Then, a bit later, I went to visit my grandma in hospital. She's having a tracheotomy later this month and is a little bit scared about it. Because she has trouble speaking English, and I have trouble speaking Italian, we don't really manage to talk to each other much. That's especially true now that the lump in her throat has affected her speech and and it comes out in a strained whisper. But I could see in her eyes how happy she was that someone was coming to visit her. I spent an hour and a half with her, reading prayers that I'd translated into Italian on my phone and doing my best to translate for the nurses that came in. I had to explain to her what date it was and when she realized it was my birthday, she was even happier.
At around midday, I went off to the Marion Swimming Centre to meet up with Mitchell. They had their inflatable obstacle courses out and I really wanted to have a go. The last time I tried one, I was 9 years old and still didn't know how to swim. Naturally, I fell off and one of the lifeguards had to jump in and stop me from flailing wildly on the spot. It was on a school excursion too, which made it extra embarrassing. This pool had two courses - one for younger kids and one for older ones. The younger one simply had a horizontal tube you could step over or slide under, four rings in a row, which you could either climb through or crawl under, another horizontal tube and then some slippery stairs you had to climb so you could go down the slide at the end. The older one began with a tight group of upright pillars that you had to push your way through, followed by a gappy bridge you had to climb over. Then there was a large gap that you had to swing over with a rope, before using another rope to swing off the end of the course and into the water. It's important to note that on the bigger one, all the obstacles are connected by a round tube, which made it very hard to balance. The smaller one just had a flat surface.
Anyway, Mitchell and I started on the smaller one just to warm ourselves up. We did it twice each before thinking "Okay, we're on top of this" and moving up. My first attempt at the bigger one was very shaky. The upright pillars that all the younger kids seemed to be dealing with fine ended up knocking me over. I nearly fell off within ten seconds of starting. I recovered and handled the bridge fine, despite almost falling again on my way there. When it came to the rope swing, there were a lot of teenagers on the side of the pool yelling at people to try jumping across without the rope. Mitchell had tried and failed. I wanted to try with the rope first and then try again without it later. I swung and I landed, easier than I thought. And with relief I grabbed onto the second rope and swung out into the water.
Second go: I knew what to expect with the pillars, so I got through them alright. The bridge was no trouble. Then the big gap. The lack of balance I had on the tube meant I couldn't take a run-up. I could only take one step before launching myself, which I did. I ended up smacking into the other side with my stomach, and in my failed attempt to keep aloft with my arms, I ended up jarring my right shoulder. I doggy-paddled to the side of the pool with only one arm and grabbed an ice pack from the first-aid area. I took no further part in the game.
It was funny seeing peoples looks a bit later when Mitch and I jumped into the spa and I was still holding the ice pack to my shoulder. We stayed there until the ice melted and then went on the water slides. Then we decided to revisit the obstacle courses.
Before I'd jarred my shoulder, I'd managed to do the small course in fifteen seconds. Mitchell decided he wanted to break that. Unfortunately for him, he's a bit too big for the course, so he kept tripping and getting stuck. We ended up talking to a couple of ten-year-old boys who wanted to get in on the action, so we timed them too. One of them got it in thirteen seconds. I couldn't let that stand. So I decided I had enough movement back in my arm to give it another go. I stepped over the first tube easy, tried to go through the first loop. tripped, landed on my arm, yelled "Ow fuck, my arm!!!" really loudly, realized that the ten-year-olds were still there and quietly and slowly made my way through the rest of the course before I could do any more damage.
After that I became the time keeper. Mitchell gave me his watch and I timed everyone from the moment they touched the course to the moment they hit the water at the end. One of the ten-year-olds kept beating the crap out of Mitch. When Mitchell finally got it down to twelve seconds, before he even made it back to the line the kid had his turn and got eleven. Mitchell got a quicker eleven, so the kid got ten. Mitchell's natural advantage of having more speed an power was undone by his being too large for the course. The kid was slower, but he was the perfect size to just zip through all the hoops without even slowing down. If I'd been healthy, I might have been in with a chance - I'm a pretty sweet combination of the two. The kid ended up winning, breaking Mitchell's spirit.
That night, the gang came over for dinner. Kelsey, Mitchell, Jasmine, Jason and Wendy were there, as well as Jerida who was fresh from a two-week cruise and had an amazing tan. Side note: with Sarah holidaying in Europe at the moment, Juan over in South America, Jason having recently come back from Vietnam and another friend named Dimi who's also in Europe, I'm starting to feel like I'm falling behind on my travel. I need to get away soon. Anyway, as we ordered four pizzas and three sides between the seven of us, some members of the group gave me some presents. Jerida gave me a Superman plush toy and a Dallas Cowboys track suit, because she knows how much I love those two things. Then Jason and Kelsey brought over a big bag. They had these huge smiles on their faces like they were already congratulating themselves. They reached into the bag and pulled out a game of Monopoly.
'Oh... thanks!' I said. I certainly love Monopoly, but didn't they know I already had the game?
'Take a closer look!' said Jason. I studied the board and noticed that in front of the word Monopoly was a big bright yellow sticker with the word "Buttercup" on it and a picture of a daisy underneath. There were more or those stickers around the sides of the board, anywhere it said "Monopoly" on it.
'Oh, that's cool! I said, a bit more excited.
'Why don't we open it up for him?' said Kelsey. We took it to the table and opened it up. I grabbed the board out and unfolded it, unsure what was going on.
Here's what they'd done - they'd managed to make a custom Monopoly board where the usual properties had been replaced by pictures of group members and memories. I couldn't believe my eyes as I scanned the board, working my way from "PDAs" & "General Quirks" to "Australia Day '13", "Pine Point '13-'14" & "Gold Coast '12", all the way up to "Buttercup Boys" & "Buttercup Girls" where the dark blues usually are. Each property had an accompanying picture that they said they'd taken either from Facebook or my blog. They even had custom Chance and Community Chest cards, with instructions like "Raise money for charity, collect $50 from each player", and a picture of me just after I did the World's Greatest Shave or "Stack it, pay $25", and a perfectly timed picture we took on the Gold Coast where Mitchell fell over and everyone else in the photo had turned to laugh. Some of you will be delighted to know that there was one that said "Attempt pole dancing, pay $50" and it had a picture of me doing the flagpole.
'Guys... This is the best present I've ever gotten,' I said emotionally. 'Lets play it now!'
Okay, so here's my deal with Monopoly: I think I'm pretty good. I've only played it a handful of times, and yet I've figured out why some sets are better to own than others and how to keep afloat when you're struggling etc. But I'm terrible when I'm playing against people who just love to make wild trades without any thought of the consequences. Here are some of the exchanges I had throughout the game.
Mitchell: Mike, what do you want for your grey property?
Me: You're not getting my grey property.
Mitchell: Why not?
Me: That gives you a set! And that's the best set on the board to own when no one else has got any. The houses are only $50 each, you can afford to stack them all up in one go.
Mitchell: What if I give you $500?
Me: Dude, landing on Floorgy once with a hotel is $600. No deal.
Kelsey: Mike, I'll give you a railroad for your green.
Me: That's the worst deal I've ever heard.
Kelsey: When someone lands on one of your railroads, they'll owe you $50!
Me: When someone lands on your hotel, they'll owe you $1400.
Jason: Gee, it must be nice to have properties.
Jasmine: Aw, chin up Jason. You'll get one soon.
(Later after much dealing...)
Me: Okay, so you'll give me your red, your pink and $200, and I'l give you my railroad, my orange and my grey?
Kelsey: Hey Mitch, do you want to give me your railroad for my grey?
Me: Oh for crying out loud Kelsey, you've ruined my birthday.
Kelsey: But look how many railroads I've got!
Me: Great, you'll have somewhere to sleep when Mitchell's got all our money.
Two turns later, Mitchell had a hotel on all of his properties and everyone realized they had to move quickly. Trades were made so fast I could barely follow it. But by the end of it, I had a set of three reds and nothing else. The next challenge was to develop them quickly enough to start making money on them. The very next turn, I landed on Buttercup Bowling - the grey property that I foolishly let out from under my protection. I had to pay Mitchell $550. On my next turn, I rolled a three and landed on Floorgy - Mitchell's again. That was another $600. I couldn't afford that. My friends didn't want me to give up so soon, so rather than just hand my stuff to Mitch, I mortgaged the only three properties I had and paid him off. Then I just played on my phone until it was my turn again. It ended up being Jerida who officially knocked me out - much to her dismay, since it would cost her more to unmortgage those properties than what she'd gotten from the deal. Naturally, Mitchell was one of the last two people left. But amazingly, Miss Quiet Achiever-Jasmine had traded like a boss and she was in easily the best position. Mitchell somehow ended up with nothing left but his three greys and the thousands of dollars he accrued from the rest of the players. Jasmine slowly developed her properties until there was no safe space left for him to land and she ended up winning. Go Jasmine!