Monday, May 31, 2010

Grand designs

Those of you salivating at the title, I apologise for the distinct lack of Kevin McCloud in this post. He is indeed totally dreamy and a perverse part of me can't wait to check Google Analytics and see how many people googling for Kevin DILF porn ended up here, stamping their feet and shaking their pigtails in disappointment.

The designs in question are actually less than grand.. well, see for yourself. As part of my research into studying design, on Saturday I had a "day in the life of a designer" at a North Sydney design college. Clearly I hadn't completely thought through the whole going-back-to-uni concept and so I was a little shocked to find myself in a room full of 16 and 17-year-olds. When I walked in at the same time as a lad being dropped off by him mum, I realised I am potentially on the verge of becoming that which I so despised as a callow 19-year-old: the mature age student. Speaking of mature age - I think I was older than most the lecturers as well as the students!

Anyway, it was all rather fun - I tried to say the word "like" more often in a bid to blend in, and tried not to smirk when the girls on my table traded tales about failing their driving tests. Eventually we had to pair off and make collages which we then tweaked in photoshop and illustrator. Each pair was given a month, and we had to channel some kind of personal experience of that month into designing a CD cover. If you haven't guessed already that blobby thing above is my inauspicious first foray into this meandering new career path. Look out world haha!

We also got to watch a cute little film called "Marry Me", which won Tropfest in 2008. Can't decide whether the best thing about it is the use of spokeydokes (oh, Baby Blue and your spokeydokes wheels, how I miss you) or the massive mullet on the little boy. You be the judge:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Good looking pants": Eurovision 2010

It's that magical time of year again: when only the biggest hair, most vacant stares and bloody massacrings of the English language will deliver pop musical dominance to one triumphant European nation. Australia may be the lucky country but if there's one thing we lack, aside from the appropriate recognition of pickles as an essential burger ingredient, it's eligibility to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest.

SBS TV have broadcasting rights to the telecast and they've got some excellent online resources for those of you preparing for your annual Eurovision party. This includes recipe suggestions, costume advice and talking points about past Eurovision controversies just in case the conversation gets stale.

The beauty of Eurovision is its no-holds-barred enthusiasm. In the quest for Eurovision glory, there is simply no holding back the tide of passion and performance. If you like your entertainment subtle, you've come to the wrong place. At Eurovision, emotions are spackled onto faces in five centimentre thick slabs of make-up and body glitter. Hair defies gravity, spurred on to celestial heights by quantities of hairspray that are positively suicidal given the amount of pyrotechnics on show. Costumery is either exaggeratedly traditional, or eurotrash slutbonanza; occasionally, the twain shall meet. Eurovision's empire is built upon the carcasses of outfits that make Bjork look like a timid dental assistant. There may be live animals. There will probably be accidental nudity. There will definitely be back-up dancers doing things that have nothing to do with the lyrics of the songs; but that's another great thing about Eurovision - no one seems to know, much less care, what they're singing.

The contest has a storied history, far too long to go into here. But suffice to say that my personal favourite was the year Finland's Lordi controversially took out the top honour, with their delightful facial prostheses and timeless classic "Hard Rock Hallelujah":

But, back to Oslo. The Eurovision website has done some excellent investigative journalism on the costumes for tonight's second semi-final, which I believe will air on SBS Friday night Australian time. You can thank me later when you've perused the awesomeness for yourself, but here are some of the highlights:

Slovenia have gone bleeding edge and combined traditional folk costumes with rock outfits, ie Beatles T-shirts and ripped jeans. I'm not sure whether the mullets belong to column A or column B.

Croatia's entry this year consists of three comely ladies; notable only for their collective stagename, which is FEMMINEM.

But I do like the sound of Turkey's entry. They are called "maNga", which seems to be Turkish for "stripping cyborg":

“We have a lot of stage costumes. For every rehearsal, we're adjusting something in the costumes. Our name is maNga, so we have to live up to that. We also have a cyborg girl on stage, who throws off her robot clothes stage by stage and becomes human. We want to say that we all can be the same. It's hard to perform with all the props and details, this is probably our hardest stage show ever.”

And their costume may appear simple, but Lithuania's InCulto have a secret weapon... and it may give you an "emotional explosion" in your pants.

“Our lead singer took the final decision, and we had help from a Lithuanian designer. It's just good-looking pants. We only use them for this song. The glittery boxer shorts are an extra spice – it's the Eurovision Song Contest! We did the same trick in the national selections, and it worked. We wanted some kind of emotional explosion. The women likes it, and some guys like it too, so it's a good decision to get the crowd.”

It's a WTFestival of randomness, and lends itself to drinking games better than any other television event in my humble experience. The only downside is that Stylus Magazine (RIP) are no longer around to do their hilarious online recaps. Here they are from 2006 and 2007 for your giggling pleasure.

So get yourself to a Eurovision party this weekend. Your eurodisco needs you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Silver linings

Rainy days, when they descend in clotted clumps of rainy weeks, can get you down. My sister thinks I made up SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder - but it's a real thing. Wikipedia says so.

But in a determined effort to stop being a whiny little bitch about the handful of feral days that blight Sydney's generally delightful weather, there are good things about rain, and I am going to list them now:

1. Rain that comes after a long time, particularly in dry Queensland towns, has a really special smell as it hits the dust. It smells of novelty and new life and makes a tiny sizzle as it hits hot asphalt.

2. You can use lots of naff phrases in describing it: principally "raining cats and dogs". But also: "pissing down", "bucketing", "teeming", etc

3. "Wet lunch" - which, with (immature) adult hindsight sounds vaguely dirty - at school, when it's too wet to eat outside and so everyone makes as much noise and mess as possible while confined to classrooms. I had forgotten about this concept until a teacher friend mentioned in a Facebook status how much she hates it. See also: dull sporting events cancelled due to rain. Win!

4. Increased probability of people falling over ("the Funniest Home Videos effect").

5. Rain creates puddles to ride your bike through - making that magical zinging sound, and possibly dampening pedestrians to hilarious effect.

6. Rain creates rainbows.

7. Singin' In The Rain
is probably the best musical of all time. And rain has also inspired many ace songs: "See The Sky About To Rain" by Neil Young, "Rain, Hail, Shine" by the Icecream Hands, "Dry The Rain" by The Beta Band, "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac, "Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen, "Rainy Day Man" by James Taylor and any of Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women" songs. There are millions of others - tell me your favourites in the comments! - but I choose not to include Travis on this list.

8. Really heavy rain on the office roof sounds like the applause of a distant crowd. So hopefully I can take my final bow at my desk before State Of Origin kicks off....

Monday, May 24, 2010

Op shop pit stop

On the June long weekend I'll be making the trip up to Byron Bay for a friend's wedding. In what I think is a genius move, the wedding is 1950s themed - so on the weekend we went trawling for outfits from the era.

Our first stop was to a store we'd accidentally discovered a few weeks ago while visiting the Rozelle markets. Called "Mint Condition", this shop is a treasure trove of frocks, hats, shoes and accessories from delicious decades past. Petticoats hang from the ceilings, racks gleam with sequins, and every nook and cranny holds an item with a story. There are gloves that could surely have only fit doll's hands, saucy disco playsuits and wigs from who-knows-when.

The racks are grouped by style rather than era, so there were delicate 50s cotton print frocks alongside 80s numbers with shoulder pads worthy of gridiron players. Fabrics are the best indicator of a garment's age - pieces from the 50s in this kind of condition are wicked expensive because, well, they're nearly six decades old. When they were made, zippers were just being invented. Many items were handsewn rather than industrially manufactured, and thus don't have tags or care instructions. By the sixties, synthetic fabrics are all the rage, zips are no longer a novelty, and most garments have been mass produced. Colours get brighter, prints get crazy, hems get shorter.... and then promptly drop again for the maxi-dresses of the 70s.

But the most striking lesson we learned about garments from the 1950s was that women were much smaller then!
I fell head over heels in love with this baby-blue lace dress. It was just perfect. Except, of course, for the fact that the zipper wouldn't even begin to do up. Granted, I am a bit of a giant, and the shopgirl tried to comfort me with the fact that back when the dress was made most women would have been sucked into girdles and corsets. After a few disappointments with gorgeous 50s dresses, some of which didn't even fit over my shoulders, I swallowed my pride and hit the "plus size" rack.
Jackpot! This dress was definitely in mint condition - unworn and still with tags attached from the 60s or possibly 70s. It's the kind of effortless tennis dress I imagine Margot Tenenbaum would wear to the country club, were she a bored Hamptons housewife in the 1960s; fur coat and martini optional.

I had to have it; but it still wouldn't quite fit the 50s theme, or June weather for that matter. So I found a really simple black floaty dress, with a beautiful drape and hemmed at just the right spot below the knee. Clearly it belonged to some obese, but very glamorous, woman in the 1950s. Thank-you m'am!
And that's why this week is all about Mi Goreng noodles and whatever is left in the fridge until pay day!

Peanuts and maggots

Australia on the whole is a fairly agnostic country; if anything, on a national scale sport inspires more fervour than actual religion. We worship at the altar of football, though there the faith fractures into three codes: rugby league, rugby union and Aussie rules. No, soccer doesn't count.

Most are born into their code, according to geography and class. In my home state of Queensland, league is the dominant code, unless you or your parents went to private school in which case you will prefer union to league. The old maxim goes: "rugby league is a thug's game played by gentlemen; rugby union is a gentleman's game played by thugs". That may have been true once; before union was professionalised most elite players were doctors and lawyers by day. Their league counterparts were more likely labourers, tradies and cops off the field. Today, however, professional footballers are paid considerable amounts of money just to play and train; and as the ongoing off-field sex- drug- and poo-in-the-hotel-corridor scandals suggest, these blokes might have a little too much time and money on their hands.

This is all a very longwinded digression. All I really meant to do was set the scene by saying that I've always been a league fan; union I find messy and unstructured, and AFL I find incomprensible. I mean, the field is round. There are four sets of goal posts. There's no tackling, and knocking the ball forward is actively encouraged rather than cause for a turnover of posession. So when I went to see the Sydney Swans vs the Fremantle Dockers on Saturday at the SCG, I was all at sea.

But I learned a couple of things. Not only are AFL players far more lithe and graceful athletes than league players, AFL fans are considerably more attractive than their league audience counterparts, too. There is a bloke who plays for the Dockers who's over seven foot tall. The guy marking him didn't even reach his shoulder! And the refs - sorry, umpires - are referred to by the crowd as "maggots" (for their white uniforms), and make the most unnecessarily, fantastically camp contribution to a sport I've ever seen. Drama trumps brute masculinity every time in this arena.

Weather-wise it was a weird afternoon; one quarter blinded by sun, the next running for shelter from the rain. But best of all was being on that historic ground, and seeing the silhouetted Sydney skyline beyond the member's stand, all glowing golden as the sun set. I still have some work to do in understanding the rules of the game, but I'll definitely be back to an AFL match for the atmosphere, the athleticism... and the eye candy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Falling or jumping...?

I shouldn't be on the computer after the night I've had and the beers that went with it! But I just glimpsed the date, and it's the birthday of perhaps my oldest friend. The kind of old friend you barely ever see anymore... I think he's working underground in a mine in Western Australia right now. He's the charming kind of luddite you rarely meet anymore, a 25- sorry, 26-year-old who not long caved into getting a mobile. I don't think he'll ever read this, but regardless, I offer my most whole-hearted birthday wishes, Turvey. Anyway. Thinking of him I remembered a random little bit of writing I did a few years ago. I was still at uni in Brisbane then, so it must be quite a while ago!


It is late. The house, the street, the world is asleep - but not me. It is a Sunday night in September. Summer is on the air. Sleep would be an affront.

It is an iridescent, incandescent night. The week’s rains have cleared, all is wet and clean. The night skies, yesterday bleached blank, are now dark blankets. Picnic blankets, crumbed with stars. Blankets to kick off luxuriously, along with sheets and doonas: this is a night to feel on your bare skin.

Soon the nights will drone with electric fans. They will slice the nights lazily, like knives through soft fruit, crescent moons of peach flesh falling away with the hours. Long after children are put to bed, the nights will crackle with conversation and insects. Brown beer bottles will clink. Bats will rustle in fruit trees, possums will hiss and fight. Late night heels will jazz home from bars, giggling at keys that won’t find keyholes.

Soon the nights will be heavy and intoxicating. A singular, unsubtle perfume of humidity, jasmine, frangipani, sweat. With base notes of rotting wood and possum piss. Pool chlorine. Overpowering the smells of cooking and car exhaust. But for now, there is only a hint of all this in the air. A whisper, gossiping on your skin, in your pores.

Yes, hear it, smell it, feel it on your skin: summer is almost here. And with that promise, writers all through the streets of this city, this overgrown town, are sharpening pencils. Are turning blank pages to find just the right one. Are shyly meeting the gaze of winking luminescent computer screens, fingers tapping like cicadas. Beneath eaves creaking with past humid nights, above blankets spread over dewy lawns, on verandahs and in unmade beds: they are coming alive. Because with the hint of summer comes the memory of when all possibility was only hinted at. Loves, past and fresh, tumble back on the turn of a breeze. Great loves, which can only be true and tested and tarnished by the summers of this place.

I have no great love, no paramour. At least, not one that has matured into a story worthy of a night like this, not yet. I have something better. I have Craig. Craig has never been in this house, but I think he would like it. He would find the balcony an excellent size for afternoon beers. He would smile at the neighbourhood kids riding skateboards crosslegged down the hill. He would slide down the bannister when no one was looking. He would keep a cricket bat handy for possums who like to investigate open doors.

Craig is intertwined in this city for me.

He is at uni, in lecture halls where he would waltz in at random, forty-five minutes past the hour, and sit front row. I studied business, he engineering. His arrival prompted confusion from me, the lecturer, the students…

“Are you incredibly late, or incredibly early?” asked my bemused advertising lecturer. Craig just looked up with his signature expression of high amusement and not-giving-a-shit, and shrugged.

He is holding up bars in a roll call of drinking establishments. Nursing jugs of beer, hangovers, experiments in facial hair, broken hearts. “At the library” as we and our mothers refer to it.

He is in the botanic gardens, sprawled on the crunchy grass with an apple in his hand and the sun in his eyes. Mostly, he is in the duck pond. These days it is empty, a rusty chocolate crust where the lilypads once lapped. When busloads of kids from far-flung towns shrieked on school excursions. Some threw sandwich crusts to the ducks, some snuck off for a smoke, and one walked an unsuccessful tightrope on the pond’s edge.

I’m still not sure whether he fell or jumped. There could have been a lightning grin as he windmilled backward. There could have been a split-second bow to his devoted audience as Mrs Davidson pulled him out by his collar. All I remember for sure, though, is the farty squelch of mud in his shoes as we toured old Parliament House that afternoon.

But Craig really belongs in a town far from here, where the nights hiss and hum in their own way. Where we were born six months apart, and I spent twelve years chasing after him.

I have faded, photograph-sized memories of that time. Naked in paddling pools, eating mud after a rainy morning, painted Brave faces grinning gap-toothed from bed sheet teepees. Chasing footballs, tennis balls, his dog Zach, trophies, buses, fortune, glory, one-dollar drinks.

I sat behind him at school. His shoes were perpetually scuffed, his shirts perpetually lacking in buttons, and he ruled regardless.

Our most famous moment in family folklore was the day we just call "the haircut". I was about 4 or 5, and mum had been trying to grow out my hair. It had finally become a respectable kind of ponytail, and Craig recognised a target when he saw one. It wasn't easy, but I sat upon a dresser in front of a mirror while he stole his mother's dressmaking scissors and played stylist, and his toddler brother Scotty looked on in awe. When we presented our handiwork to the parentals, proud as punch, mum was aghast. And with the automatic thinking of small children in trouble, simultaneously we knew what to say. And despite the fact he could barely sit upright, let alone manipulate scissors, we presented a united front. "Scotty did it."

But now, the CD has ended, the spell is broken, the writer does need a blanket after all. The real Craig is asleep, oblivious, in a wooden house three suburbs from here. He has probably had a few beers. Perhaps there is a girl next to him, glossy dark hair fanned across his pillow. Perhaps he is alone, frantically typing an assignment due eight hours from now, regretting that session at the RE. No - Craig never regrets.

One day, for all appearances, he will grow up.

One day he will throw a child in the air and then catch him; will clip a helmet under a milky chin and guide a bicycle down a quiet street; will gently let the bike seat leave the palm of his hand.

One day he will take a child to feed the ducks and just for a second, he will teeter on the edge of the pond.

And passers-by will never be quite sure whether he fell or jumped.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

All thumbs, none of them green

I'm not much of a gardener.

I love flowers, but I've made peace with making do with the cut variety, after trying and failing to grow my own in recent years. Our patio bears the dessicated graves of my attempts at horticulture; dried out pots of dead geraniums, poppies, herbs, tomatoes...

Each is like a failed relationship. I'm full of enthusiasm when we meet, and take them home recklessly. In the first bloom of our time together I'm overzealous, offering more water than they can ever need, smothering them.

But as time goes on, they slip my mind more and more. Other pursuits are easier, more interesting. And suddenly I'm indulging in a glass of wine on the balcony and look down and they're dead. Occasionally I catch their death throes, too far gone to resurrect but just alive enough to droop accusingly.

I can't handle the guilt any more. I don't even try.

So imagine my surprise when a truly gorgeous orchid I was given years ago, and which has laid dormant since, presented with buds a week or two ago.

It was like a sign.

"It's ok, Clare!" the buds proclaimed. "You CAN be neglectful and selfish but there is a chance that love - sorry, FLOWERS will find you anyway!"

I was triumphant. I took a photo of the buds each day, plotting a scintillating stop-motion film with which to bore all those who scoffed at my lack of green thumbs.

But, as Blair Waldorf would say in her infinite wisdom, "signs are for the religious, the superstitious and the lower class."

This morning I looked out the window and the buds have somehow been snapped off the plant. It could have been the recent wind and rain, or a rogue animal, or any number of things. But I can't shake a niggling guilt that if I'd tried harder, if I'd staked the stem to support the weight of the growing flowers, if I'd been more vigilant, I could still be expecting those decadent, exotic pink petals.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Workin' late... more ways than one.

Soundtrack: Johnny Cash, Cat Power, New Order and Broken Social Scene.

Sustenance: white wine, cigarettes, and pizza to come.

Git er done.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The opposite of this

It's been raining for like two straight days. When you can't celebrate such weather properly, ie by snuggling under the doona, drinking endless cups of Earl Grey and listening to Beach House, it's quite miserable. Come back sun!

PS anyone in Sydney who likes a bit of photography should come to our Slide Night on Thursday evening. It's at Tusculum House in Potts Point, it's free, we'll have beers and popcorn and possibly jaffas for that authentic old school cinema feel. Just RSVP to

There are about 20 different photographers' work on show and I can't even pick a favourite, there's so much good stuff. Ok, I think maybe Braden Fastier's amazing images of New Zealand curling teams are possibly my favourite. Or Dave Tacon's series about IKEA in Shanghai - the Chinese people find the store so exotic they take families and dates there just to hang out, like a weird Swedish theme park. Or maybe Krystle Wright's shots from the World Elephant Polo Championships - yeah, that's a real thing. Just come and see for yourself!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


There I was in uniform
Looking at the art teacher
I was just a girl then...
Never have I loved since then.
He was not that much older than I was
He had
Taken our class to the Metropolitan Museum.
He asked us
What our favourite work of art was
Never could I tell him
It was him.
Though I wish I could tell him...
Oh, I wish I could've told him.
I looked at
The Reubens, and Rembrandts
I liked
The John Singer Sargeants.
He told me
He liked Turner.
And never have I
Turned since then
No, never have I turned to
Any other man.
All this having been said
I married an executive company head.
All this having been done
A Turner,
I own one.
And here I am
In this uniform-ish pantsuit sorta thing

Thinking of the art teacher...
I was just a girl then
And never have I
Loved since then
No, never have I loved
Any other man

I told you to be patient

I miss....

Staunch / Hallelujah / A tale of many segues

Much was made recently, particularly around the time of the Commonwealth games in Canada, of the canonisation of Leonard Cohen's classic song "Hallelujah". This may be sacreligious, but I came to the song via a circuitous route and didn't even realise for some time that it was by Cohen. I first heard Rufus Wainwright's version.

I hadn't heard of Rufus before I heard his cover "One Man Guy", an incredible song by his father, Loudon Wainwright III, which the openly gay Rufus brought a whole new meaning to. The song was also my first introduction to his sister Martha Wainwright, a star in her own right, when she sang backing vocals. Radio National was playing a radio tribute to Nick Hornby's book 31 Songs, which in a rather self-explanatory way explored Hornby's critical and personal responses to 31 random tracks of different eras and styles.

People will know
When they see this show
The kind of a guy I am
They'll recognise just what I stand for
And what I just can't stand
They'll percieve what I believe in
And what I know is true
They'll recognise that I'm a one man guy
Always was, through and through.
People meditate,
Hey, that's just great
Tryin' to find the inner you
People depend on
Family and friends
And other folks to pull them through
I don't know why I'm a one man guy
Or why this is a one man show.
But these three cubic feet
Of bone and blood and meat
Are all I love and know
Cos I'm a one man guy in the morning
Same in the afternoon
A one man guy when the sun goes down
I whistle me a one man tune
One man guy, a one man guy
Only kinda guy to be
I'm a one man guy, I'm a one man guy
I'm a one man guy is me.
I'm gonna bathe
And shave
And dress myself
and eat solo every night
Unplug the phone,
Sleep alone,
Stay away out of sight.
Sure it's kinda lonely
Yeah, it's sorta sick
Being your own one and only
Is a selfish dirty trick.

From "One Man Guy" I discovered Rufus Wainwright's album Poses, which included his quite faithful piano cover of "Hallelujah". (Soon after I would happen upon Jeff Buckley's idiosyncratic version of the song, perhaps the best known among my generation.) Poses was a fitting introduction to Rufus, swelling with cinematic strings and showtime choruses. Nestled mid-album was a song which I never quite understood but loved nonetheless, called "Grey Gardens".

And with segue number four (or possibly five), we come to the real reason for this post. Because, again, sacreligious as it seems, I've only just discovered what I suspect will be a long-term obsession in the form of Grey Gardens and its unique inhabitants.

Here's the original Grey Gardens trailer:

I'm criminally late to this phenomenon, most recently revived with Drew Barrymore's 2009 HBO television movie of the same name, which I watched last night. It's weird, I never thought much of Drew but between Donnie Darko and this I'm totally fan-girl crushing on her. For the uninitiated, Grey Gardens was the East Hampton estate of Little and Big Edie Beale Bouvier, the first cousin and aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis.

There they lived in a mansion near the sea, high-bred socialites who tuned out of the scene to be "artists". "Big Edie" was a well-known singer whose ill-fated marriage turned out two sons and the gorgeous "Little Edie", a frustrated dancer and actress. The major theme of the original documentary and 2009 dramatisation was Little Edie's thwarted dreams of stardom, and the state of squalour the two eventually lived in in the dilapidated mansion. Overrun with feral cats and raccoons, their home was eventually raided in the early 1970s by Suffolk County authorities for health and safety issues. Only after a New York Magazine article by Gail Sheehy did their plight become viral and capture the attention of their well-to-do relatives.

After their story became news the documentary film-makers the Maysle brothers approached the Edies to make their seminal film Grey Gardens. Little Edie clearly saw the documentary as her opportunity to finally find stardom as a still-stunning middle-aged woman. The way the two women coquettishly played to the camera despite their surroundings - a five-foot pile of empty cans, opossum and raccoons and wild cats prowling the decrepit architecture crumbling around them - is testament to their eccentric socialite instincts. It's the stuff of Tennessee Williams, these ill-fated bohemiennes beset by lost loves, misspent youth and the modern authorities.

I'm desperately keen to see the original doco and can only urge you to do the same. The film I watched was beautifully pitched, climaxing with a fight between Little and Big Edie on the eve of the documentary's launch. Little Edie was desperate to attend the New York premiere of the Maysle's film, but Big Edie taunted her that for all her talk about leaving Grey Gardens she'd never left her. There was a tumultous scene where Little Edie fled, leaving Big Edie wracked with sobs. Later they made up and Little Edie proudly wore the family wedding jewels to the premiere. Big Edie went on to die at Grey Gardens, which she refused to sell, before Little Edie moved around, settling in Florida before her death a few years ago. The HBO film closed with faux footage of Little Edie performing a cabaret in the East Village, a middle-aged woman still intoxicated by her own vitality in the 80s.

It got me thinking to the fraught relationships between daughters and mothers. The tension between "you wouldn't let me leave here" and "you could have left any time, but you didn't". And for all the magnificence of these two wonderful women, I thought only of the generosity of my own mother. Who, for all her own difficulties, never stopped me from leaving, from making my own spectacular mistakes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bike porn!

Love this simple blue bike...

And this pretty mauve one, with a flowery basket...

The funky spoke cards are the work of the fabulous ladies of Three Point Turnz....

Pleasure craft

OMG I have so much bike porn for you! But first, my day of craft. This afternoon was, of course, the Stitch A Ride workshop. It all happened in Fraser Studios, a fantastic space tucked in a laneway behind the Clare, a stone's throw from UTS and Railway Square. The street also features some awesome graf and a tiny food co-op, and it seems like there would always be something interesting going on there.

It was a motley crew of craft enthusiasts gathered around sewing machines and cutting tables... let loose with scissors and pins and thread. But the Spoke & Spool girls were incredibly helpful, and irrepressibly enthusiastic. The idea was that you brought in old clothes to be deconstructed and then reconstructed into bike-friendly apparel.

A full-skirted dress could be turned into a cool onesie. One lass made riding gloves from a pair of socks. Or, in my case, a $5 pair of old man trousers could be converted into LEDERHOSEN. Yes, they may have been called overalls the last time I wore them (year 7), but today they sound much more exotic. After a few false starts my LEDERHOSEN (sorry to keep shouting with caps, but I love this word) began to take shape. One cut-off leg became the front bib, the other became a pocket. The front piece buttons inside the waistband, and I used reflective strips for the straps - fully removable, they button on and off at the front and back.

The whole thing was just inspiring in the sense that there are young people out there who aren't driven by consumption, but rather the opposite. Boys and girls making old things into new things, and delighting in the kinds of skills our generation so rarely use - sewing, mending, thrifting...

The Spoke & Spool ladies had thought of everything. There were baked treats and cups of tea, buckets of buttons like nanna used to have, and all manner of goodies to enhance our bikewear: reflective strips for visibility, leather patches to reinforce knees and crotches. I couldn't resist a hankerchief-sized map of Sydney's bike paths - super cute to sew into a pocket, and you can even embroider your routes onto it to customise.

The fruits of my labours:
Yes, that's a pocket big enough for a collection of maps, a modestly sized paperback book, or even a small kitten. Really - pockets should always be sized with pets in mind. The only potential issue here is that LEDERHOSEN have not traditionally featured strongly in my wardrobe. IE, not at all. But who knows? Perhaps looking like a reflective, overgrown Von Trapp child on a bicycle is that indefinable thing my life has been missing thus far?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The fairest of the seasons

The unmistakeable scent of this week's flowers has had me skipping down memory lane all afternoon.

Jonquils smell like childhood winters… running around in cold clover, rosy red noses and chilly toes. The appearance of white and yellow jonquils would always mark the changing of the seasons. Every year mum would help us plant the bulbs, and when they finally sprouted and flowered we were ecstatic.

It was like our own version of The Secret Garden, which was one of the decadently girly books (see also: The Little Princess) mum would read to us in serialised form each day of the school holidays. We’d lie in a sunny patch out on the lawn, on a blanket, and she’d read to us about exotic things like daffodils and crotchety old gardeners, and crushworthy boys like Dicken who'd tame squirrels and teach you stuff about nature.

Around this time of year, when there’s a certain kind of clear chill in the air, I often feel homesick for the George and specifically the wood stove in mum and dad’s kitchen. In winter months all the activity of the house moves to the kitchen to bask in its warmth, and there’s always a pot of soup or stew bubbling away. Dad makes the world's best toast on the stove, with a toasting fork he improvised from fencing wire…

And while summer weekends always hummed with the lawn-mower dad would push around shirtless, winter weekends sounded like rugby league on the radio and the crack of the axe in the wood-heap. One of our favourite games was when Dad would drag us around the lawn in an old wool pack he used to collect fallen leaves and grass clippings. Wish I could run across the lawn and up the front steps and warm my toes at that stove right now....

Happy birthday dad!

Stitch n bitch

Just a quickie - any bike lovers in the Sydney area might be interested in this fantastic workshop Spoke + Spool are putting on tomorrow (Saturday).

"Stitch A Ride" is the name of the game - rock up to Fraser Studio, 10-14 Kensington St, Chippendale from 1-5pm with your steed and some old clothes, and they'll provide sewing machines and the know-how to knock up some bitchin treadly threads. Which, for example, include reflective cuffs and "map pockets". SOLD. Afterwards there are drinks at the Clare hotel. And it's all free!

Getting there:

View Larger Map

Craft, bikes and beer - not a bad way to spend a lazy Saturday arvo! See you there?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Souled out

Bleak days never seem to come in isolation; they feed on one another. Procrastinating things to panic levels, letting things slip through the cracks. Promising yourself the next morning you'll be up early to make the fresh start that's all you need to turn everything around and make it perfect; then hitting snooze and conceding defeat before you're even conscious. Weeks like this when professional disaster looms - and I know 24 hours from now it will be over, it will be ok. But it won't be spectacular, it might not even be good. There are days I barely recognise this person. Is it worse to feel too much or nothing at all?

There's a neat little scene in High Fidelity, Nick Hornby's study of Rob, a record store-owning manchild who ranks his break-ups like pop charts. He's moping in the store, fabulously named "Championship Vinyl", when a woman comes in and asks "have you got any soul?", and he thinks:

That depends, some days yes, some days no. A few days ago I was right out; now I've got loads, too much, more than I can handle. I wish I could spread it a bit more evenly ... I can see she wouldn't be impressed with my internal stock control problems though, so I simply point to where I keep the soul I have, right by the exit, just next to the blues.

This was going to be a fun post about Spoon and Cold War Kids, two totally white, hipster bands who nonetheless slay me with the soul in their tunes. But I guess til I get my own internal stock control problems sorted, I gotta lean on their lean, sparsely made songs, with spare keys and a crack in the throat, to get my soul fix(ed).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mum's the word

So I was very slack with posting on the weekend, caught up in a whirlwind weekend visit from my Dad and my little sister. In typical Fletcher family iconoclastic form, we managed to get everyone except mum together on Mothers Day. We did call her! But I was thinking about this, after reading some great columns by Sam de Brito and even Marieke Hardy in the Sunday papers, singing the praises of mums and all they sacrifice... And it's such a mum thing to do, to pack off your husband and book plane tickets so that the rest of your family can spend a weekend together like they haven't for years. To put yourself last of all, while making sure the people you love are happy.

My mum and I are close, so we know each others quirks and we know how to drive each other crazy with consummate skill. So while no one can rile me up quite like her, she's also the only person I want to talk to when things are looking bleak. I have learned so much from her about strength and grace - she is fiercely loyal, fiercely protective and fiercely resilient. She is full of suprises - openminded, generous with hard-won wisdom, and can pull out a jaw-dropping one-liner when you least expect it. She taught me the value and power of words and books and education; of decency and hard work. She's my mum and she's tops!


In the last few years, my dad's discovered a passion for boutique beers... Not the easiest obsession to indulge from our rather isolated home town. So when he and my sister visited Sydney over the weekend, beer was high on the agenda. On Saturday we had a lazy couple of hours at the Red Oak microbrewery and beer cafe in Clarence Street. Dad had tried a few of the brews before, but said tasting them off the tap was completely different. My sister later made the fitting analogy that Dad's sudden, all-consuming love for all things Red Oak was like he'd discovered girls a few years ago but suddenly met "the one".

Anyway, Red Oak not only had great beer, but fantastic food. We ordered three different tasting plates - themed around meat, seafood and cheese - each of which matched four beers with four canapes. The three of us together, dividing tiny portions on tiny plates into thirds and delicately sipping from tiny glasses, our legs swinging from high bar stools - the whole thing felt oddly reminiscent of the tea parties we used to have when we were little!

The sommelier blatantly loved his job and really knew his shit - we talked beer philosophy, beer physics, beer chemistry. Dad mentioned off-hand that he'd love to run a little speakeasy beer cafe back home, boutique drops and tasty food... within half an hour we'd named the joint, designed the fit-out and concocted a guerrilla marketing plan. Watch this space... unless you're with liquor licensing, in which case, this blog post never happened.

We also spent Sunday night at The Local in Flinders Street, sipping pints amid the overstuffed leather armchairs and retro light fittings. They put on a pork roast so good we had the barman interrogate the chef about how they'd made the gravy....

Manly pursuits

It was a golden late afternoon at Manly wharf on Saturday...
...Not quite warm enough for a dip though...

There are buildings with some beautiful old facades down near the beach...
Spotted: this ripper old dragster on the promenade...
... St George players warming up before taking on the Manly Sea Eagles...

Brookvale Oval, home to the Sea Eagles, is my favourite NRL ground. Aside from how fun it is to get there, passing all the most famous views of Sydney Harbour on a chugging ferry, it's also a really small ground and one of the few that still has a grass hill rather than wall to wall grandstands. Consider: a sell-out crowd, like Saturday night's top-of-the-table clash between the Eagles and the St George Dragons, comprised about 16,000 people.

We got to the ground so early we scored front row seats in the bleachers. It gave us a fantastic view of the game, and put us right in the middle of the game's atmosphere - both on the field and in terms of bogan crowd behaviour. A contingent of Dragons fans were encamped behind us on the hill, singing "When The Saints Come Marching In" and heckling the diehard Manly fans. Both the Dragons and Manly fans were up in arms about the quality of the refereeing - both adamant that the umpire was biased against their team. "He's been doing it all day, ref!" was the cry that rang out over and over. Despite the enthusiasm for these fat guys next to us (they were particularly impressed with the Manly cheerleaders, the "sea birds"), the most intense fan was a tubby old lady with owl-like round glasses, who seemed hell bent on provoking a physical altercation with someone, anyone....

At the end of the game, they sounded a siren to let the crowd know they could run onto the field. Suddenly kids appeared from every angle, leaping over the fences, playfighting and attempting to steal the various padded promotional signs. I looked away for a minute and my dad had calmly wandered down into the fray, and told me later on the bus home that he couldn't wait to tell the folks back in the George that he'd stood on Brookvale!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dance dance dance

Crazy day at work today - juggling the usual workload around an event we do each year for journalism students down at Redfern Town Hall. There's always this euphoria that takes over when an event finally finishes. But this time, as we collected used paper cups and packed down tables and stacked up chairs, there was even more than the usual hyper-relief. Because there'd been an overlap in bookings at the hall, and a community line dance group couldn't wait to start practicing their routines until we'd put everything away. So there we were, half joining in to the euro-trance covers of "Summer Holiday" and Steps' classic "5, 6, 7, 8" while a motley crew of Chinese geriatrics, kids in primary school uniforms and Redfern sistas busted out their moves.

There really is nothing more cathartic and rejuvenating than really loud, really bad music after a long day. It's a primal thing I guess - as Mr Darcy would say, "any savage can dance". But let's not scoff. A whole, awesome genre of movies has been founded on the redemptive power of dance. The kind of classics you don't tell anyone you stay home to watch on a Friday night: Centre Stage, Save The Last Dance, Step Up, Step Up IV Fight The Power or whatever the latest sequel was. How easy would it be to write one of those dance movies? You could put together a generic form script that just has multi-choice options on certain elements, throw in a Jamiroquai montage with some costume changes that defy the laws of time and space at the end and BAM you're an auteur.

Here's one you can play along with at home:

(Stella/Svetlana/Shanaynay) is a sweet girl from the (right/wrong) side of the tracks who has latent talent as a (ballet/burlesque/crunk) dancer. Despite grappling with a difficult home life and her (eating disorder/shady dealings with underworld mobsters/mother's drug addiction), she falls in love with a (ladykiller choreographer/suprisingly ripped toilet-cleaner/pimp with a heart of gold) and together they beat the odds to win the local talent quest and (avenge her sister's death/raise money for puppy epilepsy/become the best goddamn dancer in the American ballet).

Shouldn't have had that last glass of chardonnay, should I?! Better finish my work now.....

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Southern gothic

Must be the week for scaring myself before sleep - tonight with a piece of crime reportage by the incomparable Truman Capote, called "Handcarved Coffins". HC was written in the late 70s and published as part of an anthology called Music for Chameleons.

Years earlier Capote had invented literary journalism, or as he called it, "the non-fiction novel", with In Cold Blood in 1966. As he wrote in the preface to Music for Chameleons:

For several years I had been increasingly drawn toward journalism as an art form in itself. I had two reasons. First, it didn't seem to me that anything truly innovative had occurred in prose writing, or in writing generally, since the 1920s; second, journalism as art was almost virgin terrain, for the simple reason that very few literary artists ever wrote narrative journalism, and when they did, it took the form of travel essays or autobiography.

Looking back on his body of work years later, Capote felt he could have written everything better; that he'd let himself be hemmed in by conventions when a great writer should be able to summon an entire "palette" of writing styles - prose, poetry, reportage - in any single piece.

From a technical point, the greatest difficulty I'd had in writing In Cold Blood was leaving myself completely out of it. Ordinarily, the reporter has to use himself as a character, an eyewitness observer, in order to retain credibility. But I felt that it was essential to the seemingly detached tone of that book that the author should be absent. Actually, in all my reportage, I had tried to keep myself as invisible as possible.

Now, however, I set myself centre stage, and reconstructed, in a severe, minimal manner, commonplace conversations with everyday people: the superintendent of my building, a masseur at the gym, an old school friend, my dentist. After writing hundreds of pages of this simpleminded sort of thing, I eventually developed a style. I had found a framework into which I could assimilate everything I knew about writing. Later, using a modified version of this technique, I wrote a nonfiction short novel (Handcarved Coffins) and a number of short stories.

So "Handcarved Coffins" is a pacy account of a series of murders in "a western state", and the years-long investigation to uncover the truth. Just as Capote described above, he's in the middle of the story - it's written as a transcript of conversations, mostly between Capote and the detective Jake Pepper, but occasionally with other persons of interest. This style itself is interesting because legend has it that Capote never wrote a note nor recorded a second of his interviews. He claimed to have a photographic memory. Whatever the case, the dialogue of HC is taut and dramatic, ominous and gothic as any invented thriller.

The story's name comes from the killer's calling card - small wooden coffins delivered to the victims before they were murdered in intricate, horrible ways. Rattlesnake. Razor-wire decapitation. Poisoning. All deaths with seemingly nothing to tie them together - except the coffins. It's a cracking, creepy story and as with everything Capote wrote, I strongly encourage you to read it!

It was just interesting to come across Capote's own words about pretty much inventing narrative journalism - a concept that's very popular at the moment through the great work of institutions like the Nieman Foundation. We're coming to blows a bit at work over this, as we plan a major journalism conference for later in the year - whether narrative is the truly essential key to the continued value of journalism, or whether it's just a bullshit word that doesn't really mean anything.

Anyway. Need sleep. Things are afoot.