Pick me! Even an Olympic Village Needs a Village Idiot

This may come as a shock to you, but I am yet to be selected as a member of Australia’s Olympic Team.  Despite this apparent and egregious snub, I have continued with my demanding training regimen of wearing a tracksuit whenever possible and drinking lots of tea.  I’ve also learned all the words to ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi’, which means I’ll be an asset when cheering on more talented members of the squad.

Frankly, the team selectors have something of a bias towards picking young, athletic types and barely give middle aged has-beens like me a look in.  Which is a shame, because I have so much to offer.   It’s easy to win medals and break records when the competitors have talent.  If a middle-aged man manages through either divine intervention or, more probably, the process of elimination, to end up on a dais without it constituting a pitch invasion, it deserves not so much a mere ‘congratulations’ as it does a national public holiday.

I’ve never been much of an athlete, but that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned hope that I could simply be a late bloomer.  Whilst others peak in their twenties, I’ve spent decades biding my time and it can’t be too long before it all falls into place and I clock a sub-ten second one-hundred metre dash. 

In primary school, I remember being shocked when told that we were going to compete in a race by way of a lap around the compound.  It sounded like madness then.  It sounds like madness now.  But some of my classmates seemed not only ready for the challenge but inexplicably enthused.  As the starter’s gun went off, they charged along the fence as I stood wondering whether this was some kind of elaborate practical joke.

Don’t get me wrong – I like to run.  It’s just that the type of running I do has nothing to do whatsoever with speed.  It’s more about being durable and moving forward no matter what.  Suffice to say, last year I was overtaken by someone who was pushing an occupied pram.  But despite the fact that I’m susceptible to being lapped by infants, I’d still be a worthy addition.

If nothing else, I could bring balance to the team.  It’s no good if everyone’s fantastic; you really need a little bit of mediocrity to put the Games, if not life more broadly, into perspective.  I also have plenty of experience.  Not experience that is remotely relevant to competing at the highest level, but experience nonetheless.  Unlike most of the members of the team, I’ll know what to do in the event there’s no internet coverage.  Some athletes have never experienced life without internet, whereas I grew in an age where, if we wanted to see cat videos, we had to get off our backsides and make our own.

I haven’t settled on an event yet.  To be honest, I’m not especially fussy.  That said, the decathlon looks like a lot of hard work for little reward, so I’ll probably give that a miss.  The equestrian events have a certain appeal in that, afterwards, you don’t have to hang around for public transport to get back to the Village.  Sadly, the event that I’ve done the most training for – Pub Trivia – has not yet been recognised by the organising committee as an official Olympic sport.  They don’t know what they’re missing.

On the plus side, Paris will be the very first Olympics to feature competitive break dancing.  This is excellent news.  By my reckoning, I’ve seen ‘Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo’ thirty times and know all the moves Special K, Turbo and Ozone used to try and stop their local recreation centre from being demolished by greedy developers.  (Apologies if I should have preceded that with the words ‘spoiler alert’, but I figure if you’ve not bothered to watch ‘Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo’ in the last forty years, you probably never will.)

Having moved house in the last twelve months, I have easy access to the one thing every breakdancer needs – cardboard boxes.  Indeed, I’m one quick trip to the shed away from having as much flattened cardboard as anyone could ever need to perform their breaks, pops and spins with confidence.  If that doesn’t get me over the line with the selection committee, I don’t know what will.

I even have my backing track all organised.  I’ll be performing to the golden sounds of ‘Agadoo’ by Black Lace.  Released in 1984, it topped the charts for reasons most likely associated with some kind of clerical error.  Quicker than you can say, ‘push pineapple, shake the tree’, the entire stadium will be enthralled.

It is, of course, possible that I’ve left my run too late.  Much as my dreams of being a member of the Johnny Young Talent Team are now seemingly destined to go unfulfilled, so too does my ambition to be selected to represent the country (and any country would do) at the elite level.  It’s a funny thing to consider all the things that are no longer possible because of the passage of time, even if they were always impossible due to a severe deficit of talent.

When the Olympics roll around in a few months, chances are I’ll be watching them from the couch at home like everyone else.  I will, of course, be dressed in my team tracksuit in a tragic bid to feel part of the action.  And, naturally, the floor will be covered in flattened cardboard boxes so that I can perform a few celebratory breakdance moves in the event the mood should take me.  I will, however, have forgotten the words to ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi’ by then.  Perhaps that’s for the best.

The World Where You Live: Confessions of a Crowded House Fan

What a world we live in.  You can be minding your own business when your phone suddenly informs you one of your all-time favourite bands has released a song.  Last Friday, I awoke to discover that Crowded House had released a brand-spanking new tune called ‘Teenage Summer’.  But despite the sense of joy, I hesitated.  What if it was a pale imitation of the music I’d grown up loving? 

It’s tough work being a fan.  Some people are football fanatics; they pledge their allegiance to a team and stick with them no matter what.  It’s a devotion that transcends rationality and, at times, decorum.  I didn’t have it in me to support a football team – I lacked the faith.  I was a music fan and I pledged myself to bands, through thick and Thin Lizzy.

That said, there were a few false starts.  Some musical passions burn brightly for a moment before fizzling out.  Like KISS.  For a brief moment in the 1970s, KISS was everywhere.  And by ‘everywhere’, I mean on t-shirts, lunchboxes and collectible swap cards.  They were the biggest thing since sliced bread, which they also marketed to impressionable youth under the name, ‘Gene’s Seven-Grain Wholemeal Slice Party’.  No rock band before or since has produced a bread that comes anywhere close.

Everyone at my school worshipped KISS.  My brother and I busted open our piggy banks and blew the lot on KISS albums at K-Mart.  I bought ‘Dynasty’ – which included the rock / disco crossover smash hit ‘I Was Made for Loving You’ and my brother snaffled ‘Unmasked’, which had a cartoon strip on the cover and was home to the soft rock power ballad, ‘Shandi’.  They were the first and last KISS albums we bought.  I’d love to say we had a musical epiphany and dumped Gene, Paul, Ace and the other guy for LPs by The Clash, but it wouldn’t be true.  We just lost interest.

My brother liked Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, but it did nothing for me.  It was remote, as if it had been beamed in from another planet.  As the product of superhumans, wholly inaccessible and unreachable.  ‘Thriller’ wasn’t something you could really relate to. 

Say what you like about Crowded House, they’re a different proposition to KISS and are unlikely to be mistaken for Michael Jackson any time soon.  Formed from the ashes of Split Enz, I liked them immediately.  And Neil Finn wrote songs that mere mortals like me could understand.  A lot of them could be played on an acoustic guitar.  And whilst many an act of musical butchery has been committed by people with acoustic guitars trying to emulate their heroes, something about those kinds of songs is inherently human.

Their debut album was crammed full of catchy tunes.  It arrived at a time when some pop music had started to take itself extremely seriously and suffered from delusions of grandeur.  The first Crowded House album didn’t pretend it was saving the world; it was rooted in something far more domestic.  These were songs that could be sung in the kitchen over the sink or when hanging out the laundry.  The songs belonged to everyone.

Their second album, ‘Temple of Low Men’ was darker, less exuberant offering than their debut.  It was the perfect soundtrack to teenage life for young people of a certain disposition, and I was just such a young person.  I loved that cassette and would play it was I fell asleep.  There are times when I still hear the sound of the tape deck ‘clicking’ as the album finished.

There’s a game called ‘seven degrees of Kevin Bacon’.  The object is to connect yourself to Kev through other people.  In the early nineties, I was three degrees from Crowded House.  My uncle, Mick, worked at a private school that Neil Finn’s kids attended.  My cousins were classmates with them.  It was a tenuous connection, but it would do. 

By album three, I was out of school and at Uni.  It was a sublime record stacked with ‘bonus-Finn’ by way of older brother Tim.  For sensitive singer-songwriters everywhere, it was the gold standard.  Almost every guitar player in Melbourne has, at some or other, strummed the chords to ‘Four Season in One Day’ whilst staring plaintively out a rain-streaked window. 

The following album marked the end of ‘phase one’ of the band.  ‘Together Alone’ was more sonically daring and arty than its predecessors.  It was the sound of the band growing up.  It was the perfect soundtrack to my last year at Uni.

The band broke up and, a few years later, one of them passed away.  There would be no going back.  Or so I thought.  Years later, the unthinkable happened.  The band reformed and started to release new music.  I kept my distance at first, but things have evolved.  The most recent incarnation is a family affair, with my cousin’s former classmates now on board, improving my score on the Baconometer to ‘two’.

As it turns out, the new song ‘Teenage Summer’ is delightful.  It’s so tuneful and stuffed with melodies that it’s hard to tell which part of the song is, in fact, the chorus.  As it turns out, the band are still with me.  What a relief.  Things may change and some things that are broken can never be repaired, and while the past will remain determinedly where it is, there is always the chance of renewal and the hope that change, no matter how traumatic at the time, might actually lead to something better.  It’s true for bands and, I think, for people.  Now excuse me while I fetch my headphones…

A Message from the Middle Ages

Here’s what I’m really enjoying about being middle aged: glasses.  Wherever I go, I now need to take multiple pairs of glasses and then swap between them as required by the circumstances.  There are sunglasses for the glare which, in turn, need to be replaced by my reading glasses in the event that I need to look at anything printed in something smaller than thirty-six font.  And then there are glasses for the ordinary business of seeing where you’re going.  It’s gotten to the point where I now need to factor in time to change in and out of various pairs of glasses.

There have been some moments of reckoning.  There was the time a work colleague saw the size of my text messages and reacted by laughing out loud.  Then there was the time I took a shopping list to the supermarket and could not see what was on it; a problem which I then sought to overcome by holding the list as far away from my face as possible.  And then Covid, where my glasses and mask refused to peacefully co-exist and I spent most of my time trying to see through the fog. 

It’s not just my deteriorating eyesight.  I have completely lost touch with popular culture.  Once, I knew who all the best singers were and what position they’d reached on the charts.  Now I’m completely and utterly adrift.  It’s got to the point that I don’t even know what a Doja Cat is.  I’ve made things worse for myself by making fun at my own expense.  When one of the kids asked me about the Ice Age, I described it as the ‘best years of my life’.   I now routinely claim to be connected to various historical figures – Julius Caesar was my flat mate at Uni, Winston Churchill was my paperboy.  That kind of thing. 

Age-shaming myself is one thing.  Being age-shamed by others, especially in a retail setting, is another thing altogether.

I like to run.  Not very fast and not very well, but I choose to believe that it’s keeping me fit, even if I am occasionally overtaken by someone pushing a pram.  (It’s happened.  More than once.)  When I run, I put my Apple iPhone in a little armband-pouch thingy that sits on my bicep.  That way, I can listen to fast-sounding music and imagine that I’m moving at a far greater clip than I actually am.

 The trouble with the Apple iPhone armband pouches is that they tend to wear out after a while and need to be replaced.  When I noticed some critical fabric had started to tear, I knew its days were numbered and I should do something about it.  Ordinarily, I wait until disaster strikes, but in this instance I was unusually proactive; keen to avoid it breaking when I least expected it to and have my phone fly off somewhere into the distance.

I don’t wish to name names, so for the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to the store as ‘JB Hi-Fi’.  I started by searching the shelves but found nothing.  I then had to strategically position myself near a member of staff who was helping someone else so that, once finished, I could pretend I’d just remembered I had a question to ask; as though there’s something slightly pathetic about deliberately loitering in a vain quest for service.  As I stood, pretending to be interested in the large array of influencer lights (it’s a thing!  Who knew?), I hoped that the person currently hogging the scarce staffing resource would hurry up and pick a toaster.  Any toaster would do.

Eventually, I got my chance at which point I casually tackled the staff member to the ground to prevent anyone else getting in first.  After all, there are lots of people in this world in desperate need of a decent toaster.  I asked whether they stocked the Apple iPhone armband pouch thingy.  He replied, ‘We should’.  I answered, ‘I know’.  He then looked at a computer screen and, either because he misinterpreted it or he didn’t believe what the computer was telling him, began to inspect each shelf individually.  Finally, he found another staff member – tall, dreadlocked and standing at the doorway, feigning interest at the receipts people were flashing as they exited the building.  He asked whether she’d seen any Apple iPhone armband pouch thingies.  Flicking her dreadlocks behind her, she said: ‘I haven’t seen one of those in ages.’

 The message was clear.  I was a relic, a dinosaur.  Old enough to have legitimately claimed Julius Caesar as a member of my share house.  I had been royally aged shamed.  The staff here were young and cool and hip and, clearly, I was none of these things.  Dejected, I left and shuffled next door to Officeworks.

I find Officeworks strangely comforting.  Just as some people who are not me find Bunnings to be a home away from home, there is something about multiple rows of well-organised stationary that I find soothing.  Some people listen to whale noises to help them sleep.  I only need to glance at the Officeworks catalogue and I’m practically unconscious.

There they were.  Apple iPhone armband pouch thingies, as far as the eye could see.  In an instant, I was no longer a relic, but someone whose preference to take their phone with them when they run was considered entirely legitimate.  I bought two.  For safety’s sake, you understand.  Clutching my purchases and my receipt, I walked back past JB Hi Fi at which point I pressed my purchase to the window and gesticulated wildly, saying, ‘Do you like Apple iPhone pouch thingies? Well, how do you like these Apple iPhone pouch thingies?’  She looked confused.  Or at least I think she did.  I’m not sure because I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time.