the spotted cow.

So, was there any point at all to the helicopter story? Probably not. But, if I had to guess, I guess it would be that we are sometimes so distracted by what we so desperately want that we are unable to recognise what we so desperately need. Now, connecting this somewhat tenuously back to the minefield thing, a few of those mines might capriciously explode into bouquets of roses, unlikely as that might seem. Others will blow a leg off. Some might be duds. The problem is that I must  keep moving and the only way I know the intent of a mine is to step on it. You know, my situation is not a bit different from yours, now that I think of it. Humpf! And I thought I was special.

Some things which I fervently desire now are not yet available to me. Someday some of them might be. Time will tell. Time will also tell whether they were things which I actually needed. Other things, things which I do not currently yearn for, may turn out to be the things which I need. It would have been such a senseless tragedy if I had killed my crew and myself in a flame-out crash because I did not want to spend a night in a motel in Kankakee. That is what I needed.  I realised that most certainly when that warning light came on.

I’m striving quite earnestly to keep my eyes peeled for the warning lights. Right now, I know that I can’t trust my desires to be in my best interest. Though some, with that fearful symmetry, burn as bright as William Blake’s tiger in the forest, I can never forget the minefield. It is not just a figure of speech. I must move forward. Carefully.

So, with that hopeful thought, I will give you a happy, pretty face. No, not mine. Though I have now made myself happier than I was a couple of hours ago I am still no prettier. Writing does that for me.

This is the lovely smiling face of Michaela of Vienna, who rescued me from an evening of solitary regret:

Saved again by a sensible and loving friend.

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Bush Pétanque

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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It would be fair to say that Madang is the home of one of the world’s more peculiar sports. The game of Pétanque is played around the world. The rules and regulations are established by a couple of governing bodies, one of which is F. I. P. J. P. (or Fipjip, as it is fondly known). Here in Madang we dispense with most of that and keep it simple. Our speciality is Bush Pétanque.

The rules are fairly simple. You have to stand in the circle, which is drawn by the first player wherever seems to be the most fun. That player throws the “jack” (a special little white ball or a golf ball, in a pinch) wherever whim dictates, except in the water or down a crab hole. Each player in turn tosses the heavy steel boule at the jack, trying to get as close as possible. The score is determined for each round (until no players have any boules remaining) by counting the number of boules of one team which are closest to the jack. One starts at the jack with the closest boule and counts each boule further from the jack until a boule of the other team is found. It’s that simple.

I may have forgotten a couple of rules, but they probably don’t matter. What does matter is form.

Here we see “Master Mike” Cassell demonstrating the epitome of Bush Pétanque style and elegance:

The shot shows Mike in mid-toss.

And this is the “release”, or the “toss-off” as we call it. Note the position of the fingers which allow the boule to glide smoothly from the hand (the underhand toss is the most elegant and effective) and impart the ever so necessary back-spin to prevent the boule from rolling upon impact with the sand, mud or tree stump or whatever it lands on:

Executed to impart sufficient back-spin, the toss should result in the boule landing ker-plunk and not rolling so much as a centimetre. This is, of course, supposing flat ground, of which there is none. This complicates matters considerably.

Nevertheless, Mike’s form is superb. His pièce de résistance  is the amazing “levitating release” during which both of his feet leave the surface planet momentarily. Though he demonstrated it several times on Saturday, I was not able to capture it digitally:

The shot above is as close as I got.

Michaela was in excellent form also. Here she approaches the circle with a knowing smile:

Mental preparation is the key.

In the Chinese practice of Pétanque this stance and release is called “The twittering bird of joy lofting from the firm foundation of reality”. It’s characterised by the open-handed release and the firm planting of both feet flat in the circle:

Leaning at a seemingly impossible angle without actually falling down is impressive but hazardous. Some people are just fun to watch when they are having fun.

My approach to Pétanque is very straightforward. A brief prayer of thanksgiving for the game and a fervent request that I not appear too foolish prepares me for my turn:

Really, it only takes a couple of seconds. Geneviève toasts my sincerity while Trevor stifles a giggle.

Now spiritually prepared, my back-swing is relaxed and confident:

My slightly bent knees act as shock absorbers and aid balance. Falling down during the back-swing is very poor form.

My release is casual and sans souci:

And my boule goes straight down a crab hole.

Fortunately, nobody cares who wins.

Note the Orang Utan like length of my ridiculous arms. Really, they are positively simian. Curious about that this morning, I got out a tape measure. Sure enough, my arms are nearly five centimetres longer than my legs. This is not mormal. What’s going on here?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’m happy to report that my “run” at the Country Club with Geneviève and Michaela and some other nice, young ladies seems to have done me no damage. I could not find my running shoes, which was no surprise, since I have not seen them for years. I had to make do with some funky old sandals. That was my excuse for poor performance. I knew that I had zero chance of keeping up with these very fit and well toned women, who quite frankly appear to be children to me.

I propelled myself possibly four or five kilometres in total, maybe one kilometre running (okay, okay, jogging) and the rest walking as fast as my stubby legs could carry me. I kept thinking to myself that I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning to feed Sheba. “What am I doing to my dog? I have to stop this right now!”

I’m amazed and profoundly touched by the kindnesses, warmth and caring which has been lavished upon me by these ladies. I think there is some kind of “be nice to your kindly grandfather” thing going on here.

All I know is that I’m not asking any questions.

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