A Hard Act to Swallow

I didn’t know what to say.  There was an awkward moment as my father held out his hand, gripping a small, plastic object; expecting me to receive it with gratitude. ‘Here’, he said.  ‘I found this.  I thought you might want it’.  Let it be said that there are few people who’d spot a piece of plastic and think instantly of their first born, but here we were.  I leaned in and saw the object in question was a guitar plectrum.  My father can’t play a note so, in one respect, it was unsurprising that he’d want to get rid of it.  But this wasn’t any ordinary guitar plectrum.

It’s been about thirty years since I lived in Tyabb.  And yet, to this day, when I visit my father, he has some item he claims is mine that he’d like me to take with me when I leave.  Over the years, I’ve learned to become suspicious. There was a broken novelty cheese knife in the shape of a pineapple.  It was only later as I attempted in vain to do some damage to a block of Camembert that I realized that I’d never owned a cheese knife.  That, rather than returning my possessions to me, my father was dumping his rubbish.  

More recently, there was a Garfield coffee cup with my name on it.  Time had dissolved the once-vivid image of everybody’s favourite lasagna-quaffing cat so that barely an outline remained.  My name, too, had faded.  Letters that were once whole were now mere fragments. Inside the cup had a rusted brown veneer, suggesting the cup had been in regular use over the past thirty years. But now my father wanted to return it.  As he tucked it under my arm, I was speechless.  Whether I was in shock or simply unable to speak with all the freshly cut cheese in my mouth was hard to say (which, frankly, is always the case with a gob full of Camembert).

But the plectrum was different.  Rather than some random piece of rubbish that my father had all of sudden decided he no longer wanted, there was every chance this plectrum was of genuine historical significance. But if it was the plectrum I was thinking of, he really ought not be giving to me.  He ought to be giving it to my brother.  After all, he’s the one who suffered most.

My brother and I played in a band.  There was an old train caboose next to the house that we’d turned into our practice space.  It was tiny.  How six of us fitted, I’ll never know.  Our ears are yet to forgive us.  But it was there that we rehearsed every week.  I hope this doesn’t sound immodest, but it became so that we were the second best band on the entire Mornington Peninsula behind the legendary Stumpy Gully Stompers (they were untouchable). Technically speaking, we were probably third; the Stumpy Gully Stompers were first, daylight was second, and we were third.  Our nearest competitors were a fair way behind – Greg and the Barn Burners played local square dances, which were aptly named, and no real threat.

For hours on end, we’d kick out the jams, entertaining local livestock and low flying aircraft. Then we’d take a break and sit around, preparing set lists and planning world domination (or, at least, the part of the world that didn’t already belong to the Stumpy Gully Stompers). It was during one of these band meetings that it happened.  

My brother was somewhat distracted.  This was not particularly unusual.  As the rest of us argued about which of our awesome songs we should open with as we attempted to stun the audience with our potent mix of musical chops, high-octane rock and punctuality, my brother amused himself by flipping his plectrum up from his thumb and catching it between his teeth.  This activity, he thought, excused him from having to contribute to the debate over our opening number.

Perhaps it was my fault. As my brother continued to flip his plectrum up from this thumb to his teeth, I called out his name. Surprised, he reacted with a sharp intake of breath at the precise moment the plectrum rose to the level of his mouth.  Caught, the plectrum was sucked into my brother’s mouth at which point he then proceeded to swallow it.  There was a moment of panic, followed by uncertainty.  Should we ignore it and hope for the best?  Or did we need to see a doctor?

Perhaps unwisely, we consulted my father.  He nodded sagely and insisted that the plectrum be retrieved.  Whether he thought that it posed a risk to my brother’s health and safety or, perhaps, we only had one plectrum and needed it to continue our musical pursuits, I couldn’t say.  Not content to let nature run its course, he made my brother eat half a loaf of Tip Top high-fibre bread.  After about half an hour, my brother returned to the practice room to advise that the danger, as well as the plectrum, had passed.

I asked my father whether the plectrum he was the plectrum.  He swore it wasn’t, before offering me a loaf of Tip Top high-fibre bread, ‘just in case’.  I’m not sure what to do with it.  Perhaps I should put it next to the decrepit Garfield mug. Or maybe I could donate it to our school to put on display together for some kind of plaque.  They’d be lucky to have it.  The band would, of course, reform for unveiling ceremony before we’d cut the ribbon with a broken cheese knife.  Perfect. 

Lettuce Talk: Inflation Explained

You’re right.  Things are super expensive.  Anyone who’s been to the supermarket recently knows that a weekly shop now requires access to a line of credit, if not a second mortgage.  Last week, my local grocer was selling a head of lettuce for eight dollars.  Eight dollars.  I’m not sure my own head is worth that much.  Come to think of it, I spent less on my first car.  Eight bucks is a lot for an iceberg, most of which will probably go limp and rot in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Grapes are now being sold separately.  Banana skins are now referred to as ‘accessories’ and incur an additional charge.  I picked up a packet of batteries that came with the warning; ‘batteries not included’.  Things are tough all over.  You know it’s out of hand when your groceries are delivered by Armaguard. Worst of all, this seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere.  Things are trundling along when, all of a sudden, inflation swoops in and kicks over the chair you’re sitting on.  It’s just plain nasty.

So just what is inflation? For starters, it’s so much more than an awesome nightclub where, in the 1980s, mullets roamed freely amongst the acid wash jeans and rivers of Bundy and coke.  Inflation, generally speaking, is an increase in the price of goods and services as against purchasing power.  It’s a measure.  And it’s one that’s not really loomed large for quite some time. Which is why it’s so shocking to see it make so fulsome a return.  Like a child you thought moved out of home to begin life as an adult but who, later, turns up on your couch without explanation eating your cereal, inflation is back.

I was born in the nineteen seventies – an era that didn’t invent inflation but certainly came close to perfecting it.  It was a wild decade. Those who were there were profoundly affected by the long shadow that inflation cast over everyday life. It was so much more than the price of fuel.  Inflation told us that restraint was utterly futile.  As a result, the seventies gave us flared trousers, cheese fondue fountains and disco music.  Self control was, more or less, abandoned altogether.  There were terrible consequences.  Growing up in an era when inflation ran rampant is one of the reasons why my hair was so big in the eighties.  Probably.

I’d feel better if I knew that the vegetables were benefiting from these gargantuan prices.  But it’s not as though your local turnip has suddenly moved into a higher tax bracket and is now setting up a family trust. That said, I do know a bag of spinach that’s just moved into a six-bedroom house in Brighton, which is probably bad sign.  Worse may yet be to come.  Soon, things will be so expensive that when avocados get smashed, it’ll only be on Moet champagne.  

In the seventies, we didn’t just have inflation.  For reasons that can’t currently be located, it wasn’t enough that we had to suffer through terrible food, fashion and music, we had take something that was pretty ordinary to begin with and find a way to make it even more dreadful. Specifically ‘stagflation’; which combines inflation with stagnant economic conditions.  Yuck.  Even the term itself should be enough to put you off.  Stagflation sounds like something that happens to a prospective groom the night before his wedding whereby he ends up drunk and tied naked to a set of traffic lights.  The effects are similar.

So how did we get here? The economy is a complex beast and it’s wrong to over-simplify things but, in a word, Putin.  Granted, there are other factors – a pandemic that put pressure on supply chains whilst demand for goods has increased. But, still, Putin.  That shirtless, feckless freak who decided to ruin things for everyone by invading a peaceful country.  What a jerk.  

The weird thing about Putin is that some in the West used to fawn over him admiringly.  There were some commentators who, to put it mildly, were in love with Vladimir Putin.  For some odd reason, they regarded him as a defender of conservative values if, indeed, riding around on a horse half naked can, in fact, be considered a conservative value.  He’s always been a tyrant, and now that tyranny is responsible for unleashing inflationary forces through higher energy prices and suppressing supply of key commodities.  That’s a lot of mayhem and destruction for just one person.

It’s a reminder how fragile things are.  Who’d have thought that war would return to Europe in the twenty first century?  But here we are.  And whilst we’re all paying a price, it’s nothing compared to the price paid by those in Ukraine.  It’s a truly shocking thing.     

Having grown up with inflation, I now feel compelled to return to my childhood.  Yesterday I wore flares.  Today I am overwhelmed by an urge to see melted cheese run through a fountain.  Tomorrow I may even hum a disco song.  But even if inflation reminds me of the seventies, I know that – like the nineteen seventies – this will end and things will get better.  I hope it’s soon.