Monday, 31 May 2010


An interesting curio about living in Australia is the way cultural and geographical isolation can distort huge mainstream overseas events and reduce them to quasi-cult viewing. Half a day’s time difference and lousy programming decisions by television companies are often enough to reduce viewing of even the most commercial of cultural phenomena to a few dedicated souls.

I’ve written before about great television shows from around the world being buried in late night schedules or woefully under-publicised. Shows like Madmen, 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm may attract worldwide column inches but here bad scheduling has reduced them to niche viewing. Despite what Channel 7 would have us believe in their recent publicity of the Lost finale, in truth the show had been hidden away on their secondary digital channel for months. Hardly the attitude for must-see-TV.

Certainly time zones play a part in Australia’s participation in worldwide events. With no local event and no live feed on terrestrial television Live 8 was reduced to a 90 minute highlights show (with adverts, naturally) whilst as tennis fans will currently tell you, the drama of any European sporting event is a little reduced when relayed the next day by breakfast news presenters.

Credit then to SBS for their continued efforts to keep Australia connected to the rest of the world despite their mediocre budget. As well as being the only station we have whose evening news truly reflects the world we live in, Australia’s multicultural broadcaster is also unique in its commitment to celebrating the global cultural events and giving us down under a chance to join in.

In the coming weeks SBS will be showing every game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup across their two channels in defiance of the richer commercial stations and their general disinterest in supporting the world game. This is no opportunistic grab for ratings; SBS has been a lone champion of football in Australia for decades, from when it was a game for sheilas, wogs and poofters and John Aloisi’s 2005 penalty was just a nice idea. In truth the majority of Australians are unlikely to stay up and watch actual games at the Mundial, especially if the Socceroos are eliminated quickly, but the fact is that without SBS they wouldn’t even have that choice. Try to imagine that happening anywhere else in the world this month.

Craig Foster and Les Murray of SBS' The World Game

Similar kudos to SBS for their magnificent coverage of this weekends 55th Eurovision Song Contest. Growing up in Britain I had zero interest in Eurovision, probably because of the oversaturation, starting with weeks of televised auditions for a Song for Europe and the inevitable selection of something woeful to represent the UK, followed by the usual rounds of barely-disguised racism from the media, raised out of the gutter by some sarcastic levity courtesy of Terry Wogan.

In keeping with their remit, the SBS version – hosted by the gorgeously wonderful Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang - is a celebration of diversity. With no home country to barrack for the coverage is gloriously cosmopolitan, leaving lots of time to focus on terrible outfits, indoor fireworks, the SBS Eurovision Drinking Game and (hard to believe, but true) the songs.

In addition to the on-screen shenanigans (presented as a delayed telecast the night after the actual event, necessitating a huge Likely Lads-style avoidance of television, internet and wireless in the hours before) an annual highlight of the SBS coverage is their real time live chat where viewers can go online and share in a communal live bitch-fest about everything and anything they see on screen. There is something genuinely uplifting about Australians of all creeds and colours coming together to laugh at the pudgy beer belly of a balding white-clad crooner.

Notre chere Julia Zemiro. On t'aime Julia!

Whilst cyber-slagging there is the added distraction of watching the fiercely tribal and slightly bizarre online battle between Australia’s Greek and Turk communities battling for the number one spot in the unofficial SBS Australian vote (only one vote allowed every twenty seconds kids). Turkey won this year.

Government handling of issues relating to refugees, asylum seekers and the indigenous communities, immense stupidity by the people behind Hey Hey It’s Saturday and the disgusting attacks on Indian students have done great damage to Australia’s multicultural reputation in recent years. Still, whilst it would be unhelpful and dishonest to deny a racist element in Australia, it is nice to be able to report that there are also positive forces at work here.

SBS is often viewed dismissively as a kind of hippy, right on cousin of the ABC but the truth is that the national broadcaster is still more reflective of Australia’s anglo-centric past than its diverse multi-coloured future. SBS prides itself in being in and of the real world, connecting our island to everyone and everywhere else, in a two-way exchange. In an increasingly inter-connected world it’s something for the other networks to ponder long and hard over - perhapsd during the adverts for Hey Hey It’s Saturday?

Friday, 28 May 2010

P's Off

Well, it had to happen sometime - this week I finally got my full drivers' licence. Yes, some 18 years after my mum and dad promised me fifty quid's worth of driving lessons for my 17th birthday (never received) and a lifetime spent as a professional passenger, I now have a proper grown up driver's licence.

I should explain that here in Australia new drivers are required to spend three years on probation. Unlike the UK passing your test merely moves you from yellow L plates to red P plates. This is a bittersweet status whereby you are finally able to drive on your own whilst simultaneously joining the ranks of one the most despised, mistrusted and frequently insulted groups in Australian culture. Nothing unites Australians more than their hatred for Red P platers. It doesn't matter what race, gender or age you are, Aussies nationwide will be ready to toot their horns and call you a 'farckin' useless c**t' at every opportunity.

Fortunately this only lasts a year before you can graduate to Green P's. This colour change permits you to drive at 100 km per hour (10km more than on your Red P's) but otherwise it's pretty much the same with just a little less venom from your fellow road users. Personally I never really minded being on my Green P's. Some drivers do afford you a bit of leniency, which can be useful on the inny-outy tram-laden lane-changing streets of Melbourne.

Still, all good things must come to an end and after two years of diligently affixing my little green squares to the front and back windows of our car, I am finally P free. And my thoughts on this auspicious occasion? On becoming the very last of all my peers to get my licence? On it being almost two decades since those first terrifying car trips along dark country lanes in their rusty old bangers and parents' borrowed Mini Metros? On being technically old enough to have a child now able to drive? Am I not slightly embarrassed that the average age in the licencing office this week was about 22?

Sadly not. My main thought as I lined up for my latest passport sized photo was of an NME interview I read back in 1992 with a ramshackle and inebriated Dave Rotheray and Paul Heaton (then of the Beautiful South), responding to accusations that their band lacked ambition. "I have ambition," Heaton retorted "I'll start smoking when I'm 28 and I'll learn to drive when I'm 35." I remember reading that and thinking 'God love you, you contrary drunken buggers' and being glad that I'd just spent that summer schlepping wide-eyed and legless around the French countryside on my own for the first time of many when, according to the rite-of-passage rules I should have been learning to drive. So anyway here I am; a little late but I did it. And frankly if 35 is good enough for P(d) Heaton, it's plenty fine for me.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Mr C's Beautiful Blues

I like lunchtimes. A small midday wander around the block to clear my head this week led to the surprise discovery that Daniel Clowes has released a new graphic novel. Within ten minutes I was walking out of a nearby bookshop with a brown paper bag full of beauty and strangeness bound together under the name of the latest Clowes anti-hero, Wilson.

I think you need time for Clowes work to sink in (you can read some reviews here at the Drawn and Quartley website) but so far so great. Wilson is a continuous story in a similar vein to Ghostworld and David Boring but eschews their chapter format for a series of page-sized self-contained scenes of six panels. Each page has been beautifully drawn in a different style, each recognisably Clowes, but varied enough that they draw your attention to different elements of the story.

Wilson himself is a balding middle-aged American who (thanks to his dying father) recognises that his best days are probably behind him. Blessed with the usual Clowes-character misanthropy, he sets out on a journey into his past to follow up on his couldas, wouldas and shouldas. This leads to encounters with his down-at-heel ex-wife (and the daughter she put up for adoption after their split) with unexpectedly harsh consequences.

Despite some improbably nasty displays of disgust towards the general public, Wilson’s bitter, self-righteousness is easy to believe. Curiously it was made more tangible by an interview I’d read earlier that day with the eerily similar-looking Mark “E” Everett (from the Eels*). Both Wilson and Everett seem to share similar disdain for modern mores (one memorably poignant scene sees Wilson struggling against his inner Luddite by using Skype for the first time) as well as bushy beards.

Wilson is perhaps Clowes most linear and uncomplicated long-form work since Ghostworld. Whilst keeping up his trademark mistakes, misshapes and misfits worldview, it contains little of the savage weirdness of Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron or the dark paranoia and sexual dysfunction David Boring. As such it’s a great place to start for newcomers to Daniel Clowes although bear in mind this is a bit like saying you should watch Blue Velvet before Lost Highway.

* as an aside the cover art to Eels new album End Times features a Clowes-eque portrait, actually done by Clowes’ Drawn and Quartley label-mate Adrian Tomine.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

On Top of Old Smokie

As some of you will know the final episodes of the epic TV show Lost are being broadcast around the world as we speak, building up to the big season finale at the end of May. For some the end will be a chance to finally find out some answers, many years after the tropical polar bears, smoke monsters and general strangeness led them to turn off their TV sets in frustration. For others the finale will mark the end of six seasons of intense speculation, water cooler hypothesising, stoned pondering, hours of dedicated online forums and terabytes worth of internet content trying to puzzle out what-the-huh-and-why?

My own journey has been relatively brief but no less intense. Just over a year ago Mrs Custard bought the first season of Lost on DVD. We had resisted so long primarily because every clip I ever saw of Lost seemed to feature a new was of showing an aeroplane crash and anyone who has ever seen me fly will tell you I just don’t need that kind of thing in my head. Having ploughed ahead and already made her way to Season 3 it was Mrs Custard who persuaded me to stick with the adventures of Oceanic Flight 815 by reassuring me that despite the mid-flight carnage ‘it’s a bit like Twin Peaks.

In the beginning: the Island runway and terminal facilities need a bit of work

So, anyway, here I am - fully up to date on events from the previous five seasons just in time for the grand denouement. And because I’m up to date, another part of the Lost universe has finally opened up to me; the internet. After years of skilfully avoiding any and all conversations, articles, reviews, interviews or debates about Lost that might spoil the show, now my appetite for all such things is bigger than Hurley’s for
Mr Cluck’s chicken. Straight after every episode I’m online to find out about clues I’ve missed, the latest theories on what Locke / Flocke / Man-in-Black / Esau / the Smoke Monster is up to and just what Desmond means in all of this, brother.

Dissecting David Lynch aside (and we all need help with that) I must admit that up til now I’ve never truly embraced my own internerd. I read the odd article on what-might-have-beens with Star Wars (I’m still sad that Lynch turned down the director job on Return of the Jedi) and enjoyed discussions around Life on Mars but as a rule I’ve stayed away from online obsessives. This is partly because I
haven’t seen any of the shows that people trade blows over, but mostly because – as I now know from Lost – some people posting have an unpleasantly disproportionate view on their place in all of this.

One would imagine visiting a site populated by
fans of something you like would be an affirming experience. Interesting then that so many of them (and there are lots) should be chock full of anger and resentment, mostly directed towards the people who created the show they like. I don’t know what the past five years have been like but the weekly comments on forums such as the Washington Post’s Lost Central or the Guardian’s Lost in Lost following each show are often so far beyond critical that they become personal (look at any of the comments below this interview with main writers Carlton Cuse and David Lindelof, including accusations of being ‘arrogant pricks’. Nice.)

The Season 3 cast including a much missed Mr Eko
As Season 6 has edged closer to its conclusion one of the key accusations that people keep levelling at Cuse and Lindelof (‘LindCuse’ or ‘Darlton’ depending on which nerd site you prefer) is that they don’t know what’s going on. Impatient to get to the end and frustrated by a perceived lack of answers, there is insistence that the writers are making it up as they go along. Despite reassurances for the past six years that there has is an overarching story and a point to everything that happens on the show, people - fans apparently – are desperate to prove them wrong. They do this by picking out every inconsistency, flaw or continuity error they can (aided and abetted by Lost uber-site Lostpedia) and posting them online with a big “ha! You suck, you losers!

Now before I’m accused of blindly towing the official line, I do kind of understand how people feel here. I too had my
Tim-from-Spaced moment with the crushing disappointment of the Phantom Menace. I know what it’s like to invest in something emotionally for many years and then see it pooed on from a great height by a stranger with a beard. Yet the crucial difference is I’ve seen the Star Wars prequels. All of them. To the end. At this point nobody but the writers know what’s going to happen in Lost – the very people who keep reassuring us that everything will be fine.
'And in the end...' : the owls are not what they seem
So hey, given that you’ve enjoyed over 100 hours worth of Lost over six years (I hope you have, or more fool you for keeping on watching) why not trust them in them for a few more hours and just see what happens? Hypothesise, speculate, have hope, get excited – it’s part of what makes Lost so appealing - but don’t slag off a show you supposedly love because this week they happened to confound your expectations of what should happen. It’s not your show, no matter how long you’ve been watching it. And remember this - unlike 99% of television programs Lost still hasn’t jumped its shark, sold out or let down characters we’ve grown to love. As John Locke and Jack Sheppard discovered there’s every reason to have faith that everything will work out right.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

"Because I Look Great in Tulle"

This Monday 17th May 2010 is IDAHO which stands for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (kind of, but who's counting?) Several hundred people turned out at the State Library in Melbourne today to to mark the occasion and to support Equal Love, a year long campaign of action for same sex marriage in Australia. Here's a few pictures, including one of (Sir) Ian McKellen who got the crowd nicely hyped up before all the politicians and activists took to the stage.

The title of this post is taken from my favourite homemade banners on the day. This was another lo-fi gem. One I didn't get a picture of was the gently Church-baiting 'Jesus Had Two Daddies...'

Yo Gabba Gabba's Brobee shows his appreciation of the Lady GaGa stand-in

The Sir Ian love-in...

Lady Gaga (the no frills version) does her best to Sydney-up a Melbourne crowd

For more information on other IDAHO activities around the planet visit the official website here. For more on the Australian Year of Action for Same Sex Marriage check out the Equal Love website here.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

So sometimes I have silly ideas and sometimes I have good ideas and sometimes my good ideas seem silly and other times my silly ideas seem good. Running with one of the latter I'd like to introduce you to my friend Ball.

Ball is a ball. A tennis ball to be precise. He's a bit like the Littlest Hobo or Dr David Banner from the 1970s version of the Incredible Hulk, roaming from town to town looking for adventure, friendship and maybe a place to call home. No one knows where he comes from and no one knows where he goes... but together maybe we can find out.

To help matters I've started a site dedicated to Ball. It's called i am Ball and it tells you all about Ball (including his mysterious powers of regeneration and disguise), what to do if you see him near you and how you can share your Ball stories with others. It would be lovely to create a world map of Ball's travels so if you're up for a bit of silly and have some time to spare please pay a visit to i am Ball.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Inside of a Dog it's Too Dark to Read*

For anyone following, the Mint Custard Book Club (membership of one) is still going strong although what with the Comedy Festival, silly deadlines at work, applying for jobs, gardening, watching Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Lost and looking after our puppy I'm not finding the time to keep up my early 2010 pace.

This is not for want of trying. After polishing off Michael Tolliver Lives back in March I surprised myself by ploughing through Michel Houellebecq's Atomised in under a fortnight. On the surface there might seem to be little in common between the most recent in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series and the second novel by French enfant terrible Houellebecq, I can assure you that they share an almost uncomfortable obsession with shagging in all of its pan-sexual glory. Both books devote entire chapters to scenes of masturbation, oral sex, orgies to the point where you start wondering just who they are being written for.

Interestingly for all of Atomised's controversial reputation, it is Maupin who (ahem) comes out on top with some genuinely filthy boy on boy (and in some cases on another boy) action. What makes it less in your face (oh stop it) is the way Michael Tolliver Lives is sugar-coated in syrupy romance. Clearly delighted just to be alive (the last time we saw Michael Mouse in 1989's Sure of You he had just discovered he was HIV positive) our thinly disguised hero may be pushing sixty but that doesn't mean he can't have a muscled partner thirty years his junior who he coos after like the heroine from a Mills and Boon romance. I lost count of the amount of time they slapped each other on the arm/ass/back or snuggled their sleepy heads into each others' thick hairy chests.

This is a shame because whilst there was always a romantic side to the Tales series, it was as punctuation between exciting mysteries, unexpectedly brutal deaths and deeply implausible plot twists. With all the adventure and surprise removed what we are left with is something akin to those reunions of casts of your favourite old television shows: it's nice to see everyone again but the magic that made them special has long since gone.

There is some romance in the unflinching bleakness of Atomised but it's hard to come by and doesn't last. That said it throughly absorbed me for a while and its 2001: a Space Odyssey conclusion (with our perspective endlessly pulled back until we're actually sharing seats with the deus and all their machina) was dizzying. For a while I thought I was going to come away loving this book - a kind of scientific Sophie's World - but I think in the end I just read about one wank too many.

Still, I'm on track for a piece of fiction a month but since I'm only 200 marvellous pages into Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (with 400 to go) I may have to find more time for reading to keep up.

(with thanks to Groucho Marx*)