Ravings of a raconteur and randonneur


by JR on 18 Apr ’14, no comments


Adventure or disaster, as I have discovered in my increasing years, is determined by transport. This can be on foot, or via a vehicle – but when I think about what is worthy of telling, it inevitably involves travel. Of course, that is not to say disaster does not befell one at home, but when choosing between falling off a ladder trying to clean the gutters, or falling 3km in 10 seconds whilst flying to Japan, guess which one is more interesting.

About that flight. In fact, about flying in general; I have a few tips. If there is one thing I have learned about air travel – never, ever, take your seatbelt off. Trip to the toilet is a necessary risk. Sit and hold on to the handle when you are in there. Speak to the people you are next to. And, as was told to me by an ex-Boeing engineer I sat next to once: if you survive a crash, you have 90 seconds to get out of the plane before it burns down (this is called a 90 second “burn rating”).

All commercial buildings have a burn rating. Some are 15 minutes, some are 3 hours. It is an indication of how long before the structure weakens and collapses on itself. A Boeing 747 has 90 seconds. As my German ex-engineer told me (Germans are not ones to mince words), you must punch and fight your way out. Do not help anyone, do not stop, do not pass go, do not collect $200. But that was a flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane. This story, was a flight QF69, July 8 1996, from Brisbane to Cairns to Tokyo. In 1996 it made the Japanese headlines for two days.

This was the first time I had been to Japan. It’s not that I had not wanted to go sooner – Japan had held fascination to me since I was in high school. However, I had never had the opportunity, or at least the motivation to go until I was 24. I regret not going sooner. I regret not studying Japanese at university (it was not offered at my high school, I could only study French). In 1996 I had worked on a Japanese movie called ACRI. It was a silly film, about a guy that turned into a dolphin. But on the other hand, it opened a lot of doors for me. I met a lot of Japanese who remain good friends of mine to this day. You could call it a seminal experience. At that time, I was a compositor, working on films and I was so busy with work, I didn’t have time to travel. Lucky for me, I was a natural with compositing. Sticking one image over another and making it look right wasn’t that hard for me. I can’t explain why, but it was an easy fit. Fortunately, my work was well regarded, and the Japanese guys I worked with liked me for it. Next thing, I was on a plane to Japan – although, it was for a holiday, or so I thought.


I flew from Brisbane to Cairns. I’m not sure why I picked the flight, but probably, mostly, because it was cheaper than the direct flight. I guess it should have been an omen, when in Cairns they announced that the captain had been taken ill, and it would take three hours to fly a new pilot from Sydney to Cairns. A three hour wait in Cairns airport. There is not much to do in Cairns airport, so we’ll skip to the action.

My seat was over the wing — a window seat — which is my favorite. I had the whole row to myself, which gave me the impression that the flight was pretty empty. I was surprised to find out later that there were 220 people on board. I was the last row before the galley. I had just read a book called “Tokyo Tribes”, which was about the Bosozoku. I began reading another book, but I can’t remember what it was. Maybe it was Trainspotting. About 2 hours out of Tokyo we hit a patch of turbulence. Most of the people we old Japanese tourists, most were sleeping, and the lights had been dimmed. I was reading, of course, so I had my light on. There was nothing special about the turbulence — just that gentle, incessant rocking.

I had my seatbelt on, so it took a moment to understand why people around me were floating. They just raised up, like spirits, or a scene from a Miyazaki movie. It took a moment for the people who were floating to understand they were floating. And then, as soon as we all realized that something was not quite right, the floaters were slammed into the roof of the plane. And I mean really slammed. Their bodies, their heads, and some their arms, went through the plastic ceiling inside the plane. The luggage lockers broke open offering their contents to the melee. And then, like some turned the gravity switch on, everyone and everything was dumped back down hard. To this day, I can’t forget the sound of the screams. It was awful, primal, and terrifying. I thought the plane was crashing, and flicked my blind open to try and see which way up we were. There was a beautiful sliver of sun on the horizon. The sky was teal blue, and at the intersection with earth, a yellow and red slice of the last light.

People were still crawling on the floor when the closest flight attendant pulled herself into a chair, buckled up, put her arms and head on the seat in front and yelled, “Brace, brace, brace”. Adrenaline surged through me. We are going to crash, I thought… How do I survive this? People were still crawling on the floor, injured. I reached over and grabbed an old Japanese woman off the floor. With one arm, pumped with the superhuman changes that your body goes through in panic, I picked her up and plonked her in a seat. I buckled and tightened her seatbelt. She was crying. I looked behind me. A trolley had spilled out of the galley and was resting behind my seat. Cutlery had speared into the wall no more than 30cm from my head.

The next stage was silence. That was maybe more scary than the screaming. Everyone had gone silent at the same time. I kept watching the horizon, just checking. There was probably a point where I felt a little assured — we were still the right way up and still flying. The next noise that I heard was not human, but from the plane. It was like a monster under the plane had started moaning or maybe like the sound effect they used to use when superman bent steel. The vibrations went through the cabin. Great, I though, we survived the fall, and now the wings are going to fall off.

We all sat in silence, listening to the plane crying for help. It was some time — maybe five minutes before the crew came rushing through the cabin. Medical kits were rushing past me. A call on the PA went out for doctors. A call then went out for translators. I soon found out why. The translating flight attendant had knocked out all her teeth on chair arm. Someone was going through the cabin looking for them. “Look for teeth, teeth!”, one of them yelled at me. “Under your seat!” I found none.

There was silence from the cockpit. There had been no announcement, which I thought was a bad sign. There was a lot of rushing, some crying, quiet moaning. As the adrenaline started to fade, I began to feel tired. One hour until Tokyo. Eventually, the pilot spoke. All I heard was “unexpected air pocket, radar didn’t pick it up. We’ve dropped in altitude, will take longer to land because we’ve also slowed down on purpose”.

I felt a great sense of relief when the plane landed. It was the fastest stop I’ve experienced in a plane. And instead of taxiing to the terminal, we just stopped on the tarmac. Big spotlights were shone on the plane, fire engines and ambulances circled us, flashing their lights. Camera flashes popped, and through it all I could see a mass of people on the ground. Must have been TV gold, being a serious incident on a Qantas plane (the airline that doesn’t crash). Another announcement was made — if injured, stay on the plane, if not, get off. As one of the lucky ones, I shuffled into the ailse and waited to get off. Behind me, two flight attendants were talking. I heard that they thought they were going to die and the plane was crashing. I couldn’t wait to get off.

Leica MP UC-Hexanon 35mm/f2

We were shunted into a bus, and kept away from the media who were yelling at us. An express ride into the terminal, and processed by customs in record time. My friend, Kagari (nickname Tex), was waiting to pick me up. Quick, he told me, we’ve got to get the last bus – your plane was late!

I was happy to be away from planes. As the bus came over the crest of a hill, a light rain had begun to fall. For the first time I saw the lights of Tokyo rising into the mist. This glimpse was truly like Akira or a scene from Bladerunner – it was a city of science fiction. After the events of that day, I felt grateful to be alive. I breathed in the neon light, the energy of the city. Getting out at Shinjuku was like some sort of strange nirvana.

It felt like the city for me. Given what it took to get there, I would have been very happy to stay.

There was never any follow-up from Qantas, which strikes me as odd. On the other hand, the incident, it would seem, has been actively ignored.


by JR on 17 Apr ’14, no comments

There are two major memories of my early bike riding “career”.

First is learning to ride. Nineteen-seventy-seven, Brisbane. It was in the park, opposite our house in Rosebank Square, Salisbury. There was a basketball court in the square. It was covered in that fine sandy gravel that seemed to cover most sporting areas and playgrounds at the time. It was the same court I’d been carried over burping up detergent that I had sucked out of an otherwise empty magarine bucket while trying to blow soap bubbles by my panicked mother, only months earlier. I didn’t know the idea was dip with the cut hose piece, not suck. She could have given more details before handing me a giant straw. Unfortunately, the doctor’s surgery on the other side of the park was closed, so I was carried back, jiggling up and down in my mothers arms, a trail of saliva and Palmolive dribbling down my neck and her front. She called the poison hotline in absolute panic, having wasted precious minutes running across the park. I drank a lot of milk that day. I didn’t die.

On the day I learnt to ride, my brother, who is all of 3 years older, had been trying to coach the five-year-old me – quite unsuccessfully – bike balance. It was his bike, so in retrospect I can appreciate the generosity that is required of an 8 year old to take on such a task. The bike was blue with red hand grips, it had a vinyl seat, although I cant recall the colour now. I’d have a punt and say that it was red as well, but memory fades, I can’t be sure.

It wasn’t until I had fallen off and scraped my knee that our father joined us. But instead of scooping me up and soothing my blubbering, snot-blowing bawling, he stuck me back on the bike. He made me ride – despite my protests and clear urge to be off this wretched contraption which had only bought me pain and suffering. The beast had taunted me like a unhappy horsie, unable to be broken, and I’d had enough. But Dad seemingly wouldn’t have a bar of it. In that afternoon, without training wheels or other aids beyond a fatherly arm, I could ride. The scabs healed. I didn’t die.

The freedom and exhilaration, of course, remains with me today. Sadly, the freedom and exhilaration remains a joy of living in an oversized country town in the seventies. Being five-years old and riding up and down the street unsupervised was an untold pleasure that my children will never get to experience – mainly thanks to the over-powered, air-conditioned, hermetically-sealed entertainment-bubbles cars have become today. But also – I think more tellingly – by the lack of children on the streets. If ever there was a more apt expression: it is a vicious cycle.

The second moment was when my friend, James Daly, had got a new bike. We’d moved from Salisbury to Yeerongpilly, and I’d aged a few years. The bike was a lime green dragster, with a long seat and a brilliant shifter on the cross bar which looked like a automatic car transmission. It had three gears. You could rest your back on the high seat rods, and it was glorious in a way that things were glorious in the seventies. Except, by that time, it was 1981.

The only problem for James, was that he couldn’t ride. Somehow his mother had thought it was a good idea that he learnt on my old blue and red number, while I got to ride his – until of course, he was able to. So on the second day of possession, after my mother put on her decidedly concerned face about the whole arrangement, James and I thought it would be a good idea to put this baby through its paces.

Wingarra street had an impressive hill, which led down next to the only concrete tennis court for miles on the corner of biarra street, and also happened to be right next door to james’s home.

That sweet 6% gradient, plus a little legwork, had us reckoning we could get halfway down the street if we stopped pedaling at the corner. It was part time-trial, part experiment in rolling resistance, not that we knew that then. Phil Anderson hadn’t yet hauled cycling into the Australian sporting map, and the Tour de France wasn’t a hot topic between my safari suit wearing teachers in Queensland.

Like all good experiments, we conducted it after school, around the time tennis lessons were on. A couple of practice runs worked out pretty well. I even dinked James on one, which he was keen to opt out of. After some further planning, we prepped the penultimate run. I think James was timekeeping outside his house. (Timekeeping consisted of counting slowly).

As I cornered Biarra street I was really flying. I mean, this was bird-like, rocket-propelled, faster than Boba-fett’s jetpack (which featured heavily in day-to-day comparitive measurements). I tore around the corner. The knobby tyres were making a terrific rubbery roar. “The tractor beam is pulling me in”.

With such awesome speed, the driver of a lime-green corolla (notice a theme here?) failed to see an oncoming child on bike, who had his feet waving off the pedals and whose body was thrust forward on the frame in the standard momentum-has-me-in-its-grasp pose. I was kind of streamlined. The car pulled out onto the street with tennis child stowed on board.

Brakes were an issue on the bike. Because it had gears, the coaster (back-pedal) brakes I was used to were noticeably absent. There was a momentary beat where my reflexes were fooled and my feet struck back at the pedals – which did nothing but whizz backwards. I immediately lunged for the brake levers. The handbrakes were pretty squishy. You couldn’t really pull an effective skid on this bike (we’d discovered this the day before). Nor would you stop quickly in front of a lime green corolla.

The dragster slammed into the driver’s door, and my body and balls slid up the top tube to be compacted on the nifty-auto-gear stick shifter. Despite this, all I could think was, “bloody Jesus I’m gonna be in trouble”. I was sure my nuts were irrepairably damaged. The driver/tennis mother stopped, unwound her window, and hissed at me: “You stupid child”. She promptly drove off, leaving me twisted amongst the dragster, tears welling as my loins got an SOS through to my brain. Not even a damage assessment – she drove off! At nine years old, I knew this was wrong.

So belying my innocent age (or foreshadowing my older years), I drew satisfaction that despite the mother being derelict in her duty of care, she wouldn’t realise until she got home that I’d managed to completely ruin her car door.

On the other hand, that bike was bombproof. We twisted the handlebars back into straight and it was as good as new. Simply awesome. I limped home and I recounted to my mother the story (with a good measure of incredulity) that the car had driven off. And I didn’t die. But then the speed, the speed. Next session the timekeeper has to watch for cars.

I had to give the bike back to James the next day.


by JR on 5 Apr ’14, no comments

Some days are better than others. What can I say? I found some form and came second in the New South Wales State Hill Climb Championships. I attribute much of this to recent changes to my bike setup. I finally abandoned Speedplay and went back to Look Keo. I changed my bars from 42cm to 38cm. I got a cassette with an extra granny gear.

The climb itself, run as an individual time-trial, became no easier. However, it did seem to be shorter this year. I measured my effort during the opening false-flat, so I didn’t hit the climb at full steam. This didn’t prevent my heart-rate hitting a new all time high on the way up, however. Again, I caught my minute-man at the start of the climb; I caught another about 3/4 of the way in; and almost got another at the crest of the hill, but he took off like a greased rat on the circuit at the top of the hill. No way I was going to be able to hang on to that kind of speed. I did finish feeling like I had left a fair amount of effort on the road, but I didn’t think I did that well. In fact, I remember feeling kind of depressed.

IMG_3922There is an intricate, technical dance I can do with my Garmin: uploading my ride to Garmin Connect, and then downloading it on my phone on iCab, and then emailing the gpx to Strava. It took a while, and after some poking around worked out I had ridden the course in 10:24. Sounded like last year, I thought (later to realise it was a 20 second improvement). I thought the result might be a Strava anomaly, and waited for the results. While it took hours for them to be posted, I didn’t actually get to see the sheet before I found out I came second, my teammates blurted it out before I could enter the scrum surrounding the results board.

I got dropped in the subsequent criterium, but I stood a couple of inches taller all day.

Internal Embrocation

by JR on 23 Mar ’14, no comments


I call this one “Internal Embrocation”. Vaguely Belgian, and possibly the best beer I’ve made yet — just in time for the classics.


by JR on 22 Mar ’14, no comments

Yep. Kumo + Campagnolo. Canberra made, Japanese name, Italian brain. (at Tempe Velodrome)

by JR on 16 Aug ’13, no comments

This place is developing my samurai spirit.