Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Storm and a teacup

Agents Orange - Sue, Michael and Terry

Yet another tedious tempest ravaged docile Larrikin’s End all last weekend. This time around Seat of Pants copped a more serious trouncing. Two trees toppled, including the one I thought was dead. Well it is now. Fortunately for me, they fell into the front fence. Not so lucky for the fence, obviously. I slept through the whole thing, but then I slept through the great London maelstrom of 1987 which uprooted most of the city’s stately old trees. I’m quite a heavy sleeper and there’s only so much fascination to be drawn from the furious elements waving their meteorological arms about before one gets bored and throws on a Lara Croft DVD to nod off to.

About halfway through Sunday morning it occurred to me that I ought to check out the state of the Pantation. It’s what you do when you have a house and it’s no one else’s job to worry about whether or not bits of it have blown off and sliced someone’s Schnauzer in half. At first I just stood there fascinated by the jumble of leaves, gnarly branches and splinters of fence decorating the road. It slowly occurred to me that I would have to do something about this but I had no idea what that course of action could possibly be. Then I remembered that I had a fridge magnet with the number of the State Emergency Service on it. Unsure if the situation before me constituted a genuine emergency but at a complete loss as to who else to call, I dialled the number. I nervously explained the predicament, anxious that I might get into trouble and receive some kind of fine or demerit for misuse of officialdom. I am quite jumpy since I discovered that demands for money can come in the post if you have driven your car at the wrong speed.

I needn’t have worried. Within the hour, the three wonderful orange-clad angels pictured above had chopped the fallen foliage into cartable pieces. Until I came to live in the countryside, I had never really understood why there are men on the planet. I now totally get it. They go on the other end of a chainsaw and chainsaws seem to feature quite prominently in daily life here in Larrikin’s End. While Michael chomped and Sue and Terry stacked my troublesome dead wood, I slipped up to the kitchen to make them a much-deserved cup of tea. In an emergency, one should stick to what one knows.

So, I have now spent an entirely unscheduled two days breaking up branches into kindling and stacking logs in the shed but at least I won’t be short of firewood next winter. The fence is covered by insurance and the claim was relatively easy to initiate. As with everything financial, I simply went down to the marvellous Commonwealth Bank, looked helpless and handed over the little card they give you that contains all the details they need to sort out whatever mess you’ve got yourself into. It remained then to find yet another man, one who could fix the fence. Man, I have discovered, is not simply an all-purpose term for one who either mends or demolishes and removes broken things. It is actually much more complex than that. They have distinct specialisms. I phoned Newton, the fire alarm-taming man who doesn’t do electrics. He also doesn’t do fences. He suggested I try Mitre 10, our local hardware shop.

Mitre 10 and I have a somewhat fractious relationship as I keep trying to buy a particular type of sun lounge there that they continually advertise but flatly refuse to sell. I’ll admit I don’t know much about the vagaries of retail but this does seem a strange phenomenon. They deposit catalogues in the Seat of Pants letterbox. I go down there and they make a grand pretence of checking their official-looking database and then they tell me that the sun lounge I want is ‘not available’. Actually what they say is, ‘it’s showing negative eight,’ which appears sort of plausible until you think it through and then it just sounds like a politician’s explanation for why the world economy is in freefall. I thought shops were supposed to be profit-driven so where’s the payoff in creating a demand you don’t intend to fill? This happens about twice a week. It’s probably just as well as the sun is nearly always unavailable too. I don’t wish to malign the people at Mitre 10 as they’re very nice and they can’t really help it if they don’t have what people want to buy. I dare say if I asked them for a Sara Lee Cheesecake or a Jackson Pollock they probably wouldn’t be able to help me there either. Anyway, they successfully hooked me up with a fencing contractor who helpfully dropped around today to give me a quote. I also bought a NO JUNK MAIL sign for my letterbox. In the future, I think it would be better all round if I didn’t know what I couldn’t have. That just brings me down…

Friday, December 05, 2008

Shell Shock

Oh no, I've been reincarnated as Fat Boy Slim

Here’s something I never imagined ever saying – I love having a dishwasher. I wouldn’t have conceived of buying one. My mind just doesn’t work that way. Potato peeler yes, dishwasher no. However, having had the good sense to buy a house with a dishwasher already installed, I can only say I approve.

A dishwasher suits the way I have always lived which is to wash up when the store of dishes, pans, glasses and pots runs out and I realise that I’ll eventually want to eat or drink something. I wash up to enable that eventuality. Any other way of doing it is anathema to my natural sense of what’s important. With a dishwasher – (please feel free to skip this bit if you are a fully paid up member of the adult world and have had a dishwasher, pantry, DLUG, ensuite bathroom and coiffed shrubbery for the last twenty years) – this strategy works so much more effectively. Dishwashing still occupies the same lowly priority in the grand scheme of things it always has but, instead of demonstrating its paltry position in the domestic pecking order by strewing your kitchen with stacks of greasy Le Creuset, the offending items are all neatly tucked away in under-sink storage until you pop in a tablet and push a button. This is the best part of all - doing the washing up is no longer the onerous task undertaken when one finally tires of moped-delivered pizza and drinking out of bottles. It simply entails remembering to activate the dishwasher before going to bed. I had no idea life could be so serene.

While we’re on the rarely explored subject of white goods… All the time I lived in London I had a student fridge. The first one I inherited from a house of actual students who lived in Leytonstone and used hubcaps for ashtrays. The freezing compartment had no door and you needed to prop a brick against the thing to keep it shut but it had a lovely Formica decorative strip across the top of the door and kept things moderately cold for getting on for fifteen years. When it finally expired, I marched confidently into John Lewis in Oxford Street with a favourite fridge magnet and explained to a dapper man in a bow tie that I would like a fridge to match. Maintaining an admirably straight face throughout, he sold me a small, relatively expensive Bosch and I was able to access ice without a hammer and chisel for the first time in years. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to find that food did not of necessity smell like curds and whey after it had been refrigerated. That fridge served me well for many years but, unlike the Zanussi washing machine, did not make the final immigration cull. Apparently fridges don’t travel all that well. Since the Zanussi arrived coated in half a ton of mould, I’m well satisfied with the decision to relocate the Bosch to a good home in Essex.

For the first time in my adult life I have an adult fridge. It’s the smallest two-door fridge-freezer it’s possible to buy but it has separate compartments for every conceivable perishable and not only does it make very commendable ice, at the twist of a knob, it drops it into a little tray for you. If I’d known being a grown-up was going to be this much fun, I would have tried it sooner. Although, having said that, there are negative aspects to this whole block of land and big house thing. I keep forgetting I have a garden so consequently rarely remember to go there. I’ve also discovered I have grass which at some point will need mowing and one or two trees which may just be sleeping but I think are more likely dead. I’ve realised that I have become dangerously cosseted by a generation of flat-dwelling and know virtually nothing about how to manage the outdoors.

My state of mind, always in delicate balance, is not aided by the terrifying level of regulation on individual responsibility that exists in Australia. Much of it manifests as absurd perversions of basically sound social principles. Take water for example. In London we all had a jolly good laugh at old Ken Livingstone for suggesting we cut back on our toilet flushing to conserve water. The only folk who weren’t choking on their own delicious sense of irony were the low-paid immigrant workers whose job it is to clean out the lavatories in the Hedgehog (City Hall). With London’s 150 year-old water pipes leaking about eighty per cent of the domestic supply, it seemed a bit daft to be risking a cholera outbreak for the sake of rescuing the odd bucketful.

Australia does have serious water issues of which I wouldn’t dream of making light. I generally regard it as irresponsible to waste any resources. I have, after all, only just got my first dishwasher which I can assure is full to bursting when it’s initiated. However, I can’t resist commenting on the water conservation strategy of my adopted region. The welcome pack they sent contained a fridge magnet (thank you!) and a substantial glossy brochure informing me that there are ‘rules’ about water usage. Just as well I read this brochure as I discover these ‘rules’ are in fact ‘laws’ as opposed to the polite British ‘suggested guidelines’ I have become accustomed to scoffing at before ignoring completely. I further discovered these ‘rules’ carry stiff penalties for non-compliance. Oh yes, folks. I could be faced with a minimum $1,000 fine for having the wrong nozzle on my hose. I could be sent to prison for ‘deliberately causing or negligently allowing water to be wasted, misused or excessively consumed’. Mark McGowan be warned – don’t move here.

No wonder all my trees are dying – the previous incumbent was clearly too scared to water them. How’s this for a prescription? I ‘must’ have a ‘trigger’ nozzle on my hose rather than a ‘traditional twist’ nozzle. Traditional? There is a tradition for hose fittings? Whatever. And the reason I must have this very particular type of nozzle? I quote – well of course it’s a quote. Not even I could have made up something this silly,

‘Nozzles that must be twisted to turn the flow of the water on or off cannot be used. This is because they do not shut water on and off immediately, and therefore have a higher potential to waste water.’

Well there’s something twisted here and methinks it ain’t the nozzle. Surely, if one is holding the nozzle over the object to be watered when one twists, the water finds its mark. Equally surely, if one concentrates really hard – and one would because the fate of a nation’s water supply hangs in the balance – one could begin shutting down the nozzle three seconds before the object is satiated. Although not an exact science in the truest sense, I’m reasonably sure I could get my plants watered with a ‘traditional’ nozzle without squandering the viability of the planet. In any case, the point is moot as I have neither type of nozzle nor do I have plans to alter that state. Who wants to spend the extra time they’ve inherited by acquiring a dishwasher on shopping for gardening equipment? Not moi. The garden can look after itself. I so rarely remember I have one anyway...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Every cloud engenders not a storm

Pants West


I heard there’s a storm approaching. I heard it will be fierce. As I gaze blissfully at the pantorama of, I don’t know, how many degrees are there before your neck starts to ache? – I can’t imagine it. The skies are as innocent as they are azurely cloudless and the sun is fixing to set without incident. Yet I’ve heard it on good authority that the heavens will rage and hurl down upon us balls of ice that wouldn’t look out of place in an Oliver Reed G&T. So I’ve locked the pantibago in the shed, dragged the pantoys in from the deck, stocked up on candles, plasticated water and Tim Tams. I’ve got a battery radio, a wind-up torch and enough sauvignon blanc and croissants to last for three days – or a week if life truly threatens. I’ve never made a case of wine last for a week before but I’m sure it’s doable in an emergency.

And I bought a mattress. In the world of me, this is fairly big news. Regular readers may recall that when Barney and I launched ourselves upon an unsuspecting world this time last year, I jettisoned the entirely serviceable but twenty year-old and frankly a little discoloured Warren Evans ticking-coated plank on which I had never had a bad night’s sleep. I did feel at the time that I couldn’t really claim I’d lived in Hackney unless I’d left at least one mattress on the street. All the way through India, I experienced blissful nights on a succession of firm to the point of surly mattresses. I know what I like and approached the task of securing a new sleeping platform with a consumer confidence rare to someone as generally purchase-averse as I.

Problem. Nearly all mattresses now come with such a high relief of spongy embossed bits as to make the Elgin marbles look flat. Further problem, these make even a firm mattress feel soft and worse, cost rather more money than a mattress decently should. My entreaties to various bedding sales people, who incredulously regarded themselves as experts on my nocturnal comfort, that I wanted a firm mattress were brushed away with the entirely uninformed view that I would have back problems if my mattress was too hard. I have never had a back problem in my life and have always slept on a sturdy, no frills mattress. It’s difficult to ascertain what part of this robustly tested equation they found flawed. The only other explanation for this intransigence is that people who work in bedding shops have all had their brains replaced with a limited amount of specific product information and are unable to engage a critical thinking facility when it is appropriate to do so. Or, seriously, they are too shit thick to fathom that all they really need to do is sell the customer what she wants to buy. Difficult? Apparently.

After being summarily shunned from bedding shops the length of eastern Victoria, I happened past a small furniture outlet right here in Larrikin’s End that had a row of half-price mattresses out the front. The firmest was duly laid out right there on the shop floor for me to test, much to the amusement of other locals. Fortuitously, the concrete was more of a match for the workmanlike slatted pine Warren Evans bed that I had had the good sense to cart across the globe than the cumbersome and probably incompatibly spongy bed bases on which I had been attempting to lie in the specialist stores. After exchanging a modest wad of cash for my address, the mattress was despatched and arrived at Seat of Pants before I’d had time to get up the hill and screw Warren Evans back together again. I was sleeping well enough in a sleeping bag on the floor but it’s very nice to be at the same level as my sea view. I am once again in slumber sanctuary.

To enhance my comfort even further, I’ve intuited a way of attaching the Seat of Pants home entertainment system to the wall via an international electrical adaptor plug so I can play the vast collection of three for £20 HMV DVDs that I amassed in my final days in Britain. If the power fails, I’ve got The White Tiger – birthday present from Sis Pants to read. I’ve also secured a copy of Gods Behaving Badly whose author Marie Phillips used to blog as Struggling Author before her publishing deal rendered the tag redundant. Because she was from Hackney, hers was one of the first blogs that fell under the Pants radar. I followed with interest her parlous (for a well-connected bookseller) attempts to be noticed. Now her book has turned up in the Larrikin’s End Library. Fame at last Marie – and a full circle as Pants will finally get to read it.


The anticipated tempest raged all weekend and Seat of Pants mostly survived the deluge apart from a mysterious puddle on my bedroom floor that could not be linked to a corresponding water source and I can only assume is a typical Barney attempt to cloak his incessant covert activity in natural phenomena. One of my copious yet pointless smoke detectors chose Friday night to protest about not getting nearly enough attention by staging a hissy fit manifesting as an intermittent, strangled squeal that threatened to sever my sanity permanently. Initial attempts to solve the problem by destroying said smoke detector were severely hampered by its celestial location. Why I ever thought a cathedral ceiling was a good idea, I can’t imagine. Still I literally gave it my best shot. By standing on a coffee table and armed with a broom, I was able to knock the cover off and, if I hadn’t blacked out, I honestly believe I might have dislodged the battery eventually.

When I came to on Saturday morning, finding headphones seemed like a better idea than resuming hostilities with the safety apparatus. I duly located a pair of earmuff-style Technics, gathered all available entertainments and closed my bedroom door on the hubris happening in the hall. By Monday I had miraculously, in the circumstances, constructed a course of action. I found a local handyman called Newton who not only replaced my errant smoke bloke but replaced the phoney taps in my laundry that leaked the minute I tried to attach my washing machine. The wonderful Newton is not empowered to replace electrical plugs as he is not an electrician. Somehow that struck me as odd. But I do have peace, quiet and clean washing.

fur flies


And now there’s vertical lightning and another storm approaching. A short while ago, a rather attractive seal-point Persian cat (pictured) appeared at the trade entrance to Seat of Pants. She has the tragic demeanour of a feline who has sacrificed seven lives on the altar of love yet still elects to risk the remaining two. When I did remove the Technics for brief periods over this last grim weekend, I became aware of a lot of squawking and scuffling coming from the ceiling above me and naturally assumed I would have to call in the possum man. Now I’m not so sure. The wet patches, the distressed female, the missing bottle of vodka and packets of smoked salmon… Barney!!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The shadow rises to meet you

Street Art Melbourne by Pants

John Burnside said, ‘to be fifty and have no friends is a sign of thoughtfulness.’

There’s no question that the longer you have friends, the more difficult they become to manage. I’ve been whittling mine down over the years so that there are now no more than a handful. I suppose moving to the middle of nowhere will put paid to even those. So, I conclude, I have achieved the requisite state of thoughtfulness commensurate with my age. The less time you spend on friends, the more is available for essential pondering and ruminating. That’s only common sense.

The downside of being a loner is that it takes rather a lot of time to get anything done. I may be a native born Australian, but I knew nothing of the administration of life in this country. There is not a single process that is comparable to my previous experience. For example, I went to tip the hairdresser in Melbourne – you would have thought I’d tried to molest her with her own blow dryer. I then found myself affronted in virtually empty restaurants by signs warning ‘no split bills’. Perhaps that explains the paucity of custom. You don’t ask for permission to split the bill in London – you simply present your credit card and state the amount you’re willing to pay. I’ve done equal shares in the notoriously ill-tempered Marco Pierre White’s restaurants without incident. I’ve not tried it in a Ramsay establishment but I’m sure it’s no biggie.

Many daily transactions have enough mechanical and linguistic variations to put them on a par with particle physics in difficulty and make you look like a complete ninny into the bargain. You can take nothing for granted. Then again, some operations are insanely easy once you’ve lucked onto the correct line of inquiry and judiciously followed a logical path, which hopefully happens before you’ve exhausted the patience of the person from whom you’re attempting to extract vital information. People can be very understanding if you clearly indicate that your grasp on sanity entirely depends on their largesse.

I feel this state ought to be recognised in some way. So, in the spirit of complete self-centredness for which I have become renowned, I bring you the first annual That’s So Pants Awards. The gongs are bestowed on those individuals or institutions who’ve either made my resettlement heaven or hell. Without further virtual ado, I give you,

The Palme de Pants

This is the highest honour in the Pantheon and is awarded to

Ms Anne O’Dyne

One friend I’ve known for over thirty years found it a burden to endure me for a week, another offered to put me up for two days and no more. Neither demonstrated appropriate empathy with the painfully obvious emotional turmoil that the move was inflicting. It’s tempting to blame it on the Barney factor, but it was, and is, hurtful. Ms O’Dyne, who knew me only through our blogs, invited me to Victoria to housesit with her indefinitely. I stayed five months, learned all the practical things I needed to know about cohabiting with Victoria and had the space to put my head and heart back in good repair. As far as I am able to ascertain, and I am admittedly biased, the experience has done her no lasting harm. Ms O’Dyne’s generosity knows no limits. Thank you dear Annie.

Golden Kek Awards go to the following who pro-actively offered themselves as part of the solution.

• The Pants Family - Ma Pants, Sis Pants and Niece Pants have made life easier in the million different ways that come quite naturally to them all. Evidence, if it were needed, that I am definitely adopted.

• Roddy and Shirley – my friends in Melbourne who put me up, helped me buy the Pantibago and escorted me across hundreds of miles of Victorian coast in search of the new Seat of Pants and, as a bonus, acclimatised me to totally unnecessary but extremely character-building cold.

• Kay and Kiernan who lent us their lovely house in Lorne.

• Robyn who helped me understand the house purchase process and for being wonderful company.

• Chris, Lyn and Sarah, the lovely lawyers who did a brilliant job on my conveyancing.

• Ling and all the gorgeous people at Tradewinds Removals. They really looked after my stuff and landed it at the new Seat of Pants all perfectly preserved and with the greatest of good will and humour. Ditto Atlantis Removals in the UK. I give them both the highest recommendation.

• The Commonwealth Bank. From the moment I stumbled into Queen Victoria Street, London hyperventilating with hysterics because the evil Nationwide had told me I’d never see my savings again since I’d forgotten my internet banking password, the calm people at the Commonwealth have helped me get my financial house in order.

• Vic Roads. This one’s really for being not nearly as hideous an ordeal as I was expecting. It was a relatively simple matter to get the Pantibago registered and get me tooled up with a Victorian Driver’s Licence. And Kelvin was very understanding when Shirley unloaded the entire saga of the break-in at CIS when all he really wanted was to verify that I was actually who I said I was.

• Noosa and Colac libraries for keeping me in restorative reading.

• The town of Larrikin’s End for being in the right place at the right time.

And now for the bad guys,

The inaugural That’s So Pants Great Big Shit award goes to,

• EGBP. I got these people to do the building inspection on my house. After aggressively demanding full payment up front, they then didn’t bother to give me the report until days after the agreed date – threatening my contract deadline. They were unbelievably rude and dismissive of my entitlements as a customer. The report, when it finally came, was vague and contradictory. And they repeatedly referred to themselves as ‘building surveyours’ in correspondence. Get someone else. Your cat would do a better job.

Soiled Nappies for minor but no less annoying misdeeds go to,

• King and Heath Real Estate for mixing up the completion date and trying to blame me and for being more than acceptably sleazy. Although a consolation bronze ‘mini-kek’ is awarded for the two very nice bottles of house-warming wine. This kind of gesture works remarkably well with me.

• The Nationwide, UK for reasons already stated and for being far more focused on pumping their ‘product’ than providing a service. Let us all hope the present financial crisis at least heralds a shift in perspective on the part of banks leading to a re-acquaintance with their core function – i.e. to mind our savings and lend us cash when we want to buy a big thing.

So there you have it. More bouquets than brickbats, happily. All things considered, the journey that started out inauspiciously with me spending a miserable night on a hard bench at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 nearly a year ago, may have churned Barney and me in the Magimix of financial turmoil in a way we could have done without but has resolved itself with a soft landing in lovely Larrikin’s End. At long last, all seems right with the world. Now, as long as we can avoid developing friendships, we should be fine. Fortunately, Barney has proved particularly effective as a deterrent in that regard.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

From the Manor Torn

The Pantorama

At long last news - the new Seat of Pants is established. Barney and I have deigned to endow the somnolent Victorian hamlet of Larrikin's End with our permanent presence. The Pantibago rolls no more. The already rock-bottom real estate market is set to burrow down to new subterranean depths with our arrival and we take great pride in our pivotal role in the current financial correction. We are certain the reconfigured global community will be a better place with fewer investment bankers and mortgage sharks in it. Ma Pants wishes it to be known that she has also played a significant role as her recent extended hospitalisation has kept her away from the shops for a record six weeks. Barney and I genuinely believe that you get the house you deserve. We would say that wouldn't we because, incredibly, we now have a wonderful cathedral of eighties kitsch with the spectacular ocean views for which we scoured coastal Australia with the diligence of the Brangelina bunch in search of new blood. Regard the fruits of our extended labour above as this is the view from our 'deck'.

Feel free to move here now that we have lowered the tone - you can get a house for a song. Barney managed to secure his own place below with a rather shakey but nonetheless moving rendition of Owl By Myself. You have to hand it to the little bugger, he can certainly spot a business opportunity. Asking himself the question 'what's the thing people most want in a financial meltdown?' he came up with the profound and insightful answer, 'strong drink'. He immediately contacted his old friend from last time we were over this way, Wacko the Wombat who'd had a big win on the Melbourne Cup and they've set up a vodka bar. You may recall the barnster considered the Victorian motto of The Place To Be his personal invitation to Nirvana so it was the only choice for a moniker. Naff as Nutella on toast, but then, that's Barney

As is the way of all things, I'd no sooner supervised the unloading of the container conveying the collective chattels that comprise House of Pants to our new life, than I had to be off again. Another suitcase in another hall, another home entertainment system to master, another set of baffling streets and incomprehensible internet provision. Barney felt he needed to stay behind this time and get his feet under the table. Believe me, left to his own devices with that shipment of vodka, all of him will be under the table before you can say Abramovich.

Relocating to a different country is a saga of unimaginable tedium as one struggles to learn the names of thousands of service providers and gauge their relative risibility from chance encounters with battle-hardened strangers. One needs a Rumsfeldian grasp of the concept of unknown unknowns to conceive of the scale of the inquiry necessary to get the thousands of gold spotlights in one's residence to shine light down on one's evenings. Three nights in a house isn't quite enough to get to know it well, but we've at least established that our Limoges arrived in exactly the same number of pieces in which it set out. I've bagged the big room with the ensuite bathroom naturally which was fine with Barney who said he'd mostly be sleeping above the shop, which I take it he means literally.

After all the turmoil, I'm only now catching up on world events. The trials of jolly-jape-gone-wrongsters, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross passed me by completely but, as I write, Barack Obama has just been elected president of the United States. America, we applaud you. Barney, still technically a Californian, sent in his vote on a postcard. He figured if it was good enough for Dubya it was good enough for him and he was confident he'd got the spelling a whole lot righter too. It'll be a couple of weeks before I can settle down and get to know the good people of Larrikin's End and indeed catch up on what's been going on outside the Pantibago for the last year. I hesitate to commit to the resumption of normal service because I've no idea how difficult it will be to get Seat of Pants online. I suspect piece of cake is not in the frame. We'll see.

Later this week, I'll be announcing the results of the inaugural That's So Pants awards for behaviour both beastly and beatific. If you've done me a service in the past year, either fair or foul, expect a gong...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alpaca lunch - you bringa Marx

Best in show - equal first amongst equals

Money makes me nervous
. When the current financial crisis hit, Anatole Kaletsky observed in The Times,

The wonder of financial crises is how events can move straight from impossible to inevitable without ever passing through improbable.

This is the sort of thing that keeps sleep at bay. We all knew it could happen but no one had the bollocks to risk manage it. Anyone in a position to do so was making too much money from it. The world is now waking up to what many of us have known for a long, long time – that rich people aren’t necessarily smart people, in fact they’re much more likely to be fatally stupid. This is why their stranglehold on the commodities that keep us alive has been so terrifying. Anyone who’s ever closely watched the film Wall Street will know that the much quoted Gordon Gecko grab that morphed its way into the paradigm that devoured common sense is actually,

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

Let’s consider that qualifier – for a lack of a better word. Is it possible that if Gordon Gecko had been a more articulate man, we might have been spared two decades of the culturecide that is rampant capitalism? What if the better word he lacked was, for example aspiration or passion? What if building a better world involves a more substantial act than buying more white goods? I’m a big fan of the Australian economist Clive Hamilton and his rage against affluenza. He’s been banging on for ever about the untenability of economic growth being the benchmark of a healthy society. Clearly citizens of the world, no matter how patriotic, can’t keep increasing their rate of personal consumption. At some point they will run out of money or storage space or trouser sizes or all three.

Here’s how smart all these financial gurus who’ve been taking home the equivalent of Cuba’s GDP in annual bonuses are. Most of them have no idea of the ingredients that constitute the ‘financial products’ they’ve been so zealously flogging. The only quality these ‘products’ possessed was their desirability. And people say women who love diamonds are vacuous. How gorgeous would you look with a string of junk bonds draped around your neck? So now it’s all gone the way of the pear, it’s slowly dawning on all those smugly superannuated early retirees that their pension funds have gone on sabbatical in a south sea bubble leaving them waving helplessly from sinking sand. Does the idea of a universal National Insurance system funded by full-term, full-time workers, employers and profits from tangible assets like efficient public transport and sustainable utility services appeal to anyone?

And what about those Ma and Pa Kettle mortgages threatening global financial viability? The lenders knew that the people who took out those insane loans wouldn’t be able to meet the payments, so they sold the debt on. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason. It absolves itself of the responsibility to do what is right, in the sense that it fails to accept that one person’s gain, if it results in a loss for other individuals or organisations, will likely have negative social consequences that will be compounded by its serial replication. So greed was a cataclysmic disaster in the end because, like Anatole says, when the debt suddenly stopped moving around, it had to crash and burn somewhere. The money everyone thought they had, wasn’t ever really there. The low-wage slaves who bought six-bedroomed houses did so on the premise that their houses would gain in value, i.e. move from one arbitrary fantasy figure to a higher arbitrary fantasy figure, remaining one vital step ahead of foreclosure. And, as Clive says, at some point, a critical mass was inevitably reached.

Oprah Winfrey. I’ve said it before, I don’t give this dangereuse nearly enough attention. Presented with the challenge of solving world poverty, what does Oprah do? Why dang it, she gets on to all her friends who make shit and asks them to double their shit quota and then she hauls Bono out of whatever twilight home for the perpetually addled he normally inhabits and drags him around the glittering emporia of Chicago, gleefully buying ten of every custom i-thing and t-thing that retail hell can conjure. Buy even more shit to help the poor – it could only have come from Oprah. I'll bet the starving Sudanese are using the last of their strength to compose thank you songs and dances even as I write. Of course she seems ridiculous and laughable but, like all the other idiots with wallets the size of Winnepeg she’s treated like some grand duchess of wisdom. If she’s got that much money, she must be smart, right? Besides, she’s swallowed a library of self-improvement books over the years so she must know something. Maybe things will change now. If admiration for this kind of profligacy not to mention indecent disrespect for the palpable suffering for which it is partly responsible in the first place turns to disdain, then the turmoil will have been worth every phantom cent.

At the risk of colonising the moral high ground, House of Pants is a cash economy. It’s surprising how much respectably acquired income you can sock away if you’re not paying interest to lots of people who persuaded you to have something you didn’t want and don’t need now rather than when you’ve saved up enough money and have had the time to think it through thoroughly. Apart from the ill-conceived purchase of a hypoallergenic owly-cat some years ago – a mistake I won’t be making again in a hurry. (Barney – I won’t tell you again, step away from the combine harvester. That marijuana crop belongs to Stinky Pete and he will not be happy if he comes back from his Hell’s Angels road trip to find you’ve snaffled up his future-proofing scheme). Where was I? Mistakes. Yep, Barney was my rock bottom in that department. Apart from that moment of madness, I pretty much stick to the principle of simple taste equals minimal waste. I do think Stinky Pete’s on to something though. Drugs are a good investment in the future. We’re all going to need plenty of them in the months to come, if only to endure the chorus of groans from peers who thought they were so much cleverer than us 'investing' their inflated salaries in hedge funds and putting off seeing the world until they could afford to go first class. As the grey nomad army puts up in trailer parks across the western world and besieges local supermarkets for shelf-stacking jobs, I hope to be firmly ensconced in the unmortgaged new Seat of Pants nostalgically pasting my coach tickets into scrapbooks.

It was JP Getty who said, ‘the meek shall inherit the earth but not its mineral rights.’ Well watch those mining shares plummet and see who’s going to be smiling in the new reality. At this juncture, it seems absurd to be trying to tie in the picture above taken at the recent Birregurra Festival by a glasserless Ms O'Dyne but it calls to mind a television show I once saw advancing the theory that the most successful economies were built on the backs of beasts of burden, a concept illustrated with the scene of conquistadors ravaging the South American continent while a herd of startled alpacas looked on in consternation. I’m with the alpaca – don’t be coming near me with no saddle, pal. I started out by saying money makes me nervous. It’s probably truer to say incomplete transactions and the involvement of other people in them make me nervous. My crypticism is due to an inexplicable dependency on superstition. I cannot reveal all at the moment but it is a bit of a saga … Barney, do not even think about walking under that ladder…

Friday, October 10, 2008

Maidens all for Lorne

If idylls are your bag...

The perfidy of strangers is not to be underestimated. The upstanding institution formerly known as House of Pants has crumbled into a pantry of paranoia over the last tumultuous year. Never before have its assets been entirely liquid and all I’ve been able to think about is that someone would just steal the whole kaboodle because it’s sitting like a duck in a soup, all in the one place – a bank! Little did I realise that my portents were in fact prophesies. Someone or something is trying to steal everyone’s money out of banks. The sooner the Pantsfolio gets sunk into land, the better. It’s considerably harder for strange forces of indeterminate inter-global evil to walk away with your house.

News reportage on the financial crisis occupies the same sanctum of creepiness as the Halloween movies for me so I’m only able to watch through splayed fingers and that has an odd impact on the numbers. I know it’s all jolly scary but I’m thrilled that Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown has moved to part nationalise British banks before they do a KLF on everyone’s pension. If ever there was a time to have a dreary tightwad at the helm it’s now. Plod away Scroogie. I do hope Australia follows this prudent lead as I have recently transferred the Pants retirement fund over, fearing it might not be safe in Europe!

But there is also occasional wondrous beneficence in this uncertain world. Ms O’Dyne, as you may know has taken me and Barney under her wing and put up with a shandrydan of shenanigans (mostly from Barney obviously) without a shred of complaint. It must be said that Ms O’Dyne does have some eccentric ways so there’s a degree of give and take. Incidentally, Barney does most of the taking and that has led to some friction, particularly in small rural towns where an owly-cat doesn’t readily blend into the scenery. It’s not as if you can say, ‘oh, he’s just out on remand and hasn’t quite got to grips with the right and wrong thing yet,’ and expect people to just grumble and go back to fiddling with their iPhones. Country folk want to know where you’ve come from, where you’re going and what you plan to do with the psychotic aunt you have locked in your cellar. Plans are something that Barney and I briefly consider we should make before one of us gets the bright idea to pour a G&T and put everything off until tomorrow. However, having surveyed the treasury of literary prizes on offer in Australia, Barney has now decided to pen his memoirs. He plans to call his opus The Owly-Cat in the Attic. I have advised him to get a little more life experience first – actually, make that a lot. I could use the break and the possums have been crying out for company.

The milky loveliness of generosity recently extended itself almost untenably as Ms O’Dyne was offered the use of a fabulous cliff-side mansion along the Great Ocean Road just outside of Lorne and asked us to join her. Barney quickly volunteered the services of the Pantiebago to transport the circus that is us to the seaside and, before you could say I left my wahini in Wangaratta, we were installed in mega-star luxury and supping G&Ts on the balcony, ingesting the gobsmacking views. We invited a few friends around for supper and it did get a bit lairy. Barney, of course, was in his element. He prides himself on getting down and dirty with the locals and needs very little encouragement to lick food off floors, tables, hands and frankly anything its able to stick to.

Unlike Barney, I’ve never wanted to be rich. There are some lifestyle trappings associated with the well-off however that I wouldn’t turn down. The new Seat of Pants is definitely going to have decent water views. They won’t be anything like this amazing villa where it feels like you're occupying the penthouse of a giant ocean liner, but my perspective will be of the same ocean. Good washing facilities too – the showers in this place were my idea of the perfect wet dream. Heating, obviously – my fingers and toes are in roughly the same condition as Sir Ranulph’s when he got back from Everest. And the only other thing I want is decent knives. When one has an owly-cat, one needs to prepare for any eventuality.

Please enjoy a selection of our holiday snaps below with captions by Barney.

Birdie Num-Nums

This Kookaburra doesn’t mince his words

Cock-a-hoop, the bar snacks are gratis!

Parrot Fashion

Foo Flighters - Enlarge this one to get the full meaning
Pity us, our lives are awful...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pants in shorts

It’s been a frightening time for too many reasons so I’m immensely relieved to find that I still have feet. That’s one less thing I have to develop crippling anxiety about. I haven’t actually seen my feet for some time as they’ve been concealed in Boots the Chemist flight socks for the better part of the year. To die of deep vein thrombosis when I hadn’t taken a long-haul flight would have been too depressing and embarrassing so I thought it better not to take the risk. Today I emerged from the four layers of clothing and the same of bedding in which I have been permanently sequestered to find that spring has arrived in western Victoria. Admittedly it was well after midday. I was beginning to think I’d landed in a climate-free weather zone. As the sun roared down confidently, I dug out the peddle-pushing puddle-jumpers and Bob was my red, red robin-loving uncle. I discovered that the farm’s trampoline makes an excellent sun lounger and was able to read by natural light for the first time this year.

I also ventured out into the adjoining woodland to find the lovely frisky horses next door brimming with seasonal joy and eager to pop over for a chat and large clumps of well-watered grass from my side of the fence. Some things don’t change. My mission for this year has been to get over myself, a project that has had more downs than ups. I blame the lack of sun, amongst other things. There wasn’t much sun in England either but neither did I expect it and it was a situation that was easily remedied by devoting a tea break to I nearly always went in search of places where clouds aren’t a measurable contributor to GDP in September and October after the inevitable abysmal excuse for a London summer had finally acquired the decency to slink away. But now I believe I might be in for something approaching seasonal clemency. You could forgive England for its climactic caprice but not Australia. What else is there?

I knew when I came to live here that I would sacrifice my instant access to mainstream culture and my easy proximity to the rest of the globe. There’d be no meeting friends in the bar at the Tate Britain and popping downstairs to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition, no flying into town on the No. 26 bus on the last Sunday afternoon of the El Greco. No Damien Hirst. No Tracey Emin. No Turner Prize. I knew I wouldn’t be able to flit off to Calais for a spot of shopping or take the Eurostar to Paris just to have lunch in Montmartre and stroll along the Boulevard Saint-Michel. There’d be no long weekends in New York, Vienna or Prague. No getaways to Cuba, Cyprus, Croatia. I still think I’ll be okay with all that if I can just get some sunny sodding weather.

When I knew I was leaving London for good, I spent a year on a solemn pilgrimage around all my oldest favourite places. I had pasta at the Pollo Bar which had been recently gutted and remodelled to look exactly as it had always, only slightly cleaner. I ate Tandoori chicken in Brick Lane which had thirty-five million quid thrown at it in the nineties and came out dirtier. I ordered the superb şiş kebab at the Mangal II in Dalston which also pissed away thirty-five million squids with the nonchalance of a gambler who’d hit the triple rollover on Euromillions. I once saw a tramp sauntering down Dalston Lane carrying two Armani suit bags full of grubby plastic Costcutter carriers and vintage copies of News of the World. Says it all really. Gilbert and George were at the Mangal II, as they have been every evening for several years. I used to think it was because they fancied the waiters, who by and large are pretty yummy – I know someone who married one of them. They don’t make very good husbands. One evening when I was having dinner with an art historian in seats recently vacated by G&G, she told me it’s because they have that ongoing project where they use their faeces as the raw material. Cheaper than oils I guess. They have to eat the same thing every day to guarantee consistency of quality. It’s this attention to detail that makes them world class I suppose but it was probably not the right time to be considering that particular piece of information. I was very glad I hadn't ordered the kofte.

I’d passed two tranquil months in the British Library typing out all five published works by my G-G-Grandfather who was transported to Australia in 1819. You can’t photocopy rare books so I undertook this as a labour of love and with the intention of some day using it as the basis for a novel about him. I was satisfied I’d spent ample time in the BL but even so, on the last day as I walked to Euston Road to take the No. 30 bus back to Hackney Wick, I knew that I would really miss it and I do. Every summer day last year that clawed its way into the double figures, I took a tuna sandwich and a couple of cans of Stella Artois over to Hampstead Heath to spend the day sunbaking topless at the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond, my absolutely favourite place in all of Britain. Once or twice I even dived into the freezing natural pond to swim about with the ducks and coots and watch the kingfishers and dragonflies hover about at the far end. On a really sunny day, there’s no lovelier place to be.

I’ve never in my life been as cold as I’ve been these past four months in western Victoria. I have never before worn all my clothes to bed and still been cold, not even in Russia in the middle of winter. The Russians may not have much else but they have heating and vodka. The mountains of Japan run a close second, the difference being that with all my clothes and four futons on top of me I did actually warm up eventually, after lots of hot sake. But now I might have something to look forward to. Where there is sun, there may be more sun and… and… Ms O’Dyne and I have been offered free accommodation in a fabulous seaside mansion and, with luck, the two phenomena might coincide. Is there a God? Name Ra by any chance?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Less is not fewer

Paternity suit - is it just me or are these fashionistas related?

I’ve become so frazzled and confused trying to work out how to assimilate into Australia – believe me, many ponder this - that I’ve resorted to seeking solace in the oddest distractions, as opposed to engaging in more practical activity like speculating on viable ‘rest-of-life’ scenarios. This pursuit has ‘too-hard-basket’ smeared all over it in a particularly garish and age-inappropriate shade of lipstick. I’ll give you an example: I’ve wasted many minutes fantasising over the resemblance between the once reviled and now nationally treasured, (á la Mistress Thatcher), former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser; musical giant of Brisbane and its environs Robert Forster and tedious tennis titan Roger Federer. I don’t mean to disparage any of them except Monster Fraser who is still the devil’s chauffeur in the book of Pants and especially not Robert Forster who is an old friend, (although possibly not now). Roger Federer I have no history with but you have to admit that they all have a certain je ne sais quiff.

It’s as if my raison d’être has baked itself into a stale old pain au raison of late, with an emphasis on the pain rather than the raison. Watching that little Fairy Wren relentlessly propelling itself against a window for hours over the last week has been surprisingly life-affirming. The tiny creature seemed to me to be demonstrating empathy in the most touching way. In fact, I’d even go as far as to speculate that it was pecking out ‘I feel your pain’ in its quaint Fairy Wren version of Morse Code. Perhaps it just coveted my croissant. Either way, respect to you little dude and to your mother, Nature.

When I lived in Britain I despised Tesco because it built a vast store with nothing worth buying in it very close to my home. The proposed provision of a fish monger and delicatessen was welcomed by both planners and residents because Hackney Central didn't have either. Within a year or two of opening, the fish and deli counters were replaced by a pharmacy and bakery. Hackney already had an abundance of both. I was not happy. I stopped going there, along with a few other like-minded locals. Tesco sent me loyalty points long after I became a traitor. I used them to buy alcohol – in France.

I’m now chuffed to see that colossus of commerce capitulate to public pressure and correct a long-standing grammatical error in its signage. Lovers of the richness and exactitude of the English language will finally be best pleased. For years, like a grumpy old literate, I mumbled ‘fewer’ under my breath as I grudgingly assembled in a queue to purchase the ‘ten items or less’ I needed because I’d foolishly omitted them from my list of things to buy from a) France; b) Abel & Cole; c) Carol’s husband who drives a lorry. The successful outcome of the pressure on Tesco to rebrand its express lane, ‘up to ten items’ is attributed to The Plain English Campaign. Regular readers will know that I haven’t always been a fan of the PEC. It has a grand record of failing to distinguish baby from bathwater. However, in this particular battle of the bumf, the PEC has come up trumps, mutely trumpeting its victory over compulsory vernacularisation here.

In any sane person’s consideration, this is a vote for our language maintaining its richness of meaning. There are still enough of us around for whom this precision of expression has purpose. I don’t much mind what happens to the language after I’ve passed into Pants oblivion, but while I’m here, I’ll support the retention of its uniquely distinguishable words and phrases. Not so The Australian apparently which opines menacingly,

A GLOBAL war is raging over the word 'less' and how to label express checkout lanes in supermarkets.

This is a national newspaper of some note so the non-sequitur in the opening sentence, given that this is a piece about language usage, is baffling. What then to make of the journalistic imbroglio that follows?

The conflict began when British retail giant Tesco was forced to tear down the '10 items or less' signs on its quick lanes.

‘Conflict’? ‘Forced to tear down?’ This is Tesco n’est-ce pas? Surely you mean 'were reluctantly persuaded to offer a gratuitous gesture assuaging the sensibilities of the aging middle classes who comprise a significant proportion of its consumer base'. The only 'conflict' that could possibly have arisen is with the marketing gonks battling for ‘less’, one of retail’s key ‘added value’ words, to retain its high checkout profile.

Seemingly oblivious to even the most crude retailer/customer compact, The Australian sought to churn the storm in the teacup into a full-blown cuppa-wuppa,

Signs in the new stores are to say 'up to 10 items' after a brouhaha from purists who objected to the use of the word 'less' in that context. They contend the correct term is 'fewer'.

Contend? Sorry, the rules for the use of ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ are no more contentious than the rule that says a red light means stop and a green light means go. But still The Australian forges on combatively,

This has prompted a call from grammar guardians, the Plain English Campaign in Britain, for colonial retail outposts to clean up their acts.

Well, this is what the PEC actually did say,

Over the last few days there has been a lot of press coverage about Tesco's new checkout signs. Some of this coverage suggested that the retailer chose the wording of their new signs based on our recommendation. However, this is not the case.

Reflecting public opinion about the signs, we wrote to Tesco some months ago suggesting that they changed the wording of their 'Ten items or less' signs, as it is grammatically incorrect. We suggested that they alter it to 'Ten items or fewer' or 'Baskets only'. It became apparent that the company had received a lot of other correspondence on the matter.

No mention of compelling the colonies to conform then. The British solution is a good one. I’m pleasantly staggered that Tesco, of all companies, would defer to the public in this way. It means far more than is superficially apparent which is why The Australian seeking out an ‘expert’ to support its view that the originators of our language don’t know what the sod they’re on about is bonkers, but here they go again,

However, according to Macquarie University's emeritus professor of linguistics, Pamela Peters, it is the British who are wrong.

In any other circumstance I might agree but when it comes to the language they invented, I’d tread more cautiously, especially if I were like totally incorrect, dah,
Professor Peters said it was an example of people going overboard.

Did she indeed? I certainly hope no one drowned while waiting in line to pick up a two-for-one Evian offer.

Professor Peters, who is also the author of The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, said: 'It is one of those points of grammar British people feel more strongly than others.'

What I’d give for a red pen right about now. Still it's useful to know that if you want to see a Brit suffer, all you have to do is poke him with a point of grammar. Ouch! And then this,

Professor Peters said the word ‘fewer’ was a mark of older-style speech. ‘It's not used much in speech,’ she said. ‘So when people write it, they don't have a strong sense of its place in ordinary English idiom.’

It doesn’t take a marketing genius to work out that we wouldn’t even be discussing this if it weren’t for the fact that sloppy grammar usually compromises meaning and that’s what living, breathing language users don't want to happen. I agree that 'fewer' is an archaic-sounding word that we could conceivably live without and it will probably fall into disuse eventually. This should happen naturally and as a consequence of etymological evolution rather than be short-circuited to mollify the sensibilities of people whose job it is to sell us groceries. I further agree that there aren't that many opportunities for confusing the sense that its universal replacement with 'less' conveys. Obviously if one has 'fewer' sheep it's clear one has had a barbeque but if one possesses 'less' sheep it could mean the poor fellow hasn't been getting enough grazing time in but not many people would lose sleep over that one, provided there were enough sheep remaining to count in order to fall asleep.

Here’s how PEC spokesperson, the unfortunately named Marie Claire responded to a grilling from The Australian,

‘If you let language go off course, you have got nothing for the future. English is now the universal language and if you start making those rules too blurred, you are going to lose track of the whole thing.’

I’d love to be able to say I couldn’t have put it better myself but I do honestly believe I can. Language is a tool and, unless your toolbox has been possessed by Disney, you are in control. We use language to communicate with each other so it’s in every English user’s interest to ensure the language serves us as well as it can do by preserving the integrity and common understanding of its words and combinations of words. Spoken English is beautifully fluid and is being constantly enriched by its interaction with other languages but our formal civility is increasingly dependent on our shared understanding as communicated through written signage. This may seem like a silly little pedants' game but society is not well-served by long queues of grumpy people at check-outs stewing over word usage in my view. That really is hell in a handbasket. Their time would be much better spent pondering the big questions in life like whether Robert Forster could be Roger Federer’s dad. Look at the eyes and they have the same initials...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The blue bird of haplessness

Suicidal Fairy Wren by Pants

I am crawling out from under a deep murky fog, both literally and figuratively. As spring teases frozen Victoria with frost-resistant daffodils that are no doubt some sort of insidious agri-mutant, we the demented optimistically rip ourselves from our cocoons of gloom into a consciousness of sorts. At least that’s how I like to see the seasonal behaviour of this fairy wren whose disturbing daily head-banging ritual is doing nothing for my tenuous adhesion to the tentacles of reality.

Every morning I shuffle into the drawing room, hair dryer trailing a long extension cord and blasting the icicles from my eyebrows. I open the fridge to savour a gust of warm air, (any port in a storm), before stoking up the sad excuse for a fire for one more valiant but ultimately futile battle with the cruel elements and non-existent roof insulation. And when is this country going to wake up to the virtues of heated towel rails pray? Oh, and did I mention the bog’s out on the back verandah? It might as well be in Newfoundland.

So, while I’m pointlessly sacrificing logs, da liddle boid bowls up and starts battering its funny fauny self against the defiantly un-double-glazed windows as sure as night is followed by something that looks very like night but is not quite as dark and a little more wet. What’s this all about nature lovers? Maybe he thinks we’re the only two beings left alive. Of course there’s Barney but surprisingly few natural creatures regard him as a living entity. Most of them are pretty sure they’ve seen things that look like Barney in the bargain bins of The Reject Shop.

Unlike my old Nikon, the Kodak doesn’t have motor drive so it took more effort than four seasons of Bill Oddie stalking badgers on Springwatch for me to get this shot. Then again, the Kodak doesn’t use up half my baggage allowance on budget airlines which is why the Nikon is parked in a storage shed in Laverton North and the Kodak is parked in my jeans. Is it certifiable to admit you miss Springwatch? Good Goddie I hope so. I also intuited that the people I’m house-sitting for in the wildest wests of Victoria may not appreciate me building a twitcher’s bunker in their drawing room. Although they might have been pleasantly surprised at how warm they can be and I naturally would have kitted it out with a Baby Belling, a Teasmade and four tonnes of recently killed whale’s blubber for which I would even prostitute myself to Japanese enviro-vandals. Yes I have been that cold.

I have never before experienced a requirement for a long-sleeved woollen vest. Now I have four of them and I wear them all at once. Electric blanket? Haven’t seen one since I was a child growing up in Sydney, a city so in denial of its appalling climate it should have its own support group. Now I break down weeping uncontrollably if I find an unelectrified bed. Staying in Melbourne with friends who had inexpensive and efficient gas heating that they reluctantly switched on and set to 15 degrees only after one of them contracted pneumonia was instructive. I was roundly pilloried for not having enough warm clothing. In my own defence I submit that this is the very same clothing that survived a London winter without me even having to wear more than a couple of pieces of it at any one time. Then again, I wasn’t sitting at a bus stop 24/7. In Melbourne, I might as well have been.

Tempting as it was, I have not yet been reduced to re-configuring the repatriated Barnster into a stole. Barney arrived back from Britain disguised as my long awaited e-Bay purchase of a 1970s special edition Bay City Rollers Tartan Bagpuss Deluxe still in its box. I couldn’t resist the cheerful thought that a child had received this for Christmas, was immediately told to register it as a pensionable investment and promptly decided to liquidate. Barney knows me too well. I have to say I admire him for knitting those duds himself and I know for a certain fact that he fooled at least two acknowledged experts from the Antiques Roadshow.

Reunited, we headed off to survey innocent and unsuspecting towns along the length of the Victorian coastline for possible locations in which to launch our joint initiative aimed at influencing civic well-being that we have dubbed Lowering The Tone. It’s early days but we think we may have found the perfect victim for our future activities. I can’t say anything yet as we don’t want to alert the law although the temptation to spook the market with our interest is enormous. Hackney has never recovered from our prolonged occupation. We could make a killing if only our homicidal knowledge extended beyond how to kill each other, which even we are smart enough to realise is counter-productive.

The Subaroo, which for some reason Barney has taken to smoking pot with and speaking gangsta to late at night, has conveyed us across the country with suspicious calm. It is disquieting to have a car select your music for you, particularly if it constantly reheats Coldplay which must be very unhealthy. I suspect a conspiracy. I’ve seen I Robot - more than once. Barney has at least made an effort to mingle, insisting that we stop to congratulate a wombat who made it across the Princess Highway intact. We had certainly seen many of the fallen so even we knew that this was a feat for the somewhat less than fleet wombat. All was going well until Barney asked the exhausted marsupial how he managed to keep his hat on while sleeping hanging upside down. It's a long story and one that involves an ill-conceived economy with the truth on my part. Will I never learn? I was grateful for the Subaroo’s central locking system and custom Barney cage at that point.

I know the bible talks about there being a purpose to every season yadda, yadda, yadda but that was before this whole global warming palaver thing happened and all bets are obviously off. I’m more inclined towards the sentiments of the great jazz lyricist Fran Landesman who said spring can really hang you up the most...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Every cloud has a panty liner

Winnebago of Pants is superseded by Subaru of Pants with a haste that must be considered unprecedented in the present emotional micro-climate. It occurred in the flash of a gavel. I wasn’t expecting to be attending a car auction but it so happened that the Victorian Government decided to dispense with a number of its excellent vehicles at exactly the time I acquired a notion to buy one so I motivated myself into gear. The lethargy that has dogged my 2008 has disappeared with the flush of fortuitous opportunity, thanks to sane and knowledgeable friends. Who knew I could marshal such reliable resources? After my rejuvenating stay with Ms O’Dyne, I have recently been taken in by kindly Shirley and Roddy who have not only been wining and dining me to within an inch of rendering my jeans completely redundant, but have sorted out my dishevelled finances, not to mention the laundry bag that is my backpack. It was the redoubtable Roddy who sourced and conquered the auction process on my behalf. Even when completely in command I never would have had the patience to unravel the intricacies of this giant car bazaar myself.

On Tuesday we journeyed to the outskirts of Melbourne to kick tyres with dealers and like-minded bargain hunters. Mustering a presence of mind I feared may have deserted me for ever, I perused, surveyed and assessed nineteen potential Subaru Foresters, the car I had previously identified as the perfect travelling companion. My standard research method is indicative of my general displeasure with shopping. I usually wait until I find someone in similar circumstances to do all the hard work and then I buy exactly the same thing as they’ve got after asking them some basic questions like ‘is it any good?’ and ‘do you feel like opening a vein when you think of all the money you’ve just pissed away?’ In the course of my methodical search, I met three delighted Subaroosters and that was good enough for me. I have better things to do with my time than question the integrity of decent, hard-working people.

Of the nineteen potential pantmobiles, nine were eliminated because they had a few scratches or were a manky colour or looked at me the wrong way. I then used a highly scientific method involving snaps taken on the Kodak, notes scribbled on the catalogue and several glasses of Sauvignon Blanc to prioritise the remaining hopefuls into a hierarchy which serendipitously looked remarkably similar to the order in which they were to appear on the auction floor. Together Roddy and I developed a strategy so simple as to be virtually idiotic. I would bid on the first car, which happened to be the favourite and if I didn’t get that one, I would bid on the next and so on until I got one or the nice auction people ran out of cars.

My car was number 4 which meant I had only three opportunities to learn to interpret the strange language that auctioneers speak which sounds like a cross between high speed bingo and Bim Skala Bim. By the time my intended zoomed into view, it was already apparent that the people who were sitting all around us were not there to buy cars. Perhaps they just fancied the ambience and the sausage rolls. It was all insanely painless. A dealer made a listless opening bid. It ping-ponged a couple of times. I made the final bid. I thought it was all over and lept up waving my bidding card like a lottery winner who'd just evaded eviction. I looked at Roddy and couldn't understand why he wasn't punching the air like it had just mugged his mother. The auctioneer had passed the car in because it hadn't reached its reserve so I was led bewildered into a quiet corner. We haggled with the government agent until a satisfactory conclusion was reached. Suffice to say 'quids in' is something of an understatement.

This morning in the blinding rain, we headed across Melbourne for the third consecutive day to pick up the car. I’m not a nervous driver but I do have a bit of a problem with vertigo and there was an awfully high bridge to navigate. I’m pleased to report that no citizens of Melbourne were injured in the course of this delicate operation and we weaved between the grime-generating pantechnicons like spaghetti through bolognaise. Roddy has been telling me all week we need to go see someone called Vic Rhodes. I have no idea what that is all about but, hey, every day is a new adventure and he sounds nice. SUV’d up, I’m ready to hit the road again. The next quest – to establish a new Seat of Pants – could begin at any time...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rainbow Retention

Right place, right time by Pants

Complaints have been pouring into Winnebago of Pants vis-à-vis the scarcity, bordering on poverty of the Pants pantry of late. I agree the larder falls somewhat short of Epicurean and I would apologise for that but for the fact that at the moment I don’t really give a flying fart about anything, much less the problems of the big bad world. Most of them are caused by stupidity. The discovery of a formula for making people less stupid could spark my interest, in more ways than one. Suffice to say the relationship between thought and bubble has recently hit the skids insofar as the functional fusion culminating in inspiration goes. In short, I have been cluelessly preoccupied with the thorny question of whether or not to bother going on … er… bothering and I didn’t feel inclined to turn my attention to how badly the world was getting along without the benefit of my eternal vigilance.

I may have turned a corner, or at the very least, a figurative leaf. Miraculously my banking problems have temporarily subsided and I have access to some cash. I don’t need a lot but I’m very pleased to have a trickle as personal hygiene was suffering. As I was reaching a new nadir on Wednesday, I chanced to look out the window and saw the rainbow above terminating in the farm’s very own disused well. Well! Despite the slightly mixed symbolism, I thought my luck had to be changing. Are leprechauns large grey things with big long tails and little tiny hands does anyone know? No matter. I think I might have seen one on a coin so that’s a great omen, right?

I used to be so organised in my anxiety once, devoting a day a week to fretting over carefully selected major global concerns. The last year has eroded my confidence in reality quite substantially and that has rather influenced my ability to find a focus for my critical pretensions. I’ve just generally kind of felt bad about almost everything in an overwhelming it can’t be fixed sort of way. Attaining a metaphysical detachment from the world and all its infuriating little administrative imperatives allows me to live in my head more and, much as I loved Hackney, it’s a good deal quieter in there. I think I’ve done fairly well. There are an awful lot of things that could irritate me if I deigned to give them the time of day and I will again once I locate a few of the missing pieces from my deconstructed sensibilities. Perhaps I left them in Madhogarh along with my spare contact lenses. Can you claim missing marbles on travel insurance?

A recent study carried out at the University of Queensland (one’s alma mater) suggests that your preferred type of music could be a key to determining the likelihood that you’ll top yourself. Is this a good time to reveal that I’ve been listening to a lot of Joy Division and Jeff Buckley? This would render me a candidate for suicide watch I shouldn't wonder. A suggested application for the study is yet another obsessive monitoring mechanism for plotting the mental well-being of young people. One day someone will come up with the bright idea of just casually inquiring into their state of mind via a simple question over a coffee. 

I think I might have come up with a flaw in the music as mind map theory and that is that you sometimes just listen to whatever’s there. I would have done almost anything to have been gyrating geriatrically to Dane Bowers’ Testosterone but the farm only has Andrea Bocelli, The Chieftains and a Basque group called Oílarrak (who actually aren’t bad provided you can  consume enough rough red), so I was obliged to borrow whatever CDs I could find. If I could have had Lily Allen’s Smile, I might have achieved self-actualisation, at least for five minutes. So there you go. My music of choice might have been considered quite uplifting. The study also concluded that people who attended parties were more likely to consume drugs. You don’t say. Sometimes I wish I’d never left UQ. What must it be like to be a tenured academic in the era of stupidity?

Back to the rainbow. It’s rare isn’t it that a rainbow landfalls within reach? So consumed was I with capturing this momentous event on the Kodak that it never occurred to me to go down to the end of the garden and a) bathe in its heavenly light and b) check the well for gold deposits. Clearly I still have work to do on defining my life goals. Next week I’ll be heading off to Melbourne. I have prepared myself for this by watching Chopper with the eponymous hero’s commentary accompanying my viewing. I’m confident I could recognise a 410 shotgun if one were suddenly to appear in front of my face but, with my rainbow connections, I think that’s unlikely. I heard today that Sydney and Brisbane (both cities in which I've lived) love themselves but Melbourne has invented a persona in which she feels comfortable. Sounds like my kind of place. Wish me Bluebirds in the Spring, or just a spring would do nicely. Ta…

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grass greener but more blurry

Patch of Grass by Pants

I expected resettlement issues when I returned to live in Australia. I also anticipated that, after a period of hysteria, I would calm down and remember that it can’t be that difficult to work out how to open a bank account and get a new driver’s licence. My projections were wildly optimistic as it happens. However, one must find ways of turning mental collapse into art as it has no other practical application as far as I’m aware.

Above, my homage to Vincent Van Gogh which I will call Patch of Grass in his honour. Reading one’s beloved Guardian online is not ideal as I prefer to curl up in bed with it and an accompaniment of crumpets and honey. The laptop does not lend itself to this level of advanced cosiness. So much did I crave a Guardian perspective that I suspended disbelief for long enough to manage the horrific out-of-bed experience of the farm’s vile Macthing. I had made my own picture some weeks ago so I was delighted to find I had been channelling the great master.

A few posts ago I wrote about the row over photographer Bill Henson’s nude child photos. This rumbles incongruously on despite new things to say on the subject having been exhausted within hours of the story … er… developing. Last weekend’s Australian carried an op-ed piece by Deborah Hope on the arts and purpose, tediously rehashing John Carey’s 2005 anti-Kant rant What Good are the Arts? The book challenges the concept that works of art have the ability to connect with us cerebrally, producing a benefit to the individual and, by extension, humanity. My copy is in a crate somewhere in the industrial wastelands of outer Melbourne so I’m unable to refer to it but I seem to remember that the main target for Carey’s ire is a perceived ‘elite’ whom he fancies conspire to enchant us with the notion that it's possible to draw joy from an object which does not innately contain it. So, love of the arts is a societal construct and appreciation of them a learned response? Who knew! I remember having quite a chuckle about that great exposé at the time. The revelation didn’t stop me from retreating to a room full of Rothkos when my angst with the world bordered on unmanageable. Funny that.

Carey hilariously attacks Jeanette Winterson as one of these wicked elite who bogusly assign inappropriate magical qualities to works of art and Hope takes a swipe at her here for the speech she gave at the opening of the Sydney Writer’s Festival recently. Winterson famously had what she describes as a ‘crummy’ childhood bare of books and other earthly pleasures. She was derided as ‘a social experiment’ when she went to Oxford as a student who excelled her way out of the grimy north. Oxford is the university at which Carey is very much part of the establishment incidentally. It’s difficult to take claims that a love of the arts mutually excludes ordinary folk seriously when you’ve lived in the same city as the Tate Modern, consistently among the most popular attractions in Britain. Admittedly it’s free, awash with comfy sofas and it’s also quite easy to lose children in a Turbine Hall installation for a couple of hours while one nips into one of the chi-chi bars for a resuscitative Sauvignon Blanc. These could be contributory factors.

Despite the entreaties of academics and journalists to convince me otherwise I am sticking with the arts as my soma for the soul of choice. Sometimes the thought of Max Ernst's Celebes is the only thing that stands between me and insanity. I do find it amusing that neo-Calvinists frequently demand mainstream education make itself more inclusive by devoting itself to real-life skills like writing CVs and changing nappies at the expense of the arts. I rather like the idea that the arts could one day find their way by default into the realm of guilty pleasures. I can just imagine kids skiving off Parenting 101 to catch a matinee of Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Closer to home, there are some artistic triumphs to report. Pants family member Andy Young, hugely talented jazz composer and guitarist has been nominated for an Aria Award (Australian Music Industry Awards – like a Grammy or a Brit), for Best Jazz Album for his CD Downside Up. It goes without saying that you must immediately go on-line and buy it. My old friend Katy Evans-Bush has a book of her brilliant poems out called Me and the Dead. How can you not buy a book containing a poem called As the Sun Sends the Sequins on my Handbag Scattering. Waste no time, go. While you’re about it, check out my blog pal Nasim Marie Jafry’s novel The State of Me. Your credit card never had it so good.

Finally, another little tit-bit from one’s adored and much missed Guardian. Music consumers are protesting that printed song lyrics are frequently omitted from CD packages. It’s important, apparently, to know what’s being said ... er… I guess that’s why they call it song. At the risk of descending further into fogeydom, not to mention articulating the painfully obvious, is it too much to ask singers to master the art of annunciation? I would point out that John Lydon, AKA Johnny Rotten could manage to make his meaning clearly understood. In fact, he even rolled his ‘Rs’ as I recall. Standards have certainly plummeted since the golden days of Never Mind the Bollocks...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Koala-la Land

Last weekend Ms O’Dyne drove Barney and me down The Great Ocean Road. I must tell you now that this is something of a misnomer. It really should be called The Tiny Treacherous Crumbling Precipice, but I don’t suppose that has quite the allure for tourists. Ms O’Dyne trained at the white knuckle school of motoring and can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch the road when there is so much magnificent scenery to look at instead. Not a great combination if coming home in one piece is important to you. The anecdote about a woman who ran off the road on her way to a Body, Mind and Spirit festival didn’t help either. While they were winching her miraculously living self to safety, the rescuers came across another vehicle containing a woman who had been dead for three weeks. No one even knew she was missing. Barney went straight to his i-Phone, logged on to BetFair and placed his entire life savings on Pascal to win.

We fetched up in Apollo Bay. Apollo wasn’t there – called to Melbourne for some kind of oracular emergency apparently. Zeus was on the rampage as the entire town, comprising four estate agents and a lamington bakery, was being battered by a Hellenic hurricane. I have crossed it off my list of possible sites for the relocated House of Pants. Barney took some talking around as the lamingtons were admittedly to die for. ‘On that road,’ I told him, ‘that might quite literally be true.’

Mercifully, on the journey back to the farm, we were mostly accompanied by a reassuring land mass on our side. I was dreaming of a large, medicinal gin and tonic as Barney screamed, ‘stop the car! Isn’t that Dr Phil?’ I will have to stop letting him watch daytime television. It is doing nothing whatever for his relationship with reality. However, there did seem to be a bear-like creature by the side of the road gnawing away at the root of .. er... a large tree rather than a pointless and irritating family dilemma which is much more Dr Phil’s usual fare. We alighted, with a sense of relief in my case, even an uncharacteristic joie de vivre, to find that the root-eating creature was, in fact a koala. Barney was delighted. I told him ‘it’s like a man – it eats, roots and leaves.’ He responded with a typically owly-cat-brained shrug. I don’t know why I bother.

We approached the koala with due caution and I produced the Kodak, thinking that Barney would be satisfied with a souvenir photograph but he insisted we offer the poor chap asylum or at the very least a nip of vodka, a smoked salmon sandwich and a bed for the night. He has much to learn about etiquette in the wild. It was apparent Barney felt a certain kinship with this koala. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘that stomach is just crying out to have a zipper down the middle.’ (Regular readers will remember that in order to overcome certain bureaucratic obstacles with regard to Barney’s immigration status, I had him fitted with a zipper so he could be classified as an interactive Bagpuss. I still dream about the peace I might this minute be enjoying if I’d let him languish in quarantine.)

Predictably, Barney and his friend, who I think may be on drugs – I haven’t seen anyone that stoned since Robert Downey Jnr dropped by to borrow a cup of crystal meth – have gone somewhat feral since our return to the farm. Two bottles of vodka are missing from the freezer and the loggers who are thoughtfully felling trees next door complained that their smoked salmon sandwiches are regularly disappearing. They’re fairly certain it’s Barney and his new mate as abusive notes are being left in place of their elevensees. The notes say things like, hands off our homes and fuck off Ikea – just leave the meatballs. As we agreed, the culprit appears to have few brains and fewer taste buds and that does sound an awful lot like Barney. You can’t protect them for ever. They’re going to make their own mistakes and Barney is, if anything, over-blessed in that department. I would ask that if you happen to be passing your freezer, would you mind awfully just having a look inside and making sure your vodka is still in there. If not, please accept my profuse apologies for half of the damages. Please consult the Australian Wildlife Service for the remainder. Much obliged.

When we first arrived in Victoria, Barney gazed out over the thick, black skies as we chugged along the Western Freeway, breathed in the marvellous industrial air and wheezed alarmingly for some considerable time. After I dosed him up on Ventolin, he recovered well enough to enjoy the thrill of endless juggernauts queuing up to force us off the road which he remarked romantically put him in mind of the movie Duel. He sighed as he noted that each and every one of these monstrous death trains carried a little number plate bearing the legend Victoria – the place to be. ‘Pants,’ he said, ‘we’ve come home at last.’ You had to be there really…