The Paradiddle Riddle of a Middle Life Crisis

Thank you!  Let me say with all sincerity how much I appreciate your cards, letters and gifts.  To those who went the extra mile and sent me a telegram, well done for knowing that telegrams still exist.  In the interests of honesty, I’ll simply say that I was mildly disappointed that these didn’t arrive in ‘gorilla-gram’ format, but I’ve learned not to be too fussy.  The thing is that you noticed.  I am grateful for all the ‘congratulations’ and best wishes that you have seen fit to shower upon me.  After all, it’s not everyday that you get to celebrate the start of a mid-life crisis.

Before you start, I’m here to say that a mid-life crisis is as legitimate a life milestone to celebrate as anything else, and I think it should be embraced.  Forget the shame and stigma that so often accompanies the slide into temporary insanity that, in cricket terms, would probably be described as a middle-order collapse.  Eighteenths and twenty firsts are wasted on the young; those kids barely know what to do with themselves.  But a midlife crisis is fueled both by a sense of urgency and, possibly, higher quality liquor.

I bought a drum kit.  I’ve always wanted one and after months of dithering, I finally lashed out and got one.  Granted, it’s not exactly a sports car or a hair transplant, but it is, nevertheless, a desperate and futile attempt to remake a life that – if we’re being entirely honest – has largely slipped me by.

But buying a drum kit is one thing.  Assembling it is another thing entirely, especially as it arrived in numerous boxes with zero in the way of instructions.  Perhaps that’s a good thing.  After all, my relationship with instructions is strained at best, if not entirely subsumed by hostility.  Forget weird drawings that don’t mean anything.  No instructions may well be the way of the future.

I have no intuition for putting things together.  I feel that the Alan key might be my natural adversary, right alongside the key of e-flat.  I dragged all the boxes up to my attic and began unpacking.  I considered making one of those ‘unboxing’ videos that are so popular on YouTube, but then decided that the world didn’t need to see me opening cardboard boxes and looking a little bit confused.  Perhaps it was the additional altitude, but once I finished hauling everything upstairs and was surrounded by a million hoops, nuts and assorted ephemera, I felt a little overwhelmed.

The solution was obvious.  The answers to most of life’s problems can be found in one place – the Internet.  Without a moment to lose, I quickly started googling until I could google no more.  After eight hours, I was no closer to assembling my drum kit but had a newfound respect for cats, especially when they’re using a typewriter.  (Who knew?  About seventy million other people, apparently.)

After a few days, I found some videos relevant to assembling a drum kit, including some hosted by humans rather than cats.  In a short period of time, I had made progress.  The kick drum started to look a lot like a kick drum.  The tom was mounted and hi-hats in place.  I even managed to assemble the wonderfully named ‘drum throne’. 

I stood back and marveled at what can only be described as the kind of achievement that deserves a plaque or, possibly, a statue.  I immediately took a photo and emailed it to IKEA to rebut their continued claim that my inability to assemble their furniture is more my problem than theirs.

Then I sat down.  My right hand reached across for the hi-hats while my left was perched over the snare drum, ready to strike.  I had my right foot on the kick pedal and the left controlling the hi-hats.  I was ready.  And then I started to play.  Or, at least, I tried to play.  The rhythm tripped and stuttered.  It sounded less like a beat than a mild telling off.  I tried to do a drum fill but missed and it went unfilled as a result.  In short, my attempt to hold something resembling a beat failed miserably.  Granted, I could claim I was engaging in some highfalutin jazz chicanery, but who was I fooling?  I was hopeless.

I read once that Keith Moon from The Who would forget how to be Keith Moon of The Who and it would take him a while to remember whenever the band came back from a break.  In my case, the break lasted a couple decades and, if I’m honest, I was never Keith Moon to begin with.  Maybe I’ll get better.  My neighbours are certainly hoping that I do.

I’m not sure what it is that draws us back to the things we loved in our youth.  Whether it’s having either the time or the resources to get things we’ve long coveted or trying to find something of ourselves we may have lost along the way, I really don’t know.  But I find that I’m often drawn back to the past and the people who built it.  As for the drum kit, I’m determined to figure it out, but for now it definitely has the upper hand.  I feel that if I keep on trying, eventually, perhaps inevitably, things will fall into place.

How to Cut Costs and Keep the Commonwealth Games

In a word: shattered.  All my hard work has been, it seems, for nought.  The decision to cancel the Commonwealth Games means that my long-held dream of playing representative sport will remain unrealised.  Not only did I fancy my chances of being selected to compete in the ultra-competitive sport of extreme-quoits (which was to make its Games debut), I was more than half a chance at being named ‘Captain’.  Granted, this would only occur if I changed my name legally by deed poll, but you can’t tell me that ‘Captain Quoit’ doesn’t have a powerful ring to it. 

Maybe it’s not too late.  Perhaps there’s something that can be done to rescue this Titanic bin fire, smothered in a schemozzle-glaze with a Hindenburg chaser.  Given that the issue is the price, there are a few practical things that can be done to trim costs.  Luckily, I have a pair of rusty hairdresser scissors I keep in the third drawer in the kitchen and am ready to start trimming in earnest.  The first step is obvious – relocate the entire shebang to the Mornington Peninsula. 

Stay with me.  The Mornington Peninsula has what it takes to host a (semi) successful games, which is a lot better than no games at all.  It starts with the opening ceremony.

Frankly, the opening ceremony is the budgeting equivalent of a truck filled with money being setting on fire.  This will need to be significantly downsized.  Instead of a major sporting arena, the opening ceremony should, instead, be relocated to the Twenty First Dance Club in Frankston.  It already has lighting and a public address system and athletes could be spared the indignity of having to parade in a circle, instead, simply climbing aboard the revolving dance floor and letting the technology do the work. 

Not that there won’t be problems.  Back when I used to go to the Twenty First Century Dance Club – which (admittedly) was sometime before the Twenty First Century – those at the front door were very particular about shoes.  Shoes rather than eyes, it seems, are the window to the soul.  This could prove something of an issue, as athletes are notoriously fond of sneakers, which once constituted grounds for exclusion.  To this day, the words ‘not with those shoes’ continue to haunt me in my dreams.  Competitors would need their ‘dress shoes’. 

No opening ceremony would be complete without top-shelf entertainment.  We should ask Andrew Hosking and Coupe de Ville now to set time aside in their diaries for 2026.  Granted, this will be something of a blow to Human Nature, who had probably considered themselves certain starters, but no one ever said that the new, streamlined version of the Commonwealth Games wouldn’t require a few sacrifices.  

If there’s one thing I know about athletes – besides their near fanatical commitment to wearing sneakers – it’s that they like to eat.  A lot.  Not a problem – this could be the very first games where spectators are required to bring a plate.  You can’t tell me that competitors from other Commonwealth nations wouldn’t welcome a plateful of cold buttered pikelets and a jelly slice.  It’s a shame that other major athletic carnivals don’t apply a similar rule. 

I appreciate that equipment can be both expensive and hard to source.  After all, you’re unlikely to stumble over a javelin at Rebel Sport.  That’s why every sport will be modified to use just one piece of sporting equipment – namely, the second-hand tennis ball that mysteriously (or, if you’re my neighbour, not so mysteriously) appeared in my backyard last Thursday.  I appreciate that as athletic kit goes, a second-hand tennis ball is pretty basic, so I’ve decided to put electrical tape on one side to make it less predictable and more exciting.

To make this work, I’ve had to reduce the number of events slightly.  At the last Commonwealth Games, there were twenty-one sports and two hundred and seventy-two events.  I’ve decided to cut this back to just two.  Namely, backyard cricket and quoits.  Not only are these two sports for which I feel the standard of competition will be enviably high, neither of them requires that much in the way of space.  Indeed, community involvement would be assured once locals are asked to volunteer their backyards as venues.

And then there’s the athletes themselves.  At the last games, there were more than five thousand of them.  That feels somewhat excessive.  I would like to try and reduce that down to something a little more manageable.  Probably six.  And instead of a carnival across a fortnight, I’m thinking that an afternoon should just about do it.  Sure, it’s not as big and as grand as we’re used to, but is anything?  For all it loses in terms of pomp and ceremony, I can almost guarantee a pleasant day out for all concerned.

I may well be a genius.  In one column, I’ve managed to reduce the projected budget for the 2026 Commonwealth Games down from the eye-watering, shapeshifting sum of six billion dollars to something slightly south of two hundred bucks.  You’re welcome.  But if a one day, six-person, back yard cricket and quoits version of the Commonwealth Games sounds a little bit sad and lamentable, it’s still miles better than bailing out altogether.  Let the games begin. 

Yours truly – Captain Quoit

The Grand Return of the Electric Banana from Space

I used to know how to do this.  I was fourteen when I first started playing music in public, sometimes on my own, more often with others.  There’s nothing else quite like it; the nerves, the sense of anticipation, the journey of playing a group of songs to an audience.  How it feels when people respond enthusiastically.  How it feels when they don’t.  Broken strings, squealing feedback, thunderous applause and profound silence – I’ve experienced all these things when making music.  But all that experience counts for little when you stop.  In my case, I stopped for a couple of decades.

I was barely a teenager when I joined my first band.  A couple from church were in need of a keyboard player and I had a full set of fingers and a lot of time on my hands.  They were adults, which meant they were responsible for almost every aspect of band-life.  They had all the equipment, chose the songs and even picked me up for rehearsals.  All I had to do was listen to a cassette and learn the songs.  I would describe my efforts as ‘hit and miss’.  For the songs I liked, I got my parts down just right.  For those I didn’t, I relied on either inspiration or, possibly, ‘the Force’ to guide me.  Unfortunately, that guidance was not forthcoming and the resulting cacophony almost ended my musical career before it started.

Our first gig was in Balnarring.  It was in the room behind the church where they usually served tea and cold pikelets after the service.  On this occasion, there wasn’t a pikelet in sight, which, I feel, largely accounts for the indifferent reaction of the audience.  I do recall dressing up for the occasion, in a short-sleeved yellow shirt with black highlights and my best acid wash.  The shirt was my ‘good shirt’ – the one I wore whenever I was trying to make an impression – presumably an impression of a space-age banana.

Being invited into someone else’s band was one thing – having a band of your own is a different experience entirely.  We were all members of the same youth group.  One summer, we decided that we really ought to be a band, partly because we each played an instrument and partly because mixed netball had yet to be invented.  We attempted a couple of covers, but I think we knew from the outset that we’d be performing original music.

Original music is a tricky business.  On the one hand, the world loves a covers band.  Most people like to hear a song they already know, even if the song in question is being butchered into oblivion.  There are lots of gigs for cover bands.  But you can only go so far playing covers.  Original music, however, is all about integrity.  You stay true to your artistic vision in the knowledge that it’s harder to get a gig and that, when you do, you’re either playing to an audience that is either indifferent or (possibly) non-existent.

We quickly started writing our own songs.  Some of them were all right.  Others weren’t quite as good.  Our first major gig would be at Balnarring, although instead of a small room behind the church, we were playing on the back of a flatbed truck parked strategically at the playground beside the local caravan park.  I’m not sure what the people of Balnarring had done to deserve us, but they were going to cop an earful whether they wanted to or not.  And, aside from our total lack of experience and limited musicianship, we were desperately underprepared.

We had a chronic shortage of songs.  The only way to fix this situation was to write and learn a bunch of tunes in the week before we were due to play.  What could possibly go wrong?  Quite a lot as it turns out. 

Amazingly, we managed to write more songs.  Learning them was a challenge, but we did our best.  To fill for time, we made some desperate choices, such as deciding to perform a drum solo with two people standing at the drum kit.  Which, in theory, sounds okay if both of those people can play the drums.  Whilst one of the people in question was Chris, our drummer, the other person was me, who barely knew which end of the stick to hold.  The end result filled several minutes that would have been better spent in silent contemplation.

Our performance in the Balnarring playground was just the start of an illustrious career in which we played on the back of a variety of flatbed trucks – some moving, others stationary.  Occasionally, we’d begin our performance whilst stationary before being persuaded by the audience response to start the engine and drive somewhere else.  Eventually we moved on to other types of venues, like roller rinks, where the patrons were moving whilst we were standing still.

I’ve moved on from acid wash.  Mostly.  But all this time later, I have another band, albeit with one other person, and we were scheduled to play at the Newport Folk Festival.  There were so many questions – could I remember an entire set of songs and perform them without messing up?  (Yes.)  Would anyone come?  (Some people did, and even more have watched online.) Could I still fit in my electric banana shirt? (No.  Not even close.)  I was a little nervous, but it felt oddly normal.  Natural, even.  Without even knowing it, I think I might even have missed it.  I was glad to be back.  It turns out, some things may disappear for a time, but they never really vanish.  I’m grateful.  Our next gig will be in Balnarring.  Probably.