Friday, April 22, 2011


Back in Perth. The salt water seeps into my pores and dries slowly on my skin. Crusty. I feel crusty. But i can feel the cleansing catharsis of the Indian Ocean.

The sea strips away layers of tropical detritus and fever, its salty balsam slowly healing invisible scars. Each morning i rise early and submit, monk-like, to this ascetic baptism. My early morning swims grow longer, wider, deeper. Across limestone reefs i glimpse an occasional stingray, a school of herring, on my un-Australian Crawl, before i return to terra firma. The waves wash me up onto the hot summer beaches of my youth. This is my spiritual home – stifling and suburban though it is. Terror firmer.

Every morning after the swim i'm up the stairwell of the apartments at a run, in a desperate fervour to feel well again, up all eight storeys to Safari Bob's eclectic hideaway, with its chartreuse pile carpet, its cacophony of collectible cameras, guitars, books, movies, drinking paraphernalia, and the white leather sofa that is my current abode. I lug my old Mac and prehistoric Kodak film scanner up the lift of the 'Manhattan Apartments', or 'Heroin Flats' as Safari Bob calls them, along with rolls of film developed in my mum's bathroom, and sit and scan the afternoons away, reliving the horror, the horror, megapixel by megapixel, of the sad reality that is Kampuchea.

The coarse white sand, the drying salt on my skin grounds me. The drug-induced haze and topsy-turvy jungle fever is lifting. It is only when Mz Mayhem returns from the real Manhattan – barely a week after my own dramatic splashdown – that I realise how close i came to never seeing my triumphant titanium muse again. Soon, my publisher will be incarcerated in Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison and my Cambodian girlfriend will be arrested and locked up in Prey Sar. Different times, different places, different reasons – all same same but different. The sand between my toes feels like salvation.

Meanwhile, Mayhem has not been idle. As a creative genius, she is not without her fans.

While I was in post-apocalyptic Phnom Penh, she was busy in Paris, directing a music clip for a song by Radiohead's Thom Yorke, on a zero-dollar budget. On its debut on the Rolling Stone website, her work was described as "a David Lynch-like odyssey". Which, from her occasional fervent, garbled, intercontinental telephone conversations, seemed to pretty much describe her Parisian adventures as well. While i was sweating it out one long night at the newspaper, Mayhem was perched nervously on the ledge of a shared apartment in Paris, worried there might be some funny business going down with her flatmate, a female clown. The clown spoke not one word of English, and Mayhem's only word of French – voila! – was not really applicable to the hair-raising situation. You can peer into Mayhem's subconsious, subterranean adventure here.

I come back from the beach to Safari Bob's version of Manhattan one morning and find he has taken up with Japanese photographer Emiko Monobe. Suddenly i'm feeling sheepish and in the way, an oafish convalescent beached on this white leather sofa like a Southern Right gone wrong. Then my sister telephones. She's on a flying visit from London; an occurrence rare as a comet. "You want to come to Laos and Angkor Wat next Wednesday? I need a tour guide." She's paying. I don't mention the fact that the only thing i know about Angkor is that it's not a very good beer. I just pack a bag and i'm gone.

The asiatic reprise is brief and sweet – the crumbling temples of Angkor, the beautiful languor of Laos – then my sister is off back to London and i'm broke and on a night bus back to Phnom Penh. I shoot the Life on the Line series with Ada, and come perilously close to being murdered, once again, this time by motorcycle thieves, before the lines blur and i barely make the flight home, clinging to the back of a fearless moto driver as he speeds, slides and scrapes his way through traffic along Russian Boulevard to get me to the airport after boarding has closed. They let me on, but only at a run.

I land on my feet when i return. I land on my feet so hard i shatter a heel bone. Strangely enough, i have no recollection of how this happened, although i do remember eating some strange sugar cubes from Sideways Dave, drinking far too much alcohol at Ezra Pound, and playing guitar on one leg at Lorenna's house while Rui You Kong recited urban poetry. It was at that point i should have taken heed of Lorenzo's advice and gone in the ambulance. I remember limping back to Mayhem's Hotel D'Pravity early that morning, and two days later, when the x-rays confirmed a calcaneal fracture, also known as Lover's fracture or Don Juan fracture. Typical. They bound my leg in plaster, there was nothing for it but to stretch out on whatever sofa came to hand and help Nurse Mayhem script her feature film in exchange for food and board. Of course my narrative style was not of a standard high enough to warrant sponge baths.

Mornings we feast on eggs florentine, bacon, and fresh juice, before brainstorming scenes and characters in the screenplay. We fill the script with such energy and momentum it will film itself.

Occasionally we take the compulsory trip to the job centre, to convince them we are indeed on track to finding gainful employment, and they needn't worry their busy little bureaucratic heads helping us to write resum├ęs or trawl through employment columns for factory or hospitality work. Thanks all the same.

I notice the employment section in the newspaper doesn't have a section marked 'Meaningful', and toss it aside. And what the hell is a 'Hospitality Industry', anyway? Can someone please explain how is it 'hospitality' if you have to pay for it?

We save our money, and put in applications for our British passports, on the grounds that our respective progenitors were both born in England. And despite the fact that my passport photo makes me look like my face caught fire and i tried to put it out with a hammer, both applications are approved. It is a miracle. Break out the champagne. We have our little red books – our passports to Europa, and film utopia – and things are looking up.

Mz Mayhem is heading back to New York to find investors for the film, and i'm off to East Arnhem Land to work as launch editor on a newspaper on the Arafura Sea. But first we must make a pilgrimage south to Balingup, to the Buddhist retreat, to get our respective minds in order. And after a week at the Origins Centre with the muse, i do indeed feel my batteries have been recharged, the corrosive salts have washed away, and the coast is clear. We go to the local hotel to toast our future. Mayhem says au revoir (her French is improving) and i board the bus to take the ride into the future.


sarah toa said...

Amazing! Send it to Overlander ... or anywhere else. A great travelling doco of hedonism.

Anonymous said...


Miss Mayhem said...

It's a poetic window, memorable to the last drop!