Month: Nov 2015

Retro Tuesday, In Times Of Great Change

AS ANOTHER MONTH passes, and Christmas becomes a matter of just another few weeks, 2015 draws toward its conclusion after the world has witnessed tumultuous upheaval and change; in fact, change seems to be everywhere you look, and from where I stand an awful lot more seems likely to follow in 2016. Today’s musical flashback continues the theme.

First, a piece of good news: readers of this (and my other) column will be pleased to know that late last night, I finished off work on one of the big drains on my time that has hampered the time I have for posting comment; publishing content in these sites must come second to those commitments that generate revenue (for these do not) or are otherwise critical for whatever reason, but the upshot is that I’ll have quite a bit more time for writing articles than I have had for most of the year.

For the next three months, that is — until what I finished last night recommences for another year.

Yet even this is a pointer to the theme of Retro Tuesday today, for change is everywhere; the extra commitment (beyond a job, a business, my established political commentary column and this new one) has been the resumption of a long-ago abandoned degree that I left somewhere between half and two-thirds complete back in the 1990s, and which I have now locked away the first tranche of work to finish.

Contemplating a sometime move from one branch of the behemoth that is the media industry to another, I suddenly need the degree I stomped out of the university 20 years ago without finishing because doing so was the only way to avoid certain careers.

I left it so long that the only institution that recognises the 15 (of 24) subjects I did back then is the one I studied them at: the University of Queensland, and in practical terms this has meant weekly day trips to Brisbane to go to the university, which despite the cost of the airfares and factoring in fees still works out four years faster and about $4,000 cheaper than starting something from scratch, studying part-time, here in Melbourne.

I had a little mishap — something hit me on the flight home one night that looked suspiciously like a stroke — and I was responsible for diverting a plane full of people to Sydney so I could be rushed off to hospital: but never fear, the “stroke” turned out to be a perfectly harmless ear problem that is very rare, but when subjected to altitude pressure causes half your face to collapse. (If any readers have been ignoring mildly sore ears that won’t completely unblock as I did for months, go and have them looked at if you’re thinking of flying anywhere, especially long haul — there are some parts of the world you don’t want to be hospitalised in, believe me).

But harking back to the early 1990s — when I was “really” a university student — provides a great segue to our blast from the past today.

Let me assure readers that it is purely by accidental coincidence that I’m featuring a West German band in consecutive weeks, and the first two weeks of publishing this segment at that, but have a listen to this.

There seems to be change everywhere right now; some of it — like the reordering of things I’m doing personally, and finishing something I should have completed decades ago — are good; yet in the bigger scheme of things, the world is changing too, and not necessarily for the better.

Climate change, whether you believe in or not (or whether you believe it’s man-made or, as I do, think it’s part of an eternal natural process that’s been going on for millennia). The rise of Islamofascism, and the threat it most immediately poses to Europe. The rise of a belligerent, militaristic Russia, bristling with modernised weaponry even as its people starve, capable of obliterating anything it wants to. The world is growing less certain, and in some ways less secure, although this just makes the idea of living every day to the full that much more important.

Ironically, some of the changes in today’s world are a mirror image of the “winds of change” that blew across it 25 years ago, when Winds of Change was released; the collapse of the Soviet Union, the removal of the Iron Curtain across Europe, and — particularly salient where the Scorpions, the West German band I’m highlighting today, is concerned — the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, in a sequence of events that brought so much hope and freedom to people who had been tyrannised and repressed for so long.

I’ve got a friend getting married to a nice girl in a few weeks; that event will close the circle on one of the most vicious marital break-ups I have ever witnessed, and the only person unhappy about it will be the seething bubble of hatred who walked out on him in the first place.

I know people who are headed in the opposite direction — right into trouble and the divorce court — and some of them are the last people you would ever expect to see there. Yet such is life.

I’ve shared a few bits and bobs from my own story at what I sense is a time of great change; and change isn’t something we should fear. The key thing is to make sure it’s the right kind of change, although — as a favourite TV character once proclaimed in exasperation, you can plan until you’re blue in the face and things just happen: it isn’t possible to control everything, nor avoid the bumps that come with the highs.

And rather than talk about myself or my mates until the cows come home, I’d just ask every reader to pause for a moment and look around their own little worlds: a lot is changing, isn’t it? Perhaps not everything, and not all at once, but nothing lasts forever. Right now, I see change everywhere I look. It seems to be one of those phases.

Enjoy the track from the Scorpions; and as music worth listening to is only worth listening to loud, crank it up. The double shot today comes not from the Scorpions themselves, but from a British band that had a hit with the same name as another song recorded by the Scorpions, and if this doesn’t evoke embarrassing 1980s-era memories, I don’t know what will.

I’ll be back with something else in the next couple of days; Retro Tuesday will return again next week. Seven days closer to Christmas, will the rapidly approaching festive season influence my choice of entertainment?

Come back on Tuesday and find out.


Phallic Pizza? We’re All Screwed

RESEARCHERS at Cornell University have found heterosexual men eat far more food than usual when on a date; their study was based on attendance at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, and anyone who’s ever had anything to do with these snouts-in-the-trough establishments knows patrons see gluttony as the only path to value for money. Even so, the message that excessive pizza consumption breeds sex appeal is frightening. If it’s true, we’re probably all screwed.

I don’t know what’s sadder: the fact that erudite and supposedly learned folk at the prestigious Cornell University wasted time and money on an “academic” study any fool could have foreseen the result from, or the predictable truth that men, confronted by both food and a new woman, engorge themselves on the former to appeal to the latter in a ritual that probably harks all the way back to Neanderthal Man and the Stone Age.

A piece of reading from the Murdoch press I encountered during the week simultaneously mocks the supposed rigours of certain branches of academia whilst belling the cat on the fact that the more thought police and chardonnay swillers try to change things, the more they stay the same: that men, or at least some of us, feel they will be judged on the volume of food they can consume is a moot point. Whether women will be impressed or not is open to interpretation.

Stereotypically, a similar phenomenon supposedly occurs where alcohol consumption is concerned. Let’s not go there. Too much food and too much booze, together, can be a recipe for truly voluminous and literally bilious consequences.

Those who peruse the little gem from Uncle Rupert’s scribe will note that insofar as the “research” was concerned, it didn’t matter whether the participants were helping themselves to pizza from the buffet, or salad; in front of a date, the guys ate 93% more pizza than they did with male friends, and this over-indulgence remained reasonably constant when the salad was wheeled out, as they ate 86% more of that too than when in male company.

Personally, the idea of eating a ton of salad isn’t my thing, but the takeout here — lovely term, excuse the pun — is that these are men on a mission. Presumably, and in keeping with this research, if served ground glass with the possibility of a score in prospect, those of us with the y chromosome would eat that too.

Still, the finding has possibilities: after all, if the researchers have inadvertently stumbled onto some kind of universal culinary-sexual constant, then presumably men can gorge themselves on natural oysters and Reuben sandwiches and pate and still end up at their preferred destination — and enjoy those delicacies up to 93% more than usual to boot.

And the worst thing the girls included in the study had to say about it was that they felt “rushed,” which is probably understandable when your date is eating up to 93% more than you in the same sitting. But if that’s as bad as it gets, then fellas — go for your lives!

But on the basis the Cornell boys (and they would be boys wouldn’t they? Surely this reeks of self-justification) were really onto something, this whole exercise throws up (sorry, those puns!) some horrific imagery and some dreadful final outcomes.

I like pizza. In Melbourne — the food capital of the southern hemisphere, and home to hundreds of thousands of Italians — there is pizza everywhere, and on my little patch in Melbourne sits the best single outlet pizza joint I have ever encountered. In recent times I have found myself eating more pizza than normal (maybe even 93% more than normal) but this is for the decidedly unromantic reason that I’ve badly messed up defrosting things I intended to cook.

You can’t do much with a nice rib fillet steak for example, in the pan and cooked to medium-rare perfection in butter with a few herbs, if it’s frozen solid when you get in at night.

So I have seen a few more Super Supremes of late (double the anchovies and halve the capsicum, if you will) than I would like. But the idea that — if on the prowl — I’d stuff myself senseless to impress a girl? I don’t think so.

I’ve seen the end destination of this particular ship, and it’s never pretty; having spent my university years working in a chain of well-known all-you-can-eat restaurants, I travelled to work by train as often as not: and evidence of the bucketloads of all-you-can-eat nosh that must have seemed like such a good idea on the way in often gave form to depressingly frequent encounters with huge piles of undigested food involuntarily regurgitated as I made my way gingerly past and out of the train station.

Of course, they were just the ones I happened upon; it’s the way of such things that where there are some, there are almost always others. Were all of these misadventures with a licence to eat oneself into a stupor the product of amorous men propelled by the raw fuel of bawdy lust? God knows.

But speaking of lust, and sex appeal, and the whole what-do-I-have-to-do-to-get-you-naked caper, what use is there filling up until you’re (literally) about to explode if it hobbles your ability to engage in “other antics” afterwards? At least those nameless piles that were once food, procured at a flat rate and devoured with a view to bankrupting a restaurant on food costs, were encountered in a public place.

How welcome — or sensuous — would they be suddenly appearing as a third wheel, mid-crescendo, in a bed that was built for two?

And of course, if the troughs of limitless sustenance survive the digestive process, another eventual outcome is as much of a mood killer as the regurgitated version.

As Jennifer Paterson of Two Fat Ladies fame once observed, anything is better than going to the gym: I agree, and in any case, the new research coming out of Cornell suggests such lunacy is a waste of time anyway — at least where questions of impressing the opposite sex are concerned.

But where questions of love, romance, and the art of seduction are concerned, all of us have turned our minds to these things at various junctures and with varying degrees of success; and all of us know that idiot-simple answers — like eating oneself to death — are the human equivalent of snake oil, and that some simple distillation of truth is as elusive as the meaning of life itself.

Still, if you’re a bloke, go and fill up on as much pizza as you can: you’ll never know your luck until you try it.

Oh, and for the poor unfortunate girls who find themselves condemned to sit through such a ridiculous charade, don’t let your men make you feel as if there’s any reason to rush. There’s not. After all, the only immediate outcome from an eating contest at speed will be the last thing you’ll find romantic or sexy, let alone appetising.


Introducing “Retro Tuesdays”

AS WE START talking about lives, and experiences, and how they intersect with today, I am starting a feature in this column from the very outset: Retro Tuesday is perfectly timed for the day after Monday, when people are a little less gloomy yet facing the bulk of their week before a break; these “Retro Sets” will be funny, sad, upbeat or pause for thought. Yet all the songs I feature will relate to my own story, and I will tell a story around them.

At the great risk of breaking my own “first law” in this column — no politics — the very first presentation of Retro Tuesday is selected because of the stupidity going on in the Middle East as I write.

A Russian fighter jet has been shot down over Turkey. Predictably, the Turks say it strayed into their airspace; predictably, the Russians said it didn’t.

Either way, the Russian pilot is dead, and as is the way of these things Russia is calling the incident “very serious indeed” (code for “we’re exceedingly pissed” without the belligerent threat of retaliation) with NATO pledging to “defend” Turkey if its sovereignty is violated (code for “attack us again and we’ll fight back”).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the amount of sensationalist rubbish that permeates society these days, “World War III” is trending on Twitter. Jesus, Mary and Joseph: people can be morbid.

It won’t come to that of course, but in thinking about a) my next piece for this column, and b) the “Retro Tuesday” idea I wanted to run with anyway, it got me thinking back to 1985: I was in my first year at high school, and in the last week of that year — coincidentally, at the height of the Cold War — my German teacher arrived at class one day with a ghetto blaster and an audiotape of a band and a sound I’d never heard.

Gabriele Susanne Kerner — known to millions, simply, as Nena — had hit big internationally a couple of years earlier with a song some find ubiquitous these days, which is a pity; most of the people I know who don’t speak German, which I do, don’t have a clue what it’s even about. But this song (and you can listen to it with me, below*) was actually about the outbreak and aftermath of a nuclear war, and it becomes the very first feature of Retro Tuesday today.


This band, like so many that have emerged from mainland Europe over the past forty years or so, enjoyed great commercial success and critical acclaim, and let’s face it: who doesn’t still know the words to Dancing Queen, or smirk involuntarily whenever Paul Lekakis’ Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room) comes onto the radio?

But Nena was different: remembering postwar West Germany uniquely retained its quintessential German character whilst acquiring considerable cultural influences from the US forces that remained to reconstruct the country, its music was impossible to pigeonhole.

It didn’t sound European, and it didn’t sound American either. It was unapologetically a pop group, but its songs held far more meaning than the bubble gum rubbish being churned out by record factories in London and Los Angeles. Yet if you listened to it enough, its songs etched themselves in your brain the same way the puerile popstars of the mainstream industry invariably, and irritatingly, always did.

99 Luftballons was my first taste of anything German apart from the words in textbooks and readers I had, by then, spent a year learning by rote and role playing their use.

I remember the beat made me move — and that melody track was so infectious it was ridiculous. The good mate of mine in the seat beside me, with whom I remain in occasional contact that would be more regular if he didn’t live in Iowa, had to be told to stop jumping around and sit down.

The lovely Ms Kerner — now 55 — was then 25 and beautiful, edgy, and smoking hot. Like any teenage boy, I was captivated.

Even so, some years later a friendly record shop owner near where I lived gifted me a demo copy of a vinyl album that record company regulations prohibited him from selling — I think I still have it somewhere — with half a dozen songs on one side in German, and half a dozen in English on the other. The English songs were dreadful, and nobody needs me to tell them that Nena never became an English language blockbuster: the German songs were where the magic was.

The English version of 99 Luftballons99 Red Balloons — was so cringeworthy it’s a shame to mention it. If you’re pedantic about such things as I am, it didn’t even faithfully translate the German song, sounding instead like the caricature of something worthwhile that it was.

For the first time — and we’ll get better at this as we go — I hope today’s song lightens up boring old Tuesday for readers, and after you’ve enjoyed a blast of Nena, here’s a double shot: another track from the original album featuring 99 Luftballons, remade in the 1990s, is another old favourite of mine. Turn it up. Even if you don’t speak German, the real measure of these songs is that they can be listened to and enjoyed by anyone. That’s certainly true in this case.

Back to normal programming next time…whatever “normal” is, as this new column sputters into life. Next week, I promise Retro Tuesday will offer something for English-speaking readers, although what I pick to share could be anything this close to Christmas.


*Like anything new, we’ll iron out bugs as we go: to this end, the clips I embed may or may not be “removed at the request of the user” as YouTube so coolly declares when it takes something down. We will see. But as the only purpose here is general entertainment, I contend the use for Retro Tuesday is consistent with the terms of a YouTube standard licence…

Why Start A New Blog?

It’s a reasonable question, and not least at a time when I’m flat to the board juggling other things: a full-time job, a part-time study load (the price you eventually pay for stomping out of the university at age 20), another online column I’ve been publishing for almost five years, and the smouldering ashes of a media production business that I occasionally blow on to see if there is any life left in them.

And then, you have to have a life. And sleep. Who has time?

Some of this comes from the instinct to just write; some of it comes from an awareness that whilst people can find a lot of what I’ve written on my political opinion site (1,100 articles as I write this, and growing) it’s a bit one-dimensional when there are so many other things I’m interested in, that I can do, and that I am passionate about — even if politics is, admittedly, one of my greatest loves, and always has been.

We’re not going to discuss the restaurant in London at which I once sank a month’s rent on dinner for four people on my political site, for example; we’re not going to talk about Boeing 777s and 737s and the plane rides that simultaneously fascinate and scare the bejesus out of me there, either.

As for the Carlton Football Club and Chelsea, or what music I’m listening to, or even what I think of the shithead who almost killed me on the way to my office this morning because she was too busy inspecting her panties* to watch the road whilst driving, this is a very different conversation to whether the Liberal Party will beat Labor next year, or to how the Tories are travelling in the UK, or to the vagaries of world politics and the sabre rattling that seems to occupy such considerations these days.

So here we are.

I don’t know how often I will post here; certainly, there aren’t enough hours in the day as it stands.

And I can’t tell you, at the outset, exactly what we’ll talk about: but in some respects, that’s just part of the fun.

What I will do is share stuff I stumble across online, or elsewhere; try to get some pictures into my posts; and above all, I won’t take the whole damn thing all that seriously (and again, I already have a column for that; all things political must be treated with the utmost seriousness…which is why so few of them will find their way here. I promise!)

Finally — on this first outing — I’d invite anyone who wants to comment or chat through this forum to do so; social media is a great way to bring people together, although I’m not convinced Facebook is the way to go about it. Twitter, to which I am a total convert, is better, but its limitations are bordered by a) the ability to post links to share things, and b) the need to keep messages to 140 characters at a time.

I will be back soon enough. For now, this post and some back-end set-up through WordPress gives me enough material to format onto a suitable template, which is the next thing to do in setting this up. See, you thought I was writing you a nice message to welcome you to my new site! Well, I wasn’t.

Seriously, all the things that make up who we are: our lives, our loves, the things that make us happy and sad, the experiences we have…the whole idea here is to tell some stories that others can relate to, and to package it in a way that’s interesting, engaging, and hopefully — at times — funny.

You can be the judge of that.

So once I have the formatting job done, I’ll be back to talk about something else. Maybe this brief initial piece wasn’t so functional at all… 🙂


*I assume she was checking herself out; she was certainly paying a lot of attention to something that required a lot of looking downwards. Unless, of course, she was sending a text message…but nobody would send those when they’re driving, would they?