Lost in a Hardware Store

Poets do not belong in hardware stores. At least, this one doesn’t. I approach every visit with the sort of apprehension a normal person might reserve for a shark-infested pool. There are few places in which I would feel less comfortable – an aerobics class perhaps, the front bar of the Coober Pedy hotel probably, the changing room at a football venue most definitely.

There is a hardware retailer near my house that calls itself a ‘mega store’. Everything about it is ‘mega’. Not large, not big, but ‘mega’. It even has a ‘mega café’ (although, oddly enough, I couldn’t find it). I might be exaggerating a little, but the store is so big you could comfortably fit a Jumbo 747 in there, with room for a few double-decker buses and an elephant or two. Why do these places need to be so big! As if they aren’t already intimidating enough with their drills, nail guns and chainsaws.

Anyway, I was in the middle of a much-avoided home improvement scheme. I drew up a shopping list and, expecting a long arduous visit, packed a flask of water, some food and a compass. What I didn’t have, and desperately needed, was a map to the store. The shelves were so high it was impossible to get my bearings, as though I were trapped in a jungle or rocky canyon. The folks that run these places might like to think about installing a few lookouts, or at least employ guides (and even a couple of donkeys).

After ten minutes of aimless wandering, I found myself in a ‘secret wing’ of the building that smelled like horse manure and contained rows and rows of giant pots and enormous bags of fertiliser. I found a troll-like woman under a concrete mushroom who kindly gave me directions to the paint department. After mopping the sweat from my brow, and taking a sip of water, I was off again.

An average supermarket could have fit into the paint department – it was huge. My head was soon dizzy with choice – low sheen, textured, semi gloss, oil-based semi-gloss, low sheen textured semi-gloss, hi sheen super-gloss super-textured. I was still staring at one of these walls of paint when a shop assistant approached me. She had the same nuggetty-build as the troll woman I’d found earlier and spoke with a similar gruff, earthy rumble. After admitting my ignorance, she fired off a series of baffling questions, to which I gave equally baffling replies. Somehow, she was able to determine what I needed, and after referring to various charts and codes, presented me with a tin of paint.

Before leaving the paint section I grabbed a stack of those intriguing colour charts. I’ve always found them fascinating. Somewhere on the planet a poet or two are being held hostage by paint companies and ordered to come up with interesting names for paint colours. Who else but a poet could come up with colour names such as ‘Pomp’, ‘Sourdough’, ‘Speedboat’ and ‘Donkey’?

I found my next stop – the plumbing section – by mistake. One minute I was looking at brushes, the next I was in a section labelled ‘screwed brassware’. Amazingly, I found what I was looking for – a roll of plumber’s tape – without having to ask anyone. Although it did involve browsing though several aisles of solvents, pipes, saddles, brackets and copper capillary fittings.

The nail and screw section featured helpful signage obviously aimed at hardware-dodos like me. By answering a series of simple questions I could determine the sort of fastener I needed. Was I nailing or screwing into plasterboard, chipboard, timber, treated pine? Was I erecting a bookshelf or a pergola? These and other questions helped narrow the choice down to just a hundred or so fasteners!

Before heading to the checkout, I spent a few minutes wandering around the tool section. It really is a torturer’s paradise! There are tools to cut, smash, bend, penetrate and destroy every possible type of material. I was tempted to buy something called a ‘wrecking bar’. It would certainly it would come in handy when fighting for a parking spot at the local shopping mall.

While much of my hardware experience explored unknown territory, the visit to the checkout was very, very familiar to me. It doesn’t really matter what you buy – sausages, sandals or screwdrivers – the pain as the checkout operator runs your credit card through the card reader is the same.

‘See ya next time,’ guffawed the checkout chap with a goofy grin.

Next time? I didn’t count on coming back until the next home improvement scheme, which should be about halfway through the next decade.

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Art on your Sleeve


The cover of Roxy Music’s fourth album Country Life features two scantily clad models posing awkwardly before bright lights in front of a mass of shapeless foliage. One covers her breasts with her hands; the other holds a hand over her crotch. Apart from the band name, there is no other type on the cover. In the US, the album was sold in green shrink-wrap. Elsewhere, to protect potential buyers from the ‘shocking’ nature of the poses, the women were removed altogether, leaving just the foliage.

Incredibly, The Word magazine have recently declared this unremarkable album cover the ‘best ever’. In my opinion, it is not even the best Roxy Music cover. The Roxy Music ethos was never better packaged than by the cover of their self-titled debut – model Kari-Ann Moller in a portrait that recalled Playboy centerfolds of the 50s. The cover was a perfect wrapping for the band’s music – a future-retro blend of 50s rock and space age sounds.

The Word magazine’s other nominations for ‘best sleeve ever’ are less contentious, and include Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (one of my own favourites), Bjork’s Post and the cover of Lost Horizons by Lemon Jelly.

I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book or magazine proclaiming to feature the ‘best ever album covers’ without feeling disappointed. There are always important sleeves missing, or more often, inclusions that inspire ridicule rather than admiration. One volume recently released by a prestigious European publisher of art books manages to skip the post-punk period (in fact, most of the 80s) altogether, jumping from David Bowie and Led Zeppelin to Nirvana and Primal Scream – no Peter Saville, Neville Brody, Vaughan Oliver or Martyn Atkins.

Of course, it is much easier, and a lot more fun, finding bad album covers. The Zonicweb site features a Museum of Bad Album Covers where you can actually vote for your ‘favourite’ bad cover. Current stinkers include albums by Queen, Van Halen, Millie Jackson and the Scorpions, as well as this rather grotesque curio.

However, the best place on the net to view awful sleeve art is BizarreRecords.com. The covers are grouped in categories such as ‘Nice Ladies’, ‘Men of Faith’, ‘Dorks’ and ‘Sounds in Space’. You won’t find Roxy Music, Joy Division or Bjork here, but you’ll find albums by such memorable artists as The Singing Curry Family, The Ministers Quarter and site favourite Joyce.

And which album cover did The Word magazine deem to be the ‘worst sleeve ever’? It’s this shocker from Queen (also rated ‘highly’ at the Museum of Bad Album Covers), the cover to their late 80s effort The Miracle.


It’s really quite frightening, I reckon. As though someone tried to clone the individual band members, spilled the DNA samples into one dish by mistake, and ended up with just one hideous Queen monster. One can only assume that the monster, having been brought to life by a bolt of lightning and lashings of Bohemian Rhapsody, then ate the Art Director that designed this atrocity.

The Lord of the (Burger) Rings

The Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy was very popular in our house. Such was our obsession with all things Middle Earth that we began to take on some of the physical characteristics of its inhabitants. My eldest daughter, E, developed a Gollum-like cough, while I acquired hairy feet and a liking for tobacco. And my other daughter, L, bought a replica of Arwen’s pendant and began speaking in Elvish.

So when we decided on having a family celebration to ‘farewell’ E on her journey to Canberra, we thought a Lord Of The Rings marathon – a screening of the three movies back-to-back – would be an appropriate way to spend some of our last hours together. We decided on the ‘extended’ dvd versions of the films, rather than the cinema releases, which meant sitting through about 12 hours of television – the audio-visual equivalent of climbing Mount Kosciusko or crossing the Nullarbor Plain on bicycle.

Before commencing such an expedition we required provisions. A trip to the shop yielded several packets of microwave popcorn, ice cream, soft drink, chocolate, corn chips and an enormous bag of Burger Rings. Unwisely, as it turned out, the girls also organized pillows and blankets, transforming the sofas into long narrow beds. I was left to squeeze in between someone’s feet and the armrest, or squat on the floor.

Timing was crucial. With both E and myself working the following morning, we didn’t want to start much past midday. Unfortunately, L was delayed by other engagements, and we didn’t begin until closer to 1.00pm. The first hour passed happily, popcorn was munched and soft drink was sipped. We made it out of the Shire without much problem, but well before Rivendell we experienced our first casualty. Far too comfortable in her ‘bed sofa’, L had fallen into a deep sleep and could not be roused. E and I continued on through the mines of Moria, Lothlorien and down the Great River. By the time we reached Parth Galen, two packets of popcorn, a bottle of Creamy Soda and all the Burger Rings were gone.

We had a ten-minute break before recommencing our expedition. I tried to wake L but only succeeded in getting smacked in the face. Meanwhile, E opened the Sarsaparilla, fluffed her pillows and settled down for the journey across Rohan. By the time the first disc of ‘Two Towers’ had finished, both E and I were weakening. I was hunched uncomfortably on the floor but still managed to find my eyes closing in the latter part of the disc, and almost missed Gollum’s schizophrenic exchange in Ithilien.

It was now about 7.00pm. We’d planned a half-hour break for tea, so while I attended to pets, telephone messages and email, E prepared a nacho dinner. L had finally awakened from her slumber and was suddenly full of energy. The mobile phone came out, and she was off to her bedroom to chat to friends for most of the tea break.

We sat down just after 7.30pm with six hours of television to go. The day had almost disappeared and we were only halfway through our journey. The next two hours passed easily. The battle of Helm’s Deep still managed to thrill us all despite this being about the twelfth viewing. Another ten minute break at the end of ‘Two Towers’ enabled E to speed to the local service station for another giant packet of Burger Rings and more soft drink, the remainder of our supplies having been demolished along with the Deeping Wall.

The last leg of our journey started promisingly, everyone was sitting upright, with eyes open and minds alert. But as Sam and Frodo neared Shelob’s Lair, and Sauron’s legions approached Minas Tirith, the long day began to take its toll. There was a Sarsaparilla spill on one of the ‘bed sofas’, which caused a brief but heated exchange between L and myself; then an argument erupted over the remainder of the Burger Rings. As midnight approached, we were all a bit tired and battered.

I don’t know if any of us saw the entire final disc. Sam and Frodo’s ascent of Mount Doom seemed to take forever, and, of course, after the Ring was finally destroyed, there was the reunion, the coronation, and the Grey Havens. It was approaching 2.00am by the time I fell into bed; feeling as though I had traversed Middle Earth myself, not watched others do so from the safety of my lounge.

When I awoke the next morning, and stumbled about in preparation for work, I studied the remnants of our achievement – a pile of empty junk food containers, a row of soft drink bottles, and fragments of Burger Ring, mashed into the carpet.

Poetry Rocks

Of all the poetry I’ve written in the last ten years, the most popular, by far, is a series of poems inspired by pop music and musicians. I’ve had them published in quality overseas e-zines like Exquisite Corpse and the Danforth Review. I’ve had them included in anthologies, literary journals, fanzines and even an educational text.

After writing the first dozen or so, I realised that I’d actually stumbled on a good idea. Apart from the odd piece here and there, I’d never come across a lot of poetry about rock ‘n’ roll. A close friend of mine, Adrian Robinson, a writer and music fan, also saw the merits in a collection of pop music themed poetry, and together, we began working towards such a collection. Here is a small sample of our work thus far.

Poem for Nick Drake

you wake with the sun
as it bleeds through the windows

you play fragile guitar
and your voice murmurs
barely audible
above the sounds of the day

you wait for autumn
& the cold forest floor
to break your fall

you pray that the end
will go unnoticed

Adrian Robinson

Music For Icebergs
Another Green World, Brian Eno 1975

drifting in a dream-haze
mind empty, body drained
he cannot see his future
through the fog of self-doubt

the distant ripple of harp
trickles into the atmosphere
and the soft, grey music of rain
permeates, envelops, cushions

he touches upon possibility
brilliant shapes start to form in the ether
he imagines the sounds of moons and oceans
the songs of clouds, the conversations of icebergs

Graham Catt

Poem for Robert Forster

His role model is Joyce
you can tell by the pose
as if he’s just walked
off the streets making notes
for Finnegan’s Wake

Distinguished by his literary tastes
and admiration for Blonde on Blonde
the Dylan songbook imprimatur
is what keeps him going

Guitar resting on his knee
he is intimate with the light
combs his hair in the shadows

He taunts the crowd
with a story half told in song
about a man who walks
into a café with the word ‘regret’
written on his sleeve

Later in his study
he turns the pages of a European
classic, Thomas Mann or Satre,
Draws a secessionist nude.


Adrian Robinson

Lemon
U2, Las Vegas, 1997

icons fill screens
four-storeys high
a quartet of neon superheros

the Edge is a cowboy
astride a white guitar
shooting sparks into space

Adam and Larry
an artillery of rhythm
oozing macho and muscle

Bono punches the sky
elicits adoration
and a sea of stars

they imitate the divine
levitate above the crowd
in a giant mechanical lemon

Graham Catt

So keep an eye out for the collection in your local bookshop. Given our current rate of production we envisage completing the collection towards the end of the decade.

Copyright

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Best of Friends

If a television is on, and no one is watching it, I must turn it off. It is one of my ‘pet hates’.

Now, anyone who has teenage children will know that it is the job of the teenager to not only discover the things that annoy their parents the most, but to exploit that discovery to the full. During her last years at High School, and then at University, my eldest daughter developed a most infuriating study habit. Some people like to listen to music while they study. Others require complete silence. My daughter decided that she could only concentrate if the television was on. Music annoyed her. Other sounds distracted her. But the sound of sitcom laughter, fast food advertisements, and repetitive theme songs helped her relax and absorb texts on post-colonialism and feminist theory.

While she generally liked any television as a backdrop to her studies, my daughter favoured a handful of popular American shows – Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and most of all, Friends. We have episodes of Friends on dvd and prerecorded VHS, as well as a teetering pile of blank VHS tapes filled with Friends episodes taped over the last 10 years. In fact, as the show is popular with both of my daughters, and both have their own dvd/video collections, we have multiple copies of the same episodes. In our house you cannot sift through a pile of media without coming across an episode or two of Friends.

Anyway, back to my daughter’s annoying study habits. I initially tried to stop her from having the television on all day and all night. We argued. There were slammed doors and thrown books. But when it became obvious that she would not study without television, and therefore, fail her course, exam, assignment etc, I relented, and tried to adjust to a life of painful co-existence. I woke up on Sunday morning, and Friends would be on. It would be on while I ate lunch. It would be on during dinner and after dinner. Sometimes I complained. Most of the time I said nothing.

As the relationship with my daughter went through its ups-and-downs, my relationship with Friends also went through a series of changes. At first I couldn’t stand the show. I thought it just another in a long line of vapid American sitcoms, with its all-too-beautiful characters, painful laugh track and clichéd plot developments. Then I warmed to it. I grew to appreciate its Woody Allenesque neurotics, its clever writing and keenly-observed insights. And I fell in love with all the women. I loved Monica’s smile, Rachel’s hair and Phoebe’s laugh.

Then, as with all Friends who outstay their welcome, I grew utterly sick of them. I grew to hate the theme song. I grew to hate Ross’ whining and Chandler’s constant need to joke and mock. I wanted to grab Joey by the shoulders and scream: ‘You’re a terrible actor! Give up! Give up now!’ I wanted to make a mess in Monica’s kitchen. I wanted to grab Phoebe’s guitar and hurl it from the top of the nearest skyscraper.

And I became so critical and nasty. While my daughter sat at the computer typing up her latest essay, and Rachel and Ross went through yet another break up, I stood in the kitchen peeling carrots for dinner and muttering under my breath: ‘Why don’t you just strangle each other and be done with it! You idiots!’

My daughter finished her Uni degree in January and has since moved to Canberra, along with her share of the Friends collection. The house is mostly quiet now, and the television only goes on when someone is watching it. The exploits of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey are tumbling around in my memory along with all the other nonsense.

But sometimes, late at night, I’ll slip on an episode or two, catch up with the old gang, trapped in their Nietzschean universe, doomed to live the same life again and again, to make the same jokes forever. There is comfort in the idea of some things staying the same, while all else moves on.

And, if the atmosphere is just right, I imagine that if I look back over my shoulder, I would see my daughter sitting at the computer, one moment deep in thought, the next tapping madly at the keyboard, a Friends-induced smile on her face.

That Charming Man

I’ve been to a few concerts over the years, but I’ve never known pre-show excitement like that before the Morrissey concert in late 2002. It might have had something to do with the fact that this was his first appearance in South Australia, or it might have been that he was rumored to be performing songs from a new album, his first in 7 years. Whatever the case, the voice of a generation of indie kids was going to be on stage in a matter of minutes, and the audience was humming with anticipation.

Stupidly, I’d bought tickets in the seated area of Thebarton Theatre, which is located far from the stage. Morrissey was only halfway through his first song – ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’ – when I decided that this was no way to see one of my idols. I abandoned my seat and joined the throng at the front of the stage. Reviewers were subsequently critical of the idiosyncratic set list and sound quality, but I don’t think anyone minded at the time. And, at the concert’s end, as Morrissey sang ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, I would have waved my lighter too, if I’d had one, despite years of laughing at such people.

One of the pleasures of file-sharing is the ability to swap rare material – demos, live tracks, alternate versions – with other fans across the world. Among some of my ‘treasures’ are copies of some early Talking Heads demos, an Associates concert from 1980 and, amazingly, a copy of that 2002 Morrissey concert in Adelaide. The sound quality is so good it’s hard to believe that someone recorded it on equipment probably hidden in his or her jacket, or glued to the sole of their shoe. Every technical glitch and caustic comment is preserved in excellent condition. And, if you listen really hard, you can hear the moment when my knickers hit Morrissey in the face and he gags for just a second.

Morrissey has just finished putting the final touches to his latest album, ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’. It was recorded in Rome with legendary producer, Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T-Rex, Thin Lizzy), and has been described by Morrissey himself as ‘my most beautiful album’. I don’t expect that he has lost any of his acerbic wit, however, judging by the titles of some of the songs: ‘You Have Killed Me’; ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ and ‘The Father Who Must Be Killed’ which, according to Billboard magazine, ‘juxtaposes a murderous storyline with an ultra-poppy chorus’. ‘Ringleader’ will also feature string arrangements scored by Ennio Morricone and an Italian children’s choir.

For some ‘behind-the-scenes’ photos of the recording sessions and other information visit Tony Visconti’s website.

Meanwhile, I have been able to acquire a ‘preview’ of one of the songs from the album. The opening track, ‘I Will See You In Far Off Places’ is available to download from the ‘Soundtrack’ page of Graham Catt’s website. It will only be available for a short time, so please be quick. The file is about 8mb in size, so dial-up users will need to be patient.

‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ is due for release in the UK on April 3rd, while the first single from the album, ‘You Have Killed Me’ will be released on March 20th.

Let’s hope an Australian release date is not far behind.

Submission Guidelines for a Fictitious Literary Journal

  • Please only send one short story and up to three poems; or two short stories and up to two poems; or three short stories, a haiku and a bowl of cherries.
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  • Calculate the number of pages, words, characters, metaphors and similes in your submission. Divide the total by seven, and write the answer on a slip of pink paper in yellow ink. Deposit the slip of pink paper into your mouth and chew vigorously for several minutes. Place the wad of chewed paper into a small plastic bag and mail it to us in a separate envelope marked CP.
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