Friday, April 29, 2005


This is my question for today: are the people at Shell's marketing department completely barking insane?

Judge for yourself with this ad, which appeared next to an article I was reading in Scientific American.

Is liquefied natural gas the way to a cleaner energy future?

Gosh, who knows? I'm an office worker, not a geophysicist or an environmental scientist.

Then the image of a 30-something woman who looks like she's been forced to answer the door while stoned fades in.

This Spanish fashion designer thinks so.

Well, that settles that then. Speaking for myself, I never believe anything about the relative merits of energy production methods unless it's been endorsed by a Spanish fashion designer. That'd just be CRAZY!

She wants cleaner energy, and LNG can provide it.

And what Spanish fashion designers want, Spanish fashion designers get. It's a good thing she doesn't want shoulderpads to make a comeback.

So we ship it nearly 6000km smelly, rusting, diesel-quaffing ships...

to bring cleaner energy to Spain.

Third World countries, whose energy requirements are not beholden to the desires of bong-addled fashionistas, can stick with brown coal and die of respiratory diseases for all we care.

Discover how...

Translation: Click here and risk being contaminated by more of our deranged marketing.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


When you do the sums, getting to work is no cheap matter. At current petrol prices, it costs me about $3.50 to drive the Golf to and from work each day (plus another $1.20 for parking, if I paid for parking like I'm supposed to instead of utilising a loophole that could be closed at any second). Catching the bus costs just over $4, and takes around two and a half hours a day. So, what's the solution for the man with limited finances, a busy lifestyle and no sense of dignity?

The answer is a 2004 Vmoto Milan JX50 motor scooter.

Mine is bronze, has 2,200km on the clock, and buzzes like an angry lawnmower. I collected it last night from a motorcycle dealership in Victoria Park. The dealer was a pleasant enough fellow, but he looked a little nervous as I jumped onto my bike and prepared to take off. The fact that I didn't know how to fasten a helmet or operate the kickstand had no doubt convinced him that I was going to roar out of his showroom and straight under the wheels of a passing semi-trailer. I loftily informed him that I ridden semi-automatic 'postie bikes' back on the farm, and although that was fifteen years ago and the paddocks were oddly devoid of speeding semi-trailers, it was experience nonetheless.

My sums reveal that riding it to work instead of taking my car will save me over $600 a year, more if the parking inspectors at work realise that I've been getting free car parking for years and decide to enforce the $300 annual car parking levy. But beyond the finances, there are other issues. I was weighing up the pros and cons in my mind, and I kept coming back to one con: if I'm going down the highway at full speed, and a car suddenly pulls out in front of me, I will be toast. And not good delicious toast - I'm talking stale, manky toast that's been burnt on one side and has to be scraped with a knife to make it even partly presentable. There are no seatbelts, rollbars, airbags or crumple zones on a scooter. The only standing between me and the bitumen is a helmet and a thin layer of business suit.

I think it was this con that, ironically enough, eventually tipped the scales in favour of buying the scooter. To be honest, I realised that if I'm such a panty-waisted wuss-boy that I'm too scared to ride a 50cc girly-man motor scooter, let alone a high-speed 500cc motorbike, then I DO NOT DESERVE TO CALL MYSELF A MAN! So what if I risk coming off my scooter and splattering across the side of a badly-driven Toyota Landcruiser? I might get hit by a bus crossing the road on foot. I could choke on a cashew. My new flatmate may well go postal over my failure to do my share of the washing up and kill me with a satay-encrusted frying pan. That doesn't mean I should avoid crossing roads, eating nuts or fleeing a dirty kitchen. It's not the manly way.

There is a significant pro, too, to counter the most conspicuous con, but it's one that I didn't discover until I'd taken a test ride:


Maybe this particular reason will lose its potency sooner rather than later, but until then, it may be the best reason to keep riding the thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


I had to go to a training session this morning to learn how to use the new student records system. It's odd that in a bastion of political correctness like the university, the women outnumbered the men by almost seven to one. Maybe it's that most men don't like to be told how to master a new system, preferring to work it out for themselves (hence our scorn of instruction manuals and asking for directions). I was only there because my boss had specifically asked me to go.

Whatever the reason, this gender imbalance made me notice a couple of things.

1) Old women, like young men, are noisy. A group of them came in late, and we could all hear them about thirty seconds before they arrived, coming up the corridor gobbling to each other like a flock of menopausal turkeys. As they arrived and realized that the session had already started, they noisily cooed at each other to be quiet. Nobody actually tittered and said, "Gosh, aren't we naughty!", but it was evident they were all thinking precisely that.

2) Some people will laugh at anything. Note the following exchange between the session leaders:

Male leader: Now I'll hand you over to Janice. This'll be fun.

Female leader: Very funny. Be off with you.

Audience : Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

The leaders had obviously worked a long time together and they had an easy, playful banter between them. I couldn't help but smile at this exchange. But the old women in the audience laughed long and uproariously, as if the pair had suddenly morphed into Lucille Ball and Ricky Ricardo and started hurling pies at each other.

Were all these women recent escapees from some grim fundamentalist cult that didn't allow humour, making up for lost time? Had they all been taking hits from the bong in the tea room beforehand? Was this a hormonal thing brought on by The Change? Whatever the reason, it was sort of creepy.

The woman next to me was especially bizarre. Firstly, she didn't look more than thirty. Secondly, her laugh sounded like something a computer would make if challenged to respond to a witticism in a Turing test. You could almost see the Microsoft Sans Serif font scrolling across her frontal lobes:

Input received.
Scanning for Amusement Indicators.
Analysis: levity ('banter' subcategory).
AutoResponse: Laughter.
Emit now.
HA. HA. HA. HA. HA. End laughter.

I looked around at the handful of men in the lecture theatre. They were either staring blankly ahead with a disengaged smile or reading something in the materials. Not one of them was laughing.

I guess this must be one of those Mars/Venus things. Older women in groups laugh to express solidarity and diffuse tension. Men in groups just laugh if something is funny.

Like farts. Hee hee hee.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


And now, because I'm bored and I haven't posted anything for a while;

A Short Guide To Australian Television Networks

(in order of popularity)

5. SBS - SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) is Australia's multicultural network, screening imported news programs, popular international sitcoms, soccer matches, and European gay soft porn. It is mainly watched by inner-urban film students, Greens voters and people who wear hemp. They watch it because of its global-minded news service, first-rate foreign language movies, and because they feel they ought to.

4. ABC - ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) is the nation's oldest and most venerable television network. It screens BBC costume dramas, fidgety current affairs programs, nature documentaries, and re-runs of Dr Who. It is mainly watched by doctor's wives, middle-brow suburbanites, old people whose TV channel selectors broke in 1974, and my brother-in-law. They watch it because it doesn't have commercials, or at least, it doesn't have commercials for anything you'd want to buy.

3. Ten - Network Ten is the youngest of the commercial networks, and it has succeeded by aiming not to have the highest ratings overall, but just the highest ratings in the 18-39 demographic. This they do by screening The Simpsons... and some other stuff. They have the trashiest reality shows, the sexiest soaps, and aren't afraid to pander to your every base desire, short of depicting minor celebrities ballroom dancing.

2. Seven - The Seven Network is the perpetual underdog in the ratings war. They show the latest hit American dramas like Lost and Desperate Housewives, but they also bring in fringe material like Stargate and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They tend to stay in second place, however, because their programs have a little too much colour and movement. They are perfectly willing to sell their souls to get to first place, but I don't think they've quite worked out who to sell them to yet.

1. Nine - The Nine Network has long been the highest rating television network, although it is slowly but steadily losing ground to Seven and Ten. This may be because their natural constituents - the Nanas of Australia - tend to die sooner rather than later. Nine aims to be as bland and unthreatening as a beige cardigan; the visual equivalent of eating porridge. Most Australian celebrities who could be described as 'nice' (ie "that nice Ray Martin" or "that nice Scott Cam fellow") are on Nine. It is watched by people, mainly middle-aged and elderly, who aren't upper-middle class enough to watch the ABC.

I warned you I was bored.

Monday, April 18, 2005


About four years ago I was chatting with some friends, and we got to talking about cocktails. We realised that there was a long list of drinks that we'd heard of, but never tasted. We didn't even know what was in them. And it's not like you can go into the average pub and say, "I'd like a pina colada please."

So we decided to get together and have a little cocktail party. Everyone would bring a bottle, we'd all dress up for the occasion, and we'd all have these Pina Coladas, Harvey Wallbangers, Mai Tais and Manhattans. Twelve people met at my house, and a grand old time was had by all.

Four years later, the 4th Annual Cocktail Party was held at my place last Friday night. There were forty-four guests, all dressed in lounge suits and evening gowns. We started with Champagne Cocktails a la Blandwagon, my own recipe made with champagne, sugar cubes dipped in bitters, fresh raspberries and a splash of either brandy or red vermouth. After I'd made forty or so of those, I just circulated with large pitchers of Mojitos, Long Island Iced Teas, Cosmopolitans and Cutthroats. For spacer drinks, there was a bin of chinottos, sanbitters and limonatas. For snacks, we had scotch quail eggs, oyster dip, toasted Lebanese bread with green olive tapanade and baby bruschettas, among other things.

Musically, we enjoyed the cool retro stylings of Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto and Cal Tjader for the first few hours, until JC tried to impress a chick by putting on My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. But that sort of worked too, as it turned out. In the fashion stakes JB was very impressive in his tan safari suit, but AB's chocolate velvet swinger suit won hands down. It once belonged to his father, and it's hard to reconcile the portly, grey bearded academic I know with the groovy, snake-hipped young man he'd have to have been to slide into this suit.

It cost me a fortune, the next morning the house looked like one of those garbage houses you see on tabloid news shows, and my head felt, as Blackadder memorably put it, like it had a Frenchman living in it. But what a swell party it was.


Last week I bought my first Bible. I own many Bibles already, but I didn't buy them; they were Sunday School prizes, gifts, freebies or just acquisitions whose provenances have been lost in the mists of time and the cul-de-sacs of my notoriously faulty memory. After thirty-six years, this is the first that I've actually shelled out my hard-earned dough on.

It feels nice. The pages are thin and delicate, pure white and producing a crisp sound as they're turned. There are no greasy smudges, tears, water stains or grimy marks. There are no scribbled notations in the margins, so it almost feels as if I'm reading the passages for the first time.

In the coronation ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II, she was presented with a copy of the Bible and told, "This book is the most valuable thing the world affords, here is wisdom; this is the royal law, these are the lively oracles of God." The Crown Jewels, the customised Rolls Royces, the palaces, the vast wealth, the power, the adulation of millions... they are all overshadowed by this ordinary-looking book. Nothing greater could be given to her.

So, not a bad investment for $23.50. I got mine wholesale.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


On the subject of links, this is an apparent oldie but definite goodie. Sure, it's funny, but I don't think I'm alone in my sneaking jealousy of the subject's a) bustin' dance moves and b) complete and utter unsullied enthusiasm.

On the downside, I now have C&C Music Factory stuck in my head. Damn it!


As ever, Harry Hutton sums up the thoughts and desires of right-thinking men everywhere.


Some time in the early 1990s, while playing with Microsoft Paintbox on a prehistoric laptop, I came up with a small one-eyed alien named Blinky. I made up a little children's book called "The Adventures of Blinky and the Mysterious Box" and printed out two copies, one for me and one for a friend.

While I was cleaning out the junk in the back of my wardrobe last month, I found my copy. Looking back, there are many things I don't get about it. Where did I find the time to do this? It must have taken hours! And since when could I drag a cursor around a screen with a mouse and make it look like an expression of smug triumph or nervous cheer? I'm not that clever.

It's an enigma to us all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


In a moment of madness on Saturday, possibly brought on by the unbelievably lovely autumn weather, I bought 'Elvira's Haunted Hills' for $19 at JB Hi-Fi. I'm a big fan of Elvira, especially her performance in her eponymously titled feature film debut of 1988. How bad can it be, I wondered?

Never ask a question like that. The answer is certain to be an intensifier.

Top 10 Warning Signs That 'Elvira's Haunted Hills' Was Going To Be A Crapfest.

1. It was made in Eastern Europe by Eastern Europeans. Eastern Europe is where films that should never be made go to be made anyway.

2. Elvira herself is credited as chief screenwriter.

3. A quick imdb-ing reveals that Cassandra Peterson was born in 1949! Give it up, girl! She's kept her body in remarkable shape, but she can't quite hide the sags in her face with her trademark makeup any more. And damn, woman, would it have killed you to get your teeth whitened before starring in a motion picture? Yeargh!

4. The DVD case claims that the movie is "equal parts Austin Powers and Young Frankenstein". Presumably those parts are bad teeth and flat jokes.

5. The tagline: Evil. Terror. Lust. Some girls really know how to party! What the hell does that mean? Terror is an aspect of partying? The presence of Evil means that things are festive? What? Make sense dammit!

6. Running time is 86 minutes. Films are rarely that short unless deep down they understand that its best to get this all over and done with as quickly as possible.

7. The film opens with a homage to Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!" scene from 'The Shining'. I half-expected the next scene to be a reprise of Robert DeNiro's "You lookin' at me?" speech from 'Taxi Driver'.

8. Instead there's some sped-up running around, a la Benny Hill. Saints preserve us all.

9. Elvira's co-star is Richard O'Brien, whose main claim to fame was playing Riff Raff in the Rocky Horror Picture Show... in 1975. They probably found him on the side of the road holding up a sign saying 'Will work for scotch and a free trip to Romania'.

10. Comedies set in haunted castles are never funny. Weird but always true.

You know a film is badly made when, as you watch it as an ordinary member of the public, you can see exactly where they should have inserted gags and edited out lameness. I kept thinking, okay, this establishing shot would have worked with a small Zuckeresque background gag, and this scene needs a pratfall right about... now. And that running joke needs to be developed further. And so on and so forth. Frankly, if an office worker from Western Australia knows more than you do about film making, then you probably shouldn't be making films.

Question is, does Elvira know how to unjam a photocopier? Maybe we could swap?

Thursday, April 07, 2005


There was a brand new Citroen C3 in front of me in the traffic crawl this morning, and its badging proudly proclaimed that it had "Sensodrive" technology.

Sensodrive! What is this, 1957? No doubt it also has Autoglide suspension and Dynatouch steering and a Flexomatic radio aeriel. Sheesh.

On the subject of this morning's freeway commute, I was blessed with further proof of the existence, and sense of humour, of God. At one point a big, low-slung BMW with black windows and P-plates lurched into the lane behind me. It snarled there for a few seconds, then ostentatiously launched itself into the next lane over, which was moving fractionally faster.

Of course at that moment that lane slowed right down, and mine sped up a bit. The BMW tore back into my lane in exactly the same position as before, right behind me.

This happened another three or four times! It was genuinely uncanny. Every time he made a play for a faster lane, at that exact second it suddenly slowed. Meanwhile I just stayed where I was in the queue, trundling along, and making better progress. Eventually he committed to the centre lane, and I couldn't help but smile as his BMW became a smaller and smaller dot in my rear vision mirror.

I saw him once more, at the offramp for Mounts Bay Road where the traffic frees up. The car looked like a tomcat that's just come home from being 'done' by the vet. He accelerated hard to take a different offramp, but you could tell that he'd been shamed.

Suck it down, kid. The ways of the Freeway are mysterious, and not learnt in a single day.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


At last I know what to get my five year old neice for her birthday.

Ah, unclehood. All the joy of tormenting the impressionable with none of the responsibility.

Fur (redux)

My experimentation with facial hair continues. The goatee, in its pure form, has gone, a victim of scratchiness and trimming difficulties. I took photos, but none of them are much good. My problem with taking photos of myself is that I tend to have that "Did I just press that button right?" expression on my face. I now have a series called Lightly Perplexed with Goatee.

The hair that remains is being reconfigured on a daily basis, as I play with the possibilities. The day before yesterday I took off the hair on my chin, except for a wide strip down the middle. I looked like a cross between a 70s porn star and Doug Parkinson.

It was not a good look.

Last night I shaved off everything except the moustache and a slightly narrower strip down the middle between my bottom lip and my chin. Now I look like one of the Three Musketeers... or a sad, sad man who wants to look like one of the Three Musketeers.

Tonight the moustache goes. It feels sort of creepy, and I keep seeing it out of the corner of my eye and thinking that my upper lip is under attack by something science-fictiony. I will keep the remaining supersized soulpatch ( a la Shannon Noll) for at least another day, and see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


As an introductory exercise at a recent Bible study, we were asked to name the person, living or dead, that we would most like to meet. And you weren't allowed to say Jesus, because that's a) too easy and b) impossible to say without sounding irritatingly smug.

I let everyone else go first, because it's a difficult question. I enjoy the writings of C.S. Lewis and marvel at both his mighty brain and his great creativity, but he'd probably be rather intimidating and dismissive in the flesh. I love the work of Tove Jansson, but she'd probably spend the interview hiding behind a couch. Trey Parker and Matt Stone would be very interesting people to meet, but I don't think I'd be able to keep up with them, and I'd run the risk of having them mock me with a whiny little Australian kid who pops up on South Park in six months' time.

Eventually it came to my turn and I said something stupid, which I then modified with three other kinds of stupid, so that the original stupid was lost in a general fog of stupidity. But now, quite a bit later, I've had time to think and come up with a list that expresses far more accurately the People I'd Most Like To Meet.

5. Chris Isaak - Although there's no way he could be as cool, as witty or as good-natured as he appears, nothing has ever been reported to suggest he isn't. He covers kitschy Hawaiian Christmas songs, has a thing for early 60s American cars, and appeared in Twin Peaks. Who wouldn’t want to meet him?

I'm also curious to know what he was thinking when he wrote 'Brightest Star', which is so choc-full of Christiany goodness that it could have been written by Martin Luther.

4. Michael Dorn - The funniest interview I ever heard was Michael Dorn being quizzed by a couple of afternoon radio DJs. They were both funny guys, but he was running rings around them. I was listening in the car and laughing so much I nearly drove into a lamp post.

In Star Trek he sent his own character up with a keen but affectionate sense of fun. He strikes me as a great person to join for an afternoon at the pub, laughing and drinking beers and getting the sort of gossip that would cause the heads of Trekkers to explode.

3. James Lileks - I admire his writing, his politics, his sense of humour, his taste in music, his stance on 70s interior design, and his ability to express his thoughts with a few deft words that perfectly encapsulate what he's going on about. Bastard.

Also Minnesotans are my favourite Americans - they're so not in your face. I can't picture one without visualising him in the middle distance. He speaks gently and politely, and looks over my shoulder occasionally to make sure the wide brown prairies are still beyond.

2. My little brother - In 1973, when I was four, my mother became pregnant with another baby, but she miscarried after about six weeks. Nearly thirty years later, I had a dream one night that I met a man who seemed very similar to me, but a little younger. We got on like a house on fire. Just before the dream ended I felt an overwhelming sense of brotherly love for this man, and I remembered pulling him close and hugging him and wishing that he didn’t have to leave.

At that time, I didn’t know about the miscarriage in 1973. I’m not the sort of flake who believes that one can meet dead proto-siblings in dreams, but it’s interesting to imagine. I've often wondered what it would have been like to have a brother, especially when I see my sisters sharing so much. I get the impression that having a sibling of the opposite gender is a lot different to having one of the same gender.

1. Simon Peter - I've always liked St Peter, ever since I realised that he wasn't really Jewish. He was actually the world's first Australian. He had an ocker quality about him, in a sort of slightly dim, Barry McKenziesque kind of way. Like most Australians, he tended to be blunt, a little slow on the uptake, and showed a great appreciation for the values of loyalty.

Think about it. In John 13 he demonstrates a typically Australian combination of stubborn refusal and overeager acceptance:

5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
7 Jesus replied, You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.
8 No, said Peter, you shall never wash my feet.
Jesus answered, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.
9 Then, Lord, Simon Peter replied, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!
You can just picture him starting to pull his shirt over his head and unzip his pants, while the rest of the disciples throw up their hands and shout, "It's a freakin' metaphor, you moron! Put your clothes back on!"

And then in Matthew 17;

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.
Peter doesn't say, "Hey, the great founders of the Jewish race are right here in front of me! What question shall I ask them to make use of their holy wisdom?" Instead, he's worried about sunstroke. Talking is for wet pansies - give an Aussie bloke something practical to do and he'll be happy.

You also get the feeling that, given any sort of encouragement, he would have been hauling the barbecue out of the trailer and sending James down to pick up some beer.

Then of course there's the triple denial of Jesus, the lowest point in this man's life. He has broken the first rule of mateship, which is to always stick up for your mates, no matter what.

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. You also were with Jesus of Galilee, she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. I don't know what you're talking about, he said.
71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.
72 He denied it again, with an oath: I don't know the man!
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.
74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, I don't know the man!
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times. And he went outside and wept bitterly.
And then over in John 21, in one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible, Jesus forgives Peter three times, once for each time Peter denied him.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?
Yes, Lord, he said, you know that I love you.
Jesus said, Feed my lambs.
16 Again Jesus said, Simon son of John, do you truly love me?
He answered, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Jesus said, Take care of my sheep.
17 The third time he said to him, Simon son of John, do you love me?
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, Do you love me? He said, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.
18 Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, Follow me!
After that, there's no stopping Peter, and any betrayals in the past are surpassed by the loyalties he shows in the future.

I think I like Peter because he's proof that even if you're a naive, bone-headed doofus, you can still do great things. There's hope in that for all of us.

Monday, April 04, 2005


On Saturday, in the course of my usual weekend errands, I dropped in on my favorite charity store to check for some new dining chairs, vintage clothing, or any other junk to cram into my house... it's an ongoing quest. I spotted a couple of Homer Simpson tumblers in the glassware section, and while I was grabbing those to add to my collection, my eyes drifted across the other bits and pieces. They have some nice post-war liqueur glasses, I thought. Multicoloured champagne glasses... neato. Yellow glass from the 70s - heaven help us all. Those ones with the gold rims are okay, but what are those little pictures on the sides SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP THEY'RE PIRATES!!!

Do you remember that scene in The Simpsons where Homer discovers a pile of old newspapers, wire coathangers and expired medicines outside his neighbour's house? Remember the sound of delirious pleasure he made, a gibbering croon just short of hyperventilation? I made precisely the same noise. I quickly collected all five of them and shuffled over to the cashier. Within moments, they were mine.

A set of five liqueur glasses, circa 1960, with PIRATES on them! In that cool minimalist period style! Only a dollar each! What's not to love?

That night in celebration I invited a bunch of friends over for a Festival of Bad Cinema and Cutthroat Cocktails (two parts campari, four parts red grapefruit juice and one part grenadine). We clinked our glasses together and toasted with a hearty Yarrrrrrrrrrrrr.

You've got to love a good pirate.


Usually when you receive a phone call from a friend asking you to come over and help him put something together, the item requiring assembly is a new Triton workbench, or a particularly recalcitrant piece of IKEA furniture. My friends are way beyond that. On Friday night my friend BA asked me to come over and help him build a Lego Millennium Falcon his wife had bought him off eBay.

Ostensibly the Falcon is for their eight month old son, but as it took us four hours to construct and contains hundreds of minuscule pieces, there's no way he's getting his drool-slathered little paws on it until he's got his PhD, at the earliest. It's the size of a hubcap, weighs even more, and is so densely constructed that it may never come apart.

All geeky fanboy gush aside, it's a beautiful piece of industrial design. The roof opens up like the petals of a flower, via a fiendishly complicated series of hinges, allowing a child (or a thirty year old IT engineer) to play with the little plastic Chewbacca and Han Solo inside. Pull on one hatch and the entry ramp drops down. Pull on the other hatch and you reveal the escape pod. It's like a Faberge egg designed by Ghyslain Raza.

While we were sitting on the rug, snapping the pieces together and getting Proustian flashbacks from the swooshing sound Lego makes when run your hand through it in search of a particular piece, BA's wife was back on eBay, calling out the prices she was finding for other Star Wars Lego sets. US$20 for the Yoda's hut set (560 pieces, ages 8 and up). US$57 for Cloud City (700 pieces, ages 9 and up). US$267 for an Imperial Star Destroyer (over 3000 pieces, ages 16 and up).

We live in a crazy world.


Technipets are a series of little plastic toys that came with Happy Meals in 2004, during an almost unprecedented McDonald’s venture into merchandise entirely unrelated to a current movie. They flopped, and they flopped hard, because they were apparently the final result of Ronald McDonald buying the Island of Doctor Moreau in a mortgagee sale. Kids were into Shrek and Finding Nemo, not having their souls torn from their flesh by tiny shrieking plastic demons. But then who at McDonald’s would have known that?

Technipets are not one trick ponies, or indeed, anything as easily identifiable as ponies. For Happy Meal toys, they’re surprisingly sophisticated. Push them along a hard flat surface, and their limbs will move fractionally up and down. Switch them on and their eyes will flash and they will emit sounds never previously heard this side of Hell, and once on, they will react to any loud noise. Finally, get two of them nose-to-nose and they will have a little conversation, no doubt agreeing on the best way to kill you and steal your skin.

Thanks to a couple of reckless eBay purchases, I am now the proud but somewhat nervous owner of twenty-four of these things. Provided I can keep them under control, they will be my Army of the Damned, serving me in whatever manner befits a set of noisy two inch tall plastic figures with all the freedom of movement of Stephen Hawking.

Let me introduce them to you, starting with the lower ranks.

Squawk is so discreetly evil that it’s almost not evil at all. It looks sort of like a parrot, and it calls sort of like a parrot… albeit a parrot who should give up smoking. In the evil spectrum, Squawk is the Technipet equivalent forgetting to phone your mother, or mixing paper and plastic in the recycling bin.

Like Squawk, Pony has flashing green eyes, thus indicating a fairly low status in the Pantheon of Evil. It’s more or less equine, although few horses known to the world of science sit on their haunches like a dog. Its whinny sounds like someone spraying a kindergarten with machine gun fire, which, for a Technipet at least, is pretty normal.

Mittle is meant to be a… uh… well…to be honest, I really have no idea. It sounds either like a turkey possessed by one of the Three Stooges or a duck dying from some flu-like disease, and it looks like a dugong that dresses up as a clown for children’s parties. It has an orange rhinoceros horn, a turkey tail, the lips of Al Jolsen, and the physique of Marlon Brando circa 1996.

Tusk appears to be a Komodo Dragon struggling to break out of the body of a Golden Retriever, and sounds like somebody gargling with a chicken rammed down their throat. Except when it barks: then it sounds like a dog trying to speak Japanese.

Snaggle is some kind of small rodent, but it sounds like a bird. Or at least it sounds more like a bird than it does a rodent, or a cow, or a bulldozer. That’s not saying much. It’s a gentle shade of grey with large ears and a big protruding snout, and if it weren’t for the fact that it's probably waiting for an opportunity to gnaw your face off, it would be sort of cute.

Chee-Chee is otherwise known as N’Shabboth, the Unholy Lord of Pain and Sulphur. This foul entity is the most evil creature in the whole Technipet Army of the Damned. Forget to turn it off before you go to bed, and the last thing you ever see will be its flashing red eyes as it comes for you at the stroke of midnight.

Maybe it’s just because unlike the other Technipets, the aforementioned flashing red eyes are in the front of its head, making it appear as if it is constantly staring at you… while shrieking like a monkey going through a bandsaw. Rest assured that it will frighten small children; it’s just a matter of how much.

It’s hard to determine why Technipets came into existence. A misguided marketing exercise? An opening salvo in the Thousand Years of Tribulation mentioned in the Book of Revelations? Who knows? One can only entertain one’s suspicions, all the while keeping a wary eye on the evil little bastards.

Friday, April 01, 2005


Not many people are aware of the impressive list of features that came as standard on the mighty '94 Golf Cabriolet. Along with bucket seats, AM/FM stereo with cassette, electrically operated roof and digital clock, the car has a Focused Neural Receiver (FNR) peeping out from under the front bumper, linked to a little green phosphor readout screen in the instrument cluster, just next to the temperature gauge. You can even store the information as a Microsoft Word 4 document on a floppy disk and upload it later to your home computer. Those Germans think of everything.

It's this technology that allowed me to record, and now present, the thoughts of the driver of the car in front of me as I drove to work this morning.

Oh Sher-ry, our love, hoooolds on, hoooolds on... wait, what was that? Something just hit my windscreen. Crap! There's another one! What are they? Wait a moment, those are... drops of water!


Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit! Okay, come on, get a grip on yourself. You can't allow yourself to panic. Breathe deeply. That's it, slow deep breaths.

Okay, I can get through this. If I can stay calm and marshal every ounce of my driving skill, I can get through this. Think of the children. Who's going to look after them if I die? I don't want to die! Oh please, I so want to live!

No, no, I'm not allowed to panic. I WON'T panic. Somehow I'll get through this.

Just keep reminding yourself, it's not as bad as it could be, it's not as bad as it could be. I'm in a late model Honda with four wheel drive, traction control and ABS braking... that's got to count for something. I may actually make it to the end of the street alive.

Now, think back to driving school. What are you supposed to do when you have to drive in the...

No, come on, you have to face it. Say the word....

when you have to drive in the RAIN. What are you supposed to do when you have to drive in the rain.

That's better. I remember now. I have to slow down. What's the speed limit on this road? 70. Better go down to 60. No, wait, make it 50. And I want to turn right in about fifteen minutes, so I'd better stay in the right-hand lane. I know I'm supposed to stay left unless overtaking, but IT'S RAINING! Everyone knows water droplets falling out of the sky have the ability to make your forget where you were going and how to get there and the faces of your loved ones. I can't afford to take any risks!

Okay, okay, everything's under control. We're way under the speed limit, we're in the right lane, and we're still alive. That Golf behind me keeps flashing its lights, but he's probably just trying to warn me about the rain. It's in crises like these that we have to look out for each other.

I can do this. I really think I can do this.

Wait... I don't believe it... it's not possible. THE RAIN IS ACTUALLY GETTING HEAVIER! I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna die!

I may even have to switch my windscreen wipers up from 'Intermittent'.