Thursday, November 30, 2006


Why I Hate Christmas Shopping

Okay, I know my brother-in-law likes literature, and he prefers modern literature, so will this beautiful Folio Society edition of Siegfreid Sassoon's 'Memoirs of an Infantry Officer' be okay for him? Is early 20th century modern enough? What if he doesn't care for war stories? Will he find Siegfried Sassoon a little random, and suspect that I only bought it because it was the only vaguely suitable volume on the shelves at the second-hand bookstore? Will he be a little miffed that I've been shopping at the second-hand bookstore? On the other hand, would he sneer if I bought him something that obviously came from a multinational megachain like Borders? I could get him that interesting Garrison Keillor novel that's on sale at Borders, but if he goes to Borders himself he might notice it, and then suspect that I only bought it for him because it was cheap. Does he go to Borders? I know I like Garrison Keillor, but would he appreciate that gentle Midwestern sense of humour? Does he even know who Garrison Keillor is? Maybe I should just get him something from the Fremantle Arts Centre Press, since I know he has a thing for local publications? But what if he's already got it? And if he finds out that I haven't read whatever it is that I buy, won't he suspect that I'm just fobbing him off with something that only meets his interests in the most peripheral fashion, thus demonstrating that I don't really give a rat's arse about him and what he likes? Might that not also cause him to reflect that he doesn't really care about me either, and had absolutely zero input in the gift his wife picked out for me? Will this gift thus just increase the gulf between us and cause tension within the wider family?


I could just get him a shirt. Everyone needs shirts. But what size is he? Should I go vintage or modern? What if he doesn't appreciate the kitsch value of vintage? ...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


A friend of mine gave me a copy of 'The Better of McSweeney's' as a late birthday present. It's a collection of short stories from the magazine's first ten issues. Most are interesting, some are quite good, but all of them demonstrate that definite but difficult to define sense of McSweeneyhood.

All McSweeney's stories start with the same sorts of sentences. They're not bad in themselves, but there's an uncomfortable feeling about them, as if they're the bare bones on which someone hopes to one day build a winning entry in the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest.

I was waiting for my lover - I would say boyfriend, but my boyfriend reminds me to say lover, not boyfriend, because we are in school and boyfriend sounds silly for a person in school - and it was late.

A woman, Josephine, read an ad in the advertiser one day.

Let me begin by saying that when I built the observatory I had no intention of looking into the past.

Since his first day in town the man had been looking for a nice girl to spend good times with, but none of the girls would have him.

and most pretentiously, from David Foster Wallace:

Then just as I was being released in late 1996 Mother won a small product liability settlement and used the money to promptly go get cosmetic surgery on the crow's feet around her eyes.

This is from a story entitled "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VIII)". I can only hope that this is a subtle satire of wankerdom that I'm just too dim to grasp.

Many of these opening sentences read as if they belong in the middle of a larger narrative, one that has been chopped into bite-sized chunks and recycled as short stories. But all of them give the impression that these people aren't writing because they have a specific story to tell, but because they want to show how different and interesting they are. Ooh, I use the present continuous tense where a normal person would use the past simple. Ooh, I write as if you've just walked in on a conversation I was having. Ooh, I reject the stifling convention of paragraphs. Look upon my transgressive works, ye drone-like masses, and despair!

Sadly, if you puff yourself up like this, someone is bound to come along and puncture you. I can't look at McSweeney's without remembering Chris Onstad's verdict in his Achewood cartoon from 2003... in which he skewers McSweeney's as neatly and precisely as an experienced entomologist pinning a bug to a display panel.

Friday, November 24, 2006


It's nice to see a group of young men who've realised there's no need to feel down.

there's no need to feel unhappy

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Last night I went out to see 'The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D'.

The nu-skool plastic 3D glasses are a lot less annoying than the old-skool cardboard ones, although admittedly less evocatively kitschy. For some reason every pair was lime green, and as I looked across at a row of my friends all wearing oversized lime green glasses, I knew how Elton John must feel when he looks into one of those dressing table mirrors that gives you infinite reflections of yourself.

As for the movie itself... meh. The 3D is amusing but it adds exactly nothing to the storyline or the animation. It wasn't filmed with 3D in mind so the animation doesn't exploit its benefits. In fact in some ways the movie suffers, since 3D isn't as crisp as a good 2D print, and this sort of animation does crispness very well.

Then again, the Disney Corporation had to pull some sort of gimmick out of its nether regions if it was going to persuade patrons to pay $17.50 to see a thirteen year old movie that they could rent from Blockbuster for a dollar. In their position, I'd probably do the same thing.

Monday, November 20, 2006


I love my Sunday morning breakfast ritual of poached eggs, orange juice and a double-shot flat white, even if it does tend to make me late for church. As spring evolves into summer, I'm having it out in the garden, sitting on a battered bentwood chair at my worn old jarrah table, listening to jazz and birdsong, enjoying the greenery and flowers.

breakfast idyll 1

breakfast idyll 2

Usually I just have the weekend paper, replete with faux-sophisticated journalistic froth. This time I decided to splash out on something with genuine sophisticated journalistic froth.

Friday, November 17, 2006


My MST3K movie on Tuesday night was 'The Mole People', from 1956. I'm not saying that this tale of pompous archeologists stumbling across a lost civilisation of murderous Sumerian albinos living deep under the Himalayas with a race of enslaved mole people is bad... I just prefered the original novel by Jane Austen. She really knew how to draw the reader into her world.

Not without cause, Mike and the Bots spent most of the movie excoriating that stalwart of bad sci-fi cinema, John Agar. And fair enough; the man was the theatrical equivalent of a cold McDonalds french fry. But with only 77 minutes of movie, they didn't have time to properly explore the other human disaster zones cluttering up the screen.

Take Hugh Beaumont, for example.

Hmmm. Yes. Hugh Beaumont. I looked him up on to get a better feel for his oeuvre. And having felt his oeuvre, I had to immediately rush off and wash my hands. You see, judging by the titles of the films in his resume, Hugh spent most of his early career in the 40s and 50s making some fierce dirty porn.

Let's have a brief look at the filmography of Hugh Beaumont: Porn Star.

Jackpot (1940)

Hugh's first film, obviously made before the term "money shot" was coined.

The Cowboy and the Blonde (1941)

Also featuring the Brunette, the Redhead, and the Chinese Contortionist.

South of Panama (1941)

If you know what I mean. And I think you do.

Forbidden Passage (1941)

In 48 states, anyway.

Weekend in Havana (1941)

Like anyone has ever spent the weekend in Havana just buying Che T-shirts and visiting historic churches.

Unfinished Business (1941)

I understand this happens to all men at some time.

Private Nurse (1941)

Given that no one has ever made a non-porn film with a private nurse in it, I think this one's a safe bet.

The Wife Takes a Flyer (1942)

I bet she does, I bet she does, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more! Also known as 'A Yank in Dutch', which is an even more grotesquely porny title than the other one.

Du Barry was a Lady (1943)

A mere three years into his career, Hugh's descent into the weird stuff begins.

There's Something About a Soldier (1943)

Possibly it's the uniform...

Top Sergeant (1943)

Definitely the uniform.

I Love a Soldier (1944)

Thus bringing to a conclusion Hugh's infamous gay military porn trilogy.

Strange Affair (1944)

Or maybe not.

Mr Winkle Goes to War (1944)

I can only hope that this was an educational movie from the Army Film Corps about sexual hygiene. However, given that it's sometimes known as 'Arms and the Woman', it's a feeble hope.

The Lady Confesses (1945)

"I've been bad. So very, very bad. And I must be punished, Mr Beaumont. Severely punished!"

Three on a Ticket (1947)

A reasonably big ticket, presumably.

Mr. Belvedere Blows His Whistle (1951)

Can't breathe... choking on laughter... help me...

Night Without Sleep (1952)

Hugh, you machine you!

Wild Stallion (1952)

Presumably filmed after he'd had a few days to recover from 'Night Without Sleep'.

Phone Call from a Stranger (1952)

Hugh's adventures at the business end of a 1800 number.

The Member of the Wedding (1953)

*cough* *hack* *splutter* I really shouldn't be drinking coffee while reading these.

Climax! (1955)

Sweet. Merciful. Crap.

Like Hugh himself, this just goes on and on and on. And now if you'll excuse me, I need to go take a shower.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


It's 3.44am. I'm awake and I'm not happy.

I blame my diet. I've been on a diet since Saturday, when I put on my favourite Miracle Shirt, one which through the genius of good tailoring makes me look relatively slim, and discovered that it had stopped working. My flab had overwhelmed it, beating its clever design with simple, crude enormity.

So I launched myself into a strict diet, deleting sugar, white flour, rice, potato, pasta and booze. Unfortunately two side effects of dieting are that I drink more coffee at work and I drink more Diet Coke/Pepsi Light/Coke Zero/Pepsi Max/MaxiCola* at home and at parties.

Usually I can keep it under control, but last night I had to work late (coffee) then go to a barbecue (diet cola), and I just lost track of my consumption. Of course I didn't realise this until a couple of hours ago, when I'd been in bed for an hour, and felt very tired, but remained conspicuously awake. No amount of tossing, turning or shouting obscenities into my pillow seems to make any difference.

To cap it all off, I've had blurry fever dreams as I hover on the brink of sleep. For a while there, I was strangely convinced that Microsoft's new Zune music player was out to get me.

That's not say that it isn't, but I'm just not usually that perceptive.

4.10am. Dammit.

*RC cola's contribution to low-calorie liquid evil

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


You may recall that I built a new garden bed back in September and planted some vegetable seedlings.

new garden bed completed

I'm pleased to say that six weeks later, everything is growing well and starting to crop.

after six weeks

I've made a few salads with the lettuces, especially from the plants growing up at the sunnier end of the bed. I always knew they would thrive more than the plants down at the other end, which stays in shadow longer, but I didn't realise just how much difference it would make. The sunny lettuces are double the size and vigorously reaching for the sky... until I come along and rip off their outer leaves for my own selfish purposes. Mwhahahaha!

lettuce ahoy!

I've also had a couple of tomatoes. Not from the tomato plants in the vegetable garden, but from an unplanned one that germinated from a seed in some compost. It's come up in the front yard and entwined itself around my native Kangaroo Paws. The fruits aren't large but they taste and smell great.

second tomato

There are also tiny cucumbers, capsicums, and lemons forming on their respective plants. Hooray for nature! Hooray for me! And hooray for my ability to feast upon inferior beings!

Thursday, November 09, 2006


From today's newspaper:

For Wayne Phillips and his family, the interest rate rise will mean no meals out, tighter belts, and the postponement of their daughter's wedding.

Mr Phillips, a truck driver, has a mortgage on his home at Penrith on Sydney's western outskirts, and earlier this year borrowed an extra $50,000 to lend to his daughter Jade to help her buy her first home.

But interest rates have risen three times since then, and they are both struggling to make loan repayments and fear losing their homes.

Before you feel too sorry for the Phillips', note the caption to the photograph that goes with the story:

Feeling the squeeze: Wayne and Victoria Phillips with their daughters Jade, Ebony and Amber in Penrith, Western Sydney, yesterday

Insert Sideshow Bob-style shudder here. Mr and Mrs Phillips deserve far worse than bankruptcy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


mother mercedes

I don't know why Cindy Sheehan wants people to vote for Mercedes Benz, but now that I think about it, I'm on her side. I mean, who is least likely to cause embarrassment to the American people; Ted Kennedy, Mark Foley, or the latest CLS 55 saloon?

Monday, November 06, 2006


Last night was humid and unsettled, and I was in no mood to go to bed. Instead I sat on the couch and watched a midnight screening of Steve Martin's 'Roxanne' on TV. I've always liked this film. It's wonderously beautiful to look at, the characters are fun, and its unabashedly romantic mood is charming.

Visually, the film stands up pretty well. Except for the odd bouffant perm or pastel T-shirt there's not too much that bellows "1987". However, there's a faint atmosphere of callowness about it which only seems noticeable now, in 2006. I must have been around nineteen or twenty when I first saw it, so it would be easy to blame my failure to notice this on my own gaucherie. But the reviewers of the time (assembled here) had exactly the same reaction despite being twice my age.

It seems likely, then, that 'Roxanne' demonstrates just how much the Western world's expression of "sophistication" has changed over the last twenty years.

The streets of Nelson are as determinedly contrived as those of Bedford Falls, so much so that it's almost endearing that they thought we wouldn't notice. Any shot of the main street is dressed with parked cars that look like a giant child's Matchbox collection - beautifully restored American classic sedans, Porsches, Mercedes convertibles, Corvettes - there's not a station wagon or a delivery truck in the entire city.

Nor are there any supermarkets or hardware stores. There are places aplenty to buy a capuccino, an ormolu clock or a moose head, but apparently no one ever needs a carton of milk or a new screwdriver.

Then there's the dialogue, which often sounds as if the studio hired a pretentious teenager to be their script editor. The characters are laughably conscientious in demonstrating their sophistication by drinking wine, or, as Shelley Duvall pronounces it, "wiiiiiiiiiine". "Dave, can you bring us a bottle of wiiiiiiiiiine, please?" she asks in one scene, as if all bottles of wine are as interchangable as bottles of Pepsi, and it makes no difference if she receives a crisp chardonnay or a velvety old merlot. As she's supposed to be a cafe owner, and is never depicted without a glass in her hand, one could reasonably expect her to appreciate the difference.

Meanwhile Daryl Hannah is using big, sophisticated words, but pausing for a millisecond before she says them, as if the words are unfamiliar and she's trying them out for the first time. They appear to be shoved into the centre of her otherwise ordinary sentences like a fabulous drag queen in a queue at the bank. "The night is extemporaneous", she says at one point, as if this makes the remotest bit of sense.

In response, Steve Martin is uttering supposedly romantic lines that sound like the most wretched poetry of a lovesick high-schooler. The fact that Roxanne falls for this prose, so purple it sounds like it's been bruised, makes her appear shallow and pretentious to modern eyes, but there's no hint that we're expecting to think that.

All in all, it comes across in 2006 as a rube's idea of sophistication, all big words, ham-fisted artistic references and wiiiiiiiiiine, juggled by the characters like they're live grenades. But Steve Martin is, by all accounts, a very well-read and knowledgable man. How did a person like him produce something that feels like this?

Presumably it just didn't feel like that in 1987. This was, after all, a time when 'BJ and The Bear' and 'The Dukes of Hazzard' were considered suitable things for adults to be watching in prime time. Perhaps the world was just a less urbane place back then.

Friday, November 03, 2006


While commenting on a blog post a little while ago, I found that my verification word was "vegok".

If it's possible to fall in love with a nonsensical word, I've just done it. Henceforth, I wish to be known as Vegok the Destroyer.


Thursday, November 02, 2006


An acquaintance was decluttering his house recently, and part of his program required him to get rid of any CD to which he hadn't listened in the last two years. He offered me a chance to go through the stack before he ditched them, and I chose five that sparked my interest.

Apparently my interest has questionable taste.

Saint Etienne - Too Young To Die
I've never been trapped in a lame gay nightclub on a dead night in the early 1990s. But if I ever was, I imagine that it would sound like this.

ABBA - A Tribute Album
Did you know that Bananarama had done a cover of 'Waterloo'? I didn't. You'd think that the collision of two such icons of camp would result in a glorious explosion of kitsch-o-rama. But sadly, it just sounds meh.

On the other hand, the Ash version of 'Does Your Mother Know That You're Out' is kinda cool. And the acapella version of 'Dancing Queen', of all things, is surpringly non-toxic.

Enya - Paint the Sky With Stars
I can see why so many people hate Enya and her overproduced ethereality, but I like it. Sometimes you just feel like being gently submerged in an ocean of pretty sounds and let them wash and swell around you.

Unfortunately since this is a Best Of album it's mostly her bigger, stupider "hits", and not her smaller, more subtly evocative pieces.

Sixpence None The Richer - Sixpence None The Richer
If the world needs anything right now, it's more songs for privileged young north-eastern Americans in immaculately ironed Abercrombie & Fitch shirts. Hence this album.

Honestly, it's like listening to the Zach Braff Fan Club Band.

The Cat Empire - The Cat Empire
This is an irreverent collision between latin sensuality and punky ska chaos. There's a brass section, accordions, flutes, a DJ scratchin' things up, and whole bunch of other instruments and voices running around and banging into each other.

I like it well enough, but I think this sort of music is supposed to make you happy, and it has the reverse effect on me. It simply suggests that there are a lot of crazy people out there who are larking around having more fun than me. Who needs to know that?

Thank goodness my most recent impulse purchases at JB Hi-Fi (an album of Bebel Gilberto remixes and Rhubarb's 'Start Again') were both winners. Otherwise I'd be worried about myself.