Et Tu, Mike Brady?  Football’s Greatest Hit

At fourteen years of age, my partner Katrina relocated from Dublin to Melbourne.  It was difficult.  Finding herself in Diamond Creek, she experienced a full-blown culture shock exacerbated by incessant sunlight, the threat of reptiles and, of course, Mike Brady.  The first time Katrina heard ‘Up There Cazaly’, she’d no idea what a ‘cazaly’ was.  As best as she could tell, ‘Up There Cazaly’ was a uniquely Australian way of saying, if not ‘up your jumper’, then up somewhere else located a short distance away.  She didn’t know the half of it.

Some disputes are interminable.  They endure long past the point of common sense and exhaust everyone involved.  But whilst geo-political tugs of war get all the limelight, there are lesser-known rivalries that simmer way for decades almost without anyone noticing.  Then, without warning, some small shift sees all hell, if not break loose, then ruffle its feathers and puff out its chest.  I’m speaking of ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’ by (somewhat unsurprisingly) Mike Brady.

Until recently, I had no quarrel with Mike Brady.  Instead, my conflict was with my brother, Cameron, and our dispute centered on ownership of the Mike’s classic album ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’.  More than just a piece of vinyl with a collection of highly hummable but deeply specific tunes about football players, the album is the centerpiece of our shared childhood.  If I’m honest, it’s possibly the album we listened to most when we were growing up.

Our father brought it home from work.  He did that sometimes.  When you least expected it, he’d arrive with something amazing.  I can still remember the day he appeared with ‘The Smurf Song’ as a single.  We played it for hours.  I may have painted one of my brothers blue just to see what would happen.  It was a hugely transformative moment.  Indeed, I thought that was the greatest day of my life.  Until, that is, Mike Brady turned up.

If I’m being honest, I’d never heard of most of the players Mike decided to honour in song.  Kevin Murray, Keith Greg, Graeme ‘Polly’ Farmer and Peter Hudson were each sung about with great gusto and although I was unfamiliar with their work as footballers, Mike’s songs transformed them into grand mythical figures.  These were not men anymore but gods and heroes.  The songs had high-drama, tragedy and success against the odds.  The album made most operas seem as pedestrian as a trip down to the shops.  It was a triumph.

We played the record often.  At some point, my brother upped the ante, finding a microphone and plugging it in to the stereo, wailing along to ‘Flying High To Glory’ – a tune celebrating John Coleman – in a way that was so profoundly tuneless that our chickens stopped laying eggs for a time.

We loved the record as kids.  It’s fair to say that in the history of recorded music, there’s been no other like it.  Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is all well and good, but none of the songs mention Mr. Football, Teddy Whitten.  Granted, Led Zeppelin rocks like a three-legged chair but they never wrote a song called ‘Bobby Dazzler’ about South Melbourne’s three-time Brownlow medalist, Bob Skilton.  More’s the pity.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that an album about footballers peaked at a relatively modest forty-four on the charts, especially when ‘Baby Shark’ is the world’s most-watched YouTube video.  It makes no sense.  But as much fun as we had, we (eventually) grew up and put Mike Brady’s masterpiece quietly to one side.  There it might have remained, had Mike Brady himself not intervened.

The record belongs to my father but, for some time, my brother has been positioning himself as the rightful heir.  These manoeuvres can only be described as ‘Machiavellian’ in nature and make ‘Succession’ look like a veritable tea party by comparison.  For the most part, I have suffered this with good grace, until I received a message on my phone.  From Mike Brady.

It was a video.  In it, Mike addressed me directly, telling me that my brother, not I, should inherit his album and that I should come to terms with this reality.  I was incensed.  In a futile attempt to calm down, I immediately played ‘The Smurf Song’ at full volume but it was no use.  How dare he!  Mike Brady’s decision to interfere with the internal affairs of the broader McCullough family was nothing short of an outrage.  I’d half a mind to tell him to take his opinions and shove them fair up his Cazaly.

Cam, on the other hand, is cock-a-hoop.  He believes that enlisting Mike Brady to adjudicate our petty squabble is the ultimate power move.  He may be right.  But although he may one day have possession of ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’, there’s one thing he doesn’t have – a turntable on which to play it.  I’ll only say that if it stops him from singing along, it’s for the best.  I’m sure Mike would agree with that much.

Baby Shark – A Journey Into Madness

Even now, I can’t tell you how I did it.  By the grace of God, I managed to exist for five decades on this planet without ever hearing ‘Baby Shark’ from start to finish.  Granted, I’d heard people complain about it, describing how it’d taken over and, ultimately, ruined their lives.  I couldn’t understand their anguish or even imagine a world as hellish as the one they described.  That has now changed.

When you’re in a car, there’s nowhere to go.  This is ironic, because the whole point of a car is to go somewhere unless, of course, you’re stuck in traffic or trying to park.  But, in truth, what I mean is that in a car there’s nowhere to which you can escape.  You’re stuck, listening to whatever ear-melting musical demon the person in control of the stereo sees fit to conjure up.

We’ve developed a tradition whereby I surrender my phone and everyone else takes turns adding their song of choice to the queue.  That way, you’re all guaranteed to hear a tune you like at least once every six songs.  It sounds simple, but it’s not.  Sometimes, there are delightful surprises.  Sometimes, however, things take a darker turn and someone selects something they know is truly and irredeemably evil.

When it began, I had no idea what was happening.  Ignorance is not just bliss, but a form of self-deception that lets you wallow in a false sense of security when, by rights, you ought to be exiting the vehicle and running with your hands in the air, screaming.  In retrospect, I wish someone had invented airbags for ears that could be programmed to deploy whenever it senses the opening bars of ‘Baby Shark’.

The video for the Pinkfong version of ‘Baby Shark’ is the most watched video on YouTube of all time with some twelve billion views.  It is, I feel, definitive evidence that the Internet is fundamentally broken and should be abolished.  Upon learning this, I was both impressed with myself at avoiding it for so long and vaguely disappointed at how colossally out of touch I am.

For those of you who’ve assumed ‘Baby Shark’ is a relatively recent assault on the senses, it’s origins stretch right back to the movie ‘Jaws’.  It’s believed that in response to the Steven Spielberg munch-a-thon ‘Jaws’, camp counselors invented an early version of the song ‘Baby Shark’.  At that time, the song was reasonably gruesome and involved sailors being devoured and going to heaven where, presumably, the inhabitants get to spend eternity in perpetual bliss, never having to hear ‘Baby Shark’ ever again.

But when ‘Jaws’ was released, the Internet was yet to be invented.  Which, once again, goes to prove what a dead-set genius Spielberg is in anticipating viral marketing decades ahead of time.  It’s debatable as to whether ‘Jaws’ would have been more or less terrifying had it featured the song ‘Baby Shark’ rather than the score by John Williams.

Had ‘Baby Shark’ remained a campfire tune used to frighten city kids whilst away from their parents, most of us would never have heard of it and, I dare say, the world would be a better place.  But some people weren’t content to allow cat videos to run the Internet and tried to intervene by rolling out various versions of ‘Baby Shark’.  There was a 2007 edition by an artist called ‘Alemuel’.  It’s in German and is so darkly horrifying that it’s enough to make you avoid water for the rest of your life. 

A guy from upstate New York did his take on ‘Baby Shark’ way back in 2011.  It sounds a lot like the current version but the accompanying video features a middle-aged dude called ‘Johnny Only’ instead of cute children and, as a result, is nowhere near being the most watched YouTube video of all time.  This is a complete travesty.

The Pinkfong version – which is now regarded as definitive – was released in 2015.  It has now been viewed more than twelve billion times.  Which, by any measure, is a lot.  Originally, I made the mistake of thinking ‘Pinkfong’ was a band, but according to Wikipedia it’s an ‘education brand’.  In other words, it’s a company.  Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about corporate entities releasing songs, as it’s a role traditionally filled by musicians.  It’s not as though rock bands try and teach children to count.  Or, if they do, they rarely go beyond ‘one-two-three-four!’

It made me wonder – which video did ‘Baby Shark’ overtake when it was crowned the ‘most streamed video all time?’  I’m glad you asked.  It was ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi.  Despite racking up a respectable eight billion or so views, I’d never heard of it.  The video clip was okay, but Fonsi looked different than he used to when he lived in the room above the Cunningham’s garage.

When I hear ‘Baby Shark’, I am bewildered.  It’s as though everything I know about music is meaningless.  Worse still, I’ve started to feel sorry for sharks, generally.  Having gone so long without every being subjected to the aural atrocity that is ‘Baby Shark’, I can only hope that I can avoid it for another fifty years.  Here’s hoping.  Do do do do do do do.   

The Electric Nugget Defence – Art vs. Good Taste

Imagine this.  You’ve just gone through one of the most traumatic experiences of your adult life after finding an intruder in your living room.  After suffering the kind of full-tilt adrenalin surge you’d normally associate with skydiving or base-jumping; the type that leaves you numb, shaking and slightly disoriented, I managed to call the police.  They arrived quickly and were professional, polite and reassuring.  It was only as I sat down with the Senior Constable that I noticed the multiple paper cutouts of Donald Trump’s head spread out across my living room table.

I can explain.  But before I dive headlong into the specifics, I should provide something of a contextual overview.  Do you remember that your parents would insist you always wear clean underwear just in case you’re in a traffic accident?  It seems highly unlikely and, yet, you can’t be too careful.  The same goes for Donald Trump’s head.  He should always be packed away after use in the event you have to call the police unexpectedly at two o’clock in the morning. 

Having multiple portraits of the forty-sixth President littered across my dining room table like over-sized orange confetti is not my standard practice.  In this instance, there was a very specific reason as to why he was there.  I could beat around the George W. Bush but, instead, I’ll come right out and say it – I have a band.

It’s not just any band – it’s a musical ensemble that creates kids’ music.  The lynchpin of this musical powder keg is Liam.  He’s nine.  It’s his band.  He reminds me of this regularly whenever I start to get carried away.  Our band name – “The Electric Nuggets” – sums us up perfectly.  We’re the ultimate mix of high energy and fried snack foods.  Just like Nickelback.  Having ceded creative control to a nine-year-old boy, you can safely predict that certain themes will emerge in your songs. 

We’ll unleash our debut EP on an unsuspecting public in a couple of months.  So far, our tunes include ‘Spaghetti In My Hair’ and ‘Liam The Lego King’.  There’s one song we haven’t quite finished entitled ‘Men At Twerk’ that may turn out to be the greatest song ever written (we’ll see – it needs a bridge).  But the song that best defines us as a band and, possibly, as people is called ‘My Butt Cheeks’.

No one’s more surprised than I am.  When I first met Liam, he spent a lot of time either referring to, drawing, making fun of or seeking status updates on butt cheeks – both his own and those belonging to other people.  I found it confronting at first.  Then I kind of got used to it.  After a while, I was humming a tune to myself between meetings that gradually and inevitably evolved into a song. I then had to confess to Liam’s mother that I’d composed a tune entitled ‘My Butt Cheeks’. 

Conceptually, it’s quite simple.  Each verse includes a description of the aforementioned anatomical feature before the rejoinder ‘They’re my butt cheeks’ kicks in.  My current favourite is ‘When I get old they’re going to be antiques – they’re my butt cheeks’.  It is, of course, all done in the best possible taste.

Having written the song, we set about recording it.  Put simply, it was an absolute hoot.  There are slicing guitars and thundering drums, harmonies and slick bass lines, all in aid of a tune expressing a sentiment that’s all too rare since Sir Mixalot went into semi-retirement.  Having faithfully recorded our musical meisterwerk, our minds turned to promotion.  And, more specifically, to YouTube.

I’ve known about YouTube for some time but have only recently become aware of its near vice-like grip over anyone born in the present century.  As best I can tell, a lot of ‘YouTubers’ are unpleasant people who make fun of other people who made a not-very-good video.  A lot of it’s quite unpleasant.  But, so I was told, that’s how people experience music these days.  We’d need to make a film clip.

I had two ideas.  Firstly, we’d use pictures of things that resembled the human posterior but were, in fact, something else.  Fruit, a candle, trees and even and airship.  We’d intersperse those images with pictures of famous people.  The idea being that you’d see the face of a powerful person before a speech bubble appears with the words ‘They’re my butt cheeks’ written in capital letters.  But before shooting it, I had to see if the concept would work.  I needed to do a test run.

To aid my experiment, I printed off headshots of Donald Jehoshaphat Trump and Liam patiently cut them out.  We would test out our idea to see whether it was as hilariously awesome in practice as it was in theory.  I thought nothing of the fact that I now had multiple cutouts of a former President spread out across the table.  It’s not as though anyone would see them…

Nobody expects to be robbed.  And nobody expects to be caught with several cutouts of Donald Trump.  The police were incredibly polite but I felt the urge to explain.  ‘It’s for an art project!’ I blurted out.  Then I was silent.  The concept of ‘My Butt Cheeks’ is hard to explain to strangers in the best of circumstances, much less at two o’clock in the morning in the morning after a robbery.  I decided to let sleeping butt cheeks lie.  It’s for the best.  I’m sure Donald would agree.

Out Damn Spotify!

I love music.  I listen to it when I run, when I work and when I’m rambling around the house.  Even when I’m not plugged in, music runs through my head.  It’s to the point that when I sweat, crotchets and minims fall out of me.  But as much as I enjoy music, I hate being judged.  Which is why Spotify makes me feel so… uncomfortable.

Forget the fact that they pay the artist a rate so spectacularly miserly that even Scrooge would consider it ‘extreme’.  (Between 0.003 and 0.005 cents per stream.  Really.)  Or that it’s all based on algorithms that are designed to infiltrate your mind and steal your thoughts.  Those things may be disturbing and they keep me awake at night but, when all is said and done, it’s the end of year wrap that terrifies me.

It’s as insidious as it sounds.  Towards the end of the year, Spotify sends through a presentation that purports to sum up your entire year.  In short, it’s not so much a harmless Proustian remembrance of things past so much as it is a challenge to your very sense of self.  In short, I am not who my Spotify playlist says I am.

Because I use more than one service to listen to music, the results are inevitably and irretrievably skewed.  As a result, I discovered that I’m in the top five per cent of listeners of ‘The Dubliners’.  Worldwide.  This seems unlikely, even if I’m as fond of ‘Peggy Gordon’ as much as the next person.  But being in the top five per cent makes me sound like a dead-set fanatic.  That said, if it is true, then surely I should be awarded some kind of plaque.

My partner results were even worse.  According to Katrina’s end of year wrap, she’s in the top two percent of ‘Wiggles’ listeners.  That news should not be delivered by way of a short animated video but in person, preferably by a member of the band.  One morning you’d awake to the sound of the Big Red Car pulling up before Dorothy the Dinosaur rings the doorbell and hands you a muffin basket by way of congratulations.  Nice.

These results have left me feeling immensely self-conscious.  Every time I listen to a piece of music, I worry how it might impact my end of year results.  Granted, I might have listened to ‘Aga Do’ by Black Lace because somebody dared me to, but I certainly don’t want it on my permanent record.

Surely, the day cannot be far off when prospective employers consider not only your Linked In profile but your end of year Spotify wrap.  It would be beyond disappointing to miss out on a job because you’d listened to too much Juice Newton.  The world is awash with data that we can’t longer control but it’s not just that my every move is being monitored.  It’s that I’m being sabotaged that concerns me.

Last year, I wrote a song with my partner called ‘The Metal Song’.  It was for a theme night and was intended as a bit of fun.  We figured that there were lots of songs about silver and gold and very few songs about, say, praseodymium.  The verses listed all the silver and gold songs we could think of whilst the chorus celebrated ‘lesser known metals’.  But there was a sting in the tail.

At the very end, the song declares there’s one metal we won’t mention.  The metal in question is, of course, nickel; and the reason we wanted to avoid it is so as to put as much distance between ourselves and the band ‘Nickelback’ as possible.  The audience laughed and a lovely time was had by all.  I should have known better.

Having declared in public my deep-seeded distaste for Canada’s premier purveyors of mullet-rock, this information is now used against me on an almost-daily basis.  The young people in my life think there’s nothing funnier than to take my phone and line up as many Nickelback songs as possible. 

Nickelback have a song called ‘Photograph’ and it’s one of their biggest hits.  Did you know that there are at least thirty-seven different versions of ‘Photograph’ including remixes, unplugged versions and a spoken word rendition performed by Leonard Nimoy?  I certainly didn’t.  To listen to them all back to back is not so much a test of human endurance as it is outright torture.

Last Saturday, I started my car and within moments I was subjected to Nickelback’s ‘Rockstar’.  I immediately pulled the vehicle to the curb for health and safety reasons.  I now travel everywhere on foot as a precaution.

As disturbing as this is, I’m deeply worried that it’s going to wreak merry hell with my end of year Spotify list.  If I’m not careful, come December I’ll get the unwelcome news that I’m in the top 1% of Nickelback listeners with a working set of ears who resides outside Canada.  I’ll be ridiculed by people in passing cars.  That may, indeed, be how they remind me of the terrible situation I’m in.  I’m at a complete loss. 

To prevent this from happening, I’m now listening to ‘The Metal Song’ on Spotify continuously, both to block out Nickelback but also to earn myself 0.003 cents per stream.  Which is handy.  By the end of the year, I’ll have earned almost a nickel.  Which is a whole lot better than earning a Nickelback.

Now that the inevitable alien invasion is upon us…

Tough.  If you were hoping that 2023 would be, by some miraculous dent of good fortune, less crazy than 2022, you are fresh out of luck.  After the collective iceberg lettuce frenzy and communal freak-out that defined last year, we now find ourselves besieged with balloons.  They are, it seems, everywhere and are readying themselves to attack.  I, for one, am determined not to be taken prisoner by alien spacecraft.  Again.  For that reason, I am digging a bunker in the backyard which, given that it’s mostly concrete, is quite difficult.

I’ll admit I’m rattled.  This whole balloon thing has both come out of nowhere and come out of the sky completely without warning.  It’s undermining my sense of confidence.  Of the phrases I never expected to hear in my life, ‘spy balloon’ is right up there with ‘nuclear-fueled spatula’ and ‘guerilla buttons’. Once, I only had warm feelings for balloons.  Now I’m convinced they’re not to be trusted. 

Worse still, I’m becoming suspicious of not only balloons but party accessories more generally.  The thought of party blower sends a shiver down my spine, to say nothing of the wretched, raucous noise that it makes.  Conical hats are no longer just a bit of fun but thought-controlling mind clamps.  The less said about streamers the better.  It begs the question: how exactly did we get here?

  A couple of weeks ago, a balloon appeared over North America.  It was no ordinary balloon.  Hovering high above the earth, it was claimed that it’d been sent by another country to spy.  This alters my understanding of spying entirely.  James Bond would be a very different proposition if, instead of running around and blowing things up, he was filled with helium and just floated around all day.  Chances are he’d also sound different.  No one would take him seriously if he said his name was ‘Bond, James Bond’ in a voice that sounded like a cross between a jockey and a chipmunk.

The spy balloon wafted around for a while, presumably collecting data, stealing people’s dreams and hiding their car keys.  Even the fact that an iceberg lettuce only costs two dollars a head was not enough to prevent people from descending into a full-blown panic.  The balloon had to be stopped.  Preferably with an awe-inspiring display of force.

As soon as it was safe to do so, the balloon was blown out of the sky.  Presumably lasers and Luke Skywalker were involved.  Then, within days, there were balloons popping up all over the place.  Alaska, the Canadian border and in the drawing room with a butcher’s knife; it suddenly seemed as though North America was being invaded by balloons. Much like that scene at the end of Ghostbusters where the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attacks New York, it now appeared that balloons had come to wreak vengeance on an unsuspecting world.

They didn’t remain airbourne for long.  These balloons, too, were soon dispatched to balloon heaven by cutting edge military technology.  As someone who often has his balloon burst, I can’t help but wonder if there was a more cost efficient way to bring these things back to earth.  I find a nasty remark often does the trick.  I’d like to think that rather than a conventional weapon, the armed forces used something more appropriate to the threat they were facing.  Like a giant safety pin.

Now that balloons are no longer objects of harmless whimsy but threats against humanity, things will have to change.  Children’s birthday parties will only occur under military escort, lest a balloon should attempt to escape.  Heaven help the child who accidentally looses control of a helium-filled balloon only to watch it float off into space.  Whereas the loss of the balloon was once considered punishment enough, these kids now run the risk of being declared enemies of the state.

After a week of balloon-mania things got even worse.  A White House spokesperson stated that there was “no indication of alien or extraterrestrial activity” which is exactly what you’d say if you’d just taken E.T. into custody. Rather than ruling out aliens, they made it sound as if they were waiting for the results to come back from the lab.  Turns out we were way off with all that ‘flying saucer’ malarkey.  ALF is coming back in something built for comfort rather than speed.

Things may well escalate.  Now that the cat is well and truly out of the balloon about the whole alien thing, I feel they might try and provoke us.  Surely the day can’t be too far off when giant balloon animals slowly float into view, casting a large and malevolent shadow over the city.  These mega-balloon animals won’t be cute horses or dogs, but aggressive, feral creatures such as weasels and marmots, with huge, gigantic teeth that threaten us all.

Granted, you probably think I’m letting my imagination get the better of me.  It’s probably true.  One thing’s for sure – I’ll never look at Mr. Gasbo the same way again.  Before long, they’ll probably reveal that these balloons are escaped thought bubbles from the mind of Elon Musk.  So be it.  But until that happens, leave me to my panic and, whatever you do, don’t burst my balloon.

When Rock Stars Attack!  A Message to Roger Waters

Thank goodness for rock stars!  If they’re not ridding the world’s hotels of unwanted televisions by selflessly tossing them out windows into swimming pools, they’re devoting themselves to acts of spectacular self-righteousness.  Take Roger Waters.  Please.  Preferably somewhere far, far away where he doesn’t have access to the Internet or humanity more generally.  Somewhere where he’ll be required to keep his thoughts to himself.

Roger Waters used to play bass for Pink Floyd.  Until, that is, he left in 1985.  Since then, his major hobbies have included being ridiculously rich and foisting his ill-informed opinions on anyone unfortunate enough to possess a working set of ears.  Frankly, he’s the kind of dinner guest that makes you want to hide in the broom closet, lest you should be stuck listening to his incessant waffle all night as you try and keep your food down.

Roger, apparently, has a view on the current invasion of Ukraine.  I suppose that’s true for lots of people.  But instead of dribbling his useless, malformed opinions on other late night bar patrons after him performing a bass rendition of ‘I Wish You Were Here’ on open-mic Tuesday, Roger decided he should share them with the United Nations Security Council. 

Getting up and addressing the UN Security Council isn’t something you or I can do whenever the mood takes us.  In fact, it’s not something that even Roger Waters – despite his wealth, privilege and the fact that he knows Van Morrison – can do at the drop of a hat.  He went because he was invited to go.  By Russia.

Some invitations should be treated with suspicion.  In the case of Roger Waters, he should certainly be pickier as to the invitations he takes up.  For someone who advocates boycotting Israel, his willingness to accept an invitation from Russia is not so much disappointing as it is head-smackingly bizarre.

For those who are unaware, Russia is currently controlled by certified cretin and former shirtless back up dancer for Soviet pop sensations ‘Tatu’, Vladimir Putin.  A lying ruthless autocrat responsible for misery and mayhem the world over, he’s essentially a super-villain who’s only missing a hairless cat to stroke as he chuckles maniacally.  Vladimir Putin is not the kind of person you want to invite you for a day out at the United Nations.  Not under any circumstance.  Nevertheless, he called and Roger came-a-running.  The fool.

Here’s a tip – when invited by a murderous tyrant to address the Security Council, give careful thought to saying ‘no’.  You’re not being asked because they drew your name out of a hat.  Roger Waters hadn’t won a prize.  He was asked so that whatever he said would benefit those who asked him to come in the first place.  Tragically, he made the mistake of thinking he’d been asked by Russia because they were genuinely fascinated to hear what he had to say.  As though they’d never heard any of his solo works.

I’m sure he saw this as his chance to promote peace or, alternatively, a new single.  He’s desperately unqualified.  Pink Floyd are not known for being peaceful.  If anything, they’re infamous for their intensely visceral hatred for other.  They’re the kind of band who’d spend days squabbling over what kind of sandals to wear. 

Perhaps I’m being too harsh.  Maybe Roger Waters is trying to diversify, now that interest in seeing yet another touring rendition of ‘The Wall’ is waning.  I can imagine his newly printed business card – ‘Roger Waters: Bass player, diplomat at large.’  As for the speech itself, he conceded the invasion was illegal but described it as ‘not unprovoked’. 

This is possibly the stupidest thing anyone’s said to the Security Council since Henry Kissinger recited the lyrics to Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cock-Eyed Optimist’ in an ultimately futile attempt to persuade Mao Zedong to crack a smile.  It is a substantial irony that a man who once penned the words ‘We don’t need no education’ feels compelled to be both uninformed and opinionated.  It’s a terrible combination.

You’ve probably gathered that I’m annoyed with Roger Waters.  To be silly enough to do the bidding of a foul and despicable tyrant and the man most likely to steal pretzels from a child is one thing.  But to suggest a country that has been ruthlessly invaded, its people massacred and way of life generally blown to smithereens somehow had it coming is simply unforgivable.  I’m so enraged that if I had ever listened to Roger Waters’ music, I’d vow never to do so again.

 What’s next?  If Roger Waters can address the UN Security Council, can we expect to see Britney Spears as a member of the AFL Tribunal?  Snoop Dogg at Senate Estimates?  Now that would be something.  But if I could say just one thing to former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters it would be this: please stop.  Now.

The Fat Possum Stabiliser Bolt Debacle

Moving house sucks.  In fact, according to my chiropractor, moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do, along with changing jobs and getting divorced.  Given the circumstances, I decided to avoid changing jobs – two out of three is bad enough and a clean sweep would be overkill.

To be honest, I’m not sure why my chiropractor was so concerned.  If anything, he stood to get a substantial windfall by my moving house.  Inevitably, I’d overdo it and require his services if I were to have any chance of standing fully upright ever again. 

For several weeks, I judged everything I owned in terms of whether it was worth packing or should be recycled into oblivion.  My choices were, it must be said, somewhat arbitrary.  I kept the school project from when I was seven – a short story about a magical sheep (and, let’s face it, ‘Avengers’ would have been vastly improved had more farmyard animals been involved).  Other more useful items didn’t make the cut, mostly clothes.  It wasn’t that I’d grown out of them physically as much as mentally.  Suffice to say that I ended up with a bag labeled ‘shirts of regret’.

What’s especially terrifying about moving is the risk of some kind of condition or requirement you simply cannot satisfy.  A couple of weeks before the big day, I read through a checklist from the movers and a chill went down my spine.  In big bold print, it warned me to make certain the washing machine had its stabiliser bolts.  These are, apparently, essential for ensuring that the washing barrel maintains its balance and preventing a disturbance to the space/time continuum.  Frankly, it sounds like something we could all use.

To find the stabiliser bolts I had to imagine what I might have done two years earlier.  This involved putting myself in my own shoes – many of which I’d already packed – and summoning up my earlier self.  It was simple.  Some objects demand pride of place, hung on a wall or displayed on a mantle piece.  Other items are mysterious and there’s only one place they can go – the bottom drawer in the kitchen.

Batteries, odd bits of string and washing machine stabiliser bolts – they all belong in the bottom drawer.  It’s the place to put anything you don’t need yet don’t feel you can throw out.  I’d packed the bottom drawer a week earlier, but knew which box held its assortment of weird contents.  Rifling through the menagerie of oddities, I soon found a bag of alien-looking plastic brackets and long, silver bolts.  I knew in an instant these were stabiliser bolts.

It was a miracle.  Now my washing machine would finally have the stability it so richly deserved, even if I didn’t.  I continued packing, a task that seemed infinite.  Given the enormity of the task, it was difficult to believe that I’d been here for a little less than two years.  I had arrived at a time of crisis and was leaving not just with my dignity intact but entirely repaired. 

The act of packing forces you to confront things you’ve successfully ignored for ages.  Some objects hadn’t been unpacked after my last move, remaining veritable moths inside their plastic tub cocoons.  It’s a melancholy business.  Eventually, my house was a sea of boxes and neatly stacked items, patiently awaiting transportation to their new home.  I was almost ready.

I was asleep when I heard it; a scratching at the front door.  It sounded like a very large and grumpy possum, so I ignored it.  Then the sound seemed to move.  From the front to the side until I thought I could hear creaking at the back.  As possums go, it was clearly very active.  I decided to investigate. 

When I move around at night, I’m like a ninja.  I never turn the lights on.  Instead, I rely on my enhanced panther-like senses to navigate through the darkness.  As I got to the kitchen, I could see through the night shadows that the back door was wide open.  Worse still, the possum in question was about six feet tall, standing on two legs and in the middle of my living room.

I wish I could say that I remained cool and said something awesome like, ‘Big mistake’ or ‘You’ve just made a very powerful enemy’, but instead I yelled ‘Hey!’ at the top of my lungs.  The intruder bolted.  I quickly locked the door before realising that there may be others still inside.  Turning on all the lights I could, I inspected every nook and cranny until I was satisfied I was alone.  It was only then that my thoughts turned to whether anything might be missing.  Turns out, he’d taken my car key (but not the car) and a clip containing my license, ATM card and gym membership. 

Thankfully, the dirty varmint didn’t steal the washing machine stabiliser bolts.  Perhaps he was ignorant as to their value.  Maybe he doesn’t wash his clothes.  Either way, the bolts remained mine.  Never before in the history of humankind has there been a better time to move house.  As I write this, I can hear the washing machine gently whirring away, everything perfectly balanced.  I feel exactly the same way.

What the Dickens – From Listless Christmas Past to Glorious Present

Charles Dickens is a bona fide nitwit.  In his book, ‘A Christmas Carol’, not only did he forget to include a character named ‘Carol’, he victimized a man of advanced years just because he was thrifty.  Granted, ‘A Christmas Scrooge’ sounds somewhat unsavoury, but in less judgmental times Ebenezer Scrooge would have been lauded as a fiscally conservative hero.  Worse still, Dickens needlessly uses ghosts to transport our misunderstood protagonist to the past, present and future.  It’s totally pointless – Christmas has always been about time travel. 

There’s no other day of the year that can move you so effortlessly from one point in your life to another.  No matter what age you are, you can feel like a child again, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment.  Charles Dickens knew that.  But I don’t need a ghost to help me see Christmases past, present and future.  For me, seeing the past, present and future is what the day is all about.  Christmas is a signpost, a crossroad and gigantic roundabout with a tramline running through it (possibly) all at once.  It’s a day that tells you where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going.  It’s glorious.

The sense of nostalgia is especially potent at my father’s house.  That’s partly because he still uses the same artificial tree and decorations he did when we were kids.  I realize that the very notion of an artificial tree can be controversial to some, but their allure lies in the promise that you’ll never have to buy another Christmas tree again.  My father has taken that promise to heart.  In the four decades since he purchased his artificial tree, the plastic needles have fallen away, leaving what’s left totally denuded and looking like a demented TV antennae.  That it he sets it up whenever he wants to watch something on SBS only entrenches this impression further.

 It’s not just the tree.  As kids, we were required to remove the wrapping paper with the utmost care, ensuring no rips or tears.  It was a task we approached with all the caution of a member of the bomb squad.  He even gave us each a scalpel.  This has enabled my father to reuse the same paper numerous times over the subsequent decades.  There’s an upside.  These days it can be difficult to secure a supply of ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ wrapping paper, but each year I can rely on my gifts being swaddled in cartoon images of Steve Austin.  It’s comforting.

Other things change quickly.  Two years ago, I headed down to family Christmas on my own.  It was a difficult day but, luckily, I had Steve Austin wrapping paper to look forward to.  A year later, I was arriving in a small minivan full of people.  It was to be an entirely different experience.  A better one.  Twelve months earlier, I’d driven down with just my thoughts for company.  It was a lousy experience.  In contrast, the following year was full of colour, movement and chaos. 

Arriving with such a large entourage was new for me.  I’ll admit there were moments that caught me off guard.  Especially when the eight year old loudly declared that his seventeen-year-old sibling had an image on his cap that, for reasons associated with good taste, I’ll simply describe as a ‘Dickens’.  The picture had been drawn on with black texta and, hopefully, was not to scale.  It was a moment of great excitement that resulted in some rather heated discussion. 

As to why the image of a male appendage had been drawn on the hat or why this hat had been selected for Christmas lunch was never explained, as the seventeen year old kept his thoughts to himself.  In a moment of panic, his sister snatched the cap and used a marker to turn the offending image into holly.  By the time she was done, it looked quite festive.  With the stroke of a pen, the Dickens had become decorative.  A Christmas miracle!

Truth be told, I’ve always loved Christmas.   But there were times when my family was no good at it.  For a little while, after we all left home, we struggled to come together on Christmas Day.  Looking back, I’ve no idea why that was.  What I know, however, is that it all changed when the first nephew arrived; Christmas was instantly reinvigorated with purpose and meaning.  It’s been that way ever since.  Christmas is a malleable thing.  It changes as we do.

I’m looking forward to all of it.  The threadbare tree skeleton that haunts the living room as presents spill out across the carpet.  The sound of children and (possibly) adults screaming with delight as they shred wrapping paper with merciless vigour (my father is more relaxed when it comes to wrapping paper these days), the decorations and the festive jumpers and t-shirts.  Crackers and tinsel, baubles and pudding, and even hats that have a giant Dickens drawn on them.  I can’t wait.  And, when it’s done, I’ll find a moment to sit down with one of my all-time favourite books – ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens and marvel at the transformative nature of good will and generosity of spirit.  Then before I go to bed, I’ll likely read the last line of that great book aloud – God bless us.  Every one!

  The Adversarial Anniversary

Ultimately we all want the same thing.  No matter who we are or where we come from, deep within each of us is a burning desire to live our best life.  The hope that we might do so is the very thing that sustains us and drives to get up in the morning to put our pants on, one leg at a time.  Granted, I’m overlooking ambi-trousered freaks that put their pants on, both legs simultaneously.  Those people can’t be trusted. 

But as much we may strive to live the best life we can with whatever meagre talents the Universe has seen fit to bestow upon us, what if there was an alternative?  What if, instead of living your best life, you had the chance to live somebody else’s?

We went out to lunch.  It was a glorious occasion.  The sun was shining, the birds were singing and I’d managed to secure a midday booking.  As we arrived, the waitress stepped towards us with a grin as wide as the ocean and declared ‘happy anniversary!’  She sounded so incredibly certain.  It seemed rude to disagree.  So despite the fact that our lunch was not adjacent to anything you could fairly describe as an ‘anniversary’, we nodded and simply said ‘thanks’.

I realize there were other options.  It would be possible, for example, to take umbrage.  Take it where, I couldn’t say, but definitely take umbrage somewhere.  By wishing us a happy anniversary at a time wholly unrelated to our anniversary, they had clearly mistaken us for two other people.  Some folk might react to a case of mistaken identity by saying something regrettable like, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’  Unfortunately, if you ever find yourself in a situation where it’s necessary to ask ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ the answer is, inevitably, either ‘no’ or ‘I don’t care’.  No good can come of it.  Ever.

A better reaction might have been to ask who we were.  Or, at any rate, who she thought we were.  Instead, we accepted the misplaced warm wishes, believing we’d heard the last of it.  Tragically, we were wrong.

Clearly the couple we had been mistaken for had decided to go all out.  I knew we were in trouble when a plate of food arrived with the words ‘happy anniversary’ written in what I think may have been a mix of truffle oil, a balsamic reduction and unicorn tears (possibly).  It must have taken them ages.  The lettering was so precise and perfect, it almost seemed a shame to ruin it with a piece of char grilled asparagus.  Only as I pushed the food into my mouth did I notice what I think might have been a tear in the waiter’s eye.

We had only just started the main course when I realized we were surrounded.  What seemed to be every staff member in the entire restaurant had encircled our table, singing ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ in perfect three-part harmony.  Their voices rang out as other people began to cheer them on.  Clearly, we were stuck in the middle of something we couldn’t control.

On the one hand, it’s nice to be showered with praise, even if it’s undeserved.  On the other, it’s impossible not to reflect on the fact that there were two other restaurant patrons to whom all this acclaim and love rightly belonged.  Doubtless, they felt aggrieved as they watched us bathe in the good wishes of others and wondered when someone might get around to wishing them ‘Happy Anniversary’.  They’d be waiting a long time.

I started to panic.  Drops of sweat appeared like rivets on my brow.  Granted, the salad was a bit heavy handed on the chili, but I was suffering under the weight of my conscience and I wanted the madness stop before our ruse was uncovered.  I considered trying to sneak out before dessert, except they asked if we’d pose for photos with the kitchen staff and the patrons.  I got up to go to the bathroom and they released a hundred white doves in my honour.  Talk about awkward.

Other guests were lining up to get a Selfie with us.  I felt embarrassed.  I felt ashamed.  Indeed, I lost all Selfie respect as I grinned my way through the afternoon.

Ultimately it was too much, we were stealing somebody else’s big day.  Not out of malice but because we didn’t want to tell the waitress she’d made a mistake.  An announcement was in order.  Standing on my chair, I cleared my throat and confessed that we were imposters.  The couple by the window shouted ‘yes’ in full-throated vindication and punched the sky, almost hitting a low flying dove.

Having confessed to wrongfully inhabiting somebody else’s life for a few hours, I would now have to accept my just desserts.  Which, in this case, was a vanilla chocolate mousse with berry compote.  There was another message, this time written in what I hoped was chocolate – ‘Get out’ it read.  Normally, it’s the patron that tips the staff, but this was a tip I was more than willing to take.

I’d like to formally apologise to the couple whose anniversary we inadvertently (at least tot begin with) stole.  If there’s anything we can do make it up to you both, please don’t hesitate to ask.  If you’d like a full fork-by-fork description of the meal or would like one of the doves back so you can raise it as your own, you need only ask.  Think of it as our gift to you.  Happy anniversary.

From Hero to Zero – Great Dining Debacles

It seemed so innocent.  A simple email arrived in my inbox without warning or fanfare.  Little did I know that it was a veritable poison pill whose sole purpose was to heap shame and ignominy on me like I was a nature strip and they were seeking to dispose of their hard rubbish after two years of lockdowns.  Put simply, it was a lot.  And to think, it started with a dinner at a swanky Melbourne restaurant.

I suffer a severe form of imposter syndrome.  In fact, my condition is so acute that I feel like a fraud even having imposter syndrome.  It means that when I go out to a fancy-pants restaurant for a special occasion, I can never quite get over the feeling that I don’t belong there and that all the staff and the other patrons know it too.  I don’t know whether it’s because I lack experience or because I always insist on wearing fly fishing wader pants when I eat out since it’s so much easier to mop up the inevitable spillage; I just never really fit in.

Like any good imposter, I like to do my best.  When ordering from the menu, I always try to pronounce the words if not correctly then, at least, convincingly.  In this case, the menu was in Italian (except for the word ‘menu’ itself which is of French origin) and I was determined to do it justice.  But before I knew it, my lips were tripping over syllables and consonants resulting in the kind of heinous alphabet soup that, for sure, what not featured on the menu.  To seem even more genuine, there may also have been hand gestures on my part, which I now concede were regrettable.

But despite the fact that I was something of a fraud, we had a really tremendous night.  The food was exquisite and there was something quite glorious about the very fact of being in a restaurant at all.  We had a wonderful time, and spilled out into the street, happy and content.  Then the email arrived.

The email came from the fancy restaurant.  It included a heart-warming message, thanking us for dining with them and hoping that we enjoyed our recent dining experience.  Then they sunk the boot in.  The email went on to say, ‘You’ve just earned 0 points’.  The zero was bolded just to drive the point home.  Granted, I had no idea when I went there that by chowing down on their food, there were points up for grabs, but now that I do, I really want some.  I’m even prepared to return the bread in exchange for points, if that helps.  But bread or no bread, it seems our attendance wasn’t enough to render us ‘point worthy’.

It was strange, I thought.  On the one hand, they were emailing me to thank us for dining at their restaurant whilst, at the same time, refusing to recognize us by giving us zero points.  My first instinct was to demand answers.  But then I paused and thought better of it.  Perhaps, I reasoned, it was better not to know why I’d been denied points.

I could imagine it – me, pleading my case in a lengthy email and them, in an equally loquacious reply, revealing the depravity that led to me having my points withheld.  ‘Sorry sir’, the response would begin.  ‘We’ve recently learned that two days after you dined at our high-end restaurant, you purchased a three-piece feed from something called “KFC” and, as a result, you have been disqualified.  Goodbye.’ 

It could have been so much worse.  If they’d been aware of the number of times I’ve devoured an entire box of barbecue shapes on a Friday night and called that ‘dinner’, I doubt I’d have ever been permitted to set foot in the joint to begin with.  I’d have been removed forcibly if they’d known how often I’d ordered an ‘Aussie’ from the pizzeria because I truly, genuinely believe that egg and shredded ham belong together.  The less said about all the times as a kid (and, also, possibly not as a kid) I ate Nutella from the jar using only my finger, the better.  Forget points.  Had they known about the ‘Nutella fiasco’, I’d have been banned for life.

Then, unbelievably, it got worse.  This was not the first time we’d gone to this very fancy Melbourne restaurant.  In fact, we’d gone there almost exactly twelve months earlier to celebrate the same very important occasion.  This, I feel, makes us regulars.  But despite this, having now told me that my attendance had just earned me ‘zero’ points, the email went on to say that this would be added to my current balance of  ‘zero points’. 

Not only were they refusing to recognize that I’d been there this week, they were now asserting that I’d never been there.

Ultimately, I feel the fault may be mine.  When they served us the artisan bread, I should not have sent back the butter and demand a tub of ‘Flora’ instead.  When the scallops arrived, I should have restrained myself from requesting a potato cake.  And when my exquisite spaghetti marinara appeared, I should not have demanded a bottle of White Crow tomato sauce.  Be that as it may, I regret nothing.  Eating out is not just a matter of ‘what’ or ‘where’ but also ‘who’.  And in terms of the ‘who’, I couldn’t have been happier.  That, after all, is what counts.  And with that said, I feel I’ve made my (zero) points.