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Day 1 1 Two Hundred and Eighty Four Short Stories to Impress

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					Two Hundred and Eighty Four Short Stories to Impress a Girl.




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An explanation may well be in order: Between 1997 and 2002 I wrote a short story every week
and sent it out by email each Friday morning. At first the list of recipients was small. A total of
two, I think. Over time, other people heard about it and asked to be included, until there were over
one hundred. Many of whom were complete strangers. The weird thing about it is that lots of them
would then send it on to other people, so goodness knows where those stories ended up. I like to
think that some of them are still out there, trapped in somebody‟s computer waiting to be
rediscovered.


Reading back over them now fills me with a sense of alarm. Some of them are not especially
meaningful and many of them give far, far too much away. Others are over written or simply not
that well written. Some, however, are just as I remember them. Throughout, I am amazed as I‟m
reminded of some of the truly retarded things I have done. And I can‟t believe that I wrote so much
of it. But believe it or not, my father has a folder in which he stores them, which, to this day, he
keeps in the living room.


And yes, it really did start it all in a futile attempt to impress a girl. But that‟s okay. The stories
have persevered even if the reason for them did not.




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                                            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.




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                                                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.




                                              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




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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.




                                           The Pig Story.


       When my brother was in high school, his best friend was one Stavros Ambizidis. Stavros
was from a large Greek family who had a farm just outside of Hastings proper where they mostly
grew flowers but also had a few animals.
       His parents were lovely people, frequently overwhelming in their generous hospitality.
Nick, Stav's father and former professional wrestler, had eloped with Dina some thirty years ago
when they first came out to Australia. Their home was the site of a seemingly endless number of
celebrations and general merriment.
       Before one such shindig, Nick decided that the event would best be served by a large roast
pig on a spit. Luckily, Nick had just the pig in mind. Jumping into the family Land Cruiser, Nick




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went down to the back paddock, located the particularly large swine before administering the last
rites and shooting it. The pig was too large, too heavy and, quite frankly, too bloody to load into
the back seat, so Nick simply tied it behind the car and drove up to the house with the pig dragging
along behind.
       When Nick got back, the phone was ringing. Just as he stepped inside to answer the phone,
Dina realised that it was time to pick up their youngest, George from the local Primary School.
Seeing the Land Cruiser parked right at the back door, she simply got in and drove into Hastings.
       As Dina drove down the main street of town, she was surprised to see so many people
waving at her as she went along. Naturally, just as you or I would, she cheerily waved back at
them. It was only when she pulled into the Primary School car park, simultaneously inspiring
dozens of youngsters to convert to an especially virulent strain of vegetarianism, that she realised
that she had been dragging an enormous dead pig through the streets for all to see.
       Needless to say, pork did not feature heavily at that night's Barbecue. Nick decided that
trying to extract the gravel would be a far too hazardous affair.




                                             Free Dress.


       Like many schools, from time to time we had a 'free dress' day, always a loaded term if not
purely from the point of view of having to pay for the privilege of dressing like a normal human
being. Being a right wing fundamentalist school, there were a hundred rules that applied to such
free dress days at our school. Girls were forbidden to wear anything too 'revealing' and generally,
anything that involved leather was out of the question.
       I, naturally enough, was dressed incredibly sensibly in sturdy trousers and an appropriate
shirt. My brothers and sisters were all decked out and ready to head to school. My brother
Cameron however, while dressed in jeans and a t-shirt had packed into his school bag a change of
clothes as part of a pact between him and his best friend Stavros.
       We arrived at school, and Cam soon met up with Stav, and the pair of them disappeared in
the midst of conspiratorial whisperings. They arrived back, ready to start classes, now dressed in
pyjamas, bed socks and dressing gowns.




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       It took a total of ten minutes before an announcement came over the loudspeaker and the
pair of them were summoned up to the Principal's Office to explain themselves. My brother argued
his case strongly, stating that as it was a 'free dress' day and that since he had paid the required fee,
that he should be able to dress any way he pleased. The Principal couldn't muster up the requisite
humour and threatened the pair with suspension instead.               Stavros thought that this was
tremendously unfair, given that he and Cam had taken extra special care to sow up the front of their
pyjamas to prevent any over exposure.
       Eventually, they were forced to get changed into 'civilian' clothes and the following year,
the school rulebook carried in it an amendment requiring that only 'sensible' clothes could be worn
to school on free dress days. 'The Cameron Amendment' is still strictly adhered to, to this very day.




                                            Delivery Man.


       One of the most difficult tasks facing Pete and Cam at the Hastings Newsagency is finding
someone to do the early morning 'rural run', delivering papers. For a long time the task has fallen
to Cameron, who takes to the challenge not only with gusto but considerable speed also. Being out
in the sticks, the challenge is a unique one, in that there is a great geographical area to cover in a
very short space of time.
       For a while, they tried to find a willing recruit amongst Hastings' great pool of retired
persons. To get the job, they had to ride along with Cam as he tore around delivering papers. It
was supposed to familiarise them with the route but instead, it proved to be a descent into hell from
which some of them never really recovered.
       First was Kevin. A retired accountant, he had to be released five minutes into the journey,
because of 'dizziness'. Next came Alex. A large man and veteran, who figured that if he could
endure the horrors of war, he could certainly endure a high-speed trip in a family model Ford
Falcon. Sadly, Alex had to succumb to mid-round regurgitation as he swung the door open and set
his breakfast free, just as Cam was turning a particularly tight corner.
       Having exhausted willing elderly citizens, Cam and Pete turned to the criminal element of
Hastings. Neville was an enigmatic individual famous for nailing his own hand to the Bar at the




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Westernport Pub to win a bet. Needless to say, Neville wasn't too bright. He wasn't too bad at
delivering papers, though. He did, however, insist on being addressed as 'Neil'. This was in order
to confuse the local police force over an outstanding manslaughter charge.
       To this day, he is known as Neil, the Artist formerly known as Neville.




                                           Hastings Day.


       As the calendar ticks over and we approach the end of February, it is time once again for the
rural backwater that is the town of Hastings to transform into a glittering example of all that
cultured and all that is art; as it prepares to celebrate 'Hastings Day'. This is an annual event,
celebrated on the last Saturday in February.
       As the day arrives, it's as though a mystical metamorphosis takes place. Desperate streets
that are normally filled with drunken losers, human refuse and the very worst that society has to
offer are transformed into streets, decorated with balloons and streamers, filled with drunken losers,
human refuse and the very worst that society has to offer.
       Inexplicably, the festival has a Viking theme. Thus, the town is adorned with pictures,
visions and a variety of icons depicting Longboats and Nordic warriors, keen to rape pillage and
plunder. No one seems able to explain why this is.
       Hastings Day has many highlights. One of which is undoubtably the parade. At 12 noon,
the town comes to a veritable standstill (which, admittedly, is rather easy to achieve as all it really
involves is closing down the milk bar for a full 10 minutes) as a cavalcade of spectacle and colour
marches down the main street. Well, that's what the poster promises, at any rate. Picture, if you
can, New York on New Year's Eve, New Orleans in Mardi Gras and then conjure up an image as
little as like the aforementioned as is humanly possible. Think instead of Moomba on Mogodon.
Picture six to twelve malcontent youths marching as a so-called 'scout troupe', carrying the world's
saddest excuse for a banner, sloping down the street, stopping occasionally to beg for change. A
world of entertainment, indeed.
       My favourite thing about Hastings Day would have to be the fortune-teller's tent.
Inevitably, it‟s located in some dank corner of the foreshore where for just five dollars, you can




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consult a clairvoyant named Kylie, who, for the rest of the year is a 45 year old welfare recipient
suffering a host of sexually transmitted diseases that you and I are unlikely ever to hear of.
Wearing a lopsided gypsy hat and more eyeliner than should be considered decent, she spends a
good twelve minutes trying to guess your name and when failing there, moves onto a process of
elimination to determine you star sign. "Taurus! No? Umm...Leo! Wait on..."
          In terms of pure unadulterated excitement, this experience is followed closely by the Grand
Finale. Doug Parkinson, live in concert. Purely as a tonsorial experience, it promises much.
          Need I say more?


P.S. You're all invited to attend, and I expect to see you there....




                                                Prefect.


          My very first taste of authority came to me in year 11 when I was appointed to the role of
prefect at Flinders Christian Community College. When the school established a prefect system,
they had envisaged the role being performed by year 12 students, but this particular year were
forced to give the positions to year 11 students on account of there being a VCE class of just one
person.
          Within hours of my appointment, my first real test came when I was forced to issue a
demerit point to my own flesh and blood.
          My brother Cameron was in the classroom next door to me, sitting as he always did, with
his best friend Stavros Ambizidis at the very back of the room. There, they would pull pranks on
each other and generally misbehave. One of their favourite tricks involved a policy our school had
of starting each day with compulsory singing and praying (it was a right wing conservative
Christian school after all). It just so happened that Cameron and Stavros's teacher very much loved
to sing but had a somewhat disturbing speech impediment whereby he pronounced 'v' as 'w', which
is no good when you're singing about the 'wirgin birth'. Cam and Stav had set up a tape recorder
under their desk to capture these soirees, and comprehensive recordings of their teacher singing
were thus made and replayed to much general merriment.




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       On this particular day, Stavros had pushed Cameron's books onto the floor while the teacher
wasn't looking. Naturally enough, when the teacher saw Cameron's books spread out all over the
floor, he was forced to stand up in front of the class and apologise and was given a demerit point.
Cam, of course, considered this to be somewhat unjust and so, while Stavros was at recess, Cam
poured super glue all over his chair.
       When class resumed, it took a few moments for Stav to realise that he had now adhered to
his seat and become one with his chair. He retaliated in turn by throwing all my brother's books out
the already open window. Cam, caught off guard by this act of defiance, set off in pursuit of his
textbooks by jumping out the window himself.
       My class was busily working away when I saw the books being hurtled out of the window
and spread eagled across the ground. My curiosity turned to shock as I saw my own brother
leaping out after them. This single acrobatic act caught the attention of all my classmates as well as
my teacher who then saw fit to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to 'take care of it'.
       As instructed I went outside and asked my brother what he was doing. He shrugged his
shoulders. With this somewhat unsatisfactory explanation and a classroom of people looking on, I
was forced to issue him with a demerit point, his second for the day, meaning that he had to serve a
detention. The look of shock and dismay that then visited my brother's face still haunts me to this
day. He still brings it up on family occasions as a cause of everlasting bitterness.


Postscript: Although still superglued to a chair, Stavros has been able to lead a 'close to normal'
life. Driving, of course, has proven rather difficult, although I'm happy to say that he now has two
children and a Jason recliner.




                                           Hide and Seek.


       In the golden summer of 1985 in the Tyabb hinterland, myself and my numerous brothers
and sisters were suffering the type of monumental boredom you really only ever find in a small




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town. In an attempt to relieve this boredom, a game of 'hide and seek' was proposed. After some
debate and then a savage round of 'paper, rock scissors', it was decided that the youngest of the
siblings, Lachlan, should be deemed to be 'it'.
       Lachlan was duly instructed to count to one hundred in order to give everyone a chance to
hide, but being eight years old and rather impatient, he only counted to twenty or so before yelling
out: "Ready or not!" As per usual, I invoked my controversially unsuccessful method of hiding,
which constituted little more than standing completely still, closing my eyes and hoping for the
best. Obviously, it wasn't too long before I was discovered. Despite the fact that this method
proved useless in games of hide and seek it seems to be a method I've employed in innumerable
situations over the years and to this very day, I've been known to react to moments of high anxiety
by simply standing still, closing my eyes and hoping for the best.
       My brother Cameron, however, took a substantially more inventive approach to his hiding.
In the far corner of the yard lay the much-maligned Jayco campervan. For those of you unfamiliar
with the concept of the 'campervan', its origins lie in medieval torture techniques requiring family
members to spend unnaturally large periods of time together in a very small space, through a period
cruelly branded as 'vacation'. When not being used to whittle away the sanity of various family
members, the campervan would fold down and lie idle in the corner of the yard.
       Cunningly, Cam was able to push the roof of the compacted camper up just enough so that
he could open the door and squash into the tiny space left over. Very pleased with his hiding space,
my brother was quite prepared to play the waiting game....
       Lachlan who, of course, had failed to count to one hundred, had watched as my brother had
squashed himself into the Jayco. Once my brother had shut himself in, Lachlan wandered down to
the edge of the yard and quietly clipped the latch, thus locking in an unsuspecting Cameron.
       Hours passed, but when Cameron failed to appear for dinner, questions were asked as to his
whereabouts.    Lachlan maintained a conspicuous silence throughout.          Eventually, someone
overheard sounds of distress and unclipped the campervan, and Cameron emerged pale and
shaking. From that day on, we all took my youngest brother a touch more seriously when it came
to games and such. Sadly, Cameron refuses to this day to go camping.




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                                                  Snowball.


       During the course of the week, I came across a news item of considerable interest. The
report stated that rabbit numbers in Central Australia are once again on the rise on account of them
developing a resistance to the calici virus. What an astounding thought. These small useless
creatures, who, for all intents and purposes serve no earthly use except as flattened forms
decorating our numerous highways, are able to develop a resistance to a virus specifically designed
to wipe them off the face of God's great earth. In other words, they have adapted themselves
genetically to cope with the virus. For those of us who struggle to adapt to an unfamiliar brand of
skim milk, this is a fairly incredible thought.
       It makes you wonder as to the possibilities. If rabbits can genetically adapt to adversity in
the form of a virus, what else could they develop a resistance to over time? Does it mean, for
example, that if you gathered all the rabbits together and starting shooting them, that by the end
they would develop a resistance and therefore become bullet proof? Does it mean that rabbits in
places like Marilinga might be atomic bomb proof? If so, it may well be that rabbits are this
country's greatest under-utilised resource.
       Recently, the world held its breath while Saddam Hussien had access to various biological
weapons, and all Australia managed to do was send in SAS troops. If push had ever come to shove,
these troops in all likelihood would have died if biological weapons had been employed. To me,
the answer is obvious. Send in the rabbits, I say. If they can resist the calici virus, I'm sure that
anthrax, botulism and other biological nasties will seem like little more than a bad case of the
sniffles to our genetically superior rabbits. Let America send its aircraft carriers. Let Britain send
its jets and guns. Australia could be represented by the best-trained rabbits the world has ever seen.
       Years and years ago, my family had a pet rabbit that my sisters called 'Snowball'. I, on the
other hand, called him 'Mr Mexamatosis'. He stunned all in sundry by engineering an amazing
escape from what we all had assumed was an escape proof rabbit hutch.                 Given that Mr
Mexamatosis had the cunning to escape in the first place, I suppose there's a good chance that he
might have survived to outwit the numerous foxes and other predators to thrive in the wild.




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        I wonder where he might be now. Perhaps he's in the Outback, leading a large charge of
genetically superior rabbits. I'd certainly like to think so. Come back Snowball. All is forgiven.
Your country needs you.




                                               The Band.


        Prior to the time that the Gallagher brothers somehow cornered the market in petulant
sibling posturing, there existed another pair of rock and roll brothers. Known for their anarchic
stage shows, their raw sex appeal and their fondness for a strong cup of tea, the McCullough
brothers personified all that was rock and roll. In a small town Tyabb sense of the term, at least.
        My brother Cam and I played for 5 years in a band called 'the Pilchards', a group that
exploded onto the Tyabb music scene in the summer of 1985. Cam played guitar, which was
somewhat unfortunate given that he had no sense of rhythm. I did the singing, which was rather
unfortunate in that I had no sense of melody. Together, we rehearsed loudly and with much
perseverance along with the other members of our group, which was unfortunate so far as the
numerous livestock in the immediate vicinity were concerned. Often, we would emerge from a
marathon rehearsal session only to be greeted by the spectacle of a dozen cows, lined up against the
fence all facing away from us in a gesture of bottom waving defiance. Needless to say, this
inspired us to practise longer and louder, and to write more bovine-oriented music in the hope of
finally winning over our critics.
        Of course we were rebellious. The trouble being, however, that Tyabb didn't offer much to
rebel against. Although, I do remember one incident at an after-church soiree at which Cam
announced quite loudly that the buttered pikelets 'sucked'. The faces of the people around us
quickly contorted into sheer shock. To this day, I still refer to that incident as 'the day the music
died'. Suddenly, it all seemed a little too big. A little too out of control.
        The real turning point came when we were invited to perform in the thriving metropolis of
Frankston. We'd never played in town proper before and were understandably anxious. Rehearsals
were duly conducted, but they were riddled with a sense of tension that had never before troubled
'the Pilchards'. It all came to a head when my brother was practising a trick that involved flipping




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his plectrum into the air and catching between his teeth. Nobody was too sure as to exactly how it
happened, but he must have drawn breath at the wrong time and, as a result, swallowed his
plectrum.
       Panic followed. Perhaps unwisely, Cam sought advice from our father, Pete, as to what to
do. Pete, being a man whose entire medical experience consisted of a trail of bandaids, one
controversial amputation and several episodes of 'All Creatures Great and Small', quickly
diagnosed certain death. He then informed Cam that he'd have to flush it out. To this end, my
brother was then forced to eat an entire loaf of bread (and a plate of cold buttered pikelets as well)
in order to force out the plectrum.
       The band never really recovered from that day. I don't think Cam even plays guitar any
more. He certainly doesn't eat bread. I don't sing any more. The other guys have all gone their
own way. And the cows are strangely happy.




                                      The Daihatsu Charade.


       In all of automotive history, it's hard to imagine car quite as ugly or as useless as the 1982
model Daihatsu Charade. With their tiny little egg-beater engines, vinyl coverings and panels that
seemed to draw rust to themselves in the same manner that bright lights attract insects, they were an
engine-driven example of the word 'repellent'. Taste, however, was never a primary consideration
in Tyabb, and as a result, both Cam and I owned Daihatsu Charades.
       Mine was mucus green and had a sizeable dent in the front corner, while Cam's was
asphyxiation maroon. It was our dream to one day paint them both white and to go into business
together, hiring out our cars for dwarf weddings and the like. When Cam finally traded in his well-
used Daihatsu, a considerable complication arose. To have two people with the same name,
address and car type must have caused some sizeable confusion at the Vicroads office. The good
people of the Vicroads office set about finding a cure as to this confusion by electing to legally
transfer one of the McCullough Tyabb Charades to the car yard completely and utterly at random.
       And so it was that I found myself not owning my own car while my brother owned two. In
real terms, this meant very little, as our lives continued at the normal break neck Tyabb pace.




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However, as a result of all this confusion, the registration on both our vehicles lapsed. Being
slightly prone to panic, I immediately refused to drive from that point on, until such time as the
problem was rectified. Cam, on the other hand, was largely unbothered by this.
         Then, at 5:30 am one winter's morning, Cam was driving out in the middle of nowhere
doing his rural paper delivery and setting a new land speed record, when the bells and whistles of
the thin blue line came up behind him. A stern moustached constable, who seemed angry at the
world and everything in it, was rather unimpressed when he discovered that the vehicle he'd just
pulled over for speeding was unregistered. Cam did his best to explain how the mix up had
occurred, telling him that he had a brother with an identical car and about our ambition to start a
company that supplied wedding cars to the exceptionally short, but it was all to no avail. The
officer refused to let Cam drive his car back into town.
         Cam soon found himself sliding around in the back of a divisional van, being driven into
town to the Newsagency. As he shyly got out of the mobile holding pen, he was greeted by the
sight of Pete standing in the doorway, muttering something to the effect of: "I've been expecting
this". As Cam slipped in through the front door of the shop, he had to fend of a barrage of
questions such as "Couldn't you get a taxi?" and "So, do you think you're going to have to do any
time?"
         The good news is that when the matter finally got to Court, the Magistrate saw the funny
side of it and threw it out without a conviction. While the constable involved was greatly aggrieved
at this, Cam was able to go back to trying to break his own land speed record while doing the paper
deliveries.


Footnote: I would like to sincerely apologise to anyone reading this who might be in possession of
a 1982 model Daihatsu Charade. I have nothing but the upmost of respect for them and the people
who drive them.




                                           Falling Down.




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        Once again, I am forced to subject myself to an exile of sorts, as I seek to avoid the onset of
the festering plague that is the so-called 'Australian Football League'. Please don't get me wrong.
It's not that I'd ever wish to deny other people the enjoyment they derive from such things. It's
simply that, for me, the onset of the Football season brings back too many memories. Not that I'm
bitter. It's just that, when you've played sport at the elite level, as I have, it can be hard to let go.
        In the winter of 1980, the Tyabb 'Yabbies' Football Club Under 9s were having their best
season in years. Which is to say, that by some gross aberration of the natural order, they had
actually managed to win a game. Now, I wouldn't like to boast, but I don't think that this veritable
stampede of success can be separated from the simple fact, that I was playing the key position of
half-back flank.
        Unable to mark, run, kick or do any of the things that your modern age professionals do
with such a frequency that those skills have become little more than cliches; I was exceptionally
gifted when it came to falling over. I fell over on the way to training, running out onto the ground,
on the way to and from the bench and, occasionally, I even managed to occasionally fall on top of
the ball. My gift was such that it actually became part of our game plan.
        At the start of the match, all the under 9s would gather round and listen with great intent to
hear the coach deliver his instructions:
        "Maggot, get the ball out of the centre and kick straight to Hernia. Hernia (I'm sorry to say
        that was, in fact, his real name), if you get the ball, kick to Shorty. If it all goes wrong and
        they win the ball from the centre bounce, McCullough, if goes towards you, for God's
        sake, fall over!"
        Who knows how far I could have taken my career if I'd kept on. It probably goes without
saying that the Tyabb Football Club's Pie Night and Presentation Dinner (think of the Academy
Awards, and then, don't), I was awarded the 'Coaches Award' for the best effort. Needless to say, I
fell over on my way to collect my dwarf-sized trophy. Having decided that I had reached my peak
as a sportsman, I decided to get out before the inevitable decline commenced. And so it was that at
the age of eight, I retired from football.
        Now and again, I come across a game of football on the television and it never fails to spark
some small sense of regret as to what might have been. I do, however, still frequently become
horizontal; which is a skill that now serves me well in all manner of situations.




                                                                                                            16
       So when you tune in this weekend, be sure to remember Tyabb's fiercest half-back flanker,
who perfected the art of falling over.




                                               Driving.


       As most of you know, I don't drive. I don't enjoy it and, frankly, I'm just no good at it. And
although this peculiar aversion puts me at odds with the majority of the industrialised world, I take
great comfort from the fact that I'm not the first member of my family to suffer a singular lack of
skill when piloting an automobile.
       My grandmother did not get her driver's license until she was 45 years of age, and really
only ever took the test so that she could go and see her favourite bands at the Esplanade Hotel.
Once she had obtained her license, and for all the time that she drove, she never once made a right
hand turn. She spent her entire driving career turning left in a bid to avoid having to turn across the
face of traffic. I, myself, can count on one hand the number of right hand turns that I executed
during my brief but controversial driving career.
       My Great Aunt Margaret, however, suffered most of all. Margaret never drove a car. On
those occasions she was a passenger, her behaviour might best be described as 'unpredictable'. If
she deemed that the driver was motoring along at too great a speed, Margaret would not hesitate in
leaning over from the passenger's seat to apply the brake. At all times, she would refuse to wear a
seat belt, in the belief that to do so might be to hamper any attempt to escape that she would make
if the car was involved in an accident.
       One particular day, Margaret accepted a lift from some kindly Samaritan who had offered to
drive her home. She sat tight-lipped in her best floral print and bonnet and, as always, was sans
seat belt. The tiny car soon came across a large hill and slowed right down to around twenty
kilometres an hour as it wrestled with gravity. The kindly lady driver turned to Margaret and said,
as people often do in such situations, "Gee, I don't think we're going to make it up this hill."
       Before the driver knew what was happening, the passenger door sprang open and the floral
patterned elderly cargo jettisoned herself from the car and into the gravel shoulder of the road.
Although this may seem like a somewhat impulsive act, Margaret did at least have the presence of




                                                                                                     17
mind to drag along her handbag behind her. Unfortunately, her handbag slipped under the back
wheel of the car and made a sickening cracking noise as it went asunder. Somewhat surprised by
this decision of my Great Aunt's to abandon ship, the driver went into a state of shock when she
thought that she had run over Margaret‟s head.
       My Great Aunt survived the experience, only to pass away in what doctors describe as a
highly unusual case of spontaneous human combustion, six months later. Well, actually, I could be
lying. In fact, she passed away peacefully many many years later. The driver, however, is not
expected to make a full recovery.




                                                Dr Hook.


       It's amazing to me, just how different one human being is from another. Although we're put
together with the same elemental materials, the results are so varied and individual that you could
be forgiven for thinking that each and every person is in fact, a species unto themselves. Some are
inclined to great feats of dazzling sporting prowess. Others will be disposed to piercing academic
brilliance. However, for those of us drawn from the shallow end of the gene pool, our traits are
somewhat more modest.
       It seems that nature has cruelly dictated that I should be disposed to being easily confused.
And by confused, I don't mean that I make the type of mistakes most people make during the
exigencies of everyday life. Let's be honest. Terms such as 'Alcohol Free Event' and 'Inflammable
Material' exist in order to be misunderstood.
       At Tyabb Primary school (population total, 62) we had a disabled boy in my class who
announced to all concerned that he was going to see Dr Hook. Furthermore, Dr Hook was
American, which I interpreted as a sure sign of competence. I simply assumed that the world-
renowned man of medicine, Dr Hook, might be able to do my classmate some demonstrable good.
The next day, the disabled boy turned up to school, as disabled as ever, but extremely excited at
having spent time with the good doctor. And although it might well be argued that "Baby makes
her blue jeans talk" has a certain anatomical frankness about it, it was only years later that I




                                                                                                  18
discovered that Dr Hook was not a doctor at all but a musical group that featured a particularly
frightening singer with an eye patch.
       Of course, it didn't end there. I could go on and tell you that I honestly believed until the
age of 23 that 'Festival of Light' was, in fact, the official name of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
I could certainly trouble you with tales of misunderstandings large and small, but instead I'll try to
convince you that this particular cur is not merely a freak of nature but a genetic condition handed
on from one generation to the next.
       Years and years ago, my Grandfather attended a screening of the film, 'A Clockwork
Orange' because he assumed from the title that it would be about Ireland. He later professed that
from the moment the movie hall went dark, he understood not a single thing that he saw. Perhaps
typically, he stayed right through to the end, and then declared it to be the worst film that he had
ever seen.
       Walk right in and sit right down indeed.




                                            The Minister.


       Even after my family had been settled in Tyabb for quite some time, we still attended
church each Sunday morning in Mt Eliza. Every week, my two brothers and my two sisters and I
would be loaded into the back of the ute (actually, it was a Volkswagen, but I thought that 'ute'
sounded infinitely more rustic) and taken to church. Cruelly, these occasions are best remembered
by my siblings and I for the fact that we were forced to dress identically as though we might be cult
members.
       It was a rather traditional church with a rather traditional cleric, who always took time
during the service to address the children of the congregation. I always took these addresses rather
seriously for fear that inattention might well mean eternal damnation. On this particular morning,
the Minister duly shuffled forward and summoned the children to the front of the church. My
brothers and sisters and I, of course, went forward. But while I was quiet and contemplative, my
brothers and sisters were slightly more active in their participation.




                                                                                                    19
       The Minister had decided to break the ice this Sunday morning by talking to the kiddies
about a subject they were all bound to have a keen interest in: death. No doubt the intention was to
scare the little ones and put the adults on notice as to what was to come in the main service itself.
Skilfully, he eased into the topic by asking whether anyone had any pets.
       A flock of enthusiastic hands shot up, including Cameron's. Those selected gleefully told of
a variety of household pets including dogs, cats, goldfish and the like.        Being from Tyabb,
however, my brother had a somewhat unfair advantage. When the Minister finally acknowledged
Cam's raised right hand, he happily listed all the animals we had at home including ducks, drakes,
dogs, goats, sheep, chickens and horses.
       This caused some small amount of laughter and gave the Minister a chance to make his
point. He then asked whether or not anyone had ever had a pet that had died. This time, only Cam
retained the previous enthusiasm and put his hand skywards once again. When pressed for details,
Cam explained that a goat had died only last week.
       Seizing upon this information as though to deliver a punch-line, the Minister crookedly
smiled and asked: "And how did you feel when the goat died?" At this, my brother just shrugged
his shoulders. Puzzled at this response, the Minister persisted: "Didn't you feel bad when the goat
died?" Resolutely, my brother said that he did not feel bad at all.
       The firmness of the response was to catch everyone by surprise and set off a small ripple of
laughter through the congregation. Once the laughter had died down, the puzzled cleric asked the
obvious question. He asked my brother why it was that he didn't feel bad when the goat died.
       "It was his goat," replied Cam.
       With the finger of attention pointed firmly in my direction, I found myself the sudden focus
of much laughter from the parishioners. I should point out, that up until this time I had been the
model of anonymous obedience. As everyone laughed, I thought of my newly deceased goat that,
after a lifetime of tin-can eating decadence, had oddly disappeared. At that moment, I wondered if
my brother might, in fact, have been responsible for my goat's Hoffa like disappearance.




                                                                                                   20
                                              The Drake.


       Some people suffer more than their fair share of fears and phobias. Others, however,
remain defiant even when all the best evidence suggests that they ought to be afraid. While I fall
squarely in the former category, my sister Sarah rests in the latter.
       At the age of three, she became caught up in a long-standing and malicious feud with the
family drake. At that stage, both she and the drake were of the same height, meaning that the
contest between them was a true battle of equals. And although the rest of my brothers and sisters
could wander the back yard with relative impunity, it seemed that the drake delighted in ambushing
my sister whenever the opportunity arose.
       Strolling across the yard, the drake would catch sight of her and would instantly speed in for
an attack. Sarah's response would be to stand her ground with a look of pointed determination
written large across her face. Sometimes this approach would be successful and the drake would
retreat. On other occasions, her resolve would desert her, and she would be forced to abandon her
position in an awkward flurry of hair and limbs.
       However, it seemed that the drake's vendetta was more insidious and widespread than was
first suspected. On one fateful outing, my family went to a wildlife park, which had assorted fauna
and barbecues of questionable cleanliness, the sum of which were supposed to constitute family
entertainment. Strangely, one of the emus took an interest in Sarah. In particular, it took an
interest in the sandwich she was holding. Defiant, to the last, she put the sandwich in a place she
thought would ensure that she would be free of feathered harassment.             She duly placed the
sandwich on her head. Sadly, as she was only three feet tall at the time, the emu proceeded to peck
at her head; an action which brought (initially) shock, and then, (inevitably) tears.
       There was nothing we could use to conclusively link the drake and the emu in this attack.
In time, my sister recovered and now lives in Canberra. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she refuses to keep
anything with feathers for a pet. The drake stopped pursuing her by the time she was twelve or so.
However, it did show up in a highly tired and emotional state at her 21st to squawk abuse from the
back of the room.




                                                                                                  21
                                              Magpie.


       Like most people who grew up in a rural area, for a time I entertained the notion of
becoming a world champion jockey. To that end, I had a horse by the name of Magpie. The horse
was so named because he was black and white in his colouring, and because Pete had emphatically
rejected my suggestion of 'Glue-Bait'. Before nature played its savage trump card and turned me
six feet tall, I would attempt to ride my horse through the undulating Tyabb terrain. In turn,
Magpie would kindly show me where all the low hanging branches were located, frequently
leaving me without a saddle and with an increased respect for my quadruped friend.
       At one time, Magpie was sent away to be agisted, which, for those of you unfamiliar with
the term, is kind of like a juvenile detention centre for horses. The property at which Magpie was
being held, or agisted if you so prefer, was about a half an hour's walk from our place, so rather
than go to all the trouble and expense of a horse float, we decided we simply walk Magpie back.
       I was despatched with Pete to go and fetch Magpie, but as soon as we arrived, all the
warning signs were there. It seemed that Magpie had now taken up smoking and, more than that,
had dragon tattoo on his left flank that I certainly couldn't remember from before. Lea ding him by
his halter, he seemed quite jittery and, so I thought, hostile. However, once we arrived at our
driveway (which was about 1 kilometre long, exceptionally short by Tyabb standards), Pete
decided that I should get on and ride the horse, without a saddle and without a bridle.
       Even at that early age, I was well aware that I was deeply allergic to pain and so refused to
get on. Surprised at my defiance, Pete began huffing and puffing before declaring that if I wouldn't
do it, that he 'bloody well would'. And so it was that Pete climbed aboard Magpie and trotted off
down the driveway, while I was left to walk home with nothing but shame to accompany me. They
soon disappeared in the distance, while I kicked along behind.
       Two minutes later, a curious vision emerged. It was Magpie; footloose and father-free,
coming back up the driveway. For a moment, I considered trying to stop him, but, as is my want, I
erred on the side of caution and gallantly stood aside. A few minutes after that, Pete appeared as a
spot in the distance, staggering up the driveway and nursing his arm as though returning wounded
from the front. Despite a broken his arm, Pete persisted in staggering on in pursuit of a horse that
had well and truly bolted.




                                                                                                  22
       It occurred to me that, by direct and wilful disobedience, I had managed to avoid serious
injury and great personal discomfort. And so, from that point on, throughout adolescence and early
adulthood, I never did as I was told again.
       A lesson for all of us, I feel.




                                              The Footy.


       As most of you know, I attended my first football game in five years a couple of weeks ago.
After having played sport at the elite level for the Tyabb 'Yabbies' Football Club, I've always found
it hard to watch others make a complete hash of it, so I've tended to steer away from large scale
sporting events since my retirement, aged nine.
       I went to see the Carlton v Collingwood game which, incidentally, happened to be the Peter
MacCallum Cup, and attended the event with my uncle, Mick. We were seated in the giant
concrete behemoth that is the Great Southern Stand, which aroused in me a mild sense of vertigo,
but otherwise proved quite suitable. I guess it would be fair to say that I viewed the events with a
mild sense of detachment.
       All was calm before the game started, including the people sitting behind us who were
wearing plastic Collingwood bibs without any discernible sense of irony. It was only once the
game commenced that all hell broke loose. The people surrounding us exploded in what might
mildly be described as a torrent of abuse. This abuse was directed at the umpires, the players, the
coaches and even the occasional seagull who happened to stray into the line of fire. It suddenly
became clear to me that the plastic bibs were merely a precaution to protect themselves against the
effects of their own verbal incontinence. It was a testament the range and ferocity of the expletives
that even my uncle, a man who has spent thirty years of his life at sea in the navy, was offended.
       I can say with great confidence that things were never that way with the Tyabb Football
Club. The players would turn up 10, sometimes even 15 minutes before the game, dressed in
tracksuit pants and moon boots (standard attire in Tyabb, 1981 to present) and emerge a short time
later, transformed as players. Of course, we would then go on to be beaten and beaten soundly, but
there was nothing quite so good as running out onto the ground to the sound of dozens of car horns.




                                                                                                     23
       If there's anything wrong with football at the MCG, is that people can't drive their cars into
the ground. Deprived of the people's true voice, ordinary folk have nothing but vulgarity to resort
to. I say, bring back the horn to major sporting events. More than that, bring back the humble car
horn to cultural events such as ballet, opera, gallery exhibitions and the like. I look forward to the
day when, if someone asks you what you think of the Picasso, you can simply honk your horn to
show your appreciation.


Note: The highlight of my trip to the footy came at half time, when I was drinking coffee from a
plastic cup, courtesy of my uncle's thermos. Having cradled the cup for a good period of time, I
discovered that was in fact I was drinking from a Winnie the Pooh cup. As sad as it is to say, there
seemed something mildly rebellious about it.




                                     The Cultural Revolution.


       In the time that I can remember, Tyabb has experienced two renaissance periods. The most
recent was the more perfunctory of the two, and took place when the local service station installed a
hot dog rotisserie. It span around and around, keeping the hotdogs warm and (theoretically) ready
to eat. People came from miles around to behold this splendid example of the modern age. Some
people, of course, were afraid of this new technology and denounced it as evil because they didn't
really understand it. However, over time, everyone grew to love the hot dog rotisserie, to the point
that it was featured on post cards and t-shirts and other items of commercial fodder.
       Yes, indeed. The summer of 1995 was a very special time in my home town.
       Prior to that particular cultural awakening, Tyabb bathed in the glow of another renaissance
period when, for a time at least, it fell in love with the theatre. This magical period occurred in
1980, when Tyabb Primary School staged its acclaimed version of 'Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory'. This was performed at the world's only remaining all-asbestos structure, the Tyabb Town
Hall. At great risk of appearing immodest, I was a sensation as 'crowd scene member no. 3', in
which I stood mute for a full three minutes and was completely convincing in the role. So
convincing in fact, that people had trouble coming to terms with the fact that I could speak at all in




                                                                                                    24
real life. I remain so proud of my performance that it rates a mention in my curriculum vitae to this
very day. I describe it as an off, off, off, off Broadway production.
        The following year, the brothers‟ McCullough struck it big, landing major parts in the
production 'the Wizard of Oz'. I landed the part of the Cowardly Lion, although I've no idea why.
Cam got the role as the Scarecrow. Both of us vigorously deny that we have remained somewhat
typecast ever since.
        The whole town was abuzz with excitement at this fabulous production. The crowds came
from near and far, the critics swooned before us, as theatre seemed about to go to a whole new
level. A cultural revolution seemed imminent, until the unthinkable happened. The local nursing
home, always keen to get in on the act, staged a full stage version of the musical 'Hair'. Perhaps
unsurprisingly, the momentum was lost. And theatre, in Tyabb at any rate, suffered a mortal blow.




                                    Great Singers, Great Songs.


        As most of you know, I have a very broad, and some might even say well informed, palate
when it comes to music. Sadly, this is by no means a genetic thing. I am mildly ashamed to admit
that Pete owns a total of five compact discs. Two of those five discs happen to be identical.
        Several years ago Pete, who, incidentally, is for some unfathomable reason a member of
half a dozen record buying clubs; came across a CD that caught his eye. It was simply called 'Great
Singers, Great Songs' and featured artists of some renown. These included Nana Mouskouri ('Turn
on the Sun', I believe), Kenny Rodgers ('The Gambler', I think) and Dolly Parton ('I Worship at the
Skullthrone of Satan', probably) but to name a few. Instantaneously, he was smitten and ordered a
copy.
        The CD must have arrived some time after that, and it was undoubtedly placed in the CD
rack, with all manner of care. It wasn't, however, given too much time in the CD player on account
of the fact that Pete didn't know quite how to operate it. Thus, the CD had little or no practical
value whatsoever. Its purchase was more a vote for good taste apart from anything else.
        Having said that, I'd hate to give you any impression that he didn't have the necessary
equipment on which to play it. To the contrary, he has to this day, a wonderful state of the art




                                                                                                  25
stereo with a television and video to match, all of which lie mostly idle, except when my youngest
brother Lachlan puts them to the use for which they are intended. Perhaps strangely, Pete insists
that for the sake of tidiness, that the various remote controls at all times remain sitting atop the
objects they control. In no way will Pete concede that to do so renders the very idea of 'remote
control' redundant. However, I digress.
           Sometime later, Pete was thumbing through a catalogue when he came across a compact
disc which caught his eye. As most people would, he ordered it and waited for it to arrive. When it
did, he eagerly sought a place for it in the sparsely populated CD rack. As he did so, he noticed a
spine that read 'Great Singers, Great Songs'. He looked at the CD he was holding to see the very
same words echoed on the cover. To this day, the two copies sit, side by side in his CD rack, both
still wrapped in the cellophane in which they arrived.                So far as voting for good taste was
concerned, Pete voted early and voted often.
           Pete has already told me that he has decided to bequeath both copies of 'Great Singers,
Great Songs' to me. I have already indicated my intention to contest the will.




                                             Cam’s Right of Reply


           As many of you will already know, Stuart is actually away this week. He has decided to
spend his well-earned break by hiring a car and touring around Tasmania. All I can say is 'God help
them all'.
           I am his brother, Cam, and have decided to fill the void with a tale of my own; I hope you
like it.
           About a year ago, I traded in my second car, a Ford Laser. The car salesman, doing his car
salesman thing, wandered around the car making typical comments about its state. "You've kept it
pretty clean" he said. "The interior is in pretty good condition"....."There is no panel damage;
you've obviously had no accidents"... Here I had to cut in. "Please sir," I said, "Do not belittle me. I
can tell you a tale";
           'Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip,
           That started from this tropic port, Aboard this tiny ship.'




                                                                                                       26
       Oops, wrong tale!
       I started telling a tale that has become a part of local folklore. It was about three years ago.
My brother Stuart had decided to journey down from the city and spend a weekend with his
brother, yours truly. As is the fashion in a town that has not much to do at the best of times,
Saturday nights are usually spent getting pretty plastered at one of the various parties.
       For some reason, surprising due to his lack of enthusiasm (and talent) for driving, Stuart
offered to take the wheel. Well, I would drive to the party, then have a few, enabling him to
navigate us home.
       All was going well, the party had run its course. Scott, Josh and I had had quite a few, and
helped ourselves to "travellers" for the road. We loaded into the car and within seconds, Stuart had
us moving.
       At this point, it is worth pointing out that Stu's driving experience has been limited. Not to
worry, a car is a car. Sadly, Stuart didn't recognise any differences between his manual and my
automatic.
       Stu accelerated at a confident speed. We were all engrossed.            Scott was in the front
passenger seat. Looking back at us he was holding his full (stolen) glass of bourbon and coke in
one hand and gesticulating to us, in the back, with the other. As we were only a few seconds into
our journey, neither Scott or Josh had put seat belts on.
       Accelerating up to about 80 km and hour, something very strange happened. Stuart decided
to change gears. Great idea in a manual. Not such a great idea in an automatic.
       With great enthusiasm, Stuart planted his foot hard on the clutch (aka the brake). Here is
when everything went fuzzy. I remember expletives. A lot of them. In fact, I looked back later with
admiration at how many expletives Scott managed to rush out before his head hit the wind-screen.
Knocked unconscious, the next victim was Scott's bourbon, which followed Scott's head into the
windscreen about one tenth of a second later. The scene was reminiscent of the front of the Art-
Gallery. Bourbon and coke running down the glass and into the heater ducts, where it was to stay.
Josh flew forward and his head hit the passenger head rest with a thud that sounded like a Sherrin
having the boot put into it. It was fairly apparent from the blood that suddenly gushed like two little
taps, that Josh had broken his nose. I, on the other hand, had already seat-belted up, so whiplash
was my sufferance.




                                                                                                     27
         A cry of help, and an awoken neighbour yelled, "There has been an accident, call an
ambulance". Within seconds, an ambulance was dispatched, and twenty beepers, belonging to local
SES volunteers, sprung into life. A loyal band, the SES were ever ready in the likelihood of having
to provide emergency lighting to illuminate a crash scene. They were, in fact, better known for
recovering little boys from the top of trees, and crowd control at events such as the unveiling of the
hot dog rotisserie at Tyabb petrol station a few years back, than for attending accidents. But they
had seen pictures, and they knew what to expect.
         On arrival, they noticed something very strange. Usually accidents involve at least two
objects; a car hitting another car, or a car hitting a tree. Here they had something different,
something very strange. A car, in the middle of the road. A mess inside. Scott, unconscious. Josh, a
broken nose and yelling in pain. Me, whip-lashed and in shock. Stuart, in a deep, disturbed state of
shock.
         Much time has passed since then. The physical wounds have healed. Some of the emotional
wounds still remain. Stu gave up driving, which is just as well, because I gave up being a passenger
in any car he drove. The story has been passed into local folklore. The car that smashed head long
into nothing. I have heard that a script submission has been sent to Chris Carter. He hasn't replied.
         As for me, I sold the Laser and moved on. I had to do this. Not so much because I didn't like
the car; I loved it. It is just that every time I turned on the heater, the wafting smell of eau-de-
bourbon and coke would fill the car. It brought back too many sad memories; too much pain.




                                       Roof. (As told by Cam)


         If you asked him, Stuart would probably tell you he was unlucky. This is not always the
case. While you all have heard the many stories of Stuart coming to grief in oh, so many ways, he
is occasionally lucky. Like the time in 1982 when he, like everyone else in the area, had flocked to
see the remote controlled Kingswood demonstration at the Hastings Day festival held down here
every year. It seemed like such a great idea, and everything seemed to be going so well. The
Kingswood, being driven by remote control by a gentleman in the back seat, was doing sweeping
circles around the congested crowd of onlookers. One of the local Lions Club members was




                                                                                                    28
commentating over the crackling PA system. Next thing, perchance, someone on the near-by
grassy-knoll, switched on an FM radio. The Kingswood careered out of control and into the crowd
of onlookers. "The humanity, the humanity" was heard coming from the crackling PA system. Soon
the realisation set in, the local disaster that would come to be remembered as "Kingswood Sunday"
had occurred. My point in this story; Stu was there, and was uninjured !!! Not so lucky, was Stuart,
when a band he was in released an album a few years back. "Skin" was the name of this band (and
no, there were five members, not the assumed four). Anyway, the band had toiled long and hard
and finally had its first album recorded. The launch was going to be big. Maybe some record
company people; definitely a lot of friends and relatives.
       The big night came. The stage was set up at the end of the pub, lighting was rigged up,
everyone was pumped! The crowd was large and really getting into the tight set being played by the
band. Stuart was definitely enjoying himself. Primed with a couple of free drinks from the bar, and
working up quite a sweat, he was getting more and more animated with the rising crowd
appreciation. Just near the end of a particularly good song, something went terribly wrong.
Momentarily, he forgot a few important facts. Firstly, he was in a room with a standard height roof.
Secondly, Stuart and his fellow band members were playing on a raised stage for the occasion.
       I have spoken to Stuart about this, and his recollections are as follows; "I remember power -
chords; I remember jumping in the air to play them; then I don't remember much at all". In fact,
what had happened was that he had hurled himself up into the air to play this particular power -
chord, and smashed his head, quite substantially, on the roof of the pub.
       My friends and I realised there was something wrong pretty much immediately. We were
suspicious when we turned around to see the previously animated Stuart looking dazed, pale and
inanimate. Our suspicions were confirmed when a steady flow of blood ran from his scalp, down
between his eyes, along the side of his nose, and began flowing off his upper-lip quite steadily.
       I immediately went up to the side of the stage and tried to gauge if he was alright. He
ignored me. I mean, this was rock and roll; he couldn't let the others down just because he had a
slight scratch (and severe concussion). He played on.
       The job for first aid was left to Neville, their overweight, black clad roadie. In true roadie
fashion, he dashed inconspicuously, and close to the ground, across to the bar, and filled a towel




                                                                                                    29
with some ice. He then scurried across to the stage where he proceeded to try and stem the flow of
blood.
         Stuart was glad Nev was there. As well as being dazed, was having trouble locating his
microphone due to the fact that blood had run into both his eyes. Dripping down off his chin, it
created quite a puddle at his feet. Running down his neck, his white t-shirt looked battle-worn. In
the true spirit of rock 'n' roll, though, Stuart continued to play on.
         This gruesome display came to an end when Nev, losing his battle against the flow of blood,
and realising that not everything in life could be fixed with "a couple a strips a gaffer tape",
grabbed Stuart and, against his will and with great ferocity, threw him off stage. Well, the band
went quiet, the crowd went quiet; it would have to be one of the worse cases of "roadie rage" any of
us had seen !!!
         Anyway, that was the end of the night. My brother was rushed to hospital for stitches, and
then home where he slept for eighteen hours straight (side effect of the concussion I am told). No
record deals were forthcoming and, in fact, the band broke up not long after that. Nev quit the
roadie game for good. No one learnt their lesson more than Stuart, to whom the old adage "Look
before you leap" assumed a new, haunting meaning.




                                               Tasmania.


         Having just returned from Tasmania, I thought I might share an extract from my travel
diary. It paints a portrait of love, hope, redemption and a crushing inability to read a Melways. I
should also say thanks to Cam who filled in for me during my absence and confirm that everything
he said was, sadly, true.


         Day 1


         9:30am Pete picks me up 3 hours before flight time in the belief that it could take that long
to get out to the airport 'because of road works'. Pete's driving reminds me all at once why it is that
I'm so reluctant to get behind the wheel of a car and that bad driving is, in fact, a genetic




                                                                                                     30
characteristic. We arrive at the airport, unsurprisingly, two and half hours early and Pete drops me
off and departs for Tyabb. Having looked death directly in the eye during the car trip in, I feel
strangely emboldened at the thought of my first plane trip in ten years.
       12:30pm Feeling of courage was, after all, only temporary. The plane takes off and I start
to panic. The flight crew is kind enough to offer me complimentary alcohol which I refuse. The
flight crew then insist, and inform me that the other passengers on the flight have all taken a vote
and they all voted in favour of sedating me.
       1:00pm Arrive in Hobart feeling strangely relaxed. Get luggage. Get car. Get very, very
lost. Get so lost that all signs of civilisation disappear and I begin to wonder how it is that I might
have managed to miss a town the size of Hobart. Also, it starts to rain and I seem to be unable to
locate the windscreen wipers. As a result, I have to wipe the windscreen down by hand while
driving. Other road users may well be laughing at me by this time.
       3:30pm I find Hobart! It seems that if you just keep driving and driving you run into it
eventually. One of the benefits of being on an island I suppose.
       4:30pm I check into my hotel and go for a walk. I manage to find what may well be the
world's greatest second hand bookshop and purchase a first edition Patrick White for $12.50. I feel
pleased with myself for ten continuous seconds.
       6:30pm Having skipped lunch because I was too busy being lost, I unwisely decide to dine
at a dodgy Vietnamese eatery. Actually, replace the word 'eatery' with the word 'sweat-shop' and
you get a better idea of what it was like. I pay six dollars for a dish that bears an uncanny
resemblance to monkey vomit, both in appearance and, as it turns out, taste.
       Feeling deeply unsatisfied, I ask if there's a convenience store nearby. The lady behind the
counter looks at me as though I've just asked if I could perhaps perform an appendectomy upon her,
using a biro in place of surgical tools.
       9:00pm I return to my hotel room. Hungry, bewildered and with a new respect for Seven-
Elevens and the wonderful work that they do.




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                                                Day 2


        6:30am Get up super early and immediately begin studying the map. I have to be in
Launceston by the end of the day.
        8:00am Study break! I use the time to go to the local market and buy fresh fruit, which I
then eat and instantly feel better.
        8:30am Still studying.
        11:00am Time to check out. I go straight to my car and remind myself of how to get to
where I'm going. After hours of study and no inconsiderable amount of research, I have managed
to deduce that I need to make exactly two (2) turns in order to get on the highway and be bound for
Launceston.
        11:03am Lost. Again. I am now seriously considering driving back to the airport and
sleeping in my car for the next six days until my flight goes back. That is, I would if I thought I'd
be able to find the airport. After not being able to find Hobart yesterday, it now seems that I am
unable to figure out how to leave. Damn these treacherous one-way streets.
        12:30pm I find the freeway. After some ninety minutes of driving around and around in
ever diminishing circles, I stumble across the road to Launceston. This breakthrough may owe
more to good luck than good management. To celebrate, I put in a compilation tape that I prepared
especially for my road trip, full of my favourite all-time driving tunes, which; considering how
infrequently I drive, is music I don't often get to hear. I soon realise, however, that the tape I have
inserted is, sadly, blank, and that my compilation tape is sitting at home.
        I also reach the conclusion that I don't drive very fast. It seems I am destined to be
overtaken by a seemingly endless parade of cars, trucks, children on bicycles and sundry wildlife
including wombats.
        2:00pm I'm driving through a town called Bagdad. There are a total of 12 houses here, and
yet they still feel it necessary to have a 'Neighbourhood Watch' program. I'm not sure if that's
really quite funny or really quite sad. I could easily make some comment about Bagdad still
bearing all the marks of a town heavily shelled, but that might be construed as gratuitous.
        3:45pm Launceston. Quite beautiful, actually. Afternoon is spent in a coffee shop writing,
frankly, silly postcards.




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       7:00pm I ring my brother, order up room service and watch television. Now officially
feeling relaxed.




                                                Day 3


       For those who arrived late, below is the third day of my travel diary, written during my
recent trip to Tasmania.     For those unfamiliar with the earlier instalments, rest assured that
everything went incredibly smoothly and at no time did I become in anyway disoriented.
       11:00am After checking out, I wander around for a while through downtown Launceston
which, as it happens, is also uptown and midtown Launceston. I then return to the car , study the
map and manage to leave in more or less the right direction in the very first attempt.
       12:00pm I stop at Deloraine at a small cafe and unexpectedly discover the world's greatest
vegetarian foccacia. This might seem like information you have absolutely no use for, but you
never know when you might next be stuck in Deloraine, hankering for a vegetarian foccacia.
(Altogether now, 'Never!')
       1:00pm I have a two thirty appointment with a client in Latrobe. I arrive in town early and
then decide I might push on to Devonport and check into the motel. I think I have plenty of time.
       1:05pm It seems that Devonport and Latrobe are much closer than I thought. It seems I
have plenty of time.
       2:05pm I have just spent the last hour being completely lost. Damn these maps! They
make every town look as though it's only got four or five streets. Which, I hasten to add, is not
true. I have just managed to reach a new geographical low.
       3:00pm Meeting with client has concluded and I'm now on my way back to Devonport.
I'm being tailgated by an entire family in one of those suicide-friendly family wagons. They're so
close, that I'm able to look each one of them in the eye.
       The father is pressed in behind the wheel and has the kind of face that looks freshly stepped
on. The mother has a magnificent beard that might turn ZZ Top green with envy. Eventually, an
over-taking lane appears and they hurtle past. Off to some tourist nirvana, I expect.
       I make a resolution to go faster than sixty kilometres an hour from now on.




                                                                                                    33
        7:00pm I walk from the motel to a pub called 'the Alex', which doesn't look as though it's
suffering under the weight of too many poker machines. The most sophisticated item on the menu
is 'Roast of the Day', which is quite appealing given that it's all of three degrees outside.
        8:00pm Walking back from the pub to the motel. Oddly enough, I don't really feel the
cold.


Special note must be made of the town of Sassafras, which boasts that it is the home of the 'Giant
Spud'. Hopefully this refers to agricultural produce and not some kind of local beauty pageant.
What possess a town to openly brag about being the home of some freakishly large vegetable, I'm
not quite sure.




                                                 Day 4


        Below is Day 4 of my groundbreaking excursion of Tasmania.
        9:00am Leave Devonport for Strachan, via Cradle Mountain. I'm feeling a little haunted
by something that I saw on television last night. The local news carried a story featuring 'Gerry' of
'Gerry and the Pacemakers' well, I hesitate to use the word 'fame' but it will have to suffice.
Anyway, it seems that Gerry, now in his seventies (surely) is touring Tasmania at the same time as
myself and more specifically, is in Devonport the same night as me. For those of you who don't
know, Devonport is situated on the Mersey River. And for those of you under the age of forty,
sometime not long after the dawn of time, Gerry and the Pacemakers had a hit record called 'Ferry,
'Cross the Mersey'.
        I am confused at such an outpouring of emotion for public transport.
        So, some forty or fifty years later, here was poor old Gerry still doing his best to milk a
moment of glory long since past, by sitting on a ferry in Tasmania, singing his one and only hit
'Ferry Cross the Mersey' for the benefit of a local news crew who, I'm sure, would well have
preferred to be watching paint dry. Strangely, I found myself outraged at this shameless display
and hurled all manner of abuse at the television. 'Give it up Gerry! It's over! Let it go!!' Finally




                                                                                                   34
(and perhaps mercifully), the story ended and was followed by one about paint drying, which (as
expected) was a good deal much more enjoyable.
         9:30am It seems that I was too busy being outraged at Gerry and the Pacemakers and I've
managed to miss a crucial turn-off and have ended up in a town called Railton. The town is at the
bottom of a very deep and dark valley and could be the setting for the movie 'Deliverance'. No one
seems to be wearing shoes.....
         Alarmed at how far off course I seem to be, I stop at a local cafe in order to gather my
thoughts. Perhaps foolishly, I ask for a cafe latte. This request is greeted with a terse response that
might have been appropriate if I had asked for a bowl of Rhinoceros testicles rather than a cup of
coffee. Luckily, I was given what they generously describe as a cappuccino, as the day's supply of
Rhino Fry has yet to arrive in town.
         I remember Randy Newman once sang: 'Short people got no reason to live.' Ditto small
towns.
         12:00pm Cradle Mountain is here, somewhere. So I'm told. The rain is beating down and
the fog is rolling through and I'm driving through some of the world's most beautiful earth, none of
which I can see. I stumble across the National Park proper and pay $9:00 to get in. I get to the
carpark to find that all the roads are made of clay and are washed out. The tourist centre is the only
thing open, which means that I have spent $9:00 just to go to the bathroom. After thinking about it
for a while, I decide that this is money well spent (pardon the pun).
         2:00pm I spend a couple of hours driving up the West coast in the wrong direction just to
see what's there. I'd like to make it clear that I was deliberately driving in the wrong direction. As
to what's there, the answer is 'nothing', which is what makes it great.
         4:00pm Arrive in Strachan and check in. The town sits on the water and I perch myself on
my balcony and watch the sun set. Beautiful.
         7:00pm The pub has fed me. The people were polite. I seriously consider changing my
name, assuming a new identity and leaving life in Melbourne behind permanently. Strachan is
extremely appealing in a 'Northern Exposure' kind of way.




                                                                                                     35
Note: Does anyone else find a certain irony in the fact that when Gerry and Pacemakers came up
with their name, it probably made them sound hip, groovy and on the edge and now it simply
sounds like a medical inventory?




                                               Day 5


       8:00am Strachan is one of the few towns on earth that might aptly be described as a
'hamlet'. This is not at all a reference to the fact that many of the locals swan around in tights
suffering various degrees of melancholic inaction (although that could have something to do with
it), but for the fact that the town is neatly settled by the sea. An early morning walk along the
beach defies description.
       10:00am After setting off from Strachan, the first place I come across is Queenstown. In
stark contrast to the beauty of Strachan, this town looks as though God just spat upon it. Gouged
from the earth after years of relentless mining, it proudly gives itself the title 'premier tourist
destination' whereas the words 'cautionary tale' would be more appropriate.
       11:00am To drive from Strachan to Hobart, once you survive the unpleasant experience
that is Queenstown, you then need to drive through Gordon National Park. In a word, this is
spectacular. It's everything Cradle Mountain might have been had it not been for the zero visibility
that turned it into a 'try not to crash' experience. Amazingly, during my entire trip I encounter no
other traffic. Lucky for them, I say.
       12:30pm I arrive at Hobart. Accidentally, I find the Hotel straight away. It was bound to
happen once.
       6:00pm I watch the local news and am shocked by a story on the upcoming 'Trans-Tasman
Sheepdog Spectacular'. Apparently this is sort of a canine Bledisloe Cup of interest to people who,
conceivably, lead lives much different to ours. I'm disturbed, first of all by the fact that someone,
somewhere decided to put the words 'sheepdog' and 'spectacular' together in the same sentence. I
am then further upset when the spokesperson for the event steps up to say a few words. A man,
whose name I can't remember but who we'll call 'Slingblade', talks of the upcoming clash against
the Kiwis saying:




                                                                                                   36
       "They're good handlers, they are. Yep. But I like I our dogs better."
       Thanks Slingblade. Them's fighting words.
       7:00pm I go to dinner, taking a copy of Albert Camus' 'The Outsider', which, I concede is a
little pretentious. It's always difficult to know when you're dining by yourself as to which reading
material to take with you. Existentialist Philosophy probably ear marks you as a bit serious and
possibly lonely, but 'Trucking Life' magazine ensures that you'll be seated far, far away from the
other customers. With this in mind, Albert Camus doesn't seem like such a bad choice.




                                               Day 6


       It rains all day and I don't drive my car. I read a lot and manage not to get lost. This feels
like a small victory.




                                               Day 7


       7:00am Sunday morning in Hobart and not a great deal is happening. Not that this is in
any way unique to Sunday as such.
       9:00am Pack my bags for the very last time. I do this with such breath taking efficiency
that I have time to make coffee and enjoy the supple delights of 'Video Hits' before thinking of
heading off. Amid all the usual Euro-dross video clips an unexpected gem appears.           Archival
footage of Ted Mulry Gang performing 'Jump In My Car'. What made it so special was the fact
that it was live footage of TMG performing on board some sort of barge, while thousands of
screaming teenagers gathered on the edge of Sydney Harbour.
       For those of you who remember Ted Mulry he was; and there's simply no nice way of
saying this, an extraordinarily ugly man. What was amazing was that while TMG played "Jump in
my Car" (a song all about ejecting hitch-hikers from the motor vehicle of the aforementioned Mr
Mulry after they refuse to come up with 'the fare', as it were) the hoards of screaming young girls
quickly became hysterical. Some even threw themselves into the Harbour and started to swim over




                                                                                                   37
to where Ted and company were playing. God only knows what they intended to do when they got
there.
         Given that Mr Mulry is a very ugly ugly man, you can only assume that the girls who threw
themselves into the harbour were either (a) stupid or (b) blind. On second thoughts, perhaps both
(a) and (b) might have applied. It would certainly explain why so many of the swimmers appeared
to be on the verge of drowning.
         11:00am I check out of my hotel and have nine hours to fill before my flight leaves for
Melbourne. I decide to take a drive down to Port Arthur which, because it is properly road-signed,
I manage to find it without losing my way.
         12:30pm Port Arthur. The entire site carries an almost surreal weight of history both
recent and ancient, but there's simply no denying the beauty of the place. My favourite part is the
model prison. Prisoners there were required to wear sacks over their faces, identified only by
numbers and to spend long periods of time in darkened rooms by themselves. Suddenly my
childhood seems a lot less unique.
         The ruins are fascinating and generally resemble share-houses I've lived in. I intended to
stay only an hour or so, but without really meaning to I use the whole afternoon.
         5:00pm Without knowing how to spend the next three hours I drive around for a bit, watch
the sunset from a lookout. I suddenly feel uncomfortable when I come to suspect that the couple in
the car next to mine probably aren't as interested as I am in the view. Leave quickly.
         5:30pm Back in Hobart, I do what can only be described as a 'cafe crawl'. I stop at every
cafe that's open and drink one cup of coffee. Most of them seem to be open. I'm unlikely to be
able to sleep before the year 2000.
         7:30pm Driving back to the airport. I have, apparently, missed a turn off and am now
heading towards Launceston. Damn.
         8:00pm I board the flight back to Melbourne. Not that it was any mean feat getting on.
While getting through security, I decide to foolishly answer 'yes' to the question: 'Are you carrying
any concealed weapons or explosives'. I won't sully you with the details other than to say that
airport staff have no sense of humour.




                                                                                                  38
       The flight takes off and I'm nervous as usual, much to the amusement of the people sitting
next to me. However, the flight passes without incident or certainly none that I'm at liberty to
comment upon. Proceedings, you understand, are pending.
       9:00pm I arrive back in Melbourne to find Pete waiting for me. As we walk out to the car
park, I regale him with tales of my adventures and immense bravery under adversity. Pete is
clearly impressed. We then realise that we have been walking through the car park for some
considerable period of time. The words, 'It's around here somewhere, I think' are uttered.
       Pete, it seems, has misplaced the car.
       11:30pm Car is found. All is well. I go home.
       I guess if I was to draw a theme from my trip away, it would simply be that I'm quite
talented when it comes to getting lost. I've also realised why I dislike driving so much. I'm useless
at it. Let's face it. Some are born to drive and others are born to be driven. I, on the other hand,
am consigned to spend the rest of my days on public transport.




                                                Retailing.


       I can remember a time when the retail experience was a good deal simpler. You walked
into a store, found what you wanted, paid for it and then left. Anyone who has had occasion to try
and shop in the city in recent times will know that things are much more complicated these days.
       For example, it now seems to be unwritten law that every major department store has to
have a team of security staff stationed at every doorway. 'The Brandenburg Line', as I like to call
them, all bear an uncanny resemblance to the Bouncer who threw you out of your first night club
when you were seventeen, and may well all be related to each other. Suffice to say, I can't walk
into Myers any more without expecting to hear the words 'Members Only' uttered as I try to step in.
       As you are all no doubt aware, all stores these days have a policy whereby it is a condition
of entry that 'Management reserves the right to inspect all bags' and what-not. This bothers me so
far as it kind of assumes that everyone wants to steal from them. However, as it is a condition of
entry, you can't really argue. Instead, I reserve certain rights of my own. In case of someone
asking to inspect my bags, I reserve the right to be completely obnoxious.




                                                                                                   39
       Whenever some security gorilla asks if he might inspect my bags, I always reply 'Certainly'.
As I open up the bag, and as the security person leans forward to look in, I often say in a loud voice
something along the lines of: "WHY DON'T YOU STRAP ON THE RUBBER GLOVES AND
FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED, BUDDY?" Or if I'm trying to be mysterious, something along
the lines of: "You can't look in there. That's where I'm hiding the microfilm."
       I suppose what really bothers me is that, often, you're more likely to get your bag searched
by security personnel than you are to get any service from the shop staff inside. While discontented
shop assistants mill around talking to each other about what they plan to do on the weekend, honest
customers are forced to contemplate a life of petty thievery, just in order to not leave the shop
empty handed. (David Jones, hang your head in shame)
       Ideally, I'd like to see something of a role reversal take place. The security guards and shop
assistants should swap jobs. Picture large ugly men twice your size and with no neck asking you
'Do you wear black?' and 'That's odd, you don't look like a size 12' while malcontent shop assistants
could stand at the entrance and do what they do now. That is, stand around talking to each other
and leave well-meaning customers alone.
       Happy shopping.




                                          The Neighbours.


       There's nothing quite so random in this world as neighbours. There's no science to it. It's
all dumb luck or pure misfortune. Living, as I do, in a block of flats obviously designed by an
architect with learning difficulties, I am subjected to the whole gamut of the human experience.
       Take, for example, the elderly lady across the hallway.        Kind, nice and seemingly in
possession of all the relevant mental faculties, she loves nothing more than to play Neil Diamond
records at a volume level that poses an immediate threat to children and small animals. Until
you've had the misfortune to hear 'Crunchy Granola Suite' at a volume that beggars belief, you're
yet to experience true discomfort. As Bill Murray once said: 'There are only two kinds of people
in this world. Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't.' I fall into the latter category.




                                                                                                    40
          While on the subject of music, the Brothers of Indeterminate European Extraction who live
upstairs, have an extensive collection of Eastern European pop music. Every once in a while, they
go on some sort of bender whereby they give the entire collection a run at high volume throughout
the course of an entire night. Needless to say, there have been occasions on which I've sat bolt
upright in bed to what sounds like the Eurovision Song Contest taking place directly above my bed.
          These are the same brothers who gather mysterious piles of magazines, which they stack up
outside my kitchen, all the while speaking some thick lipped language that sounds forever urgent.
This odd behaviour, however, pales into insignificance when compared to the drunken Irish guy
who likes nothing more than to sing 'Danny Boy' in the stairwell after coming back from the pub
with a skin-full.
          I shouldn't complain. My problem is probably not that my neighbours are no good but
simply that I have too many.
          In Tyabb, the nearest neighbour was a good kilometre away. Frankly, this is the ideal
distance. Trev was the local Dalgety Agent and had named his property 'Ombre Hill'. The funny
thing about Trev is that I don't remember ever seeing him stand completely vertically. Trev was a
great 'leaner'. You'd see him holding up a fence, holding up a tree or holding up a ute, but never
standing unaided. I wouldn't have been surprised if one leg had in fact been much shorter than the
other and he just leaned against things to hide it.
          Every once and a while, he'd run these hoe-downs that would run all night, but at least they
always sounded distant and non-threatening. Trev had three kids, all boys and all of which he was
moulding in his own image. Strangely, none of them had names.
          The eldest boy, who was about twelve years old and had a real 'Deliverance' kind of look
about him, was simply known as The Lad. We never had much to do with The Lad until Pete had
to ask Trev to take care of a problem that had developed on our property. As to what this problem
was, well, there's no nice way to say this. Put simply, we had a bull that needed to become a steer.
For those of you who are squeamish, just think of it as a bovine version of Priscilla Queen of the
Desert.
          Pete broached the subject with Trev who nodded knowingly. He then opened his mouth to
speak. A good five minutes later, some words started to come out:




                                                                                                    41
        "I'll get the lad onto that. There's nothing The Lad like more that ripping the balls off a
young bull. "
        The Lad stood silent nodding his approval. The next day, our bull was no longer a bull and
The Lad had added a notch to his belt. I've no idea what he's doing now. Whether he's gone on to
make a career out of it as such, but I'm sure he'd still be preferable as a neighbour to the ones I've
got now.




                                            The Botanist.


        Last Christmas, my elderly aunt gave me a plant. Given that I have had what a lesser
person might refer to as a potted history when it comes to things green and living, this was either an
act of sheer inspiration or desperation. Whatever the case, the plant soon began to wither and die,
almost as if it were protesting. Probably against my taste in decoration if nothing else, I'd suggest.
        After a few weeks, the plant was shrivelled and dead, which was ironic given that the left
over fruit salad my aunt gave me on the very same day was by this stage alive and well. All the
same, I had developed something of an attachment to it, and to this day its sits on my desk at home,
wasted and shrivelled. It's for this reason more than any other that I don't keep pets.
        To balance out this symbol of death and decay, I always make sure that I have a vase of
fresh flowers on the other side of my desk. Like most right thinking people, I prefer to buy my
flowers. Pete, in contrast, views this as an unconventional approach and instead, prefers to simply
to take advantage of what nature has to offer.
        In years gone by, whenever Pete would drive about Tyabb, he would always be on the
lookout for some rare flower or plant by the side of the road. When something caught his eye, he
would slow down to about 40 kilometres per hour or so (he would only be driving 60 km/h to begin
with), with the window wound down making a careful mental note of where this particular
specimen was. He would take care to note certain features in the landscape, the pattern the gravel
formed by the side of the road, symbols, landmarks and so on. Predictably, this would later prove
completely useless when, under cover of night, he would return with shovel and bucket to extract
his prize.




                                                                                                     42
       Nothing could make your heart sink quite so fast as when you were picked up from football
training or whatever else, to finally escape to the warmth and safety of the car, only to see a shovel
and bucket sitting in the back. The rallying cry was always: 'This will only take a minute'.
Inevitably, huge amounts of time would then be expended driving up and down great stretches of
road searching for some tiny piece of flora you'd be lucky to see in broad daylight.
       When we did come to about the right spot, Pete would get out, grab the bucket and shovel
and traipse out into the undergrowth. The most remarkable thing was that he always attempted to
do this in the dark. Although he would leave the car headlights on, most people understand that car
headlights are notoriously unidirectional and don't follow you when you decide to slip off into the
undergrowth. After 10 minutes of trying to find the plant in the dark, Pete would summons me
from the car, instructing me to 'bring the bloody torch'.
       And so off I'd go, torch in hand, looking for Pete. We'd spend upwards of twenty minutes
combing the pitch darkness with a feeble little light for guidance. Occasionally in frustration, this
would often then culminate in Pete questioning my torch carrying abilities. Although this pointed
criticism stung at the time, over the years, however, it was a skill I managed to develop to the point
that to this very day I am known as a champion torch carrier.
       Eventually, Pete would find his plant and it would be duly be transported. It would then be
planted, watered, cared for and dead within a matter of days. I would always try to convince Pete,
as I got out of the car and with torch in hand, that this kind of behaviour was not acceptable. He
would counter that there was absolutely nothing wrong with what we were doing. Which, in
retrospect, makes his insistence that we both wear balaclavas and black gloves seem all the more
ridiculous.
       I'm not sure if he still indulges in a bit of 'flower flogging'. I do know that family pride was
rekindled when, for a brief period of time, my youngest brother revived the tradition, with street
signs substituting for plants.   Needless to say, while much of my family generally scoffs at
nurseries and florists, I feel the need to compensate these noble professions with the best my
patronage can offer. Despite the fact that their handiwork will be destined to die an inglorious
death in my flat.




                                                                                                     43
                                            The Laundrette.


        I've recently finished reading Dante's classic poem 'The Inferno'.            For those of you
unfamiliar with the story, it catalogues in verse the immortal tale of a man's journey through hell,
(which apparently bears an uncanny resemblance to Epping, by the way).                  It describes nine
different circles of hell, with each circle being more terrible than the last.
        As for the occupants, it would come as no surprise to discover that murderers, molesters and
telephone sales people fare rather badly in all this. But Dante depicts in great detail an especially
putrid place in the ninth circle of hell, reserved exclusively for laundrette operators.
        This should come as no surprise to those of you who are forced by circumstance to frequent
these cesspools of human experience. The particular cesspool that I visit on a weekly basis actually
has the words: 'Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here' inscribed above the doorway.
        In fact, the laundrette is pretty much the way I imagine hell would be. Unhappy people
sitting around, quietly contemplating their sins and never, under any circumstances, speaking to
anyone else. The similarity to Hades is confirmed by the fact that the radio station that blasts away
seems to play an inordinate amount of Celine Dion music.
        Pete doesn't have to visit the laundrette. He has one of these vintage washing machines that
makes so much noise that it sounds like some kind of special effect, such as a cyclone or helicopter.
It also tends to move across the floor, to the point that every once in a while, it has to be dragged
out of the living room by the scruff back to the laundry where it belongs.
        But the most interesting part about Pete's laundering, is the way that he irons. I've no idea
whether the $2 Dollar Shop actually sells irons, but if they did, they'd be sure to sell this one. Not
only is the iron itself next to useless, Pete's approach is akin to waving the iron over the top of an
item of clothing, much in the same way that a magician waves a wand over a top hat. He reasons
that this process in itself renders the clothing 'ironed'. This is in spite of the fact that the end result
looks as though your shirt is suffering a bout of advanced old age.
        Pete's defence, despite the end result, is always: 'But I ironed it!' Obviously, whenever
members of my family went away on school camps and so on, we didn't need name tags sown in
the back. We could always identify our clothing by the wrinkles.




                                                                                                         44
Footnote: I'm off to Tyabb this week. Please excuse me if my shirt looks a touch creased on
Monday.




                                         Tyabb’s Jika Jika.


        Last Sunday, I went with a friend to visit the newly closed Pentridge Prison. Having passed
by its bluestone walls many times, I've often wanted to see what it was like on the inside, but
preferably without the inconvenience having to use the shower facilities. And so Sunday was my
chance.
        The walls and razor wire were every bit as intimidating as you might imagine, and the walls
were soaked in history and other less mentionable substances. The interesting thing was that the
prison is located on a hill, so that from the higher ground, you can actually see over the wall and the
endless suburbs that lie beyond. Which, if you're incarcerated, must seem pretty cruel. If you
strain your eyes a little, you can just make out a 7-11 convenience store in the distance, which must
have inspired the occasional escape, I'm sure.
        The most infamous part of Pentridge Prison is undoubtably Jika Jika, the maximum-security
wing. Interestingly, the entrance to Jika Jika has since been turned into a Hot Dog stand. I guess
this is the equivalent of turning your swords into ploughs, or some such thing. The facility itself
was quite nasty and confined, and very much like I remember the classrooms at Primary School. In
fact, I would not be at all surprised if Jika Jika had been modelled on Tyabb Primary School, circa
1978.     The rooms certainly look the same, although Jika Jika has a far superior adventure
playground.
        Tyabb Primary School is located at the bottom of a large hill and used to be populated with
those terrible portable classrooms that managed to cook children crisp during the summers and
keep them snap fresh in the winters. The time spent confined in the classroom was never really
worth speaking about, as all the interesting things happened before and after lessons, as such.
        For instance, the hill that overlooked the school was known as 'the Jones Road hill', sensibly
enough because it was located on Jones Road. The challenge for those brave enough to accept it
was always to ride your dragster down the hill to the Primary School below without ever applying




                                                                                                     45
the brakes.     Lurking in everyone's minds was always the possibility of gaining too much
momentum and getting an attack of the 'speed wobbles'. For those of you unfamiliar with the
concept of the speed wobbles, it's when your handlebars start to shake because you're going too
fast. You might say that the speed wobbles are for kids on dragsters what g-force is for airforce
pilots.
          Anyway, I of course was challenged to ride down the hill along with a group of other kids.
After the torturous ascent, wheeling our bikes, Cam bravely turned and commenced downwards.
Without fear, without helmet and without applying the brakes, he careered down towards our
school. I was supposed to go next but hesitated. Sensing an opportunity to step up, a kid called
Shaun Tholen elected to ride his bike down instead. Shaun, who was a bit of a showman at heart,
decided to raise the stakes by not only riding down Jones Road Hill, but to dink Stephen Fagg as he
did so.
          Bravely, Shaun got Stephen to climb aboard and turned his bike around. He pushed off, and
to prove he wasn't applying the brakes he stuck his legs out as far as he could, so that they
resembled wings on a very poor aircraft. Quickly, they built up an alarming amount of speed.
Shaun held on for grim life, guarding against the onset of the speed wobbles. Stephen, sadly, was
slightly more prone to panic, and stuck his feet into the spokes about half way down. This had the
effect of catapulting them both into the air and then face first into the gravel. As kids everywhere
scattered, all sensing that they were now 'in trouble', I politely put my bike down and declared that I
had retired.
          Although I never rode a bike again, I am still known to suffer the occasional bout of the
speed wobbles.


P.S. I should say, that half the people visiting Pentridge on the day I went looked as though they
were coming back for one last look. The other half all looked like my third grade primary school
teacher.




                                                                                                     46
                                          The Ferris Wheel.


       In year 9, I left the sheltered world of the single sex education system, to enter the even
more sheltered world of the religious Co-educational system. And although the school conceded
that boys and girls would have to share the same classrooms in order to be educated, nothing much
else would be tolerated. To this end, the school had its infamous 'six inch rule'. In practise, this
rule required that members of the opposite sex could be no closer to one another than six inches, at
any given time. Although such a rule would be welcomed in the context of supermarket checkouts
and possibly nightclubs, it proved difficult to enforce at our school. Remembering, of course, that
this was in the country, where there is notoriously little to do.
       I, naturally enough, rigorously adhered to this requirement for at least 3 weeks, until it all
became too much. It began, as so may things do, on a school excursion. School excursions were
much like a diluted version of the business trip where, in an exotic and unfamiliar locale,
inhibitions are removed and anything can happen. In this instance, the exotic locale was the Royal
Melbourne Show.
       Out of uniform, out of Tyabb and out of sight of prying eyes, the world suddenly seemed
'confusing', for want of a better term. Whether it was the carnival atmosphere, the livestock or
possibly the large amount of sugar consumed; I was suddenly no longer myself.
       Her name was Fiona, who was a very nice person and, I hasten to add, older than I was. In
a bid to impress her, I eschewed all the exciting and interesting rides and elected for more mature
pursuits, such as looking at baby animals and attending equestrian events, although what I probably
really wanted to do was go on one of those nuts and bolts rides that scares the life out of you. It
was in this ruthless pursuit of maturity that we went on the Ferris Wheel together. As the giant
wheel turned slowly around, Fiona turned around to me and suggested that we go out together.
       As we paused at the very top, I suffered a small epiphany whereby I realised two immutable
truths. The first of these being that I was afraid of commitment. The second of these being that I
was afraid of heights. Although both these fears are still with me today, the genesis of their
recognition is such that I occasionally confuse the two.
       And so it is that even today, in the midst of a romantic movie that I'm prone to suffering all
the effects of vertigo. Needless to say, tall buildings make me feel tied down, as though I never get




                                                                                                   47
to do any of things I want to do any more. Of course, I avoid watching romantic movies on
aeroplane trips like you wouldn't believe.
       And there, at the very top of the Ferris Wheel, we kissed. Which, I should point out, was a
clear breach of the six-inch rule. The rest of the day was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a blur. Our high
school romance went the way of all high school romances after a few months. And in much the
same way that some people never return to a particular night club for fear of revisiting some
ignominious moment from their past, I have never attended the Royal Melbourne Show since.
       Needless to say, I find Ferris Wheels more terrifying than you could reasonably imagine.




                                     TV and Current Affairs.


       I have always loved television. In fact, my entire generation has always loved television.
Its glowing face and the hypnosis that it so easily induces. This is in stark contrast to the Baby
Boomers who view television in much the same way as their parents viewed liquor. That is,
essentially as a vice that should only be used medicinally.
       Television taught us so much. It taught us to read, to sing, to accept without question. It
told us who shot JR and other such useful information; as well as giving us the Fonz, the Freak and
other such role models. It taught at least one of my primary school classmates how to run, which
was unfortunate so far as he had chosen to model himself on the Six Million Dollar Man. Needless
to say, he was extremely perplexed as to why he always finished last, in spite of his bionic
approach.
       This week, I was fascinated by the coverage of the demonstrators in Kuala Lumpar. The
footage was of an enormous crowd, gathered to protest against the Government. Things began to
turn ugly when the crack police arrived en masse in a bus that they may well have borrowed from
the Partridge Family. The Commander addressed the crowd via a large speaker system attached to
the roof of the vehicle and asked them to leave quietly. This was not successful. Given his mode
of transport, the Commander would have been better served with a blast of 'C'Mon Get Happy',
which I'm sure would have been a great deal more effective in dispersing the assembled masses.




                                                                                                  48
          It then occurred to me, that this was probably the largest single audience that this man
would ever address. Not only in terms of those gathered before him, but the media's global eye
also. Here was a man with a microphone and a very large audience, able to do whatever he
pleased. Surely the temptation to indulge in some Western-style rock-star hysterics would have
been too much.
          Imagine a small man in a military uniform, standing astride a psychedelic bus screaming:
"DO YOU FEEL GOOD, KUALA LUMPAR? I SAID DO YOU FEEL GOOD?' Alternatively,
something along the lines of: 'THERE SHE WAS JUST A WALKING DOWN THE STREET,
SINGING....' might have got the crowd going. In the end, I think they ended up using water
cannons, which, as we all know, is much more a Duran Duran 'Girls On Film' type approach to the
matter.
          The other big thing on television this week was, of course, Bill Clinton. Walt Whitman
once wrote that Americans were a poetic people and that the United States itself was the greatest
poem. This week, the United States has been reduced to little more than a limerick, beginning with
the words, 'There once was a man from Nantucket.'
          There were those who claimed that to air the tape was undignified, but I tend to think that it
was this very absence of dignity that made it perfect for TV. So once again, the television assumed
the mantle of pedagog, teaching those of us who've led reasonably sheltered lives things we didn't
really need to know. Even to the point that from now on, the phrase: 'Close but no cigar' has a
completely altered meaning.




                                          The Music Teacher.


          Pete's first job out of University was as a high school teacher. His first post was at a small
country town called Rainbow, and upon his arrival, he was called to the Principal's office to get his
first assignment of classes. The Principal looked at him square in the eye and asked him whether
he'd ever had any formal musical training. Pete replied that he hadn't. He was then asked whether
he could sing or play a musical instrument. Acknowledging that a comb and paper probably wasn't
what the Principal had in mind when he used the term musical instrument, he said 'No'.




                                                                                                      49
       "Good" replied the Principal. "You're the new music teacher."
       As so it was that a tone-deaf individual came to be charged with the responsibility of the
musical development of the youth of Rainbow. In effect, this saw Pete walking up and down the
classroom with a cane, hitting anyone who hit a bum note. However, as Pete was (and still is)
completely tone deaf, he wasn't too sure when this was, and so tended to strike out pretty much at
random.
       After a hard day teaching music, Pete would retire to the teacher's lounge to relax. There
they had a hi-fi system. Sadly though, they had only one record. Sadder still, that record was
Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Every night someone would ask: "Shall we put on a record?"
This inevitably drew a response of: "But what shall we listen to?" Pete would then volunteer the
obvious. "I don't know about anyone else, but I wouldn't mind listening to Arthur Fiedler and the
Boston Pops."
       This love and sophisticated appreciation for music is apparent in his children. Both Cam
and I grew up wallowing in the rich traditions of Tom Jones, Dean Martin and the Tijuana Brass.
Not that the record collection didn't carry a few dark secrets. Suffice as to say, the less said about
'The Trinidad-Esso Steeldrum Orchestra' the better.
       Our favourite record, however, is not one well remembered by many people. 'Mike Brady's
Football Songs' was an album of 12 songs all about football players. Many afternoons in Tyabb
were spent playing this particular record and singing along. Although Cam later career as lead
guitarist in Tyabb's iconoclastic band, 'the Pilchards' is better remembered, I don't think he ever
surpassed in terms of sheer intensity, the performances he gave in the living room when he plugged
the portable microphone into the stereo system and sang along to Mike Brady's Football Songs.
       He'd sweat, sing and drop to his knees; all to convey the stories of footballers like Graham
Polly Farmer and EJ Whitten. Our plan to weave these songs into an opera, sadly, never made it to
fruition. The first records that Cam and I bought, however, were not football based. For $5.99, we
each bought records by the band 'Kiss'. These were sadly destroyed a few years later in a fit of
Pentecostal fervour against the back wall of the church, when they were deemed 'satanic'. Cam's
attempt to have the Trinidad-Esso Steeldrum Orchestra destroyed for the same reason was, sadly,
thwarted.




                                                                                                   50
       A few weeks ago, we held a half birthday party for my nephew. Before hand, I rifled
through the old record collection and came across Mike Brady. I took it around to Cam's where, I
understand, it has been played constantly ever since.


P.S. Interestingly, Rainbow has failed to throw up any decent musicians in the past 30 years. This,
I believe, can be traced back to Pete's tenure as music teacher at Rainbow High School.




                                           The Handyman.


       Last weekend, I fell into a foul but familiar trap. I foolishly bought something that required
assembly in the vain belief that I could put it together.
       The item in question was a clothes horse, which I purchased because the local laundrette
wasn't running its dryers for the duration of the 'gas crisis'. And so, I headed off to the hardware
store, determined to purchase a clothes horse.
       The 'All Australian Clothes Horse' was the only type they had in stock and was wrapped up
in a long rectangular box, proudly boasting its 'easy to assemble' instructions. Usually, I avoid
buying anything that requires me to put it together. However, pressed by necessity and convinced
that to do so may in fact be therapeutic, I pressed on.
       I leaned in and studied the directions. 'Required: One Hammer.' This was a pleasing sign,
as I own a hammer. The fact that it sits behind glass with the words 'In case of emergency...'
printed above it, was not about to deter me. After all, there was a gas crisis in full swing, which
was about as close to an emergency as I was ever going to get. Or at least, to an emergency in
which a hammer might be any earthly use.
       I picked up the box and then paused for a moment, as I looked longingly at the display
model. I wondered for a few seconds whether or not they would mind if I tried to buy the
assembled display version of the product, pleading incompetence.          But hardware stores are
notoriously tough when it comes to dealing with incompetence, so I resigned myself to having to
assemble my own.




                                                                                                   51
        Sunday arrived, and I attempted to assemble my clothes horse. I laid all the pieces out onto
the floor and read the instructions. I put one end of the frame on the floor and tried to fit the rods
into the holes. Sadly though, they wouldn't stay in the holes and had a nasty habit of falling out.
Finally, I managed to balance all the rods so they pointed straight up. The instructions then
required that I take the other half of the frame and match up the holes. In brackets, the instructions
informed me that this part of the procedure 'may require assistance'.
        These are words that people who live alone do not want to encounter. Ever.
        After six continuous hours of trying to match rods and holes and frames and so on, I
conceded defeat. I packed up all the pieces into the box from whence they came and stacked it next
to all the other un-assembled things I own. The water filter I couldn't put together, the wine rack,
anything anyone ever gave me that came from 'IKEA'. And there it sits, destined to remain in its
un-assembled state until I can convince someone else to put it together.
        This weekend, needless to say, should prove assembly-free, as I re-affirm my vow to only
buy items that are ready to use.




                                                 Flying.


        Not long ago, I gave a solemn promise to a friend of mine that I would visit a her one
weekend while she was sequestered in Adelaide for three weeks for work. When I rashly made this
promise, I gave little thought to the fact that this would involve catching a plane. Remembering
that I find travelling in a car to be, for want of a better term, 'difficult', air travel seems to me to be
an open defiance of the laws of nature and as such, not to be trusted.
        As last Friday approached, and the hour at which I was expected to become airborne drew
closer, I became increasingly anxious. No surprise there I guess. Another friend even offered to
give me a 'Kinder Surprise' as an incentive if I was able to get on the plane and come back without
submitting to panic. Inspired by visions of Italian chocolate and little else, I managed to arrive at
the airport on time.
        Other people also stepped forward to offer me advice as to how to overcome my apparent
nervousness. Some suggested extreme drunkenness. Although this is an area in which I have some




                                                                                                         52
measure of experience, I decided against this approach. Firstly, it was unlikely to make me feel
less nauseous. Secondly, it might make a trip to the on-flight bathroom a necessity, which should
always be avoided whenever possible. That is, unless you happen not to mind 'refreshing yourself'
in a space no larger than a shoebox. Finally, too much alcohol might make me rowdy and
obnoxious, perhaps even more so, and I don't think I'm really the Oasis-type of air traveller.
       My Great Aunt Margaret, who will always be fondly be remembered as the aunt who once
jumped out of a moving vehicle, also had a fear of flying. On those long trips back to Ireland, she
would stifle her fear of flying by wearing a paper bag over her head. And so she would sit,
resembling Ned Kelly but in a floral print dress, the entire twenty-something hours it took to get to
Belfast. In fact, it was quite common for her to be stopped in airports by any number of eager
people seeking autographs from 'Tuckerbag'. But at least she made the trip.
       Deciding that everyone has to go sometime, I managed to board the aircraft and find my
seat. And although my decision to rock backwards and forwards for the duration of the trip
chanting the 23rd Psalm ('Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death....') proved
unpopular both with fellow travellers, flight crew and, subsequently the airport security personnel, I
made it Adelaide in one piece.
       After visiting Marcelle the Mighty for two days, I used the same Psalm-chanting technique
to take my mind off things on the way back to Melbourne. Once the plane had landed, the flight
crew kindly released me from the overhead luggage compartment, where some of the other
passengers had so insistently stowed me for the entire measure of the trip.
       I have no plans to return to Adelaide at this time.


       P.S.    Upon my return, my friend duly delivered the Kinder Surprise just as she had
promised. I, however, am yet to open it, as I fear that I might not be able to assemble the toy
inside. It now sits in my flat along with my other un-assembled goods such as my clothes horse,
water filter, items from IKEA........




                                         Daylight Savings.




                                                                                                   53
        As October lurches ever forward towards its inevitable end, most people probably look
ahead with some degree of optimism. Whether it be because of the approaching summer, holidays,
Christmas or Melbourne Cup Day, the general populace is fuelled with kind thoughts for much that
lies beyond October. Personally speaking, I can't see that far into the future. Because at the end of
October looms an insurmountable obstacle of pure coiled evil. It is an evil referred to by most
people as 'Daylight Savings'.
        What twisted breed of insanity forces people to change all their time clocks, watches and
sundry other time-keeping devices? The best thing about time, is its constancy, its reliability.
Daylight savings destroys this dependability. It breaches the natural order. Just ask a cow. They
find it dreadfully confronting. Daylight savings puts their milk-giving capabilities completely out
of whack.
        Although not wishing to especially align myself with cows, I too find daylight savings
confronting. In particular, I have trouble adjusting clocks. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I tend
to forget how to alter the various timepieces I own. Take for instance my video recorder. It was
bought during daylight savings 3 years ago, and always carries summer time. This means that for
all the winter months, it runs an hour fast. I've spent as much time trying to remember how to alter
it, but to no avail.
        Last March, it occurred to me that I no longer knew how to change the time on my alarm
clock. This shedding of information was inevitably coupled with me managing to misplace the
instruction booklet. Thus in order to manage the change from daylight savings to regular time, I
was forced to buy a new alarm clock.
        Heading into Myers with this singular purpose, I felt a certain sense of secret shame as I
ascended into the electrical department. I got to the part of the store that sells alarm clocks to find
the rows or shelves that would normally be bursting with product, almost completely empty. It
then occurred to me, that I may not be the only one who struggled with this shift in time.
Somewhere out there, there exists a vast army of people who forget how to change the time on their
clocks and have to buy a new one when daylight savings kicks in.
        In Tyabb, Pete's house is a veritable museum of time. All the clocks are incorrect and each
for a different reason.    Ideally, there should be plaques to commemorate each event.            The




                                                                                                     54
microwave should have a little sign that read: 'This microwave runs two hours late to commemorate
the power failure of July 1992.' The video recorder could read: 'This video is thirty minutes fast
from when Pete attempted to programme it, but managed to change the time instead.'
        I think that perhaps my brother Lachlan has the right idea. His room is a veritable Noah‟s
Ark of time, with two of everything. One watch carries summertime and one carries ordinary time.
One alarm clock carries summertime and so on.
        I don't think, I need to but a new clock this time. I've wisely kept the instruction booklet
under the alarm clock the entire winter season. Aside from that, the video recorder has, as always,
remained on summer time all along.




                                          Cam’s Birthday.


        Today is my brother Cameron's birthday. For the next little while, we will in fact both be
the same age. In years gone by, this temporary equality of years was celebrated by the two of us
fighting fiercely as to who was the more senior. (Cam has never been a great believer of months,
as such) I remember one occasion where the two of us argued until we were rolling around on the
floor, punching and spitting at each other, until passers-by turned a hose on us as a means of
stopping us from warring. But that was last year, and this time, things promise to be much
different.
        Cam's going out tonight and is sure to celebrate his birthday with customary vigour.
Although there's less than a year between us, it is this very vigour that distinguishes us. Years ago,
when on a family holiday, Pete had pulled into a seedy motel for the evening. It was the type of
place that doesn't get a mention in accommodation guides but might well be sponsored by the
Salvation Army.     Throughout the course of the trip, Pete had discovered that trying to get
accommodation for seven people was quite difficult, in that most motels could only accommodate
five people. Usually, Pete would sigh and accept this, forcing a couple of us to sleep on the floor or
something equally uncomfortable. However, whenever this would occur, we would still be charged
for seven people.




                                                                                                    55
       Considering this additional charge to be somewhat of an affront, Pete decided to tell the
manager on this occasion that he needed accommodation for five people. Cam and I were ordered
to hide in the back of the car in order to properly effect this duplicity. Once checked in, bags were
unpacked and things unloaded, while Cam and I were left hiding the car. Pete then ordered the
others back in, and we went in search of take away food.
       After getting lost for the required period of time, we managed to purchase take-away
Chinese food. The food was given to the two of us stowing away in the back, as the car returned to
the motel. However, a sudden braking saw Cam put his knee straight through the sweet and sour
which duly ran all over the floor. Wide-eyed with shock, Cam did his best to clean up his corduroy
as the family car negotiated the car park speed bumps.
       Pete pulled up and got everyone else out of the car except for my brother and I. Taking a
careful look around for the Manager and seeing the coast was clear, Pete released the back door and
told us to run as fast as we could. Not that we needed to be told. Cam burst forth from the back of
the car as though he had shot from a cannon. Mildly disoriented, he ran straight into the motel
room of a complete stranger.
       Somewhere in southern Queensland, a woman was undressing in her motel room when
suddenly, a small blond dwarf burst in unannounced; ran in, circled the bed and ran out again. All
this, without stopping or even so much as losing momentum. Cam then exited and entered the next
motel room, which happened to be the correct one.
       This pretty much sums Cam up. He approaches life with inordinate enthusiasm, even if it is
occasionally misdirected. As for me, on that evening many years ago, when Pete opened the back
door of the car, I went in the opposite direction to that of my brother.         This pattern, once
established, has pretty much remained ever since. While he was busy terrifying women in a partial
state of undress (perhaps another pattern, but that's another story); I was busy running towards the
Manager's office, ready to confess all.




                                                                                                   56
                                  Chris and Claudia’s Wedding.


       On Tuesday, an old friend of mine by the name of Chris Blacker got married. When I
received the invitation, I hadn't met the bride to be, much less the parents. As custom dictates, I
was required to signal my intention to attend by writing to Chris's prospective parents in law.
Momentarily unfettered by any need to be at all truthful, I issued the following reply:
       'Dear Mr and Mrs Duss,
               It was with great delight and genuine surprise that I received the invitation to the
       wedding of your daughter to my old friend, Christopher John Blacker.
               It has been quite a number of years since we were in the militia together, and it's
       nice to see that the passage of years has not caused any dimming of our friendship. The
       tattoos that were scribed into my skin at that time still evoke powerful memories of that era,
       as I'm sure do Chris's.
               I think the last time we saw each other was in Paris in 1989. It was spring, and he
       and I were both doing our best to launch our careers as supermodels. He'd picked up some
       work for Vivienne Westwood. I, on the other hand, was having a more difficult time of
       things, given my refusal to wear fur. As I tearfully packed my bags to head home, Chris
       promised me that he wouldn't forget who his friends were.
               And indeed he hasn't.
               It is with substantial pleasure that I accept the invitation to the wedding of Chris and
       Claudia.
       Yours faithfully,
       Stuart McCullough'


       For a while I was concerned that upon turning up to the reception I might discover that I
was assigned a small table all to myself. Luckily, this was not the case, and Chris asked me to
deliver a speech. When the moment came and I was called upon to speak, I explained to those
assembled that Chris and Claudia had asked me to do a speech, only because they refused to allow
me to participate in the ceremony. That my offer to perform an acapella rendition of 'I Knew the




                                                                                                     57
Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll' was deemed to be superfluous to requirements. And as
such, the speech was something of a consolation prize.
       I spoke about the band we used to play in together; Tyabb's greatest art-rock export, 'the
Pilchards'. And in particular of our finest ever performance, at the salubrious Bayswater Roller
Rink. I went on to claim that only the faint-hearted play to people who are standing still. Real
music is to play to people who are all going in circles, in a fashion pioneered by Cliff Richard in
the ground-breaking 'Wired for Sound' video. Having said that, there was very nearly a nasty spill
during the speed-skating section, which almost saw Bayswater Roller Rink become an Altamont for
the 1980s.
       However, all things ended up safely and the band broke up as bands tend to do.
       I then offered to perform the afore-threatened version of 'I Knew the Bride When She Used
to Rock and Roll' only to find that the microphone had turned strangely dead, and myself briskly
escorted from the stage.




                                      Brodie’s Half-Birthday


       My nephew Brodie is now eight months old. Although he's only been around for a short
period of time, he's already developing his own ticks and quirks of character. Not that everything is
his own, necessarily. He's quite a happy child, a trait that I believe he has inherited from his
mother, Beck. He has also exhibited a powerful gift for regurgitation, which I like to think he has
inherited from me.
       He's yet to get the hang of crawling as such, and so gets about simply by rolling. This
continues another fine family tradition perpetuated by his uncles, known to roll home after
extended evenings of refreshment. However, I can't help but wonder whether he'll pick up any
other family traits along the way. I'm quietly hoping that he'll develop his mother's acute fear of
jazz ballet but without developing my acute fear of almost everything else.
       His uncle Lachlan distinguished himself as an infant by eating dirt. I'm sure he would have
been discouraged from this earlier had it not been so economical. As he grew older, he probably
began to wonder why it was at meal-times that he was the only one to get a serve of pot mix. Not




                                                                                                   58
that it prevented him from asking for a second serve, as such. Beck has already assured me that
Brodie won't be allowed to indulge in such earthy pursuits, and has directed that all pot plants have
to be out of infant reach.
        Recently, we held a half-birthday party for him, which basically consisted of a group of
adults standing around eating fairy bread and chocolate crackles, while a baby rolled about on the
floor. His uncle Cam bought him an animatronic Tigger, which speaks and bounces and probably
does your annual tax return if you ask it to, and as such designated himself the 'cool' uncle, as it
were. I, on the other hand, got him another book, thereby consigning myself forever to the role of
'nerd uncle'. In retrospect, the Albert Camus picture book probably isn't the most exciting of
presents to give a six-month old child. Not to worry. Just as when your great aunts, uncles and
other peripheral relatives gave you clothing several body sizes too large, the old adage 'He'll grow
into it' can surely be applied.
        It has to be said, that Brodie is an extra-ordinarily large baby. In fact, straight after he was
born, he could pretty much have walked out of the delivery room and driven himself home and no-
one would have batted an eyelid. Even now, he towers over lesser babies like Gulliver in Lilliput.
On the day that he was born, Beck admitted herself into Hospital. As pregnant as anyone could
reasonably be, and nearly completely spherical by this stage, she was given directions at reception
as to how to get to Maternity. As you'd expect, she nodded at these directions as though genuinely
understanding, and yet, forgetting them the instant they were uttered.
        Not in the least deterred, Beck soldiered on, only to be lost within a matter of moments
within the Hospital. Wandering aimlessly, Beck eventually asked for assistance and was taken to
the appropriate part of the Hospital. By that stage, various relatives had all arrived at Maternity
before her, all wondering where it was that Beck had gone to. I mean, it was not as though she
could have changed her mind, as such.
        Anyway, the birth went well enough, with the desired result. I have to admit, that before he
was born, I did attempt to knit him booties (believing that this was the appropriate thing to do) but
the end product looked too much like something that an animal might cough up. In the end, I
settled for giving him a ball of wool and the instructions that had proved so useless to me, in the
hope that he could perhaps knit his own. It's important to encourage self sufficiency, I think.




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                                              Chickens.


       Recently, I made a conscious decision (in stark contrast to the type I usually make) to
switch to free range eggs. It wasn't so much a reaction born of moral outrage, as a decision to
support chickens who lead interesting lives. Having made this switch, I've decided that „free range‟
simply isn't far enough. The knowledge that the particular chicken who churned out the eggs has a
home of its own, so to speak, is not enough. Instead, I want to be assured that my chicken is
leading a healthy, productive and ultimately satisfying life.
       Ideally, each carton of free range eggs should come with a small biography of the chicken
that laid them. It could be inscribed on the side, perhaps in the style of Fantail wrappers. Perhaps
something along the lines of: 'These eggs are brought to you by Susan (1996 - ), whose interests
include scratching around the yard, making clucking noises, horse back riding and Nineteenth
Century French Literature.'
       In Tyabb, we didn't have to buy eggs, as we had our own chickens. Rest assured, that they
each had very fulfilling lives and had distinct personalities. The only worrying thing, was that
these chickens had an aggressive streak a mile wide. They were unusually violent creatures, a trait
which I attribute to the amount of television they watched. They had beady eyes that seemed to
follow you wherever you moved, as though waiting for the perfect moment in which to launch an
attack. Not that they often got the chance.
       The chicken pen had room to scratch around in, but the nests were along the perimeter
meaning that the produce could be collected without having to enter the pen itself. That is, unless
one of the chickens decided not to use the nests. Nothing could inspire a heady mix of fear and
anxiety so quickly as to come across the chicken pen and find that there was an egg sitting out of
arm's reach, in the middle of the yard. I would trundle up to the pen in my gumboots (amazingly,
these gumboots were supposed to protect us from snake attack) only to find the chickens slowly
circling a single egg that one of them had cleverly laid in the middle in the middle of the yard.
Their leader, the Chicken Queen, spurred them on to ever greater heights of clucking and circling.
       Nervously, I would lift the latch and open the door, trying to judge the best moment to dash
forward and collect the egg. Inevitably, I would launch myself forward in a flood of adrenaline to




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clutch my prize before making a hasty and no doubt inelegant exit from the pen. Needless to say,
they never attacked. Perhaps they knew that the threat of violence was more powerful that violence
itself would ever have been.
       And so my years of perilous egg collecting are not commemorated by any wounds or scars.
Not physical ones, at any rate. It probably goes without saying that I make a terrific omelette.




                                         Blackberry Wine.


       Summer officially began yesterday. Obviously, it wasn't the 1st of December, but such
precision doesn't fairly mark out a season in my opinion. My method is a good deal more straight
forward. I declare summer upon the first sighting of a man wearing long shorts and knee high
socks. (Sandals optional) It occurred yesterday as I walked through Fawkner Park, amidst a sea of
people tranquillised by the heat, where I saw a man standing boldly with his knees exposed for the
world to see. Summer has indeed begun.
       Summer in Tyabb was marked by a series of small scale 'public works' projects. They
involved Pete issuing various directives and my brothers and sisters and I heading out in all
directions, much in the manner of the winged monkeys in the 'Wizard of Oz', in order to perform
various chores. These tasks included things such as mowing lawns, weeding the driveway and
other matters abandoned over the winter months. But by far the worst of these was working on the
blackberries. It involved pulling blackberry cane out by the roots, which was a task that could not
be done without being ripped to ribbons by the thorns.
       Essentially, it was a form of banishment. When Cam and I were making too much of a
nuisance of ourselves, we would be banished to the back paddock and consigned to stand out in the
sun up to our necks in the blackberry patch along with all the snakes and bugs and all the other
undesirable things that lurked therein. Tantamount to child abuse, really.
       But Cam has always adapted to such things much better than I ever have, and he set about
collecting the blackberries with a view to making his own wine. After collecting the berries, he
then spent many mysterious, prodigal hours in the shed with various bottles, chemicals and




                                                                                                   61
ordinary household yeast. After what seemed like months, he emerged from the shed with two 2-
litre bottles of blackberry wine. He even made a batch of rhubarb wine for good measure.
       Chateau McCullough 1987 was never made available to the public. In fact, it was never
even allowed into the house. Pete insisted that it remain outside at all times, despite Cam's
suggestion that it have pride of place in the kitchen. And so they sat on the back verandah for the
best part of two years. Dormant. Fermenting. Silently brewing. Until one day, when Cam arrived
home from school. He stepped over the dog who, as always, was sleeping on the doormat, and set
about making himself something to eat. This portrait of rural bliss was then shattered by an
awesome explosion.
       A shower of blackberry wine and glass rained down on the back door, covering the dog,
who then took off into the bush and wasn't sighted for a week or two. (And even then, when he did
return, he was a lot greyer than anyone remembered him.) Cam abandoned the snack preparation
process and dashed to the back verandah, only to see that one of his bottles of blackberry wine had
exploded. He was about to open the door when a second blast stopped him where he stood. The
other bottle had exploded, sending a second wave of wine over the door.
       It seems that Cam had used too much yeast and so the wine had continued to ferment over
the years until such time as it burst out of its glass tomb and all over the back verandah. And
nothing in this world is so hard to clean off than poorly made blackberry wine. Even today, when
you take hold of the door handle, you're sure to notice that the blackberry wine has taken hold of
you, sticking to your fingers as you try to leave. Strangely, though, the rhubarb wine did not blow
up. Instead, it sat harmless on the back step, even though the dog insisted on keeping a safe
distance at all times. Eventually, Pete grew tired on this and he poured out the rhubarb wine onto
the cooch grass at the back of the house near the water tank. He returned a few days later to find
nothing but scorched earth.
       It's probably not scientifically accurate to call what Cam created 'wine', but it certainly had
an admirable adhesive quality that lasted the summer and beyond. He certainly found a cure for
cooch grass, at any rate. I doubt the Brothers Brown could say the same.




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                                        Christmas Shopping.


       I've not been getting a good deal of sleep lately. This can be attributed to a number of
factors. Firstly, there seems to be a mosquito who has taken to visiting me nightly. This inquisitive
insect must have previously swallowed a megaphone, given the buzzing volume it emits of an
evening. I suspect it probably has more of my blood than I do, at this point. The other thing
keeping me awake is Christmas and, in particular, Christmas shopping.
       The savage determination that shoppers take in doing their Christmas shopping is truly
intimidating. This time of year places people in a 'Lord of Flies' kind of consumer Universe
whereby they would happily beat, maim or conceivably kill other human beings in order to
complete their shopping. Needless to say, I prefer to keep a safe distance. As a result, my own
attempts at Christmas shopping have been quite unsuccessful, owing largely to the fact that I am
still bewildered by the scope of choice. So far, I've been to the local record store. I won't tell you
what I bought, in case family cast their eyes upon this. However, I will say that I was bemused to
see that Phil Collins has a new CD out, which is simply entitled 'Hits'. Surely this was named in a
fit of dyslexic fervour whereby the 's' was placed at the end of the title rather than at the beginning
where it belongs. The less said about Mariah Carey's 'Number One's' album, the better.
       But my favourite Christmas story does not involve mosquitoes or, for that fact, Phil Collins.
It involves my grandfather who, for those of you who don't know, left Belfast for Australia in the
1920s in a bid to flee his accumulated overdue video fines. He ended up in a town called
Rushworth, which got its name during the gold rush period after it was deemed to be a rush worth
going to (absolutely true, I'm afraid). Although the area had once been prosperous, this prosperity
had long since disappeared along with the majority of townsfolk. Nevertheless, a few hardy souls
persevered. Not the least of these being the parishioners at the local church.
       The church with its dwindling parish was in sore need of new hymn books, with the old
ones by now being a loose collection of pages that had once been bound together. As the church
didn't have enough funds to replace them, they called upon the generosity of the townsfolk. There
is little in the way of fame or glory in replacing the church hymnals, and so volunteers proved
reluctant. Finally, the local Pharmacist stepped forward with the money. Soon, the church had its




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beautiful new hymn books, all as a result of the benevolence of Jack the Pharmacist, who asked for
nothing in return.
       Months later, the year's largest congregation gathered on Christmas Day. The assembled
masses turned to hymn number 245 in their beautiful hymnals, only to be confronted with the
following lyrics:
       'Hark the herald angels sing,
       Jack's liver pills are just the thing.
       Peace on earth and mercy mild,
       Two for man, and one for child'


       The Pharmacist had taken the liberty of altering the lyrics in order to promote his business.
And thus, Christmas advertising in the modern era was born.




                                                Aaron Carter.


       The end of a year is not just a feeble excuse for over-indulgence, but rather, gives cause for
sober reflection. This usually lasts a good ten seconds or so before it succumbs to ever less sober
reflection which finally ends upon vomiting on someone else's shoes.
       As it does every year 'youth oriented' (which sounds like a young person who resembles a
compass) radio station JJJ is conducting its 'Hottest 100'; designed to determine the 100 most
popular tunes for 1998. Polling is still open, and I've half a mind (insert derogatory comment here)
to nominate Aaron Carter's 'Crazy Little Party Girl'.
       For those of you unfamiliar with his work, 11 year old Aaron is the younger brother of one
of the 'Backstreet Boys' (or as I often refer to them, 'the new Beatles') and has a singing style that is
all his own. So unique is the sound of his voice, that it is difficult to capture through mere
description the tunefulness and raw soul power he emits. About the closest thing I can think of
would be that made by whales straight after having been harpooned by Japanese fishermen.
       As for the song itself, 'Crazy Little Party Girl' has been composed at such a high level of
excellence as to make Beethoven look rather foolish. The unconventional melody, defying as it




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does Western notions of tunefulness, stays with you much in the manner of a social disease. The
lyrics serve to make Bob Dylan look a total idiot reading as they do: 'Crazy Little Party Girl -yeah
yeah'. And although the term 'yeah' has often been employed as a result of writer's block, in the
context of this particular song, it captures all the angst and anguish of the under- 12 set. In years to
come, I'm sure it will be thought of as 'The Times They Are A Changing' for the pre-high school
generation.
       A complex epic, sweeping in it's scope and grandeur, 11 year old Aaron lends this tune (or
should I say symphonic poem?) a haunting poignancy. I also love the album cover. In red overalls
in mid flight with his legs akimbo; it's as if a record company executive had attempted to preserve
his golden voice by trying to make young Aaron 'il castrato' just before the photo was taken.
       What's more, I'm certain he'll go on and consolidate his success, having a long a prosperous
career and even better life. Just like Frankie Lymon.
       I love Aaron Carter.
       Vote 1 'Crazy Little Party Girl'




                                       The Ticket Inspectors.


       I write to tell you all of a very special and yet, mildly frightening event. On the way into
work the other day, my tram was raided by a number of undercover ticket inspectors. If you're of
the opinion that public transport officials look pretty useless in their uniforms, then nothing will
prepare you for the sight of them in civilian attire. One inspector entered from the side door of the
tram, wearing acid wash jeans and a Nike T-shirt that bore the slightly implausible legend: 'Just Do
It', clutching his infraction book close to his chest. From the front of the tram, two more inspectors
entered.
       One wore tracksuit pants and an facial expression that said: 'help me', while the other wore a
dress made of material that might best be described as 'sub-pyjama'. With the dress stretched
painfully across her bubbled stomach, and a plea for clemency stretched across her colleague's
wrinkled face, they made their way down the tram asking people for their tickets. The style in
which this was executed was something remarkable in itself. Two from the front, one from the




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back, with the obnoxious couple who never buy a ticket instantly leaping from their seats once they
knew the game was up and standing by the door as though it might be their stop.
        As they made their methodical way along the tram aisle, a certain tension started to build.
People began conjuring all manner of excuses.              'I forgot' featured heavily.    Safe in my
sanctimonious pre-purchasing self, I felt tempted to intervene. Perhaps to turn as an informer: 'You
never even tried to buy a ticket, I saw it all!' The fact that I'm so willing to turn on my fellow
commuters probably marks me as a lesser person. Just as I've always suspected. I'm quite willing
to turn informer, just for the sheer joy of watching fellow tram travellers feel the sharp end
of.....well, I hesitate to say 'the law' , but the sharp end of something nevertheless.
        So next time you're on public transport and someone wearing a T-shirt that reads: 'The Big
Issue' climbs aboard, remember, it might well be an undercover inspector.


        P.S.   The fact that I've written about public transport recently should lead you all to
conclude that I really don't have enough to do with my time.                    T o suggest appropriate
hobbies/pastimes, please contact my return e-mail address. Please do this soon as the Weekend is
fast approaching.




                                           Eye of the Tiger.


        In the midst of an unexpected emotional schism, I ran along Brunswick Street in the middle
equally of the both the night and the rain, trying desperately trying to flag down a taxi. Sometimes,
these little personal avalanches catch the best of us unawares, but so frantic were my attempts that
they might have been more appropriate if I had been trying to capture the attention of a search and
rescue crew rather than one of Silver Top's finest. And yet, despite my distress and obvious
franticism, a cab stopped soon enough and I scrambled in.
        Slumping down deep into the seat and on the verge of either tears or spontaneous human
combustion, I was confronted by the sound of Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger', emanating from the taxi
stereo. Unlike motion pictures, where the soundtrack is carefully considered to achieve maximum
effect, the soundtrack to ordinary life can be a much more random affair.




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       And yet, there was something so perfectly inappropriate about this particular piece of
music, so especially ludicrous that it shed something almost akin to perspective on the situation.
Unsurprisingly, it brought to mind the video clip, which featured an ageing singer wearing a beret,
most likely in a brilliant attempt to conceal baldness, while the rest of the band rocked out in eye-
catching denim they probably bought from Target.           In one particularly moving and cleverly
choreographed scene, I can recall the idea of 'band as gang' being captured by getting Survivor to
march down the street in time with the music, as if ready for anything that might come their way.
       I should say that the singer handled this rather difficult task quite well, staring deep into the
camera as he strode. The keyboard player (like all keyboard players, I suspect) fared somewhat
less well, as he marched behind with his coke-bottle glasses and mullet haircut swinging from side
to side. Sadly, only his mullet haircut could present anything resembling rhythm, as the rest of his
body struggled to keep up.
       One of the reasons people like to wear walkmans so much, is that it allows them some
measure of control as to the soundtrack of their environment. Which, I think, misses the point
completely. To me, it's far more interesting to be at the laundrette, folding your underwear to the
strains of 'My Heart Will Go On' by Celine Dion on the radio than it is to be listening to something
'good' on your headset.
       Crumpled in the front seat, I took a measure of solace in the eye of the tiger that night. And
now, whenever I hear that song I get just slightly weepy. Although I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Somewhere, there's a man well beyond middle age in a beret and an ugly ex -keyboard player
struggling to march down the street in time with each other, who both catch a bit of mist in their
eyes whenever they hear the words: 'Rising up, out on the street.....'




                                            The Orchard.


       Tyabb is orchard country. Or, perhaps I should say, was orchard country. For decades it
produced high quality fruit, particularly apples, which were duly crated up and sent to Melbourne
by rail. A successful enterprise all round (note the fact that I avoided the use of term 'fruitful'), the




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entire district was, at one time, covered in orchards.          Over the years, however, housing
developments overran agriculture and lots of the orchards vanished along with the prosperity.
        The legacy of all this is that Tyabb is completely bereft of flat earth. In all directions, the
corrugated ground stretches as far as the eye can see. Wave after wave. From back yards, school
yards and sporting ovals, the entire town looks as though it is floating out to sea. This makes
walking difficult. It certainly makes running a somewhat unsettling experience, and Tyabb has, to
date, failed to produce any sprinters of an Olympic standard.
        Until I was eighteen, I thought the ground was like this everywhere and it came as a great
shock to me upon arriving to the city to discover that the earth was, fundamentally, flat. Sadly,
however, I still run as though it was across uneven ground and my awkward running style has been
unkindly compared by more than one person to that of a drunken Thunderbird. But I maintain that
the ability to sprint over uneven terrain, despite any stylistic shortcomings, has been incredibly
useful in adult life.
        The corrugated ground reminds you of a time nearly vanished when humankind
endeavoured to till the earth in order to gather what Walt Whitman referred to as 'sumptuous crops'.
And even for the fact that the orchards have mostly vanished, the occasional tree has survived.
And in true evolutionary style, those few trees that have managed to survive the burning and razing
of the orchards were stronger, fitter and could not be easily be destroyed. More than that, these few
remaining trees tend to spew forth fruit as though trying to make up for the ones that had
disappeared.
        So much fruit, in fact, that it could never be eaten. Gone were the days when it would be
shipped out by rail. And in order to prevent the town being buried in a lava-like eruption of fruit,
all good people took to preserving their fruit. Jar upon jar, never to be eaten but to sit above the
fridge like museum exhibits. Reminders always that fruit that was once commerce was now
endangered.
        Every once in a while, I get a jar or two sent up. They sit above my fridge unopened and
uneaten. And on those rare occasions I am forced to run, I am reminded that not all people enjoy a
flat earth.




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                                         Another Wedding.


        On the way to his wedding, G.K. Chesterton stopped and purchased a gun, bullets and drank
a glass of milk. Although this is certainly a good deal more exciting than something old, something
new, something borrowed and something blue, it was a course of action destined to be
misunderstood. It later came as a great shock to Mr Chesterton to learn that his pre-wedding
actions were ripe for misinterpretation by his new wife. It never occurred to him that she might
misconstrue his conduct to mean that he was a possible suicide, murderer or, worst of all, a
teetotaller.
        As it turned out, the gun and the bullets were bought 'for protection', before the newlyweds
headed off on their honeymoon. I can only assume he hadn't simply misunderstood the meaning of
a family planning brochure. Apparently, he had the glass of milk simply because that's what he
always did.
        A friend of mine is getting married tomorrow. Which is terrific. Sadly, though, my offer to
perform my mysterious and slightly spooky interpretation of Billy Idol's 'White Wedding' on paper
and comb was deemed to be unnecessary.             Nevertheless, I'll be there suitably attired and
enthusiastic for the ceremony. Inevitably though, and many hours later, I'll probably leave the
reception suitably tired and pathetic.
        Weddings are one of the few remaining communal activities left.             In an age where
everything is so excessively individualised and isolation is so readily mistaken for independence,
very little exists that requires any communal consensus. But the nature of weddings is that people
gather to approve, support and, effectively, give their endorsement to the couple presented. Which
is why people clap at the end, probably. Exactly why people tend to get so drunk afterwards is a
little less easy to explain. The only other rituals that demand an audience of all ages, are funerals.
And weddings will always be preferred to funerals for their atmosphere and, usually, vastly
superior catering.
        And although the news is often littered with statistics as to the breakdown of marriage, it
seems the institution might be regarded as being peril, but the ritual is not. Which is interesting.
That despite whatever evidence there may be to the contrary, that people are still willing to have
faith in the ritual and all that lies beyond it. Which is worthy communal affirmation I feel.




                                                                                                    69
       Best wishes to Kyla and Carl.


       P.S. I briefly considered buying the couple a pistol, bullets and a carton of milk as a
wedding present, but demurred for fear of being misunderstood. Eventually, I went to the registry
and picked out the fitted sheets. Somebody had to.




                                             Breakages.


       This week, a sad but significant event took place. I broke my last 'whole' coffee cup. This
now means that all my crockery is incomplete. Although it took a while and much dedicated effort,
I have now managed to drop, scrape, chip, dent, damage or otherwise destroy everything I own.
Which, I feel, is a considerable achievement.
       Not that this occurs as a result of anger or even carelessness. It simply seems to happen.
As though it was destined to occur. As if everything was programmed to self destruct after a given
period of time. and as if every appliance, plate or possession is forever ticking down towards its
own inevitable immolation.
       And it's something I've always had a gift for. When I was at school, everyone else had a
name stitched into the back of their clothing or otherwise attached. Not me. Whenever necessary, I
could identify my possessions at a pinch by the damage they bore.
       This gift is especially evident whenever I move house. To me, it seems much like a magic
trick, whereby I wrap everything up in newspaper and carefully place the items in boxes only to
unveil the shattered remains in my new abode. What I don't understand is how items can be quite
so intact at one address and emerge a splintered shadow of their former selves at another, looking
as though a herd of particularly obese elephants have performed some kind of strange ritual dance
upon them. As if the box itself beat them savagely as soon as it got a chance.
       I've noticed that friends have ceased asking for my assistance when they move. Not that I
blame them especially. You can't tell someone whose coffee cups no longer have handles to be
'careful' when dealing with items of a fragile nature.




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       I've always wondered whether there is some trick to keeping things complete, and I've
envied those who somehow manage to keep their things in pristine condition. As though they only
bought them yesterday. A case in point being my brother and I. Several years ago, he and I both
owned Daihatsu Charades. Mine was bile green and his was anatomically purple. Cam and I had
hoped to go into business together, painting our cars white and hiring them out for especially small
weddings. But it was not to be. Sadly, my genetic disposition towards clumsiness coupled with my
complete disinterest in washing it meant that my car dissolved into little more than dust. Cam's on
the other hand, remained unwearied by age.
       He still has his Daihatsu Charade. He later bought a much bigger car and decided to weld
his Charade to the bonnet as a hood ornament where it remains to this day. A constant testament to
his ability to preserve and a reminder of my appetite for destruction.




                                            The Taylors.


       Years ago, my grandparents settled in a small town called Rushworth, where they owned
and ran the local newsagency. A dim-witted but rather loyal local by the name of Henry Taylor
used to deliver the papers, right from the time he was an enterprising youngster, until he was rather
too old for such an occupation. The Taylor's lived in a small tin shack on what could only be
described as 'the fringe' of town. And for years, rumours abounded as to the existence of a brother
to Henry who lived much in the manner of Boo Radley, inside that little shack.
       Unannounced and unexpected, Georgie Taylor was unveiled to the world. As it turned out,
Georgie was a dwarf. In fact he was so compact as to be considered small even by midget
standards. And although this caused a titter at first, people soon became accustomed to the sight of
Georgie, strolling through the town accompanied by the family greyhound who bore the
imaginative name, 'Dog'.
       Of an evening, Georgie would head into town with Dog and make for the local pub. Once
there, Dog would be tied to the railing while his owner stepped inside in search of an especially
high bar-stool. And just as common as it was to see the pair of them march into town, it was as
equally a common sight to see them returning later in the evening, making an unsteady and




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uncertain path by the side of the road.       It was at this end of the exercise that Dog proved
particularly useful.
       With the assistance of a couple of the locals, Georgie would be carried out of the pub at
closing time, and placed on Dog's back. Usually, Georgie would slump forward and just hang on,
hoping that his trusty greyhound would lead him safely home. One evening, my grandparents were
interrupted at dinner by a knock on the door. There the local policeman stood, who then proceeded
to inform my grandparents that Georgie Taylor was in the lock-up and needed to be bailed out.
Henry Taylor had named them as willing to finance his brother's freedom which, out of
embarrassment more than anything else, they did.
       It seems that Georgie had consumed so much alcohol that he believed he was normal size,
and proceeded to start picking fights. The police were called and dragged him away, kicking and
screaming. Soon after he was bailed out, he disappeared, taking Dog with him. Years passed, and
not even Henry knew where he was.
       A long time later, my grandfather took Pete to the circus. In those days, the circus was a
somewhat unenlightened place, filled with animals in cruelly confined spaces and an assortment of
nature's cruellest freaks. Much like Glen Waverley. Anyway, Pete and my Grandfather wandered
through the freak show and, at Pete's insistence, entered a tent that boasted: 'World's Smallest Man
-Direct from America'.
       As they stepped inside, they were greeted by a loud 'Howdy', in an accent that probably
sounded incredibly American if you'd spent most of your life in Rushworth. And there, on a small
little stage, stood Georgie Taylor. Needless to say, he was surprised to see my grandfather. So
taken aback, in fact, that he stood frozen to the spot, not moving at all until they left. Sadly, Dog
was nowhere to be seen. But I'd like to think that they still travelled together, riding into the sunset
towards the next circus town.




                                                Drugs.


       Recently, the large building corporation that now owns the Esplanade Hotel, announced
some rather radical plans for its redevelopment. These included remodelling the back of the hotel




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and turning it into an art gallery. Like many of those living in St Kilda, I was outraged. Obviously
this was a plan completely at odds with St Kilda's cultural heritage and history. It is my view that if
the area behind the Espy is to suffer any kind of reformation, it should be developed not into an Art
Gallery but rather, a shooting gallery, in keeping with the local customs and traditions.
       Over the past few months, there's been much in the news about drugs and drugs trials and
other such things. Which is quite unlike Melbourne. It's as though there's something inherently
impolite about such a debate.
       The most interesting part of the debate has to be regarding the idea of a Heroin Trial.
Which sounds as though they want to test it to see if it's any good, despite the fact the everyone
already knows that it's not. The Prime Minister is particularly opposed to the idea. So opposed, in
fact, that it almost sounds as though they're expecting him to test the stuff personally. Which
would be terrible.    I certainly wouldn't want to have to push past Australia's Leader of the
Government as he begs for change underneath the clocks at Flinders Street Station and I certainly
wouldn't want him stealing my video recorder.
       It seems ironic that people are proposing to increase the availability of drugs one the one
hand, and yet hysteria as to the use of drugs by athletes has reached an all time high. You can win
a medal at the Olympics, only to lose it later should you return a positive drug test. Testing is now
being done in football and rugby and such is the hysteria that testing will soon be extended to all
sports, including things like Lawn Bowls and Chess.
       When I look back over my own vast sporting career, I often wonder if my team-mates
winning all those awards and accolades were doing so using performance enhancing drugs. I
realise that some may suggest that rampant drug abuse is less likely to have occurred in a town the
size of Tyabb. Others might suggest that rampant drug abuse is unlikely to have occurred in the
Under 9's Football Team, but I have my doubts. Obviously, the clock cannot be turned back.
Rather, a test should be conducted now on my team mates of 18 years ago, to see if they truly
deserved titles such as 'Best and Fairest' and 'Most Improved'. And although the tests might be
unlikely to unearth anything that might be deemed 'performance enhancing', I'm sure the results
would clear the way for me to have my athletic prowess finally and belatedly recognised.
       The other thing about drug testing is that it should not be confined to sports. Perhaps if the
winners at the Oscars had been subjected to random drug tests, there might have been some




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disqualifications and the Australian nominees might have had a better chance. Ideally, winners
could walk to the podium, collect their statuette along with a small plastic cup. The models could
then lead them off stage and away to a small booth in a discrete corner of the auditorium.
Unnecessary samples could perhaps be auctioned for charity at a later date.
        Of course, testing the Oscars is one thing. Testing the Grammys might mean that nobody
won anything at all.




                                            The Fire Alarm.


        This week I managed to set my fire alarm off for the very first time. Which I view as a
major achievement, of sorts. The day had started ordinarily enough. I was cooking toast, (or
toasting bread - whichever you prefer), when I forgot about it and it promptly proceeded to burn.
After what was most probably several minutes of spewing forth smoke, the lifeless disc that that
has been uselessly clinging to my ceiling (while I had been uselessly clinging to the couch, no
doubt), burst into life and started to squeal.
        What was most interesting, was my reaction to all of this. When the bells and whistles
sounded, rather than making the equally valid assumption that I had won something, I raised my
hands as if surrendering. After several minutes of holding my palms aloft, it occurred to me that
the alarm wasn't about to cease, at which point I had to climb a chair and try to turn it off.
        This proved to be futile exercise, as the small disc didn't seem to be equipped with anything
so practical as an 'OFF' switch. I then proceeded to try and remove the alarm from the roof
altogether. As people within a 12 kilometre radius awoke to the sound of my fire alarm, by use of
calm logic and extraordinary violence I managed to dislodge it. Still it continued to bleat. After
searching its soft underbelly, to root out a weakness of some kind, I finally removed the battery and
was done with it.
        It then occurred to me how futile alarms have become. No longer do they alert us to danger
or fire, rather, they alert us to the fact we have that we have to figure out how to stop the alarm. It's
much the same with car alarms. It's rare that they tell people that a would-be perpetrator has




                                                                                                       74
unwisely attempted to break into a car. Really, all they do is tell people they need to go and turn
the alarm off.
       And the worst part is that alarms do what they do so rudely. Is it really necessary for them
to emit a sound so sharp it could be used to perform surgery? Surely there must be more polite way
to inform us that our lives may be in imminent danger. Personally, when smoke alarms detect fire's
choking apparition, they should send out a tune rather than a piercing bleating scream. Perhaps a
few bars of 'My Way' by Frank Sinatra would be appropriate. The words: 'And now, the end is
near, it's time to face the final curtain' certainly suggest that you might be in danger. Maybe 'When
the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' or even 'Disco Inferno' could be used. (Burn, baby, burn) Certainly,
for me, the recorded works of Shania Twain have always left me with a sense of dread comparable
to that of impending and complete disaster.
       I have to go now. Somewhere in the distance I can hear 'If You're Not in it for Love....'
which means either the building is on fire or someone nearby has suspect taste. What ever the
situation, I feel I should move a safe distance away.


       Apology: I confess that I have taken Shania Twain's name in vain (I know that rhymes, but
it's unavoidable) in this week's „Friday‟. I deeply regret any offence that this may cause. I make it
clear that I consider Shania Twain to be a true talent and that everything she does is art.
       You have to understand that my talent and imagination are extremely limited, nay, retarded.
I did my best to think of something else, but couldn't. You'll be pleased to know that I did consider
using the song 'Jackie', but demurred out of sheer respect. I knew that making fun of that particular
piece of music would be to commit a sacrilege of sorts.
       I hope you can find it in your soul to forgive me.




                                          The Lead Singer.


       In the corner of the living room in our house at Tyabb stands an ancient pianola. Eighty
years old with a cast iron frame, it had been inherited from one of the great aunts, for whom the
description 'eighty years old with a cast iron frame' was equally appropriate. The way that it




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worked was that rolls would be inserted and pedals pushed and the keys would come to life and belt
out a tune like 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' or something of that calibre.
       To us it seemed like magic. When we were particularly small, to operate a roll required
some measure of teamwork, with most of us perched up on the piano stool while one lucky sibling
had to stay on the floor and work the pedals, like some gigantic musical bicycle. The songs on
those old pianola rolls always sounded as if they needed forty fingers or more just to play them.
       To me, though, this proved to be something of an inspiration, as I embarked on an
illustrious if not overwhelmingly anonymous musical career.
       Stepping forward 15 years or so, and I was weathering the musical ignominy of playing in a
covers band.    However, this particular evening was quite a special one for us, as we were
performing at a college ball in support of 'Sophie Lee's Freaked Out Flower Children'. The gig
(and you can tell I was a real musician simply by my use of the term 'gig' rather than 'concert' or
'soiree') was a difficult one for me, in that I was suffering a severe cold which later evolved into
glandular fever. In fact, I was so sick that I had missed that last rehearsal altogether.
       As covers bands are want to do, they decided at that last rehearsal to learn some new songs
with which to 'wow' our college audience. Foremost amongst these new tunes was a song called
'Angel in the Centrefold' by the art-piece combo „The J Geils Band‟. For those of you unfamiliar
with this grand and complex epic, it tells the tale of a young man finding his childhood sweetheart
in the pages of an 'adult' (perhaps not the most appropriate description) magazine. More to the
point, it does so over about thirty verses.
       Unable to learn the entire song in the time allotted, I hastily scribbled down the lyrics on
about a dozen different pieces of paper. Soon after, the band began its set (another musical term) in
a blaze of collegiate glory. Finally, it came time to give Mr Geils and company a run for their
money. As the song commenced, I relied heavily on the written notes on the stage floor in front of
me, positioned neatly near the monitor. A drunken individual in the front row was quick to notice
my dependence on the notes. He watched as I struggled to make out the words without my
spectacles (how very rock and roll). Then, he casually leaned over and up to the stage, grabbing
my notes in ugly fist-fulls and destroyed them.
       With forty verses of the song still to go, and no words to sing, I searched for something to
fill the gap. It was then that my strictly religious background came to the fore, a s I pushed ahead




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by doing something not dissimilar to speaking in tongues. Although the band almost fell around
me in hysterics, the audience, probably thanks to the excessive amounts of alcohol they had
consumed, were none the wiser.
         I should have retired then, I suppose. Instead I pushed on, playing in variety of bands which
even included a short but nonetheless controversial stint in rap music. But I'll leave that especially
sordid tale for another time.




                                            The Sandpit.


         We always had a sandpit in Tyabb. We didn't always use our sandpit, but we always had
one, nevertheless. And even when it lapsed into long unbroken spells of periodic disuse, Pete
always insisted that it have fresh sand. As if someone might unexpectedly long jump into it at any
given moment.
         Not that he ever bought sand, as such. It was Pete's view that to purchase sand when you ,
in fact, lived on the world's largest island would be an act of madness equal to that of howling at
the moon or drinking salt water. So every once in a while, the family Tarago would be loaded up
with empty rubbish bins and a trip to the beach would be declared.
         For those of you familiar with the insidious concept of 'flower flogging', whereby Pete
would spy interesting items of flora by the side of the road and return under cover of darkness with
a bucket and shovel to kidnap them, 'sand snaffling' was not an altogether different experience, if
not a little more dangerous.
         Because beaches tended to be the hang-out point for local hoodlums once the sun went
down, Pete always undertook his excavation excursions in broad daylight. Sadly, I would often be
in the car at the time. This would leave me not only a reluctant witness but participant also. And
while other families would pull into the car park and unload items such as beach towels, eskies and
zinc cream, we would pull up and unload empty rubbish bins, shovels and the sharp instruction to
'dig!'
         Whether it was the burst of sudden physical labour or sheer embarrassment that left me so
flushed and hot, I'll never know, but I can still recall the looks of disbelief etched into the faces of




                                                                                                      77
passers-by as I dragged up a half full rubbish bin of sand towards the car (sadly, a full rubbish bin
would have been too heavy). As years went by, my brothers and sisters and I all grew up and the
sand in our sand pit turned stale as it fell into a not so graceful retirement.
         In March of this year, my nephew Brodie celebrated his first birthday. To commemorate
this momentous event, Pete bought him a sandbox. Accordingly, Pete dragged my youngest
brother Lachlan to the beach with rubbish bins in tow. Once they had taken all that they needed,
Lachy pleaded with Pete to make some pretence at filling in the large hole in the beach he had
created. Pete refused, boldly stating that the wind would 'fix it'. I'm not sure whether the wind has
managed to level out the sizeable ditch created that day. I do know that several beloved household
pets, children and inattentive elderly people from the area have since gone missing.
         Brodie, however, loves his sandbox.




                                              Patsy Slater.


         In 1923, the word 'laconic' was invented in reference to Rushworth fringe dweller Patsy
Slater. He lived about 8 miles outside of town in a tent, and would occasionally walk the dusty
gravel roads into Rushworth to get supplies. Deeply superstitious and suspicious of any form of
technology, whenever he was spotted walking along, cars would often pull up and offer him a lift,
but Patsy would always offer the same reply: 'Someday, when I'm not in a hurry'.
         The famous bush poet Ted Harrington was to later immortalise Patsy in a poem, 'There's
Only Two of Us Here'. However, as lots of people aren't that familiar with Ted's work, the story
probably stands re-telling. During the 1930s, Patsy suddenly found himself to not be the only one
living in a tent on the edge of town. The Depression cause a small community of such tents to
spring up, mostly occupied by young unemployed men. Each Friday night, the men would make
the arduous trip into town, walking all 8 miles to attend the local dance. These days it would seem
quite unlikely that anyone would ever walk 8 miles and then want to dance, but ,nevertheless, that's
what they did. As Patsy was not much for dancing, he would always remain behind and go to
sleep.




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        One Friday night, the young men returned, full of high spirits and, no doubt, something
more potent, when one of them struck upon an idea.             Knowing that Patsy was painfully
superstitious, he snuck ahead of the rest of the group. The campfire was still burning low, and the
young man stood between the glowing embers and the slumbering Patsy's tent. He cast a long and
ghoulish shadow across the tent, and said in a deep, deep voice: 'There's only two of us here, Patsy.
There's only two of us here.'
        A frightened but determined cry sprang up from the tent: 'And as soon as I get my bloody
boots on, there'll only be one'. And with that, Patsy Slater shot out from the tent like so much
cannon fire. Sprinting off down the track, he surprised the rest of the group still returning from
town, who had never before seen him move so fast.
        When Patsy didn't return for a number of days, some had thought the fright might well have
killed him. Instead, he eventually crawled back to camp, clinging to a bottle that he was never to
let go of for the rest of his days. In fact, the last thing of note he ever did was drunkenly accost
Father Christmas on the back of the Rushworth fire engine in 1946. Unluckily for Patsy, a rather
short tempered man by the name of Sid was playing Father Christmas that year, and his response
to this unexpected opposition was climb down from the fire truck and knock poor Patsy
unconscious, much to the horror of the local kiddies.
        Once he'd gathered his consciousness, he slunk away and no-one saw too much of Patsy
after that.




                                             Camping.


        Camping exists for the sole purpose of reminding humankind why it is they live in houses.
        When my brother and I were much younger, each year Pete would take us camping with his
friend Bill and his two sons.      This weekend      was ambitiously entitled: 'the Mens' Camp'.
Inevitably, it rained. And inevitably Pete would attempt to convince Cam and I that the term 'Two
Man Tent' was little more than a rough guide and not at all a true indicator of how much human
luggage could be forced inside.




                                                                                                    79
        While the days were wet, the nights were a good deal more varied being both 'wet' and
'dark'. Cold, disoriented and far too close to other human beings to be reasonably comfortable, I
would spend hours on end staring up at the thin nylon roof of the tent, listening to the rain as it
leaked in and wondering what I might be missing on TV. that very moment. The greatest cause of
discomfort in these circumstances, was undoubtedly the lilo. For those of you unfamiliar with the
word, 'lilo' is Latin for 'lets air out slowly '. It is perhaps a rather cruel irony that an object that
seemed so impregnable to puncture in the camping goods store, appears to be completely incapable
of holding any air in at all once you take it to the great outdoors.
        The object of these weekends was to teach Cam and I various skills, including how not to
catch fish except for poisonous ones that kill you if you try to eat them, and how to fall down a
really large cliff without using any balance and causing maximum injury to yourself. We also
learned that if you boil tea in a billy on an open fire and then swing it around your head several
times that it tastes just as crap as it would if you'd done nothing at all.
        The most controversial element on the agenda, by far, was hunting. One afternoon, Cam
and Pete went out into the bush in an optimistic search for dinner. Hours later, Pete managed to
corner a rabbit suffering the latter stages of Mexamatosis and shoot it. Cam pointed out that it
wasn't a good idea to target something so obviously diseased, but Pete claimed that this was the
only way the thing wouldn't 'move around too much'. When they returned to camp with the now
definitely deceased rabbit, needless to say I was horrified. Surprised at my extreme reaction, Pete
started to back-pedal, claiming that he had caught the rabbit trying to break into the car and that the
shooting was really only in self defence. Sadly, this failed to dilute my hysteria. Exasperated at
my persistent shock, I was sent off to get fire wood, while Pete prepared the rabbit for cooking.
Cleverly, he also slipped a good bottle of wine into the river so that it cooled in time for the meal.
        Hours later, in a process that was one part culinary and two parts high school scienc e
experiment, dinner was ready. The rabbit had been wisely abandoned in favour of a lifeless
conglomerate mass called 'bubble and squeak'. It was then that Pete turned to the river to play his
trump card, only to find that the wine had long been washed away by the current. Naturally, he
blamed the disappearance of the wine on a particularly nasty strain of yabbie known to inhabit that
part of the river. No doubt the yabbies would have made for a more substantial meal.




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                                              The Battery.


        On the corner of Collins and Swanston Streets last Tuesday evening stood a man with what
may have been the world's largest placard. Not only was it remarkable in terms of size but also in
the amount that it had to say, both in volume of words and sheer scientific density. The placard
proclaimed the virtues of a new solar battery, presumably invented by the bespectacled gentleman
struggling to hold the sign aloft. Seldom has a protest been so quietly verbose.
        Having said that, I must say that I suffer a fundamental mistrust of batteries. Whether they
be in cars, flash lights or any other object you might turn your mind to. They either go flat or are
the wrong size (is it sensible to label things 'AA' or 'AAA' or even 'AAAA'? I certainly don't think
so) and, quite frankly, it's just no substitute for plugging things in.
        Last week, the batteries on the remote control to my television went flat, which rendered the
entire object somewhat ineffectual. Although I contemplated using it as a kitchen utensil (mostly
likely a crude garlic press; either that or as something I could take to Acland Street and pretend was
a mobile phone), I decided that the adult thing to do was to replace the batteries. Having made this
decision, the first difficulty proved to be getting the batteries out. After about half an hour, it
became apparent that nothing short of a SWAT team was going to coax them free. I then
employed a method that has served me well most of my adult life - I got someone else to do it.
        However, as the batteries spilled out, they rolled out across the desk so that they mingled
with the fresh batteries I was about to put in. Sadly, the old and new batteries were completely
indistinguishable. Although many people in such a situation would probably lick the top of the
battery and be done with it, I couldn't bring myself to do something quite so practical. It probably
goes back to the fact that I'm deeply allergic to pain of any sort. Secretly, I suspect that many
people have suffered at the hands of wanton battery licking over the years. Jim Morrison springs to
mind, although being in the bath probably didn't help. I certainly had no intention of licking a fully
charged battery and ending up an electrocuted mess.
        To this time, the remote control remains useless, as it seems I've put the wrong batteries in.
Anyone not averse to licking the odd Eveready is invited drop around.




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                                             Evolution.


       Should such a thing as evolution exist, it does so best amongst siblings. I say that with a
measure of uncertainty in the belief that the television program 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'
has almost single-handedly disproved Darwin's entire legacy. Nevertheless, despite whatever doubt
commercial television manages to cast, the family structure remains as proof of a gradual
perfection, as each successive issue proves more adept at the art of survival.
       In my family, I happen to be the eldest. I suppose that this casts me as the least evolved
amongst the siblings, although I maintain that the use of the term 'primordial slime' is slightly
unwarranted. What is not contentious is that I am rather unfit in matters of survival, as anyone who
has ever watched me attempt to open a milk carton will no doubt attest. My brother Cam, however,
is substantially more evolved and a big milk drinker. My sisters are even more adept. However,
the mantle of pure survival machine belongs to my youngest brother, Lachlan.
       Being the youngest of five children, Lachy learned quite quickly what it took to survive.
Whenever dinner was called, he would spring up as though stung into action and race towards the
table with a view to determining which plate had the most food on it. Once this determination had
been made, he would ward off any potential rival by spitting on the plate he had eyed off as his
own. On those rare occasions when the portions appeared to be overly equal, he could take as
much a several minutes to decide which was his while he held the rest of us back in a complicated
shepherding manoeuvre.
       This was a practise he employed in numerous social situations, including when we had
guests over. When visitors arrived biscuits would be produced (Arrowroot if we knew them well,
Tim Tams if we were trying to impress) as the kettle boiled. Lachy would then leave them awe-
struck as he would appear from out behind the couch cushions and grab half of whatever was on
offer, proceed to lick them, putting them back on the plate to consume at his leisure. It was a
practise that brought him some measure of disrepute in his adult life. Especially in restaurants.
       He also managed to develop his own brand of ESP. On one occasion he was caught
throwing stones at primary school and the principal rang Pete at dinner time that evening. Even




                                                                                                    82
though Lachy couldn't tell who was calling, as soon a the phone started to ring he promptly
disappeared from the table and down to his room.
       Darwinism at its finest. Survival of the quickest.
       I have to say that there are times when I seem to be permanently stranded at the back of the
lunch queue that wish I was as evolved as Lachlan.




                                              Shaving.


       This week, and for the second time during the course of my adult life, I have managed to
destroy an electric shaver. I'm not exactly sure how I've managed to achieve this, but the twisted
machinery that once performed a useful function stands as testament to my ability to devour. For a
long period of time, now, my brother has been urging me to make the switch from electric to a
manual razor. He believes that not only is the experience more pleasant, but that there is much to
be gained from being able to shave while in the shower, something not recommended with the
electric variety. The thing about shaving is that no-one teaches you. It's supposed to be innate, as
if the ability to shave is tightly wound in with that Y-chromosome, along with the interest in almost
all televised sport and the ability to be flatulent upon command.
       I wrote to my brother, telling him that I was finally ready to abandon the electric shaver,
being as it was both unreliable and, quite frankly, not able to endure the necessary punishment.
Accordingly, I sought his advice. Cam responded in a manner befitting a veteran shaver. First, he
asked me whether my blood was clotting well. If not, he advised that I best not attempt to shave
unless in the company of others just in case something should go wrong. He then set forth a list of
instructions that sounded as though I had to land a plane rather than perform a rudimentary
bathroom exercise.
       He also recommended that I buy shaving 'gel' and what he referred to as a 'Mach 3' razor.
Cam also pointed out that there is world of difference between shaving gel and hair gel. Sadly, he
did so several days after his initial advice, by which time my various cuts and wounds had already
lead me to reach much the same conclusion. Although I did later purchase bona fide shaving gel I
was much less successful when it came to buying a 'Mach 3'. My brother had spoken quite highly




                                                                                                   83
of this device, being, as it is, three rather than the standard two, razor blades. As Cam pointed out,
twenty years after inventing the twin blade, they figured out that an extra blade might be even
better still. Sadly, my supermarket of choice did not have the 'Mach 3', and I was forced to
purchase what must have been a vastly inferior product.
        The next morning, I spent upwards of twenty minutes inflicting the prescribed routine upon
myself. After meticulously following each and every instruction, I washed my face free of any
remnant of shaving gel. Then, raising my head to the mirror, I was confronted with the very same
face as when I began the process. This intricate routine, fraught with danger as it was, had no
perceptible effect whatsoever. Now faced with the very real prospect of having to go work
appearing unshaven, I contemplated whether or not I should change from my ordinary suit into a
pastel one and claim that I was an escaped extra from the set of Miami Vice. Sadly, I own little in
the way of pastel.
        Cam had completed his letter with the words: 'Good luck and God bless'. I'm likely to
repeat these words on Saturday morning as I step out, stubbled face and all, in search of a new
electric razor.




                                             The Regatta.


        Last week, I watched the film 'Titanic' for the first time. Only two or three years behind the
rest of the world, as it turns out. Naturally, I was surprised to find that the ship sank, an incident
the Irish shipbuilding industry is probably yet to live down. At one time, I had considered myself
something of a shipbuilder, as it seemed an ideal way to avoid learning how to swim. Actually,
that's not quite true. I was not so much a shipbuilder, as a constructor of rafts.
        Having been either expelled or prevented from joining all sporting associations in the
greater Tyabb area (should such a thing exist) on the grounds of gross incompetence, I joined the
scouts. Which isn't easy to admit, in this day and age, but nevertheless I do admit to it. In
particular, I joined the First Moorooduc Scouts, a brave troop whose name gave the misleading
impression that there might be a Second or a Third Moorooduc Scouts, which was not the case at
all.




                                                                                                    84
         Not too long after joining, the district held its annual raft regatta, and although I'm not
precisely sure what the word 'regatta' means, but I'd like to think it means 'taking on water'. We
were due to compete against other scout troops, including the more up-scale ones such as
Mornington and Mt Eliza, which we considered to be veritable city to our pitiable country. As the
regatta was to take place on the open sea (well, Mornington beach to be precise), we thought that
we'd rehearse on a surface completely different, namely Greirson's dam.
         First came the task of assembling our raft. Without instructions I couldn't understand or
diagrams I couldn't ignore, I had even less idea than usual as I attempted to put the thing together.
The components included four 'forty-four' gallon drums, some tea tree and some rope. As someone
who has never seen the sense in tying knots when superglue exists, I found it difficult to make
much of a contribution. All the same, we managed to bind all these items together and gamely
refer to it as a 'raft', before setting it out across the dam. At no time did our craft ever give the
impression it might float. Rather, it sank promptly to the murky bottom, never to be seen again.
         Then someone suggested that we use empty forty-four gallon drums rather than full ones, at
which point we started over, with considerably more success.
         When the big day arrived, we took our bits and pieces onto the beach, and soon discovered
that no other scout troop intended to construct their raft out of rope, tea tree and forty-four gallon
drums. As each group put their raft together, it became apparent that ours was the only one that
looked like ship-wreckage. If 'yar' refers to a boat that is worthy of the sea, then we were most
certainly the opposite of that. We were undoubtedly and incontrovertibly 'ray'. In retrospect, I can't
help thinking that if Moorooduc wasn't quite so landlocked, that we would have been far more
adept.
         The regatta began, and everyone made a great pace. Except for the First Moorooduc Scout
troop. We must have only been twenty metres out to sea when the ropes became unravelled and
each forty-four gallon drum with a different member of the scout troop perched on top, headed in a
different direction. Sadly, I had been put in charge of knot tying, to no good effect. As all the
other scout troops worked as a team to win the race, we floated in different directions like the four
points of a compass.
         Sitting astride my forty-four gallon drum and floating towards the sunset and into the sea, I
started to wish that I had learned to swim after all.




                                                                                                    85
                                              Gravity.


       When I was younger, I often used to worry about what might occur if gravity ceased
working. I admit that this might not seem to be an especially reasonable fear, but then again most
fear tends to be unreasonable anyway. There are those who would no doubt say that the laws of
physics offer ample protection from something quite so catastrophic happening, but I've never had
much faith in the laws of physics, as my academic record can attest.
       In moments of particularly extreme boredom, I would actually plot my escape from
whatever building I found myself, in the unlikely event that the world should stop turning. The
most interesting buildings to this end, architecturally speaking, were most often school assembly
halls and churches, which was quite appropriate as both could easily be the venue for boredom
from time to time. I always took the view that if unthinkable things such as the car breaking down
or the fridge not working could occur, that there was no impediment to gravity stopping either.
       Not that this prevented me from trying to defy it, on occasion. It had been my brother's
view that, given the right circumstances, human beings could fly. That only laziness prevented
them from doing so. In fact to the best of my knowledge, he may still believe this. Nevertheless, to
test his theory he encouraged me to leap out of a tree. Despite being older and techni cally more
sensible, I was notoriously open to influence and did indeed attempt to fly. Despite my best effort,
I inevitably hurtled towards the ground with a breathtaking rapidity. Luckily, my fall was broken
by the ground, which in turn broke my leg cleanly in two.
       There would be some who would argue that to try and defy the earth's gravitational pull is
stupid in the extreme, but I prefer to think of it as being non-conformist. Without quibbling over
terms, I was duly rushed to the local hospital and administered morphine to kill the pain. Being as I
was, a six year old from Tyabb, I had little to no idea what a major hallucinogen was. Not unless
you count milk left in the sun a touch too long, which had always made me feel a touch outside of
myself previously.
       Not long after the drug was administered, the pain vanished and the ceiling started to drip.
Or so it seemed. Much to the amusement of the treating staff, I felt I had to give a running




                                                                                                   86
commentary on the status of my hallucinations, which they no doubt appreciated. And then
something horrific occurred. The staff decided that the best way to treat a broken leg was cut my
gumboots off. Nothing in country experience is quite so emasculating as having your gumboots
forcibly removed, let alone destroyed. In vain, I tried to make them understand that my parents
would kill me if I was released from Hospital sans gumboots, but to no avail.
       As it turned out, my parents weren't quite so concerned about the gumboots. Despite this
experience, I have made occasional and equally unsuccessful attempts at defying gravity since.
And on each occasion the kind and reliable earth was there waiting to break my fall. Which makes
me less worried about gravity failing. But every once in a while, I can almost picture what might
happen if the world stopped turning. Although that may well be a morphine flashback. I really
couldn't say.




                                       Letter to the Editor.


       A couple of weeks ago, a major metropolitan newspaper ran a column about people who
live alone. Needless to say, I took great offence at some of the assertions made by the columnist in
question and duly responded.      However, when that same newspaper printed the letter, they
managed to edit out all the funny bits, while retaining the psychotic elements. Not to worry.
Below is the unedited version of my letter.


       Dear Editor,
                Thankyou for Jane Freeman's recent article which sought to bring long overdue
       recognition to 'those brave souls' who live alone. As much as I enjoyed her column, as
       someone who lives alone I felt there were some points which could not pass by without
       comment . Moreover, I also believe that several key indicators regarding strange behaviour
       and living alone were omitted altogether.
                The most significant of these is undoubtably the 'cat to person' ratio. While this
       principle applies to all households, it has special significance for single person abodes.
       Where the ratio stands at one to one, this can safely be viewed as normal. Commendable




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even. However, the more the balance shifts in favour of felines, the more likely it is that
you have begun that inevitable descent into strangeness. To take an extreme example,
should you live alone with twenty cats, then chances are that you eat your food from a tin
and wear a T-shirt with the word 'Hypercolour' etched into it. You are also probably known
to all in your neighbourhood, and indeed upon your driver's license as 'the Cat Person'.
You probably even write letters to newspaper editors. The difficulty being, that while
eccentricity most certainly begins somewhere between one and twenty, it‟s difficult to say
precisely where.
        To summarise, if you live by yourself, then the more cats you have, the less likely
you are to be normal. This principle also applies when you substitute the word 'cat' for
either 'take away food containers' or 'gin bottles'. Other key indicators that your sense of
normality is dissolving include: attempting to cook meals involving one pot or pan only,
talking to the television and, more importantly, having the television talk back. The thing
about living alone and watching too much television is not so much the watching, but the
believing. You know you've sat for far too long in front of the idiot box when you start to
think of Ally McBeal as a realistic depiction of the legal profession or, worst of all, you find
'Australia's Funniest Home Videos', well, funny.
        People who live alone are also subject to subtle forms of discrimination.           For
example, Band-Aids are only available in packets of fifty. Personally, I have no intention of
ever hurting myself that often, and if I do, then a Band-Aid is unlikely to be of much earthly
use. Telemarketers frequently insist on speaking to your flat or housemate when you refuse
to buy their product, which is insensitive to say the least (although telemarketing is a rather
brutish pursuit at the best of times).
        I also believe that people who live alone do not always initiate strange behaviour,
but sometimes they have strangeness forced upon them. For example, in the block of flats
that I inhabit, I have a next door neighbour who apparently conducts what sounds like the
Eurovision Song Contest each alternative Thursday and Saturday evenings. Far be it from
me to cast aspersions on the value of eastern European pop music, but I find it far from
appealing at the best of times, let alone at two o'clock in the morning. Then there's the
middle-aged Irish guy who likes nothing more than to arrive back in the dead of night after




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       having drunk his own body weight in beer and then sing in the stairwell (he does a splendid
       version of Tina Arena's 'Burn' as it happens).
               Sadly though, I must take issue with Ms Freeman's concluding paragraph.             It
       assumes that normality is a desirable outcome and to that end I must disagree. Certainly,
       there's a place for soul-numbing normality, and that place is Glen Waverley. For the rest of
       us, eccentricity, whether it is inspired by living alone or otherwise should at all times be
       heartily encouraged.
               Kind regards,
               Stuart McCullough




                                               The Musician.


       To put it politely, my musical ambitions are destined to remain unfulfilled. And even when
I had the chance, I never did some of the things that everyone game enough to saddle themselves
with the title 'musician' should. I never destroyed a hotel room or drove a car into a swimming
pool, despite my limited ability when it came to reverse parking. And I never got around to writing
a song with the words 'Super Disco Momma' in the title, which leaves me feeling strangely
dissatisfied. Then again, to the best of my knowledge REM are yet to write such a song and don't
seem to be the poorer for it.
       Ambition is such a dangerous thing. Particularly when it's misplaced. To be ambitious is
quite acceptable , when you have some chance of actually realising that ambition. When you have
ambition but no prospect of realisation, a strange transformation takes place whereby you are no
longer ambitious but simply deluded. No longer are you on the cusp of greatness so much as on the
cusp of having to collect cans for a living.
       It's fair to say that no-one ever deliberately sets out to become, for example, an ageing
rocker; still convinced in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that leather trousers are a
genuinely good idea. That despite little to no traceable amount talent, having a true belief that the
world might at any given moment capitulate to the breath of your musical genius. Notwithstanding




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the fact of encroaching baldness of the cruellest and most unusual sort and the best song in the
repertoire being a humorous rendition of Barbara Streisand's 'I Am A Woman In Love'.
         Worse still are those people who seek to unsettle middle-age by referring to themselves as
'poets'. Such people convince themselves they have some major insight into the human condition
and inevitably spell their names in lower case only (E-mail seems to have encouraged this. Either
that or k d lang). These are the same people who willingly cast off the moral shackles and attribute
any and all their morally reprehensible behaviour as being for 'poetic' reasons. They probably also
take an unhealthy interest in community radio, but that's another story altogether.
         All in all, I have much to look forward to.
         This weekend, I'll probably try and do some writing. And although I promise not to spell
my name in lower case, I have every intention of slipping the words: 'Super Disco Momma' into the
title.




                                         The Code of Odour.


         It used to be that I only ever had cause to catch a taxi when I was coming back from
somewhere late at night, tired and, inevitably, emotional. Under such circumstances, no one seems
quite as important as the person who's about to take you to that most important of places, namely
home. Since that time, and in the full grip of sobriety, I have caught many more taxi-cabs, which
has cause them to slip greatly in my estimation.
         This can be attributed primarily to one factor and one factor alone and sadly, there's no nice
way to put this. Odour. I should make it clear from the beginning that driving a taxi is without
doubt a difficult job.     You have to deal with all sorts of suspicious, drunken types, who
incoherently babble about the need for fast food, and when you do stop so that they can satisfy their
impaired appetite, they have the nerve to return to the car and throw upon all that they have so
recently consumed, but I only did that once and have sincerely apologised since. However, through
a conspiracy of condition and circumstance, there are some drivers whose hygiene can perhaps
kindly be described as 'experimental'.




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       Last week, I found myself stranded in the suburbs and duly ordered a taxi. When it arrived,
I got in without fear or hesitation only to find myself confronted with an odour that could fairly be
classified as a war crime. I'm sure my abject horror must have been obvious to the driver, but he
didn't say anything. Certainly, the sight of me winding down the window and sticking my head out
into the air much in the fashion championed by dogs the world over should have given him a clue.
       I contemplated whether or not I should ask the driver to stop so that I could get out, but I
couldn't think of a way to tell him why I needed to catch another cab without employing so blunt an
expression as 'you smell.' For those of you who weren't there which, in this case, is all of you, it's
probably hard to imagine just how offensive this scent was, but I can assure you that nothing short
of a priest with a considerable supply of holy water stood a chance of removing it.
       In Melbourne, taxi drivers are required to wear uniforms. This should be taken further, by
making sure that drivers smell if not good, then certainly not as though something has long ago
died in their vehicle. A Code of Odour should be instituted to protect the reputation of taxi services
and the unsuspecting public alike. Only in this way will people feel truly safe. Each taxi will come
equipped with stickers outlawing not only smoking and drinking but poor hygiene also. Perhaps a
nose inside a red circle and line through it would do the trick.
       Please feel free to affirm your support for the introduction of a Code of Odour. I know I
can count upon support from you all.




                                              The Choir.


       In 1986, my musical career received a considerable boost when I was hand picked to sing in
a specially assembled choir. The occasion was the official opening of a new part of the school,
which was to be attended by local dignitaries including members of parliament, people of
commerce and a man whose only apparent claim to fame was that he streaked during a one-day
international cricket match in 1979.
       Needless to say, rehearsals were tense. My brother Cam was also chosen and, like me, took
the whole thing very seriously indeed. At that time, I had no idea that my own brother had long
harboured show-biz ambitions of his own. To him, the chance to perform in front of the entire




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school, all parents and sundry hangers-on provided him his first real opportunity to strut his stuff.
So far as he was concerned, if he could put on a good enough show, the sky was the limit. Today
Tyabb. Tomorrow Frankston. Who knows ? Maybe even Young Talent Time.
       The big day arrived and the ceremony began. I'd like to tell you that it was sparkling
entertainment from start to finish; but as we all know, school ceremonies are all deliberately
designed to drain you of your will to live, and this was no exception. Finally, our big moment
arrived and our small but highly trained choir stood up to sing.
       The first verse was happily incident free, but what I and the rest of the choir did not realise
was that Cam had written a verse of his own, with the view to giving himself a solo. Imagine our
surprise when he stepped forward and proceeded to sing. I wouldn't say I exactly panicked at this,
but when the opening line of his self-penned verse was: "There once was a man from Nantucket", I
would say that I was understandably concerned.
       Sadly, the rest of the choir simply dissolved into hysterics and the song was ruined. This
was later described by the principal as the biggest disgrace to face the school in living memory
(worse even than the time Cam turned up to school wearing pyjamas; in an apparent challenge to
the schools strict uniform code). At the time I was dreadfully ashamed, but now I wish I had those
words on a certificate somewhere.
       Last night, my brother and I went out for dinner. At one stage an elderly gentleman got up
and performed a song in front of everyone. This was generally applauded, with the real ovation
occurring when security staff ejected him forcibly. With the microphone now vacant, I saw that
Cam looked slightly uneasy. I'd like to think he was debating whether or not to get up and perform
the forgotten verse for those assembled. That's what I'd like to think, at any rate.
       However, I didn't push the matter, firmly believing that some things are left unsaid. Or
unsung.




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                                                Science.


       In age of scientific scrutiny, there's little left as mystery.      Most things are subject to
meticulous and demystifying explanation.         Frankly, I see little point to this obsession with
explanation. However, it may well be this very mind-set that explains my, frankly, appalling
examination results during the period I was student. I hesitate to use the term 'academic career', as
it seems to be a stretch of even the most dexterous of imaginations to describe five years of long
hair, appalling dress sense and an amount of alcohol consumption that could be modestly referred
to as 'volumous', as a career, especially. That is, unless you happen to work within the public
service and those things form an entire career path.
       The point I was trying to make before I managed to confuse myself was that there exists no
reasonable explanation as to why beanbags are so comfortable. Insultingly simple and formless,
these pockets of pleasure      shape themselves effortlessly to the demands of the human form.
Certainly, there are moments when I think of myself much in that way but I am, without doubt, a
good deal less comfortable to sit on.
       To this day, I think Pete still retires to the beanbag after dinner. For reasons I've never quite
understood, in Tyabb, people don't adjourn to a room, but to a different piece of furniture.
Ostensibly, Pete does this to watch television but in truth and within twenty to thirty seconds, he
falls asleep. So much so, that I don't think he's ever seen the end credits to a television programme
in his entire life. Quite frankly, I fear the day when he encounters closing credits for the first time
and I, or one of my brothers and sisters, have to explain the concept to him.
       Sadly, this trait has been passed on to the next generation. Both Cam and I are especially
good at falling asleep in beanbags. I almost consider it to be a brown velour form of narcolepsy.
And it's scary to think of all the television programs I've never seen as a result.
       During high school, there was always somebody who claimed that knowledge was best
retained while asleep. To this end, they would create study tapes to listen to as they tried to
descend into slumber. If there's any truth at all to this, I hate to think of all the infomercials I've
unwittingly absorbed as a result of beanbag induced sleep. A remembrance of things past my
bedtime, if you will. Although, it would go some way to explaining my obsession with the Super
Thighblaster and complimentary instructional video available for the one low price of $49.95.




                                                                                                     93
       Finally, it's often said that you grow to become like the thing you love and I think that's kind
of true. Which is why so many people grow to resemble beanbags over time. Put a little weight on
around the middle and suddenly you become living room furniture made flesh. For those of you
kind enough to have taken an interest in my 'Obesity 2000' campaign, through which I hope to be
able to wrestle for my country at the Sydney Olympics, I look forward to the day that people
consider me to be little more than a beanbag on legs.
       Tonight, I'll go home and inevitably fall asleep on my beanbag, only wake hours later,
disoriented and confused before crawling off to bed. And I'd not have it any other way.




                                            The T-Shirt.


       The issue of responsibility is one that's often saddled upon you from a young age. For
example, Pete always pressed upon us the importance of performing chores and the like. But, as
with all families, there are areas of your development for which the parents assume full
responsibility.
       My brothers and sisters and I did not get to choose our own clothes. This was a task
undertaken by our parents who kindly decided to dress us identically. Because there were five of
us, and most of us had blond hair, it meant that we were often mistaken for cult members by the
general public. It was for this reason, perhaps more than any other, that my Fifth Grade teacher,
Ms Shugg, attempted to perform an intervention on me, complete with deprogramming.
       While we were not responsible for what we wore, our parents were certainly responsible for
their own attire. And if clothes maketh the man, what would you make of a man who wore a t-shirt
with the words 'WHAM: THE BIG TOUR' emblazoned upon it? Pete once had a friend from work
who had access to various band tour t-shirts at a low price. And once in a while, Pete would come
home with an armful of tour t-shirts with a view to giving them to myself and sundry siblings. One
night, he appeared home with a t-shirt which was deep blue and simply said 'WHAM' on the front.
(Please remember, that this was long before George Michael got busted searching for his lottery
ticket in California) On the back in, unsurprisingly, very large print were the words: 'THE BIG
TOUR'.




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       The t-shirt was offered to me, but I politely declined. It was then offered to my brother who
declined, but perhaps not quite so politely. Taken aback, Pete then vowed to wear that t-shirt from
that day onwards. And so he did. From that day in 1986, he did exactly that. Whenever he went
down the street or was around the house, the words: 'WHAM' and 'THE BIG TOUR' surrounded
him.
       A little time later, we were taken to a place called Glen Crommie for Easter Holidays. We
stayed at some caravan park and for the most part, watched the inevitable rain come tumbling
down. When the rain did stop, Pete grabbed the football and my brothers and I and charged
outside. Soon enough, of course, the ball was waterlogged and quite leaden so that when you took a
mark it felt like you were catching a small car rather than a piece of sporting equipment. Not that
this deterred Pete.
       He lined up and kicked the best drop punt he could, given he was wearing gumboots at the
time, and watched it take flight. The ball sailed over our heads and slammed into someone's
caravan, leaving a sizeable dent. Cam and I were horrified at this, and turned around to see what
Pete wanted to do. Spinning around, we were confronted by the words 'THE BIG TOUR' growing
rapidly smaller in the distance as Pete beat a hasty retreat.
       An angry caravan owner emerged to find two greatly distressed young boys identically
dressed and not sure what to do.




                                            The Validator.


       My name is Stuart McCullough, and I validate my tram tickets.
       So odd that such a simple act should give rise to cause for derision. It's the ticketing
equivalent of wearing long socks with shorts or starching your shirt collar. Sadly, I do those too.
Never before has the world been so sharply divided into two such distinct classes. You are either a
validator or you are a non-validator.
       Falling into the former category as I so obviously do, I'd like to think this entitles me to a
certain amount of assumed trust and integrity. For example, when exiting a store I'd like to think
there is no need to check my bags for shoplifted items as shoplifting is not something that a




                                                                                                   95
validator would ever do. Similarly, at airports, the whole customs procedure would be something
that validators need not endure. As for walking through a metal detector; clearly unnecessary.
         Validating your tram ticket not only makes sure that our esteemed public transport system
works as it ought to, it makes you grow as a person into a better and more worthwhile human
being. That's the kind of world that I, for one, want to live in. The kind where compliant masses do
precisely what they're told, without fail and without question. Where kids and old people can roam
safely on the streets of a night time without fear of attack. Where the recording output of Celine
Dion is relegated to the ignominy of the bargain bin due to mass indifference.
         It is obvious to me that all authoritative attention ought to be focused solely upon that other
type of person: the non-validator. Non-validators by their very nature are tram robbing, waste
dumping, peace hating, seal clubbing ingrates incapable of acknowledging any form of moral code
whatsoever, or at least, that's what it says on the back of my tram ticket. And although that might
not be true, it should be assumed that it is. And if that means the occasional cavity search, then so
be it.
         I'm off now into town for work. I'll probably catch a taxi to do so. No doubt I'll fill in my
Cab Charge fully and to the best of my ability. I am, after all, a validator.




                 The Case Against Validating (As Presented By Casey Bennetto)


         Rare is the occasion that I feel affronted by and thus need to respond to your generally
charming and amusing Friday missives. Alright, so I reply with some irritating pedanticism or
triviality every second week, but that's not the point. This is serious. You have dared to impugn
those of us making what I like to refer to as a "social protest" or a "courageous stand of civic
disobedience", or even, according to my mother, an "enormous rationalisation". By equating non-
validation with the Dark Side of the Force (Quicker. Easier. More seductive.) you miss the point of
this collective protest entirely.
         The truth of it is that those of us on the non-law-abiding side of the validation gap are just
as confused, just as hurt, just as alone. Do not reduce us to a stereotype! There are a million stories
in the naked Zone 1 Two Hour Concession! For instance, my major grievance is not with the loss of




                                                                                                      96
conductors (when told that conductors were to be replaced with inert, lifeless lumps that didn't offer
assistance to passengers but instead sat in the corner not working most of the time, I echoed
Dorothy Parker's famous comment on the death of Calvin Coolidge: "How could anybody tell?")
but with the corresponding decline in the fine art of fare evasion.
        It's alright for these newfangled non-validators, jumping aboard the gravy tram with yelps
of delight, but we veterans can but look on sadly, shaking our heads. Time was that avoiding a
ticket purchase meant concentrating furiously on your novel or on some unspecified point outside
the tram while the conductor sidled past. It took determination not to crack, not to look up from the
book even when he was about to tap you on the shoulder, or became so familiar with your evasion
tactics that he called your christian name in the hope of distracting you.
        More intricate still was the "short-trip-non-ticket", lurking at the non-conductor end of the
tram only to exit and change ends outside the tram as he approached. This was high-maintenance,
and couldn't be kept up for long, but what a glorious manoeuvre!
        The cream of the crop - very rarely executed by yours truly owing to a chronic shortage of
material - was the oh-I-only-want-a-two-hour-ticket-and-I've-only-got-a-$100-note routine.           If
executed with the appropriate amount of pathos, you could get four people riding for free on one
plea.
        There were plenty of others, most relating to train travel – the I-got-on-at-a-Zone-1-Station,
the I-didn't-get-a-chance-to-get-a-ticket-the-train-came-too-soon, many others, all respectable, all
time-honoured, almost all gone.
        Now that any bozo and his dog can get on a tram and ride for free (and you only have to
stumble toward the machine when an inspector boards), where are the youth of Melbourne to
channel their creativity? To see such an institution of devious and innovative thought relegated to
the wayside.... Macchiavelli would weep, if he weren't already running the state.
        By the way, I went to France in '97, and I couldn't find the Paris end of Collins St at all. (I
was going to catch a number 12 back home, saving approximately $1,198.80.)




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                                           Self Sufficiency.


       Humankind has often strived towards self sufficiency. There's something particularly
satisfying about being able to meet your own needs survival-wise. Something very basic and
fulfilling about carving a small niche for yourself in the greater food chain. In theory at least.
       Growing your own vegetables in Tyabb, or at least attempting to, was pretty much
mandatory. Great shame was attached to anyone who had to buy their own tomatoes a nd those who
couldn't grow a decent strawberry were considered next to useless. Naturally, as we were a large
family, we had a sizeable vegetable patch. At least, that's what we called it. A more accurate
description might be a gouged-out patch of scorched earth which periodically spat forth a strangled
looking object which may or may not have been edible. Needless to say, Pete's thumb was seldom
described as 'green'.
       Produce from our vegetable patch ranged from disgusting, to mysterious, to downright
horrifying (particularly vivid is the recollection of corn cobs on which the kernels of corn were
about as intermittent as a boxer's teeth), however, there were some exceptions. While various crops
failed (or were unrecognisable), the occasional one flourished. Most notably, broad beans.
Although broad beans were universally despised by myself, my brothers, my sisters and almost
anyone we came into contact with, they were frequently cooked and served with the unreasonable
expectation that they would be eaten. Merely because they could be grown.
       The other notable exception to Pete's gardening kiss of death, was silverbeet. Silverbeet
grew with weed-like exuberance and was a frequent visitor to the dinner table. Not that I have
anything against silverbeet, as such. It was more the way in which it was served. It was cooked in a
manner that might best be described as 'al dirte'. That is to say that the rinsing process prior to
cooking was not all that it could have been. As a result, eating silverbeet was an excursion into the
unknown, which may at any moment reveal an unexpected clod of earth or a variety of bugs and
insects. Pete would then insist that these surprises were 'fibre', or something equally useful. Cam
took to warning unsuspecting vegetarians that they couldn't rely on the silverbeet to be entirely
meat free.




                                                                                                     98
       Where I live now, most people just buy their vegetables, unaware that there's any other way
of doing things. Which is almost a shame. Occasionally, I'll get a touch nostalgic and sprinkle a
small handful of dirt over my dinner to give myself a small sense of self sufficiency.




                                           Project Obesity.


       Each new year needs a target or a focus. Some small ambition that fuels you as the calendar
so inevitably runs its course. This year, it is my solemn ambition to gain a significant amount of
weight. I have named this challenge 'Obesity 2000'. It is my sole desire to gain enough weight so
that I might wrestle for my country in the year 2000.
       Not that this is a lonely endeavour, especially. Cam, who is always eager to accept a
challenge, has decided to join me. Together we plan to gain enough weight to wrestle as a team at
the Sydney Olympics. As a means of throwing down the gauntlet, Cam has purchased 2 pairs of
wrestling trunks. We now simply have to fill them.
       Not that the challenge is off to a particularly auspicious start. Even after Christmas, I don't
seem to have had success in attracting anything resembling weight gain. While others attract kilos
like so many Christmas cards, I have remained impregnable. A veritable fortress of thinitude (not
really, a word, I realise, but I'll use it all the same), I have remained almost completely two
dimensional. Which is quite frustrating, really.
       To this day, I'm still haunted by the fact that in my high school class photos, I was the only
member of my class who had to be coloured in. Even today, when collecting photos from the
Chemist, I have to endure the words, 'digitally enhanced'. Nor is it much joy to be the only person
in your workplace to have a WorldVision sponsor, no matter how pleasant the occasional
correspondence. In short, it's just as bad being too thin as it is being not thin enough.
       I look forward to standing atop the dais with my brother when the anthem goes up, and we
collect our medals. We shall stand there proud and round with the ribbon stretched tight across our
broad and enormous necks. That's what I wish would happen, at any rate. In all likelihood, I'll have
to fend of yet another approach from some weight loss clinic to pose in one of those of-so-
convincing 'after' photos, they like so much.




                                                                                                    99
                                              The Swede.


       Now that the Yuletide is safely out, it's time to relay the events of last December 25. I
travelled down to my brother's house in Mt Eliza to do all the traditional family things, such as
open presents, eat food and receive a thrashing on the tennis court from my nine-year old cousin.
The afternoon was spent chatting and watching the Wiggles video many times over, much to the
delight of my nephew. After all these things were done and the dishes stacked in an orderly pile in
the corner, my brother proposed that we go out and have a quiet evening.
       Those were his exact words. And there was something about hearing those words together
that was greatly appealing. Soothed by their pairing, I agreed without giving the matter too much
thought. After waiting a half hour or so, a taxi arrived and we set off.
       Eight hours or so later, and I'm standing on the edge of a dancefloor in Frankston in the kind
of sink hole expressly outlawed by the Geneva convention. Where most of the patrons are covered
in tattoos and unthinkable piercings. More than that, the tattoos are mostly in uncomfortable places
like the hands, the face or the neck, alerting me to the fact that they probably have a higher pain
thresh-hold than I do. Needless to say, I am quite 'polite' at the bar.
       I watched my brother as he carved up the dance floor, doing what can only be described as a
drunken variation on the 'Wiggledance', exhorting all comers to join him as he summoned up the
ghosts of Wags the Dog and Dorothy the Dinosaur. Most decline the invitation. Even after the
music stops at 3am, Cam continues dancing. After being persuaded by the bar staff, the entire
security team and several members of the local police force that it was time to go home, Cam set
down his drink and headed for the door. Once outside, he began suggesting that he might like to
stay up and see the sunrise, but deprived of further alcohol , his energy began to escape him like air
from a punctured tyre, until he could only mutter one word: 'souvlaki'.
       Tired and hungry, Cam set of in search of food, while I waited with what seemed like an
entire sheltered workshop at the taxi-rank. In retrospect, it strikes just how well suited those words
are to each other.




                                                                                                   100
          After a while, Cam returned with a stranger who turned out to be a bearded Swedish tourist
also in search of food. The tourist, whose name I either don't remember or didn't understand to
begin with, had already been arrested that day while hitching a ride in a stolen car. Cam and the
tourist were deep in conversation, and when it came time for us to catch a taxi, the Swedish guy
was quick to avail himself of the back seat.
          "We're not going in your direction!" insisted Cam.
          But the Swedish guy responded by simply pointing at his stomach to indicate his hunger.
About ten minutes out of Frankston, (which, frankly, might as well be the other side of the moon)
we stopped at a service station in the middle of nowhere. We all went inside to get food, with Cam
and I returning to the taxi first. As soon as the doors closed, Cam swung around and yelled to the
taxi driver: 'Go!'
          Confused by this sudden and blunt directive, the taxi driver pointed out that the Swedish
guy hadn't returned. Cam turned and looked our driver straight in the eye: 'I said 'drive'.' And with
that, the engine started, and a startled Swedish tourist turned around in horror. Slumped in the back
seat, but still in a state of shock nonetheless, I managed only '!' and '?', neither of which I expressed
as words but rather as contorted facial expressions. As the taxi wheels screeched, my brother
wound down the window and yelled: 'Merry Christmas and welcome to Australia!'
          I watched as the figure of the tourist disappeared in the distance, standing at that lonely
service station in the middle of nowhere.
          Needless to say, neither Cam or myself are planning any trips to Sweden in the immediate
future.




                                               The Fire.


          It would be no exaggeration to say that the words "That still looks all right" will probably
haunt to my grave and quite possibly beyond it. In fact, those are the words that are likely to send
me to my grave, more than anything else. To give you some idea of what I mean, these are the
words often uttered as various items that might have once been described as 'food' are removed




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from the family pantry. Of greater concern is the fact that the words "That still looks all right" are
usually followed by the words "You can still eat it".
        I would have been eighteen years old before I ate something that hadn't exceeded its use-by
date. Pete insisted that expiration dates were merely a guide, and going by vast amount of time that
often lay between expiration and consumption, not a very serious one at that. Accordingly, it was
duly instilled in each of his progeny that the obvious is irrelevant.
        It is perhaps for this reason that Pete persists in using Preen unstainer to 'starch' his shirts.
This is in spite of the fact that the tin says 'unstainer' rather than 'starch' or the fact that the collars
of his shirts remain as limp as they were prior to the procedure.
        Other words of relevance that appear on the tin beneath both 'Preen' and 'unstainer' would
have to be the words 'highly' and 'flammable'. It is perhaps unfortunate that that all ironing at
Tyabb is performed in front of the fireplace, with an easy view to the television. As I've mentioned
previously, Pete tends to be a highly ineffective ironer, waving, as he does, the iron over the
clothing as if he were waving a wand over the top of a black hat. The results, however, tend to be
slightly short of magic.
        On the day in question, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. Perhaps it was
because Pete rested the iron on his shirt for a touch too long. Perhaps he sprayed too much of what
he insisted was starch but what the we, the product and indeed the world at large would call
'unstainer'. Or perhaps it was because he insisted on using a highly flammable substance in front of
the fireplace in order to get a better view of the football replay. Whatever the case, the tranquillity
so common to Tyabb was shattered by a massive fireball and an extremely surprised exclamation of
'Bugger it!'
        Reeling from the blast, both the family dog, Nelson and my youngest brother, Lachlan did
the sensible thing and took off for the bush. Undeterred by any reasonable sense of mortal danger,
Pete stood his ground and battled the flames by waving the burning shirt above his head much in
the manner pioneered by Kevin Sheedy. This was accompanied by numerous cries of 'Bugger it!'
        Eventually, the flames were extinguished and structural damage to the house was minimal.
After a couple of days, Nelson crawled out of the bush and back to the house. We're all hopeful
that Lachlan will do the same any day now.




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       Happily, the shirt survived its trial by fire and he regularly wears it to work. This is in spite
of the fact that the collar is scorched right through to the cardboard and that the left sleeve is
missing entirely. But as Pete sees it, if you wear a jumper over the top, you'd barely notice
anything was wrong.
       I would greatly appreciate it if when next you see me wear a jumper that you have the
kindness not to comment.


       Note: Thanks to Cam for helping me to write this. Some of the more gruesome details in
particular are attributable to him.




                                            Wangaratta.


       For the first time in six months, I had to drive a car. Not much of a car, coming as it did
only up to my knees, but a car nevertheless. The occasion was a trip to Wangaratta, which was
well beyond the jurisdictional bounds of my Zone 1 Weekly ticket. A car was duly organised and I
made the required trip to 'the yard' to pick it up. I was greeted by two attendants, both of which had
numerous facial piercings and whose names may well have been 'Beavis' and/or 'Butthead'. These
piercings seemed not so much like decorations as remnants of some horrible accident.
       Nevertheless, I was shown to my car, only to discover that I would be driving the Shetland
pony of the automotive industry. Squeezing myself in, I nervously started the engine. Brilliantly, I
then proceeded to try and put it into gear without the sizeable inconvenience of using the clutch.
Inevitably, the engine made an horrific grating sound as though undergoing some mechanical
exorcism, as I tried to deduce why it would not go into gear. At this point, the metalled faces of the
yard attendants twitched in disbelief. I then tried the process again using the clutch, and had a good
deal more success.
       With a confident wave that belied my anxiety, I then moved forward and out into the traffic.
       The first thing that struck me was that the speed limit seemed completely optional, which
made me extremely uncomfortable. The second thing was that when you leave Melbourne, you are




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continuously told how far it is to the town Seymour, as if you might genuinely enjoy going there,
which seemed to be a rather large assumption.
       Also, when I had collected the car, I had taken great care to explain that I was going to
Wangaratta and that I would need a map. Beavis (or Butthead, I really couldn't say) supplied me
with something that wasn't quite a Melways but certainly looked mappish enough to the untrained
eye. However, I soon discovered that the map covered only the Metropolitan area of Melbourne,
which meant that I had to find my way to Wangaratta relying purely on anecdote. I recalled
something about the Hume Highway, however my confidence was somewhat shaken by the fact
that none of the road signs took the trouble to mention Wangaratta. It was not until Euroa that there
was any mention at all of my destination, meaning that the first 150 kilometres of my trip were
along a road that I believed might have been the wrong one altogether.
       With that small but significant detail clarified, I continued on towards Wangaratta. I had
earlier been told (another anecdote) that the turnoff to Wangaratta was marked by a large
McDonalds, which indeed it was. Ostensibly in the middle of nowhere, the last frontier of fast food
sat like some temple to tempt in weary travellers. And in spite of the fact it was squarely in the
middle of nowhere, on a patch of earth that barely looked as though it could sustain human life at
all, let alone a restaurant, it appeared to be completely full. I could not help but think of the words,
"If you build it, they will come".
       Although I had no map, I got user friendly directions from a shopkeeper and duly found
where I was going. The trip back was without any real event, except for the part at the end where I
got lost on the Western Ring Road but I'll spare you the details of that. And having not driven for
so long, though, I found that the muscle at the top of my foot that controls the accelerator was
extremely sore.   As though my driving muscle was massively unfit, which I dare say it was.
       The attendants with BHP's best imbedded in their respective facial tissue eagerly took
possession of the keys as I hobbled away towards the nearest tram stop.




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                                          Lawn Mower Man.


       Legend has it that when country singer George Jones was refused the keys to his car by his
wife because she thought him too drunk to drive, George took the ride-on lawnmower instead, all
the way down to the local drive-through bottleshop.
       In Tyabb we had twenty-something acres. All of which Pete believed required mowing on a
regular basis.
       And nothing on this earth can fill you with a greater sense of freedom and overall well
being than to feel the cool breeze against your face, not to mention the rain or the hail, as you sit
astride the ride-on lawn mower. To be honest, I consider the mower to be my first car. It was lime
green and had a top speed of about eight kilometres per hour with five different speeds as well as
reverse. Not only that, but the steel blades underneath its belly could give the grass a proper going
over and could also destroy the occasional rogue tennis ball in spectacular and explosive fashion.
       Needless to say, I felt quite comfortable behind the wheel.
       In retrospect, I spent most of my time between the ages of nine and eighteen sitting on the
mower, in fair weather and in foul. Indeed, it could be raining almost horizontally and Pete would
look wistfully beyond the bay windows and suggest that the lawn could do with a mow. As bad as
this may sound, it provided ample time for sombre contemplation, as I wheeled about at eight
kilometres per hour, mowing down all that lay before me, and terrorising slow moving family pets
and siblings alike.
       At eighteen, I graduated to a car, and the rest is controversial automotive history. The car
was not unlike the mower, except that it had a roof and the engine wasn't so powerful. However,
that car didn't last that long. It dissolved like so much salt until all that was left was a silhouette of
a car that I sold for the sum of $150.00. And although I haven't had a car for some period of time, I
have thought about buying a mower as my next vehicle. It's my view that if you travel too much
faster than eight kilometres an hour, you‟re in great danger of missing all that's interesting.
       Not long after I graduated to a car, the lawn mower exploded. The engine shattered in such
a manner that it resembled a tennis ball after the blades had got to it, much to the surprise of my
brother who was sitting on it at the time. It now sits abandoned in the yard, surrounded by high
grass, looking to all the world as though the lawn has finally taken its oppressor captive.




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                                             Bed Socks.


        I suppose there is no greater testament to a life's work than leaving behind a true piece of
art. Michelangelo left his David, Beethoven left us the Ninth Symphony and my Great Aunt
Margaret left bed-socks.
        For those of you not familiar with my Aunt Margaret, she was my elderly Irish aunt famous
for having a fear of driving that exceeds even my own. She is fondly remembered not least for the
fact that she once jumped from a moving car upon an apprehension that it might stall. Bed-socks,
put simply, were her life's passion. Upon being born, every member of my immediate family was
duly knitted and presented with a pair. The sheer industry involved in this work, as her famous
knitting needles of fury churned out one pair after the other, was something that resembled a small
cyclone of wool and needles. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the bed-sock, they
are made of wool, are inevitably brown and are drawn at the top to stop them from falling off your
feet.
        The sound of the knitting needles always suggested some strange type of Morse code, as
though the act of creation itself was sending out some kind of message. Who would have ever
thought that the very invention of the bed sock was mostly a matter of accident? You see, years
ago when Pete was born, Margaret decided that she should attempt to knit a jumper.              After
considerable effort and no small amount of consternation, the jumper never materialised, but the
bed-socks did.
        However, the existence of bed-socks always suggested to me the possibility of bed-shoes. I
had always meant to mention this to Margaret, but couldn't think of a way to bring the subject up
without it seeming unnecessarily personal. My brother Cam makes the point that, despite how
much he loved his bed socks, there is always an argument as to there being no need for a foot
covering whose sole purpose is confined to bed. Those of you familiar with the film 'This is Spinal
Tap' may recall the long-haired anti-hero, Nigel Tufnell having to defend his right to have a guitar
amplifier that goes to eleven on the basis that it is 'one' louder than normal. Of Margaret's art, I'm
afraid much the same can be said:




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       "Look these socks are made especially for wearing to bed"
       "But why don't you just get normal socks and wear those to bed?"
       "(long pause)......................But these are bed socks."
       Sadly, a slate floor does horrible things to socks, be they for bed or any other purpose. And
I'm not sure that a single pair of her great woollen masterpiece survives. Certainly Margaret herself
has long since passed away and her knitting needles have been silent ever since.           But it is
impossible not to be reminded of the legend of her life's work, especially at this time of year when
your feet inevitably suffer from the cold.
       Oscar Wilde once wrote that 'All art is quite useless'. However, if he'd had a pair of bed-
socks, I'm quite sure he would have reached a different conclusion altogether.




                                                    Beef.


       In the midst of a small culinary storm, I had cause to resort to using beef stock. Said stock
was in powdered form with a picture of a cow on the front to usefully remind you what it used to
look like, although I‟m not sure whether this means that each 100 gram container represents an
entire cow, as such.    At the very top of the container were the words 'all natural'. This, to me,
seemed extraordinarily unlikely. The very thought that what was once a fully functioning example
of bovine glory could be reduced to mere powder form, appears both bizarre and possibly a little
sad. You see, I've seen quite a few cows in my time, none of which could be said to resemble the
residue inside that small container.
       What would impress me more would be if the packaging claimed to be 'all natural' with
'easy to assemble instructions'. The picture on the front could serve as a guide. Putting the cow
together from those thousands of particles would be just the same as any product purchased from
IKEA, but not quite as difficult.
       And although pondering the deeper meaning of a stock container sounds like a full
evening's entertainment, I then had cause to move onto the heady and controversial realm of kidney
beans. The label on the tin displayed a picture of the beans on a spoon. Above the picture




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appeared the words: 'serving suggestion'. Sadly, using a spoon was probably the one serving
suggestion I might have arrived at under my own intuition.
            Nevertheless, at least the kidney beans can be said to be refreshingly modest, a claim which
does not extend to 'Kava Stress Caps'. The brochure I picked up at the pharmacy claimed that these
small capsules relaxed the mind and the body. More alarmingly, it claimed that Kava 'is a potent
muscle relaxant'. It is not unfair to say that in the interests of all right thinking people, that there
are certain muscles that simply should not be relaxed. How does the Kava know which muscles to
relax, and which ones to leave well enough alone? I suspect that most people would had to
inadvertently pop a Kava stress cap or two only to find their head leaning to one side all day as the
Pacific's most ancient relaxant goes to work on the neck muscles.
            Given that I was at the Pharmacy to have my photo taken, I was certainly nervous enough to
be in the market for something that could cure anxiety. Understandably, I asked whether or not
anyone had ever overdosed on stress capsules. Whether, in fact, Elvis was not dead at all, but
rather, extraordinarily relaxed. As the shop assistant fixed me with a stare that was the perfect
blend of both revulsion and pure incomprehension, I suddenly felt strangely more stressed than
ever before.
            I should also say, that as of two minutes ago I took several Kava Stress Caps. Even as I
write, I can say that I am beginning to feel 'unusual'. My hand ... is ................weakening...... I feel
....................


Note: The brochure also claimed that Kava 'does not impair mental reasoning or alertness', but it
probably helps to be that way at the time of purchase.




                                                   Run.


            April 18, 1997. This day marks the last time I ran. I remember it clearly. We had just
finished belatedly celebrating my youngest brother's birthday with a large lunch when my other
brother declared that it had been years since he had ridden a motorbike. With this sudden and
unexpected declaration, he stood up and headed towards the shed, home to the family motorcycle.




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This particular motorbike was bright red and had three wheels rather than the standard two and
years earlier, my siblings and I had ridden it over every inch of paddock.
        Cam's nostalgia for the bike was understandable. As kids, we had constructed a track that
ran around the back paddock. Stupidly, with the aid of a standard stop-watch we conducted time
trials in which Cam quickly asserted his superiority. This probably had something to do with his
terrific riding skill. It certainly had much to do with my refusal to use anything other than first
gear. We even had matching helmets, mine being silver and Cam's being blue, although he tended
to take his off when he wasn't riding. He certainly didn't wear his helmet to the dinner table or to
school; habits which I was to find a considerable disadvantage, even through University. However,
I digress.
        One this particular occasion, Cam rode sans helmet. As Lachlan and I stood at the top of
the hill, we watched as our brother recaptured the speed of youth as he raced across the paddock.
We watched as the motor bike cut through the long grass. We watched as the front wheel lurched
unexpectedly into a ditch, causing the entire contraption to cartwheel dramatically on top of him.
Blinking away my disbelief, my legs started to do something quite unusual. They began to move
up and down in quick succession and before I knew it, I found myself running. Even more
surprising, I found myself running towards the accident rather than away from it.
        Upon arriving at the scene, an ashen looking Cam was sitting up with his collar resembling
a wish bone sometime after the wish had been made. Insisting he was all right he claimed that he
would ride the bike back up to the house. This, however, proved quite impractical when his arm
wouldn't work. When we did get up to the house, we quickly got Cam into a car and on the way to
the Hospital. Apparently as the car sped up the driveway with my injured brother inside, Pete had
the presence of mind to ask those that remained whether they 'still wanted dessert'.
        Cam spent four hours in Casualty. We sat and talked for most of that time, in between
guessing at what might be wrong with other people who were waiting. Most remarkable of all was
the dozen or so children all of whom presumably belonged to injured parents, gathered around a
television. As the night wore on, the program viewing became less and less suitable until a group
of under eights found themselves watching with eyes glazed in disbelief at the film 'Goodfellas',
much to our amusement.




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        After all that waiting, my brother was given a sling and some painkillers. Even today, his
collar bone protrudes a bit and he claims that it tingles whenever a storm approaches. For my part,
all I can claim is that I still think I'm suffering a shortness of breath.




                                                  Adult.


        There are two small epiphanies that force you to realise that you are finally and officially an
adult. The first is when you realise that you really can't utilise the Adventure Playground at
McDonalds without a considerable risk of being arrested. The second is when you realise that you
should buy a house. The former was something that occurred to me following a number of
controversial and indeed violent encounters, the details of which I can't reveal for fear of further
prosecution. The latter has resulted in me exploring new and hitherto undiscovered parts of the
newspaper, as I endeavour to find a better place to live.
        Firstly, it has to be said that not being able to drive a car puts you at a significant
disadvantage as against everyone else in the property market. However, with a view to helping me
overcome this particular obstacle, my brother Cam arrived last Saturday morning. Eager to begin,
we decided to head north towards unexplored suburbs. While wrestling with a broad sheet that
happened to be the exact dimension of the windscreen, Cam asked where it was we were going. He
then optimistically requested directions. Perhaps foolishly, I assumed that someone who drove a
car might have a road directory. In contrast, Cam assumed that someone who didn't own a car and
who didn't drive would have one.
        When I explained to Cam that I was without a map, he quite unreasonably declared that he
didn't need one anyway. That, much like a water diviner, his broken collarbone would point the
way. He then followed this bold declaration with the words 'what street are we in now?' Sadly, we
were still parked outside my flat and it was at that point that a realised that a map would have to be
obtained.
        Years ago, Cam and I played in Tyabb's legendary art-rock supergroup 'The Pilchards'. I
hasten to add at this point that playing the occasional Friday night at the local roller rink is of itself
enough to ensure 'legend' status in Tyabb. Nevertheless, the bass player from the band, Marcus,




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who to this day is congratulated by strangers for having once struck me in the head with a guitar ,
these days lives in Brunswick and is known as the possessor of a Melways. With this is mind, we
arrived unannounced on his doorstep in need of direction. In what might be thought of as a slightly
sadder version of the Wizard of Oz, Marcus joined us as we set off in search of a suitable abode.
We then spent the day looking at all sorts of places, while meeting lots of bizarre and colourful
creatures, most of whom were real estate agents, along the way.
       Our demands were simple. All I required of a house was (a) a fireman's pole, (b) a storm
cellar and (c) a secret room hidden behind a bookcase. And although some houses had one or even
some of these things, none of them had all. More than that, I soon realised that I was unlikely to be
able to afford any house, unless it had the words 'this way up' printed on the side. Despite being
somewhat discouraged, as a reward for their assistance I took Cam and Marcus out to lunch. The
day might well have ended there had I not decided to take one more run through the Adventure
Playground.




                                               Koala.


       On the way back from the local Hospital where he had just worked a shift as a nurse, my
brother's friend Justin drove down Balnarring Beach Road, ready to go home and go straight to bed.
As he drove through the early evening, satisfied at a job well done, he was suddenly forced to apply
the brakes having noticed that there was a koala who had taken up residence in the middle of the
road. Unfortunately, he hadn't spotted the marsupial soon enough and the car hit it with an
unfortunate amount of force, causing it to roll some twenty metres or more before coming to a
dazed stop.
       Horrified at having hit a koala with his car, Justin immediately pulled over and tried to
decide what to do next. As a trained health professional, he though it best to see whether the
creature had sustained any obvious injuries. Not wishing to waste any time, Justin leapt out of his
vehicle and began to run along the road towards the stricken animal. As the koala emerged from
its groggy and dizzy state, it looked up and saw Justin running towards him. Having just been hit




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by the car this very person had been driving, it may well be that the koala believed that Justin was
intending to finish him off manually, having failed to do so with his vehicle.
       And so it was that as Justin raced to the aid of the injured animal, the koala in turn decided
to rush towards Justin. In fact, the koala not only ran towards Justin, but straight up his trousers
and shirt towards his face in full marsupial assault mode. Surprised not only at the fact of this
attack, but indeed, at its ferocity and savagery, Justin had no choice but to strike back. Now
punching the very koala he had been trying to save, Justin managed to push the beast free and
began to run back towards his car.
       Fearing that the creature might give chase, Justin did not so much as glance back. Even
upon arriving home, he got out of the car in a manner best described as „cautious‟, concerned that
the koala may well have attached itself to the bottom of the vehicle, much in the manner pioneered
by Robert Di Nero in the film „Cape Fear‟.
       My brother believes that Justin was lucky to escape with his life that day. He is perhaps
one of the few people whose nemesis happens to be a marsupial. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has
developed a deep mistrust of koalas generally, even those whose name begins with „Caramello‟.
And the very sight of a Wilderness Bear causes him to become strangely nervous.




                                             Existence.


       This week, I received a new nephew. His name is Jake and he tumbled into the world at a
healthy 3.82 kilograms, which, as it happens, is uncannily close to my own weight. (Sadly, my
plan to wrestle for my country at the Sydney Olympics seems destined to go unrealised).         Soon,
he'll get his own birth certificate which, if he follows my cue, he can have framed to give himself a
sense of achievement. Recently, however, I had cause to take my certificate out of its frame for the
purpose of obtaining a passport.
       For those of you clever enough not to let your passport slip into abeyance, I can say that
applying for a new one is about as pleasant as strangulating yourself with your own lower intestine.
       To obtain a new passport, the first thing required is a photo, which necessitates a trip to the
pharmacy. Unlike most other retail experiences, for the most part you only go to a pharmacy when




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you're unwell. At least, that's what my photo seems to suggest. Having lined up obediently while
the 12 year old shop assistant with pierced eyebrows, lips and possibly gums, aimed the camera in
my general direction, I was shown the end result. And although I don't recall requesting that she
make me look as much like a Colombian drug lord as possible, that was certainly the effect she
achieved.
       With photo, form and unframed birth certificate in hand, I stood in line at the post office to
be interviewed. By a twist of fate or perhaps a twist of something more likely to bring a tear to
your eye, I found myself standing in front of a woman in her mid to late forties. Obviously under a
life sentence as a postal worker, she had a ruddy complexion that made it look as though her skin
had been the strainer for every type of toxin known to humankind. The first thing I had done
wrong was write outside the lines. Apparently this is extremely wrong and, if my postal worker
had her way, punishable by death. The second thing I did wrong was write too faintly. When
asked whether I had an excuse for such weak-wristed penmanship, all I could do was shrug. And
when she asked me to prove my existence, I mistook this question for something far more
existential and offered Sartre's 'I think therefore I am'. I was later to find out that Sartre never held
an Australian Passport.
       Finally, she looked at my Colombian drug lord photo and commented that it was 'too far
away'. Tempted as I was to slide the photo further along the counter to make it seem less far away,
I resisted for fear that to do so might cause her to activate the burglar screen and thus, amputate my
hand. She called in her supervisor to adjudicate on the photo issue. Needless to say I was nervous.
       After intense questioning, I was released from the post office and just this week, my
passport arrived. It is currently hanging on my wall, next to my birth certificate.




                                                 Golf.


       It has often been said that golf is a good walk ruined. To me, golf is a single humiliating
experience spread out over 4 or 5 kilometres. Recently, I was invited to a corporate golf day.
Whatever the basis of the invitation, it certainly had nothing to do with my athletic ability. And
although I could pretend to be noble and claim that I declined purely out of concern for the safety




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of others, it is truer to say that my refusal owes more to one last desperate bid to retain a semblance
of dignity.
        Ten years ago, I strode up to the tee on the first hole for what would turn out to be the last
golf game of my adult life. With a sizeable crowd of onlookers watching on, I would coil myself
up in a bid to send my golf ball somewhere into the next dimension. Unravelling myself in a
tornado of limbs, I struck the ball perfectly and sent it soaring into space. At least, I thought I did.
However, upon opening my eyes I was confronted by the sight of a golf ball politely dribbling its
way up towards the 'ladies' tee. This was in stark contrast to the head of my golf club, which had
detached from the club itself and was taking flight. It was certainly travelling a lot further than the
ball.
        Amid the laughter of those looking on, I then had to make the decision as to continue
playing with the ball, which was located just at the end of my shoe, or the club head, which was a
good deal closer to the flag. Perhaps unwisely, I chose to use the ball, requiring that I strike out
from the ladies tee. Through further laughter and advice that might best be described as 'unhelpful',
I managed to get my ball onto the fairway. And although throwing your ball is far from a
conventional method, it was certainly effective.
        The next hole had a water hazard. After contemplating playing the entire course backwards
in order to better avoid the water, I succumbed to the inevitable and hit my ball right in the middle
of the lake. I then took another ball, and sent it straight in after it. And then I hit another and so on
until my one remaining golf ball suggested that I should perhaps move onto the next hole.
        This next hole was to be my last golf hole ever. Setting the ball on the tee, I took careful
aim at the flag in the distance, all the while knowing that my ball was destined to end up a long way
away from it. What happened next, can only be described as very, very unfortunate. I hit the ball
clean off the tee. Sadly, a slow moving duck strayed into the line of fire. As the ball bounced
cleanly off its feathered head, it fell feyly to earth. All those gathered around the tee who had, until
that point, been laughing, fell into a respectful silence. The other ducks began to circle their fallen
friend with their backs turned in what I can only assume was some ancient duck death ceremony. I
quietly put my club in my bag, and vowed never to play again.
        Golf, like most things that can fairly be described as 'sport', has never particularly kind to
me. After a short-lived but surprisingly controversial stint during which I gamely referred to golf




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as a 'hobby', I decided to retire. The fact that my retirement coincided with my being banned owes
little to coincidence and more to the threat of impending legal action. Not least from the duck.


Note: I take considerable pride in not having used the term 'birdie'.




                                           Dunlop Volley.


       In spite of the fact that I had previously pledged never to run unless being chased,
preferably by adults, two weeks ago I bought a pair of sneakers. Having not purchased a pair of
runners for quite some time, I was surprised to see just how much shoe technology had advanced,
or at least claims to have advanced, in the last eight years. Suffice as to say, the Dunlop Volley is
considered by some to be 'outdated'.
       Whereas once the choice might simply have been between Velcro or laces, upon entering
the shoe department I was confronted by an entire wall of sneakers of every conceivable shape,
colour and size. After ten minutes of walking up and down this great wall, I came to the small but
significant realisation that these were women's shoes. I moved away slowly, in order to suggest to
any onlookers that I might have been examining the women's shoes on purpose rather than through
sheer ignorance.
       Once I finally found sneakers of the appropriate gender, I stood for three whole minutes in
silent awe at the range and various variations for what are, fundamentally, something you put on
your feet. More than that, there were so many different strains of shoes that I was immediately
confused as to which I was supposed to buy. There were running shoes, walking shoes and
something intriguingly entitled 'cross trainers', which sounded like shoes that were runners but
really wanted to be walking shoes and suffered some form of personality crisis as a result. Many of
the shoes incorporated words like 'elite' and 'flite' into their names, words so active of themselves
that they sound almost like substitutes for exercise. Most were expensive and included things such
as 'air pockets' and 'gel soles'. Others were even more costly and presumably came with their own
on board navigational system and tracking satellite.




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       After standing bewildered and cataclysmic for only three or four hours, a shop attendant
asked me whether I required any assistance. In moments of crisis, I think it's important to stick
with what you know, and on this basis I asked the assistant to show me all the 'Romes' they had.
As he tried to process my request, it was now the turn of the shop assistant to stand and look
bewildered.
       After several more shops and a trail of shocked and damaged retail workers, I finally bought
some shoes. And all I can say is that anything endorsed by the Spice Girls is good enough for me,
although I probably didn't need to be eight inches taller, under the circumstances.
       Having endured all this, the moment arrived when I actually had to justify all that time and
effort. I got up early, stretched my legs and set out for my jog. When running, ideally the footpath
should flash before your eyes rather than your life, but in my case what ought to have been mere
exercise seemed more a reminder of mortality. Exhausted, panting and on the verge of collapse, I
eventually made it to the other side of the flat. And although I contemplated making a run for the
kitchen, I decided not to overdo it and retired for the day.




                                                 Rats.


       The block of flats that I live in is inhabited almost exclusively by dancers. Or so I assume.
For nothing else could possibly explain the ceaseless sound of pirouettes and leaping that
reverberate through the floors and walls. Certainly, some of my neighbours seem to wear their tap
dancing shoes as they make their way up and down the stairwell. Not that this is unique to where I
live. In Tyabb, you can often hear scratching and running in the roof above. However, in Tyabb
this is caused by rodents rather than people. And although there is, no doubt, an alarming physical
resemblance between those creatures in the roof at Tyabb and those in my block of flats, you
cannot buy traps for your next door neighbours at the local hardware shop.
       With rats in his roof, Pete decided that he best make some effort to eradicate them. Unsure
of which technology to rely on, he bought the largest rap trap he could find. The box like
monstrosity had a small trap door through which the rodent was expected to crawl. To entice the
more reluctant rats and mice, the sounds of adult contemporary music emanated from within.




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Which just goes to show that what most human beings find repulsive, rodents find quite appealing.
The idea was that once lured in, they would be unable to leave. The owner of the trap would then
pick it up and fill it with water, thus killing all inside.
        Crawling up into the roof, armed only with the trap, a flashlight and a rolled up newspaper
in of attack, Pete set out the trap. For the next few days, he could hear the faint sounds of Journey,
Foreigner and Toto as the adult contemporary rock music did its deadly best. And although Pete
had been inspired to buy the rat trap courtesy of a certain level of enthusiasm, he found the this
enthusiasm did not quite extend to finishing the job off.
        After four or five weeks, Pete finally made another trip into the roof. There he found his
sizeable trap teeming with trapped rats and mice. Pete took the trap in one deft move and dragged
it out into the back yard. The next step would have been to flood the trap with water. But as Pete
stood there with the hose, he found himself unable to go through with it. Gently putting down the
hose, the stepped back inside the house. He emerged a moment later with a cricket bat. It was a
bat that had always been kind to him, being as it was, the very same bat with which he scored a
thirty not-out in the Rushworth First Eleven. It seemed the perfect tool by which to give these
creatures a sporting chance. Steeling himself for a moment, he unclipped the trap.
        As he did so, scores of rats and mice poured out in every conceivable direction. Startled at
so much activity, Pete began to randomly strike the fleeing creatures. As these rodent refugees
headed for the border, Pete spun around and around like a willow wheilding helicopter. After a few
minutes, while he continued to spin around, the rats and mice had long but disappeared. He
gradually stopped, caught his breath, and then dragged the trap up to the shed where it has
remained ever since.
        When it comes to my neighbours, there's no trap I can buy or bait I can set. Although I'm
sure that the cricket bat that proved so ineffectual for Pete could prove quite useful for me.




                                                  Rabbits.


        Tomorrow is my brother Cameron's birthday. At almost 27 years of age his main purpose
in life is to find another word for 'Thesaurus', however, there was a time where his interests were




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somewhat more wide and varied. Take, for example, his interest in animals. And although such
words in the context of a small country town like Tyabb chill the blood in most civilised veins, I
can assure you that his interest was merely as nature intended.
        Cam's first pets were a pair of rabbits. One was know as 'Starsky' and the other, perhaps
inevitably as 'Hutch', in spite of the fact that neither bore a resemblance that could reasonably be
described as 'striking' to their television namesakes. Having said that, we did once have a cow that
bore an uncanny resemblance to Huggy Bear, but I digress.
        Upon being given these rabbits, Cam's first task was to build a rabbit hutch. Pete made
much of the fact that 'Hutch' required a hutch, although the subtlety of this was possibly lost on
both Cam and I at the time. In fact, the subtlety remains lost to this very day and is not expected to
return any time soon, but nevertheless the hutch building process got off to a bad start when Cam
chose to construct his rabbit hutch on a bullant nest. Not deliberately, you understand, as he didn't
notice it was there. That is, until some of the bullants crawled up his cords and started attacking his
knee.
        Undeterred, Cam moved sites and continued to build his hutch. And although cyclone wire
is not commonly used for such enterprises, Cam was determined to build the rabbit equivalent to
Alcatraz. But in spite of the cyclone wire, the moat, the leg irons and the spotlight towers, the
rabbits escaped. When Cam realised, he was so shocked that he neglected to tell anyone, going so
far as pretending to feed them, but eating the rabbit food himself. Coincidentally (or perhaps not)
Pete's tool box was stolen a couple of days later. When he announced he was going to report this to
the police, he found Cam a surprisingly eager volunteer.
        And so it was that when Pete presented himself to report his stolen tool box, the young
constable asked 'Can I help you?' only to receive the adamant reply: 'My rabbits have escaped.' The
policeman asked what their names were and was more than slightly bemused at 'Starsky and
Hutch'. The police had little interest in finding Pete's toolbox, which remains missing.


Note: Upon closer investigation, it appeared the rabbits had escaped by cutting the cyclone wire.
Presumably, they are still at large and living out of the tool box.




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                                             Republic.


       This Saturday, Australians have to decide whether or not they wish to remain as a monarchy
or become a republic. To this point, it has been a fairly fruitless debate proving only that there is
no circumstance under which badges look anything other than stupid. Not only that, but the very
process of a referendum itself is odd, requiring as they do, a majority of people in a majority of
states to vote in favour. It could well have been that our founding fathers decided such matters
simply by racing two ferrets from one end of the bar to the other. And although this method might
well have been proposed a hundred years ago it could have made this Saturday's upcoming vote not
only more interesting but sporting also.
       One of the interesting points about the debate thus far is that it has focused on either
retaining the current monarchy or establishing a republic. But there seems to have been precious
little debate about ditching the current monarchy in favour of someone else's. While I tend to think
that the current monarchy represents the greatest example of the dangers of inbreeding, I
understand that the King and Queen of Norway are nothing short of brilliant. Better still, the royal
family of Monte Carlo look like heaps of fun. However, my personal preference would have to be
the King of Tonga.
       Anyone who has seen the King of Tonga knows he's not to be trifled with. He's what might
politely be called a 'substantial' man, suffice as to say that he could probably take on the Windsors
and all their relatives simultaneously in an arm wrestling match and win. Or, for those who insist
on an Australian Head of State, why not establish an Australian monarchy? Better still, why not
use the monarchy we already have. To my way of thinking (and possibly no-one else's) the
Moomba Monarchy represents the perfect compromise.            For those attached to the idea of a
monarchy, we'd still have a monarchy. For those who wish to have an Australian Head of State, the
Moomba Monarch could deliver. And as an added bonus, the Monarch would change every year.
       Australia was founded through the greatest act of social amputation of the modern age.
Those who haven't read 'The Fatal Shore' by Robert Hughes should do so. Preferably before
tomorrow, although I admit I've not given you much time. But what becomes apparent is that
Australia was not established by virtue of the Crown but in spite of it. The real heroes of




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Australian History are largely forgotten. People like Dorothy Handland, who was transported on
the first fleet while in her seventies, having been convicted for perjury. Amazingly, she survived
the voyage only to hang herself in 1789 to become perhaps the first official suicide. People like
James Ruse, who by 1789 became the first person to turn a profit from the land, only to squander it
all later.   Or people like my grandfather, who left Northern Ireland and came to Australia
specifically to avoid jury duty.
        For those who find the idea of hereditary power an anachronism, especially when it is not
your own, I hope you vote YES tomorrow. For those who wish to maintain a monarchy, please be
aware that I intend to campaign to replace our current monarchy with another more interesting
monarchy. Preferably Tongan.




                                              Hey, Hey.


        Recently a friend of mine got engaged.         This, of course, was greeted with bursts of
congratulation, gifts and general best wishes. I, however, remain resolutely disengaged. More than
that, I remain withdrawn, circumspect and roundly disinterested. And although I think these things
are as worthy as anything else you might care to name, I do concede that they are generally less
celebrated. Certainly so far as gifts are concerned, at any rate. And yet despite of this persistent
state of misgiving, I have managed to make a commitment of sorts. After much delay, I have
committed myself (finally, as some would no doubt like to add) to a travel agent.
        I have booked a flight to Paris. I, of course, speak no French whatsoever. That is unless
you count certain portions of the song by 'Plastic Bertrand', but that aside I speak no French at all.
Already I am practising and refining a whole host of frantic hand gestures to overcome this. But
aside from having a holiday, there is another very good reason for going overseas. Now that 'Hey,
Hey It's Saturday'; a program as old as I am, has officially met its demise, there seems little point in
remaining in the country.
        While most people I know greeted the news eagerly, I must admit I felt a touch sad. Not
that I watched the program you understand, but because Daryl Somers was the first 'live'
performance I ever saw. I must have only been four years old when my brother and I were told that




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Daryl would be appearing at the Mornington Shopping Centre. Although I had no idea who he
was, Cam and I quickly succumbed to the sense of excitement that had swept the district.
       There must have been at least two dozen people there. Quite a crowd so far as Mornington
Shopping Centre was concerned. In fact, it remained the official attendance record right up until
1984 when Safeway had a '2 for the price of 1' sale on Easter Eggs the week following Easter. Like
everyone else, Cam and I awaited the appearance of Daryl Somers.
       And just then the single most significant event of my life to that time, occurred. Daryl
made his grand entrance by running down the 'up' escalator. With that single act of defiance, a
whole new world of possibilities opened up. If it was possible to run down the up escalator, who
knows what else could be achieved? I have to say, despite being in a shopping centre (and a
particularly crappy one, at that) Daryl managed to be incredibly energetic. He then threw out
chewing gum to the audience, which only managed to shock me still more. Previously, Ca m and I
had been told that we would not be allowed to have chewing gum until we were over 21, and so we
clutched at this forbidden juicy fruit and furiously as we could.
       Mornington would not see the likes of this ever again.
       When 'Hey, Hey' finally grinds to a halt, I'll be overseas. To be honest, I think Daryl should
join me and come to Paris, a city that apparently worships Jerry Lewis and would no doubt give
refuge to an underrated comedy genius and his fist full of chewing gum. Although, should he try
the escalator stunt at the airport, he may well be deported.




                                             Carpe Deim


       When I stopped driving, I did so on the basis that public transport was an inherently more
safe means of arriving and departing. But then I began to take a solid look at those who drove the
trams and trains I was about to board and began to experience second, third and possibly even
fourth thoughts about the whole matter. However, as I have severely limited my options, there
seemed little choice but to persist.
       It is often said that some people are born great. Which I find rather hard to believe. It
seems to suggest that there are those who land in the hands of the doctor only to be greeted by a




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trumpet fanfare of some sort. It is also said that others that have greatness thrust upon them. But
there are others still, including myself, who see a chance for greatness but elect to quietly leave the
area without making any further eye contact.
        On a routine tram trip back to the city, I was sitting at the back of the tram wishing as much
as anything that I could click my heels and be home. It was one those articulated trams that was so
long that I couldn't really see the driver from where I sat but simply had to assume that he or she
was there. It was probably about fifty feet long, with six doors, a potential capacity of one hundred
people but an occupation of half a dozen. At one of the stops, the driver attempted to close these
half dozen doors but a drink container had lodged itself in the door nearest to me and they all
remained resolutely open.
        The tram driver left his seat and made his way to the back, at which point I actually saw that
we had a driver for the first time. He knelt down and tried to pull out the container to no avail.
After considering this for what seemed a considerable period of time, he then used all his weight,
which was quite a lot, to pull the door outwards. In a deft manoeuvre he then kicked the bottle out
of its position. As he did this, all the doors suddenly closed and he found himself stuck outside the
tram. As the tram driver frantically tapped on the window nearest me, I did my best not to look up
but eventually succumbed after hearing what sounded quite like weeping.
        The tram driver pointed excitedly towards the front of the tram and told me that I would
have to open the doors. Unsteady on my feet , I made my way to the front and look at the control
panel when I was struck by a curious thought. The control panel appeared pretty simple. What if I
was to simply take the tram and go? I was pretty sure that other passengers would be on my side.
And rather than making the 45 scheduled stops before town, we could make perhaps only seven or
eight, and that included traffic lights. Of course, I 'd have to change the sign at the front so that
rather than saying it was bound for 'Latrobe Street', I could substitute the word 'Glory' or perhaps
even 'Hell'.
        Perhaps noticing that I had stopped moving and that my eyes had suddenly glazed over, the
tram driver recommenced his frantic tapping on the window and I finally let him in. I resumed my
seat and we made another 45 stops before getting into town.
        'Carpe Deim' apparently means, 'seize the day'. And although I 'm not sure how to say 'seize
the tram' in Latin, it seems an appropriate slogan to carry into the end of the working week.




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                                           Purple Flares.


       I once had a pair of purple hipster flares. All the other kids at University laughed at them.
It seemed that fashion had accelerated at a greater rate outside the wider Tyabb area. I was then
subjected to all manner of puns that made merriment at the expense of my hipsters. If I recall
correctly, 'Where Eagles Flare', certainly got a prolonged run. Undeterred, I turned up the next day
in my most formal duffle-coat, only to suffer still more abuse.
       Perhaps the greatest fashion accessory in Tyabb though was the tracksuit pant. How ironic
it is that a fashion garment whose very title suggests that it was developed for use by, presumably,
athletes when on the verge of running along a track, has more often than not housed the less than
athletic. To be fair, they should be renamed 'couch pants' or possibly 'I can hardly be bothered
getting dressed at all' pants, forming, as I believe they do, the link in the evolutionary chain
between pyjamas and pants proper.
       The other odd element of the tracksuit pant is the extraordinarily liberal use of the word
'suit'. This is more than inappropriate because, as my friend Vanessa is want to point out, they do
not 'suit' anyone. They are certainly rarely appropriate for formal occasions.
       The most popular type of tracksuit pants in Tyabb were the flannel kind, most usually grey.
These were then superseded by an acrylic tracksuit that had a racing stripe down the side as if to
suggest that the wearer may be part human, part GT Thunderbird. Some even had zippers down on
the lower part of the leg that would warp after a few runs through the wash. These particular
tracksuit pants had the distinction of shrinking as soon as they were taken out of Target. Over time,
they would continue to restrict, until more and more buttock of the wearer was invariably exposed.
These were almost exclusively worn by people who had ample buttock to expose.
       In the last ten years or so, tracksuits have gone all 'silky' and trendy, but these have never
really caught on in my hometown, as they have a rather bad reputation. In fact, according to my
brother Cameron, silky tracksuits are worn almost exclusively by drug dealers, pimps or high
school biology teachers. This is particularly true when the tracksuit has buttons down the side of




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the leg. Whatever the case, they are certainly an extraordinary distance from both the track and
anything vaguely athletic.
        Occasionally, I still put on the purple hipster flares. If only to remind myself that For
Whom the Bell Bottoms Toll, They Toll for Thee.




                                           Stickers (by Cam).


        As Stu is in Paris at the moment, I have accepted responsibility for the Fridays for the next
three weeks.....
        I hope I am not alienating too many people here, but I have a particular dislike. I cannot
stand the car sticker. Not just your average, run of the mill, car sticker; that I don't mind. It is the
offensive, stupid or crass car stickers that you see occasionally that really get me going.
        I happen to work in the car sticker capital of Australia. I have seen them all. Mentally, I
keep a "Top 5" of the worst car stickers I have ever seen. This week, I am sorry to say, there was a
new entry.
        Driving around town, minding my own business, I spotted on the back of a car a sticker
reading "Too many assholes, not enough bullets". Yes, this is Australia. Can you believe it ? What
was even more frightening, was that it was on the back of a Police car ! (Only kidding).
        Seriously, what are these people thinking ? Don't they know that it is not funny ?
        This joins my top 5, for sure. Other members include the one I saw on the Kingswood of a
not particularly bright chap, reading "Talk is cheap. Let‟s race". Well, mate, if you could talk I am
sure you would, but you leave people with no viable option...
        "If you drink and drive, you are a bloody legend" is another that gets a Guernsey. Perhaps
these people could have onboard video cameras with the view to making a series of their drunken
drives to the grave. Perhaps "Real-Life TAC' would be a good title.
        "Gas, grass or ass; nobody rides for free" is up there for just being soooo tacky. Would you
even get into a car with a sticker like this on it ? I certainly hope not !




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       That is not the worst. The top position in my "Top 5" goes to a sticker I saw on the back of a
car about 6 months ago. "No woman, no worries. I'd rather pay, than have her stay". You may think
I am joking, but I am not.
       Well, what to do with these people ? I was thinking about perhaps compulsory military
service. Sent to do penance for their wrongs in the most dangerous areas our fine young lads and
lasses go. But what would the world think ? Can you imagine the CNN footage of Australian
armoured personnel carriers arriving in East Timor with the stickers on the back "Get in, sit down,
shut up, and hang on", or "My other car is a Holden" or "0 to bitch in 5 seconds" (very frightening
considering the circumstances. Road Rage with armour piercing weaponry can be very messy
indeed).
       I guess the only other solution would be to make it a condition of driving that the car does
not have ridiculous car stickers. Put them off the road for good. Unroadworthy indeed !! But then
this may be putting too much power in the hands of the authorities. Next they would be cracking
down on people who sing along to the radio as they drive along. This, I am afraid, would leave me
catching taxis for good...
       Have a great weekend,
       Cam (aka brother of Stu)




                                          France (by Cam).


       Well, I am pleased to announce that Stuart is safely home from his trip to Paris. He is
currently gaining bed-rest and trying to free up those seized back muscles. "It is bad enough
spending 20 hours on an plane" he explained, "but it is sooo much worse when you spend the entire
flight in the 'crash position'". Ok, Stu, hope your back gets better soon.
       I must confess he was a little angry with me on his arrival home. Sure, I forgot to pick him
up at the airport, but I had a good excuse for that; my dog ate it. Instead his anger stemmed from a
conversation we had before he left.
       Having been to Paris a couple of times, Stu came to me for advise on what to visit there. I
told him of the attraction that made the Eiffel Tower look flimsy, the Arc De Triumph look plain




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and the Louvre look plain boring. Yes, the attraction that the mere mention of makes Coffs Harbour
shake in its collective boots; Paris' own "The Big Beret".
       Obviously, this was on the top of Stu's list !! He pounded the footpath for days on end. He
tried speaking to locals to no avail. "The Big Beret" alluded him. Alas Stu, it does not exist.
       Yes, the whole idea of "The Big ......." seems to be as Australian as chucking a sickie after a
long weekend. Have you noticed they are everywhere. We all know the famous ones; the pineapple,
banana, merino, lobster. But have you driven down towards Phillip Island recently ? On the way,
you pass "The Big Earthworm; now incorporating "The Big Shark "" (I, of course, enquired with
the guide whether the big worm had been used as bait to catch the big shark) then, on Phillip Island
you descend into the ridiculous as you pass "The Big Tap Above A Roof With Schweppes Cola
Coming Out Of It Into The Restaurant Below". Now, I read in the paper that they are planning a
"Big Abalone" somewhere or other. Where will it all end ???
       I had a few ideas. Perhaps in Smith Street or Fitzroy Street we could have "The Big
Discarded Syringe" or "The Big Cap Of Heroin". Queensland could honour one of its better know
politicians with "The Big Pauline Hanson" where kiddies could walk into her head and try and
figure out for themselves what she was thinking. God knows, none of us know ! This would surely
end in constant coo-eeing as the kids discover, there in Pauline's head, the mysteries of echo.
       Perhaps Victoria could pull an "On The Move" by creating "The Big Fruit Salad" and make
all those other "Big Fruit" items around Australia look passe in an instant. Perhaps we could even
create a "The Big Casino". I know what you‟re saying; we've already got one of those. This one can
be bigger, though. Not only can you walk around the gaming tables, but you can walking into the
bodies of those sitting there gambling away their last dollars, or gambling away next weeks grocery
money. See the pain an angst for yourself. Yes. That would be an education indeed !
       Anyway, I hope you all have a great weekend,
       Cam.


P.S. Stu did triumph after all. He made it to the Louvre in Paris where he witnessed himself one of
the greatest works of art of all time. Behind bullet proof glass, under constant surveillance, it sat.
The Mona Lisa ? Venus de Milo ? I hear you say. Blah, they are all plain. Stu, now you have seen
"Doggies playing poker", you have seen it all.




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                                                 Paris.


       As most people know, I recently went on holidays to Paris. Which was good. I also kept a
diary. Which, as you shall soon agree, was unwise.


Day 1 - Getting there.


       G.K. Chesterton once wrote that 'travel narrows the mind'. I've not travelled much, but I
can only assume that most people in Tyabb have travelled extensively.
       In a moment of rashness, I decided to go to Paris. This was partly because I'd heard what a
beautiful city it is and partly because Dunk Island was booked out. Not that it wasn't a good idea,
you understand. More that I didn't comprehend what twenty one hours on an aeroplane really
meant. But now I know. As do my buttocks, which may well take years to recover.
       The last time I took an international flight, I remember there being not much room between
the seats, but enough. Sadly, though, I was twelve at the time and half my present height. On this
occasion, it seemed that the room between my chair and the one in front was equal to that of an
envelope and a stamp right after the moment of adhesion.
       The first thing about travel is that is an exercise in 'trial and error'. It is appropriate that
these two words are so inextricably linked together for, in my experience, I have found that the
second will inevitably follow the first. Which is fine if you can speak. However, it is not so good
when someone has broken into the alphabet and rearranged it while you were sleeping so that you
could no longer recognise it. But more of the French language later. Some of you may know that I
am somewhat of an 'anxious' flyer. But the good news is that even I cannot sustain 21 hours of
anxiety about flying. Not that I was ever out of the 'brace' position. Instead, I managed to attach
this anxiety to other people. Specifically, to the people sitting next to me.
       Although the couple seated next to me looked quite normal, they seemed intent on
smuggling every possible form of contraband onto the flight. By this I mean fruit, alcohol and even
a gas cylinder, the intended purpose of which I was not quite sure. I'm convinced their hand




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luggage was probably stuffed full of wildlife. All this made me more nervous than was reasonable
under the circumstances.
       The highlight occurred when the male of the couple decided that he wanted to change his
trousers. Thankfully, he attempted to do this in the bathroom. However, those of you familiar with
the bathroom on a plane will know that there is very little room to manoeuvre. Accordingly, this
process took a long period of time. As a large line began to form, strange and violent noises
emerged. After half an hour, some of the more concerned passengers alerted the flight crew, who
dutifully knocked and enquired. Finally, he emerged as though from a metamorphosis, having
changed his acid wash for tracksuit pants to the applause of all on board.
       Eventually I arrived in Pairs, technically in one piece but feeling a good deal more
fragmented. Finally, I understood what 'aeroplane jelly' is. It describes the state of your brain after
flying from Melbourne to Paris. More than this, I blame aeroplane jelly for what happened next.


PS. A special mention should be given to the woman on my flight who refused to compromise her
fashion sense and wore leather trousers. In a small concession to her tourist status, she also wore a
'bum bag'. It was quite the fashion statement.




Day 2 - Being There (Paris)


       With the help of the cabin crew and assorted paramedics, I managed to slowly learn to walk
again and, eventually, disembark from the aircraft. With my head full of aeroplane jelly, I followed
a line of startled lemming-like fellow passengers as we marched in a silent single file towards the
baggage carousel. It was this moment, in retrospect, in which I made my first fatal mistake.
       For a split second, I convinced myself that I could understand French and that the word
'sortie' most likely meant 'baggage collection'. As I stumbled from one 'sortie' to another, like
breadcrumbs leading me home, I failed to notice that I was leaving most of the people I'd just spent
all that time with on the flight, far behind. I was to later learn that the word I had assumed meant
'baggage carousel' in fact means 'exit'. It was, then, with some considerable surprise that I found
myself walking through two large glass sliding doors without the burden of my luggage. A crowd




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of expectant and ultimately disappointed onlookers watched as the doors birthed me like large
motherly portals, bewildered and blinking.
       Having quite literally walked through that door, I had no idea how to reverse this sequence
of events without the considerable inconvenience of getting shot. And since I had only just walked
through, I rightly assumed that I would appear more than foolish to the crowd were I to turn around
and begin banging on the doors and start pleading to be let back in. Such a thing is not accepted
travelling practise. Moreover, I did not want my first act in front of the Paris public to be an act of
humiliation. Besides, there would be time for that later.
       In a mild state of panic, I began to wind my away around the building in search of another
means of returning to the baggage claim area. Having read a multitude of guidebooks, phrasebooks
and what may have been a cookbook, the very first words I was to utter in France were not French,
but English. And quite desperate English at that. The words: 'Help. I've locked myself out and I
don't know how to get back in' seldom sound less than strained. The fact that I uttered them to a
rental car attendant probably suggests a certain level of desperation. The startled Frenchman, who
may well have been a little bit afraid of me, said he didn't know what I could do. Quite possibly, he
could see 'fear' in my eyes. The best advice he could offer was to make my way around the
building, which I did for approximately three miles, then belatedly decided I was making little in
the way of progress, and turned around again.
       When I arrived back at the gates through which I had so recently if prematurely exited, I
then asked someone else for help. And although the second person from whom I sought assistance
was, at least nominally, an airport official, he decided that he could not speak English. Bastard.
Eventually, and possibly only for amusement, he pointed me towards a door that was marked
'Strictly Employees Only'. At least the door spoke English. The rest of the words were in French
and may well have meant, 'Unauthorised people who use this door will be shot on sight'. At this
point, it's worth recalling just how well armed the French people are. And so it was with some
measure of nervousness that I walked through the staff entrance.
       With my hands placed firmly above my head in a poor attempt to prove that I was unarmed,
I pushed my way through the door. Perhaps because I look the honest type, or maybe because I
pre-emptively begged for mercy, the security staff let back into the baggage claim area.




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       And although my adventure had lasted no less than forty five minutes, I returned to the
carousel to find that all the people I'd been on the plane with were still patiently waiting for their
luggage. They probably wondered where I'd been. Then again, perhaps not. After waiting what
seemed another forty five minutes or so, I was reunited with my luggage and headed towards the
door marked 'sortie' which I had learned means 'exit' and tried to find a taxi.




Day 2 - Part 2


       After an emotional reunion with my luggage, I had to turn my thoughts to getting to my
Hotel. To the obvious surprise of those who had seen me arrive fifteen minutes earlier, I again
exited through the glass doors, only this time with my baggage. I then decided that the easiest
although certainly not cheapest way of ever finding my way out of Charles De Gaulle airport was
to catch a taxi. During my 12 mile excursion around the airport looking for a way back into the
baggage claim area (which I was ambitiously thinking of as 'reconnaissance' by now) I had passed a
taxi rank, and duly headed back there now. You see, I have caught taxis before on numerous
occasions and consider myself an experienced taxi user. But as it turns out, the expectations
between cab catching in Australia and France vary widely.
       As I was accustomed to doing, I marched to the front of the line, as much as anyone can
march with seventy kilos of baggage, and was directed by a very large man towards an open boot.
I threw in my proudly acquired suitcase and watched as he slammed the boot shut.
       In the moments that followed, I was to learn a very important lesson concerning continental
taxi etiquette. Whereas in Australia it is considered somewhat rude to not sit in the front seat, I
discovered that in France the very opposite is the case. In fact, attempting to sit in the front seat of
a taxi in Paris is treated with much the same distrust and attendant surprise as brandishing a knife is
in Melbourne. This may well have something to do with the fact that the steering wheel is on the
opposite side of the car than it is here, so he may have thought I was offering to drive.
       Sadly, and perhaps inevitably he spoke no English and, accordingly, our conversation was
'limited' to say the least. At first I thought that he was deliberately driving in circles to run up a
bigger fare or to punish me for having attempted to sit in the front, but I was soon to discover that




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everything in Paris is hard to find. The second thing was that I was operating on the basis that 2
French francs equalled one Australian dollar, when I was later to discover that it's more like 4.
        Finally, I made it to my Hotel located at Rue De La Pepiniere. Weary and confused I then
proceeded to not be able to figure out how to operate the lift. Finally a kind hearted soul walked up
and pushed the button properly and I was saved, if not just a little embarrassed. I reached my room
only to discover that it had been designed by the same people who put aircraft seats so close
together. To put it mildly, it was 'small'. (I'd say 'petit' but that could be showing off). The hotel
was supposed to be three and half stars, but I quickly suspected that some, if not all of them are of
the stick-on variety and have been awarded for fingerpainting rather than for being a hotel.
        All this is soon forgotten once I've showered and changed and I head out onto the Parisian
streets. Suddenly it all makes sense. The arrogance, the refusal to speak English. All of it.
Because if you live in Paris, you have the right to be arrogant, quite simply because it is beautiful
beyond words. Either English or French. And the Seine River is a proper river, broad and stunning.
By nightfall, I've forgotten that I ever lost my luggage or that I've had to spend 21 hours on a plane
to get there. I don't even remember my misunderstanding with the taxi driver. I am truly in awe.
Mind you, that could be the potent combination of alcohol and jetlag taking effect. You never can
tell.




Day 3 - Paris


        Although it's my third day away from home, last night was the first chance I'd had to sleep
in a bed. Which should give you some indication as to how I felt as I woke up in my room the size
of a thimble. The first thing I discovered that morning was that hot water in Europe is purely
optional. Despite a reasonable shower the day before, on this particular day the water was ocean
cold. The second thing I discovered, which was not unrelated to the first, was that tap water in
Paris tastes exactly like Evian. Suddenly, I think of everytime I paid for what now appears to have
been French tap-water and feel remarkably foolish.
        I go downstairs for breakfast while it's still dark and sit amongst a room full of Paris
business people who are all clattering away. They're probably busily discussing the day ahead, the




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deals they have to close or possibly professional dwarf throwing for all I could tell. I sat and ate
fruit salad and thought of the Wiggles ('yummy yummy') and listened to Nirvana's 'Smells Like
Teen Spirit' playing quietly on the dining room stereo while pondering the meaning of irony.
           To be in Paris is to be committed to one task, which is to visit the Louvre. (Actually, two
tasks, if you count my brother's championing of 'the Big Beret'). The first thing to say about the
Louvre museum is that it is huge. Gigantic, in fact. It is elastically stretching obesely huge and
marvellously overwhelming. I entered through the glass pyramid that was described by some at the
time of its construction in the 1980s as an abomination. Idiots. Then, I descended into a large
foyer and in each direction was an entrance to a different wing of the museum.
           After a diversion through the Egyptian artefacts, I wound up in a large hallway full of
European sculpture. Most people are gathered around the statue known as the 'Venus de Milo' and
for those familiar with the film 'This is Spinal Tap', remembered as the 'Intravenous De Milo'. At
this moment, I noticed something that kept occurring throughout the Museum. Over and over again
people lined up and had their friends, acquaintances and startled security guards photograph them
in front of the artwork. As though they had a small part in its creation. The other thing I noticed
was that many of the male statues were missing something of themselves. To be precise, the same
something.      To stand in a room full of John Wayne Bobbits can only ever be described as
'uncomfortable'. I can only assume that they had either been souvenired (after all, the ears are often
out of reach) or had been carelessly used by workmen as handles when moving, with unfortunate
results.
           Before I left for Paris, when talking of the Mona Lisa, everyone I spoke to said that I'd be
surprised at how small it is. And although such assessments are painfully familiar to me, I must say
that I disagree. From what I heard I was expecting to be confronted by something the size of a
postage stamp. In contrast, it's very much 'normal' size. It's more that the Mona Lisa is situated in
a room in which another painting takes up an entire wall. There are few works of art that look big
in the shadow of a thirty by sixty foot giant. And to see the Mona Lisa up close confirms that it
deserves every scrap of adulation it has ever received. It is, in fact, quite difficult to tear yourself
away from it. Much like a 'magic eye' puzzle in that sense.
           My brother had one request specific to my visit to the Louvre, which was to track down the
original 'Dogs Playing Poker'. Try as I did to gain directions, I couldn't summon anything more




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than a bewildered shrug or the occasional threat of personal violence from the Museum Guides. I
did, however, stumble across 'Dogs and Fruit' which was much closer than I expected to get.
        The Louvre is massive, but is mostly dedicated to art before the Twentieth Century. As a
result, it has little in the way of Impressionist or Post-Impressionist works of art. Besides, there are
whole other museums dedicated to those things.          What it does have is many, many portrait
paintings are set in the romantic era, all of which appear to be the same person. These paintings are
full of frilly shirts, cravats and semi-military jackets. Still, I couldn't help but wonder why so many
artists were so fascinated with the drummer from 'Adam and the Ants'.
        Some questions, however, are destined to go unanswered.




Day 4


        I used to think that I could speak French, but it turns out that it's just a language I made up.
To that end, I finally decided I should take a look at the Lonely Planet phrasebook I bought and try
and communicate. I pick up my phrasebook only to find a note which reads as follows:
        "Remember, 'Stupid Frog-eater' is not French for 'Hello'. Signed, Cam"
        Suddenly I see where I've been going wrong over the past few days.
        Today is dedicated to visiting the Musee D'Orsay.            It is the museum dedicated to
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works of art. I've have heard that it is housed in a former train
station but when I get there it bears little resemblance to Platform number two at Richmond. My
zone one weekly is, frankly, useless. But for some French reason I cannot quite fathom, I am
allowed in for free and immediately stare with my mouth open in a manner that suggests either
amazement or a potent strain of lock-jaw. The old station house is huge and spectacular, with
different levels and spectacular glass windows. The paintings are too numerous and famous to
make fun of. It defies the imagination to see so many great paintings in one place.
        Having spent most of the day at the Museum, I leave and visit a book shop called
'Shakespeare and Company'. The shop is dedicated to the company that first published James
Joyce's 'Ulysses' in Paris in the 1920s when it was deemed 'indecent' everywhere else. For those
unfamiliar with the book, it is best described as imagination running rampant. For those who get




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caught in its wild ride, it is a spectacular and mind altering experience. Brilliantly, the shop that
brought the world 'Ulysses' is as wild and as rambling as the book itself, full of crooked shelves and
little nooks and crannies. There are even beds here, and writers come and spend the night in this
uneven little bookshop. The words 'John Grisham' are not to be found.
       Across from Shakespeare and Company is Notre Dame Cathedral. It houses the myth of
one of my personal hero: Quasimodo. For those of you unfamiliar with the film 'The Hunchback of
Notre Dame' starring Charles Laughton, I can only urge you to see it. It features one of the most
spectacular finales ever committed to film and makes 'Titanic' look like a home-movie. The inside
of the cathedral is quite cavernous, and peaceful too. The building was first constructed in 1100,
which is a touch hard to grasp, although in Europe, most families still have one or two library
books overdue from this period.
       I decide that I have to pay the thirty francs it costs to go up the bell tower. Once done, I
then have to traverse no fewer than seventy thousand steps to get to the top. I quickly decide that
Quasimodo was much fitter than his appearance would otherwise suggest. Were he with us today,
he would be amply qualified to run a step aerobics class. Perhaps even a Jane Fonda style work -out
tape. The view is spectacular as are the bells. I can only imagine Charles Laughton running
through the tower and swinging on the bells and laughing maniacally. However, when I try to
recreate this movie moment, I am quickly escorted away from the edge.
       For much of my time in Paris, I've been quite aware of being something of a foreign object.
Separated by language and culture, it has very much been an experience of looking in from the
outside. What I encounter next puts things in perspective. While standing on the top tower at
Notre Dame an American Family bustles up the stairs. The father wore a 'Notre Dame' Gridiron
top, while the son wore a striped t-shirt (the rolled up cigarette was sadly absent). The entire family
wore berets. They stood at the top and espoused American type soundbites such as' Awesome' and
'Is that the Eiffel Tower?' while pointing at a television aerial. I suddenly feel remarkably blended.
       The Musee D'Orsay, Shakespeare and Company and the Notre Dame Cathedral were almost
too much for one day. But I fell asleep thinking of Americans and of Quasimodo, bemused at
exactly who we deem as 'freaks'.




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Paris - Day 5


       Another day, another cold shower. I'm beginning to suspect that the existence of a hot
water tap is one large European joke perpetrated upon unsuspecting foreigners, of which I am
undoubtably one.
       I have decided to spend this day at the Museum of Modern Art, but first of all I have to find
it. As all the streets in Paris look very much the same, I find that I become frequently and deeply
lost. This can be attributed to two things. When I studied French in high school I found that I
would forget things almost instantaneously. I now find that this trait has endured and I forget every
street name the instant I fold up the map. The second thing is that, until yesterday, I actually
thought my hotel was on the opposite side of the road than it is. Which meant that every time I left
my hotel I would depart in the exact opposite direction. I have no concept of north or south by
now.
       Having overcome this, I find the Museum in a relatively trouble free fashion. My primary
reason for visiting the Museum of Modern Art is to see an exhibition featuring the Fauves. For
those unfamiliar with the term, the Fauves were artists famed for what might be described as Post
post-impressionism and for their use of colour. It also happens to be the name of my favourite
band. Although I'm very aware that the band has little to do with this exhibition, they're from
Mornington which is very close to Tyabb and so reminds me of home. It's also nice to think of all
these arty Parisians lining up to hear a band who once recorded as song entitled 'Dogs Are the Best
People'. Sadly, we don't live in such a world.
       Early in the century, many were critical of fauvism because of its outlandish use of colour
and its unrealistic portrayal of the subject, particularly landscape. But this is to miss the point.
These artists don't paint landscapes, they paint the soul. They display the best of the human
condition and articulate everything that would otherwise remain mute. The exhibition is simply
that good. I spend several hours there without realising it, walking around the crowded exhibition
with hoards of other people similarly struck silent. Once I've been filled up, I head upstairs to the
regular exhibition. In contrast to the crowded exhibition below, almost no-one is upstairs. And for
good reason, too.




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        The art upstairs is self consciously modern. It consists of strange sounds, cut up photos and
large installations that try hard to look modern and take art into the future but succeed only in
looking as though they've been stolen from the set of 'Star Trek'. I even found myself staring at an
'exit' sign for several minutes before realising that it simply meant 'exit'. Suffice as to say, I
couldn't really see the beauty in it.
        I leave the museum and decide that I should visit the one thing all tourists are supposed to
visit. However, I am unable to locate the Plastic Bertrand Museum and decide to head to the Eiffel
Tower instead. As a structure, it is amazing. As an antenna, it's simply unbeatable. But the Eiffel
Tower is the only place in Paris that I feel at all unsafe. Traveller magnet that it is, all manner of
hawkers populate the space below, many selling foam antlers. No-one explains the connection
between the tower and antlers. I decide not to go up owing primarily to time and also to a fear of
heights that has served me well over the years. But I do sit and stare for quite a while, until some
of the hawkers probably start to feel quite nervous.
        I head back over the river to the Champs Elysee and see the Arch De Triumph, which is just
as good as the one in Ballarat, and because France is the birthplace of cinema, resolve to see a
movie. I decide to miss something called 'Acadamie Gendarme' and see a film called 'Holy Smoke'
instead. The film, for those of you not familiar with it is set in Australia and stars Kate Winslet and
Harvey Keitel. It is 'version originale' which means that it's in English with French subtitles.
Finally, I feel the worm has turned...... The highlight of the film is when they all go out to the pub.
The band on stage happens to be Oz Rock stalwarts 'The Angels', and the song they're playing
happens to be 'Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?', to which the pub goers give the traditional
answer. The Parisians are mostly amused by this, quite possibly not ever suspecting that the song
is real. However, it sparks an unsuspected fondness for everything unsophisticated and makes me
feel almost proud.
        On the way back to my Hotel, I stop off at Mono Prix, which is a supermarket. I buy
essentials, including some apples. As I do in Australia, I don't put them in a bag and just leave
them loose in my basket, thinking that getting plastic bags for everything is rather wasteful. When
I present my basket at the check out, this practice is greeted as if it were some kind of madness.
She begins to speak tersely to me in French, and I nod politely, safe in the knowledge that if she
really wants to insult me with any great effect, she's going to have to do it in English. I quietly




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explain that I understand barely a word of French. At this, she merely shrugs her shoulders to
prove her incomprehension. I quickly begin to speak tersely in English, seizing the opportunity to
even the score.
       We have reached an impasse, and the line that has formed behind me is becoming restless.
Eventually someone steps forward and explains in English that you have to weigh the fruit and put
a price sticker on it before you go to the register. For an instant, I feel eleven different types of
foolish, some of which I may just have invented. I wind my way back to the Hotel and watch some
of the Davis Cup, and watch other Australians being insulted in a language they cannot
comprehend.
       Tomorrow I leave Paris for London. There's seems to be a lot I haven't done, which is as it
should be. If you're able to do see and do everything in a town in under a week, then you're
probably in Tyabb, not Paris.
       The two are seldom confused.




Paris to London - Day 6


       It's time for me to make my way to the airport, and yet there's an amazing amount I haven't
done. In particular, I haven't visited the Cimetiere du Pere Kachaise; home to Marcel Proust and,
my personal hero, Oscar Wilde. These two writers, more than anyone else, effectively set the scene
for literature for the twentieth century. Despite this, the most visited grave instead belongs to one J.
Morrison. The very thought that a man who once proclaimed himself to be the 'lizard king' should
be more popular that Oscar Wilde is too sad for words. I find myself not making the pilgrimage for
fear that I might be mistaken for a Doors fan.
       I enter the airport and, this time, I notice that the middle of the building contains transparent
tubes containing escalators that bear a remarkable resemblance to the tubes that transported
Augustus Gloop so efficiently in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. As I board my flight and
look back on Paris, I pause to think whether I've learned much. Certainly not language. Except
perhaps for words: 'faux pas'. I certainly saw a lot of beautiful things, and the very size of the city
put things in a different perspective.




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       I think Ernest Hemmingway described Paris as a moveable feast. However, the idea of
eating while walking has never appealed to me. Perhaps I'm more of a snack man.
       The flight to London lasts just over an hour, which is an ideal length for a flight, and I get to
see the white cliffs of Dover that I've heard so much about. They look, frankly, white. I've been
warned by practically everyone that English airport customs rival security staff at the Metro night
club for their propensity to refuse admittance. Mentally, I prepare myself to hear the words, 'Sorry,
members only' or, 'Not with those shoes, mate.' Perhaps wisely, I decide not to wear my Bob
Marley t-shirt. Fabulously, being part of the Commonwealth brings you no privileges whatsoever
and I am forced to line up as an 'alien'. While I'm lining up, every country that ever went to war
with Britain gets to walk in unimpeded. Long to reign over us, indeed.
       Thankfully, when I do get to the front of the line, my intensive English customs grilling
lasts only thirty seconds. Not so for anyone who happens to be black. In fact, every black person
seems to have to spend ten minutes being questioned while a whole group has been asked to
discreetly stand to one side. I advance to the next part of the customs area and note that those black
people who have survived the questioning get to have their bags checked. I, being white, walk
through without a problem. It is, without doubt, the most fiercely offensive thing I see while away.
       The airport has a train that runs straight to London. Best of all, people walk up and down
the aisle selling not only tickets but also cups of tea and sandwiches. It feels almost like a
homecoming. For some reason the mere availability of snack food redefines the concept of public
transport for me. I get into town and catch a legendary black cab. And even though my hotel has
changed its name within the last month, he knows exactly where it is. Just as it should be. He is,
however, rather light on bonhomie and I feel slightly cheated at having hired the world's only mute
cab driver.
       One of the reasons I've come to London is that I knew my friends Mandy and Dave would
be there the same weekend. I had previously warned Mandy that after a week in Paris, I may well
arrive in London wearing a stripey t-shirt and a beret, but in spite of this, Mandy calls anyway. She
rings with instructions to get to the underground 'pronto'. I quickly object to the use of the word
'pronto' and insist we speak english only. Preposterously, I claim I need the practise.
       Running late, I race to the underground. Skidding into the vestibule I am then confronted
with the worlds most confusing ticket machine. It has no fewer than one hundred different buttons




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on it, which is far too much in the way of choice. Although I'm running late, I stand aside as a
group of four people approach the machine. I figure it would be unfair for me to hold them up and,
besides, I might learn something. The group crowds around the machine and quickly become
conspicuous for their activity. Then they start speaking. French. They have just as much an idea
of how to use the London Underground as I do.              Just when I thought I was through being
humiliated by the French. Eventually, I get a chance at the machine and press a button pretty much
at random, half expecting a bottle of Coke to come out. Gladly, a ticket appears instead and I
wander around for a while until I run into Mandy.
        Having found people I know, I then subject them to tales of horror for several hours on end.
Generously, they listen and nod and ply me with alcohol and for this I am grateful. With this being
London, they then propose we go to a club. As strange a concept as this is to me, I agree to go. For
the experience, you understand. Dave, Mandy and I line up outside a club for half an hour while
our earlier pints begin to rest somewhere quite uncomfortable. Finally, we arrive to front of the
line to discover that this is for the 'guest list' only. We're supposed to be in the general admittance
line. Oddly, unlike the guest list line, this line has no-one in it and we can pretty much walk
straight on in. Apparently, it's important to be on the guest list. Once inside, we drink and laugh
about place names in London such as 'Shepherds Bush'. Having said that, Mandy had just been
working in 'Mt Eliza', which is as good a double entendre as any. The music is undeniably great
and there are three different dance floors in different rooms. Put simply, it is massive. However,
glancing out across the writhing mass, I am touched by a small epiphany. For all it's coolness and
effort, this London club isn't really that different to the 21st Century Dance Club in Frankston. It's
just boys and girls dancing badly and drinking too much.
        Having said that, I don't think I ever saw a revolving dance floor in London.
        I get back to the hotel, guided by Dave and Mandy and feel all is well with the world.
Strike that. I feel very little. Inevitably, I sleep very, very well.




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London - Day 7


       Following my visit to London's equivalent of the 21st Century Dance Club, I awaken to find
that my brain has swelled to a size that is four times larger than my skull. It does not, I'm afraid to
say, feel good. Having realised that I am suffering the effects of a hangover the size of a national
debt, I move as if my joints all require oiling while my eyes resemble every road map I ever
ignored.
       Courageously, I decide to get out of bed, for on this day, I have but one ambition. Well,
two, if you count swallowing a fistful of Panadols. Aside from that, my main objective is to go
second hand book shopping.       And although such an idea will to many sound as inviting as
performing your own appendectomy, to me it is an exciting process of discovery. You see, with
paintings we have a place where we put them to look at, where we can all patiently file past them,
but with books it is completely different. For with books, no matter how brilliant or insightful they
are, they end up buried in a book shelf just waiting for some intrepid individual to discover them.
And today, that individual will be me.
       On Dave's astute advice, I head for Charring Cross Road where, as Dave tells it, there are a
plethora of second hand book shops. I cross over Hyde Park, which is iced over in expansive
brilliance on this particular morning, and manage to find Charring Cross Road without getting lost
even once. This may well be the very reason that I love London. It all seems so familiar. It is as
though all those hours spent inside a withered Jayco campervan while the rain pelted down
hovering around a Monopoly board for two weeks every year we bravely called 'holidays', have
now paid off. I know where I am.
       As it turns out, Charring Cross Road is the very epicentre for all second hand book shops.
Accordingly, I spend hours fossicking (I have a deep desire to 'fossick' as it turns out) amongst
piles of musty books in abandoned corners of shops that seems seldom trespassed. Frankly, I had
dreamed that such places existed and it turns out that they do. Even if they are on the other side of
the planet. And after a few hours, I find what I travelled twelve thousand miles to find. I unearth a
copy of Oscar Wilde's 'De Profundis' which he wrote while he was in prison. It is a third edition
and a most rare find.




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          The book itself is exquisitely bound but contains the most strained of human emotions. My
favourite part is when Oscar makes the point that rain falls on the righteous just as it does the
sinful, the lucky as it does the unlucky without discrimination. However, on this particular London
evening, rain only falls on the lucky, namely me, as I clutch my book up close against the chest and
head to the local pub.
          There is much to be said for English pubs. They are warm and welcoming and, in the
establishment I frequented, they have to pour the beer by pumping a wooden handle first. Some
things should require effort. The whole place feels very much like your loungeroom, save for the
substantial advantage of having beer on tap. I sit, drinking warm English bitter, while feeling
anything but.




London Day 8


          As it turns out, I had taken one lasting souvenir with me from Paris in the form of a head
cold that would fell a small horse. And so it is that I awake with a head so full of mucus that it
appears to have its own tidal force. As today is my last day overseas, I have to check out by
midday. And yet, my flight is not until 11pm, meaning that I have to find a way to keep myself
warm for twelve hours or so. It is, perhaps, for this reason that I decide to go to the local shopping
centre.
          It's funny that for all the distance and the great cultural divides that lie between one country
and another, all shopping centres are exactly the same. There is no culture, only produce. But at
least it's warm.    Eventually, this sameness begins to unnerve me and I walk out to Notting Hill.
The reason I head here is to make a pilgrimage to Ladbroke Grove. It contains no statues or
plaques and is bereft of great monuments, but I visit it for the sole reason that Van Morrison sings
about it on 'Astral Weeks'. Needless to say, Van's not there when I pass through but I can almost
hear the music as I walk along the pavement. I then realise that what I'm hearing is S Club 7 being
blasted through the stereo of a Ford Cortina. The moment, is officially ruined.
          To get to Heathrow, I've got to get to Paddington Station. I catch a blackcab and start
hauling my twelve metric tonnes of luggage (the down side of collecting books as a hobby) through




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the terminal.   Paddington station is, of course, the spiritual home of Paddington Bear. It is
cavernous and ancient and beautiful in a very grubby kind of way. And I certainly feel as lost as
any bear ever did, as I make my way to the Heathrow Express. Put simply, this train is fantastic. It
takes you right to the airport with a minimum of fuss. It is even designed to take luggage.
Tullamarine take note. I get to the airport far too early and am then faced with the prospect of
killing time. I do this by going to the airport cafeteria and consuming a sandwich that I suspect was
designed by the same people who make Ikea furniture. The taste only manages to strengthen my
suspicion.
       I catch my flight without trouble but wind up sitting directly in front of the world seat-
boxing champion, who seems to spend hours on end pummelling the back of my chair in possible
preparation for a title defence. It also seems that the in-flight movies are of a kind designed to
make the idea of crashing seems less terrifying. Given a choice between plunging head first into
the ocean at two thousand miles an hour and watching 'Wild, wild west' ever again, I'd opt for the
former without hesitation.
       Tired, confused and suffering all manner of bruises thanks to 'the Champ', I am not quite
sufficiently punch drunk to forget to buy perfume for Marcelle at the very last duty free shop before
customs when I get back to Melbourne. I then line up for what seems like hours and when asked
by a man in small blue uniform 'Are you importing any illegal narcotics?' manage the answer 'Not
really.' The customs man suggests I should be somewhat more emphatic in my answer to such a
question. I then confess to carrying a large supply of Strepsils. Finally, I am asked whether I have
anything to declare. With Oscar Wilde in my luggage I'm tempted to reply 'I have nothing to
declare but my genius'. However, I say nothing, mostly because I'm worried they won't let me take
my head cold through customs.
       GK Chesterton said that 'travel narrows the mind'. If this is true, then perhaps I didn't travel
far enough.     Although I experienced plenty of small disasters, it is these small seemingly
cataclysmic moments that link one event to another. Otherwise, it's all just postcards. And
although it's probably appropriate to end a record of a journey with some kind of profound thought
or moral I head home and off to the supermarket. And if you've never been shopping while jet
lagged, I highly recommend it. I buy lots of things I will never eat (including 'porridge'. I have no
idea what I was thinking) and stand in the checkout line. It comes to my turn and the checkout girl




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speaks to me. Perhaps it's my cold or maybe because I'm tired but I understand not a single word.
At that moment, I do what any mature person would do. I run.
       There is, apparently, no place like home.




                                         Last Christmas.


       As reluctant as I am to begin a story with the words 'Last Christmas', for fear the words 'I
gave you my heart' might follow, nevertheless I feel I have little choice. Last Christmas, I met my
family at my brother's house in Mt Eliza. As with most families, the occasion was most memorable
for how the children reacted to it. My nephews, Jake and Brodie, provided the enthusiasm that
seems to dwindle with age, creating a cyclone of wrapping paper as they liberated presents, their
own or otherwise. Finally, there was only one present left.
       As it happens, the present was directed at me with the giver being Pete. However, as simple
a scenario as this might sound, Pete felt that it required some manner of explanation. I should say
at this point that the gift had been wrapped. And although it was wrapped in a manner that made it
look as though it may well contain Quasimodo, in this instance it was the thought that counted.
When Pete picked up the gift and stepped in my direction, I assumed I was about to receive a
present rather than an explanation.
       Stepping ever nearer, he began to peel away the wrapping paper, saying: 'I've bought you
some wine glasses'. At this point, I was able to deduce what lay behind the wrapping paper, even
without him telling me. 'But there was a little mishap' he continued. These are words with which
I've become very familiar with. In fact, when I think back, throughout my childhood seldom would
I return home without my father pulling me to one side and saying: 'There's been an incident.....'
They were words I heard before being told my dog had died, the window at my bedroom had been
broken and when my VCE results arrived. And perhaps because of all these things, I was prepared.
'When we were buying your present, we noticed that one of the glasses was broken.' At this point, I
think I managed to mutter something eloquent and witty such as 'oh', or perhaps I merely grunted.
       'So Lachy and I opened another box and took another glass and pushed it into the box'. As
so often follows Pete's explanations, silence took hold. That is, until my brother Cameron asked




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the all too reasonable question: 'why didn't you just take another box?' And as so often follows a
reasonable explanation, an even more virulent strain of silence than before took a grip. At that
moment, with the box now unfettered by wrapping paper, shards of glass began to fall from the box
to the floor like sharp rain. 'And why didn't you take out the broken glass before you wrapped it
up?' continued my brother on his logical juggernaut.
       I'll admit that I'm prone to breaking things. But usually only after I receive them. For the
time being, my four and a half wine glasses remain in their box until the appropriate occasion
arises. Most probably until a Greek wedding.


PS Incidentally, 'Last Christmas' by Wham is more than six minutes long. It is considered by some
to be a form of torture. Regardless, Pete probably still wears Wham's 'The Big Tour' t-shirt.




                                          Mobile Phones.


       Call me Email. For I am in love with technology modern and communication splendid,
save for one notable exception. The mobile telephone. For not since the day Michael Bolton
decided that he would sing for a living has something so evil been inflicted upon the world.
       Let's begin with the ring. In the beginning, mobile phones did exactly that. They rang.
Now they seem to do anything but ring. They imitate the sound of bombs falling, they play a song
(poorly) and they answer back when it's least appropriate. In short, they try and sound and little as
possible like a telephone as they can. Not that I can't understand the reason for this. For I'm sure
many of us have experienced that most modern of phenomenons in which a phone rings in a room
of people and thirty individuals all reach into their pocket at once. Accordingly, someone has
decided that that mobile phones need to be somewhat distinguishable from other mobile phones in
the way they ring.
       I think the idea behind the way mobile telephones ring is for them to do so in a manner
designed to cause maximum embarrassment and therefore ensure that you pick up your phone in
the shortest time possible, for fear that other people might hear it. Most commonly this occurs on
public transport. In fact, only the other day I was entrenched in the 6:10pm to Sandringham when I




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heard the sound of 'Fur Elise' being played on a mobile phone. 'Just the way Beethoven would have
wanted it' I thought, as I watched someone dive into her handbag for sheer embarrassment.
        In the past few months I've heard everything from the 'Godfather' theme to Harold
Faultemyer's haunting 'Axel F' played by a mobile phone. Indeed, I believe almost the entire new
album by Aqua was created by little more than a Nokia and an analogue Motorola. And I'm sure
that if Frank Zappa was still with us, he would conduct an orchestra of mobile phones, that would
include a hundred witless passers-by clinging to their phones while and hundred people dialled in
all at the same instant. Music for the modern age.
        In Tyabb, whenever there was a need to communicate something, we did not rely on
anything quite so modern as a mobile phone. Whether it was because Tyabb had been designated a
'black hole' zone for the purposes of mobile phone reception, or merely a black hole full stop, I
really couldn't say.   All I know was that when everyone was scattered over the paddock or
sprinkled throughout the bush at the back of the property, there was one sure way of telling us to
come up to the house. Whenever the need to summon arose, my sister Sarah would quietly make
her way to the study from which she would retrieve the bugle. This rusty relic would then be raised
to her lips as she would stand on the porch and blow into until she almost completely deflated. No
matter where we were, we always heard and always knew what it meant.
        I have to say that I despise mobile phones. Having said that, I'm completely dependent on
mine. However, next week, I plan to take the bugle in on the train. Knowing that at the very
instant I hear the 'Hymn of Joy' blasting from some micro mobile that I'll be in a fair position to
retaliate.




                                             Charlie.


        My grandfather was a newsagent. My father and brother and newsagents. And although
I've not succumbed to the family tradition, there's something about this particular profession, and
by something I mean the atrociously early starts, that makes it inherently interesting. Put simply,
there are things you see at 4:30 am that, if sober (and newsagents are in the minority of the waking
class who are at this time of day) can only be described as amazing.




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        One particular day, my brother Cam was opening up the shop when one of the alarmed
locals (and there are many that fall into this category in Hastings) came running into the shop the
report that there had been a major accident just up the road. Expecting the worst, Cam left his post
armed with two Panadol and several bandaids. Just as he was about to exit the shop, Charlie Bailey
was led inside by yet another alarmed local, covered in what appeared to be his own blood.
        Charlie Bailey, for those who don't know (and for the sake of simplicity, I'll assume that's
everyone) lives in a small boat on the Hastings Marina and is somewhat famous for his almost
exclusively liquid diet. On this particular day, he had been riding his Malvern five-speed up High
Street when disaster had struck and he had lost what little balance he had and crashed into a rose
bush.   My brother asked what had happened and Charlie described how the rose bush had
unexpectedly swerved out at him, making a collision, therefore, unavoidable.
        Quite reasonably, Cam asked him whether he had been drinking. For the first time that
morning, Charlie appeared animated, lifting his head and replying: 'That's the funny thing, I have.
I've had two bottles of vermouth.' Having made this sound more like coincidence than inevitability,
he then added, 'For breakfast!' Cam then suggested that he'd best go home and sleep it off, but this
most reasonable of suggestions was thrown off with a surprising amount of vigour. 'No!' he slurred
and shouted simultaneously.      'I have to go into Frankston.    I'm handing out leaflets for the
referendum.'
        As if oblivious to the fact he was covered in his own blood, Charlie insisted that he must go
to the polling booth in order to hand out cards encouraging people to vote for the republic. 'But
what about the blood?' asked Cameron.          At this moment, his face was seized with a small
revelation. 'If anyone asks, I'll tell them that the monarchists hit me!' At this he shrugged of all
assistance and headed of into the early morning to retrieve his Malvern Star from the rosebush and
set off to hand out his 'How to Vote' cards.
        As far as Cam knows, he made it into Frankston and did just as he threatened. And as all of
you know, the republican cause suffered a considerable set back. Charlie denies all responsibility.




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                                               Koalas.


        On going out with someone for the first time in a long time, we elected to go to the park.
Being, as it was, possibly the last of the great sunny afternoons of the season it seemed the
appropriate thing to do.    We sat on a park bench and watched other people make fools of
themselves chasing ducks around the pond. And as overwhelming as the temptation to join in was,
I managed to maintain a veneer of maturity well below my years.
        As the afternoon wore down, the last remains of the sun clawed their way through the trees
and soon all those with a sensible fear of the dark departed. For in Melbourne, once the darkness
sets in, the parks become a very different place. And by that, I do not mean that they tend to be
populated by people who are there to run the risk of being arrested. Rather, they come alive with
wildlife.
        As it turns out, the possums were particularly active, scavenging through the bins and
generally making a mess. And then, as we sat on our bench we were approached by possibly the
largest and most thuggish looking possum ever created. Without the need to exaggerate (but
compelled to do so anyway), if it had stood up, I'm sure it would have been the same size as one of
those Wilderness Society Koalas except without the handicap of having an idiot stuffed inside.
Had it been carrying a bucket I might easily have confused it for one. As it crawled ever closer, I
reminded myself that it was probably much more afraid of me than I was of it. And then I
remembered. 'They're probably more afraid of you than you are of them' had been my motto
throughout High School and had resulted in my being beaten up more times than I care to
remember. And not just by the teachers but students also.
        Having had this minor flashback, I did the other thing I learned courtesy of my secondary
education. I leapt to my feet and ran away. In doing so, I had assumed that the girl I was with had
the same powerful sense of self preservation that I did. However, despite the fact that she had
grown up in the suburbs and only knew of wildlife what she had no dou bt ignored at school, she
was completely unafraid. To my eternal shame, not only did she fail to cower, she even patted the
ringtailed behemoth. It was at this point (and from quite a safe distance, too) that I tried to explain
myself by claiming that I thought the creature had been carrying a knife. This, as it turns out, was




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not much of an explanation. Feebly, I claimed that I was, in fact, going to get help. Out of concern
for her safety, you understand.
       At that point, both she and the possum fixed me in a collective stare and asked how it is that
a person who has grown up in the country can be so afraid of animals. To this, my eloquent
response was simply to shrug.
       Carson McCullers wrote a book called 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter'. All I can say is that
it certainly isn't any easier when your confronted my an obese marsupial which may or may not be
carrying a knife. I've not been back to the park since. And needless to say, I have given the
Wilderness Koala an even wider berth than usual.




                                               Moving.


       Finally, I will be moving house. In a sign of unexpected commitment, I have even given
notice. However, this means that I must subject myself to the world that exists in a truly alternate
reality. Namely, that of the real estate advertisement. (Come to think of it, 'Alternate Realty'
would be quite a good name for a real estate agent).
       Anyone who has had cause to look through a rental property list will probably sympathise.
For example, I read about a house that claimed to have a 'two-way bathroom' but neglected to give
any further details. I took this to mean possibly one of two things. Either it is a bathroom with a
door on either side of the room, much in the manner championed by the Brady Bunch or it
promises a portal into another dimension. However, as it was located in a place called New Farm, I
decided that a portal into another dimension was, at best, unlikely.
       Then there were the properties that promised the somewhat intriguing idea of a 'Polish floor'
and the flat that came with the inducement of four bar stools. How tempting. In a place called
Teneriffe, there was a house that had two 'separate toilets'. I found this especially appealing, sick
as I am of those useless Siamese ones. Although unaware that conjoined lavatories were a
particularly widespread problem, a successful separation seems worthy of celebration.
       There are those that claim to have 'character', and those that claim to be 'charming'. But by
far the most fearsome description of a property is the liberal use of either the term 'funky' or




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'groovy'. Aside from the fact that these terms suggest that the property was previously inhabited by
Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch, there seems little justification for the use of such flared
adjectives. In this instance, the two properties were in the same building. I then began to wonder
how they decided which was the funky one and which one was merely groovy? And then a friend
informed me that in her dictionary the definition of 'funky' was as follows: "exciting, satisfying, or
pleasurable". The same dictionary went on to define 'groovy' as: "exciting, satisfying, or
pleasurable".
       These are words I seldom associate with, well, anything really, let alone real estate.
       This is not the first time I have had to endure this particular trial by pants on fire. A couple
of years ago, Marcelle volunteered to help me look for a new place to live. What began as a
reasonably serious exercise quickly degenerated and we decided that we should find a property that
suited my personality. Quickly, we settled on an 'elevated semi-detached flat with high ceilings'.
We then came across a property that suited a friend of ours, in that it had a 'sizeable balcony' and a
'huge rear decking'. It was at that point that the momentum was truly lost and the exercise
abandoned altogether.




                                               Holiday.


       We rarely ventured outside Tyabb.          In fact, so rare were our excursions beyond its
backward borders that for many years I optimistically referred to Frankston as 'the city'. This was
just as well as our parents had a cruel habit of dressing all five children identically, which made us
look like members of some strange athletic team. Besides, travelling is always frightening. This is
especially so when the purpose of travelling is for a 'holiday'.
       In the summer of 1983, we decided to see the wider world. In particular, the Flinders
Ranges. Sadly, we decided to do this by camping. At this point, it should be emphasised that there
are five children in my family, none of whom are midgets, and our accommodation was a Jayco
campervan. For those of you who haven't been up close and personal with a Jayco need only know
that it forces people into an unnaturally close proximity, much like you might imagine prison,




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except the food is not quite as good. Anyone who has eaten 'Deb' dehydrated mashed potatoes will
understand.
        The trouble began almost as soon as we left Tyabb. This was partly because it's a long trip
to the Flinders Ranges and my brothers and sisters and I took approximately two minutes before we
reached our collective boredom threshold. Secondly, I suspect the map Pete was using may well
have been out of date. The fact it referred to 'bullock trails' rather than roads only served to deepen
my concern. Despite his insistence that a map handed down from one generation to the next not
only has sentimental value but is just as good as any other map, we got lost frequently and
comprehensively. But despite this, after a few days we were there. And by 'there' I mean we were
in the middle of Australia during the driest summer on record surrounded by nothing but a thousand
miles of red dust. Quite frankly, had I wanted to be surrounded by miles of nothing, I could have
stayed in Tyabb.
        However, the undisputed highlight of the trip occurred when attempting to drive from a
small place called 'Arkaroola' to Broken Hill. As the family Urvan headed east, a truck coming the
opposite way kicked up a stone that shattered the windscreen. There was a dramatic screeching of
tires and surprising number of swear words from the driver, which came as a revelation to those of
us seated in the back. Upon stopping, Pete assessed the damage and decided that it would not be
possible to continue with the windscreen in place. To that end, he kicked it out which, to that time
and possibly to the present day, was the most exciting thing I had ever seen. For fear that we might
be damaged by remnants of shattered glass, all five children were then told to put on blindfolds.
        And so it was that we travelled two hundred kilometres with waves of red dust pouring
through the car, all the time blindfolded. I can only wonder what the residents of Broken Hill
thought when they saw the Urvan pull into town, with five children dressed identically and
blindfolded sitting in the back. They probably concluded we were members of some strange,
bizarre cult.
        They may well have been right.




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                                                Travel.


        No one in their right mind catches a plane. That's why they schedule your flight for such
obscure times such as two o'clock in the morning or midnight; to ensure that you're not in full
possession of your faculties. And so it was that I caught a flight at seven in the morning to
Brisbane. Not that it was easy. First, I had to convince the check-in staff to allow me to take
twelve metric tonnes of luggage on board. They probably began to suspect that my luggage was on
the heavy side when I had to use a car-jack in order to lift my suitcase onto the conveyor belt.
Amazingly, they didn't charge me any extra. I suspect the motivation may well have been pity.
        I checked into my serviced apartment and discovered that I would be required to catch a
boat to work. To put it mildly, this was a new experience for me. I arrived at the jetty and
observed that nobody else deemed it necessary to wear a wet suit. The floaties were certainly
superfluous. Nevertheless, I walked/climbed/crawled aboard and took a seat. The trip lasts less
than ten minutes and although this is technically too brief a period in which to become sea sick
(especially on a river) I managed to prove medical science extremely wrong by turning every
colour there is on the way to green.
        However, on my next trip, I felt an enormous sense of well being. The fact that this was
proceeded by several drinks of an alcoholic character may or may not be coincidental. Suddenly,
and not at all out of character, I felt the urge to sing. Specifically, I felt the urge to sing something
'seaworthy'. Perched on the edge of my lips were the words: 'I get weary, and sick of trying. I'm
tired of living and scared of dying.' In a sense it's probably sad that I never got to see whether my
fellow passengers would respond as one by saying 'But Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along.'
        Despite this overwhelming sense of well-being, I was soon required to disembark. To be
honest, 'disembark' is an inherently awkward term. The reason for this is because 'disembarking' is
an inherently awkward act. And as I walked/ climbed/ crawled and possibly staggered, I had a
thought that perhaps I simply hadn't found my sea legs yet. Or any other part of my sea anatomy
for that matter.
        For all that, I feel I've adjusted well to the Brisbane climate. For starters, I've purchased a
more tropical wet suit. The floaties, however, remain close to hand at all times.




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                                               Rugby.


       Clint Eastwood once played the part of the 'man with no name'. The dreadful band America
saw fit to sing about a 'horse with no name' (the original title of 'the song with no redeeming virtues
whatsoever' being deemed a bit too confrontational). Currently, I am living in a state where every
other man is 'the man with no neck'. It's much like the invasion of the body snatchers, but more
anatomically specific.
       I went to my first rugby match on the weekend. It was a Queensland Rugby League game
between Norths and Souths, with the rest of the compass being sadly unrepresented. The ground
was quite small and as we walked towards it I heard the words: 'Number 42, Number 42'. I then
expected to hear the words: 'Your veal parmigana is ready', but rather he went on to tell the crowd
that number 42 had just scored a try. Apparently, it is necessary to point these things out.
       We entered the ground and there were about a hundred people there, along with a film crew
from the ABC. I understood nothing of the game, except that it involved a number of neckless
thugs running into other neckless freaks, hopefully wearing a different type of jumper. Of special
note was the player who had the most spectacular mullet haircut I've ever seen. I referred to him
for the rest of the day as 'Billy Ray'. Most fascinating of all were the cheerleaders. Neither side
had a cheersquad of their own, possibly because of an acute lack of interest, and the cheergirls were
sponsored by a liquor company. This means that they cheered both teams, which seemed to defeat
the point. Come to think of it, they cheered pretty much anything. At one stage, a friend of mine
went and got a hotdog from the kiosk and had her name spelled out for her trouble.
       The highlight came at half time, when the players left the field and we were treated to a
dance spectacular. The cheergirls assembled in the middle of the field, staying completely still for
several minutes. Just as I began to suspect that this frozen posturing was, in fact, the dance routine,
the sounds of Ricky Martin's 'Living La Vida Loca' burst out of a two inch speaker and the next
three minutes saw a barrage cartwheels and highkicks and other such manoeuvres. But then I
stopped doing that, and watched the cheerleaders instead. It was almost too much for the senses to
take and I only wish my brother Cameron had been there to see it.




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       The action was unrelenting, as was the consumption of beer by the people perched up on the
hill. I have to admit, despite my initial reservations, I got caught up in the moment. Norths were
pushing the ball forward towards the try-line to tie the game when Mullet Man grabbed the ball and
dropped it, giving possession to the other team.          The game was lost.       You could hear the
disappointed air drain from the lungs of those watching and, to my surprise, I felt let down. Mullet
Man broke my heart. My achy-breaky heart.




                                                 Phone.


       There is a very good reason why people don't move house very often unless being pursued
by one or more law enforcement agencies.             That's because with the possible exception of
performing your own appendectomy, moving house is the most painful personal experience you
can endure. Mind you, I say that never having endured childbirth. Nor have I watched a complete
episode of 'Dawson's Creek', so my ideas on pain may be somewhat underdeveloped.
       It began when the removalists arrived some forty minutes early on a Saturday morning.
And while I was up and about, I certainly wasn't anything close to ready. My brother at this time
was still soundly unconscious on the floor with his jeans over his head after he had attempted to
remove his trousers the wrong way. It was unconventional and ultimately unsuccessful and made
him look as though he'd been assaulted by a pair of Levi 501s.
       I tried to explain to the removalists that they were early, which was greeted by blinking
incomprehension and a surprising amount of dribbling. Put simply, they didn't especially care.
What followed was a mad rush to move all the things I didn't want them to take into the bathroom.
And after a few hours of packing, kicking and dropping everything I own, they were gone. Three
weeks later, I found a place to live that didn't have the initials 'Y' 'M' 'C' and 'A' in the title and my
belongings were duly summoned from storage. There were forty four items and my role was to
mark off the boxes as they arrived. By the end, only one item was missing. Sadly, it was part of
my bed. The removalist asked whether I needed it that day, which I could only greet with blinking
incomprehension and a surprising amount of dribbling. Eventually, I managed to point out was that
it was my bed and as such, the only thing I needed.




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       Finally special mention must be made of Telstra. On leaving Melbourne, I rang and asked
whether I had to keep or return the rental phone I had. The operator was adamant that I had to
leave it behind. In fact, she may even have spelled it out. Upon arriving, I rang Telstra again and
asked what I had to do next. On this occasion, the operator asked me whether I'd kept my old
phone. I told her that I hadn't. She then explained that I should have kept it and asked whether I
could go and get it. Slowly and without the customary use of expletives, I explained that my phone
was 1500 kilometres away and that I really couldn't justify a trip to Melbourne in order to knock on
the door of some stranger and ask for it back. Suddenly, there was silence on the other end of the
line and I resolved to buy some string and use two tin cans (preferably empty) as my new means of
telecommunications.


Note: After three weeks in storage, my brother was surprisingly fit and has since returned to
Melbourne.




                                              Pottery.


       Oscar Wilde wrote that 'All art is quite useless'. He did so having just viewed an episode of
'Popstars', I believe. However, I tend to think that art is an excavation of the soul. Except perhaps
if you're that 'Pickering' guy, and then art is mostly about oversized genitalia. (Refer to Oscar
Wilde: above). I was never particularly good at art. In fact so hopeless that I was excused from
compulsory art classes at school. However, in spite of the damning school reports from an endless
series of art teachers and the increasingly bizarre objects I brought home from class, all of which I
referred to as 'ashtrays', my parents decided that I should further my artistic self and take pottery
classes.
       And so it was that Cam and I were enrolled for pottery classes with a local hippie called
'Stephan'. And although I begged to be allowed to be enrolled under an assumed name, Pete
refused to give me the benefit of anonymity and insisted I use my real name. I only ask that should
you ever be browsing in a thrift shop and come across an especially poor piece of pottery with my
name on it, kindly do me the favour of destroying it. Thoroughly.




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       Pottery posed particular difficulties for me given my near pathological fear of dirt. Using
the spinning wheel was particularly messy. Not that anyone else minded. But to me, it was an hour
a week of having dirty hands and counting down the minutes before I was allowed to wash them.
Not so for Cam. In fact, he had quite a flair for it. Whereas the rest of the class would inevitably
use the wheel to mould their clay into rude and amusing shapes, Cam could create vases, bowls,
plates and all manner of useful things. I, on the other hand, could create a lump of clay. It goes
without saying that I claimed it was an ashtray.
       In the room next to the classroom was Stephan's private studio. Presumably where the
magic happened. On one particular afternoon, Stephan had gone to check the kiln and in an
uncustomary display of courage, we ventured next door. There on a giant spinning wheel sat our
teacher's competition pottery piece. Looking at it, I wasn't sure what it was. Possibly, some
strange bowl or pot. Probably something used to consume drugs. Whatever it was, it had a certain
magnetism that drew my brother ever closer. As the rest of class stood silent, Cam put his hands
around it and let the wheel begin to spin, slowly. His fingers began to sink into the clay as he
added water, and it bore an uncanny resemblance to that scene from the movie 'Ghost'. But just as
my righteous brother was beginning to create something quite stirring, his foot slipped on the pedal
and the wheel jerked around suddenly, causing the entire clay colossus to fly from the wheel and
launch into the wall, where it spread out flat against the plaster, completely ruined.
       Our teacher later asked that we further our artistic potential somewhere else, and to this day,
my brother choses to buy his bowls and plates at IKEA instead.




                                                   Fear.


       Someone once said 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' This person, quite
probably, was an idiot. There are thousands of things worth fearing other than fear itself. Dirt, for
example. The dark, disease, disaster and Celine Dion for starters. As child I used to be concerned
that one day gravity might stop working and that I would fall off the face of the earth. This was
then superseded by several years of wishing that gravity would fail so I could fall off the face of the
earth. But worse than anything else, I used to be afraid of technology.




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        For the most part, I'm quite over it. I now use a computer everyday of my life, not least for
emailing. But for years I couldn't stand the idea of using a computer. Quite possibly I was
dissuaded by the type of people I saw using computers who, broadly speaking, were the same
people who played 'Dungeons and Dragons', washed infrequently and loitered around the school
canteen trying to figure how to open their icey poles. Put simply, these people were nerds and at
that stage of my life, I was still in 'nerd denial'.
        (At this point, let me hasten to say that none of the above descriptions could be fairly
applied to the IT people who currently assist me, all of whom I have only the greatest respect. In
fact, I regard them all as gods amongst mortals and I categorically deny that I have ever used the
terms 'nerd', 'geek' or 'sad back-water mutation' in connection with any of them. Is that enough not
to get disconnected?)
        And although I no longer avoid computers, my father Pete has managed to, if not maintain
the rage, then certainly the fear.
        For some time, my brother Cam had suspected that whenever he left the office that Pete was
playing with his computer. Not that he had anything that confirmed these suspicions, of course.
That is until he returned from the bank one afternoon to find Pete standing outside, refusing to go
in. When Cam asked him what he was doing on the footpath, Pete would only say that Cam's
computer was playing 'funny buggers' and then insisted that Cam go in to disarm it. After a few
minutes of wondering what this meant, and a few more wondering if he should simply call the
bomb squad, Cam returned to his office.
        For some reason, possibly because he thought it was wasting a good deal of electricity, Pete
had attempted to shut the computer down by pushing buttons fairly much at random. When this
failed, he began to pull out cables using the same random method as before and when this still
didn't work, he decided to push them into ports in which they did not belong. Those who have ever
attempted to put a square peg in a round hole will appreciate just how difficult this is. When the
computer began to flash up various warnings, Pete decided that the whole thing was pretty much
ready to blow.
        Over the years, Pete has had a number of 'run-ins' with technology. There was the time he
blamed the failure of an EFTPOS machine on the El Nino effect, for starters. But his evacuation




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onto the footpath took us all by surprise. The fact he pushed past women, children and the elderly
to make his scrambled escape is something we dare not discuss at family gatherings. Ever.




                                              Drycleaning.


       It started simply enough. Having moved to a new town, I had to find a new dry cleaner.
Sadly, drycleaners in my local neighbourhood appear to be much like hotels in Camberwell and I
was starting to get concerned. At someone's suggestion, I took the clothes to a dry cleaner in town.
Nothing remarkable, really. And several days later when I realised that I hadn't picked them up, I
returned to collect them.
       Then, the next morning as I tried to remove a suit from the cling wrap that seems
compulsory at dry cleaners - as if it were proof that your clothes were actually clean - I found that I
was in possession of an additional pair of pants. Specifically, a pair of 'roomy' ladies trousers. Too
flustered to do anything other than make a mental note, which was a fairly untidy one at that, I
resolved only to call the drycleaners to tell them I had the trousers and would bring them next
week. I had, you see, a breakfast meeting to attend and walking in with a spare pair of pants would
be act prone to misinterpretation.
       When I phoned the drycleaner, she was greatly relieved and had the facilities to deal with it.
When I suggested that I would bring them in first thing on Monday, she agreed. This lasted all of
four hours, until a frantic phone call in which the drycleaner told me that the garment had to be
returned as soon as possible, as the owner was attending a conference on Saturday. As it turned
out, the pants had a purpose. This was then followed by another frantic phone call, this time from
the owner, which I considered to be a breach of drycleaner/customer confidentiality. And although
the last thing I wanted to do was go home on a Friday night, I agreed to be there by eight o'clock
and to put the pants in a taxi. As I caught the bus to my apartment, I couldn't help but think how
unfair it was that the trousers had better transportation than I did.
       I had agreed to dispose of the slacks and then meet friends for dinner at a restaurant.
However, the greater community of taxi drivers residing in the Brisbane area had other ideas. Four
phone calls and forty minutes later, a taxi driver who must have been the luckless half of Siamese




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twins arrived. By now, it was now raining and I was late, so I decided that rather than walk I would
hitch a ride with the little-pants-that-could. I told him the name of the restaurant and that the fare
would be paid for when the garment arrived , but his face remained motionless. I then asked him
to blink once if he understood. Whether he blinked or some rain got in my eyes I couldn't say, but
we took off all the same.
       After a few minutes he pulled over and I got out. I had assumed that he had pulled over
because we had arrived at the restaurant. Put simply, I had assumed wrong. I looked around and
my restaurant was nowhere to be seen. Indeed, nothing looked familiar at all. I walked around for
half an hour through the rain while those pants sped across the suburbs in the warmth of a taxi. I
finally returned home after an hour or so, and wondered how it was a good turn could then turn
quite so sour.
       I wiped the rain from my suit and realised that it would need to be drycleaned.




                                               Football.


       Walt Whitman said he was 'terrified of the earth'.        I know how he feels.      But more
specifically, I am terrified of the Richmond Football Club Cheer Squad. Last Saturday, I attended
Richmond verses Brisbane at the Gabba. There were people flying up from Melbourne, you
understand, and the tickets were free. Looking back, I was feeling comfortable until I was asked
whether I wanted to 'hold the banner'. I hoped that this might be code for something but this was
not the case and I was forced to bravely hide in the toilets.
       We took our seats within the twenty strong cheer squad amidst thirty thousand cheering
Brisbane fans. What took me by surprise was the sheer volume of noise that could be generated by
such a small group of people. Indeed, the first time the ball came to our end of the ground, I was
confronted by the sight of a respected member of the legal fraternity leaping onto his seat and
raising a single digit in mad, defiant gesticulation at every other occupant of the stadium. This, put
simply, is not how I usually spend Saturday night.
       It is perhaps to fair to say that some in the cheer squad were the kind of people that
evolution had somehow skipped over. A case in point being 'Mole'. Whether this was his Christian




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name or otherwise, I couldn't say. Mole had the outward appearance of an extra from the set of
'Puberty Blues' but with a more distempered stomach. He began the evening by trying to get the
attention of a player called 'Africa'. However, a friend of mine could not locate a player by that
name in the football 'record' (the term 'program' being deemed too 'arty' probably). I then realised
that this term was being used by Mole because the player was black, rather than because it was his
name. On National Reconciliation day and all. Perhaps I should have said something, but I make it
a habit not to pick fights with anyone who has tattoos on his neck.
       During the third quarter, Mole spilled beer all over a friend of mine having lost his balance.
Which is all the more remarkable for the fact he was sitting down. And when Richmond appeared
they were going to win, this inspired twenty minutes of Mole muttering to himself : 'I don't care
what happens to me, I'm going over the fence', 'I don't think I'll be able to control myself if we win,
I'm going over' and, brilliantly, 'I you want to find me, I'll be in the lockup.' Indeed, not since Steve
McQueen 'went over' has so much time and effort been dedicated to the topic. However, as the
final siren drew near, he softened his stance to 'Actually, I don't think I will go over the fence.'
       When the final siren finally sounded, my friend retreated hastily and Mole decided the best
way to celebrate would be to take his shirt off and stand on the fence. This required quite a lot of
balance and Mole had very little, so he swayed, shouting and swearing and holding his beer can
aloft so that he looked like a dishevelled Statue of Liberty. Indeed, "Give me your poor, your
stupid and your exceedingly drunk" may well have been the words tattooed on his neck, now that I
think about it. And then he fell. Head first. I'd like to tell you it was graceful and that he didn't
hurt himself, but in truth he was a cyclone of limbs as he fell over three rows and into the concrete.
The blood suggested that some pain may well have been involved.
       I left feeling, if nothing else, reconciled.




                                              Wine Expo.


       Some days run just as planned. There are others, however, that unravel as the day grows
longer. Two weeks ago, my brother Cam and a friend of his, Mandy, had just such a day. The
event was a 'wine expo' being held at the Frankston Cultural Centre. For those of you familiar with




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Frankston but not with this particular facility, I can only tell you that it is not a caravan that
happens to sell donuts as the name suggests. Rather, it is a large, expensive and mostly useless
building, being the type that only government grants before elections can buy.
       The day began, as so many days do, on a civilised footing. Cam and Mandy walked around
the cavernous hall, visiting the various stalls of the winemakers. The wine, for the most part, was
in bottles rather than casks, which, as anyone will tell you, is most unusual for Frankston. Some of
the wine, in fact, was very expensive and worth upwards of seventy to eighty dollars a bottle.
       They had with them notebooks in which to write constructive comments that were intended
to describe the flavour, character and, indeed, the very essence of each wine they tasted. Earlier in
the day these comments included 'Dry, fruity but excellent. Five to six years cellaring' and 'full
bodied with a hint of cinnamon - ready to drink now'. As the day progressed, however, something
strange happened. This is apparent by the state and the standard of my brother's handwriting. It
was certainly evident that they abandoned approaching each stall and politely asking for a small
sample of wine in a glass in favour of the more general invitation to 'fill her up.'
       The notebook by this time, was also beginning to look the worse for wear. Marked, as it
was by spilled wine and possibly escaped saliva from the occasional attempt to converse, it
contained comments with regards to the most expensive of wines as insightful as 'tastes strongly of
grapes'. As the afternoon began to wear on, Cam and Mandy gave away asking for samples
altogether and took to taking whole bottles to go and sit in a corner. Needless to say, others in the
room kept a comfortable distance.
       By the time they decided to go home, or were asked to leave as the case may be if either
could remember, they were, to put it politely, 'slaughtered'.      Despite this, they decided to get a
video and Cam elected to wait at the video store while Mandy went home to get her card. At this
point, and perhaps in practise for older age Cam elegantly fell asleep on a park bench in front of the
video store. Meanwhile, the civilised footing on which the day began was by now well and truly
lost and Mandy sprained her ankle in the process.
       When Cam woke up several hours later in front of the Frankston Video Ezy, he spent
several minutes trying to gather up the disparate images of hours lost, attempting to figure out
exactly what had gone wrong. Some days run just as planned and others unravel until they're little
more than debris. The following weekend, Mandy was still on crutches and due to visit her




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boyfriend in Sydney. Cam's less than sage advice on how to get around consisted of only two
words. Those being 'shopping' and 'trolley'.
       There is another wine expo scheduled for July. Cam may well be barred from entering.




                                    How to annoy a taxi driver.


       Yesterday, I travelled for seven hours to Perth. I have long been of the belief that aeroplane
travel shrinks your brain. (Anyone unsure of such a proposition should take a more careful look at
just how tiny those pilot caps are.) Having arrived at Perth airport, I and the workmates I was
travelling with discovered that our luggage had not made the same journey we had and would be
arriving several hours later. There seemed little to do other than make a dash for a cab.
       There was quite a line waiting, and if beggars can't be choosers, then the options for tourists
are even more limited. We took the taxi as our turn dictated. It quickly became apparent that we
would be loading our own luggage into the boot, and while doing so, I was struck by a large black
bag which either someone had left behind or belonged to the driver. Suddenly, he appeared.
Limping with a wild-eyed stare and a leather jacket emblazoned with the terrifying words 'Hard
Rock Cafe', he snatched the black bag and covered it up with a blanket.
       Aside from getting into a taxi driven by a one-legged mad man who had, presumably, dined
out at least once, the next mistake took place when one of the people I was travelling with said the
words 'how are you?' This prompted all manner of words but revolved primarily around the initials
'G', 'S' and 'T' along with plenty of expletives. As interested as I am in discussing tax reform and
politics at the best of times, let alone after seven hours travelling and suffering separation anxiety
because of my luggage, my head slumped forward in despair and I sighed.
       He probably thought I was having a dig at him. And, quite frankly, I probably was. He
began talking about how much he hated the Liberal Party, which was then followed by a rather
stern although intellectually undisciplined attack on the Democrats. 'Die hard Labor supporter
then,' I supposed until a blistering rebuke towards that particular party gave me cause to reconsider.
He then claimed he had been dudded at the last election because he couldn't recall a GST being
discussed at all. It was then that I realised that our driver was not as other men.




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       He then began to speak of the one politician he did admire. He spoke at length of the
injustices accorded to this former fish-shop owner. In general, I disagreed. Specifically, I might
have employed the words 'backwards, bed sheet wearing, mutants'. Perhaps not grasping the
subtlety of this, he said that he had been involved with the branch in Perth, but it had broken up
because of infighting. 'Inbreeding, more likely', I said. All of a sudden the image of the black bag
in the boot which I was beginning to suspect contained either weapons or possibly body parts
occurred to me and I grew strangely quiet.
       As soon as the taxi stopped, I jumped out. On second thoughts, I don't even think that I
waited for it to stop but opted to leap at sixty kilometres an hour just to escape.
       It may well take months for me to pick the gravel out of my skin.




                                        Irish Water Torture.


       It's fair to say that cooking shows are extremely popular at present. We had 'Two Fat
Ladies' and now 'the Naked Chef'. Although the less said about the guy who does 'Consuming
Passions', who has always seems just a little unhinged, the better. To be honest, I am unlikely to
ever be awarded by own cooking show. For with cooking, as with most things, I am competent
without being brilliant. But given my background, even this should come as a surprise.
       The cooking method most commonly used by my grandparents and great Irish Aunts was to
boil everything into submission. Vegetables, meat, even toast; it all had to be submitted to Irish
water torture. For until the broccoli had turned grey and surrendered, it was deemed to be 'under
cooked'. My father, Pete, is a stern upholder of this tradition. Like the Irish Aunts before him, his
kitchen commonly has more steam than a Turkish Bathhouse.
       On Sundays, Pete would take control of the kitchen. This, of course, involved boiling a pot
of water. And then, just as he did every Sunday, Pete would attempt to cook hotdogs. This
involved opening a packet, which is not nearly as easy as it sounds, and putting the 'dogs' in the
water. And every week without fail, the hotdogs would split their skins change shape so that all
would remain was curious curled brown substance that no one would ever accuse of being meat.
Each time this would happen, Pete would pull the empty packet out of the bin and read over it, as




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though it might tell him who to blame. Several minutes would then be spent railing against the lost
art of hotdog engineering and the obvious negligence of the manufacturer.
        This would then be followed by the family sitting down and, indeed, eating something that
resembled 'hotdog's business' every Sunday.
        Yesterday, I left work to get a sandwich and encountered a place called 'MYO'. There are
many of these places in Brisbane, but not so many in other parts of the country, and apparently the
letters stand for 'Make Your Own.' Although I may well be missing something, this seems to miss
the point entirely of buying your lunch. Nevertheless, eager for a new experience (and too far
trapped in the queue to get out without drawing attention to myself), I gave it a try. Immediately, I
felt uncomfortable. Firstly, I had to choose what I wanted, which required more effort than was
reasonable. Then I had to put the whole thing together. Put simply, I had trouble handling the
tongs. I spilled ice-berg lettuce onto the floor. I dropped tomato into the mushroom servery, and as
for the dijon mustard and I, we are no longer on speaking terms. Sadly, I seemed to be the only one
to suffer 'tong anxiety'.
        I got back to work and unwrapped my sandwich. I was disappointed to say the least. It
could best be described as a collision of condiments and vegetables and had the looked as though it
need to be rushed to some kind of sandwich hospital for immediate attention. I tried to eat it but
threw it away. For some reason it seemed 'cruel' to do otherwise. To recover, I decided to make a
cup of tea, as at least I know how to do that. I do, after all, come from a long line of water boilers.




                        The Beginner's Guide to Being Alone - Introduction


        "I guess I began to realise that Hannah didn't feel about me the way I felt about her when
the restraining order arrived. How could I have gotten things so wrong? Maybe she just needed a
break for a while. Or maybe she just needed space. Not less than two hundred metres at any one
time, as it turned out. In retrospect, perhaps all those letters signed in my own blood were not so
much 'endearing' as just plain odd.
        I have a theory. Actually, I have a lot of theories, most of which have the word 'conspiracy'
preceding them, but this particular theory has to do with being alone. I should say right up front




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that I consider myself something of an expert on this topic. It‟s not that I‟ve been awarded any
particular prizes or have conducted any noteworthy research. No one‟s seen fit to confer any
degrees on me. Although I did get third degree burns when Susanna and I broke up and she threw a
kettle at me, but it was far from academic, I can assure you.
       My theory is this. That life is one lonely trajectory with the occasional interruption. Or
maybe that‟s just me. Let me give you an example.
       Between the period March through to June 2000, I thought that my answering machine was
broken. I told all my friends this and apologised to everyone I thought might be trying to call me.
Eventually, I took it down to Radio Shack to get it fixed. After staring at it for a few minutes, the
teenager whose voice seemed just about to break and whose faced resembled a join-the-dots game
told me there was nothing wrong with my machine. 'That‟s impossible!' I cried. 'It hasn‟t taken a
message in months.' The shop assistant wiped his nose with the back of his hand and said, 'Maybe
nobody‟s called you.'
       These are difficult to hear from spotted teenager who earns six dollars an hour.
       I have, of course, since destroyed my answering machine, traitor that it was, and now
delude myself that all my incoming calls occur in the ten minutes each day I‟m not indoors.
       However, despite whatever comfort I obtain from this, the truth is it's difficult to operate as
a single person in this day and age. Everything seems focussed on those who travel in pairs. It‟s as
though the entire social fabric was designed by Mormons."




                                        Financial Planning.


       A few weeks ago, I went to the bank for a routine transaction and the teller asked me
whether I had a financial plan. I checked both pockets carefully and honestly stated that I didn't.
Gauging from the response I got, people without financial plans rank on the grand scale of
humanity somewhere between baby seal clubbers and child molesters. I hadn't wanted to discuss
financial planning. All I wanted was a cheque. But this kind of inquisition is part of an insidious
new device known as 'up selling'. The intervening word 'yours' apparently not being pronounced.




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       I'm not sure why I agreed to go and discuss financial planning. Maybe I agreed because I
thought I might meet new people. Perhaps I went because I was genuinely curious. Or maybe it
because the teller was giving me a nipple cripple of such extraordinary severity that my eyes were
watering and the word 'no' simply didn't spring to mind.
       And so it was that I had to go to my bank yesterday to have a long discussion with a
'banker'. I can only assume that this is rhyming slang. He was dressed in standard issue banker's
gear, which is to say he had a gold tie pin and was taking notes with a pen that had the words
'Attitude is Everything' printed along the side. Even his hair seemed enthusiastic, as it sprang
forward much in the manner pioneered by 'The Thompson Twins'.
       First he asked me whether I had any plans for my retirement. When I told him I intended to
eat my food from a can, wear sandals with socks, watch game shows and write a lot of letters to the
editor, he looked puzzled. When I told him that I intended to retire at thirty and was already
watching 'Wheel of Fortune' and 'Burgo's Catchphrase' in act of what I considered semi-retirement,
he decided to change the subject altogether.
       Then we talked about income protection. For far too long, as it turned out. The financial
planner spent some considerable time talking about the fact that all I would need was a note from
my doctor to say that I was completely incapacitated, and I could be paid a fraction of my income
for a short period of time. So enthusiastic was he at the thought of my possible incapacitation, that
he made it sound as though becoming completely disabled might be the best thing for me.
Financially speaking.
       Then we talked about contents insurance.        When asked to value the contents of my
apartment, I think he may have become concerned when I used my fingers to make the calculation.
The truth is, it's hard to put a value on a couple of bean bags and an extensive collection of Smurf
figurines. When I suggested an amount, he, in turn, suggested that they would only insure contents
worth many multiples more. We had, it seemed, reached an impasse.
       In order to conceal our mutual embarrassment, he did what any self respecting employee of
a major financial institution would do - he gave me brochures. Lots of them. He gave me whole
forests of reading material I would be unlikely ever to read. By now the bank had closed and he
shook my hand, his hair now much less enthused than it had been before. Given that the doors




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were locked, I had to leave through the night deposit box before I was on my way. Brochures and
all.




                                             Andy Martin.


aye /ai/ adv, n., pl. ayes. - adv. 1. yes - n 2. an affirmative vote or voter. Also, ay.


       In Queensland it is not uncommon for sentences to end with the word 'aye'. Why this is, I
couldn't say. The word itself can be used in a variety different ways. As a noun, as an adjective, as
punctuation and, in certain parts of the State, as an entire conversation. Whether this should be
regarded as an endearing local inflection or a mutant brand of Pidgin English, is a matter I'll leave
to your discretion. But no matter how slaughtered the spoken word becomes, the written word is
that much more frightening. Step forward and take a bow, Brisbane's 'Courier Mail'.
       On Saturday, I came across the greatest piece of journalism I have ever had the privilege to
encounter.
       It involved the story of war veteran Andy Martin, who was recently awarded $50,000
compensation following a mauling he received from a pack of wild dogs. In vivid recreation, the
story recounted in terrifying detail the attack, which occurred one evening while Mr Martin was
walking home from the local pub, at Halls Creek in north Western Australia. He was carrying a
carton of Victoria Bitter cans and as the savage 'beasts' launched their cruel attack, our hero did his
best to fend them off by throwing his beer at them. However, after he had fired off all thirty cans
he was carrying, he ran out of 'ammo' and the attackers set in.
       Although the injuries suffered were no doubt horrific and no laughing matter, the dogs were
later located and destroyed and the owners fined. However, Andy's tale of woe took a turn for the
worse while in Hospital. During his convalescence, his home - which the article described as 'his
trusty caravan' - the 't' presumably being silent, was looted. Not long after it was washed away
altogether with the wet season. Then, his part-dingo companion of thirteen years (the article didn't
specify what the other part was), called 'Bootlace', was struck by a car and killed. Then his pet
piglet, whose name was sadly unreported but may well have been 'pork chop', was eaten by wild




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animals. Upon his release from hospital, Mr Martin did not return to Halls Creek citing 'too many
memories' as the reason.
        It was this late stage of the article, that the newspaper allowed Andy Martin to tell his own
story. This as it turns out included one important additional detail. Yes, he was walking home
from the pub with a slab. Yes, he was set upon by wild dogs and he tried to fend them off by
throwing beer cans at them. But what hadn't been mentioned earlier was that Andy was also
carrying a meatpack, which had melted all over his shirt. Whether Andy saw fit to let go of the raw
meat or remove his bloody shirt during the course of the attack, the article didn't say.
        The article then had a photo of Andy Martin, who was wearing shorts without a shirt,
crouched and holding a dog under one arm, and a can of beer aloft with the other. The caption
read: 'Andy Martin and mate'. Whether this referred to the dog or the beer, was not readily
apparent.
        Have a lovely weekend, aye.




                                           How to eat out.


        “The most important thing to do when attempting to eat out alone is to take something to
read. If you‟re a magazine kind of person, I recommend you leave the following magazines at
home:
        Playboy
        Truckin‟ Life
        Guns and Ammo


        Don‟t get me wrong. I‟m not trying to be elitist. In fact, having something that‟s too
intellectual or abstract can work against you too. I strongly urge that you not take anything written
by Camus, Sartre or Foucault. And please, nothing suggests desperation more than „Men are from
Mars, Women are from Venus‟. The importance of having something to read is so that you have
somewhere to look, other than at your fellow diners. It has been my unfortunate experience that




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simply looking at other people is interpreted as, at best, rude, and at worst, stalking (please refer to
chapter 12 „stalking‟).
       When you first arrive, it is quite likely that the waitress will politely ask you whether you
are waiting for someone. The correct response to this will be „Aren‟t we all?‟ Such a response will
do either one of two things. Either it will break the ice, or it will earn you the contempt of the
person who can spit in your food. Should you end up being the only one seated 'outside', you may
safely assume contempt.
       Of vital importance will be the choice of meal. Nothing too exotic, or else the meal you
order will become the reason people think you‟re eating by yourself. „Ah‟ they will say, „he‟s
eating fried rhinoceros testicles. No wonder he‟s eating alone‟. And nothing too tricky either.
Avoid anything that requires the following procedures:
       Shucking
       Shell removal
       Setting on fire (particularly when it‟s a drink that needs to be set alight)


       As for myself, I have started eating out at least once a week. Usually, I go to the same place
and I‟m even becoming a bit of a regular. The waitress can almost ignore me by name. I have to
find something to read, though. I seemed to have misplaced my copy of Truckin' Life.”




                                    You Give Love a Bad Name.


       "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Though art more lovely and more temperate."


       Had Shakespeare written these words to impress someone, rather than just for money, I'm
sure they would have proved extremely effective. In high school, my brother's best friend was
Stavros Ambizidis. He and Cam used to sit in the back of the class and generally get each other in
trouble. This culminated in the time Stavros threw Cam's books out the window and Cam retaliated
by supergluing Stav to his chair. But that's another story. Recently, my brother Cam was talking to
Stav's wife, Xania. They'd met in Greece, and Xania explained that when they had first started




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going out together that she had been deeply impressed by how sensitive Stavros was. In particular
one of the reasons she married him was because she had been astounded at the letters and poetry he
used to write to her.
        This took Cam by surprise, as the Stavros he knew in high school was not much for reading,
let alone writing. The words that came out of his mouth when he found himself unexpectedly
adhered to his seat during Mr Parson's Maths class had certainly been far from poetic.
        When Cam told Xania that he found this a little hard to believe, she instantly volunteered to
fetch the letters. At first, Cam was nervous, fearing that he was about to become privy to the
emotional outpourings of his friend. It was then, with some trepidation that he began reading.
        "Dear Xania", it began rather unpoetically. "We've got to hold on, to what we've got. It
doesn't make a difference if we make it or not. We've got each other, and that's a lot for love." By
this time, the words were beginning to seem familiar. "We'll give it a shot," the letter continued,
before the inevitable, "Whoah, we're halfway there. Whoah, living on a prayer."
        Cam turned over to the next letter only to be confronted by the words, "Dear Xania,"
(Stavros was not only poetic but consistent also). "You've got understand that, I'm a cowboy, and
on a steel horse I ride. And I'm wanted, dead or alive." Letter after letter. Poem after poem. Cam
found himself confronted by the musings not of S. Ambizidis but of one J. Bon Jovi instead. In
fact, every poem he'd written had, as it turned out, been extracted from either the 'Slippery When
Wet' or 'New Jersey' albums. Unfortunately, Cam couldn't help but laugh and eventually had to
confess. It goes without saying that Xania was not impressed. Stavros may even have spent a
couple of night sleeping on the couch as a result. He still hasn't had his stereo returned to him.
        A couple of weeks ago, my brother had some friends around to watch a video. Early on in
the night, Stavros said he had to go home. 'Better go home and see the wife,' he explained. 'The
marriage is going really well at the moment.' Then, with a conspiratorial wink, he added the words
'Bon Jovi put out a new album two weeks ago.'
        And so it was that Stav, who convinced his bride to marry him by telling her that her love
was like bad medicine, was off to copy out slabs of a new lyric sheet. Not that there's anything
wrong with that. Afterall, it's his life.




                                                                                                     169
                                           Brekky Creek.


       The term 'tradition' means a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it's a term that is
invoked to try and make sense of something that would otherwise appear completely ludicrous.
Case in point being dinner at the Breakfast Creek Hotel. A couple of weeks ago, I went the 'Brekky
Creek' (the favoured local spelling, as it turns out). Throughout the course of the evening I was
assured that dinner here was a 'tradition'. We began, as tradition required, in the bar. Specifically,
we began in the beer garden, in which 'beer' outweighed 'garden' by at least two to one.
       Throughout the course of our stay, we were encouraged to participate in numerous raffles.
The prize in each instance was a meat tray, with each more sophisticated than the last.
Interestingly, the man selling the tickets proudly proclaimed that 'every ticket' was a winner.
Naturally, this sparked a certain amount of curiosity and I had to ask in what sense was every ticket
a winner.   An awkward silence quickly developed and the people I was with suddenly felt
overcome by an urge to buy a great quantity of raffle tickets to make up for it.
       Not long after, we adjourned to dinner in the Spanish garden. What made it 'Spanish', I
really couldn't say. Although my attempt to pay for my meal in pesos at the end of the evening
proved extremely controversial. But first there was the meal itself. You see, it is 'tradition' to have
steak when dining in the Spanish garden of the Breakfast Creek Hotel. Can I simply say by way of
warning that vegetarians may find the following description somewhat distasteful.
       The waiter doesn't come to your table. Instead, you join a queue, much like you do when
lining up for movie tickets or to be inoculated. Once you reach the head of the queue, you are
confronted by something resembling a butcher's shop, but not quite as classy. That is, slabs of raw
meat from which you are expected to select your dinner. I think they originally used to have them
in a fish tank, 'lobster style', but this was abandoned some time ago. You choose the meat you want
and also what kind of sauce you'd like. It comes in two flavours: red or brown. As I lined up, I had
an overwhelming urge to ask for toast. Or possibly quiche. However, the people I was with
assured me that while capital punishment did not exist in any formal sense in Queensland, some
things were still punishable by death. Ordering toast being one of them.
       In retrospect, I'm surprised they didn't go the whole way and parade a line-up of cows
through the kitchen from which to choose your meal. Choice made, the unfortunate bovine could




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then be quietly led away and cooked. As I stood at the counter thinking this rather useless thought,
I suddenly felt a certain pressure; and possibly a fist to the back of my head, to make a selection. I
must say, it was difficult to choose your dinner purely based on the style of cut and how many
metric tonnes it happened to weigh. But everyone else seemed prepared to do it, so I made my
choice and sat down.
       Dinner, I guess, was a tremendous success. I received a piece of parsley with my meal,
which I was duly informed was a European salad. Perhaps from a particularly impoverished part of
Europe. The night wore on and ended with me full, tired and in need of a lift home.
       My own tradition you understand.




                                               Survivor.


       I love television and always have. This was especially so when I was growing up. It just
seemed so much more interesting than anything that was going on around me. You'd say the same
thing if you'd grown up in Tyabb. Which is probably why I left straight after high school. These
days, however, there seems to be an unspeakable trend to make people on TV as much like
ordinary people as possible. In fact in most cases, they are just ordinary people, selected in some
cruel and random fashion. Take the program 'Survivor' for example.
       Like many others, I tuned in to an episode of Survivor partly just to see what all the fuss
was about, and partly because I had misplaced the remote control and had forgotten how to change
the channel manually. I then had to endure sixty minutes of the most embarrassing excuse for a
television program ever. (I realise that some of you might suggest that I just turn it off and this did
occur to me, but only after plucking out my eyeballs).
       The people on the island were universally obnoxious. I'd missed the earlier episodes but I
understand that there had been more islanders at the start, but that many had since left. I can
understand why. Frankly, the people who remained were the type that would make swimming out
to sea and risking a shark attack seem more enticing than staying on the island. In fact, they made
being attacked by a shark seem more enticing, such was their odiousness. (I'm not sure that's a
word, but it's an apt description nevertheless).




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        Not only that, the cast seemed to be quite useless. They were, after all, American. They
had trouble cooking, difficulty sleeping and seemed unable to communicate with each other in
anything other than talk-show 'Oprah' language that seems so completely meaningless. Not that I'm
suggesting that all Americans are hopeless. Afterall, not every citizen of the U S of A who gets
marooned is completely incompetent.
        Take Gilligan, for example. Actually, perhaps that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. I will say
this, though. For all of Gilligan's hilarious bumbling, he did at least manage to make a two-way
radio exclusively out of coconut shells. Not to mention that he constructed a car out of bamboo
and seaweed. The cast of 'Survivor' don't really rate at all in this regard.
        I felt embarrassed for everyone on the island. I even felt sorry for the island itself. I only
hoped that it would one day be used for something useful like tourism or testing nuclear weapons.
Anything other than this. And then at the end of the program they held a ceremony to determine
who would leave the island. Suddenly, I found myself reminded of my high school graduation.
The burning torches, the ceremonial drums, the gong that serves no useful purpose. It all seemed
so familiar to me. As I sat there, I had flashbacks of sitting in the ceremonial hut in my school
uniform until my name was read out and I was asked to leave the town.
        Immediately. The Tyabb had spoken.




                                        Music in Restaurants.


        As I write this, I can hear the sound of Billy Joel's 'Uptown Girl' as performed on a pan
flute. Officially, I am in hell. As some of you may have guessed, I am not at home. Instead, I am
in a hotel restaurant, stuck listening to muzak apparently taken from Satan's elevator. As I sit here
waiting for a meal that costs too much and tastes too little, I'll admit to feeling slightly homesick.
        If you ever have cause to stay in hotels on a regular basis, the sheer blandness can get too
much. The terrifying sameness that effects hotel lobbies, lifts and rooms and, eventually claims the
people staying in them. It seems as though hotels mastered the art of cloning long before the sheep
got hold of it.




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         On the way to dinner this evening, something in the lobby caught my eye. Which is odd, as
hotel lobbies have been scientifically designed to not catch your eye or any other part of you for
that matter. They are for transit only. However, tonight I saw a brochure that in bold, yellow
lettering that said 'Hell'. Naturally intrigued by the notion of a tourist brochure for the underworld,
I took a copy. Sadly, it actually said 'hello', it's just that the 'o' was in a different colour and was
much less conspicuous.
         Although the brochure proved a disappointment, I still maintain that many hotels are the
underworld incarnate. The hotel I'm staying at has nine floors, which may or may not be modelled
on Dante's nine circles of hell. Reinforcing this impression is the fact I awake at four in the
morning to a series of tele-evangelists, - each more terrifying than the last. First is Marilyn Hickey,
who is quite matronly and seems more likely to tell you off for not doing your homework than
condemn you to damnation. Then there's the Reverend Creflo Dollar (no, really) who is dynamic,
black and available in cassette form for a donation of only fifty dollars. Finally, there's Benny
Hinn, who seems the very model of Elmer Gantry and whose hair is a major architectural success
story.
         Worse than hotels, though, are planes. The more I travel, the more terrified of flying I
become. No longer content to simply touch wood, I have taken to carting my own lump of timber
on any flight over two hours and calling it 'hand luggage'. I still pay an inordinate amount of
attention during the safety demonstration. I also find it disappointing that they spend so much time
explaining how to use the seat belt (which I know how to use) and not nearly enough time on the
life vest (which, quite frankly, looks quite complex).
         However, even worse than the flight itself are the meals. On the particular airline I travel
on, there seem to be only three varieties. Firstly, there's the chicken tortilla that I refer to as 'the
Surprise Package'. Then there's a strange meat dish that comes with rice and could probably only
be identified through some kind of autopsy. Worst of all though, is the 'Brick Rissole'. I have
named this dish because of its eerie resemblance to the ordinary household brick. And not only in
appearance either. Indeed it's texture, taste and the way it seems to settle in the lower intestine only
serve to enforce the similarity. Worst of all, should you actually eat it (and, let's be honest, you
should never eat airline meat) it seems to produce and almost supernatural flatulence.




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       Speaking of which, the Billy Joel medley has ended and a marimba-infused version of
Hanson's complex meisterwork 'Mmm Bop' is currently playing. I have to head to my cloned room
and pretend I was elsewhere.




                                              LA Bear.


       At one time or another, everybody forms an unreasonable attachment to something. They
form a bond of such depth that it goes well beyond the rational and must, therefore, be irrational.
For some people such an item might be a childhood toy or piece of sporting memorabilia or quite
possibly even a spouse. Put simply, it is something that has no objective value but is of the upmost
importance to you and you alone.
       For example, a friend of mine, who for the sake of anonymity I shall refer to as Amanda
Jane Nuttall of 33 Gould Street Frankston, is one of three sisters. And although Mandy, Christie
and Emma are all fine upstanding human beings, this was not always so. By looking at them now,
you would not suspect that their childhood was one ruled by a sense of 'survival of the fittest' so
harsh that it would make Charles Darwin weep softly with envy.
       When they were quite young, Christie was given a bear. Not just any ordinary bear, this
particular toy was purchased at Los Angeles airport and, not surprisingly, had the letters 'L' and 'A'
sewn into its chest. Such items are commonly available at most international airports and give drug
smugglers something cheap to hide their cargo in.
       Not that 'LA Bear', as he was quickly christened, was ever used for such a diabolical
purpose. Instead, LA Bear was permanently affixed to the hand of Christie from the start to the end
of each and every day. In fact, so deep was the attachment, her parents organised for a substitute
LA Bear which they kept just in case the unthinkable happened and the bear was somehow lost.
Sometime after that, the somewhat less thinkable happened.
       Emma and Mandy, perhaps deeply jealous of the bond between their sister and the bear, or
perhaps just bored and at a loose end, decided to put 'LA' out of his misery. Not that they had any
proof he was miserable, mind you. More of a general sneaking suspicion. And so it was that
Christie returned home one day to find LA Bear, replete with a noose around his neck and a suicide




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note that read: 'Dear Christie, I have ended it all because I don't think you love me enough'. It goes
without saying that she was distraught.
       They had, of course, considered other options, including kidnapping and mailing various
bear-limbs back one at a time, but the post office was about half an hour away and was too far to
walk. They had also considered boiling the bear 'Fatal Attraction' style, thinking it would not only
be dramatic but might serve to give it a good cleaning also.
       LA was given a decent burial and is fondly remembered by Christie to this day. As for
Emma and Mandy, they were, quite naturally, grounded and should be released soon to begin what
will, hopefully, be productive lives.




                                        The Bugs are taking over.


       My brother Cam made the comment this week that while the Olympics are represented by
the motto: 'Faster, Higher Stronger', I am best surmised by the words: 'Timid, jittery, nervous.' Not
that there isn't some truth in it. Certainly, I tend to run only when being chased. I swim, but only if
my feet touch the bottom and never too far away from the edge. I jump, but only when I see an
insect. Or so Cameron claims. But having said that, it's fair to say that Queensland is much like
Texas - everything's bigger with the possible exception of intellect. In particular, this is true of the
insects who tend to be both bigger and unusually stupid.
       I arrived home on Tuesday to find a cockroach the size of a small horse in my apartment.
This sense of resemblance was only made more uncanny by the fact that he wa s wearing a saddle.
As I walked into the living room, he was riffling through my CDs at which time I may have yelled
to get his attention. It was at that point that the 'roach stood up for the first time and I realised that
he was a good six inches taller than I was. I contemplated getting the Mortein, but they tend not to
sell it by the gallon. I considered getting a thong, but sadly I don't have size 44 feet. I was then
thinking about hand to hand combat, until the crafty insect felled me with a trick right that knocked
me over.
       After what seemed like several minutes of tussling, I managed to break free and bravely run
for help. Insects, it seems, are common co-tennants in Queensland. In Tyabb, Pete would take an




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approach to unwelcome guests that would make Jika Jika look soft in comparison. This meant that
no insect could be allowed inside the house at any time. Ever. Occasionally, Pete would extend
the definition of 'insect' to include friends of my brother, but for most part it was confined to the
more 'traditional' range of critters.
        This, of course, served only to encourage the mosquitos, flies, moths and sundry other
winged-things to try and break in. To them, our house must have represented the pinnacle of insect
home invasion - their Mount Everist, if you will. Pete's best line of defence was, undoubtably fly-
wire.   Across all the windows and the doors. For a time, when I was still quite young, I even
thought that everything outside actually looked the way it did through fly-wire; all crosses and
hatches. Whenever my brothers and sisters and I did leave the house, we had to do so in a fashion
that had the flywire door open for as short a period as was possible. Indeed there were moments
when we were expected to be able to simply 'pass' through the door without opening it all through
some form of osmosis. When an insect did manage to go 'over the wall', Pete would spend the
hours and days that followed hunting, searching and uncovering. This would then be followed by
spraying, squashing and perhaps a short service.
        For my part, I have become accustomed to my cockroach. Although, he frequently fails to
tidy the CDs and often uses the last of the milk I have, quite frankly, little choice. Although in a
bid to intimidate him, I plan to have the words 'Timid, jittery, nervous' tattooed across my stomach
next week.




                                               Ollie.


        My brother used to share his house with Ollie, whose real name was Alistair. Ollie had a
dream. Actually, Ollie had a couple of dreams, the most persistent of which was to replace the
conventional kitchen with a barbecue. The idea being that every meal, from t-bone to toast and
back again would be flame grilled. So dedicated was Ollie to the art of the barbecue that he even
started a band with my brother called 'Alistair Friedman and the BBQ Boys'. Their plan was
simply to go on stage and cook up sausages. It never caught on, as people found it hard to dance to




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and they eventually changed their name to 'Farmers In Gumboots'. They remain, as ever, in the
obscurity to which they are accustomed.
       Ollie's other major dream involved climbing Mount Everist. And while this is quite an easy
thing to do in this day and age - I understand that traffic lights have recently been installed just
below the summit, Ollie was determined to perform the feat in a manner that marked him out as
different. Some have climbed without oxygen (I presume this means without oxygen tanks, rather
than total deprivation). Others have climbed alone. But Ollie wanted to be the first person to
conquer the peak wearing nothing but gumboots and a g-string.
       Once he'd scaled the summit, he then intended to plant a flag, cook a barbecue (this went
without saying) and then make history by being the first person to descend from Mount Everist in a
shopping trolley. He and my brother even went so far as to get a series of maps and mark out the
intended route. Ollie put some gumboots on lay-by at K-Mart and purchased half a dozen sausages
for the summit cook-up. But then disaster struck.
       When crossing the road in Melbourne, Ollie had a collision with the number 67 tram from
Carnegie. His first mistake had been not to use the pedestrian crossing. His second mistake had
been not to look to see if a tram was coming. His third mistake was to stand his ground in the
belief that the tram would swerve first. He was wrong. Things got even worse not long after this
while he was recuperating at home. It was a hot and balmy evening, the type that fails to fall
further than 25 degrees. As Cam and Ollie sat in the living room, Ollie made a decision. It was
time, he declared, to go swimming the next door neighbour's pool.
       This was an especially brave decision given that Cam's neighbours had a fairly unruly
Rottweiler named 'Rebel' as a pet. Undeterred, Ollie went over the fence, and into the pool. This
came as a considerable surprise to the neighbours. Even Rebel was taken aback. However, as Ollie
was leaving, the dog overcame its shyness and decided to attack instead. It was with a certain
amount of haste that Ollie made his way back over the fence, leaving considerable chunks of skin
on the barbed wire. Sadly, the Everist expedition had to be cancelled.
       Cam's neighbours still refuse to talk to him. And while Ollie failed in this bid to be the first
person to descend Mount Everist in a shopping trolley, he did later set a new record
circumnavigating the Safeway in Mt Eliza. Which, I guess, is close enough.




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                                               Toys.


        Yesterday, my nephew Jake turned one. So in preparation for this somewhat momentous
event, I had to go to a department store and buy him a birthday present. It's not that often that I
have cause to travel up to the toy department, and so it was with some considerable trepidation that
I let the escalator carry me upwards to the fifth floor of Myers. I entered the toy department and
was immediately struck by the colour, excitement and by a security guard who assumed that I was
trying to cause trouble. Which of course, I was.
        I have been to toy stores before.     I am familiar with the concept.      However, I was
confronted by something that made no sense to me whatsoever. There were plenty of toys that I
didn't recognise at all (what the hell is a 'Pokemon', anyway?). Worst of all, the toys all had to be
able to do something. 'Tickle me' Elmo, 'bouncing' Tigger, musical chairs that were, in fact,
musical. However, none of the toys were allowed to just be as they were. They weren't allowed to
just be toys.

        My sister Sarah had a stuffed toy chicken as a child (I have no idea what my parents were
thinking). Over the years and in the tradition of the Velveteen Rabbit, the imaginatively titled
'Chickie' was constantly held and hugged until it eventually began to fall apart. So much so that
eventually only the wing remained, and this was, perhaps inevitably referred to as 'Wing'. (My
sister has not been allowed to name anything since this time.)

        'Wing' remained one of her most treasured possessions, in part due to the long and lasting
bond she had formed with the object but mostly because she didn't have much in the way of
possessions. That was until recently. Unlike most of my family, Sarah is not possessed with a well
developed fear of danger and tends to do things such as play rugby, softball or, worse still, indulge
in so-called 'fun runs'.

        Her running career had begun inadvertently when Trevor the Drake took to chasing her, and
only her, across the back yard. And so running became her hobby. On one such misnomered
sweat-fest, she picked up a prize. Not for finishing towards the front of the race, mind you.




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Instead, she won the equivalent to a door prize, had their been a door to begin with (most fun runs
being, in this day and age, 'door free').

        The prize, as it turned out, was a lawn mower. It goes without saying that the presentation
ceremony on the podium was 'awkward', to say the least. This would perhaps have been more
useful had Sarah not been a student and had she had a lawn. It would have been less inconvenient
for all concerned, had she won her lawnmower in Melbourne rather than in Sydney.

        And so it was that Cam was despatched to drive to the Emerald city to collect my sister and
triumphant lawnmower. When they finally got back, the prize was treated like any other sporting
trophy and went to the third shelf in the study, alongside my brother's 'Most Money raised - Tyabb
Football Club Kickathon 1981' and my 'Most Improved' trophy, which I was given after I agreed to
stop turning up to matches.



Note: The only thing I saw that I recognised in the toy department was a giant Marvin the Martian.
I was tempted, but ended up opting for the Bear in the Blue House, whose work I have since come
to admire. Jake immediately set about trying to eat the Bear.




                                             The Shaggs.


        This week, Radiohead released a new album. Which is a very good thing indeed. A couple
of years ago, their album 'OK Computer' was voted the greatest record of all time and although
such a poll was no doubt skewed in favour of modernity and was undoubtably blighted by the fact
that only seven people voted, it makes a new album from the band something to look forward to.
But as contentious as the title of 'best album ever' may be, the mantle of 'worst record of all time' is
even more hotly contested.
        With music being the highly subjective medium that it is, how can you determine which
recording is the worst of all time? Do you base it on musicianship? (be afraid, Kajagoogoo) Do
you base it on style? (so long, Michael Bolton) Or do you give up using a criteria altogether and
give the honour straight to Shania Twain? But as much fun as it is to target artists who are well




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known (although I'm not sure Kajagoogoo qualify), the real contenders lie elsewhere. For it is the
opinion of many that the worst record in the world was produced by a band called 'The Shaggs'.
        'The Shaggs' were a band consisting of three sisters Betty, Dorothy and Helen Wiggin.
They were all teenagers and the band was assembled by their father, Austin Wiggin Junior - who
firmly believed that a successful musical group would be his ticket to fame and fortune. Or, at
worst, earn them enough money to buy a larger trailer home.
        Austin bought the instruments and after a surprisingly short period of time decided that it
was time to 'cut' a record. And so it was that the family packed up the trailer and drove through the
snow to a recording studio. Only Dorothy dared suggest that maybe they didn't have enough songs
just yet. Needless to say, Austin disagreed and kept on driving. As Betty, Dorothy and Anne
loaded the instruments out of the car, Austin Wiggin bragged to the recording engineer that he
wanted to catch the girls on tape 'while they were hot'. How drastically he failed.
        It seems that Dorothy was right. What followed was three girls who had no idea how to
tune their instruments let alone play them being forced to try and make an album. Put kindly, they
struggled. But ignoring the fact that the ears of the recording engineer had started to bleed, their
father remained convinced that they would soon be superstars.
        When, in 1969, the modestly titled 'Philosophy of the World' appeared, it largely went
unnoticed. The songs included 'My Pal Foot Foot', 'That Little Sports Car' and the plaintive 'What
Are Parents?', when perhaps the appropriate question might have been 'What Kind of Parents
Would Force Their Kids to Make Such an Appalling Record?' And in the middle of the summer of
love, it turns out that no one had more love to give than The Shaggs. At least that's what the liner
notes suggested. A small sample is included below:
        "The Shaggs are real, pure, unaffected by outside influences..... The Shaggs love you and
love to perform for you. You may love their music or you may not, but at last you can listen to
artists who are real."
        The album sank without a trace, but the girls were forced to soldier on. That is until Austin
Wiggin Junior passed away, after which The Shaggs quietly disbanded. And although much of my
own musical work sounds a lot like, 'Philosophy of the World', at least The Shaggs were the
genuine article. Just not a very good article, as it turns out. It is, perhaps, deeply ironic that a band




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should be ridiculed for their poor song structure, nasal singing and general musical incompetence
only for Celine Dion to make millions for doing much the same.




                                              Olympics.


       Recently, every major city held a parade to celebrate the success of our Olympic athletes.
At about the same time, there was something an outcry regarding funding. Amidst all the fawning
and the general merriment an announcement was made that elite athletes would continue to receive
funding from the Government. And then it occurred to me. In reality, there's very little difference
between our elite athletes and what tabloid television would refer to as 'dole bludgers'. It's just that
the athletes are slightly faster. Not that the similarities stop there. Both have a tendency to wear
tracksuit pants.
       There's something to be said for recognising the achievements of the unemployed.
Certainly, Ian Thorpe can make his way down the pool in a fairly tidy fashion, but he can't go to
Jubilee Park in Frankston on half price Tuesday and do a giant belly-flop in a pair of ill-fitting
Stubbies. Simon Fairweather is pretty good at archery, but how would he go at a sport that
involves being able to hold a beverage at the same time? I realise that darts and archery aren't
exactly identical, but in defence of the former, only one of those sports has the word 'art' in it. As
ironic as that may be. In short, it's funny what we decide to celebrate.

       I'd like to see a ticker tape parade for unemployed people, recognising their achievements.
After all, it's extremely difficult to not have a job. You never have any money and you have to deal
with Government officials on a fortnightly basis. In each capital city people could cheer the guy
who managed to drink his own weight in beer. Or applaud the guy who once watched 'The Sure
Thing' starring John Cusack thirty two nights in succession. And it would be nice to see the woman
who hasn't missed an episode of Ricki Lake since 1992 riding on the back of an open top Cadillac.
Bridging the gap between the athletes and the unemployed, of course, would be Jumpin' Jai, who'd
not look out of place in either parade.




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       In Edward Street in Brisbane at the moment, roadworks are currently being performed.
Mostly this seems to involve a vast army of council workers and a very large hole (not that
Brisbane itself is not occasionally described as such). The fact that my office has a giant gaping
wound at its doorstep is both a good and a bad thing. It's bad for the fact that it looks terrible and
the noise of the machinery is rather overwhelming. However, it's quite good in that I now have a
hole big enough to crawl into whenever the need arises. Which is quite often.

       Of most interest are the people performing the work. Almost exclusively they look as if
they might be truants from the evolutionary process. While one person operates a bob-cat, the
others stand around and watch. Which would be tremendously supportive if they bothered to do a
Mexican Wave or some other such thing. One particular cro-magnon man seemed to simply be
staring into the hole. As if he was daring it to blink first. While one of his co-workers seemed
solely responsible for 'cleavage' watch. Another held a sign the said 'slow' which seemed not so
much an instruction to motorists as a much more personal declaration.

       These people are the real champions. They deserve their own parade so that we, the general
public, can give something back. The only thing holding them back is the fact that the road still has
a massive hole in it.




                                               KISS.


       When I was in Grade 5, Pete took Cam and I to see the film 'Ghandi'. It had just won all
those Academy Awards and although Village Frankston wasn't of the habit of showing films that
didn't feature 'Cheech' and/or 'Chong', it had obviously relented to overwhelming public pressure in
this instance. We entered the cinema to find ourselves the only ones there and it occurred to us that
maybe the film was showing not so much because of public pressure but because of a clerical error.
       As for the film itself, not since 'Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo' had a movie had such a
profound effect on me. The message of non-violent protest made a deep and lasting impact and
remains with me to this day.      Unfortunately, by Monday, word of my conversion to passive




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resistance had spread throughout the school and I was subjected to series of bloody beatings at
lunch and recess. But eventually the Headmaster intervened and the teachers were forced to stop.
          Later that year, Tyabb Primary School was whipped into a veritable frenzy in preparation
for the annual school concert. Such was the fever pitch that the parent's club decided to run an
additional Lamington drive just to raise funds.        Each class had to contribute some type of
performance for the concert. This was no easy thing. Put simply, Tyabb is not famed for its
contribution to the performing arts. Our class was quickly divided along lines of gender, with the
girls deciding that they would do a dance routine. Specifically, they decided to do a dance routine
to Irene Cara's song 'Fame'. Leg warmers were bound to be in evidence.
          This meant that the boys in our class had to devise a performance worthy of end of year
school concert. Given that the concert would take place in the world's only remaining all-asbestos
structure - the Tyabb Town Hall, and we decided early on to try and make full use of its
architectural grandeur. This, more than anything, contributed our decision to mime to 'I Was Made
For Loving You, Baby' by those masters of understatement; KISS.
          Originally, I had hoped to bag the role of Ace Frehley, but got bumped in favour of Stephen
Thompson who had access to his Mum's make-up case. I wavered just for a moment as I considered
abandoning my new-found commitment to passive resistance.
          On the night of the concert, the whole town came to a stand-still. Which wasn't especially
unusual. Nevertheless, the concert got underway, and the girls from our class did their dance
routine. It basically revolved around a series of hand gestures and some rather pained facial
expressions. But then audience relaxed again once it was over. As the set was cleared, an
expectant hush fell over the crowd as four foot versions of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace
Frehley and Peter Criss took the stage. Needless to say, the awesome rock power of KISS left the
audience stunned. Although in retrospect, it could have been the irony of watching nine year olds
mime to 'I Was Made For Loving You, Baby' that explained the surprised looks on their faces.
          Sadly, I was relegated to the role of pretend roadie. An ignominious start to a musical
career.




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Note: This week, Charles Perkins passed away. Although his autobiography 'A Bastard Like Me'
is probably out of print, it's well worth tracking down at a library. It remains one of the most
insightful portraits of an Australian life ever published.




                                          Writer's Festival.


        Last Friday, I was invited to attend the Brisbane Writers Festival. When the organiser rang
up, she gave very specific directions, and asked whether I anticipated any difficulty in turning up
on time. I replied truthfully that if I was late, it was only because I had become lost. Whether this
can be categorised as a display of honesty or rather a self-fulfilling prophecy is now rather hard to
say.
        I caught a taxi from home to Southbank. Despite peak hour traffic and a taxi driver who
appeared more interested in shouting a wide variety of obscenities, I still had plenty of time. And
although such obstacles would have made a lesser person very, very late, I would require
something a good deal more spectacular.
        I arrived at the Southbank Arts precinct well ahead of schedule. So much so, that I went for
a stroll along the Brisbane River before setting off in search of the Green Room. When it came
time to present myself, I asked a bartender for directions. I suppose I could have asked someone
more official but I have a deep and abiding respect for barstaff and the wonderful work that they do
and was sure he'd point me in the right direction.
        He told me to go through the big glass doors, across the zebra crossing and to speak to the
security staff about getting a clearance pass. I nodded blithely at all this in a manner that suggested
that I understood everything he was trying to tell me, when in truth the whole experience left me
none the wiser and none the closer to arriving on time. In spite of not having clear directions and
consistent with the way I usually travel, I set off without any real idea of where it was I was going.
As a matter of good luck, or possibly through the process of elimination, I managed to find the
security station.
        'Hello', I began, believing this to be quite a reasonable way to start. 'My name is Stuart
McCullough.' The security guard simply leaned against the desk and scratched his head and other




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body parts less sociable and said nothing in response. 'I'm here for the Writer's Festival'. Again no
response. At a speed that could be described as 'glacial', he picked up a list. After several minutes
and quite a bit more scratching, he said 'never heard of it'. As he spoke, the expression on his face
suggested not so much concern as a strenuous form of constipation.
       We had, it seemed, reached something of an impasse.
       'You can go and sit down if you want'. Despite the fact of this offer not seeming especially
generous, I couldn't really think of anything else, so I took a seat on the couch. In the space of
fifteen minutes, 'Slingblade' the security guard managed to make a phone call and scratch himself
in places previously unknown to mankind while I sat nervously, as with every minute I became
increasingly late. Suddenly, the guard sat bolt upright as though struck by inspiration or something
sharp and pointy. 'This is the cultural centre,' he stated in an awestruck tone. 'You want the
Queensland Cultural Centre'. Although the distinction was slightly lost on me, the security guard
produced a small map and proceeded to draw directions on it. Specifically, he proceeded to draw a
stick figure - which bore an uncanny resemblance to me - and a series of arrows.
       It turns out that I was attempting to gain access to the wrong building entirely. I suppose it
had never occurred to me that there could possibly be more than one green room within such a
small geographical area. I arrived flustered and clutching my map as though it was proof of having
a legitimate excuse. I was not believed.




                                           The Blue Chicken.


       Most families have some item or other that has assumed that mantle of heirloom. These
objects often have great sentimental value attached to them and include musical instruments, war
medals or grandfather clocks and the like. In our family, the item we have chosen to hand down
through the generations happens to be a blue ceramic chicken. Personally, I'd much rather the
grandfather clock.
       'Lime Park' was the name of the property my Grandmother grew up on in Ireland. And
somewhere, so she claimed, there was a blue ceramic chicken of which she was unreasonably fond.




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When my great grandfather died of the Spanish Influenza, a decision was taken whereby three of
the thirteen children were sent to Australia. Ten children obviously being deemed 'sustainable'.
        A few years after arriving in Australia, she met my grandfather, who was also from
Northern Ireland and had immigrated to Australia to escape hefty overdue video fines. They met at
a dance, which can only be described as amazing, given how inept my family is when it comes to
'busting a move'. The fact that any of us exist at all can only be regarded as a miracle. However,
through courtship, marriage and to settling down in the country town of Rushworth (during the gold
era, it was deemed a 'rush worth going to'. Really) my Grandmother always kept an eye out for a
ceramic blue chicken that reminded her of the one at Lime Park from her youth.
        After years dedicated to the task, she eventually unearthed a ceramic blue chicken that
reminded her of home and it was immediately purchased. This ceremonial chook forever formed
part of my Grandmother's 'good' dining set (as opposed to the more interesting 'evil' dining set) and
appeared for birthdays and at Christmas. And whenever my brothers and sisters and I visited for
dinner, it always took pride and place in the middle of the table. Most often, it was filled with
sugared almonds which were known by the manufacturers as 'pigeons eggs' and to me and my
family as 'total and utter crap'.
        Somewhere along the line, a vicious and unsubstantiated rumour arose that I and all my
siblings enjoyed sugared almonds. Put simply, nothing could be further from the truth. And so
upon each visit the blue chicken would be produced and we would be forced to eat pigeon eggs to
please our grandparents. We adapted to this by inventing new and interesting methods of disposal.
Into handkerchiefs, potplants and slow moving pets. And in the case of my youngest brother
Lachlan, projected from his mouth clear across the kitchen until it crashed into the linoleum, much
to the horror of the assembled adults.
        My grandmother has long since passed away and these days, the ceramic blue chicken sits it
the diningware cupboard. To this time, we've not made a habit of breaking it out of storage for
Christmas and family gatherings, but this year I'm thinking of insisting. Not that I plan to fill it
with pigeon eggs.




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                                             Old Fitzy.


       Tyabb has two major exports. Wind and dirt. There are some who would suggest that I
personify both these products. However, it must be said that the first of these was quite lucrative
for the town. So much so that for a brief period Tyabb even had its own 'wind farm'. In order that
people don't get the wrong idea, I should stress that the wind farm did not consist of a local yokel
wandering around in rustic overalls daring people to 'pull his finger'. Rather, it was a mysterious
series of space-age windmills that drew money from some kind of development fund that crashed at
the end of the 1980s.
       Despite the failure of the wind farm, the resource was so plentiful that our primary school
was surrounded by a row of cypress trees intended to block the gales that seemed to run down
Jones Road hill and right into the classrooms. This, of course, set something of a challenge for the
students. Namely, to see who could scale the first tree and then complete the circumference of the
school without ever touching the ground.        It is perhaps quite obvious that we were easily
challenged. Put simply, there wasn't much else to do. I only attempted once and failed drastically.
As it turned out, most of the decent branches were more than two feet above the ground.
       Years later, in an anti-evolutionary manoeuvre I returned to the trees.         Specifically, I
worked in a local orchard each summer after exams. I'd usually start about this time each year and
would wander the corrugated earth performing a task known as 'fruit thinning'. This involved
climbing a rickety ladder that was little more than rust with rungs and ridding the trees of inferior
fruit. Cam, our friend Marcus and I probably did this for three or four summers running, starting
each day at 7am. As much as we hated it at the time, we were duly encouraged by Pete on the basis
that 'a little hard work never killed anyone'. (Pete would often use this expression. I often imagine
him attending funerals and saying 'a little death never hurt anyone' as the eulogy).
       While working in the orchard, we met a range of interesting people. From the orchardist
who claimed that insecticides were harmless and had once drunk an entire litre of the stuff to prove
the point. (He always looked a little ill after that.) To the Hastings women in their tortured lycra
and t-shirts, who had mouths that would embarrass a sailor. However, the most interesting of these
people was Old Fitzy. Old Fitzy, who may well have been given that name at birth, was easily the
most contrary person I have ever met. Not once in the entire time that I knew him did he ever




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answer a question directly. And although this probably sounds quite unpleasant, it was all done
with a knowing smirk and with a view to causing as much trouble as possible.
        Every once in a while, when the clatter of the Hasting women got too much, Old Fitzy
would issue the most deafening roar of 'shut up' that caused even the fruit to shake. One of these
ladies had a small Picanese dog that she one day insisted on bringing to the orchard and then talked
about the little rat all day long. After about four or five hours, Fitzy made a loud confession. 'I
love Picanese,' he bellowed. 'Love 'em. Especially with Black Bean sauce.' Needless to say the
dog never appeared at the orchard again.
        Last week, my youngest brother finished his exams and headed out to the orchard. While
speaking to the orchardist, he asked after Fitzy, only to be told that he had passed away about a
month ago. He'd died of a heart attack. The orchard probably seems far from the same without
him, and possibly over-run with Picanese dogs. If you were standing there you could probably still
hear him bellowing across the paddock. Perhaps adopting Pete's favourite phrase and saying 'a
little death never hurt anyone'.




                                      Things that don't go together.


        God and the Devil. Love and Hate. Torvill and Dean. There are some things that were
never meant to go together. Sensible people would probably and 'water' and 'electricity' to that list,
but not my father. Not that Pete isn't sensible. More that he's the type to push the envelope of
conventional wisdom to the point that it's no longer either 'conventional' nor, indeed, 'wisdom'. Not
unlike his courageous stand regarding use-by dates (merely a guide, if that), Pete is compelled to
bring water and electricity together.
        When Pete washes his car - which, if the last twenty years are any kind of guide will be
between 4 and 5 o'clock each Sunday afternoon - he uses the hose, a bucket and a very large
sponge. And when the job is done, Pete places this large sodden sponge back where he always
keeps it - the fuse box. When told that this may not be totally safe, Pete scoffed and stated that 'it
would be fine'. I'm sure that if the world were about to suffer a sudden and ignominious end, Pete
would probably say 'it'll be fine'.




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       Pete had quite a few theories. And some of these theories translated into chores for Cam
and I. Most memorable amongst there was 'chipping'. For those of you unfamiliar with the term,
an explanation is probably in order. Our driveway in Tyabb was about a kilometre long. Which
was considered quite short by Tyabb standards. And because our driveway was gravel, weeds
would grow through it, with the end result being quite unsightly. Pete certainly thought so. And so
Cam and I would be despatched, usually when the sun was at its highest, with flannel hats and a
mattock each to dig the weeds out.
       It was one of our least favourite chores, ranking only marginally behind digging out
blackberries from the back paddock and snake charming. Hours and hours of labour would clear
the weeds from about one square metre of driveway. It was a large task. Never one to fail to
consider all the options, Cam began to do some research. And after a while, he discovered a
product called 'weed kill'. As the name so accurately suggests, 'weed kill' is a product that, when
sprayed, kills weeds. They shrivel up and die and disappear, and all without a mattock in sight.
Cam was quite passionate about the issue. He presented pamphlets. He prepared graphs. He did
all he could to convince Pete that this was a far superior, indeed 'scientific' way of going about
things. But all to no avail. Pete insisted that removing weeds from the driveway by mattock was
not only more cost efficient, it was now 'tradition'.
       And so it was that Cam and I spent what seemed like forever, wearing terry-towelling hats
digging weeds out of the driveway. This more that anything, explains my love of concreting.
       Recently, the water pump at Tyabb broke down. Pete rang Cam, who was always more
practical, and asked him to come around and have a look. After several minutes of studying the
pump, Cam wandered around the verandah and opened the fuse box to find that one of the fuses
had popped out and this had caused the pump to fail. He also found a sponge, wet and soaking. As
it turns out, Pete had just washed his car.




                                              Ode to a Nokia.


Now I lay me down to sleep,
My mobile phone against my cheek.




                                                                                                189
We're a team, you understand,
Since it was glued into my hand.
At first I loved my mobile phone,
But soon I longed to be alone.
From Everist to the Bermudas,
There's no escape from this intruder.


I long for 1983,
When mobile phones were rare indeed.
And only used by merchant bankers,
That we decried as 'useless wankers'.
I long to live back in the Stone Age
Before they'd heard of 'mobile phone rage',
Where the user's face becomes,
Like a tomato in the sun.


But what really makes me sick
Is what the beggars do to music.
Mozart, Chopin, Bach and Handel
All destroyed by that small vandal.
What was intended to amuse,
Is now left open to abuse.
I want to ask through gritted grin,
'What's wrong with just a humble ring?'


If that sounds odd, then here's what's stranger,
On the bus, you see behaviour,
That so resembles mental illness,
And breaks the all-important stillness.
As people bark into their phone,




                                                   190
As if they're on the bus alone.
I wish that it was commonplace,
That these dear people shut their face.


So take the phone out of your pocket,
And tie it tight onto a rocket.
Close your eyes and shield your face,
And send the thing to outer space.
Or launch the phone into the sea,
Just do whatever sets you free.
And one quick act of random violence,
Will give you back the sounds of silence.


Now I lay me down to rest,
My mobile phone against my chest
My life will be so much improved
The day it's surgically removed.




                                                 Rodney.


        For the past few weeks, residents of Tyabb have had to live in fear. Fear that their lives
may well be brutally snuffed out while they sleep, in a murderous act of revenge.
        To be honest, the above probably constitutes something of an overstatement. Rather than
'residents of Tyabb', I probably only needed to say 'my father, Pete and my brother Lachlan'.
However, the rest of the paragraph is disturbingly true. Having said that, I did neglect a minor
detail in that the creature causing such terror is a rooster.
        The rooster, or 'Rodney' as he is known to his friends, has taken a turn for the worse.
Thinking back, he was always the type of bird who had a chip on his shoulder. Or he would, if he
had shoulders. He lives in a pen up behind the shed with about half a dozen chickens and for years




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has taken some delight in attacking various members of my family whose chore it was to collect the
eggs. He would do this in a number of ways. Firstly, he'd do the traditional leap across the pen
with the aggressive flapping of wings.        But after a few years of incarceration, he started to
experiment with new techniques, often using camouflage paint in order to get closer to his intended
victim before launching an attack.
         When we were still kids, standard issue Tyabb-attire in the summer months was (and, quite
frankly, still is) a t-shirt, shorts and gumboots. In fact, as far as I can remember, this was our
school uniform. (For formal wear, you would only need to add a clip-on tie to the ensemble or
wipe the dirt from your face) What this meant was that from the top of the gumboot to where your
shorts began represented a target for Rodney the Rooster to zoom in on. Something he could aim
for. To this very day, I seldom wear shorts so that strangers are not forced to look upon the
dreadful scars I sustained at the talons of Rodney.
         For a while there, once the scars had healed (well, the physical ones, at any rate) Rodney
settled down. This was partly due to the rooster's old age and partly due to my father's insistence
that he be restrained using the same technology that so ably controlled Anthony Hopkins in the film
'The Silence of the Lambs'. However, it recent weeks, something has gone wrong. Horribly
wrong.
         Lachlan was walking up behind the shed to the back dam when Rodney struck. As Lachlan
strolled past the enclosure, Rodney launched himself from the back fence right across the pen and
hurtled himself at full speed into the fence. In an explosion of sound and feathers, the Kamikaze
Rooster caused Lachy to fall over before he turned and ran, fearing for his life as he did. When
Pete first heard of Rodney 'The Chicken Torpedo' he laughed. That was until he was heading out
to collect the eggs and Rodney came at him at a hundred miles an hour causing him to toss them
into the air like a premature omelette, breaking three of them. Now Pete will only go up there if
he's carrying the rake to defend himself.
         A couple of weeks ago, there was blackout that effected most of the Mornington Peninsula.
However, when it first occurred, Pete and Lachlan suspected something a good deal more sinister.
Cursing himself for having left the rake up in the shed, Pete considered calling the police but
thought better of it. He didn't want to be the first person in the history of the district to report being
molested by poultry. After an hour or so, the lights came back on and everything was in its place




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and Rodney was nowhere to be seen. And although he was in his cage the next day, Lachlan
swears that had he had lips, Rodney would have been smirking.




                                              Cumquat.


       'Cumquat'. Without doubt, the word 'cumquat' is the most hilarious in the entire English
language. In fact, I've often thought that if I had ever been a member of a heavy metal band, I
would have named it after the miniature fruit. Cam's view, however, is that it sounds like the name
of a porno film starring midgets. Each to their own I suppose.
       For some time, Pete's reputation on gardening matters has been rather poor. He is regarded
as something of an 'Angel of Death' when it comes to plants. Not that the Angel of Death is
especially known for wearing a terry-towelling hat and a t-shirt emblazoned with the words 'Wham
- The Big Tour'. As a result, Pete's vegetable patch is a rather pitiful sight. Resembling, as it does,
more an agricultural hospice than anything you might readily identify as a garden. There have been
a couple of notable exceptions to this. While useful items such as tomatoes and strawberries have
pretty much withered on the vine, vegies such as broad beans and silverbeet have flourished. This
is best explained for the fact that these are, in all honesty, probably forms of weed rather than
anything you would gladly eat.
       Recently, Pete made something of a breakthrough with the cumquat tree. After years of
lingering on the brink of existence, it started to sprout forth an abundance of fruit. Somewhat
proud of this, he insisted that Cam take some home. Like most people, Cam wasn't sure he had an
immediate use for an armful of cumquats but Pete suggested that he could preserve them.
('Preserving fruit' was something my father and all the Irish Aunts were incredibly keen on,
although you could reasonably ask: 'Preserved for what, exactly?' The jars of preserved fruit
always resembled some kind of grisly fruit museum more than anything else.)
       A couple of days later, Pete gave Cam a shopping bag full of cumquats weighing just under
one metric tonne. Despite protestations that he was unlikely to need his own bodyweight in fruit,
Pete would not take 'no' as any kind of answer. Once Cam got home, he immediately consulted the
highly useful and very informative 'Stephanie Alexander Cookbook'.            It contained a detailed




                                                                                                    193
dissertation of the cumquat, including a description, presumably to assist you in recognising one if
you met it in a dark alley or some such thing. The book, with some authority, claimed that
cumquats are not really citrus fruit at all. Mostly, this is because true citrus fruit have 8 to 15
sections while the cumquat has 3 to 6 sections only. The book further described the taste of the
cumquat as 'complex', being both sweet and bitter all at once.
       My brother quickly elected to make cumquat jam and armed with this information, began to
peel the fruit. The first thing he noticed as he did this was it that seemed to have quite a number of
sections. Certainly more than 3 to 6. Unsure of what this meant, he tried a piece. Whatever the
taste was, it was certainly not 'complex'. Nor was it both sweet and bitter. It was, as Cam
determined, the world's smallest mandarin. Rather than produce a bumper and robust crop of
cumquats, Pete had managed to produce a kind of Shetland citrus fruit. Midget mandarins, to be
precise.
       It goes without saying that these were not 'preserved'. All evidence of their existence has
since been destroyed.




                                           Chicken Run.


       While living in Brisbane, I have been to the cinema on countless occasions and although it's
pretty much akin to a cinema experience anywhere else, there is one thing I cannot get used to.
Namely, that people feel free to talk during the movie.           Put simply, this makes me feel
'uncomfortable'. Not that this is any great achievement.
       A word of warning might be appropriate at this point. People from Brisbane may find the
following material 'offensive'.
       Call me pedantic, or possibly just sad, but I find this quite distracting. Why they do this is
something of a mystery. It's as though they are so dazzled by the very spectacle of moving pictures
on a screen that they cannot help but wonder out loud at such 'witchcraft'. Indeed, overwhelmed by
the sheer magic of it, they are compelled to verbalise their sense of awe. I imagine they're
whispering something about 'voodoo' or praying to their various pagan gods for mercy. I'm only




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surprised that more of them do not leave their seats and look behind the screen to see if there are
people standing there.
       While in Melbourne recently, my brother Cam and I decided to take our nephew Brodie to
see a movie. Because he's not quite three, it was, in fact, to be his very first movie. We decided to
go and see 'Chicken Run', partly because none of us had seen it, and partly because 'Dancer in the
Dark' was all sold out. As a precaution, Cam and I took along Brodie's dad, Jamie, just in case
there was any need for a nappy change.
       Even before we left the house, Brodie had figured out exactly what was going on. In the car
on the way to the cinema, he kept on yelling out the name of the movie and I have to admit, that his
enthusiasm was contagious. We bought tickets and made our way in. With the four of us lined up
along a row, we waited. That is, Cam, Jamie and I waited. Brodie just kept on wriggling out of his
seat, impatiently demanding the movie begin. As the opening credits began, so too did the talking.
My nephew could not help but yell the words 'Chicken Run!' over and over again, so much so that I
momentarily forgot where I was and thought I was back in Brisbane.
       Each time he yelled out, I felt myself becoming unreasonably embarrassed. As difficult as
it is to go red in the dark, I managed to glow nevertheless. That was, until every other child in the
room responded by yelling out 'Chicken Run' in an act of toddler solidarity. As it turns out, it's
what three year olds do. They yell at the screen. And rightly so, too. Perhaps the people of
Queensland are on to something. The rest of the movie went well, save for the few tense minutes
in which we thought a 'soiling' incident had taken place. But then Cam declared himself fit to
continue and we watched the movie without interruption.




                                             Christmas.


       Christmas this year was at my brother's house in Mt Eliza. And although in previous years,
Cam has used a plastic tree, this year he went all out and bought the real thing. It was decorated
tastefully in red and white with a star on top. When the family arrived he proudly showed it off, at
which point Pete looked at it quizzically for a few minutes before declaring it 'threadbare'.




                                                                                                  195
         At Pete's house, the tree is plastic. It was purchased in 1977 and has been used every year
since.   The base of the tree is brown plastic, which may well be intended to deceive the
exceptionally slow-witted into thinking that it is in fact, wood, when nothing could be further from
the truth. It is heavily covered with tinsel, so much so that it looks as though it has been decorated
by Gary Glitter. Either that, or with the mortal remains of Liberace. Each year it would be draped
in the type of coloured lights that routinely explode when you least expect, that would flash as if
signalling for help.
         And yet despite the fact that our tree routinely resembled not so much a centre piece as an
anaemic bit of green plastic covered in a shredded Las Vegas stage costume with the hazard lights
on, my brothers and sisters and I would inevitably get at up at some disgraceful hour on Christmas
Day.
         When we were eventually allowed to open up various presents, we did so in a manner that
was quite ahead of its time. Well before the word 'recycling' became a buzzword, Pete was its
sternest exponent. And so it was that we would remove wrapping paper with a precision that could
well be described as 'surgical' in order that the paper wouldn't tear and could be packed away and
used again the following year. Which meant that Christmas day in our house was always infused
with a certain sense of 'deja vu'.
         As good as this year's Christmas was, now that the elderly Irish Aunts have all passed away,
there a certain things missing from the festive season. I no longer receive handkerchiefs with my
initials on them on an annual basis. In fact I realised this week that I no longer HAVE any
handkerchiefs with my initials on them and may be forced to buy some. And I remember that each
year, we would receive a package from overseas that would most likely contain biscuits. Not just
any biscuits, but strange European biscuits in a tin that could not be opened with anything less than
a crowbar and even if you did, you'd never contemplate eating the contents. The tin would always
be covered with lots of writing in a foreign language we didn't understand. Despite endless
speculation, we had no idea what the tin was saying. If I had to hazard a guess, probably 'Warning:
Do Not Eat Biscuits'. And then there was the coloured popcorn that felt like cardboard but didn't
taste quite as good.
         This year, as I picked up a gift which was wrapped in something oddly familiar, I watched
my nephews Brodie and Jake tear open their presents while Pete forcibly restrained himself from




                                                                                                   196
objecting. I looked on with a sense of pride as Jake moved on from the present and began to try
and eat the tree itself. No doubt it was more edible than European biscuits.




                                           Let's All Sing.


       Portable school buildings are the sputum of the architectural world. Invariably they are
ovens in summer and ice-boxes in winter, and were probably designed by the same people who
brought you the cardboard box. But despite how repugnant they are, these were the places we
learned to read, write and do our arithmetic. Not to mention sing.
       Like most people my age, I learned to sing the hard way. Through ABC radio. The
program was entitled 'Let's All Sing' and on Wednesday afternoons, we would be herded together
and forced to sit around an AM/FM transistor and to try to sing along. The songs usually included
'John Sloop B' by the Beach Boys, 'Country Roads' by John Denver and 'Master of the Puppets' by
Metallica. The singing, quite simply, was not very good. For the most part, it bore a stark
resemblance to the sound dogs must make at the precise moment they are neutered. In other words
we tended to avoid traditional notions of melody and rhythm. Which, as much as anything explains
why some of my classmates went on to form 'Bardot', I guess. Not so much a case as 'Let's All
Sing' as 'Lets All Howl Like Medicated Banshees'.
       It was one of those hot December afternoons and we were gathered around the radio. The
entire classroom smelled like hot sandwiches that had spent far too long in lunchboxes. All the
students were singing as they usually did. Suffice to say that 'Flying Purple People Eater' has
seldom sounded so frightening. When Ms Shugg announced that we had to sing all seventeen
verses of 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda', some of my classmates decided that drastic
action was called for. One by one, beginning with Marcus Dixon and finishing with Stephen
Thompson, they edged their way across the room towards the window. One at a time they took
turns sitting on the window ledge and before gracefully allowing themselves to fall out. Once
outside, my classmates knew exactly what to do. They were going to go to the scout camp.
       Camp Farnie. It always sounded so exotic. Either that or vaguely obscene. Camp Farnie
was the name given to the acres of undisciplined scrubland that happened to be right next door to




                                                                                              197
our primary school in Tyabb.         It was hardly sophisticated, but it was wild and rugged and
definitely teacher-free. I had been there once before, during an especially radical stage in Grade 5.
I had run, along with my classmates, through the long grass away from the school as fast as my
corduroy legs would carry me. With my blood racing and sweat beginning to form beneath my
skivvy, I had never felt so alive.
       On this December day as I watched my classmates disappear out the window, I realised I
was too afraid of getting caught to join in. So while they frolicked in Camp Farnie, I persisted with
the lost cause that was my singing voice. If I had my time over, I'd probably do more 'Camp
Farnies' and fewer 'Let's All Sings', but I guess everybody says that. At least I know all seventeen
verses of 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda'. Which is more than can be said for my
classmates.




                                             Ned Kelly.


       Over the weekend, the newspapers reported that Neil Jordan, the esteemed Irish film
director had purchased the movie rights to Peter Carey's wonderful book, 'The True History of the
Kelly Gang'. The director wouldn't comment much other than to say that it was 'unlikely' that Mick
Jagger would be invited to reprise the role. Which is fair enough. Although maybe it would be
more appropriate if a contemporary rock star was given the job. Perhaps Fred Durst of 'Limp
Bizkit', Marilyn Manson or even Liam Gallagher? My personal preference at this point is Aaron
Carter. Although you're probably not meant to cheer during the 'Hanging' scene.
       Flinders Christian Community College was pretty much as grim as the title suggests. It was
the only secondary school in Tyabb, which probably tells you as much as you need to know. To
describe it as conservative would be akin to describing the ebola virus as 'a touch uncomfortable'.
It was uptight, inward looking and intolerant. In fact, it taught these things as subjects. This, as
much as anything, probably explains why my marks were so good. Particularly memorable was
our headmaster's view that commercial radio was the work of Satan. And even if those familiar
with the work of Matchbox 20 would probably agree, it was in this cauldron of hysteria that my
brothers and sister and I were educated.




                                                                                                  198
       But despite this arch conservatism, when spring took hold proper, one day in each year
would be set aside as 'water bag day'. This consisted of the students not wearing their uniforms and
pelting each other with water balloons until they collapsed. Generally speaking, I would spend the
day inside, away from the water and possibly under my desk.
       Cam, however, took a completely different approach to school. He didn't believe that the
Dark Lord controlled the radio. He didn't believe that being within a metre of the opposite sex
would result in spontaneous human combustion. He believed that pumpkin was not a vegetable but
a fruit. (Note: He bases this belief on the theory that anything with seeds must, by definition, be a
fruit. This resulted in the campaign in which he lobbied the confectionary company 'Allens', trying
to get them to introduce pumpkin flavoured Fruit Tingles.)
       He also used to get into a lot more trouble than I did. There was the time he superglued his
best friend Stavros to his chair. Or the time they attended a 'free dress day' in their pyjamas
resulting in a threatened expulsion and a change to the school rules, in spite of the fact that they had
both taken the trouble to sew up the front. And then there was the time that Stav and Cam tried to
hook a car battery using jumper cables to the teacher's urinal. The less said about that the better.
       Cam and Stav had always looked forward to water bag day. Each year they would arrive at
school with their bags packed with full water balloons rather than books. This time however, they
disappeared while the rest of the school set about pounding the living daylights out of each other.
And just as bedraggled students, wet with water and covered in mud exhausted themselves,
somebody let out a cry of awe. At the top of the hill just near the bicycle shed stood Cam and Stav,
hands on hips and covered from head to toe in plastic. It seems they had constructed themselves
suits made out of garbage bags. Immune and carrying a large supply of water balloons, destroyed
everyone and everything in sight.
       They didn't get threatened with suspension on this particular occasion. Nor were the school
rules changed. Instead, no one ever dared speak of 'water bag day' ever again.




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                                               My Vote.


Now here lies my little vote,
I could not give it to a goat.
Nationals, Labour and One Nation,
Owe my vote an explanation.
And if beggars can't be choosers,
To choose from this big bunch of losers
Between the evil of two lessers,
Would vex the smartest of Professors.


Our leader took an awful punt
Engaging in a daring stunt,
Swimming in a tank of sharks,
While the wider world remarks:
'How cruel it is to pose a threat
To peaceful sharks', but better yet,
When back on land, he'd gladly gloat,
The sharks were now enrolled to vote.


And at the far end of the scale,
They'd like to send you straight to gaol.
They seem to make an awful clatter,
You cannot trust those strange Mad-Hatters
It's sad or so it‟s often said,
To have a neck so badly red.
Such is their mental constipation,
They'd sell their souls out to 'One Nation'.


And as for that poor bunch of deadbeats-




                                                          200
What a senseless waste of bedsheets!
In Queensland, they come by the dozen
-It happens when you marry cousins.
The so-called 'mother of Australia'
Is nothing but a useless failure,
I fear she may be none-too-bright,
Although her title's half-way right.


And so I go on polling day,
I cannot give my vote away.
I'll grunt and groan and bitch and grizzle
From school's gate to sausage sizzle.
In politics it's said and heard,
You get just what you do deserve
The Sunshine State is now so wonky,
I'll take my vote and make a donkey.




                                               Toolbox.


        In the course of history, there have been few people who might fairly be described as truly
evil. Adolf Hitler. Josef Stalin. The Hamburglar. And there are very few sentences in the course
of human experience that manage to inspire nothing but dread and abject horror. 'Your turn next',
'Is this loaded?' and 'I've fallen and I can't get up' being just a few examples. Of all such sentences,
without doubt the most horrifying is the statement 'Easy to assemble'. Next to 'Two-Minute
Noodles' it represents a spectacular infraction of the truth.
        Since as long as I can remember, I have had trouble putting things together. In fact, my
entire life can be tracked by objects that I have received and then failed to a ssemble. From the
model aeroplane I received when I was eight, to the clotheshorse I bought during the gas crisis two
years ago and which, to this day, remains in its box in the cupboard. Perhaps with a view to




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making me slightly less useless in this regard, Pete bought me a tool box. And not only did he buy
me a tool box, he filled with useful things such as hammers, saws and screwdrivers. Collectively, I
believe they're known as 'tools'. Hence 'tool box'.
       Coming in to my first Queensland summer, I was warned by many a soul as to just how
much I was likely to suffer in the Northern heat. These warnings, as it turns out, were issued not so
much out of concern so much as malicious delight. Indeed, over the last few months, I have found
myself in a state of constant weariness. Certainly I have tended to sweat more than can generally
be considered polite. Even in the office, I find my Queensland colleagues to be far more hardy
when it comes to the heat. Just when I find that the room feels heated much like a Turkish Steam-
House, they're all smearing themselves with whale fat to guard themselves against the cold. And
although I bravely claim that 'If you can't see your breath, how do you know you're breathing?' it
seems most Queenslanders see things differently.
       And so, I bought a fan. To be specific, I bought a model 29-A Executive fan, including a
sheer black frame with chrome blades. Actually, I think I simply pointed and grunted, but the shop
assistant insisted on explaining all these things to me anyway. Having grunted and pointed at a
particular demonstration model, I was presented with a box. Having paid, I made my way upstairs
and unpacked it. As I did, something dreadful came clear - the fan was not assembled. Moreover, I
was expected to do it myself. Panic set in and large beads of sweat began to appear, although in
retrospect that may well have been the heat.
       In a temporary fit of courage or possibly madness (the two are quite closely related) I
fetched my toolbox. I looked at the diagram which had nothing in the way of words and was
supposed to tell you how to assemble the fan. Personally, I found it a moving work of striking
boldness that embraced the new aesthetic of technology but, in all, it brought me no closer to
understanding how to put the thing together. Most worrying of all, was the fact that I had to attach
the blade - a metal object that would soon be rotating at high speed.
       After several hours and more violence than could be considered reasonable, I managed to
assemble it. And although it makes a strange 'scraping' sound from time to time, the overall effect
is quite hypnotic. Much like the sound of a train over the tracks. It would probably be quite
soothing if not for the large number of sparks.




                                                                                                  202
Note: My brother recently began making me a wooden CD case. Given that he's in Mt Eliza and
I'm in Brisbane, he will be sending each individual piece up by post. As though he was holding an
entire tree to ransom. I am expected to put it together myself. It may take some time.




                                             The Doctor.


        The last time I punched a person, with the possible exception of my brother Cameron, was
in 1975. I was four years old and the recipient of my indubitably devastating right hook was an
elderly physician by the name of Dr Charles. On the cusp of retirement, Dr Charles had been
treating children on the Mornington Peninsula for forty years or more. On this particular day he
had assumed that he would be giving a routine tetanus shot. Nothing particularly remarkable about
it. On paper, it did not seem like anything that should require a bodyguard. Then again, the good
doctor had never treated me before.
        It should be said that I have, and have always had, a remarkably low threshold for pain. In
fact, it's probably fairer to say that it is not so much low as completely non-existent. I'm sure that I
had been given needles before that day, but none that I remember. I certainly knew at that point
what a needle was. And although only four, I was acutely aware that the statement 'you won't feel a
thing' was surely something of a gross understatement. The fact that my parents, the receptionist at
the medical centre, the nurse and the good doctor himself seemed committed to telling me 'you
won't feel a thing' didn't convince me that the process would be painless. It only convinced me that
there was a dire adult conspiracy taking place.
        At the time of my appointment, I was led into the doctor's surgery, possibly in handcuffs.
Dr Charles, in his twilight years and obviously frail, was having some difficulty in preparing the
injection. He pushed the sleeves of his tweed jacket back along his withered arms and straightened
his glasses. He took a firm grip of my wrist and dabbed the antiseptic on 'the target zone'. It was at
this point that I began crying, probably because the antiseptic was quite cold. Concentrating very
hard, the doctor began to lean in, while brandishing the needle. He then uttered five simple words
he must have uttered a million times before in the course of his distinguished career: 'This won't
hurt a bit'.




                                                                                                    203
       They say that in moments of great crisis, you can find that you are possessed by an inhuman
strength. At such moments, some people are able to lift great weights, others can leap amazing
distances. I, however, was able to punch Dr Charles so hard that his glasses were knocked off his
face and the doctor himself fell to the floor like a dropped bag of potatoes. In shock, the nurse
called for assistance, as I commenced to run round and around the bed that was in the middle of the
room. There were people screaming and adults apologising while I continued in my small circle of
evasion. All I know is that the plan to inoculate me was abandoned for the day.
       I heard that Dr Charles retired not too long after that. And two week s later, I was bundled
into the back of the Volkswagen and taken to a new doctor. Dr Jack was younger, and certainly
stronger than Dr Charles. Worse than that, he had his treating bed up against the wall, making it
impossible to run around. That day, I felt the sharp end of things as I got the first a thousand
needles.
       I've always been ashamed at knocking out an elderly physician. However, this week a
friend of mine had to be inoculated for measles or mumps or something that certainly makes your
arm swell up to the size of a football. And while she certainly did not punch anyone, I did hear that
she pulled a knife and threatened to take the surgery staff with her 'to hell' if necessary. Sadly, it
didn't work, or so her sailor's bicep suggests.




                                                  Warning.


       'Do not expose to naked flame.' 'Do not leave your handbag unattended.' 'Beware of falling
rocks'. These types of warnings are pretty much standard in this day and age. In fact, there's hardly
anything these days that does not come with some kind of caution. I bought a packet of fundraiser
M & M's at work, recently, and for no good reason was reading the packet to find the following:
'Warning: May Contain Traces of Peanuts'. Not exactly the kind of message that strikes fear into
your heart.   Certainly not anything that would induce panic.        In full knowledge that I may
inadvertently strike a peanut, or a trace thereof, I have nevertheless eaten most of the M & Ms. It
was a chance I was willing to take.




                                                                                                   204
       My brother has a router. Lest people should mispronounce this and get the wrong idea
entirely, it is a 'Row- ter'. Apparently it can drill holes in wood. Which Cam claims is quite useful,
but I can't say I miss having one. It also contains the following caution: 'Warning - Do Not Use for
Home Dentistry'. This, it has to be said, is a wonderful statement. Personally speaking I have not
met anyone who has listed 'home dentistry' as an interest. For notoriety, it hardly ranks with stamp
collecting or model plane building. But however many devotees of the black art of home dentistry
there are, there must be enough be enough to warrant placing a warning on an item of hardware.
       I had laughed when Cam had told me about it. That was until I had noticed to auspicious
silence on the other end of the line. Cam, possibly lamenting that he had not seen the warning
earlier, referred to a former employee of his by the name of Ron. Sadly, Ron is a 'former' employee
in the most extreme sense, in that he has since passed away. But while he worked for my brother,
one of his more remarkable features had been his teeth. Due to a diet that must have almost
exclusively consisted of sugar, Ron had long since lost teeth of the God given variety.
Unfortunately, his false teeth had weathered years of rough treatment and resembled an old wooden
fence with a couple of the palings kicked in.
       When Ron announced he was taking annual leave to have trip around Tasmania with his
wife, it was quite a big deal. Indeed, both Ron and his 'missus' ordered new false teeth to mark the
occasion. A couple of days before Ron was due to head off, Cam asked him how the preparations
were going. To this, Ron responded with an enthusiasm that was barely mortal saying that the
wife's new 'falsies' had arrived last night. When Cam asked how they were, he claimed they were
'fantastic' and that she could now 'eat an apple through a picket fence'. Slightly frightened and
confused by this, Cam said nothing further.
       My own experiences with dentistry are no less overwhelming. Although all my teeth are
still my own, I went through about ten years of weekly visits to the dentist so that my corrective
dental-plate could be adjusted. The dentist would do this using a special drill, interestingly enough
marked with the words: 'Warning: Do not use for routing wood'. Cam's teeth were always perfect
and I think he may, in fact, suffer dentist envy. Now that Ron is no longer with us, I suspect Cam
seldom walks past a picket fence without wondering what it might be like to eat an apple through it.
This would, I suspect, explain why it was he bought a router.




                                                                                                  205
                                               Rain.


       God bless Queenslanders. I mean that, quite sincerely. For no other group of people on the
face of the earth are equipped with such a sense of baseless optimism as the ones that sit on top of
New South Wales. In particular, this optimism applies to the weather.
       To be blunt, the weather in Queensland is appalling. Although I realise this is probably a
minority view, I can only say in my defence that a little variety would not go astray. For the most
part, the temperature reaches from a low of 20 degrees and a high of 28 day in, day out. Only in
Brisbane does a seven day forecast seem needlessly modest. For much of the time, it would safe to
stretch it out to perhaps forty days or so, at least. The weather here is so constantly warm and
fuzzy, you'd swear that it was under some form of medication.
       However, every once in a while, the gods must get angry or we accidentally get Victoria's
weather through some kind of clerical error, and it rains. And when it does, it rains in the fullest
and most proper sense. Take last Friday, for example. On Thursday night, all the news bulletins
predicted showers. Again on Friday morning, the radio was quite clear in stating that it was going
to rain.   Sure enough, at about three o'clock in the afternoon, the heavens opened up and a
spectacular deluge followed. But here was the amazing thing. Despite the fact that the storms were
forecast at least a day in advance, the good people of Brisbane were still surprised to find that it
was raining. Indeed there were large groups of Brisbanites standing outside and staring at the
heavens with their jaws slung low in sheer awe.
       Nobody brought an umbrella. Except me that is, and this can probably be attributed to the
fact that I am one of those cynical-hard-as-nails Victorians. Or at least, I kind of hope I am.
Ignoring the fact that I carry my umbrella in my bag, to meetings, to lunch and everywhere else for
the 364 days it doesn't rain is hardly relevant. I was prepared. Two of my colleagues prepared to
leave for home and resigned themselves to getting completely soaked as they made a dash from the
office to the car park. I wished them luck, as though seeing them off to war and thought nothing
further. A while after they left, I noticed something in the corner of the office. Specifically, I
noticed a number of umbrellas lying fallow. Three of them. Like some kind of elephant graveyard.
My colleagues had not even thought to look. This, I find, is quite endearing. People in Brisbane




                                                                                                 206
simply refuse to believe that bad weather would ever be so impolite as to intrude upon their tropical
paradise. So rarely does it rain that people find the fact of precipitation something of a rude
awakening.
       The other thing I discovered is that everything leaks when it rains. First, the office leaked.
And by 'leaked' I do not mean a single drop of water squeezing through a tiny crack. I mean a
torrent of water that would have enable you to shower in the stairwell, were it not indecent to do so.
Then the bus leaked. Through the roof and through the window. And even though the gutters were
full to the brim with water, the driver insisted on driving through them, casting a wave of water
over unlucky pedestrians. The following day, the rain was front page news.
       I still have my umbrella in my bag. That's despite the fact that we're heading for a sunny
top of 28 degrees. When it comes to rain, I like to be optimistic.




                                               Bionic.


       One day, I'll stumble upon a place that contains every pen, sock and driver's license I ever
lost. (Admittedly, I only lost my driver's license once. I may have thrown it out with expired tram
tickets). And in the midst of the Aladdin‟s cave of writing implements, I will probably find my Six
Million Dollar Man Thermos. Let me say straight away that I loved my Six Million Dollar Man
Thermos. But then the people at work starting making fun of me and I stopped bringing it. Of all
the superheroes that populated our television screen in the 1970s, there was no-one quite like Steve
Austin (or was it Austen? Possibly related to Jane). Right from the starting credits you knew you
were in for something special - 'We have the technology' indeed.
       As an actor, Lee Majors was uniquely qualified to play the role of the Six Million Dollar
Man. So mechanical was his acting, it was always easy to believe that this person was now more
machine than man. And although some actors are renown for communicating vast reservoirs of
emotion while scarcely moving a muscle, the face of Lee Majors was so steadfastly frozen it
communicated nothing at all. Other than 'I don't remember my next line'. The inscrutably blank
expression that was forever fixed to his face often left the viewer wondering what exactly was
going through Steve's mind, when the answer was probably: 'not terribly much'. No matter how




                                                                                                  207
extreme the circumstance, Steve's face was always the same. "Steve, there are only fifteen minutes
left before the world is destroyed by a giant bomb." Cue: Steve looking wooden.
        To give him his credit though, he managed to get through an entire decade wearing the
same polyester tracksuit without it beginning to look at all tattered. Everyone I knew only had to
run a tracksuit once through the wash before the elastic started to suffer and the 'pants' part of the
tracksuit began to travel at half-mast, exposing more of your backside than was strictly decent. Nor
did he ever forget to take a tissue out before trotting down to the laundry and rushing his tracksuit
through the spin cycle. This was in stark contrast with my family, where it seemed one of the five
children was destined to always send a Kleenex to the washing machine. As a consequence, our
clothes were always sprinkled in what looked like over-sized dandruff. No doubt we resembled
giant lamingtons.
        I used to take my Six Million Dollar Man Thermos to school both in the winter and in the
summer, sometimes not with anything in it, but just so other people could see it sticking
conspicuously out of my school bag. Secretly, I suspect people were jealous. Especially, my
brother, Cam. Unlike me, there was nothing particularly bionic about his school gear at all. In
contrast, he had an Incredible Hulk Thermos. I pitied him.
        All this came to a horrid end on 5 August, 1979. It was the school sports day and I had to
run the 400 metres, and I was not too thrilled at the thought of it. Lining up against the boys in my
class, all of whom I knew were faster runners, or at the very least less likely to trip over their own
feet, I did not feel my customary sense of impending doom. For I had a secret weapon. More to
the point, I had a technique that television told me could not fail. As the starter's gun went off,
everyone took off at a great pace. Except for me that is, who, running in slow motion, was quite
surprised to find myself not so much winning the race as coming stone-cold motherless last. The
following day, which, co-incidentally, is when I crossed the finishing line, I threw away my
thermos in disgust. The Six Million Dollar Man had let me down.
        I was never so fond of 'The Fall Guy' having been so burned by the Six Million Dollar Man
experience. But should I ever stumble across my pens, socks and my thermos, I'm sure that Lee
Majors will be smiling down in approval. Or at least he would if he could get his facial muscles to
move.




                                                                                                  208
                                             Cool As Ice.


       Last weekend, I hired a video. Nothing particularly remarkable about that. And because
my local video store provides that you get a free weekly with each overnight rental, I then had to
scour the shelves in search of something else. The more practical among you would probably
suggest that I should only get the video I wanted and not inconvenience myself by trying to find
something additional to watch. In my defence, I can only say that the look of sheer disbelief on the
video clerk's face when you tell them you don't want to get a free weekly with your overnight rental
is simply not worth the trouble.
       I was making my way alphabetically along the row when a particular title caught my eye.
'Cool As Ice' blared the cover in tall, tight graphics. My curiosity sufficiently aroused, I picked it
up for a closer look. The blurb on the front read as follows:
       "When a girl has a heart of stone, there's only one way to melt it. Just add Ice."
       I hope that this statement makes more sense to you than it did to me. I'm not sure quite in
what circumstance ice melts a stone, but that was not the only point for concern. Across the top of
the cover was the awful unmitigated truth: "Starring in his first Motion Picture - VANILLA ICE".
As a rule, I think you're in trouble whenever the film-makers feel the need to invoke the words
'motion picture', almost as a stamp of authenticity.
       Gripped by the same fascination that causes people to slow down at car accidents, I decided
to hire the movie. Sorry, I meant 'Motion Picture'. The video clerk had a look of sheer disbelief
across his face when I took it up to the counter. Perhaps even worse than if I had not taken the free
weekly at all. I suspect that not too many before had hired out 'Cool As Ice'.
       I wondered at just how awful this movie might be. The film had certainly bombed upon
release, with Vanilla Ice's fifteen minutes of fame having already expired. The opening scene was
a musical number, which featured both Mr Ice and, what I understand was his 'posse', as well as a
female singer. The singer, as it turns out, was the supermodel Naomi Campbell, in what must have
seemed like a good idea at the time. Funny that she should forget to put 'Cool As Ice' on her
resume. I'm sure it's an oversight.




                                                                                                   209
       In the film Vanilla Ice gives a haunting portrayal of 'Johnny - a free wheeling, motorcycle
riding musician' (if you need any reminder that this is a work of fiction, it comes in the form of the
claim that Mr Ice is a musician). After the first musical number, Vanilla rolled into town wearing
multicoloured jeans that were the trouser equivalent of a parrot. To give you a better idea of what
they looked like, I can only say that they were the long lost matching pants for Joseph's
Technicolour Dreamcoat. At that moment it became clear that Vanilla Ice would be responsible for
his own wardrobe.
       But as the movie progressed, I could not help but feel sorry for the Ice-man. And not just
because of the pants, either. The script was none-too special - suffice as to say that the words
'Waz-up homie' featured rather heavily. But Vanilla's acting was far from an embarrassment. The
movie also feature respected actors such as Michael Gross (you may remember him from television
shows such as 'Family Ties') and some of the dance sequences were quite spectacular. Poor Vanilla
Ice. He was more famous that anyone should be at such a young age, only to have his movie
greeted with universal disinterest and all his records thereafter fail. Under all that bouffant hair
with custom patterning at the back, he could not possibly have expected that he was hurtling
towards a career in late night cable television - the worst form of obscurity known to human kind.
He probably deserved something better.


                                           Cam’s carport


       My brother has a number of views that are all his own. He believes that the '12 items or
less' aisle at the Supermarket operates on the basis of averages. This means that if the person in
front of you only has one item, you can pick up the eleven 'unused' items and put through twenty
three. Also, Cam is currently preparing a paper for an alternative public transport system that relies
totally on horse and cart (the urge to be Amish runs strong in Tyabb). Finally, he believes that
pigeons are the purest source of undiluted evil on earth.
       It began, as so many things do, in the garden. Cam's garden, to be precise. On a whim he
declared that not only was his thumb green, indeed, so was the rest of his anatomy, and that he was
going to renovate his garden. Before this time, the yard at his house had been of the post-
apocalyptic variety. However, now he devoted hours and days dedicated to making his garden




                                                                                                  210
grow. Personally, I have to lay the blame on the television program 'Backyard Blitz'. For those
unfamiliar with the program, it involves an Incredible Hulk-like transformation from suburban
backyard weakling to hulking botanic beauty, and green to boot. It is, or so Cam claims, the only
show of T.V. that brings him to tears.
       The trouble began when he attempted to re-sow his lawn. He started with a large patch of
scorched earth. Slowly and methodically, he planted lawn seed, so that in a few days it began to
resemble Greg Matthews, post 'Advanced Hair'. That was until the pigeons developed a taste for
lawn seed.   Seated on his couch, Cam would be given to suddenly leaping to his feet and
proclaiming 'the pigeons are eating my lawn!' before running outside to spray them with a hose.
Please note that he takes the same approach with slow moving relatives. I, for one, got quite a
nasty spray on Christmas day last year.
       After a few weeks of this, things took a turn for the bizarre. With an enthusiasm usually
reserved for world record attempts, Cam began building a wall for his garage. Brick by brick, he
built the type of wall that would make East Berlin weep with envy. And to go that one step further,
Cam did something that the East Germans never managed - he included a plate-glass window in his
wall. At the time, I had assumed that the carnage that followed had been by sheer accident. It is
only in the months subsequent that I have had cause to suspect anything more diabolical.
       It turns out that the pigeons in the greater Westernport area had been using Cam's carport as
a kind of short cut. To put it kindly, the plate-glass window had made it that much shorter. Not to
mention sudden. Each morning, Cam would get up and find numerous deceased pigeons, for whom
the words 'I'm taking a short cut' would have an inglorious and tragic consequences.
       Cam has moved on to a new project. He has dug a hole and claims that it will one day be a
pond. At first I believed him, but now I think that Cam just wants to bury the pigeon-shaped
evidence.
       His lawn, however, looks fantastic.




                                                                                                211
                                          Garden of Eden


       According to the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, at
which point they became aware of their nakedness and were ashamed. Say what you will about the
concept of original sin, but I think there's great value in people becoming aware of their nakedness
and feeling appropriately embarrassed. Case in point being the man I saw yesterday strolling
across the Story Bridge. In broad daylight, he strode through waves of sweat without shirt and
without shame. It's probably wrong to say that this was distasteful because he wasn't in particularly
good shape. However, the fact that he seemed to have a four-car garage parked over his waist
certainly didn't help matters any. He was gone in just a moment and I could only wonder at the gall
of someone willing to expose so much flesh with so little concern.
       Regardless of whether you consider the story of Adam and Eve to be myth or otherwise, I
find it interesting that God is supposed to have created humankind a garden to live in rather than,
say, a gazebo. I often wonder what the garden of Eden was like and how Don Bourke might rate it.
Whether or not it had a sprinkler system and if it had a compost heap. Quite obviously, I have a lot
of time on my hands. Our garden at Tyabb was huge. As tempting as it is to exaggerate just how
big our garden was, I can honestly say that we had twenty acres, nineteen of which were fenced off
and deemed to be 'the yard'. In fact, mowing the lawn of our yard was much like painting the
Sydney Harbour Bridge - as soon as you reached one side, you immediately had to turn around and
start over again.
       Having fenced off an area the size of Wyoming, Pete set about planting trees. There are
those who take a kind of random approach to planting trees. They rely on instinct, fate or even
feng shui. Pete is not one of those people. Rather, he plants his trees with a military symmetry.
The exact same distance apart, in a perfectly straight line, and each hemmed in by a used tyre, so
that at any given moment, they look as though they might start marching. And having planted trees
as far as the human eye could see, it suddenly occurred to him that all these plants would probably
be in need of some form of on-going maintenance. More to the point, these plants would need to
be watered.
       At this point, I feel the need to be very clear. For hundreds, if not thousands of years,
humankind has made any number of great advances in the area of agriculture. Pete believes in




                                                                                                  212
none of these. Instead, he believes, in just one thing. He believes in the bucket. And so it was that
Cam and I would, every evening, head out with a bucket in each hand and set about watering the
plants. In summer, this task was not nearly so bad. However, in winter, the wire handle would eat
right into your hand, until you half expected that your fingers would be severed completely. We
soon perfected a tortured walk as we would attempt to carry two full buckets of water from the tap
to tree without sloshing half of it down our legs and into our gumboots. The idea was to create as
little 'up and down' motion as possible, and to make it seem as though you were travelling on an
escalator. The 'Gumboot Goosestep', as it became known, probably looked pretty stupid, but it
made a lot of sense when you're trying to stop spilling water all over yourself.
       All those plants have grown and burst their tyres (yes, Pete forgot to take them off until it
was too late to do so). When Cam moved into his house, he laid down a complicated state-of-the-
art sprinkler system with an automated timer. Now all he needs is some plants. I on the other
hand, have no garden at all. Although I do still walk as though not trying to spill anything.




                                    Destroying my sister’s Laser


       Over Christmas, my tenuous relationship with driving was further strained. In an act of
generosity, my sister Rebecca offered me the use of her car while I was in Melbourne. Despite my
initial reservations, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up - I could visit people I knew and
even do some nostalgic sight-seeing. The car in question was a white Ford Laser from the glory
year of 1985. It had a baby seat in the back along with all the attendant paraphernalia, and the
stereo had been stolen some weeks before. Nevertheless, it was, at least in a technical sense, a car.
       In a moment of rashness, I made a promise to drive to Rye to visit my friends John and
Marcelle. I have to admit that it was quite re-freshing to offer to get myself there without having to
beg for a lift or resorting to public transport. However, when I agreed to drive, I hadn't realised just
how strange it would be to do so without any noise. As I began the silent pilgrimage using a
Melways from 1975 (most of the roads had sideburns back then), I thought I noticed the
temperature rising. It then occurred to me that I was simply imagining this for want of
entertainment - kind of hypochondria by proxy, if you will. That was, until the smoke began to




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pour out from under the bonnet, whereupon I began to suspect that my fears may be somewhat
more real than imagined.
       Within a few seconds, the engine lost power and I had to make a limp exit from the
freeway. In the phone call that followed, I'll admit that I may have sounded a touch anxious. As I
waited for Cam to come and pick me up, I watched police cars zip along the freeway booking
people for speeding. Not one of them stopped to see if I needed assistance. To serve and protect,
indeed. Thus, I broke my sister's car.
       With the ignominy of destroying my sister's car behind me, I have tried to lead a less
destructive life. That was, until Tuesday. Returning from a meeting, I found that my computer was
blank. It was, as they say, 'no more'. The screen was completely devoid of life and every time I
tried to switch in on, it seemed to make a helpless 'bleep' sound. As though I was hurting it. Of
course, I raced from my office yelling the words: 'Code blue, code blue', but people seemed either
disinterested or simply not aware of what a 'code blue' was. Eventually, someone called the
computer company and they reluctantly agreed to send someone out.
       The beautiful thing about computer technicians (there had to be one) is that they tell what
you already know, and charge you $200 per hour to do it. When the computer guy arrived, he
looked over and generally prodded my laptop before announcing 'it's not working'. Even with my
limited appreciation for all matters technological, I had figured this much out for myself.     The
computer guy, possibly with a tear in the corner of his eye, then produced a little blanket which he
draped over the top of my computer. 'It's going to a better place,' he said quietly.
       This better place, as it turns out, is the computer guy's office from which it is unlikely to
return any time soon.
       I am not allowed near a computer again. My thanks to my co-worker, Poncho, who allowed
me to dictate this email to him.




                                            New Zealand.


       I've been away. Sorry to anyone who simply thought I was ignoring them.




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Day 1 - Part 1 Brisbane to Christchurch


       Of course I jumped at the chance to go to New Zealand! Afterall, I had been preparing for
this my entire life. That's because since the age of nine I have been collecting New Zealand twenty
cent pieces. Not deliberately, as such. More that whenever I ended up receiving any Kiwi coinage,
I was acutely aware that it was not worth nearly as much as its Australian equivalent. So that any
attempt to use it could well be tantamount to stealing.
       Let me say right now, that I am aware that this is not a majority view.
       I'd taken a couple of weeks off, the first of which I had spent at home. I'd already sent my
colleagues a postcard from Brisbane with the words 'wish you were here', but they were so deeply
unimpressed by this that leaving the country suddenly seemed a good idea. The long and the short
of it being that I booked a flight and packed my bag for Christchurch. I called a taxi early on a
Sunday morning and lugged my case down to the front of my apartment block. At first I was
surprised at how heavy my luggage was. This I attributed to the six hundred and twenty seven
dollars in twenty cent pieces I was carrying. Clearly, I would have a lot of explaining to do once I
got to Customs.
       I have made the trip out to Brisbane Airport dozens of times in the past year or so, but
always to the Domestic Terminal. I was careful to instruct the driver that I was going to the Air
New Zealand terminal at which he just laughed. Or gurgled. Perhaps a little of both. Althou gh I
couldn't understand why, at first, all became clear once we got there. Unlike sprawling airports
such as Melbourne or Sydney, there is only one terminal at Brisbane Airport. It is, compared to
those other mansion airports, something of a granny flat. This, I find, is fantastic. Thus, for the
first time ever, I use an International Airport without getting lost.
       I have about an hour to spare and so wander around the duty free shops. At each store there
are dozens of signs telling me how much I can buy of any particular item. Apparently, I can buy
six bottles of wine and my own body weight in spirits. I make a mental note to one day figure out
exactly how duty free shopping works. At that moment it occurs to me that I should perhaps have
offered to do some duty free shopping for my colleagues.                Maybe that's why they were so
unimpressed with the post card from Brisbane.




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        As usual, I gravitated towards the bookshop. I'm not sure why it is, but I always find it
interesting to see which titles are granted the exalted status of 'airport books'. It is perhaps enough
to say that Marcel Proust doesn't get a look in. As I'm gazing at the titles, I turn around and find an
entire section devoted to pornography, all sealed up, including videos. This strikes me as strange. I
wonder who it is that goes to an airport and thinks: 'I've forgotten to pack a toothbrush, a book and,
oh yes, some hard-core pornography - I must pick some up at the airport before I leave.'
        As I'm standing there, I notice a large queue forming behind me. Clearly, I am once again
in the minority.




Brisbane to Christchurch - Part 2


        I am seated on the plane in a row by myself, and although this could well be because my
reputation has preceded me, I choose to simply put this down to luck. Having spent much of the
last year travelling back and forth from Western Australia, I have forgotten entirely that this is an
international flight. At three hours flat, there is barely time for the movie and my deep vein
thrombosis barely has a chance to set in. However, as befits an international flight, free alcohol is
served, of which the rather toothless lady in her mid-sixties (and recent runner up in the 'Miss New
Zealand' beauty pageant) sitting across the aisle takes full advantage. She does this by not only
downing half a dozen of the miniature bottles of cabernet sauvignon during the flight, but by
pocketing a couple more into her luggage. And although she had managed to get onto the plane
under her own steam, she needs a considerable amount of assistance when it comes to
disembarking. This, as it turns out, is hilarious. I should make it clear that I don't mean to be
cruel. It's just nice to see it happen to somebody else, that's all.
        I pick up my bags and then have to make my way to the car rental desk with two thousand
dollars in New Zealand currency all in twenty cent pieces. Huffing and puffing, I make it to the
desk only to be greeted by a look of total incomprehension as I tell her my name. She then informs
me that I should go to the rental desk at the other end of the terminal to get my car. And so it is
that I traipse to the 'other' desk of an airport that, in many respects, reminds me of the Tyabb




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Airport, save that it has the additional word 'International' in its title. And 'Christchurch', come to
think of it.
         The car-rental person then tells me that the car is located on the exact opposite side of the
lot. In other words, exactly back where I came from. Suddenly, the airport doesn't seem so small.
Heaving my ten thousand dollars worth of twenty cent pieces back the entire length of the building,
I vow only to use vending machines during my entire stay in order to make all this effort worth the
while.
         Once in the car, I switch on the radio, only to greeted with the 'Theme from Shaft', which I
take as a good sign. In fact, driving into town, I only have to stop three times to check the map.
This is quite incredible. I usually stop twice that many times on the way into work. Before long
and before dark, I find my Hotel, standing on the edge of Cathedral Square, which I would describe
as 'picturesque', if only pictures could do it justice. Dumping my bags, I take to the streets and,
bypassing the international scourge that is 'Starbucks', I find a down-beat cafe that's playing
Hendrix and makes a fine flat white. Suddenly, I feel quite good.
         Later, I head back to the Hotel and begin to study the maps. Anyone who knows me at all
will realise that this is a ritual that occurs every day even when I'm at home, let alone when I'm
away overseas. It is then that I turn on the television and make a shocking discovery. It is 6:30pm
on a Sunday night - prime time by any standard - and I find 'Charles in Charge' on television. I can
only blink in mute horror as I watch Chachi do his worst. I can only assume that this is some kind
of joke.
         I leave my room again and hit the mean streets of Christchurch in the search for dinner.
The streets are, in a word, 'quiet'. However, I find a place that serves a great vegetarian rigatone
and has a jazz band in the corner that makes everything seem still more pleasant. The only bleak
moment arises when the band takes a break and I find myself being subjected to 'Cruisin' by Huey
Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow. I am not coping well. Had I not had to suffer the indignity of
'Charles in Charge' earlier, I'm sure I'd be coping a lot better.
         Oh the humanity.




Day Two - Christchurch to Mount Tekapo




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        At seven o'clock in the morning, it's still pitch black, but I get up and go for a run anyway.
As I leave my hotel, I am again reminded just how nice it is for a city to have as its centrepiece a
cathedral rather than, say, a McDonalds or a Starbucks. As the sun finally starts to appear, I make
it to the botanical gardens - a vast area reserved as the city's lungs. Which is just as well, as I need
all the help I can get by this stage - not having been subjected to really cold air for some period of
time. On the way back I pick up a croissant for breakfast while still dressed in my running gear and
it occurs to me that I probably look a touch dishevelled, to the obvious alarm of the person behind
the counter. The sweating and panting probably doesn't help.
        After breakfast, I go to the Canterbury Museum, which is right beside the Botanical
Gardens. The building has been there since 1890 and was remodelled in the 1970s. Thankfully for
everyone, it is impossible to tell that it was remodelled in the 1970s. There is no admission fee as
such, only a suggested donation of five dollars. How polite. I immediately reach for my wallet and
discover that I have $4.80, unsurprisingly all in twenty cent pieces. Other than that, I only have
two twenty dollar notes: and as enthusiastic as I am when it comes to museums, I try not to get too
stupid about it.
        Although I'm twenty cents short, I resolve to pay. As it happens, donations are placed in a
large plastic orb that looks as though lotto numbers should be drawn out of it. Put simply, there's a
long way for the money to fall from the slot to the rest of the cash below. Just as I enter, there's a
large group of school children gathered around the donation globe eagerly listening to their teacher.
This occurs, just as I am trying to donate four dollars and eighty cents all in twenty pieces. 'Now
children' CLUNK 'Please pay attent...' CLUNK CLUNK 'Whatever you do, don't get distracted'
CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK.
        It goes without saying that I am embarrassed.
        I begin wandering through the museum and things don't start well. The first exhibitions are
the type you typically find in department stores, replete with dummies supposedly re-creating some
ancient scene. I move on. Quickly. Luckily, things improve rapidly from here. There are all
manner of Maori and settler artefacts and relics as well as the last remnants of the Moa - a large
bird that only became extinct three hundred years ago. The New Zealand Dodo, if you will. The
exhibition also includes information on Antarctic expeditions and the incredibly brutal whalers.




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My favourite item is probably the life jacket made of cork. It stops you from drowning and you can
pin messages on it. Quite handy.




Day Two Part Two - Christchurch to Mount Tekapo


       It is with great trepidation that I leave the museum and collect my car from the hotel. Most
people are aware that I often have difficulty finding my way between points A and B, and that
things only get worse when the rest of the alphabet gets involved. I have a number of maps, most
of which I carry for good luck, and none of which I can stand to try and read. However, on the
entire length of my journey, I only have to pull over twice for further directions. Had this not
occurred in the hotel car park, not doubt it would have felt like quite a victory.
       The trip to Lake Tekapo - whose name sounds like an invitation to attend to your ablutions -
is mostly uneventful. Once on the right road, I duly stick to it and end up in the right place. The
fact that there is only one road, is enormously helpful. The town has a population of only 295 (I
counted them myself) and mostly exists as a departure point for the ski fields of Mount Cook,
which sits in the distance, its snow capped head wrapped up in the clouds.
       Having checked in, I go for a walk along the water's edge. You really do get a sense of
being in a cradle high above the earth, as most of the clouds seem to be at shoulder height. Much
like you would imagine heaven, but populated with New Zealanders.
       On the edge of the lake sits the Good Shepherd Church, which is a tiny stone church shared
by all the major Christian faiths. With a meagre budget, the locals did not bother with a stain glass
window. Instead, they put a large, clear-glass window right behind the pulpit so they could look
out across the lake and into the snowy mountains beyond. As if this alone should be proof enough
of God. It probably is.
       Just to the right of the church is a bronze statue. Of a dog. Clearly, this requires closer
inspection. As it turns out, it is a tribute by the people of Tekapo and the greater MacKenzie
district to the sheep dog. What I'm not clear on is how such an idea actually gets started. Let's
build a statue! Of a dog! I can only assume that it is constructed as part of an elaborate dare.




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       As it is still the off-season, there's not too much going on in town. Most of the restaurants
are empty or close to empty and I settle on one named 'the Observatory Cafe'. It's hard to tell
whether it's aptly named, given that it's pitch black outside. I order a pumpkin gnocchi, but it
comes at quite a cost. During the course of the meal I am subjected to Toto, Boston, Margaret
Urlich, John Farnham and the theme song from 'St Elmo's Fire'. It is as though Satan himself is
programming the radio. And then I realise that there's no radio signal up in the mountains.
Someone has chosen to listen to this music. I leave quickly.
       I'm staying in a bed and breakfast which, I suspect, caters more to honeymooners and the
like. I reason that this is why none of the rooms have televisions. A time, then, to write postcards,
reflect and, especially, go to bed early.




Day 3 - Lake Tekapo to Queenstown


       In retrospect, there were signs everywhere. An extra rug on the bed. Another rug hanging
up behind the door. A heater in the wall and another in the bathroom. Even heated rods to hang
your towel on. Clearly, it was going to be cold. How right they were. I went for a run in the
morning just as the sun came up over the mountains and over the lake. I took a path that started off
quite officially - there was a sign and even an arrow involved - but soon it disappeared. Within
quite a short time I am running through people's back yards. There would probably be little wrong
with this had I not used it as an opportunity to take additional items to wear from various
clotheslines. Serves them right, I say. Besides, it was cold.
       I check out early and head out of Lake Tekapo for Queenstown some two hundred and fifty
kilometres away. As I drive along with Ella Fitzgerald playing, I am struck at how different the
mountains here look. In Victoria the mountains have snow, but somehow look soft. This is not the
case in New Zealand at all. The mountains here are hard and ragged, the result of two teutonic
plates slowly but endlessly colliding.
       Here's an odd thing. I've been driving in New Zealand for a few days now and I think I'm
yet to see a highway. Even from the airport to Christchurch, the road is an ordinary suburban street
replete with houses, driveways and speed bumps. And then I come across a bridge. Specifically a




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bridge big enough for one car at a time. Traffic going one direction has to give way to cars going
the other. The amazing thing is that everyone assumes that the bridge is finished. Completed. No
more to be done. With this, I have to take issue. A bridge is only a bridge when people in both
directions can get across. Preferably at the same time. Call me old fashioned.
       The day is spent weaving my way through the mountains until I find Queenstown. For the
record, it should be noted that President Bill Clinton once said of the place: "Queenstown is
breathtaking. I wish I had weeks to spend here.        You are all very fortunate. " Then again,
President Bill Clinton also said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman- Monica
Lewinsky" so for all I know the town could be an absolute sink hole.
       Luckily, Bill was telling the truth. Queenstown is amazing in a Shangrila kind of way. It
would be easy to believe that people do not grow old here, just like in 'the Lost Horizon'. My hotel
is located on Brunswick Street which instantly reminds me of Melbourne, but as I check in, the
person gives a slight cause for concern by asking: 'You didn't cancel your booking, did you?' These
are not words of comfort I was hoping for. She then follows this up with the remark: 'I don't have a
room for you.'
       And that's when the panic set in.




Day 3 - Lake Tekapo to Queenstown - Part Two


       The words 'I don't have a room for you' are still echoing around the lobby as the paramedics
arrive. As I drift in and out of consciousness, I hear the word 'yet' thrown in, almost as an
afterthought. Let me say now that the word 'yet' is a very, very important word. It is the difference
between complete prohibition and a small delay.        My booking, it seems, falls into the latter
category. As though spiked with adrenalin, I am suddenly revived and very much relieved.
       I park the car and go for a walk and, along the way, discover a new kind of cold. I pass by a
window and learn that today's expected top temperature is seven degrees. I have friends in
Brisbane who start to panic when the mercury falls below twenty, let alone ten. However, if I
could bring anything back to Brisbane it would be the weather. Maybe I only feel this way because




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I've been completely deprived of proper cold weather for a year, but this seems completely
invigorating.
        By the time I'm ready to go out for dinner, it is just above freezing. I am wearing every
single piece of clothing that I own and bear an uncanny resemblance to the Michellan Man. I
would have brought a lot more to wear had I not carted $50,000 in 20 cent pieces. I begin to
wonder whether I made a mistake. I walk/roll down the hill and stagger into town, finding a cosy
Thai cafe. The cafe and the town as a whole is a complete mix of accents. It's as though there's
some kind of United Nations conference being conducted.
        There are seven and a half thousand people who live in Queenstown. But not for long, I
fear. For in Queenstown, there seems to be more active building sites here than anywhere else in
New Zealand. I hope it doesn't change. I hope it doesn't succumb to the inevitable gentrification
process and ends up looking as if it was assembled from kit form. I say that I hope it won't change
in the full knowledge that it will. In fact, it probably already has. All I can say is that is you're at
all interested in coming here, you should do so soon.
        Tomorrow, I'm booked on a cruise at Milford Sound. Previously, I had thought that this
might be thirty minutes up the road from Queenstown. As it turns out, I am slightly wrong. It is, in
fact, four hours away. At this point, I don't especially feel like driving eight hours in a single day,
but it seems important that I hit the road and see something of the countryside.
        Simply put, New Zealand is so beautiful that even I am willing to drive eight hours just to
see more of it.




Day 4 - Queenstown to Milford Sound


        It's a long, long way to Milford Sound. Four hours driving is more than I've done for most
of my adult life, let alone one day. Suffice to say, I may require some form of buttock replacement
surgery when I get back. Once I arrive at Milford Sound, I make the trek from the car park to the
visitors centre which is quite good for restoring circulation. Once there, I discover something
fantastic. Namely, that the first European to settle here was Donald Sutherland. How he found




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time to do this between memorable roles in films such as 'Kelly's Heroes' and 'Invasion of the Body
Snatchers', I'll never know.
        I've never been on a cruise before. In fact, my entire experience consists of several episodes
of 'the Love Boat'. However, while lining up to get on board, I notice that I seem to be the only one
dressed as Captain Stubbing. So what to say of Milford Sound? It was carved out of glaciers tens
of thousands of years ago. And like much of New Zealand, it is characteristically modest. For
example, it contains Mitre Peak, which stands 1,600 metres tall with another two hundred metres
below the water. It is, in fact, the largest mountain based on the sea bed in the world. And despite
this, it doesn't even call itself a 'mountain' or even a 'mount'. Rather it is designated as a vastly
inferior 'peak'. Mount Eliza and Mount Gravatt should hang their heads in shame.
        What I need more than anything at this point is coffee, and I have assumed that it would
available at vast supplies at the visitor's centre. Put bluntly, I am very wrong. There are no cafes
and the only food available is on board the boat. Once aboard, they announce that there is
complimentary tea and coffee. I soon find, however, that the coffee it is not complimentary at all.
It's down right insulting. In fact, any similarity between what I am drinking and that which might
be broadly termed 'coffee' could only be chalked up to coincidence.
        Driving back to Queenstown I'm exhausted, and there is no finer sight than the distant lights
of Queenstown coming into view. Having arrived back, there's nothing for me to do other than
collapse on the bed and order room service. Which I do.
        Special note must be made of the town of Te Anua. It is the last town proper before you
reach the Fiordlands and Milford Sound. It deserves a mention for two reasons. Firstly, in spite of
the fact of being in the middle of nowhere, it has the most high-tech public conveniences that I
have ever seen. They do, in fact, clean themselves and have automatic doors. The sign on the wall
informs me that should your visit take any longer than ten minutes then a 'loiter' alarm will sound.
I can't help but wonder what happens when this occurs. Do the police and fire departments all
converge upon a hapless tourist? I'd like to think so. Or maybe its like the Country Fire Authority
where all the locals drop what they're doing and head for the lavatory. 'Quick George! There's
trouble at the old urinal!'
        The second reason lies in that Te Anua has a Chinese Restaurant. The restaurant is entitled
'Wong's Chinese Restaurant' and is found on a street named 'Wong Way'. Just in case no one else




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notices this, let me say that I did. And so, to the people of Te Anua, for your high-tech toilets and
witty street signs, I salute you.




Day 5 - Queenstown - Part One


        It's one degree and yet I decide to go running along the lake. Although the sun's not up yet,
the mountains are illuminated in a determined glow. There are a couple of other people out for a
run, although nobody else is wearing shorts. It could be my imagination but they all seem to be
smiling at me. Possibly at my stupidity.
        Since I am resolved not to drive today, I will be doing all my sight-seeing on foot. But first
I need coffee. I find a place called the 'Naff Caff' which is a name that doesn't exactly inspire
confidence. However, they have their own coffee roaster, which I take as a very good sign. Given
that the only coffee I had yesterday was something bearing a closer resemblance to boiled mud than
a beverage, I am in need of quality caffeine. Luckily, the Naff Caff comes through in fine style. In
fact, they serve the nicest cup of coffee I've had outside of Melbourne (sorry Queensland). I stay
for quite some time.
        As a rule, you can tell a lot about a city by its gardens. Melbourne has great gardens,
London was wonderful gardens while Beirut has almost none at all. The gardens of Queenstown
are fantastic. They form their own little peninsula and, curiously, have a large memorial to Robert
Scott, the Antarctic explorer who, along with his entire expedition party, died in 1912. The
memorial was erected in 1913, so people were obviously impressed with this spectacular failure.
Essentially, Scott wanted to lead the first expedition to the South Pole. After raising the necessary
funds, he got to Australia and received a note left by a Dutch explorer and rival that read (and I'm
paraphrasing here) "Not going to the North pole anymore. Have decided to go south instead. I'll
send you a postcard when I get there."
        And so he did. So when Captain Scott went to the South Pole, someone else had beaten him
to it. Then things took a turn for the worse. Amazingly, they knew they were doomed and Scott
wrote about it right up to the end. Indeed, he describes how one of their party was ill, excused
himself before wandering off into the wilderness never to be seen again. Scott presumed that he




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had sacrificed himself so as not to slow the group down. Otherwise, he just got lost, which doesn't
sound nearly so heroic.
       Scott wrote that the deaths of himself and his party as a testament to the rigorous English
spirit. The people of Queenstown obviously agreed. Personally, I think getting back alive would
have been far more persuasive in that regard.




Day 5 - Queenstown - Part Two


       Having seen the gardens, I then decide to do something quite 'touristy'. I decide to go on
the Queenstown gondola. This is not, as the name suggests, a boat on the water, but rather a lift
that goes up the face of a mountain. Steeply. Not unlike Arthur's Seat except that there's more than
just a kiosk awaiting you. As everyone else seems to be travelling in a group, I find myself feeling
a tad self-conscious as I try to explain that I only want one ticket.
       The gondola cabin lift is quite small and creaks and groans as it goes along which makes me
not a little nervous. Suddenly my palms are sweaty, my face is flushed and there's a knot in my
stomach. Clearly I am incredibly nervous and this condition is bound to deteriorate once I actually
get in. Once we get started, however, the view almost makes my terror worthwhile. Almost.
       When I get to the top, I am so overawed that someone has to help me out. I claim that I
have a medical condition but no-one believes me. I guess I wouldn't believe me either.
       From the top, you can see the Remarkables (a mountain range - not a dissident breakaway
group from the Untouchables) and Lake Wakatipu (400 metres deep and 50 kilometres in length).
Previously, I have claimed that everything in New Zealand is inherently modest, but at first glance
calling something 'the Remarkables' seems incongruous with this theory.         Having seen these
mountains over the past few days, I can say that there's nothing at all immodest about such a title
and that it is still something of an understatement. Indeed, only if the title were preceded by some
kind of expletive would you get a clear idea of just how spectacular these mountains are. In fact,
the entire view is so broad and vast that I swear I can see my house.
       I am also pleased to report that the lookout has a fantastic souvenir store. For a mere $10 I
bought a CD entitled 'Maori Maiden Rhonda Sings Songs of the South Pacific'. It even had a




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picture of Rhonda on the front. I intend to give to a friend when I get back. I'm sure she'll
appreciate it.
        If I was a touch nervous on the way up, then nothing can do justice to how I feel on the way
down. I am wholly terrified. There seems to be more creaking, groaning and creaking sounds than
before. But then I decided to stop doing that and listen to the gondola instead. As I descend back
to earth, I wonder if I really do have a fear of heights or whether I have simply seen 'Vertigo' with
James Stewart a few too many times. Whatever the case, once on terra firma I declare the tenuous
relationship between myself and heights officially over.




Day 6 - Queenstown to Christchurch


        I leave town at 9:30am, which still feels remarkably early as it is not quite light yet. Before
going too far, I stop to get petrol and just then a strange thing happens. Someone else suddenly
appears and does it for me. It occurs to me that having someone put petrol in your car, while hardly
necessary, is quite pleasant. 'What a great idea!' I think to myself, until I realise that this was the
way that things used to be done everywhere. At the risk of sounding glib, New Zealand is very
much stuck in an earlier period of time. March 1978 to be precise. I have to emphasise that I mean
this in both the best and worst ways possible. It means that some of the niceties that have been
rationalised out of existence everywhere else still exist in New Zealand. On the downside is that, in
many ways, infrastructure in New Zealand is on a par with that of Tyabb.
        When travelling back from Queenstown, I elect to go via the East Coast, rather than through
the mountains. Officially, I have found the road less travelled and it does, indeed, make all the
difference. There's very little traffic about and it takes me around five and a half hours to get to
Christchurch, while catching glimpses of the impossible expanse that is the Pacific Ocean.
        Because my flight leaves at 6:30am, I am staying at the Sudima Grand Chancellor Hotel.
This, in effect, is a fancy way of saying I'm staying at the airport Travel-lodge. I've always
imagined that airport hotels were places of ill-repute where people either conducted illicit affairs or
any business involving drugs. I arrive at the hotel and find it to be the perfect setting for both these
activities. The best way I can describe it is that it seems like the kind of Hotel the mid-70s Tom




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Waits might have lived in. In fact, I intend to re-christen it 'the Tropicana Motor Inn' and be done
with it.
           Once I've checked in to the Tropicana, I return the car to the rental desk. It occurs to me
that I have hardly been lost during the entire trip. While this is probably due to an absence of
roads, it nevertheless feels like a small victory. In the mood to celebrate, I use some of the eighty-
thousand dollars worth of twenty cent pieces I have left to get an ice cream from a vending
machine. Walking from the airport to the Hotel, I find myself strolling. I have to say, I don't stroll
very often. I am, by instinct, an ambler. I amble everywhere as though in a hurry. But not today.
It could be because I'm in no great rush to get back to the Tropicana, but I'd prefer to think that I
was relaxed.
           After eating in the hotel restaurant (not much choice at the airport), I retire to my sordid
room and repack my suitcase, which feels like a challenge on par with curing the common cold or
travelling through time. It goes without saying that the twenty cent pieces take up a lot of space.




Day 7 - Christchurch to Brisbane


           The phone in my hotel room rings at four o'clock in the morning and I awake with all the
elegance of a wounded elephant. As I had brilliantly packed my suitcase the night before, I manage
to check out of the Tropicana Motor Inn and catch the transit bus the twenty metres to the airport
terminal within the hour.
           Once I've checked my bag in, I have to go to the Bank of New Zealand and pay a $25
departure fee. It's as if they want to punish you for your stupidity in leaving. They may well have
a point. As it is a bank, I ask whether they can exchange currency. When the woman behind the
counter says 'yes', I quickly produce two metric tonnes worth of twenty cent pieces. Oddly enough,
she seems less than pleased with this.
           As the plane takes off and I settle in to the crash position, I take stock of my time in New
Zealand. Before I went, my brother Cam had made the observation that since New Zealand had
decided to disband its airforce, it was the perfect time for Australia to invade. Of course, he made




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these comments in a bar in front of a large group of ex-patriot Kiwis and I was careful not to repeat
his comments during my stay. However, he may be right.
       In a way, many New Zealanders are the worst advertisement for their country of origin. I
don't mean to suggest that they're not nice people. More that you'd be forgiven for thinking that the
country is some kind of waste land, given how keen many of its residents are to leave the place.
And, indeed, as I travel back to Brisbane the plane is packed full of Kiwis all bursting to get to
Australia. When I arrive back in Brisbane, I take advantage of the duty free shopping; a process
which is as mysterious to me now as when I left, and then try to re-enter Australia. Although it's
my county of birth, I still feel nervous as I go through customs. I always get the feeling I'm on the
verge of being deported. Partly this is because of a certain expectation I have when it comes to
being rejected. But mostly it is because my passport photo looks like something that Picasso might
throw up.
       Much to my surprise, I'm allowed to re-enter. And although the reporting conditions of my
stay in Australia are rather onerous, they are small price to pay for having visited New Zealand.




                                  War of the pigeons – part two


       Some time ago, my brother Cam waged a war of attrition against the local pigeon
population. Things turned especially nasty when he built-in his garage and the pigeons - who had
long used the garage as a short cut, kept flying into the newly installed window. Week after week,
deceased pigeons kept piling up, until an ominous silence set in. Until now, that is.
       Cam was driving along for work at the Newsagency at his customary speed of light, when
he noticed that the accelerator pedal seemed a bit stuck. Using his vast technical knowledge, he
decided that the best way to loosen it up would be to give it a good, swift kick. Unexpectedly, this
calculated act of violence had the effect of jamming the accelerator to floor. Suddenly, the car
burst into full flight, as Cam clung on with white-knuckled fear to the steering wheel. And as
difficult as it was just to hang on, it was even more difficult to do the paper deliveries without
turning various mailboxes into match sticks. After delivering a copy of the Saturday Age with such




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force that it partially demolished someone's carport, Cam cut the ignition and the car crawled to a
halt.
         At first, the sticking of the accelerator appeared to be an accident. But then, thought Cam,
maybe that's exactly how it was supposed to look. As his mind began to wrestle with quite a long
list of potential assassins, he settled on a likely culprit. Or, to be precise, culprits. It soon became
clear that the pigeons were seeking exact revenge of the most brutal kind. As part of his
investigation, Cam replayed the events of the night before through in his mind. He remembered
making dinner and watching some television. Thinking back, he could recall seeing pigeons
flapping at the edges of the kitchen window, dangerously close to the garage. In fact, the more he
thought about it, he could have sworn that they were wearing balaclavas. One of them may well
have had a toolbox.
         Ever since the attempt on his life, Cam has been something of a prisoner in his own home.
Too scared to drive in case the pigeons have taken their attempt one step further and have built a
giant nest made out of semtex around his petrol tank to produce an effect familiar to anyone who
has ever seen 'the Godfather', he lives the life of a virtual recluse. Forever in fear of the beady eyes
that are watching. Always watching.




                                   The Dark Pie Night of the Soul


         The big cities have their opera, theatre and other assorted cultural pursuits. In Tyabb,
there's only one event of any significant import. It is, of course, the 'Pie Night'. It's hard to think of
another type of food that has an entire night dedicated to it. Not in Tyabb at any rate. It almost
seemed too good to be true. Football training would finish and we would all stampede towards the
clubhouse - a building that resembled a large shed, but without the glamour - in the expectation of
unlimited meat and pastry parcels otherwise known as 'pies'. At the time, it seemed an almost
unfathomable bounty and an exercise in complete decadence. Throw in the fact that one of the
mothers would mix up some extra-strong orange cordial in a bucket, and it was an evening of pure
bliss.




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       The only downside was the fact that, being the middle of winter, it was always close to
freezing. And having spent the last hour trawling through mud and rain in the hope of coming
across the football, by accident if by no other reason, I was especially susceptible to the winter
winds. The thing about the Oval at Tyabb is that is was totally bereft of any kind of shelter. It was
without trees, grass and, most probably, a Council Planning Permit. In fact, in the under 9s, of
which I was a part, we used to compare arms and legs in a contest to see who had the most
goosebumps. And although Pie Night promised unlimited riches, I would only ever be able to eat
just the one. However, it seems that every football team has at least one member who will take the
opportunity of Pie Night as some form of challenge and will eat until he erupts in a stream of pie
and orange cordial vomit. In the elite under 9s squad of the Tyabb Football Club, this person was
someone called 'Hernia'. Alas, I suspect that this may, in fact, be his real name.
       For this and many other reasons, the Tyabb Football Club rarely won any matches.
       Recently, I was travelling back from Toowoomba with some friends when we drove past
something that caught our interest. It appeared to be little more than a giant caravan, and for a
moment I was in danger of mistaking it for the clubhouse back in Tyabb. Above the caravan was a
sign that read 'PIE-TERIA'. I have to admit, I am loath to put 'teria' at the end of any word,
particularly when it has something to do with food. It almost seems to be asking for trouble.
Nevertheless, my colleagues insisted we stop and that I try a 'pie and peas'. For those of you
unfamiliar with this particular gastronomical experience, it involves the top of the pie being
removed with a precision that can only be described as 'surgical', and a ladle full of mushy-peas
being thrown in, before the scalp is reattached. As nervous as I was, I have to say that the
experience was quite overwhelming. And for some reason, I could only think that we were
somehow short-changed in all our so-called 'Pie Nights'.
       If Hernia was ever to find out about pie and peas, he would no doubt weep softly with envy.




                                     My Immortal Headphones


       Last Friday night, I went shopping for some new headphones for my CD player. The old
ones had finally worn out as a result of heavy use, and also because I stood on them. Going into




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Myers, I swiftly picked up a new pair without much thought. It was only the next day when I was
trying to extract them from a plastic container, presumably designed by the makers of the Pope-
mobile, that something caught my attention. For the first time I noticed a disturbing claim on the
label. Put simply, it said 'Lifetime guarantee'. Incensed at this, I immediately got the hammer from
my toolbox and smashed the headphones into a thousand tiny pieces. Just to teach them a lesson.
For some reason I can't quite explain, I feel greatly threatened by appliances who think they're
likely to outlive me. I'm not sure if it's because the makers have seen the way I conduct myself and
think I'm a pretty good bet or just plain arrogance. For whatever reason, I find the idea of immortal
appliances deeply unnerving.
       I don't know why - possibly because I haven't been able to listen to my CD player - but the
past week seems to be the strangest of weeks I can remember. Firstly, there's the boat load of
people on a Norwegian ship off the coast of Christmas Island. The first strange thing is the
incredible objection to unwelcome people coming here by the boat load. That this description
could well be a summary for the last two hundred years of Australian history seems to be a point
without any significance. Indeed, how different the history of Australia would be had the original
inhabitants refused to allow the First Fleet to come to port. Without doubt, it would have resulted
in an international scandal, if such things were possible in the Eighteenth Century.
       Secondly, there was the strange announcement that Australia had sent 'crack troupes' to
board the vessel. As if the immigrants don't have enough problems, we've decided that the best
thing to do would be to send drug addicted soldiers to pester them as they linger off the coast of
Christmas Island. Poor, huddled masses of refugees whose boat has sunk, now have to be pestered
by glass-eyed Australian Defence Personnel asking if they can 'spare twenty cents for some food'.
       Lastly, there was the death of Shirl the Curl. I don't remember Skyhooks when they first
came around. But I do remember 'Shirl's Neighbourhood', with Norm the Kangaroo and Claude the
Crow. In fact, my youngest brother Lachlan even had a knitted jumper with Ol' Poss on it. Later, I
found it hard to reconcile the idea that an amiable children's television show host was once the lead
singer of one of the most outrageous Australian bands of the 1970s. Although, it seems that given
enough time, even the greatest of contradictions can seemingly sit well together. I remember Shirl
appearing at Hastings Day - the local answer to the Rio Carnival - sometime during the mid
eighties. At that stage, his band had long broken up and he was no longer on television. And




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despite all this, he seemed happy to be there. To give this some perspective, no-one in their right
mind is happy to be in Hastings. But there he was, the first flame of his celebrity long since
flickered out, I still felt proud that Shirl even knew were Hastings was. For a reason I can't quite
account for, I feel saddened that he's passed away. Perhaps it's just a public reminder of mortality.
       He is survived by a set of headphones. Probably.




                                      The Greenhouse Effect


       When someone first proposed to build a bridge across Sydney Harbour, there were those
who laughed openly. When some guy said he was going to paint the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel,
there were those who labelled the idea 'crazy'. And when a couple of dreamers installed a yellow
sculpture in the Melbourne City Square, there were some who described it as appalling and
demanded that it be removed. And with the exception of the Yellow Peril - which now serves as
the world's most abstract urinal - it's just as well that the nay-sayers were ignored. After far too
many years, there is now something else that can be added to the architectural Honour Roll.
Something just as daring. Just as grand. Finally, my brother Cameron has completed building his
Glasshouse.
       During the week, Cam emailed a group of his friends with a photo of the completed work.
He did this for two reasons. Firstly, he was justifiably proud of the finished job. Secondly, he
wanted to dispel a rumour that had been circulating for some time. You see, this particular project
took months of months of continuous labour.          He worked weekends, mornings and nights,
sometimes by candlelight and sometimes in the dark. He cut the timber and the glass, built the door
and put the whole thing together piece by agonising piece. At some point, my brother may well
have become obsessed. Indeed, as he ventured further into his dark journey, rumours abounded
that there was no Glasshouse and that it was simply an excuse to stop going out anymore.




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       Now that the job is complete, I think he's entitled to bask in a little justified glory. Put
simply, Cam's Glasshouse has everything you could possibly imagine. It has a solid timber frame,
a perspex roof with adjustable panels, Imax Theatre and a wine cellar. No wonder it took so long
to build. For myself, I have to say that I'm impressed. Mostly I think it's because we share the
same gene pool and yet I have enough trouble constructing a sentence, let alone anything mor e
complex. Suffice to say, had I attempted to build the Glasshouse, the end result would have been
remarkably different and certainly less immediately recognisable.
       Although the end result resembles and elevator that Willy Wonka would no doubt approve
of, it is perhaps the first great architectural marvel to be constructed entirely out of materials
purchased at 'Bunnings Warehouse'. It is certainly the first great construction of the modern era in
which you can grow tomatoes.




                                             Carpark.


       On driving back to my hotel in Perth, I got to the car park only to be confronted by the sight
of a clearly distressed car park attendant. He was holding a large sign that said 'CAR PARK
FULL'. There was a car waiting in front of me and after what seemed to be quite an earnest
discussion, it was allowed to enter. As I was staying at the hotel, I thought I should still try and
park the hire car. With tears streaming down his face, the man shook the sign in my direction,
possibly intending to impress upon me that I had no chance of getting in. Either that, or he was
attempting to emulate Rolf Harris with an impromptu wobble-board performance. It's hard to say.
       I wound down my window and smiled the way you do when you know you're doing
something quite stupid. 'Mate', he said over the top of his wobble-board. 'It's no use. The car park
is completely full. We've got three conventions going on and the place is a madhouse.' By the
bend in my forehead, he must have sensed I had trouble believing this, given that he had let the car
in front of me get in. 'That guy I just let in is the chef!' Unfortunately, I struggled to see the
connection. I explained that I was a guest at the hotel and asked whether I would be better off
parking in the street. 'Don't do that!' he said, quite shocked at the very suggestion. 'Your car will
be broken into, for sure.'




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       This left me in something of an awkward situation. Unable to use the car park, but warned
that parking in the street was as good as signing my own death warrant, I suddenly wished that my
original request for a Moped had been honoured. Finally, the man said 'You can go on in, if you
want. But you won't find anything.' With this encouragement, I drove in and found a space right
near the entrance. In retrospect, perhaps the space was, in fact, the entrance, but really that was
going to be someone else's problem.
       For some reason I can't quite explain, I always have trouble with car parks. Only last week,
I had to drive a car home for the first time in ages. After a friend gave me a comprehensive tutorial
as to how to turn the lights on, I confidently drove up the gate and parked two nautical miles away
from the machine you have to put the key in. By this time, a car had pulled up behind me and I felt
somewhat pressured. Winding down the window and undoing my seat belt, I leaned out up to my
waist. After successfully inserting the key in a fashion that would have made Cirque De Soliel
proud, I turned to see the occupants of the car behind me laughing. And with that, I smiled the way
you do when you've just done something stupid. It goes without saying that I smile quite a lot.




                                            The Show.


       It was 1986 the last time I was there. With a mullet groomed to perfection and in my formal
pair of acid wash jeans, I strolled in my new Rome sneakers to the Royal Melbourne Show. I was
there as part of a class excursion. What we were supposed to learn from the experience would be
anybody's guess. Back then, the rides seemed rusted and weary as did the people who operated
them. The Showgrounds were a mass of seething humanity of every shape and colour and the
entire experience was quite overwhelming. That day, I kissed Fiona Terry on the Ferris wheel
(please note the term 'Ferris wheel' refers to an actual Ferris wheel and is not intended as any kind
of code). But when it all ended three months later I felt I had to blame something so I blamed the
show. And for every year that followed, I boycotted Victoria's greatest agricultural showcase.
       Two weeks ago, my fifteen year boycott came to an end. My sisters Beck and Sarah along
with Beck's husband and my two nephews were all heading along and the opportunity to tag along
was too good to refuse. Not that I had any great desire to revisit the grand parade, you understand.




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More that I wanted to see how my nephews Jake and Brodie reacted to the whole spectacle. When
I caught up with them, things were already in full swing. Brodie was riding on something that
looked like a spaceship, while Jake was thoroughly entertained by jumping up and down on a
drainage grate. Kids can be like that. You pay twenty bucks to get them in, and then they amuse
themselves with a piece of plumbing.
       As an uncle, there was some pressure on me to actually go on one of these rides with my
nephews. However, I was up for some competition. My sister Sarah was also expected to share in
the ride-duties, and she got in first and took all the safe ones. It was Sarah that took Jake on Brodie
on the giant mechanical swan that goes around in a circle at about one mile and hour. That, to me,
seemed ideal. As a result, I was offered the opportunity to accompany the kids on the giant slide.
Effectively, it was just a lumpy piece of fibreglass and you were expected to sit on a potato sack -
mercifully, the potatoes had been removed - and slide all the way down. Presumably the potato
sack was to prevent fibreglass splinters from becoming permanently implanted in your buttocks,
but in spite of this assurance, it hardly seemed safe.
       It was for this and many other reasons that I chickened out, contenting myself to the duty of
'minding the bags'. There was, however, no way I would be able to avoid the next challenge, which
was to enter the Hall of Commerce, and emerge with showbags and, with any luck, my life. The
scene was one of chaos. The Hall of Commerce, it seems, bears the same relationship to people
that Morris Minors do to clowns. More people than I thought existed were crammed into a
confined space that had an aroma that could be kindly described as 'agricultural'. There were
people struggling everywhere.       Like salmon swimming desperately upstream, but instead of
spawning all you got for your trouble was a couple of showbags. In hindsight, it hardly seems
worth the effort.
       However, I managed to get out with a couple of 'Freddo and Friends' showbags, which I
should be able to pay for with the aid of some kind of bank loan, and we headed home.
       Brodie and Jake had a great time and, although I enjoyed watching them, I found it all a
touch surreal. Effectively, only the prices seemed to have changed in fifteen years. The rides and
attractions all seemed eerily familiar. Indeed, there was still a ride named 'the Breakdance'. All
this, coupled with the fact that I decided to resurrect the original attire I wore in 1986 probably
didn't help matters.




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       It goes without saying that I did not ride the Ferris wheel.




                                  The Sponge and the Fuse Box


       Now that I've started driving again, I've had to confront all the responsibilities associated
with driving and automobiles in general. License, registration and indicating when changing lanes
to name but a few. But all of these pale in comparison to the awesome responsibility that is
washing a car. To be honest, I was never much good at it and I've always considered it to be
something of a design flaw that cars get so dirty so quickly. To my way of thinking, which
admittedly doesn't include too many others, I figure that if they can invent the non-stick frypan,
there is nothing to prevent this kind of technology being applied to other things. What a wonderful
world it would be if we had non-stick cars, window sills and clothing. Not to mention the very
thought of a non-stick personality, which appeals to me greatly.
       Even when I used to drive, I wasn't much cop at looking after my car. As a result of some
gruesome peer pressure, I vowed that I would only ever wash my car when going out on a date.
From memory I probably washed it once, as a result. Needless to say, my faithful 1982 Diahatsu
Charade decayed until it was little more than a small mound of dust in the carport. Which,
admittedly, made it easier to park in small spaces, but could hardly be described as 'impressive'.
Then again, the term 'impressive' is not one often associated with the 1982 Diahatsu Charade, no
matter how often you wash it.
       I decided that I would wash my car every week, with the possible exception of public
holidays. First, of course, I had to purchase car cleaning products. I am almost ashamed to say that
at 29 years of age, I did not own a bucket. Put simply, I've never really had a need for one. With
great trepidation, I entered the hardware store and cruised as inconspicuously as I could towards the
car care section. What I feared most of all was having one of the attendants ask me if I needed any
help. Mostly this was because any attempt I might make to talk about my car cleaning needs would
surely reveal that I had not a clue what I was talking about. Although you may well ask how this
differs from any other time I care to open my mouth, I feel particularly sensitive when it comes to




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matters automotive. As if I should know a lot more than I really do. Which, of course, I probably
should.
          Pete, of course, would wash his car every week religiously. And by religiously, I mean that
he washed straight after church still dressed in his Sunday best. Because we had tank water, the
trick was to expend as little H2O as possible in the process. This would involve taking a bucket
filled with no more than a glass and half of water and a giant sponge. How he managed to wash a
Toyota Tarago with such meagre means is totally beyond me. At the end, he would then have to
store the still sopping sponge somewhere until next week. The place my father chose to store the
wet sponge was the fuse box, right amongst all that electricity. Despite the fact that most people,
and by 'most people' I mean pretty much everyone, thought this a dangerous thing to do, Pete
remained undeterred.
          Having purchased a bucket, a cloth, some car washing detergent (the no more tears formula,
of course) and a bloody big sponge, I set to work. First, I doused it with water, using quite a bit
more than a glass and half. That was the easy part. Then I mixed the detergent stuff in and got to
work. The results were, at best, mixed. It didn't so much remove the dirt and embark on a dirt
relocation program. Suffice to say, it still looked dirtier than everyone else's car when I was done.
Perplexed and slightly beaten, I put the sponge in the fuse box and went back to my apartment.




                                      Mork and the Great Coat


          Each night on Edward Street in Brisbane, a bizarre ritual takes place. For those who don't
know, Edward Street is the main thoroughfare that runs through the city. From four o'clock in the
afternoon, it becomes a clearway meaning that you can no longer park there. The city council
enforces the clearway with a strict rigour and does so by deploying a swarm of tow trucks whose
job it is to remove offending vehicles and thus ensure that the afternoon traffic can pass through
Brisbane free of any impediment. It is, without fail, a dramatic event. The trucks descend each day
and begin to tow away car after car, oblivious to the protestations of the owner, who, for some
reason, always arrives back just as their prized automobile is being loaded onto the tray. The truck
drivers, ever-stoic and committed to their duty always ignore them. Once this occurs and each tow




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truck delivers its cargo to the impoundment, they return to Edward Street where they all park along
the side of the road. And so it is that the clearway becomes completely obstructed by tow trucks.
       There is, it would seem, no clearer definition of futility. At least, not in tow-truck form.
However, as futile human behaviour can seem, it can also be ingenious.
       Recently, a friend of mine received a parking ticket. Immediately, she took to waving it
about saying, at great volume, saying that this was manifestly unfair. (These weren't the exact
words she used - if I were to transcribe them with any greater accuracy, the results could only be
read by hardened sailors). I asked whether or not the meter had expired and she shook her head and
said, 'What's that got to do with it?' In her view, it was unfair because she was parking there while
at work, rather than something more recreational. Indeed, it was her view that the fine should be
halved as a result.
       It was, if nothing else, an ingenious approach.
       For the longest time, Pete has been a devotee of the Jaguar motor car. A couple of months
ago, he accepted an invitation of an old school friend, Bill, to attend a Jaguar car convention. It
involved a car rally across Northern Victoria ending in a paddock filled with other enthusiasts and
a smorgasbord of entertainment that may or may not have consisted entirely of a sausage sizzle and
a Devonshire tea. As delightful as this might sound, the only difficulty was that Bill's Jaguar was a
convertible. Further, for a reason that Bill hadn't been quite able to figure out, the roof would not
close over, meaning that they would have to travel with the top down the entire distance.
       For those of you who don't see the difficulty in this, I can only suggest that you are not
familiar with Victoria in the month of June where it can be, to put it politely, quite chilly. Not
being equipped with a range of out-door motoring gear, Pete was forced to improvise. Firstly, to
try and keep out the bitter winds, he dressed in an Army Great-Coat. To keep his head warm, he
wore an Essendon beanie, pulled down tight around his ears. To prevent the wind from getting in
his eyes, he decided he needed driving goggles. A quick search through the shed proved fruitless
and he settled for the protective glasses that he got for free with the whipper-snipper. They set off
from Shepparton early in the morning where it close to freezing. A few kilometres in, and with the
wind rushing over his beanie, Pete soon found that his mouth was full of a wide array of insects.
Having consumed more protein in short space of time than anybody reasonably should, he sensibly




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combated this problem by tying a handkerchief around his head and over his mouth in a manner
long championed by outlaws.
        Being the month of June and being Victoria, the weather grew steadily more inclement until
the heavens opened up and poured down their watery bounty. Pete decided that the best way to
combat this would be by putting up his umbrella. This proved successful for approximately 1.25
seconds, as the umbrella promptly inverted itself, and Pete was forced to clutch at the handle to
prevent it from being swept away altogether. They arrived at the oval, with Great-Coat, whipper-
snipper goggles, beanie, handkerchief and inverted umbrella to stunned silence from the assembled
crowd. Clothed in his ingenuity, Pete cut a dashing sight.
        It goes without saying that he was still too full to partake of the sausage sizzle.




                                                East 17


        'Alright, alright. Everything's going to be alright. Alright, alright. Everything's going to be
alright.'
        These profound words are the product of the now defunct pop sensation 'East 17'. Being
somewhat prone to panic as I am, I find the lyrics to be something of a salve of reassurance. They
are a simple reminder not to panic. The same, however, cannot be said for the music, which is a
good deal more alarming.
        I have always loved music. We always had a piano in the house; an ancient pianola with
huge metal pedals, that I've previously described as a giant, musical bicycle. My parents had a
wide and bizarre collection of records, from Simon and Garfunkel to Beethoven to Tom Jones to K-
tel's top twenty Yugoslavian marching songs. I took in all these influences, especially the marching
songs, as I began to learn the piano. Although my parents never played any of these recordings, my
brothers and sisters and I would often give them a spin. My brother Cam's favourite record was
Mike Brady's 'Football Favourites' which was an album full of songs about football players. The
song about Graham Polly Farmer was quietly majestic, the one about Peter Hudson was a classic
piece of story-telling, while the song on Rene Kink was down-right frightening. My brother's
favourite song was the EJ Whitten one, which included a spoken word contribution from the great




                                                                                                   239
man himself. Cam would plug a microphone into the stereo and sing, while his siblings would
watch on in terrified silence.
       This is not to say that the record collection did not have a few dark corners. Recently, we
unearthed a copy of Debbie Gibson's 'Electric Youth'. Widely considered to be the Britney Spears
of her day, 'Electric Youth' was the anthem for an entire generation. Unfortunately, this says more
about the sad state of musical affairs in the 1980s than it does about the song itself. Where she is
now, I couldn't say. Probably sharing a bed-sit with East 17, I should imagine.
       Without doubt, the most frightening record in the collection was not an album but a single.
Specifically, Pop Abrahams and the Smurfs singing the ingeniously entitled 'Smurf Song'. While
the Smurfs were clearly not lyricists of the East 17 calibre, it was the melody that was particularly
annoying. And although it's easy to make fun of it now as nothing but a cheap tie in designed to
entice people to purchase little blue figurines at the local BP, at the time we thought it was
fantastic. Indeed, one of the formative experiences of my childhood occurred when Pete agreed to
take us to see 'the Smurf Movie'.
       No wonder I turned out the way I did.
       This week, I have been in Perth. With my colleague struck down by a virus, I had an
evening to myself and went down to the hotel bar. While sitting there reading, I noticed a grand
piano in the corner. Kindly, they allowed me to play for a while, and amidst all the pressure of
being away from home, I suddenly found myself feeling much more human. I played some
Gershwin, Jimmy Webb and some Tom Waits, and the evening was reasonably heckle-free. The
music made me feel more like myself.
       However, soon I have to pack up my room and make the long trip back to Brisbane, the
very thought of which makes me nervous.
       Alright, alright. Everything's going to be alright.




                                         Air conditioning.


       As soon as I walked into the bottleshop, I could see that the staff were eyeing me with a
great deal of suspicion. Like many people in Brisbane, a trip to the local liquor emporium takes on




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a special significance at this time of year. For it is at the bottleshop that you find giant walk -in
refrigerators. When the weather starts to warm up, as it has in Brisbane over the past couple of
weeks, these places become a sanctuary from the harsh heat and humidity that everybody south of
the border craves in theory but in practice would damn near kill them. It was an especially hot day,
and I guess the staff may have been suspicious because it was my third visit that morning. Or
maybe they were concerned that this time, I had arrived with a beanbag and a book.
       The Tyabb Primary School was built solely from portable classrooms. These rooms had no
air-conditioning to speak of, and only a rotating fan in the middle of the ceiling. Once in a while,
the fan would come a little bit loose and the blades would start to collide with the steel rails that
held the portable together, sending a shower of sparks over unsuspecting pupils. Either that, or
Stephen Thompson would throw all manner of objects from his pencil case up into the fan, which
resulted in them being hurtled across the room only to collide with the head of one of the slower
moving students.
       When things got really hot, the teachers used to turn on the sprinklers on the oval and lunch
times were spent by children running across the ground and leaping over and through the sprinkler
stream. It was like some sodden form of ballet, giving the appearance of trying to avoid getting wet
but always ending with the desired effect of being soaked through to the skin.
       After lunch, it was nothing to have an entire classroom of children resembling drowned rats
seated back at their desks, restless and incapable of doing anything resembling learning. Now that
I'm older, such things are frowned upon. It is generally considered to be unacceptable to return
from lunch wet to the bone, having run through the sprinkler at the local gardens. This, I feel,
cannot be a good thing. Indeed, 'running the sprinkler' should be encouraged. Any prohibition
calls into question the very value of growing up at all.
       All I ask is that you reconsider.
       I'm off now. I have a bean bag and book. You'll never guess where it is I'm going.




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                                       It stings the body electric.


        I'm amazed that I've never been struck by lightning. For I seem to be otherwise so full of
electricity (although I'm sure many of you would have thought I was full of something else) that I
cannot go through a single day without suffering a substantial electrical shock. While the scourge
that is static electricity afflicts many people at work and even in their homes, I appear to be
especially susceptible. Door knobs, computer screens, co-workers - I only need to walk past these
things and I receive a solid zap of unsolicited voltage. This, as much as anything, may account for
the permanent look of surprise on my face.
        As kids, my brother Cam and I took up riding lessons over in Mt Eliza. This involved the
pair of us being bundled into the Nissan E-20 (winner of the prestigious 'world's ugliest car award',
six years running) and being driven over on Saturday mornings. The guy that ran the stables was a
rough looking character with an old-fashioned hat and looked as if he was an escaped extra from
'the Sullivans'. I'm sure there were people who enjoyed the horse riding lessons. I, however, was
not one of their number. Instead, rather than riding the horse, for me the entire exercise was about
not falling off. I would become particularly nervous when the horses started to canter, with my
own heart rate running much faster than that of the horse beneath me.
        After a year or so of riding lessons and not falling off, we bought a horse called Magpie.
Without doubt, Magpie had a malevolent streak that would rival only Mr Ed. Put simply, he wa s a
bastard. In me, he sensed fear. Even when I went out to feed him, he would try and bite me or give
me a nasty stare that would send me scurrying back over the fence. My father, Pete, of course,
failed to believe this until the time he himself was thrown from the horse and broke his arm.
Magpie disappeared not too long after that, as I recall.
        Magpie's favourite trick, though, was to pretend he was being obedient, before ducking
under low hanging branches and leaving the rider stranded. Indeed, many of my rides ended in me
hanging suspended from the branch of a eucalypt. Recently, my brother and I drove past what used
to be the paddock we learned to ride in. These days, it's a supermarket and a car park. Although,
from what Cam says, it's still possible to work up to a canter on the back of a shopping trolley
down aisle number nine. As we drove past what was one a wide open space, there was a look of
surprise on my face that, for once, I could not attribute to static electricity.




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                                           The Entertainer.


       Much to my chagrin, I have been flying a lot lately. Sometimes, I even use an aeroplane.
My nephew Brodie is well aware that I travel from time to time and has noticed that, on the ground,
planes are quite big. However, in the sky they are very small. He wanted to know if, when I was
catching a plane, I got smaller too. The answer to this, of course, is 'yes'.
       Back when I was small because I was young rather than because I was an a plane, I was a
proud member of the First Moorooduc Scout Troupe. Moorooduc, for those who don't know, is the
town next door to Tyabb. The only way I can think of to describe it is to say that it's a lot like
Tyabb but not quite as glamorous. The activities of the First Moorooduc Scout Troupe were wide
and varied in the extreme, but they almost all involved either violence or knots. They included
things such as Humpo Bumpo, which is not nearly as fun as the title suggests, and which never
failed to result in my being covered with an impressive array of bruises. And as for the knots, it
perhaps comes as no surprise to say that I was useless at all of them and that the whole experience
was so traumatic that for a number of years I refused to tie any knots at all and had to buy shoes
with velcro straps.
       However, there was one night that was an exception to all this. The First Moorooduc Scout
Troupe Talent Night could easily be described as the highlight of the Moorooduc Cultural
Calendar. That the Cultural Calendar was something you got for free from the local butcher is
hardly the point. I suspect that there are those among you who might unkindly suggest that a talent
night in Moorooduc must have been a very short evening indeed, but I can assure you that there
were some notable highlights.
       Although I had been learning the piano for years, it was something that I had long learned to
conceal. For in country towns, musicians are generally regarded with the kind of esteem usually
reserved for car thieves. If I remember correctly, my friend Marcus may well have dobbed me in,
and I was asked to play something to the assembled parents and scouts.
       Scout nights were conducted at the Moorooduc Town Hall, which was much like a
refrigerator, but with windows. The piano sat limply to the side of the stage and was wheeled out




                                                                                                243
and I hoisted myself up onto the cold wooden bench. My fingers hovered over the keys as the
room waited in something I couldn't really call anticipation, but they waited nevertheless. And then
I started. For the next three minutes, I performed a crowd rousing rendition of Scott Joplin's 'The
Entertainer'. As to why I chose that particular piece of music, I can only say it was the only piece I
knew that wasn't either classical or the 'Theme from Ghostbusters'.
        Last week, holed up in a hotel bar, I spied a large grand piano in the corner. With the
permission of the bar staff, I crawled over and started to play. Being away from home, it made me
feel more human to do something unexpected. And although my threat to perform all of Metallica's
'And Justice for All' ensured that the patrons remained well behaved, I never got around to doing
'the Entertainer'. There are limits, after all.




                                     My Brilliant Sporting Career.


        Like almost everyone else, I watched some of the tennis this week.            Not because I
particularly cared for the sporting spectacle, but because it was interesting to see someone so young
achieve something so spectacular. As I sat on the couch in a state that could be politely described
as 'subdued', a strange thought occurred to me. 'I will never be ranked the number-one male tennis
player in the world'. For a reason that eluded me then, this small thought made me feel profoundly
disappointed.
        Let me make this clear: I have never had a burning desire to be the number-one tennis
player in the world. More than that, I've never made anything that could be described as a 'serious
assault' on the world tennis tour. But there was something about seeing someone a decade or so
younger than I am being crowned world number-one, that made me realise that it was too late for
me to pursue a career as a professional tennis player. It hadn't really occurred me that it was too
late to do anything until that moment. For some reason, most probably delusion, I always thought
that if I were to ever change my mind and put in some effort, I could pretty much do anything I
wanted. But now, the brutal reality is that it's too late.
        Not that I was ever any good. Certainly I had lessons, but between my brothers and sisters
and I, we had lessons in just about everything from pottery to break dancing, and with the possible




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exception of the break dancing, I'm not sure it did us too much good. The tennis court in Tyabb
was so close to the railway line that the clubhouse would rattle whenever the 5:30 express trundled
past. And although I realise that the objective in tennis is to hit the ball over the net, I could only
ever manage to hit it over the fence and onto the railway tracks.
        Then of course, there was infamous occasion a few Christmases ago, when I was soundly
thrashed in a game of tennis by my nine year old cousin. Although to be fair to myself, it was after
lunch and I had imbibed quite a bit, although my cousin claims that she'd had more to drink than
me. The pummelling only ended when I hit the ball over the fence and we couldn't find it on the
long grass. I tried to call it a draw but wasn't allowed to get away with it.
        In fact, I'm sure that whenever we played sport of any kind, we spent more time looking for
the ball than we ever did playing. Ten minutes of playing cricket would be interrupted by a good
hour of walking through the long grass in the paddock trying to find the ball. Worse that that,
because of the ever-present danger of snakes, we always wore gumboots. No wonder I was never
too good at sport.
        Not that it matters now, given that it's too late.
        In fact, maybe there's something healthy about getting over childhood ambitions. I can now
say proudly say that I will never play football for an AFL club, with the possible exception of
Fremantle.    I will never be a regular cast member of Young Talent Time.             I will never be
considered a child prodigy. I am quite content to dismiss these fanciful delusions in favour of
stark, cold reality. Starting ....... tomorrow.




                                              The Big Bowl.


        No one was more surprised than I was to find myself in Kalgoorlie. As the plane, which
may well have been designed by midgets, touched down, I took a long look at my boarding pass.
There is no mention whatsoever of Kalgoorlie. Clearly, I was here as a result of a cler ical error.
Officially, this can be considered 'the long way.'
        There are those that say 'expect the unexpected'. These are obviously the same people who
issue boarding passes. There's nothing about travel that's easy. When travelling on a plane, you're




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subjected to miniature everything. Bowls and plates are so small that they make you feel like
Gulliver in Lilliput. There's so little space that in order to actually eat your meal, you're compelled
to indulge in origami of the torso just to get the fork to your mouth without injuring fellow
passengers. Worse than that are the bathrooms, which really need to come with a detailed set of
instructions. Ideally, they could do some kind of demonstration. Perhaps even link it in with the
safety procedures.
        Hotel bathrooms are altogether different. These days, you don't get a mint on your pillow.
Instead, they fold the toilet paper for you into a point. I'd like to think that they adopted this
practise as a result of a rush of litigation after a number of serious injuries relating to unfolded toilet
paper. Much like planes, lots of things in hotel rooms are designed by midgets, including the fridge
and the bottles of liquor.
        A while ago, I was travelling with a colleague. We'd parked the car and he was busy talking
on his mobile phone. As he did, he pointed the key ring at the boot and kept pressing it. For the
life of him, he couldn't figure out why the boot didn't pop open. This was because it require a more
traditional method. Specifically, it required a key.
        Expect the unexpected, indeed.
        Years ago, my brother Cam created a giant bowl in his pottery class. For years, it sat on the
wash-stand as a huge knick-knack. One day, my youngest brother Lachlan arrived home from
school and complained about how hungry he was. Sternly, he was told that he could have a bowl
of cereal if he wished. Lachy chose the big bowl. That thing could take sixteen wheat-bix at once,
and although he struggled, Lachlan made sure he ate them all just to prove a point. In fact, he
consumed so much fibre that to this day, you could set a clock by him. These days, the big bowl
sits once more on the wash stand, relegated to knick-knack status.
        I can't help but think that airlines could learn a thing or two from the big bowl.




                                                The Den.


        My father's study is the most amazing place. The whole room looks like a garage sale has
crawled in there and quietly passed away. And, in stark contrast to the Brady Bunch, it was never




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referred to as a 'den', which Pete would consider far too crude and animalistic. Always as a study.
A room and a verb all at once.
       In terms of describing what it looks like, it's hard to know just where to begin. The wall
paper is dark and velvety, and looks like something you might see in either a porn film or a
Devonshire tea room. On the wall there are university degrees. Lots of them. Or as my uncle
would say 'More degrees than a thermometer'. Actually, my uncle would put it that way, if only he
wasn't so fond of swearing. You get the idea. Then there's a large desk that is always cluttered and
has a glass top and a large leather folder which, after thirty years, has managed to maintain that
'new leather smell'.
       Behind the desk there's a coffee table that, on its face, has a marble chess board. Indeed,
this particular board won the award for 'world's ugliest chess board' in 1977. Or so I like to
imagine. The pieces have been carved with such a drastic sense of 1970s design that it takes a
considerable amount of guesswork to decide which piece is which. In our house, chess was always
a very unusual game as a result.
       Then there are the bookshelves. They contain almost every object known to human kind,
not the least of which are books. Novels of every size and description run a long line the entire
length of the wall. Australian classics, the great novels of the ages and the most expansive
collection of works by Max Walker you're ever likely to encounter. And then there are various
items and souvenirs that cram all available space. They range from the bizarre to royal family and
back again (commemorative mugs - as though monarchy should be celebrated with a cup of
coffee). There's a bugle, an ostrich egg, an empty bottle that appears to be serving no discernible
purpose whatsoever and that most rare of objects - a sporting trophy with my name on it.
       Below the book shelves are a vast collection of stamps. Now it seems almost unthinkable
that my brothers and sisters and I thought that this could be considered a suitable past-time. I
haven't dared to look at them for years. Probably the thing I'd find most fascinating now would be
the difference in the amount that stamps used to cost. My favourite, I think, was the one cent stamp
that featured the Queen in profile, as if she was auditioning for 'Alfred Hitchcock presents...'
       The other thing I can't forget about Pete's study are the photos of relatives long since passed
away. There on the wall, pictures taken in Northern Ireland and preserved for all time in my
father's study, along with the stamps, the ostrich egg and the only ever evidence of my sporting




                                                                                                   247
prowess. Staring down at the camera as if they don't quite trust it. If it is one of relatives behind
the camera, then they may well have a point. Perhaps they're just staring out in amazement at the
sight of the study.




                                           Speaking Geek.


       Even now, I can't quite pin point when the transformation takes place. At which precise
moment the drastic shift occurs and you suddenly realise that you're not half as hip, cool or, indeed,
groovy as you previously thought. When I was at university, I purchased some reading glasses that
were the nerdiest, geekiest pair of glasses in all of the optical world. It was the irony, more than
anything, that appealed to me. For at that time in my life, it would be painfully clear to all
concerned that I was, in no way imaginable, a geek.
       Ten years later and a cursory glance in the mirror was all I needed to realise that a
metamorphosis had taken place. I was no longer hip, certainly not cool and not even the tiniest bit
groovy. I had become a geek. Aside from inspiring the swift purchase of new glasses, I started to
wonder at how this had taken place. At first I wondered whether the glasses had somehow
managed to suck all the coolness out of me in the time I had been wearing them. Then I began to
think that the trouble might have started right about the time that people began referring to me as
'sir' rather than 'man' or 'dude'. I should definitely have realised that I was in strife when school
children started to stand up and offer me their seats on public transport.
       I'm quite sure that I'm not the only one in this regard. Not that these things all revolve
around a pair glasses. For lots of people, they spend their youth in a sporty looking car equipped
with a throbbing stereo and a sticker on the back that proclaims 'No Fear'. Next thing they know,
they're behind the wheel of a 1983 model Mazda that has sticker claiming that 'Magic Happens.'
Why magic always seem to 'happen' on the bumper bar of a 1983 model Mazda, I'll never know.
       A few doors up from the newsagency, there's a shop in Hastings that specialises in things
mystical. It sells stuff like crystals, incense, books on magic and witchcraft supplies - although
Cam tells me that they're always fresh out of goats. It is impossible not to wonder at why someone
would want to have such a store, much less in Hastings. It is possible not to wonder, but I have




                                                                                                        248
regardless, as to how these people get along in life generally and the extent to which they are
devoted to their cause.
       Do they give their children names like Merlin or Witchipoo? Do they cook like most
people, or do they insist that tomato sauce is, in fact, a potion? Worst of all would be if such
people were ever to fall foul of the law.
       In cross examination, it is not uncommon for a prosecutor to ask something along the lines
of 'Can you explain how it is that all that money made its way into your bank account?' It is
unlikely that the response 'magic happens?' would encounter much in the way of success.
       Not that I want to pick on people who believe in fairies, goblins and the mystical nature of
the universe in general. It's more that I struggle to understand. Then again, they probably say the
same thing about geeks.
       Viva la difference.




                                            Stunt Christmas.


       Christmas always brings such a mix of emotions. Without fail, 25 December always
conjures up the ghosts of Christmas past. I suspect that, for most people, such memories are sweet
with an aftertaste of melancholy that lingers on after the day itself has passed, just like the taste of
Christmas pudding. For my family, the spirit of Christmases gone by is particularly obvious, in
that we use the same wrapping paper year in, year out.
       I realise that I've mentioned before that my father has a fondness for re-using wrapping
paper. In fact, as children would scramble under the Christmas tree, the preservation of the
wrapping paper would actually seem more important than the gift itself. The trick was to lift up the
stickytape from the paper without so much as a tear. Amongst the five children, there was some
considerable competition as to who could perform this seemingly impossible task best. Unlike
other families, Christmas morning at our house was not one of tearing and shredding of paper, but
of careful and painstaking removal. We were certainly the only children we knew who unwrapped
their Christmas presents using a scalpel and forceps.




                                                                                                    249
        One particular year, having spent several hours unwrapping gifts, Cam and I were told that
we should look behind the couch. Both of us leapt to our feet and began to pull out the furniture.
Behind it, we found two motorcycle helmets. Cam instantly shrieked with delight and took off. I,
on the other hand, stood there completely bewildered and unsure of what to make of it all. The first
thing that occurred to me was that my parents had finally decided that I was such a danger to
myself and others that I should, from this moment on, wear a crash helmet at all times. I remember
thinking that it seemed like quite a reasonable decision on their part. However, it didn't make sense
that Cam should also receive a helmet, given that he was so much less accident prone. While I
remained there wondering, Cam appeared in the front yard, dressed in his pyjamas and the helmet,
sitting on top of a three wheel motor-cycle.
        Suddenly, an entirely different career path flashed before my eyes. One in which my
middle name would no longer be 'John' but, rather, 'Danger' instead. At that moment, I decided
that it was my calling to be a motorcycle stuntman.
        When I was in primary school, Evel Knievel was considered something of an immortal. In
fact, he was such a star that you could buy illustrated books about his various motorcycle
adventures. Pete had found it all extremely amusing and, and even now, at the very mention of
Evel's name will say 'No relation to Awful Knawful is he?' and then laugh for minutes on end. For
the past twenty five years, I have been trying to figure exactly why this is funny. It is safe to say,
that I still have no idea.
        It perhaps goes without saying that my career as a motorcycle stuntman was quite short
lived. On my very first ride, I went a little too fast around the chook shed and almost came to grief,
as my life and a number of chickens flashed before my eyes.
        However, I often use the helmet to this very day.




                                                                                                   250
                                             Diary 2002.


       I have just received a diary for the year 2002. Aside from every day of the year, diaries
often contain all sorts of surplus information, from international dialling codes to conversion tables
for weights and measures. But by far the most interesting of this surfeit of information is the
breeding table. While it is often a feature of most desk diaries, I'm sure that people seldom notice
that it's there. It includes detailed information on mares, cows, ewes, does, sows, bitches and
jennies. Essentially, it enables you to calculate, using the date of service, the appropriate date of
birth. The length of time varies greatly, from a mere 63 days for bitches and 365 days for jennies.
Should you be interested. However, one thing should be noted. Sadly, the breeding table is the
only part of the 2002 Diary that does not include space for your own records.
       My first pet was a cow. Specifically, I helped deliver the poor beast after an unfortunate
incident in which Pete discovered that the mother was in labour, but he wanted to beat peak hour
traffic and so headed off to work. This left me in an awkward position. Put simply, my entire
veterinary training consisted of several episodes of 'All Creatures Great and Small', none of which I
enjoyed especially much. It also left me with the somewhat false impression that any medical
emergency can be tackled with little more than a bucket of warm water and clean towels.
       The calf was stuck. And by stuck, I mean that it was turned the wrong way round and it's
mother couldn't finish the job. How it got in that position I'll never know. I like to think that it was
as a result of some kind of dare, but that seems unlikely. Put simply, if the calf wasn't birthed, both
the cow and calf would die.
       Most households in Tyabb own a lot of rope. Chiefly, aside from all its practical uses, I
suspect it also serves as a form of entertainment. However, in our house, we only had the type of
rope you would use to hang your washing out.
       Faced with little in the way of choice, I tied the rope around the hooves of the calf, wrapped
the rope around my arm and pulled. Needless to say, I also got lots of warm water and some clean
towels, although I couldn't figure out for the life of me what to do with them. After several minutes
of exhaustive effort, which was several more minutes than I was accustomed to, the calf was born.
Both the mother and child survived, with the latter being a bull I called 'Bruiser' on account of the
bruises on my arm from the rope.




                                                                                                    251
       And they all lived happily ever after.


       Well, perhaps 'ever' is a slightly extreme term. Given that Bruiser ended up at the butchers.
But in the short term, at least, I'm sure he was quite content.




                            The Apartment and the Nine Circles of Hell


       To borrow a phrase from the erstwhile entertainer known as Kid Rock, 'I'm back'.
Specifically, I'm back in Melbourne. Well, sort of. For currently, I am leading an almost stateless
existence. To be precise, I am living in a furnished apartment. Those of you familiar with such an
experience will require no explanation. Indeed, it is perhaps the most difficult part about moving
interstate. Where you live might be fine. Where you're moving might be better. But in between
these two points lies an abyss. That abyss, quite simply, is the furnished apartment. In fact, I
believe that the 'furnished apartment' actually features in the nine circles of hell in some translations
of Dante's Inferno. I think it's between level 2 and level 3.
       For those of you unfamiliar with Dante's view of the underworld, that's right after the
Carnal and just before the Gluttons.
       My life, as of late, has been chaos. And not just for the fact of being homeless, either. Last
weekend was one of the most trying of my adult life. Perhaps an explanation is in order.


January 4, 2002. 3pm - Eastern Standard Summer Time


       It was Friday afternoon when I bolted out of the office to catch my flight to Brisbane. My
mission was simple: to pack and clean my apartment so the movers could come in. As the taxi
arrived to pick me up, I hurriedly hung up my mobile phone. We got the airport with plenty of time
to spare and I checked in my luggage. Just before boarding the plane, I reached into my pocket, to
ensure that I'd managed to turn my phone off, only to discover that it wasn't there. Put simply, I
had managed to lose it.




                                                                                                     252
Score: Dante 1, Stuart 0


       On board, I discover that I have the seat next to the emergency exit, which means that I
have heaps of extra leg-room. Feeling quite comfortable and not a little tired, I can feel myself
getting drowsy about ten minutes into the increasingly elaborate safety demonstration. I then fall
soundly asleep on the aeroplane and miss the meal. Somewhere along the line, I lurch back into
consciousness with a flurry of limbs that results in me hitting the person sitting next to me.
Luckily, the person sees the funny side of it and doesn't get angry. Unluckily, the person then
wants to have a conversation. Groggy and feeling the weight of recent sleep, I speak absolute
drivel. Had this person known me, I doubt they could have detected a difference between this and
my normal standard of conversation, but being a stranger, I think I may have only succeeded in
scaring her.


Dante 2, Stuart 0


       Arriving at Brisbane Airport, I collected my luggage and, having lost my mobile phone,
contacted a friend of mine using little more than a stick and some old bottle tops. To my complete
amazement, this works and we go out to dinner and catch up. The food is great and tall tales are
swapped. The tide, it seems, is definitely turning.


Dante 2, Stuart 1


       Arriving back to my apartment, I find it just as I had left it. This, even of itself, is cause for
enormous relief. This would be my last weekend in Brisbane and, despite the shaky start, I felt an
unreasonable optimism.
       Foresight, as it turns out, is as flawed as hindsight is wonderful.




                                                                                                     253
                                    The Nine Circles – Part two


       Arriving back to my apartment, I find it just as I had left it. This, even of itself, is cause for
enormous relief. This would be my last weekend in Brisbane and, despite the shaky start, I felt an
unreasonable optimism.
       Foresight, as it turns out, is as flawed as hindsight is wonderful.


January 5, 2002. 8am Eastern Standard Time


       Despite an inauspicious beginning to my last weekend in Brisbane, I wake up on Saturday
in my own bed. Words cannot express how wonderful this feels so, instead, I've attached a link to a
web site. Then, after visiting the world's greatest bread shop (Jocelyn's Provisions in James Street
Newstead, if you're interested), I begin the awesome task that is cleaning up my apartment.
       As Brisbane is incredibly humid at this time of year, I instantly start sweating as if I've
somehow sprung aleak. Despite the heat and in spite of the fact there seems to be steam lifting up
off my skin, it feels as though I've got a lot done. If only this sense of security was not so
temporary.
       Then, as improbable as it sounds, I have house guests. To be precise, I have Emma and
Penny, who are up from Melbourne. At first glance, having people over while I'm trying to pack
might sound inconvenient but, in fact, it's the exact opposite. Having Emma and Penny drop by
stops me from falling into that melancholy state that so often comes with packing up everything
you own.




                                                                                                      254
       Given that my guests are from out of town, we make dinner reservations at Pier 9 in Eagle
Street. Because we're late in making our booking, they can only offer us a table outside. In truth,
nothing could be more perfect. Dinner is great and the view is fantastic. Having an outside table
means that we are right next to the river with a perfect view of the Story Bridge, that stretches out
over the river and looks as if it's lit with Christmas lights. In a way, though, it's a little strange, as
the only thing separating us from those dining inside is a large wall of glass and about twenty air -
conditioned degrees. It feels as though we have more in common with the people walking past on
the footpath than those inside. It creates a sense of 'us' and, indeed, 'them'. In short, it makes me
feel quite bold. However, it could well have been the wine.
       The evening air is light and warm and the company is great. The only dark moment comes
when, after my friends express concern at what they perceive to be a lack of prompt attention from
the waiting staff, I recklessly offer to perform a manoeuvre known as a 'pressed ham' against the
glass wall in order to garner their attention. This, without doubt, was the wine.
       Although this might sound like a rather amusing, if not slightly distasteful, comment, the
difficulty arose when Emma and Penny agreed. My bluff effectively called, I felt I had little choice
but to finish what I had started. As you do with any meal.
       I'd bore you with the details, were it not for the fact that they're likely to be subject to some
kind of proceedings, so I really shouldn't comment.
       However, in spite of my little run in, an excellent time was had by all. With the possible
exception of those patrons inside the restaurant.


Score: Dante 2, Stuart 2


       With the weekend half over, and the score even, it seems unfathomable that things should
go too badly wrong. But they did. So very badly wrong.




                                      Nine Circles – Part Three


January 6, 2002. 10am Eastern Standard Time




                                                                                                      255
       Penny and Emma leave early on Sunday morning and I continue with my cleaning. It's still
humid and I'm sweating more than can be considered polite. And then something terrible happens.
The more I clean, the more I realise there's so many other things that I need to do. Suddenly, it
becomes a brutal race against time.
       I pack boxes, clean out cupboards and wipe shelves. I desperately attempt to dismantle my
bed using every one of the fifty or so Allen keys I seem to have collected. (Damn you IKEA.
Damn you to hell!) I throw out everything that's surplus and, by not stopping to eat, I think I'm still
on track to make my 3:55 flight. I clean the bathroom, the kitchen, the floors and pack as much as I
can. By now it's 3:10pm and I am soaked to the bone. Time, put simply, is very much of the
essence.
       However, I decide that it's in everyone's best interests that I have a shower. This requires no
hot water at all and I hope that I can cool down sufficiently in order to not look like a walking mop.
I get changed and grab my bags. The taxi arrives almost instantaneously and I am now on my way
to the airport. As we drive, I check my watch, and by my calculations, given the wind and driving
conditions, I should get there with a healthy fifteen minutes to spare. Once there, I race to the
check out counter and the attendant asks me where I'm going. I blurt out 'Melbourne', only to be
confronted with a look of complete confusion. It is then the awful truth is revealed to me. My
flight departed at 3:45, rather than 3:55, and I have missed it.


Dante: 3, Stuart: 2


       It's at this point that all my previous misadventures unite together. The attendant puts me
on the next flight which is only half an hour later. I'm being picked up at the airport by a friend but
I can't call her because (a) I lost my mobile phone (b) I put the phone number in my luggage, which
I have already checked in and, (c) due to a lack of time, I have no money with which to make a
phone call.


Dante: 4, Stuart: 2




                                                                                                   256
        As I am passing through the metal detector, I find I have the keys to my Brisbane
apartment. What I don't have in my pockets, are the keys to my Melbourne apartment.


Dante: 5, Stuart: 2


        The flight is delayed by over half an hour.


Dante: 6, Stuart: 2


        I get on board and discover that no meal will be served. Instead, we are treated to light
refreshments which consist of a fairy cake and a piece of chocolate. It has now been ten hours
since solids passed by lips.


Dante: 7, Stuart: 2


        The in-flight entertainment consists entirely of back to back episodes of the misleadingly
entitled 'Best of Getaway'.


Dante: 12, Stuart: 2


        By now I have no money, no home and no means of communicating with the outside world.
Things, put simply, are not looking good.


                                                Part 4


January 6, 2002. 5pm Eastern Standard Time


        By now I have no money, no home and no means of communicating with the outside
world.......
        Except for this one.




                                                                                               257
       Halfway through the flight, I pull out my notebook and start scribbling. At this point, I'm
angry. I'm angry at work, at friends, at the weather and at the entire aviation industry in particular.
I'm angry at everything and everyone, which is made all the worse by the fact that I know that
everything that's gone wrong is entirely my fault.
       Then, the captain's voice comes over to make an announcement. As it turns out, it has been
a very hot day in Melbourne. The problem being that there's a cool change coming in, specifically,
in the form of a thunderstorm, and we are about to fly straight through it. In the captain's own
words, things are going to be 'bumpy'.
       Just as the captain promised, the plane starts to shake. Then it begins to lurch from side to
side and up and down. For a brief moment, I'm almost glad there's nothing in my stomach for the
simple fact that it means I have nothing to throw up. Across the aisle, a child - his face pressed up
hard against the window - feels the need to yell out 'Look Mum, the engines are shaking!'
       It goes without saying that I do not find this at all reassuring. In fact, I find this so
disturbing that I contemplate shoving the aircraft safety card squarely down the little brat's throat.
The only thing stopping me is that I'm too busy studying the card and making notes to contemplate
anything else. I've experienced turbulence before, but this goes way beyond that. In fact, it's not so
much turbulence as a near death experience.


Dante 13, Stuart 2


       When I get off the flight, I am shaken to say the least. But even though I'm an hour late, I
find my friend waiting for me at the airport.


Dante 13, Stuart 3


       When I collect my luggage, I find the keys to my Melbourne apartment stuffed into a
pocket. Officially, I have a home to return to. 'Relief' is too small a word.


Dante 13, Stuart 4




                                                                                                    258
Part 5


January 7, 2002 5pm Eastern Standard Summer Time


         Back in Melbourne, I go to work and try to give the impression that I am 'refreshed' after the
weekend, but I don't think it works. I am absolutely exhausted. I head back to the apartment, eat
and promptly go to bed. I have no intention of moving for the next 12 hours.


January 8, 2002 3:30am Eastern Standard Summer Time


         I awake to the sound of a single word and the sound of breaking glass. The word is 'fire'. I
turn on the light and find that my apartment is full of smoke. I've always thought that if I was ever
faced with a situation like this that I'd probably panic, but I find that I don't. In fact, I don't panic
nearly enough. I am altogether too calm. I get dressed, gather up my wallet and keys and move to
the door, passing the mute fire alarm on the wall as I go. I open the door and there's nothing but
smoke. Just a pure white blanket. I have no idea of which direction to go. Whether I'll be moving
to safety or straight into the fire. I head down the stairs, and the lower I get, the less smoke there is.
         Earlier on, I had claimed that furnished apartments bear an uncanny resemblance to Dante's
Inferno. I had thought it was just an analogy, rather than the real thing. I guess I should count
myself lucky that no one was hurt. Or that I remembered to put trousers on before running out onto
the street.
         Note: Although I lost no possessions or clothing in the blaze, donations will still be
accepted. Apparently I have a really poor dress sense.




                                                                                                       259
                                              Yoga-ing


        After what could politely be termed an 'eventful' few weeks, I decided that I should try and
find a way to relax. My friend Marcelle suggested yoga. To be honest, there was a time in my life
where I used to think that people who did yoga were nothing but wheat-grass slurping, tofu-
scoffing, incense burning, new-age hippy freaks who organised their lives according to the signs of
the zodiac. But when Marcelle said that, as a Scorpio, yoga would suit my cosmic transom, I
couldn't help but agree to give it a try.
        The first difficulty arose in what to wear. There are those who like to wear form-hugging
bicycle shorts to yoga. I like to think the world has already suffered enough. At first I claimed that
I had a 'yoga toga', but luckily I thought better of it. Instead, I wore tracksuit pants. To be even
more specific, I had to buy some tracksuit pants that (a) didn't make me look like a drug dealer (i.e.
have buttons down the side), (b) didn't make me look unemployed (any tracksuit pants that have a
sizeable hole around the crotch area) or (c) don't result in my bearing an uncanny resemblance to
MC Hammer (can't touch this, indeed).
        Having purchased a pair, I was now ready to attend my first yoga class. We were a little
late, so we put our mats at the front of the room. And then it began. The only images I had of yoga
were quite graceful. Given the way that I was feeling during the course of our class, I suspect that I
did not look elegant. Some of the stances, in fact, were close to being down-right offensive. At
best, I looked like a human pretzel. In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise
publicly to all those who were standing behind me. Next time, I shall try to be more discreet.
        Then came time for the shoulder stand. To do this required the use of a chair. Carefully, I
laid out my mat and blankets and rolled my legs up over my head. For reasons I still can't quite
comprehend, I seemed to end up with my legs facing away from the chair rather than towards it. I
can only say that no one else seemed to have the same difficulty. At the time, I used a chair that
was already in the room, but next time I might bring my own. Perhaps a bean bag would be more
appropriate.




                                                                                                   260
       After what seemed like a long time stretching my muscles like worn elastic, came the time
for relaxation. This involved rearranging our blankets and putting a small sack of beans over our
eyes. Deep in a meditative state, I set about arranging the blankets when I felt something collide
with the back of my head. My yoga classmates looked deeply shocked, as I spun around to
discover that Marcelle had decided to use the bag of relaxation beans as some kind of missile. As
tempted as I was to grab the chair and retaliate, I returned to a deep trance-like sate.
       Besides, revenge is a dish best served cold.
       Lying down with my eyes closed, I felt relaxed. It seemed as if weeks of stress and tension
were dissolving and sinking into the floor of the Richmond Recreation Centre. Until my nostrils
grew broad in alarm. I could smell smoke. Given my recent experiences, my first reaction was to
sit bolt up-right and run for my life. With panic in my veins, I pushed aside the slow and infirm as
I raced towards the exit.
       Later, I would learn that, according to the instructor, most people don't react so severely to
incense.


                                           Life in a Tarago


       I have a small confession to make: I spent many of my formative years trapped inside a
Toyota Tarago. No wonder I turned out the way I did. For there is no greater indignity than to be
caged in a car that has all the appearances of being pregnant, including morning sickness. Every
morning, as the engine struggled to start, the five of us would be strapped in ready to head off to
school, with looks of anxiety so tightly stitched into our faces that you'd swear that it was part of
the uniform.
       The seats had a pecking order, of sorts. Window seats were highly prized, while the worst
thing that could happen is that you get stuck with 'the middle seat'. The middle seat, for those you
who either grew up as an only child or on a motor cycle, is more than just a place to sit. It's a state
of mind. It's that place you find yourself in whenever you feel slightly uncomfortable and the
subject of just a little too much attention. Whatever the circumstance, wherever you are, you are in
the middle seat.




                                                                                                   261
       Should fortune frown upon you, your unhappy face would fill the rear view mirror for mile
after miserable mile. That is, until whoever was driving would notice and you'd get into trouble for
being unhappy, which always seemed manifestly unfair.
       Every family has its share of trouble. And by that I mean that every family has its own
unique set of sins and misdeeds for which you can find yourself in strife. The most unique amongst
these in our family was standing in the light. My father, Pete, who had an unnatural affection for
the late edition of the Herald, had a ritual that would take place each and every night. He would
arrive home from work, get changed, pour himself a sherry and read the paper. As though it was
his civic duty to do so. He did all this while snacking on cheese, cabana and barbecue shapes -
although he'd occasionally mix this up a little by switching to savoury shapes instead.
       Hidden behind the broad sheet, the first sign of trouble would come with an irritable
crumple of the paper, swiftly followed by the words, 'you're standing right in my light'. That
anyone can possess something such as light, was obviously a valuable lesson. That to trespass on
somebody's light was a mistake, is something my brothers and sisters and I have taken with us into
adulthood.
       It's strange to think of the things that form and shape you. And which elements of your
childhood you keep and which ones you reject. The Herald has long since disappeared, so I
suppose that's not an issue. But I still believe that barbecue shapes (which bear little resemblance
to a Webber, really), cabana and cheese are a fine example of Australian cuisine and should be
served in restaurants. But I have vowed never to travel in a Toyota Tarago so long as I live and
avoid the middle seat whenever it's humanly possible. And I never, ever stand in somebody's light.
       Sunny days are, at best, 'difficult'.




                                               Ansett.


       My father told me this story and it probably stands repeating.




                                                                                                 262
       Years ago, and even before we lived in Tyabb, my family lived in Mount Eliza. It was a
nice house, directly over the road from the Mount Eliza Business School where Pete was doing an
MBA. I guess he figured it was a safe commuting distance. One of the local residents at that time
was Reginald Ansett. Unlike others who lived in the area, Reg wouldn't take his place in the
queues of traffic that made their way up to Melbourne at the start of each working day, preferring
instead to take his helicopter. As well you would. But when it came to plane flights, he lined up
along with everyone else.
       However, Reg was a dedicated local citizen and would gladly volunteer his time to come
and speak to the students at the Business School to share both his time and experience. On such an
occasion he told a story of waiting one day at Melbourne airport for a flight to Sydney. Sitting
inconspicuously in the boarding lounge, he was spotted by a young man who looked to be waiting
for somebody. To Reg he looked young and impressionable, thrown into a suit that didn't quite
look as though it belonged, and with his hair and ears pinned way back in nervousness.
       Having spotted the airline impresario, the young man made his way across the room and
introduced himself. He explained, in the way that only nervous young men can, that he was
meeting some potential clients from Sydney and really wanted to impress them. It was at that point
the young man asked Mr Ansett for a favour. He wanted to know whether, while he was meeting
his clients, Reg would be kind enough to come over and say 'hello'. He explained that his
colleagues were bound to be amazed if they thought that he knew Reg Ansett, and it would really
help him in his business.
       Impressed that he had the nerve to make such a request and always ready to lend an up-and-
comer a helping hand, Mr Ansett agreed. Soon, the flight began to disembark, and the clients from
Sydney along with it. The young man, eager and attentive, swept down on them, pumping their
hands and talking earnestly to them. At that point, Mr Ansett prepared to keep his promise and
stood up. He walked across the room to where the young man and his colleagues were standing
before extending a welcoming hand towards his new friend.
       'Trevor,' he said smiling. 'Good to see you again.'
       However, the young man cut Mr Ansett off mid-sentence, raising his hand and saying only,
'Not now Reg, I'm busy.'
       No doubt his clients were impressed. And I dare say Reg would have understood.




                                                                                                    263
                                              Progress.


       Paris, London, Frankston. What do these great cities have in common? Simple. The
answer is 'underground power lines'. Now, after years of courageous struggle, another great city
can be added to that hero's pantheon of urban achievement. Take a bow Hastings, you've earned it.
For you can walk down High Street as long as you like and nary a power line will be seen. Not that
everyone always believed that this could be achieved. Indeed, there are those who have often been
critical of what the rest of us refer to as 'progress'. A fact the local newspapers have been quick to
highlight. What they didn't count on was the ferocious response from my father, who submitted the
following letter:
       "Dear Editor,
       One thing you can say about country towns is that as sure as night follows day, the local
paper will enthusiastically support any proposal that is beneficial to its town. It was therefore
disappointing to read the headline OTAMA TAKES A HIT on the front page of the paper dated 18
February. Why is it, I wondered, that whenever a development that will benefit Hastings is
proposed, our local papers have to embark on a white-anting exercise?
       Early last year the proposed Sea Cat ferry service between Tasmania and Stony point
aroused enormous interest. I don't think I have ever seen the local citizens embrace a concept with
more enthusiasm. The dissidents were so few in number that they could be counted on the fingers
of a sawmiller's hand. However they, with the support of the local press gave the government the
excuse it needed to call for another investigation. The result was that the Tasmanians, tired of the
indecision, took their cat and went home. The whole Westernport area, which would have reaped
enormous benefits, felt badly let down.
       Meanwhile, the Western Port Oberon Association have been putting tremendous effort into
securing the decommissioned submarine as a tourist attraction for Hastings. The influx of tourists
will mean many jobs, especially for our young people. In fact, it is probably the most important
event in the history of Hastings since the arrival of Lysarts some 30 years ago. Let's ignore the
knockers and the politicians know what the town really wants.




                                                                                                   264
        So what about it Editor? Can you rise above the negativity and give the Oberon project
your unqualified support?
        Yours sincerely,
        Pete"


        For those of you still struggling, the proposal at the source of all this passion is one to
transport a decommissioned submarine to Hastings. As to 'why?', Pete assures me it is not the first
step in Hastings forming its own alternative military capability and seceding. Instead, he thinks it
would be a tourist attraction. There is, he claims, a very popular submarine at Wangaratta that's
little more than a hull. Whereas the submarine at Hastings would be pretty much battle-ready.
Should Phillip Island ever decide to invade, Hastings will be well prepared.




                                                Art.


        'Holiday. Celebrate. Just one day I would like. It would be, it would be so nice.'
        Those words are as profound today as they were in 1983 when Madonna first sang them. A
change may well be as good as holiday, but somehow I doubt it. Last weekend in Victoria was
elongated by a public holiday. With extra time at my disposal, I decided to go the National Gallery
of Victoria. There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it was something I hadn't managed to
do since my return to Melbourne, in spite of the fact that it's now located a full fifty metres away
from my front door. Secondly, the Gallery may well be one of my favourite places in the world.
        I went with a friend of mine who has probably forgotten more about art than I'll ever know
and began to wander around. For those of you unfamiliar with the National Gallery, it used to be
located in St Kilda Road but is currently housed in Russell Street while the old site is refurbished.
The Russell Street site used to be home to the Museum, but that has since moved up to the Carlton
Gardens. Meanwhile the Carlton Gardens used to have the Exhibition Centre, which is now on the
river. It's as though all the major cultural institutions were involved in some bizarre game of
musical chairs. Except for the Library, which is exactly where it's always been. But you'd expect
that.




                                                                                                  265
         There was something interesting about seeing familiar paintings in a completely different
environment. It even came close to proving that a change really is as good as a holiday. Much of it
was like food for the soul, with the possible exception of the bit with all the plates and stuff that
look like they've escaped from IKEA. It has to be said, though, although I adore art, I was never
much good at it myself.
         At Flinders College, art class was compulsory except for me. So bad were my attempts to
create a lithograph, or painting or anything other than a mess, formerly proud art teachers were
broken and I was ushered off to a quiet corner to do music theory instead. However, in the course
of my brief artistic career, which lasted the first three weeks of Year 9, after history and before
maths, I did create one object of undeniable beauty - I painted my own Easter egg.
         Traditionally, you're supposed to hollow out the innards before you decorate it, but I took a
slightly different approach. Instead, I hard-boiled it figuring that it would be more structurally
sound.
         In short, the result was incredible. And probably quite tasty, too. For while Picasso was
famous for the way he viewed the world and Tintaretto for the rapidity of his brushstrokes, neither
of them ever produced works of art as high in protein as I did.
         Even after I was taken out of art class, I remained proud of my Easter egg. So proud, in
fact, that I kept it in the top of my dresser draw. Indeed, it was still there long after I had moved
away until and rather rancid smell began to escape down the hallway. Eventually, Pete found my
egg which, after years, had burst through its shell. Finally, the only worthwhile piece of art I'd ever
created truly stank.




                                          Computer Games.


         Last week, the computer I was using broke down. Again. This is the fourth time that
computers I have been using have some form of breakdown in the past twelve months. Shortly
after it happened, I began to suspect that I was doing something wrong. In retrospect, someone
might have mentioned to me earlier that computers, broadly speaking, are not waterproof.




                                                                                                        266
       In a critical condition, the computer was raced at high speed to a high tech facility for
emergency repairs.
       Actually, I made that last bit up. I have no idea where they take computers when they break
down. The Royal Tandy Hospital, perhaps? Or the Dick Smith Intensive Computer Care Institute?
(Known, probably as the Dick SICCI, for short.) In fact, for all I know, it could have been taken to
somebody's shed. If this were, indeed, the case, it would at least explain what happened next.
       The computer finally returned to my desk at which point I attempted to turn it on. Sadly,
there were no vital signs. There were no signs at all. And, as I was later to discover, no data. My
computer was no more. It was in the ensuing frustration that I wrote the following letter.
       'Dear Incompetent Bastard,
       Congratulations on destroying my computer. How you ever came to work in the IT industry
is utterly amazing to me. Not only have you to managed to repair my computer in a manner that
renders it as little more than an oversized paperweight, you have managed in process to obliterate
all the data it ever contained. Even I had never managed to do as much, and I don't even know
what half the buttons do.
       Indeed, I'd have been no worse off if, instead of submitting it to the likes of you, I had kept
my computer, set fire to it and fed it through the shredder. Ironically, though, had I destroyed it,
this would have amounted to a breach of the warranty. You, however, have managed to destroy it
as part of the warranty.
       I only wish there were medals for this kind of thing.
       In my minds eye, I can almost imagine you reading this missive. Rocking gently back and
forth, builder's cleavage no doubt crawling up above your trousers as a tear falls from your eye into
your jumbo slurpee. I can only promise that this is the last word you shall hear from me on the
subject, as I have decided to give up on computers altogether and try to reintroduce the telex
machine.
       Yours sincerely,
       Stuart McCullough'




                                                                                                   267
       What scares me most about writing such a letter is that if you removed the words
'Incompetent Bastard' and replaced them with the word 'Editor', it might be something that my
father could have written. For the record, though, Pete does not own a computer.
       PS. Please forward your telex numbers to my home address and I promise to respond next
week. For the record, Pete's letter has been published, unedited, in the local paper. To widespread
acclaim, I believe.




                                                 Irish.


       Hastings is quite an odd town. Although no further evidence is probably required, Cam sent
some to me anyway.
       Cam owns a newsagency in Hastings, a town which is best described as part well to do rural
and part not. What it does still have is a sense of community, probably as a result of it being a little
remote. Suffice to say, there are still miles of paddocks separating Hastings from neighboring
towns, although if AV Jennings have their way I'm sure that will change.
       For some reason, many of Hastings' residents are immigrants, who have come to Australia
from far away searching for a better life and, one might suspect, still looking. Regardless, it is hard
not to think of these arrivals as ambassadors, of sorts, for their distant home-lands. There is George
the Englishman, for example, who has been known to take a packet of Life Savers back to their
place of purchase having discovered after opening that one was broken. There is Rod the Scot, who
spends half his life battling the seaside conditions while riding his bike everywhere, all the while
telling you how much he is saving on petrol costs. (Rod also has hair to his waist and is, no doubt,
saving a fortune on hair-cuts). There's a guy whose real name is a complete mystery and is simply
known as "the Prince of Wales". It probably says that on the Electoral Roll for all I know. He lives
in a crumbling shack and attends to "Royal Duties" most days. At least he was born in Wales, I
suppose. But probably the most entertaining of all these characters is a full-blooded Irishman
called, perhaps predictably, "Irish".
       Irish is an early morning regular at the newsagency which, for a place that opens at 4am, is
quite an achievement. Dark and early last St Patrick's day, Cam heard a commotion outside the




                                                                                                    268
shop. Stepping out to investigate, he saw Irish at the shop next to the newsagency, frantically
banging the door. Cam asked him what he was doing, at which a startled Irish leapt back and
exclaimed, "Sweet Jaysus, I thought you were closed!" Cam pointed out that the newsagency had
its doors open and lights on, that the shop he was trying to enter was, instead, a surf shop - a fact
reinforced by the large number of surf boards in the window display.                "Sweet Jaysus," he
exclaimed. "I should have noticed that."
        Irish followed Cam into the newsagency, picked up a paper and paid in his, now
customary, manner. Thrusting a hand-full of change towards the counter he cried out, "Take what
you need, son, I can't see a frigin' thing". How he reads a newspaper, when he can't even make out
a dollar coin, is beyond understanding.
        Being 17 March, Cam was sure to wish him a happy St Patrick's Day. Irish froze to
consider this for a moment before saying, "By God, it is!" When Cam asked him whether he'd be
drinking Guinness or Whiskey, Irish shook his head, saying, "Oh no son, I'm a wine drinker" As
evidence of this, he then reached into his tracksuit and produced a 600ml Pepsi bottle full of white
wine.
        Every day, Irish makes the long walk to the newsagency. It takes quite a while, but he
cannot drive, as he is permanently over .05..... or .2, for that matter. For a while, he took to riding a
bike but decided it was too far to fall. His knowledge of brakes was all but forgotten by 6am, as he
would wobble down the street and aim for a garden bed to slow his momentum. Coming to rest in a
rose-bush or against a telephone pole, he would curse his bike, straighten his cap, and walk.




                                      Limp Bizkit – the musical!


        In the course of an unfortunate elevator experience, I had to listen to the new single by
Britney Spears. Entitled 'I'm not a girl', it struck me as the most unlikely statement ever committed
to song since Elton John declared 'I want to kiss the bride'.




                                                                                                      269
       Pop music is a funny and cruel thing. You can be as famous as anything one day and a
question at pub trivia that no one knows the answer to the next. Consider the likes of Rupert
Holmes (the Pina Colada Song) - who is the only person to ever have a huge world-wide hit while
still wearing a v-neck sweater. Or the Vapours (Turning Japanese), who had a single monster
success never to be heard of again.       Or Kriss Kross (Jump) who will be remembered for
reinvigorating hip hop with youthful exuberance and wearing their clothes backwards.
       Even as we speak, Hampton the Hamster should be preparing himself to join this salubrious
list. Sadly, his fifteen minutes of fame are now well and truly at an end. For those of you
unfamiliar with his work, I can only suggest that this proves my point. Last year, Hampton the
Hamster claimed responsibility for 'Hamsterdance - The Album'. I loved the fact they thought they
needed to specify 'the Album'. As though anyone might readily confuse it with 'Hamsterdance -
The Liver Cleansing Diet'.
       Worse than being forgotten, though, are the casualties. Those who bathed in the bright light
of success but who succumbed to drugs, depression and despair. Names such as Frankie Lymon,
Kurt Cobain and Pop Abrams and the Smurfs spring to mind as examples of cautionary tales.
       Some music, however, seems to stand a certain test of time. Currently, Melbourne is
playing host to 'Mamma Mia' which is a musical based on the works of ABBA. This, it should be
said, is a fantastic idea. If only other groups would follow suit. Already, there are musicals being
developed based on the songs of Queen and Bruce Springsteen. All that's missing is for some
younger performers to join the fray. A friend on mine is strongly of the belief that what the world
needs in a musical based solely around the works of American Nu-Metal pillocks, Limp Bizkit.
Ideally, it would use the same story as Mama Mia (or 'libretto' if you prefer), but with music by the
Bizkit, rather than Benny and Bjorn.
       If I were to ask my brother Cam to suggest a suitable performer to provide songs for a
musical, I think he'd probably nominate Kid Rock without hesitating. Whether the world in its
current form is prepared for such a musical, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps they could just take an
existing musical - maybe something by Gilbert and Sullivan - and change the music. 'Model of a
modern major general' could be replaced with the words 'I'm back, the fog has lifted, the earth has
shifted...' Alternatively, imagine how the song 'Three little maids from school are we' from the
Mikado might be reinvigorated if it was performed by the Beastie Boys.




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        You get the idea.
        This weekend, I'm going to the opera to see Leoncavello's Pagliacci. For those of you
unfamiliar with the piece, it is best described as the 'scary clown' opera. Much like the band
'Slipknot', but with music. I guess I like opera not because I understand it but precisely because I
don't. I like heading to the venue and sitting in my seat and listening as the orchestra tunes up. The
only moment I ever feel awkward is when I'm standing in the lobby during intermission. For
lobbies, like elevators, are dangerous places. You never quite know when you'll find yourself being
forced to listen to Britney Spears.




                                               Rest Insured.


        Recently, I received a letter from my health insurer. As did lots of people. In essence, it
apologized profusely and then told me they were going to increase my premium. More than that,
they acknowledged how unfair this was but reasoned, that in this crazy mixed-up world of ours,
they had little choice. Their hand was forced. It was kind of along the lines of 'this hurts me more
than it hurts you.' We shall see about that.
        Below is a copy of my response.
        'Dear Mr Smith,
        With regards to your letter of 25 March 2002, let me say first of all, thankyou for feeling my
pain.   For my part, let me simply acknowledge the grief your corporation has obviously
experienced in charging me more. In fact, I feel ashamed at having ever cursed its name and I
certainly regret a lot of the things I said on the internet. How could I have been so blind? So
selfish? I am not even worthy to receive the glossy brochures that are probably printed on paper
made from virgin wilderness wood that you see so fit to bestow upon me.
        Had I any idea that increasing my premium would cause you so much anguish, I would
have insisted that you leave it where it was.




                                                                                                   271
       However, I do have one query. You stated that the reason you were reluctantly increasing
my premium was to preserve the level of service I was currently receiving. So far this level of
service has included two brochures, one membership card and a letter increasing my premium. Put
simply, you're not exactly aspiring to a level excellence on the service front. Have you ever given
any thought to promotional coffee mugs or coasters? Or a stubbie holder? It's items such as these
that are pushing the excellence envelope in the twenty first century. Quite frankly, at this point I'd
consider it a vast improvement in the service level if you started spelling my name correctly.
       I noticed also that you forgot to leave your phone number. Instead, you gave a number for a
call center that's probably located just outside New Delhi and staffed by a one armed land mine
victim working thirty hours a day taking calls in a room without windows for a dollar an hour.
Frankly, the last thing that guy needs to hear is me complaining. So I thought I'd write to you
direct. And given that I'm so concerned about your welfare and at how upset you've been as a
result of this 'premium raising' malarkey, I shall be writing to you every week. Just to make sure
you're okay. Hang in there, little buddy. Everything's going to be okay.
       Hope to hear from you soon. You shall certainly be hearing from me.
       Regards,
       Stuart'


       So far, I'm yet to receive a response. Or even another brochure. Although I did receive a
package with a coffee mug.
       Now that's what I call service.




                                    The Recorded Music Salon.




                                                                                                   272
       In Collins Street, Melbourne, you'll find my favourite store. And in all the time I've been
aware of its existence, I have never bought anything from it. In between Spring and Exhibition
Streets, just before Collins Place, you'll find a store named 'The Recorded Music Salon'. I think it's
the word 'salon' that I'm particularly taken with. As if you can buy music and get your hair cut at
the same time. I'd like to think that the headphones looked like those old dryers you find at
hairdressers. The ones that make people look as if they're wearing some hugely oversized helmet.
       In the midst of the central business district, The Recorded Music Salon stands alone, silent
and untroubled by all the activity around it. Like some kind of sanctuary. Or a time capsule, save
for the fact it hasn't had to suffer the inconvenience on being buried in the ground. The weathered
paint on the sign at the front boasts, in long curled letters, that the latest in hi-fi equipment can be
found inside. Every day, thousands of people walk past this place without so much as noticing its
existence, which I find quite incredible.
       In the window of the Salon are a string of long-playing records. Or 'LPs' as they used to be
called. The first record in the window is one by James Last Orchestra recorded on a trip to Russia.
Next to that, is a near mint condition copy of John Farnham's 'Age of Reason' (Just think. Jean-
Paul Sartre wasted a whole book on the age of reason. He should have just written a pop song and
he'd have been done with it). Remember. These are the items in the window display. The objects
that are meant to catch your eye and draw you in. Just imagine what delights must lie inside. It's as
though someone stole my father's record collection and went into business. However, the reason
I've never made a purchase there is simple. I've never seen it open. Ever.
       Long after the second world war, there were rumours of soldiers lost in the New Guinean
jungle who still thought the war was going. I'd like to think that there's a shop assistant stuck inside
The Recorded Music Salon who still believes it's 1973. Dressed in stove-pipe trousers and a
psychedelic shirt and using phrases such as 'far out' and 'groovy tunes'. Wondering why it is that
Lynard Skynard haven't released any LPs lately. Similarly, in Little Bourke Street, there's a
hairdressers that has in its window a picture of actor Jack Klugman that must be thirty years old.
The idea being, presumably, that you see Quincy in the window and think - 'I think I'll get my hair
cut here'. That said, you could probably do worse. My brother Cam used to get his locks chopped
at a barbers in Hastings run by a guy called 'Wolf' who had a mullet. In 1995.




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          A friend of mine recently performed in the comedy festival with his wonderful band the
Drowsy Drivers. He did a song called 'Northland' which suggested that maybe we're all becomin g
more and more like the shopping malls we inhabit. Chain stores and franchises. It's a scary
thought, but we live in an age when there's a Starbucks in Lygon Street. More amazing than it's
presence though, is the fact that people go there. Which is why places such as The Recorded Music
Salon deserve your support. I urge you to stop for a moment and consider whether you have
enough records by the James Last Orchestra in your collection. If not, then get on down to Collins
Street and pick up an LP.
          If only it was open.




                                                Heckle.


          If the 1990s will be remembered for anything, it will be remembered for its music. Songs
like 'Whoomp, There It Is' and Sir Mixalot's 'Baby's Got Back' will not soon be forgotten.
However, sometimes I like to go back a little further for my music and it was in this spirit that I got
season tickets for the opera. It's a lot like having season tickets to the football except the pies are
better and I don't have to help construct a banner out of crepe paper, which is a bonus.
          The other significant thing was that I decided I could attend by myself without any undue
embarrassment. I figured I would blend right in and nobody would notice that I was attending on
my own. First, I went to a double bill of 'Cavellira Rusticana' and 'Paglacci'. I made my way to
Circle D and found my seat. Despite the fact that I was a season ticket holder and subscriber, I had
still managed to get seats right down the back of the auditorium. In fact, they were so far away, not
only did they have a different postcode than the stage, most of the seats were unsold, meaning that I
had twenty empty seats on either side of me. Which probably managed to emphasise my solitary
status.




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       However, once the opera began, I hardly noticed. Cavellira Rusticana is a one act opera and
is quite beautiful. It should be said that the music was faultless. However, if there was anything
that I found slightly odd, it was that the leading man was wearing a singlet (and, given his build,
really shouldn't have been wearing a singlet) and had a gold chain around his neck. He also had his
hair done in a way that reminded me of Chachi from Happy Days. It's difficult to take a guy
singing in Italian seriously if you think his next words may be 'wah, wah, wah'.
       As for Pagliacci, again the music was sublime. The same could not be said for the set. A
week later I noticed a letter in the Age complaining about the same thing, and although at first I
laughed it off, the more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right. Essentially, the set was
a mesh wire fence and few bits and pieces. It looked as though it had been donated by the good
folks of 'West Side Story'.
       Last week, I went to 'Faust'. Which, for those unfamiliar with the story, involves a deal
with the devil. Much like the song 'Devil Went Down to Georgia', but over three hours rather than
three minutes. The music was great. The sets were fantastic. The only strange moment occurred
in the last act when a lady in the row in front began to have an epileptic fit. At first, it was as if no
one knew what was going on. At least I didn't. I certainly wouldn't have said 'down in front' if I
had. But as the drama unfolded and ushers scurried in from the wings, it was difficult not to feel
quite useless at not knowing what to do.
       The odd thing was, that even as people called for a doctor, they did so in a way so as not to
interrupt the opera. As if it were more important.
       Tonight, I'm going to Sweeney Todd. Which, I hope will be incident free. This time, I'm
not in Circle D, but have a seat it a box. Which will make me feel like one of the old guys from
'The Muppet Show'.
       I shall try not to heckle.




                                    Crime, Punishment, Pushing-in.




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According to my father, there are only two crimes punishable by death. These are, in no particular
order of importance, murder and pushing in. This was taught to me and my siblings from an early
age and has resulted in a curious legacy. Specifically, it has made me hopeless at queuing up. So
concerned am I at the prospect of inadvertently pushing in that I let other people step in front of me,
pretty much at will. As a result, an attempt to buy a round of drinks at the bar is usually a day trip.
        There are many kinds of queues in this world, each with their own distinct form of etiquette.
By far, queueing either for food or drink requires the most elbow use. With all the pushing and the
shoving and the kicking, it's how I imagine waiting for a Red Cross Relief Package might be like.
        The most awkward kind of queue is, without doubt, the one for the ATM. In particular, the
one that stretches out across the footpath so that you blockade unsuspecting pedestrians. On the
other hand, if you stand to close to the person in front, they'll think you're either trying to mug them
or, worse still, see their pin code. Indeed the whole set-up is deeply flawed. Banks are so
thoughtless when it comes to their customers.
        The other day, I received a phone call from someone at my bank, asking me whether I'd
read the correspondence she'd sent. I had to admit that despite the fact that I usually read letters
from the bank as soon as possible because they are always so darn riveting, I must have missed
their latest missive. Sadly, this did not deter her.
        She went on to describe, with great enthusiasm, that I was currently entitled to a discount on
accidental death insurance. 'Accidental death?' I found myself echoing. 'Mine or somebody else's?'
Sadly, it was mine. At this point, I began to wonder why she was keen about my accidental death.
And whether she knew something that I didn't. After hanging up the phone, I felt a touch of guilt at
having been so facetious and rang back. Fortunately, my call was placed in a queue where I've
been waiting ever since. I suppose I could use the direct number she gave me, but now that I'm
waiting in line, I don't feel I can stop.
        That would be pushing in.




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                                        Federation Square.


       On 11 July 1979, American space station 'Skylab' re-entered the earth's atmosphere
whereupon it promptly crashed into Western Australia. So severe was the impact, all that was left
of this one-time scientific marvel was a mass of twisted, broken metal that was of little use to
anyone. Who would have thought that, all these years later, it would serve as the inspiration for
Melbourne's Federation Square?
       Let me say at the outset, I realise that my view could be unpopular. For there are those who
claim it's the greatest thing to happen to Melbourne since the Hook-turn. More than that, there are
some willing to swear that the whole thing is a work of such architectural sophistication that it
would make Frank Lloyd Wright weep softly with envy. I, however, am not one of their number.
       Years ago, Melbourne's skyline was blighted by the universally loathed Gas and Fuel
buildings. When they were finally torn down, the entire city breathed a sigh of relief. And yet,
after years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars, we appeared to have replaced them with
something not quite as good. Who would have thought it possible?
       In fact, so vast are it's shortcomings, it is difficult to know where to begin. Firstly, the
entire structure appears to have been constructed solely from scrap metal collected at the Rosebud
back beach over the last long weekend. Secondly, and in spite of the fact that it's called 'Federation
Square', I doubt anyone could really say what shape it is. Trapezium, anyone? Worst of all, it is
accompanied by a second separate structure that, to the untrained eye, appears to be the world's
largest out-house.
       That they plan to place the Australian portion of the National Gallery's collection in a
building that looks as if it had its own lunar module is nothing short of alarming. Put simply, it is
the wrong place to put art. Instead, Federation Square should be host to something more befitting
its appearance. Like a Timezone, or possibly Luna Park.
       Having said that, I guess everything has its time and its place.            Unfortunately for
Melbourne, Federation Square's time was 'a long time ago' and its place 'a galaxy far, far away'.
       I only hope that the powers that be will reconsider their decision to use Federation Square as
a base for part of the National Gallery. I also hope that they will dispatch a qualified panel beater
to Flinders Street. Urgently.




                                                                                                    277
       Come back Gas and Fuel buildings. All is forgiven.




                                          Ponchos Aplenty


       This week, I saw something special. While routinely queuing up at the post office to buy
envelopes, I saw a man wearing a poncho. For those who consider this a meager achievement, I
can only say that it has been a long time between ponchos for me and I was suitably startled as a
result. Brilliantly, the owner of the poncho was wearing a short sleeve shirt, thus leaving his bare
arms exposed to the elements. The only sad part about it was that he had misplaced his sombrero
and was making do with a cowboy hat made of leather instead. As well you would.
       Standing in silent worship, I gave serious consideration to racing back home and mangling
the rug in the living room to make my own. However, I was expected back at work and I wasn't
sure that would be appropriate. After all, everybody knows that a more formal style of poncho is
appropriate for the office. I guess what caught my imagination - aside from how much I love the
word 'poncho', was the bravery of the man at the post office. To get up of a morning, look out the
window, and decide that the day is best faced wearing Mexico's single greatest contribution to the
fashion world is a testament to individuality. Frankly, it should be celebrated.
       The singer Townes Van Zandt once wrote a song called 'Poncho and Lefty', although I think
it may have been about two people rather than an item of clothing. More's the pity. However, I
can't criticize Townes because he once claimed that he drank to excess only because there were
'sober people in India'. My brother Cam has a prize poncho which he keeps in his wardrobe and
brings out either for special occasions or at moments when sobriety is no longer an issue. While
doing my Christmas shopping last year, I am actually stumbled across an item that claimed to be an
'emergency poncho'. In essence, it was a piece of plastic that you were expected to fling over your
head. Presumably whenever a poncho-based emergency arose.
       My father Pete has, to my knowledge, never worn a poncho. Instead, he has the Great Coat
that was issued to him in National Service. This, along with the t-shirt that said 'Wham - The Big
Tour', was what Pete wore while working around the yard. Especially when the elements were at
their worst. In the depths of winter, when it was dark from five o'clock onwards and raining




                                                                                                 278
horizontally, Pete would decide that the four metric tonnes of firewood piled up beside the water
tank may not last the night and that he'd better get some more. Wrapped in his National Service
Great Coat and with his slouch hat pulled down over his eyes, he would take the torch and head up
to the shed. Once there, he'd would battle his way through five years' worth of newspapers that
were being kept for some unspecified reason, before hitching the trailer to the three-wheeled motor
bike and riding off across the paddock.
       From the safety and warmth of the living room, seated on bean bags and in our dressing
gowns (we were poncho-deprived as children), my brothers and sisters and I would watch the light
from the motorbike work its way around. Over the creek to the back where the fallen trees were.
All to collect wood so wet that it would       be lucky to burn in hell, let alone our fireplace.
Eventually, Pete would return, unload the trailer, hang his gumboots on the rack by the back door,
put the Great Coat and slouch hat in the laundry, put on his slippers and sit down in the rocking
chair where he would promptly fall asleep.
       The Great Coat must be forty years old by now and must soon fall apart. When that day
comes, I'll be quick to replace it with another item of clothing just as warm. Sitting astride the
three-wheel motorbike and heading into the paddock to pick up firewood, Poncho Pete will no
doubt cut a dashing sight.




                                           TV or not TV


       This week on the Today Show, I heard a disturbing claim that shocked me to my
foundations. It was with regards to an item on children and obesity. A stern faced doctor in a
white coat claimed that it was a medically proven fact that the amount of television watched,
directly correlated to the weight of a child. Thinking of how many hours I spent in front of the box
while growing up, I glanced down and wondered where I'd gone wrong. Speaking as someone who
has, on several occasions, been mistaken for a greyhound, it all seemed faintly ridiculous.
       Once upon a time, watching television was supposed to give you square eyes. Then it is
was supposed to turn your brain to mush (that may well apply to people who make television
programs, but certainly not to those who watch them). Now it causes weight gain. All that remains




                                                                                                 279
is for some brave soul to link TV with spontaneous human combustion based on the radiation and
we will have, officially, covered all the bases.
       Every family has different rules when it comes to watching the box. Not before school.
Never during meals. Not until your homework is finished. Not before six o'clock. We actually
knew people who would not let their children watch commercial television on the basis that it was
the work of the dark lord. That their children suffered emotional scarring as a result of a severe
Worzel Gummage overdose seemed not to matter. In our family it was 'no' to before school or six
o'clock unless the program had some educational merit. Obviously, Shirl's Neighbourhood was
permissible, but cartoons not. In a bold move ahead of its time, I even argued that the program
'Diff'rent Strokes' was full of educational merit and that the question 'What you talkin about Willis?'
was the greatest philosophical question of our troubled times.
       Often during dinner, the television remained on. Chiefly, this was because Tony Barber's
Sale of the Century was very, very educational. Cutlery and salt and pepper shakers would
substitute for buzzers. After answering a question correctly, the greatest compliment you could
ever receive was a suggestion that you should one day go on as a contestant. As a result, weekday
dinnertime was a time for answering questions and dreaming of being the carry-over champion. I
sincerely thought that the greatest of life's rich rewards would take the form of a diamond set
memento from Delmonte jewelers. If only universities operated on a similar basis.
       Ultimately though, television let me down. Tony Barber was replaced by Glen Ridge. I
was never the carry over champion (in fact, I never got to be the home viewer on the fame-game
board). And whereas the grand prize used to be the pride of German automotive engineering,
towards the end it consisted of a five-speed Malvern Star with a basket on the front. Watching Sale
of the Century didn't make me smart. As a weight-gain tool it was quite useless. But it's simplicity
was something that makes today's gameshows look either cruel or stupid.
       What you talkin about Willis, indeed.




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                                            Golden Girls


       A couple of months ago, film director Billy Wilder died. His was in his nineties, so it's not
as if he was snuffed out in the prime of life. He directed great films such as Sabrina, Some Like it
Hot, The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity, Stalag 17 and (my personal favourite) The Apartment.
He also directed the original Sunset Boulevard, which has the same story as the musical by the
same name but with the significant advantage of not having music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. If
you've not heard of many of these motion pictures, I can only say that these are not obscure films.
Many of them won a swag of Academy Awards. The Lost Weekend got the Oscar for best picture
(1940) as did the Apartment (1960). So what's my point? Despite the fact they were so successful
in their day and directed by a high profile director, you can barely find any of them on DVD.
       And yet the works of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez remain readily available.
       When it comes to nominating a favourite, whether it's film or music or television,
everybody has their own view. Similarly, when it comes to nominating the greatest of all time,
people have naturally divergent views. However, some people take this to extremes. Recently,
Green Guide columnist Ross Warneke wrote of a poll in the US that named 'Seinfeld' as the
greatest television program of all time. Ross strongly disputed this decision and, in response, listed
some comedy programs that he believed were better.         Within this list of 'programs better than
Seinfeld' he included 'The Golden Girls'. Obviously, I had to write in.
       "Dear Green Guide,


       Ross Warneke; you are a brave, brave man. Anyone courageous enough to rate 'The
       Golden Girls' ahead of 'Seinfeld' in the list of all-time greatest American T.V. shows
       deserves our respect. Not that I fail to understand the appeal. Who could forget the
       timeless comedic genius of Bea, Rue, Estelle and the other one? Or the delightful spin-off
       movies they made while the series proper took a break, such as Estelle Getty's timeless
       masterpiece 'Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot!'?


       Unlike Mr Warneke, I was not surprised to see Jerry and friends in at number one.
       Although I do think that Hardcastle and McCormack were robbed not to get a place. I'd be




                                                                                                   281
        interested to see an Australian equivalent to such a list and, perhaps, the Green Guide could
        put one together. Although I fear that Ross's would feature 'The Bob Morrison Show' if not
        in the top ten, then definitely just outside.


        In the end, though, Ross is correct. Any list of the supposed 'best of all time' anything is
        wholly subjective. I am only hoping that Ross wrote his column sometime after his tongue
        had been granted permanent residence in his cheek.


        Yours in concern,"


        I never heard anything in response which suggests that my correspondence was been
ignored. Although, it should be noted that there have been no further references to the Golden
Girls in Mr Warneke's column.




                                              Kick to Kick


        As a kid, all my trousers had one thing in common. Whether cord, jean or dungaree.
Straight legged or flared. Stone or acid wash. They all had grass stains on the knees. These were
the result, not of some bizarre rural ritual, but rather, kick to kick in the backyard. Without doubt,
kick to kick was one of the most important family events and an integral part of any weekend.
Although, truth be told, it was more about endurance than sport. Without fail, it was freezing. The
ground was always heavy with water so that when the football hit the earth it would spray up mud
that would speckle your pants.
        Our football seldom bore any outward resemblance to a Sherrin. As a result of water, time
and a controversial stint in the microwave, it was bloated, battered and generally bent out of shape.
And as much as it didn't look like a football, in other regards it bore a remarkable similarity to a
sponge. After just a few minutes it would be so heavy that trying to mark it was like trying to catch
a small refrigerator against your chest. So much so that the weight of it could knock you off your
feet.




                                                                                                       282
       We owned football boots, but the footwear of choice for kick to kick tended to be
gumboots. Stylish, athletic and the choice of champions everywhere, gumboots made kicking quite
difficult. Sadly, being able to kick the ball is an important component of kick to kick. So much so,
that if you remove 'kick' all you're left with is 'and' which is hardly something you can do to pass
the afternoon.
       Usually, our father Pete would stand at one end of the yard and Cameron and I would jostle
for position at the other end. No one ever stood at Pete's end. For some reason, Pete felt compelled
to take such things - no matter low key - incredibly seriously. And so when playing cricket, it was
not uncommon to see Pete bowl a bouncer at a ten year old at a speed that would make light look
tardy. Meanwhile, the ten year old would cower in fear with nothing for protection other than an
ice cream container worn as a helmet.
       Not that I'm speaking from personal experience, you understand.
       So far as football went, Pete would tackle and bump with an abandon, despite being twice
as tall and heavy. Maybe he thought it would toughen us up. Instead, it made us more adept at
ducking.
       Pete would take the football and kick it. I would use the words 'towards Cam and I' except
they might be well be misleading. If the ball came in our direction, it was more attributable to
sheer chance than anything else. Cam and I would run after the ball - as we made that weird
chugging sound unique to people attempting to run while wearing gumboots - and the contest
would often involve a desperate lunge. Knees first, we would attempt to take a mark on the chest.
By then of course, the ball weighed a metric ton and we'd be bowled over. The ball would either
stop dead or, on a particularly wet day, sink into the earth altogether never to be seen again.
Without exception, our trousers would have large grass stains around the knees.
       I have no idea how many pairs of jeans were ruined as a result of kick to kick. Strangely,
however, it never did my gumboots any harm.




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                                        Lick the Ice Cream


         "There were plenty of blokes out there willing to lick the ice cream today. But no one was
willing to buy the ice cream."


         These were the words used by coach and former football playing great Gary Ayres to
explain why Adelaide lost to Melbourne last weekend. I have no idea what it means but it sounds
tragic given the large number of Mr Whippy vans that were likely to be near the ground.
         It proves, I think, that winter can do strange things to the mind. It makes the things that
seemed far-fetched strangely logical and can twist logic like a corkscrew. When winter sets in, it
brings with it a kind of madness.      There's something about the constant coldness and being
confined indoors that makes you absolutely mental.
         Although what excuse Queenslanders can offer, I'm not quite sure.
         At Tyabb Primary School, every square inch of earth would turn to mud the instant it began
to rain. Within minutes, great torrents of water would flow between the portable classrooms.
Lunchtime, which would pass by in an instant when you were outside, would become a very
different beast indeed. Forty five minutes would then seem like an eternity and cabin fever would
take hold. The first thing to go were the desks. They would be pushed back against the walls to
create a large performance space. The girls in our class were almost all devotees of the ancient art
of jazz ballet and all wore leg warmers, so they always wanted to dance. At the time, I didn't really
appreciate the depth of their devotion, given they were willing to spend so much time making up
dance routines without the benefit of actual music. This meant they choreographed themselves to
the way they remembered songs rather than the songs themselves. To hear two people arguing over
whether 'You Can't Stop the Music' by the Village has an extra four beats or not, is an extraordinary
thing.
         I realise that at many schools, boys would probably use the space to fight or, as kids do
today, use it to perform an elaborate satanic ritual. But not us. We used it to construct a human
pyramid. As to why we felt compelled to construct a human pyramid is a complete and utter
mystery to me.      Whatever the reason, though, it certainly made school photos much more




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interesting. Predictably, there also a sport of a sort which involved placing rulers on the floor at
varied distances at jumping over them.
       This may not sound like much but remember: These were the 1970s. And this was Tyabb.
       It's been ages since I owned a ruler and I think I miss them. Aside from being something to
jump over, your ruler defined you as a person. It was your own billboard that declared what bands
you liked, what you thought and even what you hated. Now that rulers have been abolished by the
Microsoft Corporation, people have to resort to using their mobile ring tones to express their
individuality. The horror.
       Tomorrow I shall buy a ruler. I will write all over it in different colours, declaring what I
do and don't like. I'll be sure to include the words, 'There were plenty of blokes out there willing to
lick the ice cream today.'


                                          Shed a little tear.

In troubled times, the search for truth and meaning takes on a greater significance than ever before.
But where to look? The answer to this age-old and vexed question is surprisingly simple. The
shed. For it is here that you will find pretty much anything, including the answers the life's more
impenetrable problems.
       Our shed in Tyabb is bigger than every apartment I have ever lived in. Combined. I'm not
sure what it has to do to officially gain 'museum' status other than charge ten dollars a head for
entry, for it contains every object our family ever owned. Hanging from the rafter is the plaster cast
I had when I broke my leg after my brother suggested - erroneously as it turned out - that I could
fly.   This occurred when I was six years old and I missed about six months worth of school - a
turn of events that got me interested in reading for the first time. The plaster cast is covered i n
signatures and brave attempts to draw cartoons. Looking at it now, it appears tiny.
       There's a pile newspapers dating back to 1973. Pete insists that these, one day, will come in
handy. What day that might be remains now, and possibly forever, a mystery. There's a number of
old wardrobes that have been kept on the basis that they were 'too good' to throw out. Despite this,
they were not too good to sit in the corner of a dank shed for twenty years. Hanging from one of
the walls is a snow sled that we used once in 1978 - on our one and only trip to the snow. An




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especially traumatic event for the fact that quite a large amount of ice and snow made its way
through the top of my gumboots and into my football socks. The likelihood of it ever being pressed
into service again is, at best, remote.
        Against wall leans a series of rusted skeletons that were once bicycles. Or, to be precise,
they were BMX bicycles. These slick machines replaced our dragsters (far left corner, behind
some newspapers) as our mode of transport of choice. Cam and I would race each other down the
driveway. Each of us hoping not to lose control as a result of sheer speed - a phenomenon we
termed 'the speed wobbles'. Although this may sound like a rather short race, it should be said that
our driveway was about a kilometre long. BMX bikes weren't just for riding, however. They were
for jumping. Accordingly, Cam and I would often abduct large amounts of top soil Pete had
purchased from the local garden supply shop, to construct various ramps. How we didn't manage to
injure ourselves more severely in the process than we did, is astounding.
        The shed contains plenty of sporting equipment - nearly all of it broken. It also has a set of
water skis. These are unlikely to get much use in the dam, at this point. Pete has also kept every
pair of football boots he ever owned. Whether he is still considering making a come back is
unclear. In short, the shed contains just about everything we ever owned. It contains the tool
bench that Cam used to create his very first pieces of art and craft and that I used to sustain some of
my earliest injuries. Wire, boxes, posters, furniture. All of it useless. None of it to be thrown
away. Ever.
        I'm leaving, so this will be the last of these that I write. Thankyou to anyone over the past
five years who read or wrote back. It was a pleasure. Please send all future correspondence to: The
Shed, Coolart Road, Tyabb.




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