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.