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unnamedWhy did you write Wedding Bush Road?

Because I needed to, and no one else could have.

 

Isn’t that kind of self-involved.

Perhaps, but it’s true.

 

Don’t you write for an audience.

If I start engineering a story to appease some notion of readership, the story risks losing its propulsion and integrity. I want to tell the story that I need to tell, not what I think someone needs to hear. I trust that the novel will find its own readership.

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Karl Taro Greenfeld’s NowTrends (Short Flight/Long Drive Books) is worth reading simply for the exotic locations and unique settings, but there is much more going on in this collection. A layered sadness permeates these stories, often soliciting sympathy for the main characters. At other times, a sense of entitlement causes the reader to become frustrated and even angry at these spoiled people. And still other stories allow us to understand the uncertainty that life offers up, even amidst important events and epic moments, unsure of how to take these revelations, unable to change—even when willing.

A few years ago, as 2004 slid into 2005, I was offered the chance to spend Christmas – and New Year – in Melbourne, Australia. It was with relish that my wife and I jumped at the opportunity to be overseas for the holiday season, a time of year that we generally associated with dripping noses and chapped knuckles. It felt perversely decadent to be contemplating cocktails on the beach while our families tackled frostbite and frozen pipes.

When we arrived in the Victorian capital we dusted off the residue of our 23-hour flight with a stroll along the Yarra River, admiring the leisurely stroke of the crews, before throwing away most of our stack of waxy Australian bills in the nearby casino. Even as I began to wilt in the sunshine, I marveled at the Melburnians’ dedication to relaxation and the indulgence of the senses. It was as if someone had relocated the Vegas strip to a British river town. Only with a thousand acres of clear blue sky, and temperatures in the hundreds.

The Australian climate shouldn’t have been a shock. I’d visited friends in Oz before, and this time I’d packed accordingly: board shorts as well as jeans, t-shirts more than sweaters, flip-flops instead of snow boots. But as we strolled past the cornucopia of eateries on Lygon Street the next day, regaled on every side by the impassioned cries of Italian waiters, I felt my sweating shoulders slump inside my Billabong shirt. What I’d intended as a Christmas getaway felt about as festive as the paper cup of gelato we shared on the walk back to our rental apartment. Kicking off my flip-flops beneath our three-foot plastic Christmas tree, I tried desperately to dredge up some holiday spirit from my swollen, sandy toes.

The next few days drove the point home with all the subtlety of a blowtorch. As my skin reddened and peeled beneath an unrelenting sun — one which, apparently, would give me sunburn even through dense gray cloud cover — I tried my hardest to rescue the drooping, heat-stricken holiday. Away from our families, my wife and I were buying gifts only for each other — but my shopping expeditions proved to be hopelessly flawed. The stores in Prahran were filled with bikinis and sarongs, not cardigans and knitted scarves. Even Christmas dinner became a carb-heavy marathon, three courses of fried and baked food endured in a climate better suited to salads and smoothies.

The experience was all the more unsettling because my head repeatedly told me that this was how Christmas should be. The Biblical story took place in a desert, not a snow-filled forest; the Three Kings traveled to see the baby Jesus on camels, for Santa’s sake. But over the years I had somehow disconnected the Nativity from the festive experience, and bringing the two back together seemed sacrilegious in its wrongheadedness. My Christmas had always been dipped in the icy heritage of Europe, recycled by Hollywood in classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. It was ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’, ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’. If Jesus had been born in my version of the Nativity, Mary and Joseph would have been praying that the Three Kings came bearing blankets along with the gold, frankincense and myrrh.

For a Northern European with his heart in the snowy wastes of winter, Australia’s sunshine and merriment were simply too much to bear. In the end, we did the most festive thing we could imagine: dragging ourselves through the heat to South Yarra’s multiplex cinema, to catch the latest Pixar movie in a theater empty enough to feel like our own personal screening room.

It wasn’t my ideal Christmas, and there still wasn’t a single flake of snow in sight. But, thanks to the miracle of air conditioning, it was at least deliciously cold.

 

Shivers

By Hank Cherry

Notes

Rowland S. Howard wrote the song Shivers as a teenager. It’s an indelible ode to youthful misery and unrequited love paired with a willful, yearning guitar. When he died thirty years later, in December 2009, he was fifty. Liver cancer. Impressive character to the end, Howard played a gig just a month and change before his death. In an interview with New Zealand writer Simon Sweetman, Howard sounded down right relieved to have kicked Shivers off his set-list at last. “When I did use to do it in shows, I was doing a cover of some song that had been around forever. I guess that is a strange way to feel about a song you wrote. But that’s how it felt.”

In another interview Howard refers to the song as his albatross. Howard then goes on to play a stoned out but entrancing version of the song, it comes alive despite his careless attitude, a mournful dirge, a collaborative effort between the then middle aged Howard and the youth who wrote the song.

Our apartment complex has a gathering area on the balcony. At the end of a second floor catwalk, there’s a BBQ and two picnic tables. When we moved in, I envisioned BBQ lunches and dinner parties. The area is meant for revelry. It’s used for littering.

After dark, the cherry red glow of cigarettes floats over the bannister up there. The next morning, evidence of burgers and drinks are scattered all over the pavement below. Jim Beam and coke cans, brown paper bags overstuffed with cheese encrusted containers and scores of cigarette butts are the filthy marks of selfish people.

The number of butts is staggering. Are they throwing them down like confetti? We want to say something, but then will one of us find ourselves walking to the car one evening only to stop and scream when a carefully discarded cigarette bites into the back of our neck?

We fear the burn of reprisal.

We walk through the apartment block in the middle of the day. We’re scared of being caught acting as concerned members of our little community.

We slip an A4 sheet of paper in each letterbox, skipping ours. Looking like it’s a normal, natural thing, but with sidelong glances to check for watchers. We talk quietly, wondering whether our letters will stop the vandalism.

Out the back, into the car-park, one of us stands watch nearby. The other tucks a piece of paper into a plastic pocket, then tapes it down on a small metal box that holds the security gate’s motor. There’s a hole in the box big enough to fit two hands. Cables are visible through the gap.

“Look at that. They must’ve left a hole so maintenance can reach in. Fuck, anyone could come and rip out whatever. Shit. That’s not a safety box. It’s a joke. Jesus.”

A car arrives, they look at us inquiringly. Maybe they broke the gate last time. One of us explains we’re letting everyone know how to open the security gate, and who they can call if they don’t have the PIN or a remote. We don’t tell them we did the letter drop.

We stay outside for an hour as the sun sets, hidden up the back of the car-park, sitting on the boot of our car, just in case someone tries to break the gate despite our sign and letters.

Two days later, the security gate is broken. The torn cables hang out of the box. This is the second time in two weeks.

I park my scooter in three different spots over the week.

One at the front of our car space, leaving our car’s rear sticking out. This space works well enough, but the boot sits three feet over the line. I worry we might block people in.

I try another one out on the road. I’m worried the scooter will get knocked down. I sit indoors watching the news, turning down riots in Cairo to listen for the bang and shatter of my bike hitting bitumen.

I try a third spot next to the entranceway, between a car space and the walkway into the centre of the apartment block. This feels safe. It feels out of the way. Who could possibly object?

The next morning, one of the rearview mirrors has been twisted all the way around. It faces forward, instead of to the rear.

Was this an accident? Did someone bump it? How could they knock it in a way that twists it 180°?

Was it deliberate? Was it a warning that this isn’t a good place to park my scooter? I look all around me, trying to spot the spying neighbour. No one. I consider myself warned.

Apartment living can be a terrifying series of subtle signals and hesitant interpretations. This is our space as much as it’s everyone else’s. None of us has any idea what the other is capable of. In a world of suicide bombings, anthrax envelopes and flash floods, it’s only natural to assume the worst.

Afraid to risk it, I park my scooter at the front of our space that night and forever after.

With thanks to Facebook’s search function, apologies to Dave Gorman, and gratitude to Northern Hemisphere Simon Smithson, who agreed to answer my questions and be my friend.

Hello, Simon Smithson! How are you, who are you, and what do you do?

Who am I? A 34 year old Englishman, father to my 21-month-old daughter Libby, husband to my lovely wife Becky.

What do I do? In a nutshell, I work in an office. It’s a very nice office mind, (we even have an escalator), but still 9 to 5 office drudgery. Sometimes I feel like a battery hen.

Not quite the glamorous, globetrotting lifestyle that you, my namesake, appear to lead. Strangely, since befriending you on Facebook, my Gmail inbox has been replete with invites to parties and other exciting gatherings. Though it seems possible that I might be invited to parties on the other side of world by strangers, it seems more likely that your friends have instead been confounded by our similar, yet mirror-image like, email addresses and have sent me these invites in error. However, I am now able to explain that I am not the handsome, literary Kiwi to whom they intended to extend the hand of friendship, but am in fact a grumpy, exhausted, Yorkshire-dwelling Englishman who simply happens to share the same name. They must find the experience confusing, and slightly disturbing.


I am glad to hear you’re good – and in three months, happy birthday to Libby!

You know, I’ve never worked in an office with an escalator? And now I really, really want to.

I’m afraid I have to correct you, however. I’m an Aussie, not a Kiwi. If I let that one slip through to the keeper, I’ll never hear the end of it. It’s similar to being confused for a Welshman – something I learned from my grandmother, who, as a matter of fact, was from Yorkshire, as is my mother. They were from Rotherham – are you anywhere nearby?

Which brings me, by a neat piece of coincidence, to something I’ve been looking into recently. Yorkshire puddings. I’ve never had one, and I’d always had a mental image of a creme caramel kind of thing. Tell me, is this something you’d regularly eat? I realise this is perhaps not the kind of question you saw coming.

The escalator is overrated. The office is supposed to be one of the most energy efficient in Europe, though how they can acheive this with an escalator (in actual fact 4 escalators!) that run 12 hours a day, and a glass roof is entirely beyond me. Perhaps it’s just one of those self-fulfilling proclamations, like ‘this is the longest bar in the world’ (my university bar) or ‘this is the longest pier in the world’ (Great Yarmouth Pier), both of which are blatantly untrue, but have entered local folklore.

My humblest apologies about the geographic confusion (I notice you didn’t contradict the ‘handsome’ or ‘literary’). I can’t claim that geography is a strong point of mine; this I can only blame on poor choices early in my education (choosing German over Geography is a somewhat confounding choice; I can now speak the language, but have no idea where Germany is, or how to get there).

Rotherham is about 40 miles from my doorstep. It seems a strange coincidence that your family originate from so nearby. I’m not a native Yorkshireman, though I’m rapidly approaching the point where I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived elsewhere, so will achieve honorary status. My father’s family originate from the next County south. Maybe we share a common ancestor?

You’ve fallen into a common trap with regard to Yorkshire Puddings, which are not in fact a dessert, but an accompaniment to a ‘roast dinner’, which otherwise consists of a roasted meat (typically chicken, beef or lamb), roast potatoes and boiled vegetables, all served with gravy. In a bizarre twist they actually have identical ingredients to pancakes, but rather than made thin and fried are made thick and baked in an oven. If done properly they come out delicious, light and air-filled. If I make them they come out thick, heavy, and much like an unpleasant pancake.

My university bar was never going to lay a claim to anything; I worked there, and let me tell you, it was a decidedly low-rent operation. But speaking of bars, and Yorkshire, is there still a bar called The Atlas, opposite a cemetery, in existence, that you know of? Apparently my great-grandparents ran it for a little while.

I wonder if we do share any ancestry – my English ancestors went by either the surname Walton or the surname Dewick; and I think they got around a little.

As for backgrounds, did you know we have a crest? We have an actual, honest-to-God family crest, that, I guess, we can officially use. I’m not sure how one goes about using a crest, but it gives me a sense of belonging that feels strangely comforting. Typing my own name into Google has never been so rewarding.

So how is life in England, at present? I’ve always meant to visit, but never gotten around to it. My great-uncle, who’s an ex-Royal Marine, keeps telling me I should go back and visit.

Yorkshire is a pretty big place. However, a brief bit of research on Google Maps shows this.

Which appears to be a pub of the same name, opposite a graveyard, in Rotherham, so perhaps this is the very place! At the point at which the Streetview car captured the image the pub was up for lease (and given the state of the UK economy it probably still is) so if you feel like a return to your roots it presents an interesting option!

Neither Walton nor Dewick ring any bells, though I do know that at some point my family name was ‘Smithson-Hogg’. Thankfully they dropped the second of the two barrels before I came along. Simon Smithson is quite long enough thank you.

Not sure about the correct usage of a family crest. Does it have a motto? Are there eagles on it?

I often wonder whether our name has any link to the Smithsonian museum; is this something that you’ve thought about? Have you ever been?

Life in England is currently fair to middling, it’s a pretty average kind of place. Where are you currently? You seem to spend a lot of time alternating between Australia and the US, why is this? Talking of Australia, are you affected by the floods that I hear so much about? Coming from such a small, and thankfully generally natural-disaster-free, country events on such a scale boggle my mind.

I was wondering recently how similar the signatures of different people with the same name will be. This then got me thinking about the possibilities of fraud between two people with the same name; to prove I’m me all I need is my passport or driving license bearing my name and picture. This I could also surely use to prove I’m you. How does this work if one has an entirely common name like John Smith? Can I just go into a bank with my passport and withdraw all funds for any one of the inevitable gaggle of John Smiths on the banks records? How fragile this concept of identity!


A pub landlord you say? Well… I’ve heard of worse ideas. Although I don’t know about this whole warm beer business. Is that true, or just a cruel and unusual stereotype?

Simon Smithson-Hogg? I can’t even imagine what kind of person you, or I, would be, with such a name. It’s just so… so very different. The emphasis on the syllables is all different, it changes the sounding out of it… how strange. Maybe this is something people should do as a daily meditation; throw a ‘Hogg’ on the end of their name to see how it sounds.

The crest has a knight’s helmet, three suns, and a number of feathers. I’m not sure how it’s officially used, but apparently you can get it in mousepad form. Which must have been what our ancestors had in mind…

I’ve never been! I’m not sure if James Smithson had ever been to the States – I know he charged his son with founding an institute for the benefit of all mankind, and he had enough ready cash that he could just up and order such a thing done and be reasonably confident it would be taken care of.

Which segues neatly into my back-and-forth to the US and back. I used to live there, until I was left jobless by the GFC and moved back. Now I’ve got friends from my first stay, from back here, or from TNB, and that makes it a lot easier to go over. And, honestly, I just love it. Have you yourself been?

I’m in Melbourne right now, and, thankfully, unaffected by the floods. Queensland has been hit the hardest but my home state is also not faring too well, with record flood levels in some towns. What’s been great is the reaction of the country; people have been so good about coming together to support those affected.

Hmmm.

I think we’re going to need a passport comparison. Mine is shocking, by the way. It’s a horrible scrawl I developed in primary school and never trained myself out of.

We probably shouldn’t publish them to the internet though.

Glad to hear that the floods haven’t affected you directly. The news coverage in the UK has pretty much stopped now, which is either an indication that the situation has improved, or that something sensational involving either X-Factor or Pop Idol has overtaken events.

The warm beer thing is a bit of a myth, though until recently bitter (served at room temperature) was more popular than lager (obviously served chilled). I’m not sure Rotherham would prove a good location to cut your landlording teeth; it does have a reputation for being ‘a bit rough’, which generally means you’ve got a much greater chance than is acceptable of ending a night out with fewer teeth than you started with…

It would be interesting to know the origins of the family crest, though I suspect these things are just generated at random by some dubious website nowadays. Does it have a motto? I’m fascinated by the idea of having something potentially inappropriate in modern times as an official family slogan.

I can’t believe that with all your cross-Atlantic (does that apply if traveling from Australia to America? Remember my lack of geographical prowess!) traveling you’ve not yet been to our museum! I’ve got some friends who live in Washington DC, so I really ought to visit at some point. Unfortunately I’ve only visited the US three times, and I doubt either can be considered a real taste of the place; the first was to Orlando with my wife’s parents, the second was to Las Vegas to get married, and the third was to Los Angeles to do some work for Harbor Freight in Camarillo.

I have to confess I had to look up the meaning of GFC; I’m going to blame it on the late hour, and the lousy week I’ve had this far. What did you do before the redundancy?

You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve resumed reading Sparks. I absolutely need a break from Infinite Jest, which isn’t as riveting as I was led to expect. I’ll let you know my thoughts as I progress further, though so far I’m enjoying it very much.

There is no motto for the family crest; we’ll have to come up with something. ‘Orbis non sufficio’ would seem to have the requisite amount of flair – although I think that may be taken.


And no – I think that’s trans-Pacific. I’ve yet to set foot across the Atlantic; between the two of us, though, we’ve crossed the two big oceans. Maybe after the next redundancy I’ll have a crack at the Baltic, or the Adriatic.

Two jobs before the redundancy I was in PR; one job before I was in consulting, for the redundancy itself, I reviewed porn sites.

I know. Best job ever.

And speaking of which – I think it may be time to say good job, Simon Smithson, and adieu, on this interview – we’ve covered a lot of ground and the internet is a tyrannical master on how much space we can allocate. Sir, it was a pleasure, and I’m honoured to share the name.

What’s your middle name, by the way? Mine’s Nicholas.

Unfortunately we don’t also share a middle name, mine’s John.

It’s possible the redundancy was a blessing. I can image that job would play hell on your joints.

Thanks for the opportunity to get to know you better, though it may turn out that few others find this conversation interesting I’ve found it rather enjoyable!

Carpe Botulus!

Author’s Note: This has been written shortly after England retained The Ashes (it’s a real thing) in Melbourne. I am wearing a knitted cricket jumper and drinking tea. I’m doing my bit for the national stereotype.

A Brief History of Cricket

Cricket is an exquisite sport enjoyed by gentleman of fine taste, and tolerated by ladies of a discerning disposition. Invented, like all the best sports, in England it soon spread across the globe with the ever expanding Empire.

Originally devised by the Earl of Thannickshire to keep his staff occupied during the summer months, the eleven-a-side sport was soon picked up by the middle and working classes and played on the finest lawns across the country, every village green, and even in the streets by the orphaned ragamuffins of old London Town.

Unfortunately the great scoundrel epidemic of 1834 led to the imprisonment of up to seventy ne’er do wells, all of whom were exiled to Australia. These men quickly raised the popularity of the game in Australia, where they’ve been taking it far too seriously ever since.

Meanwhile merchant traders travelling to India and the West Indies taught the locals in all the major ports the game; a decision many regretted almost one hundred years later when the West Indies bowling attack was all but unstoppable. It was also taught to traders in China, but despite being able to understand mah-jong, the rules of cricket somewhat befuddled them.

Despite being the greatest game on Earth, the popularity of cricket was diminished by the invention of both rugby and football. The former being more entertainingly violent, the latter more easily understood by every nation on Earth.

Cricket took a further knock when the United States ended their Civil War and created violent versions of British sports to give the world baseball, FOOOOOTBALLLLL!, and basketball. For added measure they also took hockey, the game of choice for sexually confused private school girls, and added ice, Canadians, and Rambo-esque violence to sate any remaining bloodlust amongst the new nation’s sports fans.

In the modern age cricket is a marginalized sport that is often ignored in favour of more dazzling events, such as darts, snooker, and lawn bowls. However, it is one of the few English sports that has successfully blended old traditions with new technology and has recently seen a resurgence in England’s ability to win games. They have recently defeated Australia, in Melbourne, Australia. This is significant, because in its long and glorious history England vs. Australia is the only game of cricket that anyone really cares about.


The Ashes

The Ashes is a tournament held every eighteen months or so, hosted alternately by England and Australia. Each tournament is comprised of five tests (matches) and each match lasts for up to five days. If England are hosting it happens during the summer, but it’s played during Christmas if it’s in Australia.

The Ashes is almost as old as cricket itself, and was started because of the aforementioned habit of the Australians to take things far too seriously. The players essentially play for pride, because the actual trophy is a minute urn older than the jar of salad cream in my grandmother’s fridge. It contains, surprisingly enough, ashes, taken as a souvenir from the legendary ‘Hercules Test’ of 1844 which lasted twelve long months and ended in deserved draw.

The England-Australia rivalry is one of the greatest in any sport because it is fierce but good natured and rarely descends into violence. This is largely thanks to both sets of fans enjoying al fresco dining, the consumption of beer, and directing witty songs at each other.


Instances of Humour in Cricket

Cricket commentary is often rife with humour, as commentators spend five days alongside each other with admittedly very little going on in front of them. They can often be heard entertaining themselves by making lewd remarks about any young ladies in attendance, and satirize the faces of crowd members with the misfortune to be either unattractive or unusual in some way.

It has been known for cricket commentary to descend into absurd, existentialist games of I Spy which only ends when Shane Warne inevitably spies ‘B’ for ‘bosoms.’

For many enthusiasts the funniest thing that has ever happened in cricket is when Michael Holding of the West Indies stepped up to bowl to English batsmen Peter Willey. The commentator proudly announced that ‘the bowler’s Holding the batsman’s Willey.’

Tragically, listeners were unaware of the extra ‘e’ in Willey and many broke down in hysterics under impression that not only was the bowler sexually abusing the batsman, but neither the umpires nor commentators seemed particularly phased by events. Fortunately the mix-up was soon put clear, although by that point England had already lost and Holding was under investigation by the authorities.

On the pitch ‘sledging’ is commonplace, and refers the exchanging of cheap insults between batsmen and bowlers. Often this amounts to little more than childish accusations of homosexuality, ineptitude, or a baseless questioning of the opponents ability to satisfy his wife sexually. On one occasion an Australian batsmen asked England’s Ian Botham ‘how’s your wife and my kids?’ Botham, widely considered the Oscar Wilde of sport, replied ‘the wife’s fine, but the kids are retarded.’ Haha!


Understanding the Complexities of the Game

Cricket has come along way from its humble beginnings, but is very much the same game played by the Earl of Thannickshire’s man servants all those years ago. You may, after reading this, be inclined to try watching an actual game yourself. The following is intended as an instructional guide to aid your understanding and following of the action:

Cricket matches can be played on beaches, quiet streets, school playgrounds, village greens, and even in hotel rooms with two or more people, a chair, a shoe, and a rolled up pair of socks. However, your best chance of viewing a test match will be by visiting a cricket ground, which will boast a full sized pitch, a good bar, and more men in white than a lunatic asylum— and nearly as many lunatics.

Cricket can be quite simple to comprehend, because almost everything is called a ‘wicket’ and wicket rhymes with cricket, so it’s fairly easy to remember.

A cricket pitch is vaguely circular, with a dusty strip in the middle. This strip is called a wicket. At either end there are three stumps of wood (stumps) with two bits of wood perched along the top. These are also called wickets. Like basketball, the aim of the game is to score as many runs as possible by hitting a ball with a bat. Runs can be scored by running between the wickets, or by hitting a ‘boundary.’ This can be achieved by hitting the ball to the edge of the pitch along the ground for four runs, or over the edge of the pitch for a tantalising six runs.

But the bowlers (pitchers) will try to best the batsmen by ‘taking a wicket.’ This can be done either by hitting the stumps, by forcing the batsmen to block the ball with his leg (against the rules), or if a fielder catches the ball between the time the batsmen hits it and the time the ball hits the ground.

Unlike most sports which last, at most, a few hours and are divided into halves or quarters, cricket lasts from 11am to 6pm over five days. There are breaks for lunch at 1pm and tea at around 4pm. 11pm is, contrary to popular medical belief, a perfectly acceptable time to start drinking— although it is considered quite common to drink anything other than ale before lunch.

At lunch fans and players convene in the pavilion dining hall where a light lunch is served. The salmon at Lord’s is famous the world over, although the oxtail soup is not to be turned away lightly! Tea is exclusive to players only, as they enjoy a full Devonshire cream tea and Vera Lynn records in the Gentleman’s Lounge. Of course it is possible to purchase equivalent sweet treats within the ground. It is considered polite, after tea, to move onto either wine or spirit drinks.

Clapping is the standard and only accepted expression of approval within cricket grounds. Unlike American sports, cricket does not encourage horns, whistles, face paint, body paint, costumes, or any form of nudity. This is relaxed slightly during the Ashes, but that’s largely to accommodate visiting Australian fans. Make sure to only clap when something happens (when it does you’ll know), and when everyone else is.

Fortunately for you, the uninitiated, cricket is full of nonsense terms which, when used heavily in a sentence, will make sense to those around you; for example ‘Oh, gosh. That reverse sweep of the googly was rather exquisite— if only they’d fielded fewer slips and shifted the gully leg-side I dare say we would have had a fair shot at nipping the bugger’s wicket’ is little more than a string of made up words with ‘wicket’ thrown in at the end for context. It really is that easy.

Finally

You hear the term ‘that’s not cricket.’ This refers to cricket’s standing as a gentleman’s game, with cricket a synonym of ‘fair play.’ However, it can also be accurate said of any object, activity, or person who is not a game of cricket.


Author’s Note: A surprisingly high amount of this post is factual. Seriously.

a sign outside Lord's Cricket Ground, London during the summer

a sign outside Lord's Cricket Ground, London during the summer

Having lived in Australia for a long time now, I’m always surprised what my friends overseas imagine my environment to look like.

I used to be friendly with a movie star (though her career was in a slump at the time I knew her), and once, when we were talking about road rage, she said, “I always feel funny about flipping people off. I think it might be someone who can give me a job.”

For similar reasons, actors tend to be unnaturally upbeat in interviews. What did you think of the director? Oh, he’s great; he’s a genius. And the cast? They were wonderful, all of them; I was in heaven every day on the set.

But actors in private are a different story. I think such-and-such is awful, they’ll tell you; it’s bullshit that he got such great reviews. Of course, it also works the opposite way: actors love as much as they hate, though they might not want their enthusiasms broadcast, knowing how easily they can be misconstrued.

This is a very exciting weekend for all of us in Australia.

Wait, did I say exciting weekend?

I meant, ‘carnival of idiocy’.

I wish I could say this is because the jetpack I ordered from the internet has finally arrived, and hasn’t, as I feared (and ruefully suspected), turned out to be nothing more than a box of candles sent from an untraceable address in Russia (although, after my recent mail order bride debacle, could the same lightning really strike twice? All that matters is that my box of candles and I are very happy together in our trans-Adriatic wedded bliss). Because, believe me, when that jetpack finally does get here, I plan on playing host to a carnival of idiocy such as the world has never seen.

I wish I could say this is because I have won Italy’s Super EnaLotto, a jackpot that currently stands at US$165,000,000.00. Because the idiocy I would unleash in the wake of that development would make Two and a Half Men look like Einstein’s finest work; the material he released on his own underground label before he went commercial.

I wish I could say this is because I have finally gotten my hands on a US visa. Because as soon as I have carte blanche to zoom out of this country (maybe via jetpack, giant bags of money in both my hands – who’s to say?) and away from the thought – the promise –  of consequences… my God. The sheer level of idiocy I plan on inflicting on an unsuspecting populace makes my mouth go dry.

But, no. This is the much less fun version of a carnival of idiocy.

This weekend sees (at least, we hope – Jesus Christ, we hope – it sees) the final culmination of Australia’s federal political saga, in an ending that, no matter what, will please nobody.

To get to grips with what’s happening, you have to turn the clock back to 2007, which was a good year for Australian federal politics.

In 2007, John Howard had been Prime Minister for 11 years – since 1996, he had lead the Coalition of the  Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia to election victory after election victory in the House of Representatives. The Coalition is one of the two major parties in Australia – the modern Liberals are a conservative, right-leaning party that trade on their economic strengths, their abilities to keep illegal immigration in check, and a lasting appeal to Baby Boomers. The modern Nationals are much the same as the traditional Nationals – they appeal to, and support, the rural, bush, and farm populace of Australia. In Howard, the Coalition had a political streetfighter as canny as Australia had ever seen as a leader, and the Opposition, the Australian Labor Party (historically leftist, working-class and union-supported, but growing steadily more progressive over the last decade) simply could not find traction.

Howard had faced down and beaten three Labor leaders – Paul Keating, Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, and, once again, Kim Beazley. It was after Beazley’s second defeat Labor turned to the rising star and media darling Kevin Rudd, electing him leader and placing him squarely into a showdown with Howard.

And in 2007, Labor, under Rudd, was in no mood to fuck around.

(this photo was taken shortly before the time-honoured Australian political tradition of opposing leaders fighting each other with a Bowie knife in one hand and a rattlesnake in the other)

After years spent languishing in the political wilderness, Labor launched the US-inspired Kevin 07 campaign, and no one was under any illusions. The ALP had come back with all guns blazing – determined not only to win, but to take the Coalition’s mother on a date afterwards.

Rather than fall prey to the wedge politics (a favourite ploy of Howard’s) that had so often divided (and defeated) them in the past when they found themselves on dangerous policy grounds, this time… Labor simply agreed with the Coalition. On issues of progressive politics, they outlined bold new objectives, making the Coalition – and Howard in particular – look like a group of tired old white men. They recruited celebrities and star candidates to challenge the Coalition’s sitting MPs – dotcom millionaires, rock stars, newsreaders. And Rudd himself was everywhere – on daytime TV shows dancing and making chocolate cake, in the paper insisting on televised debates, on the world stage showing up Howard by addressing Hu Jintao in flawless Mandarin in a speech to the assembled political powers of China, right after Howard had done the same… in English.

When the election came, the ALP, as expected, mopped the floor with the Coalition. The final twist of the knife was that, after losing the country, John Howard lost his own electorate to one of the ALP’s star recruits, ex-journalist Maxine McKew.

We, the populace of Australia, voted the ALP into office, and we were promised great things. Rudd seemed superhuman – a man who apologised for the Stolen Generation, who forged new understandings with other nations, who made bold claims about the salvation of the environment, the stewardship of the economy, the certainty of employment for future generations.

When Obama was elected, Rudd was right there on our screens congratulating him, reaffirming the ties between Australia and the USA.

When the GFC hit, Rudd, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Treasurer Wayne Swan pumped cash into the economy, steering Australia past the recession that engulfed so much of the rest of the world.

When the Cophenhagen forum opened to discuss global emissions targets, Rudd threw himself into an attempt to secure a binding agreement between the countries of the world.

On water, on health, on education… Rudd was there. And his popularity surged and surged again.

Until it became apparent Rudd was there a little too often. After the first few years in office, a wavering picture began to emerge of a man who slept few hours a night, who refused to delegate even the smallest decisions, who burned out staffers with demands for ever-more work to be done, who threw tantrums and who became increasingly isolated in the corridors of power.

In the meantime, the Liberals churned out and discarded new leadership candidates in the hopes of finding a new messiah. Brendan Nelson succeeded John Howard. Malcolm Turnbull succeeded Brendan Nelson. Finally, Tony Abbott, a man regarded as unelectable due to his religious beliefs, his lack of belief in climate change, his statements on women and his perceived arch-conservative position on just about everything, came to lead the Liberal Party.

As it turned out, Abbott, a political brawler and favoured son of the previous Coalition government, was just the man to unite the shattered Opposition. And, just as his star rose, Kevin Rudd’s, spectacularly, imploded.

Rudd’s failures began to stack up in the headlines, and, subsequently, the polls. A government-backed home insulation scheme that had tragically lead to house fires and deaths. A failure to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme after declaring climate change ‘the greatest moral challenge of our generation’ (more than a failure, a capitulation). A proposed new resources tax that proved hugely unpopular and brought the Government into direct conflict with Australia’s powerful mining industry. These disasters gnawed at Rudd’s popularity until, finally, his own party conspired to bring him down. The Labor Party is known for its factionalism – one such faction, the New South Wales Right, found the inter-party numbers to cut Rudd from office and install his Deputy, Julia Gillard, as Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

Gillard called an election, and the race began.

And then when it came to the election itself… both parties lost.

As Chris Kennett has pointed out.

Neither the Labor Party nor the Coalition gained the necessary number of seats to form government in their own right. And it became clear that in order to become the next Federal Government of Australia, either party would need to enter into a power-sharing agreement with the few independent candidates who had won office.

Which has left us with the situation of the past two weeks.

Adam Bandt, the first elected MP representing the Greens party in the House of Representatives, has thrown his lot in with Julia Gillard.

Andrew Wilkie, ex-spy, Independent Member for the seat of Denison, Tasmania, has done likewise. In doing so, he has turned down the promise of one billion dollars in funding for his electorate from Tony Abbott.

Now, Gillard and Abbott are falling over themselves to throw money at the three undecided candidates who will form a minority government with either party and become the next government of this country. Gillard only needs the support of two of them; Abbott, all three.

Or, of course, we could go back to the polls and vote once more.

Because now three men control the fate of the country.

Three men. From one electorate each.

One of whom is this man.

Did I say jetpack?

Shit. I’d swim.

The populace of Australia has roundly rejected both options in the two-party system. Because they’re both awful. However, the Westminster Parliamentary System has no option for what to do after this happens. And so no one has any idea what’s going to happen next.

Apart from one thing.

Whoever loses (more so than they already have)… the bloodletting will be ferocious. Already, knives are being sharpened in Labor Party back rooms on both sides – from those who believe the backstabbing of Kevin Rudd played so badly (and it did, especially in his home state) that the public turned against Labor, and from those who believe that the disastrous leaks that exploded through the Labor campaign in the early weeks were Rudd stabbing at Gillard from hell’s heart via the media.

Australian politicians will always be ready to devour each other if they think it will bring them even slightly closer to the Prime Ministership of the country. This week, which the independents have flagged as being when they make their decision… dinner is served.

 

‘Dear log, can it be true? Do all Simpsons go through a process of dumbening? Wait, that’s not how you spell ‘dumbening’. Wait, ‘dumbening’ isn’t even a word!’

– Lisa Simpson

 

It’s been a while since my last missive. Too long. It feels like a virtual slap in the virtual face of this fine website. I can hear the mutterings about ‘that lazy Australian’, and the knives, if not yet being sharpened, have certainly been taken from the drawer.

I can only offer that most generic and unconvincing of excuses – the same one employed by philandering sportsmen and murderous wives ever since mental illness was dragged into the twentieth century, became a subject of sympathy and thus exploitable – I have been depressed. And while the pop psychologist in me says putting my feelings on the page might be therapeutic, trying to write whilst depressed is like trying to tap-dance whilst drowning: monstrously difficult, and of questionable efficacy. In any event, do any of you really want to read the kind of drivel that results from ‘writing as therapy’? The considerate writer either sends that shit straight to their stalking victim, or incorporates it into the pain-shrine they are building in the disused closet.

Regardless, I have good reason to be low. Because my country is in an apathetic, political limbo. Because the two sides competing to become the Australian government were so spineless and uninspiring that they both lost the election. Because the fate of my nation now rests in the hands of three men, and one of these men – a country redneck called Bob Katter, who wears a ten-gallon hat with a suit  – this week labelled the internationally respected climate change experts Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut as ‘lightweights’.

This is the triumph of the ignorant and the stupid, the gormless, sweaty meat-sacks who resent being forced from their couches for one hour every three years in order to participate in the democratic system. And, sadly, I cannot simply hold my nose and tell myself that I’m not like them. Not any more.

 

About three weeks ago, I destroyed my 42 inch LCD TV. I had purchased it less than a year earlier for almost two thousand Australian dollars. It is now totally fucked.

If I had destroyed my TV with a gun, or by pushing it out the window of my first-story flat to the shock and dismay of my wife, or driving over it with a Prius in some kind of confusingly worthy performance art piece, it might make for a good story. I would say something about shrugging off the decaying tendrils of old media, saying no to its brain-rotting bullshit, and how I’m counting down the days to the baby boomers dying, man, so we finally can have gay marriage and legal pot. You would read it and think me crazy, or pretentious, or dangerously sexy. And I would be reassured by your praise and my swelling loins that I am better and smarter than ordinary people. Oh, so much better and smarter.

I wish it had been that way. Because instead, I learned the horrifying truth about myself.

I am one of them.

I am a Wiitard.


 

There are two key safety features to the Wii remote. The use of either might have allowed me to remain ignorant of my ignorance.

First of all, just in case a white pointy controller which you spasmodically waggle around isn’t quite penis-y enough for you, it comes encased in a thick, fleshy, condom-like sheath. In the event of the average suburban ape experiencing a herp a derp moment, this jacket theoretically offers protection to both the controller itself and whatever consumer item or fat child it is hurled at. I peeled these off mine as soon as I got them, partly because I thought them unnecessary, but mostly because they creeped me out and I didn’t want my undersexed fiancee getting any unsanitary ideas.

More sensibly, each wiimote also has a strap which is simply and easily affixed to one’s wrist. Had I taken the three seconds necessary to do this then I could be watching season five of The Wire, in big screen surround sound comfort, right now. (Alright, season two of Futurama. Alright, THAT WEIRD JAPANESE PORN I TORRENTED LAST NIGHT.)

But, of course, that kiddy-safe crap is for morons, and maybe girls. Certainly not switched-on, sophisticated guys like me. And I sure as hell wasn’t about to look like a dork in front of my friends by taking basic precautions while playing Wii Sports.

It was only about forty-five seconds after we began playing that the Dunning Kruger Effect ruined my evening, my television, and ultimately my life.

 

The Dunning Kruger Effect, simply put is this: stupid people are too dumb to realise that they’re stupid, and thus consistently overestimate their own abilities. Meanwhile, smart people tend to underestimate their own abilities (relative to others) because they assume that others are as self-aware as they are. This in turn leads to what I call the Inception Effect. An entertaining, spectacular but essentially absurd action flick is sprayed with a superficial layer of metaphysics, giving its plot the appearance of complexity. Because it’s actually pretty straightforward, the less intelligent viewer (i.e. average mainstream film-goer) is able to understand what happens in the movie. But, thanks to the Dunning Kruger effect, they believe that their superior intellect has guided them through an Escheresque masterpiece. They tell their friends that it ‘really makes you think’ and give it four stars on their blog. Conversely, the more intelligent but less self-confident viewer is disturbed when they find this supposedly mind-bending experience underwhelming. Was there a deeper meaning they failed to grasp? Was it all a sophisticated allegory? Did they miss a crucial detail during the couple of minutes they tuned out while imagining what they’d to Ellen Page in a dream? So, rather than risk looking stupid, they go with the flow. The movie gets near-universal acclaim as an intellectual thriller of the highest order (rather than the clever, sometimes striking popcorn piece it is). And consequently, the standard is lowered for everyone.

Being (as I now know) a stupid person, I overestimated my own ability. But, being previously aware of the Dunning Kruger effect, I believed that was actually an intelligent person who was modestly underestimating my own abilities. Which puts my actual level of ability many orders of magnitude below what I had previously assumed. In this case, my ability not to let go of a Wii controller when swinging it towards a widescreen TV.

 

There is a special kind of dissociative state that kicks in when one is struck with a sudden and shocking misfortune. Time slows. The mind imposes an immediate, self-protective state of denial, making everything seem unreal, almost laughable. Stunned, the brain whizzes uselessly in a search for an impossible solution – how can what has already happened be prevented?

But it is real. I have just killed my TV. The screen is a fractured rainbow (and not the ecstasy-inducing double kind). My friends are standing there in horrified embarrassment. This is not what they signed up for. My wife is pale and slack-jawed. She is not angry, or disappointed. Rather, she is experiencing something much worse – a glimpse of her future. Stuck with stupid. I try my best to make light of the situation and lessen my friends’ discomort, but there is no way to undo the revelation of my true nature.

I am one of them. The lost and the damned. The mindless and the selfish.

An ordinary, everyday idiot.

 

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Time to print this off and send it to Zooey Deschanel. I know she’ll write back this time, that bitch.


Please explain what just happened.

I opened the kitchen window to let a bumblebee out, then I went to the toilet.

What is your earliest memory?

A bird snatched my egg-and-lettuce sandwich from my hands while we were having a picnic.  It really pissed me off.

If you weren’t a musician, what other profession would you choose?

Librarian.

Gyp

Luciano, the Mastiff

The mastiff and I went out to visit a grave today. This is Luciano, technically the sometime girlfriend’s dog, who has been living with me for the last few years. He’s getting on a bit now from when this picture was taken, but he’s still a wiggly boy. And he was great company and a life sustaining force for a very special dog-my totem spirit, the dingo Gyp, who’s buried in one of the loveliest places I know-as befits a life of adventure, courage and dignity, right up to the end.

16 dog years is a lot of human living, but Gyp was always a soul of both greater and deeper experience than her years-and always a dog that embraced and barked at tomorrow. Snouty, feisty, loving, prideful, caring, devoted. A model citizen of the spirit, while retaining a contrarian, female, individual sense of attitude and joy in being.

She had survived an early brush with a fast moving car and being tied up on a short rope and left abandoned in the pouring rain to be rescued by the local ranger who brought her into my life at age 1.

She would go on to survive a brutal spike thorn that threatened to blind her in one eye, a fall down a mine shaft, getting lost in the deep bush, two dislocated legs, a painfully dislocated jaw, a bite from a red-bellied black snake and a close call with a huge and deadly brown snake (one of the most subtle and yet fear-inspiring creatures you can encounter in the Australian landscape).

She would also endure and triumph over one of the most vicious and aggressive lymphomas on record. In the space of two hours, a lump the size of a ping-pong ball became a heated lump the size of a baseball-and kept growing. The emergency surgery was massive, delicate and traumatic. As were the two years of advanced chemotherapy that ultimately saved her life.Gyp, the Dingo

She is now in the international veterinarian scientific literature and has helped inspire hundreds of people around the world to invest in the best treatment possible to protect the lives of their companion animals.

She prevailed in that crisis through strength of spirit and the will to live, insisting on the regular but slowed down walk even with the drainage tube from the surgery still in place.

At this point in her life it was like a great athlete struck down. She could catch a line drive tennis ball 9 times out of 10. It was impossible to get a ball past her on the ground-she was the ultimate shortstop. She could outrun every other kind of dog except a pure racing greyhound and could easily outswim any breed of dog, including the water savvy hunting dogs. She literally hydroplaned in the water-a particularly amazing feat in that she was more than a year old before she learned to swim.

At the beach she was an intrepid surfer, hurling herself into the waves to retrieve a ball and then with some real deftness, riding the waves back in…always barking vigorously to have the ball thrown once more. And once more. And again.

Her tremendous level of physical fitness no doubt aided greatly in her battle with cancer, but it was her spirit that pulled her through. I still recall too vividly, the glow of her puddles of bile in the moonlight in the back yard, when she got sick from the drugs. The trembling that would set in. The endless thirst. The fits that came and went, dismissed it would seem by a more powerful imperative to persist and thrive.

Against all odds and to the shock of the specialist who treated her, she went on to have several more lives. Together, we literally walked ourselves into the landscape in several different areas. I’m sure with the right eyes, if you were to go there now, you would still see us…part of the rocks and the trees. A golden-red dingo blending in with the sandstone, and me following behind.

The Chimneys

She adapted to a new environment when we moved from the town out onto the farm, my country property called The Chimneys, in old Australian gold rush land. She learned how not to disturb either free-range hens, the Anglo-Nubian goats, or the rather plump and overfed Suffolk sheep (who turned out to be a financial disaster)-and was in fact protective of them, keeping the local foxes at bay.

She was good with horses, children of all ages (except one little girl whose shoes smelled of her pet hamster), and she wisely never chased the kangaroos, although she could leap the fences with ease.

Post-cancer, her native athleticism returned with force. She ran down two rabbits (just try it, those little fluffs are fast)-and she caught mice-on pine floorboards no less. How many dogs are good mousers? Her strength of swimming was undiminished, such that I could take her to our local lake and have her torpedo past me-as I swam with the aid of fins.

Always calm in canoes and kayaks (knowing sensibly that she was being transported like a queen on a Nile barge), she acquainted me with what will forever be the best smell of all…the gorgeous scent of wet dog in the back seat on a summer afternoon.

She did however, have a weakness for marsh fowl, rather silly looking black birds with spindly legs and orange feet (that make an unfortunate squeaking whistle). Once that whistle was heard, Gyp was uncontrollable, more than capable of leaping off a six foot river bank in pursuit-and once on the Loddon River we thought she was a goner when she ended up in a maze of dense reeds-a place where many other dogs would have drowned. She didn’t of course, and returned with a look of delight as if wanting to relive the adventure immediately.

Over the years, she weathered emotional human conflict too. When the separation and divorce proceedings began, she loyally stood by me, keeping up the routine, providing solace-and then doing all she could in greeting and intermingling with the social situations that the awkwardness of my dating experiences led to.

She laid out nearby while I painted in the garage, she leapt on the bed when the massive thunderstorms would rock the windows, she walked with me in the mist of the old goldminer’s graveyard. (I would be curious to know how many miles I walked with her over the years.)

Gyp & LuciShe went on, late in life, having been “the” dog and “the only child” for so many years, to integrate happily and totally with the large (and huge-hearted) mastiff and a conniving but forgiving, uncoordinated cat with an enormous sense of confidence but a curious psychological confusion about being a cat-as opposed to a dog.

This was yet another golden period and Gyp savored it and contributed to it with a completeness of conviction. She got over her female jealousy very quickly and bonded with Karen, the new girlfriend, adjusting to the mixed family with great participation and enjoyment.

Before leaving The Chimneys, a place I once vowed I would never sell, Gyp showed some of her inner spirit in a very striking way one morning. A few days earlier, two police officers had appeared at the back door inquiring about a dog attack on the angora goats on the hill above me. I said my dogs were innocent-and they were fortunately asleep on their respective couch and chair at the time! But the police assured me that they weren’t pointing fingers-the culprit dogs had been seen-a “boxer” and a larger terrier. I’d never seen such dogs around I said.

Two days later, while returning from our morning walk I did see a large terrier on the overgrown side road that marks the property boundary-and no “boxer” but a large scarred, feral brindle pit bull. Both dogs were bloody from a fresh attack on the goats-and when the mastiff made a charge, he was surprised by the ferocity of the pit bull, who would’ve had his throat-if Gyp hadn’t intervened. An aging sprung legged dingo made for that pit bull at full force and gave me the chance to get in close enough to wallop the beast with Luci’s chain lead. Together, we drove them off, Gyp wincing with the pain of the exertion, but teetering to the back door under her own power. I would seriously liken the incident to an old woman taking on a Mike Tyson capable street thug in open combat. She committed totally to the fray, sensing perhaps the potentially desperate nature of the violence that Luci thought was ceremony. The pit bull was not going to back off because he was on someone else’s property-Gyp knew that. She knew it was a live fight. It was the most powerful display of raw courage and focused aggression I’ve ever seen. And she was very smart in her attack. If we say dogs behave according to instinct, we need to allow also for individual strategy.

The final phase of her life had so many sub-phases…my move off the land into a small town again, with all its small town noises and routines. Kids passing on the way to school, garbage trucks and postmen (postmen!).

Gyp sat with me on the newspapers I spread out while I painted my office in the cottage without the heat or electricity on yet. She overcame her prejudice against lawn mowers. She was saved yet again by my lovely neighbor Viv, an older Irish woman who got her off the street when she snuck out before the garage door was installed.

She embraced a whole new era in a very different environment. She put up with failing back legs, stone deaf ears (unless of course if there was a food wrapper being opened). She had one epileptic seizure that required medication that made her groggy for weeks and an operation to remove abscessed teeth, and she put up with the indignity of having to be helped into the car.

But she never once lost herself. She remained beautiful, albeit a bit snowier than in her ruddy golden youth. No one who ever saw her could guess her significant age.

From the moment I laid eyes on her, to the moment I said goodbye, she lived a seamless life of being herself. A perfect life. A life that keeps giving.

A Dingo’s Legacy

Here are some of the important lessons I’ve learned or at least am trying to learn, which Gyp taught me:

Saknussemm & Gyp

• If the car door is open, always jump in without waiting to be asked. The journey, however long it is will be better for your company, and the destination will be more memorable because you are there.

• Risk being reproached to be included, and let others feel you are being included, even though you know you are really the one leading.

• Interaction is life. It’s all right to stand up for yourself in a pack, but the pack, the connection with others is what makes us who we are. We come to know ourselves only truly through others.

• Rest and give yourself over to lazing and dreaming to gather energy for interaction. Relationships give much but demand much. In quiet moments, take the time to be quiet and store reserves.

• When caught napping, always make the other party feel like an intruder and a sneaky voyeur. Then forgive them and let them know they can redeem themselves.

• Let others redeem themselves.

• Don’t hold standards for yourself. Either internalize them and be them-or let them go.

• Resist the urge to hide gratitude. Wag your tail.

• Develop a reputation. It’s like expanding your territory.

• Don’t depend on your reputation. Your territory is wherever you feel comfortable.

• When you play with someone, you both become bigger-a composite being, which though intermittent is always real and vital, and waiting to come forth again.

• Chasing things is OK. And often, not catching them is even better.

• Crave affection-by giving affection.

• When afraid and in trouble, have faith that someone or something will come to your aid-even if the rescue ends up coming from inside yourself.

• Even if you have trouble walking-especially if you have trouble walking-remember the importance of wiggling.

• Just because you’ve already devoured two fat chicken necks doesn’t mean you should let the cat enjoy his tiny one in peace. He’d be worried if you didn’t have a go at him. Keep up appearances well enough, and substance follows. The old woman with kidney disease on the corner may draw secret inner strength from seeing you out on a walk, even if you’re limping.

• Walking ends up being limping very well. Limp well.

• Be alert to the sounds, smells and sights around you, and know that you too are part of the scene-when you bark, where you walk, the scents you leave behind-all important elements of the whole. We all should be better witnesses, but no one is ever just an observer.

• There will never be enough swims, runs, fresh rabbit and nights out under the stars beside a bonfire. There will never be enough cool fresh autumn evenings…chasing a scent amongst the tombstones…of those who had memories and dreams too.

• Be missed terribly when you appear to go. Give your blessing to those who will miss you. We all lose each other every time we’re out of sight. Who knows how near and constant we remain-all the time-for all time.

The light is suddenly so poignant
and the air so gentle, we both
instinctively stand motionless
spreading out our shadows,
becoming what we are,
mingling when we move again.
Man-dog…Dog-man.
Spirits playing in each other’s bodies
even as they disappear.

Gyp

My American friends.

Imagine, if you will, waking tomorrow to find that Hillary Clinton had suddenly replaced Barack Obama as President of the United States. Imagine that, while you slept, a gaggle of shadowy Democrat powerbrokers, spooked by poor polling and under pressure from the powerful energy corporations, had executed a swift and brutal coup. Try to imagine a still-popular leader, a man swept to power on a wave of optimism and desire for change, denied the chance to contest another election – or even complete his first term – by men whose names you barely know.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. Under your system of government, the above scenario could never happen. The worst that could occur is Obama falling under a bus and old man Biden getting the job – a risk that you knew you were taking when you elected him (and one which likely scared a significant number away from the McCain/Palin ticket). The same is not true in Australia.

As you may know, last week Kevin Rudd was deposed as leader of the Australian Labor Party and replaced with his former deputy, Julia Gillard. Under the conventions of our Parliament, the leader of the party with the majority in the House of Representatives is appointed Prime Minister, and hence Australia now has a new head of Government – with no input from the electorate.

Although Australian voters have not technically been disenfranchised by this shift, as we do not directly elect a PM, the reality is that our political parties sell themselves on their leaders (indeed, Rudd himself took ‘presidential politics’ in this country to new heights with his successfully cheesy ‘Kevin 07’ campaign). Australians have a reasonable expectation that their Prime Minister comes as advertised. To be fair, Gillard acknowledged as such in her first press conference after taking the helm, promising an election within months and assuring us that she would not assume official residence in Canberra until having faced the electorate.

As far as I am aware, this sensational and unprecedented turn of events was anticipated by precisely no-one outside of the inner sanctum of the ALP. With no forewarning, our media scrambled, somewhat comically, to get across the biggest political story in a generation. The first wave of reaction, unsurprisingly, focused on the novelty. Australia suddenly had its first female Prime Minister. This was, unquestionably, a Good Thing.

As political journalists started to wipe the spittle from their chins and recover from the initial blindsiding, the second wave of reaction began – putting together the story of How It Came To This. No-one in the press gallery, none of the people paid to make sense of what goes on in Canberra wanted to admit that this really didn’t make sense. So, very quickly, a narrative was collectively cobbled together about how Rudd was the architect of his own demise. How he had engendered resentment in his party with his autocratic style, how he had failed to engage with the electorate, how his backdowns and mishandling of key policies had left voters disenchanted. One particular genius attributed, with great confidence, the origins of Rudd’s poll slide to the release of a children’s book he co-authored in January.

 

Ok, so there were probably better things he could be doing.

 

Practically all accounts of Rudd’s downfall painted the picture of a steady downward trajectory over the last six months or so, punctuated with failure after backflip, to the point where the man had now become irrevocably unelectable. Replacing him, most pundits told us, was a dramatic but understandable move in this context. It was a bold – nay, admirable gamble by the ALP to play themselves back into the game before an imminent election.

Now it is nearly a week after the event. And as our short-attention span media begins to move on to more pressing questions such as ‘DO ASTRONAUTS HAVE SEX IN SPACE???’, I find myself disturbed about the absence of five certain words in all the coverage I have read. Those words are: THE, HAPPENED, JUST, WHAT and FUCK (not necessarily in that order).

The general lack of anger, worry or fear about the way this change of leadership has occurred is staggering. Not since the infamous Dismissal in 1975 have Australians experienced such a dramatic political shift, and evidently we have yet to grasp the frightening precedent which has been set.

The fall of Kevin Rudd is in no way convincingly explained by the kind of anemic reporting described above. Yes, Rudd made a significant error when he decided to shelve an Emissions Trading Scheme after describing climate change as ‘the greatest moral challenge of our generation.’ It is true that the Prime Minister had had a generally uninspiring year, and had lost ground to Opposition leader Tony Abbott in the polls. But to make the claim, as Gillard has done and as lazy journalists have been quick to parrot, that Rudd’s leadership was terminal – that the ALP faced defeat at ballot box – is almost outlandish.

No Australian Federal Government has failed to win a second term since the Great Depression.

It is well-founded political wisdom in Australia that it is very difficult to unseat an incumbent Federal government. Before Rudd led the ALP to victory in 2007, power had changed hands only five times since the Second World War. Prime Ministers routinely find themselves behind in the polls prior to an election and still prevailing. In Kevin Rudd’s case, he wasn’t even behind. For an incumbent government to lose an election in Australia after only one term is unthinkable, at least in the absence of a colossal economic crisis – and guess which country is one of only two credited with successfully deflecting the GFC?

No first-term Labor Prime Minister has been denied the chance to fight an election since 1945.

– and in that case Frank Forde was only in office for eight days following the death of his predecessor. It is flabbergasting that a man who ousted the seemingly invincible former Prime Minister John Howard with a tremendously successful election campaign, a man who at one time had the highest ever approval ratings for a PM, a man who had already seen off two Opposition leaders in two years and led Australia almost unscathed through the world’s worst financial crisis in a century had not earned sufficient political capital with his party to lead them to another election.

So, what did Rudd really do wrong? What happened to blow so many commonly accepted conventions of Australian politics out of the water?

Simple, really. Kevin Rudd got on the wrong side of big business. Some very big business. Namely, the massive (largely foreign owned) mining corporations that effectively run the states of Western Australia and Queensland. You see, a few months ago Rudd unveiled plans for a new ‘super profits’ tax on the mining sector, one which would see a few more of the squillions of dollars being made from our collective natural resources going back to the Australian people at large. Predictably, this wasn’t popular with the miners, who began a well-funded, utterly disingenuous (but effective) scare campaign, claiming that the proposed tax would close mines, endanger investment and put thousands out of work. And this is where Rudd made his fatal mistake.

He believed he could negotiate in good faith with the mining companies behind closed doors, and that his party would back him. He believed that a low-key advertising campaign, wherein a man calmly explains the nature of the new tax, would resonate with the public. He failed to hear alarm bells going off as several large trade unions – the traditional power base of the ALP and still wielding immense influence within the party – began to panic, and pulled their support from him.

This was a coup born of gutlessness, and an utter waste of a talented, driven and essentially ethical Prime Minster who deserved the chance to do better. What could have been a long, brave Labor dynasty has, by any measure, been shortened and diminished. I fear that Julia Gillard, via her own complicity in setting this precedent, will be constantly looking over her shoulder rather than looking ahead, as a great leader should.

Please explain what just happened.

Robert DeNiro plays a film producer who is struggling to get his movie released. The film is a satirical take on behind the scenes Hollywood, showcasing the kinds of egos, neuroses and personal problems one is likely to encounter when attempting a career in show business. It opened in 2008 to mostly lukewarm reviews.

 

What is your earliest memory?

It’s possibly a false memory, but I can remember being in hospital for pneumonia when I was one year old. I have a clear image of being visited by my sisters and seeing them come through an automatic door.

 

If you weren’t an explorer of ancient ruins, what other profession would you choose?

Actor.