Saturday, July 31, 2010


Following the rush of testosterone brought on by the purchase of the chainsaw, today I continued in my Festival of Manly Duties and cleaned the gutters on the garage. I was tempted to use the chainsaw, but fortunately I realised just in time that That Way Lies Madness.

It turns out that the gutters under the now-defunct conifer were not so much full as solid. There was so much leaf litter in them that the bottom layers had composted and turned into actual soil. In five metres of guttering, I scooped out nearly thirty litres of leaves, moss and associated muck.

I also found this, which is causing me no end of puzzlement:

How, exactly, did half of Robert T. Parker's Bendigo Bank ATM card end up in my gutter?


There comes a time in every man's life when he is required to pass a rite of passage, to step up to a challenge and prove his mettle. There comes a time when a boy must become a man, strong of Y chromosome and capable of doing what needs to be done. Yesterday that time came for me.

Yes, I bought my first chainsaw.

True, it's not much of a chainsaw. It's an 1800w electric model, which is the chainsaw equivalent of Justin Bieber. It was the cheapest one I could find at Bunnings, which means that it's built in a Chinese sweatshop from parts that don't quite fit together, and it will last about as long as the average Facebook fad.

Still, it's a chainsaw. It has sharp pointy teeth that spin around very fast, making a lot of manly noise as they do so. And it reduced the unwanted tree in my front yard to kindling and woodchips within minutes. Then I was able to replant the space with some lovely rosemary and put in a little decorative border.

Before (ugly overgrown conifer)

After (attractive delicious herbs)

The other benefit of this purchase is that I am now a Bloke Who Has A Chainsaw. I used to be the guy who had to go, cap in hand, to a Bloke Who Has A Chainsaw and ask to borrow the chainsaw, when I had a tree that needed felling or some serious pruning to do. Now I will have guys coming to me and asking to borrow my chainsaw, thus proving themselves to be emasculated ladymen and proving me to be a red-blooded, chainsaw-owning bloke.

And when the chainsaw is eventually returned, I can join with my fellow Blokes Who Have Chainsaws in complaining that the cutting teeth are blunted, that the chain is too slack, and that some people just don't know how to maintain power tools. They will grunt in assent, and then we will drink beer.


I have returned home from Melbourne, with twelve CDs, five jackets, three shirts, two pairs of shoes and one pair of pants more than I had when I left. I strained the muscles in both of my arms lugging it all to the airport, but now that I'm home I can put on some Quincy Jones, slip on my velvet smoking jacket, and reflect that it was all worth it.

In reviewing my time away, I've come to the conclusion that Melbourne is an odd place, at the same time both cooler and daggier than Perth.

The coolness is quite evident. I've almost doubled my number of vintage leather jackets (one can never have too many), I've heard innumerable musicians of exceptional talent performing in dive bars, and I've seen art and design in the most ordinary places that makes me stop and stare.

On the other hand the dagginess is less evident, but once you notice it you can't stop seeing it. The most obvious example was as follows: despite the fact that I was hanging out with folk musicians, artists and poets, and lurking in the bohemian inner city cafes of Fitzroy and Collingwood, I've got to say that I've never heard so much talk about Masterchef in all my life. In Perth it's just a popular reality TV show that one might discuss, if one watches it, around the water cooler at work. In Melbourne it's a cult. People with ironic facial hair and lip rings, who no doubt view Perth as parochial, shallow and jejune, were nevertheless speaking of little else as they sipped their espressos on the footpaths of Brunswick Street. I could almost guarantee that wherever I went, I'd overhear someone banging on about their favourite contestant.

Any community that gets obsessed, en masse, by a reality TV show is not as elevated as it likes to think it is, despite their excellent vintage stores, crowded live music scene and delicious coffee. In this we parochial, shallow, jejune Perthians can take a degree of satisfaction.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


My trip to Melbourne hasn't been all shopping and spending. I've also attended the opening of a friend's art exhibition, gone to the launch of another friend's new album, and listened to a bunch of live music in the busy open mic scene. At the suggestion of yet another friend, I also went to a poetry jam at the Dan O'Connell hotel on Saturday afternoon.

Like many of Melbourne's inner city hotels, the Dan does not appear to have ever been more than partially renovated, with every attempt ending before it's quite complete. It's a rancid old corner pub with exposed wiring in the light fittings, a grease mottled ceiling, and subtle evidence that structural repairs are being done by some bloke in exchange for free beer.

The beauty of these wretched dives, however, is that they discourage shallow sorts who go out only to be seen, and instead service the locals. I sort of wish that we had more neighbourhood pubs like this back home in Perth. All we have are beer barns, where the pissheads of half a dozen suburbs congregate to drink themselves into a belligerent frenzy, or upmarket bars that are crowded with young urban professionals, and are thus loathsome.

The poetry performances were a deliciously mixed bag. Some were, frankly, terrible. They were terrible because the poet had no skill in speaking, or because the poem itself was unimaginative, or because the poem was entirely too imaginative and didn't make a blind bit of sense. But the rest were engaging and fun, and there were several noteworthy performances. A man named Gavin decried, in the rich and fruity tones of a well-cultivated man, the poseurs in the Tour de France. A couple of old men told comic narratives with deftness and aplomb. But feature poet Sam, in a green velvet waistcoat and Bernard Fanning hair, generated the best reception. He began an epic poem of seemingly jumbled words and psychedelic concepts, which was dull and difficult to follow at first but imperceptibly evolved into an overblown, almost baroque paean to his sexual prowess. He fell more and more into his narrative character, running his hands up and down his body and mouthing the more exotic words as if he were peeling a grape with his tongue. The character he created was so enamoured with himself that it was difficult not to like him, simply for his uncomplicated braggadocio.

The applause, when he was finally spent, was rapturous.

Monday, July 26, 2010


D. Dowd Muska, commentator and Connecticutian, opines:

"There is something profoundly wrong with a nation where more adults ride bicycles than children. "

I totally agree. What else are the little bastards good for?

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Getting older sucks. Forget baldness, fatness, and the clammy hand of death on your shoulder: there's also the issue of shoes. Walking around the outlet stores, I realised that the period of my life in which I can wear the latest thing in sneakers is over. And I mourn.

If this seems rather arbitrary, cast your mind back to the last time you saw a man beyond his mid-thirties wearing the latest Nikes. You can see him right now: sensible poly-cotton shirt from Target, dad jeans, supermarket socks and HUGE athletic shoes in chatreuese and neon orange. He looks like a twit. Worst of all, he probably thinks that he looks pretty cool.

Shoes with bright purple webbing or gold gel inserts are the providence of the kids. They have the MySpace hair and baggy pants to carry off such eccentricities. Older people, by contrast, are expected to know better. We're supposed to have developed a more sophisticated podiatric paradigm. After one's mid-thirties, discretion is the better part of casual footwear. But this is problematic when you want something to go with your jeans and a T-shirt.

Fortunately after shuffling through half a dozen outlet stores I had some success. I found some tasty black and plaid sneakers which should lend me just a hint of grooviness, rather than announcing, “Hello, I am having a mid-life crisis starting from the ground up”.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Over the last two days I haven't so much been hitting the shops as beating them senseless. I think I may have broken my wallet.

Melbourne has good shops, providing that you are a frivolous, retro-obsessed, pretentious flake. As such I am right in my element. I've spent most of my days shuttling back and forth in my favourite sections of Collingwood and Fitzroy.

Collingwood has gentrified considerably since I was last here in 2007. The banged up Vietnamese restaurants and grubby news agencies are interspersed with ever more designer shops; very clean and very sparse, with the sort of signage that probably required eleven dedicated meetings of the graphic design team. The antique stores look like satires of themselves, with their expensive wares built into stacks of carefully designed disorder, curated to give the illusion of serendipity.

Meanwhile the belligerent remnants of the indigenous working class glower at cashed-up tourists like me, who dart from second hand CD shop to thrift store to factory outlet, getting weighed down by more bags with every step. Sometimes I feel like a complete douchebag.

But I'm a complete douchebag with a CD of rare Nina Simone recordings, a vintage velvet smoking jacket and half price Italian leather shoes. Totally worth it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Apparently good Americans, when they die, go to Paris. Failing to be either good, American or dead, Blandwagons only get as far as Melbourne. And so, for the next week, here I am, catching up with friends, shopping, drinking coffee, going to concerts and art exhibitions, and getting rained on.

The flight over was about as good as one could expect from my budget carrier. The seats were worn, wipe-down vinyl, and packed together so tightly that we didn't so much sit as play human-shaped tetris. Luggage cost extra. Food and drink cost extra. Movies cost extra. I can only assume that some other generous passenger paid for my seatbelt, tray table and oxygen.

Despite all this, I wasn't worried about entertaining myself. I had my netbook with me, and I'd spent half an hour last night cramming .avi files onto my 2GB USB drive. I had the entire third season of 'The IT Crowd', a Wallace and Grommit episode, a few episodes of 'Modern Family' that I hadn't seen, and a dumb Hollywood movie. More than enough to see me through a three and a half hour flight.

Unfortunately, when I pulled out my netbook at some point about 11kms above the Australian Outback, I realised that the USB drive was still sitting where I'd left it on my bedside table.

Following a vigorous but internalised bout of swearing, I amused myself by messing about with my iPod, taking photographs of the wing, and drinking expensive high altitude gin. It seemed to do the trick.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Overheard in my local café:

"I told him and told him until I was black and blue in the face."

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Notes (entirely unrelated to music) from last Saturday's local band competition at the Civic Hotel:

1. Even here, in decidedly unhip Perth, the hipster taste for beards has made itself known. Three of the five skinny young fellows on stage right now have beards. Only one of the five has a discernable amount of product in his hair. So you heard it here first – beards are the new product!

The Amish will be delighted to learn this. If they read this blog, which, let’s face it, they probably don’t. They’re more lolcat kinda people.

2. The hipster drive for self-promotion is also out in force. Everywhere I look, someone is texting, tweeting, photographing or updating their Facebook status. Even I’m blogging on my iPod, which would be uber-hipster if we’d somehow managed to time travel back to 2006.

3. It’s impossible to place too much value on charisma in your performers and performance. It turns the most straightforward tunes and adequate musicians into party starters.

4. There are only two types of people who attend local band competitions; friends and family of each band, and the members of each band. Apparently there isn't a single person who just said, "Hey, I think I'll go out and hear a bunch of strangers play some music tonight".

5. Is there anything sadder than a punk who is a) fat and b) over the age of thirty?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


We've probably established by now that I'm a pretty big fan of bad movies. Give me shoddy sets, leaden dialogue, a brain-damaged director and/or Ursula Andress vainly attempting to play Anna Karenina (as surely must have happened in some wonderful parallel universe), and I'm in hog heaven.

Books, however, are an entirely different issue.

I was reminded of this just yesterday, when I cracked open a copy of Eric Van Lustbader's thriller 'Pale Saint' that a friend had lent me. I was in the mood for a light trashy read.

I got through the first paragraph. Barely.

To demonstrate why, I transcribe it here in all its hideous majesty:

On the morning he was called to prosecute the country's most notorious serial killer Robert Austin was thinking of baseball. It was Friday, October 1 and the only thing that had been on his mind was taking his fifteen-year-old daughter, Sara, to the Yankees game tomorrow afternoon. The Orioles were in town for the AL Championship Series, and Andy Pettitte was pitching. Through one of his thousand-dollar-an-hour attorney acquaintances on Park Ave. Austin had gotten seats close enough so Sara could study the master hurler's form. Under Austin's tutelage, she was developing a better arm than most of the boys her age, and an even better eye. Since she had joined the NYC Inter-Borough League, he had watched her blossom as she had absorbed the tricks he had learned in his youth. Now, partly because of her expertise, her team was going to be playing for the city championship on October 21.

We can learn two things from this paragraph:

1. Eric Van Lustbader has incriminating photos of the CEO of Harper Collins with another woman, or more likely another man, or even more likely another goat, and is blackmailing him to get his novels published.

2. All of Harper Collins' editors were killed in some sort of awful fire, fuelled by highly inflammable printer's ink and the bottles of bourbon in their desk drawers.

There are two types of sentences here: those that are wrong, and those that are merely clunky. Let us perform a line by line fisking, as is the way of the internet:

On the morning he was called to prosecute the country's most notorious serial killer Robert Austin was thinking of baseball.

No, he was thinking about baseball. There's a difference, as you appreciate if you consider "I'm thinking of you" and "I'm thinking about you". And there should be a comma after "killer".

It was Friday, October 1 and the only thing that had been on his mind was taking his fifteen-year-old daughter, Sara, to the Yankees game tomorrow afternoon.

"October 1" should be in parenthesis. This sentence has shifted tense from the previous sentence. "Tomorrow afternoon" should be "the next afternoon". And there's no reason at this point for the reader to know three details about the girl (her name, her age and her relation to the hero). She should be called "Sara" or "his daughter" now, and the other details inserted in subsequent paragraphs. The reader will keep track; he's an idiot, not a goldfish.

The Orioles were in town for the AL Championship Series, and Andy Pettitte was pitching.

There's nothing particularly wrong here, thus lulling the reader into a false sense of security before the next sentence's horrors are released.

Through one of his thousand-dollar-an-hour attorney acquaintances on Park Ave. Austin had gotten seats close enough so Sara could study the master hurler's form.

We already know that Austin in a lawyer, so "attorney acquaintances" could be the far less clunky "colleagues". The fact that they work on Park Avenue is irrelevant. The abbreviation of Avenue inserts a full stop into the middle of the sentence, ruining the flow. "Gotten" is a verbal expression, not a written one; it should be "acquired". "So Sara could" should be "for Sara to". According to Google, this is the only time Andy Pettitte has ever been called a "master hurler"...

You know what? I'm losing both my will to live and my faith in a benevolent God, so I'm stopping here. But you see the problem, or rather, three distinct problems. Eric Van Lustbader doesn't understand tense, vocabulary, structure, rhythm, parenthesis or prepositions. Harper Collins doesn't believe that this is an issue. And the readers don't seem to care that the prose doesn't caress their minds so much as repeatedly jab them in the nose. Frankly it makes Dan Brown look like D.H. Lawrence.

Alternatively, imagine all of this as a Venn diagram, with "People who like the English language" on the left, "People who read Eric Van Lustbader novels" on the right, and, in the hairsbreadth overlap, "People with severe masochistic perversions".

Now I have to go stuff my head with Colm Tóibín and Ian McEwan until all of the Van Lustbader falls out.

Friday, July 02, 2010


I went down to Mojo's in North Fremantle last Monday to see a friend perform at their open mic night.

Mojos is a great example of a neighbourhood bar. It's scrubby and down-at-heel, with low lighting to hide the stains in the mostly broken furniture. But that's the way that the hippies and ferals of North Fremantle like these things, and there was a warm atmosphere, a crackling fire in the fireplace, and a friendly crowd intent on enjoying the performances.

I arrived and ordered a drink from the bartender, only to have him scurry away halfway through the transaction to introduce the next act, then dive over to the mixing desk to check the levels. The act on stage at the time was a duo; a chunky man in black leather ugg boots taking care of guitar and vocals, while some weathered old homeless man pounded away at the drums, with an intent expression that suggested either he was lost in the music or he was tossing up which alley he wanted to sleep in that night.

I eventually got my drink and found my friends, and sank into an old sofa that had given up on the idea of resistance and just let its occupants sink to within a whisker of the floor.

In between acts, while the musicians fussed with their instrument set ups, a couple of performance poets from out of town did their work. I actually rather enjoy performance poetry. I hate reading poems, but hearing them is another matter entirely. It helps that performance poetry tends to be lively and dynamic and witty, whereas the sort of poems I see in books and magazines seem to be about squeezing as much pretention out of as few words as possible. Good performance poetry is like stand-up comedy without the tyranny of having to make people laugh, or like rap with more self-deprecation and rather less emphasis on popping caps in asses.

After the poetry my friend performed his small set of five songs, along with his absurdly young keyboardist, about falling in love, walking in the rain, and strychnine poisoning, which made sense in context. They were both very good and, as I mentioned to him later, I was also very impressed by his stage patter. Patter is a subtle art, but one which must be mastered by every performer who wishes to be taken seriously. It's all very well to get up on stage and demonstrate your musical talents, but if you just stare blankly at the audience between songs and mutter something about how great they are, or worse, nervously waffle about nothing, you're unlikely to make a connection with them. I've seen great performances undone by the witless prattle bubbling out of the lead singer. It destroys the mood.

They were followed by more poetry, and then a tall, thin, dreadlocked man named Joe who pounded an electronic drum pad with his foot while blazing away at an acoustic guitar and blowing his didgeridoo*. He was very talented and an excellent choice to close the evening, mainly because he wasn't so ostentatiously over-talented as to make the preceding acts seem weaker. Rather, he was a gentle upward inflection on a long evening of good music.

I felt very at peace with the world as I drove home through the empty midnight streets. I credit the power of seeing a diverse range of artists at work. Although the scotches I had probably helped. Not to mention the thin haze of pot smoke that eternally hangs over North Fremantle.

*not a euphemism