Octagon Nerdfest!  When Elon Fought the Zuckerberg

I guess I don’t understand technology.  By which, I don’t mean I struggle with the buttons on the microwave or routinely slather white-out across my computer monitor; I mean I don’t really get big tech.  And when I say ‘big tech’, I’m not referring to my refrigerator (despite its ample dimensions) but organisations that are so large and powerful that they generate an embarrassing level of revenue, the quantum of which is more readily associated with a sovereign state than a company. 

But as puzzling as these gargantuan organisations may be, more bewildering still are the strange and curious individuals who run these corporate behemoths.  I speak, of course, of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

Elon Musk is a busy guy with lots of jobs.  One of those jobs is running ‘Tesla’ – which, for those of you who may be unfamiliar, is the thinking person’s Toyota Corolla.  His objective in that job is to create something you can drive.  He also runs ‘Twitter’, which is something that he also drives, albeit into the ground in some kind of bizarre and inexplicable death-wish. 

When Elon’s not busy running Tesla and Twitter, he runs ‘Space X’, which is possibly the only private space service fuelled by a Queensland beer.  Apparently, Space XXXX (as it was originally known) runs on lager because it’s cheaper than lithium and preferable to anyone having to drink the stuff.

Mark Zuckerberg used to run ‘Facebook’ before it was rebranded as ‘meta’ in what I can only assume was internally described as something of a ‘Facebook-lift’.  Meta also runs Instagram and WhatsApp so Mark knows everywhere you’ve been, every restaurant meal you’ve ever eaten and what you’re thinking.  In the ultimate act of irony, Mark is also really into virtual reality, perhaps unaware that the real thing is already freely available.

These two men are enormously wealthy.  And yet, for reasons that are unknown to most of us, these two strange dudes have decided to cage fight each other.

I don’t know much about big technology, except that it’s threatening existence as we know it.  I know even less about cage fighting.  Mixed martial arts has always been a mystery to me, but I assume there are exponents who are very good at it.  In contrast, I strongly suspect that Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are coming to octagon with high hopes rather than anything in the way of actual expertise.

It’s madness.  Whilst it’s not nice to remark on anyone’s physical appearance, I feel it’s necessary in circumstances as extreme as these.  Firstly to Elon – you have the physique of a bowl of porridge.  However it is you’ve been spending your time, it’s safe to say that it hasn’t been spent getting into shape, unless the shape in question is an oblong.  Granted, your custard guts may well absorb all the kicks, karate chops and nookies your adversary might see fit to dispense, but I fear you’ll have the endurance of a wet rice cracker.

 As for Mark, I can only reiterate that reality and virtual reality are not the same thing.  The former has real physical consequences.  It’ll be obvious if he’s confused the two – it’s rare that someone steps into the octagon wearing a giant VR headset.  ‘Oculus’ and ‘octagon’ are not interchangeable terms.  I appreciate that you’ve taken up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (the finer details of which are best left to the imagination).  I even respect that you’ve been training with Mikey Musumeci – a man who (like myself) has been described as a world champion in ‘submission grappling’.

But, Mark, the fact is that you look like a pencil with an eraser on top.  To be clear, that’s not a good thing.  You can’t go around challenging people to a bout in the octagon if you look like a human cotton bud.  Besides, what would happen in the unlikely event that Elon Musk caught you and you were injured?  For starters, Beaker from The Muppets would suddenly be without his stunt double.  The world simply can’t afford to take that kind of risk.

Not that anyone would know.  Even if you lose horribly because you tripped over and Elon got his sausage fingers on your slender frame, you have access to a platform that excels at misinformation that could easily cover it up.  But that’s hardly the point.  The whole billionaire cage match idea is so passé; ever since Warren Buffet gave Jeffrey Bezos what has been described as the ‘greatest atomic wedgie of the twentieth century’ during the famous mud-wrestling slap-down of ’97.

If this thing does go ahead, there’ll need to be an undercard, other billionaires lining up to do battle before the main event.  The night would open with Bill Gates versus Charles Koch, each armed only with a ruler and a compass, doing battle in a pit of jelly.  That would be followed up by Richard Branson against Kylie Jenner in a jousting contest.  Eventually, Elon and Mark would emerge before stepping into the octagon.

Ultimately, it’s hard not to think that they should each have something better to do.  Something more (I’m looking for the right word) …..useful.  Maybe they plan to donate the proceeds to charity.  But whilst they’re busy ‘submission grappling’ or subjecting each other to the firmest of squirrel grips, the world that they’ve helped create longs for a day where they use their abundant talents for good instead of evil.  

Of Malvern Star-Crossed Lovers

On your bike.  For years, the invitation to stand astride a two-wheeled piece of transportation and trundle off over the horizon meant nothing to me.  That’s because I was bike-less.  It’s not as though I swore them off or took a vow to abstain from riding; it’s more than I never quite got around to it.  That, however, has now changed.

Maybe it’s just me, but there are heaps of things that were once an essential part of my life that, for whatever reason, I stopped and, for no reason in particular, I haven’t gone back to.  Riding a bike is but one example.  Others include slippers, sugar bowls and tablecloths.  That I have managed to survive successive decades without these things is a tribute, I think, either to my resilience or my aptitude for turbo-charged procrastination.  

My childhood was defined by three bicycles.  The first was tiny – the kind you expect to see ridden by a monkey at a circus.  At some point it would have had training wheels until the day arrived where these were deemed to be surplus to requirements.  Whether it was because I had finally garnered sufficient confidence to ride without them or I felt the other twelve year olds would keep teasing me the longer I kept using them, I can’t say.  

As the eldest of five, most of my possessions were redirected to one of my siblings.  I’m not sure what became of my training wheels.  Did they pass through the line of succession before coming to an ignominious end at the local tip?  Or has my father squirreled them away and, someday without warning, will he ask me whether I still want them?  The training wheels are, I suspect, somewhere in the shed.  It’s an observation that can be made about most objects in the known Universe.

I probably had that bike for too long.  It’s embarrassing when your bicycle is so small that you can use your own toes as bike rack.  But when time finally came for it to be replaced, it was followed by a gargantuan, lumbering mechanical marvel.  It was a dragster.  Nothing says ‘nineteen seventies’ quite like a dragster bike.  Except, of course, flares, lengthy sideburns and the first three albums by the Electric Light Orchestra.  High handlebars, long ‘banana seat’ and gears that were largely decorative in nature, the dragster was the two-wheeled equivalent of the kind of station wagon so lovingly championed by Carol from the Brady Bunch.    

I didn’t so much ride my dragster as I cruised.  Up and down the driveway, my flared trousers flapping like the mainsail of an ocean vessel, I cruised looking for something (anything) to relieve the boredom.  If the nineteen seventies were about anything, they were about being bored out of your brain whilst waiting for your parents to turn up in a Brady-sized station wagon before they strapped you into a vinyl seat that was so hot that it rivalled the surface of the sun; then scalded you with a seatbelt buckle.  Those were the days.

But whereas the seventies were plagued by station wagons, stagflation and disco music, the eighties were a time when anything seemed possible.  It was a decade of adventure.  Of timeless movies and chronically dated fashion (hello massive shoulder pads and acid wash!).  Of teen culture and big pop songs and even bigger hair.  It was an era in which a dragster was about as relevant as a Triceratops and just as aerodynamic.  Clearly, it was a time for a new bike.  It was time for a BMX.

More than just a bicycle, a BMX was a lifestyle choice.   Kids were often shown using their bikes to challenge authority and perform amazing deeds in generation-defining movies like ‘E.T.’ and ‘BMX Bandits’ (why Judy, PJ and Goose haven’t been featured on their own postage stamp or commemorative coin by now is totally beyond me).  The great thing about a BMX is that it didn’t need a smooth path like a dragster.  It could go anywhere.  And it did.  We used to race ours around the yard and perform ‘jumps’ by launching ourselves from modest ramps we constructed out of dirt (sorry for the holes in the lawn!).  It felt daring at the time.  (Monos!  Bunny hops!)  It probably was.

Then I left home.  And I never owned a bike (or a sugar bowl) again.  Perhaps the nineties weren’t a bike-loving era.  Maybe there was confusion as to what kind of bike to get, now that BMXs were considered a relic from a bogan era (so to speak).  Whatever the reason, I no longer had a bike to call my own.  The BMX was left to languish in the shed, next to my training wheels and the plaster cast I had when I was six and broke my leg (you never know – it may still come in handy).

Then came the awkward bit.  For some time, I owned a helmet but no bike.  Consider it something of a statement of intent.  But as of last week, I’m now the proud owner of a bike to go with the helmet.  It doesn’t have training wheels and it’s not a dragster.  It doesn’t look anything like a BMX.  It’s a hybrid.  Naturally, I’m nervous.  It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden one of these things, but the guy who sold it to me said not to worry; that it was as easy as riding a bike.  We’ll see.

Very Careless Whispers: Misunderstanding the Eighties

This changes everything.  Instantly, everything I understood to be true has been upended like a turned over table.  I no longer know what’s real.  Once, there were things I accepted as true, and those bedrock principles were the foundation on which I built my life.  But not anymore.  It was all a fraud.  A farce.  An utter failure.  I take full responsibility.  The blame is mine and mine alone and it is I that must reap the whirlwind of this catastrophic miscalculation.  I speak, of course, of ‘Careless Whisper’ by George Michael slash Wham!

It’s a masterpiece.  On second thoughts, that might be an understatement.  The eighties were an embarrassment of riches when it came to pop music but even then, ‘Careless Whisper’ stands apart.  To begin, it has one of the best saxophone riffs of all time.  Dramatic, urgent and tragic; the sax motif in Careless Whisper is as addictive as it is instantly recognisable.  To this day, it leaps into my head all the time.  Whenever I hear a sports report about a ‘careless high tackle’, George Michael’s almighty sax riff starts playing in my mind.

But it’s not the saxophone I misunderstood.  It’s the lyrics.  For decades, I thought George was saying that ‘gifted feet have got no rhythm’.  I knew exactly what he meant.  In theory, I am a fabulous dancer.  In practice, I have two left feet if both of those feet have been dipped in concrete, doused in an accelerant and then set on fire for good measure.  Put another way, my gifted feet have got no rhythm.

The story of a young man whose feet have committed the ultimate act of betrayal, quite possibly resulting in him treading all over the Hush Puppies of his dance floor partner, was tragedy on a grand scale.  It was something to which I could relate.  As a teenager, my feet let me down all the time; whether I was dancing or simply trying to walk.  I was prone to stumbling and tripping when it was least expected and least welcome.  My mouth was no better.  Gifted though it was, it had a habit of running away whenever I let it off the leash.

My father is the same.  His gifted feet – as small and cloven as they may be – have left him incapable of dancing at all.  Most of the times, he refrains.  But on those occasions when he lets loose because someone has slipped the David Guetta remix of ‘Sink the Bismarck’ on the stereo, his feet begin a stamping motion that resembles someone trying to extinguish a small fire.  George Michael would approve. 

But last week, the world as I knew it came crashing down around my ears.  I was in the car with Katrina when the song came on.  Immediately, I started playing air saxophone (I wasn’t the one driving – safety first) before joining George on a full-throated rendition of ‘Careless Whisper’.  It was during the chorus that she corrected me.  Turns out it’s not ‘gifted’ feet but ‘guilty feet’.  The song is not, in fact, a lament about not being able to dance but a story of betrayal sung by a protagonist who has ruthlessly two-timed his girlfriend.  The cad!  No wonder the saxophone sounds upset.

It got me thinking – if I’ve fundamentally misunderstood ‘Careless Whisper’ by George Michael slash Wham! then what else from the eighties have I misconstrued?  Probably everything.  Instead of hopelessly awkward, was I in fact incredibly suave and sophisticated, the envy of my peers and strangers alike?  Were other people secretly in awe of my homemade acid wash jeans?  Granted, at the time they seemed to be a magnet for ridicule, but perhaps this was just a cover for a profound and deep-seated sense of admiration at my ingenuity.  (For the record, I don’t recommend DIY acid wash.  In short, it stings.)  My black four-buckled goblin boots, which were for a time, home to my gifted feet, were actually super cool and did not make me look like Santa’s helper.  I wish.

It was inevitable that the song confused me.  The tune is, by its nature, an exercise in duality.  Impeccably sung by George Michael, back when he had Princess Diana-style hair, it was co-written by his Wham! band mate,  Andrew Ridgeley, but considered by some to be a George Michael solo single.  More confusingly still, in some countries it was branded as ‘Wham! featuring George Michael’.  I’m not sure how that works when you’re a duo.  Of course you’re going to be featured.  The band only has two people – you’re both going to be busy.

It mattered not.  The label could have read ‘Careless Whisper – a rock opera by the Tooradin Womble Ensemble’ and it would still have sold millions.  I’m pretty sure that my time in the eighties is exactly as awkward as I recall.  There’s nothing that George Michael or even Wham! featuring George Michael can do to convince me otherwise.  Instead, I have to face the altogether more brutal reality that I was completely and utterly wrong about something.  For a really, really long time.

Careless Whisper is still a giant of a song.  And my gifted feet still have no rhythm.  None at all.  But that’s all right; I’ve made peace with it now.  And as I drift off to a fitful sleep tonight, the sounds of a dramatic saxophone will guide me to my dreams.  Sweet dreams are truly made of this.  But that is a story for another time.

Time Travelling Through The Ages

Time travel is curious thing.  Better still, it’s not nearly as tricky as people like to make out.  Sure, you can obsess over wormholes, DeLoreans and flux capacitors if you like but, in truth, time travel happens everyday without these things.  In fact, I’ve been time travelling all week and I can honestly say I didn’t come anywhere near to reaching eighty-eight miles per hour.  Instead, I’ve been unpacking books.

The first thing to say about books is that I’ve got a lot of them.  No matter where I go, they attach themselves to me and rarely, if ever, let go.  Having moved house a few months back, the time had come for me to address ‘the messy room’.  That is, the one room of the house that, for whatever reason, is never quite finished.

There were books from my childhood, including an old hardback picture book of Dick Whittington, its edges worn.  There’s also the book I wrote in Grade Three.  I should clarify that when I say ‘book’, I mean pieces of paper that were folded together and stapled to a cardboard cover.  I should clarify further that when I say ‘wrote’ I mean attempted to transcribe a Monty Python sketch I heard another student describe on the bus to school.  You’ve got to start somewhere.

Adrian Mole holds a special place in my heart.  I don’t know why but there was something about the story of a shy, nerdy aspiring novelist that I connected to.  It seemed as if Sue Townsend wasn’t so much writing these stories as simply taking dictation.  They perfectly captured what it was to be an adolescent boy – the anxieties, the hopelessly unrequited crushes and pimples.  I could relate.

I have a few ‘prize’ books in my collection.  These are the tomes I won either for academic excellence or, possibly, punctuality.  Without exception, these are all very serious books with atrociously small print.  Usually there’s some kind of sticker on the inside cover explaining what I’d done to deserve a book.  I’ve not read any of them.  They feel too special to enjoy.  Ideally, these books would be mounted on the wall like hunting trophies. 

Things took a dark turn in my late teens and early twenties.  For reasons that elude me now, I decided the best way to demonstrate to the world at large that I was an interesting, sensitive young man was to buy certain kinds of books.  It started with a Patrick White obsession – I spent weekends hunting down first editions all over town and regarded anyone who’d even heard of Patrick White as being something of a kindred spirit.  But despite all my Patrick White first editions, not once did someone sidle up to me and remark what an interesting and sensitive young man I must be.

Things turned darker still.  I started reading Camus, Sartre and collecting hardback editions of Francois Mauriac.  Before I knew it, I was a complete Francophile.  If these books didn’t represent who I was, they probably said something about who I wanted to be.  Sometimes books are aspirational.  But I was a long way from being Camus, Sartre or Mauriac. 

I have a lot of books from my father.  These fall into two distinct camps.  There are those that he gave me, usually as a gift to mark an important event like a birthday or Christmas.  Then there are those that I took, most likely with a promise to return promptly that, at least to this time, remains unfilled.  (Where else am I going to get a complete set of Spike Milligan’s war diaries at this point?)  The gifts are all inscribed – nothing too fancy – just my name and his, the event and the date.  These books are like signposts.  Books had been my father’s go to gift of choice.  But, at a certain point, they stopped.  Perhaps the risk of repetition was too great.  The ones I took are, well, probably more comfortable staying with me at this point.

Different stages of my life have seen me buy different types of books.  Prolonged periods of melancholy saw me buy a lot of Michael Leunig.  There were assorted self-help books that probably followed my Michael Leunig marathon and then more cook books than I care to mention that I bought before every recipe you could ever want was available on the internet.  Clearly, life had changed.

Books are shadows.  You can’t shake them off.  I’ve packed and unpacked my books more time than I care to mention and spent hours fussing over how to arrange them on the shelves.  Books can’t appear randomly, there has to be some kind of underpinning logic.

And so it is that I’ve once more had to unpack my books.  Reaching into cardboard carton after carton, I’ve pulled out fragments of my life before deciding what order they should go in.  It’s almost as though they’re puzzle pieces and I am slowly putting myself back together.

Some books I’ve read multiple times – ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller, ‘The Heart of the Matter’ by Graham Greene and ‘The Man With The Gold’ – the autobiography of Mr. T. Others I may never get around to reading.  I’m okay with that.  Just the sight of them instantly transports me to another point in time.  They connect me to other points in my life.  Or, if you prefer, to other chapters.  The end.