17 December, 2009

Good Lord, Is That The Time?

I know I've been absent for some time now. Four months or something. And unlike some of my blogging contemporaries who drop out from time to time, I can't claim a new love-interest as the reason I haven't got around to putting anything up here lately. So I'll put it down to a combination of work; cricket; family; my 50th birthday extravaganza (I'll post about this just as soon as I get the photos back from the chemist shop - hokey nostalgia alert!) and indolence.

I still have about twelve posts in draft form almost raring to go but haven't got around to doing anything with them. And would you believe they are some of the most gripping; side-splitting; witty; prescient; and incisive blog posts you're ever likely to read? I didn't think so.

So talk amongst yourselves. Relax. I'll be with you in a jiffy.

07 August, 2009

The Day Before Yesterday

I gathered some inspiration for this from a recent post over at one of my favourite blogs: Mooiness. Marcus was musing about whether tolerance for other peoples' idiosyncracies was the key factor in determining whther a newly-formed relationship could last. And wondered if the too-quick identification of a "character flaw" in a potential partner was a subconscious escape clause. I'm paraphrasing, and I'm not sure if I've done justice to Moo's excellent post, so you can read exactly what he had to say here.

But in my case, it was 1985 and I was 26 and about as single as you could get. A colleague was having a fancy dress party and when I arrived early as Angus Young, there was only one other guest there: this beautiful Asian girl who was wearing an I Dream of Jeannie outfit that came very close to making me forget all about Barbara Eden. We spent a fair proportion of the evening talking together and somehow ended up getting in touch shortly afterwards to organize a date. I was through to the semis.

She lived out in Keilor Downs and when I got there she was not quite ready so I chatted with her sister, also a stunner, and then we went next door so I could meet her folks. That's right, her folks lived next door to the house where the two sisters lived. Dad was of Malaysian Chinese origin, and had worked for the RAAF in Malaysia and then emigrated. Mum was English. They were really nice people. We spent quite a long time talking with her folks and they made it clear in a subtle way that Helen, the younger of their two daughters, was unaccustomed to going out with blokes and that I was being afforded quite a privilege. None of which bothered me. It was a first date, so it was bound to be something of an exploratory expedition for all concerned.

We had dinner at a restaurant in Fitzroy and she was really lovely. But very shy, and although obviously intelligent, not terribly worldly. Like she'd been a bit sheltered. All of this was okay. I wasn't exactly the playboy of the western world myself, and although clueless in a great many ways, flattered myself that I understood how we don't all march to the beat of the same drum.

I dropped her off back at her place, had a quick cup of coffee with her and her sister and went home. It had gone well, (albeit a bit more G-rated than I'd have liked), and I was keen to continue.

So I thought it was great when she rang me the following Friday to see if I wanted to go out to the pictures with some friends of hers. We met up at the house in Pacoe Vale where the three friends lived, two guys and a girl. This particular evening did not go well.

There was far too much umming and ahhing about what film to see. I kept quiet and left them to it. Threw in a suggestion or two but these were not taken up. The debate dragged on and on until finally they settled on The Breakfast Club. I'd never heard of it and asked who was in it. Turned out it was a Brat Pack movie. Fuck. Oh well, it was a night out.

We arrived at the Greater Union cinemas in Russell St in the city with a bit of time to kill. I suggested we pop around to the Carlton Hotel in Bourke St for a couple of drinks. More debate. I found their dithering frustrating, and I think it showed. And the film was shit. I know director John Hughes passed away yesterday, but I didn't think much of this film at all, so I'm taking his many eulogies with a grain of salt.

There was more indecisiveness about what to do after the movie so it ended up being a date-that-pretty-much-wasn't. And I decided not to pursue things with Helen. We were heading in different directions. As much as I liked her, as lovely as she was, (and she was lovely on all levels), I couldn't imagine hanging around with her friends and she was clearly very family-oriented. The prospect of spending long nights in front of the TV at her folks' place (at anyone's folks' place, including my own!) was one I didn't relish. There was just the matter of the party I was having at my place in a couple of weeks that I'd told her about.

During the leadup to this party, I didn't contact her. She resolved everything when her phone call got me out of the shower before work one morning to tell me announcement-style that she wouldn't be coming along. I said that was fine, but asked her why. Because she didn't want to go out with me anymore. I told her that was fine too, and wished her well. Quite a nice, mutually satisfactory ending. Rare? In my experience, yes.

It was a shame, but it was looking too much like I'd be dating a shy teenager, and that just didn't suit me. And I'd also say there was probably a good deal of me not suiting her involved too.

But the funny thing was that a couple of years later, when TLOML and I started dating, I found a lot of similarities between the two of them. Some differences too. However, on reflection the big difference was to do with me. Because for TLOML, I was ready to make some kind of commitment. I think also by that time, I was thinking it was more about her than her surroundings.

The rest is history.

But just by way of a coda: some seven years later, TLOML arrived home from work one afternoon after we'd been married about a year wanting to know who this Helen was. I didn't connect initially, but it turned out Helen was this beautiful Asian replacement teacher who'd filled in for her the day before and in the note she'd left TLOML, mentioned that we'd dated and asked to be remembered to me. Helen was doing replacement teaching while she was on family leave, and I managed to piece together that she'd married a pretty cool bloke I'd once worked with briefly and they'd had a baby.

I think that makes four happy endings, all up.

01 August, 2009

I Snore, Therefore I Am

She thought it was funny. But it made her worry a little too. The way I'd just stop breathing while I was lying there asleep next to her. Naturally, I was unaware I was doing it, but was pleased I'd come up with something endearing without having to contrive it. A few years later, when I met up with TLOML, she remarked on it too. The condition is called sleep apnoea.

And it's expanded since then. Not only do I stop breathing periodically when asleep, I snore. TLOML reckons she gets not just the buzz-saw but the adjacent timber yard complete with trucks grinding up and down through the gears as they go in and out. I was determined to do something about it. And that something was to deny it completely and counter-accuse her of providing the odd somnolent symphony of industrial music herself. Not an ideal solution.
So just a couple of months ago, I asked a dental technician if he could make one of those special mouthguards up for me. No, I'd have to see my GP. It was a medical issue. The GP referred me to the Sleep Disorder Clinic at Royal Melbourne Hospital. The honest information I gave on the questionnaire suggested to the specialist there that it wasn't a big problem.
And TLOML had provided reassurance by reminding me that she was a pretty light sleeper anyway and maybe my snoring wasn't really all that bad. Not a deal-breaker, anyway. But she'd still prefer that it stopped, though.
The doctor told me the main cause of sleep apnoea was obesity. Not in my case. For me, it's because I have a funny-shaped palate-throat cavity combination. So next week, I'm taking home a machine to monitor what goes on when I sleep.
The most likely outcome is I'll need to go off to the dentist and fork out a grand for a clear plastic jaw clamp that'll make me look a bit like that big bloke who turned up in a few of the Roger Moore James Bond movies.
If I can be arsed, I'll record and post a little night music for the purpose of verification.

26 July, 2009

What Would You Have Done?

I went to a local pub on Friday night to catch up with the dads from the primary school my sons attended. We get together about once a month and there's a lot of local football and cricket crossover so it's a long-standing friendship group and all very convivial. The pub even has a nightclub attached to it, so it's occasionally squirmingly funny if we step out the front door of the bar for a smoke and somebody spots their underage daughter in the queue.

I'd arrived late and had to park a fair way away. I was walking head down into a chilly northerly when I saw a late model Holden accelerate hard into a left turn off the main road I was walking along. The bang followed quickly. The driver had lost control of the car when he'd hit the cobbled bluestone guttering between the main road and the street he'd just turned into. I didn't actually see the impact but when I drew level with him I could see he'd T-boned a parked car. No-one was in it but if someone had been they might have suffered an injury. If anyone had been crossing the street it might have been worse.

He walked towards the main road shaking his head, swearing loudly and exaggerating his reaction in that way the young, drunk and attention-seeking seem to always do. Some of his nightclub contemporaries were starting to gather.

I walked just close enough to get his registration number and that of the car he'd hit, dialled 000 and asked for police. I gave them all the details. I was about half way through my description of the event when they asked me what state I was calling from. This threw me out a little as I'd assumed I was talking to someone in Victoria.

I thought the young bloke had done something pretty stupid and that if he'd ended up reversing and pissing off, the owner of the parked car would be out of pocket. So I rang to make sure there was a record of what happened. And also in the hope that whatever consequences were visited upon the driver, they might act as a deterrent against any future behaviour of a similarly stupid nature.

I continued on to the pub but only stayed about an hour. When I left, the Holden was just being taken away by tow-truck and the young driver was helping police with their enquiries.

Look, as dilemmas go this is fairly pissy but I think I would have felt pretty bad afterward if I'd just kept walking and left it up to someone else. So what would you have done?

20 July, 2009

The Dream

I had this dream about two years ago and remembered it really clearly the next morning. And described it to TLOML that day. It had a clarity to it that most of my dreams don't usually seem to have and very little of the whacky surrealism that permeates so many really interesting, exciting dreams, but makes them more like arty European films rather than any of the more familiar Hollywood narrative types.This dream was set in an alternative reality, but not the kind that has you waking up screaming. Nor was it the sort of dream where your real life comes up way short by comparison. It was just a really enjoyable story to be a part of and quite thought-provoking.

The dream took place in a present that might have been.

Okay, so in this dream I'm still single. Still. I'm at a party where I know quite a few people, but not everyone. There's a nice, sociable vibe. I'm having a bit of a drink, a bit of a chat, and then I see her. TLOML. But it's different. You see in this dream, we never ended up together. We dated a few times and then I got the impression she wasn't all that interested and so stopped calling her and it just fizzled out. No-one broke up, no-one got dumped, no-one got hurt. Probably not even substantial enough to be describing her as an ex.

But seeing her again made me feel really uncomfortable. I instantly dreaded that she might be mortified about bumping into me after all this time and would feel the need to avoid me, possibly even in an excruciatingly exaggerated way, making a big deal of her embarrassment. Come on, I know that's how it works sometimes. And that her feeling the need to theatrically avoid me would in turn, be a source of some considerable embarrassment for me. Of the Earth-please-open-up-and-swallow-me variety. So I made plans for a quick exit.

But I was on the wrong tram. There was no need to worry. She looked straight at me and came right over. "Hi Lad! How are you?" Big smile. Really nice, really natural, friendly. This wasn't going to be awkward at all.

Turned out she was married to some terrific, successful bloke who was also at the party but never appeared in the dream. Married with a couple of kids. Clearly happy. Me? I was doing okay. Or made out I was to the extent that I at least convinced myself.

We spent some time chatting and it was really pleasant, bringing back memories of why I'd liked her so much in the first place all those years ago. The views in common, the sustained eye contact, the occasional big laugh at something I'd said. It was all there from when we'd briefly dated.

Later on, I went outside for a cigarette. She came outside not long after me. It was a languid, balmy evening with just the two of us in the backyard. She brought up the subject of how we'd broken up. Wanted to know why I'd stopped calling her. At first, I pretended to be struggling to remember, and then told her the truth as it was at the time. That I'd determined she wasn't all that keen and I was probably doing her a favour by disappearing. So I couldn't become a pest. Wouldn't become someone she’d need to avoid if she ever bumped into me again later on. Like I'd feared might happen earlier. She was not impressed.

I was trying to explain that we were younger and that it was so long ago, lacing the lame near-apology with countless shrugs and sentences that trailed off into nothing, when she cut me off and leaned close, slightly annoyed.

"Look, I didn't come out here to talk," she said.

Then we kissed. And I woke up.

How's that for a storyline? Hangs together pretty well, doesn't it?

When I told TLOML, she thought it was really romantic that my subconscious would come up with something like that.

Spewing I didn't tape it.

14 July, 2009

Why I Play Cricket

I'm going to try not to sound too defensive about this. But I have to concede it's pathetic really. Playing cricket at my age. Sure, I can rationalize it in any number of ways: important exercise for a bloke in a high-risk age group; worthy community involvement; the opportunity to coach and mentor junior and less exprienced players; making some kind of contribution to the club's on and off-field fortunes. All very altruistic. But it's far simpler than that. And much more selfish.

I'm really only there to play. Deep down. All the rest of the involvement, from Junior Co-ordinator and U12 Coach, through Committee membership to part-time barman, bin emptier, sausage-sizzler and raffle organizer is just what you get caught up in when you play, and I would have a whole lot less interest in any of it if I couldn't take to the field myself.

I'd been toying with the idea of giving it another go for a couple of years but when I had a disc removed at the age of 37, (L1-S5: right down at the base) I could feel the curtain coming down. Surely you can't bowl with a fragile back? Jesus, I could hardly run. Anything could go wrong and probably would. So I forgot about it. A few years later, Moe and Larry were enjoying little kids Milo cricket and I rolled the arm over at them in the park and the backyard. Shit! That felt alright! Maybe next year I could give it a go. Just a couple more seasons, enough to bring up the 100 games - 100 wickets double that I was close to when I stopped playing at the age of 25. Then I'd have it all out of my system.

The 2004-05 season approached, but as it turned out, my youngsters weren't interested in playing. Well bugger the pair of you then. I'll play. TLOML was not impressed. She hates cricket. Finds it boring, pointless and can't for the life of her understand why everything has to take so long. I was accused of having an idiotic mid-life crisis, trying to recapture lost youth, being pathetic. It was ridiculous. And didn't I used to make duckies or whatever you called them all the time? Well, yes. But I had a significant debating point ready to launch.

"Alright then, it's either the kind of mid-life crisis where I want to play cricket again, or some other kind where I want to buy a sportscar or try to pick up women on the internet. You decide."

We both had a good laugh about that, especially when the frypan she threw bounced off my head at a funny angle. I figured with that kind of support, I'd be mad not to pull on the whites again.

And so at the age of 44, with only two blokes remaining at my old Moonee Valley Cricket Club from the fellows I'd played with previously, I turned up for pre-season training. And I don't mind telling you I thought picking up where I left off would be a mere formality, thank you very much. I would bowl accurately and decisively, field competently, and put together the occasional defiant tail-end innings when the team needed it most. But cricket had news for me.
Most of what few skills I'd originally possessed had evaporated. I couldn't withstand opposition bowling long enough to make many runs. Sometimes any runs. And just about every opposition batsman delighted in belting me back over my head for six. At least I could still hold catches, thank Christ. All of this should have been devastating for me, but I was able to rationalize it thus: we're getting shitted on; I'm not having much impact or success at all; but it's a nice warm day; there's a gentle breeze blowing; and I love cricket just enough to feel happy about being a small, spectacularly unsuccessful part of it.

I spent the next two seasons captaining the Fifths, a development XI consisting almost entirely of junior players wanting to get a taste of senior cricket. Pete, a bloke of similar vintage to myself, joined me on mentoring duties.The development XI was an interesting idea and Pete and I were really committed to it, but it didn't quite come off. We were thrashed just about every week and no-one played up to their potential. That led to a lot of the young fellows piss-farting about. In the end, the club decided to discontinue the concept after two seasons and just spread the juniors out where they would be of most benefit. I was actually glad of this, as I have never really enjoyed captaincy. It tends to make a complex game that bit more complicated.

But despite lack of team success, my own form had seen small incremental improvements. A few more runs here, a few more wickets there. So I hoped to stay in the Fifths and concentrate solely on batting. Let the young tearaways have the ball. But the new Fifths captain had other ideas. He wanted me to concentrate on bowling. Alright, if you insist. Taking my run-up back to its original length gave me a refreshingly balanced approach to the wicket, and I just tried to keep the seam upright and let the oncoming breeze and the shiny side of the ball do the rest. And it worked. I found myself in the unfamiliar position of being afforded something that seemed awfully like respect for chrissakes, by opposition batsmen. I took wickets in every innings bar one that season to win the 5th XI Bowling Award. And played a couple of decisive innings with the bat too. So I fronted up at the start of this season just gone in better touch than ever. Shit, they even promoted me! All the way up to the 4ths, where I was going to be captained by a bloke I'd taught at Moonee Ponds Central School. The slightly higher standard was going to be a bit of an acid test for me, but I was able to bowl accurately for long spells (thanks skipper!) and took out the 4th XI Bowling Award to cap it off. I'd also made the backward squareleg position something like my own and held onto some hot chances from the heavy traffic that tends to go through that neck of the woods.
Sure, my batting had gone to seed but I was an automatic selection in the 4ths once I was established and am looking forward to next season. And I seemed to have gathered a little respect from my club mates that had everything to do with my capacity to put the ball on the stumps regularly and throw in the odd unplayable outswinger.

The 2009-2010 season is approaching and there's a chance that our 4ths will be going up a grade to play on turf. I'm very keen to be a part of it, even though it means shelling out for my first set of sprig-studded cricket shoes. The Selection Committee might decree otherwise, but I'll take my chances.

With both the 5ths and the 4ths narrowly finishing just out of the finals over the past two seasons, my tally of finals games has remained at a measly 4. And my only flag was in the 2nds back in 1977-78 where I batted last, didn't bowl and fielded behind whatever trees encroached on the ground. So I'm very keen to make just one last addition to the trophy cabinet.

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it. I always have.

13 July, 2009

Great Moments In Sport I: 1984 VFL Preliminary Final

I had to drive over to a house in Nth Sunshine to pay $50 for 2 tickets to the 1984 Preliminary Final. Retail for two tickets was $30 in 1984. Essendon were playing Collingwood and, needless to say, both camps were confident, general interest in the match was high and a place in the Grand Final against the formidable Hawthorn was up for grabs. So tickets were hard to come by.

My Collingwood mate Frank and I had despaired of finding any luck in an exorbitant scalping environment. We'd even resolved to drive to Albury in the hope of picking up the game live on TV in a pub. But then on the Thursday before the match I decided to give the Age classifieds one more try and hit pay dirt with two tickets only $10 over the retail price. So we were off to VFL Park, Waverley.

Collingwood had defeated arch-foe Carlton in the 1st Semi-Final while Essendon had fallen just 8 points short of Hawthorn in the 2nd Semi, a game which many commentators were describing as one of the best they'd ever seen. In the two previous Bomber vs Magpie encounters that season, Essendon had recorded comprehensive 10 and 6 goal wins. But Collingwood were not to be denied. On their day, they were tenacious and determined. Deep down, no-one gave the Magpies even a ghost of a chance. But as is the way with the football media, everyone seemed to be doing their darndest to talk the mismatch up.

Essendon would go into the game with a full-strength lineup and stars Madden, Watson, Daniher, Baker and Neagle all at the peak of their considerable powers. By contrast, Collingwood were weakened by the absence of the injured Cloke and Taylor and then suffered a further blow when David Twomey was a late withdrawal.

Ex-Essendon champ Ron Andrews kicked the first goal of the game for the Pies but that was where the fun ended for Collingwood. Because Essendon recovered from this early aberration to lead by 84 points at half time. That is a whopping big margin. Even for the end of a game, let alone half-time. 14 goals. There's no comeback from that far down. All hope is lost.

And so during the main break, the aisles were just awash with departing Collingwood supporters, retreating from an ignominious defeat. It looked a little like one of those mouse plagues in the Mallee, an almost liquid movement of masses of people. And it seemed as though in every section, there was at least one drunken scumbag Essendon barracker standing up on his seat and pointedly jeering them off with gales of theatrical laughter. I confess I had a bit of a giggle too. Especially after one wag started calling for all of the Collingwood bus drivers to return to their vehicles.

Whadda you reckon: time to light up a joint fellas? Experience a glorious Bomber victory under the influence? There was no dissent. Even staunch Magpie Frank adopted an air of insouciant resignation and had a few choofs.

The slaughter continued in the second half until siren time when the final margin was 133 points. Baker had kicked six classy goals and Van der Haar with five managed to feature in the votes from many commentators even though he was off injured just before half-time and didn't reappear. So big was his impact. Check out what a spectacular player he was in this career highlights montage:

But I had to take my hat off to Frank. He'd stuck it out. The greatest humiliation in finals history. And more was to follow. Because no-one was going anywhere in a hurry.

We had Waverley down to a fine art in those days. The ground was famous for its post-match traffic snarls but we'd worked out a pretty good way to circumvent the problem. After the final siren, we'd make a leisurely stroll across the oval dodging ill-directed footies from the hundreds enjoying kick-to-kick. Through the gate on the other side of the ground and into the members, making a bee-line for the Brownlow Bar. It was always crowded but you could usually find some space and watch the replay which started about five. Then at around 7, you could wander out and have no trouble whatsoever finding your car, even in the pitch dark.

That was the plan and we stuck to it. The crowd in the bar started to thin out around 6. But we were in no hurry. Numerous rounds of drinks punctuated by loads of laughter and back-slapping provided an exultant backdrop for the TV review of Essendon's massacre. By 7, we were the only ones left and thought the bar staff would be asking us to call it a night. But they kept serving us, so we fell into line with this welcome new policy.

A little while later, all these people started to come in. Collingwood people. Collingwood players and officials. All filing gloomily in for their post-match meal. In 1984 the quarantining of players from mug supporters was a little more haphazard than it is today.

It was my round next so I asked the bloke behind the bar if he wanted us to make tracks, seeing as how we were almost gate-crashing an official Collingwood function. Not at all, according to him. We'd be welcome to stay a bit longer. So we went through a few more rounds. David Cloke walked past with his arm in a sling. General Manager Peter Bahen tried to put a a brave face on things, but there just wasn't anything at all for them to be upbeat about. Seated between the official party and the bar, we weren't exactly sure how to conduct ourselves so we toned down the celebrations a bit.

But only a little. The Collingwood mood was in such stark contrast to ours that you just couldn't help but see the humour in it.

One bloke who looked like ex-Magpie hard man Kevin Grose seemed keen to make lingering eye-contact with me. I'd look away, have a bit of a chat and then steal a glance back at him and blow me down, his intent gaze in my direction never wavered. And I don't think it was because he fancied me. What to do? I know, I'll make friends! So I raised my glass to him, and winked and smiled a salutation. He started to get up and I was already mentally phrasing a suitably contrite apology for my clumsy social skills but I wasn't confident of avoiding some expensive dental repair work when someone at his table shook their head at him and he figured I wasn't worth it and stayed where he was. I've since thought seriously about having it registered as a near-death experience.

But eventually, there came a lull. It was caused by us all getting the giggles at the same time and trying desprately to hold it in. You could hear a few of those high pitched snorting sounds where the air gets caught in between nose and mouth while you're trying desperately to stave off a guffaw. It was no use. Someone spoke without saying anything particularly funny and the floodgates opened. Huge squalls of laughter erupted and we just couldn't stop. Some of the blokes had tears running down their faces. A Collingwood official signalled to the barman that it was about time we made our way out of there and so we bid the friendly and tolerant bar staff a warm farewell and went off into a cold night that somehow didn't chill us at all.

The following week, Essendon would kick nine goals in the last quarter of a hard fought Grand Final against Hawthorn to record a come-from-behind-win and claim their first flag in nineteen years.

12 July, 2009

Malapropisms I

What's inspired this post is one of the funniest malapropisms I've heard in a long time.

We were at our local footy club's annual ball and the fellow who runs the junior section was making a speech. He's a great bloke, does a terrific job heading up the club's under-age section and is well-liked by all. But he's a bit of a mangler of the English language. To give you an example: "...and so without any further to do..." is a common phrase in his speeches.

Last night he was praising the verve and enthusiasm of one of the junior coaches and the word he meant to use to describe this bloke's vigor was gusto. What came out was "gutso". And what made it funny for me was that it kind of fitted in with footy-speak as there's often a lot of talk about guts.

Do you have any favourites of your own?

15 June, 2009

Outraged of Ascot Vale Writes...

Des "Tuppence" Moran was shot dead today outside a cafe in Union Rd. Details here. The coverage of this tragic event on TV and radio has been disgraceful. Just as the coverage of the earlier attempt on his life outside his home in Langs Rd was also very ordinary. And raises important questions about the calibre of Melbourne-based electronic media outlets:
Exactly how difficult is it to pronounce Ascot Vale correctly? Give up? It's pronounced A-scert Vale, not A-SCOT Vale.

And while we're on this topic, once and for all that outer north western suburb that was still a country town when I was a young lad is pronounced Kei-la, not Kei-LORE.

And for all those out there who would dare to take issue with this pronouncement (as puns go, not too excruciating) just consider what your reaction would be to someone deciding that that well-known bayside suburb should be rendered Brigh-TON instead of Brigh-tern.
So just try that little bit harder to avoid sounding like a bunch of ignorant bogans as a matter of deliberate policy, will you?

Thanks everyone. I just know you'll do better from now on.

Oh, and of course my condolences to the Moran family.

25 May, 2009

Great Gigs III: Jeff Beck At the Palais; January 2009; Finally He Gets To The Actual Concert

It was Australia Day and I'd spent the warm summer afternoon with the bands at the nearby Big Day Out concert providing a droning sonic backdrop to a bit of incompetent gardening. I headed over to Pete's place in West Brunswick but I was a little late so we had to sneak a hurried choof at the tram stop in Dawson St on the way in to the Palais for the Jeff Beck concert. You can do it in public if you're smart about it. We'd rolled the tobacco out of a couple of Stuyvos and packed in a fairly potent mix so that to the casual observer, it's just two baby-boomers smoking cigarettes.

I love the Palais. I saw Joe Cocker there in 1977 and Rory Gallagher in 1980 and both times the sound was excellent. It's a great acoustic venue, so I was looking forward to getting the best of Jeff and his band. They would be Tal Wilkenfeld, a 22-yo Sydney bass player about whom it's often mistakenly asumed that she's Beck's daughter. Her resume includes the Allman Brothers Band, Chick Corea, Steve Vai, Susan Tedeschi and Herbie Hancock. Vinnie Colaiuta, ex-Frank Zappa band, would be on drums and David Sancious from the E Street Band was to be on keyboards. No singer.

And that's what made me a little apprehensive. As I mentioned earlier, the stuff I was most looking forward to hearing him play was from his Yardbirds'; Jeff Beck Group; and Flash periods. If he was just going to do what he's into right now, that could be anything. And that's exactly what he indicated to Kerry O'Brien in this interview on the 7:30 Report.

So the concert would only be a limited retrospective of Beck' career. Nothing with vocals. This was disappointing. I like Beck's jazz-rock stuff, but I don't love it. Still it would be good to see him, even if he wasn't playing any of my faves. As an artist who has always prided himself on progressing, his playing was bound to be top class.

With sniffer dog resources otherwise occupied at the Big Day Out (thanks for taking the heat off us, youngsters!), Pete and I were free to have another quick choof outside just before Jeff was due to take to the stage. We stood apart from a relaxed crowd that were mostly male and from our age bracket but there were some refreshingly young and decidedly female concert-goers scattered through the ranks as well.

He opened with Beck's Bolero and all apprehension just melted away. He sounded sensational, as completely in control as any player I've ever heard. He used that big thumb of his (having eschewed picks since 1980) on a white strat and worked the wang bar and volume control on just about every note. He was faithful to the original, but showed how far he'd come since the original recording in 1968 by varying it just a little too. By the time he'd finished that opening number, my misgivings had shifted to whether we as an audience would be good enough to do him justice.

Have a look at this clip to get an idea of just how beautiful his playing of this signature tune was:

And I realized he really didn't need to trawl through his history to produce a completely satisfying performance. As the review in Undercover would very aptly summarize, it was "Jeff Beck displaying his craft, not his catalogue" And display it he did.

From Beck's Bolero he took us through all of his best instrumental work, from the 1975 Blow By Blow album to more recent efforts. And he was magnificent on all of them. From the haunting Cause We've Ended As Lovers all the way to his take on the Beatles' A Day In The Life for his second encore.

He seemed to be having a great time too. When someone called out "Go Jeffrey!" during a beautifully rendered piece of delicate slide guitar high up on the neck, he looked up in theatrically affected outrage.

He'd said not a word till right at the end when he introduced the band. They'd proved themselves terrific musos, a really hot outfit, and drew sincere applause from the crowd. And then when it was all finally over, a simple "Thank you. Bless your hearts."

No, bless you Jeff. I felt like I’d been privileged to have been there. Readers, this series isn’t called Great Gigs for nothing.

You can check out other peoples' take on the tour here, here, here and here.

But it didn't end there for me. His new live album, Performing This Week...Live At Ronnie Scott's is a complete record of the concert, right down to the same songs in the same order. I bought it almost straight away and it’s been on high rotation in the car ever since.

16 May, 2009

Great Gigs III: Jeff Beck at the Palais 2009; Backstory

A bloke at work forwarded an email from Ticketek to me last December. Jeff Beck would be touring Australia. The 26th January Melbourne concert, and the second concert added a short time after, would both be at the Palais in St Kilda. I snapped up two tickets at around $100 each and fired off an email to Pete, a bloke I play cricket with, choof with, and have the occasional jam with. Not surprisingly, he was up for it.

Alright, I was keen, but I had to do some investigating too. I was desperate to find out just which Jeff Beck would be touring Australia. You see, he's been through some changes in a career that began when he replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds in 1965.
Beck was a major influence on guitar playing through his early pyrotechnic style. Controlled feedback, string muting, manipulating guitar volume, aggressive slide guitar, extraordinary use of the wang bar, and all those waow and whoo punctuations that later players like Jimi Hendrix and Joe Walsh would also use to great effect. And melodic. Beautifully so.

You can hear him at his best on a 1966 album called Roger the Engineer, which features some great guitar tracks like Over Under Sideways Down, The Nazz Are Blue and the instrumental Jeff's Boogie.

But just after this album Beck suffered burnout from the conditions on a hastily arranged and gruelling 1966 US tour and was dismissed from the Yardbirds after leaving the party to go to California. By this time Jimmy Page was alongside him on guitar and a few gigs and three songs that were recorded during their short-lived pairing were only promising, rather than what they might have been.

Beck's career has probably suffered by comparison with Clapton and Page. He has certainly not produced the great songs of his fellow Yardbirds guitarists. But his playing has been on an upward curve throughout. Clapton is now as good as ever but he's only got back to his best in relatively recent years after a long period as a pale shadow of the player he was with Cream. Page too, has had ups and downs but appears to be almost where he was with Led Zeppelin in the mid-70s, no mean feat.

Post-Yardbirds, Beck teamed up with producer Mickie Most for a series of largely forgettable singles, the exception being a dynamite instrumental called Beck's Bolero featuring Jimmy Page, Nicky Hopkins, John-Paul Jones and Keith Moon. Hopkins would join him for his next two solo albums, the 1968 Truth and Beck-Ola (1969). Also on board would be Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass and Micky Waller on drums.

The lineup gelled beautifully on Truth and the newly re-mastered CD release showcases Beck's talent and growth. There is sensationally innovative playing across a range of styles, mostly blues-rock, on such songs as Shapes of Things, Let Me Love You, I Aint Superstitious and the acoustic Greensleeves. However, Beck-Ola was something of a disappointment, precipitating the departure of Stewart and Wood, off to join the Faces. This downturn would carry through into subsequent Jeff Beck Group lineups over the next three years and also the one album produced by his teaming up with Vanilla Fudge departees Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice in 1973's short-lived power-trio Beck, Bogert and Appice.

Along with Eric Clapton, Harvey Mandel, Wayne Perkins and Ron Wood, he was in the running to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones but didn't fancy spending half his life waiting for Mick Jagger and Keith Richard to turn up and so concentrated on a solo project to be produced by Beatles' recording overseer, George Martin. When Blow By Blow was released in 1975, Beck had heralded the arrival of jazz-rock. His haunting instrumental cover of the Beatles' She's A Woman, replete with talk-box, even got airplay on Top 40 radio, and the album's evocative ambience made it a surprise hit, and not just with guitar enthusiasts.

Beck would team up with keyboard player Jan Hammer to further explore the potential of jazz-rock and fusion for the next few albums and almost incessant touring. But it was just like old times in 1984 when Beck played on and appeared in the video for the Rod Stewart single Infatuation.

This might have convinced him he could tolerate having a vocalist in the band again because his 1985 release, Flash, saw him once more showing that he is a master of a range of styles. Closing off a five-year period without an album release, this unashamed rock album demonstrated Beck's playing was still cutting edge, easily matching the innovative quality of such latter-day luminaries as Eddie Van Halen and Michael Schenker.

This was Beck at his very best: beautiful, soulful blues on the hit single People Get Ready, with Rod Stewart on vocals; and a powerfully modern rock approach infusing songs like Ambitious and It Gets Us All In The End. Beck was back. And the homecoming was spectacular, but ultimately short-lived.

Make sure you watch this clip. It's sensational. Funny too.

There would be no follow up to Flash as Beck experimented with industrial music and returned to jazz-rock and fusion over the next few years. And that's why I was apprehensive about the concert: my favourite Jeff Beck stuff was from the Yardbirds; the first Jeff Beck Group; and Flash.

So, would he be playing a complete career retrospective, or just what he's up to right now, another of his many progressions?

03 May, 2009

You Can Run But You Can't Hide III

Interested readers might need to refer to the two previous posts on this matter just to refresh the memory.

The union rep at work is one of those people you just instantly warm to. For me, it was because she reminded me in looks and manner of a former colleague I liked a lot. But beyond that, she's a voluble, witty and clearly caring person who is passionate about what she believes in without beating anyone over the head with it or taking herself too seriously. I needed advice about what to do after the incident with Michelle so we went into one of the interview rooms and I went through it all with her.

She was sympathetic, but rational at the same time. She warned me against catastrophizing. I could see her point, but I felt like I'd stumbled onto something considerably ugly about my workplace to which there didn't appear to be an easy remedy. We consulted the staff handbook and it didn't have much to offer so she advised me to take it to my manager and see what could be done via the organization's structure.

When I told my boss about the incident she was typically forthright: "Why didn't you just tell her to get fucked? I would have." I had to laugh at that but pointed out that it might then have degenerated into an ugly scene for which I would have had to shoulder some of the blame. She told me we'd need to consult the CEO, who I have every confidence in. He's a bloke who knows all of the legislation and regulations back to front and is pretty good at explaining it all.

He gave me two options: one, to approach Michelle and try to sort it out myself; or two, to make a formal complaint, which would mean an investigation. I chose the latter because I didn't want to run the risk of making a mess of any approach to Michelle.

Unforunately the investigation was unable to verify my claim. Colin had taken the safe option of not remembering and Michelle denied that there'd been anything untoward, adding that she was prepared to apologise if she'd said anything offensive. Qualified apologies aren't worth a pinch of shit but the manager in charge of the investigation had organized mediation if I was interested. I wasn't.

Both the CEO and the manager confided that Michelle had come under notice for similar incidents but no-one had put in a formal complaint. They both indicated that they believed my version and were sorry that it had happened and also apologised that the investigation had been inconclusive.

I rejected mediation because I wasn't prepared to give Michelle any opportunities to save face or manipulate the situation any further. What if she was to say something that pissed me off during the session and I reacted, or worse, overreacted? Then I'd come out of it looking like a ratbag. So I politely declined, but added that if Michelle could be quietly advised to give me as wide a berth as possible from here on, I'd consider that a good outcome.

So that's where it stands. Her husband Jeremy and I get along just fine, Colin too. I don't have any ill-feelings towards them. They were both stuck in the middle.

Michelle's still on Family Leave but will be returning. When she does, I intend to avoid her like the plague. I hope she's got the good sense to do likewise. That might just make the situation manageable.

29 April, 2009

Procrastination Update

What I've been doing:
Procrastinating. Getting by on the bare minimum on just about every level in all areas. Except for blogging. There, I haven't been getting by at all. But work's been okay though.

What I'm listening to:
Jeff Beck, mostly. Went to his concert in January. Yeah, yeah yeah, I know, I was supposed to post a review. It's coming. His first solo album, Truth from 1968 to be precise, with a group that boasted Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Nicky Hopkins and Mickey Waller. Re-mastered (beautifully!) and with rare bonus tracks.

What I'm reading:
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. For about the sixth time. Just finished Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. So I'm not completely stagnant. Lucky reading is a pure pleasure that takes no effort to immerse myself in.

What's made me feel good:
1. Essendon's victories over Carlton and Collingwood. They showed real flair in those close, desperate matches. Their best football is very, very good. I would love them to play their best football more often. And I believe they can.

2. Winning the bowling average for my local club's fourths this last season. My medium-pacers took 16 wickets at 17, which isn't outstanding and I bowled us to victory in only a couple of matches. But I was consistent I suppose, and haven't bowled poorly in a match or at training for over two years. I bowl outswingers mainly and most of my wickets are from slips catches or caught behind.

3. Sex. That's probably too much information for you. I usually try to be witty and subtle about it. But let's face it, I love it. Pure pleasure. And all within the sanctity of marriage, I hasten to assure you.

4. Having a choof. Got some pretty good stuff at the moment. Giving it a bit of a nudge.

5. Watching my three young fellows play cricket and football. I shudder to think how excruciating it must have been for dad to sit through my feeble efforts. I just hoped my lot could hold their own and they've exceeded that brief.

What's made me feel bad:
Nothing really. Just the odd bit of self-loathing for my lethargy. I can't even be stuffed hyper-linking or adding images. There's also the draft blog posts that I'm really looking forward to posting, but just can't get around to writing. And your blogs, from where I've been absent.

I've also worked out I have a bit of a tendency to catastrophize. And I swing back and forth from feeling great about myself to feeling like I'm the world's greatest fool and always have been. But I'm self-aware while it's going on and don't give too much away.

What I'm watching:
Australian Story (Did you see the one about Keith Miller? Fabulous, wasn't it?), Underbelly 2, The Office, Madmen. Pretty good shows.

Most recent movie:
M Night Shymalan's The Happening. It stood out because there have been so many really good science fiction films in recent years, that coming across a bad one has rocked me back on my heels a bit. I expected it to be pretty good and it was crap.

What I'm going to do about it:
Small steps. Just try to do a little each night, then gradually increase it until I'm on top of a few things. That should do it.

I hope this is my last whimsical, stream of consciousness, churn-something-out-for-chrissakes post. I can do better and enjoy it more.

06 March, 2009

Well, I'd Just Like To Thank...

The delightful Miss Diarist from Dating Diaries has recently bestowed a couple of awards on this humble blog. I just wish I'd posted a bit more often and actually, you know, deserved them. But I'm not one to be churlish in the face of a compliment so, Miss D, I acknowledge your good taste. And thank you from the bottom of my hard drive for thinking highly enough of ol' Lad to deem him worthy of a mention in dispatches.

The citations read:

One Lovely Blog:
Lad Litter, because he's seen me through two blogs now and is smart, funny and adores his wife to boot.

The Proximidade Award:
‘This blog invests and believes in PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes for self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers!’


Isn't she lovely? I'll be putting the awards onto my sidebar just as soon as I figure out how to.

24 February, 2009

Lad Litter and I

Would it be presumptuous to apologise? For the nearly two months spent without a post here? Yes, I think it would, but I'm going to anyway. I'm going to assume that you, y'know, like me as a friend.
And alright, taking it as a given that you'd probably rather I put the odd piece up a little more frequently, I'm sorry. And I also apologise for neglecting all of your fine blogs. Okay, I have been a bit busy elsewhere. But I don't think you'll be consoled by the fact that there are seven posts saved into drafts that consist entirely of titles and labels and not much else.

This blog is having something of an identity crisis. It's become a whole lot less anonymous than you'd think. Or rather, it's author has.

Lad Litter is a construct. No, really. Based on me. Based on the writing of people like Nick Hornby. An attempt to write, or post rather, in an approximation of that style commonly known as "lad lit". Hopefully, stopping short of the bad case of the cutes some efforts of this type in literature and the cinema seem unable to avoid. But probably not.

Everything here is true to me, though. No factual inventions. Just a few minor rewrites of the actual dialogue that don't change the intent. It's a construct alright, but it's one I feel is of my own making and reflects me.

And I think it's at the very least remarkable that my Facebook page, by comparison, looks and feels like more of an invention than what you read here. There's a kind of high school hierarchy about Facebook that I don't think is terribly evident across the blogosphere. And wouldn't you know it? Everyone seems so much cooler than I am.

I'd completely forgotten what a fucking nightmare being a teenager was. Facebook brings a bit of it back. And I feel a little uncomfortable about it.

So I'm wondering if it was a mistake to get into it. Okay, maybe not. You can ignore the popularity contest aspect of it and just do what you want to do. And don't do what you don't want to do.

But I used the Friend Finder and became Facebook friends with a couple of bloggers. And it's unexpectedly a little discomfiting. No reflection on these bloggers. They seem pretty self-assured and comfortable with who they are both in and out of the blogosphere. And with good reason too. But to be combining Lad Litter with my Facebook persona (because that's what it is, a construct or a perception, only using real, or realistic, names and details) just feels a bit funny.

I think what's happened is, Lad Litter and I have collided, like a future self meeting up with a past self in a really good time travel scenario. Or that Simpsons episode where Bart and the other kids go to Shelbyville and come across their equivalents. Okay, probably not nearly as exciting, interesting or amusing but, you know what I mean.

So there are two issues with this: oh, and it's not a fucking identity crisis, by the way. I do exaggerate.

No, there are two issues here: the nature of Facebook and the persona you create there; and Lad Litter getting mixed up in it.

Should be worth another draft post. First the title....there. Now a label. That should be okay. Whew! I'm knackered. But I think I might be onto something. Yeah. I'll come back to this soon....

01 January, 2009

You Can Run But You Can't Hide II

The investigation into the complaint I made against Michelle has concluded. Her response to the complaint consisted of a denial of the allegations I made in the previous post on this. The statement fom Colin, the only other person present, apparently doesn't confirm the allegation. In Michelle's case, it's downright dishonest, and to be fair to Colin, he might not have been able to hear her clearly, so quietly was she speaking, and his memory was probably drink-affected. So that's that, although I have been offered mediation, something I'm sort of half considering.

But only half considering. Mediation implies that there is middle ground here. I don't believe there is. Michelle deliberately set out to attack me and I'm not interested in having that watered down. I certainly don't feel like compromising or adopting a let's-agree-to-disagree-stance on the matter.

Let's back up a bit. Bring you into the picture. It was a fairly warm night at the end of year function and the Federation Square locale lent itself to making everyone feel pretty relaxed and comfortable. I'd managed to MC the awards part of the evening on behalf of the social committee without drowning in flop sweat and even got a few laughs out of the crowd. Everyone was pretty pleased with how things had gone. And I'd enjoyed it too.

What I'd feared might be something of an ordeal had actually gone over pretty well, so I could relax. And I think you all understand the state ol' Lad prefers to be in to do that. I smoked a couple of little spliffs in quick succession and felt great. Self-contained and comfortable, I stayed outside for most of the night and engaged with a passing parade of colleagues as they took in the fresh air and smokers and non-smokers alike botted cigarettes.

The actual incident has already been described in detail so I won't go over it again. As I extricated myself and headed off to meet up with some of the cricket dads at a pub near home, I thought briefly how fucking weird the whole encounter had been. I returned to it at different times over the weekend and it had me a bit worried. Was my workplace a bitch colony? Had a whole squadron of nasty types been bitching about me to Michelle during her family leave or was it something she'd come up with all on her own?

I thought Colin might bring the subject up on Monday but he didn't so I asked to speak to him on Tuesday. We went into one of the interview rooms and I had to jog his memory. I thought it was pretty clear on the night that Michelle was giving me the shits. He'd at least seemed to pick up on it while she was going through her character assessment of me, even if he might not have heard her exact words. I probably said way too much to him as he is a particular friend of Michelle's husband Jeremy, a lovely bloke who works there too.

I told him:
1) I'd had experience with outright bitchery at a previous school and it had driven me out of there;
2) I was worried that Michelle might be representative of an unhealthy workplace culture;
3) That I might now appear to be wearing a bullseye for nasty treatment, from either Michelle or like-minded others;
4) That I now had prior knowledge of Michelle's nature, something that I would not be able to forget easily if Michelle applied for a higher position and I was on the selection panel;
5) That people who' had formal complaints against them upheld tend to spend whole afternoons crying in the toilets;
6) And that Michelle was fortunate I had been unaccompanied that night. TLOML might well have torn the tacky tattoo off her chest and shoved it down her trailer-trash throat.

Colin said he understood how shitted off I was and that he would, if I lodged a complaint, make a statement that would support my version of events. So much for that.

I needed to consider this carefully. So I asked the union rep if she had a minute for a quick chat.