Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cul de sac


Life's a road, as so many song-writers like to say. And yeah, we travel on and we eventually come to the end, and in between all that we take a pile of turns based on a mixture of feeling and experience. And sometimes circumstance leads us to a place where the road stops but we don't. Dead end or cul de sac? Depends on how you feel I suppose. I'm in a cul de sac. I'm stuck for a while. Certainly not a dead end. Just sitting here wondering what I can do or say, as Dylan wrote and sang. But I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything, not even myself. The cul de sac is semi-circular and comfortable. And I'm not sure what to do. Or say. I'm just sitting here thinking about someone I lost: my dear old Dad. Not a drastic end, in truth a very graceful one. Lived to 95 and slipped quietly away a few weeks ago. And all my loving sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles came to join with friends, 'to pay respect' is how it's put, but really to share some love around. And it was glorious, that love. But now they've gone back to their lives and I'm here in my cul de sac. “Do I look forward or do I look back?” might be the next rhyming line. What do I do? Cry, drink, walk, swim, eat, sing, cry again, swim and cry. Tell myself I'm not alone coz it happens to us all, and for some it's sudden and drastic and people are left in a sink hole of disbelief. But I am alone. And that's not so bad. I got my my guitar, my harmonica and my books, and they all fit pretty neatly into my cul de sac. I'm in his home, the one I looked after him in for the last three years after mum died. It's a lovely home and it's full of things that were his and hers. Right next to this desk, hanging on the wall, is his dagger – the one he was issued when he joined Z Special Unit, a secret group of naval commandos who went into enemy-occupied territory during the war. He was one of the luckier ones; being a good sailor, he mostly stayed on the boat (snake boats, they were called: done up to look like native fishing vessels). So he came back, got married, became a doctor, raised a family and had a terrific life. Sometimes he was down – deep as can be – be but mostly he was up. Not only was life his oyster, he had the full dozen with champagne, caviar and dancing girls thrown in! 

Lucky guy. But now he's gone, and I miss him. I miss him more than you can miss anything. If you stood right next to a barn door and fired a bazooka or an Uzi or a cannon at it, and you missed! Well that's how much I miss! Him! Death took him when it probably should have, and as we've been all telling each other, he got the end most dream of: slipped away quietly like the Z Man he was. Brief suffering. And yes death is inevitable, but inevitability, as tragedians show us, is no solace really, unless you're a Buddhist or someone who's really okay with impermanence. I'm not okay with it, it's fucked that things have to finish. My grandpa – Mum's Dad - felt the same. Just before he died he said he felt cheated, life was great and he didn't want to just give it up. Yeah, fuck oath old fella, I'm on your side! Not that I believe we should struggle against death in the old 'Do not go gentle' crap espoused by the Welsh drunk. It's just that it...oh I don't know, it's hard. WAS HERE, NOW GONE. Dirty rotten magic trick gets played on us by that rotten motherfucker called fate or circumstance. Funny old word that circumstance – literally means to stand around. “Those of you who are waiting for something to happen, please go into the room marked 'circumstance'. There are no chairs. Just stand around and something will happen. Those of you who can't wait, well there's no special room for you. You can do stuff: build, work, run, scream, fight, fuck, whatever, you'll still end up in the room marked circumstance.” But standing around is what I'm doing, lying round too, holding a pillow marked grief. (Old French – burden). Maybe that's the name of my cul de sac: Burden Street.
The houses in Burden Street are old, inside there are treasures and pain, there'll be love and romance and sweet things, but nothing will ever remain. No, nothing remains in any street, any reality. Only crap novels and stories with happy endings. Eventually the degradation leads to a full stop.


I'm back in his house again after a delightful 5 week holiday to Scotland – where his relatives originated – and where I wandered and drove and rode and sat on hilltops in the highlands, thinking about him. I cried and I breathed. I also swam in the coldest water ever, but what a marvel it was to plunge into the Atlantic, to gasp and yelp and suck air in like I did sixty one years ago. Like he did ninety five years ago, and no doubt like he did when he trained to be a naval commando. This house is full of his and mum's stuff: paintings, photos, coats, pens, medals, membership badges, his old doctor's bag (which I use for props!), and yes, the dagger on the wall. The dagger which he posed with – holding it between his teeth! - in an old photo on the River Snake, the naval vessel he served on, disguised as a junk, with nine other blokes. In the photo he has a full beard, like many of the young men we see today. He's handsome, small, happy and fit. Really fit, as are all the guys with him. They are beautiful muscle-bound men, all smiles, all ready for action. All gone now.

On the day he died, when Sylvie - his daily carer - invited me to wash and dress his body, I saw once again the tattoo on his arm. The one he got when he was a naval cadet, no doubt drunk at the time, and doing it to fit in. A black swan swimming amidst a few rushes. Stretched beyond recognition. “Wow! Your Dad's got a tatt” was often said by friends of mine and my sisters when we'd all go swimming. In those days only prisoners and bikies had tattoos, and Dad was never proud of it. But I thought it was cool.

Monday, March 7, 2011

One and a half men...and a monster. US morality has lost its Sheen.

There’s always got to be one, or even a few, but usually the media likes to focus on one, and he or she often starts with some kind of extraordinary talent; and if not that at least a siren-like attraction, a la Marilyn Munroe, then we gawk in awe as they plunge to their death on drugs or utter humiliation and loneliness or all of the above.

The latest is Charlie Sheen.

They’ve ditched his TV show, just as the juggernaut of his personality ensures the ratings of Two And A Half Men go berserk!  Who isn’t going to be watching now that he’s given the bird to the producers? Even I who can’t stand those sarcastic, dehumanised Ad vehicles called American sitcoms will be glued to the box, just to see the guy who every day walks the plank of commercial excess, and he’s doing it with such impudence, such utter disgrace.

This is the paradox of capitalism: do it, do it, do it, do it….woops, you’ve done it, you terrible man! Every TV magazine, advertisement, bill board, pop song, sit com, film clip – you name it – is pumping out the idea of going overboard, getting that little bit more out of life; but once someone really does it they’re pilloried by the press, by comedians, by psychologists and moralists, warned off by parents and teachers across the planet.

Charlie’s paying two pretty women to live with him. Sure, they’re blonde and plastic looking versions of women, but they fit the commercial mould nicely. And no doubt millions of married men are secretly wishing they were Charlie for a week or so, and I’m sure millions of American women are wishing they were doing Charlie for a week or so. He’s doing exactly what a commercially successful playboy should be doing: taking drugs and alcohol and getting laid a lot. Is there something else in the handbook of excess?

Well, yes apparently so. Amongst all of this striving to the pinnacle of garish taste and profit is supposed to be some kind of philosophical integrity, some human standard to which one must adhere in order to still be liked by the ‘family viewer’.

‘Family entertainment’ was the famous sardonic catch-cry uttered by American comedian Sam Kinison as he blundered Viking-like into the prudish realms of late night TV shows, smashing their mores and morals with his ‘anti-preaching’ stand-up routine. It’s the family entertainment tag that’s keeping Sheen from being simply relegated to the category of just another talented loony, in the same way that footballers like Brendan Fevola are admonished for their excesses: it's because the kids might be watching.

Well, derr! The kids are watching alright, but they’re also participating in their own world of online excess filled with porn and violence way beyond anything Charlie or Brendon might be involved with.

The whole problem is that shows like Two And A Half Men rely so heavily on the comedy of the anti-hero, in the same way Punch and Judy revolves around the psychotic, scary behaviour of Punch, and we love that Punch is there to actually do those hideous things that we might do if we completely lost our moral compass, just as Charlie is there to do what a good family man wouldn’t. The difference is however, that Punch is a puppet and Charlie is a real guy; his character is his real name, he’s based on a real guy who really does this stuff. And while the real Charlie is walking off set to get smashed and have real sex with real hookers and porn stars, the Two And A Half Men writers and producers are desperately attempting to build a morally acceptable TV show based on the idea that the Charlie guy is wrong, not the guy to follow kids! “No, don’t be like the handsome, witty, commercially successful, wealthy son of a film star and brother of two other extraordinarily talented film stars. Be like the dowdy guy about whom we know nothing.”

In a sense Two And A Half Men is a form of reality TV because it’s premise and it’s fame are based on a real guy; and hey, this does give it an added paradoxical complexity. The problem is that the producers have tried to keep the old school family morality attached to it all; they not only want their cake and eat it, they want to sell the cake at top dollar, lace it with liquor and drugs, smear it over naked imaginations of prime time TV viewers, then claim it’s a lovely wholesome cake for general consumption. And in a way it is wholesome, but the guts of the cake – the luscious, sexy, heart of it – Charlie – is something they don’t own. The can’t keep him locked in a cabinet until next week. He’s a walking, breathing Punch if you like. Imagine allowing Homer Simpson or Family Guy to wander off into the real world and wreak moral havoc amidst the citizens of Los Angeles.

We do the same with our footballers, of course: set them up to be overtly aggressive, arrogant and wilful; then when they display that behaviour in public, we can't cope. Similarly, we shake our heads at the behaviour of Matthew Newton who spent several years on the film sets of Underbelly, a rootin and shootin moral quagmire that celebrates murder, drugs and prostitution and somehow attempts to imply that we shouldn’t be doing these very exciting things.

In a way, people like Charlie Sheen and Matthew Newton are walking, talking embodiments of capitalism gone too far, they are monsters spurned from the fetid excess of commercial TV. And before Charlie Sheen, Matthew Newton or Brendon fevola go to their deaths hounded by the press and the fading memories of their own glory, I say to those TV producers and AFL managers: you got what you asked for, you greedy pricks, and now you don’t have the guts to actually take responsibility for it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On The Dole Again, a song NOT written by Wille Nelson

On The Dole Again, a song NOT written by Wille Nelson

On the dole again, I just can't wait to be back on the dole again

I'm so glad I chose to be a thespian

I can't wait to be on the dole again


On the dole again, not-even-dremin-of-goin-to places I've never been,

eating food I wish I'll never eat again

Oh how I love to be on the dole again.

Bridge
On the dole again, we take the bus 'cause we can't afford the highway

We're a bunch of fiends, insisting that the world pay for some of our way, what an outrage!

On the dole again, pretending that I'm looking for a stupid job again

love is standing in that giant queue again

Oh how I love to be on the dole again.

Bridge 2
On the dole again, like a bunch of losers we hitch hike down that highway

We've lost all our friends, 'cause we get drunk and sing songs like  My Way

(Sing first two lines of My Way by Frank Sinatra...sung like a sad drunk)

Whoops! On the dole again, I can't wait to be on the dole again

Oh how I love to eat two minute noodles with my friends

I can't wait to be on the dole again....Rpt. End. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

"On The Dole again..."

Standing in a Centrelink car park, staring at my car with its bonnet up, steam spurting from the radiator, thinking to myself that maybe, all those years ago, theatre arts probably wasn’t the best choice. That morning my 84 year old mother rang to tell me there are carer jobs in the paper. Thanks Mum, I’ll think about it. Maybe I can find a carer for me while I’m there.
            Is this a lesson in humility or just the culmination of years without planning? Both I suppose.
            It’s a good car though, the only car I’ve ever really taken seriously; bought it almost new and had it serviced and cleaned regularly. As I stare at it and wait for the RAC man, I think of a joke: my car isn’t a station wagon, it’s a stationary wagon. Ho ho! Not a belly laugh for sure, but it suits my whimsical mood.
            In my mid-fifties I’m becoming used to the inevitability of decay. The vortex grows each time it appears and I become accustomed to its chaotic wash. Colds and flues are bigger, noises harder to decipher, words at the wrong end of a telescope. A plus is that music is more resonant, it touches my soul with a firm embrace, and not just the old songs - every tune presses whatever that thing is (a button?) in my mind that leads to tears of joy or despair, or a deep and sensual groove.
            The mailman dropped off an invite to my Nephew’s wedding in Cancun, Mexico. Luke. Sweet fellow who lives in Chicago and works for Porsche as a graphic designer. Marrying Molly, a big and beautiful Irish American. A wish is all they’ll get from me, but a warm and loving wish ‘twill be.  
            And every day and night I hear reports of the extraordinary shows being seen at the Perth Arts festival that runs through to the middle of March. I suppose this sounds like a gripe but it’s really just a simple fact that few of us local performers can afford to see any of it, unless a work mate has a ticket or, as is the case for a few, they’re collecting the tickets and watching from the aisles.  
            Could this be a chance to create a modern version of Crime and Punishment, an Aussie Raskolnikov, a middle-aged clown who, instead of murdering an old aristocratic lady, runs down a wealthy fly-in-fly-out mine worker in order to steal their theatre tickets? He then attempts to justify his actions by riding the coattails of the AWU secretary, Paul Howes, who is currently battling the mining bosses and making veiled threats in the press. But Howes, who it turns out loves opera and ballet, just happens to be at the same show as the bitter and jealous murderer who recognises the Union boss and tries to appeal to his sense of justice and retribution. But Howes dismisses the man as a fool and a 'clown' and the sad buffoon is led away amidst the stares of new moneyed men and women.
            Instead I could just go down the beach and sit on the sand with my dog, knowing I at least didn’t have to pay for the parking or the beautiful view. And there, on a beach by the Indian ocean, I can read a book and attempt to forget the hideous realities that have been happening on this ocean. But it’s hard to do that, in fact it’s hard to believe what’s happening to those desperate folk who tried so hard to save their families only to watch them drown.
My cares are nothing compared to theirs. Only trouble is, it’s a whole lot easier to forget, to turn a blind eye, when you’ve just paid big bucks to watch talented Europeans in a warm and comfortable theatre. I wonder what some of those performers are thinking about us Australians and our selective welcome mats.



























Monday, February 7, 2011

Certainty, the bugbear of mankind

I don’t know why people have an incessant desire to be sure about anything. Where did it come from, this need for certainty and truth? We are animals of the earth, organic and changing according to the wind and the rain, as ephemeral as a flame. We breathe, that’s about it, and even that will cease one day or even one hour or second. Who knows? Is predictability that important? The need to know that tomorrow or next week we’ll be here next to that tree with a mountain over there and the same river flowing by, and those we love will be still there, loving us in return.

Okay, so it’d be a little unfair and also implausible if I came home tonight and found my neighbour had turned into a rhinoscerous and stampeded into my yard, wrecking my garden and smashing down my house. Or if a man went to the house of his lover to find he’d simply imagined her, the smell of her hair, the touch of her hands, her embracing smile – all just gone. And I really don’t expect to hear a report on the news that scientists have finally discovered that the Indian Ocean is really a large bowl of jelly. These things are what we call absurd.

But there are times when our environment is changed to such an extent it may well seem that reality has been replaced by an inscrutable and absurd alternative. During WWII there must surely have been a sense that some foul creature had reached into the heart of reality and rearranged things forever. As a reaction to that, absurdism and surrealism came into being, frivolous, child-like expressions where words and images shifted and morphed into the ridiculous and often hilarious. Was this a way of saying, “We don’t know, so don’t try to be certain.” Was it a warning to the world that ideologies based on certainty are crazier than any wild thing we might attempt to invent?

Or was it simply escape? The world has no meaning so why should we? And if there is no pattern, no God, nothing to guide us then we may as well be silly and have a little fun in the mean time.

Those Queensland folk who have dealt with floods and a cyclone, and some people in Victoria who only two years ago had a massive fire and now floods, must be wondering about the overall pattern of life. To have a natural event destroy one’s house and completely wreck one’s dearest possessions must make it difficult to trust the future. Why do anything, why build a living environment when it could so easily be taken away?

When a close friend or relative dies suddenly (and particularly by their own hand) one is left with a gap, a disconnection from what we might call the normal pattern. It’s more than a shock, it’s an onslaught on our very being, leaving us empty and cheated by circumstance. But really, by being more than just sad over our loss, by allowing it to infiltrate and shake the core of our belief system, we’ve actually cheated ourselves. We’ve been left with a philosophical mess we never saw coming.

Impermanence is one of the central ideas of Buddhism. Death is never left undusted on the shelf, it’s brought to mind with as much constancy as food and drink, warmth and friendship; it’s part of the family of life. Does this mean that Buddhists cope better with death and destruction?

When I toured to Sri Lanka recently I met many people who talked about the tsunami and how it affected them and their businesses. Not one person described a horror even though it probably was; they always smiled and shrugged as if to say “It was what happened” and their lives went on, perhaps a little less comfortably. And no doubt there are many in Australia who will do the same. I did meet a few Sri Lankans however, who needed to borrow to rebuild their houses and restaurants and are consequently in debt at very high interest rates. All the same, they weren’t spitting in anger over the usury (as one might); they talked about the bankers with a sanguine acceptance.

And the most devoted Buddhists, the monks, well they’re mainly in the central highlands, way up in the safety of the mountains, far from the hustle of tourism, far from capitalism and its co-conspirators style, comfort and glamour. And far from tsunamis.

Perhaps this is what our attachment to consistency comes down to: material wealth? If we define ourselves by what we possess then we’ll need to fight hard to hang on to a reality that could any day be taken from us. I began writing this piece because a friend quoted the American poet EE Cummings: “To be nobody but myself – in a world which is doing its best, night an day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”

My friend, a fellow blogger and inspirer of many, posted this quote and simply asked what we thought of it, thus sparking an interesting (and still on-going) debate about the nature of self and the concepts of reality and certainty. Questions arose, such as “Do we need to know ourselves?” and “What’s wrong with doubt anyway?” and so forth.

E.E. Cummings was a man who lived through both the world wars, was arrested by the French on an accusation of espionage, and became one of the preeminent examples of the absurdist poet. His poetry and his drama, inspired by the writing of Gertrude Stein and the painting of Picasso, are perfect examples of the escape into the ridiculous. But is it an escape – to create sentences and ideas that challenge the normal pattern? Is it somehow ‘less’ to take words and images and to chop them up, juggle them around, then throw them into the air and see what lands, how it lands and how it makes us feel?

But Cummings poetry, and the work of the absurdist playwrights, while often
nonsensical, always made some kind of connection; it was never dribble by any means, always somehow sparking a feeling about the world around us, and always allowing us to revel in the mysterious nature of reality and unreality. It’s hard to comprehend the idea that Cummings or Spike Milligan (the Pope of absudism) might somehow be unduly influenced by the prevailing mood of society to the extent that they might be not be themselves; that these giant personalities might be subsumed by fashion or societal pressure is simply unbelievable.

But maybe that’s part of being a writer, a painter, a performer – the creative mind will always be fragile and vulnerable, in the same way Mozart was a victim of his critics and peers, and the idea that they could be swept under the rug of conformity is an ever present horror, just as meaninglessness and madness are feared by so many in the western world.

Everything has its dark side, its possible downfall and disintegration. Perhaps that’s why Buddhist monks spend so much time telling jokes. The journey to enlightenment might be a silly hoax, so hey, let us laugh as much as we can in the mean time. Or is it just that disconnection is the key to inspiration, so let us experiment with, indulge ourselves even, with chaos and uncertainty in the hope that the flight out of uncertainty will give us a new insight, an epiphany if you like, which will let us cope a little better the next time the bottom falls out of our world.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

australia day

Australia day is looming. 26th of January is the day we celebrate the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip at Sydney cove in 1788, one week after the five English ships landed at Botany Bay only to find it too windy and lacking in fresh water. So a party was sent to what’s now known as Sydney (then known as Port Jackson) and Phillip landed with several sailors to perform a small ceremony on the Saturday.

What we don’t learn in school is that the next day, after all the other ships arrived in Sydney cove, the women convicts were unloaded and literally handed over to a large party of sex-starved marines. A drunken, violent orgy ensued, and to this day in cities all round Australia, that party is reprised.

Yes, thousands of white Australians gather on the shores of their prospective rivers beaches and city centres to get plastered, sing the praises of their country then bash whoever needs bashing (and many who don't). Whether they go home and re-enact the largely non-consensual sex bit is hard to say, it’s not an easy thing to do a survey on (although I’d like to see someone try – Excuse me sir, after you’ve bashed this man senseless are you intending to go home and rape your wife?)

So, if you’ve ever wondered where the chauvinist yobbo behaviour might have come from, it started on day two. Every nation has its stereotypical characteristics, and Australia’s is all about mistreating women. One of the few Aussie jokes I know goes: An Australian bloke walks into a bar, goes up to a woman and says, “Do you want a fuck?” The woman says, “No” so the bloke says, “Well do you mind lying down while I have one?”

And Australian men will laugh louder than anyone at that joke. It’s a given that Aussie blokes like to get smashed, punch on for a bit, then ‘root’ whatever sheilla’s at hand.

But chauvinism isn’t just about mistreating women. The word comes from the behaviour of a legendary French yobbo (yes, they have them too) called Nicolas Chauvin, one of Napoleon’s soldiers during the Italian campaign, who not only mistreated women (hey, he was a soldier) but also liked to kill, maim, rob and rape the locals with a vigour that surprised even Napoleon. The story goes that Napoleon gave him a medal of honour for his commitment to fighting for his country. Thus the original concept of chauvinism connects it more with patriotism and violence rather than sexism.

And it seems that aspect of the Australian national psyche – the violent, racist one – is receiving traction as a key part of our reputation. A young fellow recently sent me his version of an ‘Aussie’ joke: What do you call an aboriginal flying an aeroplane? A pilot you racist prick! No doubt people like Pauline Hanson and John Howard helped that reputation along, but they weren’t operating in a vacuum. No, fear and hatred of aboriginal people began in the first settlement too, we simply don’t have records of it.

According to most historical records, however, including historian David Hill (in his book 1788), not long after settlement Phillip decided one day to attempt to convince the aboriginal people that the whites were a friendly and trustworthy mob. He did this by ordering his soldiers to bring him a well known aboriginal character called Arabanoo in order that Phillip might teach him English customs and language, and Arabanoo might then go back to his people to explain what he’d learnt.

Okay, sounds sensible. But did Phillip tell the soldiers to go talk to Arabanoo and make overtures to him in order to carefully encourage him into the settlers’ society? No, he told them to ARREST him! This in the age of enlightenment.

Anyway, a long and perhaps not so proud tradition began.

Another national tradition we attempt to hide, which also seeps unwillingly from our collective pores, is an obsession with homosexuality. So many Australian jokes are about buggery, so much of the ‘jokey’ behaviour between Australian men is to do with the possibility of anal sex ‘(taking it up the poo shoot’ or ‘vegemite mining’). Go to a pub or workplace in Australia and witness the ‘poofter’ antics.

This behaviour, like our collective treatment of aboriginal people, isn’t officially recorded by the early settlers (strangely!) but any observation of anglo saxon prisoners allows us to make some basic assumptions about what must have been happening. There would have been man on man action all over the place. The convicts, the marines, the sailors – all would’ve been into each other. But they certainly would’ve been shush about it; in fact Captain Phillip, who was originally against capital punishment for acts of violence (including murder) issued a threat that any man caught in the act of buggery would be sent to New Zealand and marooned amongst cannibals. Yeah, that’s right. All poofters will be eaten by Maoris. Gives a whole new significance to the Haka!

But, as any school teacher will know, once you prohibit a behaviour it becomes both taboo and delightful to perform. And that taboo is permanently imprinted on our national psyche along with the racism and the sexism.

With a day or two to go the flags are really popping out now, mainly on big white four-wheel-drives, particularly in working class suburbs such as mine. Even my neighbour Kim – who emigrated from Korea with his wife and kids – has flags on his car, big flags. No doubt this is his way to say, “Hey, I’m Aussie and I’m proud too.”

Just today he pulled into his drive, flags flapping away, and got out of his car with a big smile.

We greeted each other before going inside. And a naughty, provocative part of me felt like going up to him and saying, “Okay Kim, you’ve got the flags, the thongs and you’ve probably started eating shit food, but not once have I heard you tell a poofter joke, give the bird to a black fella or yell at your wife.”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tattoos

Okay, what’s with all the tattoos on everyone these days? It seems like they’re more popular in western society than ever before.

In the sixties through to the nineties tattoos were something you saw on criminals and sailors. It was a badge that signified rebellion and low socio economic status. This is not to say all people with tattoos were poor, but if someone had a tat they weren’t likely to be a celebrity, lawyer, or a doctor (but they may well have been a witch doctor).

Now they’re everywhere! Glamorous sporting stars are parading them, along with actors, comedians, musicians, teachers and well…young people generally. Suddenly tattoos are common with middle class folk below the age of forty. They no longer seem to say “Careful of me, I’m a tough and angry bastard who’s likely to rob your house”. So what are they saying now?

Well, firstly the style of tattoo is different. The old LOVE and HATE ones on the knuckles are definitely out, skulls are a no-no and the pictures of sexy mermaids and cartoon characters such as Popeye, Olive Oil and super heroes are also rare. These days it’s more like artistic body decoration: swirling patterns in the style of Maori art; flowers and leaf patterns; sea creatures such as dolphins and whales (as opposed to sharks and snakes with vicious teeth); and any number of patterns that might be seen on a curtain or bedspread rather than a body.

Personally I wouldn’t ever want one, and when I see one on someone I immediately think less of them. Why? The obvious answer is that I’m a victim of a prudish, middle class up-bringing, but I think there’s more to it.

I have nothing against using technology to reshape and enhance the human body. I have a tungsten valve in my heart – due to a congenital heart disease – so I’d be a hypocrite to suggest that interfering with nature is wrong. And if someone has an ugly defect in their face or excessively large and unwieldy breasts, or they have some hideous deformity, of course get in there and fix it. No problem. But, like Botox and face lifts, tattoos are different; they’re not about survival or correcting a disfigurement or relieving pain. In fact, they’re almost the opposite in that they actually create a disfigurement and pain. They’re a permanent scar on the skin.

I think what happens is I see a tattoo on a person and I can’t help thinking, ‘That’s there forever you know (unless you undergo painful and expensive surgery), how sober were you when you did it and how pleased are you now?’ Of course I don’t share those thoughts (hey I’d like to keep what teeth I have left) but I think it, and I imagine that’s what I’d be thinking if I had one myself.

So, with tattooing becoming extra popular, is there a growth in tattoo removal? According to a plastic surgeon friend “…you bet there is and thank you very much, I’ve just bought a new yacht.” An article in the New York times in 2007 quotes the FDA as saying there were over 100, 000 removals in the U.S. that year alone. Whether this is an increase, it didn’t say, but I trust my doctor mate who reckons it’s his main source of income, particularly as some tattoos can take up to fifteen laser treatments to remove.

But what’s changed in the western world that’s brought this on? What significant social and historical shift is this related to? And was it a celebrity led trend, i.e. did some actor or pop star got a tat and suddenly it grew from there? Apart from wtaching sport I have little to do with any commercial media so I have no idea about this.

As it’s occurred over the last decade there’s a temptation to relate it either the new millennium or 911 or a mixture of both. But what does the bombing of New York by Muslims (and a consequent war) have to do with young people marking their bodies?

Nothing I’d say.

It could however, have something to do with skin cancer. In recent decades tanning has become unpopular and considered ugly, when as we know brown bods were all the rage for many decades. The fashion mags are full of skin so milky white one can only wonder if Clown White # 4 has been applied. Are the tats a replacement for tanning, almost as a way of saying, ‘Okay, I can’t change my skin via the sun or a lamp but I can do it with ink instead.’ Or is it simply that white bodies are a far better canvas for tattoo art so hey why not!

Heaven knows. What I do know is that Mitchell Johnson’s arm looks bloody stupid, and if he doesn’t make up for it with a few more wickets in the Sydney test, well he may as well chop his arm off. Speaking of which, American comedian Lenny Bruce had a tattoo on his arm, as a result of being in the navy, and often had to answer to his Jewish family for whom it was a sin to desecrate the body. His aunty said to him one day, “How are you going to be buried in a Jewish cemetery?” Lenny replied casually, “Well, when I die they can cut the arm off and bury that in a Goy cemetery and the rest of me in a Jewish cemetery.”

My father has a tattoo for the same reason as Lenny: as a sailor in WWII he got drunk and gave in to peer pressure. It’s a drawing of a black swan swimming on a river amidst some reeds. He later went on to become a well-to-do middle class doctor who is now retired and living in Claremont. Many years ago, at a family picnic, when my father rolled up his sleeves, I overheard my older sister’s boy friend say, “Wow, your Dad’s got a tat!” as if the sun had suddenly turned purple and giant green ants started falling from the sky.

I wonder if at some future barbecue a dad will remove his shirt and a boyfriend will turn to his girl and say, “Wow, your dad’s got no tats!”