The Secret Order of the Blue Chicken

As adult contemporary soft rock titans Asia so deftly put it, the purchase was made in ‘the heat of the moment’.  The urge to buy something whilst trawling through an antique shop in Campbelltown Tasmania was simply too great to resist.  Like mermaids luring sailors to their demise, so too am I a sucker for a house of antiquities.  This attraction can be boiled down to a single word: potential.  What keeps me going is the possibility that in some dusty, wonky corner I’ll find something amazing, beautiful and precious for a price that is one step removed from shoplifting.  However, as much as I choose to seek permanent residency in ‘hope’, I had never actually succeeded in finding such a bargain.  This matters not.  It is the possibility that inspires me, no matter how illusory it may be.  But as I peeled away the cobwebs, I thought my luck had finally changed.

In a lonely, neglected corner of the store sat a display cabinet.  It had a chipped oak veneer and the wobbly legs of drunk who’s just siphoned the petrol out of a motor mower, but I was entranced.  So far as I was concerned, it was an item of abject splendor.  And even though the glass shelves had more chips than Las Vegas, I did not allow this to deter me.  In an instant, I had determined to buy it.

The owner was more than helpful.  He even went so far as to offer to deliver it to the apartment the next time he travelled to Melbourne by ferry.  It all seemed so easy.  In the weeks that followed, I dreamed of my antique display case and how it would surely change my life for the better.  Only when it arrived did the problem become apparent.  That problem being that I have absolutely nothing I want to display.

The whole point of such an item is that it allows you to show off.  Such brazen acts of braggadocio are as foreign to me as the ‘world movies’ section at the Video Ezy.  But it’s not solely a matter of modesty; I am simply not a collector.  It wasn’t always this way.

As a kid, I had a stamp album.  Children today, I suspect, do not engage in philately and may not be aware that stamps, in fact, exist at all.  But whilst our sink was often littered with envelope corners ready to soak off the affixed stamp, it was never my passion.  Hours spent over the stamp album always seemed like time I could be better spending doing something more enjoyable such as watching Diff’rent Strokes or organizing my sock drawer.

I needed something to collect and, almost at random, chose rocks.  Upon reflection, it is no small irony.  Whilst I sought samples of as many igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic stones as I could lay my hands on, perhaps what I was really drawn to was ‘rock music’ but simply lacked the necessary courage to ask my parents for a Stratocaster.  In the end, I abandoned my efforts and my collection was wrapped up in newspaper and stored away forever.  There were other, more mediocre attempts to collect; a single season of football cards (incomplete), the occasional yo-yo and a few random smurfs, none of which I’m now comfortable putting on display. There were four whole shelves to fill, but nothing to occupy them.  But just as I was about to scream off down the street in search of every porcelain cat figurine I could get my hands on, something caught my eye on the mantelpiece.  There was, indeed, one object in our house that was worthy of ‘display status’.  The blue chicken.

The origins of the blue chicken are a mystery.  Whilst the truth has been somewhat obscured by the mists of time, it took pride of place in the middle of the table at every major family gathering during my childhood that I can remember.  It belonged to my grandmother.  Whether she had brought it out with her from Ireland as a family heirloom or gotten it free with a packet of custard powder at the local milkbar, I really couldn’t say.  I do know, however, that the Blue Hen is the state bird of Delaware and I’d like to think that our glass blue chicken is Delaware’s equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant or Dead Sea Scrolls.  That, even as I write and you read, teams of archeologists are combing the Americas, never realizing that the prize they seek lies on the other side of the earth with a payload of Maltesers inside it.  

Regardless of its exalted status in The First State, at our family table it would be filled with confectionary.  Better than that, it was one of those items that with the simplest of decorations could compliment any occasion.  Just as any hamburger becomes ‘Hawaiian’ through the simple addition of a slice of pineapple, so too could the blue chicken be transformed.  A single red heart for Valentine’s Day, eggs for Easter and a pocket calculator for the end of financial year.  Yes sir-ee, ours is a working chicken.   So whilst the blue chicken is worthy of the display cabinet, its time is not yet up.  There is, I feel, still one more thing to do.  On Christmas Day, it will take pride of place on the table.  I will, naturally, add a piece of plastic mistletoe.  Some like lights, others a star.  For me, a blue chicken is all I need.  And if you want to know what to get me, perhaps something decorative I can put on display.  After all, I have a cabinet to fill.  Merry Christmas.

Dawn of the Locust-Eaters

They’re here!  After months of anticipation, the buzzing hoards have finally descended, devouring all before them.  Having swarmed across the nation, resistance is largely futile so allow me to be the first to say: welcome Oprah Winfrey and her imported audience of excitable Chicagoans.  Enjoy your stay. I only hope that a visit to Kryall Castle is on the agenda. Oprah’s television audience, however, aren’t our only visitors.  We also have locusts.

Talk about a build-up.  For the past six months, we’ve heard that the locusts are coming.  Now they’re finally here and are intent on taking over.  I first noticed them whilst out running.  In the early morning darkness, I could feel the little blighters as they ricochet off my head.  Until then, I hadn’t realized that I run with my mouth open.  However, after several courses of locust served rare, it occurred to me that my mouth needed some kind of protective grill, much like a storm water drain or a Ford Fairmont.  

I realize that, broadly speaking, locusts are terrible and consume everything before them without discrimination, but the same can be said of members of the Barmy Army and yet we welcome them with open arms.  Perhaps they’ve only themselves to blame.  Ever since locusts allowed themselves to be used as pawns in the whole ‘Egyptians versus the Israelites’ debacle, their arrival has been greeted with all the fanfare of an impending apocalypse.  That they should turn up along with the type of rain that would send Noah scurrying to the nearest Bunnings for all the nails and timber off-cuts he could lay his hands on hasn’t helped any.

I think we’re looking at this all wrong.  Whilst, if history is any guide, the sea will shortly turn red and oceans will boil over, there’s still time to take a ‘glass half full’ approach.  In short, we should see them less as the eighth plague of Egypt and more as a once-in a lifetime marketing opportunity.  There’s an old saying; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  As I picked out the mortal remains of a dozen locusts from between my teeth after my morning jog, I contemplated but then dismissed the idea of turning millions of tiny insects into a liquid, fizzing beverage treat and settled for a simple sauté.  For whilst some see marauding hoards of twittering insects as a problem, I see a source of protein that simply can’t be beat.  

The time has come for us to eat our way out.  Think about it.  The entire history of human existence is a sorrowful tale in which we’ve managed to drag once plentiful species to the verge of extinction because we can’t say no to a plate of seconds.  Oceans have been raked bare, fragile ecosystems bulldozed to make room for more cattle.  As good as we are at wiping things out, I fear we may have been consuming the wrong species.  It now occurs to me that we’ve been looking at this all wrong.  Say what you will about cows, they’re hardly aggressive.  Sure, they’re slow and not too bright, and suffer a chronic flatulence problem that may well be heating up the atmosphere with all the speed of a Ford Laser parked in the sun, but they’re not out to destroy us.  We shouldn’t be putting our allies onto our dinner plates – we should be eating our enemies instead.

    I realise that many will recoil at the idea of chowing down on a plate of locusts, but I feel this is nothing more than a simple image problem.  For example, if locusts were given a different, more accurate but less Biblical name such as ‘short-horned grasshoppers’, people may not be so quick to rush to judgement.  Throw in an episode of MasterChef devoted to the best ways to cook short-horned grasshoppers and you’d have people queuing up to buy them in bulk.  (If this world suffers anything in plague proportions, it’s cooking shows.  And if there’s anything that this multitude of chefs have taught us it’s that there’s nothing in this world that can’t be eaten without a pinch of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil.)

    The tourists would surely flock to see locusts invading Melbourne.  If we can train a million or so to perform tricks, we’ll be set.  I figure if they can get the dolphins at Sea World to do as they’re told, there’s no good reason to think we can’t do something similar with an army of insects if only we provide them with the right kind of motivation.  From this point on, the tram and Arts Centre spire will mean nothing – our tea towels and commemorative teaspoons shall all feature the locust.  Forget the Pink Heath as our state flower.  We should replace it with a simple stalk and a locust sitting on top.  

So let them come here in their millions.  As the bright lights of the Melbourne metropolis act as a siren call to the advancing locust army, we should sit back and let them come ever closer before luring them into our kitchens.  Toasted, roasted or barbecued – the options are really only limited by your imagination.  Perfect as a light snack between meals or as the crowning glory at your next dinner party.  Delish!  So fire the stoves and stoke the barbecues, it’s time for dinner.  As for me, well, I feel I may have already eaten my share.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be sure to suck down a few more next time I elect to go for a run.  But the simple truth is that, at this moment, I just don’t have the appetite.

Night of the Hunter S Thompson

Allow me to explain the awkward truth of my man-crush on Kerry O’Brien.   There are things in this world that we all too readily take for granted; water, air and the ability to conduct a reasonable interview.  Only when these things are taken away from us do we fully appreciate just how good we had it. It wasn’t always this way.  Once upon a time, back before Take That’s first reign of terror and when a grateful nation knew precisely what the phrase ‘Frankie Says Relax’ meant, every media outlet devoted time and resources to proper TV journalism. But like a pair of day-glo leg-warmers, such things have fallen out of fashion.  Save for one exception.

Earlier this year, Kerry had the greatest strike rate of any interviewer in the country and watching him toss up the hard questions was a thing of beauty.  The resulting struggle as his guests attempted in vain to produce an answer only to look like goldfish on a footpath was endlessly entertaining.  It was like seeing a student explaining themselves to the principal.  Positions that had once seemed as permanent as something carved into stone tablets on Mount Sinai melted like fairy floss in a rainstorm under Kerry’s steely gaze.  At the end of an interview, the most common expression on a subject’s face was one of sheer relief.  His studio must have seemed like the Bermuda Triangle – once inside, anything could happen.  This year, however, was Kerry’s last on The 7.30 Report.

So why step down?  I understand that he plans to work at Four Corners, but that hardly seems enough for someone accustomed to being on the box four nights a week.  I don’t know whether he’s planning to spend the rest of his time running a juice bar or a dog grooming service, but the truth is that his country needs him.  The problem is not, I think, with Kerry so much as it is with the people he interviews.  Put simply, Kerry has continued asking questions, but his subjects have stopped answering them.  This madness must end.

It started, as these things tend to do, quite simply.  Those being interviewed would ignore the question they had been asked in favour of one they regarded as more important. This went so far as to see some people asking their own questions before setting off in pursuit of an answer by spending as many words as possible in the hope of running the time down.  And so what began as a rather subtle attempt to redirect the conversation culminated in an absolute disconnect where journalists were rendered entirely redundant.  Too often those being interviewed were allowed to get away with this.  

I realise that ‘taser’ use is somewhat controversial, but if ever there’s a case for deploying such a weapon, it is when someone chooses to ask and answer his or her own question.  For those who regard current affair interviews to be a little boring, throw a thousand volts into the mix and you’ve got yourself a ratings bonanza.  Kerry, sadly, is not the tasering kind.

I’d like to make the case for reconsideration.  In short, Kerry shouldn’t leave The 7.30 Report; he should simply try a change in approach.  I believe the answer lies not in going away, but in going stark raving mental.  Whilst I respect Kerry O’Brien for his even-handed fairness, perhaps the time has come for him to channel what there is of the darker side of his nature.  In doing so, he should draw his inspiration from another journalist – Hunter S Thompson.

Hunter S Thompson invented ‘gonzo’ journalism.  It’s a slightly misleading term in that it has absolutely nothing to do with a beloved children’s character of the same name, although, like the Muppet, Hunter may well have had romantic feelings for chickens.  When despatched to the field to report on a seemingly mundane event, he responded by ingesting what might be described as a ‘who’s who’ of pharmaceuticals and intoxicants to make even driving through the desert seem interesting.  Dissatisfied with the incident he was supposed to report on, Hunter made himself the story instead.

In his masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson recounts the adventures of the intrepid journalist Raoul Duke and his overweight Samoan attorney, Dr Gonzo.  After subjecting himself to the kind of treatment that would make a laboratory rat feel faint, Raoul manages to haul his battered carcass onto a domestic flight.  Once seated on the plane, he pulls out a grapefruit and a large hunting knife.  Seeing the look of apprehension on the face of the stewardess, he smiles and says, ‘I never go anywhere without a grapefruit.’

    Kerry shouldn’t be allowed to leave; it’s too close to saying that the non-answering nitwits have prevailed.  He should stay on and take a leaf out of the very entertaining and hugely enjoyable book of Hunter S Thompson.  I can see him now – watching as his guest begins to answer a question that nobody has asked – and leaning way, way back in his chair.  Tiny beads of perspiration appear as Kerry reaches under the desk and produces a basketball-sized citrus and an even larger hunting knife.  The stream of verbiage would trickle to a halt before an awkward pause.  Kerry would then smile and say, ‘I never go anywhere without a grapefruit.’