Not Chicken With White Stripes! There Are Better Things To Eat

AN ALARMIST piece from a serially paternalistic news outlet — published in February, now being recirculated — warns of the evils of chicken breasts with stripes: apparently, the danger is not the meat, but the fact it is battery farmed. Whilst this column would never recommend battery-reared chicken, those with a responsibility to report news should chill out. In any case, there are better options if such sensationalist rubbish really turns you off your chook.

You know it really is the silly season — and that even the silliest of news sites are scraping the bottom of the barrel for content — when the Twitter feeds and home pages of publications everywhere start reposting their “favourite moments” of (insert year here); there is a lot of subjective rubbish making a comeback thanks to this practice during these final few days of 2017, but for sheer crassness, something from one of Britain’s news portals really takes the biscuit.

Stop eating chicken breasts with white stripes. Immediately,” screams the tagline on a tweet by The Independent, that even-handed, fair-minded, “independent” journal out of my beloved UK.

If it sounds like I’m being sarcastic there is a very good reason, because — back when I was publishing my currently mothballed political comment site — The Independent was a trusty go-to source for one-sided political “analysis” and comment; rank anti-Tory rants; a refusal to give credit where it was due, if doing so involved crediting a conservative of any description; and the entire moralising, finger-shaking diatribe so typical of the all-knowing, “intellectually superior” Left, whose actual superiority is non-existent and which, in this case, invariably misrepresented “independent” as a synonym for “impartial.” (There are plenty of other allegedly “independent” news organisations globally that do the same thing, just to be fair about it).

It should surprise nobody, therefore, that this finger-shaking goodness should extend beyond politics to…well, to…chicken. Readers can peruse The Independent‘s article about chicken — which it says is “loved for its leanness, adaptability and inoffensiveness” — here.

Inoffensiveness, indeed…it’s a bit like the kettle complaining because it’s blacker than the pot.

The two-sentence version of The Independent‘s article is: Chicken breasts with stripes of white fat running through them are from battery hens. Battery farming is bad, and therefore you must stop eating chicken immediately.

No health risk. No exotic disease of Chicken White Stripe or something similarly ghastly; just an agenda to push, and the same high-handed, prescriptive approach to food as the one The Independent takes to all things political.

The voluntary vegetarian and vegan communities — not the ones who don’t eat meat for cultural or health reasons, but who choose to do so because it fits a political agenda — will be cock-a-hoop, of course; The Independent strikes a blow for the cause! (As they will all likely sit around afterwards and sing Kum-Ba-Ya together, however, the rest of us can leave them to it and get on with a discussion more securely based on common sense and sanity).

Mind you, I’d never recommend eating battery-reared chicken; for me it isn’t a question of the farming methods (although, clearly, any animal reared in such a fashion is hardly going to yield a premium product) but of quality and taste. The few times I have been unfortunate enough to eat intensively produced chicken the taste difference is enough to make me wonder whether it was past its use-by date when it was cooked.

And I’m not deaf to the argument that battery cages are cruel: note, per the previous paragraph, that I vote with my feet.

But there are people — millions of people — who, to have the opportunity to eat chicken at all, have no choice; not everyone is able to afford free range, organically reared chickens that cost two or three times the price of something out of the refrigerator cabinet at Sainsbury’s or Coles.

There are other people — tens or hundreds of millions of people — who would give literally anything for the opportunity to eat battery-reared chickens, or in fact anything at all, and these would be undernourished and starving inhabitants of third world countries that virtue signal factories like The Independent loudly proclaim their “compassion” for…at all other times bar a discussion involving the henchman-esque crusade against battery farmed chicken.

And all that aside, what about the good old-fashioned concept of consumer choice, whereby those who want to buy intensively produced products are free to do so, and those who don’t are free to do something else?

What about those people who just want to buy a cheap chook?

Never fear, says the Indy, for there aren’t any health risks to the pinstriped chicken — but “let’s hope more restaurants and supermarkets avoid factory-farmed birds.”

Quite. And with that brilliant declaration, we’ll move on.

There are worse things to worry about in the world of consumable poultry than factory farming; as the UK begins to feel its way through the likely substance and texture of its trading relationships once its exit from the European Union is finalised, one of the issues it has to consider is whether — in return for its goods and services being openly received into the United States — American poultry farmers should be allowed to flood the British market with chicken treated with high levels of antibiotics during rearing and rinsed in chlorine solution during processing and packing.

I know what I’d prefer.

Here in southern Australia, I can buy a free-range chicken grown in Bannockburn, near Geelong, that isn’t full of chemicals or antibiotics and is processed with iced water, not the chlorine bath, and it only costs about half as much again as its cousin in the supermarket freezer. Money well spent.

If British consumers are worried, of course, they’re close enough to France to buy the best: Poulet de Bresse, renowned across Europe and globally as the very best chicken in the world, but which is priced accordingly (upwards of £20 per kilogram in London markets I am told).

In chicken terms, the Poulet de Bresse is a veritable Rolls-Royce. (Picture: Wikipedia)

But even in Britain, there are plenty of other things people can eat beside chicken, which The Independent helpfully advises “is no longer as good for us as it once was;” British beef — forget about the stuff from Ireland — is seriously good eating, and a match for our clean, grass-fed Australian product. The cold waters around the UK produce a sensational array of seafood. British game — deer, rabbits, and of course, all the game birds such as pheasants and grouse and woodcock — are first-rate.

Seriously, should we have a campaign against the local fish and chippery because it might sell a piece of fish that was farmed?

Newspapers have a responsibility to report news fairly, responsibly and accurately. That includes their social media trails. The article I have shared today stretches a point to qualify on any of those grounds. It should more properly have been published as an advertorial for Compassion in World Farming — a group whose campaign the “story” is clearly designed to advance.

So if your chook has white stripes on its breasts and this scares the shit out of you, do the only sensible thing you can, and just eat it.

And if you don’t feel inclined to do so (and when it comes to the taste of battery chicken, I wouldn’t blame you) then a roasted venison loin with dauphinoise potatoes, braised red cabbage and all the trimmings would be my recommendation — if the histrionics of The Independent (and many others like it) haven’t scared you away from eating good red meat as well.

After all, the last thing we need is more vegans on the loose.



Five Ways To Escape Hollywood These Holidays

AT A LOSS for something to watch? Sick of formulaic clap-trap with a “plot” you know ends heroically — no matter the title? Stuck at home dodging “festive” crowds, or taking a break away somewhere and looking for something to fill in a rainy day or a bit of solitude in which to catch your breath? They may not be the most recent releases, but here are five viewing choices that may add an “accidental discovery” to your DVD library, and a little lustre to your time off.

If you’re like me (and I say this from a southern hemispheric perspective), the Christmas period is the very worst time of the year to take time off work. People in their thousands, sky-high prices and searing summer heat are, in my view, a recipe that is not conducive to personal enjoyment in any way — no matter how much “Christmas cheer” is consumed to soften the blow.

I have never been much of a fan of what emanates from the Hollywood firmament and the predictable, formulaic methodology that seems to underpin virtually everything it produces, and all of what it produces when it comes to non-fiction material; having said that, and somewhat perversely, my favourite movie of all time is an American production, and for anyone who hasn’t ever seen it I can thoroughly recommend it.

But really, who could be seriously captivated with a formula consisting of:

  • Everything is just fine and dandy;
  • A really big, “evil” problem suddenly appears out of nowhere;
  • A hero (often just some glorified meathead) similarly emerges out of thin air to deal with it;
  • There is a colossal struggle to overcome the “evil” problem…
  • (…and a gratuitous sex scene — because that’s just what happens…);
  • Good triumphs over “evil,” of course — it’s “The American Way;” and
  • Everything is just fine and dandy once again. Hallelujah!

This kind of idiot simplicity might reap the big bucks at the box office, but it is hardly stimulating or mentally challenging.

When it comes to viewing preferences, mine are distinctly British and European; I know a lot of people who think of subtitled content and say “eewww, I couldn’t watch something like that:” these would be people who opt to miss out on some of the best content available, and it’s a shame.

But these unfortunates aside, today I’m sharing five easily-acquired options for watching something far, far better than the standard drivel from Hollywood these holidays; all can be bought from JB HiFi or online from, and — happily — all of this stuff is eminently binge-worthy, so you will be able to shut yourself away for hours if you really want to.

Is there sex and violence? Of course there is. Is there bad language? Certainly. But credible storylines count for an awful lot too, and in any case, the intemperate language and scantily-clad characters in some of these actually sit naturally in those plot lines — rather than the gratuitous inclusion of the “interesting bits” in American material so shallow it’d be impossible to drown in it if it were a wading pool.

Today’s recommendations aren’t necessarily recent, but I am certain most readers will never have heard of them, let alone seen them, so we are on safe ground in this regard.

So here we go. In no particular order, starting with

1. House of Cards (the proper version)

It is hard to believe the first instalment of this was released in 1990, and even harder to believe that its first screening coincided with the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; the material has stood the test of time surprisingly well, and while there are a few pointers to its vintage — big 80s/90s hairstyles, landline telephones with dials rather than buttons, and an appearance by “Princess Diana” — this is as relevant today as it was the day it was made.

What is even harder to believe is that so few people (in Australia at least) have ever heard of this, let alone seen it: if you mix in political circles as I sometimes do, “everyone” has long known and loved House of Cards, which is actually a trilogy of miniseries (House of Cards, To Play the King, The Final Cut), but that’s a comparatively small group when you consider the millions who don’t even know it exists.

Yet “everyone” in the broader sense knows all about the American remake featuring the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey and his co-star, Robyn Wright; for something that was supposed to be a sympathetic remake that kept fidelity with its British forebear, the US “version” of House of Cards ran off the rails somewhere in the middle of its third season, and lost all credibility completely within another season or so of that, with its silly storylines of talking to the President of Russia (the quaintly-named Victor Petrov — now there’s a not-so-bright allusion to a real person) through a drain in the bathroom, or the imbecilic notion of a husband-wife team of President and Vice-President of the United States.

“Proper” House of Cards features the devilish, love-to-hate-him, hate-to-love-him Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart — “FU” — at the top of a stellar British cast including Diane Fletcher, Susannah Harker, Colin Jeavons and Nick Brimble, and unlike its unfortunate US counterpart, the storylines remain credible from start to finish. The investment of $20 for a copy of the whole thing at JB HiFi will be money well spent, and an experience that you will revisit again, and again, and again…

2. Maison Close

If it’s sex you want, this thrilling period drama certainly delivers; set in a brothel in post-revolutionary France, this multi-layered story examines themes of the exploitation of women set against a backdrop of the wider struggle for control of French society during a turbulent period in France’s history that is authentically represented in painstaking detail in the execution of this production.

Remarkably, only two seasons of Maison Close were ever made: the first — released in late 2010 — was warmly received to critical acclaim, triggering a rapid commitment by producer StudioCanal to a second series; by the time the second aired three years later, much of the following garnered by the first had predictably dissipated, as people moved onto other things, and despite better dramatic values than the original, the ratings did not warrant a third.

Forget about the sexual content — this is some seriously compelling viewing, and features masterful performances from French actresses including Catherine Hosmalin, the underrated Blandine Bellavoir, and French-British star Jemima West. The grimy splendour, the suspense and power plays and carefully-constructed characters, well portrayed by a capable cast, make Maison Close an experience that is very difficult to stop watching. Look for this one online at Amazon.

3. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Based on the true story of the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany, this film — starring Julia Jentsch in the title role — is a chilling reminder of the paranoia of Germany’s Third Reich and its heavy-handed readiness to smash a nut into oblivion with a sledgehammer.

It is impossible to watch this film without feeling a deep empathy for and affinity with Sophie (or Sophia) Scholl, the anti-Nazi heroine whose words struck terror into the very heart of the Nazi firmament; convicted of high treason for publishing a leaflet, the show trial depicted in this grimly realistic production would almost be laughable were it not for its factual basis. The penalties it doled out were completely out of proportion.

This should be a depressing, almost unwatchable piece; in truth, I am prepared to admit to being haunted by it. But it is also something which warrants repeat viewing: at least once to fully absorb the sheer lunacy of the regime that terrorised Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and then to marvel in horrified revulsion at just how barbaric and monstrous human nature is capable of being. This film is part documentary, part eminently watchable drama, and part warning: for those who forget the lessons of history are bound to repeat them.

4. The Closet (La Placard)

For something a whole lot lighter, this delightful comedy — featuring Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil and Michelle Laroque — is a quintessentially French take on workplace relations, office politics, and a politically incorrect use of minority status (being a gay man) to get what you want.

For once in his career, Depardieu plays very much a secondary role to the primary hero of The Closet — Francois, played by Auteuil — whose character, set to be run out of his job after a broken marriage exacts its inevitable toll on his performance at work, is the bumbling, awkward star of the show.

This is a movie during which it is difficult to stop laughing, and it’s a testament to the calibre of this French production that the subtitles are barely noticeable. And with an eye to the timeless Laroque, an actress who embodies the stereotype that France has more beautiful women who remain beautiful for much longer, it’s impossible to argue that Francois doesn’t come out on top in this brilliant little tale of how to play the game and win.

5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (again, the proper version)

Anyone who thinks it’s impossible to get it right the first time should think again — and anyone who believes Hollywood does it better even after someone else gets it right will quickly think twice after watching the original Swedish adaptation of this electrifying piece of crime fiction and its sequels, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked A Hornet’s Nest.

This movie was remade in Hollywood some years after the original, and was quite deservedly a flop; forget the formula: if there is one thing the Swedes (and Scandinavians generally) do well, it’s crime drama. Brutal, confronting and dark, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo offers the refreshing take on a whodunnit investigated not by a policeman, but a journalist (played by Michael Nyqvist); its unlikely heroine — Lisbeth, portrayed by Noomi Rapace — is, with her tattoos and piercings and bad skin, about as far removed from some vacuous bimbette Hollywood stereotype as you could ever find.

If you are looking for a seriously well-spent day in front of the TV, all three of these movies can be purchased instore at JB for about $35 in total and — like the other selections I am showcasing here today — represent money that will be very well spent indeed.

Just to be clear, there are plenty of other options we could be talking about today: even just in keeping with the Scandinavian theme I could as easily highlight any or all of The Killing, The Bridge, the Department Q Trilogy, Kurt Wallander or Borgen (and if anyone is of a mind to go looking for those, they will quickly see that the roster of Scandinavian talent appears on high rotation through these different productions).

What are you watching these holidays? I’d love to know. And if there are other options in a similar vein that people may find truly riveting — feel free to let us know.


Third Time Lucky, Or Could This Be The Last Time?

FOR A THIRD consecutive year — albeit later than I made it back here last December — I find myself looking at what could have been a regular column with a growing readership; but the money has to be earned somewhere, and right now, that isn’t here. Even so, chatting about “stuff that happens” remains a reasonable concept. As the winds of change continue blowing strongly in my world, for a third time we’ll see if the column might yet become a regular thing.

I should begin by wishing readers as they trickle back a belated Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the new year that is now just four days away; 2017 has been an excellent year for me — representing a colossal leap forward in terms of my personal goals — and 2018 is looming as a similarly great advance, with the winds of change continuing to blow as they have for the past few years now, but showing signs of really gaining strength from this point.

Those who’ve been through the first two attempts with me to get this column to fly — a purely personal, spare time project literally for the love of writing and telling a story — know that twice, just as a head of steam began to form in terms of building momentum, circumstance intervened; not one to do anything by halves, the breadth of my various workloads has meant that something had to give, and twice now, that something has unfortunately been this column.

But before I get to that, a few pieces of housekeeping…

Despite the fact I’ve already shown a bit of a penchant for posting lots of links to clips, especially to music, I’m loathe to post the same thing twice; even so — and just because it’s been so long since my last article, and given my sails continue to billow with the breeze of the new — I’m sharing one of the tracks I originally posted when I first started the “Retro Tuesday” segment back in 2015 a second time today.

There are some readers who have approached me privately since I last published something here back in January, wondering where I had gone; since May, some of them have also noticed that my “legacy” political comment column had also disappeared; and a couple of really sharp pairs of eyes even noticed that that last article, on 7 January, seemed to disappear altogether.

My other column is voluntarily suspended — for now — on account of a conflict of interest that arose; it was no longer appropriate, for reasons I won’t detail here, to both publish political commentary and to pursue conflicting activities. I didn’t mind suspending it indefinitely, but one thing really hurt: my last article in that column in May predicted a romping victory for Britain’s Conservative Party in the general election it had called…and two days after I placed the site behind a privacy wall, the Tories made a near-fatal suicide attempt by announcing the most ill-conceived and nastiest aged care policy imaginable. Needless to say, my instant reassessment of their electoral prospects was a correction I was unable to publish, but never mind…

I can, however, confirm that the timing of my absence from this particular column simply coincided with the recommencement of my regular workload — employment responsibilities, resumption of studies, etc — and in making yet another attempt to reflate the souffle, I’m wondering how I can avoid a similar petering out in the space of the next fortnight.

But the 7 January article…which contained, among other things, an obscene, profanity-laced comedy song and the story of an ugly encounter with an interfering busybody…has indeed been removed from the site. Not altogether; it is sitting in my post list set to “privately published,” where it will stay. For now. In my own good time, it will reappear as if by magic.  🙂

One of the experiences of the past year is to have tolerated a situation featuring someone who couldn’t take a joke, who was a law unto himself, and someone whose professional conduct was more akin to a cuckoo than a peacock: invading the nests of other birds and smashing the eggs rather than building a nest of his own. Unfortunately, it was necessary to remove the article, and these people were central to my reasons for doing so. For that, they can probably congratulate themselves quietly. But on the other hand, they should also feel thankful nobody was prepared to confirm in writing certain fabrications they elected, foolishly, to tell, because if that had happened, then the most humourless of the duo would have found himself on the receiving end of a writ for defamation.

It is sufficient to note that even with a glass-half-full view of the world, there really are some arseholes around. Enough said.

And lest we get too bogged down in cryptic messages, my final housekeeping item is to simply note that with Christmas and now Boxing Day having been and gone yet again, those readers with a half-eaten turkey in their refrigerator should revisit last year’s Boxing Day article as a matter of some urgency.

So here we are…

As I speculated in my very first post on this site — a theme I revisited last December when I briefly resurrected it, with some spare time suddenly to hand — why start a new column? Part of it, as I have also twice noted, is the instinct to just write, and as those exhilarating winds of change blow harder, it seems that personally and professionally, writing is something I am destined to spend an increasing amount of time doing.

To be sure, there are factors working for and against my chances of making a third attempt at building this particular column into a regular ongoing feature a success.

On the one hand, the drain on my time imposed by part-time study, with its weekly same-day flights to and from Brisbane 24 weeks of the year, are over: having started my degree in 1990 I graduated this month. It isn’t just the time involved directly, but the collateral impact of the couple of days after each trip, wherein I had the energy to do my job during the daylight hours — and not much else when the working day was done.

I have ceased work on my media production business, which for years bubbled away as the constant and primary focus behind everything else I was doing; one is remiss to ever say “never,” but for now, it’s 30 hours per week or so that are no longer committed somewhere else.

And of course, the time taken up with my “legacy” political column — perhaps another 10-15 hours every week — is also no longer being expended.

But on the other hand, I took a new job in May that saw my direct workload skyrocket; I have loved it, of course, but the intensity (and often the duration) of its demands has meant that all the time that has progressively become available has been hoovered up instantly.

I have also sketched out the outline for a book I will be writing in 2018 — and yesterday made a start on writing it.

And to put a further complexion on things — and reflecting the theme that is most central to today’s thoughts — the air is thick once again with change; my colleagues and I have ended the year by delivering excellent results, and have celebrated a truly stellar win this month. But 2018 heralds further change in this, and other areas.

Will Life and Love, Happiness and Health really take off this time?

To some extent, it depends on you, dear reader; it’s nice that people who know me make contact quietly to discuss some of the material I post here — the trips down memory lane on Retro Tuesdays, or the life stories I share, or the little stories that emerge simply from (metaphorically) setting pencil to paper. But without having the word spread — through shares, through retweets, through comments on the site, and through good old word of mouth — then it is very difficult to build up the following needed to sustain an ongoing effort.

One thing I can tell readers, as they return to new content for the first time in some time, is that I have been through and fixed all of the links to the clips previously shared: despite the disclaimer on the “about” page (which, legally, is adequate to cover the use of copyrighted material on an un-monetised site), some of the original clips were withdrawn by copyright owners — although mostly due to third party breaches by YouTube users, not this site. So for now at least, everything works as it should.

But what I can confirm, having made it this far down the page, is that I am very happy to be near the end of another awkward post aimed at breathing fresh life into something I have allowed to slip into a coma twice. It isn’t like jump-starting a car; the less pleasant analogy of defibrillating a cardiac arrest springs more immediately to mind.

Either way, today’s post either marks the final attempt at getting something continuous happening here, or it marks…well, perhaps another clip is a better way to make the point…

I will be back in the next couple of days — let’s see what the world yields up for us to talk about in that time.


AND ANOTHER THING: with an eye to that second clip…don’t you just love multinational music companies that withdraw original clips and “provide” an audio track with a static image instead? Flagrant abuses of copyright are one thing, but the whole point of social media is to virally spread a message. You’d think they would welcome the free publicity for their products, but what would I know?

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 me 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 of 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…