The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

“YOU LOOK TOO SERIOUS B, IT’S A PISS-TAKE REMEMBER,” Mel yells over the running water as I stand ankle-deep in a flooded creek wearing only my mountaineering pants. It is dusk and my sister Melanie is chuckling gleefully whilst wielding a camera, “Surely a Blogging Charity Calendar is not going to be that serious!”

“I AM BLOODY CONCENTRATING ON NOT FALLING OVER” I yell at my grinning sister, continuing with a muttered, “….and sucking my gut in” My words are lost to the babbling creek. I am unsure who is more disturbed right now, myself or  Melanie, a great amateur photographer who generously offered to do my ‘shoot’.

Before we manage a good shot the light fails and we decide to wind up the shoot. Mel speaks to my back as I frantically throw on warm clothes “Maybe we can get a good one tomorrow at Cradle Mountain?”

“Yeah maybe, but bloody hell it is cold!” I reply while frantically rubbing my numb toes.

Why am I dancing about half naked in front of my sister you may well ask. Some weird Tasmanian ritual maybe? A lost dare perhaps?

No, not a drunken dare or pagan rite, I am trying to get a nice photo for a calendar in which I am Mr January.

“WAIT WHAT? You…you with the joined up eyebrows and shaggy hair, YOU in a calendar, but you don’t even come close to having a six pack…” I hear you scream. Calm down people, it is all for a good cause. Some months prior, my mate Chris Walker-Bush from Aussie on the Road had the great idea to compile a ‘Travel bloggers charity calendar’. Like a polite cough setting off an avalanche the idea quickly gained momentum (read the full genesis here). Without even considering the consequences, for example my naked ass haunting some hapless housewives fridge, I threw my name into the mix and was promptly given a spot. The brief was loose; ‘Risque, fun, no frontal nudity below the waist, relevant to your blog’

The day after our abortive photo shoot in the creek my sister, brother-in-law and I drive to Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania. ‘Cradle’ as it is affectionately known is my favourite place in the world, it is part of Tasmania’s pristine World Heritage Area and one of Australia’s oldest national parks. I cannot overstate the importance of this area to me, it is my church. Whenever I return from abroad, after re-introducing myself to parents and friends I pack my bag and scuttle off for a few days of silent, solitary mass here. This area is so important to me that soon, very soon my fiancée and I are going to climb the hill in the photo to the left and get married, anyway enough of this tree hugging, back to my modelling efforts…

We arrive early the next morning to find the mountain itself is covered in snow, the path is slippery with ice and our car thermometer shows a brisk 2 degrees celsius. I mentally prepare myself to jump into the frigid melt water. Beating the crowds we race to the boat shed to find perfect photography conditions. Dove lake is a mirror.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

I strip and wade into the water. It is hard to put into words just how bitterly cold the water is. Immediately my lower legs go numb, I constantly stub my toes on hidden rocks and struggle to maintain balance.

“Ok, get in properly and do a sexy shampoo ad Ben,” big sister’s joking mood is infectious.

“You’re enjoying this a little bit too much sis…” I laugh through chattering teeth. Continuing (and not without a touch of whinge to my voice) “Okay guys I am only doing this once so take heaps of photos. Lots of photos, I bloody mean it!”

Dipping my head into the lake I fling my hair back, icicles of cold water sting my once warm back. I am starting to get dizzy and tired with the cold, my toes no longer belong to me.

“Again, I missed it sorry, haha!” Mel laughs as a crowd of curious daywalkers gather on shore.

“Oh, c’mon…” I  almost plead, feeling the need to be inside my sleeping bag (which we put on shore in case of a hypothermic crisis).

“Ooh, no I have an idea, come here and lie down in the shallow bit” Mel continues inspired no doubt by my obvious suffering.

I am now just looking at Mel with big pleading puppy dog eyes, “Get the shot Mel, I am frikking cold” mumbling now “fo’ fucks sake…”

“Yeah, lie there and stay still for the ripples to go, we’ll get the reflections” Mel ignores my suffering determined to get the perfect calendar shot, I play along.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

I lie down in the shallows and force my shaking body to still, the water feels like razor blades all over my trembling body. (note if you will the snow on the mountain, where do you think that melts to?)

“Stay still, a little longer….” Snapping away furiously Mel’s eye is glued to her camera lens.

“Fuc-ffaaar out Mel!” I growl through gritted teeth.

“Got it, this is your shot…now one more shampoo ad just to be sure…gotta get it right” Mel says with a determined look.

Ignoring her I wade towards my sleeping bag, by now there is a hefty crowd watching. They are all clad in beanies and warm gloves. I see a man self-consciously remove a heavy down jacket as he watches. I manage to stumble out of the water just as I begin to slur my words and feel warm, not a good sign. It was definitely time for me to get out before ‘funny cold’ became ‘serious cold’.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

Under close scrutiny I manage to dress without revealing any secrets…in truth the cold water made hiding my secrets pretty easy.

A brisk walk around the lake returns feeling to my extremities but I am sure it will be days before I am reunited with my testicles. Back in the car we go through the photos and am impressed with what we have got. Beautiful scenery reflected on a dark mysterious lake is ruined by a near nude interloper.

As I warm I think it was all worth it, we had better choose a well deserving charity for this one.

 

 

 

 

 

POST NOTE: We let the public vote through our website on which charity was to receive the proceeds. Everything we make apart from shipping costs will benefit Mitrata Home which is an orphanage in Nepal (Mitrata means friendship in Nepalese) and VSO Bahaginan, a volunteer organisation which fights poverty in developing countries.

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MASSIVE thanks to the awesome team at Uprinting who are very generously providing free printing for this project, if it is flat these guys can print on it and at a good price…check them out and tell them I sent you!

For more information on the travel blogging calendar and to check out the very cool people involved go to this link:

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

 

 

Or you can check out our Facebook page here: Travel Blogging Calendar on Facebook

Big thanks goes to my wonderful sister Mel and brother-in-law Win for helping me to get that one decent shot.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

 

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

 

Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlaki

grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlakiBeing a caring, loving fiancee *patting self on back* come friday night I take my lovely fiancee out for dinner and introduce her to our rather (in)famous neighbor. As well as wanting Jette to meet our neighbor I want to see if the lamb souvlaki tastes as good to a sober palatte as it did the previous weekend at 5am. Spanning two whole city blocks the Crown Casino complex is the largest casino in the Southern Hemisphere. Flashing her lights just across from our front door she gobbles up people’s money at a breathtaking rate. Through all hours of the day and night we hear people commiserating losses or celebrating wins outside this beehive of greed. it is also the mekka of Crown Casino urban legends.

We start by walking along the foreshore where innocent looking gelato and coffee shops line the Yarra river, I tell Jette some urban myths about the place, “I heard that every bathroom is designed with a back door to sneak out suicide corpses”

“Rubbish” Jette replies unconvinced. grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlaki

“Yeah, this is what my mate told me, it would look bad to be wheeling stiffs through the main gambling floor…people get desperate, gamble their last then top themselves in the bathroom…” I explain.

“Sounds almost plausible” Jette replies with a bemused look.

“Yeah, and do you know their biggest expense is replacing carpet, the tile carpet that can be replaced a square at a time” I forge on with my unqualified rambling.

“Why the carpet, drunk people vomiting?” Jette asks,

“Nope, when people spend a long time feeding a pokie machine they don’t want to leave so they just piss on the carpet….costs heaps more than renting the land, the council only charges them $1 per year.” I continue as we walk inside and past a serious looking security guard frowning in his suit.

“Now the others I could believe but not the rent, $1 a year for two city blocks, ridiculous…” Jette decides.

The most crazy sounding myth is the only true one, Crown Casino is leasing its land under a 99 year lease granted by the Melbourne council. Despite making $370 million dollars profit last financial year they will pay only $1 per year for the first forty years of this lease, thereafter they will pay market value.

grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlakiThis sounds absolutely insane, but consider this:

  1. Crown payed $200 million dollars to initially license their 500 gaming tables and 2500 pokie machines
  2. Currently 6500 people are employed there.
  3. Since moving from its initial location across the Yarra in ‘97 Crown Casino has payed over 2.7 Billion dollars in taxes.
  4. God only knows how much the building cost to construct and how many people were employed during this time.

All things being equal I think the Melbourne council has made a smart choice in looking after this cash cow.

Reaching the main gambling hall Jette and I walk past a lady asleep at a pokie machine while trying not to stare at a man shaking invisible flys from his hair. Another man is sitting entranced by a machine, he takes out his frustrations by bashing the buttons at a furious pace. Despite everyone knowing that the odds always favor the house, punters are enticed to believe they can win by loudspeakers announcing a win, lights flashing and the sounds of coins falling noisily onto tin trays.

Everyone feels surrounded by luck.

No natural light enters this place and looking around I notice that there are no clocks anywhere to been seen. For all we know we could be 100 storeys down a nuclear bunker in Nebraska. grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlaki

“Lets get back amongst the living, this place is giving me the creeps” Jette says just before I voice similar thoughts.

We wade through a mass of zombies and stumble upon a touch screen displaying our entertainment options (3 hotels catering to various demographics, 40 restaurants including the food court, 11 bars, bowling alley, village cinema, laser tag….) we decide to simply find our way to the food court to test out a sober souvlaki.

As we wait for our order I watch people leaving half eaten meals to scurry back towards the lights and noise of the gambling area. My mind wanders, ‘Why not set up a food court out the back serving half eaten meals to homeless people…I wonder if the casino donates much money to charities?…do people come to Melbourne for the casino alone?…How many ambulance callouts would they get?’

I later found the answer to my last question in an online version of The Age;

‘881 callouts in a 12 month period between August 07- august ’09…over one call out a day to paramedic services, Among call-outs were overdoses, sex assaults, gun and knife fights, a drowning and several emergencies for pregnant women’

Crown sure employs a lot of people and draws a significant tourist dollar but can the people providing the majority of this money truly afford it?

Now I am more conflicted about this place than ever.

Evil corporation feeding on the desperate and greedy or useful revinue raiser and employer?

I cannot decide…at lest the souvlaki was as good as I remember.

Sophie Fantarella – Bucket List

  1. Get Married
  2. Learn to Scuba Diva
  3. Learn to Surf
  4. Travel to Iceland
  5. Climb the Eiffel Tower
  6. Learn to Tango in Argentina
  7. Be an awesome mother
  8. Become an organic foodie
  9. Have a tiny self sustained farm
  10. Perfect Jachnun
  11. Get a meaningful tattoo
  12. Ride an Elephant (and tell them that they are the coolest)
  13. Tell my partner that he’s the greatest person EVERYDAY
  14. Volunteer in a remote community either OS or in Australia
  15. Tell my Italian grandparents’ story
  16. Teach someone how to fish
  17. Become fluent in Hebrew
  18. Live in another country
  19. Travel South America for 6 months
  20. Tell people who are inspiring, EXACTLY THAT
  21. Write a children’s book
  22. Learn to crochet
  23. Learn the fine art of sewing
  24. Become a DIY queen!
  25. Watch my little brother graduate (and openly cry)
  26. Go on a world adventure with Luis, and show the world the Fantarella power
  27. Learn an obscure instrument
  28. Graduate my Masters in Speech Pathology with AWESOME GRADES and help kids in remote communities
  29. Be a lend-a-hand kinda person
  30. Buy a shack in Byron Bay

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The key to happiness is when you have gotten really good at being you

grey The key to happiness is when you have gotten really good at being you
The Jade Willow Chinese restaurant in Ulverstone is abandoned apart from two beer bellied men gorging on fried rice and Boags Draught in a corner, not somewhere you would expect to find the key to happiness. They scoff and swill frantically like prison inmates at the bottom of the pecking order. Occasional sounds from outside waft in from the main street; cars with oversized mufflers rev over the sound of “Party Rock Anthem” played on expensive twelve volt stereos, rattling the aged boots (trucks in American). Young people yell extroverted greetings to each other to hide their shyness. I am home and I really do like it here, mostly.

I sit across from a mate who I have not seen for over two years. Sascha and I worked together in an Italian restaurant throughout our studies, using the term ‘study’ generously. Nowadays Sascha is a very successful business man and a deep thinker, he wears a neat shirt and looks well pressed, most impressively he wears a shroud of self confidence comfortably, I envy him this coat. I wear a crumpled bright orange top bought in Kathmandu for $2 (when I couldn’t be bothered washing clothes), my messy Hasselhoff-from-nightrider hair is somewhat contained by a bandana. Outside appearances suggest that Sascha has evolved significantly over the years whilst I’ve been regressing, soon to crawl back into the swamp. Impressively though Sascha seems very excited and somewhat awed by my recent adventuring.

“You really went into the Andes with a donkey?”

“Yup”

“I respect that mate, I could do a day walk but I like staying clean”

“Yeah well, horses for courses”

“And you did that paintball paragliding thing?”

“Yeah man I loved that, happy days”

About thirty-seconds of quiet contemplation follows, I busy myself with my spring rolls as Sascha studies me, a changed creature sits in front of him, one which he used to understand. Sascha dislikes not understanding things.

“So mate, with all this trekking, climbing, diving, jumping, bussing, flying and exploring you have done in these last two years, do you think it has changed you as a person? Or are you the same person and this is just something you like to do?”

“Well…that’s a hard one, let me think for a while”

Both of us eat crispy spring rolls in contemplative silence.

“Dunno, really”

“Go on, have you changed?”

“Well I am more relaxed, I can now sit on a rock for hours without squirming. Have always loved mountains, and…stuff, God that’s a hard one mate”

This conversation really gets me thinking, have I changed? Am I the same person? Later that night after I have put out the dog and crawled into bed with a book, (written by my best mates grandfather about his time as a prisoner of war, The Long Way Home, look it up) the answer hits me like a falling roof beam;

“OPTIONS”

Two years ago I was living with a girl and her daughter, I had numerous loans, internet bills, water bills, electricity bills, a car, obligations, nursing homes to medicate, work, responsibility, thing to buy and pay for. I did not give credit to the options I had in my life and did not admit that – at that stage – I was not ready for all this grown up behaviour. However, I envied how this life seemed to be working so well for my friends and blithely forged on. I thought that this was going to be the Ben-story, the end.

Now I have more options and less stuff, this is the main difference, I now realise just how many options are available to me. I could keep traveling, work a bit, write or live very cheaply in my tent on a grassy hill talking to mountains. So many people just numbly go through the motions, like I was, without sitting back and truly realising that they have options, this makes me sad.

Everyone has many, many options but only one crack at life, think about it.

Now kids, if that is all too philosophical for you on a school night I am going to throw in some weird sex facts to tone down the hugging-around-a-camp-fire kind of mood I have set here:

500 Americans die from self asphyxiation annually.

1 out of 17 people worldwide have sex on any given day, what are the other 16 up to?

A dork is the actual name of a whales penis, the biggest dorks in the world are the ten foot long members of the blue whale.

The dragonfly has a shovel shaped penis which scoops out the semen of previous suitors.

Australian echidnas have four headed penises but only ejaculate from two at a time, they save the other two for next time.

Female monkeys raise their asses into the air, complete with dilated blood vessels causing a flushed cheek effect, and waft female hormones around the place as a sign that they are ready to mate. The males stop throwing poo at each other and pause to note the plumpness of the bum cheeks. A plump bottom shows that the female is well fed and able to support an infant. If the girl-monkey is sufficiently plump they will mate, if not, the male goes back to his poo slinging. (Type 1 fun for the thrower, type 3 for the recipient)

Now, some monkeys started standing on two legs and ass raising was no longer viable. Evolution sorted this problem by increasing fatty deposits around the mammary glands to mimic a plump bum attached to a healthy specimen.

Basically what I am saying is that bum-men are less evolved than boob-men.

Oh, and girls think about what you are mimicking when you put rouge on your cheeks and perfume on your neck…

Kristy – Bucket list

  1. To earn a qualification in health/fitness/nutrition
  2. Leg press 160 kgs on the leg press machine (even it’s just once!)  
  3. Pat a real, living, breathing tiger
  4. Travel overseas
  5. Complete a full round of biceps in a G.R.I.T class using 20 kgs of weight
  6. Learn to live in the “now” instead of worrying about the future
  7. Make my ‘small business’ a success
  8. Overcome the fear that comes with doubting myself
  9. Meet Johnny Depp in person!
  10. Adopt a pet from the RSPCA
  11. Always take the best possible care of my Labrador and Border Collie, so they live to a (healthy!) old age
  12. Get my motorbike license
  13. Marry Josh!
  14. Learn to say “No” without feeling guilty
  15. Enjoy a coffee in a gorgeous little cafe in Italy
  16. See Richmond win a premiership
  17. Never give up real books for electronic ones
  18. Go on holiday to a tropical place, just like the ones in the movies!
  19. Get “one” more tattoo….
  20. Finish our garden and make it look amazing
  21. Own a coffee / bookshop
  22. Spend a night under the stars with Josh, Zeppelin & Lorenzo
  23. Learn to walk in high heels
  24. Achieve muscly, kick arse arms!
  25. Read (at least) 1 book a month in 2013!

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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