Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Hazelblackberry: the dead tone

Dear Nick,

Spanner is on the phone AGAIN.

On the one hand, what do I care? She can talk all she wants as long as her work's getting done. Hells bells, let her talk all she wants even if her work ISN'T getting done. Let's not get all prudey about this like none of us have ever sat for an unconscionable amount of time at work on a private call.

But on the other hand: bugger me, I care.

I care from a humanitarian perspective. Why fork out heaps of money on day care only to ring them every half hour to check if your sprog is wearing this or doing that? Have mercy on these poor people just trying to do their job: they've only got 49 other little monsters whose every need must be ministered to with infinite tender loving care.

I care from a busybody perspective. She can spend aaaages winding up a phone call with her mum who has put the child on for excruciating minutes of kissy noises and farewells. "Bye bye, my love...bye...bye...I love you, my darling...bye...bye bye...kiss kiss...bye...darling, goodbye...I love you, sweetheart...kiss mummy...goodbye...bye..." Twice a day. Four days a week.

I care from a selfish perspective that when it's MY work that's not getting done then damn well get off that phone and do it. Especially when that work involves waiting for calls to be returned to you. Then we return to the humanitarian perspective: my heart bleeds for the frustrated souls trying to make those return calls who only get the "beep-beep-beep" signal in their ear. A sound that is only slightly less irritating than the famous midnight mosquito whine. Many is the eardrum that has been burst by a violent slap to the ear because THIS TIME you're going to get that little bugger.

Anyway...according to CrustyP I'm supposed to manage this. Struth! I have a hard enough time asking for flex sheets. I have to give myself a pep talk in bed the night before. CrustyP doesn't view learning how to manage people as a development tool, he sees it as a moral obligation.

"See, that's the one thing about Hulahoop," says CrustyP. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking Hulahoop, he's a great bloke, but - and I AM trusting you here, this really is between you and me - but Hulahoop doesn't know how to manage people, does he? And he doesn't want to manage people, does he? That isn't right, is it? You see what I'm saying. I mean, you ARE with me on this one."

I admire Hulahoop to have come so far with so few strings attached. What is that man's secret?? So I look. I say nothing. I see that I carry within me a fatal flaw that will forever darken the otherwise bright and sunny relationship between me & CrustyP.

This gives me pause.

Until next time, Nick. you...kiss kiss...


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Three little words that could change your life

Do a favour for me. Write a short essay or story for me that is both up-lifting and grounded in the here and now; that takes the product of the human imagination at its most fertile and grinds it into something worthy and useful through a structured and considered process. Sing a song of yourself and your life. Sketch a tentative plan for this city, this country, this world for the next thousand years. Explain love, justify death and excoriate history as never before.

And do it using only the words: ‘door’, ‘bus’ and ‘ball’.

My son, The Dude, rarely strays too far beyond these words. (Oh, sure, his name and ‘Daddy’, ‘Mummy’, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ crop up a fair bit but they’re all kind of obvious and expected.) He has taken those three words as a grand summation of all that is presently interesting about the outside world.

And if they’re good enough for him, then they should be enough for you. Try to get through just one meeting at work next week with only ‘door’, ‘bus’ and ‘ball’.

Let me know how it goes.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Your tax-dollars, over-worked

Last week, both chambers of the Australian Parliament sat a couple of marathon sessions (including what was apparently only the fourth time the House of Representatives has ever sat on a Saturday according to the ABC) to clear the decks before…,um, no reason. You know, just keeping busy.

You might like to know some of the output of that fevered legislative jelly-wrestling… And so I present several of the lesser known Bills which made it onto the Statute books in the early hours late last week (and remember, ignorance of the law is no defence):

Workplace Relations (Non-Traditional Hospital Employees) Amendment Act 2004: outlaws the presence of circus clowns and fire-men during open-heart surgery. (Note: exceptions exist for those who only perform as clowns at hospital ‘annual religious observance ceremonies’, those legitimately ‘considering career transition’ and patients.)

Aviation Navigation (Animals) Amendment Act 2004: adds domestic pets such as cats, dogs, goldfish and turtles to the list in Division IX as ‘persons who are presumed to be ineligible for a licence to pilot a small aircraft.’ However, section 214 operates as normal, that is, such persons may become ‘so qualified’ following an ‘approved course of study lasting not less than four years’.

Australian Yellow Citrus Commision Establishment Act 2004: establishes a new body under the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry portfolio, the Australian Yellow Citrus Commission (AYCC). The AYCC will be tasked with the regulation of grapefruit production, dissemination and consumption (lemons being already regulated by the Australia and New Zealand Strong-Tasting Foods Authority). The Act further provides that where a grape-fruit has been certified as ‘excessively sour’, it may not be served at any breakfast (defined as the ‘first diurnal nutrition opportunity’) in Australia including all external territories.

The AYYC takes its place alongside the Australian Blood Orange Agency, the Bureau of Navel Orange Liaison and Development, Cumquats Australia and the National Marmalade Office.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Guest bloggers: Federal Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads & Cyndi Lauper!

I don’t have time to blog tonight because I want to watch something on TV so I’ve decided to hand the reins to two guest bloggers for the evening. Say hello to Senator the Honourable Ian Campbell, Australian Federal Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Senator for Western Australia and to quirky songstress, Cyndi Lauper.

Senator Campbell: Good evening.
Cyndi Lauper: Hi Nick, thanks for having us.
Nick Crustacean: Look, you know how the machinery works. I’m just going to duck out to catch CSI: Miami. Go nuts. [Leaves].
SC: Thanks, Nick. Much appreciated.
CL: Yeah, thanks.
SC: So. [Pause.] Do girls just wanna have fun? Sorry, people must ask you that all the time.
CL: Not as enough as you might think. Not often enough.
SC: Ok, then. Do girls just wanna have fun?
CL: Mostly, yeah. Though fun is not as easy to come by as it used to be, ya know? [Pause]. How’re things going with you? Do you get enough fun?
SC:Oh, well, now that you mention it, I very much enjoy having Portfolio responsibility for Local Government and Territories and, er, and –
CL: Roads.
SC: And roads. Yes, thank you. Yes, it does give me a great deal of pleasure. I get immense satisfaction from, well, leading development in first-class policy in the area of local government, territories and, you know, roads. Immense satisfaction.
CL: Yeah? Doesn’t sound that exciting to me.
SC: Oh, you’d be surprised, really surprised at some of the issues that get thrown up. For example, to take an issue I was reading about in an industry paper about a fascinating infrastructure redevelopment project in your native Brooklyn –
CL: Wait. You read my bio?
SC: Never let it be said that I don’t do my research. For example, I know you turned 51 last week. [Pause]. But I’m sure you can still be like that girl in that song ‘Bop girl’.
CL: ‘She-bop.’
SC: ‘She-bop.’ Right. 51 is not so old, you know. Of course, I’m only 45 myself. But you know, as we grow older, we still try to have fun, in our own way, perhaps differently from when we were younger. You know, I really get a kick out of transport and regional policy. And I understand you still put the occasional record out. It’s all about keeping busy, even if you’re not necessarily tearing up the charts anymore.
CL: Look, when I agreed to do this –
SC: Oh, hey, Nick’s back.
NC: Wow, another amazing ep of CSI: Miami. Turns out the topless model who worked at the casino wasn’t really killed by the blow-gun dart made of lip-stick fired by the jealous ex-croupier but by a poison in her drink that was just a random mix of cigarette ash and the plastic used to make casino chips. Incredible.
CL: Huh.
NC: So anyway, thanks very much for helping out. Can’t wait to read the blog.
CL: Thanks.
SC: Yes, thanks very much. We should do it again some time.
NC: You know it. Time after time, heh. Goodnight all.
SC: Good night. Oh, I should add for the record that I’m also Manager of Governemnt Business in the Senate.
NC: Thanks, Minister, Cyndi.
CL: Yeah, bye.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Hazelblackberry: not to be taken with food

Dear Nick

Grumpy thinks that the richer people get, the smaller their dogs get. Grumpy also believes that Pink may be running out of material.

I couldn't comment on the Pink thing; I just haven't watched enough TV Hits, which is a crying shame. All I know - and I may be wrong - is that she once had pink hair but now is blonde. Is that the case? To illustrate his case, Grumpy turned up a song of hers on the radio the other day in which she whinges about some bloke who didn't come to her show even though she left tickets at the door for him. Maybe she even got a ticket for him rather than her mother? Well, some friend HE turned out to be!

Mind you, I think they were a little more than friends. If you get my drift. I wonder if her mother knew....

Anyway, as for the dog bit - sometimes on our drives home we detour through the Nicer Suburbs. Lately, I've been noticing the kinds of dogs that are accompanying their owners on strolls through their leafy, privileged streets. It would seem - though I claim no thoroughness in establishing a working hypothesis or rigorously collecting data - that the preferred style of dog is a small and generally fluffy chap. Domesticated rats. Though I admit some are charming, in a NIMH-esque way.

NOT that I am anti-dog. Except for large, fangy dogs that live on properties with "ENTER AT OWN RISK - ATTACK DOG" signs on the front gate; gates which are often left wide open, swinging in the breeze. I like the concept of a dog. A loyal fella trotting at your heels, looking up at you lovingly while you wait to cross the road. But as wonderful as they may be as pets and friends and, yes, even members of the family, there is one compelling argument against dogs: scooping.

You KNOW what I'm talking about, but here's a bit of detail.

On the weekend Grumpy and I were cruising the streets in the faithful Georgia Satellite. We pulled up at South Perth foreshore to admire the view; where Grumpy once again displayed his unerring sense for finding the one car park with a bin in front of it. "Thank Christ we're finally here," he said (he can speak a little coarsely at times). "You wouldn't believe how many postcards of this view I've sorted in the last 6 months." We sat in contentment for a while, admiring the river and the city skyline and the lid of the bin, and then along came a family for a picnic. They had with them some big old galumphing pooch who had clearly seen better days (particularly in the worming department, he kept dragging his bum along the grass in a most pitiable fashion).

Well the fresh air and exercise clearly got the better of the big old boy and he graced the manicured sward with a poo. Then the mother of the family covered her hand with a plastic bag and scooped up the prize. I got to thinking about a bag of freshly-gassed rats I had to pick up one day at school from the front office for dissection. As I carried the warm bundle back to the classroom I put the wind up myself a bit wondering what it would be like if they all suddenly came back to life and started wriggling madly for freedom.

Wait, I do have a point and the point is this: as the woman walked over to the bin a deposit, she had a look of repulsion about her. Grumpy and I pondered this and could only reach two conclusions. Either:

(1) no matter how many times you pick up a dog's poo it never ceases to be disgusting; or
(2) it isn't really all that disgusting to the owner, but you have to put on a show for all the people around you, because you wouldn't want anyone to think that you thought that picking up a dog's poo was somehow perfectly civilised and normal.

The family then laid their picnic blanket right down over the very grass where Rusty had been dragging his posterior round and round. We left then. I'm sure they had a lovely afternoon.

Until next time, Nick.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Wiggles: gritty realists or class traitors? You be the judge...

The Wiggles Movie, part le deux. Last time we met, I was telling you that while The Dude (aged 1 ¾) might be impressed with the Wiggles Movie my higher faculties were left untouched by its artistic stylings.

As I mentioned, I nurture a tiny Wiggles obsession. I see all their differences, their subtle flaws and human failures and, above all, their shining successes as men of the stage and screen. And the Wiggles Movie (1997) provides a rich vein to be mined by the dedicated Wigglesologist.

The first thing that will strike you about the movie is how little they’re in it. At that first brain-storming meeting in which it was decided that the Wiggles were no one in this town until they had their own movie, the first order of business must have been: how the fuck do we fill 90 minutes? (I imagine it was Red Murray Wiggle who asked that question in all its coarse searing honesty. As their resident rock-God, he’s that kind of guy).

First answer: it’s just 83 minutes long.
Second answer: let this movie be about someone other than the Wiggles… crazy, no? Crazy like a fox!

The main plot is about Wally the magician, a hopeless gangly loser type, all curly hair and floppy limbs, trying to make it in the rough and tumble world of high-stakes theatrical magic. (Wally is played with a great deal of sighing and eye-rolling by Tony Harvey, the cynical dude on Amanda Keller’s Mondo Thingo Showo). The second plot-line, intertwined with the fortunes of Wally, is that Dorothy, everybody’s favourite infantile obese green dinosaur, thinks that the Wiggles have forgotten her birthday (because they’re secretly organising a surprise party! Surprise! It's a storyline borrowed originally from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.)

So, to cut an 83 minute story even shorter, (SPOLIERS BEWARE) Wally wants to win the Magic Club competition being held later that day and thus the wand which once belonged to Waldo the Magnificent, believing this will make him great. Problem: he’s a classic no-talent fuck-up. Standing in his way is Roland the Remarkable, a sneering effete magician who pisses on poor Wally from a great height.

Wally decides he needs a wand to compete and so steals one from Yellow Greg Wiggle. Enter the Dinosaur! Dorothy catches Wally in the act and together they accidentally break the wand. Resolving to get the wand fixed, they set off to visit Dorothy’s friends – such regulars as Wags the dog, Henry the Octopus and Captain Feathersword – as Dorothy cycles in and out of giddy joy and horrific self-loathing.

As Murray might have said in that first brain-storming session: so where’s the fucking lesson here for the kids?

Well, of course, Wally discovers that his problem is not the lack of a wand, but the lack of self-belief, natch. He makes it to the magic competition just in time to compete (oooh, the suspense!) and wins, with the help of Dorothy and a super-dooper magic cabinet revealed to him in a dream by the long-dead Waldo the Magnificent (damn but those peyote buttons work a treat…).

So believing in yourself is the key to success, right? Think again. Waldo the magnificent, who saved Wally’s lanky pink derriere, was actually Wally’s great-great grand-father. And the president of the Magic Club, who is also one of the three competition judges, is actually Wally’s uncle.

So self-belief wins the day if backed by a dollop of nepotism. It’s Roland the Remarkable I feel sorry for. He might be an arrogant son of a bitch, but he’s a self-made magician who got where he is today by yanking his own rabbits out of his own hats. In the end, his hopes are crushed by a clueless thief with a sense of entitlement who coasts in at the last minute and wins, enjoying the fruits of a dynastic elite.

And ain’t that a fucking lesson for life?

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Hazelblackberry: A Banquette Fit for a King

Dear Nick

The other night I was watching The Einstein Factor. What an entertaining show that can be. One of The Brains Trust panellists answered a question on dinosaurs, confident of the answer because she had picked up a lot of dinosaur facts and figures from her dinosaur-obsessed five- or six-year-old nephew. Of her relationship with her nephew she noted that he was someone whom:

"I regularly bathe and bed."

Was I the only person in Australia who guffawed at this slip? Was mine the only laughter that drifted upward into the lonely, starry night? Certainly the panellists said nowt. I suppose in this day and age one can't. And before you know it old Hetty Wainthrop, or whatever that 'Bravehearts' woman's name is, will be shutting down this web site for its suggestive and morally reprehensible content.

(I should note that The Brains Truster was dead wrong. The wages of sin may be death but before you collect your pay packet you get to enjoy a hearty dollop of embarrassment and humiliation in the here and now.)

Anyway, here's my point: while I was watching The Einstein Factor I was eating a Jelly Tip. Did you ever enjoy a Jelly Tip as a youngster, Nick? What a marvellous concoction they were: plain (not buttermilk) vanilla ice cream topped with a frozen slab of raspberry jelly, all coated in a thin, crackling chocolate shell. Bliss. (Grumpy claims that one of his lecturers at the Uni of Qld invented the Jelly Tip. Someone who knew about the Jelly Tip. A very very good reason to marry Grumpy. So I did.) At some point the Jelly Tip disappeared. My attention was momentarily captured by the Hazelnut Roll (a wanton treat if ever there was one) and the Redskin Split and the Giant Sandwich (which I believe you know by the name of Monaco Bar), and when I turned around the Jelly Tip was gone. I felt responsible. It seemed that through my neglect and insatiable appetite I had driven it from my life.

Then, a reprieve. A couple of years ago I was on holidays, staying with Bloody Ern and Bezley, when I decided to duck down to the local deli for ice creams for all of us. And I bet you know what I found in the freezer, don't you? Its packaging had been updated but it was like running into an old friend who you used to tomboy around with but who has taken to wearing make-up and cute skirts. At first you don't know what to make of all of this and then you get talking and the years melt away. The frills and mascara disappear and standing before you it's still the same old Big Russ you always knew. What a glorious reunion it was. The vanilla ice cream was as light as ever, the jelly as brain-freezing as I remember and the chocolate was still thin. My sweet Jelly Tip had stayed true. It had not followed in the footsteps of the Choc Wedge and the Fudge Bar who now choose to prostitute themselves in layers of too-thick, too-rich chocolate.

I must tell you that the deli which reunited me with Jelly Tips is called Festers. Adorning the front of the shop is a giant picture of Uncle Fester's head. An image of a googly-eyed experimenter-mortician looming in your vision is certainly enough to make even the most distracted homewards driver remember that forgotten carton of milk. Grumpy and I have occasionally mused that if the proprietors of Festers were looking for a new image they may want to call the shop Ol' Fess and set up a piano-player outside to pump out some Cajun tunes.

But I don't know if the good citizens of Perth's semi-rural districts are quite ready to order their steak burgers while serenaded by the Patron Saint of New Orleans. The wanna-be drummer who lives next door to Ern & Bez has yet to get past the first verse of Khe San.

Until next time, Nick.


Friday, June 18, 2004

The (Tim) Blair Watch Project, Volume IV

Let me tell you a story. I was about 13, in my first year of high school. There was this girl I liked and, you know, she didn’t know I existed. She was tall with black hair and dark eyes and kinda prominent white teeth. But not prominent in a bad way. Her name was Christa.

Well, we were all on a school camp in lovely Victor Harbour and there was a night-time outing to Granite Island to see the fairy penguins which is compulsory if you’re about 13 and in the vicinity. Now here’s the thing. I didn’t know her but I badly wanted to. So I... pretended I was a Richard Attenborough-type wildlife observer and every time I saw her I flashed my torch at her and made some reference to a ‘rare sighting of a Christa-beast’.

I did this about four times until my friend Charles looked me in the eye and said: ‘mate, mate, don’t, OK?’. And I took a good hard look at myself and stopped.

What does this have to do with Tim? Well, it’s like this. Tim is a pretty funny guy. Usually. But lately he’s been running with this John Kerry = Caged Hamster thing. The first time it was worth half-a-chuckle: the presumptive Democratic Party candidate for President of the United State of America is a wheel-running rodent. Quite, quite. How amusing.

But he’s up to 5 references now. And here’s betting Kerry-hamster reference number 6 is currently percolating away in that otherwise fertile brain.

So, Tim, next time you feel like slapping down some hamster love, here’s some advice straight from the fairy penguins of Granite Island: ‘mate, mate, don’t, OK?’

Cos, you know, that schtick is only slightly funnier than cervical cancer…

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Hazelblackberry: There was one thing we weren't thinking of.

Dear Nick

Here's a sign that has continued to puzzle and amuse me through the years:

"Please don't ask for credit as refusal may offend."

What is wrong with a simple and straightforward sign that says "No Credit Here" or "Credit Not Given"? And let me take care of my own offendedness, thank YOU very much. I dread to think what timid bar- or shop-keep first penned such a sign, spawning thousands like it in delis (or, if you will, deli's) and liquor outlets (walk-in AND drive-through) round our nation. Our once proud nation where, in days of yore, people could ask a question and realise that the response might be what they wanted to hear OR NOT. Are we all divided into one of two camps: snivelling proprietors too afraid to lay it on the line - respectfully - for the customers, and nervy shoppers ready to fly into a white-hot rage at the slightest perceived provocation, who can only be calmed down by signs presuming to hazard a guess at their potential state of mind?

Or could it be that I am being too harsh?

It's just that I'm a simple soul who yearns for a sweeter time when a freckle-faced chitlin could walk into the milk bar and ask for a 1c bag of mixed lollies and would receive a fair old fistful (of sweets!). Sometimes, if she was feeling a bit grown-up, she might even ask for a mixed assortment; she had a bit of an air about her on those occasions.

However, let's get this straight: I'm NOT talking about times when the same, or similar, freckled-faced chitlin might be convinced by her somewhat shambolic but bon vivant father to go into a shop and request a dozen prairie oysters. "Go on, kiddo - just say you want a dozen prairie oysters." The grin should have told me that I'd been had. Those were dark days indeed.

And yet, allow me to reconsider. Perhaps there's nothing at all wrong with the credit sign. Perhaps in a world of signs screaming in caps lock at us - STOP, WRONG WAY, NO ENTRY, NO STANDING, QUIT - this particular sign with its "please, consider" message harks back to a kinder, gentler age. In which case, the next time I am at my local newsagent, maybe purchasing a morning paper or gambling recklessly in the national sport of lotteries, I may make note of such a sign and feel gratitude to the genteel vendor who gave a thought to me and my easily-bruised feelings while also finding a way to avoid being ripped off.

A very good morning to you, kind sir, wherever your establishment may be.

Until next time, Nick.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Wake up to yourself, Jeff

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that redefines how you see the world. The Wiggles Movie is just such a movie… if you’re under 2.

My son, The Dude, is under 2. And The Wiggles Movie has rocked his tiny spinning world.

I purchased this, the most accomplished work in the whole Wiggles oeuvre, while Wifey and I were down the coast last weekend. Got up at 6:30 while Wifey languished under the covers and discreetly slipped the tape into the VCR. It was recorded in long-play mode and wouldn't play on this machine.


So there I am just before 8 am in Bateman’s Bay Woolworths pushing The Dude in a shopping trolley as he clutches The Wiggles Movie in his vegemited fingers. I tried to push other titles in front of his button nose. Finding Nemo, now’s that gotta be worth a look. See! A turtle! And a fish! A fish I tells ya! But one look at the spine of That Movie and he was not for turning.

In fact, it proved to be such a winner that he insisted on carrying the video case with him all day. One hand to pat kangaroos on Pebbly Beach, one hand to grasp plastic.

I’ve now seen That Movie about 5 times which is more than I’ve seen just about any other feature film. It’s been feeding my non-stop search for insight into the hidden machinations of the Wiggles clan. I can’t stop thinking about them, I see them so frigging much. And I wonder what makes them tick.

When the opening credits roll, straight away I notice that the producer is one Hilton Fatt who must be related to Asian Purple Wiggle Jeff (Fatt, obviously). How did he (she?) get that gig? Was it pure nepostism? Or did he earn his stripes doing the hard yards at the coal face in the school of hard knocks?

That attractive background dancer has appeared in more than one Wiggles flick. Is she having a relatioship with one of the Wiggles? With more than one of the Wiggles? At the same time? In the same room?

I learn a lot from the credits as they roll past my eyes for the 60th time and I find myself wondering again and again about Paul Paddick. Paddick plays the meaty role of Captain Feathersword. Lots of face-time, lots of lines but all of them as second fiddle to the Fab Four. The credits tell me he also often plays the role of Wags the dog: hidden from sight under an animal suit without lines, only the silent howl of a mischevious canine buffoon. Is this the Wiggles putting Paddick in his place? The kids may love you as the Captain, with your sea-borne japery and your pirate jigs but you’ll always be a dog to us.

Wake up to yourself, Jeff. Paddick wants your job. He has a feathersword with your name on it.

Later this week, more on the Wiggles Movie: The Dude may love it but I find the narrative unsatisfying and overtly schematic. Can't wait!

Monday, June 14, 2004

Hazelblackberry: what I like about you, senior cits

Dear Nick

Grumpy organised a surprise night out on Saturday night at a jazz show. This show wasn't held down in Freo, where black and a penchant for strange hats would have been de rigueur, but at the Don Russell Performing Arts Centre, deep in the suburban wilds of Thornlie (the DRPAC is a proscenium arch theatre!). Well, it certainly was a surprise - I didn't know that Grumpy even knew where Thornlie was. However, he guided us there unerringly in the faithful mobile, the Georgia Satellite, but did inject a little overkill into the planning as we arrived an hour early. This necessitated a stop for drinks at the Forest Lakes Tavern, a rather pleasant and family-oriented venue. I like a pub where kids can drink a lemon squash and run around while Mum & Dad and Aunty Sheryl & Uncle Max enjoy a smoke and a beer and wait for the local covers band to get started.

It turns out that playing at the DRPAC was the James Morrison (WA) Scholarships Winners Group. (I noted to Grumpy, and I note it here again, that if this talented ensemble is to continue to tour together - and Insya Allah they will - they may wish to consider tweaking that name a little.) I put the WA in brackets so you'd understand that these are the scholarship winners from 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003 who all happen to come from Western Australia - not wishing to imply that there are scholarship winners from each state each year, which would dilute the wow factor just a little. And wouldn't you know it, they play enough different instruments to form a band. Kismet.

The DRPAC clearly markets itself to the retired end of the market. Grumpy and I have a way of finding ourselves at these events, where the more senior of our fellow citizens run the cold fish eye over us, resenting our young whippersnapper intrusion into their sedate happenings. Something similar happened to us when we went to Norfolk Island. Neither of us was aware it was a retiree destination until we were in the departure lounge at Sydney, tickets in hand and raring to go. It was then we noticed with discomfort the unhappy and perhaps resentful and probably myopic gaze of various seniors-card holders alighting upon us. Unsettling. I still shiver at the thought of it.

So at the jazz night the audience was liberally sprinkled with blue rinses and pastel woollies and the sweet sound of dentures being sucked. One old chap in front of us hummed along to all the tunes he knew. It was quite marvellous.

And the music was good. Not that I can speak with any authority on music; but it WAS good. I became quite fixated on the drummer. He reminded me of someone. It wasn't until the next morning I realised it was the drummer-singer from The Romantics. And the bass guitarist was something else. I didn't know that a bass guitar could sound like a lullaby. What a wonderful instrument.

Music and images are so much more powerful than words, don't you think? It would be wonderful to have the ability to conjure up your feelings in sounds or sights. Words only seem to get in the way of themselves.

The best thing about the whole evening, though, was the canteen run in the intermission by three slightly older volunteers called something like Dot, May & June and wearing matching floral aprons. They dispensed tea, coffee, milo or soft drinks with a snack-size packet of biscuits (Orange Slice & Butternut Snap) for the extremely affordable sum of $1.50. That's Australian dollars, Nick. When I bought my drink and biscuits I was feeling a bit devilish. Not realising it was a drink-bickie combo deal I asked for another packet of biscuits. There was a momentary kerfuffle at the counter, Dot conferred with June on the price for another packet of biscuits not being sold with a drink, and with a "pffff" sound and a careless wave of her hand June decreed that the extra biscuits would be FREE. This is the kind of smooth and entrepreneurial operation they were running at half-time.

Even better, within about 5 metres of the canteen one could smell the sweet-acrid smell of scalded milk that is so essential to the whole experience, especially on a cool winter's night.

Hats off to our elders!

Until next time, Nick.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The (Tim) Blair Watch Project, Volume III

Blogging on the ‘project’ -- as it has become known in WWI model aeroplance racing circles – has been light of late because well, who can be fucked?

But furry Blair stupidities have popped up and need to be smacked down with a mallet in the game of cerebral whack-a-mole that is the blogosphere.

Exhibit A:

Rachel Hunter, world’s most famous kiwi ex-spouse of a Scottish has-been, dribbled in the general direction of the media and her words of wisdom quote endquote are only too eagerly picked up by Tim. Because the Right is so frickin’ desperate to have a celebrity, any celebrity, on its side.

She took several months to carefully compose a position-paper on the State of the World and had this to say:
Hunter explains,
"If I could, I would vote for Bush. He has done what needed to be done because if Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden had their way, none of us would be around in 10 years."

Look, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt as much as the next person but – how is this statement even remotely true? Was a tag-team of Saddam and Osama really going to denude the continental United States of all human beings in just ten years?

Two astonishing facts newly to hand to consider when reading Ms Hunter’s thoughts: (1) Saddam didn’t actually have any weapons of mass destruction. He probably wouldn’t have been able to kill every American in the world just with the power of his imagination. I think I can. I think I can. And (2) Osama bin Laden is, er, still out there.
"Clinton had a lot of tea parties with celebrities, but [right after] his term, somebody flew two planes into the Twin Towers. What do you want - somebody who keeps your children safe or somebody who throws nice tea parties?"

There’s nothing I like more than a massively unfair piece of disingenuous bullshit. Clinton did nothing but hold tea parties (um, whatever) – while dodging a right-wing witch-finder hell-bent on burning him at the stake for, well, anything he could come up with. Conservatives are found of saying that Clinton’s mind wasn’t on the job. Has it ever occurred to them that this is partly their fault? When you need to meet with your lawyers on a daily basis to fend of the latest piece of go-nowhere wingnut litigation, you’re not really able to devote all your time to fighting terrorism, are you? (Special note for the wilfully irritable: I’m not saying that Clinton would have prevented September 11 if he’d had a little more freedom to move but it didn’t help, did it?)

Is Rachel Hunter really the best you can do, mate?

Exhibit B:

Tim-on-Tim smackdown! Blair thwacks Dunlop for this comment:
"And then there was the righterwing reaction. Tim Blair went into convulsions of confected "battler" outrage, objecting strenuously to the concept of a self-made millionaire with something like a conscience and no hair having any role whatsoever in our democracy."

Tim B demands some kind of correction because, er, I’m not really sure. I’ve tried to puzzle this one out and I’m not making a lot of progress. Dunlop objects to Blair’s snarkiness about Garrett having a ‘role in our democracy’ and Blair hits back by saying that, like, dude, it’s, like, Garrett who himself has no role because, like, he doesn’t seem to have, like, voted, man.

Tim, here’s what they teach kids in early high school: the context (remember that word for later) of Dunlop’s comment was to criticise those who object to Garrett running for office. While, sure, voting is a ‘role in our democracy’, it obviously has nothing to do with what Dunlop was saying. Tim might think he’s playing some sophisticated high-stakes game of gotcha but he’s really just snarky that Dunlop got him a good one…

‘Confected “battler” outrage’… Have to remember that one for another time.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Oblivion, I barely knew ye!

My earliest memory of drinking whisky is this: I was about 18 (yes, I know, slow learner). My parents were overseas. It was just me and the bottle, mano-a-mano, as they say in a language I believe to be Spanish. I put the neck to my mouth and drank deeply of the peaty heritage of Scotland. A searing blast of taste flamed over my tongue and down my throat, warming me like a mountain man before a mountain fire. The whiskey coursed powerfully into my stomach. And immediately came up again.

As it flowed back into my mouth, I angled my head towards the ceiling and held my neck with one hand, rigidly, as if to strangle myself. Slowly, gravity did its thankless work and the whiskey drained back into my guts.

I’d like to say that there was some teenage hottie there also, surreptitiously toying with her bra strap and egging me on. But no, this was strictly a two-person affair, one boy on the cusp of manhood (and that was one fat cusp – I didn’t know they made cusps that big) and one bottle of Chivas Regal. It was me, pimply, alone, a failed drunk, with traces of whiskey and saliva on the kitchen floor. Rock’n’roll!

I was always one to struggle with alchohol. Throughout my university days, I wrestled with beer, trying to fling it down my throat and out of sight. What the hell was a I doing at a pub, unable to drink? I watched enviously as friends sucked the stuff down. They were having more fun than me, let’s face it. Substitutes drinks came and went. Red wine seemed a manly alternative (almost), and sophisticated to boot. But to the uncultured palate (and my palate had been bounced out of kindergarten for farting while the other kids finger-painted) red wine is worse than beer. And over-the-counter claret-in-a-box has recently been added to the poisons advisory list.

Sometime later, I discovered girly liqueurs. Kahula, Baileys, Midori, where were you when I needed you? Tastes like a chocolate milkshake, only it makes you better looking to the opposite sex!

Luckily in my mid-twenties, a switch inside my head flicked on and I grew to like beer. Beer grew to like me too and made itself at home under my belt, like a snuggling cat.

But somehow, I sensed my journey to manhood was not finished (I told you it was a big cusp, you could land a plane on it). A friend at work told me he drinks whiskey by himself at night sometimes. A first I was shocked, then, by turns, revolted, appalled, disgusted and secretly thrilled. Slowly, whiskey made its way into my life, beckoning me onto its velour-covered sedan. Now I too drink a little whiskey as the dark of the evening gives way to the black of night.

I’m no longer pimply and there is a hottie present. However, she’s not a teenager, she’s my wife and she’s 32. And she’s not egging me on.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

hazelblackberry: ex marks the spot

Dear Nick

Some people speak in exclamation marks. Have you ever noticed this? I noticed it because I got an email from a male acquaintance recently and each line ended with !. I usually find this gives me the irrits; but then, what doesn't give me the irrits eventually? I'm not talking about sweet, furry kittens here.

Anyway, as I was reading I suddenly realised that I wasn't experiencing the shooting pains I often get up the side of my head when I grind my teeth. Because I wasn't grinding my teeth. Let me just get the complete emotion of that point over to you:

Because I wasn't grinding my teeth!

I realised that all those exclamation marks at the end of each sentence weren't bothering me because that's how the guy speaks anyway. So who could begrudge him? Certainly not I. Or maybe me.

But who is this guy? I tell you this: right now I can't remember and my email archives are kaput so I can't check back through.

And from there it was only a small philosophical leap to realising that there are many people in the world who speak in constantly exclamatory (? - !) voices. Like the boss's secretary. Spanner. Spanner would have whole strings of !!!!!s at the end of each sentence, even just to say she was heading off to the cafe to get some milk. But she might surprise you with the complete lack of exclamation marks in her writing. It just goes to show there's more to Spanner than meets the eye. I've always said that. You can check.

[For some reason, this reminds me: Spanner and her husband, Spade, are into letting their kid know all about the proper names for body parts. So down there - you know, down there - on a man is a penis; yes, a peeeeenis; and down there on a laidy, a real proper laidy, is...a butterfly.]

But here's my point: exclamation marks are fairly annoying, aren't they? Even Lynn Truss in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which gives the e.m. a pretty solid defence, couldn't sway me. Sometimes I start to shake with anxiety as I'm working my way through an email of the type:

Hi! How are you?! Haven't heard from you in ages! I'm well! Work sucks! But you get that! etc etc

Not that I'm not ever so grateful to hear from the world, but this is the ocular equivalent of listening to people - and this happens especially in excerpts on the news - whose voices keep getting higher and higher, working towards some end point and swamping me with anxiety that they might never get there. Then it all finally breaks and I can lie back and enjoy a good smoke.

Until next time, Nick.


Saturday, June 05, 2004

Bittersweet Implacable Yearning on the Orient Express

Picture this: you’re a shit-hot writer and have just typed ‘The End’ at the bottom of tastefully-sized novelette which, with the right marketing, will literally tear the arts world apart!

But before you can lob up to a publisher to claim your six-figure advance, you need a title. And here’s where it gets complicated…

Literary novels -- you know, the books they make you read at University but which mostly serve as coffee-table decoration -- need to have a certain type of title or they won’t get stocked next to The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Angus and Robertson. Some examples: The Secret Language of Cranes, The Remains of the Day, The Buddha of Suburbia, The Name of the Rose, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Snow Falling on Cedars, Miss Smillas Feeling for Snow, The Executioner’s Song, The Optimist’s Daughter, The Moor’s Last Sigh.

Spy fiction, on the other hand, which is a genre written by small-dicked men who can barely write for small-dicked men who can barely read (just kidding!), has a very different set of naming conventions: The Bourne Identity, The Odessa Files, The Manchurian Candidate, The Matarese Circle, The Fifth Profession, The Fourth Protocol, The Icarus Agenda. But, at least, people buy and then read such novels. Even if they have to do so in the dead of night because of the shame.

Perhaps by exchanging titles, the spy novelists could gain some credibility and the literary writers could afford to feed their kids…

So, people might actually pick up and buy the following titles, mistaking them for books with a plot: The Lakemba Alienation, The Swinburne (University Sexuality Diversity Promotion Committee) Agenda, the Darlinghurst Ressentiment.

Likewise, how could the Booker Prize Committee resist the following spy titles: The Eye-watering Scent of Cordite, The Irresistable Conversation of Knuckles, The List of People Who Have to Be Shot, Miss Tasha’s Feeling for the Inside of Ivan's Chest Cavity; The Arab’s Last Breath.

If you can think of your own examples of amusing mis-matched titles, feel free to pepper them gratuitously through-out my comments box.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Hazelblackberry: mama don't want no peas, no rice, no coconut oil

Dear Nick

When I was a girl I didn't realise there was any connection between the jingles played on ads and the songs on the radio. This continued well into early teenagerhood. I was in a car one day with one of the various uncles, probably Raffles, when "Drift Away" by Dobie Gray came on the radio. Remember the Drifter chocolate bar? I don't much either, but I do remember the advertisement had someone driving a convertible along a road. Maybe the road wound down along a coastal cliff or maybe through a valley; either way it was on a winding road, and the top was down, and "Drift Away" was playing. So I said something along the lines that I couldn't believe that they'd put the song from the ad on the radio. Raffles then took great delight in pointing out to his naive young niece that the song, in fact, pre-dated the ad; that ad makers plucked songs already in existence form the turntable and put them to work to spin more filthy lucre for them. And so it was that this young innocent - as she was then, my word - was inculcated into the dark world of the promotional arts.

(You may notice that this recollection doesn't include any direct quoting of conversation. I only just noticed it myself. This wasn't deliberate but it does remind me how often when reading autobiographies or memoirs I'm astounded by (at?) the large chunks of verbatim conversation from 53 years ago that are recalled by all these prominent memoir-worthy people. It is apparent to me that until I too have a memory capable of recording the thrust and parry of everyday chats, I will never stake for myself a place, never carve for myself a niche, in the memoir pantheon.)

Anyway, it should have come as no surprise what. so. ever. to young Raffles that I was so ignorant in the ways of the world. Bloody Ern didn't listen to the radio much, except to get the latest weather report, and we mostly trundled along listening to country songs, which I kind of thought were all autobiographical. I actually thought Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were married (if that means anything to you). Listening to the sparkling banter in their marvellous duets I thought they'd been married and divorced (whatever that was, but it sounded terrible) several times, and endured the deaths of various children, not to mention all the AFFAIRS and general messin' round. That wicked Jolene. But I also knew that Dolly was WISE - hip, if you will - to Porter's carryings-on. This gave me comfort. And if you listen at a single sitting to all of Marty Robbins' "Gunfighter Ballads" and then throw in 'The Hanging Tree' and 'My Woman, My Woman, My Wife' you are left with the thought that, "Man, has he lived."

Fortunately we mostly had compilation tapes like The Great Country Folk or Country Gold, the kind of tapes favoured at the music stands of roadhouses, which shared the pain of life's sorrows amongst a collection of unfortunates. This only confirmed for me the idea that all country singers, and the people who listened to their music, were deeply tragic people struggling to rise above the endless daily sagas flung their way. It's why I became so manic about knowing the words to these songs; the words helped me lay out the full map of their lives in all their glorious drama. I'm sure it drove Bloody Ern nuts as we would bounce down a road, him humming along to the tune and throwing in the odd word here and there that he thought sounded about right only to be corrected in a hiss by me, wizened already at 8 years old. But you have to understand: he was disrespectin' mah crew.

I was reminded of this because Grumpy and I were driving along by the coast on Saturday, when "Drift Away" came on the radio and we reminisced about the Drifter Bar, realised neither of us could really remember it, and stopped for a Milky Way instead. Milky Ways are very sweet, aren't they? Chewing on one set all my new dental work singing.

Until next time, Nick.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Whininess of the Critic: CCTV on Calvareeee

Let me complain about a film I haven’t seen and that everybody else has finished talking about: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Opinions on the film have ranged from absolutely fantastic! to bloody anti-semitic Jeebus-porn (without a whole lot in between).

A sizable component of Christendom loved the film and found that it enhanced their faith by showing them ‘what Christ really suffered.’ Hollywood Jesus (not to be confused with Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood Animal) had this to say about the film :

Through the centuries Christian depictions of the Crucifixion of Christ became so decorative that they lost the original passion. Beautiful works of art indeed, but they became nearly bloodless with no evidence of real emotion or pain. Artistic depictions of the Passion were reduced to a mere religious symbols... All the characters look bored, even Jesus looks bored. Again, no passion.
Mel Gibson's artistic masterpiece restores the lost dimension of the suffering of the Christ in a very graphic manner.

Another supporter of the film (on a website devoted to those whose lives were changed by the film) said this:

I have always known what Jesus went through in his last hours but seeing it in front of my eyes was an entirely different and sobering experience than reading it in a book or learning about it in church. I saw the movie last night with my mother and became so affected by the suffering Jesus endured that I was sobbing uncontrollably and could barely catch my breath. Jesus was truly a remarkable man and suffered tremendously for humanity. My eyes are open now and I am forced to face the reality of what Jesus did for us all. Many people know the story of Jesus' death but do not face the 'truth' of his torment and tremendous sacrifice.

A lot of Christians appear to have had their lives changed and their ‘faith restored’ by seeing this film because it presents the ‘truth’ of what really happened to Jesus Christ. (I don’t want to get into a discussion of ‘what is truth?’ but I will if I have to, OK, buddy?).

I don’t want to question other people’s religious experiences (especially given that I am not a Christian) but this seems very dangerous to me. In the olden days, when things were simple (but also brutal and unfair), depictions of Biblical figures were forbidden as blasphemous idolatry (in the Protestant world at least). The theory was that it was impossible to properly depict an omnipotent, omniscient God who stood outside time. Any image of Christ would inevitably be flawed and show far less than the truth of God; such images would themselves be worshipped rather than the unrepresentable divine beings they depicted.

This was never really a Catholic perspective but is worth thinking about in the context of Gibson's film. The success of the Passion of the Christ has blinded many to the fact that it is simply one man’s account of events which took place two thousand years ago and which were only partially and conflictingly documented.

Right after he said, in Aramaic, 'Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?' Jim Cavaziel, the actor playing Christ might have said:
'Mel, Mel, what’s my inspiration here? Do I secretly want to bang Mary Magdalene? What about a tasteful, soft-focus dream scene, you know, to establish beyond doubt my ordinary humanity? Cos that Monica Belluci’s a hottie and I can’t stop thinking about her milky-white gazongas.’

Because he’s, you know, an actor and not really Jesus, as some seem to have forgetten.

Of course, Martin Scorsese’s Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ did find his mind turning to Mary Magdalene’s milky-white gazongas, for which Scorsese was accused of blasphemy. Mary Magdalene has long been associated with sexuality, chiefly because she is wrongly thought to have been a prostitute (her very name has become a codeword for ‘whore’). I’m sure Gibson was playing to this by casting Belluci in the role. (Interestingly, Satan in the film was also played by an attractive (and Italian) woman. I will, uh, try not to read anything into this.) But put Jesus Christ together with sexuality and you run into immediate trouble, despite the fact that he was supposed to have been a (kind of) ordinary man.

There is a body of scholarship that holds that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. This is (way) too radical for Gibson’s film but he is also apparently sufficiently a creature of the 21st Century to play down the hooker angle. And because it plays so strongly to many contemporary Christian perceptions of Christ (Jesus suffered a lot and not much else), it is fast on its way to being adopted as the 'true' depiction of Christ; indeed, one person described it as ‘almost like you’re watching CCTV of the crucifixion’. The gimmick of using the original biblical languages no doubt helped enormously with this.

Instead the Passion of the Christ should be seen as just one more account of the life of Jesus Christ… (Or maybe I should just go and see the freakin’ film and stop using so many parentheses).

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