Kewell To Be Kind

Thank goodness that’s over. If ever I was afflicted with World Cup Fever, I am now wholly and utterly cured. In this life, there is nothing quite as useful as a complete and utter bollocksing to convince you that it’s time to gently ease yourself off the bandwagon and let it continue on without you. In fact, I intend to watch it as it trundles along before disappearing into the South African sunset; its wheels ever-ready to come spinning off into the nearest ditch.

I had been so well prepared and had collected nearly all the memorabilia that fell daily from the pages of the newspapers. I had the plastic support flag on my car, the green and gold scarf around my neck and the novelty soccer ball. Heck, I even indulged in face paint. Sadly, it was all for nought.

It’s often said that success has many fathers whilst failure is an orphan. And when they say ‘orphan’, they’re not referring to the singing and dancing, red-hair and freckles, ‘couldn’t be cuter if she tried’ variety. (Although, that said, ‘Hard Knock Life’ would certainly be an appropriate anthem for the Socceroos). Rather, they mean the kind of orphan that exists solely because his or her parents have decided to move house without informing the child.

It’s tempting to give our national soccer team a hard time after their comprehensive thrashing. I, for one, am determined to give in completely to that temptation. Too often, we make excuses for our elite sports people and, for the most part, we support them in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, such support is not for nothing. There is the tacit but very real understanding that failure will be treated with all the tolerance of bullants in a pair of Y-fronts. To lose is one thing – that much is forgivable. But to be so utterly trounced, especially when the beating is at the hands of a bunch of strudel-eating blouses requires a level of retribution usually reserved for those who steal your parking spot. For whilst the German team were (without doubt) extremely skillful, they also had a tendency to squeal like a punched pig at the slightest hint of physical contact. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much diving without the support of scuba gear.

Sadly, there is no crime so great as to get an entire nation out of bed early without something to show for it. Robbed of vital hours of sleep we are even quicker to judge than usual. Going by the footage on the news, fans were demanding answers and that heads roll before even the next match was played. Had this advice been taken, a seriously depleted Socceroos side would have emerged to play Ghana as a result. But, then again, when you consider last night’s draw, perhaps all is not yet lost. There’s still a slight hope that the Socceroos may yet reconnect with the public. In fact, now that I think about it, there are lots of things that the big wigs at Soccer Australia could do to recapture the public’s collective imagination.

Firstly, Barry Hall should be recruited. If the Germans flinched at the prospect of bouncing off one of our current crop of soccer players, the prospect of colliding with Planet Hall may, of itself, be sufficient to inspire a forfeit. Secondly, Men At Work should be forced to reform and play the song ‘Down Under’ – complete with the copyright infringing flute-line – on a continuous loop. Thirdly, all meals and catering supplies should be donated to charity and replaced with a strict Shane Warne-endorsed diet of tinned baked beans to ensure not only a fire in the belly but in the compartment directly beneath it also. Fourthly, the team needs to draw its inspiration from a suitable source from within the Australian sporting pantheon – one of the most impressive sporting performances within living memory was in 1991 when the Hawthorn Football Club dished out a fifty three point thrashing to the West Coast Eagles. Clearly they were inspired and, I’d suggest, inspired by Angry Anderson in his Batmobile and the performance of ‘Bound For Glory’ at half time. If I had my way, Angry would be forced to do a lap before the game, kind of like an Australian ‘haka’. If ‘Bound for Glory’ doesn’t get the opposition teams trembling in their boots, then a quick burst of ‘Suddenly’ would most certainly do the trick.

Sadly, however, I don’t think the powers that be possess the necessary vision to pick up these thoughtful and yet very practical ideas. For that reason, I suspect we’ll have to get used to hearing about our dismal performance at the World Cup. I, for one, will be tuning out. That’s not to say that the World Cup is not without merit – it provides a useful reminder of why we dislike Continental Europe and why, broadly speaking, soccer is the most magical of sports in that it takes eighty otherwise useful minutes and makes them disappear.

Then again, perhaps the most amazing thing about the World Cup is its ability to prove just how fickle I am. I’ve never really cared for soccer and it was a fool’s errand to pretend I ever did. So I shall dislodge the car-flag and tuck away the green and gold neck scarf in a lowly dresser drawer. I will turn off my alarm, deflate my novelty soccer ball and dismantle my cardiac worrying air-horn. And as for the face paint – my decision to skimp and use regular paint rather than proper face paint, has never seemed more foolish.

Cinema

Last night I caught a few minutes of that Neo-Freudian Post Modernist Classic, ‘Terminator 2’. I remember that when it came out, that I had gone to see it at the cinema to see what all the fuss was about. The first thing that struck me when I saw out in the ‘burbs was that I seemed to be the only person over the age of 12 in attendance. Of course, I’ve attended numerous nightclubs since that day and so have become more familiar with that particular sneaking sensation, however, at the time it was a great shock.

I also remember the very first film I ever saw at the cinema. My brother and I were 4 and 5, and we were driven out of our rural backwater, into the thriving metropolis that is Frankston to see ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. Thus, my fascination was the little people was kindled. What I remember most about that day was the absolute terror I felt at the wicked witch (whom I later had as my third grade teacher as it happened). I spent a lot of the time with my hands over my face. My brother, however, took a more pro-active approach. During the scene where Snow White is out in the woods and the Huntsman who has been hired to kill her is sneaking up behind her with his knife drawn and at the ready, a plaintive cry was heard. It had all become too much for my four year old brother who leapt to his feet and screamed: “RUN SNOW WHITE QUICKLY!!!!”

You could be forgiven for thinking that this outburst was simply the product of youthful naivety, but that’s where you’re wrong. To this day, my brother will gladly bark out instructions to people on the big screen. No one has bothered to tell him that it’s not really the done thing. Although I recall a particularly ugly confrontation at a screening of ‘Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo’ at the Somerville Mechanics Hall.

Suffice to say that my brother never got to find out what Herbie got up to in Monte Carlo.

 

Trip

Given that almost everyone seems to be taking, or about to take or have just taken annual leave, I thought I’d tell you about a trip my brother went on back in 1989.

My brother and my father took a trip to Europe and the Middle East, which included a sojourn to Egypt. Pete was dressed in all-pastel which, in the wake of the social phenomenon that was ‘Miami Vice’, was pretty much compulsory attire for all over 35 traveller types between the years 1985 to 1992. On the plane on the way back from Egypt, Pete was making the most of his complementary headphones, tuned into the classical station which he had fixed to a moderate volume. My brother used the time productively by staring out the window.

In the middle of the flight, with Pete still attuned to ‘Hooked on Classics’ or something else of equally dubious cultural value, he decided to try and speak to my brother. What didn’t occur to him was that there was no need to try and talk over the music in his headphones in order to communicate with him.

“CAM! DO YOU NEED TO GO TO THE TOILET??? YOU SHOULD TRY AND GO TO THE TOILET!!???!!?”

Needless to say, this war-like cry caught the attention of pretty much the entire flight, including the Captain who felt compelled to abandon the controls to come down and attempt to explain that there’s no need to try and speak over the noise in his head-phones.

However, to this day, whenever Pete is ‘wired for sound’ he shouts rather than speaks, which probably doesn’t matter too much out in the wilderness that is Tyabb. Strangely though, my brother has developed a fear of flying.

Break Dancer

Years and years ago, when the phenomenon that was ‘break dancing’ swept through Tyabb like a wild fire, my younger brother decided to take up lessons. In the interests of equity, I too was offered the opportunity to gain instruction in the gentle art of break dancing. However, even at that early age I knew that I was too shy to ever ‘bust a move’ in public so I declined.

Once the decision to take lessons had been made, a special mat whose sole purpose was to enable my brother to rap dance without getting third degree burns from the carpet, was purchased. However, my parents drew the line at buying him a New York style tracksuit, as so stylishly modelled by the members of the Rock Steady Crew.

Cam would return each week from his lesson and display his new found break dancing knowledge, much to the general amazement of his brothers and sisters. Secretly, I think I might well have been envious.

Lessons were held in the Tyabb Town Hall, which has the distinction of being the only building in Australia still standing, that’s totally made out of asbestos. My brother’s teacher, or ‘sensei’ as he preferred to be called was a local delinquent by the name of Maggot. Break dancing had been Maggot’s chance to really make something of himself. A chance to rise like an acid wash wearing phoenix from ordinary rural life.

I can just imagine him attending a screening of the film ‘Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo’ and dreaming of a better life. I often wonder what became of Maggot. Whether he’s keeping the break dancing faith, still doing back-spins, the moonwalk and the robot; waiting for the day when he comes back into vogue.

I bet he’s still waiting.

 

Footnote: My brother recently revived his break dancing career. He and his girlfriend got drunk and put down some cardboard in the living room and cut loose with a few backspins. Not surprisingly, only one wineglass survived the experience intact.

 

Calliope the Kung Fu Chicken

 

 

Standing about in a Kung Fu stance

With her white robe on and matching white pants

She may be quiet and she may be humble

But she’s always prepared and she’s ready to rumble

The rest of the chickens thought her suspicious

And when talking of her were often quite vicious

They made fun of Calliope, behind her back

As they gossiped around the old chicken shack

 

All the other hens preferred playing darts

And they had no time to do martial arts

Leaving poor Cal alone in the yard

Rehearsing her chops and practicing hard

Training before the sun had yet risen

Muscles you’d usually see only in prison

 

Calliope knew that they laughed about her

And no matter what, she was stuck on the outer

It’s no fun being picked on, bullied or teased

It makes you unhappy and very displeased

So Calliope kind of kept to herself

And shared her thoughts with nobody else

 

From her chicken mouth right down to her legs

Whilst scratching around and when laying eggs

Cal did not utter a sentence or syllable

She held her tongue for an unending interval

She only spoke when it wasn’t expected

Which confirmed to the others just what they suspected

That chicken Calliope was a little bit strange

And wasn’t at home there on the free range

 

Each afternoon at about half past four

Came a rattle and shake at the chicken shack door

And every day all the chickens would panic

Flapping their wings and being quite manic

As if it had not ever happened before

They’d race back and forth across the coop floor

And, just as quickly, they’d soon grow calmer

As the door opened up and in stepped the farmer.

 

Come along chooks, the farmer would cough

Pouring feed from a bucket, into a trough

The hens would all squawk and the hens would all splutter

And were so high-strung, the farmer did mutter

It does no good, for all these hens

To spend each day waiting and stuck in a pen

All their emotions so close to the surface

It sickens the chickens to always be nervous

Tomorrow you girls will get a surprise

The moment you wake and open your eyes

While the hens didn’t notice – they were too busy eating

Calliope wondered what the farmer was meaning

 

As the sun reached, over the horizon

The whole chicken coop got a surprise when

A shadowy figure cleared out his throat

Before letting loose an incredible note

It was long, high and clear with a touch of vibrato

And belonged to a rooster by the name of Ricardo

 

As the hens gathered – some still in their night dresses

Ricardo smoothed out his silky long tresses

With the back of his wing, then took a long breath

Stood up quite straight and puffed out his chest

Good morning ladies, my name is Ricardo

He said in a voice all filled with bravado

 

I’ve come to your coop to stay for a while

He said with a slightly mischievous smile

An audible gasp was there to be heard

Tumbling out of the beaks of the birds

You’re going to stay? They asked in a chorus

Tell us exactly what you will do for us

The Rooster began to make an advance

And without delay he started to dance

He sang in a voice that was clearer than crystal

And bounced off the tin like a shot from a pistol

 

I’m only here to make you feel good

Protect you from harm like a good rooster should

I’ve got personality and talent to burn

And all that this rooster will ask in return

Is that you write a note, down in your diary

To make special effort, just to admire me

From afar or from closer, I really don’t mind

But if I don’t impress you then you must be blind

I’m a good looking rooster, and that’s undeniable

If you want something handsome, I’m always reliable

I’ve studied the arts and am great at debating

And my voice has had six years of opera training

So to answer your question, to respond to your query

I’m here to make sure life never gets dreary

 

He finished his song down on bended knee

As if he had just made a royal decree

He was still taking bows as applause petered out

And with a great flourish, span himself about

It drove the point home until it was hammered

Anyone could see the hens were enamoured

Their eyes were as full as the ocean Pacific

The hens thought that Rick was a bit of terrific

 

Calliope watched the unfolding events

With her beak hanging wide with all the suspense

My goodness she said, as the noise fell away

The hens turned around to hear what she’d say

But Calliope stood just as mute as a stone

And felt such a chill in her poor chicken bones

 

Slowly the silence then started to melt

As the chickens all laughed, Calliope felt

She shouldn’t have spoken and should have stayed quiet

The chuckling crowd then became a riot

Calliope Chicken! The laughed and they squeaked

We liked it better when you didn’t speak!

Calliope cringed and hung her head low

If chickens could blush, she’d have been all aglow

 

She covered her face deep down in her shame

As the hens gathered round started chanting her name

Ricardo the Rooster joined along with them

As laughter rang out, across the chook pen

Calliope made her way back to the roost

Hoping it might give her spirits a boost

But she could hear the chickens still speaking

And she listened in until her eyes were leaking

With tears streaming down the side of her face

Calliope’s mind turned to thoughts of escape

 

The following day at about half past four

A familiar rattle could be heard at the door

Settle down ladies, Ricardo said

There’s no need for panic, you’re about to be fed

The hatch door swung open and in a split second

Calliope knew that her freedom beckoned

Dressed like a ninja from her head to her talons

Filled up with courage like it came by the gallon

 

As the farmer stepped in, Calliope bolted

Span around twice and then somersaulted

Right past the farmer and straight past the hens

And past Ricardo and out of the pen

Her chicken legs pumped up and down like two pistons

As she felt adrenaline surge through her system

Her chicken feet flailing, she looked quite bizarre

Careering about like an old dodgem car

As her legs were nearly worn down to the nub

Calliope disappeared into the scrub

 

Cal turned around and dropped to the ground

Her heavy breathing was the only sound

Calliope heard for a minute or two

This brave little bird, what should she do?

Cal watched the coop from a comfortable distance

And from what she saw, she drew an inference

That none of the chickens seem too effected

Cal’s escape, it would seem, had passed undetected

 

I am free, I am free, I am free, she repeated

As she considered how her freedom teetered

On something so simple as taking a chance

And running as though she had fire in her pants

Because what is simple can seem complicated

Which why simple things can be relegated

Neglected, forgotten or simply misplaced

When all you need have is a handful of faith

 

Calliope’s thoughts soon turned to survival

As she built her camp, not a moment was idle

Using kung fu, she quickly created

Stilts so to build a house elevated

A house grand enough to be fit for a senator

Safe and secure to protect her from predators

As Cal settled down for her first night’s sleep

She suddenly felt satisfaction so deep

That it dwelled within her right down to her soul

And kept her warm in the night black as coal

 

Then one day as dawn broke over the farm

The sound of a song did shatter the calm

It was, put politely, a real heart-starter

As Ricardo sang songs from La Traviatta

Rise and shine ladies, Ricardo declared

It’s time for you to get up and prepare

To shake off your sleep and be energetic

And begin a routine of strict calisthenics

 

The hens were reluctant to get out of bed

Some of them even kept snoring instead

He’d asked them nicely, he’d even sung

So Ricardo cried out at the top of his lungs

GET OUT OF BED he bellowed and blustered

IS THAT ALL THE EFFORT YOU CHICKENS CAN MUSTER?

The sound of the screaming set off a commotion

And set the hens into a flurry of motion

And amidst all the yelling and all the shock

Nobody noticed the creeping red fox…..

 

Meanwhile, back at Calliope’s camp

She was warm and secure and out the damp

She never went far unless safe to do so

And lived her life just like Robinson Crusoe

Push ups and star jumps and yoga twice daily

Her fitness regime was so far from lazy

She had chicken sweat running out of her pores

As Cal became fitter than ever before

 

Back in the coop, the chickens were stretching

They collapsed and complained and some were dry retching

Ricardo looked out, shook his head in disgust

Off you go now, back to bed if you must

And just as the chickens began slinking away

Ricardo thought he heard somebody say

Look out behind you, he’s after the hens

Sound the alarm, there’s a fox in the pen.

And sure enough, there was a fox on the loose,

Putting his razor sharp teeth to good use

He slobbered and snarled as he cornered the chickens

Some of whom started to feel themselves sicken

 

As the horror unfolded and without hesitation

Ricardo acted in self preservation

With haste so indecent it was down-right obscene

Ricardo scarpered away from the scene

As the hens cried in vain for him to be dutiful

Ricky said, No thanks, I’m here to be beautiful

I’m not about to risk myself being hurt

Or a meal after entrée and before dessert

He said, I’m sorry but I really can’t stay

As Ricardo turned chicken and then ran away

The fox bared his teeth as the seconds grew shorter

And so began the chicken shack slaughter

 

The fox snarled and snapped and made his attack

As he bit off hen heads all ‘round the shack

Their bodies staggered around quite unsteady

As chicken heads rained from the sky like confetti

And blood spurted out, much like a geyser

The fox was now ready for his appetizer

And just as he prepared to fill up his guts

He heard the sound of the coop door slam shut

He span around, all ready to injure

To find a chicken that was dressed as a ninja

 

Look at you, said the fox. Are those your pyjamas?

They’re a pretty poor substitute for some armour

For if fear turns your body from muscles to jelly

I can tell you right now you’ll end up in my belly

Calliope did not move so much as a feather

So much so that the fox wondered whether

She had understood that she’d soon be dead

The moment the fox chose to bite off her head

 

But rather than scream and rather than panic

Calliope took an approach more organic

Ready to rumble and with nothing to say

She raised her wings in the old ninja way

The fox thought it funny and said, That’s alright

It won’t bother me if you put up a fight

With his teeth bared, the fox lunged towards her

But soon found himself face down in some water

 

It was almost as though the chicken had vanished

The fox could not figure out how she managed

To avoid being eaten or somehow slip through

He simply could not comprehend her kung fu

How did you do that? The shocked fox enquired

As his fox face turned red and began to perspire

 

As the fox spoke, he again took a lunge

And fell so hard it took air from his lungs

He jumped to his feet and hurled himself at her

A series of blows then started to batter

The fox from his head right down to his socks

As Calliope unleashed her karate chops

Until the fox lay just as still as a tomb

His whole body covered in bruise after bruise

 

Finally, the old red fox was defeated

I surrender, he cried. I admit that I’m beaten

Forgive me please, I don’t mean to be bitter

It seems that I’m conquered by someone much fitter

More skillful, more brave and better prepared

Someone who managed to make me feel scared

A note in his voice sounded terribly anguished

And the fox hung his head to show he was vanquished

 

Cal took off her mask and started to leave

But felt someone tug at the hem of her sleeve

Before you go, hear my proposition

For some years now I’ve been secretly wishin’

To stop killing chickens and go into business

Becoming a teacher of physical fitness

 

Calliope listened but felt quite confused

Throughout her life, she become quite used

To people ignoring her very existence

So she could not understand the fox’s insistence

But why do you need me? Calliope asked

Because, said the fox, You carry a spark

That lights up your innards and glows in your beak

That sets you apart and makes you unique

 

So Calliope and the fox opened a business

A studio offering physical fitness

Where chickens could train and become less tense

And gain instruction and learn self defence

Calliope Chicken taught them kung fu

Which is just what dreamed that she one day might do

I am free, I am free, I am free, she would say

As she got up at the start of each day

 

Calliope Chicken had been an outcast

But hard times are times that seldom will last

Happiness can be just a matter of time

Or the time that it takes to make up your mind

I am free, I am free, I am free, she would shout

And for every day since there was never a doubt

That a handful of faith was enough to ensure

She had courage enough to run out the coop door

If you lack courage, then think of Calliope

And take a deep breath, make a note in your diary

That if you take a chance, your pulse may well quicken

But that you will be free like Calliope Chicken

 

 

 

 

 

The Suit that Ate Nathaniel Birdstrum

He could taste it in his mouth. Nathaniel was full to the living brim with anxiety and had no idea why. So far as he could recall, last night had been yet another in a never-ending series of ordinary nights. He had eaten dinner in front of the television. Washed the dishes and laid out tomorrow’s clothes on the chair in his bedroom. He had changed into his pyjamas and brushed his teeth for exactly three minutes. He read a few pages of a book, the plot of which he was struggling to keep a hold.

When he switched off his bedside lamp at ten o’clock, he had felt the way he always felt. Which is to say, he didn’t feel much of anything. Other than slightly tired, of course. Or, at worst, mildly numb. But the next morning he awoke to find that he felt entirely different. By ‘different’ he didn’t feel rested or rejuvenated or any of the residues you might associate with a good night’s sleep.

It was as if it had entered his blood while he was sleeping. His stomach was churning. His skin was brittle. His eyes had been invaded by blood vessels that weaved across his pupils like a cracked eggshell. Underneath his eyes hung, not so much bags, as an entire collection of suitcases, each of them packed full of worry. Even his hair looked anxious. Billowing tufts that sprang from his head as if trying to escape.

He got up and looked in the mirror and immediately decided that he should not go to work. In fact, he should retire. It then occurred to him that thirty-two years of age was too young to enter retirement, and he decided to call in sick instead. He washed his face and then stared at his reflection. ‘I do this every day’, he thought to himself. ‘How can today be any different?’

He returned to bed and lay down. But even as he tried to sleep, the anxiety inside him was completely awake and unwilling to even close its eyes, let alone nod off. It then occurred to him that this had all started in bed and, perhaps, bed was part of the problem. In fact, maybe the best thing he could do was get as far away from bed as possible. But where? If he went to the kitchen, it might not be far enough. If he went down the street, he wouldn’t have anything to do and that was hardly likely to make him feel better.

‘I should go to work,’ he decided, quickly sitting up. Nathaniel hadn’t yet called in; and having changed his mind, it was time to change out of his pyjamas. As he showered, he pictured himself slipping on the soapy residue that sits on floor of the bathtub. Even under the hot water, Nathaniel felt a cold chill run through his body.

He cautiously turned off the shower taps. With great care and not a little skill, he planted his wet feet on the bathmat. He wrapped a towel around his torso and proceeded to smear shaving cream over his face. He turned on the sink tap and ran the razor under the stream. Through the steam and water, he looked at the razor glistening. Nathaniel had cut himself while shaving many times before, and nothing much had ever come of it. He wondered what might happen if he cut himself and the bleeding didn’t stop.

He took a tissue from the tissue box. He lifted the razor to his cheek and paused. He stared at his reflection and then at the razor blade. He leaned over and plucked five, ten, perhaps even twenty tissues from the tissue box and spread them all around. The hot water continued to run and he continued to stand in front of the mirror. Underneath the shaving cream, his face was a knot of determination. But as minutes wore on, the steam from the tap overcame the mirror until his face disappeared altogether.

It’s no use,’ he thought, putting down the razor.

Nathaniel wiped the shaving cream from his face before returning to his room to dress. He put on his pants and short-sleeved shirt. He slipped into the shoes he had cleaned the night before. He fastened the top button of his shirt and wrapped the tie around his neck. As he tightened it, all he could think was that a tie was really nothing but a noose with a pattern on it.

He felt the anxiety in his stomach start to surge up towards his mouth and he quickly loosened the tie. Nathaniel walked back to the bathroom, folding the necktie in two. He went to the study where he picked up the stapler, before marching back. Breathing heavily, he held the tie up to his throat and stapled it to his shirt.

Nathaniel entered the kitchen and picked an apple from the fruit bowl. In the morning light, he thought he could see just the slightest shade of pesticide covering the skin. He thought about how easy it would be to suffer poisoning at the hands of an apple. He could be found dead with a piece of Sundowner or Granny Smith wedged firmly between his teeth and the authorities would never think to arrest the apple. Nobody, he reasoned, ever suspects fruit.

He put down the apple and finished packing his bag. He clipped it together, stood up tall, and moved towards the door of his apartment. The handle was cold as he gripped it. The puffy white flesh against something so cold and solid put a chill through him. He recoiled, drawing his hand up to his shoulder.

It didn’t feel safe to walk out his apartment door and into the broader world. The potential for disaster seemed too great. To step through that door would have been, he thought, utterly reckless. Stuck in the doorway as if in limbo, he tried to break the problem down. Firstly, he could wait for the feeling to pass. But what if it never passed? What if every morning from now on, he awoke with the same sense of unease? He would, it occurred to him, never leave the house again. Which, both practically and economically, had little to recommend it.

If only he had something to protect him. Something that stood guard against all that bad luck. Nathaniel knew of people who treated bad luck as a matter of superstition. They wore objects to ward away all the evil that hangs in the air like atmosphere. Some people have a particular item of clothing or a rabbit’s foot they think brings them good luck. But when push invariably comes to shove, a rabbit’s foot never did anyone any good. Certainly not the rabbit. Fat lot of good it did him.

As Nathaniel looked around the room, his head snapped back and forth and eyes flashed. Beside the writing table he saw a waste paper basket. In a moment of inspiration, he tipped it over and emptied out discarded bits of paper. He lifted it high above his head and slowly lowered it onto his shoulders. It rested there, but the wire mesh pressed against his nose and threatened to grate it off completely. Regardless, he decided to have a look at himself in the mirror. Carefully, he walked down the hallway; his arms outstretched before him like Mary Shelley’s monster. He looked at himself for just a moment.

Hmm,’ he hummed. ‘Too Ned Kelly,’ he said. He lifted the waste paper basket up off his head and gazed at his own reflection, until a thought occurred to him. Years ago, Nathaniel had owned a motorcycle. For a total of two weeks. A near miss in the Coles supermarket car park saw him reconsider. He sold the bike, but somewhere, the motorcycle helmet occupied a far-flung distant corner of a cupboard.

Pulling the door aside, he began to lunge at clothes and fling them across the room. He continued this wild excavation through to the more mysterious items at the back. His hands then struck an object, cool and round. His fingers reached out and pulled it up. It was simple and silver and had an old-style chinstrap. Back when he had owned a motorcycle to go with the helmet, it had reminded him of the type that Fonzie might have worn.

He thought it would give him some protection, but against what he couldn’t say. He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled at the sight of his solid, silver dome. Nathaniel could still feel the anxiety welling in his stomach but, he decided, it was no longer rational for him to feel this way. Now that he had the helmet, he should no longer feel intimidated. With a deep breath, he put his lunch into his bag, shut the door behind him and stepped into the sunlight.

Nathaniel caught the tram to work and sat tightly in his seat, taking care to keep to himself and keep his balance. As was often the case, the tram was packed with people the way a cage is stuffed with battery hens. All it would take, he thought, was for the tram driver to hit the brakes and rows of people would fall like human dominoes. He swallowed the lump in his throat, clutched the bag to his lap and closed his eyes.

There were a few moments where he could sense that people were looking at him. Perhaps they’d never seen someone keep his eyes closed for so long, he thought. Even after he got off the tram and started walking to work, he still felt he was being watched. Once at the office, he sat down at his work-station, took his lunch from his bag and placed it in the top draw of his desk. He was sure of it now. Eyes from every point of the room were locked onto him.

He picked up his headset and attempted to put it on over his head. The frame stretched but would not reach around the helmet. It then occurred to Nathaniel that even if it did manage to circumnavigate his head, the earpiece would be nowhere near his ear. The best it could manage was to grip to the side like a leech. Nathaniel could only think of two options. He could remove his helmet while at work, or, alternatively, adapt the headset. Clearly the first of these options was impractical. Knowing his luck, he’d take off his helmet at work and the roof would fall in. He preferred to adapt. It seemed more evolutionary to do so.

He tried to disconnect the earpiece from the frame but it proved surprisingly resilient. That is, until it snapped like a twig and little shards of black plastic sprayed across his desk. He tucked the earpiece up under the helmet and started to push the bits of broken headset into an orderly pile.

Birdstrum, what in God’s name are you doing?’

Nathaniel turned to see Garry standing behind him, his novelty tie running down over the surely expanding gut he thought only he could notice. Garry’s title at work was ‘supervisor’. Nathaniel had always assumed this was because the title ‘fuckwit’ was already taken. He had the type of moustache that looked as if he had stolen it from a fourteen-year old and bleached blond hair.

I’m not sure what you mean, Garry,’ stammered Nathaniel.

What’s that thing on you head?’ he answered waving a coffee mug with the words: world’s greatest lover in Nathaniel’s general direction.

It’s my headset, of course,’ answered Nathaniel.

Don’t get smart with me,’ growled Garry. Nathaniel was quite used to Garry insisting on stupidity and said nothing. ‘I’m talking about that thing up on your head. It makes you look like a knob.’

Nathaniel could feel his face heating up. For some reason, everything reminded Garry of genitals.

For God’s sake, go for a walk around the block and settle down. And when I get back from taking a slash, I expect to see your head in its entire, ugly glory. Without that helmet.’ With one arm still raised, Garry put his other hand on his hip, resembling a sleazy version of I’m a little teapot. ‘If you don’t take it off, there will be trouble.’ He growled, turned and walked away from the work-station, strutting like puppet with a pole wedged between the buttocks.

Nathaniel did as he was told. He was, he felt, always doing as he was told. He stood up and left his work-station. Or, at least, he tried to leave his work-station, but the earpiece was still wedged underneath his helmet. With each step, the cord ran shorter and shorter until it ran out altogether. Reaching the end of his tether, his head stopped instantly while the rest of him kept going. With his feet away from the rest of him, Nathaniel fell sharply to the floor, his head striking the nylon carpet with considerable force.

For a moment he kept his eyes closed, waiting for the pain to follow. After a couple of seconds, they sprang open. He realised that there would be no pain. There would, from that point on, only be his helmet.

That he would not have fallen at all had it not been for the helmet did not occur to Nathaniel Birdstrum. He picked himself up and began to dust himself off. As he did, he realised that not one of his co-workers had rushed to his side when he’d fallen. And this was in spite of the fact that many of them had been staring at him much of the day. He marched out of the office and onto the street, this time with his chin raised.

Out on the footpath, Nathaniel continued to march with the same determination, his arms swinging wildly by his side. Although he still sensed the turning of pupils and twisting of eyeballs in his direction. But with his chin newly raised, Nathaniel did not find it as threatening as he had earlier.

His cut his step short just as he was about to stride past an automatic teller machine. He knew that he needed some money, so pulled his wallet from his trousers. He raised his card to the lip of the machine and then stopped. If, for some reason, the machine decided to swallow the card, it would put him in quite a fix. He slowly drew the card away from the machine and put it in his pocket. It was safer, he decided, to enter the bank and make a withdrawal over the counter.

When Nathaniel Birdstrum walked into the local branch of his bank that morning, he could see the teller; a woman with a bird-like mouth and a badge on her lapel that said: Ask me about a super-saver mortgage, shaking like trifle.

It was then that time ran out. It was like a dream he’d had as a boy. Then one in which you’re being chased by something you can never remember and you feel that you’re running through water. So that no matter how hard you try, you never get away. Nathaniel strolled through his local bank branch and the room felt as if it had filled with water and everything slowed down. He reached his hand inside his trousers and produced his wallet. He peeled out his card and started to thrust it towards the trembling teller. Moving slower and slower.

Like any dream, it had to end. And for Nathaniel Birdstrum, it ended when the teller pushed the panic button and the security screen shot up out of the counter and towards the roof. Nathaniel hadn’t seen it coming, as such. He had simply reacted to a speeding blur and eminent danger. The security screen connected with the side of his helmet, making a sound like a football being kicked.

And he was flying, backwards and falling to the floor.

As he lay there, a mass of limp flesh, the teller’s terrified face was distorted and crying behind the clear, perspex security screen.

 

When his eyes finally began to open, all he could see was a blurred light and he wondered if he might be in heaven. As he blinked, he realised he was nowhere near heaven, because heaven, he assumed, did not have an employee of the month program. He stared at the face on the plaque, which stared back at him, and he recognised it as a less frightened version of the face he’d seen on the other side of the security screen.

A much more frightening face suddenly appeared in front of him. ‘So you’re awake?’ it said.

I’m not sure,’ he answered, blinking. He sat up. ‘I guess so.’

Why were you trying to rob the bank?’

Nathaniel laughed until he realised the man was serious. ‘I wasn’t.’

The man standing in front of him had a face like a squeezed-out accordion. He bent over and tapped his pen on the helmet. ‘Why are you wearing this, then?’

Because I’m afraid,’ he answered, without hesitation.

The man looked at him suspiciously. ‘Afraid of what?’

And that was exactly it. Even Nathaniel wasn’t sure. ‘Well, everything I suppose.’

You’ll have to do better than that.’

Let’s see,’ he started. ‘I’m afraid of car accidents. All that shredding metal and breaking glass, I suppose. Of car rage, naturally. Air rage. In fact,’ he decided. ‘Pretty much any type of rage.’ He thought some more. ‘I’m afraid that when I’m shopping I might leave without paying and be accused of being a thief. Or that even when I remember to pay that the security tag won’t be properly de-activated and the alarm will go off. I’m afraid of public officials with the power to punish you, but not the sense to realise they shouldn’t.’ The more he spoke, the clearer it seemed. ‘Being misunderstood. Being rejected. Or being accepted, because sometimes that’s even worse.’

Why is that worse?’

You begin to think that it’s a mistake,’ he answered. ‘Fear of heights, depths, confined spaces, open spaces, fear of commitment and fear of being left alone.’

The crinkled face raised an eyebrow. It charged upwards through the folds of skin on his forehead. ‘That’s quite a list.’

Yes, I know. I think I might be polyphobic.’

You don’t know?’

Nathaniel was ashamed to admit it. ‘I’m afraid to ask.’

The man handed him a card that read Detective Amos Samosa. ‘You can go,’ he grunted. ‘But you need to give me your address in case I have any more questions.’

 

After he left the bank, Nathaniel went straight home. With the helmet still on his head, he started looking though his cupboard where he found some cricket pads, an old safety visor, elbow guards and cardboard boxes. He cut down the boxes and wrapped them around his body like armour. He put on the pads, visor and elbow guards and looked at himself in the mirror. It looked like the perfect suit of armour. He sat down on the couch and lay back against the arm, before finally falling sleep.

It was early in the morning when Detective Samosa arrived at Nathaniel’s apartment. After knocking on the door and getting no answer, he was about to leave when he thought he smelt gas. He tried to kick in the door but his foot bounced straight off. He tried again and the hinge came loose and he raced into the apartment. Holding his handkerchief to his mouth, he opened the windows. There on the couch was a helmet, cardboard panels and cricket pads. Detective Samosa started to drag the body towards the open door but the pieces fell away from each other and he was left clutching nothing but a bit of cardboard.

There was nothing underneath. Nothing but a pair of safety visors. The Detective wondered whether Nathaniel had escaped. It sparked a realisation that perhaps the armour was nothing more than a way to deflect attention. But that same spark mixed with the gas, set loose a wall of fire and smoke that destroyed everything. The apartment. The Detective. And anything else that mattered.

 

Evil in the Eastern Suburbs

 

The glow of the television danced across their faces as Gordon tugged at the corner of his cardigan. He shimmied into position and straightened the glasses he wore when he wanted to see the TV properly. Enid had made herself a cup of tea and was dunking a Scotch Finger biscuit.

Into their living room came theme music for the television newsbreak as Enid gave her biscuit an extra dunk. A serious man with an earnest face and a serious suit looked into the camera.

‘Good evening,’ he said. ‘Tonight, a new development in the war on terror as President George W Bush addresses the US.’

Gordon and Enid said nothing. Really, what each of them wanted was for ‘Hornblower’ to start. They didn’t care too much for speeches by American Presidents. Not on a Sunday night, at any rate. It was, believed Enid, quite thoughtless to be making speeches on a Sunday.

‘The President has named what he referred to as rogue elements of the international community calling them an axis of evil,’ said the newsreader.

Gordon shifted slightly in his seat, partly because he was feeling a little warm and partly because the tuna mornay was making him flatulent.

The television showed footage of the President standing at a podium, his hands gripping the lectern as if it was a steering wheel. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he intoned. ‘This axis of evil can no longer be tolerated. A confederacy of free nations will demand that these rogue elements be brought to heel. Liberty demands it. The American people demand it. And the free nations of the world demand it.’

Enid wondered whether Gordon really thought she couldn’t tell he was quietly breaking wind. Thirty-two years of tuna mornay and he still thought he could fart without his wife knowing.

The newsreader reappeared, saying, ‘The President named Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Gordon Campbell of 12 Sunshine Court, Doncaster as parties to the axis of evil.’

Enid drew in her breath so sharply that it whistled, while dropping her biscuit into her tea. It splashed up over the rim of the cup and onto the saucer. She struggled to put her cuppa down and shouted, ‘Gordon! What have you been doing?’

Gordon’s mouth was wide open. At the sound of his wife’s indignation, he managed to lift his jaw up just enough to deny everything.

By the look on Enid’s face, it was clear that she didn’t believe him. ‘Have you been writing nasty letters to the local paper?’ she demanded.

Gordon could feel the colour rising in his face. ‘Not a one!’ he cried.

‘Well what is it then?’ she demanded. Even though the room was dark, you could tell her face was growing purple with frustration. ‘Why has President Bush named you as being part of an axis of evil?’

Gordon thought about this for a moment. ‘Where to begin?’ he wondered. He didn’t always attend to his recycling the way he should have. After all, now that he was retired, he thought he’d earned the right to cut a few corners.

Sometimes, when he was driving his Toyota Crown, he deliberately didn’t let cars merge into traffic. It resulted in the tooting of car horns and frantic one-fingered hand gestures and, when he felt especially vigorous, he even returned the one fingered salute.

Then, of course, there was the time a couple of summers ago when he watered his lawn with the hose in direct contravention of the water restrictions. But he’d been so careful about it. Even getting up at four o’clock in the morning so that no one would notice.

‘It could be so many things,’ he answered honestly.

Enid slapped her hands on her lap in exasperation. ‘What will people say?’ she cried. She patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘Perhaps you should turn in for the evening? We’ll sort this whole thing out tomorrow.’

Now Gordon was really angry. He had been looking forward to watching ‘Hornblower’ right since the last episode had finished.

 

The following morning, Gordon’s feet searched for his slippers while he yawned so widely it stretched the muscles in his mouth. By now, the paper should have been delivered. Although whether the paper boy had managed to land it on his front step, the bushes or the roof was another matter altogether. He opened the front door, only to be blinded by a bright light.

‘What in blazes,’ he started to say, as microphones were thrust at his face.

‘Mr Campbell!’ yelled the mob. There were voices coming from all directions and bodies jostling for position.

‘For pity’s sake, settle down!’ he yelled. ‘And you,’ he added, pointing. ‘Get off my roses.’

A man dressed in a sharp suit with a thick layer of make-up on his face fired the first question. ‘Mr Campbell, any idea why the President has named you as being part of the axis of evil?’

‘Look, I’ve no idea what he’s going on about. I can only assume he’s gone off his rocker.’

A barrage of flashes exploded as he finished his answer.

‘Is it true,’ continued the reporter. ‘That you have weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons?’

Gordon screwed up his face as he answered, saying, ‘What a lot of rubbish. Where would I put weapons of mass destruction?’

The reporter lowered his microphone and said, ‘Well you do have a double garage and our research indicates that you’ve only got one car. A Toyota Crown. Am I right?’

Questions came from everywhere. ‘Is it true that you moved a large cache of biological weapons from your shed last Saturday?’

‘Last Saturday?’ repeated Gordon. ‘That was potting mix, you moron!’

Do you prefer a diplomatic solution or is war inevitable?’

‘Shut up,’ Gordon answered, becoming annoyed.

‘Will you allow UN weapon inspectors to check your shed?’

‘Bugger off!’ he yelled, his patience finally strained. He picked up the newspaper, which was rolled in plastic, and waved it above his head. As he did, he felt a cool breeze wrap around his nether regions and he realised his dressing gown was open and the front of his pyjamas agape.

The news people scattered over the garden bed, trampling it as they went. Gordon pulled his robe together and retreated back inside the house. The newspaper unravelled to reveal a large photo of himself under the headline ‘EVIL IN THE EASTERN SUBURBS’. He looked at the photo. Caught off guard, staring and looking startled from behind his glasses. Even Gordon had to concede he looked at least a little bit evil.

He realised that Enid would be upset by it, so he put the newspaper in the rubbish, ignoring the recycling pile completely, and put the kettle on.

‘Good morning dear,’ he heard from behind him.

Enid shuffled into the room with her pink nightgown on. Gordon always thought it made her look like an escaped licorice all-sort, but never said anything. She lowered herself into her chair with a sigh and switched on the television. There, before her eyes, was her own home.

‘Good morning everyone,’ said the television person. ‘This morning, Gordon Campbell remains defiant, refusing to allow UN inspectors access to his shed and referring to the US as a nation of infidels.’

Gordon couldn’t remember saying any such thing. Although it certainly sounded like something he would say.

‘We take you now to the scene and a news conference that was held just a short time ago.’ The newsreader paused for breath. ‘We wish to warn viewers that the following story contains images that some people may find disturbing.’

The pictures were of Gordon from just a few minutes earlier, waving his rolled-up newspaper like a mad-person, his dressing gown and pyjamas hanging open. The TV station had pixilated his groin area, which made Gordon feel slightly violated.

‘Oh Lord,’ mumbled Enid.

Gordon could feel the blood draining from his face. It was one thing to be named as an international renegade. It was quite another to have the family fun-farm appear on the morning news.

Gordon looked into the face of his bride of thirty-four years. He hadn’t seen her look this upset since he accidentally taped over her collection of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ to record the cricket.

Perhaps we should cancel the newspaper and not watch television until all this blows over.’

Gordon wasn’t impressed at this.

Or,’ she continued. ‘We could hire a video and watch that instead.’

He raised an eyebrow and asked, ‘What kind of video?’

Oh, I don’t know,’ she answered. ‘Maybe we could get something with Clint Eastwood.’

Can we get a Dirty Harry film? Maybe Magnum Force?’

Oh Gordon, I’m not sure. Those films are so violent….’

Gordon said nothing.

Alright,’ she sighed. ‘We can get a Dirty Harry film, if you like. Although you know I prefer Dead Pool.’

We’ll see what they have,’ he said, beginning to stand.

 

He sat behind the wheel of his Toyota Crown and pressed the button that opened the carport door. It began to open and he craned his neck over his shoulder. As the door lifted, he could see a gaggle of reporters and photographers quickly rustle to life. Gordon pressed his foot heavily and the car lurched backwards. It rocketed up the driveway, which caused a particular news crew to scatter like chickens in a yard. Once at the road, he turned the wheel so tightly that the tyres made a screeching sound. A flash of cameras and barrage of questions greeted him. His face screwed up, he lifted an erect middle finger in their direction before roughly changing gears and driving off down the street.

When he got to the video store, he walked past the clerk, who was staring up at the screen with his mouth slung open. Gordon didn’t think the clerk looked old enough to be missing school. He moved to the action aisle where most of the Clint Eastwood films were kept. Or the good ones, at any rate. He couldn’t find Magnum Force, so settled for Sudden Impact. He began to shuffle his video card out of his wallet while the truant video clerk continued staring at the screen, his mouth open like a rabbit-trap. Gordon set down the video on the counter with his membership card lying on top. He also had a discount coupon from the supermarket.

He waited for the boy to respond, but he continued to gawp at the video screen. Gordon cleared his throat, to no effect. Then he tried it again, this time sounding like a distressed engine. He picked up a packet of chewing gum from the counter display and threw it. It hit the clerk directly on the head, which caused him to turn around.

‘Hello sir,’ he said, sounding like a robot. ‘And welcome to Slick Flicks. What can I do to assist you?’

Gordon didn’t answer the question. He simply tapped his finger on top his card.

The young man picked up the card and swiped it. ‘I see you have a coupon as well,’ he said. ‘Altogether, that comes to twenty eight dollars.’

‘To rent a weekly video?’ yelled Gordon. ‘You’re not using a calculator to get that figure, are you?’

‘See for yourself,’ the boy said, turning the computer screen around. Gordon, however, couldn’t read the screen without his glasses and turned it back towards the clerk.

‘What do you think I am?’ he thundered. ‘A rocket scientist? You read it.’

The clerk looked hurt. ‘It’s four dollars for the video, with a one dollar discount because of the coupon, and it’s twenty five dollars for the replacement video.’

‘What replacement video?’ he asked.

‘The replacement for the video you rented but didn’t return.’

So far as Gordon knew, his rental record with Slick Flicks was utterly unblemished. There was not so much as a late return on his record.

‘That’s an insult!’

‘Well it says so right here on the computer,’ pleaded the clerk.

Gordon was stunned. ‘Which film is it?’

The clerk looked at the screen for a moment. Gordon could tell he was concentrating because his lips were moving. ‘It says here that you borrowed a copy of Top-Heavy Biker Babes with Guns and that you haven’t brought it back.’

‘Top-Heavy what?’ he spluttered. ‘Is that a pornographic film?’

‘It’s an adult film, sir,’ said the boy. ‘We don’t use the term pornographic in case our customers are offended.’

‘But I have never rented a pornographic film in my entire life!’ he said.

‘Adult, sir.’ The clerk leaned in, saying, ‘Perhaps it wasn’t you that rented Top Heavy Biker Babes.’

‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.’

‘Maybe your wife used your card.’

Gordon’s face lit up like an alarm. ‘My wife does not watch adult films.’

‘Whatever you and your wife choose to do in the privacy of your own home, sir, is really none of my business. If you people like pornographic films, that’s up to you.’

‘I thought they were adult films?’

The clerk shook his head. ‘I don’t care what you freaks want to call them.’

Gordon banged his fist on the counter and left his card and Clint Eastwood behind as he stormed out. When he pulled into the driveway, he was surprised to see that the reporters had all disappeared. ‘Maybe they thought I’d gone into exile,’ he muttered to himself. He walked into the house and straight out to the back yard. He was about to open the shed door when he heard someone call his name. He looked up to see the head of his next door neighbour perched on top of the fence.

‘What do you want?’ he growled.

‘Just wanted to see how you were,’ chirped Vincent Sabatini.

‘You must be loving this,’ answered Gordon, shaking his head. ‘I’ll bet you’ve already been down to the bowling club. I just hope you realise the effect this is having on Enid. It will be the death of her.’

‘My friend,’ whispered Sabatini. ‘You misunderstand me. I simply wanted to see if you were alright. And to ask you and your wife over to dinner at my house.’

It was unlike Sabatini to be polite, at least to Gordon. But he accepted all the same. ‘Alright,’ he mumbled.

‘I thought we could watch a movie after dinner?’ From behind the fence, Sabatini held up a video. ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Top Heavy Biker Babes with Guns? It looks pretty good.’

‘It was you,’ he whispered. ‘You were the one who borrowed the film and didn’t return it.’ Sabatini grinned. ‘You were the one who had me named as part of the axis of evil,’ he seethed. Sabatini nodded. ‘You were the one who gave my address to the media,’ he cried.

‘No, I’m afraid that wasn’t me,’ answered Vincent. ‘But the rest was me.’

‘But why!’

‘Why?’ repeated Sabatini. ‘For thirty years we’ve lived next door to each other. When you used to have a dog, you tossed the turds into my back yard.’

‘They would have been good for your garden!’

‘They weren’t good for my sheets!’ he yelled back.

‘What about that little poodle of yours? He’s a shitting-machine!’

You walk around the bowling club as though you’re boss-cocky. You broke water restrictions. You cut me off when I was driving and then stuck your finger up at me, like this!’ Sabatini raised his finger towards his neighbour. ‘Well now it is my turn to finger you right back.’

Vincent Sabatini didn’t say anything more, because a burst of water hit his face and caused him to drop off the fence. This, however, was not enough for Gordon. With the garden hose in his hand, he leapt up and kept spraying his neighbour. He even pressed his finger against the nozzle to make the water come out hard.

‘That’s it Sabatini, I’m coming over.’

Gordon swung his leg over the fence, dragging his hose along with him. As he did, he was spotted by the reporters who had regrouped on the front lawn. He heard one of them yell something about an ‘invasion’ and a general clatter of alarm. Gordon landed in Sabatini’s back yard with a thud. He thought he saw his neighbour by a lawn mower and let fly with a blast of water. He heard a whimper, and turned quickly to see Sabatini huddled in the corner of his carport. As he raised the hose and aimed it at his neighbour, he could hear the sound of helicopters overhead and the thumping feet of troops as they burst into the living room of Vincent’s house.

There was a cry and everything went dark. The sound of breaking glass rang out like an alarm and he felt a weight come down between his shoulders. Before he knew it, he was face down in his neighbour’s yard, his cheek against the grass. There, right before his eyes, was a gigantic turd. It looked like a dog’s, like a dog’s.

 

Pro Forma Rejection Letter

PRO FORMA RESPONSE LETTER

 

(insert date)

 

(insert name and address)

 

Dear (insert first name)/ Mr/s (insert surname) / (insert serial number),

 

Thank you for sending us your manuscript for (insert name of genius manuscript).

 

We have read your manuscript and consider it:

 

(a) a work of indisputable genius,

(b) not quite right for our organization,

(c) a complete abuse of the English language we know and love.

 

Unfortunately, we cannot accept your manuscript in spite of:

 

  1. its obvious merit,

  2. its usefulness as a make–shift doorstop,

  3. its flammability.

 

This is because:

 

  1. we have a full list of clients / publications at present,

  2. a down-turn in the book market,

  3. the El Nino effect.

 

Please find enclosed with this correspondence:

 

  1. your manuscript which we are returning,

  2. a complimentary sticker and hat,

  3. a restraining order preventing you from attending our offices or writing to us again.

 

Of course, another organization may:

 

  1. feel completely differently,

  2. not bother opening the envelope to begin with,

  3. hunt you down in the name of good taste.

 

Good luck with your writing:

 

  1. and best wishes for the future,

  2. because you sorely need it,

  3. although that luck might best be spent elsewhere.

 

Kind regards,

 

 

(insert name / mark here)

 

 

 

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and am undecided as to whether, as ideas go, it is brilliant or absolute rubbish. Romance publishers have very clear guidelines which can be easily downloaded. They’ll tell you how many words, what style and the home addresses for the main characters. It’s quite helpful. If only Random House would be so considerate. So here’s the idea: should I try and write a romance novel? The challenge would be to adhere to the conventions whilst bringing something new to the genre. Which is why I’ve come up with the idea for ‘Love In The Time of Bogans.’

‘Cheryl was only twenty two, strong-willed and always ready to speak her mind. Her male suitors universally described her as ‘going off like a frog in a sock’. Stevo was panel beater whose interests included beer and pornography. Born as a Taurus, he was contemplating having his birth date altered by deed poll in order to become a Scorpio.’

You get the idea. Our hero and heroine meet at the Dava night club in Mount Martha. Which, incidentally, was the original setting for Shakespeare’s Midsommer’s Night Dream. Or so I understand.

A very long way to the top

It may well be a long way to the top, but judging by the recent arena rock spectacular, the distance back down again is far, far greater. Inspired by the ABC TV series and, possibly, the movie ‘Cocoon’, veteran rockers emerged to deliver three and a half hours of perfect FM radio programming. But it begs the question: did it desecrate the very thing it sought to celebrate?

In the fifties, Little Richard recorded ‘Tutti Frutti’. The song was wild, raucous and it scared the living daylights out of middle-America. Then along came Pat Boone, who recorded an easily digestible version of Tutti Frutti that was as polite as the cardigan he was wearing. Needless to say, it was a smash hit. What became clear at a ‘Long Way to the Top’ was how much of early Australian rock music was based on the ‘Pat Boone’ model. The formula was simple. Take an American rock tune – usually by a black artist, and do a version of it that was easier on the eyes and ears. Back in the sixties, it resulted in number one hit singles. Thirty-odd years later it seems like a bizarre adaptation of the White Australia policy.

One of the difficulties facing the organisers must have been how to present so many acts in one evening. From that perspective, the night was an unqualified success. Changeovers were short and sharp and the night was relatively free of interruptions, but, overall, it felt much like a giant school concert, except it was the teachers on stage instead of the kids.

As for the performances, there was a distinct unevenness in the quality of the artists. Those who had never really stopped singing since their heyday faired best. Billy Thorpe, Russell Morris, Ross Wilson and Marcia Hines did particularly well. Bands such as Chain and the Masters and Apprentices were quite fine too, although Jim Keays should return his shirt to Austin Powers before anyone notices it’s missing. However, for every Normie Rowe, there was someone else for whom the standard was comparable to uncle Trevor’s rendition of ‘What’s New Pussycat’ at your sister’s wedding reception, save for the fact that on this occasion, you’d paid eighty bucks to listen to it.

As the night wore on, it was impossible not to be struck by an overwhelming sense that something was wrong. Here was a concert to celebrate the rebellious nature of rock and roll and yet that spirit was conspicuous by its absence. Even the songs the artists played were totally predictable. Indeed, the entire evening was one of well-mannered, superannuated Volvo-driving comfort that ran counter to everything the music stood for.

Suffice to say, I have never before been to a concert that had an intermission to allow gig-goers a chance to buy a choc-top.

If there’s one scene that will remain forever with me from that evening, it’s the sight of a certain man during the break, talking on his mobile phone while eating an Eskimo Pie and dancing.

Were rock and roll dead, it would surely have been turning in its grave.

What the evening needed more than anything was a shock. A surprise of some sort. Or, at least, a surprise that didn’t feature the words ‘I thought [insert name here] was dead.’ In short, what the night needed was Dinah Lee performing Eminem’s ‘Stan’ or Col Joye and the Joyboys drawing exclusively from the Slipknot songbook and engaging in some form of blatant self-abuse. But, alas, it was not to be.

To be fair, the evening wasn’t helped by the choice of venue. Put simply, the Rod Laver Arena is no more suited to hosting a rock concert than the front bar at the Espy is to hosting the Australian Open Tennis Final. By the time the finale rolled around, my seat had been so uncomfortable for so long that I began to seriously contemplate having my buttocks replaced through surgery. Instead, I had to content myself with dashing home for a warm cup of Horlicks before bedtime. As did many of the performers, no doubt.

Rock and roll is dead. Long live rock and roll.