Jun 8, 2014

Signs of China

Beijing: A City of Strangeness and Wonder That Is Wonderfully Photogenic

Mar 30, 2014

The Greatest Prank to Go Unnoticed

I've just wrapped up ten days in the Big Apple, New York City. 

Our travel party included: my grandmother, Queen Pat, who had never been and decided that at 89, she was finally ready; my friend Amy, with whom I would perform in a NY Improv Festival; and our friend Daren, aka Dazzler, who had wanted to go in April but then tweaked his schedule when he heard we were all going, and wouldn't it be more fun to party on as a big group?

Thing about Dazzler though, is that he wanted to keep his American jaunt secret, so he could pop up in the States and surprise all his friends on Facebook.

Whaddya gonna do? Spoil his big thing? So Amy and I kept radio silence.

Daren turned up in Los Angeles and posted, but didn't mention he was joining us in New York.

So we concocted an awesome photo bombing plan, that turned the first few days of our trip into a game of 'Where's Dazzler?'

For reference, here is Dazzler in NY:

And here are the shots Amy and I took and posted on Facebook, just waiting for somebody to ping to the ruse.

Times Square:

Empire State Building:

Statue of Liberty:

In a Broadway theatre:

And in front of the PIT theatre, home of the Improv festival:

But nobody pinged! People on Facebook kept liking our pictures, but nobody seem to work out that the bloke in the striped beanie seemed to show up a lot.

Eventually we posted a video where Daren derides the great art of Impro (jokingly of course - well, I think), and a few people liked it.


Once Amy left us in New York, Daren and I made a silly 'We miss you' picture.

I've just met up with Amy in Edinburgh, where she now lives. So we decided to replicate:

After posting that on Facebook this morning, I received a brilliant response from my friend Scott:

Hats off to you sir, some fine work. I hope this means our awesome prank did tickle people's fancies. 

Dec 29, 2013

In Tents

I've been telling folks here at Woodford that the last time I put up a tent was ten years ago, but it's actually longer.

Some focused reflection on years gone by has confirmed that the last time I was responsible for erecting a nylon horror from beyond the stars was Year 10 camp, and I was 14. That's more than half my life ago.

I borrowed this tent from a work colleague late on Friday night, before heading up to the Folk Festival on Saturday morning. It took some hours for organisers to figure out my assigned camping spot, so it was only around 5pm that I was able to unload the mighty tent and realise... "I have absolutely no idea how to do this."

But never fear! I would push on. It would be like brain training, those exercises in logic and problem solving that you do to improve your grey matter.

The tent came with no instructions, but rather two long interconnected poles, and one short one, plus twelve tent pegs. I did not have a "hammer" or anything useful like that, so I started by laying out the tent and driving the pegs into the semi-hard ground with the palms of my hands. 

When I stayed in a Mongolian ger, it had a chimney in the middle, so I first tried to emulate that by shoving the short pole smack bang in the middle of the tent.

I then realised there was no way to secure such an arrangement, and besides, it was not conducive to setting up the air mattress I had brought along.

So I looked at the blue tent next to me, which had a curved pole across its entryway, forming a sort of patio in front of the dome. All right, I thought, I'll give that a go.

Not quite the same. My rapidly overheating brain eventually pinged that the two long interconnected poles needed to run corner to corner, crossing at the top of the tent. I took a punt and ran them under the tent, remembering that the last tent I erected had poles on the inside.

I clipped the clips to the outside of the material, then grabbed the silver cover sheet to go over the top. It didn't seem to fit properly. Then I remembered - the shorter pole! It must have to attach to the cover somehow. 

I tried a range of positions, but none seemed right.

Eventually I gave up on ever finding a purpose for the shorter rod. I enlisted the help of Maeve, a kindly young volunteer at the camping HQ, who hadn't seen a tent like mine before either. 

We redraped the cover as best we could, then Maeve, bless her, grabbed a hammer and thrust in the remaining tent pegs to hold it down.

It wasn't quite right, but still, I had to get my car out of the way and get to my first "Game On" panel show.

I've since discovered (thanks to mercy cries on Twitter) that these types of tents are supposed to have the poles on the outside of the tent, and underneath the cover. Similarly if it rains and I don't have that air gap between the two, the tent will leak.

So I need to reconfigure my tent. Problem is, it's already over 30 degrees and climbing. Frankly the tent can stuff it.

Dec 27, 2013

Treasure hunt!

Greetings, one and all.

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and a relaxed and fun-filled Boxing Day.

I am enjoying my first official holidays over the Christmas/New Year period in some years. I had hoped to perhaps write something every day, but that ambition was promptly sunk by the prospect of doing not terribly much at all. 

One thing I did manage to pull off, however, was a super fun Christmas treasure hunt for The Wah. 

I had bought him a very shiny new present, but I felt it was something that required working for. Given that we had a quiet Christmas at home this year (our respective families being out of town), I thought it might help add some extra zest to the morning.

I worked out all the locations for clues a few days beforehand, wrote them up in dodgy rhyme, then printed out and sealed them on Christmas Eve.

The Wah is a very light sleeper, so it was some kind of Christmas miracle that I was able to get up and out of the house at 6 o'clock in the morning without him catching me in the act. I walked around our local park, planted the clues and buried the present (something I was a bit uncertain how to do until I surreptitiously managed to borrow a gardening trowel from our friend Dan). There was the odd jogger and dog-walker out, but no one paid much attention.

As I wandered back home, I did feel a small amount of fear at the fact I'd buried a rather expensive bit of kit in a public place. Had someone found any one of the clues, and had half a brain, they probably would've been able to uncover it. That would've been a fun insurance claim to make.

Thankfully they were all still there when The Wah opened his card with the first clue and we set off on a brisk jaunt to find the treasure.

I suppose treasure hunts are usually considered as activities for children and/or pirates, but The Wah seemed to enjoy it. I would heartily recommend it for anyone wanting to give a fun experience along with a present - or hell, just do it for fun one day.  It's fun for the recepient, but for the mastermind it's entertaining as well, as you watch the person try to figure out riddles and give as many - or as few - hints as you want!

Tomorrow I'm heading up to the Woodford Folk Festival, where I shall be a panellist on the comedy quiz show "Game On" for four nights (Saturday 28, Sunday 29, Monday 30, Tuesday 31). It's on at 7.30pm in the GreenHouse each night, if you're planning to be at the event at all during those times. 

I'm hoping to do more blogging while at Woodford to see in the New Year with a renewed vigour for this poor, neglected site.

Nov 18, 2013

Uninspired & Terrified

It's a sad day to realise that not only do you feel like you have nothing to say, but that you feel something akin to fear in saying anything at all.

Here it comes - the obligatory "Gee, I don't blog much anymore, do I?" post.

I've been avoiding it all year, truth be told. I read a "Tips for How to Blog Properly" type of list once that said you should never write such a post because it will frustrate your readers. Instead, you should just post when you are inspired.

But it's been so long since I was inspired, hasn't it? My last few posts have been relatively run of the mill. I couldn't even summon the energy to write in more detail about my beloved He Died With a Felafel in His Hand adventure at the Powerhouse. You'd think I could've mustered up some juicy titbits about staging a production, or lyrical prose about the transience of art and shared human experiences in the performance realm.

But no. I was too busy living the production, being responsible for as much detail as possible, and trying to keep my own head above water during a stressful time that it all went in a blur and now almost feels like a dream just out of reach. Like a massage with a feather, leaving just a faint sensation of having been drawn across your skin.

I write all day, (almost) every day for work now, you see. I enjoy my job as an arts writer, but it uses a lot of the creative energy that I used to dollop out on blogging. I have to find a way into arts stories, write them in an interesting and hopefully dynamic way. I spend a lot of time on trying to make what I write something people will want to read. It's not a task that I can ever imagine finishing to my complete satisfaction. There will always be more to try, more to do.

When something happens and I get the faint spark of an idea for a blog post, it is hard to capture that and keep it sacred, keep it away from the gaping maw of the internet, whose job it is to write, rewrite, attack, counter-attack and reposte on every conceivable topic all before I've had my lunch on any given day.

There's so much on the internet, you see. So much sturm und drang, so much opinion, so many articles about what does and does not constitute equality/sexism/douchebaggery/right/wrong, so much goddamned commentary about rape that it makes me want to scream.

I'm not an expert on anything, so why should I throw my voice into the beast? What good does it do? What the hell do I know? At a time in my life where I'm slowly growing more confident in my own skills to achieve certain things, I have simultaneously never felt dumber. Apart from a few dodgy puns, I'm at a loss to explain what kind of contribution I can make.

Putting out any kind of "statement" now seems risky. Given the aforementioned state of "feeling dumb", I constantly feel that I am "wrong", that what I think is abhorrent to others and a stigma on me. All of it - their opinions, my opinions, are tiring.

The other night I tweeted about tattoos...

...which prompted a few narky responses about my use of the word 'ruin'. I was called out for being judgemental and/or making women feel bad about their bodies.

I got a bit flustered by that, and metaphorically threw my hands up. "There's just no point saying anything," I thought.

I felt angered because I'm really quite the feminist, and actually believe in freedom of choice. I honestly am happy for people to tattoo the words to Nine Inch Nails' Closer on their forehead if it's what they want.

But you know what? I WAS judging. Because I personally hate tattoos. I loathe them, on men and women. My brain's particular pleasure centres find them displeasing. I do actually think that when you're a young woman with slim toned legs that I personally would strangle a newborn kitten for, that tattoos flung carelessly about your thighs do "ruin" them.

(Here I feel compelled to give a disclaimer: I think I'm personally ruining my body through all number of other factors - poor diet, not enough exercise, sun exposure, etc. So I don't feel "superior", I just feel "judgy").

I do accept reasons that people get tattoos done - remembering or honouring family members or friends, for the beauty they find in them, and most importantly of all, because they fricking well just want some fricking tattoos, and despite the best efforts of the Queensland government, we don't yet live in a total police state.

Now, I hear you wondering, and I myself am pondering, what the frick does it matter if I hate tattoos or not? Maybe I should just shut the hell up and let people get on with their lives. Which is absolutely true.

But it proved to me that I have just gone quiet on so many things. Even just writing the above about disliking tattoos has me fearful of copping an earful.

I've just shut up because I'm honestly too tired to argue, and because I'm tired of being "wrong" all the time. And if I've just shut up about something so trivial (ie tattoos), what else have I shut up about?

Pretty much everything.

I've been listening to the song Roar by Katy Perry a lot recently. I know it's just gummy candy pop with a cute video clip, but a few of its lyrics seem to issue a warning that's hit me right in the girly brain meats.

"I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything."

I would like to stand for something. For several things, even. More importantly, I would like to be able to articulate my position without fear of causing offence and being "wrong".

Hopefully my next post will be about what those things are.*

*Beyond "Say no to tattoos", obviously.

Oct 23, 2013

Five Early 90s Female Pop Songs You Didn't Realise You Needed to Hear Again

....or indeed for the first time, for the young (re: uneducated) people out there.

The 1990s was a golden era for solo female pop. The Spice Girls, Girls Aloud and Destiny's Child heralded a new era of pop girl bands from the mid-to-late 90s, before the rise of Britney and Christina once again secured pop music for the solo femmes.

Of course, Madonna was doing her thing throughout all of this, but Madonna's just so far ahead of the pack she should comprise every Top X List of Everything Ever.

Here are five tracks that demonstrate what a young girl might be exposed to musically as her teenage years approached.

5. One of Us by Joan Osborne

OK, so its 1995 release date technically puts it out of the early 90s. But in tone, timbre and intent, it belongs in this list. Most people would probably now know this song as the loving duet Dr Evil and Mini-Me sing in Austin Powers 2, or as the theme for the TV show Joan of Arcadia.

But before that it was a massive hit. It was everywhere, you couldn't escape it. That riff, that yearning voice, that nostril ring she wears in the video clip - it all made Joan Osborne a star. For about five minutes.

Songwriter Eric Bazilian supposedly dashed off the song quickly to impress hit future wife, and offered it to Joan Osborne while working on her album. Her raw vocals turned the "wacky" song about faith and Jesus and the saints and all the prophets into an endearing search for meaning. Despite his hopes, Eric didn't win a Grammy, but he's no doubt made a Bazilian dollars in royalties.

4. Boy in the Moon by Margaret Urlich

You've probably sung along to Margaret Urlich dozens of times and never realised it. The New Zealand-born singer provided the backing vocals in Darryl Braithwaite's 1990 mega hit The Horses. Since then, countless karaoke nights have included some tomfool maxing out the reverb with a "Beeeeeee, little darling!" Sometimes it's not even me.

But Urlich chose not to appear in Dazzer's film clip for The Horses, because she was trying to establish herself as a soloist. 1992's The Boy in the Moon was possibly her biggest hit, a cheerful love ballad supported by an artsy video clip that really highlights the importance of the choker to early 90s fashion. My god, the chokers. They were like an albatross around your neck. 

3. Cry by Lisa Edwards

What did I just tell you about chokers?

I remember getting the CD single of this song from my aunt. I think she'd won it or something and didn't want it. I had that CD for years, just sitting in a rack under Madonna's Erotica and Michael Jackson's Dangerous. I can't remember if I even played it much, just that I felt it boosted my meagre collection.

But who was Lisa Edwards? John Farnham's backing singer, that's who. An experienced session and back-up singer, she somehow managed to score a Top 5 hit with this splendidly dramatic ode to heartbreak, before going back on the road with Whispering Jack about eleventy billion times. 

Researching this post has led me to uncover the fact that this song was actually a cover. English duo Godley and Creme wrote Cry in 1985, and the video shows how New Wave-y it originally was. It also starts out with a pudgy dude crying awkwardly, so I think Edwards deserves points for her theatrical glam black-and-white clip. The tradition of pop stars rolling around on beds was not a new one, but 90s femmes really took it to a new level.

2. Love...Thy Will Be Done by Martika

What did I just tell you about rolling around on beds?

This is the tune that inspired this post. It just randomly popped into my head a few days ago, and I was struck by a deep frission of nostalgic energy. I loved this song in 1991. It was soft, melodic, philosophical and it didn't have a chorus. It was more hymn than song and it always took my breath away 

And it was co-written by Prince! The small, purple-wearing musical genius who's pretty much written everything for everyone. Once you know this fact, you can really hear his guiding hand over the orchestration - the random backing cries ("Satisfied!") and the tumbling, cascading way lyrics would run over each other ("Even when there's no peace outside my window there's peace inside and that's why I can not longer run"). It's magic.

Despite this song doing well in the US and hitting number 1 for ages in Australia, it didn't really help Martika in the long run. After starting so promisingly with the brilliant Toy Soliders back in 1988, dropped out of the limelight after the Martika's Kitchen album was released. Naming an album after a room in your house was probably the reason. Even if I was a brilliant singer, I can't imagine anyone forking out the folding stuff for a copy of Natalie's Bathroom.

1. Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover by Sophie B. Hawkins.

I remember dancing so hard to this song at Tanya Packer's 12th birthday party. That was the party we managed to get a bra off another sleeping girl and hang it off a ceiling light. I know, right? Off the hook. Actually, Tanya Packer was really a bully and the "bad girl" of the school and I'd once gotten in trouble after she wrote me and Melita Grace a letter filled with swear words just because she thought it was cool. My peer-pressure-induced reply (yes, I was weak, I remain weak) was discovered by someone (A teacher? My mother?) and it became an Issue With The Principal. I didn't even have Tanya's original letter to show them because I clearly remember riding my red bike out to the bins (we had a long driveway) to personally dispose of it before anyone could see it. But I tell you, I learned a valuable fucking lesson about language after that whole affair. 

Where was I? Oh yes, Tanya Packer. We parted ways at the end of primary school. I assume she hit adulthood, got knocked up several times by different fellas and now lives a flea-bitten existence somewhere on Brisbane's northside with more children than teeth. I realise that's cruel, but let's face it, she was going that way. You don't know what a head job is at age 10 without certain paths drawing you towards them. Yes, that was how I learned what a head job was. I've never recovered.

I'll admit something though - for a good part of the 1990s, I thought Sophie B. Hawkins and Sarah Jessica Parker were the same person. I'm sure you can understand the confusion - big blonde curly hair, pointy faces, unnecessary middle names/initials. It was only really after Sex and the City began that it dawned on me that SJP probably wouldn't be seen dead in grungy flannel, even in the early 90s.

Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover was a proper rock ballad by a bonafide good singer. SBH had a pleasant raspy richness to her voice, which no doubt inspired the dingy basement setting of the video clip. While this song is no doubt entirely of the early 90s, it retains a certain sense of timelessness. Perhaps it's that deep two-note signature riff, or the way Sophie's soft verses build into the explosive "Damn!" of the chorus. Watch the clip, and I'm fairly certain it will get into your head. But unlike so many other earworms, it's not a wholly unpleasant experience.