Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne’

This astonishing photograph was taken by Sarah Haddid, flying into Melbourne last night.

What is most terrifying for me is that our house is so close to all that. You can actually put your finger at the end of the Eastern Freeway and pretty much cover the Wellthisiswhatithink compound. The flames came to within two blocks of our local shopping centre. Friends in the middle of it all had to evacuate to us.

And yet, bizarrely, were it not for the emergency authority website, Facebook and radio, we would not have known it was happening. The wind was in the other direction – no smoke or embers. Bizarre.

Melbourne dodged a major bullet this weekend. I find it hard to summon up enough praise for the fire authorities and the volunteers and paid firies who keep us safe, at great risk to themselves.

Incredibly, it was five years to the day since Black Saturday, which very nearly impacted, perhaps fatally, on my family, and which brought death and destruction to so many others.

This is a beautiful land. It is also very frightening, sometimes.

As we write, there are still 26 out of control fires in Victoria. Our prayers and concern go out to everyone involved.

mileyOK, we have no idea who this young lady is.

Her photo was sent to me by a work colleague, cribbed from an official publication.

But, yeah. This is either the best bit of photoshopping ever, or dear little Miley has got a doppleganger working for the nick-nicks on Melbourne trams, or she’s sick of being criticised for getting her kit off and has gone to the other extreme.

Weird or what?

If you happen to know the answer, do let us know.

We are now declaring a moratorium on Miley Cyrus stories for, oh, well, for about three days, based on her current trajectory.

For those of you who will be emotionally destroyed by our abstinence, here are a few other articles from the last 24 hours.

The new normal. God help us.

Angry summer indeed ...

Angry summer indeed …

This has been going on all summer. We smashed heat records in January. And then in February. This is March: South-eastern Australia has been sweltering for well over a week, with the strongest pulse of heat just before the end. This is from Rob Sharpe at the Weather Bureau, about 15 minutes ago. (It’s now 6.30 pm approx AEST on 12/3/13)

South Australia

The heat pushed into South Australia almost two weeks ago beginning an eleven day run of over 30 degree temperatures. This is the third longest run of March heat in over 120 years of records.

Mt Gambier smashed the March record for consecutive days above 30 degrees with eleven. This is five more than the record and is also equal to the summer record set in 1956.

Victoria

Melbourne has broken multiple records in this run of heat despite having records dating back 156 years. It has had the longest ever run of days above 30 and 32 degrees with nine days reaching 32.7 and above. The previous records were eight days above 30 and seven above 32, set in the same run in February 1961.

Nights have also been very warm in Melbourne meaning that buildings without air conditioning have struggled to cool from the daytime heat. The city has equaled the record of six mornings in a row failing to drop below 20 degrees. Tonight is likely to break the record with the mercury likely to be in the low 30′s or high 20′s most of the night. There is a chance that tonight will break the record for the warmest March minimum of 26.3 degrees.

All of Victoria has been bombarded by this heat with temperatures rising as high as 40 degrees at Cape Nelson. This is 19 degrees above the March average and half a degree short of the March record.

Tasmania

Records have been equaled and they have been doubled in Australia’s southern most state.

Launceston has been staggering in its consistently hot temperatures. It has doubled its record run of four days above 30 degrees with a staggering eight days, including a new record March temperature of 33 degrees.

Hobart came very close to its longstanding March record of 37.3 degrees today, reaching a top of 36.7 degrees. Just inland of Hobart, Bushy Park succeeded in equaling its 47 year old March record of 37.6 degrees. Strathgorden and Strathan had their hottest March day in at least 30 years.

Meanwhile, the northern hemisphere shivers, ironically, in appalling cold and snow, which is, of course, equally due to the chaotic disruption of the planet’s man-made warming.

What will it take before people realise we need to take meaningful action now? Yes, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to affect our lifestyles. It’s going to mean business will have to “box smarter”. And no, it’s not all bad news – climate change will produce winners as well as losers. But the scale of change is going to be massive, even if the effect is at the lowest end of what is predicted.

But we can do it – think of the great efforts made by humanity in times of peril before. We can stop it getting worse than it has to be, and we can ameliorate the effects. Just can we please stop arguing and get started?

This is unbearable.

Sometimes simple was best - it let the music shine

Sometimes simple was best – it let the music shine

Last night, for reasons so obscure they do not need elucidation, one found oneself with free tix for self, Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and Fruit Of One’s Loins at the Melbourne opening night of the latest run of Jersey Boys, the autobiographical re-telling of the rise and rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the mean streets of New Jersey to mega-stardom and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

First opening night I had ever been to. Always good to rack up a first when already ensconced in one’s middle years. I don’t suppose it’s likely to happen all that often, so the credit card treated us all to dinner on the pavement at an ancient bistro next to the theatre (the type where you have to ask the price of the bottle of wine then you shouldn’t be there) and it was really quite amusing watching minor celebs arrive and be interviewed on the red carpet and photographed in front of the banners for the show and all that fluffy nonsense. Wannabee starlets primped and preened and wandered around squeezed into dresses that resembled sequin-encrusted handkerchiefs rather than practical garments. Luckily it was a warm night.

The PR hacks and the journos and the publicists and the great and good of Melbourne society swirled around, all trying to work out who was looking at them without anyone noticing that it was them that was doing the looking, and in general, a good time seemed to be being had by all. The whole thing was about three millimetres deep in societal relevance, and all the more fun for that. The former conservative Treasurer of Australia, Peter Costello, sat behind and above us in the circle. What my Mum would have called “the cheap seats, for the genteel poor”. It was only continual nagging by the Memsahib that prevented me from pointing out to him that the socialists had the better seats.

This multi-award winning show, which has already done amazing business in the USA and around the world, just seems to roll on and on. Almost everyone I know had already seen it, and I had actually not bothered last time it was here – “Frankie Valli? Pfft!” – so I wasn’t overly geed up to finally make the show.

But what an error, Dear Reader! This was musical theatre at its most approachable, enjoyable, and even, on occasions, genuinely moving. All around the world right now I have friends and readers telling me how they are flocking to see the musical movie version of Les Miserables and coming away feeling sad and drawn. My advice? Forget “The Glums”, (it’s a thoroughly depressing book, it was a thoroughly depressing stage show, and now, apparently it is a thoroughly depressing movie), and hithe thee instead to the nearest production of Jersey Boys. Fly, if you have to. Because it’s a corker.

With a set that brilliantly combines the raw simplicity of steel, echoing the mills and hardships of the young lads’ backgrounds, with witty, eye catching video effects and massive TV panels (allowing the very clever tromp l’oeil effect of combining on-stage performance with genuine footage of the audiences watching the original Four Seasons performing on shows like American Bandstand), the overall effect is to encourage one to suspend disbelief entirely, and to feel one is back in the late 50s and 60s, witnessing the birth of a genuinely mass-movement popular music phenomenon, and the effect it had on both the participants and the society surrounding them.

Jeff Madden channels Frankie Valli so accurately all disbelief is suspended

The Melbourne production was previously singled out by critics as amongst the most impressive worldwide, and I am sure the same plaudits will rain on the heads of the current cast, choreographers, stage designers and musicians. At times, Canadian actor Jeff Madden channelled Frankie Valli himself with a passion and credibility (and the “voice of an angel” that made Valli so famous, with a natural falsetto that defied belief) that meant one had to pinch oneself to remember that the real Valli is now 78 and all this was a very long time ago. But all the cast were flawless. The sets were tight, the timing impeccable, the dialogue convincing, and above all, the music sublime. It was a perfect reminder, and in my case a reminder was needed, that these young people were responsible for some of the finest pop songs ever written and performed. Their talent and their popularity was certainly rivalling other mega groups like the Beatles at the time, or the later Abba, and they deserve to be recalled with affection and some awe. Especially the song-writing and producing skills of Bob Gaudio, charmingly brought to life by Decaln Egan.

What made the evening truly special were a few moments when the audience, swept away by the talent on display, both inherent in the music and in the performances of the young cast, hollered and whooped their full-throated appreciation.

As if taken somewhat by surprise, the cast allowed themselves a little self-regarding emotion, occasionally just taking a second to the thank the audience for their enthusiasm, throwing in the occasional bow, nods of thanks, and smiles, with sparkling eyes.

It was charming, unforced, and it seemed entirely appropriate.

It further blurred the line between history and today, between acting and reality, between New Jersey and everyone else, between the entertainers and entertained.

For a moment the bond between actors and audience really did feel like that curious and intimate mesh that binds pop idol and fan, that can make one feel bereft and bereaved at the death of a John Lennon or a Freddie Mercury, or in genuine awe of the athletic rawness of a Bruce Springsteen or Roger Daltry, or warmed by the sheer good naturedness of an Olivia Newton-John or Cat Stevens or fundamentally,and sometimes life-changingly, stirred by the righteous wrath of a Bob Dylan. In the music of these giants of the entertainment world we see glimpses of them, the real people behind the carefully-constructed images, and thus in turn of ourselves, expressed in new and meaningful ways.

Now and again, last night, we were privileged to feel what Frankie Valli and his friends gave their many fans. And it seriously rocked.

If you’ve forgotten, well, here you go. Do yaself a favour. Some of the video is a bit dodgy. The music sure as hell isn’t.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun loved the show too. As they did in Adelaide. And in Sydney, the Sunday Telegraph commented “Jersey Boys isn’t just a cut above most musicals;  it’s in a different league”. And the Syndey Morning Herald raved “This is easily the best musical ever – truly thrilling – the hits explode from the stage with verve, polish and conviction.”

You can also see exclusive footage of the Melbourne show with cast interviews on this blog.

Well there ya go, and now you know. Be there or be square, man.

One of the weirdest thing about being a northern hemisphere fellow in a southern hemisphere world is obviously the fact that it’s blazing hot at Christmas-time in the antipodes.

Readers who were on board this time last year will remember the article Home Thoughts From Abroad when Melbourne was visited by the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms on Christmas Day 2011. I am pleased to report Christmas Day 2012 was much less dramatic.

Summer in the heat has its own traditions. Using the barbecue not the oven, for one. (Indeed, wandering the streets at this time of the year at any mealtime will leave most people salivating by the time they get home, as the air is perpetually heavy with the sweet smell of grilling steaks and snags – otherwise known as sausages or links, depending on where you’re from.) Oyster Bloody Mary shooters are a regular in the Wellthisiswhatithink household – they’re a hell of a good way to start the meal preparation time. Most people down here now choose seafood not turkey on Christmas Day itself – especially lobster, (hang the price), and, of course, the ubiquitous prawns. (Which down here are gigantic, not the shrimps you get around northern Europe.) Heading to the beach or the cricket on Boxing Day is another favourite.

(We actually prefer to call Boxing Day “St Stephen’s Day” in our home, for obvious reasons.)

And not least in the traditions of the Christmas-New Year is the annual “Blimey, it’s Christmas already, we really need to get the pool ready for use!”

It was particularly the case for us this year, because during the off season we had the pool re-painted, after years of it looking like a patchwork quilt of the previous three paint jobs, all of which had worn off the base concrete to some degree or other.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our "new" pool.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our “new” pool.

So the pool is now unique. No, I don’t mean it’s nice, or new looking, or all that. On a whim, we chose a colour that the pool painter said the paint company told him had never been ordered before! It’s called “Jacaranda”, after the flowers of that lovely tropical tree which abounds throughout Australia at this time of year, or if you feel a little more prosaic, “Purple” would describe it just as well.

We now have the only purple pool in Melbourne. Unless you know different.

So, sure as the most common comment you hear at this time of the year is “My God when is it ever going to rain?” Dad gets despatched to the pool to get the accumulated detritus off the floor of the pool so it can be enjoyed in the warmer months. Our pool is surrounded by very beautiful trees that shed constantly (not a smart idea to plant them in the first place, but we inherited the problem) so a decent blow and it can look like there’s a small field growing on the floor of the pool overnight.

The funny thing is, we have one of those automatic pool cleaners. The ones that quietly vibrate their way around your pool, vacuuming up the crap and cleaning the water at the same time. But ours is seriously old. It was given to us as a gift years ago, and has been quietly putt-putting around on and off ever since, gradually getting less and less efficient. But we can’t bring ourselves to chuck it out. It’s almost like a pet. We call it the Putt-Putt and nurse it back to life every summer with loving care, which this year involved actually taking it to the pool shop in desperation, whereupon Mr Putt-Putt Vet (known to the rest of the community as the man who runs the pool shop) diagnosed a near fatal hole in a critical part of the structure, which he repaired for free with something akin to cement. Thus far, Putt-Putt is well, and I am eternally grateful to his saviour. If you want to know a pool man who actually does something – anything – for free, call me.

But Putt-Putt has a problem. It’s on the end of a hose which doesn’t reach easily to the shallow end of the pool. In addition, the pool was dug many moons ago, when they didn’t make structures that are peacefully sloped to the deep end that isnt so deep anyway.

In our pool, the slope down to the deep end is like the north face of the Eiger and the deep end is so deep that you could drown a brigade of cavalry in it and no one would notice. Putt-Putt simply can’t make it up the hill.

Walking the Putt-Putt ... a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

Walking the Putt-Putt … a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

So every year, we undergo a ritual called “Dad’s walking the Putt-Putt”.

This involves me using the device exactly as it isn’t meant to be used, in other words, carefully shepherding it around the shallow end of the pool as if it was, indeed, a gentle old dog needing a bit of help finding his water bowl. Automatic it ain’t.

It’s all worth it in the end. There is nothing much as wonderful as reading the newspaper by a sparkling pool and plonking into it when one gets overheated. Friends come round and share quality time – once they get past worrying that we’ll think they only want to see us because we’ve got a pool – we are quite happy to acknowledge that they want to see us AND we’ve got a pool ready and waiting on a 100 degree day – bonus.

One Christmas tradition in Australia is not so welcome. The fires have started up in Tasmania over the last couple of days and it is feared lives have been lost along with plenty of homes. And today there are over 100 fires burning in New South Wales with over 20 of them out of control. In Victoria, we lost 173 hundred people (with another 414 injured) in February 2009 in an event called Black Saturday. The event is still seared into the minds of the entire community. For twelve terrifying hours the fire separated me from my family, still on holiday in an area with a fire roaring towards it, as I had chosen to return from our family holiday early. My daughter’s best friend was with her and my wife. At one point, her parents phoned my wife and asked for the numberplate of her car. No one needed to ask why. If they got caught in the firefront, they wanted to know how to identify that their daughter had died.

Black-Saturday-Bushfires
It is hard to explain the horror of the inevitability, the inexorability, the sheer uncontestability of a large grass or bush fire in Australia. Of course, we are not the only country that suffers these frightening events, but as the driest continent in the world we suffer them more often, and more severely.They are a natural part of the bush renewing itself. Essentially, humans were never meant to live here, and we do so at our peril, clinging to the land nervously, knowing full well we are not in charge.

As the world warms, the fires will come earlier, and harder, than ever before, just as they have this year. Indeed, the weather in NSW today was reported earlier as the worst fire danger day ever recorded.

As I walk the Putt-Putt around the shallow end, you can’t see it, but I am praying. You can read below about Australia’s “Dome of Heat”.

http://m.theage.com.au/environment/weather/temperatures-off-the-charts-as-australia-turns-deep-purple-20130108-2ce33.html

OK. Those pesky Mayans ran out of wall, so we all know we’ve all got only nine days left to live, right? So here’s my ultimate guide to what to do with every one of those sleeps in the world’s most liveable city. Money no object. I mean, you can’t take it with you, right?

So before the invisible planet slams into the earth – hop on a jumbo and head here.

I don’t care what the rich and famous tell you about heading to Japan for wafer-thin slices of wagyu beef at $500 bucks a head. Spend one fifth of that and get the most sensational steak you’ve ever eaten at my friend Stefan’s place in suburban Balwyn. The most unprepossessing place you ever saw, but it’s somewhat dowdy facade hides real riches.

He serves sausages, followed by cevapcici, (that’d be skinless sausages to you), followed by steak and salad, followed by either black forest gateaux or pancakes.  Walnut, lemon, or strawberries and cream. If Dirk Diggler came in with a few friends no one would be surprised, this is the 1970s on a stick. Meat, followed by meat, followed by meat, with some sugar and cholesterol to round it off. Perfect. No point worrying about your heart, if you go before the 21st you just miss all the nastiness.

I have always secretly suspected that his wine list seems mainly to comprise excellent bottles of wine left behind by business folks who leave there somewhat befuddled after three or four hours not realising they’ve left a bottle of Grange Hermitage behind. But who cares? The man is a legend, and so his meat.

Stefan's Charcoal Grill

Stefan's Charcoal Grill 2

Stefan's Charcoal Grill 3

steak
A word of advice. Never just choose your favourite cut of steak, instead ask Stefan what’s especially good that day. It’s all on display, he’ll let you know what’s the go.  Stefan’s is just one of many great steak joints in Melbourne, where you can eat the beef that in general gets exported to Japan (and to a lesser extent China and America) before it ever gets to a local supermarket.  If you don’t want to eat 9 different cuisines before we all evaporate into space, then try Vlado’s in Richmond as well, and an honourable mention for Cutler and Co in Fitzroy. That’s three of nine days taken care of.

So, nicely sozzled from lunch? Hop on one of Melbourne’s famous trams and treat yourself to a lazy afternoon watching the cricket at the MCG: yes, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, universally known as the “G” by all Australians, where up to about 90,000 or so screaming fanatics regularly gather for Australian Rules Football, Cricket, and occasionally rugby and soccer too.

mcg
If you can, grab a day-night limited overs game, which gets progressively more rowdy as the lights come on and the seagulls swirl around the light towers, and that day’s victims – South Africa? Pakistan? India? New Zealand? Or please God, England  – step out to try and chase the Aussie’s total, or to bowl the Aussies out before they reach the target set by the visitors. It is one of the great sporting moments in the world, and as this is Australia, you can be assured that a fair amount of the amber throat charmer will be drunk before you head home.

day night cricket
Tickets aren’t cheap, but we’re all doomed anyway, so you may as well join in the fun. And as the world’s ending, we’ll probably throw in fireworks, too.

mcg 2

OK, hangover not too bad? Let’s head, then, to one of the finest golf courses in the world, at Royal Melbourne.  Established in its current location since 1930, it offers two of the most exquisitely beautiful and challenging courses in the world – known somewhat prosaically as the East, and the West – and regularly plays host to world class tournaments.

royalmelbourne2
In 1959 the Club was chosen to host the Canada Cup.  In order to avoid crossing busy roads, 12 holes of the West Course and six from the East, all in the “main paddock” were chosen, and this became known as the Composite Course, which for many years was rated in the top 10 courses in the world.  Many important tournaments have been played over this layout, including the Eisenhower Trophy (1968), the World Cup, [previously the Canada Cup] (1972, 1988), the Australian Open on several occasions, the 1988 Australian Bicentennial Trophy, and most recently the Heineken Tournament for four years between 2002-2005.

royalmelbourne3

In 1998 the Club hosted The Presidents Cup, the first time this was held outside the USA.  The event returned to Royal Melbourne in 2011. Now for the casual visitor it costs an arm and a leg to get on there, for sure, but then again, you won’t have much use for your arms and legs soon, so where’s the problem?

royalmelbourne4
The perfect spot for a cool ale after 18 holes in 30 degree heat. Please turn your mobile phone off.

Right, up and at ‘em Vita Brits. Lets do some shopping. What about a million dollar car?

holden fx

Well, if you’re quick, apparently an old black Holden (GM) garaged at a country NSW dealership for years is set to become the most expensive car ever made in Australia. It is up for sale for A$1.2 million – the owner has already knocked back an offer for A$900,000.

golden-oldies-fx

The 60+-year-old Holden, No.46 of only 112 sold in 1948 – the year the first Holden was made in Australia – is believed to be one of three still around.  The owner, Canowindra car dealer Charlie McCarron, said experts had described his car as “the first Holden that will make a million dollars”.

Mr McCarron said he had been contacted by an agent for an overseas buyer who offered $900,000 but at the time of the news story I read the offer had been rejected.  Mr McCarron commented at the time: “I really want what I’m after ($1.2 million) for it,” he said. And he would prefer a local buyer, saying: “I wouldn’t like to see it go out of the country.”  The car was originally known as a 48-215 Holden but the model has become more commonly called the FX.

FX1_FEATURE__FF336872_67741

They sold new for just over 700 pounds sterling  back in 1948 and Mr McCarron bought his car second-hand for $575 in 1970.
His car has deluxe options, while the other cars known to exist are standard.

What’s the difference? For an extra ten quid the car gained leather trim, safety wheel rims and a passenger’s sun visor.

It only has 21,000 miles (35,000km) on the clock and has had an interesting life, including several TV appearances. Racing legend Peter Brock drove it on a parade lap before his last Bathurst 1000 race in 2004.  Mr McCarron said it was the last car Brock drove at a Bathurst 1000, as Brock’s race car was crashed by his co-driver before he could drive it that day.  “Peter Brock told me after he drove it, ‘I never thought I would ever have the opportunity of driving an as-new 48 Holden’,” Mr McCarron said.  He said the car still ran well and had its original spark plug leads.  The tools, jack, hand pump and handbook are still there and the interior still smells like new.

It had a 2.15-litre, six-cylinder engine with 45kW of power. Today’s six-cylinder GM-Holden Commodore has 172kW.  More than 120,000 FXs were made until 1953, when the FJ took over. The other cars are owned by Holden (No.6) and Melbourne enthusiast Phil Munday (No.19).

The desired $1.2 million price betters the $1 million price a 1971 Ford Falcon GT-HO owner has been asking for his car and the $900,00o plus paid for a Holden Special Vehicles 427 coupe a few years back.

Trivia aside: Who wrote HSV’s well-known slogan “I just want one.”? Yes, the answer wouldn’t be far from the home of  Mr Wellthisiswhatithink …

So last but not least, what about some prime real estate?

Raheen 1
Raheen is an historic 19th-century Italianate mansion located at 92 Studley Park Road in the  suburb of Kew, overlooking the Yarra River. It was built in the 1870s, and its name means “little fort” in Gaelic. It was once the residence of Daniel Mannix, the former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. and was purchased by the Church.

The first section of Raheen was commenced in 1870 with an extension added in 1884. It was designed by William Salway and built for Edward Latham of the Carlton Brewery. Sir Henry Wrixon, prominent Melbourne barrister and solicitor, later owned and resided at the property.

Reheen 2

In 1981 the Church sold the property and it reverted to a private residence. Raheen was constructed as a two-storey house in the Italianate style with a four-storey tower over the entrance and single-storey extension. It was designed in an asymmetric and arcaded form, and is built of red brick with cement render. The property retains its garden layout, including an Italianate garden, outbuildings, fence and gates, and internal features including the original stairwell, library, ballroom and cast iron tower stairs.

Raheen is of historic importance because of its association with Melbourne’s elite businessmen through Latham and Wrixon, and illustrates not only the importance of the brewery business and the legal profession in nineteenth century Melbourne, but also the importance of a residence in indicating success and status in society. The house is also of historic importance through its association with the Roman Catholic Church and illustrates the status sought by church hierarchy for Melbourne’s Roman Catholics and the Church prior to the mid-twentieth century.

Raheen 3
It was purchased in 1980 by the Australian businessman Richard Pratt (now deceased) and his family and currently is not open to the public. Many of Melbourne’s great and good – or, in any event, the most powerful – have graced its fine dining and living rooms down through the years, especially the art and theatre community which is extensively patronised by Pratt’s widow, Jeanne.

Before his death, Pratt extensively renovated the house and gardens, including the addition of a new wing designed by Glen Murcutt. Some sources say about a hundred million bucks should be enough to shake it loose from the Pratt’s hands.

Or then again, maybe not.

Apparently villages in France, Turkey and elsewhere are being touted as the right place to wait out Doomsday. In one, aliens are supposed to emerge from a  garage and whisk us all to safety. In Turkey, the Virgin  Mary is supposed to do the trick.

But I recommend Melbourne. The beer’s cheap and cold, the Vietnamese nosh is the best in the world, and we’re really nice people. Now I ask you, what else do you really need?

I have long been a critic of “public service” advertising. In my view, after 25 years in the advertising and marketing business, it is largely boring, tedious, un-impactful, and ineffective.

Sometimes, though, it seems the creative teams involved become  truly inspired by the importance of what they are doing: which is, of course, changing attitudes.

Check this out. This new little animated spot has been created by Metro Trains in Melbourne*.

I am just dumbstruck by how clever it is, how brilliantly focused and targeted (given that teenagers and young adults would be the primary audience), and how the message remains with you long after you’ve seen it. I know I will remember it whenever I am anywhere around a train, and I sincerely hope they reinforce the “dumb ways to die” message at “point of sale”,  that is to say, at stations and level crossings.

Another point. At three minutes long, it gives the viewer plenty of time to digest the message in a low-stress, humorous manner. The mood it inculcates in the viewer will increase the effectiveness of the message. It is not generally possible, of course, to deliver a three minute message on TV. So this is a super use of new media to get a story across in a meaningful, powerful manner. It’s been viewed 5 million times is 6 days on YouTube. Huzzah.

Regular readers of Wellthisiswhatithink will also notice that – although vastly different in tone and style – it uses the same brilliant insight into its target audience, and many of the same understandings, as this innovative pro-condom ad from France, that I have glowingly written about before.

I was also reminded of the famous Grim Reaper campaign from 1987 in Australia. It certainly pulled no punches. And though it is easy, in retrospect, to criticise its creative content as now somewhat dated, its overall strategy (or even  its medical accuracy), and the climate of near-hysteria it created at the time, there is no question that it dramatically reduced the ongoing incidence of HIV infection – Australia has one of the best performances in preventing HIV transmission in the world.

Another brilliantly successful campaign has been the Victorian campaign by the Transport Accident Commission against road trauma. Over the years it has created much controversial comment – it is just so damn difficult to watch some of the ads – but it has also undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, too, especially since they started putting up billboards to drive home the message as well. (A decision in which I played a small and hitherto unknown role, of which I am proud.)

Anyhow, I defy anyone to watch this spot – just one of dozens and dozens over the years – and not re-think their decision to drive home after a few drinks this Christmas.

Be safe out there.

So – takes a deep breath – sometimes, public service advertising gets it very right. Bravo to all concerned.

Now if only our political and social masters would demand standards as high as this for ALL public service advertising, instead of the anodyne, committee-squashed over-safe crap we usually get, then I might not mind paying my taxes quite as much.

*UPDATE

For those interested in the genesis of the “Dumb Ways To Die” campaign, it’s strategy (which I am glad to say I divined correctly) and more information on it generally, this story ran in Ad News in Australia today:

With Metro Train’s ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ video now swelling to 12 million views on YouTube, both the agency and the brand have hinted at a possible sequel to the popular animated push.

The video, which shows animated characters exploring various ways to die, had amassed over 12.7 million hits (as of midday on 21 November 2012) since its 16 November launch, while its theme song has entered both the local and international Top 10 iTunes charts.

It was created by McCann and is part of a broader campaign aimed at the under 25′s currently spanning across several platforms. McCann executive creative director John Mescall said that while he wasn’t able to divulge all the details, a follow-up to the campaign may be on the cards.

He told AdNews: “Both Metro and McCann have been working together to make sure that Metro’s customers enjoy the advertising, and this is the latest campaign in a progression of this theme.

“While commercial confidences mean I can’t say exactly what we’ll be doing with this campaign in the future, we definitely won’t stop trying to inform Metro’s customers in an entertaining way.”

Meanwhile, Metro Trains hinted it may continue to use irreverent ads in the future and explore non-traditional marketing themes thanks to greater brand awareness and consumer sentiment.

It also admitted the approach wouldn’t have worked for the brand in the past and wasn’t suitable for all companies.

General manager corporate relations Leah Waymark said: “We’ve had a unique opportunity to establish a brand from scratch over the past three years and the evolution of the brand is now at a point where we have very strong operational performance and an improved customer experience, so we can take greater risks in our marketing approach.

“A light-hearted animation and song would not work for all brands and would not have worked for the Metro brand eighteen months ago.”

Waymark also said the campaign’s position on digital was “critical, especially when targeting the under 25 market and commuters”.

Metro Trains added it wasn’t worried about the campaign’s light-hearted portrayal of death and said it was hopeful its message will resonate with youth.

“Some people might have an issue with us making light of what is a serious topic, but if we can save one life or avoid serious injury, then that’s how we’ll measure the success of this campaign,” Waymark said.

“We set out to find an innovative way to reach young people who see themselves as indestructible. We felt images of body bags were more likely to have an impact on their parents, so we wanted to engage with young people in a way we think they might appeal to them a bit more.”

Waymark also said that while the brand was expecting some success, it wasn’t predicting nearly 12 million YouTube hits.

“We’re not surprised that this campaign has been well received but you can never predict the speed and take-up which, in this case, has been amazing.

“Importantly, we can see from feedback being posted that the safety message is not being lost which is great news.”

Mescall said: “We knew it’d get shared because it had the perfect mix of contentiousness and likeability. But you don’t expect 10 million views in five days.

“The fact that the whole thing feels joyfully subversive is probably the key to its success. The idea, the lyrics, the music and the animation are all equally important.”

Its song was produced by Australian keyboardist and Cat Empire member Ollie McGill and sung by Melbourne-based artist Tangerine Kitty. A special well done to them them – it’s a great piece of creative work.

Yesterday, leading creatives praised the video as a strong piece of branded content.

Exploding Heads

The future of comedy is safe, apparently.

If you are within cooo-ee of Melbourne, do yourselves a favour and go.

An excited Dolly Parton fan and sexually liberated strippers in Morocco | Exploding Heads Impro.

Click the link, peeps. And if you get a chance to see this great show during the Melbourne Fringe trust me, just get there.

The 86 Bar, Smith Street Fitzroy. (Which is also a very cool bar, by the way.) You can find all the info you want about times, venues, dates, book tickets (as cheap as eight bucks a head) etc etc here http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/exploding-heads-impro/

Went to the opening night and just absoloodle cacked meself with laughter. So much breathtaking young talent: so clever to think it all up as you go, and create pathos, and make people rock with laughter.

Respect. Well done all!

Click this link to read a fun article called Stop Sausaging Around from See! Travel Mag.

I love the little story I have highlighted above, because it is all about sausages. In this case, German sausages, specifically. Go read that article then come back here :-)

Sausage maker

You put the smergle in the kefuptnik, hit the guntraager button, unt out comes the wassenwitchit in one long line. Yumbo.

I love sausages so much I recently spent $250 on a genuine sausage maker.

I even bought proper pig’s intestine to form the casing of the sausages, not that horrid plastic stuff that commercial sausage makers make.

Then I went and sourced superb pork belly from the best butcher in Melbourne, and added in all the spices I wanted, following the recipes I had downloaded from the internet to the letter.

Mein Gott In Himmel! Do you guys have ANY idea how bad sausages are for us? They are little tubular fat and cholesterol BOMBS!

I ate them with one finger on my pulse, anxiously checking to ensure the pump was still beating. And that was the only time I made sausages. I will do so again, but I am letting my system adjust. I think it will be safe to eat another sausage in about, oh, say three months? I have even reduced my supermarket trawl for them, which could often lead to me eating sausages every day for a week. (And never getting bored.)

The home-made heart-stoppers were bloody delicious, mind you.

Actually, reading back, I think the only thing I can say is “Don’t play the sore liver sausage”  you wuss. Hang the risk, get sausage making again. Hmmmm. Tempting.

Anyhow, how brilliant is it to have a culture like the Dear Old Deutsch where sausages are so prevalent they even have sayings about them?

Actually, there’s an Aussie saying called “Sink The Sausage”  come to think of it. Not to mention “Hide the Baby Salami”.

English: Sausages, seen in Covered Market, Oxford.

Sausages, seen in Covered Market, Oxford. (Wikipedia)

They mean about the same thing. I’m sure you can work it out.

And now I’ve included them in this article, you can guarantee my story on sausages won’t get Freshly Pressed. Hey ho.

By the way, NEVER prick sausages to release the fat.*shakes in horror*

Defeats the whole purpose of making them. The trick to the puuuurfect sausage is to cook it slowly, turning constantly, over a low heat, until it is thoroughly cooked through and gently browned. Never pierce it with a fork or knife tip. Apart from losing lots of lusciousness, red hot pork fat in the eye hurts.

OK – I want to know YOUR favourite sausage, Dear Reader. Lincolnshire? Cumberland? Chicken with Chives? Duck with orange and sage? Italian? Or your favourite really silly sausage story. Or your best home-made sausage recipe – and if it’s good, I promise I will make a batch and post photos.

Yes, I think I will make some more sausages. Life’s too short. If I suddenly stop posting, you’ll know I have had a coronary, and life got even shorter. F*** it, eh?

Sometimes, the weather just cries out “let yourself off the lead, come and play”. Today was just one of those days. And a Sunday, too, when one doesn’t have to work. How lovely.

Yum Cha

Yum Cha: that’s Chinese for “Diet? Pfffft.”

After a brisk, cheery Yum Cha lunch at Wealth Garden – almost the only Westerners in a huge restaurant full of Chinese, which is always a good sign – She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested a ramble along the Yarra River at lovely nearby Warrandyte. Stuffed to the gunwales with prawn and pork dim sum, noodles and some things that it would probably be better not to know what they were – stuck it in your mouth, chow down, yummy, that’s all you need to know, gwai lo – all sloshing about in what seemed like an ocean of delicious tea,  it seemed like a very sensible idea.

What a joyous decision. Apart from running into not one but two good friends with similar ideas, it was simply the most glorious day imaginable. Clear, sunny, gentle breeze, the land green with winter rains, the river swollen and rushing and actually looking like a real river for once.

(The Yarra, whilst iconic for all Melburnians, is notorious for being something of a trickle, and very brown and muddy from silt washed down from up country.)

Out came the iPhone, and as we walked I snapped luscious scene after scene. They’re quite high resolution, so if you like them, please feel free to steal them. And I hope you enjoy sharing our day. Lots of love, Wellthisiswhatithink.

Yarra River

Blossom by Yarra

Wild garlic by Yarra

Blossom and Light

Green bank and light

Pretty riverside path

Soaring fir tree against blue sky

River and light and path

Exquisite view and light

Magnificent stand of gums

Wild garlic close up

Wave

Flower

Yolly

Contented author and photographer. No, I don’t expect anyone to download this one.

The 21st birthday, set in 1920s Chicago. No, it has not escaped my attention that she looks ever more gorgeous, and I just look fatter. Helas, it was ever thus.

So last night, see, for reasons which need not concern us here, The Family Wellthisiswhatithink are schlepping all over rural Victoria in the darkness and pouring rain. Cue an hour and a half of trying not to get written off by wayward road-trains, or driving off the side of the unlit road into a gum tree, or aquaplaning into a swaying oncoming caravan.

She Who Must Be Obeyed is very kindly driving as Father has cried off with sore eyes. (An inevitable result of too much blogging which does sometimes get one out of driving.) Fruit of One’s Loins is in the backseat, half asleep between texts to various friends.

We have all just listened to a fascinating but rather tiring BBC podcast about the history of mathematics, trying to keep awake – specifically about a Swiss guy called Leonhard Euler who is well worth checking out, interesting dude, actually – but understanding what he did that was so clever has left us all a bit brain numbed, so we have now resorted to desultory conversation and flicking around the outer reaches of Father’s iPod listening to “driving Music”. (Usually long-lost one-hit-wonder 1970s bands.)

The rain slows to a steady drizzle, Melbourne’s lights loom vertically and vaguely in the far distance, the largest skyscrapers punching through the gloom, and planes landing at Tullamarine light up the sky with their nose searchlights, picking out the way home. At this moment a warm bed and sweet oblivion seem worth trading ten years of one’s life for.

You get the general picture.

For some reason, we fall to discussing the foibles of Fruit of One’s Loins early conversations with us. The way, like all kids, she couldn’t pronounce certain words properly, so just did her best, and how those words pass into the fabric of a family, un-noticed and un-remarked, until they become a habit.

My nephew, par example, aged one and a bit, christened all road-working heavy equipment as “Tac Tacs” as he couldn’t manage “tractor”, and would scream “Tac Tac!” delightedly whenever the car passed any yellow-painted earth-moving thing of any type. Gradually, generations of us decided to agree with him and repeated it. I confidently expect Tac Tac to pass into the English language one day.

“I upped the adorableness meter a few notches, Daddy, is that OK?” (Un-retouched photograph from cheap bedside frame where it has resided for, oh, about 20 years.)

It was a gentle conversation as we drove through the night-laden, moonlessly sodden suburbs. I recalled that she christened wallabies wobble-ies, which in retrospect seems a better name altogether given their bizarre ambulatory habit, and their propensity for ending up as roadkill. For some reason, she never learned to say “By myself” as in, “I can do that by myself”. She preferred “By my own.” Which makes perfect sense, even if it’s incorrect English, and to this day, every member of my family now says “By my own” to describe a solitary act. Vitamins were morphed into “Bitamins”, and so on.

As she grew a little older, and established a command of the English language that makes her writer Father proud, she never, ironically, learned to apply a concomitant filter to her thought processes, encouraged, one supposes, by a laissez-faire attitude to free discussion that her mother and I encouraged as being about the only thing we thought we knew about parenting beyond “love all your kids to bits”, which seemed just obvious and sensible.

She would simply say the first thing that came into her fertile, creative mind, often long before she has paused to consider the logic of it, a characteristic which I am delighted to see she still exhibits. It makes her refreshing, charming and sometimes hilarious company.

So it was that in her middle teen years – and attending a Christian school – she was one day sun-baking on a forty degree day by the backyard swimming pool when she asked her parents, with all the seriousness of not stopping to parse an idle thought adequately, “It must have been hot in olden days too, before swimming pools and air-conditioners. I bet people died of the heat back then. I wonder what Jesus died of?”

Suggestions came flying as what she had said dawned on her. “Really bad diarrhoea?” “Smallpox? Wasn’t there a lot of smallpox around back then?” “Old age?” “Maybe a car accident?”

It would be some years before she would be allowed to forget that one. Correction, it will be some years. Perhaps never. Of such little moments are the history of a family made, and each family’s is unique, and really rather wonderful.

“Could someone get me up from here?” Kind regards, Big Bird

Swerving off the freeway to catch a turn-off to home that she had nearly missed, the car teetering on what felt like two wheels but probably wasn’t, the Leader of the Opposition suddenly said to me “I’ll tell you one you don’t know, if you promise not to tease her about it.”

“Sure,” I said, “Go for it. I promise.”

A worried little voice warbled up from the back seat … “Is it about ….?” No, it wasn’t. I knew that one already. “Then is it ….?” No, I knew that one too.

“Well,” said my wife, cheerfully carving up an incautious motorcylist or two who had dared to travel on the same road as us at the same time – obviously hadn’t got the memo – “She used to wake up with sleep in her eyes …”

“Oh yes, yes, I know this one,” came the backseat cry, “I know, I used to wipe the sleep from my eyes, and you told me it was Fairy Dust that the faeries had put there to send me to sleep, so in the mornings I would wipe the sleep from my eyes and then rub it into my shoulder blades, because then one day I would grow real fairy wings of my own.”

I turned to look at her, charmed by the story. With all the good-naturedness of her affable, life-affirming 21 years she beamed at me.

I turned back to my wife, and said to her. “That’s not silly at all. I can completely see that. I bet it works, too. I bet you do grow fairy wings if you do it often enough. Yeah, good one. I might try that myself.”

The car fell silent again as we negotiated the last few sets of traffic lights and roundabouts before home. The rain started up once more, hammering on the roof of the car, turning the whole landscape into some sort of vast film noir set. I half expected to see Phillip Marlowe standing in a bus shelter, collar upturned, silently watching the world for clues, head turned away from the icy Antarctic wind which by now was bending the trees almost horizontal again.

I glanced back at my daughter again, and was rewarded with another grin. And it occurred to me that she had never grown fairy wings, no matter how hard her little four year old hands had rubbed her shoulders and dreamed of flying through the air in clouds of glitter and magical primary colours. But that, huddled in the back seat, and secreted under the coat and scarf and wooly jumper and warm shirt and thermal undies, she was almost certainly hiding a fine set of angel wings.

And I made a mental note to remember that more often. And to be grateful. And to smile more, even on winter nights, even when the road winds on forever, and the sky cries its eyes out, and the dark seems darker than nothingness.

About two hours into the count, and early booth results imply a swing away from Labor to the Greens, but its patchy: it looks like it’s probably enough for the “third party” to take the seat, but it also definitely looks like it will be close.

This confirms my prediction of a very narrow Greens victory, on preferences. However, preference flows will be crucial, and they are fiendishly difficult to predict with a field of 16 candidates, and at least two of the minority candidates being well known. Of the popular independents, one is a Liberal member and preferencing Labor, and one, the Sex Party candidate, is also preferencing Labor. So the ALP could squeak in, too, with the help of a curious collection of friends. (Update, as at Sunday morning, it appears that this is the most likely result.)

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull, New South Wale...

Malcolm Turnbull, New South Wales Liberal politician.

But in my opinion, whatever the final result is it will show no great enthusiasm for either the Greens or Labor. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see “Others” polling 20-25% of the first preference votes, and possibly even more.

Which leads me to conclude, once again, that there is plenty of room in Australian politics for a new party that is neither as mired in factionalism, corruption and lack of respect as Labor, as fanatically right wing and rat-baggery as the Liberal-National Coalition, nor as niche marketed as the Greens.

If Australia had a centrist, reformist, business-friendly, social-justice aware party which essentially believed in a mixed economy and high standards of public accountability, in my opinion it would be swept to power by a grateful public and with massive financial backing – and BOTH old parties would be swept aside.

What it needs is a leader.

Step forward, Malcolm Turnbull.

History awaits.

The lazy man’s way to blog is, of course, to re-blog other people’s blogs when you agree with them. The page I link to below is short, charming, and thought-provoking. We should all remember this.

The rest of sgmarinova’s blog is good too. Why not look around while you’re there?

http://sgmarinova.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/for-tomorrow/

BBQ Pork Buns 茶居

BBQ Pork Buns – picture stolen unashamedly from internet. Copyright be buggered. Look, it’s Sunday, right? Be nice.

Anyway, personally, I am not putting off going to Taipan for Yum Cha lunch for another Sunday.

Monosodium glutamate overload here I come. I may re-deem myself later by posting a nice photo or two of some food. Celebrating authentic Chinese culture. And, er … eating.

I am not sure the Buddha would agree that chowing down on seemingly endless dishes of squid tentacles, pork buns (see pic) and various non-identifiable masses wrapped in rice paper is noble. Not to mention sticky rice, that amazing invention that sits in your gut like a cannon ball for days. Comfort food for winter. (And winter has arrived in Melbourne with a vengeance … brrrr.)

Well, maybe the little fat smiling Buddha outside my front door would approve. But given the Buddha sat under a tree not eating much for years, where did the fat Buddha come from in world consciousness?

Hmmm. I feel some Google research coming on.

20120603-142514.jpg

Busy, crowded, chaotic, noisy, delicious. Yum Cha at its finest at Tai Pan in Doncaster, Melbourne

Too much is never enough.

Nom, nom, nom …

Poet in pub

I am not playing pool until I can work out what the fuck rhymes with “buttock”.

People usually enjoy it when I post my own poetry here, and I am happy to do so, so long as some of you buy the book occasionally too. Remember, any profits benefit a number of wonderful charities. You can head to: http://tinyurl.com/7tzxxgg where it is available in both book format and download.

I am always – like most writers – pondering the nature of writing and the creative process. 

This is not mere self-absorption, I feel. Well, I hope it isn’t.

Like a musician who hears notes constantly in their head which won’t go away until he plays them, or an artist who perceives the lines and colours of the world in a particular way and feels compelled to depict them, so the writer is frequently the victim of his or her words, not their master or mistress.

Sometimes – often – I simply feel an urge to write things down, to express them just so. If I ignore the urge, it becomes a mental nagging, then an indescribable emotional itch, then a full-blown obsession.

Like all writers I have been tortured by words or phrases, and eventually tossed back the sweat-drenched sheets and stumbled angrily to my typewriter or computer, willing the damn things down onto the empty page, so I can get some damn sleep.

And as any writer will tell you, it is the day you forget your shiny new portable electronic device, or more prosaically, your notepad, that the thoughts come flooding thick and fast, insistently, clamouring for attention, and you have to press confused bystanders or friends into giving you pen or paper immediately less the internal howling becomes too intense.

So: I wrote a poem about it. As you do. (Well, as you do if you’re a poet.) About how writing doesn’t just invade my life, it really is my life – has been for as long as I can recall, actually – and the rest of my life goes on around it, sometimes uninterrupted, and sometimes completely dominated by it.

The poem’s very long, but I do hope you find it enjoyable. It describes a real evening, long, long ago. Deep in the last millennium. Or perhaps, an amalgam of evenings. The pub was the Leinster Arms in Collingwood, in Melbourne, which for a while I seemingly kept open almost single-handedly through my contributions, (it would have been cheaper to rent an office, as I later did), and I only reveal that location now because I am perfectly sure that no-one there remembers me at all, and most of those that I now report on are either dead, demented, or simply moved on. And anyway, the poem is written with affection, and “no names, no pack-drill”, eh?

I am sure other poets and writers of all kinds – indeed, creative people of all kinds – will find echoes of themselves in here.

The Writer, by Stephen Yolland

Ricky Lambert scores last minute equaliser against Blackpool

Ricky Lambert scores a last minute equaliser against Blackpool in the 2-2 draw on 10 December 2011

I am perpetually bemused and amused by the propensity for otherwise reasonably sane people, oneself included, to become helplessly trapped in a cycle of despair and adoration for a group of sportspeople.

Currently, the football team which has been my deep love for more than thirty years – the “Pride of Hampshire”, Southampton FC, a.k.a the “Saints” – sit proudly atop the English Championship, the second tier of English soccer. If they continue to win more games than their rivals, then the end of the season will see the ultimate dream achieved, returning to the Premiership – the world’s greatest domestic football league – which they once graced for a remarkable 27 continuous years.

St Mary's Stadium

St Mary’s Stadium, home to Southampton FC, nestled in an industrial area near the famous port

Southampton’s story is that of a family club, once based around a Church football team – St Mary’s, now the name of their new stadium,and the origin of their nickname – way back in the 19th century, that has always punched way above its weight. At one point when I started supporting them (whilst at University in the ugly little south coast port city, so scarred by Nazi bombs in the 2nd world war) Manchester United used to make more from programme sales on a Saturday than Southampton made from ticket sales. The club nearly crashed out of existence altogether through financial troubles just a few short years ago, and have languished in the lower reaches of English football while they sort themselves out. These are heady days indeed.

Saints have always, with temporary diversions inflicted by misguided managers who rarely lasted long, been a club that preferred to play “total football”: football with genuine flair, football with what used to be called “Continental panache”, football to make you gasp with pleasure when it went right and cringe with pain when it went wrong. The roll call of great players who slotted comfortably into this unrealistically idealistic atmosphere almost beggars belief for a club of the size of Southampton – Bates, Gilchrist, Davies, Paine, Boyer, MacDougall, Moran, Osgood, Channon, Keegan, Wallace, Shilton.

Matt Le Tissier

Matt Le Tissier, perhaps the most talented footballer of his generation – perhaps any generation – and Southampton legend.

And, of course, the mecurially brilliant and sublime Matt Le Tissier. Or as he became universally known by Southampton supporters, “Le God”. Without question, the most gifted attacking midfielder the English game ever produced, who steadfastly refused multi-million-pound offers to move to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United with the simple words, “I like it here”.

It was this crazy, knockabout passion that led to Saints once memorably defeating Manchester United in the prestigious FA Cup Final, despite being a division below and a light year apart in terms of raw talent. It remains the only major trophy the club has ever won.

It is Saints’ generation-on-generation preference for bold, flowing courageous football, so often resulting in the team losing games 4-3 at the death knock of the 90 minutes as the defence streamed forward, looking for a winner, that led one supporter to memorably comment, “It’s not the despair that really gets to me, it’s the hope.”

So anyhow, last night, my beloved team were on the TV live, playing a team, Blackpool, that on current form they should beat easily. And true to the deadly obsession that is sports fanaticism, a bunch of us on the other side of the world from the actual match trailed loyally into a pub in Melbourne at 11.30pm in the pouring – torrential – rain, to once again undergo the ritual sacrifice of our sanity.

All ages, shapes, sizes and sexes. Actually, what was really funny was that in the streets and in the pub we were surrounded by cheery Christmas party revellers, many of them late teen, early 20s girls dressed in their best party finery – which means mini skirts that make handkerchiefs look excessively over-manufactured and legs that never seem to stop as they reach for the sky. Yet we only had eyes for the TV and every missed pass, crunching tackle, and woodwork-rattling shot. They must have felt their efforts to impress were entirely wasted. Or perhaps we were all gay? We certainly looked peculiar, decked out in red and white team shirts, and one bizarre fellow sporting a felt jester’s hat in team colours with bells. Yes, dear reader, that was me.

Bartosz Bialkowski

Bart Bialkowski – the stand-in keeper’s mistake gifted Blackpool a vital goal

And once again, Saints put us through the emotional wringer, with a performance that ran the full gamut of the sublimely talented to the horrifyingly inept and back again. They totally dominated the opening period, and scored a good goal from the latest hero to embody Saints’ spirit, Ricky Lambert. Then they let in two goals, one a well taken effort that was probably unpreventable, and one a goalkeeping howler that will haunt the lad concerned for the rest of his career. Stand-in keeper Bart Bialkowski somehow let an otherwise harmless shot squirm under his body and through his legs to give Blackpool the lead.  Perhaps the only consolation for the lad is the mishap occurred too late to be included in the “bloopers of the year”compilation DVDs out for Christmas.

Not until the second minute of five minutes added on to the normal 90 did Saints finally score an equaliser (seen above, again from “Goal Machine” Lambert). The relief in the Sherlock Holmes Tavern was palpable. And Saints’ nearest rivals, West Ham, contrived to lose, to boot. So we were still somewhat fortuitously top of the table, still with an unbeaten home record (although the current record-breaking run of 22 homes games won came to a sticky end) leaving us tragics in the pub buoyed up and near-salivating for next Sunday’s game against arch-rivals Portsm*uth.

(I have to write Portsm*uth and not the whole name of that benighted club, because it is a long-standing tradition amongst Saints fans that we never write their club name in full, which would pay them too much respect. They are more commonly referred to as simply “Skates” or “the fish fiddlers”, in deference to the belief that fishermen in the area used to acheive sexual satisfaction by having intercourse with the wings of the Skate fish, common in the area, (a type of small ray), which was supposed to mimic a human female sex organ. The fact that those fish were then on-sold to the locality, including Southampton, may well have something to do with the persistence of the mythology and the mutual dislike. Since time immemorial, the rivalry engenders more hatred and detestation than possibly any other in English football.)

I was left, driving home in the pouring, leaden, dark night, to reflect on what it is about supporting a sports team that makes it such a consuming and culturally-independent experience. Around the world, sport of all kinds, but especially the various codes of football, captures the hearts and minds of thinking, rational people and turns them into dribbling idiots, crying or laughing into their beer, and happily hugging smelly strangers indiscriminately.

I saw it again last night, when, in response to our manic shouting at the TV, (“Ref! You total bastard! Offside!”), the entire clientele of the pub started to forget what is was they were there for originally, and pay attention to the flickering images of inch high men running backwards and forwards, beamed live through unimaginably brilliant technology from the other side of the planet. By the end of the game, and Lambert’s last-gasp equaliser, they were all on side too, cheering, asking us if they could wear our colours, asking about the team and our star players, and cheerful adopting our lifelong allegiances as their own. As one colleague bemusedly remarked to me, “Not bad, another 30 new supporters who’ve never heard of us before.”

Yes, for a few brief minutes, we were the same tribe. We were the same religion. We believed the same things. We were the same town. The same country. The same world.

We were the same family.

Damn, it felt good.

Post Scriptum

Southampton were promoted back to the Premiership in late April 2012, returning to the top flight of English football – possibly, arguably, the best league in the world – after seven years away. A week before, Portsmouth were relegated to League 1, the old “Division 3″. As one wag remarked: “Normal service has been resumed”.

Yolly reading at the drunken poet

Yours truly reading at the "Drunken Poet". Yes, that's me, over there in the distance, struggling to see.

Apologies for the rough quality of the photo, but it was a dark and crowded pub on a dark and soggy night.

After 20 years of writing poetry, publishing “Read Me”, (see below), and innumerable public speaking appearances, this was, believe it or not, the first time I have ever actually read any of my work in public. In proper public, I mean, not at dinner parties with a captive audience who are forced to listen to be polite. Anyhow, I thought the event deserved recording on the blog.

Interesting experience it was, reading to a noisy pub full of people who’d had a skinful of Guinness and Irish whiskey. (It was near 10pm by the time I was called up.) “Shut the fuck up! Especially you noisy bastards at the back!” seemed to do the trick long enough for the work to speak for itself. I don’t feel I have quite ascended to the heights of courage of a new stand up comedian at a northern working mens’ club in the UK, but I will certainly treat their stories on chat shows with more respect from now on.

Anyhow, it was a very fun night at the Drunken Poet – was a pub ever better named? – and some of the music was brilliant, and they seemed to genuinely like my poetry. Either that, or they just thought I was too big and ugly to boo off. The walls of the pub are adorned with photos and caricatures of the greats – Yeats, Shaw, Behan, Beckett. No Dylan Thomas, though, so I may have to donate one.

The stars of the night were three kids in their early 20s who were visiting Melbourne from Quebec, who played Québécois folk music – in French, naturally – to huge acclaim. Interestingly, I recognised one of the songs from a recording of Welsh folk songs I have from Susan Davies. It would be fascinating to know how a folk song migrates from Wales to Canada and gets translated and transmogrified into French.

Next Open Mic at the DP (as we cognoscenti now call it) is the Thursday before Easter – “Hungover for Good Friday” – how appropriate! I am emboldened to have another go. Would be great to see some of the readers of this blog there.

And if you feel like investing thirty bucks in the book, I’d be delighted. There’s 71 poems and a long short story. That’s less than 50 cents a poem. Feed the starving artist! As I once saw on a little sign by a poet reading his work in public, next to his cap with a few coins in it, “Will Think For Money”.

Read Me

Go on, grab one. I dare you. I won't tell anyone you read poetry. Promise.

Nightmare storms on Christmas Day, and now ….

http://m.theage.com.au/victoria/new-year-set-to-ring-in-swelter-of-the-century-20111228-1pcan.html

Sheesh.

Roll on bushfires, flash floods et al.

Personally, I am staying in the pool for two days, wrinkly fingers or no wrinkly fingers.

Christmas in Australia

Christmas in Australia ... dirty work, but someone's gotta do it.

OK, so I have to confess: I never really get used to Christmas in Australia. I don’t think I ever really will. Not a complaint, merely an observation.

It’s often bloody hot, for a start. Not just warm, but hot. A friend posts to Facebook that he’s excited to be going to Florida for the holidays where it’s due to be 80 degrees on his arrival. I guess when most of the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year is either cold, or wet, or perhaps cold and wet, that’s good.  Then again, the mercury passed 90 in Melbourne about the same time, and has been climbing steadily ever since.

It’s just not right, somehow.

Last night, at Midnight Mass, the hot weather broke, for about fifteen minutes, as a sharp, severe thunderstorm hit semi-rural Warrandyte, near Melbourne.

(Why we were in Warrandyte? We had met the vicar at the local craft market some weeks previously, where she was cheerfully selling wooden toys and home-made jams to raise funds for the Lord’s cause. A cheerfully chubby lady (says he, who was last described as slim, er, well, never, actually) I hollered out “It’s the Vicar of Dibley!”  She smiled wanly at me, and murmured, “I’m OK with that, really, the therapy sessions have been working.” In response, it seemed only right that we should patronise her pretty little Church for Christmas – and it was called St Stephen’s, as it happens – spooky or what? Anyway, I digress.)

So right in the middle of the Vicar’s homily, God started moving the furniture around upstairs. It started with a few distant rumbles, then some refreshing rain, and then whammo, God dropped the leather recliner armchair he uses for watching sports on TV, right over our heads.

Megan the Vic had just got to the core of her sermon: how important it is that we remember to do the little things at Christmas, the ordinary things that touch people’s heart, when all the lights went out, bar a few well-placed candles. After a brief pause, she carried on, and a few more trenchant remarks later, there was another percussive, punctuating clap of thunder, and the lights all came back on again. People shot each other meaningful looks.

In a small country Church, with a total of maybe forty people, everyone can hear everything. I turned to the future father of my grandchildren and remarked: “Neat trick.”  Hardly pausing for breath, Megan deadpanned from the pulpit: “That’s why I get paid the big bucks.”

Respect.

After the service, we drove future-son-in-law back to his place, windows wide open, oceans of warm, wet air streaming into the car. At 2am, steam rose off the road, almost fog-like. The sky was now perfectly clear, the deepest imperial blue, almost black, like wet just-laid tar, and studded with a billion billion stars. Anyone who has ever seen the Southern hemisphere sky will understand. It is wildly, unfathomably more brilliant and dramatic than the north. Frankly, it’s worth heading south just to see it, at least once, before you die.

Rising bleary-eyed on Christmas morn, the day was already oppressively hot. All the new blue blinds are wound down around the house, the three small air-conditioning units are labouring ceaselessly and largely ineffectually, and the ceiling fan whirls and clicks in the kitchen, stirring the sticky air to no purpose whatsoever that I can divine. By the time we are halfway through the present opening, sweat pops uncontrolled on the forehead and trickles down one’s chest.

Time for champagne, with a block of ice in it. Hang tradition, and snobby wine critics with it. Champagne was not invented to be drunk on days like this, or, indeed, in Australia, but it is Christmas, and I am damned if I will resort to water.

As one glances outside at the pool, it is clear that the overnight thunderstorm has also encouraged the water, by some miracle of chemistry that I will never understand, to turn milky-white and opaque, instead of crystal Mediterranean clear. And then on cue, the good Lord decides he is not happy with the interior design from last night, and starts shifting furniture around again. The heavens open, then shut again. And then again.

Family swim tomorrow, then. And I take a management decision – the duck will remain un-basted and uncooked in the fridge, because it’s too hot for a roast.

Wherever it is I have got to in my wandering life, it is never where I expected to be. So I sit down at my computer instead of pottering with the duck, and idly reminisce over what Christmas used to be like before I ended up on the other side of the planet, more by accident than intent. I recall that when a mere youth I would always wander down on Christmas morning to the Saxon King pub in Southbourne, and have a couple of pints of Gales 6X while Mum struggled to make sense of cooking a turkey for two people.

Need a recipe for left-over turkey rissoles? Just message me.

It rarely snowed, but it was often bitterly cold, and roughly every other day a biting wet wind would sweep in off the English Channel, lashing the little seaside town with horizontal rain. We would cower in the pub, and eat free Stilton provided by the publican, stacking on the body blubber for the walk home like so many vigilant Eskimos. And later in my life, you would find me trudging home from watching Southampton play on Boxing Day, invariably either frozen or sodden – but happy – to thaw out or dry out in the Bevois Town Hotel with mates.

Yes, I am a long way from home.

When you’ve moved around a fair bit, it never really stops being a long way from home, even when what you perceive as home stops being home and home becomes where you are now. I run the idea past my daughter, and she remarks that this will be her memory of “home”, when she has moved on.

Lobster tails on the BBQ

Too hot for Duck. Damn it. Oh, well.

On the other hand, there are compensations for the life Antipodean. The oyster and Bloody Mary shooters for breakfast are already a happy memory. The “champagne”, grown just up the road, is seven bucks a bottle, and by the third glass I am feeling no pain, memsahib and the fruit of my loins have finished breaking open the Antarctic Crab legs that we have decided on instead of duck, and the crayfish tails that I am about to barbecue momentarily and serve with white wine and garlic butter are looking moist and inviting.

Later, we will even get to chuckle at the Queens Speech before it’s seen in her own country.

The message of Christmas is surely to be thankful for small mercies. The small mercy of a tiny child, laid on straw and wrapped in rags, whose words and actions were to change the world, mainly for the best, for the rest of time. And the fact that although the heat may be weighing on my aging British head  like a ton of bricks, we have been blessed with enough good fortune to have a choice of Christmas lunches, and a damn fine choice, at that.

So, Merry Christmas, everyone, wherever you call home today. As I write, the mother of all thunderstorms is now breaking over us, with hail so bad the better half and daughter rush out and cover the cars in the driveway, and so intense and lasting so long that the roof is leaking in 20 different places, and every towel and receptacle we have is rushed into service to prevent the entire house (and all the Christmas presents) disappearing under water. It’s called a “super cell”  storm apparently, which I suspect isn’t good. There’s a tropical cyclone due in Darwin, tomorrow, as well. Then again, that is a long, long way from here, too, and in this case, thank goodness.

“Weird country we live in,” mutters my daughter, serving us panacotta and fresh strawberries, as we watch the pool making like it isn’t a suburban front yard pool but a storm-tossed sea some latitudes further towards the equator.

Indeed, it is. Anyway, anyone mesmerised by the opening photo of this article will be amused by this little flash, hot off the presses. Personally, I am going to bed for a snooze: isn’t that what Christmas afternoon is all about? I see I am supposed to turn the computer off. Isn’t this exciting? Isn’t it like actually being here? The wonders of modern communications, eh?

For coverage of how bad the storms now are this afternoon, just pop here. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/a-beauty-of-a-super-cell-thunderstorm-hits-melbourne/story-e6frf7jo-1225837959592 or here http://www.theage.com.au/environment/weather/violent-storms-shatter-the-peace-of-christmas-20111225-1p9mc.html

Meanwhile, I shall set the alarm for Her Maj. Pip pip.

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Victoria Regional Office

TOP PRIORITY FOR IMMEDIATE BROADCAST

SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING – MELBOURNE AREA
for DESTRUCTIVE WIND, FLASH FLOODING, LARGE HAILSTONES and TORNADOES

For people in the Inner, Eastern, Northern, Western and parts of the South East,
Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula, Outer East and Port Phillip Local Warning
Areas.

Issued at 5:19 pm Sunday, 25 December 2011.

THIS INCLUDES A TORNADO WARNING.
The Bureau of Meteorology warns that, at 5:10 pm, very dangerous thunderstorms
were detected on weather radar near Bacchus Marsh, Greensborough, Hurstbridge,
Lilydale, Yarra Glen and the area south of Bacchus Marsh. These thunderstorms
are moving towards the east to southeast. Very dangerous thunderstorms are
forecast to affect Deer Park, Healesville, Melton, St Albans, Sydenham and the
area south of Melton by 5:40 pm and Craigieburn, Essendon, Footscray, Melbourne
Airport, Preston and Sunbury by 6:10 pm.

Other severe thunderstorms were located near the area north of Meredith and the
area west of the Brisbane Ranges. They are forecast to affect Anakie East,
Brisbane Ranges, Lara, the You Yangs, the area south of the Brisbane Ranges and
the area west of Werribee by 5:40 pm and eastern parts of the Bellarine
Peninsula, northern parts of the Bellarine Peninsula, Portarlington, waters off
Portarlington, waters off St Leonards and the area east of Lara by 6:10 pm.

Destructive winds, very heavy rainfall, flash flooding, large hailstones and
tornadoes are likely.

A tornado has been reported near Fiskville [15km west of Bacchus Marsh]
associated with the thunderstorm currently south of Bacchus Marsh.
Very large hail has been reported with thunderstorms this afternoon.

The State Emergency Service advises that people should:
* Keep clear of fallen power lines.
* secure any loose objects in the vicinity of your home.
* keep away from creeks and drains.
* do not drive vehicles through flooded areas.
* stay indoors if possible.
* Avoid using the phone during the storm.
* if you are outside, avoid sheltering under trees
* listen to the radio for storm updates
* switch off your computer and electrical appliances

The next warning is due to be issued by 6:20 pm.

I don’t, of course. Just another nonsense headline to grab blog hits. (I am trying to prove a point here.)

But big ups to Yahoo 7 sport for the excellent coverage of the field for the Melbourne Cup, (very useful for our overseas readers), and a day for which, thank the Lord, we actually have a public holiday in Victoria.

http://au.sports.yahoo.com/racing/news/article/-/11077737/melbourne-cup-2011-horse-by-horse/

The Melbourne Cup is just hours away

The biggest sporting event, and social event, in Australia.

Are we the only nation in the world that has a gazetted public holiday for a horse race? How very civilised it is, to be sure.

Anyway, over 90,000 people are cramming into Flemington as I write, and the field looks to be one of the best in years. (Read: too hard to pick a winner with any certainty, so be cautious in your outlays.)

Can popular last-winner Americain do it again? Peut-etre. He certainly looks fit, fast, and up for it. But close-priced favourites in this big race often run second or third, I have noted, pipped at the post by some unexpected outsider.

I have an eye for Lucas Cranach and Drunken Sailor. I also like Drunken Sailor’s all blue colours. There’s that – and the fact that my brother was a navigator for many years (and not averse to the odd tipple) is scientific reasoning enough for me.

Then again, what do I know? I’m also tempted to have a romantic punt on a horse that could well run stone motherless last, called “Lost in the Moment”. A bit of a metaphor for the whole country, really.

Good luck everyone.