Monday, 29 June 2009

Raising the Barr

It’s a bit late but I wanted to give a quick mention of the Glenn Barr exhibition Elsewhere that’s been showing throughout June at the Outré Gallery in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.  

Glenn Barr is a Detroit based artist with a gift for capturing the beauty in sleazy down at heel situations and recreating them in paint. His characters inhabit late night bars, piano joints, cheap motel rooms and dimly lit bordellos – usually with a bottle or two hidden somewhere in shot. When he’s not capturing the highs of low life he’s creating scenes from the blurry edge of reality where demon bats fill the sky and sixties ingénues ride improbable fairground rides high into the air. Barr also previously worked on the Ren and Stimpy Show as well as the similarly themed video for I Miss You by Bjork. 

Elsewhere is running until 12 July but it’s always worth stepping inside Outré’s doors for half an hour. There are some truly wonderful and original pieces in there including work by Keith Weesner, Shag, Mark Ryden, Derek Yaniger and Kozyndan amongst many others including lots of Melbourne and Australian artists. You can pick up framed signed prints for as little as $100 and the people always nice and chatty… Visit their website here for details of their Melbourne and Sydney galleries. 


All pictures by Glenn Barr and reproduced from the Outré Gallery website. Click here for Glenn Barr’s own website. 

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Here Be Bees...

There were scenes of joy in the Custard household this week after we finally got our mitts on a full and complete game of Bizzy Buzzy Bumbles.

For the uninitiated Buzzy Bumbles is a bit like Hungry Hungry Hippos only instead of collecting marbles with a mechanical mouth you have to collect multi-coloured pollen balls from a huge plastic flower using only a cute magnetic bee - which is attached to your head on a bouncy plastic pole.

We first saw the game on a episode of the League of Gentlemen where a sadistic doctor will only treat his patients if they bring him a pizza and a bottle of coke and take him on at various parlour games including a particularly frenetic session of Bizzy Buzzy Bumbles. For a while we thought that it might be something that the League invented because despite several Google searches and a few goes on e-bay, nothing ever showed up. That is until I found this peach on YouTube - and realised that we should have been looking for bizzy and not busy bees... One week later we'd won a full set on e-bay for a pound, and here she is in all her glory...

Needless to say we've already spent many happy minutes attaching the bouncy bees to our heads in pursuit of multi-coloured-pollen-collecting glory. This does make you look like a bit of a pratt so many thanks to our current house guest Mr Flange for modeling the blue bee in the picture below in a style reminiscent of nineties Sega Megadrive hero Earthworm Jim.

Anyway, if you're in the neighbourhood and fancy taking us on for the title of King or Queen Bee drop me a line and we'll set up a bee-off in a suitably dark and sinister alley. You have to bring your own pizza and coke though...

Steven Wells RIP

Gah! Turned on the computer to see what’s happening in the world only to find out the rather crap news that journalist Steven Wells died of cancer on Tuesday… bloody Jacko hogging all the headlines. You'd think nothing else was happening in the world. For anyone who doesn't know, Steven (or Swells as most people knew him) wrote for the NME throughout the eighties and nineties and latterly for the Guardian doing surreal polemics against everyone and everything in the guise of sports articles.


Swells was, to say the least, uncompromising and honest as a writer. He did not fawn to musicians in interviews, but more importantly to me he didn’t play the game of giving bad albums good reviews just to keep everyone sweet. I’ve never been able to find it online but I used to have a review he did of Smashing Pumpkins’ Zero on my wall. From what I can recall he eloquently described it as “bab, cack and a festering sackful of fetid turds” before neatly finishing with “fuck off Smashing Pumpkins – you’re shit.” You don’t need to guess what score he gave it out of ten.


Given Swells’ genius for deflating pop stars’ egos perhaps it was meant to be that he would be ready and waiting in the afterlife for Jacko. It’s a nice thought to imagine the celestial clamour at Jackson’s arrival being interrupted by a big bald bloke from Bradford calling him a talentless twat. RIP Swells. Give them hell.


Visit here for some choice samples of latter day Swells. 

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Wanna Be Finishing Something

Oh how foolish of me… just days after I dared to suggest that only the death of Margaret Thatcher could elicit waves of grief and jokes off pops Jacko to prove me wrong. And yet despite the fact that one of the most famous people in the world has died, it’s notable that no one seems truly surprised. It almost seems more shocking that he made it this far.


Watching the inevitable ‘tribute’ videos on TV this morning and seeing him slowly transform over the decades, Mrs Custard made the point that the real Michael Jackson has effectively been dead since 1985. The chronological run of film clips just doesn’t make sense by the time you get to Bad. It’s like when they replace actors in soaps but try and convince you it’s the same person. You go along with it but it never feels right. 


Whatever his earlier achievements his paranoia, ego and generally vulgar behaviour made Michael Jackson impossible to love for over twenty years. His self-aggrandising was never better illustrated than during his performance of Earth Song at the 1996 Brit Awards, a routine which saw him cure sick children, bless a rabbi and then stand like a crucifix bathed in white light whilst children representing all the races of the world hugged him and touched the hem of his cloak. What else could Jarvis Cocker do other than shake his arse in the face of such monstrous self-delusion? 

I doubt that Jackson was a bad person, just a mentally unstable and tragic one surrounded by people who didn’t have the bottle to refuse him anything. It’s sad that he died, of course, but proof really that what goes around comes around. There will be no final redemption for him – his fans will become more hysterically devoted and his detractors will continue to put more emphasis on Wacko than Jacko.  Neither will be persuaded that they are wrong. In the meantime, things roll on and one can only hope that any parents out there pushing their kids towards the media glare reflect on yet another life messed up before they decide if it’s really, truly worth it.

Housemartins United!

Great thing this here t’internet – I reckon it’ll go far…  I was looking around for a press release for the reissued London 0 Hull 4 (see yesterday) and discovered there was a virtual Housemartins reunion and I knew nothing about it. Paul and Stan did an interview together with Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2 – there’s a picture and everything! 

Sadly the broadcast has been taken down already, so an enormous tip of the hat and a hearty pat on the back to Cassette Archive for uploading the whole shindig.

(L-R) Stan Cullimore, Mark Radcliffe, Paul Heaton, Stuart Maconie (courtesy of BBC Radio 2)

Apparently they also did an interview for Mojo magazine along with Hugh and Norman and it was the first time they've all been in the same room for 22 years. For me this is akin to John Lennon and George Harrison rising from the dead and I'll admit to getting all emotional hearing Stan and Paul talking about the band so openly and so warmly. 

It was interesting to hear that the stumbling block for any possible reunion is more perception of naffness a-la-Eighties-reunion-comeback-tours (as Mark Radcliffe put it, nipping out to do Happy Hour in between Toyah and Rick Astley) rather than any animosity or general arse-iness like there is between Ian Brown and John Squire or Morrissey and Marr.  No one wants a Housemartins arena tour anyway - even a couple of concerts like the ones Lloyd Cole and the Commotions did for the 20th anniversary of Rattlesnakes would be enough for me to go to my grave happy.  

Of course band-reforming is evil and wrong… but this
the Housemartins and I’ll walk to Hull from Australia if it ever happens… So come on Norman – put your records down for a day, drive over to Hugh’s house, pick up Paul and Stan on the way and let’s get this show on the road. 

Thursday, 25 June 2009

If Liking Them is Wrong I Don't Want to Be Right

It would be rude of me not to share the news that London 0 Hull 4, the debut album by the Housemartins, has just been rereleased as a remastered Deluxe Edition double CD package. Sadly, I can offer no reliable advice whether you should buy this album because I love the Housemartins a bit too much and have no capacity for discerning between my feelings and the quality of their work. But I'm sure it's ace.

I can tell you that Flag Day, Freedom, Get Up off Our Knees, Sheep, Anxious and Think for a Minute (fast and slow versions) mean as much to me as the more celebrated Happy Hour. And
We’re Not Deep beats them all hands down.

For the totally uninitiated, musically London 0 Hull 4 is a jaunty, jangly pop album punctuated with the odd piano driven gospel-inspired number. Peppered with the barbershop harmonies they became famous for after Caravan of Love (not included here) it doesn’t try to be arty or cool like their more lauded eighties indie contemporaries which only added to their purposefully dorky appeal.

Gently simmering under the surface are Paul (then P.d.) Heaton's biting and often very funny lyrics railing against greed (Anxious), apathy (Get Up off Our Knees, Sitting on a Fence), sexism (Happy Hour), the herd mentality (Sheep), the right wing press (Freedom), self-righteous hypocrisy (Flag Day) and the death of communities (Think for a Minute). Just to seal the deal an inscription inside says 'don't try gate crashing a party full of bankers. burn the house down.' Admittedly not everyone’s mug of tea but definitely one of my favourite brews.

That said, the CD version of London 0 Hull 4 I grew up with (“16 songs – 17 hits!”) always felt a bit imbalanced by the retrospective addition of three gospel covers. As much as I like them they add to the view that their a capella Jesus period had greater significance than was the case. You only have to watch the video for Caravan of Love or listen to the ‘sermonette’ on b-side Heaven Help Us All to know that they were taking the piss a bit, even if their love of a capella was totally genuine (they once supported themselves at a gig as the Fish City Five, performing only a capella).

The lure of remastering
and the chance to get hold of the early b-sides on compact disc are enough for me to part with my money but in truth the disc of b-sides, live tracks and radio sessions is a little disappointing – especially as many of the tracks are already available across 1988’s excellent Now That’s What I Call Quite Good and 2006’s Live at the BBC. It would have been more interesting to include some of the better unreleased songs from their Demostatic or Themes for the Well Dressed Man bootlegs. Maybe Paul and Stan just don’t like them. Better still would have been a DVD of peak period Housemartins with film clips, live performances and especially the London 0 Hull 4 documentary featuring Hugh’s guide to toast and a tour of the local bun shop by Stan. Hopefully next time.

There is no anniversary to mark (the album was first released in 1986, with the band splitting two years later) so it’s not clear why this reissue is coming out now. It could have been prompted by the
London 0 Hull 4-themed sports headlines in 2008 when Hull City were flying high in the Premiership and beat four London teams on the trot. But I doubt it.

Anyway, if you don’t have this album, then yes, buy now. You won’t be disappointed and you'll discover a few gems for your shuffle playlist.
This is the sound of a totally original band, completely out of step with everything and happy to remain that way. However for those short on cash I’d be tempted to find a cheap copy of Now That’s What I Call Quite Good and join me in waiting for the eventual release of the goodies that the band and/or record label are still sitting on, including hopefully a remastered People Who Grinned Themselves to Death.

London 0 Hull 4 (Deluxe Edition) Tracklisting

DISC 1 (original album)
Happy Hour - Get Up Off Our Knees - Flag Day – Anxious - Reverends Revenge - Sitting On A Fence – Sheep - Over There - Think For A Minute - We’re Not Deep - Lean On Me - Freedom


1. Flag Day (original single version) 2. Stand At Ease (Flag Day B-side) 3. You (Flag Day B-side) 4. Coal Train To Hatfield Main (Flag Day B-side) 5. I’ll Be Your Shelter (Sheep B-side) 6. People Get Ready (Sheep B-side) 7. Drop Down Dead (Sheep B-side) 8. The Mighty Ship (Happy Hour B-side) 9. He Ain’t Heavy (Happy Hour B-side) 10. Think For A Minute (original single version) 11. Who Needs The Limelight (Think For A Minute B-side) 12. I Smell Winter (Think For A Minute B-side) 13. Joy Joy Joy (Think For A Minute B-side) 14. Rap Around The Clock (Think For A Minute B-side) 15. Lean On Me (unreleased outtake) 16. Anxious (Janice Long BBC session 6/11/85) 17. We’re Not Deep (Janice Long BBC session 6/11/85) 18. Freedom (Janice Long BBC session 6/11/85) 19. Think For A Minute (Saturday Live BBC session 4/1/86) 20. Drop Down Dead (Saturday Live BBC session 4/1/86) 21. Happy Hour (John Peel BBC session 6/4/86) 22. Get Up Off Our Knees (John Peel BBC session 6/4/86)

Friday, 19 June 2009

Which Old Witch?

There were stories in the press this week about an 83 year old woman in the early stages of dementia returning home after a fall in which she broke a bone in her arm. Naturally I felt a bit sorry about her situation but almost immediately, uncontrollably I felt annoyance at myself for caring at all about someone I’ve spent most of my life hating. She may be a harmless and fragile old woman now, but Margaret Thatcher is, like those frail, white-haired old Nazis at 1980’s war crimes trials, still guilty of her lifetime’s actions.

Let’s get the silly stuff out of the way up front. I have a long standing commitment to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher by purchasing a bottle of champagne from the nearest bottle shop and sharing it with whoever is with me at the time. People who know me well understand the weight of this admittedly puerile act because they know I am a tight-arse who never spends more than $15 on a bottle of anything.

My pledge was first made in the middle of all the hoo-ha about the death of Diana (remember her? the Queen-of-our-Hearts princessy one?) That outpouring of emotion was so bizarre and unexpected one couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else’s passing could generate such waves. The spot-lit death of Jade Goody is the closest thing since to a post-Diana grieving frenzy (despite the Pope popping his clogs in 2005), but in those limited-internet and pre-reality TV days it seemed that only Thatcher’s demise was capable of stirring up British hearts all over again.

Of course the difference with Maggie is her position as one of the most celebrated and reviled politicians of the modern era, depending on which side of the tracks you hail from. Her passing will be unique because for all the solemn trappings that come with the death of a former Prime Minister (including most likely a state funeral) in many parts of Britain there will be partying in the streets.

It’s a thought most people probably don’t dwell on much, but there is already a large groundswell of anticipation for the big day. Songwriters have long-imagined the day, notably Elvis Costello’ in Tramp Down the Dirt (“when they finally put you in the ground, they’ll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down”) Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine (“people like you make me feel so old, when will you die?”) and Hefner’s The Day That Thatcher Dies.

More recently there were two fairly well publicised British plays;
Maggie’s End and the unambiguous Death of Margaret Thatcher. Both explore the possible reactions of the British public, one take on which you can probable guess from a lively Facebook group called ‘We’ll only pay for a state funeral for Thatcher if she’s buried alive.’

There are clearly a number of us on death watch. Thatcher cannot cough, sneeze or collapse embarrassingly in public without it making the news. There is always a barely concealed subtext: Not Long Now. The right speak of her brave battle against dementia, whilst some on the left joke that she’s been senile for decades. It’s clear that both sides are preparing the ground for what will be a pivotal moment in defining Thatcher’s final legacy.

My own reaction to hearing that Thatcher had dementia last year was one of sympathy. Dementia in all its guises is a terrible, disorientating and crippling disease. I realised that despite it all I truly don’t wish it on my worst enemy. This unexpected sympathy initially made me question if it’s not time to grow up a little. After all, no one wants to sound like
Rik from the Young Ones. My champagne pledge was made as an idealistic student, big on talk but small on walk. It’s a crude idea (I don’t even particularly like champagne) that has stayed with me mostly because it sounds funny. Surprisingly it can also still shock people, horrified at the thought that a death – any death – could be celebrated.

But in truth it does still serve an important purpose because it reminds me what was and what shouldn’t be forgotten. My hatred was never arbitrary, nor was it naive. True, it came from growing up in a family that would perform a comedy ‘spit’ every time her name was mentioned, but it was also born of experience. It came from watching Thatcher’s revenge-based policies tearing apart communities she knew nothing about; my communities. It came from seeing an industry that my dad and his dad had devoted over sixty years to developing divided up by accountants and sold off for pittance. It came from watching miners practically having to beg to stay alive because she had to have the last word. It came from seeing people robbed of their jobs and being left with nothing else to live for. My family still live in a town where decades of under investment in infrastructure and industry has created unemployment so chronic my sister hasn’t been able to get a job for over six years. Time and distance has put Vaseline on my lens so anything that knocks me out of my stride and makes me remember the viciousness of her attack on a way of life is a good thing.

Why? Because until very recently the argument went that Thatcher was the change that Britain needed to have. She modernised, deregulated and cleared the way for years of prosperity enjoyed by millions in the UK. No need for council homes when everyone can own their own home. Industry regulation, unions and tight-knit communities were obstacles to the freedom that the UK needed to prosper and only Maggie had the balls to take them all on. It may have been a Labour government that oversaw the good times, but Blair was really a good little Thatcherite with a red tie. Deep down Thatcher’s dream was our dream. No society; just individuals looking after themselves and all doing alright, thank you.

Had Thatcher died in 2007 she would no doubt have gone to her grave with obituaries trumpeting these sentiments and lauding her courage and vision in shaping modern Britain. What joy then, that having stuck around she has lived long enough to see the dream fall apart. Far from freeing up the UK to the unfaltering benefits of the market, she can now be seen as being responsible for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Years of deregulation and unfettered greed have left the UK tragically under-equipped to deal with the global financial crisis, with the recession striking hardest against homeowners encouraged to borrow more than they could afford.

Unsurprisingly the world has lurched left. We have seen nationalisations of banks and building societies, calls for greater levels of government intervention from within all manner of private industry, caps on executive salaries and general decrying of businesses who put profit over people. Were Thatcher in her grave she'd be spinning pretty fast.

There is never closure in politics. The only thing certain about governments is that one day they will be elected out. Tides will turn; strong opinion poll ratings will become landslides to the opposition; theories and policies will drop in and out of favour. There is no such thing as the last laugh, as Gordon Brown and the champions of New Labour are currently finding out, and as David Cameron will understand when the public see past his novelty and realise he stands for nothing. We can only acknowledge and learn from our mistakes during the bad times, and enjoy the good times as they happen.

So it may be childish and it may be morally wrong, but I will make sure that bottle of champagne gets bought when the news of Maggie’s death finally comes through, and I’ll make sure I share the enjoyment with as many people as I can. To give the final word to Hefner

We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies,
Even though we know it’s not right
We will dance and sing all night

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Mansize Rooster

I love a good public fuck up, and all the more when the protagonists couldn’t give a monkeys who knows about it. A hearty slap on the back then to the owners of this corner store for not only proving that there is a toupee-related item funnier than a merkin, but also for their half-arsed attempt to cover up afterwards. Extra points are also awarded because their menu is scrawled randomly in big black marker on the outside wall of their gaff for the whole world to see.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Baby it's Cold Inside

The first true week of winter has descended upon Melbourne and despite having high hopes when I left Sydney I’m sad to report that homes here are as tragically under-equipped for cold weather as their NSW counterparts. It seems there is a collective disbelief that winter is actually real. Our place is draughty, slow to heat up, quick to cool down and our bathroom is like the inside of an esky.

It all brings back long-buried memories of frozen toilets, burst pipes and icy baths that I can still feel in my bones. I’m sure I’m not alone in shivering the night away and as a seasoned hand I feel honour-bound to help the goose-pimpled masses in their coldest hour. I therefore present the Mint Custard guide to DIY home heating…

Power Up: we live in a technological age and there isn’t a portable electronic device on earth that doesn’t come with an oversized charger that needs plugging in once a day. Handily those chargers get nice and warm after just a few minutes providing a convenient hand defroster. Plug in your mobile phones, i-pods, laptops, cameras and rechargeable batteries all at once for chillier nights.

Roastie = Toastie: everyone loves a roast dinner. It smells nice, it tastes nice and importantly it makes your kitchen warm and steamy. Chickens can take ages to do right, and even roast potatoes need an hour – long enough to use some of that excess heat for thawing your skinny asses. What’s more, after a few weeks eating fat-laden roast dinners you’ll have added a few inches to your lard jackets and we all know how good blubber is for keeping warm – just ask a whale.

Copy Cats: anyone who has worked in an office knows that freshly photocopied paper has it’s own unique heat source. No one knows why, it just is. The astute (and ute-owning) amongst you could do a lot worse than stealing a photocopier from work and setting it up in your front room to do a thousand copies an hour. For all your greenies worried about paper usage, just cuddle the paper until it goes cold and then feed it straight back into the machine. Recycling at its best. (Tip: when stealing machine from employer ensure you are wearing overalls and carrying a clipboard).

Girls’ Night In: for all you ladies (and any gents with lovely ladylike hair) why not invite your friends around for a hair-drying party? Get everyone to wash their hair before they arrive (you don’t want them using your hot water) and bring their own dryer. Once you get six or seven of those mamas going your living room will heat up nice and quick. Note – might make meaningful conversation somewhat tricky.

1930s Retro Chic. Anyone who has an elder relative or has read The Road to Wigan Pier will tell you that in the old days people only had one room – and they were lucky. They would cook and eat and relax and sleep there with 17 other siblings as well as parents, grandparents, cousins and the dog. Well, retro has never been so in so go all 1930s on your home and move everyone and everything into the front room. Make sure this includes tumble dryers (left on permanently), rice cookers (mmm, lovely steam) and hair straighteners…

Brain Training: all pain management is mind over matter. Launch a pre-emptive winter strike on your brain by having some hypnotherapy, which tells your body to ignore the usual telltale signs of the cold and just pretend it’s a balmy 26 degrees all year round. Tip: if your skin goes a waxy, red colour and then black, you are getting frostbite. This generally is not good.

I Will Survive: I have a great fondness for the antics of super-posh pretend SAS man and TV survival expert Bear Grylls. I have spent many a happy Saturday morning watching Bear eat elephant poo and larvae, telling us how to not get eaten by a lion and making cosy shelters out of palm leaves. He is often found in the tundra of the frozen north or on icy Patagonian hillsides telling us how not to freeze our collective knackers off should we find ourselves in a similar predicament. This essentially boils down to two things. Firstly Bear loves a bit of
Empire Strikes Back-style animal gutting and has been known to sleep inside the skin of a dead deer AND a camel’s stomach. If these are available in your ‘hood then go for it. Secondly, Mr Grylls is a big fan of getting his kit off. This may be a gimmick to get more viewers but it’s truly amazing the amount of times when he is at his coldest that he will take off all his clothes and then do press-ups and star jumps in the nip. So again, providing you have good curtains this is apparently a great way to beat the cold. And hey, at least if it doesn’t work you’ll have some Harvey Krumpet-style nudie fun.

Wrappers Delight: keeping your house warm is basically a war between heaters that make the air warm and walls, and windows that let that air escape. You can make like America in this war by arming one side with weapons of mass insulation. Bubble wrap not only provides great insulation when attached to walls, ceilings, windows and floors, but it’s also fun to walk on and pop when you’re bored. You’ll probably need the average supply of a suburban post office for each rooms, but it’ll be worth it and your house will be cosy and a bit space age. Tip: no candles dudes.

Fashion: In my short time here I have learnt that Melbourne is a fashion and style conscious city. However, whilst we all want to look cool, we don’t want to feel cool so you really need to rug up. Winter fashion is all about layers darlings and the more the better when it comes to blocking out breezes and keeping your extremities warm. This will make you look like the Ghostbusters
Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but it’s a small price to pay. Whilst we’re talking clothes, remember that age-old rule about colour. We all know wearing light coloured clothes is a great way to keep cool in summer. Ipso facto wearing dark clothes in winter must keep your warmer, right? That’s why so many people in Melbourne wear black. Honest.

Taking a leaf from comedy: if reality isn’t keeping you warm then why not try stealing a few ideas from television and film. Comedy in particular seems to have addressed this issue a few times, with a perennial favourite being to burn things: see the Young Ones (
Cash), Red Dwarf (Marooned). The rule here seems to be if you are going to burn things, make sure they belong to other people. A favourite of mine is from Planes, Trains and Automobiles where reluctant travelling buddies Steve Martin and John Candy double up in a motel bed… But if you can’t burn stuff or find a 35 stone bed-buddy I advocate the Withnail and I route which amounts to smoking cigarettes, drinking lighter fluid and cheap wine and covering your body in Deep Heat muscle relaxant cream. Oh yeah, and burning things...

Stay in Bed. Not much science needed here. Bears hibernate for a reason – they can’t be arsed being cold. Bed is always ace, so get in there and don’t leave. As
Wham! once poignantly noted, ‘it’s cold out there but it’s warm in bed, they can dance, we’ll stay home instead.’ And when did George Michael ever say or do anything stupid…

Let’s All Have a Disco: As Nelly is fond of saying, ‘it’s getting hot in here – so take off all your clothes’. Whilst it’s likely that he was directing his meteorological observations towards a particularly unfortunate young honey, the video to
Hot in Here points the way to a friendly and social solution to your heating needs – run a nightclub in your house. Sure there’ll be a few people sitting around the edges at first looking shy (or all night if you decide to run an indie club) but supply alcohol and get the bass pumping and soon you’ll have a room full of sweaty bodies nudging the mercury up on your thermometer. Heat-a-licious. One final tip – charge an entry exorbitant entry fee, then you’ll be able to buy an enormous fuck-off heater for next year…

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Prime Ministers’ Questions Time

Does anyone know at what point it became necessary for world leaders to comment on the activities of two-bit celebs? Hot on the heels of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown taking time out from the imminent collapse of his Labour Government to share his thoughts on Susan Boyle, the Scottish singing housewife, we now have Kevin Rudd weighing into Ramsaygate.

The events and circumstances surrounding chef Gordon Ramsay’s childish slagging of Tracy Grimshaw are irrelevant really. If he used sexist or homophobic language he’s a dickhead. I’m not interested in him, and I’ve no respect for her as the face of one of the most vile shows on television in A Current Affair.

What rubs me up the wrong way is journalists looking for sound bites from people who (in theory) have more important things to think about. Honestly, does anyone truly care what the Prime Minister thinks about Grimshaw or Ramsay? Of course he’s going to say it’s a bad thing. Anything else would be seized upon by the various parties and used to give him bad press.

He could just have said nothing but sadly Kevin 07 can’t resist a chance to prove he’s an everyman. He also seems to have inherited John ‘Fair Dinkum’ Howard’s irritating knack for dropping Australianisms into his official statements to make him seem more like a man of the people - this time calling Ramsay’s behaviour ‘low life.’ What next? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a flaming galah?

Similarly Gordon Brown. Faced with the biggest political crisis of his career and the nigh on certain end of Labour’s time in power, Gordon was on breakfast television expressing concern for the wellbeing of reality TV star Susan Boyle who collapsed after she lost in the final of Britain’s Got Talent. His concern stepped over a line when he revealed that
he had personally called Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan, just two of the shits responsible for exploiting Boyle, to make sure all was fine. "I hope Susan Boyle is OK because she is a really, really nice person and I think she will do well," Brown added – presumably with a mournful puppy dog look at the camera.

PR already has too much influence over our political systems. Politicians spend more time playing the PR game than doing the work we need of them. One cannot help but laugh at the assurances from David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservative Party that
his favourite bands include Radiohead and the Smiths. Of course they are David, you jumped-up pantry boy…

Elsewhere politicians are expected to have such populist views, tastes and opinions that their own personalities fade from view. Do we truly expect them to watch the dross that is A Current Affair, or even to know who Gordon Ramsay is? Would we begrudge Kevin had he said ‘sorry, never heard of him?’ More importantly, would it honestly affect our vote? Is this truly what we want from our leaders today: false emotions and moral outrage, on tap? And does being in touch with the public have to mean the lowest taste common denominator?

An unpleasant anti-intellectualism theme ran through the 2008 US Election coverage, with some areas of the media accusing Barrack Obama of being elitist and out of touch with the people. When it came down to the crunch the American public decided that actually, Obama was very much in touch with them, despite having a showing a preference for cellist Yo-Yo Ma over Fall Out Boy and Rihanna. It was the media who had it wrong.

In the end most politicians are chameleons who will adapt to any cultural climate to get elected and then stay there. It is up to us as a society to set higher standards for them to live up to. We should have higher expectations of our journalists, something we can demonstrate through consumption of a better class of media rather than rags like the Telegraph and Herald Sun or ACA / Today Tonight muck raking. Maybe when they stop asking the pollies silly questions they’ll have more time to hold them to account for the things that do matter.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Old Man Take a Look at My Life...

More proof of the early onset of old age, this time manifested as footwear. I was in K-Mart looking for gardening stuff and inadvertently wandered into the slippers aisle. I haven’t had a pair of slippers since I was about 13 and my dad used to make us take our shoes off in the house under pain of death. Having spent the past twenty years rebelling – long distance – the thought that slippers might actually have a function other than to make one look like a child/pensioner had never occurred.

I tried some on for a laugh and was surprised by the warm and cosy sensation of putting my feet inside two teddy bears. Ever since I have been strutting around at home in my old man shoes – one more weapon in the fight against my first Melbourne winter. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put the kettle on for a nice cup of Horlicks and work out how to smoke a pipe.

What's German for Schadenfreude?

Events of the last couple of weeks reminded me of the last day of 1996/97 English Premier League season. I was doing a shift in the Newcastle pub where I’d been working for a couple of years and the Mags were playing at home.

I don’t know what it’s like now, but back then a typical pub shift when Newcastle were playing at home involved slow building pre-match chaos from midday and crowds five-deep at the bar until 2.30pm at which point people would start to drift away to the game. It always amazed me that there were people still drinking at ten to three who would then make a dash and get to their seats for the start of the game. Assuming the match wasn’t on television there was then a surreal two hours in which the pub was totally empty. This was when you got to eat your dinner and restore order to the world. Every glass in the pub was washed, breakages swept, bins emptied and shelves replenished. You’d then have about half an hour in which to (back in the day) have a few cigs and watch goal updates on teletext. By five o’clock the pub would be totally full again; how long it remained that way depended on whether Newcastle had lost or not.

On this particular day it became apparent that things had gone very well for the Geordies and the night would be long. Not only had they scraped through to qualify for the Champions League but due to final day losses both Sunderland and Middlesbrough had also been relegated. The fans were drunk and rowdy but one thing struck me more than anything that day: they cheered more about the two relegations than their own success. Perhaps they were still giddy from the Keegan era and took their lofty position for granted, but to my naive little fresh-off-the-boat ears it struck me as insane that you would celebrate others’ failures rather than your own achievements.

Talking about it afterwards with my friend, a Sunderland fan, her response was that in her opinion football is much more to do with hate than love. At the time this seemed like an overly dramatic thing to say. As I became ensconced in Newcastle life I began to understand that this concept is quite embedded in the North East. The subtext is this: it doesn’t matter how shite your team is – as long as you’re better than the other two (or one, if you follow the belief on Tyneside and Wearside that Middlesbrough doesn’t count because ‘
it’s a shit town in Yorkshire.’)

What this really tells you about Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough is that starved of success (only Boro have won a major trophy in my lifetime; the 2004 Carling Cup) the fans really only have bragging rights to play for. Each season brings new hope and promise but come May most fans in the shops, pubs, offices and factory floors of the North East know that it’s where you lie in the mini-league of three that will get you through the summer.

Having gone on to follow Sunderland for the past 13 years I always wondered how I would react if the relegation boot was on the other foot. After all, even in my modest amount of years supporting Sunderland we’ve had some pretty low lows and I’ve copped first hand flack from Newcastle fans who had, until recently, resorted to patronising pity more than actual hatred.

Now we’re here and I am embarrassed to admit that the answer is curiously muted. Devoid of any Mags or Smoggies to bait there is no schadenfreude in which to engage. There is of course undeniable pleasure in seeing Alan Shearer at the helm as the ship goes down. There's also proof of instant karma with the odious Mike Ashely standing to lose hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of his clueless reign. His time in charge has been a bit like watching Roy Kinnear in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as the father of petulant brat Veruca Salt, forever throwing money at people and problems to keep everyone (and ultimately no-one) happy.

I also think I’m still a little in shock that Newcastle went down. Perhaps I need to see the Mags running out against Blackpool and Peterborough before it really sinks in. Maybe then I’ll stop feeling a bit sorry for friends back in Newcastle who have been variously described as stupid, mindless and arrogant by the Southern journalists who only seem to want to write about clubs in the North East when things are going wrong. Their ghoulish appearance to lord over the corpse of Newcastle United has actually pissed me off rather than fuelled my amusement. Their patronising summaries of life in the North East have been ill-informed, regionalist and pointless. We don't need them to tell us what this means for all three clubs.

As for Sunderland, having escaped by the skin of our teeth, let’s hope that next season is a whole lot better. Steve Cram, (1500m Olympic silver medal winner and Sunderland fan) recently referred to the idea of being the best in the North East in
the Guardian as ‘the lowest form of ambition’. It’s easy for me to say from over here but I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps with the distraction of the mini-league gone Sunderland will focus on what is important – moving forward as a club. I never want to take part in another relegation battle as long as I live, and with their backing and support Sunderland just shouldn’t need to. For now Premiership mid-table mediocrity never looked so good. Just ask a Newcastle fan.