Monday, 28 November 2016

Hell on Two Wheels

My latest Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I discover riding a bike isn't just like, er, riding a bike. Here's the link to The Oz:

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. 
I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.

Queen, Bicycle Race 

Well, thanks for nothing, Freddie. Some advice that turned out to be. I’m sure the immortal strains of Queen’s paean to pedal-powered transport were echoing in my head last week on a dark, stormy night as I coasted out of the office carpark on my gleaming new machine and my flashing red USB chargeable taillight slowly faded into the gloom. 

I’d only bought the damn thing two days earlier. With my half-century on this planet approaching like a fat-bottomed girl riding a fixie down the Alpe d’Huez and a recent fortnight in a hospital bed laid low with pneumonia, I had a mini-mid-life crisis. It was either buy a Porsche or get a bicycle and attempt to get fit after several years of indolence and a life-threatening illness. 

As I have no money and can’t afford a Porsche, the decision was an easy one. So off I schlepped to the local bike shop in Glebe and handed over $600 smackeroos (a Giant Cross City, for the bike tragics; a middle-of-the-road mountain/road bike hybrid designed, as its name suggests, to cross cities.)

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Breaking Bad on the Boardwalk Empire for The Wire's Mad Men in Peaky Blinders

Latest piece in The Australian, in which I out myself as a decadent and depraved television binge-watcher. Yo McNutty! Omar strollin' ...

My name is Jason and I’m a television binge-watcher. It has been six hours since my last tumble down the fibre-optic wormhole: half of Game of Thrones, season two, since you ask.

When season one of Game of Thrones was released I devoured the entire thing in one slack-jawed sitting, eyes glazed and unblinking like Malcolm McDowell getting a spot of Ludovico’s technique in A Clockwork Orange. I was late for an important meeting the next day, a waste of space warming a chair, occasionally muttering “winter is coming”.

I knew I’d hit my rock bottom and things would have to change. Night after night I’d find myself up until 3am or 4am, sometimes later, jabbing at the remote occasionally to fast forward the credits, just another Netflix narco flicking at the lever that supplies the dose, a Boardwalk Empire bonobo with Roku raccoon eyes, victim of some nightmarish experiment, skulking into work with a blue-screen burnt-in hangover of plot lines, ever vigilant for the merest hint of a spoiler.

The rot set in with 24, the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle where the contrivance of things unfolding in real time across 24 hours led to concentric circles of plot holes and convoluted twists until each season collapsed in a black hole of silliness and viewers were left shaking, twitching and rubbing their eyes, wondering what just happened. But 24 was just an appetiser, a loosener, a gateway drug to harder hits. I got truly hooked on the glowing cathode crack pipe of The Wire, the gritty five-season trawl through decaying Baltimore and its urban blight, with its street-smart, note-perfect writing, penned by a former cop and a journalist.

Burns Night turns into dark night of the soul for grumpy old man

Home Truths column in The Australian, in which a bit of Robert Burns leads to an existential crisis and a lousy turn as the Serial Killer of Glebe

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 
It wad frae mony a blunder free us, 
An' foolish notion: 

Robert Burns
To A Louse, On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church

Never mind the Haggis. It’s the first two lines of the last stanza of Burns’s great equaliser that packs the knockout punch, nails the human condition and bears frequent repeating whenever one is in danger of developing airs and graces.
     It’s a perfect puncturing of ego, a skewering of delusions, a dousing of the bonfire of the vanities, and a delousing for swelled heads everywhere. It’s pure existential nitty dread. For nothing screams ‘unclean’ like a head full of lice and I still recall the appalled horror the first time the fine tooth comb was dragged through my flowing 70s primary school locks to reveal dozens of the wriggling translucent little ticks manque. 

     Some 200 years before that moment, the great Scottish bard is sitting in church when he observes a louse - an impudent, crowlin ferlie, plump and grey as any groset, struntin rarely over the gauze and lace of a fine lady’s bonnet. 

Spring brings ant army assault, amorous avians and randy pandas

Home Truths column for The Australian's Life page, in which the rites of Spring go seriously awry. 

Spring has sprung. And in the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ant poison and how to get rid of pigeons practising the kama sutra on the balcony. 
     Sorry, Lord Alfred Tennyson, but love is on the back-burner for now. My rites of spring began one morning last week, as I slowly stirred from my slumbers to become aware the floor was moving. “Ah that’s nice,” I thought, as i stretched luxuriantly and rolled over. Seconds later, I bolted upright, all thoughts of somnolence banished. I fumble for my glasses and the scene becomes clear. The floor isn’t actually moving, of course, but a motorised column of fat shiny and rather large black ants was streaming in from my bathroom, hup-two-three-ing around my bedroom and goose-stepping somewhere under my sofa. Somewhere in the column a barrel-chested sergeant-major ant was no doubt shouting: “I don’t know what you’ve been told. The best stale crumbs come with some mould.”

Kitchen ambition causes souffle apocalpyse

Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I find a souffle doesn't even rise once. 

“Just as the pangs of hunger struck, he came upon two people – one a sailor, the other a penguin – in the act of eating a pudding. But this was no ordinary pudding. It was a cut-an’-come-again pudding.”

Is there any Australian of a certain age who, upon finding themselves living alone and solely responsible for his own sustenance, hasn’t found themselves fantasising about The Magic Pudding? I must confess recently, after some disastrous attempts to exercise my vestigial culinary muscles, I have found myself lost in reveries of cut-and-come-again puddings; not the warty-looking, glowering bowl-headed character of Norman Lindsay’s much-loved children’s book, but elaborate sticky date affairs, glistening towers of creme brulee, rice puddings shimmering in an ocean of creme fraiche.
    It’s also a comfort food thing. As a teen growing up in Townsville (someone had to) the evening’s highlight was a packet Puffin Pudding for dessert, either a rich blueberry or a piquant lemon or a creamy butterscotch, heaped with vanilla ice cream, best consumed while watching The Kenny Everett Video Show, The Goodies or Doctor Who.

Love me Tinder? Thanks but no thanks

This was the first in a new column I have started doing every second Monday for The Australian's Life page. It's called Home Truths. 

Sympathy for the Gerbil 
(With apologies to the Rolling Stones)

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of no wealth and poor taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Packed some love handles on my waist 

Pleased to meet you 
My pick-up lines are lame 
I don’t like pina coladas
And I don’t play video games. 

Consider the hamster. Watch his little legs fly as he gets that wheel spinning. Round and round it goes. When it stops. nobody knows. 
     From the outside, the brave new world of modern dating looks terrifying. A cross between a giant hamster wheel for humanity and a game of musical chairs. For a misanthropic social misfit and soon-to-be double divorcee like myself, it’s all about as appealing as a bucket of cold, congealing spew.
    Unfortunately, these days options seem limited in the love stakes. If you resist the lure of the apps and their promise of zipless hook-ups, how else might one meet the love of one’s life, or at least get a leg over?