The Email Avalanche and the Deceased Comedian

I immediately sat bolt upright.  And not just like any-old regular bolt, either; that’s rusted and sitting in an old pomade tin at the bottom of the toolbox your father gave you when you moved out of home when you were eighteen and that you’ve seldom had cause to look at since.  Not at all.  I’m talking about one of those oversized, chrome masterpieces you get from Bunnings that looks as though it could hold the Sydney Harbour Bridge together.  I’m talking about a very serious bolt. And the thing that caused me to become bolt upright was an email from my local cinema.  This, it must be said, it a most unusual thing.

It seems that everything you do in life now generates an email.  Whether it’s buying a pair of shoes or ordering a chair, you are inadvertently making a lifetime commitment.  Whether you agreed to it or not, you’re destined to be flooded with unsolicited correspondence for the rest of your days.  So it was with the cinema.  Once, I must have decided that catching a movie would be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, never realizing that I’d be hearing from them for, well, eternity.  Frankly, the incessant nature of these unwanted, uninvited emails is almost enough to make me wish I’d never seen Police Academy 8: The Next Generation at all.  Almost.

I now get so many of these emails now that they barely register.  Worse than that, I rarely believe what they’re telling me.  It simply can’t be that the furniture shop I bought a small stool from seven years ago is still having a clearance sale.  If it never ends, it can’t really be said that it’s a sale.  It’s just normal business.  When a certain on-line food ordering service tells me that today is international cheese pizza day, I take it with a grain of salt, even though said pizza is already pretty salty to begin with.  When an email has, as its subject title ‘Hurry’, I am overwhelmed by lethargy.

But this was an email I couldn’t ignore.  As it appeared on my phone, it loudly declared, ‘Luke Heggie’s dead’.  I had no idea who Luke Heggie was, but I was both devastated and confused.  Devastated because despite the fact that I was utterly unfamiliar with his work, I certainly didn’t wish him any harm and I could only assume from the nature of the announcement that his passing was somewhat unexpected. Confused because I wasn’t sure why a cinema would be making this kind of declaration; unless, of course, Luke’s demise was somehow connected to an incident involving the popcorn machine. Worried, I quickly opened the email.

Then came the rest of the message.  ‘Luke Heggie’s deadpan humour….’, went the email.  Though they have a lot in common the words ‘dead’ and ‘deadpan’ are decidedly different.  It is, on balance, far better to be described as ‘deadpan’ rather than ‘dead’.  Clearly they were unaware that by sending out a group email the text would be displayed in such a way as to create wholesale panic if not an outpouring of raw emotion.  This is why cinemas aren’t allowed to make sensitive announcements.  They can’t be trusted.

I can’t have been the only one to notice.  I wonder if the proprietors turned up to work the next day only to encounter a small Luke Heggie shrine, complete with candles, poems and a couple of stuffed toys, blocking access to the Choc Tops.  Perhaps some kind of small vigil of devoted fans, quietly telling jokes to one another.  The resulting funeral would be odd, also.  Personally, I’ve never been to a funeral where the advertising was brought to you by Pearl and Dean.

Ironically, given the email, they were seeking to promote a live performance.  Which, although conceivably deadpan, would be the absolute polar opposite of dead.  Phew.  That said, a live performance at a cinema is kind of at odds with the whole point of the cinematic experience.  I’m just saying. I don’t know if he’ll be doing his regular routine or, instead, reading from a movie script.  If so, they should really say which script he’ll be reciting.  Nobody wants to turn up to their local cinema to hear someone read through Police Academy 8: The Next Generation.  You’ll have to take my word on that.

Having been fooled once, I am now treating all my emails with suspicion.  I once bought a towel and, for my troubles, I’m now being asked the somewhat loaded question: ‘what’s the perfect sheet set for you?’  To be honest, it’s not a subject I’ve devoted much time to.  Many of these emails claim that the offer ‘ends tonight’.  Sure it does.  Some of them claim to be celebrating holidays I’ve never heard of. (Surely there’s no such thing as ‘International Bean Throwing Day?  It’s got to be a joke.  I’m hoping).

From now on, I’ll be ignoring my emails.  Instead, I’ll be relying on my preferred mode of communication – Bat signal.  And although I’m delighted to hear that Luke Heggie is very much in the land of the living and delighted that he’s got an upcoming live performance, I won’t be going.  After the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on this week, I’m not sure I could take any more.  Instead, I’ll be staying home where it’s nice and warm.  To watch a movie.

Personal Training by the Seat of my Pants

Eventually, we all succumb.  Whether our surrender is a result of pride, carelessness or administrative error, we all ultimately find ourselves on some kind of quest to improve ourselves.  It needn’t be much. More care with your physical appearance, learning a language or improving your diet; it all counts towards making an even better you.  And although I could have ironed a shirt, learned how to speak Klingon so I could fulfill my life’s ambition to translate ‘The Art of the Deal’ into a language more suited to its author or eaten some broccoli; I, instead, chose personal training.  

My last birthday was something of a landmark occasion; probably a small mountain or an odd-shaped building. But whatever the monument, it’s the first time news of my birthday has ever been greeted with surprise. It’s something of an insult. I’m not sure what it says about how I conducted myself when I was younger, but when people react to your birthday by muttering, ‘really?’ it’s time to act.

I’ve attended the occasional exercise class before.  Mostly, I like to blend in and not draw attention to myself, despite my insistence on always wearing bright pink Lycra.  Whilst dressing like a highlighter pen might seem at odds with keeping a low profile, it’s solely for safety reasons.  You can’t be too careful in exercise class.  Or, as it turns out, too comfortable.

The difference between exercise class and personal training is that there’s nowhere to hide.  It’s just you and the person whose job it is to hunt you down in the event you decide to take shelter in the air conditioning duct.  Despite this, I turned up having forsaken my traditional hot pink Lycra in favour of full camouflage gear and one eye on the air conditioning duct in the event I needed to execute a swift escape. 

My trainer was an easy-going fellow who, technically speaking, may well qualify as a giant.  But personal trainers should really be called ‘personable trainers’ as they seem to specialize in being friendly and encouraging.  Perhaps it’s their way of getting the best out of you.  Or, then again, maybe it’s designed to lull you into a false sense of security. 

My trainer asked whether I was familiar with the Romanian Deadlift.  Disappointingly, the Romanian Deadlift is not a band, although it probably should be.  Let me say at the outset, I’m extremely fond of any exercise that’s geographically specific. Whether it’s the Welsh Squat, the Hungarian Vault or the Dutch Oven, these exercises have a sense of tradition that makes a trip to the gym feel culturally enriching as well as exhausting.  Then he explained what a ‘Romanian Deadlift’ was.  

It involves keeping your back straight whilst bending at the hips and pushing your backside out as far as it will go.  As a middle-aged man, such actions run counter to every instinct in my body.  That’s like asking me to change my routine or skip the news – it’s simply not something I ever contemplate doing.  Also, there’s a small matter of ‘the incident’.

It was years ago.  We were looking after my father’s farm in Tyabb whilst he went gallivanting overseas.  Before departing, he provided a list of the animals he feared might ‘go to God’ during his absence.  At the top of the list was his dog, Nelson.  Some pets are simply that.  They share space with you and eat your food, but everyone goes about living their daily lives, unaffected.  Others are so much more.  Nelson was in the latter category.  I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a ‘Hound of Distinction’ but if there is, it’d describe Nelson.  When he did, unfortunately, pass away, it fell to my brother and I to bury him in accordance with my father’s incredibly detailed and deeply impractical instructions.

Nelson was to be buried next to the lavender bush.  The problem being that it was the meeting place for a large number of bees during daylight hours.  So we had to wait until the sun went down.  Digging in the darkness, when struck trouble when we burrowed through a large underground apartment complex for bullants.  Still, we continued to dig.  The deeper we got, the harder it became.  Wielding a mattock, I stretched out as far as I could as I swung.  Then I heard an almighty ripping sound.  After a quick check, I was able to ascertain that the seat of my trousers remained in place.  It was only later when getting ready for bed that I made the gruesome discovery that my boxer shorts had ripped from top to tail.  I was shocked.  Granted, I was at full stretch, but it’s not as though I was performing a Romanian Deadlift.

As the personal trainer waited my shorts, if not large portions of my life, flashed before my eyes.  I hoped that my exercise gear could withstand the additional pressure.  I hoped that no one was watching as I gingerly moved into position.  Most of all, I hoped there was no-one standing directly behind me in case the unthinkable happened and there was a catastrophic structural failure.  Fearing that the Romanian Deadlift might trigger a Tyabb Trouser Tear, I bolted in the air conditioning duct.  Someday, maybe in a month or so, I’ll leave the duct and resume my life. Until then, if someone asks where I am, just tell them I’ve duct out for a bit. 

Optimus Prime Minister: Explaining the FOMO of Scomo

Imagine this. You’ve spent your entire life being picked dead last for every team – from cricket to tiddlywinks to the team responsible for the best ad hoc sculpture made solely from toilet rolls, pipe cleaners and sparkles. Nobody wants you.  Suddenly, by a quirk of fate you realise that you have the power to decide who’s on which team. Instead of waiting to be picked you’re the one doing the picking. It’s the kind of power that could easily go to someone’s head. And it kind of did.

We’ve heard a lot about the ‘Westminster system’ recently which is not to be confused with the ‘Axminster system’ which is more about a type of carpet than it is a system of government and the ‘Westeros system’ that mostly concerns dragons and carelessly placed takeaway coffee cups. Although, that said, dragons in Parliament would be awesome, albeit difficult to capture in ‘Hansard’. One of the features of the Westminster system, beyond its appalling lack of dragons, is that there are members of an executive branch who are accountable to the Parliament.

It started off as an ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ thing in the Health portfolio. At the time, there was a lot happening and the idea was understandable, if not forgivable. But having learned that he could be appointed to multiple portfolios in addition to the existing Minister, it’s fair to say that the PM became the ‘Primed Minister’ – eager for anything he could get his hands on. It must have been something like a first-time visit to an all-you-can-eat buffet. You hardly know where to start. Or, more importantly as the case may be, where to stop.

Before long, Scomo was collecting ministerial portfolios like a scout collects merit badges.  He was insatiable.  He may not have made his acquisitions known to the general public, but I have a sneaking suspicion that every time he snaffled another job, he had his business cards reprinted.  It got so that Cabinet meetings could, in fact, have been conducted in an actual cabinet, with Scomo squeezed in between the panels like The Cure in the film clip to ‘Close to Me’ (although we all know that Scomo’s not going to be listening to The Cure. He’ll be listening to Dragon, which makes me think that he may prefer the ‘Westeros system’ after all).

Meetings must have been an absolute breeze. Instead of having to wrangle a room chock-a-block with unruly colleagues, you can make key decisions just by staring into the bathroom mirror.  Shaving has never been so productive.  It’s not hard to imagine Scomo, cut-throat razor in hand and a face full of foam staring lovingly back at his own reflection and asking the seemingly rhetorical question: ‘who’s a clever boy?’ before barrelling ahead to answer it regardless by smirking and saying, ‘you are’ and blowing himself a kiss.  Narcissus would be jealous.

It makes you wonder whether there are other jobs the (now) former Prime Minister would like to take on.  There’s a chronic shortage of labour right now but the answer is as obvious as it is simple – get Scott to do it.  Need an extra set of hands in the McDonalds’ drive-through? Give Scomo a headset and he’ll be asking you if you want fries with that before you’ve had a chance to scratch yourself.  In fact, there’s nothing the all-purpose Scomo can’t do. He’ll whiten your whites, remove unwanted odours and turn a sandwich into a banquet. Soon he’ll be a verb.

That said, things may have gotten slightly out of hand. Last night, I went to take the bins out to find that someone had beaten me to it.  Which is disturbing when you live alone.  As I looked up, I saw Scomo scurry away.  Today the dishwasher was empty and the ironing complete.  Then, this afternoon, I tried to join a team meeting on line and found that was already in my place and was using my name.  He must be stopped. I’d been Scomoed.

Surely there’s a small fortune to be made my inventing a heavy duty Scott-repellent.  Much like Aeroguard but for a much larger pest. I shall do my best to invent it. There’s something horrifically odd about the whole thing.  Something you can’t quite get your fingers around.  It’s one thing to decide you need a contingency in case of disaster.  It’s another to keep the whole thing a secret.  As if the day would not inevitably come whereby we’d discover that one person had taken it upon himself to be the king of everything.

It’s an odd turn of events.  It began when a Prime Minister had himself secretly sworn in and has ended up with his colleagues swearing him out.  Such is their frustration that the very name ‘Scomo’ has been reduced to an expletive magnet.  It’s been a rough couple of years and plenty of conventions have fallen by the wayside, but some things are important.  Knowing who’s in charge matters.  Knowing who’s responsible is incredibly important.

It must be tough being Scomo right now. People are understandably angry and upset.  But even if his friends and colleagues abandon him just as voters have deserted him, at least he’ll still have himself to comfort him.  Which is probably exactly the way he likes it.

There Ain’t No Millisecond Prize

Time is a relative concept.  Not an especially close relative – probably a second cousin twice removed or an odd uncle who smells strange – but a relative nonetheless. But just as a malodorous uncle can muscle his way in on the queue for the Christmas pork crackling, fuelled equally by a sense of entitlement and brandy eggnog, so too can time throw an almighty spanner in the works when least expected.  Time, it seems, is speeding up.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  It’s the earth that’s getting faster by taking less time to rotate on its axis.  In June, our planet recorded its shortest day ever, clocking in at 1.59 milliseconds quicker than average.  No wonder I felt rushed.  This, of course, creates a problem much bigger than a millisecond.  For whilst the earth might play fast and loose with time, the same cannot be said for clocks who are incredibly stubborn about it.  As a result, things are ever so slightly out of step.

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that it’s this kind of confluence  of circumstances that makes time travel a reality.  I’m tempted to take the Holden Astra up to eighty eight miles an hour in the Woolies car park and see if I end up somewhere other than in the back of the discount bottle shop.  All I need to figure out is which year I should return to.  In truth, the answer is obvious.

In the movie ‘Back to the Future’, Marty McFly is transported back to 1955 in order to help Chuck Berry invent rock and roll.  This must have come as something of a shock to Chuck when he saw the film. For me, however, I would use my time machine to return to the Year of Our Lord 1987.  

There are many reasons why I’d choose this particular year.  It was the year the Berlin Wall came down – crumbling as it did when subjected to a performance of ‘Jump In My Car’ by David Hasselhoff.  1989 was also the year that Microsoft first released ‘Office’ – which is the version I use to this very day.  It was the year of Milli Vanilli and ‘Pump Up the Jam’ by Technotronic. Of Cher and a revitalized B-52s. But my reasons for heading back to 1989 are not to be in Berlin as the Hoff sang or to encourage Cher to wear something more suited to standing astride a Navy destroyer but, in truth, to tell me to pull my socks up.

If I could travel back in time, it would be to cut my mullet off and explain that no good ever comes from acid wash jeans. Ever.  I feel this advice would have changed my life for the better.  Also, I would have encouraged my younger self to learn how to dance.  Footage from that era survives of me out the front of a band doing something that I thought, then, was dancing but know now to be something akin to wriggling like an electric eel after a nasty surprise.

As exciting as it is to consider that there’s now time unaccounted for that can be claimed back at will, there are questions of a more troubling kind that need to be answered.  Namely, if the world is getting faster, how much faster can we expect it to get?  I remember once taking my nephew to Luna Park and discovering that this quiet, unassuming eight-year-old feared nothing and insisted on experiencing the most terrifying theme park rides known to humanity.  One such ride involved leaning against a wall which then span around until somebody lost their lunch.  I don’t remember what it was called, but always think of it as ‘the Vomitron’.

I, for one, am not looking forward to the day I wake up only to find the world spinning at such a pace that my car keys are stuck to the wall and I want to lie down.  Soon will come the time when the entire planet is spinning like a top, until it falls from its axis and tumbles into space.  Chances are, it’ll happen before I’ve had a chance to use the last of my JB Hi Fi gift vouchers.  Typical.

Funny thing is, the world wasn’t always in such a hurry. Until a few years ago, the general consensus was it was slowing down, necessitating the introduction of ‘leap seconds’ to keep everything in line.  Now that it’s gone the other way, some are advocating that we ‘drop’ a millisecond.  This is new territory. Its impact on technology is, apparently, unknown.  All I can say is in the event of a negative leap second, there’s not a chance in hell that I’m going to try and synchronize the clock on my microwave. It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

 It’s no surprise, really, to hear that the world is speeding up.  Most of us feel that every day.  But amongst all the chaos and noise and pressure, I hope there’s still time to slow down and appreciate things.  Time may change and so do we.  I think there may have been moments when I’ve resisted changed – which is why I still had a mullet and wore acid wash jeans until November 2013.  But it’s different now.  

Even if the world speeding up creates a wormhole through which it’s possible for a Holden Astra to slip, I won’t be going back to 1989 after all.  What’s done is done. I like it here, instead. And I’m more interested in what’s happening now than anything behind me.  Bring on the future. 

Netsux: The Streaming of Unconsciousness

The Netflix giveth and the Netflix taketh away.  Without any warning whatsoever as it turns out. One minute you’re watching season 12 of ‘English Pantries and Cupboards’, moments from learning who’ll take out the ultimate title of ‘Lord Cupboard Sorter’ and the grand prize of a week’s caravanning in Devon before the whole series disappears.  Abducted, never to be seen again.  Without so much as a goodbye note, it vanishes from your ‘continue watching’ list.  It’s gaslighting, pure and simple.  

A series, once yanked from the platform, leaves no trace that it was ever there at all until you begin to question your own sanity. Did I imagine devoting one hundred and thirty hours – much of them in a single weekend – to watching a lifestyle show about tidying your cupboards?  Was it a dream?  Surely not!  Instead, our shows are stolen from us, right when we need them most.  How is it that we allowed ourselves to be at the mercy of this unfeeling, insensitive streaming overlord?  

How dare you, Netflix!  One minute I’m enjoying myself thoroughly, the next I’ve been cruelly cut off without so much as a five-minute warning.  For shame!  Had I known you were about to yank the rug out from under me, I’d have redoubled my efforts, lest I should be stranded; hapless and flailing, without any clue as to how the series might end.  I feel so….unresolved.  

It’s all so incredibly arbitrary.  Things appear and disappear as they please. When I was a kid, I took piano lessons.  In the waiting room, there was a small pile of religious pamphlets that were very keen on the idea of an imminent ‘rapture’.  For those unfamiliar with it, ‘the rapture’ was the moment when God’s servants would be called to heaven and would disappear from the face of the earth.  It was quite the concept; one that I hoped would manifest immediately before my year 10 Maths B exam, to no avail.  Having things vanish from your watch list; it’s as though the rapture has suddenly called your favourite television shows to heaven.  

It’s made worse by how loudly Netflix will trumpet the shows arriving on its platform.  I am constantly barraged by unsolicited emails telling me about programs that I would only ever watch at gunpoint and, even then, probably not.  If that sounds like a drastic and melodramatic overstatement, then let me simply say ‘Goop’.  Enough said.  Netflix will go to great lengths to talk up these shows, most of which will inevitably be complete duds, whilst saying nothing about those that are about to be moved on.  Imagine if someone you worked with left and there wasn’t a farewell card? It’d be a scandal.

It’s made worse by the nature of television these days. Once, TV shows were episodic in nature and each episode was largely self-contained.  You can start watching ‘The Fall Guy’ or ‘The A-Team’ or even ‘Magnum P.I.’ mid-season and you’ll know exactly what’s going on.  These shows went to great lengths to explain themselves, often in the opening theme song.  Now, however, television shows have story arcs that last the best part of a decade and blinking at the wrong time means that you’ll have missed some subtle but essential clue that becomes a vital part of understanding episode twelve in season twenty seven. 

These shows require commitment.  They demand hours of your time for weeks, if not months on end, until they dominate your life.  Television shows have a much bigger canvas than movies and are more likely to take their sweet time in getting to the point.  It’s common to be told that a particular series is fabulous ‘once you get past the first six seasons’.  It’s a lot to ask.  But, having made that commitment, to have the series removed is an act of unfathomable cruelty.

Technology companies are funny like that.  On the one hand, they present themselves as being at the centre of everything that’s good and wonderful about contemporary culture.  They portray themselves as offering consumer choice and promise the freedom to watch what you want, when you want.  Which they kind of do right up until the moment they rip the rug out from under you.

Why is transparency so difficult for these mega-tech titans?  It’s as though they’re afraid of what we might say if they told us the truth, so they go to great lengths to tell us as little as possible.  It’s a sleight of hand.  A dirty hustle by bloated corporate entities, fuelled by algorithms at the expense of human emotion.  It leaves me with no choice – I’ll have to write my own ending.  It’s not the first time.

I was mid-way through series seven of ‘Mad Men’ when Netflix dumped it. Using Lego pieces, I filmed an ending on my phone in which Don Draper quit advertising to become a professional hotdog vendor in Omaha. He settles down and ends up incredibly contented before lighting up the dance floor when disco rolls around. Then aliens attacked.  Don Draper defended the entire planet using nothing but a small, flimsy Lego sword with only his wits and plastic hair for protection.  It’s not much of an ending, but at least it’s mine.  Take that, Netflix.   

Hi Ho Silver Bullets

There’s no getting around it – times are tough.  Wherever you turn, there are problems piling up like laundry in a world without a washing machine.  War, famine and the end of ‘Neighbours’ – there’s simply no end to the misery confronting us.  And whilst there are a lot of very obvious problems, there seems to be no corresponding supply obvious solutions.  This fact is reinforced every time I turn on the television. Almost without fail, the person talking will begin by saying ‘there’s no silver bullet’.  This prompts the obvious question – what on earth happened to all the silver bullets?

Let me speak candidly, I’ve never owned a silver bullet.  It never occurred to me to do so.  And this is coming from someone who owns a doohickey, a thingamajig and several whatchamacallits.  But no silver bullets.  Frankly, it feels a bit shortsighted.  Despite going to the supermarket weekly, I never think to grab a packet of silver bullets to plonk beside the tub of yoghurt in my trolley in case of problems.  Granted, some problems can be solved by a good yoghurt.  Others, however, require a silver bullet.  But alas – I’m now left to wallow in my own foolishness as it’s too late.  There are no more silver bullets to be bought.  We’ve run out.

When faced with this kind of gut-wrenching disappointment, it’s tempting to blame others.  It’s also comforting.  And something I will do without a moment’s hesitation. Which is why I  demand to know which bozo was asleep at the wheel and allowed this chronic under-supply of silver bullets to come about? For it seemed like only yesterday that silver bullets lay strewn across the street and it was almost impossible to leave the house without tripping over them.  Now you can’t get a silver bullet to save yourself. Clearly, someone’s to blame.

That said, silver bullets are something of a niche product.  They’re different to milk, bread and sugar in that respect.  Traditionally, though, silver bullets are also used to dispatch werewolves and witches into the afterlife as well as solve intractable problems.  Which makes me think that if we’ve run out, werewolves and witches must be in plague proportions and we’re in danger of being overrun.  Try not to panic.

The Lone Ranger also used silver bullets, even though there are no surviving accounts of either he or Tonto being attacked by werewolves.  Truth is, he probably only used silver bullets on account of not having any lead ones.  As a result, he then believed that silver bullets were perfect for every occasion – from dispensing justice to wayward outlaws through to pest control and even removing bottle caps. This phenomenon is known as ‘golden hammer’, even though it’s a silver bullet.  Which is kind of ironic.

Bob Seger – who, in a certain light, bears more than a passing resemblance to a werewolf – had ‘the Silver Bullet Band’.  Until supply chains are restored, perhaps we can make do for the time being with a bit of Bob Seger.  Next time someone important stands up to announce ‘there’s no silver bullet’, expect them to slide into shot wearing only a shirt, sunglasses and a regular pair of Reg Grundys whilst the Silver Bullet Band cranks out ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’.  Suddenly, werewolves won’t seem so bad.

Doubtless, the great silver bullet drought on 2022 will be something that will be remembered forever. There will be murals, plays and songs (and not just ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’, either) as tales of our collective suffering are handed down from one generation to the next.  In fact, so severe is our current shortage, they’ll have to rewrite the record books.  

It may be that I’m watching too much sport.  But every time an athlete does exceptionally well, there is talk of ‘rewriting the record books’.  Rewriting an entire book is a drastic step when a slight edit would surely suffice.  At most, a revised edition would be enough.  I remember once setting a new world record for the most number of times falling over whilst playing football.  Although it was undoubtedly a stunning achievement that stands to this day, I doubt that a full rewrite would be warranted.  Probably just a note of correction, slipped inside the cover.

Much like silver bullets, it turns out that the record books are also in scarce supply.  Worse still, when I marched into my local bookstore and asked to be pointed in the general direction of the record books (I wanted to see if they’d been rewritten already), not only were they out of stock, they denied their existence altogether.  Clearly, this is a conspiracy lead by werewolves (probably) and whoever is responsible for inventing Tik Tok.  

Sigh.  Sometimes it all seems like too much.  As problem after problem continues to pile up, all we can do is comfort ourselves to the gentle strains of ‘Night Moves’ by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.  Maybe things will start to improve.  Perhaps things will start to get better if we simply grit our teeth and keep on going.  One thing’s for sure though.  When it comes to the current shortage of silver bullets, all I know is that there’s no silver bullet to fix it.

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.

A Farewell To (Bending) Arms

Looking back, I failed.  Failure, it must be said, is something of a broad proposition; on the one hand you can just fall short and comfort yourself that you’ll do better next time, or; you can go so spectacularly wide of the mark that your failure is an achievement of itself.  If that all sounds confusing, think of it in ‘Birdman Rally’ terms.  Some entrants in the Birdman Rally soar majestically and when they fall, we’re inevitably disappointed.  We are poisoned by a sense of a potential that’s not been realized.  Other contestants fall off the platform into the river and never stood a chance and we cheer.  I was the latter.

I speak, of course, of alcohol.  If I’m being completely honest, I was never any good at it.  Two years ago, as the pandemic came down with all the subtlety of a lead balloon, I gave it up. There was, at the time, something of an extended social license to get stuck into the liquor to cope with such perverse and unusual circumstances.  Whilst I realize that ‘quarantinis’ were a comfort to some, I went the other way. It may have been my rebellious streak kicking in.

It was, I think, something I could control at a time when everything else seemed out of control.  In the movies, such things only happen when the protagonist not so much hits rock bottom as crashes straight through it, before plunging into the depths of hell and reluctantly deciding to change their ways.  It was different for me.  Instead of reaching rock bottom, I kind of lost interest.  Two years later, I think I’m ready to accept that my days of drinking alcohol are behind me.  As such, I must now come to terms with the fact that there are certain things I’ll never achieve.

I longed to understand spirits.  Whiskey, gin and vodka – you name it; I found them all absolutely intriguing. All those movies where sophisticated urbanites meet for cocktails, witty banter and dancing to jazz – that’s who I wanted to be.  I desperately wanted to be the one in the crowded room holding the glass of some exotic liquor who was, somehow, above whatever else might be happening at that moment.  It just didn’t happen.  I was rubbish with spirits.

I tried my sincere best to like whiskey, but it didn’t work out.  At the risk of sounding like a total neophyte, it felt like trying to suck down a tumbler of petroleum.  Instead of looking like an urbane intellectual giant, each time I took a sip, my face bore the expression of someone who’d just swallowed a lemon and the tree it grew on.  Getting to the end of a glass of whiskey was an act of endurance rather than enjoyment.  I watched on as friends became connoisseurs, even going so far as to discuss their preferred brands and the great whiskey-producing regions of the world.  The way they spoke made the stuff sound like the highly intoxicating nectar of the gods.  But it all tasted like premium unleaded to me.  

Vodka was something I always experienced more by accident than design.  I don’t recall ever electing to buy vodka; rather, it would simply materialize in the cupboard from time to time.  Gin was, without doubt, the sneakiest of them all. I never knew where I stood with gin, right up to the point that I could no longer stand at all.  One minute you’re wondering whether someone substituted the hard stuff for water, the next your tongue has inflated like an airbag and you can no longer speak.  

Red wine was my absolute favourite.  It was how I ended most weeks for a very long time.  Like a starter’s pistol, a glass of red wine was tangible evidence that the weekend had finally arrived.  Often, I’d fall asleep on the couch on a Friday night, a glass of red wine by my side.  I’d thought that maybe I’d been drinking too quickly but I’ve since discovered that, alcohol or not, I’m still likely to nod off in front of the TV on Fridays.  

Special mention must be made of beer.  In many respects, beer is a lot like love in that it too is a many splendoured thing.  At the right moment, beer can be extraordinary; the first sip on a hot day or the way it melts when it’s poured into a cold glass.  Having said that, I don’t especially miss the way it sits like lead in your body when you’re tired or how it makes you supernaturally flatulent.  I have, instead, discovered a host of non-alcoholic beers that are actually pretty great. 

When I first stopped drinking alcohol, it was like a test to see how long I could go without.  I marked the days off the calendar with a texta.  Now, after two years, I’m enjoying not ever having to think about alcohol.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting for a moment that other people shouldn’t drink.  But, for me, I’m glad to be done with it.

Thinking about it now, there were times in my twenties when I deliberately misunderstood the term ‘alcohol free’.  Things have definitely changed.  For the better, I think.  I’ve no idea whether this will be forever but, for the moment at least, it feels like one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If that means I can never be the whiskey-sipping sophisticated urbanite of my dreams, so be it.  Frankly, failure never felt so good.  Cheers.

‘My Humps’ by The Black Eyed Peas – A Reappraisal

There are moments that define us all.  Events that are so momentous, they change the course of human history.  These things act as signposts in our lives and, once they occur, we can never go back.  They are proof that, as a species, we are continuing to evolve, even when ‘Married At First Sight’ provides such persuasive evidence to the contrary.  The moon landing. The day Nelson Mandela walked free from Victor Verster Prison.  Every movie ever made featuring The Muppets.  

We often choose to interpret historic events personally.  It’s just the way human beings process things that are otherwise beyond comprehension.  Often, it’s by what we were doing when we learned a certain thing has happened.  ‘Where were you when?’ is a small step towards understanding the unfathomable.  It applies equally to the traumatic as it does to the beautiful.  It even applies to songs.  And now that enough time has passed and we have, collectively, gathered our senses, I believe it’s time to ask: what were you doing when The Black Eyed Peas released ‘My Humps’?

For those unfamiliar with ‘My Humps’, I think I can speak for everyone who has when I say: I envy you. However it is that you managed to avoid being exposed to this most ubiquitous of ear worms, keep doing it; even if it means never leaving the house or turning on a television again. Stay golden.  Because once heard, it cannot be unheard.  It is a song that can never be forgotten; which is both part of its charm and its unique evil genius. 

‘My Humps’ is a song. It goes for about four minutes but, if I’m being honest, it feels like much longer.  In fact, it feels like it took less time to get through High School than it does to listen to ‘My Humps’ from start to finish.  It’s an ordeal.  Like running a marathon or walking across a desert or watching ‘The Real Housewives of Anywhere’, it’s something you’ll come to regret. Quickly.

Its starts with what can only be described as a ‘sassy, hip hop beat’.  As rhythms go, this one is intoxicating.  As a rapper myself, there’s nothing I appreciate more than a great beat.  Then comes the question: ‘What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?’ For those of you envisaging old newspapers in the back of a Ford Focus, think again.  The trunk in question is a reference to what might be politely described as someone’s ‘trouser hams’ and ‘junk’ is a reference to the dimensions of said hams.  

Every question deserves an answer and in this case, the answer is ‘I’m gonna get you drunk, get you love drunk off my hump.’  To drive the point home, the term ‘my hump’ is then repeated eight times in a row without so much as a commercial break to avoid monotony.  For those of you who are perplexed by so strange a mantra, the ‘hump’ in question does not belong to a camel (although it would make for an awesome video if it did) but the singer.  It is, in fact, a reference to the physical human form and its intoxicating effect on others.  

The verse begins.  It is, in many respects, an expansion on the previous answer.  The singer describes her treatment by male suitors and their willingness to spend money in a bid to secure her attention. Suddenly, it becomes clear that this arrangement is not as spontaneous as it first appears but a condition precedent.  The point is made with absolute precision when the singer croons that they can ‘keep on dating’ if her suitor keeps on ‘demonstrating’.  Now I love economics as much as the next person, and it’s great to the principles of supply and demand included in a pop song, but I’m not sure what John Maynard Keynes would make of it.  As it turns out, the currency for affection is ‘my humps’ which, if I’m being honest, is probably a more reliable than crypto-currency. 

The rapper who posed the original question is probably regretting having opened his mouth at this point.  He laments the amount of money he’s spending, effectively complaining that he is subject to a form of economic duress.  The singer proves unsympathetic, making it clear that any action that goes beyond the scope of their unspoken agreement will result in ‘drama’.  She then adds ‘you don’t want no drama’. No, I certainly don’t.

The whole thing wraps up with about another thousand references to ‘my humps’, after which the listener will need to detoxify their ears if they ever wish to see another day during which the words ‘my humps’ doesn’t leap into their mind.  

In some respects, ‘My Humps’ is a song of empowerment and sound financial management.  In every other respect, however, it’s an earworm that can only be removed with the help of an exorcist.  Some twenty years later, I think of it often.  It’s partly a testament to the enduring power of the song and partly because I hear it regularly after Monaco adopted it as their National Anthem in 2012.  In retrospect, ‘My Humps’ perfectly described a particular mindset at a point in time.  It did so perfectly. And as much as I respect its genius, I’d very much like to never hear it again.  You best avoid playing it.  Because, after all, you don’t want no drama.