When Arseholes Should Be Visible, But Inaudible

IT’S BEEN decades since anyone told me I should be seen and not heard, but today — as a 44-year-old — I was told exactly that; an unprovoked encounter with an ancient mental midget raises unpleasant questions. Why are some people incapable of minding their own business? Do do-gooder types, with their selective standards, wreak more havoc and hostility than they’re worth? And are some people, not to put too fine a point on it, just arseholes?

When all is said and done, I think it’s fair to say that most people you meet are pretty good; going about their business, basic courtesies are a given with the overwhelming majority of those who cross one’s path, and most of them don’t want to hurt anyone, much less interfere.

But exceptions can be found to any rule, and whilst I have had a really good laugh today (and had to fight to keep a straight face during a fairly ugly exchange, which I will recount in a moment), there are times an unpleasant but unavoidable reality must be confronted.

Some people, to put it most indelicately, are just arseholes.

Today’s article involves one of those delightful suburban tales that are like a train smash — you just have to look — and as small-time and even juvenile as what I was confronted with on my rounds this morning really is, the reality is that setting aside the vast majority of good people who don’t want to impose on anybody, there remains a little cohort of scum that simply can’t help itself, and I encountered one of its ilk today.

First things first: at precisely 10.00am this morning, a malignant reptile masquerading as a harmless old buffer — all of 80 if he was a day old, to be sure — signalled opening time at Australia Post in the Prahran Central shopping plaza in Melbourne by attempting to dictate to waiting customers the order in which they would be permitted to enter the shop.

Never one to pay the slightest heed to such jumped-up, officious bullshit, I manoeuvred my way past to look at a merchandise display I wanted to purchase something from.

“All these people are ahead of you. Get to the back of the line,” he roared. Everyone inside and outside the shop stopped and turned to watch.

I’m afraid I told him to go to hell and to fuck off, noting that merely walking into a shop did not constitute queue jumping — something I detest — but this moribund old albatross was having none of it. “I know what you are doing,” he continued, as if this pronouncement somehow carried judicial weight. “Get to the back of the line and wait.”

Repeating the navigational advice I gave him after his initial outburst, I left the shop altogether, and instead bought the things I wanted from the newsagent across the corridor…

…only to find — unbelievably — the silly old dickhead outside the newsagent waiting to continue his tirade. I glanced him up and down. “Walking into a shop is not queue jumping, you dumb prick,” I began, before he cut me off. “Young arseholes like you should be seen and not heard,” he told me.

Turning 45 this coming August, I’m still not sure whether I should take that as an insult or a compliment. My paternal grandmother used to tell me things like that before I could walk properly. In the mid-1970s. Nobody has said such a thing to me in a very, very long time.

At this point, those reading who know me will probably be laughing; I don’t go out looking for trouble — but if provoked, some bad language and a free character assessment rank among the very mildest of the possible reactions. I gave him both barrels. All of it should be unprintable (there are selected exceptions being made today, however) and the barrage had its desired effect: the crusty, cadaverous old coot retreated into a nearby shop.

Anyhow…I made as if to head in the direction of the Prahran Market, just up the road. Yet before I could get out of Prahran Central, a voice wafted from the shop in which he had hidden. “Seen and not heard, you pompous young arsehole!” it barked, as if issuing a parting shot.

Go and fuck yourself, you silly old dickhead,” I yelled back at him, and left.

And, in the spirit of getting in the last word, I defer at this point to the immortal genius of Sydney comedian Kat McSnatch. Honestly, I couldn’t put it better if I tried.

The ironic thing about the story I have just shared is that queue jumping ranks near the top of my pet hates in life; I am perfectly happy to wait to be served when it comes to shops or restaurants and the like — provided there is no queue jumping, of course — and only get annoyed waiting if a venue is indisputably understaffed when there are lots of customers, for example, or if someone serving is taking personal calls instead of doing their job, or something similar.

But I’m not a hypocrite.

There are, unfortunately, people around who have little lives and nothing better to do with their time but cause trouble.

I’m sure we have all seen it; most of us just get on with things, and leave others to get on with it too. But there are just enough people who have to draw attention to themselves — out of some excessive sense of self-importance, perhaps — to put others who are hurting nobody in their place.

Just because they think they can; just because they think — wrongly — that they are entitled to do so.

Whatever happened to minding your own business?

It is true that people can be inconsiderate; we are all only human, after all. People will walk in front of you and elbow you aside without a care; people in cars (and this is a bugbear of mine, too) commit any manner of inconsiderate acts that if they paid attention (or cared) they most likely would think twice about.

But even those scenarios are a bit different to telling people the order in which they are allowed to enter a shop: how unbelievably ridiculous! And small point as it is to note, this geriatric imbecile wasn’t even an Australia Post staff member — not that that would have justified his behaviour either.

I sometimes wonder about people who carry on like this fellow did; you never really know how people will respond. I’m completely harmless unless provoked, and even then, the belligerent bad language formed into perfectly enunciated insults are only ever exceeded by formal complaints, disciplinary proceedings, or even litigation, depending on the circumstances in which the unprovoked and unsolicited onslaught has occurred and how serious (or worthy of pursuit) it might be. There’s nothing remotely violent involved.

But “do-gooders” like the old bloke at Prahran this morning are just as likely to end up in hospital (or even dead) and splashed all over the newspapers if they pick the wrong mark; I have never hit anyone in my life, but it’s a sign of the times that if they do pick the wrong mark, they stand an excellent chance these days of having the living shit kicked out of them. If they’re lucky.

That is even worse than what they did to provoke the attack in the first place.

And with the scourge of methamphetamine addiction descending on major cities across the world — and yes, it’s a problem in Melbourne, especially near the Chapel Street nightclub precinct near the Prahran Market — there is no telling what someone might do, in a drug-addled stupor, if this bloke had picked on them rather than someone whose worst vice is a cigarette.

But let’s not mince words: people like the fellow I encountered this morning are not “do-gooders,” and nor are they exhibiting courtesy or consideration. They are nosy, interfering troublemakers whose interests would be better served by minding their own business.

If we are talking about character assessments — and pointing the finger at who is at fault when it comes to causing trouble — there is a classic sequence from one of the Dirty Harry movies that sums it up beautifully.

Is the coarseness of the response — be it from Harry Callahan, or in my own words today, or in whatever other circumstances readers might think of — over the top? Some will say so.

But once again, had their been no attempt to interfere with and manipulate people the decaying fool didn’t know and had no business bossing around, there would have been no response whatsoever, but as is the way of such things I suspect he didn’t and doesn’t see it that way. After all, I’m a young arsehole who should be seen and not heard. It’s the kind of “reasoning” that is impossible to argue with on account of the utter stupidity that underpins it.

Everyone loves a story — and I plead guilty to being a storyteller, of course — and over the years, I’ve heard hundreds or even thousands of similar stories from family members, friends and colleagues. They get outraged, they get offended, they express disbelief.

Sometimes — like I have today — they get a laugh out of it, and the thing I find so amusing about people like the bozo I met this morning is that anyone can be so cretinous as to think something as inane as telling people in which order they may enter someone else’s business to spend money, no less could ever be reasonably regarded as appropriate.

And let’s not even start down the track of another jaundiced, abused concept — “respect for your elders” — when respect is earned, not an entitlement, and the fundamental disrespect in this case had nothing to do with age at all, but an unsolicited and unjustified intrusion into someone else’s business.

Still, the old coot at Prahran should be thankful that not only did I refuse to accept his silly directives, but that I also refused to action his rebuke.

After all (given he clearly regarded me as “an arsehole” for defying him) the idea that arseholes should be seen and not heard is not only as offensive as the episode this ugly old reptile needlessly triggered, but taken literally, would end up getting someone arrested for their trouble.

I leave it to the imaginations of readers what inherently might be amiss with the concept of arseholes that are visible but inaudible. It’s unappealing, whichever way you visualise it.

But given the best response to people like this is to laugh and poke fun at them, the last word — which the horrible old busybody tried to deliver after running away and bellowing from the “safety” of yet another shopkeeper’s business — really belongs to someone who is a bit of a specialist on the subject.

I just hope readers see the funny side, and get a bit of a giggle out of the fact anyone could be as stupid as the guy I ran across this morning.

If there’s a bit of bad language flying around in the process, where’s the harm? If I really was an arsehole, I might have flattened him.

And if anyone else in my shoes had done exactly that, the law might not have even offered him recourse, for trying to continue an argument after the initial response was to walk away (as mine was) might be framed in Court as a provocation, that was responded to with an act of self-defence. Just as he didn’t know I was all talk and bad language and noise, someone else in my shoes might have thought themselves at risk of being assaulted, and decided in the heat of the moment to strike first.

Which in a nutshell merely underlines the point: mind your own business, for interfering with others and trying to cause trouble could well get you more than you bargain for.

What do people think?



Retro Tuesday And The Definition Of “Smooth”

SOME OF US spent the New Year celebration doing better things than getting plastered and passing out; a chance discussion with an old associate online, at 2am on New Year’s Day, revealed that “smooth” remains cool: and with an exchange of music videos revealing similar tastes in “smooth,” the question very much went begging. What is “smooth?” How do you recognise it when you hear it? And can it be defined, or is it simply a matter of preference?

I wish readers a Happy New Year and, of course, a great year ahead; in the aftermath of the passing of George Michael last week, it seems another Tuesday has come around in record time, but today I’ve got a couple of absolute corkers to share — to say nothing of a question to pose.

Put simply, where music is concerned, what is “smooth?”

There’s a rather excellent fellow who has crossed my path three times now in the past 15 years out in “media land” in Melbourne, and he knows who he is; quite a bit younger than I am and obviously with a different story to tell, for some reason we hit it off — and these days, now different career trajectories (to say nothing of family life) has taken us in divergent directions, catch-ups are usually via social media, rather than random reunions when one of us shows up for a new media job.

In any case, I spent New Year’s Eve (after re-watching The Godfather for the quintillionth time) listening to old music videos on YouTube, which (as readers will have ascertained by now) is something of a late-night pastime I love, hunting out the old and obscure, or the latest thing etched in my mind from the day’s events, or just going on a YouTube cruise (you pick a starting track, and from there, you proceed ONLY by choosing from the “suggested options” to the right of the viewer…and every time one track finishes, you pick from the options to the right again, and so forth).

Anyhow, a random glance at Facebook at about 2am on New Year’s Day revealed a post from this fellow, proclaiming that the track embedded below is, in fact, the smoothest song of all time, and while I don’t know if I agree entirely, it’s a cracker of a hit anyway.

Turn it up…

At the very least, it instantly went without saying that we would be talking about this today.

But it got me thinking: what makes a “smooth” song? Is it the vocal delivery of the artist? The penmanship of the lyrics? The finish and polish on the music track? Or is it an amalgam of all of this and more, as the (musical) planets align to deliver something timeless, tuneful, and memorable?

It certainly isn’t heavy rock, or material based in metal or the classics; it could be jazz (and for that, I recommend this to readers as a pleasant little diversion to boot) or it could be something out of the disco era (like…this…which should be played very loudly) — but is whatever makes smooth “smooth” tangible, quantifiable, and able to be described?

Or is it simply what people, based on their particular characteristics and outlook, like to listen to?

Over the years, there have been those who have almost certainly released material one would suspect was at least in part deliberately fashioned to corner the “smooth” market; this is a prime culprit in terms of what I am talking about — and beyond the confines of the early 1990s (which were an embarrassment in their own right, musical or otherwise) it is safe to say that Kenny G and “smooth” don’t belong in the same sentence.

It probably isn’t most of what is on the playlists of radio stations that have become fashionable these days, billing themselves as “smooth:” to be sure, these media outlets do play some material that passes the test, but most of what they broadcast (like all commercial music radio stations) is crap.

What about those who practically shout from the rooftops to herald the “smoothness” of their work? The ultimate example is Sade Adu, with her intoxicating silken voice, and the song that presented its bona fides upfront.

Even with a little thought, the names of several artists who could be described as “the king of the smoothies” spring to mind: Rod Stewart. Mick Hucknell, a la Simply Red. Neil Finn from Crowded House (or Crowded House, full stop).

And any discussion of “smooth” would be incomplete without at least a mention of this bloke.

But really, is all of this just personal preference?

In my own case, I love most music: “from AC-DC to Mozart,” as I have always answered whenever asked what I like. But I make no bones about being a total 70s and 80s head — perhaps in large part because I’m a child of those times — but thinking forward and backward, the early rock’n’roll hits of the 50s and 60s were, whilst very listenable, more noise than art; and whilst the 90s and later still yield classic hits (which may even fit the bill where being “smooth” is concerned), I find it very hard to go beyond those two decades where music was made to be listened to, rather than noise for its own sake, bubble-gum pop to extract money from screaming teenagers, or drug-fuelled grunge bullshit.

And this brings me to the second track in my “double shot” today — notwithstanding the fact I’ve included bonus tracks everywhere once again this week.

I don’t know if this out-smoothes “the smoothest song of all time,” but you would have to think it comes close…

…but whether it does or doesn’t, there are similarly hundreds of songs that would vie for the title in their own right, but for that I leave readers to their own choices. What do you think?

Retro Tuesday: George Michael And The Last Christmas

BACK IN JANUARY — just 19 days into what has evolved into a wretched year for celebrity deaths — this segment pondered whether 2016 would be the year celebrity died; at that time, the names lost to the entertainment world and its audiences included David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Alan Rickman: now, dozens of deaths later and still with four days left in 2016, we add 1980s pop superstar and creative genius George Michael to a horribly burgeoning list.

If there is one thing I am thankful for, at least, in being so time-challenged as to prevent me posting in this column for most of 2016, it is that with the benefit of hindsight, I have been spared the need to turn Retro Tuesday into a perennial virtual obituary page; so many entertainment identities loved by millions have been lost this year, and here we are — again — lamenting the loss of another in the aftermath of Christmas.

News yesterday (Melbourne time; late Christmas Day elsewhere) that 1980s pop sensation, creative genius and troubled enigma George Michael had succumbed to heart failure in his sleep aged 53 came as a shock; his passing continues a long, long list of celebrity passings this year — most of them from the Baby Boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964 — that reads like a kind of macabre Who’s Who of the music, box office and wider entertainment industries: and at the risk of being grotesque, it seems appropriate to note that 2016 still has four days left to run.

With Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher critically ill, and rumours swirling about just how ill Queen Elizabeth II really is, it goes without saying that nobody wants to add any more names to the sinister roll call of global icons 2016 has presented to date.

But as one of the millions who spent the bulk of their teenage years in the 1980s, I must note that George Michael’s music made a big contribution to the soundtrack of my generation; and just like some of the giants who have preceded his passing this year — David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, among others — Michael’s presence in our lives was more permanent than just the 1980s, and evolved with us beyond the bubble-gum tunes he pumped out with Wham! as we grew with him, and he grew with us.

It is fair to say, of Generation X, that a lot of us grew up with George Michael.

For some reason, the first track that popped into my mind yesterday (when I realised the retro set for today’s column could only come from one place) was the ultra-commercial, über-chic dance track from the early 1990s, Too Funky: it brought back not-unpleasant memories of well-misspent nights in riverside clubs in Brisbane like Friday’s and City Rowers, that in the latter case at least no longer exist: and, ridiculously, I have one very specific memory of bopping away at City Rowers, close to the 5am closing time one December Sunday morning, with that track blaring as the sun began rising over the Brisbane River and bathing the “night” club in unwelcome natural light.

But the track that first brought George Michael to our collective conscience was the early smash hit he scored with Andrew Ridgeley back in the Wham! days.

It was fun, its was infectious, and — being about 12 or 13 when it was released — it was early evidence to this body at least that music could really make you move: not that I could (or can) dance, mind; any attempt by Yours Truly to do such a thing is a hideous mishmash of left feet and that awful pedestrian, half-marching, awkward shifting shuffle whose practitioners are (rightly) pilloried and laughed at for their ineptitude. My excuse was that, just like John Lennon’s story in Helter Skelter, I “might be a singer but I ain’t no dancer.”

Happily these days, that is another story.

But Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was one of those songs that etched itself in your brain and stayed there; and Wham! itself provided so many of those mental snapshots for a generation that spring readily to mind many years after the duo’s dissolution: cruising around in the jeep and chilling out by the pool in Club Tropicana. The tale of adolescent rebellion that was Bad Boys. The melancholy, wistful reflections of Careless Whisper. Even before Michael parted company with Ridgeley, it seemed he had it all.

George Michael was, of course, a complicated, enigmatic and to some extent tortured character; never far away from trouble with the constabulary, he led a double life of denial for decades where the question of his homosexuality was concerned, eventually “coming out” after being busted doing something “lewd” in a public toilet block late one night in London.

Busted at one point for possession of drugs, what had been an open secret for years in the form of a marijuana habit took on more sinister — and worrying — overtones when Michael was arrested with a quantity of crack cocaine on his person, raising questions of a more serious problem with drug use that threatened to spiral out of control.

It was, regrettably, an all-too-familiar storyline where entertainers of his generation were concerned. Amy Winehouse’s name comes to mind. Robert Palmer’s, too. Again, the list is as endless as it is tragic.

And Michael had a well-publicised brush with death a few years back, narrowly surviving a bout of pneumonia that might have seen his papers stamped far sooner; 2017 was slated, according to reports, as the year he was set to roar back onto the global stage with a new album and a tour — perhaps remaking himself, and his music, as he had done multiple times already.

For all the catchy, glitzy, showy pop tunes Wham! yielded, it’s hard to argue with the idea that Michael’s music matured — and came into its own — when he set forth as a solo artist: a journey that was marked with the arrival of his Faith album in 1987.

In an age when having music videos banned by the BBC was almost a rite of passage for the pop artists of the day, Michael obliged with the release of the video for I Want Your Sex, and came close to scoring a trifecta on that dubious measure with Father Figure: it was a time when the censorious Beeb, and its sanctimonious, don’t-say-shit-for-a-shilling morality crusades, seem as ludicrous and as laughable now than they did even at the time; other victims of this silly charade included Samantha Fox (Touch Me!) and even our own Wa Wa Nee (So Good), and it seems a badge of honour in hindsight that these relatively innocuous film clips were treated with such a heavy hand.

But Michael’s solo career proved, more than anything, that there was so much more to him than mere schmaltzy popcorn and infectious jingles; his was a talent that stood on its own merits as serious entertainment, and it is another track from Faith! that brings up the double shot in our Retro Tuesday set today: a showcase of the vocal purity and musical genius that proved that when it came to the finest entertainers of his generation, George Michael stood head and shoulders with the best.

There are lots of bonus links today; this piece in no way attempts to serve as an obituary — plenty of those have appeared, and will appear, in other places — but as a celebration of one of those entities that I, and so many around me, grew up with.

None of us were bothered (or surprised) when Michael came out as gay; just like the Pet Shop Boys and others, he was simply a vessel through which great and enduring music filled our lives and frankly, what he did in his own time was nobody’s business.

But this troubled and complex character, like so many of his contemporaries, met with an untimely end on Christmas Day, dying peacefully in his sleep from heart failure, according to official releases from his inner sanctum: a reminder, perhaps, that the rumoured drug use with which he had struggled for decades came at a terrible eventual cost.

Next week, hopefully, we can return this segment to a simple celebration of great music that simply intersects with some aspect of daily life — free from headlines of untimely deaths and the outpouring of grief that accompanies them.

But in closing today, I leave readers with a bonus video, even beyond all the extra links and the clips I have embedded here: and in furtherance of the connection I had with Michael’s music over the years, I should note that about 15 years ago — before screaming at football matches wrecked my voice — I won a hefty prize at Crown Casino in Melbourne singing this song at one of its ubiquitous karaoke pageants.

I include it now not to be jingoistic about the fact Michael’s passing came on Christmas day, but simply to include yet another of his timeless classics in today’s trip down music’s Memory Lane.

After all, there are literally dozens of others we could have included here, but haven’t: and for that, I point people to YouTube if their CD collections, unlike mine, are devoid of George Michael’s excellent releases over the years.


“What Shall We Do With The Surplus Turkey?”

ONCE AGAIN, a surfeit of turkey carcasses is jamming up refrigerators across the world this morning; as festive celebrations peter out and the coming year begins to refocus people on a return to normality in a jarringly short space of time, that expensive bird — so commonly the showpiece of indulgent Christmas largesse — risks becoming expensive landfill, and today, we get in quickly with the way to get an extra mile (and festive treat) out of what’s left.

I trust readers had a great time of it yesterday; there is something refreshingly authentic about spending time with family during the ultimate “down time” of the year, as Christmas reminds us of what really matters and what doesn’t: in my own case, still recovering from a minor albeit painful bout of surgery ten days ago, the cooking effort (combined with about a pint and a half of ale) saw me asleep before the sun went down, and awake again in the middle stages of the wee small hours.

Today’s post is as much about getting in a lot earlier than I did last year, as it is about a reprise of a post I published a couple of days later than this last December; there were some who contacted me privately after last year’s missive to say that what I had shared on this site would have been just great — except for the fact that the posting date, of 28 December, meant they had already thrown out the remnants of their Christmas turkey out of cluelessness as to what to do with it (a couple of turkey and avocado sandwiches on Boxing Day notwithstanding).


GOLDEN GOODNESS…it’s a shame to waste a festive turkey just because this bird can be so intimidating for those not accustomed to extracting every opportunity to use it in its entirety.

Pictured (above) is the 5.7kg (12lb 7oz) turkey I cooked yesterday; with my parents unable to make the trip from Tasmania this year, and the Jewish friends we often host on Christmas Day unfortunately preoccupied with a family member in dire health, there’s more of the precious bird left over this year than ever: and as has become customary, a good whack of it will be used tonight in a Turkey and Leek Pie, which I thoroughly recommend to readers as the ticket to extracting a second brilliant feast out of the carcass taking up space in their refrigerators this morning.

So let’s get started: you can access last year’s post, with step-by-step instructions on how to transform your leftover bird into a wonderful second act, here.

Being Boxing Day, the supermarkets will be open again today; selected greengrocers and markets, too, so between those there shouldn’t be any trouble obtaining the extra ingredients you might need to turn your turkey into a sensational second billing that makes the wonder of Christmas live on for at least another day.

Just remember — please! — no plonk; treat this with just as much reverence as you would the Christmas feast itself, and buy some decent booze to accompany it rather than some ghastly bottle of goon; be it a red, a dry white or something bubbly, your bird will repay the attention if you perform this transformation upon it, so do it the courtesy and return the favour, and you won’t regret it!

This morning’s post was only meant to be brief, so we will leave it at that: tomorrow is Tuesday and, as ever — for at least as long as I have the additional time to post regularly here — I will be back with a couple of songs (and probably a couple of bonus links too) that reflect some aspect of what’s happening around the place as we speak.

In the meantime, enjoy. Buon Appetit!


Retro Tuesday: On Dreams You Can Depend

THERE ARE TIMES when music captures the mood and the spirit far better — and more spontaneously — than idle banter or spirited conversation ever could; in the great soundtrack to our lives, this week sees a perfect match between events and…well, we can hardly call it melody. But like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well: and like any good music, this week’s picks are worth playing very loudly indeed.

Ever since I got back from Canberra on Thursday night, there is a CD that has been played, on high rotation and at top volume, in my car.

There are those people who look at cars driving around, with music blasting out of every open window, and either laugh or shake their heads; I feel very sorry for those people, because whilst the imposition on them is a temporary one, they have no idea or appreciation for what the person (or people) listening to their very own personalised wall of sound is feeling or thinking, or the head space — good or bad — in which they find themselves.

I must confess, of course, that I have been guilty of this too; an anecdote springs vividly to mind of the hot pink 1970 Torana that followed me through the drive-thru at Hungry Jack’s in Taringa in Brisbane one Saturday night, 25 years ago, as a mate and I decided to get a late-night feed after an onerous night’s work at the Sizzler restaurant up the road in Toowong. What made that encounter so ridiculous was that the song blaring from the Torana was the theme from Ghostbusters — by Ray Parker Jr — and the ridiculous atmospheric was heightened even further by the fact the bloke driving, and his girlfriend, were both wearing leopard print toga-type outfits of the Fred Flintstone/Barney Rubble variety.

It must have been a full moon in Brisbane that night…

But I have been spending an inordinate (and increasing) amount of time this year on aeroplanes, in airports, talking to airline staff, and going places by air travel; it isn’t just my weekly FIFO day trips to Brisbane 22-24 weeks of the year, but an increasing degree of business travel that has taken me to Sydney and Canberra twice each in the past eight weeks alone.

That volume of air travel will only increase next year, and it seems that Canberra — with its ghastly circular roads and indecipherable street system — will be a place I see a great deal more of as some of the projects I’m working on at the moment gather pace.

Sydney too, regrettably, although that’s another story.

But I flew out of Canberra on Thursday evening in tremendous spirits (despite the ugly date with the surgeon that awaited the following morning): the trip had been successful, and the final meeting I had on Thursday afternoon especially had put me, so to speak, on cloud nine.

This, of course, demanded loud music for the 45km drive home, and I had just the thing.

My car is equipped with its very own CD library — in truth, as many old CDs as I can cram into the glovebox, with many more at home that might someday get rotated into the mix — and on Thursday night as I left the long-term car park at Melbourne Airport, the Greatest Hits collection from Van Halen was all cued up.

I love Van Halen, much to the surprise of some who know me; but despite the harder edge than a lot of what I grew up with, that band (like Bad English, or Whitesnake, or so many others we could name) were emblematic of the trashy, flashy 1980s some of my teenage years coincided with: the big hair, the contrived extroversion, the overperformances, the big-statement “production” music videos…you get the idea.

I always thought Van Halen was better in its second incarnation, after David Lee Roth left; if anything, his replacement on lead vocals by Sammy Hagar gave the band a harder sound than the flashy, trashy David Lee Roth, although some of the latter’s solo efforts — Just A Gigolo and Just Like Paradise — count among my favourite 1980s tracks too (and yes, I have Dave’s Greatest Hits CD in my car somewhere as well).

The first of my Van Halen double shot tracks today, aptly enough, is Dreams; there are a number of “official” videos that go with this track, although the original series — featuring the US Navy’s Blue Angels squadron is still the best, as the aircraft cross each other’s paths, fly in formation, and fly in sync with one another.

Check this out.

For those who know Melbourne, the range of locations to listen to this stuff — at cracking volumes — is terrific; in my own case, heads turned at the traffic lights on the way out of Tullamarine Airport. I was rockin’ heading around the Western Ring Road, and climbing higher! higher! as I went up and over the West Gate Bridge. At the Kingsway exit, with its mandatory wait to get onto Kings Way (and again at the endless stops at intersections along that thoroughfare and on St Kilda Road), it was patently clear that the blast of Van Halen I was broadcasting on my way through Melbourne’s inner south was making a figure of some ridicule, but I didn’t care.

After all, who would recognise me? Even if they did, what could they possibly say that could bother me? Let them gawp. Let them gape. I didn’t know about them, but I was having a mighty fine time — thank you very much!

And this brings up the second take in today’s double shot — which also just happens to be the very next track on the CD — and speaking of big, flashy, epic 1980s music videos, this one holds its place with the best of them.

I’m going back to Canberra next month, and I have to say that I am looking forward to it; the good burghers at Qantas will likely see a fair bit of me on that route in coming months, and I am finding — despite myself — that the place is beginning to grow on me, although I certainly wouldn’t ever want to live there.

Short of a political life, which I doubt I will ever have, Melbourne will do me just fine.

But as they say, “when you’re on, you’re on,” and I found myself exhilarated this week as a trip somewhere I wasn’t really keen on going turned out to hold great promise, and those readers in Melbourne who encounter a car heading toward the airport on the Tullamarine Freeway one morning at 7am, Van Halen blaring at top volume, can probably hazard a guess who it is driving it — and where I might be off to.

Enjoy today’s double shot and the bonus tracks I have linked in as well; I will see you again later in the week.


The Surgical Emasculation Of A Minor Problem

IF A SLEDGEHAMMER is sometimes the best way to crack a nut, then today I know what a nut must feel like; a minor problem has seen me spend a little over 24 hours in hospital, and whilst I’m all fixed up, the cure is more painful than the problem it sought to correct. None of this is unexpected or a surprise, but the experience shows that hospitals — and the afflictions that lead us to them — are places best avoided at all costs.

First things first: before I poke fun at it — and myself — I must in all seriousness minute my sincere thanks and warmest regards to the staff at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital; I have only rarely seen the inside of a hospital as a patient since I was a small child, and with the exception of the stroke-that-wasn’t-a-stroke-at-all which caused a flight diversion and a one night stay in Sydney last year, 100% of the times I have been near a hospital over the past 20 years have involved the Alfred: and if there is a better facility in Australia, or one staffed by a better and/or more dedicated team of professionals, then I’m damned if I know where it is.

These guys rock, and I am most grateful to them today; as I suggested on Tuesday, the result of having an overly generous three-year-old this year who brought an unending stream of respiratory infections home from his daycare chums has been a lot of coughing, and the accidental consequence of that was a hernia fixed up yesterday after months of procrastination, denial, and outright wilful avoidance techniques.

I’ve been busy. Truly, I have  🙂  There is not a skerrick of exaggeration in that statement.

But even if I hadn’t been so busy this year, then from April at any rate — when a cough was accompanied by a painless, innocuous “pop” — then I would have become very “busy” indeed, and very damned quickly to boot.

This game of cat and mouse reached its inevitable zenith (or nadir, depending on your perspective) at the unsociable hour of 7am yesterday, when I handed myself — belatedly — over to the custody of the good burghers of the Alfred; for an event that instinct had motivated avoidance on relatively flimsy pretexts for months, the end came not with a bang, nor a whimper, as much as a kind of meek acquiescence to the inevitable finality.

Mind you, I had given it a fair old shake since first going to my GP a month or so after I realised something wasn’t quite right; told it would be 18 months to two years on a public hospital waiting list, I was thrown right off kilter a few weeks later when the notice requiring me to attend an initial consultation a fortnight hence arrived in the post.

That consultation was delayed twice: they love Tuesday morning surgeries at the Alfred, and during this half of the year, my weekly day in Brisbane was a Tuesday.

Next came the pre-surgery consultation, a day filled with tests, consultations, more tests, more consultations, and a CT scan. No food. No coffee. That was rescheduled a couple of times too, this time on the equally valid pretext of unavoidable work commitments.

But where the Alfred started to get — well, shitty, to be frank — with me was when the initial date for my surgery (about three weeks ago) also elicited a telephone call from me to delay that as well; I had gone to Canberra and Sydney for a few days for work the day after receiving the letter with yet another minor ague from daycare, and experience told me it would be at least a fortnight before I was virus-free and up to an anaesthetic.

Needless to say, the registrar wasn’t impressed.

Did I actually have a problem? Did I, in fact, want to have it fixed? This was very minor, straightforward surgery, she said. If I was given another date and rescheduled yet again, I would be kicked off the waiting list altogether and sent to the bottom of the pile: with no guarantee of such a speedy effort to get me “the treatment” if that occurred.

If I wanted to be fixed up before Christmas, they were running out of opportunities to do it, she said.

And so, when summoned once more by letter to appear at 7am yesterday — poetically, the day after returning from yet another Canberra run — I knew I had been outsmarted, outfoxed and outplayed: after all, the natural instinct to avoid the discomfort of a surgical discombobulation was no match for the immutable need to submit, sooner or later, to precisely that unappealing experience.

Once again, no food, no coffee, no cigarettes this time either, and not much sleep, and I turned up only a few minutes beyond the decreed time, which didn’t matter for once: dozens of others were arriving at 7am too.

The anaethetist told me the first thing he was giving me was to make me “relaxed and chilled” as most people “panic at this point:” what he gave me neither relaxed me nor chilled me out, and I told him so a few minutes later when he returned to see if his administrations had worked.

“I’ll just give you a bit more then,” he said.

And that was that: the next thing I knew I was awake in recovery, feeling rather sore in the lower left-hand side of my abdomen, and a few hours later I was up and fully dressed: just like the soothing voices during the process had all solemnly assured me I would be.

Within another hour, the drip in my arm was removed, and I was able to walk around, go outside, eat, drink, smoke, talk on the phone: pretty much anything I wanted.

The food was surprisingly good; the “roast lamb” last night actually resembled roast lamb, although the vegetables with it left a bit to be desired (cabbage?); the tandoori chicken lunch they gave me before they sent me home actually resembled (you guessed it) tandoori chicken. But “breakfast,” with its rock-hard, ice-cold toast, margarine instead of butter, and tea instead of coffee, was bloody awful.

I haven’t even had all that much by way of painkillers; some ibuprofen and some paracetamol, yes, but I waved away half the oxycodone I was offered last night, and refused it altogether this morning.

And so, at time of publication, I am feeling a little sore and sorry for myself: like a nut that has been smashed by a sledgehammer, indeed.

Some will protest I should have accepted the oxycodone I was offered; I would counter that having done so during the bout of pancreatitis I alluded to on Tuesday, and having had flashbacks from childhood that were so vivid and lifelike I was on the phone constantly to family and friends asking all manner of dumb questions at all times of the night as a consequence, the “oxy” was the last thing I wanted.

In a few days, everything will settle down; I haven’t been cut up and reassembled, but simply patched up a bit.

The staff all told me I was a “model” patient, which made me feel about two feet tall as I slunk out to catch a taxi home, given the grief I had inadvertently (but nevertheless satisfactorily) caused them in getting me there to begin with.

And in an enduring continuation of an old story, there are lots of people (not least some of those stuck in the Alfred) with far worse things to deal with than I have: some of them might not see Christmas at all, let alone get to go home in time for it.

But in a few days, I will be back to post on something else altogether, be it again on Tuesday or beforehand.

And as the resident chef at my house, the next game of cat and mouse beckons: barred from heavy lifting or over-exertion for a month, I am going to have to direct much of the Christmas turkey preparation from an armchair, rather than doing it myself — as is my wont and my preference.

When it comes to resolving minor problems with a sledgehammer, that will be a delicate business…


Retro Tuesday: Looking Back To Look Forward

NEAR THE END of my busiest year in decades I find myself contemplating, again, the question I posed a year ago when I started this column: “Why begin a new blog?” After nine months of silence here (and sparse content appearing in my “legacy” column over the same period) I’m having another go at maintaining a forum looking at what makes our lives tick, and hitting “restart” today with the segment that was gaining traction before…well, before life intervened.

At first blush, the selections I’ve made for a “double shot” of video clips might seem unduly sombre, and we’ll get to those shortly; but rather than some introspective moment of insanity that’s seen me hit the keys for the first time in this column since March, let me assure readers that whilst Retro Tuesday is an ideal segment with which to launch back into this project, it is merely a moment to reflect that I am taking.

And then we will move on.

I sometimes think I must be a complete glutton for punishment, you know; my CV as it stands today boasts a full-time job, a part-time study load, a media production business I’ve occasionally picked at (despite having officially called a hiatus to), and two online opinion columns that have suffered great neglect. One, the political one we don’t talk about here, has had about a quarter of the attention it usually receives, whilst this one has had none at all in months.

But these early to middling years of my 40s are a time of change; like so many of my generation — sandwiched between our baby boomer parents to whom the world literally gave everything they ever wanted, and more, and the upstart Gen Y types some bitterly resent for their direction, drive and resolve — I turned 40 in 2012, not so much with an epiphany as with a wake-up call: if I didn’t fix things I might not just never achieve anything I wanted to achieve, but I might be dead before the penny dropped.

A stint in hospital with pancreatitis at 39, probably caused by a stone in my bile duct (visible on the first scan, but not the second) was nevertheless a clarion call to the fact I drank a bit more than I should, and that unless I reined that in, a second attack could be fatal: in the five and a half years since, I haven’t had enough “alcohol days” to even fill six months on a calendar. But even if you’re drinking below “problem” levels but still in excess of “safe” levels, and you stop, you suddenly find there’s an awful lot of things you can pack into the time you forgot existed every day — and that all of a sudden, your directions in life are that little bit divergent from the objectives you had thitherto been pursuing.

I was galvanised into action. Even if I have since packed a bit more into all that extra time than was ever realistically going to fit.

Either way, I have come a long way since the small child who, in 1980, listened to Paul McCartney’s childlike exhortations not to go jumping waterfalls: I have been doing a lot of looking backwards lately, just taking stock; that bonus track I’ve linked today is one that leapt out like a gleeful scrap of childhood when I went to find the McCartney track I actually wanted to feature, and it stopped me for a moment. It was a fleeting reminder of a time much simpler, less complicated, and more pure than the burdens we take on in adulthood will ever allow.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. I loved my childhood, but I love my adult life more. And as time-poor and compromised as we all get with the rigours of life, there’s only one thing more important than today — and that’s tomorrow.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m being too heavy on this subject, I should point out that I relish the workload I have taken on these past few years; they are my ticket to somewhere different — toward career paths that should have been pursued 20 years ago, but weren’t; toward the free indulgence of particular talents and passions that were stifled, when they shouldn’t have been. Despite being the most capable person I know (and I mean that objectively) I am also one of the least successful among that cohort, and the reason for the huge workload is to redirect myself along the paths I should always have walked, but until recently didn’t: for where ability and passion lie, so does success.

Even so, nobody tells a story in song like McCartney, and in turn, a flicker of childhood reminiscence over the Waterfalls song has elicited one from me.

But in looking back, it was the masterful work he released in 1987 that I really wanted to kick today’s retro set off with.

Why begin a new blog? The easiest answer — then as now — was the instinct to just write; it’s the one thing I have always been good at, and as 2017 largely replicates 2016 in terms of the volume and breadth of workload that has hobbled my online columns this year, it will surprise few to learn that by this time next year, I’ll be a qualified journalist and PR. I don’t intend spending a single day working as a journalist (although working as a public relations practitioner might be a different story), but the undergraduate degree I started in 1990 and stomped out of in 1992 with a little over half of it complete…to avoid being railroaded into a desperately unwanted career as a journalist or English teacher…will finally, belatedly, be mine.

And then we will see.

I’m only taking a week and a half off over Christmas; even to get that far, there’s some fun to navigate: tomorrow and Thursday in Canberra, two days in hospital on Friday and Saturday (nothing major — coughing too much from the bugs kids bring home from daycare causes hernias, you know), and then what might be an interesting week in my office recovering from it.

It’s embarrassing that readers won’t need to scroll too far back to hit the pieces I posted at and around Christmas last year: and any that choose to do so should go straight to the turkey recipe article and get ready for Boxing Day… 🙂

But what I am going to try to do — both over the festive season, and through the new year — is to not only maintain this column, but to set some balance between this and my political comment page, where I used to average six articles per week, week in, week out, attracting 100,000 visits per year in its peak years.

How long is a piece of string? If we can maintain Retro Tuesday, and perhaps an article or two per week beyond that, then hopefully this forum will grow into something that can really engage with and build audiences. Funnily enough, readership by the time I had to stop posting here had already built a head of steam, and took months to peter out even from the dozen or so articles I’d posted.

Let’s hope I can do a little better than that from here…and that brings up the second track in this week’s retro set.

If we’re having any kind of discussion involving looking back, reminiscing, or otherwise taking stock of years past, there’s a certain timeless track that simply must be included. Refreshingly, it hasn’t been as overplayed and/or abused as so many anthemic pieces of its kind. (It is also a sad reflection on the drug-fucked artist whose life and career spiralled out of control in later years beneath a chemically induced stupor, although that’s another story).

Anyhow, this is the first piece here in some time, and the flakes of rust are probably evident. I will be back, but if my little field trip to the Alfred Hospital knocks the wind out of my sails more than I expect (or am prepared to allow), it may be Retro Tuesday before I next have something to say.

In the meantime — enjoy. And remember…


Retro Tuesday, And Back To The Grind

THIS WEEK marks the recommencement of a sporadic, purpose-centric need for me to hop on a plane for a day per week, most weeks, for a couple of months; not frightfully onerous — albeit a little frightening late last year — the opportunity presents to revisit Retro Tuesday with an aviation flavour, and to elicit (I’m sure) some groans and cringes from the depths of readers’ memories: if, that is, they are old enough to remember at all.

Last year — as I continued a process of rounding out the Communications side of my CV — I recommenced a university degree I abandoned more than 20 years earlier; not wishing to be pushed into careers in either journalism or teaching, and annoyed at being stopped from transferring to a law degree (a story in itself, although in hindsight I’m glad I never became a lawyer) I dispensed with the further incursion of fees, and set out in a different direction altogether.

The problem was that with two-thirds of a degree complete, and on account of the passage of time since getting that far, the only place that would recognise what I had already finished was the same university I’d been an undergraduate at in the early 1990s: and so, in a highly unorthodox arrangement, I started flying in and out of Brisbane to go to the University of Queensland one day each week.

At least, that was the theory: three weeks into the 12-week semester, I had a stroke scare on my flight back to Melbourne very late one Tuesday night; and whilst it turned out I hadn’t had a stroke (or a so-called TIA) at all — I eventually became the 24th confirmed diagnosis worldwide of the perfectly harmless ear condition Baroparesis facialis, in which air in a defective Eustachian tube expands at altitude to crush the facial nerve, looking like a stroke but in fact having no connection whatsoever to such a frightening affliction — and after a diverted flight to Sydney, a night in the Prince of Wales Hospital, and a visit to a cardiologist the following week in Melbourne, I was cleared to fly again a fortnight after that terrifying mid-air event.

And it was a good thing I was, for had I not gone near another aircraft for a while, I might still be walking around thinking (wrongly) that I had had a stroke: at exactly the same point in the climb out of Melbourne Airport that the first incident had occurred at during the flight coming the other way two weeks earlier, the same thing happened: it was the big clue my doctors needed to go looking for a non-stroke cause, and after a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket and myriad tests later, we quickly identified the unusual culprit.

Even so, a certain airline predicated on white aeroplanes that may or may not feature red tails depicting airborne marsupials refused to let me fly again after the second incident until a further medical clearance had been obtained (which took six weeks) and after my day at the Uni on that occasion, I spent two days driving back to Melbourne down the Newell Highway, and was not a pleasant encounter by the time I got my car out of the car park at Melbourne Airport 1,150 miles later.

I have always loved flying, but traditionally, it has scared the hell out of me.

I don’t know why: when we were kids, there were several family trips to visit relatives who used to live in Sydney, and I was never frightened on those; I have always attributed the later fear of flying to a 13-year gap between the last of the family trips and the first one undertaken on my own, by which time it seemed in many respects I’d never been on an aircraft.

To say I routinely fronted up at various airports across Australia (and occasionally, across the world) in a rare old state is to undersell the matter; on one occasion, after attending a wedding in Brisbane, there was some suggestion check-in staff contemplated calling security on me — such was my state of agitation.

Even trips to the UK (including landing into Hong Kong in the middle of a typhoon) failed to cure me of this totally irrational phobia.

Yet ever since the events of last August — and I’ve taken another half-dozen return trips since then — I’ve suddenly found myself so preoccupied with monitoring the state of my facial muscles that I don’t even worry about flying any more; perhaps that sounds perverse, given my observations are basically aimed at ascertaining whether half my face collapses or not, and if it does to accost flight staff for an oxygen bottle (which arights the symptoms by imitating ground pressure).

But I got through one semester unscathed in the end — and two of the nine missing subjects for my degree to the good — and it starts again on Thursday, with eight days spread over 13 weeks until the end of May, and another two of the now-remaining seven (from 24 in total) lined up to be knocked over.

My six-year-old daughter loves aeroplanes (and has already had a couple of trips to Tasmania to see my parents) and when she was very little, we used to watch a YouTube clip together just before she went to bed each night; music — and colourful images — have always been a big hit with her, so the idea of watching something together was an obvious one that was instantly popular.

One of the first was this piece…


…which must surely rank as one of the most uber-commercial pop songs of the 1960s; I always used to give my daughter a choice of the “air balloon” version embedded above (which, helpfully, has the words dubbed across it so you can sing along) or the “aeroplane” version, which you can access here featuring a collage of all the planes Trans-Australia Airlines used to fly before it was absorbed as the domestic arm of Qantas.

And that brings up today’s Retro Tuesday double shot: not another aviation-themed pop song this time, or something else by The Fifth Dimension, but a thoroughly cringeworthy voyage down memory lane to what once used to pass for the the very best output from the Australian advertising industry: the same industry in which I’ve spent most of the 20+ years since departing from the Uni in the first place.

Get. A. Look. At. This.



Needless to say (dating as it does, I believe, from about 1972) it looks like the archaeological relic it is; quite aside from the poor image quality (to say nothing of the quaint black-and-white format) it contains things that wouldn’t be tolerated (or permitted) these days for an instant.

The dirty businessman perving on the stewardess’ derriere as she walks down the aisle, for instance.

And it goes without saying that today’s Boeing 737s, A320s and A330s offer far more comfort and a smoother flight than TAA’s manky old DC9s and Boeing 727s ever did.

“Up, Up and Away” was also used by the now-defunct US airline TWA in television commercials back in the early 70s — which makes sense — and the TWA version made very different use of the audio track; readers can check out one incarnation of the TWA advertising here. (I believe the aircraft featured is a Douglas DC8, although someone might be able to verify that call made with not-a-very-good-look at the thing).

For mine, I’m going to ensure my kids experience regular air travel as they grow up (which, thanks to tickets today costing a fraction of what they did decades ago, is very possible) in an attempt to ensure neither of them develops a silly phobia about flying.

And for my part, another semester — which will be over before anyone can blink — has given us a perfect opportunity for a trip down memory lane today, and I hope people have enjoyed it.

For a little extra bonus, check this out: one of the best airline advertisements I can ever recall, this predates the marvellous “I Still Call Australia Home” campaign by Qantas that endured for more than a decade, and sits in the period between TAA closing and Qantas Domestic taking off (no pun intended) as an entity in its own right. I was 14 when that campaign was launched, and I still think it deserves its place in anyone’s retro call of old Australian television advertising.

It just goes to show what’s possible when the creative for an airline commercial is really, really well executed. After all, here we are 30 years later, watching it all over again…


Carlton vs Essendon: 2.05pm, Sunday 28 February, Princes Park

MICKEY MOUSE FOOTBALL as the pre-season competition is, the fixture is irresistibly mouth-watering: Carlton, taking on ancient enemy Essendon, in the traditional afternoon timeslot on a Sunday and at a home ground that was once the most feared citadel in Australian football. With both teams struggling — for different reasons — both are likely to field full “strength” sides in what will be the first great battle fought out at Princes Park in over a decade.

Resolutely committed to the abolition of the so-called pre-season football competition as I am whenever the subject arises, I find myself — unbelievably — very excited indeed at the prospect of an NAB Cup match this Sunday afternoon.

Like a large slice of the football public and as the traditionalist I am, I see no value in a bastardised form of the greatest game on the planet; to me, the AFL can put its “super goals” and trial rules and every other distasteful aspect of the annual four-week farce of the NAB Cup where the sun doesn’t shine, and instead tack an extra month onto the regular home-and-away season if it seriously believes its own rhetoric about providing additional value to all the stakeholders tied up in the AFL.

After all, the players won’t be asked to play more: they’re expected to play (or be fit to do so) in the NAB Cup anyway; they won’t need to be paid more, for the same reason; the season won’t grind on inexorably under a consequent injury cloud — not only do the players, again, face the expectation of playing pre-season games, but an extra bye during the season would rest bodies — and the broadcasters, who already do quite nicely from both the regular season and the extra exposure the NAB Cup provides, would in fact get a bit more bang for their buck out of extra games of “proper” football.

As cringeworthy as it is in one sense and as satisfactory as it is in another, these two sides meet — even in a Mickey Mouse game — with their prospects for the season ahead in tatters before it starts.

My own beloved Navy Blues are on their knees — again — for not the first (or even second or third) time in the past 15 years; a last-placed finish last year as the end destination of refusing to structurally rebuild the playing list over decades, preferring instead patchwork topping-up in the quest for instant gratification and glory, saw the club finally get real about the modern AFL environment.

Having 15 new players, the brightest senior coaching prospect to emerge anywhere in Australian football in at least a decade in Brendon Bolton, and other key personnel (list manager Stephen Silvagni, Football head and Premiership hero Andy McKay, President Mark LoGuidice at al) either arrive at the club or consolidate their positions means that 30 years after the VFL bolted a couple of interstate sides on and called itself a national competition, the realities of a draft and salary cap are being embraced.

Finally, a team that can contend for a flag in 3-5 years’ time is being assembled from the ground up: that will take time, and the 15 new players in 2016 are merely the first of perhaps another two substantial injections of fresh talent before the job requires only fine-tuning thereafter.

As you would expect, the team the Blues have announced for Sunday’s match has a lot of holes: it is top-heavy, as most of the new players this year are key position players; it is weak in the midfield, as Carlton’s best midfield players are sidelined this week for various reasons; it is very much an inexperienced side, not least as Carlton’s five top-20 draft picks from last year will all make their first appearances for the club; and it isn’t setting the football media on fire, although the reactive Melbourne sports press is more interested in jumping onto bandwagons rather than pre-empting their arrival, which means that any of the new names to be featured will attract sufficient attention quickly enough once they start to perform on a sustained basis.

But if all of that’s a problem, and even though the thoroughly lamentable win-loss record last year (and probably this) is offset by the big and authentic dose of hope Bolton and his new recruits have ushered into the place, a poor year on-field is a good problem to have when it coincides with the solid importation of hordes of the best young talent in the country over the next two or three years.

Essendon, of course, has other problems.

To say the God-forsaken Essendon Football Club has been a bit naughty of recent times is an understatement; now sharing the dubious bragging rights only with a Sydney rugby league club as the perpetrator of one of the worst and most widespread abuses of performance-enhancing substances in Australian sporting history, Essendon has spent its off-season trading in decent draft picks to bolster its eventual playing stocks, and trading in a batch of ageing rejects (mostly from other clubs’ past Premierships sides) to cover the gaping chasm left by the year-long suspension of 12 of its best players by the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA).

Essendon would have you believe they’re no worse than we were 15 years ago, ensnared in a salary cap rorting program for which Carlton was heavily punished (and from which some — myself included — don’t think it has ever really recovered).

But as I have said many times, a scandal around paying players under the table is one thing, not that I condone it for a minute, but a scandal around pumping illegal substances into players to give them an unfair advantage, distort the AFL competition and blatantly cheat, is reprehensible. Readers can peruse this article, from my political comment website, which was published in the aftermath of the WADA suspensions being sanctioned.

And so — when it’s all said and done, coming back to the confrontation at Princes Park on Saturday — it is fair to say there will be no love lost between the teams and their supporters, and for my part I think the only fitting outcome is to see the hated cross-town rival’s collective nose ground squarely into the sacred Princes Park turf.

And this brings up the real attraction of the Sunday “mockbuster” between two teams faring poorly, for different reasons, but which will be nonetheless dripping with spite.

When I was growing up in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s, God hadn’t at that time invented the Brisbane Bears (please, try not to laugh at the mention of their name) and even once he had, in 1986, the old habit of barracking for a VFL side was far too strongly ingrained for me to be remotely interested in the local add-on to the VFL, which in any case I thought had no right to even exist.

In 1982, during the football finals’ season shared by both the VFL and the various rugby codes that were endemic in Queensland, I was approached at school shortly after Carlton won the VFL flag by a posse of surly, stout beefcakes. “Which football team do you support?” they demanded menacingly.

“Carlton,” I responded, beaming, and quickly deduced that that was not the correct answer, for before I realised it I was running — quite literally — for my life, with these three clods in hot pursuit. Even now, almost 35 years later, I shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn’t managed to outrun them. It wasn’t the first time barracking for a VFL side in a rugby state got me into trouble. It wouldn’t be the last, either. But that is another story.

What I wanted, more than anything, was to be able to go to the ground these matches were played at: no small wish, given we lived in Brisbane and the VFL (obviously) was played in Melbourne; but there was always something magical about the idea of Princes Park, whether glimpses of it were caught on the late night replays VFL matches were relegated to in Queensland back in those days, or whether commentators were heard talking about it on live radio broadcasts.

It was, in my view of all things Carlton, a field of dreams.

Many years later of course, I would kiss that turf the first time I watched a match there after moving to Melbourne; even that event was delayed, for having moved south with “the wrong girl” and taken her to the football one day in 1998, the prospect of a standing room only ticket (which was all that was left when we arrived) was anathema to her, and we went straight back home.

Carlton walloped St Kilda that day, too, which made the slight doubly difficult to digest.

But with “the wrong girl” and I having parted ways at the end of my first year in Melbourne, almost every week a Carlton home game was played at Princes Park (by then, of course, known as Optus Oval) from the following year until the administration of Ian Collins sold the ground out from underneath the club as a playing venue, I was there.

I soon found myself integrated into a little group of diehard local Carlton supporters (who remain close and valued friends even now) and every week we did the trudge: either a train to Flinders Street and a tram ride up Royal Parade, or someone would drive, and we’d do battle with the draconian parking restrictions around the Princes Park precinct.

I loved the place: from being able to smoke in the stands (thank you, John Elliott) to the arcane festival atmosphere provided by Captain Carlton in his hovercraft, a dodgy old scoreboard, ancient stands, and beer and hot dogs served from truly archaic catering outlets, I revelled in the history of the place and felt privileged that even in its 11th hour I had been able to enjoy a few years of both the good and the bad that was everything Carlton on its timeless own turf.

Making up for lost time, I was at Princes Park to see some of the most memorable moments of the twilight of Carlton’s playing days at that wonderful ground.

I was there on the infamous day Geelong’s Darren Milburn knocked out club hero Silvagni with a crude high bump in round 22, 2001, and watched in horror as Milburn followed up that effort by almost inciting a riot, clapping the angry pro-Carlton crowd and laughing at it as he was dragged to the bench by his coach; the enraged chant of “Kill the c*nt! Kill the c*nt!” that rang out around the ground as Silvagni lay convulsing on the turf capped off a shameful afternoon for which nobody ever forgave Milburn. Carlton won by 70 points.

I was there, too, the Antarctic afternoon earlier that season on which a 74-point belting by Carlton flicked a switch for the miserable Brisbane Lions, who had inconsistently sputtered their way to four wins and three losses heading into the round 8 match; that humiliation on Royal Parade galvanised the Lions, who would win 13 of the next 14 games — and the 2001 flag — in its aftermath, and for the second consecutive year the Blues would finish the season wondering what might have been.

I was there the day Scott Camporeale and Craig Bradley ran riot against Port Adelaide in 2000, racking up almost 90 disposals between them in a 91-point shellacking.

I was there a couple of weeks after the Brisbane match in 2001 to see Carlton surgically dismantle the West Coast Eagles by 119 points, and remember a day earlier that year on which the Eagles’ own cross-town rival, Fremantle, could manage just a single point during a first quarter that saw the Blues boot 9.5 to lead by 58 points at the first break.

I was there in round 18, 2000 — a game billed as “The Last Suburban Battle” between Carlton and its other sworn enemy Collingwood, as a scheduling quirk saw a game that should have been played at the much larger MCG unfold at Princes Park — to see a tasty 20-goal mauling of the old foe; unbeknown to so few of us and despite a reasonable year in 2001, we were witnessing the last moments of Carlton’s glorious history for many years, as the salary cap scandal and a raft of penalties hit the club in 2002 and sent it tumbling in a spiral it has never really recovered from.

I was there every week between 2002 and 2004, as the scene of so many triumphs over almost 1,000 games became the site of so much navy blue carnage as the club fell down the ladder and stayed there, in its darkest hour, as the salary cap penalties combined with a team of mostly second-rate recruits ushered in almost a decade of misery.

And I was there, the desperately sad day in 2005 that saw us play our final home game at Princes Park, losing to Melbourne despite winning the final quarter by 40 points in what at three-quarter time threatened to be a blowout, trailing as we did by 57 points at the final change.

Whilst it wasn’t played at Princes Park, one of the final moments of glory in Carlton’s recent history was the 1999 preliminary final — which I also saw — at which the Blues terminated the season of Essendon, which thought it was going to march right over the top of us into a Grand Final and that year’s flag; even though the Bombers would do precisely that one year later, the one-point victory to secure a grand final berth, as the legendary Anthony Koutoufides led Carlton to one of its finest wins of all time, is a cherished moment both as a Carlton supporter and in a timeless hatred of a bitter adversary.


The last 15 minutes of that wonderful game can be watched, uninterrupted, here.

On Sunday at 2pm — a traditional afternoon game in a traditional afternoon timeslot — football, Carlton and the hated enemy Essendon all return to the best ground in Australian football for what promises to be at once a grudge match, a glimpse at the likely prospects of both sides for 2016, and a wonderful throwback to the old Melburnian tradition of a day at the football.

20,000 people are expected to turn out. It goes without saying that I will be one of them. And my six-year-old daughter — already a committed Carlton supporter — will probably be there too.

I can’t wait.


Retro Tuesday: The Year Celebrity Died?

FROM DAVID BOWIE to Glenn Frey, the first days of 2016 have seen an extraordinary number of well known, much-loved international celebrities pass on; the trend concurs with the ageing of the Baby Boomer generation — on whose watch the phenomenon of “celebrity” first appeared — and most of those who have succumbed in recent days are part of that generation. Is 2016 the year celebrity died?

I had intended to publish this piece very late last night, in time to catch readers over their coffee, but time beat me to the punch; in some respects I am pleased it did, although not for particularly pleasant reasons, for the day has brought the news of the passing of former Eagles singer and guitarist Glenn Frey at the age of 67.

2016 is shaping as one of those years — for all the wrong reasons — when it comes to high profile entertainment figures taking their final curtain; just nine days ago the world was shocked by the passing of David Bowie (or “Ziggy Stardust” as he was wont to be called) and since then British actor Alan Rickman and former Grizzly Adams actor Dan Haggerty have passed on as well.

All of them died in their late 60s — the generation of my parents — and indeed, some of these gentlemen were older than my own father, who will turn 68 in April. Frey is six months younger than my father. A very dear friend of mine who I unfortunately don’t see much of these days thanks to the tyranny of distance lost his own father a few weeks ago at just 66. It’s a sobering thought, and a reminder that as wonderful as life is there are some horrible certainties that come with the deal: and as those who know me often hear me remark, we’re not 18 and invincible any more. I’m 43. You never know when the supply of “tomorrows” will finally run out.

Of the four, Frey provided me with what I thought, in the flush of youth, was a song that might have been written for me: setting aside another personal epithet in the form of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” (and no, I’ve never been known for an abundance of subtlety), a more positive anthem arrived in 1986 in the form of “You Belong To The City” — and I am, by my own admission and the ready assent of those around me, the ultimate “big city boy.”

The point of the passage of time is underscored by the barely believable realisation, as I write, that that smashing 1986 hit is 30 years old this year; old enough to stand on its own two feet if it were human, to vote, fight in a war, get married and have kids. Perhaps the analogy is a little silly, but the 14-year-old whose life revolved around the weekly Top 50 chart, relishing the ridicule that accompanied reading the political section of the newspaper every morning before school in full sight of school buddies to stay abreast of the world’s events, watching reruns of Doctor Who, and illicitly following the Carlton Football Club in the rugby league town I grew up in (to follow Australian Rules football in Queensland back in the 1980s was to risk a belting) seems like a kid I embodied just the metaphorical five minutes ago.

It’s hard not to make the link between the big names who have departed this month and the Baby Boomer generation, whose eldest members grew up watching the very earliest rock and roll acts in the late 1950s just as they were hitting their teenage years; these were the people whose adolescence and early adulthood coincided with phenomena such as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys — all now gone or, to be unkind, going — and whose relatively early years spanned the disco age of the 1970s and saw in the mad, greedy 1980s with its big hair, big sounds, and have-it-at-any-cost consumer culture and Yuppiedom.

In fact, it isn’t a stretch to suggest the whole contemporary cult of celebrity is a construct of, and a (dubious) legacy from, the Baby Boomer generation.

But I can’t recall the last time so many big name stars died in such rapid succession; certainly, none of these passings is in the same league as, say, Princess Diana, and the best precedent that springs immediately to mind was the passing of Australian identity Steve Irwin and motor racing legend Peter Brock, four days apart, a decade ago this September coming.

People will have their own reflections on some or all (or maybe even none) of the figures who’ve taken a bow this month, but what makes these people special — and they are just people, we must remember, before anyone ascribes immortality to any of them — is the way their work provides bookmarks in our own lives where the two overlap, in the way we remember a moment we watched a movie “with” them, or how one of their songs accurately and uncannily mirrored a certain phase, good or bad, as we went about our business.

Certainly, these people (and any who follow them into involuntary final retirement) will live on; and just as those closest to them will remember them personally, the rest of us will ensure their public faces continue to be seen and heard even after they have left the stage.

But is the cult of celebrity dying? Hardly, for I believe it’s one of the least desirable bequests our parents have lumped us with. But perhaps this is the time when a disproportionate number of its earliest practitioners disappear from the land of the living.

It’s a salutary reminder that time is marching on; and it brings up today’s double shot — giving the final word, no less, to Bowie.

It seems fitting — even as everyone seems to have their own perfect Bowie song of the month this month, and so many of them are called “Major Tom” — to put one of his more thoughtful works in motion on the subject of change; Bowie’s pithy, wistful reflections on the tribulations of life seem apt, and without further comment today, I’ll leave readers to their own thoughts as they listen to it now.