Sunday, July 22, 2007

Vale Tammy Faye

Tamara "Tammy" Faye Messner.

March 7, 1942 – July 20, 2007.

Thank you Tammy. I loved every minute of it!

The Struggles

I have a nickname for the last five years of my life. It's 'The Struggles'. I adopted it, in style at least, from a land (the memory of which) lies percolating in my heart and soul - Ireland. The Irish, with their characteristic mastery of understatement, referred to their seemingly interminable conflict with the English as "The Troubles". Sometimes it is the accuracy and economy of understatement that results in the very essence of the issue being pinned to a floating speck of dust ... the kind that is visible only in the brightest, almost paint-strippable ray of light. And as a bomb (courtesy of the IRA) exploded only 100 metres from me in London's Victoria Station in 1990 - I knew we were, indeed in trouble.

I remember my first visit to Ireland vividly. I had met an Irish woman - Annie O'Brien - in London when we were both cast in a season of the Stephen Sondheim musical The Frogs. Annie and I instantly bonded ... and many of my special memories of the time I spent in Europe were as a direct result of our vast and wonderful friendship. It was Annie who rented me a room in her beautiful house in West Ealing ... and when the advertising agency I was working for went bust overnight, she guaranteed a roof over my head until I found another job. It was Annie who raced to The Green near our home in Ealing one fateful morning to help me up from the grass. It was Annie who found the perfect space for a season of another play of mine in London ... and it was Annie's brother who, being an Aer Lingus pilot, flew us from Heathrow to Dublin - with me perched wide-eyed, stunned and amazed in the jump seat!

Upon our arrival in Dublin, we went to Annie's brother's favourite pub for lunch. We sat in a beautiful courtyard and drank Guinness. I realised I was in trouble when I started to notice that people were smiling. Real, genuine almost heart-felt smiles. It made me feel uncomfortable ... and Annie laughed at the increasing level of my discomfort. I remember ordering a chicken sandwich for lunch ... and minutes later, when it appeared in front of me on the table - I promptly burst into tears. There, sitting on a serviette within a small woven basket was a fresh roast chicken sandwich. I touched it gently, and the bread sprung back from the small indent the tips of my fingers had made in it. For the first time in what, at the time, seemed like a lifetime, I was about to eat a fresh roast chicken sandwich ... not the thin, salmonella-prone slices of processed and compressed 'pretend' chicken I had become used to in London - the taste of which was always one of life's little, unsolved mysteries.

Touring Ireland was one of the highlights of my years in Europe. I hope to do it again as soon as possible. Images and experiences of my time there haunt me still. The Hill of Tara, Newgrange, theatre at The Abbey, wandering through the grounds of Dublin University, spotting bullet holes in buildings and ranging far south to the wilds of incomparable coastline ... epic, romantic, sweeping grandeur. A magnificent collision of the elements that can only be written about by people who - possibly innately - understand the power, scope and range of the cultural and historical significance of the perfect meeting of time and place.


Last night, in the time and place I occupy for the time being, I finally realised why my life has turned out the way it has. It's because the one I lived prior to the one I am now living was better! Much better! So much fucking better it almost defies description! Almost. You see, in my previous life, I was a Pharaoh! I was! I may very well have been the Pharaoh! How good is that?!

I have to be honest. It's not the first time I've been confronted with this fact. But prior to having this sacred vessel (see?) with which to record my every second rumination, it's only ever been a little-known fact of ... whatever the word is that means the opposite of motivation. Yes, that's it - consolation. When everything I've achieved has eventually ended, I have religiously consoled myself with the knowledge that everything I achieve in this lifetime is intended to be the very anithesis of everything I achieved when - to monstrously wonderful effect - I was The King of Egypt!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bonfire of my vanity

I love fire. There is a primal energy about making heat ... and light ... possibly even the manifestation of a Baby God Complex. "Let there be light!" Certainly! Get out of the way and thy will be done, in Northcote as it is in Adelaide.

The occasion was a dear but distant acquaintance's house-warming party ... and having trundled deep into the wilds of Melbourne's northern suburbs with JD and her husband CS, we were ready to enjoy a lovely afternoon soaking up the last of the winter sunshine. As the sun started to disappear, an instantly recognisable chill began to descend - at which point I realised that, unbeknownst even to myself I fear, Firestarter had already selected the patch of back yard that would become his mini inferno: a concrete slab in the middle of a stricken vege garden ... well enough away from the house to ensure no lives (or aspects of new weatherboard rental property were compromised), no overhanging branches ... and enough ground surrounding the soon-to-be fire for people to stand, or sit, and warm themselves.

Firestarter's choice is usually pallets, but on this occasion, there were none to be found. Anywhere. Scouring the surrounds, with able-bodied support from CS, the only objects de burn to be found were sticks. We had found our kindling. CS suggested we go to the service station and buy a bag of firewood ... but Firestarter believes in the classic sport and spirit of Hunter-Gatherer, and promptly slid down a damp embankment behind the Northcote Plaza to find ... yes! dead branches! Armfuls of beautiful, lifeless timber.

Clutching my bounty to my chest, CS and Firestarter began their walk back to the house ... with more than a few bemused looks from passers-by who had, quite possibly, not ever witnessed the pagan ritual of firewood gathering. My biggest branch (well, I should probably call it a bough) was about six feet long ... and other than the briefest moment when it appeared as though one end of it was going to take out the entire passenger side of a passing car, our fuel was returned to the house without incident.

Fire hypnotises me ... instantly. Over the years I have enjoyed countless fires: campfires, bonfires and quaint little open fires. A good fire will calm its attendees. They will focus on it ... sometimes in child-like wonder ... and they will contemplate. Many, many things. They will warm their hands and congratulate Firestarter. Fires connect us to something like another world ... another frame of mind and state of being. Considered silence will descend. Cares will, momentarily, be banished. A hushed melancholia will pervade ... and honest conversation will inevitably ensue. The crackle and hiss will punctuate the silence ... and faces will glow and eyes will sparkle. People look different by firelight ... because we feel different. Fire cannot be bought ... not can its spell be manufactured. Romance and intimacy are almost always accentuated by the side of a fire. A fire demands honesty ... circumspection ... and truth. It is as though when faced with the simplicity of heat and light, our this-worldly concerns attach to the sparks and soar, quite suddenly, high above our heads ... racing into the night sky and away.


Two of the little girls at the party had become Firestarter's earnest and devoted apprentices. They brought sticks and twigs to the fire and, carefully and respectfully, their little sacrifices were placed in the flames. I showed them how to be careful around fire, and ensured they understood that in order for a fire to warm us, it didn't need to be big. When we had enough sticks on the fire, I helped them start a wood pile. Some of the sticks were very wet, and I explained that if wood for the fire is wet, we place it near the fire to dry. One of the little girls asked if one of her pieces of wood was dry enough to go on the fire yet ... and as I pointed out the fact that it was starting to steam, her eyes glowed with the joy of understanding. We lit the end of small twigs and sang Happy Birthday. She blew out the small flame. We did this at least twenty times. She was delighted ... laughing, giggling, singing ...

But someone else was not.

The Alpha Male had been prowling around in the darkness on the fringe of our glowing wonderland. He was, in some way, 'related' to the little girl. (JD later said she thought that he was not the little girl's father, but - rather - her mother's partner ... so perhaps the approval stakes were a little too high? I will never know.) What I did know, was that I was in trouble when he started to squeeze lemon rind onto my fire to make tiny flames leap out. My apprentice was not interested. She was far more interested in blowing out our 'Birthday Candle Twigs' and waiting patiently for her sticks to dry. Failed lemon rind pieces were carelessly dumped in the fire ... followed shortly afterwards by entire lemons.

For his next trick, he brought a dandelion to the fire. For years, we have blown the dandelion seeds into the air and made a wish. On this occasion, he wondered whether 'the fairies' (the dandelion seeds) should be blown into the fire. The little girl shouted 'No!' ... and luckily for him - having already determinedly blown the seeds - the 'fairies' floated up and away from their scorched death potential at the hands of our Hero.

His coup-d'Etat, was to pick up a reasonably sizeable branch and start to beat it against the burning wood. Sparks flew into the sky ... "fireworks" ... "fairies" ... yet more beating ... until the fire started to die - beaten into submission against the concrete slab on which it had joyfully crackled.

My little apprentice was perplexed. Where had her Birthday Candle Twigs gone? Why was it suddenly so cold. And dark.

Alpha Male then went about rebuilding the fire ... prodding, poking and fanning the tiny flames. He grabbed all of the wood I had collected and put it onto the fire ... fanning the flames with an increasing air of desperation. The little girl kept asking him why he had made our fire go out ... and as he fussed about with this stick and that, she encouraged him to leave it alone in case it went out again. But I had ensured a bed of hot, glowing embers - so his endeavour would never have failed. And as the fire began to crackle and hiss once again, he decided it was time for them to go.

Fires connect us to another part of ourselves. In some, it is to nurture ... listen ... see ... understand. In some, it is conquest and control. In others it is to use the wondrous power of a fire to divide and destroy. To eliminate.

And by the side of every new fire, perhaps somehow we begin something. Again.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The majesty of shadows

I've been contemplating colour a great deal lately. It must be the season ... not to mention a primary element of my job description - or at the very least the Graphic Designer element.

My housemate and great friend - JG - has a state-of-the-art home entertainment set-up: a projector, an (almost cinema width) screen on the living room wall, an AppleTV, a DVD player, an amp and a digital TV box ... thingy. It is an astonishing set-up which has, in a matter of days, resulted in me scampering home through the brittle darkness of a Melbourne winter to bask in the wonders of what I call 'Maxi Vision'. Everything is bigger! From the Footy to the South Park movie, our giant screen presides, magestically, over our every move ... or lack of the ability to move ... showering us with more colour and movement than I would normally expect to find gracing my nights at home.

JG is also an avid collector of movies. He has hundreds of them. He has eclectic taste, but he most certainly does have taste. And knowledge. And curiosity. A dazzlingly engaging mix.

With the rise in the value of the Australian Dollar against the Greenback, JG's been frantically emptying out his Amazon Shopping Cart ... and almost every day, I have arrived home to be proudly presented with a couple more gems who have winged their way from the dark and dusty corners of Amazon's warehouse. This week alone, I have watched Jane Eyre, Reflections in a Golden Eye (curiously, the only movie Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando made together), The Fountainhead, Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, The Hustler, Bad Day at Black Rock and Paint Your Wagon! We're talking serious cinema.

Watching anything on Maxi Vision is a splendid experience ... but it has been the black and white movies that have had the most startling effect on my levels of appreciation. On a standard domestic television (let's call it Mini Vision), they're practically decimated to become hapless clusters of black, whites and a couple of shades of grey pixels - pinched, grotesquely, into a convenient size and shape to be beamed, almost apologetically by comparison, into our homes.

On Maxi Vision, they are amazing sights (and sounds) to behold. Unfurling as operatic creations of black and white and everything - and I mean everything - in between. We do these creations a great disservice by calling them "Black and white movies". Nothing in them - or about them - is black and white. There are too many kinds of black and too many kinds of white and literally millions of tones of grey. Do yourself a favour. Hunt down a cinema near you that's showing a film that's not in colour. Marvel at the the artistry ... and the majesty of shadows.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ravings of a Truly Horrible Bastard

Not all that long ago, I went out to dinner with one of my best friends, his boyfriend, some mutual friends, and a couple of colleagues of my best friend's boyfriend. One of them was English, so he was rather impolitely ignored. The other was Canadian ... and he didn't even bother to introduce himself to me. Apparently, because I was from Sydney, it didn't matter what I thought. About anything. Which is just as well, because the heady mix of pre-party cocktails and an assortment of party-starters had (fortuitously or not) all managed to kick-in as I was waiting for one of the more hapless poofs to order the entreés. And unbeknownst to the rest of the table, I had turned into a Truly Horrible Bastard (THB).

I have to admit that I am a really formidable THB. It's not a role I play very often these days, but when 'he' is on, then it is either truly horrendous or truly entertaining. Everyone else really has no choice but to make their selection regarding how they feel about it.

The problem started upon our arrival. The table that had been reserved for us was too small. There were now to be nine, as opposed to six. Our girlfriend - let's call her Suzy - had announced that she was bringing two friends - both, like her, Personal Trainers. We were, it would appear, about to be graced by three (as opposed to one) world class physiques. "Perfect!" I thought (or maybe said) to myself ... "there's not much else to perve at around this humble, too-little table of ours!"

I had spent a small part of Thursday evening with Suzy. Our friend, and her soul mate - let's call him Shane - has slipped into the depths of an Ice addiction. I have always admired the way that elephants go off to die. Noble. Elegant. Respectful. Drug addicts, on the other hand, seem to think that they have some pre-ordained right to fuck up as many people in as many circumstances as they possibly can ... as if their tragic hopelessness was some kind of busking routine in a busy, busy shopping centre. But the money's usually taken out of your wallet when you're not looking, as opposed to gifted in grateful and meaningful ways. I hadn't seen Suzy for a long time, and I was astonished at her powers of denial. "Shane was still a good person underneath." If I was an Ice addict, I'd want Suzy to be my soul mate. Everything I suggested she had already done. Three or more times. She is still holding out her hand to be bitten, punched and stolen from. It's a masterful betrayal of good common sense. But, perhaps quite perversely, she's absolutely right to hope. Shane is a divine creature ... and like any abusive relationship, as bad as it is is as good as it is. I had a relationship with an alcoholic once. I know. One minute you're ducking their fists in public and the next you're the greatest, most meaningful and significant person in the entire world. Extremes of affection and intimacy present difficult and complex boundaries ... and we ignore them at our peril. But we do ignore them ... hoping that, eventually 'the bad' will pass and there will be 'the good'.

Back in the restaurant, I snatch the menu from the hands of one of my unsuspecting dinner companions and beckon the waitress. I order the entreés for the table (once an Event Manager, always an Event Manager) and banish her to the kitchen. In the meantime, someone who doesn't know the first thing about wine chooses to order the wine. Which arrives. Corked. Fucking hideously corked ... like cat's piss. I ask for it to be taken away and another bottle brought to the table. Which happens. And again ... corked. Suzy is almost beyond hysterical! She's been at the table for nearly twenty minutes and hasn't yet had a sip of wine! I rest my hand on her jack-hammering, table-thumping arm and ask to see The Wine List. Apparently, the person who had ordered the wine in the first place is the reason we are going to be saddled with the cost of the second bottle of wine. Sadly, for them, THB is not having any of it.

THB: "I can tell you now that that's not going to happen. This is the worst wine I have ever tasted, ever, anywhere ..."

" ... in the world!" Suzy pipes in.

THB: "Please can you bring us a bottle of this ... a glass of which I will try. If it is to my liking, you will pour glasses for the rest of the table ... "

SUZY: "Starting with me!"

THB: "Can you do that?"

The wine waiter shuffles off to the bar. Seconds later we are joined at the table by The Manager. Now 'Managers' of any variety are always interesting sparring parties for me when I am in THB mode. Just because they hold a position of "manage"ment, doesn't mean they should. One of the reasons I have never been able to consider working for a company other than my own is that there are some truly hopeless people masquerading as Managers out there ... and I have met more than my fair share of them (and worked with, and for, more than a couple). And on the subject of shit-house wine, THB is immovable ... and needless to say, we finally had the opportunity to enjoy a large number of bottles of much nicer wine.

As we staggered out of the restaurant and off to a nightclub, I couldn't help but imagine how grateful the staff of this particular restaurant were to see the back of us. Which is fine ... because I won't be going back there. After all, life is hard enough without having to drink bad wine OR having to justify why it is that you shouldn't be expected to pay for it.

See? Seven years in Sydney did teach me something!