Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hyper-Auto-Repellence: A Personal Plea

What should we make of Christopher Pyne?

Some kind of glovepuppet?

This week Australin politics farewelled a titan in Gough Whitlam. Many people voiced opinions on this, ranging from Prime Minister Abbott's opinion that Whitlam wasn't the best PM ever, to Julia Gillard's opinion that he was actually so great he was a lot like Julia Gillard, to every News Ltd columnist's opinion that he ruined everything for everyone and it's a good thing that finally his ring has been cast into the fires of Mount Doom.

But, Abbott's somewhat faint praise notwithstanding, most of the tributes from actual parliamentarians were quite complimentary and very respectful. Even Philip Ruddock said some pretty nice things about him, and Philip Ruddock dug his own soul out of himself with a rusty lino knife when he was eight. 

But Pyne...well, Pyne made a jolly little speech in which he noted that when Whitlam was dismissed, his mother cried, and "I have to let you in on a secret, she was crying out of joy"

It was a delightful moment

Now, of course, that is an insight into the life of the young Pyne that opens up all sorts of questions. For example, does Christopher still watch Adventure Island, or now that he is in his forties does he prefer Mr Squiggle?

But it's not so much the substance that I want to dwell on: the fact that Christopher Pyne has been forced to spend his life coming up with a dazzling array of excuses to explain away the fact his mother was constantly crying whenever he was around is neither here nor there. What I want to examine is the psychology that caused our Honourable Education Minister to think to himself, "Hmm, Gough Whitlam is dead...this might be a good time to tell the country how much my family hated him".

What process produces these thoughts? Is there a process even taking place?

Evidence is so far inconclusive

The real problem is that Christopher Pyne, despite a respectable upbringing. an expensive education, and Amanda Vanstone cooking all his meals, seems to have developed a pathological need to be the most hated man in every room he is in. It's actually quite a rare psychological phenomenon: hyper-auto-repellence. In other words, he can only be satisfied by making others loathe him. Obviously this has been an advantage to him in his rise through the ranks of the Liberal Party, but at this point in his life is it becoming a liability?

It's not that I hate Christopher Pyne. I mean, I do, but that's not the important thing here. The important thing is that every word out of his mouth, every action he takes, every step in his life up to now, has seemed perfectly calculated to force me to hate him. And frankly, though I hate the man, I also worry about him. When a fellow is so desperate to be disliked that he stands in parliament to merrily spit in the face of the old man who just died, there is something quite concerning going on behind his smooth, shiny facade.

Very very concerning

I don't know if Christopher reads this blog - no idea why he wouldn't - but if he does, I'm here to say: Christopher, I am no longer enabling you. I will write no more about how awful you are, now that I realise it's just feeding your addiction. Instead, I urge you: get help, Christopher. Don't be afraid to reach out.

You might think you can't be happy, Christopher, unless you're being hated. But believe me: you CAN. With a caring therapist and a good support system at home, you might even find a way to derive pleasure from being liked.

And I promise Christopher: when you do, we'll all be a lot more relaxed.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Girlie-Man or Corr-Man? You Decide

If there is one thing that makes me angry, it is a good man's words being twisted and used against him. Luckily, there is actually more than one thing that makes me angry, or my conversation would be extremely monotonous. Nevertheless, this issue is a burning one that sticks in my craw like a collar in an uncoordinated cat's mouth.

Let's look at Senator Matthias Cormann.

Now let's stop looking at him.

Instead, let's THINK about Senator Matthias Cormann, about what he represents, what place he occupies in the modern Australian dialectical discourse. Let's not get bogged down in semiotics, but rather let's examine Matthias Cormann from all sides and make up our own minds about what he symbolises for a culture in crisis.

To put it another way, he has a pretty funny accent.

But forget about the accent for a moment: making fun of people's accents is a big part of being a progressive, but it's not the only part. It's what they SAY with those accents that is the important part, and what Matthias Cormann has said with that hilarious accent is this:

"Bill Shorten is an economic girlie-man,"

This has caused a furore in some circles, as it as been seen as an attack on women, an attack on equality, an attack on our children's futures, and by some even as an attack on Bill Shorten.

But is it really such a terrible thing to call someone "an economic girlie-man"? Let's unpack this, shall we?

First of all, the derivation of girlie-man: etymologically, the term originates in the two separate words "girlie", meaning resembling or bearing characteristics of a girl; and "man", meaning a person who is a man. So we can assume that Cormann was saying that Shorten is a man who in some way resembles a girl.

Our starting point must be to determine the truth value of this assertion. So let's look at Bill Shorten:

How much does he resemble a girl? "Not very much," you might say. BUT what if you look at him from this perspective?

Well. Doesn't THAT put a different complexion on things? Can anyone who has seen the above photo truly say that there is nothing in Cormann's assertion?

But what of the broader implications? Is it true that, in using "girlie-man" as an insult, Cormann is demeaning women by suggesting they are weaker and less capable than men?

I say, not at all. Because let us be clear, Cormann did not actually call Shorten a "girl", That would, indeed, have been reprehensible - to suggest that being a girl precludes one from being an effective leader is disgusting. To suggest that any girl is as bad at her job as Bill Shorten even more so. I have personally known many girls, and watching them burgeon into womanhood is a very different experience than watching Bill Shorten burgeon into Shortenhood.

Also, Cormann did not call Shorten a "man", which would obviously have been slanderous.

What he called him was a "girlie-man", and that is a horse of a different flavour.

Think of it this way: a dog can be a very useful thing, and a tractor can be a very useful thing, but a dog shaped like a tractor? That is entirely different. 

What Cormann was saying was that Shorten is a kind of tractor-dog, a hybrid of two things that are excellent in isolation, but when combined lack a certain something. You might like girls, and you might like men, but is a girlie-man something you'd like? Probably - it sounds like a lot of fun - but is it someone you want in charge of the economy?

After all, remember the old song "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". Maybe a girlie-man doesn't just wanna have fun - maybe they do have other interests - but there can be little doubt that they will probably be a little bit more frivolous than what you'd ideally like in a person whose duties will necessarily include stamping repeatedly on unemployed people's faces. 

Is Matthias Cormann sexist? Well, if it's sexist to suggest that an economic girlie-man is not the sort of tractor we want ploughing our kennels, then sure, he's sexist. But if it's sexist to not suggest that women can do anything they want without fearing that they won't be criticised for not being men if they're genuinely not as good at their jobs as another woman might be if she wasn't not a man, then I'd say that the answer is clear for all to see.

To sum up:

Girls are good. Men are good. But girlie-men are girlier than is ideal, and manlier than a girl should be. And saying so isn't as bad as you think even in a weird accent. Not that having a weird accent should ever be acceptable.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Find out what YOUR week has in store, based on something to do with stars or planets or stuff!

ARIES: Wednesday holds many mysteries - wear something waterproof. A chance encounter with an old friend will leave your hand sticky and you not knowing why. At some point during this week you will collide with a cow. Don't overreact.

TAURUS: Your hair is too long and you must get it cut. You look like a damn scarecrow. Around lunchtime on Friday your mother will probably either die or kill someone. Don't try to stop her, she is a grown woman with the right to her own choices.

GEMINI: Just as your sign is the Twins, you will give birth to twins sometime tomorrow. This may come as a shock if you didn't know you were pregnant or if you were a man. But this isn't about you. Think of the children. On the weekend you will abandon them at a fire station. This may haunt you in later life, though I won't know for sure till next week's horoscope.

CANCER: You have eaten too much and will regret it. Your job is unsatisfying, but a ray of light emerges this week when your boss is impaled on a fence.

LEO: A trip to the movies may provide more than just entertainment when you are attacked by a tiger quoll. The facial reconstructive surgery goes badly and you live out a bitter, hate-filled existence in the shadows of your decrepit home. Be frugal with money; your lucky colour is green.

VIRGO: Your new job as editor of the motoring section of a major Sunday newspaper hits a snag when you lose the use of both your arms. On the upside, a strange man agrees to marry your father.

LIBRA: Your poor dress sense will get you in trouble, as will your friend Marvin. Stay away from cats and asbestos removal technicians. Money problems may rear their ugly head, as will your friend Marvin.

SCORPIO: You get some good news from home, which is immediately retracted. You deserve some pampering - why not visit a spa? There is a very good reason in fact why you shouldn't visit a spa, but it's a secret. Remember to thank the trustworthy people in your life for being trustworthy and to spit on the others. You may be accosted by a beggar mid-week. Bear in mind that nobody will even care if he is murdered.

SAGITTARIUS: Just as the shark must keep on swimming, or else he'll die, you must keep swimming, or that shark behind you will eat you. Stop reading this and swim.

CAPRICORN: If you are truly honest with yourself, you will admit that you are extremely racist. There is nothing to be ashamed of, but you should probably go away for a while.

AQUARIUS: Try not to walk under low-hanging branches, as the moon is in Venus and this indicates that monkey attacks will be a real problem. For those on the cusp there are many topical creams which can address the issue. Be kind to your parents this week, as they do not know the terrible news their doctor is hiding from them. Don't be kind to your grandparents though, as they are fervent supporters of fracking.

PISCES: Large, expensive dinners will catch up with you when you are arrested for stealing food, a common trait amongst Pisces. Avoid oily fish and books about the cultures of central Asia. If a woman you've never seen before offers you a tube of liquid cement, my advice is to take it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

There is no U in Team

You know, a lot of people come up to me and ask, "Hey Ben, this Team Australia stuff - what's it all about?"

And to be honest, I find these people intrusive and presumptuous. But still, I attempt to answer their questions as best I can, because if there's one thing you know about Team Australia, it's that we try to help our teammates no matter how inadequate we find them as people.

Team Australia is, essentially, a state of mind, a philosophy that says, look, we're all on the same side here, let's work together to achieve our goals.

After all, we all love to feel like we're part of a team. Look at this happy fellas:

Yes, Team Australia is a lot like the 1982 Parramatta Eels. The government is Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny in the halves, controlling play, organising the team and orchestrating the big moves that produce results. The taxpayers of Australia are the forwards in the engine room, Ray Price and Geoff Bugden and of course good old Johnny Muggleton, doing the hard yards that are necessary if we're ever going to let our outside backs do their job: the outside backs in this case being mainly Cate Blanchett and Silverchair. 

The point is that just like a great football team, Team Australia has all its disparate parts performing their designated function in pursuit of the same aim - a strong, prosperous nation. And that's the genius of Team Australia - it uses the powerful imagery of sport, something all Australians understand, to illustrate a point. No wonder Tony Abbott was a Rhodes scholar - that man sure knows a thing or two about using sports words to say things about things that aren't sport!

It's an effective technique. That's why the accessibility of sport permeates our public affairs nowadays. For example, the government is now moving to implement a "red card" system for hate preachers. Why red card? Why not just a "stop hate preachers" policy? Because red cards are sporting, and Aussies love sports! Admittedly red cards are more of a soccer thing, but let's be honest: it's the ones who like soccer we need to be keeping an eye on.

And this is why I hope people don't feel scared or alienated by Team Australia. After all, would you feel scared or alienated by this?

Of course not! Those guys are having a great time! Because being in a team is just fantastic. And we're all in the best team of all - Team Australia. 

Naturally Team Australia requires vigilance. After all, if you're playing cricket you can't just sit idly by and let the batsman hit you for six. Team Australia is all about taking precautions. As a country of course we need to send fielders to the boundary to keep the run rate down. As a country we do have to, at times, bowl a dry line outside off stump. Sometimes we might even need to pitch it outside leg into the footmarks. That's just the nature of Team Australia - a responsible government must be prepared at times of crisis to come around the wicket. Ben Chifley knew this.

Because the fact is, being Team Australia is just as much about responsibilities as it is about rights. Sure, when you're on a great team like Team Australia you get to take the speccie in the goal square, but you also need to make the smother on centre wing, you need to punch from behind and get men around the stoppages. Some people think it's not important that, as citizens, we rush the odd behind, but those people probably don't understand the fundamentals of foreign policy.

You can't stop terrorism with this:

Sometimes you need this:

And that's what I tell those irritating people from the beginning of this article. I tell them, Team Australia is about security, about safety, about prosperity, about democracy, about freedom, about hard work, about togetherness, about patriotism and about justice.

But most of all, Team Australia is about creating a better future. I know that's hard to see sometimes, but maybe it'll be easier to understand if I put it like this:

When you're down six goals in the final quarter, sometimes it's necessary to roll the dice. You don't get over the advantage line by going sideways before you go forward, you need to make sure your scrum is solid before you start worrying about the corner posts. It's easy to get caught offside when you don't keep your eye on the ball, but the one thing we all know is true is, nobody ever scored a goal sitting on the bench. And it's by sitting on the bench that we miss our opportunity to jump the net. Hurdles are natural in life, but you can take the rebound more easily when you hit the training track hard and keep your shape. It's great to play your shots, but a sound forward defensive is the foundation of a flowing cover drive - getting the ball in the right areas is how you tempt the opposition into mistakes. And it's those mistakes that will keep this country out of the bunker, and in the onion bag, for many years to come.

That's what Team Australia means to me. So please: don't be terrorists OK? Because national security is a trophy we can all win.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


We begin with a preview of tonight's episode, in which Laurina will be extremely disappointed with the way her life has gone and not before time. We then move on to the now-traditional moment where Amber says she really really wants to go on a date. Osher enters and says there'll be no group date. Amber takes the opportunity to catch some flies with her mouth, and then moves on to bitching about the other women. How does Amber cope with not living in a house full of women, with nobody to constantly complain about?

The others think the new girls will be picked to go on dates. "I haven't been on a single date and all my friends think I won't, that's great," says Amber in a particularly nasty tone of voice; which is to say, her normal tone of voice. If only she knew that she's mistaken: she has no friends.

Off goes Same, who hasn't had any quality time with Blake lately - here we are working on the assumption that "quality time with Blake" is even a concept that has any meaning. Every time Sam is around Blake, she feels nervous, which is probably normal when you associate with sociopaths.

Sam doesn't know what Blake has planned, so it'll come as a surprise when she finds out he has nothing planned - all the planning was done by the show's producers. What THEY have planned is a ride in a helicopter, which I'm pretty sure has been done before but I guess when you have access to a helicopter you need to get as much use as possible out of it.

The helicopter lands at the Sydney Polo Club. "I'm definitely a country girl," says Sam, taking on the challenge of self-identification with gusto. Apparently being from the country means you're used to hanging around in clubs for incredibly rich city people.

Blake and Sam sit on the grass and eat strawberries and Sam talks about how vulnerable and scared she is, because that's her sole personality trait. Blake is so happy she felt ready to open up to him. "Our relationship is really progressing," he says enthusiastically, excited about another woman he gets to feel up before getting rid of her once he's bored.

Laurina thinks Sam may be too young for Blake "if he's looking for a woman". It's pretty amazing the way Laurina has identified fatal flaws in every woman in the house except herself. Her perceptiveness is stunning.

"I wanna know how far we can go," says Blake, hastily adding "in our relationship" when he remembers he's not supposed to admit he's just there to get laid. Apparently it's getting easier for Blake to imagine a future with Sam. She's, like, third or fourth now on his list of women he can imagine a future with. He's doing so much future-imagining he's like the Nostradamus of sleazy dickwits.

"It's an awesome feeling to know that he likes me," says Sam, her low self-esteem screaming with pleasure at all the attention. Blake wants Sam to know that she's definitely "in this"; as a smooth operator, Blake knows that what every woman most wants to hear is that she's got some kind of chance of being picked ahead of all the other women he likes.

Then they kiss and it's a magical moment and time seems to stand still a lot like when Blake kissed all those other chicks.

Back at the mansion the women are talking total nonsense in accordance with their contracts.

Now time for Blake's date with Lauren, the first "new girl" he's taken on a date. He just wants to know if there's chemistry between them, so he can decide whether all that crap he was saying to Sam earlier is worth going on with, or if he should say it to Lauren instead. Blake has taken Lauren out for Italian, which is a pretty original idea I reckon. They have spaghetti, as part of Blake's plan to humiliate Lauren.

Blake is weirded out by the fact Lauren has never been in a long-term relationship. People who've never been in long-term relationships sicken him. He, personally, has been in hundreds, most of them simultaneously. Meanwhile Lauren senses a real genuineness about Blake, which is fair enough: The Bachelor is one of the few places you can find a man who is totally honest about the fact he's cheating on you with multiple partners.

"Thank you for coming along on this Italian adventure," says Blake, vastly exaggerating the properties of a bowl of spaghetti, as he gives Lauren a rose, and she, brainwashed by an artificial romantic ideal, accepts it.

Time for Blake's date with Laurina. Sam doesn't really consider Laurina a major threat, because she's met Laurina.

Laurina doesn't know what Blake has planned, but has dressed up extremely fancy because a producer with a sense of humour told her to. Laurina thinks it would be pretty good if Blake had a private jet lined up, because she's mistaken being a Bachelor contestant with being Marilyn Monroe.

Blake wants to know if Laurina can "throw caution to the wind and enjoy a more simplistic date", or in other words, he hates Laurina and wants her to be unhappy. Which she is. "That's unacceptable," says Laurina, in reference to the fact that Blake has taken her bowling. "Hashtag clown shoes with a cocktail dress. Hashtag awkward," she fumes, having learnt to say "hashtag" out loud from her favourite book, Making Everyone On Earth Hate You For Dummies.

Laurina starts to enjoy the bowling, having realised that Blake doesn't put out for pouters. The pair strike a wager: if Laurina wins bowling, Blake will give her a romantic dinner; if Blake wins, he gets to throw her into a landfill. Laurina wins, which means she's about to be disappointed again.

Laurina says she's hoping the place Blake takes her will be cocktail attire-appropriate. Blake chuckles darkly, much like a homicidal maniac might. Because he is taking her to a pie shop. It's Harry's Cafe de Wheels, one of Sydney's most iconic locations. Blake claims he's been waiting to visit for years, which is a bit weird because it's a very easy place to go to if you actually want to.

Laurina is not happy she's been taken out for a pie, beginning to suspect that Blake is enjoying her suffering which to be fair he is. She is furious that other women have gotten yachts and planes and fancy dinners, while she gets "a dirty street pie". But it's a funny coincidence, because in high school Laurina was voted Most Likely To Eat And/Or Be Referred To As A Dirty Street Pie.

Blake feels his date has backfired, as he giggles on the inside. "Time to get this date back on track," he says, hopefully meaning he is about to tie Laurina to a railroad. Actually what he's going to do is give Laurina a puppy, as a metaphor for how he feels about her personality.

It's Laurina's own puppy, which means Blake has broken into her house and kidnapped her dog.

Back at the house, Amber is furious that Laurina's dog got a date, and she hasn't, because Amber doesn't really understand how this show works. It seems unlikely that it's the first time a man has chosen a dog over her though, so she can't be that shocked.

"I feel sorry for Amber," smiles Blake's favourite Jess, who always has sympathy for the underprivileged in society.

At the cocktail party, it's the birthday of one of the new girls but I don't know her name. It's the one who's a bit like the netball one I think. It's pretty hard to care, I think you'll agree. Oh her name is Rachel maybe?

It's not important: what's important is that Amber is having a sulk. This isn't news, of course, it's just the continuation of a trend that began in the early 90s. Blake comes in and asks Laurina to go for a walk with him, mainly because so Amber knows he doesn't want to go for a walk with her. Blake wants to clear up some issues regarding their date. Laurina admits she was a pain in the arse, but she's only referring to the date, not to the entire rest of her life. She feels pretty remorseful for judging Blake so harshly before she found out he was a dog-thief.

Blake returns and asks Jess to go for a walk. "Are you kidding me?" says Amber for the eightieth time this series. It becomes clear that Blake's family and Amber's family are participants in a centuries-old feud, and Blake has only entered the show in order to take his revenge.

Finally Blake asks Amber for a chat. He wants to tell Amber exactly how he feels, possibly with the aid of colourful graphs and a recording of hyenas laughing. He needs Amber to understand that although she's yet to have a single date with him, he considers her to be one of the most special crazy vicious skanks that he has ever been told by the executive producer to not send home too early.

Blake begins by talking to Amber for a very long time without saying anything, but eventually gets to the point. "I think you are an incredible woman," he lies, before telling her that there is no connection between them and he never wants to see her again. So weird how the incredible women are always the ones that Blake doesn't like. Blake doesn't want to put her through another rose ceremony: he thinks it wouldn't be fair to her, or to his own desire to not look at her goddamn face anymore.

Back at the mansion, Osher emerges once again from his basement lair. He tells the ladies that Blake has just kicked the rungs out of Amber's love ladder. The women's reactions run the gamut from not giving a shit, to not giving a shit but acting like they do.

The bonus for the remaining women, of course, is that since Blake just took Amber out to the garden and then put her in a car, all her possessions are still in the house to be divvied up. Meanwhile Amber herself is driven off a nearby cliff, and we are promised that tomorrow night Blake will continue preferring Jess to everyone else and Laurina will continue objecting to everything that happens.

Below: Blake and Laurina enjoy a tender moment together

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How I Became Funny

I remember my first encounter with the world of comedy. I was four years old, and a clown came to the door of our house offering to wash our dog for food. I laughed at his funny red nose and bright purple wig, and then my father shot him, and that too was funny in its way. It was then I thought seriously about going into comedy myself, and by the age of five had written an eight-hour one-man show, entitled, "Laughter: The Harbinger of Death".

I performed this show daily in front of my parents for the next six years, and it was, I admit, a source of tension, argument and self-mutilation at the time. Nowadays we laugh about it, but at the time, the comedy was so bitingly real that my mother was at times moved to tears, and at other times moved to Calgary.

I gave up the one-man show at eleven, and began work on my sitcom. Amusingly, my dictionary was missing some pages, and so I gained a false impression of what a "sitcom" was. In fact, rather than working on a sitcom, I began working on a stegosaurus, which was a far more thankless task, and less funny than I had anticipated. It got even worse when the stegosaurus ate our gardener. I had thought stegosauruses were herbivorous, but then I found I had read the instructions wrong. It seemed that every book in the house was missing pages, and later on we found out my father had been eating them. I asked him why and he said he was trying to stop the cravings he had to eat the gardener. I suppose that in the end, my sitcom DID end up being quite successful, though not commercially.

In my teenage years, my love of comedy did not wane, but it did go in exciting new directions. I explored the possibilities of physical comedy, experimenting with comedic sexual intercourse and slapstick ethnic cleansing. But I soon grew tired of the cheap and easy laughs to be had by setting Koreans on fire, and by my graduation year was ready for fresh challenges and strange new worlds of humour.

It was at university that I began devising a surrealist, avant garde brand of comedy, beginning with jokes such as:

Q. What do you call a man with an octopus on his face?
A: Glenn

Q: How many ligtbulbs does it take?
A: Twenty-eight (laugh malevolently)

These jokes found great success among the cafeteria ladies, and emboldened, I set out to expand the themes I was working with, thus:

An Englishman, an Irishman and a rabbi walk into a bar. The Englishman says, I can't fall out of this plane, my goldfish are dead. How did the Welshman know?
A: The surgeon was his mother.

Sherlock Holmes and Watson are out camping, and Watson says, Why the long face, to which Holmes replies, I am a cocaine addict. He then makes Watson lick yoghurt off his violin until dawn. What does this tell you, Watson, he asks. Watson replies, Now comes the viola solo. (laugh malevolently)

Many people loved my new brand of comedy, and I found great acclaim among the Beat Generation, who were by then terribly old and mostly demented. However, the cultural elite did not, and there were calls in several thousand newspapers for me to be banned for life from all sporting events and chemically castrated. Years later I found out all of these newspapers were fakes printed on a home press by my mischievous prankster college roommate Fuzzy Slamwindow. How we laughed. But at the time I was most distressed and went into exile in Tibet, where I learned how to love again.

Upon my return, I set to work rehearsing for my most ambitious show yet, "Breasts: The Musical". The show consisted entirely of me standing on stage in a rubber catsuit showing slides of dead strippers and groaning rhythmically.

The show was a commercial and critical success, described by one eminent critic as "the funniest thing I have ever seen", and by another as "mmmmm". Although box office receipts were huge, I suffered from my poor judgment in signing a contract which guaranteed 80% of ticket sales would go to Richard Branson's Virgin Corporation, in return for which I would have a long needle inserted into my brain. Looking back, I'm not sure what I was thinking.

And so we come to today. I am not resting on my laurels, by any means. In fact, I just published my book, "Not Resting On My Laurels", which is a collection of humorous essays and line drawings of rabbit ovaries. I am about to release "Not Resting On My Laurels Too", a collection of the same humorous essays, but with a foreword by Kirstie Alley.

All in all, I have learnt a lot about comedy in my seven or eight years on this planet. What you need to remember is, it's all about the audience. You're not up there for your own glorification, you are up there to make the audience laugh, and if they don't laugh, to be honest, you deserve all the poisonous gases you get. So the lesson is: make them laugh at all costs. If that means that you have to take off your pants, or eat a small boat, or hang yourself from a tree, so be it.

Laughter is everything, and I assure you, when you hear a roomful of people laughing and clapping and gently tongueing your thighs, you'll know that it was worth it.

Franz Kafka: Grocery Boy

Franz looked up at the shelf stretching away into the upper reaches of the store, and sighed deeply. His only option was to use his pogo stick, and it had only three pogos left before it lost all power and had to be sent to Battery Land for fresh lessons. He scratched his thighs absent-mindedly and found it came clean off. He wept quietly to himself for several minutes, before climbing onto the lower shelf and curling up to weep quietly at others who passed by. A bucket walked past with purposeful gait, and Kafka quick-wittedly tripped it up and climbed inside.

He was instantly transported to a realm of pleasure seldom seen in everyday Budapest. The Bucket-Folk accepted him as an equal, and did not judge him for his views or the size of his bedroom, which was quite small and contained an entire Irish Elk.

But alas, like all good things, his visit to the Bucket-Folk came to an abrupt end, exemplified by the fierce scarring on his nose, and he found himself back in the grocery store, bouncing high into the air, hurling boxes onto the shelf, and sneezing violently on the manager's hair, an act that brought relatively few short-term reprisals, but would, unbeknownst to him, result in his being banished to the lowest circle of hell and poked with teflon spatulas for several millennia.

As the last box tottered in place, and then tumbled gracefully to the floor, killing the Queen who had popped in for a bag of pepper, Franz felt an unearthly tingling in his immoral regions. He sighed. He was turning into an insect again. And still twenty minutes till his break. That was all he bloody needed. 

Memories of Rockweld

Ah, Rockweld. I can still see his furrowed brow, poring over ancient Sumerian texts in the study we shared for all those years. Come away, let's relax for an evening, I would say, but he would not budge from those parchments. He was determined to find proof that the Sumerians had a widespread potato crisp industry.

"I know it, and I must have the proof!" he would cry, his hair standing on end and his ears rotating slowly. "It is here somewhere!" I humoured him, but was amazed when he proved his theory and published his monograph. It was utterly ignored by the world, but Rockweld felt vindicated, and was content for a while. He even took up pipe smoking, until instructed not to by a plumber.

Rockweld was, in many ways, my alter ego, my mirror image, and certainly the best friend I could ever have. Today I feel quite wistful, recalling those long days spent in fevered debate and discussion, testing our wits and logic against the keen razor of the other's intellect. How fondly I remember those lengthy, jocular sparring matches, as we argued vehemently back and forth over which was "the weird one" in Shakespear's Sister. Happy days indeed, as we lived off our modest stipends, and imparted wisdom to our students and ourselves.

I remember when his first novel was published, Rockweld came bustling into our rooms, delighted and waving the first copy above his head in triumph. We drank long into the night in celebration, and he was quite red-faced later when I informed him that in his intoxicated state, he had attempted to write a thesis on the prevalence of fennel in aviary kiosk menus. How we laughed, as I showed him the ornamental Japanese bread bin he had worn on his head, while standing by the fireplace and demonstrating a new dance he had just invented called "The Menorah Bop"

Unfortunately, Rockweld's joy had quickly turned to dust as his book was an unmitigated failure. He blamed the reviews, and there is no doubt that certain critics had harmed the commercial prospects of the work when they pointed out that the plot was predicated entirely on the (supposedly) fanciful notion that the lead character was a zebra who had managed to convincingly disguise himself as a wealthy stockbroker with a stapler and some felt. If one did not give credence to this idea, claimed the nitpickers, then the book, as a narrative, made no sense at all. After sales plummeted from their already subterranean levels, Rockweld, fixated upon literary respect, embarked on a much-publicised experiment to prove that a zebra could, in fact, achieve this task. He failed in this attempt, too, becoming bitter and retreating to our study to drink heavily and occasionally snort derisively at my interior decorating skills.

Still, there is no doubt Rockweld had a dizzying intellect, and I will forever think of him as the most admirable academic, indeed the most admirable man, of our times. It was only later in life that his wits were dulled to a certain extent, and where once he would dazzle parties with his rapier wit and best any challenger at chess, checkers, or whist, he now mainly went to the cinema and threw jaffas at Chinese people.

At least, in this phase, he was happy, and I think his seventy-third birthday, around this time, may have been the most joyous of his life, especially considering his early childhood, when every year his parents would pretend to be wheeling in an enormous cake, only to pull off the cover to reveal an assortment of huge, venomous spiders, which they would then exhort young Rockweld to "round up and pacify", or he would get no presents. Once he had performed this task, they would chuckle knowingly and give him an Al Jolson commemorative keyring, engraved with the wrong initials. Rockweld later discovered that they were, in fact, laudanum-addicted psychotherapists who had stolen him in infancy to perform mind-experiments on, but the hurt never fully healed, and all his life he looked for these people's approval.

I do remember that awful day, the beginning of the end. Rockweld had been unpredictable in his moods of late, and on this day, the final straw appeared to be placed on the camel.

We were calmly sitting, reading and enjoying the view of the black smoke from the smelting plant across the road, when I passed an innocent remark to the effect that I considered West Side Story to be too heavily stylised for my tastes.

Rockweld instantly flew into a terrible rage, hurling his brandy glass out the window, striking me sharply with the corkscrew, and accusing me of being a crypto-fascist and in league with Hammerskjold. I tried to placate him with promises of compensation and trips to the zoo, but he kept up his abuse, screaming that I was trying to trick him into voluntary organ donation, and then crawling under the rug, biting his fingers and crying out "I'm a linen press, you mustn't look at me!"

Sadly, I had to call a doctor, who sedated Rockweld and took him for the last time from his beloved study. He didn't last long after that, of course, dying peacefully in his sleep after confiding to me that he had never really loved his wife, and in general preferred Italian cheese. It was a sad end for a great man, but I shall always remember him with fondness, respect, and...yes, I should say, love. 

Themroc van Harryhausen, Gnu Buster

The kid looked down at the dirt and spat his tobacco out, killing a passing centipede instantly.
'We movin' out?' the kid asked, trying not to show his impatience.
Themroc van Harryhausen, the greatest gnu-buster the West had ever known, looked up from the fire where he was raking over the embers of the morning, swallowing the last of the toasted marzipan.
'You're too eager, kid. I know, I was once like you.' Themroc looked at the sky, almost blinding in its mixture of bright blue and damnation orange, and felt tears prick the edge of his eyes. He refused to cry. He hadn't cried in nigh-on thirty years, and he wasn't about to start now. Standing up and hitching up his belt, he applied his medicated eyedrops and blinked for an hour or so. Finally, he nodded to his protege, and they made their way slowly to the horses.
They were called horses, but Themroc knew, in that deep, elemental, dry-boned way, that they were horses only in name. In fact, the kid's was actually a dachsund. For himself, Themroc had secured himself a thoroughbred ibex, but as had always been the way amongst gnu-busters, the apprentice rode a dog. Some traditions were worth holding onto.
The weary-faced 'buster allowed a smile to insinuate itself across his face with the memory of his own apprenticeship, when he himself had ridden tall in the saddle on a fiery shih tzu. That had been under the tutelage of the famous Portobello Siffredi, and in some ways they had been the happiest days of his life. In other ways they hadn't, for instance, the intermittent hand-holding and French kisses, but he was willing to forget that for the sake of the gnu-busting secrets Siffredi had vouchsafed him. Those days were long gone now, and Siffredi's mantle had been quietly devoured by Themroc himself. Some days, though...he wondered...
The kid was looking at him strangely. It took a few minutes for Themroc to realise that this was because he had been captured by a lynch mob and hung from a tree during his previous musings. Shaking his head at the kid's bulging eyes and throaty gurgles, Themroc cut him down with his shiny gnu-machete, laid him gently on the savannah and kissed his eyelids tenderly.
'Gotta watch for the mobs in these parts, kid,' he said after the young fellow had recovered and they were mounting up. 'Some people don't take too kindly to gnu-busting. Post-modernists and such. City folk. Russians. Franciscan monks.'
'But gnu-busters built this land,' protested the kid, outraged at such goings on and suspecting, as always, that it was all Jack Kerouac's fault.
Themroc sighed and stabbed his ibex in the neck to get it moving. 'Times are changing, kid,' he said wistfully and with a touch of lavender. 'The ranges ain't so open no more, the grass don't grow quite so tall, folks ain't free and easy with their vittles, the towns have swallowed up the prairie, the hippo's gone a-lookin' for greener pastures, and the nabob, we he just up and scuttled, y'all.'
The kid was silent. He looked down at the neck of his dachsund, and stroked it thoughtfully. Not for the first time, he found himself wondering in his heart of hearts what Themroc was talking about. Sometimes it seemed they spoke a different language. Sometimes they did speak a different language, and it was Urdu. Some days all that was ahead of them was grass, heat, a herd of giraffes and an overdraft, and if it wasn't for his faith in gnu-busting as a man's pursuit, he would crawl into the bottom of a whisky bottle and make a model ship.
Themroc noticed his partner's taciturnity. he reached over with the gnu-prod and shocked him with concern.
'K, kid?' he asked, with the lazy southern drawl that he had picked up last week in a saloon. 'The gnus'll be comin' up by an' by.'
'I'm fine, sir,' said the kid loyally as his arm slowly slipped from its socket due to a congenital disorder. 'Just doin' a mite thinkin''
'Better wrap it up, son,' said Themroc, smiling evilly for the hell of it. 'Them gnus be comin' over the horizon, and there's bustin' to be done.'
He spoke the truth. In two minutes time, they were the centre of a heaving, sweaty tornado of hoofs, horns, wild, unbridled grunting and whispered murmurings of romance and indiscretion. At the end of it, seventy fine gnus had been busted, and many hundreds more were dead. The kid, screaming wildly, was feasting on the remains, face covered with blood and pale as a midnight hamster. Themroc laid a weatherbeaten glove on his shoulder.
'None o' that, son,' he said. 'We came to bust these gnus for Mister Gramboko, and we done busted 'em. Now we bring 'em in, but let the rest bury their loved ones. Never step on a gnu' religious traditions, it shows disrespect. And out here, sometimes, respect's all a body's got to stop him becoming sexually confused.'
'They're just gnus,' the kid protested, mouth full of the peculiarly sticky mass you get in gnu bladders. 'And ain't we gnu-busters?'
'A gnu-buster don't despise the gnus he busts, kid. That's a lesson you gotta learn if'n ever you wanna get offa yer dachsund. We fight 'em, we bust 'em, we even kill 'em, but we respects 'em. We're like brothers. Who kill each other. Man and gnu gotta be able to look each other in the face, or else, there's no point to this crazy ol' world, and we may as well just go pick up whores in Nairobi. Treat 'em with honour, kid, it's the only way. It's the gnu-buster's code.'
'What's the gnu-buster's code?'
'And what does that mean, huh?'
'You'll find out, son, you'll find out.'
'And Themroc, with a dig of his heels and a vibration of his thighs, wheeled his ibex around and headed for home. but in his heart he remembered the day he found out what the code meant, and the way his life was never the same afterwards, as family, friends, and motor function left him and he found himself out on that lonesome savannah, busting gnus, bedding women, eating spinifex and playing practical jokes on slow-witted zebras. Life could never stay in one place for a gnu-buster, not even the greatest the world had ever known. because that world was changing, and no matter how many times he busted a gnu, trained an apprentice, married a Filipino or rode that long, lonesome trail from Cairo to Cape Town, the aching would remain. The aching that said...Themroc, your time has passed...
He felt the pricking again. He wiped his eyes, dug his heels in, and rode...away. 

A Tale Of Men

I looked up from the ashes I was dutifully raking over and shot a quizzical glance at my companion, who was pointing southwest.
‘Smoke over there.’
‘That’s another one gone then.’ I sighed and raked some more ashes. The wind, once arrived, would blow the ashes away, as per the agreement, but for now it was very important to rake them into piles. The piles were very important. But still, my back was starting to ache. I had not been warned about this. I wished I had chosen a lighter rake.
My companion was putting on a hat. For the sun, he said, although privately I thought it was just to make him look pretty. He was not pretty. He had a long nose and his chin was too bony. The hat didn’t help. It made him look like a cow.
I hated him sometimes. But he was my friend, so I kept it hidden.
I sighed, again. ‘It’s always them that blow the cities up,’ I said, ‘and us that have to clean up.’
‘Yes,’ said my friend. I hated how he said that. I raked another pile and wondered where the wind was. The wind was always late. Someone should write a letter.
‘What will they do with the city now?’ he asked. ‘Rebuild it again?’
‘Probably,’ I said, kicking the ashes playfully.
‘That’s what they did last year.’
We were silent for a while, enjoying the sunlight and the view of the explosions. He was first to speak.
‘They caught him, you know.’
‘Caught who?’ I was so startled by the sudden speech that I kicked over one of my ash-piles, and inside I cursed the knowledge that I would now have to work overtime.
‘The fellow who did it.’
‘Who was he?’ I tried to sound disinterested, as I didn’t want him to know that his information was important.
‘I’m not sure. A mad bomber I expect. They tend to be.’
‘Well, why would you do it if you weren’t?’
‘Unless it was a sane bomber.’
‘Hm. That’s a scary thought.’
Once again silence as we contemplated the horror of a sane bomber. Eventually I decided that some things are best unthought of, and returned to the issue at hand.
‘Where is he?’ I asked my companion, who had just changed hats. This one softened his chin but made his eyes stick out. I looked at him with undisguised loathing. He blushed prettily.
‘It was a present from Graham,’ he explained. I waved impatiently. I didn’t care.
‘Where is he?’ I shouted, all pretence dissolved.
He pointed wordlessly, with what looked like a finger.
Upon the blasted landscape, I saw a courthouse. A squat brown box, distinguished only by the huge aluminium scales atop it. They were in perfect balance, the iron dagger of justice weighed evenly against the wooden owl of truth. The scales were blindfolded, and I myself could not believe my eyes.
‘How in the world did that survive the explosion?’ I asked in tones of incredulity and anger, mingled with sugared persuasion, for I knew my companion to have little patience for aggression.
‘It didn’t.’
‘What?’ this was beyond all reasonable bounds.
‘It didn’t survive. It was flown in specially.’
‘Well I’ll be damned.’ I was stunned enough to lean on my rake for a full five seconds so as to catch my breath.
‘The wonder of modern science!’
‘Indeed. When I was a boy courthouses had to be taken to pieces and transported brick by brick in vans. They had to be reassembled at the other end.’
We stood in nostalgia for a moment.
‘Shall we go?’ My companion was giving me a roguish grin. He had another hat on, a huge one with a leather brim. It was absolutely revolting.
I decided to play dumb. Pulling a moronic face I slurred, ‘Go where?’
‘To the courthouse,’ he replied, winking.
I had had enough. ‘We have ashes to rake!’ I yelled. ‘Don’t you even care?’
‘Let the wind take care of them,’ he replied. ‘This is a chance for adventure. I’ve never been in a courthouse before. Besides, I’m hungry.’
I considered. He had a point. He was hungry. A man needed food, did he not? And the wind was sure to be along. I looked at my feet, struggling with the moral choice: go and have adventures at the courthouse bistro, or stay and attend to duty, and let my partner starve to death? The latter option was tempting, not least because I hated my friend as much as it is possible for one man to hate another without somewhat disliking him. I stared at my feet a while longer, enjoying the patterned suede, but my shoes held no real answers.
‘Very well,’ I said at last. ‘We will go. But first let me do something.’
I gathered all my ash-piles up and poured them into my apron. If I was caught out, I planned to produce them as evidence.
Overhead a helicopter whirred. It was dumping water on the remaining fires left over from the bomb. The pilot looked down on us through huge goggles and waved cheerfully, before releasing several tons of water onto our heads.
‘Do you have a towel?’ I asked my partner, heaving myself back to my feet. ‘I’m wet.’
‘I’m wet too,’ he replied, sobbing quietly to himself. ‘And hungry.’
“You poor thing,’ I said, faking concern, and yawning. ‘We’d better get to the Courthouse. They have automatic hand driers in the bathrooms. We’ll put you under one of those, and buy you some sandwiches. All right sweetie?’
‘Yes,’ he sniffled, miserably, like a filthy drooling coward.
And so we walked to the courthouse, ash in our pockets and water in our hair. And as we walked, the courthouse moved away, and as we walked faster, it moved further, and as we ran, it took flight, and as we cried out for it to stop, we saw that the helicopter had picked it up, and it was flying away again. The trial was over, the bomber had been sentenced, and the courthouse was going home for a well-earned rest.
But my companion and I were lost in the wasteland, and we sat, weeping onto our rakes, eating ashes and mourning what might have been. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Why I'm Alive

Why am I still alive? Well I think it's because I'm a fighter, because I am determined every day to struggle with all my might against the will to self-destruction. I think it's my courage that has kept me alive.

Haha, just kidding. Actually the reason I'm still alive is that every time I reach the point where it seems like maybe it'd be better if I wasn't, I find myself struck by one or all of a number of points:

Firstly, I am still alive because of spite. There are enough people in the world who I know would be happier if I was dead, that it seems worthwhile staying alive just to make their lives a bit more miserable.

Secondly, I know that on the occasion of my death, everyone who ever knew me, or pretended to know me, or heard of me, or didn't hear of me but got told about me after I had in fact died, is going to weigh in with some damn opinion or other.

Some of them are people who have treated me like shit in life, but are going to act like we were the best of friends once I'm dead.

Some of them are people who are going to pretend that they understand why I died, and try to explain it to other people, and argue endlessly over whose theory of my death is the more accurate, and the more compassionate.

Some of them are people who are going to be secure in the knowledge that my death is all about them, and tell the world how pained and soulful they are so everyone understands that my dying has many victims, but none so tragic as this particular casual acquaintance.

Some of them are going to say how sad it is that I have died, and follow that statement with "but..." so they can explain how actually it's not really all that sad.

Some of them are going to write blogs and thinkpieces explaining how really it was all my own fault. And some of them are going to write blogs and thinkpieces explaining how really it was all the fault of someone or something that by coincidence they were already writing blogs and thinkpieces about before I died.

Some of them are going to use the circumstances of my death to trigger a petition.

Some of them are going to get incredibly angry that anyone is sad about my death, when there are much SADDER things to be sad about, and isn't it just incredibly narrow-minded of us to be sad about my death?

And the point is, when I'm dead, I can't tell everyone having a public reaction to my death to go fuck themselves in their fat ugly faces. So I really have no choice but to stay alive when you think about it.