Betrayed! How Netflix Turned My Heart to Goop

You know how it is.  You feel as though you have a connection, that you’ve developed an understanding to the point you can almost read each other’s thoughts.  Then, without warning, something happens and you realize that everything you believed in was a house of cards built on shifting sands after an unexpected Pandora’s worm is opened.  In this instance, I thought Netflix and I were friends. I was wrong.  Dead wrong.

It began with an email, one that seemed to be doing me a favour rather than the full-throated yodel of betrayal that it was.  It began by saying, ‘Stuart, we just added a TV show you might like.’ It sounds harmless.  Until, of course, you scroll down and discover the television program in question is the latest from Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Goop’ series.  If that wasn’t enough to catapult your breakfast back over your lips, this one has ‘intimacy’ as its focus.  

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not angry with Gwyneth Paltrow.  I’m not a fan of ‘Goop’ and from a scientific point of view ‘Goop’ and Gwyneth are unlikely to get ‘The Curiousity Show’ stamp of approval.  Indeed, Rob and Deane are notable for their absence from any of Goop’s promotional activities.  It’s Netflix with whom I’m disappointed.  How could they possibly get it so wrong?  After all the time we’ve spent together, they really don’t know me at all.

They caught me off guard by sending an email that addressed me by name.  This brazen act of familiarity was all the more surprising given they’ve never acknowledged any of my emails or suggestions.  (Sample idea – choosing who reads the ‘dubbed’ version.  I, for one, would welcome the cast of ‘Star Wars’ reading ‘The Squid Games’.)  

I immediately analyzed my viewing history.  For the past couple of months, I’ve been obsessed with European mysteries.  They’ve been set in a variety of countries – France, Belgium, Poland, Iceland and Finland.  I’ve been watching them with subtitles rather than dubbed in the misguided belief that this will help me learn another language.  So far, all I’ve learned is the word for ‘okay’ in France, Belgium, Poland, Iceland and Finland is…. ‘okay’.  I can’t say the word ‘goop’ has been uttered by anyone, even though I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘goop’ was Icelandic for ‘oddly-scented candle’.

It’s hard to see the link between European police procedurals and a show that promises ‘Courageous couples on a journey towards pleasure and deeper intimacy’.  Frankly, watching that does not sound like my idea of a good night in.  Pleasingly, it then suggests that these couples will be assisted on their journey by ‘Gwyneth Paltrow and a team of experts’.  I, for one, appreciate that Gwyneth has been excluded from the team of experts for reasons most likely associated with consumer and competition law. Although, for the sake of completeness, I would have preferred the blurb to take a leaf out of a newscaster’s book and add the word ‘alleged’ immediately before the word ‘expert’.

I should be used to it. Who amongst us hasn’t had a birthday and received a gift from someone they love that was completely and utterly off the mark?  A Celine Dion box set?  Tickets to an Andre Rieu concert that aren’t for the sole purpose of heckling?  A lifetime membership of the Bros fan club? Let’s be honest – even those that know us well get things catastrophically wrong occasionally.  Maybe I should cut Netflix a bit of slack.  The answer, perhaps, lies in me not criticizing Netflix but in returning the favour with suggestions of my own.

It seemed only appropriate that I write back.  I did so with a series of suggestions for well, series, they might well like to commission.  Firstly, I noted the success of the film ‘Eurovision’ starring Will Ferrell.  Few people know that Johnny Logan, also known as ‘Mr. Eurovision’, was born in Frankston.  The new Netflix series will follow my efforts to have a forty-foot statue of Johnny Logan built, modeled on Rio’s ‘Christ the Redeemer’, and plonked on top of Oliver’s Hill.  

After the success of their series, ‘The Last Dance’, perhaps a hard-hitting sporting documentary based on the 1985 season of the Tyabb Yabbies football club under 15s as they reach the dizzy heights of second last place on the league ladder.  It will make history as they first series to be in English with English subtitles.  I, for one, am ready to spill the beans.  My last suggestion centres around my lawnmower.  I’m not saying that it should star in its own series – only that there are better things to do than watch television, particularly when ‘Goop’ is on.

I know that Gwyneth Paltrow is a regular reader of this column, so I’ll choose my words carefully.  I won’t be watching the latest installment from the ‘Goop’ franchise.  I’ll be too busy mowing the lawn and using the clippings to build a model of my Johnny Logan statue. If that doesn’t suit the people at Netflix, then as they like to say in Finland, ‘okay’.

Weekend at Spike’s, the Amish Garden Gnome

They were in a box.  I’ve no idea how long they’d been there, but I’d estimate at least two house moves.  They were items that, at a point in time, were deemed essential enough to pack but surplus to requirements when it came to unpacking.  Say what you will about lockdown, but it certainly throws a spotlight on every little chore you’ve been putting off for the past decade or two.  It was time to unpack the box.

There were pictures in frames that varied widely in both quality and importance.  One was of my great, great grandfather taken around the turn to the last century.  As photos go, it’s not especially flattering.  Whilst he’s clearly dressed up for the occasion, his eyes are closed (it’s a family trademark) and although he’s remembered to bring his beard, his forgotten his moustache.  The overall effect is one of ‘Amish garden gnome’.  

It’s a point that needs to be made; this photo of my great, great grandfather is of him looking his absolute best.  And yet he still looks as though he’s been dragged backwards through a hedge immediately before having been tossed in front of the camera.  He looks about two hundred years old.  According to the inscription on the back, he was about thirty when the picture was taken.  Clearly, here was a man who’d lived a very hard life.

Indeed, so horrific is the picture it’s impossible not to wonder whether, in fact, it was taken post mortem.  Although very few people in nineteenth century Ireland were that familiar with “Weekend At Bernie’s”, it looks as if my great, great grandfather has gone ‘the full Bernie’ in this photo.  It looks like a Selfie from the afterworld. And despite the fact that my great, great grandfather was a ‘James’, my father has written on the back referring to him as ‘Spike’.  

Here’s the thing: Spike is not my only relative.  And yet it was Spike that my father decided to frame and give to me as a keepsake.  The reasons for doing so remain as mysterious as Spike’s limp bowtie.  It might be that my father thought it was funny (and, to be fair, it is) or as some kind of warning. As if to say this is what I, before long, could look like.  If I’m being honest, in a certain kind of light there’s a passing resemblance. And by ‘passing resemblance’ I mean that if you were to notice a resemblance, you’d be guaranteed to pass by.  Perhaps it’s a warning directed not at me but at those around me. 

But that wasn’t the only photo in my box of clutter.  There were framed photos of my two eldest nephews when they were still quite tiny.  Of me, on my birthday, holding them both; the younger one wearing a ‘Dorothy the Dinosaur’ t-shirt and all of us looking happy down in Tyabb.  Amazingly, each of us has our eyes open.  They’re both young men in their twenties now.  Too old to be wearing ‘Dorothy the Dinosaur’ t-shirts and certainly too big for me to be holding one in each arm.  The sight of it took me to a different time.

Not all the photos were occupying the frames held such sentimental value.  One picture frame contained a photo of Gary Coleman.  If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you may remember him as ‘Arnold’ from the TV show ‘Diff’rent Strokes’.  Not that I ever knew him.  The picture was left over from a time many years ago when I was renting and the owners had elected to sell, meaning that strangers would be traipsing through my house on a regular basis.  As a small but, I feel, potent protest, I replaced all the pictures with photos of celebrities, including Gary.  

Gary looked over the living room as erstwhile strangers inspected.  Whilst that was decades ago, I’d managed to take Gary with me from house to house ever since. Before you say ‘whatchoo talkin’ about, Stuart?’ I can only say that not everything we take forward is by design. Sometimes it simply works out that way.

There was a paining, too.  Of a small bush shack in the middle of nowhere, painted by my grandfather back in the eighties.  He was a creative guy, albeit not always entirely original. He had a shed behind the carport. It was an entire universe of tools and ephemera and carried a heavy scent of turpentine.  It was clearly a special place.  In that shed was a paining of a young woman with a headscarf and a pearl earring.  

Even as a child, I thought this particular painting was quite striking and pretty good.  It was only as an adult that I learned it was a copy of Johannes Vermeer’s famous work.  In that shed, it didn’t really matter that it was someone else’s paining.  Because in that shed if nowhere else, it belonged to my grandfather who had willed it into existence.  Take that, Johannes!

These pictures are now in my living room.  Mostly, they remind me of life as it was and, someday, will be again.  As I look forward to meeting family again in this, the longest of years, it’s a timely reminder.  That is, of course, except for Spike, whom I feel is watching my every move; which is quite the achievement when you’ve got your eyes closed.  

Sitting on the Randy Van Hornes of a Dilemma

There’s a record in a frame that hangs in my house. Unfortunately, it’s not a platinum, gold, silver or even polystyrene disc denoting sales in the greater Tyabb region, but a gift from my father.  Worse still, the framed record is not one I had anything to do with but one by ‘The Randy Van Horne Singers’.  I’ve never listened to it.  Having it in a frame kind of ensures that I never will.  I should be grateful.  There’s a sticker on the front of the frame that simply reads: In case of emergency, break glass.

This is just one of several framed artifacts gifted to me in a picture frame by my father. There’s also his Wham! T-shirt (no, that’s not a typo).  It too got the full framing treatment after I wrote a story about it. About how my father managed to get a free t-shirt from a work colleague and then tried to gift it to me. To a teenage boy, nothing could be less cool than a Wham! t-shirt and wearing such a t-shirt would be to invite derision from everyone I ever met from that point on.   Which, for any teenager, is a horrifying thought.

I was openly repulsed by the offer.  Despite or, more likely, because of that, my father insisted on wearing said Wham! t-shirt whenever and wherever he could.  It was an on-going source of embarrassment on such a scale that my father thought it worth preserving for all time, and put it in a frame. The reasons for Randy Van Horne’s elevation to the ‘McCullough Hall of Frame’ are more to do with my persistent, albeit incredibly well founded criticisms of my father’s record collection.  

Most of his LPs came from a record club. Presumably, the first rule of record club is you do not talk about record club.  The second rule of record club is that, under no circumstances, should you play anything they send you.  Ever.  They seemed to specialize in unknown pieces by well-known composers. With a generous serve of the Randy Van Horne Singers.  But I really shouldn’t judge.  For when it comes to criticizing people for their musical choices, I am very much occupying a glass house, full of glass modular furniture with a glass front door with Mick, Keef, Ronnie and the rest of the Stones as guests whom I am ready to throw at the slightest provocation.

I didn’t collect the dodgy music of others.  I made my own dodgy music with my friends. It’s one thing to horrify your peers with your poor musical choices but it’s another thing altogether to be able to clear a dance floor as if someone had just yelled ‘fire!’ with one of your original compositions.  There are classmates of mine who are probably still recovering from the time we performed for the end of year school dance at the Bittern Town Hall. Some of them have probably avoided music altogether since that fateful night.  A case of ‘once Bittern, twice shy’ if you will.

Sadly, our performances are not framed and hanging on my wall like the Randy Van Horne Singers.  I do, however, have a DVD of one of our gigs.  It was in Cheltenham, I think, which I regarded then as ‘the city’.  I was wearing a shirt with a suit vest because, frankly, that’s how things rolled in the eighties. My brother was wearing a really big woolly jumper and had used so much hairspray that there was probably a hole in the ozone named in his honour.  

We played our particular brand of rock and roll to a group of impassive people who, presumably, had remained only because they were unclear where to find the exits.  As each song finished, there was applause, although mostly I was only one clapping.  But as challenging as the music was, it was the sight of myself attempting to dance that proved most difficult of all.  What I lacked in skill, poise and grace, I attempted to make up for with sheer, frenzied energy.  The results were close to catastrophic as limbs flailed like one of those blow-up things they put outside car parks to get your attention.  It was not a pretty sight.

But despite the fact that I couldn’t much sing and certainly couldn’t dance, my friends all stood beside me on stage.  Whatever limitations we had as a group, we had learned to work together to create something.  We were a team.  That band was not so much about music (as the DVD made clear) but about friendship.

I learned last week that the father of our drummer, Chris, had passed away.  It had been years since we’d been in touch, but that week we were on the phone to each other.  Even after all this time, the sound of his voice was so familiar to me and it made me happy to hear him speak even in that moment of impossible grief. We made plans of a kind.  To get the band back together.  To be in each other’s company once again. And, possibly, to dance.

I find I’m making a lot of lists.  They’re lists of ‘things to do when this mess is over’. I’ve added ‘band reunion’ to it. For all the catastrophe of the past eighteen months, I’m starting to think about what’s important.  That very much includes my old band.  I can’t wait.  Maybe we’ll play a song or two.  And if we do, I’ll take a picture rather than make a DVD. Then I’ll take that picture and put it in a frame and on my wall, right next to the Randy Van Horne Singers. Where it belongs.

Night and Day, Now and Venn

I was never much of a star when it came to mathematics.  I wasn’t hopeless, by any stretch of the imagination, but numbers didn’t come as easily to me as they seemed to for others.  I now wish I’d paid more attention.  I’m sure there was a lesson on Venn diagrams, but chances are I was too busy staring out the window at the paddock next door to the school.  So far as I was concerned, I didn’t need fancy drawings to demonstrate relationships in probability.  I saw things simply then.  Either they were a ‘sure thing’ or, alternatively, ‘pigs might fly’.

With lockdowns, bubbles and travel restrictions, there has never been a better time to master the Venn diagram.  Moving to a fifteen-kilometre radius has begun to open up new possibilities for seeing the people that you love.  Weirdly, it means you end up meeting somewhere that’s entirely unfamiliar to you and the person you’re meeting.  The only thing taking you to that particular spot is that it so happens to falls within your area of overlap.  So it is that millions of people are picnicking in unfamiliar parks just so that can see each other after months of separation.  Worse still, picnicking in areas that are not fit for purpose, solely on the basis of overlap.

Today, I’ll be picnicking in Patterson Lakes.  It’s an area with which I am almost entirely unfamiliar.  I assume there are lakes there, but I could be wrong; to the best of my knowledge, there are no ‘springs’ in ‘Caroline Springs’ and nothing at all resembling ‘deer’ in ‘Deer Park’.  (To be fair, perhaps the ‘springs’ are not a reference to an aquatic feature but a general air of optimism.  Like ‘Caroline Springs Eternal’.)  

But Patterson Lakes just so happens to be half way between me and my brother and his family, and there’s a small sliver of land we can both stand on together for a short period of time.  Mind you, we’ll need to keep our balance – if either of us falls over, we may well tumble beyond our fifteen kilometre limit.   

Every time the rules change, I draw a new set of Venn diagrams.  Because I’m close to the beach, a lot of my radius goes to waste. Unless, of course, I want to use my freedom to row out into the middle of Port Phillip Bay.  It must be said that rowing out into a huge body of water is an ideal way to spend time on your own.  It must also be said that, in lockdown, spending time on your own is in ample supply and getting more of it is not currently high on my list of priorities.  Usefully, fifteen kilometers takes me just off the coast of Williamstown, where I’d very much like to be.  All I need to do is build a boat using whatever I can find lying around the house and order a megaphone online and I’ll be ready to row on over.  

Residents taking their morning walk will pause as they spot a small vessel made from cardboard floating off the shoreline.  I’ll have sought to draw attention to myself with flares, but not having a flare gun available to me, I’ll have worn a pair of denim flares which, although eye catching in one sense, are less effective than flares that are shot up into the sky when it comes to getting attention.  That said, there are few people who wouldn’t stop whatever they’re doing to gaze with slack-jawed wonder at the sight of denim flares flying across the sky and on into orbit.  But, sadly, neither pigs nor flares can fly.

  For years I’ve had a picnic blanket in the back of my car.  Why that was, I can’t say – it’s not as though I’m prone to conducting emergency picnics.  That said, that blanket’s had more use in the last two weeks than it ever has.  The fact of carrying the picnic blanket under your arm is a signal to all that you are engaged in a legitimate activity and are acting within the rules.  Sitting on a picnic blanket is like being in an embassy, where there’s the chance of removing your mask for a moment to eat. And a chance to see someone’s face, if just for a fleeting instant whilst they’re feeding it.

But Venn diagrams don’t always tell the whole story.  There are things we can do that reach across those boundaries and make distance vanish, if only for a moment.  Last week, I received a pig.  It didn’t fly to me; rather, it arrived by post.  It was, in actual fact, a drawing of a pig on a homemade card sent to me by my nephew, Tyler.  Underneath the drawing were the words, ‘I miss you pig time’.  It arrived at exactly the right moment, in that it turned up exactly when I needed it most.

The card is now on my fridge. I’ve even kept the envelope because it means that much to me.  If I had a boat, I’d probably row down to Patterson Lakes this afternoon using my picnic blanket for a mainsail, thus getting exercise whilst seeing my brother and his family.  

For all the restrictions and hardship, I am in awe of the ability of people to overcome it.  Whether they do so by way of a surprise box of groceries or a hand-made card, it all makes a profound difference.  Even with my limited mathematical skills, I know that one plus one may equal two, but some things add up to a whole lot more.