A Farewell To (Bending) Arms

Looking back, I failed.  Failure, it must be said, is something of a broad proposition; on the one hand you can just fall short and comfort yourself that you’ll do better next time, or; you can go so spectacularly wide of the mark that your failure is an achievement of itself.  If that all sounds confusing, think of it in ‘Birdman Rally’ terms.  Some entrants in the Birdman Rally soar majestically and when they fall, we’re inevitably disappointed.  We are poisoned by a sense of a potential that’s not been realized.  Other contestants fall off the platform into the river and never stood a chance and we cheer.  I was the latter.

I speak, of course, of alcohol.  If I’m being completely honest, I was never any good at it.  Two years ago, as the pandemic came down with all the subtlety of a lead balloon, I gave it up. There was, at the time, something of an extended social license to get stuck into the liquor to cope with such perverse and unusual circumstances.  Whilst I realize that ‘quarantinis’ were a comfort to some, I went the other way. It may have been my rebellious streak kicking in.

It was, I think, something I could control at a time when everything else seemed out of control.  In the movies, such things only happen when the protagonist not so much hits rock bottom as crashes straight through it, before plunging into the depths of hell and reluctantly deciding to change their ways.  It was different for me.  Instead of reaching rock bottom, I kind of lost interest.  Two years later, I think I’m ready to accept that my days of drinking alcohol are behind me.  As such, I must now come to terms with the fact that there are certain things I’ll never achieve.

I longed to understand spirits.  Whiskey, gin and vodka – you name it; I found them all absolutely intriguing. All those movies where sophisticated urbanites meet for cocktails, witty banter and dancing to jazz – that’s who I wanted to be.  I desperately wanted to be the one in the crowded room holding the glass of some exotic liquor who was, somehow, above whatever else might be happening at that moment.  It just didn’t happen.  I was rubbish with spirits.

I tried my sincere best to like whiskey, but it didn’t work out.  At the risk of sounding like a total neophyte, it felt like trying to suck down a tumbler of petroleum.  Instead of looking like an urbane intellectual giant, each time I took a sip, my face bore the expression of someone who’d just swallowed a lemon and the tree it grew on.  Getting to the end of a glass of whiskey was an act of endurance rather than enjoyment.  I watched on as friends became connoisseurs, even going so far as to discuss their preferred brands and the great whiskey-producing regions of the world.  The way they spoke made the stuff sound like the highly intoxicating nectar of the gods.  But it all tasted like premium unleaded to me.  

Vodka was something I always experienced more by accident than design.  I don’t recall ever electing to buy vodka; rather, it would simply materialize in the cupboard from time to time.  Gin was, without doubt, the sneakiest of them all. I never knew where I stood with gin, right up to the point that I could no longer stand at all.  One minute you’re wondering whether someone substituted the hard stuff for water, the next your tongue has inflated like an airbag and you can no longer speak.  

Red wine was my absolute favourite.  It was how I ended most weeks for a very long time.  Like a starter’s pistol, a glass of red wine was tangible evidence that the weekend had finally arrived.  Often, I’d fall asleep on the couch on a Friday night, a glass of red wine by my side.  I’d thought that maybe I’d been drinking too quickly but I’ve since discovered that, alcohol or not, I’m still likely to nod off in front of the TV on Fridays.  

Special mention must be made of beer.  In many respects, beer is a lot like love in that it too is a many splendoured thing.  At the right moment, beer can be extraordinary; the first sip on a hot day or the way it melts when it’s poured into a cold glass.  Having said that, I don’t especially miss the way it sits like lead in your body when you’re tired or how it makes you supernaturally flatulent.  I have, instead, discovered a host of non-alcoholic beers that are actually pretty great. 

When I first stopped drinking alcohol, it was like a test to see how long I could go without.  I marked the days off the calendar with a texta.  Now, after two years, I’m enjoying not ever having to think about alcohol.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting for a moment that other people shouldn’t drink.  But, for me, I’m glad to be done with it.

Thinking about it now, there were times in my twenties when I deliberately misunderstood the term ‘alcohol free’.  Things have definitely changed.  For the better, I think.  I’ve no idea whether this will be forever but, for the moment at least, it feels like one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If that means I can never be the whiskey-sipping sophisticated urbanite of my dreams, so be it.  Frankly, failure never felt so good.  Cheers.

‘My Humps’ by The Black Eyed Peas – A Reappraisal

There are moments that define us all.  Events that are so momentous, they change the course of human history.  These things act as signposts in our lives and, once they occur, we can never go back.  They are proof that, as a species, we are continuing to evolve, even when ‘Married At First Sight’ provides such persuasive evidence to the contrary.  The moon landing. The day Nelson Mandela walked free from Victor Verster Prison.  Every movie ever made featuring The Muppets.  

We often choose to interpret historic events personally.  It’s just the way human beings process things that are otherwise beyond comprehension.  Often, it’s by what we were doing when we learned a certain thing has happened.  ‘Where were you when?’ is a small step towards understanding the unfathomable.  It applies equally to the traumatic as it does to the beautiful.  It even applies to songs.  And now that enough time has passed and we have, collectively, gathered our senses, I believe it’s time to ask: what were you doing when The Black Eyed Peas released ‘My Humps’?

For those unfamiliar with ‘My Humps’, I think I can speak for everyone who has when I say: I envy you. However it is that you managed to avoid being exposed to this most ubiquitous of ear worms, keep doing it; even if it means never leaving the house or turning on a television again. Stay golden.  Because once heard, it cannot be unheard.  It is a song that can never be forgotten; which is both part of its charm and its unique evil genius. 

‘My Humps’ is a song. It goes for about four minutes but, if I’m being honest, it feels like much longer.  In fact, it feels like it took less time to get through High School than it does to listen to ‘My Humps’ from start to finish.  It’s an ordeal.  Like running a marathon or walking across a desert or watching ‘The Real Housewives of Anywhere’, it’s something you’ll come to regret. Quickly.

Its starts with what can only be described as a ‘sassy, hip hop beat’.  As rhythms go, this one is intoxicating.  As a rapper myself, there’s nothing I appreciate more than a great beat.  Then comes the question: ‘What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?’ For those of you envisaging old newspapers in the back of a Ford Focus, think again.  The trunk in question is a reference to what might be politely described as someone’s ‘trouser hams’ and ‘junk’ is a reference to the dimensions of said hams.  

Every question deserves an answer and in this case, the answer is ‘I’m gonna get you drunk, get you love drunk off my hump.’  To drive the point home, the term ‘my hump’ is then repeated eight times in a row without so much as a commercial break to avoid monotony.  For those of you who are perplexed by so strange a mantra, the ‘hump’ in question does not belong to a camel (although it would make for an awesome video if it did) but the singer.  It is, in fact, a reference to the physical human form and its intoxicating effect on others.  

The verse begins.  It is, in many respects, an expansion on the previous answer.  The singer describes her treatment by male suitors and their willingness to spend money in a bid to secure her attention. Suddenly, it becomes clear that this arrangement is not as spontaneous as it first appears but a condition precedent.  The point is made with absolute precision when the singer croons that they can ‘keep on dating’ if her suitor keeps on ‘demonstrating’.  Now I love economics as much as the next person, and it’s great to the principles of supply and demand included in a pop song, but I’m not sure what John Maynard Keynes would make of it.  As it turns out, the currency for affection is ‘my humps’ which, if I’m being honest, is probably a more reliable than crypto-currency. 

The rapper who posed the original question is probably regretting having opened his mouth at this point.  He laments the amount of money he’s spending, effectively complaining that he is subject to a form of economic duress.  The singer proves unsympathetic, making it clear that any action that goes beyond the scope of their unspoken agreement will result in ‘drama’.  She then adds ‘you don’t want no drama’. No, I certainly don’t.

The whole thing wraps up with about another thousand references to ‘my humps’, after which the listener will need to detoxify their ears if they ever wish to see another day during which the words ‘my humps’ doesn’t leap into their mind.  

In some respects, ‘My Humps’ is a song of empowerment and sound financial management.  In every other respect, however, it’s an earworm that can only be removed with the help of an exorcist.  Some twenty years later, I think of it often.  It’s partly a testament to the enduring power of the song and partly because I hear it regularly after Monaco adopted it as their National Anthem in 2012.  In retrospect, ‘My Humps’ perfectly described a particular mindset at a point in time.  It did so perfectly. And as much as I respect its genius, I’d very much like to never hear it again.  You best avoid playing it.  Because, after all, you don’t want no drama.

The Flying Folk Club Spandex Spectacular

The moment has arrived.  After three decades of retirement, I am returning to the stage.  I’m not sure I’m ready.  And I’m certain the gig-going public are equally unprepared for the musical maelstrom that’s about to be unleashed.  Doubtless, there will yelling, screaming and thrashing about – that’s certainly the way audiences used to react to my efforts. Luckily, I have lots of experience. 

Musicians are often lured out of retirement with the promise of obscene riches.  Not me.  My glorious return has been secured on the vague promise of a complimentary counter meal.  I’m pretty sure The Eagles insisted on more than a chicken parma before agreeing to play ‘Hotel California’ for the three millionth time.  In actual fact, I’ll be paying to play.  Whilst shelling out your own hard-earned cash is not very rock roll, even the most hardcore musician must accept that there are reasonable administrative fees associated with these kinds of events.  Rock on!

I agreed to perform at a folk club theme night.  I have never before performed at a folk club theme night.  But I’m going to assume that a gig is a gig and it’ll be much the same as the gigs I played in the eighties.  Which is when I last performed.  Suffice to say, I’m quietly confident that I won’t be the only performer on the night wearing spandex.  Or who brings home made pyrotechnics.  I plan to arrive early so I can attach a cable to the roof, which I’ll connect to harness so as to recreate ‘The Flying Jon’ from the ‘Living In A Prayer’ video by Bon Jovi.  You can learn a lot from that music video.  Or, if not a lot, then how to fly out over an audience.

The theme for the night was ‘metals’.  Given my experience out the front of a hard rock combo in the metal era, this was clearly playing to my strengths. Unfortunately, the rules required that the song reference a metal of some kind rather than the band itself, completely ruining my plan to do an entire set of Nickelback songs on ukulele and washboard.  We asked to do ‘Brass in Pocket’ but someone else had already claimed it. We were left with no choice – we would need to write our own song.

As themes go, ‘metals’ is interesting.  There are lots of songs about gold and silver. There’s at least one about titanium.  Maybe copper, too. But there are plenty of metals that never get a look in.  It was time to set the second straight.  

We decided to write verses that referenced other musicians and their metal songs.  It resulted in lines such as ‘Bing Crosby’s Silver Bells, is a journey into hell’ and ‘If you want to keep it classy, then sing some Shirley Bassey’.  That kind of thing. For the chorus, we listed less popular metals like Zinc, Praseodymium and Gadolinium, noting that incorporating them into a song could see you become ‘Tungsten tied’.  We were all set to perform.

The great thing about spandex is that it stretches. In practical terms, it means I can use the same spandex bodysuit I used in the nineteen eighties for my gig. Granted, the leopard skin pattern was being forced into some pretty unusual shapes and, frankly, it looked as though it belonged to a really big leopard, but I figured if I wore it to work the day before, it should be alright on the night.

When the day arrived, we got to the folk club early. I attached my ‘Flying Jon’ harness to the roof.  Ideally, the roof would be eight metres high.  Unfortunately, the roof was two and a half metres tall, practically guaranteeing that when I leapt, I’d take out tables four through seven. Everyone has to make sacrifices; in this case tables four through seven.  That’s showbiz.

As other performers arrived, a certain theme emerged.  Namely, flannel. I began to feel self conscious. No-one wants to be the spandex cork bobbing in a sea of lumberjacks.   Ironically, a leopard’s spots are to help him camouflage himself.  Leopard skin print on a body suit, however, was having much the opposite effect.  I sat patiently at our table and ordered my complimentary chicken parma from the bar.

Finally, it was our turn to hit the stage.  The crowd fell into a stunned silence as we entered.  It is, I later learned, unusual for acts at a folk club to emerge through a curtain of dry ice. As we started to strum our guitars, I decided it was time to leap into the audience.  Luckily, the cable to the roof remained firmly in place. The same, however, could not be said for my leopard skin jump suit.  The additional strain of the harness and cable was too much.  With its physical integrity fatally compromised; table four was confronted by the sight of a middle age man bursting out of a leopard whilst strumming a ‘G’ chord.  They didn’t cheer so much as scream.

To say that I hit the wrong note would be something of an understatement.  I immediately announced my retirement.  It suits me.  The leopard skin spandex jump suit has been buried in the back yard.  It’s for the best.  Indeed, it may be another thirty years before I perform in public again.  But when I do, watch out!  Especially if you’re seated at tables four through seven.

When Emojis Attack!  Tales of A Truly Lost Weekend

We were looking forward to it.  Finally, after months of talking, we’d booked a weekend away in regional Victoria.  It would be peaceful.  It would be tranquil.  It would be everything we’d hoped it would be.  But, in the age of Covid, even the best laid plans can be unlaid, and when a member of the family tested positive, everyone in the house was a close contact.  Our plans were scuppered to the point they were entirely and irretrievably unscupperable.

To describe ourselves as ‘disappointed’ would be like referring to the sinking of the Titanic as ‘a bit of a let down’.  We were completely devastated.  Not only could we not go, we now had to unpick our arrangements and reschedule.  This proved more difficult than we thought.

Our dinner reservations were simple enough – we just had to cancel.  There was no consequence and no judgment and we’ll definitely be going back there at the first opportunity.  We’d also booked in a fancy treatment.  Initially, they asked for evidence of isolation and, for a moment, I contemplated sending a picture of a really unhappy nine year old, before they agreed to a refund in a mere seven to ten days.  Granted, a refund would probably take upwards of a minute, maybe two, but I didn’t feel it was my place to quibble.  

Then there was the accommodation.  When we let them know, they were quick to respond.  The email was dripping with sympathy, so much so that it was practically wet when it arrived.  They expressed shock at this terrible turn of events.  They expressed concern for our wellbeing and for those around us. They expressed their steely-eyed determination to charge us the full amount, regardless of the fact that we were no longer able to come.

I get it – why should they lose income as a result of our misfortune?  But this was three days in advance and their chances of finding another customer was about as certain as the sun coming up.  Odds were they’d lose nothing at all. To be clear, their intention to charge us the full, unholy whack was not contingent on whether or not they could replace us – they were going to do it regardless.  Most people try to help when your plans get blown out of the water because of Covid.  This person was an exception to that rule.  What came next only made things worse.

In addition to offering to charge us for accommodation we were now legally forbidden from using, they sought to soften the blow with a hammer.  In a futile bid to make us feel better, they offered us a fifty percent discount on our next stay, so long as it was midweek.  As a result, not only were they proposing to take money for a thing we couldn’t have, they were now offering us a discount for something we had no intention whatsoever of using.  Because, having been dudded once, our next booking with them was likely to be once hell had, officially, frozen over.

I can only assume that the property manager had a whole lot of salt she was desperate to be rid of.  For nothing else could explain why she so eagerly sought to rub large quantities of the stuff into our still-festering wound. Having declared that she’d be taking our money and offering us something we’d never use, she then signed off with a smiley face Emoji.

In the name of all that is holy, how dare she!  That’s like Napoleon Bonaparte sending a text message to Tsar Alexander, telling him he’s about to invade Russia and ending the message with the ‘thumbs up’.  Or Winston Churchill finishing his ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ speech with the ‘laughing face with tears’ Emoji.  

When judges hand down a life sentence, they don’t sign off with ‘heart eyes’.  That would be confusing for everyone.  It was outrageous.  The ‘smiley face’ was simply not suited to the circumstances.  It’s as though she was going out of her way to antagonize us further.  It was highly effective.  

There should be a law against using inappropriate Emojis.  I assumed the sender was illiterate, because she was certainly failing to read the room.  I don’t know much about Emojis, except there’s one for every occasion.  Rather than a ‘smiley face’ perhaps something like a ‘skull and crossbones’ would have been closer to the mark.  I, naturally enough, had a very specific Emoji in mind for my reply.

What kind of monster ransacks you and then winks?  Obviously, I turned to the internet for answers.  The website said in the event of a Covid disaster that you should try and reach a resolution with the property manager.  Easier said than done – the flagrant misuse of the smiley face Emoji made it clear that we were dealing with a bona fide psychopath. Instead, I took the high road, letting her know that some members of our family would be making use of the property.  That the family members in question were two goats and a half tonne heifer with a passion for eating furniture was beside the point.  I’ll let her know after they their stay.  And I’ll be sure to sign off with a suitable Emoji.            

I Sing The Body Electric Guitar

Secrets – we all have them.  For some, a secret is an idea; a piece of information we carry in our souls.  Others hide their secrets in a deep, dark and inaccessible emotional cavern that, with any luck, will never be found.  That’s all right for some.  For others, however, a secret is less existential as it is physical.  And whether you hide that thing in a roof cavity or bury it in a backyard, someone’s going to find it eventually. For me, my deepest, darkest secret is on DVD.

I know how that sounds – as though I’ve been part of something truly salacious or, worse still, was once a contestant on ‘Married At First Sight’, but no.  My secret is much more disturbing than that.  It involves things that, all this time later, I find it difficult if not impossible to face up to.  But as dark as a secret might be, there comes a time when a secret must be shared with someone else, either in the interests of transparency or to give them one last chance to get out whilst they still can.  That time had arrived.

Have you ever seen that footage of the Loch Ness monster?  It’s grainy and weird and it’s hard to be sure you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing.  This footage is almost identical except that it includes guitars and a mullet.  Or, to be precise, my mullet; in all its bouncy, resplendent glory.  And a saxophone.  (It was, after all, the eighties, when the law required that every emotional apex and valley had to be accompanied by the honking rich sounds of a saxophone.)  Put another way; imagine if the Loch Ness monster had, rather than simply tentatively sticking his head out of the water, been a teenager fronting a band. Then you’ll get the idea.

I suppose I should just come right out and say it – I was in a rock band as a teenager.  If that doesn’t horrify you, then there are some additional pieces of information I feel I ought to disclose.  The first is that we were no regular teenage rock band.  Covers of ‘Wild Thing’ and ‘Louie Louie’ weren’t for us. Nor did we bang out sketchy versions of Australian Crawl or Cold Chisel songs.  In fact, we didn’t do covers songs at all.  We only performed originals.

If that’s not enough to inspire you to spontaneously stuff marshmallows into your ears, I’m not sure what would.  As teenagers, we looked around at the other bands and the abysmal but crowd-pleasing covers they were doing and decided that we’d write our own songs.  It was a breathtakingly arrogant thing to do.  On a practical note (F# most likely), it wasn’t just that we were ambitious; some of us were limited in terms of our musical abilities and were incapable of playing the songs of others.  If you can’t imitate, you must create.  So we did.

The second key fact is this: we were a band that met at church and all our song lyrics were religious.  No, really.  To the extent that it was technically possible to accumulate cool points for being in a rock band, they vanished the moment we opened our mouths.  We wanted to be cool.  We thought we were cool.  But by any objective measure, we were not cool and this DVD is proof of that.

Originally, it would have been shot on video.  As a result, the images are somewhat unstable and, once in a while, a line of interference runs down the screen like a picture with a bad aerial.  We are playing in a church hall in Cheltenham.  Presumably, we were there to keep ‘the kids’ off the mean streets of Southland or similar.  That said, it is also possible that our music inspired some to a life of crime. I couldn’t blame them.  We were introduced by some incredibly uncool looking fellow who, most likely, was the leader of the local Youth Group. Then we hit the stage.

I was wearing a suit vest and had a mop of hair that might as well have been on loan from Princess Diana.  All our songs had long, serious neo-classical synthesizer introductions, to create a suitably joyless atmosphere.  We were a serious band with a serious message. That message should probably have been ‘block your ears’, but it wasn’t.  As the neo-classical synth intro came to an end, the guitars and drums kicked in.  As the lead singer, it was my job to be a focal point.  I achieved this by reacting as though a large amount of electricity had just been directed through my body.  It was not pretty.  

It’s inevitable – there’s a point in any relationship where you’ve got to drag out the skeletons lest they should be discovered at some future point and you’re accused of concealing something.  As I played the DVD, I’ll admit I found it difficult to watch.  That, primarily, was because I was incapable of removing my hands from my face.  Beside me, the footage was greeted with sensitivity. In particular, the kind of sensitivity that involves falling off the couch with uncontrollable fits of laughter.  Which is fair enough.

We leave our past behind for a reason.  But it’s still very much a part of us, no matter what we do.  And to share that with someone else and have them accept it is a mighty thing indeed.  It’s thirty-five years since that performance. It may well be another thirty-five years before I can watch that DVD again.  Here’s hoping.

The DIY Acid Wash Wipeout

To be honest, I’d forgotten.  But all it took was a split second and thirty years of time travel for it to come back to me with all the force of a meteorite.  Without warning, it appeared on my phone, sent by a friend.  A photograph. Not just of me, but of the band I was in as a teenager.  It would have been about 1986 or so and I was all of fourteen years old.  My eyes were immediately drawn to my trousers where there was an uncomfortable truth to confront – I was wearing acid wash jeans.

For those who’ve never been in a band photo, there are a few things you ought to know.  Band photos are the antithesis of a ‘happy snap’. It’s not enough to take a picture of a musical group gathered around as the drummer blows out the candles on his birthday cake.  In the eighties especially, band photos were a super serious business.  You had to look as though the weight of the world was on your shoulders, which it probably was, because of the massive shoulder pads you were wearing.  

We were publicizing our first major gig – playing on the back of a flatbed truck in a children’s playground in Balnarring.  Granted, it’s not exactly the Tennis Centre, but most major concerts don’t have a fully functioning seesaw like ours did.  The photo was taken on the road outside the Hastings Uniting Church, which we had used for rehearsals; having, as it did, both a stage and a public address system.  As a bonus, the pulpit was the ideal place to set your lyrics out.  But a photo inside the church wouldn’t pass muster.  No way.  The photo needed to capture our raw fourteen-year-old intensity, which, at the time, was bubbling away like nobody’s business akin to a forgotten casserole left on the cooker of humanity.  Or, instead of intensity, it could have just been hormones.  Whatever the case, the photo needed to capture it.

As a result, we stood on the street.  By which I don’t mean that we stood politely on the footpath as if waiting for a bus to arrive but, rather, smack, bang in the middle of the road; an obstacle to on-coming traffic. I don’t know how long it took us to make the photographer happy, but the second thing I noticed (after my acid wash jeans) was the car creeping over our drummer, Chris’s, shoulder.

I know, I know.  There’s no need to be ashamed at the fact of having worn acid wash jeans.  It was the eighties and wearing acid wash clothing, together with a ‘Fido Dido’ or ‘Hypercolour’ t-shirt was as good as compulsory.  But these were no ordinary acid wash.  These, to my great shame, were homemade acid wash jeans.  

Home made acid wash jeans are significant for a number of reasons.  Firstly, there’s no one else to blame for the results. And, secondly, it reveals a grim desperation to achieve acid wash status. I appreciate this must confound younger readers who have grown up hearing tales of their parents being forced to wear acid wash when, in actual fact, we quested after acid wash denim as if our lives depended on it.  Acid wash jeans are much like greatness.  Some are born to acid wash denim, others have acid wash denim thrust upon them.  Others like me, however, took matters into our own hands.

Today’s generation probably can’t get their heads around this kind of ingenuity.  I don’t want to big note myself, but it’s fair to describe my DIY acid wash as next level MacGuyver-esque genius.  First of all, you get a bucket, cram your jeans in and pour over some bleach and leave it to soak.  Then, critically, you must thoroughly wash the jeans before wearing them unless you want to suffer permanent scarring below the hips. (Although those chemicals can help with the high notes.)

Clearly, I was so pleased with my efforts that I wore my acid wash jeans, along with my (acid-wash free) denim jacket to our very first band photo session.  That’s right – not only did I ‘double denim’, I did so in two completely incompatible styles.  At the time, I thought I was super cool.  In retrospect, I’m amazed that the car visible over Chris’s shoulder didn’t immediately speed up and start tooting its horn with the aim of scattering us like chickens.  I knew so little then.

As for the concert, I take my share of responsibility.  Namely, I must reconcile myself to the fact that there are probably people who attended our gig in the Balnarring playground more than thirty years ago who, to this day, hate music as a result.  And avoid seesaws at all costs.  I probably wore the homemade acid wash jeans to the gig proper, which, at least, may have distracted from the music, at least for a little while. 

And as for that photo? Once you get past the super-serious facial expressions that border on pouting, the flagrant double denim and homemade acid wash, I actually like it a lot.  It was the first tangible evidence to the outside world that we were a band.  Unified in purpose. Bound together by music. Shrouded in acid wash.  If it was a fashion statement, it mostly consisted of profanities, but that’s okay.  We were a real band.  And, for the moment, that was enough.

Democracy Manifest! The Great Sing Along Election

It’s genius.  There’s simply no other word that comes close to describing it.  To dissolve parliament and submit your fate to the will of the people is one thing.  To deliberately go out of your way to ensure that a Federal election occurs simultaneously with the finals of the Eurovision song contest is nothing short of totally brilliant.  Frankly, it’s been long overdue.

It was only a matter of time before they were brought together.  Whilst each event is great on its own, combined they’ll be unstoppable.  Eurovision is a splendid thing.  But if there’s one thing it lacks, it’s this: sausages.  You can’t tell me that the latest power ballad from Lithuania wouldn’t be vastly improved with a snag in bread.  Our electoral traditions will take Eurovision to the next level.  I’m not sure what that level is called but it’s probably somewhere between ‘awesome’ and ‘magic’.  Similarly, Eurovision will make our democracy stronger by introducing some much-needed pizzazz.

Election time is such a special time.  Already, I’ve seen my local Member of Parliament for the first time in three years (hooray!). Doubtless, that’s because he’s incredibly busy and, well, truth be told he lives somewhere other than the electorate he’s paid to represent.  By which I don’t mean that he’s slightly outside it because of a quirk of redistribution but, rather, that he chooses to live somewhere entirely different.  Nevertheless, it’s lovely when he visits.  

I spotted my local Parliamentarian whilst I was out running.  He was standing talking to local residents whilst dressed head to toe in cycling lycra.  I have to be honest and say that he looked terrific.  There was not a trace of sweat or a hair out of place. As I drew closer, I was caught up in the tractor-beam of his cologne.  I’m embarrassed to say it, but the man smelled like nothing else I’d ever smelled before in my life.  Like a cross between fresh cut flowers and freshly baked biscuits. It was intoxicating.

Rendered incapable of speech by his magnificent aftershave, I could only slow to a crawl and watch on as he weaved his magic.  He was chatting to a group of men who were also dressed in lycra.  It then dawned on me that my local member of Parliament seemed to be the only person dressed in lycra but not in possession of an actual bike.  If not dressed for cycling, he was meeting (if not exceeding) the dress code for Eurovision, where bike shorts without a bike is totally acceptable.  Granted, to get the full Eurovision effect, it’d be better if he was also crumping whilst belting out some kind of banger, but you can’t have everything. 

Whilst it’s wonderful that our election and Eurovision are occurring at the same time, that’s not enough.  To get the full benefits of synchronicity, they ought to be combined into a single event.  The vote for our nation’s parliament should only take place after a full gala performance from aspirant candidates.  Major policy announcements shouldn’t occur on random building sites by people in hi-vis.  No, sir.  They should occur on a stage, in song and with dancers, feathers and sequins. I, for one, am looking forward to the power ballad on franking credits, to say nothing of the full-on rave-up banger about childcare subsidies.

With Eurovision and our election now a full-blended event, expect candidates to wear a lot more white.  And don’t be surprised if, mid sentence, an aspiring politician reaches up and pulls down an invisible object from the sky (it’s a compulsory move at Eurovision).  Granted, there will be missteps – catastrophic miscalculations that rather than attracting voters will, instead, send them scurrying to the hills. It’s not hard to imagine some of the minor parties giving performances that don’t so much divide audiences as they do usher them out the door for their own safety.  But, overall, it’ll be a good thing.  When we’re not busy using our hands to cover our ears, we might just be tapping our toes…

Consider this – tight races could be resolved with a sing-off.  Or even a rap battle. It’ll be a vast improvement on the traditional election debates.  Instead of ‘the worm’ purporting to tell us whom the audience likes, politicians can, instead, perform ‘the worm’ as part of their act.  It’ll be great.

And whilst I’m looking forward to the performances from our elected leaders and those who would challenge them, I can’t wait for the commentary.  The only way to improve Antony Green would be to throw some Terry Wogan into the mix.  Granted, Terry’s moved on to the great Eurovision in the sky, but I really don’t consider that an impediment.

Buckle up.  The next few weeks will be an all-singing, all-dancing calamity from which a winner will eventually emerge, reflecting the will of the people. To say nothing of Eurovision. But I’m glad that these two events are finally coming together.  If nothing else, it adds momentum to my push for a thirty metre statue of Mr. Eurovision, Johnny Logan, on top of Oliver’s Hill.  Let the music begin!

Why Frankston Urgently Needs a Thirty Metre Statue on Olivers Hill

Heroes should be celebrated.  They should be lauded, worshipped and generally adored, close up as well as from afar.  If they’re not already on a pedestal, then one should be provided to them pronto.  Because heroes, I feel, are wonderful.  Their achievements put a ‘spring’ into a life of otherwise flat-footed drudgery; they fill our lungs with breath so that we can proclaim their general magnificence. 

Frankston has produced it’s fair share of heroes.  Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who was the eighth Prime Minister of this country until, in a somewhat unfortunate twist, he became the first sitting PM to lose his seat at an election.  Stanley then went on to a productive career as a bouncer at the 21stCentury Dance Club on Thursdays to Sundays.  Frankston also produced the fabulously named Sir Harold W. Clapp who ran the railways for nearly twenty years and introduced mind-blowing innovations to locomotive transport such as air-conditioned carriages.  I, for one, am grateful.

But whilst the city has produced a laudable crop of political and locomotive heavyweights, it’s the arts where it really comes into its own. The King of Australian television, Graham Kennedy, chose to live in Frankston.   He could have lived anywhere, but chose here.  Perhaps he’d got wind of the crystal light display at the Frankston cinema and simply had to see it for himself.  Joan Lindsey – author of Picnic At Hanging Rock – also lived in Frankston; although rumours that the first draft was based at Arthur’s Seat have never been confirmed.

The exceptional Toni Watson (better known as ‘Tones and I’) who achieved the extraordinary by topping the charts in almost every country on earth but, for reasons that will never be fully understood, was given the ‘Meat Loaf slot’ at the AFL Grand Final, is also from Frankston.  The list of local heroes is almost endless.  And yet, some of the most amazing legends ever produced by this fair city have failed to get the recognition they so richly deserve.  I speak, of course, of Johnny Logan.

I was going to say ‘for those unfamiliar with his work’ but, I suspect, there’s no one who’d fit that description.  Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, Johnny Logan is buried deep inside your subconscious, like a repressed traumatic memory, ready to emerge at the least opportune moment.  If the name ‘Johnny Logan’ doesn’t ring a bell of any kind, then it’s only fair I disclose that he’s also known by another name. Specifically, he’s also known as ‘Mr. Eurovision.’

On the off chance you’ve been living in the wilderness for the past seventy odd years, Eurovision is ostensibly a songwriting competition that doubles as a test of endurance.  Essentially, it’s a chance for European nations to produce a piece execrable easy listening music, generally performed by someone dressed like a total lunatic and to gang up on whoever England decides to send. (They never get any votes. It’s sort of cruel, actually.)

Into this musical minefield, filled with the wreckage of power ballads gone wrong and continental techno-vomit, strode Johnny Logan like an absolute colossus.  How, you might ask, does someone from Frankston end up at Eurovision? Simple.  Johnny Logan was born in Frankston whilst his Irish parents were out here on tour and before you could say ‘chrome gnome’, he was away back to Ireland. 

Johnny competed in 1980, performing the song ‘What’s Another Year?’ with such power that, along with his oversized lapels, it crushed all who dared stand in his way.  So powerful, in fact, that he didn’t even bother getting up from his bar stool until about the three minute mark; just after a saxophone solo so exquisitely tasteful that the instrument itself may as well have been wearing a tuxedo. A win at Eurovision is an extraordinary feat, far beyond the Nobel Peace Prize but perhaps slightly short of earning the Coach’s encouragement award at the Tyabb Under-9s Junior Football Club. But he didn’t stop there.

In 1984, Johnny Logan wrote a song that someone else performed that came second.  In 1987, dressed head to toe in white like some intergalactic goal umpire, Johnny Logan performed his signature hit ‘Hold Me Now’, producing one of the most dramatic moments in Eurovision history, when he crouched down, knees bent, voice dripping with emotion as he strained for the high notes.  An unstoppable force, he once again took out the title.  You’d think that’d be enough.

Despite this, there’s nothing to celebrate the achievements of Mr. Eurovision.  Not a plaque, nor a street sign.  Zip.  It’s no way to treat a hero.  It’s time to do something about this appalling state of affairs.  The campaign starts here – to build a monument to Johnny Logan. Modelled on the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro, giant Johnny Logan will sit astride Oliver’s Hill, head to toe in white and knees bent.  Thirty metres of concrete Eurovision magnificence will stare out across the bay.  It’ll be awesome.  Sure, it’ll be incredibly expensive, but you can’t put a price on inspiration. Don’t bother trying to talk me out of it.  To paraphrase Mr. Eurovision himself, you couldn’t hold me (back) now if you tried.   

The Disastrous Dumplings of Destiny

Dumplings.  I absolutely love them.  Little parcels of joy that slip off your chopsticks before tumbling like an Olympic springboard champion head first into a bowl of soy sauce.  But unlike an Olympic springboard champion, there’s no avoiding the splash and the resulting soy sauce souvenir on your work shirt.  For me, they’re the ideal take away meal, which is why I decided to order myself some last Friday night.

It was just after seven o’clock; kinda late by my standards, when I called to place my order.  To save time, I said I’d be in to pick them up, rather than run the risk that some hapless delivery driver would be ambling aimlessly looking for my house because the number lacks sufficient illumination. But dumplings take no time at all to cook.  I’d be home again before I knew it, so I reasoned.  They say pride comes before a fall.  In my case, it was an intoxicating blend of confidence and hunger.

The first clue was when I rang the landline and it went through to message bank.  Perhaps more significantly, the message bank made no mention of the restaurant, but was one of those automatic messages that simply advised I had reached a ‘private number’.  This gave me no confidence at all and I decided to use the mobile instead.  Someone answered.  Better still, they showed real interest in my order, repeating it back to me so that I could be confident that it had been received in full.  ‘It will be about twenty five to thirty minutes’.

These words rang in my ears. I should probably have regarded that as some kind of warning or, possibly, a sign that I should get a new phone as I’m semi-confident that having words ring in your ears is not normal.  Thirty minutes was longer than I expected.  But I did a quick calculation and reasoned that I’d have dinner on the table by a quarter to eight.  Not ideal, but I’d forget all about it the moment I started eating.  I explained to my guests that I’d need to disappear for a few minutes.  I was, so I explained, keen not to keep the restaurant people waiting.

In retrospect, the signs were obvious.  When I got to the restaurant, there were other people waiting to pick up their orders. Without exception, they looked absolutely and utterly miserable.  Some appeared to be downright agitated.  Clearly, this was a place of great unhappiness.  I looked up and noticed that hanging above the cash register was a sign that read ‘Abandon hope al  ye who enter here.’  I should have left then.

But, optimistic fool that I am, I enquired about my order.  I was informed that they were waiting on a couple more dishes, which gave me the very real impression that my meal would be ready in a matter of moments and that I’d soon be clutching my take-away bag, swanning past the gathered hoards of the downtrodden who were gathered in the doorway.  I would feel a little sorry for them, but not much.

I paid and began waiting. And waiting.  And waiting.  The person whose job it was to collate the takeaway orders seemed to be having a terrible time of it.  She looked incredibly confused and, from time to time, she called over somebody else to stare deeply into a docket as though they were trying to solve a riddle.  It was like watching an episode of ‘Survivor’ when, after starving them for weeks, they make the contestants solve a puzzle and some of them end up staring at their fingers as if they’re never seen their own hand before.

As a rule, you know you’re in trouble when the staff avoid making eye contact with you.  This meant they were failing to manage the growing crowd of restless and, by this stage, incredibly hungry people waiting in the doorway.  It was ages since any meal had been completed at all.  I raised my hand to my chin to ponder what on earth could be going wrong when I discovered that I had grown a full beard whilst waiting.  I’m not talking about a little bit of stubble, but the kind of growth that would see me get a full time job as a roadie with ZZ Top.  In a mix of boredom and desperation, I began to plat my new beard.

A lady who’d arrived before me asked for her money back.  They refused, claiming that her meal, much like Christmas and the apocalypse, was coming.  When it arrived a few moments later, she didn’t appeared relieved.  More broken.  I texted my guests who had wondered how far I’d travelled to get dinner. When I told them I was just around the corner, they were shocked.  As time dragged on, I began to bargain with myself.  Specifically, I began to convince myself that this was not, as I feared, a really late dinner but could now be considered an early breakfast.

When my meal was finally ready, the person giving it to me said ‘sorry’.  I panicked, unsure of whether he was apologizing for the colossal one hour fifteen minute wait or for the food itself.  Like others, I was tempted to let him know what I really thought but, instead, took my food, began crying and offered to help out in the kitchen, as they clearly needed all the help they could get.  I hope they were just having a bad night.  I know I certainly was.  Ultimately, I can’t stay mad at dumplings.  And my first shift in the kitchen was a great success.  Until we try again.

It’s Nobody’s Asphalt – Road Works Are Melting My Brain

I quit.  Don’t try talking me out of it, for my mind is as made up as the curriculum vitae I submitted to the local IGA during year 11 in the hope of securing casual work after school.  (I never heard back.  Perhaps they were unconvinced by my claim that I invented ‘Wite-Out’.)  I am not for turning.  So much so that if you tied me to a carousel right now, I’d slowly spin against the flow to ensure I remained in a consistent position.  That’s how committed I am.  After many months of thinking it over I have decided this – I am never leaving home.

You’d think that after all we’ve endured over the past two years I’d be itching to run through the front door, regardless of whether it had been opened or not.  That getting up from the couch and seeing a silhouette of what appears to be moss growing on the couch cushions would be enough to inspire me to take action, but no.  I am over leaving the house, not because I am desperate to stay indoors but because I am keen to avoid that which is waiting for me.  I speak, of course, of the traffic.

 Traffic is back.  I hadn’t missed it.  After two years of having the streets pretty much to myself if, indeed, I was permitted to set foot outside the house, I can’t help but notice that things have, if not returned to normal, then slowed down to a pace that roughly resembles the normal we all used to know.  But as much as I’m not enjoying the gridlock caused by a greater number of cars, it has been exacerbated by one thing – road works.

There are road works in plague proportions.  On balance, I liked it better when roads didn’t work and simply lazed about all day, letting automobiles drive over them.  It was simple and everyone knew how it worked.  But this summer has been different. Roads everywhere have been getting a spruce up, meaning that some of them are closed and those that aren’t closed have detours in place  that, invariably, send you to Geelong, even if you live in Mentone.

I was trying to get to Williamstown at the time.  Little did I know that all the roads in and out were subject to road works. The turn off was closed entirely. Granted, there was the option of arriving by sea, but my boat is currently in dry dock and I have a heightened fear of pirates.  All the remaining roads were detours.  Even the detours had detours.  There were arrows pointed every which way.  In fact, there were more arrows than an archery competition. 

Every conceivable type of road works were represented.  There was ‘road closure with no viable alternative’.  There was a healthy selection of ‘four lanes down to one’, to say nothing of ‘reduced speed limit but, ultimately, no evidence of actual road works at all.’  Impressively, instead of this activity being somehow coordinated to reduce inconvenience, it had been deliberately designed to generate the greatest level of disturbance imaginable.  Some might see this chronic lack of coordination and chalk it up to poor management.  I, however, believe it to be an act of evil genius.

The main road in to the suburb has now reopened, but then closes again, every night at 9pm.  It’s like having Cinderella’s carriage turn into a pumpkin daily instead of only on special occasions.  I am unsure, at this point, whether this situation is temporary.   Better still, they don’t tell you that the road is closed until it’s too late to do anything about it.  It’s entrapment. Before you know it, you’ve been detoured and are on your way to Geelong.  Possibly forever.

It’s my own fault, I guess. I traded in my last car and was considering getting a helicopter, but ended up settling for a Volkswagen. It’s a choice I’ve come to regret. It was a compromise I made only after learning that the ‘Whopper Copter’ can’t actually fly.  My faith in humanity as well as fast food restaurant playgrounds totally shattered, I now spend each day being sent to Geelong and wishing that I owned my own helicopter.

Enough is enough. Eventually I cracked and decided the best way to deal with road works was to avoid them entirely by not leaving the house.  The first few days were fine until, this morning, I was diverted whilst travelling through the kitchen on my way to the bathroom before being forced to wait for fifteen minutes for a truck to unload.  I won’t be surprised if, next time I step outside the door, I find myself in down town Geelong.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Presumably, traffic slowed to about forty kilometers an hour as the paving took place.  I am now directing all my energies to making my own teleporting machine using an empty ice cream container, a can of WD-40 and some French mustard.  The results, to date, are mixed.  But as I maintain my efforts to travel through space using common household objects, I look forward to the day when I can travel from A to B without visiting the rest of the alphabet.  To say nothing of Geelong.roadwork