Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pants Over Easy

Something in the City I, II and III by Pants

Cheers Panty Pals. I've been driven demented trying to overcome the design flaws in the latest version of Blogger for months now. Finally I discovered an option to revert to 'old editor'. Figuring I never used to have trouble, I'm giving it a spin. If I end up with a minestrone of fonts and annoying little carrot symbols everywhere, I'm giving up on the sod for good.

I had a lovely and incredibly funny post written which I had to abandon because I somehow ended up blanking out half of it and then couldn't find any text in the 4.7 kilometres of html code. So there'll be no stylistic embellishments here and if the post turns out to be 2pt Sanskrit then I'm afraid I can do nothing about it.

Ms O'Dyne recently sent me an old Penguin copy of Room at the Top. The first paragraph concludes,

I remember saying to myself : 'No more zombies, Joe, no more zombies'.

This will form the basis for my New Year's resolution.

Above please find evidence, if ever it were needed, of the final stages of a mind in disintegration.

Must go now. Barney's making me eggs Vladivostok for brunch.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Shocking Revelation

Last at Lamington by Pants

The things I'm best at are the ones I know nothing about. This is not a very pleasant realisation to arrive at in middle age. Of course there are a great many things I know nothing about so choosing one in which to specialise is no easy task. Fortunately my old friend Mr T has been visiting here all week and he was able to confuse me even more, which is probably the thing he is best at. Having looked at all the things I'm doing, he advised embarking on a whole set of different things. Nora Barnacle said after reading Ulysses, 'Jimmy should have stuck to singing'. Mr T's contemplation of the Pants artwork yielded a similar response.

Mr T is not at all good at predicting the outcome of horse races. I turn out to be quite good at doing that since I was able to successfully intuit the Melbourne Cup winner, Shocking. What's more, I managed to pinpoint the betting hub at the Larrikin's End Lamington Racecourse and place $5 on Shocking to win after seeking advice from my fellow students on how to conduct the transaction. Bonanza! I received $50 for a few second's worth of clairvoyance. With horse racing, the trick seems to be to do as little research as possible and simply follow your instincts which were given to you precisely for that purpose.

I was not so successful in betting on the Lamington Classic (above). I would have been if I had stuck to my original intuition, a horse called Shagstar. Unfortunately, Mr T also conjured Shagstar from his crystal ball and since he is so bad at picking winners, I changed my mind. So did he. My revised horse came last and his came second. He hadn't gone for win or place. Neither had I. I'm not an each way person. A career as a gambler, despite obvious talents in that direction is not on the scope. There is far too much waiting around in lines and I am very much over that.

Most of the punters at Lamington looked like they had just come from auditions for Bugsy Malone. The majority were fifteen and under. The young people of Larrikin's End are more pranksta than gangsta. The boys were in black shirts, white shoes and white ties and the girls were in pink satin bin-liners with pipe cleaner fascinators. Next year I think I'll be the one wearing blinkers. I don't think a career as a bookie is on the cards either. It would be nice to be given money by very drunk people and only have to give a small amount of it back. There were twenty-four runners in this year's Melbourne Cup. That represents a lot of surrendered cash. It would be just too demoralising to take money that by rights ought to be spent on decent clothing.

So what am I to do? Now that it seems apparent the biennale people won't be calling any time soon, I guess I ought to sit down and make a list of other things I know nothing about. Well, there's particle physics, taxidermy, boilermaking, cake decoration...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stop your wining

Wine Glass by Pants

An interesting email popped through the pantychute this morning. Sender Jenny Hardy works for a British PR firm tracking the impact of the recent UK Home Office hectoring against youthful high jinx. Her firm Rubber Republic is apparently ‘part of the award-winning Team Rubber creative boutique’?? Their awards aren’t detailed. Perhaps they got the plaudit for locating Martin Lukes’s missing Blackberry™.

Here is the mail with all its adorable linguistic idiosyncrasies,

I am looking for some opinionated bloggers to spare some time if they are interested on the subject of Binge Drinking in the UK to watch the online video and comment on the campaign. The campaign draws to a close on Friday and it would be great for me to feedback to the Home Office some intelligent comments, instead of LOL.

As you are in/from Australia, have you seen the australian and binge drinking adds? I was quite shocked, very different approach.

If you are able to help out, please take a look at the campaign, you may have already seen it? and let me know what you think, I have no expectations for you to blog about the video, you are welcome to of course. I just would like to know what you think, or your readers think.

Please let me know if you require any further information.

‘Opinionated’? They certainly know how to butter one up these charming PR people. Surely you mean erudite, Jenny. And carpet-bombing the internet with requests for feedback the day before responses are required? Is that strictly professional? Pants does not like to be bottom-trawled like some unfortunate shrimp. Last resort is not a description that goes down well here at Seat of Pants.

Well, you know me, generous to a fault. Where Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown is concerned, my goodwill recognises no boundaries. What do I think about binge drinking? I’m in favour of it, obviously. Oh, sorry, I think I’ve finally worked out what is wanted here. Pardon me while I go and look at the video…

Okay. I’m back. Amusing trope involving a clinically sober young man doing things in broad daylight that very drunk people often do after pub closing, like roll around in their own vomit and throw rubbish bins through shop windows. Punchline – you wouldn’t do this in your right mind so why do it when you’re legless? Boom, boom.

It’s a spectacular own goal in two obvious ways:-

1. The young people seen observing this extraordinary behaviour don’t appear to think it’s at all disturbing. Bang goes the shock value then, not to mention the peer reinforcement. Perhaps they thought it was a play by Sarah Kane or a new reality TV show. No one is going to ‘react’ to something as obviously staged as this. The British public is inured to high street stunts. Anyone who gets shot in the street for real these days is likely to be left to bleed to death as people will assume it’s an episode of
The Bill being filmed.

2. A fundamental lapse in logic has occurred here. People get drunk in town centres precisely to enable the sort of outrageousness that would simply be pointless at home. You can drink indoors for about a tenth of the cost of drinking at a club but what could be sadder than sitting on your sofa and singing Olé, olé olé olé! to a blank wall? Vomiting on your own floor or throwing a bin through your own window would clearly be madness and probably not covered by insurance.

Mercifully I missed the Australian campaign as the television here is too appalling even to be enjoyed vicariously. I can make a guess as to its hysteria level as moral panic has been something of a national project for as long as I can remember. I also need no forecast model to predict that these campaigns will have zero effect because people don’t like to be told what to do with their dwindling freedoms by idiots who can’t even manage to teach children to read and write.

Everyone knows that alcohol consumption has dropped progressively over the last two or three generations. In the fairly recent past manual workers would bolt from their heavy machinery to the pub for their fifteen-minute morning smoko to find six beers lined up in front of their stools. Everyone also knows that the time to drink to excess is when you’re young and your brain cells are still regenerating and you don’t have tedious responsibilities like child-rearing and pension-planning to dampen your spirits, so to speak.

Jenny, you can put me down as a LOL...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saving Private Interests

The shark tower strikes back by Pants

The current big conversation in Australia concerns 'sustainability', you know that wonderful all-purpose word that impeccably credentials one's environmental integrity simply by its utterance? I can barely manage to sustain an interest in waking up in the mornings these days, much less trouble myself with the conflict of balancing the need to contribute to economic liquidity by purchasing white goods with the imminent climactic disaster occasioned by their use. But participation is no longer avoidable.

As luck would have it, even our very own professors have come to regard the learnin' of this highfalutin 'sustainability' fella above brushin', chisellin' and executin' triple knots. In short, colour theory is out, 'sustainability' is in. At this point I must declare an interest. Back when I first arrived in Larrikin's End to find that there were only three employers (Larrikin's End Municipal Council, McDonalds and my own beloved education provider), I applied for a job as 'Sustainability Manager' at Larrikin's End TAFE, the mother organisation of Larrikin's End School of Fine Art and Advanced Macrame where I am now a mature (as if) student.

I felt at the time that I could offer a seasoned perspective. Working in the field of neighbourhood renewal in Britain for around fifteen years brings one into frequent contact with the brow-scrunching notion that is 'sustainability'. Many a conference have I passed in its contemplation. There were six or seven wild years when the whole thing spun out completely under the tutelage of New Labour remittance man and Deputy Prime Minister John 'Prezzies' Prescott when 'sustainability' came to mean 'two of everything', (two Jags, two main squeezes, two country piles, etc). Eventually professional consensus settled upon the following definition,

'Just try not to make things any worse than they already are.'

It was with this informed view that I found myself in an interview situation discussing at length aspects of 'the customer experience' that wouldn't have been out of place at Coca-Cola. I wondered what this had to do with environmental ethics and economic viability. I have since learned that 'education' in Australia is not a service, but a business dedicated to fleecing Asians. It has the very useful added benefit of providing our youth with slight and easily recognisable targets on which to expel their pent-up enthusiasm for blood sports when there's no football on. By Australian measures, a highly sustainable industry. I didn't get the job. They wanted someone who could 'hit the ground running'.

Apparently the successful candidate did exactly that as he/she has not been seen since. After Mistress of the Brush sunk dismally in the attempt to wrap some hard science around her innate fluffy grasp of our new core subject, I suggested she ask the 'Sustainability Manager' to come down and put everyone out of their misery. An organic cyanide pill would have been more welcome at this juncture but suggesting a re-enactment of Jonestown would have sent the wrong civic message and I didn't have any fruit cup to hand.

The shy incumbent proved a persistent no show but eventually cobbled together an online 'course' for our edification. Subjects for study are no longer accompanied by what we might once have called 'a syllabus'. Apparently kids like it better if you just make stuff up - that way you don't risk intimidating them. Provided you knew the names of all five rivers that feed Lake Larrikin and didn't live in a big house by yourself or have a four wheel drive car (oops), you passed this online 'course'. You got extra credit for an energy-saving clothes dryer but not for having no clothes dryer at all. I figured they weren't going to come round my house to check so I lied about that, and the car. I got screwed by the clothes dryer question though.

I may not know enough about stewarding the world's resources to get a job sourcing eco-friendly bog roll but I do know that rounding on your neighbours for watering their azaleas when it hasn't rained for a few days and turning apoplectic at the sight of Peruvian asparagus or Californian lemons in the supermarket is really not the main event.

All over this country people are collecting up little trays of detergent-contaminated shower water and dumping it on their drought-evolved native plants. Why don't they let it go down the drain where it will be collected, recycled and sold on for use in farming and industry? Don't people read their water company newsletters? They're missing out on a source of great amusement. Where do they suppose the expression 'laughing like a drain' comes from?

As for the the 'debate' about the evils of 'food miles', this is sillier than Christmas cards appearing in July. Ever since the Sumerians sat down with the Mesopotamians over a pint to nut out how much salt they could get for their silver, there's been trade between nations. It isn't new and it is a vital pillar of global co-operation. If someone has something you want to buy, it makes more sense to go have a chat with them than lob a scud at their power station. Not all of it is good obviously - sending live sheep and cows three-quarters of the way around the world is cruel and pointless and should be stopped immediately.

I would no more buy Peruvian asparagus or Californian lemons than I would diamond-studded escargot forks. Why would I? Lemons and asparagus grow in abundance locally. Every second house in Larrikin's End has a lemon tree. Asparagus grows wild on the river banks. I'm happy to wait for summer for my strawberries and blueberries and even happier that every handful of seeds I toss in the general direction of my lovely black soil soon rewards me with edible leaves.

I'm all for locally-grown produce but some agricultural practices in this country make no sense in any imaginable context. Rice growing has been a major contributor to the destruction of one of our most important river systems and is entirely mechanised. Even the seed is sown by chucking it from planes. Why would we do this when several of our near neighbours grow rice efficiently using traditional methods in ideal climates and a large proportion of their populations depend on its export for their subsistence? No one talks about the environmental efficacy or civic responsibility of keeping our rice, tea and cotton industries afloat.

Smugly saving cupfuls of soapy water and totting up 'food miles' on recycled note paper will not save the planet any more than knowing the names of rivers will deliver them from irreversible salination. But somehow doing these things makes people feel righteous. Go figure. We've got teachers who can't even spell 'sustainability' telling students its all about taking a hessian bag to the supermarket and turning their lights off for an hour once a year. Whose interests are being served by trivialising the genuine threat that we might not be able to feed ourselves in the forseeable future?

Meanwhile, for the last twenty-four hours Larrikin's End has been beset by violent wind, hail and rain and Seat of Pants has nearly been shaken off its considerable foundations. It's mighty scary stuff. And that's climate change for you. No sooner will we get over this storm episode than we'll be into the dry season again. After last year's fires, the panic is already starting to grip. It might be cause for comfort if the feverish reviewing that consumed the winter had culminated in actual disaster-mitigation plans. But of course it didn't. All we got out of it was a new classification for the kind of conditions that create fires that move faster than the speed of sound - Catastrophic. So much for staying calm then. Well, for better or worse, I'm in Oz now. If this wind keeps up, I may well be in Kansas by morning...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Snobbery in Progress

Duplicity by Pants

Everyone tells me Australia is 'the smart country'. Perhaps, but it's still full of stupid people. Britain, of course is a stupid country full of smart people. America is a stupid country full of stupid people as all the smart ones went to live in Britain. At least if it's just the people who are stupid, you can simply keep your distance and hope that it's not contagious. A stupid country is much more difficult to ignore.

I, rather dumbly in retrospect, succumbed to an inadvisable whim to take up a course in visual arts at the Larrikin's End School of Fine Art and Advanced Macrame as those of you who've not yet entered a nursing home in the time it's taken me to compose a new post may recall. Incidentally, I read yesterday that regular intakes of wine help to stave off Alzheimer's. The usual 'moderation' caveat applies but I think we can agree a bottle a day covers it. Any more probably produces the reverse effect. Please do enjoy the fact that, if like me you relish a sauvignon blanc with your evening meal, you can look forward to being acutely aware of the stupidity all around you for the term of your natural life.

Where was I? Oh yes, art school. The rather grand sounding 'digital media' aspect of our course has so far managed only to equip us with the singularly pointless skill of cutting out an object from a picture and inserting it into another picture onscreen using a mouse. This is a task that takes approximately one hundred and thirty-two times as long as it would if one were to go to a shop, browse for two hours through the magazines, choose one with a suitable picture, dawdle to the stationery counter and finally select a pair of scissors after insisting on testing every pair eleven times, go on a two-week holiday to Phuket and, upon returning, forget for three monthss that you once had a notion to cut a picture from a magazine and stick it onto another picture.

Yesterday, the digital media teacher called me 'retarded'. This was just after she had gone away to get a calculator to aid her in the complex problem of dividing 210 by 3. I don't think she appreciated my suggestion that we call Wheeler Labs to see if they have a computer powerful enough to get an answer back on the same day. It's all my own fault. I could have chosen to stay on the dole and continue writing books that no one wants to read in my hermetically-sealed, stupid-free house rather than retrain for an occupation I am even worse at and spend my days with people whose livelihood depends on my achieving sustainable learning outcomes. I guess it's true what Kant said, 'A sane child put with mad children will go mad.'

Australia has recently discovered 'political correctness', although clearly it has not yet filtered down to Larrikin's End. It can be a very helpful strategy for getting out of doing hard things, especially when the old 'health and safety issues' excuse is too much of a stretch, even for the chronically daft. For example not teaching kids to read for fear that they'll be felled by lethal paper cuts mostly won't wash but shunning literacy in recognition of the damaging Anglo-centricity it imposes on our multicultural pretensions is genius. There must be some sophisticated non-elitest code of grunts we can employ instead of that crusty old English language to let each other know it's time for The Footy Show. Barney's just yelled out to me from under his rancid duvet that there is. It's called parliamentary discourse. 'Cheers Barney.' It can be highly beneficial sharing your house with an an aspirational owly-cat. Barney meets all the best people.
'Give my regards to Vlad old chap.' Did I mention the Barnster's opening a new vodka bar in Melbourne? It's to be called 'Goblet of Fire'. Barney's partial to strong drink. He fits Australia like a well-Vaselined condom.

Speaking as someone who still doesn't get why 'people of colour' is a more acceptable construct than 'coloured people', I am absolutely baffled by the semantic twist Australia has taken in reference to Aboriginal people. When I first came back here, I kept hearing talk of 'didgous' people. (Australians are not given to the mandatory pronunciation of vowels.) I eventually worked out that 'Indigenous' is the new culturally-appropriate moniker for Aboriginal people, the capitalisation creating a convenient new proper noun. Whereas 'Aboriginal' easily became an unambiguous national identity for the original owners of this colonised country by virtue of its not being in use for anything else, 'indigenous' is not quite so neatly commandeered. In countries such as England and France with big migrant populations, 'indigenous' refers to the dominant, white majority. You see how that could be confusing? It also creates a nonsense of a converse. 'Non-indigenous' is now in common use as a description for anyone who does not have Aboriginal heritage. But I, for example, must by default be an 'indigenous' Australian simply because I am not indigenous to anywhere else, even though I don't have Aboriginal ancestry. It's proved an effective and invidious diversion from real problems as the conditions in which most Aboriginal people live continue to deteriorate disastrously while academics helpfully ponder the finer points of linguistic propriety on their behalf.

This morning I listened to a radio discussion about children's sport. Whenever Australia loses at any kind of game it inflicts such a blow to the national psyche that it triggers a year-long 'conversation' about how we must do everything 'differently'. Apparently it is standard practice now to withhold the scores in children's sport to alleviate the distress of losing. That must be quite hard in tennis. How would they know when to stop playing? It's a shame if it's true as keeping score in sport must be one of the few opportunities children have left to experience active arithmetic.

Do I regret coming back to Australia? Only about five times a day and whenever I hear those anguished pleas to the collective disinterest beyond the waves for 'global recognition'. That they are still squabbling over abortion, gay marriage and whether or not to provide free and decent health and dental care is tedious beyond imagining but it must be so much worse to be an American where these things are still the dangerous hallmarks of radical socialism. I'm beyond the need for abortion and have already come to terms with the fact that I have to book my dentist three months in advance. I'm just going to have to get better at predicting toothache. Fortunately my teeth are in reasonably good nick for a woman of my advanced years. There is some health care in Australia but the system for accessing it is so complex that I think it would just be easier to avoid illness altogether. It does seem that if you are planning on having any kind of medical emergency, a motoring accident is your best bet. They hate people dying in motoring accidents here and will do their best to save you.

I have before me now several days of blissful aloneness and some warm weather forecast. If I could just remember why I thought it would be a good idea to move to the beach, I'd be in business...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Muckraker (reprise)

My shadow questioning by Pants

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the first moon landing, as you cannot fail to know unless you have actually moved there. The occasion draws to mind a time when I used to turn out a blog post a day. (Surprise! This blog really is all about me). I didn’t have any readers then and that made it much easier to blather on ad infinitum. Back in 2006 I wrote a piece about the revelation that no one had retained a copy of the high quality footage of this historic moment. I refer to the moon landing, obviously. Who would ever have thought you’d need something like that again eh? Well, to date, no dinted but undaunted film casing has been pulled from a dumpster and no fun-loving astro-nerd has surfaced sheepishly admitting that he was never a great practical joker or couldn't quite get the hang of eBay.

I might make a habit of republishing the best of my vast archive as some of it isn’t half bad. Today, I give you the old moon landing post. Its resonance transcends both time and, er, space in my admittedly biased view. Before that exquisite joy I offer a piece of rather harsh criticism I received from one Alla L via email a little after the fact. Alla L was not best pleased with my sloppy reporting it seems. I relay below every delectable skerrick of Alla's stinging critique,

1. "Sometime in the early afternoon Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin... " -------- when you talk about such important event, the reference has to be 100% accurate: exact time, exact day (of july 1969).

2. "Last month The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the original, high quality tapes of the moon walk have been lost by NASA" ------- Because the article was written on September 2006, we can assume that "Sydney Morning Herald" was for August, but again what day of August?

3. If you do not know how to write serious text, do not write it all: your material do not look relaible and childish.’

Well, that’s me told then. I was wondering why the Pulitzer people hadn't called.

Make your own judgement for here it is, Moon Muckraker, originally published 4th September 2006.

On a chilly July morning in 1969 I sat shivering with the six hundred other pupils of my Sydney girls’ school on the floor of the gymnasium in front of an especially imported television. I believe the maths teacher, a stick of a man who later married a girl in my class, was delegated to adjust the indoor aerial. Please don’t anyone worry about this as it was perfectly normal in the sixties (having to constantly adjust the TV aerial I mean). Sometime in the early afternoon, sound encased in a crackle of static, the first live television pictures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon sprang from the box.

What we all thought was a space programme that would see us holidaying on Mars when we had exhausted the new experiences of our own world had begun. Sadly, this was not to be. The only legacy of those few years and handful of ‘space missions’ where Americans bounced around in their Michelin Man suits and collected rocks was about ten years of moon-landing inspired ‘if this why not thats’. An example might be ‘if they can land a man on the moon, why can’t they make the 7.56 from Upminster to Fenchurch Street run on time at least once a week?’, or ‘if they can land a man on the moon why can’t I get a decent cup of tea in Benidorm?’

I put up my hands as someone who is susceptible to conspiracy theories. It’s a natural by-product of having trust issues with the world, or universe as the case may be. It’s true that those pictures of Armstrong and Aldrin did seem oddly transparent, like they had been double-exposed in some way. Then there was the ‘was it or wasn’t it flapping’ with the flag thing. There is no atmosphere on the moon which is why I guess it never became the new Ibiza, but the American flag could clearly be seen flapping. I came to accept the NASA official explanation which is that the thrusters from the departing space craft caused the wind that made the flag flap. There is no escaping that those space vehicles looked impossibly flimsy then and even more so now.

Even so, I was disinclined to believe that the moon landing was a hoax for a multitude of reasons. Although it wasn’t until I saw the film The Dish five years ago, that I realised the pictures we saw were coming from the radio telescope in our very own city of Parkes in New South Wales, I did feel a great sense of retrospective pride. Also, it’s one of only three days I can remember at all about that school (the others being the day I arrived and the day I left).

The last month has brought disquieting news for moon walk believers. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the original, high quality tapes of the moon walk have been lost by NASA. Presumably these show pictures of the astronauts bouncing around that don’t just look like very poor special effects. Panic buttons were triggered when an Australian scientist called John Sarkissian who had worked at Parkes for ten years, suddenly thought it might be nice to see if NASA could burn a DVD for him and phoned the Goddard Space Centre in Maryland. Someone had a bit of a poke around but couldn’t lay their hands on the tapes. Either NASA’s cataloguing system could do with a review, or something more than a little pants is going on here.

Today, thirty-seven years after the historic ‘moon landing’ scientists are celebrating because they have managed to successfully crash a space vehicle into the surface of the moon. This was not an emergency procedure after robots couldn’t get the landing gear down or a freak accident on a very delicate and highly risky mission. No, this was their actual goal.

‘We don’t think there’s much that can go wrong now. It’s going to crash and that’s what we want’, said Manuel Grande, a planet scientist (previous credits include stunt co-ordinator on Thelma and Louise). At the risk of overstating, is it that difficult to get a crash wrong? But why crash at all? Why not set the thing down in a little puff of moon dust like they used to do in the old days? Neil Armstrong is, after all still alive. Surely he would have been glad to assist. He could have done the whole landing by remote, couldn’t he?

We may all have to come to terms with the possibility that the 1969 ‘moon walk’ was as fake as Michael Jackson’s.*

* Please bear in mind he was still very much (almost) alive in 2006.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Holding a Miro up to life

Miro cushions from Victoria & Albert Museum

At last
the interminable second term is over. Larrikin’s End School of Fine Art and Advanced Macramé has washed its brushes of its bothersome students for a couple of weeks and I’m left to piece together the shards of my shattered sanity as best I can. I have learned just one thing in the last six months – when you ask a teacher a question, a politician answers.

The final week was hell on skates as each of us struggled to articulate a response to the probing question, ‘why did you make this piece?’ Apparently, ‘because you told me to Miss,’ is not an appropriate response. I did try to anticipate the pain of the assessment process by pointing out well in advance that, as we had not been given even the vaguest semblance of a working vocabulary for doing so, it was not likely that any of us was going to be able to ‘talk to’ our work with any degree of sense, never mind sensibility. I was assured that after Modernism there really is no big conversation, so to speak, in the visual arts. Teachers have consequently absolved themselves of any responsibility for intelligent input into the learning environment. Picture if you will fifteen students with multiple artworks and no discussion guidelines and try to imagine the torment. Not even close. It eclipsed root canal surgery by a factor of ten.

I, of course, refused to believe there was no known lexicon beyond pointing and grunting for first year art students to consider work with peers and teachers within the context of six months worth of development. Surely there was some way of assessing whether or not an idea had been realised with due budding giftedness or at least absorption of some of the scantily-clad knowledge we’d managed to prise from the unwilling grasp of teachers. I say ‘unwilling’ because I’m next to sure they know a thing or two. I suspect their reticence has everything to do with the absurd ‘sustainability’ and business-fixated curriculum that recoils from considering any aspect of quality other than to stipulate that there should be lots of it. Presumably there is also some intolerable penalty for betraying a fixed position on any topic at any time.

As Jack Kerouac once said, ‘Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.’ I vowed to devote my winter break to sourcing a decent template upon which I could at least base my own evaluation of my work. The term ‘evaluation’ suggests an appraisal of some ‘values’. The first step would appear to be to work out what these are. If there are no common ‘values’ then judging fairly and accurately was going to be difficult. The first step was to scan some of the endless lists of adjectives and occasional adverbs that we are routinely dispensed in a laughable stab at exegesis. In landscape painting for example, one must ponder such concepts as ‘symbolic’, ‘cultivated’, ‘literary’, ‘psychological’, ‘idealistic’, ‘theatrical’, ‘formally’, ‘micro’. Micro? Kerouac was on the money.

These lists weren’t going to be any help. Neither was the barrow-load of books on art history from the library. Master of the slide projector it seems was correct. Post-modernism is a critical void in everywoman terms. I wasn’t asking for the flickering neon installation equivalent of particle physics here, just an iddy-biddy little primer on basic principles, preferably in whole sentences. And then, it looked like I was going to get a big break. Sunday Arts, a television show on one’s just about occasionally watchable ABC, promises an interview with one Eleanor Heartney, art expert and author of a definitive new book on contemporary art with the general reader in mind. Hoopla!

I throw a log on the fire and curl up on the Miro-cushioned sofa-bed (pictured) with a G&T and prepare for enlightenment. Believe me, I’m the first one to accept that when you’re nervous, the sum total of what you know about anything and everything important and relevant deserts you and all you can think about is whether you turned the iron off. You should see me in job interviews. And this is why we rehearse what we are going to say before we go to a job interview or indeed a TV show to talk up our expensive coffee table book on contemporary art. If you would like a good laugh, the ABC has thoughtfully published an agonising transcript of Ms Heartney’s non-exposé complete with the entire cache of sort of kind of you knows, which to be honest was most of the content. It was like watching a one-legged man trying to start a Norton Commando in quicksand. Here’s a sample,

I wrote the book in part, hoping that it would be a useful textbook, or that the general reader might be able to go to it and begin to understand, you know, why are all these crazy artists doing all these crazy things? So, I see it as a kind of a map, I guess, more then anything else. And some of the most interesting artists are doing work that almost doesn't seem like art anymore. It's gone so far into some other kind of area or discipline that it's really new territory. And I think that's what's very exciting.

Illuminating stuff. The realisation dawned. As usual, I would have to work it all out for myself. A couple of weeks ago Brian Eno said in an interview on the very same Sunday Arts that discourse on contemporary visual art amounted to ‘no thoughts, inarticulately expressed.’ That would appear to be the sturm und drang of it. The blisteringly obvious question would be if it’s so difficult to subtext pictures, why does anyone bother? Photography books don’t contain musings on the meaning of a sunset now do they?

I can understand an artist’s reluctance to add words to what is adequately self-explained. Few nail this particular colour to a mast as comprehensively as sculptor David Smith who told students in a 1959 speech,

'There were no words in my mind during its creation, and I’m certain words are not needed in its seeing; and why should you expect understanding when I do not? That is the marvel—to question but not to understand. Seeing is the true language of perception. Understanding is for words. As far as I am concerned, after I’ve made the work, I’ve said everything I can say.'

Antony Gormley, another sculptor says, 'I want to start where language ends’. You get the message. It makes perfect sense for artists to jettison words once they’ve found their subject, marshalled their tools and are making work and succeeding commercially but there must have been the odd phrase floating about when they were learning how to mould and weld and mix and glaze and so on. Their apprenticeships can’t have been all one big joyous Marcel Marceaury of higher plane drifting, surely.

If the purpose of contemporary art is to deconstruct the artifice of convention and demerit the element of skill, then why do we still have art schools? There is very obviously many layers of understanding present between vox-pop Turner Prize outrage and doctorial enquiry and I was rather hoping, as a first year art student, to land somewhere to the left of centre and move on from there. Too much to ask? Apparently. Even Turner Prize judge and art blogger Jonathan Jones, who should be able to shed some light on this dilemma says,

'A critic is basically an arrogant bastard who says "this is good, this is bad" without necessarily being able to explain why. At least, not instantly. The truth is, we feel this stuff in our bones. And we're innately convinced we're right.'

Triffic. I’ve attended almost every Turner Prize exhibition since its inception in 1984 and am probably favourably conditioned towards conceptual art, the black sheep of the contemporary art family, because of a long and steady exposure to it. Whether this proximity has heightened my intuition in any way is not clear to me but I can and do judge these pieces and I usually can say why. For example I don’t rate Steve McQueen’s 1999 Turner Prize winning Deadpan, a reworking of the Buster Keaton toppling house gag because the original idea was simply reprised and not advanced and I could find no emotional connection between the old and the new.

I compare it with Tacita Dean’s video piece, Stillness (currently showing in Melbourne), where dancer Merce Cunningham performs his own choreography to late partner John Cage’s famous 4’33”, (usually known as Silence). Cunningham sits on a chair for the duration of the four and a half minute piece in three movements where not a single note is played, moving slightly to denote the change of movement as per the original score. It is everything the McQueen piece is not. Here is a dancer in old age paying homage to his dead partner with a companion work spiritually and intellectually in tune with Cage’s original concept.

I can see the piece might annoy some people just as Cage’s 1952 composition did but I found it both emotional and clever because I clocked the personal and creative references. I can't say how I would have responded if I'd just happened upon a video of an old man sitting still without knowing that he was Merce Cunningham dancing to John Cage under the direction of Tacita Dean. It could be that a work of contemporary art moves us if it hits a mark in our continuous narrative, makes us feel smart for making the connections it sets up for us and allows us to feel a sense of cultural belonging. Well, that’s one identifiable ‘quality’ at least.

I’m sure there’s more to it than this. The last thing I need right now is to be spending all my time on a pursuit for which I can find no purpose. I think it’s time I read John Carey’s What Good Are The Arts again. I’ll get back to you when I’ve joined a few more dots...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beyond Bad

Michael Jackson by Pants

On a parky winter’s day in 1982 I ran into NME photographer Bleddyn Butcher in Oxford Street. He had just emerged from the Virgin Megastore clutching a freshly-pressed copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller about which he was gleefully enthusing. This struck me as unusual for a number of reasons. It was unimaginable that anyone who worked at the NME would ever buy a pint much less a long-playing vinyl platter and wasn’t Michael Jackson, you know, one of those glittering disco type people? I never heard Bleddyn enthuse about anything at all after that day so at least something reverted to normal.

I never got into Michael Jackson. By the time The Jackson 5 started having hits I’d exhausted my taste for novelties on Cab Calloway and Mel Tormé and chose instead Hendrix, Joplin and The Doors as the soundtrack for my early angst. I did go to The Monkees concert in 1968 but they at least were not children. Then came the watershed year of 1976 and the choice between the mirror ball and the safety pin. I went for the pin. Try mending your knicker elastic with a mirror ball. Black was always a better look for me than gold lame and punks made their own, very much superior fun.

By 1982 Jackson was all grown up and there was no avoiding Thriller for the next eighteen months. I dutifully attempted to learn the moonwalk at a Christmas party in 1983. The Royal Ballet dancer who tried to teach it to us, looked quite stunning gliding across the varnished timber floors in his crepe soles but I collapsed in a heap in my stockinged feet. With the whole world seemingly under the Thriller spell, I wasn’t convinced. The niggling question for me was why would you want to listen to Michael Jackson when you could have Marvin Gaye? His Midnight Love album came out around the same time. Marvin had been ladling out his uncompromising blend of sex and politics in exquisite sound chunks for a decade. This jittering, squeaking, gyrating poppet just wasn’t in his league. It’s worth noting that it was Midnight Love that the NME named its 'album of the year' in 1982 and not Thriller.

It was twenty-five years ago last April 1 that Marvin Gaye died in genuinely tragic circumstances. He was shot and killed by his father just as his troubled life and career seemed to be on the upturn. That’s not to say that Michael Jackson’s death isn’t tragic in its own sad way but as Paul Morley concludes in this measured piece in one’s beloved Guardian, inevitable. The pathetic figure who needed an autocue to string three words together to announce a series of fifty demanding all singing, all dancing entertainment spectaculars, was not very likely to be still standing after more than one or two lacklustre performances. His sudden death may have been a kindness to all involved.

Like everyone else in Britain, I was parked in front of our rented television when the John Landis directed Thriller video was premiered in the wee hours. Revolutionary? I didn’t think so. More like The Rocky Horror Show meets Grease. But perhaps it was prescient in retrospect. When he tells Ola Ray he’s not like other boys and then acquires the face of a ghoul, well you can’t help but conclude it was a foretaste of things to come.

Most people are saying nice things about Michael Jackson at the moment but there will be dirt soon because it’s most assuredly there. Anyone who doubts that just needs to look very closely at Martin Bashir’s 2003 interview again. The county coroner may have finished with Michael Jackson but the real autopsy has only just begun.

My own curiosity is most piqued by his unchallenged attitudes towards women. He was clearly a misogynist of the first order but was never accused of it. Why? Because he appeared so infantile and vulnerable and one normally associates misogyny with brutes? What kind of father purges children’s mothers from their lives, names them all Michael, even the girl and then forces them into purdah for no good reason? It’ll be interesting to see how well-adjusted those kids turn out to be after an early childhood with Daddy Dearest. And what’s this about a surrogate mother? Last time I checked the dictionary, a surrogate mother was a woman who carried a child on behalf of another woman. If it’s her own embryo and there is no infertile Mommy, then she's it. The mother of Michael Jackson’s third child knows who she is and will emerge from the woodwork roughly about the same time as the value of his estate is announced I should think.

Michael Jackson’s misogyny was enabled by a mafia of clichéd grotesques with car bomb private lives (yes Liz & Liza, that would be you). These unsightly distortions of femininity so often associated with extreme gay iconography represent a version of self-inflicted victim-hood and chronic narcissism which appears comforting to men who, for whatever reason fear and/or dislike strong women. I often wonder why gay men don’t idolise Jeanette Winterson, k.d lang, Virginia Woolf and Susan Sontag. I’m not suggesting by the way that all gay men hate women and/or love Liz and Liza or that Michael Jackson was indeed gay – although that might explain some things. I do know a few gay men though and none of them read Jeanette Winterson.

The protection provided by these doughy dowagers may also have masked, even sanctioned some sinister behaviour. Going back to the Martin Bashir interview where Jackson candidly revealed that he regularly shared his bed with visiting children, it’s apparent he did not think he was doing anything wrong. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t, it probably means he felt no obligation to bother checking on his legal and moral obligations as the responsible adult. It’s a unique belief in personal entitlement that only someone who has never known anything but celebrity could hold.

I don’t own any Michael Jackson records and I won’t be buying any now. I don’t think my restraint is going to alter the estate's fortunes. Once the Amazonian frenzy for available material subsides, expect a slurry of previously unreleased tracks to hit the market. There’s at least one shopkeeper in New Jersey sitting on sixty demo tapes he won in a legal action along with other Jackson memorabilia.

For the last couple of days I’ve been listening to Prince. Everything Michael Jackson could ever have hoped to have said is contained in one Prince song, When Doves Cry.

P.S. By chance I received an email today from one Luke Jackson asking me to aid in the promotion of his new release. Normally I would greet such brazen cheek with a bad-tempered stab at the 'report spam' button but in the circumstances I can't pass up the opportunity to urge you to listen to an entirely different Jackson. Besides, it's called Goodbye London and it contains clever and amusing animation. Ootoob your way to happiness with my compliments.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bad finger rising

Bad finger by Pants

I fear I may be dying. They say the forefinger is the first part of you to go. They don’t? Well they should. I fear the slow but sure decline of my erstwhile faithful right index digit following some mystery wildlife encounter of which I wasn’t even aware until alerted by an explosion of puss that would have been rejected from ER on the grounds of excessive gruesomeness, portends the worst. Anyway, I don’t want to live any more if my chief instrument of accusation is faulty.

Speaking of pointing the finger, British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has produced her first official poem, published yesterday in one’s beloved (and much missed) Guardian. Here it is,


How it makes of your face a stone

that aches to weep, of your heart a fist

clenched or thumping, sweating blood, of your tongue

an iron latch with no door. How it makes of your right hand

a gauntlet, a glove-puppet of the left, of your laugh

a dry leaf blowing in the wind, of your desert island discs

hiss hiss hiss, makes of the words on your lips dice

that can throw no six. How it takes the breath

away, the piss, makes of your kiss a dropped pound coin,

makes of your promises latin, gibberish, feedback, static,

of your hair a wig, of your gait a plankwalk. How it says this –

politics – to your education education education; shouts this –

Politics! – to your health and wealth; how it roars, to your

Conscience moral compass truth, POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS

* * *

Mmmm. I sense dissent. My views on the suitability of Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown to run anything other than a lukewarm bath have been exhaustively proffered here over the last couple of years. What I simply don’t get is how anyone could have been daft enough to invest in him any kind of hope in the first place. So you can imagine how far I am from being able to grasp the latest pale imitation of a putsch in British Labour. Did they rent their long knives from Ryanair then?

Loyalty is normally a quality to be admired but in this instance I fear it may have been seriously misplaced. Simon Hoggart (Guardian – where else?) points out that the Tories hold no reservations if they think a leader is likely to lose them an election. It’s off with his/her head. The left prefer to wallow in self-inflicted inertia and pray to St Jude rather than scout amongst the other 350 or so eligible candidates for someone with a little common sense and a modicum of humility when their leader does an Ahab. I’m glad I don’t live in the UK now. I’d have to vote Tory and then never mind waiting for the withering finger to get me, it would be the first plane to Mexico*.

While attempting to discover the exact number of Labour MPs in parliament so that I could approximate it accurately, I stumbled upon this Australian educational webtool.

Closer inspection of the scintillating content revealed these links to related material,

See also:

HP Sauce? Who is this, the Chief Whip? Kids around here are also routinely told that England can fit into Victoria EIGHT TIMES. Victoria needs to watch her step if she doesn’t want to pick up a reputation and a touch of something itchy and unpleasant besides.

Kevin Rudd must be on the suicide pills as he’s currently drawing the worst from the PR manuals of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The winning combination of an overpowering aura of shiftiness accompanied by a perpetually raised eyebrow and the doggedly unfinished sentence in response to every media enquiry has well and truly soured the romance now. Just to be on the safe side, he’s unleashed a barrage of the most cringe-inducing ockerisms known to soundbite history. It was a strewthfest guaranteed to visit one in nightmares for years to come. I must dig out that Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico.

By refreshing contrast, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proved herself a queen of the quip, commenting on the prat spat between Tracey Grimshaw and Gordon Ramsey in The Australian,

‘I understand from the publicity that Gordon Ramsay is a good chef,’ Ms Gillard said.

’I think perhaps what he should do is confine himself to the kitchen and make nice things for people to eat rather than make public comments about others.’

Sauce for the gander…

* No need, Mexico has now come to Victoria.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Boyle Over

Image from

SuBo’s flipped. Now there’s a surprise. In the game of chance we call ‘life’ here on planet idiot-box, her card was always marked, ‘Go directly to The Priory. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £100,000.' The transition from village curiosity to global basket-case has taken what – all of two months? And she’s skipped the whole tedious business of rushing out a hit novelty album followed by a couple of risible duds, a string of bad marriages to a creepy fake Eastern European aristocrat, a scrap metal dealer with dodgy connections on the Costa del Sol and David Gest, not to mention addictions to prescription drugs, cosmetic surgery and internet sex? I wish.

Was it personal hubris or vicious puppeteering or perhaps a toxic mix of both that resulted in the shock loss that sent the unlikely diva spiralling into meltdown? Everyone’s got a theory about how a street dance troupe from Dagenham whose name sounds like it was arrived at by canvassing a cross-section of local authority community engagement officers, managed to snatch victory from the Youtubed-to-death sure thing. Tanya Gold in The Guardian reckons Boyle wandered perilously off script to uncurry favour,

'In Britain's Got Talent it is never simply the talent that wins. It is the journey that wins – the story that the British public deems most worthy of reward. Who from the fetid gutter shall we raise up to be a glittering star? Who will be the most appreciative candidate? At first we thought it must be Susan Boyle, who the tabloids nicknamed "the hairy angel". It is a despicable phrase, but it says everything about what we expected Susan Boyle to be. It means "ugly saint".

But last week Susan Boyle began to step out of her journey. It was reported that she was cracking up under the pressure. The "hairy angel" was becoming aggressive. She wasn't, in fact, an angel, but she was human, and troubled. She apparently swore at a passerby who was bothering her, and even complained to a policeman about it. But, Susan, aren't you ecstatic to be bothered? You have never been bothered before.'

Hang on a minute Tans, I think it was the folks from across the pond who were mostly keeping the Boyle boat afloat. I'm a long, long way away now but I picked up that the SuBo magic started to sour along with those first few notes of Memory in the semi-final round. Personally, I blame Amanda Holden. When she proclaimed Boyle the emblematic heart and soul of Britain, it wasn’t much of a stretch to visualise jaws dropping all over Essex,

‘You wha? That daft old bint represents us? No fucking way.’

The rallying of Facebook networks from Barking to Basingstoke, Upney to Upminster, Romford to Rainham may well have turned the tide. Perhaps the bookies figured it was cheaper to max out the minutes on premium price voting than pay out the estimated £5m on a Boyle win. Or maybe ITV rigged the poll to satisfy some twisted agenda well beyond the imaginations of decent licence fee-paying folk. It wouldn’t be the first time a TV phone-in fell under the spell of a mysterious ‘irregularity'. Or possibly the voting public realised SuBo wasn't really much of a singer but they'd inadvertantly gotten rid of all the decent contenders and a saxophonist was never going to cut it. It'll take at least three generations to eradicate Baker Street from the national psyche.

According to media reports, Boyle was assessed under the Mental Health Act and conveyed to The Priory with a police escort requested by doctors after staff at her hotel observed her ‘acting strangely’ on Sunday. I would venture that a celebrity in a five star London hotel would have to be doing something slightly more threatening than merely ‘acting strangely’ to be carted off by police to a Gucci-padded cell. I know someone who once walked into The Dorchester clad in flannelette pyjamas and tartan slippers, ambled about for half an hour in a state of studied disorientation and wafted out again past the liveried doormen without a single challenge or even a sideways glance. Discretion is the blind eye that keeps the kids in Kappa for the staff of top London hotels.

Still, the expectation is that this poor muppet will have a stellar career and earn between £5-10m. As Tony Parsons observed in The Mirror, ‘she is not the best singer in the country. She is not even the best singer on Britain
’s Got Talent.’ Arguably, being not even the best drummer in The Beatles didn’t do Ringo Starr any harm. Perhaps SuBo will get lucky and the world will be waiting ‘with bated breath and whispring humblenesse’ upon a golden album of dated show tunes. Hey, SuBo, Liza Minnelli called, she wants her life back and she's suing...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Embracing the dress rehearsal

Under surveillance by Pants

Ever feel like whatever you do, however grand and heroic your effort to scramble to a place of relative comfort and safety, some insidious and uncombatable force masquerading as benign, or possibly even benevolent has you at the top of its ‘to screw’ list?

An ex-friend once misquoted John Lennon to me in a flurry of frustration as I racked up yet another failure to comply with her version of experiencing existence in its full and glorious magnificence. ‘Life’, she shrieked, ‘is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans.’ That salvo ended in a hail of expletives involving liberal use of the c-word on both sides, the cumulative result of which was we never uttered a civil word to each other again.

Some people it seems are unnervingly passionate about the quality of the lives of others, even if their take on the nature of that quality is entirely alien to the recipient. Where on earth do they get the time? What is going on in their own lives while they’re busy critiquing l’engagement de vivre of others?

At the risk of going all Dr Phil, I just don’t get it. I tend not to make firm plans as something invariably gets in the way of them. When plans are unavoidable, I develop a hierarchy of two or three carefully devised strategies and contingencies and even then, I prepare myself for the probability that there are enough spanners in my sphere to bollocks the lot. I’m flexible to the point of obsession about the amount of excrement any given fan pointed in my direction is capable of expelling.

Some people interpret my pragmatism as indecisive or even negative. I have seen rigid individuals rail against the inevitable to the point of apoplexy, regarding themselves positively assertive. No amount of aggression will undelete a cancelled flight, of this I’m certain. The only effective defence against the vagaries of the likes of airline accounting is a large and interesting book. I speak from experience.

Right now I have friends visiting. Domestic standards serve as their compendium of righteousness. I do not complain as I am acquiring all manner of ‘correct’ implements and ingredients, at least some of which will make certain operations infinitely more efficient. For example, I had a dim awareness that the clothes pegs I bought at The Reject Shop were fundamentally flawed in that they were not capable of attaching wet clothes to my external line for long enough to render them dry and therefore wearable. Beyond a general feeling that this was not a good thing, I had no other thoughts on the matter.

Having spent most of my adult life in a flat, I had only ever used pegs to stop sheet music from blowing away at alfresco gigs. It never occurred to me that there might be a type of plastic peg that didn’t spring apart at the slightest gust of wind, depositing your clean jeans in your newly constituted compost heap. I'm very pleased to have acquired a fully functional peg collection but less thrilled that the entire population of Larrikin’s End is now intimately acquainted with my shortcomings in the house and garden department. Mrs Visitor likes to share. Mr Visitor has brought me cases of vintage red, nicely redressing the balance. All’s well.

Getting back to John Lennon, the ex-friend and the misquote. What Lennon actually said was, ‘life is what happens when you’re planning other things.’ Now to me that doesn’t mean, as my ex-friend suggested that one should blast one’s way through life unplanned and unplugged, mowing down any and every shred of resistance until one’s will is fully satiated. I intuit a more nuanced meaning. My interpretation is something more akin to these lines from Robert Burns’s poem To A Mouse,

'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft agley'

In other words, expect the unexpected to leap up and punch you right on the nose at the very moment you think you can finally relax.

When Rose Tremain coined the phrase ‘life is not a dress rehearsal’ twenty years ago, I wonder if she imagined how ferociously it would be appropriated by our selfish gene to justify overriding others’ needs and desires in order to satisfy our own self-interest. Could she have been aware of how much this catchy and seemingly innocuous mantra would contribute to the odious ‘personal growth’ industry? Does she now realise just how much damage she's caused? Life may not be a dress rehearsal but the unavoidable inference that it should therefore be a polished performance is surely even further removed from actuality.

At best, life is improvisation and it would appear the more confident you are, the better an improviser you’re likely to appear to be. Now that seems like a bad peg to me. Just because I’m not loudly and constantly articulating desires, doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally have them. If I prefer to go quietly, minimising the risk of conflict, it doesn’t mean I willingly concede to others’ aspirations for me. Never having been a parent, ambition on behalf of others is not a concept I can readily understand. And I very, very much don’t understand people who have views on the shape of your salad bowl or the size of your coffee mugs.

Neither Ms Ex-friend nor Mrs Visitor has ever given a thought to the possibility that I just might have different priorities. Both have interpreted my habitual compliance as fecklessness.

I only refuse interference if there are clear and present disadvantages to the proposed alterations or additions. I just don’t care enough to resist and that alone guarantees I’ll lose any ensuing argument. Better to save your strength for battles that matter. If they were really that keen to see me right, they might have made it their business to become literary agents or publishers. Now that kind of intervention I could have happily gotten used to. Robert Burns has a neat little couplet just made for those too busy making other people’s plans,

'O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us'.

Having strong views about unimportant things would seem to me the very antithesis of ‘life’. Surely it’s better to have no views at all than to clog your head up with facts and figures about DVD players and hosepipe fittings. There is something hideously narcissistic and competitive about comparing your dishwasher to someone else’s dishwasher. Both Ms Ex-friend and Mrs Visitor have a worrying fascination with white goods which I’m confident I will never acquire. A fridge is a fridge is a fridge and then only so when it breaks down and needs replacing.

What does it matter if sometimes 'life' as others would have it passes you by while you’ve got your head firmly planted in a book?

Oh my, look at the time. I must go now, I have rehearsals to be getting on with.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The gospel according to Seasick Steve

St Larrikin's aims for zeitgeist, hits passerby instead by Pants

My water bill came. It’s $176.00.

The cost breakdown is as follows:-

$6.00 – water usage

$170.00 – standing charges

I phoned the water company (note : water company as opposed to water authority. Could someone please remind me of a single reason why anyone ever thought that privatising essential services was anything other than criminally insane),

Me : Surely this charge can’t be right.

WC: Oh yes (with rather more relish than is strictly tasteful). You’re in a remote area and it costs more to deliver the water there than it does in the city.

Me : But I live next door to a lake. Doesn’t the city get its water from us?

Like most things nowadays, it falls apart when subjected to a rudimentary sense test but satisfies the broad customer service definition of ‘explanation’ from the corporate point of view. I believe the first principle is tell them anything that will convince them to go away. It did nothing for my mood to discover the five brochures on water-saving measures accompanying this joke bill. Rest assured I’ll be taking very long showers from now on. Logic dictates that if I’m spending all this money getting water delivered to my house, then I ought to make it worth my while by using some of it. That’s just good economics, innit?

Our local godpod, St Larrikin’s, recently raised the inspirational sign above. You wouldn’t have had to venture far out of your shell to recognise it as a paraphrase of Boxcar Willie clone Seasick Steve’s recession ditty, ‘I started out with nothing (and I still got most of it left)’. In its zeal to squeeze its frumpy old frame into the zeitgeist, St Larrikin’s has mangled both the spirit and the syntax of this song. Let us pray that the good burghers of Larrikin’s End don’t ever discover Leonard Cohen once wrote a song called ‘Hallelujah’.

Seriously, the economic theory encapsulated in Seasick Steve’s simple shanty could form the basis of post-recession thinking. As the value of cash assumes the shelf-life of a muffin, surely the less money you have, the better off you are. If you have any money at all in the present economic environment, you have to be concerned that it will be worth so little that you might end up having to pay someone to take it off your hands. I’m not quite sure how that would work. Perhaps you’d have to pay in turnips. I hope it’s turnips.

The Australian Government delivered its budget yesterday. There’s an immediate deficit of $57 billion and an estimated red hole of $200 and something billion over the projected course of this negative fiscal cycle. Why this seems so terrible to everyone is a mystery to me. Government debt is not the same as personal debt. It’s not like a bailiff is going to show up at Government House and remove all the Queen Anne occasional tables. In a recession, what tends to happen is someone finally notices schools and hospitals are about to disintegrate and decides now might be a good time to do something about it. I never got why a government gloats about its ability to accumulate a surplus. We give it our money to spend on our needs. So, why the inference that it’s all much more complicated?

The previous Coalition administration was very proud of its surplus and is now infuriated at the perceived squandering of it. A national treasury is no more than a cash account and is subject to the same vagaries of the free market economy as yours or the Pants savings is. Now all the surplus money that wasn’t spent on schools and hospitals when it could and should have been has been wiped off the slate. It’s best to spend it while you have it – a stitch in time and all that.

National debt in a country like Australia is a bit like a mortgage. You pay it off over thirty years and it’s just another thing you spend your money on. You don’t really notice it until it’s paid off and you’ve got money for holidays. It’s a shame you’re too old to enjoy holidays now that you can afford one. The opposition is moaning that everyone’s children and grandchildren will be saddled with a debt burden from the current borrowings as if some scruffy debt collector with a dirty suit and an iron bar will be waiting at the school gates to relieve them of their iPods in lieu of payment. Britain was still servicing its World War II debt until three years ago. It made absolutely no difference to the quality of citizens’ lives. Most of us didn’t even know about it until the media marked the occasion with a news item.

The less money you have when a recession hits, the less you have to lose. These days I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible. No loans and no contracts, in fact no commitments of any kind. Not even a credit card. I wouldn’t mind a bit ofwork but I can get by on my student allowance if I don’t eat or go to the movies and only buy ex-library books at 25c each. At least I feel confident to splash out on water now. If I could find a way to turn it into wine, I'd be laughing. Seasick Steve seems to know how to do that, perhaps I should ask him.

On the subject of work – has anyone noticed the number of feasibility studies that exist for so called ‘tele-working’ opportunities? Uh-huh? And have any of you ever come across an actual tele-working job in your travels? Didn’t think so. If you should happen upon such vocational gold dust, please email me. I’m very diligent when it comes to lying in bed with my laptop.