Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 In Books: A Year That Wasn't

It's that time of year that the critics come out and talk about all of the books you haven't read, I haven't read, their editors haven't read, and they haven't read either. Sometimes even their authors haven't read them. The critics will usually go on to utter one or two meaningless cliches in order to make one or two nonsensical points about the books that they haven't read anyway, talking about plot twists which may not have occurred, characters who may not have existed, and events in the life of the authors that are probably fictional. When they've done making up nonsense about these books they haven't read (about 500 words in), the critics cease their inane twittering and go and do something more meaningful with their lives - suicide, for instance. It's a stupid, pointless, frivolous, immoral, irritating, insane and, dare I say, banal exercise, so I'm going to do it now.


House of Meetings, by Martin Amis, would make a suspensful, gripping read if you are the sort of person who gets excited at the thought of staring at a brick wall for ten years (but only if we promise him that the brick wall won't move first); and it would possibly make an appropriate gift for somebody hospitalised because of chronic paranoid schizophrenia. For the rest of us, it is an overwhelmingly tedious work by one of the most overblown windbags of literature. Set in a 18th century Russian garret in 1927 France, Amis labouriously describes a day in the night of four Russian triplets who spend their evenings playing in a string quartet and their afternoons working for the Italian mafia. Time and again, Amis builds the prose up to heights of banality and meaninglessness that literature has previously not been capable of. Amis breaks new ground in the boredom stakes, culminating in his penultimate chapter, 2771 Ways of Considering An American Skunk, which sadly delivers on what it promises, focusing especially on the olfactory peculiarities of this creature (there's even a scratch-and-sniff about two-thirds through). Give this one a miss.

Helen Garner's critically acclaimed masterwork, Joe Cinque's Consolation, has an interesting title. Sadly, the title is all it has. For the rest of the book, Garner has chosen to indulge in the idiosyncratic, and dare we say, idiotic project of repeating the title again and again on each page. Sometimes, for purported aesthetic effect, Garner will rearrange the words or place the apostrophe in different places. This goes on for 371 pages, and then the book ends. Frankly, if I never hear of this dog of a book again, it will be too soon.

American master Phillip Roth came out this year with the eagerly awaited work Everyman, and in my opinion, the book should have stayed eagerly awaited. It is a risible work, chosing to focus as it does on what the cover blurb describes as 'the touching relationship between a teenage boy and a fox terrier in the Pyrenees mountains.' Why, at this stage in his life, that phlegm-filled old bastard Roth should start writing Lassie stories is beyond me, probably beyond his psychiatrist, and just possibly beyond the moon as well. I won't be eagerly awaiting his next work, I can tell you that. I will be anticipating the bloody thing in horror and disgust.

The Oxford Book of American Poetry, edited by David Lehmann, is great! Who would have guessed, with a title like that, that the work was going to be a pacy detective thriller set in the seedy downtown area of San Francisco city? There are thrills, chills, spills, and just a couple of lewd scenes involving Jills, on every page! I think we have found a new Raymond Chandler in this author (or editor - whatever) - one to watch!

Disappointments in a generally depressing year: Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, a rambling discussion of fashions worn by the French peasantry in the year 1343. I wish Nemirovsky would quit rambling and just get lost. The Sea, by John Banville, rather perplexingly sets in the first chapter it's task: to discover 1001 words that rhyme with sea. Rather depressingly, it delivers. Peter Carey's Theft is a quixotic tale of three autistic homosexuals chained to a bedhead in a room in a small American town (None of them speak the other's language, and cannibalism is involved.) It's an odd work that I think would have made an interesting short story, but is rather lacking in motivation, one feels.

Worst book of the year? After pondering the issue for long seconds (oh, ALL right then, milliseconds), I feel that I am going to have to award this dubious accolade to Paul Davies, whose bizarre work The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is The Universe Just Right For Life should have remained, not only unpublished, but burnt into ashes, and trampled into the ground, or even better yet, unthought of. Never have I read such a lewd, lascivious, disgustingly vile and pornographic work under the guise of 'Quantum Physics'. On every page, one finds something new to be shocked and affronted at: threesomes are common, as are foursomes, fivesomes, and twelvesomes. Lists of seemingly surreal sexual activities are given at great length, and often repeated on the next page; presumably this author gets 'off' on what he is writing. There is licking, stroking, biting, kissing, sniffing, sucking, chewing, four person press ups, buggery, dutch sex, and sex by any other means possible. Why, oh why, did this once gentle quantum physicist turn to writing pornographic literature? I really, really don't know. But it is certainly a disgraceful joke to try and pass this off as just another work in 'Quantum Science'. I am shocked and appalled. Really, there has been nothing this year worth reading at all, and bizarelly, the way the book market is at the moment, I expect things to get worse next year. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and lie down and put a wet towel across my head for five hours. No, make that a swimming pool ...


Have a happy new year, everyone. Please feel free to go ahead and post reviews of books that you haven't read in the comments. Go on! What else are they for?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Move Over, Cabbage

There was a discussion going on at Sarsaparilla a few months ago about Clive James . One commenter had this to say about him:

That extraordinary thing he wrote after the death of Princess Di confessing his love for the Royal family really did me. What is it with our expats? They all go wonky in their old age.

I don't understand that. What's wrong with loving the royal family? What sort of feelings towards the royal family would be appropriate? Is it necessary to hold certain feelings towards the royals? Who decides this? People in the ALP revere Gough Whitlam to this day; feelings of adoration and reverence are apparently strengthened by Whitlam's dismissal. Religious feelings towards flawed leaders like Whitlam seem more disturbing than love of the royal family (who hold no real power). Hollywood actors inspire various feelings in us - from fanatical devotion to obsessive hatred; compared to this, James' confessed love seems relatively benign.

I had this quote in mind when I went along this afternoon to see The Queen, the British blockbuster about the death of Princess Diana, and the reaction of the royal family and newly elected British PM Tony Blair to her death. It's certainly not a film that inspires worship of the royals; their lives are shockingly mundane. They sit around and watch TV, and complain when their tea gets cold. The Queen Mother makes bitchy jokes about shooting journalists, and Prince Phillip affectionately calls his wife 'cabbage'. Cabbage! That's got to be one of the lines of the year. The whole affair actually brings to mind one of the conservative arguments for the existence of a royal family; it gives a little power to people who are actually ordinary, not the ambitious power seekers that the Westminster System of government attracts.

We get a glimpse into the lives of the ambitious power seekers, too - that's Tony and Cherie Blair. They hang around Number 10 Downing Street and Cherie Blair grizzles about institutionalised privilege while Tony yelps out election slogans about extending privileges. They're likeable despite this; Tony is nervous and - as Cherie suggests - probably sees the Queen as a kind of mother figure.

The public reaction to Diana's death - which seemed ridiculous then - seems even more ridiculous now. Documentary material is played of people openly weeping in the streets of London outside Buckingham Palace; there are a number of hints in the film that give us an idea of a timeline: this sort of behaviour goes on for a week. Weeping? For a princess they probably never met, and didn't know personally? Towards the end of the film, when the Queen comes to London, she sees messages on wreaths outside the gates of Buckingham Palace: "There is blood on their hands". And "They drove you to this." It doesn't make sense, but there are people who must have actually thought like that. But how could the royal family inspire these sort of bizarre accusations?

This sort of relationship between the public and the royal family is interesting enough. But a lot of the time, I was distracted by the scenery: seeing the Queen drive around her estates at Balmoral with the dogs and her boys in a ramshackle old van; walking down stairs with her Prime Minister besides a polished wooden banister (was I the only person who got a sudden impulse to slide down that banister?); sitting down to take tea on a splendid couch made for her family, edged in gold. Just an ordinary, everyday Queen, living out an ordinary, everyday Queenly life amongst her ordinary, everyday Queenly possessions ... To me, all this incidental scenery is one of the better arguments for the monarchy. In the absence of an aristocracy, who would all these glorious houses and estates end up being owned by? Just another bloody celebrity; maybe a hotel chain would convert them into a place for tourists to visit. As traditions go, the monarchy is not so bad; places like Balmoral are something to be lived in, not gawked at by tourists or displayed as trophies by rock stars.


Aside from The Queen and, of course, Marie Antoinette, there was another interesting film about an aristocrat out this year. The Libertine, starring Jonny Depp, was about the life of 18th-century minor aristocrat, John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. The portrayal of the monarchy is not exactly flattering; King Charles II is whiny, and the Earl of Rochester basically likes fucking around: he ends up contracting syphilis and dying. Before his death, he delivers a speech to the relatively new House of Lords which (at least, according to the script, if not necessarily according to history) helps to secure King Charles throne. Afterwards, Wilmot is confronted by Charles.
"Johnny," says the King, "You finally did something for me!"
"No," sneers the Earl, "I didn't do it for you."

Who did he do it for, then? Why have a monarchy at all? I'm still puzzling that one over.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Modern Communication: An Instructive Tale

Dearest Charlottina,

At last I have acquired myself a mobile phone! It was purchased, on the previous morn, from a cheerful Chinese vendor at the local markets: but why should I bother you with details of my acquisition? The long and the short of it is, my lovely Charlottina, that I am now obliged, as a gentleman and as a Professor of Advanced Linguistics and Semiotics, specialising in the Appropriate Use of Passive Peraphrastics, to familiarise myself with the use of this marvellous new lingua-franca, SMS. Yes, Charlottina: I intend to fling myself into this new language; to learn the ins and outs of SMS; to discover the peculiar grammatical rules and conventions that govern its use.
How I admire the ease and talent with which the youth of today fling themselves at their mobile phones, sending text message after text message to one another! Compared to them, my dearest Charlottina, my thumbs seem as if they were cudgels: but over time, I expect that I shall take to the SMS medium like a fish to water; I shall acquire the manual dexterity necessary to become fluent in the medium; and I shall reap the benefits of this marvellous new technology!
But I must be brief, Charlottina; although I long to familiarise myself with SMS at greater length, I am aware that the medium places strict - nay, even Spartan - restrictions upon the length of message; and furthermore, as Shakespeare said, 'Brevity is the soul of wit'. And so, for now, I will quit my phone, and confine myself to this brief note.

I am, as always,
Your ever-loving and most faithful friend,
Professor Quentin Harthright-Fullberton Jones.












A warning, or a chilling vision of things to come? You decide.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Little About Covers

I love good humour writing, but I wonder why it's so difficult for publishers to come up with decent design. Specifically, cover design.

This is the copy of P J O'Rourke's book 'Modern Manners: Etiquette for Very Rude People' that Borders are selling at the moment. The title font is annoying, the colours are self-consciously whacky, and it has an intentionally ugly photo of the author on the front.

The book itself is wonderful, both a homage to the etiquette writers of the early 20th century and a send up of the idiocy of the modern day. It has over twenty chapter-long essays on etiquette, all set out in neat columnar style. There are tables, and illustrations with 'keys'; the structure of the book is intentionally neat and formal. This cover is ridiculously out of tone with the rest of the book.

The cover illustrations for some authors are better than others. Here's a book by S J Perelman:

This honour seems to be only accorded to dead or retired humourists, who have been elevated to 'genius' status. (I couldn't find the original cover-art for Perelman's 'The Ill-Tempered Clavier', which would serve as a pretty effective counter-example.)

If this cover had been designed when Lennie Lower was alive, it might unintentionally have caused his death:

Here, the whacky font meets with epilepsy-inducing cartoons. You'd be able to date humour publications to within a year by the style of the cartoons.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to leave the author in charge of the art:

This is a great little pisstake of Freudian psychoanalyst by New Yorker writers E B White and James Thurber. (When I bought my copy at a Balmain bookstore, by the time I'd got home to Annandale - walking - I'd read about one third: it was that funny.) The cartoons are by Thurber; it was partly on the strength of these that he later became a regularly published artist in the New Yorker.

Of course, it's possible to completely underdesign a book, too.

Lysistrata, by Aristophanes, is one of the funniest plays ever written, though you wouldn't guess that from the cover. I've got a collection of Aristophanes' plays, published by Penguin, with similar designs. Penguin just don't seem to know what to do with some books; their standard approach is to take an inoffensive artwork from the period the author was writing in, and whack it on the cover. (Sometimes they might flash a bit of tit to get the reader in, but that's it).
How on earth could this match up to the opening scene in, say, Aristophanes' 'Peace', which has two slaves shovelling bucketloads of crap to feed a gigantic dung-beetle?
The lazy bastards just aren't trying!


I'm back. I had a pleasant few days in Raymond Terrace with my family. The highlight of my holiday was getting jumped on by my five-year-old nephew. (He also likes running around in circles, headbutting the couch, and firing things at people.) But by Gad, it's good to be home.

How was everyone else's Christmas?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas Folks

I'm off up to Newcastle for a couple of days, to a place whence the internet existeth not. I know. I'm shuddering even now. In the meantime, I leave you with this story, the initial idea of which can be found here. The quoted article is from here. Merry Christmas to you all.



About this time each year, City of Sydney councillors and senior staff get a gift from the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. This year she changed tack. Everyone got a bottle of wine but she donated, on their behalf, various things through the international charity Oxfam as the rest of the gift. For three of her councillors, she donated medicine for a village ($393); on behalf of another, John McInerney, a bicycle to help carers in Mozambique and Zimbabwe get around ($100). She picked a buffalo ($486) from the three ALP councillors to help plough the land, soap that prevents diarrhoea ($18) for the Liberal and a village well ($1528) for senior staff. But for the Green councillor, Chris Harris, who is standing against her at the next state election, she chose a toilet ($54). "Even Santa asks what children want for Christmas, but not the Lord Mayor of Sydney," he said. While supporting the idea, he wished she had asked him first. "Actually, if I had chosen to donate a toilet it certainly would have been a self-composting one, not the standard issue, white, ceramic, western flush loo depicted on the card that the Lord Mayor handed me." That said, we liked the idea. Onya, Clover.


Christmas, 2003

From: Mrs J and Family
To: Clover Moore

Dear Clover,
Is it Christmas already?

Thank you for the pig. I must say I didn't think you'd be able to top that 'Buy a toilet for the third world' idea you had last year, but there you go. It's so wonderful to think that somewhere, a poor, wretched, pathetic, oppressed, starving Ethiopian family who are the victims of our inequitable capitalist system will now be able to share their gratitude with a pig.
Please accept, in return, our gift of a yak for a Mongolian family. As I am sure you will know, Mongolia is currently suffering from a dreadful yak shortage as a result of global warming. When will people learn?

I am still not sure how to break the news about the pig to our eldest, Tarquin, who is currently off at a tofu-knitting camp in the Blue Mountains, or something. Anyway, I'm sure we'll work out an excuse before he gets back.

Have you any plans for Christmas dinner? Come to our house, do! We're having the most divine dish: roast pork - with crackling!

Mrs J,
Mr J,
And Family


Christmas 2004

Dear Clover,

Christmas again! The same date arrives faster every year!

Thank you for the mule - how exciting! I wonder, what do you do with a mule? I've neve had a mule before - but then, I guess I don't really have a mule now. (Well, that saves me the trouble of worrying about where to put it, I guess.) And I'm SURE that a mule will cheer up some members of the miserable third world no end.

I hope that you can find it in your heart to accept, in return, my humble gift of an ocelot to the Namibian International Zoo for Autistic Wildebeests. It is a little known fact that I am sure you are aware of, this exciting zoological enterprise provides meaningful employment - much needed - for up to eleven local Namibians!

You needn't worry about Tarquin, by the way: on hearing of your mule (of course) he went on a hunger strike (of course) muttwering something about the suffering of innocent animals (or some such) and the desperate unsustainable circumstances we find ourselves in (etc, etc). It doesn't matter, though: last night, one of his school friends rang up and invited him to a summer camp for anorexics with operatic ability in the Hunter Valley, or something. Anyway, we're packing him off tomorrow. It will be just Mr J and myself.

Oh, and by the by - shall we pencil you in for Christmas dinner this year? We have a wonderful meal planned: Venison! Cooked in the traditional Namibian fashion, with a side-serving of rare African turkey, oven roasted! (You can't believe the trouble I went through to get this!)
Anyway - LOVE it if you could come!

Mrs J
Mr J
And family.


Christmas 2005

Dear Clover,

I do declare! If Christmas came any sooner, it would arrive before the previous Christmas!

I don't know how you come up with all these presents, I really don't. I mean - fancy that! - buyingh a whole barnyard of pigs, yaks, mules, ostriches and autistic ocelots for an oppressed African family suffering from the ravages of drought! Pure GENIUS, Clover, even if you do say so yourself!
Cynical souls, of course, might wonder how you coughed up the spondulicks to fund such an extravagant barnyard, but far be it from we, the mere tax-paying public, to be so gauche as to inquire!

Although it is impossible for us to match your gift, we'll just have to try. (And let's jmust close our ears to those naysaying conservatives who observe that we have turned charity from a project for helping the poor into a status symbol for the rich - shall we?)
So to you, Clover, we give the following: 1 (one) Ugandan school for orphans from the recent war they had with Sudan (or Gabon - I forget now). Oh, it might not seem much - a mere 10,000 dollars - but believe me, the wretched orphans of Uganda from their war with Sudan (or Gabon) will be sooooo grateful!

On the home front: Mr J has not been well. He has a dreadful cold! And Tarquin hasn't eaten for months now! He says it's the 'new world order'! Fancy that! Anyway, it stops him from running around the place, so at LAST I can keep everything neat!

Our Christmas dinner this year will be so worth it! Do come: we have a delicious barnyard theme. We're dying to have you here, Clover!

Mrs J
Mr J
And family.


Christmas 2006

Dear Clover,

Christmas. Again. It must be Christmas again, mustn'tt it? Well, we've seen your present for this year, so I do believe that Christmas has no excuse but to arrive.

A little over the top, don't you think, Clover, m'dear? A little extravagant? I mean, you or I might appreciatye an elephant as much as the next person, but do you really think that the world's oppressed, driven into drivelling idiocy by the dreadful malnutrition and lack of education in the third-world, REALLY have the mental or the moral faculties to appreciate a fucking PACHYDRERM as a present?
But still, thank you for your thoughtful gift. I am extremely grateful not to receive an elephant. Every time I look out our under-sized window into our far-too-cramped inner-suburban backyard, I think, how wonderful, how fortuitous there is not an elephant out there: we would hardly have room for our pool or for our acacia, if there were!
I must confess: I have been unable to think of a present for you this year. I mean, let's face it, Clover, the world's poor are still going to be poor next year. It's not as if our wretched trading of charities in a desperate attempt to appear more generous than one another makes any actual difference.
But in the absence of presents, you'll be happy to know that we're giving the third-world the next best thing: Tarquin! Yes - our dear boy, after subsisting for the first half of the year on a diet of prune juice and figs (and in the process attaining a rather attractive limp and sallow complexion) has gone to help the poor in India, via a meditation retreat in Tasmania. (Around this house, Mr J likes to refer to it as 'Visiting the 3rd world with a stopover in the 4th' - rather wicked of him, I think!!)

So that is that, Clover. But it would be unforgivable of me to conclude my lettger without begging you to attend our Christmas dinner this year. It will be divine - simply divine!!! A surprise theme this year: but you'll love it, I promise! I got the idea from Tarquin, but he wont'be able to attend, obviously. Still, I think he will be there - in spirit!!!!

Anyway. Please come. It's been so long since we saw you!

Mrs J
Mr J
And Family.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Few Random Notes

I wandered down to the Victoria Markets this morning with a secret plan to buy smelly cheese to smuggle across the NSW border for the Christmas. Of all the varieties of cheese, nothing tastes better than Ilicit Cheese. As it turns out, I didn't end up buying any, but I did get -

- Some chicken pate, flavoured with chestnut and cognac;

- A Polish chocolate roll

- Two spiral South African sausages called Boerewars (I imagine Red feasts on these every morning for breakfast. They also sold something called 'Snook', prompting me to do a google search - 'How do you cook snook?')

- And 500 grams of sauerkraut.

Incidentally, do you know how to make sauerkraut? It's easy. You just take this little German girl -

- and then you take her lollipop away from her to make her cry. Then you've got a Sour Kraut, alright.
(Apparently, the Poles perfected this technique following the 2nd World War).

And by the way, I've just been making another batch of chocolate muffins, and I now have an additional 100 grams of chocolate sauce to spare. This is getting ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Word on Carols

Despite the recent mockery on my blog, I like carols; they're a repository of some very old and beautiful melodies. That being said, the worst carols tend to get repeated over and over again (Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer).

The best carols are the old ones, with the exception of 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas'. I don't know who was responsible for that brainfart, but probably whoever it was probably got beaten up by his fellow renaissance minstrels on a regular basis. You know ...

"Hey Reynard! There's the fooker that wrote that Merry Christmas piece of shite! Let's bash the fooker's fooking face in!"

"Aye, verily, and fooking right!"

The best modern one might be Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas', simply because it's so bizarre seeing him and David Bowie singing that song together - yes, the music video does exist! Almost any carol with Santa Claus in it is almost guaranteed to be crap, mostly because the Santa Claus cult popped up in the 20th century. ' (Sorry old boy, but you know it's right). 'Santa Claus is Coming' is dreadful.

But then you get pieces like 'Three Kings', 'Hark, the Herald Angels', 'Come All Ye Faithful', 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and 'Good King Wenceslas' which are grouse (especially for the archaic English expressions) and especially 'In Dulce Jubilo', which is especially cool to sing because of the Latin phrases.

In Dulce Jubilo,
We sing with hearts aglow;
Our delight and pleasure
Is in praecipio,
Alpha est et oh,
Alpha est et oh.

I have no idea what it means, but I like to think it's medieval porn.

UPDATE! - Actually, turns out the song Bowie and Bing sung together was 'Peace on Earth' and 'Little Drummer Boy'. I still don't mind 'White Christmas', though like most carols it gets repeated too many times.

Spin for a Penny, Spin for a Pound

Tim Minchin fans - you know who you are - find an interview here. And other interweb goodness!

Yes, it's the latest issue of esteemed satirical zine Spin, published by mastermind Darlene Taylor!

(PDF warning)

Road Testing the Presents

I'm reading my mother's Christmas present at the moment. I often read Christmas presents for other people; it's a sensible method of testing the present, and eminently reversible. The same thing can't be said for eating the Christmas presents for other people. I can't tell you how many times I've eaten a box of chocolates for one of my brothers only to find, halfway through, that it's not a suitable Christmas present for them at all.

On the whole, I suppose that reading is the best method of testing a Christmas present, but then again, it just doesn't work for some of them. The box of fruit mince pies you were going to buy for your uncle may look to be a promising read at the outset, but it simply has no narrative arc; and the metaphors are hoary and cliched. There's always the table of ingredients, of course, and the cholesterol index, which display some authorial verve and wit, but it's always supremely depressing, and a little hard to understand if you don't have a degree in advanced chemical bulimia. So when buying food as a present for others, I often find myself in something of a dilemma. Does this box of chocolates taste good enough for my great-great-great-great-Aunt, seven times removed? One is tempted to taste it to find out; but then you'll end up having to buy another box of chocolates as a replacement; and even then, you can't be one hundred per cent certain that the second box of chocolates taste the same, meaning you'll have to give them the taste test...

Once I tried eating a box set of Alexander McCall Smith books that was to be given as a present to relatives. I think I can safely say that this method of testing should be ruled right out; not only does it completely ruin the plot, but it tastes disgusting. Those printers should really consider adding a little sugar to their ink. (On the bright side, though, if the gift is a book of poetry by John Laws or Michael Leunig, then it may in fact be returned in a slightly more well written form than it went in).

It certainly is fraught, the process of buying presents. For instance, there may be some besotted young males out there right at the moment who are thinking of buying a puppy for their girlfriends, but agonising over whether it is the right puppy. Men, there's really only one way to find out: sneak into your girlfriend's house while she's away and give the puppy a spin in her washing machine and see how it comes out. No one likes a dirty dog.*

What presents will you be buying, dear reader, and why?

* I knew one guy who did this several times and actually managed to wash all the spots off a Dalmatian puppy he was going to get for his girlfriend. He threw the puppy out instantly; even worse than a dirty dog is a Dalmatian that doesn't stand up to spot checks.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Saucy Offer

Anyone want about 100 grams of chocolate sauce? Quick! There's no time to explain!

UPDATE! - I don't want to deceive you. It's got some cream in it as well.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Customer Disservice Industry, Now More Deficient Than Ever!

Evil Willow uses public transport. Why don't you?

It all began last year: in an attempt to make their trains and trams run in a more orderly and friendly fashion, Connex decided to instill a culture of fear and suspicion. Whimsical messages targeting fare evaders appeared on trains and trams. "The other customers are paying your fares," they cheerily reminded you (it not mattering greatly whether you were guilty or no: in the absence of a guilty party, you'll do) "Perhaps you should mow their lawn." Other messages asked fare-evaders if they would like to treat the paying passengers to a nice dinner? One even noted that those who travelled using a concession ticket were only half-paying: perhaps they would like to get off half way?
The advertising campaign that came after that took a different tack. Unappealing characters with vaguely autistic tendencies began to appear on state television muttering incomprehensible ciphers and haranguing potential customers. The slogan was, "Buying a Ticket Before You Get On Board Saves Time Or Problems Later." This shortened - although perhaps 'shortened' is the wrong word - to BATBYGOBSTOPL. Connex described this as "an annoyingly catchy acronym", the first adjective being the operative one.
More recent advertising campaigns by Connex have been rather lacklustre. During early spring, they took to the habit of posting bad poetry on train walls. In the past month or two, a series of posters hung up around stations (perhaps in an attempt to reinforce the fare evader message) showed beaming mannequins in Connex uniforms, and bears a slogan with rather disturbing implications: "Looking after you in more ways than one."
Lately, some new ads have been appearing on television which, as Helen, the Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony, notes, carry on in the tradition of bad Connex ads 'which actually put you off buying the product.'
Wretched souls, washed in a blue-grey arthouse ambience and dreadfully expensive lighting, struggled through streets and over pavements, literally carrying others, to hysterically tragic music, like some modern day Victor Hugo ripoff. I was bemused. The role of advertising is to portray the product or service in a flattering light, but this seemed like a realistic portrayal of the hellish journey through Footscray "premium" (hah!) station to the fourth circle of Hell City Loop, complete with the wails of the damned...

Nevertheless, we eventually worked it out: the Don't Hold Others Back campaign is to inform us that we, the passengers, are the cause of all the trouble. Yes, forget about the cancellation of the 5.11 and the Faulty Train at Flinders Street which the crackling PA is ranting about. It's YOU, you wretch, you're thirty seconds late and you'll make the train wait for you! Which makes us all suffer!
There is, in fact, a clear theme to all of these Connex ads, and I believe they are not intended to put you off buying the product: it's fairly obvious that they are doing their best to promote their product to the wide and diverse sado-masochistic autistic Stalinist mentally-deranged criminal bogan demographic. As a matter of fact, I'm so impressed with this bold advertising venture, that I'd like to suggest future ads in Connex's campaign in which their appeal to this demographic becomes ever more clearer and evident.

The first ad that comes to mind will be designed at showcasing the diversity of people found on Connex trains. The message will be: Connex attracts a wide variety of sociopaths. Why don't you join us?

( To be played to suitably jaunty music, perhaps Ben Lee's 'That's The Way I Like It' or Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony.)

SCENE: Awakened by the bright beams of the sun shining in through his window, a Man springs from the bed to greet the day, with a broad, jocund smile right across his face! His wife tumbles out of the other side of the bed, but the Man keeps smiling!

CUT TO: Man at the breakfast table, still smiling and eating his breakfast. His wife burns her lips on the coffee. The Man keeps smiling.

CUT TO: Man is smiling at himself in the bathroom mirror and shaving. He cuts himself shaving and frowns. Then he looks up and in the mirror sees his neighbour climb a ladder, have a heart attack, and fall to the ground. The Man begins to smile again.

CUT TO: Man is walking across the road to the train station. He sees the train begin to pull into the station. Still smiling, he rushes past a little old lady on her walking frame and her poodle, pushing them all into the oncoming traffic. Hearing the sound of cars screech and collide, he keeps smiling.

CUT TO: Man opens train door.

Everyone in the train turns to look at him. Their faces are all gripped in identical, maniacal smiles.



After the success of this initial advertising campaign, I envisage following it up fairly rapidly with a series of posters to be hung up around train stations. The intention of these posters will be twofold: 1) to instil fear and a respect for authority in the existing train going public. 2) To further attract sadists to be part of Connex.

We see a train full of identical-looking travellers. They are all wearing grey business suits and have cavernous hollows where their eyes should be. They are all reading the same self-help book by Anthony Robbins, and their mouths are slightly open so that their teeth show. In the bea, of the electronic train lighting, their teeth glint and gleam like fangs.



On one side of the train, we see the Partridge family, bathed in an impossibly golden light, the sort you only see in artworks for Jehova's Witness booklets. They are smiling and laughing warmly.

On the other side of the train, we see an unshaven old man, writhing on the floor in pain.

In the middle of the floor, we see a Dalek, training its electronic death rays onto the elderly malefactor.




Although it is possible that viewers may be slightly offended by the abstract element in these ads, I believe they will more than make up for this by winning over the small but important Geek/Psychopath demographic.
Above all, it is vital that this ad campaign attracts more customers and broadens the customer base amongst freaks across the nation. So from time to time, it will be necessary for the ads to be sentimental in nature, and to emphasise the simple appeal of masochism for all types of people. My final ad will therefore return to a much-loved theme: fare evasion.

SCENE: An ordinary train, covered in graffiti and chewing gum, and scattered with MX papers. It is full of seemingly normal people: an unshaven bum swigging alcohol; a bogan girl giving a head job to her bogan boyfriend; a guy injecting up in the corner; another guy pissing on the doors; several children running up and down the train, banging one another with leaky stuffed dolls; and a Goth reading the Malleus Malleficarum and weeping softly to herself.

CAPTION/ANNOUNCER: This train is not as normal as it might seem.

CUT TO: Several black-and-white stills of the passengers.

CAPTION/ANNOUNCER: One of these people is a Fare Evader.

CUT TO: Ticketing inspectors entering onto the train and striding purposefully down the corridor to snare-drums, a la 'The Third Man' or the East German Stasi.

CUT TO: Glose up of GOTH, looking very nervous.

CUT TO: Shot of ticketing agents approaching Goth.

CUT TO: Extreme close up of Goth, tugging at her spiked collar.

CUT TO: Ticketing agents stopping in front of Goth.

TICKETING AGENT ONE: Hallo. Ve vould like to speak to you.


GOTH: But ... (reaches into pocket for ticket)

TICKETING AGENT ONE: There are no 'buts' here! (Reaching into his own pocket and half-drawing out a gun suggestivelly)

TICKETING AGENT TWO: I vould do as he says. Ve haf vays of making you comply.

(They both take hold of her arms and drag her off the train)

GOTH: No! It's not fair! You can't do this to me! I have rights! HEEEEEELLLLLLLLPPPPP!!!

CAPTION/ANNOUNCER: Fare evasion is THEFT! If you are a Fare Evader, then we will find you out.

(Over the black screen, we can hear the GOTH'S bloodcurdling screams.)

CUT TO: Image of TICKETING AGENT ONE massaging GOTH'S feet, while TICKETING AGENT TWO brings her a martini.

GOTH: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHH!!! NOOOOO, NOT THAT! (Breaks down). I admit - I used a zone one ticket to travel to a zone two stations! (Weeps) I thought I could get away with it!!!



I could go on and on, for much longer than this post. Perhaps you would like to suggest some future advertising campaigns for Connex in comments.

Way Too Much Tim On Your Hands

As if you didn't have enough of me already, I've written a whimsical post about global warming for the blog Thoughts On Freedom. It can be found here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sign I May Be Reading Blogs a Little Bit Too Much ...

I'm browsing through a bookstore, and have reached the literature shelf. I'm on the 'A' section. Some of my favourite authors are in the 'A' section. Brian Aldiss, W H Auden, Kingsley Amis, Jane Austen ...

"Hmm," I think to myself. "I wonder if there's any books by that famous author Ampersand Duck?"

A Night in Notes

Two quotes from my work Christmas party: nice enough people to work with, fantastic folks to share a drink with.

"Yeah, I covered the G20 protests for ___. "
"Oh, and how was that?"
"Really quiet, nothing happened at all. All there were were people from the media looking for a story to beat up."
"Oh, so you had the hippies going around looking for examples of police brutality, and the suits going around looking for examples of mob violence?"
"Yeah, all they seemed to do was beat drums."
"What is it with hippies and tom-toms anyway? Is it supposed to represent the primal beat of their soul, or some fucked up notion like that?"
"I don't know, but that's all that happened. I mean, once I was walking down a laneway that came onto Flinders Lane, right past where the police had set up operations for the event, and there were hippies sprawling down in the laneway. I said, hey, did you know that was the police headquarters there? They were just, 'huh'? They didn't have a fucking clue."
"Well, there's your story for you, anyway. You could have written back to ___ and said, 'A lacklustre performance all round! Next time, I expect a bit more mob violence and police brutality! I was very disappointed!'"
"I know."
"At least tell me you trashed a McDonalds ..."


"Do you mind if I smoke?"
"I don't smoke, but I don't mind at all if you do."
"That's good."
"I was born in the 1970s, so we kind of got the tail end of the 1960s and 1970s smoking culture, before the nanny-staters really got hold."
"Yes, I remember when smoking was first banned in taxis; at first they were all, 'No, smoke away, I don't care.' But now they're worried they'll get fined. It's insidous."
"Now you can't smoke in pubs and clubs."
"It's terrible."
"And it's not really the same, is it? I mean, all that filthy festering smoke is good for the atmosphere, really livens the place up."
"Now you get thrown out by the bouncers if you so much as light up. You can still do all the illegal drugs, though."
"What's the world coming too? Even France are banning smoking."
"Italy, too. I had high hopes for Germany."
"How did that go?"
"There's always China."
"Oh, that's true. You can do anything in China, though. You can even open up new carbon-fired plants in China. Yeah, there is always China."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Carol For The Times

(To be sung to the tune of 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', slightly stretched, inverted, reverted and retrograded, while standing on your head.)

We wish you a Merry Christmas/ Hannukah/ Ramadan/ Tet/ Solstice/ Pancha Ganapati/ or Kwanzaa,
We wish you a Merry Christmas/ Hannukah/ Ramadan/ Tet/ Solstice/ Pancha Ganapati/ or Kwanzaa,
We wish you a Merry Christmas/ Hannukah/ Ramadan/ Tet/ Solstice/ Pancha Ganapati/ or Kwanzaa,
And a Happy New Year.

Good tidings we bring
To you and your President/Prime Minister/Chancellor/Commissioner/Governor/Democratically-elected Dictator/Autocrat/or King
We wish you a Merry Christmas/ Hannukah/ Ramadan/ Tet/ Solstice/ Pancha Ganapati/ or Kwanzaa,
And a Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lest Leaping Dogs, Sly ...

... among them a beautiful young woman from Geneva, New York, who told me, in another Bermuda landscape with figures, 'We are not going to hide our heads in the sand like kangaroos.' ... Any creature coming upon a kangaroo upright would not be frightened by its comic head and little forelegs, but a sudden view of its strange and enormous rear quarters, protuding from the earth, would surely be enough to give pause to a prowling tiger or a charging rhino. (Quibblers who have pounced upon the fact that there are no tigers or rhinos in Australia should remember that these kangaroos are Bermudan kangaroos.)
James Thurber, Such a Phrase as Drifts through Dreams.

Thurber can mock all he like, but I think this lady makes a good point. It's high time we stopped sticking our heads in the sand like kangaroos before the ostriches come home to roost. The tigers are already loose in the top paddock, and we may just have to shut the gate before the jellyfish bolts and we're left with a marmoset in the room. I think the poet William Taylor-Coleridge sums it up best:

Let sleeping cows lie
Until the elephants come home:
I shall always dove you,
Wherever ewes may roam.

So there you go, gentles and ladymen. At the risk of me phrasing parrots, I have to say, there's no use splitting hares about it any longer. Someone has to draw a lion through the sand, and I guess that someone just has to be me.

UPDATE! - I'm sorry I've been away for the past day, but I've been having an etycmological catastrophe! Someone cried havoc and let slip the Hogs of Dore, while the Wildbats roamed the hills and began to prey on the helpless cats in the belfry! I tried to shut the gate, but the boars had halted, and before I could do anything about it, the quick brown cocks had jumped over the lazy frogs!

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Chronological Eccentricities of James Bond Films

I went to see Casino Royale last night, and I was pretty much thinking the same thing while watching the film that Caz talks about here. "The latest Bond film is supposed to be the "first" Bond adventures, and about how James Bond got started - it's set after 9/11. Go figure."
Still, in the absence of any discernible plot (apart from the occasional explosion, collision, car chase, etc), dialogue (beyond the usual "Oh, James!" nonsense) or drama (besides one or two poker games that degenerate into sword fights, etc), the only thing that can really surprise us about the Bond films anymore is their increasingly eccentric history. Let's see if I can give you a quick break down of the Bond universe, from start to where we are now.


- Bond, after getting his 007 status by killing a double agent, meets with M. He is assigned the task of playing against a terrorist associate in a high-stakes poker game. Here he meets with CIA operative Felix Leiter, who is to become a life-long friend.

- In later James Bond adventures that will happen about twenty years before the present date, Leiter will change from a black man to a white man, have one of his legs bitten off by a shark, and his newly-married wife killed during a tussle with a South American criminal.

- The film Casino Royale also sees Bond doing his bit in the War Against Terror by killing a number of terrorists; however, the love of his life dies in the process.

- Shortly afterwards and during the early 1960s, Bond meets with M. M has since had a sex change from a woman who looks like Judi Dench to a man who looks like Judi Dench, but he has lost none of her feminine wiles, which will come in useful in the years to come during the fight against communism.

- Bond's ever-so-slight regional English accent has since developed into a broad Scottish accent.

- Bond is given the task of locating and killing the mysterious 'Dr No', head of the criminal organisation SPECTRE.

- Dr No is a criminal mastermind who lives in a big metal house beneath the ocean. He occasionally has problems with rust.

- In his continuing adventures, Bond will do his bit to end communism before becoming married to the love of his life, Tracy, in 1969 - some 47 years before being put off marriage altogether after the death of the other love of his life (mentioned above).

- In the meantime, Bond appears to have developed the faintest traces of an Australian accent.

- Tracy is killed shortly after marriage, leaving Bond in such despair that he will never fall in love with a woman again, except for the occasional unimportant sexual peccadilloes that happen every two days or so.

- Bond quickly loses the Australian accent and develops a clipped English accent.

- He travels to the Caribbean and indulges in a spot of political assassination, where he meets the love of his life, a tarot card reader with a suspicious resemblance to Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.


So there you go! Makes perfect sense!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Moral Poem To Bad Little Boys and Girls

This poem is for Mish, who recently noted her cynicism about the festive season.

This Christmas, little dears,
The news is rather bad, I fear.
I'm very, very sad to say
You'll get no gifts on Christmas Day.
You're not on Santa's List at all,
For Santa doesn't exist at all ...

It's not that he just up and died,
It's just - he always was a lie
To keep you little brats in line -
But now he's gone ... and things are fine ...

So children, I really couldn't care
What you shout or scream or swear.
So jump and howl and yell and bawl:
Get into fucking massive brawls!
Smash the windows! Kick the chairs!
Throw the china down the stairs!
Throw the TV through the hall
And kick your brother in the balls!

When that's all done, set up a shrine
To Ereshkigal by the washing line:
You can burn your Aunty Gladdys as a sacrifice.
(If that don't work, then burn her twice ...)

Yes! Now that Santa's dead and gone,
Now that Santa ne'er was born,
Be as the Children of the Corn:
       That's my advice.

Enter Private Eye, Stage Right, In The Key of E ...

On a hot evening in mid-December that just happened to be last night, I went to an art gallery that was also a theatre to see a show. Forty-five Downstairs is a small theatre that you get to by going into the building on Forty-Five Little Flinders Street and not going upstairs.

The show was City of Angels, a very cool and clever Detective Mystery slash Musical slash Stage Noir slash Slash slash Comedy slash a couple of other genres as well. (Hell, I even spotted a Swedish maid, the kitchen sink, a jellyfish, the Big Six, and a monkey in there ... just kidding! I think ...)
The writing, by Larry Gelbart, is exceedingly clever, and the plot is brilliantly structured.
The idea goes something like this; the play opens on a cold-boiled sleuth pacing the stage and delivering one liners to his frazzled secretary. Enter, stage left, the customary femme fatale who charms the detective with her feminine guile (that, and the offer of huge amounts of money). After the detective agrees to take a case from her, another corner of the stage lights up and we see a writer, at his typewriter, banging away. I thought at first he was a court stenographer, but no, it turns out that he's actually a film writer; and the detective drama that preceded this scene was all in his head. It's the fiction he's working out for the next film.

It's a pretty naff idea, and could lead to any manner of postmodern nonsense, but somehow, it all hangs together. The Big-Band/Cool jazz score by Cy Coleman and the one-liners Gelbart gives to his characters keep the show moving at a good pace. The music is, on the whole, bloody brilliant; the band and all the singers are fantastic. I thought the voice-over was irritating at first, one of those annoying hangovers you get from theatre directors who see too many films and think you can just lift techniques from film willy-nilly, but it was actually worked in quite cleverly and seamlessly with the live music and dialogue. So if you love jazz, then you'll want to see this play. (And the set design is rather fabbo, too.)
Of course, it's a bit weird to see a film writer with writer's block bursting into song. And even stranger is the Latino police sergeant's Salsa - it doesn't seem entirely in keeping with the laid-back jazz feel of much of the rest of the show. Then again, there's a few moments in the plot that seem to verge on the screwball, so you never know. (Anyway, I'm the sort of person who hums 'Springtime for Hitler' in the Melbourne Trades Hall, so I can't talk.)

So all in all I had a good time. I reckon you will, too. Even if the idea of a little jazz and some showtunes doesn't sound like a smashing time to you, you can just buy some wine at the bar, and get smashed at interval time. Either way is good!

So see it, already!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Misstake Marples

They've got a television version of Miss Marples on at the moment. It's set in England a little time after the First World War, and it's all very jolly and splendid and what-ho, as you'd expect. There's one scene where a character holds up some of Miss Marple's reading material, a Raymond Chandler novel and ...

Hang on a second.

Raymond Chandler wrote his novels during and after the SECOND World War.

What a bloody disgrace!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Splenetically Engineered Food

Genetically Engineered Foods are so old hat. These days, what everyone is talking about are Splenetically Engineered Foods - they're all the rage!

Asparagus that makes you feel bad about yourself while eating it by telling you how it's going to go "straight to your thighs."

Potato with added pea genes to make it more round, and have a somewhat more palindromical name.

A sausage made from meat designed by vegans. When you eat it, it makes you feel more hungry, not less.

Leeks that grow their own plugs, so they don't lose any of their juice.

Soup for people who don't have any hands. It ladles itself into your mouth.

Pasta containing mince meat designed by angry vegans. The mince meat grows teeth, so that when you bite it, it bites back!

Tomato that takes you back to frightening events in your childhood and talks to you about the Oedipus Complex that you never knew you had.

Soup which sings La Donne E Mobile, The Anvil Chorus, and other operatic hits to you. It may possibly be a member of the Mafia, as well.

Fruit designed by activist carnivores, designed to taste so disgusting that it puts other people off fruit forever. Comes in two flavours: Cranny Smiths, and Long Browns.

Sausage made from meat designed by pacifist vegans. As you slice it, it strikes up a conversation with you and asks you to consider your eating choices.

Mutton that tells you dirty jokes as you are trying to enjoy your meal. If you pour on some gravy to try to drown it out, the conversation just gets saucier.

Clam crossed with lamb. Tastes cold and wet. Popular in communist countries.

Biscuit dip with a bizarre addiction to show tunes and a lisp.

Vegetable that tries to sell you stuff. Back in the 1990s, in the early days of Splenetic Engineering, they tried to make a bogan with environmentalist tendencies by crossing a stick of celery with some guy called Larry they found in Werribee. Instead, they ended up with a vegetable that doubled up as a Used-Car salesman.

A shellfish with hammers instead of claws.

A bird dish that is able to talk to you, albeit only about trivial subjects, like Britney Spears' underwear.

An alcoholic carrot. It can help you see in the dark, but it won't stop you from falling all over the street as you stumble home at night from the vegetable juice bar.

A cucumber with a special talent for solving pub trivia questions.

Sweet tht tries to dissuade you from eating it by administering increasing electric shocks to your palate as you chew. Said to come from a cross-breeding of the cocoa bean and the electric eel.

A Sort of Response ...

I've been thinking about this post over at Sarsaparilla, and I've been thinking about the conversation that resulted, and criticism by a few of the Sars folk of writers like C S Lewis and H Rider Haggard. Comments like '... I loved Lewis at 10. Sadly, as I grew older, the British Empire racism and sexism began to be a little too intrusive for me ... '. Or '.... It's a problem with that Empire stuff - I put Kippling and Rider Haggard in that (adventurous) basket - of its age, but still gripping yarns for kids ... '

I'm still not sure how far I go with comments like this. Sure, there are a few racist and sexist stereotypes in the Chronicles of Narnia. To me, that doesn't detract from the fact that when he was writing at his best, Lewis really had the ability to write feelingly, incisively, and powerfully about his characters. You won't very often see a better character portrayal than Eustace Clarence Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And I don't think there's much sexism in his portrayal of Lucy, a heroine of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, who fights alongside her brothers in the penultimate battle of that novel.

It could be that for me it just comes down to a few ideological differences I have, or I think I have, with most of the Sarsaparilla bloggers and commenters. They're by and large from the intellectual left, and you see comments like 'This writer tends to be racist' or 'There are sexist implications' from time to time. I even remember one conversation where another commentator asked me if I saw the racist implications in a schooltime snack (Redskins). It is worth talking about things like racism and sexism, but I just find it a bit silly discussing the racial implications of childhood snacks. It's an old left-right division, maybe: to the Left, everything (even childhood snacks) can be political. Right-leaning people like myself would prefer childhood snacks to stay unpolitical, thanksverymuch.
And then there's the statement in the same thread: "There can be no knowing through stereotypes". Bit of a stereotype, no? For me, I think the truth is probably closer to the opposite: that people only can know through stereotypes - that it's through generalising about people and about things that we are able to see the hidden connections and laws that make up our world.

That's another reason why I'm a little wary about talk about 'racism'. What modern people might see as racism in books by people like Lewis or Rider Haggard or Kipling could just be those authors using literary and stylistic techniques to distinguish their characters, to impose order on their fictional world. Was Lewis really being racist, for instance, when he made a division between Narnians and Calormenes in books like The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle? He could write sympathetically about Calormene's too, ennobling them with a history and a culture; one of his heroines is Calormene by birth and by upbringing. Is it really fair to insist that Lewis's often highly-stylised allegorical fantasies conform to modern expectations about portrayal of race?
Or then, with Rider Haggard. King Solomon's Mines is a brilliant adventure story that ranged over an entire continent - it goes from the forests to the desert to the mountains and then through a series of caves, right into the bowels of the earth, as his heroes (Englishmen in a time of British empire) went on a treasure hunt. His book is full of racial stereotypes: but then, he was writing at a time when national and ethnic differences would have been much starker than they are now. And he wasn't ignorant of the African way of life; he was writing after having worked for several years as a colonial administrator in South Africa.

An even starker example of racial stereotyping appears in the early SF novelette The Time Machine, where the Time Traveller goes forward into the future and finds a world where the poor and the rich have evolved into different species altogether; the poor have evolved into cunning beasts who live underground and feed off the stupid but gentle above-ground dwelling rich.
A world where the poor and rich are separate species? That's pretty racist! And Wells, unlike Lewis or (presumably) Rider Haggard was, at the time of writing this story, a radical socialist. So I don't think the stereotyping you find in these adventure stories is used (as some would argue) to prop up existing social structures. I think that it's often wiser to take stories by writers like Lewis and Rider Haggard on their own terms, not on the terms set down by modern political ideology. And you can get a lot out of them that way, too: Rider Haggard and Lewis and Wells wrote with such imaginative force that there is a constant sense of discovery and awe to their adventure narratives. Lewis and Wells, in particular, went even further; their books took sudden diversions into drama, allegory, satire, myth, and religious and philosophical tracts; and they managed bring to light ethical problems in a way not possible in other writing genres.

That's good enough for me!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Not Quite Obsession

Is it possible for a city to start calling you? I swear, ever since my planned trip to the US has started falling into place, I've been sleeping less, and when I have slept, I have probably started to dream about New York.

The other day, I caught myself writing a parody of the 'New York, New York' song about Newtown, over at Kate's blog:

Newtown, Newtown,
It's a wonderful ... town.
The University is up,
And the community centre, train station, and assorted alcoholics, deros, and drug addicts are down ...

And then just this morning, I noticed a sign on the building across the street. It said:


Moving up to the street corner, the street light moved in between my line of vision and the letters 'TW'. The sign now read:

ne ork

"Hmm," I said to myself. "It's almost as if that sign reads ..."


It's not quite obsession, but it's getting there!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Labours Of ...

There's a commenter over at new blog Lexicon Harlot that refers to 'The labours of Ulysses.' I presume they're thinking about 'the labours of Hercules', but what the hell. With this comment, they could very well have opened up a Pandora's Box of worms that they might not be able to put a leash back onto. Or something. I mean, if there can be a 'Labours of Ulysses' as well as a 'Labours of Hercules', what other mythical characters could find themselves in trouble?

The Labours of Sisyphus
Sisyphus was the Greek king sentenced to roll a stone up a hill for eternity as punishment for his cruelty in the mortal world.

Sisyphus: (After trying to roll the stone up the hill for 10 kazillion years pauses to wipe the sweat off his brow) Wait a minute! Why the hell am I even doing this? I could just - walk away! Ha! Fuck this shit! I'm outta her... (Is flattened by the stone rolling over his body) Oh. Fuck.


The Labours of Tiresias
It's a little known fact that, apart from being the only Greek man to spontaneously transform into a woman and back again, Tiresias also gave birth to a child!

Tiresias: Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! I think I'm about to give birth!

Mrs Tiresias: What? You two-timing transexual twerp, you! Who the fuck have you been sleeping with?

Tiresias: Never mind that! Where the fuck is this kid going to come out?


The Labours of Zipporah
Zippora was married to Moses, who apparently had the 10 Commandments 'revealed' to him on the mountaintop. Not so!

Moses: (Pacing the room, in the heat of inspiration, reciting) Thou shalt not murder! Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ass! Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother's milk (even if it be really tasty)! Thou shalt not ...

Zipporah: (Pauses, amidst a shroud of dust and stone flakes, from chiselling the commandments on to stone) Moses - baby - darlin' - don't you think you're goin' a bit overboard here?

Moses: Silence, woman!

Zipporah: Fuck. (Muttering to herself as she chisels) I knew we should have put a 'No Fault Divorce' amendment into that second commandment ...


And coming soon: The Labors of Kevin Rudd. (If you thought the Stygian stables were full of shit, wait until you see caucus ...)

Brutal is Beautiful

The glory that is concrete ...

Having a a Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Pool is comical enough. Even better is this criticism in yesterday's Age* which deals with the proposed redesign of the swimming pool:
It is one of the few survivors of the Brutalist period ... British architects in the 1950s and '60s also adopted the style to represent their political agenda. Their ideas were realised for public housing and community buildings, and centred on the notioin of architecture as part of the democratic revolution.

To design this building, the architects required a mindset that embraced issues of anti-establishment, left-wing politics, and an ability to underscore those values in architecture.

Stonnington City Council has chosen architects Peddle Thorp to alter and extend the pool.

Peddle Thorp have unquestionable experience with the design of sporting and community facilities, including the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre and Rod Laver arena. They are commercially savvy and productive.

But they do not possess an architectural philosophy that embraces the values that inform the original design for this pool.
So the new architects are unsuitable because - amongst other things - they're not communist! (Left-wing bias in The Age? Never!)

* I'll post the link when I can find it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Alan Kohler 2006 Political Cliche Market Report

Alan Kohler, the financial expert for ABC News, knows so much about the markets, that he can even tell you things about markets that don't even exist! So who better to ask for a report on the Political Cliche Market?

Alan Kohler's 2006 Political Cliche Market Report

Hi, I'm Alan Kohler, financial expert and genius, and this is the Political Cliche Market Report! And what a year it's been for political cliches, with the resurgence of some old favourites as well as the emergence of some new cliches!
The favourite cliche of the UN and Kofi Annan, 'We are deeply concerned', saw an unexpected downturn in the early months of this year, causing panic in political cliche markets right around the world. 'There are grave fears that the current global shortage of deep concern could lead to a widening crisis,' said Australian PM John Howard in a statement to the press in August. 'We must all roll up our sleeves and pull together to ensure that we preserve the current stocks of deep concern for future generations.'
In a desperate measure, Kofi Annan eventually made the following statement to the media: 'We are deeply concerned at the lack of deep concern on the part of politicians: our concern is so deep that it could hardly be any deeper: and that is of deepest concern.'
While the stocks of deep concern began to grow mid-year, it will be some time before they return to previous highs.

In the Iraq War Cliche Index, some cliches had mixed success. 'Quagmire' fell from previous highs of approximately 100,000 separate mentions in the news media in the years 2005-2006 to barely 10,000 in the year 2006-2007. The 'Grim Milestone' cliche increased in popularity by about 10 per cent, and the phrases 'New Vietnam', 'Like Vietnam', and 'Vietnamesque' also increased in popularity.
By contrast, the cliches 'Not like Vietnam', 'Nope', 'Not at all!' and 'Nonquagmirist' all saw a dip in popularity.

We saw a few additions to the MFRLATNCROUBLRIASTYVM (that's the Market For Really Long Acronyms That Nobody Can Remember Or Understand But Look Rather Impressive In A Sentence Thank You Very Much), as well as the re-use of some favoured political acronyms, such as DFAT, COAG, DIMIA. We'll tell you some of the new additions ASAP.*

If we look at the political cliches of the year on a graph, this is what we get:

No, I can't understand what it says either.
Let's simplify those results and look at them in pie chart form.

Mmmf ... I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself there ... it looked so tasty ...

Moving right along, it's hard to say what direction political cliches will take next year. While it is likely that we will see continued growth in the use of many new cliches, we may see the strengthening of a few of the classics as well:

- No new taxes!
- Moving forwards!
- Taking us backwards!
- Leaning sideways!
- Climbing up the ladder of opportunity!
- The Road to Middle East Peace!
- A fork in the road!

Interestingly, this year we saw an attempt to roll all of these cliches into one, to create, if you will, a kind of 'super' cliche by a Senator standing for the seat of Backowoopwoop, on the border between Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
"Read my lips: no new taxes are taking us backwards instead of leaning sideways and taking us forwards. It's time to climb the ladder of opportunity before we reach a fork in the road to middle east peace and are derailed before take off."
The senator was subsequently returned to his seat with a reduced minority.

*ASAP: Acronym that stands for 'Never'

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Moral Dilemma of the Gravest Proportions

I was sitting on the Sandringham train by the window with my left foot reclining on my right knee. When there's nobody else sitting beside me, I like to use all the space that I've got. Yes, I'm a lazy selfish sod. Well, on comes this family - a father, and three little kids (two boys and one girl), and I fold my legs back into normal position, both feet sitting on the floor. The father sits down beside me with the little girl on his lap. The two little boys sat opposite their father, on the one seat.

I figured that I must have intimidated the smaller of the two boys. His brother started to push him and tell him to move over, but he refused to.

What, in these circumstances, should I have done?

a) Speak to the kid in a friendly voice and ask him if he'd like to move over?
(Drawback: he might take it the wrong way and punch me.)

b) Try to make friends with him by offering him one of my chips, and then asking him to move over?
(Drawback: his father might think the chips were poisoned and punch me.)

c) Assume it was none of my business (which I guess it wasn't) and do nothing. Let them sort it out for themselves.
(Drawback: a little rude. I should at least try to get along with them.)

I took option c). Reader, what should I have done?

PS I was off to see 'Keeping Up With The Steins', and despite the reviews, it was actually very good. To give you something of the flavour, here's a few of my favourite quotes:

- "What is this - Queer Oy for the Straight Goy?"

- "I think I'm really blooming, don't you?" (from cheeky 12 year old girl to stuttering 12 year old boy at a Bar Mitzvah)

- "Joe's Butchers - you can beat our prices, but you can't beat our meat!"

- "What is this - Fiedler on The Roof?"

- "Holy shit!"

Objective Opinions Masquerading as Subjective Facts

For this blog post, I thought I'd put up two movie reviews.

The Descent

At some point in the 18th and 19th century - I'm not sure when, and they probably didn't either - high literature became full of nixies, trixies, and Bogarts. Trixies were like Trixy Belden, only less annoying, and Nixies were their brothers; Bogarts lived in caves and stagnant fens, and were like bogans, only with a better education. And then there were sylphs, nymphs, kobolds, banshees, elves, fairies, and miscellaneous supernatural entities who found their abode in various caverns, swamps, meadows, leas, etc, etc.
It was back to this simple, innocent era in 19th century literature that I wistfully cast my mind yesterday upon watching the film 'The Descent'. Like the miners and explorers of past eras, the heroines of this film find themselves entrapped in a set of cyclopean subterranean passageways, wherein they encounter a supernatural life form habituating these infernal regions. These beasts are human-like in shape; their skin is of an argent hue, with a similar texture to vanilla yoghurt (albeit yoghurt is more cultured). They apparently like nothing better than to feast upon the flesh of hapless amateur speleologists who come upon them in their misadventures. Naturally, the female spelunkers object to these admittedly whimsical notions regarding dinner held by these creatures (doubtless evolutionary throwbacks to Khruschev's Russia, or similar) and attempt to find their way out, into the external world once again.
The film is all good, clean fun - if by 'good' you mean 'somewhat malicious' and 'clean' you mean 'full of dirt, grime, puss, spew, and bloodbaths'. It left me, however, asking the question: what is the point of horror films? Perhaps if they are to become true classics in cinematic history, they ought to fulfill a higher purpose. 'Saw', a film which opens with two men waking up chained to pipes in a grimy basement they have never seen before provides a somewhat optimistic view of the share-housing experience. 'Wolf Creek', a film wherein several bright young things have an encounter with an eccentric psychopath in outback Australia, has done wonders for our tourism industry. And the classic 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' provides many, many delightful suggestions for the latter-day Daniel Boone to exercise his enthusiasm and ebullience for all things related to the chainsaw. Will 'The Descent' do something similar for the spelunking experience? We may just have to wait and see.

The Descent: 2 and 1/2 fleshy chunks out of 5.

The Devil Wears Prada

I am not sure what a simper is, but I'm sure you'll find a simper in 'The Devil Wears Prada'. The simperer will probably be simpering to Meryl Streep - who plays fashion magazine editor/termagant Miranda - and the film itself is a veritable lexicon of minute gestures. Sneers, half-smiles, quarter-frowns, eye-tilts, head-inclinations of various angles in various directions, pouting, puckering, pursing and unpursing of the lips. All this before we get to the script (which isn't, really) and the plot (which is less).
Anne Hathaway plays a cliche waiting for a Hollywood plot to arrive. The cliche's name is Andy, who apparently lands a job for a best-selling fashion magazine by having no fashion sense, and then keeps the job by developing a fashion sense. She finally leaves the job behind, though not before wangling a trip to Paris out of her boss - although apparently she never really wanted to go to Paris, not really. Yeah, right, whatever.
Along the way she drags the sort of entourage that you sort of expect of the sort of romantic comedy that this sort of film sort of tries to be but sort of isn't. There's the rugged boyfriend (although apparently the rug is getting a bit tattered), the handsome professional flirt who she has a brief fling with (although what exactly they fling, and where they fling it to, is left up to our imaginations); the coterie of friends who could have been borrowed from Bridget Jones (and probably were) and the gay fashion industry professional who spends his time acting like a gay fashion industry professional. (There's probably a poodle in there as well, but I missed it.)

All in all, I think this film can be summed up in three sentences:

Girl gets job with fashion magazine. Everybody wears pretty clothes and sneers. Girl quits, the end.

It wasn't a bad film, but it wasn't a good film, either. It was just a film film. That doesn't make sense; neither does 'The Devil Wears Prada'. I enjoyed it, sort of.

The Devil Wears Prada: 3 uncertain stars.

(Cross posted at Vibewire. )

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Shout Out

No posts from me tonight. Instead, it's a shout out to the gracious, salacious and most perspicacious South African blogger Red Said.

If you're wondering why, here are a few reasons ....

And The Grease Stayed On My Fingers Until Lunchtime ...

I sturdled up the ramp of North Melbourne station. (And in case you're wondering, the 'sturdle' is a form of perambulation I have invented: a combination of the stumble and the hurdle, it is perfect for clumsy but still energetic people like myself, allowing me to get from A to B with maximum inefficiency.) Well, soon I reached the top of the train platform and was confronted with the sweets machine.

You know that moment when you see a pure white light, and hear the soft sounds of angels singing 'Hallelulujah' coming from that white light, and you move closer and closer, moved onwards by some unknown impulse of your soul (and the need for a camera close up)? Well, that didn't happen to me. But I did see this:


I had about five dollars in my wallet in change. Reader, if I was down to my last $1.40 I would still have bought them.

Why I Don't Listen To Modern Music

Promoters, agents and lurk merchants might persuade the public that these sidelevered wonderboys have talent, but the whole art is to keep an essentially repetitive and monotonous noise from becoming boring. It's doubtful how long they can keep it up - Anthony Barker on Bill Haley and the Comets (later to become The Jodimars, below)

They have the tail end of Rage on at the moment. Just had this girl called Lily Allen, in big dangly earrings, a big red dress, and sneakers on.

She's quite the thing, apparently. If you listen to modern music. Then again, 50 years again, everybody was listening to this:

Never heard of them? Neither have I. It just goes to show you, sic transit gloria mundi. But then again, all glory is fleeting - or something. Kids, you stay away from those reefers, or you could end up like The Jodimars here: the trash-heap of history!
Email: timhtrain - at -

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