Thursday, December 30, 2010


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!”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Saint Nick and his naked...

What’s going on in this world that a prominent footballer can’t do a bit of nude posing in front of his mates without it causing a media sensation, and the footballer (Nick Riewoldt in this case) has to go on TV to defend himself? Crazy!

Nuding up is an old tradition, from Grecko Roman wrestling, which was a nude event in itself, rugby players in the showers, blokes running naked on a cricket pitch, dropping the strides when you lose at eight ball without sinking one, chucking a brown eye out the window of a car, to simply parading your buff body to your mates after a shower. And if you’ve got a body like Nick’s it’s worth exhibiting – just so long as it’s not forced upon anyone. Think of the effort and money that goes into creating Nick’s (and many other) sporting bodies. If I had that kind of bod I’d show it off.

Unfortunately I have the kind of body that’s best hidden. If a trim abdomen is called a ‘six pack’ I have a small wine barrel.

Okay, footballers have done some stupid, callous and at times illegal things involving sex and young women; and some high priced lawyers have made sure they probably haven’t all had to face the consequences of their actions. So it’s a sensitive issue for sure.

But if blokes can’t get naked after a match or on a sporting holiday, well bugger me, we’re all stuffed!

Although you do have to question the motives of Sam Gilbert, the player who took the photo, put it onto his computer and left it there. Rievoldt claims he asked at the time the photo was taken that it be deleted. Gilbert said he would delete it but didn’t, either because he forgot or for some other reason, and when you think about that it’s hard to figure out. He’s either obsessed with Nick’s body or he wanted him embarrassed. How they’re going to train and play in the same team is beyond me.

None of this could have happened of course without the internet and its ‘viral’ possibilities. No doubt there were many photos taken of naked and semi-naked footballers right up until the nineteen nineties. But the chances of them being pinched and shown to millions of people were minimal.

The question is: has the internet created an environment where footballers simply can’t get away with carefree, blokey behaviour, or have we moved into a new morality that shines a puritanical light onto everything even vaguely macho and vain? Dare I call it a ‘virtual morality’?

I think it’s a bit of both, and one has created the other; now that things are in the open (or at least can be with one careless slip) it’s much harder to find a place to be a boofhead, and with that ‘openness’ there seems to be a vein of moral judgement toward heterosexual men getting drunk and naked or even sober and naked. It’s come about because of all the other controversies to do with footballers, rugby league players and how they deal with women, so anything that combines footy, booze and nudity gets thrown in the same dirty basket as rape, unwanted exposure and photos of Lara Bingle in the shower.

The AFL has worked its butt off attempting to bring footy players into the realm of sensitivity and understanding towards women. And the NRL aren’t far behind. They’ve introduced “respect and responsibility” programmes designed to teach players that they can’t force or cajole vulnerable people to be involved acts of sex, and they can’t treat women as inferiors. And no doubt there’s going to be some fellows who never get the message; after all they’re not running around those fields because of their prowess at philosophy and human rights law.

But the thing is Nick Riewoldt’s not one of those blokes. He’s the captain of his side because he’s a reasonable and fair player who’s seen by many as a shining light in what the AFL would like to call the new era of player behaviour. The problem is there is a woman involved, a young woman who claims to have actually taken the photo. Whether she’s lying or not (and it sure looks like she is) suddenly it’s all back in the realm of “Ohhhh no, not that again!” Because her claim, no matter how far fetched, puts her in the room. And she also claims to have been impregnated by another football player.

So now, what may well have been boofy men prancing round like ten year olds – nothing to write home about – is front page news and quite possibly detrimental to the career of an outstanding player. And we also have the likes of Victorian Women’s Trust executive director Mary Crooks saying the clubs need to work harder at their respect and responsibility programs. Okay, maybe they do, but wait a minute folks, it’s a photo of two men, one of them in the raw. I can see the development of a super sensitivity to all things masculine, particularly when it’s mixed with frivolity. But frivolous masculine behaviour can be a marvellous thing, and an important thing. Young men need to roll around and act like galoots, to be lose and silly; and no one needs that more than these guys who are so drilled and focused for most of the year.

I’ve always disliked the term ‘political correctness’ and even more so when it was used by John Howard to attempt to justify completely outdated attitudes towards aboriginal history, gay marriage and climate change. Instead I’ve liked the idea of being politically correct, of changing terms like ‘fireman’ to ‘fire fighter’ and ‘spastic’ to ‘disabled’. These are fine human progressions, as are the programmes designed to convince professional footballers to have care, concern and respect for all people, not just women. But we need to beware of establishing a moral tie so tight that we end up with a group of robotic, characterless nobodies. I think the term ‘nothing burgers’, fits best: no meat, no sauce, not even salad.

So, what do we do? Simple. The footy codes put their heads together and they build player time out clubs in every major city. Think of it as very expensive, high tech after school care for semi grown up men. They could have computers for internet, face book and games, pool parlours, coffee bars, reading rooms, meditation sessions, comedians, even snooze rooms. And all of it run by people who know footy, who know what it’s like to be cooped up in a hotel room on tour, to lie there awake because you’re wound up tight – all ready for the big day – or strung out because of a loss the previous day. And alcohol has got to be carefully controlled. Call me wowser but it’s simply not something I’d recommend to high performance sportsmen who at the best of times aren’t fully aware of the consequences of their actions. That’s the big danger of booze: you no longer care, and that’s its seduction too, you can let go.

So why can’t people let go sober? We’re not trained to, and we don’t have the places, the meeting grounds for that. It’s time to encourage these young, exceptionally fit and strong fellas to let steam off, and to do it legally and safely.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Sitting up in the members at the WACA and watching the test match, a willy wagtail flew down and danced its cheeky dance on the metal rail in front of me. Hoping I had food, it just waggled its tail and looked at me. “C’mon mate give us a crumb or two!”

It was a bizarre shift of focus: from this wide view of a match that meant so much to so many, and was being transmitted across Australia and the world; Englishmen sitting at home and in pubs, barmy army revellers at the WACA singing along to the trumpeter, mates in Perth texting each other as the Mitchell Johnson saved the day with his bat – and there, inches from my face, was a brave and tiny being hustling for its life. “C’mon fella. I know you’ve got food!”

I reached down into my lunch bag and gave it some crumbs, then shooed it off knowing for sure it’d stick around for more.

Then I spent the next few hours thinking about survival. The previous night I’d seen images of people failing the survival test as their boat smashed on rocks at Christmas Island. I switched TV channels quickly, but not quick enough to hold it together. Tears flowed. And tears are fine, good in fact; but I’ve been in a mood lately where I feel that if I start crying I’m not sure I’ll stop.

My own survival is in question. Bills are piling up like never before, work is scarce (and shouldn’t be at this time of year) my house is a crumbling mess and my fridge and pantry are close to empty. And worse, I can’t think of anything I’d like to do that might assist my survival.

But there’s simply no comparison is there? Between me and those drowning families I mean. They’d gone so far, put so much on the line, most likely because what they left was unbearable: torture, rape, loss of income, loss of everything they owned. And bang, one bit of bad weather plus a faulty engine. Hard to describe that horror.

But they were trying so hard to survive, to keep their families alive, happy, safe from harm. And that’s why I simply can’t understand why we might despise them or wish them anything but the best of luck. As I write, the local hero Mike Hussey has just scored his long awaited century. He’s a survivor and we love him for it. Times have been very tough for Huss, and for the whole team. And to see a bloke doggedly push through it all despite all the critics, despite the likelihood of being relegated to a lower grade of cricket, is wonderful. It’s what so many Australians like to celebrate: the battler who’s down but fights back and survives. And when they don’t survive but they tried against impossible odds, we turn it into an iconic moment, march in the streets and write songs about it.

So, why can’t we apply the same values to those fleeing families? There’s a strange schism there, a kind of social pathology, a disconnection of such massive proportions that if it weren’t so tragic it might be hilarious. A year or two ago the American social commentator and political Conservative, PJ O’Rourke, expressed similar dismay at they way we tend to treat asylum seekers. On the TV programme – Q and A – he turned upon a Conservative Australian, Julie Bishop, and told her we should welcome those people as heroes because they have such a strong commitment to freedom and equality. We should treat them as a new kind of royalty he suggested.

And while a few of us punched the air in celebration after seeing the mean-spirited Julie Bishop get a dressing down, it was a joy that was short-lived because we knew that as this happened on the ABC, the people who want to stop asylum seekers, the haters and despisers, would have been watching some dribble misnamed ‘reality TV’ on another channel. And certainly no Australian newspaper would have reported it.

I think back to that willy wagtail, with its plucky attitude and ruffled feathers, and yeah, it has qualities that Huss shares: it’s not the grooviest of beasts, not a glamour guy like some in the Australian team; it’s almost ugly, and you won’t find it in too many magazines about what Australia means to the world, just as you don’t often see Huss in the gossip pages or on the TV with Oprah and the like. But I imagine that in some corner of the WACA it’s busily feeding it’s young – in between battles with far bigger birds like crows and magpies – and it’s doing what we’re all doing. Surviving.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the wagon


(Written in 2006, but I went through all this again just a few weeks ago)

I’m back on the wagon after stepping off for a week. Notice I say ‘stepping’ off as opposed to ‘falling’. Falling makes it sound like an accident. “There I was wandering along, minding my own business when two cartons of cigarettes, several dozen beers and half an ounce of dope just forced themselves upon me and made me consume them.”

I’m in day three at the moment. DAY THREE! They talk about day three and week three as being the hardest. How about month three and year three, or decade three! My understanding is that on day three the withdrawal really takes hold and I begin to wonder what to do with my time. But I have the strategies from the last time I gave it all up: exercise, good food, express how you feel (like now), cognitive behavioural therapy, rewards.

My self-reward is to go down the beach with the dog and, after a long walk or a swim, have a coffee in a crowded cafe. I haven’t given up coffee, I simply can’t see myself saying, “decaf please”. In fact the whole concept of decaf is plain silly. Drinking decaf is like a mild form of schizophrenia – you’re treating one part of your self like it’s a child that has to be tricked. “Looks, smells and tastes like coffee, so it might as well be eh?” No! You still know that it’s not coffee! What’s the point? It’s like a heroin addict coming home and saying to his mate, “I got the gear man. It’s this new stuff, it costs the same amount but it doesn’t have any form of opiate. It’s called Desmack. But try it anyway, it looks and tastes like…”.

People who drink decaf are like people who wind their watch forward so they won’t be late. It’s stupid. Are they really going to look at their watch and be fooled by the “responsible” part of their personality, all the time forgetting that it was them, that self same person with the shocking reputation for being late, who wound their watch ten minutes fast?

I suppose a certain amount of schizoid behaviour is required just to survive. We often say, “Part of me wants to do such and such”. It’s a way of identifying desire or need, and at the same time realizing that responding to that need might not be in the best interests of the whole person. But surely it’s this schizoid behaviour that can get us into lousy situations in the first place. Like when we’re at an after-work party and part of us is saying, “Hey, you can cope with one little drink.” And the responsible part – the part that orders decaf and changes our watch – is gone. It’s like it’s been bound and gagged by the “naughty” bit.

Maybe it’d be better if we just began with, “All of me wants a fruit juice” instead of blaming it on the virtuous part. “All of me wants to shag the sexy woman I’m talking to.” But it’s not all of me that wants to do the actual shagging bit is it? No, I know enough about the body to realise it’s a very particular part of the brain that’s hankering for that. It’s the same bit of brain that screams out for a drink, a smoke, a hit, a suck on a tit. It’s that childish part that treats life like it’s a permanent smorgasbord, and there’s a stack of hungry people in the queue so you better pile up your plate with a bit of everything now! Quick, shovel it all in! Joy is rare so grab it while you can!

But maybe we can get the “parts” to work together. For example, while one part is saying, “I want to shag that woman I’m talking to”, another part’s saying, “I want to talk to her about films”, and another’s saying, “I want to drive her home safely” or “I want to wake up with her beside me and be able to do it again.” Or is that just too hopeful, too new age?

Perhaps it’s the whole idea of wanting and hoping that has knobs on it. If we spend so much time looking ahead – at all the great things we can ‘line up’ for ourselves – then it becomes harder and harder to enjoy what we’re doing now. Joy is not only rare but ephemeral; other things last longer, like being calm – just sitting in a moment regardless of it’s worth on the “enjoyment” scale.

Is this what meditation is about?

I used to think that Buddhism was just another excuse for not washing up. “No I can’t, I have to meditate, and after that there’s yoga and chanting.” This opinion is most likely based on my early experiences with hippy surfers for whom Buddhism was more a fashion statement than a refuge. Recently however, I’ve discovered a few books on meditation that fit with my sarcastic temperament. They’re silly and irreverent, they laugh at themselves.

But I suppose if one of your basic principles is to seek inner truth then you’ll always fail; who’s to say whether you’re fooling yourself or not? This is probably why Buddhists have a need to laugh at themselves, because there’s always a chance that they’re on the path to self-delusion, so just in case they are they can at least have a chuckle about it. My guess is that the only real way of knowing that we might have hit upon some important inner truth is to feel it, to trust our feelings.

Hmmmmmm…feelings. What a complicated mess they are. If day to day living is a complex thing just imagine the hideous process of untangling feelings as well! The counsellor I saw would often point to his chest and say, “Don, it’s here, you need to get inside here and find out what’s going on.” He also kept telling me that the anger I feel towards people, towards the world, is masking another feeling that’s lying beneath. And afterwards I’d leave the health centre thinking the world of emotions is like some kind of impenetrable puzzle, a labyrinth of feelings, and I’d rather not go there in case I fall in and disappear.

So I kept away. But now I see that he wanted me to name those feelings, to say the words vulnerable, disappointed, hurt. And to sit in that state and feel it all over again. To cry again. Or maybe to cry for the first time because when you’re a boy and you’re hurt, sometimes you don’t cry, you hold yourself up against it. You have to! I mean, hey, you could just collapse from the weight of all that. And who wants to sit in another man’s office blubbering like a baby, reaching for the tissues, convulsing? Yeah sure, they say that you should let these things out, “Don’t bottle it all up inside”. But isn’t that just a little too simplistic? Humans are not kettles. We don’t just let a bit of steam off and then suddenly feel blissful. Or do we? Isn’t that exactly what happens when you do cry! You feel miserable for a while, then you feel tired and sleepy and warm – the same way you feel when you’ve just had a really good laugh, or really good sex. Sober sex with someone you really love. Yeah, a good cry can leave you feeling like you’ve got something off your chest. It’s cathartic.

But what if I become addicted to catharsis? I could spend half my life pouring out my guts to anyone who’ll listen. And what a hideous bore those people are! You meet them at parties, or at some colleague’s house. It’s like they just pop out of the woodwork when you least expect, and chew your ear off about their “troubled” life. And all you think as you listen with feigned compassion and sympathy is “what life? This pathetic bastard’s got no life!” Then they suddenly blurt out some amazing and bizarre piece of brilliance, thus reminding you that – yes, this sycophantic, grovelling nobody with tattered clothes and broken speech was once heading for a glittering career in poetry or mathematics.

So what happens to these people?

In my experience – and I can tell you I’ve met a lot of them, for some reason I attract them – there’s two things common to these ex-genius zombies: drugs - they’re all substance abusers; and apology – they just keep saying sorry. Sorry for being late. Sorry for getting in the road. Sorry for losing that CD, I know it was your favourite. Sorry for existing. What gets into a person to make them want to do this? Yeah sure, drug addicts often end up having to apologise for lying and cheating, it’s all part of being addicted to an illegal drug. But I have a feeling that the compulsive need to apologise was somehow imprinted on some addict’s brains even before they found drugs. It’s almost like they’ve been spooked and then drained of self-confidence.  Spooked by a parent or a lover or an adult who touched them, or just plain spooked by life. And when you get that frightened it must be hard to avoid just wanting to drown yourself in booze or mull or smack, or all of them.

But drugs and booze don’t really help. It’s not like you can get rid of deep-seated fear like you can wipe out a headache with Panadol.

I drank to wipe out reality, to forget. Not so sure what I was forgetting though. No one abused me, no one let me down that bad. I had a blissful childhood, and most of my adult life has been charmed. But I can definitely say I was using grog and mull to draw a blind between me and the world, or what I thought was the world.

But that’s it. What I thought. Those damn thoughts again. No matter how enlightened you are you always have thoughts. I once saw an interview with Baghwan Shri Rajneesh, the eccentric Guru of the Sanyasans or Orange people, and he joked about those people who say things like, “I think I’m angry” or “I think I’m sad” or “I think I’m happy”. He scoffed at these people, mocked them as being hideously caught up in their minds. They should let themselves go and get back in contact with their bodies and their feelings he claimed. But what’s wrong with admitting that you aren’t entirely sure about what you feel? Ambivalence is part of us, it’s a sign that we aren’t sure or certain. People who claim to be certain are suffering from hubris, or just plain lying. Or they’re into religious fundamentalism. And that’s okay. Most of us have met at least one person who’s gone from drugs to God, and I’d much rather them alive and boring than interesting and dead. Just as long as they don’t hit me with their claims on certainty. It’s a sad thing to see a brilliant, funny, sceptical person transform into an unctuous toad with only one belief.

I heard a fellow on the radio say the following:

The charisma of certainty is that which entraps the child within us all.

How alarmingly true that is!  It explains why so many brilliant thinkers once followed dogmatic causes in a belligerent unequivocal manner, like Communism and Catholicism. Then later, when they began to mature, they found themselves questioning such fundamental beliefs. Some found their world began to crumble - the order once promised by those romantic notions vanished and they fell into self abuse: drugs, sex addiction, argument and domestic violence. And some killed themselves. Others just shifted across in a slow and almost seamless transition to adulthood - to a place where they could think and feel and live without harming themselves or anyone else.

So, maybe if we could isolate that thing, that component of a person that allows people to make big shifts without trauma, then we’d have the ultimate social tool.

Some doctors and scientists claim we already have it: antidepressants. And I have no problem with them; they’ve certainly helped me. I have no patience for people who demonise antidepressants as some kind of Orwellian nightmare. These are the same people who tell clinically diagnosed bipolar sufferers to throw away their Lithium. I can’t help thinking these people like attending funerals. Perhaps one day we’ll read the following obituary: Joe Bloggs, social reformer and activist. Rallied against western medicine, in particular psychiatry and mood altering drugs. Tragically shot dead by the relative of a manic depressive who committed suicide after ditching their medication.

But antidepressants are a stopgap. That thing that allows people to go through social and psychological upheaval without losing the plot is probably more than just a “thing”. It’s sure to be a lot of things: identifying and understanding feelings; genetic disposition; physical health; good support groups; and ultimately getting a handle on thoughts.

Yep, it’s those pesky thoughts again. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) really works. Even for someone like me who hears the word ‘Behavioural’ and reaches for the vomit bowl. When I first attended a CBT therapy group, I sat there like a grumpy teenager thinking, ‘They’re going to brainwash me. I’m going to end up with the personality of Tom Cruise’. But I was very lucky. The psychologist who ran the group was a smart and funny woman who really appreciated critical thinking. She also treated sarcasm as a normal glitch in personality rather than some evil and destructive trait to be banished from the world.

And the CBT process is easy to do. What it really comes down to is identifying the way we talk to ourselves – the voices in our heads that keep telling us things. Yep, the voices. You don’t have to be a derelict street person to have voices. How many times did I find myself calling myself a stupid, useless, idiotic good-for-nothing F%#8@!!! who deserves to be sat in the corner and teased mercilessly? Every time I made the tiniest mistake, like dropping my car keys on the ground or forgetting to buy milk or being late with a DVD. And each time I’d just lay into myself. If I was in public I’d do it silently, but at home I’d be screaming till I was hoarse! Till I hated myself enough to get smashed and forget again.

Through CBT I learnt that the voices are actually thoughts, and these thoughts are often based in belief systems that have been with me for years. And yeah, sure, it might be obvious that self abuse comes about from stupid thinking, but when I was in that hideous moment, that time of self torment, and just about to reach for a drink or the bong or the Valium, it was almost impossible to stop and think clearly. CBT gave me a structure, a pattern if you like, to sort out these thoughts; it allowed me to identify and even classify those thoughts AS THEY HAPPENED! Not later in the therapist’s office, but right then and there – in the car park, at a meeting or down the shops.

So, if CBT’s such a whiz-bang thing then how come I’ve been off the wagon again?

Well, nothing’s perfect.

But it’s now two and a half weeks since I started writing this. I’M IN WEEK THREE! And, at those times when I’ve wanted a drink or a smoke or a bong, there’s been an alternative: a walk, a swim, a meal, a bit of music, a friend! Or there’s writing about it…like this. It’s free and I don’t bother anyone.

Indulgent? Yes. Better than getting smashed? Bloody oath!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Assange (verb intransitive) To scare bullies.

I wonder if soon there’ll be a new word in English: Assange (verb) To expose hidden activities of the powerful, to scare bullies. Spokespeople for the mega rich might meet in private to confess grimly that they’ve been assanged. The process of obtaining and exposing state secrets might be called an assangement.

OK so we already have ‘whistle-blower’ but what Julian Assange has done is far more than that; it’s simply astonishing how significant this whole episode is.

And I love that he looks kind of creepy. If he had a Che Guevara machismo about him, well…it’d be too cute. And if he fitted the stereotypical bumbling nerd with thick glasses it’d be too easy to explain, it’d fit with all those idiotic ‘geek’ movies Americans seem to love.

No, this guy’s a phenomenon that doesn’t fit a mould. The only thing I can relate him to is that guy at Uni who got massively high grades, wasn’t a dork or a nerd, nor was he a leader or part of the ‘in’ crowd, but all the same he ended up with the most beautiful and enigmatic girl on campus, then later started his own Ad agency and became a millionaire, albeit a lonely one because she went mad left him and she was the only woman he ever really loved. Woops - free associating again.

The question about Assange is what’s his motive? Is he doing it for our benefit – so we can live in a more open and honest society (and is that even a possible outcome of his expositions?) or is it for the glory? Or both?

It seems the effect of his actions is nowhere near as important as the fact that he’s bothering the powerful. That’s the real attraction I think; he’s shaking things up in a way the rest of us can only dream about. He’s making the Whitehouse and 10 Downing Street et al quake in anger and frustration because there’s nothing they can do to get him. And he’s doing it without harming anyone, so it’s even more frustrating for them; they can’t demonise him properly. They can try but it’s not working.

He’s the Andy Warhol of modern politics: brilliant, creative, enigmatic but more or less asexual. This is what makes the Swedish charges bizarre, it’s just too hard to imagine him fucking or even kissing a woman or anyone. He's kind of like Kevin Rudd's wayward cousin.

And even more interesting, no elected politician has the guts to back him. Notice Bob Brown and his Green mates have said nothing. They’ve weighed in to a pile of other non-environment issues like justice, immigration, economics and health – but no, this is too weird, too much chance of being pilloried by the right when it turns out that Assange is…is…heaven knows what, he’s too hard to pin down. Apart from the eccentric left – Pilger and Chomsky, and now a few lobby groups – he’s on his own.

But he’s not, he has a huge following of people. But who? Well that’s the beauty of the man: he represents that group that stands for ‘all the rest of us who aren’t connected with a party, a business or a religion’. And he’s doing it with no pretence, no hubris about ‘doing it for the people’ or fighting on the side of justice and truth. He’s just doing it, poking a stick into the spokes of that gigantic wheel of power, that juggernaut small countries fear because it can make and break them, create coups, set up whole nations like Israel, invade countries on the whim of a few men, place trade sanctions on non-compliant nations, commit war crimes while accusing others of that, implement torture regimes, basically act as if it owns the earth. And all the time it works overtime to invent euphemisms and deceptions to hide those heinous actions. In short, he’s poking a pin into the bubble of the self righteous right wing political machine, and wow, isn’t great to see it stumble and stagger, even if it’s just for a month or two.

The important thing is that while the politicians and cranks (how do you categorise Sarah Palin?) attempt to demonise him, we try not to make him a hero. The less spectacular and saint-like the man is the more chance he has of surviving. We don’t need another martyr. Monty Python comes to mind: ‘He’s not a messiah, he’s just a….a… an ordinary looking, slightly creepy, bloke from Queensland with an IQ of about 160 plus'.

One headline I don’t ever want to see is Assange Assassinated.

* Since writing this, I've been informed Bob Brown has supported Assange's actions if not the man himself. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas in Bali

Lots of people I know are going to Bali for the holidays.

It's a great place to go: cheap, great food, particularly the seafood at Jimbaran Bay, the culture is abundant and the natural environment terrific, if not a little polluted.

The first time I went there was in the summer of 1992 with two friends – a couple – who insisted I learn how to haggle. At the time my friends were serious yuppies: school teachers on holiday. He’s not at all now (a yuppie or a teacher) in fact he’d have to be my one of my favourite human beings. But in those days they were both caught up in the power of wealth. “You have to bargain Don. It’s an important part of the culture. They won’t respect you unless you go in hard.”

Next day there we were at a wild and noisy market full of colourful things – clothes mainly. I looked at a T shirt I liked at one of the stalls, went up to the fellow selling it  and asked him how much. He told me some figure – 3000 rupees. I did the obligatory show of disbelief, and yes I smiled as one is supposed to and I shook my head in mock disgust. He paused, waiting for some equally absurd counter offer – 1000 rupees say – and I then said, “How about 4000?”

For a moment there was a strange pause, like I was speaking a foreign language and had gone the wrong way accidentally, but no, we were speaking my language – English. He looked at me imploringly, waiting for me to correct my bid. And when I bid 5000 things got out of hand. My friends attempted to interrupt, but I pushed on with the reverse bidding until I got to a phenomenally high price: about fifteen Australian dollars, in fact the price I thought the object was worth. By this stage there was a crowd of his friends and relatives all laughing and gesticulating like I was some kind of shamanic idiot. I bought the T shirt, shook the guy’s hand, and went happily on my way knowing my friends wouldn’t attempt to involve me in “bargaining” ever again.

Some weeks later, after some great times travelling throughout Bali, Lombok and Java, I caught up with my sisters and their husbands and children for Christmas in Bali. They’d all been staying at one of the many medium priced family houses by the beach in a spot called Legian – a famous spot for strees-free vacations.

They arranged to have Christmas dinner at a restaurant called the Swastika. I couldn’t help joking about this, saying, “So, we’re going to the Swastika to have Nazi Goring eh?” The Swastika was originally an ancient oriental symbol for good luck.  Amongst his other sins Hitler was a cultural plagiarist too.

So we rolled up at the Swastika for Christmas lunch. My brother in law had gone down there the previous day to organise roast pork. It was a typically sumptuous Balinese restaurant with large arches and ceiling fans. Apart from us the place was empty. After we sat down my sister realised that she’d left the Christmas crackers at the hotel, and no one really wanted to travel the distance back to get them, so we sat around feeling despondent at the idea of not having silly hats and corny jokes – possibly the best part of Christmas lunch.

Then one of us – heaven knows who – noticed that all the light shades in the restaurant were the right size for a human head. They were made of palm leaves in a conical shape. We asked the managers if we could wear them and they were happy to oblige. Only in Bali! They even had smaller ones for the kids.

Then, when we’d finished our entrees of delicious Balinese food, my brother in law asked if they could serve the pork. And out it came – in the form of a small pig! Beautifully barbecued and baked whole pig.  Instead of an apple in its mouth they’d placed a banana. And when the Swastika manager walked up to my brother in law with a carving knife, expecting him to do the honours, something had to be fixed, and quickly. The children were clearly upset, so my sister took the manager aside and politely asked him if the pig could be removed and returned as a plate of carved pork. Us westerners don’t like to see the corporeal shape of our protein.

The Balinese manager did as we asked, the pork, which was perfectly cooked, was eaten by all, and no one was badly affected by the incident (although I have to note that years later my brother in law and one of my nieces ended up vegetarians).

And more importantly the Balinese took it all in their stride. It’s they way the are; they simply let things happen, even when angry English and European tourists yell and thump tables, they just smile and let it slide.

And when I find myself waiting for a friend at the airport, and bunches of Australians come through the gates from Bali looking sanguine and relaxed, I can’t help feeling that …well yeah… maybe it’s starting to rub off.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas – a time of cheer or cheesiness?


Amongst many of my colleagues in the comedy fraternity, Christmas is nothing more than a target for ridicule, a plastic orgy of commercialism and insincerity. But how easy it is to mock religious festivals; and anyway, most of those comedians will go home to revel in the Christmas carnival, no matter how tacky it is, and return the obligatory five kilos heavier.
I personally find myself groaning and gritting my teeth in the start of November when the first hints of Christmas pop out at the supermarket. Why?

Hard to say really. Perhaps because I’ve always despised being told how I should feel, particularly by commercial media. No, I won’t be joyous just because you want me to. All the same, I do like the idea of being full of cheer. It sounds far more realistic than joy, wonder or merriment. “Cheers” we British based folk say as we clink glasses in the hope that life will improve or at least not get any worse.

Really though, what bothers me most about Christmas is the mass of things – it’s the objects to which I object. Glittery boxes, cardboard santas pulling reindeers, plastic holly, fake snow, fruit cakes and bulging bags. It’s all so excessive, so fat. And the presents! I can’t recall a single year (apart from when I was nine and my father bought me a foam surfboard) when I perused my presents and thought ‘Wow, what a haul!’. The most useful present I’ve received was a book on feng shui simply because I was able to make a joke about how it didn’t come with instructions as to which part of the house to put it, and therefore I threw it in the bin. Boom boom!

For many years now my family has had an under ten dollar rule (amongst adults) which was great when ten dollars was of some value. Nowadays we either cheat or hand each other something utterly stupid like another pair of plastic salad tongs or a paper weight that doubles as a reading glasses holder! And whenever I actually do stick to the ten dollar rule I find myself going out to buy about 130 dollars worth of rubbish only to receive my very own pile of rubbish worth way less.

One year I’d like to say, “OK, how about we do stuff rather than give stuff” and see what happens. Everyone has some kind of ability or skill. OK if it means making a present, that’s great, although I wish my brother-in-law would make something other strawberry jam, I now have a backlog. No really, wouldn’t it be great to have your gutters cleaned, a garden bed dug, your favourite old shirt repaired, the car cleaned, a baby sat, a song sung, a lawn mowed, a neck massaged, a path swept, a pavement painted, a head of hair cut, a dog washed or a story told; and from non-relatives who are cute something saucy like a striptease late at night to whatever piece of music you choose.

Speaking of which, most carols are hideous but not all of them. Silent Night is beautiful, and even better when it’s mimed with no sound, just suggestive actions (try it sometime). Come All Ye Faithful is pretty, and The Feast Of Steven is listenable. Actually the general theatre of Christmas can be funny. A journo friend told me a story about a supermarket in South Korea where the Christmas message got a little mixed by some Korean window dresser. My friend walked into the supermarket to find Santa nailed to a cross! One can only wonder what they’ll do in April: the Easter bunny rising from the dead?

But anyway, cheer it should be – as best as one can do. No more than that. None of this ‘love everyone’ or ‘forgive everyone’ or ‘fill everyone with joy’ crap! It’s just too much to ask. When we’re told how to behave, isn't it delightful to do the opposite. That’s why so many family rows occur at Christmas. Just as things are so much funnier when we attempt to suppress laughter, spite and hate can really fill a room when we’re told to act ‘nice’.

So, this Christmas….cheers to you all.