Attack of the Feral Yellow Peril Billboard

It feels… kinda personal.  Right at the end of my street is a gigantic yellow billboard that’s so huge, it nearly blocks out the sun.  I see it every single time I leave the house.  Like one of those creepy portraits in a mystery film whose eyes follow you around the room, I feel like it’s watching every move I make.  In that sense, it reminds me of that Police song – ‘Do do do, da da da’.  And just like that Police song, it’s an assault on the senses that makes me feel slightly ill.  

In bold lettering, the billboard screams ‘FREEDOM FREEDOM FREEDOM’.  I’ve no idea why.  I mean, as words go ‘freedom’ is as good as any but that still doesn’t account for why it’s printed three times.  Perhaps the author wracked their brains for weeks to come up with a buzzword that would electrify the nation.  Having landed on the word ‘freedom’, the author was then stunned to learn that it would only take up a third of the headline space and was pushed into one of those hurried, last minute decisions that usually sees me panic and order the ‘large’ version of the three-piece box at KFC when the ‘regular’ size will more than suffice.

Stricken with dread whilst standing at the front counter of the billboard shop as a queue of increasingly cranky strangers continues to grow and threatens to push through the door, the author panicked.  Instead of coming up with three different words with a view to developing something meaningful, he instead ordered the same word three times over. Granted, it fills the space, even if ‘freedom’ cubed would have been far more economical and direct.

Perhaps it’s a tribute to the late, great Aretha Franklin.  As anyone who’s ever seen ‘The Blues Brothers’ can attest, ‘Freedom’ is one of her greatest songs and the chorus involves belting out the word over and over again.  Personally, if I had to choose an Aretha song for a billboard, I’d have gone for ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’.  Granted, it’s a lot of words for one billboard, but it’s a pretty terrific song.  

With any luck, it’s the first of a series of billboards, each one highlighting classic song lyrics. Some billboards will ask the tough questions.  I dare say few of us can confidently answer the question ‘Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?’  It’s a query best left unanswered, although if the birds are seagulls, then the object of the song probably smells like a chip.  Some billboards will be informative – ‘I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates, you’ve got a brand new key.’  Others, simply mystifying.  I, for one, look forward to the day when a big yellow billboard appears near my house that reads ‘Awopbopaloopa Awopbamboom’.  

Come to think of it, Aretha sings the word ‘freedom’ four times in the chorus of that song, rather than the measly three on the billboard.  I’m beginning to suspect the author may not be that familiar with the works of Aretha Franklin at all. Perhaps these aren’t song lyrics at all but something more sinister.  But if it’s not a tribute to the First Lady of Soul, what message is the billboard trying to convey?

Maybe there is no message. Perhaps ‘FREEDOM FREEDOM FREEDOM’ is an entirely random piece of verbiage that’s been haphazardly thrown up on a billboard to distract commuters from using their indicators when changing lanes.  It may well be that any three words would have sufficed.  In a way, I’d prefer it if the giant billboard near my house screamed ‘HOTDOGS CHICKEN PRETZELS’.  

Because whilst the word ‘freedom’ is used a lot, the billboard is terrifically vague.  Freedom from what?  Freedom from punctuation, certainly (but that’s a whole other story – specifically, from about three weeks ago).  Freedom from explaining or providing anything resembling a cogent argument.  Instead, it seeks to tap into some kind of bubbling discontent without having to nail its colours to the mast.  Frankly, I’m suspicious.

There’s only one rational conclusion – it’s Marxism, pure and simple.  In particular, it’s Groucho Marxism, who once sang the song ‘Whatever It Is, I’m Against It’.  At least Groucho was trying to be funny.  The billboard at the end of my street is unintentionally hilarious. But much like Groucho, the billboard at the end of my street has siblings.  Lots of them.  In fact, yellow billboards are popping up all over the place.  It’s sort of like ‘Day of the Triffids but with bigger font. 

It’s an election year.  Politics, at its best, is a contest of ideas. But there should, at the very least, be some kind of idea.  At least to start with.  I guess there’s something that feels – to me at least – brazenly cynical about these billboards and it’s making me cranky.  I’m sure there are some people who love those billboards. People fond of the colour yellow or Aretha Franklin, for starters.  But not me.

It’s been a long couple of years.  There’ll be lots of advertising over the next few months from all kinds of political parties. I’ll disagree with most of it. I’ll probably believe none of it. But if I could say anything to those responsible for the big yellow billboard – stand for something other than opposing everything.  Please.

A Manilow Blow to the Nether Regions of Humanity

Woah!  For the love of all that is holy, take it easy!  No matter the circumstances, some lines should never be crossed.  Regardless of the depth of provocation, there are simply some places one should not go.  Not all depths need to be plumbed.  It’s true, I feel, that some actions are so profoundly shocking that they sail past a point of no return at a rate of knots on their way to hell.  Even as I write this, it’s difficult to keep my jaw above my knees; such is the weight of shock that’s now upon me.  Life, as we knew it, will never be the same.  I speak, of course, of New Zealand.

Don’t get me wrong – I love New Zealand.  It’s a wonderful country with a warm and generous people.  It’s because of my deep affection for our Kiwi neighbours that I was so shocked and disturbed beyond the point of recovery once I heard the news.  Such cruelty. Such malice.  Such indifference for musical taste.

There were protesters. They were, apparently, blocking the streets of Wellington and making a nuisance of themselves around Parliament. Naturally, they had a name for their movement which made it abundantly clear that they saw themselves differently to, say, the way everyone else saw them.  They had described themselves as a ‘Convoy of Freedom’. Perhaps the title ‘Angry Mob’ was already taken and subject to copyright restrictions.  

I presume that the ‘Convoy of Freedom’ was a musical nod to the seventies classic by CW McCall involving a bunch of disgruntled truck drivers clogging up the freeway to protest against hook turns and that George Michael song.  Ostensibly the ‘Convoy of Freedom’ was in protest at various things related to Covid and the news reported that they had gathered in their ‘hundreds’.  

I’m not sure you can really be called a ‘protest’ if there are people gathered in their ‘hundreds’. For me, that’s more like the queue at the supermarket on Saturday mornings.  The meagre numbers makes the response even more bewildering.

Although I profoundly disagree with those protestors and think they’re wrong about everything, I’m not sure they deserved what happened next.  Keen to disperse the protestors, the authorities hit them with a blast of Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits.  Oh the humanity.  Music is often described as the food of love.  This, however, was a sandwich with an extremely unpalatable filling.

News reports made breathless mention of songs like ‘Mandy’ and ‘It Could Be Magic’ but were conspicuously quiet on the matter of ‘Copacabana’.  Probably because ‘Copacabana’ is not so much likely to disperse a motley group of protestors as it is to inspire a revolution.  It’s a little known fact that during the 1917 Russian Revolution, the mob that swarmed through Petrograd were singing about Tony, Lola and the hottest spot north of Havana.

The songs were being played on a fifteen-minute loop. To rub salt into the wound, they also played the ‘Macarena’.  This, I believe, may well constitute a breach of the Geneva Convention.  The protestors didn’t stand a chance. They were totally Manilowed to kingdom come.  Barried out of existence.

I’m sure the authorities were pleased with themselves. But they’re failing to see the bigger, noisier picture.  By reaching for Barry Manilow, New Zealand has inadvertently set off a musical arms race.  One side begins with ‘The Macarena’ and, before you know it, someone retaliates with ‘Escape (The Pina Colada Song)’ by Rupert Holmes.  Soon, the Copacabana is renovated and becomes a bar called ‘O’Malleys’ where an aged Rico sits slumped in the corner, talking to himself. 

Things will only get worse from there.  Before long, parking for ten minutes in a five minute loading zone will earn you not only a parking ticket but a blast of ‘Popcorn’ for your troubles.  The drop off bay at the airport will now be reinforced by Celine Dion’s ‘All By Myself’.  People who fail to accelerate appropriately when the lights turn green may well find themselves staring down the barrel of ‘Baby Shark’ or, God forbid, ‘Aga Do’ by Black Lace. The people making these decisions not only have cold, dark hearts but, presumably, ears made of cloth.    

Now’s my chance.  Since things have taken a decidedly nasty turn, conditions are now perfect for my music.  My songs have a proven track record in clearing dance floors right across the Mornington Peninsula.  They are, in actual fact, so effective, that they’ve been locked away for thirty years on occupational health and safety grounds.  New Zealand – they’re yours if you want them for a modest fee….

As it turns out, New Zealand doesn’t need my music. They don’t even need Barry Manilow or the aural obscenity that is ‘The Macarena’.  They were polite about it, though.  They politely informed me that the role of crowd disperser had been filled by some guy called ‘Scott’ who specializes in playing ‘April Sun in Cuba’, which didn’t sound too bad until they mentioned he’d be performing it solo on the ukulele.  The horror, the horror.

Open Sesame!  The Story of a Volley of Insults

What a wasted opportunity.  Out of nowhere, a slot magically opens up in a tennis grand slam and the organizers stupidly give it away to the most deserving person. Fools!  This catastrophic lapse in judgment occurred at a time when the nation was thirsting for something special it could believe in. The organizers had a chance to do something memorable but squandered the opportunity in favour of some no-name from nowhere that no-one can remember turning up at all.  For shame!

It could have been so different.  All they had to do is take a moment to read the room and something truly splendid could have unfolded and transformed this summer into the greatest summer of all time, instead of the calamitous bin-fire of broken dreams that it was.  In some countries, they’d see it for the gift that it was and would have turned it into a reality television show spread over thirty weeks on a streaming service.  To ensure that it was as entertaining as possible, those vying to take the last spot in the draw would all be deeply unlikeable.  The winner would get to play in the first round of a major tennis tournament. The loser would be relegated to the next series of Love Island.  

Despite our track record of producing reality television shows so outrageous that they leave the rest of the world gasping, slack-jawed in bewilderment, that’s not how the last player should have been chosen.  Anyone can pump out a television show – we needed a process that would say something about who we are as a nation and as a people – even more than deporting someone famous does.

Mistake number one was replacing a tennis player with another tennis player.  Boring!  It’s such an incredibly predictable thing to do, particularly when there’s a better and (I say) fairer way to go about it.  You’ve got to give people what they want.  And what the people really want is for someone dangerously unqualified to step in.  That’s why I believe the last spot in this year’s Australian Open should have been raffled off.  Possibly with a meat tray.

Imagine it, the entire country rushing out to buy raffle tickets.  It’d be an absolute sensation.  The nation would be glued to their screens as the winner was drawn from a really, really, really large hat.  You’d be sitting at home on a Sunday evening when the phone would start to buzz, caller unknown.  Instead of an awkward three-second delay followed by somebody asking you whether you’re interested in low-wattage light bulbs, it’d be a voice informing you that you’ve just been accepted into the men’s singles draw.

There’s an element of surprise that you get from a raffle that simply can’t be replicated through a merit-based process.  Personally, I’d like the winning raffle ticket to belong to my father. Granted, he’s over eighty, but he owns a collection of tracksuits that would surely put even a seeded player to shame.  

For those who think that being above eighty is too old to play tennis professionally, I’ll only say that it’s roughly two Roger Federers.  Besides, how much do we expect from a last-minute replacement for the world’s number one player?  Frankly, all he needs to do is show up, get his parking validated, stroll onto court and swing the racket.  It’s not as though he could somehow fail to meet expectations.  There simply aren’t any.

The idea of someone getting an unexpected shot at glory is incredibly powerful.  The entire ‘Rocky’ franchise is built around precisely that idea.  It could have worked wonderfully well.  For one thing, no one would have been talking about Novak Djokovic if he’d been replaced by an octogenarian who’s likely to turn up to the stadium wearing gumboots.

You may think I’m speaking rubbish.  But that’s where you’re wrong.  Having played tennis at the elite level myself, I feel I am completely in tune with the game and intuitively know what’s best for it.  My extensive playing career – which consisted of eight training sessions at the Tyabb Tennis Club, whose courts were located so close to the Stony Point railway line that you had to buy a Zone Two ticket just to return a serve – gives me the mandate to spout any old rubbish when it comes to my third favourite sport.  (Just behind darts and curling.  Since you ask.)

 Sadly, I was forced to retire due to injury. Specifically, my feelings were hurt after a suffered a loss at the hands of my twelve year old cousin.  She was really quite merciless.  But despite having been out of the game for some time, I still take an interest.  As does my father.

The entire tournament had been done and dusted for a couple of weeks when I dropped in to see my father. He was there, in the living room; dressed in his best MC Hammer tracksuit, wearing gumboots and clutching a raffle ticket.  I gently broke the news to him, saying that he’d missed his chance.  He lashed out, saying it was all my fault that he missed his big chance, but he’s wrong.  It’d be more accurate to describe it as my double fault.