Thursday, October 26, 2006


From a conversation this afternoon:

Sorry I'm late. I was on the phone to one of the department heads, and in my job you often need to orient the things you say to those higher up the food chain.

You mean lie.

No, not lie. Just... er... spin.

That's just a glamorous word for lying.

No it isn't. Spin is simply an improved truth.

An improved truth?

Yes. Just like the truth... but with little flakes of chocolate sprinkled on top.


Hey, that's a good one. I'll have to put that in my blog.

If you say so.

Hmmm... little flakes of chocolate...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


A knowledgable, concise, and most importantly erudite refutation of Richard Dawkins and his bitter, bigoted ilk.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Calling all thwarted elves! At last there's a place to call home!


This development is taking place at Akbuk Bay. These mushroom shaped homes are specially designed for families with children but also for those who would like to return to a natural environment. It will be built in beautiful countryside, away from the noise of traffic and the bustle of the city.

This complex will have a swimming pool, a children's pool, sauna, hamam (Turkish bath), sports complex, restaurant, theatre, shopping area, landscaped gardens with tranquil walks and a manmade water feature.

The concept comes from the Smurfs, a very popular children's programme.


What a delightful idea! What child wouldn't want to live in a fantasy mushroom house? You can just picture it, can't you; the kids squealing with joy and racing around with the other neighbourhood children, chasing butterflies and making daisy chains. At night they will curl up in their little beds, smile up at you as you kiss them goodnight, and tell you how much they love living in their mushroom house. Then off they go to sleep, to dream of fairies and pixies and small woodland creatures who wear waistcoats.

Of course in 8-10 years' time the children of the neighbourhood will be in their mid to late teens. They will be into death metal, beer bongs and working on their noisy, oil-leaking cars on the front lawn. They will be acutely embarrassed by you and your frickin' mushroom house, and this will lead to bitterness and resentment. Your home, with its faded red roof and depressingly rusty swing set, will halve in value. You will seek solace in domestic violence and the bottle. Thus within a decade of completion the development will resemble one of the less dramatic levels of Hell.

Send for a prospectus today!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I had pizza with some friends last night, and we ate at the dining table while their four year old daughter sat in an adjacent room watching a 'My Little Ponies' DVD.

Me: I haven't been able to think of My Little Ponies quite the same way since I saw the Pony or Pornstar website.

BM: What?

Me: It's a list of names of porn stars and ponies, and you have to guess which is which. Like you'd see the name 'Blueberry Muffin' and have to think, "Is this more likely to be an XXX movie actress or a small, slightly creepy plastic toy?'

DM: You're kidding.

Me: Nope. It's actually pretty hard. Those bloody ponies all have names like Golden Bangs or Love Petal. And some of us have minds that are inappropriately tuned to double entendres.

BM: ...

DM: ...

My Little Pony Soundtrack in background: It's so big! It's gigantic! It's... humungous!

Conversation halts as all adults laugh so hard that pizza comes out their noses.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Patron of the arts and all-round pretentious person that I am, I went out to see 'Red Dog' at the theatre last week.

I wouldn't recommend that you do the same.

What was wrong with it? Well, for a start, let me ask you this: how does one best evoke the presence of a mongrel dog, living in the remote towns and campsites in the rough, rugged, uncivilised north-west of Western Australia?

Why, with zany piano accordion music, of course! And shadow puppetry! And mime! Because obviously nothing says "outback mining camps" like piano accordions, shadow puppetry and mime! I'm sure that the population of the Pilbara - truck drivers, stockmen and illiterate labourers - all relax after a long, hard, dusty day with a little Edith Piaf music, some absinthe and a five hour long kabuki play.

Beyond that, I grant them points for trying, but sadly the play was little more than a clever, occasionally powerful series of stagecraft tricks meandering about in search of a plot. It was hard not to get the impression that this thing was born of workshopping, not storytelling. I can imagine a bunch of actors getting together and, after a few bottles of cheap merlot and some hits from the bong, realising that they can charge people $45 a ticket for the honour of witnessing their party tricks. "I'm good with shadow puppets!" one cries. "I can play the piano accordion!" says another. "I can do acrobatic tricks on a stack of folding chairs!" offers a third. "Let's put on a show!"

As a result, twenty minutes into the performance, my chief thought was not "Oh, what a delightful journey into whimsy!" It was "COULD SOMETHING PLEASE HAPPEN!"

But nothing did. This is not to say that the aforementioned stagecraft tricks were not evocative and arresting. Their portrait of Death, malevolent in a long black coat and bony, spider-like appendages, sent goosebumps down my arms every time he appeared. The trick of setting one scene on its side, so that the audience viewed it as if from above, was enormously clever and beautifully executed. But these were great technical and visual achievements that didn't actually do anything.

And in every case, they went on too long. Nothing saps the magic of a stage trick like being forced to stare at it for five minutes while nothing else happens.

Unintentional hilarity came, however, from another source. A few rows away from me sat a large, upper-middle class family, and their youngest daughter reacted badly to Red Dog's melancholy death scene. As Death seduced the dog into the darkness, she burst into tears and stated - loudly, often and in no uncertain terms - that she didn't want Red Dog to die. Her parents tried to calm her, but under the circumstances there wasn't much they could do. The rest of the audience couldn't help but laugh as all the actors' attempts at nuanced emotion were undone by one hysterical little kid.

Congratulations, upper-middle class parents. You just blew $200+ on a night at the theatre that'll give your child nightmares for the rest of the year. If only you'd bought her an iPod instead and just stayed at home watching 'My Name is Earl'.

On the other hand I can't help but feel, in my capacity as someone who hates kids, that if this play gives just one small child psyche-scarring nightmares, it can't be all bad.

Monday, October 16, 2006


On Saturday morning a friend and I took a long walk, from his house in Victoria Park to the city. After a pleasant breakfast at a central city cafe, we started home again, and just happened to wander past the specialist automotive model store in the Wesley Arcade.

Well, we started to wander past, but no man can resist a shop selling toy cars. It's part of the Y chromosome, along with the mysterious drive to acquire and organise tools.

I bought three cars to add to my Mini shrine. It's a little collection of model Minis to remind me of my much-loved Blat, and it includes the original Mini badge that I souvenired from my car when it went to the wreckers.

mini shrine

I have to say that I'm now deeply enamoured with modelmaker Cararama. For very small amounts of money, they make beautifully detailed and flawlessly scaled model cars. I bought two of theirs; an authentically coloured blue-grey one and a tiny, bite-sized silver one. The larger car has delicate chrome trim and real rubber tyres... and it only cost $6. The smaller one is about half the size of my thumb but as you can see, it's still an exquisitely rendered piece of modelling. And it cost the same as a cup of coffee.

tiny mini quarter

I thought about photographing it next to a coin, to give an idea of the scale, but I realised that international readers wouldn't be familiar the size of Australian coins. So I found a more universal constant.

tiny mini and man 1

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Proving that I do still read books occasionally, instead of just lounging on the couch watching MST3K DVDs, I finished Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' last night. It's more or less a grand literary episode of CSI, except that it's all true.

Late one night in 1959, two men entered the home of a prosperous, well-liked Kansas farm family and systematically murdered everyone inside. The massacre was horrifying not just for its bloodiness, but also for its apparent lack of motive. Nothing in particular was stolen, ruling out burglary, and the family was popular in their small community, ruling out revenge or anger. Nobody could tell why the murders had occured, and that, more than anything, shattered their equanimity.

As investigations proceeded, the truth was slowly uncovered. Burglary had indeed been a motive. Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, aimless delinquents recently released from prison, had entered the house believing it to contain a well-stuffed safe... which it didn't. But even if there had been a safe, it was always the killers' intention to "leave no witnesses". They'd made preparations to kill as many as twelve people, if there'd happened to be guests in the house. There was even the sense that, had the purported safe been in an empty house, the two men might have been slightly less keen about the whole crime. They wanted to "splatter the walls with hair", to use their own grotesque metaphor.

The dichotomy between the close-knit, stolid, hardworking Clutters and their amoral, self-deluding, dysfunctional killers could scarcely be more pronounced. Civilization versus savagery. Creation versus consumption. Generosity versus self service. Even good versus bad. The victims took what they had and made it into larger, greater things that benefited both themselves and the people around them. The killers took what they had and squandered it, deciding that they could take more from others when they ran out.

Capote always had a thing for low-life characters, like the pair of thinly-veneered prostitutes in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', and here he'd found a couple of real examples. As Milton discovered in Paradise Lost, fiends are more interesting than paragons. I suppose this is a survival instinct: you can safely ignore a saint, but if you ignore a sinner he's likely to shiv you the moment you turn your back. Capote doesn't suggest that Smith and Hickock are not vile through and through, but he does understand them, possibly more than the understands the simple virtue of their victims. Opening up the killers' minds to the reader, he implies that there but for a sense of self-disipline and an ounce of human empathy go the rest of us. At our lowest moments we might realise that we are closer to the killers than the Clutters.

Monday, October 09, 2006


I got some good presents as part of International Blanders Day 2006, largely on a gastronomic theme. My sisters gave me a beautiful cookbook and some gourmet ingredients. My parents gave me a high tech planter designed to produce bumper crops of tomatoes. The Flatmate gave me a bottle of wine. And JC treated me to a surprise dinner at Jackson's.

It was a wonderful meal, of exactly the sort I have come to expect from this restaurant, but the various exquisite delicacies from the uberchefs generated different reactions from JC and me.

My response to the food was a fairly constant soundtrack of delighted gasps and groans, as if I was the star of some porn version of 'Iron Chef'. The spiced pumpkin soup, served in a shot glass with a tiny papadum, was captivating. The caramelised pork belly with apple, calvados and sage was what the UN wishes it could be; a diverse range of flavours all working together to create something far greater than themselves. Even the sprig of tempura-fried sage, intended to be little more than garnish, caused me to moan in a very unseemly fashion. At the waiter's suggestion I teamed the pork with a local pinot, which tasted of liquid ecstacy and shone with a translucent colour which, if you saw it in a painting, would encourage you to claim the responsible artist a genius. Finally, the pineapple tart with rum and raisin icecream was presented with a crown of flossed sugar, as if it were a giant dandelion puff, and may as well have been soaked in heroin for all the bliss it caused.

JC had the rabbit, about which I waxed rhapsodic here, accompanied by a glass of the famous Talijanich Graciano. Then for dessert, he enjoyed the raspberry souffle with chocolate icecream. He said, when pressed, that they were very good.

"But you had the beetroot risotto!" I protested, appalled by his apparent lack of flavour-induced seizures. "What do you think of the beetroot risotto?"

"It's very tasty," he said.

"Tasty? Tasty? Doesn't it make you want to build an altar over next to the hostess stand and present it as an offering to Almighty God, in thanks for His goodness in giving us tastebuds?"

"No. But it is very nice."

Apparently my echo of 'NICE!?' was heard as far away as Como.

And I don't mean the local Como. I mean the one in Italy.

Fabrizio: Mamma mia! Someone failed to properly appreciate the beetroot risotto again!

Nonna: Il dio ci ha misericordia! (crosses self and pulls black shawl fearfully over head).

Once I'd calmed down, we discussed taste. Perhaps, we theorised, gastronomy is a little like writing, painting or athletic prowess: a person can be taught a certain number of skills, but some of us just have a natural talent or discernment. JC, for example, can tell the difference between a mediocre guitar riff and a great one, when they both sound more or less alike to me. I, on the other hand, can tell the difference between the works of culinary indifference at Terrazza or Bella Rosa, and the works of divine intervention at Jackson's. It's all part of the varied spectrum of human acheivement and understanding.

Which is a polite way of saying that I'm right.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Despite today being Birthday Eve, and thus a day of presents from people who want to get in before the Birthday rush, I am feeling down.

I went down to Carousel shopping centre last night to look for a book, and, as Carousel is the world headquarters of the "buy what we have, not what you want" commercial philosophy, I failed. Possibly this is because the book I wanted was written by neither Dan Brown nor Jamie Oliver.

But on my way home I noticed that there was something wrong with the handlebars of my scooter. They were out of their usual alignment, so that I rode with my left arm slightly crooked and my right arm slightly stretched.

When I got home I tested the steering lock, and found that it was a lot looser than it had been before I went out. Hmm... handlebars bent... steering lock loose... I realised that while I was at Carousel looking for my book, someone must have tried to steal the scooter, wrenching the handlebars in an attempt to break the steering lock.

What a nuisance, I thought. I'll need to go to the motorbike place and get the handlebars straightened.

This moring I jumped on my scooter to go to work, and I stopped at the petrol station on the corner because I was low on fuel. As I was waiting in the queue, I decided to test the handlebars to see how far out of alignment they were. I turned them until I hit the left lock, and noted their position in relation to the rest of the bike. Then I turned them to the right lock... and turned... and turned... and turned... and when the right grip was pointing directly at my stomach, I realised that something was seriously wrong.

I looked over at the front wheel. It was pointing straight ahead.

The handlebars had become disconnected from the front wheel. The steering had completely gone.

If I hadn't stopped for fuel and tested the scooter, it's likely that I would have noticed this little malfunction a few hundred metres up the road instead, as I tried to exit the Ashburton Street roundabout and instead slammed facefirst into the powerpole on the corner.

I rang the police, but apparently 'attempted manslaughter' isn't a crime.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


On Saturday night I went out with John B and some of his friends to celebrate his birthday the best way we knew how – with bad Chinese food and karaoke!

Like all worthwhile things that come out of the orient, karaoke has a pronounced metaphysical dimension. It embodies the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang; its lures and its revulsions are mirror images of each other. People sing because they simultaneously crave and fear the attention. The songs they sing are of a similarly dual nature; while they may be bland and forgettable when played on the radio, they are revealed in all their true horror, trite yet memory-searing, when stripped of their sophistication and belted out by a drunken quantity surveyor.

Indeed, the Lionel Richie / Diana Ross duet ‘Endless Love’ hangs over all karaoke proceedings like an ominous shadow. And if someone doesn’t sing that particular song, they’ll certainly sing something very much like it. Possibly Celine Dion will be involved. It’s all too ghastly to contemplate, and yet contemplate it we must, if we seek enlightenment.

The people at my table made around a dozen selections, but between our songs we were treated to performances by the handful of others in the restaurant.

Table 18: An old man, about 70, wearing drawstring pants (because belts are so confining, aren’t they?) teamed with mismatching casualwear from Target circa 1992. He was accompanied by his mail order bride, about half his age, and what was presumably their little girl, aged about ten. He sang dull songs, but he didn’t sing them badly. His wife’s voice was even better, but sadly her taste in music wasn’t. She didn’t actually sing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, but I suspect that this was only because there was a scratch on that disc or something.

Table 22: A man in his thirties, sitting by himself at a table for eight. He sang obscure ballads, if ‘singing’ is the correct word for it. It would be more accurate to say that he whined, almost inaudibly, into the microphone, with all the sadness that can only come from going out alone on a Saturday night to sing karaoke in a three-quarters empty Chinese restaurant.

Sweet merciful crap, man! Just collect stamps or something! Preserve what dignity you have left!

Table 29: A trio of Vietnamese 50-somethings, who had a whole disc of saccharine Vietnamese love songs to sing. If you want to know what saccharine Vietnamese love songs sound like, they sound exactly like saccharine Western love songs, only more nasal.

John B sang ‘Beat It’ and ‘White Wedding’, complete with bustin’ dance moves, then concluded with a duet version of ‘Let It Be’ with his wife. His friend PL yawped his way through ‘Delilah’ and ‘It’s Not Unusual’, dancing as if an invisible man was attacking him with a belt sander, and adding his own vocal reverb when he thought the backing tracks were too prosaic. I stuck with one of my urbane old skool favourites, ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’, which basically involved molesting the memory of Sinatra like there was no tomorrow. I followed up with Elvis’ classic ‘Return To Sender’. Here’s a tip for all prospective karaokers: the chorus of ‘Return to Sender’ has, like, three notes in it. It’s perfect for the man who has everything except a good vocal range.

But gold star of the night went to the quiet and reserved JM, who resisted the lure of the microphone right up till the end. Then, goaded by our taunts and cowing to our demands, she got up and let loose with the most kickass version of ‘Born To Be Wild’ you could ever hope to hear. I will not soon forget the sight of her stomping furiously in her long black gothy dress, growling “Getcha motor runnin’…. get out on the highway!” with such intensity that you’d think she had a Harley and a tattooed fellow named Ripper waiting outside.


It occurs to me that the pictures in the previous post might give the impression that my backyard is nothing but a narrow passage, about as wide as Nicole Richie.

This is not the case. Here's a larger view of the whole yard, showing that I actually have about four metres or so between the back door and the fence. Such space! I can swing ostentatiously large cats and still run only a mild risk of giving them serious head trauma.

Backyard October 2006

To the right of the picture you can see my garden pond and accompanying sculpture. The pond is an old washing copper, and the sculpture is a collection of copper pipes leftover from several generations of household water heaters, a showerhead from the salvage yard, and some old brass taps and fixtures I got from a plumber.

water sculpture

And if you look closely, you can see a little chromed figure right at the bottom. My grandfather brought her back from the Middle East after he was posted there during World War Two, and we've always jokingly referred to her as The Family Heirloom.

Gunther the Spirit of the Garden

She's been in a cupboard for the last five years, so I thought I'd give her some fresh air for a while. Every garden needs a nymph, as I said to AB as I was showing him around on the weekend.

Me: ...and I've added a little statue to the pond. I guess she's a sort of symbolic Spirit of the Garden.

AB: What's her name?

Me: I hadn't thought of one. What's a good name for a garden nymph?

AB: Gunther.

Me: What?

AB: I think you should call her Gunther.

Me: Er, Gunther is a boy's name.

AB: Maybe she's really a man.

Me: No she isn't.

AB: Maybe she is. Maybe you just can't tell.

Me: So, you want me to call her 'Gunther, the Transsexual Spirit of the Garden'...

AB: Yes!

Me: No.

Of course, now when I walk past I think, "Ah, there's my water feature, and there's little Gunther peeking out from NO NO NO DAMMIT!"

Unfortunately the name has stuck, and there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I've been on holiday for the last week, which may help to explain the lack of posts. I didn't go anywhere or do anything; I just worked in my garden, pottered about the house, and meandered around the city on my scooter, shuttling between innummerable cafes in search of a good flat white and a decent croissant. There's nothing quite like the feeling of smugness you get when you roll into a cafe at 9.30am, in T-shirt and jeans, and linger over the newspaper and a leisurely breakfast for an hour or two while all around you office workers in suits are rushing in and out. Suckers!

My big project for this holiday was to generate some order from the chaos of my backyard. For many years it hasn't been a garden so much as a swathe of dirt that just happens to be behind my house. With a few days up my sleeve I decided to fix the barren patch where my neighbour's garage wall forms part of my back fence.

new garden bed begun

My plan was to lay a line of limestone blocks along the edge of the patio, parallel to the wall, and form a new garden bed. It was a simple plan, one which failed to take three things into account:

1. The pavers next to the patio stick out an inch further than the patio.
2. The reticulation line for that part of the yard runs right under where the the blocks were going to go.
3. The building supply place had sold out of the blocks I wanted, and only stocked some others about 40% bigger.

So each of the pavers had to be lifted and jammed closer together, and the reticulation had to be exposed and repositioned (or rather 'dragged') into a better arrangement. The larger blocks provided a better effect, but they were also much heavier than the ones I'd originally wanted, so getting them into position was gruelling, and once in place, they were very difficult to adjust.

Still, I got there in the end. I laid the blocks, attached new sprinklers to the reticulation pipes, filled the new bed with green waste and potting mix, planted an entire vegetable garden, and did a general clean-up.

new garden bed completed

I now have two types of mint, two types of parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums and four different types of lettuce. There are also two fruit trees; a tahitian lime and a valencia orange. The fields of blue are snail pellets, since the slimy little bastards would have reduced all this to dying green nubs within a couple of nights given the chance.

To finish it off, I hung a piece of wrought iron I found at the salvage yard on the wall. I think it gives the area a nice Mediterranean feel.

Then I went gratefully back to work, where the heaviest thing I have to lift is my coffee mug. Ah, at last I can relax...