Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just One of Those Things

2010.
What? Gone already? Cripes.

The year was notable for me as I was able to complete a number of collections. I shall warn you now (with the ever ready 'nerd-alert') that this may get a bit geeky. I know it's a bit pathetic, but it's just one of those things about me that makes me 'me'. Obsessive Compulsive perhaps?

#1. My Agatha Christie collection.



Publishers can be pure evil sometimes. They release a whole range of titles in matching jackets and then, without warning, they change the jackets but NOT the ISBNs. This makes it extremely difficult for the customer to order the missing titles. For a few years, I was missing a couple of titles from the Agatha Christie collection and I refuse to start again on the new-look jackets, having spent the best part of a decade collecting these beauties. For the past two years, I was searching for ONE final title - Endless Night - I even had friends across the globe looking for it on their travels. I was beginning to believe it had never been published in this format as an evil ploy invented by Harper Collins to make sure no one could ever have a complete set. However, thanks to eBay, I finally got my missing piece to the mystery and I almost shed a tear of joy.

#2. My Alfred Hitchcock collection.



This is another collection that has taken me over a decade to complete, mainly because some of the more obscure titles from his oeuvre were simply taking a while to come out on DVD. Admittedly, my copies of Elstree Calling and Waltzes in Vienna are not of the highest quality, but I don't care - I am just proud to own them. This allowed me to work on my Hitchcock blog - http://greathitchcockproject.blogspot.com/ - which involves watching all of his films in chronological order and blithering on about the experience. It's not exactly Julie & Julia but it keeps me off the streets knifing Asian grannies.

#3. My Swing Out Sister collection.



I have been a fan of Swing Out Sister since their "Breakout" debut and even though they've not been at the forefront of the music scene, they have been successful for over twenty years albeit mainly in Japan. Their albums are frequently hard to find, especially here in Australia, so I have had to rely on specialist shops and the good old internet to find the albums missing from my collection. A few months ago, I found the one album I needed - Filth & Dreams - on Amazon "through one of these sellers" and I was so happy. It was released in 1999 and I have been searching for it ever since. It's a superb album too.
By the way, there are a great number of 'best of', 'Remix' and 'live' CDs, but that's going too far. I am content with the main studio albums.

#4. My Star Trek collection.



Woah, I really am a complete nerd/geek/saddo. Yes, I now own every DVD of official Star Trek - even the rather less-good animated series (thanks Joel!)
I had avoided watching Star Trek: Enterprise for many years, thanks to that f***ing awful theme music (Yes, it really is that bad) but when I bought the entire series with some vouchers I got for my birthday, I had a huge amount of fun watching all four seasons - season three is particularly awesome!

#5. My Robert Rankin collection.



When I was 18, I was living in Bedford and having an awful time. I was screwed up and I hated pretty much everything. However, I picked up Armageddon: The Musical in a book shop and I was hooked. For a long time, I was collecting the paperback editions of Robert Rankin's titles, but over time I began finding hardback editions in second-hand shops. I now have every available hardback edition of his books (as far as I know - no one seems to have information about the first four books of the "Brentford Trilogy"(sic) ever being available in hardback. If this is not the case, I may not have finished this collection yet).

#6. My Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe collection.



In my youth, I loved watching 'seasons' of films on BBC2 and Channel 4. It may have been Hitchcock, Astaire & Rogers or Marilyn Monroe... but one which I particularly adored (and seemed to be aired rather frequently) was the season of Roger Corman films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories. There were only seven, but each one is a Gothic delight. Oddly, it took me ages to get a hold of my favourite one - The Premature Burial - as it was only ever available as part of a 'double bill' pack, and that is no good to someone like me who likes to alphabetise.

#7. My Avengers collection



It has taken years for The Avengers to be released properly on PAL system DVD - far too bloody long. However, here they are in all their glory. It's one of the finest TV shows ever produced and, heavens to Betsy, aren't those boxes splendid in their design.
Interestingly, I haven't had to pay for ANY of them. They were all bought with Amazon vouchers or as gifts! (Thank you Rohan, Vanessa, Louise, Adam, Family etc...)

So, that is my year of 'completion'.


***


In other news, let's take a look at the highs and lows of 2010 as far as I am concerned...

I watched a frightening amount of TV on DVD - but I am unashamed about that. I don't have much of a life, but I enjoy the simple pleasures.

I watched:

All three seasons of Veronica Mars (which was much better than I had expected.)

All four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise as mentioned above.

All six/nearly seven seasons of Medium which I had previously avoided because I didn't like Patricia Arquette's fringe. However, I got past that and realised how much fun the show was.

All nine seasons of Roseanne. God, that show was genuinely funny and good (well, most of it).

All six seasons of The Avengers (well, five and the remaining two and one third episodes of season one!)

Both seasons of the 21st Century version of Terry Nation's Survivors - they really should make more. Oh, and Phillip Rhys is beautiful.

Three and a half seasons of Sliders. Oh dear. I remember this being good. The first season was fun, the second reasonably OK, the third was 'iffy' and season four was absolute trash. I just struggle to sit through an episode.

Oh, and I think I watched all five seasons of Quantum Leap this year too, but I might be getting my timing all wrong as it was early in the year or late last year.

Doctor Who was disappointing this year. Still good TV, but I cannot deny it, I miss Russell T Davies' touch. Steven Moffat seemed to be so much better when he wasn't trying to change ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! Oh, and I have no qualms about saying it, Amy Pond needs a damn hard slap. I'll slap the Moff while I'm at it. RTD spent five years making us believe this world of science fiction was in our world and made a real family drama out of the show (brilliantly) but Moffat has made it feel like a mere bedtime story set in a different land so I have felt very departed from the show and characters. That said, Matt Smith is a very good Doctor - it just would have been nicer to have Mr Tennant stick around for another year or two to smooth the transition between executive producers.

Series four of The Sarah Jane Adventures was the best yet. Very strong stories and the characters have grown terrifically - considering this is a children's show, it's damn fine entertainment. RTD's episodes were fantastic.

Misfits proved itself to be one of the finest things on television whereas The Inbetweeners went rapidly downhill in its third series resorting too frequently on bodily fluid gags and cruelty to animals. The squirrel scene was the moment I lost the faith.

In non-TV related items, I celebrated my 35th birthday with a Murder Party which went down very well indeed; I won two awards for 'rep of the Year' in two different states; I lost a heap of weight; I went on a TV show; I wallowed in depression (again); and spent many hours playing in 'Monstro City' thanks to the MoshiMonsters website.

As the year draws to a close, I have little wisdom to give. I have come to consider that I am not living my life, merely waiting and I ought to do something about that.

I have also learned that it is becoming extraordinarily difficult to use Kirsty MacColl song titles for these posts... so I may have to start mixing it up and using Swing Out Sister song titles or those of from Beverley Craven's songbook.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The One and Only*

I have never been showered with awards. I once won two tickets to see the pantomime version of Aladdin at our local village hall after winning a painting competition at primary school; I won the coveted badge of honour for 'Most Outstanding Personality' at college; but I have never been the sort of fellow whose mantelpiece is adorned with trophies.
Athletics was never my forte. I was rather good at hurdles but my aversion to all types of competitive sport hindered my chances of standing atop any form of pyramid. I once arrived back first after a cross-country run, but to be fair, there were only three of us running and the other two competitors buggered off to the pub midway.
Oddly, despite coming from an incredibly talented family - all of whom can sing, paint, play instruments, draw, act etc - I did not receive these genes, instead ending up with all the neuroses, dodgy eyesight and eczema instead.
So, this past month, I was deeply honoured and somewhat surprised to receive TWO rather special accolades.

Firstly, I won Victorian Sales Representative of the Year, as voted by the booksellers around the state. A week later, I was bestowed with New South Wales Telesales Rep of the Year. (To those not in the know, I work as a sales rep for a publishing company. I am a "Telesales Rep" which means I do the same job as a "Road Rep" only over the phone and with a lot of faith in imagination. I have accounts in most of Australia's states.)
Having worked in the sales department for ten years, I was deeply touched by the nomination, let alone the eventual win.

Initially, after that first win, I was a little flummoxed to say the least - perhaps considering that it was a miscount so I took the award humbly (albeit spoofing Sally Field in the process) and ironically.
However, the following week, with win #2, I conceded and began to accept the praise.

The prize I got for the Victorian Award was a bottle of very expensive champagne. Sadly, I gave up drinking two years ago - but I let my friends indulge themselves with that.
The New South Wales Award consisted of two bottles of wine (once again, '"shame about the sobriety") and an engraved champagne glass. The latter arrived by mail, but die to an unfortunate mix up, they sent me somebody else's so I had to post it back again.

Last week, when I thought the excitement had died down, I was present at a Quarterly Briefing at which the entire office was in attendance. Our CEO made me take a bow as everyone applauded. I was so flustered, I bowed like someone who has just done a landing from a trapeze or a six-year-old at his first nativity - arms flung out backwards, fingers splayed. I must have looked a right wally!

Today, at our monthly sales meeting, the Sales Director and the Trade Sales Manager joined our team to present me with another token of appreciation - a couple of beautiful tumblers and some exquisite dark chocolates.
Once again, I was all nerves and fretful verbal inadequacies. I am just not used to compliments or praise!

But I was touched. Deeply honoured yet aghast.

This all comes at a rather awkward time for me - so soon after my post about my depression - but things like this do help one get some perspective during those darker moments. That persistent black dog that hounds me tries to make me believe I am a fraud and that I don't deserve the honours; this in itself can be difficult to quell. But with this continued recognition from my peers and clients, I can smack that bitch in the face with assurance and legitimate pride.

* Please forgive the title of this post - yes, it's rather egotistical, but give me this one as it is unlikely to happen again...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Please Help Me, I'm Falling

This post has been inspired by a friend of mine who suggested that I blog about my experience with depression. Hopefully it will be a cathartic process for me.
I have written about that devilish morbid cloud once before (see ‘Shutting the Doors’), but that was more about how I deal with those darker days. This post is more about the symptoms which can often disguise themselves in cunning and ways. I do not intend for this to be a self-pitying blog, nor do I request sympathy. This is about expressing the signs of that haunting black dog with the small hope that somebody else may benefit from it… or at least have a jolly good laugh.

(You will note that I apply a touch of levity to my words as I am adamant to not depress others – an act of kindness or textbook psychosis?)

Symptom #1
Apathy can be rather contradictory. One moment, I am finding every single human gesture or activity utterly futile and deplorable, making me want to free myself from any connection with the human race; the next, the worry it causes can be quite a burden and I feel the tension burning across my shoulders as though I am bearing the weight of a yolk. Can you picture me as a dairy maid? Do I suit plaits?

Symptom #2
Paranoia! At least I think people say I’m paranoid behind my back (ho, ho). I have always been told to not worry about what others think of me, but that would seem to go against my very nature. Sometimes, I am driven by the very fear of what people may be thinking or assuming about me. I was once rather carefree and flamboyant, but over time I began to repress my natural urges as I realised how others may find them annoying. I spent most of my youth being told to ‘calm down’… either that or ‘cheer up’. I was an adolescent of extremes.
The majority of people feel the need to be liked and admired. I have always desired to be the entertainer. I wanted to be the one who made people laugh, to whom people would gather to hear stories or be the one whose talents could be applauded. Sadly, I feel that I have missed out on a number of ‘talent’ genes and ended up with a bag of neuroses and flaws.
And that leads into symptom number three; lack of self-worth…

Symptom #3
I often feel that I am unskilled, untalented and generally useless. The phrase ‘chocolate fireguard’ comes to mind, but at least that has the advantage of being delicious.
Not only do I feel unqualified to be of worth to anyone, I also lack an appreciation for my own looks and demeanour. Recently somebody pointed out that, as opposed to the ‘Law of Attraction’, I applied the ‘Law of Repulsion’ to myself. I simply do not exude any pheromones or any sexual confidence.
I look in the mirror and I grimace at what I see. (I suppose the fact I am grimacing is not going to help matters.)
Those who swagger with attitude and confidence both annoy me and leave me in awe.
How do they achieve that level of confidence? Does it come naturally? Did they perhaps buy it from an Innovations catalogue alongside a Scare-Cat for their lawn and a pair of lavender in-soles?
I know that one doesn’t need to be externally beautiful to be attractive and loved by others, but somehow I manage to remain deeply ‘unsexy’. (Why hasn’t Microsoft word queried that spelling? Is it actually a word? Seems so…)
I often recall a line written by Victoria Wood and apply it to myself; “…has all the sexual allure of kapok.”
These worrying doubts I have about myself have snowballed over time and now I cannot bear the thought of inflicting myself upon another poor soul, so my barriers rush up like hyper-alert border-security guards and keep me from finding a meaningful relationship. I find myself convinced that it would be a crime against humanity to make anyone suffer the insanity of Ben.

***

The worst aspect of my depression is the way I can often push people away and force myself to become reclusive and lonely. Unfortunately, this only exacerbates all three symptoms mentioned above. One cannot expect to receive help from those who have been shut out. There will come a time when good friends tire of trying; they may attempt to call through the letterbox for a while but eventually they’ll bugger off and go for a pint down the local and will leave me to my own devices.

This is where I need to go back to my predetermined ploys to shoehorn my way out of the mire (mixed metaphors were on special at the market this week) and try to alleviate my anxieties. No doubt the issues will remain there, bubbling away like a ratatouille in a slow-cooker, but as long as I can keep attempting rational thought and examining the stew, I shan’t let it bubble over and leave burnt bits of veg on the stove.


Oh, and the title of this post... Yeah, it does sound like a cry for help, doesn’t it? It was the closest Kirsty MacColl song to the sensitive issue, so I thought it would do.

In a bizarre segue; I shall leave you with another Victoria Wood moment:

Gail: Why are they called ‘Alps’, Carl?
Carl: Well, people go skiing on them ‘n’ fall off, don’t they? And they go “‘elp! ‘elp” but it sounds like “alp” because they all have earmuffs on.


For more information, please take a look at the following websites.

www.beyondblue.org.au/

www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Libertango

Having attended a school where music tastes were mocked first, sexuality second, I have always been a little curbed when discussing my music tastes. Even to this day I have issues buying CDs over the counter for fear of laughter or pitying glances. Thank heavens for the internet.

My music collection during my tender years was a bit of an embarrassment. My vinyls consisted of hand-me-downs and discs bought from car-boot sales. They included Max Bygraves, The Jets, a Playaway album and Rupert and the Firebird.
I spent a lot of the eighties listening to Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Five Star and, embarrassingly, I even recall defending my choices by saying the old adage “Blacks have great rhythm!” (Yes, I know, I know… but I was young, naïve and eager to evade derision.) I was also a big fan of Swing Out Sister, but more of them later.
In the nineties I was obsessed with Beverley Craven, The Commitments and The Kinks but it was of course Kirsty MacColl who took the highest pedestal.
Due to peer pressure, I did try and get into the groove of the cooler side of music. Attending every performance of my brother’s band and listening to the Wayne’s World album didn’t really cut it, frankly. I guess my Betty Boo CDs exposed my cheesy side a little too glaringly.
I did have my darker days as I had a tumultuous time dealing with the whole gay thing. I would lie on the bedroom floor in the dark listening to Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Damien: Omen II hoping the world would leave me alone or at least give me a billion pounds so I could buy that elusive Gothic mansion I had my eyes on. When I rose from those bleak moods, I would stick on some Del Shannon and sing-a-long to Runaway.

In an effort to shed the burden of guilty pleasures, I thought I’d write about the music that brought me to the present day. I can’t detail every single artist or band who brought me enjoyment, but here are a few highlights…

Madonna
I am a ‘90s Madonna’ fan. I wasn’t swayed by her in the 1980s (although I thought Material Girl and Express Yourself were cheeky and fun) but by the nineties, I was becoming in sync with her metamorphosis. I was a late developer, sexually (come to think of it, I’m still developing, bloody retarded hormones!) and when I was desperately seeking (!) some confirmation that I could be who I needed to be, Madonna was going through her Erotica/Bedtime Stories phase and I almost took Human Nature as my anthem - “I’m not you bitch, don’t hang your shit on me.”
That era was bookended with two of my favourite albums - I’m Breathless and Ray of Light. The former was my proper introduction to old Madge through a corridor lined with 1940s wallpaper and jazzy swing beats. The latter was her most accomplished album to date and her voice was at its peak thanks to the training she undertook whilst working on Evita.
I felt it was a shame that the 21st century brought an endless stream of dance-themed albums with little deviation. Reinvention was her hallmark for the first two decades of her career. She needs to take some of her own advice, methinks.
In one moment of bravery, I did dress up as Madonna for Comic Relief and performed Hanky Panky and Vogue for a refectory full of college students. It would have helped had I known all the words.

Swing Out Sister
From the moment I heard Breakout I was in love with Corinne Drewery. Maybe if I’d seen the video and witnessed her love of jangly bangles, I may have been less thrilled. Corinne reminded me of my step-mother Eileen, mainly because they had similar haircuts, and it was Eileen’s copy of the debut album It’s Better to Travel that I practically commandeered for my own aural pleasure. I simply adored Twilight World and still do.
Many people think that was the last of Swing Out Sister until they remember that they did a cover version of La La Means I Love You which was featured on the soundtrack to Four Weddings and a Funeral. Thankfully, for fans like me, their success continued in Japan of all places and they are still doing their thing and producing music which is unique and brilliant to this day. I recently completed my collection of Swing Out Sister albums having found the brilliant Filth and Dreams on line. This is their notoriously difficult to find sixth album from 1999 which was only released in Japan. There have been three more since and I am hoping that there will be a tenth next year. Thirty years in the business and still entertaining me greatly. For anyone interested in seeking out their loungey, jazzy style, I’d recommend Beautiful Mess, The Living Return and Filth and Dreams (if you can find it!)

Beverley Craven
As with Swing Out Sister, I knew I was going to love Beverley from the moment I heard her debut single. She was on Top of the Pops performing her superb Promise Me and I felt something inside click and I was an instant fan.
During a hiatus to raise a family and battle cancer, her songs never left the playlists of my mind. When she returned to music a couple of years ago, it was as though she’d never left and her fourth album Close to Home was like an intimate concert especially for her devoted fans.
During my last couple of years at school, Beverley was riding the heights of popularity and had some massive sell-out concerts. I was desperate to attend one, but could simply not afford to go. However, there was a special promotion where one could obtain free tickets as part of a run of charity concerts (Sadly, I forget the charity now).
I wanted to go so badly and I was determined to do so. There was one problem. The tokens one had to collect were only available from the inside of Tampax packets, printed on the leaflet within the box.
So, using the charm I was born with, I persuaded a number of girl friends to part with their tokens (I even bought some myself!)
One of my friends, feeling slightly embarrassed about the whole thing, gave me the tokens but had discreetly cut off the illustrations showing how to insert the product into the body.
The end result was positive and I eventually made it to Sheffield. The tickets were for two seats and I had to take someone who could drive – so I took my brother who was also a fan…
…we were the only blokes there.
The hippodrome was crawling with Tampon-wielding usherettes, handing out free samples and chocolates for those in need. I was keen to get a goody bag and persuaded one attendant to keep one aside, despite my penis, as I was such a fan – only because I knew there was a cassette sampler of one of Beverley’s songs inside.
I still have that tape along with some very find memories.

Harry Connick Jr.
Oh, Harry.
Harry, Harry, Harry.
Why won’t you dump Jill Goodacre and come and marry me?
Whether he is covering a smooth classic or belting out one of his own numbers, he exudes the sexy confidence of a truly talented musician. I love the old Big Band/Swing thing and Harry is an expert at caressing our emotions with his dulcet tones. I’d take Harry over Michael Buble any day for the same reason that I’d take Tony Bennett over Frank Sinatra. Michael and Frank are a little too perfect and clinical in their style – bloody amazing, obviously – but Harry and Tony have that extra dollop of heart as far as I’m concerned. There’s a little extra dose of magic there.
I still have not managed to see Harry perform live but hopefully one day in the future... Our eyes will meet between stage and stalls and he will suddenly be overcome with sexual abandon and - *slaps self* Ahem… anyway, where was I?

Bebel Gilberto
Bebel is a late addition to my music library – well, I say “late” but I was amongst the first to discover her – you know, prior to every single café in Christendom using Tanto Tempo as mood music.
It was the year 2000 and I was on that heinous example of globalisation gone awry, Borders, browsing as one does – looking for items and then searching for them cheaper elsewhere. Overhead, I could hear these beautiful melodies embracing my ears and I went to the information counter and for once and once only, I received some actual information (At Borders! I know! Incredible!) The very nice woman informed me it was this little known Brazilian artist, Bebel Gilberto and I was smitten. I actually gave the hungry beast (the shop, not the nice lady) my money and take home the CD and it became a frequent sound at the shop where I worked for a few months.
A few years later, Bebel visited Melbourne on tour and I got to see her live. It was a beautiful experience and I had shivers down my spine and even welled-up with tears at one point. Bebel is one of the most sensual performers around – the opposite to the forced eroticism of Madonna – it was all natural and sensual. Pure bliss.

Betty Boo
Don’t mock me. I love her! Sure she dropped her microphone whilst miming. If it had happened these days, no one would care. She was sprightly, entertaining, funny and way ahead of her time.
Have you heard Grrr! It’s Betty Boo? It’s an awesome summer album and was even cited by Old Madge herself as being “Criminally underrated”. Damn straight.

Kirsty MacColl
There is nothing I can say here about Kirsty that I haven’t written many times before. So I shall be brief in my overt enthusiasm for this wonderful and much-missed performer.
1) If it wasn’t for French and Saunders, I’d not be so aware of her work.
2) She ‘helped’ me during my lowest ebb with her touching music.
3) Tropical Brainstorm is my favourite album ever, bar none.
4) When she died, I broke a little bit inside and still feel that fracture daily.
5) I am grateful beyond words that I got to see her perform live.

I understand she isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, there has never been anyone as clever, witty and original as the late Kirsty MacColl.


So, I could go on (and on) and talk about the influence of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, The Kinks, The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, various musical soundtracks (“Aren’t all musicals gay?” asks Roy in The IT Crowd) and a whole bunch of odds and ends including that CD of Del Shannon’s hits and a variety of Marilyn Monroe compilations, but I shan’t and won’t.

Music is a deeply personal thing and, as with comedy, it’s a matter of taste. I try not to judge others as I know I have no right to do so.
So, next time you’re in the local CD store and you’re feeling a tad embarrassed about buying the Spice Girls greatest hits, take a deep breath and purchase with confidence – I know when I did, I actually received some kudos from the girl at the checkout.

Well, she was nine.

One final note: The worst album ever to be created is one I bought as a booby-prize for a party – it was called Pan Pipes play Celine Dion or some such rubbish. Absolutely dire. Unfathomably awful. Yet… hilarious.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

He's On The Beach

I have just returned home after a beautiful two-hour walk. Spring seems to have finally arrived in Melbourne and there were lots of people up and about making the most of the splendid sunshine and cool breeze.

As I walked along the beach by the lapping shore, breathing in the aromatic salty smells one can only find in such locations, I was astonished by the remnants of shells and the notion of all the amazing life this planet creates. It all seems so minor and insignificant to our daily lives but it's also so much bigger than us and often far more impressive.

Then I stumble across litter. Shards of debris left by some ignorant twat who cares so little for the natural beauty of our world. Oh, it makes my heart ache. :(
I frown, curse under my breath and walk on daydreaming about a time when I might be able to find a quiet little corner of the earth away from the crowds and live a peaceful life. *sigh*
Let me not digress... back to the more pleasant thoughts:

Initially, the beach is reasonably quiet. Then the joggers and the dog-walkers come along. It seems these early-risers are far more polite and will return the gesture of 'good morning' despite not knowing who I am.

I see families out with their children and the excited glee of their young faces as they hurtle towards the waves. I reminisce about my childhood when a trip to the beach was a rare treat. Even if it was a cold Northern Hemisphere winter, there was still this well of thrilling energy within one's stomach as one approached the open beach. Armed with a yellow bucket shaped as an upside-down castle with a stubby spade to match, I'd run from the car along the concrete path to over the brow of a dune... sometimes my stomach would lurch slightly with disappointment when seeing hordes of people when my imagination had pictured an cast empty play area all for me, but I would soon get over it and spend hours on end making castles, swimming and digging pits.

The simple pleasures, eh?

I may endeavour to get out walking more often this coming summer.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear John

On Monday, I received my DVD boxset of the classic 1980’s BBC sitcom, Dear John. I have fond memories of watching the show with my brother all those years ago (I was only 11 – bless!)
Each night this week, I watched one disc from the box. Monday night was series 1, episodes 1-4; Tuesday night was the last three of that debut season. Wednesday night was the first half of series two and Thursday was the remainder plus the Christmas special which turned out to be the finale. I was always under the impression that this was due to the unfortunate death of the lead actor, Ralph Bates, but he didn’t actually pass away until four years later so I don’t know why I had that notion in my head.

The basic premise sounds depressing, but stick with me…
John is divorced by his wife when she leaves him for his best mate, Mike. John moves into a small rented room and having been shunned by his cliquey friends (all of whom prefer ‘couples’ when socialising) decides to join a club for the divorced and separated. The people he meets are quite an eclectic bunch with whom he only has the one thing in common – being alone.

The series was remade in America a year or so later as Dear John USA (God! The geniuses who came up with that title…) and that ran for four seasons. Suffice to say, I never went out of my way to watch that. Maybe it was good, who knows? Not I.

Although I hadn’t seen it for well over 20 years (at least) I was surprised to find so many comedic lines flooding back to me. I was amazed to find myself quoting them as they were spoken. The party held by Mrs Boyd-Peters has one of the all-time classic moments of the series, but I simply cannot tell you about it here as it needs to be enjoyed when viewed properly. Still, I chimed in with the humdinger of a quote when the time came.

Ralph Bates played John Lacey to perfection. He was beautifully bewildered, depressed and essentially flawed but still rather lovable at the same time.
Belinda Lang’s Kate was sassy and acerbic – one can see why she ended up getting the lead in 2.4 Children.
Peter Denyer’s Ralph is very much a caricature but once again, he was played with heart and the episode with the death of his friend Terry is splendid.
Rachel Bell is one of those actresses that I get excited about when I see her name in a cast list. I think she is mesmeric to watch – an under-rated comedienne who can play the snobbish social climber as well as Penelope Keith any day. As Louise, the woman who runs the 1-2-1 social club, she is the epitome of the Eighties’ middle-class yuppie wannabe and her overt interest in people’s sex lives is genuinely entertaining.
All of these elements could have made for an adequate and enjoyable situation comedy, but there was one more ingredient which strengthened the mix and that was Kirk St Moritz, played by Peter Blake.
He was the arrogant, cocky, vain, Lothario who could have been the love child of John Travolta and The Fonz. Once again, this character could have been all clichés and a one-joke wonder, but John Sullivan’s writing and Peter Blake’s performance gave Kirk a much deeper history. This layering of character resulted in a beautiful moment in the finale which should have any viewer grinning like a lunatic.

Although there were a variety of other characters throughout the run, there was one other performance I really want to mention – that is Irene Prador as Mrs Lemenski, John’s Polish neighbour. For two series, she was the one to criticise John and his crazy way of talking to himself. She would often call him a ‘Looney Man’ or some such insulting term. However, her role in the Christmas finale is as beautiful and touching as anything one could ever hope for in a festive episode and I genuinely shed a tear as I relived those scenes again.

Goodness, it is hard writing about the show when I don’t want to give anything away to those who have yet to discover it on DVD.

In fairness, it wasn’t ever going to be the greatest situation comedy of all-time and there were some moments which missed the mark. Even after the praise I have heaped upon it in this post, I cannot deny that the first half of series two is its lowest point (but it does improve by the end!)

If you have never seen it, give it a go. The series is available on DVD in the UK from Acorn Media and, yes, it may seem a little dated, but it is sure as hell funnier than some of the tripe that gets churned out these days.



Thanks to a happy coincidence, Kirsty MacColl also wrote a number called ‘Dear John’, so I didn’t need to find some tenuous link for the title of this post in my ongoing task of naming all posts after one her songs. Huzzah.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Keep Your Hands Off My Baby

*As told by 'Ben the Baker'*

One comes to learn that when it is leading up to Christmas, it is best to buy enough ingredients for TWO Christmas Cakes. This is because one will be far too tempted to not eat the first cake when one sees the finished product emerge from the oven. So, the images that follow detail attempt #2 for 2010.

Please note Ben's festive apron.



So, first one prepares the fruit and makes sure it is soaked well in brandy. There is also a number of spices mixed in too, including cinnamon and nutmeg - of course!



Then one makes the cakey part of the mix... Butter, Sugar, Eggs and Flour.



Then one mixes the two tasty mixtures together in an enormous bowl.



The majority of it is scooped into the prepared lined baking tin. The little bit left over is allowed to be licked off the enormous bowl and spoon until one is close to vomiting.



Then it is backed at 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2 for around three hours and when it is retrieved from the oven, not only will the kitchen smell fabulous, one also has a lovely cake too. It needs to stay in the tin for a bit to cool.



Over the coming months, one pours various spirits over the cake to allow it to absorb the alcohol. A good fruitcake matures with age like a good wine.

(I know what some of you may be thinking, but being 'sober' does not mean I can't have alcohol within food. That's my rule!)

If anyone thinks they are going to get a sneak preview, they can think again. That initial cake has already been demolished by oneself. So HANDS OFF until Christmas!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Hardest Word

So, as it turned out, I did pass the audition for the SBS game show Letters and Numbers and today was the day of the filming.

Yesterday, I finally had proof of two things when I awoke with a stinking cold;
1) God exists
2) He has a nasty sense of humour.

I spent the majority of the day polishing my nose a bright Rudolph hue with a large quantity of tissues - even Aloe Vera soaked snotrags can become abrasive over time - and I dosed myself up with a variety of medications including Sudafed, Lemsip and pizza.

This morning, I was slightly stressed. I sense a waft of muffled laughter at the word 'slightly' and those who chortle are well within their rights to do so.
So, after a night of mucus and bogeys, I awoke to a head which felt as though it was plunged in a barrel of custard. I could barely hear not speak. However, I was determined to be on the show.

You see, one cannot win.
If I had decided not to go on account of the cold, I would have been called pathetic, like all men who 'suffer' when sick.
Going to the filming whilst sick, some may deride me as playing the martyr.
I could not win either way. So, I plumped for the latter because I just knew I wanted to do it. After watching Countdown in the UK since it's birth, I could not miss out on this opportunity. Phlegm be damned!

In the documents of instruction, it advised against wearing any black or stripy shirts. Well, that ruled out most of my wardrobe. I had to forage amongst a pile of charity-bound clothes in the spare room to find something adequate. We, as contestants, were also advised to bring six changes of clothes in case we have to film plenty of episodes during the day. I, being the pessimist (and realist) that I am, only took four.

I ironed and then proceeded to dress in readiness to leave. I thought I ought to sign the appropriate papers before heading out, only to grab the leakiest pen in the house and proceeded to get it all over my hands. I cursed like a wounded sailor with gout and desperately tried to wash it off my hands with mere minutes to spare before my train.
Eventually, I was out of the house and on the train - then it occurred to me I may not have switched the iron off. ARGH!

At the studios, I chatted to the other contestants who were equally as nervous and I was delighted to discover that I was lucky enough to be the first episode's challenging contestant.
I met my opponent (Oliver - hmmm, cute!) and we had a bit of a rehearsal, went into make-up, got my microphone weaved through my garments and set about recording my episode.
I should also add that there is nothing like filming for a TV show to loosen the most severe constipation. What relief!

I can't go into detail about how the game went - I'd probably be sued, like anyone cares! - but it was rather fun. I was terribly nervous; my hands were sweating and I was shaking a bit. Unfortunately, I did not do as well as I would have liked, but at least I got the conundrum in the final round - GO ME!
Some of the word games were just embarrassing and I only got low scoring words - As for the numbers... well, see for yourself when it airs.

I did have the option of staying all day for free lunch and watching the rest of the filming, but I felt so full of cold (my usual tones are not as blissful as normal, so when/if you see the episode, I may sound a bit odd) that I opted to return home and snuggle up on the couch and do some well-earned recuperation.

All I regret is not getting Oliver's number. He was definitely my type.

Oh, and I hadn't left the iron on - hence my ability to post this blog in the comfort of my own non-flambéd home.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Children of the Revolution

On Thursday evening, I had an audition for the SBS TV game show Letters and Numbers. This game show is based on an original French game show but is commonly known to people in Great Britain as Countdown (I guess the Australian network decided to go with the original French name because there had already been an iconic music show named 'Countdown' for many years and did not want to confuse the average Joe!)

Countdown was the first programme to air on Channel Four when it began in November, 1982 and has become a long-standing favourite of the British public. For those not in the know, it has a simple premise:
Contestants have to pick nine letters, choosing vowels and consonants, and then have 30 seconds to come up with the longest word possible. It's like Scrabble or Boggle for a TV audience. There is also a game involving numbers in which the contestants have six random numbers and have to reach a specific target using only addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The end of the game, there is a nine-letter 'conundrum' and the fastest person to get it, gets a bonus ten points.

For those who consider themselves above such trivialities, it all seems a bit twee. But for those like myself, who like nothing more than playing word games and solving puzzles, it's a fine source of entertainment.

The audition was fun. I was in a room with a bunch of other nerds and most of them reasonably well dressed, but I assume it's because they had just come from their jobs. As soon as they opened their mouths, the nerd-alert alarm went off. Imagine 'Comic-book Guy' from The Simpsons with an Australian accent.

However, before I go on, may I state categorically that I live freely in this realm of nerd-dom, as any of my friends will be able to attest. I just think I have a little more nouse when it comes to social behaviour than some of the less hygienic members of this put-open inner-society (or do I?)

It was a lovely group of people and the common interest for something a little bit anally retentive was certainly a social solvent of sorts. I always know when I am in the right sort of circles, because they tend to get my humour. It is true to say that the majority of people at my office often look at me blankly when I come out with one of my bizarre witticisms, but I am not exactly high-brow.

I shan't go into great detail, but after my rather poor attempt at the practice quiz, it is sufficient to say I won't get asked onto the show as a contestant.
Maybe I spoiled my chances when, upon referring to my answers on the questionnaire, the following exchange took place...

Interviewer: "Ah, so you want to be a doctor..?"

Ben: (pointing to the exact words on the sheet) "No, The Doctor... from Doctor Who!"

*ahem* That probably didn't go down too well.

On Friday night, my friends had bought me a ticket to see Joss Whedon at the Melbourne Writers' Festival. He was giving a talk at the town hall. I attended with Louise, Adam and Michelle and a horde of nerds, geeks and losers. Whoops, sorry, I didn't mean that last one.

Whilst in the hall and waiting for everybody to take their seats, I did stand up and have a glance around to see if I could find a "Normal" amongst the mass of Hobbits, but I had no luck. It was the largest collection of Minotaur customers in one room ever. ('Minotaur' = pop culture specialists. Think 'Forbidden Planet' if you're in the UK.)

There were some people wearing black, others wearing... black. But some were more inventive and they wore something they made themselves after they accidentally fatally-injured Tim Burton's wardrobe in an X-wing fighter crash.
Thankfully, there weren't too many smelly people there, apart from one man who smelt of used cat litter. Yes, he was sat right in front of me.

Gawd, I love a nerd. I love the way they feel it necessary to dye their hair purple just to prove that they are non-conformists. They even have conventions of purple-haired, black-wearing non-conformists and sit about laughing at the irony.

Some of the crowd went a little bit spastic as the lights dimmed. Initially, I thought they were simply afraid of the dark, but it turns out they were just moistening their knickers in anticipation of their god-like hero entering their midst.

Joss came onto the stage and the crowd went wild. He was interviewed by a suck-up whose neck needed massaging after craning up to the pedestal she put him on throughout the talk (yeah, he's a fantastic bloke, but come on...) and the two people signing away for the deaf members of the audience did a superb job, although it did make me think of the episode 'Hush' from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was waiting to see what action they did for 'slayer' (see episode for gag).
Isn't it great that they get people to sign at these things. With both of them there flapping away to convey the rapid speech of our entertainers, they also doubled up as handy air-conditioners.

The talk only went for an hour as we had to vacate the hall so the cleaners could mop up the sweat before the following morning.
Still, we all had a great time. It was fascinating to hear Joss talk about his work and his career - it was less exciting to hear the banal questions some audience members asked, apart form the woman who implied Joss was mentally ill. Bless her. I am sure that is not what she meant to say. Though she may be right. He does keep employing Eliza Dushku, after all!

So, nerds. I have to love 'em, for I am one. I love that need to be different, that need to be involved in the things I adore, the need to be special, the need to be absorbed and the need to be needy.

Is this generation of nerds the product of those crazy drugged up Baby-boomers who swanned through the sixties and seventies on drugs and high ideals of peace to all mankind and then fell into the materialistic Eighties with apathy on their minds? These revolutionaries who eventually grew up and produced a whole bunch of kids who yearned to be something different? Are we the children of that revolution?
Or am I just trying desperately to justify my use of the Kirsty MacColl song title in the name of this post? I am such a nerd!

Judge for yourselves.
And while you're at it, go dye your hair purple... it'd be soooo coooool!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Titanic Days

On Thursday evening, I went to the Melbourne Museum with my dear friend Michelle to see the Titanic Exhibition.

I can't deny that part of the reason for attending was so I could use this specific Kirsty MacColl song title for the blog entry.

I met Michelle outside the museum and as we had about ninety minutes to kill prior to our allotted time entry, we went and had a bite to eat at Mrs. Parma's where I had a lovely chicken parmigiana with salsa and jalapenos.


It was quite a filling meal, but at least we were able to walk it off for the rest of the evening. We headed back to the museum...

When you arrive at the exhibition, you get handed a boarding pass with details of a real-life passenger who sailed on the Titanic.




As you can see, I was Mr. David John Barton from Cambridge. I was supposed to have taken another ship, but due to a failed medical exam, I had to wait and catch this ill-fated vessel.
Michelle was Mrs Ida Straus - a rather important character on the boat as she was First Class and one of the 'featured' wealthy passengers in the exhibition. I was, as in life, rather unimportant and insignificant! Still, I made up a story that she and I were having an illicit affair spanning the generations and the classes. I was 22, she was 60-something. Forget Leo & Kate, this was far more raunchy.
Speaking of that atrocious movie, there was not one reference to it. I was so pleased. I had promised Michelle that if I heard the wailing banshee that is Celine Dion at any point in the day, I would scream and possible start punching random people, but thankfully there was no such reaction due to the wonderful absence of such atrocities.

During the tour, you also have the opportunity to have your picture taken to purchase at the end.







Don't we look splendid?

At the end of the tour (prior to the little shop - oh how we love a little shop) there is a wall of names listing those who survived and those who died.
I, apparently, died. But I believe I saved myself with my secret jet-pack.
Michelle died. She stayed behind to be alongside her husband - mad woman! (Not very romantic, am I?)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Queen of the High Teas

Today, my lovely friend Michelle drove me to Sassafras so we could have lunch at Miss Marple's Tea Rooms.
For anyone who doesn't know Michelle, she is the epitome of all things classy - she's like a Disney Princess in many ways - but not at all like Princess Clara from Drawn Together.

We have a lot of things in common, but one of our strongest bonds has to be our love of a decent cuppa.

As Miss Marple's Tea Rooms is always phenomenally busy, we had to leave our reservations and return an hour later. We whiled away our time by visiting the lovely shops in the surrounding area.

Firstly, we entered another favourite place of ours, 'Tea Leaves' - a shop dedicated to tea of all varieties and the vessels which pure and serve them.



Then we tottered a little further along the road to a beautiful gourmet food shop entitled 'Cream' which is run by Leenah and Mark.
Mark is the king of the upsell and his enthusiasm is rather contagious, especially when he has found a kindred spirit when it comes to marmalade (yes, that's me)
Just look at the range of goodies on offer... drool!



I ended up taking away some Australian Harvest's Spicy Garlic Mustard, Cunliffe Waters' Hand Cut Cumquat Marmalade and some incredible lemon curd made by a woman named Leanne whose personal industry is simply making "Unforgettable Curds".

This is Mark, performing his superb salesman techniques on another customer.



After popping into a number of gorgeous antique stores and the occasional wacky-fruitcake stores (crystals, unicorns, baby sacrificial alters etc.) we returned to Miss Marple's.

We had a brief wait by the bookcases until a table came free. Here is Michelle almost fainting with anticipation...



Every year, they do a 'Christmas in July' theme and they decorate the place and carols play. As you can see, the place is packed.



One of the waitresses took our picture, much to the chagrin of the other staff who were busy trying to squeeze in and out of the tables - but we didn't care!



We had a massive pot of tea between us, some chips and garlic bread for starters, I had the vegetable pastie and Michelle had the Chicken cottage pie thing for mains and then it was time for dessert.
Michelle had the scones with jam and cream, but I opted for an old favourite of mine. Christmas pudding and custard!



We were rather stuffed afterward, but we managed to stagger back to the car and get home in one piece.

Michelle is a wonderful friend and she certainly knows how to do things in style.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Can't Stop Killing You

When I was young, the first novels I read that weren't written for children were those written by Agatha Christie. I have a vivid memory of reading Sleeping Murder, The ABC Murders, A Murder is Announced and Curtain amongst others.
It was the eighties and I was very fond of Joan Hickson's portrayal of Miss Marple on TV (which I still believe to be the best, bar none) and I was also an unashamed fan of Murder She Wrote.
Clue was aired on BBC2 for the first time ever and I watched it with my brother - we almost died laughing at the singing telegram. I have since watched it well-over a hundred times. Sad, but true.
Then, as the 1990s approached, David Suchet became the perfect Poirot and my friend William and I were, at that time, rather keen on making our own films and after three gloriously barking epic chronicling the adventures of Rupe and Ollie, we made the murder mystery classic The Butler Didn't Do It! - one can see the influence of films such as Clue and Murder By Death.

So, as you can see, there was a theme running through my life at that time. Now, although dates in my personal history tend to be a little hazy, I am reasonably sure that it was in 1989/1990, for my birthday, I had my very first Murder Party!

It was held at a house in Matlock Bath which belonged to the family of my friend Tamsin. I don't remember the entire plot, but I know that in attendance that night were a bunch of excitable young teens (Hannah, Emma, Tamsin, Gemma, Aaron, William and myself - there may have been others) all with silly names and mad motives. I played Dr. R.E. Meur (see what I did there?) and, no, I wasn't the murderer - that turned out to be Hannah.
(Gemma, Aaron, William, Hannah in this pic)



I had even made a life-size dummy to play the corpse.

From then on, I began hosting a number of Murder Parties, sometimes renting out large places like Lea Green so we had lots of rooms to run amok in.



Some parties were much bigger than others, with up to 40 people attending - and each needing a character to portray.
I'd orchestrate the evening and enter into a kind of 'zone' - I'd be so focused on making sure everyone was enjoying themselves, staying true to character, understanding the plot; that I would actually forget to enjoy myself. By the end of the evening, I would be a wreck - totally drained emotionally and physically.

The whole thing became rather stressful even prior to the night because one had to deal with personal politics. Due to the nature of the parties, it was necessary to have limited numbers invited and that meant not inviting some people. There were, on occasions, times when I had to be strict. If I knew a girl who was great at dramatic improvising, I would tell her she wasn't allowed to bring her meat-head boyfriend simply because he wouldn't get into it and ruin it all.

Anyway, I could reminisce and make vague attempts at conscience-clearing regarding 'who got invited and who didn't' until my body became as tense as rigor mortis, but I shan't do that to myself. Not now anyway.

The point is, these Murder Parties were my hobby. Instead of collecting stamps or playing football or molesting badgers, I planned the murders of fictional characters.

Word did get around about these soirees and I was approached on the street by a complete stranger who introduced herself as being a part of a certain church group and she said they wanted to 'help' me and 'save' me. She said "you're on a dangerous and slippery slope". I was bewildered. So I pushed her under a bus...

The point of this post is, tonight I have another Murder Party. It's the first one I have written and attended in ten years. I did write one for some friends overseas, but a giant planet stood between me and the guests.

Today, I am more stressed about it than ever before. Mainly because I am doing this with a whole different type of people. Kids in their teens are fairly easy to please and there were low expectations. However, when we mature and become 'adult', we become more wary and we expect so much more. I want tonight's events to go smoothly, but I want everyone to enjoy it and not feel the same pressure that I am feeling.

Imagine you had to perform a sexual act in front of all of your friends.
Not only will they all see you naked, but they'll be judging you on your style and form.
That's what I feel like today! That is insane, I know. My friends are kind, lovely decent people, but there's that barmy Id Vs Ego thing playing out in my head.

OK, I ought to stop worrying about it now - I was up late last night, unable to sleep due to the madness running through my head.

Let's see how tonight goes and if I am still in one piece tomorrow, I may fill you in on the details.
Wish me luck.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ride

As you will be thoroughly aware by now, I am not exactly successful as an adventurer in the land of love. Some people brave the wild waters of romance and machete their way through the jungles of sexual shenanigans, whereas I tend to dip my toe in the sea and declare it too cold or stay on the edge of the dark forests for fear of being bitten by killer ants.

Before I continue, I should state that one of my top ten films of all-time is Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and I have always had this strange inclination that, one day, I too would cross paths with someone whom I may enjoy a special relationship with – I don’t mean to ‘swap murders’ with. That would be crazy and illegal.
This bit of information is not merely a random comment…

This Friday morning, I was taking the train into work. I change trains at Richmond station and as I was waiting for the second leg of my journey, I spied a rather attractive fellow on platform nine. Our eyes kept catching like sticky burrs on a woollen pullover and when the train pulled up to the station, we sat relatively close to each other with only an aisle between us.
During the first five minutes of the journey, there were a couple of awkward glances between the two of us, both, I assumed, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. The train was a limited express so we bypassed most stations. When we stopped at Glenferrie to release the hordes of students, we did not set off again. The train remained stuck at the station for a further 25 minutes. What a day to have left my book at home!
Apparently, there was something amiss with the doors. I imagine they were loose and the train driver was worried we might all throw ourselves from the moving vehicle in fits of despair on this cool Friday morning. Better to be safe than sued for negligence.

After a period, the driver told us to abort our journey and wait for another train. This triggered the tall handsome devil sitting across from me to smile in my direction and raise his eyebrows in a pantomime show of acquiescence. I gave some sort of imitation to show my camaraderie and, as we stepped off the train onto the platform, I asked him if he was going to be late for work. This begun a conversation in which I discovered; his name was Hugo, where he worked and lived, and that he was Dutch (I asked if he was Canadian! I should be better at picking accents although he did confuse me by have a maple leaf emblem on his sleeve! Tricky…)

The next train eventually arrived and we both took the ride to Camberwell where he had to change for his connection. In a bold and daring move, I reached into my wallet and handed him my own personal card detailing my email address and mobile number.
Then I went off on my merry way with a spring in my step and my cheeks flushed with excitement.

Now for the reality check:

1. The Dutch people I have known before have always been friendly, polite and congenial, so he may just be his usual amicable self and not, as I presume, ‘interested’.
2. One chat does not constitute a friendship.
3. He may never attempt to get in touch, despite the contact details supplied.

But in the land of my fantastical imagination;

1. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
2. Titter.
3. Hmmmmmmmm.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Don't Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim!

Like the Ouroboros, I find myself repeating certain ventures in my life. Some may describe me as a glutton for punishment, others may simply call me a fool.
Once more, I have delved into the sinful world of internet dating. Actually, I should not be so pessimistic; I know a number of happy couples who have met online and have marvellous, long-standing relationships.

I have paraded my profile on an internet dating site. The first site I joined was a huge disappointment to me. I should not have paid before browsing. I was gutted to discover that 96% of profile pictures on the website were of genitalia. I soon learned that the website seemed to be dedicated only in the pursuit of meaningless sexual gratification. I don't want to come across as a prude as I am well aware that for a lot of people, this is needed and adored. For me, however, I would like something a little more cerebral and durable.
I braced myself and deleted my account just moments later - forfeiting the dollars I had paid to join.

The second site was a little better - only 45% posted pictures of their exposed members - and although there was some evidence of testosterone-driven urges needing to be fulfilled, there was also a satisfying collection of people who seemed keen to find their perfect mate. So, another hunk of cash deposited for this slightly more redeeming site and I began selling myself to the most attentive bidder.

I waited.

And waited.

For crying out loud, I am a sales-person by trade! Am I not able to make my own personal form alluring to the masses? I have used the top-quality photographs taken recently by my good friend, Eric and I have been eloquent in my wording when trying to describe who I am and what I desire in a partner. So surely there is someone out there who appreciates my efforts.
Admittedly, it is early days, so I shan't chastise myself too greatly.

This is not, as I implied earlier, my first attempt at internet dating.
The last couple of times led me to the brink of depression as I was continually abused and rejected by cold-hearted monsters with one thing on their minds.
However, with this in mind, I am going in armed with hind-sight and more confidence than I have had for many years. I shall not shirk my inherent chivalrous and diplomatic nature by cloaking myself in a guise of carefree arrogance; I intend to remain my good-natured self. That said, I will attempt to raise my guard and fend off any offensive shuns with a nonchalant brush-off and continue on my eager jaunt.

I am not online to find a quick shag and another notch to my belt. My heart is tender and open, waiting for someone kind, considerate and warm.
So, to all those cowboys out there wanting their quick fix, keen to get their rocks off, you'll just have to go knocking else where.

Soldier on, Bennyboy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Shutting the Doors

Depression. The word itself evokes a dark veil of misery. There are, of course, a number of politically correct terms and a few euphemisms to infer the same meaning. The most common is the rather incongruous ‘black dog’. Surely to be followed by a soppy puppy would be a thing of joy? Admittedly, if you had allergies, that could be a problem.

I have suffered from depression for the majority of my adult life. I did not always know the reasons behind my erratic mood swings, but over time, it became apparent and eventually, it was diagnosed.

Before your eyes drift away to the ‘bookmark’ menu in search of something more cheerful to read or view, I must say that I am not going to go into detail about how and why, for that is my business, not yours. Heaven knows, I don’t want to inflict that upon you.

However, I would like to briefly touch upon the signs that I see when I begin to descend into the wallowing moods.

There are signs with my diet. It could go either way. I will either start binging on naughty foods like pizza or marmalade sandwiches, or I lose my appetite all together.

*I begin pushing people away. Not too far, just far enough so they are slightly out of reach. I will avoid contact and, if that isn’t possible, I will avoid discussions that are too close to comfort – hence my often inconsequential ramblings. (This is often proven by my belief that a witty one-liner is a perfect foil to fend off the most earnest of interrogators.)

*I begin shutting the doors, walling myself up in the comfort of my own abode and I’ll even unplug the telephone. Shut away from the havoc and inconsistencies of the world outside, I feel trapped, yet safe, like a survivor in a nuclear bunker, post-war.

*I begin thinking about minimising the clutter of my life. I imagine selling my possessions of simply giving them away in an altruistic act.

*I go to bed. I climb into the womb of slumber and retreat into a world of fantasy within my dreams. These night retreats begin earlier and earlier and last longer and longer.

These warning signs do not always arrive en masse and they don’t always appear in any particular order, but occasionally, one or two will creep up behind me and I shan’t notice until it’s too late.

When my conscience has done its duty and made good use of the Crow’s Nest, I can see the storm approaching. Often, there is sufficient time to steer the ship away, but other times, it’s a case of batten down the hatches and ride it out. (I shan’t stretch the maritime analogy further, I promise.)

I have a number of methods to combat the persistent Labrador (See? It sounds far too cute to be bad!)

1) I get out of the house. Yes, sometimes this means shopping. A jolly good purchase can definitely be the right medicine. Money can’t buy you complete happiness, but if it can raise a smile, who is to knock it?

2) I make calls to friends. Speaking to them over the phone or in person is a wonderful medication. It may feel daunting prior to the moment, but it can be a huge release once that initial roadblock has been hurdled.

3) I try to stop beating myself up and give my self some positive feedback. I am my own worst critic and I frequently flagellate my ego with torrents of mental abuse highlighting my own flaws and inadequacies. This is, obviously, bordering on the mental. So, in retaliation I force myself to praise those things which I perceive to be the better parts of my soul and being.

4) I watch something I love. It may be Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, a Fred and Ginger film from the ‘30s or Clue: The Movie. A bit of comedy or a ‘feel-good’ movie can do wonders – if you’re comfy with a big mug of tea and a packet of yummy biscuits, by your side, then all the better!

5) I read one of my 'comfort' reads - an Agatha Christie or a Dick Francis. Sometimes something familiar and easy to read can whisk you away to a better place - albeit full of murders and crippled horses.

6) I count my blessings. Those who are insensitive to depression may callously think we who suffer should just ‘get over it’. If only it were that simple. However, placing yourself in context with the rest of the world can bring a little light to your doldrums.

These steps I take are not almighty cures, they are merely safety buffers.

The BBC just aired an episode of Doctor Who, penned by Richard Curtis, which touched upon the subject of depression. Given its family tea-time slot, it wasn’t particularly in depth or heavy-handed about it. However, it did highlight the effect depression can have on people and purposefully showed that there are no easy answers.


For more information, please take a look at the following websites.

www.beyondblue.org.au/

www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby

I have just come back from our annual work conference. For some reason, I always become rather stressed and anxious before a conference and this is often reflected in my stools. Luckily, my body grows accustomed and my bowels settle down.
It all began on Monday when the company got together for a buffet lunch in the office canteen area prior to an elaborate presentation at the Rivoli cinemas.
It is quite an extravaganza with some rather swanky videos and funky tunes to boost our energy. I am pleased I work for a company that does not take itself too seriously and those who present have a decent sense of humour. I'd go mad otherwise.

We often have 'special guests' at our conferences and the marketing department do a superb job in getting some big names (hanging out for Dawn French next year - fix it for us, Dan, could you?)
However, being the person I am, I am often a tad unfamiliar with some of the big Aussie names we attract.
At the end of the Rivoli presentation, we were the audience for Matthew Hayden, a cricketer whose book is due out in a few months. Cricket.
That's the one with the boxes, right? Ah yes... now I recall...

Well, Matthew gave his little speech with some gloriously flowery mixed metaphors and anecdotes so full of sporting jargon I was left none-the-wiser, but I don't suppose he gets paid the big bucks for public speaking gigs. It could have been worse - it could have been Jason Akermanis.
All I know is that I'm crap at cricket, so I can't complain.

When this was over, the sales teams from around the country headed to Creswick. If you have ever played the computer game (or seen the film) Silent Hill, then you know what to expect (minus rabid dogs and zombie nurses - one hopes).
The Novotel is a good hotel; we stayed there last year too. My good friend Gavin Burbidge and I usually share a room, but this time, we got a two-bedroom suite, so I didn't have to put up with his snoring and he didn't have to put up with my farts.



As you can see, it was a nice suite. It had it's own fireplace, which was not to be sniffed at - for fear of dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.



I had the larger room with the super-dooper bed and I had the en suite with the shower.



There was also a kitchenette for some unknown reason and Gavin's bathroom had a wonderfully deep spa bath. I did take the opportunity to have my once-a-year bath on the Tuesday afternoon, but it was so big, it took an hour to fill!
(Yes, I shower daily and I take care not to waste water, which is why a bath at the conference is a treat!)

The Monday evening, we had our second 'special guest'. It was the writer and environmental genius, Tim Flannery. I have had the opportunity to listen to him before, but that in no means dampens the effect the second time around. The man is simply a genius and,f rankly, he should be running the country.
No disrespect intended, but it was entertaining making comparisons between Tim's speech and Matthew Hayden's. Bless.

As for the evening meal I was still feeling a little tender in the abdomen. I hadn't had any lunch and I couldn't face much dinner either, so I ended up chatting to some of our publishing agency guests (Nina Kenwood from Black Inc. and John Hunter from UQP) and then dashing off to bed around 10 before I fainted from malnutrition.

Tuesday was a whole new ballgame. Previously, we have spent our time all sat in one room like a captive (and often unresponsive) audience - it was like that bit in Edith Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle where the children perform their play to a room full of homemade dummies.
This time around, the agencies were situated at separate tables (nothing to do with Terrance Rattigan) and we, in small groups, visited each publisher where they would give us information about their forthcoming titles and we could also provide feedback and ask questions. Bonus! It also gave us the opportunity to flirt with them too, if that was something we wanted to do. I, of course, would never do such a thing - heavens to Betsy, good gracious, no!

I spent most of the time off in the late afternoon reading the manuscript of John Ajvide Lindqvist's new book, Harbour. I simply love this man's work. Let me tell you, I am only a third of the way into the book, but it's everything you'd expect from the man who brought you Let The Right One In and Handling the Undead.



Please excuse the vulgarity of my naked legs, but alas, I had nothing 'comfy' to wear, having hoped for a hotel robe to laze around in - instead it was a polo shirt and my undies. I put the polo shirt on especially for the photograph - be grateful!

Tuesday evening, at the evening dinner, we had another 'special guest'. This time it was the Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, who even performed a couple of songs for us. (In case you're wondering, yes, he has a book coming too!)
Now, prior to the knowledge of Paul's book, I had no idea who he was. So when it was announced he was our guest, I was about as excited as if they'd proclaimed the arrival of Mr Singh of the local law firm, Singh, Singh, Buttrose and Singh. However, the electric atmosphere surrounding me as the more knowledgeable and enamoured groupies thundered their applause in appreciation, I understood what this man meant to people. After hearing him speak about his songs and also perform, I became acutely aware of his talent and could see why he would generate such enthusiasm.
Oh, and although it's not much interest to anyone, this is what I was wearing that night. I only put this in because I am aware that you might want something pretty to look at. Although I'm not pretty, my tie is rather geeky fun.



Sadly, the look and the tie did not help me pick up the rather handsome waiter, Jarrod. He was tall, lean, young (d'oh) and with the most magnificent nose. I do love a big nose! *sigh*

Wednesday was the day we got to see the Penguin UK titles and, boy, they do like their funky pop music. It keeps us awake I suppose.
We also heard from our brands and licensing people (Troy Lewis is a wizard of puns and for that I am truly thankful!)
After lunch, we saw some super stuff from Marketing and Publicity and finally some interesting aspects of the future of our internal computer systems. I say 'interesting' but, as you may know, I am not the most technologically sound person you will ever meet. I got the gist of it and I can see the benefits, but I think I'll wait until the whole thing is up and running before commenting so I can do the whole trial and error perusal. (Instructions? Bah!!)

Wednesday night was the big party night. We were told to dress formal. I took two suits for the occasion, leaving the decision making to the last moment. I could have gone with the grey suit I bought for Louise and Adam's wedding last year or the funky white suit I bought three years ago. In the end, I went for the funk, mainly because this is the first time in three years I have been able to fit into it!



The damn thing cost me something between six and eight hundred dollars (I forget), so I thought I ought to give it another airing.
The blue shirt is a gorgeous Saba shirt I bought years ago in the hope that one day I'd be thin enough to wear it. Thank goodness! The time has come!

No special guests this evening, but everyone looked glam and dazzling. there are some pics below. I do not have a steady hand, so forgive the appalling nature of the pictures.

The two Louises! Or Two Lous Lautrec, as I like to call them.


Pre-dinner drinks.


Fancy!

Gossip Girls.

Kim, being classy as ever.

"Did you watch Masterchef last night?"


Then it was the awards part of the evening. Each year, there are a smattering of prizes ranging from door-prizes (who'd want a door? They're a nightmare to transport home again) to the prestigious 'Rep of the Year Award'.

Door-prizes were picked out of a large fish bowl. Two goldfish, a castle and a bit of weed. Huzzah!
Claire Hume won the innovation award (I did take a pic, but it was so blurry - blame the emotion!)
Then the two big ones.

We have a 'Hall of Fame' and this year, one of the Queensland reps won this mighty honour. Peter Leeder, who has been with the company for nearly 21 years, took to the stage and gave a very humble speech.
Then, the big one. Rep of the year went to me wonderful friend and occasionally annoying room-mate (*wink*), Gavin Burbidge.
Not only was this a well-deserved accolade as he is an amazing bloke who does a terrific job, but it was also a remarkable moment for the rest of us, for it was the first time he was "almost speechless". Shame about the "almost", Gav! Just kidding - you're a legend!

Peter and Gavin, receiving well-deserved awards.


Not only does he win the adoration of his colleagues and a $5000 travel voucher, but, as Rep of the year, he also receives this splendid award...


As anyone who knows me will attest, I am one of those big-mouthed fools who spouts off everything he thinks. It is not etiquette to say it, but I don't give a flippity-floo-flah. One day, I would like to win such an award. Oh yes! The only thing I have ever truly won was an award for having an Outstanding Personality whilst at college. In other words, I won for being flamboyant!
But to win for being the best at what you do is something we all strive for. I can't see it happening though as my colleagues are all so bloody brilliant at what they do. Everyone deserves to be recognised for their fine, hard work and I am proud of them all and proud to be a part of their team.

Still, one day, I may take that stage, and when I do... I bet I'll be bloody speechless too!


One final thing...

Someone's cleavage. I won't say who. It's not my fault. I was lunged at.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Berlin*

This weekend, I watched the Eurovision song contest for the first time in my life. Well, it's true I may have channel flicked over it in my youth, but I have never sat down to endure the gala in its gargantuan glittery glory.

I did not watch the first semi-final, but I did watch the second along with my friends Chris and Richard. Chris is a Eurovision Aficionado of the highest calibre. What he doesn't know about Eurovision is not worth knowing - and some of the stuff he does know is also not worth knowing. So I was in the best possible company as I had my EuroCherry stolen from me.

Chris initially thought I was detesting the entire night due to my critical barbs, but eventually he realised that this was all part of my enjoyment.

A few points.

1) If you are a boy band with sequined hotpants, do not at any point admit that you're all straight. The majority of your audience are probably gay and you just lost millions of votes. Silly Lithuanian boys.

2) If the advertisers want us to buy their albums, please spell the artistes names correctly. It's Cliff Richard and Matt Monro, not 'Richards' and 'Monroe'. Asswipes.

3) Although I don't believe it should be judged on spectacle (costumes, dancers, lighting effects) I will give bonus points if you're cute.

I watched the final on my own on and had flurries of texts between my friends Chris and Nola regarding the various performances. My two favourites to win were Romania and Germany and I was pleased to see them both finish in the top three.

The UK entry was absolutely dire. No, that's being too kind. I cannot even begin to describe who utterly dreadful it was. The one consolation was that Josh seemed to have smuggled a badger into Oslo down the front of his pants. Now, that sounds good to me!
Another appalling entry was Ireland. This song was pathetically wet and bland. Our Australian hosts kept referring to her as 'Royalty' - what? Fergie?

Tom Dice from Belgium was a decent entry, but it felt a little out of place. I didn't mind watching him though, cute as a button. (Whatever that means).

Germany won. Hoo-bloody-ra! Somebody said she was Germany's answer to Lily Allen. No, that can't be true. Germany's answer to Lily Allen should be a rifle to the face.
So, it's Berlin to host next year?? You've gotta love those Germans. Sure, World War II was a bit of a hiccough, but give 'em credit where credit's due; their music is fun and their genes are stunning.

See! I got into it. Who'd have thought it?

*(Sure, I know it was in Oslo... but next year, Berlin?)