Friday, March 31, 2006

In the Mouth of Madness

My mouth is revolting, and I need not qualify the ambiguity of that statement. A week ago a small ulcer began developing on the inside of my upper lip. I laughed it off. (Metaphorically, of course. It takes more than mere laughter to shift a mouth ulcer.) By Tuesday night I had three of the things and was no longer laughing, mainly because it hurt too much to do so. Then, on Wednesday morning, I was struck down with that infamous catalogue of "flu-like symptoms": fever, lethargy and muscle ache. My lymph nodes swelled, my tonsils began excreting pus (what else, exactly, do tonsils do, anyway?), and my mouth went into meltdown. More ulcers appeared, including some particularly horrible ones on the tip of my tongue, and my gums became inflamed and bloody. I was not, it must be said, my usual alluring self.

Like the responsible adult I am, I immediately consulted a medical professional: Google. I learned all I could about mouth ulcers (or "canker sores" as they are commonly, and may I say delightfully, known). According to one site, recurrent mouth ulcers can cause sufferers to avoid eating and showing affection, and may even lead to an unwillingness to have sex, "which may be socially awkward". There are many possible causes of mouth ulcers, but one of the most common is bacterial infection, which would also explain my other symptoms. Bad as things were, I maintained a child-like faith that things would improve without medical intervention - until this morning, when, having eaten my breakfact cereal through a straw, I decided fuck it (or "fugg ith", which is about as close as I could get with my inflamed gob), and went to the doctor.

The GP was young, brisk and aloof. He noted my symptoms, made several mildly condescending remarks, touched me intimately, then diagnosed me with a bacterial infection - exactly as I had concluded after sifting through a series of often-contradictory Google search results. Who needs a medical degree? To fill in time, he gave me the once-over again (so it was actually the twice-over, I suppose), and just as he had his flashlight down my throat his mobile phone rang.

"Do you mind if I take this call?" he said. What I should have said was: "Yes, I bloody well do mind! I'm paying you fifty-six dollars, or approximately four hours wages, after tax, for a ten minute consultation, and I don't think it's too much to ask that you confine your attention to my person for the duration. Now, I would be grateful if you would kindly mute that infernal machine and get back to examining my hideous infected mouth!" What I did say, of course, was: "No, please do." Although it came out more like "Bo, peas to."

After he'd taken his phone call, the doctor got back to the tedious business of treating his patient.

"Now you understand that this condition is contagious?" he said.

"Of course." Well, duh. I hadn't spent an hour trawling through of mouthsore-america.com without learning a thing or two.

"You should avoid sharing drink bottles or glasses. And definitely no kissing."

How unfortunate. I'd planned on giving him a big sloppy one on my way out.

Anyway, I got what I came for: completely screwed over financially, but with a prescription for antibiotics in my back pocket. Hopefully they will kick in tomorrow, and I'll be able to eat semi-solids and perhaps form more than two consonants. Right now, though, I speak like a moron, eat like a baby, and am only slightly less infectious than a basket-ful of medical waste.

Who wants a pash, then?

(All this is by way of pre-emptively explaining my absence from tomorrow night's blog extravaganza. Believe me, you're better off without me right now.)

My current drug and vitamin regime. The Victorian Poisons Information Centre can be reached on 13 11 26.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Nazi Phone

I don't like to be the one who names names - not after that incident in the third grade when Alfie Sturgeon beat the living snot out of me for telling Ms. Higgins it was him who wrote a rude word on the blackboard (for the curious among you, the unutterably vile noun in question was 'bum'). But on this issue I feel I can no longer remain silent: there is one who has been close to me that has been revealed as a proponent of National Socialism, and an outing is long past due.

It's my mobile phone. My phone is a Nazi. There - I've said it.

I aquired the phone fairly recently, after it became apparent that my faithful old Nokia could no longer provide me with the level of technology requisite to life in this modern world (i.e. the ability to speak to people more than three feet away), and while I was generally satisfied with it's replacement (no, I'm not a shill for Nokia, but if the good people who run that fine company would like to toss a few bucks my way, that's cool) I had a few problems with its predictive text function. The dictionary is only supposed to recognise common terms, I know that, but I nevertheless find it annoying that it can't comprehend a variety of simple words that I consider necessary for everyday conversation: words like 'skank', 'knob-wit', 'epistemological', 'douche'.

I discovered, however, while keying in a hasty SMS, that it did know 'eugenics'.

Further investigation has shown that the phone's default dictionary also recognises such terms as 'Nazi', 'holocaust', 'social Dawinism', 'reich', 'fascist', 'Adolf', 'Hitler', 'Stasi', 'totalitarianism', 'protocols', 'elders', 'Zion'... How exactly are words like these common enough to warrant inclusion in a mobile phone's vocabulary?

My phone is a freakin' Nazi, and there seems little I can do (I should have guessed, I suppose, when I discovered the default ring tone was a thousand voices yelling "Heil!" in unison). As a dyed-in-the-wool bleeding heart liberal, I'm not about to persecute it for its beliefs, be they ever so repugnant; mind you, if reminders start appearing in the calendar along the lines of "Shave head", or "Get swastika tattoo on neck", the Nazi phone may be destined for a date with a hammer.

But is mine is the only filthy fascist mobile? How well do you, gentle reader, know your phone? Is it an honest, peace-loving device, or is the entire text of Mein Kampf hidden somewhere in its tiny electronic brain? Let me know, post haste, lest nightmares of a fourth Reich composed entirely of portable communications equipment drive me insane. Or moreso.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I Know Where You Live #8

On March 6, 1931, the residents of Ouyen, a small dust- and sod-farming community in far north-west Victoria, barricaded their main street and took up arms as rumours circulated that communists had taken over Sydney and were preparing to march on Melbourne. Why communists, or anybody else, would march on Melbourne via the middle of fucking nowhere is not apparent, and history is silent on what the Ouyen Falangists did when the expected revolutionary army failed to arrive. Probably they retired to the Victoria Hotel to discuss how bloody hot it had been lately, for it is always hot in Ouyen, hot enough to dry the balls off any brass monkeys present, as well as disincline the townsfolk to utter anything more sophisticated than grunts and howls.

The country surrounding Ouyen is amongst the most rugged in Australia. Ironically, given the events of March 1931, the earth upon which Ouyen is built is as red as Trotsky's undies, and as filled with ants as Lenin's brassiere. Although some areas are suitable for farming (crops include wheat, barley and plax, a genetically-modified hybrid of flax and plastic used in the production of harpsichord plectra), the majority of the land around Ouyen is comprised of dense scrub and salt flats. During the silver boom of the late 19th century, Ouyen supplied sixty percent of Broken Hill's salt, while Ouyen prostitutes, outsourced to the diggings, supplied almost eighty percent of Broken Hill's syphilis. Meanwhile, the mallee fowl, a kind of blood-sucking chicken, is said to roam the countryside of a nighttime, pecking ineffectually at the necks of virgins.

Ouyen itself is home to around one thousand people, several of whom are not knowingly married to an immediate family member. The majority of residents make their living from farming and/or seasonal circus work, although recent years have seen a rise in the area's number of retirees, a demographic change reflected in the increasing number of lawn bowls-related deaths. Bore water is supplied to the town, while tanks are required for drinking and gin-and-tonic waters. Civilisation is not entirely absent, however: Ouyen's hospital is capable of handling emergency cases provided you book at least a week in advance, and banking facilities are available on a need-to-foreclose basis.

Nearby attractions include the Hattah Lakes, which live up to their palindromic name by being boring no matter which direction they are viewed from, and Walpeup Lake, a popular spot for leaving hurriedly. Further north is the regional city of Mildura, which has been described as "the Ringwood of the north", and which offers access to a variety of thoroughly disappointing Murray River activities as well as a shopping mall experience that is second only to the second-worst shopping mall experience in the entire world. Note that Mildura is a popular weekend getaway for Ouyen socialites, so it might be best to visit during the week, and even then the carrying of knuckle-dusters is advised.

Ouyen: 3 dud Mallee roots out of 5.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Nerd's Cyber Sex Addiction Goes Too Far

Staff at United Conglomerations Incorporated have been able to breathe a sigh of relief after the arrest this morning of IT nerd and deeply disgusting individual Toby Mumble. Mumble’s increasingly disturbing behaviour around the office and unconcealed addiction to what can only be described as cyber sex had been disrupting office productivity and lowering staff morale for several months. Project manager Cindy Billows has described the situation as, “Just impossible. It’s very hard to request a B19 form from someone when they make you want to vomit all over your desk, you know.”

Apparently Mumble’s bizarre addiction began in relatively normal, if sordid, fashion. In his statement to police, he said, “I was like a man possessed. Even though I spend all day working with computers, I’d never get sick of them. Often I’d stay after hours just to be around them - first I might just perform a systems check, or just empty some cache files. Before long, though, I found myself on the ‘net, downloading pictures of pretty ladies in, you know, the buff. Often as they engaged in acts involving common household appliances in ways not intended by their designers, ways which would almost certainly invalidate their warranties. I couldn’t help myself. But at that stage, I thought I was just your run-of-the-mill pervert.”

“It wasn’t long before I came to realise, though, that the whole porn thing was simple Freudian transference: I wasn’t really attracted to the girly pics - that was just idle flirtation. No, what kept me coming back, tightened my trousers, made me sweaty in ways and places I’d never sweated before, was the computers themselves. Those chic, glossy screens; those smooth, boxy chassis; that cute, come-hither way their keyboard cable curls…you tell me they’re not all gasping for it. I liked to run my fingers gently over their keyboards, slowly, teasingly clean the dust from around their mouse balls, and then, when they were ready, open up the back of the box and adjust their PCI cards. With my pants off. I am in love, sexually, with technology. I guess I always have been…I mean, I always used to get a hard-on when I watched Transformers as a kid.”

Despite constant complaints from staff members about Mumble leaving suspiciously sticky ‘cleaning fluid’ on their monitors, playing strip Solitaire during his lunch break, and during one particularly memorable office party attempting to ‘interface’ with the photocopier in the supply cupboard, management felt unable to reprimand Mumble lest they be accused of sexual discrimination. The arrest made by police this morning was actually for theft. Apparently, Mumble had had a tiff with his desktop PC when he’d discovered a colleague using it to print out a document after his own had crashed. “It let him touch it, the slut!” Mumble told Sterne. “When I saw him jiggling it's printer cable, I just saw red. I thought we had something special.” As a result of the perceived betrayal, Mumble ‘kidnapped’ his PC, intending to take revenge on it at his leisure. However, when police arrived at Mumble’s home to question him on the theft, they found him engaged in vigorous make-up sex with the machine. “I just couldn’t stay mad at it any more. The sexy minx,” said Mumble.

So-called ‘cyber-sexual’ crimes are becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s technology driven society. Parents and partners of habitual computer users are advised to be aware for warning signs - reference to routers as ‘hot’, obsessive reading of IT websites, attempts to insert mouse into bodily orifices – and to seek help accordingly.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

You Sick Fucks (Or: Slack Blogging On A Saturday Night)

Over the past few weeks, the following search phrases have led unsuspecting weirdoes to Sterne:

can two straight men be attracted to one another || fright wet her knickers || does masturbating hurt || michael jackson song kill me || dirty arseholes || knee him in the testicles || livinia nixon's tits || bec cartwright's tits || he man episode where battle cat spoke || children fisting || suburban living in caroline springs || dwarf kittens || dog suckling || nicholas cage hair implants || gism what does gism mean || dwarf in fairytale || she wants me for me || a warning upon eighteen for nude || public felatio || fuck mum || brothels frankston || retards exhibitionism || girl leaking ovum || vaginal squirting || bovary masturbate || dwarf's penis || eyes closed felatio performance || what does it mean when you like to pick at scabs || sex audio ah ah || grandmother orgasms || why does menstrual blood smell || medicating the crazy bastard || sternezine blogspot cock vomit || forced into corsets || fuck off you bitch || quivering sphincter || harold bishop's hairy chest || mum fucking her son's best friend || dog mammary scabs || fired job body odour || dog suckling piglets || melbourne lactating lady || inxs satanic

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Mystery of the Mute Moviegoer

Of all the cases I have had the fortune to assist my friend Sherlock Holmes with, perhaps the dullest was that of the Mute Moviegoer. It occured on a blustery day in '83, as I recall, when I was still living at Baker St., before matrimony carried me away from the twin pleasures of Holmes's fiddling and his violin playing. We had awoken late, as was our Bohemian wont, and were lounging on opposite sides of the fire, myself surrounded by a cloud of newspapers, Holmes with his trousers around his ankles, injecting cocaine into his groin.

"I say," said I, "did you see this item in the Kitchener St. Moustache?"

"The article about the mute moviegoer?" said Holmes, his lean face flushing as the drug entered his veins. "Why yes, dear Watson, I not only read it some hours ago, but I have just now received a telegram from the mute man advising me that he intends to call within the hour."

"How extraordinary!"

"Just so."

"Although I have just this minute finished reading the article in question, perhaps you would care to refresh my memory of its contents."

"Very well. Last evening, a young gentleman was found wandering the streets of Foxknob End, disoriented and mute, and without any means of identifying himself. He was quite unable to say who he was or where he had come from, or even how he came to be in such a state. The only items in his possession were the stubs of several cinema tickets."

"What movies were they for?"

"That, dear Watson, is the mystery. The titles were obscured by grime and moisture, and quite illegible. I suspect that were it possible to retrieve this information, the question of the ticket-holder's identity would be a simple matter of deduction."

"You mean to take on his case?"

"We shall presently see, for I believe that I hear his footstep upon the stair. Come in!"

A young man of perhaps seven-and-twenty entered and with a kindly smile Holmes bade him sit.

"Now, sir, allow me to examine your movie tickets and we shall see what I can deduce."

The young man handed over what were unmistakably cinema ticket stubs, and Holmes proceded to examine them through his lens before finally running his naked eye over their wrinkled contours, perhaps in silent tribute to our own naked, wrinkled encounters.

"I'm afraid the tickets themselves reveal naught. I wonder if a close examination of the young man himself may suggest the films the tickets were for, and thence lead to the identity of the man himself."

Holmes had the young man stand and spent the next ten minutes in silent contemplation of his features. Finally, Holmes bade his subject sit once more, while he himself lighted a pipe, grinning in that loveably arrogant manner of his.

"My dear Watson," said he, "I have solved the case."

"Surely you jest!"

"One who knows me as well as you do, Watson, would know that I never jest about my work. Allow me to reveal to you the process of my thought."

"If you would be so kind."

"I observe that the subject is lined about the eyes to a degree uncommon amongst those of his age. I divine, therefore, that he has children. You will notice he is in possession of four ticket stubs, two of which are grey with grime, while the other two are merely creased, although still illegible. This suggests two separate visits to the cinema. As the subject has children, and as it is the school holidays, I believe his companion on both occasions to have been a child."

"Remarkable!"

"Quite so. As to the films they saw, the matter couldn't be simpler. You have doubtless noted the presence of a large number of dog hairs on the subject's right boot. This suggests that the earlier film was Disney's new version of The Shaggy Dog."

"How so?"

"Because, dear Watson, that film is of such terrible shittiness that it has driven more than one audience member to the most heinous of crimes."

"You don't mean..."

"But I'm afraid I do. This young man, whom I deduce to be otherwise of excellent character, has spent the last week kicking every dog he has chanced upon on the off chance that it was Tim Allen in disguise."

"Dear God!"

"God, yours or anybody else's, has very little to do with it, Watson."

"How do you know that The Shaggy Dog was the first film they saw?"

"Ah, I see that once again you have looked but failed to observe. Much of the dog hair on the subject's boot is partially covered with mud, and as you are aware the city has been on the receiving end of neither rain nor mud wrestling championships since early last week."

"Holmes, you have outdone yourself!"

"The second film was the remake of The Pink Panther that is currently infesting the multiplexes. Perhaps you have heard of it?"

"I have done better: I have seen it! It is a poor production, although I can't help thinking this appropriate given how dire was the original series. But how can you know this young man has seen it?"

"It is simplicity itself. You know well my interest in bodily fluids, Watson. Indeed, you and I have worked together on some very interesting experiments with same. As a result, I can deduce things from a man's excretions that would take Lestrade and his cronies an eternity to discover. Now, you will notice that the subject's face is crusted below the bottom lip with dried saliva. I detect that this saliva is of the lustful variety, as distinct from the hungry, stupid, or Pavlovian varieties."

"Meaning what, precisely?"

"Do I need to spell it out? Meaning that this young man has recently, or at least since he last washed his face, dribbled at the sight of a lithe young piece of woman flesh!"

I was startled, but then a word began to form in my mind, to which I unwittingly gave voice.

"Beyonce..."

"Precisely! By the state of his clothing we can assume our man to have been on the streets, as it were, for under twenty-four hours. The state of the second pair of tickets indicates that the film was viewed sometime early in that period. In its turn, the dribble indicates that that film was The Pink Panther and that Beyonce's cleavage was at least one highlight in an otherwise mediocre and forgetable caper. His muteness may also be explained thus."

"I don't care for such specimens myself, as you well know, but that Beyonce is indeed a delight!"

"Certainly. One may enjoy beauty without wanting to sully it with one's lust. Not so this man, apparently, but one must live and let live."

"And his identity?"

"Elementary, my dear friend. This is none other than Lord Filtration Unit, heir to the Highbury Snail Pellets fortune. I recognised him the moment he walked through the door."

"Then..." I stammered, "then this business with the ticket stubs has been to no purpose?"

"On the contrary, it has provided me with a chance at sharpening my deductive skills, while allowing you to fall ever deeper in awe, and dare I say it love, with yours truly."

"There is that consolation, I suppose."

"Now, we must alert the police so that this man may be reunited with his family. But first, I am having difficulty locating a vein in which to inject my drug of choice. Watson, you are always so good with my groin. Perhaps you can find something."

And so the mystery was solved, and once Holmes and I had finished injecting, Lord Filtration Unit was returned to his family. He was never to speak again.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Commonwealth Games For Dummies

The Commonwealth Games were developed in emulation of other sporting meets predicated on defunct or irrelevant political entities, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire Ludo Championships and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Bi-Annual Pudding Bake-Off. Lord Peter Fliprot, a noted imperialist bastard, opened the first Commonwealth Games in 1950 by flinging red paint at representatives of each nation in the Commonwealth, symbolically binding them in eternal fealty to the Mother Country.

Early Games were poorly attended, and frequently marred by scandal. The 1958 Games, held in a disused coal mine outside Cardiff, Wales, were cancelled after only three days of competition when a member of the Guernsey archery team, believing he was the god Cupid, fired arrows at female spectators. Opening the 1962 Perth Games, Governor-General Sir Thrilliam Badass-Smythe breached protocol by spinning a punch bowl on his nose for thirty seconds before inviting the Prime Minister's wife to dance the jitterbug. Four years later at Kingston, Jamaica - the so-called "Reefer Games" - teams complained of losing their "riddim", leading to numerous upsets. The Games ended in scandal when the coach of the New Zealand lawn bowls team, one Reginald Barry, declared himself the incarnation of Jah, before collapsing in a fountain.

As the 1970s dawned, the future of the Commonwealth Games was in doubt. Were the "friendly games" still relevant in a world changed irrevocably by the cultural and social revolutions of the 1960s and the war in Vietnam? The Games Committee responded to the challenge by panicking. In a bid to appeal to more young people, Jive was instituted as the Games' official language, and the events schedule was expanded to include such populist fare as jelly wrestling, pig shooting, and the three-girl-rhumba. This liberal era culminated in the 1982 Brisbane Games, during which it is rumoured that bisexual orgies were held nightly inside Matilda, the 13-metre-tall mechanical kangaroo, presided over by a certain cadet journalist who went on to become one of Australia's most beloved conservative newspaper columnists.

The 1980s and 90s saw the Games return to more traditional track-and-field events, and audience numbers declined accordingly. For example, or, as the French say, pour example, the entire weightlifting schedule at the 2002 Manchester Games was attended by only a single person, who had become disoriented while stalking Ian Brown and stumbled into the arena for a rest. Presently, the Games are being held in Melbourne, Australia, a city famous for its willingness to watch just about anything if it is designated "sport". One would suggest, however, that the organiser's choice of mascot - a hideous, diseased rabbit named Mixo - points to a less than optimistic outlook.

So what is the future of the Commonwealth Games? Will it survive to be held and ignored in space? Or will it go the way of such sporting carnivals as the Confederate States of America Egg-and-Spoon Tournament and the League of Nations Quadrennial Demolition Derby? Only time, and possibly the occasional creepy psychic child, will tell.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Match Point

An excerpt from Woody Allen's early production diary for Match Point.

Oh God, or, you know, whatever other presumably non-existant supernatural being enjoys toying with me... Soon-Yi wants another fur coat. As if I didn't already have enough problems: not that I care, but everyone in the US except Sean Penn hates me (which would be comforting, if it wasn't for the fact that everyone in the US hates him, too); and now Europe's ready to turn on me, also. Even the French are beginning to wonder if I've lost it - this from a nation that favourably compares Jerry Lewis to Genet. Everybody ignored us at that garden party last Sunday (Note to self: get Soon to read Proust so that we can impress more people by arguing about Swann's Way at parties. Shvitzing over whether her coat is fashionable just doesn't cut it). How am I supposed to work under these conditions?

Idea for movie: brilliant writer is driven to tragic suicide after world fails to comprehend his genius. Everyone is sorry now that he's dead, especially wife, who kept complaining about his practicing the clarinet in the bath.

No, too likely to make Soon go all Mia. Need something that recaptures my charming angst. Something filled with the old Woody. Filled like a Korean girl whose adoptive mother is out of the house.

Idea for movie: Alan Alda pursues series of callow women played by beautiful but talentless young actresses, only to realise in the end that he loves Diane Weiss (Note to self: find out if Diane is still speaking to me). Hijinks and comical misunderstandings are in plentiful supply.

Oh, gees, that's not going to work either. I suppose I could always go ahead and actually make an effort this time - stop pissing off the Hollywood system by making fun of empty-headed actors and models whose faces have been clenched so tight from botox overdoses that their frontal lobes have been squeezed out their nostrils, for one thing. Maybe, you know, explore serious ideas which are tied together via intriguing subtexts and allusions, comment on contemporary society and the human condition, but leaven the whole affair with corruscating wit and high-speed, naturalistic dialogue which engages the audience by assuming that they're intelligent enough to keep up with the flow of ideas.

Scratch that. Too much work.

Idea for movie: remake Crimes and Misdemeanours and hope no-one notices. Phone in the script; hire whatever pretty, reasonably talented faces Hollywood is infatuated with at the moment. Give it a cute, sporty title. Maybe set it in England, insult the British class system a little, earn some points back with the French.

Now that's genius. If only placating Soon-Yi was as easy (Note to self: email that sell-out Spielburg and see if he can get me Dakota Fanning's number; find out if she's read Proust).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Opening Ceremony = Puke

I was going to keep my mouth shut. I really was. I am aware that my feelings on sporting events (indeed, on movement in general, but sport in particular) are not necessarily shared by the wider community. Sure, sure, sport is the one arena in life in which one can achieve perfection, or so people tell me - score that goal, beat that record; quite frankly, though, if your ideal of perfection is running really, really fast or throwing something super hard, well then, you're most welcome to it. Nevertheless, I'd every intention of extending a courtesy to Melbourne's sporting community that it hadn't bothered extending to me, and shutting the fuck up so that it could have fun celebrating its damn silly little Games without the voice of an insignificant, whiny pissant needling from his blog.

That was until I made the mistake of watching the opening ceremony last night. Utterly disinterested in sport I may be, but I'm a keen observer of cultural events; I wanted to see just how far Melbourne could lower standards after the bouncing kangaroos, lawn mowers, inflatable Nikki Webster, etc, etc of the Sydney Olympics. I had low expectations, to be sure, but even so...I was shocked. Good grief. If I say that words fail me, it's not due to any deficieny on the part of my thought-meats, but a paucity in the language that leaves me with inadequately perjorative adjectives.

Let's start at the periphery: Ray Martin and Nicole Livingstone's commentary - which, when not vaguely insulting, bordered on the incoherent. Ray seemed to feel a need, whenever observing, despite all evidence to the contrary, how wonderful things looked, to mention that Melbourne was usually a 'conservative', 'staid', 'dull' 'little town'. Nicole enjoyed implying, many times over, that certain countries were only competing in the table-tennis because they had no real athletes, or only had entrants in the shot-put because the people of that nation were all fat. Most of the time, though, their comments dove merrily into imbecilities usually reserved for the likes of Daryl Somers: "We're...this is, with the baton on the surf boats...and you don't often see on the Yarra...there's a journey. A journey of lights, and we ask...that is, that you come...follow us." Brillant, Ray.

But that was nothing compared to the trashy, vulgar horrors of the ceremony itself. Is the summation of Melbourne's historic and cultural achievements really best expressed by a small, possibly animatronic boy with a papier mache duck (which later, for no apparent reason, becomes an angel, and then a real duck), who rides a flying skateboard (Ray: "Oh, the stories here! It's Huckleberry Finn on a journey") into the Arts Centre spire (Ray: "This is his cubby"), only to be rescued by obese gigantoid koalas on enormous levitating thongs (Ray: "Here come his mates!")? Is John Brack's Collins Street, 5pm peopled by bulbous peroxide blondes sporting neon pink tank tops and clown shoes? The dutifully ubiquitous 'Aboriginal element'...I wonder, were any of the performers there from the homeless group that 20 police officers were shoving into a divvy van outside St Paul's last Sunday for being visibly black and poor in front of overseas visitors? What, when one gets right down to it, do motorbikes have to do with ballet? And what do either of them have to do with Melbourne? And what a wonderful honour for some of the athletes, that as they paraded into the arena, the stadium announcers repeatedly cut away to reveal which AFL captain was now receiving the Queen's baton, leaving their countrys' names to be read out en masse a little later (Nicole: "Well, really only table-tennis players there").

Only two things leavened my deep-seated embarassment: Elizabeth Regina scowling at Howard, scowling at the wizened infant reading a speech to her, scowling at everyone; and our dashing PM, whose heroic lip-synching to the national anthem was hilariously out of time. But otherwise, the entire affair was a poorly-organised, tasteless shit-sandwich of an event. Tacky? It was positively viscous. Did it suck? Like a fellating vaccuum cleaner. Fuck you, Melbourne's Comonwealth committee; fuck you with a broom if you think that this cringe-worthy hoe-down even comes close to passing for entertainment, let alone a cultural event.

If only this was the end of it. Unfortunately, after another 10 days of sporting hoo-hah (a technical term), we'll have the closing ceremony. Is my liver going to be able produce the volumes of bile that my brain will surely demand? And don't none of you poor saps out there dare suggest that it might be good - for I have an inside scoop: a major segment of the closing ceremony has been entitled 'There's A Little Bit Of Edna In Us All' (I enjoy the work of Barry Humphries, but I refute the idea that any part of his least clever character has ever been in me) and will involve hundreds of tap dancers. Joy! Interestingly, and unsurprisingly, my sources inform me that organisation of the event is so lax that proper costumes have not been provided for the volunteer performers, who were told only last week to that they would need to buy their own Edna outfits, or whatever approximation they could find. My insider has decided to respond to this by purchasing a giant carrot costume. Should I decide to watch, this minor act of sabotage might make me chuckle enough to stop vomiting, but I doubt it.

Several million ducats were sunk into last night's Theatre of Shite, millions more into the Games as a whole; I only hope the brief increase in tourism bolsters the Victorian economy enough to justify the expenditure. I know I'll be doing my part to help us break even - after last night I've been buying anti-depressants by the armload, just to cope with the knowledge that I live in the same city that spawned that.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reading, 'Riting & Reloading

It was at the beginning of the second term that Dr Greene - who had not been principal of East Roger Primary School for long, and was therefore prone to insecurity - began to query his student's collective commitment to fruit and vegetables. Now, Dr Greene was no pen-pushing administrator, sitting around in his office all day dreaming up problems to solve. Dr Greene was that rare thing, a pro-active principal, and the problems he dreamed up to solve were based on empirical evidence collected during his daily circuit of the playground.

Every day he became more appalled by what he saw. Children eating junk food or, if they had been provided with a nutritious lunch, eating the less-nutritious parts of it and throwing the rest away. At the end of each lunch break the bins were filled with untouched apples and bananas, garnished with discarded carrot sticks and celery stalks.

Desperate to act, Dr Greene sought corroberative evidence. He began watching the children filing in of a morning, noting any weight gain, complexion problems, or putative heart conditions he observed. By the end of the term it was obvious to Dr Greene that the East Roger student body was in poor shape, and only a few more weeks of chip-and-chocolate lunches away from disaster.

When term three began, Dr Greene went into action. Teachers were instructed to convey the health benefits of fruit and vegetables to their charges at least twice a day. Homilies ("An apple a day...") were to be strategically employed. Teachers were also to set a good example. Any teacher found on school grounds without at least one apple, orange or carrot in their possession would be subject to a severe reprimand. Sadly, after two weeks this subtle indoctrination programme had achieved nothing. If anything, the students were even less amenable to eating well than they had been. It was time for plan B, which Dr Greene hastily drew up one evening in bed with the assistance of Ms Findley, the Grade Six teacher.

A parent-teacher information night was held, stressing the importance of tackling the problem not merely for the children's sake, but also for the sake of Western civilisation. "Because the children are our future," said Dr Greene, bringing the assembled mums and dads to their feet. A multimedia "edutainment" kit was put together featuring the interactive adventures of two anthropomorphic rabbits named Jasper and Casper. Jasper was a good rabbit who ate all the fruit and vegetables he could lay his paws on, and thus thrived and was happy. Casper, however, disdained nature's candy, and as a result suffered from scurvy and rickets and lime disease, and was regularly forced to submit to the ministrations of the sadistic Nurse Fox.

The programme was an immediate success. Within a fortnight there were significantly less wrappers blowing around the yard, and what fruit ended up in the bin had at least been nibbled at. In the playground one lunchtime, Dr Greene even heard a child tell his friends that he planned not only to eat his own fruit, but whatever they didn't want of theirs as well. "I want to be like Jasper!" the boy announced to general acclaim. Back in his office, Dr Greene allowed himself a self-congratulatory smile, and, with a glass of brandy warming his throat, toasted the success of his programme.

Yet Dr Greene's celebration was premature. He had not factored in the inherent fickleness of children. As a demographic (to descend for a moment into the odious lexicon of the marketeer), they are quick to adopt a new trend, but equally quick to discard it in favour of something new. (The phrase "capitalism's bitches" might spring to mind, but only if you are a certain kind of person.) In this case, the something new was yo-yos. Chocolate-coated yo-yos, in fact, that you were obliged to lick clean before playing with. It was the ultimate combination of obnoxious futility and bad nutrition, and in their haste to "collect the set" (which was actually impossible, due to the ingenious distribution practices of the yo-yo company) the children forgot all about Jasper and Casper, and their wholesome, nutritious message.

When he realised this, Dr Greene was, in quick succession, confused, outraged, and nauseous. Later he settled into a steady state of bafflement. How could he, a mere educator, compete with the marketing arm of Cho-Yo Pty Ltd? Dr Greene took his role as principal seriously. He saw himself as a holistic educator, preparing not only minds but bodies - people! persons! - for the world beyond school. Yet aside from the standardised curriculum, what tools did he possess for pursuing this brief? What could he bring to the table (apart from fruits and vegetables) to improve the mental and physical health of his students? Traditional education methods had failed - what else was there?

Clearly a radical solution was required. Dr Greene took out subscriptions to a number of obscure educational and scientific journals, and spent the mid-year holidays studying the latest papers on mass coercion, mind control, and the ethics of same. He drew pie charts and Venn diagrams, took extensive notes, and even, on one occasion, made a phone call to a certain Syrian police chief to check a few details. It turned out that getting people to do what you wanted them to do was fairly easy, and could be done using hundreds of different techniques, some requiring little more than a well-placed phrase, others a tarpaulin and some quite specialised equipment. Dr Greene assimilated all he read, and by holiday's end had formulated a programme which he allowed himself to immodestly christen "the Greene Method". He wrote a memo to be copied and given out to all staff, made a phone call, then went to his bedroom, where Ms Findley was reclining on the bed, reading Mr Norris Changes Trains.

"You know, Ms Findley, I think I've got it." He climbed in beside her, and rested his chin on her breast. "Tomorrow, we are going to usher in a new era of health and vitality for the students of East Roger Primary School. Whether they like it or not."

"Oh, Dr Greene," said Ms Findley, putting aside her book. "Make love to me like an ox!" (Ms Findley had until recently lived as a virginal spinster, and her style of erotic discourse was still developing.)

And as Dr Greene and Ms Findley grappled and grasped, in another part of town a man was loading delicate cargo into a truck. The cargo was stowed in special boxes with moulded padding inside to ensure the items arrived in working order. The man was just heaving the last box onto the truck when he remembered that he hadn't asked the client for identification. Or if he had a license. And wasn't there supposed to be some kind of cooling off period with this sort of thing? The man shrugged. It was his first day, and the guy on the phone had sounded all right, even a bit posh. The man checked the invoice. East Roger Primary School? Times have changed, thought the man with a chuckle. Times have changed. Then he went home to bed.

*

Stuart Tewlock was being difficult.

"No!" he said. "No! No! No!" He paused for a moment. "No!" he reiterated. "No! No! No!"

Dr Greene watched from the corridor as Mrs Maybury, the grade three teacher, once more proffered an apple to the petulant child.

"I won't!" Stuart said. "And you can't make me!"

Mrs Maybury glanced at Dr Greene. He nodded. She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked again at the boy.

"Now, dearie, I'm afraid you leave me no choice." With wrinkled, shaking hands Mrs Maybury reached into her desk draw and pulled out a large revolver. "Sweetie," she said to the boy, who stood staring down the gleaming barrel of the gun, "I'm sorry to say it, but you'll eat that apple or you'll eat lead!"

Later, Dr Greene reflected that Mrs Maybury could have handled things with more subtlety. But it was the first time Phase 2 of the Greene Method had been enacted, and it was only natural that Mrs Maybury be nervous. The point was: it had worked. Stuart Tewlock had eaten his apple, core and all, once he had stopped crying and been coaxed out from under a table. The Greene Method was therefore a success. And the flow-on effects (Phase 2b) in the form of propaganda were incalcuable. There was no need to make an announcement. Twenty of Stuart Tewlock's peers had witnessed the showdown, and it would take them only a few minutes of afternoon recess to spread the word to the other classes. Exagerration was also likely; with their natural inclination to dramatise, the children would certainly never understate the incident. As for telling their parents, or the police...

Dr Greene recalled with a smile the student-only assembly on the first morning of the third term when he had unveiled his Method. "Rule One," he had said, brandishing one of his recent purchases, delivered only minutes before the nine o'clock bell, "Rule One is: if a teacher has to ask you twice, the second time will be at gunpoint." There were the expected gasps, a few tears. "Rule Two: there is one automatic shootable offence: dobbing! I'm sure you understand what I mean. You tattle, you rattle!" (He had concocted this line on the drive to work, and although it was hardly perfect it was, he felt, better than the alternatives. "You tell, you go to hell"? "Blab and you'll end up on a slab"? Christ, he wasn't trying to scare anybody!) It was the ideal arrangement: unquestioning obedience with built-in safeguards. Best of all, it would help the children throw off the shackles of commercialism, of constant distraction and want. From now on they would be focused: on improving their minds, their health, their selves. And they had the Greene Method to thank for their freedom.

Within a month the school was running at an enviable level of efficiency. Grades were up, truancy down, the playground a utopia of co-operation and good will. Everybody seemed to be smiling - indeed they had to be, or else they would find themselves cleaning revolver barrels after school. Litter was no longer a problem, nor poor nutrition. At one point the students were eating so much fruit and vegetables that diarrhea reached epidemic proportions and limits had to be imposed. Overall, however, the students had never been so healthy, so quiet, or so nervously obedient.

"It's a miracle!" said Ms Findley one evening, having stopped by Dr Greene's house for dinner and sex.

"No, it's science," said Dr Greene. "Greene's Theorum: the obedience of a subject is in direct proportion to deadliness of the weapon aimed at their head."

"Oh you fancy man!" Ms Findley almost swooned.

"Ms Findley," said Dr Greene, "I am going to remove my pants and close my eyes. When I open them, I want you to be engaged in that thing I like."

"But Dr Greene, I haven't finished my chocolate mousse, and I don't..."

"Ms Findley," said Dr Greene, opening his shirt to reveal his gun, nestling in its holster. "Do I have to ask you twice?"

*

If Dr Greene had been a modest man all might have continued as it had begun. But he was not a modest man, and keeping his Method a secret was almost as painful for him as it was for his students, if not more so, since they were obliged to do so under threat of summary execution whereas he could, theoretically, have told anybody at any time. Having solved one of the principle dilemmas of education - how to steer one's pupils in the right direction without infringing upon their rights as individuals, to which Dr Greene's solution amounted to simply ignoring their rights as individuals - having done all this, Dr Greene felt he had the right to some recognition. He longed to write lengthy technical papers and popular books about the Greene Method. (Although, in his infrequent moments of self-doubt, he wondered just how much he could possibly expand upon the basic principle of "point a gun at them and tell them how high to jump".) He longed for fame, for appearances on current affairs programmes as an "education pioneer". He longed for women other than Ms Findley, who was beginning to get a bit clingy, and who kept referring to him as "bull-cock" as though it were the sexiest possible nickname. When a man has tamed three hundred children, and bent them to his will (all in their best interests, of course) it is only natural that a certain lust for power should develop.

So Dr Greene wrote an article for the Principal Review. The PR came out quarterly, was about four pages long, and was read by nobody. It mostly contained news that would have been of interest to principals if they hadn't already heard it via memos, reports, and the education grape-vine. Dr Greene, however, didn't have much choice. There were other education periodicals, but the PR was the only one desperate enough for material to accept a submission as unusual as Dr Greene's. The other publications were interested in papers on cognitive development or literacy programmes. Dr Greene just wanted the world to know how much easier things became when you pointed guns at children. The PR was the only forum going for that kind of thing, and its editors were renowned for their indolence. They would, simply, publish anything.

Dr Greene titled his piece "Cruel To Be Kind", for he could not resist a cliche. Not that Dr Greene considered his Method to be cruel, at least not in the long term. "Yes," he wrote, "the children we deal with today have been raised in a world in which guns are simply not pointed at them on a daily basis. Thus they are frightened, and they obey, as any creature does when threatened. In generations to come, however, the gun will elicit a more conditioned response. When directed by the gun, the children of the future will not cower, will not raise their small fat hands as if to ward off the bullet, will not shed tears of terror. Instead, the gun will hang like a cartoon anvil over their entire existence, and they will obey immediately, without conscious fear, but always in full knowledge of the consequences of disobedience. If the gun must be produced - and I feel this will rarely be the case, if children are properly conditioned in infancy - its effect will be instantaneous. I suggest that a gun-substitute - a picture of a gun, say, or even a banana - will in time elicit the same response as an actual gun. Trained to listen, to respond, future generations of children will be more educable than we at present can imagine. What a world we shall create, if my Method is implemented as widely as I dare to hope!"

When he had finished, Dr Greene emailed the article to the PR, and within an hour received a reply stating that it would appear in the next issue, due out later that same week. Dr Greene rubbed his hands together, adjusted some knick-knacks on his desk, and took off his pants.

"Ms Findley," he said into the PA microphone. "Ms Findley, may I please see you in my office."

The response to Dr Greene's article was subdued at first, but as more principals came to hear about it, so more of them fished the latest PR from their wastepaper bins and read it through. Dr Greene began receiving phone calls. Typically the principals began by cautiously commending him on his article, before going on to discuss some of the problems they felt were inherent in the scheme, until finally their reserve cracked and they confessed that they couldn't wait to implement the Greene Method at their own schools. Dr Greene smiled and laughed and revelled in the adulation. His own school was running like a well-oiled machine (God how he loved that cliche!) and now there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of schools heading in the same direction.

One thing briefly threatened to stifle the momentum he had built. Some parents got wind of the Method and started keeping their children home from school. Current affairs programmes were notified, talk radio alerted. For an afternoon and an evening, Dr Greene and his Method were the controversy du jour, and he had to do some swift thinking to avert disaster. After all, you couldn't just point a gun at the world and tell it what to do or think. Not a gun the size of Dr Greene's, anyway.

The following day he called a combined press conference and school assembly. The students sang the national anthem - all five verses of it, learned by rote at the feet of the Uzi-toting music teacher, Mr Backward - then Dr Greene answered his critics.

"You say it is wrong to point guns at children," he said, addressing the parents and reporters at the back of the room. "I say it is wrong not to point guns at children! Without guns they are slovenly, unhealthy, and have poor personal hygiene. They are constantly being distracted from their schoolwork by television, by merchandising - yes, by their very parents! With guns they are virtuous, hard-working and patriotic. They eat fruit! Yes, fruit! What further proof do you need of the value of my programme? The Greene Method is the way of the future. To those who have wondered: how do we fix this broken society, I say - guns! If the guns are in the right hands, and are pointed at the right heads, there is nothing we cannot achieve!"

Some resistance remained, but the majority of those present applauded Dr Greene's speech. Audience polls on radio and television gave the Greene Method the thumbs up, and the Prime Minister promised to "consider Dr Greene's very interesting proposal". Dr Greene could not stop smiling long enough to even threaten a grade one student for littering. That night he took Ms Findley in his arms, kissed her passionately, and told her to get the hell out of his sight.

*

When school returned the following year, all public schools, and many private, implemented the Greene Method. There had been protests over the summer, threatened boycotts, even an attempt on Dr Greene's life (Dr Greene shot his assailant in the leg, then forced him to pick up litter until the police arrived). Dr Greene himself had retired from teaching and set up the Greene Institute, an advisory body to the education department, with strong ties to the upper echelons of the military and police heirarchies.

That first year was tough on both teachers and students. There were incidents: two fourteen-year-olds were executed at one school for conspiracy to smoke Winnie Blues; a grade six student at an Adelaide primary managed to steal his teacher's gun and shoot half the faculty before being tasered by police; and a Year 12 class in Melbourne staged a boycott in protest at the new regime, half of them having to be shot before the rest agreed to return to class. Dr Greene maintained that these were teething problems, easily solved with enhanced firepower, and he was ultimately proven correct.

Ms Findley managed to rekindle her relationship with Dr Greene, and they married in the autumn of 20--. It transpired that Ms Findley's first name was actually Ms, while Dr Greene's was Bradley. Ms Findley vowed to refer to him as Dr Greene for as long as they both should live.

Made rich by the success of his Method, Dr Greene and his new bride set up home in a wine-producing area outside of Sydney, where they passed the time riding antique bicycles and playing snap. Tragically, two years after the Greene Method was implemented nation-wide, a group of teachers and senior students banded together to form the School Liberation Front. They succeeded in assasinating Dr Greene and Ms Findley-Greene, before embarking on a series of terrorist atrocities.

In response, the government announced that the Greene Method would be adapted for use throughout society. They also announced that they were buying a big bloody gun, big enough to be aimed at entire streets if necessary.

Things have been fairly quiet since, and we're all eating a lot more fruit.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Review: The Game

In the battle between the sexes, I like to consider myself Switzerland, and can often be found expounding my views on enlightened neutrality as I lounge poolside, a copy of Madame Bovary in one hand and my feet resting comfortably on the back of my latest doxy. I realise my benign indifference to sexual politics is hardly catholic, of course; while the sexual revolutions of the last century or so have gone a long way in fostering equality (probably a good thing), any social upheaval worth its salt will spawn backlashes and regressive elements, and one can observe this on both sides of the gender divide. The finger of accusation is generally pointed first at those schools of radical feminism that would happily take a brick in either hand and, with the sort of well-aimed blow generally reserved for wild horses, render not just the patriarchy but all men obsolete. However, while some might insist that chauvinism is the masculine equivalent, I would argue that there is a social sub-set which is becoming increasingly prevalent, especially since the Gordon Geckoes of the 80’s, foundering beneath the weight of their own machismo, sank rather than swam under the sensitive new-age SNAG-ery of the 90’s – the cringing, passive-aggressive misogyny of what Chuck Palahniuk sneeringly labelled “a generation of men raised by women”.

I’ve met not a few such chaps, and I dare say you have too… men slouching dolefully towards middle-age, who feel disenfranchised by a society whose women who no longer need depend on their existence, and are mired in a sulky adolescent fantasy of victimisation by women who reject them without ever taking the time to get to know the real them. Or, to put it rather more bluntly: guys for whom the chicks just ain’t putting out, and who feel deeply, pathologically resentful because of it. Now, just in case you begin to get the wrong idea, gentle reader, let me rush to assure you that your humble reviewer does not fall into this category. I ain’t never had no problems with the ladies, being as how I’m, like, totally ripped and handsome and debonair have a really really big penis. Ok? Neil Strauss – author of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-up Artists – evidently did, however.

The opening chapters of this memoir/confession are narrated with an apparently disarming honesty (which, given what occurs in later chapters, comes to seem highly suspect by the close of the book): despite a career as a successful journalist, short, balding, pudgy Strauss suffers from low self-esteem, which he attributes to the fact that women keep turning him down. He longs for love – and, not to put too fine a point on it, sex – and feels that without either, he can’t be happy. Determined to improve his life and experience as much coitus as humanly possible, he answers the cheaply placed advert for classes held by one ‘Mystery’ – a pick-up artist extraordinaire, who promises that by the end of a short course, his students will be able to get any woman they want. What follows is Strauss’s induction into and eventual leadership of a secret society…a secret society of nerds.

Now, indulge me here a moment… let us consider your average nerd. Not, you understand, that I’m in any way familiar with nerds, or that I feel their oft be-pimpled features to be worthy of extended study. Nonetheless, if pushed to guess, I’d say they’d generally have been picked on at school, ignored by women, are often of above-average intelligence, and are generally obsessive. Whether fixated on computer programming, or dungeons and dragons, or blogging, whatever their passion, they know it inside out. Now…imagine if a group of nerds focused all their resources on picking up women. Strauss’ new friends (who all have equally ridiculous code names: ‘Mystery’, ‘Sin’, ‘Vision’, ‘Tyler Durden’; Strauss adopts the moniker ‘Style’) share strategies and techniques, study human behaviour, anthropology, speech patterns, body language, hypnosis – and begin to perfect a foolproof system which guarantees if not an exchange of bodily fluids with the woman of their choice, then at least an exchange of phone numbers.

At this stage, I’m going to presume that most female readers are currently scoffing at the notion that pick-up lines might work on them; that most guys are secretly wondering if the system actually works. To answer you respectively: yes, apparently you would, and yes, apparently it does. The more intelligent a woman, we are told, the more likely the system is to succeed. Sales people, motivational talkers, evangelists, all use highly refined pitches based on what they observe about their target to minimize the chance of them walking away without buying their product/idea/god; Strauss’ ‘game’ is based on very similar principles. All the women I know who’ve read The Game laughed, until at some point during the proceedings they realised that in all likelihood they would have been hooked by a particularly cunning manipulation.

Style and Co’s sport swiftly becomes morally repugnant, and what began as exercises in confidence building and self-improvement deteriorates into a particularly vile competition in which girls who’ve often been lied to or humiliated become pieces in games of one-upmanship – whether against fellow pick-up artists or the female gender. The term ‘scoring’ is no longer a metaphor. And of course, it all goes hideously, hilariously, deservedly wrong. Pit an obsessive against other obsessives (computer games, martial arts, chess, etc.) and the competition will soon get out of hand. It’s not long before the pick-up artists’ society is attempting to score off each other’s girlfriends; and then each to con the other out of money or business; and are soon manipulating others to destroy their erstwhile friend’s lives. Eventually, no time at all is spent with women, as ‘Style’/Strauss and his former cronies, holed up in a rented Hollywood mansion, desperately, idiotically, try and out-manoeuvre each other, having variously lost friends, fortune and chances at happiness.

Unfortunately, while Strauss obviously exaggerates, and lies to and manipulates his audience as well as he would any potential girlfriend, most of the deplorable activities and catastrophes that occur, however improbable, are a matter of public record. Certain sub-plots are questionable (art imitates life imitating art as ‘Tyler Durden’ steals Strauss’ identity in an endeavour to create an army of fanatically loyal game devotees), and others trite (Strauss discovers that true love is more important than sex with hundreds of women), but the majority of his story is obviously true, or near enough as makes no difference. And although, yes, the pick-up artist’s activities are frequently misogynistic or just plain repulsive, Strauss narrates his career as a lothario with enough self-deprecating wit that the reader finds themselves laughing as often as squirming. And it’s impossible not to sympathise with the majority of his protagonists (including scene stealing cameos from, among others, Courtney Love, Heidi Fleiss, and a terrifyingly assertive Tom Cruise) who tend to be ridiculously pathetic people who’ve succeeded in deluding themselves rather than reprehensively vile ones.

The Game is essentially a Rake’s Progress with a happy ending, and in his role as penitent, Strauss intends it (or so he claims) to act both as a deterrent for men who fancy themselves pick-up artists of the ‘Style’ school, and a guide for women who want to avoid being played. It’s snake oil that makes these platitudes at the close of the book so easy to swallow, though. I suspect it would be as easy not to think about a pink rhinoceros, once mentioned, than for a single guy not to attempt at least one of the strategies outlined…

Not me, mind you. Not since my girlfriend, who gave me the book, explained to me in careful, and inventive, detail exactly where and how hard she'd insert The Game should the thought even cross my mind. Fear beats curiosity, every time.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Baby Talk

It has finally happened: Lady Sterne and I have a new baby daughter, Charlotte Grace, born at 4:29 p.m., Thursday March 9. Everything went well, and mother and baby are both happy and healthy. Father is pretty damn good, too.

I don't want to write too much about this lest I lose my reputation for reserved cynicism, but participating in the birth of your child is both bizarre and wonderful. Labour is hour upon hour of hell, and I doubt I will ever see a gutsier performance than Lady Sterne's over the thirty-six hours (I'll say that again: thirty-six hours!) preceding Charlotte's birth. Not only did she go without drugs, but she also refrained from swearing - I would have cursed a blue streak, whatever that means. She did lose her sense of humour, though. Frankly, so did I.

Then the big moment arrives, and instead of screwing up her face in agony, she is smiling, and you are smiling, and there's this squirming, soggy purply-pink thing in your arms, and after a minute or two of disbelief (and maybe a few tears - but I'm still tough, come on, who wants to fight!), you realise this is your baby. All the pain and anxiety is gone, and your life has changed forever.

Now that Charlotte has been born, I have a number of wishes:
  1. I wish that people would stop telling me their birth stories. Over the past nine months, I have heard hundreds tales of unimaginable horror, often from complete strangers. I have put up with it out of politeness, but now I am over it. Keep your stitches and your stirrups and your meddling student midwives to yourselves, thanks.
  2. I wish that the word "mucas" never be used in my hearing, except in the context of teasing somebody named Lucas.
  3. I wish for an end to this "you just wait until" business. As in, "You just wait until you're up at three in the morning, changing nappies and feeding and the baby is vomiting on the cat and", etc., etc. There's nothing more annoying to new parents than these smug cautions, especially since I already have a seven-year-old and know perfectly well how difficult parenthood can be! Some people have a baby and they think they know it all. They are obviously yet to learn the fundamental lesson of parenthood, which is: you know nothing!
Anyway, I'm off to the hospital. Here's a photo of me, Charlotte, and my brother, Chris.

Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of PBL Ltd. Look for the exclusive inside story of Charlotte Sterne's birth and a special five page photo spread in this week's Woman's Day.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Philippic For Meg

If you are any kind of human being at all - even a crack whore; even a foreign affairs minister - you will have spent no little time, usually some sleepless hours in the foetid armpit of the night, wondering whether or not you've failed at life. Whether you've done anything that has mattered to the world, if only in some small way. Whether, in fact, you matter. At which point, you should be asking yourself: "Am I Meg Ryan?" If the answer is "No", you can generally be supposed to be doing all right for yourself.

Can there possibly have been a more useless person in the history of moving pictures? Well, yes, Greg Kinnear. A more useless actress, then? I seriously doubt it. So far as I can tell, Ms Meg’s job in any movie is to be a little perky, a little pouty, have her hair flop over her eyes and to fall down occasionally in suitably winsome fashion. This hardly constitutes a job requiring years of in-depth training or a higher degree. Hell, the same effect could be achieved by a sock puppet with goggle eyes and a blonde wig – an effect which, according to rumour, was put to use in the closing scenes of You’ve Got Mail after senior technicians found it impossible to remove the look of duck-lipped imbecility from Ryan’s face one morning, even with a blow torch. With Tony Hopkins brought in to manipulate the puppet and a little clever editing, nobody batted an eyelid at the finished sequence, and Tom Hanks is on record as saying that he actually preferred making out with Hopkin’s sock-sheathed fist. True story.

Wilde said that there is nothing more useless than a work of art, but the old bugger was born a couple of centuries too early to have known how wrong he was. If talent were paint, Meg Ryan would be the picture of Dorian Gray in cinema’s attic. The woman can utilise three expressions only: ‘chirpy’, ‘sad’ and ‘sulky’. Woman’s Day has reported that it was Russell Crowe who taught her how to do ‘sulky’ during their torrid (I borrow this otherwise objectionable adjective from the good people at WD magazine) affair, which only ended when Meg failed to master an expression of ‘suitable awe’ when looking at Russ.

Sure, there have been, and still are, actors with less ability than Ryan, but none have ever managed to display their lack so spectacularly, so annoyingly: Meg takes irritating vacuity into zen-like territories. If Heidegger (a mildly delusional Nazi sociopath, to be sure - but cute as a button!) was right, and art is the well from which human spirituality and intellect are drawn, and bad art a mind-destroying poison against which we must be ever vigilant, then Meg Ryan should be brought up before the Haig, post haste. No one - not Pierce Brosnan, not Cindy Crawford, not even Pauly Shore - no one has sought to make inane blandness appear so acceptable to the world.

I for one will not brook a moment more of it. Where is the seething mob? Where are their torches and pitchforks? It's time, ladies and gentlemen. Write to your local member, your town council, your favourite tabloid. Scream it out the window, I know I will be: "Meg! You're just shit, Meg! Please stop it now!"

All right, so it's not catchy - but it is true, so shut up.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Give It A Name

It is a fact of life that some people have silly names, and normally the polite thing to do is not draw attention to it. If somebody's name is, say, Carrington B. Felch, then they are doubtless all too aware of how ridiculous it sounds, and probably the only thing holding them back from suicide is that people are yet to discover that the "B" stands for "Buboe". To make fun of poor Carrington would be cruel and unnecessary. Unless, that is, Carrington is a published author, in which case it is your right to judge his appelation as harshly as you wish.

Authors are in the priveleged position of being able to rechristen themselves at will, whether because they dislike their actual name (e.g. Stephen King's real name is said to be Gulliver Wankstrom III), or because they are already famous for writing under their actual name and wish to fly under the radar with a pseudonymous work. So it makes you wonder what some writers are thinking when they, and indeed their publishers, allow books to go on sale bearing disastrously unappealing or inappropriate names. Note the following examples:

Joan Jonker - According to her website, Joan writes "hilarious and touching stories". She also has a hilarious and touching (well, hilarious, anyway) name. While I have never heard of her, apparently the Swedes are mad for Yoan Yonker.

Rosamunde Pilcher - Half love-interest-in-a-shite-fantasy-novel, half tinned cat food flavour, Ms Pilcher allegedly "delivers heartwarming stories set against the beautiful landscape of rural England".

Dean R. Koontz - Winner of the 2006 Author Surname That Sounds Most Like a Phonetic Profanity in an Irvine Welsh Novel Award (narrowly beating thriller writer Stephen Coonts), Koontz is apparently one of the big names in horror fiction, and something of a reactionary bigot as well. I'm adding him to my fantasy dinner party guest list as we speak.

Karin Slaughter - Not sure if she's related to the old action thriller man Frank G. Slaughter, but in any event Karin has made a (rather off-putting) name for herself writing Patricia Cornwell-esque forensic thrillers. Appropriately enough, her books are renowned for their graphic depictions of, well, slaughter, so I suppose this is one case where the author's name actually reflects their work.

Jonathan Gash - Another well-named crime author, Jonathan could probably have turned his hand to erotica with equal success.

Louise Bagshawe - Not such a bad name, perhaps, but easily misread as "bagshave", a compound that summons at least three unpleasant mental images.

For more unfortunately named authors, see this excellent Amazon list which features such authors as I. Metin Kunt, Leon Homo, and (my favourite) Mu-Chou Poo. Martin Wank is pretty good, too.

Cross posted here, just in case you'd like to read it again with a different colour background.