Corduroy & Cabbage 8 – Lost in Television

When my daughters were young I exercised strict control over their television watching habits. They weren’t allowed to watch tv in the morning. They weren’t allowed to watch too much tv. And they weren’t allowed to watch certain types of programs at all. (I wasn’t censoring content, but quality – no game shows, no crummy soaps or sitcoms.) This is all quite ironic when I consider my own tv watching habits as a child growing up in the 1970s. My sisters and I watched television from the moment we got home from school, to the moment we went to bed. And on weekends we used to watch it all day (if we could get away with it).

I was ‘hooked’ on tv from an early age, watching Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men in my high chair. I graduated to Top of the Pops pretty quickly, then Dr Who and Thunderbirds. I loved Dr Who so much that when our tv broke down I spent a few days sulking. I liked cartoons too – Secret Squirrel, Atom Ant, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Lippy the Lion and so on.

In the mid-70s the big day for cartoons was Saturday. I used to get up around 7.00am and sit there in my pyjamas until midday watching one Hanna-Barbera show after another – Wacky Races, Scooby Doo, Space Ghost, Herculoids, Hong Kong Phooey, The Hair Bear Bunch, Funky Phantom, Josie and the Pussycats etc. I spent the rest of the day feeling sleepy and spaced out (but that didn’t stop me from sitting down later that afternoon to watch the Banana Splits or Cattanooga Cats).

Sometimes, it seems, my grasp on reality slipped. I’d watched an episode of The Impossibles (superheros disguised as pop stars), which featured a machine that transformed illustrations of animals and monsters from books into living, three-dimensional beings. I asked my father to make one of these machines. As he worked with metal in a large factory, I considered it quite a reasonable request. I thought he could just throw one together in his morning tea break. I pestered him about it for a few days then lost interest.

After school, my sisters and I watched all the American sitcoms – Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, I Dream Of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, The Munsters, Bewitched, McHale’s Navy. These shows seemed to repeat endlessly throughout the 70s. Then, in about 1975, Happy Days appeared and instantly became everyone’s favourite show. Of course, like every other kid, I wanted to be The Fonz (although I didn’t even have enough ‘cool’ to be Richie Cunningham).

If we were especially lucky we got to stay up late and see the ‘adult’ dramas like Streets of San Franciso, Police Woman or Starsky and Hutch. My sisters and I had a theory that if we were really, really quiet and sat very still, Mum and Dad would forget we were there and let us watch television until the stations closed down for the night. It rarely worked. However, during school holidays we were allowed to stay up all night and watch the Abbott and Costello or Three Stooges marathons, even though we invariably fell asleep well before the end of the second movie.

But my number one, absolute favourite show on tv was Lost in Space. There was something about the dull adventures of the hapless Robinson family that I found captivating. Was it the tacky sets and costumes? The silly characters and storylines? The endlessly annoying Dr Smith?

When colour television was introduced in Australia – some time in the mid 70s – my best friend and I stood outside Radio Rentals in the local shopping centre so we could watch Lost in Space in colour for the first time. We bought hot dogs and drinks, and made ourselves comfortable on the grubby floor of the mall. Soon there were a dozen or so kids sitting with us, cheering on the Robinsons as they fumbled their way around another papier-mache planet.

It was a thrilling moment.

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Silent Shout – A Review


The Knife are Swedish brother-and-sister-duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson. They’ve been making music together since the late 90s, releasing their eponymous debut in 2001 and the follow up Deep Cuts in 2004, while building up a significant following in Europe with their catchy, although unexceptional, synthpop. Their latest album Silent Shout is a significant step forward, with the siblings developing a darker, more unique sound.

The core of this sound is Karin’s voice, which has been stretched, slowed, bent, chopped and filtered, to often sinister effect, particularly when layered over equally strange soundscapes. Electronic music is typically described as cold and mechanical, but rarely is it said to be sickly. The music on Silent Shout often sounds damaged – the notes imperfect, the arpeggios and melodies a little out.

The title track opens the album and immediately sets a disquieting mood. Metallic voices describe nightmare imagery over a maddeningly squiggly synth and a single pulsating note. This note is the song’s only constant, as other sounds dance around it, move to the fore, or disappear into the background.

The following track, Neverland, is more upbeat, but similarly built around a simple theme. A wobbly little melody fades in and out around rat-a-tat percussion, over which Karin’s (almost) untreated vocals tell of ‘a fancy man’ and ‘money that burns in my hand’. Like most of the lyrics on Silent Shout they are far from straightforward, but the general feeling is one of disease and dysfunction.

The Captain begins with a long instrumental section. Single notes float and echo, merge with a deeper, more ominous sound – percussion fades in, and finally a chorus of creepy robotic-chipmunk voices.

The current single, We Share Our Mother’s Health, is a highlight. Sickly synths blink and bob over a driving dancebeat accompanied by a series of vocal melodies, the third of which finds Karin’s voice transformed into a weird baritone. The final section of the song has all three melodies coming together in some sort of bizarre robotic chant.

In Na Na Na – a kind of futuristic nursery rhyme (or anti-lullaby) – the voice and the electronics blend as one:

I’ve got soul in my bones
Got a home, a dog and a man to call my own
Every month
I’ve got my period
To take care of
And to collect in blue tampons

Invention takes a break towards the middle of the album, although, after all the weirdness it comes as a relief.

Marble House is a kind of torch song – glacial and very European, while Like A Pen is a dance tune about body image – adorned with tinny synths and tapdancing beats. The meandering From Off To On completes a trio of agreeable, yet unremarkable songs.

Silent Shout finishes strongly, however, with the last three songs among the best on the album.

Forest Families describes a family in hiding:

They said we have a communist in the family
I had to wear a mask

Over bubbling electronics Karin pleads: I just want your music tonight

One Hit is possibly the strangest song on the album. A stomping dance track (it’s been described elsewhere as ‘goblin glam’) that ‘celebrates’ masculinity, Karin’s voice warped to sound like a chorus of demonic football players.

The narrator of the haunting final track, Still Light, sings from her hospital bed over weeping string synths:

Now where is everybody?
Is it still light outside?

Given the album’s preoccupation with the damaged and diseased, and its unhealthy sound palette, it’s an appropriate place for the album to end.

Silent Shout is not a ‘happy’ record and it’s not always a pleasure to listen to, but The Knife have successfully created their own unique sound world, with its own languages, landscapes and characters. Many artists have such an aim, but few achieve it with such style and originality.

Postcard from Darwin, Part Two

We were out early on Day Four, heading south to the Territory Wildlife Park. Frosh Baby had counted on picking up fresh sandwiches for breakfast from his favourite roadhouse, but due to some silly bungle, we ended up with four very hot, very messy toasted ham-and-cheese sandwiches. I gave up eating mine after getting butter and melted cheese all over my hands. But FB persevered – never one to give up easily when it comes to food – and somehow managed to eat an entire sandwich while staying in control of the ute.

The Wildlife Park is near Berry Springs, nearly an hour south of Darwin. It covers quite a large area, and getting around to all the exhibits takes some effort. It is so large, in fact, that they have a ‘train’ that runs around the park, connecting all the major attractions. Surprisingly, perhaps, we decided against the ‘train’ and set out on foot. I was generally impressed with the open, roomy enclosures and the connecting parklands. The only thing the Wildlife Park lacked was…well, wildlife! After walking for well over an hour the only animals we’d seen were a couple of motley wallabies and a brolga.

The second half of our tour proved more interesting. The walk-through aviary was impressive, as was the aquarium and the nocturnal house. It was after 3.00pm by the time we got to the exit, and we were both feeling tired and hot. Luckily the cafeteria was still open, so we stopped for ice creams and soft drink. But as we headed back to town, FB’s appetite yowled for more – something quick and meaty – so we pulled into McDonalds for a burger. (Frosh Baby loves great food, but he is not a food snob!)

That night we met up with Astrogirl at the Mindil Beach Markets. After a quick look at the food stalls and a yummy tropical fruit whip, we walked to Cullen Bay for a meal at Raccana Thai. We nibbled on delicious satays and other treats while Astro filled us in on the Darwin singles scene. At around 11.00pm we wobbled towards home.

FB and I were out early again on Day Five. He was eager for me to hear a particular sound he’d discovered in the lift well at Parliament House. We hung around for as long as we could without attracting the attention of security guards, but didn’t hear the sound. (Frosh described it as an ‘electronic bird call’.) We drowned our disappointment over breakfast at Café Uno, where a gorgeous English girl served up the most delicious scrambled eggs.

We took the late morning ferry ride to Mandorah, and went in search of lunch. The hotel on Mandorah Beach boasts of being ‘Darwin’s only beachside resort’ but is far from ‘resort’ material. In fact, it looks like the sort of place David Lynch would film a movie. I half expected to find Bobby Peru sunning himself outside one of the grubby apartments. Inevitably, the lunch menu was sad and tired – all schnitzel and chips.

By the time we got back to the city, Frosh Baby’s belly was making sad moaning sounds, while I was feeling quite faint. It had been hours since our scrambled eggs at Café Uno. We ended up at Kozy on Mitchell Street, which featured an unusual Asian-meets-Mediterranean menu. There was certainly nothing wrong with my vegetarian cannelloni, while FB gave his curry the ‘thumbs up’.

Later that afternoon we found ourselves at the Ski Club on the Fanny Bay foreshore. I didn’t see much skiing, but there were plenty of people at the bar or scattered around the grassed area that served as the group’s ‘clubrooms’. FB and I bought some champagne and drew up a couple of chairs to watch the sun go down over the Timor Sea.

It was my last night in Darwin – the City of Eternal Summer. The air was warm, the atmosphere fresh and friendly, and the sun, as it disappeared beneath the horizon, was a perfect orange ball. As I sipped champagne, and watched the sky turn a beautiful orangy-pink, I decided that Darwin wasn’t a bad place at all.

K*m Mann – Guest Poet

This month I am very pleased to introduce K*m Mann – a good friend and wonderful writer.

K*m grew up in Alice Springs. She has traveled around the world and lived in America and England. Her poetry has won several prizes and been published in journals, newspapers, online and in books. She has performed, and taught workshops, at schools and festivals around Australia. In 2002 K*m completed a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide and began to get her short stories published.

Next she co-wrote opera lyrics for a concert with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the script for a new play. 2004 saw her create and direct Skin of the Text; a live installation with text and body. During 2005 she worked with Tutti Ensemble on a project called MOUTH MUSIC. She lives at Henley Beach with a beautiful green-eyed black cat. In addition to working as a counsellor, she is currently writing her first novel.

My live-in mistake

Rain stuttering down
your pencil rattles on the outside table
as the wind picks up again

In the microfiche of my mind,
I’ve located a memory; a watercolour version
of a time we were together; a Sydney of bright colours and champagne

I am not sitting in a garden, not in a park, not by a river
not with you on the Harbour Bridge
I am standing on a balcony with plants in pots, a weather beaten table
a few bottles for recycling and one ashtray
attempting to think out our tangled hair and minds; untangle us.
All the times I tried to ask you what you thought, wanted
When, you didn’t want to say a thing
Words, too much of a commitment to meaning
I had to guess at what you might want
We lived, silently side-by-side, bodies close but our minds’ distance holy

3 months ago I saw you driving on Grange road
– your face looked bleached in the morning sun

On the balcony, the wind picks up corners of paper
an old shopping list, pen on scrap of envelope
from all those months ago, memento of our dailiness
Held down by one small stone from the sea

If you lived, now, by all the rules we broke – I’d not be surprised.
Rain and wind het up off the sea.
My tiny white memory flies up into the air like a helium balloon.

all the pretty colours

she used to love
all the pretty colours
all the maddest shapes
but now
when she looks up
feels strange about the sky

anyway hauls the basket of smelly clothes towards the laundry
loads it up, pushes buttons… sighs
pads back along the hall

turns the toaster upside down
bangs and scrapes, then pushes the crumbs
down the plug hole with her sore fingers
scratches her chin
brings the washing in
all his socks, the red checked swimming shorts…

blinking into the cupboards
can’t find any teabags
won’t look in the afternoon mirror
stares out the window

she doesn’t know whether
he is due back at 6
or if he left a year ago

…she used to love all the pretty colours
all the maddest shapes
and the T shirts and socks
and red and white and blue
but he left
and America bastardised the star
and now

she can’t hang out the washing
and she can’t
look up

previously published Social Alternatives, October 2003

Swimming

in my dreams
I have no freckles
& my neck is elegantly long

I have written & published & sold
my first book
& my parents are 30 again

I can whistle too
and quirky girls and boys the world over
find me attractive

I visit concentration camps and suffer on boats
I see history

in my dreams I can kiss for 3 or 4 years
with the same person
not needing other sustenance
nor eyes, nor hands, nor head

I dive into the town pool and swim deep under
When I swim to the surface
and there is a thick glass wall
I discover that I can breathe under water

I never fly – I don’t need to
eat sandwiches and chocolate towards morning
float to the surface
& find that I can breathe too, above water

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Brick – a Review


Brick is the impressive debut feature film from American writer/director, Rian Johnson. The 31-year-old has cleverly created an unusual new world for his drama, complete with its own language, logic and mythology – a dark 1940s-style film noir set in a contemporary Californian high school community. It’s a brave and highly original concept that could have backfired, but manages to overcome any deficiencies with stylistic flair and strong performances from its young cast.

The movie opens with the discovery of a girl’s dead body in a storm drain by a teenage boy. The boy is Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the girl is his former girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin). Rather than go to the police (or ‘bulls’ as they are known in Brick-world) Brendan decides to hide the body and do the investigating himself. He enlists the help of a trusted offsider, The Brain (Matt O’Leary), and proceeds to unravel the murky dealings of the High School underworld.

All the standard film noir characters are present, albeit in slightly disguised form. There is a femme fatale (Nora Zehetner), a thug (Noah Fleiss) and a mysterious crime boss called The Pin (Lukas Haas). Johnson also litters the movie with visual references to the film noir genre, while its dialogue reads like a Raymond Chandler novel. There are ‘gats’, ‘picks’ and ‘reef worms’. A town is a ‘burg’ and ‘duck soup’ is easy pickings.

Unfortunately, the dialogue is often so riddled with this kind of slang that at times you cannot help but feel disconnected from the action onscreen. This does not help matters as the film progresses and the plot becomes more convoluted and difficult to follow.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is impressive as the movie’s ‘detective’, Brendan Frye, and projects the requisite determination and cool. It’s Gordon-Levitt’s performance (he appears in every scene) that gives the film its strength and allows us to enter its world of mystery. Nora Zehetner also impresses as the double-dealing Laura, while Lukas Haas manages to inject his character with menace and a dark humour.

While the film has been shot in sunny California, Johnson has been able to use light (or lack thereof) and space to create landscapes that compliment the film’s often grim mood. The action takes place in desolate carparks, on empty playing fields, or in claustrophobic rooms or tunnels.

He has also been careful to exclude (almost entirely) adults from Brick-world. Richard Rowntree makes a brief appearance as the school’s Vice Principal, and we get a glimpse of The Pin’s mother (she provides milk and cookies to her son’s thugs and goons), otherwise it’s an all-teenage cast. This ploy might seem gimmicky, but Brick is no Bugsy Malone. The adult-free environment helps to reinforce the idea of a fully self-contained world, with its own laws and language.

If you are a fan of film noir, Raymond Chandler or Humphrey Bogart you will savour every minute of Brick, and find yourself grinning at the snappy dialogue and familiar characters. If not, there is still plenty to enjoy, for it is a film-lover’s film, filled with visual treats and clever references.

But it’s also the sort of movie that requires your close attention. So watch and listen carefully. The chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like Brick.

Postcard from Darwin, Part One

For some reason I had imagined Darwin as a dry and dusty place – a sort of ‘Alice by the Sea’. This notion was dispelled before I’d even set foot on Darwin soil, for my plane flew over the city when landing, curving around over the sea and allowing for views of the lush green gardens adorning houses along the foreshore and nearby suburbs. Soon enough I was rattling through these same streets in a dusty ute, my good friend, Frosh Baby, at the wheel.

I was in Darwin primarily to spend some time with FB, whose recent past had included a week in hospital with a nasty bout of pancreatitis, and a horrific crash on an outback highway, which ‘wrote off’ his nearly-new Suzuki 4WD and sent him back to hospital. We planned on eating out, listening to music, watching movies and maybe a little sightseeing. After a short tour of the surrounding suburbs we returned to FB’s temporary home in Ludmilla.

The house was situated in its own little slice of Top End forest, complete with towering palms, screeching bats and squawking ‘bush chooks’. We sat on the patio until well into the night, talking about music and other nonsense while listening to possums fight in the undergrowth. It was hard to believe that only twelve hours ago I’d been in the middle of a South Australian winter.

The following day, FB took me on a guided tour of Darwin and surrounds, his commentary peppered with observations on the culinary curiosities of the area – ‘That’s where I bought some fabulous spring rolls’ or ‘They make the most delicious noodle soups’. Given FB’s obsession with tasty food my stay in Darwin was likely to include more than a few great meals.

We visited Cullen Bay, Mindil Beach and East Point, then headed north through Nightcliff and the suburbs of Casuarina, before returning to the city via Palmerston and Berrimah. Predictably, the tour ended in food. We stopped briefly at Stokes Hill Wharf, but were not tempted by ‘Schnitzel Magic’ or any of the other harbourside eateries. Instead, we stopped at a place imaginatively called ‘Chinese Restaurant’ for some satays, fried wontons and beef ho fun.

On Day Three, we visited the Darwin’s Art Gallery and Museum, and then returned to Cullen Bay for a wonderful meal at ‘The Sicilian’. The afternoon was spent at the Aviation Museum, where we marveled at assorted instruments of destruction, before heading to the Casuarina Shopping Centre for a last minute cd and dvd splurge at JB Hifi.

That evening we lazed about at home watching trashy movies (’The Doll Squad’) and large chunks of David Lynch’s cult tv series ‘Twin Peaks’. I hadn’t seen the show since it aired on tv back in 1991, and enjoyed getting reacquainted with Dale Cooper and friends. The show still seemed very fresh and funny. In fact, it was a lot funnier than I remembered it.

I went to bed at about 1.00am, but didn’t fall asleep quickly. I lay there for an hour or so, listening to the sounds of wildlife in the garden below, the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme music tumbling around in my brain.

The Failed Vegetarians

L has always been a caring, sensitive person, particularly when it comes to animals. It was always assumed that she would grow up to become a vet, a zoologist, or work with animals in some other way. This might have been the case had she not organised work experience at a local wildlife park. She’d arranged to spend a week there, but didn’t make it beyond the first day.

One of the first things L was asked to do was sort freshly killed baby chicks. She found it heart-breaking work. The chicks had been gassed, but some were not dead, and chirped pathetically amid the piles of tiny corpses. The people L worked with made stupid jokes about the job, particularly when they saw how upset she was. They jokingly told her that she would have to shoot and cut up a horse the following day. She didn’t go back to find out if they were telling the truth.

L was traumatised by the experience. She subsequently changed her mind about working with animals, and decided she would no longer eat meat. The problem she had with becoming a vegetarian was that she didn’t actually like vegetables. With no meat or vegetables, L was left eating bread, cereal and not much more. She has since tried become a vegetarian, and failed, on several occasions.

I’m not sure what brought on this latest attempt to convert to vegetarianism. It might have something to do with the chicken incident earlier in the year. In any case, a few weeks back, L announced that we were no longer eating meat. I said that I was happy with that, but asked that she organise and help cook the meals. I’m not that fond of meat myself and pleased to get any help in the kitchen. L sifted through a pile of cookbooks, wrote a lengthy shopping list, and helped buy the ingredients.

The first night L made a mushroom frittata. It was a bit thin and crumbly, but otherwise quite okay. That’s if you liked mushrooms. L tried very hard, but ended up eating around them. The second night we had a leek risotto. L spent all afternoon cooking the dish, and was so pleased with how it looked and smelled that she rang me at work to tell me how wonderful it was going to be. She was right; it did look and smell terrific. Unfortunately, eating the dish was hard work. The leek was thick and chunky, and the rice wasn’t cooked through properly. I ate half of my serving, while L only managed a few mouthfuls.

The week’s remaining meals were a little more successful, if not entirely satisfying. We had veggie burgers one night, then tomato, basil and fetta pizzas another night, and lastly honey-glazed potatoes. By the end of the week, L was tired and grumpy, and sick of working in the kitchen (I was tempted to point out that I’d been doing it for 16 years), and I was feeling more than a little hungry.

On Saturday night we bought chicken-and-chips from the local takeaway store.