Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quite an impression

Being a unique snowflake I had the startlingly unique idea to go to the Monet exhibition on Monday, its last day. So I lined up with the other half million unique snowflakes who had had the same idea, then bustled, jostled and fairly pushed my way in through the doors when they opened at 9am.

There was so much to love about the exhibition: the paintings of Monet's predecessors, the influence of Japanese art, the sheer beauty of Monet's own works. But what I enjoyed the most was my fellow exhibition viewers. Allow me to share some of their insights:

1. Chappy to his friend: "It's funny how the effect changes when you move back." Yes, dear chappy, you're quite right and are thus granted the award for the Most Insightful Comment on Impressionist Painting Ever. Your prize is the Impressionist picture above, provided you can step far enough back to tell me what it is.

2. Earnest husband to earnest wife: "Hm, that one, the Priory at Vauville, where's Vauville?"
Earnest wife to earnest husband: "I don't know. Maybe you could look it up when you get home. It could be your project for the afternoon. You could get your map out."

Two things: 'project' for the afternoon? Was she a) pulling the piss, or b) um, pulling the piss?

Secondly, 'get' his map out? While he's 'getting his map out' and looking for random French towns we'll all be doing quick searches on the interwebs. While he's still looking ("Is it in the Loire Valley? Somewhere near Reims?") we will have made cups of tea, had naps, woken up, made hearty casseroles, eaten them, watched tv, finished a few sudoku, brushed our teeth and gone to bed. Then around the time we wake up the next morning he'll be saying "ah-ha! Normandy! It's in Normandy!" Yes yes, jolly good.

3. And finally, someone who possibly hadn't had enough sleep (or been to sleep at all?) to a guard: "Is this the last day of the exhibition? Right, so it's closing today?"

Yes, it's both of those things.

Monet: marvellous entertainment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What a piece of work

Having spent a day searching for houses for sale under $152 (in an effort to emulate Mrs Richard Fuld, who picked hers up from Mr Richard Fuld, former Lehman Bros chief exec, for said price) I am sorry to report that there are no such houses for sale in Sydney.

To my great surprise houses here start at $50 gazillion so I'm going to have to call off my $152 Deluxe Gold-Plated Mansion Housewarming Party planned for Friday night.

On the plus side, and well within my budget, I found the simply smashing brooch above. It has the visual simplicity of an Anselm Kiefer, the comical whimsy of a Bob Saget, and the intellectual acuity of a George Dubya AND it's got a 'buy it now' price of $10 on eBay. Sweet.

But who would buy such a thing, dear reader? If you look really closely at the imitation wood grain on the 'for sale' sign you can just make out the inscription: "Dear Wubsy, we really screwed those suckers. Love, Richard."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My kinda investment

I've read plenty of stories over the past year about huge drops in property markets around the globe but thought they were mostly media beat-ups, you know: "property values plummet!", "repossessions soar!" What shall we do! Who shall we turn to!

I usually snort at such media silliness but this time it appears they're right. Imagine my surprise.

Apparently Richard Fuld, who was the chief executive of Lehman Brothers before it filed for bankruptcy, sold his $AU20.3 million ($US13.3 million) Florida mansion to his wife for $152 ($100) last November.

So there really are some great bargains out there at the moment! I bet there are heaps of $152 mansions for sale in Sydney. I don't think it's overly optimistic to say make sure you keep Friday night free for my $152 mansion housewarming; it's gonna rock.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Trying too hard

I was a side-line fan of the Democrats (the Australian ones) during their glory days with The Stott and The Kernot. The Democrats had that feel-good lefty platform of concern for all things green, for human rights and civil liberties, for reconcilation with indigenous Australians, for putting the nukes back in the cupboard, etc, that made me want to be a better person.

Then they did some silly things with the GST and one of their chappies got drunk and assaulted a Liberal Senator on the floor of Parliament and several Democrat senators decided they didn't want to play anymore so took their balls and went home without standing for re-election.

The result is national support for the party of 1.24%, and Andrew Winderlich, who has the inauspicious title of being the last remaining parliamentary Democrat in any Australian parliament. Woo yeah, go team!

But they're trying to turn it all around. They've launched a new website,, and have come up with a game called Grill a Bastard where you get to barbecue, as in 'grill' (haw haw), politicians from the major parties until they give you honest answers to their political rhetoric: Peter Garrett said "we should reconfigure our economy to harness instead of degrade nature" then approved a pulp mill; Malcolm Turnbull said his party would support an emissions trading scheme "come what may" but is now trying the delay the start of said scheme, etc.

Yeah sure the whole "keep the bastards honest" thing is a Democrat line from way back, but today they just sound like the kids in the playground trying to get people to like them by saying shocking words like "bum" and "fart".

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I wanna be this guy

Yeah sure it's cool being a kettle and all, but what I really want to be is Obama's director of speechwriting. Unfortunately for me that role has already been filled by Jon Favreau, pictured above looking not a day over 27 (which he isn't).

Not since Sam Seaborn and Don Watson have I wanted to be a speechwriter so badly. If I was Jon Favreau I would have:

1. Been born in the '80s,

2. Graduated valedictorian,

3. Participated in some "good-natured fun" involving a cardboard cut-out and the Clintons, and best of all

4. Gotten to hang with the Big O himself and, you know, helped write his inauguration speech. Cool. Wiki quotes The Guardian:
The inaugural speech has shuttled between them [Obama and Favreau] four or five times, following an initial hour-long meeting in which the president-elect spoke about his vision for the address, and Favreau took notes on his computer. Favreau then went away and spent weeks on research. His team interviewed historians and speech writers, studied periods of crisis, and listened to past inaugural orations. When ready, he took up residence in a Starbucks in Washington and wrote the first draft.
He had me right up until Starbucks. I wonder if McCain has any openings?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PS, buy early, buy often

Oh those economic-type people do go on! Yesterday I was happily celebrating our democratic freedom not to consume (all the time) and today some silly sod is bagging just this kind of anti-consumerist attitude:
An economist at TD Securities, Mr [W], said inflation figures next week were likely to show consumer prices had fallen 0.6 per cent in the final quarter of 2008. Such deflation could became a real problem for the economy if consumers went on a "buying strike". "If consumers start thinking 'Why should I buy this good or service today when it's going to be lower tomorrow?' that can gum up the whole economy," Mr [W] said.
We wouldn't want to "gum up" the whole economy now, would we? Golly, what if we got caught in a lolly shop and could do nothing but get "gummed up" and stand helplessly by as deflation let down the tyres in the car park? Tricky times, these, tricky times indeed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Buy early, buy often

As we the people have exercised our democratic right not to spend over the past few months we've seen a rash (a rash!) of new and new-again sales techniques to help us part with our money.

The classic buy-one-get-six-free technique has had another run around the park, the 10% off minnow sales have been replaced with 70% off behemoths, and I've received enough catalogues in my letterbox to make a decent sized thatched roof.

Some brochures have tried to cajole me into buying, some have presented me with such darn good value I cannot but buy, and some have promised me all sorts of wonders like fridges so attuned to my every need that I won't know where my friends/loved ones end and my fridge begins.

But none have made me feel like I'm under the rule of a non-benevolent dictator, until now. Today I received one of those book club brochures in the mail; you know, one of those "we'll send you a remaindered crap-arse book every month until the end of time and charge you often and well for the privilege and all that we ask of you in return is that you forget to cancel the direct debit"-type book clubs.

So this book club brochure is full of great-sounding deals like "3 books for $10," VIP this and savings that. It even lists "six great reasons to join [crap-arsed book club] today," which is all well and good until number six: "WE'VE RELAXED THE RULES - You don't have to buy a book from each magazine and you never have to buy a book you don't want. All we ask is that you buy 6 books in your first year of membership."

Firstly, the formatting is straight from the brochure, including the bits where they YELL AT YOU with caps and the bits they pitifully implore you with italics. Secondly, thanks, I guess, for not forcing me to keep a book I really don't want. Um, that's very generous.

And thirdly, telling me they've relaxed the rules doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy about being clasped to the bosom of the book club; it makes me think they've opened the gates to the compound and are dangling chocolate-coated books just inside the doorway and that snap! As soon as I sign that direct debit form the gate will close and the Waco-esque cult will resume its normal operations.

On the other hand, they're giving away a free wok set (a set! Including wok, bowls and utensils) with every new membership, and three books for $10 is pretty good, and you don't need an envelope or stamp to send the form away... hand me that pen.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Random pianos

Ever found yourself on an early morning stroll near a large body of water (something harbour-like), blinking into the early morning brightness while eating early Easter Jebus buns and thought to yourself, "man, I could so do with a piano right now"?

Me too! And on Thursday I was in luck as 30 pianos have been deposited around the city as part of the Sydney Festival. In the middle of a big stretch of grass, between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the harbour, sat this little puppy, soaking up the sun waiting for its first play of the day.

The pianos are the very un-evil brainchild of British artist Luke Jerram whose idea is to quite literally bring people together through music. The pianos have found their way onto a construction site and a ferry, into a library, a cafe and a tattoo parlour. You can check out the shenanigans here.

Thursday afternoon I went for a swim at the pool down the road... yep, there was a piano there too. Noice.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Busted custard

As the world slides effortlessly into a recession I thought I'd try and stave off my own personal recession by selling a few random thing-bits on eBay. I haven't had as much fun since learning how to open the letterbox.

The first pleasure came in choosing a name. Not unlike selecting a name for your first-born, choosing an eBay moniker says a lot about you: I'm a little less likely to buy something from skanky_arse2061 than sweetness_and_light2009, just like I'm a little less likely to encourage friendships with kids named Jekyll, Hyde or Paris than Elmo or Humpty.

And I've had a stupendous time listing things, getting the wording just right and choosing decorative backgrounds (only 10c, bargain) that not only say "I care, I really care, about finding the right home for my pre-loved thing-bits" but also pass on subliminal messages like "Hurry hurry quick quick! Never to be repeated! Will someone please buy my crap already?"

I've been taking happy snaps of my bedraggled cast-offs and uploading them, and answering questions about the specifications of my stuff (like "does it smell?" which has been the most puzzling so far).

But the thing I've been loving most of all is the whole Live Chat system where you can ask a question about eBay and a certified eBay aficionado writes back within seconds (seconds!) with all the information you need.

And the sign-off from eBay Live Chat after my heartfelt "thank you for your help" was "You're welcome. Thank you for using eBay Live Chat. Enjoy your weekend!"

The entire exchange was so speedy and friendly I spent a good two minutes afterwards filling in a little survey about it. Was I happy with the speed of the response? Yes, very satisfied. Is the speed of response important to me? Yes, very important, etc.

I was feeling all rosy and glowy about the Live Chat system until I got to one of the last statements I had to respond to. I had to agree or disagree with the following statement: "The response I received didn't seem canned or automated."

Um, did I think the response I'd received seemed canned or automated? Um no, not until the survey suggested that it might be both canned and automated.

And what's with the 'seem' in there? Is that like: "We here at eBay have spent a fortune getting our automated system to work so well that you suckers can't tell the difference between a real, human response and a phony 'let's pretend we care while not actually employing human beings' computer generated response. Now you tell us, were we successful in that?"

So I posted another question, something inane, just to test the system again. Another delightful and speedy exchange. And the sign-off following my heartfelt "thanks"? "You're welcome. Thank you for using eBay Live Chat. Enjoy your weekend!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Look at moi, look at moi

It seems our furry-eyebrowed former prime minister is getting into all sorts of trouble in the US at the moment.

Last week a story hit the papers that Mr Howard had booked himself and Janette into Blair House in Washington, which is apparently the house all the presidents-in-waiting stay at just before, you know, becoming full-on presidents.

And yesterday a Qantas flight was delayed for an hour while extra security checks were carried out because Mr Howard was on the flight.

A relative waiting in the terminal for one of the 'normal' passengers stuck on the delayed flight commented:
"They were all saying that the flight was delayed because Qantas had decided to check everyone's bags because Mr Howard was on board and they were concerned about security. You've got to wonder what's going on when they decided to step up security just because there's a prominent person on board."
Excellent point, Relative Waiting in the Terminal: why step up security just because there's a prominent person on board? A few suggestions:

1. Because, as Lisa Simpson suggests, "The rich people are different from you and me". "Yes," says Marge, "they're better".

2. Mr Howard suffers from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (or MSbP), whereby the sufferer (Monsieur H) inflicts pain on others in order to gain attention: booking the president-to-be's house and causing flight delays in order to get your name in the paper are textbook examples.

3. The security checks were actually for the benefit of the rest of the passengers. You wouldn't want a furry-eyebrowed former prime minister escaping from first class and running amok amongst the normal passengers; he might bore you to death with anecdotes or try to have you deported.

My money's on number three.

Friday, January 9, 2009

To Dakar... or not to Dakar

The Dakar rally is on at the moment and for no reason I can defend, I love it.

There is so much wrong with the race: I'm not into cars (at least not non-electric ones), there's all those carbon emissions and dust, there's the whole crossing disputed territories thing, not to mention the ridiculous waste of money that could be better spent, you know, feeding and clothing people. It really is an awful, silly thing.

So what is there to actually like about the race? Only one thing, my friends: the fact that 80% of the entrants are amateurs. That's right, 80%! Imagine the javelin competition at the Olympics with 80% amateurs! Or the skeet shooting! Or the pole vault! Ah mercy, we'd all be watching then.

I also like watching the line advance on the race map each night on the news, but that's got more to do with my nut-bar cartographic infatuation than anything else.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Photos by David Mariuz and Reuters, from here.

I went to see Baz Luhrmann's film Australia this week. I wasn't expecting great things from it (in fact, my expectations kept getting lost behind the couch) but it was an, um, interesting experience.

So there was great scenery and lots of lovely cows and those painterly CGI effects I do so enjoy. There were sunsets and period costumes and a veritable volary of great Australian actors.

But the thing I was most looking forward to was coming home post-screening and reading Germaine Greer's review of the film which had been published in the Guardian on December 16 last year.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Greer's descriptions of Michelle Obama's dress on the night of the US election as a "butcher's apron" and a "geometrical hemorrhage" I was very much looking forward to her take on Australia.

And what a fabulously ferocious review it is! Where the film wasn't quite sure what genre it was (epic? pantomine? war story? love story? agricultural history?) the review is definitely of the less enthusiastic kind. Take the opening line, for example: "The scale of the disaster that is Baz Luhrmann's Australia is gradually becoming apparent." Giddy up!

And from there it's off! While I spent the first 20 minutes of the film muttering to myself "pantomine? No? Yes, pantomine! No? Not a pantomine, yes?" I had no trouble identifying the kind of review Greer's was: it was damning, thoroughly and consistently, from beginning to end.

While Australia stopped and started between the love story and the war story Greer raced through a dazzling array of critical gems: from historical inaccuracies, through imperial fantasies, the appalling treatment of Aboriginal people since European 'settlement' in Australia to infant mortality rates and false mythologies.

By the end of the movie I had shared a few laughs with my fellow cinema-goers and enjoyed trying to figure out whether Nicole Kidman had recently had shock therapy, but for narrative drive, conviction and challenging content the review wins hands down.

For a review that's a little more fun than frowny frowny Greer's, check this out: Australia is a "cheesy, cloying catastrophe". Noice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I like their old stuff

Ain't they purdy? I'd be as happy as Peter Blake from Penguin Australasia if I was surrounded by a gazillion of the most splendiferous looking books in the world. Piccie from here.

Penguin has released 50 titles (25 fiction and 25 non) in the original orange-and-cream cover and made my life complete.

What is it about these little puppies that I'd give up my faux-leather passport cover for? Is it that they cost less than a rocket and capsicum sandwich? That they remind me of my first orange-and-cream Penguin (The Year of the Triffids) that I bought at a school fete in 1983 when I was but a whipper snapper with a whole primary school world of bonza badges ahead of me?

Is it that some head honcho-type people at Penguin in London were so doubtful the concept of inexpensive books with cool retro covers would work they decided to only release them for sale in Australia, New Zealand and India, as opposed to the 'real' market for 'real' readers in the UK?

Bah. Whatever the reason, I'm in love. They should go nicely with my Penguin mug, and Penguin scarf, and Penguin shoe horn.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Nothing new

When I woke up this morning I thought I was a unique snowflake.

I thought that my accumulated life experiences had led specifically and only to me; that my story was one of the six billion endlessly different stories of the people who are alive at this very moment on earth.

Then I started reading the weekend's papers and apparently my snowflake is regulation size and shape.

Example. I've got this thing about packaging so have decided to have a crack at growing some green edible-type things on my balcony, you know to cut out all those cardboard boxes and sealed plastic bags and cellophane-wrapped thing bits. It's all terribly wasteful and makes me rather upset, does all this packaging.

I thought the decision to grow some planty things was mine but no:
...with a new year under way, a number of gardening trends are becoming increasingly apparent... We are all trying to reduce our environment footprint and growing our own food is a good start.
SMH, January 3-4 2009.
Ok, strike one. I've also been thinking I'd like to check out some of the second-hand clothes stores up the road but the fashion pages tell me vintage is all the rage this season, what given the hard economic times, and dahling everyone's doing it (it's just the trendites are calling it 'homespun chic').

Ok, strike two. And I had this great idea for a novel... it's about a futuristic amusement park where dinosaurs are brought to life through advanced cloning techniques. I call it 'Billy and the Clonesaurus'.

I know, I know, Michael Crichton and The Simpsons have both done this one already. As Apu says:
"Oh, you have got to be kidding. First you think of an idea that has already been done. Then you give it a title that nobody could possibly like. Didn't you think this through...[later]...was on the bestseller list for eighteen months! Every magazine cover had...[later]...most popular movies of all time, sir! What were you thinking?"
Strike three I'm out. Is there nothing new in the world? I'd have a whiskey before breakfast except Noel Gallagher's done that already. Bugger.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

No way seriously

I went to see the Degas exhibition the other day while on hols in Canberra.

I'm quite partial to a spot of Degas, all those ballerinas and horses and tall-hatted gentlemen. Quite noice, really, and when I win lotto I might even buy one, or else pay a top-rate burglar to steal one for me.

What I'm not so partial to is the unexpected and unwanted advent of the anti-sketch police at the exhibition.

Along with the usual 'don't take photos/don't touch the exhibits/don't throw jaffas at the guards' warnings there was a direction not to sketch.

But why, you might ask? What harm can a few arty, sketchy types fiddling around with a few pencils and some delightful egg-coloured 180g paper come to?

Perhaps they might leap up in a fit of sketching passion and stab their pens or pencils into the painting they're sketching, you know, because when people love a painting very much they like to attack it virgorously with sharp, pointy objects?

Surprisingly no. Sketching is banned at the exhibition because of the "internet". That's right, as explained to our ruffian, art-loving party, if we were allowed to sketch the paintings we might scan them and sell them on the internet... passing them off as the the real thing and thus fraudulently making a fortune!

Two things: firstly, that's insane; and secondly, does anyone else think there's something fishy about the no-sketching rule when read in light of the first line of the exhibition's explanatory text: "In the early part in his career, DEGAS MADE CAREFUL COPIES OF THE WORK OF THE MASTERS."

So denied the possibility of sketching in front of the painting, I've had a go at one from memory. I think you'll agree the similarity is striking; the only thing left to figure out is what to set my reserve price at. Do I hear $3 million?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Let's get started

There are all sorts of things we learn over the course of the year.

In 2008 I learnt that you don't need any skills, experience or charisma to be a politician in NSW, that apartments buildings can be covered by warranties, and that the robots are making excellent progress in their plan to take over the world.

But the learnings we make over the holiday break are a little bit different from the ordinary year-based ones. They're a bit more fun and often leave us with sticky hands. Over this holiday break I learnt:

1. That it's much more fun not being at work (ok, so not a new lesson but I'm always surprised by the contrast of having to get up in the morning for that hideous skanky-arsed goddess Work and, well, not having to get up);

2. That you can have too many of the oft under-appreciated and always misunderstood fruit mince pie;

3. That I will have absolutely no problem filling my days when I win lotto;

4. That afternoon naps would be a welcome addition to the workaday world, as would hammocks; and

5. That saying to the person on the desk at the pool that the website says the pool is open until 7:45pm will not gain you entry at closing time, no matter how many times you say it.

I look forward to another year of such learned learnings.*

* Learnings not actually learned.