Sitting on the Randy Van Hornes of a Dilemma

There’s a record in a frame that hangs in my house. Unfortunately, it’s not a platinum, gold, silver or even polystyrene disc denoting sales in the greater Tyabb region, but a gift from my father.  Worse still, the framed record is not one I had anything to do with but one by ‘The Randy Van Horne Singers’.  I’ve never listened to it.  Having it in a frame kind of ensures that I never will.  I should be grateful.  There’s a sticker on the front of the frame that simply reads: In case of emergency, break glass.

This is just one of several framed artifacts gifted to me in a picture frame by my father. There’s also his Wham! T-shirt (no, that’s not a typo).  It too got the full framing treatment after I wrote a story about it. About how my father managed to get a free t-shirt from a work colleague and then tried to gift it to me. To a teenage boy, nothing could be less cool than a Wham! t-shirt and wearing such a t-shirt would be to invite derision from everyone I ever met from that point on.   Which, for any teenager, is a horrifying thought.

I was openly repulsed by the offer.  Despite or, more likely, because of that, my father insisted on wearing said Wham! t-shirt whenever and wherever he could.  It was an on-going source of embarrassment on such a scale that my father thought it worth preserving for all time, and put it in a frame. The reasons for Randy Van Horne’s elevation to the ‘McCullough Hall of Frame’ are more to do with my persistent, albeit incredibly well founded criticisms of my father’s record collection.  

Most of his LPs came from a record club. Presumably, the first rule of record club is you do not talk about record club.  The second rule of record club is that, under no circumstances, should you play anything they send you.  Ever.  They seemed to specialize in unknown pieces by well-known composers. With a generous serve of the Randy Van Horne Singers.  But I really shouldn’t judge.  For when it comes to criticizing people for their musical choices, I am very much occupying a glass house, full of glass modular furniture with a glass front door with Mick, Keef, Ronnie and the rest of the Stones as guests whom I am ready to throw at the slightest provocation.

I didn’t collect the dodgy music of others.  I made my own dodgy music with my friends. It’s one thing to horrify your peers with your poor musical choices but it’s another thing altogether to be able to clear a dance floor as if someone had just yelled ‘fire!’ with one of your original compositions.  There are classmates of mine who are probably still recovering from the time we performed for the end of year school dance at the Bittern Town Hall. Some of them have probably avoided music altogether since that fateful night.  A case of ‘once Bittern, twice shy’ if you will.

Sadly, our performances are not framed and hanging on my wall like the Randy Van Horne Singers.  I do, however, have a DVD of one of our gigs.  It was in Cheltenham, I think, which I regarded then as ‘the city’.  I was wearing a shirt with a suit vest because, frankly, that’s how things rolled in the eighties. My brother was wearing a really big woolly jumper and had used so much hairspray that there was probably a hole in the ozone named in his honour.  

We played our particular brand of rock and roll to a group of impassive people who, presumably, had remained only because they were unclear where to find the exits.  As each song finished, there was applause, although mostly I was only one clapping.  But as challenging as the music was, it was the sight of myself attempting to dance that proved most difficult of all.  What I lacked in skill, poise and grace, I attempted to make up for with sheer, frenzied energy.  The results were close to catastrophic as limbs flailed like one of those blow-up things they put outside car parks to get your attention.  It was not a pretty sight.

But despite the fact that I couldn’t much sing and certainly couldn’t dance, my friends all stood beside me on stage.  Whatever limitations we had as a group, we had learned to work together to create something.  We were a team.  That band was not so much about music (as the DVD made clear) but about friendship.

I learned last week that the father of our drummer, Chris, had passed away.  It had been years since we’d been in touch, but that week we were on the phone to each other.  Even after all this time, the sound of his voice was so familiar to me and it made me happy to hear him speak even in that moment of impossible grief. We made plans of a kind.  To get the band back together.  To be in each other’s company once again. And, possibly, to dance.

I find I’m making a lot of lists.  They’re lists of ‘things to do when this mess is over’. I’ve added ‘band reunion’ to it. For all the catastrophe of the past eighteen months, I’m starting to think about what’s important.  That very much includes my old band.  I can’t wait.  Maybe we’ll play a song or two.  And if we do, I’ll take a picture rather than make a DVD. Then I’ll take that picture and put it in a frame and on my wall, right next to the Randy Van Horne Singers. Where it belongs.

Night and Day, Now and Venn

I was never much of a star when it came to mathematics.  I wasn’t hopeless, by any stretch of the imagination, but numbers didn’t come as easily to me as they seemed to for others.  I now wish I’d paid more attention.  I’m sure there was a lesson on Venn diagrams, but chances are I was too busy staring out the window at the paddock next door to the school.  So far as I was concerned, I didn’t need fancy drawings to demonstrate relationships in probability.  I saw things simply then.  Either they were a ‘sure thing’ or, alternatively, ‘pigs might fly’.

With lockdowns, bubbles and travel restrictions, there has never been a better time to master the Venn diagram.  Moving to a fifteen-kilometre radius has begun to open up new possibilities for seeing the people that you love.  Weirdly, it means you end up meeting somewhere that’s entirely unfamiliar to you and the person you’re meeting.  The only thing taking you to that particular spot is that it so happens to falls within your area of overlap.  So it is that millions of people are picnicking in unfamiliar parks just so that can see each other after months of separation.  Worse still, picnicking in areas that are not fit for purpose, solely on the basis of overlap.

Today, I’ll be picnicking in Patterson Lakes.  It’s an area with which I am almost entirely unfamiliar.  I assume there are lakes there, but I could be wrong; to the best of my knowledge, there are no ‘springs’ in ‘Caroline Springs’ and nothing at all resembling ‘deer’ in ‘Deer Park’.  (To be fair, perhaps the ‘springs’ are not a reference to an aquatic feature but a general air of optimism.  Like ‘Caroline Springs Eternal’.)  

But Patterson Lakes just so happens to be half way between me and my brother and his family, and there’s a small sliver of land we can both stand on together for a short period of time.  Mind you, we’ll need to keep our balance – if either of us falls over, we may well tumble beyond our fifteen kilometre limit.   

Every time the rules change, I draw a new set of Venn diagrams.  Because I’m close to the beach, a lot of my radius goes to waste. Unless, of course, I want to use my freedom to row out into the middle of Port Phillip Bay.  It must be said that rowing out into a huge body of water is an ideal way to spend time on your own.  It must also be said that, in lockdown, spending time on your own is in ample supply and getting more of it is not currently high on my list of priorities.  Usefully, fifteen kilometers takes me just off the coast of Williamstown, where I’d very much like to be.  All I need to do is build a boat using whatever I can find lying around the house and order a megaphone online and I’ll be ready to row on over.  

Residents taking their morning walk will pause as they spot a small vessel made from cardboard floating off the shoreline.  I’ll have sought to draw attention to myself with flares, but not having a flare gun available to me, I’ll have worn a pair of denim flares which, although eye catching in one sense, are less effective than flares that are shot up into the sky when it comes to getting attention.  That said, there are few people who wouldn’t stop whatever they’re doing to gaze with slack-jawed wonder at the sight of denim flares flying across the sky and on into orbit.  But, sadly, neither pigs nor flares can fly.

  For years I’ve had a picnic blanket in the back of my car.  Why that was, I can’t say – it’s not as though I’m prone to conducting emergency picnics.  That said, that blanket’s had more use in the last two weeks than it ever has.  The fact of carrying the picnic blanket under your arm is a signal to all that you are engaged in a legitimate activity and are acting within the rules.  Sitting on a picnic blanket is like being in an embassy, where there’s the chance of removing your mask for a moment to eat. And a chance to see someone’s face, if just for a fleeting instant whilst they’re feeding it.

But Venn diagrams don’t always tell the whole story.  There are things we can do that reach across those boundaries and make distance vanish, if only for a moment.  Last week, I received a pig.  It didn’t fly to me; rather, it arrived by post.  It was, in actual fact, a drawing of a pig on a homemade card sent to me by my nephew, Tyler.  Underneath the drawing were the words, ‘I miss you pig time’.  It arrived at exactly the right moment, in that it turned up exactly when I needed it most.

The card is now on my fridge. I’ve even kept the envelope because it means that much to me.  If I had a boat, I’d probably row down to Patterson Lakes this afternoon using my picnic blanket for a mainsail, thus getting exercise whilst seeing my brother and his family.  

For all the restrictions and hardship, I am in awe of the ability of people to overcome it.  Whether they do so by way of a surprise box of groceries or a hand-made card, it all makes a profound difference.  Even with my limited mathematical skills, I know that one plus one may equal two, but some things add up to a whole lot more.

Tales of a One-Man Boy Band

It was bound to happen eventually.  The longer lockdown continued, the greater the chances I’d take all my hobbies to the brink of exhaustion.  Baking my own bread?  Had that nailed by lockdown two and moved on from loaves of sourdough to every form of pastry imaginable.  Painting?  Let’s just say the landlord’s in for a surprise if she looks up at the ceiling. Hopefully, she’s a fan of the Sistine Chapel.  Learning another language?  Lightweights choose French and Italian.  I, however, have gone with Icelandic.  I now routinely answer the phone with the traditional Icelandic greeting of ‘Góðan daginn’.  

Incidentally, nine out of ten telemarketers immediately hang up immediately if your answer speaking Icelandic.  Thank me later.

But as fun as it is to bake bread with one hand whilst painting the ceiling with the other and singing along to the radio in Icelandic, I now need a new challenge.  Something I’ve long intended to do but, for whatever reason, have kicked the can on down the road for decades until whether the road does, in fact, have an end becomes a very real question.  There’s never been a better time to revisit something you’ve been putting off forever.  I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve come to a decision – it’s time for me to start my own boy band.

I know what you’re thinking – about time.  However, a small number of you may also be wondering what right a middle-aged man has to start his own boy band.  The simple answer is that I’ll be relying on a scientific principle known as the ‘Beverly Hills 90210 Theory of Age Relativity’. It’s the same rule that allows people who are clearly far into their thirties to pretend they’re high school students for the purpose of entertainment.  It requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  Indeed, if that suspension were a suspension bridge, it would be one of those long rickety bridges that’s missing some of the wooden steps and stretches across a treacherous ravine populated by human-devouring crocodiles.  I’ll take my chances.

There’s an obvious problem in terms of my quest to start my own boy band.  A problem, that is, besides age and an absence of musical talent. Whilst lockdown is a perfect time to hone a new skill, it’s a terrible time to hold auditions, unless you’re prepared to do so over ‘Zoom’.  BTS would not be where they are today had they formed over a Microsoft Teams session.  This is to say nothing of the challenges I might experience in convincing others to join me in my endeavour.  ‘Joining a boy band’ ranks somewhere below ‘cleaning out the gutters’ for men my age in terms of priorities.  There’s little choice – it’ll have to be a one-man boy band.

There are advantages, obviously, to being in a one-man boy band.  For starters, there’s no need to compromise my musical vision. However, it was pointed out to me that to truly be a one-man boy band, I’d have to be each member of the boy band.  It’s a fair point and, potentially, very demanding.  It’s hard to be both the cute one and the rebellious one simultaneously. That said, I’m finding it quite easy to be both the one with the ‘hip hop’ edge who craves credibility despite being in a boy band and the awkward one who’s clearly just making up the numbers.

We (or, more precisely, I) need a name.  A name that’s chock-full of effortless cool that speaks to our roots and diversity and looks good on a t-shirt.  After three whole minutes of thinking, I decided that the group would be called ‘The Dingley Village People’.

It started extremely well. Because I have ties back to the nineties (some of which have piano keys on them), my boy band is much like those of that particular era.  I’m wearing a lot of white.  Given that I’m working from home, this is neither here nor there, but startles the neighbors when I’m putting the bins out.  Yesterday, I caught sight of myself reflected in a supermarket window and saw that I looked more like a cult leader than a member of a boy band. I quickly rectified this with some dance moves, including the one where you reach into the sky to pull down an invisible object (it’s my favourite dance move, largely because it’s so achievable).  

I’m not sure what the other shoppers thought, save that they seemed content to give me all the space I needed as I shimmied down the frozen goods aisle.

But boy bands can only last for so long.  They’re like milk, in that sense.  And, if I’m being honest, I’m starting to get itchy feet.  I’m now making plans for a solo album.  It goes without saying that my solo record will be a whole lot edgier than the music of The Dingley Village People.  The videos, too, will reflect this grittier approach.  I’ll be wearing a leather jacket for starters. Unfortunately, it’s the leather jacket I got when I turned eighteen which has massive shoulder pads and makes me look like a cast member from Planet of the Apes.  The songs are in English but, in keeping with my recently acquired skills, the subtitles will be in Icelandic.  Splitting from my one-man boy band to launch a solo career is keeping me sane.  Let me simply say – rock on.  Or, as they say in Iceland, rokkaðu áfram.

When Your Grocery Trolley Is A Handcart to Hell

You’d think I’d have gotten the gist by now.  After months of practice, I’m still no better at it. I’ve studied them, poked and prodded them, sent samples down to the lab, soaked them, baked them and even set fire to them (albeit by accident – don’t leave anything next to the hotplate!). But despite my extensive and, some would say, creative research, I still have not mastered the whole face-mask caper.  

I know what you’re thinking – if a tree falls in a forest, does anybody hear?  And, quite possibly, why did they ever mess with the formula for Barbecue Shapes?  (It was destined to end badly for all concerned.)  But you’re also thinking – what kind of fool struggles to wear a face mask?  All you need to do is loop the elastic over your ears, ensure the mask is facing forwards rather than backwards, and away you go.  That’s where you’re wrong.

I wear glasses.  In fact, I’ve worn glasses since I was a teenager.  And it’s been fine, up until now.  But what the last miserable eighteen months has taught me is that wearing a mask and glasses simultaneously is pretty much impossible.  I can get by without them if I’m just walking around, but I am totally incapable of reading anything.  At all.  

When you’re wearing a mask, glasses fog up.  They just do.  Instead of lenses through which you can see, they become entirely frosted over in an instant. This has proved especially impractical when shopping.  Once, I’d prepare an inventory (something I refer to as a ‘shopping list’), travel to the supermarket and purchase the things I’d already decided on.  It sounds simple, but it worked for me.  Having glasses that fog up because I’m wearing a mask makes this somewhat simple act a whole lot more complicated.

I’ve now officially given up. By which I mean I’m now no longer wearing my glasses to the supermarket.  This has resulted in a number of challenges.  Firstly, there’s the issue of the list itself. Whereas once, I wrote my shopping list on a small piece of paper that I kept in my pocket.  I’ve now had to go with something bigger so I can increase the size of my writing.  For this reason, I’m using a bed sheet.  

Because I’m now using a bed sheet on which to write my shopping list, the first thing I need to write each week is ‘bed sheet’.  Permanent marker is nothing if not unambiguous in terms of what it does, and I need a new sheet each week to replace the last.  But despite the fact that my list is now written in letters that are the size of a three year old child, I still have trouble reading the list without my glasses.  Which is disappointing, given that if left on an oval it could probably be read from space.  This means that shopping has become an essentially random act.

My list begins with the basics – rice, bananas, yoghurt and milk.  However, last week I returned from the supermarket with shoe polish, string, a litre of prune juice and pigs’ trotters.  Back home and with mask off and glasses on, I shuddered as an image of the calamitous sandwich that results from such a cavalcade of ingredients took my mind hostage.  It got my entire week off on the wrong (pigs’) foot.

This is so much worse than simply not being able to distinguish between full and low fat.  I am getting the wrong products entirely.  The first hint of this comes when I reach the checkout and the eyebrows of the person working there begin to rise. As a result, I started avoiding the human checkouts in favour of the ‘self serve’ version.  Even there, the checkout lit up like a poker machine as I tried to scan what turned out to be a bucket of tripe.  Somewhat ironically, I’m making a complete spectacle of myself because I don’t have my glasses.

I’ll admit I’m feeling listless.  By which I mean I’ve now given up using a list at all and am simply using either my intuition or, if you prefer, ‘the Force’.  Clearly my intuition leaves a lot to be desired and I’m beginning to regret dropping out of my Certificate III Jedi Training course.  Today, I returned only with tea.  I swear I bought things at multiple locations within the store, but have returned only with enough tea to see me through the rest of my life.  Granted, there are some variations as to the type of tea, which is nice, but it won’t make for much of a sandwich.

There will be some reading this, screaming at their newspapers as to why I don’t order on line whilst I still have my glasses and let the food come to me.  It’s a fair point, but I’m reluctant to give up a legitimate reason to leave the house at this time.  Instead, I’ll need to embrace the randomness of it all and make the best of things.  It’s what we’re all doing, really.  

I’ve been working all day in the kitchen trying to whip up something tasty, but I’m going to need a much larger whip if I’m to succeed.  Using tripe, stock, potatoes, string and a pomegranate, I’ve been boiling the whole thing up for the last twelve hours and the time has finally arrived where I can no longer avoid tasting it.  I raise the spoon to my lips.  The results were, predictably, offal.  Glasses or not, I should have seen that one coming.

The Eric Estrada Estrangement Fiasco

I stand corrected.  Just a week ago, I wrote about how my father had kept an empty tin can with pictures stuck on it as either an act of sentimental parental devotion or administrative oversight.  It was, so I claimed, proof that my father had never given up hope that I might one day produce an even greater piece of art.  Or, alternatively, that he really liked ‘Ponch’ from CHiPs. Either way, I was touched that he’d kept it all these years.  But that was a week ago and, frankly, a lot can change in a week.  It was shortly after the story was published that I received a phone call – from my father.

I began by wishing him a happy Father’s Day.  He began by telling me that he no longer had the tin can pencil holder.  His account from that point on became ever less reliable.  He initially suggested that the tin can pencil holder could well be a figment of my imagination. This was difficult to hear. Not only was the tin can pencil holder a cherished childhood memory, it has formed the backbone of my curriculum vitae for the past thirty years and it now seems that every job I’ve held in that period was under false pretences.

 Before there was a chance to get to the bottom of whether or not the object had ever existed or was the product over an over-stimulated imagination in what can only be described as a stationery-based fever-dream, my father changed tack.  He then speculated that the item hadn’t held a place on his desk for at least twenty years.  Granted, it’s fair to say that during this pandemic time has lost all meaning and the term itself may be removed from the dictionary as a result, but I recalled seeing it just last Christmas.  It was then that our conversation took a truly dark and startling turn.

 He suggested my brother had taken it.  Typical!  Granted, it’s hard to fathom a motive.  Or, at least, a motive beyond wanting an empty tin can with a picture of Eric Estrada glued onto it.  But it’s the sheer, breath-taking improbability of the thing that, in many ways, makes it the perfect crime.  No one’s going to suspect you of stealing something that is so obviously without any tangible value whatsoever, to say nothing of the fact that it’s also devoid of artistic merit.

Naturally, I later put this accusation to my brother who denied it.  Perhaps he denied it a little too strongly.  But, despite my reservations I was ultimately prepared to accept that he had no need for a place to put his pencils as all his work was done on a laptop.  Sure, it stung a little to hear that something you created is no longer considered useful, but he made a compelling point.  An uneasy peace arose between us as I made a mental note to monitor ‘Gumtree’ for the next few weeks in the event he tried and offload his ill-gotten gain.

My father then said something that sent a chill racing through my veins.  ‘Perhaps it’s in the shed’.  Without fear of overstatement, everything that ever existed is in my father’s shed.  Jimmy Hoffa is in the shed (behind the wooden water-skis, probably).  Lost civilizations, too, wondering how to get past the large wooden dresser that’s been sitting their for decades.  Whatever you’ve lost; be it a pair of shoes, a watch or your youth, chances are you’d find it in my father’s shed.  Being sent to the shed is not so much about a change in location as it is a destiny.

Obviously, for something to be transported from the house to the shed requires an active decision on the part of my father.  A decision he’d not seen the need to take over previous decades.  It posed the question – what else had my father decided to send to the shed during lockdown?  There’s a banner that hangs just outside his study.  It says ‘We Love Our Dad’ and there’s a computer-generated image of myself and my siblings.  Because this was done in the mid-eighties, it looks as though our faces have been deliberately blurred out, like we’re whistleblowers appearing on television.  

I have distinct memories of one of my brothers looking as though he had no eyebrows at all and that these were added later with a grey lead pencil.  Given that time has not been kind to it, has it too been sent to the shed?  I don’t want to panic, but I fear for the safety of my football trophies.  They’re so amazingly small that they’d be completely swallowed up by the shed, never to be seen again.  That said, if he’s relocated the photos of us as kids where we were all dressed the same as though we were members of a cult, that wouldn’t be so bad.

Only my father would use a winter of discontent for spring-cleaning.  When the day finally comes and I can get back to Tyabb, who knows what I’ll find.  Or not find, as the case may be.  All I know is that when I stick my head in to my father’s study, I won’t see Eric Estrada’s smiling face.  

Then again, perhaps it’s all just a ruse and he knows exactly where the tin can pencil holder is.  There’s only one way to find out.  When I finally get around to shopping for my father, I will buy him dozens and dozens of pencils.  Either the tin can pencil holder will magically appear or there will be complete pencil mayhem.  It may seem petty, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.  And I have plenty of pencils with which to draw it.

For Father’s Day, Wherever It Finds You

At first glance, it’s just an old tin can.  It sits where it has for the past forty or so years, on my father’s desk.  But more than just a piece of recycling gone astray, this empty can represents the pinnacle of my career as an artist.  Of course, he was not to know that this would be as good as it would get. I can’t recall naming it, but if I were to do so, it would be called, ‘Empty Tin Can Pencil Holder With Random Pictures Stuck On.’  As the artist, it was incumbent on me to sign it but I failed to do so.  It was, I think, an oversight on my part.

The tin can is decorated with pictures that I chose, reflecting the things that were most important to me at that time of my life. Eric Estrada’s on there.  He played ‘Ponch’ on the television show, ‘CHiPs’ about the California Highway Patrol.  Whilst Eric and his co-star Larry Wilcox were important figures to me, I doubt very much that my father felt the same way.  Despite this, he thought no less of my work. In fact, I think the piece generally positioned with the ‘Ponch’ side facing out.  

Fonzie may also be on there.  For people of a certain age, there was a time when Arthur Fonzarelli from ‘Happy Days’ was the epitome of what it was to be a cool adult. A role model, if you will. As a stage of development, though, the ‘Fonzie’ stage is somewhat fleeting.  The older you get, the more you realize that having the men’s toilets as your ‘office’ really isn’t that flash.  To say nothing of living above the garage of the parents of your best friend who has, himself, long since moved out of home seasons earlier to work at the Milwaukee Journal before totally going off the rails and directing ‘Far and Away’.

There’s probably a football on there.  Maybe even an Essendon player.  This was clearly before I was officially declared a ‘lost cause’ on the football front.  He must have had such high hopes for me. As I grew up, there was a succession of Essendon Football Club jumpers, always several sizes too big, that my father purchased.  Either he was being thrifty and knew we’d grow into them or, as was probably the case, he had only a loose idea of how tall we were and simply erred on the side both of caution and larger sizing.  

Those jumpers sat on our tiny frames like tents, billowing in the wind.  When the breeze was particularly strong, the jumpers were like a sailboat spinnaker and would become bloated with air before capsizing the occupant.  We often wore them when playing ‘kick to kick’ in the backyard, along with our gumboots.  It must be said that the task of kicking a football is made all the more difficult by the wearing of gumboots.  In fact, gumboots are only one notch up from clogs, in this regard.  Our father, however, was relentless.  Not for him, the gentle drop kick in our general direction so that we’d have some hope of marking the ball.  Rather, he’d dispatch a wild torpedo punt that was not kicked to you so much as it was launched into orbit.  My brother and I would spend ages running (to the extent that running is possible in gumboots) after the ball before returning it, inadequately, to the other side of the yard.

His approach to cricket was equally punishing. Rather than a tennis ball, he favoured something called a ‘composite’ ball.  It was something akin to a miniature cannonball that he’d fire down the pitch with all the speed he could muster.  They produced the most spectacular bruises imaginable.  I, for one, have nearly given up hope that the bruising will, in fact, ever subside.  It’s no surprise to anyone that I failed as a cricketer. This is despite the fact that my bedroom had wallpaper decorated with cricketers.  What an exercise in optimism that was.  Although it’s been thirty years since I left that house, the cricketers remain in place.  

If my father was disappointed to receive an empty tin can pencil holder for Father’s Day, he didn’t show it.  Nor did he hesitate to give it pride of place on his desk.  I wonder whether he thought to himself that he’d keep it there until I invariably produced something better the following year when I was more proficient, only to realize as each year rolled by, that this was my artistic high-water mark.  To make things worse, my brothers and sisters created their own father’s day projects that were so obviously superior to mine. 

It’s hard, I think, when you have a younger sibling who’s been blessed with every creative skill you lack.  The year I produced a tin can with pictures stuck on it was probably the year my younger brother produced as twelve foot bird cage that played ‘Sink the Bismarck’ whenever you opened the door.

Like a lot of people, I won’t see my father on Father’s Day this year.  I wish I could be in Tyabb.  I wish I could step into that study and see all the gifts of Father’s Days’ past littered around the room.  Instead, I’ll wait.  And when the time comes (as it surely will), I’ll ask him to pencil in a time in his diary for us to catch up.  At least he knows where to find his pencils.  Until then, I’ll be making his gift.  It’s a tin can decorated with things that are important to me.  There’s no Eric Estrada, no Fonzie either; just pictures of my family.  Because that’s what’s important to me now.  

Scammers, Slammers and Sponge Cake Ninjas

I have difficult news.  This week, I received multiple phone calls from a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, there was a recorded message declaring that Australian Border Force had intercepted a package addressed to me and had, as a result, issued a warrant for my arrest.  I don’t have anything on order currently and, despite the impending threat to my liberty, my first reaction was to feel a flush of excitement and to wonder what the package was.  Which is probably not what they were aiming for. After the initial excitement at the prospect of getting mail, it then occurred to me that this could be a scam.

I feel I can be forthright here without fear of offending anyone – scammers are Olympic-grade idiots. What kind of moron tries to scam people during a pandemic?  Ignoring the fact it’s totally unconscionable, telling someone they’re at risk of being incarcerated and may lose the freedom to move about as they wish really lacks punch in the middle of a lockdown.  It sounds more like the status quo with a change of view. And, on the upside, you no longer have to worry about cooking and laundry.

Secondly, I doubt very much that law enforcement agencies are prone to announcing their intention to arrest by way of a voicemail message.  They’re far more likely to ‘DM’ you on Instagram.  It’s not my area of expertise, but I always assumed those kinds of agencies placed a significant premium on the element of surprise.  In my mind, they’re more likely to kick the gate in when you least expect it instead of calling to make an appointment. That said, I don’t have a front gate to speak of; more a driveway.  Maybe leaving a message is what you do when there’s no gate available to kick.

This brings me to my next point.  There’s no point trying to scam people if your central message is so terrifying that those receiving it hang up instantly and bury the phone in the backyard.  I, for one, am having real difficulties remembering precisely where I buried mine in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy.  I’d call myself to try and find it, save that I have made the fundamental strategic error of always keeping my phone on ‘silent’, meaning that I can only rely on it vibrating to have any idea where it is.  Worse still, I don’t have another phone to call it from, meaning I’d have to use a pay phone which is about eight hundred metres away.  I could call my mobile and race home, but there’s little chance that it’d still be shaking by the time I arrived.

Whilst I’m ninety nine percent certain that these messages are the work of scammers, I find myself unable to round up and put doubt entirely out of my mind.  What package are they referring to?  Has my on-line shopping history resulted in unwanted attention from the authorities?  The last thing I bought was a jar opener.  Or, to be more specific, I bought three jar openers.

I can see why this would provoke suspicion.  A jar opener is innocent enough, but what would anyone want with threejar openers?  Many’s the international crime cartel that has been founded on less.  Decades from now, when my intelligence file is finally declassified, I’ll discover all the top-level meetings that were prompted by my seemingly perverse decision to get three jar openers.  In truth, I thought I’d buy spares for members of my family.  But Amazon, who otherwise read your thoughts and go through your bins, isn’t interested in that level of detail.

But beyond my own checkered purchasing past, there’s the issue of the current package to consider. What could it contain that would result in a warrant for my arrest?  There’s little I need.  So I searched my thoughts and decided there was just one thing I longed for from overseas – sponge cake.  That’s because I have a serious sponge cake deficit in my life right now.

Once, sponge cake was the centre of my Universe.  It was, without doubt, the centerpiece of every major family event growing up. My grandmother and all her sisters were total sponge-masters; baking ninjas who took great pride in being able to produce a high-quality sponge for any occasion.  I’ve long aspired to be a sponge black belt in my own right, but am yet to do anything about it.  But it’s made me think that I no longer have those people to rely on.  Perhaps one of the overseas relatives intuited my needs and baked me a sponge, never dreaming it would be intercepted at sea and taken in for questioning.

I’ve noticed my father has, over the past few years, returned to sponge cake.  Like any family, we flirted with cheesecake, mud cake and everything in between, but more recently he’s been buying sponge from the supermarket in half-acre quantities.  Whilst big on volume, it’s simply not the same.

To Australian Border Force; if, indeed, you have issued a warrant for my arrest, I’ve already handcuffed myself to save you the trouble.  Mind you, I’ll admit I’m finding it difficult to unload the dishwasher, so if you could get a wriggle on, I’d appreciate it.  And for those who might be concerned for my welfare, feel free to send me something whilst I’m stuck in the Big House.  A sponge would do nicely. 

Postcards from the Fridge: How I Lost The Plot Before Finding It

This was the week.  The week I could no longer ignore the incontrovertible and mounting evidence that I had well and truly lost the plot.  There will be some who assert (somewhat unfairly) that I never had a tight grip on it to begin with, but the fact is that weeks of lockdown have finally loosened whatever grip I had and the plot has drifted off like a helium balloon.  Goodness knows where that thing will end up.

It happened on Sunday. I finished my run and wandered over to the local coffee shop, mask now firmly in place.  As I always do, I ordered a small skinny flat white with one.  I waited patiently as the barista weaved her particular magic until  my name was called and I stepped forward to collect my caffeinated prize.  It was then I made the mistake that I’d successfully avoided making the entire pandemic – I raised my take away coffee to my lips and attempted to drink it through the mask.

Skinny flat white immediately cascaded down my face and splashed across my chest.  Others turned their faces away in abject disgust as coffee began to land in big, dark drops on the footpath.  Even the barista looked horrified.  I did what any reasonable person would do under the circumstances – I continued trying to suck flat white through my mask.  For something thin enough to allow you to breathe, a mask is surprisingly resistant to liquid.  Soon, what had been droplets turned into a veritable waterfall as coffee tumbled down my front before splashing across the footpath.

I can’t have been the first. Surely others have experienced the ‘forgot I was wearing a mask and attempted to drink a coffee’ syndrome? There are many different types of mask.  I’ve stuck with orthodoxy and have been wearing surgical masks.  It makes me feel as though I fit in as well as suggesting I’m more qualified than I actually am.  However, a light blue surgical mask really highlights coffee stains around the mouth region.  Essentially, it ruins the mask forever.  It also makes you easy to spot – passersby are left in no doubt as to what’s happened.  

Possibly as a result of feeling humiliated, possibly because I was under-caffeinated,  I over-reacted by deciding to spend the day gardening. If, as I suspected, I had lost the plot; there was some chance I might find it buried somewhere in the back yard.  Those who consider gardening part of their routine probably can’t appreciate how bizarre it is for me to be in the garden.  Besides mowing, we’ve mostly left each other alone.  A respectful distance if you will.  But here was I, violating the very neutrality that had kept us all safe up to now.

I’ve not lived at this address for long.  To that extent, this particular garden is a mystery to me.  There are some raised garden beds completely overrun with grass and weeds, which seemed like a logical place to start.  Using the wonder-mattock I bought just before lockdown, I ripped up the garden beds and fished out as much of the grass as I could.  It was then that I started to discover more surprising artifacts.

In  an ideal world, this would be the part of the story where I told you about the gold doubloons, diamonds and other treasures I discovered. But if the past eighteen months has taught us anything, it’s that an ideal world doesn’t exist.  Instead, I found a menagerie of random household items.  A foam ball, a toy car, tinsel (leading me to speculate that previous occupants may have grown their own Christmas tree, decorating it ‘in situ’ rather than dragging it into the living room) and, somewhat alarmingly, bones.

The more I dug, the more bones I discovered.  There were moments when I thought I’d soon be calling in Forensics before it became obvious that these were animal bones.  In lockdown, you’re supposed to start new hobbies, and for an instant I considered trying to re-construct the skeleton into a museum display before deciding that skeletal modeling was not a skill I wanted to take into the post-pandemic world.

Then it struck me.  With all the force of a skinny flat white with one that you’ve inadvertently attempted to drink whilst still wearing a facemask.  These were, most likely, the remains of a cat.  In fact, these weren’t raised garden beds at all, but a shrine to a revered family feline that I had inadvertently managed to desecrate.  Other cats would be out for revenge.  I would have to go into hiding – which is hard to do when you’re already in lockdown.  I’m not sure how, precisely, but the cat-kingdom will exact its revenge.  I now live in fear that there’ll be a knock on the door and I’ll open it to find Mr. Mistoffelees standing on the porch before punching me in the nose and storming off.  

In the middle of the week, there was a knock.  Naturally, I was nervous.  But rather than finding an angry Mr. Mistoffelees bent on wreaking vengeance waiting for me, I found a box.  In that box I found food.  Coffee, milk, donuts, cheese and a pizza.  Sent by a family member for no reason at all other than to make me feel better.  I rummaged around the bottom of the box before pulling it out.  And there it was – the plot.  Just when I needed it most.  Thanks.#

Lockdown Five and a Half: Zeroing In

And so it is.  After coming through lockdown five, we find ourselves in lockdown six.  To be honest, I don’t think we can honestly say the curtain had fallen on lockdown five – if you can’t visit family, you’re still in lockdown, even if can get a flat white at a café.  Besides, using the ‘Police Academy Theory of Relativity’, this would put us in ‘City Under Siege’ territory that, although aptly named, holds a zero percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s no easy thing to get a ‘zero’ on Rotten Tomatoes.  It’s a rating reserved for pieces of cinematic filth for which no one on the entire planet could find a kind word to say.  Movies for which there is no redeeming feature whatsoever. Where critics could not bring themselves to say as much as ‘at least the on set catering was good – half a star’. In that sense, ‘Police Academy Six: City Under Siege’ joins an elite but diverse group of movies, bound together only by their sheer putrescence.  

‘Jaws: The Revenge’ worked hard for its zero rating.  It followed the spectacularly poor ‘Jaws: 3-D’ which, as the title not so much implies as it does boldly declare, was a three dimensional experience with the notable exception of the script.  Let me say right now that I accept that I am partly to blame for the existence of ‘Jaw: The Revenge’ as I am one of the unfortunate few who went and saw ‘Jaws: 3-D’ at the cinema.  Forgive me.

Amazingly, the film features Michael Caine.  Not just someone called ‘Michael Caine’ but the actual, ‘what’s-it’s-all-about-Alfie?’ Michael Caine.  He claims never to have seen the film but has, he says, seen the house it built which he describes as ‘terrific’.  It was an opportunity squandered.  It would have been better had bits of previous Michael Caine films had been incorporated into ‘Jaws: The Revenge’.  Had it featured a scene where Michael Caine flees the shark whilst driving a Mini Cooper, a huge, stinking ‘zero’ could have been avoided. If the shark had been blown up, as in the original film, it would have given Michael Caine the chance to say, ‘You’re only supposed to blow the bl&@dy doors off!’  That’s the kind of genius cross-promotion the members of the Academy love.

Also in this elite list is ‘Look Who’s Talking Now!’, which was the third, highly unnecessary installment so totally devoid of merit that it can only have been dreamed up for tax purposes.  Once more, I must take my share of the blame, having borne witness to the preceding ‘Look Who’s Talking Too’ at the cinema. Also in the list is ‘The Ridiculous 6’; an Adam Sandler picture.  I haven’t seen it, but I will say that Adam Sandler is capable of great things and I’ve seen lots of his earlier work.

There’s a pattern here.  One in which I have given creative succor to those who, perhaps, didn’t deserve it.  If nothing else, it tells me that I should start making better choices. My choices in lockdown, however, have mostly been pretty good.  I guess, in the end, whether this is lockdown five or six probably doesn’t matter that much.  Regardless, the question I ask myself is this: will this be the lockdown where the wheels officially come off?  

For me, there’s been no ‘quarantini’ at the end of the day, nor have I morphed into a ‘before’ picture.  With so much chaos, I’ve over-compensated with structure and stopped drinking altogether.  I’ve also gotten (properly) dressed every day, without fail.  Wearing pajamas only to slip on a jumper for conference calls doesn’t appeal to me at all.  Not one bit.  

I’m running sixty kilometres a week.  Which, with a five-kilometre limit in place, means I’m spending a lot of time running in circles.  So much so that it’s beginning to effect the way I walk.  I am spinning around whenever I move.  Say what you will, but it’s off-putting to see someone pirouette into a room, even if you’re watching them from the safety of Microsoft Teams.  

As well as I’ve done to now, everyone has their limit.  Will this be the lockdown where I let loose?  Having kept it together through structure, maybe I should treat this lockdown differently and, for want of a better way of putting it, let it all hang out.  When you spot me at the supermarket, don’t be surprised if all you see in my trolley is ice cream and potato chips.  It’s been a long time coming.

Having now purchased thirty litres of ‘Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food’ and my own body weight in salt and vinegar, I have barricaded myself indoors where I intend to stay for the rest of the lockdown.  Taking up position on the couch, I have just turned on the television.  

Netflix, in an attempt to be helpful, has selected a range of movies for me to watch based on my viewing preferences.  For some reason, these are the only programs I can currently access.  Scrolling through, the following movies are in my Netflix list: Police Academy Six: City Under Siege, Jaws: The Revenge, The Ridiculous 6 and Look Who’s Talking Now.  It’s official: the chances of me enjoying this latest lockdown are best described as follows – zero.   

Notes from the Bunker: Living La Vida Lockdown

There ought to be a term for it.  For lack of an alternative, I’m going with ‘Pfizerized’.  As of last week, that’s what I am.  Not only did getting vaccinated give me some peace of mind, it also provided me with a legitimate reason for traveling further than five kilometres.  I was so excited to be going anywhere that I hung my head out the window, kelpie-style, to enjoy to full sensory experience of motion.  For I am not enjoying lockdown.  Not at all.

On Monday, I started to look forward to bin night.  Which is on Wednesday.  As a general rule, I consider bin night a chore; something that must not be forgotten rather than something for which I am breathlessly counting down the hours. After a week of lockdown, the idea of having a legitimate reason to walk down to the end of the driveway and back again was a giddy thrill I hoped would sustain me.

Tuesday, in a word, was a surprise.  As I made my morning commute – which now consists for walking from the kitchen to the study whilst trying not to spill my coffee – I felt I was being watching.  As my head snapped upwards and I duly spilled my white with one all over the floorboards, I noticed a fox standing at my backdoor, staring in.  For a moment, each of us looked at the other, unsure of what to do.

There are foxes around the neighborhood, but this is the first time I’ve been stalked by one.  Clearly, lockdown has emboldened the animal kingdom more generally.  Sensing weakness, some of them have decided that now is the time to assert themselves and launch their take over.  The fox seemed nonplussed and sauntered around the backyard before disappearing behind the shed.  Possibly to get more foxes by way of reinforcement.

Finally, the big day arrived. To make the most of it, I put on my dinner suit and casually strutted down the driveway with both the regular bin and recycling bin.  I live in an area where the local council gives you a regular sized recycling bin, but a smaller regular bin that is somewhere between an adult sized wheelie bin and a Coles mini-collectible.  It fits enough garbage; it’s just that to wheel it around, you’d ideally be no taller than four feet.  Mind you, I’ve never met anyone from my local council who, for all I know, may all be Oompa Loompas.

Despite the awkwardness of carrying my regular bin whilst rolling the recycling bin down the driveway, I found that my neighbors had put their bins out already.  Meaning that I had completely squandered my only chance for meaningful human contact for the entire week.  I resolved to message my neighbors and synchronize our watches so that, in future, we could make the most of one of the few sanctioned reasons for being outside.

Thursday was the big one. That’s the day I’d allowed for take away food.  Forget Uber Eats. I wanted the full experience of walking somewhere to pick up a meal.  Masking up, I put a bag under my arm and began purposefully striding towards the main street; passing as I did, my empty bins which I hadn’t taken in because I was saving that for a special occasion.  I was on a mission.

I’m a big believer in the whole ‘QR Code’ thing.  So much so, that I’ve installed them at the entry points to every room in my house, despite the fact that I live alone.  Even an early morning trip to visit the water closet isn’t complete if I don’t scan in.  You can’t be too careful.  As I continued walking to the main drag, I clutched the phone in my pocket, ready to whip it out and do my duty.  As I approached the entrance, I pulled out my phone to find a message that said it was ‘disabled’ except if it was an emergency.

This was unexpected.  A phone is currently the passport to pretty much everything and I had no idea which buttons I’d inadvertently pushed to achieve this result.  It was unclear how long this telephonic paralysis was going to last.  I was also unsure whether picking up a kebab would constitute an emergency as such, although I was kind of peckish. 

Luckily, the phone unlocked itself and I was able to scan in and get dinner.  Although, that said, there was a brief moment of awkwardness when I’m sure the person serving me said it would be ‘forty dollars’ which, unless you’re at an airport (and, let’s face it, none of us are), is quite a lot for a kebab. It then became apparent that between the mask and Perspex screen, I’d simply misheard him.

As of Friday, the fox is yet to return.  It’s another five days until bin night and there’s not a whole lot to look forward to.  I’ve taken to wearing my dinner suit all day, every day.  I can’t be sure, but I think it’s making other people in Zoom meetings feel uncomfortable.  For now, though, I’m taking some assurance in being fully vaccinated and in knowing that others are keen to get theirs also. It will all be over soon. Or, at least, I hope so.  We need to get out of this thing before the foxes get a chance to mobilize and take over once and for all.