Same Crap, Different Bucket
An Englishman's adventure in the land that Chocolate Digestives forgot.

Jan
15

An advert depicting a man using a bucket of fried chicken to pacify a group of rowdy West Indian cricket supporters was last week pulled from Australian television screens by KFC’s American wing (or was it a leg? It’s hard to tell with KFC). Whether this use of a lazy racial stereotype was intentional is unclear, but the controversy has at least highlighted the awfulness of the recent series of KFC adverts.

Transmitted to coincide with their sponsorship of Channel Nine’s cricket coverage, the ads, titled ‘The KFC Cricket Survival Guide’ feature a character called ‘Mick’. We know he’s called Mick, because his doting friends call him Mick, he refers to himself as Mick, and he has ‘Mick’ printed on the back of his yellow Australia cricket jersey. This is either the only top he owns, or, like Jeff Goldblum in ‘The Fly’, Mick has opted to fill his wardrobe with a row of identical shirts, thus allowing him precious time to focus on loftier issues – in this case, the acquisition of deep fried poultry.

In creating Mick, KFC have fathered a character rivalled only in his smugness by Jamie and Louise Redknapp. At least Thomas Cook have the excuse that there’s only so much you can do with a Redknapp (feeding them into a wood-chipper would be my preferred option, but that might not sell package holidays). KFC, however, had a blank page, yet have chosen to present an arrogant, unblinking, sociopath as an everyman for consumers to identify with. A Patrick Bateman for Generation Y. At least his sassy cool wasn’t signified by the wearing of a baseball cap backwards and a pair of Ray-Bans, which shows creative progress of a sort.

Mick’s passion for cricket and junk food holds no respect for his fellow man or social convention. Watch as he steals the chicken burger from the lifeless hands of a man struck dead by a cricket ball! Yawn as he bribes a pitch-side security guard with a chicken wrap in order to gain a better view! Sigh as he impersonates a policeman to rob cricket tickets from a tout in a Millwall T-shirt (this is the advert where you actually want lazy stereotypes to be employed, with the Millwall fan exacting immediate revenge, reducing Mick to a grim smear of raspberry jam).

In another episode, Mick removes the batteries from the TV remote of his girlfriend’s parents who don’t want to watch the cricket, the insolent fools. The beige-clad killjoys probably couldn’t even explain the intricacies of the Duckworth Lewis method, let alone recite the contents of a KFC Super Variety Bucket. They’re lucky Mick lets them escape with their miserable lives. The removal of the batteries is particularly cruel, as the future in-laws will need that remote to be fully operational later when the aggressive rhythmic thudding of their daughter’s headboard reaches a crescendo as a Zinger Meal-fuelled Mick works through his frustration at a questionable LBW decision.

A brief insight into Mick’s domestic arrangements is provided with an advert set in his home. Scattered in his living room are the objects advertisers consider necessary for a cool dude to possess – a dartboard (name one cool person who doesn’t play darts), electric guitars, Playstation 2 controllers, a life-sized sculpture of Ricky Ponting crafted from human skin (off-screen) etc. The plot reveals his enjoyment of a televised cricket match being interrupted by two flatmates babbling excitedly about trivialities that involve neither bat and ball sports nor breadcrumbed cock (you heard me). When Mick stares into the camera and breathes, “Nothing a KFC Toasted Pocketful won’t fix”, he really means, “Nothing a claw hammer and a vat of sulphuric acid won’t fix”. Their days are numbered. 

If Mick wants to live with people capable of remaining silent for five days, he should maybe consider moving into a monastery or a morgue (his dietary habits will see him end up there soon enough anyway). Alternatively, he could always acquire a portable television and watch the test match in the chicken-carcass-strewn surroundings of his bedroom. If he spent less money on takeaways he might even be able to afford a place of his own and some new clothes.

The answer as to how Mick always seems to have such ready access to fried chicken is answered when it transpires that he has taken up lodgings next to a KFC outlet. One hopes that Mick negotiated a fair deal with the previous owners, but it’s more likely that they are stacked in the basement amidst tubs of uneaten coleslaw.

Mick won’t be quite as smug when his metabolism catches up with him and he’s ravaged by irritable bowel syndrome; his tight skin sagging and sallow, floppy fringe broken and greying; his electric guitar replaced with a leaflet on diabetes. Sadly, Mick’s casually racist attitudes about black people have robbed us of that sight. We’ll never get to see his girlfriend leave him when his obsessive behaviour and rotting clothes become too much to bear, nor will we ever be treated to the sight of him weeping greasy tears into a cardboard bucket of regurgitated hen. For that, I hate Mick.

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Dec
23

 Australians like beer. I know; I was shocked too. 

Perhaps my surprise was borne from tasting some of the barely potable beers Australia has exported to the rest of the world. Surely a nation that produces something as abhorrent as Foster’s Twist can’t be that serious about beer? The emission outputs of the entire Western Australian coal industry are probably less harmful to human wellbeing than one night out on the Victoria Bitter

Acquiring a taste for Australian beer has been a rocky, painful and occasionally bilious process. I’ve mostly been drinking Carlton Draft (generic inoffensive lager), Coopers Pale Ale (because the label has a vague resemblance to the badge of a Scottish Third Division team), and James Squire Amber Ale (because it sounds a bit like my name. I’m thankful I don’t hail from a long line of Castlemaines – although I have been called a XXXX on many occasions). I don’t know whether it’s the unfamiliar chemicals used in the brewing process, or perhaps the detergents employed to clean the pipes in pubs, but I have to report that when I drink a dozen or so of these alien beverages I awake with a quite severe headache and an overwhelming desire for a fried breakfast. 

I am aware of how unstable the moral high ground is on which I balance; criticising the quality of Australian beer when I come from a country that has brewed some of the most toxic sugary soups ever to be splashed against porcelain.

Also, I have to admit that I’m no lager connoisseur. Apart from the really nasty ones, I can’t really tell the difference between one intoxicating orange fizz and another. When it comes to beer – proper room temperature beer, smooth on the palette and challenging to the bowels – I’m equally as ignorant. I never attended the London Beer Festival, never became a member of CAMRA, never drank anything with moss floating in it, and never refused to meet a friend in a pub on account of the fact that it didn’t serve Wretched Pastor’s Scrotum in a dimpled pint glasses with a handle. 

It was with a slight sense of trepidation, therefore, that I attended The Australian Beer Festival at the imaginatively titled ‘Australian Hotel’ in Sydney. There, beer enthusiasts could take their pick of over 100 ales. A $30 ticket permitted the sampling of ten beers from a small plastic tasting beaker, seemingly designed to hold no more than 10CCs of fluid.

The iconic pub was recently, briefly, re-named ‘The Brit’ by Richard Branson in a commercial exercise designed to sell some airline tickets. In a disappointing display of apathy, the building wasn’t instantly razed to the ground by an enraged mob of torch wielding locals.

Can you imagine the comparative uproar if, for example, some bloated, Australian Scrooge McDuck type splurged a tiny slice of his considerable fortune on buying, say, vast chunks of the British media?  Imagine the furore if he then employed those media outlets as a mouthpiece to espouse vile right wing rhetoric? Picture the hullabaloo if the same bounder then set about snaffling up the broadcasting rights to the nation’s most popular sporting events? Why, the country would explode in a foaming frenzy of moral indignation. It would be like the Fall of Saigon. Australian diplomats would be forced to flee from the rooftop of the embassy, clinging to the underside of helicopters as the furious natives below peppered them with rotten vegetables and burning Stefan Dennis CD singles. ‘Home and Away’ would be taken off the air, ‘Neighbours’ would be re-named ‘Infidels’ and Rolf Harris would be shackled to a damp wall in the Tower of London – his Cartoon Club forced underground. Oh no, people would stand for it at all.  

As well as serving a wide selection of beers, The Australian also boasts a range of exotic pizza toppings, such as as Pepper Kangaroo, BBQ Emu, Salt Water Crocodile and something called ‘Tandoori Chicken’. Despite the retro popularity of the Breville sandwich toaster in Australia, I’m yet to find a pub with the foresight to keep one behind the bar. Although it can occasionally be fun to pretend you’re a washed up Z-lister on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’, sometimes, you don’t want a Flambéed Platypus Calzone; sometimes a simple cheese toastie will suffice.  

But today is about beer (actually, ‘today’ is a bit wide of the mark as the festival took place at the end of October. Such was the rage of my subsequent hangover, it has taken me two months to regain my motor functions and learn to type again. My bravery should probably be recognised by an award of some description, but it’s for other people to instigate a Facebook campaign).

A few hundred thirsty punters jostle politely amongst the brewers’ stalls to get a taste of the various ales on offer. Chin-stroking beer nerds swill merrily alongside lager philistines. Someone has brought along her own six-pack of tinned rum and coke and no-one seems in a hurry to march her from the venue and pour her foul poison into the gutter.

The mood is jovial and enthusiastic. The brewers are happy to chat about their wares, and the drinkers patiently cue for service. It’s still early doors though – by dusk, the accumulated combination of hot sun and cold drink could lead to a change in atmosphere. By mid-afternoon there is already the palpable sense that we are only one clumsy spillage away from a wet T–shirt competition.

The beer is largely excellent. Akuna Bay is an alcoholic ginger beer, which is both refreshing and spicy but probably physically impossible to drink more than two glasses of. ‘Stone and Wood’, however, would be very easy to quaff in large volumes, as it’s bloody lovely. Even the next day, when I feel like a swarm of killer bees are using the inside of my skull as a roller disco, I am still left wondering where I can get my feeble hands on a case of ‘Stone and Wood’.

Continuing the animal theme, White Rabbit Ale is a tasty, dark, smooth lager and William Bull Red Angus Pilsner is crisp and malty (it’s funny how quickly you pick up the lingo when you hang around the beer snobs). Also appetizing are the beers from the 4 Pines Brewery and I make a mental note to visit their micro-brewery in Manly (sadly, I then set about destroying my short term memory with more booze and it’s only when I find one of their disintegrated flyers in the back pocket of my washed jeans a week later that I remember their existence at all).

McLaren Vale Ale is a pale ale brewed by a vineyard and is okay. Bear in mind, though, that I drank it immediately after swigging a glass of Bitch. I’ll give the brewers of Bitch the benefit of the doubt and assume that there are no misogynistic undertones to their marketing policy. Rather, I suspect they came up with the name because tasting it invokes the same kind of spastic shudder caused by taking a swig of your dog’s ear medicine in an ill-judged moment of curiosity.

And so, after my ten gulps of beer of differing quality, I retire to a shaded pub in The Rocks to cool down and set about culling more brain cells and laying the foundations for the worst hangover of my life.

Oct
08

Channel Nine’s ‘Hey Hey, It’s Saturday’ probably wouldn’t be many people’s first port of call for cerebral television and cultural sensitivity. Even so, it’s still pretty surprising to see a prime time show featuring black and white minstrels in 2009. 

The flagship variety programme was taken off the air ten years ago after being deemed too asinine even for Channel Nine. However, it was exhumed  last week for a series of reunion shows, the second of which was aired last night.

The talent contest segment of the show  included a hilarious dance troupe named ‘The Jackson Jive’. These beaming funsters deemed it appropriate to affect the full Robinson’s Jam golliwog look, wearing black face paint and large afro wigs whilst jerking around clumsily to The Jackson Five’s ‘Can You Feel It?’ The audience laughed and clapped along to this side-splitting comedy performance like heavily sedated seal lions. Ha ha ha, black people are funny! Look at them! They think they’re people! LOLOLOL!  

Show host, Daryl Somers, flown in especially from the Bronze Age, helpfully explained that the dance was a re-enactment of the performance that won the talent contest section of the show way back in the less-enlightened year of, um, 1989.  

It fell to guest judge, Harry Connick Jr – who couldn’t have looked more horrified if Bernard Manning had risen from the grave and guffed a xenophobic corpse fart into his face – to call a brief halt to the bigoted joviality by emphatically awarding them an  mark of zero out of ten; pointing out that the whole sorry charade was, well, a bit, you know, RACIST!

Frankly, you’d have hoped some bright spark in the production crew might have been able to work this out for themselves before the cretins got as far as the green room. Surely someone – anyone! – must have seen these people applying boot polish to their faces and peeling on their white gloves and thought, “Hmmn, there’s a chance – just a chance – that this might be massively offensive”. But no, it’s now clear that everyone involved with this production – Louisianan crooners excepted – was, and probably remains, a thunderingly ignorant waste of skin with the foresight and cultural sensitivity of a paving slab (one daubed with an inappropriate chalk representation of a funny black man wearing a grass skirt, perhaps).  

Daryl Somers returned later in the show to apologise to Connick Jr personally, conceding that the act may have been offensive to an American, which missed the point spectacularly and formed the basis of a defence that the whole incident had just been a huge cultural misunderstanding – a line pedalled out by the news team on Channel Nine this morning. 

Well, perhaps they’re right. Perhaps I’m just Political Correctness Gone Mad for feeling so angry about such an utterly stupid and depressing debacle. I don’t feel Political Correctness Gone Mad, but maybe that’s the first sign of Political Correctness Gone Mad. Perhaps I should just climb aboard the ignorance bandwagon. After all, the mouth-breathers in the audience of the Hey Hey Reunion show looked happy in a placid, dead-eyed, kind of way.

With this in mind, here are my suggestions for future Channel Nine productions. After all, if I’m going to be a bigot I might as well cash in. 

‘Hey Hey Let’s Vandalise a Jewish Cemetery’

‘Hey Hey Let’s Push Some Dog Shit Through a Spaniard’s Letterbox’ 

‘Hey Hey Let’s Contribute to the Casually Racist Attitudes Seemingly Prevalent Throughout Much of Australian Society by Mocking Black People on a Popular Television Show, Further Indoctrinating the View that Non-Whites Should be Treated as Second Class Citizens and Feeding the Spite that Occasionally Spills Over into Outright Hate Crime Such as the Recent Racist Attacks on Indian Students in Victoria’

One unusual side-effect of all this is that, for the first time in my life, I’m actually inclined to buy a Harry Connick Jr record.

Channel Nine have got a hell of a lot to answer for.

Sep
23

“My flatmate burst into my room and shouted, “Wake up! Ginger people have taken over the world and painted the sky orange!””, chortled the man next to me in the bus queue. The rest of us stared blearily into the dense sandy smog to see what would emerge first, the L90 bus or the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

If this was Judgement Day, it was interesting to note that the protestant work ethic was alive and well in Neutral Bay as people patiently waited for public transport to deliver them to their places of business. Perhaps a wrathful God would spare those repentant souls who appeared most keen to fill their lungs with fire in order maintain the buoyancy of a recovering capitalist economy (and with the dead risen, unemployment figures would surely soar).

Thankfully, this wasn’t the end of the world, which was lucky as I have no contingency plan for such an eventuality and God will probably boil atheists like me at the first possible opportunity, regardless of our token attempts to get to work. At least He would, if He existed.

No, the fluorescent orange pea-souper that engulfed Sydney this morning had – like most things – a perfectly rational scientific explanation. Huge thunderstorms and easterly gale force winds in outback New South Wales and South Australia had pushed an enormous cloud of sand across the country and coated the city in a liberal dusting of, well, dust.

The fine particles set off smoke alarms around the city, pushing emergency service resources to their limits and, more importantly, waking me up. At least one person in my flat saw the copper sky and thought the various sirens may have been signalling a command to vacate the city.

On a normal day Sydney’s Central Business District boasts more than its fair share of spray-on tans, but in today’s sepia tint everyone appeared to have the Oompa-Loompa complexion of Katie Price.

By mid-morning the skies were still a rich yellow and The Sydney Morning Herald’s website was awash with stunning pictures snapped from various points of the city. Pleasingly, everyone else seemed to be as excited about this unusual phenomenon as me (the dust cloud that is, not the fact that the SMH’s online content finally had something worth reading).

Meteorologists said that it was the first time such an event had occurred in 70 years so I feel pretty lucky to have been here to witness it – even if it does mean that the thick layer of red grit on my lungs significantly reduces my chances of being around to witness a repeat performance. However, atheist or no atheist, if I’d been living in Broken Hill yesterday, I probably would have prayed for the first time since 1980 when the Lord heard my pleas for a Millennium Falcon. Watch this and try to imagine at what point you’d start to gently sob and repent all your sins:

Sep
10

What is the collective noun for a group of precocious, drama-school, Martin Prince, pick-me-teacher, motherhuggers? A bastard of children, maybe? A freckle of turds, perhaps? Sadly, this question is yet to be posed on Network 10’s “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” 

The format of the quiz show is fairly straightforward. National treasure, Rove McManus – a man who affects the phony chumminess expected of someone who wears a suit jacket over a T-shirt – poses a number of questions supposedly taken from the primary school curriculum. A panel of delightfully assertive telly urchins are on hand to help.

If these children weren’t created in a laboratory using the fossilised DNA of assorted Double Deckers, then they were surely selected on the basis that they were the only ten year olds in the whole of Australia who didn’t find it pant-wettingly hilarious that the host’s name prominently features the word ‘anus’. 

The adult contestant has the option to answer the question, sneak a look at one of the kids’ answers, steal an answer, or drop out of the competition altogether. This must be an inviting choice, given that throughout this entire process the gurning host will have been incessantly firing off his comedy zingers and repeating the question over and over again, placing the emphasis on a different word each time, until none of it makes any sense anymore and all you can think of doing is jamming the cold barrel of a shotgun into your mouth and peppering the panel of saccharine brats with lumps of your own skull and membrane.

Which animal features on the state flag of Tasmania? Which animal features on the state flag of Tasmania? Which animal features on the state flag of Tasmania? Which animal features on the state flag of Tasmania? Which animal features on the state flag of Tasmania? It’s the kind of psychological torture that could be used to flush out terrorists in siege situations. 

McManus enjoys an uncritical popularity in Australia, (he also has an eponymous chat show and successful production company), but he brings to mind the breed of cheery co-worker who goes to great lengths to proclaim how ‘mad’ they are but leaves passive-aggressive notes around the office. 

“Hey guys! It would be great if just once I could leave my pro-bio yogurts in the fridge without anyone gobbling them up! Please buy your own frikkin’ deserts! Just a thought :-/ Rove”.

There’s something about the way that the sinews strain in his neck when he smiles that belies a deep self-loathing. A self-loathing perhaps borne from farting hefty volumes of reeking televisual effluent all over the gagging airwaves. 

This week’s special celebrity guest is Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who appears suitably uncomfortable when one of the diminutinve brainboxes attempts an inky-fingered high five while McManus bleats “drop it like it’s hot!” from the sidelines. Soak it like it’s soiled, more like.

At one point, Ms Gillard tilts her head and shakes hands with one of the bright sparks, briefly forgetting she’s not visiting a hospice for the terminally sunny. Fair enough though – children are the only group that it’s socially acceptable to patronise in public. You can get away with shouting slow commands at the elderly but there’s an associated guilt – especially if they’re wearing their medals (military or dinner).

Gillard is also the Minister for Education, and could probably point to the row of Stepford Children as an illustration of the success of her schools policies. However, it would be more impressive if her ministerial portfolio also included responsibilities for infant smugness, game show host omnipresence and television so buttock-clenchingly dull it makes squeezing blackheads seem like a viably entertaining alternative.

Not that these ten-year olds have to worry about oily T-zones, of course. Puberty is still a few years away and no doubt their pushy parents have versed them well on the virtues of exfoliating facial scrubs. Good luck to them, when I was ten my loftiest achievement was to be sent to stand outside the head teacher’s office after carving an eraser into the shape of a man’s genitals and writing “SEXMOBILE” along the shaft in black biro. It didn’t get me onto the television, but it did make Daniel Perkins laugh until he had an accident in his trousers, which is good enough for me.

Aug
25

Wayne, the eccentric, fat-handed, real estate agent, is a whirlwind of colloquialisms and flamboyant gestures. I’m watching him with wide eyes as he swings those chunky mittens round his cramped office as if he’s directing a plane with fleshy pink paddles.

I’m firmly of the opinion that if you were to take a blood sample from any estate agent and examined it under a microscope, you would see that it consists entirely of vipers, sulphur and hate. Wayne seems alright though, if a little excitable.

When something meets with his approval, he cries: “One hundred percent!” or “Too good!” Already sensitive to the fact that, to everyone else here, I must sound like C3PO, I’m prone to leap upon the merest hint of constructive criticism and fervently pore over it, searching for the key to assimilation and acceptance. How good, for example, is “too good”? Should I have signed the tenancy agreement in the date field? Or misspelt my surname? Perhaps, rather than signing it at all, I should have simply scrawled a crude etching of a man’s winkle across the whole page; the kind of drawing more commonly found in vandalised library books and pub toilets. If only he knew that I’m the king of inefficiency (although this suggests an inaccurate level of aptitude – I’m more the parasitic minor royal of ineptitude. The Price Edward of oafishness, maybe – definitely in line for the throne but unlikely to ever be the head honcho without the assistance of a freak spate of fatal skiing/shopping/swan-dining accidents).

There is a Lionel Hutz quality to Wayne’s operation. The office is located above a fried chicken outlet and there is a large crack snaking diagonally across the window. Wayne has already told me that the business only has one pen and I suspect that his frenetic joviality is simply a tool to mask an anxiety that I may pocket the half-drained biro.

Too good!

"Too good!"

I had been warned that securing a flat whilst unemployed would be tricky. Unlike the UK, where rental accommodation is widely available, there is a paucity of property for lease here. This means that the owner can be more picky about whom he or she allows to chip their paintwork and spill Ribena on their shag pile. If you find a place you want to rent, you need to submit an application form and wait patiently while the owner weighs up whether you’re the kind of tenant likely to turn their flat into an opium den and sub-let the airing cupboard to a family of refugees (not a problem in this case, as the flat I’ve just signed the lease for doesn’t have an airing cupboard. However, I think I could probably Tetris a few Albanians into the laundry in more comfort than the Australian authorities would afford them). 

You’ll also need to comply with the 100 Points system in order to prove your identity. Under this system, each document of identification you provide has a value in points, and you need to get to a hundred points. It’s a bit like a game; a game devoid of fun or purpose; a game merely designed to frustrate. Think golf. 

A passport is generally worth 70 points (even though it was enough for the immigration authorities to let you into the country in the first place); an Australian driver’s licence is worth 40 points, but you’ll need 100 points to get one of these. Utility bills are worth 30 points, which is handy if you’ve moved into a house and paid a gas bill before actually signing the lease. How many points you get for a letter from a magistrate informing you of the date for your trial on charges of identity theft, I don’t know. 

Thankfully, in this instance, Wayne and the landlady are reasonably content that Sarah and I seem decent enough people and are satisfied that we harbour no desire to convert the newly-refurbished kitchen into a nightclub (ha! the joke’s on them, we totally are. It’s going to be called “The Toaster” and all drinks are half price when the dishwasher is running). Frankly, I think Wayne would have been accepted a stick man self-portrait as proof of identification. Whether we’ll be able to pay the rent without jobs is another matter. 

Two months in, and over a hundred job applications later, I’ve still only had one interview, and that was at a company that didn’t actually have a job. It’s getting to the point where I am receiving rejection letters from jobs I haven’t even applied for. Presumably, some of these employers have software so advanced that they can detect when I hover my mouse over their job description and this is their way of warning me off. It’s fair enough, I have been fairly impertinent in thinking I may have the skills required for data entry or arranging chocolate biscuits into a neat crescent on a boardroom plate. 

A recruitment consultant in the UK will mercilessly stalk you like a grizzly FBI agent on his last assignment and you’ll be bombarded with a multitude of inappropriate job roles (“I see on your CV that you’re looking for a role as an Administrator. Well, I’ve got a great job here as an Antenatal Yoga Instructor, which is close to it in the alphabet!”). However, the few consultants who have actually agreed to meet me here seem to be under heavy sedation, as if powerful weed smoke is being pumped into their office via the air conditioning ducts. I leave each meeting with the sense that, rather than trying to find me a job, they are using the excuse of the Global Financial Crisis to fire elastic bands at waste paper baskets and catch up on some valuable solitaire time. Paranoid nonsense on my part, of course – it must be the super-strength skunk they are venting into those agencies. 

They assure me that the job market is slow and that employers are exercising extreme caution in the current climate. Get me a job. I’m told to keep positive and that things will pick up soon. Get me a job today. They’ll keep my CV on file and will call me if anything comes up. Today! Keep looking at the recruitment websites and let us know if there’s anything you like the look of. Today! Today! TODAY!

In fairness, there is a palpable sense of neurosis that Australia will follow the rest of the world into an economic quagmire, even though it seems to be in a comparatively chipper state at present. If the Mad Max movie franchise has taught us anything, it’s that post-apocalyptic Australian life would be as much fun as a sore knee. It’s understandable then that employers (nefarious Thunderdome manufacturers aside) are keen to avoid overspending and condemning us all to a crumbling cannibalistic society where Mel Gibson has too much of a say in how things are run. 

This paranoia is typified in my favourite advert at the moment, for a local furniture superstore. Its main selling point is that the superstore’s stock is all made in Australia, which it mentions at least two dozen times in the space of thirty seconds. This is actually quite hard to do. I’ll wait why you try. 

See.

The implication is that if you aren’t buying a sofa crafted in Dubbo or a coffee table assembled in Wangaratta then you are so ‘un-Australian’ that you may as well join the Taliban and explode an upholstery factory (made in Australia, by Australians, for Australians, in Australia). The advert concludes with a photograph of the ham-faced store owner accompanied by a menacing voice message, delivered in the style of an opinionated bar fly prodding you in the chest at closing time. “If you’re not buying Austraaaaaaaaaaalian, woiy?! WOIY not?” It’s uncomfortable viewing; especially if you’re sat on an Ikea sofa and therefore directly responsible for stealing the stale bread from the plates of the malnourished Australian children orphaned in despicable upholstery factory attacks. It’s enough to make you drive an allen key into your own spiteful oily heart. 

A dastardly foreign sofa, yesterday.

A dastardly foreign sofa, yesterday.

Maybe the recruitment agents and business leaders and jingoistic furniture store owners are right? Maybe there is an economic storm coming? Things do seem to take a bit longer to get all the way down here. Digital radio was only launched in Australia at the beginning of August, for example (next month: Soda Streams and VCRs!). 

While I’m mulling this over, Wayne’s mobile phone rings, in a surprising clatter of downloaded crunk noise. It’s surprising because Wayne must be well into his fifties, and also because his swollen frankfurter fingers are able to dextrously press the ‘answer’ button with relative ease. “G’day!” he jubilantly barks as he marches to the other side of the office (three paces away), the entire time keeping one eye on the whereabouts of the office pen.

“Yep…yep…yep…one hundred percent…yep…he got off? What?! Too good! What about the weapon? What did the judge say about the weapon?…Sorry David, I’m gonna have to take this call, mate. Just leave the contract and the pen on the side there and I’ll call you later. Too good” 

Jesus H Flintoff,  he’s not Lionel Hutz, he’s Fat Tony! I need to get a job before the rent is due or he’ll take my thumbs (like he needs more meat in those dukes).

Aug
21

It is a common grumble amongst veteran football supporters in England that media coverage of the sport has reached saturation point. Last season, if you could afford a satellite subscription and held no truck with social interaction, you could conceivably watch a match every night of the week.

I must admit, I was one of those voices hankering for simpler times; for an age before the advent of the Premier League with its inherent greed and hyperbole. A time of fewer televised matches in an era when no-one had ever heard of Tim Lovejoy or Grand Slam Sunday and, rather than investing in underachieving British football clubs, Middle Eastern businessmen were simply content to  fund brutal totalitarian governments.

This was nostalgic nonsense, of course. The reality was often a week-long wait for a televised match, only to be met with Elton Welsby’s bungling efforts to warm up the congealed gravy of Everton v Luton in an age when admitting to being a football fan was tantamount to confessing an admiration for the work of  Myra Hindley. People would gag into handkerchiefs and franticly shield their children if they suspected you were hiding a bar scarf under your ski jacket. 

There is no danger of football suffering from over-exposure in Australia. For the last six weeks I have combed the TV listings for the tiniest of football morsels. When I recently discovered that SBS were inexplicably broadcasting extended highlights of an African Champions League group match between Monomotapa United of Zimbabwe and Tunisia’s Etoite du Saleh, I fell on it like a stranded desert explorer who had stumbled upon a sparkling oasis and drank until my stomach bulged and my shirt buttons burst open. You don’t need me to tell you that Monomotapa United won 2-1, I’m sure. 

In the national sporting consciousness, football falls some way behind Aussie Rules, rugby league and rugby union, all of which are referred to as “football” in order to avoid confusion. Sadly, in the affections of most Australians, football – proper football – sits somewhere between cricket, swimming, netball, casual racism and hockey (calm down, Aussies, it’s just my little joke. Of course casual racism is more popular than silly old netball).

This is a very strange place sometimes

This is a very strange place sometimes

It’s with some anticipation then that I attend my first A-League match; Sydney FC v Adelaide United at the Sydney Football Stadium – not the most imaginative of titles but one that covers the abundance of hand sports erroneously claiming that description. The A-League is still in its infancy but Sydney FC have already developed an unwanted reputation for being flashy failures – think Tottenham Hotspur or Jodie Marsh. This has seen them dispense with five managers in four seasons, amongst them Terry Butcher who, in a reversal of colonial history, was shipped to England as punishment for the team’s deterioration (it remains a mystery what dark crime Brentford committed in order to be saddled with Butcher as their coach). The latest incumbent of ‘Bling FC’s’ monogrammed tracksuit is Czech trainer, Vítězslav Lavička. He has apparently used the lengthy pre-season period to discipline his team into a well-drilled unit and added to the squad sparingly with practical signings. Expectations have been raised amidst much talk of a new European style of football (a note of caution to Sydney FC fans: being European isn’t necessarily a by-word for championship success. Grimsby Town, Berwick Rangers and Newcastle United are all European, after all). 

In contrast to Sydney, Adelaide United have filled the niche of perennial bridesmaids; twice reaching the Grand Final, only to be found weeping drunkenly in the cloakroom with marzipan down their cleavage and vomit in their hair. Typically, Adelaide recently managed to sign the English lower league striker, Lloyd Owusu, only for him to spend much of the winter break sweating and wheezing under a duvet – not in itself unusual for a professional footballer, but it this case Owusu had unfortunately contracted Swine Flu. Also missing from the Adelaide team is Brazilian defender, Cassio – a player whose name must have inspired a plethora of maths-related puns from local journalists. They’ll have to look elsewhere for inspiration today though, the hapless 80085. 

My juvenile excitement at seeing live football leads me to arrive at the ground ludicrously early and I find myself with two hours to kill and only children, programme sellers and autograph hunters for company (at least someone is here to keep the autograph hunters away from the kids). The near vertical climb up Forveaux Street to the stadium, in unseasonably hot weather, has induced a gasping thirst and so I head to the nearest pub, The Fox and Lion Hotel within the adjacent Fox Studios complex.

Loathe as I am to contribute to the Murdoch coffers, I reason that it’s an emergency and vow not to enjoy my drink (and at $6 a schooner, this won’t be difficult). Once inside the belly of the beast, the barmaid greets me with a toothy smile and asks, “What can I get for you, sweaty?” Sweaty? Oh, the forces of darkness are indeed powerful here . After sinking my drink and discretely mopping my brow, I head off to meet my companions for the day, ex-pats Simon and Tom. 

I’ve known Simon for a number of years, having discovered a mutual support of Swindon Town via an internet message board (look, grow up, lot’s of people meet on the web these days and he hasn’t once suggested frying my pancreas and broadcasting it online). Tom, meanwhile, carries his burden of a terminal affection for Plymouth Argyle with a humbling resolve. So brave. 

Simon and Tom both hold season tickets at the SFS, and have seats allocated at the back of the lower tier. The roof from the upper tier cuts across your field of vision and creates the illusion of watching the match from the inside of a post box. This also creates the illusion of a full stadium, as it prevents you from seeing the thousands of empty seats in the upper level, which is closed for football matches. This seems sensible enough as the 45,000-seater stadium is only a third full today; it’s best that we all huddle together; getting lost in Australia can have serious consequences. Mercifully, in this instance there is no danger of succumbing to dehydration and having your bones picked clean by lizards as our seats are sensibly located within drooling distance of the beer kiosk. 

Sydney dominate possession but find themselves frustrated by Adelaide’s resilient defence. 18-year old winger Kofi Danning is the pick of the Sydney players, a constant danger who works tirelessly on the right flank, darting back and forth like a human metronome. Elsewhere, silver fox Steve Corrica uses his experience to spray accurate passes around the park, employing an economy of movement common in many players entering the twilight of their careers. He’s unlucky not to be awarded a penalty in the first half when he runs into the back of a floored Adelaide defender. The home fans are incensed but the incident is almost identical to Lucas Neil’s foul on Fabian Grosso that resulted in Italy knocking Australia out of the World Cup in 2006 – an episode I’ve heard referenced as an outrage at least a dozen times since I’ve been here (sheesh, get over it – you wouldn’t hear English football fans banging on about historical refereeing decisions, desperately clutching for a scapegoat on which to blame their failure). 

I’m reliably informed that the novelty of being allowed to drink while you watch football is one that never grows tired. Thankfully, I can report that the freedom to sip watered-down Victoria Bitter within sight of a football match does not transform me into a salivating misanthrope intent on the destruction of Western democracy via the use of colourful language and obscene hand gestures (although this lethargy may simply be a result of idiotically staying awake until 2.30am the previous night and watching online text updates from the goalless draw between Swindon Town and MK Dons. Yes, yes, I know). However, the easy access to beer does contribute to me missing the only goal of the match, coming as it does during a trip to the little boys’ room.

This must happen a lot, as the stadium administrators have helpfully filled the arena with at least as many televisions as you’d find in a redneck’s mobile home. I’m therefore able to see the replay of an exquisitely crafted goal by substitute Mark Bridge, who conjures up a rare moment of quality to unlock the previously unyielding Adelaide defence. Bridge’s flicked pass to Alex Brosque, on the edge of the penalty area, is deftly nodded back into his path to dispatch past the Adelaide keeper; a goal that would have graced any league in the world. Regrettably, I’m engaged in a flowing movement of my own while it all takes place. 

As I leave the stadium at the end of the match, I notice a large billboard advertising Foxtel’s sports package, which includes live coverage of every A-League match. I’ve already contributed enough to Murdoch’s empire for one day, but am pleased that Australian football (football!) is being shown somewhere. Maybe a bit of over-exposure will do it some good.

Aug
15

One of the most surprising features of Australian society I have found is the multitude of rules designed to regulate all aspects of daily life. Don’t eat on the train. Don’t drink on the bus. Don’t be lured into eating on the train and drinking on the bus by the food and beverage vending machines strategically placed on train platforms and at bus stations. Don’t do this. Definitely, don’t do that. Put that down. Don’t touch those. I thought these cats were supposed to be laid back?

A ten minute drive on any freeway will provide you with enough neon roadside reading material to make any collection of audio books utterly redundant. There are signs warning you against all manner of reckless behaviour. Don’t speed while under the influence of Vegemite. Don’t try to re-tune your radio whilst opening a beer with your teeth. Don’t use your mobile phone when driving, but text or call this number to find out how much you’ve just been fined for cruising over the Harbour Bridge without a toll pass, ignorant tourist scum. Most importantly, stop reading all these signs and look at the Ute full of scaffolding poles you’re about to mow into the back of. Mate.

Elsewhere, if you are planning to travel on a shopping centre escalator, you should be prepared to study a forty page manual on the perils of electrified staircase hoonery. And under no circumstances leave a large marsupial unsecured (apparently there was a record released to raise national awareness of this issue). Thankfully, I’ve only seen two policemen since I’ve been here, so the chances of these rules actually being enforced are slim. Personally, I try to live my life by three simple rules:

Rule 1: Don’t get high on your own supply – thus far, this directive has been confined to preventing any over-indulgent enjoyment of my own brand of methane, but if I ever become a drug baron this rule will come in handy.

Rule 2: Don’t go into the countryside – it’s filthy, dangerous and smells of dung. Prissy indoor types should avoid it at all costs or face getting pig manure in their plimsolls and chicken piss on their drainpipes.

Rule 3: Always match your shoes and belt – another reason to stay out of the countryside if you don’t own many brown belts.

Since moving to Australia it has been impossible to adhere to the second commandment, as for the first three weeks we were put up by Sarah’s parents in rural town of South Maroota (by “town” I mean “road cutting through some farmland and forests, which leads to another road which cuts through more farms and trees. Occasionally you’ll see a house, but it will invariably look like it’s a serial killer’s lair, primarily used for the discreet dicing of teenagers”).They generously surrendered a room in their home and didn’t grumble when their jobless guests cranked up the heating, put a large dent in their supplies of beer and wine, and sorted all the items in their larder into alphabetical order in a fit of boredom. They even coped admirably when Sarah permanently deleted all the files from their home computer.

Farmer DaveIn return, they simply asked that we occasionally helped out with chores around their hobby farm. This mostly involved feeding rotten cauliflowers to their small herd of noisy flatulent cows. Initially, I tackled this job by squeamishly shot putting the decaying vegetables into the cows’ paddock from a suitably cautious distance. My anxiety around the cows was based on the knowledge that more people are killed by cows per annum than by sharks. Cows just haven’t had the benefit of a Speilberg blockbuster makeover to market their latent menace to the world (“We’re gonna need a bigger insemination pump”, that kind of thing). Eventually, I mustered the courage to mince and squeal my way through the minefield of cowpats to a rusted iron cattle feeder where they could access their stinking meal more easily. In time I grew accustomed to the clumsy blue-tongued idiots and the grim knowledge that my new bovine chums would end up as frozen lasagne or envelope adhesive was nearly enough for me to accidentally leave a gate open and liberate them from a life of cauliflowers, hay and slaughter. As is often the case, Sarah was the voice of reason, reminding me that a freed cow would merely crap on her parents’ lawn and amble out in front of a school bus. She also pointed out that her dad owned both an axe and a shotgun and whilst he had handled the destruction of his computer with a benign grimace, the recycling of his gladioli and a charge of culpable manslaughter might cause a mild sense of humour failure.

During this time, a weekend trip to Sarah’s sister’s farm was organised. The farm is located in Merriwa (home of the Festival of the Fleeces); a shire so remote that it made South Maroota seem like a bustling metropolis. The faraway location at least nullified my mobile phone coverage, meaning that an otherwise pleasant weekend couldn’t be ruined by news of England’s implosion at Headingly or Swindon’s clownish spanking at the hands of Gillingham. Gillingham!

Our journey there was punctuated by two stops. The first was at a roadside café that boasted an adjoining pub – a

Wetherspoons takes New South Wales by storm

Wetherspoons takes New South Wales by storm

dusty wooden hut that looked like it would struggle to withstand a fart from one of the bikers scoffing fried egg sandwiches in the car park. The building was empty, apart from a wobbly picnic table, orange plastic chair and a tin bucket. I’ve been to worse pubs though – most of the drinking establishments in Clapham, for example. The second stop was at a supplier of veterinary products, where Sarah’s father procured a large box of rubber gloves and a two litre plastic bottle of lubricant. What kind of a weekend was this? He dropped both items onto my lap, announcing, “You’ll be needing these when you check the pregnant cows”. I quickly pointed out that he had as much chance of getting a calf out of me as he had of convincing me to stick my arm up anything fleshier than a sock puppet. He must have caught wind of my plot to free his livestock.

It had been suggested in advance of our arrival in Merriwa that I assist in the building of a barn. Utter insanity. I’ve seen the film ‘Witness’ at least three times and, the scene with Kelly McGillis aside, it looked like a wholly miserable experience – some people even end up getting shot, Mercifully, after a brief inspection of my bootlace arms and keyboard-softened hands, it was sensibly agreed that my involvement would severely hinder progress. Instead, I was left back at the farmhouse to play with the other children; there I would theoretically be less likely to saw off a limb or nail myself to a duck. This, I thought, overestimated my childcare skills a touch but did mean that I got to spend the day playing cricket in the garden. This was preferable to heaving timber support poles into position and revealing myself as an incurable townie by attempting to use the wrong type of crosshair screw. Duh!

Whilst this brush with the countryside is unlikely to lead me to consider a future in livestock husbandry, the experience has served to remind me of the valuable job performed by agriculturalists. If it weren’t for these people getting up masochistically early and spending the majority of their working week up to their armpits in fertilizer and afterbirth, many of the things we take for granted would vanish. Imagine a world without Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, beef flavour Monster Munch or strawberry cheesecake. Without farmers, who would shoot wayward ramblers in the spine or mutter darkly at strangers buying lager in village pubs? I actively encourage everyone to hold their noses, tuck their trousers into their socks, and spend some time in the great outdoors. In fact, someone should create a rule to make it compulsory.

Jul
31

It’s a little known fact that there are lots of big and vicious spiders in Australia. You’d have thought someone would have mentioned it to me before I moved here, seeing as I’m an incurable arachnophobe. It’s as if people just expected me to know this piece of ‘well-known’ information. It’s come as a bit of a blow. At least there aren’t any crocodiles and sharks here, I suppose.

For an animal that relies on stealth to hunt its prey, the Huntsman spider is ridiculously large. That a spider the size of a Citroen Saxo can survive seems to defy the rules of logic. Presumably it doesn’t employ intricate webs to catch insects and prefers to simply stamp on them with a massive heel or swat them with a rolled up copy of the Sydney Morning Herald (weekend edition).

Although the Huntsman is unlikely to ever attack you, the mere sight of one casually strolling through your kitchen sipping coffee from your favourite mug and making small talk about “them Rabbitohs”  is enough to shave a good decade off your life expectancy. My partner claims to have once been forced off her parents’ driveway by a Huntsman determinedly stomping towards her with a bee in its mouth. If I had seen that I would have required several years of therapy and spent the rest of my days nervously twitching from the confines of a custom-made oxygen bubble.

At least the Huntsman won’t lurk inside your footwear. It would be utterly pointless. Even its tiny spider brain has worked out that squeezing into a pair of tight-fitting shoes is no kind of hiding place. Far more unpleasant are the infamous Red Back and Funnel Web spiders. They will happily claim your trainers as their home and won’t hesitate to sink their venomous fangs into your big toe if they mistake it for a baldy pink bailiff. Although their bite will cause searing pain, heart palpatations and nausea, their venom is rarely lethal and is usually only life-threatening to the elderly and the young. Lets face it, if humans were equipped with a venom sack there would be carnage. On hungover Sunday trips to the local convenience store, who amongst us could resist injecting their deadly poison into the bloodstream of the psychotic infant screaming a puke-inducing tantrum in the confectionery aisle or the pensioner tediously counting out individual coins of long defunct denominations? Not me, I love all of God’s children; what are you, some kind of alcoholic misanthrope?

The White Tail spider’s bite won’t kill you either, but it will ulcerate and leave you with a wound that looks like its been made by a misfired harpoon gun. If you’re curious to see what the inside of your foot looks like, stand next to a White Tail and talk loudly about equal rights for insects and your campaigning work to outlaw flypaper (spiders are very right wing and won’t stand for any of this pinko pro-insect nonsense). Before you know it you’ll have a foot that resembles an exploded corned beef hash and three weeks off work in front of the television. Don’t be shocked if I get bitten by a White Tail in the run up to the World Cup next June.

As well as invading your footwear, spiders will also dwell in your swimming pool and under the rim of your toilet seat. If you’re rich enough to have your own swimming pool you can probably afford to employ a team of sexy medics to be permanently on hand, clutching chilled vials of colourful anti-venom with paper umbrellas and slices of citrus fruit in the top. Spiders are more likely to live in your toilet if it’s outdoors, which is increasingly rare in modern Australia for anyone who isn’t either a troubled fecal exhibitionist or living in the 1940s.

Therefore, the best way to avoid being bitten by a spider is to a) do as the locals do and wear flip-flops, even though this may go against every sartorial fibre in your being, b) avoid accumulating the wealth to own your own swimming pool – if you prefer to doggy paddle at a public bath then deadly spiders are the least of your worries, and c) defecate where you stand, like a fetid two-legged cow. This is unlikely to improve your employment prospects or ingratiate you with the opposite sex, but you’ll be the one laughing in your crusty pantaloons when everyone else is hobbling around with swollen red feet the size of watermelons.

Don’t even get me started on snakes, the necky hate tubes.

Jul
26

When you make the decision to emigrate to Australia, there are certain things you have to accept you are going to miss. For me, these could largely be categorised as Family, Friends and Football. In addition, you have to deal with the prospect of life without Jeff Stelling, Peep Show, banks will foolishly generous overdraft facilities, beer served in imperial measurements, Stephen Fry,  Have I Got News for You, decent Indian restaurants, brown sauce and Bovril (granted, I haven’t tasted Bovril since attending a reserve match between Swindon Town and Leyton Orient in 1989, but I always knew that the option was available were I ever overcome with an unnatural urge for an offal-based beverage).

In the interests of avoiding any rose-tinted pining for dear old England,  it’s advisable to maintain a lengthy mental list of things you’re glad to see the back of. For example, I can’t envisage finding too much difficulty in adjusting to a future free of Anne Robinson,  Streatham High Road, Noel Edmonds, sleet, David Cameron, Jeremy Kyle, WKD adverts or The Daily Mail (although some of the Australian newspapers make it look like the Socialist Worker in comparison).

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you may never taste cow juice again, the first step to migrating is mastering the complex process for obtaining a visa. In my case, this was made easier by dint of an Australian partner. However, the imposing size of the application form is enough to strike fear into the  black biro of even the most hardened of inky-fingered bureaucrats. I spent several weeks cautiously eying it, as if it were an impractically large sandwich, perhaps one consisting of approximately six hundred slices of very thin white bread and no filling. Eventually, having grown tired of the application obscuring her view of the television and concerned that it may be blocking potential fire exits, my partner Sarah told me it was time to attack the form, quoting the ancient Australian maxim to “harden the f*** up and get on with it”.

Surprisingly, much of the application was relatively straightforward. Yes, I can provide details of all my foreign holidays in the last ten years; No, I haven’t ever been a member of a terrorist organisation (like I’d tell you anyway); Yes, I can give you a completely fictional and entirely exaggerated estimate of the amount of money I will be bringing with me; and no, I am not planning to destroy Australia’s delicate eco-system by smuggling in a toad that preys on kangaroos or a rare form of koala-dissolving moss.

One section of the application requires you to submit a statement detailing how you support your spouse “emotionally, financially and physically“. This conjured up images of clammy-palmed immigration officials sat hunched in a dimly lit basement office, squinting at reams of fiscal erotica. However, they seem satisfied with the dry two hundred words I submitted that simply detailed how we pay the gas bill and share responsibilities for mowing the lawn (I can only assume the sweaty perverts read this as some kind of vile euphemism). I was then required to attend a medical, designed to establish whether I was of sound body and mind to move down under. I did briefly consider drinking eight cans of lager in preparation, but quickly dismissed this as exactly the kind of idle xenophobia that Australians are well known for frowning upon.

I learned a lot from the medical. Firstly, I learned that I am ten kilograms overweight, which wasn’t entirely unpredictable. Secondly, I found out that the funnel system has been introduced in order to prevent any unnecessary spillage when providing a urine sample, although my vocal approval of this was undermined slightly by the doctor informing me flatly that “it’s actually more for female patients”. Thirdly, I discovered that I have “excellent urine that could be bottled” – good job the funnel caught all its precious yellow goodness. My beaming pride at this revelation was short-lived, because the final lesson I learned was that if you are going to a medical and providing a urine sample in the surgery, ensure that you either shake well or refrain from wearing light grey pants. This will help to avoid embarrassment when you are then asked to strip down to your underwear and reveal a small, dark, Africa-shaped patch of what is unmistakably piss – superior quality though it may be. Thankfully, the doctor assessed this to be an innocent act of unhygienic clumsiness rather than the act of an anarchistic loose-bladdered lunatic and a month later I received an email informing me that my application had been successful.

Seven months later, after numerous emotional farewells with friends and family, we boarded the Korean Air plane to Sydney – the cheapest flight money could buy. Twenty cramped hours sandwiched between a fat snoring man and a burping elderly woman (not Sarah, I hasten to add – we were seated at opposite ends of the plane) . We arrived at Kingston Smith Airport at 6.30am to a heavy rainstorm and chilly conditions – a novelty to see your breath in July –  we quickly grasped that it would be a while before we had to unpack the flip-flops. We were both tired and grubby but happy to have made it and looking forward to starting our new life. A life without Bovril.