Friday, July 30, 2004

Where angels fear to tread, a cockroach has already crapped

I was feeding coins into the slot to buy my little 55g slice of dessicated coconut dressed up as cherry when I noticed a dead cockroach, inside the machine. The cockroach was inside the machine!

Something about that struck me as, well, worthy of a few hastily-typed words in a scrolling web page that six people will read. Actually blogs are bit like cockroaches: as a group, damn near unkillable, even though dead specimens of each turn up all the time. And unloved. So many unloved blogs and cockroaches. Except for the really popular blogs that get 20 000 visits a day, which are equivalent to, er, those celebrity cockroaches you hear about all the time. The ones you see in Hello magazine, water-skiing off Biarritz with topless babes. Not topless cockroach babes, mind you. Because the very idea is disgusting.

Anyway, this cockroach I saw today was either of the unloved variety or a celeb very much down on his luck. I thought about how he came to die that lonely death inside a vending machine far from home.

I imagine he was nosing about, looking for that big break that all roaches dream of, half a kilo of rotting cheese or a three-movie deal with Salma Hayek, something like that. And he found his way into this huge, throbbing machine that promised nothing but a little warmth. He climbed and he climbed, turned left, turned right, backtracked, crept down passageways without any idea of their end. And then a small opening appeared, an opening he felt good about, a tiny crack into another world. 

This roach peeked through. Aye carumba! El dorado! Santa Maria! (Because naturally a roach that dreams of acting with Salma Hayek has learnt some Spanish over the years) The mother-fucking lode.

Arranged beneath him, as far as the antenna can twitch, is row upon row of tasty treats, any one of which would keep him going for a month. Colours and shapes and smells the like of which he has only experienced in short, twitching dreams. He pushes forward, ready to embrace paradise. Oh Salma, Salma if only you could be here to share this with me. And drops twenty centimetres onto a black metal floor, a thump he barely notices as wonders which glorious feast he should start with.

And it’s then the tiny switch inside his universe flicks from dream to nightmare. He scrabbles over to the giant yellow Apricot and Pecan Muesli Bar with Yoghurt Icing and propels himself into its comely form, waiting for the explosion of sensation and saiety.

But it never comes. A tasteless substance, a rustling, slippery shell coats this Muesli Bar and every other thing inside this machine. As he rushes from bar to biscuit and back again, the fruit of victory become ashes in his mouths, although frankly even some ashes wouldn’t be so bad right now. But nothing, nothing. A gaudy illusion of paradise. A sickening feast of hollowness.

After a while, his mind turns from this place to escape. But he can’t remember how he got in! That vital fact was burnt from his tiny brain by the sun-burst of false promise as he entered.

Oh, nothing, nothing.

And he scrurries until he stops. And he does not move again. As his life slips away, he writhes in a fever-dream of pain and a better world. Oh, Salma, Salma, why hast thou forsaken me! And he twists onto his back, slipping in his own yellow ichor, turning his vitals up to the interior of the machine which has so cruelly tricked him. And he dies. Alone. Inside the machine.

I thought, as I pocketed my cherry ripe, o chocolatey goodness unsullied by twitching roach feet – there is a lesson in this for all of us.

But I’m not sure what it is…. maybe that hygiene inside vending machines leaves something to be desired and fresh produce is to be preferred…

 Or maybe… As I walked slowly back to my office through passage-ways, turning left, turning right, I thought, I thought to myself, give the self-pity a miss, ok, buddy? You ain’t a roach.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Hazelblackberry: Sugar mama

Dear Nick,

I do enjoy a costume drama.  Especially when combined with a dastardly murder mystery that has really ruffled the feathers of some Pommy toffs.  So I was a little disappointed on Sunday night when Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot finished up on the ABC.  Then my spirits soared when I saw that it was being replaced by a repeat of Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle, all curls and bonnets, and Colin Firth in strangely reassuring flat-fronted pants.

I don't like to be overwhelmed with contours.

I know it's said all the time, but it really is so important to get the look right when a book is being made into a show.   Think of all those mad fans out there tuning-in in droves  to see if the hero and heroine look like they should.   The fans can't exactly describe what the characters should look like themselves, but they know which look Just Isn't Right.  If things aren't just so, many an Angry from Mayfair letter will be written to the local TV Guide - like THEY had anything to do with the casting. 

I felt such a mixed sense of anticipation and anxiety when 'Anne of Green Gables' was made into a mini-series.  Anne had to start out as a slightly scruffy, freckle-faced red-haired kid who smashes a slate over Gilbert Blythe's head (such spirit! such FIRE!) and then blossoms into a graceful, attractive, and at times beautiful, woman who comes to realise she loves the very same Gilbert Blythe when he lies hovering close to death.

Isn't it always the way?  Whenever Grumpy looks at me he thanks his lucky stars for spinal meningitis.

Anne also rather cruelly crushed underfoot a sweet from Gilbert when he was trying to make up with her.  It was one of those flat, round lollies with a love heart on them and a message inside.  Wittily enough, they're called Sweet Hearts.  I bought a packet the other day and was sitting at my desk unwrapping each one and enjoying the messages on them. 

What a long, strange trip it was.  It all started out innocently enough with the usual messages of 'Say yes', 'My hero', 'Dear one', 'Dream girl' and 'You're fab'.  I sensed there was a commitment-shy type lurking in the pack with 'Good pals', and that I had stumbled on a moment of frostiness, anger even, with 'Grow up'.  I was a little confused that this message was written inside a heart.  Tough love from a sweet?  Things got a little more adult with the inclusion of 'My woman', and then the next two pronounced the receiver to have 'True lips' (from Amsterdam? eh?) and, bizarrely enough, 'Glad eye'.  However, I knew I had got down to the behind-closed-doors end of the packet with the final pieces. 'My wee girl' could be innocent enough but given that it was followed immediately by 'Web site' I had the uneasy feeling I'd blundered my way into a special-interests area and got out of there fast.

As it turned out, I was pretty satisfied with the girl they picked to play Anne.  But the guy they picked to play Gilbert was all wrong.  Too pudgy.  A young man needs to have something lean and muscled about him to take a blackboard to the sconce and grow up to become a doctor who is his wife's rock when he delivers their first child stillborn.  I just didn't think old Fatty Fatty Boomsticks had what it took.

Until next time, Nick.


Saturday, July 24, 2004

Great Moments in Hygiene

60 BC – An Essene breakaway sect is driven from the walls of Jerusalem after the sect’s leader declared that ‘although pigs are indeed unclean animals, an exception should never-the-less be made for bacon sandwiches’.

8 April 1229 -- Emperor Frederick II’s attempt to wrest the Crusader castle of Pelerin in Northern Palestine from the Templar force which held it, ended prematurely after two-thirds of his officer corps expired after eating three-day old oysters.

6 December 1894 – On this day, Francois de Beziers of Paris is reputed to have invented ‘french-kissing’ together with his mistress, Karine Bineautruy, a woman he shared with painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and from whom she contracted syphilis. De Beziers invented tooth-paste six days later.

 20 June, 1944 – A plan by officers of the German General Staff to kill Hitler by feeding him improperly cooked chicken failed when Hitler refused to eat the polla alla cardinale (chicken sauteed with prosciutto, wild mushrooms, marsala wine and finished with smoked mozzarella), labelling it ‘decadent wop food’.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Is a word I recently rediscovered while rereading one of my favourite novels.
Hypnerotomachia translates (insofar as any semi-made-up Latin word from the Renaissance can be translated) as ‘the stuggle of love in a dream’. Once you know this word, you wonder how you ever did without it.
I find it crops up in conversation 6 or 7 times a day. How ya doin? Oh, you know, hypnerotomachian...
But deny me this if you will, isn’t ‘the stuggle of love in a dream’ a concept that was crying out for a word to contain it? (The word apparently comes from this book Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii, Poliphilo being the dude doin’ the strugglin’ and the lovin’ and the dreamin’. They translate it as the ‘strife of love in a dream’ but I like 'struggle' more….
And speaking of dreams... I had a dream yesterday morning in which I wrote an absolute kick-ass blog-post that was funny and poignant but also brief and to the point. I woke up with a shit-eating grin, knowing that the world of blogdom would soon tremble before the terrible splendor of this post.
But then the more awake part of my brain, the part that handles balancing cheques books and loading software said to the greater lumpen mass of my brain that was still swimming is a sea of sleep and triumph: 'well, alright, let's see this oh-so fantastic blog post.' To which lumpen brain replied: 'it's right here, smarty-brain-pants.'
'Ah, dude, the writing is blurred. It's four lines of completely illegible text. It's just a rough outline of the idea of the greatest blog-post in the world. Mate, you were dreaming.'
Lumpen: nooooo!
You can bet that that post was fantastic. You can bet it was better than anything that has appeared on this blog, better than just about anything that has appeared on any other blog. Bloggers from all over the world would have linked to it approvingly and new blogs would have sprung up overnight in its honour.
You can bet it was a lot better than this piece of crap.
But you and I will never read it. Except perhaps in our dreams.
Ah, the struggle of blogging in a dream. Now why isn't there a word for that?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

We won’t just bake your bread, we’ll stalk you until you eat it

Woolworths, the supermarket company, has a new slogan ‘Woolworths Fresh Food People. It’s more than a job. It’s an obsession.’
I’ve noticed the rise of the ‘staff obsession’ meme in advertising of the last few years. While Woolworths only has the slogan (at this stage), others have explored this idea in greater detail in various humorous ads. For example, in one ad for tyres, staff are shown looking at what appears to be a Playboy centre-fold only for the camera to zoom in and reveal that the young men are getting exciting over a large picture of a tyre.
What exactly are these companies getting at with these ads? They want to suggest that their products are backed with excellent service but they also know that their customers realise the level of service will only be that which the marketplace allows. That is, the level of service is tied carefully to the dollars which you the customer bring through the door. If all you’re going to do is buy a loaf of bread, then they’re not going to rush it to you by high-speed courier moments after it’s come out of the oven.
So how do you suggest to a cynical customer that you’re going to give them really, really good service, above and beyond the value of their custom? By telling them that your staff are pyschologically unhinged and have a pathological obsession with some kind of ordinary household product.
You can be sure that the coriander is fresh because Michael, even though he only earns $22,000 a year, was there when it was picked and then rushed it here himself in the back of his Ford Laser. If the leaves start to curl, he becomes increasingly agitated and finally buys all remaining stock himself just to get it off the shelf. He would rather customers had nothing than make do with limp coriander.

Of course, this idea has its limits. ‘Yes, I had to fire Jenny, I’m afraid. She was a good worker, always came in early, stayed late, enthusiastic. But then I found her masturbating while french-kissing a red capsicum. And the worst part of it is that capsicum and I were engaged to be married in the Spring.’

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Hazelblackberry: Tally ho!

Dear Nick,
Quite recently I learnt something rather fascinating to me.  After the war my grandfather, the Fuehrer, planned to take the whole family off to some other country.  Zimbabwe (Rhodesia then, of course) was top of the pops, but he also considered Nauru and Papua New Guinea (Lord, what vision!).  The Zimbabwean option really captured my interest.  The Fuehrer was fond of a safari suit.  I could just see him, thusly attired, striding through a lush farm field, pith helmet firmly in place, checking on the crop's progress, administering the occasional thrashing and tending to his neat moustache, which Ern always insisted hid a map tattooed on his upper lip; guide to a secret treasure trove in Borneo.
But Don Mary talked him out of it.  Let's be frank about this: Don Mary probably shrieked him out of it.  Not that I want you to think theirs was a loveless union filled with rancour and hostility.  Don Mary is a woman of forceful and forthright opinion, but she and the Fuehrer were married for fifty-five years and they had time to get used to each other.  In his later years - ie, when he was getting old - the Fuehrer was known to morosely remark that Don Mary showed the cat more love than him.  And while it may be true that she would add a little hot water to the feline's milk dish on a chilly winter's morning, she could also be relied upon to subtly slip the Fuehrer a prune or two with his brekkie when he found himself in some difficulty.  She ministered to him, is what I'm saying.  And unlike the moggy, the Fuehrer never nipped Don Mary on the thigh if dinner was not procured quickly enough.  Not that I know of....And now that I give it some thought, this is a line of inquiry best left here and never mentioned again.
When Bloody Ern told me about the Fuehrer's plans he looked rather wistful.  I could see he had been captivated by visions of another, unknown life.  But what other life would he have wanted to replace his sunburnt childhood, running away every weekend to camp and fish in the mangroves and on the tidal flats with his best mate, Cossack Jack?  Maybe he was just thinking of all that free baccy.
And perhaps that, and not the maligned Don Mary, is what put the kibosh on the Fuehrer's dreams.  He had a big family habit to support and before he'd even reached the promised land he could see the profits going the way of a Cheech and Chong film.
Grumpy says it doesn't matter.  With the way the world turns, we would have found ourselves back here in WA anyway.  On the lam.  But I don't know.  I can see Ern stalking his enemy through rich green tobacco plantations, armed to the back teeth, clad in his best warfare sarong.  "Surrender, Baby Girl?  Not on your life!"  Well.  Quite.  The only part of the picture I can't figure out is what kind of smoke would be dangling from his sun-cracked lips: would it be his beloved Camel Plain, or would he have honoured the family livelihood and been strictly and literally a Roll Your Own man?
It's a mystery for the ages.
Until next time, Nick.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Sweet taste, crisp, may regret consumption for all eternity

Genesis, Book 2.
3. But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

17 And unto Adam [God] said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

Haven’t we all been there? Looking for a little snack between meals, something to clear the palate and which won’t rot your teeth? So you scoop a Pink Lady or a Golden Delicious out of the fruit bowl, take one loud, crisp bite and suddenly it’s nothing but sin, death and expulsion from paradise. Dude, next time try a kiwi fruit. Not as sweet and you'll have to peel it but it doesn’t, you know, greatly multiply thy sorrow.

How much luckier, on the other hand, was Celtic mythological gadabout Finn MacCool who instead ate the Salmon of Knowledge (which itself had first nibbled on the Hazelnuts of Wisdom)? He didn't have fiery cherubim dogging his ass for chowing down on semi-divine crudites. And with a name like that, he is also the demi-god mostly likely to join a boy band.

(Incidentally, if you want to go out for a slap-up meal but also need to swat for a big exam the next day then it might be a good idea order something like baked atlantic salmon of knowledge stuffed with hazelnuts of wisdom, sage-butter and leeks, on a bed of steamed bok-choy. You can't go wrong.)

I might take myself off for a little bruschetta topped with the chargrilled eggplant of pointless erudition covered with a light crumbling of the oven-roasted feta of self-regarding smarminess. I find its just the thing to munch on while blogging.

(And thank you, by the way, to young Mark at not use lifts... for pointing out God Checker. Fun, fun, fun til Lord the Father takes your T-bird away and drops it on your disrespectful head.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Hazelblackberry: choking back the tears

Dear Nick,

So last night Grumpy and I pulled the faithful Georgia Satellite up at the Freo wharf to eat our fish and chips. We parked, as it were. [I like the phrase "as it were". I knew I would have a lifelong love affair with Dave van Ronk when I heard him use "as it were" in a song.] It was lovely sitting there watching the ships being loaded and boats motoring up and down the river, sending rounded, lazy waves towards the side of the wharf. As I watched the waves wash towards us I had a eureka moment re jam-making: "Maybe that's what a rolling boil should look like," I thought. I shall keep it mind.

We've been eating a lot of fish & chips lately. And eating them down at the wharf. It's most pleasant. Last night was a little pleasantus interruptus, though, when I choked on a squid ring (you may know them as calamari). This sometimes happens to me: half the squid ring starts heading down my gullet while the other half stays in my mouth, the two bits firmly connected by a resilient stringy bit. The bit in my mouth can't go down yet because it's still whole so I find myself having to grab it and hoick the other half-swallowed piece back up out of my throat via its little bungee rope.

It might be difficult to believe, but you'd be hard pressed to notice it was happening. I carry the whole operation out with a grim, silent gagging. It occurs to me as I perform the extraction that this is what it must feel like post-heart surgery as they take out The Tube. And with all the fish & chips I've been gobbling, the more experience I get on post-heart surgery procedures the better.

Then of course the seagulls arrive. Some of them tucking one leg up to look pitiful. I'm a sucker for a pitiful look. A bit like Charlie Brown taunting the kite-eating tree and then throwing his kite up into it because he feels sorry for it. Occasionally a pelican comes in. Not to scavenge food, simply to be sociable. They really are Spruce Gooses, aren't they? I like pelicans. Though...I have found them just a wee bit creepy ever since the day I noticed the little fingernail thing at the end of their beaks. Shudder. Like the day I got near a cocky on our balcony in Canberra and the little bugger hissed at me. I had to admire his guts (and he did have the cutest little round guts) but that hiss was mightily off-putting.

The birds, you will be relieved to know, are not the only life at the wharf. Which is just as well. Charming though they may be, I'm not sure how they'd go as stevedores. Night and day there's plenty of activity buzzing around the ships and people getting on and off the Rottnest ferries, others fishing late into the night, and yet other people just wandering back and forth enjoying the water and the breeze and the bustle. I can see why Otis Redding spent so much time sitting on the dock of the bay, contemplating his navel.

It's alright for some, innit?

Until next time, Nick.


Sunday, July 11, 2004

Your pig is not welcome at my hootenanny

'Do not try to teach a pig how to sing -- It wastes your time. And it annoys the pig.' This is a piece of folk wisdom supposedly from the heart of the hillbilly country in the Ozarks.

It’s certainly true that there are few things in this world more vexatious than a frustrated pig with a limited vocal range. But are Jed and his kin are really justified in making this one of the those rules that absolutely must not be broken?

Surely, out there in the back woods of Arkansas, there exist pig-prodigies whose natural talent makes it worth your while persisting with vocal coaching? ‘I mean, for Christ’s sake, Jeremy, I could be the next P.J. Harvey and they won’t even try!’

I also have my doubts about this fatalistic approach to education: that the teaching of song to a pig will waste the time of the educator and irritate the educated. Well, welcome to the real world, buddy. How many music teachers have not felt the same way as they struggled to inculcate the joy of the clarinet in a recalcitrant 9-year old? How many such children have wrestled with the instruments of wind and reed only to give it all up as soon as their parents recognise that the only effective blowing their little Joshuas and Zoes are doing is on the mouthpiece of a bong?

Perhaps if these teaching resources had been spread a little more equitably across the animal kingdom, we might have had a few more pigs making it big in the Billboard Top 100 (other than Meatloaf, I mean).

And why, I wonder, did they focus on singing? Surely it would have been just as applicable to say: don’t try to teach pigs to become structual engineers. Pigs are rumoured to be amongst the most intelligent animals but the number of bridges built by porcine-dominated construction firms can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I suspect a darker, more self-serving motive at work: simply that any consideration of pig careers of whatever type presents an undesirable obstacle on the road to the abattoir. ‘Yes, Babe, your vocal range shows real promise and your finely-honed moral sensibilities make you potentially suitable for some of the more demanding operatic roles being performed today, but, dude, I need the crackling.’

And who among us will argue with that?

I only ask that we treat the pig with the respect he deserves and not sugarcoat it. We should not hold out the false promise of a life on the stage if only the pig had a little more ability or worked a little harder or had a better agent. Will not the pig hold us in higher esteem if we simply say to him from day one: ‘the only singing you’ll be doing, bacon-boy, is when you get up close and personal with the business end of a spring-loaded bolt-gun.’

After all, isn’t honesty the best policy?

Friday, July 09, 2004

Cute. Funny. Occasional tendency to leave vapour-trails.

Just about the cutest thing in the world is a child running very fast: the jigging up and down of the shoulders, the sledgehammer pounding of little shoed feet as they punch the floor. (Who ever coined the phrase the ‘pitter-patter of tiny feet’ never really had kids. Children ‘pitter-patter’ over floor-boards in much as the same way as an SR-71 Blackbird pitter-patters across the sound-barrier.)

And of course, such rapid movement is often acccompanied by a lunatic grin and a scream not unlike an SR-71 Blackbird scissor-kicking Mach 1.

Last night The Dude ran back and forth, back and forth, yelling at the top of his lungs. I said to my wife: ‘you know, if he wasn’t so adorable, that’d be kind of annoying.’ Of course a line like that is really just your sub-conscious gesturing to be heard, like the nerdy kid in class who’s never called upon because he always has his hand up.

One minute later: ‘my God, that’s annoying. I said, my GOD, that’s annoying. I SAID, never mind.’

Part of the whole cuteness package is the fragility of a child at speed. A kid at full pelt is like an avalanche. An avalanche wearing Wiggles overalls. At twice the normal speed. With a bowl hair-cut. An avalanche that deliberately steers itself to crush the villages in its path.

The only thing which stops gravity bringing the whole vegemite-filled edifice crashing to earth is constant forward motion. Sprawling, face-smacking accidents are not merely inevitable, they’re the only thing that can bring rest to a child’s flailing limbs.

However, barring some unforeseen mishap involving a small hurtling body, a precariously balanced tray of crockery and myself, children are pretty well unable to hurt anybody but themselves. They’ll hit you and ping off at an acute angle, leaving you unmoved, like they’re a pin-ball and you just gave them 50 points.

But cute. Did I mention the whole thing is cute? And other people’s kids running too fast are cute and funny. Which is why I like them more than an SR-71. No one ever laughed at an SR-71.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Hazelblackberry: crescent or gibbous?

Dear Nick

Here's a little-noticed and underrated skill: women running fast in incredibly high heels.

You don't hear too much about it these days, but it was big in the 70s and early 80s when stilettos were not so much all the rage as all the norm. And perhaps women were shorter then. Looking back, as one must, I see that many of my friends' mothers were quite diminutive laydees.

I was contemplating this skill because I was thinking about my old primary-school chum Moony. I haven't seen Moony in years. The last time I heard from her, in 1993, she was drawing cartoons - for animation - in New Zealand. I used to love going to Moony's house. The Moonies were quite socially superior in our little township - they had carpet in the kitchen and bathroom. I remember Moony dramatically swinging the door open to reveal the flash floor coverings and me standing there greedily sniffing that lovely new carpet smell. I believe they may even have had a cocktail party to celebrate the event. Tres stylish. Ern might have attended out of obligation. Maybe that was the night he stepped on the Moonies' dog's tail. Or it might have been another night. If it wasn't for the Moonies throwing parties, everyone would have died of boredom waiting for something good to come on Channel 2. (And oh the excitement, the fervour, when we finally got GWN. The Moonies probably threw a party to celebrate THAT.)

Moony's mum (Mrs Moony, would you believe) was, in my eyes, the most glamorous thing I had ever seen. Even on the hottest, most humid days she never broke a sweat. But she always had a sheen on her face that I've come to associate with women who only wash their faces with cream, or creme, cleanser. You know, the vaguely greasy stuff that you rub all over your face and then remove with a tissue to leave you with that fresh, just stepped out of the hog-fat rendering plant feeling. Women who use that stuff and never have even a single, juicy pimple to show for it generally have a high glamour quotient. Consider our mutual friend, Amazing Grace. AG is constantly slathering herself in a variety of unguents. Rather than sliding greasily from pillar to post, she always looks perky & dewy...with a touch of glamour.

But here's the thing about Moony's mum - she wore stilettos of such ferocious incline that the poor woman was just about permanently en pointe. And she ran in them. Everywhere. Mrs Moony was always in a rush, and always running late. I may not have mentioned that her glamour was not haughty and cool, but was dishevelled and warm and all the more alluring for it. Being constantly behind time necessitated a lot of running. She ran from bank to milk bar to post office across the shiny red concrete at the local shops where she had a clothes store. Most impressively, though, she ran all over the uneven, tarred footpaths of our tiny town. Footpaths which melted under the summer sun and in which we kids would leave deep potholes after digging out the soft blue metal.

Her foot always landed solidly and evenly. There was never the slightest waver in ankle or step. The canniest, surest-footed mountain goat would have sat back on its haunches in awe.

There were many nice things about Mrs Moony. I used to love spending time at their place. But the nicest thing about her was that she always ran home too.

Until next time, Nick. Yes indeed.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile, because inside he's hurting

In her delightful tale of elderly relatives blowing her inheritance on frivolous trips overseas, Hazelblackberry (or rather that lovable rogue Bloody Ern) used a term that I’d not heard before to describe bad breath: ‘crocodile breath’.

Who exactly is sniffing at the top of a crocodile’s windpipe, pronouncing the air down there to be rancid and then living to complain about it? ‘I mean, jeez, I’ve smelt some distasteful carnivore exhalations in my time, but crocodylus porosus takes the freakin’ cake.’

Now, crocodiles may have some coarse manners which are not conducive to sweet-smelling breath but they are not scavengers and avoid rotting meat. This is more than you can say of the hyena, for example, who is quite happy to chow down on those two-week old left-overs you were hoping somebody else would throw out. And crocodiles take care of themselves; the Egyptian plover (pluvianus aegyptius) eats leftover meat from the teeth of the Nile Crocodile.

So I guess it must be the Egyptian plovers who are infecting the English language with defamatory anti-crocodile idioms. Who else gets close enough? And they alone have a vested interest in building-up crocodile insecurities about their personal hygiene. ‘Dude, you stink. Seriously. Do you really think all those fine crocodile bitches are gonna let you get your groove on with halitosis like that? Let me take care of that for you.’

And then there’s ‘crocodile tears’. Crocodiles do in fact, like humans, produce tears from their lachrymal glands. But how exactly did their tears become synonymous with insincere emotions? Do crocodiles, under the strain of one too many bad breath cracks, weep their little three-and-a-half chambered hearts out only to be accused by an Egyptian plover of faking it, of putting on the waterworks to manipulate their fellow river or esturary dwellers? Does a crocodile need the permission of a plover bird to really feel something?

In which case, the plovers have got crocodilian psychiatry and dentistry all sewn up. They must be raking in six figures and all the rotting ‘tween-teeth meat they can eat.

Apparently, the expression 'crocodile breath' comes from a Chinese proverb: 'You must have crossed the river before you may tell the crocodile he has bad breath.’ Which is true -- unless you’re an Egyptian plover, in which case you can do it while you screw with his mind and empty his wallet.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The kiss-off of the Spider-Woman

Warning: desperately unfunny post

There was no spider-woman (that was pure titular cuteness on my part) but there was a kiss-off. On Friday I discovered that I had been unsuccessful in applying for a job that, once upon a time, I was very well qualified for. Trouble is, the entire recruitment process took about 18 months.

It’s a tale of woe that will one day make a dull and depressing motion picture that will ultinately screen on SBS at 1am, in Slovenian.

I had applied for a promotion in the area I used to work. Not at all sure I wanted to go back to that area and to that subject-matter, I applied because I was invited to and, well, because a promotion is a promotion.

The chair of the selection panel (and the person who invited me to apply) was a former friend of mine. From then on it was a ride on the back of a greased pig to the lowest plane of hell. Long delay, yadda yadda, interview, long, long delay, no referee’s report from former friend, futher delay, yadda, yadda, recruitment process falls over, new process starts, further delay, former friend disappears, reappears at second interview etc etc.

At the same time, this former friend started to pike, at the last minute, from every social engagement we arranged. My wife warned me that my former friend was gearing up to fuck me over. I scoffed at this. And now I scoff at my earlier naïve self.

(I actually edited this after I wrote it the first time, taking out all the long and gratuitious details about every twist of the knife, every tiny development in a now dead recruitment process. Because, at the end of the day, even I don’t care enough to read all that.)

When the second interview finished, I still had to wait four months (until last Friday) before the official result but by this time, I knew the jig was up. The two people who got the promotions, who had been my junior at my former workplace, had now been acting in the advertised positions for more than 18 months. There’s no way an ‘outsider’ can compete with that.

I actually felt better for getting the news from the new chair of the recruitment panel. I was always ambiguous about the job; it was really a matter of principle. Getting the bad news means I can move on from this and think about where my career is heading. (An exercise in futility which engages me on a daily basis) But damn, it still hurt to be treated like that, and to be leap-frogged for a promotion in that way.

And I feel even better having got this off my chest. Your regularly scheduled crustaceans will attack again tomorrow…

Friday, July 02, 2004

Hazelblackberry: The Lion and the Unicorn

Dear Nick

Yesterday we had a family gathering at the international airport to farewell Don Mary & Aunty Aroma who are off for a six-week jaunt in England. They're spending their inheritance from my Aunty Tilly. Profligate, wanton old biddies. There's always something exciting about the international airport, isn't there? Gateway to other worlds. Even though the shops are never open and the coffee shops are dreadful and you always have about a three hour wait before you can shovel the passengers through the door, it's still exciting to be there. On the cusp of adventure.

I just love going to the newsagents at the airport. Even at the domestic terminal. The books and magazines all take on a fresher, more intriguing or entertaining aspect to them. And if the reading matter fails to move me I can always purchase a couple of packets of Tic Tacs or Mentos. When time drags, mints are your friend!

Fortunately the flight was a night time one. This meant that Don Mary, who favours wearing sun glasses indoors, was devoid of her Polaroid eyewear. She has these dark, square wrap-around numbers that make her look like she's just heading out to the stables with a rather large knife.

Anyway, it was all very exciting to be waving someone off on an overseas trip. Aunty Aroma has never been out of Australia and I do admire her trooping off at seventy-eight, with only her macular-degenerated eighty-four year old sister as her guide. Don Mary is a seasoned, and some would say hardened, traveller but they both had pre-flight jitters. Bloody Ern was full of bonhomie and bon mots for the cautious traveller; commenting on fire balls and way of achieving zero-gravity in flight. He clapped a beefy arm around the shoulders of each woman and said, "Now, girls, be sensible; I don't want to hear about you losing your heads in Dubai." Boom boom. He was running round the airport imitating planes banking sharply left and right. He'd had two cappuccinos and his face had a rather ruddy and over-excited aspect to it. I expected him to start vomiting and screaming for his teddy at any moment.

I offered him a mint, just to be sharing and caring. His exuberant face fell; his hand flew to his mouth. "Crocodile breath?" he whispered anxiously.

Chit chat can really flag when you're waiting for something to be over. Like boarding a plane. Or a hanging, I suppose. Finally after numerous cups of tea and dwindling conversation, the first call for their flight was made. From sitting around mumbling and looking down at outstretched legs, everyone suddenly sprang to their feet, clapping hands together: "Here we go then!" Don Mary may have passed on to me her jutting D'Entrecasteaux chin but, god bless her, we share the same genetic material that makes responding to that first boarding call A MUST. And it's only practical - after all, the sooner you get in, the sooner your oversize carry-on luggage can hog up the space in the overhead compartment. Don Mary was hustling Aunty Aroma towards the doors. She could smell all that empty space. There was a cacophony of farewells and last minute waves and then the two of them disappeared around the corner and were on their way.

I just hope she thinks to bring me home some Blackpool Rock.

Until next time, Nick.


Thursday, July 01, 2004

I want to spend the rest of my life with you, starting from 7:45pm

In movies, weak but sympathetic and strangely good-looking young men sometimes telephone extraordinarily attractive women made up to look like merely attractive women. Summoning all their courage, they stumble through a proposition. Would you, uh. If you’re not doing anything then, uh. I have tickets to, uh.

This being the movies, the women say ‘I’d love to’ rather than ‘get bent, jerk.’ The young man, stupefied and more inarticulate than ever, mumbles his gratitude, hangs up the phone, then punches the air and lets out an almighty whoop.

There’s something missing.

Just once I’d like to that scene to go like this:

Bright-eyed nerd boy: Uh, previously aloof goddess, look, you’re probaby gonna say no but, uh, are you free this Friday?
Previously aloof goddess: sure.
BENB: But there’s no way you’d spend it with me, right?
PAG: Sure I would.
BENB: Huh? You would?
PAG: Of course, I’d love to.
BENB: Wow. Wow, that’s incredible. OK, see you on Friday. Bye. [Starts to hang up].
PAG: Wait. What are we doing?
BENB: Huh?
PAG: What are we doing on Friday?
BENB: Uh, what would you like to do?
PAG: Maybe see a movie?
BENB: Sure.
PAG: What movie?
BENB: I don’t mind. You choose.
PAG: No, you choose.
BENB: Uh, what about that disaster move. The Day After Tomorrow.
PAG: No, I just don’t fancy it. What about Shrek 2?
BENB: Isn’t that a kids movie?
PAG: Supposed to be pretty funny.
BENB: OK, what time’s it on?
PAG: I don’t know. Do you have the paper?
PAG: Why don’t we just turn up at the Cinema in town and see what’s playing?
BENB: In town? On a Friday night? Be a bugger getting a park. What about the Megaplex?
PAG: I’m not crazy about that place. You know how much they charge for pop-corn?
BENB: I’ll buy the pop-corn.
PAG: Just ‘cos you buy the pop-corn and choc-top, doesn’t mean I have to put out.
BENB: Uh, uh, I didn’t mean to suggest---
PAG: Relax. Kidding. Pick me up at 7:30. My address– do you have a pen? – my address is –
BENB: Uh, shit, did I say Friday? Shit, I forgot, my Dad flies back from Thailand and I have to pick him up. Is Saturday any good for you?

Now that would have been a John Hughes film worth seeing…

(I just checked I’ve seen every movie John Hughes directed except for his last, Curly Sue (1991). After that, it’s creenplays only. And a cold, cold time it’s been since Flubber. I’d say the time is right for the DVD box set John Hughes: American Auteur -- The Director’s Cuts.)

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