The Big Issue : Edition 449
PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND(RAZER)ANDALANATTWOOD(RICKY) RICKY 12 THE BIG ISSUE 10 – 23 JAN 2014 BACKYARD OF BEYOND “Instinct tells me the fence line needs to be whipper- snippered. Weeds could engulf us, cutting off all means of escape.” » Ricky French is a writer, musician and fearless outdoorsman – as long as the outdoors is no more than a few metres square, bounded by four solid fences and fully wi-fi accessible. MEET YOUR ALL-AUSTRALIAN, life-and-death action hero. That’d be me, just now, on an otherwise slovenly January day. I’m typically well-acquainted with malaise, at ease with sedentary pastimes. But not today. It began as I sat down on my deckchair in the garden to read my Christmas present to myself: a book called From the Jaws of DEATH: Extreme True Adventures of Man vs. Nature. It’s a collection of adventures by real men, real men just like me. First up is Ernest Shackleton. Stranded on a hellhole island near Antarctica, he leads a crew as they attempt to sail a tiny lifeboat 1300km to a slightly warmer hellhole island near Antarctica. They set off after a final meal of cold penguin leg. Someone expresses “a desire to lie down and die”. Shackleton’s weather report: “Blizzard and snow and snow and blizzard.” I stir from my deckchair. The sun has infused me with fatigue. Instinct tells me the fence line needs to be whipper-snippered. Weeds could engulf us, cutting off all means of escape. I bravely pull out the whipper snipper but discover the plasticky bubble thing you pump before yanking the cord is broken. Unfazed, I resort to Plan B: cheese on toast. Replenished with rations I turn to Chapter Two. A joker in questionable command of his faculties named John Caldwell attempts an almost 14,500km crossing of the Pacific to see a girl. Our protagonist’s other impediments include the fact he can’t sail. His crew is two kittens. He sails past the same island three times, fights storms, gets knocked overboard and then for comic relief goes fishing. He begins an epic battle with a huge shark, eventually pulling it aboard. Chaos abounds as the shark thrashes wildly and smashes holes through the hull. Caldwell reacts decisively: “I punched him on the nose.” When this fails to quell the mayhem he gets serious. “I hacked at him with the hatchet... I notched a great hole in his stomach... I cut his eye out and opened his gills... I chopped his nose... I hacked his stomach organs.” I’ve been reading for more than three hours before I realise I’m being watched. This could be serious. He’s behind the barbecue. I know it’s him. It’s White Cat. White Cat has been tormenting our poor cat every night. A bully boy. This could be the end for one of us. I fix him with a stare and suddenly feign an attack. “PSSSSSSTT!!!!!” I hiss. White Cat explodes into the air, as if spring-loaded, and shoots up the tree and over the fence, leaving only a contrail. Close call. I settle back into my book. We’re in the South American jungle, with an Israeli named Yossi Ghinsberg. He’s lost and his canoe is smashed. Alone, he quickly loses his mind. To pass the time he falls on a stick, which lodges in a surprising place; he then walks into a hornets’ nest. Starving, he rummages through his pack and finds something to put in his mouth: amphetamine. He’s soon “sprinting through the jungle as if I had the devil on my tail”. He dreams of food, it rains constantly, he gets caught in quicksand, he curses God. One night he camps under a tree and wakes up in a lake. His strength fades and his feet are less than healthy: “As if a skinless mass of raw, bloody flesh had been poured into my shoes”. I’m in a similarly desperate situation. Thirst sets in. I must make lemonade. I crawl to the lemon tree but it’s barren. I drag my parched body inside. The table’s a mess of papers. I fumble through the undergrowth, flush out my phone and type out an SOS. Can you get lemons on the way home? And maybe some gin. A swift reply: Only if you get the washing off the line. It’s a still, silent January evening – perfect for holiday reading. I nod gravely, close my book and turn to face the impending dew, peg-bag at hand. An all-Australian, January action hero in his element.