Last weekend Ms O’Dyne drove Barney and me down The Great Ocean Road. I must tell you now that this is something of a misnomer. It really should be called The Tiny Treacherous Crumbling Precipice, but I don’t suppose that has quite the allure for tourists. Ms O’Dyne trained at the white knuckle school of motoring and can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch the road when there is so much magnificent scenery to look at instead. Not a great combination if coming home in one piece is important to you. The anecdote about a woman who ran off the road on her way to a Body, Mind and Spirit festival didn’t help either. While they were winching her miraculously living self to safety, the rescuers came across another vehicle containing a woman who had been dead for three weeks. No one even knew she was missing. Barney went straight to his i-Phone, logged on to BetFair and placed his entire life savings on Pascal to win.
We fetched up in Apollo Bay. Apollo wasn’t there – called to Melbourne for some kind of oracular emergency apparently. Zeus was on the rampage as the entire town, comprising four estate agents and a lamington bakery, was being battered by a Hellenic hurricane. I have crossed it off my list of possible sites for the relocated House of Pants. Barney took some talking around as the lamingtons were admittedly to die for. ‘On that road,’ I told him, ‘that might quite literally be true.’
Mercifully, on the journey back to the farm, we were mostly accompanied by a reassuring land mass on our side. I was dreaming of a large, medicinal gin and tonic as Barney screamed, ‘stop the car! Isn’t that Dr Phil?’ I will have to stop letting him watch daytime television. It is doing nothing whatever for his relationship with reality. However, there did seem to be a bear-like creature by the side of the road gnawing away at the root of .. er... a large tree rather than a pointless and irritating family dilemma which is much more Dr Phil’s usual fare. We alighted, with a sense of relief in my case, even an uncharacteristic joie de vivre, to find that the root-eating creature was, in fact a koala. Barney was delighted. I told him ‘it’s like a man – it eats, roots and leaves.’ He responded with a typically owly-cat-brained shrug. I don’t know why I bother.
We approached the koala with due caution and I produced the Kodak, thinking that Barney would be satisfied with a souvenir photograph but he insisted we offer the poor chap asylum or at the very least a nip of vodka, a smoked salmon sandwich and a bed for the night. He has much to learn about etiquette in the wild. It was apparent Barney felt a certain kinship with this koala. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘that stomach is just crying out to have a zipper down the middle.’ (Regular readers will remember that in order to overcome certain bureaucratic obstacles with regard to Barney’s immigration status, I had him fitted with a zipper so he could be classified as an interactive Bagpuss. I still dream about the peace I might this minute be enjoying if I’d let him languish in quarantine.)
Predictably, Barney and his friend, who I think may be on drugs – I haven’t seen anyone that stoned since Robert Downey Jnr dropped by to borrow a cup of crystal meth – have gone somewhat feral since our return to the farm. Two bottles of vodka are missing from the freezer and the loggers who are thoughtfully felling trees next door complained that their smoked salmon sandwiches are regularly disappearing. They’re fairly certain it’s Barney and his new mate as abusive notes are being left in place of their elevensees. The notes say things like, hands off our homes and fuck off Ikea – just leave the meatballs. As we agreed, the culprit appears to have few brains and fewer taste buds and that does sound an awful lot like Barney. You can’t protect them for ever. They’re going to make their own mistakes and Barney is, if anything, over-blessed in that department. I would ask that if you happen to be passing your freezer, would you mind awfully just having a look inside and making sure your vodka is still in there. If not, please accept my profuse apologies for half of the damages. Please consult the Australian Wildlife Service for the remainder. Much obliged.
When we first arrived in Victoria, Barney gazed out over the thick, black skies as we chugged along the Western Freeway, breathed in the marvellous industrial air and wheezed alarmingly for some considerable time. After I dosed him up on Ventolin, he recovered well enough to enjoy the thrill of endless juggernauts queuing up to force us off the road which he remarked romantically put him in mind of the movie Duel. He sighed as he noted that each and every one of these monstrous death trains carried a little number plate bearing the legend Victoria – the place to be. ‘Pants,’ he said, ‘we’ve come home at last.’ You had to be there really…