A Personal Selection (The Post-Punk Thing, Part 3)

To round off my series of articles about the post-punk era I thought I’d offer a list of my favourite post-punk and ‘new pop’ records. This is in no way an attempt at a ‘best of’ or definitive list of the period, but rather a personal reflection on the albums that made an impact on me at the time.

I’ve used Simon Reynolds’ book, Rip It Up And Start Again as a general guide in defining the post-punk/new pop period as 1978-1984, but (like Reynolds) I’ve strayed into 1985 so that I can include Scritti Politti’s second lp.

The B52s – The B52s

The first B52s album made its appearance in late 1979 when there was still a section in the local record store called ‘new wave’. The bright yellow cover still stood out among all the other retro, day-glo colours adorning the sleeves of the time. Attracted by the silliness of titles such as Planet Claire and Rock Lobster my best friend and I stood in the store and giggled over the lyric sheet.

Inspired verse: ‘Why won’t you dance with me, I ain’t no limburger?’
Recommended listening: 52 Girls

The Cure – Seventeen Seconds

This reminds me of the winter in 1980, my last year of high school. Walking the cold, wet streets at night when I should have been at home studying. I loved the watery guitar and the blurred, wintry cover. I liked the record so much that I designed a special Seventeen Seconds record label (cringe) and stuck it over the horrible Stunn Records logo.

Inspired verse: ‘I’m running towards nothing, again and again and again.’
Recommended listening: Play For Today

Joy Division – Closer

The Joy Division albums weren’t released locally until 1981, but we’d seen them in the city’s import record stores and fondled the beautiful covers lovingly. When I finally got to hear Closer I didn’t know what to make of it. The sounds were strange and unearthly, not like pop music at all.

Inspired verse: ‘Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders.’
Recommended listening: Twenty Four Hours

Talking Heads – Remain In Light

My friends and I were fans of the minimalist Talking Heads guitar pop, and reacted with horror at the news the band had expanded to include additional musicians, and was playing disco music. I remember the mix of dread and excitement when I put Remain in Light for the first time. I rang my friend in a state of confusion ‘all I can hear is bass guitars’. Of course, I grew to love the record, even if it isn’t my favourite Heads record.

Inspired verse: ‘And you may say to yourself, MY GOD! WHAT HAVE I DONE?’
Recommended listening: Crosseyed And Painless

Echo & The Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here

We were a little behind the times here in Australia and missed a lot of stuff the first time around. I bought Wilder before Kilimanjaro, October before Boy, and Heaven Up Here before Crocodiles. Again, I’m sure the cover had something to do with me buying this album – a deep blue panorama of sea and sky. Luckily, the music was just as good. Like the cover, it was dark and moody, yet there was also a subtle optimism.

Inspired verse: ‘Set sail in those turquoise days.’
Recommended listening: Show Of Strength

The Birthday Party – Prayers On Fire

I was attracted by the band’s dark sense of humour and the chaotic music, which always sounded on the verge of collapse. Songs like Zoo Music Girl and Nick The Stripper were also great for scaring the neighbours. But I was far too cowardly to go and see The Birthday Party play live. I imagined Nick Cave leaping off the stage and kicking me in the head.

Inspired verse: ‘My heart is a fish toasted by flames.’
Recommended listening: King Ink

ABC – The Lexicon Of Love

My friends and I were still listening to dark guitar bands (Public Image, Comsat Angels, Psychedelic Furs, the Bunnymen, Siouxsie) when ‘new pop’ first appeared, so listening to the Human League, Depeche Mode and ABC was something of a ‘guilty pleasure’. Dare was great, but Lexicon was even better, with its inspired meld of Roxy Music and Chic. At heart we were all ‘pop kids’.

Inspired verse: ‘What I thought was fire was only the spark.’
Recommended listening: Tears Are Not Enough

Associates – Sulk

I’d liked The Affectionate Punch and, in particular Fourth Drawer Down, but Sulk was a revelation. The shimmering pop of Side Two (Party Fears Two, Club Country) was wonderful, but it was the more ‘difficult’ Side One I really loved. Songs like Bap De La Bap and Nude Spoons sounded like they came from another planet, or some strange sub-aquatic wonderland.

Inspired verse: ‘The alcohol loves you while turning you blue.’
Recommended listening: No

Simple Minds – New Gold Dream

When Simple Minds toured in 1981 they attracted interest but not crowds. When they visited a year later, after the success of Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize, they played to a packed house. Filled with images of summer, gold and glitter, the album seemed to radiate warmth and wonderment.

Inspired verse: ‘Everything is possible.’
Recommended listening: Hunter And The Hunted

The Smiths – The Smiths

The Smiths’ second single, This Charming Man, made an immediate impression on me. The music itself was pleasant enough, a sort of jangly rockabilly, but it was the voice that grabbed my attention. And what were words like ‘handsome’, ‘charming’ and ‘miserable’ doing in a pop song? My mother was in the UK at the time, so I got her to bring back a copy of the new Smiths album, to the amusement of my relatives (‘He’s the one with the flowers!’)

Inspired verse: ‘Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.’
Recommended listening: I Don’t Owe You Anything

Scritti Politti – Cupid And Psyche 85

By 1985, my friends and I were making our own music using synthesizers and drum machines. Cupid And Psyche was the ultimate electronic pop album, filled with bubbling sequenced keyboards and imaginative rhythm tracks. We must have played it continuously for months.

Inspired verse: ‘Each time I go to bed I pray like Aretha Franklin.’
Recommended listening: Perfect Way


Jindabyne – a Review

‘Jindabyne’ is a new movie by Ray Lawrence, the acclaimed director of ‘Lantana’ and ‘Bliss’. The story of a group of men who discover the body of a murdered woman while on a fishing trip has been adapted from a short story by Raymond Carver.

The story, ‘So Much Water So Close To Home’, has been used in film before. The 1993 Robert Altman movie ‘Short Cuts’ featured an adaptation of this story. But on that occasion it was only one of a dozen or so Carver stories included in the movie, with its large cast and multiple interwoven storylines.

By devoting an entire movie to the story Lawrence is able to take his time developing themes and ideas. There are observations on parenthood, grief, love, spirituality, male-female dynamics, amongst others. And by making the murdered woman an indigenous Australian, the film is able to explore cultural differences, prejudice, and reconciliation. There is actually too much going on, and one of the faults of the film is its inability to tie everything up satisfactorily.

The two lead actors, Gabriel Byrne, an Irishman, and Laura Linney, an American, blend in well with the cast of Australian actors that populate the small Snowy Mountains town of Jindabyne. They play Stewart and Claire, a husband and wife already battling to hold together a fragile marriage. Stewart’s discovery of the body, and his subsequent actions push them both to breaking point. Byrne, in particular, excels as a man grappling with feelings of guilt and denial.

Of the Australians, Deborra-lee Furness stands out as Jude, the wife of one of the fishermen, struggling to mask her own doubts and vulnerabilities, while John Howard offers stoic support as her husband, Carl. Other familiar faces include Chris Haywood, Charles Tingwell (in a brief cameo) and Max Cullen.

Haywood’s role as the girl’s killer is one of the film’s major mis-steps. By not only identifying the killer, but also getting him to interact with Claire, Lawrence creates an unnecessary distraction. On a couple of occasions you feel the film is almost about to morph into a Hitchcock thriller.

For me, the other mistake is the sub-plot involving Stewart and Claire’s son, Tom (Sean Rees-Wemyss), and Jude’s difficult granddaughter, Caylin-Calandria (Eva Lazzero). The moments spent with the children are among the weakest in the film.

But there are many more effective moments to offset these, including some fine scenes with Byrne and Linney. The other ‘star’ of the show is the Snowy Mountains landscape. Ray Lawrence is particularly skilled at using landscape as a tool, often to illustrate or accentuate the feelings of his characters.

The film ends with a reconciliation of sorts as the major characters gather with the indigenous people to mourn the death of the young woman. Given the prejudice shown by some of the townspeople, such a development seems unlikely, however, it does give the film some sense of closure.

‘Jindabyne’ is not a complete success, and those thrilled by ‘Lantana’ are likely to be disappointed. But it is a beautiful looking film containing many fine performances, and a welcome addition to the current crop of quality Australian films.

White Bread Black Beer – a Review

In some ways, Green Gartside, the man behind Scritti Politti, has come full circle. The original Scritti formed in the aftermath of punk, and inspired by the DIY ethos of the time, produced and released their earliest recordings, eventually seeking distribution through the Rough Trade label. Nearly thirty years later, and Scritti is back at Rough Trade, with this latest album, recorded and produced at Gartside’s home in East London. The music, however, is as far from those difficult post-punk meanderings as could be imagined.

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is Scritti’s most diverse album yet, a rich smorgasbord of sounds, from squelchy dub reggae to Beatlesque electro-folk. Opening track, and first single, ‘The Boom Boom Bap’, is Green’s ode to hip hop. It begins with his unmistakable falsetto whispered sweetly over tinkling keyboards. The music builds over a series of verses, before finishing as it began, with a whisper – ‘I love you still… I always will.’

‘Snow in Sun’ features rhythm guitar and toy-like chime sounds. It’s almost reminiscent of Andy Partridge’s songwriting in mood and sentiment.

…And you will never be without me
You will never need to doubt me
There’ll be something good about me soon
Like sun in the city snow
Like snow in the city sun.

But, like most of the songs on the album, ‘Snow in Sun’ doesn’t conform to the usual verse-chorus-verse structure. After a reprise of the opening vocal section, the song segues into an electro-funk fadeout.

Album centrepiece ‘Dr Abernathy’ (a descendent of the Beatles’ ‘Dr Robert’) is another example of Green’s playful approach to song structure on ‘White Bread’. It begins and ends with gently strummed guitar and sweet harmonies, but in between is a stomping rock song, complete with crunching riffs (and whistling!).

‘Mrs. Hughes’ opens with Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies, proceeds with some melancholy guitar and McCartney-esque moments, before concluding with a funky coda, over which Green confesses – ‘I’ve been a bad bad man, done some very wicked thing, oh baby, been a bad bad man.’

‘Throw’ and ‘E Eleventh Nuts’ are reggae-tinged pop tunes, while ‘Locked’ (apparently written for Kylie Minogue) is a shimmering love ballad.

Darling I will keep you with me
In ribbons and in bows
In ways you’ll never show…
…a game that only you and I can know,
I’ll turn and lock the door – and you’ll be there…

One of the highlights is closing track ‘Robin Hood’. If it wasn’t for the squelchy electronic rhythms you’d swear it was an summer hit from the early 70s, complete with ‘ba-ba-ba’s and ‘woo-hoo’s.

I been longing too long a time
I dream of ending these dreams
Of mine, of hope, for love for evermore
Just to, adore and be adored, the need for someone new

‘White Bread Black Beer’ is probably Scritti’s most intimate and straightforward album. There are no references to Derrida or Marxism, no guest rappers or trumpet players. It’s just Gartside and his songs. After three decades in the music business – from post-punk to new pop to hip hop – Green Gartside seems relaxed and comfortable and quite happy doing whatever comes to him.

It sounds like a pretty good place to be.

Michael Kingsbury – Guest Poet

This month I am delighted to introduce the strange and wonderful poetry of Michael Kingsbury.

Michael’s writing has been published in the Friendly Street Readers, Vernacular and other publications. He performed at Onkaparinga’s Poetry Unhinged Festival in 2005, as well as other venues and events in South Australia. Michael is currently involved with the Tutti Ensemble, a theatre group of variously abled actors, which has provided him an ideal platform for the idiosyncratic nature of his poetry, which is meant to be spoken, embodied, performed, growled, crooned, and chanted.

The Minotaur takes a
cigarette break

And the Minotaur takes a cigarette break
And all christs get down from their crosses
And the prophets take five
And sit around playing dominoes
And stare
Slightly puzzled
At the indigo Hills
And remember they were supposed to be doing
But can’t quite remember what
And after that they chew olives
And drink Chianti till sunset
Whereupon they all get laid in the orchard.

And after that you know what
things got really messed up
And the crusades never even got started
And they wrote a book about that
And there wasn’t much to say
And they stuck it in the Baghdad library
Because the crusades never destroyed it in 1095
And the end of all that
Was the museum of natural history
Was a history of all the things
The Christians didn’t do
And the twin towers never even got built.

* The title references a work of fantasy fiction by Steven Sherill

Published in Friendly Street Poets 30


In the shopping mall
A businessman
is riding
A fat brass pig

A pigeon eats steak off the pavement

everyone has forgotten what to do

A woman in a suit wails to be fed

The mayor skewers
five cent cans into a hessian bag
with the spoke from a bicycle

Anti peace protestors march to
the steps of parliament house

All white people live in the park

Parking inspectors give themselves tickets
everytime they step in a crack

Pensioners are paid to play poker machines

The Premier lives in a tree

Published Friendly Street Poets 29

Burning man Project

My hands are a bundle of sticks tied up with rags.
My feet are made of old tires.
My face burns ceaselessly,
One hundred years.
My tendons crack and ping,
Piano wire from the wings of a World War Two Spitfire
My voice creaks and roars
I frighten crows and starlings, wet myself with fuel oil
And Kerosene, weep field mice and human blood
As I am crucified with the
string and sealing wax of governments
I call out to mama
I am Lazarus with a plan
I will walk my cross to the sea
With the electric impression of Mahatma Gandhi
And make salt from a thousand tears.

Performed as part of The Tutti Ensemble’s
Musical Theatre project “Mouth Music”
Higher Ground, Adelaide 2006


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Sweaty Brows and Sticky Floors

On Sunday night I joined the crush of music fans assembled to see New York art-punk trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Governer Hindmarsh hotel. I arrived late, but still managed to see most of the support band’s long set. Sydney’s Van She (what a horrible name!) are an Interpol/Bravery/Cut Copy hybrid playing radio-friendly rock songs. Unfortunately, the songs themselves were pretty dull, although it was refreshing to see a live band featuring a synthesizer so prominently in the mix.

Somehow, during the break, I found myself surrounded by some of the tallest people in Adelaide. I’d had a good view of Van She, but suddenly couldn’t see the stage at all. It was too late (and far too crowded) to move, so I had to make the best of things. By tilting my head to the side and leaning back slightly, I could just see the front of the stage as Karen O and the guys bounced into view. Karen was wearing a multi-coloured leotard and scarves of tinsel, and her face was decorated with ‘warpaint’. She gave a throat-shredding yowl and they were off…

The band was loud and fast and tight, ripping through razor-sharp versions of ‘Y Control’, ‘Black Tongue’ and ‘Man’. There were plenty of songs from ‘Show Your Bones’ too, although these tended to vary in quality. Some of the heavier tunes like ‘Phenomena’ and ‘Honeybear’ suited an abrasive live approach. But the band struggled when a lighter touch was required. ‘Gold Lion’ started tentatively, while ‘Turn Into’ was a bit of a mess. Even Karen O seemed to struggle when required to sing rather than scream.

It was a very physical performance – Karen O skipped and bounded across the stage like a crazed marionette, a mad grin on her paint-smeared face. Nick writhed and shuddered like a guitarist possessed, while Brian attacked the drums with an effortless precision. For some of the set a fourth musician joined them, lending additional guitar and keyboards to the newer songs.

The show was over too soon – only a dozen or so songs – and we were ejected, blinking and sweaty, out into the drizzling rain. My ears were still ringing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs when I got home.

I went back to the Gov to see Death Cab For Cutie on Monday night. Surprisingly, it was even more crowded than the previous night. Unlike the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which seemed to attract a lot of young females, the audience for Death Cab was dominated by serious-looking twenty-something-year-old boys. I found myself in the midst of a group of boys who looked so similar they might have been members of a club. (Maybe they were!) All of them wore the same disheveled coconut hairstyle and brown vinyl jackets. They were also all very tall and positioned themselves in front of me like a wall. Once again, I was left to view the band by looking over shoulders, under arms, around big shaggy heads.

Death Cab opened with ‘Different Names For The Same Thing’, which started quietly with just Ben on keyboards and Chris adding guitar effects. Then, as the song progressed, drummer, Jason, and bass player, Nicholas, joined them. The band then moved swiftly through a polished set of songs, which featured generous slabs of their last two albums. Highlights included a moving rendition of ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’, which got most of the crowd singing along, and an extended, extra percussive version of ‘We Looked Like Giants’.

Hardcore fans expecting a lot of older material would have been disappointed, as these were few and far between (only two or three songs at most). But given the cheers greeting songs like ‘The New Year’ and ‘Marching Bands Of Manhattan’, I can only assume that few would have been unhappy. Otherwise, there was little to complain about. The sound was pretty good, the performances energetic and the atmosphere warm (actually too warm) and welcoming.

So how did I feel after two nights of rock ‘n’ roll at the Gov? Exhausted? Bored? Apart from the fact that couldn’t see anything for most of the time (I need to grow a few inches or wear platforms) I had a good time. Although it was a relief to get out into the fresh, clean, unsweaty air, and to walk on a surface to which my shoes did not stick.

A Procrastinator’s Guide to Time-Wasting

Why write that epic novel, hit screenplay or award-winning poem when you can spend your valuable time in a far more creative and rewarding fashion? After all, you’ve got your whole life to write! The opportunity to daydream, doodle and dilly-dally is here and now!

Here are some time-wasting tips from one of the country’s champion procrastinators (i.e. me).

1) The Collection

Start collecting something – dolls, books, antique clocks, records, gemstones, whatever – and you will never need to worry about wasting time ever again. Hours, days, months will pass as you search, sift and scavenge for your chosen collectable. Arrange them, clean them, catalogue them, and display them. The time-wasting potential is endless!

2) The Kitchen

Have you ever noticed how you suddenly feel hungry when you sit down to write? If you plan your day properly you can ensure as little time as possible is spent at the writing desk. Stop for an early morning snack at 9.30am, a mid-morning tea at 11.00am, and lunch at noon. With another three breaks during the afternoon you should be able to fill out your day nicely.

To make the most of these breaks make sure you choose to eat something that takes a while to prepare. If you put the kettle on, make sure you wait and watch it boil. If you toast something in the grill, make sure you check it every 30 seconds or so. And, of course, clean up afterwards!

3) The Vacuum Cleaner

Some people (i.e. my mother) are able to turn housework into a full time job, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to do the same. Vacuum the entire house daily, iron the bed linen and the tea towels, scrub the bathroom floor on your hands and knees, dust the skirting boards, wash the windows, empty the little tray that collects crumbs underneath the toaster – the house is never really clean!

Extra-special time-wasting tip 1 – Try combining point (1) above with point (3) and you’re onto a real winner. Ornaments, antiques or ceramics might require regular attention, even a daily clean and polish!

4) The Computer

It might only be known to Bill Gates and a couple of his friends, but the real agenda of the computer is not to make life easier for us, but to waste our time. Perhaps the aim was to keep us busy while they make more and more money! Whatever! The serious time-waster is not concerned with conspiracy theories, but with how best to utilize the time-wasting potential of the home pc.

For starters, try buying and updating your peripherals as often as possible. And make sure you have everything – webcam, digital camera, mp3 player, mobile phone. That way you will maximize your installation problems, incompatibility issues, and software meltdowns. Instal lots of complex, RAM-hungry software; download recklessly and fill your hard-drive with junk. Believe me, you will soon be wasting more time than you thought possible.

Extra-special time-wasting tip 2 – Try combining point (1) above with point (4) and you’ve hit the time-wasting jackpot! Draw up an inventory of your collection in Microsoft Excel. Design display labels. Use the Internet to research your interest and expand your collection.

5) The Illness

Feeling tired? Got a headache? A runny nose? It’s hard to perform creatively when you’re not feeling 100%. So don’t bother trying. Curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and watch some heart-warming sitcom, or snuggle under the bedcovers in a Codeine-induced haze.

The best thing about this time-wasting alternative is the guilt-free aspect. No one will dare accuse you of being lazy if they learn you’ve been sick! The other bonus is the complete lack of effort involved. Just lie back and watch the hours roll by!

Use these ideas well and you should be able to delay your novel-writing or other creative project indefinitely. I’ve got the feeling you’re already well on the way to becoming a first-rate procrastinator. After all, the fact that you’ve just read this article means you’ve got some time-wasting talent!

North By North West – a Review (The Post-Punk Thing, Part 2)

When bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash toured during the zenith of the punk phenomenon in the mid 70s they left a trail of inspired youth in their wake. The Sex Pistols effect on the music scene of Manchester has been well documented, most recently in Michael Winterbottom’s ’24 Hour Party People’. It is said that two concerts by the band in mid 1976 effectively gave birth to the Manchester post punk scene that would eventually include The Fall, Magazine, Joy Division, The Smiths and others.

In nearby Liverpool, a concert by The Clash brought about a similar reaction, inspiring people like Ian Broudie, Bill Drummond, Julian Cope, Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch to start their own punk bands. More colorful and flamboyant than the dour Manchester scene, the Liverpool bands included Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, Big In Japan, Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and others.

A new collection compiled (appropriately) by former NME journalist, Paul Morley, celebrates these two centres of post punk activity. Spread over three cds, the collection, entitled ‘North By North West’, devotes one disc each to Manchester and Liverpool, while the ‘limited edition’ third disc contains a selection of tracks from both cities.

For those already familiar with the era, the Manchester disc might not hold too many surprises, with tracks like Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’, New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ and The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now’ having already been regularly anthologised. For me, the treats on this disc are ‘My Cherry Is In Sherry’ by Ludus and ‘Work’ by The Blue Orchids. Also of interest is the grim synth-laden ‘Fear’ by The Passage.

The Liverpool disc includes two Bunnymen tracks, The Teardrop Explodes, OMD and Frankie, but also lesser-known acts like The Pale Fountains (fronted by Shack’s Michael Head), Lori And The Chameleons and electro outfit Dalek I Love You, as well as a fabulous tune by Care, the ‘band’ formed by Ian Broudie and Paul Simpson (Wild Swans, Teardrop Explodes).

The third disc (‘Liverchest’) contains an assortment of curios and treasures – Section 25, Swamp Children, Pink Industry, Stockholm Monsters, China Crisis, along with Big In Japan’s signature tune, and a very early track by Manchester pop band, James. This disc probably contains the least essential music of the three, although in some ways, it’s also the most interesting. After all, it’s not often you get to hear Those Naughty Lumps (Cope, Drummond and co) sing something called ‘Iggy Pop’s Jacket’

The accompanying booklet is filled with Morley’s idiosyncratic (some would say annoyingly pretentious) ramblings, although among the nonsense is plenty of interesting anecdote and detail. This snippet about Zoo Records guru Bill Drummond is one of my favourites:

Drummond, who was like Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton and Martin Hannett in one, would tell Julian Cope that a good way to increase record sales was to kill himself. When he was questioned about the point of a Bunnymen tour of bizarre and apparently random sites, Drummond’s response was, ‘It’s not random, if you look at a map of the world, the whole tour’s in the shape of a rabbit’s ears.”

All in all, it’s a nicely compiled and well-presented package, celebrating a particularly fertile region of post punk UK. It’s also essential listening for anyone with an interest in the music of the era.

Corduroy & Cabbage 7 – Wildlife

As a child my passions included dinosaurs, cars, geography and outer space. I also loved reading about animals. All sorts of animals. At one point I planned putting together an encyclopedia of animal life, but became daunted by the task, and didn’t make it past the first page. My friend, Ashley, shared my interest in animals for a time, and joined me in expeditions to the nearby creek and fields in search of insects and reptiles.

One spring, a vacant block near Ashley’s house yielded a tremendous number of grasshoppers. We collected dozens of specimens, and took them back to Ashley’s house, where we placed them in various boxes and jars, along with the butterflies, crickets, bugs and praying mantis already on display.

There were so many grasshoppers that we ended up putting some of them in a large plastic boat we pretended was an ark. One of the grasshoppers was unusually large and, unlike the rest (which were green), a dusty brown. We called this grasshopper Captain Hoppy and kept it on the deck of the ark where it could navigate the ship around the room.

But the prize specimen in our ‘miniature zoo’ at that time was a tiny pale-skinned gecko. The gecko was given the most lavish ‘cage’ of all the creatures – a ‘fortress’ made of Lego. It even had a Dinky Toy car in the driveway, and submarine in the adjacent ‘harbour’. Ashley and I took turns in looking after the gecko.

One afternoon, not long after the grasshopper ‘harvest’, Ashley and I got into a fight over the gecko. One of us accused the other of hogging the gecko. Of course, this was denied, and the argument went back and forth until tempers flared and things got violent. A full-blown fight erupted and we ended up thrashing around on the floor like a couple of feral cats. Legs knocked over jars, heads and elbows crashed into boxes. We rolled right over the ark, splitting it in two, and freeing the grasshoppers trapped inside.

When Ashley’s mother came to find out what the noise was about she was greeted by a swarm of emancipated insects.

Ashley and I didn’t talk for a long time after this, even when the school finally announced the dates of an upcoming Pet Show. Before the fight we’d talked about the Show and had decided to work together in winning a prize or two. Now, we were likely to be intense rivals.

I knew that Ashley planned on entering his two stumpy-tailed skinks – Dino and Bronte. I also had stumpy-tailed skinks – a family of them – but decided to take only the biggest and most impressive of the group, a dark, sleek individual called (sarcastically) Speedy. On the day of the Pet Show, my dad helped me put Speedy into a box and carry the lizard to school. I filled out the necessary entry forms, found a spot in the display area, and stood proudly as parents and children filed past to look at my pet.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I didn’t stand much of a chance at winning a prize. There were guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, galahs – even a goat – along with the usual dogs and cats. And Raymond Jackson had bought along his cousin’s bearded dragon, a far more impressive and exotic reptile than mine.

Of course, Ashley was there. As expected, he’d brought along Dino and Bronte. I could see him out the corner of my eye, looking very awkward and uncomfortable. The reason for this, as I was delighted to discover, was that his sister had insisted on tying little bows around the lizards’ necks. She stood next to him, beaming, while her friends milled around them giggling and petting the lizards. Ashley looked like he was on the verge of strangling someone.

To my amazement, I won second place in the ‘Most Unusual Pet’ category. Anita Wood won first prize with her bantam hen, which was fair enough, but Ashley won nothing, and Raymond Jackson’s dragon didn’t even get a mention.

Ashley had left as soon as the winners were announced. I saw him storming off with his silly sister in tow, poor Dino and Bronte, still beribboned, bouncing around in their box.

It was a pity he left, actually, as he would have had the ‘last laugh’ as far as our short-lived rivalry was concerned. For when I went to collect my prize, I discovered that the judges had run out of ribbons, and I was given one that didn’t actually describe the prize I’d one.

My ribbon was pink and silver, and read – ‘The Prettiest Unusual Pet’.

Ashley’s sister would have loved it.

The Manhattan Fantasy

It must have something to do with watching too many New York-based sitcoms or Woody Allen movies when I was younger, but I’ve always fantasized about living in the middle of the city, close to shops restaurants, cinemas, theatres and so on. With young children, a mortgage and a job in the suburbs such a proposition remained a fantasy until only recently, when my eldest daughter moved out, and my other daughter left school. Other factors fell into place, and suddenly living close to the city became a possibility.

I now live within walking distance of the parklands, the East End and Rundle Mall. In less than five minutes I can drive to the Central Market or the cafes of Norwood or North Adelaide. This should be a ‘dream come true’, and I’m sure that once I settle in I will begin to enjoy some of these conveniences. But at the moment, to my disbelief, I find myself missing some things about life in the dreaded suburbs.

Firstly, there are the simple things like service stations, supermarkets, snack bars and takeaway food stores. In our previous life we had a cluster of such amenities at the bottom of our street. Service stations are so rare in our new suburb that I can only assume that the owners of all the BMWs and enormous SUVs I see around the place buy their petrol at some secret, private refueling station. And where do the locals buy their junk food? Or is it only the working class districts that are infested with KFCs, McDonalds and Red Roosters? I did actually find a ‘corner snack bar’ a few streets away, but it’s impossible to get anywhere near it. You cannot park outside the store and the adjoining streets are always filled with parked cars. It’s almost like a mirage. You can see it, but only from afar, you can’t actually touch it.

Car parking, and traffic in general, is the second thing noticeable about living near the city. It’s just as well we have off-street parking, because we would never find a park in our own street. Cars are parked outside of our house twenty-four hours a day, but I have no idea who they belong to. My parents visited the other day. It was in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday, but there were no free parking spaces near our house. They almost had to park in an adjoining street.

And I expected the traffic to be much heavier on local roads than the suburban equivalents, but I didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on our day-to-day life. As we live near several main roads and a couple of horrendous intersections, even the simplest trips need careful planning at certain times of the day. My daughter is so terrified of said intersections that she will drive well out of her way to avoid them, or leave the car at home and walk.

I’m really embarrassed by the third thing I miss about the suburbs, mainly because I ranted against them so convincingly for thirty-odd years. I miss the big, ugly, impersonal, suburban shopping mall. We lived within five minutes of three shopping malls in our previous house, and one of them was one of the biggest in the state. Yes, they are sterile and soulless, and they look exactly the same throughout the Western World. But they are also warm and dry, and everything is there under the one roof. In the old-fashioned shopping arrangement you have to trudge through wind and rain, criss-cross busy streets to find what you are looking for. And, once again, parking anywhere near such precincts can be a nightmare.

So there, I’ve said it. I miss the shopping mall. For me, that is a substantial confession.

Meanwhile, I’m ‘living the dream’ here in my inner city cottage. The city is on my doorstep. The funny thing is that since I’ve been living here I’ve only eaten out or gone to the cinema once. And I’ve not once been to the Central Market or the cafe strips of Norwood or North Adelaide.

If only I had the courage to go out the front door.