Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Via Jennifer Starfall, here's an old skool way of recording your nu skool blog: with a library card catalog card!

Join us in the musty stacks by going here.


When it comes to interpreting modern history, I am a proponent of the James Lileks school. That is, everything was trundling along quite nicely until 1962, possibly 1963... and then it all just went to hell. We were swinging along with martinis, Peggy Lee and E-Type Jaguars, then fifteen years later we had saccharine-sweetened soft drinks, The Captain & Tennille and the 1977 AMC Gremlin. Saints preserve us all.

As we struggle to repress our involuntary shudders, it's worth noting that Hollywood followed this strange but identifiable transition from cool to ghastly. Thus, twenty years after the elegant film noir darkness of 'A Kiss Before Dying' and 'The Night of the Hunter', audiences were lumbered with Joe Don Baker in 'Mitchell'. Smack dab in the middle of the hideous 70s, a plus-sized numbskull whose main skill is shooting unarmed people was presented as our hero.

What's that you say? I shouldn't be judging Mitchell just because he has a little weight problem and gets stuck doing the Junior Jumble on fast food restaurant placemats? Well, my friend, these are the least of his problems.

Top 10 Things That Are Wrong With 'Mitchell' and His Mid-70s World

10. Old flabby men squeezed into tight three-piece suits. There's nothing to stir the senses quite like the sight of a plaid polyester waistcoat with little bulging gaps between the buttons, through which someone's gut is straining to be free.

9. The chase scene, in which the villain is a soft, balding man in a mauve turtleneck, trying to kill a fat slob who last washed his hair during the Johnson Administration.

8. Sportscoats that look like they were made from the Care Bear family tartan.

7. Cars that you buy by the yard. Big, pointless, blocky, ugly vehicles with the braking distance of a 747 and the aerodynamics of Stonehenge. All of them painted in colours that a) never really look clean and b) feature prominently in the toilet bowls of very sick octogenarians.

6. More turtlenecks, this time with chunky gold jewellery on top of them. That necklace cost over $50 - there's no sense in hiding it under your clothes!

5. Table lamps that are bigger than the characters, in colours and fabrics that clash with everything, including themselves.

4. Women for whom "equality" is a new, strange and not entirely understood concept.

3. Curtains of mustard yellow and burnt orange... on a boat.

2. Hair styled by sleeping on it.

And the most obnoxious sign of 'Mitchell''s essential wrongness...

1. Our hero goes around shooting villains in the back and mistreating his woman, because, apparently, that's the kind of loveable goofball he is.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Beware the dreaded Emo Horse.


There comes a time in every episode of home maintenance when rational, well-considered problem-solving ceases to be useful, and infuriated violence becomes the only effective course of action. So it was that I came to be smashing the bejesus out of my saucepan drawer with a big hammer last night, as a screw had come loose inside one of the runners and locked it halfway open.

Oddly enough, even though the drawer had resisted all attempts to either open or close it, belting it with a hammer until the particle board splintered and cracked and started to come apart actually fixed it. Perhaps the vibration jostled the screw out of the way. Or perhaps I just convinced it that one of us was going to die, and it wasn't going to be me.

So next time your toaster burns your bread or your desk lamp blows yet another bulb, try kicking the crap out of it. The only love your home appliances and fittings respect is tough love.

Monday, January 29, 2007


Over the weekend I watched the Cole Poter bio-pic 'De-Lovely', which was, I'm sorry to say, de-tedious. Cole Porter was a witty, globe-trotting bon vivant who wrote some of the catchiest tunes of the 20th century; you'd think that, armed with songs like 'Let's Do It' and 'Anything Goes', it'd be a snap to make a film that's at least fun.

But apparently not.

Still, at least I learnt a few things. For example, it is possible to take a veritable armada of tap-dancing showgirls in silver hotpants and make them boring. Who'd have guessed?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I saw a story on the TV news last night about this exercise regime, apparently designed to maximise fat-burning.

Of course I took it with a grain of salt, since this was the Channel Ten news, not Catalyst. Channel Ten news is not usually a reliable source of information, unless the information you're looking for contains the words "graphic", "outrageous" and "Paris Hilton". Indeed, The Flatmate and I have a game called Channel Ten News Bingo, in which the person who identifies the most references to trashy celebrities in any given five minute period wins. The prize is being allowed to throw a blunt object at Tim Webster's televised head.

But the story turned out to be based in actual science, as performed by actual scientists at an actual university. They determined that eight seconds of high-intensity exercise, followed by twelve seconds of light exercise, repeated over a twenty minute period, resulted in three times the fat burning than that acheived by forty minutes of moderate exercise.

Since I'm already using my new exercise bike for half an hour every night, I decided I may as well put this theory to the test. I pedalled at a normal pace for ten minutes to warm up, then started the regime. I pedalled like a maniac for eight seconds, then dropped to a gentle amble for twelve seconds, then sprinted for eight seconds, then idled along for twelve seconds, and so on. I kept this up for about five minutes... then noticed that my pulse rate was getting a little high and decided to take it easier. I have a dread fear of doing a Douglas Adams.

I don't know if it burnt off three times the fat, but I felt woozy and light-headed for the rest of the evening. Perhaps my brain has a higher percentage of fat than I thought.


or "Things I've Been Enjoying Recently"

Japanese Animation

Over the weekend I watched 'Howl's Moving Castle', a classic work by Miyazaki featuring his trademark obsessions of flight, magic and European architecture and design from the first half of the 20th century. Despite the conspicuously caucasian tint to the characters, there's a deep Japanese sensibility in the movie. The most memorable scene for me was one of our heroine, Sophie, standing by a lake, watching the wavelets rise and fall against the shore. The colours of the water as it ebbs and flows, the outlining of the little stones in the sand, the ripples around the contours in the shoreline... they're all as peaceful and perfectly structured as a Japanese garden.

I also saw 'Final Fantasy VII', which didn't make a blind bit of sense, and seemed to feature a lot of silly characters who just got in the way of some powerful and brilliantly rendered backgrounds. If I'd been directing we could have just had ninety minutes of looking at beautifully ruined buildings and bioluminescent trees.

The Shins

They sound, in some ways, a little like Modest Mouse, if Modest Mouse had a producer with a big threatening stick, who could balance their creativity with a bit of discipline. The song 'Australia' on their new album has a lot of banjo in it, since of course the banjo is as Australian as Mom and apple pie.


They are in season right now and I was only charged $20 a kilo for them at the supermarket last week. That may sound like a lot until you remember that they usually charge $60 or $70 a kilo. I like to sprinkle them over a fruit salad or mix them into a tub of yoghurt. Also they are an official Super Food, and thus I am adding back onto my life all the time I've taken off by eating KFC or seeing photographs of Jocelyn Wildenstein.

Jeremy Clarkson

Some say that he has bile instead of blood, and that he grumped for England in the 1984 Olympics. All we know is, he's called The Clarkson.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Friday, January 19, 2007


When I got home from work last night, there was a 2 litre Coke bottle sitting just inside my front gate. It had no label, and was filled with a light brown liquid that was decidedly not Coke.

The only marking on the bottle was the letters “JI” on the cap.

I figure that either Jemaah Islamiah has been reduced to threatening decadent Westerners with the horror of watered-down cola, or I’m missing something here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Over the weekend I bought an exercise bike. Or rather, I bought two exercise bikes.

I bought the first one on Friday evening. I went into the fitness equipment store and asked for an exercise bike with vanes in the wheel, so that the cycling load is generated by air resistance, not by a tension belt (which wears out). When I got it home and started to assemble it, trying to translate the instructions from Chinese English to actual English as I went, I realised that my supposed air resistance bike had a tension belt. I'd been gypped.

I was not happy, but as a person who hates conflict, I merely thought, "Oh well, caveat emptor and all that".

Then I discovered that the tension adjuster didn't work. Well, maybe I can fix it, I thought.

Then I discovered that the cheap plastic grille on the side of the wheel was deformed, causing it to rub against the spokes of the wheel. Well, I can cut that part of the grille away and it should work fine, I thought. I actually went to the kitchen and came back with my heavy-duty shears before I snapped. Fear of conflict be damned! I am taking this piece of broken, misrepresented junk back! And I'm not disassembling it and putting it back in its original packaging, and I'm demanding a refund! Furthermore I will be rude and angry! Grrrrrr!

When I snap, I snap hard. After a night of maybe three hours of sleep, interspersed with episodes of teeth-grinding and mutterings of ire and resentment, I loaded the bike and its boxes into the back of my car and drove it all down to the store. After dumping it in the middle of the showroom, I informed the man behind the counter that I was returning it and that I wanted a refund. He told me that they didn't do refunds. I told him that they did now. He contradicted me, as if I was being a little slow on the uptake, then wisely changed the subject.

After I'd explained my numerous problems both to him and my original salesman, all the while quivering with impotent consumer rage, they eventually agreed to give me my refund. Nothing unsettles salesmen like an unhinged customer. Plus I think they were worried that I might blow an artery and spray bright red blood all over the display stands.

I stomped out of there, got in my car, and drove a couple of blocks homeward before stopping at the sporting goods warehouse store. There I examined the exercise bikes with a more jaundiced eye, and demanded unreasonable levels of detail from the salespeople. But I eventually bought one I liked.

It was a significantly more expensive model, which I bargained down to only slightly more expensive. Unlike the first bike, which was badly-designed and cheaply made, this new one feels heavy and solid, and fits together properly. It doesn't have air resistance vanes (which apparently only come on very expensive professional machines), but it uses electromagnets to increase and decrease the cycling load. It has a computer that tells you your speed, the distance you've covered, the number of calories you've burned, your pulse rate, the time, the date, the ambient temperature... if it could be plugged into the internet it could probably take over the world.

So I'm including a half hour of cycling every evening before I go to bed, to help me lose weight, burn off any excess energy I have, work out any stress, and release a few calming endorphins so that I can sleep like a normal human being. I could accompany this exercise with high-energy workout music, but I prefer to listen to old Goon Show recordings, which a) are exactly half an hour long and b) make me laugh. After the excruciating experience of actually purchasing the exercise bike, I need all the laughs I can get.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Yesterday I had to go into the centre of the city to pick up my new suit from the tailors, where it was being altered to accommodate my slightly short arms, very short legs and vestigial… well, you get the picture.

The tailors occupy the second floor of a building on the Hay Street Mall. At street level this building looks exactly like every other – a blend of large plate glass display windows and garish signage, occupied by a skanky boutique and a Java Juice. However, if you step back from the building and look past the hordings and bright colours, you can see that it was once a rather graceful Edwardian structure.

Upon entering the building you come across a beautiful but maltreated moderne staircase, all curved jarrah balustrades and heavily varnished plywood panelling. It’s a lovely piece of commercial design, but it’s not original. It punches its way up through the floors, cutting off access to the balconies, blocking windows and slicing straight through any number of ornate plaster mouldings. It was once carpeted, but all that remains now are a few tufts clinging to the odd recalcitrant nail.

If you wanted you could take the lift, which looks like it was installed at around the same time as the staircase, and is subject to a similar maintenance philosophy. It too is wonderful, all glossy wood and brass, but I played it safe and took the stairs.

In so doing, I discovered the fantasy future site of Chez Blanders.

Where I would live if I were cool

On the 1st floor landing there’s a glass door leading to the first floor proper. And if I may go all architectural fanboy on you… look at it! Look at the natural light! Look at the detailing! The spaces, people! Look at the spaces! I couldn’t fit it in the photo, but there’s another metre or two above before you hit the top of the vaulted ceiling, and this room alone has almost as much floorspace as my entire house.

Now an apartment like this would be completely unremarkable in New York or London, but this is Perth! We don’t do apartments that are older than Kelly Osbourne… or much larger. I can’t believe that this place hasn’t been snapped up and remodelled as some annoying globe-trotting fashion designer’s Perth pied-a-terre. I know that this annoying local blogger wants it as his bachelor pad.

True, living in the city would have its drawbacks, like drunks fighting in the mall, junkies shooting up in the alley and delivery trucks unloading under my bedroom window at 4am. But this half-derelict building seems to be hidden from the urban malefactors’ sight. Certainly there are evocative things, like signs for businesses that have been defunct for fifty years, still screwed to the walls. If I’d had a screwdriver and the requisite gall I’d have pinched them myself.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Quite possibly the awesomest tattoo ever.


Given the depictions of them in the popular media, it's a wonder anyone ever wants to visit an island. Between the Island of Dr Moreau (unethical experiments), Temptation Island (stomach-churning narcissism), Fantasy Island (florid overacting) and Tasmania (inbreeding), it's enough to make you hightail it to the centre of the largest landmass you can find. And to judge from 1962's 'The Horrors of Spider Island', the eponymous atoll is no exception.

Enroute to a gig in Singapore, a planeload of curvaceous American "dancers" crash lands in the ocean. The survivors make their waterlogged way to the nearest land, which turns out to be an uninhabited island. The only structure is a log cabin, in which they find a dead man entangled in a huge spider web.

What could have caused this? I was betting on giant squirrels myself, but apparently I was off the mark. It's up to Gary, the girls' swarthy manager, to investigate. He looks like an amalgam of every large, moustachioed, sleazy man who ever tried to pick up an American tourist in an Italian nightclub, but this offers him no protection when he is bitten by a spider and transformed into a bloodthirsty spider-Eurotrash hybrid. It's then up to the girls to use all their powers of cooing, cat-fighting and decorating their underwear with local wildflowers to protect them from the Horrors of Spider Island.

Fortunately for them, the only immediate Horror is Gary, and as he only manages to bump off one bikini babe after a whole 28 days on the island, he's not much of a Horror. Frankly, he's more of an Inconvenience, and let's face it, few punters are going to pay good money to see a movie called 'The Inconveniences of Spider Island'.

There really are some more horrifying Horrors on Spider Island, but you have to be a little more lateral to see them.


Top 10 Other Horrors of Spider Island

10. The nearest qualified person to give the girls a Brazilian is... well... in Brazil.

9. All the peroxide was lost in the crash.

8. Eventually all of the girls' periods will fall into synch. And then every man they meet will die.

7. The spiders look like they were cross-bred with Elmo.

6. May's "southern" accent sounds like she came from Alabama by way of Uzbekistan.

5. Once the hormones wear off, Babs will start to revert back to her original gender.

4. You just know that somewhere out there, Gary is weaving a web out of his own back hair.

3. Spider Island has no outlet malls.

2. Tampons made out of coconut fibres.

And the Number 1 Other Horror of Spider Island...

1. The original cut laid on the nude bimbo frolicking with a trowel... then they edited it all out so they could show it in drive-ins. Oh the humanity!


Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Yobbo brings us a fascinating excerpt from a scientific study into the effects of psychotropics on web-building spiders.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Today's Australian had a story on this report from the Orwellian-sounding Whitehall Wellbeing Working Group, detailing the sorts of things that are likely to make people happy. I've been feeling a little depressed over the last couple of months (which may explain why teh funny has been so forced around here lately), so I read the article with interest. Maybe it would shed some light on where I've been going wrong?

Unfortunately it did. This is what the Australian listed as 'Factors Contributing to Happiness':

1. Having lots of sex with the same partner.

I haven't even been having lots of sex with multiple partners.

2. Chatting over the fence with neighbours.

I think I acknowledged the old lady from next door once, by chance, at the hardware store. I believe there was a nod and a sort of half-smile. I've had more words with the man in the house behind mine, but it's usually along the lines of "No, I don't have any problems with your pergola extension", "I don't know why they didn't collect the recyling bins yesterday" or "When are you going to fix that fence you knocked down, you conniving Polish bastard!"

3. Caring about endangered species

Given that pandas have more sex with the same partner than I do, I think they should be the ones caring about me.

4. Getting a good night's sleep.

You'd think so, with all that sex I'm not having. But no. I sleep about as easily as a haemophiliac staying at Castle Dracula.

5. Gardening, going for walks and praying.

I tried that once, but right in the middle of an "I beseech thee" I tripped over the kerb and stabbed myself with the secateurs. Never again.

6. Getting a pay increase boosts happiness more if a colleague loses out.

That's not happiness, that's schadenfreude. And I do not need lessons in happiness from Germans, thank you very much.

The report lists other things too, such as being of average height and weight, living somewhere with nice weather, and working as a new product reviewer for Beer, Electronic Gadget and High-Performance Sports Car Monthly (although that last one was only implied). Oddly enough no mention is made of watching old MST3K episodes until you laugh up a lung, but I'm putting that down to deeply-ingrained British reticence.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


My favourite local café is closed for an extended summer holiday, which really screws up my Saturday morning routine. If I can’t start my day with coffee and the newspaper I get cranky. Well, crankier. So yesterday I had to go further afield and find somewhere new.

I ended up at The Spotted Dog in central Victoria Park, a tiny hole in the wall that sends out al fresco tables over a wide swathe of the surrounding pavement, like a kudzu vine trying to engulf someone’s backyard. The furniture and the signage suggested that the proprietors were trying to do this whole café thing on the cheap, with folding tables from OfficeWorks and hand-chalked menus, which is okay if you’re aiming for the grungy student demographic, but the framed prints of famous Australian Impressionists on the walls suggested otherwise. Still, the coffee was okay and at least I didn’t have to bring my own newspaper, as I have to at some other cafes.

Unfortunately the café shares its little arcade with a drycleaners. Ah, there’s nothing like the intoxicating mix of freshly ground coffee and tetrachloroethylene fumes. Sadly it makes the ambience less “spring morning on holiday in Paris” and more “tea break at the rendering plant in Whyalla”.

Later, after running a few errands, I decided spend an hour or two reading a book in another café. I started to head to one of my standards, Exomod in Mount Lawley, but about halfway there I realised that I was making a mistake. For all its myriad charms Exomod has a stark minimalist interior with low stools and padded benches. You perch at Exomod, not lounge. I needed somewhere where I could slump in a big comfy chair for an hour. That was my priority.

Aw crap, I thought, with a sudden, hideous flash of insight. I have to go to Gloria Jean’s.

The marketing people at Gloria Jean’s Global HQ (who are no doubt legion, probably outnumbering the baristas by six to one) are making a fundamental mistake when they sell their franchises as “coffee shops”. They would be wiser to sell them as “comfy chair centres”, since that’s where they really excel. Their coffee is horrible, sugar-saturated swill, but their comfy chairs are truly without equal. The signs should really look something like this:

Gloria Jean’s Comfy Chairs
Coffee also available, if you really insist

I drove there, parked my car, and skulked in. I found the perfect comfy chair right in the window, with plenty of natural reading light. Music that had been focus-grouped to hell and back floated overhead, and I received a large, slightly burnt coffee in a paper cup. But daaaaamn, that chair was comfy.

I still feel kinda dirty, though.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Over the Christmas holidays I acquired a small collection of artefacts from the highlands of New Guinea.

A distant relative of mine (specifically my father’s brother’s wife’s adoptive mother’s sister) was, apparently, a missionary in New Guinea in the 1960s and 70s. When she retired in the 1980s, she donated some souvenirs from her travels to the local Baptist school in my home town.

Twenty years later, the school decided to disencumber itself of the collection. The only member of my extended family who showed even a slight interest in them was my father… and that was largely because he lives close to the school. The collection was boxed up and he put it all, more or less sight unseen, in one of his sheds, and mentioned to me that I could go through it all and see if there was anything I wanted.

I spent a couple of hours in the shed, unpacking the boxes and trying not to break anything.

Some of the items were pure tourist kitsch; a dark skinned plastic doll dressed in native costume, Barbie-sized model spears and bows, and little handbags made from plastic beads and fishing line. But others items seemed more authentic. There were some polished seed and shell necklaces on strings that had clearly been hand-twined from grass fibres. There were spears of half a dozen varieties; some simple, some intricately constructed. There were delicate grass skirts, and primitive axe heads hewn from local stone.

The most arresting items were the masks.

mask 1

mask 2

How authentic are these masks, I wonder? They’re roughly hewn, and they’re coloured with natural pigments that flake off if you so much as look at them too roughly. That would seem to suggest a certain amount of authenticity.

On the other hand, exactly what purpose could they serve other than as objects to sell to tourists? They’re not really “masks”, since there’s no way of wearing them. They have a little loop of dried grass that allows them to be hung on a wall, but do New Guinea highlanders even have walls? Do objects such as these have any genuine purpose within the culture that created them?

The stone axes were even more problematic.

stone axe

If you were going to produce souvenirs for tourists, would you go to all the effort of hewing an axe, or would you just weave up some placemats or carve a cute little animal out of some scrap wood?

In addition, the handle is wonderfully smooth and polished, undulating with the contours of the wood. It obviously hasn’t been sandpapered; it’s just been used. A lot.

stone axe handle detail

What I may have here is a collection of artefacts made by genuine New Guinea tribespeople, using the same skills and methods that their ancestors used. However, the artefacts may not necessarily have been created for use by the tribe, but for sale to outsiders.

Either way, they’re evocative pieces. I’ve advised my parents to keep anything they want, then seek the counsel of the state museum to determine if the remainder has any heritage value, and donate it accordingly.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


For some reason whenever I have time off work I get the urge to paint the rooms of my house. These holidays have been no exception, and the only room left that needed painting was my study.

study wall original

Well, I call it a ‘study’, but it’s a bit of a misnomer. Unfortunately ‘room in which I play Command & Conquer, design covers for my MST3K DVDs and obsessively reorganise my iTunes playlists’ is a bit of a mouthful, so I tend to stick with ‘study’.

Like all the bedrooms in this house, it was painted a shade of pale apricot that screamed 1980s louder than a Flock of Seagulls singing a song about Ronald Reagan, nuclear war and shoulder pads. It was also a repository for junk – old postcards, unloved artworks, unwanted gifts, and many other odds and scraps accumulated over the last twenty years.

study bookshelves original

In addition, I was in the mood for a change. So far I’ve gone with neutral colours on the walls in this house – it’s a monument to soft browns and greys that don’t overpower the furniture or the paintings. This was my last chance to make a statement, even if that statement was “GAAAAAAHHHH!”

Hence my somewhat unsubtle choice of ‘Fire Engine Red’.

Reds tend to be translucent colours, meaning that I needed a blue-grey base coat to give the red its solidity. As it turns out, the recommended blue-grey is a very handsome colour in its own right, and once I’d got it on the walls I paused to consider it as a final product rather than a preparation. It was very cool, elegant and mature.

On the other hand, I’d paid $56 for a tin of red paint. My miserliness can always be relied upon to see me through.

Fortunately, once the red was up I loved it. It’s warm and rich; the perfect backdrop for my books…

study bookshelves

…and my recently acquired New Guinea artefacts (more about them later).

study wall 1

Now it looks like a haven of thoughtfulness and refinement , not the lair of a disorganised idiot with questionable taste. The truth needs to be kept in its place.

The only problem is that the unloved artworks and unwanted gifts are now on the floor in my bedroom, along with the results of a purge of dull or duplicated books. Does anyone want a nicely framed Seurat print, a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Major Barbara’ and a small globe with all the countries picked out in semi-precious stones?